Saturday, December 27, 2014

God's Not Dead: They Watched it so You Don't Have To

In the absence of an MST3k treatment of this horrendously bad movie, we have some voice-over reviews & discussions by people who took one for the team.   Warning:  you may laugh out loud or snort your beverage through your nose.  Sometimes it will be the comments but sometimes it will be the sheer stupidity of the movie that gets to you.

This first one is by a film buff. So yes, it is as bad as it seems to be, according to an actual film buff:



Dusty Smith reduces it to five minutes, which is about as long as the plot really deserves. Oh, and he adds some gratuitous cuss words because that's what Dusty does.  (Also check out his review of TLC's The Bible):



Jake & Hugo of The Bible Reloaded spend a half hour telling you about the worst 90 minutes of their lives. This is pretty close to MST3k treatment. "Brrrrrzzzsht! Jesus rain!":



Wreckless Eating: Two guys on a couch making some amusing and pointed comments in their review:



Monday, December 22, 2014

The Next Collapsed Culture = Ours?

The Real Indiana Jones thinks we may be the next of many failed civilizations.

Arthur Demerest, an anthropology professor at Vanderbilt University, says the Golden Age often precedes a fall:
On the future of the U.S., or of Western civilization in general, I tend to be quite pessimistic. Perhaps that is simply because “collapse” is what I do. As an archaeologist, I have excavated single trenches, just a few meters deep, in which you can see stratigraphic levels of several civilizations. We find layers of artifacts and evidence indicating periods of great prosperity, but always separated by levels of burned earth, ash and artifacts that reflect the epochs of social disintegration, chaos and tragedy that seem to conclude the achievements and aspirations of every society.
The answer?
The answers and specific policies will only begin to emerge after voters and workers, as well as politicians and CEOs, lower their expectations a bit for prosperous societies to a somewhat lower level of growth (and opulence). As voters and stockholders, we need to expect less of our leaders and we need to begin thinking in terms of longer periods, and slower processes, for judging success.
As far as I'm concerned, we need to start with smaller families, or no families at all.  In other words, religion has to go!  The bullies of the world's religions have to embrace birth control and stop trying to win out by overpopulation.  The Jews have replaced the Holocaust victims by now.  The Quiverfull Christians have only been partially successful in convincing women to be brood mares for Christ.  Muslims number over a billion and constitute a majority in 49 countries.  Isn't that enough?

So the first lowered expectation:  family size.

The second lowered expectation:  religious hegemony.

The third lowered expectation will take care of itself after those are satisfied.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Rational Response to Ferguson?

In the wake of the recent grand jury decisions and subsequent outcry, many of my real life and internet friends are outraged.  Inflamed perhaps.  I agree that the grand jury isn't the best way to decide about charges against cops.  Only the prosecutor states the case, and the prosecutor and cops are on the same side.

I get that.  I agree that change is needed there.

But I am not nearly as passionate about this as my friends expect me to be.  In my view, each interaction between two people is more complex than race, including interactions between cops and teens.  I've lived and worked in diverse places.  I've had to break up fights between black teens.  I've been the victim of street crime committed by black teens.  One of my coworkers had to retire from a security job after being punched in the eye by a homeless guy.  He could no longer pass a firearms test to carry his weapon.  None of the people who did these things brandished a handgun, but none of them was innocent, either.  Cops know first-hand what harm people are capable of doing without a gun.  That's why they may respond with force to "unarmed" but not harmless people.

So here's rational reminder #1:  You can hurt someone badly without having a firearm.

Fortunately for me, I was the victim of grab-and-run rather than point-a-gun crime.  When I reported these crimes to the cops, they didn't ask if the people had a weapon.  They knew from my description of what happened that I would have no idea.  Unlike some media commentators, cops know that nobody has X-Ray vision when it comes to weapons.

One of the memes in outrage news stories is that the shooting victim was "unarmed."  Well, yes, you know that after they're laying dead on the street.  What about when they're resisting arrest?  Or even resisting talking to a cop?  "It is virtually impossible to know if an individual is carrying a concealed firearm."  That's a quote from Police Magazine, which goes on to advise complete control over the individual being confronted.  They add: "Write this in bold block letters somewhere across your mind: You cannot assume that someone is unarmed."  This article begins with the example of a cop who was killed by a jay-walker.  Sound familiar?

Rational Reminder #2:  You can't tell if someone has a weapon (until it's too late)

Cops have bulls-eyes on them all day long.  We worry about "driving while black" (or Hispanic), which is indeed a concern, but cops are hated by the worst of the worst.  And to make matters worse, tightly-wound people are triggered by the arrival of a cop.  Sometimes a cop will know ahead of time that emotions are running high.  Other times they have a right to expect a low-tension encounter but get killed.  Cops know when another cop has been killed.  The word goes out.  I bet they think about what they'd do in the same situation.  Did Officer Wilson know about the cop who was killed by a jay-walker when Brown resisted his instructions to move to the sidewalk?

Rational Reminder #3:  Cops can get killed in the most routine situations, and all cops know this.

The fact is that black teens do kill people, but usually other black teens.  If a cop who deals with trouble-making black teens all day long for weeks on end and only sees the thugs, drug users and punks, he's going to be biased.  In terms of classic fallacies, he has been the victim of "selection bias," in which he believes that his experiences represent the whole.   But it's his job to deal with just that segment of society.  If he's a "beat" cop, and he's working in a segregated community, he's not singling out any one person.  In my previous jobs I had people take offense when I didn't give them the answer they wanted to hear, and I've been accused of racism.  Seriously.  I was a white person from the suburbs making a choice to work in the "hood" when I could have taken a job almost anywhere else.  The person complaining to me certainly wasn't the only black person I dealt with during a typical day, but I might have been the only white person they dealt with.  The accusation of racism had three fingers pointing backward.  This is why I don't jump to conclusions in Ferguson and other cases.   My question is "Why wasn't he using excessive force every other day he went to work if he was such a racist bully?"  If there is evidence he was a racist, then show it.  If not, don't just make stuff up from innuendo.

In some cities there are programs that involve cops in the lives of the good kids, having them attend nerdy good-kid events to round out their "selection."   I think this is a great idea.

Rational Reminder #4:  Racial Profiling is wrong, but not unexpected.

Part of a cop's job is to protect kids from each other.  According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the prime age group to be either a victim or perpetrator is 18-24.   From 1980-2008, blacks were six times more likely than whites to be the victim of a homicide and slightly more likely to be the perpetrator of a homicide.


Additionally, the peak age for both victims and perpetrators of gang homicides is 18-24, and blacks and hispanics are more likely than white teens to join gangs.  (National Gang Center)

So... statistically, it is true that black men between the ages of 18-24 really are more likely to be murderers.    It may not be a wide margin, but when you consider the segregation of American cities, a cop in a black neighborhood is far more likely to be dealing with black criminals, and the highest percentage would be in the 18-24 male demographic.  So is Ferguson due to racism or the cop's personal experiences?  Did the cop have PTSD?  Was something else going on?  The media won't delve into that because it's not an easy story to tell.  But... if there were really an epidemic, none of the recent events would be newsworthy.  We'd be living in the 1960s and before, when only black newspapers reported on excessive force against blacks, including lynching.  Remember lynching?  Whites didn't pay attention to black victims until the civil rights movement.  Remember water cannons?  Remember the bridge to Selma?  No?  Look them up!  You have internet service!



Rational Reminder #5:  Yes, things have gotten better.  Excessive force even one time is too many, but it's not like the bad old days.



So settle down, America.  We're on this.  We aren't perfect but we're doing a damn good job compared to a few generations ago.

But but but.... there are still racists!

Well, yes, America there are, but there's no law that everybody has to like everybody else.  We can only legislate behavior.  Cops have to treat everyone with the same professional standards no matter how they feel about them.  Cops who give a break to a criminal outrage me just as much as cops who get a break.  A former coworker had a devastating spinal injury because of a 19-year-old college student who rear-ended her car with his pick-up truck while she idled at a red light.  The cop gave the kid a warning because "he's just a kid" and "he was scared."   (I have no idea what race either the kid or cop were)  My coworker needed multiple surgeries and couldn't work for months.  This isn't newsworthy but it's an injustice and it outrages me.

In my opinion, we need to make some changes but race is only one part:

  1. Cops need to be trained to handle quickly-changing situations without necessarily using their guns.  Because guns are so deadly, they have to pass regular firearms tests, but do they practice non-lethal tactics with as much dedication?  Depends on the place.  Ferguson isn't Everywhere, U.S.A., despite what the media says.  Some cities do indeed cross-train their cops in multiple methods.  We don't hear about those cities for obvious reasons.
  2. American cops need to develop better behavioral profiling.  It won't help people who rush a cop or refuse to drop something that looks like a gun, but it will help cops keep their heads in minor scuffles.
  3. People need to respect that cop's job is tough and they never know which day might be their last.  I made a cop jumpy in a store with wood floors one day when my cowboy boots hit a hollow section right behind him.  One part of his brain was picking out a yogurt for his lunch.  Another part of his brain was on alert in case someone wanted to grab his gun.  Yes, they do fear this.  And they should.
  4. Realistic toy guns should be banned.  Period.  There is no reason for these.   We do have school shootings, street shootings, accidental shootings, and playground shootings by kids, including young teens.  If a cop shows up to a report of a kid with a gun and the kid refuses to put down the gun,  the kid is going to get shot.... unless it's obvious that the gun is a toy.  We want our cops to be able to act quickly to save lives.  It's up to us not to give them a false impression.  Toy guns should be yellow or purple or green, and real guns should not be any of those colors.
  5. Any time a cop kills someone, it should be investigated by an independent body aside from the prosecutor's office.  I think this change will come, but we'll see.
  6. All officers and dead suspects' blood should be analyzed for substances and the results publicized.  Not that drunks and druggies deserve to die, but people on some drugs just do not behave like normal people, and they all have mothers who think their kid was an angel.  The kid the cop met may not have been the kid who kissed his mum that morning.  (Ditto for the cop)
And finally, we have to stop making our own fallacious assumptions based on sensational headlines.  We need to settle the fuck down!  We need to stop falling for the spotlight fallacy, in which media coverage substitutes for rational thought and research.  We need to stop taking the side that comports with our prejudices.  We need to withhold judgment until all the facts are in.  You know, be skeptical.

In the case of the guy who died from asphyxia, there's video and it's clear that cops didn't ease their hold when he said he couldn't breathe.  The Feds are on it.  It's probably going to turn out that the cops thought the guy was not being truthful and would have gotten away if they'd let go.  A full exploration of the experiences of each cop might find that they've been fooled before.   I hope training officers will use this to develop better tactics.

As with other things, it's very hard to let go of old experiences and react to each one as if it's the first time.  This is something cops (and everybody, really) should gain some practice in.  We are pattern-seeking creatures.  It's in our DNA, literally.  It's why we are racist, why we take our umbrella to work on a cloudy day, and why the scientific method has changed our lives - we took ourselves out of observations.


I'm just amazed at the reaction of my atheistic friends.   People who otherwise believe themselves to be "rational""skeptical" "free-thinkers" are overreacting, in my opinion.  The data on police shootings and excessive force is incomplete, but Wikipedia keeps a list of news reports of killings both of and by officers so we can check for patterns ourselves rather than trust "news" outlets. Likewise, the grand jury deliberations are sealed so we can't say whether the results were fair or not.  We don't know everything about everything, so we need to learn more to have better judgement with this as with everything else.  I hope they will release more data, but until they do I'm not jumping to conclusions.


Don't let the media yank your chain.  Think for yourself.  Look for facts, statistics, you know... the truth.  Make up your own mind, and embrace nuance.  Be a skeptic.



Saturday, December 6, 2014

Updated List of Non-Theistic Charities

I have added some charities to the list I compiled some time ago (check the tabs above) I made the list because I sometimes want to make a donation in someone's name in lieu of a gift.  I wanted to know what good choices out there could be neutral donations - they would mean something to me and the person I'm donating in honor of, but wouldn't have any religious connotation pro or con. That's why I haven't listed the Freedom from Religion Foundation or Camp Quest.   These charities shouldn't offend believers, but an atheist doesn't have to compromise his/her atheism to make a donation, either.

If you learn that one of them has a theistic agenda, please let me know!  Otherwise, dig deep and donate to a worthy cause this "holiday" season.   It's tax-deductible and all of the charities on the list have good ratings for fiscal responsibility and using more money for the actual charity than for fund-raising, administrative costs, and what-not.

A p.s. here, while looking for new charities I ran across one that I've blogged about.  According to the Charity Navigator, Teen Ministries is in "deep financial trouble."  The first two on the list look like worthy charities that just don't have the money coming in that they used to.  Number three is Teen Ministries, with a negative balance of over four million dollars.

This is the "charity" that runs Christian rock concerts and uses "interns" (slaves) to do fund-raising in call centers.  They used to put teens through a brutal and abusive boot camp experience for Jebus, including forcing kids to eat disgusting food and then roll down a hill repeatedly until vomiting.  The kids with the strongest stomachs had to roll through other kids' vomit.  Charming people.  They only stopped the abuse after being busted by local television.  They aren't quite ready to declare bankruptcy but we can hope.   Perhaps next year they will be on a list of defunct charities.

For links and more details on this charity abusive cult see my previous post on their concert series, Acquire the Fire or a blog for victims survivors, My Teen Mania Experience.  The latest post declares it dead.  It may just be pining for the fjords.  We shall see.


Indiana Cave Attraction Promotes Intelligent Design

An otherwise interesting cave, with ancient bones & an underground river, promotes Intelligent Design Christianity.  Read a review here:

http://mindsoap.org/2014/12/indiana-caverns-not-so-intelligent-design-tourism/


(found via reddit)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"Dones" are the new "Nones"

According to this Huffington Post article, people who used to be active members of their churches are now leaving and not coming back -- they are done with it!

This should come as no surprise to atheists who have followed the blogs, vlogs, podcasts and other media sources in the atheist community (such as we have).  Consider how many formerly devout people in the public eye are done with it:


  • Jerry DeWitt:  former pastor, now director of The Clergy Project
  • John Loftus:  former pastor, now author and blogger
  • Seth Andrews: former Christian radio broadcaster, now atheist podcaster & author
  • Dan Barker:  former evangelical musician, now co-director of Freedom from Religion Foundation
  • Michael Shermer:  former evangelical Christian, now skeptic and author



Saturday, November 15, 2014

Another Faith-Healing Outrage

Check out Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution is True site today.  He describes two court cases:  one guilty verdict for faith-"healing" parents whose child died, and a Canadian decision to allow parents to force  "traditional" on their sick child.

Note: "The Albatross" is Jerry's forthcoming book about the incompatibility of faith and science.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Near-Death Experiences: What are they?

The brain is a marvelous thing, and it's way smarter than our mind is.  It can imagine things we never thought of, and it can continue coming up with random stuff while we're asleep and even while we're dying.

Obviously, the strings must be pulled by some external force because our willpower has been turned off, right?

Oh wait.... are our thoughts really under our control while we're awake?   What makes us notice extraneous noises while we're trying to read?  What makes us think "nice ass" when we see a good-looking person of our favored sexual desires walk past us?    The same people who think the Devil would make us lust after a nice piece of ass don't bother to assign blame for the more mundane things.  Or do they think they really have control over all their thoughts until the piece of ass walks by?

Then what about dreaming?  If we have no control over those dreams, who does?  Why do I dream about bears so often?  Is that Agreius looking for Oreius?  Or is it just my dream-brain hearing my dog snoring nearby and turning that sound into a bear?  No, it's prophetic.  I'm going to be attacked by a bear.   In my sleep.

If we dream about something seemingly prophetic, that seems magical to us.  But 99.99% or so of our dream never have any relation to subsequent events.  If anything they rehash our recent past in metaphor.  Is it a failed prophesy when the bus that crashes right in front of us and makes us wake from our highway dream doesn't correlate to any actual bus crash?

"Careful.  There's bears around here"
Is there one powerful being that gives us prescient dreams but another one who gives us stupid dreams?   Or if it's just one powerful being, why do we have so few prescient dreams?  Why waste important dream time on purple kangaroos when we could see where the next terrorist attack will be or a short in an airplane's cockpit?

And then when we die, the brain carries on after we stop controlling it.  (*wink*)   It just does whatever it wants, and it conjures up our dead relatives, light bulbs, our doctors, or whatever it wants.   I hope that as I'm dying from a bear attack I won't "see" bears in my altered state of consciousness.  I should see bunnies or something to make up for all the bears in my dreams.

So what inspired these musings?  (Besides staying up past my bedtime?)

I searched for NDE's on Pubmed and found this free article which cites this non-free article.  The abstract is free, however:
Approximately 3% of Americans declare to have had a near-death experience. These experiences classically involve the feeling that one's soul has left the body, approaches a bright light and goes to another reality, where love and bliss are all encompassing. Contrary to popular belief, research suggests that there is nothing paranormal about these experiences. Instead, near-death experiences are the manifestation of normal brain function gone awry, during a traumatic, and sometimes harmless, event.
I feel a bit better now.  I will feel bliss as the bear attacks me, and not the fear or puzzlement I feel when I encounter it in my dreams.

Or perhaps instead of waiting for an NDE, I could get worked up in a Pentecostal altar call.   Or I could take heroin, which from all accounts gives you that love and all-encompassing bliss feeling.

"Heaven is Real" arguments from NDEs always make me think of heroin.  I think of Heaven as a bunch of people nodding off to psychedelic choirs of LSD tripped-out angels.

I want to see a movie called "Reality is Real."  Perhaps with bears in it.  That would be much more interesting.

And now I'm going to bed.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Long & Thoughtful Deconversion Story

A parent follows a child into atheism despite both being victims of Liberty "University."

I took many of the same steps in much the same way, but without any particular incentive.  "Logan" started his deconversion by trying to come up with ways to reason his son back to Christianity.

It didn't work.

Here's a link to the first of this 7-part story:
http://lifeafter40.net/2014/04/20/my-son-told-me-hes-an-atheist/

My deconversion went something like this:  1) the Bible's O.T. is repulsive, 2) The N.T. is contradictory, 3) Everybody else thinks their religion is right, 4) Other supernatural claims are bunk so why not religious ones?

I did indeed try to listen to churchy people along the way.  Apologists just aren't very convincing, and the people they pray for die every day.  "Feeling" the spirit just didn't cut it for me, either, as it sounded a lot like being drunk or stoned on heroin.  And then there are the disembodied voices telling people strange things.  Who believes those voices today?  Only psychotic people.

Anywho, give the story a read.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Why are Atheists so "Militant?" Because Believers are so Militant, That's Why!

In the news today, shortly after Oklahoma experienced the horror of an Islamist beheading, they are now the proud home of the first Christian beheading:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/progressivesecularhumanist/2014/10/christian-zealot-beheads-teen-for-practicing-witchcraft/

The local news has more details here.

STILLWATER, Okla. – A 21-year-old Stillwater man has been charged with first-degree murder in connection to the death of an area college student who, according to police, was nearly decapitated....
Crockett’s brother, Jesse, told police Marin is a “heavy drug user” and “religious zealot,” according to the affidavit.
Marin’s brother, Samuel Marin, told police he and Isaiah were playing a card game and the victim was in the room with them.
The report says Samuel stated Isaiah had been watching YouTube videos related to his Christian beliefs.
During the card game, the affidavit claims Isaiah picked up a large black sword and began swinging it.

Christians will no doubt claim that it was the meth and not his religion that motivated the crime, but without religion this guy wouldn't have committed this particular crime, and may not have committed it at all.  Meth does make people do crazy things, but crazy is a symptom of the same mind that decides whether to believe cultural fairy tales.

If they try to distance themselves from this guy, they will also have to distance themselves from Alton Nolan, an Oklahoman who beheaded a coworker after converting to Islam.



Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Irrational Atheism?

The Atlantic has an article called Irrational Atheism by someone called Crispin Sartwell.  It sounds like a tasteless British cracker, but this is a real person -- a philosophy professor.  Not that I don't love philosophy (*snicker*) but I would have expected better from someone with a Ph.D. who speaks to a captive audience a few hours per week.

His forthcoming book is a collection of essays, many of which are about music.  Yes, music.  Not philosophy.  Not atheism, either, though the title "How to Escape" sounds promising.  I'll give him aesthetics as a philosophical pursuit, but only because musicians will ignore him.  Unfortunately, we atheists just can't ignore stupid atheists.  They make us look bad.

Believers are not irrational in the sense of being crazy (usually), but in the sense of not using reason to make decisions.  They go with their feelings, which is why feel-good rock concerts and peer pressure are so effective with them.

Then they accuse us in tu quoque attacks of being equally irrational in our atheism: we are angry at god; we are disappointed by prayers that weren't answered; we are as rabid in our atheism as they are in their theism; and so on and so on and so on...

And now in this article we have an atheist saying some of the same stuff!
Religious beliefs are remarkably various. But sometimes it can seem that there is only one way to be an atheist: asserting, on the basis of reasoned argument, that belief in God is irrational.
... It can seem that way if you refuse to check out people who don't fit your prejudiced view.  The word "irrational" is on the continuum of Dawkins's "God Delusion."   Unfortunately, Dawkins and the other horsemen of "New Atheism" have attracted a lot of attention.  They do it by using loaded language like "delusion."
The aging "new atheists"—Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett, for example—pit reason against faith, science against superstition, and declare for reason and science.
Considering that the Christian Right and Islam have been attacking science, this is not without basis!
atheism embodies a whole picture of the world, offering explanations about its most general organization to the character of individual events.
Whoa Nelly!  I thought it was science that did that! Since when did non-belief in a deity equal science?  What about atheists who believe in UFO visitations, or Buddhist atheists?
Ironically, this is similar to the totalizing worldview of religion—neither can be shown to be true or false by science, or indeed by any rational technique.
*Facepalm*  The scientific method is a rational technique, so if you draw a false equivalence between science and atheism, you have to admit that it is RATIONAL!

Then he repeats the canard that atheism is a matter of faith.  In his case, he grew up atheistic, so perhaps it's a matter of believing what your parents believe... faith in parents.  But he goes beyond his limited experience (his words) and slams Dawkins and Hitchens:

 Their line of thinking often takes the form of disqualifying others on the grounds that they are irrational. But the atheist too, is deciding to believe in conditions of irremediable uncertainty, not merely following out a proof.
Not following out a proof?  Neither Dawkins nor Hitchens could be called a "philosopher," and only philosophers would say something this inane.  "Irremediable uncertainty" would seem to be the logical inability to prove a negative.  We all know that the non-existence of a deity can't be proven with 100% certainty, and if he'd bothered to read or listen to Dawkins or Hitchens he'd know that they have said that.  But....  the relative odds of there being a deity vs there not being a deity favor there being no deity by an enormous margin -- a margin that can be deduced.... rationally!

How many ways can the prediction of a deity fail before it has to be declared 100% false?  An infinite number, apparently.  How many ways can it fail before we can say it's 99% unlikely?  Let's count:  prayer doesn't work; deities don't appear to anyone but people who are primed by mental illness or Pentecostalism, and even then they only see their own deities; holy books are written in exactly the way one would expect if only human hands were at work; prophesies that are specific enough to be useful have been unmitigated failures; leaders who are supposed to be "men of God" lie, rape, steal, and in general do badly things despite their godly dispositions; any scientific "facts" of holy books have turned out to be false, as have many of their historical "facts" and they all disagree in the specifics within their own pages and they disagree with each other.

That one percent?  It's hope, not faith.
Religion at its best treats belief as a resolution in the face of doubt. I want an atheism that does the same, that displays epistemological courage.
If he's been paying attention to atheist writers, and not just the sciency ones, he'd see courage and rigorous honesty at every turn.  He criticizes atheists for "making a bold intellectual commitment about the nature of the universe, and making it with utterly insufficient data."

What does this really mean?  It means the rest of us aren't as knowledgeable as he is.  Coincidentally, he then drops Kierkegaard's name.  Take THAT, sciency atheist fanboys!

Kierkegaard defined faith as "an objective uncertainty held fast in passionate inwardness.”
... explaining that Christianity was the best thing to believe "because it was the hardest thing to believe."

Kierkegaard may have been an astute philosopher, but he couldn't have been aware of all the choices that could be harder to believe.  Personally, the world balancing on the back of a turtle seems harder to believe than a dying and rising god.  I don't see a leap here from Christianity being good because it's bad to atheism being good because it's bad.... or something.  I'm not sure what the point of that excursion was, unless it was to hit sciency types on the head with a name they didn't recognize.

Having started off with Kierkegaard, he drops a few more names, and then he gets into personal confession.  His "faith" in the universe's uncaring nature got him through some tough times.  He claims his personal experience trumps the personal experience of believers who find comfort in their beliefs. hmmm  ... Somehow he learned a lot of names but didn't learn what the "Problem of Evil" is.  Is that what it comes down to for him?  That atheism offers a solution for the "Problem of Evil" by making it a non-problem and a non-evil?  Well.... duh.  Does a person really have to be a philosopher to find comfort in the idea that one's suffering is the result of random chance and not punishment for thought crimes or being the descendent of fairy-tale apple eaters?

And is that irrational?  It's very rational to look at personal disasters as the result of random chance.  So... he wants Dawkins - Hitchens fanboys and fangirls to be more like him?  He's just admitted to being rational.  Or perhaps he wants to take Hitchens's place in the pantheon of atheist thinkers.

I suddenly feel the urge to get back to the book on narcissism that I've recently started reading.  But first, I'd like to share some philosophizing by some of the best:  Monty Python's Flying Circus's Australian Philosophers sketch and the Philosophers Song for good measure.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Christian "Love" for Children & Teens

You don't have to go far or wait for long to hear of abuse and abusive practices being perpetrated against children in the name of Jebus.  After being reminded of the hurtful "theology" of nutty Christians in my area, I went looking for examples of abuse and I probalby only scratched the surface.  I only found abuse in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest of the U.S., London in England, South America, and several places in Australia.  These "isolated instances" sure seem widespread:

This week, thousands of teens in Indiana attended Fields of Faith, where they were shamed for feeling lust, then told God loves them anyway. psssst... kids....  that's called puberty!

Then in Virginia, a Christian boarding school for troubled teens is being investigated for abuse.  Four employees beat a 14-year-old because the kid talked to a girl.  This reminds me of the horrible Hebzibah House in Northern Indiana that was investigated by CNN in "Ungodly Discipline."

In Vermont, Jehovah's Witnesses (allegedly) allowed children to be sexually abused by an authority figure.

In Missouri, a Seventh-Day adventist is challenging his guilty verdict for locking school children in church bathrooms for days at a time and ostracizing "bad" children within their schoolroom.

In London, African immigrants have been abusing children they believe are possessed by evil spirits.

In Australia, a late Pentecostal leader's sex abuse charges were covered up by his son.  It's coming to light now.

Also in Australia, a Christian group that ran homes for aboriginal children can't afford to pay restitution to child sex abuse victims because that would hurt their missionary work.  Uhhh..... does a group like that really need to continue?  Pan-Am went bankrupt because of a terrorist attack.  These creeps should go bankrupt, too.

And an Anglican school in Australia is being investigated for child sex abuse.

The bright spots:

A New York Times op-ed on African-American child abuse by a baptist minister.  The "rod" in Spare the Rod is the same as "thy rod and staff comfort me."   Sparing the rod means not offering guidance.  Using the rod doesn't mean giving your brat a "whooping."

The pope removed a bishop from office because he had protected a pedophile priest.

* * * * *
edited to add
An Illinois mother tries to kill daughters after receiving and end-times message from her estranged pastor husband.

Sure, this seems "crazy" to most Christians, but it's a logical crazy.  If you think the end-times are near, why not kill your family?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Fields of Faith Shames Teens and Promotes Black & White Thinking

Glssy-eyed evil teenagers
If you want your teen to hate himself/herself and to turn into a neurotic black-or-white thinker, send him or her to a peer-pressure shaming event called "Fields of Faith."

Check out the quotes in this article in the local Muncie Indiana paper:



The point, said adult FCA representative Jeff Mosier, is that "God is not confused and he doesn't want us to be."

"God's truth ain't gray," he said. "It's only black and white."

Black-and-white thinking is a trait of personality disorders.  If you can't be a self-hating neurotic, then at least be narcissistic or borderline!  God loves twisted people!

Cowan High School student Gentry Staton spoke of the lustful feelings he had in middle school. "I hated myself," he said, adding that he was letting God down.

"But he just loves you," he said. "He loves us despite everything we've done."
(This kid obviously hasn't seen George Carlin's videos! "He loves you... and he needs money!")

"Accept Jesus into your heart," he told the students. "Let him spark the fire inside your heart."
(You know, put a little piece of hell into the middle of your body because God made evil and God made Hell)

He said in order to be good for goodness sake, you need a definition of good, that point of reference.

"The more like the Creator you are, the gooder you are," he said. "The less like the Creator you are, the badder you are."

Be gooder! Create planets! Turn dust into people! Kill everyone with a flood! Command genocide when you're too lazy to kill whole peoples yourself! Kill your best behaved child instead of your brats! That's gooder than those humanists who just believe in being good, period!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

R.I.P. Joan Rivers

It's official: Joan Rivers has died. (Obit in the NYT here)

I learned the word "afterbirth" from Joan Rivers. ("After I was born the afterbirth came out and the doctor said Twins!") From her, I learned that a woman could be funny and headstrong and still be a woman. I learned that you could break a taboo without setting something on fire. Yet nothing was sacred, and you could set fire to words. I loved that irreverence.

Irreverance ... in a woman??? Yes! When all of us women had to decide between being docile Barbie Dolls or ballsy feminists, Joan Rivers offered us another route: She was a ballsy Barbie Doll!

I wear pink. I love pink. I fuss over my hair. I have too many shoes. Yet I'm nobody's fool (I hope), and I stand my ground in a most un-feminine way when the situation requires it. Even my atheism charts that course between docile believer and feminist social justice crusader. Or maybe it's that we have both lived in Brooklyn. You can't live in Brooklyn and be a doormat. It's just not possible. I brought some of my Brooklyn with me to the Midwest, where people still expect women to be doormats. I never say those things out loud that Joan said for me, but my inner voice sounds a lot like hers when it says "Up Yours."

Yes, Joan's gone, but her legacy lives on.

Here's a classic interview on the Tonight Show:

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Friday, August 22, 2014

Is it Immoral to have a Baby with Downs Syndrome?

This is the question that is going around the internet thanks to Richard Dawkins' latest twitstorm:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/richard-dawkins-on-babies-with-down-syndrome-abort-it-and-try-again-it-would-be-immoral-to-bring-it-into-the-world-9681549.html

Once again his flippant responses on Twitter have gotten an outsized amount of attention.  His claim: it's immoral to bring a Down Syndrome child into the world, so abort it and try again.  I agree with him (though I still disagree about the wisdom of discussing morality on twitter)

But... I'd like to use it as an example of how his earlier twitstorm over quantification of moral wrongness should be handled.  Is it more wrong to abort because of a genetic defect than for another reason?  In my opinion it's never wrong for any reason, (though India is now feeling the effects of the higher numbers of aborted female fetuses than male fetuses -- making it stupid rather than wrong)

Down Syndrome, a.k.a Trisomy 21, has been declining since abortion was legalized.  An extra copy of all or part of chromosome 21, causes all kinds of havoc in the affected body, including the brain.  It is more common when the parents are over 30, and since more parents delay childbearing, the decline of the condition indicates quite a few of them are choosing abortion.

So let's establish our sliding scale of moral rightness or wrongness:

One one side:  Abortion ewww  or My Down Syndrome child is a blessing and I love him/her

On the other side:  Down Syndrome children suffer so why bring them into the world? or I can't deal with a disabled child so I'd abort to prevent having a child that I would have to give up for adoption or would be a terrible failure as a parent

Let's eliminate "Abortion ewwww" because it's not rational.  Abortions don't cause suffering to the fetus, and the stain of original sin from Eve means they are not innocent.  Mere repugnance, which is in my opinion the true root of anti-abortion sentiment, is not a basis for a rational judgment.

Let's also eliminate "I can't deal with a disabled child" because that person shouldn't have a child at all.  In essence, an infant is disabled.  When they're first born all they can do is cry and shit and sometimes they have to be taught to eat.  (Okay, yes they can also pee and breathe...)  If someone can't deal with a disabled child they can't deal with a healthy child in infancy and they can't deal with that healthy child after it breaks its neck on the playground and becomes a quadraplegic.  That person should not be a parent for any reason whatsoever anyway.   At the very least they should do some volunteer work to see if they can rise to the occasion before jumping into it.

That leaves the question of whether the suffering the Down Syndrome child experiences is so extreme that fetal euthanasia is the more humane choice even for people who don't like abortion, or whether the child has a sufficiently rewarding life for it to be worth living.

There are other genetic diseases that can be diagnosed in utero, so the morality of abortion in those cases could be determined based on the same questions.

First, the question of suffering in the abortion itself:  does a fetus have a right not to suffer?   Since they can't really "suffer", the point is moot.  Abortion does not cause suffering except to the woman who may have some physical side-effects.... but these side effects are negligible compared to the side effects of pregnancy so that's also moot.

To what extent does the Down Syndrome person, their parents, their family and community suffer?  Are they a drag on those around them?

Besides the obvious facial features and intellectual disability, they do suffer medically.  Their organization's FAQs downplay these, as if the ability to treat heart conditions, leukemia and breathing problems obviates the question of life expectancy, but what quality of life is that?  Assuming they survive their multiple hospitalizations and have parents who are willing and able to play nurse at home, they can now live a normal lifespan.

This means that they will outlive their parents, who play a huge role in enabling them to have a somewhat normal life.  So ... the great news is that instead of suffering young and dying young, they now suffer young and die old.  In the meantime, they can sometimes experience joy of a sort, but who takes care of them after their parents die?   If the parents' funds haven't been sapped by the child's needs, there may be a trust fund ... that other siblings can kiss goodbye.  Or society cares for them.  Even if they can support themselves financially by working a menial job (as most who work do), they will still need help with life skills.

The DS organization has a series called "Great Story of the Week."  Most of the "great" stories are written by parents, and of course the parents are sure they've done the right thing by having that child.  This is classic cognitive dissonance -- I have invested a helluva lot into this child so it can't have been a mistake!   The organization itself has cognitive dissonance, or else it would also have a series called "Horrific story of the week."

There is a meme amongst parents of disabled children:  that the child brings them so much joy.  *barf*   This is downright selfish.  This gives the child a job in life beyond just learning how to tie his shoes.  He has to make his parents happy, too!  He's a hero!  With a helluva burden!  Here's a snippet of one "great" story:
I was walking across the yard today with Seth.  We were strolling more than walking as he had wrapped his arm around my waist, and was looking at me as if to say "this is nice."  I asked Seth, "Did you have a good day?"  I know he can't answer me with words.  So much of what Seth and I say to each other does not happen verbally.  We have a connection that transcends speech.  
I have this same kind of relationship with my dog.  Where is the humanity in this exchange, not to mention the morality?  You can believe your mute kid is "saying" anything to you.  It reminds me of Teri Schiavo's desperate mother imagining that the random movements of her brain-dead daughter's eyes actually meant something.  I don't have anything against people with Down syndrome - they do the best they can, but this kind of treacle does not help their cause.

Even if this mom is right about what her kid is feeling, her boastful final statement proves that the relationship is self-serving:
I owe so much to this child.  I am often told how lucky Seth is to have us.  I always reply with something like "We're the lucky ones."  ... Life is much more beautiful when I slow down and look at it with Seth.  I am so grateful that Seth has taught me to walk slowly.
Walking a chihuahua will do that for you too.  Why is this woman praising herself or her kid?  She only values walking slowly because she doesn't have to.  At one point she says her son walks slowly "probably because of his physical limitations."   She can rush through the grocery aisles at the last minute to get ready for a party if she has to.  Seth can't.  Seth will probably never have that choice, even if he develops the intellectual capacity to plan a party.

"Seth" can't tell us what he'd like in life.  Would he like to walk faster and not have to hold onto his mom for balance?   I bet he would.  Would he like to have a career in the future in something more financially rewarding than menial labor (assuming he can even do that).  Probably.  If he understands the concept.

Imagine "Seth" at age 50, still unable to walk normally, but now with arthritis from joints moving the wrong way, and no mummy to hold onto.   He has a very tiny 401k from his job sweeping the supermarket floor.  He tries to be the smiling happy retard he was as a child, but he is in pain and he's not in the mood for the happy face.  Making other people happy gets old after awhile.

I have known adults who developed debilitating physical and mental (which are really physical but I digress...)  limitations in adulthood.  Having known both conditions, they don't like their new circumstances one little bit.  They will hang onto normalcy with their fingertips, but not because they're heroes.  They do normal things because they want to be normal!   If they complete a triathlon by having a family member push them in a wheelchair the whole way (it recently happened in Indiana) are they doing it to teach us a lesson in perseverance?  No!  They just don't want to give up the trappings of a normal life.  Who would?

Suffering in others should be part of our moral equation, too.  What if there is already a disabled child in the family?  What if there's a disabled parent?  What if both parents have to work to sustain the family and they won't have time to give the child extra help learning?  Not to mention taking time off if the kid develops leukemia or needs open-heart surgery.  What about siblings?  The disabled child(ren) rob them of their parents' attention.  You never hear about these kids resenting their circumstances -- naturally they love their siblings -- but it's undeniable that they are neglected.

If we ever get to the point of allowing assisted self-euthanasia (a.k.a. suicide), it will probably still be illegal to help someone who lacks the intellectual capacity to understand it.  The average IQ of a person with Down syndrome is 50 (average for normal people is 100).  The definition of mentally disabled is an IQ of 70 or lower.  You can teach sign language to an ape, but apparently "Seth" can't learn it.  Chimps are smarter than kindergartners, but is Seth?  Could he be trusted to make a life-or-death decision for himself when his body breaks down at 50 or 60?  If he's below the average for Down syndrome definitely not.  Who decides that?  They are probably just as likely as anyone else to suffer from the Dunning-Kruger effect.  They will think they're more competent than they are.

On the other side, adults with Down syndrome can be happy.  According to the Down Syndrome organization, they can also develop depression.  Just like anyone else, you can't predict who will be afflicted but for them it's just one more burden in a life that's already difficult.

So the gray area gets a bit grayer -- does one abort a fetus that will never be smarter than a chimp but let one with a lesser disorder come to term?   The amount of DNA damage can now be determined via amniocentesis.  If you can tell whether you're carrying a Seth or a high-functioning Chris Burke where would you draw the line?

This is why Dawkins has been getting crap from the Twitterverse.  Some people with Down Syndrome can manage relatively normal intellectual and emotional lives.  These above-average examples are used to shame people who envision a less bright future for their fetus.

Just once I would like to hear the parent of a disabled child say "I wish I had my child's disability."  They never do.  Deep down they know it's an unfair fact of life for their child and they wish it had been otherwise.

This brings us to another recent news item:  Robin Williams's self-euthanasia, a.k.a. suicide.  He was depressed, but he wasn't stupid.  His diagnosis of Parkinson's disease had to have been a huge blow, and he may have known people with the disease.  Most of us do.   After decades of a career based on quick-thinking did he see the disease take that away from him?  Did he fear losing that ability?   Did he decide to make a rational decision before dementia took even that away from him?  I was sad for him until I learned of his Parkinson's diagnosis.  He chose his time and place and he wanted to "leave them laughing."  Good for him!  If he didn't want people to see him as a cripple that was his choice.   If he didn't want to be a hero, that's okay.  Let Michael J Fox keep that title.   He may have responded to medication for depression and continued on with life for whatever years Parkinson's would give him, or he may not have.

Self-euthanasia is often considered a selfish act by those around the person who does it.  I lost one friend that way and I was very angry with her for a good while, but it was her life.  She didn't have to live it for the sake of other people if she didn't want to.  In another case, an elderly acquaintance (who was an atheist) took matters into her own hands when the pain of arthritis and osteoporosis became unbearable and untreatable.  She had all of her faculties, and made her choice, acting alone because our society is too backward to let her pick her time openly.

How often have we heard "When you have your health you have everything?"  Is the corollary that when you don't have your health you have nothing?  How can society send the message that health is important and then try to shame someone like Dawkins for advising termination of an unhealthy fetus?

My judgment on the continuum:  if you can prevent suffering, and especially if you can prevent suffering while the issues are simpler, then you should do it.  Robin Williams made his decision while he still had the mental and physical faculties to carry it out.  And in the case of fetal euthanasia, more suffering is prevented than created.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Let's Talk About Morality

The latest atheist community dust-up pits Richard Dawkins against a bunch of people who take exception to something he said about sex crimes.  He tried to clear it up on Twitter, which of course reaches only the people least likely to give serious thought to a subject.  If a person can't be bothered reading more than 140 characters, how thoughtful can s/he be?  (Remember, the first four letters of twitter spell "twit.") Then he tried to clear it up on his blog.

The essential facts:  He broached the topic of taboos in atheism then proposed a hypothetical discussion of two hot-button sexual topics: pedophilia and rape.  As if to prove his point and disprove it at the same time, the interwebs blew up in a hot second.  Here are the tweets that are being tweeted around the world:


He disproved his point when a jillion people (I wouldn't know - I don't follow twitter, tweets, twits, or interweb dust-ups closely enough to count) discussed pedophilia and rape, and why he was wrong to say those things.  With so much discussion, I think it's safe to say that those topics are not "taboo."   He proved his point that emotion rules the discussion, though.

Well, of course it does.  Sex is highly emotional, highly personal, and sexual offenses are attacks on basic human dignity.

Unfortunately instead of engaging in a rational discussion -- which is what he presumably wanted to do -- he has insulted the people who took issue with his examples.  This just fuels the fire against him and changes the topic.  It's trollish behavior, at the least.

On his blog he summed it up perfectly:  "I didn’t know quite how deeply those two sensitive issues had infiltrated the taboo zone"  Well, those are clearly not taboo or else nobody would have responded, and I'm surprised if he's surprised.  He followed up with his implicit definition of taboo as "off limits to reason and logic."  

He digs himself deeper here:
That, then, is why I chose rape and pedophilia for my hypothetical examples. I think rationalists should be free to discuss spectrums of nastiness, even if only to reject them. I had noticed indications that rape and pedophilia had moved out of the discussion zone into a no-go taboo area. I wanted to challenge the taboo, just as I want to challenge all taboos against free discussion.
Nothing should be off limits to discussion. No, let me amend that. If you think some things should be off limits, let’s sit down together and discuss that proposition itself.
I would love to discuss these things rationally.  Unfortunately Dawkins didn't set the tone for rationality.  He was accusatory, and mistook emotional response for irrational censorship.  In his follow-up blog post he mentions his revelation of an incident from his childhood.  Digging himself deeper, he sets up a straw man, and then suggests that "We need to look more carefully at exactly who is belittling what."

Well, let's not belittle anyone or anything.  Let's start fresh and be rational.  In a rational discussion of sex crimes or other "taboo" topics, there should be some elements of rational discussion, such as:
  • Definition of Terms
  • Definition of Goals
  • Research Findings about the Topic
  • Quotes from the World's Most Well-Respected Thinkers
  • A Few Proposed Solutions
  • Testing of the Solutions (with thought experiments)
  • Discussion of Results
  • Rational Decision of Best Conclusion
You can't do that in a tweet, or even a series of tweets.

Dawkins's proposed quantification (?) of the badness of sex crimes is only one way to come to a conclusion about sexual morality.  It's not even an original way, because the court systems of every country have done this.  Even sharia law has done this, in its perverted way.  The fact that they all disagree means it's fertile ground for discussion, but coming to an agreement will take a long, long time and requires open mindedness on all sides, including his.

In the old days of the Internet Infidels Discussion Board (iidb), there was a section devoted to "Moral Foundations and Principles" and I was one of the moderators.   I wasn't personally interested in the discussions about pedophilia (we had few discussions about rape or other sex acts) but I kept an eye on them.  So yes, I can say unequivocally that atheists can discuss difficult topics rationally because I have seen it happen.  For what it's worth, these were the foundations and principles that a rational person would bring up:

  • What should be the basis for judging morality of a sex act?  The consensus was that consent was an imperative.  Any sex act that was not consensual for both parties is immoral.
  • How does one determine consent?  The consensus was predictable:  adult, not mentally compromised
  • How old should someone be to consent?  There was no consensus here thanks to pedophile trolls, but there isn't any consensus in the world, either.  The trolls tried to make the case that because some children & teens are more mature they should be considered able to consent, just as some "retarded" people, i.e. people who mature more slowly, shouldn't be able to.  How do you test such a thing?  Well, my personal view is that someone who appears to be mature for his/her age is actually still maturing.  The pre-frontal cortex is not fully formed until about age 25.  A person who has a genius intellect at age 12 may still be socially and psychologically underdeveloped.  et cetera.  They are like a hamburger that's been browned in a fry pan before being put into the oven: still raw on the inside and should stay in the oven for awhile.
  • What about painful or injurious sex between consenting, mentally capable, adults?  That didn't come up much but I would question the mental competence of someone who would permit themselves to be hurt during sex or at any other time.
  • Are there exceptions to these "rules?"  What about necrophilia?  A dead person can't consent, but they don't really "own" their bodies and they won't suffer any repercussions.  My personal opinion is that the family generally owns the person's body, unless other arrangements have been made.  It could also be injurious to the person doing it, though I admit that I have not had the curiosity to investigate the details.
Dawkins wanted to create gradations of "wrongness" but he didn't offer much in the way of specifics, nor suggest the potential consequences (such as differences in sentencing).  One of the big problems with the penal system is inconsistency in the way crimes are handled:
  • Some miscreants don't get caught  
  • Their crimes are noticed but go unreported
  • They confess to someone who covers for them
  • Their crime is reported but the police and the victim don't pursue it
  • Charges are filed and then dropped
  • They are found innocent or found guilty of a lesser charge
  • They get released on a technicality, escape. or otherwise get out of jail
  • They commit their crime in a jurisdiction that doesn't consider it a crime
There is a large body of literature on criminal justice, and I haven't read much of it.  Neither has Dawkins, I would guess.  From cases I've followed, it seems that the theoretical underpinnings that create something like gradations of "badness" have to do with intention of the perpetrator and consequences suffered by the victim.  Sometimes there is also the factor of number of offenses together. I think the dichotomy that seems to offend Dawkins, in which all rape is rape and all pedophilia is pedophilia, is appropriate, based on the principles that I listed above.  If someone has not consented to penetration, penetration is a crime (or any other sex act).  "No" means "no."  Likewise, if you drive the wrong way on a one-way road it's the wrong way whether the speed limit is 30 or 60, or whether there are children in the vicinity, etc.  A cop has discretion whether to issue a ticket or a warning, based on whether the driver is white rational principles (we hope).  But the wrongness of driving the wrong way is not in dispute.  What might be in dispute would be the extent to which we are morally repulsed:  someone whose wrong-way driving results in a car wreck would be charged with a felony, while someone who happened to drive on the wrong way on a street with only a cop car on it might just get a ticket.  The crimes are the same, but the results are vastly different.

For an opposite take on gradations of badness, Atheist vlogger Joe Dixon, who is black, argues against hate crime laws in his stand-up act:  He points out that John Wilkes Booth killed Abraham Lincoln because he hated him.  Selena was killed by a fan because she loved her.  Which one is more dead?  Dead is dead.

Theft is one crime that I think has been graduated in the wrong ways and would make for a much more fruitful discussion.  It's a felony if you hold someone up at knifepoint on the street and rob them of $20.00.  The perpetrator may spend decades in a harsh prison, and in many states will be disenfranchised of his (or her) right to vote for life.   But if you steal someone's life savings of $250,000 in a Ponzi scheme, you'll go to club Fed if your lawyer isn't crooked clever enough.  The person who was held up at knifepoint may feel insecure about walking alone at night afterward, but the person who's lost his or her life savings may become homeless or commit suicide.  Bernie Madoff never used a knife or laid a hand on his victims, but he was sentenced to 150 years in prison.  His attorney asked for twelve years!  If he hadn't bilked NYU's Law School, Sandy Koufax and other high-profile investors he might have gotten off easier.   I hope that his case has set a precedent for other "white collar" criminals.

Note that this blog post has more than 140 characters.  I am a fan of brevity in Hemingway, but he couldn't have squeezed even his most brilliant work into a tweet or even a series of them.

If I were to compose a brief question posing a moral conundrum, I would choose two things that are more closely related and ask readers to comment (Have at it, readers!)  My thought experiment is this:

Which is worse, and why?  Raping a victim and then killing him/her?  or Killing him/her and then having sex with the corpse?

********************************

If I haven't bored you with my response to the twitstorm, here are some other responses from around the web (titles/summaries mine):





The Dawkins Disillusion:  young atheist disappointed in Dawkins, whom she admired greatly


Dawkins isn't as logical as he thinks he is

Dawkins is a troll, an ignorant wanker, and a moral coward, and he should be ashamed of himself

Studies show that in the U.K. attitudes toward rape affect victims

Dawkins is using his own experience as a yardstick for judging others' experiences.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Theology of Disproportionate Retribution

There will never be peace in the Middle East until both sides drop their theology of disproportionate retribution.

In the U.S. we have an expression: "The punishment should fit the crime."

Not so in the Bible.  One of the few sermons I remember from church-going days was an explanation of "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" as an attempt to dial back excessive punishment.  Instead of wiping out an entire town for the actions of a few people, that line in the Old Testament urges restraint.

Apparently only Christians have read it, but not many of them.

Even Christians who have read it misunderestimate the punishment.  Just after 9/11 I was talking to a Christian who was fuming with anger at the A-rabs who perpetrated the crime.  He said we should "nuke them all.  An eye for an eye!"  ... as if nuking millions of people was a suitable punishment despite killing millions of innocent people who had nothing to do with the al Qaeda terrorist attacks ... that weren't even launched from the Middle East - they were based in Afghanistan.

Our wonderful president and his "neo" Conservatives apparently felt the same way.  They punished Iraq for the actions of a group of people that secular Saddam Hussein actually had no use for.  The neo-cons had planned ahead of time for this, and then waited for a suitable trigger to set their plan into motion.  They started talking about it on September 12, 2001.

I suspect something similar happened in Israel.  Three teenagers were murdered, and rather than track down the individual(s) who did it, Israel launched an attack on Hamas itself. ... along with the innocent people who are either human shields or collateral damage, depending on your point of view.  The targets were too specific and too sweeping to have been chosen just recently.  This is a well thought-out campaign designed to bring down their (rather horrible) enemy.  The everyday people of Gaza won't blame Hamas for this, though.  They will blame Israel because people who had nothing to do with the murder of those teens are dying by the hundreds, leaving behind relatives with nothing left but their anger.

Most of what I've seen and read misses the point, I think.  The point is that both parties practice disproportionate retribution.  Just like the deity they worship, who supposedly wiped out the entire population with a flood (including innocent children and fetuses), and ordered genocide after commanding his people not to kill, they feel justified taking out their anger on large numbers of innocents.

Israel should not be building settlements so close to Gaza.  Palestinians shouldn't take it out on the residents of those settlements, because they're not the ones who are defying Palestianian sensibilities.  Those settlers could settle elsewhere.

And then when Palestinians take it out on the residents, Israel can't retreat.  That would be a sign of weakness!  They can't move the settlers to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.  They can't not bomb schools if they are being used to house both children and bombs. They can't cave in to the human shield because everyone would start using that tactic!

And Palestinians can't just take the bombing laying down.  There is nowhere for them to run. Egypt won't take them in, because they get too much money and arms from the U.S. in exchange for not waging war on Israel.  Jordan won't take them back because Jordan is not interested in them.  (They screwed them as far back as the 1940s)  Britain won't take them because although their colonization of Palestine is the reason the Palestinians were displaced to make room for post-war Jews, they are joined at the hip to the U.S.  When you can't take flight, you must fight.

And the U.S. can't let any of this change because Christian dominionists believe Israel's renaissance fortells the coming of the Lawd.  As long as Israel exists, the Lawd will come and take them to Paradise (because apparently the Lawd can't change his mind and blow off prophesy and just do what he wants, when he wants to)

And the Christian Lawd's retribution for not believing in him, or in believing in the wrong version of him, or for believing in some other deity, is disproportionate indeed.  A 13-year-old atheist will burn in Hell for eternity for a year or two of apostasy (assuming that children get some break for not being of an age yet).  A sincere believer in Catholicism, or Pentecostalism, or Methodism (take your pick) will burn in Hell for eternity for missing the mark, even though they've lived an ideal life.

If Christian dominionists didn't believe in the Rapture, if Jews didn't believe in a god who regularly ordered them to commit genocide, if Muslims didn't believe in a god who orders girls to marry their rapists, or apostates to be executed, or thieves to have their hands chopped off, then perhaps there might be something resembling peace.

You know, when a crime happens the criminals are punished, in proportion to their crime, and everyone else is left alone.  That's how secular people behave.

You know, morally.

Until then, the Middle East will continue to be the big mess it was as described in the Old Testament, with warring tribes committing genocide because that's what their deities would want.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Today's TED Talk: Muslim vs. Muslim Terrorism

Karima Bennoue is a law professor at the University of California - Davis School of Law and the author of Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism.

In this TED Talk, she speaks about the devastating impact of fundamentalist violence on people who don't share their vision of Islam.  She makes the point that fundamentalisms are dangerous, not just certain ones, and celebrates the courage of those who refuse to be repressed. I think her own successes should also be celebrated.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Well Organized Protection of Pedophiles isn't just a Catholic Thing

I have run across random references to the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church movement, but the word "independent" seems to give the stories of abuse in these churches some kind of pass for the other churches. But people who have been following them have revealed that there is indeed an organization of sorts underpinning their abusive practices, and that the abusive pastors, members and churches are not isolated incidences.

This story called A Christianity to Make Satan Proud at a Christian Patheos blog gives a chilling account of the power that men of this movement wield over women and children, and how they manage to avoid the long arm of the law.

In this post, a letter from a young woman who was sexually abused by her father for years, shows that denial and victim-blaming is endemic in this movement. Here's just one part of her story:

When I started to try to tell the pastor—my pastor—and his wife that my father had been molesting me since I was three or four years old, he stopped me. “Don’t tell me,” he said. “I don’t want to hear it! If you tell me, then I am required to call the police and report this. You don’t want your daddy going to prison over a misunderstanding, do you?”

Misunderstanding????   Children are indoctrinated into believing they can only trust insiders of their church, that all outsiders including others who claim to be Christians, are not to be trusted, and then what happens when they confide in their authority figures?

These horrible people make up about 2.5% of the American population.  There are probably some near you.

Notable points in her story:
  • Her pedophile father was moved to a different church in another state. Hmmm are they sure they're not Catholic?
     
  • Her grandparents were in collusion with her father and the church, sending her to a re-education camp (not the infamous Hepzibah House but it sounds similar) after she came forward with accusations of sex abuse.
     
  • She was instructed to visit her step-father in prison (there for other offenses) to tell him she forgives him.
     
  • She followed her family tradition of attending Bob Jones University, where denial and victim-blaming were just as institutionalized as in her local church.  BJU is the wellspring of the movement and the university that grants "degrees" to the Bible Church pastors perpetrating abuses around the country.
     
  • Her PTSD nightmares were so bad her dormmates' sleep was disturbed, and yet her accusations were dismissed. (How many people are dishonest in their dreams?)
     
    This isn't an isolated instance at all, just an incredibly well-coordinated suppression of the truth. The TV show "20/20" covered an equally egregious instance, in which a 15-year-old girl was sexually abused by her father and raped by a man in her church.  She was forced to confess in front of the entire congregation, then sent away to have the rapist's baby.... which the church forced her to give up for adoption to a "Christian" family.  They interviewed the pastor, who now works in Indianapolis, and he stuck to his guns.  Incredibly, after the 20/20 episode the creep kept his job! 

  • (God, however, was extremely pissed off and used a bus wreck to kill the pastor's son, daughter-in-law, and her fetus.  Note what they say on their site: "On Saturday, July 27, 2013 at around 4:30 p.m., the Lord allowed a bus accident to take Pastor Chad and Courtney Phelps and their unborn baby (see below) and Mrs. Tonya Weindorf (see below) home to enjoy Him in His presence forever")


    More sites:
    Baptist Deception: articles on the theological problems and abuses of the movement
    Bruce Gensner, a former IFB pastor, on the rise and (hopefully) decline of the IFB movement and on its cultish attributes.
     
    Sheldon, of the Ramblings of Sheldon blog, on the IFB as a guest blogger.  He also has a series on Exposing the IFB.
     
     

    Sunday, June 22, 2014

    June 21 Link Round-up

    Happy Solstice!  Time Magazine offers a run-down of celebrations around the world.

    Scientology apostate and film director Paul Haggis discusses bullying of ex-members by Scientologists.

    Spinia bifida could be prevented if folic acid was added to corn meal, but it would cost $1 million to test first. Really? Nobody can afford that???

    The BBC tells the story of the man who writes Leaving Fundamentalism blog.  He is a former student at a fundamentalist school in the U.K.  Now that muslims are running their own creationist schools, the U.K. is examining Christian "faith schools" that flew under the radar until recently.  Now that creationism is banned in U.K. publicly-funded schools, will "faith schools" be more popular?

    Meanwhile, Buddhist fundamentalism is on the rise, with violent consequences.

    Asian elephants comfort each other and show empathy.  Without having Ten Commandments to follow!

    Check out a new atheist blog by a guy named Josh, who grew up fundamentalist.


    Video of the week:
    Dick Cheney and his alter ego: