30 June 2008

Now That I Don't Watch Television...

I have stopped watching television. In fact, the television I do have, a teeny tiny one, is gathering dust in the recesses of the-cupboard-I-mean-to-sort-out. I plan to sell it as I have no interest in it at all.
Every now and again I check into You Tube and there are some incredibly talented people creating films and animations out there.
Here is one that is 4minutes and 32 seconds long and in that short period has a serious message about our times. Created by Andrew Thomas Huang. Worth watching. Let me know what you think.

'Doll Face'

27 June 2008

Black Atheist Series (2) - Dr. Anthony B. Pinn

I have promised to feature a black 'non-believer/atheist/freethinker/humanist' or whatever they wish to call themselves.
I have taken the liberty of including in this category freethinkers, skeptics, humanists, scientific naturalists and anyone else who debunks the supernatural or promotes rational thinking.

To be in any of the above categories in many black communities around the world can invite ridicule, censorship, ostracisation or even worse. I invite you to search the net for 'black atheist' and you may discover how few black atheists are 'out'.
To have someone brave enough to challenge irrational thinking at a time when people are and were victims of traditional myths, who stands up and promotes the idea of thinking for oneself, is truly admirable.

I nominate Dr. Anthony B. Pinn in my Black Atheist Series.

Dr. Anthony Pinn -is the Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities and Professor of Religious Studies at Rice University (William Marsh Rice University) in Houston, Texas.
He has inspired me with his intelligence, historical analysis and vision, particularly in relation to black people and religion.

One of my queries concerns why black people have found themselves pigeon-holed into being and being perceived as believers in the supernatural. Dr Pinn outlines his take on why and how this has happened. His focus is on African-Americans, slavery, the Civil Rights movement and other freethinkers/humanists/atheists who acted as either agents of freethinking or supernatural belief.

I particularly enjoyed his article: 'On Becoming Humanist: A Personal Journey' - here's a quote from it:
"I could not accept the idea that the collective suffering of those I saw on a daily basis had any value at all. I needed to explore an alternate response that uncompromisingly affirms—at all costs, including even the rejection of Christian concepts such as God—the demonic nature of collective suffering because human liberation is more important than the maintenance of any religious symbol, sign, cannon, or icon.

Having worked through this problem, I could see nothing in history pointing toward the presence of something in the world beyond visible realities. There was no sneaking suspicion, no "smoking gun," pointing beyond humans. There is no God to hold us accountable, to work with us in moving beyond our current existential dilemmas. In the words of Oscar Wilde: "The true mystery of the world is the visible not the invisible."

After taking a deep breath, I spoke a new word: God does not exist. Even with this confession made, I was still committed to doing theology, but without reliance on notions of God. I would do theology as a humanist. And as such, I was no longer talking about God (at least not in positive terms), but talking about ultimate questions of life that are not dependent on some type of "Supreme Reality," a "Prime Mover." I continued my work with this commitment: religious questions can surely be posed without the assumption of God."

I recommend you read his recent book 'The African American Religious Experience in America'.

Black Atheist Series (2) - Dr. Anthony B. Pinn.

22 June 2008

'Dream Deferred' - Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore--
And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Langston Hughes (b.1902 - d. 1967)

17 June 2008

The Re-Union

Doesn't this picture make you think of all the LGBT people who died without their loved ones being legally and formally recognised? All those people who died and their loved ones were turfed out of homes because of no legal recognition in the eyes of the law.

This couple nearly didn't make it after being together over 50 years, Phyllis Lyon ,83 and Del Martin, 87, who live in California. They 'tied the knot' 4 years ago but (mostly) supernaturalist bigots opposed all those unions, which were then nullified. These two activists fought with a host of other people and were able to make their union legal at last.

Woman-Vision.org reviews a documentary about these two women who have battled hard over the years for true equality, entitled: "No Secret Anymore:The Times of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon"

"Phyllis and Del's story is a testament to how individuals can influence the course of history. In 1955, against the backdrop of terror created by Senator Joseph McCarthy's hunt for homosexuals and Communists, Del and Phyllis joined with six other women in San Francisco to found the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), America's first lesbian rights organization (named after The Songs of Bilitis, an obscure book of lesbian love poems.) At the time, social taboos against homo-sexuality were so strong that gay people were in constant danger of harassment, physical violence, and losing their homes, jobs and families. When their sexuality was discovered, lesbians were declared unfit mothers by the courts and denied custody of their children.

Homosexuality was viewed as a psychiatric disorder and lesbians were often incarcerated in prisons and mental institutions, where they were subjected to electro-shock therapy and, in extreme cases, lobotomies."

15 June 2008

The Problem with Atheism

Regardless of what some supernaturalists say atheism is not a religion. Some equate a non-belief in something as being equal to or the same as a belief in something. That isn't correct.

The problem with atheism is it does not fit neatly into a box, nor is there an organic group to which all atheists belong.

In my experience there is an incredible amount of fear within the black community, especially in the USA. The reality is if you are black and mention your non-belief you risk losing your job, being ostracised by your family, losing any support from the community, etc. People are fearful that theists will cut them off from their own community.

I have received comments from people who are 'closet atheists' and they are unable to discuss their true feelings and views with their loved ones. The church has such a strangle-hold on the community that is impossible to function well without their approval.

I'm beginning to understand that atheism equates to communism - such nasty, horrible things happened to people in the USA who were outed, some erroneously, as communists. 'Hitler was an atheist', is just one pathetic refrain spouted by those drowning in complete ignorance. Generations of American citizens were raised in an environment of fear. The downsides of not conforming to the will and wishes of the powers that be were evident for all to see.

The conditions which existed for white Americans added and compounded the problems within the black community. The black churches preached conformity to the rule of god. Black people were clearly less empowered than they are now. But we are at a point where a backward country, with backward leadership, a largely ignorant populace and with well-thumbed bibles are leading the charge further down the road of regression.
Black people are frightened, petrified that their lives will change for the worse if they 'admit' to being non-believers. Black people who are disaffected with one black church will take a bit of time out and find another one - Barack Obama, as an example. Some people in churches don't actually believe and see through the charade, the pointless rituals and symbols that is the 'church' and yet still go through the motions because the alternatives would be too much for them to bear.
It takes enormous guts and self-will to place yourself in a position where the whole community will treat you as a pariah and still stand strong and firm in your decision.

But the greatest loss is for America herself. The numbers of black people who believe in the unbelievable stories such as creationism, Noah's ark and the like and totally reject anything scientific is disheartening. How many people attend theology colleges currently? Imagine how much more advanced the USA would be if half of those attending theology colleges and seminaries worked and studied within the scientific fields. What kind of a different USA would there be? What kind of a different world would there be? To spend all that money, all those hours, all that energy promoting fictitious characters is appalling.
My focus on the USA is mainly due to my residency in the region for a short while. The USA is a huge country and her policies have immense impact on large areas of the world. As a world leader, it is my view that the USA should move towards progress.
The UK can't do it - a poxy little country, chomping at the bit, wailing about its lost empire. A confused people who claim to be secular yet bow and scrape to an outdated, gluttonous, monarchy - a truly democratic system! Sometimes you have to step away from your circumstance to really see the whole picture.

So, if the next black person wants to discuss religion and spout about how good god is and all the rest of it then I am going to be so completely frank. I will not be kind and bite my lip - I refuse to respect a system, a regime, a poisonous system that has not advanced humans one little bit. The time for the kid-gloves has passed - eons ago. There is no problem with atheism. None at all.

08 June 2008

This Crazy Homophobic World

You may have read the story of the Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson having a civil union with his partner of 19 years.

Big deal, you might say. Two people conforming to so-called social norms. Where's the story in that?

Here's a link from Reuters which fills in the gaps: Gay Anglican U.S. bishop enters into civil union.

A number of issues arise from this for me:

"The event was kept private out of respect for next month's worldwide Anglican conference..."

"The 77 million-member Anglican Communion...has been in upheaval since 2003 when the Episcopal Church consecrated Robinson as the first bishop known to be in an openly homosexual relationship in more than four centuries of church history."

"Robinson has in the past received death threats and wore a bulletproof vest under his vestments at his consecration in 2003. Two uniformed police officers stood guard at Saturday's ceremony..."
[Emphasis: my own]

Let's put aside for a moment that Gene Robinson is a supernaturalist and promotes it - that's his job - but the above quotes should illustrate to everyone what a sick, sad world we live in.

This has all come about, this high-level homophobia, because of the very books that these Christians revere. They will quote chapter and verse and teach about the bible's inerrancy and yet deny basic human rights to two people who want to have the same legal rights which are afforded to heterosexuals. (Do bear in mind that these civil ceremonies stop short of providing full legal equality but for some members of the gay and lesbian community it is better than what existed before.)

I am appalled, horrified that because of what some psychotic person or persons, repressed, ignorant, confused and lacking foresight or real love of humanity, have written, edited and cobbled together centuries ago that we humans have to suffer today. Regardless of whether you are straight or gay, male, female or any other gender - we should ALL be horrified.

As a black woman, I see the same backward attitudes within the black community and it nearly all leads back to religion. I am atheist also and so have, in some people's opinions, three strikes against me right there!

Racism and homophobia come from the same root - and it is more than ignorance. If millions of people are being taught to fear and ridicule others and that these ideas are good and will lead you back to an imaginary god or gods, then no real progress will ever be made by humans. No real tangible progress, that is.

The Anglican church is in turmoil because so many African churches abhor homosexuality and have threatened to break off and form their own factions. How ironic! The very people who had the bible thrust onto them by brutal means, which entailed millions of people being forced to convert or be killed, shackled and chained and carried across oceans to far-off lands where even worse horrors awaited them and yet their descendants are now saying the Anglican church is too lenient and not godly enough.

Gene Robinson believes in the supernatural like many other people do and yet he has to wear a bulletproof vest to protect himself from possible assassination. My question to him would be: Would it be another Christian that you fear may be your assassin?

This madness needs to stop and we can all play a part in it by educating ourselves, throwing away ancient or modern texts which insist on separating us from each other for no logical reasons.
Recognise that if we boast about being civil rights activists or gay rights activists, for example, we are not actually helping if we don't explore some of the root causes of the problems in the first place.

05 June 2008

On Being Myself - Memories of B

Whilst growing up my parents had a gentleman, B, living in our house who was viewed by the general community as 'not right in the head'. He was mocked and shunned by certain people but my parents gave him shelter when he was due to become homeless.

B was born in Cuba and left the island as a young man, escaping during the revolution and moved to another Caribbean island before emigrating to England during the early 60's. Before he left the Caribbean he met and fell in love with a woman. When he spoke about her to me many years later his eyes would become sparkly with tears and his voice croaked.

On his departure from the Caribbean, before getting on the boat to his new 'home', England, he promised to send for her.
On arrival in Britain B found bitter cold weather, hostility and discrimination. 'No dogs, No Wogs and No Irish' were the signs displayed prominently in the windows of the English with rooms to let. He worked hard and saved as much money as he could to send money back to his 'intended'.

He diligently organised the paperwork, made all the arrangements and waited excitedly at the airport as she flew in to meet him after a few years of being apart.

Within 6 months of her arrival she ended their relationship and he never saw her again. Each time he mentioned her name, talked about her beauty, poise and intelligence, I felt his pain. It was palpable. Up until his death decades later he never had another relationship. It had to be her or no one.

As a child I used to sometimes sit in his stuffy, dimly lit room (he rarely opened the curtains or the window) which was packed full of books on shelves, on the floor, on the small single bed and listen to him talk about politics, democracy, religion, the royal family, communism and world events. I didn't understand most of what he said with my child's mind, but I found him interesting. Sometimes he would start on a topic and become angry, shouting and shaking his fists, usually whilst talking about the Pope and the whole charade, the pomp and ceremony, the wasted money, the great con inflicted on the people who professed to be Roman Catholics and so on. B particularly raged about the hypocrisy of the monarchy - Queen Elizabeth II invited the most venom as the head of state and the Anglican church. He would almost spit! He would sometimes drag out these old tomes, blow the dust off them and read me passages of philosophers he felt I had to know about. He had read the various versions of the Bible and rejected them without hesitation.

He would also lend me books which I could only read with great difficulty and little comprehension, but I tried!
B hated things which controlled him, be they communism, religion or anything else and he spoke about these at length.
Sometimes he would tell really awful jokes, which caused me to laugh only because they were so dreadfully bad! His sense of humour was great!
He enjoyed living with us as he was free to be himself. If he had 'an episode' of ranting about the woes of the world that was okay. If he sometimes had had a few drinks and sang rather loudly whilst cooking, that was okay too!

I left home and stepped out into the big wide world, but I never forgot B the man who was gentle, kind and caring.

Years later after he had had a stroke and was bedridden, my parents refused to allow him to go into a home and cared for him for several years. He had already become a part of the family.
As time progressed an incident occurred when my father was not at home: my mother couldn't lift B up out of the bath. They knew the time had come for him to be cared for elsewhere. The years of being a carer had taken its toll on both my parents. He was placed into a home about 1/2 mile away and their visits to him were regular and they were keen to ensure he was being treated well and enjoying his life in the circumstances. He still received their traditional home-cooked Caribbean 'Sunday dinners'.

After being away for many years I hadn't had physical contact with him but kept up-to-date with how he was.
Prior to a planned visit home I gathered together my siblings and we all piled in my car for the long journey. Included in our schedule was a visit to B and to take him a few gifts.
On arrival I realised that the care home was clean and the staff friendly. I then saw a man sat in a high-backed chair and my mother told me, 'There he is.'
I blinked a few times as my eyes adjusted to this new image of a man swollen and puffy with dribble running down his chin onto his vest. My eyes pinged. I could not stop the tears as I remembered this man, this great man, who had fire and passion and intelligence and was now sat unable to control his trembling lips and whose eyes were vacant. I held his hand and he smiled as he said my name and stroked my arm, saying with difficulty how pleased he was to see me.

I left there finding it difficult to drive due to the tears obscuring my view. My mother patted me on the shoulder and said, 'That's life, my dear, that's life! He had a good life with us and he's happy.'

He died about a year later and my parents ensured he was buried according to his own wishes. He had no immediate nor distant blood family. No children. Just us.

I look back on his life and don't consider it a waste as he brought joy, laughter, wackiness and he had shared some of his ideas and outlook on life with me. He encouraged me to think outside the box, to not follow the crowd just to be 'hip'. He was unique and yet totally human.

I think of him and all those people outside our home who shunned him because he was 'not right in the head'.

Their loss. Their loss.

01 June 2008

Failing Our Children, Failing Society

I have a near and dear relative who is the Head of a Mathematics Department in a secondary school in the UK. I had a lengthy discussion with her today about the state of education in England, in particular, her current school which I would like to share with you.

It might help to put my views into context if I tell you a little bit about the environment I was raised in. My parents were not rich, worked hard in back-breaking manual jobs and tried to turn 2 pence into 10 in order to feed and clothe the children born in the UK and those left abroad with their grand-parents (that topic alone warrants a whole blog on its own). My father, in particular, a typical Caribbean patriarch terrified his girls away from boyfriends towards books and studying. He saw education as the only way forward for his children. On arriving home from school there was no plonking down in front of the television - it was: uniform off, have a family meal together, homework and maybe if you had a spare 20 minutes you could watch the box but by then all the 'good' programmes had finished and it was time for bed. Reading became a natural, normal part of my life,as a result.

I spent extended periods in the library and was often the last person thrown out, even on cold wintery evenings when my friends and peers were watching soaps and cartoons.

I hate to use the word 'lucky' to describe the quality teachers I had throughout all of my school years, but that describes it in a nutshell. They were people who cared about the children placed in their charge for 8 hours or so each day.

Throughout the Primary/Junior, Middle and Upper schools I attended there were teachers who had a positive, major impact on me and how I saw the world. If I showed an interest in poetry they nurtured it; they discovered I was receiving piano lessons (aged 8 and onwards) and so a teacher at my middle school would use the rain as an excuse for me not to play out and spend the 15 minutes break times playing duets with her on the piano in her classroom; another teacher nurtured my creative skills by nominating my bottle-opener (made from metal and wood) for an award at an exhibition showcasing the talents of school children in the county; another teacher organised a surprise trip to the local art shop with two other teachers to spend money buying sable brushes, acrylic and oil paints, charcoal, canvas and other artistic paraphernalia. I could go on as there are many other examples of teachers showing just how much they cared about their pupils, their profession and they were doing it out of sheer love for what they did.

My conversation earlier today was disheartening. This particular school has over 1000 pupils and decided to remove the school library as it was not deemed important. Instead this particular school used the old library space for money-making ventures.

Now just pause and consider what the outcomes might be if you send your child to a school that does not have a library and even worse where there was one and it had been removed, closed down and the space utilised for activities which have no positive impact on your child's education.A cash-cow for the school.

I suppose this was made worse by the fact that I 'googled' the school the other day and realised that most of the children appeared completely illiterate. A further search on You Tube reinforced this conclusion. The accompanying, rather inane videos posted by the children seemed to be in a language that was purporting to be English but wasn't, almost text slang but with strong clues as to the educational attainment levels of the children posting them on the internet.

My relative confirmed everything and more. She has a truly gifted young man in her class who has been told that he should only hope to attain the middle grades and not any more. The school fails to do anything about thefts by the pupils against other pupils and teachers. It is like a caged fortress with security guards and CCTV cameras at every turn. The other teachers are either burnt out or are just there collecting their monthly salary.

Try to encourage the children in a positive way? No point. Check that they have completed their assignments and homework to a high standard and in a timely manner? No point, if they don't want to learn, what can we do?

The culture of failure permeates throughout the school. The bottom line of it is: these kids are poor. They attend a school the government promotes as a 'beacon of education' yet are failing and failing badly.

My relative loves teaching, is extremely passionate about her vocation and stimulates these young minds as best she can. Her hours of work are shocking and her whole life seems to revolve around preparing for lessons to make them more stimulating and interesting, yet the very teachers this school needs, and others like it, will be losing a good teacher to another school where the teacher s and pupils are encouraged and supported.

It boils down to money and who your parent is. The majority of the children at her school have parents who feel marginalised, disenfranchised by a system that is leaving them behind. The gap between the haves and have nots is widening.

Middle-class parents almost half kill themselves to use whatever means, legal and illegal, to ensure their children are accepted into the best schools. Some even move halfway across the country buying houses they can ill afford just to be in the right catchment area. At the same time the less-financially-fortunate children trying to crawl their way out of the barrel are pushed further and further down. Their parents may be too tired and stressed out from the pressures of life to give them the attention and care that they need. And all the while as the poor children grow up in an environment of despair, communities become more closed off.

Most of the public play areas were sold off under Thatcher's reign. Land where children could play sports, socialise with each other, play on the swings and just enjoy some fresh air was gobbled up long ago by the highest bidders, most particularly in London. Local children who crave open public space have to go further and further away from their homes to meet other children and have fun. This usually doesn't happen as the media have done a fabulous job in scaring parents into thinking every stranger person is a paedophile.

Now the young people are drinking heavier than the previous generation and from a younger age, more (reported) knife crimes, depression and anxiety problems. Read any trashy tabloid and the problem they scream is 'kids don't have any respect for their elders anymore'. So that's it then. No analysis of a sick society raising sick children who then become sick adults.

As our conversation came to an end I asked my relative: 'Where will the scientists, the thinkers, entrepreneurs, doctors, architects, town planners, etc. come from?'

Her answer was: 'Not from my school. They are too poor and no one cares enough to really make a difference. Certainly not the government and not the Headteacher. Standards are going down, literacy rates are going down but they are covering it up. No one cares enough to make a real difference.'