I know that I've not been keeping this blog with the care and attention that I did a year ago.  I feel kinda bad about this.  After all, this blog was my first forray into skeptical activism, and I've not been around here much lately.


But like a guy who plays upright bass, fret not, dear readers!  I spend most of my blogging energies over at Skeptic North, and have been ever since we started on October 1, 2009.
Get it?  Fret not!
So rather then let this blog fester into the place where I go to complain about atheism (which I don't really care about these days) and politics, I'm also going to start regularly be posting brief summaries of my Skeptic North articles and give you a brief rundown on what I've been doing for the last year, skeptically speaking.

Podcasts:

Speaking of skeptically speaking, you can hear me on a few episodes of Skeptically Speaking!  (this episode, and this one).  In case you missed it, I was on episode 228 of The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe last year, and this episode of RadioFree Thinker with fellow Skeptic North blogger, Ethan Clow.  I'll also be on an upcoming episode of Meet The Skeptics...details on this appearence will be up shortly.

"Skepticism 101" at Skepchicon 2010.  Pictured from left to right: Greg Laden, Lois Shadenwald, Pamela Gay, Me
Live Events:

At Toronto Skepticamp
I gave a 40 minute talk at the Toronto Skeptics in the Pub, hosted by the Association for Science and Reason on January 22.  As far as I know, no footage exists of it.  I had fun, and thanks again to Dave, Lisa, Aysha (another fellow Skeptic North blogger) for having me.  This past summer I was on two panels at Skepchicon 2010 in Mineapolis.  Once again, I don't know of any existing footage, but here's a funny photostream instead.  Recently, I gave a presentation at the first ever Toronto Skepticamp, and footage DOES exist of the talk!  Listen here. I'll be condensing this presentation into blog form shortly, so stay tuned.  Also, if you're in/near the Kitchener/Waterloo region, come on out to the Drinking Skeptically events, which I'm regularly at.

Recent Articles

I wrote a review of Daniel Levitin's wonderful book "This is your Brain on Music"

In response to a referendum that was held in Waterloo, I wrote a piece on the old panic of water fluoridation (hint: it's perfectly safe and ethical!)

Perhaps most importantly, if you're in Ontario, you've probably heard about the efforts to ban WiFi from public schools.  It's idiotic, senseless, and the people leading the charge in this cause leave much to be desired in the areas of expertise and being unbiased.

My first piece covered the basics
My second piece uncovered some ridiculous facts about the people behind it.
My third piece is a little fiery, but hopefully some people with power will take notice this time.  The people behind this anti WiFi crusade are wrong, wrong, wrong, and they need to be stopped.  They've already got the government wating their time and our money looking into something that the whole world knows is safe.

That's about all the updates for now.  Forgive me for sounding so ego-centric, but there was a lot of ground to cover because I've been so lackadaisical over here lately.  Every time I post something new on Skeptic North, I'll provide a summary here, and you can decide if you want to head over there.  But you should be doing that anyway, becuase it's a great group blog that I'm proud to be a part of.


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Forgive me for getting a rage-on here. 

Despite my insistence that I'm not really focusing my energies on atheism, little things keep popping up in my life that remind me that a) I am a minority, b) the majority (religious people in the broadest sense) will not cease until I have joined them, and believe in truth by revealed wisdom, rather than by reason, logic, and evidence.  I repeatedly hear the often right-wing cry of the religious, "Why can't atheism leave the rest of us alone?!"

Well, I try.  I fucking try.   I don't EVER proselytize or advertise my atheism to someone if they have not explicitly asked what religious beliefs I hold (it never occurs to the religious that "none" might be an answer, and the default question often revolves around this conceit that I must somehow be an adherent to one form of superstition or another).  I don't wear atheist t-shirts, and I don't laugh in the face of the religious (as many atheists are prone to do).  There are active debates/fights/discussions within the atheist community about how best to present ourselves to the public which outnumbers us.  For me, I take the stance of respect, but unapologetic atheism.  I won't back down from a fight about religion/atheism, but I will never start or instigate one.

Sadly, there are regular reminders in my life that the religious community will not grant me the same courtesy I grant them:  They refuse to leave me alone. 

Another reminder of this obnoxious preaching happened to me this morning, as I was preparing to leave for work, and has caused me so much anger, that I am still able to be stirred by the rage I felt all day. 

At about 10:15 or so, I heard a knock at the door.  It being Saturday morning, I should have known that an unsolicited visit from the Jehovah's Witnesses was going to occur sooner or later, and so they did.  Now, I've been very respectful to JW's in the past, but unflinching in my position against them that they have so far been unable to shake.  This morning, however, I was met with a different tactic that I was quite unprepared for.

As usual, there was a middle-aged woman dressed in very conservative attire, but to the left of her was a little girl who couldn't have been older than 10 years old.  I was so taken aback by this that I could barely respond to the innocent girl when she asked me, pressured by the monstrously irresponsible she-devil in a trench coat pressuring her, "Do you find it more difficult to trust people?"

Now, if an adult would have asked this meaningless question it would be easy to destroy:  More difficult to trust people than what?  More difficult to trust people then when when I was a child?  More difficult to trust people in the 1950's?  More difficult to trust people then then I think it should be like?  But hearing this nervous little girl barely eek out such an inane question that was put on her by charlatans and idiots with power over her was completely and utterly disarming.

I had no idea how to respond, and I don't remember what I said.  Hearing the she-devil in a trench coat pressure the nervous girl into asking a complete stranger (who still had bed-head) a religious question that she has no understanding of, filled me with such disarming rage that I couldn't for the life of me respond as I would have under normal (read: no children being used) circumstances.

The girl could not even look up from her sparkling pink shoes as she nervously held aloft a copy of some inane magazine riddled with empty platitudes of family, fealty, and faith.  Feeling terrible for the poor girl, I could just barely muster up enough strength of will to say to the she-devil in a trench coat that I was on my way to work in about 10 minutes (which was true, and that panicked, "I might be late for work" state I was in, might have also contributed to my blubberingness).   I had an honest way out of that situation, but I wonder how I would have otherwise dealt with that unlikely pair.

Armed with hindsight and pride, I can say that I would have liked to invite the woman inside for a minute, and told her how despicable I found her tactics to be.  But in the moment, shocked by the sight of a nervous child (and worried about being late for work), I just sounded like a stammering idiot.

I'll say it as bluntly as I can: Getting children to perform religious recruitment/missionary work constitutes child abuse.  One would never pressure a child to canvass for a political party, or get them to spread the glorious doctrine of Marxism or neo-liberalism.  Or if they did, they would rightly be castigated by society at-large as forcing their ideology onto innocent minds undeserving of adult baggage.  "Let children stay innocent," we might say, "there will be plenty of time for them to make their own minds up later". 

Religion, like any political ideology, is a learned set of beliefs.  I agree with Richard Dawkins that no child is born as belonging to any religion, just as they are not born republicans, democrats, or Marxists.  Children should be given the intellectual freedom to be children while those precious few years last, and if they want to join a particular religion, fine.  But to force it upon them at such an early age, and to use them in such a cynical tactic of proselytizing, is beyond reproach.  I would dearly like to inform the older woman how heinous her actions were, and being that I accepted one of their smaller pamphlets (a ridiculous pamphlet which depicts children feeding a lion and a bear as being somehow "idyllic"), they may come back, but I'm at a loss.

I could use some insight here.  If/when they come back with a child in tow (and I have the time), how should I react? My actions would be limited, as I obviously cannot admonish the adult in front of the child, nor can I get into a sophisticated philosophical discussion with a 10 year-old who mindlessly parrots the empty words of the older snakes that she is forced to befriend.  I want to make sure whatever adult is present that they know how despicable I find them, but I also don't want to drop that baggage onto a child who is, after all, an undeserving victim of religious indoctrination.

How should I react next time a Christian proselytizer comes with a child?


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