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Wedding Cakes and Same-Sex Marriage: Does the Right to Not Be Upset Trump Free Speech?

Yesterday, the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries ruled that a bakery in Gresham, Oregon must pay $135,000 to a lesbian couple for refusing to make them a wedding cake.  You can read the ruling for yourself right here.  Some salient facts:

  • Gresham, Oregon is a city of more than 100,000 people (a fifth of the population of Wyoming), and is also a part of the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area with 2.4 million people.  The couple looking for a wedding cake had many options, and indeed when their case was publicized they had many offers.
  • The owners of the privately owned cake shop that refused to make a cake with both brides’ names on it explicitly referred to their religious beliefs when making their refusal.
  • The body of the ruling focuses on Oregon state law 659A.409, which declares that “it is an unlawful practice for any person acting on behalf of any place of public accommodation as defined in ORS 659A.400 (Place of public accommodation defined) to publish, circulate, issue or display, or cause to be published, circulated, issued or displayed, any communication, notice, advertisement or sign of any kind to the effect that any of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, services or privileges of the place of public accommodation will be refused, withheld from or denied to, or that any discrimination will be made against, any person on account of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status or age if the individual is 18 years of age or older.”
  • The body of the ruling also focuses on the emotional upset experienced by members of the couple as they considered their religious, family and relationship history in light of this interaction and their subsequent decision to file a complaint.

I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not going to try to evaluate whether the Gresham bakery violated Oregon law.  But the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is a higher law supporting freedom of speech.  As the Supreme Court has affirmed, it is the right of same-sex couples to enter into a marriage regardless of whether it upsets anyone else.  There is, after all, no right for Americans to not experience emotional upset.  When the shoe is on the other foot, why must a private bake shop be forced to make a cake celebrating same-sex marriage, in direct contravention of the owners’ beliefs?

So long as Americans in same-sex couples were discriminated against in law, forbidden from marrying, such discrimination remained the primary point.  Now that same-sex couples have a universal right to marry across the United States, it is important to protect the right of dissenters to refrain from participation in the nationwide group cheer.  I support same-sex marriage freedom.  I support freedom of speech, too, and I hope that the Gresham wedding cake decision is decisively overturned.

 

P.S. The decision by government clerks in Kentucky to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples is a very different case.  Instead of private actors, these are government employees acting on behalf of the government who swore when hired to uphold the law and who, through their inaction, prevent same-sex couples from exercising their full legal rights.  A lemon-custard legal tort should be launched firmly and at high speed toward the faces of these recalcitrant clerks who use their positions of power in government to enforce illegal bigotry.

P.P.S. Who said law has to be boring?  Never before in the history of the universe, and possibly never again, will we be treated to this particular sentence: “Just prior to the ceremony, Duff Goldman’s free cake was delivered by an incognito motorcyclist.”

 

The Supreme Court Has Silenced Us, Say Anti-Equality Bigots

On June 26, the National Organization for Marriage reacted to the news of the Supreme Court’s Obgerfell v. Hodges decision by declaring, “The Supreme Court has overridden and silenced over 50 million Americans on marriage.”

In a friend of the court brief on the case, a coalition including individual preachers such as

– Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church of Dallas
– Robert A.J. Gagnon of the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
– Mark L. Bailey of the Dallas Theological Seminary
– Eric Metaxas of BreakPoint
– Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
– Owen Strachan of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

as well as organizations such as

– the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association
– National Religious Broadcasters
– In Touch Ministries
– Samaritan’s Purse
– the Chuck Colson Center For Christian Worldview

wrote that, as a result of the mere request for the legal equality of heterosexuals and homosexuals, “religious dissenters from same-sex marriage have been silenced by state actors and thereby denied access to the marketplace of ideas,” and warned that “the Republic may be harmed by the silence of those who were too afraid to speak.”

Have these opponents of same-sex marriage really been silenced?

silenced preacher

Last night, the National Organization for Marriage held a gala event, where Rick Santorum was keynote speaker and at which, all evening long, preachers delivered sermons about the evils of marriage equality. Since the Supreme Court decision was announced, NOM has also published 10 articles, 62 tweets and 9 Facebook posts in protest against the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Franklin Graham, head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and President of Samaritan’s Purse, appeared on Fox News soon after the Supreme Court decision, broadcasting his opinion against marriage equality around the world. The organization proudly declares that “The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is reaching more people than ever” and also has announced that “In 2016, Franklin Graham is traveling to all 50 states to share the Gospel and encourage Christians to boldly live out their faith.”

Since June 26, National Religious Broadcasters has issued written statements and social media posts in protest of the Obgerfell v. Hodges decision, and has released a video of a debate it hosted on the topic of “Cultural Controversy Through the Lens of Scripture: What does the Bible say about homosexuality?”

In Touch Ministries has continued to make its daily radio broadcasts without interruption, and has published eight new articles.

Chuck Colson is dead, but that hasn’t stopped the Chuck Colson Center For Christian Worldview from issuing daily admonitions to its followers to keep on speaking loudly. These include two articles since June 26 specifically warning about “the cycle of silence”, and another explaining why Christians need to silence their opponents, advising that, “Our desire in seeking to silence those who traffic in lies is not to put them down, show them up, or try to make them look bad in any way. We will issue our sharp rebuke in private, if we can, but in public if we must.”

The same friend of the court brief that complains that opponents of same-sex weddings have been silenced also brags that Robert Jeffress “has made more than 1,500 guest appearances on radio and television programs,” and “hosts the daily Pathway to Victory radio program, appears on a weekly television program that is broadcast on 1,200 television stations throughout the nation, and is the author of 21 books.” The brief also proudly declares that Robert A.J. Gagnon “has been quoted in or written for The New York Times, NPR, CNN, and Christianity Today,” Mark L. Bailey “has written numerous articles and books,” Eric Metaxas is a “New York Times #1 bestselling author” and has “a radio commentary that is broadcast on 1,400 radio outlets with an audience of eight million,” while Albert Mohler “has been quoted in the nation’s leading newspapers,” and “has also appeared on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” NBC’s “Today Show” and “Dateline NBC,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” PBS’s “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” MSNBC’s “Scarborough Country,” and Fox’s “The O’Reilly Factor.”” Owen Strachan, the amicus brief says, “has written seven books and will publish three more in 2015.”

In what way are these people silenced?

Rick Perry: Act First, Then Discuss Policy

“Once you get the border secure, then you can have a conversation about immigration.” This insight came from a Fox News appearance last night by Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry, who was so proud of the idea that he reposted the comment on his campaign Twitter feed after the show was done, and then retweeted his own tweet about it on his individual Twitter feed.

rick perry get the border secure

If Rick Perry is so fond of this act first, talk later approach to immigration, maybe he could expand the idea to other policy areas. I suggest:

– Once you lower taxes, then you can have a conversation about how to keep the government from falling apart.
– Once you install offshore drilling rigs all along the coasts of the United States, then you can have a conversation about pollution.
– Once you create a travel ban from West Africa, then you can have a conversation about whether there is any significant threat to the United States from Ebola.
– Once you send people to Mars, then you can have a conversation about how to operate a colony on another planet.
– Once you invade Iraq, then you can have a conversation about coming up with a plan for the war.

Oh, wait. Rick Perry already did that last one, back in 2003. Word is that he’s trying to bring that idea back for his new campaign.

The Agenda Of Anthony Ciotti For President

Out in Southern California, Anthony Ciotti has begun his independent campaign for President of the United States.

Ciotti’s platform:

anthony ciotti for presidentEnd the Fed.
End Citizens United.
End the Corporatocracy
End Planned Obsolescence.
End the For Profit model.
End the Revolving Door of Politicians to High Level Exec’s and visa versa.
Start Fixing what we have broken.
Start spreading Truth.
Start using Tech for the good of Life.
Now, let me get into that a bit more. Yes, Nationalize the Banking Industry. No more of this Too Big to Fail Too Big to Jail crap. Game over, they get nationalized. Period. Yes, the Fed Reserve too.
Taking a lesson from ancient cultures who knew that these debt bubbles get too outrageous, a Time of Jubilee, Debt Forgiveness. Slate is getting wiped clean. Restart!
Those families that were part of predatory loans and such, let’s get them back in their homes. Deed and all.
People in homes are a bit more stables, and can get trained up to help work on all the infrastructure we need to build. That’s right, JOBS.
So what do you guys think of that, Debt Forgiveness, Jobs, Homes, and Infrastructure? Things the People really need after all these games these Fat Cats have been playing.

Ciotti writes that “To get to become an official candidate, I need to raise at least $2500 and then spend it on campaign costs to aggregate $5000.” So far, he has raised $30.

Sweatshops are Good, Says Head of Think Tank Funded With $1.7 Million Grant made possible by Sweatshops

Benjamin Powell uses his position as head of the “Free Market Institute” to argue that sweatshops are good for sweatshop workers. “I never understand, if you’re not making a living wage, how come you’re alive?,” jokes Powell in a standard stump speech line.

With his funding and position as head of the “Free Market Institute,” Benjamin Powell travels around and casts aspersions over and over again on the worth of the anti-sweatshop movement because he says it gets its money from unions and is therefore ethically tainted.

If it’s acceptable to cast doubt on the stance of anti-sweatshop organizations with the observation that they’re funded with union money, as Powell has done all over the country, it must be acceptable to evaluate Powell’s stance on sweatshops with reference to his funding.

The Free Market Institute is supported by a $1.7 Million grant from the John Templeton Foundation. Benjamin Powell defends sweatshop wages of $2 a day, but apparently he feels he needs more than $2 a day to do his work. Grants from the like of the John Templeton Foundation (including additional anonymous multimillion-dollar grants) allow the Free Market Institute to pay undergraduate students $1,000 a semester to read free-market books and follow discussion prompts of a FMI faculty member; apparently, Benjamin Powell feels the students are worth more than $2 a day to do their work. The John Templeton Foundation providing $1.7 Million to support Benjamin Powell’s activities can engage in such funding because it holds the wealth of the late Sir John Templeton, who made his fortune in no small part through the Templeton World Fund, an investment fund that has long generated income for wealth holders by investing in companies operating in third world countries (“emerging markets”) some of which invest in further companies with further subcontractors that find advantage by paying low, low wages. You and I know some of these as “sweatshops.”

20th Century ad for the Templeton World Fund

If the arguments of anti-sweatshop organizations are less worthy for receiving union money, what is the worthiness of pro-sweatshop arguments funded by sweatshop money?

Theism, Even For Atheists, Courtesy of Anthropology

Yesterday, I came upon the latest issue of the journal Social Analysis, which focuses on the anthropology of atheists. The issue, with the title: Being Godless: Ethnographies of Atheism and Non-Religion, was edited by Ruy Llera Blanes, of the University of Bergen, and Galina Oustinova-Stjepanovic, of University College London.

These two also wrote the introduction to the issue, which I was able to review only in the abstract yesterday, as Berghahn Books, the publishers of Social Analysis makes it difficult and expensive for people outside academia to read material from the journal.

Anthropology Journal Social AnalysisNonetheless, even from what I saw in the abstract for the introduction, I was concerned. I wrote, “The anthropologists writing for Social Analysis seem to have taken on a theism-centric perspective in their studies. In their introduction to the issue, Ruy Llera Blanes and Galina Oustinova-Stjepanovic describe atheists as ‘people who seek to thin out religion in their daily lives’. In doing so, they confuse religion in general with theism in particular. Not all religion is theistic. More importantly, they presume that atheists start out as theists, with their lives thick with religion that needs thinning out in order to achieve atheism.”

“Blanes and Oustinova-Stjepanovic further describe atheism as a “reluctance to pursue religion”, as if atheists’ relationship to worship of gods is one of mere hesitancy. This position doesn’t even do adequate justice to many agnostics, who, rather than being indecisive, have chosen a path of determined refusal to commit to any position on a question as inherently unanswerable as whether divine beings have any true existence. Atheists go even further, being divided philosophically into two camps: 1) Positive atheists, who have the belief that no gods exist, and 2) Negative atheists, who lack any belief in gods. Neither atheist position is characterized by reluctance.”

Yesterday afternoon, I made my way to a nearby university library, where I got distracted by some other fascinating material, but eventually gathered the content of the godless issue of Social Analysis as well. I’ll provide a review of each article’s ethnographic examination of atheists as the week progresses, but for today will focus on the introduction.

The introduction begins on a shaky note, describing atheism as “a way of disengaging from religion.” The editors define atheism as a state of progressive removal from religion, promising a study of “processes of disengagement from religion”, and stating that, “‘being godless’ is an important empirical reality that encompasses processes, aspirations, and practices that purposefully or inadvertently lead to the attenuation of one’s religious life.” Atheism can include the experiences of people who are removing themselves from theist religion, but it can also include the experiences people who are religious in non-theist ways, and the experiences of people who have never been religious at all. Once again, the editors have overlooked a distinction that is key to understanding the cultural perspectives of atheists.

These errors would be expected in an article about atheists from the popular press, which is typically unfriendly to atheists and ignorant about their thoughts and lives. For such clumsy inattention to the cultural distinctions of atheist identity to come from anthropologists, who are supposed to be expert at understanding the intricacies of cultural identities, is profoundly disappointing.

When Blanes and Oustinova-Stjepanovic describe atheists as having “aspirations to move away from one’s religious tradition”, they trap atheists within religious traditions – presumably theist traditions. Their implication is that atheists might aspire to move away from religious traditions, but they actually remain members of those traditions, though perhaps on the margins of them.

The simple fact that the editors don’t seem to grasp is that everyone is born an atheist. No one comes into this world possessing a belief in gods. When we’re born, we don’t even have a belief in dogs. Increasing numbers of atheists are people who simply stay this way, never having any belief in gods at all. They aren’t attenuating a belief in gods, or disengaging from a belief in gods. They never had a belief in gods in the first place.

The editors write that “terminating all religious connections” is an “impossible task”. They seem to believe that membership in religion, and in theist religion especially, is a universal and natural part of being human, and that trying to be atheist is like trying to be hairless. No matter how often we shave away our stubble, it keeps growing out, and Blanes and Oustinova-Stjepanovic expect us to believe that belief in gods is like that, too.

This presumption suggests that the editors of the current issue of Social Analysis haven’t spent enough time out in the field with the people whose culture they claim to be able to describe.

To support their claim that we’re all really steeped in theist religion, and can never get out of it, Blanes and Oustinova-Stjepanovic refer to the example of a young man in Macedonia who was given the inherited social position of a mystical leadership of a Sufi community at birth. No matter how he tries to get away from the social obligations created by his religious entanglements, they say, he just can’t do it.

However, this man isn’t an atheist. He isn’t godless. He’s a theist, and doesn’t want to end his theist beliefs. The editors write, “This shaykh did not renounce religion. On the contrary, he claimed that he was a “staunch believer” in God, angels, and demons as described in the Muslim Holy Book, the Qur’an. The young leader was eager to advertise and sell his services as a spiritual healer to Muslim and Christian clientele, but he was reluctant to reinvest his income into the leaning walls of the lodge and sweep the dirty carpets around the tombs of ancient saints.” Essentially, this young man was a theist through and through, but was simply reluctant to comply with some of the local cultural expectations about what theism entails.

No one who has spent much time with atheists can confuse atheism with the experience of people like the young Sufi. Atheism is not doubt. It is not rebellion within theist social circles. It the state of being outside of theist religion.

Trying to prove their point that no one can ever truly live outside of theism, Blanes and Oustinova-Stjepanovic write, “This impossibility of open defiance is apparent in Louis Frankenthaler’s (pers. comm.) incisive account of how ultra-Orthodox Jewish men gradually negotiate their way out of obligations and regulations imposed on them… Similarly, Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola (2010) have encountered atheist Christian priests, who hesitate to abandon religion completely.”

When I read this paragraph, I actually slapped my forehead in disbelief. Yes, in disbelief. The editors are missing a huge range of human experience when they assert that Christian priests experiencing doubt, Sufis with inherited religious responsibilities, and people born into culturally-insulated ultra-Orthodox communities represent the full scope of rejection of theist religious belief. Some atheists emerge from such backgrounds, it’s true, but many do not.

Any anthropologist who can write the sentence “Muslims of Kyrgyzstan are atheist not because they do not believe in God…” is thoroughly muddled. An atheist is without theism. The definition of an atheist is a person who doesn’t believe in gods. It’s as if Blanes and Oustinova-Stjepanovic are claiming to study Canada by going to Minnesota. They are simply not studying atheists.

These editors are so unfamiliar with atheist cultures that they don’t even have the most basic understanding of atheist vocabulary. They write, “We are reluctant to coin a new term — ‘godlessness’…” without understanding that the term “godlessness” is already in common use. Look – it’s in the Free Dictionary! It’s at Thesaurus.com, and Dictionary.Reference.Com! You can’t coin a term that’s already in wide usage!

It seems as if what Blanes and Oustinova-Stjepanovic want to study are theists who are experiencing some kind of struggle about their theism. That’s fine, of course, but they ought to label their project accurately, instead of pretending to study atheists. Let them call this issue of Social Analysis something like Struggles Within Religion: Conflicted Theist Identities.

If I’m wrong, and Blanes and Oustinova-Stjepanovic really do want to study actual atheists, they should come and talk to us. They should spend a few years in the field, and understand how atheists define themselves. They should acknowledge that we really do exist, and that we are not really just theists with an attitude problem.

They should show a little respect for the subjects of their study, and learn to use our language. That’s what anthropologists are supposed to do.

Jumping at the Conclusion

There is nothing more to this video than a piece of the world around us.  I stopped for a moment yesterday and was amazed at what I found right before my feet.

The world is worthy of our wonder.

Chris Christie for President: The Pros and Cons

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has announced his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination today. By my count, that makes officially a whole buncha Republican presidential candidates so far… to be precise.

What makes Chris Christie different from all the rest? The following are the pros and cons of the Christie for President 2016 campaign;

Pros:
– While Chris Christie opposes many gun control laws, he supports some of them, and admits that having a large number of privately-owned guns in New Jersey has been a problem. “I want to make sure that we don’t have an abundance of guns out there,” Christie has said.
– Chris Christie has at times criticized extreme anti-Muslim activists, saying that it’s wrong to “paint Islam with a brush of radical Muslim extremists that just want to kill Americans because we are Americans.”
sweaty chris christie for president

Cons:
– Chris Christie supports the right of state governments to prohibit same-sex marriage.
– Chris Christie has been working hard to rival Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker in weakening labor unions. Christie has taken the side of corporate executives who are attempting to circumvent workplace safety protections and are trying to keep workers’ wages low.
– Chris Christie is rude. His Republican supporters refer to this personality characteristic as “no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners”, but to the rest of America, when Christie shouts at voters, blusters at reporters, and shouts at other political leaders, he just looks like a bully who isn’t able to exercise any self-control. Do we really want a President who will expand his power with no holds barred? That isn’t the American way. We have a Constitution to put holds on executive authority, and we need a President who understands the value of those limits.
Bridgegate is a huge weight around Chris Christie’s neck. Christie used his power as Governor of New Jersey to make sure commuters trying to get into Manhattan would be blocked from doing so. Christie arranged for lanes on the George Washington Bridge to be closed, and didn’t give any notice in advance to local or federal officials. Christie thought this would be a clever way to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey for neglecting to endorse his re-election campaign. How would you like to see that kind of abusive withdrawal of services used as a political weapon at the federal level?
– Chris Christie vetoed oversight legislation aiming to avoid corruption and waste in spending on recovery efforts after “Superstorm Sandy”.
– Chris Christie is inexperienced in foreign policy. Even Republican cheerleader Warner Todd Huston writes of Christie that “he has no record of thoughtful foreign policy ideas”.
– Chris Christie has a low level of support from his home state. The longer he stays in the Governor’s mansion, the less New Jersey voters approve of the job he’s doing.
– Chris Christie consistently gets basic facts about tax policy wrong. For example, he commonly states that the United States is the only country in the world that taxes corporations twice on money that they earn abroad. In fact, corporations are not taxed twice on these earnings – and often, corporations use shelters and loopholes to completely evade ever paying any taxes for these earnings.
– Chris Christie has vetoed legislation prohibiting the dumping of waste products from hydrofracking into New Jersey waterways.
– Chris Christie’s tax plan would result in big benefits for the corporations and the wealthiest Americans, while forcing middle class and poor families to pay a bigger share of the price of radically-reduced government services.
– Christie’s government gave Prudential a $250 million tax break in return for relocating its headquarters to New Jersey… from another address in New Jersey.
– Chris Christie has not had a record of successful job creation in New Jersey during his time as Governor. New Jersey’s rate of job creation has been less than half that of the national average while Christie has been Governor. With Christie in charge of New Jersey, the state has ranked 49 out of 50 in terms of job growth.
– Climate change has been cited by the Pentagon as the greatest international threat to U.S. national security, but nowhere on his campaign web site does Chris Christie even acknowledge that climate change exists.
– Chris Christie has vetoed legislation that would prohibit on the job discrimination against workers in New Jersey.
– Chris Christie seeks to support big oil corporations by allowing them to export crude oil overseas, a policy that would increase the amount of petroleum being burned while increasing the price of fossil fuels here in the United States. The result: Accelerated climate change, dirty air, and degraded public health.
– Chris Christie cut a special deal with Exxon to help the big oil company to avoid paying a high penalty for pollution in New Jersey.
– Chris Christie aims to increase pork barrel spending on the military and war overseas while reducing the services government provides for American citizens get here at home.
– Chris Christie has vetoed legislation requiring materials used by the New Jersey Department of Public Works to be made in the USA.

Is An Anthropological Study of Atheists Possible?

Over at Social Analysis: The International Journal of Social and Cultural Practice, the editors have recently published an entire issue devoted to the ethnographic study of atheists.

This single issue is intended to “set the agenda for researching the aspirations and practices of godless people who seek to thin out religion in their daily lives. We reflect on why processes of disengagement from religion have not been adequately researched in anthropology.”

Anthropology Journal Social AnalysisActually, Social Analysis is not an open access journal. Its current issues haven’t even been available on JSTOR – a network through which people at libraries can gain electronic access for free – for the last two years. Online, the journal sells its articles one by one at a cost of $33 each, bringing the entire issue of articles about the anthropology of atheism to a total cost of $250. The checkout cart software to enable for a one-year individual subscription to the journal at a lower price isn’t functioning properly. This is not an arrangement likely to set an agenda for anything with much substance.

Nonetheless, I’m determined to read the issue, as I am interested in both cultural studies in general and cultural perceptions of atheists more specifically. So, I’m traveling to an Ivy League university library later today in order to read the darned thing. It looks like I’m allowing the Social Analysis journal to set my agenda, at least for today.

For now, as I have my morning cup of coffee, I want to consider a few of the broader issues that are introduced even by the issue’s abstract-level ideas.

First, the anthropologists writing for Social Analysis seem to have taken on a theism-centric perspective in their studies. In their introduction to the issue, Ruy Llera Blanes and Galina Oustinova-Stjepanovic describe atheists as “people who seek to thin out religion in their daily lives”. In doing so, they confuse religion in general with theism in particular. Not all religion is theistic. More importantly, they presume that atheists start out as theists, with their lives thick with religion that needs thinning out in order to achieve atheism.

Blanes and Oustinova-Stjepanovic further describe atheism as a “reluctance to pursue religion”, as if atheists’ relationship to worship of gods is one of mere hesitancy. This position doesn’t even do adequate justice to many agnostics, who, rather than being indecisive, have chosen a path of determined refusal to commit to any position on a question as inherently unanswerable as whether divine beings have any true existence. Atheists go even further, being divided philosophically into two camps: 1) Positive atheists, who have the belief that no gods exist, and 2) Negative atheists, who lack any belief in gods. Neither atheist position is characterized by reluctance.

For many atheists, their position is strikingly independent. Most atheists don’t belong to formal atheist organizations or even to loose atheist social networks. Even for those who do belong to groups such as American Atheists or the Freedom From Religion Foundation, there are few rules of membership, and no claim of speaking on behalf of all atheists. There is no course of indoctrination and initiation, and no creed to which members in these groups must adhere.

In short, atheists are a disparate group mostly defined by their lack of participation in theistic culture. There isn’t a single atheist culture, but many. Large numbers of atheists are so singular that they don’t belong to any atheist culture at all. They’re on their own.

Given this multiplicity, how is the anthropological study of atheist culture possible? It’s akin to doing an anthropological study of people who don’t have cars. There’s a great deal of difference between a person who doesn’t own a car because of poverty, a person who doesn’t own a car because of environmental idealism, a person who doesn’t own a car because of residence in a dense urban environment, and a person who doesn’t own a car due to physical disability. These people don’t belong to a coherent non-automotive culture, and in the same way, atheists don’t belong to a single non-theist culture.

The academics who contribute to the Being Godless: Ethnographies of Atheism and Non-Religion issue of Social Analysis seem to have have sensed the challenge of the cultural multiplicity of atheists, and some have responded by using the ethnographer’s traditional approach of choosing a small cultural area defined by a limited physical space.

For example, for her article, Ambivalent Atheist Identities: Power and Non-religious Culture in Contemporary Britain, Lois Lee attempted to study people in South East England (easily-accessible from her post at University College London). The people Lee focused on were those who do not identify themselves as “non-theists or atheists”, but who participate in “non-theistic cultural threads” nonetheless. She concludes that such “unmarked” atheist identities “may be simultaneously empowering and disempowering”… suggesting that, on the other hand, these identities may not be simultaneously empowering and disempowering at all. So, just what has Lee really discovered?

Furthermore, is there any particular reason to believe that atheists in South East England are culturally distinctive from atheists in North West England? Might it be that there is a greater diversity of atheist experience within any particular physical locations than there is between atheists in distinct physical locations within a country such as the United Kingdom?

In Atheist Political Cultures in Independent Angola, Ruy Llera Blanes and Abel Paxe limit their study of atheists to Angola, comparing public manifestations of atheist identity in present-day Angola and Angola in the 1970s and 1980s. They conclude, based on this limited study, that “atheism is inherently a politically biased concept, a product of the local histories and intellectual traditions that shape it.” Didn’t Blames and Paxe begin their study with this idea, though? Isn’t that why they restricted their scope of study in the first place? Their conclusion that atheist cultures are locally-determined looks like a tautology, rather than a discovery.

Even focusing their research on Angola, Blanes and Paxe are unable to build a model of a single, coherent Angolan atheist culture. Instead, they refer to plural “cultures” of atheists in Angola. I look forward to learning how these distinct atheist Angolan cultures are different from each other, presuming Blanes and Paxe achieved such depth of ethnographic inquiry.

In her article, Antagonistic Insights: Evolving Soviet Atheist Critiques of Religion and Why They Matter for Anthropology, Sonja Luehrmann doesn’t really conduct an ethnography at all. Instead, she reviews the academic work of Communist atheist sociologists, working in the last years of the Soviet Union to study religion. The subject of her study is thus a particular, extinct variety of atheist academic, culturally disembodied, represented only through their public writings. Her aim seems to be to use the Soviet academics to reflect upon the limits of the relationship between anthropologists and the people they study, rather than to pursue the study of an atheist culture for its own sake.

From what I’ve seen of this special journal issue on the anthropology of atheists, I’m not seeing the ground for building any single agenda for the ethnographic study of atheist cultures. If anything, the authors seem to be moving into a more atomized approach, seeking out coherent atheist cultures in particular times and places, and yet failing to define even those.

However, this is only so much as I have been able to determine through the thick screen created by the limited access to the Social Analysis journal. Later today, I hope I may have some deeper findings to report.

5 Things USA Today Says You Need to Know (and 5 Things that Come a lot Closer to Meeting that Need)

USA Today is back, grinding out its daily “5 things you need to know” article. Here are today’s entries; according to USA Today, apparently I need to know that:

1. “N.Y. escapee is in the hospital”. I don’t need to know this. Even if I lived in New York State, I wouldn’t have needed to know this (and I did just spend a week’s time upstate while the two prison escapees were hiding out). Take a look at a map to see how large the state of New York is, and visit the U.S. Census Bureau to verify that 19.75 million people live in the state. I don’t need to feel danger when the danger is statistically ridiculous.

2. “Greek banks to remain closed”. I give USA Today a little bit of credit for this. As an American, I don’t need to know about the suffering of people in Greece due to the behavior of banking institutions. But although I don’t need to know this piece of news, it probably does my heart and brain good to think about the suffering of people socially unconnected to me.

3. “Supreme Court to issue final rulings of term”. This translates to “there are rulings the Supreme Court hasn’t made yet.” Why do I need to know this? The “news” is inaction, not action, so there’s nothing affecting my life here; the story is one of emptiness, not presence. The Supreme Court is so cloistered that I’m not going to be able to influence the decision of its members, either.

4. “Obama will host Brazil’s president”. That’s nice. I hope they serve cookies at the State Dinner and all, but I’m not invited to participate in or hear the discussions, and neither are you.

5. “Game, set, match! Wimbledon gets underway”. It’s a game with rackets on a lawn.

1 out of 5 articles in USA Today’s list qualifies here, sort of. If a newspaper is going to use the word “need” then it should actually share information that either affects a reader, or that the reader can act upon in some fashion, or both. It’s not hard to come up with 5 pieces of news that affect your life and/or that you can change. Here are my nominations:


1. “Your Representatives are Coming Home Soon. Here’s Where you Can Confront Them.”. In the summer recesses for the U.S. Congress and your state legislature, U.S. and state senators and representatives will be making visits to their home districts. You’ll see notices in your local newspaper of visits that your representatives in governments made to towns near you to listen to constituents. But those notices will largely be in the past tense. That’s because your representatives make appointments with the rich and powerful, who are informed of events, while you are kept out of the loop. But you don’t need to be. Find the websites of your U.S. Senator, U.S. Representative and state legislature here, here and here, respectively. Call your legislators’ offices and ask their staff when they’re coming to your town and how you can attend a meeting. You’d be surprised at how often you’re given the information you need to know and a chance to give a powerful politician a piece of your mind. If they decline to share that information, or if they tell you that there will be no such meetings for the public, on the other hand, now you have a useful piece of news to share in a letter to the editor of your local paper: your representative gave the kiss-off to one of “the little people.”

2. “Planning a Trip to the Nation’s Capital this Summer? Step Off the Fake Trolley and Add Your Voice to the Clamor.” Thousands and thousands of people travel to Washington, DC in the summer for some tourist fun.  This can involve a cheesy megaphone-driven tour on a fake trolley, but it doesn’t need to. Why not add a bit of civic participation to your tourist experience?  Here are three ways you can see DC in action while raising your voice on issues you care about.  Laugh, cheer, scream.  Make the noise a little louder:

3. “It’s Not Just Prisons: Three Quarters of a Million Americans are in Local Lockup.”  When we think of the sky-high U.S. incarceration rate, we mostly think of people languishing in state or federal prisons.  But the Bureau of Justice Statistics recently released statistics showing that on a typical day in 2014, 744,600 Americans were locked up in city and county jails.  If these trends hold for 2015, then if you’re an average American, it’s a good bet that someone you’re acquainted with is going to end up in the local pokey this year, a result of the unusual decision by American politicians to starkly criminalize human behavior.

4. “If You Hate Corporations that Abuse Workers, Stop Buying Gildan Shirts”.  U.S. retailers selling Gildan shirts typically make $6 or more in profit for every single shirt they sell.  But in Haiti, the factory workers who make Gildan shirts are paid $6 a day for their sweat, and as a result are so poor that they can’t afford running water in homes that squeeze an entire family into a single room.

5. “It’s Not Just Gildan: Third World Factories that Make Your Stylish Clothes Endanger Children”.  While sweatshop workers work hard for hardly any pay to stitch together your fashionable clothing, what happens to their children? In a report released last week, the Workers Rights Consortium shares its findings regarding child care provided by Gokaldas, a contractor making clothing for Puma, Adidas, Marks and Spencer, Columbia, Nike, Gap, H&M and Levi’s brands.   WRC concludes in its report that Gokaldas disregards safety laws and thereby endangers children’s lives in the nurseries where workers’ children are placed.

Jill Stein Presidential Campaign Lapses Into Sluggish Communication

In the 2012 presidential election, Green Party candidate Jill Stein wasn’t allowed to participate in the debates, but she made the news anyhow, because she got involved in the strongest liberal political movement of the time. She went to Occupy protests, and even got herself arrested through her participation in them. Stein didn’t win the election, but she was a full participant.

In 2016, Jill Stein is running for the Green Party presidential nomination again, but this time, the tone of her campaign isn’t at all the same. Take a look at the Stein campaign’s recent Twitter feed to get a taste of what she’s been up to:

weak jill stein outreach 2016

Notice when Jill Stein’s last tweets were? Friday June 26 – the day when the Supreme Court of the United States announced its decision that state governments do not have the constitutional right, because of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, to deprive homosexual couples of equal protection under marriage law.

Jill Stein didn’t bother to Tweet about the Supreme Court decision. Likewise, Stein has written nothing about the decision on her campaign’s Facebook page.

On the Jill Stein for President campaign site itself, the most recent piece of “news” is from a remote article, published on Friday’s about Jill Stein’s years-old demand that she be allowed to participate in debates with the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees. There’s nothing at all about the legalization of same-sex marriage throughout the United States.

Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, issued a positive statement about the Supreme Court decision right away, saying, “The Supreme Court has breathed life into the words engraved in the building’s marble pediment: ‘Equal Justice under Law.’ This decision is a victory for same-sex couples across our country as well as all those seeking to live in a nation where every citizen is afforded equal rights… For far too long our justice system has marginalized the gay community… I am very glad the court has finally caught up to the American people.”

Why should anyone become active in a movement to demand that Jill Stein be allowed into the presidential debates, when Jill Stein won’t herself become active in the politics of the country? What’s the point of getting Jill Stein into the debates, when she doesn’t even bother to fully use the opportunities for political speech that are available to her right now?