left biblioblography

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Separation Of Church And State: Beliefs Vs. Babies

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasiswomensrightsreligion

BABE or BABY, n. A misshapen creature of no particular age, sex, or condition, chiefly remarkable for the violence of the sympathies and antipathies it excites in others, itself without sentiment or emotion. There have been famous babes; for example, little Moses, from whose adventure in the bulrushes the Egyptian hierophants of seven centuries before doubtless derived their idle tale of the child Osiris being preserved on a floating lotus leaf. – Ambrose Bierce, the Devil’s Dictionary

There are few items more infuriating than that of the ignorant religious protester, who believes that belief is enough to overturn reality. What makes it worse, is the opinion of said ignorant religious protester is supposed to take priority over someone else’s life, whether that person’s belief system jibes with the antagonist’s or not.

‘I can’t think of a time when it was worse’: US abortion doctors speak out

Curtis and Glenna Boyd have worked in US abortion clinics ever since Roe v Wade made the practice legal in 1973. Forty years on, restricted rights mean they have to practice under FBI protection

A couple emerge from a silver Sedan into an empty parking lot in north-eastern Dallas, Texas. They are carrying multiple bags and an elegant, three-tiered white cage, temporary home to their West African parrot, Tutu. The pair, in their late-60s and 70s, share a courtly, gentle manner and a Southern drawl, although his is more pronounced.

It is a Sunday morning, and the smart brick and smoked-glass clinic they have parked outside is closed. There are none of the protesters who, in the US, have come to signal the type of healthcare provided here: from the religiously motivated to abuse-hurling zealots, who gather outside abortion providers, particularly in the Bible belt. It is difficult to imagine the couple, Curtis Boyd, a silver-haired preacher-turned-physician, or his wife, Glenna Halvorson-Boyd, a psychologist and counselor, on an FBI watch list as potential domestic terrorism targets. But they are.

A pink flier, taped inside the staff door to the Southwestern Women’s clinic, serves as a chilling reminder of the more extreme reaches of the anti-abortion movement. It is a notice of a memorial event for Dr George Tiller, an abortion provider from Wichita, Kansas, and a friend of the Boyds, who was assassinated by extremist Scott Roeder five years ago. Roeder is serving life for murder.

It is a time of heightened tension in Texas, following the passing of one of the most restrictive anti-abortion bills in the nation, made famous by Democrat Wendy Davis’s 11-hour filibuster against it in 2013. The Boyds have been warned by the FBI not to give media interviews because of fears for their safety. Over the years, they have had two arson attacks at their clinics, one in the 1980s and one in 2007, as well as countless death threats. But they have chosen to ignore the agency’s instructions, to highlight what they say is a roll back of women’s hard-won reproductive rights.

Four decades after the 1973 supreme court ruling Roe v Wade gave women a constitutional right to abortion, the Boyds say they are “deeply disturbed” by the march of anti-abortion laws. They believe the procedure has been hijacked as a political rather than a medical issue, causing women to feel more shame than ever before.

During a tour of the building, a bright, airy place, walls dotted with photos of flowers and water lilies painted by Curtis, he points out the absurdities imposed by state law. He is legally bound to provide “state-mandated information” to clients, including a purported link between breast cancer and abortion that has been exhaustively and repeatedly disproved by medical studies.

“I have to give it,” Curtis says, chuckling incredulously, before adding, “They can’t stop me giving my opinion that I don’t believe it.” His situation has led to a kind of black humour and Curtis, a slight figure, is given to bouts of nervous laughter. Talking about the first attempt on Tiller’s life, before Roeder, he laughingly refers to perpetrator Shelley Shannon as a terrible shot, because she shot him in both arms, when presumably aiming for his chest. Shannon, a member of the Christian anti-abortion group Army of God, was sentenced to 11 years for attempted murder in 1993. She was later sentenced to an additional 20 years for crimes against abortion clinics and practitioners, including arson and acid attacks. Tiller’s Wichita clinic, one of the few in the country to perform late-term abortions, was for years one of the most prominent battlegrounds over abortion.

“They tried everything they could to put George Tiller out of business,” Curtis says. “Kept him tied up in court, constant complaints to the board of medicine.”

After Tiller’s death, the Boyds took on two of his staff at their Albuquerque clinic in New Mexico and expanded the practice to accept patients in the third trimester of pregnancy. Their decision to carry out abortions so close to term brought with it fresh scrutiny from anti-abortion groups, including the Kansas-based Operation Rescue. The Boyds use lawyers to deal with complaints and lawsuits. As for the risks to their personal safety, they put them “to one side”.

“They [the FBI] are more concerned about that than I am,” Curtis says. “It’s unfortunate. It’s domestic terrorism, and the FBI and the justice department know that. There are just these crazy people in our country. I ignore them as much as I can.”

Texas state law HB2, passed last year, banned abortions after 20 weeks post-fertilisation. It also ushered in a number of requirements: that physicians follow outdated regimes regarding medicated abortion, requiring up to four visits to the same doctor; that they secure admitting privileges in local hospitals (an agreement that they can admit patients if necessary); that they operate as “ambulatory surgical centres”, requiring expensive refits; and that they introduce 24-hour waiting periods. The requirements, most of which have no medical advantage, according to clinics, are opposed by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Curtis believes that some of the restrictions, for instance the 24-hour waiting period, send a clear message to women. It is there in order for her to “go away and think”, he says. “As if she hasn’t thought about it before. It is clearly a message that she must not do this bad thing.”

If, as the clinics claim, the regulations are simply a ruse designed to put them out of business, they have certainly worked. The number of abortion providers in Texas has halved, from 41 in 2013 to about 20 today. This number would be even lower had the supreme court not stepped into the legal fray in October this year, placing a hold on the requirement for ambulatory surgical centre refits, which would have closed all but seven facilities in the state, while legal challenges continue.

At a table set with salads, strawberries and sweet iced tea, five members of the Boyds’ 35-strong all-female staff speak with fervour about their work. Tenesha Duncan, an administrator who recently returned to the clinic after a period of study in London, says, “Once you’ve done this work, it becomes a major part of your morality, your conscience.” The newest member of staff, a young doctor, has just arrived from New York after becoming concerned over the many restrictions introduced by HB2.

Glenna, 67, waits until her staff have had their say, before placing her hand gently on the arm of her husband. “Shall you say it, or shall I?” she asks; the two often finish each other’s sentences. “The story in the US is about bad clinics doing awful things, of violence against providers, and of women who are ignorant, thoughtless and irresponsible.”

Recruited as part of the first batch of legal abortion counselors in Texas, Glenna joined Curtis at his first clinic, the Fairmount Center in Dallas, in 1974. Since then, she says, things have changed for the worse. “Women express more shame. I can’t think of a time when it was worse than it is now. I used to ask women how they first heard the word abortion, how they learned about it. There were always very personal stories about someone they knew, or found out had had one. Now, the first time they saw it was on some ugly billboard. It has been legal throughout their lifespan, not to mention their reproductive lifespan. But it has been completely politicized. ”

Curtis, 76, agrees: “Patients never came in talking about all this shame. They felt it was an OK thing to do, if they could just find somebody to do it for them.”

They say they are alarmed by the loss of reproductive rights in Texas and other southern states, such as neighboring Louisiana and Oklahoma, where similar laws have been passed.

“What we are seeing in this country is when women become pregnant, they are less autonomous, from the point of conception,” Curtis says. “You are asking a woman, if she becomes pregnant, to give up the decisions in her life to the fetus. That’s disturbing to me.”

A study by the American National Advocates for Pregnant Women last year found a number of cases where pregnant women were arrested and detained not only for ending a pregnancy, or even expressing an intention to end one, but also after suffering unintentional miscarriage.

The Boyds say that myths are pervasive, even among those who say they support abortion. Patients are thought of as “thoughtless teenagers” who do not take precautions, even though 61% of their clients have one or more children. Often, Glenna says, “they feel responsibility to the children they already have”. Half are married and 46% have used birth control in the month they got pregnant.

“All these false beliefs,” Curtis says, “and the reasoning that women should be punished. It is not being able to accept women as fully responsible citizens.”

Successive polls have found that a slight majority of Americans support abortion, with some restrictions, but the issue remains deeply divisive. The latest Gallup poll, conducted in May 2014, shows 47% of people identifying as pro-choice, compared with 46% who identified as pro-life.

In the UK, support for abortion is on the increase. A YouGov poll found that the percentage of British people who wanted a ban on abortion dropped from 12% in 2005 to 7% in 2013. However, in the US the opposite is true; and it is an issue that fractures along political lines.

The Republican party takes a much more conservative view than the American public: it supports a constitutional amendment that would end abortion entirely; and, in recent years, the rise of the Tea Party has seen a further hardening of anti-abortion rhetoric. Democrats are pro-choice. But support for abortion, even among those who are pro-choice, drops off sharply later in pregnancy, when the procedure also carries more medical risks.

The Boyds are reluctant to talk in detail about this aspect of their work, because they are concerned anything they say will be seized upon by anti-abortion campaigners. “It distorts the issue,” Curtis says. He took on later-term abortion in 2010 because he wanted it to be available, but says that it amounts to a “tiny proportion” of his work. In the US, 89% of all abortions are done before 12 weeks, with only 1.2% occurring after 21 weeks, according to the Guttmacher Institute for reproductive health.

“If I do one in a million, that’s what they want to talk about,” Curtis says. “And they don’t want to talk about why it was done. It might be to save the life of a woman: the woman dies or the foetus dies. I’ve had those choices to make. “Very few of these are done in the world, and in this country,” he says, stressing every word carefully. “And when they are done, they are always done – always – for very compelling reasons.”

Curtis is very wary of what he calls “hot-button issues” amid the highly charged abortion debate. He found himself in the spotlight the last time he agreed to an interview, for an ABC affiliate television news channel in Texas, in 2009. In a video clip that has been picked up and replayed on anti-abortion websites, he is heard saying: “Am I killing? Yes. I know that.”

He was ambushed, he says, by an interviewer’s question about murder, and his remarks were taken out of context. “They said murder. Murder is a legal definition. I said yes, it’s killing, but it is not murder.”

What angers him, he says, is the idea that women have to be protected from abortion providers, that they are not making their own decisions. “These women who come to us are not idiots. They know what they are doing. People can’t get that. Women take this seriously. They think about it. They don’t wake up and say, ‘I’ll brush my teeth and go have an abortion.’”

Courtney Wallace, 31, a mother of one who runs her husband’s medical practice in Oklahoma City, is a recent patient of the Boyds. “I hated every minute of it, but it was what I needed to do,” she says of her late-term abortion.

At 22 weeks pregnant, Wallace and her husband, a podiatrist, were told the baby boy she was carrying had a lethal neurological condition and would not survive outside the womb. He had anencephaly, a serious birth defect that left him with part of his brain and skull missing. The condition develops at four weeks, when the neural tube closes, but is sometimes not picked up until a baby is born.

“I will live my whole life never wanting to hear anything like it ever again,” Wallace says. “The doctor told us, ‘He is missing the entire top of his head. Without a brain, he will struggle to breathe, so, when they cut the umbilical cord, he will die.’”

Wallace, who has an 18-month-old son she describes as “perfect”, says, “They don’t do any sort of resuscitation. They know there is no chance of life. They give them food, water and you can either hold the baby or the nurse can hold the baby until he dies.

“I know what it’s like to deliver a baby and I kept picturing my son, but with the top of his head missing. I felt him kick, he could kick. But he would be born blind, deaf and unconscious.”

She knew immediately that she would not carry her second baby to full term, but wrestled with the decision over the next few days, and “in her darkest hours” could only think about how difficult it would be to go through a termination.

Wallace said the doctor did not advise her, but told them, “Either way, you are going to walk out of hospital empty-handed.” Her husband told her: “You have an awful choice to make and you are the only one who can make it. Either option is unthinkable.”

“I began to think about carrying him for longer and what emotionally that would mean,” she says. “I have still got to be a good mother to the son I have, and I thought about the best thing to do for my sanity.”

After making a decision to terminate her pregnancy, Wallace was then faced with a further dilemma. The gestational limit on abortion in Oklahoma is 20 weeks post-fertilization, as it is in neighboring Texas. With her pregnancy now past 22 weeks, she could not have the procedure in either state.

“My doctor 100% supported my decision in getting this procedure, but legally they could not do it in Oklahoma.” She found out about the Boyds’ second clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where later-term abortion is still legal. “So we had to get my son looked after, get a hotel for four nights and fly to Albuquerque.”

Once at the clinic, Wallace and her husband had to pass a crowd of protesters. “They yelled at me. They said, ‘We’ll help you find somebody to adopt your baby.’ They had signs and pictures up at that gestational age. It was pretty nasty. “They have their right to freedom of speech, but those people have never been in this position. Both of my options were truly awful.”

Wallace says she has always believed abortion should be legally available, which helped in making her decision. “I’m now six weeks into the grieving process, but I’m thankful that I have that belief. I’ve known women who are strongly against abortion. They struggled with their decisions because of that.

“It’s a topic that you can’t really speak on until you are faced with it. It was a heartbreaking scenario. I’m lucky that I have surrounded myself by good people and, honestly, I didn’t give a damn what others felt. I was not going to make it worse by being shamed. I was honest and open about it. Within my own social circle, I thought this story needed to be not hidden.”

In the three years between 2011 and 2013, state lawmakers enacted more abortion restrictions than they had in the previous decade. The battle continues: according to the Guttmacher Institute, 56% of American women of reproductive age in 2013 were living in 27 states considered hostile to the procedure; just over a decade earlier, in 2000, 31% lived in 13 such states.

The new state regulations have triggered a raft of lawsuits and led to protracted legal battles, many centred around the requirement that practitioners have admitting privileges at local hospitals.

Dr Willie Parker is one of the plaintiffs in a case involving the Jackson Women’s Health Organization in Mississippi – the state’s sole abortion provider. The clinic has been under threat of closure since a state law in 2012 required its practitioners to be board-certified obstetrician-gynaecologists, with admitting privileges in a local hospital. It is a catch-22 situation.

In a southern Bible belt state such as Mississippi, the local hospitals, many linked to churches, will not grant admitting privileges and do not want to be associated with doctors who perform abortions. There is another dilemma: many hospitals will grant such privileges only to doctors who can admit a minimum number of patients, and abortion providers cannot meet this number because, they say, so few of their patients need hospital care. Supporters of this say it is about safety and that it prevents abortion doctors from abdicating a duty of care, should any complication arise. Clinics and pro-choice advocates say it is about restricting abortion. They point out that a tiny proportion of US abortion patients (0.3%) experience a complication needing hospital treatment, and that facilities performing riskier procedures, such as colonoscopies, which carry a mortality rate 40 times that of abortion, do not face similar requirements.

Parker, from Birmingham, Alabama, is one of two doctors from out of state providing health care at the clinic. He also works at clinics in Georgia and Alabama. He believes the onward march of anti-abortion laws in the US is “rooted in theology”.

“We pride ourselves in the separation of church and state, but these laws are being framed by individuals who are trying to impose their own morality and religious views on others,” he says. “That is wrong. It presupposes that everyone in America is a Christian, or religious at all.”

Parker, a member of Physicians for Reproductive Health, is also frustrated that the issue has been hijacked by politicians. “People seeking abortions are making the decision based on healthcare. The people who are making the laws are talking about religion and American values,” he says. “It’s the use of politics and power that has created this atmosphere of stigma and shame.”

“In Mississippi, we have seen some of the most fundamental attitudes. There are protesters and pickets every day the clinic is open. They are shouting at women who are exercising their right to decide healthcare. It is worsening, and that’s a result of anti-abortion legislation that is sweeping the country.”

Parker, who describes himself as a “follower of Christ”, says the patients he sees find their choice very difficult, particularly when they are religious. “Good and moral women have abortions every day,” he says, “but when patients come in and are very conflicted, I try to address it. I say there are good people who are serious about religion who understand the sacredness of a woman’s right to choose about whether or not to continue a pregnancy. You can respect that other people disagree with you, but you have to listen to your own heart, and there are people who understand.”

Like Parker, Curtis has a religious background: he was an ordained Baptist minister before turning to medicine. He was raised on a farm outside the small town of Athens, rural Texas, where a school friend was forced to carry an unwanted baby to term against her will, something he later realised had a profound effect on him.

But the real turning point for him came in the 1960s, during the civil rights and women’s movement, when he was recruited by an underground network of ministers and rabbis. The group, the Clergy Consultation Service on Problem Pregnancies, provided safe abortion advice at a time when women were risking injury and death visiting disreputable practitioners. His role was initially advisory, but eventually he began performing safe, but then illegal, abortions.

“It’s basically about a woman’s place in society,” Curtis says. “If you cannot control your reproduction and you are fertile, it’s extremely difficult to control anything else. I was hesitant because I know what it meant,” he says, meaning the threat of arrest, prison and, with it, the end of his medical career, “but I knew I had to accept the risk.”

When Roe v Wade made abortion legal, he was jubilant. “We thought we had won, it was over. At that time, the media mocked these crazy anti-abortion groups. They were not taken seriously.”

The Boyds never believed they would still be in the abortion business 43 years later. “We thought [by now] it would be available in every family practice, that there would be no resistance Every medical school would be teaching it.” Now, Curtis says, “We wake up and think, ‘My God what has happened?’

Sorry Boyds, what happened is that there are crazy-ass zealots who want to micromanage everybody else’s life in accordance with their fairy tales. These idiots who seem to think every sperm is sacred, and every egg cherished, a non-miracle delivered by their cosmic babysitter.

Where the line really divides, however, is the debate over the existence of a soul. Being an atheist, I maintain there is no such thing like many of my cohorts. The Christians (and the rest of the delusional) claim that such a thing exists, and that is what powers their entire misogynist movement.

This is what having a secular based government is: it is choosing what is best for a citizen (or citizens) regardless of how their nosy neighbors feel about it. Because having freedom of religion does mean freedom from religion – freedom from other people’s religion.

So, in short, anti-abortion protesters, domestic terrorists, dominionists, these assholes fall squarely in the UN-AMERICAN category. Forcing your religion on others? Go live in fucking Iran, where that shit is standard fare. This is the U.S of A –and the minimalist definition of evil is forcing your will upon others.

Till the next post then.

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Battle Of The Books–Only One Of These Is Worth Burning, Can You Guess Which?

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasis

neverfightamanRELIGION

, n. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable. – Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

I always seem to feel a small twinge when I hear news like this:

Bible edges out Darwin as ‘most valuable to humanity’ in survey of influential books

One lays out how “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”, the other saw Christianity shaken to its roots as Charles Darwin put forward his theory of natural selection. Together, the Bible and On the Origin of Species are the two most valuable books for humanity, according to a survey of the British public, with the religious text narrowly edging out one of the most important works in the history of science.

The Folio Society’s survey of 2,044 British adults, conducted by YouGov, asked members of the public to name the books of most significance for the modern world. The Bible took 37% of the vote, with Darwin’s masterwork coming in second, with 35%.

Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time (17%) crept ahead of Einstein’s seminal Relativity (15%) to take third place, with just two novels making the top 10 of the “books voted most valuable to humanity”: Nineteen Eighty-Four (14%) and To Kill a Mockingbird (10%). Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, in which Isaac Newton derives the laws of classical mechanics, took 12% of the vote, with the Qur’an (9%), Adam Smith’s foundation of modern economics The Wealth of Nations (7%) and James Watson’s account of the discovery of DNA, The Double Helix (6%), rounding out the top 10.

Respondents were given a list of 30 books from which they were asked to choose three titles. Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women received 4% of the vote, as did Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Pride and Prejudice. The Communist Manifesto landed 5%, as did War and Peace and Hamlet. A few of the 30 titles received no votes: Cicero’s Orations, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.

“The first question I had was whether the similar figure for Darwin and the Bible does show a continuing polarisation between the realms of science and religion, or whether in fact it reveals a more balanced approach to ideas for the modern reader,” said Tom Walker, editorial director at The Folio Society. “They are the two ideas which have clashed in the 20th century – this shows, I think, that we can take understanding from both of them.” The Qur’an, he added, is “probably relatively recent to many UK people’s top 10 because of the impact of global debates around Islam”.

The publisher also asked respondents why they plumped for their choices: the Bible was chosen largely because it “contains principles/guidelines to be a good person”, the publisher said, while On the Origin of Species was cited because it “answers fundamental questions of human existence”.

Breaking respondents down by sex, men put Darwin top (37%), followed by the Bible (36%), Hawking and George Orwell, while women went for the Bible (38%), followed by Darwin (33%), Hawking, Einstein and Harper Lee.

Walker said that the list perhaps revealed “which books are perceived as having influence or giving understanding, rather than those which we personally read in order to understand the world around us”, citing A Brief History of Time as “surely one of the most underread bestsellers ever written”, and adding that the readership for Newton’s Principia Mathematica is probably “pretty thin”. “There is an overtly political message to both of the fiction titles,” he pointed out, “but fiction generally doesn’t seem to be seen as so highly influential in how people judge ideas in society; Shakespeare and Tolstoy also have low percentages.”

“How different might the survey have looked 100, or even 30 years ago?” said Walker. “How might it look in another 30 years – will Darwin have taken over; will the worrying rise of Nineteen Eighty-Four’s relevance continue; might the Qur’an continue to rise in significance in the UK; or might advances in DNA technology mean that The Double Helix grows in stature?”

It is an earnest hope of mine, that in another 10-15 years, percentages will whittle down the value of superstitious drivel. The Bible (any version) is a set of fairy tales, a lot of exaggerated campfire stories told by Iron Age shepherds. It holds no authority whatsoever, historical or otherwise. If ever there were a real life Necronomicon, a tome bound in flesh, its pages written in blood, the Bible is that book.

It’s an uphill battle though. There is this meme deeply embedded in our culture, that one of the three items one is NOT to talk about over dinner being religion. That we should nod passively and ‘respect’ the delusion of others. One cannot dictate the thoughts of others (and foolhardy to try), but no one is exempt from criticism, not any more.

Till the next post, then.

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Saturday, November 08, 2014

The Fallible Senses Anecdotes Rely On…

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasis

garylarsonghostsGHOST, n. The outward and visible sign of an inward fear. – Ambrose Bierce, the Devil’s Dictionary

Ghosts. They seem to proliferate our culture almost as much as any other supernatural drivel. There are multitudinous movies, cartoons, even (aackk!! GAGGG!!) reality TV shows about bunches of noodleheads claiming these ephemeral myths exist (or trying to prove it – which they fail at, of course).

What follows is one of the stupidest puff pieces ever written.

Horrors that tell me ghosts are alive and well

Swiss scientists who dismiss the supernatural as a trick of the mind are missing something...

Do I believe in ghosts? My reaction is usually a vehement, kneejerk “No, it’s stuff and nonsense” – untiI I remember that I do believe in them, actually.

Right out the gate, this woman abolishes all credibility. Does she often say one thing but believe another? There’s a word for that somewhere….

Not because I want to, but because I have to. I’ve variously been jinxed by French victims of the 100 Years War, haunted in a cursed cottage in Hereford and, briefly, adopted by the ghost of a black Labrador.

Yeesh, another one of these entitled idiots who thinks the alleged spirit world gives a rat’s fart in a whirlwind about the fact she even exists.

I pondered my encounters with apparitions when researchers from Switzerland this week claimed that ghosts are all in the mind.

The author doesn’t even bother referencing this: here is an article for research for the interested reader.

Aside from the fact that the Swiss are not a fanciful race, being instead the sort of nation that built the Large Hadron Collider to play about with sub-atomic particles, I was piqued at the “scientific” revelation that specters don’t exist.

Worst ad hominem ever.

My first paranormal encounter was on a family holiday in Périgord 16 years ago. There were 10 of us in a pretty gîte with a swimming pool, but as soon as we arrived, my two otherwise biddable teenage nieces refused to sleep in their room as it felt “creepy and undead”.

Teenage hormone overload, probably.

Then one sister sprained her knee, after which another went over, painfully, on her ankle. By unspoken agreement nobody ventured into the games room because it was “cold”; a euphemism for marrow-chilling.

Pubescent gawkiness is not proof of anything, except that teenie boppers are clumsy.

One night, my brother-in-law met an old lady in long skirts and a shawl sitting on the stairs, brooding. Sad but resigned, she conveyed that she meant no harm. He was so traumatised, he didn’t tell his wife until we were on the ferry home.

Was she a ghost? This undescriptive paragraph is again, aimless rambling.

I, meanwhile, went on a cycle ride, tumbled off at high speed and was found unconscious, with head injuries and a torn knee joint, by a French couple. I was discharged from hospital some days later, hobbling on crutches.

Apparently, lack of coordination runs in the family.

I returned to thank the couple who rescued me; they explained that their daughter had fallen off her horse at the exact same bend in the road a decade earlier and spent months in a coma.

Means absolutely nothing. Dead French soldiers causing a bicyclist to be injured. Yeah, self-obsess much?

Then they broke the news that our house – and theirs – was on the site of a field hospital in the 100 Years War, which treated wounded French soldiers after an attack by the English so savage as to have caused outrage, even by the grisly standards of the time. Coincidence? It felt more like vengeance.

Again, so fucking what? This is proof of nothing else except the author’s lack of critical thinking, and the usual rampaging narcissism.

Scroll forward 10 years and my husband and I, with our elder daughter, rented a cottage in Herefordshire, complete with thatched roof. It was sweet. It was perfect. It was malign.

That’s enough material for a Lifetime movie (retch!).

Within hours we realised something was wrong. Eight months pregnant, I awoke one morning to find insect bites all over my bump; nowhere else.

Likely a rash. You know how these nutjobs tend to accentuate the mundane to prove their delusions. And at 8 months preggers, she could very well have been projecting her hormone imbalance onto her environment.

As the days went by a dreadful lethargy affected us all: we grew exhausted and depressed. We bed-hopped because we couldn’t sleep. Even the dog was subdued. It took us longer and longer to get up and out; it was as if the house was subsuming us into the very fabric of the building. By the end of a week, I had lost a stone in weight and it was with deep gratitude that we departed.

Shee-it, that could’ve been anything. Chemical spill, a leak, there’s a whole bundle of scientific reasons for this. And not even a reason for why the cottage was ‘haunted’.

Later that same holiday, we headed to North Devon and toured the 11th‑century Chambercombe Manor, one of Britain’s most haunted homes (no, I have no idea why we did that either). There, a man in our group turned white and started yelling: “There’s someone horrible behind me! Take a picture!” We could see nothing. The guide, however, said with studied matter-of-factness: “Yes, I’m afraid there is. And you are right, he’s not a nice character at all. Let’s see if he will go away.”

I have an unfriendly phrase for this: humoring the crazy asshole.

Then I felt a weird shiver down my left leg, and involuntarily rubbed it. “That’s the dog,” said the guide. “Black labrador. Friendly enough, but you must make him stay in the kitchen or else…”

Makes you wonder how many times the guide played this trick on the rubes.

And so, as I remonstrated to thin air “Good dog! Stay! Stay!”, the rest of the party gratefully filed out through the chapel and into the hallway.

Probably rolling their eyes and circling a finger to their temples…

It was freaky, it was impossible, it was real. As we legged it to the car, the poor anguished man was standing in the garden shaking as the guide shrugged: “I’m sorry, yes, he is still with you. It’s very puzzling.”

Guide likely enjoys doing this to the gullible touristas.

For all I know, he could be there still. So I take the appliance of Swiss science with a large pinch of salt, and invite you, dear readers, to share your eldritch stories of harrowing hauntings. Sometimes the inexplicable is all the explanation any of us needs.

For all we know, you’re skipping your meds, lady. The ‘inexplicable’ is for lazy thinkers, people who think a few tailored anecdotes (from someone who freely admits they say one thing but believe another) is counted as ‘evidence’.

Oh, and hey wait! What horrors, exactly? We’re missing some of the key components here: blood soaked walls, the distant wailing, the faces distending from the rubbery walls, the deep tragedies of legendary suicides and/or murders. Stating that the area was the scene of a monstrous tragedy is not the same thing. In fact, if you really think about it, the entire planet is one vast graveyard. Chances are that dozens of folks died on the spot you’re sitting on (or in the near vicinity), but we don’t have squads of spooks marching across the scenes of multi-car pileups on freeways, or even across marches and marshes. It’s stupid to say ghosts exist: no one can even come close to proving there is any such thing as an afterlife. That should occur a posteriori (and a priori, if I had my way).

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Saturday, November 01, 2014

Suffering A Witch To Live? Apparently Not….

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasis

chicktrashSo Saul died for his trespass which he committed against the LORD, because of the word of the LORD which he did not keep; and also because he asked counsel of a medium, making inquiry of it, and did not inquire of the LORD. Therefore He killed him and turned the kingdom to David the son of Jesse. - 1 Chronicles 10:13-14

If there’s one thing in this world that is certain (beside mortality and taxes), is that one religious idiot out there will likely do severe harm to someone outside of his/her comfort range. And it is not restricted to strangers, it seems:

Christian zealot beheads teen for practicing witchcraft

Christian terror? In a grisly murder an Oklahoma college student with strong Christian beliefs nearly decapitates a young man because the victim practiced witchcraft.

Isaiah Zoar Marin, 21, is charged with first-degree murder for the killing of Jacob Andrew Crockett, 19. Marin is accused of using a “long knife or sword” to kill Crockett.

According to a court affidavit, the suspect, Marin, is described as a “religious zealot” and “heavy drug user.”

The victim, Crockett, is the son of an Oklahoma state trooper.

Police report the victim had what appeared to be multiple deep slash and stab wounds and the “head was mostly severed from his body.”

Marin was watching videos on YouTube “related to his Christian beliefs and the Book of Matthew” before the murder, according to the affidavit.

The document also notes that Marin had feuded with Crockett in the past because the victim was practicing witchcraft.

The defendant’s brother, Samuel Marin, said “in the past Jacob and Isaiah had disagreements” because Jacob had been” practicing witchcraft and Isaiah had strong Christian beliefs,” a Stillwater police officer reported.

Police say the two men were “acquaintances” and Crockett was attending class at Northern Oklahoma College, but was planning to transfer to OSU.

Marin’s Facebook page features many posts professing his love for God, with the latest public post being on Aug. 8 of this year. The post reads:

    Tried to take on a demon and God had to help me through the tough parts. Got to be careful with my words and pay closer attention to my emotions. Need to figure out how to keep on speaking when I’m with the presence of the Lord God.

According to the affidavit, Marin told police, “I murdered someone” and was “rambling about sacrificing and magic.”

During a news conference Stillwater police Capt. Randy Dickerson emphasized that the case is not related to recent cases of beheadings by Islamic extremists.

Instead of Islamic extremism, the case appears to be about Christian extremism fueled by methamphetamine.

Marin remains in custody without bond and has a court appearance set for 9 a.m. Dec. 1.

Of course the majority of Christians will insist this is an isolated incident (they always do), which is a blatant lie. This happens with far too much frequency to declare that it doesn’t count.

This is yet another instance for the accomodationists: these kids weren’t educated very well (who does witchcraft in their teens? Kids with self-esteem issues - I should know). With all this spiritual fuckwittery going on, small wonder children are being drawn into these fantasy worlds.

And yes, I am talking about both Christianity as well as Wicca. These are bygone anachronistic memes we can do without. But as long as we indulge these idiocies, all sorts of horrors and atrocities will plague our species until the very end. Gullibility, like faith, is anything but a commodity, anything but a treasure.

Till the next post, then.

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Dwindling Power Base–The Religious Right Is Becoming The Ridiculous Right, The Real Good News

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasis

religiousrightFor all the complaining we do, it’s nice to have some good news for the marginalizing of the ‘Religious Wrong’:

Godless millennials could end the political power of the religious right

The 2014 midterm elections are drawing near, and it appears that the Democrats may well lose the Senate, since they’re fighting on unfriendly territory – a large number of seats in red states are up for grabs.

But if you look deeper than the national picture, there’s a more interesting story. In southern states like Georgia and Kentucky – which in the past would have been easy Republican holds - the races are unexpectedly tight. In fact, the only reason that the questions of which party will control the Senate in 2015 is unsettled at all is that an unusual number of races in dark red states are toss-ups, despite an overall political climate that generally favors conservatives.
What we’re seeing may well be the first distant rumblings of a trend that’s been quietly gathering momentum for years: America is becoming less Christian. In every region of the country, in every Christian denomination, membership is either stagnant or declining. Meanwhile, the number of religiously unaffiliated people – atheists, agnostics, those who are indifferent to religion, or those who follow no conventional faith – is growing. In some surprising places, these “nones” (as in “none of the above”) now rank among the largest slices of the demographic pie.
Even in the deep South, the Republican base of white evangelical Christians is shrinking – and in some traditional conservative redoubts like Arkansas, Georgia and Kentucky, it’s declined as a percentage of the population by double digits. Even Alabama is becoming less Christian. Meanwhile, there’s been a corresponding increase in the religiously unaffiliated, who tend to vote more Democratic.

While the effect on evangelicals is new, the general pattern isn’t. The Catholic church, the largest single religious denomination in America, was the first to feel the pinch. Church leaders and Catholic apologists have been fretting for years over the problem of aging and shrinking congregations, declining attendance at Mass and fewer people signing up to become priests or nuns – although their proposals for how to solve the problem all consist of tinkering around the edges, or insisting that they need to try harder to convince people to believe as they do.
America’s next-largest denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, held out a bit longer but has now come down with the same affliction. Membership has been declining for the last several years – to the point where half of SBC churches will close their doors by 2030 if current trends persist. And as with the Catholic church, the SBC defenders with the biggest platforms have insisted that they don’t need to change anything if they just double down on their existing policies and pray harder for revival.
What’s driving the steady weakening of Christianity? The answer, it would seem, is demographic turnover.

The so-called millennials (Americans born between 1982 and 2000) are far more diverse, educated and tolerant than their predecessors. They’re also the least religious generation in American history – they’re even getting less religious as they get older, which is unprecedented – and the majority of them identify Christianity as synonymous with harsh political conservatism.

As older, more religious generations fade away and younger generations replace them, the societal midpoint shifts. And this trend is going to accelerate in coming years, because the millennial generation is big. They’re even bigger than the baby boomers.

The influence of the millennials showed in the (by historical standards) remarkably rapid acceptance of same-sex marriage, which in just a few short years has become legal in more than half the country. Millennials view religious demands for the oppression of LGBT people to be a bizarre and offensive anachronism. And as the major denominations vocally assert that opposing equal rights for LGBT people is a nonnegotiable condition of membership in the Church of Not-Gay, young people are driven away in greater and greater numbers. This may well be a self-reinforcing cycle, as people turned off by constant homophobic rhetoric leave the churches, which results in diluted power for religious conservatives, who then bear down even harder on the anti-gay message. The same arrogance and institutional blindness that got them into this spiral make it almost impossible for them to see the problem and pull out of it.

But even if this secularizing trend continues, it’s likely that there’s a hard core of believers who will persist no matter what: no one is forecasting the total extinction of the religious right in politics.

Still, for progressives, the eroding power of the churches is a most welcome development: the religions right can no longer claim to be the sole source of morality and virtue, nor can they expect to assert their will in political matters and be obeyed without question. Instead, they’ll have to muster evidence and make their case in the marketplace of ideas like everyone else.

In other words, the religious right will finally have to fight fair, and I’m willing to bet that, in the long run, that’s a fight they’ll lose.

The idea that these folks will finally be on an even playing field (eventually) fills me with hope (and a little impish glee, I must confess). Equality for everyone, regardless of sex, creed, religion, politics, etc. Wow, what a novel concept.

Everyone can dream, I suppose.

Till the next post, then.

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

More On The Madness Of Muslims–It’s Either Silence Or Stoning, But Play Along Or Die

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasis
islam-religion-of-peace-cartoonSometimes we take our liberties for granted. In America, you can (almost) get away with the hard word, the harsh criticism, and the most nonsense you’ll usually receive is a verbal slap on the wrist and speeches about civilized discourse.

But in some countries, the inmates are running the asylum. Witness:

The Lahore court’s decision to uphold Asia Bibi’s death penalty is far from just

In November 2010, Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, was sentenced to death in Pakistan. Her crime was allegedly insulting the prophet Muhammad during an argument with some Muslim neighbours. The case caused an international outcry; politicians and international human rights organisations took it up; lawyers appealed. Today, the Lahore high court upheld the death sentence.

Bibi’s case shone a spotlight on Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws. The existence of blasphemy laws is not itself unusual. All over the world, different countries restrict what citizens can say about religion; Britain had a blasphemy law until 2008. What is exceptional in Pakistan is the extremity of the penalties, and the light burden of proof. Blasphemy carries a maximum penalty of death, yet the law sets out no standards for evidence, no requirement to prove intent, no punishment for false allegations and, indeed, no guidance on what actually constitutes blasphemy.

The accuser can refuse to repeat the offending statement in court, and judges can choose not to hear evidence in case it perpetuates the blasphemy and offends religious sensibilities. This means that in some cases, the accused can go through a whole trial without knowing what they are supposed to have done or said.

The law is open to massive abuse. As such, it is frequently used to settle personal vendettas and to persecute minorities. Bibi’s alleged blasphemous comments were supposedly made after co-workers refused to share water that she had carried; they said it was unclean because she was a Christian (this is a hangover from the caste system, as most of those who converted to Christianity in pre-partition India were members of the lower castes). She has always maintained her innocence, claiming that these neighbours simply wanted to punish her. The British citizen Mohammed Asghar, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, also faces the death sentence for blasphemy. Allegations were made against him in 2010 by a tenant with whom he was having a dispute. No concessions have been made for his mental health condition.

Despite these obvious flaws in the legislation and the way it is applied, reform is not coming. When Bibi’s case came to prominence in 2010, three politicians – Salmaan Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti and Sherry Rehman – all from the Pakistan People’s Party, which was then in power, took up the case and called for reform. The consequences speak for themselves. Taseer was shot dead by his bodyguard in January 2011. In March the same year, Bhatti was killed by Taliban assassins. Rehman was forced into semi-hiding. The then prime minister shelved all reform, cowed into retreat by the potent mix of extremist threats and mob violence.

Blasphemy excites strong emotions among parts of Pakistan’s public like no other issue. Many people accused of blasphemy are killed by mobs before they even make it to trial. (According to the Islamabad-based Centre for Security Studies, at least 52 people have been killed over blasphemy offences since 1990). Taseer’s assassin was showered with rose petals when he arrived at the courthouse for his murder trial. Many took this as evidence of the way that extremist groups have infiltrated elements of Pakistani society, exploiting the public’s strong religious sensibility and pushing it further towards intolerance.

The power of extremist groups, and the acquiescence of politicians, has had a big impact on the direction of public discussion in Pakistan. The targeting of anyone who speaks out about blasphemy laws has had a chilling effect, and even outspoken liberal voices are reluctant to make the case for reform publicly. Several years ago, while living in Karachi, I wrote on the subject for one of Pakistan’s leading liberal English-language newspapers. The editors decided not to publish it because the subject was deemed too risky.

While this self-censorship is entirely understandable in a country where the authorities provide little protection, it gives extremist ideas the space to flourish and grow. Without people in the halls of power willing to stand up and call for change, there is little hope for Bibi, Asghar and the hundreds of other disenfranchised people sentenced to death under these excessive and nonsensical laws.

A minor squabble over whose imaginary friend is better is cause for a death sentence? Hello, Earth to Pakistan: it’s the fucking 21st century, you fuckwits. The hypocrisy is staggering – these morons insisted on being treated with deference, and refuse to return the favor to others.

The best bet in dealing with this asininity is to sanction these bozos. Refuse to do business with them until they get their shit together. No more death penalties because some Islamic idiot got butt-hurt.

Till the next post, then.

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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Allegories Gone Wild – Demons And Children

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasis
exorcismA day doesn’t go by, where some crazy religious asshole (who shouldn’t have children in the first place) abuses a child. We’re not talking about the pedophiliac priests (though they should string those pricks up by their testes) – specifically I mean these fucking hoodoo voodoo fruitcakes that kiss snakes and think that demons and angels are micromanaging their banal lives.

Rise in cases of ritual child abuse linked to witchcraft beliefs reported, say police

More cases of ritual child abuse linked to belief in witchcraft are being reported, the police said.

The Metropolitan police has received 27 allegations in the past year, including two claims of rape; a child being swung around and smacked in the head “to drive out the devil”, and other youngsters being dunked in water, it said on Wednesday.

A number of horrific child killings have been linked to these beliefs, including the murder of Kristy Bamu, 15, who was tortured and drowned by his sister and her boyfriend in 2010; and the death of Victoria Climbié.

The number of cases of religious or ritualistic abuse of children reported to Scotland Yard has increased year-on-year over the past decade. A total of 24 were passed to the force in 2013; 19 in 2012 and nine in 2011. Since 2004, 148 cases have been referred to the Met.

Police officers will meet a group including teachers, childcare and health workers at London’s City Hall on Wednesday to discuss how to tackle the issue, which is rarely reported.

Det. Supt Terry Sharpe from the Metropolitan police said it was “a hidden crime”.

He said: “Abuse linked to belief is a horrific crime which is condemned by people of all cultures, communities and faiths. A number of high-profile investigations brought the issue of ritual abuse and witchcraft into the headlines but it is important that professionals are clear about the signs to look for.

“Families or carers genuinely believe that the victim has been completely taken over by the devil or an evil spirit, which is often supported by someone who within the community has portrayed themselves as an authority on faith and belief.

“Regardless of the beliefs of the abusers, child abuse is child abuse.”

A new training film will be launched at the event today.

Simon Bass from the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service said: “We are not remotely surprised that the Metropolitan police alone has already received 27 referrals of this type this year – or three a month.

“We are pleased that the Metropolitan police has undertaken such great work in this area, but we are convinced that this form of abuse is hidden, and that the statutory agencies across the UK are facing similar situations.”

Kristy Bamu’s appalling death was one of a handful of chilling cases where an apparent belief in witchcraft has been linked to extreme violence against children.

The 15-year-old was tortured and savagely beaten before he drowned in a bath at his sister’s flat in east London on Christmas Day 2010.

Magalie Bamu and her boyfriend Eric Bikubi became convinced that he was possessed by kindoki, or evil spirits, and was trying to harm or control another child of the family.

Another case that sparked public revulsion was that of Victoria Climbié, who was beaten, burned with cigarettes and forced to sleep in a binliner in a bath during her short life.

The eight-year-old’s great-aunt Marie-Thérèse Kouao and her boyfriend, Carl Manning, both claimed that the little girl was possessed. They were found guilty of her murder in 2001.

Later that year, the torso of a young boy, named Adam by police, was found floating in the Thames. It is believed that he could have been the victim of a ritual sacrifice practised in parts of Africa.

In another case Child B, who was brought to the UK in 2002 after her parents were killed in Angola, was beaten, cut with a knife and had chilli peppers rubbed in her eyes to beat the ”devil” out of her.

She was also stuffed into a zip-up laundry bag and told that she would be thrown into a river.

Wow, real nice, eh? Religion always seems to bring out the savagery in people. This belief in spirits, ghosts, demons, and all that other hoo-haw is a sign of the willful, ignorant arrogance of these folks. And the accomodationist mind-set even allows a set of child-abuse exemptions (in this country) – which I find both ridiculous and horrifying.

I repeat: this nonsense is for narcissists with low self-esteem. It’s complete and utter self-absorption to think that the universe (let alone some imaginary homunculus) takes an interest in our every tiny move, who keeps track of everybody who sleeps with anybody, and inflicts this sort of grotesquerie on innocent children.

Suffer the little children? More like, let’s make children suffer based on the campfire stories of a bunch of Iron Age shepherds.

Fuck that.

I hold the ‘wholly C’ fully culpable for this ongoing horror, because they have consistently fostered and nurtured this barbaric practice, all of it based on lies.

Till the next post, then.

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