Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

White, But With a Tan

March 15th, 2013 1 comment

There’s a lot of excitement:

Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony cheered the selection of Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina as the new pope.

“This is unimaginable,” Mahony told KCBS-TV Channel 2 anchor Sylvia Lopez in an interview in Rome. “The impact this is going to have have. Particularly, of course, in Latin America. It’s the first time we ever had a Southern Hemisphere pope. It’s just extraordinary.”

“Unimaginable.” “Extraordinary.”

It’s hard to think of another example of anyone being so excited at their symbolically overcoming their own bigotry to such a minor degree.

That a non-European Pope be elected for the first time in 1,200 years (some of the early popes were born in the Middle East or Roman Africa) is more a sign of how the church disrespects and disregards the rest of the world, where the great bulk of their believers reside.

It is only symbolic, however, to a minor degree, because Jorge Mario Bergoglio is not even part Indie; he is of full Italian descent, the child of immigrants.

So, it’s just his nationality that has people excited.

God forbid they select someone of non-European ethnicity. Or, some day, not male.

In the meantime, they elected yet another white European-descent male who is vigorously anti-gay. But he lived in South America! Wheee! What a breakthrough!

If doing that is “unimaginable” for the church leadership, then this church is decidedly backwards.

There is also excitement that this man chose to live in a modest apartment among the poor rather than to move into a luxurious, stately church residence.

Um, let’s see, this church is supposed focus on Christ, yes? And we’re supposed to be impressed by the fact that, for the first time in a very long time, the leader of that church actually respected the core teachings of their savior in his own lifestyle? Before moving into the most extravagant opulence, of course.

A step in the right direction, perhaps. But “extraordinary”? Wow.

Categories: Religion Tags:

The Last Acceptable Prejudice

February 18th, 2013 1 comment

Confronting prejudice seems to be a matter of not just social norms, but of visibility, psychology, and choice.

On visibility, race and gender cannot be hidden, so they were confronted much earlier.

Homosexuality is easier to conceal, but hardly easy altogether; it came next.

Belief, however, can be the easiest thing to conceal, making it less necessary to confront.

Then there is how these prejudices tie into our psychology. Race was perhaps the easiest to confront on the grounds that it was justified partly a false scientific claim (that we are significantly different physiologically and psychologically), which was not too difficult to debunk, leading to the exposure of the fact that we are simply xenophobic. Our shared similarities across groups and differences within them helped to cancel much of this out.

Gender is more difficult to confront not just because there are physiological and psychological differences, but also because of the sharp duality most people see, not to mention historical and traditional roles and assumptions—many accepted or even embraced by many women themselves—making it harder to break through.

Homosexuality is tied to any number of sexual mores and bugaboos we still wade neck-deep in, and like gender, is tied to issues of control and self-identity, thus making it more difficult for some to break through.

Atheism, however, confronts some of our deepest fears: that of meaning, purpose—and oblivion. This connects to levels of suppressed horror and despair for some, which, even if subconscious (especially if subconscious!) are most difficult to confront.

Race, gender, and sexual orientation do have something in common, however, which sets them apart from atheism: choice. This is one thing that also delayed acceptance of homosexuality, that it was seen as a lifestyle rather than a permanent, set state of being. This still persists as a way for people to discriminate, because when it comes down to it, one of the best ways to justify a difference in human society is to demonstrate that the difference cannot be chosen or avoided, and thus demands equality on the basis of humanity.

Atheism, however, is in fact, a choice—mostly. Here, it is possible for one to truly convert as one cannot with race, gender, or orientation. I say “mostly,” however, because it is not always easy or even possible to change one’s convictions. For some, it is, but for others, it is so deeply tied to their self-identity that it is pretty much impossible.

All of these reasons explain why outright prejudice against atheists is still accepted.

Think about it: if Newt Gingrich had come out and said he would not accept non-whites in his cabinet, there would have been an outrage. Same for if he had said he would exclude women. Both may have been acceptable—or perhaps, politically survivable—statements more than half a century ago, but are utterly unacceptable today.

Had Newt Gingrich said he would not have any gays serving in government, there would also be public outcry against him. We still hear things like this, but they are now socially unacceptable; as gays come out of the closet, homophobes go in, to join racists and sexists.

But Gingrich did not say any of these things. He said, instead, that he would not accept any atheists serving in his administration.

Nobody even seemed to notice that he had said anything wrong.

And here, Gingrich even noted how it is easier to discriminate against atheists than it is to reject members of other religions:

Now, I happen to think that none of us should rush in judgment of others in the way in which they approach God. And I think that all of us up here I believe would agree. But I think all of us would also agree that there’s a very central part of your faith in how you approach public life. And I, frankly, would be really worried if somebody assured me that nothing in their faith would affect their judgments, because then I’d wonder, where’s your judgment—how can you have judgment if you have no faith? And how can I trust you with power if you don’t pray? Who you pray to, how you pray, how you come close to God is between you and God. But the notion that you’re endowed by your creator sets a certain boundary on what we mean by America.

In short, I can accept you if you’re a Mormon (he was speaking to Mitt Romney’s religion, ironically defining himself as tolerant), or if you’re Jewish, and even potentially if you’re a Hindu or a Muslim (though he would very likely escort such people quietly out the back door).

But if you’re an atheist? You’re damaged goods and have no place in our society. If you think I exaggerate, go back and read what he said again.

Following is a snippet of a discussion on this topic, which prompted this post.

Categories: Religion, Social Issues Tags:

Evangelicals and the Double Standard of Religious Freedom

January 30th, 2013 Comments off

It should be no surprise when a poll finds that Christian Evangelicals have a double standard on religious freedom. Even when it is an evangelical polling organization.

More than any other group in the poll—Non-evangelical born-agains, “Notional” Christians (apparently Chistians who do not live up to the standards of the evangelical pollsters), Other Faiths, and “Skeptics”—evangelicals believe that religious freedom has diminished because America has moved away from traditional Christian values, and that gays are chiefly at fault for it. And—here’s the hypocritical part—although they believe as heartily as anyone else that “true religious freedom” means citizens are able to “believe and practice the core commitments and values” of their faith, they also believe that one set of values—theirs—should be given preference, and indeed, should “dominate” the country.

In other words, everyone should be free to believe what they want, so long as it is what the evangelicals proscribe.

This is exactly in line with what I have noted before: that not only is the “war on Christianity” an imaginary phantom, it is Christians themselves who oppress the freedom of belief of others:

What is truly hypocritical is the fact that Christianists are the only ones who actually try to deny others the right to freedom of belief and legal expression. They openly discriminate against people who believe differently from them. They refuse to serve atheists or Muslims in their businesses. They clamor to take down atheist billboards and actually fight to prevent Islamic mosques from being opened, even in remote rural areas with no one else around. They’re the ones that howl in protest when any other religion aside from Christianity gets to deliver an invocation or inaugural prayer. They vote down anyone who is not Cristian from getting into public office. Even Gingrich himself has said he would not allow anyone who is non-religious to even serve in government, and you know he would shut out most non-Christians in the same way.

And the Christian claim to persecution? Despite being the dominant religion with their beliefs almost everywhere, including on the currency, in prayers before public sessions, in the Pledge of Allegiance and nearly all other public oaths, etc. etc.–the persecution against them is horrific because they don’t get to slather their religion in every last nook and cranny of society. Not because they’re actually being shut out, but because they are not allowed to dominate everywhere.

These people do not desire religious freedom for anyone but themselves. What they desire would be more accurately described as “religious primacy.” I have said before that they do not recognize the fact that the policy of separation of church and state is to protect religious freedom, but more and more I realize that they recognize this, and oppose the wall of separation precisely because it prevents them from asserting religious control over the country.

Precisely what the founders feared, and precisely the reason many of the original colonists came to America in the first place:

The very Pilgrims who came across on the Mayflower, the ones celebrated by Christians in America to this day (with a public national holiday, no less), came seeking relief and respite from religious laws in England, such as the Act of Uniformity which required everyone in the country to attend government-mandated prayers–this the result of the marriage of church and state. The exact same type of marriage that Santorum and others protest is their God-given right.

I would wager that these self-same evangelicals celebrate the Pilgrims as symbols of their own “persecution,” whilst campaigning to create the same religious authority that caused the Pilgrims to flee in the first place.

Categories: Religion Tags:

First Reaction from the Right: Secularism Caused the Shootings

December 17th, 2012 1 comment

Huckabee has the whole answer to the school shootings. I knew some loon would come up with this, but did not expect it to come from Huckabee:

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee attributed the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in part to restrictions on school prayer and religious materials in the classroom.

“We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools,” Huckabee said on Fox News, discussing the murder spree that took the lives of 20 children and 6 adults in Newtown, CT that morning. “Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”

Yes, that’s right. If only had those children been praying, that man would not have murdered them.

This statement is rather demented, in a couple of ways. Aside from his apparent lack of understanding that the attack came from outside the school, not from within it, he is essentially concluding that “removing God from our schools” resulted in horrific violence being done. Because religious people are all non-violent pacifists, of course. Unlike those mass-murdering atheists.

Huckabee then went into detail about his reasoning:

“[W]e’ve made it a place where we don’t want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability — that we’re not just going to have be accountable to the police if they catch us, but one day we stand before, you know, a holy God in judgment,” Huckabee said. “If we don’t believe that, then we don’t fear that.”

This statement seems to move Huckabee more towards the rationale that acts like this happen because we aren’t a religious enough society, which, in my opinion, is not much better. It makes the old, conceited presumption that if you don’t fear God’s wrath, you are more likely just to do any damned thing you want, thus we have a violent society. You can’t be good without God.

That’s essentially what other fundie notables are saying, like Eric Hovind:

Are you happy now that the shooter grew up in a school without God?

Christian talk show personality Bryan Fischer had this even more twisted point of view:

The question’s gonna come up, where was God? I thought that God cared about the little children? God protected the little children? Where was God when all this went down? And here’s the bottom line: God is not going to go where he’s not wanted.

He elaborates, saying essentially that God would have stopped the shootings if only we had not forsaken him in public schools. This is particularly reprehensible; he is saying, directly, that if we do not make our public schools religious, God is going to allow anyone to enter these schools and massacre the children.


OK, first, let’s set a few things straight. At the top of that list, prayer is not forbidden in schools. Only prayers led by school representatives is banned. But prayer is not. Kids can pray anywhere and everywhere they like, so long as it does not interrupt class proceedings. They can (and do) pray outside the school (e.g., around flagpoles), they can pray in clubs on school property, they can pray in the hallways, the schoolyards, the cafeteria, whatever. Personally, to themselves, they can pray practically all day long. The only prohibition is one that prevents religious discrimination.

Second: There is no evidence I have ever heard of that correlates religious education with lower crime rates or greater ethical behavior, even if one ignores the vast oversimplification concerning such a statement. As I pointed out above, this belief is simply a conceit by religious people who see their morality and behavior as superior, often helped along by the belief that only religious people can be truly moral. Many in fact believe that if you do not have religion, and in particular fear of judgment by your creator, then there is nothing holding you back from doing anything immoral. Millions upon millions of atheists beg to differ.

Third: Even if there were some pacifying effect given by a specific sort of religious study, why assume that public education is the vital missing factor? If children are raised to be religious at home, and if they attend church, and if they pray privately in school, then why do they not have these morals instilled from all that exposure to religion and religious teaching? This is similar to the Wall Street Journal editorial which assumed that so long as one small corner of society is not expressly 100% religious, then things fall apart.

In fact, you may have heard that the guns—several handguns and rifles—belonged to Adam Lanza’s mother. So the first thing you ask is, why was this woman so heavily armed, with not just handguns but semi-automatic rifles as well? Some reports now have that she was a survivalist, a “prepper,” and that her son was home-schooled—meaning that there is a likelihood that the family was religious, in which case Adam had received that education.

Lastly, and most important: are these people—Huckabee, Hovind, Fischer, and likely many others—not aware of how sickeningly offensive their statements are? Do they imagine that the parents of the slaughtered children will not be horrifically enraged by the suggestion that God killed their children as a punishment for secular schools?

So, what is the solution? How do we fix this?

Naturally, the sad truth is, there are no easy or sure-fire fixes. In this particular case, gun control probably would not have made a difference. Lanza was turned away by a background check and waiting period—but he instead simply took his mother’s guns, which were legally purchased. If Lanza took a semi-automatic rifle into the school, that may have contributed, but in all likelihood, the other guns he had would probably have been enough to do the same damage. Certainly, not having a semi-automatic assault rifle in an elementary school is better than having one. Better mental health treatment probably could have done some good, but recognition and intercession are less than perfect. We supposedly became more sensitive to this after Columbine—but little seems to have changed.

We will find out more as time goes on, but it is likely that the details of this case will show us how hard it would have been to screen in any and all ways to prevent it.

That said, something is obviously happening in our society, as is evidenced by the alarming increase in gun massacres.

There is no magic solution, no silver bullet that will fix everything. However, there are steps we can take that will alleviate problems in specific areas that will help society in general, and hopefully at least slow cases such as the one we are now witnessing.

Gun control is one of them. Our gun laws are stupid, as is the paranoia of those who rush to gun stores when a tragedy occurs or if Obama is elected. Currently, we have very little in the way of comprehensive gun control. Background checks and waiting periods have helped, but there are too many loopholes, too many places where these things make no difference. We need to eliminate all loopholes like those at gun shows. All gun sales, public and private, must be subject to the same scrutiny. It is insane that an 80-year-old grandmother should be forced to go through intense scrutiny when she buys Sudafed, but a convicted felon can easily buy dozens of weapons at a gun show. We need limits on the number of guns people can buy per month/year; we need bans on weapons and features designed to kill but which have no relationship to self-defense; we need laws concerning the storage of guns; we need better training and licensing; we need universal registration of both weapons and ammunition. There is so much that can be done, such as all of the above, and still allow every law-abiding citizen to be armed more than sufficiently for home defense and sports usage. And yet people wet their pants if any of the above are even suggested at a serious level.

Better mental illness diagnosis and treatment is needed. I know little about this, so I cannot go into detail. But I think few would argue with this point. Nevertheless, much needs to be done—not just talked about and then nothing happens.

There is much more than even that, however. To a certain extent, we as a nation have to change our attitudes. Our attitudes about a broad range of things, from basic civility to the way we value life. This cannot be legislated; it must be decided. We cannot be a nation which passionately shouts in approval when it is suggested that a poor man be allowed to die in the street before his community raises even a finger to help him. We cannot be a nation which is so strongly opposed to basic humanity. It has now become popular among the right to refuse to give a shit about others, to dismiss and reject others, to treat them as less than human. We can no longer afford this selfish disregard.

Categories: Religion, Social Issues Tags:

Merry War on Christmas!

November 22nd, 2012 1 comment

Yes, it’s that time. Halloween is over and Thanksgiving is yet to come, so it’s time for Fox News to put up the decorative articles of outrage and sing carols of victimization. It has become a tradition unto itself, in a way; it is now years old, as certain to come as death and tax revolts, and has a central theme: to establish the dominance of Christianity and integrate as much as possible the institutions of Church and State.

What’s the latest outrage that allows the ruling class with the most power and privilege to feel like they are discriminated against and trampled upon? What else? A fight over a public nativity display! Did those nasty Grinch-like Atheists wage a war to bar them again? Well, no, it is established law that you can have nativity displays on public grounds—but only if all belief groups are also allowed similar displays! What’s this? Equality of expression? In the two months preceding Christmas? How vile!

The evil Atheists did not take down the Nativity in Palisades Park in the city of Santa Monica, but they did something even worse: they displayed their own holiday message. The message of spite and hate? “Religions are all alike – founded on fables and mythologies.” What an outrage! A quote from Thomas Jefferson, here in America? Jefferson is supposed to stand in the background and pretend to be a fundamentalist!

The real problem came when nasty secularists submitted more than one proposal for a spot in the park’s display, and the rules of the lottery system granted them 18 of the 21 spaces (or 11 of 14, reports vary). Well, random chance (or possibly the lack of submissions by Christians, but let’s not focus on that) is obviously at war with Christianity! Christians among the Santa Monica officials, in the meantime, decided that if the Mean Evil Nasty Atheists got more than they did for one year, they would scrap the whole game and take the ball home with them. So, under the excuse of turf erosion and obstructed views, which were never problems for the 60 previous years when Christian messages dominated, they shut down the whole display.

The Atheists did it! By expressing themselves!! To the point where Christians couldn’t stand it and shut down everything!! How dare they!!! As Fox nobly reminds us:

“It’s a sad, sad commentary on the attitudes of the day that a nearly 60-year-old Christmas tradition is now having to hunt for a home, something like our savior had to hunt for a place to be born because the world was not interested,” said Hunter Jameson, head of the nonprofit Santa Monica Nativity Scene Committee that is suing.

Yes, religious groups have no choice but to “hunt for a home” for their nativity displays. But where? Where could these poor, down-and-out, rich and powerful victims possibly move their displays? After all, they are limited to ONLY 12 other parks in the city, or on the front lawns of dozens of churches in the immediate area, or in any of tens of thousands of private lawns or open spaces. Or even in the same park where the nativity displays have traditionally been, so long as the park is open and the displays are attended. But not in that one park, at least when it is closed! Christian voices are being STRANGLED!! Atheists are killing CHRISTMAS!!

Coming up next on Fox’s hit series War on Christmas: “We find something to bitch about in the Obama White House ‘Holiday’ cards!” There are only wrapped presents, a poinsettia, and a Christmas wreath! No tree! And they don’t use the word “Christmas”! And they don’t write “We hate Muslims and Atheists!” on the card!

Don’t they know that the whole idea of Christmas Spirit is to exclude everyone else?!?

Categories: People Can Be Idiots, Religion Tags:

On the Practicality of Reason

November 21st, 2012 3 comments

Marco Rubio has been in the news recently for equivocating on the age of the Earth:

I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.

Translation: “I can’t have science which contradicts fundie beliefs! I’m running for president, for Pete’s sake!”

A lot of apologists for this kind of young-earth creationism try to make it seem like there is no real-world impact for denying the science on this. A lot of people who know science disagree, saying that, for example, believing evolution is false will have a real impact on a student’s understanding of biology and other aspects of science.

However, it is sometimes hard to see exactly how that works. After all, most people don’t learn enough about biology or science in general for the difference between believing or not believing in science to have any real impact on their lives. As a result, the effects of fundamentalist denial of science remains distant.

One conservative, not necessarily religious, form of science denial is starting to break through to people’s lives: the denial of climate change. Seeing Rhode Island-sized chunks of ice break off the polar caps every other month are one thing, but storms the size of Hurricane Sandy now pounding our shores on a regular basis have made things even more plainly obvious.

But what about the age of the universe? The age of the Earth? How does that effect us on a daily basis? Paul Krugman took a stab at it recently, noting: “If you’re going to ignore what geologists say if you don’t like its implications, what are the chances that you’ll take sensible advice on monetary and fiscal policy? After all, we’ve just seen how Republicans deal with research reports that undermine their faith in the magic of tax cuts: they try to suppress the reports.” In essence, denying science begets denying facts, an excellent point in light of current and recent conservative beliefs, policies, and actions.

However, that is still indirect, and therefore relatively difficult for many taken in by the fundie narrative to internalize. How can we state in more concrete terms that denying the science on the age of the Earth as well as a variety of fossil life consistent with that age has real-world impacts? How can we show in better kick-to-the-gut terms that accepting evolution is in fact an important thing?

One attempt was antibiotics, and how the microorganisms we fight with them are rapidly evolving, making more and more of our medicines ineffective. However, fundamentalists have a workaround: that kind of evolution, the kind we can observe in real life, we’ll call that “micro-evolution,” which yields only small changes in organisms over short periods of time, and accept it because it can be consistent with a young earth; but it is different from “macro-evolution,” the kind which says all life evolved over billions of years. Have you ever seen a giraffe evolve into a hippo in a laboratory? No? Then I will smugly not believe in this “macro-evolution” kick you’re on because you have no evidence that is easily digestible in sound bites a layman can discern without trying too hard.

Now, don’t get me wrong, all of these arguments are dead wrong, in any number of ways. But you have to remember that the problem lies in getting non-scientists to understand, and answers like the one above, as clearly wrong and flawed to a scientist as it is, is nevertheless more than enough to assure a fundie who, after all, wants to believe in whatever supports their religious beliefs.

What we need is an argument which is not too technical, but which shows clearly that young-Earth creationism simply can’t be right.

Just today, I found a great example of just that. Alex Knapp at Forbes does it:

Now, Marco Rubio’s Republican colleague Representative Paul Broun, who sits on the House Committee on Science and Technology, recently stated that it was his belief that the Universe is only 9,000 years old. Well, if Broun is right and physicists are wrong, then we have a real problem. Virtually all modern technology relies on optics in some way, shape or form. And in the science of optics, the fact that the speed of light is constant in a vacuum is taken for granted. But the speed of light must not be constant if the universe is only 9,000 years old. It must be capable of being much, much faster. That means that the fundamental physics underlying the Internet, DVDs, laser surgery, and many many more critical parts of the economy are based on bad science. The consequences of that could be drastic, given our dependence on optics for our economic growth.

Here’s an even more disturbing thought – scientists currently believe that the Earth is about 4.54 billion years old because radioactive substances decay at generally stable rates. Accordingly, by observing how much of a radioactive substance has decayed, scientists are able to determine how old that substance is. However, if the Earth is only 9,000 years old, then radioactive decay rates are unstable and subject to rapid acceleration under completely unknown circumstances. This poses an enormous danger to the country’s nuclear power plants, which could undergo an unanticipated meltdown at any time due to currently unpredictable circumstances. Likewise, accelerated decay could lead to the detonation of our nuclear weapons, and cause injuries and death to people undergoing radioactive treatments in hospitals. Any of these circumstances would obviously have a large economic impact.

If the Earth is really 9,000 years old, as Paul Broun believes and Rubio is willing to remain ignorant about, it becomes imperative to shut down our nuclear plants and dismantle our nuclear stockpiles now until such time as scientists are able to ascertain what circumstances exist that could cause deadly acceleration of radioactive decay and determine how to prevent it from happening.

That is an excellent point. Dating techniques are based upon the science of understanding the decay of atoms. This decay is directly linked to both the measured age of objects far older than the supposed creationist age of the universe and to the stability of nuclear power and weapons. If it is unreliable, then so is everything based on atomic decay.

Atomic decay is used to regulate time, for crying out loud; the time you set your watch by is determined by atomic clocks. The chemotherapy for cancer treatments someone in your family is bound to have undergone, or is undergoing, is also directly related to this—that person could die if the science on radioactive decay is wrong.

So! Hearing this, fundamentalists will give up and concede the earth is 4.54 billion years old, right?

Yeah, I know. That’s the thing—if a person wants to believe something without having to pay the price for it in some other way, they’ll always find a way. One way is what a lot of these fundies do: simply ignore the effective arguments and facts. Pretend they don’t exist. They already do this, relying on a host of bogus arguments “proving” “evil-ution” is wrong, despite a mountain of science, collected here, for instance, proving their arguments are rubbish.

Other forms of denial exist, up to and including the “nuclear option” of denialism: God created the universe to seem like it’s old so as to test our faith. Yeah, that must be it. God created a vast universe full of carefully crafted and fully-consistent deception all for the benefit of our tiny race on on our tiny planet, to see if our love of Him is great enough that we will believe more in the science gleaned from an ancient, error-filled, inconsistent philosophy text written by people who did not know about and were not writing about science than we will believe in the actual universe in front of our eyes. Yes, that’s reasonable.

Aside from the fact that this supposition is ludicrous, there is another key flaw: it presumes that virtually all of creation is a lie intended to deceive us. It assumes that God created us flawed so we could be deceived, then deceived us, and then punishes the deceived with an eternity of pain and horror.

Again… yeah, I know. Making these arguments won’t shift the beliefs of the deeply committed.

So, why argue any of this?

Because there are many on the fringes, especially the young ones who have not heard these arguments before, the ones whose “hearts have not been hardened,” who will hear the arguments and will perhaps succumb to reason. Reason, which Martin Luther himself identified as “the greatest enemy faith has.”

And it is working. The number of those not affiliated with an established religion is growing. As Rick Santorum pointed out recently, many young people going to college and learning this satanic “critical thinking” hogwash are coming out of college less convinced about fundamentalist denialism than they were going in.

He called it “indoctrination.” Which is the opposite of the truth, of course. “The indoctrinated person is expected not to question or critically examine the doctrine they have learned.” That kind of goes against the entire idea of critical thinking—but “indoctrination” describes perfectly what fundamentalists want their kids to stick with.

What we need is more exposure to the idea that, in Genesis, the Hebrew word “yom”—as in, the six yom of creation—can mean “era” just as legitimately as it can mean “day.” Once people realize that they can believe in the Bible and in science, things will go a lot smoother.

The problem: organized religion. You see, it has been insisting for quite some time that the translation of that word is a 24-hour “day.” And these people claim to directly represent God. They claim that they are the dispensers of High Truth.

Realizing that Genesis could refer to “eras” makes a lot of sense and would allow for believers to believe that the Bible was never in error on that point.

But it would mean that the church which pushed the 24-hour day interpretation was in error, and we can’t have that.

But there is hope. It took the Catholic Church just four centuries to “forgive” Galileo for being right. So, all we have to do is wait several hundred years. Maybe they’ll come around on this, too.

Categories: Religion, Science Tags:

Unemployment and November

August 6th, 2012 2 comments

In March, I debunked the Fox News claim that, after a one-month stall at 8.3%, “unemployment is not likely to fall much further and may rise again.” The message was that there is no hope for improvement, and that the numbers will stall or get worse for the indefinite future.

In the five months since then, Fox might, without looking too closely, seem to have been correct, in that the unemployment numbers have stayed steady since then:

  • February: 8.3%
  • March: 8.2%
  • April: 8.1%
  • May: 8.2%
  • June: 8.2%
  • July: 8.3%*

*July is really 8.254%; “8.3” is a rounding-up from that. It is only slightly up from 8.217% in June.

However, as I pointed out in March, conservatives often seem blind to the fact that unemployment numbers are a lagging indicator, especially when it means they can make Obama look bad, or their own guys look better.

Knowing that the unemployment rate lags about 9 months behind the jobs numbers gives us a bit of a crystal ball to see what will happen in upcoming months as far as unemployment goes. Yes, I know that it’s not that simple, but there is, in fact, a correlation. For example, the recent stall at 8.3% to 8.1% beginning last February matches very nicely with the stall in job creation that happened last year in May.

In March of this year, I predicted:

The bad news for Obama is that, for the next 4-6 months, unemployment will not be so hot–it may drop a point or two over the next 4-6 months (numbers might show a drop in June or July more than other months)…

I was not spot on where the slight drop would occur, but I was correct in that it could vary by a point or two. The real test, however, will be in next three months, about which I made this prediction:

[The unemployment rate] may not really start to change again until just before the election–which is the good news for Obama. The rate should start dropping regularly come September, when we see the numbers for August.

Based on nothing but a guess, I would say that the unemployment rate will probably be between 7.6% and 7.8% come November. The last three months, all good gainers, will show up in the unemployment rate in the three months leading up to election day.

That still remains a distinct possibility. My prediction was based on this chart:

Screen Shot 2012-03-10 At 1.21.56 Pm

A slump in job creation hit in May 2011 and continued for roughly six months up until October. Nine months forward, this would apply to February to July–which is precisely where the unemployment rate stalled. Then, from November 2011 (August 2012) there was a surge again, with overall job growth going above 200,000 per month. If the correlation holds true, then we should be seeing the unemployment rate going down again starting next month, at latest in October, but with an appreciable drop when the numbers come out just before election day.

Note that I am not hailing a recovery or anything, but rather simply the short-term number which could have a real effect on the election this fall.

In the meantime, I am otherwise sanguine about Obama’s chances. Yes, the wingnuts have been going to town with the dishonest “You Didn’t Build That” campaign. However, Romney has been obliging in shifting the focus to his tax returns (making it seem for all the world that he’s hiding some pretty bad stuff in there), his tax plans (raising taxes on the 95% to pay for yet another whopping big tax cut for the rich), and his gaffe-tastic trip abroad (demonstrating that not only can he not handle foreign policy, he can’t even keep from pissing off our strongest allies for a day or two).

In the meantime, while the popular vote has not shown much shift (Obama 50.7%, Romney 48.3%), Obama has made significant electoral gains. Not just in total numbers (he currently leads Romney 300 to 238), but in how much he may have key states locked up. Pennsylvania was supposed to be a battleground state; the numbers have shifted so far in Obama’s favor, however, that Romney gave up and stopped advertising there. Ohio and Florida have shifted to Obama’s column fairly significantly, with Obama enjoying 6-point leads, which may expand as economic forecasts for those states predict improvement. At FiveThirtyEight, Obama is projected to have a 55% chance of winning Florida, and a whopping 71% chance of winning Ohio. In fact, Obama now leads in all swing states.

Not that things can’t change. However, there is presently no evidence that they will. If a change comes, it will come from somewhere we do not expect–a terrible last-minute scandal that Obama cannot deflect like Bush did with his drunk-driving charge, a sudden, unexpected economic downturn, a series of bad gaffes on Obama’s part–that kind of thing. The odds, however, seem to be against that.

In fact, I now see enough breathing room to tempt fate and possibly even foresee excellent election results for not just Obama, but the Democrats in general. Right now, both the House and the Senate look like toss-ups. However, look forward to November: what if Romney is in the doghouse, and enthusiasm for Obama is up? That could have a negative effect, as Obama voters will not feel as threatened and may feel less inclined to vote (an effect magnified by vote-suppression campaigns by Republicans, not to mention massive redistricting).

What about the other side, however? If Mitt Romney stands little chance to win, what effect will that have on Republican voters? A key point here is religion: traditionally, the strongest get-out-the-vote campaigns have come from the churches and fundamentalist elements, the deep-red areas which rally to send out the troops. What if the election is about sending these warriors of God out… to vote for a Mormon who stands little chance of winning anyway?

I am not talking about the possibility of a landslide for Obama–I refer instead to the possibility that a depressed fundamentalist vote in red states could lead to unexpected gains for Democrats in down-ballot races, possibly giving Democrats a majority in both the House and the Senate.

If they can win that, and if the rumors are true that Democrats in the Senate will finally wake up and realize that Republicans have succeeded in utterly destroying the usefulness of the filibuster in overall terms, then when the Senate resumes business next year and Democrats have a chance to rewrite the rules, they could do away with it–and, as a result, they could actually start to get things done without Republicans blocking everything.

This is my big hope–not that Romney loses big, but that the built-in religious prejudice, which until now has hindered Obama and the Democrats, will finally come home to roost for the right wing, possibly handing Congress to the Democrats.

If that happens, maybe Democrats can start some real infrastructure spending, raise taxes on the wealthy to a reasonable level, cut them a bit more for the middle class to help get the flow running better, and help at least some form of recovery finally come along.

In short, after four years of Republicans “leading from behind,” we can actually have a Democratic presidency which is more sabotage-proof than it has been.

Of course, Obama will probably make concessions to Republicans even then, even when he doesn’t have to.

Categories: Economics, Election 2012, Religion Tags:


June 9th, 2012 7 comments

A Tumblr page called “Checkmate, Pro-Choicers!” run by someone calling herself “Rebecca,” asserts that it is “Taking down Baby Murderers with Logic!” It is, actually, a fairly representative look at the level of “logic” used by many, if not a majority, in the fundie pro-life community. This person seems to have, at the very least, a very shaky understanding of what exactly is involved in “logic” (not to mention an equally shaky understanding of color schemes in web design); her points are mostly emotional in nature, and when not, are, well, laughable. Here are some examples, from the most recent:

Pro-lifers care about ALL WOMEN, not just the born ones.
Checkmate, Pro-Choicers

A simple statement to a certain effect is not a fact, and the details of “caring” can include harsh treatment “for their own good.” In such cases, “caring” treatment may be something you would definitely want to avoid. Case in point: mandatory vaginal ultrasounds using a manually-operated wand. While an objective observer might call it a form of state-mandated rape, a pro-lifer may rationalize that it saves a woman from making a choice that could scar her emotionally, and since it saves the life of the fetus, it prevents her from becoming a murderer and going to hell. See how much we care? You’re welcome!

It’s funny that “women’s rights” suddenly end when sex-selective abortion comes into play.
Checkmate, Pro-Choicers

An assertion which only makes sense if one assumes that a fetus is a “woman,” which essentially means that for a pro-lifer, the debate on whether abortion is murder begins with the assumption that human life begins at conception.

Beyond that, this asserts that pro-choicers don’t care about whether abortion is used as a form of sex selection, which is also untrue. It is seen as a terrible abuse of the procedure, and is very worrisome to those concerned with women’s rights. While it is not seen as a women’s rights abuse against the fetus, it is seen as a greater abuse against the gender itself. It is possibly one of the only criteria under which pro-choicers would agree to restrict abortion–save for the fact that it would rely on people getting abortions to truthfully state their intended purpose, which they would not do if it prevented them from doing as they wished.

One may suppose that pro-lifers would then say that this is a reason to outlaw abortion in general, to prevent the minority abuse, but that is incorrect. Many parents value and treat daughters far worse than sons without resorting to physical abuse, also an affront to women’s rights–but we cannot legislate and end to that, and it would not make sense to make parenting in general illegal in order to stop it.

If your mothers had aborted you, there would be no abortion movement at all.
Checkmate, Pro-Choicers

This ignores the name of the movement: Pro-Choice, not Pro-Abortion. Ergo, change the assertion to “If your mothers had been given a choice whether or not to abort you, …” and it falls apart, as they obviously did choose not to abort. If the argument is saying that abortion would be 100% amongst people who believed in pro-choice, it would not keep children of pro-lifers from being pro-choice. If the argument is against every mother having an abortion (which is the assertion made in an earlier post), then there would be no pro-life movement, either–the race would end after a generation. This demonstrates another incorrect assumption by pro-lifers: that people who are pro-choice want every woman to have an abortion every time they get pregnant.

If you cared so much about women, where were your Pre-Roe Crisis Pregnancy Centers?
Checkmate, Pro-Choicers

Since the term “Crisis Pregnancy Center” refers to a pro-life organization trying to persuade, trick, cajole, or frighten women into not having an abortion (usually presenting false information as a means to do so), this question bizarrely seems to be an attack against pro-lifers, not pro-choicers. Indeed, if you cared so much about women, pro-lifers, where were your Crisis Pregnancy Centers before Roe v. Wade?

Casey Anthony was just making a choice about her family and her life. She just wasn’t ready to be a mother, and she made a mistake. Oh wait, she’s in jail for that.
Checkmate, Pro-Choicers

Again, it assumes an equivalency between abortion and child murder, in effect that a pre-requisite for any debate is to first accept the pro-life assertions as inarguable fact.

If you have time to have sex, then you have time to get a job and support your new baby.
Checkmate, Pro-Choicers

Really? Fifteen minutes a day (assuming daily sex of moderate length) is enough time to work and support a child? These people must be organizational geniuses. Either that, or they think that pro-choicers spend ten to twelve hours a day having sex.

I don’t hear you complaining about Christian principles making the murder of teenagers illegal.
Checkmate, Pro-Choicers

First of all, exactly which Christian principles would specifically refer to teenagers? At the very least, this is oddly worded. But, once again, it starts from the assumption that abortion and the murder of born human beings is equivalent. From here, I’ll ignore all “arguments” based on this fallacy (which is a good number of the total posts).

If abortion is as normal and acceptable as you claim, why are there so few movies and TV shows that show it?
Checkmate, Pro-Choicers

Same reason why there are so few TV shows which display live birth in detail. Unless the contention is why more TV shows and movies don’t deal with the general idea of abortion, in which case it is because mainstream entertainment tends to shy away from issues that would normally receive vehement protest from any significant segment of society, whether it is a minority or not. Which is one reason why not many TV shows depict the Prophet Muhammed. This question may as well ask, “If abortion is as normal and acceptable as you claim, why are there so few pro-lifers which accept it?”

Mary was a 12-year-old single mother who didn’t decide to have sex. She chose life.
Checkmate, Pro-Choicers

First of all, I am beginning to wonder if this person actually understands what the word “checkmate” means.

Presumably, this refers to the biblical Mary, mother of Jesus. I’m sure that in this person’s mind, this somehow argues for the pro-life side. Ironically, however, it makes the case for choice. Mary, after all, chose to give birth, right? That’s what this person is saying. Possibly, this person does not even understand the meaning of the word “choose.”

They go on and on like this. “We used to think it was okay to burn people at the stake. We learned our lesson. Checkmate, Pro-Choicers!” Hunh?

One of my favorites: “Steve Jobs’ mom didn’t want him, but he invented computers. Checkmate, Pro-Choicers!” Yeah, Steve Jobs invented computers.

As every single assertion this person makes has at least one glaring logical flaw and/or false assertion, and most of them betray a breathtaking misunderstanding of what “winning an argument” means, this could end up being a very long post. Suffice it to say that they’re pretty much all like this.

I’ll just end with this one, because it speaks to the heart of the whole debate:

If a “zygote” is not a person at conception, but a baby is at birth, when does the magic Personhood Fairy come along?
Checkmate, Pro-Choicers

Indeed. That is the very question at the heart of the debate, and one which cannot be objectively answered. Conception is just as “magic” a delineation as any other.

And this is what, ironically, makes abortion, at its core, a First Amendment issue–not one of privacy (though that also applies), but of religious choice. Deciding when human life begins before the fetus is fully developed is, in a very real way, a matter of faith. One has the personal freedom to choose what one believes; since whether abortion is murder or not is a matter of personal belief, it must be a choice made by the individual, as a matter of religious freedom.

People like this want to impose their own religious beliefs on everyone, a direct violation of religious freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment. But for people like this, “religious freedom” means “the freedom to believe what we tell you to believe.”

A Bit Too Much of an Optimist

May 27th, 2012 2 comments

Richard Leakey believes that creationists will vanish within a generation or two:

Richard Leakey predicts skepticism over evolution will soon be history.

Not that the avowed atheist has any doubts himself.

Sometime in the next 15 to 30 years, the Kenyan-born paleoanthropologist expects scientific discoveries will have accelerated to the point that “even the skeptics can accept it.” …

“If you don’t like the word evolution, I don’t care what you call it, but life has changed. You can lay out all the fossils that have been collected and establish lineages that even a fool could work up. So the question is why, how does this happen? It’s not covered by Genesis. There’s no explanation for this change going back 500 million years in any book I’ve read from the lips of any God.”

I think that Leakey doesn’t really understand the Fundamentalist / Creationist mindset. He seems to believe that all you need is overwhelming facts and evidence, and they will accept something contrary to their strong religious convictions. That’s a mistake. These people literally take what they believe as an article of faith. They could be looking directly at a mountain of evidence clearly contradicting them, and still not waver. All they have to do is say it’s a trick, Satan’s behind it, so forth and so on, and then walk away. It’s pretty much what they are doing now.

I recall Arthur C. Clarke making the same error, writing in his stories that once we meet alien species, the superstitions of religious belief would melt away. I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t happen, either.

I think that if these people are to accept things like the age of the universe or the workings of evolution, it will not be until a much longer time than now, due to social workings and not wholly that of evidence.

Categories: Religion, Science Tags:

Santorum and the Persecution of Religion

February 28th, 2012 2 comments

His latest:

“I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute,” Santorum said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

He was referring to a 1960 speech by then-presidential candidate John F. Kennedy on religion and governance, which Santorum said “makes me throw up.”

“Because the first line, first substantive line in the speech says, ‘I believe in America where the separation of church and state is absolute,” the former Pennsylvania senator said. “You bet that makes you throw up.”

Santorum said Kennedy “was trying to tell people of faith that you will do what the government says, we are going to impose our values on you.”

In America, you can pray at church. You can pray at home. You can pray in the street. You can pray in parks. You can pray in train stations and bus terminals and airports. You can pray in any public place, in fact, including “the public square.” Yes, you can even pray in school. Students can pray in buses on the way to school, they can pray around the flagpole, they can pray on the fields. They can pray in the halls, and they can pray in religious clubs, and they can even pray singly or in groups in classrooms before and after classes, so long as they do not disrupt school proceedings. They can even pray to themselves during class all they like. And they can pray after school in any variety of ways, including on school grounds. The only exception is that the prayer cannot be led or endorsed by anyone representing the school.

Prayer already permeates into government affairs beyond what church and state should allow. Prayers are said before many government proceedings. Invocations are regularly held at ceremonies and events paid for by tax dollars. Most of our national holidays are religious or have religious themes. “So help me God” is now so expected at the end of an oath that omitting it is cause for widespread public excoriation on the official–in direct violation of the Constitution. God has been injected into an oath which millions of schoolchildren are forced to recite daily. God has been imposed on virtually every piece of currency the country produces. Lawmakers constantly try to impose religious beliefs into law, forcing the entire public to live by their own religious doctrine. And to even become a lawmaker, it is virtually a prerequisite that one is not only religious, but that one makes a public show of that religion. Exceptions are exceedingly rare. It should be that no government representative may endorse a religious act, but it happens far too often.

So, how, exactly, is Santorum sickened by all of this persecution of religion, pray tell?

You know what makes me sick? It is people who are so completely, mind-numbingly ignorant of our history that they do not know how the separation of church and state was designed to protect religious freedom in this country, and that it has done so mostly successfully for the past few centuries–but that freedom of belief is now being threatened by a large number of people, and Santorum is one of many leading that charge.

It’s History 101. Puritans, Quakers, Mennonites, Jews, and Catholics are among the many religious groups that fled to America from the 17th century onward–many of them facing persecution in the United States, some of them becoming the persecutors themselves. One constant was clear, however: wherever the matters of church and state coincided, the potential for religious persecution flourished.

The very Pilgrims who came across on the Mayflower, the ones celebrated by Christians in America to this day (with a public national holiday, no less), came seeking relief and respite from religious laws in England, such as the Act of Uniformity which required everyone in the country to attend government-mandated prayers–this the result of the marriage of church and state. The exact same type of marriage that Santorum and others protest is their God-given right.

Objections in recent years that abolishing the separation of church and state in America would lead to religious persecution of minority beliefs have been scoffed at by many in America, dismissed as paranoid by social conservatives–even as they seek to impose their religious will on all Americans. They want to outlaw abortion, weakly denying the fact that it is a decision based on religious beliefs; they want to outlaw contraception, another religious doctrine enforced; and they want to institute Christian prayer in public schools, which every child is required to attend, save difficult and expensive alternatives. They make laughably absurd exceptions, like children may opt out or sit silent–as if they will not still be exposed to religious indoctrination anyway, or that they will not be singled out and subjugated to bullying by the Christian kids in the majority. In the many places in the U.S. where prayer is illegally practiced in public schools, this kind of thing happens all too often.

Let’s look at a case in point: the Indian River School District in Delaware. In a country where Christians wail about religion never being allowed anywhere near a school ever, this particular school district was rife with religion. Christian prayer was practiced in classrooms. Teachers and staff led Bible clubs, with club members given special privileges, like going to the head of the lunch line. Non-Christian students were pressured to join the Bible clubs by school officials. Teachers handed out Christian literature, and spoke of “one true religion” in classes. And so on.

At the 2003 graduation ceremony, things came to a head. Samantha Dobrich, a Jewish high school student, was among the graduates. Reverend Jerry Fike, pastor of the Mount Olivet Brethren Church, having been invited by the school, recited an invocation at the ceremony. In this invocation, the pastor singled out Ms. Dobrich, as “one specific student” who should be “guided” “in Jesus’ name.”

Now, let’s stop here for a moment. Imagine there was a Christian student in a neighborhood in Michigan which was mostly Muslim, and that the student happened to be the only Christian in a public school dominated by Muslims. Say that the local Imams had forced Islam onto the school and the school board, and that they were trying to institute Islamic prayer into the school’s daily practices. Then imagine if, during the graduation ceremony, an Imam singled out the Christian student and prayed that they be guided into the arms of the Prophet Muhammed, in the name of Allah.

You don’t think that American Christians, upon hearing this story, would go absolutely apeshit?

And yet this is what happened in the Delaware school, with Christians in the starring role. However, that is not the end of the story; while this infringement on religious freedom is bad enough, it goes naturally hand-in-hand with the societal pressures, sometimes violent, against those who do not conform with the majority.

The Dobrich family, already unhappy with how their children (including a younger one still in the sixth grade) were facing Christian pressures at a school their children were legally required to attend, were understandably upset by what had happened at the graduation. The girl’s mother complained to the school board, which was predominantly Christian and had been responsible for the act in the first place. The board unofficially offered a “compromise” to not have prayer at graduation ceremonies in the near future, but they did not agree to barring prayer in daily school activities, and soon after the offer was made, a number of local residents protested. At a board meeting to decide a “religion policy,” the Dobriches felt so threatened that they required a state trooper to escort them:

…the raucous crowd applauded the board’s opening prayer and then, when sixth-grader Alexander Dobrich stood up to read a statement, yelled at him: “take your yarmulke off!” His statement, read by Samantha, confided “I feel bad when kids in my class call me Jew boy.”

A state representative spoke in support of prayer and warned board members that “the people” would replace them if they faltered on the issue. Other representatives spoke against separating “god and state.”

A former board member suggested that Mona Dobrich might “disappear” like Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the atheist whose Supreme Court case resulted in ending organized school prayer. O’Hair disappeared in 1995 and her dismembered body was found six years later.

After the meeting, the Dobrich family was subjected to an unbearable level of invective, in the school, in their neighborhood, and in the community. Their son wes bullied at school, his classmates calling him “Christ-killer” and making him fearful of wearing a yarmulke. The family was harassed by phone threats, claiming that the KKK was nearby, and callers to a local radio station said they should convert or leave the area. The family eventually did leave, resettling in a community two hours away.

This is a sad, even frightening, and yet apt example of what happens when church and state are allowed to commingle, even on such a limited scale. In this case, the victim was a Jewish family. In recent years, Muslims have found plans to open mosques forbidden by local Christians, and have been subjected to overt hostility in public affairs. And let’s not even begin to discuss the hatred levied at atheists.

But the separation of church and state is not just intended for non-Christians. Remember, Christians fleeing religious persecution throughout American history were not fleeing oppression at the hands of Muslims, or by atheists or a secular state; they fled persecution by fellow Christians.

Look at Romney. While tolerated, his Mormon beliefs are disdained by many in the party, some openly. There are many religious groups, which, if in power, would gladly place restrictions and prohibitions on Mormons, as well as a number of other religious orders. Catholics, now complaining that their religion is being oppressed because of secular policy, would likely by high on the list of targets were that secularism to be removed.

A secular state is not anti-religious. Quite the opposite. It is, however, hostile to those who would impose religious persecution.

As a result, there remain two, and only two, possibilities. One is that Santorum, and others like him, are so stupid that they cannot comprehend the absolute necessity of separation of church and state as a bulwark against persecution and a guarantee of religious liberty.

Or, two, they understand full well, and they knowingly attack separation because they want to impose their specific religious creed on all others, willingly suppressing the religious beliefs of others.

If the latter, then Santorum–a Catholic–who presumably believes that Christians will all band together to convert the non-Christians, may someday find he is amongst those who face persecution by the majority religious order wedded to the state.

Categories: Religion, Right-Wing Extremism Tags:

Hatred of Education

February 27th, 2012 2 comments

That’s what the far right wing seems to have. Every aspect of education, it seems, has been under attack from the right. Most conservatives want to abolish the Department of Education and consistently assert that funding of education is unimportant. Teachers are reviled for being overpaid and underworked—the precise opposite of reality—and teacher’s unions are a particular target of hateful invective. Despite inattention from parents, overcrowded classes and high workloads, funding shortfalls so bad that some teachers have to buy supplies out of their own pocket, and mandated testing which has little or no pedagogical value but does succeed in distorting curriculums and making teaching harder, it’s the teachers who get all the blame when students perform poorly.

Colleges, however, are under increasing fire from conservatives. Long seen as hotbeds of liberalism (funny how learning things makes you liberal), that impression is only getting worse—to the point where right-wingers are now openly hostile to the idea of a college education. We’ve seen the New Hampshire Republican who wanted to increase the voting age purely because students vote “foolishly”—solely because they vote disproportionately Democratic. Republican vote-suppression tactics are heavily aimed at the college demographic. But some go beyond that, actually believing that colleges nationwide are part of some overarching conspiracy to convert young people into godless liberals.

And now, we have a Republican presidential candidate who is buying into that particular conspiracy theory:

“President Obama wants everybody in America to go to college,” Santorum said. “What a snob!”

Yeah! That egotistical snob wants every kid to have a kaw-ledge eh-joo-KAY-shun! What an ass! Hey, and you know what else? Those people who want their kids to graduate from high school are pretty stuck-up too, aren’t they? And how about those politicians who want the people to have better-paying jobs? What kind of smug, conceited pinheads are they? The American people should stop being tricked by this arrogant elitism, and be satisfied picking crops, washing dishes, and flipping burgers! Anyone who isn’t is an big-headed, self-important, snotty know-it-all!!

Santorum started by saying some people don’t need to go to college: “Not all folks are gifted the same way. Some people have incredible gifts with their hands.” He then suggested there was an sinister motive behind Obama’s push to get more Americans in college classrooms.

“There are good, decent men and women who work hard every day and put their skills to the test that aren’t taught by some liberal college professor… That’s why he wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image,” Santorum said. “I want to create jobs so people can remake their children into their image, not his.”

First of all, you don’t have to be “gifted” to go to college. The idea is to let everyone have a shot at learning more than just the bare minimum; many colleges (my own included) actually aim to enable kids who might otherwise have a hard time getting into college.

Second, Obama is not really suggesting that we make college mandatory—rather, anyone who wants to can go, anyone who doesn’t, doesn’t have to. For most of American history, it was something people aspired to; entire families had great pride in the first of their clan to get a college education. It has always been considered a landmark, a stepping-up. Not elitism—just a better chance at making something of yourself and giving your family a better shot at having a decent life.

Third, nobody should be trying to remake children in their own image. That’s not what educators do, nor is it what any education should be about. This kind of thinking is just the kind of arrogant, controlling egotism that makes many children miserable. Santorum does some common right-wing projection here; public and higher education, on the other hand, strive to enable the child, teaching them basic skills, and allowing them to make of themselves what they will. That’s what you’re supposed to do.

However, what’s most disturbing is the animosity towards knowledge—“facts have a well-known liberal bias!” More to the point, his rhetoric is all too reminiscent of minority or handicapped kids being told that they should learn to “work with their hands.” Even if not, then Santorum is still wrong—Obama called for young Americans to commit to “higher education or career training.

Santorum’s crowd, however, loved his rant:

“I thought that was brilliant,” said Angie Clement of Commerce, Mich. “Not everybody has to go to college. We need garbagemen, we need welders, carpenters.”

“Everybody can’t be equal,” agreed Paul Murrow of Milford, MI seated nearby. “Somebody needs to do the manual labor.”

Umm, I don’t think that we have any particular shortages in the fields of garbagemen or welders. Nor am I comfortable with the idea that manual laborers are somehow “unequal” to those who have a college education, a sentiment which seems to be what Santorum was attacking—but which it would seem these people feel is true more than liberals themselves.

Not to mention that a college education does not disqualify you for any of these jobs. Obama’s proposal for universal college education is not intended to turn everyone into a professor, lawyer, scientist, or researcher. The idea is that there is value in every person having the sort of training in critical thinking, exposure to history and culture, skills in reading and writing, and development in specific fields of their choice. Is it a bad thing for everyone to know more math, history, sociology, and so forth?

Apparently so—especially when that knowledge and training runs counter to the interests of conservative goals. Critical thinking is a particular focus of college curriculums which is also often absent from pre-college education. Imagine everyone having the training and ability to spot logical fallacies—the Republican Party could collapse! Or at least they’d have to work that much harder at peddling their bullshit. Conservatives, and their corporate patrons, much prefer a gullible, pliable majority they can herd as they desire.

Which transitions into Santorum’s personal focus: higher education as liberal indoctrination:

On the president’s efforts to boost college attendance, Santorum said, “I understand why Barack Obama wants to send every kid to college, because of their indoctrination mills, absolutely … The indoctrination that is going on at the university level is a harm to our country.”

Yep, can’t deny the man when he’s right. As an American college professor, I myself received training at the secret Communist Re-education Assessment Program (CRAP) which gave me the tools to brainwash students into liberal-minded simpletons. It’s all a conspiracy, I admit it.

Short of that kind of conspiracy theory, what remains is that the more knowledge you are given, the more liberal you are apt to become. He’s not saying that intentionally, of course, but it is effectively the same thing. Teach a kid to spot bullshit, and sometimes the young whippersnapper will actually start doing it.

However, Santorum’s greater worry is that college doesn’t have enough religion built into it:

He claimed that “62 percent of kids who go into college with a faith commitment leave without it,” but declined to cite a source for the figure. And he floated the idea of requiring that universities that receive public funds have “intellectual diversity” on campus.

So, according to him, kids go into these colleges but many come out less religious than before—so his presumption is that they’re being brainwashed.

It’s all about perspective, of course; Santorum comes from a fundamentalist strain which, in the light of day, makes some pretty ridiculous assumptions about reality based on ancient interpretations of texts not written to be employed in that manner.

So, perhaps, if you teach your kid that the entire universe is 6,000 years old, and then your kid goes to college and learns math, astronomy, and history—and then the kid comes home with the crazy idea that maybe the universe is older than he was originally taught… I suppose you might think your kid has been brainwashed, indoctrinated into some alien belief system.

Of course, from another perspective, one could possibly come away with the conclusion that kids taught about Jesus riding dinosaurs and that a child dying of diabetes is better served by prayers than insulin—that they might be kind of brainwashed to start with, and a college education might be a cure, not an indoctrination.

But that would be disrespectful of religious belief, and we cannot do that—no matter how bizarre, harmful, or clearly ridiculous that belief may be. We cannot allow children to be exposed to any ideas contrary to religious doctrine, because that would encourage intellectual diversity, which would—um, wait a minute. Did I just read above that Santorum wants “intellectual diversity”? Doesn’t that mean that you would welcome your kids being exposed to different ideas?

Of course, “intellectual diversity” is not meant to be taken literally; it’s a new code word, meaning “religious instruction,” just as Intelligent Design proponents started using the term “academic freedom” as a means of injecting Creationism into science classes.

So, Santorum is saying there is a deliberate “liberal indoctrination”—which is mostly just imagined or fabricated—and so he wants to create religious indoctrination to tip the scales. Just like conservatives fabricated the view that voter fraud is rampant and so, to protect us from this imagined threat, they instituted legislation which, quite coincidentally just happened to suppress the liberal vote.

Long story short: they don’t want your kids to be educated, they want them to be uninformed, gullible, churchgoing manual laborers. Non-union, of course.

The Rights of the Organization Far Outweigh the Rights of the Individual

February 15th, 2012 4 comments

Wait a minute. Am I not getting this right?

The original plan was to require employers who provide health insurance to make free birth control available to their employees only if they requested it, the idea being that each individual has a choice–in particular, that employees whose beliefs differ from the beliefs of the organization they work for not be forced to follow the religious dictums of others and therefore not have their own beliefs repressed. Churches got an exemption, but not affiliated institutions, like hospitals or charities–places where people of different belief systems may work.

Organized religions and the religious right balked at this, claiming that their religious freedoms would be infringed by having to act as the go-between for a medical service they felt violated their religious beliefs–meaning that they held that the religious freedoms of the institutions was more important than the religious freedoms of the people they employed. As bad as that was, they could at least claim that some church staff–individuals–would have to be involved, and their rights would be compromised. Again, supposedly, their discomfort would trump the medicine needs and religious freedoms of others.

So Obama went further to ameliorate them: he made it so that the institutions did not have to be involved at all–that the path of contraception request and delivery would completely bypass the organizations, so that the individual would make all requests directly to the insurance company, which would deliver the contraceptive materials directly to the individual.

Organized religions and the religious right claimed that this was still “crushing religion” and constituted a “war on religious freedom” in the United States.

In short, the rights of institutions–not individuals in any way, shape, or form–to impose their belief system on others are so important that the religious rights and freedoms of individuals mean nothing in comparison? That an individual’s right to choose is so meaningless that an institution can invalidate those beliefs just because they employ the individual?

This is not about protecting religious freedoms, it is about controlling others and denying them religious freedom. It is about enforcing religious doctrine, even on those whose religious beliefs differ. This is not about religious freedom, this is clearly about the religious right trying to ban contraception. Not abortion, not even the day-after pill, we’re talking about the birth control pill.

This is so obviously hypocritical, extremist, and oppressive that it should be a matter of outrage–except that the outrage is just complex and slippery enough that far too many Americans, too lazy to engage their critical faculties beyond a single clause, will not comprehend exactly what is going on here. They will hear the religious right say “they are crushing religion,” but a counter-argument beyond “That doesn’t make sense because…” will be lost to them.

Afterthought: I wonder how they would feel about a law allowing atheists to deny Catholics access to wine and crackers?

Religious Persecution

February 11th, 2012 2 comments

From the Middle East:

An association of Christian agencies and individuals advocating human rights of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa, remained concerned Wednesday, October 22, over the situation of several Christian prisoners, some of whom may be executed under recently adopted legislation.

In ‘prayer alerts’ send by the Internet to supporters, Middle East Concern (MEC) said it was particularly concerned about detained Christians in Iran who it claimed may face the death penalty. “Iranian Christians have requested our prayers for Ramtin, an Iranian believer arrested on August 21 in [the area of] Mashad, and the son of pastor Hussein Soodmand who was [executed] in 1990.”

From Bangladesh:

For Bituni Ashru De Silva, a Jehovahʼs Witness Christian minority schoolgirl, being gang raped [by Muslims] wasnʼt enough; she had to be killed in the end. Rapists poured poison in her mouth first to kill her. She was rushed to the nearby hospital for treatment, by none, but her own mother, Sima D Silva, who had also been raped by culprits. Sensing Bituni Asru D Silva may survive and testify in court of the notoriety, the gang of culprits came back to the hospital and suffocated the girl till they were sure that she was already dead. Local police station refused to register murder case, although specific allegation was lodged by the victims father James D Silva. Inspector General of Police, Noor Muhammed, instead of taking action against the culprits, passed objectionable remarks, saying both Bituni and her mother were ʽprostitutesʼ.

From Africa:

In Eritrea, another African nation, those citizens that follow the Catholic, Muslim, Orthodox or Evangelical faiths are safe. Often people who have beliefs outside of the four are persecuted. A registration system was formed that made it mandatory for groups, outside of the aforementioned faiths, to provide information about themselves in order for them to worship. In addition, aside from the four faiths that have been listed, none other is recognized. Human rights groups often complain to practitioners about the many people throughout the African states that are being harassed and persecuted because of their religious beliefs.

Religious groups are forced to meet in secret. They have to meet in small groups to avoid the chance of someone going to the authorities. There have been beatings and arrests. Force and intimidation is even used to convert members of other faiths to those faiths that are accepted by the Eritrean leaders. Otherwise, they are declared as enemies of the state.

However, in America, it is far worse: according to Rick Santorum, Obama, liberals and secularists “are taking faith and crushing it.”

How so? What horrifically repressive acts are being committed against helpless Christians in America? Are they being executed for their beliefs? Are their women being gang-raped and then called prostitutes? Are they forced to worship in private lest they be beaten and arrested?

The truth is even worse: some religious institutions–not churches, but hospitals and the like–may be forced to provide contraception to people who work for them–only if the person requests it, and only if the institution, for some reason, decides not to employ any of the truck-sized exemptions and exclusions they are being provided.

Inhuman! Intolerable! This is almost as appalling as the outrage of persecution in which a few businesses print “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” thus instigating an all-out war against Christianity!

Okay, sarcasm off. But honestly, in the context of actual religious persecution going on in the world, the religious right in America comes across as the most pathetic, sniveling, gracious-me-I-have-the-vapors weak-ass self-martyred whiners imaginable.

Not to mention dishonorable, as the only two things they are actually protesting are, first, a separation of church and state which protects religious freedom, and second, laws preventing them from discriminating against others too much. In short, they don’t want freedom–they already have that–they want the power to repress others, and are “persecuted” because their campaign is being slowed.

Christians in America, far from being “crushed,” are the ones crushing others–trampling expression by other groups, excluding others on massive scales, denying other faiths the ability to build houses of worship–you know, real acts which are hostile to free expression of belief.

Any Christian who believes their religious freedoms are being “crushed” in America are at the very least deluded, and at the most hypocritical liars–either way, they are an inexcusable affront to people throughout the world, throughout history, who actually experienced religious persecution of any honest kind.

The Cry of the Oppressor

January 28th, 2012 3 comments

Newt Gingrich, in the latest debate:

…one of the reasons I am running is there has been an increasingly aggressive war against religion and in particular against Christianity in this country, largely by a secular elite and the academic news media and judicial areas. And I frankly believe it’s important to have some leadership that stands up and says, enough; we are truly guaranteed the right of religious freedom, not religious suppression by the state.

The general claim is nothing new, but Newt’s statement is notable in two ways: how comprehensive it is, and where it was said.

Usually, such claims are made in specific circumstances. For example, Jessica Ahlquist, a high school student and atheist in Rhode Island, successfully sued her school to remove a prayer that it had displayed prominently in the school auditorium for nearly half a century. Her objection was proper, and, as the courts recognized, the entirely legal thing to do. A public school using public funds to deliver a religious message is absolutely illegal; that it happens so often is not an expression of the founders’ wishes, but a daily abrogation of one of their highest principles. That the case took down an infringement which had hung for so long, far from being a slap in the face to tradition, was a refreshing sign that perhaps other similar infringements–such as religious statements on currency or in a pledge children are forced to recite–may also someday be rectified.

However, the Christianists believe that “separation of church and state” means, if anything, that the state cannot interfere with whatever religion wants to do, including proselytizing from public office using taxpayer money; and that the prohibition of Congress against making laws “respecting an establishment of religion” means the state cannot create a religion from scratch all by itself. Thus, they see the accurate reading of the law as being not just wrong, but an actual assault against their freedom to express religion wherever and whenever they please.

As a result, you’ll hear Christianists complaining about a “war on Christianity” in that context, with the atheist or religious secularist getting bashed and smeared as some hooligan trying to rob people of their religious freedom.

Or else you’ll hear Christianists getting all upset whenever “Christmas” is referred to as a “holiday,” in the horrific context of other religious or secular celebrations being held equal to the Christian one. To the Christianist right, “Happy Holidays” is now a slur, a godless curse, an insult to their beliefs and an attempt to deprive them of their rights.

Gingrich, however, piled on the whole list of grievances in one short, clearly scripted utterance. Let’s look at it in chunks:

…there has been an increasingly aggressive war against religion and in particular against Christianity in this country…

First of all, we get the “War on Christianity” claim. This is a catch-all which includes the exclusion of school-directed prayer (individual prayer in schools is completely OK), Christian displays on public property required to share the stage with other beliefs, and the generalization of religious celebrations into a generic holiday description. The former two are often the result of lawsuits, which are focused on sharply as a primary source of attack.

What’s fascinating here, however, is Newt’s claim that not just Christianity, but religion in general is being attacked. Why is that fascinating? Because the people attacking religions other than Christianity are not the secularists, but the Christians themselves. When was the last time you heard of an atheist filing a lawsuit against an Islamic prayer? Almost never–and not because they favor other religions (which Christianists sometimes claim), but because no other religion is ever in a dominant enough position to infringe on the rights of others.

What is truly hypocritical is the fact that Christianists are the only ones who actually try to deny others the right to freedom of belief and legal expression. They openly discriminate against people who believe differently from them. They refuse to serve atheists or Muslims in their businesses. They clamor to take down atheist billboards and actually fight to prevent Islamic mosques from being opened, even in remote rural areas with no one else around. They’re the ones that howl in protest when any other religion aside from Christianity gets to deliver an invocation or inaugural prayer. They vote down anyone who is not Cristian from getting into public office. Even Gingrich himself has said he would not allow anyone who is non-religious to even serve in government, and you know he would shut out most non-Christians in the same way.

And the Christian claim to persecution? Despite being the dominant religion with their beliefs almost everywhere, including on the currency, in prayers before public sessions, in the Pledge of Allegiance and nearly all other public oaths, etc. etc.–the persecution against them is horrific because they don’t get to slather their religion in every last nook and cranny of society. Not because they’re actually being shut out, but because they are not allowed to dominate everywhere.

Who is doing this dastardly shutting out?

…largely by a secular elite and the academic news media and judicial areas.

This one prepositional phrase carries an amazing load of trumped-up and untruthful invective against innocent and even imaginary non-Christians.

First, the “secular elite.” Exactly who, pray tell, would that consist of? This is as false and dishonest a boogeyman as the “liberal elite” from which Gingrich pawned it off. According to Gingrich, there is some secret cabal of atheists out there plotting to destroy religious liberty in America. Boogah boogah.

Second, the “academic news media.” Academic? What, is there a news media made up of college professors and researchers that I haven’t heard of? Apparently, education, schools, and teachers are just as evil to Gingrich as “moderates” are, to the point where just saying “academic” (where it even makes no sense) is somehow a justifiable slur. As for the “news media,” that is, of course, the “liberal media.” But wait–how is the news media attacking religion? Truth be told, I hadn’t heard that one before. Is it because they report news Gingrich doesn’t like? That’s the only thing I can think of.

And finally–and this is the scary part when it comes to Gingrich–the judiciary. Long libeled and slandered by the right wing for deciding cases according to law rather then by far-right ideology, the judiciary has the utter gall to follow the Constitution as it was written and intended by the founders. Even conservative judges, like the Bush 43 appointee who ruled against Intelligent Design in Dover, PA, more often rule by the law rather than by their personal political preferences (although that balance is disturbingly migrating in the other direction).

Why is Gingrich’s focus scary? Because Gingrich himself actually suggested that judges could be arrested and hauled before Congress if they dared rule cases in a way that displeased the far right.

So, we come to:

And I frankly believe it’s important to have some leadership that stands up and says, enough; we are truly guaranteed the right of religious freedom, not religious suppression by the state.

“Suppression.” What he means is, Christians (just like everyone else) cannot promulgate religious doctrine using government funds, or via the office of public representatives. That is the only way Christianity (in the exact same way as every other belief system, including atheism) is “suppressed”–and it is that way for the sole purpose of protecting religious liberty, to keep a single religious sect from acquiring power and thus actually suppressing all other religious beliefs in all avenues of life, as it has in so many countries which marry church and state.

This protection of the freedom of belief is called “suppression.” Which makes me wonder how, exactly, Christianists like Gingrich define “suppression.”

Is it like when Christians suppress the right of Muslims to build a mosque? When was the last time Christians were barred from building a church in America?

Like when Christians suppress the right of atheists to erect a billboard? When was the last time an American Christian organization was harassed into taking down a billboard with an inoffensive message?

Like when Christians run a Jewish family out of their Delaware town for protesting when their kids are singled out in Christian prayer at school? When was the last time a Christian family was run out of town after an Imam, preaching in a public school, singled out the Christian child, surrounded by Muslims, and prayed for her to convert?

Like every single election in America, when, with only rare exceptions, you can only get elected if you profess your Christianity? When was the last time a candidate lost for being mainstream Christian? Christians are so vehement about this kind of suppression that even other Christians (today, Mormons, earlier, Catholics) are heavily disfavored?

I wanted to say that Christians suppress religion far more than others in America–but even that’s not true. Outside of church and state issues, as far as I am aware, Christians are the only ones suppressing the freedom of belief in America.

Gingrich is partaking in the long-favored conservative practice of accusing people he is persecuting of persecuting him.

Why Religion Survives in the Modern Age

January 9th, 2012 5 comments

Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks opines that religion survives despite its functionality being replaced by modernity because:

My answer is simple. Religion survives because it answers three questions that every reflective person must ask. Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live? … You can take science, technology, the liberal democratic state and the market economy as four institutions that characterize modernity, but none of these four will give you an answer to those questions that humans ask.

Sadly, what that boils down to is a fear of death. Finding meaning is part of that, as meaning gives a sense of fulfillment in the face of departure (having children or leaving works to be remembered by accomplishes this as well, but those also can be fulfilled without religion).

Ultimately, we sense demise as oblivion, and fear it like nothing else. Religion gives us an escape from that which horrifies us to our core–and thus explains why, then, people become so intensely charged when their religion is challenged or questioned. Tearing down even a part of that structure is, to many, equal to tearing it down as a whole; this explain why, when confronted over even trivial matters, some religious folk become highly offended and extraordinarily defensive. You’re not just questioning one part of scripture, you are, emotionally to them, trying to deprive them of their comfort in the face of absolute demise.

What would truly challenge religion is not science, doctors, credit cards, or psychotherapists. Instead, people facing and coming to terms with their mortality would accomplish that. To find solace and satisfaction with the fact that you have existed at all, the gift that life is all in itself, or even to know that oblivion would carry with it an end to even fear. If we could find a way to instill a comfort with mortality, religion would take a serious hit.

But not a mortal hit, because there is one other major reason religion survives: tradition. People passing religion on because they were immersed in it from their birth onwards, like an ancestral home. That all in itself has a powerful inertia, a momentum that could not easily be stopped.

Categories: Religion Tags:

Answering Questions

October 10th, 2011 12 comments

Philosophers and theologians sometimes say that science can’t answer the important questions like, “Why are we here?” or “What is the meaning of life?” You know what? Neither can the philosophers or the theologians. They just pretend that they can. Science makes no such pretense.

Categories: Quick Notes, Religion, Science Tags:

Saving Candidate Romney

October 9th, 2011 7 comments

Perry has gotten into trouble, as one of those religious leaders he and other Republicans seek out for endorsements has caused embarrassment by, well, saying what he believes:

“Evangelical Christians should not vote for Mitt Romney because he’s a Mormon, therefore not a real Christian,” Jeffress said.

“Historically, evangelical Christianity has never embraced Mormonism as a branch of Christianity. Mormonism has always been treated as a cult. In fact, the Southern Baptist Convention, which is the largest Protestant denomination in the world, officially labels Mormonism as a cult. It does not embrace the historic tenets of evangelical Christianity,” he said.

Jeffress added, “Mitt Romney is a good, moral person, but that does not make him a Christian.”

This does not surprise me. Years ago, when I was interviewing candidates to teach a college class in Western Religious Traditions, I asked a candidate–a Southern Baptist Minister with a doctorate in Theology–what religions he would include in the instruction.

“Well, Christianity, of course. And Islam.” Then he stopped.

“How about Judaism?” I asked, noting the other major creed that is naturally a part of the course.

“Not really,” he replied. “Judaism is more of a culture than a religion.”

Taken aback that he would actually dismiss Judaism as a religion, I was tempted to have him go into that more, but decided to get back to that later. I put forward, “How about Mormonism?”

“Oh no,” he answered instantly. “That’s a cult.”

A bit later, I asked him what kind of field trips or personal projects he might have students take part in. Our previous teacher had taken students to some pretty cool places, like those monasteries in the mountains where people sit under streams of cold water while meditating.

“I would recommend they attend a Christian church service,” he said.

At first I saw absolutely nothing wrong with that, but considering his previous replies, decided to dig a little deeper. “Why specifically a Christian one?” I ventured.

“Because,” he said confidently, “this is Japan, and if Japanese young people are going to convert, they are probably going to become Christians.”

By this time, I was already through with the guy, but of course that would have disqualified him even if he hadn’t talked himself out of a position already. It was pretty clear that his intent was not, as the course intended, to objectively study the beliefs and practices of a variety of faiths, but rather to inject his own biases and beliefs into the course, and perhaps even to proselytize.

Having had the experience of that interview, I was completely unsurprised at what this pastor who endorsed Perry said. The only surprising thing is that he either naively felt nobody would see anything wrong with the statement, or he felt that it needed to be said, no matter who it offended. Either one is likely the result of insulation, of feeling so safely ensconced and empowered that one either does not see any other points of view, or feels confident that one can have one’s way, at least where it counts.

This is important to note in light of the significance of separation of church and state. Most people on the religious right hate the concept, or have fooled themselves into believing that the principle only means that government is forbidden to interfere with churches, but that churches are completely free to interfere and impose themselves upon government to their heart’s content–as if the two were different things.

These people tend to believe that those who fight for the separation of church and state are mostly atheists trying to attack religion. The thing is, separation of church and state does as much if not more to protect religion than it does to protect atheists. That is, in fact, its actual purpose–many groups which came to the United States and formed colonies were fleeing religious persecution. Not by atheists, or by Islam, but persecution by their Christian brethren. Sectarian strife is about as old as sectarianism itself.

Jeffress’ statement is an excellent example of this. Imagine if church and state became wedded, and his were the controlling denomination. Of course Muslims would feel the sting very quickly–look at how many right-wingers want to deny Muslims the right to build Mosques even today.

But what about Mormons? What rights would they retain? Probably very few. I’m sure it would begin slowly, with less-applicable restrictions like stronger laws against bigamy, but it would quickly trend towards declassifications–Mormonism cannot call themselves churches/temples, Mormonism is not a religion, they cannot claim tax-exempt status, etc. It would probably not be long before the lack of benefits started to trend toward the imposition of restrictions.

It would likely not be long after that when other edicts–er, laws would start closing in on other sects, like laws concerning fealty to foreign leaders aimed at Catholicism, etc.

Not that this would only happen if Southern Baptists found themselves in the driver’s seat; it would likely happen no matter which religion had influence.

Nor would it necessarily be done out of any ill intention. Such is the danger of religion, that people of a certain belief are convinced that those outside their group are in mortal peril of damnation, and wish to “help” the others by showing them the true way which will lead them to eternal salvation.

The irony is, if those on the religious right really understood the purpose of separation of church and state and the effect it has had, they would embrace it, not resent it. When an atheist files a lawsuit against a religious encroachment, religious people would be wise to go out there and stand behind the atheist all the way–or even be there to file the lawsuit first themselves.

However, it is just as likely that they would not, on the grounds that they would be perfectly fine with such sectarian persecution, confident that it would be their sect that was doing the persecuting. Er, excuse me–doing the “saving.”

Categories: Election 2012, Religion Tags:


May 21st, 2011 1 comment

It’s past 6:00, and it doesn’t seem like the Rapture yet. But then, this is Japan. Not so many Christians around, so it’s not as easy to spot them rising into the clouds. And since it’s sunny here, the people rising up probably angle off pretty quickly to where there are clouds, making their ascent more difficult to spot. Also, the dead are all cremated, so when they rise from their graves, it could look kind of like a dust devil or something.

No earthquakes so far.

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Still in Denial

May 19th, 2011 1 comment

The Roman Catholic Church has a new whipping boy in the ongoing child molestation scandal: loose American mores.

First, the church tried to cover up the sexual abuse, hiding and protecting the priests, and sometimes even threatening the victims.

Next, they tried to blame homosexuality, despite the fact that pedophiles generally do not have any adult sexual orientation and comprise a group distinct from homosexuals or heterosexuals.

Now, with the excuse of “it’s the gays” wearing thin, they have released a new “study” which blames the sexual revolution of the 60’s and 70’s.

Riiiighhht. This is kind of like parents trying to figure out why their kids aren’t the angels they tried to make them to be. It has to be TV, or music, or the teachers, or society–anyone but themselves. We naturally, almost instinctively look outward for blame. However, what the church is doing goes beyond that; it has to be crystal-clear to them that a number of factors played a role, but that they themselves are ultimately responsible, not just for the internal factors contributing to the problem, and not just for failing to quickly identify the problem and deal with it, but especially for their shameful behavior in covering it up and allowing it to continue. And yet they cannot seem to bring themselves to admit to any of that; instead, they seek scapegoats upon which to shed the blame.

I have to say, this more than anything else makes me disrespect the church, and reinforces my general criticism of organized religion: any religious authority large enough, considering its own public image to be equivalent to the legitimacy of the beliefs they represent, will inevitably hold its own well-being as being more important than that of its adherents, and thus whenever there is a conflict, will act against the interests of its own members.

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Judgment Day Is Nigh

May 16th, 2011 6 comments

You may have heard, Judgment Day is coming. No terminators, apparently, but your Christian friends will be flying up into the air at 6:00 pm on May 21. Which time zone, you ask? All of them, apparently.

On May 21, “starting in the Pacific Rim at around the 6 p.m. local time hour, in each time zone, there will be a great earthquake, such as has never been in the history of the Earth,” he says. The true Christian believers–he hopes he’s one of them–will be “raptured”: They’ll fly upward to heaven.

Apparently, God will respect local authorities in their designation of time zones, even the ones set hours before and after others in the same longitude.

Endoftheworldkbk ThumbOne has to wonder if the people publicly predicting this truly believe the rapture is coming or not. Some people are just that nutty. But it is easy to suspect people like this of manipulation; they may correctly believe that predicting the rapture, despite being eventually proved wrong, will draw adherents to their cause. The media loves goofy stories like these, so it’s great publicity for the people making the predictions.

Now, you might think that once May 21 passes and there’s no rapture, these people will get a huge black eye. However, you would be wrong. You might be thinking of scientists, who lose credibility when they predict something and it doesn’t happen. In the world of faith, things work differently. Remember, religious zealots disrespect scientists exactly because they change their beliefs depending upon prevailing facts. To the faithful, a wrong prediction is easily–in fact, automatically explained off as a “test” or in some other way. The yahoos predicting the end of the world–who have done this many, many times before–risk nothing in being wrong. They only have to worry about how much they gain.

Atheists are having fun with this, of course. Many post-Rapture parties are being planned for the hour after the predicted end of days. One enterprising atheist even started a business where, for a fee, he promised to take care of people’s pets after they ascend–presumably without their furry friends–to heaven. He’s dealt with this intelligently, in that he will not take the pets before the Rapture, but has promised that he or his agents across the U.S. will drive to the homes of those raptured within 24 hours after the event to collect the pets. He claims to already have 250 takers, which, frankly, is sad.

As tempting as it is to laugh at these people, there will be damage. Followers, made to believe that any doubt may win them an express ticket to hell, have interrupted life plans. One woman dropped out of medical school. A couple who apparently are not working as a result of this and are running out of money have no backup plan. It has caused rifts between families and friends. Doubtlessly many more people are going to be hurt by this in some way or another. But the people causing all of this will not pay the price–and the people hurt will probably find a way to keep believing in and respecting the ones who caused them harm.

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