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In the vain hope of getting out of my shell, I went to the Women in Secularism conference this weekend. I signed up before having a fight with my mother. Now I’m here and feeling so lonely. It’s so clubby and awful. Everyone knows everyone. They’re all friends. No one talks to me. This is terrible. I feel like I’m having a total breakdown.

No one wants to know an old woman. I’m fat and ugly and I want to die.

What does someone do when you get to my age and everything’s not okay. I’m divorced, unemployed. Too old to start again but too young and healthy to die any time soon, unless I kill myself, which is a thought.

I need help so badly but I’m so alone in this world. No one is there to help me. I feel like I want to cry for help but there’s no one to hear me.

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This evening, I’m fighting several conflicting feelings at the same time. I’ve mentioned in some previous posts my depression, which seems to have suddenly gotten worse over the course of the past week. My usually volatile emotions now have a hair-trigger, at least the negative ones do. It’s gotten bad enough that a couple of days ago my mother asked me if I wanted to go to the hospital. If I thought it would help, I would. I was hospitalized for suicidal ideation two years ago. So, I know what will happen if I’m hospitalized and it is, at best, a temporary fix. I take my medication. From inside a hospital, I can’t work on the things that are making me depressed in the first place, which is basically the loneliness. As I’ve mentioned before, I live in Baltimore but I know no one here. All the contact I have with people outside of my immediate family is via the internet, which is part of the reason that I go nuts when my connection goes down.  I didn’t get quite so bent out of shape when that happened when I lived in New York.

A few days ago, I read a blog post called “How To Be A Good Depressive Citizen.”

Depression is messy, and ugly, and sticky. You don’t take it out in public until it’s thoroughly sanitized, freeze-dried, and vacuum-packed – or you make yourself a reputation that you don’t want. It is okay to be depressed, even valorous, so long as you never actually demonstrate depression.

Right now, dressed in the blog-equivalent of a crisp business suit, some depressive is blogging as the Good Citizen, tears wiped off of blotched cheeks, a stiff upper lip, toeing the party line that we can all get through this if we just keep swimming. She is an inspiration.

You do not discuss your depression until you can be an inspiration, or you are just fucking crazy.

Nobody likes crazy.

Well, I’ve already discussed my feelings when I’ve been in the throes of a depressive episode, so I guess I’m not a Good Depressive Citizen. Worse yet, I am about to do so again.

Have you ever had that moment in the immediate wake of a highly emotional event and you feel like a little thing in your brain goes “ping?” That intense crisis that make your response to something suddenly switch? Something you liked, you now hate. Something you once could tolerate you can no longer tolerate. You say to yourself, “I will never again do x,” “I will never again love anyone,” “I will never again trust anyone…” Of course, I’ve had responses like this many times in my life and, somehow, by the next morning, I’ve usually gone back to my previous position, loving people, trusting people, or doing whatever it was that I thought I could never do again.

A song by Steely Dan that sometimes makes me feel better has the lines,

Any major dude with half a heart surely with tell you my friend
Any minor world that breaks apart falls together again.
When the demon is at your door
In the morning it won’t be there no more.

That always seemed to sum up the feeling well. So I write what I’m writing tonight, knowing full well that tomorrow I might feel as I did this morning.

A few days ago, on someone else’s blog, a Christian brought up Thomas Paine and said that on his deathbed he regretted writing The Age of Reason. Being American and a bit of a francophile, it would be hard for me to avoid knowing a little bit about Paine who was active in both the American and French Revolutions and generally considered to have been a Deist. I never read specifically about Paine’s death, I only knew that he had been abandoned by most of his friends in his later years and few people attended his funeral. As someone who stood by his radical convictions through many trials in his life, it did not strike me as plausible that he changed his mind as he was dying. I attempted a quick search on the internet, but most of the websites which came up were Christian, which I didn’t trust. It seems that for plain old historians without an agenda this isn’t an interesting topic. Finally, I found this post on Ask.com.

There are twenty death-bed witnesses, Madame Bonneville, Dr. Romaine, Dr. Manley, Rev. Cunningham, Rev. Milledollar, Mr. Pigott, Mrs. Redden, Willet Hicks, Mrs. Cheeseman, Amasa Woodsworth, Thomas Nixon, Captain Pelton, Walter Morton, Thomas Addis Emmet, Mrs. Few, Albert Gallatin, Mr. Jarvis, B.F. Haskin, Colonel Fellows, and Judge Hertell, many of them Christians, all affirming or admitting that Thomas Paine did not recant.

It was one of those tiresome things that, even while I was doing it, I found myself asking myself, “Why do I care?” However, I know that the radical right has been fabricating a strange view of history and I think that’s unhealthy. For what it’s worth, I’ve never much liked Howard Zinn, seeing him more as a propagandist than an historian. The truth may be difficult to grasp and subject to interpretation, but in order to know where one stands on contemporary issues, it’s important to examine the past. On the other hand, time marches on. We seek to make the world a better place, which is not possible if we think the country should be frozen in amber in 1776 or 1789. It is probably more relevant to know the words and deeds of Thomas Paine in the course of his life and the effect he had on the politics of several countries than to know what his last words were. Still, I decided to make an effort to counter the lie the Christians tell.

Freethought Blogs is a website that hosts the blogs of a score of people. Until recently, Chris Rodda had a blog there. Today it was missing. I wondered what happened to it and I searched on the internet for her name. I had never before taken note of her book Liars for Jesus. She has the introduction and the first several pages of each chapter available on the related website. I drank some coffee and read a little bit. I only got as far as the second chapter before doing other things, however that second chapter was strangely relevant to what happened later that day. By a funny coincidence, the chapter is about the Northwest Ordinance. Before I go further, let me state that I keep on my bookshelf a book called The American Pageant. It is a high school text-book that has been used to teach U.S. History since 1983. I frequently turn to it, not because it is the best book on U.S. History every written, but because it can give me an idea of the “standard” narrative. This and other U.S. History books have been criticized by the left for ethnocentrism. The American Pageant is a broad survey and covers very little in depth. I can’t imagine a class that wouldn’t supplement it with many other items. However, here is what it has to say on the Northwest Ordinance.

While still British colonies, several states-to-be were given “sea to sea” charters, while others had much more limited lands. The states that had claims to lands far to the west were Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. The states without Western claims were New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland. At the end of the Revolution, the new States each found itself burdened with debt.

A major complaint was that the land-blessed states could sell their trans-Allegheny tracts, and thus pay off pensions and other debts incurred in the common cause. The states without such holdings would have to tax themselves heavily to defray these obligations. Why not turn the whole western area over to the central government?

Unanimous approval of the Articles of Confederation by the thirteen states was required , and landless Maryland stubbornly held out until March 1, 1781. She finally gave in when New York surrendered her western claims, and Virginia seemed about to do so. To sweeten the pill, Congress pledged itself to dispose of these vast areas for the “common benefit.” It further agreed to carve from the new public domain a number of “republican” states, which in time would be admitted to the Union on terms of complete equality with all the others. This pledge was later redeemed in the famed Northwest Ordinance of 1787

The book then goes on to talk ever so briefly of the weaknesses of the government under the Articles of Confederation. Then it notes two effective laws that were passed during that period, The Land Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787.

This law came to grips with the notion of how a nation should deal with its colonial peoples…. The solution provided by the Ordinance was a judicious compromise” temporary tutelage, then permanent equality.

The book as very little more to say on the subject beyond a celebratory line about the “unstinted praise” deserved by the “wisdom of Congress,” probably exactly the sort of language the gets the book a thumbs-down from the left.

Since Rodda only gives the first four pages of the chapter on the internet, I was not able to read her entire version, not that it mattered. I was just engaging in a little idle reading while waiting for the wash cycle to be done so I could transfer my laundry to the dryer.

In her introduction, which I basically skimmed because it bored me a little, she writes about how she came to decide to write the book Liars for Jesus. She writes how she followed a link in a story. “Little did I know that when I clicked on that link that I was about to discover a whole new version of American history.”

I haven’t had one watershed moment, but for the past year, since I’ve been blogging and engaging with people on the internet more frequently than in the past, I am beginning to realize the same thing.

Then I went back to the Freethought Blogs site, and I happened to see a post that mentioned that May 1 was the “National Day of Prayer,” something I had never heard of, nor had my mother when I brought it up to her this evening.

Earlier today, I put up a very short post noting that, although today was a “National Day of Prayer,” I wouldn’t be praying. I didn’t offer any opinion about whether or not the designation was constitutional or not. My laundry was in the dryer. As soon as it was out, I was going to jump in the shower, throw on my clothes and meet my mother for our workout at the gym. I went on to do other things, but checked my computer again because someone owes me an email. There was a comment from a Christian who frequents atheist blogs seeming to pick fights. I have learned to avoid him. He says strange things about U.S. History the source of which is unknown to me, but frequently is quite far afield from anything resembling what I learned in high school. It’s one thing to argue with someone about interpretation. It is quite tedious when the other person seems to possess their own private set of facts.

I guess it’s hard to argue with the statement, “I did not pray today.” Despite the fact that I never brought up whether or not the National Day of Prayer was constitutional, this commenter went on a strange rant about the Northwest Ordinance. I would have had no clue what he was talking about if I hadn’t by chance just read portions Rodda’s book earlier that day. I dislike this person. He is very aggressive and has said vulgar, unkind things to me in the past. I have countered with my own unkind statements, and now avoid him. I dislike him so much that I sometimes avoid commenting on blogs where he might show up because I don’t want to have an argument with him. He frequently cites U.S. History, but not any history I ever learned, but his own Alice through the Looking Glass version. I thought about going back to Rodda’s site and responding to his argument. One thing I do not like to do is to allow factual inaccuracies to go unchallenged in comments. Not because I want to have an argument, but because I do not want to lead people astray. I do not want my blog to be used to spread known falsehoods. Then the timer I had set for the dryer went off.

I ran down to the laundry room and came back unsure of what to do. My blood pressure mounting by the second. Feeling like I was going to have a stroke, I wanted to delete his comment, explain why I deleted it, but since he is very aggressive in his argument I wanted to block him from commenting. I’ve only done that once before and I couldn’t recall how to do that. My mind clouded by anger, I tried searching, but felt that the words were swimming before my eyes. My mother was waiting for me. I took down the post and wrote the “I Hate Christians.” Quite obviously, that is an outburst. I can’t decide whether or not to take it down, now that I’m calmer. Maybe it’s good for Christians to see what their inability to be civil reduces people to.

And this is where I feel like my mind went “ping.” I’ve never considered myself an anti-theist, just an atheist. I’ve always tried to be an atheist who gets along well with religious neighbors. But maybe I’ve been wrong all along. Maybe we can’t “coexist.” Some people make the argument that religion will always lead down this path. It’s only a matter of time before someone comes along to blow-up a school.

And this is where I become a bad depressive citizen. All evening, the same subject has been swirling around in my mind. Why do I bother? I virtually ooze privilege.  I look white, I was raised middle class and have a middle class accent, I got a reasonably solid secondary education, I have a B.A., I’ve been enrolled in Master’s programs, I have a successful supportive sister who is married to a supportive man, my mother tries to be supportive in her own way, I grew up with a really nice father who is unfortunately now deceased, I’m able-bodied, highly intelligent, in good health and very pretty according to standard norms of beauty when I bother to fix myself up a bit. Except for the fact that I’m female, petite and now middle-aged, I really exist in a surprisingly comfortable world. Why should I care about anybody else? Let’s face it, it has absolutely no impact on me if someone in Oklahoma teaches their kids Creationism. Mainly, Christians want to hobble their own children. Why am I fighting?

Then I thought to myself, “You can still write what you think, just turn off the comments.” Then I remember how isolated I am here in this town and maybe that wouldn’t be a good idea.

I could only write about things that don’t bring contentious people to my blog and start avoiding other people’s blogs, something I’ve already started to do.

Then I have other moments when I think about the frustration I’ve felt the past few days and feel that I should instead make my blog about U.S. History to counter the falsehoods. Then I think again and I feel exhausted at the notion. If it were my job, that would be one thing, but it would be a full-time job to even make a dent in it.

Then I get angry at Christians again. Where are the moderate Christians? Where are the people who are always bothering atheists that we haven’t thought about sophisticated notions of theology? They’re always up for an argument when an atheist says, “I don’t believe in God.” Why do I rarely (not never, I should point out) see them arguing with their fundamentalist coreligionists.

Then we get the people who are just out to lunch, like my mother. Honestly, I don’t mean anything against my mother, but a couple of weeks ago she wanted to talk about that missing plane and yesterday she wanted to talk about the racist basketball team owner.

I feel exhausted, I feel defeated, I feel alone in this fight and I would rather not care. Now, if I can only succeed in not caring.

So maybe I should just cocoon myself in my privilege and keep in mind that all of this has comparatively little tangible effect on me.

Have you ever read a post and you’re looking for the “sarcasm” or “humor” tag and you can’t find it? Sometimes, there’s an entire blog that is satirical. Usually, I’m pretty good at distinguishing the parody from the thing it’s parodying.  Right now, though, I’m scratching my head. If this isn’t a parody…. I think I’ve now heard it all.

I’ve never had a problem with drinking or drugs and, sometimes, when someone is providing a testimony to how they were saved by Jesus and the story the begins with lying in the gutter, I jokingly think to myself, “Ah, that’s why I haven’t met Jesus. I have been bad enough for him to take an interest in me.” Now, before someone tells me that I’ve misinterpreted these stories, I realize that. It’s just a little humorous thought that flits through my head and I usually keep to myself.

Now, I’ve just read a post in which a woman claims to see evidence for God in the fact that her socks disappear in the washing machine. Folks, I do not have this problem. I believe that I have in my entire life I’ve lost only two or three socks. I have never looked into a pile of mismatched socks and seen the face of god because I have no such pile.

Please help me, is this satire? Am I losing my sense of humor?

Proof that... I'm a slob. Dang, I've really got to do my laundry. Lucky for all of you that she didn't see the face of God in a pile of underwear, or you'd be looking at my dirty drawers right now.

Proof that… I’m a slob. Dang, I’ve really got to do my laundry. Lucky for all of you that she didn’t see the face of God in a pile of underwear, or you’d be looking at my dirty drawers right now.

Well, here we have another memory out of order. I really didn’t want to write about this so soon. There are certain events which I prefer to put in their proper order so they have a context. So often women and their sexuality are cast as two alternatives, directly opposed. The Madonna and the Whore is how these opposing images are usually named. Not only are they positioned at the extreme ends of sexual behavior, they have other characteristics that accompany the bare fact of sexual activity. The frequency with which a sexually active woman is portrayed as a party girl, a poor student, probably unintelligent and certainly unintellectual and sexual behavior is portrayed accompanied by drug or alcohol use and general loutish behavior is tiresome at best. It offers a false choice. We all know it’s a false choice, but our lives have been so saturated by these images we sometimes we link these unrelated activities together in our minds despite knowing better.

If you’ve been following along with my memories, you may already realized that I was in the process of turning from a nerdy girl into something very different. It is important for me to communicate that I never entirely shook off some of my characteristics that made me a nerd in the first place. I remained a little bit bookish and a good student. I followed my parents’ directions. I didn’t smoke pot or take any other drugs and I didn’t drink alcohol until I got to college. It seemed to me that my intellectual and sexual awakening went hand in hand, along with a social awakening. There was yet one more aspect to this period of my life and that was a spiritual awakening.

Paarsurrey left a question on my About page. I was at a loss about how to answer it. This is only the beginning of the answer.

The penthouse condo was dark when we walked in. I could see that hallway opened up into rooms a few yards away, but there were doors in the hallway starting only a few feet from the front door. We entered the first one on the right. The lights were out but the city lights filtered through the large modern windows and filled the room with a soft twilight. The bed was a platform placed directly under the windows. The top of the bed was almost flush with the window sill. We sat on the edge of the bed and kissed. He fondled me and I found myself hoping he would not leave it at that. I had made the decision to have sex with him that night and I feared that he might back out at the last minute.

He whispered in my ear, “Suck my cock.”

I think I first tried something awkward, like bending over from the waist. He took off his pants and he guided me onto my knees on the floor in front of him between his spread thighs. This was an incredibly intimidating moment and it would be a long time before I found fellatio to not be intimidating. There I was, confronted with his penis. Inches from my face, it and his abdomen filled my field of vision and I had barely a clue as to what to do. I’d heard the usually crude jokes about girls who tried to blow on it because the were confused by the word “blow job,” so I knew not to do that. I went with the other obvious word and tried sucking. He stopped me. “Have you done this before?” I shook my head no. “You’re not feeling pressured, are you? You’re okay with this?” I nodded my head no and then yes. He placed either hand on the side of my head and talked and guided me until he ejaculated into my mouth. It was a strange taste, entirely unlike anything I had tasted before, bitter but not unpleasant.

He pulled me back on to the bed with him. He took off the rest of his clothes and then undressed me and we lay on top of the bed embracing. He got a condom at the ready. He performed oral sex on me. After I had had my fill of that particular pleasure, he asked me to put the condom on him. I frankly told him that I didn’t know how and he showed me. Then he entered me. We fit together easily and moved through many different positions. I orgasmed several times and finally he ejaculated again as well. I lay there beside him on the damp sheets, my body feeling supple and soft. My mind was enveloped by a pleasant haze.

Eventually, he was ready again. He stroked me and petted me until I felt as pliable as kneaded butter. He rolled me onto my stomach, straddled me and began massaging my back. My head faced the window and I could see the lights of Honolulu below. He tried to enter me. When he met resistance, he kissed the back of my neck and whispered for me to relax. He told me to trust him, that he would be gentle.

It is difficult to describe what happened next because it all happened in my head, but it felt no less real for that. As I tried to relax and give into his movement the boundary between our bodies seemed to dissolve. I felt as if I was catapulted forward into the street lights which turned into stars and I rose up into space, but it was no longer me, it was we, and not just him, but an ever-expanding we. I felt as if I had become one with the universe and I was lost in a sea of stars, carried away on a rhythm like endless waves. Then he finished again and collapsed on top of me.

Eventually, as I felt as if I might drift off to sleep, I roused myself, cleaned myself up, dressed and left.

This was the first moment since I first felt at the age of eight that religion was a man-made sham that I entertained the notion that there might be something more to the universe than the material world. It was one of the deepest, most profound and most moving experiences I had ever had. It seemed so profound that I couldn’t believe it was just a simple emotional response. I didn’t launch onto a non-stop spiritual quest, but there was a new idea in the back of my mind, that maybe something else was out there. However, there was one thing of which I did feel certain, that this beautiful feeling was good and any religion that said it was bad or sinful had to be in error. The very experience that caused me to ask questions about spirituality ruled out orthodox versions of the Abrahamic religions as possibilities.

It would be nearly fifteen or so years before I started calling myself an atheist again, and that is too convoluted a journey to summarize here.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, this is a lazy post.

I saw this a few minutes ago:

He quotes Bill Nye; my favorite part is this:  ”We need scientifically literate voters and tax payers for the future….”

Does Nye think that Creationists don’t pay taxes, or something?

Mama said there’d be days like this…. so she taught me to diagram sentences! Really! I don’t know about you, but when I was in school they didn’t teach this any more, but my mother made sure that I learned. She promised me that one day, I’d be thankful. Today is that day!

A diagram of the sentence, "We need scientifically literate voters and tax payers in the future."

Me, I’d be happy just to stop at step three with literate voters and taxpayers.

My attempts to get an exchange going in the comments haven’t been successful, but I’ll try again anyway.

Have you ever had a potential significant other reject you primarily because you were an atheist?

Yesterday, I posted a story about a man. His mother was very much trying to fix us up, with big hints about marriage and grandchildren. It was a long-distance situation and, following a couple of dates, he sent me regular emails. Some of them contained inspirational, spiritual messages. Eventually, I had to tell him that I was an atheist. He cooled dramatically at that point and within a few weeks communication had ceased. Now, he never told me that my atheism was a reason, perhaps he met someone else, but it was the only conflict we had had. Certainly, it didn’t help.

Another time, a man I met at a singles event phoned for a date. As it happens, Easter was that coming weekend and he asked what my family was doing. I said that I was an atheist and no one in my family was religious, so we were doing nothing. He hemmed and hawed and said that he couldn’t fix a specific date at that moment but he would call me back, which he didn’t. Remember, he had phoned me, so this was a major u-turn in the direction of the conversation.

I’m never really sure how much atheism has had an effect on my love life. On the one hand, received wisdom has it that male atheists are more numerous than females and several men have nearly jumped up and down in delight when I’ve said I was also an atheist. On the other hand, atheists are a minority and stereotypical gender roles make it seem to me that it’s easier for atheist men to date theist women than for atheist women to date theist men.

In any case, I’ve had great difficulty maintaining relationships with men who are not atheists even though I’ve tried on several occasions. Usually, things go smoothly for a few months and then the man starts pointing out miracles or times in his life when he feels that God has intervened. Eventually, we start arguing. Theoretically, I don’t care what religion a man is, but, since in the past things have not gone well, over time I’ve come to significantly prefer other atheists.

So, what about you?

My sister and I have an ongoing joke. She had been doing a lot work in cooperation with some churches in our area, so I think her mindset was in a particular place when I burst through her door one day, shouting “Have you heard the good news!” She looked at me in shock. Oblivious, I continued, “There’s a sale on shoes! I have new shoes, and they have bows on them!” I cried, pointing my foot and showing off the big bow on my toe.

Now, we have an ongoing joke. When she hears the phrase “the good news” she whispers in my ear, “My shoes have bows!”

Well, there’s more good news these days, and I’m not talking about the metallic gold boots I found deeply discounted at a Zadig et Voltaire outlet. The Atheist Blogroll has recommenced. The Atheist Blogroll is, as you might expect, a listing of blogs hosted by atheists. Some of these deal with atheism directly and frequently while others are only atheist in so far as the blogger is an atheist.

I wasn’t blogging at the time that the Out Campaign first started, and since I’d never hidden the fact that I was an atheist, it might not have mattered anyway. Still, I think it’s useful to acknowledge that I’m an atheist because if one doesn’t say anything, people tend to presume that you are whatever the majority in your area is.

The atheist Out Campaign follows the efforts by gay activists in the late sixties and seventies to encourage homosexuals to come out of the closet. At least according to the movie Milk, a part of the impetus for coming out was that people who knew gays were less likely to vote in favor of limiting their civil rights.

From the movie:

Harvey Milk: We’re going to convince the 90% to give a shit about us 10%. We have to let them know who we are. Everybody has to come out. Across the entire state, no matter where they live. …. Every gay lawyer, teacher, doctor, dog catcher. We have to leave the ghetto. We have to let all those people out there know that they know one of us….
Scott Smith: The whole state isn’t San Francisco, Harvey.
Unknown: Clearly, Scott. Harvey, that could be really, really dangerous. I mean, there’s such a thing as a right to privacy.
Harvey Milk: Privacy. In this movement, at this time, I’m not saying this as a supervisor, privacy is the enemy. And if you want real political power, if that’s what you want, try telling the truth for a change.

My own main reason for being on the Atheist Blogroll is to stand up and be counted. This may, in fact, be more important for atheists that write about a diverse array of topics than for those who write regularly about atheism.

To be clear, the Atheist Blogroll is not connected to the Out Campaign. It’s just linked in my mind because being on the blogroll and having the badge on the sidebar of my blog is a way for me to let people know that I’m an atheist.

Apparently, The New Republic has teamed up with a British publication and they are now sharing material. The first article I’ve read is beyond being inauspicious. I take for granted that publications, especially those that deal with politics, will regularly publish things with which I disagree. However, the shoddiness of this article is beyond compare. It’s “The New Intolerance” by Cristina Odone, and it’s so awful that I don’t know where to start, except by picking up the phone and cancelling my subscription.

She starts with a dramatic statement.

“I couldn’t believe it. I was trying to discuss traditional marriage—and the state was trying to stop me.”

In my mind, I see her standing there, at a cocktail party. Little black dress, a glass of plonk in hand. A giggly, glowing, younger female friend sidles up to her. The friend holds out her left hand. There’s great big diamond ring on her finger. “Guess what!” she giggles. She seems so adorable and so happy.

Cristina puts a supportive arm around her friend. “Congratulations!” she cries.

No sooner have the words left her mouth than the door to the party is kicked in. Blam! The assembled party goers gasp in fear. “It’s Judge Dredd.”

I’m eager to read the rest of the story, how she was hauled before the courts and sentenced to hard labor for expressing her support. Um. Not quite.

Quickly, right after that first line that makes your heart race, she changes the subject. She says that she supports “traditional marriage.” She doesn’t bother to define that. Let’s call this undefined contract “Odone marriage” so I can get rid of the quotes. However, whatever Odone marriage may be, she is disingenuous when she says that her concern is to support it. There are many ways she could support it, but giving talks trying to prevent marriages between individuals of the same sex strikes me as an odd way to go about it. What she is doing is not supporting marriages of which she personally approves, but she is trying to prevent marriages of which she doesn’t personally approve. Not the same thing.

It turns out that “the state” wasn’t trying to stop her at all. Organizations who do not believe that the only marriages in the world should be Odone marriages did not care to host a conference. So, the first sentence is a lie. The state wasn’t trying to stop her, at all. Several organizations, which were not the state, did not want to be complicit in her efforts to stop marriages she doesn’t like. They would not let Christian Concern use their premises for a conference.

The title, “One Man. One Woman. Making the Case for Marriage for the Good of Society”, could hardly have sounded more sober.

That it sounds sober to Odone hardly makes it so. It puts me in mind of a post about my own marriage I recently wrote.

Before we go further, we should take a look at the group who organized the conference, Christian Concern. They are not, as the name might indicate, a support group for Christians suffering from anxiety. Christian Concern was founded by evangelical activist and young earth creationist Andrea Minichiello Williams.

Christian Concern states, that as a result of society turning its back on Jesus the growth of ideas such as “secular liberal humanism, moral relativism and sexual licence” has led to “widespread family breakdown, immorality and social disintegration.” The organisation views the “fruit” of ideas that are alternative to Christianity as “rotten” and seeks to remedy the situation by engaging politically with a broad range of issues, including: abortion, adoption and fostering, bioethics, marriage, education, employment, end of life, equality, family, free speech, Islamism, religious freedom, the sex trade, social issues and issues relating to sexual orientation.

Ironically, considering that they currently think not being aided in the theocratic agenda is “intolerance,” Christian Concern opposed the Racial and Religious Hatred Act of 2006, which created “an offence in England and Wales of inciting hatred against a person on the grounds of their religion.”

The conference was finally held in “the basement of a hotel.” That makes it sound rather clandestine, but it also makes me curious to know their budget. I’ve only ever been to London once, but I distinctly recall that hotels in central London are quite expensive.

The Christian Concern had difficulty finding a venue to host its conference which did finally come off. Odone now feels that her “rights as a taxpayer, citizen and Christian had been trampled.” This melodramatic retelling of a rather mundane matter of a right-wing extremist group trying to find a venue for a conference, which they eventually found, is not her point. It’s only the introduction, a heavy-handed attempt to arouse the reader’s sympathy and emotions and to portray the writer as a persecuted, marginalized minority.

Well, I guess the wealthy and coddled are a minority, although I don’t know if I would call them persecuted an marginalized. She was born in Nairobi to a World Bank official. Her father was Italian and her mother was Swedish. She attended a private school in the United States and a boarding school in England. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be so marginalized. Poor dear.

Then, the article veers off the well-trod path of poor propaganda into the wilds if incoherence.

Only 50 years ago, liberals supported “alternative culture”; they manned the barricades in protest against the establishment position on war, race and feminism. Today, liberals abhor any alternative to their credo. No one should offer an opinion that runs against the grain on issues that liberals consider “set in stone”, such as sexuality or the sanctity of life.

Does she understand the word “liberal?” The New Republic is very much a liberal magazine, so I’m surprised that they would publish, or republish, an article with such a confused view of the term. Liberals did not support “alternative culture” out of some weird impulse to just be in opposition to the prevailing society.

Just a quick aside. Odone doesn’t mean the sanctity my life. I know what “sanctity of life” really means. It means I should have had a fist land in my face on a weekly basis because I was knocked up by an abusive man. She’s so concerned about great injustice of the “state” preventing her from speaking, but she probably wouldn’t flinch at the notion that my own life should have been a living hell because she thinks a three-week old embryo has more sanctity than an adult woman. An embryo that would have almost certainly turned into a child growing up in extreme poverty with two emotionally messed up parents both of whom had bad tempers. Forcing two people into a future they didn’t want is exactly where her support of one man/ one woman marriage ends.

She seems to miss the fact that liberalism a word that covers several strands of political thought with a similar origin in ideas about individual liberty. I am not familiar enough with liberalism in the UK to be able to speak about it intelligently, so I’ll limit myself to liberalism in the US, since her accusations would apply equally well to liberals here. The belief in the importance of individual liberty leads liberals to be highly supportive of civil rights. Odone may see the equality liberals seek as “superficial”, but I do not. The fight for equal rights is one of the core values for most liberals, although we may often disagree on the best means to that end.

In the early years of the western liberal state, self-governance was generally reserved for only men, usually men of a certain race and class, although the specifics of that varied by location. As the liberal project has progressed over the last two or three centuries, the categories of individuals included in this group of competent adults capable of self-governance has expanded to include women, people of color and individuals not owning property.

During the course of the twentieth century, many liberals have focused on the liberty of previously marginalized groups beyond the bare bones of the franchise. The ability of women to control their reproduction, and therefore control their lives, is one. The freedom for consenting adults to enter into a marriage contract is another.

I believe that religious liberty is mean­ingless if religious subcultures do not have the right to practise and preach according to their beliefs. These views – for example, on abortion, adoption, divorce, marriage, promiscuity and euthanasia – may be unfashionable. They certainly will strike many liberal-minded outsiders as harsh, impractical, outmoded, and irrelevant.

By this point in time, I believe we all know that the people who make this complaint are not speaking the truth. They do not want simply the right to speak. The want the right to force others to behave according to their own ideas. There is no sanctity of life, only domination over others. They do not want to bear a child they didn’t want to conceive themselves. They want others to do so. They don’t want to be put up for adoption themselves. They want others to be so. They don’t want to remain in a loveless marriage themselves. They want others to do so.

Yes, you are harsh. The life to which you would have seen me condemned would have been a living nightmare. You are not merely outmoded. You are cruel, callous, sadistic and sick.

So why force the closure of a Catholic adoption agency that for almost 150 years has placed some of society’s most vulnerable children with loving parents?

As someone who was adopted, I object to being treated as a pawn in this manner. Don’t care for me as a fertilized egg if you won’t care for me as an adult. Catholics oppose contraception.

Finally, Odone gets to her real point. She sides with the people who would like to overturn the Enlightenment. Will somebody please tell me, what kind of horrid ultra-conservative rag is The New Statesman?

Churches were every­where – one for every 200 inhabitants in the High Middle Ages – and oversaw every stage of life: “hatch, match and despatch”.

Yes, we all know how famously wonderful the Middle Ages were. I mean, how the fuck do I even argue about a point so absurd? How the fuck does The New Republic publish this tripe? Can I have a job? Really.

The Founding Fathers crossed an ocean to be free to practise their faith.

This is simply wrong. Generally, the Founding Fathers are considered to be the people who signed the Declaration of Independence and worked on the Constitution. The people who “crossed an ocean” were other people. Many came here in the pursuit of profit. Many poor people came here as indentured servants. Those who came over here for their faith tried to found a theocracy. We generally don’t consider them Founding Fathers. I have roots that go back to the Massachusetts Bay Colony on one side and to Jamestown on another. Don’t try to tell me about my history.

Church attendance has slumped to less than 30 per cent. Only in two Greek Orthodox countries, Cyprus and Greece, does the overwhelming majority of the population attend services regularly (98 per cent and 96 per cent respectively). Europeans may walk in the shadow of church spires but biblical literacy is so unusual today that a recent survey found that, of 900 representative respondents, 60 per cent couldn’t name anything about the parable of the Good Samaritan, while only 5 per cent of people could name all the Ten Commandments.

So? There are lots of things Europeans no longer do. Bull Baiting. Pogroms. Witch Burnings. Debtor’s Prisons. I bet you don’t thatch roofs as much as you used to or heat your homes with peat fires.

She then goes onto extol the attitudes towards religion in the U.S. There is so much that is a problem with those two short paragraphs I’d need to write another post the length of this already long one in order to talk about it. Please pardon me if I skip it.

Next up (Sorry for the rough segue, but she changes focus yet again.):

Can the decline in the social and intellectual standing of faith be checked, or even reversed? Yes. Ironically, believers can learn from those who have come to see themselves as their biggest enemy: gays.

Think of how successful gay rights activists have been, in both Europe and America. Twenty-five years ago, Britain’s first “gay pride” march took place in London. It was a muted affair, remembers the campaigner Ivan Massow, which “struggled to fill half of Kennington Park and a disco tent”.

Perhaps, but the first gay pride parade in New York followed Stonewall, which was anything but a muted affair. Gay pride started with people fighting back for their lives. If Odone doesn’t know anything about the history of the contemporary gay rights movement, maybe she shouldn’t use it as a model.

She then goes on in a way that I can only imaging that she’s hallucinating.

Practising Christians, Jews and Muslims should also step forward into the limelight, dismantling prejudices that they must be suspect, lonely, losers. Believers should present themselves as ordinary people, men and women who worry about the price of the weekly shop and the size of the monthly mortgage. They should not appear to be religious zealots or gay-bashers or rabid pro-lifers. They should reassure critics that religious people are not a race apart – but just happen to cherish a set of ideals that sometimes places them at odds with the rest.

Notice the use of the word “appear.” They may be gay-bashers or rabid pro-lifers, but they should lie and dissemble. They should hide their true goals.

Let outsiders see the faithful as a vulnerable group persecuted by right-on and politically correct fanatics who don’t believe in free speech. Let them see believers pushed to the margins of society, in need of protection to survive. Banned, misrepresented, excluded – and all because of their religion? Even the most hardbitten secularist and the most intolerant liberal should be offended by the kind of censorship people of faith are facing today. If believers can awaken a sense of justice in those around them, they may have taken a first important step in reclaiming the west as an area where God is welcome.

Notice the clumsy attempt at propaganda. People who believe that freedom of conscience is best protected by a secular state are turned into “hardbitten secularists.” I would be greatly offended by that kind of censorship if it was happening. When someone says, “I am a Christian,” and the police come along and bash his head with a billy club, when the churches are raided and Christian must meet in secret, when they are in need of a Christian “out” campaign, then I will see them as persecuted. Until then, this hand wringing is laughable.

Communities will no longer be able to rely on the selfless devotion of evangelists and missionaries who happily shoulder the burden of looking after the unwanted, the aged, the poor.

Oooh, I’m shaking in my boots. The amount that religious organizations contribute to aid for the poor is a drop in the bucket compared to government programs. I’m far more worried by conservative who want to dismantle government programs than by religious people taking their ball and going home. Besides that, I’m not even sure what she’s talking about. Does she mean if religious people don’t get their way in the political sphere they won’t help out the hungry. Not very, ahem, Christian, I’d say. Or does she mean if the individuals who would have been nominally Christian in a world in which people are forced to profess belief whether they believe or not would give significantly more to a church than they would to charities without a religious affiliation? (Don’t forget, most money given to religious organizations, although technically charitable donations, do not go to aid to the poor.)

Religion has long been synonymous with authority. This was no bad thing when, for millennia, traditional hierarchies were respected for ensuring that the few at the top protected, organised, and even ensured the livelihood of, the many at the bottom.

Is Downtown Abbey rotting your brains over there?

Bloodthirsty authoritarians from Hitler to Pol Pot drove a tank through this vision: they turned authority into authoritarianism.

Right. Because until Hitler everything was hunky-dory. Everyone knew their place. The rich took care of the poor and the poor… aw… fuck it. This is just too crazy. Anyway, I’m just getting too worn out now.

(Note to self: Nothing this crazy woman can do can hurt you. She’s totally impotent. This has no real effect on your life. It’s okay. Deep breath. Calm down. She can’t make you go to her church. She can’t make you believe in her god. She can’t even stop you from having sex. Oh, right. Marriage. I forgot. That’s what this whole smoke screen was about in the first place. She can hurt people. She can impose her views on them.)

The whole thing is just hideous. Just hideous. I’m really upset that a magazine I support has chosen to lend their weight to this garbage.

Earlier in this post I put in a link to a video about the Stonewall Uprising. If you don’t know much about the incident, I really recommend watching the video: The American Experience: The Stonewall Uprising. It’s inspiring.

I’ve got to say, I never really thought that I’d be writing a post that combined those two subjects to quite the extent that they are going to be combined in this post. For the record, I’m adopted and I’m an atheist.

A few days ago, I was watching the Daily Show with my mother on her brand new tv. She’s a big Jon Stewart fan. Steve Coogan was on talking about his latest movie, Philomena. My mother said she had seen it already but she would see it again with me.

After seeing the movie last night, I asked my mother if she felt her reaction to the movie was any different being someone who adopted two children. She said that it reminded her of my birth mother. Specifically, it reminded her of the moment when she was in the offices of the adoption agency and she read the paper they had given her describing my birth mother. I have an older sister and she said that reading about her mother didn’t make her sad. My sister’s mother was in her twenties. She came from a stable family, had a career and had had an affair with her boss. My mother said, “It’s sad, but not that sad.”

“But your mother, she was just a child herself. Her parents were divorced. She was shuttled from home to home. I wanted to adopt her too. She asked the agency if there wasn’t any way that she could keep you. It just made me incredibly, incredibly sad.”

Then she turned the question on me. One moment in the movie stood out. The main character, Martin, goes to the graveyard near the home for unwed mothers run by the Roman Catholic Church and he discovers the graves of women and children who died in childbirth. The camera pans across the neglected field of black crosses over grown with weeds. Then it rests on one and the text comes into focus. “Aged 14.” The audience gasped. I thought of my biological mother who was fourteen when I was born. Thank goodness she received proper medical care when she was pregnant.

Philomena, if you haven’t yet seen it, is about a former journalist who has recently lost his job in the Labour government and is now sort of depressed or something. At loose ends and casting about for a project, he decides, rather cynically, to try a human interest story. He apparently has no interest whatsoever in the (ridiculously obvious) larger themes of the stigma of single motherhood, the power of the Roman Catholic Church, forced labor, inadequate health care, gender and class based injustices, the relative poverty of Ireland vis-a-vis the rest of the Western World, etc., etc. I mean, the Roman Catholic Church, one of the most powerful institutions in the world, was forcing poor Irish women into slavery, or near slavery, through contracts with the Irish government and enforced by the police who would return any escapees, allowing a disproportionate number of them, and their children, to die in childbirth, and selling their children to wealthy Americans. Really? This guy is a journalist?

Okay, so now to make a few bucks this depressed journalist decides to help a woman who was coerced to relinquish her child for adoption fifty years earlier track him down. Spoiler alert: He’s dead. However, in the end, Mr. Snottypants learns a thing a two about the indomitablity (is that a word?) of the human spirit through the simple heart of this salt-of-the-earth Irish woman. And it’s not nearly as bad as I just made it sound.

The skilled acting and excellent direction plaster over the holes in a pretty shoddy script. There’s a point when Martin and Philomena are in a field… (Why? It’s Ireland. Ireland’s green. So people drive to fields to have conversations, apparently.) They’re in a field talking about sexual pleasure. The landscape is beautiful. The sun is setting. Steven Coogan’s hair is ringed by sunlight, like an angel. Meanwhile, I’m thinking, I would so totally fuck you… it’s too bad you’re an actor… on a screen… with a wife way hotter than I am… I think Steven Coogan’s fan base of dumpy middle-aged American women just increased exponentially.

It moves along at a nice pace. My mother didn’t fall asleep once. Just when the subject starts getting a bit serious, there’s some humor to lighten it up and make it more bearable. Coogan (may I call you Steve?) is a comedian, among other things, and he co-wrote the script.

It was hard for me to enjoy the movie, to suspend disbelief, because I spent too much of the time thinking about the unspoken assumptions about society, about adoption, about atheism and about class that are whirling about this story. One critic called it a “middle-brow feel-good movie.” Apparently, the bar on feeling good must have been dramatically lowered because my mother cried throughout. So did the woman sitting on my left. Meanwhile, I’m sitting there thinking, “I don’t buy the waitress latching onto a party goer to tell him her mother’s sob story, I don’t buy him storming into the private quarters to confront nuns, and I sure as hell don’t buy that stupid bit about the Celtic harp.”

Now I feel bad. I like Steve Coogan, I mean as much as I can considering that I don’t know him. He has that sort of hang-dog look that makes you want to start petting him. Considering that this movie has been criticized by a small portion of Catholics who have seen it as “anti-Catholic,” I feel like he certainly doesn’t need me jumping on him accusing him of class bias, but it’s hard to avoid that Philomena and Martin are broadly drawn stereotypes. I mean, really, would an actual Englishman (If you’re an Englishman please feel free to comment.) sit in an Irish abbey and declare that a piece of fruit cake is like “pandolce?” Doesn’t the English writer speak English?

At one of the most grotesque moments of the movie, Martin says on the phone something to the effect of “I have now seen what a steady diet of romance novels and the Daily Mail can do to the human mind.” That pretty much sums up the movie.  Martin is smart, educated, upper middle class, professional, and an atheist. Philomena is slow, uneducated, working class and religious. Needless to say, most of the jokes come at her expense. As comic characters they work. As dramatic characters, they fall short.

I said to my mother that I felt that it wouldn’t be very hard to find individuals who are more complex. I recall once reading a book titled The Other Mother  by Carol Schaefer, about a woman who was sent to a home for unwed mothers run by the Catholic Church and, years later, searched for the son she was forced to abandon. She is in college and in a steady relationship when she gets pregnant. One of the motivations for her to place her child with another family is to be able to finish her education. She falls away from the Catholic Church, although she does not become an atheist. Birth mothers have suffered from a great deal of stereotyping. I can recall growing up having other kids taunting me telling me that my biological mother must have been stupid or a slut, sometimes that implication that I, too, must be stupid was not left unspoken. Like Carol Schaefer, the experience of having a child out-of-wedlock turned my biological mother against orthodox forms of religion. She asked the adoption agency to not place me with a religious family.

This also feeds into stereotypes about atheists, that they’re a bunch of privileged white guys. When discussing the question of religion with my mother, I said, “I imagine some of those women must have distanced themselves from the Catholic Church.” My mother suggest that perhaps it was a function of education. I pointed out that my Philomena, as a nurse, would have had a higher level of education than my biological mother.

I almost feel bad making all these criticisms about a light, funny, tear-jerker of a movie. Almost.

I was adopted through a secular agency. At twenty-four I went to the agency to try to find my biological mother. Within a month they had put me in contact with her.

I don’t reblog often, but over lunch I was doing a little bit of blog reading and I came across the phrase “militant atheist” twice in about twenty minutes and I thought it might be worth highlighting a post I first read a few weeks ago.

I have to confess that the phrase “militant atheist” has never jumped out at me. Perhaps, because as someone who rarely tries to convince anyone to give up his or her belief, I don’t quite fall into that category. Perhaps it is because when I was younger I was frequently called a militant feminist. Perhaps it is because the word militant in French means something much milder than it does in English. My first language is English, but atheist activism, aka “New Atheism”, didn’t come into its own until I’d been called a “militante” of several different political currents.

Whatever the reason, “militant atheist” never caused me to raise an eyebrow. However, Irish Atheist has a very different, and I think important, view of the word.

Words are complicated things. If I look at blogs tagged with “atheism”, I can usually tell the orientation of the writer by the end of the second or third sentence, not by the content, but by the choice of words. Any propagandist will tell you that words matter. Our choice of words reveals things about ourselves that we don’t even always intend.

Irish Atheist’s post reminded me of why I grew up in a pluralistic environment. I have mentioned that both my parents were atheists. What I may not have mentioned is that my mother came from a Catholic family and my father came from a Protestant family. Except for the fact that his parents didn’t write him out of their wills, my father’s family essentially disowned him. For this reason, I barely knew my paternal grandparents, uncles or cousins. It was especially ridiculous since no one was particularly religious. It was just stupid tribalism. For me, however, it had a positive result, I grew up in an environment where individuals were not defined by their ethnicity or religion. My classmates came from families belonging to a wide variety of sects, Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, other branches of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Reformed Church (my father’s family), Presbyterian, Congregationalist, United Church of Christ, Methodist, Baptist, Conservative Judaism, Reform Judaism, Radical Reform Judaism, Buddhists, Taoists, and, of course, none of the above. In fact, many of my friends had roots in multiple ethnicities. If the future is pluralist, then I’ve seen the future and the future is good. There was little conflict on ethnic or religious grounds. I would like to say there was none, but I recall an incident when a swastika was painted on the Reformed Temple, so I can’t honestly say that.

We must never forget the bloody history of the Wars of Religion in Europe which gave rise to modern notions of secularism. Some people seem to confuse secularism with atheism or non-belief. In fact, secularism is the concept that allows people of different religions to live side by side without killing one another. For this reason, I am more interested in promoting secularism than in promoting atheism. My town of my childhood was highly secular, but many people there were quite religious. I probably should have written a post about this when the holidays were still upon us.

The Irish Atheist obviously grew up in an environment almost the exact opposite of my own. (I didn’t use the WordPress reblogging tool because I had more to say than I could write in the little box they provide, but I encourage people to go over to this post.)

The ‘M’ Word: The importance of using the exact right word

I’ve been called a lot of names over the years. Some are more inventive than others.

My personal favourite is “Gypo whore.” Racism, misogyny, and lies all packed into two syllables. Another one is ‘moss-wipe’. Don’t ask.

I think most atheists have had the same experience on one level or another. The name-calling comes mainly from Christians and Muslims and other religious groups who regard atheists as a dangerous faction of anti-morality activists. Devil-worshipper, amoral, Satanist, the list goes on. And I’ll establish right here that many atheists are just as guilty. Let’s not shy away from it. Go on Twitter and see how many atheists there are calling Christians retarded, delusional, idiotic or brain-dead.

read more…