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.

A wholly new institution

May 10th, 2012 8:19 am | By

Tom Flynn has a good word for civil unions as opposed to marriage.

What secular humanists especially liked about civil unions was that they would be a wholly new institution, conceived entirely within the domain of secular law. They’d be free of matrimony’s tangled roots as both a legal and a religious construct, and they’d be free of matrimony’s historical baggage as an institution for transferring what amounted to ownership of the bride from her father to her husband. In twenty or twenty-five years, the thinking went, a robust form of civil union would be legal for same-sex couples across the land.

What was wrong with that vision? Today, many activists view civil unions as insufficient, a second-class “gay ghetto” institution that still separates same-sex couples from more favored opposite-sex couples. But don’t judge so quickly. Let’s jump back to fifteen years ago, and consider what many civil-union supporters (myself included) expected to happen next. Once robust civil unions were the law of the land for same-sex couples, this thinking went, the next step would be legal activism by opposite-sex couples seeking a way to give their unions the protection of law without having to resort to traditional matrimony with all its negatives.

I suppose that’s the real root of the horror of same-sex marriage to the reactionaries: it’s marriage between equals, and that’s not real marriage.

Depressing, isn’t it. I bet it’s true though. Straight marriage is reassuring because whatever those pesky feminists may say, everybody knows that the husband gets top billing. Non-straight marriage is terrifying because it means that inequality doesn’t have to be built into marriage.

They should get over it though. There are plenty of inequality-enforcers still operating and flourishing, and straight marriage will still be around to remind everyone of the hierarchy.

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

Even now, I have Atheist friends

May 9th, 2012 5:37 pm | By


Candace Chellew-Hodge is the founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians and a Christian pastor. She wrote a post about Teresa MacBain for Religion Dispatches.

MacBain recently attended the American Atheist’s convention in Maryland, where she came out as an Atheist pastor and has found a home in a new coalition helping such disbelieving clergy called “The Clergy Project: “a safe haven for active and former clergy who do not hold supernatural beliefs.”

As a member of the clergy, I totally get it, but what I think is wrong with this situation is the false dichotomy at play here. Specifically, either you’re a Christian or you’re an Atheist.

No, but if you are an atheist then you’re not a Christian, and vice versa. She’s right if she means that those aren’t the only two options but not if she means you can be both.

You can be a Christian, be religious, without believing in the unbelievable, as Jim Burklo has recently argued.

This is where the Atheists come in. Even now, I have Atheist friends who tell me I’m very close to jumping the fence into their camp and they encourage me to take that final leap. But, this is disrespectful of my faith. Just because I don’t believe every jot and tittle of Christian doctrine doesn’t make me Atheist, or even a quasi-Atheist. It just makes me a particular type of religious person.

Well, if you insist, but really – the truth is it’s all unbelievable.

There’s a church in my neighborhood (there are a lot of churchs in my neighborhood) that has a sign out front that says it’s for believers and seekers and doubters. That’s kind, I always think, but what kind of “doubters” are you talking about? They sound like the kind of pseudo-doubters who just brag a little about their doubts but keep going to church anyway, as if paying a debt they owed. Chellew-Hodge comes across a bit like that. She disbelieves bits of Christianity but she still demands “respect” for her “faith.” One doubt too few, if you ask me.


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

With an instrument

May 9th, 2012 4:58 pm | By

Justin interviewed the “crack that wrist” “no no no sweetheart, you will walk like a girl and smell like a girl” pastor.

Justin: Why do you have signs telling your members how to vote?

Sean Harris: Oh because we believe that this issue is not a political issue, we believe that this is a bible issue; we’re not endorsing any candidates. You won’t find that anywhere in this church. But this marriage issue, as far as we’re concerned, is a bible issue.

So that’s why they tell their members how to vote…despite their tax exemption.

Justin also extracted one key bit about exactly how a parent is supposed to hit a child. Not with a rod. Oh god no. But with an instrument. That’s quite different.

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

And another interview

May 9th, 2012 12:07 pm | By

This time Greta talked to Roy Speckhardt, who is Executive Director of the American Humanist Association and on the SCA board, about the hiring of Edwina Rogers and what she’s been saying and how it’s all panning out.

He said she had a particular combination of skills and experience that no other candidate had. I can easily believe that (and see it as a compelling reason to hire her, and so on). Skills and experience matter; no question.

But. There is a problem, nevertheless. Greta sums it up in one question:

…were there any concerns raised during the hiring process having to do with the fact that, you know, frankly, for several years, she’s been working for a party that has been working very much against the values of most people in the secular and atheist movement, you know, not just in terms of the separation of church and state, but on issues such as gay rights, issues such as, you know, abortion rights, birth control rights, etc.?

That is the problem. Good that she has skills and experience, but on the other hand, she’s been using them for the benefit of a political party that is the energetic enemy of secularism and many of its values. That’s a problem.

And a secondary problem that has been developing since she began answering questions is that she’s denying that. Instead of saying (for instance, “Yes, you’re right, but the reality is that I disagree with them on all the core secular issues, so don’t you think I’m exactly the right kind of person to change their minds?” she’s been saying no it’s not, no they don’t, no I didn’t. That’s not working for us.

Greta explained why.

…frankly, during the interview she was extremely evasive, there were several questions, she dodged direct questions, I would repeat questions several times and she didn’t answer them. And these were questions that are serious questions, they’re pertinent questions, these are questions that people in the community have been asking about her and that are very much relevant to her position as Executive Director of the SCA. And I think, obviously, one of the things that this community values is honesty and directness and caring about evidence and reality. Do you have any issues with this evasiveness? Do you have  a sense of how she’s going to be with the press and the media, [garbled] people within her own movement?

I think that’s a key question. We care about honesty and directness and paying attention to evidence and reality. That seems to be not very negotiable.

I found Speckhardt’s answer quite startling.

I don’t take your characterization as accurate that she was being evasive. I listened to her interview, and actually, the first thing I thought of was, “Gosh, you know, I’ve done a lot of media interviews, and if you do media interviews, you learn how to get your talking points across and not worry, necessarily, all the time about the questions being asked. If you want to get your own message across, this is a technique that you’ve got to learn, to get out there and put across your viewpoint.” And I felt like she was being very careful and even reiterating over and over and over again, if necessary, to address the questions that you kept asking and re-asking her. And, so I don’t, I don’t think she was being evasive at all, In fact, I think, in some ways, she could have gone on to more talking points, not sticking to the questions that were being asked as much.

That looks as if he’s saying she did a good job of ignoring the questions and just sticking to her talking points. He said that’s not what he meant, he meant the opposite, and that can be made to fit – you can take “being very careful” and “reiterating over and over and over again” to mean “to be responsive” as opposed to “in her efforts to stick to her talking points.” But then it doesn’t describe what happened. What happened fits much better the interpretation that she did a good job of just saying what she had planned to say while ignoring the questions.

We’re a testy bunch, we secular atheist infidels.

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

No one dares distinguish

May 9th, 2012 10:24 am | By

Jesus and Mo are appalled that witchcraft and Druidry are on the curriculum for Religious Education in Cornwall. They are not proper religions, Jesus stiffly says. He’s reading Cristina Odone’s recent column in the Telegraph.

I’ve already mocked that column briefly, but why not mock it again at a more leisured pace. These things repay doing thoroughly.

Fear of being judgmental is so ingrained today that no one dares distinguish between occult and Christian values, the tarot and the Torah, the animist and the imam.

That’s the line that made me want to revisit. I didn’t do it justice last time. Here’s what I want to know: how does one distinguish? How does Odone distinguish?

What exactly are “occult values” for instance? I have no idea, myself. I wonder if Odone knows.

But if either of us did know, how would we distinguish? I know how I would do it: by evaluating them according to various secular, human criteria. My guess is that Odone would do it exactly the same way, while not admitting that her criteria were entirely secular and human. That’s my guess because that’s what goddy types usually do – they give “god” the credit for what are secular ideas about morality. (They also ignore or conceal or deny all the “Christian values” that are no longer acceptable in polite society.)

How does one distinguish between the tarot and the Torah? Then again why would one bother, since they’re different genres? She must have included it because of the alliteration rather than the relevance. A more cogent example would be distinguishing between the Torah and the Book of Mormon. How does one do that?

It would be quite interesting to know how Odone would answer that question. Does she despise the Book of Mormon as a modern imposter every bit as fake and risible as the latest Wiccan book of recipes? Or does she “respect” it as the holy book of a Major World Religion? I don’t know. I think my guess is that she secretly despises it as a vulgar American unintentional parody but keeps it to herself because it is the holy book of a Major World Religion. I wouldn’t be very surprised though if I learned that she makes no bones about despising it, because after all, it’s not 3000 years old plus it was said by an American. That can’t be right. That can’t be authentic. Obviously they have to be 1) older and 2) more exotic in location to be authentic.

How does one distinguish between the animist and the imam? Well now it gets really tricky, because I’m not sure Odone thinks much of imams herself, so it’s all the more unclear what she has in mind. How does one distinguish between the animist and the imam? Not age, not degree of exoticism, so how? I really don’t know. I don’t know what Odone’s criteria are. She’s on record as taking transubstantiation literally, so I don’t know how she makes distinctions.

Richard Dawkins asked her the same question in that interview.

RD: But how do you decide which bits to doubt and which bits to accept? As scientists, we do it by evidence.

CO: You can’t boil everything down to evidence!

But then how do you decide? She doesn’t say there; she changes the subject.

As she does even when talking without an interlocutor, as in the Druids shock-horror piece.

Speaking of religious values is as dangerous as playing with the pin on a hand-grenade: it could end up with too many   Britons blown out of their complacency. No one should dare proclaim that adultery is wrong; greed, bad; or self-sacrifice, good. In doing so, they’d be trampling the rights of those who don’t hold such values.

That’s changing the subject, or combining two subjects as if they were one. The epistemology of paganism is not the same as the ethics of paganism, but she treats them as one subject throughout. She’s not what you’d call a careful thinker even within her own terms.

Having said that, let’s look at her claim. No one should dare say that greed is bad? Is that true? No. Lots of people proclaim that greed is bad. Gordon Gecko is the bad guy. The same goes for self-sacrifice. Adultery is somewhat more contingent, but then what’s wrong with that? Some people have open marriages, in which case “adultery” becomes an empty label. It’s up to the people involved whether it’s wrong or not. If all parties are happy with it, it’s not wrong. Saying “yes it is because God says so” cuts no ice. If that’s what Odone means…she’s the one who’s wrong.



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

Eat leer eat

May 8th, 2012 5:20 pm | By

Via Amanda Marcotte on Twitter – 39 ways men use Pinterest. (Oh gee. I don’t know what Pinterest is. I never can keep up. In this country it takes all the running you can do to stay in one place.)

17 more like that, and then

Then more food, then segzy underwear, then more food.

It’s all probably ironic, right? Must be.

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

The awful scars

May 8th, 2012 4:46 pm | By

Robert Fisk points out that “the Arab Spring” has driven the region’s appalling racism out of the news.

I fear very much that the video of Alem Dechasa’s recent torment in Beirut is all too typical of the treatment meted out to foreign domestic workers across the Arab world (there are 200,000 in Lebanon alone).

Many hundreds of thousands have now seen the footage of 33-year-old Ms Dechasa being abused and humiliated and pushed into a taxi by Ali Mahfouz, the Lebanese agent who brought her to Lebanon as a domestic worker. Ms Dechasa was transported to hospital where she was placed in the psychiatric wing and where, on 14 March, she hanged herself. She was a mother of two and could not stand the thought of being deported back to her native Ethiopia. That may not have been the only reason for her mental agony.

I hadn’t seen it. I have now.

I recall the Sri Lankan girl who turned up in Commodore Street at the height of the Israeli siege and shelling of West Beirut in 1982, pleading for help and protection. Like tens of thousands of other domestic workers from the sub-continent, her passport had been taken from her the moment she began her work as a domestic “slave” in the city; and her employers had then fled abroad to safety – taking the girl’s passport with them so she could not leave herself. She was rescued by a hotel proprietor when he discovered that local taxi drivers were offering her a “bed” in their vehicles in return for sex.

Everyone who lives in Lebanon or Jordan or Egypt or Syria, for that matter, or – especially – the Gulf, is well aware of this outrage, albeit cloaked in a pious silence by the politicians and prelates and businessmen of these societies.

In Cairo, I once remarked to the Egyptian hosts at a dinner on the awful scars on the face of the young woman serving food to us. I was ostracised for the rest of the meal and – thankfully – never invited again.

It’s a familiar story but that doesn’t make it any less horrible.

Saudi Arabia long ago fell into the habit of chopping off the heads of migrant workers who were accused of assault or murder or drug-running, after trials that bore no relation to international justice. In 1993, for example, a Christian Filipino woman accused of killing her employer and his family was dragged into a public square in Dammam and forced to kneel on the ground where her executioner pulled her scarf from her head before decapitating her with a sword.

Then there was 19-year old Sithi Farouq, a Sri Lankan housemaid accused of killing her employer’s four-year-old daughter in 1994. She claimed her employer’s aunt had accidentally killed the girl. On 13 April, 1995, she was led from her prison cell in the United Arab Emirates to stand in a courtyard in a white abaya gown, crying uncontrollably, before a nine-man firing squad which shot her down. It was her 20th birthday. God’s mercy, enshrined in the first words of the Koran, could not be extended to her, it seems, in her hour of need.

That’s because “God’s mercy” is a cruel joke.

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


May 8th, 2012 4:05 pm | By

From the back channel but with permission to quote. Ian Cromwell in reply to the explanation that Edwina Rogers calls herself a nontheist because she dislikes “divisive labels”:

She should stop calling herself a Republican then.

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

More on that interview

May 8th, 2012 11:35 am | By

So Greta pushes her. “Why should people in the atheist movement support a leader for the SCA who’s frankly, worked for years for a party that has consistently opposed on of our core values?” Because she’s going to educate them, ER says. But why have you supported the party all this time, Greta says.

Well, I can tell you, it’s not a party position. It’s an individual position by some members. And it really varies by the member. I have plenty of friends and colleagues who are Republicans, the majority of them, it’s not their position. It’s really hard to stereotype…millions of people: they’re all opposed to gay rights, and everybody in the Republican party is opposed to gay rights, because that’s not true. It’s not true for me; it’s not true for other people I know. It’s not true for every republican elected official. It’s not an official Republican Party position.

Oh? Really? DOMA – how many Republicans voted against that?

From the 2008 Republican platform:

Preserving Traditional Marriage

Because our children’s future is best preserved within the traditional understanding of marriage, we call for a constitutional amendment that fully protects marriage as a union of a man and a woman, so that judges cannot make other arrangements equivalent to it. In the absence of a national amendment, we support the right of the people of the various states to affirm traditional marriage through state initiatives.

Republicans recognize the importance of having in the home a father and a mother who are married. The two-parent family still provides the best environment of stability, discipline, responsibility, and character. Children in homes without fathers are more likely to commit a crime, drop out of school, become violent, become teen parents, use illegal drugs, become mired in poverty, or have emotional or behavioral problems. We support the courageous efforts of single-parent families to provide a stable home for their children. Children are our nation’s most precious resource. We also salute and support the efforts of foster and adoptive families.

Republicans have been at the forefront of protecting traditional marriage laws, both in the states and in Congress. A Republican Congress enacted the Defense of Marriage Act, affirming the right of states not to recognize same-sex “marriages” licensed in other states. Unbelievably, the Democratic Party has now pledged to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which would subject every state to the redefinition of marriage by a judge without ever allowing the people to vote on the matter. We also urge Congress to use its Article III, Section 2 power to prevent activist federal judges from imposing upon the rest of the nation the judicial activism in Massachusetts and California. We also encourage states to review their marriage and divorce laws in order to strengthen marriage.

So…she wasn’t very forthright on that question, was she.

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

That interview

May 8th, 2012 10:23 am | By

Reading Greta’s interview with Edwina Rogers

Greta says you’re pro-gay, pro-choice, and pro-separation of church and state, right? ER says yes and I always have been. GC says “Now the Republican party – ” and ER says she has “run across quite a few people who are atheists, agnostics, etc, who are pro-life, and they don’t see that necessarily as a religion, non-religion issue.”

GC: …you’re a Republican, and the Republican party has been very adamantly opposed to all these positions for very many years. So I have to ask you a question that very many people want to know the answer to. If you’re pro-gay, pro-choice, you know, pro-separation of church and state, why are you a Republican? And why have you worked to promote the Republican Party for so many years.

ER: Well, you know I’ve actually worked in the party, and around the party, and I don’t recall seeing a party line position that says that you have to be pro-life. For example, I remember working at the Republican senatorial committee, that would have been in 1994, and I plainly remember seeing data that showed that people who consider themselves Republican consider themselves, were 70% pro-choice. Yeah, so that, can’t be a party position.

Oh, oh, oh – stop right there.

Are you kidding?

The issue isn’t what Republicans at large think, it’s what Republican politicians do and what the party says.

It’s like the Catholic hierarchy on the one hand and Catholics in general on the other. Many many Catholics don’t agree with the hierarchy on many many issues. So the fuck what? That doesn’t make the hierarchy go away, or stop saying things like “condoms don’t work” and “a fertilized egg is a child with a soul.”

The hierarchy is what it is and not something else. The Republican party is what it is and not something else.

It’s true of course that one of two major parties is not going to represent every single thing that all its voters believe. It’s true that most people who vote for one of the two parties are going to disagree with the party’s position on a lot of things. That doesn’t make it reasonable to assume that someone who has worked for a particular party will disagree with many of its conspicuous positions. Rogers is speaking not as a Republican voter but as someone who worked for the Bush administration.

As someone who will now be speaking for a large secularist organization, she ought to be able to see that, and discuss it forthrightly.

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

So far so not good

May 7th, 2012 5:34 pm | By

I’m reading the comments on Greta’s interview with Edwina Rogers. They don’t bode well.

chriskg for instance -

Let’s be frank about this, either she never read the Republican platform on values (which means she is inept) or she knows the platform and she chooses to lie about it. When she said, “…I don’t agree that the Republican Party is pro-life…” she is lying. There is no better explanation for it. She is pandering to her new audience and she must think we are idiots.

Consider the following from the website. It states rather clearly that abortion is “barbaric” and that they want laws to protect the unborn with no mention of the life that may be at risk—the mother. This sure sounds like a “pro-life” position to me. Is she this unaware? Is she this naive? Let me quote directly from the GOP:

And then chris quotes, at generous length, and by god there’s certainly no ambiguity about the Republican party’s view of abortion. That doesn’t seem like a good sign for Edwina Rogers.

We’ve been around this mulberry tree before, more than once, when wrangling with all the people who rush to give The Atheist Movement advice on how to be better at manipulating and managing and persuading. We have this thing about truth and honesty and accuracy and not bullshitting. How can “I don’t agree that the Republican Party is pro-life” be anything other than bullshitting? If the Republican party is not anti-abortion rights then I’m a devout daily-mass-attending Catholic.

There’s also our friend John Horstman having a very unpostmodern temper tantrum at Rogers. You go John!

I look forward to the transcript. (Listen? Nah. Too slow.)


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

Criticism of Islam ≠ racism

May 7th, 2012 4:52 pm | By

Maryam on sharia and “Islamophobia”:

When people tell me that they don’t know enough about Sharia law to oppose it – though we hear about its abominations day in and day out – I think what they really mean to say is that it is not their place to oppose it.

In its very essence the reason for this – for the conviction that it is not one’s place to act – is a false belief that to do so would be tantamount to racism. And I do think this is why we don’t see the outrage that barbarism of this kind deserves and demands.

Now, if you are fighting Islamism or Sharia law in Iran, Egypt or Afghanistan the debate is not framed around racism and Islamophobia. I remember being on a panel discussion in Sweden with a famous Syrian atheist, Sadiq al-Azm and when the Swedes called his criticism of Islam racist, he said I’ve been arrested, imprisoned and called many things but never this. This accusation of racism is specific to the debate in North America, or Europe or Australia.

If you criticise Islam or Islamism in Iran, you’re not labelled a racist, you are accused of enmity against god, corruption, blasphemy, heresy and apostasy. So the accusation of racism and Islamophobia is specific to the debate taking place in the west.

Just to give you an example, when the Saudi government arrests 23 year old Hamza Kashgari for tweeting about Mohammad, it doesn’t accuse him of racism; it accuses him of blasphemy – an accusation punishable by death. The same government though will accuse critics of Saudi policy abroad as Islamophobic.

What I’m trying to say is that Islamists and their apologists have coined the term Islamophobia, – a political term to scaremonger people into silence – by deeming it racist to criticise anything related to Islam.

And boy is it working.


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

Peculiar insularity

May 7th, 2012 11:56 am | By

What is the source of the peculiar insularity of literary “theorists”?

What do I mean by “peculiar insularity”? It’s that people in other fields know that the jargon of their fields is jargon. They know it has to be translated for people not in their fields, and that most people are not in their fields, and that it seldom makes sense to assume a random pool of strangers will be all or mostly people in their fields. What is it about literary “theorists” that causes them to fail to know that, or, worse, to fail to act on it despite knowing it?

As far as I’ve ever been able to figure out, it’s just a form of vanity, but why it’s so peculiar to that one segment of the university, I don’t have even a guess.

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

Life after fingers

May 7th, 2012 10:09 am | By

Hawa Akther Jui, the Bangladeshi woman whose husband (allegedly) chopped off her fingers with a meat cleaver because she was getting an education…is doing better than she was right after her fingers were chopped off.

Ms Akther, 21, had lost all hopes of writing again after her fingers were cut off, allegedly by her husband because she started attending a college without his permission.

Doctors at the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP) in Dhaka carried out a series of surgical operations on Ms Akther’s hand, which involved setting up a splint between her thumb and wrist so that she can hold a pencil or a pen.

“The fact that I can write again has given me lots of hope and confidence. I have slowly started practising. I will continue my studies and achieve my aim of becoming a lawyer,” Ms Akther said while sitting in her parents’ one-bedroom house in the town of Narsingdi.

Which is nice, but it would be even nicer if she had been allowed to keep all her fingers despite her presumptuous act in attending a college.

The mutilation has definitely not dented her resolve to continue with her studies. She proves that by writing a few sentences using a pencil.

“All those horrible things happened to me because I wanted to study. So, I will pursue my education. Doctors say I cannot write [in] my exam for three hours at a stretch. So, I need a writer for the exam. But I will continue practising with my right hand,” she said.

Women’s rights activists in Bangladesh point out that the brutal attack on Ms Akther is part of a growing trend of violence against educated women.

In June last year, a university lecturer lost her eyesight in an attack allegedly carried out by her husband. She said it happened because he was jealous of her academic achievements.

He denied the allegations, but was unable to face trial because he died in prison before the case went to court.

The 2011 Human Rights Report by the Odhikar organisation points out that violence against women is on the rise in the country.

It said that more than 300 women may have been killed in dowry-related violence last year. In addition to this, dozens of women were also killed in rape and acid attacks.

“Domestic violence happens in all sections of the society and it is increasing. But very few women come forward to report these abuses because of the social stigma,” Odhikar spokeswoman Taskin Fahmina said.

A growing trend; on the rise. Why? Because of the growing trend of fiercer Islamism? Because fiercer Islamism is almost entirely about repressing and punishing women?

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

Seldom without her little white dogs

May 6th, 2012 5:53 pm | By

The Trinity Broadcasting Network is a non-profit? It’s tax-exempt?! Are they kidding?

Apparently not.

The prosperity gospel preached by Paul and Janice Crouch, who built a single station into the world’s largest Christian television network, has worked out well for them.

Very well: they have a few lavish houses spread around the landscape, and they took in $93 million in donations in 2010. Now their granddaughter is telling the Feds about their accounting habits.

In two pending lawsuits and in her first public interview, Ms. Koper described company-paid luxuries that she said appeared to violate the Internal Revenue Service’s ban on “excess compensation” by nonprofit organizations as well as possibly state and federal laws on false bookkeeping and self-dealing.

The lavish perquisites, corroborated by two other former TBN employees, include additional, often-vacant homes in Texas and on the former Conway Twitty estate in Tennessee, corporate jets valued at $8 million and $49 million each and thousand-dollar dinners with fine wines, paid with tax-exempt money.

Because Jesus saves.

“My job as finance director was to find ways to label extravagant personal spending as ministry expenses,” Ms. Koper said. This is one way, she said, the company avoids probing questions from the I.R.S. She said that the absence of outsiders on TBN’s governing board — currently consisting of Paul, Janice and Matthew Crouch — had led to a serious lack of accountability for spending.

Ms. Koper and the two other former TBN employees also said that dozens of staff members, including Ms. Koper, chauffeurs, sound engineers and others had been ordained as ministers by TBN. This allowed the network to avoid paying Social Security taxes on their salaries and made it easier to justify providing family members with rent-free houses, sometimes called “parsonages,” she said.

Hey – it’s free exercise! Protected by the US Constitution!

No it’s not. Why the hell have they been allowed to get away with this? Is everybody that afraid of the Angry Christian lobby?

In 2008 and 2009, as Mrs. Crouch began remodeling Holy Land Experience, she rented adjacent rooms in the deluxe Loews Portofino Bay Hotel in Orlando — one for herself and one for her two beloved Maltese dogs and clothes, according to Mr. Clements and Ms. Koper. Mrs. Crouch rented the rooms for close to two years, they said.

Ms. Crouch was seldom without her little white dogs, pushing them in a pink stroller and keeping a costly motor home, originally purchased to serve as an office, for two years as an air-conditioned sanctuary for her pets, the two former employees said.

I’m not saying another word.

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


May 6th, 2012 5:18 pm | By

I think I’ve figured out one explanation of this “bodies” thing while puzzling over this bit of Pinn’s essay:

This old system worked based on the logic that black bodies were dangerous bodies and how they occupied space had to be watched closely. In a word, the system of slavery – the Atlantic slave trade – required a particular understanding of black bodies that continues to inform social interactions in the twenty-first century.

I was picking it apart and then suddenly I realized what he was getting at. There is one context in which this talk of bodies and how they occupy space really is exactly what is meant and exactly right.


Of course. Duh.

All right; that helps to make sense of the term. It would rather haunt the imagination.

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

The “bodies” trope

May 6th, 2012 4:38 pm | By

Where did this “bodies” thing start? Anyone know?

One, I don’t see what it adds, and worse, two, I think it obfuscates.

I’ll explain what I mean, using Anthony Pinn’s essay for examples.

A society in which Trayvon Martin could be perceived as out of place within his community takes its ideology and ethics from an old system of property, in which black bodies were to be monitored, rendered docile, and controlled.

Why is that an improvement on saying “an old system of property, in which black people were to be monitored, rendered docile, and controlled”?

It doesn’t seem to me to be an improvement at all. It doesn’t seem to add anything, because it’s not even true, except in the trivial sense in which you could also say “…black feet/teeth/elbows were to be monitored etc along with the rest of them.” It wasn’t just black bodies that were to be bullied and controlled, it was all of them.

There’s the old Stoic idea that the mind can remain free even while the body is imprisoned, but I don’t think that’s what Pinn is saying, or what other Theory types who use the word this way are saying. The idea is clearly to be anti-sentimental, and the “free mind in an enslaved body” trope is pretty sentimental, even if there is something to it. I really don’t think Pinn is saying that the system of slavery left the minds of slaves free.

But then why use the word that way? To remind everyone that the bodies were exploited? But surely that’s not a secret, and anyway it matters – it matters enormously – that it was the whole person who suffered, not just the body.

Why is this “bodies” trope not just dualism? Surely Theory types don’t want to come across as dualists, do they? So what’s their point?

This old system worked based on the logic that black bodies were dangerous bodies and how they occupied space had to be watched closely.  In a word, the system of slavery – the Atlantic slave trade – required a particular understanding of black bodies that continues to inform social interactions in the twenty-first century.

Same again. Why bodies? What does that add? It’s not even true, and it doesn’t add anything. It wasn’t black bodies that were seen as dangerous, it was black people, minds and all. The system of slavery required a particular understanding of black people, not just their bodies. The more I say it the more ridiculous it sounds, as if we were talking about department store dummies, or zombies.

I don’t get it. I do not get it. It looks more insulting than anything else (which is obviously not Pinn’s intention, or that of anyone who deploys this word this way). I need assistance. (It’s not as if you can Google it. Google “bodies”? Yeah right.)


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

No respectable atheist

May 6th, 2012 10:55 am | By

Via PZ – Representative Emanuel Cleaver (Democrat, Missouri) is an a-atheist.

Actually, I don’t believe that there is such thing as an atheist because no respectable atheist would walk around with something in his pocket that said ‘In God We Trust.’


I have to walk around with those things in my pocket. I need them to pay the bus fare for instance.

I’ve never been given a choice about having that idiotic motto. It would be pointless to demand god-free money in your change or when you cash a check, because there isn’t any.

I don’t endorse the motto. I dislike it.

Anyway, if it worked that way, no bible-thumpers would ever use any post-biblical technology, because it’s all based on knowledge that the bible doesn’t mention or endorse.

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


May 5th, 2012 12:23 pm | By

There’s a strange essay by Anthony Pinn at RDF which is not going down very well with the readers who have been commenting so far. It’s very long and very…how shall I say, very baroque in a Literary Theory kind of way. A lot of words to say something not very complicated.

I’ll give you a little sample; see what you think.

Many atheists and theists share a hyper optimism regarding human progress.  While each group points to the demise of the other as a key component in positive human development – both also presume proper posture toward the world, and use of a certain set of tools, to promote human advancement.  For the theists this is all guided by the good intentions and assistance of a benevolent deity, and for the atheist it is premised on the reliability of scientific inquiry and reason.

While something of a hopeful outlook is a useful approach to ethical conduct, it should be guided and monitored by a sense of realism – recognition of persistent human misconduct and the resulting moral and ethical challenges.  Theists can always haul such problems to the altar, pray about them, ritualize them, or chalk them up to mystery.  For the atheists, the resolution isn’t so easily achieved. The difficulty for atheists isn’t mystical. It stems from a lack of acute attention to the cultural worlds in which we live, worlds that are not so easily unpacked and addressed through appeal to science and logic.  Cultural signs and symbols, cultural framings of life and life meaning are not necessarily guided by scientific method and do not necessary respond to reason.  Instead they function by means of both logic and illogic. Mindful of this, a few questions should be asked:  what is a proper atheistic response to moral failure?  What is the proper ethical posture toward human problems that seem to defy reason and logic?  And, in light of recent developments, do atheists understand and care about black bodies?

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

When the environment makes gender salient

May 5th, 2012 10:39 am | By

Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender, p xxvi:

When the environment makes gender salient, there is a ripple effect on the mind. We start to think of ourselves in terms of our gender, and stereotypes and social expectations become more prominent in the mind. This can change self-perception, alter interests, debilitate or enhance ability, and trigger unintentional discrimination.

There is a large body of research that demonstrates this. It’s not some fuzzy thing that we just guess at.

This is why it’s so maddening that sexist sneering and “joking” and one-upping and epitheting is still, after all this time, considered normal and ok in a way that the racist or ethnic equivalent just is not.

Want to test that? Just imagine Tom Harris, Labour MP, tweeting “What a hero! Fearless protester chucks an egg at EdM and runs away. Like a Jew. Throws like a Jew too.”

SeewotImean? He’d never say that. It would be career suicide. But girl? Oh well that’s completely different.

No it isn’t. No it isn’t, you brainless heartless bastard. You just added another mite to the huge pile of stereotypical inferiority that girls are subjected to from birth. You just made gender salient, and you reminded the gender in question that it’s sneaky and cowardly and weak. And you wouldn’t do it to people of other races, or nationalities, or immigration status – but you’re happy to do it to girls.

What a hero.

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