Thursday, January 13, 2011

Your Thoughts, My Thoughts

I'm writing this as a response to a post a friend of mine made at the beginning of December. My friend discussed their beliefs, and why they think that they are justified. I want to take a moment to address two of them.
That God or the gods, have reason. That we should not all argue I am right you are wrong. [sic] Just try to get along with our different beliefs. That is true compassion. Respecting and getting along with those who think and see the world differently from you.
I have no problem with people of different religious (or non-religious) backgrounds peacefully co-existing with one another. It's a very admirable goal, and one I support. However, I think that we should argue. We have every reason to do so, and no reasons not to do so.

I want to remind people that an argument isn't necessarily a disagreement. An argument can be a discussion from differing points of view, a method of reasoning from one point to another using logical steps. [Link] Non-believers argue with believers because they feel that (in their view) unjustified belief can cause real damage. And they do. With the fear of free discourse, there can be no free discourse. If our society and our culture are to move forward, we must be ready to have difficult discussions. I think that John Stuart Mill established these ideas fairly well in his work, On Liberty.

In addition, I do not find it acceptable to respect another person's ideas simply because of their faith. Respect implies that there is validity. I will not respect (I may not even tolerate) an idea that I find anathema to good ethics. This isn't to say that I won't respect the person. An individual may strongly disagree with another person's arguments, but may still respect that person. This is a mark of a civil society, and all that a civil society should ask of us is that we tolerate one another.
That people who say religion is bad and it should be gone all together are nieve. [sic] Every one [sic] has the right to belive [sic] what they want. And although I myself am not a huge fan of religion, that does not mean it should be gone. Every one will continue to belive [sic] what they will. Getting rid of the church, or temple or moske [sic] will not stop the faith.
I do not believe that people who say 'religion is bad' and perhaps even 'the world would be a better place without religion' are naive. Some of them are the most intelligent and articulate people I'm aware of. I myself, in the past, have counted among those who thought that the world would be a better place without religion. I may do so in the future. The difficulty is that we live in a world of religion, and we have no world without religion to compare it to. We have no way of knowing if a world without religion would be a better world than the one we live in now. I do agree that everyone has the freedom to believe in whatever they want, and that religious faith will persist.

Together, I think that these are 'Shut up, that's why' arguments. I see aspects of an argument from suppressed premises here. In the first case, I believe my friend neglects why the disagreement exists in the first place. In the second, they neglect to mention why some people think that religion is harmful, or bad. Further, if people are entitled to believe what they wish, as my friend suggests, does that not include the belief that religion is harmful? I don't think so.

I have a few minor disagreements with a few of my friend's other ideas, but that is (perhaps) a discussion for another time.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Why I'm Not Supporting The Salvation Army This Year

[This was originally to be posted the week of December 20-26 but was not due to family matters.]

They're ubiquitous at this time of year: red and clear kettles full of change, friendly volunteers shaking sleigh bells. I'm talking about the Sally Ann's Christmas Kettle Campaign of course. It's almost a holiday tradition walking over to one and dropping in a few dollars. I remember doing it with my Dad when I was younger. You'd practically feel guilty if you didn't.

I'm not supporting the Salvation Army this year.

There was something about the Salvation Army that always put me off as a kid. Perhaps it was the 'salvation' part. Or the 'army' part. (The focus on salvation in western religions, and some eastern ones, has always been a point of contention for me. The underlying premise being that humanity is somehow fundamentally flawed, but that is a discussion for another time.) Admittedly, the Salvation Army is an evangelical Christian organization with a semblance of military structure. Imagine my surprise when I found my childhood suspicions confirmed.

Consider this from The Washington Post via AMERICAblog Gay.

The Bush administration is working with the nation's largest charity, the Salvation Army, to make it easier for government-funded religious groups to discriminate against gay people in hiring, according to an internal Salvation Army document.

"Alright," you say, "but that's the Salvation Army in America, Australia, and Scotland. Not Canada."

To which I give you the following from the Salvation Army's ethics website:
The Salvation Army upholds the dignity of all persons. For this reason, and in obedience to the example of Jesus Christ, whose compassionate love is all-embracing, The Salvation Army does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in the delivery of its services.

The Salvation Army believes that God’s will for the expression of sexual intimacy is revealed in the Bible, and that living fully in accordance with biblical standards calls for chastity outside of heterosexual marriage and faithfulness within it. We do not believe that same-sex attraction is necessarily blameworthy and we oppose the vilification and mistreatment of gays and lesbians. We believe that we are accountable for the ways in which we express our sexuality.
In other words: "Being gay is fine, just don't act on it." They claim to respect the dignity of gays and lesbians, but would ask that they refrain from expressing their love intimately to respect their own sensibilities. I see this canard a lot, and I find the attitude sanctimonious. It is rude for a group to expect special consideration from non-members of the group. Gay and lesbian Christians on the other hand, may feel obliged to follow church teaching, but they may have their own objections as well.

Consider also the following from The Edmonton Sun.
CALGARY — The Salvation Army says it refuses to distribute Harry Potter and Twilight toys collected for needy children because they're incompatible with the charity's Christian beliefs.

The policy has alarmed a Calgarian who volunteered to sift through a southeast warehouse full of unused, donated items and was alarmed when he was told by Salvation Army officials that the two kinds of toys are "disposed of" and not given to other charities.


"I was told to withhold a six-inch Harry Potter figure, but when I picked up a plastic M-16, I was told, 'That's for the 10-year-olds,'" he said.

"I was shocked...war-themed toys and toys from TV shows and movies with far more violence than Harry Potter and these were considered appropriate toys?"

This policy, while not universal, misleads otherwise well-meaning donors and deprives children of reading material, compounding problems with illiteracy in those already most vulnerable.

This cuts to the heart of my disillusionment with many charities. While often founded with the intent of doing good, many charities have ulterior motives in addition to their charity work. As I've already mentioned, the Salvation Army is an evangelical Christian organization. Their goal is to bring people to God; to save them. Working with the less fortunate provides the perfect opportunity for this. Beggars can't be choosers, and those that rely on the support of charities like the Salvation Army sometimes feel the need to adopt the charity's views to fit in with the group and feel secure. Alcoholics Anonymous could be another example of this.

I've made donations to the International Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders/MÉDECINS SANS FRONTIÈRES before. I became a monthly contributor to the Canadian Red Cross this year. I'm satisfied with their track record and I believe they'll make good use of my donation.

I'm not going to say that secular charities are immune to this; they can have ulterior motives as well. I think all that this stresses is that care needs to be taken when selecting who receives your charity dollar.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

My Sins

It's time for confession.

Sometimes, I stereotype Christians. Even the ones I know. Sometimes I think they're intolerant, self-righteous, arrogant, ignorant (intentionally or otherwise), hypocritical, and so on. I usually manage to catch myself, but it's still disconcerting. Not all Christians are like this of course-and it's the rare few that have all of those traits.

The truth is sometimes I think this way about all types of religious people. I only single out Christians above because they're the most familiar to me and the ones I come into contact with the most. If I lived in Israel I might feel the same way about Jews, or Muslims if I lived in Saudi Arabia. (Although I might not express my thoughts, given the blasphemy laws some middle eastern countries have.)

I read a lot of American and global news. I read about the rise of Christian nationalism in the United States, religiously motivated cliterodectomies in Africa, and honour killings in the middle east and even parts of the first world. I also read a few atheist blogs, some of which appear in the sidebar. These blogs occasionally discuss events from around the world that exemplify the horrors of fundamentalist religion. As an atheist, these things scare me.

I don't come from a religious background. I don't have that experience. This makes it difficult for me to understand religious people on a fundamental level. If you have ever given a dog a command and the dog is unsure what to do, it will often cock its head to the side as it looks at you. I feel like that dog sometimes when I talk to religious people.

I hope you can forgive me.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Hating on Dan Brown

My mother has a habit of telling me what she is going to buy me for Christmas; or when asking me what I want she does so in such a way that makes it painfully obvious. ("What do you want for Christmas? "Ooh, what's that?" "Where can I find it?" "What was their address?") One day last fall I was sitting at this very computer when I had this conversation with her:

HER: Were you planning on reading that new book by that Dan Brown?
ME: Yeah, eventually.
HER: Well don't go and buy it. I'm going to get it for you for Christmas.
ME: Okay.

(About two weeks pass.)

HER: Here. (Places copy of The Lost Symbol on computer desk.) I decided I wanted to get you something else for Christmas.
ME: Okay. Thanks.

The book proceeded to sit on my desk until November when I finally decided to read it. The book suffers from the same formulaic plot that characterizes Dan Brown's other novels, so I need not describe it here.

However, I was amused by the following excerpt from the first chapter:

"I hate to embarrass you, Professor," the woman said, sounding sheepish, "but you are the Robert Langdon who writes books about symbols and religion, aren't you?"
Langdon hesitated and then nodded.
"I thought so!" she said, beaming. "My book group read your book about the sacred feminine and the church! What a delicious scandal that one caused! You do enjoy putting the fox in the henhouse!"

I can't decide if Mr. Brown is referencing the commotion created by The Da Vinci Code, giving a nod to his fans, stroking his own ego, or all three. If anything, it gives Robert Langdon the distinct flavour of Mary Sue.

But I don't want to talk about Dan Brown's books. I want to talk about Dan Brown.

It's not a well kept secret that many writers don't think fairly highly of Dan Brown's works. The same thing can be said about readers that care about their reading material. They don't think that someone with bad writing deserves to be as popular and successful as Dan Brown is. So do writers dislike Dan Brown because he's successful and they think his work is bad, or do they dislike Dan Brown because he's popular and they think his work is bad? I think it's both. (I know I've just conflated Dan Brown with his works, but give me a moment.)

But here's the point I want to make. Dan Brown is a popular author.

Popular. Author.

Dan Brown doesn't write for the sake of writing, he writes to make money. It's his job. To be successful he needs to know what his audience likes. His audience likes insipid action-mystery novels about controversial topics and secret societies. The masses are indeed asses.

I'd even wager that a lot of writers want to be Dan Brown. They want to do what they enjoy, entertain people, and make money doing it. They're just too full of themselves to admit it. It's easy to criticize the guy at the top when you're at the bottom.

Do I like Dan Brown's work? No. Do I think that he's rightly criticized for the quality of his writing? No. He's only doing his job.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The List of Shame, Part II

One-hundred movies I haven't seen:

1. Citizen Kane (1941, Orson Welles)
2. Casablanca (1942, Michael Curtiz)
3. The Battleship Potemkin (1925, Sergei M. Eisenstein)
4. Dirty Harry (1971, Don Siegel)
5. Rocky (1976, John G. Avildsen)
6. Schindler's List (1993, Steven Spielberg)
7. First Blood (1982, Ted Kotcheff)
8. Pulp Fiction (1994, Quentin Tarantino)
9. A Clockwork Orange (1971, Stanley Kubrick)
10. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Stanley Kubrick)
11. Gone With the Wind (1939, Victor Fleming)
12. The Maltese Falcon (1941, John Huston)
13. Chinatown (1974, Roman Polanski)
14. Blade Runner (1982, Ridley Scott)
15. Alien (1979, Ridley Scott)
16. Wayne's World (1992, Penelope Spheeris)
17. Clerks (1994, Kevin Smith)
18. When Harry Met Sally (1989, Rob Reiner)
19. Goodfellas (1990, Martin Scorsese)
20. Airplane (1980, Jim Abrahams, David & Jerry Zucker)
21. Rain Man (1988, Barry Levinson)
22. American Psycho (2000, Mary Harron)
23. The Birds (1963, Alfred Hitchcock)
24. The Last of the Mohicans (1992, Michael Mann)
25. The Big Lebowski (1998, Joel Cohen)
26. The Godfather (1972, Francis Ford Coppola)
27. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975, Milos Forman)
28. Fight Club (1999, David Fincher)
29. It's a Wonderful Life (1946, Frank Capra)
30. Dr. Strangelove (1964, Stanley Kubrick)
31. North by Northwest (1959, Alfred Hitchcock)
32. Apocalypse Now (1979, Francis Ford Coppola)
33. Forrest Gump (1994, Robert Zemeckis)
34. Lawrence of Arabia (1962, David Lean)
35. The Shining (1980, Stanley Kubrick)
36. Das Boot (1981, Wolfgang Peterson)
37. Back to the Future (1985, Robert Zemeckis)
38. Full Metal Jacket (1987, Stanley Kubrick)
39. Total Recall (1990, Paul Verhoeven)
40. Sin City (2005, Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino)
41. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939, Frank Capra)
42. The Deer Hunter (1978, Michael Cimino)
43. Platoon (1986, Oliver Stone)
44. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969, George Roy Hill)
45. V for Vendetta (2005, James McTeigue)
46. The Princess Bride (1987, Rob Reiner)
47. The Exorcist (1973, William Friedkin)
48. The African Queen (1951, John Huston)
49. Bonnie and Clyde (1967, Arthur Penn)
50. Ghost Busters (1984, Ivan Reitman)
51. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984, Wes Craven)
52. The Godfather, Part II (1974, Francis Ford Coppola)
53. The Godfather, Part III (1990, Francis Ford Coppola)
54. Back to the Future, Part II (1989, Robert Zemeckis)
55. Back to the Future, Part III (1990, Robert Zemeckis)
56. Ghostbusters II (1989, Ivan Reitman)
57. Children of the Corn (1984, Fritz Kiersch)
58. Frankenstein (1931, James Whale)
59. Bride of Frankenstein (1935, James Whale)
60. The Thing (1982, John Carpenter)
61. The Blob (1958, Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr.
62. Gojira (1954, Ishiro Honda)
63. Army of Darkness (1992, Sam Raimi)
64. Friday the 13th (1980, Sean S. Cunningham)
65. Bird on a Wire (1990, John Badham)
66. Waterworld (1995, Kevin Reynolds)
67. The Matrix: Revolutions (2003, Andy & Lana Wachowski)
68. Dracula (1931, Tod Browning)
69. Dracula (1992, Francis Ford Coppola)
70. Starship Troopers (1997, Paul Verhoeven)
71. Cujo (1983, Lewis Teague)
72. Pet Semetary (1989, Mary Lambert)
73. Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984, Michael Radford)
74. White Christmas (1954, Michael Curtiz)
75. Miracle on 34th Street (1947, George Seaton)
76. Miracle on 34th Street (1994, Les Mayfield)
77. The Wolf Man (1941, George Waggner)
78. Labyrinth (1986, Jim Henson)
79. An American Werewolf in London (1981, John Landis)
80. Cat's Eye (1985, Lewis Teague)
81. Cat People (1942, Jacques Tourneur)
82. Cat People (1982, Paul Schrader)
83. Ginger Snaps (2000, John Fawcett)
84. This is Spinal Tap (1984, Rob Reiner)
85. First Knight (1995, Jerry Zucker)
86. The 13th Warrior (1999, John McTiernan)
87. Kung fu (2004, Stephen Chow)
88. Ong-bak (2003, Prachya Pinkaew)
89. RoboCop (1987, Paul Verhoeven)
90. 28 Days Later (2002, Danny Boyle)
91. Down of the Dead (1978, George A. Romero)
92. The Dark Crystal (1982, Jim Henson, Frank Oz)
93. Clerks II (2002, Kevin Smith)
94. The Wicker Man (1973, Robin Hardy)
95. The Pink Panther (1963, Blake Edwards)
96. Scrooge (1951, Brian Desmond Hurst)
97. Predator (1987, John McTiernan)
98. Predator 2 (1990, Stephen Hopkins)
99. Blue Hawaii (1961, Norman Taurog)
100. Rebel Without a Cause (1955, Nicholas Ray)

Monday, March 01, 2010

The List of Shame

One-hundred books I haven't read:

1. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
2. Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen
3. Dracula, Bram Stoker
4. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
5. The Adventures of Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens
6. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
7. A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
8. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
9. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
10. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne
11. A Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Jules Verne
12. The War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells
13. The Time Machine, H.G. Wells
14. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle
15. The Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle
16. The Lost World, Arthur Conan Doyle
17. Les Miserables, Victor Hugo
18. Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky
19. The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoevsky
20. The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky
21. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
22. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
23. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
24. For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
25. The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway
26. A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
27. The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
28. Cannery Row, John Steinbeck
29. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
30. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
31. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
32. Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
33. The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane
34. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
35. Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe
36. The Swiss Family Robinson, Johann David Wyss
37. Tarzan of the Apes, Edgar Rice Burroughs
38. The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas
39. The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
40. Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes
41. Ivanhoe, Walter Scott
42. Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
43. Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
44. The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand
45. Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Friedrich Nietzsche
46. Beyond Good and Evil, Friedrich Nietzsche
47. The Gay Science, Friedrich Nietzsche
48. Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes
49. Rights of Man, Thomas Paine
50. On Liberty, John Stuart Mill
51. The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith
52. Capital, Karl Marx
53. Iliad, Homer
54. Odyssey, Homer
55. Aeneid, Virgil
56. The Epic of Gilgamesh, Unknown
57. The Upanishads, Various/Unknown
58. One Thousand and One Nights, Various/Unknown
59. The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran
60. Ulysses, James Joyce
61. Finnegans Wake, James Joyce
62. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce
63. The Tale of Genji, Murasaki Shikibu
64. The Art of War, Sun Tzu
65. The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie
66. The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood
67. Cat's Eye, Margaret Atwood
68. Amerika, Franz Kafka
69. Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka
70. All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque
71. A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
72. Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
73. Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
74. Generation X, Douglas Coupland
75. Pet Sematary, Stephen King
76. The Shining, Stephen King
77. 'Salem's Lot, Stephen King
78. Cujo, Stephen King
79. It, Stephen King
80. The Stand, Stephen King
81. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
82. The Andromeda Strain, Michael Crichton
83. Foundation, Isaac Asimov
84. I, Robot, Isaac Asimov
85. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke
86. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
87. Children of Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
88. Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
89. Xenocide, Orson Scott Card
90. Speaker for the Dead, Orson Scott Card
91. American Gods, Neil Gaiman
92. Ringworld, Larry Niven
93. Neuromancer, William Gibson
94. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
95. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
96. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert A. Heinlein
97. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
98. On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin
99. The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin
100. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett

[I know I owe you a review of Wicked still. Don't worry, it's coming as soon as I find my copy of the book for reference. Please vote on the poll to the left, I'd like to know what my readers enjoy so I can be a better blogger.]

Monday, February 15, 2010


I found this today and thought I'd plug it. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has created a website on the development of the DSM-V, including proposed changes and rationale. You can even compare with the DSM-IV. (Yes, they provide citations. It's the APA for crying out loud.) I know there was quite a bit of concern in the LGBT community about how sexuality and gender identity disorders would be diagnosed. I've only given it a cursory glance, but the changes for Sexual Aversion Disorder, Gender Identity Disorder, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder look promising to me.

American Psychiatric Association.