March 29

When is the RFRA not the RFRA?

Giving bigotry an RFRA paint job.
Giving bigotry an RFRA paint job. Image source: Morgefile

Answer: When it is the Indiana version of the RFRA.

I just finished watching our governor, Mike Pence, speaking with George Stephanopoulos.

To be honest, I am not sure if he was intentionally lying or just really didn’t know the truth. I will leave that determination up to people with more information on the issue than I have. However, I will dissect some of the misinformation he decided to state.

The Indiana RFRA is not the same law as the federal RFRA. As a matter of fact, even though, on the surface, they appear similar, the Indiana RFRA was carefully crafted to not only be different, but to be much easier to use as a bludgeon against those deemed to be undesirable. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

Item Federal Law
(42 U.S.C. § 2000bb)
Indiana Law Difference
Section 5 the term “exercise of religion means the exercise of religion under the First Amendment to the Constitution. As used in this chapter, ‘exercise of religion’ includes any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief. The federal law is limited by the Constitution. In addition, the Indiana version uses the word “includes” instead of “means” which does not limit, but gives a single example. This is not a limit at all, but an example. Even if something is at the extreme edge of a religion, it will be protected by the Indiana law where it would not be by the federal version.
 Section 7 Person is not defined. The law was written before the SCOTUS ruled the term “person” could be applied to more than just a human being. As used in this chapter, “person” includes the following: (1) An individual. (2) An organization, a religious society, a church, a body of communicants, or a group organized and operated primarily for religious purposes. (3) A partnership, a limited liability company, a corporation, a company, a firm, a society, a joint-stock company, an unincorporated association, or another entity that: (A) may sue and be sued; and (B) exercises practices that are compelled or limited by a system of religious belief held by: (i) an individual; or (ii) the individuals; who have control and substantial ownership of the entity, regardless of whether the entity is organized and operated for profit or nonprofit purposes.  This puts into law that companies are people, and can have religious rights. No such protection was afforded at all under the federal law.Also, don’t forget Section 5, which means that “exercise of religion” can mean just about anything, whether or not it is protected (or limited) by the Constitution.
 Section 9  There is no Section 9 in the federal version; the closest to this passage is from Section 3: A person whose religious exercise has been burdened in violation of this section may assert that violation as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding and obtain appropriate relief against a government. Standing to assert a claim or defense under this section shall be governed by the general rules of standing under article III of the Constitution. A person whose exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened, by a violation of this chapter may assert the violation or impending violation as a claim or defense in a judicial or administrative proceeding, regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding. If the relevant governmental entity is not a party to the proceeding, the governmental entity has an unconditional right to intervene in order to respond to the person’s invocation of this chapter.  As the intent of the original RFRA was to protect individuals from government intrusion on constitutional rights, this section would have made absolutely no sense in the original law. What this clause means, and this is the big problem with the IRFRA, is that religion is now a usable defense for discrimination in civil and criminal court cases. The case does not even have to involve the government. It can be between individuals (which, as you remember, this law also defines as companies)

So, no, Mr. Governor, this is NOT the same law. Claiming that it is, combined with your shameful acts leading up to and surrounding how you signed this, make it clear that the truth and the people of Indiana are two things you are not interested in.

March 22

Fighting MS without God

Orange Swirl
Orange Swirl. Source: Morguefile

One thing that has cropped up during my search for a wider realm of support during my battle with MS is the number of people who turn to religion as a support structure to help them through their own personal battles. While I have no problem with whatever one needs to help them through fighting a chronic disease like MS. A problem arises when there is an expectation that everyone else has to offer up support only in that way, and no other.

My treatment by others set aside as a needless digression, how do I fight a disease so far outside of my control when I have no belief in the supernatural?

I look to those things in my life worth living for, worth fighting the MonSter for. My wife and children are at the top of the list, with my parents and friends close behind. All very real, all very here. I place myself third, along with my writing and programming goals. These are enough to keep me breathing, keep me fighting, keep me pushing myself to my feet when I am on the floor and struggling, keep me taking my meds and doing my injections.

My pain may be great, but it is just pain. My tired and sore muscles are still mine, even if they don’t listen well.

I don’t need to look up to the sky for inspiration. I don’t need a god to take my burden; I can carry it with the help from those I love. I don’t need hollow platitudes or the empty promises of prayer to get me through the day.

Do not pity me for making it through without relying on a god. Realize I am making it through, and wonder how a simple human could do something like that.

March 7

The Lure of Antiapologetics

The lure of chasing fish.
The lure of chasing fish. Image from Morguefile.

As an atheist, even one who feels like they have graduated from the angry phase of noob atheism, there is a certain attraction for the behavior I call Antiapologetics. Not exactly counterapologetics, which can be part of it, but the active state of challenging apologetics, especially among Young Earth Creation types, science deniers, and social conservatives.

On one hand, it is a rush to delve into debate with soft targets like these. Of course, they will never change their minds. Too much of who they are is invested in it. Even if they did, you are unlikely to ever find out about it.

On the other, it portrays atheists as intolerant blowhards, trolls, stalkers, or, worse, intellectuals. It seems not to be the kind of activity that does anything positive. So, why do atheists do it?

Newer atheists (not ‘New Atheists’) tend to have pent up frustration, anger, and resentment towards religion for wasting their time and money for so long. The temptation to rush in, guns blazing, defending the Atheist Way is a strong one. But, over time, as the atheist matures, they realize the startling truth that there is no “atheist way”. Atheism is a single answer to a single question. It confers no additional meaning. It is not a club, not a group. There is no secret handshake or code of ethics. Of course, if theists taught the truth about atheists, fresh atheists would know this. But, it isn’t exactly in the general theist best interest to be accurate in their portrayal of the people the consider to be an enemy.

So, then, where does this drive come from?

Well, we’re humans. We like to be right. It helps reinforce our worldviews when we confirm ourselves as correct. We, as humans, do a lot of things to accomplish this. Whether it is being part of a fandom, being a fan of a specific sports team, or merely hanging out with friends, we work best when we have positive re-enforcement. Become an atheist is a completely new thing, as there is no inherent structure for re-enforcement from our peers. Atheist churches and study groups have sprung up to try and provide this structure, which, of course, some theists attack. What they do not realize is that when people are marginalized and isolated, they tend to get stuck in negative cyclical thinking. I would be completely unsurprised if Craig Hicks, the atheist who shot and killed the three Muslim students, was isolated from others.

To return to the main topic, antiapologetics tends to appear in fresh atheists who are still in the early stages of atheism. The good news is that the core of the practice is research and knowledge, which naturally leads the fresh atheist towards maturity. It also drops the rates of recidivism. Few, if any, mature atheists become religious once they are atheists.

Take, for example, the case of Ryan Bell.

Now, in his case, his path was slightly different than most atheists. A minister who decided to test his own faith and found it lacking. I applauded his attempt even before he, in the end, rejected his faith in favor of atheism, but my point is that atheists who stick to reason and skepticism and do not fall prey to emotional appeals or other logical fallacies find atheism not a difficult position to maintain.

One of the points I was trying to discuss with this piece is that, sometimes, an atheist has to put their foot down and end their antiapologetics. Even so, it is a difficult road.

Recently, Jeff Dee, one of the hosts of The Atheist Experience, a well known atheist television show out of Austin, responded to a anti-atheist post on a Facebook group. As he is someone I follow online, it popped up on my timeline, and I was drawn into the debate as well. Even though I have tried desperately to stay out of online debates, the siren song of these debates keeps bringing me back in.

I’ve had to resist debating with family and friends. I even unfollowed my own mother on Facebook after a kerfuffle earlier this year.

To sum up, humans like to win. We like to be right. That’s the point of apologetics, counterapologetics, and antiapologetics. Sometimes, the only way to win a game is to not play.

February 28

In Memory

Leonary Nimoy. Source: ABC News
Leonary Nimoy. Source: ABC News

We have seen the passing of one of my personal heroes this week, Leonard Nimoy. To honor him, I watched the first five Star Trek movies. The funeral scene in Wrath of Khan made me cry, as did several of the other scenes related to death. I told my oldest that he was one of my heroes, and I realized he was. His views on life, both in and out of character, helped me through some dark times in my life. I mourn his passing.

I have already seen people speaking of him in Heaven, and some dismissing him as an atheist. From all of the information I can gather, he was a lifelong Jew. So, yes, he may be in Heaven, but he is not hanging out with Saint Peter. Sorry to dash your hopes of playing pinochle with him. To be honest, I don’t know if that was a game he liked or not. I could see him enjoying many different types of games. Maybe that is my own projection.

I’m sorry that it has been a long time since my last update. My heath has been an issue; I got a pretty severe head cold, and, with Multiple Sclerosis, it makes everything more complex. When the fever one is running makes it hard to move or think straight, blogging sometimes takes a hit. Thankfully, I survived it, although our finances have taken a hit, with my lovely wife having also been sick and having to take some time off. So, to cover some of my ongoing medical expenses, I have had to resort to a Gofundme fundraiser. Links are to the right.

Yesterday, I woke up and my right hand had gone all pins and needles. It is a new symptom, a departure from the slow decline of my left side, and something quite worrisome. It will probably take me some time to get used to the way my right hand feels now. My typing has slowed, and I am considering teaching myself touch typing with the new condition to improve my speed. Coding will be difficult, but I have too many projects to be slowed down by something silly like a disability.

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January 29

The myth of the Virgin Nerd

Cardboard Knight
Cardboard Knight – Source Unknown

There is a common myth, still persistent, even in this enlightened age of the post jock dominant world, that Geeks, Nerds, and other titles given to the smart, socially awkward among us are virgins, and this is a bad thing. This wraps up several misconceptions and stereotypes into one prejudicial statement that I would like to address. Let’s go back to front.

  • Virginity is Bad, but only for boys

The pressure on adolescents to have sex is pretty damn strong. It is perpetuated in media, which uses sex to sell pretty much everything, is blasted from music and movies, and, why not? The human body has evolved to pump hormones into the developing body that seem custom tailored for marketing departments to be able to push the latest energy drink or cosmetic product. Complicate that with small town America who think that any activity that includes teenagers will lead to sex and/or drug use, and, therefore, must be shut down, and what are you left with? That’s right. Sex is the measure of a young man among his peers.

So, a young man is made fun of if he has not “scored” with a woman. Zod help him if he is attracted to boys! (I digress… this is not about homosexuality). So, virginity is bad for young men among his peers, in the same way it is a virtue for a young girl among her peers (The old double standard, still surviving, even now).

This cultural pressure is so bad that it has become a culture of forced sex. Rape culture is so pervasive that it is distorting not only how we raise male children, but how we raise females as well, and how we deal with sex altogether.

  • Interests are only good when Accepted by Society

This one has always irked me. I am not a big fan of football. Sure, I go to Superbowl parties. I could care less about the game. I go to be with friends. Do you know how many games I have gone to in my life? Two. One was with my mother when I was about eight. We were at the Hoosier Dome, and were literally at the back wall of the stadium. The field was so far away I could not make out the numbers on the jerseys. The second game was in high school. The only reason I went was because I was waiting to go to the dance afterwards, and they would not let me wait outside the game. Other sports are similar. The only sport I got into at all was soccer, and, even then, it was only barely. But, it was clear when I was younger that the football players and the basketball players were the ones who got the good treatment. Why? Here’s the thing.

It’s a cycle of pointlessness. All sports are entertainments. The owners pay the players to entertain the fans. The fans pay to be entertained. Nothing other than entertainment is produced. That’s all well and good, and the same thing can be said of computer games. But the thing is that the amount of money, and the way it is handled is what is the issue.

Take the average grade school football player. Maybe he has some talent. He plays in high school. In high school, he is shown special treatment. They have special transportation to and from matches. They give him a letter for his letterman jacket. He can get a special ring. He goes on to college. He plays there. There is a multi-million dollar industry supporting him. He goes on the the NFL. Now it is a multi-BILLION dollar industry. All along the way are perks, special treatment, he is groomed, treated like a prize pony, and is recognized the world over. Children are taught by their parents to idolize him. The stadiums he plays in were built using taxpayer money. The tickets cost an enormous amount. Television networks fight for the right to broadcast the game.

At the end of his career, what has he produced? Statistics, highlights, videos, memories. That’s all well and good. But society puts him and his activities on a pedestal. Why? We need heroes. Fine. We are not in any good wars, so that makes sense. At least, no wars that make sense and produce heroes.

Why, then, do we have to stigmatize those that do not choose the same path?

Thankfully, things are changing. Now that people are realizing that being a geek pays a lot better than the average jock, they are waking up to it.

  • Geeks don’t get the girls

This one, I think, irks me the most, because it is the least true, and the one most based on faulty knowledge. It presumes that girls cannot be geeks, and that all girls want non-geeks.

Guess what, jocks. Geek girls not only exist, but they are a lot more fun than the girls you like to date.

Think about it for a moment. Joe Average Jock asks Jane Average Cheerleader out on a date. He spends the evening talking about his Sports Team, which she knows a little about, since she is a Cheerleader. She starts talking about what she is into and he blankly stares off into space. This is what their marriage is going to look like.,

Meanwhile, Tom the Geek is out on a date with Meredith the Nerd. The spend the evening sharing a Butterbeer and trading Doctor Who and Monty Python quotes. On their thirties wedding anniversary, they share a booth at Gencon, promoting their new card game.

Jocks, geeks do get girls. We just don’t need to brag about it. We’re too busy having fun.