Saturday, January 31, 2015

9 Kinds of People an Atheist Should Not Marry

NYC Pastor did Christians a huge favor this past week, gently laying out exactly who they should and should not marry. I think this is a great idea.  If anything is worth our time in this world, it's telling other people what is best for them.  In that spirit, I humbly present the 9 types of people that we atheists should never marry.

1.  Virgins

  Life is short, people.  And when you were younger, you had these grand ideas of meeting your unchewed bubble gum, or rose with all its pedals, or whatever weird metaphor your youth pastor read in that month’s Focus on the Family.  And it sounded nice.  You’d get to plant your flag on acres of unscathed farm land.  And like Edward Norton in Fight Club, you dream of destroying something beautiful.  But what Pastor JimmyJohn didn’t tell you is that after a brief, disappointing moment, your spouse is no longer that person, and you’ve got to spend the rest of your life with someone who might like totally different things than you.  Like, they might expect you to do THAT every single time.  Or refuse to do that other thing, EVER.  As atheists, we know this life is all we get.  And how tragic to risk incompatible sex forever cuz somebody thought their body was a metaphor for bubble gum.

2.  Younger People
  Sticking with the theme of life being too short, have you MET today’s young people?  Holy shit!  They use words like tumblr and micro-aggression, and if you’re like me, you aren’t sure if these are acronyms or graduate level college courses, but either way, you have no idea what they are, and are too curmudgeony to look them up. But more importantly, by marring a younger person, you’re increasing the odds that you’ll die before they do.  When we atheists go through our existential crises about death, we often find comfort in Buddhist notions of matter becoming different matter, where our bodies go back to the earth from which it came.  In this way, we gain immortality, sort of.  And if I’m reading today’s younger people correctly, they mostly want to cremate everyone, and that’s just not gonna work for us.

3.  People who believe in hell

     Now, this might seem intuitive, but let me suggest this could be a worse idea than you’d think.  There you are, out and about with your spouse, probably looking for that last Stephen-King-back-when-he-called-himself-Richard-Bachman book for your collection, when it crosses your mind that your spouse thinks your afterlife will consist of that too-much-wasabi feeling all over your body, forever and ever and ever.  And you think, “well that’s not very nice.”  But your spouse still married you, so how does that work?  How does spouse transition from passionate boot knocking to “Sure is a bummer ze’s flesh is gonna look like pea soup on a slow boil forever”?  You aren’t quite sure how spouse does it, but it must take a special kind of intestinal fortitude, and you’re probably not mentally strong enough to match wits with such a monster.  PASS.

4.  The Unemployed

Because life is short, and it’s all we’ve got, one of our imperatives as atheists is to maximize our life experiences. Some of life’s experience are really expensive!  I’d really like to para-sail off the top of an Egyptian Pyramid someday.  If you’ve never searched Priceline for Portland to Cairo airfare, gird your loins, cuz it’s a hefty number.  To truly maximize these experiences, you’re going to need free time for your travels, and if your spouse isn’t bringing in any money, that means YOU have to make all of it, significantly decreasing your ability to maximize those experiences.  My advice: if possible, marry someone independently wealthy.  Then BOTH of you can do all the things without the cumbersome anchor of a day job. 

5.  People who don’t get angry

Remember when you became an atheist, and dealt with all those nasty emotions around the idea that you’re totally gonna die and rot in the ground and that’s the end of it because you don’t have a soul?  At least for me, those emotions didn’t go away just cuz Thich Nhat Hanh made me feel better about dying.  Sometimes it’s totally appropriate to spend the day pouting in the dark cuz you totally used to think there was a celestial mansion with your name on it, and but now you know the only mansion you’re ever gonna be associated with is AS the mansion for a worm colony that calls itself the The Collective.  If your spouse can’t mourn that loss with you, I wouldn’t trust ‘em with a pet, let alone my hand in marriage.  I mean, have you SEEN the movie Bernie????

6.  Richard Dawkins

7.  Agnostics

You know how Neil Degrasse Tyson is totally an atheist, and gets mega street cred from atheists cuz he knows all the things, but won’t use the word atheist because he doesn’t want all the consequences of using that word in public?  Boooo!!!  Agnostics are like your friend who is one class away from a masters degree, but won’t write that last paper cuz he thinks having a graduate degree would put him too high on the privilege scale, so he spends his whole life telling people how he’s one class away from a Masters.  Just be who you are, dude!  Being married to an agnostic would be like living your whole life in the comments section on a YouTube video about vaccines.  Why would you do that to yourself?

8.  Feminists
Let me say it for you: WHAT????  Allow me to explain – We atheists get a lot of our activism cues from the internet and atheist organizations.  And these sources have made it clear that the most important uses of our time are activities like getting cities to take down crosses put up by grieving parents and widows.  With our sacred public streets being desecrated by religious symbols, if your spouse-to-be thinks causes like feminism are a higher priority, perhaps they should not be YOUR highest priority.

9.  Anyone who has ever stayed at a hotel
  Just like memorial crosses in public, hotels are another bastion for religious people trying to haunt us with their religious texts.  People who stay in hotels contribute to this cycle of indoctrination.  Personally, when I’m with a group on a trip, I sleep outside on an army cot.  I position large signs around the cot letting everyone know why I’m out there.  Most mornings I wake up with Sharpie on my face and my signs have been turned into tombstones with childish names written on them.  But it’s totally worth it!

I trust that this list will help you in your search for an atheist-friendly spouse.  As Vermin Supreme once said, you should trust me, because I do know what's best for you. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Light in Our Enemies

8 months is long enough, right?  Let's do this. 

Over the last few months, I've spent a lot of time attempting introspection.  This isn't something that comes naturally, but with help from sites like Slate Star Codex, I'm getting a little bit better.  Today I want to talk about two ideas that Quakers talk about a lot: loving our enemies, and the light within each person.  

Enemy love is a foundational component of Christianity, but it should also be a foundational component of humanism.   Insofar as love means an honest attempt to empathize with, respect, and treat well, we should do these things for people with whom we disagree, our who may think poorly of us.  I'm going to treat these as presuppositions, and hope you share them.  

Treating those we disagree with well is really hard.  Like, really really hard, you guys.  Have you tried NOT rolling your eyes when relative X says something about how the polar ice caps have never been bigger?  Super hard.  But of all the areas of self-improvement I've tried to implement, respecting the person I disagree with has been the most rewarding.  

Respecting the opposite-minded is crucial if we really believe our mantra of light being present within each person.  I'm using light as a vague metaphor - feel free to substitute whatever makes sense for you. Acknowledging the light in each person requires us to admit that on some basic level, we're all equally important, valuable, and worthy of respect.  When I mock your ideas, or assign motives to you unfairly, I'm lessening your standing in my eyes, so that my own standing can improve.  It seems so impossible to us that an equally intelligent/smart/wise/valuable person could disagree with us on such important issues as religion, politics, or music that to eliminate that cognitive dissonance, first we must correct the hierarchy.  You're down, I'm up.  I ensure that you're down via sarcasm, allegation of impure motives, or casual dismissal.  From there, I clobber you with whatever nugget of infallible wisdom I'm disseminating that day, then assume you'll roll over and play dead.  Rinse, repeat, viva the in-group! 

And this all makes a ton of sense!  It really does.  If there's anything that comes natural to us, it's finding new and creative ways to solidify the line around our in-groups, and cast apostates into the out-group. But the result of following this natural tendency is that nobody gets convinced to change their mind.

If the goal of important conversations is to reach the point that action can be taken towards our desired outcomes, shouldn't the efficacy of our persuasion methods be under constant scrutiny?  It's here that the Quaker ideals of enemy love and the light within each person come in so handy.  If I want to change your mind, I have to be the kind of person you're willing to allow to influence you.  And maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think a picket sign or a Facebook post is how that kind of trust is built. If I'm going to persuade you, I have to first respect you, and listen to you, and give you an equal chance to persuade me.

So let's talk about the light within each person.  A variation of this is that we should look to protect and love those who are commonly called "the least of these."  In the Bible the inference is usually that "the least of these" are children, or immigrants, or the poor, or the sick and dying.  More recently, this has grown to include the LGBT community and racial and gender minorities. We usually don't think these people are "less," rather that they have a more difficult ladder to climb to reach the playing field the rest of us are already using.  And this is true, of course.  These groups have a tougher road.

But this is where I want to challenge us to think differently.  For us - those of us who consider ourselves liberal, or humanists, or progressive Christians - in our worldview, these are not "the least of these."  For us, our natural sympathies extend to these people.  A lot of the time, it's EASY for us to love them.  We've probably already been involved in causes related to them, and we did it because it's obvious we should.  We recognize their humanity, see that their road is tougher, and do our best to improve their situations.  And these are things we should be doing!

My thesis is that if we want to improve our communities, countries, and planet, we have to go beyond what's natural or easy for us.  We have to recognize our natural biases, and fight against them.  We have to fight the urge to scream into our echo chambers.  We have to fight the urge to re-blog a bumper-sticker meme on Facebook and think we've contributed something meaningful.  I submit that what's meaningful is listening to someone we disagree with so long that we can finally understand why they think what they think, and then be able to say, "I acknowledge that you're a decent human being, and your opinion stems from a worldview that make sense given your experiences, even if I disagree with it with every fiber of my being."

For us, loving the least of these should mean more than believing in rights for immigrants or LGBT people.  For us, loving the least of these should mean seeking out and LOVING the Ted Cruz in our family.  It should mean finding a way to RESPECT the local equivalent of Ann Coulter or Fred Phelps.  This is how minds are changed.  If we can't love, or at least respect, the equality, humanity, and capacity to reason possessed by those we disagree with, I don't think we can claim to be after social change.  We're after social affirmation.  Social affirmation is easy.  Social change is hard.  And because it's impossibly, maddeningly hard, it deserves our most serious consideration.  

I want to change the world.  And I want the world to change me.  First goal - make friends with, respect, and love, my own personal Ted Cruz.