Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A note on sex, gender and religion

Try as educated people often do to inform the public perception of the terms “sex” and “gender,” it still comes to me as a pleasant surprise to hear strangers using these words correctly. Sex refers to a phenomenon that is understood exclusively in the context of biology, while gender is a socially constructed identity built upon a psychological and cultural underpinning. Gender is a concept that intrudes into our lives at a very young age. Every adult male can cast his mind back to a time when being seen by one’s friends playing with dolls would guarantee isolation at recess. And every adult female can recall being reminded to “act like a lady” whenever an audible fart would leak from beneath her Mary Kate and Ashley underpants. When asked one’s favorite color, one had every end of the spectrum to choose from, so long as it was consistent with the genitalia with which one was born.
What makes a color masculine or feminine? What makes having a vagina a prerequisite for playing with dolls? Why is having flatulence typical for males, but taboo for females? These cultural attitudes are completely illogical. And yet our children, at a time when they are most susceptible to programming, are being encouraged to preserve the tradition of ignorance that is gendering. This is not without consequence. Countless women report being completely demeaned in the workplace because of their expected gender roles. Transsexuals and transgender people must harbor fears of being discovered that nobody else could possibly imagine, let alone empathize with. And homosexuals must constantly face the raging stupidity of religious fanatics who bear the humble message that the creator of the universe is going treat them to an eternity of torture after they die. Let us use the sociological imagination to see what can happen when this message is taken seriously.
If you are feeling homosexual desires and you are a savvy enough young Catholic boy, you know that finding the answers to moral questions is as easy as locating your copy of The Catechism. In it you will find that you have nothing to worry about. You are in fact very special, for the homosexual desire you feel is a direct calling from God to lead a life of chastity—the same calling as that of entering into the priesthood. How difficult could this be given your tremendous advantage of having an omniscient deity on your side? Except that the human desire for sex is not something that is easily silenced. Once the primal instinct kicks in, your genes will find a way to spread, whether at the expense of your new bathroom rug, or at the expense of somebody’s childhood. I am forever astonished that given the proper context, something so complex as the rape of children by homosexual priests can be institutionalized.
Society should do away with the gender binary and all of its expectations. And outdated religious views about sex should be buried in the vast and growing graveyard of ignored bizarre ideas that come from the desert ramblings of Abrahamic faith. Future generations will be ashamed to learn that, at one time, subtle biological differences between males and females placed people under segregated jurisdictional laws of conduct, which socially enforced expectations entirely inconsistent with our objective understanding of sex. The sheer scale of this institutionalized injustice is enough to convince me to dress my baby in yellow when and if zie (gender neutral pronoun) arrives on this Earth.
I am not unfamiliar with the restrictiveness felt by anyone forced to wonder whether his or her nature is at the root of an unfavorable circumstance. It is an unending feeling of insecurity that taxes the mind with stress and anxiety. In no way can this suffering be justified. And yet human history, which is plagued with the struggles of entire peoples beset by their own nature, continues to repeat itself. The same unwillingness to explore perspectives other than one’s own continues to obstruct the causes of peace and human equality. Everyone claims to be in favor of these causes. Though too few people are willing to take action that appears to clash with their unique outlook. All who claim to be concerned for the well-being of others have a moral obligation to constantly seek out injustices that occur at the expense of those whose life circumstance predisposes them to adversity. The obstacles standing in the way of accomplishing this are all too often faith-based.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Prayer...

In the days of Japan’s tragedy, I have noticed a strong solidarity amongst religious groups to show support through prayer. It’s really nice to see people from all walks of life and belief systems come together and show support for those suffering. What a shame it’s all completely useless.

Firstly, I would like to express my deepest condolences for the Japanese people as they struggle through a disaster that would make San Francisco shiver in historical comparison.

Oh yes, but here’s a way to fix everything. Prayer- the most useless things someone can do. By praying you are talking to an invisible man in the sky asking him to assist people... Now I won’t even get into the “if god exists, the disaster wouldn’t have had happened” mantra, but I’d like to ensure that point gets across.

Imagine if all those who are futilely praying would get up, go somewhere, do something, and actually help a situation; OH, how much would get done… how better of a world this would be. Hm, who would have thought? 2 hands working do more work than thousands clamped in prayer. I am very well aware that not everyone is able to hop on a plane, but I pray (see what I did there?) you do something that can support these people.

If everyone who prays donates just 2 dollars to an organization like the Red Cross, the money would be rack up in the tens, maybe hundred millions. This money would allow those who are able to help better facilitate resources and assistance.

http://au.news.yahoo.com/japan-tsunami/a/-/article/8999354/donate-for-japan Here’s a link of some organizations that would love nothing more than to receive a handful of prayer-filled money.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Causes of Persecution against Atheists

Turning on the news I find yet another story about a secular billboard sparking anger in a religious group. The billboard, which stated “Don’t believe in God? Neither do we,” insulted a group of theists. I gave up trying to understand how the message can insult anyone; instead I started thinking why religious billboards do not receive the same heavy retaliation. A sign no more than 2 blocks away from my home depicts a famished, tortured, bloody man, being crucified. Ironically, this sign is passively acceptable, while an advertisement for an online secular community is audacious.

This double standard for theists and atheists is one of many cases exemplifying persecution of secularists in the United States. Once a proud secular nation, now idly content with watching a platform of American culture wither away. This cultural shift from novus ordo seclorum (a new order) to an ancient religious ideology began in the 1950s when “Under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance and "In God we trust," appeared on American currency. Today the discrimination of atheists is facilitated by poor education, limited and negative media representation, and a religious supermajority.

First, let us examine what happened in the 1950s that caused the United States government to ignore the constitution and relate American culture to religion. In 1947 conflicts arose between the officially atheist Soviet Union and the United States, escalating to what became known as the Cold War. Our government at the time attempted to build solidarity against the anti-religious communists by breaking down the church and state barriers.

The first step in building solidarity was to achieve main-stream support for the combination of religion and politics. With no disagreements from the Christian super-majority, President Eisenhower enacted the use of “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance on June 14, 1954. Widely used in schools and in political events, The Pledge gradually led to the incorporation of religion into popular culture indefinitely. Over half a century later, it seems as though the term American has become synonymous with Christian.

To further incorporate religious ideology into public works, President Eisenhower allowed “In God we trust” to be printed on money On July 11, 1955- just one year after his first violation of the first amendment. This, along with adding “under God” in the pledge, gave way to countless opportunities for atheist persecution. In addition, “In God we trust” is the national motto. God references tend to show up commonly in the United States, everywhere from billboards to rallies.

Because of this national attention to God it becomes easy to understand why being an American is paralleled with being a Christian. In fact, many politicians of today go so far as to equate non-religious to non-American. George Bush was quoted saying “I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.” What better example of persecution than denial of citizenship! To think that after massive civil-rights movements, groups are still being discriminated against in the United States. Atheists are made to feel unequal and unwelcome to their religious counterparts.

This inequality is more than just opinion. In Tennessee, Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, and Maryland it is put into practice. It is illegal, in these states, to run for office if you are an atheist. Blatantly unconstitutional and overlooked, these states refuse to give an equal voice to atheists- thus rendering our voice politically useless. It causes atheists to feel severely unwanted in their own states and hometowns.

Furthermore, feeling unwanted goes far beyond politics. The religious supermajority in the United States seeks to drive out atheists on a community level, too. Famous atheist, Madalyn Murray O'Hair, a political activist responsible for ending government sponsored prayer in public schools, was exiled by members of her own community for being an atheist. “Even before my legal activity,” says O’Hair, “My neighbors showed passive signs of dislike.”

Madalyn’s persecution is not an isolated incident. Many atheists are driven out of their communities and families for what they believe (or lack thereof.) I have personally seen tension within my own family when I exposed myself as an atheist. Religion was very important to my family and I was educated through catholic schools my whole life. I am frequently called “stupid,” “evil,” “not knowing enough to denounce God.” Statements like that are belittling, hurtful, and far too familiar to atheists. My mother once told me that the United States would be a better place if all the ignorant atheists left, and I should educate myself further on religion.

What would happen if my mom’s dream of an atheist-free America were to come true? Hypothetically, if all of us were to disappear, the US would lose 10% of its fastest growing population, but only 0.25% of its prison population, the vast majority of our Nobel Prize winners, the majority of university professors and scientists, and the owner of the largest charity in the world (Bill Gates). Additionally, poverty rates would increase, the average IQ would drop, divorce rates would rise per-capita, teenage pregnancy rates would increase per-capita, and the United States would be grouped with other non-atheist population countries: Somalia, Tanzania, Yemen, Romania, Pakistan, and Iran: hardly an exemplary group of societies.

Not doubting my mom’s education, as she holds a master’s degree in developmental psychology, I find her misinformed. The United States is the most religiously diverse country in the world, but also among the most religiously illiterate. The population of the United States seems to be oblivious to what the religion of their neighbor says. Ironically, atheists know the most about religions on average. Accordingly, atheists are neither stupid nor do we not know enough to denounce God. In fact, we tend to be best versed in religion (which is probably why we reject it.)

Ignorance of other belief systems is one of the current driving forces in discrimination of today. Many children who grow up in religious families will attend some sort of religious education classes or programs, especially since many rituals require a study program. These classes instruct the children only on what their own religion says, rarely mentioning others.

Poor religious education and misinformation through popular media leads many to believe to wild claims including atheists as being sad, miserable, confused, Satanists. Many were never exposed to the idea that other belief systems provide the same satisfaction and peace-of-mind that their religion does.

The religious will argue atheists are evil and have no moral code to live by, mostly due to not believing in a reward or punishment after death. The exact opposite is true. As mentioned earlier, only 0.25% of the prison population are atheists. I would argue that because we have nothing to die for, we go out of our way to live the best and most fulfilled lives we can because there is nothing more for us.

Media is somewhat responsible for this negative view of atheists. News coverage commonly highlights controversial issues and the different views on it. Among the most debated issues of today is embryonic stem cell research. Statistically, atheists tend to liberal, which leads many conservative-bias news networks to attack us directly. Fox News, a prime example of a conservative news network, commonly negatively portrays an atheist’s view as being a heartless baby killer. Using such false and strong language, with its large viewer base, creates hostility toward atheists, resulting in widespread persecution and discrimination. Especially since we’re not trying to harm anyone. Our intent is but to improve the value of life by eradicating diseases that hinder our wellbeing.

The news is not the only media outlet providing a negative view of atheists. Popular television show House, depicts an arrogant, risk taking doctor, who commonly demeans and pranks coworkers. We wouldn’t consider connecting his beliefs to his personality- but those who are intolerant of atheists would. Media is a powerful force in our culture. Everyone watches TV, reads magazines, and browses the internet. A negative representation of the secular community spreads quickly.

Persecution against atheists is an ongoing problem that the United States is faced with. Despite being the fastest growing belief system, with the highest standard of living per capita, Atheists continue to be seen as a threat to society. The public interest in atheist persecution began in the 1950s to combat anti-religion communist upraises. Poor education, negative representation in the media, political injustice, and living in a country with a religious majority are the factors that allow for the continuation of this discrimination.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

In God We Trust?


Today in my communications class, the topic of the dollar bill came up. How we got there, I don’t know. Paying attention in that class has never been my strong point. But regardless, I was shocked as people around me started to argue that having “In God We Trust” on the back of the one dollar bill did not present any problem. They said, “it doesn’t say in Jesus we trust, so it’s not like we’re targeting one religion. It can apply to any belief” and “its monotheistic, and not many people are polytheistic so it doesn’t leave anyone out”. How about those of us who don’t believe in any god? We’re just supposed to suck it up so the majority of Americans can feel good about their money? Yes. Yes we are.
But when has the opinion of atheists ever influenced the decisions of politicians? As someone in my class brought up, as a counter to my separation of church and state argument, candidates always end speeches with “God bless you, and God bless America”; we don’t call for it in our constitution, but its there so your argument sucks.
Well excuse me. I thought the point of the first amendment was to ensure this kind of logic wouldn’t work. Sure it happens, but shouldn’t this be an argument to end the calling-on of God at the end of every speech as opposed to an argument against the bill of rights? Just because it’s happening doesn’t give it superiority to what my country was founded on. 

Speaking of, another popular argument was that our country was founded on religion so we should just go with it. Well our founding fathers thought to separate church and state… so I’m not really sure how that applies. Maybe our original 13 colonies were founded with Puritanism in mind, but 100 years kind of squashed that out of the New World. However, since “under God” in the Pledge of allegiance is “good enough for the founding fathers, it's good enough for [Sarah Palin]." You know, the pledge that was written in 1892. And the under God that was added in 1952.

Weird as this may seem, I just don’t feel like lying any time I want to pledge allegiance to my country. I don’t believe that we are a nation under God, so why put words in a national pledge that don’t apply to 100% of its population? When I brought this up to my boyfriend he said that taking it out would anger too many people, as would taking “In God We Trust” off money. However, Jeff, I have to respectfully disagree. We don’t mention God in the star spangled banner, nor is God plastered over all our stamps. No one gets upset that God isn’t mentioned on license plates. So really, respect the atheists among you and get God off my shit!