After Monday’s detour from the ongoing series of guest contributors, I’m excited to get back into it with a post from skeptic all-star Heidi Anderson. I first met Heidi at the Center For Inquiry (CFI) Leadership Institute this summer, where she was a keynote speaker and I a lowly panelist. Our remarks that weekend were on a similar theme — our shared belief that a little bit of niceness goes a long way when engaging with people who have different beliefs. Both of our remarks were met with a bit of opposition (okay, hers more than mine), and with the “War Over ‘Nice’” (c/o Daniel Loxton) reaching a frenzy in the secular blogosphere, I invited her to follow Lucy’s lead and weigh in here for our ongoing series of guest posters. It’s an honor to feature her on NonProphet Status. And now: Heidi!

yellingPeople generally think I am a nice person. I am chubby (like Santa!), I smile a lot, and I try to make friends wherever I go. I am an extremely loyal friend, and almost pathologically helpful. Give me a uniform and a box of cookies, and you might mistake me for a Girl Scout.

But churning beneath my bubbly exterior beats the heart of a bitch.

From an early age I have known about the horrors people inflict upon each other, and recognized the capacity in each of us for harming others. I distinctly remember the feel of biting into my cousin Sterling’s arm (sorry) at age 5 when he made me angry, and how good it felt to release the anger onto the deserving party. He certainly never tried to steal my toys again, at least not that day.

I grew up, of course, and relegated my biting to far more interesting situations. I learned how to manage my anger, something all adults do. We learn when you have a strong feeling, you need to stop, calm down, and think rationally before acting. As I used to tell kindergartners, hands are not for hitting and words are not for hurting. Grown-ups act… well, grown up!

I have been professionally involved with helping victims of sexual assault and domestic violence for 16 years, and even before that, I was the one all my friends came to when in crisis. I am extremely protective of people who have been oppressed or abused, and enjoy being the one who can stand up for them. But whereas Ghandi and MLK used the power of love to affect change, I was inwardly more Malcolm X.

Once, after about two years of going to court with abused women, I was on a girl’s weekend with co-workers. Someone asked which superpower we would choose to have, and my friends chose flying, invisibility, teleportation, and other cool things.

Me? I wanted the “touch of death” — the ability to selectively touch people and have them drop dead 10 minutes later. Charming, no?

With all this righteous anger, fellow skeptics and atheists might think I am more than comfortable with the “dick” label, because, after all – it comes naturally to me! My sister and I learned from our father, a professional dick, how to verbally beat people up to get what we wanted. We were good at it too! How proud he must have been to have a daughter who once got a great deal on a truck for her husband by calling the salesman a “lazy, coke-headed, whoremonger whose lifestyle I was not paying for.”

But in the real world, the professional world, do I walk around screaming at the wife beaters and child rapists I see on a regular basis? Do I call the judge who refuses an Order of Protection to one of my clients an ignorant misogynist? Do I punch the School Principal who tells me my son is “violent” for pointing his fingers like guns? Do I strangle the male audience member at the DragonCon panel who suggests that women just need to CALM DOWN?? Ok, the last one almost happened, but it was a rough weekend.

Wise Canadian Jedi Masters once taught me that if what I have to say is important, it is important enough to make sure people hear it. Emotion can be used effectively in communicating a message, but strategic use of emotion is far more effective when used as part of a plan to achieve certain goals.

What is the goal of talking about the safety and importance of vaccinating your child? Is it to increase public support of vaccines? Is it to get people talking about it? Is it to present an alternative viewpoint with anti-vaxxers? Or is it to express our anger and frustration at those we feel are purposefully endangering children? While those feelings are certainly valid, haphazard emoting that makes us feel better is far less important than protecting future children.

I am still a bitch. I still get angry, and I still struggle with the anger beneath my skin. When I spoke to the CFI Leadership Institute this past summer, about this very issue, my presentation was unintentionally ironic in the harshness of its tone and delivery. Even this past weekend, when questioned by a member of the audience at while on a panel at DragonCon, I apparently lost my temper and looked like I wanted to eat his face. I am far from perfect.

But I have committed to using critical thinking and skepticism while I am trying to promote critical thinking and science. I want my message of rationality to outweigh my need for personal expression. If I want to be treated like and adult and treated professionally, then I must stop acting like a self-centered toddler.

Heidi AndersonHeidi Anderson is a foxy feminist, atheist, skeptic, fat chick, wife, and mom with a hard-core science fetish! She blogs at Fat One in the Middle, is the founder of She Thought, and is a regular voice on the Podcast Beyond Belief.

obamabfastNational Prayer Breakfast Acknowledges Those Who Don’t Pray: Obama mentioned Americans of “no faith” at the National Prayer Breakfast but in, uh, this context: “God’s grace [is expressed] by Americans of every faith, and no faith, uniting around a common purpose, a higher purpose.” Is it just nitpick-y to criticize his language here? To his credit, his words throughout were very inclusive of people of all faiths (and “no faith,” which is again a first for an American President). But his language did at times carry some assumptions: “we all share a recognition — one as old as time — that a willingness to believe, an openness to grace, a commitment to prayer can bring sustenance to our lives.” No, Mr. President, that isn’t a recognition we all share. But then again, there was this beautiful bit: “We may disagree about gay marriage, but surely we can agree that it is unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are — whether it’s here in the United States or, as Hillary mentioned, more extremely in odious laws that are being proposed most recently in Uganda.” So, like his Presidency so far, the speech had its flaws but contained significant “firsts.” (source)

Richard Dawkins and Pat Robertson: Good Buddies?: The New York Times has a truly excellent op/ed on how fundamentalist Atheists use fundamentalist religious folks to drive their narrative that religion is universally extremist. Writes Ross Douthat: “the fact that Richard Dawkins and Pat Robertson both disagree tells us something, important, I think, about the symbiosis between the new atheism and fundamentalism — how deeply the new atheists are invested in the idea that a mad literalism is the truest form of any faith, and how completely they depend on outbursts from fools and fanatics to confirm their view that religion must, of necessity, be cruel, literal-minded, and intellectually embarrassing.” Bravo!

Some Say Mother Theresa Doesn’t Deserve a Stamp: The U.S. Postal Service has come under attack from atheists for announcing its intent to issue stamps featuring Mother Theresa because she was a Catholic saint. Really — that’s the most productive place to direct your energy? In opposition to acknowledging a widely respected figure that did good work in the world as motivated by her religious beliefs? Because with that logic, stamps featuring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Nation of Islam leader Malcolm X should be unacceptable as well — right?

College Blocks Secular Student Club: Concordia College in Moorhead, MN (my sister is an alumni) has forbidden the formation of a Secular Students Association because they say that, while they support freedom of speech, the group’s mission is in direct opposition with the school’s identity as a college affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). As a graduate of another college affiliated with the ELCA, I can tell you that religious diversity was present at my school, including many secular folks. The school’s decision is ridiculous and I hope that they will reconsider. (source)

Religion And Science Get in Bed Together: The Guardian has a fascinating piece drawing parallels between organized religion and science. It concludes: “Science and organised traditional religion have to some extent the same enemies. Both rely for their influence on society on trust in authority and that is rapidly eroding. This is obvious in the case of religion, but we can see from the progress of climate change denialism how helpless scientists are against the same kind of jeering and suspicious anti-intellectualism that some of them direct at religion.”

Sociologists See Religion in a New Light: New research from “Inside Higher Ed” describes how religion has moved from a fringe study within an academic discipline to becoming an area of study all its own. Sociologists now recognize that religion is not “only a reflection of some other socioeconomic trend, but increasingly… the factor that may be central to understanding a given group of people.”  This is reminiscent of trends seen in disciplines like economics, foreign policy, and history. (source)

Are Atheists Moral?: Beliefnet has a great piece on the question of whether Atheists can be moral — it brings in a variety of voices and does a good survey of the current conversation in light of some pretty heated issues.

Atheistic Fiction: The Boston Globe reviews the new book “36 Arguments for the Existence of God” by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, dubbing it the story of an “Atheist with a soul.”

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