9/21/14

Why You Haven't Heard More About the Great Rift Here

English: Dr. Michael Shermer receives an award...
Dr. Michael Shermer receives an award
for his work with Skeptic Magazine.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
For better or worse, I decided some time ago not to write much here at Mississippi Atheists about "the great rift" that divides atheists these days. I've addressed this topic periodically at Atheist Revolution, and Turniphead wrote a post about it here in early 2013. I've also mentioned it at least once that I can recall here. I suppose my primary reason for trying to steer clear of the subject here has been that I was never convinced that what a handful of rage bloggers wrote had much relevance to most atheists living in Mississippi. Perhaps this was wrong of me, but it was the decision I made.

Some have told me that I should completely ignore people like PZ Myers, Ophelia Benson, and Rebecca Watson because this is the only way to reduce their habit of writing outrageous content to elicit criticism, interpret the criticism as "harassment," and then use that as an excuse to disparage and demonize those who dare to express disagreement with them. Assuming they do this primarily to drive traffic to their blogs, ignoring them might help to reduce that traffic and lead to a healthier approach. Others have argued that one cannot ignore the bad apples in our midst without engaging in the sort of hypocrisy of which we often accuse the religious moderates who will not speak out against their extremists. Besides, they say, ignoring them means their bad behavior goes unchallenged, leading others (e.g., journalists) to think we might approve of their behavior and/or agree with their outlandish claims. I'm not sure who is right here.

9/14/14

Bubbles of Safety in Mississippi

19th century LGBT rights advocate Karl Heinric...
19th century LGBT rights advocate Karl Heinrich Ulrichs introduced the idea of coming out as a means of emancipation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I have lived in Mississippi for over 10 years now, and I am still regularly asked by people I knew before moving here what it is like to live here as an atheist or a liberal. I've lost count of how many times the same people have asked me these same questions over the years. Perhaps my answers have never been satisfactory or sufficiently memorable. Or maybe those who ask cannot comprehend how someone like me could have found his way here and managed to stay as long as I have. It probably doesn't help matters that I'm not sure how to explain myself.

If you missed Joce Pritchett's recent article in The Jackson Free Press, "What's It Like Living LGBT in Mississippi?," be sure to check it out. I suspect that many Mississippi atheists will be able to relate to some of what she has to say, although some have certainly had different experiences of Mississippi.

Pritchett notes that people who have lived here long enough to remember all the violence and hatred surrounding school desegregation have good reason to be wary.
When I say that some LGBT Mississippians are afraid to come out of the closet and live authentic lives, it's not theoretical or an intellectual decision—they are genuinely afraid for their lives and livelihoods.

9/7/14

A Positive Experience of Mississippi

Rusty steam locomotive, Hattiesburg, Mississippi
Rusty steam locomotive, Hattiesburg, Mississippi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This is a contribution from a new author, Beau Black, currently living in Hattiesburg.

Up until relatively recently, my life’s resume is pretty typical for a young, motivated WASP male (though my actual beliefs varied widely by dipping into Eastern philosophy). I did youth ministry, wrote and mediated bible studies, worked for ministries across the state, led worship, and got married relatively early to a young woman I met in the ministry. I also got a degree in Philosophy with an emphasis on Religious Studies from MSU.

I grew up expecting to work in ministry. I got my degree for it and prepared to attend seminary all the way up until the summer after I graduated from MSU. Finding a decent job with my resume outside of the ministry has been quite the challenge. My only other experience was in restaurants, which is what I have fallen back on in the meantime.

My academic and personal studies of philosophy, theology, history, psychology, and science eventually led me to the conclusion that god and/or gods in all of his or her or their forms was a figment of the collective human imagination. When I came out, my friends and family said absolutely nothing negative to me. Nor did they say anything positive for that matter. They didn’t say anything at all. Which I suppose is better than some alternatives. And though I am actively and openly opposed to the ministry for which my mother works, American Family Radio, my mother and I have a loving relationship.

8/29/14

A Church-State Victory in Mississippi

English: Norida high school teachers
Norida high school teachers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I trust that you have heard about the latest church-state case in Mississippi by now. The Jackson Public School District received a complaint from the American Humanist Association's Appignani Humanist Legal Center on behalf of a teacher after sectarian (Christian) prayer and preaching were featured at their mandatory three-hour convocation. Apparently, public school teachers employed by the district were required to attend this event and then subjected to explicitly Christian prayer and preaching.

Why is this such a problem? First, this is about a public school district inviting Christian clergy to deliver sectarian prayers and proselytize at an event they sponsored. Public schools are not supposed to be in the business of promoting religion. Second, the district appears to have required their employees to attend this event. So it wasn't just inappropriate proselytizing of the sort government agencies are not allowed to engage in; it was mandatory for district employees. I'm not suggesting it would not be problematic otherwise, but I think it being mandatory for district employees takes it to another level.

8/24/14

Mississippi Needs a Statewide Atheist Organization

Organization design
Organization design (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I started the Mississippi Atheists blog in 2008 to provide a place on the Internet for people looking for information relevant to atheism in the state of Mississippi. I figured that it might be helpful to have a central hub from which to could provide resources and support to Mississippi atheists.

I soon realized that the many limitations on my time and my lack of knowledge of what was happening across our state made me less than ideal to fulfill this goal. I sought to attract co-authors and turn this into more of a group blog. The idea was that we'd have a several atheists living in different parts of the state writing about their experiences periodically. This was successful for awhile, as we had several contributors. Unfortunately, none stuck around for long. By 2012, it was clear that this was no longer working as the group effort I had envisioned. I've evaluated and re-evaluated whether to close Mississippi Atheists many times, deciding in May of 2014 to keep it going for at least another year. My rationale is simple: the demand is there, and having something - even something flawed - seems better than nothing at all.