Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Are you okay?

About a week ago a follower of mine on twitter asked me what I thought about suicide. She said that the church considered it a sin and wondered what I thought as an atheist. 

I said that no matter how bad things seem, you never know what's around the corner. You never know when an opportunity is going to come along or a medical breakthrough might happen. 

We had a long chat and she explained all the things she was having a hard time dealing with. It was heartbreaking and I really felt for her. 

I could see from her twitter bio that she was in Johannesburg so I looked up a counselling service there and sent her the link and asked her to please contact them and let me know how it went. She said she would. I wanted to help more, but as I told her, I'm simply not equipped to deal with someone having these thoughts. 

I checked back yesterday and saw that she hadn't tweeted since the day after our conversation. Her last tweet was a reply to someone who'd tweeted about suicide. She replied saying that she was going to do it that day but her mother was home from work she she'd have to wait. Then nothing. 

I sent her a message to ask if she was okay, and got no answer. I found her on Facebook and sent her a message and got no answer. 

I searched the internet but found nothing. I searched twitter and found that someone had tweeted her 4 hours earlier telling her to RIP and saying she was gone too soon. 

This made my heart sink. I discussed this with my girlfriend and a friend online and we all agreed, it wasn't good and that, if I could word it nicely, I should tweet to the person who'd sent the RIP message. I tweeted to this person and asked what, if anything, had happened. She replied and said the girl in question had passed away in a car accident on Saturday. 

I thanked her for answering. 

I don't think she told me the truth. I think the girl took her own life and her friend was keeping the truth of it to herself - which is fair enough. Or perhaps she didn't know the truth. Perhaps it was a deliberate collision rather than an accident. I'll never know.

The girl was someone I didn't speak to regularly and was on another continent, and in a different timezone so I know there was nothing more I could do. I sent her help and asked her to get back to me but she had obviously reached the point where she thought she had no other options. 

It's a sad story and one that I can't help could have been prevented if this girl was looked after, cared for, and had someone to ask her if she was okay. Of course I don't know if this is the case, but...who knows? 

As yesterday was world suicide prevention day, I ask you this - please, if you have even the slightest hint, an inclination, a gut feel about someone, please ask them if they're okay and let them know, if they need it, help is available.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Dear Yahweh 2

Tim 'Timbo' Buckley is a plumber down on earth working around the time of Noah's flood. He works directly for God (Yahweh) and tries to keep all the water systems up and running for the supreme lord.
After rain for five days straight, Timbo sends Yahweh and email...

Dear Yahweh,
Mate, it’s been raining a solid 5 days down here and a few of the boys are a bit worried that we’re going to have some issues if it continues much longer. Any idea when you’re going to turn this off?

Dear Timbo,
No spoilers,’re looking at a fair while yet.

Dear Yahweh,
Oh fair dinkum. We simply don’t have the capacity to deal with this. We don't have storm water drains like we will 6000 years in the future you know, and even then they wouldn’t cope with this kind of deluge. Seriously if this continues much longer whole towns are going to flood!

Dear Timbo,

Dear Yahweh,
WTF? How is that something to laugh at? Mate, I’m not sure what’s going on here but if this continues people are GOING TO DIE. I’s weird because I know you know this, but how can you let this happen?

Dear Timbo,
I don’t like the way things have become down on earth. The people...they all got wicked. They...they’re not as nice as I hoped they’d be. So… How to tell you. I’m going to make it rain for 40 days and 40 nights and ….well….I’m going to drown them all.
No! Wait, that sounds bad. Not *all* as such. Do you know Noah? (He did that Abraham impression at the party a few months back?) Anyway, I’m going to spare him and his family. Drown everyone else.

Dear Yahweh,
What the fuck is wrong with you?

Dear Timbo,
Watch your tone sunshine. I’m not above smiting people you know.
Look Timbo, we go back a long way. Hell, we’ve known each other since Adam was a boy. So let me tell you, I know that on the surface wiping out an entire population of humans, save for one family, and having that one family collect two of each kind of animal *seems* like a totally ridiculous idea when I am a ‘god’ and not only are these people behaving exactly as I planned but I could also fix this in an instant without the need to wipe out the planet, but you don’t yet see the full picture!

Dear Yahweh,
Sorry - I didn’t mean to upset you. Please hold off on the smiting for now if you could. Not that it fucking matters because apparently I’ll be dead soon anyway, you prick.
I’ve got to ask - you do know you’re a god, right? I mean you can do ANYTHING. If you want people to stop being ‘wicked’ just blink or wiggle your nose or wave a fucking wand or something and STOP them being wicked! Just get into the goddamned heads and remove wickedness! Why do you have to kill them? Seriously mate, this is GENOCIDE
And what the fucking fuck do you mean ‘Two of each kind of animal’? You’re going to drown MILLIONS of animals...what did they ever do? Stupid bloody waste if you ask me. Why did you even bother creating them. You KNEW this was going to happen right? And how the bloody hell do you plan on saving these ‘two of every kind’? And while we’re on it...........the fuck is a ‘kind’ anyway? You can’t just make shit up you know. can, clearly, but don’t you think having some kind of coherence to your plan would be helpful? I’m lost for words. I just can’t see how you can possibly, even for a moment, think this is a decent plan.
Also, what do you mean I don’t see the big picture? What could possible make this okay?

Dear Timbo,
Rainbows. lol!

Dear Yahweh,

You’re mental.

Friday, 6 September 2013

New To Atheism Part 3 - Resources

If you're a new atheist, especially one that feels the need to keep this information from family and friends, you may feel a sense of loss, and a sense of loneliness. Of course you may be happy to be known as an atheist but have no one within your community or family to talk to about it. 

It's not that atheism is necessarily a topic that is going to generate hours and hours of conversation, but I'm sure there's part of us all that wants to be able to tell someone close how we feel about something and receive back an 'I agree' or 'Yep, I know what you mean'. We all have a sense of wanting to belong, somewhere where we can feel included and that we're accepted for who we are. 

With atheism in many parts of the world, this simply not possible. From the possibility that people may lose their jobs, be ostracised from their community, or be shunned by their family to the extreme, sad, and horrific reality that there are people in the world who are imprisoned, maimed and sometimes even killed for being for an atheist. 

This is, of course, a completely unacceptable situation. There is simply no opinion/point of view that anyone can hold that should see them physically harmed for holding it. And yes, this extends to extremely racist or sexist or other unsavoury points of view. I'm not suggesting society should respect these points of view, but to harm people for having them - that's just unacceptable. 

For atheism specifically there should be no adverse implications at all. It is a single position on a single question. It's not discriminatory, it's not judgemental, it's not sexist nor is it racist. When someone becomes an atheist after having been a theist for a period of time they are the same person they always were. What is happening is that the answer to a question has changed - Instead of 'yes' the answer to 'Do you believe a god exists' becomes 'no'. It doesn't mean the person suddenly hates theists, it doesn't mean the person suddenly thinks all theists are morons, it doesn't mean the person is suddenly an arrogant individual with no morals. What it shows is that the person has put some time and thought into the idea of 'god' and is no longer convinced that the claims that a god exists are true. 

So what is a person new to atheism to do? Where can a person new to atheism turn to get the contact, interaction, and information they desire? For many, online - the internet - is clearly the answer. The online world, particularly the applications known as social media, is - dare I say it? - the Mecca for atheists. 

Through my twitter account @MrOzAtheist I have come to speak to, interact with, and even become friends with atheists all over the world. There is a vibrant and lively atheist community on twitter which welcomes life long atheists right through to people who are still theists but are having doubts about their beliefs. I've seen a number of examples of people new to atheism thanking others for the help and support they've been given. I've seen people tweet things about feeling alone in their real life community but feeling like they belong to a group online. 

When it comes to who I follow I couldn't recommend anyone in particular here and do justice to all the atheists on twitter who are tweeting their thoughts. I follow just over 500 quality people, and almost all are atheists. Many of them tweeting atheism majority of the time and others tweeting all kinds of topics, both serious, and seriously funny. If you are interested in who I follow on twitter you can see the list here. Of course these people will follow some people I don't and so on. If twitter is your thing, I recommend having a look at the #atheist and #atheism tags and seeing who is tweeting on the subject and when you find someone you like - follow them. (Of course, if twitter is your thing, I'm sure you're aware of how this all works!)

It really is quite heart-warming to be part of a community that provides an avenue for people who would otherwise feel lonely without it, to feel like they belong somewhere. Things such as The Not Alone Project which has recently been started by Martin Pribble (have provided an avenue for atheists to post their story in "a place where the non-believers stories can be published, in a completely safe environment, which doesn't judge its participants in any way." There's also Gamma Atheist's blog where he's publishing guest posts by atheists outlining their paths to atheism (or back to - depending on your point of view). There are many, many quality atheist blogs where everyday, average atheists, are talking about many issues affecting atheists in particular and society in general. 
I can highly recommend the following:

Rosa Rubicondior
Martin Pribble
Rachel (Atheistic in Alabama)
Green Fille

Of course this is not an exhaustive list and I suggest searching around for any blog whose words ring true for you. 

Another popular way for atheists to learn from others and to feel part of a the community is through podcasts. As with the atheist blogs, there are too many to list them all so here are just three:

The Imaginary Friends Show:
The Herd Mentality Podcast:
The No God Cast:
The Thinking Atheist Podcast
 The Scathing Atheist

There are more, please take the time to look for them, ask people on twitter who they like listening to and go from there. 

YouTube is another place where atheists connect and learn from each other. Number one for me, and the people I learned more about discussing this topic than anyone else is The Atheist Experience. It is actually a public access television show out of Austin, Texas and is run by the Atheist community of Austin. A quick search on YouTube of The Atheist Experience will bring back some great responses. I also recommend searching particularly for Matt Dillahunty (my biggest influence) and Tracie Harris. All the hosts and co-hosts on The Atheist Experience are fantastic, but Matt and Tracie are my two favourites. 

I also recommend:

I also recommend the early Thunderf00t videos dealing with creationism. I also recommending looking up debates and discussions. Obviously those involving Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens come to mind

There's going to be way too many to list, but many areas these days have local atheist groups, atheist or sceptical meetups and the like. Have a look on Google and see if there's one in your local area. If bold and start one! 

Of course then there are books. Probably not so high on the 'connect to other atheists' scale but there can be a comfortable feeling in reading the works of people who are expressing the thoughts you've held for sometime but haven't been able to express. 

The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins. Probably the most well known book on the subject having sold over 2 million copies. 

God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything - Christopher Hitchens

What Are You Without God?: How to Discredit Religious Thought and Rebuild Your Identity - Christopher Krzeminski 

I also recommend (though I haven't got to it myself) reading books by Friedrich Nietzsche. 

If you are new to atheism or new to wanting to connect with other atheists I hope I have provided some information you find helpful. If you are a follower on twitter and you have further questions please don't hesitate to ask. 


Sunday, 1 September 2013

New to Atheism Part 2 - Being a vocal atheist

In this post I'd like to give some advice to those not just new to atheism (whether that's after theism, or new to being an 'out' lifelong atheist)  but who also want to be vocal about it. Perhaps there's something there for those who've been out and vocal for some time too. I hope so. 

I'm not an expert on the atheism/theism debate, but I've been involved for a little while now and I like to think I've learnt a few things on how to get the message to people in an interesting and engaging way. 

I would also like to say that I'm not telling anyone what kind of atheist they should be and I'm not demanding anyone follow any of the advice I give below. I'm just making some suggestions from what I've learnt over the past two and a bit years being active on twitter. This is my advice on how to to be heard, how to be listened to, how to be taken seriously, and how to make a difference. The advice below largely relates to twitter as that's where I'm most vocal about atheism but I hope I've written in a way that can be easily translated into other formats - particularly when it's a debating style of communication.

First of all listen to others - on both sides of the debate. And I mean listen - without joining in. Take the time to learn what each side is saying - even the side you're not on. Don't make the mistake of being someone who has never read, studied, or considered the alternate position. A person best argues against a position when they have a very good understanding of it. Time and time again I've discussed atheism or evolution with people who oppose them but don't know what they are. It's a rookie error and makes them look amateur. Know your opposition.

It's a mistake to think atheists = smart, theists = stupid. This is simply not the case. There are some very smart theists out there - yes, really. Some of the most influential and intelligent atheists I know used to be theists. None of these people got 'smarter' the day they became atheists. They have become more informed or have learned to think and assess information in a manner different to how they had previously. Conversely, not all atheists are smart. There have been more times than I care for that atheists, particularly on twitter, have shown themselves to be ridiculous to the point of embarrassing. It doesn't make them look good and can sometimes be detrimental to atheism as a whole (if such thing can be said to exist). 

Insults don't help. At all. I'm at fault here too. I know I've called someone a moron or a fucking idiot or something similar -  but it doesn't help. All it does is get their back up and the cries of 'ad hominem' soon follow*. I know it can be quite frustrating to keep a level head and to keep the insults at bay when discussing something with someone who can't seem to grasp even the most basic of the points, but once you start calling them names you're not going to get anywhere. I will often quote theists making a stupid comment and make my own comment. I do this because I want to share with my followers something I think is either funny or thoughtful (though I suspect too often it's neither). This approach opens up my tweets to receiving replies from the people who follow me - and this is fine. It's all about communication and getting our thoughts and ideas across and the more people get involved in that, the better. However I too often get copied on replies that are just insults - even one word like moron or idiot. There's no thought there, there's no humour. I can't stop this from happening, but I really wish it wouldn't. I'm not a patient person and I think patience can be a flaw as often as it is a virtue - but remember, I'm talking here about getting the message across, about being heard. Flat out insults are not going to get either of these things to happen. 

Be funny. People love a laugh. I know, as I'm sure you do too, that religion can have very serious consequences for people. It's a genuine problem and can and does ruin people's lives. But we don't have to take the whole thing seriously ALL the time. There is opportunity to make people laugh. So if you see something ridiculous and you think of something funny to say, say it. 

If you want to engage with theists, be kind, be understanding. Don't yell at them immediately don't rip into them after a single tweet if that tweet is a genuine question or a simple misunderstanding. Theists, like anyone, are much more likely to respond in kind. If you're rude and aggressive, they'll be rude and aggressive too. If you're patient and understanding, they are more likely to talk to you in a similar manner. They are, after all, people themselves, not just words on a screen. 

Having said that, there is a difference between an ignorant but genuine person and an arsehole. If someone is being mean or rude, kindness and patience are wasted. If you feel the need to tweet to these kinds of people - go for it. Some of the funniest and most entertaining tweets on my timeline are from people getting stuck into theists who are being beyond ridiculous. We don't have to tolerate intolerance and we don't have to be courteous to rudeness. Try to learn to spot the difference. Being rude to someone just wanting to learn will reflect poorly on you.

If twitter is your avenue for being vocal consider your 'stand alone' tweets too. These are tweets where you're just giving your opinions, your thoughts, or asking questions. They don't involve replying to anyone - whether that's a theist or an atheist. My advice here is be thoughtful and/or be funny. I'm sometimes being philosophical (Socractic method almost), sometimes being funny ( least striving to be) and sometimes just letting loose - speaking without reservation and telling 'religion' exactly what I think of it. These are what I call my rants. I love replies that I see to theists, but I also love reading what people have to say on their own and I don't think twitter has enough of it. 

There are other avenues for getting your voice heard in the atheist community online apart from twitter, of course. In part three of this series I highlight some of the blogs, podcasts, books, and YouTube accounts that I find most informative and entertaining. Even though the format is different I think the message is the same and obvious - capture your audience, entertain them, be thoughtful, be funny. Whatever media you choose, read/watch/listen to plenty of it. Try to find a voice that makes you unique, find an angle that you've not seen yet. If you're too similar to others you may not get noticed. If you're writing, give people something they can relate to - such as your 'why I'm an atheist' story. I know plenty of atheists who love reading these stories. 

There's no point wanting to be vocal in the atheist community and doing it in a way that doesn't reach an audience. If you don't reach an audience, you may as well just write on a notepad. If you want to have a voice, you need to think about how to get that voice heard. Bring something to the table, provide something that people want to hear. Look at what's being done in the format you're interested in and see if you can find something missing. 

Getting yourself heard will be helped by engaging with people. Talk to other atheists and listen to them. Ask about their experiences, and, if they're interested, share yours. People are far more likely to listen to what you have to say if they know you're prepared to listen to what they have to say too. If you're blogging, read other blogs and let people know you've done it. If YouTube is your thing same applies - watch the work of others. Apply this to whichever format you want to be heard in.

I have found the atheist community online is very welcoming. I have retweeted many people who are new to atheism or new to being able to say they're an atheist and it is always a case of being welcomed with open arms (as much as that can be done online, in text). I've not ever seen a new atheist shunned by the people I follow. 

Myself - I have met some wonderful people through my MrOzAtheist account, people I would now call genuine friends. If you find people who are 'speaking your language' then don't be shy, engage. You're not going to have a connection with everyone of course, but you won't know until you try. Don't be shy, say hello.

I encourage all people willing and able to add their voice to the atheist community - in whatever way you want that voice to be added. The more voices added, the more people will feel comfortable in being able to say, "I too am an atheist". Once we have enough people doing that saying won't even matter any more. And that's where we should all be hoping to get.


*an insult is not an ad hominem. An ad hominem fallacy is when you claim someone is wrong because of a flaw in their character EG "you're wrong because you're a moron" There's a difference between this and "you're wrong, AND you're a moron" you may go on to logically defeat their argument but the insult is still not a good look - avoid.