Thursday, October 1, 2015

Christians, the Republican Party is playing you for suckers

Thirty-six years ago, David Barton wrote a book entitled, The Myth of Separation.  It was full of errors, half-truths, and revisionist history about our nation's founders, various court cases, and the history of separation of state and church in general.  Barton attempted to show us a nation in decline by providing incomplete data without historical context.

Here's n example: he provided a graph, showing the decline in college entrance exam scores (for the SAT, specifically) over a period that began when the Murry v. Curtlett and Abington v Schemp cases were decided, up through 1980 (I think--I am going off the top of my head here; I have the accurate data in my book, The King of Weasels, which I will be publishing in the next year).  This graph doesn't show us the complete data, which goes back another decade or so, and begins with a handful of schools--Ivy League schools were the only colleges to use SAT scores in the beginning.  A higher caliber of student took the SAT.  Later, the testing expanded to around 300 schools, and the test scores dropped--a wider variety of students were taking the test, and the average went down.  Then, we get to the era of the war in Vietnam, when many people went to college to avoid the draft.  The College Board offered the SAT to a much broader range of students.  Eventually, over 3000 colleges and universities offered the test, and every high school student planning on entering college began taking it.

One would expect these scores to decline accordingly, because the pool of test takers went from the top students in the country to every student planning on going to college.  But no, no, it was all the fault of the Supreme Court's decision to ban school-sponsored prayer and Bible recitation, according to Barton.

That's one example of the kind of deception Barton expects his audience to believe, but there's one that should seem more familiar, and it comes in the last chapter of The Myth of Separation.  Barton gives his readers a ten-point plan to bring the nation to theocracy (though he would never say it out loud, the name of his organization, Wallbuilders, comes from the Book of Nehemiah in the Bible, and is about a man who rebuilds Jerusalem with the help of a variety of people, then kicks out everyone but the religious zealots).  Part of the plan is to use abortion as a wedge issue.

And that brings us to the point of the article: the reason we are talking about Planned Parenthood's funding today is because the idea that abortion is murder serves as a banner behind which fundamentalist evangelical Christians and white male Catholics--a huge part of the Republican base--will rally behind.  It's no surprise that this fight is taking place as the 2016 Presidential primary campaign begins.

I assure you, Christians, the Republican Party is using you.

Abortion is a wedge issue.  It really should be a decision between a woman and her doctor, as decided in Roe v. Wade.  However, since the idea that abortion is murder is such a power motivator for Christians, the Republicans will continue to use it to energize the base.  It also solves another problem for them: poor people getting free stuff.  They don't like Planned Parenthood, because they don't like poor women getting free health care services.

Abortion comprises three percent of what Planned Parenthood does, and not one tax dollar goes to this particular service, but that's what Republicans will bring up, because it's easier to get their base to buy into de-funding abortion (which they are not paying for now) than cutting funds for free cancer screenings for poor people.

Once again, they are using you.  They don't care about the pro-life cause.  The same people who are most vocal and proud about cutting funding from Planned Parenthood also want to expand the military and want to go to war with Iran.  If you don't think they will, you have a short memory.  George W. Bush led us into wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Hundreds of thousands of civilians and soldiers died in those wars, and many thousands more were injured.  Many more were displaced.  People were falsely imprisoned and tortured.  How is this moral?  These are people with names, personalities, and families; one would think that a person who is pro-life would be more passionately against war than abortion, where a life that never saw light of day, never knew its name (if one was ever picked out), never developed a personality, never developed family ties.

And aren't Christians supposed to care about the poor?  I read the Bible many times. I remember that the Jesus character specifically commanded people to feed the hungry and clothe the naked.  I specifically remember that he told a rich man to give everything he had to the poor, then follow him.  I remember that he said that it was more difficult for a rich man to get into heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle (and that may have been the name for a small gate in the city wall that a camel would have difficulty getting through, but the point still stands).  Republican policies benefit the wealthy and dismiss the poor as a burden to society.  They want to cut funding from the VA, funding from welfare, funding from Social Security.  They want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which helps poor people obtain health care.

I assure you, lack of access to health care is murder.

My Aunt Pam got cancer.  She was diagnosed with it, but she didn't have health care, and she didn't have the money to get treatment on her own.  It spread.  It got painful.  By the time it became so bad, she had to go to the hospital again, it was too late.  There was no treating her.  She died a few days after going to the hospital, of a cancer that was treatable when she was first diagnosed.

We didn't have the Affordable Care Act when the doctor diagnosed my aunt.  We do now, and many lives can and will be saved as a result--many people in situations like my aunt's may now be treated for terminal illness.  If Republicans take that away, they will be responsible for the murder of people like my Aunt Pam.

So, Christians who profess to be pro-life, you have a choice: you can keep rallying behind the party of war, the party of expanding poverty, and the party of taking health care away from poor people with treatable illnesses, or you can keep pretending that you're pro-life by trying to protect fetuses.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

An Open Letter to Phil Robertson, and Every Other Person Who Thinks Atheists Don't Have Morals

Dear Mr. Robertson and other religious people who believe atheists cannot have morality,

      When I was nineteen years old, I freed myself of my faith after a long intellectual journey that began with me attempting to prove that the Christian god exists.  That journey caused me to read the Bible twenty-seven times, as well as sacred texts from other religious traditions.  I did not know any out-of-the-closet atheists personally, so I had to figure out for myself what was moral and what wasn't--but I found out that it was pretty easy, because I possessed a tool that almost everyone on the planet also possesses: empathy.

     The ability to put oneself into others' situations makes it easy to understand what will do harm and what will do good, and we may act accordingly.  In most cases, we will not even have to think about the other person's situation, because we instinctively act in a way that does not harm other people, if left to our own devices.  It's power, it's politics, it's ideology that causes us to do harm to others.

    Your Bible is full of things I would consider immoral.

  • The genocide in the land of Canaan
  • The advocacy of slavery in the laws of Leviticus and the stories in Genesis (rules about circumcising slaves exist in Genesis, as well as stories about Abraham using slave soldiers)
  • The offer of Lot's daughters to the people of Sodom to rape
  • The fact that every law involving the treatment of men and women in Leviticus and Deuteronomy has women worth half of what men are
  • The practice of forcing women to marry their rapists, written to look like it's a punishment to the rapists to force them to marry their victims
  • Corporal punishment for children 
  • The practice of enslaving virgin girls from conquered cities
  • The idea that one must shun one's family if they don't believe
  • Death sentences for addiction, homosexuality, non-belief, adultery, and the completely fabricated accusation of witchcraft
  • The flooding of the entire planet (which, of course, didn't happen, but it's in your myth)
The list goes on. 

My morality does not come from the book you hold sacred.  My morality comes from empathy, life experiences, and the examples of others in real-life situations.  I do not have to be commanded to be moral.  Do you know why?  It's because we evolved to be moral beings. 

It's hard to imagine in a world where we are at war so much, where there's so much murder, rape, theft, greed, and everything else we consider a harm, but we did evolve to band together in tribal units and defend the tribe.  In hunter-gatherer cultures, the tribe cooperates to find food and water, to build shelter, and to raise children.  

In a secular, industrialized society--like the United States is set up to be--we have set up laws and a justice system to enforce them.  Those laws come from the collective morality of the people, which I would rather see come from empathy than from religious edict.  Rule of law provides consequences for actions like the one you described in your horrific rape and murder story involving an atheist family.  

As the father and husband in an atheist family, I found your story to be a disgusting misrepresentation of how atheists view morality and how we live our lives.  We love our spouses and our children every bit as much as you love yours, and we would do everything we could to protect them from harm, because we can empathize with their feelings and pain when bad things happen to them.  Evolution has hard-wired us to do it. 

Greg Reich, an atheist with a family


This letter is in response to this article on Raw Story:

Thursday, February 12, 2015

What's so insidious about 50 Shades of Grey?

I complain about 50 Shades of Grey a lot, as anyone who knows me from Facebook groups can attest.  I explain over and over, ad nauseum, what I find wrong with this series, but I keep having to explain, so I figured I would write an article about it that I could link to whenever the subject comes up.

I have a more appropriate blog for this subject matter, but I want this article to be accessible to everyone, and the other blog is not.  The other blog is for adult audiences only, and it's for a certain segment of the adult population.  It is not for everyone.

In any case...what do I have against this work of fiction?  You didn't hear me complaining about Twilight.  You also haven't heard me complain about other works of fiction that have as their subject matter abusive relationships or irresponsible representations of the BDSM lifestyle.

The truth is this: I would not care what the story was about if it hadn't been turned into a brand used to sell adult novelties and products in a way that deceptively marries this story to the BDSM lifestyle.
It doesn't matter to me that it's poorly written and edited, even though reading it was an assault on my sensibilities as an English major with a writing minor.

It doesn't matter to me that it's about abuse--plenty of stories have abuse in them.  Plenty have rape, murder, torture, and other horrible subjects--and the person or people doing those things is/are not necessarily looked down upon by the author.  That does not matter.

What matters is that 50 Shades is a brand now.  It's not the book series anymore; it's not the movie that's out or the movies to come.  It's magazine article after magazine article, telling people how they can have sex like they do in this series, how they can learn from Christian Grey, how they can bring the play they see in the books into their bedrooms. Cosmopolitan, Redbook, and even Men's Health have published this type of article, as well as a myriad of websites promoting this atrocious series.

Don't get me started on daytime talk shows.

E. L. James did no research for this book, and yet, she shamelessly allows her brand to be associated with a lifestyle whose participants live the opposite way of the abusive character she wrote into her books.

  • A responsible dominant does not set hard and soft limits on kinks with a virgin.  Yes, Anastasia is a virgin in the first book.  I am not sure if she's portrayed this way in the movie, because I have not seen it yet, but she is definitely a virgin when Christian meets her.  A virgin could not sign a contract that sets rules on kinks with hard and soft limits and call it informed consent.  
  • Christian Grey is portrayed as someone whose drug addict mother shaped him into who he is.  That's not generally true of lifestyle dominants.  Abuse is rampant in society, and yes, some people into BDSM have been abused or had hard lives--but no more than those who aren't into kink.  
  • Christian isolates Ana from her friends and family--huge red flag!  This is one of the classic signs of an abusive relationship.  
  • The stalking of Ana is also a huge red flag for abuse, but it's also another misrepresentation of the BDSM lifestyle.  BDSM relationships are built on trust--out of necessity.  The submissive must trust the dominant in order to give consent and relinquish control; the dominant must trust the submissive not to claim domestic violence for marks they both agreed to in the beginning.  Slave contracts are no protection; the submissive could easily say she/he was coerced.  If Christian has so little trust of Ana that he had to stalk her, he had no business trying to be a Dom.  Furthermore, it reeks of insecurity--and the last thing anyone wants in a dominant is insecurity.
There are plenty of articles out there listing the instances of abuse, but the main point remains that if the author hadn't consented to merging her series about abuse with a lifestyle that has a thriving community whose members warn against it, where healthy relationships depend on trust and consent, where partners care about the physical and emotional safety and well-being of each other, I would not be writing this article to warn against it.

Monday, February 9, 2015

A review of Pugliano's, who catered our wedding

I wanted to say some good stuff about Pugliano's at 1808 Golden Mile Highway, in Pittsburgh, PA.

We were looking for a place to have our wedding and reception, and Pugliano's was the first place we tried.  After excellent service, excellent food, and delightful presentation, we decided to look no further.

On the day of our wedding, the service was just as great as it was when we at there for dinner the day we scoped it out. They made sure everyone had the drinks they wanted, and the food they provided was hot, fresh, and excellent.  We had their fried chicken, their stuffed shells, their meatballs, potatoes au gratin, chipotle barbecue wings, a vegetable tray, and a fruit bowl.  It was all delicious and looked fantastic.

It was all reasonably, priced, too--about $16,99 a plate, and better the catering I've had at other weddings.

I would recommend Pugliano's to anyone who wants to have an event catered.  I'm not sure what their total capacity is there--I think 180, but you should check with them before you go.

An atheist wedding

I got married!  Here is the script of the wedding, in its entirety.

We have gathered here today to witness the union of Greg and Jeanie. Thanks to technology, we in this room bear witness to this ceremony along with people from all over the world. On six continents, people who have watched Greg and Jeanie grow in their love are now witnessing their pledge to a lifetime of love and commitment to each other and their children.

(Daniel reads the essay on marriage)
Why do people get married? What makes a couple sign a marriage license and legally bind one person to another?

Sure, there are benefits and protections involved. It’s easier to do things in the name of your spouse. It’s easier to get insurance, it protects the assets you’ve built together, it assures that you have a say in medical decisions, and it makes any process involving children easier. It makes your taxes slightly easier to do.

It’s more than that, though. It’s announcing to society that you are committed to building a life together, that you are on the same page, that you have the same goals, and you are going to spend your life working to achieve them. It says to everyone you meet that you’re proud to call your spouse your husband or your wife.

It’s no longer “boyfriend” and “girlfriend”. It’s no longer “significant other”. It’s not simply “partner”, “love interest”, or even “fiancĂ©”. You love each other enough to take the next step into the most challenging adventure of human relationships.

So what is marriage? It’s dedication and perseverance; it’s talking and listening; it’s helping and supporting and believing in each other; it’s intimacy and laugher; it’s learning to forgive, learning to appreciate your differences, and doing little things every day to build each other up. . As you begin your married life, it is my hope that your family gathered here, that your family not present today, and that your friends from all over the world will support your commitment and look to your love as an inspiration in their own lives.

Greg and Jeanie have prepared some words they would like to share with each other.

Greg, how can I express how happy you’ve made me?

You make me feel safe. You accept me with all of my weirdness. You and I have similar goals and ideas, and that’s important when we’re staring a life together. We can always be ourselves with each other.

You don’t just say you care about me; you show it, and it’s not with expensive presents or over the top displays, but with all of the little things you do every day.

It’s when you stroke my hair and hold me close when I come to sit down next to you. It’s the times you say “I love you” out of nowhere. It’s you taking care of me when I’m sick or have a headache, doing the dishes without a word when I’m in pain, and when you kiss my nose to make me smile. It’s when you write expressions of love for me out of the blue and make me so happy, it moves me to tears. It’s when you stop what you’re doing to spend time with me, not because I complained, but because that’s what you’d rather do.

It’s always the little things that matter the most.

I promise to love, honor, and cherish you, as long as we live.

Jeanie, I fell in love with you early on, within eight days of talking with you. We talked almost around the clock for all eight of those days, learning a great deal about each other. The more we spoke, the more I realized that I could not see a down side. There were only positives. On day nine, I told you that I love you. I can’t tell you how elated I was to hear you say you love me too.

Words are words, of course, and no one can be sure until those words are tested. Everything I learned about you in words passed each test with flying colors. It did not take long to learn that you are completely genuine.

I never knew I could be so happy with anyone. I thought I knew what love was, but you proved that everything I labeled “love” in the past was a shadow of the real experience.

Love is not just a feeling. Love is a blend of emotions, trust, cooperation, affection, intimacy, and bliss. It is holding hands on car trips, cuddling on the couch during a movie, getting lost in each other’s eyes, raising children together, making long-term goals, building each other up, and growing old together. It’s making each other laugh and supporting each other through both good times and more difficult ones.
I promise to love you, cherish you, adore you, and never take you for granted. You make life better, and I promise always to strive to make life better, too.

Dan: Do you, Greg, take Jeanie to be your lawfully wedded wife? To have and to hold, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, to love, honor, and cherish for the rest of your life?

Greg: I do.

Dan: Do you, Jeanie, take Greg to be your lawfully wedded husband? To have and to hold, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, to love, honor, and cherish for the rest of your life?
Jeanie: I do.

Dan: By the power vested in my by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Noah: High budget movie made to piss off fundamentalists

This movie is stupid and boring.  --Jeanie

Spoiler alert!  I'm going to give some details, so if you really want to see this film without knowing what's going to happen, don't read any further.

This movie served as a comedy until Jeanie lost interest.  We both agreed that it would have been far better to watch in a theater, where we could catch the reactions of folks who thought they were going to see the equivalent to "The Ten Commandments", starring Charlton Heston.  That would have been so much fun.  People watching often is.

It's clear this was a high-budget film.  Russell Crowe is Noah, Jennifer Connelly is his wife, Emma Watson is Shem's wife (I'm bad with names, people, and can only remember the ones mentioned in the Bible, which I've read 27 times, so please don't read into the fact that I don't remember the names of the women--blame the Bible's author for never mentioning them), Anthony Hopkins plays Methusaleh...they really shelled out the big bucks for the cast.

Okay, I'm looking it up on IMDB now.

[minutes go by]

 Jennifer Connely is Neemah, and Emma Watson is Ila.  Anyway, they dragged some big names into this film.  I had to go look because these actresses are accomplished, and it's wrong of me not to care which characters they played.

Anyway, first off all, the movie is nothing like the book.  If you're going into this film thinking it's going to be anything like the Genesis account, you'll be disappointed.  There's a loose framework and a few elements in common, but that's about it.  I had already heard plenty of Internet buzz about how it wasn't like the biblical account, and I didn't care--I have no love for the Bible. However, it seems like they did things just to piss off fundamentalists.  They explain "fallen angels" as beings of light who tried to help mankind after the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, who then became rock monsters.  They helped mankind, but mankind turned on them.  Anyway, they end up helping to build the ark and defending it from the men who turned on them, which had to piss off fundamentalists.  These "angels" disobeyed their creator (never called "God" in the movie); they belonged in hell, right?

Things that the movie had in common with the Bible: a few of the names of the characters, the crow failing to find land, the dove succeeding to find land, two of every creature ending up on the ark, the ark itself, the genocide the flood represented, Ham spurning his drunken father at the end of the story, and that's about it.

Here are the differences, off the top of my head, without doing a detailed analysis:

  • Only Shem had a wife when the flood began.  Ham and Japheth both had wives when they entered the ark in the Bible. 
  • Conflict is created when Methusaleh makes the barren Ila fertile with his blessing, and Noah, who has it in his mind that his creator intended for mankind to be destroyed (he thought his mission was simply to save the animals and die), believes he has to kill Ila's and Shem's offspring if they have a girl.  It's clear in the Bible that God intended to save Noah's family because they were the only righteous ones left on the corrupted Earth (except at the end of the story, he decided that wickedness in men will never be cured, and the flood was basically a wasted endeavor--seriously, read the book.  I'm not making that up.). 
  • More conflict is created when Ham decides to try and find a wife, finds a girl who wants to be his mate, then loses her in a stampede of humans who are trying to get to the ark when the rains come, all because she gets her foot stuck in a trap.
  • Tubal-Cain (descendant of Cain and the king of the wicked people) leads and army to try to take the ark, because of course there needs to be suspense right when the flood begins.  
  • The fallen angels get back into heaven when their bodies are ripped apart.  
  • The "creator" never talks to Noah.  He communicates in visions and dreams, which Methusaleh needs to help along because Noah's never shown what to do to avoid the flood in his dream.  He does it through the use of a potion of some sort.
  • Noah has to decide whether or not to kill babies.
  • Tubal-Cain ends up on the ark, the only survivor of the wicked people, all to create more conflict and suspense by tempting Ham to kill his father, and giving Tubal-Cain a chance to kill Noah. 
I'm sure I can come up with more differences and similarities with a full analysis, but I'm sure people will get the idea: this film is a re-imagining of the Genesis story.  So...what's the point?  Why make a film about Noah that not only isn't like the Genesis account, but also contains downright blasphemous elements (like fallen angels helping Noah build the ark and getting back into heaven)?  I'm pretty sure the whole point was that human beings corrupted the planet, made conditions horrible, and would be judged for it; that message is pretty heavy-handed and blatantly stated by Noah when he recounted the story of the fall of man when they got onto the ark.  He also revealed at that point that his family were to be the last humans (until he found out Ila was pregnant), so an extension of the message is that the world would be better off without humans.  I think.

This is nothing like the book, and they're all white!   --Jeanie
Yeah...that's another thing.  This all-white cast looks nothing like the first humans, who most certainly had a high melanin content in their skin.

As far as movies go, religious connections notwithstanding, I didn't find it unwatchable.  I found a lot of comedy in it, which I'm sure wasn't the intention of the filmmakers.  If you want to waste two hours of your time on a fantasy that doesn't really have a message of any importance, this film is for you.  If you are expecting to have your religion validated or receive a more palatable version of the Genesis flood on film, you're not going to get it.  I really do think that the intention was to piss off believers.