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Month: February 2012

Have we learned nothing from Comstock?

Have you even heard of Anthony Comstock? I didn’t learn about him in classes in American history, and never heard the name until I became involved in the atheist and freethought movement. Anthony Comstock was the champion of a set of regulations that made it illegal to send “obscene” materials though the mail. What qualified as “obscene?” For starters, and for the purpose of this post, any information or objects having anything to do with contraception were forbidden from being sent though the mail by the Comstock Laws. For the crimes of distributing educational materials about birth control, such notable women as Margret Sanger and Elmina D. Slenker were arrested and/or imprisoned. The laws also banned anyone from sending materials having anything to do with sex or sexuality, whether it be porn or medical information. Many others faced arrest and persecution and the shutting down of their magazines and newspapers. The Comstock Laws were passed in 1873, and while they have not been officially repealed they have time and again been crippled due to being found unconstitutional. However, comstockery still pops up its ugly head from time to time in American law and politics. This is a quote from an apparently approving article in Harper’s Weekly in 1915, where Anthony Comstock’s views and those of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice are described: If you allow the devil to...

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The Vagina Monologues: My Thoughts

The Vagina Monologues has been in production since 2001, the same year that I transferred my college career to the University of Louisville. I never got around to actually seeing UofL’s annual production of the play until this year. Last Friday in fact, and with my husband. Nevermind that I was a bit nervous about telling him I wanted to go see a show with the word “vagina” in the title. I was open to going by myself if he was not interested, but in the end (and after looking up a few reviews online) he decided to come with me. I was not sure what to expect, even though I had the book. I’d first purchased the book about the same time the play came out, and when I took my single Women’s Studies class at UofL to help fill a requirement in my general education. Women in American Culture. Many ideas that were discussed in the class were very new to me at the time. Things like the way women are sexualized and infantilized in a lot of ads (often at the same time). It was my first exposure to feminist ideas, and it was such a departure from my accustomed mode of thinking that it made my head spin. I remember commenting on a story about how a college-age woman was raped at a college party that maybe she should have been more...

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Why I am An Atheist: Science is better than Faith

Since I am recently talking about The God Virus, it bears mention that religion is not the only viral idea out there. In my youngest years the “god virus” (to use the metaphor) was not the only viral idea I was exposed to. I was also infected at a young age with a high regard and respect for science and for logic. For a long time I thought these two ideas, the religious idea and the scientific and logical idea, were in no conflict with each other because, naturally, Truth cannot contradict truth. Throughout my life I have been driven by the...

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The “god virus” and American Culture

In the environment where I grew up, ideas of patriotism were mixed in closely with those of Christianity. It was “one nation under God” and after I came to disbelieve in God it took me a while to stop seeing the American Flag as a Christian symbol. In the book The God Virus, Darrel Ray use a model of a “virus” to describe how religious ideas “infect” people and attempt to gain control and then spread to others. In case you are unfamiliar with the concept of the meme you can think of it this way: Meme theory compares ideas (or pop song hooks, or jingles, etc) with viruses that infect the mind, duplicate themselves and then try to spread to other minds. For instance, when you get a song stuck in your head, you might start singing it out loud within the hearing of others who might get the tune stuck in their heads. If you have ever heard of a YouTube video going “viral,” you have seen this metaphor at work. Like a biological virus, a meme does not have thought or intention of its own. It’s almost a tautology that the better the idea is at spreading in a population of minds, the more successful it will be. The “virus” only “cares” about replicating itself and staying around as long as possible–it does not necessarily care...

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Being an atheist does not mean you have to be alone.

I came across an article this weekend which highlight very well the difficulties with being an atheist in the United States, particularly in the small towns. I don’t have so many of these difficulties over the past few years, as I have been fortunate enough to be able to surround myself with sympathetic friends and an atheistic social circle. However, it was not aways like this for me, and I still remember the days when it was really a big deal to be able to tell anyone I had doubts about the existence of God without expecting an argument or a pitying, judgmental look. So for the last couple of years I lived with my parents I mostly tried to keep my mouth shut while these heretical ideas simmered inside of me, and the inability to express my thoughts and feelings made me very irritable. I have the strong feeling that this is where the stereotype of the “angry atheist” comes from: try living in a community where you have to keep who you are and what you think silent for fear social repercussions or other consequences, while being constantly bombarded with the message that those who think like you are, at best, abnormal, flawed, and “sinful.” It’s not a pretty picture. I count myself as being very fortunate. When I was accidentally outed to my parents it caused some conflict, though the repercussions were not...

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