To buy or not to buy religious bread.

One of the things that I try to watch when getting food is my sodium intake. I never realized until just a year or so ago that I was consuming far more than I should have been, so I’ve been cutting it down. One thing that really helped was that Trader Joe’s carried a sodium-free bread that I bought every week for my sandwiches. Unfortunately, I say “carried” because they haven’t stocked it the last few times I’ve gone grocery-shopping, and I fear that it could be discontinued. Even more unfortunately, I got a gift card for a different grocery store for Christmas—a store I don’t even like walking into, let alone shop from.

But I went in this week in order to use up that card. I wasn’t used to the hundred or so different varieties of bread they had on display, so I picked one that looked like it might be good and it had one of the lower sodium counts. Even so, I asked the woman stocking the bread aisle if they had anything that was sodium-free. She brought me over to the freezer nearby and pointed out their one type of bread that didn’t have any sodium in it.

I ended up not getting it, and probably not for the best of reasons. The bread was part of a product line from presumably a religious company who put biblical scripture all over the packaging. As an anti-theist I didn’t want to support them financially, just like as an ethical vegetarian I won’t buy meat products. But is it really the same? I would feel uncomfortable with something like that in my fridge but couldn’t I get over it, knowing that I bought it for health reasons? For that matter, how do I know that the people who made it do anything else I object to aside from putting scripture on their products?

I ultimately chose against it for that reason, although I should point out that I also didn’t want to buy my bread frozen. I normally refrigerate my bread, not freeze it. I didn’t want to get into new habits for storing my food. But I also would have felt weird for buying it. I obviously feel weird for not buying it, too as I ended up writing a blog post about it. (That, and I was apparently too lazy to come up with anything interesting to write about today aside from grocery shopping.) It would have been the only time I would have bought it, as next week I’m going right back to my usual store. But it is something worth giving at least a passing thought to.

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Should I bother finding a religious song offensive? #religion #atheism

As an atheist, should I be offended by religious lyrics? I’m not so sure that I am as a rule. However, there’s one song that keeps playing on the music system at work every day that has a strong religious bent, and I get highly agitated every time I hear it. The song is “From a Distance” and I’m not sure which version they play. I could find out as the music system is controlled from my office but it only seems to play when I’m out on the sales floor. That’s also why I don’t change the channel every time the song comes on.

Should I bother, though? I hate it whenever somebody changes the station mid-song just because they don’t like what’s playing, even if I’m in agreement with them. There’s just something jarring when a song is interrupted. At some level my brain has gotten into it. But then again, whenever this happens the song is changed only because of musical taste, and it’s only one or two people that do it anyway. I do think the song is annoying and horrible aside from the offensive words, but I can’t justify to myself changing it for that reason.

I go back to my original question: should I bother getting offended in the first place? Religion offends me, sure. Preaching religion certainly offends me. The fact that somebody believes so strongly that they would write inspirational lyrics saddens me. So, would this song affect me more on the preaching side of the scale, or the inspirational side? Or perhaps it’s not a scale at all.

The main refrain in the song is “God is watching us/From a distance.” Considering there’s security cameras everywhere I could take this to be a metaphor, but I’m going to give the company the benefit of the doubt and believe that they only play it because it’s a popular song. Besides, I don’t think the company that owns the store programs the music—that’s more likely done by a third party. So as it is, I don’t hold anybody playing the song responsible. And I can hardly justify taking out my rage on Julie Gold, the songwriter. So if no person is offending me, can I really worry about a song?

I could just take a more straight-forward, though less thought out, approach. I could just say that because this song bothers me every time that it’s on, and it has for a long time, I can justify changing it. On top of that, I don’t think anybody would really even notice or care. And it’s not like I’m preaching atheism to the rest of the store. I just don’t like a bad pop song preaching at me.

Okay, here’s a middle ground: when I’m in the office and the song comes on, I’ll change it. If I’m not in the office and the song comes on, I won’t bother rushing back to change it. But that won’t stop me from grumbling about it.

Thoughts on the Kim Davis coverage. #kimdavis

I suppose the obvious topic for me to write about these days would be the whole affair surrounding Kim Davis. That’s precisely why I haven’t felt the desire to write about it. It’s too obvious. I keep feeling that by this point nobody should need me to spell out how I would feel about such nonsense: she broke the law and even if she didn’t deserve legal repercussions she certainly shouldn’t be allowed to keep her job. Apparently she’s going back to work despite the fact that she’s publicly saying she still won’t issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. Religious freedom is the freedom to practice your religion, not take away the freedom from somebody who doesn’t share the same beliefs as you. Besides all of that, her beliefs are just plain wrong.

There, I got my opinions about it out of the way. So why keep going on about it? That’s precisely my problem. People keep on giving this one morally corrupt government clerk far more publicity than she deserves. Yes, she did wrong and will continue to do wrong. Yes, this is an important story after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage. This country still has these conservative hurdles to jump over. But there’s a fine line between choosing a news story to represent the next step in the overall narrative and focusing on one person too much.

To write about her is to indirectly write about the people who have not gotten marriage licenses because of archaic views. Why not also write about the same-sex couples who are getting married? Okay, we acknowledge that there is still wrong going on in the world. But what about the positive, progressive news? Then we can see that not all is lost. By focusing too much on the views of the religious nuts we’re giving those views too much exposure. I’ve been leaning towards Richard Dawkin’s arguments that by debating Creationists we’re giving too much air time to their bad ideas. Perhaps we’re doing the same by giving Davis too much news coverage

This is all aside from my previously mentioned views that the only reason that I don’t believe in marriage at all; if we’re going to allow any marriage we should include those that include gay and lesbian couples. I only agree with marriage when it’s done with its original intent—as a means to control heritage. To that end I couldn’t care less what kind of romance, if any, is involved. As the law can’t recognize religion in any of its other aspects, marriage shouldn’t also be touched by religion.

I suppose if I keep going on I’ll be just as guilty of what I’m complaining about as anybody else. I can hide behind the fact that my little blog isn’t nearly as widely read as the mainstream news organizations. But if I can get any idea out there and circulating, it would be this: let’s focus more on the positive aspects of the recent Supreme Court ruling, and less on the bigotry. We shouldn’t ignore it, of course. But by showing the positive, hopefully we’ll generate more of the positive.

Atheist blogging. #Bangladesh #atheism #writing #blogging

As I was trying to think of a topic for today’s blog post, I decided to search Yahoo!’s news section with the word “atheist.” I figured I haven’t written on that subject for a while. Then I saw a whole set of links to news stories covering atheist bloggers from Bangladesh who were killed recently. I have to say that wasn’t encouraging. I don’t fear for my life around here, aside from which this blog isn’t that widely read (although, again, I don’t always believe WordPress’ stats). Nonetheless, it seems like out of any subject that I write or even talk about, no matter how lightly, my atheism gets more reaction from people than anything else.

I find this odd considering that I’m not promoting atheism. I’m only expressing my own views. I look at religion in disdain but know I can do very little about it, so I take a non-interventionist stance. In other words, don’t preach to me and I won’t preach to you. I would like to say that I don’t care what others believe as long as they don’t try to get me to believe it to but I can’t honestly say that. Still, I just don’t have the time or energy to change others, so I try to limit myself to expressing what my views are. If that gets somebody else to think, then that’s great. If not, then I’ll live with that.

Still, just saying that I have these views, without even going into what they are, tends to rile up some people. They behave as if they’re under attack. Then they start to debate with me, as if I didn’t have anything better to do. Sometimes they won’t debate me or take a defensive stance, but still act really offended, giving me looks like “How dare you not believe the same thing I do?” I need to figure out a look that says “Because I wasn’t brainwashed into believing what you do.”

But hey, like I said, at least I don’t fear for my life. Even if there was the possibility of extremists coming around here killing those they worried would spread a different point of view, mine isn’t spreading very far. Even if this one post gets a lot of reads, I’m willing to bet that the majority of people that read it either know me or have similar points of view in the first place.

Nonetheless, if I don’t worry for myself I worry for the others out there. I don’t just take issue with atheists that are killed for their (non)beliefs, but anybody that is in danger for their point of view. I may find Christianity offensive, but I would never consider killing a Christian—or a Muslim, or a Jew, or a Hindu… and so on. I might get the urge to punch a Mormon if one stops me in the street but I would never act on it. (Alright, if they gave me a setup for a witty insult, and I’m in the mood, I admit I might go that far.)

So please, don’t take this as a dare to come after me. You’ll notice that I didn’t even get into any real discussion of beliefs throughout this post. I also didn’t get into a massive diatribe about the freedom of speech—I have a lot to think about before I get into that one. But it is worth noting that killing somebody that criticized your bad ideas only makes you look worse. The best thing to do is to let the blogger keep blogging. Are they really hurting your recruitment campaign? If somebody was contemplating joining an extremist group, do you really thing somebody’s two-bit blog would sway them in any way?

Some thoughts on changing my name. #name #identity

I’ve been thinking about changing my name. I’m tired of “Michael David.” Not only is that one of the most boring and common names one could have I just don’t think it really suits me. Most importantly, they’re both religious names. Teachings about the Archangel Michael vary, but from what I gather he’s known as a leader of angels, at one point fighting Satan. Personally, I’d rather promote Satanism (of the LaVeyan variety, that is) than any of the Abrahamic religions. Considering how public I am about my atheism, it doesn’t seem right that I carry that name. That holds for both this blog as well as releasing music under the Shadows of Immurement band name.

The same goes for “David,” although with that name I have the additional issue of not really using it to start with. There doesn’t seem to be any point in hanging onto it.

So if I’m only concerned with my name in regards to things that I release to the public, why do I not adopt a pseudonym? Why bother with the process of legally changing my name, which would affect everything? The thought has crossed my mind. When I was a kid making homemade recordings with other musician friends I have toyed around with “stage” names, despite not releasing anything to the public.

Once I started blogging, however, I went ahead and used my real name. At this point for me to use a pseudonym would be pointless. It wouldn’t mask my identity, if that’s what I wanted, nor would anybody seriously use it. At this point I would have to legally change my name in regards to everything to ensure that people will use it.

Speaking about taking me seriously, that’s the main reason that I would probably keep my last name. I wouldn’t use it in public. I would only use it on legal documents. I don’t know, it would just feel more “official” that way. I’m not interested in heritage so much, especially as I’m not going to have children. I do know that it would probably offend relatives, so I would make that compromise. Besides, whereas the first two names bother me with their religious origins, the older English version of “Marsh Town” doesn’t offend me at all. It’s quite boring, but inoffensive.

How do I choose a new name? I don’t want to use pre-existing names or words. The whole point is that I don’t want to connect myself with something else. I want to make up a new word that might suit me. How would I do that? Even if I decided om something, my taste changes all the time. Should I keep changing my name as well? Is there anybody out there that can specialize in putting together sounds that would suit me? I suppose I could track down a Star Trek writer or two. They seem good at that.

In spite of all of this I still have the position that I don’t really place that much emphasis on names. As I have said before, I am not “Michael David Marston.” My name is. I am separate from the label I use to go about society. I don’t think about my name when it comes to my identity. One could make such an argument for the family name, but I’ve already discussed that. So by the end of the day I’m probably not going to bother with any of this because I can’t bring myself to care that much. But it’s something I often think about.

The family getting together for Easter. #easter #atheism

I don’t have a lot of time to write blog posts today. I’m heading out soon to my father’s place. Easter is another holiday that everybody gets together, regardless of whether they believe in the holiday or not. I’m not going to get into a whole diatribe about Easter itself. I’ve resigned myself to going to these family get-togethers as long as nobody gets preachy, which is quite rare, anyway. The truth is that I never really understood what the Christian holiday is supposed to be about, nor do I know what the pagan holiday that it’s stolen from dictates, either. When I was a kid and believed in what Christian ideas were presented to me—which weren’t very much—I still had no idea about the Resurrection or any of that. Easter purely meant painting eggs, plastic eggs hidden around the house with candy in them followed by a basket with cheap toys, and the family eating ham together.

I don’t get the egg hunt or the basket of toys anymore. The ham that my sister and I eat now is fake as well. Still, we all get together despite the fact that we don’t believe in the same thing. Like any other holiday such as Christmas or Thanksgiving, Easter is simply an excuse to get everybody together for a meal. Why we need an excuse, I’m never quite sure. Three of the people who will be present live on the same street while the other two live together and less than ten minutes away from everybody else. Two of the people are retired. It wouldn’t be difficult for us all to have a meal together once in a while. Why we need the excuse for a big meal, I don’t understand.

Yet at the same time I never bring that up with everybody. I do have a busy schedule and wouldn’t always be able to make a cookout if my father says something two days beforehand. The few times that I did have to cancel, such as when I was in Norway during Easter in 2006, the family didn’t get together. Instead, they postponed the meal until a week when everybody can show up.

But, this is the way things have been as long as I can remember and I can’t see anything changing. I’m not trying to negate the family getting together on holidays. I just don’t understand why it can’t be any other time. Sure, we sometimes eat together in smaller groups. My sister, brother-in-law and I have gone out for dinner a few times and my father and his girlfriend go out all the time as well. Maybe there’s just something about holidays that act as a safety net. We know that we’re all going to be available on those days, so we just assume that that’s when we’ll have that big meal.

Likewise, because we know we have those guaranteed meals together, we feel free to make plans throughout the rest of the year. This does make sense, and as I tend to be a loner (which, by the way, I’ve come to accept more than the term “anti-social”) it fits in with my style nicely. Besides, I’ll take free food whenever I can.

Dating a religious person. #religion #atheism #dating

Earlier today I ran into a woman who I haven’t seen in a few years at work. I found her more attractive than I remember, and the “what if” scenario ran across my head of asking her out. I should say that while I’m open to the idea I’m not actively seeking a romantic relationship with somebody. But that doesn’t exclude such stray thoughts coming across from time to time. Anyway, as I started thinking about it I remembered in her personal information on her Facebook page that she’s Muslim.

Now I should emphasize before I go any further that I am well aware that the following line of questioning in the next paragraph is bullshit. My whole point is that I find it interesting that it appears at all, and what does that fact say about my own biases or that of the culture that I live in. So before I go any further I’ll provide the answer that no, I wouldn’t avoid dating a Muslim based on the following grounds.

Would, I, an outspoken atheist who blogs about such topics (alright, well, I used to on a more regular basis than I do now), date somebody who practices a religion that has such a bad reputation, at least in this part of the world? Never mind the issue of dating a religious person at all (which I’ll get to, hopefully more intelligently, in a moment). Never mind the point that it may not interfere with how we might get along. Wouldn’t it be a bad public relations move?

Yup, I told you it was bullshit. Mind you, while all of this went through my head she left the store already. So by the time I realized how stupid those thoughts were, I didn’t even have time to decide if I would ask her out, anyway. If I had, I would have to face what really is the more important question: would she be interested in me?

This does raise a larger issue of dating somebody who has differing religious views than my own. I know this isn’t a new issue as far as humanity is concerned, but it’s something I apparently haven’t resolved for myself. Even though I just said I’m not actively dating right now, I’m still addicted to browsing dating websites. But if I’m not planning on connecting with somebody, why am I still filtering my search strings by only looking for fellow atheists or agnostics?

It could be that I’m subconsciously still interested in meeting somebody after all. But even so, why would I still filter out that one field? The truth is that if I were to become involved with somebody I would be open to her being religious, as long as she doesn’t try to push her beliefs on me. That leads me to what really is the larger question here. It’s not “would I date her” but “would we date each other?” In other words, I’m afraid of things not working out based on that one point alone. I also filter my searches by the field “doesn’t want kids,” but that seems more valid. I’m not budging on that one.

So, should I budge on the religious issue? I know that I wouldn’t try to convince a girlfriend* to become an atheist any more than I should expect her to try to convert me to whatever she believes. Then I shouldn’t worry about it. Still, if I think what she thinks on a fundamental level is wrong, then it could be hard to not interpret anything she says as an extension of that.

I could also be reading too much into this—yes, I know, me of all people—and say that I would be more willing to date an atheist for the same reason I would be interested in a woman who rides a motorcycle, plays a musical instrument and reads voraciously. In other words, I lean towards dating a like-minded person who has similar interests. But it might make things more interesting if I ignored that idea and mixed things up a little.

Like I said, though, I’m not really looking right now… aren’t I?

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*I know that “girlfriend” isn’t a fashionable term, especially if I date somebody in my age group, but I hate the term “partner.” It sounds too much like a business arrangement.