Friday, April 30, 2010

Close to Home

Constance McMillen is a teenager from Jesusland, USA. She gained the help of the American Civil Liberties Union to file a law suit that would allow her to bring her girlfriend to the school prom as her date.

As a parent, I can sympathize with the discomfort one may have about gay and lesbian couples together openly at your child's prom.

While I support the rights of homosexuals, I must admit feeling a little uneasy when I contemplate my children going to a prom where homosexuals may show public displays of affection.

But on the date that I'm posting this my kids are now five and eight years old.

I believe I feel a slight uneasiness mainly because I'm still thinking of them in these terms when I imagine them at their senior prom. I don't want them to be overly exposed to the public display of affection by heterosexuals and homosexuals alike.


But I figure that by the time my kids are teenagers, they will be thoroughly exposed to homosexuality and will have their own opinions about it.

I mean-- my son has already seen two men kiss on television (we didn't see it coming). But you know what? He didn't seem to become suddenly overwhelmed with the desire to kiss other men all of a sudden.

So, I figure they will probably have discovered their own sexuality the time they've reached the prom. After all, puberty usually hits before the prom happens. They will know something about sex whether I like it or not-- even if they do abstain from sex and remain "straight".

I have to realize that they may even go through an exploratory phase (somebody shoot me) and try things that I might not feel comfortable with as their parent. But they will be turning into adults. These things cannot be totally avoided.

In light of that, I suppose I shouldn't get my boxers in a wad about homosexuals dancing together when my children finally attend their high school prom. This is a time when they are about to graduate and (hopefully) start their own lives soon afterwards.

All that, however, is really just a side note.

What I really want to say is that I tip my hat to Constance McMillen. She has done something brave in my opinion. She stood up for her sexual orientation in a politically hostile environment. Constance exposed herself to potential discrimination and the threat of assault for the sake of exercising freedom.

She's not in the closet about her lesbianism like I'm in the closet about my atheism.
I greatly respect that about her. To me, she should be commended.

Like Constance, I also live in Jesusland; I know this is not easy for her. Homosexuals and atheists are hardly viewed any differently by the fundamentalist citizens of Jesusland. The mentioning of homosexuals and atheists both draw funny faces from fundamentalists.

Eewww! They're both just so nasty and unholy!

To the fundamentalists, homosexuals and atheists are both headed straight for hell.

And we will bust (no, not burst--bust!) the bottom out.

Although . . . I thought the lake of fire was a bottomless pit. Who knows? Maybe atheists and homosexuals are the reason why hell has no bottom.

*shrug*

And while I say that Constance lives in Jesusland like I do-- I don't live in Fulton, Mississippi.

But, I bet I live closer to Fulton that you.

Except for you Mac. You probably have me beat by about 30 miles or so. But that makes sense. You live in Jesusland, too.

Friday, April 23, 2010

OK, So Here's the Good News . . .

Today is Friday! That's the good news!!

Oh, and one more bit of good news . . .

The Human Rights Commission in Saudi Arabia helped a 12 year old girl finally get a divorce from her 80 year old husband!

Despite the fact that many clerics feel that Mohammad's marriage to a nine year old girl sets a positive example, the Ministry of Justice in Saudi Arabia is considering raising the legal age limit for marriage. Because of the legal battle of this girl and her mother, officials are now forming committees to meet and discuss what the appropriate age of marriage for a woman should be.

Well, progressiveness doesn't happen over night. After all, disagreeing with Mohammad these days takes a lot of guts.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Dementia, God, and You

Though it may not seem like it, every human being has a brain.

And each person's brain tends to look roughly the same to the naked eye. And for the most part, each human brain is the same overall. But the details underneath the hard-wired similarities of our brains produce a world teeming with billions of unique individuals.

Our brains seem to act as the seat of our consciousness and awareness. And should our brains ever deteriorate, our ability to interact with the outside world deteriorates right along with our brains.

I've seen one case of dementia up close in my life. When I was young, my mother made the decision to be the primary care taker of her aunt who had started developing dementia. I had no clue as to why my mother uprooted us.

I soon found out.

One afternoon, my (great) aunt was staring out of a window while muttering to herself. I innocently asked her what she was looking at as I too began to peer through the window. I also wanted to know who she was talking to. While she was muttering to herself, her tone was somehow conversational. Who in the world was she talking with?

I was only about ten years old at the time.

She responded to my childhood curiosity by accosting me. "Who are you? What are you doing in my house? How did you get in here? I'm calling the police on you if you don't get out of my house!"

I scurried away. She had never talked to me like that before.

And we never had a normal, coherent conversation ever since.

Often she would talk to "herself". At any given moment, she would burst out singing praises to God and acting like she was in church. Then moments later, she would seem to behave as though her personality had split in two. She would role play a little child being fussed at by her aggressive, angry, overbearing mother. (I often wondered if this display was a faint echo of my aunt's actual childhood. How horrible if so!) My aunt would play both roles out loud in "real time". She displayed the personality of both the parent and the child.

Think "Norman Bates". . . but not nearly as sinister.

As the dementia worsened, my aunt was prone to do other odd things. She would sometimes eat raw meat out of the refrigerator. She'd cry like a three year old sometimes when we'd try to convince her to do something for her own good. She would hit at us because, to her, we were unwanted strangers in her house. She'd call the police on us numerous times. She'd wander off for hours until the police would finally find her and bring her home.

The police in the area became really familiar with us.

Over the years, she became sickly and frail. Eventually, she had stopped eating. Then she stopped swallowing water.

Soon thereafter, she stopped living.

Today, my wife's grandmother (our kid's great grandma) is slowly developing dementia.

She's blind and bedridden, but still has a lot of spunk about her regardless.

Unfortunately, her jaw often becomes dislocated and she has to visit a doctor to have it moved back in place.

Excruciating, I imagine.

Since she's is known to be religious, the doctor often tells her to call on Jesus as he tries to reset her jaw. One particular time, she told the doctor as he manipulated her chin, "I'll whoop yo' ass with Jesus!"

Apparently, this round of jaw resetting hurt extra bad!


If my great aunt's brain had never deteriorated, she would never have treated us as she did. Before dementia set in, she was hospitable, recognized us all, and never exhibited a split personality. She was a church goer and loved God for sure. But, she wouldn't have sang spiritual hymns one moment, then performed a split personality freak show the next.

My wife's grandmother would not have made such a vulgar (but hilarious) statement towards the doctor if her brain wasn't deteriorating. Well . . . I dunno. I could be wrong about her . . . I hear she was quite a spitfire in the past.

My mother-in-law has endured brain surgery from years ago. She couldn't talk for weeks afterwards and had to learn family members all over again. She remember us to some extent, but our names were gone as well as some of the details of our lives. That information was lifted out of her mind right along with the brain cells she lost when her tumor was surgically removed.

She has come a very long way and is independent again. Yet, she still grapples with expressing herself clearly. Imagine a pentecostal minister who was once a fluent speaker before audiences-- but now challenged in expressing herself.

All because of physiological changes in her brain.

It's not religion that made any of my loved ones this way at all. I don't mean to imply that.

And I don't mean to make fun of dementia or any other form mental illness or retardation. Sometimes you have to laugh at some of the things your loved ones say and do when they have any sort of mental impediment. Otherwise, you'll simply cry all the time. But I don't make fun of the ailments themselves and I hope I haven't come across as showing any disrespect to my family.

And while that sentiment may seem like a cliché, it's true nonetheless.

So . . . what's my point?

I find it interesting that when the brain deteriorates, the sufferer of such conditions becomes a different person. Personality is controlled by a single organ in our bodies-- the brain. When that organ fails, our very selves change into something else.

Where do you go when your brain deteriorates and dementia sets in?

And where is God when all of this is happening to you?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Numberwareness

I've heard the speculation that a person's perspective of human kind's centeredness in the cosmos is directly proportional with one's understanding of math.

In other words, the less math a person understands, the more likely that person will think human kind is the apex and center of the Universe. However, the more math a person understands, the more that person will realize humanity is not even a blip when considering the grand scale of the Universe. Again, this is speculation.


Among the industrialized democracies, the United States lags behind in primary and secondary education. Math does not seem to be an exception. Also, I am no exception within this scenario and I long to better understand the important skill of understanding numbers. So, to do my part to educate myself and any who will listen, I will share some interesting comparisons that I've recently read. Perhaps this information could help us put ourselves and our cosmos into perspective-- a perspective largely described using numbers:

If you count at a rate of one number per second, you will need to count for practically 12 days before you reach one million.

At this same rate, you will need to count for 32 years to reach one billion (109).

To finally count to one trillion, you will need 32,000 years.


*****

McDonald's claims to have served one hundred billion customers. If you took one hundred billion hamburgers and laid them end to end, the burger chain could circle the Earth 230 times! No wonder we've got obesity problems!

And you'd still have burgers left over to stack to the moon and back!

Those people at McDonald's are some rich Mo'Fo's.

*****


If a person making $25,000 a year finds $0.25 on the side walk, then this is the same proportion to Bill Gates finding $25,000 laying around on the floor somewhere! In other words, $25,000 is merely twenty-five cents when compared to Bill Gates' wealth!
No wonder he can donate a billion dollars to AIDS research and not blink!
No wonder Gates only wants the world to use Windows!
(That Linux hater. Grrrrrr . . .)

*****


If we placed a soccer ball in the middle of a soccer field to represent the Sun, we'd have to walk about ten paces from our soccer ball to represent the distance between the Sun and Mercury. About 20 paces away from Mercury would be the Earth-- Venus would fall somewhere in between. The moon would rest about an inch away from the Earth at this proportion. Amazingly, this is the furthest any human has ever physically ventured so far.


Jupiter would be found about 130 paces away from Earth in our "soccer field rendition" of the solar system. And Pluto would end up being half a mile away from the soccer ball which represents our Sun.

The nearest star? We'd have to fly 4000 miles away from our soccer ball to represent Proxima Centauri, the closet star to our planet besides our Sun.
Now try to consider the countless stars our telescopes can see.

*****

If that doesn't put the universe into perspective, then take out the time to listen to what Carl Sagan has to say about our planet, the Pale Blue Dot:




A very humbling discourse indeed.

In light of all of this-- who are we to be cruel to one another? Who are we to think we are so much better than anyone who is different from us? Who are we to ever think that our minds are so high, that we don't have to turn skepticism towards ourselves?

Whether there be a god or not, each individual person is way too small to treat anyone else of lesser size.

To me, these humbling insights reveal the importance of "Numberwareness".


Sources:

Death By Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries
by Neil deGrasse Tyson
Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Belief by Dale McGowan, Molleen Matsumura, Amanda Metskas, and Jan Devor.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Reality check

I had the pleasure of recently reading a book by notable astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. His book is called Death by Black Hole. On page 292 of his book, he discusses how in 1054 A.D., a star in the constellation of Taurus suddenly became brighter. So bright in fact, that the star could be plainly seen during the day for weeks.

Tyson states that the star became brighter by a factor of a million if it were to be seen during the day time.

How many stars do you see out during the day time (besides the Sun)?

(And assuming you don't live where it's sometimes dark during the "day".)

Tyson also writes that both Chinese and Middle Eastern astronomers documented this event. Native Americans in the future territories of the United States made cave drawings depicting the event-- which turned out to be a supernova from some 7,000 years earlier. The light had finally reached Earth by A.D. 1054.

But somehow, the astronomers in Europe omit this event from their logs, even though they kept records of the Heavens much like the a fore mentioned astronomers.

Why?

Tyson argues that due to the authority of the Church at that time, no astronomer in Europe wanted to document a change in the Heavens. The could possibly undermine the authority of the Church. So, (let the Europeans of 1054 tell it)-- that supernova never happened!

That's the Dark Ages, for ya.

To ignore a bright light shining in your face is begging for darkness. Begging for ignorance.

I admit that ignorance can sometimes be easier to embrace. And, I will personally admit that I have embraced ignorance in the past. And I'm sure I'll make the mistake again at some point in my life.

But with a new endeavor to embrace skepticism, I try to ground myself to a system that can hopefully provide me with a reality check when I need one from time to time.

Embracing a delusion takes away your ability to "call in" and make a reality check. When that happens, you're far more likely to be exploited by someone with malformed intentions.

The following link is NOT FOR WORK, but I invite you to check out the post: The Armor of God" by Greta Christina. It's a long post, but I personally think it's worth the read. If not, at least a quick skim to get the gist of her argument. She's one of the first bloggers I've heard to use the phrase "Reality Check" in terms of religion and skepticism. So, I owe her the credit for the title of my post.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Happy Atheist's Day!

Since the bible says non-believers are fools, and today is April Fool's day, I thought I'd wish everyone a Happy Atheist's Day, instead.

So . . .

Happy Atheist's Day!