Showing posts with label atheism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label atheism. Show all posts


in which i continue to hate christmas even though i can't be bothered right now

Right now I'm so busy, between work and union, that I barely have time to hate Christmas.

As I've found in recent years, a combination of circumstances - getting out of the office worker environment, streaming-only TV and movies (ad-free!), discovering the authentic meaning many of my colleagues find in the holiday - has taken the edge off my irritation.

I still hate that Christmas is a national holiday in countries that supposedly separate Church and State. As our world becomes increasingly multicultural, the Christmas and Easter holidays make less sense all the time.

I still hate the hyper-consumerism. The music. The assumptions about our choices. The ads. The crowds. The Santas. Now that I think about it... I still hate all of it. I just think about it a lot less.

Our library, both customers and staff, is incredibly multicultural and inclusive. Yet, out come the Christmas decorations, the cards, the chocolates, the shopping lists, the Christmas storytimes. I find it incredibly inappropriate for a public library. Yet it is ubiquitous.

Also at the library, I've met several colleagues who openly identify themselves as atheists, something I've never encountered in any other work environment. I really like and respect their openness, their assertion of their minority beliefs into the mainstream.

Yesterday one of those atheist colleagues wished me a "happy two days off". Now that's something I don't hate!

[Also: we've had some excellent discussions about this on this blog. The Ghost of Wmtc Past invites you to read posts and comments herehere and especially here.]


in which my annual noncelebration of christmas causes my jewish cultural roots to reappear, a tiny bit

Two years ago, wmtc's annual "i hate christmas" post declared: "i hate christmas is slightly less hateful this year".

Working in the library, as opposed to an office environment, I found getting through the holiday season much less trying.

No more co-workers - at their computers, able to talk while they work - going on (and on and on and on...) about what they are buying for whom, reciting their shopping lists, a mind-numbing litany of consumption. My co-workers now are too busy, and several magnitudes less self-absorbed, to inflict that on anyone.

And it wasn't just the absence of a negative. Colleagues described holiday celebrations that had nothing to do with shopping. Traditions that are meaningful and truly joyous: what a concept!

This year several of my library colleagues, unbeknownst to them, gave me another reason to hate Christmas less: they wished me a Happy Hanukkah. And something strange happened: I felt my Jewishness a bit more.

When one co-worker first inquired about my Hanukkah (in the context of an unrelated email discussion), I said I didn't know when it started, and made a joke about being a "bad Jew". Super-sensitive soul that she is, she apologized and hoped she wished me no offense. Far from it! In fact, I was touched and impressed that she remembered that (a) I don't celebrate Christmas, and (b) I am Jewish. (I told her this, of course.)

Then another, then several, colleagues wished me a Happy Hanukkah. Some of those celebrate Christmas, others do not. I was really touched that they would remember. It's not like I talk about being Jewish, or even take time off for the High Holidays in the fall. One colleague asked me about Hanukkah, what it means, what the traditions are, just as I have done with others about Diwali and Eid.

And you know what? I played along. I accepted their Hanukkah wishes with thanks. I talked about the holiday. And... I felt Jewish.

I gave up celebrating Jewish holidays a long time ago, finding it incompatible with my atheism. Said atheism is hardcore, and in no danger of dissolution. But now I wonder if, like many secular Jews, I might enjoy some of it again.

So this year, do I hate Christmas? Let's see. Streaming-only TV and movies means no constant barrage of advertising. Library workplace means not forced listening to My Story of Pointless Consumption, plus unexpected exposure to genuine holiday cheer and goodwill. It's led to a slight re-emergence of my cultural roots. Plus I get two days off with pay. (When you're freelancing, no one pays you for holidays.)

Everything on this list still applies. But it's all a lot easier to bear.


i hate christmas 2013: christmas in the public library

My annual I Hate Christmas post is a mixed bag this year.

Last year, I found Christmas less awful than usual, thanks to the absence of both commercial TV and my law-firm job. Those changes are permanent (at least I hope they are!), so I may never need to hide from Christmas quite as much, ever again.

On the other hand, Christmas at the public library is a grand opportunity for alienation. The decorations, the displays of children's Christmas books, the Christmas-themed storytimes... and everyone thinks it's all hunky-dory, as long as we stick to Santa and ignore Jesus. No crosses and no creche, but Santa's sleigh and Christmas music are everywhere.

How do our many Muslim and Hindi customers feel? Do they know they're not the only ones on the outside, looking in?

A colleague recently related how a customer asked if the library could do a Ramadan-themed storytime. My colleague was all in a huff. How inappropriate! Don't they know religion belongs at home? We are a public institution, we have separation of church and state! I said I wished that were true, and pointed out (or tried to) that the library does celebrate the holidays of one religion. She said she agrees that in our Christmas storytimes, we shouldn't use a lot of songs that mention Jesus. She said this without irony.

It seems that in this predominantly Christian country, the public consciousness makes a distinction between the religious Christmas and what is seen as a secular Christmas. Santa, elves, candy, and gifts are in; Jesus, Magi, and virgin births are out. But when you're not Christian, it's a false distinction. Christmas is a Christian holiday. And it doesn't matter that the form of the celebration has pagan roots. We're not celebrating solstice.

To my few colleagues (thankfully, not the majority) who are self-absorbed enough to recite the boring details on their shopping lists, I nod vaguely and make little pretence of caring. Perhaps they notice my blank expression, or how I'm not contributing to the "conversation" (really a monologue), and they ask if I'm celebrating Chanukah. One, Chanukah was in November this year, and two, Chanukah is a minor holiday. It's not "the Jewish Christmas", any more than Christmas is the Christian Yom Kippur.

In my vision of the public library, we'd celebrate winter and spring, not Christmas and Easter. We would acknowledge the most important dates of every major religion - Ramadan and Eid, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, Diwali, Solstice, Visakha Puja, Gantan-sai, and more - with displays and good cheer, just as we acknowledge Halloween and Thanksgiving. But we'd leave Christmas at home with Christians, where it belongs.


what i'm reading: clarence darrow, attorney for the damned, by john a. farrell

I last wrote about Clarence Darrow in early 2012, after reading a piece by one of my favourite New Yorker writers, Jill Lepore. Two new biographies of Darrow had been published, and Lepore wrote a tribute to the great defender, and mused on the state of North American labour movement.

Lucky for me, Allan found a copy of one of those books - brand new, in hardcover - on one of his used-book jaunts. I'm more than halfway through John A. Farrell's Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned and still haven't gotten to Darrow's most famous triumph.

As I wrote earlier, throughout my life and my self-education, all the way back through childhood, I kept stumbling on Clarence Darrow. And the more I learned of him, the more I loved and admired him. Is it any wonder? Darrow was: an outspoken atheist, a radical death-penalty abolitionist, the greatest defender of organized labour and the rights of working people the US has ever seen, and an anti-racist in a time when segregation was absolute and violently enforced. He questioned and subverted all of society's institutions and conventions, including monogamy, marriage, and the subjugation of women. He didn't play by the rules, because he believed those rules were corrupt and designed to serve the interests of wealth and property.

Farrell serves up Darrow's triumphs and his defeats, his idealism and his trickery, his genius and flaws and contradictions in equal measure. The research is masterful, the writing is elegant, the pacing exciting. I don't usually quote book publicity material, but in this case, it's accurate.
Amidst the tumult of the industrial age and the progressive era, Clarence Darrow became America’s greatest defense attorney, successfully championing poor workers, blacks, and social and political outcasts, against big business, fundamentalist religion, Jim Crow, and the US government. His courtroom style — a mixture of passion, improvisation, charm, and tactical genius — won miraculous reprieves for men doomed to hang. In Farrell’s hands, Darrow is a Byronic figure, a renegade whose commitment to liberty led him to heroic courtroom battles and legal trickery alike.
Farrell's Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned is an opportunity to be amazed and inspired - and perhaps to contemplate radical solutions to remake our world.


what i'm reading: two youth novels

There is so much truly excellent youth fiction out these days, and it's not all vampires and zombies. Here are two wonderful teen novels in two totally different veins.

There Is No Dog, Meg Rossoff, 2011

Like many excellent novels, Meg Rosoff's There Is No Dog defies easy classification. It's a comedy, but it's heartbreaking. It's a fantasy involving gods and goddesses with power over life and fate, but it pokes holes in the peculiar fiction known as religion. It's about the mysteries of falling in love, and also about the mystery of being alive.

There Is No Dog imagines God as a teenage boy. Like many teenagers, God is self-centered, forgetful, narcissistic, lazy, unfocused, and impulsive. Unfortunately, he is also incredibly powerful. If God runs a bath then forgets to turn off the tap, hundreds of thousands of people perish in a flood. When God scowls and pouts because he can't convince a young mortal to have sex with him, fierce storms and unexplained phenomena rock the world. God is no longer allowed to help himself to any mortal woman he desires, but there are allusions to Leda (rape by Zeus as swan), Europa (rape by Zeus as bull), and similar victims in the mythologies of other cultures. Now teen-boy-god just seduces mortal women with his (literally) irresistible charm.

Teenage-boy-god inhabits a world full of other gods and goddesses, most of whom are monstrously selfish, self-absorbed, violent, uncaring, and impulsive. They gamble and squabble amongst themselves, while their mortal creatures in various galaxies suffer the consequences. It's screwball comedy, but with an underlying sadness.

Back on Earth, an average teenaged girl is in love, a mother is over-protective, a zoo is drowning, and a minister feels - and is - helpless. The vision of the selfish, arbitrary, and all too flawed deities, juxtaposed with the modern minister overwhelmed by his congregation's fears raises questions about faith, belief, and the existence of a higher power - questions that are never directly posed, only implied.

I was particularly impressed by a youth author raising profound existential questions with her readers. Humans represent the gods' worst error: a mortal creature who knows its own mortality. All creatures die, but only humans know that they die. And we must figure out how to live with that knowledge, and continue to live, despite it.

This is a funny, profound, and beautiful book.

What I Saw and How I Lied, Judy Blundell, 2010

In What I Saw and How I Lied, Judy Blundell folds a classic coming of age story into a historical context, then surehandedly builds suspense to turn the book into a convincing thriller.

Fifteen-year-old Evie falls in love with a worldly 23-year-old. If that isn't recipe enough for heartache, Evie begins to discover that her parents are not who they appear to be. Neither is the postwar America they all live in, a land of peace and prosperity, unless you happen to be black, Jewish, a single mother, or anybody else who doesn't conform. Evie's discoveries about her mother, stepfather, and the man she longs for are echoed in her discovery of the injustices - and hypocrisy - that remain after the "good guys" won the war.

What I Saw and How I Lied is full of suspense and mystery, but is more about dizzying first love, the confusion of realizing your parents are merely human, and the pain of growing up. A terrific, complex, authentic novel.


i hate christmas is slightly hateful this year

I've noticed a distinct reduction in my annual irritation and disgust at the holiday madness this year.* An unexpected convergence of events has brought on a pleasant state of near-apathy.

First, no TV. Watching shows on Netflix or by download is blissfully free of advertising. No salespeople dressed up as Santa Claus, no "gift ideas" for useless crap future landfill.

Next, I haven't stepped foot in a mall. Not that I ever do much mall shopping, but my hair salon is in a mall, and sometimes some obligatory gift or errand forces me into the insanity. Not this year.

Most importantly, I'm not working as legal support staff anymore. This means no more listening to co-workers recite lists of what they are buying for whom. I don't know why people do this (they can't possibly think anyone else cares?), but for me it was the low-point of the office work environment. And it's gone!

Something also happened on the positive side of the equation. At our staff holiday lunch, people were talking about their Christmas traditions - Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day, which family they see on which day. Many have traditions connected to their ethnic heritage, like Eastern Orthodox Christmas on January 7, or seafood dinners on Christmas Eve, as many families of Italian descent do. One person was attending a sing-a-long Messiah, someone else was preparing for an extended-family tree-trimming party.

This was the first time in many years I was exposed to a Christmas that wasn't only about consumption, unhappy obligation, and stress. It was comforting to know that people have Christmas traditions that they truly love and value, beyond spending money.

I still dislike and resent that a religious holiday is a national holiday, and we're all expected to participate. I am still disgusted by the massive increase in advertising and consumerism in our world already supersaturated with consumerism.

But hiding in my little Christmas-free cocoon is a little easier this year.

* There are some very interesting discussions in those threads.


ode to a hero: attorney for the damned (with thanks to jill lepore)

Clarence Darrow was one of my earliest heroes. I first encountered Darrow in the guise of Spencer Tracy, who portrayed the lawyer in the 1960 movie "Inherit the Wind". Darrow famously defended John Scopes, who tried to teach evolution in a Tennessee public school. His courtroom opponent was William Jennings Bryan, portrayed in the same movie by Frederic March. (In "Inherit the Wind," as was typical in those days, names were fictionalized. Darrow was called Henry Drummond and Bryan was called Matthew Harrison Brady. "Inherit the Wind" was originally a play, written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee, who also wrote the screenplay. It has been adapted for film several times.)

Some years later, as a young teenager exploring ideas of atheism and agnosticism, I came upon this.
I don't believe in God because I don't believe in Mother Goose. - Clarence Darrow
A simple statement, maybe even simplistic, but it spurred a lot of thought for me. I wanted to know about the man who said this.

I discovered Darrow's life work was defending the poor from the rich, defending labour from oppression, and especially saving people from being murdered by the state under the guise of justice. Naturally, I loved this, and for a long while dreamed of becoming a defense attorney to do the exact same thing.

During those same years I stumbled on another fictionalized version of Darrow, in a novel called Compulsion, by Meyer Levin, about the Leopold and Loeb murder case, one of the most sensationalist trials of its time. The fictionalized account interested me enough to look into the actual case, and I discovered Darrow had defended two boys who had abducted, sexually assaulted and murdered a child. The public was clamoring for the electric chair (it didn't help that the murderers were rich and Jewish) and Darrow saved their lives.

Of course, with my interest in labour history, I started running into Darrow on a regular basis. In Big Trouble, a towering work of history by the late J. Anthony Lukas - one of my favourite nonfiction books, ever - there's a mini-biography of Darrow. He seemed to be one of those figures that would pop up wherever I looked.

* * * *

Many years later, I had a rare experience. I learned about the tarnish on my hero's shine, and it only made me admire him more.

Clarence Darrow, "Attorney for the Damned," would do anything to win a case. He would bend any rule to within an inch of its life, subject the legal system to interpretations wider than his bull-like broad shoulders. He was not above jury-tampering, lies, bribery, suborning perjury, or any other trick. Whatever it took, he would do. For Darrow, the ends justified the means, because the goal was saving a person's life.

It's a radical approach to defense, and I admire it deeply. It recognizes that the legal and judicial systems are tremendously biased, designed to protect the interests of the state, and often, the interests of property, of capital, of industry and corporations. The poor defendant is at an incalcuable disadvantage. "Playing by the rules" doesn't mean playing fairly.

In the cases Darrow agreed to represent, the state was often trying to set an example to deter further disobedience. Prosecutors were trying to score political points with the people who would get them elected, the captains of industry whose interests they maintained. But the defendant was fighting for her or his life. If the state lost, nothing much changed. If the defendant lost, he died.

As my politics and worldview grew and formed, my imagined kinship with Darrow deepened. After reading Sister Helen Prejean's Dead Man Walking, my opposition to capital punishment moved from conditional to absolute. And at some point I realized that I actually don't believe in nonviolence as an absolute dogma in liberation movements - that nonviolent resistance is important and often a good strategy, but there are times when it's not necessarily the best path. Darrow, too, believed that certain ends are to be achieved - or at least fought for - by any means necessary.

* * * *

Along with Frederic Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr., Darrow was one of the US's greatest orators. His closing summations to juries read like manifestos or declarations. Closing statements would go on for hours. He spoke, always, without notes. He was also one of the country's most famous skeptics, who believed "doubt was the beginning of wisdom."

I recently read "Objection," a long magazine piece by writer and historian Jill Lepore. Lepore is (among other things) a staff writer at The New Yorker, and she writes about many subjects that interest me. Two books about Darrow were published last year, and Lepore wrote a nominal book review that is really an ode to my enduring hero.

The excellent piece is only available online by subscription. Ms. Lepore gave me permission to reprint a couple of paragraphs, so I'm trying to limit myself to that. If you're interested in Darrow, try to get your hands on this issue of The New Yorker (or ask me for the text).

"Objection" recounts the story of Darrow's defense of a labour organizer Thomas Kidd on charges of conspiracy. The charges were an attempt to criminalize union organizing.

In Oshkosh, Wisconsin, also known as "Sawdust City", workers turned out 400,000 doors a year for the Paine Lumber Company. After the men reported to work in the morning, the factory doors were locked, and remained locked, except for a lunch break, until the guards opened the door at dusk. For a 12-hour day, a grown man could expect to earn 45 cents. But lately many workers were earning much less, because they were children, often hired to replace their fathers, working with the same giant saws. Kidd and the workers sent a letter to the owner, George Paine, demanding "better wages, a weekly payday, the end of woman and child labour, and recognition of their union". Paine trashed the letter.

The workers of the Paine Lumber Company went on strike, and the governor of Wisconsin called in the National Guard. On June 24, 1898, "four companies of infantry, a battery of artillery, and a squadron of cavalry armed with rifles and Gatling guns" faced the workers outside the factory gates. The National Guard, mind you, had been formed specifically to deal with labour unrest. Their salaries were paid partly by industry. But guess what? In Oshkosh the guardsmen were sympathetic with the strikers. They were sent back to Milwaukee and the mills remained closed. The workers struck for 14 weeks.

Now the state of Wisconsin thought it had found a way to rid itself forever of worker unrest. Kidd was charged with conspiracy to destroy the Paine Lumber Company. The trial became a test case for labour versus capital.

Lepore walks the reader through Darrow's closing statement, which would have constituted a famous speech for any other man. Darrow recounts the facts of the case - did the accused make a speech, did he incite fellow workers to strike, did he write a letter calling on the company to change its ways - and dismisses each one as trivial.
No, Darrow didn't care about the facts; nor, for that matter, did he care about the case. He cared only about one question: "Whether when a body of men desiring to benefit their condition, and the condition of their fellow men, shall strike, whether those men can be sent to jail."

And then Darrow said to the jury, "I know that you will render a verdict in this case which will be a milestone in the history of the world, and an inspiration and hope to the dumb, despairing millions whose fate is in your hands." He had spoken for eight hours.

The Kidd trial may not have been a milestone in the history of the world, but it was a landmark in the Gilded Age debate about prosperity and equality. There were two ways of looking at what Darrow called "the great questions that are agitating the world today." Either wealthy businessmen like Paine and Pullman were ushering in prosperity for all or else the interests of the Paines and the Pullmans of the world were at odds with everyone else's interests. In Oshkosh, Darrow won that argument. The jury was out for fifty minutes. All three defendants were acquitted.

. . . .

After [his own trial and indictment, in 1910], Darrow left the labor movement. He went on to do his best work, speaking and writing against fundamentalism, eugenics, the death penalty, and Jim Crow. "America seems to have an epidemic of intolerance," he wrote. That's still true. And the Gilded Age debate about the right to strike did not end in Sawdust City, a century later, it's still going on. Just this past March, Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin, signed a law making public-sector collective bargaining a crime.

"Gentlemen, the world is dark," Darrow told that jury in Oshkosh, "but it is not hopeless." After all, no attorney for the damned ever lacks for work.


a quick lesson on the affects of religion on longevity

It has come to my attention that certain fundamental religious people believe that the death of Christopher Hitchens, who had advanced cancer, vindicates their beliefs and proves that Hitchens' atheism was wrong.

This is quite strange, and quite hilarious, and also quite wrong. Let's review.

What happens to atheists with advanced, terminal cancer? They die.

What happens to religious people with advanced, terminal cancer? They die.

What happens to all people, always? They die.

I hope this has cleared things up for you.


annual i hate christmas post: top ten things i hate about christmas

It's a wmtc tradition: my annual I Hate Christmas post. This year, it's a continuation of what we started here. Feel free to post your list, too, of any length. Hate only, please. If you love Christmas, go off and enjoy it.

10. "Merry Christmas"

9. "It's A Wonderful Life"

8. Ads where people are dressed up as Santa Claus

7. Inane advertising for inane "gift ideas", i.e. products that no one needs and will likely never use

6. Ignorant people bemoaning the loss of traditional Christmas, not realizing that most of these traditions are pagan

5. All talk about whether there will or won't be "a white Christmas"

4. Being forced to listen to my co-workers recite what they are buying for each person on their list

3. People asking me, "Are you ready for Christmas?"

2. Christmas muzak - everyfuckingwhere.

1. The fact that a religious holiday has become a universal holiday that we're all supposed to care about.


how do i hate christmas, let me count the ways

It appears that the tone of this post may be more angry and emotional than I intended. I wish everyone who celebrates Christmas a joyous day. I'm not ranting or raving, merely expressing my thoughts on this holiday's unique place in our world.

* * * *

I hate seeing consumer capitalism on overdrive.

I hate that a Christian holiday is a national holiday in nation where Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Sikhs, atheists, Shintos and pagans - and whoever else - are supposed to be equally welcome.

I hate being told that Christmas is no longer a Christian holiday, that it's now a secular holiday. I don't know if that's wishful thinking or amnesia or maybe guilt, but as far as I'm concerned, it's bullshit.

I hate the assumption I need to substitute some other holiday or tradition for this holiday that I don't celebrate. I know people mean well, but asking me what I celebrate instead of Christmas makes as much sense as asking my Christian neighbours what they do instead of Rosh Ha'shana.

I hate being asked "Did you have a nice Christmas?". And when I answer, "I don't celebrate Christmas, but I had a nice winter break, thanks," I hate being told, "I don't mean the holiday, I just meant the whole winter holiday season." If you meant how was my winter break, why didn't you say so?

I hate hearing about other people's Christmas shopping.

I hate being asked if I've finished my Christmas shopping.

I hate hearing Christmas muzak.

I hate people remembering food banks and other charities once a year.

During the last US presidential election, many of my Canadian friends were sick of hearing about the campaign for so long, disgusted by the volume and the omnipresence. That's how I feel about Christmas. It wouldn't be so bad if you could just tone it down. Just go have your holiday. Stop expecting everyone else to care.

I know there's no war on Christmas, only the rantings of aggrieved entitlement, people so accustomed to wielding all the power and holding all the cards that the slightest murmur of the minority viewpoint causes them to claim endangered species status. If there were a war on Christmas, I'd think about signing up.

To everyone who is celebrating today, have a happy day. Could you be a little quieter next year?


i hate christmas 2010

"The Profit," by Mr. Fish, used with his kind permission.

Friend of wmtc Joe Grav sent me the official Fuck Christmas rant, taunting me with the notion that my annual "i hate christmas" post cannot compete. He's right, of course, so I won't even try.*

Instead, enjoy this excellent video, finally available online for Canadians.

I'm actually expecting a brilliant December 25 and 26 this year, involving humour from The Larry Sanders Show, food from President's Choice, beverages from grapes, and company from my favourite person. Plus - an extreme rarity in our home - paid time off. And if that particular magic can only be conjured through an ahistorical mashup of ancient pagan rites and hollow Christianity and out-of-control capitalism, then so be it.

* Although I still need the mall for one thank-you gift. I reserve the right to rant if necessary.


an atheist defends theists: part two: do unto others

Part one here.

I never had any trouble accepting my own atheism. I was never part of a religious community - my childhood synagogue was not my community - and I was never rejected or even criticized for being atheist. As I got more involved with progressive activism, being an atheist was the norm, or at least not at all unusual. But even in very mainstream settings - at work, for example - I never hesitated to say I was an atheist, if it came up in an appropriate context. It's raised a few eyebrows, but nothing more than that.

Reconciling atheism with my Jewish identity was a little more challenging. Once I left home, I stopped going to synagogue completely, feeling it was hypocritical. My family no longer had religious holidays together, so that wasn't an issue. But for some time, I wasn't sure how much Jewish identity I could claim. But I've since made total peace with that. I have absolutely no conflict over it anymore.

Many people are made to suffer when they leave their religion. My own partner, as you may know, was shunned by his family - disowned - when he left the church. (And the circumstances surrounding that decidedly un-Christian rejection make it even worse: he was a teenager, and it was not long after his father's suicide.) So believe me, I'm sensitive to what the consequences of leaving a religion can be.

But much of the angst I've seen on this subject seems more about the pressure to conform, and the fear of independence. I've read many blog posts about coming out as an atheist, how it's "not done" where the person lives, the fear of rejection, the fear of "what people will think".

But part of becoming a healthy adult is learning to stop caring what others think of you, learning to accept yourself and be comfortable in your own skin. For some people, this means exchanging the fishbowl of small-town life for the anonymity of a big city, where it's easier to be yourself. That's not only about freedom of religion and non-religion. It's about the personal freedom to be yourself.

* * * *

Lately I've been disappointed to see much of the behaviour I dislike in believers among my fellow non-believers.

As you know, I hate proselytizing no matter who is doing it. Religion is a very personal matter. One either feels faith or one does not. The idea of talking someone into adopting a religion strikes me as absurd. It's also arrogant and intrusive. It is simply not your business!

I feel the same way about trying to talk someone out of belief in god. I would no more try to talk someone out of their religion than I would try to convince someone not to have children, or to change their sexual orientation. Whether the trait is innate or chosen is irrelevant here. My point is it's deeply personal, and not subject to debate.

I love my childfree life, and I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world, but if a person wants to have children, then they do, and I have no business trying to convince him or her otherwise. Likewise, because I didn't want children, nothing anyone could say about the joys of parenting or what a good mother I would supposedly make made me stop taking my birth control pills. For me, religion is like that.

I don't understand people trying to prove or disprove the existence of god. Neither can be proven. Belief in god isn't an intellectual exercise or a theorem that can be reasoned out on a chalkboard. None of us know - not the most pious believer nor the most adamant atheist.

I find the concept of god a ridiculous fiction, to me it seems quite clearly an invention of humans. But I am not so arrogant as to pretend I know there is no god. People who claim they know god exists are arrogantly assuming that their own beliefs can be generalized to us all. But so are people who claim they know god does not exist. There's a world of difference between "I believe" and "I know".

* * * *

Another anti-religion theme that atheists throw around is "religion is a crutch" and "religious people are weak".

"Crutch" is a pejorative way of saying "support". We all need supports. Some of us find support through family and friends, through art, through sports, through a philosophy or worldview. For some people, religion is part of their support, perhaps the most important one. So? It's a tough world out there, full of disappointment and pain. If religion helps someone get through life without hurting themselves or others, why is that wrong? It's better than many other crutches people use: heroin, alcohol, violence, power trips, what have you.

If you see yourself as without need of crutch or support, then good for you. But one, I doubt it's true. And two, we're not all the same. We cope as we can.

If religious people are weak, was Martin Luther King, Jr. weak?

Which brings me to another reason atheists should be tolerant of theists. As part of the community of people who work for social justice, I've had the pleasure and privilege to work alongside many religious people. Catholics, Jews, Quakers, Muslims, Mennonites, Unitarians, Episcopalians, Anglicans - all engaged in the same struggles, working alongside atheists for the same goals. Often the religious activists have been the most committed activists I have known, models for us all.

Progressive social movements are often inextricable from faith movements. The US civil rights movement is perhaps the most obvious example, but there are many. Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement. Oscar Romero and many others practicing Liberation Theology. Sister Helen Prejean, a hero of the death penalty abolition movement. Tommy Douglas was a minister. That's a short list of thousands. And of course, every peace movement the world has ever known has been supported by people of faith.

I've heard it said that this still doesn't mean religion can be a force for positive change, because all those people could have done their work without the religious component. But that misses the point. These people felt compelled to work for social change because of their religion. Their activism was inextricable from their religion. That was as true for Martin Luther King, Jr. as it is for all the ordinary people whose names we don't know, who carry on the work of social justice, and who also pray.

* * * *

I think we have to draw a distinction between organized religion and people's spirituality. The institutions of organized religion have caused tremendous pain and suffering in the world. They have perpetuated racism, sexism, homophobia and anti-Semitism. They have justified and financed slavery, slaughter and genocide. They have provided cover for serial child sexual abuse. They have oppressed women. They have robbed people of their children and robbed children of their cultures.

These institutions are rich, powerful, thoroughly corrupt and hypocritical beyond measure. But the institutions are not the same as individual peoples' belief.

Most people who believe in some sort of faith aren't harming anyone with their beliefs. Many are, of course. Fundamentalists attempting to refashion governments and countries in their image are an obvious destructive force, and demand our steadfast resistance. But the average, mainstream person who believes in god - who is she hurting? If she takes comfort from religion, if her faith guides her and soothes her, if it helps her make sense of an insane world, if it makes her feel part of something larger than herself, who is she hurting? And more importantly, who are we to judge?

Those of us who fight against bigotry in all its forms - sexism, homophobia, racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism - ought to know better. Bigotry against people who believe in god is bigotry. If we atheists look down on theists, aren't we just as bad as the holier-than-thou religious people who look down on us?

I think we should avoid sweeping generalizations and stereotypes of any people. And we should stop trying to prove we're right.


an atheist defends theists: part one: where i'm coming from

I've never blogged about my atheism before, because I've never felt the need. Just as I've never blogged about not having children. If I wrote this blog when I was in my 20s and early 30s, when I was still defending and justifying my decision, I'm sure it would have been a frequent topic. (In those pre-internet days, I wrote essays and tried to get them published; these days it would be on wmtc.) Similarly, if I were still a teenager and young adult coming to grips with my atheism, I'm sure I'd be blogging about it. But being an atheist is a deep part of my identity, not something in question or in flux. I've never had the need to hash it out in public.

Lately this has changed - not because my atheism has changed, but because I find myself getting annoyed at the arrogance, self-righteousness and proselytizing of some atheists. I get extra annoyed when I see atheists adopting some of the worst qualities of some theists. And I find myself in the odd position of defending believers from the generalizations and negative characterizations of non-believers.

First things first. I declare myself totally and completely without religion or spirituality. I am 100% a-theistic.

Here's a bit about when that happened and the path I followed getting there.

* * * *

I am Jewish. My family heritage and ethnicity is Jewish. I was raised as a Jew, in an observant, reform household. Like many families from many different faiths, my family practiced our own mix of which rituals we observed and which we didn't. In our case, that mix was controlled by the person who controlled everything in our lives, my father.

On Friday nights we lit candles and said the prayers over candles, bread and wine, and had a special meal. We attended services at our synagogue almost every Friday night. I went to Hebrew School, and was a Bat Mitzvah. My older siblings were both Bar and Bat Mitzvah. We observed all the major Jewish holidays, kept "kosher for Passover," and several other traditions.

As a child, I believed in god as a kind of super-parent. During Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, I prayed to be forgiven, and worried about what might happen if god didn't forgive me. My own father was brutally unforgiving, and the god I was taught about seemed even worse, so I had quite a bit of childhood anxiety over whether or not my sins - whatever they were - would be forgiven and whether I would be "inscribed in the book of life". My mother and I have since talked about how horrible this is, as what sin could a normal small child have possibly committed. But I was truly afraid, and as a consequence, deeply repentant.

For young people post Bat or Bar Mitzvah, our synagogue continued classes towards a ceremony called "confirmation". I don't know if this is an official part of Judaism, or something our temple cooked up to try to retain young people's participation. I went to one class and told my parents I wanted to quit. After some negotiating, I got out.

The class was comparative religion. We discussed the main themes of the other world religions, and attended several different kinds of services. It seemed pretty clear to me that the propaganda my father had fed us about Judaism was a bunch of crap. All religions taught pretty much the same things, and which you landed in was usually an accident of birth. Claiming specialness because of being Jewish was as ridiculous as claiming specialness over being white.

I was a teenager, and having a lot of problems at home. It's tempting to think I was rejecting my father through a rejection of his religion, that breaking away from Judaism was a substitute for what I couldn't yet do, but would later need to do, break away from a controlling parent.

But that theory breaks down when you consider that my father was a leftist. He was much more political than he was religious. I was political very early in life, and our leftist politics was something my father and I always had in common. Even when we had almost no relationship at all, we could always talk politics. It was one of our steadfast common grounds.

If I were only rejecting my father, why didn't I become conservative? Because becoming an atheist wasn't about rejecting my father. It was about finding what was inside me. Who I was.

* * * *

Still in high school and starting to explore my own philosophies and guidelines for living, I started reading about atheism and collecting atheist quotes. Clarence Darrow - still a hero of mine - was a favourite. I liked this one:
I do not consider it an insult, but rather a compliment to be called an agnostic. I do not pretend to know where many ignorant men are sure.

But I kept this one on my bulletin board:
I don't believe in god because I don't believe in Mother Goose.

In university, I took a sociology class on religion - its origins and social function. I've always loved mythology, and I started to see religion in that context: a means of answering questions about life and death, a way to exercise control of society, like a form of government, perhaps a universal need of evolving humans. (Later on, I would discover Joseph Campbell through a Bill Moyers series on PBS, and saw Christianity through a mythological framework, too. Ever since, I've wondered how anyone can accept the story of Jesus literally, rather than as a familiar and oft-repeated myth that is found in so many different cultures.)

So, now out of the madhouse of my teenage years, and with this new sociological perspective, I started to wonder if perhaps I needed to reject organized Judaism but not religion entirely.

I had been raised with the concept of god as a giant father figure in the sky, declaring "Thou Shalt Not," and punishing us for invisible infractions. I had quite enough of that in my life. As it was, my entire coming of age would be breaking away from a controlling, bullying, abusive father, so perhaps I only needed to break away from a similarly fashioned deity?

In that spirit, I set out to sample some other religions and see if any of them were more suitable for me. Any mainstream Christianity was utterly out of the question, although along the way I discovered I loved gospel music. Islam was out for the same reasons Judaism and Christianity don't work. Buddhism seemed cool, but I knew it could never be more than play-acting for me. It sounds nice, but I couldn't really believe it. Plus, it seemed anti-activist, contrary to working for change and social justice.

The closest I came was the Quakers. I went to a few meetings and was very impressed. But I had to face it: Quakers are Christian. Although they are egalitarian, non-judgemental, democratic, and work tirelessly for social justice in the most committed way, they are compelled to do this through belief in Christ. (More on this concept in part two.) And I could never pretend that Christ has any part in my life.

When I was a little older, I met people who adopted alternative, non-mainstream religions, like Wicca or Paganism. I think this is cool as a matter of personal choice, but I was never drawn to it in the slightest way. I'm not looking for anything to replace conventional religions. It doesn't matter what the religion is called, or how it expresses itself, how open it is, or how ancient, or how unconventional. I simply don't need or want any of it.

Around the time I realized I couldn't be Quaker, I started realizing that I wasn't rejecting organized religion - or at least not only that. I was rejecting the entire concept of a creator, a supreme being, a deity.

I read a bit about existentialism, and suddenly it all clicked. Please leave aside complex philosophical debates among various branches of existentialist philosophy. Those have about as much relevance to my journey as debates about full-body baptism and angels dancing on pinheads. The point, for me, is that I was introduced to a way of looking at the world that used no organizing principle of religion, fate, destiny or order.

I had the great Ah-Ha Experience of recognition. We live in a meaningless universe governed by random chance. Our lives are the product of our own choices, and of random luck. God is a human-made construct. These concepts felt so right, so deeply true, to me, that I instantly knew who I was. I was an atheist, an existentialist, and a leftist.

Note that I say I knew who I was. I do not say I knew The Truth. I know only the truth for me. The lens through which I see the world.


bus slogan generator

Redsock guest post - L.

Remember the fuss over the bus/subway ads (in both the UK and Canada) promoting atheism? You can now create your own bus ads, as I did above, by clicking here.


what would you do? (i hate christmas, part 3)

I was very interested in your comments to my post i hate christmas, part 2. Some of them surprised me, but it was interesting to see the range of reaction. Even more surprising, I had an unsatisfactory answer from human resources, which I posted in comments on that post.

Today I exchanged little holiday cards with a few co-workers. A woman I used to work with left a card for me. We were friendly when we worked together, then she had a schedule change, and we haven't seen each other in many months.

The pre-printed part of her card reads:
Celebrate the season...
Worship the Reason...
Experience the joy...

She wrote "Dear Laura" and "Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a blessed 2009" in red - and underlined the words "Worship the Reason", also in red. The R in Reason is upper-case.

And the bottom of the card, in small type, is printed: "Rejoice in the Lord always." Philippians 4:4. She also underlined the quote in red.

She knows I'm Jewish. I don't think she would know I am atheist, I can't imagine we ever talked beliefs, but I'm sure she knows I'm Jewish.

This woman is generally a nice person, a good worker, and pleasant to be around. But I'm absolutely offended by this. Coming as I'm sitting in a cubicle decorated in creches, angels and baby Jesuses, it feels insulting.

I'm sure it wasn't her intention to insult me. But knowing I am Jewish, she is proselytizing. And that is an insult.

What would you do?

I'm not asking for advice. I've already done whatever I'm going to do or not do. But I'm interested to hear what you all would do, if anything, in this situation.

If you're Christian, you have to imagine this from the other perspective. You work in a place where you are the only person who doesn't celebrate the Jewish High Holy Days. At Rosh Hashanah, your Jewish co-workers distribute Shana Tovah cards. Someone, knowing you are Christian, gives you a card. She wishes you a Happy New Year and implies that you should See The Light.

What would you do?


i hate christmas, part two

Further to my earlier post, I came into work this weekend to find the office (where I work on weekends) has been decorated to the nines. Someone had the idea of using cubicle decorations as a way of raising money for a needy family, and who can complain about that. Surely not me.

I don't like the wreaths, I don't like the ribbons, I don't like the snowflakes. Despite the wintery themes, this is still about Christmas. But I can't say anything - especially working part-time.

But when my own cubicle - which I see a mere two days each week, and which I share with two or three other employees - is adorned with pictures of Baby Jesus, Mother Mary, angels and wise men, I have to speak up.

I noticed there is a Hanukah motif in one cubicle, so I tried to pre-empt that weak argument.

My email, below.

[HR people]:

I'm sorry to bother you with this, but I feel compelled to speak up.

At this time of year when most people are celebrating Christmas, it's worth remembering that not everyone does. Holiday decorations are always pleasant, but I think pictures depicting religious scenes are not appropriate for the workplace.

I don't think Christian employees would feel comfortable if Muslim or Jewish employees hung religious pictures or symbols. Likewise, those of us who are not Christian may feel uncomfortable seeing religious pictures in our secular workplace. I do. Hanging Chanukah decorations does not make things "even". I don't think any religious depictions are appropriate.

I wonder if you could ask employees to limit Christmas decorations to the non-religious variety. Naturally I would appreciate it if this note is kept confidential.

Thank you very much for your understanding.

Let's see what happens.



Last night I was walking Cody through our neighbourhood. It was dusk and the holiday lights were blinking on the houses. It was cold and crisp - not so cold as to be bone-chilling, but just enough to say it's winter.

We passed a few other folks walking their dogs, a runner or two, some people packing a car. But mostly the sidewalks were quiet and empty.

I noticed a man across the street who looked out of place. He was wearing a dark suit without a winter jacket, and carrying a book. A moment later, I saw another man on my side of the street dressed the same way, also carrying a book. I knew he was going to approach me and I knew what he wanted.

As he stepped towards me, I caught a glimpse of a name tag, which included the words "Jesus Christ".

"Excuse me, have you ever had the opportunity to speak with a missionary?"

I never broke stride. "No thank you, I have no interest in that, thank you very much."

He tried again. I knew he would. They always do. "Do you know anyone else who does?" he called, now speaking to my back.

"No I don't, have a nice day," I said to the air in front of me.

"Have a nice day, god bless you," he called.


I hate proselytizing of any type. I just hate it.

In New York, when I was younger and Jehovah's Witnesses would approach me, it infuriated me. Now that I've mellowed generally, it doesn't get under my skin so intensely, but it still really bothers me.

If that man had been selling magazine subscriptions, I would have also said "no thank you" and kept walking, but it wouldn't have bothered me at all. If he had been collecting for a charity, I would have listened and probably donated. And if he had been canvassing for a political group, I would have stopped and listened, and maybe chatted. But he was selling religion, so I had to mentally bite my lip to refrain from snarling at him.

The whole idea of trying to change someone's religion, or of trying to introduce a religion to someone who wasn't seeking it on her own, irritates me no end. The notion of selling religion door-to-door is, shall we say, extremely distasteful to me. Spirituality seems very personal to me, and proselytizing feels like an invasion of my privacy.

I used to think all nonreligious people felt this way, but I've realized that they don't necessarily. Why do these people bug me so much? I don't even know.


us and them

I had an interesting conversation with someone at work recently, and I'd like to hear your thoughts.

I'll preface this by emphasizing that the person I spoke with - we'll call her PA, for Person A - is not a bigot, not overtly racist, and seems open-minded. She grew up in Canada, and has traveled in many parts of the world.

I'll also say that my conversation with PA was not confrontational or adversarial at all. I mostly just listened, or gently offered my own perspective from my own experience.

PA said Canadians are "too easy-going," too unlikely to make a fuss when they should stand up for themselves. When I asked what she was referring to, it turned out to be about immigration and multiculturalism.

PA took pains to emphasize that she appreciates a multicultural society, that she believes it enriches everyone, that Canadian society is stronger and more interesting for its diversity. I believe her.

PA's central gripe went something like this. (I'll paraphrase.) "We welcome these people into our country, we go out of our way to make them feel comfortable and accepted and not second-class citizens, and that's as it should be, but then they turn around and tell us our customs and traditions are offensive, and we can't display the traditional symbols of our society."

When I probed further, she said (again, paraphrasing), "We respect everyone's right to celebrate their own religion and their own holidays and customs, but now people are telling me I can't have a Christmas tree? I'm sorry, that's going too far."

I gently offered that no one has told her she can't have a Christmas tree in her own home. Correct?

PA softened a little. Yes, that's true. No one is saying we can't have a Christmas tree at home. But we can't in school. In my child's school, we can't call it a Christmas tree, it can only be a holiday tree, for the winter holiday. There can't be any mention of Christmas, because it excludes the children who don't celebrate Christmas. Now how could anyone be offended by a Christmas tree?

Poor PA, she didn't know who she was sitting next to. I told her that as a Jewish person, and an atheist, I am not offended by other people's Christmas trees, but I was always bothered that there was a Christmas tree on the White House lawn, in a country that is not supposed to have an official religion - and that Christian symbolism in public places has been a source of discomfort and alienation for me.

PA said that when she was growing up, students stood and recited the [so-called] Lord's Prayer every morning, and the Jewish students left the room during that time. She said, "I never thought of them any differently, I never looked down on them."

I offered that, although she may not have looked down on the students who left the room, those students were singled out, made to feel different, and may indeed have felt unwelcome. They had to accommodate the majority. The majority religion was being practiced in public, taxpayer-funded space - rather than the public space being neutral, and each of us practicing religion in our own private space.

PA ignored this. She was very huffy and worked up that Canada "has gone too far," and has "allowed" "these people" too much leeway, without sticking up for "ourselves". Her main issue seems to be the Christmas tree, which she insists is not a religious symbol. She claims the Christmas tree is a neutral symbol of the winter holiday season. Yet she is incensed that her child's school says the tree must now be called a "winter holiday" tree. She is angry that her children can no longer sing Christmas carols in public school.

I pointed out that the Christmas tree is indeed, in our modern world, a religious symbol. If it truly were a neutral "winter holiday" tree, why would she have a problem with it being called a winter holiday tree?

(Please, no need to point out the pre-Christian, pagan roots of the Christmas tree, or how Christians in other eras condemned its use. It's true, but irrelevant.)

I asked PA if it would be ok with her if Muslim or Jewish parents brought religious symbols to school and asked all students to sing songs of their faiths. She said that in Canada, everyone is free to celebrate their own religious traditions, but that has no place in public school.

PA saw no irony in this.

She insisted that the Christmas tree is part of "how we've always lived" and should be seen and accepted as neutral. She said that her family has been in Canada for hundreds of years, and that part of her family is First Nations. (Again, no irony.) "We're not making them become Christian! But why shouldn't we be able to practice our religion the way we always have?"

We talked like this for a while. When the conversation threatened to become a little touchy, I tried to validate her concerns: "Your point of view is valid and should be listened to and respected." She said, "Well, that's the problem. Canadians don't speak up, so we just get walked on."

I segued into a different subject.

So to summarize: Multiculturalism is good, but "Canadian ways" are Christian. Christian symbols are the default setting, because that's the way it's always been. "We" have accommodated "them", but "they" cannot ask us to change our ways. Religion should not be in public school, but Christmas trees should be, because that's what "we've" always done.

So at what point do "they" become "us"? How many generations removed from immigration must someone be to be truly "us"? Could it be that unless one is nominally Christian, one will always be "them"? Chances are good that PA's child's classmates who are Muslim and Jewish are themselves Canadian citizens. Why are those children still "them", the ones who've been accommodated? Why is it so difficult for some people to grasp that Christian symbols are not universal?


strange and stranger

I always say: to be a Jew and an atheist at Christmastime is to know the meaning of "I was a stranger in a strange land". (I do always say it: I wrote the exact same thing last year. I am so boring!)

Even as a child, the sight of the Christmas tree at the White House bothered me, and I never understood why Christmas is a national holiday in a country that isn't supposed to have a state religion. Still don't.

So this bullshit that has the religious right in its latest snit - the notion that Christmas somehow needs "saving", this bizarre campaign to portray the vast Christian majority as persecuted - is beyond the scope of my imagination. All I can do is shake my head in disbelief.

Last year I wondered if I would feel just as alienated during Christmastime in Canada. Readers conjectured that I probably would, as the Christian tradition is predominant. The Christmas onslaught does seem more low-key here, but I'm shielded from large parts of the culture, working by myself at home, kind of living in my own world. Or maybe Christmas really is more low-key here; it is, after all, a more low-key culture.

Last year at Christmas, I was feeling sad about leaving New York. (Two posts: here and here.)

Yesterday, on a whim, we had dim sum - assuming that on Christmas Day, Chinese Canadians are very likely to be enjoying little bits of deliciousness from carts rolling by their tables. We were right. The dim sum palace recommended by Matt was hopping - crowded and noisy, as dim sum is supposed to be, and absolutely packed.

The most visible difference between Christmas Dim Sum in Mississauga and in New York was that, here, we were one of the very few non-Asians in the busy restaurant. In New York City, at least half of the people crowding into Chinese restaurants on Christmas are (presumably) Jewish, or at least white. Here, the diners were 99% Chinese. That was fun, and the food was great.

On the "who took the Christ out of Christmas" nonsense, here's an excellent post from Nick at Life Without Borders, by way of DU, by way of someone's reply to a chain email. One thing you can count on from the Fox News crowd: they never have their facts straight.

Why do these people feel so threatened by change? Isn't being the overwhelming majority good enough for them?

Don't answer that. Enjoy Boxing Day!


southern exposure

In a discussion in comments, I was directed to Atheist Exposed, a blog by S. Setterbo, a woman in Texas who was "coming out" as an atheist to her coworkers and others in her life. Setterbo lives in a highly Christian environment and felt it was a Big Thing to reveal this part of herself. Her stated goal: "to give these Christians the knowledge, that they know an Atheist, and she's not a bad person."

Setterbo's fears were used as evidence of a lack of religious freedom in the US - and I find myself in the odd position of actually defending the US. Go figure.

Try as I might, I can't see this woman as a victim of religious intolerance. There's no freedom from discomfort at being a minority, no guarantee of personal acceptance by those around you, nor should there be.

I must clarify that Setterbo doesn't present herself as a persecuted victim at all. This is in response to others' comments about her, not her own words. I read elsewhere that she was afraid of losing her job, but I didn't see anything about that (although I might have missed it). In reality she lost neither her job nor her friends.

Setterbo is obviously intelligent, compassionate and kind. I can sympathize with her for feeling out of place. Many of her conservative Christian co-workers would feel dreadfully out of place in New York City. But they wouldn't be denied religious freedom, and neither is she.

I think Setterbo's central issue is the closet. Whenever we keep our true selves hidden, we feel discomfort. The longer we stay in a closet - of any kind - the harder it becomes to reveal our true self. Setterbo describes herself as a "30 year closet atheist". If you're in the closet for 30 years, it's going to be a big deal when you finally come out. The reality may be better than you imagined, which is what she found.

In many of her posts, I read Setterbo's desire for acceptance and understanding by her co-workers. This may also be the source of her discomfort. If we feel it's necessary for our co-workers to understand us, and we don't work in an environment of like-minded people, it's going to chafe. I know I was more comfortable and more "out" about my own life when I worked in a non-profit alternative school for teenagers, than when I was a secretary in a corporate law firm. As a secretary, I often felt alienated and out of place. I could decide, the benefits of working here are too good, I will put up with the alienation. Or I could feel, I need to work in a more nurturing environment, and look for other employment. Either way, I wasn't being denied my rights.

Separation of church and state is an important part of a free society, and the US is moving farther and farther away from it every day. The creeping theocracy is one of the reasons I'm leaving. But that's not the same as freedom of religion. Of course I realize that under an actual theocracy there would be no religious freedom, but as bad as it is, we're not there yet.

Thanks to Atheist Exposed for (unknowingly) allowing me to use her blog to make a point. Her blog is well written and illuminating, and worth a visit.