A Couple of Hellbound Apostates Visit the Wichita Mountains

If you were expecting or even – God forbid – hoping for another rant, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news: I think I need to give it a rest for a while. I’ll say only this before taking my leave of that somewhat continuous, reiterative and baleful project: because of the way fundamentalist religious dogma with all its patriarchal connotations warped the members of my family for generations, I’m genuinely sorry I was born into that family, and somewhat resentful as well. That’s a pretty heavy thing to say, ain’t it? I have always tried to treat my son in such a way that he won’t feel about his father the way I feel about mine. Some of you who read this know full well what I mean because that’s the way you feel – and chances are, religious dogma played a role in it. Those of you who can’t imagine what it must be like to feel that way, also don’t know how lucky you are to have dodged such a bullet by a fortuitous accident of birth.

 

Now, on to brighter things. On Friday, I met my friend Nicole King (whose beautiful, thought-provoking and touching essays you’ve probably encountered on this blog) for a long-overdue visit to the Wichita Mountains in southwest Oklahoma. The Wichitas are a fascinating igneous province whose history is quite unlike that of any other mountain range known to me. It’s a series of granite outcrops that trend roughly east-west for some sixty miles from near Lawton to a bit beyond the appropriately-named town of Granite. They aren’t large as mountains go: the maximum topographical relief is probably no more than 1700 feet or so. On approaching them, one is immediately struck by the fact that there are no foothills: the massifs simply rise directly out of the surrounding plains. This is, to say the least, unusual, and there is of course a good reason for it, which I’ll get to eventually. (One will not discover that reason by reading the Holy Bible.)

 

After lunch at the celebrated restaurant in Meers – a charming establishment that occupies a ramshackle collage of old mining structures and serves up wonderful food and delicious locally-brewed beer in 22-ounce bottles – we headed up into the mountains to enjoy that great proliferation of wildflowers that has followed in the wake of unprecedented flooding in this geologically-fascinating region. The three hours we spent kicking around up there afforded a golden opportunity to revisit some of the unusual features of one of my favorite places on Earth.

 

The granite of the Wichitas has been dated to early in the Cambrian Period, about 524 MYA give or take 1.2 million either direction. That’s a very good date, established and corroborated by a number of radiometric “clocks” – various minerals (especially zircons) contained within the granite that incorporated radioactive isotopes into their structure at the time the magma chamber that produced that granite was slowly cooling under miles of overburden.
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Duncan, OK Mother Chats with Koni: That Atheist Lady about Persecution in Small Town America.

Yesterday, I drove over two hours down to Duncan, OK, to talk with Lea and her two sons about how things have changed since we last spoke.

 

I met them at the casino in town to have dinner before we went to film the follow-up interview you see here. It was one of the most bizarre experiences of my life. I’ve never eaten with such an audience before!

 

While walking into the casino several people, walking to and from their cars, were staring, pointing and talking about us. Lea turns to me and says “See? This is how it is everywhere I go. I can’t go anywhere without people giving me death glares.” It was making me uncomfortable and I have the comfort of knowing I live over two hours away, so these people don’t know where my house is.
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The Duncan Debacle: An Interview with the Mother at the Center of the Duncan, Oklahoma Bible Battle

Shortly after things hit the fan in Duncan, earlier this month, I had the pleasure of connecting with Lea (the mother at the center of the controversy) via an atheist Facebook group for Oklahomans. Those of you that follow my Facebook page may have seen the letter I sent to the superintendent:

 

Please contact christophertanner@atheistanalysis.com for information and interview opportunities with Koni and Lea

And check out the go fund me!

 

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The incident has since garnered nationwide attention, even resulting in Horus Gilgamesh sending copies of The Awkward Moments Children’s Bible to several areas of Oklahoma.

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A Letter from the Editor

Recently a response from a dear friend of mine made its way through one of the many channels of social media and rightly states a case for introspection within our community –  a self analysis, an understanding of opposition perspective, and – most importantly – a change if deemed necessary; to refuse change would be to act with an ideology akin to what we regularly rally to ridicule and weaken.

 

The entirety of the response can be found immediately below and is being reproduced with complete consent of its author- once again, someone I respect highly and genuinely value in perspective and friendship.

 

“I found this to be an interesting article regarding Atheists. What illuminated for me was this quote, “I, for one, would just like to be able to express my views in an intelligent and heart-felt way without fear of reprisals, shunned, or otherwise being looked at as an abomination just because I do not believe in God” My assumption is the author is referring to his/her frustrations with theists when presenting his/her convictions regarding God, gods, or the lack thereof. The author emphasizes a desire for acceptance, but does not find it with theists, particularly Christians.“

 

“What strikes me about this is that the exact same sentiment is shared by Christians regarding Atheists by changing the phrase to “….because I do believe in God.” Often, the narrative of Atheists contains a tone of hubris and the assumption of undisputable intellectual high ground, while offensively attacking religion. Consider these titles from Atheist Analysis: “Ignorance Loves Ignorance, the Religious Wall Around You” , “Christianity Isn’t Irrational… It’s Worse Than That.” In my opinion, the berating tones of these titles alone quickly discredits the individual and the view they’re presenting. I make no excuse for the Christian who can’t speak truth in love, however, I believe some in the Atheist community need to apply some introspection and identify their own hypocrisy to build credibility amongst other communities in order to open a more diverse dialogue regarding the quest for truth.”

 

I agree with the majority of the message here, that we are only going to create a secular state, one of equality and hegemony, if we truly respect the thoughts and positions of those we do not agree with, on philosophical terms or otherwise, and are willing to protect their basic human rights as they would ours.  Applying the golden rule, we have to act as we would wish the rest of world to treat us.
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An Interlude with an Atheist: Why I Collect Fossils

A brief outing/collecting trip this morning to an abandoned zinc mine near the base of the Arbuckle foldbelt near Davis, Oklahoma followed by a visit to an Ordovician-Period fossil site a little higher up the side of the anticline prompted me to think anew along the following lines:

 

The semi-chaotic stash of rocks and minerals at my house can no more properly be called a collection than those tons of materials that followed me like a bad penny between various jobs and domiciles over the course of past decades but are no longer in my possession owing to divorces, career moves, misplacement and reluctant abandonment. They are not now and never were a collection in any sense of the word that implies responsible curatorship: they are and were an accumulation of heavy, space-consuming chunks of Earth’s crust. True, they are more nearly organized at present (that is, sorted into labeled boxes) than they ever were before or ever again will be, but their sheer tonnage has most likely sealed my fate: I will eventually die in Norman, Oklahoma, for no relocation will ever again be possible.

 

I do occasionally ask myself why I do this.

 

Far be it from me to cloak with protestations of loftier motives those base impulses that actually drive me to do the things I do: I’ve always been something of a packrat, and my immediate surroundings are perpetually cluttered with scraps of lumber, discarded lawn mowers, glass bottles, rusty hand tools, bricks, lengths of twine, rope and electrical wire, railroad spikes, bolts and other curios I’ve picked up from beside the road and from piles of refuse: the detritus of civilization come home to rest with a human tumblebug (I am a paradigmatic Arkansan to the core, cinder blocks and all). My house is also littered with shells from various beaches, the cast-off skins of cicadas and snakes, countless seed pods, cones, dried flowers, leaves and fungi, driftwood, bones and teeth of every description, and most any other inviting thing I’ve had the (good?) fortune to stumble upon in my wanderings. (During one three-year period of my life, I collected so much desiccated scat from the trails in the Mark Twain National Forest – a blessedly short-lived fascination – that I could almost have opened my own turd museum.) And I haven’t even mentioned the books – not a library in any meaningful sense, but certainly an enormous accrual. The more of them I give away, the more that come home to live with me. It could well be that my rock collecting habit is no more than a subset of this more general impulse. But I think it is more.
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Do You Swear to Tell the Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing like the “Biblical Truth”

I’ve been seeing the expression “Biblical truth” bandied about on several fundamentalist Christian Facebook groups recently, and I want to address that weird and rather disturbing notion.

There’s a point every semester when I broach the subject of truth in my classes: it happens when we start our survey of African-American music, a unit that begins with a consideration of the Blues. The author of the textbook we use launches into a rather incoherent and saccharine discussion of the Blues as a vehicle for truth-telling. I think he mostly gets it wrong; nevertheless, it is a useful point of departure so we do read the section and discuss it. I always begin by telling my students that, just as the infinitives to hear and to listen don’t mean the same thing, so the nouns “fact” and “truth” are not by any means exact synonyms, although there is clearly a relationship between them (as there is between hearing and listening).

To help them understand my meaning, I have them do this thought experiment: go to the neonatal unit of the local hospital and choose your newborn. Become an omnipresent observer: follow that person all his life; record in your notebooks everything that person ever experiences, says or does. Omit no detail. At the end of that person’s life, you’ll have a mountain of notebooks – and a mountain of facts. Will you have in those notebooks the truth of that person’s life?

Of course not. There’s only one way to discover the truth of that person’s life: ask the person who lived the life. Truth is the synthesis we make of the facts. Facts are objective; truth is subjective.
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