Monday, 13 October 2014

Respect what, exactly?

We get told that we should respect everyone's beliefs. I've written here about how respecting all beliefs is a flawed proposition. 

I've wondered though, when we're told to respect theistic beliefs, what exactly are they asking people respect? 

I know theistic beliefs vary from religion to religion and even group to group and, let's face it, person to person, but there are a few consistencies throughout most, if not all of them.

One of the most common things I'm told is that without belief in 'God' I'm going to end up in hell. Some say that's eternal punishment in a lake of fire, others say hell is simply separation from god. 

Am I really expected to respect the belief that says I'm going to burn forever? I'm not sure about you but I can't work out what it is about that particular belief that I should be respecting. Of course, as an atheist, I dismiss that belief as the pure nonsense that it is. But if I were to entertain the idea for a moment, it's not respect that comes to mind, but disdain. How dare someone suggest that I deserve to burn in hell simply because I can't force myself to believe a story I find ridiculous. 

I'm also told that everything is 'part of God's plan'. Everything? Everything is a lot of things. I see sports people, actors, and other very rich individuals thanking God for their successes. Is he really part of it? Should I really respect an idea that suggests god helps the rich get richer whilst he ignores the poor? 

There was the recent case of a man, William Pooley, being cured of Ebola. Upon his release from hospital he thanked the doctors and nurses who looked after him, then William Pooley thanked God. 

If god actually played a direct role in William's recovery then William Pooley is truly blessed and it's amazing that a god would use his power to cure William of this disease. One assumes the god William is thanking is the same god who sent the disease in the first place. And it's also the same god who stood idly buy whilst some 2,400 people died from the disease. 

If one worships the god who saved William, one is also worshipping the god that allowed 2,400 people to die horrible deaths. A god that could save thousands, but chooses to save one? What am I supposed to respect here? His discretion? 

I've not come across an argument for the existence of god that is not fallacious. Usually it's argumentum ad ignorantiam aka Argument from Ignorance or Appeal to ignorance or personal incredulity. Basically it's saying that god must exist because he hasn't been proven not to or that the claimant can't think of anything other than god as the answer, therefore the answer must be god. 

The arguments are ill-thought out, poorly presented and not ever backed up with actual evidence. No one should be demanding that I respect such muddy thinking. 

Then we've got the good old Catholic church which I was brought up in. Rife with paedophilia, cover ups, and moving priests from church to church when their crimes are found out (never handed over to the authorities though). No sane person could expect me to respect this. No sane person could respect this. 

But what if the priest is actually a good bloke? (Never a woman in the Catholic church, of course. Something else I shouldn't be asked to respect). Even if he is a decent bloke he's still giving sermons to children about how flawed they are. How they're sinful and they need to make up for it. They instil the fear of hell into these children. Children are told that God is watching their every move, every moment of every day and should they transgress, hell is an almost certain possibility. That is, unless they're saved through Jesus. They're told that without Jesus/God they're worthless. I've heard from a child words such as "If I knew there was no god, my life wouldn't be worth living." If this doesn't border on child abuse it's only because it's already crossed over into that realm.  

Then there's the homophobia and sexism so entrenched in religion. We don't respect these things outside religion. Should I respect them just because someone throws 'religious beliefs' into the mix? I think not. 

It's often said - respect is something that is earned, not given by default. I'm yet to see anything about religion, that is exclusive to religion, that has come anywhere close to earning my respect. 

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Scientific world in shock! Evolution proved false.

The scientific world went into shock as tweets and YouTube videos once and for all disproved evolution. 

In a revelation that has the scientific world in shock, people on Twitter and YouTube have disproved evolution. It's news that will have repercussions for decades if not centuries. And not just for the scientific world, but for the larger population as well. 

You may be asking, and rightly so, how they have disproved evolution? Well in no uncertain terms, they've simply declared it to be false. 

A spokesperson for All Scientists, Professor Victoria Scott, said: "We are amazed. It's been 155 years since Charles Darwin published his ground breaking work 'On the Origin of Species' and we've been working in this field ever since. We've found millions of fossils and studied DNA, observed genetic changes, done countless hours of lab and field research and everything we've found points to evolution being true." 

Even the existence of monkeys? The professor laughs, "Yes, even the existence of monkeys." 

So given the mountains of evidence supporting evolution and the fact that no evidence points away from evolution one must ask, what happened? 

"Well, there were these tweets..." She stops here. A thoughtful and perhaps sad look on her face before continuing, "People were tweeting that evolution was, in fact, false. It was out of nowhere. Totally unexpected." I can imagine. I, like many of you reading this, was taught that evolution was true. 

Needing to know more, I asked Professor Scott what qualifications the authors of said tweets actually had.  

"None! None at all. This is what shocked us the most. Not only did these people have no relevant qualification, they actually knew very little about evolution at all. And what they did know, or thought they did, they misunderstood completely." 

I asked for some examples. "Well they think evolution means a monkey giving birth to a human, that individuals change species, such as a gorilla turning into a human in older age, and they expect to see a transitional fossil such as a crocoduck!"

Exactly how could tweets on their own could bring down over 150 years of scientific research? "Oh, it wasn't just tweets, it's YouTube videos as well. Many YouTube videos in fact." Like with the above mentioned tweets, Professor Scott pointed out that the qualifications and understanding held by the authors of the videos were non-existent. "As I said earlier, this is the most staggering part of this shocking revelation. These people are just not qualified! At all. But there it is, sometimes in tweets, sometimes in poorly put together 4 minute YouTube videos...evolution is simply false. Of course, I know you might be sceptical, and rightly so, but it's there for you to see just as well as I can."

Taking the professor up on this challenge I hit the internet and sure enough, she was right - a seemingly unending supply of tweets and videos declaring evolution to be false. It was right before my very own eyes. 

The must ask question at this moment - What happens now? "Well, there have been several meetings hurriedly convened, obviously. We're going to have to shut down biology courses at all the universities, research labs all over the world are going to have to be de-funded, just think about medicine" she says this apparently distracting herself. "We used to build influenza vaccines based on the idea that the virus evolves. Not any more. Back to square one on that one." She gives a chuckle at this though it seems more nervous than amused. 

Not wanting to get just one side of the story I went to some of the people declaring evolution to be false. The first thing I wanted to do was confirm that this amazing declaration was made without relevant qualification. Upon requesting the credentials of a number of these people I was told I was appealing to authority, that qualifications were just pieces of paper and that I was using an ad hominem attack. These people are rock solid. 

When asked for the reasoning behind the declaration that evolution is false I was told to look around me, that evolution is a mathematical impossibility and quizzed as to whether a rock could randomly turn into a person. I was in awe that while these people lacked any kind of expertise, they could know their subject so very well. I was getting out of my depth and knew that I would be able to find no chink in this armour. 

I asked Professor Scott how the scientific community could have missed this. "Well we don't deem to know everything, of course, we leave that to the faith community. We simply work on what we know, what we can demonstrate, and what we can verify. We have hypotheses that we test and get others to review our work. We operate within the realm of reality and stick to the scientific method. Simply declaring something false without reason is not really what we do so you'll have to forgive us for not ever thinking that might happen." It's a reasonable point. 

As we finished up our interview I asked Professor Scott if she was now worried about things like gravity and germ theory being declared false on the internet. "Yes, definitely. The internet is very powerful. There's no limit to what people will say on there. If a group of people suddenly declare gravity to be false...well we might all float off to space before we know what's happening!"  We share a laugh at her joke and I thank her for her time. As she leaves her phone rings, "I know!" she declared to the caller, "It's truly amazing."

I'm not sure what the final outcome of this ground breaking declaration will be but one thing we can all know for sure, the scientific world will never be the same again. 

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

I told you so

I get told that I should start believing now. I need to believe in order to avoid hell. I need to believe before it's too late! 

Not all, but a lot of people who tell me this tell me that their version of the god myth has sent them to me (of course they call their version of the god myth God). It reminds me a little of a story I once heard. I've found it called the Parable of the Flood, the Drowning Man, The Parable of the Three Boats and a few other names. 

It goes like this:
A man was trapped in his house during a flood. He began praying to God to rescue him. He had a vision in his head of God’s hand reaching down from heaven and lifting him to safety. The water started to rise in his house. His neighbour urged him to leave and offered him a ride to safety. The man yelled back, “I am waiting for God to save me.” The neighbour drove off in his pick-up truck.

The man continued to pray and hold on to his vision. As the water began rising in his house, he had to climb up to the roof. A boat came by with some people heading for safe ground. They yelled at the man to grab a rope they were ready to throw and take him to safety. He told them that he was waiting for God to save him. They shook their heads and moved on.

The man continued to pray, believing with all his heart that he would be saved by God. The flood waters continued to rise. A helicopter flew by and a voice came over a loudspeaker offering to lower a ladder and take him off the roof. The man waved the helicopter away, shouting back that he was waiting for God to save him. The helicopter left. The flooding water came over the roof and caught him up and swept him away. He drowned.

When he reached heaven and asked, “God, why did you not save me? I believed in you with all my heart. Why did you let me drown?” God replied, “I sent you a pick-up truck, a boat and a helicopter and you refused all of them. What else could I possibly do for you?”

There are a few versions of this on the web. I found this one here and left a comment here.

What my comment says is that an omniscient god would have known that the man would refuse help from the pick-up truck, the boat, and the helicopter. 

Why would an omniscient god send methods of rescue he knew in advance would be rejected?

The god of this parable would have known what form of rescue the trapped man would require to believe that the rescuer was god or a representative of. But he chooses to not send that form of rescue and to send three rescuers he knows will be rejected. 

This is how I feel when people on twitter tell me they've been sent by their god to convince me their god is real. He must know in advance that they will fail just as he knew the attempted rescuers would fail. 

So if this god is real and is really sending these people why does he choose people he knows, in advance, I won't find convincing? 

I said in my comment to the above story, it seems the god of this story had no intention of saving the trapped man. Likewise, if he is real and sending these people to me as they claim, it seems he has no real intention of having me believe. 

Sending rescuers that will be ignored or people that I won't find convincing is not the way one would expect an omniscient god to act. 

Am I really expected to believe an omniscient being capable of literally anything would behave in such a manner? Would an omniscient god really waste the time of the devout by having them talk to me when he knows they will not convince me of his existence whilst knowing what is required to actually convince me he's real? 

To me the only reason to do it like this is so if I actually do get to heaven and face god he can say "I told you so" which is, of course, a ludicrous proposition. The conclusion, obviously, is that just like the trapped man, the pick-up truck driver, the people in the boat and the pilot of the helicopter, the god behind these claims is fictional. 

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

I have a problem with the Bible

I'm an atheist tweeting to a choir, to borrow a phrase, of some 29,280 followers (at the time of writing), most of whom are fellow atheists, about my displeasure and confusion with all things religion. So a blog titled 'I have a problem with the Bible' is probably not going cause many stirs. 

But it's not the condoning of rape, the genocide, the murder, the slavery and the like that I'm going to highlight here, though yes, I have a problem with those things too. 

It's this: The bible is not convincing. 

Now some of you may want to interrupt here and say that there's some two billion Christians that will tell me (and believe me, they will tell me) that it *is* convincing. And therein lies the problem. Two billion Christians. There are 7 billion humans on this planet. That means if we did a survey and got instant results we'd find this - only 2 in 7 humans find the bible convincing. 

Under normal circumstances I wouldn't be one to say that truth is determined by the amount of people who support (or not) a claim. But when we're talking about whether or not something is convincing it's not as subjective as whether or not, say, a movie is 'good' or a cake is 'tasty'. 

Ultimately, yes, whether or not the bible is convincing is down to the individual assessing it but when looked at it on a population level if as many as 5 in 7 people are not convinced, we can safely say that's not convincing. For every 2 people that believe it, there are 5 who don't. Maybe you could say that it's not 'completely convincing', but it's 'convincing enough'. But is it? 

Really, this shouldn't matter. But this isn't the work of a movie director or cake baker. This is not a piece of art up for critique by a man wearing a jacket with elbow patches and sporting a beard sans moustache, it's not a sports person whose achievements, or lack of, are being discussed by the regulars at the local bar. This is, allegedly, the work of a god. 

A god that loves us all. A god that wants us to be saved*. It is a god that will, apparently, if we're not convinced by the bible story, allow us to be sent to a lake of fire, for eternity**.

2 in 7 is a terrible success rate when the consequences are so dire. 2 in 7 is a complete and utter failure when the author of the plan is omniscient. 

Opponents will now shout at me 'Free will'. And yeah, go for it. Tell me that this god character has allowed us to believe in him, or not, via our free will. Great. Fantastic. I don't question the free will part, I get that.

My question - why did he come up with a plan that only 2 in 7 people will accept via free will? Could god have come up with a plan that 5 in 7 people would believe? I would have thought so. How about 7 in 7? Tough, no doubt, but remember we're not talking human capabilities here, this is a GOD! My believing friends have been known to inform me that with god, all things are possible. If this is true, one must accept that coming up with a story that all people will believe whilst allowing us to keep our free will, is possible. 

So given the dire consequences combined with the claim that the bible is of omniscient origin...why doesn't it convince all people? Because it's made up, that's why. 

There are, no doubt, many people who've not been exposed to the bible so one may argue that these people are not unconvinced as such, they just haven't had the opportunity to be convinced. If you were talking about Jo Rowling trying to convince people that the magical world of the Potters, Weasleys, Grangers, and Malfoys was real then this would be an understandable allowance. How could the world's population be convinced that there was, in fact, a school of Witchcraft and Wizardry by the name of Hogwarts if they had never heard of such a place? Fair point. 

But again, we're not talking about things that are subject to human constraints. If needing to believe in Jesus as the son of bible-god is what's required to be saved then why doesn't bible-god make sure everyone knows about, and believes in, Jesus? Because it's made up, that's why. 

Keep in mind, this isn't something trivial. Believers will tell us that this is our eternal soul that's on the line here. This is not a case of leaving the milk out and it going off. It's definitely not something that you'd expect a god that loves us to leave up to chance. He wants me in heaven, he is capable of having me there. He knows exactly what it would take to have me there - reason. Yet, he provides me none, and he withholds that reason knowingly. 

There are any number of Christian apologists who will try to tell me there is reason and they will make up all sorts of new nonsense to try to justify the old nonsense that is in the bible. God created everything in 6 days you say? Well....a 'bible' day and what we call a 'day' aren't the same thing, don't you know? Back then, a day could have been an age! Ah huh. Sure. Funny how the bible didn't just say that, isn't it? 

I once asked a pastor why his god came up with a story that convinced him but not me. He said he didn't know. 

If the bible were truly the word of a god who loved us, who wanted us in heaven with him, and who made belief in this story the only criteria for getting into heaven, then it would be convincing to all people, not to only 2 in 7 people. It would be a sensible story whose plot was recognisable as truth to all people, not only 2 in 7 people. 

I can conclude nothing from this other than the bible is fiction. The condition of belief in it  for heaven is fiction. And that the god behind it who apparently loves me, but will let me burn in hell forever, is also fiction. 


*saved by Jesus from what he/God will do to us if we don't believe. Utter nonsense. 

**eternity? Seriously? 

Friday, 11 July 2014

10 questions for atheists

So I was having a look at what people were saying about atheists on twitter and I found this tweet by @ninaemily:

Being ever curious I clicked on the link to see what had got us. 

It wasn't a 'Gotcha' at all (obviously) but a list of 10 questions for every atheist. From 

And I thought, what the hell, I'll answer them. 

1: How did you become an atheist?

Simply - I thought about it. I was raised in a Catholic household, going to a Catholic school but doubts started to creep in when I was about 12 or 13. I couldn't understand why we followed some parts of the bible but ignored others. I once cooked and ate red meat on Good Friday thinking there was a chance I would be instantaneously transported to hell. Nothing happened. I was dissatisfied with 'God works in mysterious ways' as an answer. I began to learn more about the universe and how what we knew about it didn't equate with what the bible was telling me and the more I looked into it the more I realised the idea of 'God' was made up. 

2: What happens when we die? 

No one knows. Death is final and no one has ever returned from it. Even people 'clinically dead' aren't actually dead. Dead is forever. However - I can confidently say that nothing happens. To make an obvious point, dead is the state of being 'not alive'. We've all been not alive. We were all not alive for billions of years before we were born. I have no good reason to think it'll be different when we're not alive again. 

When I say 'nothing' happens, that's not quite right. Plenty happens. The world will go on, lives will be lived. As Christopher Hitchens said:
It will happen to all of us, that at some point you get tapped on the shoulder and told, not just that the party’s over, but slightly worse: the party’s going on — but you have to leave. And it’s going on without you.

And he's right. What happens when we die? Pretty much everything that would have happened anyway - only you won't be involved. 

But what I love is the idea that my atoms will carry on. The billions of little pieces that make me me will carry on doing what they do. Whether they be iron, carbon, oxygen, whatever it is, those atoms will continue on, only they'll no longer be arranged as me. 

3: What if you're wrong and there is a heaven. And there is a HELL!

 A quick search of Google for 'Pascal's wager debunked' puts this question to bed pretty easily but let's take it on face value and say there IS a God who will send me (my soul?) to 'HELL!' when I die. Let's assume also that it's the 'lake of fire' type hell, not just the 'separation from God' type hell. 

If I'm wrong....I burn in hell for eternity, right? I mean, I get no choice in the matter, do I? As a non-believer, I burn in why even bother asking? 

But the idea that a God who loves me will allow me to burn in hell for eternity simply because I couldn't believe he was real? Absolutely 100% without question ridiculous. As Australian comedian Josh Thomas said:
As an Atheist, having a Christian threaten me with hell is like having a hippy threaten to punch me in my aura

4: Without God, where do you get your morality from?  

Let's understand - morality, as a thing, doesn't exist. It's the name we give to describe how we think we should act. And everyone's is different and everyone's is flexible. One might scream anti-homosexuality messages from the pulpit, for example, yet jerk off to all kinds of gay porn when the curtains are closed, the lights are off and the tissues are handy. 

What we call our morals are evolved. There are evolutionary benefits for our species to look after each other, to care for each other, share with each other, work together, and so on. 

Morals grow and evolve as society does. We no longer keep slaves, we don't force rape victims to marry rapists, couples of different skin colour can marry and in some parts couples of the same gender can marry too (in other parts we're still working on having that happen), and women are allowed to vote in all decent countries. This wasn't the case just a few generations ago. Who wants a stagnant morality? 

Morals come from discussion, debate, reason, experience, understanding and empathy. It's not hard to work out that I wouldn't like my stuff stolen, so I'm not going to steal from someone else. It's also not hard to work out that if someone is on the street starving, and they steal a loaf of bread, 19 years as a slave and parole forever after is not fair. 

5: If there is no God, can we do what we want? Are we free to murder and rape? While good deeds are unrewarded?

This question is ridiculously naive. I'm an atheist and I've raped and murdered exactly as many times as I've wanted to - zero. It's not the fear of God and eternal punishment that stops me from doing these things, and if that's the only thing stopping you from doing them, then I question if you are moral at all. We live in a society, we are responsible to each other and we make rules and regulations that reflect this (we call them laws). 

The other point is - believing there is a god doesn't stop people from raping and murdering. Believers do these things. It's not as though crime is the exclusive domain of non-believers. Belief in a god does not make us moral and does not keep us moral. 

As for good deeds being unrewarded. Simply not true. Acts of heroism, volunteers, people who sacrifice themselves for others. Things like this are acknowledge and rewarded regularly. But again, it's from us to us. There's no need for a god to be involved. 

6: If there is no god, how does your life have any meaning?

Why should it? Why do we think that because we, because we're self-aware that our lives deserve meaning? We are life forms. We exist because a series of natural process resulted, through our own unique pathway, in us. 

If you want your life to have meaning, give it to yourself. Find a pursuit that drives you to a goal, if that's what you desire. 

The thing with this question is that you could leave off the first five words, and it's still the same question. 

7:  Where did the universe come from? 

This question is strangely worded for me. As though the universe is travelling and this is its final destination. Or maybe not even final, just one in a series of many stops. It's like something you'd ask someone in the coffee shop at an airport, maybe Singapore. 'Where did you come from?' 'Oh, I'm here from Melbourne, on my way to Chennai for work'. 

But what is this question actually trying to ask? I don't think it's 'what caused the universe to exist'...not exactly, I think someone might phrase it as 'If the Big Bang happened, who* caused the Big Bang?' 

*Of course the first thing I would do here is ask them why they're limiting themselves to 'who'. 

I think the question that's at the heart of this line of thinking is this: 'Why is there something rather than nothing?' If you ask Professor Lawrence Krauss he'll tell you 'Because there had to be'. It's got to do with a zero energy universe, which means the matter and energy of the universe is countered by what they call dark-matter and dark-energy...but as far as I know no one has actually found that yet. It's still a hypothesis. And a little bit over my head.

Where did the universe come from or Why is there something rather than nothing? My friend Andrew Skegg from twitter (@askegg) has the best answer for this question and it's the one I've used ever since I saw him use it....

I don't know. How do you suggest we find out? 

I think it's a great way to put it because I'll tell you now, the answer isn't in a centuries old holy book. Whether the hypothesis of Professor Krauss becomes accepted or rejected, or a new hypothesis is formed and that becomes accepted, it is through science and the scientific method that we will gain the answer, not through reading bronze age scripture. It is through scientists that we'll get the data required. Perhaps the scientists who will do this aren't even scientists yet. Maybe the scientist who'll make the breakthrough is still a little girl spending her days finger painting or digging holes and filling them in with a scoop truck in a sand pit at the local park. Whomever it is, it's not going to be a person interpreting the words of someone who lived in extremely superstitious times thousands of years ago, and who wrote not what they knew, but what they guessed. 

And when the answer is'll be natural. I guarantee it. 

8: What about miracles? What [about] all the people who claim to have a connection with Jesus? What about those who claim to have seen saints or angels?

I don't believe them. 

I was going to leave it there, because that really is enough. But I thought might also point out  I wrote a blog about miracles here.

As for the claims of a connection with Jesus or that they've seen saints or angels...well there's many, many people who'll claim they've been abducted by aliens, experimented on, and returned to earth. We don't believe any of these people on testimony alone. Why would we drop our standards of evidence when the claim is religiously based? 

9: What’s your view of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris?

I've not met any of these gentlemen so it's not possible for me to give a personal critique. Having said that I have enjoyed reading their work and particularly in the case of Christopher Hitchens, listening to them speak. I don't 'follow' them as a theist would a preacher, I don't think they're always right, none of them is my pope. 

They are three people who wrote books and give/gave talks on a subject that interests me. That is all.

10: If there is no God, then why does every society have a religion?

Like with question 6, remove the first six words and it's still the same question. Something to remember - religions are old. Really old. Sure you might bring up Mormonism (which is pretty much based on Christianity) or Scientology but ask yourself what has been the global impact of these more recent religions? Not much. The problem these two religions suffer is that they were invented in a time when big religions were already established and people already had a way of finding out answers. These religions didn't 'take' because there was no gap to fill. 

 I think the creation of religions demonstrates not that a god exists but that humans desire answers and because most religions were invented prior to the development of the scientific method supernatural answers were the best they could come up with. Why is there something rather than nothing? God did it. Why are we moral? God made us so. Why are there humans? God made Adam and Eve. Of course the 'god did it' answer is an absolute cop out. There's no explanatory power there whatsoever. If someone was to say to me 'God did it' then the next question is, How? They either won't have a how or the how will be natural and no god required. 

I think also that religions are used as a tool by the ruling classes to keep the lower classes in check. Put the fear of god, literally, into people and you might think you will have an easier time in your attempts to control them. Don't just tell them the state will punish them for wrong-doing, but that Gee Oh Dee GOD will punish them too! (and forever!) Unthinking, superstitious, intellectually lazy people will believe you without question and (try to) follow those instructions to the best of their ability. 

Of course once a population gets educated and develops a sense of equality and social justice, this is pointless, but's worth a shot, right? 

And lastly there's the fear of death. People don't want their existence to be over when they die. They want to carry on in some kind of spiritual realm, meeting again with loved ones who passed away before them. 

They want heaven and will believe pretty much anything that helps foster the idea of it. 

Originally From:

Monday, 9 June 2014

I should have stood up for Kylie Smith

Stare. Stare. Stare. Stare. Stare. Stare. Stare. It was a chant, almost tribal in its nature, from the boys in my class as the wide circle they had made around Kylie's desk got smaller and smaller. With each word they got a step closer until they were so close that she could have touched them. There were three boys in the class not participating, myself and my two best friends. 

* * * * *

As it was for a lot of people, early high school was very hard for me. Suddenly thrown into a school 5 times the size of my primary school, with no friends to help support me though it. 

I did have friends at the school but there had been a mix up. On our orientation day I found that I was in a different 'mini' (what they called the year 7 class groups at my school) to my group of friends which I had from primary school. I was in 4a, they'd all be put into 3b. There was room to move though so I put in a request to be moved to 3b for the start of high school the next year. This request was granted. 

So I showed up on high school day one, found my friends, looked up (or was told somehow) where we needed to be and which class we were in. Sure enough, I'd been moved to 3b. My 3 best friends had been moved to 1a. I was devastated and essentially alone. I made my way to 3b home group to be confronted by a sea of faces who all clearly knew each other but clearly didn't know me. I was able to spot two familiar faces in the crowd (one of them went on to represent Australia at the Olympics). They were sitting up the front of the room at a desk. They weren't friends as such, but kids I knew well enough to talk to, so I went and knelt beside them. 

For the record, this is what our school desks looked like back in the day: 

Our high school class rooms had these spread throughout (unless it was science, arts, or materials such as woodwork, or metal work). In home group many of the 'tough' kids would just sit along the ledge which was created by the cupboards at the back of the room. 

I can't remember what kind of acknowledgement I got from the two kids I recognised but I do remember they were in 3a, not 3b so once we broke up to go to class, I really was on my own. 

I don't remember if it was that morning or the next day but a short time after I wasn't sure where I had to go for my next class. I was standing in a hallway looking at the school class timetable, unable to understand it. I was lost, on the verge or tears (I was a sensitive young fella) and totally confused about where I was meant to be. 

A teacher, Sue Fraser I later learnt, walked past  so I got her attention, told her which class I was in but wasn't sure where I was meant to be. She said '3b? You're in here with me'. A lucky break in walking in finding out where I had to be. Not so lucky walking into class with the teacher. 

I was overweight in those days. (I've spent a couple of weeks here and there being not overweight since) so I endured a week of torment and abuse because of it. Not only was I overweight, but I had no one there to help stick up for me either. I've never been sure since if there was anything else about me that earned me the title of 'person to be bullied' but my weight was the obvious one. 

In one class, I can't remember which, we were stood in a circle of 5 or 6 students and we had to introduce ourselves by name and tell everyone something we liked. I was struggling for ideas as I desperately wanted to think of something that wouldn't be ridiculed. The ring leader of the bullies happened to be in the group I was in. It was frightening. 

I had received a model train set for Christmas the year before so I thought that must be okay. 

'My name's Donovan, and I like trains', is what I said. It was only later that I found out that alpha-bully was a Collingwood fan. Had I revealed at this moment that I too was a Collingwood fan, I might have become accepted, or at least the bullying might have eased off. Who knows? 

As some point, someone lied about what I had said, and how I said it. They all started making fun of me because they were convinced I'd said 'My name's Donovan, and I'm a train.' Not only were the words changed but they were also convinced it wasn't said normally but was in a long, drawn out drawl as though I had a severe speech impediment. Everywhere I walked 'My name's Donovan and I'm a train' would be said, mocking me. That was when they were feeling a little more adventurous than just calling me fat. 

So my first week of high school was hell for me. It really was. I don't remember a day not being in tears from the bullying. I talked to teachers, desperate to get out of that class and to join my friends. I remember one recess where I was sitting in the spot my friends and I always did (I'm thankful that we were at least able to spend breaks together). I was there first so for a minute or two was on my own when some girls I didn't even know walked past. One of them said 'haven't his friends arrived yet?' I guess people had heard about me. 

On the Friday morning of the first week a teacher came around to each class to check on how things were going and to ask if everyone was happy. I raised my hand. She came to my desk (I was sitting by myself of course) and asked my name. "Donovan". "Ah, I've heard about you". She said. I'm not sure what words my thought consisted of at that moment, but I know today's equivalent would be 'Then why the fuck haven't you done something about it before now?'

She told me that I'd be moved class from next week on. I got her to confirm twice that it would be 1b where my friends where. It was. She then said that maybe I should try to sit with people instead of on my own. Maybe I should try a bit harder to be friends with them. She had no idea that through no fault of my own, they hated me. 

So the Monday of the second week arrived, I was in 1b and things instantly improved dramatically. They weren't perfect. I still had a few classes with that old group so there was still a bit of bullying going on. I remember one Graphics class with the old group 3b group, not the 1b group. I guess reorganising the schedule completely was a bit too hard. 

A table of boys nearby me started talking about me, but not too me. Though they were loud enough for me to hear, and that was their intention. I don't remember the details of what they were saying, and really it doesn't matter. They were picking on me, that's what matters. I was in tears, unable to deal with it. I was trying to get my work done hoping my tears went unnoticed, but they didn't. Except by the teacher. 

The teacher stepped out for whatever reason teachers step out. A girl whose name I can't remember decided to take this opportunity to whip me on the back with a set of keys she had on the end of a long string. I don't know why she thought I should be whipped. She said a lot of things while she did it. My guess would be she hit me 10 to 12 times. The one thing I remember her saying was 'My heart bleeds for you Donovan. My heart bleeds.' To this day I've no idea what I did to deserve this from this girl. I'm not sure I'd ever even spoken to her. As far as I could tell, I was just the kid who got picked on. 

I ignored her and she eventually went and sat down. They table of boys was still abusing me so I got up and punched or shoved one of them. I can't remember which I did. 

Over the next few years the bullying decreased until it was non-existent. I eventually drifted away from the friends I'd been so desperate to be with in the first week of school and started hanging out with two other guys. With my original friends, even though I wasn't bullied as such, I was still the butt of jokes, still the laughed at kid, the odd one out. With these two new friends I was one of them. Accepted as me, never picked on for anything. 

I even became friends with alpha-bully to some extent. That I was a Collingwood fan became known and earned me some respect. My two friends and I became Metallica fans and were very excited to go see them at Melbourne's Festival Hall in 1989. May 4th. Section 9. Row E. Seat 36. Metallica were a little different in those days. They were scary. They were loud. They were dangerous. I remember when alpha-bully found out we were going. He too was a Metallica fan but wasn't brave enough to go. He kept saying we were 'gonna get knifed.' It was significant. The three geeks were going but the big tough kid wasn't. Like being a Collingwood fan, it earned respect. 

So it was with these two friends that I was sitting when a kid, Joe, came up to us. Someone at some point, somehow had decided that Kylie Smith didn't blink enough (fucking kids). And a few months prior she'd unfortunately earned herself the nickname 'stare-bear'. 

Joe whispered to us that the boys were going to form a circle around Kylie's desk and chant 'stare' at her. He asked if we wanted in. We all said no. 

Stare. Stare. Stare. Stare. Stare. Stare. Stare. They chanted it as they got closer and closer. My two friends and I didn't participate. It was a horrible thing to do and I couldn't be part of it. 

So I sat there and watched. 

This commercial is currently airing on Australian TV: 

I thought about that incident with Kylie a few times since that day - about 27 years ago and this commercial makes me think about it even more. 

I sat there and watched because the focus wasn't on me. I wasn't the one being bullied. Had I said something I'm sure I would have been accused of being in love with Kylie and would have been picked on for that. I don't remember my exact thought but it would have been something like 'this is just so wrong...but at least it's not me.'

I don't know what happened to Kylie since high school. I remember a biology teacher once saying orgasm instead of organism. Kylie was the only person who laughed. She knew something we didn't. But after that? No idea. I heard that alpha-bully became a police officer. I'm not sure if that's true, but if so, I hope he's matured somewhat since those days. I don't see my two friends any more but still interact occasionally on social media. 

I think about that moment, how I just sat there and did nothing. Sure, I refused to participate, but I didn't do anything to stop it either. Every time I think back on that day I think to myself 'I should have stood up for Kylie Smith.' 

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Why the Live and let live approach doesn't work

It's hard to see all the religious people of the world giving up their push to have the rules of their religion legislated if all the vocal atheists of the world were to suddenly fall silent. 

This is the naivety of the 'Live and let live' approach when it's aimed at atheists. 

From my experience the vast (if not total) majority of vocal atheists are motivated through their desire to stop having religion impose its rules onto those who don't share those beliefs (including the children they indoctrinate). 

The most common example of this imposition, I suspect, is marriage equality. Australia does not allow marriage between people who are the same gender. The opposition to this is, from my observation, 100% religiously motivated. Our current Prime Minister is opposed to due his catholic beliefs. Our previous Prime Minister was once opposed, but declared that he'd changed his mind. He concluded through his 'informed Christian conscience' that allowing marriage equality was the right thing to do. His reasoning can be seen in full here. In what could be considered a strange situation, our Prime Minister previous to that had an anti-equality position on marriage, despite being an atheist. Her reasoning, however, was "...what comes from the Bible has formed such an important part of our culture."

If not for vocal atheists and secularly minded theists, this push for equality would not exist and there'd be no chance ever of marriage equality becoming a reality, and same sex couples would be forever told that their love isn't worth joining in matrimony. How can one consider this a live and let live approach? 

If all theists of the world were advocates of the live and let live approach marriage equality would have been a reality shortly after it was identified as an anomaly. But no, when it comes to progressive morality, secular humanism leads the charge and religion is dragged kicking, screaming, and protesting behind. 

The 'live and let live' approach is essentially what the vocal atheists I respect are aiming for but we can't do it first because it's not the approach taken by theists. As I've said before, the vocal atheist position is reactionary. It has seen a rise in recent times because of religion and what religion has done and continues to do to society. If we, the atheists and secularists, were to adopt live and let live, theism would march on unimpeded and unquestioned. Rules that have no place outside of ancient scripture would be pushed through as legislation, and advances in morality would be a thing of the past. 

Atheists and secularists will continue to speak up as long as theists continue imposing their agenda onto the rest of society - whether it's their anti-equality position regarding marriage, their intimidating protests outside Planned Parenthood and other such places where abortions are available, their insistence that their version of the creation myth be taught as fact in school, the practice of praying rather than seeking medical attention while children die, their burning alive of people they think to be witches, their criminalising of homosexuality, their intimidation of students wanting to form atheist clubs in school - the list is practically endless. Because if we don't speak up we'll be forced to live under theistic rules with which we want absolutely nothing to do. 

So the live and let live approach may work one day, but it has to be theists first. 

To put it simply - if atheists shut up, we'll still hear from theists. If theists shut up, they'll stop hearing from atheists.