A Schism in Atheism

It is mind-blowing to me just how passionately some people are against the idea of Atheism Plus. Comment threads abound with people rudely and vocally not-getting-it. Blog posts are popping up indignantly decrying the whole idea for a variety of non-reasons. Insisting that the secular movement is being torn apart! And will someone please think of the children!?! I get this mental image of Chicken Little running around the farm yard: ‘The Sky is Falling!‘ Only it’s a bunch of grown-ass atheists flapping their arms and squawking about something that doesn’t have to affect them at all.

Guest Blogger Billybob on Canadian Atheist is a part of the noisy crowd of naysayers and a perfect example of the Chicken Little variety of naysayer that I’m talking about. ‘I want my word back!‘ and ‘This battle is unnecessary and wasteful. Just leave my word alone!!‘ Yeah, fuck you I can’t use ‘your’ word. I’m an atheist and I’m using the label. I’m an atheist plus…I’m a whole lot of other things. That’s kind of the point. Atheism Plus is an opportunity to show the world that it’s not just about atheism. Okay, we all don’t believe in god. That’s established. So we’re supposed to, what? Write blog posts about how awesome we are that we share this nonbelief? How much smarter we are than theists? Make fun of religious people? See, that would pretty much be a giant circle jerk. And while that is fun at times, the thrill dies off pretty quickly. Some of us want to do more. Or at least have the opportunity to discuss it.

So we’re all atheists. Now let’s do something with that. Those of us who care about social justice issues will do just that, under the banner of Atheism Plus. Note the capital letters. Don’t want to talk about social justice issues? Don’t. But don’t show up on our threads to poo-poo and whine about how atheism isn’t about feminism or LGBT rights or whatnot. You’re right, atheism has nothing to do with that. Thank you for stating the obvious. Now, go away. Feel free to come back when we’re discussing the War on Xmas and picking apart holy books. And that has been the trouble as of late. Any atheist who wants to discuss these issues gets bombarded by naysayers who remind us that social justice isn’t a part of the dictionary definition of atheism. No kidding. What a shame.

The irony being that now that a new wave that does care about these issues is created, those same naysayers are stamping their feet and pouting and flooding the comment threads with complaints about how they’re being excluded. You’re being excluded from something you didn’t want to be a part of? Hmm… Yeah, seriously, fuck off already.

This is how ridiculous it is: Imagine I start a group called Toronto Awesome Atheist Association (I never checked to see if this is an actual thing. If it is, didn’t mean to center you out). A group dealing with atheist issues that specifically concern those who are awesome and living in Toronto. The internet then explodes as legions descend upon my website telling me that atheism isn’t about Toronto and I’m tearing the movement apart! Riiiiiight… Actually, I’m focusing on one area so that the members of the TAAA have a place to discuss what’s important to them without cluttering up generic online atheist forums where people don’t care about being an atheist in Toronto.

A group from Free Thought Blogs had a Google+ Hangout that they made public. In it they attempted to address some of the issue people say they have with Atheism Plus. Instead they mostly got terribly sidetracked and goofed around. But still worth the watch. You can find the video on PZ Myers blog, Pharyngula. In it, Jen McCreight of Blag Hag, who was the one who wrote the original post that kicked off Atheism Plus said the following (p.s. Thank you to the fine folks who transcribed the video.) :

I mean, I’ve talked about, I want to go start my own social justice atheist group. Or I want to start a forum where we can just talk about this, without being constantly harassed. And what have I got in the last 48 hours? Is nothing but a constant slew of harassment. And so it’s like, we can’t even go off and start our own group without them saying how crappy our group is, and how much they hate it, and how I’m a fascist, narcissistic, anti-intellectual cult leader? It’s just like,if you’re not interested in issues of social justice and how they relate to atheism, then don’t talk about it! But if we want to talk about it, we should be able to.

If there is a schism in atheism it is because of the naysayers. It’s because of the misogynists and the racists who make so many feel unwelcome in the secular movement. It’s because of those who refuse to take any criticism and refuse to even consider changing and becoming more inclusive. It’s because of those who demand that we stop talking about social justice issues because it makes them feel uncomfortable…because we’ve taken the spotlight off them for a brief moment and shone it on bigger issues. They created the need for Atheism Plus and now they’re still whinging about how unfair it is.

Yeah, it’s really unfair not to feel welcome…
Their Irony detectors appear to be broken.

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Mythic Mondays – Homeopathy

Homeopathy, lauded as a natural alternative to ‘Big Pharma’. Safe. Organic. Natural. Without out all those pesky side effects of medicines from pharmacies. A way to treat your symptoms without having to see a doctor and a way to stay in control of your own heath! It’s been around for over two centuries! Oh yeah, and not only does it not work it doesn’t do anything at all.

How does Homeopathy ‘work’? Well, you’re probably going to facepalm when I explain it.

Adherents of homeopathy believe that if a substance can cause the same symptoms of the disease in a healthy person, it will cure the sick person. Same cures same. It’s as simple as that. Suffering from vomiting? This Ipecac will cure you! Need to sleep? Caffeine, of course. Diabetes troubling you? Have some sugar. It’s all so simple! I don’t know why the medical field isn’t clambering over themselves to promote these ideas!

Only it’s more complicated than that. You see they ‘potentize’ the solution by diluting it and shaking it (or in their terms, using ‘succession’) in each direction 10 times. They use a lot of complicated nonsense terms to make what they’re doing sound more sciencey/magickey. This magical procedure makes the solution more powerful. And the more times you potentize a mixture the stronger it becomes. So, the more you dilute it, the stronger homeopaths believe the mixture becomes. Seriously. They will often continue to do this until there are no remaining molecules of the original poison that they were suggesting you drink. The end result? Water. With no measurable evidence of the original active ingredient.

This is the reason why there are no side effects to homeopathic solutions. There’s nothing in it but water. Literally. Apparently, they believe that water has a memory and that the vibrations of the original medicine is still there. Also magic. Woooooo……

“It’s a miracle! Take physics and bin it!
Water has memory!
And while its memory of a long lost drop of onion juice is Infinite
It somehow forgets all the poo it’s had in it!”

Tim Minchin, Storm

James Randi, ex-magician and current woo-science debunker, swallows two full bottles of homeopathic sleeping pills before each of his lectures. He does this despite the warning on the bottle to call the poison control center in case of overdose and the max dose being listed as 2 pills in 12 hours. He then speaks for over an hour about how foolish homeopathy is. He gives an excellent, and hilarious, explanation of homeopathy that I highly recommend watching.

Where’s the harm? It’s not hurting anybody, is it? You may ask. Well, yes. Yes, it is. People who have legitimate illnesses are being tricked into taking water as a cure-all. People who can’t afford it are being scammed into purchasing pricey vials of water or placebo pills that are not helping them. Years ago, when I was working in a nursing home, I recall one husband of a patient insisting that his wife be taken off her heart meds and put onto ‘Strauss Heart Drops’ because his naturopath told him it worked better than any pills. It was over $100.00 a bottle that this man on a limited income shelled out. Her doctor compromised and allowed her to have the solution, but insisted that she stay on her Digoxin. Smart woman, that doctor.

As an aside, here’s an interesting tidbit from the FAQ page of Strauss Heart Drops.

‘Question: What is the success rate with Strauss Heartdrops™?

Answer: In our opinion, heart conditions that are caused by clogged arteries are improved in 95 per cent of users.’

I need to let out a huge sigh before I go on, in order to limit my use of expletives. Ahem! Reduction of clogged arteries is measurable. It’s not a matter of opinion. That this company seems to think their opinion is an answer to a verifiable question should be a matter of concern. Or to put it in the succinct words of my brother : ‘You’re fired. That’s my opinion.’

This becomes an even greater concern because the companies that produce this sort of crap have pressured the government sufficiently that it is now possible to get a DIN number for homeopathic remedies. What does that mean? It means it’s classed in the same way that real drugs are. This gives it an appearance of credibility it wouldn’t otherwise have. A misleading appearance of validity. Remember when I said several paragraphs back that there was a homeopathic solution to diabetes? Yeah, I wasn’t joking. Homeopathic insulin is not just legal in Canada, it’s also approved by Health Canada. DIN-HM 80016480 I couldn’t give you a direct URL as each search is timed, but you can look it up yourself with that DIN number.

Have I caused your eye to twitch yet?

‘Through the Natural Health Products Directorate, Health Canada ensures that all Canadians have ready access to natural health products that are safe, effective and of high quality, while respecting freedom of choice and philosophical and cultural diversity.’
Health Canada

What the ever-loving-fuck has cultural diversity to do with whether or not something works? Ophelia Benson of the Butterflies and Wheels blog states : ‘Poison doesn’t become not poison in a different culture. A glass of water doesn’t become insulin because cultural diversity. If you’re certifying something as effective then you have to use the right – universal – standards.’ Amen, sister.

Does Not Compute!

But they aren’t doing that. And let’s focus on one word in that quote from Health Canada: effective. Health Canada ensures we have access to effective homeopathy. Effective homeopathy. I do believe that is an oxymoron. Also a lie. Brought to you by our government regulating body. These snake oil salesmen are the people you’re supposed to be protecting us from, you know. Way to let your credibility crash and burn guys.

Skeptic North examines some of the other ridiculous items that Health Canada has recently approved. It’s an excellent source for more information regarding the limitations and flaws in our national drug regulating body, Health Canada. Also if you want to curse out these homeopathy scam artists and shake your fist at a computer screen.

Atheism Plus. Where Atheism and Feminism Meet – Part II

The first part of this post can be found here : Where Atheism and Feminism Meet – Part I

Atheism Plus. The term was coined by Jennifer McCreight and the commentariat of her blog, Blag Hag. The idea being that we want a label that applies to more of what we do believe, and not just what we don’t believe. Jason Thibeault , from Lousy Canuck, defines it thusly : ‘the “atheism plus” label takes the part of the Venn diagram where humanists and “new” atheists and social justice advocates overlap, and defines itself as that overlap.

I am wholeheartedly on board with this suggestion. I’ve often said that my feminism and social justice ideals stem from my atheism. And yet, atheism at its core has nothing to do with either of the other movements. I am a feminist because believing half the population is somehow inferior to the other is irrational. I believe in Social Justice because we only have one life and we should strive to make this place where we live the most pleasant place we can, before we die and the ride is over.

At its core, atheism is merely the lack of belief in gods. Many people have no belief in gods. People who identify as MRAs, and racists, homophobes, people who are not skeptics, and people who are capitalists all may have no belief in god. I share this label with people who do not share any of my philosophies. The irony being that it was my atheism that brought me to these other philosophies. It didn’t bring everyone here. It did bring enough of us to the destination where we should probably have a label to describe where we’re coming from.

The idea of creating a new wave of atheism for those atheists who fit the description of Atheism+ seems to be receiving a lot of pushback. People who insist that tossing all this extra luggage into the trunk is going to cause division and strife amongst atheists. Guess what? The division and strife is already there. As I noted in my previous post, I feel very unsafe and unwelcome in the atheist movement as it stands. I am not the only one. Jen’s original post on starting a new wave of atheism explained her feelings on the subject and they are very similar to my own.

And then I found this quote :

An atheist movement cannot be inclusive of atheist women… and also be inclusive of people who publicly call women ugly, fat, sluts, whores, cunts, and worse; who persistently harass them; who deliberately invade their privacy and make their personal information public; and/or who routinely threaten them with grisly violence, rape, and death.

Greta Christina, Why Atheism Plus Is Good for Atheism

Not just women, either. As it stands, the movement is already divisive and exclusive in regards to sexism and racism, and homo/trans-phobia. Which explains why the current face of the atheism is a group of old white men. That’s not my atheism. It’s not reflective of the rest of us. And there are a lot of ‘the rest of us‘. So give us a banner to crowd under. So we can march forward united. The chaff having been left to the wayside. They were making us look bad and they weren’t contributing anything worthwhile anyway.

Atheism Plus. Where Feminism and Atheism and Social Justice meet. Call me an optimist, but I have high hopes for this movement. It’s exactly the face we need to help secularism grow. One that is supportive of LGBT issues, feminism, people of colour, and one that embraces social justice. A friendly face, as it were.

Mythic Mondays – Depression is caused by being too strong

I’m seeing a lot of people post this sentiment on Facebook lately and I’ve had to sit on my hands to avoid commenting. It shows up as a status update or as an image file with the quote on it. And inevitably the order that if you’re not a horrible sociopath who doesn’t care about anyone but yourself you’ll share it on social media. Because that’s how chain letters work nowadays: Guilt. I’m not passing this one one and I’ll tell you why.

First, I’d like to preface by saying that Depression and Anxiety disorders are something I’m familiar with. Intimately familiar with on both the side of the caregiver and of the person who is suffering from these disorders. So this is not me casting stones at those with mental health disorders. That would seriously not be cool. I’m all for education and better understanding of mental health issues. That’s the point. Misinformation really doesn’t help anyone. Even if it’s misinformation that’s designed to counter other seemingly more harmful misconceptions.

This idea that being strong for too long leads to depression seems to me to play into old stereotypes of (especially) women having ‘nervous breakdowns’ because they just couldn’t take it anymore. There’s a whole lot of unnecessary baggage and negative connotations that are bound up in the idea of people having ‘breakdowns’. It’s not a mental image that I’d want to promote. Horses have ‘breakdowns’ at the racetrack ; we euthanize them. There’s enough negative imagery and misconceptions surrounding people who suffer depression. We don’t need to pile anymore on by using hyperbolic and emotionally charged terms that are deemed obsolete by the medical community anyway.

Secondly, I’m going to focus specifically on Depression disorders, but a lot of what I have to say works for Anxiety disorders as well. I’m doing this to keep this blog post at a reasonable length. I realize that a common misconception that people have of depression is that it’s something you can shrug off. That it’s something that teenagers exaggerate about to the point of making light of it ‘My parents just told me I can’t use the car until I pay for gas and now I’m so depressed!‘. That you’re sad about something and you need cheering up. That you’re overreacting. That you need to get over it. That you’re weak.

The best description I’ve ever gotten for depression was hearing one sufferer describe it as ‘painting the world in water colours using a black brush’. You don’t just shrug off depression because it colours everything you do and everything you see. Nothing shows through with the vividness it ought to have. You may find yourself crying and when someone asks what’s wrong you honestly reply ‘Everything. Nothing. I don’t know’. Depression isn’t about being sad because you lost something dear to you (although that may be a trigger). It’s so much bigger than that.

As a sufferer of depression you may find yourself sleeping most of the time, not eating enough or eating too much. Gaining or losing weight respectively. Your personal hygiene may have taken a noticeable turn for the worse as your fatigue rises and your morning ritual of ablutions becomes far too much effort. Work productivity drops as you find you can’t concentrate…if you’re able to drag yourself in to work. Activities that you once enjoyed are no longer enjoyable and you have random and/or undefined aches and pains. You’re irritable and may lash out at people when they try to console you. There may be a sense of hopelessness. Even knowing that your problem is depression, you don’t know how you could ever manage to get through it, so what’s the point in trying? You know you can’t get over and you know this because you start realizing how worthless you are. It may even lead to thoughts of ending your life to escape the physical and emotional pain that you’re experiencing. Those pains are real.

“Depression is such cruel punishment. There are no fevers, no rashes, no blood tests to send people scurrying with concern. Just the slow erosion of the self, as insidious as any cancer. And, like cancer, it is essentially a solitary experience. A room in hell with only your name on the door. I realize that every person, at some point, takes up residence in one or other of these rooms. But the realization offers no great comfort now.”

Martha Manning, Undercurrents (1994)
author/therapist who has dealt with major depression

We haven’t yet pinpointed what causes depression. Like so many other issues that involve the brain, this is one where much research is still needed. This is why the firm statement that we know what it is and turning it into a bragging point of how awesomely strong you are annoys me so much. Experts currently believe that depression is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, psychological, and social factors. So your Family History, Brain Chemistry, Hormones, Coping mechanisms, stress levels, and environment all play their parts in the game.

We know that if you scan the brain of a person with depression it will appear differently than that of someone who is not suffering this disorder. So yeah, it’s a real thing that we can see with science. What we don’t know is why. We know that if you’ve suffered depression once there’s an increased chance that you’ll suffer it again. We know that women suffer depression about twice as often as men. Women have the additional triggers of monthly hormonal fluctuations and postpartum issues to deal with. This makes it a gendered illness, and unfortunately means it’s less likely to be taken seriously.

One of the most common theories is that depression is caused by an imbalance in the neurotransmitters in the brain. What backs up this theory is that drug treatment with those neurotransmitters (Serotonin, Dopamine, Norepinephrine, for example) appears to treat the symptoms of depression in many people. The scary thing is that I had to use the words ‘appears to treat‘. We still aren’t totally sure why modern anti-depressants work and finding the right one or combination of drugs can be a hit & miss affair.

I think the most important thing about understanding depression is accepting that it is an illness, that it isn’t your fault, and that there are treatment options. You probably can’t deal with this all by yourself. You’re gonna need some outside support. You can find your way out if only you will reach out for support. Although the journey may not be an easy one.

For those that are dealing with loved ones who are depressed, the important thing to understand that you can’t take someone else’s depression personally. You didn’t cause it. You can’t cure it. Their irritability is likely a symptom of the illness. An illness they may not even realize they have. One of the tricky things about the brain is that it sucks at diagnosing problems with itself. You can nudge someone in the direction of getting help, but it’s something that should be done gently. The fact that there are so many negative emotions and ideas balled up in the phrases ‘mental illness’, ‘get help’, ‘see a psychiatrist’ means that you need to choose your words very carefully.

So, like last weeks post on Dream reading, this myth is the result of people claiming to know more than we actually do and trying to pass their opinions off as fact. The difference is that this one can actually contribute to harmful misconceptions.

For further reading on Depression (or to check to make sure that I’m not full of shit) :
The National Mental Health Institute
Depression Hurts
Help Guide (Depression)
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Mythic Mondays – Reading in Dreams. Batman was wrong!

When I was in early highschool Batman the Animated Series was the shiznet. Everyone I know watched it. Mind you, I also lived in the boondocks and there was a limited selection of what we could watch. Three channels on a good day!

It was well written and very ‘adult’ for a kids show. I tended to take a lot of what they said at face value because of the way it was presented. I’m sure I’m not the only one. Here’s an example: You cannot read in a dream because it’s a function of the left side of the brain. Dreams are a function of the right. This is how Batman broke out of the ‘Inception’ Dream within a dream episode where the Mad Hatter creates a never ending dream world to keep him imprisoned. Apologies if the video below makes you go to Youtube to see it, it was the only copy I could find.

I believed this was true for years. I repeated it to others and helped spread this misinformation. Batman said so! When did Batman ever lie? Well, first of all he mixed up the two. The left side of the brain is the one that’s always been associated with logical tasks and the right side is the one associated with raw creativity. So there’s that.

Then there’s the fact that…I read in my dreams all the time. Signs, newspapers, books, whatever. They have all appeared in my dreams and reading them was no big deal. Ermahgerd! I’m a freak! Only, not really. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest reading in dreams is not at all uncommon.

Anyhoo, the truth is that we don’t really know where dreams come from. Not with any certainty. There hasn’t been very much serious research done on the subject. Researchers in Switzerland produced a paper in 2004 that suggested that they had found one possible location for the formation of dreams. This happened by chance when a 73 year old woman had a stroke affecting that area of her brain. Side effect of stroke: Her dreams stopped. REM sleep continued as usual, but her dreams were absent according to brain scans. REM sleep and dreams are connected, but they are not the same thing and they originate in different parts of the brain. This had the unexpected side effect of busting another popular myth : That humans will die if they can’t dream.

“How dreams are generated, and what purpose they might serve, are completely open questions at this point.”

Dr Claudio Bassetti, of the Department of Neurology at the University Hospital of Zurich in Switzerland

During dreams, and the rest of the time too, brain activity isn’t localized on one side or the other. The brain just doesn’t work that way. The left side/right side explanation of brain activity has some basis in reality but is wildly over simplified. There are specialized areas of the brain, which work with other specialized areas of the brain and everything between hemispheres is interconnected through the corpus callosum. And hundreds of millions of nerve clusters. There’s a whole lot of communication going on between both sides of your brain. All the time.

“Sure, we have two hemispheres that operate fine independently and have different abilities, but they are massively interconnected and work together as a seamless whole (providing you have never had surgery to cut your corpus callosum).”

Dr Steven Novella, Academic neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine

We’re not dolphins. We don’t sleep with one side of the brain at a time. And the functions of our brain are not neatly segregated into conveniently coloured portions of the brain. The whole thing is a mess. A mess we haven’t completely figured out yet. But from what we do know, there’s no reason why one shouldn’t be able to read in one’s dreams.

Damn you, Bruce Wayne.

Where Atheism and Feminism Meet – Part I

This blog is called Canadian Heathen. This is because I identify as an atheist. Also because maple leafs and socialized healthcare are awesome! The majority of my blog posts have not, however, been primarily concerned with atheism. Or…Mounties. At first glance this may be confusing (or annoying) to some.

For me, my atheism and feminism stem from the same place: rationality and skepticism. Belief in gods is irrational. Sexism is irrational. Often the first leads to the second. There’s a strong correlation between religious belief and lack of women’s rights. Both of these things affect me. As a woman, the sexism is often the more noticeable for me. Also the more likely to piss me off. Because it’s all up in my face and it’s not something I can ever escape from. Once you see…you cannot unsee.

It’s also sometimes more baffling for me. Sexism doesn’t just come from the religious folks. I wish that were the case. It’s really easy to dismiss a stupid statement coming from someone who truly believes a snake tricked a woman into eating an apple. Unfortunately, there’s a nice heaping helping of unreasoned sexism that’s coming from fellow atheists and skeptics and this is something that I just don’t understand. How can you let go of one set of irrational beliefs while clutching desperately to another? More importantly, why would you want to?

I’ve been an internet forum warrior. Hell, I’ve even been a troll. I’ve clashed with religious fundementalists over the basic tenets of their beliefs with varying degrees of success. I remember years ago being on a forum arguing against religious fundementalism with a muslim dude. The muslim dude was ill prepared, as he was throwing some of the most common theistic arguments at us. The sort of thing that’s been debunked again and again. Pascal’s Wager and the like. Suffice it to say that he was floundering. Then one of my ‘allies’ piped in with : ‘you’re getting beaten by a girl, you know. What does that say about you manly muslims?’ I was completely derailed and flustered.

Really, random-internet-dude-who’s-suppose-to-be-my-ally-here? You went there? To score points in a flame war you tossed aside all reason and taunted his manhood by insulting half the population and in particular one of your allies. How exactly was I supposed to respond to that? Laughing along with him would be tacit agreement that I’m a second class citizen. I remember that what happened was that I turned my ire on the atheist and asked him what the hell his problem was. His response was something like : ‘But look how mad it made muslim guy’. Mine was : ‘And look how mad it made me. Do you really want to ‘win’ this fight by alienating half of your potential allies? Don’t knock me down in order to get a shot in at some random internet idiot.’ I got a sullen :’sorry…’ and he withdrew from the conversation.

This last anecdote is a mild one. There’s far worse things going on within and without the atheist community at the moment.

There’s the infamous Elevatorgate scandal, which all things aside (and whatever you happen to think about being propsitioned in an elevator at 4am in a strange country), taught us that if a woman speaks up about something that bothers her, she will get threatened and harassed mercilessly…for years! Or a condescending ‘Dear Muslimah‘ letter from one of the most respected members of the atheist community.

There’s are numerous situations where a rape survivor has mentioned that joking at the expense of the victims is not funny…who then promptly receive rape threats, because apparently that’s the go-to silencing tactic when calling a woman a Bitch doesn’t work.

The backlash that Surly Amy is getting because she’s a woman…because she’s a skeptic. Because she has opinions. Read that link, it’s a pretty horrifying example of the sort of shit that women who are atheists have to put up with…from their supposed allies! Among other things another atheist laments that Amy won’t be setting herself on fire anytime soon.

There’s a highschool girl sharing her gotta-make-you-smile story of how her very religious mother gave her a Carl Sagan book for Christmas…and then the rape threats that followed. And seriously, this girl is not even an adult yet.

So, above and beyond the fact that as an atheist I must fight against the religious right trying to lobby to take away my rights as a person, and as a woman, I’ve got this secondary fight going on. One where I need to give my apparent allies the side-eye from time to time and wonder if they really have my back or not or whether they’re waiting to throw me under the bus to score points in a frikken flame war. This is why so many of my posts have focused and will focus on feminism. To me, it’s all part of the same picture. In this case, the more uncomfortable part of the ‘good fight’.

Mythic Mondays – Leprosy

The other day I was watching an episode of National Geographic’s Taboo. It was the episode about outcasts. One of the segments was about modern lepers in India. There was a montage of interviews with random people on the streets of what I assumed were European/North American cities. You know, western, supposedly educated people. They asked the question: Would you touch a leper? The interviewees seemed horrified. One woman flatly states that she would never touch a leper because she knew leprosy was contagious.

This caused a deep sigh to start within me. Accompanied by a slow rolling of my eyes back into my head. The irrational fear that still exists today over a disease which has a cure, and which most humans are naturally immune to, annoyed me greatly. 2012 and we’re still cringing from lepers. How depressing. So I thought that an interesting exercise for myself would be to try to pick a common misconception/myth/urban legend and make an effort to debunk it. Or at least scrape together some information about it in what is hopefully an easy to digest manner. I’m going to call these posts: ‘Mythic Mondays’ because I’m all about alliteration and this gives me a deadline of sorts.

Found in the Public Domain here : ‘http://thebiblerevival.com/clipart27.htm’

Leprosy

Leprosy is a skin/nerve disease that causes noticeable disfigurement and nerve damage if left untreated. The very word ‘Leprosy’ is a word which for millenia has inspired fear and loathing for those afflicted. This fear was/is so great that lepers were/are often cast out of civilization and forced to subsist in leper colonies. Leprosy was seen as an affliction that was wrought by the wrath of God ™ as a punishment for the wicked. All of that is well documented. Ancient history, however, is not what interests me about this disease. What I want to focus on is the misconceptions that still surround Leprosy.

First of all, while Leprosy is a contagious bacterial disease, it is very difficult to contract. It requires contact with saliva (not disfigured limbs or rashes) and it turns out that 95% of the human population is already naturally immune from this bacterial infection. Currently something around 150 people in the US contract this disease annually according to researchers at the National Hansen’s Disease Program. Hansen’s disease is another name for Leprosy, and one that doesn’t cause such negative and visceral reactions. “Leprosy is a rare disease and will remain a rare disease,” says Richard Truman, Ph.D.the Chief of microbiological research from that same program.

The cure for Leprosy was discovered in 1981. Turns out that Leprosy is just another bacterial infection and can be cured by pharmaceuticals. In this case, a multi-drug approach using Dapsone, Rifampin and Clofazimine. It takes six months to a year to treat a patient but they are no longer contagious after a few doses. Unfortunately, the treatment does not reverse any disfigurement that has already occurred. And more unfortunately, in places like India and China people will often hide their symptoms so as not to be marked as a Pariah. So that by the time they are treated irreparable damage has already occurred. And considering that even in 2012 there are people who have knee-jerk reactions to the word leper, you can hardly blame them for thinking that they will be shunned.