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Amused Muse

Inspiring dissent and debate and the love of dissonance

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Location: Surreality, Have Fun Will Travel, Past Midnight before a Workday

Master's Degree holder, telecommuting from the hot tub, proud Darwinian Dawkobot, and pirate librarian belly-dancer bohemian secret agent scribe on a mission to rescue bloggers from the wholesome clutches of the pious backstabbing girl fridays of the world.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Government Just Got out of Your Prayer

We all have private ails. The troublemakers are they who need public cures for their private ails. - Eric Hoffer

No tradition existed in 1789 of Congress requiring an annual National Day of Prayer on a particular date. It was not until 1952 that Congress established a legislatively mandated National Day of Prayer; it was not until 1988 that Congress made the National Day of Prayer a fixed, annual event.
- U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb

This is not just about atheists - all Americans should be celebrating this:

The "National Day of Prayer" has just been ruled unconstitutional, finally. This law required the President of the United States - required him, mind you - to declare a national day of prayer. Americans have the right to pray anywhere at any time, even in school. What is at issue here is publicly required, collective prayer, especially since this is an overt effort to push Christianity.

Go to the National Day of Prayer's website and take a gander at all the references to God as "Him," the invoking of Jesus, and the quotes from the Bible. Do a search for Buddha or atheism as I did, and see what comes up. It stands to reason as one visits this site that, if the government can tell you to pray, it can tell you how to pray - and that is not what the Founding Fathers intended. This organization most certainly tell you how to pray: to Jesus Christ.

Look at who is the "chairman" of this organization: namely Shirley Dobson, wife of James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family. This is a Christian organization, started by Billy Graham in 1952 in an effort to innoculate our nation against "communism" by intruding upon the private lives and thoughts of American citizens. This is not an ecumenical organization. Even if it were, it still excludes atheists, as well as Buddhists and Taoists who don't worship or conceive of a god at all, and is still an endorsement of a certain kind of religion (deity-centered, monotheistic religion). There is no such thing as a "generic form of God" in the world.

It's interesting that Christians seem to be rushing to the government to favor their religion. During the 1970s, when I was exposed to a great amount of very conservative religious radio on the AM dial while riding in a car (Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority were years in the future), these preachers often railed against public prayer, and certainly against "vain repetition." Even as a young girl I was never comfortable with collective, repeated prayer in church, aside from the issues of what was being said (which later I was also uncomfortable with).

The evangelical fervor of the time was filled with predictions of the immanent End of the World, various speculations as to who the Antichrist was (since to believers' disappointment it had turned out not to be Lyndon Johnson), and even dates - Hal Lindsey had predicted the Second Coming of Christ by 1986, whereas another preacher received a lot of press for predicting it in my junior year of high school. Christians were to hold apart from the world in preparation, not get involved in politics. Some of these preachers - and I don't remember their names (they sounded all the same, anyway) were openly contemptuous of the National Day of Prayer as a form of Mammon.

What a change today! Clinton turned out not to be the Antichrist, and so did Gorbachev, and so did Saddam Hussein. 1986 passed, and Hal Lindsey's theology got replaced with the even more laughable Left Behind series, that seems more interested in branding and profit than judgment. (No one writes about the people who supposedly were raptured - why is that? Well, we know whose name is being bandied about today as a candidate for the Antichrist, don't we?) Now, the government is asked to put its Caesar's touch upon everything religious - especially evangelical Christian - as if it were Midas.

It's almost as if Christians want the government to help them pretend to believe what they really don't anymore - as if, because they're afraid God really doesn't exist, they want to either rule the world (via National Prayer Breakfasts) as if they were Jesus, or help the world end itself - not so much in order to get somewhere, not even to get to heaven, but to escape where they are now, to leave behind things as they are, and not deal with the meaninglessness of their lives.

Since when did government become a shortcut to heaven for the evangelical Christian? When did Caesar become Jesus for them? Step by step - by demanding that reality conform to their fantasy; by demanding that science look like their theology; by demanding one's own facts in the fact of facts; by lying to oneself to the point that one's own belief in god became one's own contrivance, and this god a mere symbol of their own narcissism. As Eric Hoffer points out, the essence of the true believer/extremist is not that he believes something deeply, but that he deeply believes nothing. He is a nihilist.

The fanatic is not really a stickler to principle. He embraces a cause not primarily because of its justness or holiness but because of his desperate need for something to hold onto. - Eric Hoffer

Appeal to the government to enforce one's religion is the ultimate form of nonbelief, of distrust, of nihilism in one's religion. As I said, real believers should join atheists in celebrating this long overdue ruling. After all, I would be the first to be outraged if the government called for an Atheist Day, as I have ruffled many atheist feathers and would not make a great "mainsteam" or spokesperson atheist. As an atheist, I run with scissors; I do not always play well with others. I want the government to stay the hell out of my atheism, and I cannot fathom why any believer would not similarly demand the right, and the freedom, to be left alone.

What are we when we are alone? Some, when they are alone, cease to exist. - Eric Hoffer

UPDATED: Besides, considering the crap that the right wing has said about Barack Obama (he's the Antichrist, he's the "Messiah" which means the same thing, he's a foreigner not constitutionally our President, he's a Muslim), you'd think that the right wing would be relieved that he is no longer federally mandated to call us to pray, maybe (being a Muslim and all) to Allah, or maybe (being the Antichrist and all) to him! Am I right? Am I right? Come on people, you cannot have it both ways: either Obama is completely untrustworthy to act as President in this fashion, in which case you should be celebrating this ruling, or he is, in which case, cut out all the fearmongering. Make up your minds!

SECOND UPDATE: This is interesting - Franklin Graham was disinvited from the National Day of Prayer (which, I add, is now voluntary rather than mandatory for the President to declare. The ruling did not declare the NDoP itself unconstitutional, just the federal law requiring the President to declare it, as it was essentially a religious test for the President to "prove" that he was not a "communist").

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Friday, April 02, 2010

Evolution Boffo Boo; ID Floppo Poo!

With apologies to Mad Magazine for the above, it's been another year...another anniversary...and therefore, another reminder to everyone about intelligent design's one and only testable hypothesis, care of William Dembski.

The links to Dembski's "prediction" about the death of evolution (and to his corollary, the "death of molecular evolution" by 2011) keep disappearing - in fact, all references to his rather rash prediction are beginning to resemble the extinct branches in an evolutionary tree:

Evolution theory on last legs, says seminary teacher

By Dylan T. Lovan
To William Dembski, all the debate in this country over evolution won't matter in a decade.
By then, he says, the theory of evolution put forth by Charles Darwin 150 years ago will be dead.
The mathematician turned Darwin critic says there is much to be learned about how life evolved on this planet. And he thinks the model of evolution accepted by the scientific community won't be able to supply the answers.
"I see this all disintegrating very quickly," he said."

Well, something sure has been disintegrating quickly, especially since Kitzmiller, but it has not been evolution. However, never fear, that has not been all our boy in banana was up to:

Prediction: Within the next two years work on certain enzymes will demonstrate overwhelmingly that they are extremely isolated functionally, making it effectively impossible for Darwinian and other gradualistic pathways to evolve into or out of them. This will provide convincing evidence for specified complexity as a principled way to detect design and not merely as a cloak for ignorance.

Well, that was back in 2008 when this was supposed to have been confirmed. No dice.

Even more hilarious is this one:

I predict that in the next five years [by 2003] intelligent design will be sufficiently developed to deserve funding from the National Science Foundation (Dembski, Mere Creation, 1998, p. 29).

It's enough to make one want to drink a whole bottle of single-malt scotch. Oh, wait -!

I'll wager a bottle of single-malt scotch, should it ever go to trial whether ID may legitimately be taught in public school science curricula, that ID will pass all constitutional hurdles.

Of course, he said that he would wager, not that he did. Get it? *Sparkle*

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Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Documentary that Needs to Be Made about Higher Education (and the Workplace)

UPDATED: More on the lingering pain that bullying causes.

Bullying. It happened to me, too - at school and at work. It does not necessarily stop when you become an adult.

If you are a victim, it is the bullies who have the problem, not you.

I know that, if you're like me, it is difficult to understand that bullying is not personal. It is based upon what you represent - namely, a threat to the bully. Sometimes, particularly among girls, it happens because of this (to me, completely alien) "I hate my best friend" syndrome - people in love with drama, with games, who may not intend harm and who are truly clueless about the misery that they cause others. Others, however, intend to cause harm and know that bullying is a "soft" crime to commit. Some people seem to have a Jekyll/Hyde syndrome, with Jekyll shown to their parents, to school administrators and teachers, to supervisors and upper management, and Hyde committing crimes in secret. Bullying is largely not recognized for the abuse that it is.

This is not "survival of the fittest" (a phrase that I hate). No one who is secure within him- or herself commits bullying. The bully is terrified of his or her own perceived incompetence. He or she is often afraid that the victim, usually an independent worker, or an offbeat or creative student, with a distinctive personality, and a nonaggressive style, will expose or show up the bully in some way.

It happened to me. By the time I got to high school I had developed such a thick skin (I have my own Clark Kent/Superman dual personality) that I invited some of the bullying to protect another girl in my gym class who was more vulnerable than I was. Frankly, I did the same at work. In fact, because I worked with someone who got off on "correcting" me in front of others in an attempt to humiliate me, I deliberately said a few clueless/stupid things in meetings just to get her to take the bait - and she always did!

(Hahahaha! What did she think others were thinking? "Oh, Kristine said a stupid thing - she must be a stupid person"? No, they were thinking, "God, XXXX is such a bitch to jump on Kristine like that! What is her problem?" And what do you think I was thinking? "Geez, I'm so dumb," or "Thanks for the attention! I'm glad my life isn't boring, and by the way, if you weren't such a bitch I'd probably pay even less attention to you than I already do!")

Yes, there are things you can do in the moment to protect yourself, and satisfying phrases that you can toss at your bully: "What's the matter, isn't anyone paying any attention to you?" "Are you afraid that if you don't pick on me, your friends are going to turn around and pick on you?" "Thanks for the attention - it's always a compliment." "Bored with yourself? Me, too."

But I think the time has come for us to ask why we secretly think that bullying will "toughen up" victims, when in fact it is the victims who are strong and the bullies who have the problem. The fact is, school administrators, teachers, supervisors, and management are often either intimidated by (yes, even by kids) and/or admiring of bullies for their perceived strength and "assertiveness," when this is total BS. There is nothing "strong" about bullying behavior: it is a coping mechanism for the bully's low self esteem and pent-up frustration. They are rigid, externally-focused (clothes, status, popularity, "right" behavior - yes, ironic, isn't it?), perpetually insecure people who need help now.

I had a talk with the right person about my bully at work, and what I said was: "When this woman stops being so hard on herself and judging herself so harshly, she will realize that I never judged her by her standards either." Her behavior pissed me off, but I didn't want to just lay into her, since I could tell what a big burden of shame she was carrying around - this shame was the real issue, not her "faults" (you're supposed to have faults). I'm too fucking busy thinking about nerdy things like evolution and programming languages to give a shit about people's faults - as I said earlier, the more mistakes you make, the merrier life will be. But it just didn't seem as if anything in life was much fun for her.

I really don't have the answers about what to do about bullying, but I do know that no one can solve their own problems by trying to dictate the lives of everyone else around them. However, controlling behavior seems to be an epidemic in our society.

Young people model what they see and experience, and if they experience relentless pressure to "perform," or absurd zero-tolerance rules that punish honor students for having Advil in their purses or butter knives in their cars, or are not allowed to make a mistake (which is a part of learning and growing), they are likely to develop rigid, maladaptive behaviors that can contribute to bullying, or to suicide.

I'm sure the "mean girls" in Massachusetts are shocked, even hurt, by their classmate's suicide. I doubt that they were truly evil. They knew what they were doing was wrong, but likely they didn't think it was serious. They probably actually liked their victim very much. (I cannot tell you how shocked I was to learn from some of my own tormentors how much they really did like me! But I was and am a woman who means what she says and says what she means, so I did not understand the "game.") They were definitely jealous of her. However, this does not excuse their cruel and unladylike behavior, which like any group behavior spiraled out of control, as unchecked, unpunished bullying seems to do.

My experience with bullies is that they were either 1. delinquents from bad homes who were abused by family and who did poorly in school, exhibiting disturbed personality behaviors, or 2. economically well-off kids in the "popular" crowd, highly functioning, but secretly terrorized at home, held to unreasonable standards, and inwardly wounded, frightened, and confused. Often, this latter group exhibits the really annoying behavior of never being satisfied with anything and throwing drama-queen hissy fits in public.

The parents of these "mean girls" need to stop making excuses for them, because who they really want to exonerate is themselves. These parents need to ask themselves how they produced such angry, hurting girls in the first place. Are they controlling? Are they shallow, placing emphasis over clothes, looks, and popularity over character and creativity? Are they angry, hurting people themselves? Have they been abusing their "mean girls," or instilling in them a sense of entitlement, an inability to take personal responsibility, and a low tolerance for frustration?

All indications point to "yes."

What a shame that no one did anything to redirect these girls before they engaged in behavior that was truly beneath them, and contributed to a classmate's suicide. What a waste, when it would have taken so much less effort, to see and to talk to these girls, and to give them boundaries, instead of seeing the victim as exclusively having the "problem." Now she is dead and they are charged - and I think that they should be charged for a crime, but whose job was it to step in and prevent all of this? I feel responsible for this, too. I feel that we are all responsible.

What do we do about it?

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