Archive for the ‘humour’ Category

Skeptics in the Pub: Joshie Berger


Deena and I went to the Boston Skeptics in the Pub on Monday to see Joshie Berger.

The first few minutes at our table – before Deena (my social grace) arrived – were characterized by halting attempts at conversation, punctuated by slightly less awkward silences. One of my table-mates sported a t-shirt depicting a harmonic series, with the basic wave equation “λ=c/f”. The other wore squid earrings. I thought with satisfaction: Yes. This is my tribe. These are my type of people. (I happened to be without any trappings of geekery. Well, except for the two pens stowed in one pocket, alongside a notebook. Just in case.)

(Image from SkeptiCamp 2009 site.)

The main reason we had decided to spend this rare and precious kid-free evening here was Joshie Berger. We had listened to his conversation with the rogues on The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe earlier this year, and were eager to hear him talk again.

We were not disappointed. To a surprisingly small crowd (maybe 20 people, if you count the bar staff), Joshie talked about what it was like to be a Hasidic Jew. To have been one, and not be any longer. To have a sister still in thrall to that misogynistic culture (even in the heart of liberal New York). To have so many friends living a lie – disbelieving as he does, yet unable or unwilling to leave like he did.

What I found most moving was when he set aside the jokes, the laughing, the amazing, amusing exposition of human folly and ridiculous beliefs. When he vented a little bit of anger. Not at the believers (they mainly earned his contempt), but at some of the would-be peacemakers in the skeptical movement.

“How dare you tell me to make nice?” was his gist. “After all the pain and suffering that religion put me through, still puts me through, how dare you tell me not to voice my anger?”

I couldn’t help but nod. Oh, sure, I am one of the peacemakers. I try to find common ground. I read books by apologists. I seek out dialogue in university chaplaincy, or at a Unitarian church. But Joshie’s anger wasn’t aimed at me. It was aimed at those who go further, who say that all skeptics (/atheists/humanists/whatever) should be peacemakers. That we should never, any of us, publicly mock or deride believers. Which, for a community that values freedom of expression so highly, is a very odd sentiment.

I did not have a religious upbringing. I don’t have Joshie’s scars; I don’t have the ongoing pain he has of separation from his loved ones. I need people like Joshie. I need people to remind me that such cruelty exists. That there are people who, because of their beliefs, put themselves and everyone in their reach through misery.

I’m terrifically grateful to people like Joshie, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Christopher Hitchens, and all the rest, for reminding me that there are dangerous beliefs out there. I’ll fight bad beliefs my way – and hopefully reach some people. They will fight bad beliefs their way – and reach different people. Skepticism/humanism/atheism needs all of our approaches.



I love the way some people employ their creativity.  Enjoy!

This video comes via Erich Vieth from Dangerous Intersection.

Is it okay to mock religion?


This is another one from the vaults: I started it, shelved it, and then forgot about it. The article I link to below is rather old, but it is as relevant now as it was last year.

Greta Christina has an article on her blog about the right and the wrong place for humour and mockery in the discussion of ideas. It’s an insightful and well-considered examination of the question, “When is it appropriate to use humour and/or mockery when talking about other people’s beliefs?”

It’s a great examination of the proper (and improper) use of humour, from a writer who often focusses her sharp wit on religion.

On the one hand, some ideas naturally evoke laughter from us.  Some ideas are ridiculous, and the most natural response when confronted by people who seriously believe them seems to be laughter.

On the other hand, laughter and mockery are not rational arguments, and can tend rather to derail than to advance reasonable discussion.

Greta Christina does a great job of looking at exactly what makes for the appropriate use of humour when discussing religious ideas (or indeed any idea).  I’d be curious what my religious readers think of her article.  Before you follow the link, I should warn you – she is a sex writer, so there are some graphics (mostly book covers) on her site of a very sexually suggestive nature.  Here is the link.

Talk Like a Pirate Day


Talk Like a Pirate Day is almost upon us. Marrrk your calendar: September 19, this Saturrrday. Arrr you ready for it? Thanks to that old salty dog, the Fiendly Arrrtheist, for makin’ me awarrre of this. Arrr.

(What do ya say, me mateys? Be I ready for Talk Like a Pirate Day?)


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