A Drop in the Bucket


I have stayed up until nearly 2 AM this morning, again, watching a movie. That’s three since Friday. I never take the time to sit and watch a movie for myself. I never feel like I can take that much time for myself. But this last month, two months, has been so stressful and I’m not prepared for our long trip in one day and yet I couldn’t keep myself from finishing the movie I started watching. The Big Sick. I didn’t know what it was about- just that I remembered that I had wanted to see it – but it became so very moving, and real that I had to finish it. (The main character is actually a lapsed Muslim, so that was interesting to see on the big screen – you don’t see people questioning their faith often.) I have found it so cathartic to watch other people’s stories play out on the screen and to get out of my own head. And to pretend for a minute that life is normal, when it really hasn’t been. I don’t want to live in a world where people lose their families and are killed for not conforming. Everything I’ve been doing recently to try to help a man in another country escape threats because he left his faith is such a small drop in the bucket. It is so sad. And I’m tired. But at the same time, the internal optimist in me thinks that if more and more of us put a drop in the bucket, that we will be able to fill it.

(I’ve been volunteering with Secular Rescue. Check them out, and consider giving some money to help more people.)

I’m Raising Money for One of My Friends & Other Secular Refugees on GoFundMe

I met Alex almost a year ago, when he commented in despair about being a hidden atheist in Saudi Arabia on one of Richard Dawkins’ tweets. It caught Richard’s eye and he sent me a screen shot. (I had already begun working on my book, Losing Your Life to Save It.) I was able to contact Alex through Twitter (I gave him the name Alex) and we chatted online for months. Eventually he told me that he was saving money and arranging to travel to another country to seek asylum because he lived in constant fear of discovery and his parents were beginning to suspect – sometimes he made mistakes in trying to follow Islamic practices after he stopped believing.

He entered Germany legally but as he declared his intent to seek asylum at that border, he was immediately put into a refugee camp. His phone was damaged at the camp making communication very difficult.

His claim was denied and he is appealing his denial and asking to be permitted to stay in Germany. Because he arrived with money to support himself he was not given the usual government financial support provided to nearly all asylum seekers. His application was denied six months ago – they wanted to send him, a known atheist, back to Saudi Arabia where apostasy is punishable by death and atheism is legally defined as terrorism – because the interviewer did not believe he has left Islam and felt that there was no reason Alex couldn’t simply return and begin to practice Islam again.

He began the long appeal process with the help of Atheist Refugee Relief but has completely depleted the money he brought with him and the camp he has been recently transferred to does not provide food, unlike several of the previous refugee camps he’s been living in.

He hasn’t been able to obtain the documentation (Saudi bank info) he needs to prove to the government that he’s out of money, so the initial determination that he didn’t need financial support can’t be changed yet.

I’ve set up a fundraiser and am splitting the money raised between Alex and the organization that has been able to obtain a lawyer for his appeal, as well as help with some other services.

Hopefully he’ll be able to access the proper bank documentation soon and get government assistance.

Ideally his application will be accepted and he’ll be able to work to support himself – going back to Saudi Arabia is utterly unsafe.

Either way he needs to eat now and this money will be a temporary stopgap measure allowing him to purchase food and other basic living expenses – like transportation to purchase food. It will help reimburse the German charity that’s been helping and free up to help other secular and atheist refugees.

(After a certain point funds raised will be split between three charities.)

Please consider whether you can donate a bit to help Alex and the groups that help secular refugees that often don’t have safe access to religious organizations that provide aid to they coreligionists.

HELP HERE: GoFundMe – Help Alex Eat

P.S. Whatever happens, he’s all in. Alex got this tattoo when he arrived in Germany!

Working on a project with Courtney Heard

Heads up! I’m working with Courtney Heard (Godless Mom on Patheos) on a joint post about helping a population that is in extreme need.

Stay tuned.


The adorable puppy pic at the top of this post is titled Kiwi Eagerly Waiting and was taken by photographer Adam Folliott. It perfectly captures the eagerness of anticipation. His work is beautiful. Make sure to check it out! (On a computer you don’t have to be signed in to Flickr.)

Social Media – Tools for Fools?

With the recent news about Cambridge Analytics gathering and misusing Facebook data, I’ve seen people tweeting #DeleteFacebook (including Elon Musk, who apparently deleted his entire personal and public presence, though I don’t think he used the hashtag) and a lot of outrage that so much data is being collected and used for various purposes, including political. But I can’t say that I was surprised or even phased by the news. I think I was more startled by how many people were startled! This post is just a little bit of musing – it’s not a “hot take” – just some thoughts that have been rolling around in my head.

Social media is such a strange behemoth. There are so many views on the purpose of various platforms ranging from adamant assertions that Facebook is just for family photos and puppy pics (yes, still) all the way to pure political use and so many ways of using it. I think my view on social media is a pragmatic one – you use the tools available to you how you need and/or want to use them. I use Facebook to connect with family and friends, share interesting articles, make new friends – and the best way to reach me at any time is Messenger: I can’t recall the last time I made a phone call for something social or even logistical. I used Instagram when I was running my businesses for fun and because some of my friends wouldn’t use Facebook & enjoyed the simplicity and happy feel of Instagram. I started using Twitter when I started helping with LogiCal-LA 2017 and quickly realized that I could connect with people and gain access to viewpoints and news that weren’t easily within reach on Facebook or my small southern California town where I am raising my kids. That’s essentially the limit of my social media exposure and I find that I use each platform in an entirely different way – they are tools. (WordPress is a new addition, for the purposes of this blog, and I was reluctant to add a new tool, but it seemed necessary. So far, so good!)

They are tools, and extraordinarily useful tools at that. I find that I am willing to take risks with my information in order to gain access to tools that I feel immeasurably improve my life and make my work possible. I do try to read the fine print and I have (largely) resisted the urge to sign up to take little quizzes on Facebook but I know I have glossed over things in order to be able to use resources that I can’t make on my own. But I know when I take that risk that I have to at least try to keep my wits about me – just because it’s in “print” somewhere doesn’t mean it’s real. So there’s a need to try keep your tools from using you. Stay skeptical my friends. Treat every day like it is April Fool’s Day. 😉

Of course, I would like social media businesses and app designers to have a care with the info they glean from me – to be responsible, moral and ethical. But I’m not going to demand perfection or assume that everyone who designs an app has purely altruistic motives, or even that they should. Everything we do in life involves risk – this is one I’m willing to take. When I see people call for Twitter to require use of real names to avoid bots and impersonation, I see an incalculable loss looming as I imagine people in restricted countries losing access to their lifeline to the rest of the world. Ex-Muslim apostates who have limited outlets, political dissidents, people who are constrained from being themselves in their in-person situations. People – young and old – in small villages but with an internet connection. “Lifeline” takes on its original, heavy meaning in those cases. Even atheists, such as myself, who may not know anyone else with whom it is safe to share their ideas and thoughts with can connect and find community online. I did and it kept me going.

The immense value of being able to be heard, or hear someone else, is stunning when you think about it. Just this past week I had the pleasure of seeing some of my blog entries being read in places such as Japan, Argentina, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and even the tiny country of Vanuatu! This is a dream come true for the kid who wanted to be friends with all of the foreign exchange students growing up. How else can we bring people of the world together so easily?

Of course, bringing people of the world together also causes clashes in world view, politics, religion, opinions, taste – essentially every way in which people can differ. But I don’t think this is a bad thing overall. Difficult? Yes. And some of us are being dragged along kicking and screaming as we are forced to pop our little bubbles of safety and similarity.

Yes, it would be nice to get rid of risks that cause us unpleasant experiences online. Twitter could certainly be a happier place if no one could be anonymous. But as we see with Facebook, which in theory requires real names, people don’t seem all that inclined to limit vitriol and nastiness toward people they don’t know even when they aren’t anonymous. In my opinion, it’s not worth the loss to others to make my experience a little nicer. My suggestion is to find another tool if the one you are using doesn’t suit your purpose. (Yes, I know that won’t always work – sometimes you just have to go where the people are.) And, of course, I also try to regulate my own behavior so that it doesn’t make other people have awful experiences! (My two goals for social media: never get angry at someone online, and always assume the best possible interpretation of what someone has posted until they verify otherwise.)

I’m not deleting Facebook. Social media in all it’s incarnations is a tool – and a powerful tool for connection and change – and when we think of it that way, I think it makes sense to keep using the tools we have, while we work to make them even better. I don’t think it makes me a fool, but I suppose the jury is still out.

Update: Just a few hours after I posted this, I came across this related article: Musk and Zuckerberg are fighting over whether we rule technology—or it rules us


Notes:

I had to laugh at the stories of Facebook users fleeing for Instagram, not realizing the connection. Most of our life is infused with connections like this. We just aren’t aware that they are there. https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/news/2018/03/22/bye-facebook-hello-instagram-users-make-beeline-facebook-owned-social-network/433361002/

Seeing Vanuatu on my list of countries in my WordPress stats was startling and reminded me of the stories I’d read about Cargo Cults. Cargo Cults on Vanuatu

Survey is LIVE! Extended Survey for Atheists, Agnostics, Non-Believers

My major research survey is READY TO GO! Please take it and pass it on. This is your chance to tell your stories and be part of the book!

Thank you. 💜

Here is the direct link: Extended Survey on Atheism

Update: 3/29

It definitely takes more than a “moment” but having Richard share it has given me a huge boost in participation!

Extended Survey for Atheists – Research for my Book: Losing Your Life to Save It

Update 3/28/18: The survey is live!

Writing my post about procrastination gave me a burst of motivation. I finally finished a long survey that I’ve been working on for the past 6+ months and I’m just about ready to let it go live.  This is the survey that I’m using to collect many people’s stories about their experiences – good & bad – about being atheists and coming out in/from religious families and communties.  It has taken me a long time to figure out what I wanted to know and then determine how to ask so that the results are the most useful for me (and so that I don’t have to keep sending out surveys!) Anyhow, I sent it off to Richard tonight for comments and once I incorporate any suggestions, I’ll post it. (And yes, wanting it to be perfect before sending it to him was a factor.)

In the meantime, if you’ve never completed my original survey General Thoughts About Atheists now’s your chance. I’ve opened it up again – believers and non-believers.  Also – if you believe in God but someone close to you has left the same faith, here’s one for you: When Loved Ones Abandon Faith.

This is a big step and I’m excited! Stay tuned…

Want to read more about me & my book? Scott Jacobsen of In-Sight Journal interviewed me last summer and the transcript was just released in Canadian Atheist: In Conversation with Melissa Krawczyk – Atheist, Secular Humanist, and Skeptic. 

Scott has interviewed people far more interesting than me and he also blogs for Atheist Republic: Scott’s blog at Atheist Republic

 

Write-a-book
Found this image at the following blog that I enjoyed: How to Write Your Book by Writing Your Blog

Blasphemy Shmasphemy – Count Dankula and the Hate Crime that Wasn’t

It’s late – 1:30 AM – and I haven’t done a lot of editing on this, but I’m going to post it regardless. As usual, please feel welcome to comment, criticize, poke holes, etc. Just keep it constructive.


I just watched, and shared, the following video by the fictional British reporter Jonathan Pie as he angrily criticizes the recent judge appointed punishment for a Scottish YouTuber known as “Count Dankula.” The guy did a joke in piss-poor taste and taught his girlfriend’s cute little pug dog to do a Nazi salute to a cue of “do you want to gas the Jews?,” took a video, and shared it on the internet & it took off. Take a moment to watch the several minute video response by “Jonathan Pie” below (Lots of swearing, btw.)

Did you watch it? Ok, you’re ready to read the rest. I’ll say right off the top, that I don’t share the sense of humor of Count Dankula and I think his joke really sucked. I can completely understand the anger and frustration people feel when they see “jokes” like this that seem to poke fun at topics that have really hurt people and affected their lives. I would not make a joke like that myself and I would be hard pressed to find it amusing, other than for shock value. But a jail sentence for making a joke? Or for having an unappealing, or even an appalling, sense of humor? I don’t think we should be jailing people for being tasteless or insensitive, especially when it’s clear that we misunderstand the intent of others all the time.

The uproar and upset surrounding Count Dankula (from the pro-punishment folks) is a bit like the uproar when Richard Dawkins said “When I see cattle lorries, I think of the railway wagons to Auschwitz” and people said he was comparing Jews unfavorably to sub-human cows, when he was clearly, in context, suggesting we might eventually find we’ve been committing an awful crime by assuming cows are lesser beings & covering our eyes – much like happened to Jewish people as a whole. CONTEXT!  In both cases, people declined to consider the intent and context and that caused real problems. We must stop thinking this way! Context and intent MUST matter. What are words and actions without context?

Considering the context of the video Count Dankula makes it is hard to imagine that he could seriously be advocating for anti-Jewish or pro-Nazi sentiment. Some people think it isn’t okay to joke in any way about something as serious as Nazis at all, or even mention the Holocaust, out of respect for the tremendous numbers of people who have suffered. I personally agree that it’s insensitive and upsetting to downplay or minimize, the ideas and effects of Nazis and white nationalists, but “okay” as in permissible? Yes, it is. Why? Because unless everyone can decide unanimously what constitutes offense, there is no way to set a fair, enforceable standard. Offense, and humor, are always subjective – and they are often two sides of the same coin. And everything is akin to “blasphemy” to somebody else.


Everything is akin to “blasphemy” to somebody else.


This kind of persecution of people who offend but don’t commit a crime is frightening because it is related to the way people, and governments, use “blasphemy” rules and laws to punish people who step outside the bounds of what is acceptable. I don’t think it’s good or fair for people to say that atheists have no morals, are evil, are spawn of – or tools of – the devil, or that we should be “hunted down” through law enforcement. But aside from aiming to persuade them that they might be wrong & trying to shift the Overton window, I’m not going to prevent them from saying those things unless they are actively trying to make someone hurt or damage me, or other atheists, in some tangible way other than hurting our feelings. (Click to see a recent example, and a measured rebuttal.) I’ll fight an

d advocate for secular laws that treat everyone the same, but I’ll also fight for the right of religious people to continue to hate me – as long as they can’t legally treat me badly and I’m still able to oppose their viewpoints with my own.  (In the case of the government Minister in Malaysia who wanted to use the law to hunt down atheists – that should be fought: to change the law, not force him to change his beliefs.)

MLK

 

On the other hand, religious folks of many stripes actively try to shut down the statements and voices of atheists because we offend their religious sensibilities. In many places, they do more than shut us down – we can be killed! This is not acceptable. Yet, when we allow punishment for words or actions that hurt our feelings or make us uncomfortable we legitimize the idea that “blasphemy” exists. But no idea is inviolable.

When the person being punished is being punished for something that goes against what I personally think is right, then I might find it feels good that they are being punished. I might feel that they deserve it. If I’m in a group of people who think the same way that I think, then it’s easy to point a finger at the outsider and say they are wrong, or even bad. We are in a society now where many of us, indeed hopefully most of us, have seen that the things that Nazis and Hitler stood for and did, caused incredible and lasting damage in our world and that there are still people who are threatening to bring back those same ideas now. That is a real concern. But CONTEXT and INTENT are so important! If we ignore those things, then essentially no one is safe from punishment. Every misunderstanding, every intentional misconstruing, is a source of danger. We lose the ability to be able to challenge ideas currently in vogue, or in power. What happens when the power shifts to a group that we disagree with?

In the United States we have a president that many of us oppose because we strongly dislike his behavior, his actions and many of his attempts at policy-making. We have the right to criticize our president and also the ideas of people who support him, and they have the right to criticize us back. It might make for a more civil online experience – most people are a lot nicer in person – if we weren’t allowed to say anything that offended others, but it certainly wouldn’t advance meaningful conversation because we’d simply stop having the difficult conversations. How is that good? (You tell me, because I don’t think it is. It would also be helpful if we all stopped thinking that our ideas are the same as our identities & stop taking everything personally. Anyhow.)

Is Dankula actually an anti-Semite/pro-Nazi? Or is he just a jerk with a twisted sense of humor? I don’t know him personally so I don’t really know. But what he did shouldn’t be considered a crime even though we should be free to think it was awful – or not.


Notes:

I didn’t link to any articles about Count Dankula because they are easy to come by and I don’t have the desire to read a bunch of them to vet them for accuracy.

Incidentally, I found the following story in a comment while browsing Twitter this evening, and it is an example of actual historical Nazis finding a very similar joke very offensive – to Nazis! Read Hitler Pursued “Hitler Salute” Finnish Dog (and notice the publication date on the story – it’s not recent.)

In a similar vein as this situation: I just watched part of Ricky Gervais‘ new comedy show Humanity, and I found his bit about Caitlyn Jenner to be in very poor taste and as someone who has several trans friends, I personally didn’t find it funny – cringeworthy and unpleasant. Did it make me want to keep watching his show? No, it really didn’t. But I find I can understand the perspective of someone who does find it funny – or at least understand that people exist that do. I may not like it, but that doesn’t mean I should get to prohibit them from thinking it’s funny, or Gervais from saying it in the first place. But Caitlyn Jenner is a long-time public figure being made fun of by another public figure – a comedian. I want to be clear that I would not quietly tolerate the same type of joke being made at the expense of a friend in my presence, but would speak up and make my own opinion heard and challenge the person if at all possible. In this case, I decided not to watch the rest of the comedy show because my enthusiasm for it had dimmed.