Notes and Comment Blog

Marching together

Aug 24th, 2014 3:41 pm | By

In Dublin this afternoon, thousands of people marched in support of extending marriage rights to gay and lesbian people.

Organisers said 8,000 people took part in the march, many of whom held signs reading “equal”. Some dressed in sashes and tiaras after the news that the newly crowned Rose of Tralee, Maria Walsh had publicly come out as lesbian.

Comedian and writer Tara Flynn introduced speakers at a stage on St. Stephen’s Green. Ms Flynn recently starred in an LGBT Noise ‘Armagayddon’ video, which went viral internationally.

The march was notable for the number of straight people marching alongside LGBT people, along with families, and an almost endless array of colourful banners and signs. Representatives from LGBT youth organisation BelongTo, INTO LGBT Teachers’ Group, the USI, trans rights organisation TENI, and LGBT Pavee representing the Traveller community also spoke.

Also Atheist Ireland.

Irish Times journalist Fintan O’Toole called for Irish society to replace “tolerance” of LGBT people with “citizenship”.

Yes, the hell with tolerance. There’s nothing to “tolerate.”

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

One can simply pick and choose about which values one accepts

Aug 24th, 2014 12:40 pm | By

Kenan Malik did this talk at the Global Humanist Conference a couple of weeks ago that I’ve been meaning to read.

Right at the beginning we run into a funny (odd and haha both) idea.

Every year I give a lecture to a group of theology students – would-be Anglican priests, as it happens – on ‘Why I am an atheist’. Part of the talk is about values. And every year I get the same response: that without God, one can simply pick and choose about which values one accepts and which one doesn’t.


Of course one can pick and choose about which values one accepts and which one doesn’t, and one had damn well better do exactly that, because the alternative is simply unconditional obedience and the perils of that ought to be blindingly obvious.

Yes, clerical friends, that’s exactly what one can and should do. Yes, you do actually have to think about what values to accept and what values to reject. There are plenty of values that ought to be rejected – aversion to other races for instance, or to same-sex pairing, or to women in public life.

Kenan of course says the same thing.

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

A missing word

Aug 24th, 2014 11:20 am | By

You know what English needs? It needs a word that’s the opposite of “want.” It needs a word for want-not. Just adding a not doesn’t do it, because it’s too limp, too reactive, too mere. We need a word that’s more forceful, more feeling, than “don’t want.” An unwant word. A verb form of aversion.

Is there a verb form of aversion? If so it’s certainly not in active use. English needs a word like that that is in active use, and so is available to use.

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

Everything in this world was worthless in comparison

Aug 24th, 2014 10:30 am | By

The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain tweeted a striking forum post from a year ago, titled Believing in Jihad and Martyrdom.

I lived my younger years wanting only one thing: martyrdom.

I wanted to die in battle, in the name of Allah.

I wanted the peaceful happy death that martyrs appear to experience with a smile on their face.

I didn’t care who I fought or why, as long as I was fighting for Allah under Islamically justifiable conditions.

Everything in this world was worthless in comparison. You die in the name of Allah, and you get a free pass from all the pain and suffering that awaits everyone else on Judgement Day. You go straight to heaven, and all your sins are forgiven.

There’s a lot to say about that, but one thing that strikes me is how oddly transactional it is. Toona (the author) is describing a bribe, rather than an ideal. The goal as described isn’t doing something good, but getting a big reward. In fact the ideal is explicitly rejected: I didn’t care who I fought or why. It’s not about trying to work toward any kind of good, it’s just about getting an instant one-way ticket to heaven and cancellation of sins.

It was his father who schooled him in this way of thinking.

Talking about the worthlessness of this life and the impending destruction that awaits civilization made me lose interest in having a normal life. 

Now that is one of the things I hate most about the religious view of the world. It always at least risks teaching people that this life is worthless, and thus to lose interest in it. That may be a good thing for people whose lives are shit – because of pain, dire poverty, mental anguish – but for everyone else it’s a terrible cheat.

Talking about the suffering and torment that awaits the unbelievers in the afterlife made me live in complete terror of losing my faith.

And finally, talking about the joys of martyrdom made it seem like the only thing in life that’s worth fighting for. 

That’s a sick little trio of beliefs.

It doesn’t take a genius to see how extremely fragile the logic of it all is, but I had to believe it. That is how I justified the morality of the Jihadist ideology, but the truth is, the purpose of Jihad is not meant to be mercy. The official purpose of Jihad, as stated in the Hadith, is so that Allah’s word would be dominant.

The scary thing is that, even though most Muslims don’t think like that, there are traces of this deadly ideology in more Muslims than you’d think, because it is taught in the Quran and the Hadith.

I’ve seen children talking about murdering unbelievers, and their parents thinking it’s cute. I’ve heard clerics praying for death and destruction upon all unbelievers, as everyone in the mosque says “Amen”. I’ve seen that even level-headed Muslims may go berserk when their religion is insulted, and call for the death of the blasphemer. 

It’s also worth mentioning that a significant percentage of Muslims would say that they would rather see their children die than apostate, and the extremes they might go to stop that from happening are dreadful.

Toona, fortunately, escaped, but think how many don’t. It’s tragic for them and threatening for everyone else.

My worldview only started changing after I left home and became part of a more diverse community, and more so after regular exposure to various non-Islamic cultures through the internet. 

The more time I spent with people from ‘the other side’, the harder it became to believe the things I did.

It took about 8 years for me to finally rid myself of all that brainwashing. 

I could have easily gone a different way had the wrong people stayed in my life. 

I was lucky to have found my way out of that darkness. It’s not always the case, but sometimes all it takes for a person to recover from such destructive beliefs is to be given the chance to appreciate the humanity of non-believers, and the beauty of life, which is probably why the founders of Islam did their best to discourage that.

What can one do but hope that more people find their way out of that darkness?

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

Aggressive secularism shock-horror panic upset fear

Aug 23rd, 2014 4:02 pm | By

This time it’s former UK attorney general Dominic Grieve, in the Telegraph, with a candlestick.

Britain is at risk of being “sanitised” of faith because an “aggressive form of secularism” in workplaces and public bodies is forcing Christians to hide their beliefs, a former attorney general has warned.

What an arrestingly fresh and novel thought!

Dominic Grieve said he found it “quite extraordinary” that people were being sacked or disciplined for expressing their beliefs at work.

So do I! But they aren’t. So I don’t. I find it “quite extraordinary” that political talkers keep telling whoppers about this. People don’t get sacked just for “expressing their beliefs at work.” They get sacked for, for instance, refusing to do the work at work. They get disciplined for insisting on wearing dangling jewelry when there are safety rules forbidding it.

He described Christianity as a “powerful force for good” in modern Britain and warned that Christians should not be “intimidated” and “excluded” for their beliefs.

Quite right! They shouldn’t. And they’re not.

On the other hand people who don’t share their beliefs shouldn’t be intimidated and excluded either. That includes atheists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs – shall I go on?

He said that politicians and public figures should not be afraid of “doing God” and that they have a duty to explain how their beliefs inform their decisions.

The “appalling” scenes in Iraq, which have seen Islamic extremists behead and crucify religious minorities including Christians, showed that it was “more important than ever” for people to express their religious beliefs, he said.

What??? What about people whose religious beliefs are, precisely, that religious minorities, including Christians, should have their heads cut off? Does the schewpid man not realize that religious beliefs are what motivate and/or justify the beheadings and crucifixions in Iraq?

Connect the dots, dude.

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

The Oxford comma

Aug 23rd, 2014 3:27 pm | By

You know: the comma before “and” in a list of three or more items.

Have some paradigms:

The two main rationales for choosing one style over the other are clarity and economy. Each side has invoked both rationales in its favor. Here are some quotes that have served as shots exchanged in the Oxford comma wars.

Pro: “She took a photograph of her parents, the president, and the vice president.”

This example from the Chicago Manual of Style shows how the comma is necessary for clarity. Without it, she is taking a picture of two people, her mother and father, who are the president and vice president. With it, she is taking a picture of four people.

Quite. The “Oxford” comma is necessary there; it simply does one of the jobs a comma is supposed to do.

Con: “Those at the ceremony were the commodore, the fleet captain, the donor of the cup, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Jones.”

This example from the 1934 style book of the New York Herald Tribune shows how a comma before “and” can result in a lack of clarity. With the comma, it reads as if Mr. Smith was the donor of the cup, which he was not.

Ok well I tell you what, that’s not a good sentence, with or without the comma. Just re-do the sentence. That’s the other way to fix these little problems – just re-do the damn sentence.

The commodore and the fleet captain were at the ceremony, along with the donor of the cup (Susan Milligram) and Steve Jones and Bob Smith.

Still not elegant, but at least you can figure it out without getting a crick in your neck.

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

In the USA

Aug 23rd, 2014 12:08 pm | By

So now I’m going to have to allow more cuteness into my aesthetic range than I usually do, so that I can say yes to Mary Engelbreit and no to the people who said no to her.

St. Louis artist Mary Engelbreit‘s work typically epitomizes “non-controversial” art: She makes comforting cartoon illustrations of apple-cheeked children, often accompanied by cheerful slogans about friendship and family. She has a large and devoted following, both for her art and for Engelbreit-branded products of various types, and she is an official inductee in the St. Louis Walk of Fame. These are not normal times, however, and when Engelbreit posted an image on her Facebook page on Tuesday in response to the current unrest rocking the St. Louis-area town of Ferguson, a section of her fan-base turned on her.

The print in question, called In the USA, depicts an African-American mother and child, in Engelbreit’s signature orbicular style, contemplating a newspaper that reads “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot.” Floating text reads, “No One Should Have to Teach Their Children This In The USA.” The print was priced at $49.99, with all proceeds going to the Michael Brown Jr. Memorial Fund, which supports the family of Michael Brown, the Missouri teenager who was gunned down by police two weeks ago. “[T]hese events unfolding now in my hometown and across the country, shining a light on the ugly racism that still runs rampant in our country, made me think that maybe this drawing could help in some small way,” wrote Engelbreit in her post.

Photo: When situations turn horrible and I find it hard to move on, I usually draw my way through it. These drawing hardly ever see the light of day, since they're really just a form of therapy for me. But these events unfolding now in my hometown and across the country , shining a light on the ugly racism that still runs rampant in our country, made me think that maybe this drawing could help in some small way. While it's not a cheerful little picture you'd want to hang over the sofa, you might know of a school or an office or a police station that could use it. All proceeds from the sale of this print will go to the Michael Brown Jr. Memorial Fund. It will be available in 2 days, only from my website, As soon as it's ready, I'll put the official link on this page.

But what happened? A lot of malevolent people left malevolent comments, and Facebook took down her post. Fortunately it has now restored it.

Here’s a public Facebook post she did an hour ago:

So far, we’ve raised almost $25k for the Michael Brown Jr. Memorial Fund!! I can’t thank you guys enough for your support and for sharing the image on your pages and in your profile pictures– I could not have done this without you!

Let’s keep it going! You can order the print online at:

And if this print isn’t really your cup of tea, you can always send your contributions directly to:

The Michael Brown Jr. Memorial Fund
c/o Lesley McSpadden
P.O. Box 52011
St. Louis, MO 63160

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

Benson has a “guest post”

Aug 23rd, 2014 10:51 am | By

Update: Right. It’s not that she’s bizarre and creepy for monitoring all my posts and tweets and then doing “research” on them and writing up the “research” as if it were significant somehow – no, it’s that I am, for pointing out that she’s doing that. Totally makes sense. Nosce te ipsum.



Sometimes the level of obsession is so bizarre and so creepy that it just needs pointing out.

(Click on the images to embiggen.)




This is someone with a real job, a demanding, professional job, and this is how she spends her free time – monitoring my every visible-to-her word, hunting for the source of a guest post, comparing the original to the guest post, and writing up her findings, quite as if she were the FBI and a guest post on my blog were a coded message to ISIS.

She must think I’m enormously important.

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

You mean women can talk?!

Aug 22nd, 2014 5:16 pm | By

Brilliant move. Have a panel to discuss expanding leadership opportunities for Buddhist women and…well, take a look.

Featured panelists – James Coleman, Gary Gach, Charles Prebish, Christopher Queen, Paul David Numrich, Justin Whitaker, Eisel Mazard. Photos go: man, man, man, man, man, man, man.


Rita Gross, an author and dharma teacher, wonders what they were thinking.

Earlier this week the website Patheos published a panel on the topic “2014 Religious Trends: Expanding Leadership Opportunities for Buddhist Women—Which Way Forward?” The panel introduction ended with this question: “What are the risks and benefits of opening Buddhist leadership to women?” As a Buddhist-feminist scholar who has watched and participated in the rise of female leadership in the Buddhist world for the past four decades, I have my own question to ask in response: Risks? What risks? What could possibly be dangerous about women taking leadership roles in Buddhism? We have been doing so in large numbers for quite some time and nothing untoward has happened to Buddhism or to Buddhists as a result. 

Oh come now. To talk about it only in terms of benefits would be unbalanced and extreme. You can’t expect them to just say “it’s time to do much more to expand leadership opportunities for Buddhist women” and then go on to do just that. They have to fret and consider and wring their masculine hands over it first. Changing the status quo without considering the benefits and the risks is never ever permissible.

Far more serious and problematic, however, is the fact that this panel discussion on Buddhist women includes no women! Seven men—but no women—were called upon to discuss the “risks and benefits” of opening Buddhist leadership . . . to women! Rather than solving any of the centuries-old problems of Buddhist male dominance and patriarchy, such a panel only perpetuates it. Someone who didn’t know better but encountered this panel might draw the conclusion that Buddhist women are too passive to speak for themselves and lack the knowledge to do so. 

Maybe, but on the other hand if you had women on the panel someone would be sure to pop up and say the women were there only because they had the right genitalia.

I do not fault the seven men who wrote short essays for this panel, in part because I suspect that they were not informed ahead of time that only men had been invited to contribute. I know some of these men and know that they themselves are supportive of expanding leadership opportunities for Buddhist women. But I most definitely do fault whoever put this panel together for unbelievable levels of ignorance and arrogance. If this were 1970, not 2014, such an all-male panel might be explicable, even relevant. But in 2014, it is too late to speak and act as if men alone are still in charge of everything and can creditably speak for and about women, as if no women were confident and competent enough to speak for themselves, and hadn’t already begun to transform Buddhism into its post-patriarchal future.

I suppose whoever it was just figured it was more of a guy thing.



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

Get a good look before you buy

Aug 22nd, 2014 4:49 pm | By

One of those zany Islamic “scholars” in Egypt has issued a very useful bit of advice in a video. (Is it still called a fatwa if it’s on a video? Is there some different word for it if it partakes of the novel technology? Is there a fatwa for that?)

Men can spy on women in the shower, an extremist cleric has argued in Egypt, prompting outrage from other Islamic scholars.

According to Osama al-Qusi, a Salafist or ultraorthodox preacher, peeping toms can watch a woman wash as long as they are interested in marrying her.

“If you were really honest and wanted to marry that woman, and you were able to hide and watch her in secret, and see the things that she wouldn’t usually let you see before marrying her, then it is acceptable as long as your intentions are pure,” Qusi said in an online video translated by the al-Arabiya news network.

Well sure. That makes sense. For one thing of course “you” are a man. “You” are never a woman, because women don’t count. It’s only men who do things and need fatwas so they know what they can do. Women are just things, for men to watch in the shower or not, depending on the fatwa. For another thing obviously mean need to know how good the tits and ass are before they buy. (It’s hard to see the genitals even in the shower, unless you’re peering from underneath through some clear glass, but in that case she might possibly notice you.)

Egypt’s minister for religious affairs, Mohamed Mokhtar, condemned the cleric “and his ilk”, saying: “Where is the glory and masculinity in watching a woman shower? Would you allow this to happen to your daughter?”

Mokhtar stressed that fatwas, or Islamic edicts, should only be issued by qualified clerics, and denounced Qusi’s claims as anathema toIslam.

The minister also confirmed plans to launch a grassroots campaign against both atheists and Islamic extremists. He has already banned tens of thousands of unlicensed preachers, accused of extremist teachings, from working in Egyptian mosques.

Maybe the “extremists” are there to make people like the minister look good, with his campaign against atheists.


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

A bit of Yes Minister

Aug 22nd, 2014 4:15 pm | By

“It’s simply subsidized self-indulgence.”


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

Guest post: Because their religion demands it

Aug 22nd, 2014 1:01 pm | By

Originally a comment by Eric MacDonald on Guest post on Sam Harris and the duties of public intellectuals. (So yes, a meta-guest post.)

I think there are two sides to this story, and Atran’s claims cannot be taken as scientifically confirmed. For example, in the article Ophelia links entitled: “Here He Goes Again: Sam Harris’s Falsehoods,” Atran makes claims which, while true in terms of his own research, do not necessarily subvert some (at least) of Harris’s conclusions.

For example, Atran says: “Harris’s generalizations of his own fMRIs on belief change among a few dozen college students as supportive of his views of religion as simply false beliefs are underwhelming.” This is unquestionably true, as I have said before in connexion with Boghossian’s claims in his book “How to make atheists.” Specific beliefs, as such, are very often either very poorly understood or provide simply the background of religious action. But it does not follow that explicit beliefs do not underlie the actions of many religious people.

For example, jihadists may not consciously be following the classical interpretations of Islamic texts regarding jihad, but the motivation of whole groups may be based on such interpretations. Atran seems to think that questionnaires provide accurate answers to the question Atran puts to religious people: “Why are you acting this way?” But religious people generally act from within a social context the theological meaning of which many of them do not understand and accept on trust. Asked to give reasons for “the hope that is in you,” (to quote First Peter) people may not give standard theological answers, but those may nevertheless be the reasons underlying their actions. Asked whether they support abortion, most orthodox Roman Catholics would say no, but very few of them could give detailed answers as to why it is believed by the Roman Catholic Church’s moral theology that abortion is wrong. I find Atran’s analyses of the reasons why religious people do things very inadequate and shallow. Most religious people, when push comes to shove, do things because their religion demands it, even though they do not know why. Asked to give their own reasons, they will give the first answer that occurs to them, without adverting to the theological framework within which they are acting, so they will give the kinds of answers that Atran’s studies attract. But this does not mean that underlying the actions of (to take but one example) jihadists are not very complex arguments concerning the Qur’an and the Sunna. It just means that they have accepted these argumentations on authority. Their personal reasons may even be orthogonal to the arguments from authority, but do not in the slightest change the fact that theological authority at some point underlies their actions.


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

Choose your victims well

Aug 22nd, 2014 12:41 pm | By

The Deputy Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists remembers James Foley.

He was already well known to CPJ staff, who along with many other groups and individuals had advocated for his release when he was captured by pro-Qadaffi forces in Libya in 2011 and held for six weeks.

Foley had been with three other journalists when they came under fire near Brega. One, Anton Hammerl, a freelance South African photographer, was killed.

Captivity in Libya, and the death of a colleague who was working on a shoestring budget, seem to have intensified Foley’s passion to help fellow journalists, particularly those risking their lives in conflict zones without the training, equipment, and finances afforded by major news organizations.

In addition to the normal band of war-hardened reporters, the Libya conflict attracted many less experienced freelancers and newcomers. Journalists had to help one another. Even so, some were unlucky. Acclaimed freelance photographer Tim Hetherington bled to death after taking shrapnel in the leg in Misrata; none of his colleagues knew how to save him. This prompted his friend Sebastian Junger to set up an organization to teach reporters basic first aid–Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues, or RISC.

James Foley attended the first-ever RISC course at the Bronx Documentary Center in April 2012. During that course, we sponsored the screening of a filmtitled “Bearing Witness” about five intrepid women journalists, including another victim of the Syrian war, Marie Colvin. When we spoke after the screening I wanted to hear about his experience, but Foley would have none of it. He wanted to talk about raising money for Anton Hammerl’s family. And he did more than talk.

He also helped to raise a bunch of money for Hammerl’s children.

Foley said he kept returning to the frontlines to follow Colvin’s exhortation to bear witness, but he went beyond observing. He helped. After documenting the toll taken on civilians, particularly children, by the fighting in Aleppo in a piecefor GlobalPost, Foley launched a campaign to raise money for the hospital he had filmed.

That’s the kind of person Islamic State thinks it good to murder by cutting off his head with a knife.

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

What can cure Ebola

Aug 22nd, 2014 11:56 am | By

What can cure Ebola? Apparently if it’s prompt enough and intensive enough, aggressive supportive care has a good chance of curing it. The better the hospital, the better the cure rate. Poverty is key here.

The two American Ebola patients, medical missionaries Nancy Writebol and Dr. Kent Brantly, have walked out of Emory University Hospital in Atlanta infection-free.

They were the first human beings to receive an experimental drug called ZMapp. But they are not the first people to have recovered from Ebola, and good hospital care is likely more responsible for their recovery than any mysterious “serum,” as the charities they work for termed it.

“They are the very first individuals to have ever received this agent,” Dr. Bruce Ribner, director of Emory’s Infectious Disease Unit, told a news conference. “There is no prior experience with it, and frankly, we do not know whether it helped them, whether it made no difference, or even, theoretically, if it delayed their recovery.”

But there is plenty of prior experience with dehydration and rehydration and electrolytes.

There’s no specific cure for Ebola, but doctors with experience treating it say they have found that if people get early supportive care, including saline solution and fever reducers, they are far more likely to recover.

Ribner says three weeks of treating Writebol and Brantly have shown them something else: Just like with cholera, patients have severe diarrhea and they lose important chemicals called electrolytes. Replacing these minerals — notably potassium, magnesium and sodium — helps patients recover better, he said.

“The key to resolving Ebola virus infection was aggressive supportive care,” he said. This level of care just isn’t available in most parts of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, where clinics struggle to even provide clean water and beds for patients.

“We knew certainly we could do that at a better level than the facility that they were in in Liberia,” Ribner added. The equivalent, he said, would be if “we took all of our patients in the intensive care unit here and sent them home and see how well they survived.”

Heartbreaking, isn’t it. I suspected it and wondered about it, as I’m sure everyone did – was the sky-high death rate partly to do with the poverty of the medical infrastructure? The answer seems to be yes, it is.

The World Health Organization, the relief group Doctors Without Borders and other experts in Africa have all called on rich nations to help poorer countries, especially those hit by Ebola in Africa, to develop their health systems so they can provide better care to patients.

Brantly, who walked out of an ambulance into Emory three weeks ago and Writebol, who remains weak, according to her husband David, both started out in better physical condition than the patients they were working to help.

“And clearly for any acutely ill patient, nutritional status is extremely important,” Ribner said. “If you have somebody who’s well-nourished and somebody who is poorly nourished and they suffer the same illness, infectious or otherwise, the person with better nutrition has better survival outlook.”

Poverty kills, just as we’ve always known.


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

Setting a place for emotion

Aug 22nd, 2014 9:44 am | By

I’ve been very critical* of Richard Dawkins’s recent Twitter dictats on abortion and Down syndrome, but now I get a chance to defend him, and from some of his own ardent supporters at that.

As you all no doubt know, he posted an apology plus explanation yesterday. What I want to take issue with here is not the post but a comment replying to a pair of comments pointing out the importance of emotions and persuasion in discussions of moral issues.

Do you have a list of topics at hand about which we should avoid talking logically? That would be most convenient for everyone concerned. Even if you can’t see the absurdity of that, consider that your list would differ from everyone else’s list of sensitive topics and we’d end up with very little that we could indeed discuss rationally.

You say that you marveled at the Blind Watchmaker and were thrilled by the God Delusion. Did you find them to be well balanced between rational argument and emotional sentiment? I, personally, did not find any patronizing emotional arguments in those two, and if there had been they would not only be unreadable, but insufferable. Why should your sensitivities trump those who are offended by analyzing religion too closely?

The comment is actually somewhat confusing: it’s not clear if the claim is that logic and emotion should be combined and “balanced,” or that emotion should be excluded. I think, though, in context and given those last two sentences, it’s the second. The claim seems to be that the two books were refreshingly free of emotional arguments. I want to defend Dawkins from that charge, at least when it comes to The God Delusion. That book was not free of emotion at all, nor should it have been. It has plenty of indignation, and rightly so.

It starts with emotion. The first sentence is emotional. Don’t you remember? It’s one of those memorable opening lines, like “It is a truth universally acknowledged…” or “All happy families are alike…”

As a child, my wife hated her school and wished she could leave.

As you know, that sets up an analogy to our situation with regard to religion: many of us hate it and prefer to leave (or, having left long ago or never entered, to stay away).

This is about feeling. It’s far from purely logical, and it’s not even purely cognitive. It’s not just about truth. It’s about aversion. And that’s appropriate. We are what we are and not something else. We’re not machines, not even computing machines. We have emotions, and they matter. We rebel against mandatory or socially coerced religion because we dislike it.

This is not to say (as I have seen some bemused or hostile onlookers claim) that arguments should be all emotion and no logic. It’s just to say that emotion can’t and shouldn’t be excluded from discussions of moral issues. (Technical issues are another matter. Feel free to exclude emotions from discussion of bridge-building.)

More from that preface:

As a child, my wife hated her school and wished she could leave.
Years later, when she was in her twenties, she disclosed this
unhappy fact to her parents, and her mother was aghast: ‘But
darling, why didn’t you come to us and tell us?’ Lalla’s reply is my
text for today: ‘But I didn’t know I could.’

I didn’t know I could.

I suspect – well, I am sure – that there are lots of people out there
who have been brought up in some religion or other, are unhappy
in it, don’t believe it, or are worried about the evils that are done in
its name; people who feel vague yearnings to leave their parents’
religion and wish they could, but just don’t realize that leaving is an
option. If you are one of them, this book is for you.

You see? Indignation, sympathy, generosity, compassion. And those are good things.

*Note that that’s not a contravention of the joint statement on managing disagreement ethically. That was the whole point. We are going to disagree at times; that’s inevitable; we can’t possibly have or expect total agreement on every issue. We have to be able to do that without resorting to scorched earth tactics.

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

Guest post on Sam Harris and the duties of public intellectuals

Aug 21st, 2014 6:02 pm | By

Guest post by Simon Frankel Pratt.

I think that Harris is good at presenting a kind of naive though not completely stupid position that many thoughtful but poorly informed secular Western liberals are likely to arrive at. In a sense, his positions should be the challenge or the foil against which informed experts and public intellectuals frame their answers. For example, Harris’s views on the links between religion and violence are almost entirely wrong, as scholars such as Atran have shown, but they are understandable.

The problem is, of course, that Harris does not engage with the experts.

He does not frame his views as naive or as questions in need of answering, but as the obvious answers. He does not consult with experts on his issues, and when experts tell him that he’s wrong, he either dismisses them impatiently (such as he did with Dennett on the matter of free will) or actually resorts to personal attacks and slurs (as he did with Scott Atran). Instead of offering a clear, concise, and well articulated starting position for us to engage in further enquiry and refinement of our views in light of the evidence, he sells his opinions as discussion-ending truths which we are foolish or harmful to ignore.

This bothers me a lot. It bothers me not just because I dislike Harris’s tone and disagree with his views, but because I see Harris’s actions as a violation of the duties and ethical obligations that public intellectual figures have to guide their audiences to more critical, self-aware, and historically/scientifically informed views.

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

Like a trucking company

Aug 21st, 2014 4:58 pm | By

Cardinal Pell is another one vying for the Zero Empathy Remark of the Year Award.

Cardinal George Pell has strongly defended the so-called Melbourne Response as Australia’s first comprehensive redress scheme for victims of clerical sexual abuse at the royal commission.

Appearing at the commission via video link from the Vatican in Rome on Thursday night, Cardinal Pell likened the Catholic Church’s responsibility for child abuse to that of a ”trucking company”. If a driver sexually assaulted a passenger they picked up along the way, he said, ”I don’t think it appropriate for the … leadership of that company be held responsible.”

What’s wrong with that analogy? Well let’s see…

  1. The Catholic church doesn’t pick up passengers along the way. Its relationship to its child parishioners is not similar to that of a truck driver to a hitch hiker.
  2. The Catholic church sees itself as the source of absolute moral truth. Trucking companies don’t see themselves that way.
  3. The relationship between the Catholic hierarchy and its priests is not like that of a trucking company to its employees.

But even more to the point, it’s just so…shoulder-shrugging, indifferent, blame-shifting, evasive.

Sean Cash, a lawyer for abuse victim Paul Hersbach, challenged the trucking company analogy, saying that because the Catholic Church was an organisation of the ”highest integrity” it owed victims a far greater legal and moral responsibility. He said it should not impede victims’ ability to receive full and fair compensation.

”We were among the front-runners in Melbourne in addressing these scandals and I would suggest to you that that is entirely consistent with Catholic tradition and the teachings of Christ,” Cardinal Pell replied.

Jesus had teachings about how the church should deal with rapist priests? I missed that part.

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


Aug 21st, 2014 12:38 pm | By

Dawkins is trending on Facebook again, thanks to his Most Recent Tweet of Infamy. At the top of the list I see (I assume the list is different for different people, because of their different Facebook histories) there are a lot of mainstream media stories and some Facebook posts by friends, and then after that…there is a long stream of right-wing, Christian, anti-abortion links.

Fabulous. Very very helpful.

There’s The Blaze.

There’s Christian News Network.

There’s Life Site News.

There’s Alan Colmes.

There’s Life News.

There’s Ray Comfort.

Richard Dawkins is being consistent again–with his Darwinian/Nazi ideology of “survival of the fittest.” This time he suggests that down syndrome children aren’t fit to survive, and he has the audacity to advocate the taking of a human life–in the name of morality.

May he find a place of repentance and trust in Jesus Christ, before he stands before the One in whom he doesn’t believe.

There’s Breitbart.

There’s End Time Headlines.

There’s Al Jazeera, Salon, Huffington Post UK, The Telegraph, The Mirror, The Evening Standard, The Guardian Australia, Sky News, ITV News, Fri Tanke…on and on. I haven’t scrolled to the end yet; maybe there is no end. There’s a lot. At any rate we can be damn sure this has done no favors to atheism or abortion rights.




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

Muslim “community leaders” churned out televised obfuscations

Aug 21st, 2014 12:02 pm | By

Maajid Nawaz wrote a piece for the Times yesterday. It’s behind a paywall, but even the extract posted by Quilliam contains good stuff.

The Isis man who apparently beheaded James Foley had a British accent. He is likely to be among the one out of every 800 British Sunni Muslim men of fighting age — around 500 of them — to have joined these jihadists in Iraq and Syria. This does not emerge from a vacuum. We in Britain have a deeply entrenched problem. Islamist extremism is poisoning our community relations, hijacking our youth, and we are doing very little to address it.

Throughout the Nineties our communities grew together, apart. This was applauded instead of being seen for what it was: fetishisation of minorities for those bent on romanticising “authentic” Eastern culture.

Foreign policy emerged as the popular cause for extremism, a half-truth at best, and Muslim “community leaders” churned out televised obfuscations in order to avoid addressing the obvious: what responsibility do Iraq’s slaughtered Yazidis bear for any foreign policy grievance? After much lobbying, David Cameron’s 2011 Munich speech finally recognised “Islamist extremism” head-on. But three years later and the Department for Communities and Local Government, which was tasked with challenging non-violent extremism, has yet to publish a counter-extremism strategy. British Muslims going abroad to fight is not new: it happened in Afghanistan. The only difference is that the ideology has been allowed to take root in the UK since then, and we are not doing anything about it.

Now, without a hint of irony, even al-Qaeda uses religious anti-extremism rhetoric to condemn Isis. But it is not good enough for Islamists merely to condemn.

Our collective efforts must focus on encouraging all people towards democratic values, minority and gender rights, equality and reason. This requires a strategy. But engaging on values is exactly what we have not been doing. More British jihadists will feature in Isis decapitation videos. And as our government hears no evil and sees no evil, we are woefully unprepared for when these jihadist fighters return home.

It’s a gruesome, horrible, miserable situation. With the right influences and inspirations and role models, most of these guys could be working to build infrastructure in Bangladesh or to care for Ebola patients in Liberia, but instead they’re dedicated to killing as many people as they can.

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

Those defections do not have legal effect

Aug 21st, 2014 11:26 am | By

J P O’Malley learns that the Irish Catholic church will not let you leave.

From aged 12, I had no belief, whatsoever, in the concept of a divine being.

By the time I was in my 20s, I was a militant-atheist.

And after my close reading of the ‘Ferns’, ‘Murphy’, and ‘Ryan Reports’, I was fully convinced that this was not an organisation I wanted to be associated with in any way.

It came as a huge surprise to me, then, last October, after I wrote to Reverend Fintan Gavin, the assistant chancellor of the Dublin Dioceses, asking if I could formally leave the Catholic Church, to be told that it was impossible.

There’s this 1983 Vatican “law,” you see, that was supposed to allow members to “defect.” (To what? Why defect? Why can’t people just leave? It’s not parenthood, after all. You can’t just leave parenthood, unless you’re a Class A Shit, but you can leave groups and clubs and political parties and, yes, religions.) But then there was a new law later on.

Fintan Gavin reiterated that since canon law was changed in 2009 “those [former] defections do not have legal effect.” In other words: the Catholic Church refuses to allow its members to walk away voluntarily.

When one has no affiliation — culturally, spiritually, or otherwise — to such an organisation, it’s easy to read this letter with a dose of Father Ted-style humour. But while the Church and State are completely separate — in terms of the common law in Ireland — that relationship has never been as simple as either the Irish government, or the Catholic Church, presently define it.

Since the founding of the Irish State, in 1922, the Church has provided a free service to the Irish government: a de facto, bureaucratic invisible hand to keep the population under control. If the Soviet Union had the Cheka to enforce public morality through fear, Ireland had priests and bishops. The costumes may have been different, but the theme remained the same: unquestionable, totalitarian power.

While these methods of coercion were never legally recognised in the Irish Constitution, the country was, one could argue, unofficially a theocracy until the early 1990s.

It wasn’t an entirely a free service. The state actually paid the church for running the Industrial “schools” and the mother-baby prisons. The state paid per head, and the church made a nice little living off the payments. And the population was by god kept under control.

Helen O’Shea, the current secretary of Atheist Ireland, who was able to formally defect from the Catholic Church pre-2009 — before the law was revoked by the Vatican — says that in the interests of democratic accountability the Irish state must operate in a consistent manner for all its citizens in terms of religious freedom.

“[Many] Irish schools are almost exclusively controlled by Catholic management. And when places are limited, a baptism certificate is often required. This is unacceptable in a supposedly non-theocratic state,” she said.

“Atheist Ireland are currently investigating setting up a website, so people can document their wish to leave the Church formally. It’s very ignorant [of the Church] to insist on membership when an individual requests the opposite,” said O’Shea.

I think that should happen. It would be very good for the church to be embarrassed by a long long long list of people who have left the church but are still counted as members by that church.

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