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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Give Them Religious Liberty…Or Else!

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasis
religiouspersecutionI may have said this multiple times, but it bears repeating: belief is ubiquitous, and not the commodity everyone thinks it is. Oversaturate any market (or economy) with product (or a precious metal that suddenly becomes commonplace), and it lowers or even crashes said market/economy. But America has become an orgy of that mental masturbation we call religion. And now, the Tea-baggers are reaching for the brass ring:

This is a religious civil war: Hobby Lobby only the beginning for new religious theocrats

The United States is still a democratic republic, formally, but what that actually means in practice is increasingly in doubt — and the Hobby Lobby ruling, deeply disingenuous and sharply at odds with centuries of Anglo-American law, exemplifies how that formal reality is increasingly mocked in practice. It is a practice best described as neo-feudalism, taking power away from ordinary citizens, in all their pluralistic, idiosyncratic diversity, and handing it over to corporations and religious dictators in both the public and the private realm. The Supreme Court’s actions are not taking place in a vacuum — though they are filling one: As Tea Party Republicans in the House increasingly bring democratic self-government to a halt, contracting the power of we the people to act as a cohesive self-governing whole, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority shifts ever more everyday power into the hands of private dictatorships.

Hobby Lobby handed for-profit corporations religious rights for the first time in history — a radical break with all previous precedent, and yet a part of a recent pattern, as Norm Ornstein rightly pointed out:

[F]or the majority on the Roberts Court, through a series of rulings that favor corporations over labor or other interests, it is clear that corporations are king, superior to individual Americans—with all the special treatment in taxes and protection from legal liability that are unavailable to us individuals, and now all the extra benefits that come with individual citizenship. Call it the new Crony Capitalism.

The expansion of corporate power in Hobby Lobby has gotten too little attention, and I’ll return to discuss this further below. But the advancement of theocracy — religious dictatorship — is even less clearly seen through the fog of right-wing propaganda about “religious liberty.”

First, however, an important highlight of a neglected aspect of the Hobby Lobby case, the fact that Hobby Lobby’s self-professed belief appeared out of nowhere just in time for them to file suit, as Stephanie Mencimer noted in March:

The company admits in its complaint that until it considered filing the suit in 2012, its generous health insurance plan actually covered Plan B and Ella (though not IUDs). The burden of this coverage was apparently so insignificant that God, and Hobby Lobby executives, never noticed it until the mandate became a political issue.

In short, Hobby Lobby’s “deeply held beliefs” claims are transparently bogus — as well as being scientifically invalid, since none of the methods involved are abortifacients, as Hobby Lobby claims. These would not matter if they only guided individual private conduct; that’s precisely what religious freedom actually means. You’re free to be a religious hypocrite, because letting someone else judge your sincerity can lead too easily to real religious tyranny. But when you’re already in a position to tyrannize others — as Hobby Lobby is — that’s a whole different ballgame. The tyrant’s freedom is everyone else’s slavery.

Historically, theocracy meant top-down religiously sanctioned dictatorship, exemplified in Western history by the divine right of kings philosophy. No one reads John Locke’s “First Treatise on Civil Government” anymore, because it is a refutation of the divine right of kings — one might as well read a refutation of four element theory in physics class. Locke’s “Second Treatise” provided a sharply contrasted legitimate foundation for civil government — the social contract and the consent of the governed. This is the air we breathe, and have been breathing ever since America was born.

And yet, theocracy and democracy are not two utterly distinct phenomena. Theocracy can well hold sway inside the family, for example, while the larger society retains its democratic form. More to the point, one stream of extreme Christian theocratic thinking — the dominion theology of the New Apostolic Reformation — has no problem (initially, at least) assimilating its goals of a theocratic government with the existing two-party electoral system. As researcher Rachel Tabachnick explains:

Instead of escaping the earth (in the Rapture)* prior to the turmoil of the end times, they [the NAR] teach that believers will defeat evil by taking dominion, or control, over all sectors of society and government, resulting in mass conversions to their brand of Charismatic evangelicalism and a Christian utopia or “Kingdom” on earth.

In early 2010, a leading NAR figure, Edgardo Silvoso, founder of International Transformation Network, which played a major role in promoting and passing Uganda’s anti-gay legislation, confidently said, “It doesn’t matter if the Republican or the Democratic candidate wins the governorship [of Hawaii]. Either one is already in the kingdom.” It didn’t turn out that way, because Neil Abercrombie, Hawaii’s popular long-term U.S. representative, defeated both the NAR-supported candidates — one in the Democratic primary, the other in the general election. Still, Silvoso’s vision might have come true, there could have been a contested two-party election in which both candidates were Christian dominionists — and most in the media (and thereby the public) wouldn’t even have known what was going on.

Sarah Palin was the NAR’s first full-throated state governor (revealing videos here), but Rick Perry has strong NAR connections as well — the religious kickoff to his 2012 presidential campaign was entirely an NAR-run event. But the point here is a broader one: The dividing line between theocracy and a democratic republic is not nearly as sharp as most might suppose, in fact, there may not actually be such a line, only a zone of blurriness for everything involved.

While the NAR represents an international evangelical grass-roots force of remarkable power for how little press attention it has gained, the theocratic push from above in America — duplicity framed in terms of “religious liberty” — comes from a Catholic/Protestant alliance forged in antiabortion political battles of the past 30-plus years, which is also undercovered and poorly understood in the mainstream corporate media, despite being grounded in a phalanx of powerful organizations, from the high-profile Family Research Council and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, through more specialized think tanks and legal advocacy organizations, such as the Becket Fund and the Alliance Defending Freedom. A useful reference is ”Redefining Religious Liberty: The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights” by Jay Michaelson, published by Political Research Associates in March 2013. In it, he writes:

While the religious liberty debate is a growing front in the ongoing culture wars, it is actually an old argument repurposed for a new context. In the postwar era, the Christian Right defended racial segregation, school prayer, public religious displays, and other religious practices that infringed on the liberties of others by claiming that restrictions on such public acts infringed upon their religious liberty. Then as now, the Christian Right turned antidiscrimination arguments on their heads: instead of African Americans being discriminated against by segregated Christian universities, the universities were being discriminated against by not being allowed to exclude them; instead of public prayers oppressing religious minorities, Christians are being oppressed by not being able to offer them.

In the “religious liberty” framework, the Christian Right attacks access to contraception, access to abortion, same-sex marriage, and antidiscrimination laws—not on moral grounds (e.g., that contraception is morally wrong or that LGBTQ rights violate “family values”) but because they allegedly impinge upon the religious freedoms of others (e.g., by forcing employers to violate their religion by providing contraception coverage)….

In fact, there is not a single “religious liberty” claim that does not involve abridging someone else’s rights.

As I’ve already indicated, Hobby Lobby’s “deeply held beliefs” claims are transparently bogus, but this need not always be the case. What is the case is that the inversion Michaelson describes — that of turning anti-discrimination arguments on their heads — both derives from and contributes to states of confusion in which all manner of bogus claims may flourish. As I noted above, there are legitimate reasons why the content of religious beliefs should not be scrutinized when considering questions of free exercise. But when religion is being imposed upon others, the presumptions ought to be reversed; we ought to be extremely reluctant to allow anyone to impose their religious beliefs on anyone else, no matter how light or innocent that imposition might be claimed to be. The views themselves as well as the manner they are imposed on others ought to be scrutinized as rigorously as possible. Don’t want your religious beliefs questioned? Then don’t impose them on others. When push comes to shove, real religious freedom can be just as simple as that.

And the phony “religious freedom” crowd knows it, which helps explain why outright lies repeatedly slip into their arguments, as Michaelson’s report makes clear. For example, anti-gay “religious freedom” advocates routinely repeat the lie that legalizing same-sex marriage means forcing churches to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies against their will — a flat-out lie.

Legalized civil divorce did not force the Catholic Church to marry divorced individuals, and legalized same-sex marriage would not force them to marry gay individuals, either. Institutional religious practice is almost entirely insulated from civil law. What does change are the rules applying to society at large. Michaelson explains:

Typically, there are five tiers of actors:

1. Churches, clergy, and religious institutions

2. Religious organizations

3. Religiously affiliated organizations

4. Religiously owned businesses

5. Religious individuals

The law treats these tiers differently: churches are rarely required to obey antidiscrimination laws, for example, but religious organizations may be, and religious-owned businesses are. Conservative “religious liberty” rhetoric deliberately misstates harms upward, and tactically expands exemptions downward. On the one side, no clergy will ever have to solemnize any marriage against her/his beliefs, yet restrictions on tier 4 or 5 individuals are cynically extended by conservative messaging to tier 1.

Michaelson then addresses the context of the Hobby Lobby case:

On the other side, conservative “religious liberty” advocates are clearly pursuing a staged plan to migrate extensions downward. In the current HHS benefit battle, for example, the Obama administration first exempted tiers 1 and 2, and then, in February 2013, exempted tier 3. Yet still the Becket Fund has objected that “millions of Americans”—i.e., tiers 4 and 5—are still unprotected.

And this is precisely the logic that the Hobby Lobby decision pursued. The Obama administration’s exemptions of Tiers 1 and 2 were not seen as signs of respect for religious liberty, in line with traditional practice, nor was its further exemption of Tier 3 seen as going the extra mile in a spirit of conciliation. Instead, the accommodation made for Tier 3 was used by Justice Alito to argue for similar treatment for Tier 4. The end result is that women in more than half the nation’s workforce can now be deprived by their employers of their most basic reproductive rights, involving birth control, not abortion.

But that’s just one side of the story. There’s also the economic, corporate power side, where things are a bit more complicated. I quoted above from Norm Ornstein, making the point that Hobby Lobby was part of a broader pattern of shifting power into corporate hands. But it’s striking that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce did not weigh in on the Hobby Lobby Case — it produced no amicus brief. In fact, as noted by David H. Gans of the Constitutional Accountability Center, “the only noteworthy corporate voices to weigh in — the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce and the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce — actually came down against them [Hobby Lobby and its supporters].” Gans also notes another brief from dozens of corporate and criminal law professors, “who argued that Hobby Lobby’s argument would eviscerate the fabric of corporate law, undercutting the corporate veil that protects owners and shareholders from liability for the actions of the corporation.” The brief itself begins laying out its argument thus:

Hobby Lobby and Conestoga each asserts that the religious values of its present controlling shareholders should pass through to the corporation itself. This Court should reject any such “values pass-through” concept. To do otherwise would run contrary to established principles of corporate law.

The essence of a corporation is its “separateness” from its shareholders. It is a distinct legal entity, with its own rights and obligations, different from the rights and obligations of its shareholders. This Court has repeatedly recognized this separateness.

This is yet another indication of how radically the Hobby Lobby decision departs from the existing fabric of Anglo-American law. And yet, there are clearly some in the corporate world who welcome this development, and it’s surely no accident that the same five justices produced both Hobby Lobby and Citizens United. So what’s going on here?

The best answer I know of comes from political scientist Corey Robin, and it involves looking much deeper than the framework of corporate law. The day the decision came down, Robin published “A Reader’s Guide to Hobby Lobby,” listing what he called “a few posts I’ve written over the years that should help put the Supreme Court’s decision in theoretical and historical perspective.” They’re all well worth reading, but I want to focus on just one of them, the first of two that Robin described thus:

2. Second, two posts on free-market types and birth control, how even the most libertarian-ish free-wheeler seeks to control women’s bodies: Love For Sale: Birth Control from Marx to Mises and Probing Tyler Cowen: When Libertarians Get Medieval on Your Vagina.

In “Love for Sale,” Robin discusses Ludwig von Mises‘ classic 1922 text ”Socialism,” and some contemporary discussions concerning it, particularly its fourth chapter, “The Social Order and the Family.” Here is where Robin gets to the heart of the matter:

The real reason Mises’s arguments about women are so relevant, it seems to me, is that in the course of making them he reveals something larger about the libertarian worldview: libertarianism is not about liberty at all, or at least not about liberty for everyone. In fact, it’s the opposite.

Here’s Mises describing the socialist program of “free love”:

Free love is the socialists’ radical solution for sexual problems. The socialistic society abolishes the economic dependence of woman which results from the fact that woman is dependent on the income of her husband. Man and woman have the same economic rights and the same duties, as far as motherhood does not demand special consideration for the women. Public funds provide for the maintenance and education of the children, which are no longer the affairs of the parents but of society. Thus the relations between the sexes are no longer influenced by social and economic conditions….The family disappears and society is confronted with separate individuals only. Choice in love becomes completely free.

Sounds like a libertarian paradise, right? Society is dissolved into atomistic individuals, obstacles to our free choices are removed, everyone has the same rights and duties. But Mises is not celebrating this ideal; he’s criticizing it. Not because it makes people unfree but because it makes people — specifically, women — free. The problem with liberating women from the constraints of “social and economic conditions” is that … women are liberated from the constraints of social and economic conditions.

If you want to know why libertarians reflexively embrace the National Rifle Association’s vision of freedom, but not Planned Parenthood’s (contrasting visions I discussed here), you need look no further. This passage also helps explain why there’s at least a germ of historical sense in the otherwise ridiculous Tea Party accusation that Obama is a “socialist”! By using government to empower women to make their own reproductive choices — not just in theory, but for real — Obamacare’s reproductive healthcare mandate really is acting in the socialist spirit as Mises described it, however market-based the mechanisms involved may be.

But it’s worth lingering a bit further with the socialist vision as Mises describes it, because it is so intimately bound up in what a functioning democratic republic actually does, or at least has the potential to do, when, for example, we take the Constitution’s general welfare clause seriously. What the socialists want, Mises argues, is to eliminate all manner of “natural inequalities”. This would, ironically, make everyone—not just privileged, straight, white males of means — into classic libertarian subjects, exercising their own, individual, unconstrained and uncoerced free choice. And this is the very last thing that libertarians actually want.

This helps explain why, for example, today’s Tea Party Republicans reject unemployment insurance as “socialist” — if someone out of work has any freedom at all to hold out for a job that will cover their mortgage, say, that’s socialism as Mises would describe it. And he has a point: socialism really is just another word for collectively removing the hidden and semi-hidden forms of coercion that otherwise shape and control our everyday lives. That’s why public education is socialist, too — and why Democratic politicians as well as Republicans are so eager to destroy it nowadays. But none of these other examples is quite as visceral or far-reaching as that of giving women reproductive autonomy equal to that of men.

This, then, is the bottom line: Conservatives (including libertarians) stand for the preservation and reinforcement (if necessary) of purportedly “natural” inequalities, which automatically structure all of society into overlapping forms of dominance and submission, in which the vast majority of people are inherently unfree “by nature.” Any collective action taken to free people from such dependent, powerless living conditions is anathema to them. Democracy itself is anathema to them. And Hobby Lobby is just the latest signal that they are firmly in charge.

Do they contradict themselves? Of course! So what? Do facts or logic matter anymore? Don’t be ridiculous! Dictatorship means never having to say you’re sorry — much less even a teensy bit wrong. The damages done to the structure and logic of corporate law? Irrelevant!

At the beginning, I wrote, “The United States is still a democratic republic, formally, but what that actually means in practice is increasingly in doubt.” This doubt can simply be summarized in the fact that any action to promote the general welfare will be automatically blocked and denounced as “socialism” by Tea Party Republicans in the House, while at the same time, the 5-4 conservative majority in the Supreme Court rewrites decades or centuries of precedent to further empower the most powerful elements in our society, to the ever-deepening detriment of the whole.

So understand this, folks: even though there is not currently (nor has there ever been) a ‘war against religious liberty’, these monkey-see-monkey-do types, who think their worldview should be everyone’s worldview, are the enemy. It doesn’t matter that there is no such war: these Machiavellian mindfarts think there is one happening, regardless. And when Christians want something badly enough, they bring it to fruition. Don’t believe me? Look it up yourself.

So I hope, as any rational person does, that it won’t come to that. But history tells us these cretins are not to be trusted. The future could end up with people being forced to pray at gunpoint. As histrionic as that may seem, it is starting to look like a very scary reality.

So be afraid. And stock up. It could very well be a long siege.

Till the next post, then.

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Saturday, August 09, 2014

Heaven Is Surreal: Hollyweird Is Pandering To The Sheeple Again

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasis
bygonesI shop at Safeway frequently (try on a near daily basis). And it’s hard not to notice all the glitter and garbage they pepper the market with. You may know what I mean: shelves stacked with tabloids where the headlines very nearly mug you, the latest and greatest flavor-of-the-month movie that formulaically tugs at the heartstrings (I’ll skip over the sugary treats that I’m avoiding on my diet).

So of course this movie pops up out of nowhere: Heaven Is For Real. It’s even showing up on my Netflix movie mailers. I have barely restrained the urge to rush out to a hobby store and buy a large powerful magnet, and very stealthily handle each jewel cover, secretly running the magnet over the magnetic media. Why would I want to do such a dastardly thing?

Because the afterlife poisons this life. It degrades making our own purposes, it falsely lulls folks into saving up for a future that will never arrive. It sends dullards to their deaths in false righteousness, even though an omnipotent  power requiring that you sacrifice yourself for it is probably the most contradictory concept in the universe.

Had I known this travesty was being shown at theaters, I would’ve been sorely tempted to picket the movie. But that would’ve entitled a bunch of zealots who claim to spread love in the name of their religion to thrash the apostate.

But hey! Let’s examine the alleged ‘evidence’:

In the book, Todd Burpo, pastor of Crossroads Wesleyan Church in Imperial, Nebraska, writes that during the months after his son, Colton's, emergency surgery in 2003, Colton began describing events and people that seemed impossible for him to have known about. Examples include knowledge of an unborn sister whom no one had told him about and his great grandfather who died 30 years before he was born. Colton also claimed that he personally met Jesus riding a rainbow-colored horse and sat in Jesus' lap, while the angels sang songs to him. He also says he saw Mary kneeling before the throne of God and at other times standing beside Jesus.

Where to begin? If the dad had been an atheist, and the child had had absolutely NO exposure and/or instruction in Christianity, well hell, that might even shake my steely resolve. But the father was a pastor? Mighty suspect. As to the unborn sister and the great-grandfather? Come on, kids pick up on shit. None of this is particularly earth-shattering. A rainbow-colored horse? That sounds suspiciously like a cartoon of some sort.

Let’s set aside the obvious confirmation bias: the satanic day-care scare of the 80’s and 90’s taught us this;

(snip)

Children are vulnerable to outside influences that lead to fabrication of testimony. Their testimony can be influenced in a variety of ways. Maggie Bruck in her article published by the American Psychological Association wrote that children incorporate aspects of the interviewer's questions into their answers in an attempt to tell the interviewer what the child believes is being sought. Studies also show that when adults ask children questions that do not make sense (such as "is milk bigger than water?" or "is red heavier than yellow?"), most children will offer an answer, believing that there is an answer to be given, rather than understand the absurdity of the question. Furthermore, repeated questioning of children causes them to change their answers. This is because the children perceive the repeated questioning as a sign that they did not give the "correct" answer previously. Children are also especially susceptible to leading and suggestive questions.

And

(snip)

Interviewer bias also plays a role in shaping child testimony. When an interviewer has a preconceived notion as to the truth of the matter being investigated, the questioning is conducted in a manner to extract statements that support these beliefs. As a result, evidence that could disprove the belief is never sought by the interviewer. Additionally, positive reinforcement by the interviewer can taint child testimony. Often such reinforcement is given to encourage a spirit of cooperation by the child, but the impartial tone can quickly disappear as the interviewer nods, smiles, or offers verbal encouragement to "helpful" statements. Some studies show that when interviewers make reassuring statements to child witnesses, the children are more likely to fabricate stories of past events that never occurred.

Highly damning. Now let’s (briefly) look at NDE’s. The  resuscitation techniques developed in the 20th and 21st centuries have increased the amount of NDE’s reported exponentially. This phenomenon is a likely candidate for the survival of these antiquated nonsenses we call religion. In fact, there are so many variances within these experiences, which occur with some frequency, that they have specifically labeled categories.

Sam Harris puts it thusly;

However, the deepest problem with drawing sweeping conclusions from the NDE is that those who have had one and subsequently talked about it did not actually die. In fact, many appear to have been in no real danger of dying. And those who have reported leaving their bodies during a true medical emergency—after cardiac arrest, for instance—did not suffer the complete loss of brain activity. Even in cases where the brain is alleged to have shut down, its activity must return if the subject is to survive and describe the experience. In such cases, there is generally no way to establish that the NDE occurred while the brain was offline.

Well, let me take a stand right now: until someone can prove to me beyond a reasonable doubt that all those memories, experiences, thoughts, or other items associated with the ‘soul’ exist and go elsewhere after the shuffling off of this mortal coil, that information survives the physical death of the individual, I’m going to have to go with an extreme biochemical response to real or perceived danger.

And what I mean by reasonable doubt, is that it can be codified and replicated in a lab.

Till then next post, then.

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Sunday, August 03, 2014

A Tea Party Politician Proves God! Let’s Stone The Homos!

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasis

gohmertjester"No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says: He is always convinced that it says what he means." – G.B. Shaw

It’s these dratted headlines that are most embarrassing to our country, and our citizenry. Somehow being a member of the Tea (bag) party is a free pass to say some of the stupidest and most ignorant things any human can say.

For instance:

Louie Gohmert Proves God's Existence With One Simple Equation

Mocking non-believers for failing to grasp the logic behind the existence of God, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) cited an exchange with the late Texas entertainer Bob Murphey to disprove atheism during a prayer rally in Washington, D.C. Wednesday.

“Bob Murphey used to say, ‘You know, I feel so bad for atheists, I do,'” Gohmert recalled at "Celebrate America,” a three-week-long revival event. “‘Think about it, no matter how smart they think they are, an atheist has to admit that he believes the equation: nobody plus nothing equals everything.’”

"How embarrassing for an intellectual to have to say 'Yeah, I believe that,'" Gohmert said, citing Murphey. "Nobody plus nothing equals everything."

Of course, Gomer’s statement is intellectually null & void, pure idiocy: there’s no such thing as nothing, so it’s not an item for use in simple math; there is no simple ‘this + that=everything’ formula (though I’ve heard rumors otherwise). I guess simple minds think alike.

And then there’s this little gem:

Oklahoma Tea Party Candidate Supports Stoning Gay People to Death

Given how savagely anti-gay the mainstream Oklahoma Republican party is, it’s no surprise that the state’s Tea Partiers are so rabidly hateful that they come across more as dark satire than as serious bigots. To wit: This week, an Oklahoma magazine discovered that last summer, Tea Party state House candidate Scott Esk endorsed stoning gay people to death: “I think we would be totally in the right to do it,” he said in a Facebook post. Esk went on to add nuance to his position:

That [stoning gay people to death] goes against some parts of libertarianism, I realize, and I’m largely libertarian, but ignoring as a nation things that are worthy of death is very remiss.

When a Facebook user messaged Esk to clarify further, he responded:

I never said I would author legislation to put homosexuals to death, but I didn’t have a problem with it.

Understandably unnerved, the magazine called up Esk for clarification. Although Esk claimed he didn’t remember the comments, he fleshed out his views:

That was done in the Old Testament under a law that came directly from God and in that time there it was totally just. It came directly from God. I have no plans to reinstitute that in Oklahoma law. I do have some very huge moral misgivings about those kinds of sins.

Pressed one final time about his position on stoning gay human beings to death, Esk dug in his heels:

I know what was done in the Old Testament and what was done back then was what’s just. … And I do stand for Biblical morality.

Seriously, how is it these fuckwits get elected? This is what people get when they don’t vet a political candidate, or worse yet, don’t vote. The inmates running bedlam. Ignorance being spread.

It’s a crying shame.

Till the next post, then.

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Voudon Vs. Catholicism–Which Shaman Would You Choose?

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasis

Do do that voodoovoodoobankrobbery
that you do so well.
For you do something to me
that nobody else could do! – Cole Porter, You Do Something To Me

Sometimes I think my nose should be flat and I should be suffering a concussion, considering all the facepalms and headdesks I do when reading ‘headlines’ like the following:

Voodoo won't save Haiti, says cardinal 

Haiti's first Roman Catholic cardinal has described voodoo as a "big social problem" for his desperately poor country, arguing that the religion offers "magic" but no real solutions to a population deprived of justice and a political voice.

Chibly Langlois, who was made a cardinal by Pope Francis in February, linked Haiti's belief system to its chronic political problems, which he says force poor Haitians – the overwhelming majority of a population of 10 million – to seek supernatural solutions.

"If a person is well educated and has the financial means, they will go to a doctor [instead of the voodoo priest] when they get sick. If that same person went to the court to get justice they would not go to the voodoo priest to get revenge. It's a big problem for the church. And for Haiti," he said.

About 80% of Haitians are Roman Catholic; roughly half the population also practises voodoo – though many do not do so in public. "That's why voodoo ceremonies are conducted at night–time. They are ashamed to say they practise it," said Langlois.

Voodoo, which has its roots in west Africa's pantheist religions but incorporates images and rituals of Catholicism, has played a central role in Haitian society since before colonial times. A voodoo ceremony in August 1791 is said to have helped trigger Haiti's first big slave insurrection against the French colonisers. It was banned in 1934 and categorised as sorcery in the penal code.

In the 1940s Catholics in Haiti burned voodoo masks and drums in a series of "anti-superstition" campaigns. Meanwhile, Hollywood popularised the (entirely fictional) image of voodoo as a religion of zombies, devil worship and ceremonies involving wax dolls and pins.

Voodoo remained banned in Haiti until 1987, when a new constitution came into force, and it was not until 2003 that it was given legal recognition as a religion with equal standing to Catholicism.

But after decades of uneasy tolerance by the Catholic church, Langlois declared that Haitians cannot follow both religions. "The church cannot – and does not – ignore the cultural elements and uses of voodoo, like the drum, the rhythm, the way of singing. But you can't be voodooist and Catholic. The Catholic should be pure Catholic; the voodooist should be pure voodoo," he said.

It is a clear, if controversial, message, for the poorest country in the Americas.

Richard Morse, a Haitian-American anthropologist and musician, whose mother was a voodoo priestess, described the cardinal's remarks as dishonest.

"If you want to talk about Haiti's ills, you've got to start with slavery, in which the Catholics were very involved. So I'm not sure what good comes of blaming the victim."

Morse also questioned the Catholic church's right to prescribe for Haitians. "Voodoo was born in Haiti, of Haitians and it is our culture. Catholicism is imported and we respect it and embrace it but we also love the truth."

Jeanguy Sainteus, founder of Haiti's leading dance company, said that he regarded voodoo as being more meaningful than the Catholic faith. "I feel more connected with the lwa [voodoo spirits] than [anything I feel] when I go to church," he said.

"Voodoo is a religion, like the Catholic faith. It's certainly not a big problem for Haiti. If people use voodoo properly and if we are open about it and talk about who we really are, it can only be good."

Sainteus said voodoo's standing as the religion of the poor meant it was "misused and misunderstood". He added that the cardinal and other Haitians "need to see voodoo with their eyes, not their prejudice, because it is the key to Haiti's future".

Langlois, 55, the youngest of Jesuit Pope Francis's recent crop of 19 cardinals, is seen to epitomise the Vatican's determination to refocus the church's attention on the poor.

He says it was this commitment to the poor that led him to broker negotiations between President Michel Martelly's administration and the opposition in mid-March, in an attempt to break political deadlock over the organisation of senate and local authority elections that are more than two years overdue.

"As Pope Francis said, he would rather have a church that gets its hands dirty than one that is closed in on itself," said Langlois. "I should work to help provide a better solution to the country even if I know I'm taking a risk."

It’s this kind of nonsense that makes me throw my hands up in disgust when I read shit like this. One witch doctor criticizing other witch doctors is pretty much pot.kettle.black. If the Holy Cee (guess what word I substitute for ‘church’?) is really really worried about these folks, howzabout they actually sell their papist trappings and trimmings to help them out? (Rhetorical question, of course: they never shall).

And who would win in a Cage match? The Virgin Mary vs. Baron Samadi? And which belief is wackier? One states that ‘gods’ wander around waiting to possess willing individuals, the other propounds that a human woman untouched by male semen gave birth anyways. Need I elaborate?

Sad, sad world we live in.

Till the next post then.

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

More On The Madness Of Muslims: Islamic Taxation With Representation

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasis

"kill the disbelievers wherever we find them" (2:191);moandjesuscompulse

"fight and slay the Pagans, seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem" (9:5);

"slay or crucify or cut the hands and feet of the unbelievers, that they be expelled from the land with disgrace and that they shall have a great punishment in world hereafter" (5:34).

These idiots won’t stop until they drag us all back to medieval barbarism:

Convert, pay tax, or die, Islamic State warns Christians

Islamist insurgents have issued an ultimatum to northern Iraq's dwindling Christian population to either convert to Islam, pay a religious levy or face death, according to a statement issued by the Islamic State (Isis) and distributed in the militant-controlled city of Mosul. The al-Qaida offshoot that led last month's lightning assault to capture swathes of northern Iraq said the ruling would come into effect on Saturday.

In the statement, Isis said Christians who wanted to remain in the "caliphate" declared earlier this month in parts of Iraq and Syria must agree to abide by terms of a "dhimma" contract – a historic practice under which non-Muslims were protected in Muslim lands in return for a special levy known as "jizya". "We offer them three choices: Islam; the dhimma contract – involving payment of jizya; if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword," the announcement said.

A resident of Mosul said the statement, issued in the name of the Islamic State in Iraq's northern province of Nineveh, had been distributed on Thursday and read out in mosques. It said that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, which the group has now named Caliph Ibrahim, had set a Saturday deadline for Christians who did not want to stay and live under those terms to "leave the borders of the Islamic Caliphate". "After this date, there is nothing between us and them but the sword," it said.

The Nineveh decree echoes one that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, the former name for the Islamic State, issued in the Syrian city of Raqqa in February, demanding that Christians pay the jizya levy in gold and curb displays of their faith in return for protection.

The concept of dhimma, governing non-Muslims living under Islamic rule, dates back to the early Islamic era in the seventh century, but was largely abolished during the Ottoman reforms of the mid-19th century.

Mosul, once home to diverse faiths, had a Christian population of around 100,000 a decade ago, but waves of attacks on Christians since the 2003 US-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein have seen those numbers collapse.

The Mosul residents who saw the Islamic State announcement estimated the city's Christian population before last month's militant takeover at around 5,000. The vast bulk of those have since fled, leaving perhaps only 200 in the city.

The ‘Caliphate’ is just another name for tyrannical ideological theocrat. This is the 21st century, this shit’s gotta stop.

What someone needs to do, is take a squad into Iraq, and dust these assholes off. Not a big fan of US foreign intervention myself, but if these fucks take Iraq, they’ll be on to Libya next, and then who knows?

And all this because of some charlatan named Abe decided he was the father of the ‘chosen people’ (whatever that nauseating neologism is supposed to mean, besides enabling the worst kind of tribalism ever).

Till the next post then.

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Saturday, July 12, 2014

There’s A Memo? Who Knew?

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasis

old-atheists-vs-new-atheistsI have never been a big fan of Julian Baggini – he tends to be an accommodationist who  recites the Rodney King mantra, mistaking tone for temperament (and content), trying to bridge those vast schisms between believers and non-believers. It’s a nice thought, one I’d entertained many years ago but abandoned when faced with the ferocious tenaciousness and the unbelievable capacity for dishonesty that religious folk in general exhibit. Anyways, here’s his ‘manifesto’:

Atheists, please read my heathen manifesto

In recent years, we atheists have become more confident and outspoken in articulating and defending our godlessness in the public square. Much has been gained by this. There is now wider awareness of the reasonableness of a naturalist world view, and some of the unjustified deference to religion has been removed, exposing them to much needed critical scrutiny.

Unfortunately, however, in a culture that tends to focus on the widest distinctions, the most extreme positions and the most strident advocates, the "moderate middle" has been sidelined by this debate. There is a perception of unbridgeable polarisation, and a sense that the debates have sunk into a stale impasse, with the same tired old arguments being rehearsed time and again by protagonists who are getting more and more entrenched.

It is time, therefore, for those of us who are tired of the status quo to try to shift the focus of our public discussions of atheism into areas where more progress and genuine dialogue is possible. To achieve this, we need to rethink what atheism stands for and how to present it. The so-called "new atheism" may have put us on the map, but in the public imagination it amounts to little more than a caricature of Richard Dawkins, which is not an accurate representation of the terrain many of us occupy. We now need something else.

This manifesto is an attempt to point towards the next phase of atheism's involvement in public discourse. It is not a list of doctrines that people are asked to sign up to but a set of suggestions to provide a focus for debate and discussion. Nor is it an attempt to accurately describe what all atheists have in common. Rather it is an attempt to prescribe what the best form of atheism should be like.

1 Why we are heathens

It has long been recognised that the term "atheist" has unhelpful connotations. It has too many dark associations and also defines itself negatively, against what it opposes, not what it stands for. "Humanist" is one alternative, but humanists are a subset of atheists who have a formal organisation and set of beliefs many atheists do not share. Whatever the intentions of those who adopt the labels, "rationalist" and "bright" both suffer from sounding too self-satisfied, too confident, implying that others are irrationalists or dim.

If we want an alternative, we should look to other groups who have reclaimed mocking nicknames, such as gays, Methodists and Quakers. We need a name that shows that we do not think too highly of ourselves. This is no trivial point: atheism faces the human condition with honesty, and that requires acknowledging our absurdity, weakness and stupidity, not just our capacity for creativity, intelligence, love and compassion. "Heathen" fulfils this ambition. We are heathens because we have not been saved by God and because in the absence of divine revelation, we are in so many ways deeply unenlightened. The main difference between us and the religious is that we know this to be true of all of us, but they believe it is not true of them.

2 Heathens are naturalists

Heathens are not merely unbelievers: we believe many things too. Most importantly, we believe in naturalism: the natural world is all there is and there is no purposive, conscious agency that created or guides it. This natural world may contain many mysteries and even unseen dimensions, but we have no reason to believe that they are anything like the heavens, spirit worlds and deities that have characterised supernatural religious beliefs over history. Many religious believers deny the "supernatural" label, but unless they are willing to disavow such beliefs as in the reality of a divine person, miracles, resurrections or life after death, they are not naturalists.

3 Our first commitment is to the truth

Although we believe many things about what does and does not exist, these are the conclusions we come to, not the basis of our worldview. That basis is a commitment to see the world as truthfully as we can, using our rational faculties as best we can, based on the best evidence we have. That is where our primary commitment lies, not the conclusions we reach. Hence we are prepared to accept the possibility that we are wrong. It also means that we respect and have much in common with people who come to very different conclusions but have an equal respect for truth, reason and evidence. A heathen has more in common with a sincere, rational, religious truth-seeker than an atheist whose lack of belief is unquestioned, or has become unquestionable.

4 We respect science, not scientism

Heathens place science in high regard, being the most successful means humans have devised to come to a true understanding of the real nature of the world on the basis of reason and evidence. If a belief conflicts with science, then no matter how much we cherish it, science should prevail. That is why the religious beliefs we most oppose are those that defy scientific knowledge, such as young earth creationism.

Nonetheless, this does not make us scientistic. Scientism is the belief that science provides the only means of gaining true knowledge of the world, and that everything has to be understood through the lens of science or not at all. There are scientistic atheists but heathens are not among them. Science is limited in what it can contribute to our understanding of who we are and how we should live because many of the most important facts of human life only emerge at a level of description on which science remains silent. History, for example, may ultimately depend on nothing more than the movements of atoms, but you cannot understand the battle of Hastings by examining interactions of fermions and bosons. Love may depend on nothing more than the physical firing of neurons, but anyone who tries to understand it solely in those terms just does not know what love means.

Science may also make life uncomfortable for us. For example, it may undermine certain beliefs about free will that many atheists have relied on to give dignity and autonomy to our species.

Heathens are therefore properly respectful of science but also mindful of its limits. Science is not our Bible: the last word on everything.

5 We value reason as precious but fragile

Heathens have a commitment to reason that fully acknowledges the limits of reason. Reason is itself a multi-faceted thing that cannot be reduced to pure logic. We use reason whenever we try to form true beliefs on the basis of the clearest thinking, using the best evidence. But reason almost always leaves us short of certain knowledge and very often leaves us with a need to make a judgment in order to come to a conclusion. We also need to accept that human beings are very imperfect users of reason, susceptible to biases, distortions and prejudices that lead even the most intelligent astray. In short, if we understand what reason is and how it works, we have very good reason to doubt those who claim rationality solely for those who accept their worldview and who deny the rationality of those who disagree.

6 We are convinced, not dogmatic

The heathen's modesty about the power of reason and the certainty of her conclusions should not be mistaken for a shoulder-shrugging agnosticism. We have a very high degree of confidence in the truth of our naturalistic worldview. But we do not dogmatically assert it. Being open to being wrong and to changing our minds does not mean we lack conviction that we are right. Strength of belief is not the same as rigidity of dogma.

7 We have no illusions about life as a heathen

Many people do not understand that it is possible to lead a meaningful, happy life as a heathen, but we maintain that it is and can point to any number of atheist philosophers and thinkers who have explained why this is so. But such meaning and contentment does not inevitably follow from becoming a heathen. Ours is a universe without guarantees of redemption or salvation and sometimes people have terrible lives or do terrible things and thrive. On such occasions, we have no consolation. That is the dark side of accepting the truth, and we are prepared to acknowledge it. We are heathens because we value living in the truth. But that does not mean that we pretend that always makes life easy or us happy. If the evidence were to show that religious people are happier and healthier than us, we would not see that as any reason to give up our convictions.

8 We are secularists

We support a state that is neutral as regards people's fundamental worldviews. It is not neutral when it comes to the shared values necessary for people of different conviction to live and thrive together. But it should not give any special privilege to any particular sect or group, or use their creeds as a basis for policy. Politics requires a coming together of people of different fundamental convictions to formulate and justify policy in terms that all understand, on the basis of principles that as many as possible can share.

This secularism does not require that religion is banished from public life or that people may not be open as to how their faiths, or lack of one, motivate their values. As long as the core of the business of state is neutral as regards to comprehensive worldviews, we can be relaxed about expressions of these commitments in society at large. We want to maintain the state's neutrality on fundamental worldviews, not purge religion from society.

9 Heathens can be religious

There are a small minority of forms of religion that are entirely compatible with the heathen position. These are forms of religion that reject the real existence of supernatural entities and divinely authored texts, accept that science trumps dogma, and who see the essential core of religion in its values and practices. We have very little evidence that anything more than a small fraction of actual existent religion is like this, but when it does conform to this description, heathens have no reason to dismiss it as false.

10 Religion is often our friend

We believe in not being tone-deaf to religion and to understand it in the most charitable way possible. So we support religions when they work to promote values we share, including those of social justice and compassion. We are respectful and sympathetic to the religious when they arrive at their different conclusions on the basis of the same commitment to sincere, rational, undogmatic inquiry as us, without in any way denying that we believe them to be false and misguided. We are also sympathetic to religion when its effects are more benign than malign. We appreciate that commitment to truth is but one value and that a commitment to compassion and kindness to others is also of supreme importance. We are not prepared to insist that it is indubitably better to live guided by such values allied with false beliefs than it is to live without such values but also without false belief.

11 We are critical of religion when necessary

Our willingness to accept what is good in religion is balanced by an equally honest commitment to be critical of it when necessary. We object when religion invokes mystery to avoid difficult questions or to obfuscate when clarity is needed. We do not like the way in which "people of faith" tend to huddle together in an unprincipled coalition of self-interest, even when that means liberals getting into bed with homophobes and misogynists. We think it is disingenuous for religious people to talk about the reasonableness of their beliefs and the importance of values and practice, while drawing a veil over their embrace of superstitious beliefs. In these and other areas, we assert the right and need to make civil but acute criticisms.

And although our general stance is not one of hostility towards religion, there are some occasions when this is exactly what is called for. When religions promote prejudice, division or discrimination, suppress truth or stand in the way of medical or social progress, a hostile response is an appropriate, principled one, just as it is when atheists are guilty of the same crimes.

12 This manifesto is less concerned with distinguishing heathens from others than forging links between us and others

Our commitment to independent thought and the provisionality of belief means that few heathens are likely to agree completely with this manifesto. It is therefore almost a precondition of supporting it that you do not entirely support it. At the same time, although very few people of faith can be heathens, many will find themselves in agreement with much of what heathens belief. This is what provides the common ground to make fruitful dialogue possible: we need to accept what we share in order to accept with civility and understanding what we most certainly do not. This is what the heathen manifesto is really about.

For the most part, it all seems fairly rational. The real red flag here is bullet point # 10, ‘Religion Is Often Our Friend’. No it isn’t. Religion isn’t a person: it can no more befriend us than be our enemy. Only another living being can be our friend. Religion inspires no one: it is an excuse for people to do what they wish to do, a prepared societally-sanctioned explanation for craziness.

Bullet point # 11: ‘We are critical of religion when necessary’. This is that ‘there’s-a-time-and-a-place’ jazz, where there never is nor ever will be a ‘time and a place’. We are at a critical juncture here: religion is telling people to spew forth as many children as possible, because their particular delusion has some cosmic babysitter coming down from on high to clean the planet up and wipe the boogers out of their hair. The issue of overpopulation by itself is an issue that threatens our species survival. So it is always necessary to criticize it, to ridicule it, to marginalize it.

We keep treating these mooks with kid gloves, pretty soon there’ll be too many people with too many feelings making too many problems (apologies to Phil Collins), and not enough space to live in.

Till the next post, then.

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Saturday, July 05, 2014

Allegories Gone Wild–‘We Are Legion’ Is An Empty Threat

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasis

exorcismThe devil made me do it, oh, oh, oh, oh
It was an act of a man possessed now
The devil made me do it, oh, oh, oh, oh
Your honor, I am innocent

– Ru Paul

It (almost) never ceases to confound me, the idiocy the Holy Cee will stoop to:

Vatican gives official backing to exorcists

Exorcists now have an extra weapon in their fight against evil – the official backing of the Catholic church. The Vatican has formally recognised the International Association of Exorcists, a group of 250 priests in 30 countries who liberate the faithful from demons.

The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano reported this week that the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy had approved the organisation's statutes and recognised the group under canon law.

More than his predecessors, Pope Francis speaks frequently about the devil, and last year was seen placing his hands on the head of a man supposedly possessed by four demons in what exorcists said was a prayer of liberation from Satan.

The head of the association, the Rev Francesco Bamonte, said the Vatican approval was cause for joy. "Exorcism is a form of charity that benefits those who suffer," he told L'Osservatore.

Charity? No. Personally, I’d like to see every single ‘exorcist’ on earth get tried for crimes against humanity. Because demons don’t exist. Period. Here in the 21st century, we don’t require the aid of a bunch of iron-age-shepherd shamans – and people who proffer a false alternative are worse than liars…mistaking superstitious drivel  for actual psychological therapy. So many human minds, suffering because of other people’s ‘spiritual charity’.

And scars like these…scars too, have ripples. Pain has a memetic echo that carries its message across the years somehow, an evolutionary flourish the hindbrain inherits.

And these pointy-headed witch doctors are doing nothing but increasing the risk and pain of those individuals who require actual professional help, not the Voodoo Catholick dance jive, some old geezer spraying the victim with water and chanting some Latin rubbish.

It’s a disgrace. A disgrace to the human race. Somebody should seriously lock these con artists up.

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