American Atheist Con TGIA Meetup

It’s finally here, you crazy kids: the sign-in and info for the TGIA meetup during the American Atheist convention right here in Salt Lake City! What could be more exciting?

Frank and I will be taking a lunch break on Friday, April 18th at noon to take y’all on a delightful field trip. We’ll all meet in the lobby of the Hilton, and then set off to grab some grub, and head over to the Mormon Temple Square. We’ll give you the scoop on some of the weirdest stuff about one of the weirdest religions around, and make sure you get the Mormon experience of your atheist dreams!

We’re hoping to get a good sense of how many folks will be joining our little outing, so if you’re coming (or even if you’re just pretty sure you’re coming), fill out this form. Our tour guide services will be totally free (you’ll pay for your own meal, of course), so what the hell are you waiting for?

Frank’s Patriarchal Blessing

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Mormons have a mystical side they don’t like sharing with the world—they know how weird their secret practices make them look—but the secrets have a special power to hold on to people even years after they’ve thrown off their mormonism.

I experienced a good example of this on Wednesday when I stumbled upon my lost “patriarchal blessing.” This weirdo ritual is performed by what amounts to as a Mormon psychic—or “stake patriarch”—who is appointed to do so for his little corner of the church. This older revered man puts his hands on your head, conveys promises from “Heavenly Father” for your life, and provides enough specific sounding generalizations to convince the blessing’s recipient that the whole thing was intended just for them. The blessing is transcribed and filed away at the church offices in Salt Lake City. You get a copy of the blessing (on a very important and official looking form) in the mail a few weeks later.

Like most mission bound young Mormons, I received my patriarchal blessing a few months prior to leaving for my two-year mission. I felt incredibly special hearing God’s pronouncements for my life and worked hard to make sense of the blessing’s vaguer portions. There were promises of “sitting in counsel with the brethren” and an assurance that “a young lady [is] now being prepared for you.” Both presented its own unique mindfuck that would take years to undo. One seemed like a promise that I had the potential to attain church leadership (a great blessing and a signal of righteousness) and the other suggested to me that if I held on long enough, the whole “gay thing” might just go away.

These and other parts of the blessing loomed over me for years, but after accepting my atheism, I was able to slowly shed the control this document held over me. Through the years I have continued to set aside various relics of my religious upbringing.

At some point, I lost track of my copy of my patriarchal blessing and thought I’d never see it again. That is until I found it in a box of old credit card statements. My first reaction upon seeing it was excitement, and then I hesitated to read it. I realized though, that all these years later, I was still granting it some power.

So here you go world: Frank Feldman’s patriarchal blessing! Seeing as how Mormons don’t talk openly with outsiders about patriarchal blessings even in general, I’ve decided that I wanted to share my whole blessing for anyone who might be interested in reading it. A warning though, it’s really not that interesting.

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Patriarchal Blessing (page 1)

Patriarchal Blessing p2_reduced

Patriarchal Blessing (page 2)

Come Out Come Out Wherever You Are

Come out! 5

In honor of "coming out day":

I salute those who are brave enough to be themselves. In any venue, regardless of how supportive those around you are, it is an act of courage just to be you.

That said, some stand to lose A LOT more than others when they simply speak their truth. For many, simply being honest about who they're attracted to puts them in jeopardy. They risk being ostracized, disowned, and sometimes verbally or physically assaulted. People die, just for daring to admit that, through no choice of their own, they are attracted to somebody of the same gender.

It seems to me that an even greater risk lies in admitting that you don't identify with the gender your body was born into. Those who must face the decision to take steps to change their gender identity or live what feels like a lie are in a truly harrowing position, and I don't envy them for that. But I do admire them. Whatever their choice, simply admitting their situation to themselves is an act of bravery.

As a straight white man, American society at the beginning of the 21st century goes pretty damned easy on me. I can walk down almost any street without fear. I can go to a job interview with the warm understanding that my qualifications are the only considerations that will be taken into account. It takes virtually no bravery whatsoever to write this post. What could I possibly stand to lose?

The only experience I have had that comes close to a "coming out" is that of being open about my lack of a god-belief. Atheists are more hated and less trusted in America than almost any other group (one poll showed atheists on a par with rapists in terms of trustworthiness- ouch). So I guess there's that. But even though being an atheist has exposed me to very real scorn and ill-treatment, I still feel like I get off easy. It's pretty low-risk. Nobody has threatened to beat me up (yet). If I don't want you to know that I'm atheist, I have the option of simply keeping my mouth shut (a luxury not every gay or trans person has).

So here's to you, out-comers of all sorts! I support you, I honor you, and, in whatever way you need me to, I got your back.

9/11: A Time For Directionless Musing

Today is September 11. The anniversary of an attack. A national tragedy. A victory for those eager to instill fear in the American psyche. A work day. A deepening and widening of the U.S. political chasm. It's the anniversary of a really rough day.

My Facebook feed is alive today with different takes on what today means. For some of my friends, it is a day to praise God for the freedoms our Country still affords us, even in the face of those who would deprive us of those freedoms. For others, it's a time to remind the world that those who committed the acts of 9/11 did so in the name of God, and to warn of the dangers of religion. For some it's a time for introspection, for others a time for open discussion.

I don't know what to do with today. Days like today ignite a war between the cynic in me and the sentimentalist. I'm annoyed at pretty much everything I read, no matter what side of any argument the author takes. Talk of God's blessings on some level deny some fundamental problems with religious belief vis-à-vis tragedy. Anti-theists, however, tend to get awfully strident, cocky, and condescending when they see a chance to hit religion where it hurts. Neither side seems to care that this tragedy belongs to all of us, and that maybe the actual anniversary might be a good day for a moratorium on divisive talk.

Then again, maybe I'm wrong. It's been over a decade since the towers of the World Trade Center came down. Maybe there's been enough time since then to open this day up. After all, we all-too-easily forget to consider important ideas. Without markers like the anniversaries of tragedies, when would we actually remember to delve into some of these ideas? Maybe I should be totally pro-debate on days like today! That sounds good too.

Dammit. Now I'm annoyed at my own whining blog post. How did that happen?

Well, ok. I guess rather than just blather about how everybody else is doing today wrong, I'll just write what's going on with me. That is, what 9/11 is meaning to me today. Yeah. Make it personal. That sounds better.

First, I'm apparently easily annoyed. That probably indicates that I'm a little emotional. It's an emotional day.

Second, I guess I have to admit that I do hold religion partially culpable for 9/11 attack. It's just far too easy to rally people to do horrific things when you can martial them to your cause using God's clarion call. It's also WAY easier to create an us-against-them tribalism thing through religion. If your holy book says it's ok to kill, how much easier is it to ignore the fact that you're clearly doing something very very wrong?

Third, 9/11 for me was not as simple as "terrorists attacked America". It was that, of course, but it was also a lot of equally ugly things. It was the day assholes got an excuse to practice racial hatred with a degree of impunity. It was the day George "W." Bush found the most dickish means imaginable of distracting the Country from how shitty a president he was. It was the launch of a particularly despicable jingoism in the U.S. of A. where any dissent (or even honest discussion) was immediately branded "unamerican", and could therefore be written off.

Maybe that's the real sticking point for me. That last thing I wrote. Maybe in my mind 9/11 has become the day that discourse died in America. The day that politicians learned how to lock in their base voters by sticking red white and blue earplugs in their ears, and eagle-emblazoned blinders over their eyes. It's the day that America forgot that listening to each other makes us stronger, not weaker.

Yep. That's it. That, for me, is the true and lasting tragedy of September 11, 2001.

You see what happens when you let jingoism flourish? SARAH FUCKING PALIN!

"When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."

-Not Sinclair Lewis

 

The Origin of our Title

This is typical:

Somebody: "What's your podcast/blog called?"

Me: "It's called 'Thank God I'm Atheist."

Somebody: [Blank pause]

Me: [Expectant facial expression]

Somebody: [Quizzical look, followed by wash of understanding] "Oh…. That's cute."

Having a silly joke in your title can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it hopefully conveys a sense of lightheartedness and play. It says that we've got a sense of humor about the subject. On the other hand, not everybody gets humor, so it spurs comments like "but if you're atheist, then you don't believe in God, so…" (a comment we've heard/ seen more than once). This forces us to either A) say something banal like "Yep, that's the joke…" or B) say something sarcastic like "You know, I've never thought of it that way!" Neither option is particularly pleasant, as both are just means of staving off the impulse to despair for humanity.

For the most part, people seem to like the joke, which makes it slightly more difficult every time I have to admit that I didn't make it up. As much as I would love to get credit for it, this gag goes back a bit. A long bit, as it turns out.

This post was spurred on by a couple of people who have approached me to ask who first said it (or to give me a lecture entitled "Did you know that the first person to say that was…"). Well, that got me to thinking. Who did actually say it first? I had long attributed it to Bertrand Russell, but that turns out to be me just making shit up. So here's what seems to actually have gone down:

The earliest version of this pithy statement that I could find came from Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, a German scientist who lived in the late 1700s (1700s? I know, right?!). He said:

"Und Ich dank es dem lieben Gott tausendmal, dass er mich zum Atheisten hat verden lassen."

I think we can all agree that this is a remarkable and touching statement.  Unfortunately, it's in German, so we may never know what it means. Just kidding! Roughly translated, it means "And I thank God a thousand times that he made me an Atheist." A little wordy, perhaps, but good nonetheless.

[Update: I have revised my translation here, because, as commenter Katja and my own mother have pointed out to me, the phrase "dem lieben Gott" does not translate, as I had originally thought, to "the god of love". No, despite the fact that "dem" means "the", "lieben" means "love", and "Gott" means "god", this is a colloquialism that just means "god" or "the kind god" or "the God who, in His wisdom, created the confusing German language". Ich hoffe ihr könnt mir verzeihen für diesen schrecklichen Fehler.]

The next specific instance I could find of the phrase (or a variant thereof) was from George Bernard Shaw. His version was:

"I'm an atheist, and I thank God for it!"

Nice and pithy. Sure to ruffle a few feathers over at the London School of Economics. Did you guys know that G.B.S. co-founded the London School of Economics? 'Cause I sure as hell didn't. Wikipedia? More like WTFpedia!

The most famous use of TGIA (until I took it over and pwned it like a boss, obviously), was from a dude named Luis Buñuel. He was a Spanish-born filmmaker who made most of his films in Mexico, but just for kicks, he said this quote in French:

"Je suis toujours athée, gràce á Dieu."

Roughly (because that's the only way I can translate), this means "I am still an atheist, thank God". Buñuel eventually got sick of being asked about this, however, and later in his life backed off of it, going so far as to call the aphorism "accidental." So maybe he just stumbled into it. Who knows?

Anyway- the long and the short of it here, is that no, I did not invent the phrase "Thank God I'm Atheist". I just perfected it. And bought the domain name. Which means it's mine. ALL MINE! YOU CAN'T HAVE IT!

Take THAT, Buñuel!

Offered My Soul To Satan- He Didn’t Want It

The Mississippi delta: home of the delta blues. Famous blues man Robert Johnson was reputed to have gained his great guitar skills overnight. His method? A little help from his new friend, the Devil.

Of course, I don't believe in the devil, but hey- we were in the neighborhood, and I've always wanted to be able to play the guitar without actually having to put the practice in. If I could convince the Devil to show up, I could A) prove, once and for all, that the Devil is real and actually has magic powers, and B) gain mad skillz.

WHERE THE HELL IS THE DOWN-SIDE HERE???

Unfortunately, Satan never showed up. *Frowny-face*  I guess you have to have something worth selling to bring out the big guy. Oh well… I suppose I'll leave the guitar playing to those who actually are willing to put in the work.

The Toaster of Fortitude

Have you been saved in the Kenmore of God's love? 3

What do you do when you're a 70+ year old man living in rural Prattville, Alabama, you have health problems, and you have more paint than you know what to do with? You proclaim the gospel, of course! And you do it by creating hundreds of crosses and dozens of signs painted on old appliances.

Here's the thing: we didn't really get half of this guy's stuff into this video. It just goes on and on and on! We actually saw one pole that had a bunch of crosses nailed to it, and then a dozen or so SIGNS THAT SAID THE WORD "CROSS"!!! That's right- he stopped making actual crosses, and instead painted the word "cross" onto a piece of wood, and nailed that up. You can imagine the looks on our faces when we realized that we had forgotten to get that on camera for y'all. (Note: we are officially using the word y'all, now)

Oh well, we can't bring you everything. What we can bring you is me (Dan) acting silly at a roadside pile of weirdness commonly known as "The Cross Garden":

 

If Jesus Were A Wicked Witch… (Road Trip Video Number 3)

A charming little hamlet on the Mississippi river, Vicksburg, Mississippi has been a thriving beacon of commerce for well over a century. One of the battlegrounds of the Civil Wa… er… the "War Between the States", Vicksburg is rich in history. Like everywhere else in the South, it is also rich in churches. This is one of them. Enjoy.

 
 Some churches should have warning signs… Regardless of the fact that I couldn't read this one, that's exactly what I take this to be:
 
 

Crossing Groom

Video number 2 from our Homeric adventure. There's something special about a place where folks are so bored that they can't think of a better use of their time than to build something huge in an area NOBODY has any reason to visit.

Well… nobody except us.