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).

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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.