212. cuittle

Franciscan_missionaries_in_CaliforniaOn Sunday, in the Wall Street Journal online, writer Dave Shiflett penned an opinion piece about the upcoming American Atheists convention in Salt Lake City, Utah — on Thursday, in fact: “Where Atheists Meet to Evangelize: Telling believers they are rubes may not be the best recruitment strategy.”

Frankly, I’m still not sure what to make of it. I don’t know what Mr. Shiflett’s personal religious views are, but his article contains a number of mordant jabs. “… deity-dissing group,” he calls American Atheists at one point.

“… suggesting that the uninitiated are delusional and feeble-minded might not be the wisest way to expand your brand.”

I’m reminded of what Julia Sweeney reports in Letting Go of God, what her mother says in a phone call after Julia is accidentally outed to them: “Everyone knows that there are those few people out there who don’t believe in God, but they keep it quietly to themselves!”

The timing of Shiflett’s article was curious, because on April 11, Kellie Moore wrote a piece in the Washington Post about the growing number of secular communities: “Don’t call it atheist church; secular communities are growing.”

Moore notes that many of the secular groups are geared towards families with young children, and that the children’s activities don’t include “teaching atheism.” In fact, they try to steer clear of any kind of indoctrination.

“Teaching atheism”? What would that even look like??

In my own Evangelical upbringing, a fair amount of time in church was spent teaching us theology and Christian apologetics, the systematic field by which Christians learn how to present a rational basis for the Christian faith and defend it against objections. Everything from having us memorize Bible verses to lessons on Sunday mornings about the Christian life were intended to prepare us to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).

Going between these two articles, it’s interesting to see how religious people superimpose their models of church and community onto atheist assemblies. To paraphrase Queen Victoria: “Whatever do atheists do?” They assume that, like them, our goal is to make more atheists; to break down the deeply held beliefs of Christians with cold, hard, scientific logic and rational arguments.

The popular image of an atheist is based on media figures like Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens, aggressive and vituperative voices bent on destroying any belief that isn’t founded in hard science or reality. We are portrayed as angry, bitter loners without a moral foundation or compass. A recent study covered today in Pacific Standard confirmed that Americans intuitively judge atheists as immoral.

One article on Crosswalk.com claims to expose “Chilling Strategies of Neo-Atheists.” If you’re paying attention, this is how Evangelicals portrayed Communists in the 1950s—godless, immoral atheists mobilized by Stalin to turn the United States just as Communist and atheist as the U.S.S.R.

Nicoll claims that part of the atheista strategy is to target the young and turn them into god-hating, anti-religious clones. (Transference much??) He then quotes philosopher Richard Rorty, who described his dream that students might enter college “as bigoted, homophobic religious fundamentalists” and leave full-fledged atheists.

“… we are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable.”

It’s true that some atheists share this view; that religious people are feeble-minded and that religion must be stamped out if humanity is to survive and thrive. Yet what Nicoll accuses us of sounds more like what Evangelicals having done since the inception of Christianity. “Give me the child of seven,” said Francis Xavier, “and I will give you the man.”

This is the distorted view of atheism that we have to contend with, just as many liberal Christians try to distance themselves from their bigoted brethren.

Honestly, how often does the average atheist think about religion? Probably not much. For those of us who follow the news (politics in particular), it’s difficult to ignore the presence of Christofascism, the kind of belief that seems eager to wield a sword to spread and enforce Christianity far and wide.

So were it not for city councils opening meetings with Christian prayers, daring anyone to bring a lawsuit; wedding photographers and bakers making martyrs of themselves in their increasingly bizarre war on marriage equality; and politicians trying to write their religious views about women’s bodies into law… well, most of us wouldn’t think much about religion.

The new Cosmos (with the amazing Neil deGrasse Tyson) is a reminder that there’s more than a lifetime’s worth of amazing things to think about and ponder!

Yesterday, I posted an article with the musing that punishing those who hold (increasingly) unpopular views about marriage equality “seems to run counter to the very message of the LGBT movement, which is that there’s room at the table for all. The real question is whether equality opponents are willing to sit at the same table.”

This is where I’m also at with Evangelical Christians.

The fact is that, until we invent spaceships to whisk us away to other planets, we’re stuck learning to live peaceably together on this one. The atheists I know are willing to reach out, to build a table where there is space enough for everyone, their views and beliefs (however strange). Because right now, outside of academia, we’re rarely invited to join the party. True, we often self-segregate, but mostly, that’s because we’re accustomed to not even being recognized.

We don’t want to necessarily make atheist converts. We don’t want to dash anyone’s hopes and dreams. Rather, we desire a renaissance of critical thinking—and less dogmatism. We want children (and adults) to be free to consider every possible idea and facet of human knowledge, and decide for themselves what they believe instead of being told that they must accept one particular narrative, without question, or burn forever in Hell.

That’s all.

Because it’s about time we started celebrating the wonder of being alive.

211. plash

TOBThis week and next I am working at a risk management and reinsurance company in Minneapolis through a temp agency. It’s been a bit of an adventure figuring out what exactly I’ll be doing, because at first it seemed that they thought I was an idiot or something. Then they discovered that I had print experience, scanning, proficiency in Microsoft Office, mail room, etc.

Essentially, I’m working with a four-person temp team that the company I’m working for has outsourced a lot of their office support needs to.

Mostly, it’s a lot of waiting around for a project to come up. On my first day, the girl I’m filling in for basically told me to bring a book. Thankfully, today I was doing mail runs (and scoping out cute males around the office–I’ve a crush on the cute guy who sits around the corner), which mostly involves doing a walk-around of both floors to check designated drop trays for any out-going mail.

For my first two days there while I was “training” (i.e., they were figuring out what I was going to be doing), I basically hung out at the front desk with the receptionist. She’s an early-middle-aged Latina with, as I soon discovered, a pretty massive inferiority complex. In the few days I’ve known her, it’s made me wonder how irritating I come across when I give in to negative thinking. She’s also one of those individuals of a certain age where you keep your head down, do your job, watch the clock, and check off the days until retirement.

Let’s call her “Paulita.”

To her credit, Paulita has been working on expanding her mind through reading and exploration of history (she calls it “research”); and she is curious about many things. However, we had a conversation yesterday morning that tested the limits of my tact and incredulity.

Even though it’s technically not allowed, she goes on the Internet to read articles and look things up. For example, yesterday afternoon we were talking about the Civil War and a visit she had to the birthplace of Robert E. Lee. In that conversation, we learned that Lee married the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington, George Washington’s wife. The relation is through her son from her first marriage to Daniel Custis, who died in 1757.

Ah, Wikipedia.

Yesterday morning, while Paulita was on break, I found an article from LiveScience.com on Google News: 3,300-Year-Old Tomb with Pyramid Entrance Discovered in Egypt. She’d mentioned a fascination with ancient Egypt the day before, so I showed it to her when she got back. She mentioned something about wondering if the pyramids were built before or after Stonehenge, and I recalled learning that the very earliest of the Egyptian pyramids (c. 2,670 BCE) were built around the same time as construction on the Salisbury plain began. The circular bank and ditch enclosure of Stonehenge were first excavated around 3,100 BCE, whereas the stone rings weren’t erected until around 2,600 BCE. The Pyramids of Giza were built during the Egyptian 4th Dynasty (c. 2613 to 2494 BCE).

(I looked up all these dates just now. Don’t worry, memory usually prevents me from going full-scale nerd most of the time.)

During all this, Paulita mentioned “Biblical times” at several points, most confusingly in reference to Stonehenge. I’m assuming she was using this phrase to mean “ancient,” but at this point my brain started going into damage control mode. When I mentioned that this kind of building was going on all over Europe around this time in the Neolithic period, that it wasn’t just Egypt, she seemed slightly perplexed.

“But, how is that possible?” she asked. “When God confused the languages and spread everyone out to different parts of the world, how could there have been time for them to have built Stonehenge?”

… big eyes.

“Um… what was that?” I asked, trying to sound as if she’d used a Spanish phrase that I hadn’t caught.

“In Genesis,” she replied. “Have you read the Bible? The Tower of Babel? Men wanted to build a tower to reach to the heavens so they could become like God, and God confused their language so that they couldn’t understand each other and finish building it?”

It was at this point that a sort of United Nations general assembly popped up in my mind. On the one hand, I didn’t want to be “that” kind of atheist and tell her outright that the Bible is a book of myths that never actually happened. On the other hand, I totally wanted to be “that” kind of atheist who tells a well-meaning Christian lady that her holy book is a collection of myths that never actually happened.

Finally, I said, “Oh, yes. That. I was raised Christian” (here she made a gesture as if to say, Then you know all about it!) “… but, you know, there’s nothing in the historical record that I know of that mentions anything like that.”

Her eyes widened a little. “Oh,” she said, sounding dubious but intrigued.

I tried to steer the conversation towards some of the reading I’ve been doing lately about human evolution; about evolutionary differences between Europeans and Africans; how one group of Homo sapiens went south and developed darker skin to cope with the sun, and another went north and developed lighter skin to cope with lack of sun. Their languages evolved differently with them, depending on where they went and how cut off they were from other tribes. And during the Neolithic period, humans started settling down, building huge stone monuments like the Pyramids and Stonehenge as community gathering places to mark transitions in life– birth to death.

This is obviously a condensed version of a lightly meandering conversation that was interrupted by co-worker and the phone ringing. But hearing Paulita attempting to cross-reference history with events in the Bible was… jarring.

It was a stark reminder to me that almost half of Americans still believe that the Bible is real history, and actually happened.

I just…

… can’t…

… mind…

… stuck…

… snrgsflmsnojrssss…

210. lontano

RTA2172Went home feeling more alone than usual tonight.

Had a date at the Mall of America this evening after work. I’ve been talking to this guy for a while. He’s a pilot who works out of the Caribbean and happened to be in Minneapolis for a few hours between connecting flights. He was visiting family in the Fargo area and now is headed home.

I came home after work and managed to find a spot relatively close to my apartment. If I drove home after the date, chances are I’d be parking at least six blocks away due to Minneapolis’ inane, ongoing, “just in case” snow emergency. Parking is only allowed on the east and south sides of streets until April 1. This means that trying to find a spot after 6pm is like musical chairs, if the penalty when the music stops was being transported instantly to Siberia.

After changing out of work clothes, I headed out to get cash and coffee to break a $20 for bus fare. However, I missed the 23H by just minutes. My phone was already on about an 8% charge, but I was able to learn that a 4L was leaving at 7:04PM just eight blocks away. Luckily, the bus was about five minutes late so I made it in time. However, that meant I missed the connecting bus that would’ve got me to MOA sooner, but I had enough phone battery left to find a new connection to get me there.

Just as my bus got to the Mall, we got stuck at a checkpoint going in to the Transit Station. I’m not sure what was going on, and even the bus driver was confused. There was something going on with a taxi several cars ahead that backed everything up.

Fortunately, my date wasn’t too plussed. I managed to get to our meeting spot in one piece, and we had a pleasant dinner together. We talked about his flight career, our families, our hopes and dreams, and a bit about religion. We ended up talking until about 10:21PM, at which point we decided it was time to head out.

He was heading to the airport and was going to take the light rail back to be ready to make his flight in a couple of hours. We said our goodbyes in the transit station at the Mall – handshake, not a hug. Definitely in the friendzone.

The thing is, by the time we got there, it was about 10:30PM. Turns out a bus had left about five minutes earlier that would’ve got me home by way of the 4L. And my cell phone was dead.

After wandering around for a bit, I managed to find an outlet by some payphones in the Mall. It felt ironic, crouching on the floor beside those ancient, corded, handheld receivers while my relatively fancy smartphone charged. I finally managed to get enough charge to get an Internet connection, and discovered that the next bus wouldn’t be leaving until 11:17PM.

So I had some time.

In that interval, dark clouds began to descend, like Dementors, closing in. A metaphorical rain cloud formed, drenching me with its metaphorical downpour. In these moments, it seems like absolutely everything is wrong with my life. My phone dies because my battery is crap. I leave my gloves on the floor of my car, right in a spot where a bottle of motor oil leaked. I miss buses by mere minutes. I get stomach aches that keep me awake all night because of my allergies. The cute guy I’m crushing on has a boyfriend, or turns out to be a total jerk. Everyone I’ve dated or lived with, however briefly, is now either dating or married to someone they’re great with. And I’m perpetually alone, stranded at a metaphorical transit stop with no idea how to get home.

I know, mentally, that this is the depression talking – that my life could be so much worse than it is. Yet why do I go through life feeling a though I’ve missed that one crucial day in class that helped everyone else pass the big test with flying colors, while I barely manage a “C”?

On my last connecting bus home, I did witness an interesting exchange. There was a woman in her mid-40s, with blonde hair and wearing a black leather jacket and dark glasses – the very image of a Gen X rocker. Sure enough, there was a guitar case on the seat beside her. When I got on, she was saying that she didn’t like going out to a bar unless she was playing at it.

Then the girl across from her (they seemed to have been in conversation for some time) mentioned that she cleans for a living (she “puts her all into it”), and needs some kind of therapy to help her “develop a personality” because she has trouble talking to people. She started talking about her collage art and how it was helping her get over her fear of death. The rocker lady was packing up, becoming more uncomfortable with this conversation. Fortunately for us all her stop arrived, and she got off, took her bike, and gave a “peace” sign to the driver.

I wondered on the long walk home if I’ll ever be able to drop the practiced “keep away” look that I cultivated as a deeply closeted gay man in conservative Christianland. I wonder if I was unconsciously doing it on my date tonight, or with any of the other guys I’ve dated in the year since breaking up with Jason. I wonder how often I’ve missed opportunities to connect with someone, a friend or potential romantic partner, who couldn’t see past the thorny barriers I throw up to keep people out.

Walking home tonight, I passed apartment and second-story bedroom windows, flickering ghostly blue and white. We once huddled together in front of fires to keep warm. Now we huddle in front of televisions, alone.

209. avoirdupois

2505_mb_file_2eab8The first couple of days back in an office this week were rough. Not so much the being on a schedule again, although that was certainly an adjustment. Leaving the apartment by 7:40am every day was not fun for this not-morning person.

I’ve been contracted this week and part of next week by a real estate company to gather and put together evidence for an upcoming legal case brought by a former employee. Auditing terminated employee files is tedious, mind-numbing work, made bearable by audiobooks and the reality that it’s work.

(And I’m so grateful to be gay and know that my wages will never be garnished to pay for child support. Seriously, guys. Keep it in your pants.)

The downside of this is that it’s allowed for reflection on how much I hate doing this kind of work. However, my work background makes it damn near impossible to find work other than this. Without further specialized education, the likelihood of finding a non-entry-level job is remote, at best. And getting lucky is something that doesn’t happen to me often.

This is happening on the heels of last week’s game retreat. It might not have been so bad had it not seemed an extension of my real life, where I seemed to lose most of the time. In general, I just don’t get the rules of play. I don’t understand how to strategise, how to posture, how to read other people, or how to plan multiple steps ahead of my current position.

The best example I can extend for what usually goes on in my head during times like these — whether playing a game, reading comment from an editor on a piece of writing, or paging through file after file of someone who was fired for not showing up to work (again) — is a bit from Jason Robert Brown’s The Last 5 Years, where one of the characters, Cathy, a struggling actress, is auditioning for a role. The gimmick is that we hear what’s going on in her head while she’s singing:

«When you come home…» I should have told them I was sick last week, they’re gonna think this is the way I sing. Why is the pianist playing so loud? Should I sing louder? I’ll sing louder. Maybe I should stop and start over—I’m gonna stop and start over… why is the director staring at his crotch? Why is that man staring at my résumé? Don’t stare at my résumé. I made up half of my résumé. Look at me, top looking at that, look at me! No, not at my shoes, don’t look at my shoes, I hate these fucking shoes. Why did I pick these shoes? Why did I pick this song? Why did I pick this career? Why does this pianist hate me? If I don’t get a callback I can go to Crate and Barrel with mom and buy a couch. Not that I want to spend a day with mom, but Jamie needs his space to write since I’m obviously such a horrible, annoying distraction to him… what’s he gonna be like when we have kids? «And once again…» Why am I working so hard? These are the people who cast Linda Blair in a musical. Jesus Christ! I suck, I suck, I suck, I suck… «When fin’lly you come home to…» Okay, thank you, thank you so much.

This is basically what’s going on in my head all the time.

I’ve been feeling a growing sense of deep, inner dissatisfaction with my life, where I am currently, and what I’m doing. It’s leaving me feeling isolated, distracted, and unable to truly connect with the people in my community and life. Last night I went to play games with a couple of friends, and just couldn’t enjoy myself in their company. Ended up getting into an argument with a friend of a friend over whether Dallas Buyer’s Club is transphobic. I insisted that it’s exploitative (and not a good representation) of the LGBT community. She thought that Jared Leto’s character was beautiful and moving.

Hilarity ensued.

Were that this were the only instance. I’ve felt at odds with just about everyone lately.

Today, I decided to do a couple of Tarot spreads (one with my Rider-Waite-Coleman deck, and another with my gay Tarot deck) to try to mine at what’s going on with these dark feelings. I’ve recently been neglecting this aspect of self-care, and it rather feels as if I’ve been putting off housekeeping for a while and now my house is untidy.

Here’s what came up:

Rider-Waite

  1. Page of Wands
  2. Six of Swords, reversed
  3. Strength
  4. Nine of Pentacles, reversed
  5. Page of Pentacles
  6. Five of Swords
  7. Empress, reversed
  8. Knight of Cup, reversed
  9. Death
  10. The Fool

Bursten/Platano

  1. The World
  2. The Protector (→ Empress), reversed
  3. Sage (→ King) of Swords
  4. Ten of Coins
  5. Three of Wands
  6. Hermit, reversed
  7. Strength, reversed
  8. Man (→ Knight) of Cups
  9. Ace of Swords, reversed
  10. Five of Swords, reversed

I’ve written a little about my explorations into Tarot and my applications of Jungian psychology as a replacement for divinatory interpretation. Each card is only a token for exploration.

Psychological Tarot Spread (Cross)The most interesting cards to come up out of the twelve were The World, the King of Swords, and the reversed Hermit.

Usually, The World is a commentary on accomplishment, integration, and feeling complete. These days, I’m feeling anything but those things. It feels as if I’m constantly carrying the world on my shoulders, the weight pushing my mind and emotions down into despondency. The reversed Six of Swords is a continuation on this, the feeling that the past is always with me.

The reversed Hermit in the “future application” position says to me that isolating myself isn’t having the positive net effect it could have. The hyper-judgmental King of Swords residing in my “id” sounds more like Starbuck’s mom in Battlestar Galactica than a helpful mentor.

… why is it so hard to love one’s self?

208. contiguous

Arkham HorrorThis past weekend proved to be quite a blur of activity, confirming yet again that I am an introvert who requires significant time away from other human beings in order to survive. Or at least stay sane.

My friends Matt and Jason put on their annual four-day mini game convention at their home, and this was my first time attending. There were at least ten people staying at the house for the entire four days, and another five or so who came for just the day — like a regular convention.

Basically, there was a lot of game playing. Card games. Tabletop games. Competitive games. Cooperative games. Games with blocks. Games with mechanical pieces.

And there was food, beverage and snacks throughout.

I and one other attendee were there as “house elves.” Our job was essentially housekeeping — to keep the place in relative order for four days. There was the kitchen to keep clean, the bar, several game tables, a jug of water to refill, hand towels to wash, fold and redistribute. For all this, our room and board for the entire weekend was covered.

What I wasn’t counting on was the emotional toll the four days would take on me. Being around people is an exhausting enough of an enterprise on normal days. Being with people almost non-stop for four days — some of whom I didn’t know — was tantamount to blowing my entire monthly emotional budget in one go. By Sunday, I had nothing left.

This is the stupid reality of being an introvert, and a schizoid to boot. We’re not antisocial. The “Unabombers” and Howard Hughes of the world have that well covered, thank you very much. We’re often driven by loneliness to seek out other people, but it requires the focus of a deficit hawk to manage our emotional energy so that we can spend time with other people but not burn out completely while doing so.

I didn’t do such a good job of emotional resource management.

It might not have been so difficult if my life were going better at the present. As it is, I don’t know if my bastard landlord is going to pull some shenanigans to defraud me of my security deposit on my apartment come May. I’m working this week at a short-term temp assignment but don’t know where income will come from after March 21.

This afternoon I got a letter in the mail from the University of Southern California saying:

After careful review of your application and supporting material, the Admission Committee has asked me to inform you that your application to the Master of Music program in Composition for Fall 2014 has not been approved, and we are not able to offer you admission to this program.

Not that I was really expecting to get in after the last two rejections from the Eastman School of Music and the University of Michigan. However, to be thirty-one years old and basically starting over at this stage in life feels as if my game character has died and I’m starting over with a brand new character.

As Julia Sweeney might say, “That’s a special feeling.”

It might not have been such a rough weekend if three factors hadn’t whittled away what little there is of my inner confidence:

First, I was one of the very few single people there. The vast majority of attenders came with a spouse or partner. There were all the usual imagined slights — private jokes, knowing looks, pet names, etc. All the things that make single people feel… well, conspicuously single. On Saturday we watched a movie, and virtually everyone was sitting with a significant other. And I was sitting in a bean bag chair with myself and a gin-and-tonic.

Second, I felt very much outside of my tax bracket. One evening while wiping down the bar and putting glasses in the dishwasher, I overheard a conversation between three people about sailing. Not just sailing — yacht sailing, which is about one of the most expensive hobbies one could have besides, oh, I don’t know, collecting Persian carpets or playing polo. Everyone else there seemed to have jobs, careers… lives.

Third, no one seemed to like me. Now, of course I know myself well enough to know that this is likely not the case. I have a tendency to project my own insecurities on to strangers and assume the worst. I interpret random glances and remarks as signs of disapproval or dislike.

Who is that guy? What’s he doing here? He doesn’t talk to anybody. Seriously, what’s wrong with him? And he has no clue how to play this game. What a loser…

Add to that the fact that I won hardly any of the games, and what games I did win were by sheer luck or attrition. As Harry protests to Hermione and Ron in Order of the Phoenix, “I didn’t know what I was doing half the time, I didn’t plan any of it, I just did whatever I could think of, and I nearly always had help.”

Admittedly, I hate losing games. Or anything. In college, I failed the black-key minor scale portion of the required piano proficiency exam. I had a piano lesson afterward, and ended up in tears at the beginning. My teacher noted, “You’re not used to failing anything, are you?” I could say a lot about that, about my parents’ exacting standards and the exacting standards I still hold myself to. Another time, perhaps.

But this weekend, every loss seemed to be a reminder of how worthless I usually feel, how unattractive and undesirable. I feel as if I don’t have anything meaningful to contribute, no useful skills to offer. I feel unworthy of most people’s company or goodwill.

It’s suffocating and beyond demoralizing.

I worry that I’ll never do anything significant with my life.

That I’ll never find a man I’m compatible with.

A friend asked me on Sunday: “Why so mean to yourself?”

Probably because it’s one thing I’m proficient at.

207. congnisance

1024px-Stanley_Kubrick_-_girl_in_classroom_cph.3d02345A few weeks ago at the Former Fundamentalists retreat that some friends of mine put together for our group, I made a troubling observation that I’ve been pondering.

The day was made up of a number of talks and workshops put on by members of the group. It was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday, in the company of like-minded people who are engaged in critical thinking and wondering about our world and our universe.

What troubled me though was how many women spoke up during discussion times — not many. Even during our bi-weekly meetings, the majority of the talking is done by the guys.

Gender variance among atheists is certainly male-leaning. Salon published a piece last year titled “5 reasons there aren’t more women in atheism,” citing things like:

  • “… women are more devout because they have to be. Women’s religiosity is directly related to economic security.”
  • “… sexism is real and has an effect on women’s participation and leadership within the atheist community.”
  • “… it’s no exaggeration to say that managing sexism is exhausting, depressing and distracts from work women could be doing as visible spokespeople of fighting for higher and equal pay, or immigration policies that include uneducated women, or ending sexual predation, or advocating for the right to control our own reproduction.”

One place I’ve noticed this tend is Bill Maher’s show, where he’ll sit a woman guest between two guys who will then proceed to talk over or even around her. The woman may be knowledgeable about her subject area but can’t get a word in before someone else starts jabbering.

Our little tribe is a microcosm of an ongoing conversation concerning women in atheism. Because atheism is still largely a boys’ club. It was born out of the male-dominated academies of the Renaissance and the Reformation, and largely retains the same mindset. It raises concerns for me that women are still being socialized to not voice their thoughts and beliefs. And if I’ve learned anything from the LGBT movement, it’s an appreciation for diversity and the uniqueness of others.

Part of it is, I think, the dynamics of male relationships. When a bunch of guys get together, posturing and competition begin almost immediately to establish a hierarchy. We love to spar, whether physically or intellectually, and learn from an early age that if you’re going to make it in any group of guys then you have to prove that you deserve to be there.

This once meant literal life or death for humans on the African plains. Each male had to contribute to the group, whether through hunting or fighting, or the tribe could perish. This is why you’ll see many boys do ridiculously dangerous stunts to impress each other. We’re still running that same evolutionary program.

Men constantly have their masculinity challenged, especially if you don’t fit into a “masculine” stereotype. If you don’t look, talk, and walk like a dude, you’re not a “real man.” Whatever that means. This is perpetuated in Evangelical Christian culture, with the notion that there’s a Divine ideal each sex should live by. If you grew up in that world or are familiar with the books “Wild At Heart” and “The Heart of a Woman,” you’ll know what I’m talking about.

The blog What Women Never Hear had about a post a year ago about ten ways that men and women differ. (It’s full of Evangelical, heteronormative generalizations, but how can a piece written by a heterosexual guy about gender differences not be?)

  • Girls ease smoothly into family life by anticipating what’s needed and what’s coming. Boys have to be taught to respect others’ interests by honoring their standards and expectations.
  • Girls unconditionally respect others regardless of sex. Boys respect males much more readily than females. They usually must be taught to respect authority-figure females such as mothers, grannies, and teachers.
  • Girls can easily respect others before others earn it. Boys tend to challenge others first and then respect them after they earn it.

There are massive generalizations here, along with the pathologizing of males, but there’s truth to be found here — as there is in all generalizations. However, we cannot lose sight of the fact that we live in the shadow of the Industrial Revolution, when gender roles and expectations experienced massive upheaval after people started migrating to cities. We’re still working out the details of mixed gender spaces that resulted from that shift.

For much of human history, the sexes inhabited different spheres—men, the field; women, the home. During the Industrial Revolution, centuries-old community structures dissolved almost overnight. The Victorian “Cult of Domesticity” called for the abolishing of traditional men’s spaces as the Powers That Be willed that men belonged at home with the family, and not in the company of other men. The decline of male friendship coincides with this as men started seeing each other not as brothers but as competitors.

… okay, this is getting too broad for a thousand words, so to bring it back to the former fundie retreat, I don’t think there was an intent to crowd out women in discussions because I don’t think anyone noticed it was happening. We guys tend to assume that if someone wants to say something that they’ll speak up, not knowing how intimidating it can be at times to enter into the discussion circle. There are some strong opinions in our group!

And I do think there is something to the claim that men respect other men more than they do women. This is not so much a criticism or indictment as it is an apparent inheritance of our bioevolutionary past. But so is tribalism, xenophobia, and aggression. Awareness is the first step towards changing any behavior. And part of the reason we all became atheists in the first place is we refused to ignore evidence that required action and change.

We’re (slowly) evolving as a species. These are the growing pains of leaving behind the African plains and graduating to something more than merely human.

206. caveat

rainbow_roadYesterday I received an email inviting me to sign a petition. I get these fairly often, usually from Change.org or the Democrats, alerting me to some grave issue that requires my clicktivist engagement right away. Sometimes I join if it seems a worthwhile cause, but usually it gets deleted.

The petition I received yesterday was from All Out, an organization whose mission is to build “a global movement for love and equality.” A worthy goal, if a tad… shall we say… lofty.

All Out is mobilizing millions of people to build a world where no person will have to sacrifice their family or freedom, safety or dignity, because of who they are or who they love.

If anything, they’re doing a fairly good job of alerting people to issues around the world, such as human rights abuses and instances of LGBT discrimination and persecution. And they are bringing together LGBT advocacy organizations to combat institutionalized prejudice and hate.

The petition yesterday was intended to put pressure on Orange, “one of the world’s leading telecommunications operators, present in 32 countries,” to remove its advertisements from a Ugandan tabloid that recently published the names of “Uganda’s Top 200 Homos.” This just a day after its president, Yoweri Museveni, signed the “Kill The Gays” bill into law.

Getting Orange to pull the adverts wouldn’t just send a message to the editor of the Ugandan tabloid — it would show the Ugandan government that a major investor doesn’t approve of the anti-gay law. If more companies join in, the Ugandan government won’t be able to ignore the potential damage to their economy of their attacks on human rights.

While this is a good sentiment and a good start, having grown up in Evangelical culture I know that this approach won’t ultimately do much good. The authors of this petition are assuming that Ugandans (and Evangelicals) care what the international community thinks. They think that sanctions and cuts to aid from other nations will convince Uganda’s leaders that the bill was a bad idea, and that human rights is the best way to go.

In short, they’re assuming that they’re reasonable people.

What they don’t understand is that Evangelicals believe that our world is a spiritual battle ground, divided between God and Satan.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)

Furthermore…

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you… If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” (1 Peter 4:12-14)

They’re not being criticized and their aid is not being cut because they’re bigots. They are experiencing backlash because they believe they’re doing “God’s work.”

I grew up being told that if we lived true to the Bible and God’s commandments, non-Christians (i.e., “the world”) would turn on us. When someone made fun of us for not using profanity or “saving ourselves for marriage,” we weren’t the real target — Jesus was the target.

If you listen to any ultra conservative bent on outlawing marriage equality or screaming about “religious liberty,” these are the Bible verses you’ll hear. They believe that a time is coming when Christians will be thrown in jail and possibly even executed for their beliefs.

No, really. Seriously.

I’m currently watching the fourth season of the Star Trek series Deep Space 9. The other night I saw the episode “Accession,” in which a Bajoran poet who disappeared two hundred years earlier mysteriously reappears through the wormhole. He claim to be the Emissary and to speak for the “prophets,” demanding that Bajorans return to “d’jarra,” an ancient caste system. This doesn’t go over well with everyone. The decree also puts Bajor’s application to Federation in jeopardy. But the religious leaders in favor of the “d’jarra” believe that following the “prophets” is worth any consequence that may result.

In the same way, the Ugandan government doesn’t care if it loses standing in the international community, if Western nations cut off funding and aid, if advertisers pull spots from newspapers, or international businesses pull out of the country.

I’m not sure how many Evangelicals really believe they’re following the commandments of their “God” by attempting to deny LGBT people equal human rights. Frankly, I think it’s part of the song and dance they perform to help themselves sleep at night.

I believe it is the responsibility of the ninety-four nations that signed the UN Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity to offer asylum to LGBT Africans affected by these bills. Yesterday, I sent a letter to the director of U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services, asking him to do that. I’m also writing to activists to ask if there are any organizations working to help relocate LGBT Africans to safer areas.

What we need is for Western nations that claim to welcome LGBT people to offer asylum to displaced Ugandans and Nigerians (and Russians). Like the Underground Railroad of the 19th Century, we could build a “Rainbow Road” for people currently living without hope. Many of these people are living in poverty, with little to no means of immigrating, now in fear of being exposed, punished, and even killed.

Secretary of State John Kerry recently said: “People everywhere deserve to live in freedom and equality. No one should face violence or discrimination for who they are or who they love.”

I believe we’ve a responsibility to try to and make that a reality.


UPDATE: This site was recommended as a potential resource for helping LGBT Ugandans: ugandans4rights.org.