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The Midwestern Gent has a new home

The Midwestern Gent has decided to identify his subject matter more explicitly (and hopefully make it easier for new readers to find) by moving the blog.  Please join me at Everyday Atheist,

Heartfelt thanks to everyone who has read here.  Hope you enjoy the new site.


Crackergate Redux

PZ Myers of Pharyngula fame followed through on his threat to desecrate a consecrated communion wafer, piercing the alleged body of Christ with a rusty nail, which also ran through pages from the Koran and Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, to demonstrate that nothing is sacred.  Myers then tossed the lot into his garbage can, along with some coffee grounds and a banana peel for good measure.  Pre-desecration, I questioned the wisdom of this move, arguing that intentionally attacking one of the key symbols of a religion might be great fun, but did little to advance the atheist cause.

Upon further reflection (spurred both by comments to my last post and Myers’ writings on the matter), I stand corrected.  Myers’ action was an important act of civil disobedience.  Catholics, in particular the Catholic student ministry at which the “kidnapping” of the Eucharist occurred, would have been within their rights to ask that Webster Cook (the Univ. of Central Florida student involved in the brouhaha) not return to their services because he violated their dogma on transubstantiation.  But they didn’t stop there.  Cook received death threats, an action was commenced to impeach him from the student senate, and a student ethics complaint was filed against him seeking disciplinary action by the university.

In other words, certain Catholics didn’t try to persuade Cook to respect their beliefs, they tried to force him to.  When he didn’t, they sought revenge.  In this context, Myers was entirely right to fight back.  The religious do not get to set the terms on which non-believers exercise our rights of conscience.  Unless an atheist commits a crime in exercising his or her views, no one has the right to demand that civil authorities punish displays of irreverence or even blasphemy.  When that kind of demand is made, striking back at sacred symbols (again, within legal bounds), stating unequivocally that “your sacred objects are not mine,” is an appropriate way to reassert the equality of our freedom.

A retraction

I recently attended my sister’s high school graduation back home in the Midwest.  It was the standard pomp-and-circumstance event (although I must say, very efficiently managed) that played out all across the country this spring.  Also a common event, the valedictorian, in addressing his fellow graduates, made sure to thank Jesus, and note the ancient carpenter’s supposed role in helping the young man achieve his impressive academic accomplishments.

Many, many moons ago, I too was valedictorian of my class.  Then a devout fundamentalist Christian, I too gave props to JC in effusive terms: He’s everything to me, I could never have done this without him, my life could have gone a bad direction, blah, blah, blah.  Memory fails me a bit, but I believe I had convinced myself that, without the influence of religion, I would have made bad decisions and engaged in self-destructive behavior (despite being, in reality, a congenital goodie-two-shoes).  There were risk factors present — an absent father, growing up poor, home alone a lot due to a mom working super-hard to make a decent life for her kids.  But to hear my speech, my two options were valedictorian or junkie drop-out, with the Messiah being the deciding factor.

Thinking back on that speech, I think it appropriate now to say, in the inimitable words of Kathy Griffith, “Suck it, Jesus.”

I accomplished what I did in high school for two simple reasons: I had a loving mother who supported and encouraged me, and I worked my arse off in school.  (OK, three: a certain level of academic talent was genetically bestowed upon me by the ‘rents.)  That young man at my sister’s graduation likely succeeded due to similar factors.  I’m quite sure that he never simply prayed for a good test result rather than studying, and to judge from the eloquence with which he spoke, I’m guessing he wasn’t one Hail Mary away from a life of debauchery, either.

Herein lies one of the fundamental ways in which religion stunts the full development of many people.  Where human nature is believed inherently wicked, and all good things are bestowed at the whim of a cosmic daddy figure, a person always owns their failures, but never their triumphs.  If you screw up and “sin” (which often involves no real moral failing anyway), it’s your fault for giving into temptation, not having enough faith, living as a “fallen” being, etc.  If you succeed, all praise goes to your god.  You’re a worm who can do nothing good except through the strenghtening power of the deity.  In that context, moral and psychological pathologies are not only likely, but necessary to a proper relationship with your faith.

I’m only just now beginning to explore humanism, but I’m keenly interested in developing the means of discussing moral systems based on human needs and respect.  This positive aspect of an atheistic viewpoint deserves greater discussion in the public sphere, and holds the potential to diffuse some of the bombs lobbed against nonbelievers by the faithful.

Beautiful Universe

APOD 11 2 07

Via Astronomy Picture of the Day

1,000 hits!

Sometime last Thursday morning, The Midwestern Gentleman passed 1,000 hits since moving to WordPress.  The pace has quickened in the meantime, with another 130 hits in the intervening days.  I know that’s nothing by Net standards, but it means a lot to me.  Thanks to everyone who is reading and discussing these days.  I’ll try to keep the content interesting and semi-regular to make it worth your while to stop!

1983 called. It wants its boogeyman back.

Big Daddy Dobson is taking the WaPo to task for stating that he has praised the Harry Potter books.  Today Focus on the (Heterosexual, Christian) Family put out a statement clarifying:

This is the exact opposite of Dr. Dobson’s opinion — in fact, he said a few years ago on his daily radio broadcast that “We have spoken out strongly against all of the Harry Potter products.” His rationale for that statement: Magical characters — witches, wizards, ghosts, goblins, werewolves, poltergeists and so on — fill the Harry Potter stories, and given the trend toward witchcraft and New Age ideology in the larger culture, it’s difficult to ignore the effects such stories (albeit imaginary) might have on young, impressionable minds.

Thank goodness Daddy’s here to check the “trend toward witchcraft” in America. I mean, don’t you remember back in the late 70s and early 80s when rock bands were encouraging the idea that they might dabble in the Occult? Kids started worshipping Satan and sacrificing their virgin friends by the truckload, didn’t they? I mean, there was a huge ruckus, surely there were at least dead goats turning up everywhere. No? But Tipper Gore got involved for pete’s sake!

Wow, opposing Harry Potter because it encourages witchcraft. I’m just speechless.

Best side effects ever?

So I’m watching TV last night when a pharmaceutical commercial comes on.  Two-thirds through the spot, I hear:

Tell your doctor if you experience these problems, if you drink alcohol, are taking medications that make you drowsy, or if you experience increased gambling, sexual or other intense urges.

After giving my head a thorough, “Did I just hear that?” shake, I jumped over to Mirapex is a drug for Restless Leg Syndrome. And sure enough, in the section on possible side effects, the manufacturer states:

There have been reports of patients taking certain medications to treat Parkinson’s disease or RLS, including MIRAPEX, that have reported problems with gambling, compulsive eating, and increased sex drive. It is not possible to reliably estimate how often these behaviors occur to determine which factors may contribute to them. If you or your family members notice that you are developing unusual behaviors, talk to your doctor.

I’d like to help them out with their ad campaign.

“Mirapex – 10 bucks says you sleep better tonight.”

“Mirapex – mmmm, restful legs.”

“Mirapex – we can only keep two legs still at a time.”

DISCLAIMER: The Midwestern Gentlemen knows that Restless Leg Syndrome, compulsive gambling and eating, and overactive sexual urges are real problems affecting real people, and in no way wishes to diminish the suffering of those so afflicted.  But come on, those are hysterical side effects.