Saturday, August 31, 2013

Let's Talk About the Voices!

PZ's latest cartoon has some people shaking their heads.

Yes, it's ableist and, yes, it contributes to the negative stereotype of those of us who hear voices. But instead of fussing about it, I'd like to see it stimulate a conversation between us. 

How many of us hear voices telling us to kill ourselves?

How many of us hear voices telling us to kill others?

Of those who have command hallucinations of murder, how many actually commit the deed?

How many of us use our illness as an "excuse" to get out of work or school?

I did a quick Google search and found a few references to a 2000 study which suggested that about 30% of patients heard voices telling them to commit violence and about 22% tried to act on those commands. 

A 2008 study suggested that antipsychotic drugs helped prevent such violence and that the risk of compliance increased with age.

This guide lists questions to ask of people who report persecutory or command hallucinations. 

This is just a quick look, of course, and no one source should be taken as an ultimate authority without more research; however, we can see that not every person who hears voices - even voices telling them to kill - is dangerous. In fact, the studies suggest that most people are not.

Now I can only speak with authority on my own case. I have had visual hallucinations sporadically and auditory hallucinations constantly since I was very young. I did have some command hallucinations but they didn't instruct me to kill. Some of my hallucinations were persecutory and I did self-harm and attempt suicide a couple times as a result of them. But for the most part, the voices offered either neutral or helpful information. I don't want to make it sound like the voices were a good or wanted thing - they weren't - but they often talked about things in the background while I worked and then burst out with advice. Overall, I'd say that my voices helped me excel as far as competency and output but, when it came to emotional stability, people skills, and ability to go to work, they hurt me a lot.

Then Seroquel came into my life and 99% of the voices went away. It's kind of like waking up to find out that everyone else is gone. The quiet in my mind was almost unbearable and I spent the first year adjusting by listening to music or movies or background noise as much as possible. 

I hated my voices and I loved them. I feel like part of me is gone now that they've mostly been stripped away. My inner life is much poorer for seeing them go but at least my waking reality is mine now. And since I don't have to focus on them, I can focus on real people who really matter.

So am I offended by the cartoon? Not really. I don't get offended by much these days unless it's really bad. Is the cartoon funny? I guess that's in the eye of the beholder. Is it helpful? No, not at all. People already think we "psychos" and "schizos" are dangerous and no one seems to care much that the biggest repository of our psychos and schizos are jails.

Should PZ take it down? That's up to him, of course, but I think it would be great if we used the cartoon as a launching pad to really talk about these illnesses and to see those of us who have them as real people rather than just shut the conversation down. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Republicans Have Already Won 2016 Because...Tits

In yet the latest piece of ageist, sexist garbage, Bryan Fischer explains why Hillary Clinton cannot win the presidency in 2016.

May I take this opportunity to say, "Fuck you, Fischer!" I don't have to be a Hillary fan to see that her age and her body type have nothing to do with her ability to lead the nation. If we were going to vote based on such criteria, people like Reagan, McCain, Christie, and a plethora of others would not have been in the running. People are way more than their age or looks. Women are way more than the quality of their boobs (whatever "quality" may be). Just because you won't look beyond appearances doesn't mean the rest of us won't. 

It's easy to be angry at anonymous internet trolls who make fun of women and objectify people but here is a guy who makes his living doing it publicly. Who is the bigger jerk?

Hagee Fails on Church/State Separation

The concept of the "separation of church and state" ensures that our government will remain neutral regarding religion. It's the backbone of a secular state; therefore, religious zealots often distort it. John Hagee's son, Matthew, explains...

...and gets it totally wrong.

1. He says it is supposed to protect the church from the state only. This is ridiculously false. A quick read of Jefferson and Madison's writings suffice to debunk this notion.

2. He says it is used nowadays to silence believers at the ballot box. This is obviously false. People will always vote their values whether those values are religious or secular. We don't vote as robots. We vote as thinking, feeling people.

3. He takes the opportunity to equate abortion with murder despite the fact that there are serious legal and moral differences between the two.

4. He ends with a fallacious semi-threat. We have no evidence of any gods, an afterlife, or a final judgment. And even if the latter two are true, how do we know which god(s) we will answer to? Does supporting a secular state bring about eternal punishment? There's no good reason to worry about any of this.

I can't help but laugh any time someone talks about how the American government oppresses the religious - particularly Christians. These guys couldn't be much more in bed with each other if they tried.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Little Help?

I need a little help but the current climate is such that one cannot even ask for help in some circles without being branded as "unhelpful." I find that attitude unhelpful so I want to talk this through with you.

You are an educated atheist and you find yourself fielding questions from creationists all the time. It's frustrating and time-consuming. First, you don't know how many of these people are ignorant and how many are just trolling. Second, you aren't an evolutionary biologist so why are they asking you? Third, why don't they look it up themselves instead of being lazy? You tell them to get on Google and just look up the answers instead of wasting your time. I get it - I really do. You don't owe these people one minute of your time. Any information you give them is a kindness on your part - especially since there is a good chance that most of them aren't really interested in learning about evolution or atheism.

But what about the ones who are? You've sent them to Google but they probably don't have enough information to do a good search. If they are particularly uneducated on the subject (as so many Americans are), then they don't know a good source from a bad source. They may google the subject and come up with all kinds of nonsense that is palatable to them but completely untrue. Furthermore, if they do find a reputable source of information, how are they going to digest it? A lot of evolutionary science is very technical and intimidating. Not every article is written with the layperson in mind. It's possible that our honest inquirer may find a good source and then despair at ever understanding it.

How can we fix this? First, we need professional people who are willing to field the same questions repeatedly. Usually, these are writers, speakers, and other activists who are dedicated to a subject (or set of subjects). Second, we need educated laypeople who are willing to do the same kind of outreach but with a more personal touch. Third, we need a list of good sites and sources that are easy for new inquirers to find and understand.

Now let's back this up and apply it to the subjects of sexism and racism. As a woman, I've lived with sexism my whole life but I didn't know squat about feminist theory until recently. I'm still pretty ignorant about the subject. And as a white person (albeit one who grew up with a best friend of color), I'm still terribly ignorant about racism and its effects. In fact, I'm so awash in white privilege that I often don't even know what to ask, much less how to ask it. How can I overcome this?

I need professional people who are willing to speak out. I need laypeople who are willing to help me learn. And I need a place to go to find reputable sources about these subjects so I can do my own heavy-lifting.

Should I expect every professional or layperson to answer my every question? No. They don't owe me any help.

Do they want me to be a good ally for their cause? If so, then I have to know where to go to find the good information and I need people I can talk with about this so I don't go making a fool of myself and hurting others. If I'm going to be your partner in this fight and help educate others, then someone will have to invest in me!

So what I'm saying is this: there are honest actors out here and we need a little help. Telling us to just "google it" isn't always going to cut it. There's too much misinformation and pseudoscience out there to just expect that we're going to find the good stuff on the first try. And we need people who are willing to deal with those of "good faith" I'm not saying everyone should have to do it. I'm not saying we have a right to demand anything of you. I'm simply saying that some of us want to do better and we really hope you will see something in us that is worth investing in.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Wisdom Starts with Fear of the Lord?

"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding" - Proverbs 9:10 (KJV)

From this one verse, Bryan Fischer explains to us why we are foolish and can never be otherwise.

Unfortunately for him, there are some problems with this:
  1. How does he define "wise" and "discerning"?
  2. What about Democrats and liberals who are committed Christians? They exist.
  3. What about Jews and Muslims who revere the same god but have very different viewpoints and philosophies?
Don't expect to Fischer to answer these points though. He doesn't respond to logic.

Dear Atheist...

I don't mind seeing "Dear Atheist" letters - really, I don't! Even though I may have seen such a letter a thousand times before, I don't mind answering them. Someone has to if we want to change people's minds! But there are times when so much fail is packed into such a small space that I feel like I'm spinning my wheels. Nevertheless, let's ask some relevant questions:

1. What evidence do you have that a god (esp. your god) created earth? "Because the Bible says so" does not count. That's hearsay - and very old and unreliable hearsay at that.

2. What is heaven? Where is it located? How do you know this? Again, do not say, "Because the Bible says so." 

3. How do you know Jesus existed? That he is Yahweh's son? That believing on him confers peace? Once again, do not say, "Because the Bible says so." 

4. How do you know that there is an afterlife? How do you know that merely believing in Jesus will get me to that afterlife? For the fourth time, do not say, "Because the Bible says so."

5. Why do we all need to believe in something eternal or supernatural? 

6. How do you know that Jesus is the "Truth" and what is "Truth" with a capital T?

If you can ever accept that the Bible alone is not a sufficient reason for believing these stories, then you'll be a step closer to understanding why we don't believe any of this at all. 

If I were going to write a formal reply, it might look like this:
Dear believer,

What evidence (other than a book of hearsay) can you bring to this court to meet your burden of proof?

The best answer I'd get is probably "personal experience" or a "personal relationship" with Jesus. That's all well and good but it won't stand up in court. Think about it.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

You Don't Know What's Good for You

One of my friends posted this article on Facebook today and I immediately took note. I've walked in similar shoes.

There is a pervasive theme in America that most people on disability or who come into a clinic presenting with pain are faking for drugs. While there certainly are people who do this, most of us do not. Yet to walk into a new clinic or hospital is to be almost guaranteed that your concerns will be reduced or dismissed if you have a mental illness.

This is a sampling of what I've either witnessed or experienced:
1. You are lying because you want me to give you drugs. I don't know if you are taking them or selling them but I know you are faking.

2. You don't know how you feel. You're mentally ill so I can't trust you to accurately describe what's going on with your body and mind.

3. You aren't smart enough (or educated enough) to understand what's going on. You need to just shut up and let me do my job.

4. You don't deserve any pain medication. I don't like you and I don't appreciate how you are acting in my hospital. I don't care that you are hurting and terrified and I'm enjoying wielding this power over you.

5. You are so much smarter than the staff members here and coming to therapy here would be a waste of time. Take this book home and read it. You can help yourself better than anyone else.
While it's true that I am mentally ill and I sometimes have difficulty distinguishing between reality and fantasy, I can assure you, Dr. Asshole, that I am an expert in how I feel. A fucking genius! And while I may be wrong about things on occasion, I'm no liar. I don't need to fake for drugs or anything else because the totality of my mental and physical ailments is one big pile of PAIN. 

And while I realize that drugs aren't always the right answer, there are times when they are. If I haven't slept for two days because of severe stomach cramping (from my IBS), then you can bet that when you don't help me out, I'm going to relapse into either depression or mania. That's what sleep deprivation and stress do to me. In case you didn't know, those conditions are far worse than me getting a couple of Lortabs I didn't need. You aren't helping - you are making it worse.

Of course, I know I have responsibilities here. One is not to lie about anything - not condition, not pain, not income, not insurance - because if you ever think I've lied about something, you will never believe another word I say. The other is to present myself as neatly and intelligently as possible. Because if, gods forbid, I show up looking and acting sick, you'll decide I'm a druggie bum who is faking. Now I know that when I look and sound normal, you'll say I "look fine" to you and don't need anything but that's the dance we do, isn't it?

What's been your experience with medical staff?  Do they make assumptions about you unfairly? Do they deny you care or medication inappropriately? How do you deal with the stigma?

Mental Health Watch: Demon-by-Color

We're familiar with the mistaken and dangerous notion that demons cause mental illness but have you ever heard of identifying these demons by color?

Benny Hinn interviews a guy who has developed a "scientific" method by which he can tell you everything about yourself. He (randomly?) assigned values to parts of the brain and then has you fill them in with colored pencils. If you use too much black, brown, or gray, then you have demons in that part of your brain.

Beware this pseudoscientific nonsense. Mental illness is not caused by demons. Your color preference does not give away your history or your health.

Benny Hinn says, "Trust me." 

I say, "Beware."

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Do We Owe Someone an Apology?

If you're looking for a post that's going to take sides in the sexual harassment/rape scandals in the atheist community, you've come to the wrong place. I am in no position to tell you that any person is guilty or innocent of anything because I've had nothing to do with these situations and I've not experienced anything personally. I'm not a lawyer, an accuser, or a victim. I'm looking at this from a sort of outsider perspective and I just want to share some thoughts. So again, if you're looking for someone to take your side in the drama (whatever that side is), you won't find it here.

First, I want to say that if you've been accusing everyone who doesn't fully agree with you of "not being a real skeptic" or "not thinking critically" then please stop. This is a gross insult to many in the skeptic community. Most of us can and do think for ourselves. The fact that we refuse to jump on every popular bandwagon (including yours) should tell you that we aren't just "sheeple." You are not the sole arbiter of truth and we aren't convinced that your opinion is right just because you believe it is. We don't want authority figures to tell us what to believe - we are thinkers who are going to figure this out ourselves. It may take us more time to come to a conclusion than you did (some of us have to spend extra time reading, observing, researching, and sorting this stuff out), but that doesn't make us stupid. It means we are careful.

Second, I've been thinking about how we deal with these outcries. When people accuse Catholic priests and other pastors of rape or sexual assault, we don't typically demand a lot of evidence. We don't wait for these cases to go to court or for a jury to convict. We usually shrug, say "Who's surprised?" and show sympathy for the (alleged) victims. We demand that the churches stop moving around the perps and covering up the scandals. We seem to be pretty comfortable with the idea that a priest accused is a guilty priest indeed.

When you turn the tables and put the same scenarios in the atheist community, we act differently. Many desire "evidence" of the accusations, demand a trial before we can decide, and come up with all manner of reasons why the harassment/assault/rape probably didn't happen since the accuser didn't report it, or is anonymous, or whatever. We seem to be pretty comfortable with the idea that our own leaders are innocent unless there's enough evidence for a jury to convict.

It seems to me that we have a severe disconnect in how we handle these cases. Do we owe all those priests and pastors an apology for deciding they are pedophiles without a trial or "proper" evidence (not even a victim's name)? Or do we owe the apologies to those in the atheist community who have reported harassment and rape and were met with scorn and ridicule?

I'm sure there is a middle ground that I haven't covered. That's what I'd like to explore here in a calm, civil manner. Are we falling victim to our own prejudices or is there some substantial difference in these cases that I'm failing to see? 

*I'm not much for monitoring comments but, if someone tries to derail the thread or attack other people, then you can expect those comments to be dealt with. Stay on topic and please be civil while you are a guest in my blog house.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Why I'm An Out Feminist Male in Australia

 I haven't always been an advocate for gender equality. During my days as a fundamentalist Christian, I had a definitive notion about what I deemed to be appropriate gender roles. I dismissed many acts as sinful and had some chauvinistic ideals in regards to a number of other items. Even in the incipient stages of my atheism I possessed an apathy about a plethora of social and humanistic concerns.

 Only in the last year and a half have I acquired a a strong humanistic and secular mindset. Exposure to podcasts and news stories elucidated to me controversial issues concerning feminist's and women's issues and remoulded my attitude from one of  nonchalance to a strong concern for equality for all.

While issues such as abortion and access to contraception aren't such an exigency in Australia, gender inequality still manifests itself in most salient ways in this country (such as the disparity of wages between the sexes). According to ABS statistics, women on average still earn only 83 cents to the dollar earned by their male counterparts. Examples such as these illuminate the fact the gender gap needs to be closed here. While many female advocates voice their opinion in this subject, the dissenting voices of males remain conspicuous by their absence. We need to focus on controversies like this to have a truly egalitarian state in Australia where all people enjoy parity. We must strive harder to eliminate the vestiges of an archaic patriarchal mindset.

While abortion and access to contraception may not be of a poignant nature in Australia, we shouldn't insulate ourselves, remain oblivious, not show concern and express our disdain of problems facing females in other countries. These issues have been prevalent in places such as the United States and Ireland (the unnecessary and tragic death of Savita in Ireland a few months ago due to not being given an abortion when it was quite evident carry to birth to term would cause complications to mother and fetus). Despite medical intervention being needed  to prevent the death from occurring, negligence was displayed due to not being legal to perform the necessary operation, which resulted in the death of the mother.

Also there are numerous examples of politicians defunding organizations such as Planned Parenthood and ratifying laws making it virtually impossible in some areas to enjoy access to birth control, contraception and abortion. The lunacy of some politicians is befuddling - they defund Planned Parenthood, restrict access to birth control, then complain there are too many abortions and unwanted pregnancies. The stupidity of some politicians is incredulous. I'm sure if they farted their brains would fall out. These oppressive laws stem mostly form religious ideology,  an ethos that remains the most stultifying and stymieing obscenity to a true state of secularism and equality.

Attitudes to rape remain eerily problematic too. Victim blaming resonates all too much in this day and age as well:. Implications such as its somehow the physically weaker victims fault that when a strong perpetrator violates her. In many circumstances the victim is too afraid to come forward for fear of being stigmatized, is reluctant to go though a grueling legal process or thinks too many people will conspire to conceal the matter. Insinuations that the victim was being "too provocative" or "asking for it." Never addressing the real cause - the neanderthal who couldn't keep his libido in check.

Honor killings and immoral sentencing in many parts of the world are associated with the aforementioned attitude. If a woman is violated, it is her fault and gets either sentenced by the law or executed by her insane family for bringing shame upon them in a shambolic attempt to restore honor to the barbaric murderer's family name. Similar abhorrent attitudes have been echoed by certain Republic politicians and evangelical Christians. Egregious remarks such women possess a biological mechanism to prevent pregnancy caused by rape or if impregnated its somehow a gift from God

Since when are old men with two inch penises and misogynistic attributes qualified to adjudicate or comment on the bodily rights of women. Then again, its no surprise that attitudes like this exist because they are derived from scripture - a book in which no instance occurs where a woman's consent is ever required or requested. Just look at Deuteronomy 22:28 -29 where, if a woman is violated, the rapist just has to pay the victims father 50 shekels and must marry her. No consideration is given to to obvious psychological trauma this would cause the female in question. Attitudes and occurrences like these need addressing. Retaining antiquated attitudes like this need to be eradicated for the betterment of human kind and for progress to a better world. There are many more topics I could address but space prevents that.

For now I will continue to crusade against misogyny and sexism.

Friday, August 9, 2013

2013 Beat the Heat Wrap-Up

It's the end of our 2013 fundraiser at least and I can only say one thing:

Holy Hypatia, guys! You really came through for us.

We began this year's fundraiser hoping to exceed last year's but we knew times were still tough for so many of you. Nevertheless, we pressed ahead with the idea of getting a portable A/C and heating unit for an out-of-state family who desperately needed the extra cooling power for their young son. I'm proud to say we raised those funds without a hitch.

Figuring out how to raise regular funds for Mississippians after this seemed like a monumental task. So we turned to our good friends Hemant Mehta and JT Eberhard for help. That's when the floodgates opened and a multitude of wonderful people came to our aid. We raised enough extra money to buy seventeen - yes, 17! - air conditioners for elderly and poor Mississippians.

Here's the letter from Community Action acknowledging we turned them over as well as some snaps.

 We had a little change left over so we did as we had done last year and bought school supplies for some needy children. In fact, we were able to sponsor one child's entire list. 

This was an incredible victory for NEMSHA, for the atheist community, and (most importantly) for Northeast Mississippians. None of it would have happened without your support, my friends. We are bringing substantial relief to other human beings regardless of our borders and differences. We are living out the very best of our values. We don't bring hope to these people - we bring help - and we do not apologize for it. When you have help, you do not need to hope. Imagine what we can do next year if we spread the word online and get more donors. It doesn't matter if you send $5 or $500 - you will be helping someone. 

But that's not all! The story has been picked up by the local paper and will run next week. NEMSHA is going full public with the story that nonbelievers are doing good. What will the churches make of this? Will they welcome our help or will they see us as competition? We cannot know but we have already pledged that any hostility or reproach will fuel us to work harder to do what's right.

This wonderful story will even feature a picture of Jon Rhodes, Vice-President of NEMSHA, so people can start seeing folks they know come out of the secular closet.

So we say again, THANK YOU to all our donors and supporters. Thank you to those who spread the word. Thank you for trusting us with your money and your information. We should have said it before but it's worth saying now: we value your trust and we will never knowingly share your name or address with anyone. Neither will we spam you or harass you. You have given willingly of yourself to those who need it most. We will always honor that trust.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Reason in the Rock 2013

After enjoying the event at Skepticon 4 a group of people from Arkansas decided they wanted to put on a conference as well. Something the South desperately needed and a chance to get liked-minded individuals together to share ideas and stories.

Well I'll just let Anne tell it:

"Secularist issues. Promotion of science education. Humanism. Skepticism. Critical thinking skills. Protection of the separation between church and state. Reason. Tolerance.
Within a few weeks, we had a name for our pipe dream and a few speakers had agreed to attend. Seth AndrewsLauren LaneJerry DeWittAronRaTeresa MacBain. And some guy – from right here in Arkansas! – who has a great blog" - Anne Orsi on WWJTD

Read the rest of her post on JT's Blog here: