Author Archive: Stacy Kennedy
Stacy Kennedy was born and raised in Southern California and currently lives in Los Angeles, two blocks from MacArthur Park. She is a secular humanist, a skeptic, and an atheist with pantheistic sympathies. She tells people that she is a writer.
Note: I had nearly finished this post when the death of Ugandan gay rights activist David Kato was reported.
By taking odd jobs, like cleaning and washing clothes, Micheal Mpagi earns his living. His true life’s work: to help rid his society of theocracy and religious bigotry.
Micheal Mpagi is President of the Atheist Association of Uganda (AAU).
Mpagi wants to challenge the theocratic elements in Ugandan politics. He started AAU because Uganda’s older (and still extant) atheist organization, Freethought Kampala, is basically apolitical (he is still a member). In an email, Mpagi told me “AAU is more [concerned with] public policies and how theocracy is swiftly becoming the foundation of our government.”
In an email to Atheist Alliance International, Mpagi wrote:
This is going to be a long road for atheists and humanists. Most atheists take a purely philosophical approach to religion with too little emphasis on promoting human rights and democracy. And that’s probably because human rights in North America are a given. Here in Uganda–and in Africa in general–what come first are the rights of a murderous god, a god of human division, a god of hate.
The Ugandan freethought movement has a Herculean task before it. Uganda’s population is 84% Christian (roughly split between Catholics and Protestants), and highly conservative if not reactionary in their religion. A proposed bill that would make certain homosexual acts–already illegal–capital crimes, was inspired in part by American evangelicals like Scott Lively, and given tacit support by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who has said that homosexuality is “against God’s will”.
AAU opposes the 2009 bill, which would make homosexuality punishable by prison or death. “We stand for human rights,” Mpagi says.
Mpagi has also taken a stand against extra-governmental forces that threaten human rights. Since 1987, Ugandans in the northern part of the country have been terrorized by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), headed by the murderous Joseph Kony:
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“War is what happens when language fails.” –Margaret Atwood
Yesterday the New York Times ran a piece by Sheryl Gay Stolberg about the recent disruptions to town hall meetings that were convened to discuss health care reform. Stolberg points out that this sort of “activism” subverts the democratic process. It is aimed not at furthering, but at overwhelming public discourse:
The traditional town hall meeting, a staple of Congressional constituent relations, had been hijacked, overrun by sophisticated social-networking campaigns — those on the right protesting so loudly as to shut down public discourse and those on the left springing into action to shut down the shutdowns.
(I once tried to discuss the first Gulf War with a dittohead, back in the day. He shouted at me for fifteen minutes; every now and then he yelled, “What do you say to that?” I couldn’t say anything, it would’ve been like shouting into a full force gale.)
Meanwhile, Snopes has an email making the rounds that claims that Obama’s proposed health care reform bill mandates “euthanasia counseling” for seniors. Another pleads, “Please do not let Obama sign senior death warrants.”
Health care reform is just one front on a larger American skirmish, of course; one that’s been going on for most of my lifetime. I was a child of the 60′s, when social upheaval was just as marked as it is now.
But in the 60′s, the country was in good economic shape. And the outrage then really did originate at the grassroots. Today, tough economic times and the specter of America’s gradually waning superpowers have intensified the culture wars. So have the right-wing media, which love to whip up hysteria, religious fanaticism, and paranoia–anything to further their political agenda. The town hall shoutfests, like the teabag protests earlier this year, may be Astroturf, but they tap into real, and fairly widespread, fear and rage.
Lies, misinformation, and attempts to obstruct civil discourse make good-faith dialogue difficult if not impossible. How far will they go, and how do we overcome them? And if we can’t, could the U.S. descend into another civil war? (Surely not. That’s my imagination working overtime, fueled by my own paranoia. Isn’t it?)
I felt sympathy for Mark Sanford at first. I did. Gone are the days when journalists would respect a politician’s private life: it must be awful to live in the D.C. fishbowl. And, after all, he wasn’t just screwing around. The guy fell in love. We can all relate to that.
But Sanford lost me when he compared himself to King David. I mean, c’mon. King David? (Does that sort of thing really work with “values voters”? Do they think, Oh, yeah–Governor Sanford is just like King David, who was J.C.’s ancestor, sort of, and a great king and a really nifty songwriter, so let’s let Sanford keep his job, at least until his son starts sleeping with his concubines–?) Talk about hubris.
Anyhoo. Chris Kelly blogs for the Huffington Post and writes for Bill Maher and is, IMHO, one of the funniest men in America. Yesterday, on HuffPo, Kelly posted a piece about Sanford titled God is My Doorman, which highlights Governor Itchypant’s egomania and translates some of his Godspeak.
The Center for Inquiry has just announced a new campaign to help defend free speech–particularly speech critical of religion–from suppression. The Campaign for Free Expression includes a website designed as a forum to report and monitor censorship. The site also publishes the kind of religious (and political) criticism likely to find itself censored.
I attended an Anonymous rally last Saturday. You know, Anonymous—the international internet-linked underground that protests Scientology. Anonymous sprang up on imageboards—notably Futaba and the infamous 4chan—in 2006. Project Chanology, the organized, ongoing protest against the Church of Scientology, began in 2008 with a press release and a famous YouTube video, and has since taken on a life of its own.
Scientology, as DI readers probably already know, is a scam masquerading as a sort of religion/self-actualization movement hybrid. The Church of Scientology (CoS) was dreamed up by a guy named L. Ron Hubbard, who used to write a lot of pulp fiction. In 1950, Hubbard published a book called Dianetics, in which he claimed that neuroses and other problems are caused by engrams. Engrams are like little negative scripts that get encoded into the unconscious mind (Hubbard called it the “reactive mind”). These engrams take root, supposedly, because when we’re unconscious, the reactive mind hears whatever’s being said around us, and takes it literally. Even fetuses get engrams–from the moment of conception, they can hear everything that’s being said in their mother’s vicinity, and their little reactive minds are busy recording engrams which, without Dianetic treatment, will cause all manner of psychological trouble throughout their lives.
I’m not making this up. L. Ron Hubbard made this up.
And, sadly, he got some people to believe it. Enough people, in fact, that he was able to morph Dianetics from a mere self-help fad into a new “religion”–the Church of Scientology.