Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Religious child abuse in Wisconsin

Recently, I blogged about a family that prayed while their daughter died. It appears that, now, the parents are going to charged with second degree reckless homicide.

You idiots, the "Lord" was not "testing your faith". Your little girl had diabetes. God doesn't cure amputees and also not diabetes! The family said, according to the police report, that they do not believe in modern medicine. When her parents noticed that her legs were "skinny and blue" they decided it was a "spiritual attack" and "prayed nonstop". Even as their daughter was completely uncommunicative, semi-comotose and refusing to take even liquid, one of their friends urged the parents to get her to a physician but the father remained "steadfast and confident" that prayer would work.

Interestingly, the Wisconsin DA that's pressing ahead with the case is making a stand. For some bizarre reason, Wisconsin has a law that protects child abusers if their child abuse is religious in origin. To put it like the newspaper did: "Wisconsin state law appears to allow an exemption from child abuse charges for parents who engage in treatment by spiritual means through prayer." An exemption from child abuse? The DA says that law doesn't apply to murder. I'm disgusted that it applies to child abuse.

For some time now, on this blog, I've been saying that it is normal for American religions - and many religions worldwide - to abuse children. What with all that hell business. I have opined that society protects religious child abusers in a way that they would not protect anyone else. Even I had not been cynical enough to look for actual laws that protect religious child abuse. I would apparently be wrong. In Wisconsin, it's on the books that if you deny a child medical treatment it isn't child abuse - who cares if the child writhes in agony with shattered limbs or whatever. Wouldn't want to infringe on the parent's religion!

Still, I hope the Wisconsin DA in this case overcomes that legal hurdle and smashes this law and ends the very idea that religion can be a defense, on any level, for child abuse.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Another "theological" argument I really hate - "it's because of free will"

Man, when religious people make the free will argument, I about want to scream. I think that if humans have free will, we only really have a tiny amount of it. Not only are we limited in the things we can actually do (say, we can't kill with our minds or travel backwards in time or whatever it is that flips your switch), now imagine all the things you'd like to do but are prevented doing and if you can muster it try to imagine how many more things there are to do that you can't imagine (it's easier to imagine all the things a person considerably dumber than you can't imagine, and then imagine how much more things a person that much smarter than you could imagine for you, hehe). I mean, at any given time, our options are pretty few. I think they're getting bigger because of education and technology. Cave men simply didn't have the option to play video games, for instance, or work on magnetohydrodyamnics. So, human will (if it exists at all in some larger sense) is nevertheless limited by our biology (what we are physically capable of doing), our technology (the number of additional options our big brains and opposable thumbs give us) and our imaginations (discovering new ways to use our biology and technology). I think that if people really think about it, they'll find this to be true concerning free will - we don't have a lot of it, really.

But all the time, Christians will use the free will argument. "Why is there evil?" "Because god doesn't want to interfere with human free will."

It makes me think of force. One person can force another to do it. I don't even mean hold a gun to their head and give them a choice. I mean grab them and drag them away. Or I can just kill someone. They might not want to die, their free choice is screaming for life, but the minute I chop off their head - that doesn't mean anything. So, obviously, humans don't have unlimited free will. People are physically forced to do things all the time - they're beaten, raped, killed, kidnapped, arrested, imprisoned, the list goes on and on. Most of the time, it's terrible when it happens. But it does happen. But I'm supposed to believe that god really cares about human free will - that he cares so much that he doesn't interfere with it . . . but has created the world where other people can interfere with my free will.

Ah, ha, the religious person will say, all of that can happen because god doesn't want to interfere with their free will, either! They will argue that if the god interfered with people's ability to hurt one another. We're free to do whatever we biologically and technologically can do, even to other people and even if it violates their free will.

This is such a vapid argument that I find it terribly embarrassing when people make it - but it gets made all the time. The reason it's vapid is because we are already limited in our ability to violate the free will of others. You can't kill someone with your mind. You can't go back in time and kill their grandfather. If religious people are right, their own god has innumerably limited their ability to violate another person's free will. How would a few more rules, not moral rules, but physical ones that prevent people from hurting each other with their bodies be any different than all the rules that prevent us from hurting other people with our thoughts? We're already so massively limited, what would a few more limitations - limitations that would enhance expression of free will - really hurt? And, of course, some people can't even hurt people with their bodies. Say, people born without limbs. Sometimes, their god does choose to deny some people the ability to even hurt other people - do those people not have free will? The argument is preposterous. Before you know it, you've got so many exceptions and caveats that it's obvious that free will, as religious people describe it, is a chimera.

The other thing I hate about free will is that "will", generally, can't be demonstrated to exist. I know people who will study up a storm, but won't eat right and exercise (indeed, it is true that I am one of them, hehe). I know athletes who will look after their bodies, but can't read about the sixth grade level. Heck, how many pro-athletes have the "willpower" to become top athletes, but then can't control their spending? How many people go to work, work hard, and then cheat on their spouses? So, what is this general quality called "will", anyway? Can you show me where it exists, what it really does, who has it and who doesn't? No, you can't. No one can. It, like many aspects that apertain to describe a mental state actually just describe the biases of the people or culture who invented and use the term.

I can't think of any good arguments involving human will or free will. People should feel free to try to come up with some. ;)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

John Freshwater teaching creationism in an Ohio school, and Pharyngula's bizarre reaction

Recently, PZ Myers of Pharyngula brought up the case of John Freshwater. He's a science teacher who keeps a Bible on his desk.

He also, "When Freshwater taught students about electrical current, he used a device to leave a red mark in the shape of a cross on the forearms of some students". He used electricity to do what?!

Some parents describe the "red mark" in a little more detail:

The News received a fax Tuesday from attorney Jessica Philemond of the law firm Isaac, Brant, Ledman & Teetor, who issued a statement from her clients, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of their child being retaliated against.

The fax stated, “We are religious people, but we were offended when Mr. Freshwater burned a cross onto the arm of our child. This was done in science class in December 2007, where an electric shock machine was used to burn our child. The burn was severe enough that our child awoke that night with severe pain, and the cross remained there for several weeks. ... We have tried to keep this a private matter and hesitate to tell the whole story to the media for fear that we will be retaliated against.”

That "make a red mark" on the child's arm was a burn. This sonofabitch was burning children. That he was doing it with the cross is adding insult to injury, but PZ Myers, the Columbus Dispatch and the Mount Vernon News are focusing on the religious implications of this and they're sort passing by that students were intentionally burned by this teacher!

If this guy was puffing on a cigarette and asking kids over and snubbing it out on their arm, that would be the story. The story would be about how this guy is a child abuser who snuffs out cigarettes on student's arms. But because he uses a gadget to brand children with the cross, it's about . . . religion?!

I have said before that most religions are systemized child abuse. I have said before that religion gets a free pass in our religion to abuse children. I have said that even atheists still believe that religion is somehow exceptional and should be held to different standards than other beliefs and organizations. That not even PZ Myers can see that this is child abuse and that child abuse is way more important than the church and state religion, and the fact that seemingly everyone else is missing the fact this guy is branding students I think amply displays all of this.

C'mon, guys, this is about the child abuse!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Fight fight fight at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre!

Sometime I'm amused, hehe. Apparently, last night my time, there was a fight in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Orthodox Palm Sunday.

See, first, "Israeli police had to break up a fist fight that erupted between Greek and Armenian Orthodox clergymen at one of Christianity's holiest sites." And then "an Armenian priest forcibly ejected a Greek priest from an area near the tomb of Jesus. They say the attacker felt the Greek priest had spent too long at the tomb."

Here is the best part EVAR: "When police arrived to break up the fight, some were reportedly beaten back by worshipers using palm fronds."

Apparently, as the article relates, the rivalries between the churches that control the site date back to the "aftermath of the Crusades". Wikipedia reports that the six churches that control the Holy Sepulchre (Eastern Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Roman Catholic, Ethiopian Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox and Coptic Orthodox) were basically played off against each other by the Sublime Porte during Ottoman Imperial days. I guess that's what the BBC referred to as the "aftermath of the Crusades".

Interestingly, the doors of the church is in the hands of two Muslim families, dating from 627 CE.

So intense is the rivalry between churches that control the Holy Sepulchre that the rivalry "often leads to the neglect of badly needed repairs when the communities cannot come to an agreement among themselves about the final shape of a project. Just such a disagreement has delayed the renovation of the edicule, where the need is now dire, but also where any change in the structure might result in a change to the status quo disagreeable to one or more of the communities."

I couldn't help but find myself thinking that this is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is the tomb of Jesus and one of the chief sites of Christian pilgrimages since ancient days, since at least the third century of the common era. The people who control this, one would hope, would be amongst the holiest of people that their respective churches could find.

But despite all of that, they can't come to accommodations. Fist fights are common occurrences. Rivalries prevent needed repairs from being done. They have a cycle of abuse about one of the holiest sites of their religion.

I mean, for crying out loud, it'd be like France and England still bugging out over what happened during the Hundred Years War! Could you imagine the French President saying to the British PM, "Because of the cruel fashion that your people engaged in the Black Prince's horse raids, we decided to not repair the Channel Tunnel on our end"? Or the various people at the United Nations using centuries old conflict to let parts of the UN building in New York crumble into decay?

It's insane. Religious people are so jealous - I mean, isn't that a sin? isn't pride like that a sin?! - of their special privileges that they can't even agree to keep Jesus' tomb tidy! They can't figure out a way to refrain from fist fights at the site of the resurrection!

Though I did find the bit with the cops being attacked by palm frond waving Christians to be comedy gold, hehe.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Spiritualist fraud in England and God is for Suckers

Great Britain is enacting a law that makes it possible to sue "spiritualists" for fraudlent claims that they make by allowing consumers to sue psychics under currently existing consumer protection laws. Psychics and mediums, of course, are freaking out that they might have to prove that they can do what they claim to do, or at least be very clear that they're purely entertainers or clearly state that their results are unreliable. Also unsurprisingly, they're not trying to claim protection as a religion.

I, myself, am all for this. I don't think that religions should be given special protection. A law is a law, and fraud is fraud regardless of the religion or spirituality of the fraud. If I whip up some snake oil in my kitchen and claim it cures all ills, I'd be arrested and put in prison. Why should a faith healer be able to make similar miraculous claims? I think it's silly for them to claim that we should ignore that they lie to gullible people because their con has a religious gloss to it.

And if we should find that religion, itself, is fraudulent . . . well, I think that's a very good question. I largely do think religion is fraudulent with people making a lot of money manipulating the needy, credulous and gullible for their own personal gain. If anyone doubts that religious people can live like kings, look at where the Pope lives - his huge palace is supported by supernatural claims that take money, often from the world's poorest people. I think that this should be gotten out into the open.

But that's not really the thrust of this post. What strikes me as odd is that, at first blush, most atheists do not take this position. Over at God is for Suckers there's a post about these people being subject to consumer protection laws. Oddly, the original poster and most of the comments are . . . pro-religious.

Stardust says, "As much as I would love to see a rational and secular world, I am just not sure if this is the right way to go about it. Obviously, if spiritualists do such a booming business, it is just giving the public something that it wants to pay for." What a bizarre line of argument. I find myself wondering at Stardust's opinion of heroin - the public wants that, too. Or other consumer protection laws - should snake oil salesmen once more be allowed to sharp people? Should despicable people be allowed to take advantage of people in serious illness to make money because "they want it"?

In the comments section: "You can’t legislate morality. And you can’t legislate to prevent humans from acting stupidly. Buyer beware." That's from Old Viking.

And newsamus says, "Why should we care what kooks want to spend their money on?"

Tony Dee says: "This law smacks of 'Big Brotherism' and that scares me. As they say a sucker is born every day and we can’t change that. Can we!"

Then roger ramjett says, "Don’t care if someone wants to pay for advice. They can get it for free from me though. It is entertainment and shouldn’t be banned."

I mean, these people are supposed to be atheists! But time and again they seem to be saying that it's okay for these "spiritualists" to commit fraud.

This is a larger problem, generally, with atheists. It's pretty hard, for instance, to find an atheist - even an atheist - who'll say that Jesus was an idiot. That he made no goddamn sense, that the very few nifty things he said are completely swallowed by bile against women, condemnations against people who wouldn't suck his proverbial cock and frivolous battles with the Pharisees, inane stories and the like. That he said nothing particularly original and didn't even say it in a particularly original way. It is my experience that almost all atheists will struggle with great energy to find reasons to praise the person of Jesus.

Likewise, atheists will be abstractly anti-religious but often have trouble leveling specific critiques against specific religions. Most atheists would rather keep the discussion on the fairly abstract level - in my experience, most discussions about atheists and religious folks are almost totally decontextualized of specific religious content. They'll talk about how the science behind the big bang theory is better than creation mythology, or deconstruct the god of the gaps, or argue that intelligent design is not true. What they won't do is confront religious people who argue with them about their own religion. They won't say, "Sorry, I'm not going to let you weasel out of talking about the details of your faith" and then attack the specific ways their specific religion is racist, sexist, classist, makes mystical claims waaaaay behind anything that can be hidden in the god of the gaps (like how this guy was brutally executed and stayed dead for three days and got up - that's not intelligent design hiding behind irreducible complexity, that's just silly and impossible and not any god of the gaps business). But discussions about religion almost never go in that direction.

Indeed, it is my experience when asking a person what their religion is in a religious discussion, I'm almost always questioned why I feel that's important. Which in addition to being a silly question (it's like getting into a political discussion and hiding what party you're in - why would anyone even want to do that?), it seems to me to demonstrate how taboo specific critiques against religion are - the question itself is odd. (For what it is worth, moving the discussion to the person's particular religion is a very powerful tool for advancing an atheist's point - it's much easier to discuss why the Bible is absurd than to say why metaphysical uncertainty about the origin of life or the cosmos is not justification for belief in an abstract god.)

I feel that the reluctance of a good portion of atheists over at God is for Suckers to be of a piece with that. While being personally atheist, they nevertheless still want to give religious people special treatment. Because there is a vaguely religious component to spiritualism and mediums and astrologers and faith healers, they should be treated differently than secular frauds. Religion, in the minds of many atheists, is still special.

For my own part, I'd like to see that attitude done away with at all levels of society. Religion is just a thing that people do. It is not a special thing. So long as it is a special thing, protected by society and laws in a number of ways, they will continue to do terrible things because they'll be able to get away with it. Like the Catholic Church's official position on pedophilia inside the Church to hide it, to cover it up, and obstruct justice - or faith healers discouraging ill people to seek real medical treatment while picking their pockets. This is real stuff that they get away with, and it hurts real people. It hurts little kids and cancer patients - and that's not even hyperbole! End special treatment for religions today!

The the award to the new big social evil goes to . . .

Religion! According to a poll taking in Great Britain by Joseph Rowntree Foundation, a Quaker institution that in 1904 created a list of the biggest social evils (at the time, slavery was on top of the list) decided to update it. Nowadays? The biggest social evil, as seen by the 3500 Britons who participated in their poll, is religion.

"The researchers found that the 'dominant opinion' was that religion was a social evil'. Many participants said religion divided society, fueled intolerance and spawned 'irrational' educational and other policies." And, "A poll by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation uncovered a widespread belief that faith - not just in its extreme form - was intolerant, irrational and used to justify persecution."

Obviously, I think that's true. I mean, right now, Europe is going through a new phase of religious intolerance. Right wing forces are aligning to introduce new immigration policies, including making it harder for foreign residents to gain citizenship, in large measure because of fears that Muslims are going to trash the country. The response is strongest in European fundamentalist religious circles (often leeches on big business, of course - that's the traditional fascist methodology in Europe) against this "Muslim threat". Or, rather, again, we have religion tearing apart society. Who knew? And it isn't like the US' war in Iraq doesn't have powerful religious components, and obviously 911 was primarily a religious act, and it isn't like anti-Semitism has gone anywhere.

Still, it's interesting to see England - a country that still has an official Christian religion - basically just going, "Yeah, religion is a problem." I approve, I approve.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Pope Rat and Pedophlia

Over here in America, Pope Rat deigned to talk about the pedophilia scandals that have rocked the US Catholic Church. What he said is very interesting. He said that the Catholic Church would not tolerate pedophile priests. He said that the real problem was the complicity of the Church hierarchy.

Well, what was his position, then, when he was in position to say? When it was in his hands. Well, let's find out. Apparently, in 2001, the Observer newspaper got a secret memo from then Cardinal Ratzinger, a letter sent to every bishop in the world, when he was chief in the Inquisition – the Catholic Church organization which oversees these things. The memo “asserted the church's right to hold its inquiries behind closed doors and keep the evidence confidential for up to 10 years after the victims reached adulthood.”


“Ratzinger's letter states that the church can claim jurisdiction in cases where abuse has been 'perpetrated with a minor by a cleric'.”


“It orders that 'preliminary investigations' into any claims of abuse should be sent to Ratzinger's office, which has the option of referring them back to private tribunals in which the 'functions of judge, promoter of justice, notary and legal representative can validly be performed for these cases only by priests'.

“'Cases of this kind are subject to the pontifical secret,' Ratzinger's letter concludes. Breaching the pontifical secret at any time while the 10-year jurisdiction order is operating carries penalties, including the threat of excommunication.”


So, at least in 2001, Pope Rat was, on possible pain of excommunication, which is the worst thing that can happen to a Catholic and is functionally (in their eyes) a ticket to eternal damnation, ordering church officials to obstruct justice in the cases of pedophilia. Is it just me, or is this not the problem? That these cases are secrets of the Catholic Church, and even the victims are sworn to secrecy under threats of the most dire punishment possible from the Catholic Church?

I mean, if you want, read the memo! It's . . . fucked up.

On page 2 it has a real gem. After talking a bit in Catholicese about how it's the responsibilities of the Church to punish the rapists, they actually advises the bishops (to whom the letter is written) to “transfer him to another [assignment]” if the rapist priest isn't doing the penance directed by the Church! Wow.

On page 3 on bullet point 11, it says that everyone in the Church that knows about the rape, again under threat of excommunication, must forever be silent about the crimes.

It just goes on and on. It repeatedly stresses the secrecy of everyone involved, including the victim, it has creepy stuff like . . . if two witnesses can't be found not only do the accused get away scot-free but all evidence is to be destroyed. I read it and grow more horrified!

On page 11 on point 52, okay, I'm not making this up, it says, “In every way the judge is to remember that it is never right for him to bind the accused by an oath to tell the truth”! I have rarely read such a depraved document.

But, there, that's the story behind the story. This sonofabitch comes here and pretends that everything is nice, everything is wonderful, but he's personally given orders that the Catholic Church is to obstruct justice, swear everyone to secrecy under the most dire threats, transfer guilty priests around.

To me, that memo proves that Pope Rat is a criminal, guilty of a massive obstruction of justice, of massive criminal conspiracy including racketeering. He shouldn't be lionized. He should be arrested.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Two Sides – Atheism vs. Religion . . . Oh, Really?

In my experience, most folks, when they talk about atheism do so from a position that I am considering increasingly, well, bizarre. It's the position of religion on one side and atheism on the other. What strikes me as bizarre is that ignores the actual way that actual religions behave. Because it isn't really that it's atheism vs. religion, or not just that, it's that it's Jews vs Muslims vs Christians vs Hindus vs all the other mutually incompatible systems that exist out there. Atheism is really just one more into the mix – we reject religions pretty much to the same extent that they reject each other. (This is even ignoring how members of the same broad religion often reject their co-religionists. It happens all the time on this blog - “Oh, but they're not real Christians”. Or Scotsmen. Or whatever.)

Oddly, however, save when they're in the presence of an atheist. Then, it's like they're somehow presenting this unified front to atheism. So, religious people talk about religion like it's this one, singular unified thing with this single, unified worldview against which atheism is its chief opponent. Which is foolish. A Muslim rejects a Christian's worldview as much as an atheist. If that Muslim is correct, the Christian is going to fry in the same grease I do. I don't even know what's going to happen if the truth is that Zeus is up in Olympus shaking his head at how stupid we all are for ignoring his divine power. I guess it'd be Tartarus for the lot of us. My point being that most of the world's religions are pretty mutually incompatible, so it's pretty hypocritical to act like it's really atheism vs. religion. It's more like atheism vs. [a bunch of people who also hate each other's guts, as evidenced by all the religious conflicts going on in the world].

Interestingly, most atheists are also caught up in this – we often forget that people who defend religion aren't really defending religion in a generic sense, but are really defending their particular religion under the umbrella of some generalized, and almost wholly non-existent generalized religion.

What this allows them to do is argue from a position of false generalization. All religious people believe in their god or gods from a very particular viewpoint that is not generally served by the very idea of a defense of religion. The fact that there might be someone, somewhere who has a brand of religion that isn't logically incompatible with rationalism doesn't mean that almost all actually religious people belong to a heavily supernaturalist religion, generally believing in one or more anthropomorphic divine beings to which superhuman magical powers are routinely attributed. But not the same ones, not the same beings, not even the same superhuman magical powers.

Indeed, someone who believes in “god” in the sense that it is the universe, whatever that universe might be, is far closer to the position of atheism than to fundamentalist Christian religion. But it also ignores the fact that public face of religion isn't a materialist pantheist who doesn't believe in supernaturalism and calls the universe and laws of nature god, but largely Christians, Hindus and Muslims who believe in all manner of supernaturalist claims. It's curious that even atheists often let this slide and argue a position that almost no one who engages an atheist in discussion actually holds. They do not defend “religion” in some generalized, holistic sense, but their own religion - after all, almost all of them condemn each other to some form of misery at least as much as they condemn atheists.

So, I think atheists should stop that. We should clearly ask what religion a person belongs to before engaging them in conversation about religion. I think that's fair. It'd be nice to know what you're really talking about, right?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Another little pet peeve in language!

One of the things that vexes me most when getting into discussions about religion is how many religious people will totally ignore that 3/4ths of the world's population belongs to three religions (Christianity, Islam and Hinduism), and talk about how small to fringe religions are as socially meaningful and important as the big three.

It drives me nuts! Yes, I know that Baha'i people aren't particularly crazy as religious people go. Too bad there are only about six million of them. I know that Unitarian Universalists aren't whack jobs. Too bad there are so few of them, then! To act as though these small, politically impotent and socially irrelevant faiths (sorry, all you Baha'i and UU people out there, it's . . . true) are the normal way religion gets done in the world, or America, is nuts. Absolutely nuts.

It is also this total conversation stopper! Because, well, if I was Baha'i or a UU member, I'd be clear in distinguishing how my religion is different from those other crazy people religions out there. I would say, "Well, while it is true that currently religions are parochial and close-minded in large, that does not have to be the case" or something like that. I wouldn't defend religion generally by pretending my tiny minority religion somehow represented religion overall.

But it one of my linguistic pet peeves. How religious people defend the whole of religion by acting like mainstream Christianity, Islam and Hinduism don't exist or aren't particularly meaningful to general discussions about religion. It is a dirty trick that decontextualizes discussions about religion in absurd ways.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Disappointed in Sam Harris . . . by which I mean he's a gutless chicken

I'm not very fast with the news, sometimes. I don't like reading the news, because I feel most of it is just retreaded lies. Even tho' it makes me quite a bit behind the times, I like reading about things in books where people have had the time to actually get data rather than producing copy for the news cycle. However, it has come to my attention that noted atheist proponent Sam Harris has opined about the Democratic nomination contest.

Apparently he supports Barack Obama. The article is What Barack Obama Could Not (and Should Not) Say. It's a fascinating article. I'm easily fascinated by newspaper pieces, but some of this stuff just really thrills me.

Being a reasonably insightful person, Harris makes some astute observations - in particular the extent to which American politicians feel obliged to bow down to fundamentalist religious figures.

The stultifying effect of religion is everywhere to be seen in the 2008 Presidential campaign. The faith of the candidates has been a constant concern in the Republican contest, of course--where John McCain, lacking the expected aura of born-again bamboozlement, has been struggling to entice some proper religious maniacs to his cause. He now finds himself in the compassionate embrace of Pastor John Hagee, a man who claims to know that a global war will soon precipitate the Rapture and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (problem solved). Prior to McCain's ascendancy, we saw Governor Mitt Romney driven from the field by a Creationist yokel and his sectarian hordes. And this, despite the fact that the governor had been wearing consecrated Mormon underpants all the while, whose powers of protection are as yet unrecognized by Evangelicals.

Like every candidate, Obama must appeal to millions of voters who believe that without religion, most of us would spend our days raping and killing our neighbors and stealing their pornography.

Absolutely true. I wouldn't care about religion at all - any more than I care about various other delusions and fantasies that people have - except for the tremendous social power religion has in America. Including the fact that even very secular candidates like Obama have to kowtow before some religious nutjob. Religion twists the social fabric of America into bizarre knots.

Yet, Harris goes on to say . . .

The problem of religious fatalism, ignorance, and false hope, while plain to see in most religious contexts, is now especially obvious in the black community. The popularity of "prosperity gospel" is perhaps the most galling example: where unctuous crooks like T.D. Jakes and Creflo Dollar persuade undereducated and underprivileged men and women to pray for wealth, while tithing what little wealth they have to their corrupt and swollen ministries. Men like Jakes and Dollar, whatever occasional good they may do, are unconscionable predators and curators of human ignorance. Is it too soon to say this in American politics? Yes it is.

Ignoring for a second that I feel the biggest problem with religion isn't the ignorance and false hope, but the promotion of fantasies above the evidence of one's senses, one's experience and reason (which isn't the same as ignorance - but something beyond it, I feel), he says that religion is run by poltroons for profit, that it's generally bad, it's obviously and demonstrably bad but . . . Obama shouldn't say it. Because it's "too soon".

Man. What a gutless load of crap! This is the problem with the Democratic Party - they're a bunch of gutless fucking wimps that won't fight for what they believe in! I mean, here's Sam Harris, who's career is basically pointing out how horrible religion is - that nothing religion does can't be done better without religion, who points out that religion is organized delusion, that it's responsible for innumerable horrific acts around the world, blah, blah, blah. And this man, this deeply atheist man, this man who in every other way I can find is committed to atheism is willing to, because of Presidential politics, abandon his principles.

To me, that's abandoning them when you need them them most! Here he is, in the position to come out and take a stand, but the stand he takes is, basically, atheists shouldn't bother to stand up for their political beliefs because "America isn't ready". How gutless! Rather than calling on atheists in the Democratic Party to band together to stop this craven toadying to religion, he says America isn't ready.

How long do atheists have to wait? He's not even proposing some sort of plan. He's not saying, "Well, thirty percent of the Democratic Party is atheist or strongly agnostic, and if we gather that energy up into a voting bloc, we can really get something done in the party - really make them notice us." No. He just praises that chump Obama and says we've gotta wait.

He knows the stakes. Not just those profit preachers, but the extent to which America's military actions around the world are guided by religion - fundamentalists just love it that good Christian soldiers are over there fighting Islam. There are lives at stake - thousands, maybe millions, over the next four years. But we've got to wait. Disappointing, weak and hypocritical.

Interestingly enough, the religious right in America doesn't have that attitude. They don't go to their constituents, "Wait." They go, "Now is the time, because now is always the time to stand up for what you believe." And it's worked splendidly for them. So, y'know, in addition to be weak ass hypocrisy, it's also not good advice for atheists to wait. No one gets anything by waiting, not in politics, and everyone knows it.">

Edit: Apparently the Friendly Atheist is also in the camp of atheists who justify voting for a religious man. In this case, it's because he has a gut feeling about Obama. Perhaps that gut is right and Obama is not terribly religious (few Presidents are in any meaningful sense), but that's almost as bad, hell, maybe worse than if he was religion. If he's not religious, Obama's a hypocrite. If Obama won't stand up on this, what else won't he stand up on?

Increasingly, it also reminds me of the utter denial of the anti-war people last time around. I remember, time and again, from anti-war people and organizations such as MoveOn.org how, despite Kerry's words to the contrary, Kerry was the anti-war candidate. It's insane how people are willing to ignore the words and deeds of candidates to invest them with all their hopes and dreams!

I mean, hell, we don't have much of a choice. If you're going to hold your nose and vote for any of the major party candidates, at least say it because, y'know, you're more concerned about Iraq, or health care, or the environment, than you are about religion. Say that, despite your atheism, the religion of the candidate isn't that important. Don't ignore the candidates words and deeds, tho'. That's crazy.


My new favorite word is chav. Someone used it in a response to me and I didn't know what it was, so I had to look it up. A chav refers to people "who mainly derogatory slang terms in the United Kingdom for a stereotype fixated on low quality or counterfeit goods". What a great word. I can see the exact sort in my mind's eye - some kid with more money than sense mindlessly aping hip-hop culture at the food court of the local mall.

It apparent derives from the Romani word chavi, meaning child. Related is the the word charva which means prostitute. Anyone with real experience with urban culture then should know immediately the deep meaning of the word as a spurious rip-off. A fake. A poseur. Someone who superficially adopts the outwards signs of a misunderstood culture in order to be seen as hip by equally clueless people.

These are the kinds of words I love. Things with Latin and Greek roots and eat me - all those guys who pepper their speech and writing with Latin and Greek words are total chavs. :)

JK Rowling is Crying

JK Rowling is in America to testify on the publication of an unofficial encyclopedia of Harry Potter material, as found here in this BBC article. The case is about this fella who runs a Harry Potter website and wants to use the compiled material from his website to publish his unofficial encyclopedia of Harry Potter-ana.

The article is fascinating. It almost completely ignores the question of the legitimacy of unofficial guides of published material. Hitherto, it has been commonplace for there to be a plethora of unofficial guides, encyclopedias and the like published. Go down to any bookstore in America, and you'll probably be able to find a dozen different guides to Tolkien's works. Go to the philosophy section of any school library and you'll routinely find third party analysis of published philosophical writing that is also copyrighted. Honestly, insofar as I can tell, it's a pretty simple issue. Third-party guides to literature have been commonplace since before the printing press. Which doesn't mean that Rowling is going to lose. She's got a billion dollars, and the overwhelming trend in copyright law is to give more and more power to the owners of copyright.

What I find fascinating is the utterly emotionally manipulative character of the article. So, we leap straight into it. In paragraph two, "She said she had stopped work on a new novel because her legal concerns had 'decimated my creative work'." And then in paragraph three, "'I really don't want to cry,' she said as she gave evidence in her copyright infringement case against writer Steve Vander Ark and his publisher RDR Books." OhmyGOD. Are we really supposed to feel sorry for this billionaire?! I mean, that's what she is. A billionaire.

Well, in paragraph four we get, "Ms Rowling, who denied the case was about money, accused Mr Vander Ark, a librarian, of 'an act of betrayal' in using her fiction as the basis for his guide." It's a guide about HARRY POTTER . So, yes, it's going to use her work as it's basis. That's what literary guides do. They use the literature that they pertain to guide as the basis for the guide. It's sort of like using France as the basis for a guide about France. What else are people who are going to write about Harry Potter supposed to use as their guides? But also note the note of manipulation. It's betrayal. Like these people owe her something? Who betrayed her and what was the betrayal? Especially she she claims it's not, oh no, not about money - even tho' the guide has largely existed on the Internet for years, it isn't an issue until it's to be printed, but it's a betrayal and not about money. Ugh.

And then, "The author said she is not sure if she now has 'the will or the heart' to write her own definitive encyclopedia, the proceeds of which she had intended to donate to charity." So, in addition to again harping on how emotionally effected this billionaire woman is, they have to throw in the suggestion that in addition to the publishers of the proposed guide being horrible people who have badly hurt that nice Ms Rowling woman, they're also going to starve babies. If they hadn't hurt her so, she really, really would have donated the proceeds from those book sales to charity.

It is only in the last two paragraphs of the article, after wading through the rest of that dreck, that it was mentioned that . . . maybe the other side has a point. That the publication of literary reference guides is normal, and if Rowling wins it'll broaden copyright protection to include reference guides to published material. That, despite Rowling's tears that she dabs away with solid fucking gold handkerchiefs, there are actual legal issues to be addressed in this case, and it simply isn't those nasty colonials wanting to betray Rowling (remember, it's not about money . . . even though the very idea of copyright protection is very much about money and always has been, but let's not bring that up, either) but maybe, just maybe, there is an actual legal issue at stake.

Still, I'm pretty amazed at the shoddy coverage and blatant emotional manipulation of the piece. And, more generally, I think it's representative of the sort of free pass that Rowling gets in the media, which is largely responsible for her success, I feel. She can do no wrong. Somewhere along the line, it simply became meaningfully impossible to talk about Rowling in anything other than the most glowing of terms - and if one does chance to dislike her (deeply mediocre) books, it's not that you just dislike her books, it's that you're a terrible curmudgeon trying to ruin everyone else's fun. Likewise, if you do something that stands against the Harry Potter financial empire - an empire of increasingly Star War-esque dimensions - it isn't just a legal proceeding with the other party merely disagreeing, you're hurting JK Rowling's feelings! I mean, go and read the article! It's mostly about how all of this has hurt her feelings. All of this, of course, serves to increase my intransigence towards her on all levels. I think she's a deeply mediocre author that has just happened to be used by publishing firms as a vehicle for them to make a lot of money, so right from the onset she represents what I dislike about the publishing industry. But over and above that, she is apparently a whiny little girl who substitutes pouting for reason.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Religious folks who believe in evolution and why I think they're basically . . . silly

Now and again, I'll get someone who says to me something along the lines of, "Not all religious people are like those crazy people who want to throw evolution out of schools. We are the intelligent, reasonable religious people and nothing like those other people." Then they almost always go on to say that since there are some religious people who believe in evolution it is unfair and/or illogical for atheists to say religion is ridiculous.

A freely concede that some religious people believe in evolution, but the rest . . . doesn't follow. The reason why atheists - or at least this atheist - oppose religion and think it's goofy isn't because some religious people are intellectually dishonest about evolution. It's annoying when they are, and not just because they're religious but because they all too often outright lie and manipulate in order to justify their absurd beliefs. But, really, in any big movement you're going to have some lousy people who lie and twist things around. Atheists have them, too, the mouth-breathers who have read Nietzsche with all the comprehension of a fundamentalist flipping through the Bible, or middle-class kids who just ohmygod love Stalin or whatever.

What really gets me aren't the silly, stupid and unscrupulous people, but the absurd beliefs. Even if a religious person agrees with evolution, they're still believing in some other equally absurd miracle!

I mean, it's wrong to think that their god intervened in the manipulation of genetic material to create human life, but it's okay to believe their god is an omnipotent being that created reality? What religious people who believe in evolution are saying is, "Oh, our miracles are better than the miracles of the people over there. They have silly, stupid miracles, as opposed to our splendid and amazing miracles."

It's daft! The giant sky pixie argument is daft for whatever it is they use it for, equally daft in all cases, because there's no proof that any god exists or has existed. That is the real problem with religion - that on the basis of some generally pretty lousy book people are saying that things you can't see, and make no real sense, are more important and more real than things you can see and things that do make sense.

So, c'mon, guys, just because you believe in religion doesn't mean that you should get any slack. All the miracles are stupid. All of them.