How to Make Atheism Less Awful in 2014
Atheism never meant much to me growing up. The first time I ever used the word was while filling out some school form, wondering whether I should put “Church of England” when I didn’t actually believe in God. My mom, without trying to push me in any particular direction, explained that “atheist” was the option that meant not believing in a god, and so at the flick of a biro I became one of those, and didn’t think much more of it for at least another decade or so.
Then 9/11 happened, at the start of my second year in college. The horror triggered a wave of condemnation of religion, leading to the rise of “New Atheism.” As much publishing phenomenon as political movement, the next few years would see high-profile bestsellers by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett among others (though it was these four men who became popularly known as the Four Horsemen of the Non-Apocalypse). With the long-term demographic shift away from religion, and public revulsion over the sort of faith-based extremism that led to terrorism, it felt like we’d reached a turning point in the never-ending battle for sanity.
Inevitably, though, things began to fray at the seams. Harris blundered into controversy over his apparent support for racial profiling; Hitchens passed away; and Dawkins joined Twitter, beginning an infuriating, endless cycle of controversy and bewilderment. Hordes of New Atheist fans began popping up on the internet and it turned out that a lot of them were angry pricks. Different fronts and factions emerged, each with their own ideas about what capital-A Atheism should mean and stand for. New Atheism has matured, and for some that means learning to hate each other in imaginative new ways.
At the start of 2014 there are four broad—and overlapping—schisms in atheism, which can be summed up as: Dicks vs. Cowards, Islamophobes vs. More Cowards, Misogynists vs. Feminists, and Americans vs. Europeans. We could also count Richard Dawkins’ Twitter Account vs. the Collective Sanity of the Internet, but that sort of falls under “all of the above.”
The Mormon Church No Longer Believes That Dark Skin Is a Punishment from God
In an article released this month by the Church of Latter-day Saints, leaders and historians are cited in what is meant to be an explicit disapproval of past racially restrictive policies. Yet an actual read of the article is disappointing.
A Holiday Gift Guide for Bigots
It’s Christmas time. And just because you’re a piece of shit with repellant views doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get to enjoy the season too. Below are our pick of gifts available from organizations designated as “hate groups” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Perfect for zealots of any ideology.
Clockwise from top left:
"White Pride World Wide" Hand Towel ($12.75 - via)
Who does your money go to support? - Aryan Wear
Who are they? - Online store selling merchandise geared towards white supermacists.
Sarah Palin Bobblehead ($16.97 - via)
Who does your money go to support? - World Net Daily
Who are they? - Super-conservative online publication with an anti-gay agenda. Also big fans of the Obama “birther” stuff.
"THIS IS AMERICA WHY MUST WE PRESS 1 TO PROCEED IN ENGLISH" Dog T-Shirt ($22.99 - via)
Who does your money go to support? - Casa D’ice
Who are they? - Restaurant in Pennsylvania, famous for the sign in their parking lot which displays messages like “It’s time to bomb the hell out of Iraq, make it a giant litter box, take damn oil, bring our soldiers home, and out source the war.”
Corsicans Are Using Bombs to Protest Their Island Paradise
If you’ve never been to Corsica, you really should. The island, which lies just off the Italian coast, is one of the most beautiful places in the world; it’s covered in snowy mountains, picturesque little towns, and luxurious golden beaches. In certain months, you can ski in the morning and sunbathe in the afternoon; it really is paradise (if combining sunburn and heavy nylon jackets is your idea of paradise). However, perhaps its strongest sell is that it is, officially, the murder capital of Europe.
Last year, I went to Corsica to explore the island’s historical predilection for violence. A week before I touched down in Napoleon Bonaparte airport, two prominent Corsicans—a lawyer named Antoine Sollacaro and Jacques Nasser, head of the chamber of commerce—had been shot dead. I was there to try to figure out who did it (and to make a film about trying to figure out who did it). Murder isn’t shocking in Corsica; there have been more than 110 murders since 2008, the majority of them Mafia-style hits. “At the beginning of the week, we think, It’s strange; we haven’t had a killing yet," Gilles Millet, a local journalist, told me. "This society is soaked in death. You call someone to do something and they say, ‘I can’t. I have a funeral to go to.’ Death is part of [daily] life here."
I asked Gilles who he thought was responsible for the deaths of Sollacaro and Nasser. “Normally everyone knows who’s done the killings, but with Sollacaro and Nasser, we don’t know,” he answered. “Despite everybody usually knowing who did it, there have only been four prosecutions since 2008—out of more than 110 murders. There’s a culture of silence here. Nobody talks, partly out of fear, partly because it’s just not the done thing.”
The Hateful History of Blamegiving Day, the Most Bitter, Godless Holiday of All Time
As long as there have been atheists, there’ve been angry atheists. Anyone who’s ever visitedReddit’s atheism section or one of the countless other godless forums floating around the internet has experienced the fire-and-brimstone smugness of pissed-off nonbelievers, but atheists from earlier eras were just as furious, and just as bitchy. Case in point: the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism (4A), a particularly ill-tempered organization founded in 1925 by activist Charles Lee Smith.
Then, as now, the advancement of atheism was assumed to involve the downfall of Christianity, and Smith was practically a parody of a strident anti-Christian. He was born in Arkansas and considered a career in the ministry until he abandoned his faith, after which he spent years harassing religious folk in his home state. In 1928, while the legislature was considering an antievolution law, he came to Little Rock and handed out literature telling people Darwin’s theory was the truth and God was a lie until he was arrested for blasphemy, which was still a crime back then. (According to The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief, his conviction was overturned after years of appeals.)
Under Smith’s leadership, the 4A organized young unbelievers throughout the country while adopting causes that would be familiar today, like removing the “In God We Trust” from currency and revoking the tax-exempt status of religious institutions—demands to secularize government that echoed the “Nine Demands of Liberalism” written by 19th-century atheists. Smith also spent time sparring in public debates with Christians over the question of whether God exists, an activity that’s still popular among contemporary celebrity atheists.
Things Spike Lee Hates: Racists, Guns, and Racists with Guns
Amidst all the fanfare around Lee Daniels’ The Butler, 12 Years a Slave, and the talk of 2013 being a landmark year for black filmmaking, the biggest name in modern black independent cinema, Spike Lee, drops another joint on the moviegoing public. Oldboy, an English-language remake of the 2003 South Korean film directed by Park Chan-wook comes out on November 27th. The film is as violent and dark as it should be, considering the source material, but it also contains plenty of signature Spike Lee touches, in particular, his penchant for including commentary on modern racial politics and gun violence.
We met in Hollywood last week to talk about the film, and all the hype about the year in black cinema. As you can see from the above photo, we did a lot of laughing.
VICE: I wanted to say that I really appreciated that you used two actors from The Wire in the movie [James Ransone and Lance Reddick]. I’m sure I’m not the only one who plays that “Spot the Wire actor” game when they see movie. Was that on purpose or was that just kind of like, you just cast who you like?
Spike Lee: The Wire had great actors. And I like to work with great actors. And I loved the show, David Simon’s a giant. And they were available.
What really attracted you to Oldboy as a project? It seems like a tough project to take on, first of all, it’s a remake—
Malcolm X wasn’t tough?
I mean, of course that’s tough.
I don’t run away from tough.
But what attracted you to it specifically? What was there in the original in the script that you got that made you really want to do this project?
I wanted to work with Josh Brolin, and I’d never done a reinterpretation before so those were the two things. We wanted to work together.
Calling Me a Terrorist Is Not Flirting
Karaoke night used to be my jam. Back in the day, my best friend and I used go to the only bar in my small hometown in the San Francisco Bay Area and watch the regulars slur along to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “The First Cut Is the Deepest.” One night, after hours of watching an older man named Victor sway and scream into a microphone, we went next door to a late night diner to decompress over grilled cheese. We had just started eating our food when two guys in cowboy hats came over to talk to us. They had a Southern twang, but insisted they were Californians. Thirty seconds into the conversation and I was already over it.
The quieter one started chatting with me and asked where I was originally from. I said Iraq—my parents were born in Baghdad and left in the 70s when things with the Ba’ath Party got really shitty. With his drawl, he said he was an Iraq War veteran and that he saw “so much shit” over there. “I’m sure you did,” I said to him. I wasn’t sure if this was an effort to bond with me, but whatever. Even though I made it clear that I wasn’t interested, he kept going. “You know, when I was in Iraq, the women weren’t attractive at all. That’s why I’m so surprised by you. You’re pretty.”
Why Are People Surprised by Racist Halloween Costumes?
Welcome to a special Halloween edition of This Week in Racism. I’ll be ranking Halloween costumes on a scale of 1 to RACIST, with “1” being the least racist and “RACIST” being the most racist.
-This might come as a major shock to you, but wearing racially insensitive Halloween costumes is pretty popular. Blogs got their digital panties in a twist in 2012, 2011, 2010,2009, and pretty much every year that the internet has existed as a perpetual outrage machine. Halloween is like Christmas for racists, because it’s an easy way to cloak bigotry in the guise of fun.
It should be no surprise, then that Julianne Hough’s foray into the darker side of the holiday (pun very much intended) generated a ton of attention this week for her choice of costume. Bloggers slammed her for insensitivity, and friends came out in support of her choice to dress up like an African-American character from Orange is the New Black. I don’t imagine she’s a hateful person, nor do I think she was out to offend. That said, as a celebrity (even a reality star) who happens to be white, it’s definitely not wise to step out in public with a bunch of brown paint on your face… unless you’re going as a delicious piece of semi-sweet baking chocolate, which is such a great idea. Seriously, you can have that for free. 5
Two protesters outside last weekend’s white nationalist summit in Washington DC’s Ronald Reagan building, being ironic.
Some Well-Dressed White Nationalists Got Together in DC Last Weekend
The worst part about going to a white nationalist conference is when everyone thinks you’re a white nationalist.
As I approached the Ronald Reagan Building in downtown Washington, DC, on Saturday morning, a group of protesters started jeering at me, and one hoisted a cardboard sign in my direction that read: “Fuck off, Nazis!” Then I had to pass through a metal detector and security checkpoint manned by several black policemen.
Hey guys, boy am I excited to cover this event, I wanted to say. Because I am covering this event, as a journalist, certainly not because I’m a crypto-fascist.
The event in question was the National Policy Institute’s “leadership conference,” titled “After the Fall: The Future of Identity.” It’s a boring name that, like a lot of vague monikers used by political entities, conceals an alarming agenda.
The National Policy Institute is a white nationalist think tank. These aren’t Breaking Bad Nazis or yokels in KKK robes. These are suit-and-tie white separatists—academic-sounding fellows who speak grimly about “preserving European culture” from the swarthy tide of egalitarianism and immigration. Their leader, Richard Spencer, is as clean-cut as they come, which, as he told Salon, is essentially a recruitment tactic:
“’[White separatists] have to look good,’ Spencer said, adding that if his movement means ‘being part of something that is crazed or ugly or vicious or just stupid, no one is going to want to be a part of it.’”
The assumption is that if they dress nice, people will follow Spencer and his fellow travelers on their road to a white ethno-state where pasty people can listen to Jack Johnson records and play Frisbee in glorious racial homogeneity.