Atheist Scruples: the alibi

July 14, 2014

Today’s scenario:

A good friend is having an extramarital affair. S/he asks you to provide an alibi. Do you?

Short answer, I wouldn’t want to have to lie to anyone. I suck as a liar. I’d need to ask a few questions to figure out if I’d want to help keep this a secret:

Are you being an ass and messing up something wonderful by sleeping with someone else?
Or does it only look like a wonderful marriage on the surface but is really fraught with frustration and stress?
How well do I know your spouse?
Are there kids involved?
Is the affair with someone also married/also a parent?
Is this seen as some kind of revenge thing? Has the spouse been suspected of sleeping around before this? Not that such a truth would legitimize more cheating…
How long has the affair been going on and to what extent?
Has there been abuse in any way from the spouse?
Bottom line, why did you cheat in the first place?

The bottom line clearly depends on a lot of factors.

Look at the reasons people say they cheat. lists 25 reasons why a guy might. Number one on the list is:

He attracts sexy women who come onto him, and he doesn’t know how to say “no.”

(His logical brain probably does know how to say “no” but it’s overruled by all the animal parts of his brain that trigger the hormones and everything else…)

ABC posted an interview with the creator of

Noel Biderman said he has built a billion-dollar business betting on infidelity, and now has 25 million members in 37 countries, but doesn’t believe he is encouraging people to cheat, just providing one outlet.

“Long before I launched AshleyMadison there were affairs, and long after I’m gone there will be affairs,” Biderman said. “What I’m trying to do is help people have the more perfect affair.”

“I’m encouraging secrecy, yes,” he added, “but I’m not necessarily encouraging infidelity. I don’t think it needs all that much encouragement.”

At Slate, Hanna Rosin interviewed author Esther Perel recently regarding a book she’s writing on this topic, tentatively called Affairs in the Age of Transparency. I’ve never heard of her, but in her previous book, Mating in Captivity, she posited that seeking “total comfort” in a marriage can stifle “novelty and adventure” and that this upcoming book works as a sequel of sorts.

I can tell you right away the most important sentence in the book, because I’ve lectured all over the world and this is the thing I say that turns heads most often: Very often we don’t go elsewhere because we are looking for another person. We go elsewhere because we are looking for another self. It isn’t so much that we want to leave the person we are with as we want to leave the person we have become.

I can understand that.

…we expect a lot more from our relationships. We expect to be happy. We brought happiness down from the afterlife, first to be an option and then a mandate. So we don’t divorce—or have affairs—because we are unhappy but because we could be happier. And all that is part of the feminist deliberation. I deserve this, I am entitled to this, I can have this! It allows people to finally pursue a desire to feel alive.

I can understand that, too. We think we could be happier.

But does the significant other feel “alive” here? Or betrayed? Or unloved? Or depressed and confused? Devastated? Angry?

Is it selfish of my friend to put his/her quest of happiness/feeling alive above everything else, including the partner promised to be loved and cherished as long as you both shall live? It turns out that sometimes it’s less about pursuing happy and more about finding a meaning for your life.

In addition, if you’re jumping around because you’re always on the lookout for the greener grass, what are you forgetting about what made this place so special to begin with? Who made it special? Is it impossible to make it special again? Maybe it comes down to meaning again. Maybe it comes down to needs as much as wants…

Weigh in. Anyone with experience with this that can add some insight?


Scientific American has an article about atheists and trust

January 18, 2012

Specifically how we aren’t generally trusted. According to the article, Will Gervais, Ara Norenzayan and colleagues at the University of British Columbia sorted through the results of several different studies showing how atheists tend to be the least trusted groups. For their study, they hypothesized that awareness of secular authority figures might be able to improve that.

In one study, they had people watch either a travel video or a video of a police chief giving an end-of-the-year report. They then asked participants how much they agreed with certain statements about atheists (e.g., “I would be uncomfortable with an atheist teaching my child.”) In addition, they measured participants’ prejudice towards other groups, including Muslims and Jewish people. Their results showed that viewing the video of the police chief resulted in less distrust towards atheists. However, it had no effect on people’s prejudice towards other groups. From a psychological standpoint, God and secular authority figures may be somewhat interchangeable. The existence of either helps us feel more trusting of others.

The article goes on to note the predilection for atheism in some European countries. The Scandinavian area sounds like a haven for atheists and the suggestion is that confidence in a country’s government, especially ones “that guarantee a high level of social security for all of their citizens” means people might rely less on faith in God to get through their lives feeling cared for.

After that, the article links to a brief summary of a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology where people had been given two versions of a fake news story. One reported Canada’s political situation as stable and the other did not. When questioned later, those who read about instability were more likely to give God, or some other force, credit for controlling the universe. I don’t pay enough attention to the politics of my country but I know voter turnout is fairly low in most elections and some chunks of the country are right up there with the worst the American bible belt has to offer.

To my way of thinking, people are used to calling their conscience God rather than give themselves the credit for knowing the right thing to do when the time comes. Maybe they trust themselves even less than they trust atheists but just never look at it that way. When I was a kid, I didn’t need to think a god was watching; I was pretty sure my mother was. A god would punish me in the afterlife but Mom could shout at me mere moments after doing wrong. My conscience developed from a lot of lessons on what not to do and having parents who’d demonstrate proper behaviour every day I was around them. That kind of teaching stuck with me.

It’s good to see atheist groups rallying around charities and demonstrating just how wrong assumptions about us can be, just like any stereotype of a minority group. On an individual basis, we should probably all do more and find ways to give back to our communities. I know I don’t do enough of that. Aside from donating clothes and household items once in a while, I don’t do a hell of a lot to help others. And yes, I do start to feel a bit guilty about that. The conscience is fully functional when it comes to the “ought”s.

So, thoughts? What steps do you take to make your mark and be a better person?

Religious Canadians distrust atheists, too…

December 2, 2011

… going by results of a recent study published in the Vancouver Sun, at least.

Religious believers distrust atheists more than members of other religious groups, gays and feminists, according to a new study by University of B.C. researchers.

The only group the study’s participants distrusted as much as atheists was rapists, said doctoral student Will Gervais, lead author of the study published online in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

That prejudice had a significant impact on what kinds of jobs people said they would hire atheists to do.

“People are willing to hire an atheist for a job that is perceived as low-trust, for instance as a waitress,” said Gervais. “But when hiring for a high-trust job like daycare worker, they were like, nope, not going to hire an atheist for that job.”

The antipathy does not seem to run both ways, though. Atheists are indifferent to religious belief when it comes to deciding who is trustworthy.

“Atheists don’t necessarily favour other atheists over Christians or anyone else,” he said. “They seem to think that religion is not an important signal for who you can trust.”

I’d agree with that last line. Ideally one’s religion (or lack of) won’t even come into play when it comes to deciding who you can count on. Morality and ethics are not the sole (soul?) property of one particular group, religious or not. I wonder if people who are religious get cause and effect mixed up a bit sometimes. Their religion might not be the reason they’re good, just, honest people. They might have been that way even if they didn’t have a religious explanation to fall back on. Can’t turn back the clock and send them down a different future to test that, sadly, but exposure to religion might not be the main reason a person’s decent anyway. What if it has more to do with who their parents were and knew and what sort of upbringing and education they were able to get besides that? I think it really comes down to the kind of person you are, regardless of the kind of beliefs you hold. It’s hardly the only trait with merit.

Gervais was surprised that people harbour such strong feelings about a group that is hard to see or identify. He opines that religious believers are just more comfortable with other people who believe a deity with the power to reward and punish is watching them.

I’d bet a cookie that it has to do with the same fear that Invasion of the Body Snatchers preyed upon back in 1956. Communists were feared not just because of their ideologies but because you couldn’t tell just by looking who was a commie. They could be anyone! Some probably would like it if every atheist stamped themselves with the big red A and relieved the confusion. That would almost be useful though; then when atheists inevitably stop getting served at various restaurants, or get fired, they could argue in court that it’s account of their atheism. And perhaps win. But anyway, on with the article.

“If you believe your behaviour is being watched [by God] you are going to be on your best behaviour,” said Gervais. “But that wouldn’t apply for an atheist. That would allow people to use religious belief as a signal for how trustworthy a person is.”

Not just the thought of God watching, though. Other studies have been done showing how behaviour varies no matter what people think is watching, be it eyes by the “On your Honour” tea kitty or an invisible princess who might see you cheat at a game and report you.

Religious belief is known to have a variety of social functions. Past research has found that common religious beliefs can promote cooperation within groups.

Sure, but humans aren’t the only creatures on this planet that know how to cooperate in a group. Ants and termites can do it. Birds do it every day when they take wing suddenly, seemingly on cue. Many animals act as a team to take down their prey. Prey will often cooperate to avoid that. It might be possible to make the case that cooperation is simply an evolutionary by-product of herd/group living. Some might be better or worse at it, of course, and maybe in humans it made sense to further encourage cooperation by adding religious thought-processes into the mix. Animals don’t always cooperate, either. If you have two bulls after the same cow, neither will yield gracefully. Maybe religion has more to do with creating a means to combat our selfish instincts. Maybe the bigger pity is that it does take the fear of hell to make some people do the right thing.

Gervais started his line of inquiry about the exclusion of atheists after seeing a Gallup poll that suggested the majority of Americans would not vote for an atheist presidential candidate. Gervais and his colleagues conducted a series of six studies on a group of 350 American adults and a group 420 UBC students.

But even in more secular Canada, distrust of atheists ran high.

“We see consistently strong effects,” he said. “Even here in Vancouver, our student participants still say atheists are really untrustworthy.”

I got this story from friend and fellow Freethinker koinosuke, who’s made the point at various Sask Skeptic‘s pub nights that it’s always better to find the actual study and read it, but not all of us have that kind of dedication to the truth, I guess. Or the time. Or the ability to parse what’s hidden in there, for that matter. What I’m curious about with this is where these respondents got their information about atheists being untrustworthy. Not from actual/known-to-be atheists, probably. Where did they develop this bias? In terms of the students in Canada, where were they born? It’s probably the same everywhere, but universities in Canada are notorious for luring foreign money students over. I don’t know where I’d find the statistics on it, but I think Vancouver has a pretty high ratio of immigrants to “natives”, as well. If most came from countries that are typically anti-atheist, that’ll skew the results. If most were born here, where exactly? Some areas of the country are a lot more religious than others. Hell, some towns are super devout compared to a town 20 minutes away. There’s a lot of variation.

It definitely points to signs that atheist groups need to work a bit harder in the Vancouver area, and the rest of the country, too. Even though people like to say the opinions of others shouldn’t matter, I don’t particularly like the idea of strangers making that kind of assumption about me without evidence for it. It’s a stereotype that needs a serious shooting down.

Big surprise: Sarah Palin lied about Canadian bootlegger grandparents

April 29, 2010

While I wrote about her expensive motivational talk in Hamilton, a journalist who saw fit to write about her rambling speech was getting mail.

Susan Clairmont of the Hamilton Spectator wound up wondering about Palin’s claim of having grandparents from Alberta and Saskatchewan after comments and emails about her original article suggested that Palin was making shit up. Then she got an interesting email from Joe McGinniss, an American writer in the midst of researching Palin for a new book.

“Neither of Palin’s grandfathers was a bootlegger, nor did either come from Saskatchewan, Alberta or Manitoba,” McGinniss told me.

“She must have felt that because her appearance in Hamilton did not receive extensive U.S. media coverage she could say anything. And so, in an attempt to bond with her audience — in order to assure that she received their adulation as well as her $100,000 speaking fee — she told them things she thought they’d like to hear, no matter whether true or false.”

McGinniss continues: “I’ve been observing this tendency over the past several months, and it seems to have metastasized to the point where it might be called pathological sycophancy (i.e. a need to bask in the adulation of others that is so strong that it overrides honesty, decency and self-respect, causing the sufferer not only to defame others with exaggerated falsehoods, but to invent from whole cloth engaging anecdotes about one’s own personal and family history…)”

She also mentions some tale of woe Palin shared about her brother and a burned foot and the “fact” that he was shipped to Whitehorse for medical care while also on a ferry to Juneau for the same injury. Which version actually happened? Only the brother really knows, I suppose.

An Alaskan political blog, The Mudflats, had this to say about the discrepancy: “Perhaps the story was simply tweaked to tell people what they want to hear, while utilizing the perennial ‘I’m one of you’ meme — a great way to ‘connect to the audience’ while skirting those pesky things known as facts.”

Because you wouldn’t want facts to get in the way of a good story.

Of course not.

McGinniss plans to call his book Sarah Palin’s Year Of Living Dangerously. No idea yet on when it’ll be done, though, but keep the author and or title in mind for the future. It could be fun reading.

Could you make a $2 million bail?

January 1, 2009

I couldn’t, but I never ran a Ponzi scheme to bilk fellow parishioners out of their hard earned money, like Bryant Rodriguez did.

At least three dozen people invested with him, giving him about $1.1 million but getting back only about $450,000, the complaint said.

“We believe there are more victims in the scheme,” Ms. Lai told the judge. “We also believe that he may be perpetrating the same scheme in other churches.”

Mr. Rodriguez has been charged with one count of mail fraud. He also has a previous felony conviction for impersonating a federal immigration officer, according to court documents.

His lawyer, Paul J. McAllister, said after the hearing that Mr. Rodriguez “vehemently maintains his innocence.”

In court, Mr. McAllister disputed the government’s contentions, and said his client enjoyed strong support from pastors and members of other churches.

The courtroom was packed, with Mr. McAllister telling the judge that about 80 people were there on his client’s behalf.

Now that’s what I don’t get. The guy is a schemer and a crook and bad news all around, but his fellow churchgoers don’t want to believe evidence of his criminal behaviour. McAllister also encouraged these gullible twits to donate more of their money to this huckster to pay his bond but so far, no freedom.

People don’t like to admit they got conned, whether it was a big buck amount or $20 from a sweet, well dressed guy claiming his car needs a new spark plug and he’s already late to his wedding. Most of the time it’s good to extend some trust to people. Other times…

A study out of the Netherlands last year illustrated that rich and clever folk are far more likely to get scammed than people who are less well off and less confident. Good news for me, then. The study also found that people who’d experienced parent-related loss (death or estrangement) were more likely to unwittingly invest in scams. So were people who’ve made it their life’s work to help others:

Frank Engelsman, Ultrascan’s specialist in advance-fee fraud, said that doctors were especially vulnerable to scams that encouraged them to do good. “They very often fall for a scam that starts with a request to help the less fortunate in the world through good causes,” he said. “To do the bigger scams you need the victims to trust their own capabilities and experience.”

A significant number of high-loss cases involved specialists such as psychiatrists, psychologists and neuro-surgeons, the agency said.

“The 308 victims who said they had suffered child-parent trauma included two police commissioners of large cities, respected entrepreneurs and 17 directors of companies listed on stock exchanges.”

Something to watch for this year, that’s for sure. Especially in the current economic climate. Beware the Get Rich Quick schemes. Which reminds me, I still have a lotto ticket that needs to be scratched…