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.

And the award goes to

Apr 9th, 2012 2:26 pm | By

The Southern Poverty Law Center reports on misogyny websites and blogs. It lists twelve of them, including In Mala Fide and the subreddit Men’s Rights.

In Mala Fide This blog, whose name translates from the Latin as “In Bad Faith,” describes itself in its mission statement as “[a]n online magazine dedicated to publishing heretical and unpopular ideas. Ideas that polite society considers ‘racist,’ ‘misogynistic,’ ‘homophobic,’ ‘bigoted’ or other slurs used to shut down critical thinking and maintain the web of delusions that keep our world broken and dying.” The unifying idea is this: “Feminism is a hate movement designed to disenfranchise and dehumanize men.” The site carries ads for such offerings as the HardKnight “male enhancement system,” PolishLasses (“Over 5,000 … candid photos”), and the racist 1922 classic The Revolt Against Civilization by Lothrop Stoddard.

Reddit: Mens Rights A “subreddit” of the user-generated news site Reddit, this forum describes itself as a “place for people who feel that men are currently being disadvantaged by society.” While it presents itself as a home for men seeking equality, it is notable for the anger it shows toward any program designed to help women. It also trafficks in various conspiracy theories. “Kloo2yoo,” identified as a site moderator, writes that there is “undeniable proof” of an international feminist conspiracy involving the United Nations, the Obama Administration and others, aimed at demonizing men.

A Voice for Men A Voice for Men is essentially a mouthpiece for its editor, Paul Elam, who proposes to “expose misandry [hatred of men] on all levels in our culture.” Elam tosses down the gauntlet in his mission statement: “AVfM regards feminists, manginas [a derisive term for weak men], white knights [a similar derisive term, for males who identify as feminists] and other agents of misandry as a social malignancy. We do not consider them well intentioned or honest agents for their purported goals and extend to them no more courtesy or consideration than we would clansmen [sic], skinheads, neo Nazis or other purveyors of hate.”, an affiliated website that vilifies women by name who have made supposedly false rape allegations (among other crimes against masculinity), is one of Elam’s signature “anti-hate” efforts. “Why are these women not in prison?” the site asks.

It’s all become so horribly familiar.



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

A very different intellectual tide. Not.

Apr 9th, 2012 1:12 pm | By

Nicholas Kristof spots a trend.

A few years ago, God seemed caught in a devil of a fight.

Atheists were firing thunderbolts suggesting that “religion poisons everything,” as Christopher Hitchens put it in the subtitle of his book, “God Is Not Great.” Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins also wrote best sellers that were scathing about God, whom Dawkins denounced as “arguably the most unpleasant character in fiction.”

Yet lately I’ve noticed a very different intellectual tide: grudging admiration for religion as an ethical and cohesive force.

Lately? He hasn’t been paying much attention, has he. It’s not ”lately”; it’s been all along; it’s been simultaneously and before that and for the past 30 centuries or so.

I mean honestly, does he think the horseguys were the only people talking? Does he think the admirers of religion shut up or went away during The Time of the Thunderbolts? Does he think overt atheists had things all their own way for awhile? Is he out of his mind?

There were pro-religion books being published before, while, and after Dawkins and Hitchens published theirs. Pro-religion books overwhelmingly outnumber anti-religion books. A ferocious and usually mendacious backlash against overt atheism started the instant Harris’s book hit the shelves, and it’s still going strong. There’s no new “intellectual tide” of grudging admiration for religion; it’s the same boring old tide that’s been surging in and out all along.

The standard-bearer of this line of thinking — and a provocative text for Easter Sunday — is a new book, “Religion for Atheists,” by Alain de Botton. He argues that atheists have a great deal to learn from religion.

“One can be left cold by the doctrines of the Christian Trinity and the Buddhist Eightfold Path and yet at the same time be interested in the ways in which religions deliver sermons, promote morality, engender a spirit of community, make use of art and architecture, inspire travels, train minds and encourage gratitude at the beauty of spring,” de Botton writes.

“The error of modern atheism has been to overlook how many aspects of the faiths remain relevant even after their central tenets have been dismissed,” he adds, and his book displays an attitude toward religion that is sometimes — dare I say — reverential.

Oh you dare say all right: it’s very reverential; a good deal too reverential.

Pantheon sent me a copy the other day, slightly to my surprise, so I’ve been reading it. I dislike it a lot more than I expected to – I figured I would find much of the religion-flattery irritating, but I also figured it would be lively and interesting. Now I’m wondering why I figured that. Reputation, I guess; people seem to think de Botton is good at lively and interesting, so I vaguely assumed they were right.

As it turns out I’m more irritated by the style than the substance. I’m irritated by it because there isn’t any – the writing is smooth and utterly devoid of character. It’s weirdly careful, or cautious - as if he’d drained it of character on purpose. Why? It’s not an academic book, so where was the need to drain it of character?

I think you can see what I mean even in the short extract that Kristof provided. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s like a dead fish. It just lies there. I’ll give you another, longer extract, where the stiffness and deadness is particularly conspicuous. It’s from the chapter called “Kindness,” which is about his claims that religion is good at teaching morality; in this section he is talking about role models, such as saints.

In addition, Catholicism perceives that there is a benefit to being able to see our ideal friends around the house in miniaturized three-dimensional representations. After all, most of us began our lives by having nurturing relationships with bears and other animals, to whom we would talk and be addressed by in turn. Though immobile, these animals were nevertheless skillful at conveying their consoling and inspiring personalities to us. We would talk to them when we were sad and were comforted when we looked across the bedroom and saw them stoically enduring the night on our behalf. Catholicism sees no reason to abandon the mechanics of such relationships and so invites us to buy wood, stone, resin or plastic versions of the saints and place them on shelves or alcoves in our rooms or hallways. At times of domestic chaos, we can look across at a plastic statuette and inwardly ask what St Francis of Assisi would recommend that we say to our furious wife and hysterical children now. The answer may be inside us all along, but it doesn’t usually emerge or become effective until we go through the exercise of formally asking the question of a saintly figurine. [pp 93-5]

See what I mean? That passage really didn’t have to be so bad.

Let’s take a look at what’s wrong with it. For a start, there’s “Catholicism perceives,” which is a trope he uses throughout and which gets more irritating the more you read it. It’s irritating because it’s inaccurate and sloppy, and since he rests a huge proportion of his argument on it, that’s a real problem. It’s meaningless to say “Catholicism perceives” anything, and it’s not really clear what he means by it. Who exactly is it who perceives what he claims Catholicism perceives? All Catholic clerics throughout history? One particular cleric who invented the idea of statuettes of saints? I don’t know. He attributes this kind of agency to “religion” and “Judaism” and “Christianity” and similar large abstractions throughout the book, thus making them all sound very intelligent and sympathetic and human-oriented and caring, which is a way of putting a heavy thumb on the scales.

So there’s that, which is substance as well as style, and then right after that there’s a string of needlessly formal words by way of introducing the subject of soft toys. Then there’s a syntactical train wreck, caused by the needlessly and annoyingly formal “to whom we would talk” – he forgot what he was doing and ended up with “to whom we would talk and be addressed by in turn.” Say what? Oh the messes caused by that idiotic pseudo-rule against ending a sentence or clause with a preposition. Not to mention his claim that stuffed animals answer when we talk to them. They do?

And then there’s the hilarity of “Though immobile, these animals were nevertheless skillful at conveying their consoling and inspiring personalities to us.” “Though immobile” – ha! And then “nevertheless skillful” – again, say what? Does he mean it, or has he lost track of what he’s saying again, or what? It’s hard to tell, but either way, it’s a disaster. And then the bit about stoically enduring the night on our behalf – and what are they doing across the room? If you want the damn bear, take it to bed with you, ffs! Except of course you don’t want to be taking resin or plastic statuettes of Assisi Frank to bed with you, so I suppose he had to leave Pooh across the room. That’s the trouble with a complicated simile that you lose control of which.

And then you get a marital quarrel complete with furious wife and hysterical children, and marital guy looking at a statuette of Assisi Frank for help (which is off, since Frank was fonder of animals than he was of wives and children), and then to make it all complete there’s the assertion that we usually can’t figure these things out “until we go through the exercise of formally asking the question of a saintly figurine.” Oreally?

It’s not all as bad as that, to be fair, but it is all that pointlessly stiff and dull and lifeless. I’m tempted to think that the gnu atheists cornered the market on lively writers.

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

The girl’s screams

Apr 9th, 2012 11:12 am | By

A horror story from India.

The girl’s screams were brittle and desperate. Neighbors in the suburban housing complex looked up and saw a child crying for help from an upstairs balcony. She was 13 and worked as a maid for a couple who had gone on vacation to Thailand. They had left her locked inside their apartment.

After a firefighter rescued her, the girl described a life akin to slavery, child welfare officials said. Her uncle had sold her to a job placement agency, which sold her to the couple, both doctors. The girl was paid nothing. She said the couple barely fed her and beat her if her work did not meet expectations. She said they used closed-circuit cameras to make certain she did not take extra food.

“Akin to” slavery? What? How could it be any more exactly slavery? She was sold; she was not paid; she was all but starved; she was beaten; she was imprisoned. That’s not “akin to” slavery, it’s slavery itself, and of the very worst kind – brutal, sadistic, exploitative.

Honestly, what a disgusting tale – and it’s commonplace in India, so we can’t console ourselves with the thought that it’s an anomaly. How disgusting that two adults with enough intelligence and discipline and good fortune to train as doctors could treat a child that way. Think about it. Project yourselves into those two people – starving a child day in and day out, while forcing her to do your shitwork, and beating her when she doesn’t do it to your liking. Did you project? What’s it like? What does it feel like? I tried it, and I can’t really do it. I can imagine starting to act like that, but I can’t imagine going on acting like it, because the horror and guilt would stop me. It’s pretty much that simple. What I don’t understand is, why didn’t it stop them? Why doesn’t it stop people like that?

I always have this problem. I have it when trying to imagine being a Nazi grunt in charge of herding people into the gas chamber; I have it when trying to imagine being a man throwing stones at the head of a woman buried up to her neck; I have it when trying to imagine being a Saudi employer torturing her Indonesian maid. I don’t have it when trying to imagine being an Eichmann, but I have it with the up close and personal savagery. I don’t understand how normal people – people normal enough to become doctors – can do it.

It’s depressing that so many people can do it. It’s the most depressing thing about human beings.

Indian law offers limited safeguards and limited enforcement to protect such children, and public attitudes are usually permissive in a society where even in the lowest rungs of the middle class, families often have at least one live-in servant.

“There is a huge, huge demand,” said Ravi Kant, a lawyer with Shakti Vahini, a nonprofit group that combats child trafficking. “The demand is so huge that the government is tending toward regulation rather than saying our children should not work but should be in school.”

Well that’s a non sequitur. The fact that “the demand” is huge isn’t a reason for the government to meet the demand. If there were a huge demand for fresh babies to serve in high-end restaurants, would the government tend toward regulation rather than saying our babies should not be eaten?

Mala Bhandari, who runs Childline, a government hot line for child workers, said India’s urbanization and the rise of two-income families were driving demand for domestic help. Children are cheaper and more pliant than adults; Ms. Bhandari said a family might pay a child servant only $40 a month, less than half the wage commonly paid to an adult, if such servants are paid at all.

Well yes; I think we all managed to figure that much out. I think we all grasp that children are “more pliant” than adults because they’re much smaller and weaker, and that they’re cheaper for the same reasons. We get that. That part is not what’s mystifying.

Societal attitudes toward servants are often shaped by ingrained mores about caste and class. Many servants, especially children, come from poor families among the lower Hindu castes or tribal groups, often from poor states like Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal.

Well, maybe that explains it. No doubt if I’d grown up convinced that certain people were from “lower castes” I would be able to brutalize a child the way the two doctors did. That is perhaps the best reason for saying egalitarianism should be the building block of all morality. (See the first article of the UDHR.)

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

Burn it

Apr 9th, 2012 9:50 am | By

Taslima is wasting no time. “What should women do?” she asks. “They should take off their burqas and burn them.”

That’s telling them!

So is her opening observation.

My mother used to wear a burqa with a net over her face. It reminded me of the meat safes in my grandmother’s house. Meat safe’s net was made of metal, my mother’s net was made of linen. But the objective was the same: keeping the meat safe.


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

Being good

Apr 8th, 2012 4:40 pm | By

Interesting post of PZ’s on being “good without god” and whether that’s a goal or slogan worth having.

The implication of “good” is thorough conformity. Has challenging an authority figure ever fit the definition of being good? When abolitionists broke the law by smuggling slaves into Canada, when suffragettes picketed to demand the vote,  when Stonewall erupted and Martin Luther King marched, when students protested the war in Viet Nam, were they being “good” in the general public’s understanding of the term? I don’t think so. They were being very, very naughty. Which was good. See what I mean? It’s an empty word that offers nothing but vague reassurances.

Yes I guess so. I admit I have been thinking all along that what “good” meant in that context was: not selfish, not ruthless, not brutal or predatory or greedy. I’ve been thinking it meant altruistic and generous as opposed to their opposites.

Now that PZ mentions it I’m not sure why I’ve been thinking that. It’s not self-evident, certainly. I suppose I’ve been assuming that what Christians in general mean by “good” is generous and altruistic…but is it? Am I just assuming that because I’m infected with the same anachronistic illusions that Karen Armstrong is? Am I assuming that because I’ve bought into modern goddy propaganda that religion simply equals compassion and related other-regarding virtues?

Well, but if there is modern goddy propaganda that religion simply equals compassion etc then Christians will have bought into it too, so I could still be right that that’s what they mean by the word.

I think they do, really – that’s my guess. For Quiverfull types and all the other flavors of lunatic it probably does mean obedience; it does for Mormons; but for more average Christians I think it means some variation on Charity, as in 1 Corinthians 13 type charity.

And that’s part of the appeal, for some, perhaps for many. That’s not really conformist. It’s not friendly to capitalism, for one thing. It doesn’t look with complacency on all social arrangements, because so many of them have not a damn thing to do with Charity or altruism or generosity.

One of the few persuasive things I’ve ever heard Karen Armstrong say – I think she’s the one who said it – was that real generosity is irrational, and that’s why religion is good at it. I think there’s something to that.

The two are not unconnected though. Challenging authority figures can partake of the same kind of irrational generosity. And then when you go that way you do find yourself flatly denying other people’s ideas of what is “good.” The pope and his friends for instance think the way to be extra special good and different from the selfish secular world is to be insanely concerned about human fetuses at the expense of adult female human beings. That’s the urge to be irrationally caring and generous run completely amok.

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

Update on Hamza Kashgari

Apr 8th, 2012 3:26 pm | By

Update: Maryam reports that it’s not reliable.

there have been some reports that 23 year old Hamza Kashgariwho faces execution in Saudi Arabia for his Tweets about Mohammad is now out of danger and is to be released imminently or that he is only being held ‘for his own safety’. But these reports are not true.

I just got two messages from a family member and a friend. One message said:

That’s not true, nothing has been confirmed so far, everything still foggy and in a gray area. We hear from him from one time to time informing us that he’s ok and that’s it.

So everything below is wrong or at least unconfirmed.

Via the Free Hamza Kashgari Facebook page. I can’t be sure how reliable it is, but for what it’s worth (and given the non-existence of any other sources): one of the admins of the page reported yesterday, just about 24 hours ago, that he had news via people close to Kashgari.

The sharia court accepted his explanation and his life is no longer in any danger. But they can not release him at the current time due to the great danger he is facing from the general public. His mother is allowed to visit him and under the circumstances Hamza is doing well. It is impossible at this time to predict how long they have to keep him there – he is now locked up for his own safety, not because he said what he said.

This is from a source close to Hamza and his family.

Good that his life is not in danger from the authorities, but horrendous that his life is in danger from maniacs in his country and that he has to stay in prison to be safe from them. Horrendous and infuriating that the Saudis didn’t just let him leave the country, but had to drag him back so that he would be in danger from maniacs.

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

Charge £400 for her, £200 for him

Apr 8th, 2012 12:01 pm | By

The wonderfulness of Sharia councils.

After fleeing a forced marriage characterised by rape and physical violence, Nasrin applied for an Islamic divorce from a Sharia council; that was almost 10 years ago now. Despite countless emails, letters and telephone calls to the Sharia council as well as joint mediation and reconciliation meetings, the Sharia council refuse to provide Nasrin with an Islamic divorce. Why? Because of Nasrin’s sex. An Imam at the Sharia council told Nasrin that her gender prevents her from unilaterally divorcing her husband, instead the Imam told her to return to her husband, perform her wifely duties and maintain the abusive marriage that she was forced into.

Charlotte Rachael Proudman has represented Muslim women pro bono at Sharia law councils in theUKto obtain Islamic divorces, so she knows how shitty they are for women.

I am all too aware of the gender discriminatory experience many Muslim women suffer at some Sharia councils and Muslim Arbitration Tribunals (‘Sharia law bodies’). Unfortunately their experiences have not been highlighted by the media. Instead some Sharia law bodies have been misrepresented by the media as being transparent, voluntary and operating in accordance with human rights and equality legislation. This is not the case.

As we know, via Maryam and others. Lots of people don’t know, though.

the cost of an Islamic divorce is £400 for a woman compared to £200 for a man at the Islamic Sharia Council inEast London; this is an example of blatant gender discrimination which is incompatible with the Equality Act 2010.

With over 85 Sharia law bodies operating in theUK, the majority of which charge vulnerable and impoverished Muslim women astronomical fees, Sharia law bodies have become successful and lucrative businesses…

Diana Nammi, founder of the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation[,] explained that “Sharia law bodies are money-spinning businesses because they afford men more rights than women unlikeUKlaw which is underpinned by a fundamental principle of ‘equality for all’. In most cases women do not receive any practical advice or assistance to help them exit abusive marriages, and instead face further discrimination perpetrated by Sharia ‘judges’”.

And the arrangement is punitive, not to say downright spiteful.

By protracting the time it takes for women to obtain Islamic divorces, Sharia law bodies are punishing women for their failure to maintain miserable marriages, and in Nasrin’s case an abusive forced marriage which was flawed from its incept[ion]. Rather than freeing Muslim women from the shackles of unhappy marriages they are kept in limbo and are expected to mourn their destructive marriages and to reflect on their failures as wives and mothers. Worryingly some Sharia law bodies are growing cynical business enterprises, which use their position of power to maintain unequal gender relations while profiteering on the misery of Muslim women.

Anne-Marie Waters, Spokesperson for One Law for All[,] commented – “the very process employed by Sharia law bodies is gender discriminatory, flawed and incompatible withUKlegislation”. For instance, unlike male divorce applicants, women are requested to bring along two Muslim, male witnesses to corroborate their testimony. I have yet to represent a Muslim woman who is able to comply with this gender discriminatory requirement…

Gender discriminatory and insane – as if marital abuse (or any other abuse) reliably happens in front of witnesses!

I hope a lot of people have read this article.

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

You are the gardener

Apr 8th, 2012 11:07 am | By

Speaking of Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll…That article in the Stranger is interesting.

To become a “member” at Mars Hill Church requires more than attending church. Becoming a full-fledged member—a process highly encouraged, and sometimes thunderously demanded, in Pastor Mark Driscoll’s sermons—requires months of classes and a careful study of Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe, Driscoll’s 463-page Mars Hill textbook. To seal the deal, the prospective member must formally agree to submit to the “authority” of the Mars Hill leadership.

Driscoll, the church’s cofounder and public face, has made a name for himself with his strutting, macho interpretation of Christianity, one in which men are unquestioned heads of their households and “chick-ified church boys,” as he calls them, need not apply. He rails against mainstream Christians who imagine a “Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ… a neutered and limp-wristed popular Sky Fairy.” Instead, he has molded a doctrine based on manliness, sexual purity, and submission to authority: wives to husbands, husbands to pastors, and everyone to God.

Patriarchal, in short. Like Quiverfull religion; like Mormonism and the FLDS; like Catholicism; like Islam; like all the monotheisms except the most liberal branches.

One guy, given the pseudonym “Lance” in the article, was an enthusiastic Mars Hill member until he disagreed with a pastor about a building safety issue

and the disagreement metastasized into a weeks-long debate—not about the safety issue, per se, but about whether Lance was being “insubordinate” and refusing to properly “submit.”

“I began to question their authority,” Lance says, “and their ability to make good decisions.”

In the midst of this, Lance had begun a long-distance relationship with a young woman in Colorado. Lance says that his pastor instructed him to end the relationship, even though their relationship was not yet physical and nothing improper had happened. Lance balked, but his pastor insisted: “I’m the authority over you,” the pastor said, according to Lance. “You agreed when you became a member that I am your authority, and you have to obey us.” Lance was torn—on one hand, he had signed that membership contract.

On the other hand, this was ridiculous.

In a final, tense meeting, Lance got fed up with the leadership’s harping about submission and authority. “How is this not a Jim Jones theology?” Lance remembers asking.

So he was thrown out – and then they started hounding him. Other people have had similar experiences. The phrase “drink the Kool-Aid” turns up and is clearly not altogether metaphoric.

At a service in January -

After the band played two indie-rock hymns, Pastor Driscoll appeared on a live video feed from his Ballard church. His “Men and Marriage” sermon was relatively tame: A husband should be the firm and responsible head of his household, the leader of a “little flock called home and family.” He should think of his wife as “a garden” and himself as “the gardener.” If you look at your garden and don’t like how it looks, Driscoll preaches, just remember: “You are the gardener.”

Tame? That’s tame? Saying a woman is a fucking garden and the man she’s married to is the gardener? That’s not tame! The reporter’s a guy, so maybe he didn’t think about it hard enough. That’s NOT tame. One, it makes the woman a thing and the man a person; two, it makes the woman a thing that has to be dug and otherwise battered and the man the person who does the digging and other battering; three, it makes the woman’s appearance something that it is the man’s job to alter to suit his liking; four, it’s basically permission for a man to use force and violence on “his” wife along with refusal of permission for the woman to refuse or resist. It’s not the least bit tame. It’s disgusting.

The thing his sermon didn’t address—the thing I came hoping to hear about—was when submission to human authority goes too far.

Well yes it did; the garden claim is decidedly a matter of when submission to human authority goes too far.

Meanwhile – why does the Washington Post include Mark Driscoll on its On Faith blog? I wonder if the Washington Post would include a cleric who talked about black people as gardens and white people as the gardeners. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t. Why is stark overt male dominationism more socially acceptable than stark racism? I would love to know.

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

The epistemology of Easter

Apr 7th, 2012 4:23 pm | By

Mark Driscoll, of Seattle’s Mars Hill church fame, has an Easter post on the Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog. (Are we faithy enough yet?)

It’s beautiful.

…for most people in our culture, Easter is more synonymous with fluffy bunnies, brightly painted eggs, kids hopped up on chocolate and a great meal with family and friends.

And while many Christians happily and freely celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter today, they don’t know exactly how to approach the whole Easter Bunny thing. So, I thought I’d take a moment to share how we do at the Driscoll house.

Just like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny is a hallmark of American culture. So, unless you live in a commune, you can’t pretend it doesn’t exist and that it’s not a significant part of our cultural observance of the holiday.

My wife, Grace, and I choose to tell our five kids that the Easter Bunny, while fun, isn’t a real, magical bunny that hops from house to house laying colored eggs, candies, and toys on Easter morning. That’s a make-believe story, and we have no objections to fun and imagination so long as the kids also know that the Resurrection of Jesus is a historical fact and not a fanciful myth.


Don’t you love it when they do that?

The Easter bunny is a story, but the Resurrection of Jesus is a historical fact.

And Mark Driscoll knows that…how?


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

Cardinal bemoans the fate of Christians in Britain

Apr 7th, 2012 3:50 pm | By

Catholic clerics and superclerics don’t seem to know when they have it good, do they. They seem to think Christianity is “marginalized” when something under 100% of the population dances to their tune.

Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic Church cleric has called for Christians to wear a cross every day.

In his Easter Sunday sermon, Cardinal Keith O’Brien will tell worshippers to “wear proudly a symbol of the cross of Christ” each day of their lives.

The leader of the Church in Scotland, he will voice concern at the growing “marginalisation” of religion.

What marginalization? What growing marginalization?

Look at all the ink he gets. Look at all the ink he gets in this very story in which he bleats about marginalization. Look at the way the powerful flopped down on the floor and groveled when the pope came for a visit. Look at the job he has. Look at the House of Lords. Look at the BBC, look at Andrew Brown. How is religion marginalized in the UK? 

I heard a horrible discussion of this cross-wearing wheeze on the BBC a couple of hours ago with a woman from the Christian Legal Centre and a man from some other Christian Pestering Group. Nobody else, mind you, apart from the reporter, so there wasn’t a whole lot of conflict, in fact there wasn’t any. There was just a lot of chat about what a great thing it is to wear a cross and how wonderful Jesus is.

That’s what it is to be marginalized. I wish the BBC would marginalize Maryam Namazie and Taslima Nasreen that way!

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

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.)