Queer and Queerer Ep. 6 – Atheism 101 ft. Marvin Bloom

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Guest star Marvin Bloom joins Zack and Peterson this week for a conversation about religion. As a gay Jew-for-Jesus from Long Island (who makes Sarah Palin look like a mainline Presbyterian), Marvin has many questions for Zack about his atheism, and you get to listen in to the hilarity that ensues! At one point, someone IMs Zack, which is exactly what you should do if you have your own questions about atheism or ideas for the podcast! This “Atheism 101” podcast explores intersections between religion and sexuality, but by no means offers definitive answers to any of life’s questions. We invite you to join the conversation by commenting on the posts or engaging in discussion on the Facebook page!

The Queer and Queerer Podcast!

Listen to this week's episode:  

(Please click here to listen on iPad/iPhone or download.) | Open Player in New Window

Here’s some more information about what we talked about this week:

» Read Zack’s recent post about coming out as an atheist.

» Learn more about Russell’s Teapot.

» Check out the Transponder podcast, featuring Moments with Marvin.

» Marvin Bloom’s YouTube Channel.

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There are 15 Comments to "Queer and Queerer Ep. 6 – Atheism 101 ft. Marvin Bloom"

  • Shirley says:

    Hi Zack
    I loved this episode of Queer And Queerer. To me it was much more interesting and entertaining than The God Delusion 🙂 So I have a couple of wee questions for ye.
    Apologies if you already answered these in the podcast and also if I’ve managed to get the wrong end of the stick. That happens sometimes…
    I found it interesting when you were talking about the LG (no T yet) organisation that were having dialogue with spiritual or Christian organisations but not atheists. You seemed to feel that were was no parity of esteem given to the atheists among you. I found that interesting because I have always thought of atheism as a lack-of-theism, a disinterest in religion, a  removal of oneself from the conversation of religion, rather than affirming anything or believing in something. I suppose my question is, what then does an atheist believe? (as opposed to what does an atheist not-believe). Do you see what I’m getting at?
    Later in the discussion with Marvin you said that you felt religion was dangerous because if people are allowed to affirm a belief in an invisible god or an idea (eg. that being gay is immoral) then it gives credit to the idea that it’s fine to believe any old thing. But that seemed to me to be a bit at odds with the idea that there are a body of atheists that all ‘believe’ a similar thing (whatever that might be). I would guess that an atheist might say that they are pro-scientific methods of analysis, pro-evidence and that kind of thing, but so am I (am not an atheist) and where I might also hold a belief in ‘spirituality’ (or whatever you want to call it. that probably bears more discussion by itself) it seems like the difference between me and an atheists might be that the atheist lacks this ‘extra’ belief. I hope you can see what I’m failing to adequately express. You seem to be against groups which have a list of beliefs, but how then could there exist an atheist group which that LG (no T yet) organisation engage with?
    Thanks for the podcast, it was really great and helpful to see things from a different angle.
    I don’t usually get involved with discussions about religion but after listening to your podcast it felt a bit safe to open this one up. I really appreciate that. I would share most of what I think with most atheists and I wonder sometimes if how I differ from some who would call themselves atheist is just a matter of semantics. But possibly not.

  • ZackFord says:

    Hi Shirley! I will try to address each of your questions!

    Firstly, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, while by name may seem exclusive, does amazing work that includes the T, and the T is very present at its annual Creating Change conference (“the national conference on LGBT equality”). It’s a wonderful organization! Please know it is definitely an LGBT org, not an LG (no T) org.

    It’s true, as an atheist, I hold no beliefs. But that doesn’t mean I hold no values. I think that there is incredible potential when groups of people come together with common goals and values. In addition, because of the way atheists are demonized in society, there would also be great value in connecting with others in the LGBT community who struggle because of that other identity (or atheists of any sexual orientation to connect and commune).

    I am less inclined to want to appease religious organizations, for two main reasons. 1) Religion is the primary reason that the LGBT community is oppressed, so to try to accommodate religion in LGBT activism seems to free religion from accountability for their mistakes. 2) Even if religious groups become more LGBT-friendly, they will still demonize me as an atheist for essentially the same reasons: I don’t conform to their beliefs and they see me as amoral. The problem isn’t what religious groups believe; it’s the power of their beliefs over society.

    And yes, spirituality would also be lost on me. It’s a belief (an idea held as truth without evidence). It’s an assumption that is comforting, but not realistic. (Feel free to share more about what you believe, but I doubt my conclusion about it will change.) Any time we humor an idea without a basis for doing so, it’s the opposite of critical thinking. Critical thinking (as well as scientific literacy) demands that we look at every idea and say: “Does this make rational sense? Is there support for this beyond my person experience? Can it be measured and studied objectively?” If we are willing to accept even just one such idea, then what is to keep us from accepting any other? In terms of evidence or support, there really is no distinction between them. God, spirituality, astrology, karma, luck, leprechauns, unicorns, etc… these beleifs all compromise our critical thinking if we let them, and thus have the potential to wield incredible and dangerous control over our lives (arguably some more than others).

    Atheist groups exist because we share this common regard for critical thinking, and thus for secular morality. (Note: We don’t believe in science, we just understand it to be the most valid way of understanding and interpreting the world we live in.) We all have very strong morals, but they come from our understanding of the world and humanity, not from ancient texts or inherited beliefs. Like any group, we never all agree, but the foundation of our worldviews is a wonderful way to connect and work towards our common goals. Politically, it’s been my observation that out atheists are very like-minded on many issues.

    Just as an example: I’ve never met an atheist who did not support full marriage equality (though I have met many queer people who don’t support open expressions of atheism). Our shared values and our common experience of being oppressed by society give atheists incredible motivation to connect with one another and work together toward honoring our values and dismantling the stranglehold religion has over our society.

    For more on my experience feeling invisible as an atheist at Creating Change, I invite you to read the post I wrote about it then.

    I don’t know if I’ve fully answered your questions, but hopefully I’ve at least moved the discussion along! 🙂

  • Shirley says:

    Thanks so much for all of that. I can’t comment fully right now (bedtime craziness with a 5yr old!) but one thing struck me in the podcast and in your comment here. The bit about society. I wonder how it varies from place to place. I’m in Northern Ireland and we share some of the religious intolerance that you get in America, and the religious based homophobia as well. But because of our trouble here there are many who will not identify as religious at all. I have met a number of atheist people who don’t support marriage equality just on the grounds that it seemed weird or ‘not right’ to them. Perhaps our conservatism here does stem from the religious heritage but I think that it has gone beyond that now. We are in some ways a very fearful society in NI and that doesn’t all come from religion, I think a lot of it comes from racial persecution. Our ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ days aren’t really over yet and they may not be for some time and while they remain we lose opportunities to learn about each other which feeds our fear and prejudice. I think it’s too simplistic to say that that has all come from religion although religion sometimes gives people a handy excuse not to look beyond their fear.
    Sometimes what bothers me about the new atheists is that they (and I mean Dawkins) seem to see atheism as a triumph of intelligence Vs ignorance when of course there are many very intelligent religious people and many who don’t believe in God who also don’t believe in people.
    I am certainly grateful for this discussion and I will come back on the other stuff. I don’t disagree with you on most of it but I don’t see a dichotomy between science and religion either. It’s horrible that you experienced so much difficulty coming out as an atheist. Your story does help me to understand a little better where Dawkins is coming from (seriously big congratulations for that because I just find him really rude in the way that Marvin was rude to expect you to be grateful for his prayers).
    I suppose I am at a place where ‘yes but I’m right and you’re wrong’ holds no interest for me anymore. Not that I’m not interested in what’s right. But more that I won’t be part of any discussion that has that winning as its goal on any side. I’ve had the religious debate for about 25 years with me in various states of belief or unbelief and I feel like I’ve heard all the arguments for/against God. But what I haven’t heard, and what is valuable to me, is the stories of people who have had a different life journey. That is something that is worthwhile hearing about and something which may or may not affect the beliefs that I hold now. So again, I am grateful for this and I will post more later and tell you about where I’m coming from if that’s OK.

  • ZackFord says:

    Please post away! And I will respond to what you have written here in the meantime.

    I speak from an American experience and I do not presume to know what it’s like in other cultures. My general impression is that in the UK and other parts of Europe, atheism is much more accepted and much more common, and I’m sure I could find folks who agree and disagree.

    I don’t think you can oppose marriage equality without ignorance. “Weird” or “not right” still represent beliefs and personal biases that reflect the power of religious thinking. We’re talking about the difference between uninformed opinions and informed opinions. Whether a religious belief is the outright culprit is almost irrelevant; a lack of understanding and respect is still at the root of it all. Religion just feeds off the power and “undeserved respect” (to quote Dawkins) that we give these personal beliefs.

    And that’s why I actually agree with Dawkins, et al. Just because people demonstrate intelligence in other ways does not mean that their support of religion is “intelligent” as well. I think the “problem” with Dawkins (and often with me) is bluntness. If I say to you, “there is no argument for God that has intelligent merit,” I mean what I say, but it might come off as extremely dismissive. Thus, how you might personally respond to such a statement might impact your potential to be receptive to its content.

    I do not think there is room for overlap between religion and science. Science depends on evidence to make conclusions while faith depends on no evidence to make conclusions. You can’t say you value reason to support your claims and then make exceptions for beliefs. I hear “room for both” as “tolerance for hypocrisy.”

    Ultimately, whether or not you believe in God doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with whether you’re a good or bad person. My experience of those who openly identify as atheists and are committed to encouraging critical thinking share many of the same values I do. They’ve taken time to think about why they don’t believe in God and thus have also taken responsibility for using their thinking to inform their own moral values. I certainly can’t guarantee every atheist would do that (or would care to do that).

    I’m looking forward to this continuing dialogue! Cheers from the US!

  • Shirley says:

    I can’t respond now as I have to watch Glee. I’m sure you will understand! but I do intend to. I don’t mind directness at all and I think if I met Dawkins in real life we could have a good chat, not in the least because of his Doctor Who connection 😉

  • ZackFord says:

    I completely understand. I’m still working on my Doctor Who and Torchwood watching, but I’m not caught up to Dawkins’ appearance yet. I look forward to it though!

  • Shirley says:

    Did you know that his wife used to play Romana, one of the Doctor (when he was Tom Baker)’s companions?

  • ZackFord says:

    I did not! I’m quite new to the Doctor Who universe, but I love it. I particularly appreciate how glib the Doctor tends to be about religion and how both DW and TW continually talk about there being “nothing” after death. This just seems the most realistic way to talk about it in a science fiction universe, and I appreciate that they don’t shy away from it.

    I’m trying to keep us on topic in case others are following our discussion. (If you’re still reading out there, feel free to chime in!)

  • Shirley says:

    Perhaps Doctor Who is where we can meet each other Zack. I think for me the ‘nothing’ after death and the ‘nothing’ before birth are full of meaning. I would say that in the moment of my daughter’s birth (the moment where suddenly the realisation of nothing becoming somebody’s everything) that is when I lost my faith. That is to say that the ‘god’ who was a supernatural being separate from humanity and the existence of everything we can see and feel around us, just disappeared. There came a realisation that, if such a base and human experience as giving birth (something that happens everywhere in the world, every day, so much so that it is almost mundane) could feel like something so miraculous and ‘spiritual’, that perhaps everything that I had thought of as miraculous or spiritual was really just a part of being human. Perhaps I had underestimated the wonder of being human and it was not that God had made man in his image, but that man had projected his humanity onto an idea and called it god.
    This was a few years ago but it was such a profound moment of clarity for me that it basically scrambled my brain for quite some time. Funny how clarity can do that. Anyway, having coming to terms with very suddenly losing the religion that I had defined myself by for a couple of decades, I now feel much more at ease with what I would call a new and personal language of my self, and that as not really separate from a new and personal language of religion. The personal has to be emphasized here Zack, I can’t speak for anyone else, and as you can see I have great trouble speaking for myself on this topic. I would certainly not dare to presume that anyone should share my thoughts. My journey into atheism has been a journey into acknowledging that which is wholly human and wholly beyond my comprehension in terms of a description of wonderment. I suppose in my inner self I call whatever it is that underlines all of this ‘god’. This is how I try to articulate that for me there is no separation between any discipline or any fact. Having a baby is just a matter of the facts of biology. It is also a matter of What-In-The-Holy-Fuck-Just-Happened-There. They are one and the same. The world is an incredible place, people are incredible and I truly mean that- incredible- so extraordinary in their ordinariness. An increasing realisation of that doesn’t have to be called religion or god and it doesn’t make me a good person, but it does make me hopeful, which is basically what keeps me alive.
    That is also why I love Doctor Who 🙂

  • ZackFord says:

    I think your experience of realizing that something so miraculous IS so simple is telling and I thank you for sharing it.

    Evolutionary psychologists, more and more, are writing about ways the brain functions that often don’t reflect our modern understandings of “intelligence.” One of the most important mental traps to be aware of is the way that our brain seeks to make meaning of things. Often times, it fails, and we conclude that there must be something greater to explain it. The false assumption that everything has to be explainable gets us in trouble when we try to fill in what we see as “gaps.” Our brain tries to fill in an absence of explanation with an absent explanation. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and just because our brain demands an explanation doesn’t mean that the one it imagines has any sort of rationality.

    I think part of the human experience is finding wonder in things, but just because we experience wonder doesn’t make the source of that experience “wondrous” or even “extraordinary.” As a professional musician, I often experience intense emotional exhilaration when I’m performing with others. Some might even call it a “magical” experience. I can explain it to myself as the music being a medium for each of us as individuals to experience emotional synchronicity with each other (as I explain in this post). Some might feel that explaining it in psychological terms takes the “magic” out of it, but I argue that it doesn’t. If anything, understanding that it feels good because it is a special connection with other humans only helps me appreciate it more. It might be less wondrous, but it’s no less wonderful.

    Most importantly, I share your hope. Hope isn’t a belief; it’s an attitude. And discovering the human capacity for cognitive moral understanding only magnifies my hope. People might be selfish and people might be cruel, but ultimately, our species has thrived over the millenia specifically because it has been evolutionarily conditioned to be good (socially supportive and interdependent). The golden rule is golden because it’s written in our DNA.

    Like The Doctor says, humanity always seems to survive. There’s a reason. 😉

  • db2 says:

    Regarding Dawkins’ wife, she reads part of the audiobook of “The Ancestors Tale”. It can be found at the usual sources if you’re cheap, but it’s worth buying if the price is reasonable. Obviously the audiobook version is a reading of a specific version of the book, lacking any later updates.

  • Shirley says:

    Zack, I love what you said about the golden rule being written in our DNA. The poetry of biology is something shockingly beautiful. I agree, there is a propensity for goodness in us that is there from the beginning. I am grateful for anyone who makes it their business to mine the depths of that fact. Glad to be talking to you!
    db2, I will look that up, thanks!

  • ZackFord says:

    I saw this clip today and thought of our discussion here. I think Dawkins sums up well in these remarks the challenge of these conversations and appropriately represents where both he and I stand on our atheist activism:

  • Shirley says:

    Thanks Zack.  In the question I can hear a longing for the pain that such religion has done to be eradicated, for children to not have to go through it. As such this is also something that I long for. The first person to introduce the notion of ‘believe this or you will go to hell’ to my daughter will be an unlucky soul. I will do my best to spare her, and them, the experience. I agree that saying something, rather than saying nothing, is probably the way to go about that. So I can see (now) why atheists might want to speak out rather than just not enter the discussion at all. So thanks for that, I feel I have learnt something. It’s not just about the ‘right’ to speak out, it’s actually that one must speak out because there will always be people yelling about hell on street corners. That perspective makes more sense to me now.
    I do think you have misunderstood some of what I have said in our discussion but that’s probably my fault for not being able to make myself clear. Anyway, I don’t think that is as important as the discussion in itself. This is probably the best discussion I have ever had with an atheist on the topic of religion, the reason being that I feel like I have learnt something about your perspective as an atheist, and I thank you for that. I’m not trying to be patronising so I hope it doesn’t sound like that, I am genuinely touched that you would bother to engage me in this discussion and more so by your honesty, particularly on the issue of ‘coming out’ as an atheist. I am also still getting freaked out (in a good way) about your comment about the golden rule being part of our DNA.  That has basically rocked my world. 🙂

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Zack Ford. Zack Ford said: @p2son I was the one answering all of HIS questions, so he's welcome too. http://is.gd/cdOrV […]

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