Thursday, June 27, 2013

Atheist Fashion: Nondescript Nones

     Dear reader, I have an important question for you: when was the last time you saw someone wearing this shirt?
Not pictured: neckbeard.

     That shirt, and shirts like it, are real things. They're sold on the Internet, and billions of people have the ability to buy them. What a great article of clothing, eh? And a great way to spread skepticism, freethought, and good cheer wherever you go! After all, we're all proud atheists, and we're confident enough in our beliefs to take on the responsibility and privilege of debating strangers about things they care about very much...but people don't really dress that way, right? I bet that you, reader, don't own an article of clothing that demands the comment of passerby, and I don't either, although my own nontheistic views and my involvement in ISSA are near and dear to my heart. The archetypical Internet Atheist, however, does own one of these--because he's socially bankrupt and enjoys bickering with people he doesn't know. You and I like to think we are suave and socially adequate individuals, so we probably don't own clothing that is designed to cause drama, just like we don't argue with strangers or post terrible and provoking things online. And, importantly, we don't speak in such a manner, either.
     Don't misunderstand me, dear reader, I have no grandiose notions about writing a blog on "the great need for less militant atheism" or other lofty topics, but I'd merely like to examine how many nonreligious individuals, myself included, often shy away from revealing our own beliefs in our interactions with people we don't know well. Isn't it interesting that, if you're like me or many nonbelievers I know, your faith (or lack thereof) is something that you really aren't inclined to reveal to people that aren't your close friends--not that those people need to return the favor, since they're (statistically) probably Christian and don't fear intolerance--but when you're with a group of people you're confident are the accepting sort, you talk about theology just as much as your religious friends? I know a good amount of atheists in uncomfortable situations, such as religious colleges, and these people lay low out of necessity, but I also know quite a few atheists in friendlier situations who fly under the radar and actively shy away from the topic of religion in small talk simply out of personal preference. 
     This isn't really surprising, since religion is something that some people (not me, mind you, but some) hold in the same regard as issues like abortion or gun control, as a Thing Most Secret. There's no telling if someone you don't know disagrees with you on these topics just by looking, either, most of the time (I'm looking at you, GUNS SAVE LIVES hat guy), and although acting like adults and treating each other kindly is certainly still possible with them in either situation, the effort required might be substantial. A noble goal might be to somehow casually or tactfully introduce the subject, and show humility in one's own part. A noble goal, to be sure, but how can we go about integrating atheism into everyday banter effectively? It's a valuable question to me since I believe that bringing atheism up in conversation tactfully and frequently is of the utmost importance.
     Why not try asking a new acquaintance about the Bible, since you and your Christian friends probably have something in common there? If it's not the literal word of God, that's a start. It isn't really surprising that the strangers I've talked to agree with me about the Bible's origins, since those people themselves probably don't actually believe hell exists, either. Not a bad start! Or why not try asking them about how important their religion is to them, and how their family feels about atheism? True scholars might even discuss verses from their holy book of choice with a member of the appropriate religion. My meaning is that there are conversational equivalents to slightly more tactful freethought-oriented shirts, ones from a secular campus group, perhaps, just as there are to a DEBATE ME, PLEBIAN shirt.
     It's all about respecting other people's opinions. We can't all lie low all the time, because if we did, our precious and wonderful atheist community would stagnate pretty damn quickly. Campus groups don't sustain themselves if members don't do anything but get drunk together every week, because recruiting new blood is how you manage to pull undercover atheists out of the woodwork. ISSA is fortunate in this regard, since we have two days a year when the campus provides an outlet for us to turn on the charm for a conveniently gathered group of extracurricular-seeking students. It's still important for us to communicate with the community, though, which is why the club is exceptionally happy each and every time a new member is found just from members' recommendations to their friends. Regardless of our own personal trepidation to discuss faith with people who might react negatively, I think it's important for everybody to do their bit and risk it every once in a while. If that means selling your designer basement-dweller debate-an-atheist shirt to stop polluting atheism's image, dear reader, then so be it, but if that means being braver than you're used to, the need is no less pressing.
     Now, back to our regularly scheduled vitriolic mockery of respectful online discourse.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Religious Right Runs Amok in Wisconsin

Earlier this summer, I had the unique opportunity to work in the offices of United Wisconsin - a grassroots political activist group best known for organizing the effort to recall Governor Scott Walker. And let me say, Wisconsin would have been a very different place had that recall effort been successful. State Republicans rode the anti-Obamacare Tea Party wave of 2010 right into control of the Assembly, Senate, and Governorship. In doing so, they established a rare trifecta of single party domination over all three branches of the Wisconsin government  (as their Supreme Court had already been conservative prior to the election).

Naturally, they assured the public this power would be used to create jobs and revitalize the state's economy - but as is so often the case, their governing agenda has differed significantly from their campaign slogans. Most recently, Wisconsin women of varying ideologies have been shocked at a new bill working its way through the legislature at breakneck speed. Known as SB-206, this bill is aimed entirely at restricting the rights of women to make their own healthcare decisions. The most notable provision of SB-206 is:
"...that before a person may perform or induce an abortion the physician who is to perform or induce the abortion or any physician requested by the pregnant woman must do all of the following:  
perform, or arrange for a qualified person to perform, an ultrasound on the pregnant woman using whichever transducer the woman chooses; provide a simultaneous oral explanation during the ultrasound including the number of unborn children and presence and location of the unborn child; display the ultrasound images so that the pregnant woman may view them; provide a medical description of the ultrasound images including the dimensions of the unborn child and a description of any viewable external features and internal organs of the unborn child; and provide a means for the pregnant woman to visualize any fetal heartbeat, in a quality consistent with current medical practice, and a simultaneous oral explanation of the visual display of the heartbeat in a manner understandable to a layperson (ultrasound requirements)."
Obviously, this intrusion between a woman and her healthcare provider is meant to serve as a form of emotional blackmail. Those in the religious right hops they can intimidate a woman into making healthcare decisions on the basis of their arbitrary morality rather than on her best judgement.

I did a couple short blog posts for United Wisconsin on the subject (here and here) in which I pointed to the widespread opposition this idea has received from numerous medical groups in the state. A press release by the Wisconsin Medical Society reads:
"The Society’s main concern about SB 206 is how it infringes upon the physician-patient relationship in regards to decision making for a legal medical procedure. That SB 206 focuses on an emotional topic—abortion—makes the overall issue more complicated, yet the underlying principle remains the same…The Society believes that all medical care should follow a full and confidential discussion between a patient and her/his physician—there should be no exceptions to that relationship simply because a certain procedure is controversial...
...This legislation essentially provides a script that the physician must follow: perform a test and provide information that may not be medically indicated, or else face monetary damages and potential civil liability—even in a lawsuit filed by a patient’s relative. This intrusion in the patient-physician relationship is unacceptable. Physicians should be deciding with their patients what tests and procedures are needed and will be performed based on the best available medical evidence, guidelines of care, and shared decision making between the patient and physician. Mandatory performance of an ultrasound before an abortion is not an accepted medical practice or standard of care. Thus, this practice does not add to the quality or safety of the medical care being provided…” 
Their claims are corroborated in a statement by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in Wisconsin:
“The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) believes physicians who provide medical and surgical procedures, including abortion services, in their offices, clinics, or freestanding ambulatory care facilities should have a plan to ensure prompt emergency services if a complication occurs and should establish a mechanism for transferring patients who require emergency treatment. However, ACOG opposes legislation or other requirements that single out abortion services from other outpatient procedures. For example, ACOG opposes laws or other regulations that require abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges. ACOG also opposes facility regulations that are more stringent for abortion than for other surgical procedures of similar low risk.”
Aside from these very reasonable objections by medical professionals, I took it upon myself to point out another glaring flaw in this piece of legislation.
"...the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports “cases of rape and incest must be reported to the police for those exceptions. About half of rapes are reported, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.” 
And of course, as someone who has done any research on the topic of helping women who have been raped would know, the first two things to do if you want to help are:
  1. Believe them.
  2. Let them stay in control
Clearly, the requirement a women to report cases of rape and incest to the police in order to avoid having her doctor show them the heartbeat of their rapist’s baby flies in the face of the best advice from the experts. 
[I] feel obligated to state what ought to be obvious: That women’s rights are fundamental human rights not subject to legislation or government meddling."
Unfortunately, the Republican majority is strong and support for this bill among legislators is widespread. It will likely pass before the current legislative session expires at the end of June. There is precious little most of us can do about it, but I would urge you to support those who have a fighting chance. Our sister group Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics at UW Madison is exceedingly passionate and well organized. The nationally renowned Freedom From Religion Foundation has its headquarters in Madison and is intensely focused on political developments statewide. And last but not least, United Wisconsin is staunchly opposed to this kind of government overreach from either side of the aisle.

I strongly encourage that you consider making any or all of these organizations a donation as a show of support for the work they do. Their dedication to activism and public service is the single best way to energize the Wisconsin electorate. The only question is - can they change the political landscape in time for the next election?