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.

“Satan’s representative” on the Michigan Student Assembly

Aug 18th, 2012 4:32 pm | By

More detail on the Andrew Shirvell case, because CNN has more.

Shirvell was fired from his job in the attorney general’s office in 2010 after targeting the student leader online and in person — then lying about his actions to investigators, state Attorney General Mike Cox said at the time.

Shirvell “repeatedly violated office policies, engaged in borderline stalking behavior and inappropriately used state resources,” Cox said, referring to Shirvell’s activities during his work day.

Asked for specifics about Shirvell’s conduct, Armstrong lawyer Gordon said, “He said (Armstrong) had an orgy in a dorm room and sex in a park and that he had liquored up underage freshmen to recruit them to the ‘homosexual lifestyle.’”

Shirvell also referred to Armstrong as “Satan’s representative” on the Michigan Student Assembly, she said.

Why? All out of sheer hatred of gayitude because god?

Shirvell, himself a University of Michigan alumnus, told CNN that he is “100% confident that the verdict will be overturned on appeal.”

“I think the jury award is grossly excessive,” he said. “It’s absolutely outrageous. The jury’s verdict was a complete trampling of my First Amendment rights.”

His First Amendment rights to defame someone? Ain’t no such.

 He told CNN in 2010 that Armstrong “is a radical homosexual activist who got elected … to promote a very deep, radical agenda at the University of Michigan.”

Uh huh – the same way I have a deep, crazed, radical agenda to convince people that relentless contempt for women is not a good thing for human flourishing.

Gordon [Armstrong's lawyer] said that Shirvell’s claim is without merit. “It’s really simple,” she said. “Defamation refers to statements that are false that you say about another person. If you say my neighbor is having sex in a park with children, which is literally kind of what he said here, that is defamation. That is not First Amendment-protected. It’s not opinion. It’s provable as false. You can be held responsible financially.

“He wants to put all his crap — which is nothing but a bunch of fabricated lies — under the umbrella of the First Amendment. Shame on him.”

Especially since he was once an assistant attorney general.



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

AGs behaving badly

Aug 18th, 2012 3:46 pm | By

Imagine having an assistant state attorney general harassing you, even including following you around and showing up where you live.

That’s what happened to the University of Michigan’s first openly gay student body president.

Late this week, a federal court jury in Detroit awarded $4.5 million to Chris Armstrong, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan and the campus’ first openly gay student body president, who was harassed and stalked by the former Michigan assistant attorney general Andrew Shirvell in early 2010.

Shirvell was found guilty of defamation, stalking, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and invasion of privacy on Thursday. After Armstrong was elected student body president, Shirvell took to his personal blog called “The Chris Armstrong Watch” to write defamatory comments about the student, whom he accused of being a “radical homosexual activist, racist, elitist, and liar,” and wrote about the student holding orgies and having sex in children’s playgrounds and other public places.

Oh, one of those blogs so focused on you that they have your name on them. And along with having your name on them, they accuse you of every crime and bad quality and awkward flaw and physical inadequacy the blogger can think of. Somehow you never expect blogs like that to be written by an assistant state AG. Or the president, or the Secretary of State, or the pope.

So how extremely peculiar. And…nasty.

Shirvell didn’t stop at blog posts though. He eventually began following the student on campus and showing up at his house. The lawyer was temporarily banned from the University of Michigan campus at that time.

In a 2010 CNN interview, Shirvell tried to defend his actions saying, “I’m a Christian citizen exercising my First Amendment rights.”

Good god – he’s an officer of the law and he thinks he has a First Amendment to libel and stalk people?

The lawyer was fired from the attorney general’s office in 2010 for misusing his work day hours (which were paid for by state funds), as well as violating office polices and engaging in “borderline stalking behavior.”

Well, no doubt he can have a productive career harassing people on Twitter.

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

What’s so wrong with men beating up women, really?

Aug 18th, 2012 11:50 am | By

I’d never heard of “GirlWritesWhat” until a few days ago when I saw a video of hers in which she accused “FTB” – on the basis of absolutely nothing – of filing a fake DMCA complaint on her in order to force her to reveal her address. A couple of days later I saw a second video of hers in which she again blamed FTB for a DMCA complaint on the basis of nothing whatever.

So now there’s David Futrelle pointing out where she says a good word for domestic violence.


Yesterday, we took a look at Ferdinand Bardamu’s manosphere manifesto “The Necessity of Domestic Violence,” a thoroughly despicable piece of writing that concludes:

Women should be terrorized by their men; it’s the only thing that makes them behave better than chimps.

I was a little surprised to see GirlWritesWhat, the blabby FeMRA video blogger who’s captured the hearts of Reddit’s Men’s Rights crowd, step into the conversation with something of a defense of Bardamu’s noxious views. After reading Bardamu’s manifesto – the one advocating that men “terrorize” their women to make them behave – GWW blithely concluded:

I don’t really find too much in the article that strikes me as seriously ethically questionable.


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

We did forgive them from the very start

Aug 18th, 2012 11:23 am | By

Well isn’t that sweet – the Russian Orthodox Church declares it has “forgiven” Pussy Riot. It forgave them all along. It wanted to see them severely punished, certainly, but hey, that doesn’t mean it didn’t “forgive” them.

Two top clerics in the Russian Orthodox Church said Saturday that it has forgiven the members of feminist punk band Pussy Riot who were convicted of hooliganism and sent to prison for briefly taking over a cathedral in a raucous prayer for deliverance from Vladimir Putin.

Tikhon Shevkunov, who heads Moscow’s Sretensky Monastery and is widely believed to be the Russian president’s spiritual counselor, said on state television Saturday that his church forgave the singers right after their “punk prayer” in the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow in February.

“The church has been sometimes accused of not forgiving them,” the bearded and bespectacled cleric said. “We did forgive them from the very start. But such actions should be cut short by society and authorities.”

See? They’re not doing it wrong. They totally forgave them, right from the very start. It’s just that it also wanted them stopped, and sentenced to years of hard labor in a prison camp. That’s a totally separate thing!

Both clerics supported the court’s decision to prosecute Pussy Riot, despite an international outcry that called it unfair. Governments, including those in the United States, Britain, France and Germany, denounced the sentences as disproportionate.

The Pussy Riot case has underlined the vast influence of the Russian Orthodox Church. Although church and state are formally separate, the church identifies itself as the heart of Russian national identity and critics say its strength effectively makes it a quasi-state entity. Some Orthodox groups and many believers had urged strong punishment for an action they consider blasphemous.

The Orthodox Church said in a statement after Friday’s verdict that the band’s stunt was a “sacrilege” and a “reflection of rude animosity toward millions of people and their feelings.” It also asked the authorities to “show clemency toward the convicted in the hope that they will refrain from new sacrilegious actions.”

So it whipped up more irrational hatred and then pretended to ask for clemency while still hoping the convicted stfu.

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

Nice people

Aug 18th, 2012 10:57 am | By

Never forget: it’s Freethought bloggers who are the bullies.

Trigger warning for sheer vicious ugliness:

Little skeptic twat Rhys…

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

Your Nasty, Nerdy Sexism Isn’t Cute

Aug 17th, 2012 5:46 pm | By

There are two (yes two!) women working at Gizmodo now. One of them has a few tips for some of their readers.

Some of you seem to be under the misguided impression that sexual favors are the only way a woman could possibly end up writing for a tech blog—wrong. And you know what? It’s not just wrong, it’s rude.

It’s rude to come into our posts and say that the only reason we have the jobs that we do is because Gizmodo needed to fulfill some imagined gender quota. It’s fucking rude to say that we’re only writing for Gizmodo because we “lipstick shampooed” some guy’s “jock” to “get our job.” (Your over-evolved metaphor only further proves your immaturity; just say “blow job”!) But either way, if you say these things, you can bet your cowardly, juvenile ass you’re going to get dismissed from the discussion.

It’s rude to say they’re there only to fill a quota? Well dang, who knew! I thought that was just totally normal reasoned discussion.

Since I began at Gizmodo, I’ve written several pieces about the pink-washed gender constructs so present in the tech and gadgets we see today. Pink smartphones. Birchbox’s strange, strict notions of what woman enjoy versus what men want. Some of you seem to think I should let it go. That I’ve said my piece and it’s time to move on. Nope.

While I’m working, this is my playground. I will bring you news, ideally as often as there is news to report. But, when I have the time and space and wherewithal, I will also bring you commentary and opinion. If this is displeasing to you, I don’t really care.

It’s important to acknowledge the cultural climate of an industry. It is so important.

If you disagree or find this boring, read a different post, or a different site! Because, if you truly think such subjects do not matter, then you probably don’t have anything of value to contribute to the conversation anyway.

It’s important to acknowledge the cultural climate, period. If you disagree – there are a lot of other blogs out there.

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

A couple of buttons

Aug 17th, 2012 4:41 pm | By

Paul Fidalgo has a gut-wrenching open letter to Alexander Aan at Friendly Atheist. The petition failed, you know. I should have done more, maybe – I blogged about it twice, the second time with considerable urgency, and tweeted and re-tweeted often. I guess I figured blogging a third time would be counter-productive, like begging Mummy for ice cream once too often and being put on an ice cream fast for a month. But I was probably wrong.

Anyway – it failed, and failed pathetically.

In order to guarantee such a response — and it was a loose guarantee at that — we had to collect at least 25,000 signatures. Alexander, I promise you, I and my colleagues truly believed this was a very achievable goal. We felt very confident that if thousands of American nonbelievers could rally in support of someone like Jessica Ahlquist, the brave young high school student who stood up for separation of church and state against her entire community, sending her good wishes, writing in support of her, and even donating money for her college education; if we could get, by some estimates, between 20-30,000 atheists from across the country to gather on the Mall in Washington, DC, in the rain, surely we could get 25,000 folks to click a couple of buttons on your behalf.

It didn’t happen, Alex. We didn’t even manage to round up 8,000 signatures.

That’s…really bad. I think it was at around 6,000 when I did the second post, and I was worried because the rate had slowed down. Obviously it had slowed to a fucking crawl.

I have been thinking a great deal about what it means to be part of the skeptic-secularist community versus the skeptic-atheist movement. We have been very proud in recent years about what seem to be encouraging upticks in our numbers: more young people, more folks coming out of the theological closet to declare their nonbelief as you did, the rise of a vibrant (and often tumultuous) universe of skeptic and atheist Internet activity, etc.

But these developments speak to the growth of a community, not of a movement. A strong movement would have garnered 25,000 signatures on a website for you in the first couple of days. So, if anything, the silver lining of this falling-short tells us something we desperately needed to know: despite the growing numbers of declared freethinkers, we have yet to find the best ways to do something meaningful with those numbers beyond gloating.


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

A full 20 days

Aug 17th, 2012 2:42 pm | By

Remember the 9-weeks pregnant Dominican 16-year-old with acute leukemia whose doctors refused to give her chemo because she was pregnant? Well, great news: you don’t have to worry about her any more, because she’s dead.

Her plight gained attention over the last few weeks as doctors debated whether it was morally correct to start treating her cancer, given as Article 37 of the Dominican Constitution states that “the right to life is inviolable from the moment of conception and until death.” It took doctors and the Dominican government a full 20 days to decide that God and Country might care about the actually living mother’s life, too, not just the fetus inside of her, and allow the treatment. By then, it was too late.

Oh well. Plenty more where she came from.

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


Aug 17th, 2012 12:39 pm | By

Ron Lindsay has an interesting post on Jonathan Haidt and his insistence on the importance of “sanctity” as a foundation of morality, which is something I’ve been disputing for more than five years.

In arguing for the importance of sanctity, Haidt relies heavily on the reactions of individuals in other, non-Western cultures to conduct they consider degrading and violative of various taboos, such as a woman eating a meal with men. Haidt maintains, with some justification, that these reactions show that conventional morality in many cultures includes prohibitions based on sanctified custom and a sense or revulsion as opposed to any reasoning about the harm caused.

Yes, but he does it by pointing to the people who end up on the top of those cultures instead of those on the bottom, which is both incomplete and drastically anti-egalitarian. 

He suggests we suppose we grow up as a Brahmin in Bhubaneswar (pp. 228-9).

Every day of your life you have to respect the invisible lines separating pure from profane spaces, and you have to keep track of people’s fluctuating levels of purity before you can touch them or take anything from their hands…Hinduism structures your social space through a caste system based on the purity and pollution of various occupations…The experience of meaningfulness just happens…In contrast, think about the last empty ritual you took part in.

Wrong contrast, bub. In contrast, think about someone in that situation who is not a Brahmin! Think about being one of the people whose ‘fluctuating levels of purity’ the Brahmin ‘has to’ keep track of, or one of the people whose pollution is inborn and permanent – then drool about the experience of meaningfulness. Think about being a dalit or a woman or both and then talk crap about meaningfulness versus empty rituals.

That’s me five years ago, but I would say the same thing today. It’s almost like arguing that extreme inequality of wealth is a great thing, because imagine yourself as Bill Gates.

Back to Ron’s post.

Why am I spending time on this issue? Principally because I’m concerned with how Haidt’s claims can provide cover for those religious dogmatists who use the importance of the “sacred” as justification for enforcing taboos—taboos that often serve to perpetuate oppression and subordination of one class of humans by another. Perhaps the most prevalent taboos are those dealing with women, many of which preclude women from being treated as the equals of men and stigmatize them as dirty, contaminated beings.

Exactly. I think Haidt has another rhapsodic passage somewhere – but I haven’t been able to find it – about eating with a bunch of men while the women were off in the back of the house somewhere, and it had the same clueless “oh isn’t this special” note while it completely ignored the people who get the short stick. (Anybody recognize that? Know where it is?)

I don’t deny that taboos have played a large role in the history of human morality. They can simplify matters, allow for the easy transmission of norms from generation to generation, and, especially for humans who are not accustomed to reason about moral issues, they remove the burden of thinking. Beginning with the Enlightenment, however, many in the West began to question blind adherence to various customs, including customs that were supported by religious authority. Throughout his book, Haidt warns the reader not to equate the morality of WEIRD (Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic) cultures with morality in general. As factual matter, he’s correct that WEIRD morality is not shared by everyone in the world, and it is advisable to bear this in mind when dealing with other cultures. But, unlike Haidt, I don’t think this implies that “liberals” are overlooking a key foundation of morality when they don’t think in terms of what’s sacred and instead confine their moral reasoning largely to questions of fairness and harm. They’re not overlooking the sacred; they’ve outgrown it.

And that’s a good thing. Concern for sanctity and purity doesn’t make things better. Pakistan is “the land of the pure” – how’s that working out?

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

Two years in the slammer

Aug 17th, 2012 11:14 am | By

Russia tells the world it has learned nothing from its authoritarian history and goes right on being authoritarian by sentencing Pussy Riot to two years in prison. For what? For staging a political protest in a church.

“The girls’ actions were sacrilegious, blasphemous and broke the church’s rules,” Judge Marina Syrova told the court as she spent three hours reading the verdict while the women stood watching in handcuffs inside a glass courtroom cage.

Maybe all three of those claims are true, but they still shouldn’t be subject to punishment by the state. The state shouldn’t be telling people what is “sacrilegious” or whether or not they’re allowed to do things that are “sacrilegious.” The state shouldn’t be concerning itself with what is or is not “blasphemous.” The church’s rules should be for the church to enforce, along with proportional, reasonable state enforcement of privacy and/or property laws if they applied. But sacrilege, blasphemy, the church’s rules? Not the state’s business. Putin isn’t a tsar.

She declared all three guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, saying they had deliberately offended Russian Orthodox believers by storming the altar of Moscow’s main cathedral in February to belt out a song deriding Putin.

There it is again. Not something the state should be policing. Russia isn’t supposed to be a theocracy.

Russia’s like Basil Fawlty, isn’t it; it just can’t get it right. Stalin on the one hand, crawling to the church on the other.

Valentina Ivanova, 60, a retired doctor, said outside the courtroom: “What they did showed disrespect towards everything, and towards believers first of all.”

Not a crime. Not worthy of two years in prison. Respect for everything should not be mandated by the state or enforced by the judiciary.

“Evil must be punished,” said Maria Butilno, 60, who held an icon and said Pussy Riot had insulted the faithful.

It’s not the state’s job to punish “evil.” Let the faithful take comfort in the thought that God will teach them better in the next world. (Seriously. Why isn’t that the best outcome? Skip the punishment. Just be patient, and in due course God will show them where they went wrong, and all wounds will be healed.)



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

Seven years and seven minutes

Aug 16th, 2012 5:14 pm | By

One of the 3000 creators of Curiosity Mars Rover, who spent seven years working on it, put together a video about that night. “Touchdown confirmed, we’re safe on Mars.”

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

No Gynopolis after all

Aug 16th, 2012 4:50 pm | By

Correction time. Al Arabiya says the “Saudis planning to build a city for women only” was a dud. Says it ain’t true.

Mind you, the real story isn’t very attractive either – the city will be for men and women but there will be lots of segregated facilities, so women will have more job opportunities.

Still separate but equal, in other words. Good that they don’t actually have to go live in WomenOnlyWorld in order to have a job, but bad that they have to work there, since separate is not equal.

It all started with a press release by MODON, the Saudi Industrial Property Authority. The title of this press release reads: “’MODON’ begins Planning and Development for the First Industrial City being readied for Women in the Kingdom.”

It seems that no one read past that title. The subhead of the press release, set in italics, reads: “Al-Ahsa 2nd Industrial City will create job opportunities for both men and women.”

Yes, both men and women.

The second paragraph clearly states that the city “is not intended for women only.”

MODON clarified the issue further on Tuesday.

“It’s a city like any other city, where men and women work. But special sections and production halls will be reserved for women within the factories,” the Authority told Al Arabiya English via Twitter.

Special sections and production halls; lucky them.

But still – correction where correction is due.

H/t to Chris Stedman for pointing this out.

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

Trolls call me things

Aug 16th, 2012 2:48 pm | By

Someone that calls itself @ikonographer and describes itself as

atheist. provacateur. all around asshole. (get it? ‘all a round’ asshole). Hey, fuck you, I’ve seen square ones. not pretty.

Someone I don’t know, by the way; someone I’m not aware of ever having had any interaction with, tweeted me

@opheliabenson i always figured you didn’t have scruples. hard to do if you’re not really human. don’t bother. blocked bitch.

People are strange. Strange strange strange strange.

(I know. This is “drama.” Yes, no doubt, but it’s also political. Because it’s political, we have to talk about it. Drama or no drama.)

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

An unequivocal evil

Aug 16th, 2012 12:28 pm | By

Raymond Tallis in the next issue of The New Humanist makes the case for assisted dying.

The case for a law to legalise the choice of physician-assisted dying for mentally competent people with terminal illness, who have expressed a settled wish to die, is very  easily stated. Unbearable suffering, prolonged by medical care, and inflicted on a dying patient against their will, is an unequivocal evil. What’s more, the right to have your choices supported by others, to  determine your own best interest, when you are of sound mind, is  sovereign. And this is accepted by a steady 80-plus per cent of the UK population in successive surveys.

But the UK population still can’t have it, because god. But the goddists try to hide the god part, so that they can win.

Only four of the known 30 member organisations of Care Not Killing are non-religious. So much for “a broad coalition”. Dr Peter Saunders, CEO of the Christian Medical Fellowship and Campaign Director of Care Not Killing, made the strategy clear:

“As Christian doctors we oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide because we believe in the sanctity of human life made in the image of God … But to win the debate on assisted dying we need to be using arguments that will make sense to those who do not share our Christian beliefs … Christian doctors need to play a key role in this debate; and they will do so most effectively by learning to put what are essentially Christian arguments in secular language.”

In other words, we christians want to bully everyone, so we’ll hide our christianness to fool people into thinking we have secular reasons so that they will let us bully them into doing what we want-because-god.

Most faith-based opponents of assisted dying, therefore, conceal their real reasons behind arguments intended to instil fear of the consequences of legalisation – mobilising factoids that do not withstand scrutiny as part of the “strictly evidence-based approach” referred to by Living and Dying Well.

He ends with the horrible death of Ann McPherson – a doctor and the wife and mother of doctors – who had wanted and campaigned for choice in dying but didn’t get it.

The end came at last, after three endless, unbearable weeks of unremitting suffering:

“Even as she died, her body seemed furious with its final fight, gasping to the end, and in a desperate haunting shudder I found myself sitting in pools of expelled fluid. That was not what she wanted. Mum had seen this happen before and wanted to avoid it, for future patients and their families.”

Thus the testimony (much abbreviated) of a loving daughter.

Because of the fancy footwork of those who have beliefs I do not share, this is a fate that could await me or those I love. A small but vocal group, prepared to bear other people’s suffering heroically for the sake of God, must not be allowed to impose their views on the rest of the medical profession, and through them on society as a whole. Opponents of change make a lot of noise – it’s time that the relatively silent majority made more.

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

You’re back!

Aug 16th, 2012 10:11 am | By

Awwww department. Two gorilla brothers are re-united after the older one, silverback Kesho, had been taken away for stud duties. The Beeb has a slide show. Awww. Those faces they’re making – those are “play-faces.” The lips cover the teeth.


H/t Bernard Hurley

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

A city in a ditch

Aug 15th, 2012 5:48 pm | By

Taslima’s very pissed off at Saudi Arabia, and rightly so. It’s planning to build women-only cities, Caroline Davies reports.

A women-only industrial city dedicated to female workers is to be constructed  in Saudi Arabia to provide a working environment that is in line with the kingdom’s strict customs.

The city, to be built in the Eastern Province city of Hofuf, is set to be the first of several planned for the Gulf kingdom. The aim is to allow more women to work and achieve greater financial independence, but to maintain the gender segregation, according to reports.

Sweet and thoughtful, isn’t it.

Homa Khaleeli doesn’t think so.

The female half of the adult population of Saudi Arabia is considered unfit to control their own lives. Women cannot decide whether to leave the house, whether or who to marry, whether to work or study, whether to travel, what to wear, or even whether to have major surgery – without the consent of a male guardian.

In a country of such startling misogyny, which treats women like children, it is hardly surprising there are few women in work and that it is becoming a crises the ruling elite is being forced to take notice of. Almost 60% of the country’s college graduates are women, but 78% of female university graduates are apparently unemployed – despite the fact more than 1,000 hold a doctorate degree. In total only 15% of Saudi Arabia’s workforce are women. And unlike in many recession-hit countries, there are more than enough jobs to go around – the economy apparently booming.

Well who wants to hire someone in a body bag? Who can’t drive or talk to men or do most things without a male escort?

But how can further segregation be expected to solve the problems caused by discrimination? It takes a peculiar leap of logic to think the answer is instead to build whole new cities where women who choose to have careers can be herded. Would this be seen as acceptable, even progressive, if the cities were there to house workplaces for people of one race rather than one gender? But where are the voices calling for an end to the country’s discriminatory practices? There has been none of the broad support that would have ensued had the segregation been along race lines. In South Africa such segregation was the basis for a worldwide boycott, yet Saudi Arabia is merely seen as an “exceptional” place with a different culture.

Oh, it’s just women. Cool your jets.




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

On ‘A Plea in Law for Equal Marriage’

Aug 15th, 2012 3:41 pm | By

Helen Dale won the 2012 Law Society of Scotland Essay Award for a piece entitled ‘A Plea in Law for Equal Marriage’. The Journal of the Law Society of Scotland has published that piece.

Helen explains at Skepticlawyer why she wrote the piece. It’s because the arguments in play were crap.

I suspect that this is why the arguments both groups used (and continue to use, alas) were very, very bad.

Now, I agreed with the LGBT ‘side’; that’s why I wrote the essay I did. But their arguments were crap. And the Catholic Church’s were similarly awful. Sometimes it really is a case of ‘play to your strengths’, lads (even when the batsman in question, like Kevin Pietersen, wants to belt everything on the leg side).

To that end, I wrote an empirical, positivist essay on the arguments for same-sex marriage. When I reference ‘human rights’, it is only incidental to my major focus: providing empirical proof and establishing formal validity for a proposed change in the law. At all times, I kept my eyes focussed on the human institution of the Scottish Parliament (‘it looks like someone swallowed a jigsaw,’ says one friend of mine ‘and then threw up on the Old Town’).

The virtue of making an empirical argument focussed on validity and ‘doability’ is that it allowed Peter Nicholson, The Journal’s splendid editor, to extract a natural law argument against equal marriage from John Deighan, the Parliamentary Officer for the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland.

This is the right way around, jurisprudentially, and both arguments are better for it. The Catholic natural lawyer draws on his tradition, bringing forth its contribution to human rights law and the notion of entrenched rights. The Skeptic legal positivist draws on her tradition, bringing forth its contribution to liberal parliamentary institutions and scientific rigour.

In the prize-winning essay Helen sets us straight on the history (as she has done here, enlighteningly).

It has become fashionable to argue that marriage in the past was always loveless, and a matter of arrangement and alliances, but that is just as historically illiterate as universalising the modern world’s focus on love and affection.

Although the assertion that Christianity invented marriage is ridiculous, it is worth addressing because it is sometimes allied to another falsity: that Christian Europe was the first truly monogamous civilisation. In fact, pagan Rome made monogamy a marital universal, with its great Empire imposing civilisational family values on conquered peoples in a manner to make the governors of British India blush.(7)

The difference, of course, is that classical Roman monogamy was strikingly modern, while the later Christian version (enacted, of course, by Roman Christians) was not. Classical Roman marriage law protected women’s property,(8) respected women’s autonomy,(9) did not impair married women’s capacity to contract, and allowed unilateral and consensual divorce to both men and women on equal terms.(10)

By contrast, Christian emperors constricted access to divorce, eventually banning it outright; severely impaired a married woman’s capacity not only to manage her property but also to leave the house without her husband’s permission, and – under Constantine – attempted to make (female) adultery a capital offence.(11)

Read the whole thing.


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

To combat a nefarious “other”

Aug 15th, 2012 11:43 am | By

Paul Fidalgo has a great contribution to Amy’s series. (That’s Amy Davis Roth, Surlyramics Amy. Just in case you’ve forgotten.)

There’s this movement, the skeptical/atheist movement. Why are we in it? Various reasons.

Some are moved by social justice and civil rights, some by a devotion to reality and truth, some who simply want a community of intelligent, creative folks, and of course there will be some who want a faction to join in order to combat a nefarious “other.”

Ah yes that nefarious other. I try to make the nefarious other be a thing rather than a set of people, but do I always succeed? Of course not.

But for some folks, that kind of factioning isn’t enough. It needs to go deeper. There needs to be an enemy. What is so deeply saddening to me is that for many who consider themselves part of this community, the enemy is women. And why? Because they’d like you to stop threatening them with rape and violence and treating them like chattel, thank you very much. I know. The nerve.

Also because women are so handy for the purpose. It’s such a quick and easy way to big up the self, if you don’t happen to be a woman – you can just remind yourself that you’re not stupid or weak or treacherous or whiny or manipulative or sly or bitchy or a cunt or slutty like those awful women.

So what I think might be helpful here is a distinguishing between those who simply operate in the skepto-atheosphere (on and off-line) and those who consider themselves part of a movement. Because you can be a skeptic and you can be an atheist and also be a rotten person who thinks little of your fellow humans who happen to have a double-X chromosome.

But I don’t think you can be part of this movement.

I know, I don’t get to decide these kinds of things. But if I did, it’d go something like this:

This movement (not merely the community of heretics, but the movement) is about lessening the power of religion, superstition, and credulous thinking because we want to live in a world guided by facts, science, and reason, because (and here’s the part I might lose some of you) we want to live in a world that maximizes human happiness, morality, freedom of thought and expression, and equality. Atheism and skepticism for their own sakes are not “causes.” They are not, in and of themselves, worthy of a movement. But we pursue these goals because we know they will bring about a society in which we are more free and equal, and in turn we will be more fulfilled and enriched as a result.

Yes. Atheism without morality, freedom of thought and expression, and equality? No fucking thank you. Yes this means giving up the delicious pleasure of bigging up the self by reminding it that it’s not like that horrible other – but you know what? It’s worth it.

So here is my opinion (not necessarily that of my employer). If you don’t share the goals outlined above, if you think it’s cool or funny or even necessary to debase or threaten women, then you’re just not part of the movement, even if you think you are. Because if making a fairer, better world is not your goal, then what are you fighting for? The right to terrorize people? The right to feel superior? Them’s small fries, my friend. You can do better.

Yes they are, and yes you can.


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

A one-way trip to hell and that lifelong bunsen burner

Aug 15th, 2012 10:29 am | By

The Heresy Club is great value, as you probably know.

Siana Bangura has a great post on “Black Atheism and why it’s something to talk about.”

For me, the biggest battle I face is dealing with the confusion and pity that my lack of belief often stirs in some. I remember an episode at school one lunchtime when I was surrounded by ‘The God Squad’ who chanted and prayed *AT* me with their Bibles and Rosary Beads. They said my ‘soul’ needed ‘saving’ and that I was on a one-way trip to hell and that lifelong bunsen burner if I didn’t ‘repent’. It was truly terrifying and also extremely laughable all at once. They simply didn’t understand me. I didn’t fit into their box, their little world, their narrow world view. They told me I was trying to be ‘white’. I was often called a ‘coconut’, or a ‘milkyway’ or an ‘Oreo’ if the mood was right. You know, black on the outside and white on the inside? I didn’t see it as bullying, and I don’t think it was. It was a terrifyingly real demonstration of the power of religion though. These girls quite often behaved in Un-Christian ways (although there was a wave of “Born Again” business just before we finished year eleven) and I didn’t quite understand why they felt they had the right to preach at me. But then again, the hypocrisy of religious people is something I have always known. The type of black community I was surrounded by was the type that accepts crooks, cons, thugs, woman beaters, drug dealers, absent fathers, womanizers and adulterers, but never gays and never non-believers. The latter did not exist.

She has a lot to say.

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

Underwear on toast

Aug 15th, 2012 10:11 am | By

American Atheists is putting up two billboards for the presidential nominating conventions.


[Courtesy of American Atheists]

God the space alien in magic Mormon underwear. Jesus on toast.

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