Picking Christ from a Line-up

True Fact: Jesus did not look like the Anglo Saxon lady-boy of Catholic tradition. He did not look like the malnourished vagabond of Protestant tradition. He did not look like the broad shouldered Hot Dad of Mormon tradition. He also did not look like the highschool art teacher of Jehovah’s Witness tradition.

Jesus was a middle-eastern Holy Man, with all of his ancestors back to the dawn of civilization living in and coming from what is modern-day Palestine. The closest well-known image in popular culture to what Jesus actually looked like is Osama bin Laden.

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Frozen: A Feminist Tilt in the Disney Tale

If you have not seen Disney’s latest CGI princess flick, Frozen, then do yourself a favor and check it out. I’m not willing to say the movie surpasses The Lion King as my favorite Disney film, but it stands as a solid and quality picture in a number of levels. The music is good, the voice acting is superb, the comedy comes naturally, the plot is decent, and the visuals are beautiful. But I am not here today to review Frozen as a film, I am here to comment on it as Feminist story-telling.

It is no secret that Disney has had a major influence on Gender Roles in our country over the years. Did Disney invent any sexist stereotypes, or simply make films reflecting the values that were already there? Did art imitate life, life imitate art, or was it a mix of the two? That’s an interesting topic, but not something I want to explore in great detail right now. What I want us all to agree on is that the Disney Princess brand (even before it was legally an actual brand) has been powerfully informing the dreams of little girls for generations.

A few years ago I attended a literal Disney Princess wedding. The bride had obsessed on the image of the Disney Princess from a very young age, and being from a well-to-do family she was able to live it to a large degree. On her wedding day that fantasy was fully realized as she waltz to Tale as Old as Time with her husband before cutting her cake in front of a Cinderella ice sculpture. I am not bringing this up to mock the Bride, we all have our own obsessions, but rather to point out the kind of hold Disney can have on young girls.

So what is it exactly that these movies are telling girls, and boys to a slightly lesser extent? I would like to make an observation about the way the plots of Disney movies are structured depending on the gender they are geared towards. I submit that those Disney films targeted towards girls are, almost ubiquitously, about romance, while those films targeted towards boys may have romance in them, but only as a sub-plot. The Lion King, Aladdin, The Jungle Book, Atlantis; these movies each have romantic sub plots, but there are secondary. You could tell more or less the same story without the romance element. Meanwhile, what would any of the classic Princess films be without their primary romantic interest? You could hardly make Pocahontas, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, or Tangled without the Prince. What does this mean? When Disney makes a movie that is either Gender neutral or geared towards boys, the Hero can struggle towards all kinds of goals; finding a family, gaining confidence, accepting your responsibilities, rising out of poverty through wit and ingenuity, etc. However, when Disney makes a movie targeted towards girls, the objective is always the same; Find a man.

I will give Disney credit for trying to empower their female characters. Ariel was curious, Pocahontas was wise, Belle was intelligent, Tiana was business savvy, Rapunzel was a free spirit. Each of these women are ostracized by their communities and/or family for their unusual traits, and the resolution to that hardship is reached by finding a man who accepts them for what they are. In the case of Belle, she never overcomes the small mindedness of her community, she just happens to find a Prince who thinks that intelligence is sexy. Ariel’s father eventually accepts her curious nature, but only when his heart is warmed by seeing that it lead her to find a good man. Rapunzel escapes from her tower and finds her family, but only because she meets a man who is tolerant of her eccentricity. Pocahontas finally embraces her own wisdom and role as a leader of her people, but only when galvanized by the imminent execution of the man she loves. Tiana….well they got a bit better with her, but clearly the Prince is still the main catalyst for the story and learning to love him serves as the key to the happy ending. Now these are all fine films, and I am sure there was no conscious effort on anyone’s part to undermine the self confidence of little girls, but we can’t help but make these observations about the Disney universe. And that brings us back, at last, to Frozen.

As far as I am aware, the Frozen is the first Disney Princess film in which every male character is incidental to the plot. The movie is not, in any way at all, about the men. The movie is about two emotionally distant Sisters trying to find each other again in the wake of their parent’s death. The movie also serves as a not-so-vague metaphor for mental health and the importance of a proper support network for those who are troubled. The women drive the plot, each major plot point revolves around the growth of these sisters and/or their relationship, and at no point are any of these developments contingent on a masculine influence.

Now a friend of mine pointed out that the movie, while being about women, is certainly NOT a man-hating or romance bashing film. There are male characters in the movie who are quite likable. There is romance in the movie, which is cute and endearing, but the movie never becomes ABOUT those things.

Frozen is actually quite cheeky in the use of Romance in the plot. There are several points at which the movie deliberately undermines expectations set up by previous Disney films, even mocking those conventions as silly and shallow. Early in the film the younger sister meets a handsome Prince at a ball. He is charming, kind, strong, and in no time at all the two have shared a romantic musical number and are in love. Throughout the movie she is repeatedly mocked for silly and irresponsible it is to fall in love so quickly. “You fell in love with him in one day? Who does that?” she is asked later in the film. Who indeed Disney?

Giving an even bigger middle-finger to past Disney conventions, a threat is introduced that requires an act of true love to overcome. The audience is convinced through most of the movie that the act of true love will transpire between the younger sister and one of her romantic interests, when in fact the true love turns out to be between the sisters. The romantic love between the younger sister and her suitor is a sweet part of the movie, but ends up being utterly incidental to the larger plot.

I must say that Frozen is a breath of fresh air, and an intelligent shift in the portrayal of women. The Sisters are not really that different from previous Disney Princesses. They still dress in beautiful gowns. They still sing on hillsides and talk to cute woodland creatures. They are still girly girls, but their journey is their own, and their triumph achieved by their own merit. I love the fact that these writers managed to make a fairly feminist movie, without hitting you over the head with that fact. You hardly notice it until later when you’re looking back. That’s the right way to do it.

In parting I will say that I don’t give Frozen a perfect A+ in regards to diversifying the Disney Princess roster. We have yet to see a Disney Princess who isn’t gorgeous with long legs, and a tiny waist. Disney still needs to overcome the idea that the only people with stories worth telling are supermodels. Maybe they’ll get there someday. In the mean time though, Frozen is a good film driven by strong female characters drive their own story rather than riding along as passengers.

Jesus the Terrorist: An Awkward but Obvious reading of the New Testament

It was only a few weeks ago that I found myself in the midst of a conversation with a Christian woman (who shall remain unnamed out of respect) about the New Testament narrative. During this conversation I made the following statement; “…and that’s when they arrested Jesus for vandalizing the Temple…”. This statement was not meant to be controversial. I was merely recounting the narrative time-line for the sake on contrasting different Testaments, but my characterization of the arrest of Christ immediately drew this woman’s ire, and within a few exchanges had become the primary topic of the conversation.

Her refusal to acknowledge what I felt was a fairly strait forward and obvious narrative observation, and palpable resistance to even considering this new idea, disturbed me a bit. Despite being a devout Christian for decades, despite having read the Bible multiple times, despite having attended more Sermons and Sunday Schools than I could imagine, it was clear that she had simply never though about the implications of the Cleansing of the Temple, and had utterly missed what was bare, obvious, and clear to an outsider.

We like to throw around the phrase “Close-Minded”. We use it as a sledge hammer against the brick walls of opinions that do not align with our own. I find that typically this phrase is misused. This is one of my pet peeves you might say. However, what I encountered with this woman must be pretty close to the perfect appropriate example of the term “Close-minded”. This was not a woman deliberately and consciously avoiding the obvious, but rather a woman who’s entire mental model of the subject in question was unprepared or unable to accept the information being fed into it. In many ways this kind of close mind is a much more unsettling thing to encounter.

So, partially out of an impotent hope to rescue this woman from her mind-forged manacles (to borrow a phrase form the late Mr. Hitchens), and partially out of desire to spread information that will disrupt the manacles forges in other minds, I would like to present my theory that Jesus was arrested and executed as, what we would today label, a Terrorist.

First, I want you to bear in mind the significance of Passover Week as a sacred Jewish Holiday (Chanukah wasn’t really a big deal at this point, even though the Maccadbean revolt had take place 200 years prior) and a time when Jerusalem would have been packed to the brim with pilgrims, merchants, and festival participants; the Second Temple being central to the festivities. With that in the back of your head, let’s briefly sketch the time-line of Passover week.

Sunday- Jesus arrives in Jerusalem riding on an ass. Leaves town for the night.

Monday- Jesus Cleanses the Temple. Leaves town for the night.

Tuesday- Returns to the Temple to chastise temple officials, while pronouncing woe upon them. Jesus leaves Jerusalem. Later that night the Sanhedrin bribe Judas to help them arrest Jesus.

Wednesday- Jesus does not enter Jerusalem on Wednesday.

Thursday- Jesus does not enter Jerusalem on Thursday. Has Passover at a secret location outside of the city and prays in the Garden of Gethsemane, also outside of the city. Jesus is ambushed and arrested in the Garden. Jesus’ disciples are found armed and briefly attempt to fight off the guards.

Friday- Jesus is tried by a jury of fellow Jews who want him executed. He is presented to the Roman authorities to be executed, who honored the Jewish request and had the man whipped and crucified.

That is the basic time-line of the Passion Week. A time line you may confirm with your own Bible if you wish. I think you will find my account accurate although not particularly detailed. So let us discuss come of these important details. The general narrative of the Cleansing of the Temple is told in all four of the New Testament Gospels. However, the Cleansing, as told in John, is a bit strange. The other three Gospels agree that the Cleansing took place sometime on Monday the last week of Jesus’ life. John, however, describes almost word for word the exact same event, but having taken place three years prior when Jesus entered Jerusalem for the first time. There are two common interpretations of this discrepancy. It is well known that John was the last of the four Gospels to be written, a whole generation after the earliest Gospel which is Mark. One theory is simply that by the time the story got written down in John, the time-line had gotten messed up, and that this is a simple mistake. This is the most reasonable theory, but if you are determined to argue that the Bible is inerrant and perfect, then the second theory is that Jesus cleansed the temple twice, once on his first visit and then again on his third in an almost identical fashion. Either way, it doesn’t really matter to my theory, as Jesus having assaulted the Temple once before would give the Jews an even greater reason to arrest and execute him as a repeat offender.

What exactly was the Cleansing of the Temple? I have referred to this event as vandalism and assault. I should probably support that claim. In all four of the Gospels the event is described almost identically. Jesus enters the temple and drives out the Money-changers. He knocks over their tables, drives out their livestock, and for some non-specific amount of time he occupies the temple, refusing to allow anyone carrying trade goods to enter. The only real difference in the four stories is that in John’s account Jesus crafts himself a scourge of metal and leather (yes, the same horrible device later used to torture Christ) and uses it as a weapon, whipping and scourging the money-changers as he drives them out. That is what the narrative tells us, the information it lays right in front of our face where we cannot ignore it, but what are some of the other implications of this story that might not be so immediately obvious to a modern reader?

1: The Temple was crowded and probably guarded- Jerusalem in general and the temple in particular would have been packed that Monday. Every Jew who was any Jew would have been there. It is also probable that at least some of the men in the crowd were guards, officers, or enforcers, especially with all of that money changing hands.

2: Jesus did not use any supernatural powers- The Biblical accounts of the Cleansing of the Temple do not describe anything supernatural. They simple say that Jesus drove the men out of the temple, over turned the tables, and turned loose the livestock. If the Temple was packed with dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of people, some of whom must have been armed guards of some sort, how did one Rabbi drive them all out? If Jesus compelled them with the power of God, or preformed a miracle, or appeared before them transfigured, that would make sense, but the Bible says no such thing. Keep in mind, those who told the story of Jesus were not at all shy about telling us when he performed a supernatural miracle. So I think it is safe to assume that since nothing supernatural is mention in this story, that supernatural forces were not used. So then how did Christ forcibly drive out all of those people, then occupy the temple for the greater part of an afternoon, in the middle of the most important Festival of the year?

3: Jesus was not working alone- We know that Jesus was a religious leader, that he came to town with followers, and that he had deliberately staged his entrance into Jerusalem the day before to invoke prophecy and religious awe. We also know, due to the later account of Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, that Jesus’ disciples were armed and dangerous. I propose that Jesus did not go into the temple alone, but that he lead an assault with his followers. Saying that “Jesus drove out the money changers” is the common narrative convention of treating a group of armed men as an extension of their leader. For example we may say, “Genghis Khan conquered Persia” but we do not literally mean Genghis personally conquered Persia. We know he had an army, and we treat them as an extension of their leader when telling the story. In the same way, I propose that the Cleansing of the Temple story actually describes a band of religious zealots, lead by Jesus, assaulting and occupying the temple by force. With no mention of any supernatural act in the story, this is the only possible narrative that makes sense, unless we are to believe that Jesus fought off everyone in the temple like a kung-fu action star.

I do not think any of those three implications are a stretch. I think they are perfectly valid and natural assumptions which conflict with nothing at all in the story, only with the many layers of later dogma and tradition.

So, with those three implications in mind, it is not at all difficult to understand why Jesus was arrested. Even if he did not lead a group of armed men, and assaulted the temple single-handedly, he would still be arrested for such a brazen and sacrilegious criminal act. Also, please consider that Jesus did not stay in Jerusalem. He left the city each night. On Tuesday he returned to chastise and mock the religious officials who’s Temple he was assaulted only the day before. After that he left town and did not come back. Following his confrontation with the Jewish elders, Jesus essentially went into hiding. For the next two days he did not enter the city walls. On Wednesday he hardly showed his face outside, and on Thursday he attended Passover dinner in a secret room. This gives us a good human reason why the Jewish officials had to bribe Judas to reveal Jesus’ location so the arrest could be made.

I would like to now move on to the multiple Trials of Jesus, first by the Jews, then by Pontius Pilate. When Jesus is brought before the angry mob of Jews calling for him to be scourged and executed, we must recall that many if not most of those Jews in the crowd had been there, in the temple, only three days prior when it was assaulted by Jesus in the midst of a Holy Festival. Their business was disrupted, their property destroyed, and their livestock set free. If the account of John is to be believed some number of them had been scourged and beaten by Jesus and/or his men while being violently thrown out. Furthermore Jesus had the nerve to appear in town the next day pronouncing woe upon the city and promising that more such acts were to come. No doubt these Jews were angry, scared, and hurt, as they had every right to be. There is no doubt in my mind, based on what I know of the ancient world, that this is exactly the kind of thing that would warrant execution. We should almost be more surprised if Jesus had not been executed for such acts. However, as Jerusalem was under Roman rule at the time, the authority to execute did not lie with the Jews, so he was turned over to the Roman Governor, who then took a turn interrogating Jesus.

I am hesitant to even discuss the conversation between Pilate and Jesus, since the story we are given must be speculation by the author and cannot possible be an accurate account of their dialogue. The only people in the room, according to the Biblical account, were Jesus and Pilate. Jesus certainly did not write down their conversation on his way to the Cross, and nobody thinks that Pilate later provided testimonials for Mark. So then how does the author know what was said between the two? He does not. However, even if we somehow entertain the idea that the author was hiding behind the curtains and got to hear the conversation, Jesus still comes off as infuriating. Pilate keeps trying to give Jesus the benefit of the doubt, asking him questions and giving him a chance to account for his actions. Depending on which Gospel you read, Jesus either stands their quietly through the whole conversation, essentially pleading the 5th and refusing to talk, or he gives weird, metaphorical, and patronizing answers to every question. Just go ahead and read the conversation between Pilate and Jesus some time. Imagine that you are Pilate and you are trying to get useful information out of this man. Anyway, it doesn’t really matter because there is no way for the author to have known what their private conversation consisted of. All we do know is that Pilate returned to the Jews having found no violation of Roman Law, but the Jews insisted that Jewish Law had been broken, which Pilate respected, carrying out the sentence. And you know what? The Jews were right!

Jesus was traveling with a cadre of armed men. He assaulted a sacred place in the middle of a Religious Festival. He scourged respected merchants, destroyed records, destroyed property, and assumed an armed occupation of an important city building. The next day he threatened the city with further such acts because they had fallen from a religious ideal, and he used prophecy and religious zealotry to draw supporters to his cause. What would we describe that as today? Jesus was a terrorist. There is no other word for it, and he was executed as such. At the end of the day, the Jews may have had Jesus scourged, but we should not forget that he scourged them first.

Now of course, you feed that basic story through two or three generations of religious oral tradition, coupled with a powerful and deep-rooted veneration of martyrs, and you get the Jesus most of us are familiar with as recorded in the 1st century Christian writings and later canonized by the Council of Nicaea. However, if you take the story alone, and remove all of those layers of later canonized interpretation, then the narrative I have presented here is reasonable. It could likely have happened. It concords with everything we know about the time and place, while conflicting with nothing that I am aware of. This story, in addition to being more consistent than the traditional Biblical interpretation, is almost infinitely more probable than the Son of God via Virgin dying for our Sins angle.

In conclusion, I would like to return to the woman I spoke of at the beginning of the article. I sat down and thought about this essay for a bit before I wrote it. I have read the New Testament before, so I was superficially confident in my idea, but as I wrote I did do a bit of Googleing and a bit of scripture review to make sure I had my facts strait. I had to tailor a few of my original points and even abandon a couple, but all in all, to cull this interpretation out of the narrative took little heavy lifting. Now I can understand a person not having previous thought of this angle in their studies. I am all too familiar with the fact that we can often miss the obvious problems in things to which we are over-exposed. However, in the case of the woman with whom I had the original conversation; she had spent the better part of her life studying the Bible, and not only had this thought never occurred to her, but she was not equipped to deal with the idea, to even entertain it or examine it. How is that possible? How can one have spent so much time in study, and yet have such limited flexibility in thought on the subject? How can their thinking have so much depth with so little width? It occurs to me that this is the all important difference between education and indoctrination, between learning and reciting, between knowledge and dogma. The preachers, priests, reverends, and pastors do not want knowledge to be a river, free to flow and twist and widen; free to widen and meander; free to have tributaries, lakes, and rapids. No, they want knowledge to be a canal. Deep, narrow, clean, and controlled. This poor woman has spent her whole life digging a canal, rather than floating a river.

Sometimes the canal can get so deep that it’s hard to climb out of.

Secular Activism vs Atheist Evangelism

I was recently having a discussion with a member of the relatively new Secular grassroots organization SecularityUSA (check them out when you have time at globalsecular.org/secularityusa). During that discussion we discussed the difference between Atheism, and Secularity as Political objectives. Those terms are certainly not mutually exclusive, so perhaps it would be more clear to say that we discussed the difference between the kind of Atheism that seeks to undermine Religious belief, and the kind of Atheism that seeks to undermine Religious authority, a very important distinction.

I will not pretend to be a paragon of either camp. I enjoy fierce academic debate as much as the next Skeptic. I know the reasons why Kalam is a silly argument to make and I am not shy in the least about saying so. However, over the past couple of years, I have become aware of a gradual but important shift in my stance on Atheism, Skepticism, and Secularity. There is a side of me that will always take a certain delight in sousing out truth regardless of the cost in hurt feelings. However I have become increasingly political, or perhaps I should say social, in my activism. For the first time I have become involved with groups and actions that were not explicitly Atheist, but were pursuing Liberal and Progressive goals. This experience taught me a few important things about the road from Conventions and Podcasts, to elected officials and political parties, a transition Secularity is, perhaps, on the cusp of making.

First, I have long said that I may disagree academically with any Believer, but that I am content to toil alongside them in common interest as long as they don’t attempt to use their personal beliefs to police my actions. Does it bother me that the Christian out canvassing with me for voter registration believes that I am going to Hell? Sure. Does it bother me that he would, if pressed for an answer, concede that not only am I Hell-bound, but also deserving of that fate? Indeed it does. Does it bother me so much that it prevents me from standing in front of a Lowes with him in record breaking heat, registering Voters, and even enjoying his company? Of course not. What a little experience in the world of Grass Roots political action has taught me is that focusing on what makes a group similar, on what unites them, is a far better way to stoke community-level activism than focusing on what isolates them and makes them different from everyone else. Everyone in this world probably believes a silly thing, or two, or three, and while I do agree that silly and untrue things should be debunked, I no longer feel they should be debunked whenever possible. They should be debunked whenever appropriate.

Second, faith based allies are absolutely vital to action in rural American. Love it or hate it, Pastors are the gatekeepers to effective community organizing in rural areas. They have the history and they have the experience. So why wouldn’t you want to ally with them? I suppose that depends on your objective. This goes back to what I mentioned in the first paragraph about the two kinds of Atheism. If your objective is to undermine the belief in Religion, then Pastors would make unseemly allies. However, if you objective is to undermine Religious authority, then I think you will find Church communities far more helpful than you might otherwise suspect. There are a great many Religious people in this nation who believe in their God, but hold absolutely to the principle that Religious belief is private, and that Religious injunction into law is inappropriate. If you recall the 2012 Vice Presidential Debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, the Vice President perfectly expressed the difference between being religious and governing religiously. When asked about his stance on Abortion, Joe Biden replied that he was a Catholic, and personally disapproved of the practice. However, as a citizen of a free nation he understood that his personal religious conviction was not an appropriate basis for law. Therefore, as Vice President, he defended the rights of others to make a choice he personally would not. That attitude is shared by far more of the Religious than we Atheists tend to assume. I am more than happy to ally with that form of Religion, and perhaps even admire it. It takes a high level of integrity to actively fight for principle, even if you disagree with the position.

Would I ever call for the end of Conferences and Podcasts? Would I ever call for the end of those academic debates in which the details of Religious belief are dissected publicly and shown for the vulgar things they are? Of course not. All of those things are important parts of the discourse, and frankly I think Religion can stand a healthy dose of irreverence. However, I am willing to distinguish the Academic pursuit of undermining religious belief from the Political pursuit of undermining religious authority, with the first being a discussion the Religious must opt into, and the second one that they are not permitted to avoid.

Let me characterize my prioritization this way as I close: If my neighbor was religious, but never bothered me with it, I would never bother them about it. If they came to me and somehow invited conversation, I would certainly have it, but I would not force debate upon them. However, if my neighbor were petitioning the Housing Authority to put a Passion monument in the development park, or had approached me about how pagan my holiday decorations were, then all bets would be off, and a conversation would be had whether they liked it or not.

A Request for the Pro-Life

Today I want to talk about Abortion, but not in the way I typically do. In this essay I want to address my comments to those who consider themselves Pro-Life, and to them I make this challenge: If you will thoughtfully read and consider the contents of this essay, you will be pro-choice by the end.

I know that seems like a boastful claim, but I earnestly believe the pro-choice stance is so secure, so consistent, and so sound that anyone of normal moral and ethical faculties must eventually arrive at the pro-choice stance. If, by the time you are done reading this, you have not reconciled yourself with the pro-choice position, then I ask you to please email me, comment, or otherwise reply in some fashion and tell me why you still think abortion is wrong and how my case did not address those concerns. If you will do me that favor, then in return I will not speak to you as the enemy, I will not speak to you as some conservative whack-job. I will speak to you at eye-level with mutual respect and an understanding for the reasons you may feel the way you do.

I have listened to many people argue against the right of a woman to choose abortion. Those arguments often drip with colorful language, but when you strip them down to their core essence, there are generally only four different reasons for opposing the right to terminate a pregnancy.

1: Religious Reasons
2: It’s Murder
2: Emotional Disgust
3: Slut Shaming

Let me start with Religion: I do not believe the Bible actually forbids Abortion, in fact I think a case can be made that the Bible tacitly endorses Abortion. I will get to that in a moment, but first I want to make sure something is clear: Let’s just pretend that Bible did explicitly forbid Abortion. It would not matter one bit. Your own religious convictions are great for running your own life. If you believe that God forbids Abortion, then you are welcome to never have one. But to take your private religious belief, and force others to follow it is a wicked and evil thing to do. So, I am going to explain why I think the Bible is not against Abortion, but I want you to understand that even if it was, you are not granted the right to run other people’s lives by the rules of your religion. That much should be clear.

This idea, that the Christian faith somehow forbids the practice of Abortion is a rather bizarre one. The Bible makes no reference to Abortion. There are no direct references, no indirect references, no references to similar and comparable practices, no vague references that can be loosely interpreted as being about Abortion. Nothing. In fact, the Bible is not very kind to children in general. There are few child characters even mentioned in the Bible, but when they are mentioned, 9 times out of 10 it is when God is telling the Jews to do something terrible to them. Abraham was ordered to sacrifice his son Isaac. The Pharaoh’s son, along with all of Egypt’s first born, were struck down in a plague. After the army of Joshua sacked the city of Jericho they were ordered to kill the infants, boys, and non-virgin girls, but to keep the virgin girls as sex slaves. When a gaggle of children mocked Elijah for his bald head he had them torn limb-from-limb by bears. In Leviticus the Jews are ordered to stone rebellious children to death. The daughter of Gyrus was ordered by God to be sacrificed as tribute for blessing her father with victory in battle. Unlike in the Abraham/Isaac story the girl was actually sacrificed.

So, looking to the Bible for advice on how to treat children is probably a bad idea. Yet even beyond that, I think there is a case to be made for the Books of Moses silently approving the practice of Abortion. As we all know, the Levites were big on writing down lists of things they disapproved of. There are so many ridiculous and detailed Jewish laws about what was and was not forbidden, that it’s almost a joke even among Jews. There are 615 Old Testament laws that address everything from the Big 10 commandments we all know, all the way down to what kinds of fabric you can wear, what kind of blade you can use to shave with, and how much distance to keep between yourself and a menstruating woman. You can bet that if the Levites disapproved of something, they wrote it down. Archeological evidence indicates that the practice of both abortion and infant exposure (leaving a newborn out in the woods to die on its first night) was known and practiced in the ancient near-east, as it has been in many cultures throughout history. These practices were never views as popular, always seen as kind of a necessary evil, but it was done and the Levites surely knew it. If Moses and his Priests knew about something as dramatic as Abortion and Infant exposure, but did not add it to their exhaustive list of dos and don’ts, then I think there is a strong implication that they were tolerant of the practice.

It is true that the Bible contains a general admonition against killing. Can’t that be used to justify forbidding Abortion? Well it is important to note that the Bible does not actually forbid killing, it forbids Murder, unjustified killing. Even the Bible acknowledges that there are certain circumstances under which killing may be a mercy, may be an unfortunate necessity, or may even be righteous and justified. So is Abortion murder? That brings us to…

2: It’s Murder! The funny thing about morality and ethics is that real life is complex, and often two good things come in direct conflict with each other, and we must prioritize our values. The most classic example is the starving man who steals a loaf of bread. The Baker has the right to his bread, and taking it is immoral. However the starving man has the right to live. Does his right to live override the Baker’s right to keep his bread? Does the Baker’s right to his bread outweigh the starving man’s right to life? This is not a black and white question where you can simple say, “Stealing is always wrong!” and end the conversation there. I, for one, would happily make slight transgressions against the property rights of one man to preserve the life of another, and most people would do the same thing.

So, if we agree that sometimes two rights can come into conflict, and we are left with the difficult moral task of deciding how to prioritize those rights, then how should we look at Abortion? On the simplest level we have those pregnancies which are a direct threat to the health or well-being of the mother. If another person, either deliberately or not, is risking your life or greatly harming you, then you have the right to stop them by whatever means necessary. If a woman was in a bus that crashed into a river, and while trying to swim back to shore a weaker swimmer grabbed a hold of her, dragging her down, the woman would have every right to kick that person off and let them drown in order to save her own life. In the case of terminating a pregnancy, even though it is sad and unfortunate that the unborn must be lost, most people of normal ethical understanding agree that this kind of abortion should be allowed.

But what about optional Abortions? What about those Abortions that are not medically necessary to save the life of the mother? Does anyone have the right to kill another person so that they can finish school, avoid scandal, maintain their single lifestyle, or avoid financial burden. The answer is, of course, no. However, does anyone have the right to force an unwilling woman to become a mother? Does anyone have the right to force an unwilling woman to host another human inside of her for 9 months? Does anyone have the right to force an unwilling woman to go through the pain and physical damage of pregnancy and giving birth? Does anyone have the right to force a woman into a financial, legal, and emotional relationship against her will? Of course not.

So then how do we balance those two conflicting set of right? How should we prioritize the right of the unborn to live, versus the rights of a woman not to be forced into a drawn out, painful, expensive, damaging, life altering, and binding situation against her will. It is helpful to consider how we would ethically judge an identical situation that involved a person already born. Let us suppose that a 16 year old contracted a rare illness, and would certainly die unless one of their parents volunteered to be hooked up, and to serve as sort of human dialysis machine for their child. Would the parent have the right to refuse? I think most of us agree that the parent would have the right to say no. Perhaps the parent would be more admirable if they allowed the procedure, but they should not be legally required to, especially if doing so was threatening to their own life. We do not demand that parents provide organ or bone marrow transplants for their children. We do not demand by law that parents allow their body to be used in any way for the preservation of their offspring. What if the child was 5 instead of 16? Would they suddenly have more of a right to use their parent’s body? I think we can agree that no, making the child younger does not give it new rights over its parent’s body parts. Now what if the child is unborn? What about being unborn suddenly reverses all of those standards? What about being unborn suddenly gives a child utter and complete rights to the mother’s body? If we reverse the clock back even further, to the first few trimesters following impregnation, what on earth grants a small semi-formed embryo a complete right to the mother’s body?

It is best to consider exactly what right the Mother is expressing. The Mother is not expressing the right to kill another person. The mother is expressing the right to kick another person out of her body, by whatever means necessary. An Abortion is not a termination of a life, it is a termination of a pregnancy, and whatever loss of life that entails is a justifiable consequence. I, for one, am not OK with a moral system that allows an accident to grant another person more right to your body than you have.

Some people will say that this all may be well and good, but isn’t it still heartbreaking to think of the life that could have been? Isn’t it disgusting to think of such a fate befalling something totally innocent? Even if the mother is completely within her rights don’t we still have to deal with…

#3: Emotional Disgust- If you have followed along with me so far, and you have tried to carefully and fairly consider what I am saying, then this is probably where you are right now. Ok so maybe Religion is iffy on this at best. Maybe I don’t have the right to force others to follow my religion. Maybe women do have the right to control the use of their bodies. Even though all of that makes sense, you just can’t get over my emotional discomfort of it. You just can’t be ok with Abortion.

I hear you. I really do. This is by far the hardest part to overcome, because you cannot possible think or reason it away, and maybe you shouldn’t. After all, Abortion is a bad thing. It is an undesirable and unpleasant way of dealing with an unhappy accident. Nobody is glad to have an Abortion. Nobody eagerly awaits the procedure or looks back on it with fond memories.

It is important to keep in mind that nobody in this country, and I mean nobody, is pro-Abortion. Even Abortionists are not pro-Abortion, in the same way that Oncologists are not pro-Cancer. Those organizations that are most commonly associated with Abortions, such as Planned Parenthood, want to see as few Abortions performed as possible. They conduct passionate and effective Sex-Ed and contraception campaigns to try and prevent unwanted pregnancies from occurring in the first place. We all recognize that a high rate of unwanted pregnancy is a sign of societal and sexual unhealth, and it is precisely those organizations that most passionately defend the right to Abortion who do the very best job at making those Abortions as rare as possible.

So I am not asking you to be emotionally ok with Abortion. Some people are, and some people are not, and we all agree that we would like to see fewer of them. What you should be careful of is that you do not allow your distaste for terminating a pregnancy to feed into, or be fed by, a sinister desire to control the sexuality of others or shame and vilify women who exert sexual independence. Which leads to the final type of Abortion Objection…

#4: Slut Shaming- This final reason for objecting to Abortion is the most sinister, and unfortunately also the most common. There are people out there who strongly object to the very concept of a sexually independent woman, able to engage in the sexual practices of her choice without fear of consequences. The entire notion that such women not only exist, but are protect and empowered by law, whips some people into a frothing sexist frenzy. I have tried, thus far, to speak kindly and understandingly to those who are opposed to Abortion, trying to gently show them a better way to think of the issue, but with this last group, I will not be kind.

Why is it that a person would be so opposed to the idea of a sexually permissive woman? Why is that the English language has lots of words for a sexually permissive woman, but they are almost all derogatory(slut, whore, easy, loose, hoe, floozy, homewrecker, bimbo), while plenty of terms exist for sexually permissive men which are complimentary (Stud, Player, Lady’s Man, Stallion, Casanova)? Why is it that when boys are maybe a bit more forceful with a girl than they should be, we say “boys will be boys” while calling the woman who refused their advances a “tease”? Why is it that when a woman reports a rape the very first thing we look for is any possible excuse to say it was her fault; Is there alcohol on her breath? Was she wearing a short skirt? Did she lead him on? What was she doing at that kind of party anyway? Why do we have such an utter cultural obsession with controlling a woman’s sex life and being immediately suspicious or belittling of any attempt at sexual independance?

The answer to that question is for a whole different article, but I think what we can agree on here is that our culture, in general, is unfairly controlling, judgmental, and critical of female sexuality, and that unfair cultural bias is at the root of much of the opposition to Abortion. Abortion is the ultimate tool of female sexual liberty. At the end of the day, if other measures fail and a woman finds herself with an unwanted pregnancy, Abortion allows her to eliminate all consequences. I do not know exactly why the fact that Sex can be consequence free pisses so many people off. There are lots and lots of things that used to be dangerous and risky which have been made much safer and more enjoyable by modern advances. I don’t see people getting furious over those things, but for some reason sex is different. I have my theories about why this is, mostly regarding deeply engrained Patriarchy, but again that is for another article. What I want those of use of normal, sane, and fair minded ethical principles to agree on here is that such sexual repression is not a righteous or good thing, and certainly is not valid grounds to oppose Abortion.

So, if you are still with me, and you have read this far, I want to thank you for your time. I have tried to honestly and fairly address what I see to be the four main sources for opposition to Abortion, and to offer a more ethical and consistent way to look at things. First I tried to make it clear that the Bible is iffy on Abortion at best, and that even if it were clear, nobody has the right to force others to follow their Religion. Second I argued that Abortion is a justified form of killing, both to preserve the saftey of the mother, and in to maintain the Mother’s right to refuse a painful, expensive, and custodial relationship she did not desire and does not want. Third, I tried to explain that I understand how emotional unsettling Abortion can be, and tried to reassure you that Abortion, like many medical procedures, is something that nobody likes having to do, but that does not make it wrong. Lastly I briefly outlined the absolutely brutal and obvious sexual double-standard that exists in our culture, hinting at how sinister the desire to control the sex lives of others is, and I encouraged you not to side with those people.

I hope this has addressed whatever concerns you may have, and I have attempted to do so without even getting into the whole “it a fetus a person” debate. If you still oppose Abortion, then I ask you to please try and write down in words WHY you still disagree, and I would certainly love to hear it.

Action and Activism: A Secular Humanist’s New Year’s Resolution

New Year’s Resolutions are great aren’t they? The hardest part of changing an old habit or adopting a new one is to stop endlessly telling yourself “any day now” and actually start. The New Year provides a compelling and looming starting line from which to launch new endeavors.

I’ve never really committed myself to a New Year’s Resolution of any real significance. I have promised myself that I would lose weight, read more, spend more time on hobbies, or travel more often. Some Resolutions have been a success, others have push aside and forgotten, but none were particularly impacting one way or the other.

I plan to change that this year.

I have long been an observer and commentator of the world around me. I have whiled away the hours watching and listening, writing and criticizing. I have spent my time figuring, thinking, debating, analyzing, and researching. Like so many others I have become keenly aware of the failings of our political landscape, the inequities still prevalent in our society, the fundamental injustice of our economy, and the dire need for a renewal of Secularism and basic noble Humanism. I have become so aware of these facts, so inescapably proximal to them, that I think the time may be upon me, and those like me, to take the next step; Action.

For so long I have been cloistered in my positions. I have failed to participate in the politics of my community. I have failed to attend local Secular functions. I have failed to volunteer for any state or national campaign. I am not anti-social. I do not dislike the company and camaraderie of others. However the soul sucking grind of being a corporate data-cruncher has constantly threatened to sap me of whatever initiative I might otherwise have after 5pm, and I have let it.

I plan to change that this year.

Let us make no mistake, now is a rare and wonderful time to be young and passionate about a cause. We live these days in an era of domestic extremes. The economic disparity in our nation has never been greater. The influence of monolithic corporate and financial entities has never been further reaching. This congressional year closes in a matter of days, and will do so while going down in history as the most obstructionist congress in United States History. The ultra Conservative Religious Right has never been more mobile, particularly at the State level, threatening to cull any politician who refuses to maintain a staunchly conservative religious posture. The Voting Rights Act has been gutted. Reproductive rights are under fierce assault. The need for Immigration Reform has reached a critical level. The body-count of Mass Shootings continues to climb as NRA lobbyists lock down any attempts at legislative intervention. Universal Health Care is under relentless assault. The push for Gay Marriage has met staunch resistance. The list goes on, and on, and on. A list of real, salient, important, and present issues which directly affect us or the life of someone we love.

The religious and conservative forces in this country have a well established and deeply-rooted support base for their causes, a support base they are not shy about leveraging towards political ends. Those raised in a religious environment know that you are weaned from the earliest age on the idea that regular financial contributions to groups you affiliate with are to be expected. Youth activism within and without of the community is encouraged and trained for. Sunday school teaching, youth pastor programs, evangelical activities, mission trips, public events, establishing campus prayer groups, all of these activities are expected of young people, rewarded with praise and honor, and supported with money and mentorship. This is why conservative causes seem to enjoy such easy public support and success. They are not successful because they are right, they are successful because they are better funded, better trained, and their population bases have ingrained habits which make them far easier to rally towards focused objectives.

This is not so with Secular populations. We tend to be individualistic. We tend to actively avoid grouping up under ideological banners and following mantras. We tend to hedge everything we say and avoid taking hard-line absolute stances. The thought of being a devotee of a certain “team” or “side” almost makes our skin crawl. And I understand those tendencies, I feel them myself. However the fact is, as I have come to realize, that in a Democratic nation of 300+ million citizens, to sacrifice solidarity on the altar of unfettered autonomy is to give up your political power. Being too cautious about rallying under banners, overly hesitant to group around an ideology, is to cede control of the nation to those who are willing to do so with reckless abandon. It is a brutal truth that being discerning and skeptical to the point of inaction only serves the purposes of those who are not.

I plan to change that this year.

So then, if the Religious Right is so well equipped, and the situation in such dire need of repair, why would I say that this is a rare and wonderful time to be passionate about a cause? Because there is a way to win. We must be active. We must donate. We must not be afraid to take hard line stances, to join together, to tow the line, to pound the pavement, to knock on doors, to call phones, to attend benefit dinners, to start groups, and to attend rallies. I know it may feel strange at first, we have not been trained from our youth to do this. I know it may require stepping out of your comfort zone, we have not had these habits ingrained in us. But despite that initial discomfort, it is the right thing to do, the only thing to do, if you care. If you do care, now is an ideal time to act. Now on the crest of social change, now as we hurtle towards the end of a historic Presidency, now before the sting of this inequity wears off and settles into the new normal, now is the time to push and push hard, to lay the political groundwork for the next generation of elected officials, to prime the engine.

I have made the personal choice that in 2014 I will stop being an arm-chair activist, and take that important step onto the street. I have already signed up to volunteer for Secularity USA. I will become active in my local Freethinkers group. I will donate money to important politicians and causes. I will set aside some portion of my passion, energy, and time, sealing it away from those hundred little bothers and bedlams that strive every day to drain my reservoir of damns to give, and I will dedicate those resources to the causes that need them.

To those of you who already do this, I applaud you. I admire what you do, and if you have any advice, opportunities, or practices to share, I welcome the input. To those who are like me, who have watched the fight but not gotten their own hands dirty, I ask you to make 2014 your Year to Act. Please share your stories, I would love to hear them, and I hope to share many of my own before this same time next year.