Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.

Why this is a big deal

Apr 7th, 2012 12:59 pm | By

Justin Griffith has a very important post on why it matters (a lot) that atheists in the military should come out of the closet. (Yes, Brendan O’Neill, the closet.)

This is why:

Here is the debate-ending argument against NO-REL-PREF:

For all of those who still don’t see why this is a big deal:

  • Silence reinforces the culture of shame and fear.
  • We are banned from meeting on posts.
  • We are forced to take spiritual fitness tests (and mandatory remedial training).
  • Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are spent on converting you and your families to Christianity.
  • Many chaplain-endorsing agencies have an official proselytizing policy: “We reserve the right to evangelize the un-churched.”

This list is not even close to exhausting the problems our community faces, yet it represents active discrimination on a massive scale. If nobody calls them on it, the situation festers. You can help at the local level. Stop turning the other cheek. We love the military. It’s our responsibility to make it better. It’s our duty to report violations of law and ethics. Identifying as an atheist and standing up for your rights simply makes the military a better military.

Justin says please spread it around. I say the same.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)


Apr 7th, 2012 12:39 pm | By

The Vatican at its loveliest – shutting up a priest because he has reasonable, valuable criticisms of the Vatican itself.


Father Tony Flannery, a Catholic priest who has been outspoken in his criticism of the abuse crisis in Ireland, has found himself under investigation by the Vatican for his liberal views.

Founder of the Association of Irish Priests, Father Flannery told that the Vatican has contacted him to inform  him of the investigation.

The effect of the investigation was immediate. This week The Irish Catholic newspaper reports that Father Flannery had to cease writing his monthly column in the Redemptorist Reality magazine in response to news of the investigation.

It’s helpful of them, in a way, to be so clear about it – “liberal views” are a matter for investigation, and meanwhile, stfu.

The Irish Catholic writer Michael Kelly reported  that, “It is understood that while Fr Flannery has the support of his superiors in the Redemptorist Order, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF)  in Rome has expressed disquiet about some of his articles and publications.

“It is believed that the views which have come under  most scrutiny are Fr Flannery’s opposition to the Church’s ban on artificial birth control and his support for the ordination of women.”

The Congregation for the Doctrine of Male Authority, is what it should be called.

The crackdown comes on the heels of the Vatican  ordered Apostolic Visitation, which found evidence of what it called a ‘certain  tendency’ for Irish priests to hold opinions that conflict with those of the  orthodox Magisterium, the Catholic Church’s teaching authority.

In a sign of hardening attitudes, the Visitation  participants underlined that any dissent from the formal teachings of the Church  were ‘not the authentic path towards renewal.’

Under the current circumstances, Father Flannery has  been effectively silenced, with no indication of how long it will last.

On Holy Thursday Pope Benedict issued a very direct  statement which slammed those priests who refuse to conform to church teachings.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

All your blogger are belong to us

Apr 7th, 2012 12:26 pm | By

At last at last I can say it in public – I’ve been dropping hints for weeks, and I’ve told people off the record, but now I can say it out in the open -

Taslima Nasreen has joined Freethought Blogs.

Here’s a brief bio -

Taslima Nasreen, an award-wining writer, physician, secular humanist and human rights activist, is known for her powerful writings on women oppression and unflinching criticism of religion, despite forced exile and multiple fatwas calling for her death. In India, Bangladesh and abroad, Nasreen’s fiction, nonfiction, poetry and memoir have topped the best-seller’s list.  Taslima Nasreen was born in  Bangladesh. She started writing from the age of 13. Her writings also won the hearts of people across the border and she landed with the prestigious literary award Ananda from India  in 1992 and 2000. Taslima  won The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought from the European Parliament in 1994. She received the Kurt Tucholsky Award   from Swedish PEN, the Simone de Beauvoir Award and Human Rights Award from Government of France. She became Humanist Laureate from International Academy for Humanism,USA, She won Distinguished Humanist Award from International Humanist and Ethical Union, Free-thought Heroine award from Freedom From Religion foundation, USA., Erwin Fischer Award from IBKA,Germany, Feminist Press Award, USA .   She got the UNESCO Madanjeet Singh prize for Promotion of the Tolerance and Non-violence in 2005. Bestowed with honorary doctorates from Gent University and UCL in Belgium, and American University of Paris  and Paris Diderot University  in France, she has addressed gatherings in major venues of the world like the European Parliament, National Assembly of France, Universities of Sorbonne, Oxford, Harvard, Yale, etc. She got fellowships as a research scholar of Harvard and New York Universities. She was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow in the USA in 2009. Taslima has written  35 books, which includes poetry, essays, novels and autobiography series. Her works have been translated in twenty Indian and European languages.Some of her books are banned in Bangladesh. Because of her thoughts and ideals she has been banned, blacklisted and banished from Bengal, both from Bangladesh and West Bengal part of India. She has been living in exile for more than 17 years.

The excitement around here is Big.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Evidence based prayer

Apr 7th, 2012 12:10 pm | By

Hayley Stevens is one of the bloggers at The Heresy Club. I met her at QED – well sort of met; we were across the table from each other at the farewell dinner, though we never actually had the “Hi I’m __” moment. I saw her at QED, then, but I didn’t realize she’s the person who made a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority about ‘Healing on the Streets of Bath’ who were claiming to heal illnesses with prayer. I’m impressed! Young People Today eh…When I was Young People Today I wasn’t doing anything as productive as that.

She’s now being called a meany atheist because the ASA ruled against HOTS (and because three MPs are making an issue of it), but she points out that her atheism had nothing to do with the complaint.

…it wasn’t the religion of the HOTS members that was the cause of the complaint – just as it wasn’t me being an atheist that made make the complaint. It was the spurious health claims they were making that led to the complaint being made – just like the time I made a complaint about a ‘psychic surgeon’ who claimed to heal cancer and a whole list of other illnesses, the homeopath who was promoting her services with misleading claims on her website, or the people selling necklaces they claimed would boost your immune system.

I made those complaints – just as with the HOTS one – because the health related claims being made were misleading and potentially harmful, just as any non-evidence based claim is when it comes to the care for those with serious illnesses. It wasn’t because the homeopath, psychic, or the necklace seller was a certain religion,  it wasn’t because the HOTS people were Christians, it was because in my opinion the claims being advertised were not evidence based.

Ah but you see it’s only atheists who think claims should be evidence based. Riiight.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Defamation in absentia

Apr 6th, 2012 5:12 pm | By

A cheery news item from Tunisia:

A Tunisian court has sentenced two young men to seven years in prison for publishing caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, the justice ministry said Thursday.

“They were sentenced, one of them in absentia, to seven years in prison, for transgressing morality, defamation and disrupting public order,” ministry spokesman Chokri  Nefti  said, adding that the sentence was handed down late last month.

Defamation…of someone who lived 14 centuries ago.

On March 28, a primary court in the coastal city of Mahdia, sentenced the two men, Jabeur Mejri and Ghazi Beji, both in their late twenties. to seven years in prison and a fine of 1200 Tunisian Dinars (around USD $800) each over the use of social networks to publish content deemed blasphemous.

Mejri and Beji were put on trial following a complaint filed by a group of residents in Mahdia.

The League of Tunisian Humanists condemned the sentence and complained about the “unclear circumstances that surrounded the trial.”

Beji wrote a book called “the Illusion of Islam”, discussing his views about Islam and religion. Mejri, also wrote a book. “Dark Land”, where he “cursed the government, Islamists, and expressed his hatred towards Arabs.”

In an interview with Tunisia Live, Beji, who describes himself as an atheist, said: “After the Revolution, in March 2011, I said to myself Tunisia is a free and democratic country now and I should try to publish my book. I contacted several book publishers in Mahdia but they all refused to publish it. So I opted to upload it online.”

Not a free country then. Possibly democratic, but not free.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Speaking of coercion

Apr 6th, 2012 3:55 pm | By

The pope reminds his hostages flock that if he wanted their opinion he would ask for it.

In a rare public rebuke, Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday (April 5) denounced a call for optional celibacy and women’s ordination that was issued by a group of Austrian priests, saying true reform will not come as a result of open dissent.

How will it come then? As a result of obstinate resistance by a tiny body of priests?

The Austrian group launched an “Appeal to Disobedience” last year, asking for an end of compulsory celibacy for priests, the ordination of women and allowing divorced people to receive Communion. The group says it has the support of 400 priests, or around 10 percent of Austria’s clergy, and similar initiatives have taken root in other European countries, including France, Ireland and Germany.

In his Holy Thursday homily in St. Peter’s Basilica, the pope took the unusual step of directly responding to the critics.

“We would like to believe that the authors of this summons are motivated by concern for the church, that they are convinced that the slow pace of institutions has to be overcome by drastic measures, in order to open up new paths and to bring the church up to date,” he said. “But is disobedience really a way to do this?”

It’s more likely to do it than obedience is, wouldn’t you say?


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Rituals and coercion

Apr 6th, 2012 3:40 pm | By

Tom Flynn replies to James Croft on the subject of ritual.

First he points out that once a religious ritual is removed from its original (religious) context, it becomes something different. Why? Because religious ritual is about or addressed to a supernatural entity, and secular ritual isn’t, and that’s a big difference.

Believers direct their singing toward the supernatural; naturalists disbelieve that the supernatural exists. In other words, in the single case when activities that were ritualistic in congregational life are transplanted into humanist – even religious-humanist – practice, the motivations for engaging in that behavior do not – cannot follow along with them. The other-referring practice of ritual hymn-singing becomes non-other-referring when dragged into a naturalistic setting.

And that changes the whole experience so radically that it seems pointless to talk about them as the same kind of thing.

I’ve said a few times that I sort of get the concern with communal ritual, and that I have a slight sense of its value from things like Seattle’s annual Folk Life Festival, where I occasionally manage to get a whiff of the joy of groupy celebration. But given what Tom says (which I agree with), I think I have to give up saying that, because it’s too different from religious communal ritual to be relevant. It’s a very this-world kind of feeling, so a ritual that’s deliberately other-world…is a different kind of thing altogether.

I disdain commencements for many of the same reasons I revile rituals in humanist life – not (in this case) because they are religious, but because (as I observed in my original essay) they erode rationality and individual autonomy. Participants are compelled to perform together forms that have little or no inherent meaning, and to do so only because the community demands it of them. Croft seems to believe that the quality of coercion in situations like these is a matter of interpretation; to the contrary, I find it inescapable; and for that reason object to this ritual even though it does not involve any falsehoods of a religious nature.

Ah…same here. I’ve always been a bit squirmy about rituals, and that’s exactly why. Even benign ones tend to get on my nerves, because there’s something so strangely and artificially compliant about millions of people buying flowers or chocolates or peeps because it’s a certain date on the calendar o’ rituals. I feel grinchy about feeling that way, so I try to think of it as Just Fun, but in fact…I (again) agree with Tom.

I do like home-made rituals – idiosyncratic local ones. Those are fun. But the public ones…They are coercive.

I’m a grinch.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

A small town guy

Apr 6th, 2012 6:27 am | By

I posted about Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? last month, here and here. I was addressing the fact (discussed by Richard Carrier on an article by Ehrman in the Huffington Post) that Ehrman says “we have” sources that we don’t actually literally have, because they didn’t survive. I confirmed that he does it in the book too (because Richard didn’t then have the book), and that it had jumped out at me. There are other things to say about the book though.

First, however: there are more places where his wording is (in my view) too realist about hypothetical early sources that have not survived.

In a passage where he is talking about the NT evidence (Galatians 1:18-19) that Paul knew Jesus’s brother James he writes

He calls him the brother of the Lord. In other traditions that long predate our Gospels it is stated that Jesus had actual brothers and that one of them was named James. [p 156]

To an unwary reader that would surely sound as if he meant actual existing manuscripts, but he doesn’t.

…we saw in earlier chapters that in addition to the surviving Gospels (seven from a hundred years of his death), there are multiple independent witnesses to the life of Jesus, including the many written and oral sources of the Gospels… [p 188]

That “there are” is too realist; it’s confusing, at least to unwary readers. Scholars in the field will no doubt easily understand that he’s including sources that don’t physically exist any more, but non-scholars may not.

I like the book as a whole, though. I like meta-books, that are about how the scholars know what they’re telling us, and how they go about figuring out what they know, and how certainly or tentatively they know it. Ehrman points out several times that historians work with probabilities rather than certainties (which is another reason he should be more careful with the realist wording), but he also makes a reasoned case for thinking Jesus did exist.

On the way he reports on recent archaeological findings that indicate Nazareth was a real place, a tiny hamlet of about fifty houses with no expensive rubble left behind, just ordinary clay fragments. Jesus was perhaps a tekton (or perhaps his father was, or both), a carpenter who made not cabinetry but yokes and fences and the like: farming tools. He was probably illiterate, and even if he could read he probably couldn’t write; the disciples were probably illiterate.

He was all wrong for a messiah. A messiah is powerful, chosen by God to rescue his people from oppression. Jesus got busted by the Romans and then swiftly executed in the most degrading way possible. Not the messiah then; how disappointing for his followers. How to make it a better story?

You know the rest.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Part deux

Apr 5th, 2012 4:26 pm | By

More on O’Neill. (Don’t ask ‘why.’ I’m interested in this kind of thing – the blithe indifference to facts, the perversity, the malice, the lack of responsibility, the should-know-better quality; the smugness, the preening, the bullying on behalf of the already powerful.)

on 31 March, atheists in the US military had their first-ever get-together on a military base, under the banner ‘Rock Beyond Belief’. ‘All of us want to come out of the closet and demand equality’, said one sergeant, no doubt pissing off gay military servicemen who, not unreasonably, probably think that such phrases are best used by them rather than by their godless colleagues.

Note that “no doubt.” Note the “probably.” He doesn’t in the least know that gay military women and men think that such phrases are best used by them rather than by their godless colleagues. (Not to mention the fact that he doesn’t know they can’t be both. He doesn’t know that all gay military women and men are theists. Gay people in general have good reasons to be wary of theism.) He doesn’t know that, and he gives no reason to think so. That could be because it’s so hard to think of one.

O’Neill’s point seems to be that atheists are not in fact closeted – which if you know anything at all about how atheists are viewed in the US is completely ludicrous. Of course there are closeted atheists! Lots of them, all over the country.

Let’s pretend for a second that you’re O’Neill, and you need this explained to you. It’s like this, O’Neill: atheism is hated in many parts of the US, and so are atheists. In many places atheists don’t know if there are any other atheists in their school or workplace or town, and they feel isolated and weird and afraid.

Think about that simple little statement of facts. What do you suppose the upshot is? It’s that many atheists don’t tell anyone they are atheists. Others tell a trusted few but no one else. That is what it is to be closeted.

So why would gay soldiers be pissed off because atheists talk about being closeted? Why would they think the word is for them and not for anyone else?

We can stop pretending that you’re O’Neill now. I don’t know how he would answer my questions. I don’t think there is any reasonable answer.

Then there’s this:

although there is certainly cultural hostility towards atheists in parts of America, elsewhere, particularly in academia, publishing and throughout the political and media worlds of Western Europe, they enjoy untouchable ‘darling’ status these days, being fawned over like never before.

One, untouchable ‘darling’ status? Are you kidding?

Did he miss the outburst of vituperation at Richard Dawkins in the wake of the Ipsos Mori poll, complete with the Telegraph’s shock-horror story about a distant ancestor of his owning slaves…two centuries ago? Has O’Neill missed the whole backlash? (That would be odd, given how much he’s contributed to it himself.)

Two, even if that were true, what difference would it make to people in Creeping Jesus, Alabama? One might as well say that because there are some rich people named Jones, all people named Jones are rich.

It is their creation of a movement based on negatives rather than positives which explains why the New Atheists are so screechy. Because bereft of anything substantial or ideological to cohere themselves around, they instead spend the whole time attacking their opposite number – those who do believe in what New Atheists do not: religious people, the thick, the unenlightened. Like electrons in an atom, the ‘negatives’ of the New Atheist clique are forever whizzing around the ‘positives’ of the God lobby. The hole at the heart of modern atheism was best summed up in what Time magazine last month described as ‘The Rise of the Nones’ – that is, the speedily growing group of Americans who now list their religious affiliation as ‘none’. That is fine, of course, but then to cultivate an entire identity, a whole life’s outlook, on the basis of that ‘none’? That is sad. Who wants to be a ‘none’? I’d rather be a nun. At least they still believe in something.

Yes, they believe in something – they believe in a male god who founded a church run exclusively by men; they believe in their own subordination; they believe women should die rather than have an emergency abortion; they believe the Catholic church deserves their loyalty and subordination despite its lurid history of cruelty and brutality. What a strange thing for O’Neill to boast of.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

How dare you rebel against the tyrant

Apr 5th, 2012 12:38 pm | By

Brendan. At it again. Possibly more indifferent to the facts than ever.

I know Easter is traditionally a time when Christians give praise for the rising again of Jesus after his flagellation and crucifixion by the Romans. But this year, in the midst of your Easter egg-eating and possible Mass-attending, try to spare a thought for the modern-day equivalent of whipped, weeping Jesuses – that is, the New Atheists, the non-believers, who would have us believe that it is they who face persecution in the twenty-first century. Playing what we might call the Crucifixion Card, the atheist lobby now argues that its members suffer the slings and arrows and jibes of the heartless hordes in a similar way that Christians did 2,000 years ago.

Does it? Does “the atheist lobby” (is there such a thing?) claim “its members” (do lobbies have members?) suffer the way early Christians did? I don’t recall ever seeing such a claim. Do you know of any? Do fill us in if so. Meanwhile – I think O’Neill is just saying it, the way he just says so many things. Commentarial license, no doubt – but he abuses it. He abuses it in aid of making perverse claims that the more privileged are being bullies by the less privileged. What an ugly hobby.

Perhaps keen to shake off the tag of ‘Darwin’s pitbulls’, atheist campaigners now play the role of put-upon pups. They’re all about the victimology. Over the past two weeks, there have been public gatherings of atheists in which they have, self-consciously and shamelessly, plundered from the language of old oppressed groups to try to describe their alleged plight.

Bullshit. (And O’Neill should remind himself of the way bishops and cardinals have been shamelessly plundering the language of oppressed groups lately to complain about public reaction to the child-rape and failure-to-report problem among others.) Bullshit. We’re not “plundering” any language; there is abundant evidence that atheists are subject to the same kind of bigotry and marginalization for no sensible reason that “old oppressed groups” have been. Many of us also belong to those “old oppressed groups” so the language is already ours, and we know perfectly well that it fits.

There are no legislative restrictions on atheists’ rights or apartheid systems that separate them from the God-fearing, which means their claims to be following in the footsteps of protesting blacks are not only unfounded, but also pretty depraved.

That’s just flat-out false. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and he can’t be bothered to find out. There are legislative restrictions on atheists’ rights in the US, in individual states and localities. As for apartheid systems – he should watch a few videos from the recent Cranston school board meetings sometime. It’s not official apartheid, but it sure as hell is loud aggressive bullying of one slender teenager. It’s de facto apartheid.

The central problem with the New Atheist movement is that it is based entirely on a lack of belief rather than on a belief. It is built on an absence, on a negative, on the fact that these people share a non-belief in God, rather than on any shared vision of the future.

Wrong: we share a vision of the future without the secretive unaccountable bully who tells us what to do but won’t let us appeal the rulings. Would O’Neill make the same accusation against movements to get rid of Mugabe, or Kim, or any other tyrant? He might say getting rid of the tyrant is just the beginning, of course, but would he actively sneer at the anti-tyrant movement itself? I don’t know; maybe he would if he had some weird “contrarian” reason to think the tyrant is actually a swell fella who is misunderstood.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Obama to the rest of us: who cares?

Apr 5th, 2012 12:07 pm | By

Secularism? Separation of church and state? Government should neither help nor hinder any particular religion? Pluralism? Some of us are not Christians? The president is supposed to be the president of all the people? Hello?

Oh fuck off, comes the reply. Obama hosted his third annual Easter prayer breakfast at the White House on Wednesday, and there’s not a god damn thing you can do about it.

Though the president is Christian, surveys have repeatedly shown that as many as one in five Americans believe he is Muslim. His Easter prayer breakfasts have served as a platform for the president to wax theological in familiar surroundings where he appears most comfortable.

Among the guests were Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl; civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton, Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter, a spiritual adviser to Obama; Archbishop Demitrios of the Greek Orthodox Church; the Rev. Julius Scruggs, president of the National Baptist Convention and Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

Christian singer Sara Groves sang “He’s Always Been Faithful To Me” and Rev. Cynthia Hale of Ray of Hope Christian Church offered the opening prayer.

That’s nice. People who believe weird things are welcome while people who decline to believe weird things (along with people who believe different weird things) are not. The theocratization of the US marches on, with Obama helping. Nice.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Egypt, meet sharia

Apr 4th, 2012 4:40 pm | By

Oh hey gee what do you know, the Muslim Brotherhood hasn’t turned all that “moderate” after all. How about that: when they said they had they were just bullshitting people so that they could win elections and then drop the mask. What a surprise!

CAIRO (Reuters) – The Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate for the Egyptian presidency, Khairat al-Shater, declared that introducing sharia law would be his “first and final” objective if he wins elections in May and June.

Yes well – that’s what people who call themselves “Muslim” and “Brotherhood” tend to do. They like sharia. It means they get extra women, and they get to kick the women around. They like that. They’re stupid to like it, because actually it’s more pleasant to live with a companion rather than a terrorized slave…although maybe the chance to live with four terrorized slaves is worth it to them, because of the extra sex. It certainly wouldn’t be to me, but then I’m a woman, so that’s beside the point. Sharia says so.

The constitution is due to be written by the 100-member assembly of politicians and public figures over the next six months. However, dozens of non-Islamist representatives have walked out, complaining that their voices are being drowned out.

“We will give the chance to our brothers to come back and we will proceed in our activities so that we aren’t late; both will take place simultaneously,” said Saad al-Katatni, a Brotherhood member who heads the assembly and is also parliamentary speaker.

Brothers. Obviously women don’t get a say. That would be blasphemous.

H/t Taslima Nasreen

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Get a prezzy!

Apr 4th, 2012 4:00 pm | By

There’s this thing called Skepticon, and the next one (5) is November 9-11, and because we are Special here at FTB, we can tell you how to order a Skepticon 5 T shirt and get a free gift. (How Special is that?!) (No I don’t know what it is. I’m assuming it’s a secret decoder ring, because what else could it be, but I don’t know.)

Here’s what you do: you enter a Special Code in the Special Code section. Can you do that? I thought you could.

The Special Code is:


Unless of course you decide you’d rather get a different code from a different FTB blogger.

Sweet Jesus!

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

It’s Wednesday so…

Apr 4th, 2012 11:05 am | By

There’s a new Jesus and Mo…which Jesus kicks off by pronouncing the Koran overrated.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)


Apr 4th, 2012 11:00 am | By

I’m reading Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen’s collection of essays Making Minds and Madness: From Hysteria to Depression. It’s about what one might call the epistemology of psychoanalysis, and its relationship to things like reputation and fashion and consensus. There’s a bit on page 160…

The fact is that psychoanalysis managed to impose itself in significant sectors of twentieth-century society as the only psychological theory worthy of the name and the only psychotherapy capable of theorizing its own practice. In such locations, calling into question the unconscious, the Oedipus complex, or infantile sexuality could – and still can – provoke the same incredulous hilarity as do Kansas creationists or members of the “Flat Earth Society.” There, psychoanalysis has become indisputable, incontrovertible. It is “blackboxed,” to use the jargon of sociologists of science, that is to sa it is accepted as a given that it would be simply futile to question. The Freud legend and its widespread acceptance are the expression of this successful blackboxing, of this supposed victory of psychoanalysis over rival theories. Better yet, they are this blackboxing itself, that which protects psychoanalysis from independent inquiry.

Sound familiar? Remind you of anything? It reminds me of religion.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

If it’s good enough for Spock

Apr 4th, 2012 10:57 am | By

Excellent piece by Dan Fincke the other day, on why Dawkins wasn’t wrong or mean to say at the Reason Rally that patently absurd religious beliefs should be as subject to mockery as any other patently absurd beliefs, and in fact more so, since their very immunity helps people to go on being included as “Catholics” and other brands of believer when in fact they aren’t really believers at all.

While the media has largely ignored The Reason Rally, the one most popular bit of news that seems to be traveling around and getting criticized is Richard Dawkins’s recommendation to the crowd that we should incredulously and mockingly ask people who say they are Catholic whether they really believe in the transsubstantiation during the Eucharist in which bread becomes literally the body of Christ and wine becomes literally the blood of Christ.

Critics are responding to Dawkins’s remarks by accusing him of hypocritically and perversely using what was nominally a rally for reason to pump up prejudice and mocking unreasonableness. To interpret his critics charitably, the following assumptions must be in play:

“To be rational in the utmost is to consider one’s opponent’s best arguments rather than to attack either strawman or ‘weak man’ arguments.”

“To attack with mockery, rather than argument, the prima facie absurdity of transsubstantiation is to evade serious rational discussion of the question of God’s existence.”

“To attempt to persuade someone by mocking their beliefs rather than carefully refuting them is to attempt an end-run around rational debate and to try to bully someone into agreement by pressuring them that if they do not agree with you they will look silly and be thought a fool.”

I want to give my own reply to that last one, even though it duplicates what Dan says later. It’s a point worth making often; drip drip drip, you know.

Yes, mockery is an unworthy shortcut if that’s all you do, but of course Dawkins wasn’t suggesting that that should be all you do.

The point of this idea in general is that most obviously absurd ideas are recognized as such (hence the word “obviously”). Fairy stories and the Easter bunny are for children. Adults who take Harry Potter or Dr Mr Spock seriously are the source of endless nerd jokes. It’s only longstanding religious absurd ideas that are treated as immune from the equivalent of nerd jokes. That’s why we think it’s a good idea to end this immunity. That doesn’t mean we think that’s all that should happen, or that we think there’s no need ever to give reasons for thinking the beliefs are absurd. We just think that treating religious magical beliefs the same way we treat belief in fairies or the Easter bunny is one way – one of many – to chip away at religion’s special immunity. We don’t think religion should have that kind of special immunity. We accept that it should have certain kinds of special immunity from the state, but that doesn’t mean that we as citizens have to pretend that while it’s obvious that Santa Claus is just a story, it’s not at all obvious that a wafer doesn’t turn into a bit of Jesus.

All patently absurd ideas should be on the same footing. If it’s ok to laugh at the idea of adults who wear Star Treck Trek uniforms then it’s ok to laugh at the idea of adults who believe a priest can turn wine into Jesus’s blood.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Rowan pushes the pendulum

Apr 3rd, 2012 4:42 pm | By

The archbishop is at it again. This time it’s “enough of all this selfish focus on how you are marginalized because you’re a woman or black or gay – we are all in this together so shut up about it and let the nice straight white men keep running things as we always have, ok?”

Of course he doesn’t put it quite that way. Well naturally not – you don’t get to be an archbishop by putting things that way. (Oh yes? What about George Carey then?) He puts it in the usual grand archepiscopal way.

In Cardiff he was joined a group of teenagers debating the idea of “identity politics” which he said amounted to saying: “This is who I am, these   are my rights, I demand that you recognise me”.

He told them: “Identity politics, whether it is the politics of feminism, whether it is the politics of ethnic minorities or the politics of sexual minorities, has been a very important part of the last 10 or 20 years because before that I think there was a sense that diversity was not really welcome.

“And so minorities of various kinds and … women began to say ‘actually we need to say who we are in our terms not yours’ and that led to identity politics of a very strong kind and legislation that followed it.

“We are now, I think, beginning to see the pendulum swinging back and saying identity politics is all very well but we have to have some way of putting it all back together again and discovering what is good for all of us and share something of who we are with each other so as to discover more about who we are.”

Yes interesting except that it’s not his problem, is it. He doesn’t have to worry about being marginalized because people like him aren’t marginalized, are they. That means it’s not enormously attractive for him to tell people who are marginalized that they should think about what is good for all of us. I tell you what, why don’t we go tell him to think about what is good for all of us? We could explain that he might not have a complete understanding of what it means for things to be good for all of us, since many things have probably been better for him than they have been for all of us.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Cameron cheers the “fightback”

Apr 3rd, 2012 2:30 pm | By

A nice write-up of a chat by David Cameron to some religious bossies.

He starts by saying he welcomes the Easter message as being one of hope, but at the same time admits that he has problems believing a word of it – particularly the resurrection! Even so, he welcomes what he calls the “Christian fightback” in Britain.

It is not clear what this “fightback” is against but he measures it in “the enormous reception of the Pope’s visit.”

However, the Pope’s visit – as the Catholic Church’s own research showed – was a comprehensive flop.

And if it hadn’t been, what would he be doing rejoicing about it anyway? What is this deranged assumption that all of a sudden everybody everywhere just loves Catholicism, as if the Vatican were as benign and liberal as a Quaker? Cameron is a Tory prime minister of the United Kingdom; what’s that got to do with the Catholic church? Why is he following Tony Blair’s lead in sucking up to that vile reactionary institution?

Farther down there’s a transcript, which shows that what he said is even worse than that.

I think there is something of a Christian fight-back going on in Britain and I think that’s a thoroughly good thing. I think you could see it in the enormous reception of the Pope’s visit; I think you could see it with the successful return visit that Sayeeda Warsi led. I think you can see it, actually, in the reception to Sayeeda’s superb speeches about standing up for faith and celebrating faith and, as she so famously put it, actually doing God in Britain.

He thinks it’s “superb” when a Muslim peer joins a pope to promote theocracy.

It’s madness, I tell you.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Suing the messenger

Apr 3rd, 2012 12:44 pm | By

The French approach to autism was discussed a couple of months ago, too.

A controversial new film by French documentary filmmaker Sophie Robert, screened  last week at an autism  conference here in Philadelphia, reminds the world that in France these  thoroughly discredited and dangerous ideas still hold considerable sway. The film, Le  Mur or The Wall, already viewed  tens of thousands of times on YouTube, is calling attention to the ongoing  stranglehold that psychoanalytic theories still have over autism treatment in  France.

The film’s interviews with prominent French psychiatrists leaves the viewer  wondering whether in France treatments for pediatric developmental disorders are  stuck in some sort of bizarre Freudian time warp. These ideas have been so  thoroughly debunked in the rest of the world (not that in the U.S. we don’t have  our equally controversial theories of autism—Exhibit  A: the rise of vaccine related hypotheses) that its persistence from a  non-French perspective seems farcical. Listening to the talking heads in  Robert’s film reinforces that feeling.

But here’s the kicker – Robert has been sued by three of the people she interviewed, and the film has been withdrawn.

The film is under attack in France and three of its subjects—Esthela Solano  Suárez, Éric Laurent and Alexandre Stevens—sued  the filmmaker, claiming that they were misrepresented in the film. Last week  a court  in Lille ordered Robert to remove from her film the likenesses of the  three plaintiffs and pay them significant damages. At issue in the case is  whether Robert edited the film to manipulate her subjects. Robert will be filing  an appeal and told me that the plaintiffs signed a detailed release prior to  appearing on camera.

Despite the intense pressure on her following the court’s decision—she is  financially liable and is likely to shutter her company while she appeals—Robert  is committed to her film and believes it is drawing a spotlight on the  stranglehold psychoanalysis has in France. To Robert, who herself once wanted to  be an analyst, “psychoanalysis has an hypnotic effect” and is a “cult  antithetical to science.”

Shades of Simon Singh, and critics of Burzynski, and victims of SLAPP suits.

To be continued.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Just say a spell over them

Apr 2nd, 2012 5:40 pm | By

In France people are still medically treated on the basis of the four humors.

No they’re not, that’s a bitter joke, because the truth is almost as horrifying – children with autism are treated with psychoanalysis.

In many countries, the standard way of treating autistic children is with behavioural therapy – stimulating and rewarding them to develop the skills they need to function in society – but France still puts its faith in psychoanalysis. And an increasing number of parents are now demanding change.

For autism campaigners, it is one of the most serious health scandals of our times.

How for decades France turned its back on the latest scientific thinking, and treated autism as a form of psychosis.

How, as a result, tens of thousands of children were misdiagnosed – or not diagnosed at all – and consigned to lives of misery.

And how, to this day, in its approach to autism, the French medical establishment continues to believe in the powers of psychiatry and psychoanalysis – long after the rest of the world has switched to alternative methods of treatment.

The blame – Fasquelle and autism associations argue – lies with a medical establishment that remains fixated with Freud.

“Today everyone knows that autism is a neuro-developmental problem. It is not a psychosis or mental disorder,” says Muhamed Sajidi, president of the association Conquer Autism.

“But in France it is the psychiatrists – heavily influenced by Freudian psychoanalysis – who remain in charge. And they have shut themselves off from all the changes in our knowledge of autism.”

Critics say this emphasis on psychoanalysis and relationships meant that autistic children were not spotted till far too late. And that, in turn, meant that their chances of effective treatment were sharply reduced.

Some 60% of autistic children in Sweden attend school, Sajidi says.

“Today only 20% of autistic children in France are in school, and often only part-time. The rest are either in psychiatric hospitals, or in medico-social centres, or living at home…”

Freud, Lacan, Deleuze and Guattari…the French seem to have a thing for deepities. What a mess.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)