Archive for November, 2010

Today I’m thankful…

…not for what a god gave us, but for what we gave ourselves and each other.

Is that so unbelievable? All the little kindnesses we do to make people smile, those add up and multiply off each other. Even if you think you’re being nice to store up points for the afterlife — that distant, intangible reward — is it really just a calculated act every time, a job? I think we’re simply wired to make others happy, and I’m thankful for that, too.

Now, let’s talk about consumerism and being thankful for what we’ve got, because I work Black Friday in a few hours… grumble.

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Transgender Day of Remembrance

November 20th is International Transgender Day of Remembrance. TDoR commemorates the deaths of countless victims of transphobia and persecution for gender-nonconformity. It is without a doubt a pretty somber day for those who observe it in the queer community, and people like me who organize events.

UNO’s agency of Gender and Sexual Orientation does a pretty good job of trans-inclusivity (I mean, look at our title). Since the 20th falls on Saturday, and the campus is a ghost town on Friday, we picked today to kick things off.

The most eyecatching thing we do every year is build cemetery. The campus pep bowl is filled with six or seven rows of simple black (styrofoam) tombstones, with names, dates, and causes of death. We get the information from a very depressing list (Excel spreadsheet) on the official TDoR site that documents US deaths back to 1970. I painted a couple dozen new tombstones earlier this week, and I wish I could say it was sensationalistic of me to pick the ones I did. Shot 16 times. Beaten, strangled, stabbed, then burned. 42 stab wounds. Dismembered. It’s inconceivable that, as horrible as murder is to begin with, people will go to such lengths when confronted with a trans or simply gender-deviant person. We hope that the students who pass by the memorial will realize that this happens, and it’s the tip of the iceberg when it comes to trans bullying and abuse.

GSO also set up a podium in the plaza and read from the list today, although I think since we didn’t have the TDoR sign nearby, most passers-by had no clue what was going on. Then we aired trans-related movies in the student center lounge all afternoon, including Boys Don’t Cry. The first time I watched that movie, I was alone with the door locked, because I somewhat knew what I was getting into; and I’ll freely admit I did cry, a lot. It’s difficult to watch, so difficult I’m surprised Hollywood picked it up, but I think everyone ought to see it.

We watched The Brandon Teena Story afterward, a documentary released somewhat before Boys Don’t Cry. It includes Brandon’s police interviews and murder trial audio, plus lots of interviews with those around Brandon, including the two murderers. For that reason especially, it was very interesting, so maybe if you do watch Boys Don’t Cry, you should watch this one afterward.

Monday should be less depressing. As we have the past couple years, GSO is bringing the wonderful folk duo Coyote Grace to play in the student center ballroom. Ingrid Elizabeth plays a huge upright bass, and the guitarist, Joe Stevens, is a transman but mainly an awesome vocalist. Also at the show is Elaina M. Ellis, a queer poet. If you’re on campus, stop by the ballroom from 11-1; you can even make it your lunch, since we’ll have free food.

I can’t really say “happy TDoR,” but I hope all the trans people out there are happy this year’s TDoR, and that it only gets better each year after this.

Getting ought from is, even when it isn’t

Nothing like a rousing debate via letters to the editor.

On Nov. 9th, the World-Herald published a letter titled “Differing beliefs don’t spell hate.” It says in part:

Some of us simply don’t believe that affirmation or promotion of homosexuality is in the best interests of society. …
If we refer to the Bible, it doesn’t mean we’re calling for a return to the entire Old Testament Jewish law. All divine prescriptions (rules) aren’t universally obligatory.But some rules transcend culture and have universal application because they go to the essence of human nature. Biblical prohibitions against homosexuality and extramarital sex are such prescriptions.

The thing about human nature, or natural law, is that most people employ the terms to describe how people ought to behave, as according to such law. But natural law doesn’t legislate (as much as I’d love to break the law of gravity); it merely describes what is. We would certainly find homosexuality within human nature, and in overall natural law — for example, bonobos often engage the same sex, and so do penguins, and gulls, and dolphins (oh my!).

It doesn’t follow that because only ~10% of humans are homosexual, those 10% should try to emulate the other 90%. You don’t get moral claims from mere observations. To decree that homosexuals should stop being homosexual requires a higher authority, one that “transcends culture and has universal application.” In the absence of evidence-based arguments to this effect, what recourse do we have but to religion, and particularly the Christian Bible?

Let’s continue down this road and see where it leads us. The argument that we can ignore certain parts of Biblical law is simply heretical, and quite frankly, it’s bad for your health. From the same book that condemns homosexuality, we find in Leviticus 26:14-16:

But if you will not listen to me and carry out all these commands, and if you reject my decrees and abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant, then I will do this to you: I will bring on you sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and sap your strength. You will plant seed in vain, because your enemies will eat it.

Ouch. Luckily, Jesus made with us a “new covenant” that frees us from the more mundane of these proscriptions, or allows us to pick and choose from the areas he never really addressed. Except that that’s heresy, too… Matthew 5:18:

For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

So put down that shrimp cocktail, you heathen. God hates shellfish, too.

God Hates Shrimp: Leviticus 11:9-12

He gets points for matching the style of the sign-wavers next to him.

Humanists know PR, too

I’ve spent the last week or so preparing for, enjoying, and recovering from Anime Nebraskon, but I’m back and ready to rant!

Not that there’s anything on my mind to make me irritable. In fact, the AHA just launched a massive ad campaign, titled Consider Humanism, which I’m quite happy about. If there was anything like this during my childhood, I was utterly oblivious, but these days I hear about new atheist/humanist awareness projects on at least weekly basis. From the United CoR sponsoring billboards across the country, to local groups adopting highways, we are becoming very visible.

Not only that, but it’s hard to object to the tone that most of these public messages take. Have a few:

 

"Don't believe in God? You are not alone."

It's hard to say this is "promoting" godlessness.

 

"I cannot imagine ... a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty." - Albert Einstein

Not even a "new covenant" can explain why a peaceloving God would ever command something like this.

 

"I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads..." - Quran

The only difference between fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist Muslims is that right now there are a lot more visible and active Muslim ones.

 

The new AHA ones, particularly, make a point of targeting fundamentalists. Most theists, I think, understand that fundies are crazy, and to a certain extent understand why.

What I really hope to see out of this campaign is, if not more “converts” to humanism, a continued and increasing denouncement of fundamentalists from the more…relaxed(?) believers. They’re definitely the majority in American society, but too often a silent majority, when extremists challenge separation of church and state or emulate Fred Phelps in slightly more subtle ways. The two camps (fundies and the “mainstream” believers) are definitely not worshiping the same God, so it’s time for the mainstream to stop protecting the extremists — especially since those people will be the first to attack the other theists for not being strict enough.

But fundamentalists are merely the reductio ad absurdum of these faiths in general — a Christian in polite society these days has to ignore a lot of the Old Testament…and the New. (See 1 Timothy 2:11-12.) I hope that being confronted with some of the things that “nice people don’t talk about” will prompt an examination of faith overall.

Meanwhile, can we get some positive humanist billboards up in South Dakota? After our family road trip to the Black Hills this year, I think it should be called “The Menacing God Billboard State.”

 

After you die, you will meet God.

Even as a believer I would have thought this was creepy.

I went as myself for Halloween

Because I blew my modest costume budget on an upcoming cosplay, Halloween came up and I was searching for a $0 outfit. And then I thought to myself, here is an opportunity for maximum irony.

  • I was raised by Catholics.
  • I am an atheist.
  • I am a minister. (Jealous? Fine, you can be one, too.)
Credentials of Ministry

Thank you, Universal Life Church!

So I got a button-up black shirt, some safety pins to fold the collar points, a stiff piece of white paper, and a little Gideon’s Bible, and tried my best to keep a straight face:

Don't I look positively radiant? It's a wonder what a softglow filter can do.

I wore my outfit to a residence hall dance on the 28th — it wasn’t well-suited to dancing, what with the collar, and all. I also wore it to work on Halloween. I was a little worried that some stodgy customer would give me an earful about blasphemy, because I did get an earful last year…for dressing up as a hippie, of all things. But I was in back instead of at the register for the majority of my day, so I only encountered a few non-associates. The people I did help tended to lead off with “Father, forgive me, for I have sinned.” 😀

I also got two or three suggestions that the outfit would be complete if I found a small child to follow me around… You might notice the rainbow bracelet in the above photo, a nod to the many good closeted priests, who no doubt are considerably less light-hearted about the relationship between the Catholic church and homosexuality.

Besides offending people and giggling to myself, I took my costume idea (which is, honestly, not a costume but a business outfit) as an opportunity to reflect on religion in my life. The choice of outfit reflects my upbringing, the examination of my beliefs, my continuing admiration of the mere pomp and circumstance of church procedure.

My dad continues to predict that his boys will grow up to be fathers, or Fathers — and while I have no desire to be the one, I was delighted to become the other, which he was very surprised to find out when the ministry certificate arrived in his mailbox last year. It’s not like I didn’t think about it when I was growing up; essentially I shadowed the job several years after I’d made up my mind.

The truly startling thing was realizing I didn’t have a cross or a rosary anywhere. Kind of drives home the passage of time.

Did I get much out of it? Not much that’s tangible; maybe enough to bullshit an artist’s statement. Simply put, every kid uses Halloween to let out what they are or think they would like to be, and I’m no different.