Archive for November, 2011

To those taking aim at large targets, I salute you

November 29, 2011

To Rhys Morgan, who continues to call out quacks and medical con artists despite explicit legal threats and implicit physical ones:

Your use of the Streisand Effect is brilliant and well deserved.

To Emma Sullivan, who refused to bow to pressure from her school and the governor of her state:

The First Amendment needs more like you.

You are both younger than I, but I want to be more like you when I grow up.

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On the subject of ex-muslim speakers

November 27, 2011

I just read a post by Maryam Namazie and I will list her points, go over the probable arguments against her points and then explain why I don’t think they are good enough. Yes, I’m going to be writing in sociology format today. No, I’m not trying to create straw men: I will write them as best I can. And if I see a good enough argument, I will even change my mind.

Point 1: “You can have several speakers debunking Christianity but only one critic of Islam is ever allowed! This is also true for many secularist and humanist conferences. They are all quick to criticize Christianity (and rightly so) but not so quick to bring focus and attention on Islam.”

Argument 1a: We don’t generally consider speakers to be debunkers of christianity or of islam, or whatever religion the speaker was raised to believe in; debunking any one religion is almost trivially easy, and religions are so alike that showing that there is no valid reason to believe in one is the same as showing there is no valid reason to believe in any of them. We consider speakers to be advocates of naturalist or critical thinking, or specialists in or from a field that is the focus of religious ire, or human rights activists.

For instance, Greta Christina: she advocates skeptical thought as a way of approaching all problems, not just religion. In the past she was a sex worker; the very existence of such a category being something that gets so far up the noses of (many) religious folks that it musses up their hair. And she is a human-rights activist. She fights for religious freedom, she fights for women’s rights, and she fights for gay rights. She is all-around badass, and she is not just a debunker of christianity.

Jen McCreight is an advocate of skeptical thought, she is a grad student in biology and she is a secular, gay rights and feminist activist. She is damned amazing and she is not just a debunker of christianity.

Sam Harris is a neuroscientist, and considering all of the stupid debates surrounding dualism – in this day and age! – that is a useful specialist to have around. He is not just a debunker of christianity.

And – Maryam Namazie- neither are you just a debunker of islam. I read your blog and I get notices from your through moveon.org: I know you as a human rights activist. It’s why I read your blog, and Greta’s and Jen’s. I don’t need anybody to debunk islam for me. I figured out that the god-concept I was raised to believe was logically contradictory: after that, figuring out that the same applied to other god-concepts was not exactly taxing.

Argument 1b: Christianity is the majority religion in all three of the examples given. Thus, christian control of government is a much more likely threat to religious freedom than islamic control of government, christian belief is what is most often proselytized and brought into schools, christian beliefs about women drive the arguments against women’s rights and christian beliefs about homosexuality drive the debate against equal marriage rights.

Argument 1c: Many racists are vocal about their hatred of the Arabs. A great many idiots conflate Arab with muslim, despite the fact that the Arabs were around for a long time before islam and the fact that Indonesia is the country with the largest population of muslims on the planet. We don’t want to be associated with racists, so we are going to go easy on islam.

Counter 1a: Debunking one religion may be almost trivially easy, it may be done almost as a side effect of these talks, but if you don’t bother to do so, you are allowing it to flourish unopposed. That is not without consequence: I know the arguments may be well-mannered things, but people are dying, being raped, being maimed, have their individuality hidden by rules for gender appropriate, class appropriate, caste appropriate behavior… as a result of religion. So when you have most of the examples used derived from only one religion, you are giving the rest of them a free pass. I am guilty of this. In my talk “The Great Success of Past Apocalypses” I mostly talked about christian apocalypses. Yes, I selected a few others to talk about, and there is a disproportionate amount of christian predictions of the end times. But I could have shown more religions to be ridiculous than I did.

And ex-christian atheists don’t have any sort of monopoly on those roles mentioned. There are skeptical thought proponents, scientific specialists, people who have run afoul of religion in their work or life, and activists who came from many different backgrounds and are ex-muslim, ex-jewish, ex-hindu, ex-zorastrian, ex-pagan, or who never were religious at all. Even if christianity were the only harmful religion – which it is not – getting more points of view would be valuable: what is the emotional difference in viewing christian zealots not as a christian or ex-christian, but as someone who never was a christian? Think of how much more interesting conferences would be if we heard all of the interpretations of dogma and religious idiom of those who were never drugged with such concepts from youth.

Counter 1b: Christianity may currently be the majority religion of those countries, but christianity is a religion that has actually been moderated and to an extent defanged by the secular movement since it was called The Enlightenment. We have gotten christianity to come around to the notion that burning people at the stake is wrong. We have gotten christianity to come around to the notion that torturing people for religious disagreements is wrong. No, they are nothing like completely reformed: they still deny rights for stupid reasons, they still treat women as second class citizens and they still some really warped notions concerning how abdicating responsibility is a virtue, if you abdicate responsibility by turning it over to a god-concept. But they have had to tone things down. Due to an accident of geography, islam has not been moderated as much by The Enlightenment. It badly needs to be, and “we are here and it is now”*. Do you see any other way it will happen?

Counter 1c: So the way you are avoiding being lumped in with racists is by seeming to support the conflation that the racists make? Excuse me. You are doing it wrong.

Point 2: “Also, it sometimes feels like the token ‘victim’ brought to retell one’s experiences leaving the rest to be addressed by proper experts.”

Argument 2a: All of us who have escaped religion were victims of those religions. There is nothing different here.

Counter 2a: Except that if all of the people brought in to talk about science or how religion has been in conflict with their fields are escapees from christianity, and the only time an escapee from islam is brought in is for the human rights activist or advocate of secularism slots, the representation is rather skewed.

Point 3: “The atheist movement in particular has an important role to play in bringing attention to what I call the Islamic inquisition. And it needs to be more inclusive of those who have renounced Islam and are battling Islamism.”

Argument 3a: We are entirely inclusive. Anybody who wants to be part of the secular movement is, and anybody who is good at public speaking should be able to get gigs at conferences.

Counter 3a: Saying we are inclusive isn’t the same as doing things to show we want those viewpoints, and not just in attendees. We should be actively reaching out to people willing to talk at conferences about things most of us don’t know enough about. How about inviting all three of those activists Maryam mentioned to each give a speech and then how about a panel :

Leaving a Religion with an Automatic Death Sentence

Or:

Secularism and the Liberation of Women.

Greta Christina can’t be the only one telling us why we should be angry and active and ex-muslim atheists have a lot of reason to do both.

(*Yes, I’m quoting a fictional character from the book Small Gods by Terry Pratchett. You should read it. Yes, you.)

Mental health : It isn’t demonic possession, it is a skeptical issue.

November 26, 2011

Martin Luther- who started the Protestant Reformation in Germany- believed that crazy people were possessed by demons. How could we possibly think that correcting misconceptions about mental health isn’t a skeptics’ issue and an atheists’ issue? Is it just that it hadn’t been given the spotlight before?

Well, if we haven’t, there is good reason. Nobody wants to be seen as… broken. Even if our species no longer believes crazy people are possessed, the negative stigma and the judgment still linger. If I make comments about being obsessive compulsive at the library where I work, it is in the context of joking about how useful it is: because nobody puts things in perfect order like the person who triple checks everything. But talking about it in a serious way? Oh hell. If I explain how I would always retraced my routes as a child, as though I was attached to an invisible string which would get knotted if I didn’t return the same way I went, never going around the other side of that house if I came around it on this side, the anxiety I felt if I didn’t… if I talk about checking doorknobs and the fridge door three times every time I lock the one or shut the other… if I explain that my reading speed has slowed since I was a kid because I have developed a habit of checking the space between pages to see if I left a makeshift bookmark in between them – despite not having used bookmarks for years, since I memorize the page numbers – if I, worst of all, talk about my lack of ability to motivate myself to do things despite my great passion for those things… my depression…

That is terrifying. It makes me worry that people won’t bother to notice that I can triple check things as fast as many others check them once. Because I’ve had to become that fast. If I wasn’t that fast, people would notice. It is terrifying that people might misconstrue anxiety for expectation, it is terrifying that people take responsibility when it isn’t theirs to take. I am not depressed because of my parents, or because of my friends, and despite my wonderful wife’s tears and anxious questioning, I am certainly not depressed because of Emily. I am depressed because I suffer from depression, not because of outside factors.

If outside factors were the cause, I wouldn’t bother with sad – I’d go straight to ‘angry.’ I’m good at that, I’m an activist at heart and if you can’t see reasons to be angry with the world as it is than you aren’t looking hard enough. And as an activist, I will deliver a call to action. But I am a pragmatist, and I know a superior rallying call when I see one – over to JT Eberhard, who alternates between causing laughter and tears:
http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd/2011/11/25/why-the-skeptic-community-must-convern-itself-with-mental-illness/

Also, here is a link to Jen McCreight, who blogs about another issue I’m working on.

I’ll follow up soon with a post about religion and mental illness – but probably not the points you’d expect.

Pat Robertson speaks, the country laughs

November 24, 2011

“What is this mac-and-cheese? Is it a black thing?” — Pat Robertson

No, mac and cheese is usually an orangey-yellow. Mmm. Kraft.

So, at what point does he stop having enough credibility to have an audience?

Last time I checked, Macaroni and Cheese is an American staple, beloved by all children, the fall back meal for kids too picky to eat anything else at diners.

Also, last time I checked, The Barenaked Ladies are white.

GOP candidates: Islamic theocracy would be terrible, try ours instead.

November 22, 2011

Over at slate there is a piece titled Rule of Lord which is about some of the things Republican candidates have said about wanting a marriage between government and religion this primary season. I think Romney and Paul are the only two who haven’t stated such a desire, in Romney’s case possibly because he is Mormon and so other denominations of Christians are suspicious of his religious views. Let’s start with Bachmann, shall we?

Michele Bachmann says that God created government.

Yes, I’m sure he did that after making perfectly designed eyes for humans.

Herman Cain says that “people of faith and strong faith have allowed the nonfaith element to intimidate us into not fighting back. I believe we’ve been too passive. We have maybepushed back, but as people of faith, we have not fought back.”

Yes, because blue laws are passive. Because denying rights to women and homosexuals in the name of religion is you minding your own business.

In the category of distinction without difference, Santorum (of the Google problem) said: “Unlike Islam, where the higher law and the civil law are the same, in our case, we have civil laws. But our civil laws have to comport with the higher law. … As long as abortion is legal—at least according to the Supreme Court—legal in this country, we will never have rest, because that law does not comport with God’s law.”

That… sounded like envy to me. Unlike Islam which is used as a boogeyman… but we should get closer to that system.

Bachmann also said: “American exceptionalism is grounded on the Judeo-Christian ethic, which is really based upon the 10 Commandments. The 10 Commandments were the foundation for our law. That’s what Blackstone said—the English jurist—and our founders looked to Blackstone for the foundation of our law. That’s our law.”

Our founders looked to a lot of sources when considering our countries laws. That doesn’t mean they stole ideas from Blackstone, the guy who wrote this: “The husband and wife are one person in law; that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband; under whose wing, protection and cover, she performs every thing.”

Rick Perry- Eagle Scout, Texas Governor, and uh… oops: “Somebody’s values are going to decide what the Congress votes on or what the president of the United States is going to deal with. And the question is: Whose values? And let me tell you, it needs to be our values—values and virtues that this country was based upon in Judeo-Christian founding fathers.”

Anybody else hearing whistles?

And last, a threat to Roe vs Wade from Newt Gingrich: “I am intrigued with something which Robby George at Princeton has come up with, which is an interpretation of the 14th Amendment, in which it says that Congress shall define personhood. That’s very clearly in the 14th Amendment. And part of what I would like to explore is whether or not you could get the Congress to pass a law which simply says: Personhood begins at conception. And therefore—and you could, in the same law, block the court and just say, ‘This will not be subject to review,’ which we have precedent for. You would therefore not have to have a constitutional amendment, because the Congress would have exercised its authority under the 14th Amendment to define life, and to therefore undo all of Roe vs. Wade, for the entire country, in one legislative action.”

Holy crap. Because the old days when women were forced to abort their rape-induced pregnancies with a coat hanger were better?

I really hope that America is paying attention to these primaries. I really, really do.

Handouts for Millionaires

November 19, 2011

Even if Republicans can’t agree to ending tax cuts, surely they can agree to end handouts, right? Oh, wait – hand outs for millionaires? Never mind then, carry on.

At least Republican Senator Coburn partially gets it: “We end up subsidizing the very wealthy and not helping the ones who really need the help.”

However, I think he doesn’t go far enough. It isn’t just that our current system isn’t helping people who need it, it is that our system unfairly burdens working people. The state takes a higher percentage of workers’ money than it does of corporations (who often use legal loopholes to pay nothing). The system rewards people for passively owning things and punishes people who have to actively work.

If we want America to be productive, we have to reward its people for their productivity.

Speak up. Stand up. Be counted. And never be silenced.

November 16, 2011

We cannot roll over in the face of attempts to limit our voice. These attempts range from political parties silencing their opposition’s vote, to police forces denying the right to peaceably assemble, to overprivileged groups telling underprivileged ones not to rock the boat.

Fuck. That. Noise.

If we think silencing dissent is the way to run a ship of state, than this boat is on the rocks. If we are going to sail, we better get some movement. Rock all you damn well please.

We cannot allow political parties to limit the voices of those who disagree with them; that way leads to governments who jail or execute those who disagree with them.

We cannot allow the denial of the rights of protesters, because protest is how we get nonviolent change. If you want the other kind of change, deny those rights as much as you like.

We cannot allow the overprivileged to silence the underprivileged, because the underprivileged are the ones who aren’t sheltered to the point of the ridiculous. We need to know about the experiences of others, and not just for their sake:

If we don’t see how our societies screw people over, we won’t be fighting to make it better, we won’t be expecting the revolution when it happens, and worst of all, we might fight on the wrong side.

Nero fiddled while Rome burned.

November 15, 2011

Pretty damning as a statement, right? A governmental leader doing nothing constructive while his state was undergoing catastrophe.

But how much worse is it if, seeing the fire start to spread, you start pouring kerosene? And what does it say about a country if the destructive practices of leaders is legal? Our political leaders engaged in insider trading betting against the health of our financial system.

We went through a completely avoidable crash in 2008.

In 2000, the speculative financial industries successfully lobbied our political leaders to legalize an always risky type of trade: credit default swaps.

And when the crash was looming, those in power had enough warning to profit off of it, the legal right to do so, and less incentive to stop it.

People keep saying that the Occupy Wall Street needs to have one short punchy issue to run with… but if there is one way we as a nation are wealthy, it is that we have a wealth of things to protest.

Why did I not know about this?

November 13, 2011

No matter- BEHOLD:

I’m going to go buy a CD now. HERE COMES SCIENCE!

Only God Can “Fudge” Me

November 12, 2011

Lots of Christians love god.

Lots of Christians are encouraged to “Save themselves for Jesus.”

And lots of Christians think swearing is morally wrong. Why single this guy out?

Breathtaking. Simply breathtaking. It's the laughter.

Judge for yourselves.