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.


Dec 15th, 2011 9:28 am | By

Another item from the archive. No reason. Just for the hell of it. I saw a link to it somewhere and was reminded of it so thought I would summon it from ur-B&W.

June 17, 2011

I have a new project. My new project is to convince people on the left that they must work together with Tea Partiers.

This may seem like a difficult thing to do, but I like a challenge. There are many urgent problems in the world, such as countless people who still have the wrong kind of light bulbs, and the only way those problems can be solved is if I – yes I, I alone, I personally, I bravely yet gently yet determinedly yet lovingly – build a bridge between the left and the Tea Party. The division between the left and the Tea Party is divisive, and when there is divisiveness, problems don’t get solved, because people don’t work together, so it is urgent and vital and very important to heal this tragic divide by telling the left to forget about all the things they disagree with the Tea Party about. It would be pointless to tell the Tea Party to reciprocate, of course, and besides, the left is…well you know. So the work is to tell the left how to heal the divide, while not telling the Tea Party anything, because it already.

This is my healing work that I plan to do. I believe in love and reaching out and bridges and unity. I hope you all wish me luck and every success with my work, which I will be working on in many ways for many weeks to come, and which I will be reporting on via Twitter, Facebook, the New York Times, the Washington Post, People, USA Today, the Huffington Post, Tikkun, First Things, Christianity Today, my seven blogs, some of my friends’ blogs which I haven’t counted yet, and CBS News. In spite of all this fame and exposure I remain impressively humble and kind of bashfully surprised by all the success and approval I report daily via Twitter, Facebook, the New York Times, the Washington Post, People, USA Today, the Huffington Post, Tikkun, First Things, Christianity Today, my seven blogs, and some of my friends’ blogs which I haven’t counted yet.

Once I’ve got the left and the Tea Party squared away, I’ll get to work on getting feminists and sexists to work together, then unions and the governor of Wisconsin, then the Taliban and the women of Afghanistan. As I mentioned, I like a challenge. Thank you, god bless you, and god bless the United States of America.

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

And how much deadly force would I use?

Dec 14th, 2011 5:10 pm | By

Frat boys are such fun. The very word reminds me of fun-loving George Bush, whom I usually thought of as frat boy. Some frat boys at the University of Vermont sound super fun.

The fraternity circulated a questionnaire to its members, asking their names, major, favorite frat-related memories, favorite actor, and who they would pick to rape. Just normal questionnaire stuff, you know.

Another source:

We were sent a copy of the questionnaire, which mostly consists of benign questions like name, birthday, major, amount of time with SigEp and favorite SigEp memories, hobbies, future goals, etc. It’s actually kind of nerdy and cute, until you get to the final three “personal questions.”

1. Where in public would I want to have sex?

2. Who’s my favorite artist?

3. If I could rape someone, who would it be?

Boys just wanna have fun, boom boom.



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

Bishops run amok

Dec 14th, 2011 4:24 pm | By

Laura Bassett on the power of the bishops.

Terry O’Neill, the president of the National Organization for Women

 finds it troubling that a group of men that has historically denied women the opportunity to participate in leadership positions is exercising so much power over such a broad range of women’s reproductive health legislation.

“Clearly there’s a problem when men take such an interest in the sexual function of women,” she said. “There’s something deeply off about it.”

Especially those men – men who are officially celibate, men at the top of a men-only hierarchy, men who have spent their entire adult lives in an all-male profession – and, of course, men who think they’re taking orders from the Topp Man, God Himself.

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

President Sarkozy and Angie Baby

Dec 14th, 2011 4:00 pm | By

And another thing. Not up there with US legislators telling Catholic hospitals go right ahead, let pregnant women die if you don’t want to give them abortions, but still annoying.

The BBC World Service was talking about the economic mess in Europe last night, as it does every night, and it said something or other was decided or discussed or fretted over or laughed at by President Sarkozy and Mrs Merkel.

Excuse me?

It already bugs the shit out of me when they call the US Secretary of State “Mrs Clinton,” but to give the man his title and then immediately reduce the woman to Mrs is just infuriating.

That’s Chancellor Merkel to you, beeb.

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

Well, you see, it’s just women

Dec 14th, 2011 12:30 pm | By

Dahlia Lithwick on the Let Women Die bill.

The other noteworthy element of the bill is a “conscience” provision that would allow hospitals to turn away women who need abortions, based on policy set by religious leadership. The provision ensures that the approximately 600 hospitals affiliated with the Catholic Church will now be legally protected if they turn away women seeking abortions medically necessary to save their lives. Oddly enough, Pitts says the conscience provision is redundant, as it’s simply “preserving the same rights that medical professionals have had for decades.” So that makes both provisions of the bill redundant—or maybe only one is while the other literally gives hospitals cover to allow women to die. Rock on, Party of Life!

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has described the bill as “savage,” telling reporters that the legislation could ultimately lead women to “die on the floor of health care providers.” The president has promised to veto the bill if need be. (It needn’t be, because it won’t pass in the Senate). And Rachel Maddow has wondered how pointless anti-abortion legislation would create jobs, an issue on which the GOP is supposed to be laser-focused. Meanwhile, a national coalition of anti-abortion groups has announced it is pushing legislation in all 50 states that would force pregnant women to see and hear a fetal heartbeat before terminating a pregnancy.

She goes on to ask why there isn’t more outrage. Good question.



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

The Church and her bishops have a heightened moral responsibility

Dec 14th, 2011 12:02 pm | By

The following post from last year.

December 26, 2010

Mark Jones found the confirmation I was looking for, in the shape of the letter the bishop of Phoenix wrote to the president of Catholic Healthcare West. It is unbelievably disgusting.

He’s pissed off that the president of CHW told him that this is a complex matter on which the best minds disagree – not, as one might hope, because he thinks there should be no disagreement on whether or not a pregnant woman should be allowed to die along with her fetus rather than prevented from dying at the expense of her fetus, but because he is The Bishop.

In effect, you would have me believe that we will merely have to agree to disagree. But this resolution is unacceptable because it disregards my authority and responsibility to interpret the moral law and to teach the Catholic faith as a Successor of the Apostles.

His responsibility, that is, to order doctors to let a woman die. Because he is a Successor of the Apostles.

The decisions regarding life and death, morality and immorality as they relate to medical ethics are at the forefront of the Church’s mission today. As a result, the Church and her bishops have a heightened moral responsibility to remain actively engaged in these discussions and debates.

So that they can do their level best to compel hospitals to refuse to save the lives of pregnant women.

While the issues discussed in the moral analysis you provided are certainly technical and deeply philosophical, they are also foundationally “theological.” And the theology of the Catholic Faith, as concretized in the Code of Canon Law, dispels any doubt whose opinion on matters of faith and morals is decisive for institutions in the Diocese of Phoenix.

Me! Me me me me me me me! Do you understand? Me, the Bishop! My opinion is decisive! Not yours! Mine! I am the boss and you have to do what I say.

It goes on like that for four horrible pages. This from a church that protects priests who fuck children!

I feel dirty.

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

Episcopal evil

Dec 14th, 2011 12:00 pm | By

Reposted from last year.

December 26, 2010

The ACLU letter to the administrators of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services says something I hadn’t known, something quite staggering. The trouble is, I haven’t been able to find it anywhere else, so I can’t be sure it’s accurate. I would email the ACLU to ask, but they say they get too much mail to answer.

…just last week it was revealed that the Bishop of Phoenix threatened to remove his endorsement of St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center – where, as discussed in our previous letter, doctors provided a life-saving abortion to a young mother of four in November 2009 – unless the hospital signed a written pledge that it would never again provide emergency abortion care, even where necessary to save a woman’s life.

You see why that’s staggering. It says that the bishop demanded that the hospital sign a written pledge not to do an abortion even where necessary to save a woman’s life – the bishop explicitly demanded that the hospital let a woman die rather than do an abortion. I knew he’d been saying that in effect all along, but I didn’t know he’d been willing to spell it out himself.

[pause to say - fuck I hate these bastards. I hate them I hate them I hate them.]

At any rate, even without confirmation of that part, he said way more than enough. The Phoenix diocese kindly makes his saying available to us. It’s disgusting.

…earlier this year, it was brought to my attention that an abortion had taken place at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix. When I met with officials of the hospital to learn more of the details of what had occurred, it became clear that, in the decision to abort, the equal dignity of mother and her baby were not both upheld; but that the baby was directly killed, which is a clear violation of ERD #45.

There was no baby. There was a future baby inside the body of the woman who was on the point of death. It wasn’t possible to uphold “the equal dignity of mother and her baby” because the mother had fatally high blood pressure.

In this case, the baby was healthy and there were no problems with the pregnancy; rather, the mother had a disease that needed to be treated. But instead of treating the disease, St. Joseph’s medical staff and ethics committee decided that the healthy, 11-week-old baby should be directly killed. This is contrary to the teaching of the Church (Cf. Evangelium Vitae, #62).

That’s just outright dishonest. A healthy 11-week-old baby is just that, it’s not a fetus of 11 weeks. Does the bishop consider a newborn infant a 9-month-old baby?

Not to mention of course that treating the disease without killing the fetus wasn’t an option, so it’s dishonest of this reactionary woman-hating theocrat to imply that it was.

The president of St Joseph’s hospital, Linda Hunt, pointed out that it wasn’t an option.

“If we are presented with a situation in which a pregnancy threatens a woman’s life, our first priority is to save both patients. If that is not possible, we will always save the life we can save, and that is what we did in this case,” Hunt said. “Morally, ethically, and legally, we simply cannot stand by and let someone die whose life we might be able to save.”

But that is exactly what the bishop is demanding that they do, and exactly what he is making a condition of the hospital’s “Catholic” status. You don’t get to call yourself “Catholic” unless you’re willing to let a woman die along with her fetus rather than kill the fetus to save the woman. (Notice that the bishop neglects to mention that the fetus dies either way. He’s not even demanding that they let the woman die to save the fetus, he’s demanding that they let her die to make a point.)

Dr. Charles Alfano, chief medical officer at the hospital and an obstetrician there, said Olmsted was asking the impossible from the hospital.

“Specifically the fact that he requested we admit the procedure performed was an abortion and that it was a violation of the ethical and religious directives and that we would not perform such a procedure in the future,” he said. “We could not agree to that. We acted appropriately.”

That’s close to a confirmation of the ACLU item. I don’t doubt the ACLU item, I just would like to see it in writing somewhere else.

Catholic News Service gives a slightly evasive account.


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

Sorry, hon, the nearest non-Catholic hospital is 500 miles away

Dec 14th, 2011 11:43 am | By

More on the Let Women Die bill.

An even more controversial aspect of the bill would allow hospitals that are morally opposed to abortion, such as Catholic institutions, to do nothing for a woman who requires an emergency abortion procedure to save her life. Current law requires that hospitals give patients in life-threatening situations whatever care they need, regardless of the patient’s financial situation, but the Protect Life Act would make a hospital’s obligation to provide care in medical emergencies secondary to its refusal to provide abortions.

Notice that it’s hospitals. Not individual doctors or nurses (which would be more than bad enough) but whole hospitals. Imagine being a pregnant woman with skyrocketing blood pressure who has the bad fortune to be at a hospital that likes to refuse to do abortions. Oh darn, get off the gurney and go find another hospital…if you can live that long.

“Congress has passed refusal laws before, but it’s never blatantly tried to override emergency care protections,” said Sarah Lipton-Lubet, policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union. “We’ve heard proponents of this bill say that women don’t need emergency abortion care, but that is really just willful blindness to the facts.”

Congress – the US Congress, the House of Representatives, our democratically elected representatives – is saying “let women die if your religion says you have to, that’s fine with us, we’ll make it legal and safe for you.”

According to the American Journal of Public Health, Catholic hospitals already have a years-long history of ignoring the emergency care law to avoid performing abortions. In late 2009, an Arizona bishop excommunicated a nun who authorized an abortion procedure for a woman who otherwise might have died of pulmonary hypertension at a Catholic hospital in Phoenix.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) said she personally faced a situation in which an abortion was medically necessary.

“I was pregnant, I was miscarrying, I was bleeding,” she said on the House floor Thursday. “If I had to go from one hospital to the next trying to find one emergency room that would take me in, who knows if I would even be here today. What my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are trying to do is misogynist.”

Because the colleagues know, god hates women.

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

Oh yes, god hates women all right

Dec 14th, 2011 10:47 am | By

Ohhhhhh shit, how did I miss this – the House passed a bill in October that “makes it legal for hospitals to deny abortions to pregnant women with life-threatening conditions.”

Remember Thomas Olmsted, bishop of Phoenix? Who stripped St Joseph’s Hospital of its Catholic status because it aborted a fetus that was doomed in any case, in order to save the mother (who has four small children)? Remember the ACLU letter to the Feds urging them to enforce the law – the law that says hospitals can’t deny patients life-saving procedures? I guess the ACLU looks pretty silly now – because that’s not the law after all!

Well not quite. As far as I can tell the Senate hasn’t voted yet, and Obama has said he’ll veto it if it passes…

But Jesus H fucking Christ – they want to make it legal for hospitals to refuse to save the lives of pregnant women.

I could chew through a wall right now.

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

The devil gonna gitcha

Dec 13th, 2011 3:57 pm | By

Ah the pope – the dear dear man.

Cristina Vai, 55, a teacher for 30 years, was disciplined after several parents complained that children had come home sobbing and frightened.

They said they were scared of her graphic description of battles between good angels and the Devil from the Book of the

The school suspended her; she was shocked; she wrote to the pope to tell him about it; she got a reply within days.

In the letter Monsignor Peter Wells, an assistant with the Pope’s Secretary of State, said: ‘The Holy Father thanks you
with all his heart for your faithful gesture and for the sentiments that have inspired you.

‘His Holiness also sends you from his heart an Apostolic Blessing which he also extends in particular to the young children in the class.’

The pope thanks her for scaring the crap out of children by telling them – in school, where they expect to be taught things that are true – a lot of scary shite about the devil.

Her fight for reinstatement has also won the backing of her local MP, Fabio Garagnani.

He said: ‘I hope that with this letter from the Pope matters will be cleared up and it will become obvious that her lesson
was in perfect accordance with Catholic teaching.’

Because as long as a particular bit of frightening horrible crap is “in perfect accordance with Catholic teaching” then it’s just fine to thrust it on children in a school, where they expect to be taught things that are true. Never mind that it’s both hateful and bullshit; it’s in perfect accordance with Catholic teaching.

The head of the school has some sense though.

School principal Stefano Mari said: ‘This was not an easy decision to make. We had parents complain that their children were scared by the way she explained the lesson and so after discussions she was suspended.

‘I am aware of the letter from the Vatican but I don’t see what difference it makes. My decision was based solely for the
benefit of the children but the teacher has decided to make it an issue.’

Excellent! A letter from the Vatican should make no difference. Quite right; well said Signor Mari.

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

Heads we win, tails we win

Dec 13th, 2011 12:49 pm | By

Another vulture licks his filthy chops and suggests that Hitchens may be about to convert to Christianity.

Perhaps Hitchens’s admission that Nietzsche might have been wrong, even about  something small, will lead him to a healthy curiosity about Christianity. Up  until now, Hitchens has had nothing but bile for Christianity and all religion — including the religion of Marxism, which Hitchens, a former leftist, eventually  admitted could not survive “the onslaught of reality.” But Hitchens’s attacks on  religion were always propelled by the kind of fury that one usually finds in  zealots and former believers; it’s always the ex-Catholics (Maureen Dowd, etc.)  who are the hardest on the Church.

Not a bit of it. There are plenty of us never-Catholics who loathe and detest the church and say so loudly and often. Remember the no pope rally last year? Lashings of never-Catholics there.

I wouldn’t tell Christopher Hitchens that now is the time to get right with the  Lord, or to pray or read the Bible. I wouldn’t try and convince him of the  resurrection. I would only ask him to entertain the notion that love — the love  he has for his life, his wife and his children, the love his readers have for  him and the love that the doctors and nurses are showing him — is a real thing  whose origins are worth exploring without glibness (sorry, saying “love for your  fellow mammals” doesn’t require religion, as Hitchens did once, doesn’t cut it).  It also can be done without Christophobia.

But it can also be done without any reference to god or Jesus at all – and in fact saying that love doesn’t require religion does cut it, not least because it’s true, and obviously true.

Ironically, there is a kind of symmetry between Hitchens and his declared enemy,  Mother Teresa, whom Hitchens wrote a nasty book about and called a fanatic and a  fraud (yawn).

That “yawn” is simply disgusting – disgusting in the typically callous and frivolous way of religious believers. M Teresa refused to give pain medication to the people in her hospices. “Yawn” is not the right response to that.

In her 2009 book “Come Be My Light,” published posthumously (Mother Teresa died  in 1997), Mother Teresa writes of long periods, indeed years, of “darkness” and  suffering, during which she felt that God wasn’t there. After the book was  published, Hitchens went on TV to gloat. Even Mother Teresa didn’t believe it!  In fact, Mother Teresa was going through what many saints do, a dark night of  the soul. Such things can make us doubt God, and that is anything but an unholy  thing. As Chesterton noted, Christianity is the only religion that allows God to  be an atheist (“Why have you forsaken me?”). Perhaps Hitchens is going through  something similar. And as Mother Teresa’s pain made her doubt her God, in  second-guessing Nietzsche, Hitchens may be doubting his.

What smug, all-too-typical, everything-works-for-us nonsense. M Teresa had doubts, therefore god. Some other M had admirable devoted faith, therefore god. Doubt is a point for god, immovable certainty is a point for god, atheism is a point for god, cancer is a point for god, love is a point for god – all your base are belong to us! Christianity allows god to be an atheist – talk about “yawn”…And then, in the end, maybe pain is after all making Hitchens knuckle under; gloat gloat.

Disgusting, I tell you.


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

Surprised, surprised

Dec 13th, 2011 11:36 am | By

I’m not the only one who is bemused at Julian’s effortful discovery and announcement of what everyone already knew. Eric is too. So is Jerry Coyne.

Eric points out in his title that he could have told Julian that – “that” being, in Julian’s words,

They believe that Jesus is divine, not simply an exceptional human being; that his resurrection was a real, bodily one; that he performed miracles no human being ever could; that he needed to die on the cross so that our sins could be forgiven; and that Jesus is the only way to eternal life. On many of these issues, a significant minority are uncertain but in all cases it is only a small minority who actively disagree, or even just tend to disagree. As for the main reason they go to church, it is not for reflection, spiritual guidance or to be part of a community, but overwhelmingly in order to worship God.

The obvious, in other words: most church-going Christians believe the tenets of Christianity; they’re not all closeted atheists who go for the music and the pretty windows.

Eric observes

…this is how, in my experience, most Christians understand faith. My own attempts to move away from this into more liberal, indeed, more radical revisions of faith in order to make sense of faith in the modern world, while to some degree successful, and actually more attractive to some people’s  more radical understandings of faith, the place of the Bible in determining faith, and the obvious marginalisation of some “believers” because of their inability to accept orthodox ways of understanding both Bible and creed, was of central importance to the core membership of the parish in which I worked. One of these put it quite succinctly when she said that I would not be there forever, and she was prepared to tolerate my radical take on faith, but she knew what she believed, and was quite confident that the next Rector would be more on her side than on mine.

Ray Moscow commented at WEIT -

Good for him for finally talking to some actual religious people.

We former Christians, who know hundreds or thousands of believers and who have sat through hundreds of sermons and Bible classes could have saved him a lot of time, though.  People are taught this crap, and they believe it.

Newman makes the same useful point -

Having been part of the evangelical community in Alabama for 24 years, “I could have told him that,” too. Four years later, I’m still trying to get used to people’s skepticism when I try to tell them that, yes, people actually DO believe all this stuff- and they honestly do believe it absolutely 100% wholeheartedly. I know, because I did too. Perhaps that concept can only be fully grasped by those like me who were completely “one of them” for a very long time.

The funny thing is, though, Julian was once “one of them” too. Russell Blackford reminds us -

I can’t resist plugging the fact that Julian Baggini tells his own story of how he came to be a non-believer in his essay in 50 Voices of Disbelief.

I’m not sure how surprised he really is by what he’s finding out, since he has a sort of evangelical religious background himself. He started out being raised as a Catholic and got involved in evangelical Methodism as a teenager.

Given that, his surprise is really rather odd. Maybe it was all just a bit of performance art, or staging, or framing – maybe he was playing a character, like Conrad’s Marlowe.



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

Hey kids – want to get dead?

Dec 12th, 2011 4:49 pm | By

Ohhhhhhhhhh dear god. Meet Stephanie Messenger, author of a children’s book about the wonders of having measles.

As Reasonable Hank points out, measles make you sick.

Measles can be deadly. Recent outbreaks in Australia, the US, and New Zealand are all traced back to unvaccinated individuals. The overwhelming majority of those infected are unvaccinated or undervaccinated individuals. In Europe there have been several deaths this year alone.

Yet there’s an imbecile who wrote a book teaching children that vaccinations are ineffective and to embrace childhood disease. Fuuuuuck.

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

He has all the right enemies

Dec 12th, 2011 4:06 pm | By

The FT (I’ll refrain from belaboring the irony, apart from saying I’m refraining) does a profile of Peter Tatchell.

Tatchell’s campaigns for gay rights, racial equality, civil liberties and democracy have attracted death threats, bullets and bombs from an unsavoury mixture of homophobes, neo-Nazis and Islamic fundamentalists.

“The bricks now bounce off the windows,” Tatchell jokes, “although I can’t walk outside and feel totally relaxed.” Nonetheless, the man who made front pages around the world in 1999 by attempting a citizen’s arrest on Robert Mugabe  remains an indomitable campaigner. He has just returned from addressing the  Occupy London camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral, which is the kind of “tent city” protest that he proposed three decades ago.

He lives in a Council flat in Southwark. The building has a blue plaque.

The blue plaque salutes Peter Tatchell

As it should.

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

Nominate your nominations

Dec 12th, 2011 3:06 pm | By

The Skeptic is giving awards for best skeptical things in several categories. This is its debut in the awards business, so give it a big hand!

Please join in, by voting for:

  • The best podcast
  • The best blog
  • The best event, campaign or outreach event of the year. This could be an organisation or website that has done a particular task over a period of time, or it could be one event which has helped to raise public awareness of a skeptical issue
  • The best science video clip on the web
  • The best sceptical video clip on the web

We’ll sort the five most popular of your podcast, blog and event/campaign/outreach nominations and present them to our panel of judges who will make the final selection. We’ll also find the most popular of your video clip nominations in both video categories and those categories’ winners will be decided by you.

So go ahead, nominate some things.

We’re very happy that QED has agreed to host the awards ceremony at QEDCon in Manchester in March 2012. The Skeptic Team is looking forward to celebrating the efforts from within our community at its largest annual meeting.

Yes and I’ll be there. At QEDCon. In Manchester. In March 2012. It’ll be fun. So hurry up and nominate all the things.

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

Kill the witch!

Dec 12th, 2011 11:33 am | By

Religion as compassion in Saudi Arabia.

A Saudi woman has been executed for practising “witchcraft and sorcery”, the country’s interior ministry says.

A statement published by the state news agency said Amina bint Abdul Halim bin Salem Nasser was beheaded on Monday in the northern province of Jawf.

She wasn’t stoned to death. That’s the compassion.

Amnesty says that Saudi Arabia does not actually define sorcery as a capital
offence. However, some of its conservative clerics have urged the strongest
possible punishments against fortune-tellers and faith healers as a threat to

And we can’t have threats to Islam, because if we did, conservative clerics would be out of a job, and no longer in a position to kill people for theocratic reasons.


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

Religion is about literal doctrines after all

Dec 12th, 2011 10:07 am | By

So after weeks of heavy breathing, Julian’s Heathen’s Progress arrives at what we already knew – that believers actually do believe the tenets of their religion.

So what is the headline finding? It is that whatever some might say about religion being more about practice than belief, more praxis than dogma, more about the moral insight of mythos than the factual claims of logos, the vast majority of churchgoing Christians appear to believe orthodox doctrine at pretty much face value. They believe that Jesus is divine, not simply an exceptional human being; that his resurrection was a real, bodily one; that he performed miracles no human being ever could; that he needed to die on the cross so that our sins could be forgiven; and that Jesus is the only way to eternal life. On many of these issues, a significant minority are uncertain but in all cases it is only a small minority who actively disagree, or even just tend to disagree. As for the main reason they go to church, it is not for reflection, spiritual guidance or to be part of a community, but overwhelmingly in order to worship God.

Yes…just as the dread “new” atheists have said all along. Believers who don’t really believe are the minority, not the majority.

This is, I think, a firm riposte to those who dismiss atheists, especially the “new” variety, as being fixated on the literal beliefs associated with religion rather than ethos or practice. It suggests that they are not attacking straw men when they criticise religion for promoting superstitious and supernatural beliefs.

Yes…but then that would include Julian himself, for instance in his article in the Norwegian magazine Fritanke (not to be confused with the Swedish publisher Fritanke!) in March 2009:

I also think the new atheism tends to get religion wrong. The focus is always on the out-dated metaphysics of religion, its belief in personal creator gods, miracles, souls and so forth. I have no doubt that the vast majority of the religious do indeed believe in such things. Indeed, I’m on the record as accusing liberal theologians of hiding behind their less literalist interpretations, and pretending that matters of creed don’t really matter at all.

However, there is much more to religion to the metaphysics. To give a non-exhaustive list, religion is also about trying to live sub specie aeternitatis; orienting oneself to the transcendent rather than the immanent; living in a moral community of shared practice or as part of a valuable tradition; cultivating certain attitudes, such as gratitude and humility; and so on. To say, as Sam Harris does, that “religion is nothing more than bad concepts held in place of good ones for all time” misses all this. The practices of religion may be more important then the narratives, even if people believe those narratives to be true.

I think Julian owes “the new atheists” an apology.

He concludes

It seems to me that these results, if truly indicative of what people actually believe, are highly significant for the present debate about religion. The challenge to the likes of Karen Armstrong – which I’d love to hear her response to – is to accept that when they claim religion isn’t really about literal belief, they are advocating a view about how religion ought to be in its best form which just doesn’t describe the reality on the ground. They are defending an ideal of religion, a possibility that is not the normal actuality. (Although I do have a potential response to this they could offer, which I’ll come back to in a future post.) Therefore when responding to atheist criticisms, the accusation cannot be that they misrepresent religion. The best that can be said is that atheists focus too much on religion as it is most usually found and should pay more attention to the better forms. Whether that is a good enough reply is the subject for another argument.

Again, all this is what the gnus have been saying all along – and getting a lot of crap for saying, from Julian among others. Good that he’s finally correcting himself, but it would be better if he actually admitted that that’s what he’s doing.


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

Up a steep hill

Dec 11th, 2011 4:44 pm | By

Steve Jones wrote about denial of science in the Telegraph the other day.

Anyone, of course, is free to believe whatever they wish. But why train to become a biologist, or a doctor, when you deny the very foundations of your subject? For a biology student to refuse to accept the fact of evolution is equivalent to choosing to do a degree in English without believing in grammar, or in physics with a rooted objection to gravity: it makes no sense at all. The same is true for doctors. How can you put a body right with no idea as to why it is liable to go wrong?

I suppose the idea is that you do it by following the instructions, with no need for actual understanding. Lots of people apparently don’t care all that much about real understanding…though that could be just because they haven’t learned to care about it. It can be taught, after all.

The problem is not with any particular belief system but with belief itself.

Belief understood as “faith”; not reasoned belief but belief as obedience; not belief based on understanding but belief in what you’ve been told by authorities.

I sometimes wonder how many of those who pour their inane opinions about creationism into their young pupils’ ears ever consider the damage they are doing; not to my science, but to their religion. Why, when a student begins to learn the simple and convincing facts, rather than the fantasies, about how life emerged, should he believe anything else that his pastor, his rabbi or his imam has told him? Why build a philosophy based on fixed untruths, when we have so many truths, and so many things still to find out?

The growing tide of fact‑denial is a statement of failure, not by students but by their teachers, up to and including those at university level. We do our best, I think, but faced with schools or faith groups that get their   ignorance in first, we seem to be fighting a losing battle.

And the schools and faith groups in question think it’s a virtue to get their ignorance in first, which is why the battle is so hard to win.

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

We drift and dabble

Dec 11th, 2011 11:42 am | By

Oh goody, another more in sorrow than in anger rumination on Atheists Are As Bad As Theists And Vice Versa for a Sunday.

For a nation of talkers and self-confessors, we are terrible when it comes to talking about God. The discourse has been co-opted by the True Believers, on one hand, and Angry Atheists on the other. What about the rest of us?

What does he – Eric Weiner – mean “co-opted”? What does he even mean “what about the rest of us” – what about them? “Angry Atheists” haven’t “co-opted” anything, and the rest of us are just as able to speak up as the people Weiner is trying to portray as marginal.

It’s such a typical and tiresome move, this attempt to convince “the rest of us” – the normal, the mainstream, the typical, the ok – that atheists are illegitimate and somehow stealing or usurping the discourse. It’s also fairly risible to do that on the New York Times op-ed page. If we’ve usurped the discourse, how is it possible for Eric Normal Weiner to get his views published in the NY Times?

The rest of us, it turns out, constitute the nation’s fastest-growing religious demographic. We are the Nones, the roughly 12 percent of people who say they have no religious affiliation at all. The percentage is even higher among young people; at least a quarter are Nones.

Hello: that includes us, you know. We have no religious affiliation at all, so we are part of your Nones.

Nones are the undecided of the religious world. We drift spiritually and dabble in everything from Sufism to Kabbalah to, yes, Catholicism and Judaism.

So Nones are all kind of goddy too, so poof! actually there are no Nones at all, everybody is normal, so we can all go back to sleep.

We Nones may not believe in God, but we hope to one day. We have a dog in this hunt.

The hell we do. Maybe he does, but that doesn’t mean all of us do, and some of us certainly don’t – we not only don’t believe in “God,” we also dislike it. I know I do. “God” is a tyrant, a Big Boss, a domineering male, a hater of women, a bully, an intruder. I don’t in the least hope to believe in “God” one day; on the contrary, I hope not to, because it would be a horrible surrender and self-betrayal.


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

Here he is, he’s all yours

Dec 11th, 2011 11:05 am | By

Some parents in Irvine California suspected their son, age 15, of smoking. So they sat him down and explained to him how useful it is to be able to breathe freely, how addictive tobacco is, how bad smoking makes you smell, right?

Not quite. They asked a guy to beat the kid up for them (authorities said).

 An Irvine couple who suspected their 15-year-old son of smoking turned to a man believed to be relied on in their church to violently discipline children, authorities said.

Ah in their church – relied on in their church. Uh…whut? So people who attend this church have a designated guy who beats their children, and this is understood and relied on? Funny kind of church.

The parents asked Paul Kim, 39, to discipline their son after finding a
lighter in his possession, dropping the boy off at Kim’s Chino Hills home with permission for the beating, San Bernardino County sheriff’s spokesperson Cindy Bachmann said Saturday.

Kim hit the child with a metal pole about a dozen times, causing severe
bruising on his legs, according to Bachmann. The pole was about an inch in
diameter, investigators said.

Have investigators found Michael Pearl’s book on the premises? Are they looking for it?

Investigators believe Kim has been used in this way by other families in the
congregation, and asked for victims and witnesses to come forward.





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