Thursday, January 31, 2013

Discrimination? Not On My Campus!

One of the Christian student leaders at my university posted a link today to a Fox News article about a Christian group that was supposedly "kicked off campus". I love the colorful rhetoric employed in the headline: "kicked off campus". It's as if security shut down their worship service and told them to take their Bibles and be gone to wander alone in the Ypsilanti wilderness. As you might suppose, this is not at all what happened and, as as is to be expected, Fox News and other religiously oriented news sources are blowing this out of proportion.

The situation has been framed as a discrimination issue, which is ironic considering what actually happened. Here at the University of Michigan, we have an anti-discrimination policy. It's pretty straightforward; student organizations that are sanctioned by the University must be inclusive to all people regardless of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc. All of a student organization's policies and activities must adhere to University policy or the University will not recognize them. There are plenty of benefits to being a recognized student organization; RSOs are elligible for funding, facilities and resources from the University that they would otherwise have to provide themselves. Following the rules is a very small price to pay for the sanction that the University provides.

Enter the InterVarsity Christian fellowship. This Christian student organization on campus had the signing of a statement of faith as a requirement for leadership in the group. It seems obvious that a Christian group would have Christian leadership, but the requirement in black and white that leaders MUST be Christian violated the University's anti-discrimination policy. The University asked them to change their policy and they refused, meaning that they are no longer recognized as a student organization at the University of Michigan. The result is of course a projection of the image of martyrdom.

Clearly, this is senseless. Both in the article and in the comment section, it was heavily implied that the Christians were being discriminated against. One Facebook commenter who has since requested anonymity proposed a scenario in which a Christian could walk into a "Secular Student Association" meeting wearing a John 3:16 t-shirt, get mocked and kicked out and then told to suck it up by the same people who accused the Christians of discrimination. He finished the screed by suggesting that it "would be great" if that hypothetical student used that hypothetical situation as grounds to sue the school. This is utter poppycock. Our "Secular Student Association" actually was asked to amend our own constitution last year because it didn't meet University standards. We did so. There is no reason on earth that removing a signed profession of faith from the requirements would hurt the organization. Even if a non-Christian did want to run for office in that club, no one would vote for him/her. The InterVarsity Fellowship's decision to defy their superiors was made out of pure stubbornness. Being reprimanded for not abiding by the same rules as every other group is NOT discrimination.

There seems to be a disturbing trend in evangelical America of mistaking the lack of special rights for Christians for persecution. It's not that prayer is not supposed to be in schools, it's that we "took prayer out of" schools. It's not that we are gradually becoming a nation that does not elevate one belief over another it's that "Christian values are under siege" in America. Christianity has long been a dominant power in America and theists still hold much residual privilege. One of my officers told me that she has been advised to keep SSA volunteer work off her resume so that it will be easier for her to find a job. I doubt any of the Christians in the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship even had to think twice about putting their community service work with their church or their mission trips on their resumes. No one ever says to them "you believe in jesus... but you're not really a Christian, are you?" It's not normal for them to have their morality and their humanity questioned as soon as someone hears that they believe in a god. No matter where they go in the United States, they can commune with people of similar belief. The same can't be said of nonbelievers.

In an almost ironic twist, atheist groups on campuses are actually concrete examples of groups that ARE forbidden or have been forbidden in the past simply on ideological grounds. We're fortunate to go to a University that doesn't discriminate based on religion. We are a subset that policies like the this one exist to protect. That being said, I don't begrudge this Christian group for making such accusatory remarks against my school. I wish them all the best as they attend the worship meetings of their choice at one of the 20 other Christian clubs on campus.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

One (Better!) Reason to Grow Up and Get Married

I love reading socially conservative opinion articles. It's not the frequent contact of my palm with my forehead while reading nor the urge to run screaming across northern border upon realizing that a fair amount of people with these opinions have power in this country that entertains me about such articles. What fascinates me is the fact that whenever I scan the blogs over at Fox News, I feel as if I am learning the culture of an exotic people, a people with customs that never fail to make me pause and ask "where do these crazy ideas come from?"

It was this thought that crossed my mind when I came to the editorial "A Man's Top Five Reasons to Grow Up and Get Married" written by Steven Crowder at Fox News. The rant begins with a boast that Crowder is the same guy who brought us the ever-famous "Waiting Till the Wedding Night-- Getting Married the Right Way". I actually had read that particular article and I remembered it because it was very abrasive, referring to women who criticized his decision to wait for sex "floozies" and characterizing women who live with their partners before marriage as "harlots". I could have easily guessed what the eagerly awaited sequel would entail. Unlike the pro-abstinence editorial however, this one actually contained bad ideas that should be challenged, lest young people actually believe them.

Much like Crowder, I am pro-marriage. This term probably means something different for me than it does for him. When I say that I am "pro-marriage", I mean that I believe that consensual, committed relationships between individuals are often beneficial to those individuals. I do not see getting married as a bad thing at all. Also like Crowder, I am from a family of "lifers". My parents, grandparents and all of my fathers five siblings got married, have stayed married and have healthy, happy relationships with their spouses. It would be hard for anyone to honestly characterize me as a radical leftist, feminazi, lesbian, manhating, babykilling hippy heathen. That being said, Crowder's naive view of marriage disillusions me.

One of Crowder's premises is that marriage gets an bad rap in our popular media and that, most importantly, this reputation is patently undeserved. I actually tend to agree with Crowder on quite a bit of what he says in the fourth paragraph:

"Men on TV constantly joke about how wives are incredibly expensive, demanding and overall vacuums of all things fun. By that same token, the women complain about their fat, lazy, insensitive husbands as they swoon over their trimmed, manicured and chest-waxed Hollywood counterparts."

Unfortunately, there are many, many instances of negative portrayasl of marriage in popular media. To be fair though, marriage is not the only relationship that is frequently twisted into something vile by Hollywood. A December post on Brute Reason blog gave many concrete examples of unhealthy relationship tropes that appear over and over again in our pop culture. As a whole, looking to Hollywood for realistic portrayals or advice on anything is a bad idea. This point is where Crowder and I diverge.

Crowders thesis is very simple. As he says in his memorable closing sentence, "Get married, like, now." In his editorial, Crowder argues that people should get married, marriage is a goal, an ideal for this blogger. His five reasons are almost irrelevant when we take into account that his underlying attitude is unhealthy.

Marriage is a huge commitment. When we choose to tie our lives to the lives of others in every sense, we are making sacrifices, changing our habits and entering into a phase of life that comes with both benefits and challenges. Such a commitment must always be an informed choice rather than a goal. Crowder lists (and often exaggerates) all of the supposedly good things about marital relations. In doing so, reinforces that fairy tale-esque notion that somewhere out there there is that one person predestined for us. Out across the great, wide, wilderness, there is that person who will be everything we ever dreamed of and complete us emotionally, sexually, financially and spiritually. People dig themselves into holes, often when they reach a certain age, fretting over the fact that they haven't found "the one". Some people force themselves into marriages that they really aren't ready for by thinking romantically instead of realistically.

Crowder's naivete in portraying marriage as a haven of love and emotional perfection is actually doing more to hurt marriage than it is to help it. Society is very different than it was, say, in the fifties. Young people start their careers at an older age, higher education is more necessary than it used to be and, in many fields, so is graduate school. This means that people simply are not ready to get married as young as they used to be. Sure, there's high incidence of cohabitation and pre-marital sex in our society, but it doesn't have to be a bad thing. If a person is truly "pro-marriage", he or she will advocate waiting until one is stable, self sufficient and secure before committing to another person. If  people will have more sexual and emotional experience than their parents did before marriage, it seems not to matter much if waiting to get married might actually result in a more stable marriage.

The reasons that Crowder lists carry the extra baggage of being selfish. Selfishness is the last thing we should want to base any of our relationships on simply because relationships, by their very nature, involve another person. Our partners do not belong to us. Their purpose is not to cater to our desires. In a good relationship, partners do work to satisfy each other's needs, but the care must be mutual. Yet we often focus so much on what our relationships can do for us, then wonder why we get dumped. If we have a list of things we expect our relationships to be without taking the other person into account, we might as well stick to masturbation. The "you'll be richer" and "you'll have lots of sex" aspects of marriage might be nice bonuses, if they're real, but they are not good reasons to get married.

In my view, there is only one good reason to get married: because you want to. Thinking about it "I want to" is so much more special, even more romantic than "I should". Anyone can follow rules set down by our pastors and parents. Not everyone will choose to make a commitment to another person despite the fact that there is absolutely nothing compelling them to do so. "I want to marry you", as opposed to "marriage is an inherently good thing, therefore I should marry you", means that even though you could do anything or be with anyone, you have made the conscious  choice to be with a particular person. Isn't that the kind of devotion that makes love "powerful" in the first place?

Crowder says:
"Picture coming home every night to your best friend, your greatest fan, and your number one supporter. She (or he) makes each good day better, and each bad day good again. Every day, you get to live what is essentially a 24/7 sleepover party with the greatest friend you’ve ever had."

His musings sound very attractive. I know that the image constructed above is what I want to have someday. Even so, that doesn't mean that I should strive to project that image onto my own life until I'm well prepared.

If you are old enough and mature enough to make major life decisions, if you are emotionally and financially stable, if you are in a relationship with a person or persons with whom you share values and interests and with whom you have a healthy relationship with, if you are willing to make a public commitment to that person and the desire is mutual, congratulations, you should get married. Don't settle for anything less.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Love

(I found this post on my old LiveJournal. It's old, but it still resonates with me.)



How many of us have made the mistake of thinking we were "in love" with someone when we really weren't? You know, sometimes we spot someone who we find attractive and create an image of that person in our heads. More often than not, we learn that the person in our minds is different than the person in real life. That's when our hearts are broken.

Truly loving someone means seeing that person for who they are, not for what they could or should be. It means accepting that that person is not perfect, but still caring for and encouraging them, not despite, but because of their quirks. This unconditional acceptance is one of the keys to a long term relationship with an individual.

I choose to seek this kind of relationship with the universe.

I've come to the conclusion that the world is not perfect. Sometimes, it downright sucks and I brood and fume that I hate it. Still, I refuse to make myself believe that somewhere, somehow my environment will come to resemble the idea of perfection that I have in my head. I'm not going to convince myself that there exists a flawless place where flawless beings dwell, because there's a good chance that such a place probably does not exist. If I spend my lifetime searching and pining for some sort of heavenly metaphysical realm that meets my standards of unblemished goodness, I will always come up empty handed. I will be little more than an old maid who wasted her life on the quest for the "perfect man" and in doing so pushed away all of the imperfect but nonetheless wonderful men she met.

In my universe I seek, not a Dulcinea made just for me, but a vast plane littered with thousands of stars and galaxies, all of which are imperfect but whose imperfections make them awe inspiring.

I'm done with fables and false hopes.

I want my love for the universe to be unconditional.

That is why I am an empiricist. That is why I am a nontheist. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Resolution

When I first came out to my family as an atheist, a multitude of emotions preoccupied me. I pushed through this time by listening to "Glorious Dawn" from Symphony of Science. On this day, there is one line from that song that is resonating in my mind; it is the bridge in which Carl Sagan's autotuned voice is singing "how lucky we are to live in this time, the first moment in human history when we are, in fact, visiting other worlds".

What I have always loved about Sagan is neither passion for science and reason nor his warm, optimistic nature, though I find both of these qualities admirable. The feature that keeps Carl Sagan on my list of inspirational people is his ability to break out of the memorizing hustle and bustle of human life and look at the bigger picture. Imagine the earth from lightyears away and see it for what it is, a small, rocky ball in space only as bright as the light it can reflect. Imagine the people living on that rock, creatures the likes of which may not exist anyplace else. There is no reason why we SHOULD exist and yet we do. We are able to look upon ourselves and contemplate our existence. From this view, we may be inspired to utter the words "how lucky we are".

I understand that the vastness of space and the meagerness of our presence therein does not resonate with everyone. Let's zoom in further. Think about the inner workings of your own mind, the fact that so many processes are working right now to keep you alive without your knowledge or control. Think about the fact that the small mass of neurons in your skull have lead us to ask questions of consciousness that have yet to be answered. Recall that every memory you hold dear, every ounce of love, hate, anger, compassion, joy and sorrow that you have ever felt originates from that conscious and can be lost in an instant with the proper injury. Look that the sleek, sophisticated piece of technology in front of you and be reminded that it was invented by a human mind just like yours. How can we not understand the words "how lucky we are"?

As an activist, I have met many, many people who care about other people. They have high standards and are often discouraged then they see the terrible deeds their fellow humans do. I, too, am guilty of complaining about how much the world seems to suck and how the people in it are continually screwing things up. It has been a difficult year; there have been shootings, hurricanes, incompetent and frightening politicians in power, persecution and prejudice. I lost friends, witnessed a person be hit by a car, watched the lives of family members fall apart, went to the hospital for psychiatric reasons and wished I were dead more times than I can count. But somewhere between these bad things, there were good things as well.

My brother graduated from high school and got into his first choice university, I was elected president of the SSA, I went to Reason Rally, Women in Secularism and a multitude of other secularist events where I met incredible people. I fell in love this year. I saw a dilapidated Detroit neighborhood that rebuilt itself because the people there refused to let it die. I stopped seeing myself as a child with no future.

I realize now that I am lucky, not because good things happen to me all the time, but because I have the means to work through the bad things even when they do happen. I have my own mental faculties, I have the people around me who care and I have technology and systems created by others to help me. We all have things to be thankful for. This year, I hope that I can remember this more often.

It has become commonplace in the atheist community to celebrate "solstice" as the ancients did rather than Christmas. If this is going to become I custom, I think that it's prudent to recall that the winter solstice is the shortest day of the year. It is a day when the earth is more deprived that usual of the light that it needs to desperately to support life. Still, people have always believed that the solstice should be celebrated. This is not because of the darkness surrounding them at that time. It is because when the darkness ends, to return to the words of Carl Sagan, "a still more glorious dawn awaits".

My New Years wish for you is that you will find the next dawn to be more glorious than the last.