What The Fuck… TGIA Tackles Potty Mouth

Zounds.

 
No swirl-lightning-number-exclamation!

Some stuff has happened recently which has forced me to examine the topic of swearing. It's something I've actually had to give quite a bit of thought to, both in deciding the tone of this site (my mom now reads it…) and in examining how to interact with the lovely people I encounter in my life.  Here's the thing: I like swearing. I think "bad words" add to the richness of our linguistic landscape. My life is made better through profanity.

Actually, that's testably and verifiably true according to several studies (most recently this one, but this is also notable). In addition to pain relief and stress abatement, swearing, used properly, can create a sense of camaraderie, can be an instant humor boost (again, I said used properly– used badly it can easily kill humor), and can be a very effective zealot repellant. Beyond that, however, it's just nice to have certain words which are strong enough to instantly evoke powerful reaction. Sometimes you just want to elicit a specific response or make your audience understand the gravity of what you're discussing without having to get too verbose.  I don't care who you are, saying "I cannot overstate the enormity of the moose we saw… it was gargantuan" will never match "We saw this HUGE FUCKING MOOSE!"

This does not mean that I'm ok with any words used any time.  I am not a fan of abusive language. That stance is, however, much less about the language, and more about the fact that I'm simply not a fan of abuse. Thus, I pretty much never use epithets of race, gender, sexuality, or physical or mental disability. Well, actually that's not true. I will use certain words of abuse as terms of endearment when I am totally confident that they won't be misinterpreted. But that's a dangerous game and I've seen many instances where someone felt "in" enough to use an epithet without offense, only to find that they definitely weren't (why are so many white guys so desperate to be able to be able to use the N word? It's pathetic, really). 

I also believe in respect and propriety. Not to the extent that many people wish I believed in them, but I do believe in them. I will not, for the most part, curse in somebody's church (well, not loudly enough to be heard, anyway) or in front of people who I believe do not have a modern understanding of these words (old folks). I use swearing to add emphasis and color- I rarely wish to offend. By the same token, however, I will not hold back from swearing just because somebody has decided that they're going to take offense. If the context is not offensive, objecting to a little mildly colorful language is arbitrary enough that I feel no need to show deference.

 
 But my duck likes to sit in a ditch…

All of my stances on profanity are colored by the fact that I live in Mormonland.  Though Salt Lake City proper is quite liberal and predominantly non-Mormon (meaning the Mormons only account for, say 40% of the population as opposed to 70-90% in the rest of the State), you still can't drop an f-bomb without some poor Mo taking some shrapnel.  The Mormons. . . y'know what? I'm going to stop myself here and rein in the sweeping generalization I was about to make (meaning I will still make a sweeping generalization- I just won't sweep quite as far).  I need to differentiate between Utah Mormons and non-Utah Mormons.  Utah Mormons (or Utards as they are sometimes known around here) are a unique breed. They have all the quirks of Mormonism, but are so insulated from the rest of the world that they are completely unaware of the fact that they are considered a weird fringe religion (they were shocked when the Country was worried about a Mo candidate for president- they thought everybody would love the idea).

[Author's note: I see the irony of me using the epithet "Utard" just two paragraphs after declaring my opposition to abuse. What can I say- I'm a complicated person] 

[Author's other note: Or maybe I'm just an asshole]

Anyhoo, the Utards are extremely sensitive to the swears. They seem to take it personally- like you're attacking their beliefs to say these words in their presence.  Case in point: my girlfriend's sister. She's a lovely, intelligent, artistic woman, but she so hates to hear the word fuck that she's weeded herself out of seeing some amazing films just to avoid that word. And she loves film. This is the stupid false dilemma of the profanity-averse.

Here's the deal (and I see this as emblematic of a much larger issue): like many religious people, the Utards have trouble seeing the difference between something that is culturally less acceptable, and something that is religiously forbidden. Everything is black and white. You're either doing the right thing or you're sinning. There is no room for things that some don't like, but that are still fine (see Utah liquor laws).

The problem with that is that if all actions are simply put into category a or category b, it makes everything in each category the same.  Thus, when you swear, you are committing a sin, and sin is sin.  To be fair, folks believe in a hierarchy of sin, so it's not like anyone's equating it to, say, beating up an old lady or something.  But the fact that anyone thinks that swearing– English swearing, that is– is a sin is fucking absurd.

"English swearing?" you may ask… "Why would you single out English swearing as being less likely to be sinful?" 

 
 Anyone know what "jeffin" is?

I'm so glad you asked! You see, English swearing isn't even swearing, in the true sense of the word.  "Swearing" used to refer to taking an oath, and the reason it was deemed offensive is that people would swear in the names of holy people.  That, at least, I can understand people getting worked up about as a sin.  Someone in Shakespeare's time would say "Now, by Saint Ann, I'll kill you for that!" or "Set down that wench or I'll flog you, by Jove." (Jove was a name they used for god). That was some strong language.  

[Clarification: As someone calling themself "Marimba Ani" in the comments points out, Jove was actually a reference to the Greek god Jupiter.  However, the reason Elizabethans would use Jove was because it was illegal to invoke the christian god in print or on stage, so Jove became a useful stand-in.  Why the hell would Elizabethans care about Jupiter?]

In modern English, very few of our "swear" words are remotely religious in nature.  As a matter of fact, they're almost entirely "nature" in nature. Our naughty words are about bodily functions, not divine personages. Pooping and sex and whatnot. Its not even profanity in the true sense of the word.  The fact is that religious people should be way more offended by phrases like "by Jove" or "by George" (referring to Saint George) or "Jeeze" (short for Jesus) or any of a number of quaint-sounding anachronisms than by shit or fuck. Even seemingly innocuous words like gee, heck, gosh and darn all have holy derivations.

As a matter of fact, the only commonly used phrases I can understand religious folks really having trouble with are "God damn" and "Jesus Christ" used as exclamatory utterances.  And I admit that it could be argued that there's something slightly off about an atheist like me appropriating religious phrasing to add salt to my dialogue. However, for better or worse, these phrases have fallen into the domain of the culture at large.  Nobody actually thinks I'm talking about somebody's savior when I shout "Jesus Christ" after hitting my thumb with a hammer. We all own these phrases now, and as long as they are useful, we'll keep on using them.

The truth is that the whole reason I'm writing this screed is that I'm annoyed.  I'm annoyed when someone objects to something and they don't really know why. I'm annoyed when social norms are based on bullshit religion, especially when it flies in the face of reason. But most of all I'm annoyed because I really like my girlfriend's family, and I want to just hang out with them without being on my guard all the time.  I want to be able to watch movies with them without becoming hyper-aware that they're wincing every time somebody says "shit".  I just want them all to FUCKING RELAX!

FUCK!

Two Guys I Tend to Agree With

I’m surprised to find that, while I very much enjoy combing the interwebs for interesting comment on religion, it took me a good long while to find the treasures that are Sam Harris‘ numerous talks and religious debates.  Many fellow atheists would be appalled at my ignorance of Mr. Harris’ vast youtube empire. He is, after all, one leg of the holy trinity of the modern popular anti-theist movement (along with Dawkins and Hitchins).  To those fellow atheists, I say: I know you are but what am I? To which they say: What?

Here’s what I’ve decided: I like Harris. A LOT.  He is, in my estimation, the most fair-minded and intellectually honest of the three (though they all make significant efforts to these ends). He is also the strongest debater.  And he’s younger and more handsome. And he’s American, so he doesn’t come off half as snooty to our ears as those other limey bastards.

Because I like him so much, I will share something of his here (it’s not the best something, it’s just something that was good enough that I could stop looking and let my inherent laziness again assume control):

 

Now go get his books, or you’re stupid!
I also just discovered this guy, with whom I also frequently seem to agree:

How To Be A Christian With Integrity

What an asshole. 
 The face of integrity

Remember Scott Roeder? He's the guy who freely admitted to killing abortion doctor George Tiller in the church Tiller attended back in May.  Well in January he was convicted of premeditated, first-degree murder. 

That's a good thing. He's a murderer and he'll hopefully spend the rest of his miserable life in jail. As a matter of fact, I hope they offer him parole a couple of times, and then take it away the day he thinks he's going home.  Since he's into killing, maybe he'll take his own life and save Kansas taxpayers some money.

That said, I also must say that, as despicable as this murder was, it was also the action of a Christian with integrity. The number of times faithful followers of the Bible's god are commanded by that god to murder someone who has acted sinfully is… well, I'm not going to go through and count them, but it's high.  (If you want a list of 130 instances of horrific violence in just the first four books of the Bible, here you go). That crazy book actually commands the murder of several kinds of sinners explicitly.

My point is that if you read the Bible, with so many references to killing as an appropriate response to perceived sin, and you believe that the Bible is true and that its prescriptions are in any way applicable today, shouldn't you be out on a killing spree?  It makes sense to me… I mean, Old Testament is absolutely chock-full of thou-shalt-kills, and the New Testament, which many argue supplants the word in the O.T. actually affirms the philosophy as well. Check the last verses of Romans 1:

 28Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

Of course, nowhere in the Bible is abortion expressly forbidden (as a procedure, it's a pretty new phenomenon), so maybe Roeder's actions are based on a questionable premise, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. He believed somebody was killing dozens of humans, and the government was doing nothing about it.  What else is a good Christian to do?  

As far as I'm concerned, this bastard Roeder is one of the only real Christians around.  Christians were expressly commanded to kill.  For a hell of a lot of reasons. If it's important to be true to your insane beliefs, then get out there Christians!  Y'all have some killing to do! 

We Have Nothing To Fear…

Ok, so here’s what I’ve decided is the truest fact about human life that I know:

Each of us is defined not by our desires nor our talents nor our intelligence… we are all defined by our fears, and the degree to which we are willing and/or able to confront them.  The most successful people are not the best and the brightest, but the bravest.

It’s not about fearlessness.  I actually have very little admiration for fearlessness.  Bravery is what I admire.  The same thing, you say?  Not at all, I respond.  Bravery is when you do something even though you’re terrified.  Fearlessness is just not being afraid.

I say if it doesn’t scare you, then you needn’t be applauded for doing it. For example: I’m not at all afraid of things like jumping out of an airplane or riding rides that go really fast and twirl upside-down a lot.  I enjoy them, but I’m not afraid of them.  So it’s not a big deal if I do something like that.  My lovely girlfriend, on the other hand, is scared shitless at the prospect of jumping out of a plane, so if she ever does it, it will be a true accomplishment.

But setting silly stunts like skydiving aside, to my mind, there is no more admirable characteristic than bravery.  Bravery to face your demons. Bravery to look inward and really confront yourself.   Trying something new- putting yourself on the line.  Knowingly risking your ego, your money, your stature for something you want or believe in… that is the mark of the best kind of person.

I once was talking to one of the wisest men I know about something that I really wanted.  I had about a thousand reasons why I couldn’t realistically achieve what I was wishing for, though. After an hour of chatting, he got to the heart of the matter:  I was right– I couldn’t possibly have what I wanted.  Not because of the thousand reasons I had told him about, but just because I was too afraid to try for it. I wasn’t willing to risk that much.  I wasn’t willing to face the possibility of failure.

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.

That’s from Hamlet. Look around at the people in your office, or on the subway, or at Target or WalMart.  Look especially at the ones you know for a fact will never make much of themselves, the ones who make very little in the way of meaningful contributions (contributions to the company, to society, to the world).  Or look at the rich people with nothing going on behind their eyes.  The ones who have a lot of money, but still can’t seem to figure out why they’re so miserable. Maybe just look in the mirror.  I think most of us walk around sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought.  Ghostly images of the people that could have been had we just sacked up and faced our fear.

That brings me to another poetic quotation, if you’ll indulge me (and really, what choice do you have?).  From Heinrich Heine’s group of poems Buch der Lieder, or Book of Songs, the poem Der Doppelgänger, which was set beautifully to music by Franz Schubert in his song cycle Schwanengesang, or “swan song”. The word doppelgänger means something like “ghostly double” or look-alike, and in this poem it refers to a man who startles the speaker on an empty street on a still night (it’s actually a poem about a lost love, but I think the over-arching message applies).  The second of the three stanzas,

Da steht auch ein Mensch und starrt in die Höhe,
Und ringt die Hände, vor Schmerzensgewalt;
Mir graust es, wenn ich sein Antlitz sehe –
Der Mond zeigt mir meine eig’ne Gestalt.

roughly translates to:

A man also stands there and stares at the heavens,
And wrings his hands in violent pain:
I shudder when I see his countenance-
The moon shows me my own form!

Quelle dramatique, non?  Give this poem as a gift to the angsty emo teen in your life- they’ll love you for it (or commit suicide… one or the other).

Anyway, I’ve decided that I’m going to let only one fear control my life: the fear that I will one day be alone on a silent street and be confronted by a ghostly figure staring into the air and wringing his hands because he was too chicken shit to actually do the things that would’ve made his life worth living. Fuck that guy!  I hate that guy!

 

One Busy Little Non-Believer

Oy!  School, a new job, other writing… I've had a lot on my plate the last few weeks, and this poor little website has suffered horrible neglect because of it. I'm sorry, little website. Please forgive me.

Here is your non-believer musing for the day (or week or month- we'll have to see how well I end up doing in the near future): 

The god of the Old Testament of the Bible (this is the god that the Christians and the Jews can agree on), on multiple occasions had to destroy entire cities-full, countries-full and on one occasion a planet-full of people (except for one or two in each instance).  He (yes, that god is male) did this ostensibly because everyone in those cities, countries, and, that one time, everyone on the planet, was wicked.  

The obvious question then becomes: If the god of the Old Testament is omnipotent, why wouldn't he have made people in such a way that he never had to destroy them. What kind of a creator makes a group of creatures in such a way that he will have to destroy them later because they're not up to his own standards? Honestly- wouldn't a perfect being be able to at least hit a 50/50 balance of good and wicked? Is there any way to look at the stories of the O.T. god without seeing him as at very least flawed?  

Not-So-Intelligent Design

I recently found out that my girlfriend's father does not believe in evolution! This despite the fact that he has no religious need to fight it, as his church has never come out on one side or the other where evolution is concerned. Using his asinine position as inspiration, I've decided to pose some questions for anybody who believes that the human body didn't evolve, but was instead "designed" by a god:

  • Why can we choke?  What designer would think it was a good idea to bring the food in through the same entry point as the air?  It would be so easy to make the eat hole completely separate from the breathe hole… it's just stupid that they aren't closed systems. 
  • Two words: vestigial organs.
  • What is the point of human hair?  Alright, the stuff on our heads keep us somewhat warm (that is, until cruel nature takes it back from some of us- what's that about?), and eyebrows and eyelashes seem useful- but what about our body hair?  Patterns that make no sense, and that vary from ethnic group to ethnic group, and from person to person… where's the design purpose?  Aesthetics?  Believe me- other than as a carry-over from very distant ancestors, that is, a species that never needed clothes, there is absolutely no reason I should have a furry ass and a sparse field of individual hairs all over my back.
  • I am a man. I have nipples. Explain.
  • Why do women have periods? Surely if there were a designer, he would've been able to come up with a reproductive system that didn't involve leaking blood for days on end every month. That's just stupid. And THEN the bastard has the nerve to declare it "unclean," and tell men not to touch women when they're on the rag, and that the women should have to go away until it's over, and when it's finally finished they should sacrifice a turtle or a pigeon or something to apologize to god for being so icky (that's all somewhere in Leviticus). That's fucked up, y'all.
  • What the hell is up with wisdom teeth? We have teeth come in that don't actually fit in most of our mouths? Isn't that kind of messed up?
  • Hiccups- is that just a joke on us, or what?
  • As we are meant to be designed "in God's image", and the god in whose image we are designed is meant to be a perfect being, why are we so woefully lacking?  We're bi-peds, so we're slow as hell.  We can't fly.  We can't breathe under water (which covers 60% of our planet's surface).  Our young are worthless for years after birth (a baby horse or giraffe walks on day 1!).  If we hadn't evolved these big brains our species would've been hunted to extinction many millennia ago.  This pathetically weak, defenseless body is what a perfect god designs as his pinnacle of creation? Riiiiiight.

What did I miss? If you feel like it, add some questions (or offer some possible answers) in the comments.

Reflections On Christmas

Now that the season's over, and I've had some time to process it all, I thought I'd take a look back at Christmas.

The first thing that must be said is that Christmas is utterly unavoidable. I don't care how little you care about some guy who may or may not have been born in a manger two thousand years ago- if you live in the United States, you're going to spend the last two months (or more) of every year surrounded by Christmas. 

 
 Christmas at the mall. AAAAAAAAAA!

Most of us grew up with Christmas. Dozens of little rituals and traditions (most of which having little or nothing to do with Jesus) which are so integral to our culture, that we wouldn't know what December is without them.  And I gotta admit- many of them are nice.

I like the idea that we all are supposed to give.  I dig on the lights hung up everywhere, too.  It's a pleasant way to ward off the gloom of long winter nights.  I like cookies, and the smell of pine, and getting days off from work or school to spend with loved ones. Hell- for most of the folks I know, it's the only time when they can feel comfortable getting together and singing. I like singing.

As a matter of fact, the only bit I really don't care for is the Jesus nonsense. That damned birth story makes less sense every time I hear it.  It's stupid. That all there is to it!

This year's "huh?" moment: Wise men from the East follow a star which they saw in the East and end up West of where they began? And how do you follow a star to a specific location? Was this star hovering two hundred feet over Bethlehem?  'Cause stars don't really do that. They hover light-years over everything, which means that, while one could lead you, say, North, it wouldn't be able to guide you to Winnipeg (not that anybody would want to go to Winnipeg- I was just grabbing at a random Northerly city…).

 

 From a conservative website-

who's being intolerant, again?

One thing that's really starting to grate on me is the new Christmas tradition of Fox "News" type pundits whipping their lunatic fan-base into a frothy lather over a supposed war we non-Christians are waging against Christmas. You know what, Bill O'Limbaugh? Fuck you.

First- it's obvious to anyone who uses any portion of their brain that no such war exists, this is just another tactic to keep the cowering masses scared and angry; and second- if there were to be a war, Christmas fired the first shots years ago!

The fact is that it doesn't matter how much you love your holiday- NOBODY likes to have someone else's religious nonsense shoved in their faces year after year!  I don't care how warm and cuddly you feel on Christmas, it's your holiday- not mine. Don't look all sad and dejected if I tell you I don't celebrate it, just enjoy life's diversity and leave me the hell alone!  I don't try to make you celebrate my holidays, do I? Honestly! I mean, obviously I don't have holidays… but you get my point. How much would these hypocrites HATE IT if Ramadan shit took over their stores for two months out of the year?  We would, I promise you, never hear the end of it!

Frankly, all this bullshit kind of makes the thought of actually declaring war on Christmas appealing. I'd almost be tempted to do it if A) it didn't require actual effort on my part, and B) I had any idea whatsoever what a war on Christmas even means in any kind of practical terms.

I think I'll just stick with a war on Wheat Thins. That's an enemy I know how to defeat.

My Belief

Since atheism is not a belief, but rather the absence of a specific belief, I thought I'd share some things I do believe:

  • I believe (after much soul searching) that snakes make very poor pets.
  • I believe that innovation is always called for.
  • I believe that monkeys have huge comic potential. As do penguins.
  • I believe that a life without creativity is pathetic.
  • I believe that the people of India have given this world the best tasting food it's known. Mmmmmmmm.
  • I believe, based on my love of old-school funk/soul music, that I may have been born in the wrong era and skin color.
  • I believe that human-kind will not scratch the surface of its potential until we stop looking to external entities as our guiding forces. We'll never know what we're capable of until we stop asking imaginary magicians for help, and start figuring ourselves out.
  • I believe that it's possible (though not necessarily probable) that we've changed the Earth so much (changing the content of our atmosphere, the human population and our resource consumption, etc.) that our species will not be able to survive.  I'm really not that broken up about it though.
  • I believe George Clooney is our generation's Cary Grant.
  • I believe that, while good science has shown that after the age of 35 a person is significantly less likely to try something new, I will buck that trend.
  • I believe (very firmly) that, if I ever met Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh in a dark alley, and they all had horrible weapons which they intended to use on me, the following would happen: 1) I would take a couple of seconds to assess the situation.  2) I would be overcome by very powerful emotions. 3) I would black out. 4) I would return to consciousness completely covered in blood and bits of flesh with four dead men at my feet.  It's not that I think I'm so tough, it's just that that is the one scenario that I know for sure would send me into a River Tam frenzy. 
  • I believe in taking the world exactly as it comes. I love reality.
  • I believe in having a very strict try-anything-once policy… about almost everything.
  • I believe that, if there is such a thing as an evil person, most televangelists qualify.
  • I believe that dancing is fun, but only if you don't care what other people think.
  • I believe it would be so damned cool to be weightless!
  • I believe this post is done.

Define “Group”…

So here's one of the problems with being an atheist.  We aren't a group.  To be atheist is to simply be without a belief in a god.  It's a negative- not a qualitative negative, but a logical negative. Like saying I am not sick or I don't hate gay folks. You learn one piece of information, but nothing more. Me saying I don't hate gays doesn't mean you know how I do feel about them. All it tells you is one thing that I don't feel. For all you know, I don't hate the gays, but I still want them to feel torturous pain (and therefore campaign for gay marriage rights).  All I'm saying is that you know nothing about me from the statement "I am atheist" except that one bit of info- I don't have a belief in a god. You can't logically make any other assumptions about me.

The same is not true if someone says I am a Christian or I am a Hindu. Those are affirmative statements that carry all kinds of info with them. If someone claims Christianity, for example, that means that we can reasonably assume that they follow the teachings of Jesus, that they believe in the bible, that they aren't great at tempering emotional responses with logical analysis, etc. 

This poses an interesting little conundrum: If the only thing linking atheists is a single non-belief, and not a series of other dogma, then do we belong to a group?  Is it fair to lump all atheists together?  It can't be assumed that we have a shared sense of morality or political leanings, nor could it be assumed that we're atheist for the same (or even similar) reasons.  But yet, as Richard Dawkins recently pointed out, we as non-believers, need to have our voices heard.  So where does this leave us?

Well, some atheist groups have popped up around the world- the Humanists seem to be the dominant non-religious religion which has emerged. And skeptic groups are appearing in bars all over… I just think that, with the number of non-believers growing as quickly as it is, there's going to be a need for something new- and powerful- to arise.  A charismatic leader, perhaps?  A politician to carry the atheist standard? A beloved celebrity who will talk to society about why atheism won't lead to the end of civilization?  Something's got to happen!

Until that time, I started a group y'all can join, if you need to feel like part of something. Y'all are on Facebook, right?