Monthly Archives: November 2011

More Serious than it Seems.

I can hardly believe this. Who would ever think it is acceptable to put a sign on their door saying a particular group of individuals is not welcome in this day and age? I get that a lot of Christians have a problem with atheists, but that does not give them a right to say an atheist cannot enter their establishment.

Am I allowed to say Scientologists are not allowed to enter my store (okay, I don’t own a store) simply because I think you have to be delusional to fall for that particular group of ideas? No. And would I ever do that? No.

I thought we learned our lessons about segregation during the Civil Rights era when African Americans fought so hard for equality. And I thought that lesson was reinforced by the end of apartheid in South Africa.

We can certainly say things like, “Their loss” because that gelato shop lost a lot of business by putting such a sign on the door, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a rather alarming thing to see. We can laugh it off and do our best not to let it get us down at all, but it is scary to think that there are people thinking it is okay to discriminate on the basis of religion (or lack thereof). I hope this doesn’t become any sort of trend. Rosa Parks and all the heroes of the 1960s deserve a lot of credit for all that they did, but I don’t envy them what they went through, and I don’t want to experience even 1/100th of the ill treatment they received while fighting for their rights.

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I Am Not Better Than Everyone

The other night a drunk classmate of mine proclaimed his dislike for me. He joined my friends and I as we walked back to campus from Blondie’s and gave an uninvited discourse about how much my Economic Analysis of Policy class hates me. Citing my (nonexistent) belief that I am better than everyone in the class and the fact that I do not hang out with people from that class, he explained that nobody likes me. (He went on about this for about five minutes. He also told me I don’t have any friends.)

I felt like I had been transported back to high school when it was far more common for me to hear that people think that I think that I am better than everyone else (that’s an annoying sentence to say). The thing is, I have never had the thought, “I am better than everyone!” I do not have a superiority complex. As far as I can tell, people are projecting their own insecurities on me. I sit in the front row, do not know a lot of people in the class, and happen to have a very good grasp of the material. People assume this means I believe I am better than they are.

In high school, I encountered this sentiment in people who had never met me or talked to me. I was valedictorian of my high school class, but I never introduced myself as such. Nevertheless, I had a reputation as “1st in the class,” and people assumed I walked around bragging about it all the time (as I recall, I had friends that bragged about it for me). They also assumed I had a superiority complex. Once they met me, though, they discovered they were wrong. I can recall at least one individual telling me, “I always thought you thought you were better than everyone else, but you are actually really cool.”

I know we all judge each other, sometimes on the slightest of evidence. I wish I could say I do not judge others too quickly, but I can be quite judgmental at times. Nevertheless, I do my best to keep my mind open and allow my perception of people to change. When there is a person in class that answers incorrectly all the time and asks too many questions, I do not assume they are stupid and worthless. I assume that for whatever reason said class gives them trouble, and I do not really like being in class with them (when you understand the class, numerous questions are boring). Extending my judgment beyond that would be irrational and pointless. I only wish others would extend me (and everyone else) the same courtesy.

You may know someone as the “girl who walks really fast,” the “kid who runs,” “that atheist girl,” or “that awkward, weird boy,” but if you assume that person is not worth knowing because of a quirk or because they are different than you, you could be missing out. If you assume that person has a monolithic personality, you are missing out.

No one is so simple that they can be defined by one phrase, and everyone is worth more than a simple reduction to a few words. There is nothing wrong with nicknames if you entertain the idea that a person is always worth more than that name. Often, secular individuals forget to apply rational thinking skills to all parts of their life; I think this is one of those times where we need to consider what rational thought and behavior looks like in terms of interpersonal relations.

New Atheism Really is New

A few years ago, a professor at Dickinson College told me he does not think that what is known as the New Atheism is new at all. He claimed it goes back to, at the very least, Nietzsche. This professor is very intelligent, but he is also very wrong.

The new atheism (I’m not a big fan of arbitrarily capitalizing words) is new. Never before has being an atheist been so acceptable. Never before have atheists been this outspoken. New atheism is about being willing to admit your lack of belief. It is also about questioning and criticizing the influence religion has on various spheres of society.

Atheists still spend an inordinate amount of time in the closet, but the new atheism is changing that. While a “united front” is not an easy thing to accomplish with atheists, we have something of such a front. The Secular Student Alliance is a good example of this – secular student groups over the last decade have exploded from only a few in the United States to hundreds. The unity comes from being fed up with being marginalized and treated like lesser citizens.

There have been individuals around willing to criticize religion for quite some time, but never before have there been such large numbers of people willing to say they do not believe in any god or gods or supernatural things, and that such belief can certainly be harmful. Never before have so many people been willing to come out and criticize Christian “Science,” homeopathy, psychics, and superstition. One hundred years ago one man may have criticized the religion-centric view of morality, but today hundreds of thousands of people are doing that.

In numbers never seen before, we are rejecting the notion that we should base our lives on outdated texts like the Bible. We are saying, “There is no god, and it’s okay.” We are telling everyone that we do not believe, and that does not make us lesser citizens or less important or less deserving of respect. The new atheism is very much a new thing, and a beautiful, powerful thing at that.

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A Different Way to Teach

I love TED talks. If they weren’t quite so long, I would probably listen/watch a lot more of them.

I have to thank a facebook friend for posting a link to this TED talk by Salman Khan. He is proposing that teachers consider using videos like the ones he made more often to help them teach. I would suggest watching the talk because I don’t want to explain it all here. In fact, my primary reason for writing this post is to share the link.

At first, I was quite skeptical. It is, after all, in my nature to be skeptical, but I watched the video anyway. I was more than pleasantly surprised, and when I visited the Khan Academy website I was impressed. I tried out the videos about the federal funds rate and the one about limits (it has been a long time since I’ve looked at limits). The federal funds rate video wasn’t perfect – it would improve with better drawings to accompany it. The limits video was an instant refresher, and I was surprised at how fast I recalled what he was talking about.

Khan’s proposal is that students would learn better if given the chance to watch and repeat as necessary the video lectures and then work on “homework” in class. It seems like a reasonable idea to me, at least for math and perhaps certain science classes.

I don’t think just anybody could have made successful videos, though. Khan is talented, and I think that’s a big reason why his videos work. It’s an interesting TED talk, and I think I might brush up on some calculus using the Khan Academy.

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