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.

Ireland speaks up

Nov 14th, 2012 11:19 am | By

There are demonstrations all over Ireland right now, to protest the horrible needless cruel death of Savita Halappanavar. Jen Keane (@zenbuffy) is there. People are estimating the one outside the Dail at 2 or 3 thousand, on only five hours notice.

A selection of tweets.

Ruairí McKenna@ruairimck

Just back from #actiononx protest at Dail. Hope politicians are listening. NEVER AGAIN #savita

Organisers says over 2,000 people have attended a sit-down protest for #Savita outside Leinster House

Ellen Newman@SmellenNewman

#Savita refused abortion due to doctor’s religious bias. The first thing we learn in med school: religion plays no part in medical decisions

Ciarán J. Martin@CiaranJMartin

2000-3000 believed to be gathered outside the Dáil now, hear the people speak #Savita

mark wright@markwrightuk88

RT @boucherhayes: 2000 – 3000 at #Savita protest now. All Kildare St traffic stopped.


Pictures from the #Savita vigil in Ireland are making me cry actual tears. She had a heartbeat too.

Noel Dolan@cybernoelie

#Cork: Quite a large crowd has already gathered for #Savita outside the Opera House.

SEO for SME@Malcolm_Oakley

Ireland and Poland both have total disregard for woman – … #Abortion #Savita #Poland #Ireland

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

Michael Nugent on the death of Savita Halappanavar

Nov 14th, 2012 10:25 am | By

There’s a protest outside the Dail right now. You can follow it on Twitter via #Savita. Michael Nugent is there. He wrote a blistering post on the subject before departing.

…while Savita was dying, the Catholic church was running an immoral propaganda campaign to mislead Irish people into believing that pregnant women will always get the medical care they need in Irish hospitals.

And Irish politicians were yet again refusing to legislate for abortion to save the life of a pregnant woman. They have now repeatedly refused to do this for twenty years, since the Irish courts established this right in the X case.

We have such a law in the US, at least in the case of hospitals that get federal funds (which most do). On the other hand it’s not enforced. Catholic hospitals are allowed to let women die the way University Hospital Galway allowed Savita Halappanavar to die. Both countries are doing evil in this respect.

… just two years ago, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on complaints from three anonymous women (known as A, B and C) who had to travel from Ireland to England to have abortions, for various different reasons.

The European Court found that there is no automatic right to an abortion under the European Convention on Human Rights, and that two of the women did not have a right to an abortion, but that Ireland had violated the Convention with regard to the third woman.

The reason was that abortion is legal in Ireland when the life of a pregnant woman is at risk, and the Irish state had failed to provide an accessible and effective procedure by which a woman can have established whether she qualifies for a legal abortion.

Twenty years after the X case, and two years after the ABC case, pregnant women in Ireland are still caught in the grip of Catholic dogma and political cowardice.

The Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference has responded to the ABC ruling by launching a new campaign to stop the Irish Government from carrying out its duty to legislate. The campaign’s website is at

Outrageous lying name for the site – “choose life” indeed – they chose death for Savita Halappanavar.


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

Theology killed Savita Halappanavar

Nov 14th, 2012 9:30 am | By

Nice work, Ireland. The Bishop of Phoenix, Thomas Olmsted, must be feeling very proud of you this morning. In Ireland, hospitals damn well do what the church tells them to do, and let women die rather than terminating a miscarrying pregnancy.

Savita Halappanavar died of septicaemia at University Hospital Galway a couple of weeks ago, because she had a miscarriage and the hospital refused to abort the dying fetus.

Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, an engineer at Boston Scientific in Galway, says she asked several times over a three-day period that the pregnancy be terminated. He says that, having been told she was miscarrying, and after one day in severe pain, Ms Halappanavar asked for a medical termination.

This was refused, he says, because the foetal heartbeat was still present and they were told, “this is a Catholic country”.

She spent a further 2½ days “in agony” until the foetal heartbeat stopped.

This was a hospital. Not a church. Not the pope’s living room. A hospital.

Mr Halappanavar said an internal examination was performed when she first presented.

“The doctor told us the cervix was fully dilated, amniotic fluid was leaking and unfortunately the baby wouldn’t survive.” The doctor, he says, said it should be over in a few hours. There followed three days, he says, of the foetal heartbeat being checked several times a day.

“Savita was really in agony. She was very upset, but she accepted she was losing the baby. When the consultant came on the ward rounds on Monday morning Savita asked if they could not save the baby could they induce to end the pregnancy. The consultant said, ‘As long as there is a foetal heartbeat we can’t do anything’.

“Again on Tuesday morning, the ward rounds and the same discussion. The consultant said it was the law, that this is a Catholic country. Savita [a Hindu] said: ‘I am neither Irish nor Catholic’ but they said there was nothing they could do.

“That evening she developed shakes and shivering and she was vomiting. She went to use the toilet and she collapsed. There were big alarms and a doctor took bloods and started her on antibiotics.

“The next morning I said she was so sick and asked again that they just end it, but they said they couldn’t.”

She was extremely ill, she was sick and in pain, they knew how to cure her, and they refused to do it. She asked them to and they refused. No, they said. We won’t. You just have to stay sick and get sicker. We refuse to treat you. This is a hospital, we are doctors, and we refuse to treat you.

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

Turn the other buttock

Nov 13th, 2012 4:59 pm | By

A new low. In Melbourne rabbis are threatening victims of child sex abuse in order to intimidate them out of reporting the abuse.

During a conversation with the victim the rabbi allegedly told him reporting the abuse now would do nothing but destroy the life of the alleged sexual perpetrator and his children.

“In cases like this, that are such a long time ago … the proper approach is to let him go,” he said.

Other shocking suggestions made by the rabbi included:

TELLING the victim he had invited the abuse because he wasn’t religious enough

SAYING children as young as five were abused because they were obsessed with sex, including with animals

ADMITTING he knew about allegations of abuse by the alleged perpetrator several years before the victim was allegedly abused.


It is understood the alleged perpetrator continued to offend for several years before ultimately relocating overseas.

In defending his decision not to report the alleged assaults to authorities the rabbi said he believed the attacks were consensual.

“We are talking about very young boys and everyone is saying they agreed to this,” he said.

Godalmighty! Very young children and “they agreed” so…


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

Dadoo ronronron dadoo ronron

Nov 13th, 2012 4:10 pm | By

How does Scientology get away with it, exactly?

It charges money – a lot of money – for everything it does, but it calls itself a religion (one made up by a writer of pulp science fiction) and get a religious tax exemption.

How does it manage that? Why did the IRS say “Ok, you get your tax exemption, what the hell, why not”?

You know what “auditing” does? It restores your beingness.


That’s what it says!

The goal of auditing is to restore beingness and ability. This is  accomplished by: (1) helping individuals rid themselves of any  spiritual disabilities; (2) increasing spiritual abilities.

Beingness. Does that have any connection to the ground of all being?

Through auditing one is able to look at one’s own existence and improve  one’s ability to confront what one is and where one is. There are vast  differences between the technology of auditing, a religious practice,  and other practices. There is no use of hypnosis, trance techniques or  drugs during auditing. The person being audited is completely aware of  everything that happens. Auditing is precise, thoroughly codified and  has exact procedures.

A person trained and qualified to better individuals through  auditing is called an auditor. Auditor is defined as “one  who listens,” from the Latin audire, meaning “to hear or listen.”  An auditor is a minister or minister-in-training of the Church of  Scientology.

A person receiving auditing is called a preclear—meaning  “a person not yet Clear.” A preclear is someone who, through auditing,  is finding out about themselves and life. The period of time during  which an auditor audits a preclear is called an auditing session.  A session is conducted at an agreed-upon time established by the  auditor and preclear.

And for an agreed-upon sum of money; a large sum of money.

An unlimited number of questions could, of course, be asked,  which might or might not help a person. The accomplishment of Dianetics  and Scientology is that L. Ron Hubbard isolated the exact questions and  directions to bring about spiritual freedom. The questions or directions  of the process guide the person to inspect a certain part of their  existence. What is found will naturally vary from person to person,  since everyone’s experiences are different.

Regardless of experience or background, however, the individual  is assisted in locating not only areas of spiritual upset or difficulty  in their life, but the source of the upset. By doing this, a person is  able to free themselves of unwanted barriers that inhibit, stop or blunt  their natural abilities and increase these abilities so that they  become brighter and more spiritually able.

Why do people believe this stuff? Why does it work?

Why do people take Ayn Rand seriously?

Did L Ron Hubbard and Ayn Rand ever meet?

Did anyone ever see them both at the same time? Are we completely sure they’re not the same person?

Is it something in the water in Los Angeles?

I have many questions. I’m not going to ask an auditor for help though.

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

Breakfast with Agnes Bojaxhiu

Nov 13th, 2012 12:02 pm | By

Oh, this is depressing. A 2010 article by Jeff Sharlet (I was browsing him for background on “The Family” and the Ugandan kill-the-gays bill) on how Hillary Clinton moved to the right on abortion at the behest of (gag, choke) “Mother” Teresa and “The Family” at the 1994 (gag, gag) “National Prayer Breakfast.”

HC was at the 58th annual nationalprayerbreakfast in 2010, and there she got nostalgic about the late Albanian nun.

In  her address,  Clinton sentimentally recalled meeting Mother Teresa at the 1994  National Prayer Breakfast. Mother Teresa had used her platform as guest  speaker to chastise the Clintons (standing right beside her, smiles  stretched to the breaking point) for their nominal support of abortion  rights. “Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to  love, but to use any violence to get what they want,” Mother Teresa  said, and went on to suggest adoption be promoted as an alternative to  abortion. “Please don’t kill the child. I want the child. Please give me the child.”

Well, that’s the problem with having national prayer breakfasts where people in government go to be all goddy, isn’t it. They get blackmailed into forgetting all about the women who simply don’t want to be pregnant, and instead get all sentimental about “the child” who doesn’t exist yet, at the behest of a religious fanatic who thinks pain is a prezzy from Jesus.

The Clintons remained seated, yet  both — particularly the ever-politic Hillary — understood how  behind-the-scenes power politics work within the Christian Right, and  responded to the rebuke by finding “common ground” with the nun.  Although Clinton didn’t mention this in her public reminiscence last  week, after C-Span stopped taping and the breakfast plates were cleared,  Fellowship head Doug Coe gently brokered a peace between Hillary and  Mother Teresa.

Coe left the Breakfast with one of the most  powerful women in America in his debt for political services rendered.  And Mother Teresa had the satisfaction of watching Hillary’s support for  abortion as a fundamental right give way to an acceptance of it as a “tragedy” — one that should be made as “rare” as possible. In the long  run, Hillary turned a public scolding into a highly visible friendship with a figure whose widely accepted moral bona fides came with an  explicitly anti-abortion imprimatur from the Christian Right.

Read on, if you have a strong stomach.


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

The bishops prattle of humility

Nov 13th, 2012 11:12 am | By

The US Catholic bishops are chastened by their failure to impose their religious views on the electorate last week, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan lectured them yesterday on what to do about it.

To think harder and realize that they should pay more attention to human well-being as opposed to pretended goddy mandates?

Don’t be silly.

After sweeping setbacks to the hierarchy’s agenda on Election Day, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan on Monday (Nov. 12) told U.S. Catholic bishops that they must now examine their own failings, confess their sins and reform themselves if they hope to impact the wider culture.

“That’s the way we become channels of a truly effective transformation of the world, through our own witness of a repentant heart,” Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told the 250 bishops gathered here for their annual meeting.

Repentant for being bossy authoritarian theocratic bullies who abuse the illegitimate power of the pulpit to try to force people to do things that are not good for them?

Don’t be silly.

On Monday, various speakers reiterated that they were not about to change their beliefs or policy positions, but they indicated they have to rethink their strategy. Dolan’s approach in his presidential address was to repeatedly stress the theme of humility and the need for bishops to go to confession to renew themselves spiritually so that they can then preach their message more effectively.

They need to pretend to be more humble so that they can force people to do what they pretend God commands. There’s nothing humble about that.

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

The real thing

Nov 13th, 2012 10:42 am | By

There’s a conversation (or a thread) at Christianity Today about the Ugandan anti-gay bill that its sponsors say will pass in time for Christmas, jingle jingle jingle. I just want to look at one comment because it’s such a pure example of how not to think about such things. It’s not at all surprising; don’t go expecting anything like that; it’s just that it’s usefully pure.

I do not advocate killing homosexuals. I think Uganda is on the wrong track here. But I also do not believe that we should glorify a behavior that God has clearly condemned. Sin is sin. Sin is rebellion against God. You cannot be a Christian and live a holy life unless you repent and turn from all sin. Otherwise you do as the writer to Hebrews says and “crucify Christ all over again.” I do not hate homosexuals but I am called by God to preach the life giving Gospel to all people who are all sinners so that they might be freed from their bondage. As a Christian the Bible teaches us the thoughts of God and how to live a righteous life. I do not understand it all. Some things may not always make sense but I accept it by faith just as I accept God’s gift of salvation for me.

See what I mean? It’s got it all, and it’s just disastrous.

There’s a behavior that “God has clearly condemned” so we have to condemn it too, without further thought and for no other reason. It’s just an order, that’s all. “Sin is sin.” No further thought. “Sin is rebellion against God.” No further thought. Just the dogmatic insistence on obedience to a magical name, who is purported to have clearly condemned something (clearly? really? more clearly than other items in the bible that no one pays any attention to?).

And then he (his name is Jeff) admits he doesn’t understand it all and that he accepts it by faith. Fabulous. What about the bit of the bible that says to kill the witches? What about the passages that command genocide? What about everything that’s missing from the bible?

It’s so pure. Sin is sin. Sin is rebellion against God. The bible teaches us how to live a righteous life.


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

Hundreds of library books tossed into the fire

Nov 12th, 2012 5:06 pm | By

Salman Hameed tells us more about that girls’ school in Lahore that was torched by an angry mob because a teacher accidentally photocopied the wrong page of the Koran for an exam. It’s heartbreaking.

He starts with Umair Asim and his passion for astronomy.

But what truly lights up Asim is his passion for public education. During the International Year of Astronomy (IYA) in 2009, Asim helped lead and organise numerous public observations in Lahore as well as in government schools in smaller cities and towns in Punjab. Wherever he went, he would bring his telescope with him. During IYA, it was a common sight to see Asim standing in front of an audience of 500, first explaining to them basic principles of astronomy and then entertaining long lines of people – from ages eight to 80 – to show them craters of the moon and rings of Saturn.

It is not hard to explain where his passion for public education comes from. His parents established Farooqi Girls’ High School 34 years ago. It is now considered one of the premier private schools in Lahore. Asim also serves as vice principal and I get emails from him when a student or students from the school would take top positions in the province-wide exams.

And now it’s gone. Incinerated.

The accused teacher is now in hiding and the police have arrested the 77-year-old principal of the school. He also happens to be Asim’s father, and his appeal for bail has been denied by the court. Asim and the rest of his family are now in “protective custody”.

But what is the future of Asim, his family and the accused teacher? With the charged emotions around blasphemy, once accused, it is virtually impossible to ever be safe afterwards, even if the court clears your name. Like the era of European witch trials, Pakistan is going through its darkest phase.

If she is lucky, the accused teacher will be able to find asylum out of Pakistan. Asim’s father, now sleeping on the floor of a jail cell, will have to cope with the fact that all the effort that he and his wife poured in for those past 34 years is gone.

And Asim – one of Pakistan’s brightest gems – must be wondering if he will ever feel safe in a country where he shared his love for astronomy with so many people.


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

Compulsory haircuts

Nov 12th, 2012 2:52 pm | By

Via Tarek Fatah…

Life on the metro in Cairo.

Two niqab-wearing women assaulted and forcefully cut the hair of a Christian woman on the metro Sunday, the third such reported incident in two months, raising fears of a growing vigilante movement to punish Egyptian women for not wearing the veil in public.

The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights said in a statement that the assaulters called the Christian woman, who is 28 years old, an “infidel” and pushed her off the train, breaking her arm.

Well isn’t that pleasant. You’re on the train, minding your own business, and a couple of women in bags chop your hair off, call you an infidel, and break your arm in the process of throwing you off the train. All because you have the audacity not to be of their religion and not to be in a bag.

EOHR Director Naguib Gabriel urged the interior minister to address the recurring attacks on unveiled women before it becomes a common practice.

Last week, a woman wearing the niqab cut the hair of a 13-year-old Christian girl, Maggie Milad Fayez, in the metro. That same week, an Egyptian court gave a female teacher in Luxor a six-month suspended prison sentence for cutting the hair of two 12-year-old girls after they refused to cover their heads.

It’s all cut cut cut, isn’t it. Hair, genitals, hands, feet – just have to cut something off, for the greater glory of gudd.

Mainstream religious scholars say wearing the veil is compulsory for Muslims, but that no one can be forced to wear it.

Then don’t say it’s “compulsory,” you fools. If it’s compulsory that means that people can and should be forced; that’s what the word means. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that things are compulsory in your religion but then pretend that no one can be compelled to comply.


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

Same sex marriage will make all children orphans!!

Nov 12th, 2012 12:31 pm | By

The Vatican, shaken to its core by the shocking US elections in which three states voted for legalizing same-sex marriage and no states voted against it, has raced to reiterate its own stupid insistence on the obvious and the wrong.

“In western countries there is a widespread tendency to modify the classic vision of marriage between a man and woman, or rather to try to give it up, erasing its specific and privileged legal recognition compared to other forms of union,” said Father Federico Lombardi.

“It is a question of admitting that a husband and a wife are publicly recognized as such, and that children who come into the world can know, and say they have, a father and a mother,” he added.

There you go – an imbecilic combination of obvious and wrong which add up to nothing.

Dude, the fact that two women can marry doesn’t somehow mean that a wife and a husband are not publicly recognized as such. I know this. I know this for a fact. Apparently you don’t, because the Vatican is as isolated as if it were on Mars before the arrival of any Rovers, so I will assure you, from my own knowledge: wives and husbands are still publicly recognized as such. It happens all the time. I mean, granted, there aren’t constant shouts about it wherever they go – but then that was true before, too.

In other words, nothing has changed. Nothing has changed for straight couples. They haven’t been made Uncouples overnight.

Also, children can and do still know, and still say they have, a mother and a father. Nothing has changed there either. Not a thing. No children are looking around in shock and wondering why they can no longer say they have a mother and a father. No children are staring at their parents in amazement and saying “why aren’t you my mother and father any more?!!”

Try again, Father Lombardi. Try to think of something that’s not just stupid mindless obstinate distaste cultivated into pious hatred. We’ll wait.

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


Nov 12th, 2012 12:01 pm | By

Are any of you good at Wikipedia stuff? I ask because Leo Igwe’s entry could do with expansion. I would do it but I’ve never taken the time to learn the many baroque rules there, so I’d be sure to do something terribly wrong.

Leo was appointed a research fellow at JREF a few days ago. That’s very good – the more support Leo gets, the better!

I just published his tribute to Paul Kurtz at ur-B&W.

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

Any one institution

Nov 12th, 2012 11:18 am | By

Late yesterday afternoon my time people in Australia were calling for a royal commission to look into the Catholic church’s coverup of child rape by priests. This morning my time I learn that Gillard has already announced such a commission – though not confined to the Catholic church.

Hmm. Why not confined to the Catholic church? Well because the Catholic church doesn’t want it to be confined to the Catholic church.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said earlier today he’d support a “wide-ranging” commission that didn’t focus solely on the Catholic Church.

“Any investigation should not be limited to the examination of any one institution,” Mr Abbott, a high-profile Catholic, said in a statement.

“It must include all organisations, government and non-government, where there is evidence of sexual abuse.”

Cardinal Pell had said he believed his church was being unfairly targeted due to “anti-Catholic prejudice”.

Yeah no. The Catholic church is highly organized, and hierarchical. It’s also highly secretive. It has extra special super-duper magic rules about the confessional and about the priesthood that just happen to make it a whole lot easier for it to hide everything and a whole lot more difficult for outsiders to unhide everything. The Catholic church is special. It makes special excuses for itself, and makes special rules that protect its special people against everyone else.



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

So much power and organisation behind the scenes

Nov 11th, 2012 5:00 pm | By

Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox explains what the abuse was really like.

A sample from the transcript:

TONY JONES: As we’ve heard, the scale of this abuse in Newcastle-Maitland Diocese over many years is truly shocking. It’s astonishing in fact. 400 victims, 14 clergy charged (inaudible), six Catholic teachers convicted, three priests currently on trial. How does this much evil get concentrated in one small area?

PETER FOX: I don’t think it takes a detective chief inspector to work that out, Tony. Alarm bells were ringing there for me many, many years ago, so much so that I actually detailed a number of reports to hierarchy within the Police Department to launch fuller investigations.

It was quite evident that something was going on. These priests were operating in adjoining parishes abusing children, they were meeting at meetings together. In many cases that I came across, one priest who had previously faced paedophile charges was donating parish money to the legal support of another priest to defend him against those charges.

I had other priests that hadn’t been charged with anything removing evidence and destroying it before we were able to secure it. And we just went around in circles.

TONY JONES: This is actually – this is – as horrific as the litany of sexual crimes against children are, to me one of the most disturbing lines in your letter was along these lines: “I can testify from my own experience the Church covers up, silences victims, hinders police investigations, alerts offenders, destroys evidence and moves priests to protect the good name of the Church.” You’re saying you have evidence of all of this?

PETER FOX: Oh, not only do I have evidence, it’s irrefutable. Most of that is fact that’s been admitted by many of them. We encounter it all the time. For people to sit back and say it’s not going on, they’ve got their head in the sand. The greatest frustration is that there is so much power and organisation behind the scenes that police don’t have the powers to be able to go in and seize documents and have them disclose things to us.

The Mafia, dressed up as something else.

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

Inspecting the bridge

Nov 11th, 2012 4:00 pm | By

Zach Alexander has a very thoughtful review, or review-essay, on Chris Stedman’s book. He admires much of it, but also dissents strongly from part of the argument.

The most obvious problem is that even as Chris extolls the virtues of religious pluralism, he delivers an anti-pluralist message to his fellow atheists. Not content to merely do his own work, inviting like-minded people to join him, he expects the entire herd of cats to conform to his particular temperament and interests. Rather than increasing the breadth of the movement with his unique voice, he wishes to narrow it.

Second, even as he preaches respect, he casts aspersions on the so-called New Atheism, calling it “toxic, misdirected, and wasteful” (14). This is a curious way to call for more civility. And it betrays what, on closer inspection, seems to be a rather shallow appreciation for some of the dangers of religion – dangers that arguably justify much of the sharper New Atheist rhetoric.

In short, the central irony of the book is that the person who hopes to inspire atheists towards greater respect of religious diversity is disrespectful of the diversity in his own community.

This is what several of us (us meanies) have been saying all along: his outreach is all in one direction. James Croft defended that the other day by saying he thinks it’s because Stedman thinks of atheists as we and he’s making the conscientious effort to be hard on his own group, as opposed to cutting it slack because it is his own group.

 There is a world of difference between principled criticism of individuals who share an identity characteristic with you and the attempt to participate in the continued marginalization of that identity group. Atheists with a public personae criticize each other all the time over a multitude of issues, often disagreeing strongly on points of principle – and that is as it should be. Not all such criticism is traitorous and self-defeating: some of it stems from genuine ethical considerations which deserve to be heard.

I see Stedman offering such a critique. He believes, rightly or wrongly, that some of the ways some atheists pursue their criticism of religion is unethical, contributing to the dehumanization of individuals and perpetuating stereotypes of already-marginalized groups. Just as I, as a gay man, try to speak out against misogyny in the gay community, Stedman, an atheist, wants to speak out against Islamophobia in the atheist community (for instance). Suggesting other gay men refrain from sexist or racist language does not, I hope, make me an “Uncle Tom” (or an “Uncle Mary”). I hope it makes me a principled human being – even though it would restrict the freedom to act of members of a community of which I am a member.

Reminding your own side of their ethical responsibilities toward other human beings – even if applying your understanding of those responsibilities would limit their freedom of action – is not the action of a traitor but of a principled person making a stand for what they think is right both for the group of which they are a member and for others.

Yes but. It’s a matter of emphasis and proportion and repetition and venue and so on. Yes it’s great if gay men speak out against misogyny in the gay community, but if that’s all they ever say about that community, and they say it in big mainstream outlets where they know people who hate gay men will use it for their own purposes, it’s not so great after all.

Alexander thinks there is a key to understanding the mutual misunderstanding here.

…something dawned on me while reading the book last weekend. It’s a fundamental difference between Chris and the mainstream of the community that I don’t think anyone has fully grasped – perhaps not even Chris himself.

Before he gets to that he tells a couple of stories about dialogue despite disagreement, then comes back to the idea that people should do what suits them best, Chris what suits him and PZ what suits him.

But strangely, Chris is unwilling to be so generous. And I think I’ve figured out why.

The source of the alienness felt between Chris and much of the atheist community, myself included, is this: he values compassion and social justice to a remarkable, exemplary degree, yet places almost no value on the epistemological virtues near and dear to most in the atheist movement, such as rationality, skepticism, and the scientific method.

Ah that. Yes. I do think some of us have fully grasped it though. I’m pretty sure I’ve been talking about it all along. Many of us talked about it for instance in “Good old interfaith atheism” in April 2011.

Alexander goes on.

In passage after passage, he rightly preaches compassion and decries injustice, but is conspicuously silent on reason. He owns up to religious “atrocities” and “conflicts” – but not the absurdities that facilitate both (8). He desires a world in which “suffering and oppression” have been eliminated – but not ignorance or superstition (11). He faults some religious beliefs for being “dehumanizing” or “intolerant” – but not for being false (84, 154). He seeks to make society “more cooperative and less conflict-oriented” – but not more evidence-based (115). His mission is to “advance equality and justice” – but not rationality or free inquiry (158).

Exactly. It’s possible that I have a little more sympathy for that approach now, in the time of the Deep Rifts…but only a little. I still don’t like to see the “yes but is there any reason to think it’s true?” aspect left out altogether.

In sum, Chris does not merely have a different take on religion – much more deeply, he seems to only superficially share the epistemic values that are important to most people in the atheist and humanist [3] movements, and central for many of them. In this he is like a restaurant critic who is mostly indifferent to the quality of food. He may indeed have a column, and indeed go to restaurants, and indeed write reviews about their ambiance and service, which are indeed important. But few of his peers would fully resonate with his opinions. And if he began a quixotic campaign to moderate their negative reviews – because no chef should be belittled merely for their food – they could be forgiven for responding with bemusement, annoyance, and even scorn. Because really, what right does a culinary know-nothing have to lecture others on how to talk about food?

[3] You weren’t expecting that? The Humanist Manifesto III is very clearly about both rationality and compassion-oriented values, not just the latter.

That’s an amusing way of putting it. It is a serious point though, and it is the major point of contention between the Stedmanites and the Badnewatheists. (Whatever happened to badnewatheists, anyway? That used to be a Twitter and Facebook thing. Oh yes, I remember – it was replaced by FTBullies. That was replaced by Atheismplus. I wonder what # 4 will be.) Zachary Alexander’s essay might help to shed new light on that particular rift.


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

Post-election discourse

Nov 11th, 2012 12:22 pm | By

So after Obama was re-elected the other day, naturally lots of people took to Twitter to call him a nigger. I mean what else do you do when you’re pissed off? Nothing, right? Because there is nothing else. There’s only whatever epithet fits the crime.

Ricky Catanzaro plays football for Xaverian High School, a private Catholic prep school in Brooklyn, NY. Students who play sports there must sign an athlete’s contract that stipulates a promise “to be a worthy representative of my teammates and coaches, abiding by school and community expectations.”

The day after the election he tweeted, “No nigger should lead this country!!! #Romney” His Twitter timeline (since removed) revealed that “nigger” is a word he regularly uses in his day-to-day vocabulary. After other people tweeted their disgust at his comment about the president, Catanzaro responded to his black critics by referring to them as “slaves” and “cotton-pickers”…

Well that’s what language is for. That’s what free speech is for. It’s for calling people niggers and faggots and cunts when you hate them. Otherwise we live in a dictatorship.





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

Stories and folk psychology

Nov 11th, 2012 11:20 am | By

Stories. I was thinking about stories, earlier. Stories, narrative, interpretation, explanation; and science, evidence, testing. I forget what started the train of thought, but it was about the way stories give us explanations of why people do things that are peculiarly satisfying, and that science can be irritating when it tells us a story is wrong.

The thing about stories is that they give us permission to make unquestionable claims about what people think, and what their motivations are. We can’t do that in real life, you know. If we’re sharing a bit of gossip about Eleanora or Archibald, we don’t tell it the way a storyteller does. We narrate facts or reports, what we’ve seen or what others say they’ve seen; we don’t announce what the protagonists thought. That’s because we don’t know. Stories have opposite rules – in telling stories it’s just normal to say what everyone thinks. Homer did it all the time.

That’s interesting, isn’t it. In real life we don’t know what other people think, we just infer it from how they behave, and often we’re aware that we don’t have a clue. In reading or hearing stories, we enter an alternate world where we can be told what everyone thinks.

Why is that so peculiarly satisfying? Probably partly because we can’t do it in real life; we can’t have that comfortable sense that we understand exactly why everybody does everything. Probably also partly because it’s explanatory. There just is something satisfying about a good explanation – “good” in the sense of being a good fit and making sense of something that was a puzzle or a jumble.

I suppose I’m talking about folk psychology. I’m thinking that stories probably have a lot to do with where we get our folk psychology. I’m also wondering if they trick us into thinking we understand other minds better than we really do.

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


Nov 11th, 2012 10:37 am | By

Deborah Hyde is at Skepticon.

On Sunday morning, I will be talking to a crowd of American atheists about belief in werewolves in post-Reformation Europe. My subject is usually consumed enthusiastically by atheists, because they find vampires and witches no sillier than angels and, in any case, studying these things leads to insights into what makes us human.

As a story, the idea of the werewolf is really very good. So are the ideas of vampires and witches. The trouble is just that stories bleed into what we take to be real, and in the case of things like witches that can have terrible results.

If the tweets are any guide, James Croft killed it at Skepticon earlier this morning, doing funny accents and acting out a comic and then inspiring everyone.


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

Leadership roles

Nov 10th, 2012 3:30 pm | By

It makes my head hurt. Bringing more women into leadership roles so that they can force women into more submissive roles. No not Sarah Palin, no not Michelle Bachmann – the women in the Muslim Brotherhood.

The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt has brought with it a new  group of female politicians who say they are determined to bring more women into  leadership roles — and at the same time want to consecrate a deeply conservative Islamic vision for women in Egypt.

But if they are determined to bring more women into  leadership roles then why do they want to consecrate a deeply conservative  Islamic vision for women?

Really, people, those two things do not go together. It’s like trying to eat and vomit at the same time.

Islamists who make up the majority on the constitution-writing assembly are  racing to try to finish the document in the coming weeks to put it to a  referendum. One of the biggest fights is over an Islamist-backed clause that  would call for equality between men and women but only if it does not contradict  Islamic law, or Shariah…

Omaima Kamel, perhaps the most powerful of the Brotherhood women, defended  the clause. Kamel is a member of Morsi’s advisory team and sits on the  constitutional panel.

In a recent interview on state TV, she said that without the phrasing,  certain rights that Shariah gives to men and not to women could be overturned — such as men’s right to marry up to four women or inheritance laws that give a  greater to share to men than women. Such polygamy and inheritance laws existed  during the Mubarak era and in most Muslim countries.

Kamel, a 51-year-old doctor, dismissed fears that hardliners would use the  clause to pass harsh restrictions on women, saying only rulings of Shariah that  are “firmly established, with no controversy around them,” like polygamy and  inheritance, could be applied.

Oh great – only stuff like polygamy and unequal inheritance, which are totes uncontroversial.

Kamel goes on to say that issues of FGM “do not bother anyone, we have bigger issues” – which is grotesque, given what FGM is and what the experience of it is like.

It’s terrible. Of course the MB wants women like that in “leadership roles” – as figureheads to persuade everyone that women are just delighted with theocratic rules that make them inferiors.

Happy Malala Day.


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

The extremist mindset

Nov 10th, 2012 2:59 pm | By

It’s Malala day today. It’s global.

People around the world are expected to hold vigils and demonstrations honoring Malala and calling for the 32 million girls worldwide who are denied education to be allowed to go to school.

Pakistani prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf saluted Malala’s courage and urged his countrymen to stand against the extremist mindset that led to her attack.

That’s sweet. But…when I say “global” I mean partly global. I don’t mean Malala’s own hometown, for instance. It’s not Malala day in Mingora, not openly.

But in Mingora, the threat of further Taliban reprisals casts a fearful shadow, and students at Malala’s Khushal Public School were forced to honor her in private.

“We held a special prayer for Malala today in our school assembly and also lit candles,” school principal Mariam Khalid said.

“We did not organize any open event because our school and its students still face a security threat.”

Though their bid to kill Malala failed, the Taliban have said they will attack any woman who stands against them and fears are so great that Khalid said even speaking to the media could put students’ lives in danger.

Because that’s how it is. We can all have decent lives in which we can pursue our dreams only on the sufferance of violent thugs. If there are enough violent thugs determined not to let us and not enough law and civil society and policing to stop them, then we can’t.

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