Atheism Opposing Harm

I wrote this post today and another idea was swimming around in my mind as I was typing it out. Wanting to save it for next week, I tried going back to working on my book. Sadly, at times I tend to get focused and dial in on things so now I feel like I should get this out of my system.

I’d like to discuss this idea about Atheists opposing harmful religious practices (and other things). Sometimes Atheists get characterized as being “militant;” that word is a word that I don’t like describing Atheists who say disparaging things about people with religious belief. Perhaps “caustic,” “vociferous,” or “forceful” would be a better term to describe Atheists who feel there is a personal mission to verbally abuse people of faith in order to get them to change their ways (whatever that means). Like other groups of people who share a label, there will always be the drunk uncle who does embarrassing things at social functions.

Likewise, a lot of Atheists oppose harmful behaviors for reasons independent of faith. It’s only when faith is used to justify or is an underpinning of the harm that the opposition to belief starts. Even then, it’s not all of the beliefs getting opposed; it is the belief that can be attributed to the harm. Sure, some Atheists will sit there and say all religion must be eradicated, and they might even provide reasons for that idea. The great thing is that an Atheist won’t threaten eternal damnation for being in disagreement.

First things first. Just because some people act out doesn’t mean the entire label becomes sullied with that characteristic.
How many times have Christians said, “Not all Christians believe that”? How many times have Muslims said, “That’s not Islam”?

Now, how many Atheists say, “That’s not Atheism”? Right. None. That’s because, as I’ve said earlier, Atheism isn’t a set of beliefs; it’s just one disbelief or lack of belief in one specific thing.

This is perhaps the biggest reason why people get angry about discussions on faith. People will always parade the worst of the worst and say, “Them’s your people.” Christians have the Crusades, Witchcraft laws, Blasphemy laws, and, at least in Pennsylvania, some desecration laws. There’s also laws and social customs prohibiting certain classes of people from getting married, and other laws saying gay couples can get a separate but equal civil union. For Islam, we have ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hamas, etc. And for Atheists we have…the Soviet Union, other communist states, and Hitler.

If we characterized all of these people with these labels by their lowest common denominator, that means we are all genocidal maniacs who don’t care for human rights and are willing to kill to get our petty, petulant way.

Either we’re doing it wrong, or the line of reasoning is flawed.
The above sentence says it all. I really hope I’ve taken care of “#notallwhatevers” and “you Atheists are just as bad too” sentiments.

Why do Atheists speak out against religion if it’s not to be jerks/cramp Theists’ styles?
It’s because there’s a specific harm attached to the belief. Ideally, Atheism wouldn’t even come up in discussion if religion didn’t justify any harmful law, statute, social more, custom, or moral value. Think about that. Religion could be fully celebrated with no problems for any different belief structure if it wasn’t used to justify any of the above list.

What that means in no uncertain terms is that I’m not opposed to people because they have faith; I am opposed to the destruction that faith can cause. This is an important distinction. Telling me that I have a label and that means I must have some other characteristic is categorically false. Likewise, telling Atheists that they secretly believe in God, or that they have to find some false God to pick on is just as categorically false.

In the spirit of moving the discussion on religion forward, then, I want to say now that if I see a harm that doesn’t have to rely on a statement against faith, then I’ll do my best to refrain from making it. But if religion got brought into the discussion, I am free to address it to the extent that it is used to justify one’s position. And sometimes this will involve disputing certain characteristics people attribute to their deity of choice.

I hope this illustrates the point I’m making, and that I’ve seen elsewhere, that Atheists are not some cabal of sinners and ne’er-do-wells that are wanting to end civilization. I’m offering it as evidence that Atheists are just as interested in letting other people live as they see fit as others are. This is true despite that there are others out there who would like the discussion to be “us vs. them” or “the right vs. the wrong.” By being reasonable and understanding, we can push these other ideas to the fringe where they belong.

There’s something that bears repeating.
I’ve said it before, here and elsewhere. I’m not interested in making people feel uncomfortable about their entire belief structure. I am interested in letting people know what kind of hurt their beliefs can cause. Really. It’s that simple.

I understand that I’ve got people following my blog who have belief systems. I really like that because if I’m wrong on something, I would appreciate honesty and candor in letting me know how wrong I am. But there are going to be times where I have very good reasons for saying something, and someone is going to have very good reasons for speaking against what I have to say. In that situation, I am happy that other people reading it are going to have the best information to make their own choices.

It’s such a shame I can’t follow this post up with some nice, fresh cookies for everyone.

Atheists Have Beliefs, Just Not That One

I was reading a wonderful post by Doobster over at his blog, “Mindful Digressions,” and I just had to comment. Sometimes comments get away from me, and it was at that time I realized that I had a post on my hands instead of just a simple comment. Long story short, I wanted to talk about Atheists having beliefs, and how that thought gets twisted around on the Internet.

This is an important subject for me, as I remember a conversation I had with my older brother a couple of months ago. He told me that just because I was Atheist didn’t mean I lost every belief I ever had. However, he referred to it as a belief system. The distinction seems small, and by rights it should be, except that often I am confronted with people who want to use that phrase to treat Atheism like it’s a religion.

To complicate matters, Doobster correctly pointed out that other people will refer to Atheists as “non-believers,” as if Atheists are all cynical nihilists with pencil-thin mustaches and berets. Where I’m from, it’s also used in the pejorative (like the word “liberal” when used to talk about political affiliation). So at times it seems like Theists want to have it both ways: Atheists believe in nothing but somehow do it in an organized way.

Can we pick one and run with it?
It doesn’t seem like that’s possible. This also doesn’t seem surprising considering how badly Atheism gets misconstrued with regards to what it means and what Atheists stand for (here’s a hint: it’s as different as the number of Atheists out there). For a good example, Captain Cassidy wrote this wonderful post in which she describes some of the things some Christians would like Atheists to believe. This dovetails nicely with her main point in that post: popular Christian writers prefer attacking an Atheistic straw man.

This isn’t surprising. “Successful” Christian arguments, especially from former Atheists, are devoured by congregations and Bible studies. It’s a pretty lucrative market. Suffice it to say, though, I am opposed to this thinking not only because it is wrong, but also because it takes unfair advantage of people’s faith structures. This kind of stuff pushes people to grotesque mental gymnastics, hatred, and divisiveness, and it’s more in the name of making a buck than it is trying to improve Christian faith. Christians who literally buy into these ideas then feel free to parrot them to everyone they know, and it is very frustrating when Atheists have responses to these poorly developed ideas.

Let’s see some of them.

Atheists don’t believe in anything.
This refers back to what I said earlier about calling Atheists non-believers. Sometimes it’s used as a slur, a derogatory term to imply that an Atheist just wants to be evil. It ignores that technically anyone who doesn’t believe an idea is a non-believer. The idea is used to wound and create division.

There are a lot of ideas that use this concept as an underpinning. I’m sure people have heard that Atheists have no morals, no goodness, no drive to do the “right” thing. Atheists also lack direction in life, caring only for themselves. These are patently false statements.

If anything, losing my faith has made me more obsessed with morality, ethics, and doing the right thing than ever before. This is because now I realize that what I do is always on me rather than explainable by supernatural whimsy. Some Atheists get really up in arms about things because they feel incredibly strongly about what they ought to do.

In short: Atheists have beliefs too.

Atheism is a religion/belief system/dogma.
Calling Atheism a religion is a way to try to lump all Atheists together to dismiss them out of hand. It’s also grossly inaccurate. To quote the poet Doobster, “Atheism is a religion like abstinence is a sexual position[]” (emphasis removed). It’s my new favorite snide retort to this erroneous thought.

From my time spent as a Lutheran, I know why there’s an urge to call Atheism a religion (and there are a few sites out there that do call it that). Christianity is very good at addressing other dogma and belief structures. And if Atheism is a belief structure with false dogma, then it can get categorically attacked. This means that arguments treating Atheism as an unsubstantiated belief are really trying to discredit all Atheists at once.

The idea is incorrect from the start. Dogma is “an official system of principles or tenets concerning faith, morals, behavior, etc., as of a church.” Even if one uses a more religiously neutral definition “prescribed doctrine proclaimed as unquestionably true by a particular group[,]” there are problems. Atheists do not have an official system of tenets. And if an Atheist claims to say an idea is unquestionable (even the ones I’m putting forth here), you can expect other Atheists to come along and correct that notion in short order.

There is only one defining characteristic of an Atheist: “a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings.” To put it another way: Atheists don’t believe in God, gods, deities, or Great Pumpkins. That’s it. Other than not believing in a god, Atheists have nothing else in common. Some Atheists believe in fairies and mermaids. There are Atheists that believe in no supernatural phenomena (I am one of those). More Atheists still are Agnostic, resting disbelief on lack of evidence.

Just because Atheists have other beliefs doesn’t mean that these beliefs are required. There isn’t even a mythical requirement to “believe in science.” Also, just because my lack of faith causes me espouse certain ideas doesn’t make these ideas part of some Atheistic belief structure. No Atheist has told me I have to read “The God Delusion” in order to use the label. If anyone did that, I’d question their mistaken principles just like I’m questioning these mistaken principles. My point is that Atheists don’t even have to like each other in order to be an Atheist. They just have to doubt the existence of gods.

What I’d like people to take away from this.
Therefore, for the reasons set forth above, ideas that require Atheism to be a faith, belief system, or claim that Atheists believe in nothing are wrong. They mischaracterize Atheists and Atheism, diminishing what beliefs individuals do have. Just as it is wrong to say “all Christians don’t value morality” it is just as wrong to say Atheists have the same quality. The views come from different backgrounds, and nothing more.

I also hope that this clears up some misconceptions about Atheists. Speaking for myself, I am not interested in ending religion or forcing my views on others. I will try to speak as persuasively as possible for my position, because I believe that providing the best arguments I can muster will help people best decide for themselves what to believe.

Some Happy Thoughts

I was geared up to do a completely different post this morning, and then I read this gem by Opinionated Man (a.k.a. Jason Cushman). Go and read it. I’ll wait here.

It’s always nice to get reminders that negativity is fleeting, but positive encouragement lives forever.
What I mean by this is something implicit in every word of encouragement out there uttered in opposition to negative thinking. Negativity keeps people from doing what they want to do, building what they want to build, being the best person that person can be. It oppresses, discourages, dissuades, and all for nothing better than a temporary flash of anger or bitterness.

Oh, but encouragement! What wonders it does! Who were the people that said they could have fire, the wheel, and civilization? On their minds rests all of the technologies and wonders of modern humanity. What of the people who told Michelangelo he could not paint? His eternity rests in art and sculpture while we shall never know his detractors. Remember all those who said people could not fly? Two bicycle enthusiasts with the last name of Wright defied them and gravity.

The point is that we need a lifetime of discouragement to prevent us from doing something world-changing. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of this diminishing the human potential. Whether it comes in the form of the words of others or the faults we find in ourselves, people frequently are bogged down by that which assails them. Would that it were otherwise, but this is what leads to our cynics and venomous critics.

Positive thinking alone cannot cure negativity.
I have long wished for it to be different, but my depression and depressive episodes have taught me at least one thing about life: we cannot always will it to be what we need it to be. There needs to be an action, a thing that helps grab oneself out of a rut to do good things. But how can there be action where there is no will to act?

Does this mean that people are doomed to failure? That negative thinking actually holds more power than positive thought? Derision and apathy are everywhere around me, and there are many days which I feel that they will hold my head under the waves until I drown. My memory gravitates to the thoughts and sights and fears which have kept me from doing what I love most: expressing myself through the spoken and written word.

Right now, then, it seems I have been defeated by negativity. Where has encouragement gotten me? I am unable to use my law license to better my community, denied the chance by the very state I wished to work for. The victims of crime and unfortunate circumstance need champions, those who speak out for them, and I must remain mute. Others surely must be able to pick up the standard, but those are not me with my training and mind and ability. It seems the pinnacle of hubris for me to think that I alone am capable of helping others. However, I must say that it is not hubris but humility – I want to give back to the community instead of taking from it.

From the bottom, the only way to go is up.
Even in my example there is some hope. When my focus is on what I can’t do, I do nothing. It is my perspective, then, that needs adjusting. In a fit of desperation I turned to expressing myself online, and I found people who suffer as I do; who want to express themselves as I do; who want to live their lives despite circumstance and misfortune as I do. One minor shift in perspective for me, and I found a new part of this world to remind me what it is to be human and alive at this time.

This thought returns to my previous one. It takes the builders of a monument to successfully do it once to create something enjoyed for ages. It takes a single revolution to build a society worthy of human flourishing. It takes only one word of encouragement to create art, beauty, and to lift the spirits of those around us.

Affirmative acts of creation and positive thinking are permanent and echo through eternity. Negativity is pervasive, but it must recoil at the successes of others. And although people may not be excellent at all times and manners to their liking, the kindness they show is hidden everywhere.

The next time that one receives negative feedback, remember this: it will not last forever.

And the next time one receives encouragement, imagine what wonders you can do with it.

Comparing Mental Illnesses

I had a conversation yesterday with a friend of mine, Elaine, about how I cope with my depression. She knows about my depression because we recently reconnected on Skype, and I explained my nine month absence. I’ve known Elaine for about three years now, and this is the first time she expressly asked about it. In particular, she wanted to know how I went from being suicidal in November to being cheerful and helpful now. Although she doesn’t talk too specifically about what she suffers, the way she was asking kind of made it sound like she was comparing what she was going through with what I went through.

Stuff like this always worries me.
It’s the same reason why I don’t make too many comments on posts dealing with mental illness, opting instead to hit the like button. I suffer from Major Depressive Disorder, and the last thing I want is for other people with mental illness to feel like their problems aren’t as worthy of support and help as anyone else’s. Sadly, growing up I was surrounded by people who kept trying to tell people their problems aren’t as bad as others’.

Mental illness has different manifestations of the suffering people go through – examples include seeking abusive relationships, suicidal thoughts/attempts, or seeing/hearing things that aren’t there. There is an inherent need for some people and the public to try to rank order these issues based on the manifestations. However, they all stem from the same point – human mental suffering.

In that regard, then, no one mental illness is “better” or “worse” than any other. Some might be more manageable for those who suffer from it. Some might be more easily hidden and escape treatment. Some might be ever-present and take a drastic toll on friends and family. None of this negates the misery and pain that every person who suffers from mental illness has to go through.

Comparing one’s own illness with others also can inflict more pain.
Maybe the reason why I’m so worried about this is because I used to tell myself that because I could function, I didn’t have real problems. Being able to smile and laugh while thinking about the best ways to end my life somehow, in some way, meant that I wasn’t really depressed. Plus, other people have it worse. I told myself to suck it up.

Now I realize how wrong I was. It didn’t get rid of my depression; it just gave it incubation time to grow and worsen. Thinking like this allowed me to delude myself into thinking there was no problem, and then it deluded me into thinking that my depression was the only right way to think about my life. I couldn’t see that my warped sense of thinking was the problem, that I needed to get help instead of blaming myself for feeling bad.

There are probably others who are suffering silently as I was, trying to tell themselves that they don’t deserve treatment or a chance to be happy. Additionally to the internal forces, though, there were external ones. People I knew who would always tell me, “I have it worse.” The reasoning there is to cheer you up in a backhanded sort of way, but for me all it did was say, “Your pain is meaningless to me.” Therefore, there is a fine line between trying to cheer someone up and driving them further into their own private hell.

Not all comparisons are unhealthy.
I have to offer this caveat: some comparisons help me cope with my depression. If this wasn’t the case, nobody would blog about it and discover new friends. I follow plenty of people who talk about the ideas their mental illness uses against them, and I think, “Wow, I’ve used that one too!” This isn’t an effort to mitigate other people’s suffering; it’s a way to find power in realizing I’m not alone in my irrationality.

Finding out that I’m not alone is critical to my well-being. Let me say it again:

Finding out that I’m not alone is critical to my well-being.

Part of the torture that is depression is the isolating nature of it. We humans are social animals, and we naturally want to be part of a group. Depression fights this, keeping us away from others or putting an artificial self in with the group while secretly staying on the fringe. And for other mental illnesses, I have seen similar isolation caused by stigma and other negative social forces (hence why mental illness appears to have at least one commonality across the board – social interference).

It is a struggle to find ways to connect to a group and feel that sense of belonging that other people take for granted. Comparing what one suffers to what others suffer is a way of building that connection. There can be a group of two now, then four, then many more. And everyone can talk about what they have to deal with inside their heads. Bonds can form. People can feel like people.

How does one tell the difference between unhealthy and healthy comparisons?
Living inside my head at least, I can’t always tell the difference, hence my reluctance to comment. I want to tell people that I agree with them, that what they say has meaning. The last thing I want is to cause people to feel isolated or neglected. Added to this is the inherent difficulty dealing with my own illness, which can take positive feedback and turn it into an excuse to do terrible things to myself.

I wish there was an easy, quick way to assess this and say, “Do X so good stuff will happen.” There will always be a part of me that looks for that. In the meantime, I have to be content with taking a slower, more methodical approach. Does what I have to say build a human connection or take away from it? What evidence do I have to support such a view? These things take time and practice to deal with, something I hope will improve over time.

Another frustration is that in person I’m quite sociable. I’ll laugh, tell jokes, and try to put everyone around me at ease. Online, where I have to be more honest with myself (oh, the irony), I find myself to have a level of awkwardness I haven’t had since high school. Sometimes I want to be impulsive and joke and laugh, but I have to temper that by acknowledging that how I deal with things isn’t how others deal with things.

Moving forward, I hope that I can see how I negatively compare my illness and positively do so. I want to make it to where I only do the latter.

Five. Thousand. Words.

So I normally post earlier than this because I need to publish at least one thing a day (except Saturdays). This is for my own sanity as well as keeping my writing skills going. I think of it like exercise: don’t do it and I’ll lose it.

Today I wrote five thousand words for my fantasy novel, as well as looking up stuff on how to write a synopsis for my science fiction book. On a side note, I’m happy I’m finally getting some courage to start shopping that book around. Anxiety attacks and depressive episodes aside, if I get positive feedback there I think it’ll do wonders for helping me out. If I don’t…well, I’ll try to keep a positive outlook.

At any rate, I wrote these five thousand words, and then at the end of it I did a silly thing that some people might be familiar with.

I deleted them all.

Sometimes, shit happens. Other times, it takes five thousand words to happen.
This isn’t the first time I’ve had one badass session of furious typing end in complete erasure. Sadly, it probably won’t be the last. The first time it was about 8k words, and I was so crestfallen at having to delete the drivel I banged out on my still-smoking keyboard. At first I went through the five stages of grief trying to keep them. Then, I selected the pages and pages of work and hit delete.

Nowadays I have less compunction against deleting bad stuff. As it turns out, deleting it now and sacrificing the day’s work saves more time and effort later. I have one example of this. For my science fiction novel, I had a chapter of about 10k words dedicated to a complicated series of plot happenings and dialogues between antagonist and one protagonist. It was complete ass, but I decided I’d keep it and muddle through.

Fast forward to when I was editing, and I had a friend proofread the book for me. He got to that chapter and said I was making things more complicated than they had to be. What was worse: he was right. Not only did I ruin that chapter, make my antagonist look silly and my protagonist look sillier, I also ruined every other event later that depended upon that chapter.

In order to fix it, I needed to change what happened in such a way to keep the majority of outcomes intact. This seems straightforward, but when you have 20k other words relying upon this stuff it gets intense quickly. Setbacks multiplied, and I was mired for a few weeks fixing what should have been done with one delete button.

I’m probably going to start rambling soon. There’s a point to this, I promise.
I did end up producing about 1500 words today. It was very sad I couldn’t keep the other 5k. Part of me wants the point of this to be that it’s okay to lose unproductive work. Another part of me wants the point to be something more uplifting, like I did it all for something.

There’s no real answer, I suppose. I’ll just have to keep plucking along, poking at keys until something sensible comes out.

Oh, and I’ll try to write blog posts *before* having really productive days.

What is Christianity’s Worst Enemy?

Christians are Christianity’s worst enemy.

I recently came across this post in my meanderings across the WordPress blogosphere, and it’s the nicest way yet that I’ve found Christians expressing this idea that everyone else is out to get them. There are other materials out there, of course (like the “Left Behind” series I lampooned yesterday), but I wanted to address this thought that non-Christians are just waiting to mercilessly slaughter Christians because of their faith. It’s untrue, and it’s a giant barrier to building a better world community.

Christianity isn’t under attack.
The point of my posts on Atheism isn’t to silence Christians or punish them for [insert reason here]. At the least it is an open challenge for Christians to rethink their faith. My best wish is that it will open an honest dialogue so that others can read and learn how to coexist in a world that doesn’t always agree with us. Thinking about it another way: as long as there are two humans existing there are two completely irreconcilable differences as to what the perfect pizza is. If something as mundane as pizza can’t always foster agreement, religion or the lack thereof certainly can fare no better.

There’s a lot of speech going on about how Christianity is coming under attack. We’re taking God out of schools, away from abortion clinics, and even out of peoples’ bedrooms. This isn’t because of some hidden or secret agenda written down in blood on dried fetus-skin by cigar-smoking Atheists in fancy suits. It’s written in public, for all to see, in our First Amendment (elsewhere for other countries that have separation of church and state). Christianity isn’t getting deprived of its rights; its getting deprived of its privileges.

That is a HUGE difference. Rights belong to everyone equally, and they cannot be deprived in this country without due process of law. And fundamental rights have heightened protection in the U.S. and other countries to make sure law cannot infringe upon them. For this reason I cannot convince my local legislature to ban Church of Christ members or Muslims from praying. I can’t even prevent students from congregating around a flag pole to pray for this country, nor would I even want to.

If Christianity isn’t even under attack, then it also means non-Christians aren’t secretly trying to kill Christians, either.
There are verses in Revelations and elsewhere that describe a world where Christians are getting slaughtered. Because of this, some Christians believe that it is only a matter of time before non-Christians break out their pitchforks and torches to go fight the faithful. More extreme Christians think the time is getting very close at hand.

This view is anathema to a civilized society that values dialogue instead of drastic action. People can’t make peace because that’s the sign of the Anti-Christ? Really? People who don’t share your beliefs are your sworn enemy? Is that what sharing the love of Christ is about?

Having a mindset that categorizes the rest of the world as one’s mortal enemy doesn’t make conversation go smoothly. Suspecting that everyone is out to get you because of your faith definitely isn’t healthy. Most certainly, thinking that people who disagree with you want to kill you explains the hostility I get sometimes when I comment on Christian sites.

What these extreme views miss, though, is that people losing the legal right to believe in something is tyranny in all of its ugliness. I can only speak for myself (because Atheism isn’t a religion or a secret club of everyone in agreement), but I personally do not want to live in a society where everyone is legally obligated to agree. The reasons for this are that those obligations do not allow people to flourish and live their lives as best they can. In other words, I will not begrudge you your faith although I strongly disagree with it.

Edit: [The difference here is that I am ethically obligated to limit myself to persuading you to change your mind, so I cannot force you to change your mind.] (Credit to Doobster418 for catching my mistake). Likewise, under our current laws, you can try to persuade me to change my mind, but you cannot force me to change it. This is the fairest way for humans to deal with each other that we have found so far.

Losing one’s privilege doesn’t excuse other attempts to regain that privilege.
I’m currently going through a series of videos by David Barton (which is a time consuming process because of the number and nature of the claims made in these videos). I cite him because he is a revisionist that argues the importance of changing school textbooks to reflect a more Christian view of history. Other changes have occurred elsewhere, such as trying to add Intelligent Design theory to school science books.

The only reason I bring all of this up is to show that there is going to be backlash on these ideas, but not because people hate Christians. It’s because ID theory is bad science. It’s because Christianity isn’t the only religious lens to view history through. It’s because people should be allowed to get their faith from church without having the state force it on others.

And just because there’s a fight over privilege doesn’t mean a bloodbath will ensue. What it does mean is that there needs to be a conversation on how to responsibly express one’s views while respecting the boundaries of others. Think of preaching like being a salesperson out on a street. When someone says, “no thank you,” one is not allowed to harass the customer until he or she relents. Similarly, my advocacy for adhering to what one can prove through objective evidence is simply that: advocacy.

Inhibiting this dialogue only prolongs the inevitable. While Christians are out in public lamenting our declining morals and how the wicked are unfairly curtailing Christian privilege, other Christians aren’t allowed to hold prayer meetings before class or feel insecure about talking about their faith with others. Public bullying doesn’t just drown out voices against one’s position, it also drowns out voices that could be friendly.

By doing this, these Christians are stopping other Christians from realizing that we’re all in this boat called “Earth” together, that we don’t have or agree on all the answers, and that maybe we should try being nice to each other instead of a jerk. That’s why Christians are Christianity’s own worst enemy. And that’s why I’m going to keep speaking out against unreasonable and toxic Christian ideas.

Sunday Fiction: The Crapture, Part One

Halfway through a flight from Paris to Washington, D.C., Dushawn Ironguy began thinking naughty thoughts about a woman who wasn’t his wife. He knew he shouldn’t have such meandering, salacious, and utterly bankrupt thoughts about anyone but the missus, but he was a lonely guy flying a plane across the Atlantic Ocean for the third time this week. Rarely being at home took its toll on his relationship with his family, and he was going to miss his young son’s sixth birthday. Oh yeah, his daughter was going to be visiting from college, and he was going to miss that too. What a jerk.

Dushawn wanted to blame his wife for him having to go to work all the time and continuing to think naughty thoughts about women that he wasn’t contractually obligated to support and co-own property with. He was an unreasonable Atheist; a regular guy who didn’t give two shits about Christians and reminded them with scathing derision what he thought of their religious values. Every time a Jehovah’s Witness came to the door, he’d tell them he wasn’t interested in learning about God. When the Mormons came knocking, he offered them water and a chance to take a break from bicycling in the summer heat. Once some evangelicals came around and told him about the Bible, and he politely smiled while offering them some freshly brewed sweet tea. Such a dick move. Take that Christians.

But Dushawn’s thoughts digress. He was in the middle of unreasonably blaming his wife. She actually paid attention to those evangelicals and started going to church with them. He didn’t want to interfere with her personal beliefs, so he patiently waited for her to come home from church every Sunday morning. As always she’d come back late at night after the third Sunday service, sweating and giddy with spiritual fulfillment. Then she’d see Dushawn and say, “Dushe, you need to come to church or you’re going to be thrown into a lake of fire. A lake. Of fire. In Hell. The bad place.”

Dushawn would shake his head and reply, “No, honey, I don’t think God exists.” What a dick.

And his wife knew it, so for his soul’s sake she started taking their young son to church. He’d come back speaking in tongues with palm-shaped bruises on his forehead where he got spiritually healed. “Daddy’s going to burn in Hell,” his son would say, passive-aggressively trying to spur his daddy to church. It didn’t work, because Dushawn wanted evidence, not guilt trips. They should’ve known better; Atheists have no conscience, especially ones like Dushawn.

After that came the demands and gifts to the church. One morning after a non-stop he piloted from Shanghai to LAX, he called home to find out that she donated all their furniture to the church. Something about not being able to take it with you, even though they were in their 40’s. She then dropped the bomb on him: God didn’t like divorce, so she would just pretend they weren’t married until he came to his senses and got saved. Unreasonably Dushawn tried finding more work so he could buy new furniture.

Taking all these flights meant he got to spend a lot of time with his co-pilot and the flight attendants. On the Atlantic circuit, there was one regular named Floozy McHomewrecker. Dushawn thought McHomewrecker was an odd name, but she explained that it was Scottish or something, which kind of made sense if he didn’t think about it. They laughed and would share stories on the long flights back and forth across the pond, and pretty soon they were friends who didn’t talk about the Bible or God at all.

Such a friendship is a recipe for disaster. Flight attendants for the airline Dushawn worked for were required to wear coats and dresses and poofy scarves which covered their bodies so only their faces would show. One day, though, Floozy was bent over a serving tray trying to pick up a bottle of water for a passenger and Dushawn saw the one thing that changed his life forever: Floozy’s ankle. The dress was hiked up just enough to show a fair-skinned ankle masked by pantyhose, but Dushawn was a man of the world, and he could imagine what it looked like underneath. Such a display would soon lead to other impure thoughts, for sure.

He tried stopping himself, but back in the cockpit all he could see was Floozy’s exposed ankle. There was no stopping the cascade of naughty thoughts because he was an Atheist and had no moral convictions to stop him. Soon he saw himself laughing with her over dinner, enjoying a quiet evening of classical music at the opera, and even walking her home while holding her hand. Dushawn, a married man, wanted to treat some other woman like a lady.

Jack “H.C.” Smith was a reporter who didn’t take any prisoners. He was a skeptical guy who asked the hard questions, demanded the right answers, and presented his stories without bias or spin. In today’s tough news market, H.C. got the scoop on everyone, reporting things in a spectacularly interesting fashion that made others envious of his command of the English language.

One time, he did a report on paint drying and won the Pulitzer.

H.C. was on the flight from Paris to D.C. because he just got done interviewing a good friend in Israel named Ben Shmeel. Ben was a scientist, but nobody held that against him on account of the fact that he always thanked God for giving him the compassion and humility to use science to end world hunger and cancer. His latest experiment was called the Garden Project, and it was an effort to turn barren desert into lush farmland. It didn’t work like he’d hoped, but really Ben worked hard on it and tried his best.

Lack of funding was one of the problems. Mr. Shmeel had only a few donations to run his experiments, so all he was really able to do was to genetically modify some barley to make beer that tasted like raspberries. H.C. got to try a glass, and it was fairly delicious, with a crisp flavor that wasn’t too hoppy. While doing the interview, Ben kept going on about how he could totally get free beer to everyone that wanted it if he just got the support.

Then, in a fortuitous turn of events that was either part of a DIVINE PLAN or might have been coincidence, Ben got a call from the Ominous Projects Division of the United Nations. The good folks there wanted to fund the Garden Project and successfully ran a kickstarter to get it going. Free beer got the world’s attention, and inside of half an hour millions in funds had been donated to Ben’s pursuit of delicious alcoholic refreshment (please enjoy responsibly).

Truly God’s hand must have been involved, and not the millions of people who were thirsty.

H.C. put the finishing touches to his story on his laptop, immersed so completely in his work that he didn’t notice the flight attendant sit down next to him. “Hey there,” she said, “You’re always busy at something, aren’t you H.C.?”

Looking up in surprise, H.C. saw it was his favorite flight attendant. “Floozy!” he said amiably. “Just finishing up a pretty amazing article on this guy who’s trying to make the world a better place, alcoholism and drunk driving notwithstanding. I should congratulate you on your new job, shouldn’t I?”

“How’d you know?” she asked incredulously.

“I’m a reporter,” replied H.C. “It’s my job to know. That, and you used me as a reference, remember? Your new bosses at the U.N. Ominous Projects Division were impressed by all the good things I had to say about you.”

“Thanks, H.C.,” said Floozy. A bell chimed ahead, and she put on her best customer service smile. “Looks like my work isn’t done yet. I’ll check in on you later. Thanks again for helping me out!”

As it turned out, the passenger ahead just wanted a warm blanket and a scotch. This provided the perfect excuse for Floozy to go forward and visit her favorite pilot and co-pilot on this flight. Since they disregarded U.S. Federal law, Floozy marched up to the cockpit and opened the unlocked door. “Hey guys!” she said. “Is there anything I can get you?”

“We’re just a few hours out from Ronald Reagan International,” said Dushawn. He avoided eye contact; he couldn’t let her know his deep, dark fantasies of being a perfect gentleman to her. “I’m fine, thank you.”

“Congratulations on your new job,” said the co-pilot, some guy that Dushawn and Floozy never bothered to learn the name of. “The U.N.’s Ominous Projects Division will be lucky to have you randomly leave here and work for them.”

“Thanks, co-pilot!” Floozy said cheerfully. “I’m going to get you a vodka tonic!” She left the two people to watch the auto-pilot fly the plane, closing the door softly behind her.

“She’s leaving?” asked Dushawn. He wasn’t sure whether he was angry with her or himself. Having recently fallen in love with a woman he wasn’t married to is just desserts, all things considered. Dushawn didn’t see it that way. He had to tell her how he felt about her. Ignoring the reply of the co-pilot, he unbuckled his safety harness and went back for her. She was in the galley, pouring the rest of the vodka into a tall glass. Spinning her around, Dushawn looked deeply into her eyes and said, “Um, hello.”

“Hi there, captain!” she replied, cheerful as ever. “What’s the problem?”

“No problem,” said Dushawn. He let go of her. “I apologize for breaking protocol and potentially touching you offensively. It’s just that I was in a hurry to talk to you, and I felt it was more dramatic if I spun you around.”

Floozy nodded. “It sure was! Now that it’s over, what did you want to talk about?”

Dushawn’s mind reeled. What should he tell her? Everything? Nothing? He was being silly, having no moral compass or acknowledging his soul that yearned for God’s direction. In the end, he opted for honesty. “I didn’t congratulate you earlier.”

“That’s okay,” said Floozy, her voice sympathetic. “I’m going to finish mixing this drink for our co-pilot, and then you both can get back to watching a computer program fly the plane!”

“Thanks, Floozy, you’re the best,” said Dushawn, relieved he was able to get that off his chest. He went back to the cockpit and sat down, looking at the spinning dials and blinking lights tell him they weren’t hurling towards the ground in a fiery ball of doom. Ms. McHomewrecker came in with that vodka tonic, and they all waited in silence.

H.C. woke up to the worst smell ever. It reeked like a sewer at low tide, which must have been bad since it made him mix up his similes. Looking to his right, he saw a little old lady calling out for her missing husband. “Mortimer!” she cried out. “I hope you’re not running around in your birthday suit again!”

Unable to resist assisting an old lady in distress, H.C. unbuckled his safety belt and went over to her. “What’s wrong, ma’am?” he asked.

“My husband is missing!” she said. “Sometimes he wanders off without his clothes and tries to play a game he calls ‘Grand Theft Auto: The Live Edition.’ And, oh heavens, what’s that smell?”

H.C. sniffed the air, and boy something stank. It smelled like a dead skunk in a stink bomb factory. Since that must have been worse than his earlier simile, H.C. reasoned it must be coming from underneath the blanket in the seat next to the old woman. Lifting it up, he saw a big, steaming pile of feces in the chair with little bits of corn and the airplane peanuts they give you when you get on the plane. It was terrible.

Behind him, someone else said, “What’s that smell?” Another person got up and commented, “Where are my kids? Oh, and that smell is terrible! Someone open a window!” Pretty soon everyone on board was talking about missing people and all the feces left behind. It sounded to H.C. like it was going to be one hell of a story.

By now Captain Dushawn had heard the ruckus and came back to have a look. He held his hand to his nose and took short breaths. This was most unusual. In his twenty years of flying, he’d never lost a single passenger or had this much crap to deal with in first class. Two record bad things happening in one flight; checkmate Atheist.

Dushawn had to act quickly. His training didn’t include Bible verses, but it did include deploying oxygen masks. He ran to the forward area and had co-pilot deploy them. Pulling out the microphone for the intercom, Dushawn said, “This is your Atheist captain speaking. It appears that we have a problem with people pooping and leaving for others to clean up. Since this could be an end-of-the-world scenario, please refrain from using any flammable objects until we land. To help with the smell, please use the oxygen masks that should be dropping down in front of you. We’re a few minutes from landing, so I’ll try to make this unpleasant experience as short as possible.”

The captain had to act quickly. Around bad smells people could be expected to turn into animals or worse. Radioing to the tower, Dushawn found out that the emergency response system had kicked in. He was cleared to land, thanks to the foresight of Federal Aviation Administration authorities to have backups in case of people getting Raptured.

Landing his plane like a pro, Dushawn helped his passengers file out in an orderly fashion and refrain from looting and pillaging on the way out of the airport. Only one person was left on the plane: H.C.

“What do you think happened?” asked Dushawn, trying to use his small Atheist brain to understand God’s opening act in the end of the world.

“I don’t know,” said H.C. “But someone’s going to have to clean up that plane, and I don’t want it to be me. Say, I could use a pilot to cart me around the world while I try to figure out what sort of apocalypse scenario this is. What do you say?”

“Beats cleaning up all this crap,” replied Dushawn. He held out his hand, and H.C. shook it. “Name’s Dushawn. You can call me Dushe.” And with that, both of them left the airport together.

Sex Lacking In Consent

For those who read the title and know what I’m going to be writing about, the message is probably already confirmation of what one already knows. Amazingly there are still plenty of people in this world who do not know what “sex lacking in consent” means. To those people, there’s a four-letter word that describes it. No, it’s not fuck, shit, cock, cunt, or damn.

It’s rape.

Sex lacking in consent is rape. It’s sexual assault. It’s socially reprehensible. It’s not okay or anywhere even remotely near anything resembling okay. One can’t even see okay from where rape is. If one out of two people having sex doesn’t want to be doing it, it’s rape. Even if someone doesn’t get caught doing it, it’s rape. Even if the community doesn’t believe the victim speaking out against it, it’s rape. Even if the victim later recants her testimony and the charges get dropped, it’s rape.

What is consent? It’s an acquiescence to the behavior at hand. One can affirmatively or give implied consent to many things. Just because a person believes they had consent doesn’t mean consent was given. This is something that is critical to understand. Consent isn’t a one-sided discussion. Both people need to be okay with things in order for there to be consent. If you are not sure you have consent before having sex, you are rolling the dice on committing a felony.

I hope I made that clear.
I’m writing this because I left a comment on this post about a new nail polish being developed that’s supposed to identify if a specific roofie is in a woman’s drink. I agreed with the overall assessment that the polish is useless, but I left a comment essentially asserting that the polish is another chance to reiterate the message that sex without consent is rape.

Instead of writing a longer comment to the reply I got, I decided a post was proper to illustrate what I was talking about.

For people who are unclear as to what the big deal is about, scientists are actively searching for ways to combat specific means of rape. Date rape drugs are popularized in the media, so I’m fairly certain that this is why this absurd nail polish was developed (though I can’t be 100% sure). The reasoning goes that maybe if we render a device used for rape useless, rape will diminish. While it does follow that it may decrease the number of rapes, it’s not going to do it by much.

Take a look at some of the numbers. 73% of victims know their attacker. About half of sexual assaults occur within one mile of the victim’s home. This indicates that time would be better spent looking at people women already know rather than date rape drugs.

That’s because, just looking at college campuses, it’s been found that about only 1% of sexual assaults included drug facilitation. This means that 99% of rapes in college did not involve a date rape drug, and therefore the nail polish would only, at best, reduce rapes by 1%. While this doesn’t talk about rapes outside of college situations, there would need to be a severely disproportionate amount in order to make the nail polish more useful.

The nail polish is a means to an end.
Remember I started this whole post talking about consent. The nail polish is not an excuse to shield oneself from liability. Just because a woman wears it doesn’t mean others are absolved of asking for permission. It just means the woman you’re talking to is worried about date rape drugs.

More worrying is the notion that half of college students don’t define a rape as rape. There was no bruising, or weapon involved, or severe threats of violence, so it wasn’t rape. This is completely incorrect. Sexual assault statutes do not say it’s rape if there’s injury or even hurt feelings. It’s rape if there is no consent and penetration was effected.

That’s right, two elements. And because the latter is easy to prove nowadays, the former is the only part in which people try to argue.

C’mon, that’s not really rape, though, is it?
It is. And considering the horseshit it puts victims through, it makes people who try to say “no harm no foul” indecent, sub-human monsters. This thinking comes from a complete and total lack of compassion for the misery of others. To put it another way, suppose I could kill someone without inflicting any pain. Does that mean killing someone in that fashion isn’t murder? There are two choices to answer that question, and if you answered yes, you missed.

The point I’m really wanting to put out here, and repeat time and again, and that I hope others will repeat time and again, is that not getting consent is wrong. Implied consent is a gamble at best, and in the context of rape is usually horribly miscalculated. Instead of deluding oneself into thinking there’s consent to get laid, get that consent. Without it, one runs a terrible risk of ruining the lives of everyone involved.

One last thing. I think that every time one talks about issues like this, there needs to be a unified message or slogan. This will make it easier for people to evaluate their actions and recognize that wanting to get some needs to take a back seat to the well-being of that person they want to get some with. I will try to do my part to keep some of the stuff I talk about pithy and memorable, but I will also try to recognize things I’d like to see spread around about this issue.

And even though the nail polish is not a good idea, it’s still a chance to talk about the factors that lead to sexual assault. By sharing and repeating the same message, there will be increased awareness of the problem, and even if only one assault is prevented because of it, the entire effort is worth it.

My Creative Process

Getting back into writing my book again while taking time to blog has definitely made me look at my writing process. Different forms of writing require different processes, and I’m beginning to see the different strains novel writing puts on me versus blogging writing puts on me.

Since blogging is shorter, I’ll start there.
I haven’t seriously edited my blog posts in a couple weeks. Sure, I’ll try to catch spelling and grammatical errors in a quick examination, but I’ve found that I’m not polishing my writing like I should. This is most likely a product of my other writing, the practical constraints of devoting time to a large story versus shorter blog posts.

The grammar authoritarian and editing disciplinarian in me recoils at this thought. Whenever I write, I have this uncontrolled urge to meticulously restructure things. My writing style sometimes involves redundant word usage, so I must compulsively go back and use a synonym whenever appropriate. Realizing that some of my writing out there has awful problems like sentence fragments or worse, spelling mistakes resulting from autocorrect, really makes my skin crawl.

Fortunately I’ve avoided the urge to severely edit my blog work. When I’m done book writing, I might not be able to keep away from going back over my posts though.

Novel writing is serious business.
I’ve actually written a novel, edited it, and it sits on my computer neglected due to my mental issues. The whole process was nerve-wracking and painful as it was the largest project I’d ever attempted. It got to about 90k words, which was just over 300 pages for those people who don’t measure works of prose in word count. I remember the process of physically pounding out the rough draft on my keyboard, how words just flew from my mind and onto my computer screen.

It was surprising, to say the least. See, when I was a younger Sirius Bizinus I was taught that good writing was the result of meticulous planning. First, I had to plan out how to write a sentence. Then I had to plan out a paragraph (which has at its minimum three sentences, a rule that I obsessively try to follow to this day). Once the master of paragraph writing, I had to write five whole paragraphs to get an essay. Nowadays I couldn’t do an essay in five paragraphs if I tried, but back then I used to get all panicky over such a Herculean endeavor.

Part of this came from the requirements of pre-writing. I had to brainstorm for ideas just like they told me. I had to sketch notes just like they told me. I had to write and edit just like they told me. There was no creativity or intellectual freedom in my early writing. As a result, it sucked. To any young people who might be reading this, while you’re being tortured with having to write according to someone else’s whims, take some solace from knowing you can ditch it as soon as you pass that class.

I certainly had to rid myself of the shackles that I learned in middle and high school. My writing was best when I was at home not having to do things for a grade. When I got to college, necessity of writing at the last minute to satisfy a deadline helped to further revise how I wrote. And in law school, I finally found the confidence I needed to be proud of what I wrote while being able to critically think about what I wrote.

Writing a novel was supposed to be a whim of mine, something I wanted to do but hadn’t gotten around to it yet. In my last semester of law school my classes didn’t really dominate my time, so I figured what the hell, I’ll write a science fiction book to keep my mind occupied before studying for the bar exam. I told some friends of mine, and they gave me some encouragement to go and do it.

This process was exhilarating and tedious all at the same time. Sometimes the words just flew out of my mind and I could get 4-6k words in a day. At other times I’d stare at my screen wishing I could just get past this page so I could get to the good stuff. When I thought about it, I marveled that what I wrote was what I wrote. I’m not saying that what I wrote was perfect, but I am saying that I could see the rough beginnings of a story I wouldn’t mind reading.

Editing the book to get to a second and subsequent drafts is actually where the book comes out.
The process of editing my rough draft was perhaps the task I was least suited for. This wasn’t because I hated editing; it was because I was trying to edit it like a short story. Playing fast and loose while keeping details in my head works for shorter fiction, but a novel requires a little more planning than what I did. Please note I’m not saying that planning is essential to a book getting written, but I am saying that it makes editing go faster.

The rough draft is like a lump of clay that a potter throws on the wheel. It doesn’t look like a bowl, but successive iterations reveal the finished product. With writing my first novel, I grew frustrated at the process because I kept having to jot stuff down to make sure I maintained continuity while deleting text and adding new plot in. That stuff is going to happen if you write a large project like I did. So, while pre-writing frustrates my writing process somewhat, I needed to find a happy medium for this next book.

I found it by taking what I wanted from the snowflake method and abandoning the rest.
Approaching this fantasy book of mine, I took the lessons from my first book to heart. While writing the rough draft, I try to put at least some imagery into the process (because imagery is something my mind tends to ignore). This way when I revise, I’ll know what the place is supposed to look like and I can properly describe a scene without boring readers to death.

I also created a spreadsheet to keep track of all my character descriptions, plot details, and where chapters begin. This saves time with editing a story because I can just thumb through a spreadsheet instead of having to skim an entire chapter to find the detail I’m missing. Additionally I created the outline of my story in the spreadsheet, and I created the arc of each character in order. I then split these arcs up so that way I could thematically match the character’s plot journeys to each other and create a more unified story overall. The result is that it looks like a fancy skipping of one character to another.

Looking at it this way, I’m happier that I’ve changed some of what I did from how I wrote my first book. While it’s still not perfect, learning to write big projects is an art and not a science. I hope this post can help give ideas to people who want to create works from their words, or at least help people see mistakes to avoid.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, I didn’t edit this post either. This makes me a terrible person as well as an atrocious writer.