American Religiosity and Wellbeing.

I was perusing the Gallup website the other day and wandered across a very interesting four part post about a survey they conducted which correlated levels of religiosity with levels of wellbeing. (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4) In summary, people across all faiths have consistently higher scores for wellbeing in all areas tested when they are “very religious” and consistently lower scores when they are “nonreligious”.

It’s a little bit more complicated than just that though, because one of the faith categories was “No Religion/Atheist/Agnostic”. I think that just by being included as a category we atheists have unknowingly thrown a wrench in the works for anyone who would say this is proof that religion raises wellbeing.

Overall wellbeing was determined under six categories:

  • Life Evaluation
  • Emotional Health
  • Physical Health
  • Healthy Behavior
  • Work Environment
  • Basic Access
The three categories of religiosity were defined as such:
  • Very religious — Religion is an important part of daily life and church/synagogue/mosque attendance occurs at least every week or almost every week. This group constitutes 43.7% of the adult population.
  • Moderately religious — All others who do not fall into the very religious or nonreligious groups but who gave valid responses on both religion questions. This group constitutes 26.6% of the adult population.
  • Nonreligious — Religion is not an important part of daily life and church/synagogue/mosque attendance occurs seldom or never. This group constitutes 29.7% of the adult population.
(More on their methodology here)
First of all, to the 30% of people who identify themselves under faith but already have nothing to do with it, let me just invite you on over to the dark side.  Critical thinking and reason and evidence are a great way to determine your world view and personal morality. And we have a lot less rules and a lot more fun. Give us a chance, we’ll show you a good time. It’s like the old saying goes: ain’t no party like a party without omnipresent thought police threatening you with eternal torture. But I digress.

As might be expected the atheists fall at the bottom of the religiosity list. What first confused me was why we appear on it at all. Clearly someone who identifies themselves as atheist would by definition be 100% nonreligious, right? Well I was forgetting, as I tend to do, that not everyone is exactly like me. In fact there are about 6.5 billion people out there and all of them are different from me.

There is certainly a subgroup of atheists, quite a few actually, who acknowledge their own lack of belief but continue to go to church for various reasons. Most notably would be that they are not out of the closet to their family, but I’m sure there are other reasons one might still attend religious services. They may just enjoy the people, or agnostics may try to glean the good bits they can from services, or maybe like me they just have a masochistic obsession with religion. But for whatever reason, there are very religious atheists who got polled, and they scored higher on overall wellbeing than nonreligious atheists. (ugh, my head hurts when I say that)

Now we’re seeming a little more legit as an option, but even though we come in third for overall wellbeing on this list, the nonbelievers who attend church services regularly clearly have a significant increase in wellbeing. That’s not the kind of wellbeing margin a rational mind would choose to ignore out of convenience. Of course I would love for nontheists to top every list, I’m sporting a chubby just thinking about it. But we aren’t, so now it’s our responsibility to figure out why and to fix it.

Now as far as I can see, the argument that belief in religion leads to better wellbeing (as far as this study is concerned) can be dismissed because the wellbeing benefit of religious attendance is shared by those who lack similar belief, or outright oppose faith altogether. So if the belief isn’t the key to wellbeing, then it must be a social aspect. There must be some part of human kind that fundamentally needs community and acceptance and a group to belong to. I think that’s the thing atheism is lacking right now. We need a stronger community.

So many of the atheists I have met, including myself, are headstrong individualists. We prefer to stand on the outside, to define morality and fashion and cultural norms on our own without anyone else’s input, thank you very much. But the very thing that makes an atheist strong when atheism doesn’t exist as a movement (the ability to be fulfilled leaving a group and standing alone) could be the worst thing for an atheist movement that is taking it’s first steps. I think we should be pushing for greater group involvement.

I’m not saying make atheist churches, that’s not at all something I would enjoy. Screw the format, it’s not an appealing one. But maybe we should recognize that religion has us beat in one major area, and then steal their success right out from underneath them by doing it better. Because I know you guys. I know what nonbelievers are like, what we’re good at, and we are fucking fun. I’ve never experienced any of the Lord’s faithful who could hold a candle to the kind of no-reservations, let it all hang out kind of atmosphere we heathens embrace all day every day. Look at the gay rights movement and what do you think of? Flamboyant style, outrageous public parades, scandalous club scenes. We could do all of that so damn well. Basically, in order to save the world from god, we’re going to have to party like hell, and we have to invite people to that party. If a social connection is something that religion does well, then we need to start connecting socially more often, and do it better when we do get together.

And now for some good news.

Overall we’re ranked number two baby! That’s for the overall wellbeing index score for each religious grouping. So clearly the Jesus bump (as I have affectionately nicknamed it) doesn’t really bring everything into factor, it merely reflects one aspect of overall wellbeing. I take extra pleasure in pointing out that protestants are losing to both mormons and muslims.

Second is quite good considering atheism as a movement is in it’s infancy, giving our counterparts in many cases a head start of several thousand years. In addition, I think we deserve a little pat on the back for holding our spot near the front of the pack despite the fact that we are persistently one of the most hated groups in America, which would almost certainly negatively affect our scores in emotional health and work environment, and arguably all our scores through less tangible prejudice.

Overall I would say this poll should give atheists a positive outlook on the present and our future, but also a new challenge in improving our own culture through self examination. Arguments, additional points, and tangents are encouraged in the comments. The internet is a forum, not a pulpit.

2016 Race to the White House

Early campaign polling decided today that Donald Trump will be our next president, a full year and a half before we had to go to elections. I guess the only question is if Trump-care will cover the cost of the therapy we will need after 5.5 years of conspiracy theories and smear campaigns, which begins tomorrow with coverage of the 2016 presidential race. (But as is my way, I have begun coverage even more prematurely than other networks because I know America, and if there’s one thing we never get sick of, it’s pointless bickering and hearing me talk and elections) Early polling suggests Al Gore’s spirit medium leading for the libs and a life size printout of the Monopoly Man for the GOP.

Rush Limbaugh dropped a bomb on his listeners when he formally endorsed the medium after discovering he was actually richer and whiter than his cartoon counterpart, but only convinced 18% of his audience to abandon their pre-fabricated political opinions if favor of his new insights because 82% of them fell asleep while waiting for their nurses to bring them more butterscotch hard candies and a fresh oxygen tank. Rachel Maddow on the other hand set a new world record for witty and poignant comments in a five minute news segment which probably would have raised America’s collective consciousness and beckoned us into a glorious new era of utopian values and world peace, but unfortunately only John Stewart’s interns saw any of it because she works at the bottomless pit of boredom more commonly known as MSNBC.

Among the many hot topics for this campaign is the dreary economy. With headlines telling the sad tale of the last home in America being foreclosed on, and unemployment up this month to 732%, many folks on main street are wondering just where to look for help with their financial woes. The Monopoly Man’s plan for rekindling the sweet flame of American excess and wealth lies in a savvy combination of burning poor people to power new military bases and overseeing nigh-omnipotent corporations with what he has titled, “the honor system”. In a strange twist of irony the progressive candidate countered the Monopoly Man with his new plan to print worthless money but make it more colorful so nobody would realize he wants to spend six times the net profits of Earth on additional welfare benefits which would reward the uneducated for having as many children as possible, and set aside significant funding for a massive ad campaign pleading with voters to both forget how math works and ignore the fact that nobody gives a crap about the underlying social problems that cause multiple-generation poverty cycles in the first place.

Meanwhile in San Francisco, the spirit medium had to drop out of the race completely to spend his days tazering joggers and bikers who carelessly stomp around the trails of his local park where he was pretty sure he saw an endangered lizard last week. Sources close to him suspect a nervous breakdown due to his realization that wind energy might be causing global air stagnation due to the exploitation of free range wind by windmills. Many American socialists hope the spirit medium will be replaced in the race by Anderson Cooper’s Twitter account, but it only leads by three points, followed closely by the general inability of the left to congeal into an effective political unit or agree on anything ever. Conservatives have taken all of this as a sign that American Jesus is on their side in this election, and are super excited that he will obviously be backing their holy war against the ignorant and violent Muslim jihadists.

This has been a Broken News Update, for MSFOX, this is Josh wishing you all good luck and good grief with the coming election.

The source of human morality: an email to my father.

Paul Wilson 23 December at 20:38
In your blog about the WBC protest you wrote;
“I personally don’t need a master to tell me what is right and wrong, and I think when people let go of their fear and look inside, they will realize that none of them need servility either. We can make the world better, but we aren’t going to get any help from an outside source, it’s up to us as human beings to fix it ourselves.”  Question: If you have no standard for your morality, then how do you define what is right and what is wrong?
What follows is my answer to my father, unedited. I had planned on looking into this further to form the best possible response to this question, but seeing as my blog is more a tool for me to articulate my thoughts in an orderly fashion, mostly for my own benefit, rather than an ultimate argument for my ideas, I think it is appropriate to address some of these issues as they present themselves. So here, only minutes after I sent the message, is my response at this time on the issue of human morality. All forms of support and criticism are welcomed and encouraged. Your scrutiny makes my view better when I accept it.

It’s interesting that you would ask me this particular question. It’s one that I’ve run into many times, especially lately. Actually I’m preparing to address it shortly as part of my next blog which is going to be a response to a catholic man with some rather extremist views on atheism. It was a question I had when I was first fully realizing my atheism, and I think it is a legitimate question, although it is somewhat insulting to atheists when you examine it.

The answers that I found when I looked into it are what pushed me to choose secular humanism as a moral platform for my life. You could say that in atheism (although certainly not with all atheists, because atheism is much like the left-wing in that it is more of a loose commonality of ideas held by widely different people, skepticism and the scientific method are the most widely accepted ideas comparable to your theology, and secular humanism is the most widely accepted idea comparable to your biblical morality.

In order to answer your question I first have to critique it. You ask how I define what is right and wrong if I have no standard for morality. This is what can be frustrating for atheists. The connection between religion and morality has been enforced, by the religious, for so long that they are culturally synonymous. But I believe that religion has very little positive impact on morality, and that morality is demonstrably a separate entity from religion. And the idea that people who don’t believe in a god are incapable of understanding morality is an understandable but annoying constant slap in the face for us heathens. When religion states that it is not only morally superior, but has a total monopoly on morality, I kind of roll my eyes and try not to be the arrogant atheist dick that constantly spouts off endless examples of immoral behavior being rewarded by or commanded by god in the bible. So it’s an easy question to answer, but it’s a difficult question to answer without coming off like a jerk, because in order to answer it I have to eventually point out why I believe that all religions are fundamentally unhealthy for not just human progress, but human wellbeing.

I think morality stems from two different things. First off it is a function of survival useful for most life and has been widely propagated among the species on earth through evolution. Second, it is one aspect of our higher cognitive function that gives us an advantage over less intelligent forms of life, and at the same time gives us a greater degree of responsibility for how we conduct ourselves given the ability to understand complicated and intangible concepts that affect the quality of life of our own species, as well as that of all other species on earth.

My first point is that morality is a survival tactic we received from evolution. We have the ability to empathize with other memberz of mankind, and their survival becomes a part of our survival. The most basic example of this in nature would be the tendency for almost all life to either sacrifice its own safety or its own food source for its offspring. Animals especially (as opposed to plants, fungus, or microscopic life) tend to be aggressively defensive of their young, putting themselves in much more dangerous situation than they would normally when a threat is imminent for their children. I think this is the root for our connection, and our behavior. At some deep subconscious level we instinctively understand that our survival is linked to every other member of our species. Humans are the most socially linked species on the planet, as far as I know, and so our social survival instinct would rationally be stronger than in other creatures. This survival link can be show even better when you examine other social or hive type creatures. Most species of cats and dogs work together in groups, and the group will work together for food and safety, and give up a portion of their own supplies to help feed other members of the group, say the sick and injured, or the young who can’t hunt for themselves. Hive creatures like ants or bees split the work up, so each member has its own purpose, but they all collectively reap the benefits. And so their own survival depends on the survival of their hive members, causing them to toil for the greater good and to sacrifice to protect the greater good.

And so for the most basic and fundamental aspects of morality, religion is totally unnecessary, since the ideas of not killing, stealing, or inflicting harm on members of one’s own social group, to the point of self-sacrifice for the well-being of others, are demonstrated by creatures far inferior to us. These attributes help us survive off of each other in a sort of symbiotic relationship, and are so simple and obvious to us that they don’t really need to be carved on stone tablets to be understood by all societies.

My second point was that we humans have a unique mental ability. We are by far the smartest creature in existence, at least as far as we know, and I would have to imagine that any other creature as smart as us would be capable of figuring out a way to communicate their intelligence. Anyway, that’s an irrelevant tangent, or at least a totally different debate about the possibility of higher beings. Our higher brain function allows us to grasp intangible concepts in a way that we don’t believe other life here can do. This is what gives us morally grey areas and allows us the ability to deal with them; the issues that can both harm and help life, such as how to define human rights, or how much speech should be allowed for whom, and what aspects of society should be mandated for the benefit of all, and which should be left to the individual.

This is where my idea (and I use the term “my” loosely, since most of the ideas I’m presenting here aren’t really my own, and the few that are have undoubtedly been argued better by someone else already) that religion is actually a hindrance to morality comes into play. If you assert that morality comes from your god and not from mankind and the laws that govern nature, then you will have a hard time excusing the teachings of the bible. And this is actually an issue that has bugged me from an early age, long, long before I rebelled and then eventually dismissed the idea of believing in a god. The bible has in it, especially in the old testament, but there are plenty of good examples of evil in the new as well, a plethora of commands to do things that we today consider extremely reprehensible. Abraham was made the father of all believers for his willingness to murder his own child when he heard a voice commanding him to. No normal Christian today would defend a parent who murdered their child and said God told them to do it. It’s right there in the ten commandments, thou shalt not murder. And yet Abraham inspired three completely different religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Not only did god reward Abraham for his willingness to murder his son, he also endorses and supports outright genocide and imperialistic warfare as a norm, in multiple situations. Believers in other faiths are routinely wiped off the face of the planet, and even for followers of gods teachings, fairly normal “wrongs” are responded to with outright bigotry and violence. For instance, a woman who was raped is commanded to either be stoned to death or to marry her rapist, as long as she was raped outside the city, if she were raped inside the city then she just has to die. The term sodomy even comes from the story of God wiping out an entire city of homosexuals, who he calls an abomination, a term poorly translated that breeds bigotry, but one supported by a story of merciless hatred. (I really don’t feel like looking up these verses, but I assure you they are in there, as I predict you will already know, and if you don’t think so I will gladly take the time to look up verses to prove my point)

And so I contend that most of what we consider to be moral, at least the moral parts I agree with, have stemmed from a secular viewpoint rather than a religious one. One common argument made by believers is that many aspects of moral improvement have been championed by religious people, and inspired by religious text. I do not argue that religious people have been instrumental in the positive changes we have made in society, especially in the last couple of hundred years, or that your bible may have inspired them to be better people. There are many passages in the bible that agree with secular humanism. Do unto others … Let him without sin cast the first stone … judgement is mine sayeth the lord; they all rehash the golden rule. Actually the first one is the golden rule now that I think about it, and I am not sure if that is in the bible or not. But it’s also the basis for all morality, which I already argued, and for example the first rule of Wiccan is, “Do what you will, so long as it harms no one.” My issue is that the rest of the bible isn’t so humanist. A famous example of morality being forwarded by a religious icon would be the civil rights movement and MLK Jr. Sure his faith was part of his passive campaign for equality, but the bible not only condones slavery, but sets out elaborate rules for how it should be done. Nowadays I doubt you can find many Christians who would admit slavery is a good idea, worthy of public support, but it’s still right there in your holy text. Likewise, few Christians would openly support a war with another religion without an excuse for it besides the opposing side being of a different faith. But again, plenty of examples of your god waging such jihads. And I don’t think I need to point out the obvious paradox of chauvinism versus female empowerment in your bible, since you and Mom have had, to my knowledge, some butting of heads with your church leaders in the past over what is and is not allowed for women by your bible.

So if we look at these things like civil rights, women’s equality, and the push for equal treatment of everyone, and you can point out examples of religious people, and the church in general, adjusting your morality to contradict your own divine scripture, then where have these ideas of right and wrong come from? I think that they are not natural to us. The simple forms of morality key to survival are natural to us, and this is what you have titled a conscience. But the grey areas of morality that we have worked out as a species are inarguably important, and the solutions to these problems, although sometimes accepted by the religious community, fly in the face of religious literature and teachings. So the question then becomes, where do we get and how do we define our system of morality. My answer, which is secular humanism, is that we should use our most successful techniques, those being skepticism, rational thought and reason, and the scientific method to constantly test our morality and determine where morality is working for our species and where it is hindering our progress. As we have seen with all areas of life with which we have applied the scientific process, I think morality will be best determined for our species when we put our greatest attribute in charge, that being our ability to think and use reason.

Unfortunately for your side of the argument, religion by its nature denies both reason and the scientific process. Any religion requires its believers to use faith in their lives, and faith by its very nature is the suspension of rational thought to accept an extraordinary claim without conclusive evidence, and often without using any logic at all. And when religion accepts faith, and claims that it’s scripture is the inspired word of god, it denies any application of the scientific method. Once you claim god said something, you aren’t allowed to challenge it until secular society comes along and forces you to adapt, and adaptation is the one evolutionary factor that is even stronger than our intelligence. By contrast, any theory or point of view on morality put forth by a secular humanist is open for rebuttal and debate by every other person on earth, and through this process of intellectual self inspection as a species, we can choose the strongest and most beneficial ideas for our future. I think any idea worth following should withstand scrutiny by the smartest minds available, and religion neither teaches this concept, nor demonstrates it, as evident by the extreme majority of scientists who are atheist.

One quote I hear a lot from the believers is that “atheists don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything.” This is exactly why we are offended and annoyed. The entire premise that we are incapable of, or have never considered morality is ridiculous. Most atheists find the ideas of religion and morality almost all-encompassingly important, and have spent years or possibly all their life learning and thinking about it. Study after study shows that atheists are on average, more educated on matters of religion and philosophy than are the people who profess to believe in ancient scrolls. So it’s a valid question to ask where we nonbelievers get our morality, but in asking it you shine a light on the overwhelming cultural bias towards freethinkers and skeptics and atheists, and at the same time highlight your own ignorance of alternative beliefs while requiring us to have a deep knowledge of your beliefs. I’m not offended by you asking me this Dad. It was one of the first questions I went after when I realized there was no god, and so I can empathize with never having considered any other option. In fact I am glad that I get to answer it for you instead of some other atheist who may be less friendly with their world views. I hope this gives you some food for thought as far as moral alternatives, and if you have any questions for me, and I hope you do, hit me up. Remember, no idea worth following should be above scrutiny, even mine and especially mine.

Later gator,

Protesting the Westboro Baptist Church

Over the last year I’ve seen a big shift in my world view towards a more aggressive atheism and a much more liberal political view. As this witches brew of new ideals began to come into more focused views and opinions, I’ve been looking for a way to get more involved and try to make a difference in the world. One such opportunity presented itself last week when the conservative talk radio station my boss listens to announced that the Westboro Baptist church, famous for picketing funerals with their anti-gay hate speech, would be picketing the funeral of Elizabeth Edwards.

Elizabeth Edwards is the ex-wife of my former senator John Edwards, who ran as vice presidential hopeful alongside John Kerry when they (and pretty much everyone on the planet) lost out to G. Dubyah and Cheney. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a big John Edwards fan, but Elizabeth seems like a strange target for such animosity. Her first child died in a car accident at the age of sixteen. Her husband cheated on her, had a baby with his mistress, got caught covering it up, and embarrassed her in front of the nation. So she ditched him. And let’s not forget that she got breast cancer, and after a six year illness kicked the bucket at age 61.

So the never pleasant Westboro clan who, like all credible moral sources live on a compound in Kansas, announced they would picket her funeral. You can try to read their press release here, although I couldn’t make much sense of it. After spewing incoherent psychobabble for a few minutes, they mention she and her husband “decided they would show God who is boss, [after he killed their first son for reasons unclear] and meddled in matters of the womb, resulting in two more children”. Yeah, what a bitch. She wanted more kids after god killed her first one.

I'd rather play tummy sticks too.

God hates androgynous fags, unlike the hotties of WBC!

A few lines farther down the page Westboro somehow combines the words ‘smashmouthed’ and ‘Godsmacks’ in a sentence that doesn’t say, “Godsmack is much, much, much better than Smashmouth unless you are a thirteen year old girl, and even then fuck you and Smashmouth.”

Some of their other outrage comes from allegations that she was less than praise filled when talking about God stating that “God could not … protect my boy”, that she wasn’t asking god to save her from cancer, and possibly the most shocking, that god was “not the God I wanted”. I’m not sure exactly what the WBC expected after decades of intense personal loss. I think the god of the bible is a total asshole and I’ve never lost anyone, or had a wife who cheated on me, or gotten cancer. I don’t need that kind of reason to be pissed, because religion claims your god stuck my ass on a planet filled with jerk offs like the WBC, and that alone deserves a swift kick in the nuts. The fact of the matter is that after her death she relied on her church greatly for support and inspiration, and despite her religion was able to work through her cancer to support gay rights and oppose war.

Don't forget I used to be super hot.

So I got a few of my Friends to go with me, and I prepared for the festivities the night before. I spent a half an hour or so coming up with slogans for our signs, and let Tim and Heather pick which ones they would like to have. In the process I learned a few things about protesting. First of all, check the weather, because it would have been really nice to know in advance that it was going to be 37 degrees and rainy before I left the house with no gloves or head gear or umbrella. Second, if you make signs, use something sturdier than poster board. Ours might have held up better if it had just been windy, but with the rain added they were floppy piles of crap by the time we shivered our timbers back to the car.

As it turns out we were a few blocks down from the funeral, and there were only five WBC members there to protest, two of which were children. It was a bit of a let down, I certainly didn’t feel properly outraged. They held signs proclaiming “You will eat your babies”, and “Thank God for breast cancer”. Across the street we had about three hundred protesters, from all walks of life. In our group we had two Christian conservatives and a liberal atheist, and all around us you could see the diversity reflected as people of all colors and creeds came to give the extremists the middle finger. Every demograph seemed to be represented, from the young to the old, educated or otherwise, we all had a common moral bond, that the folks across the street were despicable, and that for a few hours at least, we could all stand together united under one purpose.

On the street itself a steady stream of protesters in cars circled the block, with the bikers flicking off the whackos while revving their Harleys, the rednecks blaring country music and waving american flags and POW/MIA flags, and the college kids dancing to macho man and house music, with hot lesbian coeds riding out of the sunroof and making out. Meanwhile in the crowd people were passing out pink ribbons to acknowledge breast cancer victims, and holding their own signs. Apparently someone hit a WBC member with a water balloon, which must have been miserable because of the cold, but I missed it.

For the most part the signs were lame. Our people had slogans ranging in boring-ness from “grace” to “hero”. I’m sorry, but this is a protest, not a Lifetime midday movie for housewives brimming with weepy Hallmark moments. But it seemed like most of the sappy stuff was at the other end of the crowd, directly across from the WBC pen. To give you a feel for our end of the barricade, I hadn’t been there for more than thirty seconds before a gothic kid with fangs (they looked really good, possibly surgically implanted) asked me if he could photograph me and my sign. One side of my sign read, “FSM (picture of flying spaghetti monster) FLIED FOR YOUR SINS” and the opposite side read, “THOU SHALT NOT BE AN A**HOLE”.

I focused my efforts on comedy because I think parody works best for me. I want to use humor to diffuse the anger in a tense situation, and simultaneously point out how ridiculous it is to believe in things like the Bible. I was surprised though, at how many people came out of the wood work to ask for pictures of our signs, and especially my spaghetti monster sign. Living in the Bible belt, and the deep south, and working as I do with almost entirely Christian conservatives, it seems most of the time like there is nobody around me who feels the same way. So it was nice I guess, to see so many of my people, the ones with died hair, facial piercings, tattoos, and the like. I don’t think that’s superficial, I think it’s just natural to want to be around people similar to yourself, and to feel more comfortable around people who look and talk like you do. And it was extra reaffirming to have so many approach me and show support.

I did have a few negative responses to my atheist views, but none were rude or offensive. In fact the one person who actually got mad wasn’t even mad at me directly, he was mad about the sign I made for Tim that read, “Zeus hates Baptists! Burn in Hades nonbelievers!” Because they had moved the protest a few blocks away from the funeral, we just so happened to be directly in front of another church. One of their members came over, and with his teeth practically clenched with anger said to Tim, “I get what you’re trying to do here, I really do. But that line of people across the street (there was a line of people going into the church, who weren’t part of any protest, but we didn’t know who they were or what they were up to) is full of poor families here to get their children presents for Christmas. There are 300 Baptists in that building right now giving away toys to poor kids and you are out here doing the same thing [the WBC] is doing.”

Wow, that was unexpected and awkward. Except not really at all once I had thought about it. The problems I had with the words that had come out of his mouth started taking shape and lining up to explode out of my mouth, but before I could get in a single word Tim, much to my surprise, had already told the man he couldn’t help him, and he had a right to have his sign, and had sent him back to his church. While my friend is an extremist conservative, he’s also a really nice guy to almost everyone, so I was surprised he had stood up for his right to make a joke. Except then I got to thinking about it, and I got mad at the First Baptist Church member who had addressed us. There were 300 Baptists in that building, and five outside giving them a bad name, and all they had to do was get up and walk outside to join us in protest. I’m sure they didn’t need 300 people to hand out toys. Not only that but this guy quite clearly did not “get” what we were trying to do. In order to get it he would have needed a sense of humor, which he clearly did not possess.

When all was said and done the WBC freak show packed up and everyone cheered, and then hurried back to their vehicles because we were all soaking wet and freezing from standing in the wind and rain for hours. I know that by going to protest these extremists, we only get them the media attention they want in the first place. But by the same token, if nobody stands up and says something is wrong, people probably won’t end up dealing with it. I would hope that by using parody to point out how ridiculous bigotry against the evil “fags” inherently is, maybe some of the more moderate religious people will realize that they are doing the same thing in a watered down way.

The fact is that the WBC doesn’t make this stuff up, their hate really is printed in the Bible, mixed in with the bits about loving thy neighbor, and reserving judgement for their lord. The more I am exposed to the LGBT community, the more ashamed I am that we as a society allow an entire group of people, who are amazing, and creative, and fun, and add vibrancy and spice to our species, to be systematically denied civil rights, and be bullied, discriminated against, and treated as hated, second class citizens by the very people who claim they have the monopoly on morality. I would hope that at least some of the people on the fence will see things like this, and lean a little bit farther towards secular humanist values. In my personal opinion, we will never see an end to this sort of religious hate no matter how hard the church tries to adapt to an increasingly educated world.

Unfortunately for the religious, the values of racial hatred, political and social imperialism, and a divinely commanded moral superiority are built into the holy books of  the Abramahic religions. As long as it’s still printed in those perfect, infallible fairy tales, people will still believe it’s right. The only way I see to cut out the root of this problem is to grow as a species past the need for ancient scrolls to tell us what to do. I personally don’t need a master to tell me what is right and wrong, and I think when people let go of their fear and look inside, they will realize that none of them need servility either. We can make the world better, but we aren’t going to get any help from an outside source, it’s up to us as human beings to fix it ourselves.

All The Live Long Day

So I got my ass a new job, and it’s friggin hard as hell. I can’t complain (even though I’m about to do just that) because I needed a job really bad, but let me go ahead and say that no matter how hard you think landscaping is, it’s about ten times harder. When you boil it down, I get paid just over minimum wage to grab a shovel and move dirt around for ten hours a day at a break neck slave speed. I’ve been working at this new job for about a month, and already I’ve lost fifteen pounds. And that’s not with a diet either, that’s pure-ass-hell-damn elbow grease. My diet consists of pizzas and dollar menu items from McDonalds, with the occasional gas station item. Do you have any idea how hard you have to work to lose fifteen pounds when your lunch is four McChicken sammiches, some beef jerky, and a two liter of Mountain Dew? My feet were covered with eleven (yes I counted them) blisters that still haven’t healed up yet after a friggin month of work. My feet look like a Vietnamese POW after a death march. And don’t even get me started on how many cuts I get. Just on the side of my left arm facing my head I can count twelve cuts. My farmers tan is so crucial I look like I’m wearing black face. And to top it off I think I’ve developed tendonitis because about half the time I loose all feeling between my fingers and my armpits.

But all in all it’s actually a nice job. I get to work with my hands, which I love. I get to be dirty all day, which I love. I get to cuss and sweat and bleed and tell dirty jokes. I’m re-learning spanish, picking up on the words and phrases I used to know back when I was living with Mexicans all week. Most of all I get to work with some really amazing people. I absolutely love blue collar people. We are bat shit crazy, and rough around the edges, but the most character filled, life loving, live in the moment people you will ever meet.

My direct boss, Tim, is a guy I’ve been friends with for about a decade. We go back to high school together, and we’ve done a lot of wild stuff. Now Tim is a funny guy, but before you even get to know him he’s just a funny looking guy. He’s skinny as a crack head, always has been. He might weigh 130 soaking wet. He’s got long curly heir that probably hasn’t seen a brush for years. And to top it all off he’s missing one of his front teeth. So anyone with a keen eye can pretty much size him up from a distance and know you’re dealing with a bit of a character. Now Tim isn’t exactly … how can I put this delicately … Tim and I don’t see eye to eye on a lot of issues. We argue all the time, on just about every subject. Tim is kind of backwards on a lot of his views. He doesn’t like gay people. He’s very 40’s with his approach to gender roles. His actual reason for believing the Bible is true is because he want’s it to be true. And he spends most of his driving time soaking up the opinion of the day from Rush or Beck or Hannity.

Actually I really enjoy being around a stubborn, opinionated jack ass like Tim because it helps me solidify my own views. For a long time I couldn’t figure out why people like me and people like Tim disagree on such basic, fundamental issues. Take health care for instance. Me and Tim both want a similar end result, that everyone has access to health care. But we have such totally opposing ideas on how that should be put into place. And it just bugged me and bugged me until one day I had a bit of an epiphany. I realized that conservatives like Tim basically believe (erroneously) that the government got it right with our original constitution and that they shouldn’t do anything extra, while I believe that the constitution was a good start, but the government should change and grow as the world changes and grows. And so when I have to argue with Tim about seemingly obvious points, like for instance that only white property owning males could vote until they fixed that clearly unfair part of the constitution, it helps remind me of why I believe the things I do.

My boss one up from Tim is a yankee named Carl, who is hands down one of the wildest and craziest people I have ever met in my life. First of all he looks about ten years younger than he really is. He’s thirty eight and he’s engaged to a twenty four year old. So of course me and Tim give him pure shit for that. Asking whether she calls him daddy or grandpa in the sack, and suggesting that he’s on the edge of sterility. And it’s so funny because he’s so easy to get riled up. Even under perfect conditions he’s an easily agitated person, and he’s so hyper and his fuse is so short that it’s friggin hilarious to get him pissed off and just watch. He’ll get pissed off and just start randomly picking racial slurs to call people before he even knows what they are.

Somebody hit him with a car the other week, ran their mirror into his back pack leaf blower, and it spun him around. So he’s super pissed off, packs up and I end up in the same truck as him. He’s getting calls non stop, answering the phone screaming, and of course I can only hear half the conversation, but it’s hilarious. (Phone rings) “Holy shit if you see any n*****s on the way to the fucking park hit them with your fucking car! …. Some god damned spook just hit me with a car, fuckin bullshit, cause we’re working in the middle of coon town and none of these crack head mother fuckers can drive for shit! … (at car behind us) GET OFF MY FUCKING ASS YOU NO DRIVING SAND N****R! I FUCKING HATE IT WHEN PEOPLE RIDE MY ASS. … No I’m bringing my god damned pistol tomorrow and the first fucker who drives too close to me is getting a lead sammich. (Now driving no more than two feet behind an SUV) Hold on my mom is texting me. … What the fuck Mom! Look at this god damn shit! (hands me phone which has a picture of a cock and balls with a shamrock saying happy saint Patrick’s day) (calls his mom) What the hell is wrong with you, did you fall off the short bus or what? … Why would you think I would find a picture of a dick and balls entertaining? … Why don’t you go find me a picture of some hot chick showing her pussy?! …. I DON’T WANT TO LOOK AT A DICK AND BALLS! … Ok mom, I love you too, see you later.”

So that’s pretty much all day every day with Carl. If he’s not pissed off he’s just saying something totally off the wall. I believe he described his night thusly: “I was so god damned tired. Went home. Ate two bowls of cereal, and tried to knock the bottom off a pregnant lady.”

Of course, most of the labor is Mexican guys, and those guys always come with the crazy. One of our more experienced workers is named Compost. Seriously, a Mexican working in landscaping named Compost. I don’t think he understands the irony. Apparently the Mexicans like me. They told me I’m part Mexican because I work so hard, and they believe if I could drive I would make supervisor in a few months, which makes me feel good about myself and also pisses me off knowing that I can’t drive. But Mexicans are always easy to get along with. All you have to do is make sure you work as hard as they work, and try to learn a little Spanish so you can converse while you work.

The other notable weird people are the owners, who are a mix of Japanese and southern. So you have a couple of good old boys who are as anal retentive as a Tokyo accountant. It can be frustrating at times, but they are good at what they do.

And of course, like any blue collar job I get to play with all kinds of specialized power tools and heavy equipment. I get to use tillers and chainsaws and stump grinders and the lot. But what I’m most excited about is learning how to use the Bobcat and the excavator. They haven’t let me get on either one of them yet, but it’s only a matter of time before I get the chance, and I am stoked. I mean every boy grows up dreaming about playing with these kinds of machines, but so many people never get the chance. I think that’s what I am most excited about with this job. It’s all worth it. I don’t mind towing around explosives and getting my arms shredded and getting bit up by ticks and chiggers, as long as I get a chance to dig a hole with a back hoe.

And to close out this post I have a PSA. If you’re towing mulch covered in burlap next to the same chemicals that were used to blow up the Oklahoma City building, don’t throw your cigarette butt’s out the window while you’re driving down the freeway. There’s a good chance you will set it all on fire and unless you have really cool bosses who cover your ass you will probably lose your job.