left biblioblography: October 2014

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.


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.


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.


Saturday, October 04, 2014

Mental Midgetry Among The Evangelicals: Political Nonsense That Is Too Costly

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasis

Denial ain't just a river in Egypt. – Mark Twain

cameronclimatechangeReally, this nonsense with Christians sticking their upturned noses into areas that are a non-debate is seriously out of hand. That ‘brother’s keeper’ line in their fairy tales has had some serious consequences in the world (like spreading their epistemological garbage everywhere), when they should just butt the fuck out of it, due to their insane lack of knowledge and details on the topic (or any given topic, come to think of it). Perfect example as follows:

Global warming: a battle for evangelical Christian hearts and minds

The Cornwall Alliance gets climate science wrong and harms the poor in the process

The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation is a conservative evangelical Christian public policy group that promotes a free-market approach to protecting the environment. The organization recently published a list of ten reasons it opposes policies to reduce carbon pollution and slow global warming, purportedly to protect the poor. As the first point on the list illustrates, the group essentially believes that the Earth’s climate will be able to correct any damage done by humans.

1. As the product of infinitely wise design, omnipotent creation, and faithful sustaining (Genesis 1:1–31; 8:21–22), Earth is robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting.

The group includes climate scientist Roy Spencer and professor of geography David Legates. Spencer’s research is among the 2–3% of peer-reviewed climate papers disputing that humans are the main cause of global warming. He has often argued that climate policies will harm the poor, and has not been shy in making political and free market statements, having gone as far as to make comments about “global warming Nazis.” Legates is known for disputing the 97% expert consensus on human-caused global warming.

The Cornwall Alliance has tried to use scientific arguments to support its religious beliefs about the resiliency of the global climate, claiming,

3. While human addition of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2), to the atmosphere may slightly raise atmospheric temperatures, observational studies indicate that the climate system responds more in ways that suppress than in ways that amplify CO2’s effect on temperature, implying a relatively small and benign rather than large and dangerous warming effect.

By itself, a doubling of the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would raise global surface temperatures by about 1.2°C. By claiming the climate suppresses more than it amplifies that warming, the group is arguing that the Earth’s climate sensitivity is less than 1.2°C.

To put that in perspective, ‘sceptics’ Nic Lewis and Judith Curry recently published a paper with one of the lowest best estimates for the Earth’s equilibrium climate sensitivity, at 1.64°C global surface warming in response to a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Their study only included some of the lowest estimates of ocean and surface temperatures, and hence likely underestimated the climate sensitivity, as climate scientist Kevin Trenberth explains,

Lewis and Curry not only low-balled their estimates of climate sensitivity by selective use of datasets but they also failed to take the other datasets into account in assigning error bars or uncertainties. They chose low values of temperature change without factoring in the biases of not adequately sampling the Arctic and the huge changes that have occurred there (see Cowtan and Way). They ignored many papers that document the best and most comprehensive estimates of changes in ocean heat storage such as those by Balmaseda et al (2013), Trenberth et al. (2014) and Chen and Tung (2014). There are a number of ocean heat content change estimates based on Argo data, but these miss many regions including the Indonesian region and Arctic, which contribute perhaps 30% of the total. The result is that the Lewis and Curry estimates are perhaps 50% too low, and their uncertainties are much too low.

Nevertheless, even the low-ball Lewis & Curry best estimate puts the climate at over 37% more sensitive to carbon pollution than the Cornwall Alliance believes.

The Cornwall Alliance’s policy positions are similarly misguided. On the issue of energy in developing countries, they argue,

To demand that they forgo the use of inexpensive fossil fuels and depend on expensive wind, solar, and other “Green” fuels to meet that need is to condemn them to more generations of poverty and the high rates of disease and premature death that accompany it.

Much of my colleague John Abraham’s work involves the design and installation of clean and robust energy sources in remote parts of the world. Based on his firsthand experience, Abraham says the Cornwall Alliance has got it all wrong.

This statement is made by people without much experience in energy or in emerging economies. My own team has led multiple projects where we bring low-cost clean energy solution to very remote and impoverished areas of the globe. Not only can we deliver energy at a competitive (and sometimes lower) costs, but small-scale distributed energy systems such as wind and solar generation provide local control over distribution. What we find is that cleaning the environment also cleans the politics associated with energy.

Abraham also told me about the moral challenge surrounding this subject – poorer countries tend to be the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

In subsistence farming regions, people live and die by the weather and agriculture. I have seen firsthand how changes to climate are affecting real people and real communities. In the United States, it is an intellectual exercise to think about how the changing climate will affect our future economy and society. In Africa, South America, and Asia, this theoretical exercise is occurring in real time. Climate change costs are already occurring around the world, they impact the world’s poorest the most. Surely these social and economic costs should be part of our calculus as we think about solving this problem.

Many evangelical Christians recognize this moral angle of human-caused climate change, and also view the issue as one of stewardship of the Earth. For example, climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe is an evangelical Christian herself, and often speaks to like-minded groups. She recently did an interview with Bill Moyers that’s well worth watching. Hayhoe told me,

The foundation of the Christian faith is about loving others as Christ loved us, and it is clear from the work that I do myself as well as I see from other colleagues that those with the least resources to adapt to a changing climate will be most affected by our actions.

The National Association of Evangelicals has likewise acknowledged the reality of human-caused global warming and concluded,

Therefore, even when scientific uncertainties are taken into account, the precautionary principle (e.g., Overture 60, Agenda for Synod 2012, p. 594) compels us to take private and public actions to address climate change.

Evangelical Christians tend to be divided between these two camps. Although they tend to view global warming as a threat, evangelicals are also more likely to doubt scientific concepts that they view as contradictory to their faith. Many like Hayhoe have been working to show them that addressing climate change, taking care of the Earth, and protecting the poor are all consistent with the evangelical faith.

Contrary arguments by groups like the Cornwall Alliance are based on misunderstandings of climate science, free market economics, and the evangelical faith. It remains to be seen who will win over the hearts and minds of the evangelical Christian community, but the poor will be better off if Katharine Hayhoe’s perspective wins out.

No, the poor would be better off if they didn’t listen to any of this tripe. Because that’s all it is. As it has been pointed out (and amply demonstrated more times than can possibly be counted), what people believe may have an impact on their lives, but it certainly doesn’t alter reality in any way, shape, or form. This constant idiocy is a thorn in the side of our species: it enables us to ignore facts, evidence, and even flagrant catastrophes (moral or physical) in our efforts to tailor the world to our own convenience.

It’s madness, plain and simple. That anyone is still actively propagating it, bizarre. That belief is superior to reality, delusional. Here’s hoping that our species has some sort of rude awakening soon.

Till the next post then.