Friday, November 19, 2010

Another closet heard from

Last week, I attended a forum at Pomona College sponsored by the Pomona Student Union on "The Future of American Atheism." I had not heard of the three speakers - Hemant Mehta, David Silverman and Chris Mooney - but while they are not big names like Sam Harris, Christopher Hutchins and Bill Maher (who they often referred to), they are apparently respected commentators, bloggers and leaders in the "atheist movement." The basic question of the evening was "Now that not believing in God isn’t a big deal, now what?"

Who knew there was "atheist movement?" I didn’t. Well, there is - not unlike there is a "gay movement." In fact, what struck me is that, throughout the 90 minutes, I kept thinking that I could well have been listening to three gay men. Indeed, they repeatedly mentioned the gay community.

In answering the initial question about how they discovered atheism, all three men talked about thinking that they were the only person who didn’t believe in God until they went to the library or went on-line and stumbled upon writings by other people who didn’t believe in God. Near the end of the forum, someone asked the panelists how they realized that they were atheists, and all three answers sounded like when gay people talk about realizing that they weren’t attracted to or aroused by people of the opposite sex (as opposed to people of the same sex). Classic coming-out stories.

Things really got going and the gay analogy just kept showing up when the panelists were ask to talk about their goals as atheists, what they want to accomplish in the greater society. While all insisted that they are not out to recruit or convert people - a hoary gay stereotype, right? - but there was some disagreement about how active and "militant" - how "out," it occurred me - one should be.

Mr. Silverman, who is the vice-president of American Atheists, was continually ribbed by the other two about being "angry," but he kept saying that he is just "honest and blunt." He pointed out that he doesn’t like the term "militant," but he did sound a bit like a member of ActUP or Queer Nation and was the one who is most concerned about the U.S Supreme Court is one vote away from tearing down the wall between church and state. Despite or because of this, he was quick to agree with the others that America shouldn’t be an atheist country.

No, these atheists - at least - don’t want to push their non-belief onto others or live in a country where religion is banned. What they want is to be accepted and able to live openly and comfortably in the society at large. Sound familiar?

Friday, November 5, 2010

A prayer for Johnny

It riles me up enough when I hear about parents who kick out a child when they learn that the child is gay. As a friend once said, how can a parent love a child one day and then not love the child the next day? I don’t get it.

I also don’t get parents who are so into drugs that they neglect their children. I have seen this up close and personal more than I care to admit, unfortunately with people I have hired as attendants in the past, and it is disturbing and ugly to see. While I understand about addiction and its power, I still, perhaps naively, don’t understand how anything can be more important than one’s children.

Then I read the article in the Los Angeles Times last week about Johnny. Johnny is a 6-year-old boy rescued last year from his drug-addicted mother and her gang-leader boyfriend, "Bullet," and their "associates" who continued to abuse and torture him after the L.A County Department of Children and Family Services declared that he was "not at risk."

From the article: "According to Bessinger and the Los Angeles County documents, Johnny was forced to eat food scraps and lap water from a bowl like a dog; he was denied access to the bathroom; he was made to eat his own feces, urine and vomit and drink soda mixed with soap. Johnny’s tormenters made him sit in a corner, unable to lie down or move for extended stretches, sometimes taunting him with a plate of food they forbade him to eat... His tongue was torn, and one of [the] associates forced him to perform oral sex, leaving extensive sores in his mouth." The article also states that the boy was beaten repeatedly and burned with a glue gun and hot spoons.

How can a child be treated this way? Yes, it is a scandal that the L.A County DCFS is riddled with lax oversight - this was only the latest revelation - and I am horrified that the mother and boyfriend could be such monsters. But my heart is with Johnny, who is, after all, a child, a child of God.

Reading the article makes me want to scream and cry into the night which now is all the darker and colder. I can only hope that Johnny, who is reportedly doing well in intensive therapy and a class for gifted students, will be like one of those kids who thrive despite tremendous odds and grow up to shine into the night, making it just a bit less dark and cold.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Trouble with the help

"The ‘myriad reasons’ voters might need help carrying out their intent could include language barriers and memory problems or learning disabilities that make word retrieval difficult, the high court said.

"‘Providing the proper spelling of names written in English could assist those voters who want to vote for a particular candidate and need assistance in ensuring that they write the candidate’s name correctly,’ the court said."

The ruling late last week by the Supreme Court in Alaska, reported in Saturday’s Los Angeles Times, is seen as helping Senator Lisa Murkowski, who took the extraordinary step of mounting a write-in campaign for tomorrow’s election after being defeated by a more conservative "tea party" candidate in the Republican primary election. Ms. Murkowski and her supporters were concerned that voters would have difficulty with remembering how to spell her name and wanted a list of write-in candidates to be made available to voters who ask for one at the polls. In response to the ruling, right-wing radio talk show hosts urged their listeners with similar names - who knew? - to get on the list, with the result being that there are something like 160 write-in candidates in Alaska.

I could comment on how this not only is yet another example of Alaska’s wacky politics but also shows that voting there is now officially even wackier than voting in Florida. I could also be snide and point out that Sarah Palin will probably rail against this ruling that will one day help her "special needs" child.

What I want to say, though, is that this reminds me of when my mother took me to vote for the first time. When my mom asked for two Democratic ballot, the old man manning the poll gave her a dirty look. No doubt he was a Republican and thought I was retarded and thought my mom was voting twice. (I now mark a "permanent absentee voter" ballot at home and drop it off at a poll.)