April 11, 2012

No True Scotsman... except for MacArthur

I highly recommend listening to Christian programming from time to time (if you're interested in understanding where Christians are coming from). It will drive you nuts, but it's also really interesting to get inside their thinking. It's not new to me. I lived in that culture all my life and believed strongly in much of what you'll hear and think is... um... searching for diplomatic term...... misguided. Many of these people AREN'T charlatans (many are, don't get me wrong... and many others are a strange mix, using religion for profit, but they've also convinced themselves that what they're "selling" is legit). Many are incredibly sincere, and they're just passing down to the next generation their own indoctrination (which I find incredibly sad and frustrating... I certainly wasn't encouraged to think critically in the religious sphere). All this to say, balance your annoyance with compassion. Balance... don't throw out one or the other. And since you can't pray for discernment for when to voice one or the other, you can use your own brain's mechanism to make this judgment instead.

A great glimpse into the "no true Scotsman" argument. Tonight I tuned into Moody Radio on my drive home as I sometimes do when I'm up for traveling down memory lane (I used to listen to this station quite a bit as a believer), but with my new rational/skeptical eyes and ears on. He didn't know it, but fundamentalist preacher John MacArthur was demonstrating the "no true Scotsman" argument beautifully in his sermon titled "Abiding in the Vine" (click here to listen to or read it). MacArthur's argument is such a cop-out. He's essentially teaching his listeners that if someone walks away from the faith, then they never were genuine Christians, and therefore such persons should simply be written off (not that it matters to me, since I don't believe in the Christian message anyway, but this can have very real, negative consequences in how Christian family members treat their "fallen" loved ones, plus it's downright insulting to those of us who took our faith VERY seriously for many years). And he talks about "bearing fruit" a lot in his message (a biblical concept that you can tell if someone is a "real" Christian by whether they have certain virtuous characteristics). STRANGE. Some (not all) of the most devout Christians I know show some of the most ugly, rotten "fruit" I ever seen: bigotry, snobbery, and narcissism to name a few. Not that non-theists don't have issues, but that's the point... we ALL have virtues and vices (though a lot of fundamentalist congregations like to paint atheists as all vice all the time... that was certainly what I thought of atheists before I became one and realized that portrayal was GROSSLY INACCURATE). The distinction with non-theists is that we are virtuous because we want to be, not because some god is compelling us. Well, no god is compelling theists either, they just think that's the case.

So, I wonder... if there's no true Scotsman, then what does that make MacArthur?

Side Note: Now, just to make you super-confused, there are whole other camps of Christianity that believe "once saved, always saved."

April 1, 2012

Rally Rockin' on the DC Mall!

One week ago this time I was passed out in my apartment, blissfully sleeping off my Reason Rally hangover. I DID IT! I got to participate in this historical event that had been buzzing for months on the podcast circuit. And I think it was on the AronRa episode of The Thinking Atheist that I first heard about the bus option. I had really wanted to go to the Rally, but didn’t know how I’d swing the cost, so when I heard this I thought, “Done and done!” And super-bonus was that the Secular Student Alliance was offering a 50% discount, making the round trip bus ride less than $70! Also, the idea of taking a bus to a rally, civil-rights-movement-style, sounded so frickin cool to me.

My bus peeps. I made quick friends with the people sitting near me. My seatmate was a man I had met once before at a Chicago-based Recovering from Religion Meetup (he’s a leader of the group) so it was great to get to know him better and to have a the comfort of a familiar face. The demographics of the bus riders ranged from fresh-faced high-schoolers to the age-worn-and-wise elderly. (I wish I knew every person’s story about what brought him or her to the bus that weekend.) I really liked the trio of incredibly bright Northwestern students sitting near me. We passed the time talking about all sorts of topics… discussing psychology, swapping woo- and religious-upbringing stories, asking “Did you see this YouTube video?” or “Have you heard of this blog?” There was so much laughter and camaraderie. As with many moments I think back on about the trip, I feel verklempt (<yes I just wanted to use that word in a sentence, tee hee) thinking about the awesomeness of being among people who generally “get it,” an experience I have heard Dave Silverman mention before in interviews (i.e. the "therapeutic" power of being with other atheists, freethinkers, and skeptics in person).

After approx. 16 HOURS squished into a small seat (think coach airplane seat, but with no seatback tray in front of you), I was sore as f*ck, but the happy neurochemicals firing in my brain caused by Reason-Rally-elation made it totally bearable. And despite the physical discomfort of that many hours in close quarters I have NO REGRETS about having taken the bus because it was such a great way to connect with like-minded people from my own area. No spontaneous group-sing of Kumbaya occurred, but the Tim Minchin video-viewing on the return trip sure came close. (There were TV screens on the bus and some genius-of-a-person (thank you!) had brought along a Minchin concert DVD.)

Our groggy but excited crew got dropped off at the National Mall of Washington, DC, around 9:30am on Saturday morning March 24, 2012.  It was a dewy, chilly morning and the sky had that “I’m going to rain on you at any moment” look (and throughout the day the sky... or Zeus, perhaps?... came through on its threats, but never full-on torrential downpours, thank goodness). I made my way to a porta-potty to freshen up (if that’s even possible while in a porta-potty)... ya know, powder my nose and such. When I emerged, I walked up to where the crowd was gathering and just visually took in as much as I could. My un-rational “heart” was swelling with pride and emotion. I had a stupid-ass grin on my face and my head was held high. Ack… crap… I'm tearing up just writing this. You see, one year prior to the Rally, I was a month-old atheist who felt very alone and spun-around. Now, here I was standing with thousands of people, many of who likely had stories similar to my own. So I will not apologize for my emotion. The experience was amazing.

(Names of bus peeps have been omitted to protect the not-so-innocent :-D, but if you want to be known or share your own bus experiences, I encourage you to do so in the comments.)

Priorities. If I did nothing else at the Rally, I wanted to get to the booth for Recovering from Religion, a DESPERATELY-NEEDED organization that is working to support people who are coming out of religion, and meet the team that is making this organization great. I went to the booth tent before the Rally officially began and did not see their table. Sad face. So I wandered back outside and there they were: Rich and Deanna Joy Lyons of Living After Faith, the official Recovering from Religion podcast, wandering around looking a bit lost. I shouted out gleefully in their direction “It’s the Lyons!!!” and the UBER-FRIENDLY couple immediately came over, hugged me and told me they were looking for their table (which they found shortly thereafter and were busily manning/womanning for the rest of the day). The RR team was SO kind. I don’t think I’ve been hugged so hard ever. I’m so glad because these people are my heroes and it’s always scary to meet people you admire in person for fear that they may be jerks in real life. Yeah, definitely NOT the case with these folks. It was a full-on love fest. 

SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT: go to the Recovering from Religion website THIS VERY SECOND and donate whatever you’re able to their causes which include the development of RR support groups across the country, The Clergy Project (helping entrenched pastors who no longer believe craft an exit strategy), and The Therapist Project (building a network of mental health professionals who employ reason and science in their practices, and who understand the difficulties of those recovering from lives based on irrational beliefs and indoctrination).

Just as ceremonies were kickin’ off, I found my friend, also a Chicago gal who had arrived in DC a few days earlier. Some of you may know her of Godless Girl fame. I found her blog shortly after my deconversion and met her at a local atheist Meetup last summer. We knew we had hit it off when we had one of those 2-hour long parking lot conversations as the restaurant was closing up. I was prepared to be a loner at the Rally, but being able to share the experience with her was a definite bonus.

The Rally Itself: Speaker Highlights and Takeaways. I’m sure many people have a section like this on their Rally blogs, so I’m not going to go through each and every speaker, though I enjoyed the hell out of all the ones I got a chance to hear and I was wooting like a crazy-lady… I mean… like a completely rational person. (LOL to The Good Atheist for pointing out the irony of the strong emotional undercurrents of a REASON Rally). These are the moments my brain remembers a week later. And those moments forgotten I hope to relive when I get the Rally DVD (Rally Reunion Movie Party at DD’s place, woot!)

Paul Provenza. The emcee of the Rally. Incredibly upbeat and did a good job interacting with the crowd via Twitter.

David Silverman. I’ve heard him on the podcast circuit. I like him. He seems like a nice guy who’s passionate about what he does. I’ve also heard a little (not much) buzz about some people thinking he’s too aggressive (not bridging a gap to theists, etc). To those allegations I say the following: I think we need all types. I think our movement needs that "good cop/bad cop" dynamic (though I typically don’t like stark dichotomies, so don’t take that idea too far). I think that individual people should strive for balance. There’s a time to be a gentle, a time to be aggressive. Also, people have different strengths and I say EXPLOIT YOUR STRENGTHS to help the movement. I am typically not going to have the aggressive approach of a Richard Dawkins, for instance, but I am very grateful for his voice and the myriad other voices that make up the tapestry of our movement. I try to keep certain goals in my mind: We want our voices to be heard in the public arena. We want to increase awareness of our existence to theists (they believe god(s) exists, but not us... sad face), and we want to engage people in awareness-raising discussion. It takes many DIFFERENT TYPES OF PEOPLE to do this, so go out there and work your angle. But, if you forget to “evangelize” for rational thinking one day, don’t worry, NO GOD has commissioned you to do so anyway. But, if like me, you want people to live their lives based in as much reality as possible, add your voice to mine in this effort. The Rally got me VERY PUMPED to do exactly that. 

Hemant Mehta. I was proud to see Chi-town-representin’ on stage. Holla! He is a phenomenal speaker. For an atheist, he seems so… friendly. Huh. Must be an anomaly.

Jessica Ahlquist. All I have to say is that many people would kill to have had HALF the confidence this woman has at her young age. Wow.

Adam Savage. I love his upbeat attitude, his child-like excitement about science and discovery. I appreciate those in the science community (deGrasse Tyson, Nye, etc.) who are finding ways to get the common person more interested in it through avenues like Mythbusters

Greta Christina. I know she’s been around in the blogosphere for a while, but I’m just now getting exposed to what she’s been up to, and I am really tracking with what I’ve heard from her so far. I wish, for many reasons, that I could’ve gone to the American Atheists Convention, including to go to Greta's “Coming Out: What Can the Godless Learn From The Queers?” breakout session. And I just downloaded her fresh-off-the press book to my Kindle.

Tim Minchin. It was my first time ever seeing him perform. Prior to that I was only aware of him, via links to him I saw in the atheist-sphere, as a kind of weird-looking guy with makeup who sings (terrible judgment and description, I know). After my “first time” with him at the Rally, I am full on IN LOVE. He is now the weird, sexy-looking guy with makeup who sings songs with a jaw-dropping blend of intelligent, hilarious and irreverent lyrics that left me wanting more. My first time with Minchin was good for me. :-)

Wandered off to the tents at this point and came back mid-James Randi talk. He is adorable and funny. And then the rest of the Rally I was further back in the crowd or kind of walking and only half-listening (again why I’m getting the DVD). My friend and I ran out of steam around Eddie Izzard, so we made our way to a local Barnes and Noble to charge our phones -- because we’re tech addicts -- and then to grab a bite at a cool little burger joint that she found called Ollie’s Trolley.

If you look at the Official Schedule for the Rally, the event was supposed to end with a big group hug at 6pm sharp, which I found a little disappointing because I thought that DRUNKEN ORGIES were supposed to commence whenever the godless get together. Oh well.

And now for some word association! The Reason Rally for me... Happy. Fun. Elated. Inspired. Empowered. Emotional. Emboldened (that’s right, George W, emboldened)…

…not so much "angry" though. Just sayin’ :-D.

March 29, 2012

An Open Love Letter to Black Atheists, Freethinkers, Skeptics and Generally Awesome Humanoids

This post was inspired by listening to a brief Living After Faith podcast about the Black Atheists after-party at the Reason Rally. These thoughts/feelings have been with me for as long as I can remember and aren’t atheist-specific, but I wanted to get them out of my head and onto the interwebs.

But first of all, about the podcast, they were interviewing rapper Greydon Square who performed at the after-party. I wholeheartedly agree with Greydon’s observation that “Lyrics are powerful. Rhyming is powerful. It’s poetry.”  Well-written lyrics in any form give me chills. Some of the best lyrics I've heard have been through rap. (And shitty-ass lyrics come in many forms too, lol.) I encourage people to not hate on/write off one overall genre of music. Open your mind. Find the artists that speak to you and let yourself get caught up in their flow.

Moving on. The following may seem really kiss-assy, but I don’t mean it that way. These are very real sentiments, so I hope it comes across as such. So here goes. I have immense respect for people of color (black and otherwise) because I am very aware (though I cannot know experientially) that the obstacles many of these people have faced -- and are facing -- are formidable. As a white woman, I presume that there are many privileges that come my way without my even knowing it… probably someone who is not white could quickly point out to me what those things are, and please feel free to in the comments of this post if you care to raise our awareness. (Granted, as a woman in general I have my own obstacles, but am I so crazy-grateful to be living in a reasonably -- I know that’s debatable/subjective -- non-oppressive place and time thanks to the brave women and men who have come before me to promote the causes of feminism.)

I have a general framework that helps me empathize with my fellow human travelers. (Try not to get too hung up on the specifics of the analogy here...  hopefully my overall point will come through.)  Imagine your birth as a starting line. Ideally, each one of us would get to start at the same place. But that’s just not how it is. Due to countless factors such as a person’s geographical location, race, family’s socioeconomic status, genetics and place in history, some people get to begin way ahead of the line, some people way behind. It’s bullshit to look at someone who has only gotten to Point C on the line, and maybe you’re at Point M, and say to them “Just pull yourself up by your bootstraps, bucko!” (Of course, there are some people who are simply not utilizing the resources that are actually readily available to them -- see Frederick Douglass quote, but even then you don’t know all the details about what’s going on with that person, so be very slow to pass judgment.)  That fellow human may have had to start life way behind the starting line. Maybe their Point C is a COLOSSAL ACCOMPLISHMENT because they’ve had to come so far. Maybe your Point M isn’t all that impressive because you got to start at Point L to begin with. THIS is one of the many reasons I respect my beautiful, melanin-enhanced counterparts so much. People in “underdog” races (squirrel moment: I want to research at some point what the hell “race” even means since we’re all just humans… Is it simply a term to help categorize groups into generic buckets?) are often those who unfortunately have entered life, through no fault of their own, way behind the start line. I can’t “get it” experientially, but please know that I see it… that I see you… and that I aim to live my life in a way that helps break down these starting-line disparities for future generations.

With love and respect,
The melanin-impaired, can’t-tan-to-save-my-life-thanks-to-my-Western-European-gentic-mix, Disillusioned Drew

p.s. I went to a small Christian high school in the Chicago suburbs where there was only ONE black person out of all four grades. Crazy, I know, but this is the world I grew up in. She had a great attitude about it though. She made these little business cards that said “Black People Anonymous” (I know that I still have mine somewhere, but couldn’t find it for this post). It said something about the person receiving it having the spirit of a black person even if their skin color did not reflect this. Love it. :-)

“Frederick Douglass didn’t become free ‘til he prayed with his feet”
– Greydon Square, Special Pleading lyrics

March 22, 2012

Did you get a card from me at the Reason Rally? If so, stop everything and read this NOW.

Dear DD Card Holder,

You’ll likely notice that this is but my third blog entry. What’s GREAT about that is you have been given the EXCLUSIVE opportunity to get in on the ground-floor of this REVOLUTIONARY blog by Disillusioned Drew. For just 3 easy payments of $19.99, and your firstborn child (om nom nom), your DD Membership grants you FULL ACCESS to MIND-BLOWING posts that will include compelling topics such as:

Reviews of podcasts on atheism, skepticism, coming out of religion, science, and psychology. I am a podcast (or as Jake Farr-Wharton of The Imaginary Friends Show pronounces it in his super-sexy Aussie accent “pode-castes”) junkie. I plan to do ongoing blog posts about the podcasts I love in general (and why) and also reviews/reflection on specific episodes.

Recovering from Religion. I am crazy-passionate about what this organization is doing and where it is heading. I myself have only been to one grassroots RR Meetup in Chicago thus far (and had a great time), so most of what I know about Recovering from Religion comes from hearing Dr. Darrel Ray, Jerry DeWitt, and Sarah Morehead on the podcast circuit (especially on their official podcast, Living After Faith, hosted by the insanely-awesome-power-couple, Rich and Deanna Joy Lyons). Expect effusive posts and mentions about what RR is up to. This organization is crucial for those coming out of religion like me.

Psychology. I am fasc-eeeee-nated with why we humans think and behave the way we do. SHHH...can I tell you a secret? I hope to one day have a degree in psychology and be able to integrate my profession with the atheist/skeptic/humanist movement to help others (I have several undergrad classes in psych under my belt, but I have a long way to go to get that Master's). I hope to follow in the footsteps of Dr. Marlene Winell, Dr. Valerie Tarico, and others that I have not yet discovered who share a passion to help those who are suffering from "Indoctrination Disorientation Syndrome" (trademark, Disillusioned Drew). Oooo ooo… my SUPER-secret dream would be to have a call-in podcast show with several hosts (including yours truly) where people who are transitioning out of religion could call in and we could help walk them through it. Think of The Atheist Experience but with counseling instead of Matt Dillahunty ranting (though I do love his -- and all of the TAE Team's -- rants). That would be HEAVEN for me. (“Heaven” in this life through doing what you love? What a concept!) Oh wait, but I’m godless so I must be selfish and not care about others, because there couldn’t possibly be any evolutionary reason to look out for each other. Which leads me to my next interest…

Science! Who doesn’t have crush on Neil deGrasse Tyson? Even you straight fellas (don’t deny). No, but really I’m interested in science for much less shallow reasons, one of which is that I am somewhat scientifically illiterate. Why, you ask? Because I went to fundamentalist Christian schools through high school; Schools that treated evolution like a four-letter word. Because I remember numerous times throughout my childhood when my parents would discuss at the dinner table how EVIL public schools were for teaching said evolution. With these kinds of attitudes being beat into me, it’s no wonder I know so little. In my early 20s I would change the channel if a science program mentioned (as most would, of course) evolution or the age of the universe. I was STRONGLY INDOCTRINATED to shut out information that conflicted with the young earth, Adam and Eve, talking snake (insert HI-LAR-I-OUS t-shirt link here) stories that had been drilled into me. BOTTOM LINE: I am voraciously trying to make up for lost time... which is fine because I love to learn and I never EVER want to stop learning.

Learning. If you get to a point in your life where you say to yourself, “Well, I think I’ve got it all figured out. Yup. Nothing else to know here,” I feel sorry for you. Not that people are necessarily this extreme, but I have crossed paths with many people who essentially live their lives in a way that reflects this attitude. And that’s their prerogative, but that’s not for me. I question and dig and analyze and read and think about and mull things over. It challenges me and I like it. This INSATIABLE CURIOSITY is likely one of the main reasons I finally snapped out of my religious daze. (I'll do a blog post at some point about how I unexpectedly stumbled right out of faith. I certainly wasn't looking to become an atheist, but I just started thinking about certain things a little too hard. Oopsies.)

So, don’t delay, folks! If your last name begins with A-M, add me to your RSS feed today. If it begins with N-Z, you can begin adding me tomorrow.


p.s. I will post soon about my experience at the Reason Rally which I still cannot believe I’m going to be part of in 2 DAYS when just a little over a year ago I was a devout Christian. Crazy but AWESOME!!!

February 3, 2012

Cognitive Blissfulness

Just when I thought there was no more room in my heart for another podcast... there it was... an unassuming piece of paper amidst a table of flyers at Chicago’s 2012 Skepticamp. What’s this? A podcast hosted by Chicagoland natives? How had I not heard of it before? I don’t know, but supernatural forces must’ve led me to that flyer. Scratch that. Natural forces. The forces of the Skepticamp organizers who chose to print flyers of some of the sponsors of the event, including the Cognitive Dissonance podcast, my newest podcast obsession.

Ok, so I’ve only listened to 3 episodes so far (the latest 3), but I’m loving the show, so that means that probably by this time next week I will have listened to all 32 episodes. (Yes, I have a full-time job and other responsibilities, but I listen to podcasts whenever I’m doing something mindless like washing dishes, making dinner... who am I kidding... microwaving dinner and throwing away the tray). The hosts run through a variety of topics, comically commenting on news items from a rational perspective. My favorite things about this show so far: 1) They’re from my hometown, and 2) I can tell they’re genuinely having a blast doing the show. Their commentary is hilarious and their laughter is infectious. They’re totally irreverent, passionate about what they’re discussing, and they feed off each other (not literally, of course... they feed off babies like all ‘godless heathens’ are want to do). Bottom line: Listen to it, bitches.

WARNING: Do not listen to Cognitive Dissonance with headphones in a place where random LOLs would be frowned upon. If this cannot be helped, simply respond “Yes, I’m laughing at the voices in my head, but they have names: Tom and Cecil. They’re my special friends.” Then give a wild-eyed grin and skip away gleefully.

This is the first, but won’t be the last of my podcast review posts. There are so many to love! Yes, I’m a podcast whore and proud of it.

January 24, 2012

Jonathan Edwards or John Edward?

Since my deconversion, I continue to tune in from time to time to a radio station that was a staple of my Christian diet for many years, 90.1 Moody Radio. This is a station based out of the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. The programming is not quite targeted to my generation - I would say maybe people a little older - but then again I don't want to generalize because I started listening to it in my early 20s, maybe because the more conservative nature of many of the speakers had a familiar tone to my religious upbringing.

It is interesting to listen to pastors -- many of whom I used to turn for wisdom between Sundays -- now from my fairly new a-theist perspective. For instance, the other night when I was listening to a sermon by James MacDonald of the famed (in these parts at least) Harvest Bible franchise, I became painfully aware of how much some sermons are eerily similar to cold readings. MacDonald was talking generically about some obvious principal for living (I don't remember what it was), and interspersing his pontification with comments like "someone here is struggling in a relationship; someone here needs to forgive and hand that relationship over to God." I know these type of comments are made in sermons all the time, likely to elicit an emotional response from the audience, ahem, congregation. I used to fall for it, telling myself that God was using that sermon to speak to me about about some thought crime I had committed. (Not that I was so incredibly self-absorbed that I thought God was speaking only to me. I always told myself that God could use one sermon to touch the hearts of many people at once in ways that were specifically tailored to each person. A beautiful thought, don't you think?) I'm now aware that churches use these general examples because they are simply familiar to the human condition.

OF COURSE there are many people "struggling in a relationship" right now. We are social creatures who have to figure out the dance of life together so that we can benefit individually and as a group. It is so incredibly saddening to me, now that I can see it for what it is, that pastors purport to make these statements as though God is speaking through them to share this insight. And I think a lot of pastors who are being genuine truly feel that this is what they're doing. They don't realize that their ability to call out what's going on with other people is a function of their own empathy and understanding of the human experience. There is NO GOD transmitting a message to any person in the audience whose name contains a vowel, just as there is no Aunt Gertrude transmitting a message through a psychic medium that she wants her nephew to know she's in a better place.