Thursday, October 30, 2008

Priests and "sex drive tests" - the laughs abound

Apparently, priests are gonna going to be evaluated for their sexuality before taking the cloth. This is one of those things where my fairly considerable mockery skills are challenged by the inherent stupidity of what they're talking about. How can I mock the Catholic Church's testing of the sexual orientation of enforced celibacy? A bunch of eunuchs are going to be designing tests about sex. Funnier than I could come up with.

The reason is, of course, because priests are raping little kids. In my mind, the real problem is that instead of allowing the authorities to do their job the Catholic Church hushes it up. They're still going to hush it up. This is just one of those sound bite talking points that they can trot out to say that they've cleaned up their act - when the real problem is the tradition of secrecy around the crimes of priests that the Catholic Church has defended for sixteen hundred years or so.

However, the article doesn't really seem to be about trying to weed out pedophile priests. They're looking to vet "deep-seated homosexual tendencies", "uncertain sexual identity", "evident the candidate has difficulty living in celibacy: That is, if celibacy for him is lived as a burden so heavy that it compromises his affective and relational equilibrium". It doesn't even sound like they're looking for pedophiles. What are they looking for? Priests with a "positive and stable sense of one's masculine identity".

Priests. With a . . . positive and stable sense of their . . . masculinity. Isn't being a Catholic priest slightly more girly than being a cross-dressing hooker? The priesthood is about as masculine as a doll house! How can I mock that? It's pretty self-mocking, if you ask me.

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests isn't fooled by this nonsense. They say, "Catholic officials continue to fixate on the offenders and ignore the larger problem: The Church's virtually unchanged culture of secrecy and unchecked power in the hierarchy" and "these broader factors are deeply rooted in the Church and contribute heavily to extensive and ongoing clergy sex abuse and cover up".

Indeed. If the Catholic Church wants to stop priests from raping little kids, they need to, first, when they become aware of the problem inform the authorities and, two, assist in whatever way possible the authorities in prosecuting these criminals. Whether or not priests need to be screened to determine if they're butch enough for the job is a question I can't answer - but the Catholic Church currently acts like a criminal conspiracy towards criminals who have taken the cloth.

If it was up to me, I'd have the Pope up on racketeering charges for his role in protecting sex offenders - rapists - in the Catholic clergy.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Another pseudo-answer to the problem of evil

I was actually slightly wrong last post. Christians will offer two arguments to try to defend their religion against the problem of evil.

One is the "best of all possible worlds" scenario, which is vapid because a child could think of a better world than the one we've got. One without, say, disease or natural disasters.

The second is "god is mysterious and we can't understand god because we're finite beings". This is also a bad argument because while it is likely true that we can't really understand a higher order of intelligence (much in the same way that a dog can't really understand humans), an omnipotent and omniscient being can certainly understand us. So while a human's motives are totally inscrutable to a dog, the dog is pretty transparent to a human. So we know, even if the dog can't really say it, that it's not OK to beat and torture the dog. And you can abuse a dog in such a fashion that it will continue to show all outward signs of love - we're smart enough to do that, too. But anyone with a mind can see that the paranoid wreck that dog becomes, both angrily lashing out at strangers while being pathetically obsequious to it's "master" isn't actually good for the dog. Much in the same way, one would expect an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-benevolent god to understand that people, y'know, don't want to suffer the infirmity of old age, we don't want to get cancer and die lingering deaths, we don't want to be destroyed in natural disasters. And because it is the contention of almost all religious people that their god is all-powerful, they can't say that their god needs for things to be this way or that way in order to achieve an end. They're just stuck with the inescapable conclusion that an all-powerful being must, in some way, want people to suffer horribly and to be aware of that suffering, even when it does not infringe on individual will.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The question of evil vs. Christians

Almost all Christians try to talk about the existence of god. Like that's the only question. If only, they think, we can get atheists to acknowledge god exists then we've got 'em! Or, anyway, that's what I imagine they're saying to themselves.

Furthermore, the question of the existence of god is nice and . . . abstract. Since they acknowledge the world exists in the form it exists, they can assert the god of the gaps. Wherever we can't look is where their god is, operating in secret.

But there's really a much better way to expose the fundamental absurdity of religion - which is the question of evil. You know, if god is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-benevolent then why is there evil?

They'll try to derail the question with the question of free will. They'll say, "There's evil because people are evil." Don't fall for it! The argument isn't about free will, and what constitutes free will, and the limitations of free will. The question is one of evil.

Say, instead, "Why is there cancer? Why does your god allow little babies to die horrible, lingering deaths because of cancer?" Focus on the fact terrible things happen to innocent people - not as a function of anyone's will. Focus on disease and natural disaster. Focus on real things that happen to people.

Then sit back and enjoy. Because, at that point, they're stuck on the horns of of the dilemma of the problem of evil. Either their god isn't all-powerful or isn't all-benevolent. They will agree that their god can do anything but they can't offer any reason why their god hasn't stopped suffering that does not arise from human agency.

They will not admit, however, that the dilemma is real. Well, none I've met, anyway. They'll look for any kind of excuse they can think of to justify why terrible things happen to good people.

Eventually the have to come down to Leibniz's argument in some fashion: that this is the best of all possible worlds. It'll come out in some twisted version. They won't say that. They'll just insist that everyone happens for a "purpose". They don't know the purpose, but whatever it is, they will assure you, it's worth the untold suffering that disaster and disease bring. They must assert that their god both allows evil and is perfectly good.

It's really a much better way to argue than wasting your time talking about the creation of the universe. ;)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Cornering the market in reactionary behavior

As readers of my blog know, I occasionally get very amusing letters that I share. To be honest, most of the people who are religious don't threaten me with death or anything - probably the most common letter I get from Christians (and so far they have all been from Christians) are attempts to dissuade me from lumping all religious people together.

For the record, I don't lump all religious people together. I do, however, have deep criticisms about religion generally, tho' I'll acknowledge there are a few religious out there I have no beef with. It's sorta hard to get worked up over Jain or Unitarian Universalists. But they feel that my general critique of religion throws the "good" religious people out with the "bad" religious people. I just got done with precisely such a discussion with a Catholic woman. As usual, it went no where. In the end, she was just offended that I think her religion is sexist, racist and homophobic and the supporters of that religion support sexism, racism and homophobia - which is to say that they are sexist, racist and homophobic. I compared the Catholic Church with the KKK in that regard - if someone in the KKK said that they weren't racist, you'd laugh. The Catholic Church isn't so much different from the KKK to me.

But during all of this I got a revelation. At some point, the woman said that religious people don't have the market cornered on sexism, racism and homophobia. I thought back for a while and thought to myself, "But . . . they do. I can't think of a single sexist, racist or homophobic organization that isn't pretty explicitly religious. I can't think of a single atheist organization that is." I wrote back telling her that, but shortly afterwards she stopped writing to me altogether.

So, that's my little revelation. Religious organizations do have the sexist, racist and homophobic markets cornered.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Researching Las Vegas

Researching Vegas is always a little . . . weird. Especially when you're researching gangster activities in Las Vegas.

The reason is that the people who write the books are often locals or semi-locals who use their insider connections to bring stories about gangland Vegas to the book. Almost all of them - and all of the dozen or so I've read of late - are basically told from interviews. Very much, "so-and-so told me this story".

The stories get a little strange when talking about the mob run casinos of the 40s through 70s. (In the 80s, the mob better learned how to hide behind corporations like the Steve Wynn's Mirage Resorts. If you think the skim isn't happening and the mob's out of Vegas, well, I guess you're entitled to your opinion, hehe.) At the time, it was pretty open that the mob was in town and the stories reflect that.

But almost uniformly, the casino employees from that time will talk about how nice the gangsters were and, bizarrely, how Las Vegas in those days didn't have much crime - even when they were talking about the crimes the mobsters committed. Several times I've read these interviews where the person would go, "In those days there wasn't any crime in Las Vegas" and then go "people who were caught stealing or cheating would be taken to what we called the torture room and afterwards they'd have a cast and a limp". Like the numerous assaults that the mobsters were committing - that these former employees were acknowledging - was somehow compatible with a town with "no crime". Not to mention the skim, itself, which was a daily theft of millions of dollars to support organized crime.

Even more than the stories themselves, what I find weird is how people rationalize working for the gangsters like the gangsters were somehow *good* for Las Vegas.