Sunday, September 30, 2012

On Blasphemy

I don’t take any particular pride in offending people.  That may sound unusual on an atheist blog, but none of us here set out to be offensive.  As a matter of fact, we typically rail against anyone who is deliberately stoking the fires of religious fundamentalists if offense is their only goal.

We do support the freedom of expression of ideas; especially unpopular ideas.  Nothing is above reproach.  For the most part, we believe that mockery is a useful tool in pointing out the absurdity of religion.  The advent of Blasphemy laws serve only to silence dissent.  To remove the voice of the minority and to cut the communication of ideas to like-minded individuals as well as the larger public sphere.

Blasphemy is not about offending God.  It is about offending theists.  How arrogant must someone be to believe that the creator of the universe could be offended by the speech of an insignificant creature on a random rock hurling through the cosmos?

Of all the arguments against the existence of a Personal God the concept of blasphemy perfectly exposes the doublethink of theology.  

1. You first must believe that the creator holds humanity in the highest regard.  I challenge you to find a blasphemy law supporter who does not think that the universe exists solely for humans.

2. You must believe that this perfect being can somehow be wounded emotionally by the thoughts, words and deeds of his creations.

3. You must believe in spite of premise 1 &2 that that this god is unwilling or unable to respond, dissuade or otherwise punish the blasphemer and must rely on the few faithful adherents to enforce this law.

To believe that God, along with his human prophets must be protected from criticism, mockery or satire by fallible humans is to worship an impotent deity.

A god that can be offended by speech or art is clearly one that has been made in man’s image, and possesses an ego that is just as fragile.  Blasphemy is daring to say that someone’s beliefs about the ultimate nature of reality are false.  This is the true thrust behind the anger and outrage of theists when their religion is insulted or even questioned.  If the people in power can have their beliefs questioned, then their power is also up for debate.

On this International Blasphemy Day I hope you all will go forth and rise above being offensive for no reason.  The goal is to reinforce the message that freedom of speech is a human right.  Call it an extension of “free will” (if there is such a thing).  We will not be bullied into silence. We cannot be subjugated with imaginary hell fire. Remember the difference between mocking the idea and mocking the person who holds the idea. And try to remind the believers that if their god were real he could probably take a fucking joke.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday Link Dump 9/28/12

Speaking of the podcast; if you  
have any questions or topics you 
would like us to cover just 
contact us via email at lefthemispheres(at)gmail(dot)com, our Contact page, Twitter, Google+, or 


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Starting From Zero

I’ve had two diverging reactions to my atheism lately.  

About two weeks ago, I was talking to a co-worker who totally agreed with my political views.  Somewhere in the midst of my critique on the Republican platform I mentioned that I was an atheist.  

*Record scratch*

She turned without saying another word and walked away.  My immediate thought, “maybe I said something out loud that was different than what I said in my head.”  Was this the onset of Tourette’s?  Did I just say something racist, sexist, or talk about my favorite side dish when I eat a baby?  Nope.  Just the word: atheist.  

Last week, I was involved in a 3-person conversation (a “conversation à trois”) when my friend who I’ll call the “Doubting Theist” says to the third party, “Hey, did you know that Adam is an atheist?”  My Doubting Theist friend was hoping to spark  a lively debate about Life, the Universe and Everything (see 42).  This other person said that I was “crazy” and “delusional” and that my life must be “depressing.”  This went on for several minutes.  I know what you’re thinking: Left Hemispheres guy --gave a profound, well reasoned, slightly sarcastic argument for non-belief in god or gods in 140 characters or less.  Right?  Well no actually, I didn’t really have anything to say because I could not stop thinking about the other person from the week before.  

Both of these people were immediately upset and surprised--shocked even--that someone could possibly hold my worldview, or probably more accurately, not hold theirs.  I find myself equally surprised when I encounter this reaction.  They seemed appalled that atheism is even possible.  I think this is the case because they were approaching this question starting from a position of faith.  Confirmation bias makes God seem self-evident.  It takes tremendous initial effort to think about theism critically or objectively.  I know this because I used to be one of these people.  

When starting from faith, alternatives are rarely considered even as a thought experiment.  To conceptualize atheism as valid is to imagine a world without the god you “know” exists.  You look at it as a -1.   More than just a God, then no-God. An atheist was a person who lives without my (personal) God.  To imagine a world that you believe is an expression of God’s love without God is like imagining a world without a world. The concept needs to be approached with neutrality-- from zero.

I was raised Lutheran and had a childhood friend who was Catholic.  I was fascinated to hear about Purgatory.  I understood it to be a sort of cosmic waiting room whereas I had direct delivery to heaven or hell.  I remember having the same bemused sense of novelty as when his mother put the peanut butter and the jelly on the same slice of bread when making a PB&J sandwich (not like our house!).  So I was fortunate enough to have an anxiety-free opportunity to look at my beliefs as my Catholic friend would see them.  Then, as the Jehovah's Witness girl in my classroom.  Then as a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Hindu. With each religion or worldview I came into contact with I tried my best to put on their glasses and look at the world.  

My approach to faith was very much like that eye exam where the doctor keeps changing lenses until the blurred letters become clear.  Some of those lenses could be placed over my existing lense to add to the overall quality of the image.  Some religions or outlooks would bring certain areas into sharp focus while obscuring others.  Some lenses make a mess of everything and can be discarded immediately

  • The world is all connected (yes!) by an invisible/intangible force in command (huh?).  
  • Everyone is loved by God (OK) except those people (really?)  
  • Every positive or negative action will return to you (maybe) as you go through a series of reincarnations as various animals or humans until you get it right (what?)

I had to look at the situation from the perspective of other faiths before I could look at it without any faith at all.  I had to go through several versions of -1 until I found “Zero.”  I relinquished every notion of supernaturalism.  I started each question without the preconceived dogma and without the baggage of trying to bend facts to fit a theology.  Using religion to explain the world is like trying to fill a circle with triangles.  No amount of effort will make a complete picture.  This is the reason religious claims rely so heavily on faith.  Faith that the shape one sees isn’t actually real, but it really looks like “this.” Faith that the pieces don’t matter.  Faith in the person who first tells you that,  “A triangle is not a triangle because God.”

This may help to explain the notions of how depressing it must be to “believe in nothing.”  Or the “You are just angry at God” sentiment.  They think that they are objectively looking at a godless worldview but they are missing the point.  They are in fact looking at their life without their God.  This could even explain the smug atheist paradigm.  I was able to step outside of myself and look at the world.  But for reasons I can't fathom, you won't even consider it.  It makes us angry because it seems obvious.  Many of us forget what those first furtive steps into godlessness felt like.  Once you’ve done it, it seems easy.  I have Taoism and later Zen Buddhism to thank for giving me the concept of No Mind.  To actualize nothing.  To start at the beginning with no specific intention toward an outcome.  It’s liberating (at least until the Buddha gets in your way) .

I continue to do this.  I constantly reevaluate my positions.  I ask myself why I believe what I believe.  I try to look at the evidence for every claim (especially my own).  I ask myself: would I believe this if I was hearing it for the first time?   If we are going to claim the intellectual high ground on what may be the most important existential questions: who we are and why we exist, then we need to be courageous enough to doubt ourselves.  Take a moment and look at your own claims first from faith, then from zero.  Follow the trail to truth wherever it leads.  If you find yourself back where you started, pat yourself on the back and blaze a new path.

Sean Faircloth: The Innocence of Muslims, Freedom & Foreign Policy

via richarddawkinsdotnet

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sarah Silverman - Get Nanna a Gun

Sarah Silverman speaks out on the hypocritical "voter fraud" legislation. (NSFW language)

Via Let My People Vote
* Be sure to click the link to learn the 5 things you should know about voter ID laws.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Left Hemispheres Podcast Ep.03-Kill that Buddha

This week we discuss the Islamic riots, coming out as an atheist, killing the Buddha, and water-ballons. Also, if you'd like to be more involved in the podcast you can email us at, find us on facebook, Google+, or twitter (@lefthemispheres). Of course you can always comment here with any questions, comments, topic ideas, submissions for the Poe/Troll of the week segment we're hoping to start up, or just to say hi.

Show Notes:
  1. Intro -
    1. Tuesday September 18th, 2012
  2. ‘The Innocence of Muslims” Controversy
    1. Background
      1. Anti-Islam film: More details emerge about filmmaker
    2. Reactions
      1. Blame the Killers—Not a YouTube Movie
      2. Muslim Rage & The Last Gasp of Islamic Hate - by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
      3. Newsweek Publishes Islamophobic ‘Muslim Rage’ Cover In Response To Embassy Attacks
      4. These imbecilic riots must serve to reinforce our commitment to freedom
      5. 'This Does Not Represent Us': Moving Photos of Pro-American Rallies in Libya
      6. 'Muslim Rage' Explodes On Twitter, But In A Funny Way (Yes, Really)
      7. No One Murdered Because Of This Image
      8. The Absurd Logic of Apologizing for Islam
      9. Guest Post: Islamophobia vs. Racism
    3. Muslim hypocrisy
      1. An Arab language film about Jewish blood-libel from Jordan
      2. Palestinian children's program
  3. Guide to Deconversion (Part 1): How to Come Out (and Why!)
  4. Killing the Buddha
  5. Penn State Group to "Stone an Atheist"

Check out this episode!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Christian Mistress "There Is Nowhere"

Friday Link Dump 9/21/12

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Guest Post: Islamophobia vs. Racism

According to the FBI’s database of Hate Crime Statistics, in 2010 (the latest year for which numbers are available) there were 160 hate crime incidents involving anti-Islamic bias in the United States. Such incidents have seen a marked rise following the September 11th terrorist attacks of 2001 and have recently made headlines with various incidents around the country, ranging from arson attacks on mosques to pig parts being thrown at the site of a proposed Islamic center.

Such trends are rightfully worrying in an increasingly multicultural society which supposedly prides itself on freedom, equality, and justice for all. There is however, another closely related issue, which is in its own way nearly as disturbing. It is the hyper-politically correct reaction to such so-called “Islamophobia,” specifically, how it is consistently and fallaciously labeled as “racism.” Setting aside broader discussion of the overall subject of Islamophobia in all its complexity (including its root causes and any possible merit or lack thereof), let’s examine this charge of racism. Without in any way condoning or defending the ridiculous actions of the small percentage of angry, spite-filled bigots who lash out at those whom they fear solely on the basis of superficial differences, the fact remains that this particular assertion of racism is simply ludicrous.

The dictionary defines racism as 1) “the belief that races have distinctive cultural characteristics determined by hereditary factors and that this endows some races with an intrinsic superiority over others,” and 2) “abusive or aggressive behavior towards members of another race on the basis of such a belief,” with race meaning “a group of persons related by common descent or heredity.” The key word here in both terms is “heredity.” Although it seems rather remedial to have to explain it, apparently there are many in the media, academia, and general public who somehow fail to discern what seems a very basic point, so I’ll state it as clearly as possible: Islam is a religion, not a race.

While it’s true that most people are indoctrinated into their religion osmotically from an early age through the influence of their parents and surrounding community, I think you would be hard pressed to identify any kind of allele coding for “submission to Allah” within the DNA of Muslims (or a “Jesus gene” in Christians, etc.). Religions, no matter how deeply embedded in the psyches of their adherents, are essentially ideologies; they are systems of beliefs – collections of ideas, traditions, and practices.

Although, as Richard Dawkins has astutely pointed out, as a meme they exhibit many of the same characteristics as a virus – replicating and spreading, and altering behaviors to ensure their continuation – they are still acquired traits, and as such, they are not something you are born with, nor are they in any way intrinsically wedded to your physical being. Regardless of the fact that “apostasy” – disavowing Islam or converting to another religion – is still a capital offense in many Muslim nations, doing so nevertheless remains a considerably easier task than Michael Jackson’s sad and misguided attempts to change his race through plastic surgery and skin bleaching. Once again, for those still missing the essential point, this is because Islam is a religion, not a race.

Approaching this oft-repeated Islamophobia-equals-racism fallacy from another perspective, let’s look at some uncontroversial statistics. It is estimated that there are currently close to 1.6 billion Muslims on Earth. Of these, nearly 222 million live in Indonesia and Malaysia alone. Another 242 million live in sub-Saharan Africa. Around 75 million live in Iran, and 322 million live in the Middle East and North Africa. Pretending for a moment that Islamophobia is indeed a form of racism, just how exactly is it supposed to work?

It may come as a shock to some, but most people hailing from Indonesia and Malaysia, if filling out a form requiring them to check a box for their race, will likely check “Asian/Pacific Islander.” Those from sub-Saharan Africa will likely check “Black/African” and those from the Middle East either “Caucasian” or the recently added category “Arabic/Middle Eastern.” Thus, racially, Islam is far from being monochromatic, and it is far from being a purely Arab phenomenon. So presumably, this charge of Islamophobia equaling racism only applies when the perceived bias is originating from those of Western European descent? (Which smells an awful lot like the logical fallacy of “special pleading.”)

How then to categorize the ongoing religious strife taking place in Nigeria between Christians and Muslims? Is that racism? I mean, the two sides seem inordinately fond of chopping each other up over issues such as the forced implementation of Sharia law. Yet they are all black Africans. Or what about the worsening violence between Indonesian Christians and Muslims? – all of them Asians. After centuries of relative peace and tolerance, church burnings and mob beatings there are now on the rise. Racism?

What about the interminable conflict between Israelis and Palestinians? Perhaps one of the biggest surprises resulting from National Geographic’s Genographic Project has been the revelation that Israelis and Palestinians are genetically almost identical. They are the exact same people – they’ve simply assumed mutually exclusive labels over the past few millennia in the name of religion.

And then what of Iran? It’s perhaps not widely known, but the name of that nation is derived from the word Aryan, referring to the original inhabitants of the Pontic-Caspian steppe region near modern Ukraine (also known as the Indo-Europeans). Back in late prehistory, this group, through conquest or assimilation, spread out into Persia as well as most of Europe and northern India, leaving behind a linguistic legacy uniting speakers of such disparate languages as Spanish, English, German, Farsi, and Hindi. Considering this history, it’s really quite ironic that a group of ignorant white supremacists residing in Idaho would call themselves the “Aryan Nation,” oblivious to the etymology behind their group’s name and to their close genetic, historic, and linguistic ties to people they likely despise.

To this day, despite a predilection for dark hair, many Iranians and the inhabitants of the Himalayan regions of India are to all appearances about as white as Bing Crosby, as would be expected. Race, remember, means “related by common descent or heredity.” So how do squabbles over religious identity get elevated to the level of “racism” between related descendants of a single ethnic group who only diverged within the past ten thousand years? (A blink of the eye in evolutionary timescales.)

Despite all of these apparent logical absurdities which become evident with even a cursory amount of contemplation or the slightest respect for semantics, supposedly serious scholars and institutions continue to assert that Islamophobia in any form clearly amounts to racism. Okay then, if being less than enthused about adherents of an acquired belief system automatically amounts to racism, what does it mean to be anti-Nazi? After all, it’s a bleak yet undeniable fact that pretty much every last Nazi was Caucasian. So if you hate Nazis, like it or not, your rage is directed almost exclusively at white people!

Now, if the implications of that sound offensive as well as ridiculous, they should, for it employs exactly the same faulty reasoning (or total lack of reasoning) used by those myopic, self-righteous scholars who intuit an “obvious” equivalence between opposition to Islamic totalitarianism and hatred based on heredity and skin color.

Finally, to touch on one of my favorite subjects, what does all of this mean for atheists/anti-theists, who find all religion to be both false and harmful, and who feel humanity and the planet would both benefit immensely if religious belief were to suddenly go the way of the dinosaurs? By the stated rationale of the Islamophobia-equals-racism crowd, surely all anti-theists (regardless of their own racial makeup or “post-racial” indifference to distinctions of race) must be “omni-racist” – racist against every race? Is such a thing even possible or meaningful in any sense of the word?

The reality is, people often look for reasons not to get along. Skiers dislike snowboarders, sailors dislike power boaters, even Brians dislike Bryans. Coining neologisms and being sloppy with terminology is not going to change that. That said, violence for any reason other than immediate self-defense is seldom justifiable. Threats, harassment, and destruction of property have no place in civil society – especially as the world grows ever more crowded. The actions of the vast majority of the morons committing these anti-Islamic acts are indefensible and should rightly be punished. But so should the actions of fanatical Islamists such as the man who attempted to bomb Times Square back in 2010, expressing the attitude and fervent desire (as stated in his video suicide note) that, “I really wish that the hearts of the Muslims will be pleased with this attack, God willing,” going on to predict that, “Islam will spread on the whole world and democracy will be defeated.”

How are we to have constructive dialogue or debate if stifled by censorship masking itself as political correctness? How can we rationally address the very real problem of religious zealotry and the violence it inspires (latent in the most of the world’s holy books) if muzzled by a misguided pandering to the perceived victimhood of certain special interest groups? To try to shield radical Islam from legitimate and honest criticism by hiding behind the indefensible and unconscionable evil of racism is an affront to all victims of actual racial discrimination as well as an invitation for true intolerance to destroy our most cherished rights and freedoms. To conflate concern about Islamic radicalism with the horrors of racism in order to squash dissent is both illogical and inconsistent with the values of a free society. To resort to irrationality in order to confront it is not only counterproductive but profoundly idiotic as well. We can do better than that. Think!

Colby Hess is a freelance writer and photographer living near Seattle, WA. He is currently writing a book about science, philosophy, and freethought. Follow him on Twitter @ColbyTHess

Originally published as:
“Islamophobia vs. Racism” on September 14, 2012 by Disinformation >

Friday, September 14, 2012

Friday Link Dump 9/14/12