Tuesday, November 29, 2011

I don't feel well

So here's a picture of my kitty.

Penelope kept me company while I was sick all day. Good kitty. 

Should the Skeptic Community Concern itself with Mental Illness?

If you're not interested in reading today, the short answer is yes. You can also watch JT's speech, "Mental Illness and Why the Skeptic Community Should Give a Shit." It is a very powerful and moving speech, and I do suggest you watch it.

A blog was just put up in response to it. Most responses I've seen are positive, but this was criticized JT's speech. Which is fair, nothing should be immune to criticism. However, sometimes criticisms are just....bad. 

I graduated last year with a degree in Psychology. So big woop, I have a BA in Psychology. In real terms, that means close to nothing. However, as a skeptic myself, and as someone who cares deeply about the cause of mental illness, I feel the need to critique this blog. So, let's start, shall we? The author, Gina, says...

The overall theme I gathered from Eberhard’s speech was that the atheist/skeptic community needs to move on from disproving religious claims and instead needs to help teach to the world that mental illness is not something to dismiss or take lightly.
 "Move on" from religion? At what point did JT say that? Approximately 4 minutes into his speech, JT starts talking about his speech from last year about how he debated Christians. He follows that with, 

"But our movement is evolving. The way we approach things is changing, and to come in here and do a talk on how to defeat a bunch of religious arguments....isn't really something we need anymore. You guys know how to beat the 'first cause' argument, you know how to beat the 'fine tuning' argument. And if you don't, there are people who do it a lot better than me."
So at what point does he say we no longer need to work on disproving religious claims? To me, it seems like he's saying we could work on more than one thing at a time? Woah, dude. Crazy concept.

However, I disagree with JT’s statements that seem to say that SSRI’s are all that are needed for treatment. He said nothing about the importance of therapy.
 When did he say that? He does talk about the importance of SSRI's. They are very important. He also talk about his therapy and going to a therapist. He talks about the need for a social support network. Almost every disease has more than one thing you need to do to treat it (many times a change of diet and exercise, plus medication). 

The reason why JT highlights the need for SSRI's (or any other kind of medication) is because mental illness is a physical disorder. Not in the sense that, "oh, my leg is broken, I can't walk," but in the sense of "There is a chemical imbalance happening in my brain that I cannot control with my thoughts." By downplaying the importance of medication in treating mental illnesses, you are making it seem like a mental illness is the fault of the person who is sick. Just the same that it's the fault of someone who has breast cancer. A person with a mental illness cannot just think it away-- that was the entire point of JT's speech, and you seem to have missed that entirely. Yes, therapy also helps. Yes, a social support network is critical. But you cannot just think away a mental disorder.

One issue I have with this whole thing is the fact that he specifically chose the issue of mental illness. I believe that he chose this because he himself suffers from a mood disorder; it’s what’s on his mind. Maybe he has been shunned in the past by people who didn’t understand that a mood disorder can’t be fixed by simply willing it to be so. I don’t think it’s okay just to pick a topic simply because you believe it should be focused on. What about other issues? What about focusing on uncovering social issues in undeveloped countries? What about focusing on other medical illnesses? I don’t think it’s okay to take on the issue of mental illness simply because someone fairly well-known in the skeptic community believes that the issue should be taken on.
So....what? Well, shame on him for speaking from experience! In that case, PZ shouldn't have talked about science education...I mean, he works with students, he's obviously too close to the issue to see it clearly. And why does he get to decide what topic to give?! I mean, it's just his speech!

 JT gave one speech. Do you expect him to cover EVERY issue in the world? We should also yell at Jen for not talking about poverty in her genetics speech, and Darrell Ray for not talking about global warming in his.

"I don’t think it’s okay for people who are not trained in the treatment of mood disorders to take on this issue just because 25% of the US population (according to JT) suffers from a mood disorder."

According to NIMH, the actual rate (of lifetime prevalence of mental disorders) is 26.2%.  Well, most people in the Skeptic movement also aren't professional biologists; should we stop caring about Intelligent Design in classrooms? Championing people to care about a cause, and educate themselves on it, is not a bad thing, regardless of their "qualifications." JT, at no point, said that we should stop going to mental health professionals and just pretend to be them. He stressed the importance of going to them, in fact. Caring about someone with a mental disorder and knowing the basics about mental health treatment is not getting rid of doctors. 

Also, as a former Psych student, I am greatly upset that you would misquote JT (especially when his entire speech is available online) and say confuse "mood disorders" with "mental illness." According to the DSM, there are many kinds of mental illness, including (but not limited to) mood disorders, anxiety disorders, behavioral disorders, etc. 

I strongly disagree with JT telling the audience that they MUST be there for their family and friends who are suffering from mental illness. You can’t make anyone take on anything. What if they don’t want to take on this issue?
If someone doesn't care enough about other people (1/5 of Americans) to educate themselves on mental illness and treat those people with dignity, then they are an asshole. It doesn't need to be the main focus of their attention, but if they can't take the time to realize, "huh, people with mental disorders are really sick, and they can't just cure themselves in a day," then not only are they a bad skeptic, they are also a jerk.

Gina then continues with some non sequitur about JT's blogging habits, which is really irrelevant to his speech and comes across as a personal attack, so I won't touch that.

Another issue I have is the fact that JT readily believes that it’s okay for people to suffer from mental illness, while it is not okay for people to believe in and follow a religion.
Wow. This comes across horribly. I really hope the author didn't mean it in the way it sounded, because it sounds pretty bad. Yes, JT (and myself) believe it is okay to suffer from a mental disorder. If you don't think it's okay, then you are an asshole. It's not a choice to have a mental disorder. It is a choice to believe in religious dogma. The fact that you even compared those two things is appalling to me.

Well, what about the fact that mental disorders are founded on un-provable beliefs and thoughts? Why not apply the same type of logic to this claim? Just present enough evidence to someone that their thoughts do not accurately represent actual reality, and they should immediately accept the fact that they are a good person and should be happy. Mental illness does bad things to the people suffering from them. Seems fair to expect people suffering mental illness to just disprove its validity, right?

She follows this paragraph with "NO," which is interesting, because she doesn't seem to understand what she's saying. So...you just disproved your own bad argument? 

Mental disorders are not founded on un-provable beliefs and thoughts. They're founded on biological, environmental, and psychological factors.  As someone who is a psychology student, the author of this blog should have known better than to make such a poor argument. Me having an illogical thought (e.g. "There's probably a murderer behind my shower curtain even though all my doors are locked and no one else is inside my house") is completely different from having a mental disorder.

So, in closing, yes, the Skeptic community should concern itself with mental illness.

Monday, November 28, 2011

My thoughts on Gelatogate

Gelatogate, the biggest scandal to rock the atheist world since the last -gate scandal happened. As much as I want everyone to just give it up already, I have my two cents to throw in. (In case you're unfamiliar with it: here's Hemant's take, JT's thoughts, Jen's reaction, Adam's post, and PZ's rant.) Basically, responses range from, "Wow, how good for him to admit he was wrong! Let's reach out in friendship!" to "No, fuck him to the ground."

One person got to sit down with him and interview him. Basically, Andy (the Gelato store owner) said that we need to reach out to others and respect each others' beliefs, not mock them. Some of the firebrands in the movement (namely JT and PZ) feel that this is a ridiculous position to hold and we should still attack him and his business.

The problem with still being angry with this guy is that most people in America think this way. Andy is not special for thinking we shouldn't mock other people's beliefs. He just happens to have done a stupid thing in front of someone with a camera, and then the internet hate machine swarmed upon him. He's kind of like Kim Kardashian, except his sex tape was a sign.

We shouldn't worry about his opinions more than we do everyone else's. Okay?

(By the way, I took some Nyquil a while ago because I'm dealing with Cold #2 already this season, and I had planned to write a lot more and a lot more eloquently, but you know, Nyquil, so if there are horrible grammatical errors or anything like that, I'm sorry. Time for bed.)

(Wow, that seriously took me over an hour to write. I hardly wrote anything. I really need to go to bed now.)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

In Which Sarah Responds to Joy's Comment

So, being a winner on a Saturday night, I'm responding to blog comments. Aww yeah, you jelly? 

Anyway, Joy is a friend of mine from college. She is a very devout Christian, and she also has some serious health issues (we did commiserate over food allergies quite frequently), so I can attest that she is telling the truth as far as her health issues go. 

On my post about Forrest Gump, Joy had this to say:
 I'm going to push back a little because I feel that polite feedback and disagreement is a healthy thing. If you feel i'm being impolite or too pushy say so and I'll back down. 
I firmly believe that G-d does answer prayer. I think he uses police, doctors, ect to answer prayer. Sometimes it might seem easier for him just to swoop down and make things right, but he doesn't. I don't have all the answers, and I'm learning to be okay with that. I guess that's where faith comes in, believing in what we cannot understand. Just over 3 years ago, the doctors told me I was going to die. Blood vessels in my brain were getting ready to explode. They had no answers. There was no surgery they could do, no medicine they could give me. My faith community rallied around me and we prayed. I'm alive today. The doctors have no answer for it. Not every prayer is answered that way, but sometimes they are. Other times, G-d uses people.
Anyway, you are definitely not too pushy, Joy. :) I do appreciate you commenting and opening this discussion.  However, I am going to have to disagree with you. 

To be honest, I think it's kind of sucky for God to not just swoop down and fix things. I mean, what's the point in making this huge creation, and then just totally screwing over large portions of it (e.g. third world countries, people born with diseases, etc.)? That does not seem very loving to me. 

I'm not claiming that I have all the answers. In fact, for everything we find out, it just creates more questions. Does that mean we will never know everything? Not quite. I mean, sure, humanity may die out before we solve everything about the universe (in fact, that's more than likely), but this idea that god has some secret plan for all of us and so we should stop asking questions because it will never be revealed to us...well, I just can't accept that. Why doesn't god want us to know his secret plan? What would be the harm in that? If god just revealed himself to everyone and used his big booming voice to reach everyone (like Voldemort in Harry Potter 7) and said, "Hey yo, I'm real, stop acting like assholes and killing each other, I want you to love each other, okay?" Like...wouldn't that stop all wars? Why doesn't god do that? Oh, because we have free will? But we don't have the knowledge that he does. That seems....not wise. (I am pretending, for the moment, that god is all-loving and doesn't support war and genocide, despite the entire OT.)

I will say, Joy, that I am happy you are alive and that your brain did not explode. But just because doctors didn't know what to do doesn't mean that god is real. For every story like yours, there are literally hundreds (or thousands) of stories where people prayed for god to fix them, and yet they died. Oftentimes in terrible, painful, drawn out ways. 

You also say that god uses people. I know there's that joke/story about the guy standing on the roof of his house when his city is flooded, and like three people in canoes float by and offer him a ride, and he says, "No, god will save me." And then he dies and asks god why he didn't try to save him, and god says, "I did try! I sent three boats by!" That...actually makes me really mad. I do try my best to help people every day. I do it because I think it's the right thing to do, and because I think we should all help people, because society is better for it. The idea that the credit for the good that I (or firefighters, or doctors, or police officers, etc.) do belongs to god is bogus. First, it wrongly implies that people who do good things are exclusively Christian and are guided by god. It also suggests that god is guiding all of our decisions. But wait, I thought we had free will? Christians do not have the monopoly on beneficial actions.

I am glad that you have a community that supports you. But what about the people who pray really hard and don't survive? Did they not pray hard enough? Did not enough people pray? Why did god's plan for them involve pain and suffering and then death? God seems kind of like a jerk, if that's his plan. 

Of course, the response is that he "works in mysterious ways." That's just not a response I can accept.

What are atheists thankful for?

In the spirit of Thanksgiving and giving thanks, the lovely Fellowship of Freethought in Dallas took a video at the recent Skepticon about what atheists are thankful for. If you're curious about what my chipmunk voice sounds like, skip ahead to 1:28. :)

What are you thankful for?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Responding to comments

If there's a way to respond to comments on blogger, I am yet unaware of it. So! I'm going to address my two (!!) comments in another post. (Don't worry, I won't post this much every night....just Saturday nights. When I'm sitting at home. Watching movies on TV. Like a winner.)
Paul Rinzler said...
Allow me to be the first to comment on your blog.
Hey, you've got a blog!
(I was sent her from Daylight Atheism)
Yay! Thanks for being the first commenter...you will always hold a special place in my heart. I do have a blog! Also, many thanks to Adam Lee over at Daylight Atheism for giving my blog its first boost. :) (Plus, Adam is a great guy/writer, so you should really be reading his stuff.) 

Frank Bellamy said...
I'll be the second to comment on your blog.
I love your sarcasm.
Where does the name of your blog come from?
Yay, Frank! I feel so famous, with two whole comments. Anyway, thank you for commenting (and reading, which I feel is implied by commenting). I also love my sarcasm, and I will try to keep it up. You know why? Because I care about your brain, Frank. And recent studies show that sarcasm "appears to stimulate complex thinking and to attenuate the otherwise negative effects of anger." So, really, I'm doing it for you, Frank. I just can't help but be a selfless person.

Anyway, the name of my blog comes from my real name (Sarah), my tendency to rant, and my desire to be a dinosaur. (Or it comes from the suggestion of my friend Jared. Probably because I'm part dinosaur though.)

(Seriously you guys, thanks for reading and commenting. I am downright stoked that people care about what I have to say. :)

Forrest Gump on God

One of my absolute favorite movies is Forrest Gump. I'm watching it with my family right now, because it's an awesome film.

Obviously the film covers lots of themes, like life, death, and god. I think the part that makes me the saddest that lots of people miss is the part where Forrest and Jenny run away from Jenny's abusive father.

Young Jenny: Pray with me, Forrest. Pray with me. Dear God, make me a bird, so I can fly far, far far away from here. Dear God, make me a bird...

Forrest: Mama always said that God is mysteriousHe didn't turn Jenny into a bird that day. Instead, he had the police say that Jenny didn't have to stay in that house no more. She went to live with her grandma, just over on Greekmore Ave. Which made me happy 'cause she was so close. Some nights, Jenny's sneaked out and come on over to my house, just 'cause she said she was scared. Of what? I don't know, but I think it was her grandma's dog. He was a mean dog. Anyway, Jenny and me was best friends all the way up through high school.  [Emphasis mine.]
This makes me so mad, because it's so true. How many abused children pray for a god they're told loves them to give them a safe place to live? Or gay children who try to 'pray away the gay?' Or people with terminal diseases who pray to be healed or take away the pain? And how often does he answer? (hint: never)

And yet, when god fails and a police officer or medical doctor steps in, people thank god.

Here's a link to the clip, if you've never seen it before.

"Why do you atheists feel the need to meet up?"

"What are you going to do, sit around and talk about how much you hate god?"

"I think hanging out with an organization that is defined as non-religious sounds as much fun as hanging out with an organization that defines itself as religious."

"I've hung out with atheists before. I'd rather iron my dick."

Oh, the questions I hear about atheist groups. Even atheists themselves seem to question why other atheists would want to meet up as a group or go to a conference (by the way-- those are actual quotes that people have said to me).

To explain my thoughts on it, I'll give some history. I was raised Catholic and in a really conservative area. As a kid, I loved going to church. The feeling of community and the fact that there's a large group of people care about you and what happens to you, who support you...that was such a good feeling! Then when I started to question my faith and stopped going to church...I lost that community. And it sucked. Especially since my family didn't support me.

So then I went to college (in a really Christian area), and anytime something bad happened to me, or I was struggling with something, I tried to turn to people, but all the responses I got were "Pray, because Jesus will help you," or "God has a plan." That sucked as well. It actually made me feel worse. 

I didn't really have anyone to turn to. So I started an atheist group on my campus, because I didn't know any other atheists on campus, and I figured I had to try.

The response was overwhelming. People came out of the woodwork and said they felt the same way I did, and they just wanted a place where they could feel like everyone didn't hate them for simply believing something different.

I've now been a part of a lot of atheist groups, and I actually see a lot of dissent in ideas and actions people want to do. It's great, because we have fantastic conversations and we're all exposed to new ideas that we may not have considered before. The only time I've seen someone ostracized was when they act like jerks (I've only seen it once, and the guy claimed that because he was a white, heterosexual male, he didn't care about equal rights for any group other than himself, and no amount of talk could convince him otherwise...and he chose to leave, we didn't kick him out).

Why does anyone go to any group ever? Because humans are social creatures and we like being around other people, especially people who agree with us. What bothers me is that people get on the case of atheists (or skeptics, or agnostics, or whatever you title is) for wanting to meet up and/or go to conferences...but no one asks a religious person why they go to church. Like, okay, you believe in Jesus, now what? You sit around and talk about how much you hate atheists?

So, why should you go? 
Some people really need a safe space to be able to say, "Hey, I don't believe in a god." And if you don't need that, perhaps you can provide support for someone who does. Or perhaps you don't challenge yourself very much...trust me, someone will be there to challenge your ideas and make you work to defend them (or change them, which is also good). Most importantly, it will enable you to get active in the movement. Whether you're a firebrand who thinks we need to destroy religion or a diplomat who wants to coexist, we need to be out and active. 

If you've never been to a secular-type meetup before, I do suggest that you try it. It is a great way to be introduced to new ideas, or to get recommendations of things to watch/read, or just to have a safe place where no one is going to tell you that something is wrong with you because you didn't pray hard enough. :)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

So, who is this chick?

Alright, so you've happened on my blog. Probably because I bothered you on Twitter about it. Good job, you've made the right choice so far. Read carefully, there will be a quiz at the end.

Anyway, you may be wondering who I am, so I feel an introduction is due. So, my story, in abbreviated version (some parts will be expanded upon in future blog entries). 

I grew up just outside Milwaukee, WI and attended Catholic school for about 10 years. I was, for lack of a better term, a Super Catholic (TM). If they gave awards for being Catholic, I would have won. Yadda yadda yadda, in college I became an atheist (like I said, certain parts deserve their own entry, and so I will not go into much detail now). 

Of course, since I was mostly Christian when I was picking out colleges, I chose to attend an ultra-mega-extremist Christian college. Hey, they were friendly on my campus visit. I was generally fine with the outrageous Christian hegemony at the college (aside from a few annoying run-ins), until my senior year when I decided to start an atheist student group (this will be another entry of its own).

Basically, I started a Secular Student Alliance at my college and was then harassed for a year straight. It was awesome (for those of you who don't know me very well: that was sarcasm. I do that a lot. Don't worry, you'll catch on quickly.). 

It was pretty awful, if I'm being completely honest. Fortunately I had some good friends and support, and even more fortunately, I graduated! So in May of 2011, I was released out in the Real World, which was simultaneously awesome and horrible. After about two months of job searching, I applied for (and got!) a job working for the Secular Student Alliance (I'm going to talk about the SSA a lot, because it's an awesome organization, and you should support it. Go do that. I'll wait. *Twiddles thumbs* Done? Okay, cool.) 

So, I bought a car, packed up my life (and new kitten), and shipped off to Ohio. After just a few weeks, I was sent off to tour with Richard Dawkins with his new book, The Magic of Reality.

So, after a few weeks of travelling with my bff Richard, I came back to Columbus, and now here I am. Well, okay, technically I'm in Milwaukee visiting my family. Why don't you just pick apart everything I say?

And that's my life. If you have questions, leave me a comment! Or if you just liked (or hated) my blog, or me, or my face, leave me a comment as well. I'm new to this whole blogging thing so I hope I'm doing an okay job. If not, I'm sure you'll leave me a nasty comment telling me to die or get fucked or something, and those will be lovely to read as well.

Hope you all had a good Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What is this I don't even

So you know how the internet is filled with assholes who think their thoughts and opinions are just so good that they need to tell everyone?

Well, I've now joined those ranks of people. I'd like to think my opinions matter because I'm a professional atheist, but we'll see.

More to come, probably once I get out of the airport.