Thursday, May 28, 2015

More about the Duggars...

If you haven't seen the Funny or Die video, it's must-see internet TV!  And too true -- Josh Duggar's sexual molestation of his sisters and possibly other little girls is all about him, not them.

Think I'm exaggerating?  Today it was disclosed that Josh sued the Arkansas Department of Human Services for investigating the family, despite learning that his "mistake" was not prosecutable because the statute of limitations had run out.  It seems that someone in a government position (yes, the guvmint!) realized the perpetrator and victims were still living under the same roof and wanted to ensure that no more "mistakes" were happening.

Because it's all about him.  Not about little girls who were violated in their own beds and then taught that girls that have been touched are like a bicycle that's been stolen and then returned as a beat-up wreck.

Although they (the Duggar daughters who wrote Growing Up Duggar) are careful to affirm evangelical theology that God will forgive even the gravest sin, the Duggars think of virginity as a “gift” one presents to a future spouse.
They recount a story their father, Jim Bob tells about parents who bought their child a brand new bike. Before the parents could present the bike, a neighbor child stole it and rode it around, scratched it up, and dented the frame. Although the parents gave the bike to their child anyway, he was understandably disappointed with its condition.
In this construction (a not too subtle one!) the bike is the female body, and the little boy is a future husband. Women’s bodies can be “stolen” by dangerous other men, and if they are, their future husbands will be understandably disappointed. Dating and premarital sex are not expressive in the Duggar construction (and evangelical purity rhetoric more broadly), they render women used and broken.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Duggar Sex Crime Scandal

Yes, I said "Sex Crime Scandal" not "Sex Scandal."  A sex scandal is when a consenting adult gets busted having sex with a consenting adult that the rest of us don't approve of.  Child molestation is a crime.  It's not a "sex scandal."

Okay, now that we've gotten that out of the way, here are the details:

Josh Duggar, the oldest Duggar child, forcibly fondled underaged girls, including his sisters, while they slept and at other times.  This was in 2002-2003, when he was 14.   TMZ tells the sordid story:
Jim  Bob, the dad, met with church elders and agreed Josh should be put in a treatment program.  The police report says Josh's mom, Michelle, said it wasn't really a treatment center ... they simply sent Josh to a guy who was remodeling a building to do manual labor.
In 2006, the family was scheduled to appear on "Oprah," and before the show someone sent an email to Harpo warning that Josh had molested girls. Harpo forwarded the email to a hotline, which triggered a police investigation.
Cops wanted to question Josh, but Jim Bob lawyered him up and Josh declined the invitation.
First, good for Oprah (I haven't found out if the show was cancelled) and her crew.  Second, shame on Jim Bob and the "elders" who dropped the ball.  Third, shame on Josh, though at 14 who knows what was going on in his mind.  How did he learn to sneak up on sleeping children and fondle them?  We will probably never know, but I suspect he learned from example.  Fourth, shame on the Family Research Council for sucking up to the Duggars and hiring Josh.  How qualified could he have been when he was a home-schooling victim? has the police report and more details:
Michelle Duggar later admitted to police that Josh did not receive counseling and instead had been sent during that time to a family friend who was in the home remodeling business.
Asked about the training center that Jim Bob said Josh was sent to, Michelle told police, according to the report, “it was not really a training center. Det. [Darrell] Hignite asked if the guy [redacted, Josh] talked to was a certified counselor. She said no. She said it was a guy they know in Little Rock that is remodeling a building. Det. Hignite asked if the guy was more of a mentor. She said “kind of.
So... shame on Michelle for not doing anything to prevent additional harm to her daughters!

Here's some of the police report, from In Touch:

In 2006, when authorities wanted to interview Josh, Jim Bob lawyered up and refused to let them do it.  After all, he had already had his pal, a cop who has since been convicted of child pornography crimes, give Josh a stern talking-to.

Not only that, but God has forgiven Josh, the girls have forgiven him, and Josh got more godly and less horny after hanging out with the remodeler.  That must have been some mentoring!

This kind of thing is why atheists are angry!  This atheist, anyway.  Did those girls get any counseling?  Did they have the choice not to forgive their brother?  Were they protected in any way from further molestation in the family?  As the family continued to grow to include 19 kids, could the parents really prevent it?

The girls in this family, and in the Christian patriarchy movement in general, have no say in anything.  Daddy takes care of things in his way, and his way is not to be questioned.  The elders, all men of course, can advise Daddy but if he doesn't want the girls' opinion he doesn't have to ask for it.

These are the "family values" that the Family Research Council and the rest of the movement promotes.  If you can call them "values."

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, Baltimore edition

The news media only cares about violence and extremism, no matter where it comes from.  Oh, and airplane crashes.  This week we have Baltimore's peaceful demonstrations and Baltimore's thuggish violence.  Guess which got TV coverage? A Baltimore college student said it brilliantly:

"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" (1970) by Gil Scott-Heron is sometimes called the first "rap" though I consider it the height of Beat poetry.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Most Dangerous Christian Denominations #3: Christian "Science"

Christian Science is neither.

Founded in the 19th century by a quack, Mary Baker Eddy, her book about faith healing spurred a movement that continues to kill people today.  Although members keep dying, they still have 400,000 members.

They publish the well-regarded Christian Science Monitor.  Although it's a good newspaper, it is dangerous in the sense of lending credibility to the religion.  They also have reading rooms.  There used to be one in the neighborhood where I grew up.  I never went there, but they were near the public library, which made me think it was like a library but with religious stuff.  How could people who encourage reading be bad?

They don't believe in any medical intervention of any kind.  No eyeglasses, dental work, vaccinations, anti-biotics or pre-natal doctor visits.   Like other faith-healing cults they let themselves and their children die from curable conditions.  There's no actual science in Christian science.  It's all mumbo jumbo -- even worse than faith healing, actually.

But what makes them particularly dangerous is that they are behind the ubiquitous "religious exemption" laws around the U.S. that have allowed the other faith healing nutters to kill children.  These laws are well entrenched and hurting people all over the country and probably the rest of the world as well.  Fortunately, deaths in other cults have brought attention to the issue of religious exemptions, and this attention may spell the end of it.  Until then, they are on my list.

It may seem like a small thing compared to the evils of IFB, but in my book anything that harms & kills children rises to the top.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Most Dangerous Christian Denominations, #2: Pentecostalism

"Slain in the Spirit"
The Pentecostal movement derives from the Holiness movement of the 19th century.  This movement stresses not just salvation by the proxy (temporary) death of Jesus, but by behavior during life.  Of course, the Catholic Church stressed acting right as well, but Protestantism muddied the issue by bringing back adult baptism to symbolize being saved.  (As an aside, if Jesus was perfect and was God, why did he need to be baptized? Just wondering....)

Pentecostalism dates to the Azusa Street (California) revival of 1906-1915, making it one of the younger protestant denominations.  Being possessed by the Holy Spirit is the main distinction for Pentecostals and the wider designation "Charismatic."  People work themselves up to the point of fainting (being "slain in the spirit"), speak in tongues, and experience miraculous "healing."

According to Pew Research, the various forms of Pentecostalism make up almost 14% of the world's Christians.  This makes it a powerful movement, but it's the theology plus the numbers that make it dangerous.  Charismatic Christianity, which includes the main tenets of Pentecostal "spirit-filled" worship, is equally large and dangerous.  There are many branches of Pentecostalism, including Assemblies of God and the cultish Church of God (TN) and the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.  Their reach extends beyond smaller denominations through religious television, megachurches, and politics.  This alone would make them worth watching, but consider also that they are among the least educated Americans.

Pentecostals take the Bible literally, including passages about spiritual "gifts."  Talking in tongues, is the most famous, and supposedly first happened on the day of the Pentecost.  In the Bible, Jesus's followers began speaking in foreign languages, which enabled them to spread the word throughout the diverse Roman Empire.  This would be a handy skill indeed.  But current Pentecostals don't speak in actual languages.  Otherwise known as glossolalia, they let go of self-control, letting the "spirit" control them.  They babble some gibberish that the Spirit speaks through them, and they claim it is a prayer in another language.  So it doesn't matter to them if it sounds like nonsense.  It doesn't even matter to them that they don't know what they're saying in their gibberish language.

Another "gift" is the ability to interpret this gibberish.  This is of course a very handy gift if you want to get your sister-in-law kicked out of the congregation.  Who would dispute the Holy Ghost's interpretation?   Apparently, it's not as clear-cut when more than one person present has this gift.  Despite having the Holy Ghost on their side, they often disagree on their interpretation.

There are many youtube videos of the "praise break," a musical extravaganza with dancing at the altar and in the aisles.  From what I've seen on youtube, the Holy Spirit is a really bad dancer, so the congregants are only too happy to place the blame on old the H.S.  If a person has a "gift" the spirit may take over their body to the point that they fall down in what looks like an epileptic fit from being "slain by the spirit."  There are deacons on hand who are immune to the music, at least for the day, who can catch them when they fall... usually.

Biblical literalism, fake epileptic seizures, and nonsense syllables are weird but quaint features of Pentecostalism.  If they stopped with that, they wouldn't make my list, but they go waaaaay beyond what other religious fundamentalists do.

Direct access to the Holy Spirit by anyone is what makes this theology so dangerous.  Anyone who has the "spirit" can become a pastor.  God can tell a pastor or congregant almost anything, and who's to argue?

Snake Handling
The result of their careless attitude toward education is the snake-handling cult of Appalachia. This comes from a discredited passage in the Gospel of Mark about "signs" of the Holy Spirit: "they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them" This passage dates from a late manuscript, added by a sociopathic scribe to see if his overseer was paying attention (my best guess as to how the passage got added)  The pastor who spread this noxious practice was himself illiterate.  If he could have read scholarly books about theology, he might have learned that the King James Bible is not a reliable translation (in the sense of accurately translating the Greek originals), or that the snake-handling passage was a fraud.  Predictably, he died from a snake bite, as many subsequent snake handlers have.  The most recent victim was Jamie Coots, who had appeared in a reality show about snake handlers.  He didn't qualify for a Darwin Award, however, because he has a son, who is now handling snakes himself (and has been bitten)

If injured during snake handling or other death-defying feats, they will refuse treatment because they believe in spiritual healing.  If they only refused treatment for themselves I would consider them quaint, but suicidal.  Unfortunately their children suffer because of this.  That alone earns them a place on this list.

Child Abuse Disguised as Religion
Like Independent Fundamentalist Baptists, each congregation makes up its own rules and pastors have absolute authority.  In Pentecostalism, even children can be preachers.    They think this is great, but it makes you wonder just how thoughtful the adult pastors are if children can put on just as good a show.  In most denominations, children are not of age to be full members until about 13, i.e. puberty.  In Pentecostalism, the spirit takes over all ages equally.  Turning a child into a pastor has to be bad for the child's development.  Unlike a child actor or singer, a child pastor has enormous pressure to deliver God's word.  This can create a narcissism in the child if he believes in this stuff, but can create enormous conflicted feelings if he ever grows to realize what nonsense it is.

Unfortunately, Satan can take over the bodies of people just as God can, and he doesn't let go readily.  Pentecostals (and charismatics) are soldiers in "Spiritual Warfare" against Satan.  They practice "deliverance," otherwise known as exorcism, to drive away the evil spirits that make people act wrong (by their standards).

Gays who have the misfortune to have been born into a Pentecostal family may be tempted to sign up for exorcism to rid themselves of the evil spirit that makes them think gay thoughts.  (Interesting but disturbing blog posts here and here)  Any church that equates homosexuality with evil spirit possession is dangerous to gays personally and to society generally.

Unfortunately, exorcisms involve physical restraint and other dangerous practices that can kill.  "What's the Harm" lists exorcism deaths over the years over the world.  Many religions practice this, and all of them deserve a place on the Most Dangerous list.  The latest exorcism death in the news was a Mexican toddler who was starved to death in by a Pentecostal exorcism, which was followed by an attempt to resurrect the toddler.  The outcome is questionable, since Texas has already ruled that exorcism of a teenager is protected by the First Amendment and the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal.  That church was an Assemblies of God church, a spin-off from Pentecostalism.  Toddlers and teens are annoying, but not demonic.  Any church that performs this barbaric practice should be shut down.

Fortunately, it may be that public exorcisms may be merely shows put on to scare the faithful, if this hilarious video is typical:

Accusations of Witchcraft
Pentecostalism experienced a parallel growth in Africa over the past 100 years.  One sad result is that people are being killed or tortured as witches, especially in Nigeria.  While we worry about the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram, we should also worry about the lives of children who are Christians remaining at home there.  Babies, young children, and albinos can be accused of witchcraft and "exorcised" for a hefty fee.  Remember that Pentecostals basically answer to nobody, theologically, so it's the one denomination most ripe for con men.  The people are gullible and the leaders have nobody looking over their shoulders.  It's a recipe for disaster, as The Guardian documented in 2007.

Faith Healing Child Medical Neglect

You may have heard of the Shaibles, a Pennsylvania couple who were on probation for the neglect death of one child when they allowed another to die.  Oops, when God took the child.  They belong to the First Century Gospel Church, which believes in faith-healing only.  The name of the church suggests Pentecostalism, which believes itself to be closer to original Christianity than other denominations.

Some of the most famous crooks in the faith-healing business have profited from Pentecostal zeal:  Benny Hinn and Peter Popoff, who have been repeatedly debunked by skeptics.  More recently, the Followers of Christ, a Pentecostal offshoot, have been in the news for numerous child deaths in Oregon (which enacted laws to enable prosecution of parents) and Idaho.

C.H.I.L.D., or Children's Health Is a Legal Duty, documents the child deaths due to religiously inspired neglect.  Sadly, in many states there is a religious exemption for medical care (thanks to politically active Christian Scientists).

Prosperity Theology
Many of the proponents of prosperity theology are "non-denominational" but if you examine their beliefs, they are in either the Pentecostal or IFB traditions.  The main idea is the same as faith healing - prayer alone should be sufficient for success if one is right with God.  Letting a bit of gold cross the palm of the healer or pastor isn't theologically necessary but it couldn't hurt, right?  And when you give to the Church you get back tenfold, if you are right with God, of course.   If people could really afford to believe that faith could cure their finances, it would be a quaint practice. like playing the lotto on payday.  But unlike the lotto, there's no proof that it works except for the pastor who gets extremely wealthy.

Many Christians consider Pentecostalism unbiblical and cultish, so ex-Pentecostals are welcome to the fold when they decide Pentecostalism is for the birds.  But because of the extreme rigidity of Pentecostal fundamentalism, once there is a crack in the wall around their beliefs, it could all come falling down.  This happened to Jerry DeWitt, the first ex-pastor to come out after participation in the Clergy Project.  He now "preaches" at secular gatherings.  He's a very talented speaker.

Some Famous and Infamous Pentecostals (including spin-offs & Charismatics)

  • Jim & Tammy Faye Bakker (Assemblies of God)
  • Kenneth Copeland, televangelist (Pentecostalish)
  • Jan & Paul Crouch, founders of Trinity Broadcasting Network (Assemblies of God)
  • Megan Fox
  • Jon & Kate Gosselin (who refused to reduce a multiple pregnancy and wound up with sextuplets, a TV show, and a divorce)
  • Benny Hinn, faith-healing televangelist (Assemblies of God)
  • T.D. Jakes
  • Sarah Palin (Assemblies of God)
  • Peter Popoff
  • Oral Roberts, televangelist & founder of university
  • Jimmy Swaggart (Assemblies of God)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Most Dangerous Christian Denominations: #1 Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB)

One of the frequent complaints about "New Atheism" is that the movement is too harsh toward religion.  The subtitle for Christopher Hitchens book, God is Not Great is "How Religion Poisons Everything."  I think using the word "everything" is a bit of a stretch.  There are certainly some things that religion doesn't touch.  Wallpaper, for one.  You can go to a wallpaper store and have your choice of designs, and religion hasn't poisoned many of them at all.

There's a dichotomy between "good" Christianity and "bad" Christianity, a.k.a. the "they're not true Christians" according to the nicer Christians.  It's clear that some of the "bad" Christians seem to belong to the same few denominations.

What is a "bad" Christian?  In my view it's someone, or a group of someones, who use religion to justify hurting other people.  When they hurt their own children, that multiplies my disgust.

Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church (IFB)
These are the most extreme of the Baptists.  They have their own colleges, (including Bob Jones "University") but because they are independent, a pastor can make up his or her own interpretation of scripture.  Bruce Gerenscer, now an atheist blogger, used to be an IFB pastor.  (See his guide to IFB-speak and his personal story)

I started with the IFB movement because it's timely: this Arizona pastor argued that gay men should be stoned to death, and went on a rant against a fellow IFB pastor who disagreed with him.  If you aren't willing to kill gays, you are weak in his opinion.  How long until his congregation starts killing people?  (or one like him)  How many other IFB pastors are preaching the same doctrine?

The IFB pastors have absolute theological power over their congregations, and they only answer to Gawd.  Even though there are IFB colleges, there is no theological structure to rein in the pastors.  The ministry often passes from father to son, risking a cult of personality and dynasty.  There is also a culture of secrecy, like the Roman Catholic priesthood.  Pastors find new jobs easily because their sex crimes are kept covered up.

Between the pastor's divine inspiration, the cult of personality, and the extremism of the theology, they are the one Protestant denomination to watch.  Some megachurches are IFB, making their cultish influence even more sinister.

Some of their illustrious sexual predators & one evil enabler:
Jack Schaap in Indiana:  a sexual predator who pastored in a church that had a long history of permitting sex abuse.  He's now in prison, but his influence lives on in the sex abuse of other IFB jerks.

Bill Gothard, best known as a leader of the homeschooling movement... at least until his organization suffered financially and he was outed as a sexual predator.  Although never married, he is an expert in marriage and his teachings form part of the Duggar family "values."  This "quiverfull" movement victimized Andrea Yates

Chuck Phelps is best known for forcing a teenaged girl and her rapist to publicly confess in front of their IFB congregation.  After that he found a temporary home for her out of state for her to have her baby and then give it up for adoption.  After the sordid story became known (and widely known, thanks to a 20/20 episode), he was forced out of his position at Bob Jones University.  You'd think he'd be out of the pastor business after that but no.  He's the head pastor of a megachurch in Indianapolis.  Perhaps God had the last word, though.  His son & daughter-in-law died in a church bus crash.  The driver was not charged despite excess speed being the cause of the crash.  Who needs Heaven & Hell when there's Karma on the highway?

They are also physically abusive to children:
Not far from Jack Schaap's church, Fairhaven Baptist Academy in Indiana uses physical abuse to humiliate children:  A CNN exposé on this school didn't seem to affect the pastor.  He still works at the church and he is the chancellor of the associated (unaccredited) college.

This was one of many reform schools for girls, thanks to an evil genius named Lester Roloff.  Mother Jones's exposé of a Missouri "school" reveals just as much abuse.

Bruce Gerenscer writes about New Bethany school in Louisiana (with lots of links).

There are many blogs and websites run by ex-members, both Christian & atheist.  This site has a list of articles for further reading, if you have the stomach for it. I vote them as the #1 most dangerous denomination because of their actual abuses and the potential for much much worse.  Let's hope they don't start stoning gays to death, but could you put it past them?

edited to add:  And then there's the "Faithful Word Baptist Church" which was founded by an anti-gay pastor who also hates Obama and wants him to die.

4/20/2015 edited to add:  Franklin Graham, son of IFB pastor Billy Graham, has announced what basically amounts to an attempt to create a theocracy:
“America is in trouble. At 62 years of age, I’ve lived long enough to learn that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans can turn this country around; no political party or politician is the answer. The only hope for this country is Almighty God and His Son Jesus Christ. Next year I am planning to travel to all 50 states to conduct prayer rallies—we are calling this the Decision America Tour. I want to challenge Christians to boldly live out their faith and to pray for our nation and its leaders. I want to encourage Christians to get out and vote, and to cast their ballots for candidates who uphold biblical principles. I want to strongly urge Christians to run for public office at every level—local, state, and federal. We will not be endorsing any political candidates, but I will be proclaiming the truth of God’s Gospel in every state. More details will come later. I hope you will start praying with us now.”

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Links for 3/21/2015

I can't call this a link round-up for the week because some are just not news, but they're interesting.

Not religious per se but a blog about coming back from the cultish naturalism fad:  Back from Nature.  Extremist naturalism is as cultish and dangerous as extremist religion, at least in the family.  Some of the posts are really disturbing, and read like the posts from faith-healing cult survivors.

Our minds can be fooled, as can our senses:  Five Mind-blowing Ways our Senses can Lie to You Every Day.  Things like that remind me that even if every story of the Bible were true, we'd still be relying on the fallible senses of people who claimed to have seen and heard magical things.

Muslims are mocking ISIS in scathing parodies.  Considering ISIS's penchant for video propaganda, this has to hurt.

The principal of the White Oak, TX, high school will no longer be reading daily Bible passages over the P.A. system.  After a student recorded this and sent the sound files to Hemant Mehta, FFRF sent a letter.   These people aren't just clueless about the First Amendment, they apparently are clueless about the nature of the age they live in. Every kid has a cell phone that can record audio and video.  They can't keep their secrets within school walls anymore.
The Onion explains the greatest mystery of all.  Apparently prayers aren't answered because most of God's Gifts burn up in the atmosphere!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Some random links and stuff

Why is/was Farmville so addicitve?  It's the Sunk Cost Fallacy.

James Randi has a moral duty to debunk.  His biopic, An Honest Liar, is reviewed by the New York Times.

Letters to the Guardian newspaper argue against John Gray's What Scares the New Atheists (which is not worth reading but I link it anyway -  apparently every bad thing an atheist movement ever did taints the current movement)

...or it could be that angry atheists get more press.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Sharia Law in the U.S. -- in 1923!

An Ohio teachers' union posted this to their Facebook page recently.  It's a contract for teachers in 1923.  Note that they have to travel only with a male family member - no neighbors, dates, or friends.  Does this sound familiar?

I wonder what went on in downtown ice-cream stores.  And how did the school verify the number of petticoats?  Did they lift up the teachers' skirts to see what was underneath every morning?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Book Review: Just Babies, by Paul Bloom

Just Babies: The Origin of Good and Evil by Paul Bloom

This is one of many books on morality published recently, but it's not specifically written to fight the canard that religion is the foundation of morality.  Nor does it claim that morality is totally innate and the result of evolution.  Rather, Bloom presents an interesting and nuanced view of human morality.... which just happens not to rely on religion.  I plan to read some of the other new books on the topic, especially Michael Shermer's new book, The Moral Arc but I thought I'd start with Bloom's book.

Bloom cites several studies of babies in this book, hence the title.  The studies are fascinating, showing that it may be instinctual to show compassion.  It may also be instinctual to be "evil," so the answer to the question of whether people are good or evil is:  Neither.  The answer to the question of whether religion promotes morality is: Possibly.

Before we get to baby humans, there are primate studies that show instinctual behaviors previously thought to be human traits.  Bloom cites a Frans de Waal's study of capuchin monkeys.  The TED talk showing video of this became rather viral:

Elephants have the intelligence to figure out how to cooperate for a task:

Bloom does spend quite a bit of time on studies with babies and toddlers.  Lacking language, the challenge for baby studies is to find a way to ethically study their brains.  One method is to train a camera on the baby's eyes.  This shows the amount of time the baby spends on one image vs. another.   This is called eye tracking.  Studies have shown that a young baby will focus longer on an image that doesn't make sense.  They also favor pro-social images.

Babies who viewed a puppet show in which one puppet was cooperative and one was anti-social prefer the cooperative one.  Paul Bloom discussed this in the New York Times. and 60 Minutes visited the Baby Lab at Yale, where he and his wife do the studies:

Check out Paul Bloom's Video Presentation:

He expands from here to cover racism and the expanding circles of community.  Babies relate first to their mother, then their family, then their small community, etc.  Until recently we never encountered people from other communities, much less people of different races or from different continents.

The book is worth a read, but the videos above are also great.

The idea that humans are born evil, because of Adam & Eve or because of our "sinful nature," is baloney.  Babies are just babies, capable of learning how to get along in society where selfishness and cooperation are both necessary for survival of both the individual and the species.

Christian child-rearing books love to quote this passage, which they don't attribute correctly if at all (it comes from a 1958 study of delinquency that determined delinquency comes from an unloving household, not from evil)
Every baby starts life as a little savage. He is completely selfish and self-centered. He wants what he wants when he wants it: his bottle, his mother's attention, his playmate's toys, his uncle's watch, or whatever. Deny him these and he seethes with rage and aggressiveness which would be murderous were he not so helpless. He's dirty, he has no morals, no knowledge, no developed skills. This means that all children, not just certain children but all children, are born delinquent. If permitted to continue in their self-centered world of infancy, to their impulsive actions to satisfy each want, every child would grow up a criminal, a thief, a killer, a rapist.
When you google that passage you come up with dozens of articles, sermons, and books.  Well-meaning parents are hearing this message from books and pastors, and not hearing that their babies are good and even sometimes noble.

If they could be disabused of that idea they'd see that their kids don't need to be "saved."  They just need to be nurtured.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Inspirational Songs for Atheists

"But without Christianity there'd be no B Minor Mass!"  If you haven't heard this objection to atheism yet, you will one day.  My answer is that Johann Sebastian Bach composed what his employer wanted, and he also composed the Brandenburg Concertos.  So it's a bogus argument.

But there is a small point there -- we don't have our own arts.  We have satirical art based on Christian art, but not our own.  ... Unless you count all other art everywhere that isn't based on a religious story.   Gaugin's paintings were gorgeous and not a Virgin-and-child among them!

But we could use some inspirational stories.  The song, "The Mary Ellen Carter" has always been inspirational to me, and in this video you can see it's been inspirational to at least one other person:

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Do Atheists Need to Dial Back the Rhetoric?

My answer is:  "NO!"

And this grad student who has a column in the WaPo agrees. Excerpts:
No, atheism does not need a moment of reckoning... Neither does Christianity, Islam, or any other group

After the discovery that the man who murdered three Muslim students in North Carolina on Wednesday was an atheist, it was a matter of hours before the media conversation shifted from simple horror and mourning to a discussion of the attack’s implication for atheism.

But connecting the killings in any way to atheism rests on a dangerous underlying principle. To begin with, the link between the religious or political persuasions of criminals and their criminal behavior should always be approached cautiously. While the “parking dispute” narrative pushed by Richard Dawkins is thoroughly discreditable, the violently insane have all manner of obsessions and can crib any set of principles to rationalize their acts. To suggest that the atheistic beliefs of Craig Hicks turned him murderous is akin to saying that Jodie Foster caused Reagan to be shot, or that Judaism caused the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre.

The blaming of communities of belief for the lunatics among them is precisely what lets atheists wrongly tar Christianity itself for the murder of abortion doctor George Tiller. Viewing such acts as a necessary consequence of the belief, of the belief “taken to its extreme,” unfairly blames a demographic for the seeds of violence in its metaphysics, rather than grappling with the violence in human nature more broadly.

A similar discourse was applied to civil rights protesters after two police officers were shot in New York by a man who had voiced anti-police sentiments on social media.

Atheism has needed new spokespeople for a long time. But to draw links between Richard Dawkins and a deranged triple-murderer is spurious, and rests on a principle that is rightly rejected when applied to other groups. By all means, speak of atheism’s failings, but do not do so in the context of this tragedy, whose only political meaning is that bigotry and violence are as poisonous as ever.

But I disagree on one small point:  religious zealots do need to dial back the rhetoric.  Here's why:  To quote Ken Ham, they "have a book."  The example of the social warrior rhetoric in this piece was apt for us atheists.  Someone with a mental disorder that creates a fixation on one idea would naturally express their mental illness according to their beliefs.  John Hinckley is one example.  Many less famous people have been killed or terrorized by individuals with obsessions.  You could make the case that Craig Hicks may have had enough impulse control to resist shooting someone who wasn't a Muslim, but these muslims weren't exactly dressing "foreign."   From what I've seen, this particular couple had violated his sense of parking right-or-wrong once too many times, and instead of taking his gun to menace them he took his gun with him to kill them.  The situation is as much an argument against handguns as atheist rhetoric.  If he hadn't had a gun he might have keyed the offending car instead.

The difference with religious nutters is that the broader society supports the framework for their obsession -- supernatural justice.  The murderer of Doctor Tiller probably thought he was going to be forgiven by God.  Suicide bombers get rewarded in Heaven (and their families get a big payoff for sacrificing a son).  They have a book that is bigger (to them) than the rhetoricians who may have stoked their anger.  And they don't have to be off their rockers to be pushed over the edge toward violent behavior.  A true believer could be persuaded to a delusional point of view in the absence of mental illness.  An atheist or parking spot social justice warrior cannot.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Lost Books of the Bible: The Book Of Lola

Last week the Huffpo published a story on the number of words spoken by women in the Bible.  Only 49 women were named, and they spoke only 1.1% of the words of the Bible, according to a study published as a book: Bible Women: All The Words and Why They Matter.

We should remember, however, that there were many other "books" that were not chosen for inclusion in the Bible.  Could it be that they were excluded because women did too much talking?  There was a Gospel of Mary Magdelene   There was also a book of the Acts of Paul and Thecla.  Thecla was a disciple of Paul.  Both of these books were left on the cutting-room floor when the Council of Nicea made its final decision on which books should be considered canonical in C.E. 325  (though there was consensus for some time before that).

But if the Bible suppressed the voice of women what of the voice of tranvestites?  Certainly there must have been some, as pants had not yet been invented.  It would take only minor tailoring to cross-dress in those heady days of yore.

Fortunately, the work of archaeologists continues apace and recently the book of Lola has been discovered in a remote cave in the Middle East.  It has finally been translated, and I present it here:

And Lo, a Youth traveled to the ancient city of Soho, 
And thereupon he found a tavern to refresh after his travel.
And the wine there tasteth not like wine from grapes but wine from cherries.
And thence an adulteress approacheth the youth and invited him to join her in dance.
The youth, being in a strange place, requesteth the name of the adulteress.
She spoketh like a demon, saying Lola, LOLH, LULH, LVLH  (לולה)
לולה  לולה  לולה

The youth admitteth he that he was yet not a man
His spine was like that of a snakeskin - fragile and easily broken
He understandeth not the strength of the adulteress
Nor her gait nor the hoarseness of her voice.
She walketh like a woman yet talketh like a man.
לולה  לולה לולה 
They drinketh and danceth through the night
The stars lighted the tavern with unnatural glow
The woman Lola (לולה) picketh up the youth and setteth him upon her knee
She inviteth him to her dwelling for she knew him to be a visitor
The youth gazed upon her eyes and lo! he was nearly smitten
He went to leave from the door but afflicted was he and fell to his knees
He looketh upon her and she looketh upon him
לולה  לולה  לולה

The youth fixeth her image
He made her image as a statue in his spirit
לולה לולה לולה

Maiden thou shalt be youth, and youth thou shalt be maiden
The wonders of the world are myriad and confounded.
לולה  לולה  לולה

The youth, having departed from his parents one half a fortnight
Was unbetrothed and inexperienced with maidens
Lola took him unto her by the hand
And promised to transform him from youth to man

Thus transformed, youth into man, man from youth
Though he possesseth not the strength of Goliath
Knoweth he to be man and glad thereof
Knoweth he also that Lola was made man
לולה  לולה  לולה 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Anti-Vaxxers: The "Trolley" Problem Played Out in Real Life

An Arizona cardiologist (an "osteopath" not an M.D.) has gone on national television unabashedly saying that he doesn't care that his unvaccinated child may cause death or disability to another child:
"Could you live with yourself if your child got another child sick?  I mean really sick?  and complications, even death?"
"I could live with myself very easily.  It's a very unfortunate thing that people die, but unfortunately people die, and I'm not going to put my child at risk to save another child.  I'm not going to sacrifice the well-being of my child.  My child is pure."
He's wrong about the risk to his own child, of course.  Unless his child is a transplant recipient his child can handle childhood vaccinations just fine.  And even if his child is totally healthy, measles could cause complications or death.  The risk--benefit analysis isn't subtle.

But let's assume for argument's sake that he may have a point.    He's playing out the ethics of the Trolley Problem perfectly.  In the old days of trolleys criss-crossing big cities, an ethicist posed this question:
If a trolley is running out of control and there were six people unaware of it who were doomed to die, would you pull a switch to send it down a different track which has only one person standing on it?"
A variation on this idea puts the single person closer to you.  In order to save the six people you'd have to push a large man in front of the trolley (you're too small to solve this problem by jumping in front of the trolley yourself), thus killing him but saving the others.   The outcome in either scenario would be the same, but in the first thought experiment you're more removed -- you're not the killer, you merely redirect the killer.  In the second you are the killer, a murderer perhaps.  According to Thomas Aquinas and most people generally, an evil act that results in good results is still an evil act, so the second scenario is untenable.

The problem with the anti-vaxxers' selfish decision not to vaccinate is of course the premise.  They risk their own child's life as well as some hypothetical stranger's life.

I'd like to pose the vaccine question to the parent of two children, one of whom is immune-compromised and one of whom is normal.  Either way, they would pose a risk to one child.   How to decide... how to decide....  Oh yeah, science!

Anyway, I've been reading on morality (book review to come later) and when I hear people say they won't risk their own child's life for another child's life I hear the Trolley Problem being acted out in real life.  This is why appealing to the impact on other children won't sway these people, however selfish the choice seems.

Other doctors have complained about him and he may lose his license.  One can hope.

For another parental view, check out what famous children's author Roald Dahl said about his daughter's death from measles.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Children & Vaccines: Is "Choice" a Holdover from Biblical Ideas?

I am fascinated by the idea of "morality," and especially by the canard that religion is the source of it.  This week politicians have been opining about vaccination, with some incredibly stupid quotes making the rounds.  One egregious one is by Rand Paul, who has an M.D.   He has (in)famously repeated the discredited notion that vaccines cause changes in brain function.  Apparently he hasn't heard of the post hoc fallacy, nor has he heard that the article that started the whole lie has been retracted by the journal that published it.

That essential soundbite has been repeated on CNN numerous times (I don't watch FOX or MSNBC), but the part afterward is what caught my attention.  He says "The state doesn't own the children.  The parents own the children."

Whoa.  Children are chattel?  I thought owning people was outlawed in 1865!

I tried googling for coherent moral arguments about this, and found that it's not an uncommon concept.  Rand Paul knew exactly what he was saying when he used this shocking language;  the religious right and right-wing libertarians believe in this notion.  He was whistling to his dogs.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child specifically addresses the outdated notion that children are chattel.  The United States signed it but Congress hasn't ratified it.  Naturally, homeschooling Christians who want to force sub-par anti-science "education" on their captive audience are behind the opposition.

The full text is here.  Article 24 would be the essential one to the issue of vaccination:

Article 241. States Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health.States Parties shall strive to ensure that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to such health care services.

2. States Parties shall pursue full implementation of this right and, in particular, shall take appropriate measures:

(a) To diminish infant and child mortality;
(b) To ensure the provision of necessary medical assistance and health care to all children with emphasis on the development of primary health care;

(c) To combat disease and malnutrition, including within the framework of primary health care, through, inter alia, the application of readily available technology and through the provision of adequate nutritious foods and clean drinking-water, taking into consideration the dangers and risks of environmental pollution;
(d) To ensure appropriate pre-natal and post-natal health care for mothers;
(e) To ensure that all segments of society, in particular parents and children, are informed, have access to education and are supported in the use of basic knowledge of child health and nutrition, the advantages of breastfeeding, hygiene and environmental sanitation and the prevention of accidents;
(f) To develop preventive health care, guidance for parents and family planning education and services.
3.States Parties shall take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children.
4. States Parties undertake to promote and encourage international co-operation with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the right recognized in the present article. In this regard, particular account shall be taken of the needs of developing countries.

Note that the assumption is that only in developing countries would ignorance and superstition be detrimental to child health!

Although they don't specifically state that nobody "owns" a child, they do have a provision for trafficking:
Article 35States Parties shall take all appropriate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent the abduction of, the sale of or traffic in children for any purpose or in any form.
Since parents are often the ones who "sell" children, this seems to obviate the idea of a child as chattel of the parent.

Funny that when it comes to abortion, the right-wingers think the fetus has more rights than the parent, but when it comes to vaccination or education the child only has a right to be a pawn in religious politics.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Criticizing the Extremists - Good or Bad?

Moderate believers often criticize atheists (and others, I suppose) for going after the extremists of their religion.  Even if they don't commit the No True Scotsman fallacy, they seem to suggest that only their kinder, gentler brand of [insert religion here] should be discussed.  After all, the fringes are irrelevant, aren't they?

As long as they don't bring up Stalin, we should be happy to return the favor.  Right?

Well.... we atheists were pretty quiet until 9/11/2001.  We thought the same thing about the extremists.  They were a little nutty but harmless, and after all they're a teensy minority.  Then 19 people changed the world.

Meanwhile, in January of 2001, a fundamentalist Christian president busily installed his fundy pals in executive branch offices.  The few of us who paid attention were quite worried about the future of our democracy.  Fundamentalist Christian comprise over 20 percent of Americans but are a huge and well-organized voting bloc that propels Republicans into office and takes office themselves.

Again, as long as they were merely being used by their puppeteers to put the oligarchical overlords into positions of power, they weren't a threat to religious freedom.  They only threatened good sense and good government. We'd survived bad government before, so what's the big whoop?

The big whoop is that secularism is under attack.  We are going after our attackers, not the bystanders.  If the bystanders don't like being swept into the umbrella designation of their religion, perhaps they should be the ones fighting the fundies.

We can't live in a society where fundamentalists have the power to change science curricula, take over government agencies, take over the military, or impose their religion on the rest of us in any way.  We can live in a society where the moderates go about their individual lives without causing anyone else any trouble.

Perhaps the moderates should be telling the fundies to stop denying evolution .... and geology and cosmology.  They should be telling the fundies to get out of government and stop grabbing political power.  They should tell them to take the commandment about telling lies more seriously, like stop calling America a "Christian Nation" or quoting the Declaration of Independence instead of the Constitution.

But they don't do it, so it's up to us.  We have more to lose.  The moderates are bit lazy, which is why they're moderates.  Being a fundy is hard work.  They have to go to church more than once a week, and read the Bible (at least the convenient parts) and worry about which of their neighbors they should hate.  They are complacent about the damage fundies can do.

American Christians feel superior to Islamic believers, which is a mistake.  Islamic moderates probably didn't use to worry about what fundamentalists would do if they took control.  How many Iranians in the 1970s expected to be suppressed after the Shah was deposed?  How many Egyptians are happy about the Muslim Brotherhood taking power now?

So... it's too bad that moderates feel they are unfairly maligned when reasonable people take issue with fundamentalists.  We're not the ones that created a messed up tangle of religious division.  We're the ones who struggled to get free from it.

But don't take my word for it, read this Washington Post blog op-ed:  It isn't just Islamic Fundamentalists...

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Bragging about child abuse? Pastor claims to have converted a kid by punching him

In other news:

Bullying Kids for Jesus:

A pastor at the Bible Baptist Church in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey is coming under fire after his church posted a video of him claiming to have converted a “smart aleck” youth by “punching him in the chest as hard as I could.”

Pastor Eric Dammann begins by saying that he met a young man in Calgary named “Ben,” who was “a nice kid, but one of those — he was a real smart aleck. He was a bright kid, which didn’t help things — made him more dangerous.”

“We were outside one day at youth group,” Dammann continues, “and he was just trying to push my buttons. He was just kind of not taking the Lord serious [sic].”

“So I walked over to him and went BAM! Punched him in the chest as hard as I could. I crumpled the kid. I just crumpled him.”

“Then I leaned over and said, ‘Ben, when are you going to stop playing games with God?’ I led that man to the Lord right there,” he concludes.

Isn't that charming? Here's the video where he brags about it:

Friday, January 9, 2015

Cartoonists Respond to the Charlie Hebdo Atrocity

I've seen a few of these around the web, but the best are all on this round-up:

How anyone could worship a god that can't take a joke is beyond me. Shouldn't Mohammed be able to brush off insults?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Child Abuse and Religion... Again.

Every time I think I've heard it all from religious nuts something new comes up.

This time the story comes from Florida, but the news is all about Charlie Hebdo, so I thought I'd pass it on.  On a quieter news day this would be the top story.

This man threw his 5-year-old daughter to her death from a highway bridge, and he doesn't want a court-appointed lawyer.  He wants to leave it "in God's hands."

The judge tried to get clarification... did he want to represent himself?  No, he wanted to leave it in God's hands.

On the one hand, I want to think he is suicidal and will off himself in prison, thus removing the legal process.  On the other hand, I want him to have a court appointed attorney who can at least get him a psychiatric evaluation.

And on the third hand I want to strangle him myself.

... and this just in:  his divorce attorney called 911 to report that the girl could be in danger.  She said he was delusional, and guess what kinds of delusions he was having?  Yep.  Religious ones, and naturally, religion gets a pass on this.

Genevieve Torres called 911 Wednesday to say her client, John Jonchuck, was acting strange. Deputies went out to talk with Jonchuck but said there was no evidence the child was in danger.

The 25-year-old father was at Torres' office in Lutz on a child paternity case. His daughter Phoebe was with him. The 5 year old quietly colored a picture and played.

"I called 911 immediately when he left the office and told them where he was going so someone could meet him there," she said.

In a 911 call, she told the operator, "He’s out of his mind and he has a minor child with him driving to a church now and I should’ve kept the child.”

According to police reports, Jonchuck asked his attorney to translate a Swedish bible during the meeting and even said he was “God.” He said he was headed to St. Paul Catholic Church in Tampa to talk with a member of the clergy.

“It was enough for me to say this is not usual behavior. This is, I use the word delusional. He was delusional and he had a 5-year-old girl with him. And I just thought you know—somebody had to take care of that little girl," she said.
Father Bill Swengros says Jonchuck showed up at the church with Phoebe.

"He seemed just like a typical dad, a 25-year-old dad with his daughter," said Father Bill.

He said he had his childcare workers watch Phoebe so he could talk to her dad privately.
Father Bill said she seemed well-adjusted.

"What impressed me about her actually was that she seemed very intelligent and very confident in herself."

He said Johnchuck himself seemed "off," and that Johnchuck claimed he was having a spiritual experience and wanted to be baptized immediately.

"His mind was racing in a lot of different directions but there wasn't anything that would suggest he was a danger to himself or his daughter," he said.

Deputies found Jonchuck at church, but according to their report he never threatened to harm his daughter or himself.
Jonchuck told deputies he was there because God spoke to him and gave him new clarity in his life. That wasn’t enough for Torres.

“I decided to call child protective services,” she said.

She called the child abuse hotline, where the attorney was also told the behavior did not legally meet criteria to investigate the case as child abuse