Posts in Atheist Life
December 25th is a day of celebration of faith. It is marked as the birthday of the Sun in both Vainakh (Malkh) and Roman (Dies Natalis Solis Invicti) mythologies. Other religious holidays that pass through today include Yule (originally a Pagan religious festival), Pancha Ganapati (a festival to honor Lord Ganesha by Hindus), and of course Christmas.
Christmas is actually a very culturally and spiritually intertwined holiday. While the original purpose of Christmas was to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the day was picked as a way to pull in Pagan converts by conscripting *their* religious celebrations already going on that day. Choosing the day of the “birth of the Unconquerable Sun god” as the day to celebrate the birth of the Son of God was no coincidence. And it proved an effective marketing strategy, even if not an entirely spiritually-focused one. Much of what we do to celebrate Christmas comes from very non-Christian roots as well: Christmas trees come from the Yuletide Pagan tradition. Kissing under Mistletoe was a way to remember Baldur, grandson of Thor in Norse religions. Poinsettias were favored for their religious significance by the Aztecs. Even the giving of lavish gifts – something the “sell all you have to give to the poor” Jesus might have frowned on – comes from the various Pagan holidays originally celebrated this time of year. (more…)
In the gender series we have examined gender from the standpoint of who gets to define you from a gender standpoint, why social boundaries trump biology for gender identification, and why the same cannot be said for race (thus the invalidity of the term “transracial”). In this fourth and final (for now) entry in the series, I will address some difficult and emotionally-charged issues around when transgender individuals should be integrated into current gender-based social categories and, critically, when they should not.
I will begin with the story of Fallon Fox, a transgender woman (born biologically male) who at 30 years old had gender reassignment surgery. A few years later, she joined the ranks of professional female mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters. This created significant controversy. She has had a fairly successful MMA fighting record and has left opponents injured in ways that are uncommon in female MMA matches. Should a person who was born male and up until 30 years of age experienced all of the hormonal strength and body-structural benefits of being male be allowed to participate in a potentially dangerous competitive female sport later in life?
My answer might surprise you. (more…)
In my last post on gender, I made my case for why biology is not the determining factor for identifying as culturally male vs. female. In response, as expected, some then tried to take the argument I was making and apply it to a different context, in an attempt to discredit the argument. Fair enough, but does their redirection hold up to scrutiny?
The basic argument is this:
A) Both gender and race are biologically assigned at birth.
B) Society does not allow for individuals to simply choose their race based on how they feel.
C) Therefore, it is inconsistent to allow gender to be a choice and not race.
If I can simply choose my gender, why can’t I “identify” as member of a different ethnicity? In other words, can I, as a white male, simply “feel” black and thus proclaim myself black?
My good friend Chris Roberts recently wrote a post that thoughtfully espoused some very commonly held views around gender identification. I will attempt to address some of those issues (as well as some of the less thoughtful and more ignorant comments that get made) and in the process attempt to address what it means to be female or male in our society. And maybe, just maybe, we will reach a different conclusion on what it should mean.
As per my normal mode of operation, I will start with what I consider to be the best argument that exists on the other side of the discussion, which goes something like this:
A) You cannot change your underlying genetic structure,
B) You are born with either male or female genetics and biology,
C) Therefore, you cannot change your gender.
Admittedly, the presuppositions of this argument are true – at least in the current state of medical technology. Most of us are born with either two X chromosomes or an X and a Y chromosome, and whichever you ended up getting determines your sex. Since this cannot be changed, opponents of transgender pronoun usage will try to make the case that this is the line in the sand, the ultimate defense of their use of male pronouns to label people like Caitlyn Jenner. And if we as a society used the word gender only to refer to one’s biological underpinnings, they would be right. Unfortunately, that last condition is where their argument falls completely apart. In the logical argument above, A and B are both very true, but they do not lead to C in any meaningful societal sense.
Some religious groups put forth an enormous amount of effort in order to control the lives of other people. Much of this desire for control focuses on behaviors that have zero potential to hurt others. These attempts to control are often justified by the need to avoid offending a god that gets angry about people who wear the wrong clothes, love the wrong people, or engage in the wrong activities behind closed doors. Lacking any true Golden/Platinum Rule-based objection, they fall back on the fact that their deity has simply declared a certain behavior immoral. They try to justify their sometimes violent words and actions by claiming that this all-powerful being will reign down destruction should <insert country here> allow people to <insert harmless activity here> any longer. It is both pathetic and sad, and it gets far too much airtime in the media.
It is well past time for our global society to call “Bullshit!” on these proclamations. They lack any objective moral ground, and the thinking members of those religions are well aware that these rules made by ancient men with suspect motives should hold no bearing on how we conduct ourselves from a legal and ethical standpoint today. There is also no moral version of an almighty creator of the universe that could stand for some of the ways these people treat others. As I have mentioned before, religious memes have had their place, and are likely responsible for at least part of our early success as a species. That said, they also ended up collecting a lot of unnecessary, immoral baggage along the way, and it is also well past time for those who have not already come to this realization to wake up and admit this fact.
In no case is this more true than when it comes to gender expression and roles, a discussion which the Caitlyn Jenner story has brought into a very public spotlight.
A brief word of housekeeping: my family is finally settled in our new house in Tennessee. The road from Florida was long and aggravating, but we’re in a great house and are glad to be settling down. I hope that a stable routine will allow me to start blogging more. We are also hoping to present a facelift for The Book of Wonder soon: a new theme built on top of a new CMS. Finally, keep an eye on this site over the next few days as we will be introducing a new contributor to our virtual pages.
Housekeeping done, on to the post!
How do you answer the God question? What means do you employ to arrive at your conclusion?
There are many reasons why I have concluded that there is no God, and many more reasons why I have a very high degree of certainty that Christianity is not true. I hope to explore these reasons further in future blog posts, but at the root of the God question there is a question of trust: to what and to whom will you turn when trying to discern what is true and what is false?
I grew up in the church, surrounded by the language of faith. But the church of my youth was also something of an intellectual church: wrapping Christianity in a veneer of academia. I learned the Westminster Catechism; I listened to lectures by R. C. Sproul; I had lessons from books by Cornelius Van Til, Francis Schaeffer, and other apologists. All of these were meant to teach the defense of the faith: how to have intelligent answers to the challenges of skeptics. And it is true that the answers were intelligent. Many of them were internally logically consistent and, left to themselves, reasonable enough. They provided Christians with the idea that religion, theology, and apologetics are grounded not just on revealed Scripture but rigorous reason. I bought into the notion. I already loved the God of the Bible; now I could also love the sense of intellectualism that came with knowing more about him and how to defend his word.
The problem, of course, is that it was a house of straw. An internally consistent world is not automatically the real world. Case in point, look at many of the ideas of theoretical physicists. Many of their theories are completely consistent, logically rigorous, and mathematically sound, and many of those same theories fail to describe the world as it exists.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my online debate with Chris on the ethics of eating meat. As with most of my writing, I had little inclination that I was going to change most people’s minds. Most people engage in debate from a position of certainty, and a couple of days of blog posts aren’t going to change those positions. That said, I know there are people who read my writing who *have* thought through some of the same issues that I write about, whether it be meat, religion, politics, gay rights, or racism, and are ready to examine and – if necessary – upend their prior beliefs. It is for those people who may be reading that I write once more.
This also will be my final entry on the topic, and I thus give Chris the last word. While I did not write my first blog post intending to be a debate, I *did* go first, so it is only fair. Furthermore, this is not a topic I think the bulk of society is ready to closely examine, and as such, pouring tons of energy into it today is an inefficient use of time. There are plenty of other areas (religion, politics, gay rights, and racism being examples) where people *are* significantly more ready to honestly examine and change, and my limited time and energy are better spent challenging misconceptions there than they are on the meat issue. Frankly, we have enough issues getting human beings to treat each other with dignity and respect, and that will have to be much more pervasive in our culture before animals will be given a second thought by most people. If nothing else, I try to be a pragmatic idealist.
On to the issues then: Chris clarified that his position was not based on human superiority, but rather species loyalty. I would still argue that this kind of speciesism is generally based on the idea that our species is superior to others and should thus be treated differently among our members. Speciesism is just like most other -isms: you define an “other” group, and use their “otherness” as a justification for doing things to them that you would not do to members of your own group. And like many other -isms that have been used to justify violence (racism, sexism, heterosexism, geocentrism, etc.) it is often based on “common sense” assumptions that may prove to be untrue when examined. Speciesism definitely falls into this category.
The poets who waxed on about “nature red in tooth and claw” had never beheld the truly magnificent violence wrought by a blog debate. As the obligatory comic states:
But I believe that in his response to my argument, Jason has left a few doors open for me.
My cohort Chris Roberts wrote a blog post in response to my last piece about why I had decided to become a vegetarian. While I found his post thoughtful, as they usually are, there were some key things that I believe Chris missed that I would like to specifically get a response to, and I would like to address some of his points as well. (more…)
Jason has written about why he is a vegetarian. Here is why I am not, and why I think it is okay to eat meat. I will pass over for now some of the peripheral items in his post (ie, I’ll want to tackle his approach to abortion at some point) and hone in on what is most significant for me regarding his post: how to justify – or not – eating other organisms.