left biblioblography: January 2013

Sunday, January 27, 2013

People Of An Ideology Thousands Of Years Old Presume Entitlement…

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasis
shithappensUsually I tend to rail against the Triune of Western religions: you can guess which three, since they are monolithic. And truth be told, the Far Eastern religions hold a bit of fascination for me, inasmuch as trying to understand them from a Western point of view is a challenge in and of itself.

What really grinds my gears about any religion from anywhere, is that the bulk of them tend to mistreat people: whether it be non-believers, women and children, or even their own neighbors who hold a differing opinion as to what’s what. I chanced across this article:

On Republic Day, consider that India's real split is between two Hinduisms

Once a year since 1950, India tries to convince the world (and itself) that it is indeed a superpower, with an epic show that takes over the grandest road in India, the Rajpath in New Delhi. The Republic Day parade celebrates India's nationhood with pomp and circumstance. This year, however, there has been a flurry of calls to boycott the event. For the first time, the Indian middle class is disassociating itself from this hoopla. The barbaric Delhi gang rape in December may have been the trigger, but, beyond that, there is widespread disappointment with law and order and the political class.

The appeal for a boycott started on social media. It was soon labelled anti-national by traditionalists. Not surprising in a country riven down the middle, but the fault lines are not Hindu-Muslim, class or gender based; the breach is between two Hinduisms.

Hinduism is an odd religion. It works very well as a way of life but no longer works as a faith. It's too old, too corrupt, has moved too far from its raison d'ĂȘtre. For the educated urban Indian, Hinduism is a cultural rather than religious identity. They embrace all that's enjoyable about the Hindu way of life: the festivals, the food, the colourful mythology, sophisticated classical music and dance. They may go through the motions of worship on occasions but have no real faith in their pantheon of gods and goddesses, some of whom are decidedly strange. Nor do they follow the proscriptions that have crept into Hinduism over the centuries. Practised thus, Hinduism is the most laidback and accommodating of religions.

But there is the "other" Hinduism thriving in the small towns and villages of India, a harsh, religion that oppresses women and the "lower castes". The dark side of India's economic boom is that the largely uneducated adherents of this form of Hinduism are pouring into every corner of India. They are on a collision course with the laissez-faire middle-class Hindus of the cities. These often "upper caste" Hindu men of the hinterland pour into the cities in droves, where they find themselves disabused of their fondest beliefs, such as their superiority over women. That's when atrocities against women – such as the recent outrages that have shaken India – happen. And the resurgent Hindu fundamentalist parties and publicity-hungry self-styled holy men manipulate these zealots for their own ends.

This is a tale as old as religion itself. It is especially tragic and horrific in countries that over-respect religious beliefs and somehow find that the simple act of belief is rationalization and carte blanche for the believers themselves. The recent rape of a 23 year old woman who just happened to be riding a bus past 10 PM speaks to that. Was it religiously motivated? Likely not, but the odds are good that the men involved in it were taught from childhood some patriarchal nonsense that women were inferior to men.

India has has some serious historical occurrences of religious violence over the centuries.

And to be honest, the world hears some startling, bizarre religious news from a country that has had civilization for well over 5,000 years. Such as a woman marrying a snake, a man sentenced to marry a dog, and a company voting Hanuman in as a member of the company’s boardroom (sorry no link – from memory only).

Hinduism is just as bad as any other religion – and in some ways worse. There’s just more to choose from in the rationalization of bad behavior.

Till the next post then.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Religious Worship In Public Schools? The Devil You Say…

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasis
“Prayers are to men as dolls are to children.” satanicprayer
― Samuel Butler

I have a list.

I keep a list of states that I would love to see secede from the Union. Those being, Texas, Indiana, Oklahoma. I might consider throwing Kansas onto it (given their proclivity for stupidity). But now Florida? Check this nonsense out:

Florida schools row – should satanism be allowed?

Florida governor Rick Scott recently signed a bill that promotes religious freedom in schools. Bill 98 gives students "sole discretion in determining whether an inspirational message is to be delivered" at student assemblies, and also prevents school officials from influencing and participating in how these inspirational messages are delivered.

Governor Scott's decision might serve as a favorable public relations tool amid mediocre approval ratings and recent revelations of animal abandonment, but Bill 98 is attracting support from satanists.

Members of the fringe group The Satanic Temple are planning a rally outside of Scott's office on Jan. 25 in support of Bill 98.

For satanists, the bill might as well be divine intervention.

"Satan does ask us to do good among each other and follow our own path to happiness as long as it doesn't encroach on others," temple spokesperson Lucien Greaves told the Palm Beach Post. "Faith-based initiatives like this one in Florida gives marginalized religions like ours a chance to be heard.

"You don't build up your membership unless people know about you," Greaves continued, "so this allows us to get our message out in public. We're hoping it will reduce the stigmatism."

As incredibly amusing as this is (the Christians are almost always whining and puling about their alleged ‘persecution’ in these sort of matters), Rick Scott has missed a mark by a country mile: the students should not have a say in such matters.

And why not? Because responsible adults should make informed decisions for these youngsters, until they’re of an age where they’re capable of making said informed decisions.

And before the Children’s Rights Activists among us start sputtering in outrage, lemmee ask you this: who among you would trust a teenager to make an insightful, objective, informed decision about any noteworthy topic? Not I. It’s not that I dislike teenagers (HEY! Get off my lawn, you damned kids, rassa-frassa-sassa whippersnappers!) – it’s that I recall what a raging maelstrom puberty was, what a formative hell it proved to be, and nobody but NOBODY asked me “Hey, what would you prefer to be taught in school?” (because my wastrel youth informed what little opinion I had at the time, which consisted of blotting out my consciousness with as many psychoactives as possible.I likely would’ve responded, “I haven’t done peyote yet.”) Kids go to school to learn how to deal with the world (and granted, public schools aren’t the best places for that) – and education, like science, is not a democracy. You may have noticed this over the past decade or so, but the only people who want to let students decide school policy are the religious wingnuts. Mostly because they’ve been losing ground for years, and need a new source of manipulatory power. And since adults have stopped listening to them, let’s drag the kids into the mess.

And that’s pathetic. Not to mention unethical. There’s a reason there are age limits for specific things: going to war, voting, driving, or even getting elected to state or federal office. Because kids as a rule, don’t know squat. Sad but true. All those coming-of-age movies that portray teenagers/pre-pubescent kids as having their shit together? That’s called fantasy. Ninety percent of adults aren’t that together. Another big middle finger to hollyweird.

Further, of course we shouldn’t allow religious worship in public schools. It’s a clear violation (both literally as well as figuratively) of the Separation of Church & State. And even if we didn’t have an Establishment clause, it would still be a fucking stupid idea. Because we all recall how cliques in K1-K12 schools work: the majority would come down real hard on the minority (and if you’ve ever been a ‘minority’ of any sort prior to becoming an atheist, you’ll know exactly what I mean).

Worship in school? No. Prayer in school? Absolutely not. History is full of people who got down on their knees, prayed to their deities to bless their swords/guns/knives, and promptly went out and butchered ‘non-believers’. Prayer improves nothing, does nothing, and reinforces lower self-esteem in narcissists.

Till the next post, then.


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Yogic Religious Agendas? Bit Of A Stretch…

Cross posted at the Atheist Oasis
You really can’t get any more paranoid than this…

Evangelical Christian group helps sue California school over yoga classes

A group of California parents are campaigning for the withdrawal of school yoga classes, believing the activity promotes Hinduism.

In an effort to promote student health, a school district in Encinitas incorporated the yoga classes into its wellness curriculum this week. But a vocal minority of parents, spurred on by an evangelical Christian group, are calling for the program to be dropped.

The parents are backed by the National Center for Law & Policy, a Christian civil liberties organization that advocates for religious causes. The NCLP, a non-profit group, said it is considering suing the school because it claims yoga is inherently religious.

A Christian civil liberties group? Are you joking? All the Christians do is take liberties. And from what I’ve seen, these folks think the ACLU is anti-Christian anyways.

After the yoga classes were introduced, the NCLP released a four-page document listing reasons why it believes the school district is promoting a religious form of the activity.

Many of the NCLP's claims center on the Jois Foundation, an Encinitas non-profit created in memory of Krishna Pattabhi Jois, who popularized the Ashtanga school of yoga. The district received a $533,000 grant from the foundation and also receives support from University of Virginia and University of San Diego, which are measuring the effects of yoga on children's health.

Timothy Baird, the school district superintendent, told Encinitas Patch that the district selected instructors and designed the program so there is no religion element to it it.

"To be unconstitutional, we would have to be promoting religion and religious instruction in our program. That just isn't happening," Baird said. "What we are promoting is physical activity and overall wellness."

Jon Gans, a member of the board of directors for USA Yoga, a body that promotes yoga in the US, said he has never been in a yoga class where people were encouraged to believe in a religious practice. "Yoga is a set of exercises to improve your body and your mind. It can be applied to anything you want; it is not in and of itself a religious practice," Gans said.

The NCLP insists that the Jois Foundation is a religious institution and that the Foundation's promotion of Ashtanga form of yoga is inherently religious.

Eugene Ruffin, the director of the PK Jois Foundation, who had a Catholic upbringing, denies that the student yoga classes promote religion. Ruffin told local Encinitas radio station KPBS: "They provide you with the exercise and the motivation for children and then they give you character exercises, thou shalt not steal, thou shall be honest, thou shall be respectful to adults."

Ann Gleig, the editor of Religious Studies Review and assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Central Florida, said in an email that two groups have continually asserted that yoga is inherently religious – evangelical Christians, and some Hindus who want to preserve the practice's religious influences.

Leave it to the whackos to brew a tempest in a teapot. It’s a sad state of affairs that these crackpots react with their typical xenophobic idiocies.

And they’re not alone:

The Vatican’s former chief exorcist says yoga and Harry Potter are tools of the devil.

“Practicing yoga is Satanic, it leads to evil just like reading Harry Potter,” Father Gabriele Amorth said this week.

Those seemingly “innocuous” Potter books convince kids to believe in black magic, he said.

“In Harry Potter the Devil acts in a crafty and covert manner, under the guise of extraordinary powers, magic spells and curses,” said Amorth.

As for yoga, it leads to Hinduism and “all eastern religions are based on a false belief in reincarnation,” the 86-year-old priest said.

Boy howdy, the things that make the news these days.

Since yoga is far more efficacious than prayer, of course these nimrods are in an uproar. A quick glimpse at a wiki page tells us that:

Long-term yoga practitioners in the United States have reported musculoskeletal and mental health improvements, as well as reduced symptoms of asthma in asthmatics. Regular yoga practice increases brain GABA levels and has been shown to improve mood and anxiety more than some other metabolically matched exercises, such as walking. The three main focuses of Hatha yoga (exercise, breathing, and meditation) make it beneficial to those suffering from heart disease. Overall, studies of the effects of yoga on heart disease suggest that yoga may reduce high blood pressure, improve symptoms of heart failure, enhance cardiac rehabilitation, and lower cardiovascular risk factors. For chronic low back pain, specialist Yoga for Healthy Lower Backs has been found 30% more beneficial than usual care alone in a UK clinical trial. Other smaller studies support this finding. The Yoga for Healthy Lower Backs programme is the dominant treatment for society (both cheaper and more effective than usual care alone) due to 8.5 fewer days off work each year. A research group from Boston University School of Medicine also tested yoga’s effects on lower back pain. Over twelve weeks, one group of volunteers practiced yoga while the control group continued with standard treatment for back pain. The reported pain for yoga participants decreased by one third, while the standard treatment group had only a five percent drop. Yoga participants also had a drop of 80% in pain medication use.

And the evidence just keeps mounting, year after year. It’s sad that this modality, much like martial arts, is infected by all those New Age snake oil salesmen (or –women, or –persons, or whatever ridiculous PC garbage substitutions everybody uses these days), who deal Tarot cards, read the ‘stars’, or promote some vacuous ‘psychic exercise programs’.

So it’s not too much of a stretch (pun intended) to suggest that many of us would actually benefit from this sort of regimen – so for those of you who actually did write up a resolution list for this New Year, it is definitely worth looking into.

Till the next post, then.


Saturday, January 05, 2013

More Homophobia Gone Mental: The Pope Is A Twittering Idiot

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasis

Why do we not bomb Rome? Why do we allow these open and declared antagonists of democratic freedom to entertain their Shinto allies and organise a pseudo-Catholic destruction of democratic freedom? Why do we—after all the surprises and treacheries of this war—allow this open preparation of an internal attack upon the rehabilitation of Europe? The answer lies in the deliberate blindness of our Foreign Office and opens up a very serious indictment of the mischievous social disintegration inherent in contemporary Roman Catholic activities. – H. G Wells, Crux Ansata

popeblessingIt seems that one can’t turn around these days without elbowing yet another religious stupidity. And here we have the Papal disgrace carrying on about his homophobia, and even trying to digitize it:

The disgrace of Church backing for Ugandan homophobia

Earlier this month, Pope Benedict XVI joined Twitter in an effort to galvanize the faithful and modernize the Catholic Church for a younger, increasingly secular generation, making him the last person after your grandpa to join the social networking site. The Vatican also hired a former Fox News correspondent to bring their communications strategy into the 21st century, since that network did such an impressive job during the 2012 US presidential election.

The Catholic Church is foundering, and it'll take a lot more than 140 characters and a rightwing "news" hack to put it on a modern track.

The pope is a social issues guy, more interested in themes like "traditional" family values, gay marriage and abortion than, say, helping the poor. And the Vatican is quick to slap down anyone – but especially any women, and particularly women who have the nerve to think of themselves as equal to men – who focuses on helping the most in need, instead of crusading against abortion and gay people. As far as the Church is concerned, advocating for the equal participation of women is "radical feminism" worthy of condemnation; pushing for legislation that kills gay people is worthy of a meeting with a proponent.

Yes, that's correct: just around the same time the pope was drafting his first tweet, he met with Ugandan parliamentary speaker Rebecca Kadaga, who had earlier promised to level the death penalty for gays as a "Christmas present" to the Ugandan people (minus, one assumes, the Ugandans who will be murdered because of their sexual orientation). She was part of a delegation from Uganda which greeted the Pope during a public audience. Ugandan media sources reported that Kadaga had received the pope's "blessing", but this was denied by a Vatican spokesman who insisted the meeting was not a "sign of approval of the actions or proposals of Ms Kadaga".

Uganda has been a target for western evangelicals who see that they're losing the gay marriage battle in their own countries. Religious leaders and rightwing groups, including Rick Warren and the National Organization for Marriage, have gone to Uganda for years to spread anti-gay propaganda and bolster homophobia. These religious leaders position themselves as experts, telling Ugandans that gay people sodomize children, spread Aids, destroy marriage, break up families and pose an imminent threat to society – and then they feign shock when Ugandan leaders decide that the legal punishment most befitting these child-raping, society-crushing individuals is death.

In the meantime, gay, lesbian and transgender Ugandans face vigilante attacks daily, and are routinely raped, beaten, ostracized, tortured and murdered.

The pope – whose own track record on men who sodomize children isn't exactly stellar – meets one of the people whose hateful policies not only provide social cover and justification for that violence but, if enacted, would put state power behind the imprisonment and execution of gay people.

The Church's obsession with policing sexuality is nothing new: in fact, it's a centuries-old Catholic tradition for the Vatican to poke its nose in your bedroom when it feels its power is threatened. The early anti-sex crusades were focused on women – and haven't let up. Women were ordered to serve their husbands and were barred from the priesthood. Abortion was debated in Thomas Aquinas's day – he thought the act was a sin against the marriage, and that, of course, male fetuses were ensouled earlier than female ones – and for a long while, the Church distinguished between early and late-term abortions in terms of punishment.

But as the papal states lost territory to Italy in the late 19th century, the pope came down hard on women, declaring all abortion to be murder. The Church, it seems, is a bit like a schoolyard bully, needing to pick a scapegoat to demonstrate its ultimate authority. Women have spent the past several centuries serving as that target.

The Church extended its reach into the sex lives of its followers (and of women, in particular) again in the 1930s, when it issued its ruling on contraception for the first time ever and deemed birth control incompatible with Catholic teachings on life. Right around that same time, the Church was dealing with what it called the "terrible triangle" of anti-religious and anti-Catholic actions in the Soviet Union, Mexico and Spain. Desperate for a way to show its power and control followers, the Vatican decided that it was wrong to use anything other than crossed fingers to control the number and spacing of your children.

Here's how successful they were: 99% of American women use birth control at some point in their lives, and Catholic women use birth control at the same rates as non-Catholics. In nations where Catholicism is deeply entrenched and abortion is illegal and birth control difficult to access, abortion rates are some of the highest in the world. The only difference is that far more of the procedures are unsafe, and tens of thousands of women die. The lowest abortion rates in the world can be found in the increasingly secular west European countries where the procedure is legal and often covered by state funds, and where birth control is widely accessible.

Realizing it was losing followers and that most women weren't going to comply with the birth control mandate, and recognizing the social upheavals taking place through the 1960s, the Church re-evaluated its position – and doubled down. Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae restated the Church's anti-contraception position, extended it to sterilization and threw in some claims about the natural roles of women and men. (The natural role of celibate men who spend very little time with women is, apparently, to tell all women what to do.)

The Church also took a stand against abortion again, and declared that abortion couldn't even be had in the case of an ectopic pregnancy where the fertilized egg will never develop into a fetus. In the late 1980s, under pressure from the many nuns who have kept the Church functioning for centuries and were pushing for equal rights and recognition, Pope John Paul II asserted that women simply served a "different" role in the Church than men, but one that was equally as important. It was a nice little head-pat to Catholic women, but ultimately a condescending one: does anyone actually believe that there's power in subservience, and that being blocked from all positions of real authority represents equal importance?

In 1995, again facing declining congregations, Pope John Paul II re-upped the Church's hostility toward contraception, and further asserted that condoms were verboten – at the very moment HIV and Aids were ravaging nations around the world. The Church, ironically, categorizes contraception and condoms as part of the "culture of death".

By the Vatican's standards, taking a birth control pill or using a condom is far more deadly than contracting HIV, or executing an actual person for being gay.

As society has progressed, the Church has responded by digging its heels in to maintain outdated, misogynist social norms. And it has long used women's bodies as a tool through which to exercise control in the face of waning influence. Now, gay people are being subjected to the same treatment. As the Church continues to recover from the international pedophilia scandal that its priests perpetrated and the entire institution covered up, and as the world's population increasingly flees from formal religion, the pope is saying that two men or two women falling in love threatens world peace.

A Twitter feed can't modernize an institution so out of touch with reality, with progress and with widely-accepted human rights norms.

If the Church really wants to modernize, it could take a stand for the rights of half the world's population, and give women equal say in the Catholic hierarchy and over basic rights to their own bodies. It could promote condom use to save lives. It could take a good hard look at how its hunger for power and its authoritarianism enabled and covered for sex criminals who targeted vulnerable children.

It could back up out of our bedrooms and quit meddling in national politics, leaving its believers the right to practice as they wish, without imposing its strictures on the rest of us. It could put its enormous resources behind tried-and-true Jesus stuff like helping the sick and indigent, rather than waging battles against nuns who don't hate gays enough.

Better yet, the Catholic Church could do us all a HUGE favor: the Vatican should become fully isolationist, that way all those preening papal pedophiles would be shut off and out of the world. (Sure, I know that ain’t gonna happen, but why not ask for the moon?)

The Holy Cee, in all its anachronistic, primitive glory, is a shame upon our species. It is a blight upon our civilization. It is an institution of little to no worth, a dead albatross weighted around the neck of humanity. Its foundations are laid in blood and bone: it protects the pedophile yet censors the homosexual; for centuries the ill that it has vested human beings outweighs what few good deeds the institution has done. It has repressed women, scarred the psyches of children, dispatched entire armies to take lands and seated men in power based on divine fiat. It has supported any and all things that were ethically wrong yet culturally correct.

The Catholic Church – one of the last bastions of the sewage that is the delusional mind.

It’s gotta go.

Till the next post, then.