Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Catholic Church tryin' to blackmail America! Seriously!

So, some bishops are trying to hold Americans hostage about abortion. Some bishops have mouthed off that if the Freedom of Choice Act gets signed into law that Catholic hospitals will close their doors. About a third of all hospitals in America are Catholic.

And by "Catholic hospital", well, I mean that only in a narrow sense. Most of their income is actually from fees, and the federal government funds them more than the Catholic Church does through Medicare and Medicaid, not to mention grants from the federal as well as state and even local governments. So, they're only Catholic in a very vague sense. I think that's important to realize.

But the Freedom of Choice Act . . . well, no one has even tried to pass it in fifteen years. So, it's an act that doesn't really, y'know, exist, and it hasn't come before the House or Senate in any form in fifteen years, so who knows what it'll actually say? But the act would presumably force hospitals to give or refer abortions. And the Catholic Church is trying to blackmail the US government with it.

Mind you, the medical profession is already regulated. Catholic, and Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, secular, etc., hospitals are already regulated to do a large number of things if they receive public money. They can't, for instance, deny emergency services. They have to contentiously serve their patients. Stuff like that.

But because abortion is an "intrinsic evil", they feel they can threaten the US government! That they can blackmail us. Because that's what this is - a threat, blackmail.

Me? I hope they do it. I think it'll destroy Catholicism in America - which ain't doin' so well to begin with - if they try that. They love life so much that they'd close down a third of the hospitals in America, causing untold suffering, because, oh-em-gee, they might be forced to give medical services to people after receiving billions in taxpayer money.

Which is part of the key thing, here. These institutions get a lot of funding from the government. They're not private hospitals (which would likely be exempt from the FOCA, or they were as of the last draft of it, fifteen years ago). These are public institutions . . . but also religious ones?

I think that the Catholic Church shouldn't be allowed to get government money. Separation of church and state. If they want to run these hospitals as privately financed charities, they should do that. Make 'em private hospitals. Oh, but they can't afford to do that. To do what they say they want to do - help people - they receive huge amounts of money in the form of grants and Medicare and Medicaid and supplementary state and local programs. So, they want our money, but don't want to follow our laws . . . ? I think that just this threat, alone, is enough to get their non-profit status removed. It's insane that they should try to blackmail the American people!

But what strikes me as interesting is how conservative the Catholic Church has become. I can't think of a single time in my life that I've seen the Catholic Church go after anyone the way they've gone after Obama. Beyond the institutional racism in the Catholic Church (WHEN is there going to be a Latin American or African Pope?! African and Latin American Catholics are the huge bulk of Catholics!), there's been a steep rightward slant to Catholic politics for the past ten or fifteen years. Once viewed as being a center-left organization, now it's basically an all out right-wing organization. While giving tepid statements about how global climate change and war are bad and should be worked against, while very lightly castigating corporate capitalism, the Catholic Church doesn't do anything about any of those things. You don't see Catholic bishops threatening to excommunicate soldiers who work with nuclear weapons (also intrinsic evil) or who fight in illegal and immoral wars, or who serve greedy, soul-destroying corporations that are plundering the wealth of the world - but with abortion you've got these right-wing reactionary bishops threatening to close a third of all hospitals in America and trying to blackmail the American government. Wow. Which really tells a person where their priorities are, huh? War in Iraq? Well, they can work with that. Having to refer abortions? Intrinsic evil and they're willing to blackmail the US government over it!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

John Lennon in hell

The Vatican forgives John Lennon. Y'know. For when, back in the 60s, he said that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus and opined that rock and roll might outlast Christianity.

I think it's fascinating that they imagine anyone giving a damn - least of all John Lennon who if not an out-and-out atheist was definitely massively distrustful of all religion. I think it's fascinating that they imagine we care what they think about our art and our artists. It's all so narcissistic! The idea that Lennon needs to be forgiven by them, that such a thing would have any meaning at all (especially in light of the fact that their religion condemns him to eternal torment because whether or not he was an atheist might be in question, but whether or not he was a Christian is not).

Thursday, November 13, 2008

In Russia, they steal CHURCHES

I can't make this stuff up. Apparently, thieves in Russia are hitting rural churches, stealing them. The whole damn thing. The churches have valuable icons that can be sold, and the building materials apparently are worth enough for the thieves to dismantle whole buildings.

I'm not sure what I feel about this. I mean, on one hand, it is thievery. On the other hand, it's so funny that whole churches are being stolen and I have trouble feeling sympathy for the Russian Orthodox Church - another reactionary religious organization that does nothing but impede human progress.

Funny stuff, though.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Justification by faith alone . . . not!

Often, in a sort of vague theoretical way, religious people will say that they have faith in their religion and that faith is enough to justify whatever it is that they want to justify. My experience with religion is . . . different. In particular, I can't think of a single person on this blog, or on any blog I've read, or in any of the fairly large number of private email conversations I have had with religious people where that religious person said, "My religion doesn't make any sense and I'm comfortable with that."

Time and again, I point out the absurdity of religion - like believing in an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving god who allows children to die of cancer. It makes no sense that a being would both love something and wish to see it harmed in such an unjust and arbitrary way. Lots of religious stuff is like that - it does not make sense. It means believing in magic, miracles, supernatural beings and things like that. But I can't remember a single person admitting that their religion makes no sense.

Usually, they will insist that their religion makes objective intellectual sense. The best known case of this is Pascal's Wager. Almost every religious person I've ever met will insist that their religion is sensible, and even if I don't think that their religion is right for me they deeply want me to agree that how they practice religion is reasonable - while many just insist that their religion is the most reasonably way to live.

Even when they are argued into a position of essentially having to say that there is no objective reason to believe in their religion, rather than just admitting that they will say that they've personally experienced things that make it sensible for them to believe in their religion. But that's not faith. If they've seen, as in honestly experiencing something, that inclines them towards a given faith, if they have proof and I've merely not witnessed this proof, that's still not faith. (It is, however, a conversation stopper - there's no good way to say that they haven't seen what they claim to have seen, after all. But it is my impression almost everyone who claims that is, well, lying. Or maybe crazy. Or both.) Faith is believing without proof.

(Which does have interesting consequences. If they have faith, they can't claim the Bible as proof.)

It is, of course, normal to want people to think that their decisions are intelligently made. And people use proof and evidence as the major influencing factor in almost every part of their life that isn't religious. When struck by a car, almost no religious person says, "Oh, my god will cure me if I'm to live." They go to the hospital. When they cross the street, they look both ways. They do not trust that their god will halt oncoming traffic. They make almost all of their decisions based on reason, evidence and proof. So it's normal to want a decision as important to most people as their religion to be sensible and reasonable.

The problem is . . . it's not. Most people are religious because they have been told their entire lives, since they were infants, that religion is important, that their religion is the most important thing there is, and the importance of religion is constantly reinforced by society at large. Most people do not seriously choose their religion - and when they do choose it's generally a small lateral move, such as a Catholic becoming Episcopalian, or Lutheran becoming a Baptist. Hell, even moving from Christianity to Islam is a fairly small step - it's merely changing from one large, organized patriarchal Judaism based religion to another. Almost all the tenants they learned in their old faith apply to their new. But most people don't even make it that far - they are the same religion as their parents. But that doesn't mean it makes sense. It just means it's a tradition and a great number of traditions are deeply stupid.

It is interesting to note, however, that almost no religious person is actually comfortable admitting their religion makes no reasonable sense.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The problem of pain vs. atheists?

This guy was my first ever troll. He's a crazy man who believes crazy things. On October 30th, he posted an article about his take of the problem of evil - and from his point of view the problem is with atheists. I'd give a direct link, but his blog is about as user-friendly as a whip-sword.

See, for him, the problem is pain. And it's a problem, and we atheists can't solve it. I used to consider myself a philosopher - I certainly studied it long enough - and I'd never heard of it as a serious refutation of the problem of evil. I mean, as atheists, we believe that "shit happens". Not to mention from a biological perspective, pain serves all kinds of useful functions (like us knowing when we're being injured). That it occasionally incapacitates the subject is one of those things that just happens to be the case - like bad backs and acne. Much of our biology is pretty slap-dash, as befits something that arose out of negentropic stochastic chemical processes.

The Problem of Pain is the name of a book by C.S. Lewis. But it was him trying to answer the normal problem of evil. Or, in other words, why does his god - whom he claims is all-loving and all-powerful - allow suffering to exist.

So, y'know, I wasn't aware pain was a problem for atheists. But this guy apparently thinks it is. Allow me to quote: "See: if something painful happens, and the person it happens to can't fix it except by causing more pain -- in fact, more pain than they are experiencing in the first place -- they don't have a way to choose their actions."

Well, of course, that's nonsense. If I get cancer and the only way to cure it is chemotherapy which will, in the short run, will be far worse than the cancer, I'll still choose to get the chemo. Duh. Because, as a human, I can understand the options - comfort in the short term and a lingering death later on, or suffering in the short term and a an overall greatly improved.

He goes on to say: "You know: as if somehow some suffering ultimately has a therapeutic or, if we dare say it, redemptive purpose." His argument seems to be - albeit stated in an awkward way - that because atheists have a the faculty commonly described as "will" and they can accept pain for a greater purpose (such as willing to accept chemo to overcome cancer), that atheists themselves have answered the question of evil because, wait for it, we accept that sometimes pain is necessary to be better people.

The problem he has with the problem of pain, however, is that atheists aren't either all-benevolent or all-powerful. With our limited powers, yeah, we'll accept chemo to get rid of cancer. But none of us are invested with omnipotence. An atheist can't just will cancer away with no pain or suffering, not for themselves or others. Many of us would, if we could, because the pain of chemotheraphy does not make cancer patients better human beings, except insofar as it prolongs their lives. They don't come out the other side with more character. They're just alive.

The common Christian conception of god, however, is all-powerful, however. Instead of making cancer patients go through chemo, their god could just decide that there was no such thing as cancer. Furthermore, this being could decide that there is no reason for redemption, either. That redemption just didn't mean anything in this universe, or any other universe, because - out of his infinite kindness and compassion - their god wouldn't want us to suffer.

The funny thing is, he even knows this. He says, "[John Loftus' view] is that God ought to be good enough and powerful enough and intelligent enough to create a world where these crappy choices ought not to have to be made." But then he goes on to say, "It's an interesting redirection of the question, but it is where we turn the bend from exposing the atheist short-comings to actually advancing the Christian faith -- and I'll get you back with that another day."

So while he admits the argument needs to be addressed, he doesn't actually address it. I don't much read the guy's blog - it's . . . not my cup of tea, shall we say - but I'm almost curious to see if he does try to follow this up. Because I just don't see pain as being a problem for atheists. It exists along with a lot of other crappy things like earthquakes that level cities and pop music. Pain exists because it exists, and because it serves a useful biological function (one that far outstrips its occasional down sides). I just don't see how that's a problem for atheists in the first place.

Still, a pretty bizarre argument. But to try to argue the problem of evil while maintaining your belief in an all-loving, all-forgiving, all-powerful god requires a lot of bizarre thinking.