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.

Douthat’s victims

Jun 6th, 2011 11:40 am | By

Eric got to Ross Douthat ahead of me, but I’ll duplicate his effort anyway just because Douthat’s piece irritated me so intensely.

He says

the moral case for assisted suicide depends much more on our respect for people’s own desire to die than on our sympathy for their devastating medical conditions.

I don’t think he demonstrates that, and I don’t think it does – I think it depends on both. For one thing, if people don’t have devastating medical conditions, then they don’t need assistance with suicide. Part of what people fear is losing the physical ability to exit; that’s where the “assisted” comes in.

Fortunately, the revolution Kevorkian envisioned hasn’t yet succeeded. Despite decades of agitation, only three states allow some form of physician-assisted suicide. The Supreme Court, in a unanimous 1997 decision, declined to invent a constitutional right to die. There is no American equivalent of the kind of suicide clinics that have sprung up in Switzerland, providing painless poisons to a steady flow of people from around the globe.

That’s the bit that makes me so angry. That smug gloating pleasure in the knowledge that people who are suffering and desperate to die cannot do so. That smug certainty that he knows best and that what he thinks he knows gets to trump what other people want for themselves.

Douthat is, of course, a theist.

Oh is that so

Jun 5th, 2011 11:06 am | By

Texas governor Rick Perry called a court ruling that banned school prayers at a public high school graduation


“The First Amendment prohibits governments from interfering with Americans’ rights to freely express their religious beliefs, and accordingly the U.S. Supreme Court has maintained that Congress may convene every day with a prayer,” Perry said in a statement.

Oh yeah? But then governments are interfering with Americans’ rights to freely express their beliefs that there is no god, aren’t they. My religious belief is that god is a non-existent imaginary agent. I don’t get to say that at public school graduation ceremonies or Congress’s morning prayer. Since other people do get to say that god is a real, non-imaginary agent, the state is interfering with my rights to express my religious beliefs.

It is also, of course, interfering with the religious beliefs of Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Wiccans, Scientologists, Crefto Dollarians, and so on.

I look forward to your letter, Governor Perry.

Obey moar

Jun 4th, 2011 11:22 am | By

Oh good – there are some women in Malaysia who have figured out how to make the world all better. How, you ask, all aflame. By telling wives to be more obedient.

“We just want to ask all the wives to be obedient wives so that there will be fewer problems in our society,” such as infidelity, divorce and domestic violence, she told AFP.

“Obedient wife means they are trying to entertain their husbands, not only taking care of their food and clothes,” Maznah said. “They have to obey their husbands. That’s the way Islam also asks.”

Right. We know. That’s why we hates it, precious.

Maznah is already involved in another controversial venture — the Ikhwan Polygamy Club, which was launched in 2009 to promote polygamy. Muslim men in Malaysia can take up to four wives.

She is herself in a polygamous marriage, as the second of her husband’s two wives.

In 2010, a study by a Muslim activist group found men in polygamous relationships find it difficult to meet the needs of all their wives and children, and that the result is often unhappy and cash-strapped families.

Golly, what can one say? She sounds like a real tool. In every sense.

Spam spam spam bacon flattery and spam

Jun 3rd, 2011 3:15 pm | By

I’m getting a hilarious new type of spam which consists of a single sentence complimenting me for all-cognitive reasons - basically “oooh you’re so clever.” One said “sbutle [sic] must be your middle name.” Hahahahahahahahahaha.

Seriously, what do they do, have bots that scan websites and figure out what kind of flattery will go down best?

The real bullies

Jun 3rd, 2011 11:54 am | By

Let’s take a look at who is really being bullied and shouted into silence. Let’s take a look at a case where in real life

the mob arrives; insults are flung around; the character flaws, motivations, psychological makeup, etc., of the original [dissident] are dissected at length

and a high school kid is disowned and thrown out of the house by his parents for attempting to stop his public high school from having an unconstitutional official prayer at graduation.

A student’s public prayer at a pre-graduation “Class Night” event was turned into an opportunity for the school and community to gang up on Fowler and publicly close ranks against him — teachers as well as students. (Here’s video).

Check out that video. This isn’t a blog post; this isn’t a set of comments on a blog post; this is an auditorium full of people baying their majoritarian triumph at a lone student who in fact has the law on his side. This is a real example of “we can mobilise large numbers of people and use scorn in order to communicate our “community’s” disapproval of a particular kind of “harmful” behaviour.”

Why are there so many secular liberals so eager to pretend that the worst bullies and majoritarian silencers around are atheists when in the real flesh and blood world (and the online world too, in fact) this kind of thing has us beat by orders of magnitude?

It’s a mistake to engage with these morons

Jun 2nd, 2011 2:21 pm | By

Just a few points about “Brave Rieux tells it like it is…

I don’t have time for the new atheist idiots right now. But I wanted to flag up this remark by some bloke on the internet called Rieux.

There’s something a little skeevy about saying “on the internet” when the link goes here. Jeremy could have said “some bloke at Butterflies and Wheels.” It seems evasive to pretend this is all just random.

The context is the usual thing: some person writes something critical about the new atheists; new atheists go berserk; the mob arrives; insults are flung around;

“New atheists go berserk” is an exaggeration. One, the people who commented here and on McLaren’s post are only a small fraction of new atheists, not new atheists as such. Two, we didn’t really go berserk, we disputed various claims, and became more irritable when they were ignored or brushed off as beneath the notice of someone so important or treated as literally violent – or rather all those, in succession. Ok maybe getting more irritable is close enough to going berserk, but then why isn’t calling irritability “going berserk” itself “going berserk”? In other words the issue is heat and intensity of language (because that’s all there is here), so why are ours berserker while McLaren’s and Jeremy’s are entirely reasonable? Either both are berserker or both are reasonable.

“The mob arrives” is another exaggeration. We’re talking about a few people here. Fewer people than it would take to fill a bus or a Starbucks. Now, a lot of comments in succession that all agree in disagreeing with Person X can feel like a mob; I realize that; but that doesn’t mean they are a mob.

the character flaws, motivations, psychological makeup, etc., of the original poster are dissected at length; original poster cannot possibly respond to all the criticism (and knows perfectly well it would be futile anyway); new atheists jump up and down with self-righteous glee, and tell themselves they are the protectors of truth, rationality and honour (yeah right).

Original poster could respond to some of the criticism though, and doing so in a reasonable way might result in less criticism later. (In a reasonable way according to whom? Eye of the beholder. Yes but – some ways are clearly not reasonable.) More to the point, OP does not know it would be futile anyway. Neither does Jeremy. “The new atheist idiots” notwithstanding, it’s not the case that everyone who commented here and/or there is incapable of reasonable discussion.

The last clause: see above. Even if we are as described, are we really more so than McLaren in those two posts? Not that I can see.

Yes, we can mobilise large numbers of people and use scorn in order to communicate our “community’s” disapproval of a particular kind of “harmful” behaviour. Hurrah! Yes, scorn delivered by a mob has value when it’s directed at behaviour that really does cross “legitimate ethical lines” (those damned women wanting to drive their cars – pah!)!

No kidding – but that applies to so many things. It’s only as good as it is. Community disapproval of women’s rights or gay rights is a bad thing; community disapproval of racism or sexism is a good thing. We know. But in the wider world, atheists are the ones subject to community disapproval, and that is exactly what McLaren was playing into, and that was exactly what exasperated us about her posts. For some reason the faith-hugging community didn’t show up in force to defend McLaren, but that’s not because there is no such community.

Anyway, if mobs commenting on blogs are so reprehensible, consider Tom Johnson/YNH/Hammill/Wally. He created mobs all by himself as TJ/YNH, and used them for all he was worth. He used them to accuse people of lying – for instance Rieux, and me. It’s odd that all the venom is reserved for us.

…it’s a mistake to engage with these morons. Write your criticisms, but don’t give them a platform to respond. They’re not interested in a rational exchange of views, and you can’t come out on top against a mob…

Therefore the thing to do is post a string of insults and then close comments so that no one can respond. That’s being interested in a rational exchange of views. Hmm.

Everybody wins

Jun 1st, 2011 5:17 pm | By

Manal al-Sharif, age 32, drives a car. Manal al-Sharif goes to jail. Manal al-Sharif is released from jail upon signing an undertaking never to do such an outrageous thing again.

“Concerning the topic of women’s driving, I will leave it up to our leader in whose discretion I entirely trust, to weigh the pros and cons and reach a decision that will take into consideration the best interests of the people, while also being pleasing to Allah, and in line with divine law,” she said, according to a translation of her statement.

“On this happy occasion, I would also like to affirm that never in my life had I been anything beside a Muslim, Saudi woman who aspires to remain in God’s good graces and to safeguard the reputation of our beloved country.”

Well there you go. If their leader decides, in his infinite wisdom, that women not driving cars is pleasing to Allah, then it is only right for them to obey. If their leader decides that Allah is a petty bullying shit who can’t stand to see women have the most ordinary kind of freedom, then that’s what Allah is, and all that’s left for Manal al-Sharif to do is to promise to try to remain in the shit’s good graces.


May 31st, 2011 2:50 pm | By

Sorry, things will go dead for awhile. I somehow got a spyware invader (despite antivirus and spysweeper) and it prevents me from getting online so I can’t download the tools to fix it so…I don’t know when I’ll be back.


Ireland’s disappeared

May 30th, 2011 4:40 pm | By

Magdalenes? What Magdalenes?

…it was Ireland’s hidden scandal: an estimated 30,000 women were sent to church-run laundries, where they were abused and worked for years with no pay. Their offense, in the eyes of society, was to break the strict sexual rules of Catholic Ireland, having children outside wedlock.

Their “offense” – but it wasn’t a mere offense, was it, it was a crime. We know this because of what the passage says: the women were imprisoned for years. They got the kind of sentence a convicted murderer gets. They were locked up, for years, and abused and worked for no pay. That’s an extremely harsh prison sentence – for having children outside marriage.

Until recently, the Catholic Church was the ultimate moral authority in Ireland, and it promoted strict rules on sex. In this climate, the shame of giving birth to an illegitimate child was so great that many unmarried mothers were rejected by their families. They were taken out of “decent society” and put into Magdalene laundries by members of the clergy, government institutions and their own families.

In Ireland it was a crime to have a child outside marriage – a crime for a woman, that is; naturally no man was ever locked up and worked for years for that crime – but it wasn’t a crime to imprison women without trial and treat them like shit for many years. That’s Catholic morality – sex is the worst crime there is, as long as it’s not a priest doing it, and imprisoning, abusing and exploiting girls and women is no crime at all. That’s Catholic priorities. That’s what life is like when the church gets to run everything.

I’d like Karen Armstrong to explain that.

The Magdalene laundries were a network of profit-making workhouses run by four religious communities — the Sisters of Mercy, the Sisters of Charity, the Good Shepherd Sisters and the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity…

Magdalene women worked long hours, typically seven days a week, without pay. There have been accounts of the harsh conditions the women endured, including allegations of mental, physical and, in some cases, sexual abuse. Many lived and died behind convent walls until the last laundry closed in 1996.

Because they had sex. Life imprisonment at hard labor for having sex.

The Irish government acknowledged as far back as 2001 that the Magdalene women were victims of abuse but says that because the laundries were privately run, they are outside its remit. It has resisted numerous calls for a statutory inquiry, the latest from the Irish Human Rights Commission in November 2010. The government also rejected proposals for compensation, saying that the state “did not refer individuals, nor was it complicit in referring individuals to the laundries.”

However, there is evidence that the state was involved. The Irish courts routinely sent women who were handed down a suspended sentence for petty crimes to the laundries, which operated as a kind of parallel detention system.

Public records show the government also awarded lucrative contracts to the nuns for its army and hospital laundry without ever insisting on fair wages for the “workers,” nor did it inspect conditions inside.

Testimony from Magdalene women claim that state employees like the Irish police force and social workers brought women to the laundries and returned those who had escaped.

It’s foul.

Everybody is to be more nice like me

May 29th, 2011 1:18 pm | By

More Stedman and McLaren. Sorry. Fair warning, so that you can stop reading now if you’re fed up to the back teeth with them.

Stedman is annoyed that gnu atheists don’t take his and McLaren’s advice on what “will benefit the atheist movement” but instead dare to offer “disagreements and accusations that McLaren, Luna, I (and many who affiliate with us) don’t have the best interests of the atheist movement in mind.”

That’s an odd complaint. It seems like a tangent. I don’t really know what they have in mind, I know only what they do, and what they do is talk a lot of nasty smack about gnu atheists, most of which is exaggerated at best.

Then Chris does a long complaint about people thinking he agrees with every word of every guest post. Well he said of McLaren’s guest post that it was a doozy, in a good way, and that it was “a hugely informative and clear-eyed assessment of the state of the atheist movement.” Yes, I thought he pretty much agreed with it. If he doesn’t want us to think that, he could always refrain from lavishly praising the guest posts in his introductions.

My ask? That commenters here strive to see posts for what they are; that they make every attempt to assume that the author has the best of intentions and go about raising their disagreements in a way that is civil and demonstrates a genuine desire to get at the heart of the truth.

But that’s too much to ask, giving the energetically insulting tone and substance of McLaren’s post. It’s also a double standard. It’s telling commenters to be more “civil” than McLaren is.

[Note: I'm not going to go down the path of defending the more personal criticisms directed at me -- I have no interest in humoring the accusations that I might not actually be an atheist, or that I don't have the best of intentions concerning the atheist movement, for which I've sacrificed an incalculable amount of time, money, and energy. There's really no reasoning with such baseless criticism.]

Self-important and self-pitying both at once. Again: I don’t know what his intentions are, I know only what he does; what he does is throw mud at gnu atheists at frequent intervals. This is a crowd-pleasing thing to do, so the self-pity thing isn’t going to work.

Now McLaren.

But the anger that was returned in many of the comments (and in retort posts on other sites) was none of these things. A subset of the anger I witnessed contained no respect, no boundaries, and no rules. It was an anger that involved direct slander against me, personal attacks against Chris Stedman (for daring to give me a public forum), and repetitive attempts to silence me, dehumanize me, and control my intellectual output and my voice.

Those are very strong accusations. She gives no examples, no links, no names, no evidence. I don’t believe her. I think she made a lot of rude and inaccurate accusations about new atheists (and maybe some gnus), and got a lot of rude replies as a result. She uses her own anger to inflate the putative crimes of other people, while wrapping herself in the flag of Niceness. It didn’t work last time and it doesn’t work this time. It convinces people who already like that kind of thing, but it repulses people who already despise it.

That’s the trouble with setting yourself up as the Ambassador of Nice. It means you have to be able to perform Niceness yourself. McLaren is transparently bossy and hostile, so she made a mistake thinking she could do that. Another failed diplomatic mission.

The cardinal did not mention

May 28th, 2011 12:20 pm | By

Oh the self-admiring moral bankruptcy of the Catholic church…

It’s doing a conference on AIDS this weekend. It’s as obstinate and evil as it’s been all along.

A Vatican cardinal opened an international conference on AIDS by strongly defending the church’s two-pronged strategy against the disease: education of consciences and mobilization of Catholic health resources for patients.

That is not a strategy. People can be infected by their partners, so educating consciences is not good enough. A woman can be entirely monogamous and still be infected by a non-monogamous partner – obviously, and as everyone knows – so prattle of conscience is just conceited obfuscation.

“Educating people to avoid high-risk behavior, when based on solid moral principles, fully demonstrates its effectiveness and translates into greater openness toward those already affected by the virus,” the cardinal said.

“When responsibility for one’s own behavior is affirmed, in fact, there is greater awareness of the connection with the rest of the community and greater sensitivity toward those who suffer,” he said.

Blah blah blah – it’s just more conceited self-congratulation. It does nothing to prevent infection.

The cardinal did not mention the question of condoms in AIDS prevention. In previous days, the Vatican newspaper ran two articles saying condom campaigns were unsuccessful in stopping the AIDS epidemic; one article said condom campaigns had increased the possibility of AIDS infection by promoting a false sense of security.

Bastards. Demons. Fiends.

Checking for accuracy

May 28th, 2011 11:46 am | By

I was re-reading a bit of Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God this morning, and I encountered something odd. It’s in chapter 12, “Death of God”; she gives an account of Stephen Jay Gould’s NOMA and how it works, and then says:

But the new atheists will have none of this, and in his somewhat immoderate way, Dawkins denounces Gould as a quisling.

There’s no reference. Well where did he say that? I wondered. I knew he’d used the word at one point, but I didn’t think it was about Gould. I read the bit about NOMA in The God Delusion, and it’s not there. When I got on the computer I googled it, and got nothing.

I don’t think he said it. I think Armstrong made a mistake. Does anybody know?

He did call Martin Rees a quisling, apropos of the Templeton Foundation. But that’s a different matter. It seems to me unlikely on the face of it that he would have called Gould that – they disagreed sharply about a lot of things, but (to the best of my knowledge) in a collegial way.

We just want them to look feminine

May 27th, 2011 3:47 pm | By

The badminton people are still tussling about that “women have to wear skirts” rule that the genius marketing people came up with. There are some crazy-radical voices pointing out that this is sexist.

To create a more “attractive presentation,” the Badminton World Federation has decreed that women must wear skirts or dresses to play at the elite level, beginning Wednesday. Many now compete in shorts or tracksuit pants. The dress code would make female players appear more feminine and appealing to fans and corporate sponsors, officials said.

Women wear more revealing outfits than men in a number of Olympic sports like gymnastics, track and field, volleyball and beach volleyball.

Badminton’s world governing body now finds itself on the defensive, accused of trying to sell a sport by showing more leg and skin. Male players are required only to dress in “proper attire,” officials said.

“We’re not trying to use sex to promote the sport,” said Paisan Rangsikitpho, an American who is deputy president of the Badminton World Federation, which is based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. “We just want them to look feminine and have a nice presentation so women will be more popular.”

Oh is that all!

This is Michelle Obama’s skirt all over again. Look at the picture on that article – you can see up the skirt. There’s nothing to see, just cloth, but it’s the thrill of looking up it, isn’t it. That seems to be the point of skirts – making women peerable.

Oh well what do I expect, when the only women you see on television are on shows with “Housewives” in the title and are like no human being I’ve ever seen in my life.

Pastoral care of the victims

May 27th, 2011 11:31 am | By

There’s this guy Scott Stephens, who is the editor of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s “Religion and Ethics.” Just like the BBC and the Washington Post, the ABC stupidly puts religion and ethics together as if they were a natural pairing, thus implying that ethics is inherently religious in some way and that religion has something, or perhaps everything, to contribute to ethics. That’s all crap. They’re two very different things and it’s not a time and labor-saving device to combine them, it’s a brainless travesty and confusion.

An unpleasant side effect is that you can’t trust the ABC (or the BBC or the WP) to discuss ethics independently of religion.

This Scott Stephens is furious that journalism hasn’t fallen face-down in deference to the report on child-rape in the church.

what coverage the study did receive – especially in Australia and the UK – was haughtily dismissive. It was brushed aside as somehow tainted, inherently flawed, or otherwise implicated in some malign Catholic apologetic. All this because the Causes and Context study was neither as salacious nor as simplistic as the media’s own favoured cadre of disaffected priests – each one a variation on the preposterous Hans Kung – and anti-Catholic jingoists.

No, at least not solely. It was also at least in part because the study was commissioned by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops along with the Justice Department. As many have noted, this is as if a study of mafia crime were commissioned by the mafia along with the Justice Department. It would be suspect for that reason. Catholic bishops are not (does Stephens really need to be told this?) seen as disinterested parties. They are not seen as neutral or blameless. They are seen as implicated, in the decades of secrecy and obstruction of justice at the very least. They are seen as people at the top of a secretive hierarchical closed all-male organization with huge and uncheckable powers over people.

It is precisely this form of sneering, stultifying pseudo-morality so often adopted by the modern media – whose self-promotion to the status of judge and arbiter of what warrants public attention, coupled with its fickle affections and compulsive dalliance with social media – that represents the realisation not just of Belloc’s predictions, but of Kafka’s nightmares.

Is Stephens really so stupid or so biased that he doesn’t realize that the Catholic clergy are also self-appointed judges and arbiters? If he’s going to complain of self-appointed judges and arbiters, you would think he could manage to notice the most succesful and lasting examples of all.

… only someone who is wilfully naive or intractably bigoted would refuse to acknowledge that the social antinomianism and fetishisation of sexual liberation in the 1960s and 70s, along with the valorisation of the pursuit of individual pleasure and free experimentation with transgressive sexual practices, created the conditions for a dramatic escalation in deviant behaviour – including paedophilia – both within and without the Church.

That’s exactly how the church does it – it treats child-rape as deviant, as a perversion, rather than as a harm against the child. It views it through the lens of “doing something naughty with the naughty bits” rather than the lens of “doing harm to another person, one who is much smaller and more vulnerable than the agent.” It looks at it as the wrong kind of whoopee instead of the wrong way to treat a child. Stephens is obligingly echoing the church’s line here.

While the reform of a priesthood that had become increasingly dissolute was one of John Paul II’s most enduring legacies, it has fallen to Joseph Ratzinger to carry out reform among the bishops.

Same thing. He just doesn’t get it – in the same way that a lot of French men totally failed to get it about DSK. It’s not about being dissolute – it’s about raping children. Rape is not just another branch of sexual fun. Sexual fun isn’t evil the way rape is, and rape isn’t harmless the way sexual fun is.

Benedict XVI’s determination to purge the Church of what he has repeatedly called the “filth” of abuse and concealment, his pastoral care of so many of the victims of abuse, and his insistence on the Church’s “deep need to re-learn penance, to accept purification, to learn on one hand forgiveness but also the need for justice,” distinguishes this pope not merely as the person who has done more than any other to eradicate sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

Pastoral care of the victims? Pastoral care of the victims? The victims don’t think so. The victims think he pretty much spat in their eye.

And this is the guy who covers ethics for the ABC. That’s tragic.

I never can resist

May 26th, 2011 3:57 pm | By

God it’s a gorgeous afternoon. Bright and clear so that all the new leaves and flowers all but hit you in the face with saturated color.

Somebody did a little parody letter/award to Chris Stedman, the point of which is that gnu atheists are picking on him. Wayull, after that hatchet-job by Karla McLaren on his blog, is it any wonder? If you post stuff saying gnu atheists are violent bullies, gnu atheists may react. Them’s the breaks.

To thank you, we’d like to give you the Watch Yourself award. With this award, every socially responsible cause you, your immediate family, or anyone you tag or like on Facebook or Twitter, gets involved in will be appropriated as a debate about Atheism, specifically from a New Atheist perspective. You want to promote LGBT issues? Don’t worry, New Atheists will be there to critique those causes on the basis of how inclusive they are to New Atheists…If you prefer, we can just assign a Task Force of New Atheists to follow you around with a megaphone, helping to contextualize everything that you do in terms of New Atheism, whether or not you ascribe to that movement. 

[shrug] What I said. Chris does tell gnu atheists what’s wrong with them a lot, so some of us push back. So it goes.

And if the idea is that we’re bossy – well what is he? Check out this “event” at something called “Faith House”:

(F)a(i)theist: How One Atheist Learned to Overcome the Religious-Secular Divide, and Why Atheists and the Religious Must Work Together

He’s always telling us what we must do. Well, I don’t take orders from him, oddly enough, so to work off my feelings of rebellion and insubordination, I sometimes dispute what he says, sometimes on Facebook. [shrug]

It’s funny how the idea is apparently supposed to be about healing divisions and whatnot, but in fact Stedman has created some new divisions. It’s kind of like the deal where people who piss off former friends by the hundreds set themselves up as experts in communication. It’s a lesson to be cautious about what one claims for oneself.

I see Spain, I see France

May 25th, 2011 4:32 pm | By

It’s extraordinary what the Telegraph considers news.

Michelle Obama fights to control summer dress in windy London


What next? Michelle Obama eats a cress sandwich? Michelle Obama moves her head from left to right? Michelle Obama blinks?

Well let’s not hastily accuse the Telegraph of triviality. Of course the story was newsworthy, for the very pressing reason that if Michelle Obama had lost the fight with her dress, the Telegraph would have been able to look up her skirt. Obviously that’s a significant news item in anybody’s book. Granted, it didn’t happen, but even the unrealized potential is newsworthy. In fact why not just skip the risks attendant on the weather and ask her to pull up her skirt herself? That would make an even better story! Playful, friendly, trans-Atlantic – it would be great. Why not ask her what color her knickers are?

What are you looking at? Listen, if women don’t want to be sniggered and leered out, they shouldn’t leave the house. If they step outside, they’re fair game. Everybody knows that.

Let one flower bloom

May 25th, 2011 12:40 pm | By

Gnu-haters are bad enough when they just say it, but when they say it and then later say they didn’t, they’re worse. I got into a disagreement of that kind with Stephen Prothero on a thread of Jennifer Michael Hecht’s at Facebook. Remember Prothero? I did a post about an article of his in December 2009. Lots of people did. It was the one about how gnu atheism is angry and male but women will maybe fix it up.

He said I got him all wrong.

My point is that there are TWO ways to argue for atheism, rather than one. (Actually, there are many more, but two will do for present purposes.) The people who lit into me afterwards (you included) were/are trying to impose ONE way of doing atheism–an imposition I opposed then, and still do.

Right, except that that’s not what he said. This is what he said:

Today, most Americans associate unbelief with the old-boys network of New Atheists, but there is a new generation of unbelievers emerging, some of them women and most of them far friendlier than Hitchens and his ilk. Although the arguments of angry men gave this movement birth, it could be the stories of women that allow it to grow up.

I heard two very different arguments at this event. The first was the old line of the New Atheists: Religious people are stupid and religion is poison, so the only way forward is to educate the idiots and flush away the poison. The second was less controversial and less utopian: From this perspective, atheism is just another point of view, deserving of constitutional protection and a fair hearing. Its goal is not a world without religion but a world in which believers and nonbelievers coexist peaceably, and atheists are respected, or at least tolerated.These competing approaches could not be further apart. One is an invitation to a duel. The other is a fair-minded appeal for recognition and respect. Or, to put it in terms of the gay rights movement, one is like trying to turn everyone gay and the other is like trying to secure equal rights for gay men and lesbians.

See? He’s unmistakably not saying there are two (or several) good ways to do atheism; he’s saying there’s currently a bad shitty nasty way to do atheism and there’s also a good respectful nice way to do atheism and the latter should replace the former. That’s not debatable – it’s on the page.

Yet he felt entitled to say I was misrepresenting him.

I prefer my way of doing arguing to his way of doing arguing.

They were at least eleven

May 24th, 2011 5:17 pm | By

Miranda did a close reading of the US Conference of Catholic bishops’ report on child sexual abuse.

Feast on this one item:

One of the most egregious aspects of this report is that the researchers arbitrarily redefine “pedophilia” as sexual abuse of victims that were ten years old or younger at the time, despite the fact that the DSM sets the cutoff age at thirteen.

And guess what the result of that is? It changes the stats! Radically. It makes the problem seem a whole lot smaller than it is.

 if the researchers had used the DSM‘s guidelines, the percentage would jump from 22% to almost 73%.

Extraordinary, isn’t it? Just arbitrarily change the definition and poof, the whole mess all but disappears – and the report gets the fun of scolding the media for using the unchanged definition:

Media reports about Catholic priests who sexually abused minors often mistakenly have referred to priests as pedophiles. According to the DSM IV-TR, pedophilia is characterized by fantasies, urges, or behaviors about sexual activity with a prepubescent child that occurs for a significant period of time. Yet, the Nature and Scope data indicated that nearly four out of five minors abused were at least eleven years old at the time of the abuse. Though development happens at varying ages for children, the literature generally refers to eleven and older as an age of pubescence or postpubescence (53).

At which point children simply long to be raped by priests.

What “exists”?

May 24th, 2011 11:33 am | By

Eric is telling Paul W what theologians mean by “the ground of all being.”

Part of the point of speaking about the ground of being is to distinguish god from things that exist. In this guise, ie, as the ground of being, whatever god is — and this is the most unsatisfactory parts of this idea of god — god does not exist, and cannot be treated like any other existent.

I don’t understand that. I can’t force myself to understand it – because I keep thinking, stupidly obstinately, if it doesn’t exist then it doesn’t exist. If god doesn’t exist then that’s the end of it – it can’t not exist yet also be something called the ground of being.

Unless it once existed but is now dead but continues in human memory as something which theologians have decided to call the ground of being. But that doesn’t seem to be what’s meant…or is it. Is it meant to be a concept or an idea? Do we say that those exist? They do in a sense and they don’t in a sense; what’s the conventional language about them? I should know this. Abstractions don’t exactly exist, but they do in a way…Bugger. My philosophical vocabulary is deficient.

Mind you, if that’s what’s meant, it doesn’t get theists anywhere. Atheists certainly don’t dispute that the concept of god “exists.” We just dispute that it can actually do anything independent of what humans make it do. We just argue that like all concepts it has no “existence” independent of human brains.

In other words, a catalogue of existing things might include ships, sealing wax, trees, planets, galaxies, ……., but god would nowhere appear as an existent. But from this point of view, god is the ground of existence. He enables existing things to be.

Well in that case a concept can’t be what’s meant, since god has to be prior to enable existing things to be. So what is meant? I don’t know. Eric doesn’t either; he’s reporting, not endorsing. But even the reporting is opaque. It’s hard to tell if the thing is as hand-wavy as it appears.

Ils ne regrettent rien

May 23rd, 2011 12:24 pm | By

Good old Gallic wit, eh?

Jean-François Kahn asked what was the big deal about DSK’s alleged assault on a hotel maid – it’s just a “troussage domestique” – lifting the maid’s skirt, a tussle with the help, you know the kind of thing.

Jack Lang asked what was the big deal when after all nobody died.

Gilles Savary asked what was the big deal:

Mr Strauss-Kahn, he said, was a “libertine” who enjoyed the “pleasures of the flesh” but this was not tolerated in a “puritan America, impregnated with rigorous Protestantism”.

Actually not; there’s quite a lot in the way of the pleasures of the flesh around here; what’s frowned on is rape. Rape, you stupid git; not sex, rape.