Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Devil's Holiday!

I know at least a few ATAT readers weren't allowed to celebrate the Devil's Holiday growing up, like me. I remember being sent to bed early that night every year. We usually had an hour between when we went to our rooms and had to turn the lights off, and my siblings and I were all big readers at that age (my brother and I still are). But on Halloween night, we had to turn all the lights in the house off early, to discourage trick-or-treaters. Of course, that never worked and some huge mob of kids would stand outside, ringing the doorbell and caroling "Trick or treat!"

"Get back, Satan!" I screamed through the screen of my bedroom window. "We don't have any candy and we don't want you!" That was honestly the most fun part about Halloween the way my family did it - yelling at the heathen kids.

We moved to Iowa when I was in 4th grade, so that was my first time trick-or-treating. Since we had no friends, it was just me and my sister, on a street with a bunch of poor grad students who hadn't thought to buy a bowl of frigging candy, or else were out getting sloshed somewhere. By the time we got back to Florida's warm weather (it's in the 80s today, y'all) I was too old to run around begging for candy, and too young to do much else.

About 8 years back I discovered the Sacred Grounds costume party. I don't know that it's as big an affair now as it was when the coffeehouse had more business a couple years ago, but it was fantastic. Everyone goes all out. I've seen everything from a black man dressed as a KKK member, to a lesbian Harry Potter, to the most-convincing all-night performance of Anna Nicole Smith I ever want to see. (Seriously, after the first two hours no one wanted him to be so in character anymore.)

This is the first year Little Man is old enough to really "get" Halloween. He's been talking the vocab words from school for weeks - pumpkin, bat, Halloween, trick-or-treat, and scary. We carved my first-ever pumpkin a couple weeks ago, which means it's already rotted and been tossed. (How was I supposed to know? It's not like my parents ever carved a pumpkin with me.) I hid his costume two weeks ago after he refused to change out of it for a dirty pull-ups change without tears and recriminations. (He calls it his "zupa zuit" or "super suit". So cute.)

I'm really jazzed about tonight. I'm just wearing a pumpkin t-shirt with some big old purple fairy wings because an actual costume sounds like too much fun if I gotta pull the big red wagon of preschooler and candy all night :) Two years ago Little Man was Captain Hook and it was adorable - he still had Shirley Temple ringlets at the time, and the little tiny frock coat was perfect. But between the giant feathered hat, the lace cuffs on the frock coat, and the hook-hand it was way too much for him to hold onto. (He loved the hat though.) This year Little Man is dressed as Buzz Lightyear in a really simple lightweight non-flammable one piece.

Be safe, be comfortable, have fun. And remember, too much candy gonna make you sick.

*Child pictured is a model, not Little Man. LM is cuter, but you'll just have to take my word for it.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Gift Horse House

My grandmother bought me a mobile home when I was 19 - a $20,000 gift to me and my cousin. She paid to have the old carpeting and linoleum gutted, and for Van, one of her followers who'd recently moved with his wife to Florida to be near Giggy, to do all the labor. It sounds generous as hell, right? I mean, at the time I thought I owed her everything. The only reason I was able to afford moving out of my mom's house at the time was because she owned the building, and my cousin and I just had to pay lot rent. ($280 a month, or $140 each. I miss that rent.)

The catch? The trailer was across the street from hers, next door to my aunt Sally*. On a block with only five trailers, we were hedged in by elderly, nosy, intrusive relatives. I think she must have done it because she realized she was losing us. There were so many times, I see now, when I started to drift away and, like a cat mauling a lizard, she dragged me back.

Jason* and I had both attended public high school, and he had spent a few years living with his estranged dad who didn't follow our family's brand of reckless self-endangerment as his faith. (But the guy was an alcoholic who had three kids from three different women, all born within 4 months of each other, so it's not like I'm singing his praises or anything. He just wasn't our brand of crazy.) We were both sexually active by that age, and partook of weed and alcohol as opportunity allowed.

We tried to have this totally free young-adult lifestyle, but we were hampered by overbearing religious women on both sides. After some misadventures in cocaine use and my cousin bailing on me mid-month one day to go live with his future-ex-wife, Gig sold the trailer and I moved back in with my mother. I didn't move out again until I lived with my future-ex-husband, who I escaped by moving back in with my mother yet again, until one day she kicked me and my 2-year-old out with no notice for lacking sufficient "gratitude" for her allowing us to cover all the diaper, food, and other non-mortgage payment bills (and to use my car whenever she wanted, since she didn't own one at the time.)

Neither Jason nor I had a decent shot at a real childhood or a real young adulthood. Giggy met her need to constantly manipulate, micromanage, and control our lives - while giving us the illusion of freedom and selfless generosity. Since she had given us this generous home to live in, we owed her whatever she decided we needed to pay that day. Jason got sucked back into being her personal voodoo doll to move all her own pain, self-loathing, and depression onto, and I got sucked back into working for the cult and supporting her aims. I started the cult's (now gone) blog, in fact, as my very first foray into online writing.

I've never lived with anyone who wasn't actively attempting to manipulate or control me, or to tell me how I was allowed to feel and think. The only reason I have that luxury now is because I live alone (with a 4-year-old, but the "pwease??" manipulations of his age have no totalist power over me.) The closest I came before to freedom was in that trailer: sure the person who's name was on the deed wanted something from me; sure I was being blatantly manipulated - but only by the woman across the street, not by anyone inside my own four walls.

Maybe that's why I have a hard time accepting compliments or gifts. I feel there's bound to be an invoice someday, and I don't want to owe anyone anything of worth that could be used to manipulate or control me.

From Bujold's "Komarr"

At a moment like this, she could really wonder why solitary confinement was considered such a severe punishment. Why, nobody could get at you.

* Names changed cause they didn't start a cult, so they get that courtesy.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Spanking: Legal Assault

I'm probably going to upset some people with today's post, so I'll start with a caveat. I think there are several different good approaches and techniques for parenting; I don't think there is only one right way to raise a healthy and happy kid. However, spanking is not a good technique, and it shouldn't be legal.

Now most people recognize that using physical violence (especially "excessive" violence) against children as the sole means of discipline is a bad idea, and often abusive. We have laws on child abuse, the most comprehensive of which is the national Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). CAPTA defines child abuse and neglect thus:
"Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker, which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation, or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm."
Spanking results in physical and emotional harm, therefore spanking is abuse. (Ta-da!) Spanking is also assault - the only kind of physical assault that's legal in the US. If I walked up to my middle-aged mother and smacked her on the bottom, I would be assaulting her, and could be arrested, tried, and convicted for it. If she did the same to me, as an autonomous adult, it would still be assault. And again, if it was a neighbor or stranger or even someone else's child, I could be found gulity of assault for striking my hand against someone else's flesh (through clothing or otherwise - stop acting like cotton and denim make a damn bit of difference.)

Why is it that the only person I'm legally allowed to assault is my 4-year-old, who is completely reliant on me for love, affection, physical care, food, education, and his sense of well-being? As an adult, I have several means at my disposal, legally and physically, to prevent being assaulted. Children don't. Our laws say that it's okay to hurt your children to a certain degree, but no further. Yet it's not okay to hurt another adult against their will, regardless of degreee. (Throwing a pie in Ann Coulter's face is assault too, you know.)

So why can those boys get arrested for throwing a pie at her (which didn't actually even hit her, much less cause physical harm to her, like the bruise or red mark after a spanking) but it's legal to use corporal punishment on a toddler or preschooler? (Note: I'm not actually advocating hitting anyone with a pie, just pointing out that a missed-pie to an adult gets an arrest, but a hand to a child's flesh gets called a "family matter.")

It bugs me to no end that the American Pediatric Association has as their discipline guidelines, "spanking is not the best choice". That's like saying breastmilk is better than formula - it suggests that spanking or infant formula is a perfectly acceptable second-best choice. (In reality, the best-to-worst order for infant nutrition is 1. nursing from the breast, 2. drinking mom's milk in a bottle, 3. drinking another mom's milk in a bottle/breast, 4. infant formula. I'll probably do a post on breastfeeding eventually, and why atheists can take the lead in protecting woman and children from scorn and discrimination for public nursing.) The APA statement should read, "Spanking is a bad choice" and then have the same explanations for why that they currently do. (It IS a bad choice AND it's not the best, but calling it bad really does help clarify things.)

Why do I keep insisting that even "moderate" or "appropriate" or "reasonable" spanking is bad bad bad? Here's what a recent meta-analysis of 62 studies on spanking (over the past several decades) has revealed.
(From press release section of APA website.)
While conducting the meta-analysis, which included 62 years of collected data, Gershoff looked for associations between parental use of corporal punishment and 11 child behaviors and experiences, including several in childhood (immediate compliance, moral internalization, quality of relationship with parent, and physical abuse from that parent), three in both childhood and adulthood (mental health, aggression, and criminal or antisocial behavior) and one in adulthood alone (abuse of own children or spouse).

... While the nature of the analyses prohibits causally linking corporal punishment with the child behaviors, Gershoff also summarizes a large body of literature on parenting that suggests why corporal punishment may actually cause negative outcomes for children. For one, corporal punishment on its own does not teach children right from wrong. Secondly, although it makes children afraid to disobey when parents are present, when parents are not present to administer the punishment those same children will misbehave.

In commentary published along with the Gershoff study, George W. Holden, PhD, of the University of Texas at Austin, writes that Gershoff's findings "reflect the growing body of evidence indicating that corporal punishment does no good and may even cause harm." Holden submits that the psychological community should not be advocating spanking as a discipline tool for parents.

It's amazing to me that so many parenting experts, psychiatrist, etc. stop at "should not advocate spanking" and don't go on to "we should advocate against it" or even legislate against it. And it's not such a crazy idea - 23 countries have banned all forms of corporal punishment, including within the family and home.

Dr. Alan E. Kazdin, director of Yale's Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic and the president of the American Psychological Association, wrote this article "Spare the Rod: Why You Shouldn't Hit Your Kids (originally written for Slate but now hosted on the site.) Here are a few quotes from it that I think are very significant for ATAT readers (who may not even have kids, much less abuse them.)
  • "More than one-third of all parents who start out with relatively mild punishments end up crossing the line drawn by the state to define child abuse: hitting with an object, harsh and cruel hitting, and so on."
  • "The negative effects on children include increased aggression and noncompliance - the very misbehaviors that most often inspire parents to hit in the first place - as well as poor academic achievement, poor quality of parent-child relationships, and increased risk of mental-health problem (depression or anxiety for instance). High level of corporal punishment are also associated with problems that crop up later in life, including diminished ability to control one's impulses an poor physical-health outcomes (cancer, heart disease, chronic respiratory disease.) Plus, there's the effect of increasing parents' aggression, and don't forget the consistent finding that physical punishment is a weak strategy for permanently changing behavior."
So, more than a third of the people who start off mild end up extreme, and of course there are those parents who begin at the extreme. We know that extreme punishment and abuse is bad for children, and we have the data to back it up. When I say we should outlaw all corporal punishment of children because even mild spanking leads to abuse, I am not making a slippery-slope logical fallacy. (If there's reliable data that supports it, it's not a fallacy, just a fact.)

And what's more - spanking doesn't work! Sure, it may lead to an immediate cessation of the problem behavior, but it does nothing to teach the child right from wrong, reasoning, healthy remorse, or empathy. Instead it teaches a child that might makes right, and physical force is an acceptable way of getting what you want. Dale McGowan, author of Parenting Beyond Belief, made this excellent point I hope my freethinking audience will find as important as I do:
Every time a parent raises a hand to a child, that parent is saying you cannot be reasoned with. In the process, the child learns that force is an acceptable substitute for reason, and that Mom and Dad have more confidence in the former than in the latter.
There is absolutely no justification for secular parents to abuse their children, and the justifications theists use amongst themselves should not inform our laws. If I can legally obtain a restraining order against a man who physically assaults me, regardless of his religion or nonreligion, then religious justifications for child abuse (which is what spanking IS people) should not be part of our laws.

I live in a low-income-low-crime neighborhood of mostly poor families. We've got a lot of ethnic/cultural diversity. I have Arabic Muslims, African Muslims, Jamaicaans, Puerto Rican Catholics, and white Protestants in a 2-building radius of my unit. Because spanking is legal and accepted (pediatricians are still acting like it's up for debate) people don't always question if it's morally and ethically wrong. And so you end up with a woman yelling at her 2 year old to "get you ass back in the fucking house" at high volume, and you have the other woman who scolded me for picking up her crying baby, telling me, "The reason my older two kids are so well-behaved is because I never picked them up when they cried." In her case specifically, I know she actually loves her kids. but she is so misinformed, that she is doing them great emotional harm. (That's just heartbreaking isn't it? Thinking that meeting a 10-month-old's need for affection and comfort will cause willfulness or disobedience - or drug abuse and gang affiliation, the things she's really scared of, as she is the only legally employed member of her family of origin.) A lot of my neighbors seem to think I'm being an unsatisfactory parent because I don't physical discipline my child.

I was spanked as a child, and what it instilled in me in place of my own moral code was an intense desire to never get caught. (I distinctly remember praying, "God, please forgive me for going out tonight and please save me from getting caught," as I climbed out my window as a teen.) I was filled with resentment towards the abuser, my grandmother, instead of remorse over my own actions and a desire to right any wrongs I'd done. I started researching spanking when Little Man was a newborn, because I knew I didn't want my son to feel abused, like I did. I don't want to be the person who hits him - I'm the person who hugs him! And it's nonsensical to think I can spank my son but then tell him when he swats a friend, "We don't hit people." It's an insult to his intelligence and it would create in him an unecessary cognitive dissonance - my words and actions would not match up.

I very much want my words and actions to line up. That's a central part of how I define "integrity" and "personhood", and is very key to helping me form and discover my post-cult identity. (People who join and leave cults as adults have "pre cult identities", whereas second-generation adults (SGAs) who were raised in cults have to figure this stuff out on our own as adults and it's a lot harder.) I want to teach my son respect for himself and others, and I specifically think that the lack of bodily-autonomy I experienced as a "Focus on the Family" kid made me more vulnerable to the sexual abuse I received from a neighbor. (My family used to also tickle me against my will, or pinch my bottom and laugh as I squealed and begged them to stop.) I had no sense that I had a RIGHT to bodily autonomy or physical safety, and no sense that adults were not allowed to touch me in ways that made me uncomfortable. At the end of the day, this is the biggest reason I personally have for not spanking my kid.

From, "Spanked children learn that their bodies are not their personal property. Spanking trains them that even their sexual areas are subject to the will of adults. The child who submits to a spanking on Monday is not likely to say no to a molester on Tuesday. It's time spankers realized that - no matter what else they are accomplishing - they are setting children up to be easy prey for predators."

I make a concerted, conscious effort to tell my son all the time, "That's your body." Now that he's a bit older, I ask his permission and consent to take off his pants for a bathroom break or pull-ups change, and 90% of the time he doesn't even need my help with wiping. When he was an infant I would mention at least once a week during changes, "These are Little Man's personal special parts. No one should touch these except when changing your diapers." I make sure he is actually enjoying himself during tickle fights and rough housing. When he shows me an ouchie, I ask if he wants me to kiss it or blow on it (feet are yucky, y'all, even if they're cute little ones, and I'm not kissing those sandy toes.) I ask if he'd like help scrubbing down in the tub, and with teethbrushing (the one where I do just have to physically restrain him) I do my best to explain that I'm trying to keep his teeth white, and I let him manipulate the brush at the start and end of it. I don't want him to ever feel like any adult has the right to put their hands on his body against his will.

Yes, I've grabbed his arm and yanked him out of the way of cars or dogs, and in moments were I utterly failed, I have spanked him. I regret it. I didn't spank him because he was bad, but because I was angry at his action and at a loss for a solution. I grew up with absolutely terrible parenting models and I can't rely on my neighbors for good direction. So here are some of the best resources I've found for gentle, loving discipline and for parenting with autonomy as the goal (instead of the evil that must be fought, as it was in my childhood home.)

Parenting Beyond Belief - There's a book, a blog, and even videos up on YouTub This is a specifically atheist parenting resource, which is awesome because it's not like we have too many of those!

How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk - This horribly named book and tape-series has been a great resource for me. I believe the authors are Christian, although I don't think there are any references to god or religion in the book, and there's nothing inherently antithetical to Christianity. This is a resource you can recommend to Christian parents you know, or a book you can give expectant parents in your family and circle of friends, without having to discuss the god-issue. The central tenant is that children behave badly when they feel badly, and that we should use moments of misbehavior to analyze the situation and make sure all of our kid/s' needs are being met. Since I have a special needs child who had severe communication delays, this has been wonderful for us, but I know (online) lots of other parents of various beleif types who find the pricniples in this book incredibly simple to apply. - A treasure trove of links and research on spanking and why we shouldn't do it, as well as activism petitions, and a support group for Christians against child abuse., while not focused on child abuse within the home, is an excellent resource of training classes and materials for self-defense and child safety. Here's the wonderful set of Halloween safety tips I got in my email. (I didn't think of the dog one or writing my cell number on Little Man's arm in case we get separated during trick-or-treating so I'm really glad I read this!) They also have specific resources for increasing safety and safety awareness for children with disabilities, including being wheelchair-bound. It's definitely a great religion-neutral child safety and child empowerment resource.

If you spanked your kids, forgive yourself. I know my mom really did think James Dobson knew what he was talking about, and had no idea he was a misogynistic child-hating creep. I'm sure the vast majority of parents who spank do so out of loving motivations and lack of knowledge (or other parenting tools.) I'm not here to blame or to make anyone feel bad - I just want us to move forward to a non-spanking future. :)

A parent's liberty to parent and discipline as they wish does not and should not trump a child's right to safety from physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.

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Thank you for Donating

Thanks to all my readers (anteaters? still waiting on nickname submissions) who have contributed to ATAT. Because of your generosity, I'm able to spare the $7.50 to get a cab to take my son to school this morning, which means I'll be able to write ATAT posts once I get back. (There is no writing when the Little Man is home, or at least nothing constructive.)

He was seriously about to cry he was so heartbroken at the idea of missing school, and frankly I need him to go so his teacher can answer my question on the teacher/parent form about whether to send him to school in his costume tomorrow, or to just put it in his backpack for the Costume Parade later in the day. Hooray! And again, thanks. :)

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Swearing: The Potty Mouth Sin

Today we'll be talking about swear words and blasphemy, goddammit. I was trying to find a good picture of God cursing women for the last post, but instead stumbled onto and their article, "Swearing and Cursing are signs of evil in one's heart." Hot damn! Let's get started.
In what way? Is a man who drops a lot of f-bombs hornier than another? Does the "bs" shouter actually smell of cow patties, or does her heart actually pump "bs"? Do curse words reveal the condition of a woman's heart or only a man's?
Jesus taught in the Bible that when a man curses or uses profanity it is a sign of evil that was in that man’s heart. It is popular today for both men and women to curse. They never think of it as an evil condition in their heart, but rather a small thing that everyone does. These small words of cursing the Bible says, will defile the whole man if they are not repented of and stopped. Cussing and using the name of the Lord in vain causes one to become defiled.
It is popular today for both men and women to believe things without evidence, like that the words of Jesus or the Bible have any bearing on our lives. Oh, I'm sorry, were you attempting to paint this as a godless secular society? Pfft. (I love that noise.) The idea that a word could defile you is silly, and very much like the magical thinking I grew up under. It may have been daily that my Giggy reminded me, "Life and death are in the power of the tongue." Of course, now I know that my grandmother is and was batshit crazy, so her opinions matter a lot less than they used to. Defiled is just another way of saying dirty. At its core, Christianity is legalistic and hurtful to its members. I can't understand how people get so deluded that we think the thing that is torturing us is making us happy.
Popular movies and T.V. are responsible for causing society to accept foul language as the “norm.” They portray cursing as a way to vent anger and tell people off. The very attitudes behind cursing show that it is not right as cussing is used to demean and put down people. These words can be mild expletives to horrible blasphemies. Since the devil is the one who inspires these evil utterances he causes people to use our Lord’s name in the most ungodly ways.
Even if you could tie correlation between increased profanity on TV and movies with increased profanity in the general public, there is no evidence (data, reason to believe it's true) that it's a causal relationship. Maybe society accepted foul language first, and then let the FCC relax the standards. Well, swearing does help you vent, and reduces physical pain. And "The devil made me do it!" always makes me wonder why God lets the Devil have so much sway.
In the modern definition of cursing, usually people use the name of Jesus or God in vain and swear with curses such as “go to hell” or “damn you.” These words clearly show it is an evil coming from the devil.
If you're going to refer to a definition, it's best to actually define the thing (or at least link to it). And while statements like "go to hell" are certainly rude (ahem, *cough, CHRISTIANS, cough*) it's not like they actually have any power. Christian readers, please jump in and correct me if I'm wrong here, but I don't think you actually believe that you, as a born-again/washed in the blood/confirmed Christian will "go to hell" simply because I said so. So the words aren't anything more than words, even if they are rude. They have no magic to actually "curse" anyone. Also? The author obviously does not understand what "clearly show" means.
Have you ever wondered why people do not not use the names of gods of other religions when they curse? The names that the devil hates and uses people to voice hateful curses are “God,” “Christ,” “Jesus Christ” and “Jesus.” Terms about hell and heaven are also used in derogatory ways. The very misuse of these words should prove the existence of God and the reality of a heaven and hell.
Um, Christocentric much? People DO use other gods' names in curses, just not that much in English in America, where you know, the Christian one is the one we're constantly being told is damning some percentage of us to "go to hell" forever. (Why is it NOT rude or evil when your god tells us to "go to hell" or "damn you"?)
"The very misuse of these words should prove the existence of God and the reality of heaven and hell."
Okay, I'm not sure exactly how many of these terms the author doesn't comprehend, but it's at least a couple of these: prove (establish the truth or validity of by presentation of argument or evidence), existence (the state of existing; being), and reality (the quality or state of being actual or true).
Even Christians have been tricked into using bad expressions when they are upset. They are take-offs of the Lord’s names such as: “Geeze” or “Jes” (short for Jesus), “Good Gosh,” “Gosh Darn,” “Lordy.” This is known as “shoot cussin”. There are other terms used, which we will not repeat, as they are vulgar profanities. However, these illustrations make the point.
Ah, notice that Christians are "tricked" - the Devil made them do it. And you're gonna have to deal with the old ladies in the south if you think "Lordy" is a curseword - they might tear a fair size knot in your butt for trying. (Can I record it for YouTube when you do?) And in all my years of crazy legalistic fringe Christianity, I never herd the phrase "shoot cussin". If "Lordy" makes the point of vulgar profanities, you are missing the point of swearing. It adds invective when other words won't suffice or when you're so pissed your brain gets locked and all you can eject are curses and insults about penis size. (Just me?)
Many good movies have been ruined for Christians because the script writers thought adding profane language (which they refer to as adult language) somehow made the movie more relalistic. Adults nor children should use bad language if we are to be like our Lord. We do not have to use curse words to emphasize our intentions.
Good movies aren't made for Christians - they're made for the box office. You might be whiny persecuted majority, but you have not won in Hollywood (because you're jerks.) And you're ignoring the fact that scriptwriters and a lot of other Americans don't want to be like your Lord (because he's a slave-condoning, misogynistic, homophobic, genocidal, mass-murdering fuckhead.)

Colosians 3:8 But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. 9 Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds;
10 And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.”
Okay, since Yahweh was angry, wrathful, malicious, blasphemous, and filthy - why does he get such a free pass? (Go back to the Old Testament for some of the "horrible blasphemies" he used about other gods.) And any former-believing atheist will tell you, the Christians don't have special knowledge - they have special ignorance and confirmation bias.
Matthew 5:37: “But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.”
Gee, I can see how practical monosyllabic conversations would be. But is this verse really saying that speaking more than that is evil? What about Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, or every preachers' oratory?
If swearing and cursing have been a problem in your life ask the Lord to forgive you and deliver you so that your words may be good and loving words full of grace and truth. He will help you overcome this problem through His power.
Look, unless you have Tourette's, or some other genuine problem controlling your speech, you don't need a god to quit dropping F-bombs. I used to use the word "fucktard" a lot, but it started to bug me how offensive it was, so I decided not to say it anymore. ("Batshit crazy" is often way more accurate anyway, and just as fun.)
Matthew 12:34-36: “O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. 35 A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. 36 But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.”
Oooh! He's making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who's naughty or nice - what, wait? Oh I'm sorry this was Jesus, not Santa. My mistake. Jesus is the one who sees you when you're sleeping; he knows when you're awake; he knows when you've been bad or good so live in terror for goodness' sake. Oh! (Seriously, I need to get a webcam so I can make LOL Jesus music videos.)
Psalm 19:14: “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.”
I don't give a flying squirrel what your Lord finds acceptable - because he's a jerk. (Look, it's only an ad hominem if I insult him *instead* of making a good case; it's totally legit to make my case and then call him names after. Maybe not mature, but legit.)
Matthew 15:11: “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.”
WRONG! The words we listen to, accept as true, and believe can absolutely "defile" us. Look at the 9/11 hijackers. They didn't come up with that plan each individually - words went into them. Words about Allah, and infidels, and paradise, just like Christian words about Jesus, and sinners, and heaven. What we take in can improve us or harm us. People who read my grandmother's book took in evil concepts and evil ideas. Also, this verse seems like it contradicts the next one. Does the defilement start in the heart and lead to the words, or does the uttering of the words cause the defilement? The Bible is so badly written! It's kind of obviously not divine, don't you think?
Matthew 15:17-20: “Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught?
18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.
19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:
20 These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.”
My heart pumps blood, not defilement. Frankly, no one's thoughts (evil or otherwise) proceed from their heart. That's not where thinking happens (hint, hint "I feel god" types - this means you!) And I'm sorry but eating without washing your hands is a very, very bad idea. I know I was taught that "cleanliness is next to godliness" yet the Bible clearly states that "to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man." There's so much bad advice in the Bible that I hadn't caught this one before. (It's always in light of these verses that I remember how credible my grandmother seemed, and how honored she was by so many male pastors. Our beliefs about not locking doors don't seem that extreme next to that insanity.)

The Bible versus the CDC - whoever will I believe? Hmmm, I think I'll go with the experts.

From "Borders of Infinity" by Lois McMaster Bujold:

And where the devil does not exist, Miles thought to himself, it may become expedient to invent him.

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Thin Without

So, you remember when the Christian "study mentor" referred me to a bible-based online fat camp, right? Apparently, they've got communication problems internally, because (without any reference to my first mentor Pat) I've got a new one.

Len used the actual survey answers and responded to each. Most of the responses were "that's right" in nature, and so I've left them out here for brevity. Below is my response to her response to my response to a question. (Question is in black, my original response is in purple, her comments are in blue, my most recent response is in black.) And yes, I did have all those Bible verses linked in the email I sent her :)
Hi Len,

I'll just respond to a few specific comments of yours.

*5: Define a person with true beauty. What does Peter 3:3-5 say beauty is?*
I would define a person with true beauty as someone who is compassionate and generous. That passage defines beauty as "gentle and quiet" and "submissive". That sounds more pathetic and victimized than "beautiful" to me.

Good definition - but what's wrong with gentle and quiet spirit? I know that in this day of equality we scoff at the word "submission". That is because we have swung to far the other way. It does not mean that women are to be slaves. If husbands and bosses were, first of all, submissive to God, then women would not find it so difficult to fall in line with directives of a man. For the sake of order, someone has to be in charge of things. Without it our society crumbles as we see it happening now. As far as importance in God's eyes is concerned the woman is on equal level with the man.
The problem with promoting a gentle and quiet spirit and submission is that it lends itself to abuse - over and over again, across cultures and religions. When groups adopt a patriarchal model, women and children ARE abused. As a children's rights activist and anti-cult activist, I have to tell you that your promotion of essentially "being a quiet non-complaining helpmeet" is *extremely* dangerous! I am trying to get a neighbor to leave her husband right NOW because he is attempting to kill her, but she's so damn submissive and gentle, and such a quiet-spirit and so obedient to her husband that she will probably die before she leaves him. It is *heartbreaking* and it is the kind of work I do everyday helping people make their lives BETTER.

I suggest you read the book "Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement" by Katherine Joyce a very well-researched and well-written book examining the Quiverfull (complimentarian or "separate but equal" gender roles) lifestyle and the damage that it inflicts on the women, children, and even men involved. Here is an article she wrote on the subject for

As a single mother who left an abusive alcoholic adulterer, I will say that "for the sake of order" (and probably my life) it was absolutely important that someone was in charge - ME. Equality is absolutely necessary, or else abuse WILL occur! Your god hates a vagina - read your Bible. Menstruating is a sin requiring days of isolation, followed by cleansing and a blood sacrifice. Supposedly God cursed *all women forever* with the pain of childbirth (which is caused by totally natural things, by the way - We ARE products of evolution, after all) because one woman - who didn't know right from wrong - displeased Him one time. He turned Lot's wife into a pillar of salt for looking back, but when Lot offered up his virgin daughters to be gang-raped, or when he later had incestuous sex and impregnated BOTH of them, that's absolutely fine. Wanna know how much God thinks a man should be paid if his daughter is raped? 50 Shekels! (Of course the victim gets nothing except she has to marry the rapist - or be stoned to death, depending on where she was when he raped her.) It's all in the Bible. I don't believe the book is true, but if it was - clearly, God HATES women.

And yet you DO think the book is true, and you're trying to tell me that men and women are equal in God's eyes? What could you *possibly* be basing that on? Because it's certainly not scripture.
*6: When are times that you feel like you have no control in your life?*
When my unemployment check gets deposited late and my landlady knocks on my door.

That's scary unsettling time for sure and there could be many others - every time there is a situation that you cannot fix on your own.
Who said I couldn't fix it on my own? In fact, I did - I've ironed out the problem with my unemployment check, and gotten my landlady to agree to a payment arrangement until the balance is caught up. Instead of sitting on my hands, or praying to God, I recognized that there is no Sky Daddy to come kiss it and make it all better, and so I make it better myself. Humanism is incredibly empowering, and much more productive for a happy life than Christianity. I speak from personal experience, but also the experience of the thousands of members of and other deconversion sites.
*8: How do you think God views you? How do you think God feels when you’re harming your body?*
God is imaginary. No real medical doctor should ever ask me what unicorns or gods think of my issues with food.

I am sorry you feel that way but you have a free will to choose to believe or not believe that God exists, but that is a very important topic of its own. We could talk more about it if you wanted to.
God has the free will capability to reveal himself to be, and yet he hasn't. Is this because He wants me to go to hell because I lacked evidence, or does this mean He is imaginary? (Hint: It's the second one.) I know you're probably thinking, "But that would interfere with your free will!" but it wouldn't. Case in point? Lucifer and 1/3 of the angels had *absolute knowledge and proof* of God's existence, yet they chose not to worship him. Clearly, it would be possible for God to reveal himself clearly, and not in some poorly written in-dire-need-of-editing hodgepodge of genealogy, myth, half-truths, parables, and proverbs, entirely reliant on human copying, printing, and translation efforts. And yet he hasn't and doesn't. To me the most logical explanation for why an all-powerful, all-loving god who desired to spend eternity with mankind would not save billions of nonbelievers through this simple gift of knowledge is that he doesn't exist. How do you rationalize your belief in a god there is no evidence for?

And people don't choose to believe or disbelieve the gospel. You can't choose to believe the earth is flat or that lemons aren't tart. You know better. Knowledge impacts belief. I know too much about the brain, sociology, group dynamics, delusion, propaganda, history, and other world religions to ever believe Christianity is true again.
*10: I have the following questions/comments about this study. Also, please pray for me in these areas:*
Are you aware of the term "push polling" and do you see how this "study" does more to suggest that the real cure for an eating disorder is god (who I believed in during the 12 years I was puking my guts up) than it does to actually learn what women think?

To tell the truth, no I did not know the term "push polling" but I researched it and now I know. I don't think that it applies totally to what these lessons are intended for. We did not conduct large polls in order to manipulate people. I will admit we offer the lessons to point people to a resource - God - that many people have not considered for their problems. That applies to problems of many kinds not just this one. You have the option to disregard the evidence, but countless stories are available fom people whose lives and hope for the future has changed for the better because of their faith in God. But it's your choice - we only point you in that direction.
I find it very deceptive that your magazine claimed to be conducting a "study" (really more of a survey) to find out what women with eating disorders thought, when your actual motive was to proselytize. I don't know why Christians think that being deceptive or "lying for Jesus" is somehow morally okay, when it's one of those Ten Commandments your "brothers and sisters in Christ" keep trying to plant on *my* courthouse lawn.

You seem to think I had never tried the God solution - as I stated above I was a Christian (just like you!) while I was unhappy, suicidal, miserable, anorexic and severely underweight. As an atheist, I'm happier, I'm healthier, I take better care of myself and I'm a better mother. Faith in god was the *problem* and knowledge about the real world around us - not the fantasy tales of heaven with streets paved of gold, but this life! right here in front of us, passing us by - THAT has been the solution. I don't want to go to heaven - I want to stay right here as long as I can, and soI*embrace* this short, temporal, insignificant life and take it for all it's worth. THAT is the way to deal with problems - by actually dealing with them, not praying and waiting for Jesus to come fix you.

What evidence am I disregarding? To my knowledge, there IS no evidence for God. If you think you have some, I'd be thrilled to hear it (and frankly, so would the Nobel committee).

And as for the personal testimonies - there are Scientologists who will tell you how much Dianetics and the Tech have improved their lives; there are Mormons who will tell you that Joseph Smith was the latter-day prophet of God and they *know* it because they prayed and asked God and he told them that the Book of Mormon was true; David Koresh still has some followers who admire him even now, far from him. I study cults. Personal testimonies of a spiritual nature don't tell us ANYTHING about whether or not what they believe is helping them is actually real or true (or even helpful).

I'm looking forward to your replies.

What do you think ATAT readers (Aters? ataters? Anteaters?*) is Len going to write me back?

Place your non-monetary bets below and I promise to keep you updated if anyone from this study/survey/we-just-wanna-point-you-to-god-because-we-think-you've-somehow-never-heard-the-gospel group contacts me again.

And now here is THE best "Jesus LOL" video.

I may have done nasal-cranial damage from laughing so hard at that. *sigh* Freaking priceless. You sing it, Jesus! (Seriously that's going up there with WWJD as one of my favorite Jesus music videos.)

Okay, here's the LMB quote of the day. (By the way, I will keep posting these until y'all let me know you've gone out and requested her books from your library or book venord, mm'kay?) From Mirror Dance, p. 722
She gave him a half-salute and turned away. He puzzled over the look in her eyes, as she descended out of sight down the lift-tube. It wasn't love. It wasn't fear.

Oh. So that's what respect looks like. Oh.

I could get used to that.

* Whatever shall I call you?? Suggest names and I'll let y'all vote on them! There's only so many times I can type "y'all" in a post and "you guys" just seems weird since I have so many female readers. But "readers" sounds totally boring and non-branded so come up with an ATAT reader nickname, please!

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Invisible Forces

"God is like electricity or the wind - you can't see Him but you can see the effects He has." This was one of the first apologetics I heard and was persuaded by, as a very young girl. So even though it will be relatively simple to debunk, it's got some personal meaning, so I sally forth. (How did Sally become both a girl's name and a military verb?)

Anyone who's spent a day at a science museum has gotten to play with a Tesla coil and knows that you can see electrical arcs. (Learn more at the Tesla Society page! Very cool geekdom.) Also? Lightning. Not only can we see electricity, we can also feel it (ouch! Anyone who's ever lived in a Florida trailer knows what it feels like to get electrocuted - cheap wires in cardboard walls.) We ca manipulate and harness electricity, and we can make reliable predictions about how it will behave. The entire wiring system of your home was set up with these reliable predictions in mind. Electricity consistently behaves like electricity.

And the wind, while it is not in itself visible, is knowable - and measurable. Whether it's reported in knots, miles or kilometers per hour, we can measure the wind as it is happening and whether or not it is windy at any given location and time is not as questionable as the existence of an all-powerful creator. Not only can we measure wind as it is happening, meteorologists, oceanographers, and other people who study this stuff can use what we know about wind to make predictions.

That weekly forecast isn't a prophecy from holy scripture or divine revelation - it's science (testable, knowable, falsifiable, and verifiable - beautiful stuff.) As someone who lives in Florida, where hurricane season is from June 1 to November 30 (probably already in the clear this season) and especially as a former Florida mobile home owner*, I appreciate the knowledge-based educated predictions that NOAA makes on my behalf.

God isn't nearly so helpful. We haven't yet found a way to measure God that he shows up on. He doesn't do cool Tesla purple arcs of electricity (they are sooooo pretty)** and we have entirely non-supernatural explanations for lightning. We know why wind happens the way it does, and anyone who's driven through a city after even a Category 1 Hurricane has hit knows that wind leaves obvious physical effects and aftermath. With god supposedly touching so many people, it seems strange that believers (of every stripe) can only offer "feelings" as their proof of god.

The main difference is this: Although the wind and god are both invisible (electricity just freaking isn't - my 3rd grade Christian school teacher lied), the wind has been proven to exist and god hasn't. So they are not just the same. Wind is real and god is imaginary.***

* Yes, we know that mobile homes and six months of hurricane system are a bad combination. But where else can you pay $140/month rent? I really miss that rent, but not so much the crappy locks, holes in the walls, and subsequent roaches. Still - $140 a month is nothing to sneeze at. Besides, where I live has only been hit by one cat 1 hurricane and a half a dozen severe tropical storms in the two decades I've lived here.

** I have loved lightning since I can remember. Thunder storms are passionate and cool. See the video below to understand the force of nature that makes me excited to be alive.

*** Does anybody know what the hell happened to The page is down all of a sudden and I don't know why! Have they moved???

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Atheist Association of Uganda 2

So my buddy Micheal, PR of the Atheist Association of Uganda, has asked me to bring attention to the epidemic of ritual child sacrifice in his country. He sent a few links and I read up a bit more. It's really tragic, obviously, but I was also struck by the similarities in the beliefs and motivations of the witch doctors and their followers and our own televangelists. Only, instead of conning the elderly poor into sending in their Social Security checks as "seed money" for their manifest increase (God is your loan shark), in Uganda spiritual men persuade believers to kidnap and murder young children as a get-rich-quick scheme. More than just awareness, Micheal and the AAU hope to raise funds for an upcoming atheist bus campaign in Uganda, which will feature messages against child sacrifice as well as the AAU website and contact information.

Here is part of the consciousness raising letter the AAU delivered to the US and Netherlands Embassies in their parish, Kimpala.
We wish to introduce to you our association known as ATHEIST ASSOCIATION
OF UGANDA. (AAU) It's designed to be a national educational charity
supporting and representing people who seek to live good lives without
religious or superstitious beliefs. AAU is registered in Uganda as a
charity and its an affiliation of the Atheist Alliance International

AAU recognizes the scientific method as the only rational means towards
understanding reality. We question and critically examine all ideas,
testing them in the light of facts that lead to the discovery of truth.
We reject superstition and prejudice, along with the irrational fears they
cause. We recognize the complexity and inter-dependence of life on this
planet. As rational and ethical beings, we accept the challenge of making
a creative and responsible contribution to life.

AAU designed a project that will see us campaign against the ritual
killing of both Children and elderly, mob justice which is on the raise
now in Uganda by displaying adverts on buses running through Kampala and
upcountry in all languages depending to the route destination. This
project cannot be implemented without the support of like minded people
and organizations.

Here's an incredibly moving piece Micheal wrote for the Minnesota Atheists, which he contributes to regularly.

The misery of Africa and poor Africans should make the rest of the world hang their heads in shame. In my country Uganda and Africa in general, we are in the same social position that Europe was for two thousand years until the early nineteen hundreds.

The poor were slaves, exploited on farms and in factories. There was no care for their health or well-being, children were sent to the mines or to slave for 14 hours a day in terrible factories. That was the system the colonizers brought to our lovely Africa when they colonized us.

A September 2009 article in the Guardian links some of the murders with suspected organ trafficking.

From The Independent

The Religion News Blog covers the rise of kidnappings and ritual murders.

Huffington Post.


Yes, today's post is depressing, but also hopeful. You can help support atheist communities in far-flung places, especially in countries where religious persecution is codified into law. We're working on getting PayPal or some other method so that people who would like to can contribute financially as well. I'm also going to get Micheal's recommendations on NGOs for donations. And if you don't have any money (like me) you can just raise awareness. Send you favorite newscaster this information - make #uganda a top trending topic on Twitter, write to Congress and the State Department and let them know you support comprehensive sex and kidnapping education for Uganda's children. Write the UN and tell them this is a grave human rights issue.

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Angry Rant on Atheists

Fuck Atheist Nexus. I'm done with catty bitches. #outatheist (Sun 25 Oct 11:07 am)

Okay, so I typed that in a moment of anger. A familiar one. It's the feeling I get anytime I'm involved in a discussion on Atheist Nexus. The same five people (you know who you are) continually put words in my mouth, ascribe untrue motives to my action, feign offense at every other word I type, sexually harras me (hey bozo - the fact that you find ME sexually attractive does not mean I want to hear about the size of your penis, your ideas on women in the home, your plan of an atheist uprising centered on freethinking women as Quiverfull broodmares, or how sexy you find me! I. am. not. attracted. to. YOU.)

I think Brother Richard's a great guy and I admire what he's trying to do with Atheist Nexus. I've met a lot of cool people on the Nexus and I hope they'll stay in contact through my blog or by email (angieantitheist@ gmail [dot] com). By no means do I think these five asshats are representative of the whole. But they are mouthy long-winded motherfuckers and I don't go to ATHEIST websites to get stressed out. I can do that just fine on apologetics sites and end time prophecy screeds.

So yeah. Fuck A/N. I'll leave my profile up so people can send me emails or see this note or whatever. If the mods delete it or this post, so be it. I am through. I really wanted it to work out. But the freelance of "don't pick on the white dude!", "let's conquer the world through your uterus", "having to pay child support is just as bad as going through pregnancy/labor/birth so abortion shouldn't be legal until I can quit paying my ex", "meat-eaters are going to vegan hell" and "my life sucks, sob sob, whine and do jack shit about it" I am done.

(Since I try really hard to rarely curse on this blog, I hope my invective indicates just how DONE I really fucking am.)

Roar. And now today's Bujold quote, from Mirror Dance.
It seemed he could trust them, not so much not to hurt him, but to be what they were, what they appeared. He could not at first put a word to it, this sense of personal unity. Then it came to him. Oh. So that's what integrity looks like. I didn't know.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Are Christian Scientists either?

I've written before about Rita Swan of Children's Healthcare is a Legal Duty (CHILD) and the wonderful work they do, trying to end faith healing practices and religious exemptions in America. (Clearly, her passions are right up my alley.)

During my days in internet Siberia, she sent me a link to her recent Op-Ed on a Christin Science-created religious exemption in the upcoming health bill from the Senate HELP Committee. Here's the op-ed in full, with my comments following after.

Does one bizarre health care policy merit another?

By Rita Swan

Tucked into the health care reform bill passed by Sen. Harkin’s Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee is a mandate that insurers reimburse for “religious or spiritual health care” that is classified as a deductible medical care expense by the Internal Revenue Service. See S.1679, Section 3103(a)(1)(D).

The House Energy and Commerce Committee on which Congressman Bruce Braley sits has added a similar measure to the House health care reform bill. See Section 125 of HR3200.

The Internal Revenue Service allows bills sent by Christian Science practitioners for their prayers to be deducted from income tax as a medical care expense. The agency has declined requests to provide evidence that Christian Science heals disease.

Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy directed church practitioners to “make their charges for treatment equal to those of reputable physicians in their respective localities.” (First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 237) These treatments consist only of prayer.

These practitioners set their own rates, but sometimes their charges are indeed comparable to medical bills. In 1989, Christian Science healer Mario Tosto charged parents $446 for two days of prayer-treatment for Ian Lundman, an 11-year-old Minnesota boy with diabetes.

The boy died.

In Michigan, an insurance company balked at paying a Christian Science practitioner’s bill of $1,775 for her prayers on top of medical bills for the patient. The couple sued the company, which then settled out of court. Stephenson v. State Farm, 48th District Court, as reported in Michigan Trial Lawyers Association newsletter, October 1986.

The IRS has an extremely broad definition of deductible medical care. Any service primarily intended to affect “some structure or function of the body” is medical care. The “experience, qualification, or title of the person rendering services” is irrelevant.

Whether anyone besides the person paying for the service thinks it is medical is irrelevant. Bills incurred for anyone’s prayers or healing rituals are deductible medical care. (For verification, see these sources: IR Ruling 55-261, 1955-1 C.B. 307, IR Ruling 63-91, 1963-1 C.B. 54, and Fischer v. Commissioner, 50 T.C. 164, 194 (1968)).

Fortunately, most religions do not send bills for their prayers. And the IRS’s bizarre, loosey-goosey policy may not have cost the public a lot of money to date because taxpayers can deduct only medical care bills that are higher than 7.5 percent of their adjusted gross income and then only a percentage according to their tax bracket.

If, however, the federal government forces the insurance industry to pay for prayer, a new cottage industry will likely spring up and Christian Science practitioners will likely raise their prices.

Even more serious is that the Christian Science church will use the federal law as another argument that Christian Science “treatment” should be a legal substitute for medical care of sick children.

There will be more laws like West Virginia’s religious defense to fatal neglect of a child when parents withhold medical care and instead rely on prayer-treatment “if fees and expenses incurred in connection with such treatment are permitted to be deducted from taxable income as ‘medical expenses’ pursuant to regulations or rules promulgated by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. (West Virginia Code 61-8D-4a(b)).

Iowa’s religious defense to felony child endangerment and manslaughter at Iowa Code 726.6(d) has been justified on similar grounds.

The government should not be forcing anyone to pay for prayer. We urge Congress to remove all provisions in the health care reform bills that require insurers to reimburse for prayer or any other “health care” that is not evidence-based.

Rita Swan is president of Sioux City-based Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty (CHILD, Inc.), a non-profit national membership organization established to protect children from abusive religious and cultural practices, especially religion-based medical neglect. For more information, visit

If only we'd been Christian Scientists, instead of non-denominational cult members, I could have made money off all that faith healing I was giving away for free! PZ over at Pharyngula also wrote about Christian Scientist earlier this month.

Now I'm going to ask each of you to help. Yes of course I've drafted a new petition to Congress and the President for you to sign. You'll notice once there that you can Twit, Digg, Facebook or otherwise spread the word. Please do. This is one of the most important things I've asked of you. If this language sneaks its way through the final bill, it will make repealing religious exemption laws in various states much, much harder. This is a really important battle in the war for children's rights to health and safety.

Spread the word. Blog about this. Submit op-eds to your own papers, and when they get published, link them here. Change your Facebook status to a link for this petition and leave it that way, or Tweet this petition a couple times a day. I know information is very fast paced, and it can be easy to lose sight of one issue amongst the many, but I am asking you (nicely, and from the bottom of my heart) to keep this issue in your focus and on your mind. Go be little activists, please. Don't assume that jut because a family member, friend, or coworker is a theist they won't be interested in signing these. My mother is still a devout Christian (I think she's a Methodist at the moment) and my sister is a fundie evangelical: They both sign all my child protection petitions.

So, there's your first ATAT Homework assignment. Sign the petition, and if you're a verbally gifted type (or even just good at basic communication) write an op-ed or a blog post. Send them back here. Or just add a link to this petition as the closing line of your email. Just don't let this issue fade from sight among all the news stories cropping up each day. Keep this important and keep it promoted and maybe we can stop this train wreck before it happens.

"No one you knew then is still alive. You know that, don't you?"
"If I can't do what I want, I'll at least do what I can."
- from "Mirror Dance" by Lois McMaster Bujold

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Back to the Future 4?

Not happening. This video was totally stolen from today's Cake Wrecks post.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

You look like God!

Yes, I could go on and on about how much I missed all of you, Hulu and even my stupid farm. I could tell you I actually cried Wednesday night because I missed the internet (my main intellectual/creative/social outlet.) I could tell you that I've already ready every Rowling, Pratchett, and Bujold in my house at least a dozen times, and that I've spent the last four days up to my eyeballs in the dead tree copy of my grandmother's cult hit "Born in Zion." Or I could just jump right into new materials.

From "Born in Zion" Chapter 9: Rhema (a personal revelation or word from God.) Gig wrote a whole chapter of little stories about people (mostly her) getting *exact quotes* from God. Now, she quotes God and Satan both a lot in this book (and not from the Bible, just her own thoughts) but this one really takes the cake.
I was with Lucia and Tony Padrone, very early in their labor, just the three of us sitting around the table in their kitchen. They're gorgeous people, typically Italian and strikingly alike in appearance: medium build, straight noses, full lips, dark eyes, curly brown hair and smooth olive skin.
At one point the conversation lulled, and I made the comment: "Which ever one of you the baby resembles, he'll look like you both. You look enough alike to be twins."
Lucia laughed. "Of course. I'm Tony's rib, so we have the same genetic code, and it's no wonder we look alike."
*facepalm!* That's not how genetics works. (And fyi, men and women have the same number of ribs.)
"Most married people grow to resemble each other, don't you think?" Tony asked.

"Well, maybe they kind of match," I agreed.

We discussed several couples we knew in common, trying to see where they had physical trait alike, coloring or body type or even more often, mannerisms and gestures.
It's important to note here that my grandmother, and most of the people she associated with at the time she wrote this, did not condone interracial marriage. So when she says people had similar coloring, what she means is that she approves of Italian marrying Italians and Jews marrying Jews and African-American marrying African-Americans. True to her form, she did treat individuals and individual couples differently from her broad general view: when a red-headed Irish woman and an African-American man in her congregation married, she didn't cut ties with them or anything like that. She even accepted the black guy I was dating a few years ago, because she knew him as an individual (a pretty cool one at that) and not as a (racist) stereotype.

Also, seeking confirmation bias, much? "trying to see where they had physical trait alike." That just sounds like her approach to everything. Make a generalization or non-scientific observation, decide it's true, and quickly gather data points or ideas to support it. (Can you see yet why I love critical thinking so much?)
Then I left the room for some reason, and as I walked down the hall I wa speaking to the Lord on the same subject. I commented, "I never did look like either one of my husbands."

"True," the Lord replied. "But every now and then, just a little bit, you're beginning to look like Me."
Why am I guessing most Christians wouldn't agree that a self-centered, gluttinous, irresponsible, (twice divorced) baby-killing WOMAN is really all that godly? And yet, they didn't. Over and over again, I saw pastors deferring to her, and men submitting their wives' health to her - all because they thought she had some special pipeline to the almighty, and her ramblings were really revelation.
Oh, what a glory!
She throws in Glory! in this book a lot, and it's incredibly fake. It just sticks out like a sore thumb as this thing she never ever said in real life.
Every unmarried Christian woman knows the wonderful Scripture in Isaiah 54:5, "For thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of hosts is His name." This principle of married couples looking alike was beginning to apply to me and my present Husband. Isn't that wonderful?
Look at me, I'm so godly. Look, I have the Lord's Seal of Approval (that I just invented!) Let's just ignore all who don't know that verse. Also, it is not a "principle" that married couples look alike. Woody Allen does not look like Soon-Yi Previn. And even though they're much closer in age, both in Hollywood, an both gorgeous, Brad and Angelina don't actually look that much like each other. (Your bone structure does not magically change when you say "I do.")
Of course, in age, gender, racial characteristics, coloring and physique I'm almost nothing like a thirty-three-year old Semitic man who lived an active, outdoor life in a desert country. But that's not what He meant. He meant on the inside; He looks on the heart. Maybe nobody else can see it, but when He looks into my heart, He can once in a while, somehow see a little something of Himself.
Galloping narcissism folks, let me tell you it is not fun to grow up with. How can you argue with someone who so clearly has God her side, right? Of course, this is why second hand revelation is necessarily hearsay. As a child I found it compelling, and the people who read her books and came away from it with a sense that this woman was really godly probably didn't realize that she just gave herself God's endorsement. *It doesn't make it true.* Not for her, or Pope Been-a-dick or Joseph Smith or Mohammad. This is why evidence matters, folks, and not just what some prophet claims God told them.

And now, without any justification other than the fact that I've missed posting funny videos the past few days, Ninja Cat.

p.s. I'll be responding to comments on earlier posts over the next couple of days. I *will* continue the Mercy Ministries posts and other series. I just have to get this garbage from my grandmother out of my system.

p.p.s. I've read so many amazing Bujold quotes the past several days I decided I need to close every post with them until whatever need to express myself through her words is sated. Today's quote is from "Memory."

Harrah was silent for long enough for Lem to paass around the stone jug one last time, in the dim moonlight and shadows. Then she said, "You go on. You just go on. There's nothing more to it, and there's no trick to make it easier. You just go on."

"What do you find on the other side? When you go on?"

She shrugged. "Your life again. What else?"

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

I'm back!

I am getting used to a very tiny keyboard and setting up the new laptop but I will post and reply to comments and emails tomorrow. I missed you all like crazy! (Hate to say it, but ATAT is in desperate need of funds to keep operating. This tiny laptop is a stopgap but it is annoying as hell to type on it. I need a crappy second hand PC desktop that actually turns on when you hit the power button.)

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Monday, October 19, 2009


I am having some computer problems and will be unable to blog or comment for several days. If you need to contact me, you can call me at 813-447-7900.

Angie The Anti-Theist

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Sunday, October 18, 2009


From Faith (noun)
  1. confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another's ability.
  2. belief that is not based on proof: He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.
  3. belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion: the firm faith of the Pilgrims.
  4. belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc.: to be of the same faith with someone concerning honesty.
  5. a system of religious belief: the Christian faith; the Jewish faith.
  6. the obligation of loyalty or fidelity to a person, promise, engagement, etc.: Failure to appear would be breaking faith.
  7. the observance of this obligation; fidelity to one's promise, oath, allegiance, etc.: He was the only one who proved his faith during our recent troubles.
  8. Christian Theology. the trust in God and in His promises as made through Christ and the Scriptures by which humans are justified or saved.
I got into a recent good-natured comment debate with a reader who says she has faith in god, and that faith itself is good (or at least neutral - I'm not actually sure of her position here), but that she opposes organized religion. She thinks god interacts in her daily life, but that reason and logic are sufficient most of the time. However, she does support occassionally doing things that fly in the face of logic and reason, based on feelings (which she stresses are not the same as emotions), and claims that this is a good thing in her life.

So, let's explore faith. I've copied the eight noun definitions of Faith here, so I can let you - my readers - know exactly what I mean when I rail against faith, and why I say that faith is not a virtue, it is a vice. Definitions 1, 4, 6, and 7 relate to entirely to the natural world, and are therefore not what I (as a skeptic, atheist, and critical thinker) object to. Obviously, I could say I believe in secular humanism or have faith in it, although I'd be more like to say that I subscribe to secular humanism, and that I think (based on evidence, not faith) that it is a good way to live.

The second definition "belief that is not based on proof" is certainly something I find reprehensible and dangerous. If I believe a gnome steals the socks out of my dryer, I am delusional. I am believing something - or having faith in something - without evidence. I haven't seen the gnome; scientists have not confirmed the existence of gnomes; the vast majority of (if not all) gnomes are fictional. Without actually gnome evidence, it would be fool hearty to believe I had a dryer gnome even if my socks continue to disappear. I have no reason to suppose that the gnome explanation is the best one. I haven't explored other possibilities for why my socks are gone, and I've jumped to a supernatural or fictional answer as my first guess, rather than looking at the natural physical possibilities that fit in with the rest of my experience of reality.

Likewise, believing in a god that has not even been proven to exist, much less beliving in certain aspects or character traits of that god, is just as fool hearty. There is absolutely no difference in the evidence presented for god and for the dryer gnome. (If you think you have evidence for either, please leave a comment!) However, the dryer gnome belief may be fairly innocuous. I might successfully live my whole life without harming myself or others, infringing on the rights of minorities, or imposing my dryer gnome belief on others. God belief is rarely so benign.

The third definition, "belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion" can be thought of as extension of the second. Since no gods have ever been proven to exist, this further faith in a god or the doctrines or teachings of a religion worshiping that god, is built on a foundation of "no proof". It is just as stupid as believing in the dryer gnome. There is no evidence, no proof, no reason to believe that this is true. And unlike intellectually sloppy but rarely cataclysmic belief of a deist, this is theistic belief, which does harm. Some belief systems may be gentler, or less legalistic, or less wicked than others. Some particular religions or religious congregations or religious individuals may do good, and may ascribe that good to their religion. Neither of these things changes the fact that religion is foolish, harmful, and degrading to humanity. (There is no god - get the fuck up off your knees.*)

The problem is religious belief and belief in god do effect people's actions. It can lead people to trust untrustworthy people, as seen time and time and time again with despicable clergy sex scandals. It can lead whole groups to treat women and children as property, and it can lead the women to go along with this. It can lead loving parents to pray their children to death. It can (and does) justify homicide and terrorism. It can (and does) justify child abuse. It can (and does) justify the subjugation of women. Why aren't people MORE pissed off about this kind of "faith"?

Moving on. Definition 5 "a system of religious beliefs" can be effectively covered by the last rant (and is also an extension of definition 2.)

Definition 8 is probably the one I spend the most time on, in this blog and in my life. "Christian Theology. the trust in God and in His promises as made through Christ and the Scriptures by which humans are justified or saved." Christian theology is inherently wicked. I am not saying - and probably never would say - that all Christians are inherently wicked. Unlike them, I don't believe people are born guilty of sin and deserving of hell and death.**

I don't think humans need a justification or salvation - we're doing fine. Where we need to make improvements, let's make improvements. Where we're doing well, let's do more of that! And where we're dragging ourselves back into the Dark Ages, let's just stop it. Stop with the religious nonsense, the persecution, the notion of thought crimes. Just stop. If we give up all this theological bullshit and belief in things that aren't true and believe without good justification, we can get things done. We - humans - have the power and ability to improve our lots in life, and to help each other. That's phenomenal! Let's do more of it. Let's learn and grow and change and try new things and help our fellow apes and try not to destroy our planet. Faith keeps you stagnant, childlike, ignorant and foolish. It keeps you from growing, from expirmenting, from being free and autonomous and grown up.

So, to any and all who believe that faith is still a good thing, or who still believes in a good god, where do you think my socks are? And because I feel odd to leave a song on a minor chord, or a post on a meaningful point, I'll deflect from the moment with comedy.

Do you have more evidence for your god than Mr. Bean has for his invisible drum kit?

*Or help me catch this damn gnome. I seriously don't know where my socks are going, and it's annoying.

**On a side note, at this point in the post I went to go swap our TV for a bigger one from a neighbor - and nearly brought the entire entertainment center down on me. Heart beat = epic. (And yet what I yelled out was "My god... or somebody else's!")

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Merciless Ministries

This is the first post in what is going to be a very long series. My reader Sean the Blogonaut sent me to check out Mercy Ministries website. There MM claims that they provide "hope and healing for to generations of desperate young women who are seeking freedom from life-controlling problems such as: drug and alcohol addictions, depression, eating disorders, unplanned pregnancy, physical and sexual abuse, and self-harm.

Our free-of-charge biblically-based program serves a diverse population of young women from various socio-economic backgrounds, aged 13-28. Many of the girls, who come to Mercy for help, are facing a combination of debilitating circumstances and have been in various treatment facilities with unsuccessful long-term results. We are committed to providing the young women we serve with the most excellent program services that allow them to recognize their self-worth and prepare them to reach their full potential. Our non-conventional approach to healing allows young women to permanently stop destructive cycles and prepares them to take hope out into their communities."

As the resident crazy person at ATAT, let me please appraise of you of the various data points.
  1. There is no quick and easy lifetime cure for addiction, eating disorders, depression, abuse, or self-harm. (There is a legal and safe solution to unplanned pregnancy, but you'd never guess it from their site.)
  2. A "non-conventional" approach can be thought of like alternative medicine: "Not proven to work or proven not to work.*"
  3. There is no one-sits-fits-all treatment protocol that effectively addresses the needs of abuse survivors, drug addicts, and bulimics.

It would be awfully nice if there were quick cures for those problems. Looking at this list, it looks like they're targeting girls like me for their program. I'm an abuse survivor of every category of abuse there is (mental, sexual, physical, spiritual/religious). My pregnancy with my son was most assuredly unplanned (although his eventual birth was delightfully anticipated by the end). I've suffered from eating disorder symptoms (everything from thinking "I'm fat" to extremely unhealthy behaviors: starving, over-exercising, abusing diet pills, abusing laxatives, throwing up - you name it. If it's gross and unhealthy, but effective at weight loss, I tried it.) I used to self-harm, but thankfully haven't done it in years and years now, and as a teenager I abused a lot of drugs.

Most people recover from these conditions, or regain control of their lives, within the context of their support community - friends, family, internet groups - rather than without any of these supportive elements, in a 6-month inpatient rehabilitation center. Therapy, support, time, emotional tools, and education on better coping skills (better stress management, healthy emotional releases, etc.) help people get better. It takes time and work, and there are slip ups. Secular programs don't promise to "permanently stop destructive cycles."

So, what is the program like? Can we get details on the treatment protocols and maybe information like - how many doctors/therapists are on staff? what are the counseling credentials? how many graduates return to destructive behaviors, or don't feel "cured" after 6 months in the program? what community resources are offered to these girls and women? does physical or sexual abuse occur on the premises, and what steps have been taken to prevent such a thing? These are important questions that you would imagine a girl or her parents might want to.

Well, a lot of this information isn't available directly on the website - it's on the application form. Okay, well how do I get one of those? First I had to give my name, email, address, and phone number. (I used 1122 Boogie Boogie Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94101 as my fake mailing address, and I use the phone number I had as a little kid, with a San Fran area code. What - doesn't everyone have made up data for online forms?)

MM requires people to provide personal information before they can get a link to the application form. (That's just weird, right?) Unlike a lot of youth residential facilities, Mercy Ministries is not used as an alternative to jail sentence for juvenile offenders, and they claim "No applicant can be sent to MM against her will or will enter the program without showing a sincere desire to change." I wonder how this applies to the girls who were there for unplanned pregnancy. I guarantee you, a desire for change (sincere or otherwise) is not really necessary. That baby's gonna come out eventually.

Or how about someone with depression? It's hard to desire anything when suffering from clinical depression. And while I believe the vast majority of people with eating disorders would like recovery, there is a lot of fear that recovery will just mean weight gain (and not the associated better coping skills and body acceptance that make weight gain an acceptable fate.) My initial gut suspicion, based on the repeated language about girls being properly willing to change (ex. "Applicants to MM should have a desire for help in a Christian atmosphere and should be willing to apply the principles of a biblical counseling program."), is that this group is preparing to blame their failure rate on the attitudes of their residents/patients, rather than on their "non-conventional approach."

The application must be filled out by the girl applying - "in your own handwriting" is underlined, which does make me wonder if they are discriminating against those with physical handicaps. I was an assistant in an office for a while, and one of the men I worked with had Parkinson's disease. Writing anything by hand was an extreme struggle for him, and the result was often illegible to anyone else. (I had no idea how to deal with this at the time, as the person required to type up his chicken scratch. I didn't want to be rude or inconsiderate of his disability, so I just guessed what he'd written, and typed that.)

So first you have to turn on the application, including a recent head-to-toe photograph, insurance information, and medical records. Then, "You will be required to listen to two teaching assignments on our website. You will receive this web link when you call in for further instructions. You must submit a summary of each teaching and what these messages mean to you before your phone interview can be scheduled. Please be sure to follow all the instructions on the letter provided with the link." Finally, you'll have an hour-long intake phone interview, during which they require you to "be alone and free to speak". So, more instructions are coming, but you have to jump through multiple hoops to get it.

I am a firm believer in freedom of information. Obviously. I mean, I'm writing an embarrassingly honest tell-all book about my family (to the great consternation of several of them). I think information should be free, with obvious exceptions. You shouldn't have to go through several steps of revealing personal data (including medical records, which are extremely personal and should always remain personal under HIPPA law) just to find out what the program actually consists of. The real purpose of such a hoop-jump arrangement is to withhold information until someone has "earned" it. (Think Scientology and the secret OT III teachings - which are now public record, thanks to court cases.)

Someone who invests a lot of effort into getting "accepted" into the program, is more likely to ignore their own instincts once they arrive, and to do their best to follow group norms. Which, you know, cult leaders love. Many youth residential facilities operate and behave as cults; from what I've seen in the past day of snooping around, Mercy Ministries is one of them.

I found this great list of mind control tactics at Individually, each of these elements may be harmful; combined they are mind control.

  • Deception
  • Exclusivism
  • Fear and Intimidation
  • Love Bombing
  • Information Control
  • Reporting Structure
  • Loaded Language
  • Time Control
  • Relationship Control
  • Personal Identity Replacement
Okay, so let's take this list and apply it to Mercy Ministries.
  1. Deception - Mercy Ministries claims to be a free-of-charge program, but further digging within the application revealed, "I, ____ (print name), have read the above medical information and am aware of the required deposits... I also understand that the total of all medical expenses.. are my responsibility to pay in full."

    Okay, so it's free but it's still my responsibility to pay in full. (Kind of like Jesus' "free" gift, huh?) Mercy Ministries Survivors in Australia report that their Centrelink (Social Security) checks were submitted directly to MM, with only 5% going to the recipient. Charity Navigator reports Mercy Ministries in Nashville, TN has over $7.7 million in net assets, and took in $6.8 million in 2007 alone.

  2. Exclusivism - Since MM's home page stated that they're able to "permanently stop destructive cycles" of girls who have had no success in other (real) programs, I think we can assume there's a bit of exclusivity. This article Sean scanned in from the Perth Voice ought to make this a bit clearer. Also, in the interviews below you'll hear MM graduates describe being told, "No one else can help you. Only we can help you."

  3. Fear and Intimidation - Since they use exorcisms to treat eating disorders, drug addiction, (pregnancy?), and mental illness, I'm just going to leap to the conclusion that people living there feel fear and intimidation. I'm basing this on the fact that exorcisms are scary as shit, and because it's how I felt when I was sent to a religious cult for drug problems as a teenager.

  4. Love Bombing - Here's an article from a former Hillsong parishioner on the "love bombing" practice. Hillsong and Mercy Ministries are "partners" which Sean explains in this post here. Love bombing is simply making a new initiate or potential member feel overwhelmed with love and positive attention. Once they've come to rely or depend on this support and "love" it is yanked away, and withheld selectively as a means of gaining control over the "love bombed" person.

  5. Information Control - I think the application process has shown us that information about MM is very much controlled. Former residents verify that they were only able to see psychiatrists and doctors while in the company of MM staff (who were Bible students, not real therapists or doctors or anything like that).
I'll cover the remaining cult characteristics of Mercy Ministries tomorrow or later in the week.

For incredibly extensive coverage information, I recommend you do some follow up reading on Sean the Bloganaut's post here on Atheist Nexus. It's linkalicious.

You can also go to Mercy Survivors, which doesn't appear to have been updated recently, but has good information and links to the blogs of individual survivors. has a set of MM survivor story videos, and the history of the MM's false DMCA "take down" order.

Sign this petition to stop child abuse in residential facilities in the US. (Sign it even if you don't live in the US. More names is good, and I don't believe there are any legal requirements that a person must be a US citizen in order to sign a letter being sent to US congress members. The petition does not make any claims that signees are US citizens, or registered voters.) Thanks.

* This quote is from this video beat poem by Tim Minchin, which is awesome and totally worth listening to.

**Yes, I intentionally linked to the application as many times as possible. I don't like the idea that people have to give personal information (even if it's fake like mine) just to find out that this "free" program requires girls to cover "total expenses".

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