Friday, August 27, 2010

Internal Consistency - Part 1: Meditation

I haven't always been an atheist, you know. I was baptized Presbyterian. I went to an Episcopalian church with my grandmother every Sunday, where I served as an altar girl and helped out in the Sunday School. I never made it through confirmation classes, though. (Apparently they don't like it when you start quoting Monty Python and the Holy Grail in a seriously religious setting. Go figure, right?) I was baptized a second time as a Baptist when I went to church with a friend for a brief time. Through most of High School I was Wiccan. Heck, I was an ordained High Priestess. Once I got to college I floated around in limbo for a while, drifting between Paganism and Agnosticism. Eventually I realized that Science made the most sense to me, and chose to believe in reality. Reality is awesome.

'That's odd, BW.' You may be thinking. 'You don't usually talk about yourself in this blog.' Which is true, I actually try to avoid that. I'm exploring something relatively personal here though, and I think it needs some context. You see, during my Wiccan phase I learned a lot about meditation, herbal medicine, astrology and tarot cards. A lot of that knowledge stuck with me. I still meditate on occasion if I'm feeling wound a bit too tightly. I own several books on herbal remedies and can recommend a good tea to assist most minor discomforts. I know a 'How many X does it take to change a light bulb?' joke for each astrological sign. I've been doing tarot cards readings for 11 years now and am a member of the Hoggetowne Tarot Guild. We do readings at our local Renaissance Fair every year.

'Whoa, hold on BW...' you may be saying. 'You're an Atheist. A nonbeliever. A skeptic! How can you still believe in all of that New Age stuff?'

It's a tricky question. Are my thoughts on things like tarot cards and astrology consistent with a logical and scientific worldview? Am I rationalizing and compartmentalizing in order to hold on to my silly, harmless beliefs? Does it even matter one way or the other?

Obviously I think it does matter or I wouldn't be writing about it. Skepticism is important, and it isn't easy. (Read that article! Greta Christina is awesome.) Questioning things we are told, being wary of bias, investigating the source of the information...these things do not come naturally. You have to work at it. It is even more difficult to apply those principles to yourself and look critically at the things you believe. Why do I think the things I do? Do they really make sense, or am I just thinking that way because it's easy and makes me feel better? Well, time to practice what I preach.

Let's start with an easy one: meditation. I think my first experience with meditation was when I was a kid. My grandmother used to read us these bedtime 'stories' that were very much like meditative exercises. Basically, she would tell us to close our eyes and imagine floating outside of our bodies and experiencing the things described in the story, like flying above the world or wriggling through the roots of a plant. It was neat. When I was Wiccan, meditation was a big part of the rituals. We believed that by focusing our energy and visualizing certain things (deities, the sun and moon, forces of nature, etc.) we could affect them and be affected by them.

I haven't really thought seriously about meditation in a long time. Nowadays I mostly do it when I'm bored or can't sleep. I started doing a bit of research on it and even the general descriptions of meditation are pretty varied. It is practiced by at least a dozen spiritual faiths with different reasons and goals, but the general idea seems to be to focus or direct your mind for some benefit. The claims vary, from the ability to reach other planes or transcendental states to controlling your heartbeat and metabolism. The published research on meditation is plagued with poor methodology and conflicting results; sometimes they conclude that there is an observable change in a meditating person, sometimes they don't. Dang, I thought this one was going to be easy.

Ok. No matter how hard you concentrate on something, you cannot affect other people or the world around you just by thinking about it. So the real question here is whether or not meditation actually has an affect on the person doing it. I can cite my own experiences of meditation helping me get to sleep, but that is purely anecdotal evidence and I may be biased anyway. Scientifically, if the effect is not measurable and repeatable then it has very little credibility. Currently, there is insufficient evidence for me to accept the power of meditation to calm or control the body, at least beyond what just sitting still would do on it's own. It's possible that a well-designed study will come along and change my mind, though. For now, I think of meditation as a mental game, or a way to distract my mind so my body can relax. It would be pretty cool if there was more to it than that. I certainly used to think there was, but when evidence contradicts beliefs it's time to let them go.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What do you mean, it's not always about me?

I am a giant nerd, and I enjoy talking about nerdy things. Sometimes I get carried away and forget that there are normal people out there that don't really care very much about my DnD character or the awesome comics I read this week. When I am in the presence of such a non-geek it may take me a minute, but I will eventually realize it and make an effort to talk about whatever it is normal people talk about. (Movies? I dunno.)

I mean, it makes sense that not everyone shares my views and interests. I am perfectly capable of talking about non-geeky things when I'm around non-geeks. It just seems polite, honestly. Why would I expect them to enjoy or even participate in something that just really isn't their thing? I'm still a geek on the inside, and it doesn't stop me from making geeky jokes and observations.

So why is it that when someone is praying, they want everyone else to pray with them? In the last few months I must have read about at least a dozen law suits being filed against schools and city councils for instituting some kind of official prayer. Seriously? What is so wrong with a moment of silence? No one is stopping you from praying if that's what you want to do.

Now as I said, I understand that it's easy to forget that not everyone likes the same things you do. I can see how in a predominantly Christian neighborhood a prayer at the start of a meeting or at a graduation ceremony could be established without it occurring to anyone that it was wrong. Just because no one has complained up until now doesn't make it right, though. Once someone complains or files a law suit, why can't they just say 'Oops! Our bad!' and move on?

Because it is wrong, no doubt about it. Not everyone is Christian, and any endorsement by a government body of one particular faith over any other (or the lack of faith all together, for that matter) is discriminatory and violates the separation of church and state, no matter how harmless it seems. And hey! There's a completely reasonable alternative out there! Have a moment of silence, and let everyone use it however they'd like. Why are they wasting time and taxpayer money to fight these lawsuits? Why are they taking advantage of loopholes to keep their prayer as public as possible? Holding the prayer before the 'official' start of the meeting so it technically doesn't count, not screening student's graduation speeches, having a rotating list of speakers but only inviting predominantly Christian's shady dealings designed to avoid law suits without actually having to change anything. Why is being able to pray out loud and in public so important?

It's not just prayers, either. In Marion, Illinois they're trying to put up a Ten Commandments Monument in Town Square, on government property. When atheist Rob Sherman objected, he was 'not welcomed' in Marion. Rather than just building a non-religious monument instead, the City Council is talking about selling the land to make it technically private property. I hope they do, and Sherman outbids them. How is it anything but obvious that a monument to the Ten Commandments outside of City Hall is a problem? Why would they so stubbornly cling to the idea instead of just admitting that it would belittle non-Christians coming to City Hall seeking justice? How can a non-believer be sure they're going to be treated fairly in that kind of environment?

The Highway Crosses is another recent example. In Utah, highway troopers that fall in the line of duty are honored by erecting large, white crosses on busy highways. They argue that this is not an endorsement of religion, because crosses are not necessarily a religious symbol. So, why not just use something that is definitely not a religious symbol? Why fight an expensive legal battle to keep your crosses? Yes, families place roadside crosses all the time. Families are not a government body. There are plenty of ways to honor the fallen without religious overtones that are just asking for a lawsuit.

I am not at all religious, so maybe I'm missing something here...but I don't talk about geeky stuff every time I hang out with people. It doesn't make me less of a geek, or diminish my geekiness in any way. I don't erect monuments to Batman in front of government buildings so everyone can see how geeky I am. The whole attitude just confuses me.

Ok, never mind. I'm totally erecting a monument to Batman outside City Hall. That is just too awesome.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Judge Walker, Texas Ranger

So in other news I've been dying to write about, that pile of crap Proposition 8 was overturned in California! This is awesome in many ways. First, and most obvious, yay for equality! The fact that Prop 8 was passed in the first place was a grave injustice, and I am thrilled to see that injustice being corrected. Also, since the ruling itself actually stated that banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, we are closer than ever to getting a Supreme Court decision on the matter and hopefully putting it to rest once and for all.

Second, the ruling itself (which you can read here) was methodical, factual and thorough. It is in every way a victory for logic and rationality in government. Judge Vaughn R. Walker completely destroyed the gay bogeymen erected by the proponents of Prop 8 and the supposed "harmful consequences" of gay marriage by critically examining the case, witnesses and testimony. He found it severely lacking, and I commend him for his use of pure reason in handling such an emotionally charged topic. Dude kicks ass, is all m'sayin'. There's a really good summary of Judge Walker's findings here.

I was seriously psyched by this decision. It gave me a little bit more hope for humanity and the ability of rationality to triumph over fear and prejudice. So when I went home to visit family and my step-dad started spouting his usual mix of anger and bigotry, I didn't let it get to me. 'No sir, you are not the one in power here!' I thought. 'A new age is upon us, and my generation will make things right! Bully!' When my youngest brother started parroting him and talking about how 'gross' it was for two guys to kiss, I got a little phased. When random strangers walking past me at the mall echoed that sentiment I was actually pretty bummed by it. 'There is so much ignorance out there, and we have so far to go', I thought. 'Balls.' My other little brother (I'm the oldest of seven. There are a lot of us.) restored my hope considerably, though. He actually initiated a conversation with me about how awesome the overturning of Prop 8 was, totally of his own accord. You rock, little bro.

My experiences back home did ground me somewhere back in reality. Yeah, we're making progress. That's awesome and should be celebrated. There's still a lot of hate and ignorance to be overcome, though.

First Amendment >>> Internet Polls

Ok, so I'm a bit late to weigh in on this issue because I haven't had time to write in a while, but there's this HUGE debate going on about the 'Ground Zero Mosque'. When I first read about it I thought it was kind of silly, and I certainly didn't expect it to get this huge. I mean, what exactly are they debating about? Nothing illegal is happening and the government has no power to do anything about it, no matter what popular opinion says. This article does a pretty good job of explaining why the whole thing is ridiculous.

Now, this subject came up while I was visiting home. My Dad has been both a paramedic and a firefighter, and he objected to the 'Mosque' because the families of the first responders killed in the World Trade Center attacks objected. He felt that their wishes ought to be respected, and honestly that's the only argument against the construction project that's made me stop and think for a minute...until I remembered that Muslim citizens and first responders were killed in the attacks as well. No, I respect and sympathize with those families, but their objections are reactionary and their anger is misguided. Popular opinion does not trump the First Amendment. Anyone who understands the facts of this situation (I hope anyway) has to see how pointless the argument against it actually is, and how dangerous it would be if the First Amendment were compromised in any way.

The people perpetuating the argument strike me as either sensationalists who want to sell advertising or just plain hateful. The Daily Show has been doing an awesome job tearing them apart, too...especially Fox News. *shudder* Nothing frustrates me more than seeing facts twisted to support an agenda, and that is pretty clearly what is happening here.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Belief and Political Correctness

As far as I'm concerned, ideas are infinitely preferable to beliefs. People get hung up on beliefs. They take them personally. For example, I don't believe that God doesn't exist; the evidence suggests that God doesn't exist. If the evidence changes, I'll have to get a new idea. Obviously, not everyone uses this approach. That's fine, people should think and believe however and whatever they want.

That principle, that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and opinions, is very important to me. Unfortunately though, like many principles, it doesn't always work so well in practice. Because sometimes, people are just wrong. Evolution happens. It is measurable and observable and can be used to make reliable predictions about the world. The Earth is about 4.54 billion years old, give or take a few millennium. We have radiometric dating techniques that say so. Just because you don't understand the math doesn't mean it's not true. Dinosaurs were real. We have the fossils, and they weren't planted by Satan to test your faith.

'Calm down, BW!' you may say. 'Sure, some people believe silly things that aren't true, but that's ok! The Universe doesn't care what people believe!' And you'd be absolutely right. But where do we draw the line? Where does being tolerant of others' beliefs cross over into allowing harm to occur unchallenged? How do you deal with people who genuinely believe that they are doing the right thing, and just happen to be completely wrong?

Abortion clinic protesters believe that what they are doing is right. They believe that babies are being murdered, and they are doing their best to put a stop to it. But they don't distinguish between patients seeking therapeutic or elective abortions, and they don't distinguish between an actual person and a cluster of tissue that might be a person. The decision to get an abortion is never easy to make, but it is a decision that has to be made by each woman individually. Some pregnancies are the product of rape or abuse. Many abortions are medically necessary. By harassing patients and employees, all that these protesters accomplish is to make it harder for these women to receive the care they need. I found this letter, written by a former protester to be especially poignant. This girl was just doing what her grandmother said and trying to help save babies. How do you get through to people that are so convinced they are in the right?

Cultural beliefs can be just as problematic as religious beliefs. Slavery was once a way of life in America. People fought to defend that way of life, even though it involved subjugating others. In retrospect it is obvious that owning another person is wrong, but the people living that life believed they were entitled to it. Now we have culturally sanctioned segregation and abuse of women. Honor killings are on the rise, especially in immigrant communities exposed to western values. This editorial discusses how the ideology of multiculturalism is problematic for advocates dealing with abused women in these communities. The cultural values and traditions that lead to violence are not discussed or questioned, because the culture must be respected. But when those beliefs lead to tragedies like the death of Aqsa Parvez, it may be time for some cultural insensitivity. Where do you draw the line? How do you get through to those people who feel like Aqsa'a parents were in the right and she brought it upon herself?

I could go on forever here. Believers in faith healing let their children and loved ones die of preventable diseases rather than take them to a doctor. Some people can argue quite reasonably and eloquently that gay people don't deserve the same rights as other human beings and it has nothing to do with bigotry and homophobia. Really. That's just the way things are to them. It's completely and utterly wrong, but that is what they believe and how they see the world.

Ok, I've asked where the line is and what do we do about it, time to man up and actually try to answer the question. I draw the line between accepting other beliefs and speaking out against them where those beliefs start to negatively affect others. If you, as an informed adult, choose to rely on prayer for healing and celebrate the Earth's 6001st birthday then go for it. You're not hurting anyone but yourself. If you deny your children access to medical care because you think God will cure them or try to deny anyone else their rights because your beliefs say they shouldn't have them, you can go fuck yourself. I will oppose you in every way I know how. It's not enough just to extend tolerance to everyone, because some beliefs should not be tolerated.

Obviously there's a lot of gray area here. There is no one universally applicable right answer. Each unique situation must be approached with empathy and critical thought. The only thing shown to reliably decrease abortion rates is to increase education about family planning and contraceptive use. The best way to increase understanding and acceptance of different cultures is to increase exposure and education between groups. Cultural or ideological sensitivity is no reason to allow ignorance to take root and spread. When individual belief comes into conflict with the safety, happiness and education of others it has to take a back seat.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Thoughts on Happiness

As I may have mentioned before, I am an atheist. As such, I see life as a temporary thing. One of my main goals is to experience said life as thoroughly and as richly as possible, and to make it better for others to the best of my ability. As far as I'm concerned, we only get one shot at things. If you aren't happy, then you need to change things until you are. Being miserable is a waste of time.

Well, that was all rather trite and preachy, wasn't it? What am I getting at here? Basically, I have had to make some decisions lately for the sake of my happiness that were probably going to make someone else unhappy. It felt selfish and mean, and was difficult to do. I spent about a week making the decision and talking it over with people. Why? If happiness is my priority, why was it so hard to make what was clearly the right decision for me? Because I was making the other person's happiness my responsibility. This is an easy trap to fall in to, one to which I am especially vulnerable. (I get like a -10 on the search check. It's an obliviousness penalty.) Fortunately, experience has taught me to recognize the trap and get out of it quickly. I told the other person how I felt, and things changed. The other person may be unhappy for a while, but their reaction to my honest feelings is their own responsibility.

Unfortunately, some people actively set this trap for others. Ex-boyfriends threaten to commit suicide unless you take them back. Parents claim that you are ruining their marriage by being gay. Another person makes their happiness contingent on you doing what they want. These are extreme examples, but this is emotional blackmail and it happens all the time. Taking a stand when you are caught up in a situation like this can be a difficult and heart-wrenching thing. I would encourage everyone to take a good look at this equation and make sure you don't fall on either side of it. If you do, please do something about it.

I don't care what you believe...if you're not happy, what's the point? Do what you need to do to be happy. I'm not saying you should go out and quit your job or tell your nagging mom to go fuck herself, but don't let other people's happiness keep you from yours. Unless you're Jean Grey or Superman, you only live once.

BW's Heroes: Coolest Mad Scientist Ever

This guy right here? He is the shit.

Nikola Tesla is my hero. When most people think about Mad Scientists, they are thinking of Tesla...only he actually existed, and was actually mad. Literally, there's evidence to support that he was obsessive-compulsive at least. He held conventions with Tesla coils blasting electricity throughout the room, and would laugh at the terrified people. It was totally safe, after all. They were just a bunch of ninnies who didn't understand science. Nowadays, we have ArcAttack. Thank you, Tesla.

The man was a genius. Modern commercial electricity is based on his theories and development of Alternating Current electric power systems and motors. Edison dismissed AC power because he didn't understand the math. Tesla dismissed Edison for being a bad scientist. His AC current kicked Edison's ass in the War of the Currents, and he could have been a billionaire for those discoveries, too. He tore up the contracts because he thought power should be freely available, and because it would have put his employer out of business to have to pay them.

I think that's why I admire the man so much. He was absolutely innovative, sure. The list of his inventions and the contributions he made to science is mind-bogglingly long and varied. Electromagnetism, robotics, computers, remote control technology...we owe the dude a lot. It's the pattern of his life that is so incredible to me, though. He loved a challenge, and he loved science. He didn't market his inventions well or care about making money. He didn't care that people thought he was crazy, or that his Death Ray was purely theoretical or that the technology needed for his Flying Machine probably wouldn't be developed in his (or any) lifetime. It was the idea that mattered. Figuring it out. Taking the spark of inspiration, and following it wherever it took him, no matter how crazy it seemed. There's something really awesome about that. I don't know if I could do it with everything he had to face, even if I had his genius.

Tesla was ostracized during his time. His few close friends, Mark Twain among them, spoke well of him but he never married (obviously because the two of us were born centuries apart, o cruel fate), and died alone in a world that dismissed him as a 'Mad Scientist'. The Fools. They'll pay...they will all pay! As soon as I get my time machine working...

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Priorities, people!

If I need help, I do not stop and wonder if the person who is helping me believes in God. I do not concern myself with their personal life at all, really. They are helping me. I say 'Thank you'. So when I read about this, I was rather incredulous. A food bank was unable to make all of its deliveries because they were short on volunteers, but they were turning away volunteers who didn't belong to a church. The guy running the food bank even admits that 'it sounds really, really stupid', but apparently the food bank was set up with increasing church involvement as a primary goal. I thought feeding hungry people was the point of a food bank. Would the people getting the food have cared whether or not the deliveries came from church-goers?

This may be a relatively small issue, but it hints at something bigger. Any situation where politics or prejudice interferes with getting help to people who need it is an unnecessary and terrible thing. When the earthquake hit Haiti, there were huge delays getting aid to the people that needed it because of bureaucracy. I can't go anywhere at the hospital where I do my research without seeing signs asking you to donate blood, but the FDA bans a significant portion of the population (homosexual men) from donating at all.

That is something that has really bothered me for years, too. Hospitals always need blood. Always. I have never seen a blood drive that wasn't advertising a 'critical shortage'. They need this blood to save people's lives, in the most literal sense. But only if it's not gay.

Now I know, the ban was put in place back in 1983 because the male homosexual population at the time had significantly higher rates of HIV infection. We had no effective screening process to ensure donated blood was safe, and it was honestly better in terms of disease control to eliminate the possibility of receiving blood from such a high risk population. Seriously though, that was almost thirty years ago. All donated blood is screened for HIV now, and other high risk populations are only required to wait a year after their last 'high risk behavior' before they get the go ahead to donate. Don't even get me started on why butt sex even qualifies as a 'high risk' behavior. Ugh.

So why is the ban still in place? Apparently it's a polarizing issue, with the blood banks themselves split on whether to maintain the lifetime ban or remove it entirely. But we're talking about peoples' lives here, why is it even up for debate? More blood donations can only be a good thing. Sometimes I just want to smack some perspective into people.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Evil Forces of Misinformation

There are a lot of things in this world that annoy me. Fundamentalists, Fox News, Jenny McCarthy and the anti-vax nuts...they all make me a little crazy and prone to violent ranting. So does passive-aggressiveness, but that's neither here nor there. The thing that these particular subjects of my ire all have in common is misrepresenting or flat out ignoring facts and evidence. They represent to me a perversion of the scientific method. Rather than developing theories based on evidence, they have agendas that the facts are cut and twisted to fit.

But that in and of itself isn't so bad. It's certainly frustrating, but people everywhere do it all the time. We want certain things to be true, so we look for affirmation of those things and gloss over the contradictions. What inspires mind-exploding rage in me is the depth of impact these particular groups have and how little that matters to them. Fundamentalists don't care that Creationism, for example, isn't supported by a single shred of evidence, they still think it should be taught in schools. It doesn't matter to them that they are misrepresenting or ignoring actual science, or that their distortions spread and are accepted as fact by people all over the world.

Fox News (and honestly most news networks to some degree, but Fox annoys me the most so I'm picking on them) is notorious for bias and regularly reports stories that are puffed up without calling the substance of the data into question. The recent 'Climategate' scandal is a perfect example. Climate researchers at the University of East Anglia had their e-mails hacked and cobbled together to give the appearance that their data did not support humanity as a contributing factor to global warming. This was being covered up in a vast liberal conspiracy designed to sell eco-friendly merchandise. Fox jumped all over this story, which fell apart within a week or two after some basic fact-checking. That apsect of the story was glossed over, however. Still, the negative impact this story had is real. People have a natural tendency to believe what they hear first. Even if the initial story is later debunked or retracted, the damage is already done. Nowadays, information spreads so quickly that the importance of getting the facts straight the first time is greater than ever, but the truth is secondary to ratings and pandering to the audience.

The anti-vaccination movement is an even bigger pet peeve of mine. If I even hear it mentioned I have to take several deep breaths or risk foaming at the mouth with rage. I'm a microbiologist and an immunologist, so the depth of ignorance being circulated on this subject is especially painful to me. A big part of why vaccines work at all is because of something called herd immunity. If most of the people in a population are protected against a disease, it is less likely to spread. This creates a layer of protection for people more vulnerable to the disease, such as children, the elderly and immunocompromised patients. If vaccination rates decrease then that protection erodes, with predictable results. Unvaccinated populations also create an environment in which the microorganism can adapt to the human host, potentially generating new strains that the current vaccines are less effective against.

I have yet to see any data in support of the anti-vaccination movement that hasn't been completely retracted or discredited. People are literally dying, of preventable diseases no less, because of it, and why? To cause fear and perpetuate a scandal? To sell books and bogus homeopathic remedies? None of this makes any sense. The decision to not vaccinate your children doesn't just affect you, it puts them and everyone else in your community at risk. The decision to convince people that they shouldn't vaccinate their kids has the potential to affect society as a whole. Perpetuating this misinformation is probably the most socially irresponsible thing I can imagine.

Well, now that I've ranted and raved about the Evil Forces of Misinformation plaguing society, what is to come of it? There is misinformation everywhere after all, it's not going to disappear no matter what. Even if Fox News suddenly starts doing informative and fair reporting and Jenny McCarthy tells everyone to vaccinate their kids immediately, the problem is bigger than them. With so much information out there, we have to start doing our own fact checking. We have to apply critical thinking to everything we hear, from office rumors to the local news. We need to hold ourselves and others accountable for the accuracy of our statements, because the truth matters and people are listening.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Ever wonder what will happen to your pets after the Rapture?

My grandmother is a huge fan of the 'Left Behind' books. I find them to be generally distasteful, but interesting in concept. The question of what the rest of us would do if some significant portion of the population was 'gone' (abducted by aliens, turned into zombies, killed by a plague, wiped out in a war, etc.) is one of the most popular themes in science fiction. For good reason, since it allows us to explore interesting questions about our own nature. How would I respond to a crisis? Would I survive the zombie apocalypse? Pretty much every nerd I know has a Zombie Attack Plan and has assessed their home for the level of protection it would provide against the Horde. It's fun to think about, and honestly I think it makes us more prepared for any real crisis that comes our way.

The reason I found the 'Left Behind' concept so unpleasant was that it centered around an apocalyptic event that many people actually believe is going to happen. Some people have even set a date for it, as I griped about previously. To me, it seemed to trivialize their beliefs. To the people who held those beliefs, my grandmother included, it gave them a weird (to me) feeling of superiority. Like my friends and I, she was imagining what would happen to her if the events of the story actually took place...and she saw herself being raptured away and watching those events unfold from heaven. She was a bit difficult to live with for a few weeks after reading those books.

Even back in my days as a card-carrying Episcopalian the idea of the Rapture didn't make sense to me. It was too dramatic, too flashy...I didn't really believe in it. Now that I am a card-carrying atheist I definitely don't believe in it, and as such would be left behind if I were proven wrong and the Rapture were to occur. A few atheists are taking that fact and running with it. Since all of us heathen atheists aren't going anywhere, once the Rapture happens we'll feed your dog while you're out. There's a child rescue service available as well, in case your baby is orphaned when you are taken up to heaven. That's right, affirmed atheists are offering their services to care for your beloved children and pets after you leave them behind to go chill with Jesus. I bet they'll even water your plants for you if you tip nicely.

If this were a joke service I would find it hilarious, but they're actually taking people's money. Setting aside how ridiculous it is that anyone is seriously using this service, the people offering it are absolutely sure that they will never have to fulfill their contracts. If the Rapture did occur, there would be no one to enforce them anyway. Doesn't that make the whole thing a scam? Aren't they just taking advantage of people here?

I'm not sure. If someone really believes the Rapture is coming and they are going to be among those brought into Heaven, this could be a legitimate worry for them. The Bible doesn't exactly paint a nice picture of Earth post-Rapture. How could anyone enjoy Heaven knowing their children and pets were left to face that world alone? Maybe the peace of mind the service provides is worth it to those individuals that literally expect to be raptured any day now.

I don't know if this is right or wrong, but I do know I don't really like it. It feels like something important is being compromised, though I haven't figured out why just yet. Maybe it's that someone who would pay an atheist to take care of their animals after they get raptured is probably a nice person who really loves their pets and happens to have some misguided beliefs. Maybe it's that the service strikes me as a mean joke, where the customers pay you to laugh at them. Maybe it's that my grandmother would probably do it, especially if you caught her in those few weeks after she read the Left Behind books. It doesn't sit well with me.