I received an invitation from one of my partners to attend their Sunday service at Ecclesiax, a church in downtown Ottawa, and out of curiosity, I attended. It was an interesting visit, and I’m glad I added this unusual event to the series of religious presentations I have personally experienced. Like all the others, though, it’s not one I’ll be repeating if I can avoid it.
I’m an antitheist, more so than many of the people in my social circle. I do not merely disbelieve in deities and the traditions that come along with them; I also think that other people should also disbelieve. I think that religion has, at best, severely outlived its usefulness and, more likely, has been a force for consistent ill in humankind’s history. I think them all false, and I think them all dangerous. There are some I find more palatable than others and some that are more reality-based than others, but none meet with my actual approval. I know many people who cleave to various religions and who are exemplary human beings my life is richer for including, and I know a much larger assortment of religious humans who fit in Donald Trump’s basket of deplorables. As a Taína trans lesbian, I am targeted for harms both ongoing and historic by the largest religious establishments in my vicinity, including through non-religious institutions nevertheless suffused with religious sentiment, and the entire edifice fills me with loathing; as a scientist, its non-empirical silliness me with irritated bemusement. As far as I am concerned, the good ones are good despite their faith, not because of it.
I’m often challenged, with all of that in mind, to describe what a version of Christianity my antitheism wouldn’t encompass would look like. If indeed my antitheism isn’t driven purely by emotional antipathy, then surely there is such a version. And there is.
I feel like I have a special relationship with grief.
Western culture is full of quirky superstitions and traditions. Many of them are leftover bits of former religious practice, retained long after the traditions and beliefs that gave them meaning fell away, while others are more recent inventions designed to convince people to spend money or part of quasi-religious traditions still gaining ground. I have one (las doce uvas de la suerte) I maintain for cultural reasons, and Ania buys unconsecrated Communion host around Christmastime for the same reason. Humans are peculiar creatures, and derive much benefit from activities whose instrumental utility is opaque or absent.
Perhaps the best-known such traditions are horoscopes and birthstones. Both of these connect the date of one’s birth to something in nature (a constellation and a gemstone, respectively), and have been used to generate loads of money for people who convince others that the association has magical or predictive significance. Horoscopes in particular get treated with bizarrely outsized seriousness in some circles, but for many of us, they’re a cute little game.
And why should folks interested in gems and stars have all the cute little games?
So here’s a new one: Your Birthfish. You’re now symbolically linked to this kind of fish, and obligated by the same rules that make people obsess over Gemini and Taurus to tell everyone that you’re now a Chinese high-fin banded loach or pumpkinseed sunfish. May this amusing bit of fake superstition entertain and confuse your friends and family, and lead to some seafood-themed birthday dinners and greater appreciation for the beauty of fish.
A writer for Charisma News wrote a listicle of reasons he believes in, not just a Christian deity, but the one he specifically gleans from his reading of the Bible. Lists like this come in two forms (scientific “mysteries” and trite emotional manipulation), and this one somehow managed to be both of them, which makes it oddly fascinating to deconstruct.
There is a major historic site in Miami, called the Miami Circle. It is one of the oldest indigenous sites in South Florida, discovered during construction excavations. It is a circle marked with holes that once held 24 poles, suggestive of a clock, and it was found in association with many artifacts attributed to the Tequesta / Tekesta people who once inhabited this region of South Florida. Due to its highly urban location and the controversy surrounding whether it would be preserved as a historic site or built over as part of the property that encompassed it, the circle itself has been left underground and marked with informative placards. I’ve never stood at this site, but I have been on Miami River tours that went past it. Its riverfront location makes it obvious, as the only spot for miles where the buildings don’t edge directly onto the shore, even with the circle itself underground.
The classic Western-fantasy adventuring party, appearing across a wide variety of media and baked into what Dungeons and Dragons in particular expects adventuring groups to be capable of, consists of four very different characters. By default, there is a “fighter,” who wears armor and specializes in swordplay or another close-range martial art; a “wizard,” who is a combination mobile artillery piece, library, and miscellaneous magical toolkit; a “rogue” or “thief,” whose specialty is stealth, lock-picking, smooth-talking, acrobatics, and similar skills; and a “cleric” or “priest,” who provides the favor of the gods to their allies, usually in the form of magical healing and defensive magic.
That last person raises difficult questions about the overall shape of the fantasy universe, which every D&D setting tries to answer one way or another. It’s not difficult to imagine a fantasy world where the term “cleric” means something more like what it means in our world, and refers to someone an adventuring party might visit afterward for wound-tending and soul-cleansing rather than a steadfast and magical battlefield ally. Ivanhoe is probably the work of fiction most famously within this tradition. But most Western fantasy assigns clerics and other agents of the divine power well in excess of the demonstrated abilities of real-world religious figures, including the power to raise the dead on demand, instantly heal deadly injuries multiple times a day, and brandish holy symbols to disperse zombies. The deities of a fantasy world that is home to this kind of priest are, thereby, much more powerful than the god of Ivanhoe and any deity associated with real-world religious practice, and have far more direct and overt effects on the world at large.
Sociological concepts are controversial in the skeptic/atheist community. Many of its members don’t think of sociology as a “real” science, or otherwise dismiss the claims such a peculiar field makes as not holding up to the scrutiny expected in biology, geology, or physics. Criticisms of important sociological concepts like privilege tend to rely either on argument from personal incredulity or on hazy readings of introductory philosophy texts.
The funny thing is, philosobros who think they can undo sociological privilege with binary logic or harsh skepticism about the motives of other humans have only a few pages to flip before their own sources turn against them. Equally basic philosophical concepts and discussions underpin major sociological findings, and remind us to be aware of the limits of our own knowledge in other ways.
In the last several weeks, there have been several news articles relating to opiate use and changing definitions regarding drug classification and how doctors can prescribe. As usual this has brought a lot of the stigma surrounding medicine use to the limelight. Whenever these conversations get sparked again, a lot of people start talking about over-prescription, abuse of narcotics, and how big bad pharma creates fake conditions in order to sell drugs. People start talking about patients who abuse the system and end up addicted. These conversations are usually had by people who have no personal experience with chronic pain or the type of conditions being discussed. These same arguments then get used to discredit conditions like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, and ADHD.
The shaming inherent in a lot of these arguments not only make life more difficult for patients, but they are actually an example of how “a little” knowledge is a dangerous thing. Take, for example, the frequent argument that ADHD is often over-diagnosed and an excuse to medicate children. Some people have gone so far as to claim that ADHD meds are the shut up and sit still drug and that ADHD itself doesn’t exist.
The first half of the argument is based on two problematic ideas: the lie of more-diagnoses which I discussed in a previous article, and a tendency by certain studies to limit their focus on white males. While there is some indication that ADHD may be over-diagnosed in white boys, in every other category girls, people of colour, and so forth, the opposite appears to be the case.
In white children misbehaviour is believed to be pathological, whereas in the case of children of colour, it is believed to be genetic and inherent. When behaviours that are believed to be disruptive appear in class, white children are often send to counselors and psychiatrists, while black children in particular are punished. We’ve seen this discussed when activists and studies discuss the school to prison pipeline. In many cases the behaviours being punished are the same that are said to be caused by ADHD in white children. Continue reading “Shaming Med Use Kills”
[Spoilers for the Season 1 finale of Steven Universe follow.]
The moment that sealed Steven Universe into richly-deserved fame and a place in future discussions of the evolution of pop culture was the 52nd episode, ”Jail Break.” In addition to pointedly and thoroughly burnishing the show’s credentials as queer-inclusive and emotionally complex, it provided viewers with a beautifully-composed song-and-fight sequence, from the only one of the four main characters to have avoided a musical number until then:
The words of “Stronger Than You” are poetic and poignant, particularly these:
I am a conversation.
I am made
And it’s stronger than you.