student learning math on computer clipart

Warning: There will be some “Mathyness” to this post, but I will refrain from including anything concrete and stick with vague references or analogies, so that no math knowledge is required.

When I came home from Houston a two weeks ago, I had spent the previous 4 weeks number crunching to attack a question regarding Odd Perfect Numbers. Of course, by then the data I had collected had become quite unwieldly, but that’s the nature of such beasts. As ideas are prone to do, just prior to leaving Texas, I had had an epiphany on how to improve the number crunching process. Since my dreams of a self-driving car are still a few years away, I am unable to drive and program at the same time and I had to wait several days before I got home to implement my thoughts.

Prior to this new idea, I knew it was going to take months of work to perform all the necessary calculations. I also knew a fair portion would have to be matched up by hand, but I was expecting to be able to get the computer to do a lot of that eventually. (Though that may be some wishful thinking. As I said, the data as collected was very unwieldly.) My new process had two major improvements, most importantly, it would allow the computer to always work with the smallest numbers available at any given time. A huge benefit considering some of the numbers can be over a hundred digits long. The process would also lend itself to a simple automation process for the more difficult pattern matching part of the problem that I had been doing by hand.

So I set about writing the code for my new idea and finished it in about a day. I could have tried to continue off the work I had already done, but I wanted to see how much of an improvement the new process was in comparison. Much to my delight, I had (in some sense) recovered the previous month’s worth of work in about 4 days. This past week-and-a-half has been spent tweaking the process and grinding out more data.

In truth, I have been working on this problem for over 5 months. I started with much of the current work on Odd Perfect Numbers. By that, I mean I looked at a few published papers. Then I found the papers that those papers referenced and read through those, and so on.

As I tried to explain to my students, it takes time to ingest mathematical ideas. When you watch a teacher solve a problem on the board, it’s like magic. Yet it takes a lot of work, a lot of problem solving, some experience, and time for a person solve problems in that “Magically efficient” way.  Basically, I had to teach myself the necessary mathematical ideas. And in the same way it takes weeks and months for a student to learn calculus, it took me time to learn what I needed to know about Odd Perfect Numbers. So hopefully, it makes sense that I would throw out a month’s worth of work and start over.

It is important to note that this problem is about proving the non-existence of something. I doubt that any mathematician in the world thinks that an Odd Perfect Number exists, the problem is proving it. Though this question has been around for centuries, the best mathematicians have been able to do is subtly “corral” a hypothetical Odd Perfect Number; penning it in with more and more conditions in hopes that, one day, someone will be able to show that no such number can satisfy all the conditions and thus, no Odd Perfect Numbers exist.

This is my goal. I hope to add another subtle condition to the list.

At the moment, it is known that a certain internal structure of an Odd Perfect Number must be less than a certain upper bound. In particular, the sum of the reciprocal of all the primes that divide an Odd Perfect Number must be less than ln(2) = 0.693147. If one knows a little more about the Odd Perfect Number in question, then this upper bound can be lowered. For the case that I am working on, I was able to apply some results from other papers to lower my bound to .664449, which may not seem like much, but it’s quite a bit, I promise.

After two weeks of number crunching I have assembled a collection of primes that would divide an Odd Perfect Number of the sort I am looking at and their collective “weight”, for the lack of a better term, comes to 0.654786. Which means I am .009663 shy of the upper bound I am looking to break.

I’d love to say I am on the verge of surpassing the bound, and it certainly appears to be the case, but looks can be deceiving. Currently, I am adding about .0005 to .0007 every day and even these values are slowly getting smaller and smaller. I have another “small” trick or two up my sleeve, but each day will be a grind to add more and more weight. I am figuring that the process will take 2-3 more weeks, but I am resolved to see this through to the end.

Despite the growing pressure to look for a job…

A Perfect Time

Gosh Golly!

A whole month since my last post. It’s funny how and not busy I have been. I spent the last two weeks (and then some) on the road visiting friends in other states. (South Carolina and Texas) So part of my excuse is being away from home and severely off my regular routine.

The trip was great and productive in some ways that I’ll get into in a moment, but my biggest take away is that I have learned my lesson on “Long Drives”. I drove from Texas to West Virginia in one shot and it just wasn’t worth the hassle. On my way down, I stopped in SC for a couple days, so I was able to break the trip into thirds (One-third to SC and two-thirds from SC to TX). Prior to this trip, the longest drive I had made was just under 11 hours. This trip doubled that. Never again will I force myself to endure so many near misses of falling asleep behind the wheel.

As for how I spent most of the rest of my time (while not being entertained as a guest), I worked on a math problem. Those that know me, know that I when I am unemployed I almost always slip into some sort of math/computer science research. Most of the time, the results can only be measured in personal growth, but this time, I think I have picked up a project that, when finished, I should be able to publish the results.

Most mathematical, and indeed, most scientific research is nothing more than “incremental” results. One small step that came on the heels of a prior small step. That is exactly the result I have here. Nothing that will make the newspapers, but it is of basic interest to those working in the field. The title of this post is a hint as to what I have been working on. The question has to do with Odd Perfect Numbers.

I’ll go into more detail in a couple days. Right now, I need to unpack, clean the cob webs that cropped up in my absence, and recover from the drive.

Who Doesn’t Love Topless Women?

I had meant to follow-up my previous post “I Just Don’t Get the Jesus Myth”, but I’ve been a bit distracted the past few days. I’ll have to get back to that one soon. That said, I must’ve been really distracted, since I’m not sure how I missed this one:

Topless Protester Disrupt Muslim Conference on Women

I’m sure this story has already been kicked around the blogosphere, but I feel compelled to add my two cents on the matter. For those too lazy to read the 600 word article I’ll give a brief run down of the facts:

  1. Two Muslim men were on stage debating the important topic, “Should wives be beaten or not?” (Answer = Obvious)
  2. The debate was interrupted by two Muslim extremist women who tore off their bee keeper outfits, grabbed the microphones, and paraded around the stage topless. (Topless! They didn’t even have the decency to strap bombs to their chests to cover themselves.)
  3. The two terrorists were properly subdued by approximately 15 men. Before they were dragged out into the street and stoned given proper justice, someone pointed out the conference was taking place in France, and the women were turned over to the police.
  4. Over 6,000 clueless people sign a meaningless online petition denouncing the event.
  5. The conference organizers defend their right to assemble and claim they are “the victim of an anti-Muslim media frenzy.”

All silliness and sarcasm aside, I’m not going to discuss this story in the obvious context of the women. As I said, I’m late to the party on that score and, no doubt, people more eloquent than me have begged the question, “How is the subject of whether or not women should be beaten an actual topic of discussion?” If the preamble isn’t something along the lines of, “So this women walks up to me and puts a gun in my face,…”, the answer is almost certainly going to be “It is not a topic for discussion. Ever! Never, ever, ever, never, ever, never, never!!!”

I’m actually going to look at this article in the context of point #5. The conference and the organizers are “victims”. The gall of the Abrahamic faiths and their persecution complexes never ceases to amaze me. Here we have the quintessential example of Muslim men sitting around discussing the best ways to oppress women and when they get called out on their immorality, they claim to be persecuted.

Who in the world could possibly believe this line of reasoning?

Clearly, Muslims. Especially Muslims in France, where they likely, are being persecuted as a minority. The fact that they’re persecuted for exactly this kind of crap seems to escape them. But they have the right to their own religious beliefs, and if you sincerely believe women should be subjugated then it’s okay, because Allah.

Of course, these faiths don’t even have to be the minority to be persecuted. Christians in the U. S. represent 73% of the populace and they’re being persecuted like a MuthaF#$%&@. Ever since Kim Davis was arrested for contempt of court being a Christian, all hell has broken out [add link when hell breaks loose].

I’ve spoken to two Christians about their current persecution, and rather surprisingly they’ve both tried to defend it. Both, I know well enough I can vouch for them not being homophobic, and are both pro-gay marriage, but they insist that some sort of “slippery slope” is happening to their rights to be Christians because their immoral Bible is being ignored by our secular government.

When I asked them to tell me specifically what rights they are being denied as Christians, all I get is first amendment rhetoric. Even though no one, not even The Gays, is preventing them from being Christian. If they were TRUE Christians and believed in their Bible, they’d take to the streets and stone every gay person they saw.

The fact that ALL of our rights end at our own personal boundaries (a term I’ll leave intentionally vague to encompass more than just our physical bodies when the right in question regards personal property, etc.). Somehow, they expect religious beliefs to be allowed to transcend their space.

I’m sorry, I meant to say, “They expect THEIR religious beliefs to transcend their space.”

We certainly wouldn’t want Muslims to start dictating how people dress in this country.

Oops, those were Christians.

And to make sure the Jews don’t get a complete pass in this post, I’m counting the days before all women have to turn in their driver’s licenses because the Hasid’s said so.

Crap! Now I’m persecuting Jews. Yahweh’s special little children. As if they haven’t been persecuted enough by Yahweh.

I Just Don’t Get the Jesus Myth

I have several friends with whom I discuss Christianity. When I ask them point blank to explain it, generally they cannot. When I tell them what it is they’re supposed to believe, they give me this look as though I’m the one being utterly naive.

A few weeks ago, I start a conversation with a married couple I am friends with using a line I stole from Noah Lusians, host of the Scathing Atheist podcast, “So you believe the earth was populated after a person made out of a rib was tricked into eating a fruit by a talking serpent?”

In hindsight, my biggest fear in starting the conversation probably should have been the response, “Yes, the earth was populated after a person made out of a rib was tricked into eating a fruit by a talking serpent. And?”

Me: “And you’re clearly bat-shit-crazy.”

End Scene.

Instead, they give me, “The Look” for a few seconds. A half baked smile-grimace on their faces. One of them manages to suggest, “Well, it’s actually a metaphor.”

Me: “Okay, explain the metaphor. A metaphor is a comparison of two, possibly disparate things, using a common thread between the two ideas, concepts, objects, whatever’s being compared.”

Eventually, they manage to squeak out something about original sin. Although I still don’t see the actual metaphor, their words are ridiculous and I suspect would cause me physical pain and vomiting, if I try to get them to clarify. So I let the whole metaphor thing go under the assumption that they don’t know their own religion well enough to explain it properly. After all, neither of them are theologians. I continue.

Me: “So this original sin never actually happened, it’s just a metaphor?”

They don’t commit to anything, at first. (NOTE: It’s about here the husband has to go to work, so I am left talking with just the wife.) The wife reasons through a few facts about evolution and comes to the conclusion that our species probably didn’t come about from just two people, the proverbial Adam and Eve. So as previously suggested, this original sin probably didn’t actually happen.

I’m actually delighted to speak with a “reasonable” Christian. But there’s a reason that “real” Christians fight so hard to deny evolution.

Me: “The only reason to believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior is because the Original Sin literally happened. Because of this sin, the Holy Spirit, who is also Yahweh, ethereally rapes some young woman so she could have himself (Yahweh) in the form of Jesus (who is also Yahweh?) as her baby.”

I had to mentally make sure I got all that correct, so I let those words hang in the air for moment before continuing.

Me: “Next, Jesus grows up and is tortured and crucified, allowing his (Yahweh’s) sacrifice to atone for mankind’s original sin, which never actually happened, but in metaphor. So there’s really no reason for Yahweh to sacrifice himself, except for what? Dramatic purposes?”

At this point, my friend, she has nothing. More or less, she changes the subject, and I let it go. No doubt, she thinks I’m playing with her, or mocking her faith or whatever, but I genuinely want to understand. I don’t say things in this way about Christianity to be mocking, I say them in this way, because that’s how they sound to me.

At this point, I’m trying to figure out if Jesus’s death was some kind of metaphor of a metaphor, a meta-metaphor? I don’t know. Quite honestly, I would love to believe in a higher power of some kind, but does it have sound so ridiculous?

When Does 2+2=4, Mr. Trump?

I never thought Donald Trump was a serious Presidential candidate. In fact, I think he first got into the fray because all of the other republican candidates were nose bleeds looking to get pinched off by a serious contender. He probably saw the weak field and figured for a few million or a few tens of millions of dollars (which is nothing to him) he could rant and rave like the star of a reality TV show and get his narcissistic mug on TV for more than his allotted 15 minutes.

The rest of the field has turned out to be so pathetic, I seemingly I gave them too much credit as nose bleeds. After twelve weeks of Trump’s racist commentaries, he is still the last best hope for the GOP. Personally, I am still hopeful the Republicans can find a serious candidate. Until then, Trump will continue to ride the cycle of “Doing well in the polls because he’s getting press, and getting press because he’s doing well in the polls.”

I’m going to focus on his racist comments from here on out. Mind you, these comments started in his announcement speech. (Full text can be found here.) Trump asserted that, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best [sic]. They’re sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

Trump math seems to go something like this:

Anecdotes + Confirmation Bias = Obvious Fact

As simple as 2 + 2 = 4.

Unfortunately, Trump’s trumpeting is beginning to go on too long. The fact that no one has rolled up a newspaper and slapped it across the bridge of his nose, while firmly stating, “No!” Is beginning to lend his words credence. At this point, most cranks get relegated to the tabloids, but Trump is still front page news, because the news regulators keep putting him on the front page. Continually giving this jerk airtime, simply means that his racist message gets more airtime. And once people are exposed to an idea long enough, no matter how bad, they may begin to think there’s an actual debate going on.

Drum up enough hate without any (positive?) way to release it and you get people reacting in explosive ways. Since Trump is so fond of anecdotes, here’s a good one: Brian Zaragoza, 14, was shot in a drive-by on his way home from the grocery store by someone shouting an anti-mexcian slur. Mind you, Brian is a U. S. citizen and if you watch the video his English is as flawless as mine. Brian is also from Indiana. A state that is closer to Canada than Mexico.

Let’s see how my Trump Math adds up:

Brian shot by anti-mexican bigot + Trump filling people’s heads with racist anti-mexican ideas the past 12 weeks = Trump is a co-conspirator to an attempted murder due to his inciting of the masses.

I’ll let you decide if the math holds up. A more correct version of this type of “math” could be stated:

Rational Thinking + Statistics = Nuanced Answer

I know. It’s not sexy. Nor does it offer the quick and easy instant gratification that we all prefer. For instance, my rational brain tells me that Hate Crimes go on every day and probably in every state in this country. It’s likely basic randomness that I happened to read about this shooting while thinking about Donald Trump’s racism. So it’s more likely that Trump’s potty mouth has nothing to do with the above shooting, but that doesn’t make for an interesting narrative and certainly isn’t going to deceive people into thinking like me.

The Washington Post has an excellent article illustrating the tough math, debunking Trump’s claims regarding illegal immigrants and their nefarious activities. As one would suspect, illegal immigrants statistically keep their heads down and try to go unnoticed. Yet the success of dozens to go unnoticed is negated by the occasional evil human being whose actions have nothing to do with the brownness of his skin.

Still, there is a narrative here. Am I really that far off when I say keeping Trump in the forefront of the news lends his racism credibility? If we go back to all his statements about “Mexicans” and change the word to “Negroes”, “Blacks”, or even “African-Americans” (pick your level of poison). Under which of those three scenarios does he not get booed off stage? Or cease to be covered by main stream news? Or not taken seriously on any level and relegated to the tabloids as suggested above? (Though I doubt the tabloids would even touch him. Racism is insufficiently “Juicey”.)

I suspect any one of the three options would have ended Trump’s presidential campaign, so why is it okay for him to be saying this about Hispanics?

Hint: It’s not okay.

6 Things Atheists Really Think About Christians

I’m really not  a fan of top XX lists. I think they’re just click bait and offer nothing more than what one person thinks. A Christian friend of mine, I’ll call her Jane Doe, sent me a link to one of these lists, 6 Eye Opening Things Atheists Think About Christians. Jane claimed to quit reading after the second item on the list, but I powered through to the end. This particular list is no less ridiculous than most lists, and really should be entitled, “6 Things Christians Think Atheists Think”. Worse yet, it’s written in that slide show style that makes people click through for every single item to artificially inflate page views, because, heaven forbid, the reader have to scroll down.

I’ll quickly mention the 6 points made in the list, then I’ll give you a list of six things atheists actually think about Christians. Or at least what first comes to my mind. I won’t presume to claim I know what anyone other than myself thinks.

1 – Unauthentic – Christians don’t act Christ-like. – I find that the “true” Christians complain about the insincere ones more than my atheist friends. Indeed, Jane, the friend that sent me this list owns a restaurant and has to listen to all the Christians gossip as they tear each other down every Sunday after their respective services.

2 – Intolerance – The author of the list suggests Christians can tolerate a sin without embracing the sin, citing homosexuality as the big example. Of the six, this is the only one I can see being on a real atheist’s list. I have heard many atheists call Christians out on their bigotry. The Christian response is usually something like: “*sniff sniff* Stop calling us bigots! God says it’s okay, so that means we’re not bigots. *sniff sniff* Don’t show me a dictionary! You’re being mean!  You’re the bad guy! *sniff sniff*

3 – Judgemental – I don’t think this of Christians. I think this of everybody. We’re all guilty of being judgemental. I honestly think this is a natural part of the human condition and we all should strive to improve.

4 – Hypocritical – The author mentions divorce rates, though I find it strange that Christians are so anti-divorce. The Bible specifically states that if the wife does something sexually immoral, then the man is free to divorce her, (Mathew 5:32) so long as he does not marry her again. (Deuteronomy 24:1-4) The only real hypocrisy being that God’s laws don’t reciprocate to the woman. (Oops!  Spoiler alert, for my list.)

5 – Confrontational – The author suggests Christians should listen more and be less confrontational, “It’s almost as if the focus of the Gospel of love has shifted into the Gospel of being right.”

6 – Sheltered & Isolated – “Be in the world, but not of the world” – This one was a bit of a shock to me. I’ve never considered Christians to be sheltered and isolated, but I can see it. I’ve lost friends that have converted to some Christian flavor because the first lessons they were taught was to shed themselves of their secular friends. I’ve always attributed this to the standard religious brain-washing techniques that most religious sects employ, but I guess the result is that they are sheltered and isolated.

Apparently, this is what Atheists think about Christians. Though as stated above, In reality, this is what one person thinks atheists think of Christians. Not surprisingly, it’s really too narrow in its scope. I would wager if you went through any atheists blog, no more than one, maybe two, of those topics would even come up let alone place in a top six category regarding the atheist’s thoughts on Christians.

I came up with 5 of the following very quickly and decided to consult my friend Moose to see what he’d come up with if I gave him 5 minutes. Not surprisingly, the first thing he mentioned was not on my list, but the next 3-4 things he mentioned were on my list, so I’d bet a fair number of atheists would have similar results. Maybe not.

Note: This is not the order with which I came up with this list, and I’m not asserting a hierarchy of any kind. The list is what it is, 6 things an atheist like myself (and Moose) thinks of Christians.

1 – The big Irrationality – Who’s right?

Why is your brand of Christianity the right one? I understand that most Christians think in terms of all the Christian denominations have merit and all of them can be a path to Yahweh. Some even think that any religion can be a path to Yahweh, but according to the Bible the only correct path is through Jesus. (This excludes Jews and Muslims from the path.) As for my grandmother’s generation, there was great animosity between creeds and who was right. I find it amusing that as Christian numbers have slowly waned the last couple of generations, that many of these minor differences between the denominations have been left in the rear-view mirror.

The obvious observation becomes, you’re a Christian because you were born into it. Leading to the question, if you’re born in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia or any of the countries where Islam is the predominant religion, why wouldn’t you think Muhammed is the correct path to Allah? Would you be wrong? What of all the faiths that directly contradict the Abrahamic faiths?

Call it semantics if you want, but atheists don’t think of Christians as being confrontational when it comes to the “Who’s right” question. We wonder how a Christian can assert ANYTHING when faced with the probabilistic lottery of having been born into a faith. I have been told by a Christian that if he had been born in a Muslim household, he’d probably be a Muslim right now, and he’d still be correct in his beliefs.

I stopped the discussion there. If the person you’re conversing with has abandoned all sense of rationality, there is no sense in having a rational discussion.

2 – Misogyny

If you read anything I write about religion, 9 times out of 10 misogyny is going to be mentioned. The Yahweh, Jesus, Allah of the Abrahamic faiths are all patriarchal pigs. I’m not even going to waste my time saying any more about that. We all know it.

3 – Vile, hate-filled, jealous God

All kinds of apologetics have come about to explain why Yahweh is so all-loving and still manages to be such a dick. All I ever needed to read was Psalm 137:8-9 “O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.” Anyone who tells you to take your enemies babies and smash them against the rocks, is about as far from all-loving as it gets. And the first Christian that says those babies were not without sin and deserved to be punished, deserves to be alternately raped by walruses and polar bears.

4 – “You’re reading it wrong”

I can’t tell you how many different ways I’ve been told that if I am gleaning such awfulness from the Bible, then I am reading it wrong. The truth is, Christians just aren’t reading it. You never hear a Christian say, “There’s such a good parable about XXX. I learned this, from [Bible reference].”

However, you do hear them cite a line from one book, then another line from another book, then another line from yet another book, and so on. Very clearly cherry picking “sound bites” from an otherwise grisly text.

When we read in Judges 19 about a man throwing his concubine to a crowd of evil men to save himself, and in the morning when she is found dead he chops her into 12 pieces and sends one piece to each territory in Isreal, what exactly are we supposed to learn from this story? Oh yeah, we learn he’s the good guy because he raises an army to come back and crush the wicked evildoers.

When reading your book from beginning to end, or simply reading consecutive verses is “reading it wrong”. I think that says something about your book.

When pointing out the passages that say it’s okay to sell your daughter into slavery for 30 shekels of silver, that it’s okay to marry your daughter off to her rapist so long as the rapist has 50 shekels to reimburse you for your “loss”, and you act like those verses don’t apply to your Bible, that says something about you, the Christian.

5 – A la Carte Cafeteria religion – Over 2 billion served!

I once told my father that, “Christianity is an a la carte religion. One simply opens up the bible like a menu to create God in your own image by picking and choosing your beliefs.”

He responded, “Do you really believe that?”

“Of course, how else do you think 2 billion people could ever agree on anything?”

This is so true, my friend Jane agrees with me. She embraces it in fact. Another non sequitur atheists are forced to swallow. I’m supposed to make sense of the fact that your god commands something of you, but you don’t have to obey because somehow you know better than your god? If you can over-rule the creator of the universe, then why all the gay hate and no shell fish hate? Where are all the protests for making clothing out of more than one type of thread? Why aren’t Christians protesting pig farms slaughtering pigs to be eaten? Why don’t Chrisitan women divorce their husbands for trimming the hair near their temples and trimming their beards? Why don’t Chick-fil-A employees run around stoning other retail employees for working on Sunday? (Oh yeah, because the Sabbath is Saturday.)

6 – Delusions of Faith and Prayer

I could write pages on this alone. Christians seem to think that their faith and prayers provide them with something magical the rest of us do not have. This is demonstrably false, and yet they believe it anyway. For example, NO amount of faith and prayer is going to cure you of cancer. This has been shown through statistics using double blind studies. Despite all rationality, when someone prays, undergoes chemotherapy, and then surgery to remove a tumor, it’s God and the prayers that cured them. (Remarkably, the fact that their god gave them cancer seems to never get a mention.)

This system even has its own built in scape goat, namely, you! If your prayers go unanswered, it’s obviously your fault. You’re somehow inadequate and don’t deserve God’s love, apparently, God’s will is that you die of the cancer.

Worse yet, there’s icing on this cake. Televangelists prey on naive and desperate Christians claiming they’ll cure them of all their ailments (even financial ailments) if you just send them money. Seriously? How does this claim make it past the smell test? Christ went around healing sinners for free. Not that I believe that, but at least the Christians should!

If praying makes you feel good, then by all means do it. But don’t kid yourself into thinking that these softly mumbled words to a hate-filled, three-headed deity will have any impact on the real world.

Each of these six points is worthy of at least a half dozen pages each, but for the quick & dirty, this will have to do. What does everyone else got?

Get Your Misogyny Here!

Another year, and once again I am reminded that tomorrow, August 26th is “Women’s Equality Day”. Thanks going to K. S. Bowers for reminding me this year. I make no apologies for needing to be reminded every year. Not only am I a guy, but I’m the worst kind of guy, being a fat lazy white American. I need to be reminded about everything that’s not related to food eating or TV watching. If you feel these are inadequate excuses, you’re probably right.

I originally set up this blog as a means to talk about my writing, but that’s stalled for now and I find that I still need to say something from time to time. Recently, I took down two years worth of blog posts about the writing and restarted with no particular theme in mind other than what’s going on in my head. I came out of the closet as a full fledged atheist about 8 years ago. Prior to that, I was apathetic towards theism altogether, but having just gotten my PhD at the time, I decided I’d take a stance on the matter and become an apathetic atheist. I’ve grown increasingly less apathetic the last couple of years, but I’ll talk about that some other time, as that is probably the direction this blog will head.

What kept me from organized religion? After all, I get the sense that a great number of “religious” people are more or less unattached to their own religions, which is why I assume so many non-denominational churches have cropped up over the last 30-40 years. People don’t seem to sweat the details of Jesus worship like they did in my grandmother’s time when it was a big deal for her to convert from Baptist to Catholicism. When my mother, a Catholic, married my father, a Methodist, people probably talked (likely from my grandmother’s generation) but not enough that either of them converted. As for my generation, I can’t say as I know of anyone where creed was an issue prior to marriage. Of course, I will stipulate that I grew up in New York State where religion is not as openly pervasive in the culture. Your mileage may vary.

I know what you’re thinking. I never answered the “What kept me from organized religion?” question. This being a post about women’s equality and misogyny, you should be able to anticipate the answer that I’m working toward, so be patient.  ;-)

I’m going to backtrack for a moment to when I was eight years old, in third grade, and playing on the playground. This being 34+ years ago, forgive me if I simply paraphrase the discussion I had with two friends:

Boy #1: Don’t even talk to ####, she kicks where the sun don’t shine.

Boy #2: She has cooties, if she hits you, you’ll get cooties too.

Me: Does she REALLY have cooties? (For context, this is said sardonically.)

Boy #1 & Boy #2 reaffirm that ####, does indeed have cooties and they run off to play somewhere else on the playground.

I remember leaving the brief incident perplexed in that the girl probably tried to kick Boy #1 because he was teasing her, and whereas I was confident that cooties was not a “thing”, I was equally confident that she didn’t “have” them. Indeed, I found no reason to suspect she was inherently different than the three of us. And let’s face it, at eight years old, there wasn’t a lot of difference, so my prepubescent brain came to the conclusion that girls were the same as boys, but a little different. (Hey, I was eight. How deep did you think my thought process was going to be?)

Flash forward to my early twenties, maybe 21 or 22. I went to the wedding of a friend of a friend and in the ceremony the pastor made some comments about the woman needing to obey her husband because “Jesus” and as he continued I waited for the same speech to be made to the groom, only it never came. The ceremony ended apparently without the need for the man to obey his wife and they lived happily ever after, or so I assume, because I never saw her again.

I commented about this at the reception and two or three people tried to explain that those words weren’t like they sounded. Forgive me for being light on the details, but this was over 20 years ago and occupied 4 minutes of my time, suffice it to say none of the people were able to sufficiently explain why the woman had to be told to obey and the guy did not.

At this point in my life I was probably an apathetic agnostic, but it wasn’t unheard of for me to go to a religious service from time to time. After this wedding, I think the number of services I have gone to can be counted on one hand. Once with my sister, once I went to a service given by one of my fencing students (she was a Presbyterian minister), and 2-3 times with an ex whose mother played the organ in a Catholic Church.

To this day, no one has been able to adequately explain this necessity for women to obey in the name of Jesus and the guys do not. My sister effectively told me that someone has to be the head of household, and it should be the man. My female Presbyterian minister fencing student, explained that we all know that the cited passages apply to both men and women, it’s just not written that way, and insert “layers of rationalization here” as to why she’s right and the book representing God’s word on earth is wrong, only we never say it that way.

Thus, I can honestly say that it is the underlying misogyny of the Christian faiths that kept me from sheepling along with the crowd. At least as a young man. As I got older, and gave the metaphysical some deep thinking, I’m sure it was because I realized I just didn’t believe in a sky-daddy puppeteering the universe.

Let’s get back to the Women’s Suffrage. As much as I like to think that I have always been on the women’s side of this movement, I know I’m not perfect. I will share one last anecdote that I try to keep in mind because it was possibly the most important lessons I have ever learned. Namely, as pro-suffrage as I am, I am still a misogynist. Being so holier than thou, it was quite the blow to my ego when I found this out.

About 15 years ago, I belonged to an internet group of like minded individuals that congregated together so as to disseminate copyrighted material to the masses. (Which by the definition I gave you does not include Child Porn, so don’t even go there. You know the kind of material I’m talking about.) I make no apologies for my involvements. Anyway, the group was probably close to half female, but honestly, there may have been more women than men now that I think about it. We were all avatars online, so gender was never all that important to us.

We had our own private server that hosted a special forum where we could post information to each other, the usual chat stuff that forums offer, etc. One day I heard a silly misogynistic joke at school. I don’t recall what it was exactly, but it was joke that ribbed women for getting old. Not that men don’t get old, but socially, this is a bigger deal for women as the implication seems to revolve around women being less attractive as they get older, less useful, whatever. This joke played on that sentiment and I foolishly posted it to the forum.

For what was intended to be a silly harmless joke, our small forum exploded. Half the guys LOL’d, half the guys said WTF! Probably 3/4’s of the women were enraged, and 1/4 scoffed, rolled their eyes at the puerile joke and ignored it. Mind you, this is a group that’s all adults and on the smarter end of the spectrum. (Or at least, capable of doing a lot of technical computer activities for fun in their spare time.)

The group, with stupid me at the center, spent the next few days parsing what the problems were with making this post. After all, it was just a harmless quip for a cheap laugh, why get all panty bunched about it? I’m not a misogynist, it was just a joke, right? I honestly wish I had saved that forum thread as there were a great number of profound comments made by both men and women arguing both sides of the debate. As much as I hate to do it, I will boil down hundreds of comments to just one idea:

Women ALWAYS have to be “on”.

By that, I mean they always have to have their guard up against silly jokes. Because if they react, they’re being overly sensitive. And every guy has made a misogynistic joke of some sort in front of a woman and I promise you 95% of the time the woman let’s it go, because they just kind of have to. Even women in our group said, “Meh” to the forum discussion and moved on, because they’ve just learned that they have to always be the “bigger man” and suck it up.

But silly jokes really are just the tip of the iceberg. Women always have to be “on” about the way they dress. At work, they have to dress better to be taken seriously. Socially, they have to dress in a way that’s not too provocative. They have to worry about their hair, their make-up. They have to worry about the times when they need to worry about these things because they don’t want to get caught “un-made” at the wrong time with the wrong people.

They have to be “on” with their behavior. In the work place, an assertive man is a “go getter”, an assertive woman is a “bitch”. Socially, a woman that asserts herself is “high maintenance”, after all the woman should be deferring to the man, ask Jesus.

They have to be “on” physically. The average woman is significantly smaller than the average man. When I was in Grad school, If I couldn’t sleep, I would walk the streets of Albany (That’s the capital of NY state. For those who live in the U.S., you probably don’t know that.) at all hours of the night. A woman doesn’t have the luxury to feel safe at night in any neighborhood.

This sort of thing goes deeper than that. If a guy wants to ask a woman out for coffee, I can understand why he doesn’t want to ask in front of all her friends. No one wants to get rejected in front of an audience. But it’s not okay to follow her out to her car. It’s not okay to follow her into an elevator and ask her when she trapped. Guys, if you feel like a vulture waiting to swoop in, you’re going about it wrong. No doubt guys don’t think about these things, because their intentions are pure 99.99% of the time, they’re nervous and aren’t thinking straight. But your occasional discomfort is no excuse to socially force women to be on their guard for their physical safety any time they’re outside the home. I could go on about men unknowingly intimidating women, but I’ll let a woman handle that. (K. S. Bowers, are you up to the challenge?  ;-)  )

I’ll wrap this post up with a few words for the guys, though I hope this post has been good for the ladies too.

That forum discussion, spurred by a callous joke, was probably the most illuminating lesson of my entire adult life. Sure, I always knew that women were our social equals. They aren’t treated that way, and it’s unjust. I could say, “End of story”, but guys, it’s really the beginning of the story. It’s easy to pay lip service to high ideals. The real story ends with you. How do you understand your contributions to inequity? And what are you going to do about it?

Step one to recovery is admitting you have a problem…