Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The death-knell for institutionalised homophobia in Zimbabwe?

In a recent interview with the BBC, Morgan Tsvangirai, Prime Minister of Zimbabwe expressed his wish to see gay rights protected in the a new constitution, a message completely different from views he expressed a year ago, when he supported President Robert Mugabe's sentiment that gays were "worse than pigs and dogs". There has been some speculation as to the reasons for this dramatic change of heart, with some saying it is to "appease his Western masters" and similar allegations. Without a doubt the incumbent is going to try to use this to sway people's vote come the next election, but at least its a step in the right direction. Hopefully, if he's really serious about this and doesn't go changing his mind later down the line and the memory of the suffering of previous years will be enough to override peoples' prejudices, we may see the basic right to love legally protected in Zimbabwe come the next election.

Still, the very fact that taking this liberal stance may jeopardise Tsvangirai's position in the upcoming elections is unacceptable. I've heard it expressed by people that the reason Mugabe has retained power for so long is that God placed him there because of his strong homophobic stance, so that legislation protecting gay rights could not be passed in Zimbabwe. So what this means basically is that God, in all his mercy would rather see thousands brutally assaulted and killed and millions more suffering under the yoke of oppression than allow gays the rights to live their lives in peace and without fear of legally backed hatred. Not only is that morally reprehensible, it is despicable, and no loving god would ever do such a thing.

But of course, God is simply people's projection of such people's own psyche, possessing their prejudices, and such moral paradoxes are the simple proof of this fact. If people could look beyond such dogma, superstition and close-mindedness and base their morality on a common respect and compassion for their fellow man the world would be a much sweeter place for all.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Why I Am an Atheist

Got round to penning my story in response to PZ Myers' call to submit our reasons for being atheists. A more detailed account is still in the works. I haven't blogged much about my brush - oh, hell it was a goddamn scrub-down - with von Danikenism and it occurs to me that I should. Consider a series examining the Ancient Astronaut hypothesis in the works.


Growing up in Zimbabwe presented many challenges. Calling anyone "middle class" was a joke - you were either filthy rich, struggled to make ends meet or were so poor words could not begin to describe it. My family was part of that second group - we lived comfortably, but only just. I'm an ex-fourth generation Seventh-day Adventist, which, considering that Adventism has been in Zimbabwe for about four generations is really something. One thing I can truly thank my parents for is that they never compromised on my education. My brothers and I always went to private school, even if it meant we had to cut back on a few luxuries to do so. I was also always very inquisitive, very much a nerd and had a deep love for science that my mother encouraged. I read a lot of books, particularly about physics, astronomy and dinosaurs so questions were inevitable. I was an introspective child, though, so I tended to keep those questions to myself and try to figure things out on my own.

At twelve I was baptised into the church. I think this was the turning point at which I began to come to terms with reality, because it forced me to examine what I believed and why I believed it, where previously I could just drift along and pretend there was no conflict between my faith and my aspirations to be a scientist. It wasn't an easy journey, but less than eight months later, I came to the conclusion that God as envisioned by any Earthly religion does not exist. I still thought a higher being of some kind was possible, and so became somewhat of an agnostic.

The biggest problem I had at this stage of my life was that I had nothing concrete to fill the gap my faith left behind. One practical upshot of my country and my family's financial state was that I had no access to the solid facts I needed - I had no access to the internet and what little I did know came from the now too vague books I could access from the kids' section of the library. I was growing ever more hungry for knowledge, and would gobble up any little morsel I could get, regardless of quality. In time, this led me to a brush with pseudoscience no better than the faith I had recently forsaken.

Rifling through some old books at my grandmother's house, I found a bunch by a certain fellow called Erich von Daniken. They had the words "stars" and "space" in them , so reading was a no-brainer. What I read had me instantly hooked. Soon, I was proclaiming to all my friends how aliens had visited us in ages past and imparted us with intelligence. I was rattling off every single piece of "evidence" E vD presented - the Piri Reis map, the Ica stones, the Nasca lines, Puma Punku - with the utmost confidence that I'd finally found the truth. E vD did an excellent job of pretending to have that which I had been looking for all along - good, solid facts. His book "Miracles of the Gods" also fit in with the pseudo-mystical approach I had taken, and this led into a brief but retrospectively embarrassing flirtation with the Law of Attraction.

It was this phase, in which I wholeheartedly accepted such nonsense as is contained in "The Secret" and "What the Bleep Do We Know" that led to me taking another deep look at my beliefs. I noticed that all my "positive thinking" and meditating on the things I desired was getting me nowhere, and I started really thinking about how this actually worked. I realised that all this talk of "qantum-this" and "quantum-that" was simply a different term for the magic I used to believe in when I was still Christian. It did not take long for the rest of my belief in the supernatural to disappear, and eventually any concession of the possibility of the existence of a deity went down the drain as well.

I remember the first time I ever referred to myself as an atheist. I had just moved to a new school in Botswana. We were in a class Guidance and Counselling session and the counsellor asked me what religion I belonged to. Right there and then, I realised - much as I had once reviled those who were so "close-minded" as to outright deny the existence of a god, I had become one of them. With newfound conviction in my voice, I proudly answered, "I'm atheist." This was early in 2009, and I was 16, going on 17.

Perhaps not very oddly enough, I still lent some credence to Erich von Daniken's hypotheses. I would think to myself, "Okay, maybe he got the metaphysics wrong, but some of his facts must be right." I was also very critical of vocal atheists, even once writing a letter bashing Richard Dawkins over his hope that creating a cross between a human and chimp would end religion to the South African edition of Popular Mechanics. The Internet changed both these things, however. The Skeptic's Dictionary in particular demolished von Daniken's hypotheses, while reading of all the abuses to freedom that religion continues to perpetrate underscored the importance of activism to me.

I take a pragmatic view of the circuitous route I took to becoming rational: if it weren't for it I wouldn't be who I am today. I wouldn't have experienced first hand how harmful and limiting believing in lies can be, and wouldn't be so passionate about eliminating them. It's not my lack of belief in gods that I count as my most important trait, though. I value being a rationalist because I choose to think, a skeptic because I choose to question, a humanist because I have compassion for my fellow man and have an unbridled love for the cosmos that drives me to achieve my dream of becoming an astrophysicist. It is from this dream that I draw the deepest meaning for my life: that of discovery, and questing to understand the universe we live in.

Jabu M

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Laws of Creatodynamics

I'm not a very consistent blogger now, am I? I actually have quite a few ideas floating around my head, but hey, I'm a lazy bastard and just couldn't be arsed to commit them to words. Guess I'll never make it big in the bloggosphere, then.

Anyway, inspired by PZ Myers' recent commentary on the latest bit of brain poop to drop out of the Hovindverse, I give you the Laws of Creatodynamics, expressing the interplay between intelligence and stupidity in the Creatoverse (adapted from the real laws of thermodynamics).

  • Zeroth Law: When two individuals are as stupid as a third individual, they are as stupid as each other. (E.g. Eric Hovind is as stupid as Ray Comfort, Kirk Cameron is as stupid as Ray Comfort, therefore Eric Hovind is as stupid as Kirk Cameron).

  • First Law: Intelligence can never be created, but is perpetually being destroyed. Similarly, Stupidity can never be destroyed but is perpetually being created. The reason for this situation is that as the Creationist movement is being assailed by ever increasing amounts of fact it is being driven to greater levels of absurdity to rationalise its position. The simple upshot of this is that Creationism is fast heading for the Stupidity Singularity, the point at which there is absolutely no intelligence left and pure, undiluted stupidity is all that remains. No one knows what will happen when this point is reached. Perhaps the movement will simply implode, leaving the rest of humanity to mop up and discard whatever is left of it. Perhaps the concentration of raw stupidity will strain the fabric of the universe, birth a god of unbridled stupidity in the immaterium while tearing reality a new asshole in the process.

  • Second Law: Intelligence cannot move from a stupider body to a more intelligent body.Makes sense, doesn't it? And it's also an observable effect: creationism has never produced anything of value to the scientific world, and it never will. Somewhat confusingly, the converse is also true: intelligence cannot move from a more intelligent body to a stupider body. Take a look at creationism in the 1900s and creationism today. There is practically no difference whatsoever between them. Pretty much the same arguments are still being used, no matter how often they have been addressed and debunked. The creationist movement learns nothing from the ever changing, ever expanding world of scientific knowledge. It only just keeps getting worse.

  • Third Law: Absolute zero intelligence is attainable. Take a look at what Hovind says again. 'Nuff said.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Breaking Out, Breaking Down

So, I've got my internet back, and after a few solid weeks of leaching from the great blood vessel of knowledge I think it's time I seeded from the contents of my rich and beautiful mind. But first, let me catch you up on what's been going on in my life.

About a month ago I had a bit of a crisis because of which I came pretty damn close to coming out of the closet. Ours is a really small church, so it's impossible to hide behind other members - everyone is expected to pull their weight, be a part of running things and occasionally show their face up front. I've done so before without much of a problem, but things were different then. I was quite depressed at the time - things hadn't been going well in my life, I was hard at work self tutoring for my frickin A Levels and I didn't want to add to the stress by having to deal with the fallout of refusing to do it and possibly having to come out, so I sucked it up and did it, and managed to fake a smile while I was at it. Things had changed a month ago. I was feeling much better with myself, I'd been too late to register for exams this November and so will be writing next June, so a whole load of stress had been lifted off my shoulders. So when my mother told me I was supposed to be preaching the next Saturday I was just kind of like, "bleh". I really wasn't under any pressure and didn't care much.

It was the Friday before the big day that I started to freak out. I realised just how little I gave a damn, how I seriously couldn't be bothered to even pull something random out of my ass like I usually did when in this situation, and realised the implications of it. I was going to have to come out, tell everyone just why I couldn't stand up and defecate out of my mouth anymore. Looking for some assistance and support, I turned to the group Ex-Adventists and Seventh-day Atheists on Atheist Nexus. The conversation is on the comment wall. So thanks to advice from Dustin Williams (creator of the group and author of the great blog dwnomad) I decided to pull some stock sermon from the internet on a subject of basic morality and give that. I settled on this sermon, emphasising on how even the godless are moral folk and cutting out that downright libellous second paragraph. I'd then proceed to out myself that evening while everyone was having cake.

Well, things didn't quite go as planned. I discovered the next morning that I had been rescheduled - one of the church elders was taking that day and I would be preaching the next week. This kind of robbed me of my momentum. I decided not to do it that day and deliberate whether I would go for it sometime during the week. Other doubts began to crop up in my head - how would my parents react to my being atheist? Would they take away my allowance and computer privileges? Would I be forced to attend until the day I left home? My parents are pretty hard to read sometimes. At times I think they might be accepting and treat me like an adult. Then they say or do something that convinces me never, ever to say a thing. In the end I decided not to do it, but just do the sermon which was really about something every moral person ought to agree with. I ended up not having to give the sermon anyway - a visiting pastor was around and took over that week's activities.

Other than that, my life's been peachy. We just moved to a new neighbourhood and will probably be switching churches as well since our old one is now almost 30 minutes' dive away. The church we'll probably be moving to is much bigger than our old one, so I can blend in and keep a low profile. I promise I'll be a lot more active on the blogging front - I came to an epiphany a short while ago. Being an undercover atheist does have its advantages. Listening to all the kookoo things the religious people around me say gives me great ammo for my blog and allows me a glimpse into the psyche of the religious mind. So at the very least you can expect a weekly "Sabbath School" post about something I heard at church, as well as a few miscellaneous random things that kind of pop into my head. I'm also working on a series of essays detailing my journey to godlessness so that I can have a handy resource to point anyone wondering how I got where I am today and who wants to understand the reasoning behind the decisions I've made. I think they'll come invaluable when I finally do come out.

Also, metal!