Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Lack of Faith and Feminism

There's a series of posts on Feministing called "Faith and Feminism". In it, feminists with different religious beliefs discuss how their faith and feminism interact. The stated purpose of the series is to broaden the discussion of women and religion. It's pretty cool, and, I would imagine, particularly interesting if you are of a religious bent.

I am not, though. Sometime around my 15th year, I decided that I had no good reason to assume the existence of a deity and became an atheist. For me, this was about logic; I have no strong opinions about organized religion, and it doesn't seem to me to be any more prone to misogyny than our many other social institutions. (Some feminists feel differently.)

But my atheism does interact with my feminism in one important way: it was the first issue on which I decided that most everybody I knew was wrong. And accepting that everybody else can just be plain wrong is incredibly liberating. I highly recommend it. It means that everybody might also be wrong about fat, or that gender essentialism is ridiculous, and so forth and so on.

It's not usually my style to end my posts with a question, but guys, I would luuurrve to hear your stories about the time you realized everybody else was wrong about something.


  1. A few years ago when I was working on my thesis for my Women's Studies program, I was doing some background readings on bodies and body image. Now, I think my fat activism actually started when I was 7-years-old and some boy in my 2nd grade class made some sort of snarky comment about my incredible, amazing, beautifully plump grandmother. But, in the readings I came across this information that indicated that there are more dangers to being UNDERWEIGHT than to being OVERWEIGHT (speaking medically, of course). This, of course, is a very simplified statement for something that is relatively complex. But since that moment, I want to scream that fact from every rooftop I can climb on. I've been armed with this knowledge, ready to use it against a doctor. I feel ill and angry at the overwhelming barrage of weight loss commercials on television. (I yell at the tv a lot. Now my hubby does, too.) Shortly after my initial revelation, I found myself surrounded by funny, intelligent, amazing women all working in a women's clinic--and all of them were standing around talking about needing to lose weight and which program worked the best, trying to get their "bikini bods" ready. It was pretty heartbreaking.

    I certainly don't begrudge people the opportunities to make choices in life. I do, however, begrudge our society for the pressures that it puts on people to make them feel like their bodies have to be a certain way or else there is something fundamentally wrong with them. That particular piece of knowledge struck me into believing that A LOT of people are wrong about bodies--even doctors. (Especially doctors?)

  2. I will come back with a story about a time I thought everyone was wrong about everything - that should be no trouble - but I JUST read this post at Bilerico this morning: http://www.bilerico.com/2011/07/atheists_in_the_pride_parade_thoughts_on_churlishn.php

    According to this writer, being openly atheist is about thinking everyone else is wrong and letting them know that, and that's a sticky situation. Coming out as an atheist to my parents was weird. I think they're still just "meh" on the topic.

  3. "Coming out as an atheist to my parents was weird. I think they're still just "meh" on the topic."

    Interesting question for another time perhaps, but what do you think, in America of 2011 would be harder, coming out as queer or coming out as an atheist?
    I have shared with my HS kids and my college kids the surveys that suggest we would vote for a gay president before an atheist one. It leads to some good discussions of why..

    And to get back on topic, I am always right. About everything. Unfortunately, so few people seem to agree. :)

  4. It seems like "being openly atheist is about thinking everyone else is wrong and letting them know that" would be akin to religious evangelism. That certainly does seem pretty sticky.

  5. Desi: Yeah, I don't know. It's not about converting people, which is what evangelism is. I have well-documented problems with organized religion. I'm not shy about that. It's certainly a provocative position. Did you read the thing I linked to? I don't tend to shout my atheism from the rooftops, but it DOES seem to make people uncomfortable.

    BD: That's a question for another time, but I've done both, and I'll have to think about that. Remind me to revisit this idea if I don't do it soon.

  6. I did read it. I agree that it is a provocative position. I'm not an atheist, but I'm also not the least bit religious. I think it's because I've spent years struggling with issues and ideas of spirituality. I guess atheism is like so many other things in that believing in something that deviates from the "norm" makes people that buy into that norm uncomfortable.

  7. "I guess atheism is like so many other things in that believing in something that deviates from the 'norm' makes people that buy into that norm uncomfortable."

    Right. I mean, every time someone mentions their belief in a god to me, it's implicit that they think I'm wrong, too.

    "Letting know" is kind of vague: it can encompass everything from casual conversation between people who happen to disagree on an issue to outright evangelism (e.g., Richard Dawkins.) I happen to be okay with the former (much as I can totes be friends with vegetarians) and not with the latter; YMMV.

  8. Hey Y'all,
    "Right. I mean, every time someone mentions their belief in a god to me, it's implicit that they think I'm wrong, too."

    Not me, and y'all know I love me some Jesus. But that doesn't mean I think that Atheists are "wrong" I just thing they don't believe. That's the thing-belief isn't like positivism. It's not based on fact, instead it is rooted in all things blurry; perspective, myth, story, faith, intuition.

    Now on to the article. Sistagirl Greta makes a lot of assumptions about us "progressive Christians" with regard to our views on Atheism.
    I, for one, am not expecting that any atheists view on religion will change once they meet the nicer kinder religious experience that I represent. Far from it. I think the world is a better place because some people don't believe in the existence of a higher power. It's YOUR choice. I respect that totally and I can see and accept your position. However, statements like,""Yeah, it's less bad than the hateful, bigoted right-wing bullshit, but it still lends credibility to the idea that it's okay to believe whatever you feel like without any good evidence to support it -- and most importantly, it's still just flat-out wrong?" are a bit fucked up. It totally IS okay for someone to believe whatever they want. Belief is a very very personal thing, and it's cultural, and psychological and some other shit I'm sure. Plus, nobody gets to call my experience flat out wrong. How's that different from me telling someone else they are going to some dreaded hell?

    On to the everybody being wrong thing, when parachute pants came in style. I was the last man standing. I knew a bad thing when I saw one.

  9. Yeah, there were several things about that blog post that didn't sit right with me, and I've rarely gotten the sense that progressive Christians were looking for my approval. I think it has usually been more along the lines of, "I see we might share some common goals." I have had lots of Christians react to my atheism by being offended, which weirds me out, as the very fact of a person's religious views is a strange thing to be offended by. I only get offended by people who use their religion to justify being jerks to other people, and I wonder whether Greta wasn't kind of doing that with her atheism. (Also, she needs an editor. That is not a well-written piece.)

    Thanks for pulling out other strands from that blog post. I identify with some people reacting to my worldview as a personal assault on them, and while certain kinds of religion have all the power in our culture, she's acting like people who dare speak to her while being religious are not to be trusted, and I think that's weird. And exactly what she's complaining about.

    It's way too early for me to be coherent, but hopefully that makes sense.

  10. I was operating under the assumption that a belief in god entailed "thinking god exists;" given that I "think god doesn't exist," it seemed to me that I and a person with such a belief would consider each other to be incorrect. But I am a creature of logic and cannot follow into blurry territory.

    Greta is not *just* an atheist. In addition to thinking god doesn't exist, she also states that religion is harmful and that it is important to talk people out of it. These additional opinions are not shared by all atheists. As a result, I don't think she's a representative atheist; she's a representative atheist evangelist.

  11. @Kyrie I hear you on being a creature of logic, but I take a slightly different tack than you. And I'm not sure the statements "thinking god exists" and "thinking god doesn't exist" are mutually exclusive.

    In Boolean logic, all states are binary -- TRUE or FALSE. So A and ~A are mutually exclusive -- the Law of the Excluded Middle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_the_excluded_middle). But the original statements are not constructed this way, they are expressed "thinking god exists" and "thinking NOT god exists" opposed to "thinking god exists" and "NOT thinking god exists". This leaves the two statements in an indeterminate state, not a contradictory one. However, applied Boolean logic (e.g., circuits, computer programming, etc.) doesn't know how to deal with indeterminate states, so often -- without thinking about it -- the NOT is commuted through to the outside to make the statements opposite. So when someone in the US (which is based on a Christian tradition steeped in binaries) advocates their belief, they are usually implying that those who do not share their belief are wrong.

    We, however, don't have to be restricted to Boolean logic but can use Ternary or other Many-valued logic systems (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Many-valued_logic) where multiple TRUTH statements can coexist. And as you say, things are blurry, but logic can still follow there using Fuzzy logic (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuzzy_logic).

    As I mentioned earlier, when people in the US make statements about belief, they usually imply strong statements based on bivalent logic, so I certainly agree when you say that most people you interact with would imply that you are wrong when they state their own beliefs. This is, however, not universal. In a polytheistic society, atheism can co-exist alongside many beliefs (not that it *always* does, but *can*) without mutual exclusion.

    As an analogue, I like to think about gender. The Patriarchy constructs MALE and FEMALE as mutually exclusive binaries: ~FEMALE => MALE, ~MALE => FEMALE. The Patriarchy also constructs MALE as POSITIVE and FEMALE as NEGATIVE, so ~MALE => NEGATIVE. But, as Feminists, we choose to suscribe to a multivalent model where MALE and FEMALE are only two of many possible genders with no hierarchy of POSITIVITY or NEGATIVITY. Just as with belief, one's gender can be very important in one's life -- sometimes providing direction or meaning -- but the importance one places on one's own gender doesn't imply that someone else with a different gender is wrong or less important. Similarly, some people will construct their own gender in ways that are harmful to themself and others, but that doesn't mean that all constructions are harmful.

    Anyways, that's my take on it.

  12. I intended to construct Boolean statements (NOT being applied to god's existence); if you simultaneously think that god exists and that god does not exist, I would call that agnosticism (or possibly just confusion), a state I was deliberately ignoring.

    I disagree that this is analogous to gender. I define being an atheist as thinking that the statement "god exists" is false. It's a simple description of an quality you have, like "I am less than 6 feet tall." Gender, on the other hand, is not an independent quality, but more of a conglomeration of other characteristics (as much as it can be defined at all). And atheism is unlike both gender and being "less than 6 feet tall" in that it describes one's opinion of the truth of a statement. Therefore its tendency to make one view others as incorrect should not translate to height or gender.

  13. @Kyrie I'm not saying that a person simultaneous thinks god exists and thinks god doesn't exist -- which if constructed as an ambiguity does, as you say, correlate to agnosticism -- I'm saying the existence of the two thoughts in a population of people are not mutually exclusive.

    For me, thinking "god exists" is a conglomeration of characteristics that is ill-defined. Which religion? Which tenet of which religion? Which interpretation of which tenet of which religion? For me, thinking "god exists" is not a simple quality. Just as for some people gender is a simple quality, for others it is not.

    I do agree with you that atheism is a description of "one's opinion of the truth of a statement" -- but for me the statement in question is broadly defined.

    (As an aside, if this tangent is too off-topic, I'm happy to continue in another venue rather than monopolize the discussion.)

  14. I feel like you have misunderstood me, then. I have never claimed that atheists and non-atheists cannot both be contained within a population :\ I am saying that if Person B states that god exists, I think they are incorrect in that statement, and that Person B likely thinks I am incorrect in my statement that god does not exist.

    If you prefer, I can alternatively state this as "I do not think any deity exists." And I'll defer to a dictionary definition of "deity."

  15. "I feel like you have misunderstood me, then. I have never claimed that atheists and non-atheists cannot both be contained within a population."

    You're right, I did imply that in my previous statement, though I did not mean to. What I meant to say was "atheists and non-atheists can exist and not imply the falsity of the others' beliefs."

    For me, if I say "I don't think god exists" it has nothing to do with someone who says "I think god exists" -- both statements are about personal belief, which is an internal state. I will certainly take issue with someone who says "God states marriage is between a man and a woman, so gay marriage should be illegal" but my issue is not that the person is invoking God who I don't think exists, but that they are projecting an internal state externally. That they believe in god is immaterial to my disagreement, as my fundamental disagreement is that they are attempting to force their beliefs onto other people.

    When you say "I do not think any deity exists" I perceive that as an internal state -- it's something you believe to be true. I don't see that it necessarily follows that your internal state conflicts with the internal state of someone else. People can choose to turn internal states into external states (and in the US they usually do), but I don't think it's a necessity.

  16. First off the whole Boolean/Ternary logic addition here made me dance a little jig. Thanks for that.
    Second Kyrie, help me understand. Why should I care whether or not you think I'm incorrect in my statement of God existing, conversely why should you care whether or not I think that god exists? That doesn't seem to be the issue of the original post or of the blog that Jess noted. In your original post, you were liberated in your realization that "everyone else was wrong". Well, go ahead girl! Be liberated! But do accept that each of us should be liberated as well. The problem (as noted in the blog) is that some folks (evangelical Christians and evengelical athiests) seem to think that the other folks OUGHT to be liberated in the same manner that they are. Thus the Boolean logic (I think?-social scientist in the house!) What I'm saying is there has to be some room in a human community to talk across differences, thus the need for Ternary or many-varied logic systems, or whatever you call holding multiple truths in tandem. It doesn't serve your original point to not actively cultivate a space to have conversations wherein we can hold opposing viewpoints simultaneously, then nobody gets to say the wonderful words, "I think you are wrong!" Moreso than being contained in a population-opposing viewpoints need to be contained in a dialogue, such as this one.

  17. I must admit I don't follow your argument at all. ("Person B thinks X" AND "I think X is incorrect") is equivalent to ("Person B thinks something that I think is incorrect.") Which is all I'm saying. If, instead, you feel you cannot state whether X is true or not (e.g., "For me, thinking 'god exists' is not a simple quality") I would classify that as agnosticism.

    And when I say "incorrect," I don't mean evil, or problematic, or dangerous. Just incorrect.

  18. @Diedre: You don't have to care at all! I think it's fine if people disagree on stuff. I am only resisting the counter-arguments that we don't actually disagree on anything.

  19. @Kyrie "I am only resisting the counter-arguments that we don't actually disagree on anything."

    I don't mean to say that someone who "thinks god exists" and "thinks god doesn't exist" don't have a disagreement. I just feel it's not the type of disagreement where what one person believes means that someone with another belief is wrong. In my book, an atheist and a theist disagree, but neither is wrong and neither is right. To me, they are like different flavors of ice cream -- one person likes chocolate, the other vanilla: they disagree, but one person stating "I think vanilla is the best flavor" doesn't imply that someone who states "I think chocolate is the best flavor" is wrong or that the person stating a preference for vanilla thinks the person who prefers chocolate is wrong. The vanilla person is stating that chocolate is wrong *for them* not that it is wrong for all people. So if someone says that they believe in god, it means that god exists *for them* not that god exists for all people.

    There are fundamentalists who feel that their beliefs are TRUE which means that differing beliefs are FALSE (by the Law of the Excluded Middle under a bivalent system of thought). But I don't think that religious belief systems *necessarily* imply such a dichotomy. To me, disagreement doesn't imply falsity.

  20. And that is what I would call the agnostic stance: that it is impossible to assign a value of "true" or "false" to the statement "god does not exist."

    Also, there is a difference between "I like chocolate best" and "chocolate is the best flavor." I can't argue with the first (unless I think you're lying, I guess), but I can certainly think you're wrong about the second statement!