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.

“Protecting faith and freedom”

Apr 4th, 2011 12:15 pm | By

Oh no you don’t.

I’ve already said I think Rev Jones is a bad man. He’s no ally or comrade of mine. In his world I would be a lifelong domestic servant with no vote no voice no views no rights, so even without his dramatic performances, he would be no comrade of mine.

But that’s my reasoned choice; it’s not the law of the land. “Interfaith Alliance” please note.

Washington, DC – Interfaith alliance President Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy issues the following statement in response to the killings of UN Workers in Afghanistan.

…this violence is a response, unacceptable as it may be, to the burning of a Qur’an in Florida last month by a local pastor. The disrespect he has shown for the Muslim faith has now reflected on the rest of us and has led to the worst possible outcome.

We as a nation must do more to make clear that bigoted rhetoric and action against the Muslim faith will not be tolerated and does not represent what is in the hearts and minds of the majority of Americans.

Oh no we must not. We must do no such thing. What Gaddy chooses to call “bigoted rhetoric” against Islam is protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution, and even “interfaith alliances” don’t get to suppress it. We are allowed to criticize Islam, even harshly, and no interfaith boffin gets to stop us.

Offending culture, religion, traditions=murder

Apr 3rd, 2011 11:47 am | By

Staffan de Mistura is nuts. He’s barking.

…the head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Unama), Staffan de Mistura, said during a visit to Mazar-e Sharif that the only person who could be blamed for the violence was the American pastor.

“I don’t think we should be blaming any Afghan. We should be blaming the person who produced the news – the one who burned the Koran. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from offending culture, religion, traditions.”

The only person who could be blamed. Not the people who did the actual killing, with guns; only the guy who made a point of pissing them off.


The Tantamounts

Apr 3rd, 2011 10:24 am | By

Isn’t there a literary character, or family, called Tantamount? Did I imagine that?

I’m thinking it’s from someone like Aldous Huxley or Evelyn Waugh. Anthony Powell? Mervyn Peake?

It started when Paula Kirby said on Facebook yesterday that some BBC presenter had said something was of “tantamount importance.” Groans all around. But then I started getting this itch inside the head…Margot Tantamount? Charles Tantamount? Tantamount Hall?

Google has been no help, so maybe I did imagine it. Anyone?

Does god hate women?

Apr 3rd, 2011 10:18 am | By
Does god hate women?

These guys certainly think so.

A student at an Islamic school in Bangladesh has been shot dead and at least 30 others injured during a demonstration against women’s rights.

The protesters were marching through the south-western town of Jessore against moves by the government to ensure equal property rights for women…

Under Bangladeshi law, a woman normally inherits half as much as her brother.

Because god wants it that way, which we know, because god said so in this book we are holding aloft while screaming in rage.

Women who would otherwise have been housewives

Apr 1st, 2011 3:24 pm | By

Oh good grief.

[David] Willetts blamed the entry of women into the workplace and universities for the lack of progress for men.

“Feminism trumped egalitarianism,” he said, adding that women who would otherwise have been housewives had taken university places and well-paid jobs that could have gone to ambitious working-class men.

Yes, and working-class men who would otherwise have been miners had taken university places and well-paid jobs that could have gone to ambitious women. What about it?

Everybody could always have been and done something else; so what? It’s no more inevitable or Right or How Things Ought to Be that women “are” housewives than it is that working-class men “are” miners. The university places and well-paid jobs don’t somehow belong to men, and women aren’t stealing them if they try to get them too.

Women who would otherwise have been housewives would have been housewives because things were rigged against them. That’s what that “otherwise” is pointing at. Willetts is thinking back to a time when it was just taken for granted that women would “be” housewives and that they would not “be” anything else, especially not anything demanding brains and hard work, and he’s thinking of it as if it were a natural or default state which we have now weirdly departed from, with the result that women are grabbing jobs that should have gone to men.

It looks to me as if David Willetts grabbed a job that should have gone to someone who doesn’t think that way.

Friday Friday

Apr 1st, 2011 12:46 pm | By

Watch out for Fridays. Maybe stay home on Fridays, with the doors locked and barred and sheets of iron over the windows. At least, if you live somewhere like Pakistan or Afghanistan, do that.

Thousands of demonstrators angered over the burning of a Koran in Florida mobbed offices of the United Nations in northern Afghanistan on Friday, overrunning the compound and killing at least seven foreign staff workers, according to Afghan officials…The incident began when thousands of protesters poured out of the Blue Mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif after Friday prayers and attacked the nearby headquarters of the United Nations.

Correlation is not causation, but when thousands of angry men rush out of a mosque after Friday prayers and attack a nearby UN headquarters, causation seems a pretty safe bet.

The crowd, which he estimated at 20,000, overwhelmed police forces and the United Nations security guards, and the weapons they used in the attack may have been those they seized from the United Nations guards.

Funny kind of “prayers,” too, if the correlation is indeed causation. Funny kind of “prayers” that can prompt twenty thousand men (yes men – they don’t let women join in) to go on a violent rampage and kill some random innocent people.

Mr. Ahmadzai, the police spokesman, said the demonstrators were angry about the burning of the Koran at the church of Pastor Terry Jones on Mar. 20.

Except it’s not actually “the” Koran that was burnt. Jones didn’t cause the Koran to disappear from the face of the earth. It was one copy out of many millions. It was a calculated insult, and that is all. It was not a felony, much less a capital crime, and a mob in Afghanistan is not an appropriate substitute for a Florida cop in any case.

Shut up your doors on Fridays.

Another problem solved

Apr 1st, 2011 11:25 am | By

What a relief: it turns out that religious schools don’t exclude after all. Whew!

The Catholic school accommodates plenty of non-Catholic children whose parents are often African Christians who choose to send their kids to a school with a specifically religious ethos.

In other words, they find a denominational school, even if it is not of their own denomination, more congenial than a non-denominational or a multi-denominational school.

This is an absolutely key point. It blows out of the water the assumption that denominational schools somehow ‘exclude’ anyone not of their own denomination.

Ohhhhhh, I see. I was confused all this time. I thought “exclusion” could apply to students of other religions as well as other denominations, and to students of no religion at all at all. But it turns out that’s wrong and the only issue is that a school of one denomination might exclude students of a different denomination and David Quinn knows of one where it doesn’t work that way, he guesses, as far as he knows, so there’s no problem with churchy schools and everything is copacetic.

A cynic might say oh really? So a Catholic school doesn’t exclude children from Muslim backgrounds? Or Protestant ones? Or secular or atheist ones? But decent people don’t care what a cynic might say, so let’s rejoice to know that denominational schools are a wonderful brilliant great terrific perfect idea.

The Godly are always there in the wings

Mar 31st, 2011 4:53 pm | By

Howard Jacobson is cautious about revolutionary elation.

Let’s not get too carried away by the secular nature of the revolutionary zeal engulfing the Middle East right now: the Godly are always there in the wings, waiting for the hour in which they can claim the victory as theirs and restore tyranny, only in their image. Maybe it won’t happen this time – I doubt it, listening to protesters saying they don’t mind what comes next, so long as the process is democratic, as though a democratically elected theocracy is somehow better than any other kind.

Really. I do wish people would get that straight.

Much has been made over the last weeks of the youthful passion of the demonstrators, tweeting for liberty. Here, two of the most terrible illusions of our time are yoked together. To the fallacy that the opinions of the young are worth attending to because they are not the opinions of the old is joined the fallacy that the the internet, because it is ungovernable, is bound to be a positive instrument for good.

 Or to put it another way, theocrats also know how to tweet.

The uses of leisure

Mar 30th, 2011 3:45 pm | By

As Lauryn Oates points out, it’s good that Afghanistan is so happy and prosperous that its President can afford to pay attention to the elegant details of life.

The deputy governor of Helmand province has been sacked for organising a concert that featured female performers without headscarves.

Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai took the action against Abdul Satar Mirzakwal after tribal elders complained that it was inappropriate.

Karzai himself was sufficiently at leisure to fire a deputy governor for allowing two women to sing at a concert without bags over their heads.

And while we’re on the subject, notice the typical craven way the BBC puts it – “without headscarves.” Notice what an official says a few paragraphs down -

“Women do not appear in public without wearing a burka and niqab in an Islamic country like Afghanistan,” one official, who wished to remain unnamed, said.

Burka and niqab is not the same as a headscarf! Burka and niqab is a full-body fabric sack with a thick lattice in front of the eyes. A scarf covers the hair; hijab covers the hair and neck; burka and niqab covers everything. Let’s not be euphemistic.

Here come the resonant bodies

Mar 30th, 2011 12:48 pm | By

The University of British Columbia has a Theory Workshop. No really; it does.

This month’s was a Derrida one. Coming up in April there will be a Deleuze one. It looks way good.

Most of us who draw from, and aim to produce, critical theory set out to make analytical interventions in the making of political transformations. This is, after all, what sets critical theory apart from mainstream theory. The ongoing wave of revolutionary unrest in North Africa and the Middle-East provides us with an opportunity and a challenge, both of which are theoretical as well as political: to put the tool kits of our conceptual assemblages to the test and re-invent and expand our intellectual horizons in response to novel political-historical configurations. In this workshop, we will explore and debate the political dimensions of the so-called “affective turn” in the humanities in the past decade. In particular, we will examine Spinoza’s concept of “affect” together with that of “resonance,” which a number of authors (including myself) are beginning to explore to understand the bodily, spatial, temporal, and affective forces that are currently transforming a central geopolitical node of global imperial power. My overall aim, in short, will be to debate the triad “affect, resonance, revolution” both conceptually and in connection with actual political terrains.

Isn’t that just a great way to make analytical interventions in the making of political transformations? Don’t you think the people of Egypt will be thrilled and grateful to see the interventions appear over the brow of the hill?

There’s a blog about it too. It’s a big intervention.

Resonance is an intensely bodily, spatial, political affair, materialized in the masses of bodies coming together in the streets of Egyptian cities in the past thirteen days, clashing with the police, temporarily dispersed by teargas and bullets, and regrouping again like an relentless swarm to reclaim the streets, push the police back, and saturate space with a collective effervescence. Resonance is what gives life to this human rhizome and the source of its power.

I think the idea is that when a lot of people get together, you have a crowd, and then sometimes things happen.

Everybody feels the resonance reverberating from Egypt and is trying to make sense of it, to name it. But the words seem inadequate, partial, incomplete: enthusiasm, energy, passion, anger, contagion, electrifying, domino effect. These terms name features of resonance but miss its salience as a physical, affective, political force made up of living bodies. Those who know it best, if intuitively, are the bodies that produce it in the streets.

Words are inadequate, so you need a Theorist to come up with better ones, like “bodies” for “people,” because that’s so…empowering. Do I have it right?

Do women hate god?

Mar 29th, 2011 4:50 pm | By

Kristin Aune brings the good news. She and a colleague surveyed “nearly 1,300 British feminists” and guess what?

The results show that, when compared with the general female population, feminists are much less likely to be religious, but a little more likely to be interested in alternative or non-institutional kinds of spirituality.

That’s a relief, isn’t it? Much less likely to be religious but oh whew, a little more likely to be “spiritual.” At least they’re not all hopelessly atheistic and bad.

[Pat] Robertson was worried that feminism was challenging traditional Christian values – at least, values he considered Christian. Many liberals and feminists, concerned about the rise of fundamentalism and its erosion of women’s rights, conclude similarly that feminism and religion have little in common. As Cath Elliott put it:

Whether it’s one of the world’s major faiths or an off-the-wall cult, religion means one thing and one thing only for those women unfortunate enough to get caught up in it: oppression. It’s the patriarchy made manifest, male-dominated, set up by men to protect and perpetuate their power.

Well said. At least I think so, but Aune doesn’t.

Sidestepping the arguments about whether or not religion is irredeemably oppressive to women (Christina Odone has refuted Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom’s recent claim that it is), it’s important to ask why feminists think like this.

Yes but before we do that, let’s pause over that claim about Odone. Did she refute our claim (we didn’t make that claim, in fact, but it’s perhaps close enough)? No; she disagreed with some of it, but that’s not refuting it. Besides, Odone of course was reviewing our book from the point of view of a dogmatic Catholic, which is no doubt why the Observer wanted her to be the one to review it. She was never going to agree with most of it, was she.

Second, feminism’s intellectual public voice has largely been a secular one. As the philosopher Rosi Braidotti has argued, European feminists are heirs to the Enlightenment rationalistic critique of religion, and socialist feminism (with its dismissal of religion) was one of the major strands of British feminism in the late 1960s and 1970s. Even today, feminist academics tend to dismiss religion as unimportant and not worth of studying. It is likely that this secularism has influenced today’s feminists, perhaps without them noticing. (Whether this secularism has much to offer the millions of women who are, by socialisation or choice, religious, is a prescient issue that is being raised especially by postcolonial critics.)

Yes, postcolonial critics, who see (or claim to see) universal rights and egalitarianism as a narsty colonialist plot. I’ll stick with the Enlightenment “rationalistic” critique of religion.

An interlude

Mar 29th, 2011 11:42 am | By

Oh my – this is funny – tragic but funny. Aspiring author self-destructs in public. Is urged to stop self-destructing. Continues self-destruction process. Tragic…I can’t wait to read the rest.

Experience required

Mar 28th, 2011 10:04 am | By

Nir Rosen was hired by the London School of Economics. Rosen is ”the free-lance journalist who gained infamy and lost an NYU fellowship after celebrating via Twitter the sexual assault on Lara Logan and wishing the same on Anderson Cooper.”

The Evening Standard reports

Mr Rosen was forced to resign in disgrace from New York University last month after making fun of CBS correspondent Lara Logan, who was stripped, beaten up and molested by a baying mob while covering the Egyptian revolution. He admitted his career was ruined after writing a series of comments on Twitter about Ms Logan, saying she was “probably just groped like thousands of other women”.

But this weekend he announced he will start work at the LSE, and is expected to be paid around £50,000.

One LSE source said: “It’s an unbelievable appointment. You’d think these people would have learned their lesson by now, but all they seem to want to do is rehabilitate highly offensive individuals.”

Nick Cohen phoned the LSE press office. He reported their conversation on Facebook:

“Does he have any academic credentials?”

“No but his war reporting experience is condsidered useful.”

“You mean his experience of justifying the rape of women correspondents?”

“I am not going to answer that.” Hangs up.

Rosen has now resigned. You might think Nick did his bit to help; I couldn’t possibly comment.

Other minds

Mar 27th, 2011 9:51 am | By

After some further conversation yesterday, I actually ended up better understanding what the latest spate of anti-gnu atheism was getting at. After yet another look, I still think Berlinerblau’s piece is terrible. It annoys me five paragraphs in, and that’s with having skipped the first two paragraphs. I’m not saying I think the piece is not so bad, but I am saying I can see why he might be riled. I always thought Hoffmann’s piece was a much better read, and now that I also see why he might be riled, well there you go.

They’re both academics, you see; they teach; they teach undergraduates. Need I say more? You know how young people are. (For any readers who are young: you know how you are.) Young people in the US, at any rate, which is the relevant category here.

Once you isolate that variable, it all becomes clear. They teach undergraduates, so they get smart-ass ducklings who think they know everything already and refuse to read anything denser than a Facebook update.

They get “new atheist” undergraduates like that. They get “new atheist” undergraduates like that who grew up on self-esteem classes. Ohhhhhhhh – now I get it.

Is that the fault of “new” atheism? Hmmm. I would say mostly no, but I wouldn’t say that none of it is. In fact I would agree that some of it probably is. On the other hand, I would add, if it weren’t gnu atheism it would be something else.

Yes but if you teach history of religion, for instance, callow lazy undergraduate gnu atheism interferes directly with what you teach. The same is probably true if you’re the Director of the Program for Jewish Civilization.

You can see it, right? You can see how it might go? Gnu atheist students age 20 or so, who think they already know whatever they need to know on the subject and express lofty contempt for things they can’t even spell. Why do they think this? They picked it up from PZ Myers, or Richard Dawkins – that’s the thinking. Actually it’s a lot more likely that they picked it up from commenters at Pharyngula or the RDF site, but still – that’s “new” atheism in some sense (though it’s always better to make it clear which sense is in play).

I can sort of see how gnu atheism could seem like just another version of anti-intellectualism, and I can pretty easily see that it’s at least compatible with anti-intellectualism for followers. I say “for followers” because it’s absurd to think of any of the Name “new” atheists as anti-intellectual, much less incurious, which was Berlinerblau’s wild charge.

I said on Facebook yesterday that I was tempted to work up a little statement to append to every post I write -

Nothing here is to be construed as permission to refuse to read any history or philosophy of religion. There is no merit to ignorance.

What did we think of the retreat, honey?

Mar 26th, 2011 4:38 pm | By

There’s a churchy thing called a Couples Retreat. It’s at the First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, where the pastor is Jack Schaap, who is apparently what professionals call a Real Doozy. The church offers a list of What We Believe, in case any confused people try to join in, thinking they’re Wiccans or something. The list of What They Believe would cause a wondering frown to appear on the face of Karen Armstrong, and as for Terry Eagleton, he would probably decide to become a line order cook.

We take instruction from the Bible literally; we believe what it is actually saying, not that it is an allegory or a fable. We take instruction from the Bible in the areas of life and faith and go to it for the answers to life.

Like not cooking a football in its mother’s milk, and all that kind of thing. What all the liberal believers and friends of liberal believers tell us hardly anyone believes – and yet the First Baptist Church of Hammond Indiana is a big church. Very big. It seats 7,500.

Check out the video of the couples’ retreat. It has couples saying how much they loved the retreat. Well not exactly. It has couples standing there, one couple at a time, but with each couple, only the man is miked, and only the man talks. Sometimes the woman nods, in a shocking display of insubordination, but mostly each woman just stands there smiling into the camera like a stick of wood while the man clutches the back of her shirt and does all the talking.

That’s their idea of being churchy, and “Christian,” and good, and the right way to be, and supportive of The Family. Their idea is that the man gets to be a human being and the woman gets to be a stunted idea-less empty object that is attached to the man and would shrivel and die if she accidentally got unattached. She’s a parasite, an appendage, a part of his body. Their idea of virtue, at First Baptist of Hammond, is to live a bifurcated life in which men are people and women are something much less.

Notes from Hitchens

Mar 26th, 2011 8:22 am | By

Hitchens on death-bed evangelism.

 ’It’s considered acceptable in our culture to approach perfect strangers, as often or not who may be in extremis, and evangelise. I don’t see why that’s considered a normal thing.’ His voice rises in indignation. ‘They’re allowed to roam the wards. They tried it on me.’I know people old and young who’ve been terrified by attentions of this kind.’

He has been thinking of making a short speech along precisely these lines, to the effect that he, Harris and Dawkins may set up a secular equivalent of hospital visitors. ‘We’d go round – “Hope you don’t mind, you said you were Catholic? Only three weeks to live? Well, listen, you don’t have to live them as a mental slave, you know; you could have three weeks of freedom from fear of the priest. Don’t be a mug all your life…” I don’t think it would be considered in very good taste.’

I don’t think it would be a kindness either, I say.

‘I think it would,’ Hitchens says. ‘Absolutely.’

On whether he thinks he’s been a good person.

‘No, not particularly. Not as the world counts these things, because the world expects, for that definition to apply, a good deal of selflessness. And while no one scores very high on that, I score lower than most. I don’t do much living for others, I really don’t.’

On what being good actually is.

Thinking of his damning critique of Mother Teresa in his 1995 book The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, I say, rather unkindly perhaps, that it would be unfortunate if he were to be remembered not as the person who had fed the poor and comforted the dying, but the person who had given a good kicking to the woman who did.

He looks at me. ‘I don’t think the contingency comes up. Those who do feed the poor and comfort the dying are safe from me. Mother Teresa did neither. She was a fraud.’

Quite so, and thus the question was not so much unkind as mindless. Hitchens didn’t give a good kicking to “the woman who did” – notice that “the” as if there were only one and that one were Ma T. How her reputation does persist, for no reason apart from sheer reputationicity.

The yukkists

Mar 25th, 2011 3:42 pm | By

Man, it’s been a busy week for the gnu-hating crowd. There was Michael Ruse, then Jacques Berlinerblau, and now (it grieves me to say) Joseph Hoffmann. All three doing an extended yell of rage at “the new atheists” while seldom actually giving any specifics or quoting anyone or linking to anything, so that a reader could figure out exactly what they’re talking about. They do mention Dawkins and Harris, and Hoffmann quotes from a press release by the Center for Inquiry, but mostly there’s just a great deal of generalization.

Here’s Ruse:

I think the New Atheists are a disaster, a danger to the wellbeing of America comparable to the Tea Party.  It is not so much that their views are wrong—I am not going to fall into the trap of labeling those with whom I disagree immoral because of our disagreements—but because they won’t make any effort to think seriously about why they hold their positions about the conflict between science and religion…

Here’s Berlinerblau:

In fact, what is fascinating about the New Atheists is their almost complete lack of interest in the history and philosophical development of atheism. They seem not the least bit curious to venture beyond an understanding that reduces atheist thought to crude hyper-empiricism, hyper-materialism, and an undiscriminating anti-theism…

New Atheists, like Fundamentalists, only read “original texts” (kind of like the way Tea Party activists prattle on about the “original intent” of the Constitution). They don’t understand hermeneutics, or the interpretive process, and for this reason they are doomed to saying very silly things about their subject matter.

And now here’s Hoffmann:

…it is not clear that the EZs are listening, at least not directly, to their critics, because their royalty checks and speaking fees are talking too loud…

The mode of critique is lodged somewhere between “Stupid Pet Tricks”- and “Bushisms”-style humor, a generation-based funniness that thrives on ridicule as a worthy substitute for argument: Blasphemy contests, Hairdrier Unbaptisms, Blowgun-slogans (“Science flies you to the moon, religion flies you into buildings”), and my latest personal favorite, Zombie Jesus Jokes (“He died for your sins; now he’s back for your brains”)…

And so on and so on – lots of generality with very little specificity (although at least there is a link to Zombie Jesus Jokes, which is something). I don’t know who the new atheists in question are supposed to be, whether the four cowboys, or the four plus some more, or all new atheists (and how are they defined?). That means I don’t know how accurate the descriptions of them are, or how to check. That means I suspect that the whole enterprise is just bad temper as opposed to reasoned criticism. Yet a major pillar of the criticism or bad temper is how unreasoned the criticism by the new atheists is.

So the question is: what exactly is it, really, that they’re so pissed off about?

I don’t even know. You’d think I would, after all this time, but I don’t. They’re all over the place. They change their story every time they post. One minute it’s being political failures, the next minute it’s being too popular. I can’t possibly keep up.

The truth is I don’t think it’s really anything. I think they just don’t like us, in a dopy Leon Kass-ish “yuk” way, and that’s all there is to it. We really really get on their nerves, and they don’t know why themselves, but they don’t seem to have noticed that they don’t know why, so they keep self-importantly issuing noisy but incomprehensible jeremiads on the subject. This is good free publicity for the gnu atheists, so it all works out.

EZ theist ethics

Mar 25th, 2011 12:00 pm | By

Rabbi Adam Jacobs tells the Huffington Post and its readers that atheists can’t say it’s wrong to stone women to death because they are atheists.

In fact, the most sensible and logically consistent outgrowth of the atheist worldview should be permission to get for one’s self whatever one’s heart desires at any moment (assuming that you can get away with it). Why not have that affair? Why not take a few bucks from the Alzheimer victim’s purse — as it can not possibly have any meaning either way. Did not Richard Dawkins teach us that selfishness was built into our very genes?

I wonder if Jacques Berlinerblau will do a thoughtful erudite eloquent piece saying why that is ignorant and wrong. No, I don’t really. There is only so much time in a life, and with so many ignorant gnu atheists to beat up, ignorant theists just have to take care of themselves.

Furthermore, doesn’t Darwinism suggest that certain groups within a given population will develop beneficial mutations, essentially making them “better” than other groups? It would seem that racism would again be a natural conclusion of this worldview — quite unlike the theistic approach which would suggest that people have intrinsic value do to their creation in the “image of God.”

Much for you to do there, Professor Berlinerblau. Much ignorance and error. Still too busy?

At the end of the day, the reason that I can agree with many of the moral assertions that these atheists make is because they are not truly outgrowths of their purported philosophies, but rather of mine. I would suspect that the great majority of the atheistic understanding of morality comes directly or indirectly from what is commonly referred to as the Judeo-Christian ethic.

Directly or indirectly – well that makes it easy. Fine, have it your way, Rabbi: my  understanding of morality comes indirectly from what is commonly but mistakenly referred to as the Judeo-Christian ethic, an “ethic” which is very different now from what it was when it was young, thus showing that not even your understanding of morality comes directly from “the Judeo-Christian ethic.” Whatevs.

It gets better

Mar 24th, 2011 4:56 pm | By

The It Gets Better project is a good thing.

The interview with Dan and Terry on Fresh Air was also good. Terry had an especially horrible time the first two years of high school. He said he couldn’t even walk down the hall in such a way that he didn’t attract bullying. Everything he did – the way he moved, the way he talked, everything – got him bullied. His mother went to the school and asked them to do something about the bullying.

Their response was, ‘There’s nothing that they could do. If he looks that way, if he talks that way, if he walks that way, there’s absolutely nothing they could do to protect me and it was probably just going to happen and that my family should probably just get used to it.’

That really brought me up short. I think I’d heard it before, when they first started It Gets Better, but if so it shocked me all over again. Jeezis – his school telling his mother if he looks that way, if he talks that way, if he walks that way, there’s absolutely nothing they could do…that’s so complicatedly horrible I can’t deal with it. Which is why It Gets Better is so necessary.

I find it too moving to watch. I hope the kids don’t! I hope for them it’s a lifeline, not something that makes them go all maudlin. But I found the one by White House staff very…powerful.

Whited sepulchre

Mar 24th, 2011 11:04 am | By

But hey, then again, why worry about religious privilege and entitlement when the Vatican is busy telling the UN Human Rights Council that people who dispute its vicious homophbia are “attacking” it and interfering with its human rights? Why bother? Why not just give up, since we’re obviously outnumbered?

People who criticise gay sexual relations for religious or moral reasons are increasingly being attacked and vilified for their views, a Vatican diplomat told the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday.

Or to put it another way, gay people are increasingly being attacked and vilified by reactionary religious fanatics who think they should have the power to tell everyone everywhere what to do down to the smallest detail.

“People are being attacked for taking positions that do not support sexual behaviour between people of the same sex,” he told the current session of the Human Rights Council.

“When they express their moral beliefs or beliefs about human nature … they are stigmatised, and worse — they are vilified, and prosecuted.

“These attacks are violations of fundamental human rights and cannot be justified under any circumstances,” Tomasi said.

What attacks? He means criticism and disagreement. Criticism and disagreement are not violations of fundamental human rights. Furthermore, the Vatican’s concern for human rights is…let’s say incomplete, and self-regarding, and cynical, and a joke.

Tomasi also said the Vatican believed in the inherent dignity of all human beings and condemned all violence against people because of their sexual orientation or behaviour.

“But states can and must regulate behaviours, including various sexual behaviours,” he said.

“Throughout the world, there is a consensus between societies that certain kinds of sexual behaviour must be forbidden by law. Paedophilia and incest are two examples.”

Says an archbishop of a church that has shielded paedophiles from, precisely, state law, the very state law he appealed to.