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.


Fun and games at the madrassa

Jan 2nd, 2009 12:45 pm | By

If Wikipedia has it right there are currently around forty thousand madrassas in Pakistan. If they’re all full-time pseudo-schools as opposed to an hour or two in the afternoon, that’s an appalling figure, because they don’t teach anything, they just inject the Koran in Arabic, which is useless for anything except doing the same thing to the next generation of doomed children. And that’s before we even get to the political and, shall we say, combustion-related aspect.

A 14-year-old who was trained to kill by radicals in the tribal regions of Pakistan now sits in a crowded classroom at a detention facility in Kabul. His only wish is to see his parents again…”I didn’t want to do it but he forced me to go,” he says of his recruiter. Rubbing his face with his hand, he says he now spends his time dreaming of his life back home in rural Pakistan. His eyes begin to water and his voice becomes softer when he talks about missing his mother. Asked what he misses most about her, he says simply, “A mother is a mother.” His was a life of farming and tranquility in Pakistan, he says. It was also a life that took a drastic turn when his father decided to send Shakirullah for studies at a madrassa. He says his [father] wanted him to learn more about Islam and the Quran, something he could not do himself. He says his father didn’t know radicals ran the school. In the madrassa, Shakirullah learned to recite the Quran in Arabic, not his native language. He relied solely on the fanatical interpretations the mullahs were giving him. “When I finished reciting the Quran, a mullah then came to me and told me, ‘Now that you have finished the Quran, you need to go and commit a suicide attack.’ That I should go to Afghanistan to commit a suicide attack,” he says.

So – lucky parents of rural Pakistan – they send a child to what they think is a place where he’ll learn more about Islam and the Quran but is in fact a place where adult men send children out to kill themselves and others. How nice.



Still digging that hole

Jan 2nd, 2009 12:40 pm | By

Andrew Brown is still at it – still being shameless. It’s been pretty thoroughly shown by now that he misrepresented what Dawkins said on the infamous page 326. So what is his response? A frank apology at last? No.

Richard Dawkins himself has been in this thread a few times. If he had wanted to, he could have stated quite clearly that he does not believe the state should have the right to intervene to remove children from their parents simply because of their theological beliefs.

Interesting. Brown misrepresents what Dawkins wrote. Several commenters point that out, and at least one pastes in the whole passage by way of evidence. Brown simply reiterates his misrepresentation. Commenters go on pointing out that the misrepresentation is a misrepresentation. Brown says it’s up to Dawkins to set the record straight.

The guy is a journalist. Journalists are expected to get their facts right in the first place, and to correct them if they make a mistake. The guy is also a member of society and an adult. Adult members of society are expected not to misrepresent people and to apologize and clear things up if they make a mistake. Brown is making a complete horse’s ass of himself on both counts.



God-given hilarity

Jan 1st, 2009 6:00 pm | By

And for another clever-stupid ‘joke’ there is Dieudonné cutting up again. He’s such a card.

Dieudonné, who is known for making anti-Semitic remarks in his shows, handed the spoof award for “social unacceptability and insolence” to Robert Faurisson, an academic with a string of convictions for denying the existence of Nazi death camps in the Second World War. Among the audience of 5,000 at Le Zénith theatre in Paris were the far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, several figures of the far left…A stagehand dressed as a Jewish deportee with a yellow star on his chest gave M. Faurisson the award.

Wow, that does sound like a real thigh-slapper, doesn’t it.

[I]n the past five years, his shows have come to symbolise – some say foment – a new strain of anti-Semitism in France among Arab and black youths and on the “white” far left. Dieudonné said: “I don’t agree with all [M. Faurisson's] ideas. But for me, what counts most of all is freedom of expression.”

Bullshit. Would he make a joke of that kind about an apartheid-denier? Does he make jokes of that kind about apartheid-deniers? Is it really freedom of expression that counts most of all for him? I don’t believe it, and I don’t suppose anyone does.



Oh those pesky Americans

Jan 1st, 2009 5:53 pm | By

Imagine someone commenting on a philosophy blog, ‘Black people understand a good story and only get confused by the minutiae of history.’ Or for ‘black people’ substitute ‘Jews’ or ‘women’ or ‘foreigners.’ You’d blink, right? You’d be a little surprised, and a little repelled. But substitute ‘Americans’ – and apparently that’s no longer a gratuitous insult, it’s some kind of sophisticated bit of ‘irony.’

There’s this guy called Michael Reidy who comments regularly at Talking Philosophy, a blog run by the editors of The Philosophers’ Magazine; he seems very clever and well-informed, though often snide, but he also likes to amuse himself periodically with a random, magisterial announcement about the stupidity of Americans. That was the latest one – ‘Americans understand a good story and only get confused by the minutiae of history.’ It’s all the odder because it’s the last line of his comment and it has nothing to do with the rest.

What’s that about? Just the usual? I have American friends in the UK who are frequently driven to distraction by the breezy way people who would never disparage other groups will snicker at the stupidity, cluelessness, childishness and general hopelessness of ‘Americans.’ I suppose Michael Reidy is just one of those? It’s odd though – it just seems so…well, clueless and childish.



Religion and children, and Dawkins and Brown

Jan 1st, 2009 11:42 am | By

I re-read the chapter of The God Delusion which contains page 326, this morning, in order to find out (having forgotten since I first read it) what the context is in which Dawkins quotes that passage by Nicholas Humphrey. In reading it I became more angry with Brown than ever, for the simple reason that he completely leaves out the context which is one of angry compassion for the mental suffering religion can cause to children and their parents. The chapter starts with the 19th century case of a six-year-old Jewish boy in Bologna who was forcibly removed from his weeping parents by officers of the Catholic Inquisition, to be raised by the church. His parents never saw him again except on occasional brief supervised visits. Why was he removed? Because his nursemaid (age 14 at the time) had ‘baptized’ him.

Dawkins then goes on to compare sexual abuse with mental abuse, and to make the interesting and (I think) important point that sexual abuse in some cases is trivial compared to the mental torture of the fear of hell. He quotes a heart-rending letter from a woman who was told at age 7 that her Protestant friend who had died was in hell – this thought was agony for the child.

That is what leads up to Humphrey’s lecture. It’s impossible (in my view) to read it unmoved – yet Brown presents the basic idea as if it were nothing but the fantasy of a sadistic atheist meddler. It’s an utter distortion and grossly unfair – to Dawkins but even more to children who are tortured with fears of hell and eternal punishment.

This is all the more deranged because it’s not as if there are no reasonable criticisms that could be made. One could for instance argue that Dawkins fails to balance this worry with the ways religion can console children and parents; one could claim that the problem is not religion as such but religion that threatens and punishes instead of promising and consoling (or religion that threatens and punishes as a condition of promising and consoling). One could object to many specifics of tone, choice of examples, and so on – yet Brown didn’t do any of that; instead he chose to flail away at a straw man instead of engaging with the actual book. Whatever for? And why do so many other critics do the same thing? Is it just easier, to invent a bogey-atheist and then keep recycling the same complaints about it? Are they just lazy? Or are they a mix of lazy and malevolent?

I don’t know. I’m just asking.

(I posted a slightly different and shorter version of this on Brown’s piece a couple of hours ago.)



Andrew Brown throws a pie in his own face

Dec 30th, 2008 9:59 pm | By

Aha – Andrew Brown did a follow-up piece, inspired, it seems from what he says, by the comments of Dawkins and Dennett on his piece and another comment of Dawkins on the same piece on his site. Well yes I can see why that would make him itchy. Here’s Dennett’s comment:

Andrew Brown trots out an old atheist, Anthony Kenny, who (he surmises) would reject all six of the tenets he attributes to the New Atheists. What would that show, even if it were true? His six points are all caricatures in any case. The uniting feature of the New Atheists is that we have all decided that the traditional atheist policy of diplomatic reticence should be discarded. Brown doesnt tell us if he himself is any kind of atheist, old or new, but I suspect from the confusion of his essay that he is one of the tribe of But Atheists, as in Im an atheist, but . . . . I find that But Atheists are the most frantic defenders of religion these days; they themselves have no need for religion, they say, but they are worried that hoi polloi do. It puts me in mind of another old philosopher, Henry Sidgwick, a utilitarian who thought that utilitarianism should be a secret kept by the elite, a pernicious doctrine often called Government House utilitarianism. The seminaries and churches are full of atheist clergy who live their own version of this paternalism. We New Atheists think more highly of our fellow human beings; we think its time for us all to grow up.

Here’s Dawkins’s from his site:

Dan Dennett wasn’t the only philosopher omitted so that Brown could say “They are none of them philosophers.” There’s also A.C.Grayling.

Incidentally, on one of Andrew Brown’s books, his publishers had such a hard time finding endorsements from distinguished people to put on the cover, they resorted to fine-sounding quotations which, if you looked carefully, turned out to have nothing to do with Brown’s book. The only quotation that mentions Andrew Brown, or his book, was the following, from Dan Dennett:

I wouldn’t admit it if Andrew Brown were my friend. What a sleazy bit of trash journalism!

Well yes that must have left him feeling rumpled, so back he went. But he merely dug the hole deeper. In particular…

[Dennett's] book on religion was very much better and more subtle than the God Delusion. I cannot believe that Dennett, for example, would pass within fifteen pages from dilating on the wickedness of Popes who had Jewish children compulsorarily baptised to asking whether the state should not have a right to remove the children of fundamentalist Christians to protect them from their parents’ beliefs.

Brown provides a link to the Google copy of page 326 so that we can all see that – Dawkins did not say what Brown said he said. He quoted Nicholas Humphrey arguing in an Amnesty International lecture in 1997 that children ‘have a human right not to have their minds crippled by exposure to other people’s bad ideas’ and that parents have ‘no right to limit the horizons of their children’s knowledge’ and that ‘we as a society have a duty to protect them from it.’

So we should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe in the literal truth of the Bible or that the planets rule their lives, than we should allow parents to knock their children’s teeth out or lock them in a dungeon.

Dawkins then says that such a strong statement needs, and received, much qualification.

So…Brown simply gave a false account of what Dawkins says on page 236. A commenter said exactly that and Brown replied, outrageously, ‘Jonathan it doesn’t say anything different. He is quoting Nick Humphrey with approval when he asks exactly that question.’

That takes a lot of gall.

Steve Jones finds him irritating too. He commented later on Brown’s claim that Dennett ‘has written some extraordinarily offensive and unpleasant things to and about me’:

Can you give us links to all his comments about you so we can decide if they were offensive and unpleasant or merely accurate?

Hahaha! A palpable hit.



Andrew Brown joins the brawl

Dec 30th, 2008 6:20 pm | By

Andrew Brown joins in the war on the ‘new’ atheists.

The ideas I claim are distinctive of the new atheists have been collected from Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Jerry Coyne, the American physicist Robert L. Park, and a couple of blogging biologists, P Z Myers and Larry Moran. They have two things in common. They are none of them philosophers and, though most are scientists, none study psychology, history, the sociology of religion, or any other discipline which might cast light on the objects of their execration.

How on earth does he know that? How could he know that? I suppose he could have asked all of them, and they could all have answered him, and all have agreed that they don’t ‘study’ (by which Brown presumably means to say they know nothing whatever about) psychology, history, and the sociology of religion…but I suspect that he didn’t and they didn’t and didn’t. I don’t know that, but I suspect it, not least because I think if he had gotten their confirmation he would have said so. Short of asking them, how would he know it? How would he know what seven people do or do not read about and discuss and otherwise inform themselves about? He doesn’t (of course) say. It’s the Chris Hedges school of journalism: just make stuff up, no need to offer evidence or documentation or quotation.

Brown offers ‘propositions’ that he claims are distinctive of the ‘new’ atheists and not of the good old kind who used to pass out toffee apples on Brown’s way to school. Or something.

There is something called “Faith” which can be defined as unjustified belief held in the teeth of the evidence. Faith is primarily a matter of false propositional belief.

Um…yes. Is it not true that faith can be defined that way? Is that a self-evidently and grossly inaccurate defintion of faith? It’s not an exhaustive definition, certainly – but is it a wildly offbase one? Not that I can see, but apparently Brown thinks it’s whacked.

Science is the opposite of religion, and will lead people into the clear sunlit uplands of reason. “The real war is between rationalism and superstition. Science is but one form of rationalism, while religion is the most common form of superstition” [Jerry Coyne]

Um…so he can’t follow what someone says even when he is quoting it and has it right in front of him? Look at it. Jerry Coyne says one thing and Brown seems to think he said another – and that’s by way of illustration. Well no wonder he gets everything wrong – he can’t grasp the meaning for the extent of even one sentence.

And the others aren’t much better.

Oh look – I’ve read some of the comments now and there’s Richard Dawkins saying (someone pointedly asked why Brown hadn’t included Dennett) -

The reason Brown fails to mention Dan Dennett is obvious, and entirely typical of him. It is simply that he would then not have been able to say “They are none of them philosophers”.

Exactly. The guy is not what you’d call an honest fighter.

Dennet commented too. Andrew Brown didn’t come off very well in this particular round.



Hedges says

Dec 29th, 2008 6:05 pm | By

Another entry in the ‘religion makes people nicer’ contest – Barney Zwarts, religion editor of The Age, offering a subtle, thoughtful, elegant rumination on the ‘new’ atheists.

This brilliant book highlights what is obvious to most reasonable observers: that these fundamentalist atheists, with their vapid, complacent self-righteousness and their facile and unjustifiable certainties, are the precise mirror image of the fundamentalist Christians, Muslims etc they so despise…Like Christian radicals, the new atheists have built squalid little belief systems that serve themselves and their own power, that seek to scare people about what they do not understand, and to use this fear to justify cruelty and war. “They ask us to kneel before little idols that look and act like them, telling us that one day, if we trust enough in God or reason, we will have everything we desire.”

He goes on that way for the whole review, and offers not one word of evidence. He doesn’t quote so much as half a sentence to back up any of that frenzied nonsense – that last quote is Hedges, not any of the sqalid little atheists who ask us to kneel before little idols in their image.

Hedges finds the agenda of the new atheists – Hitchens, Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and others – equally intolerant and dangerous. It is intolerant because it is based on a closed worldview that dismisses all other views without even examining them. It tries to reduce sacred texts to instruction manuals. It tells us what is right and wrong not according to God but “the purity of the rational mind”, allowing no dissent – and wraps the intolerance in Enlightenment virtues. It is dangerous because, like religious utopian views, it believes that if it can eradicate other views, this will lead to a perfect society – which justifies butchering or expelling those with other views.

Those are pretty strong claims to offer in a major newspaper with no trace of quotation, especially when the charges are not in fact true. What those quotation marks on “the purity of the rational mind” are supposed to refer to I don’t know, and I strongly suspect they’re just slapped onto a phrase pulled out of the air – and the childishly ridiculous charge that any of them think anything so stupid as that ‘if it can eradicate other views, this will lead to a perfect society’ is 1. not true and 2. simply taken undigested and unexamined from Hedges’s book. Hedges makes that charge ad nauseam in his toe-curlingly bad book, as I pointed out last April, and this religion editor (ah, so that’s it…) at The Age is simply recycling them as if they had been handed down on gold plates by the Angel Moroni – for real. None of the ‘new’ atheists is anywhere near stupid enough to think that an end of religion would produce ‘a perfect society.’

The new atheists, Hedges says, know how to make humanity perfect and must therefore eradicate the competing visions that pollute society and lead people astray. Harris calls Muslims deranged, Dennett would allow aspects of religion – its art and music and rituals – to be preserved only in some sort of zoo.

Well now he’s just admitting it himself – Hedges says. Yes, Hedges says, but Hedges is 1. wrong and 2. in a frothing rage, so maybe it would be clever to check what ‘Hedges says’ before repeating his grotesque claims as if they were well-known facts.

I wish I could be his editor for just five minutes.



Girls go to school to show the world their heads

Dec 27th, 2008 11:49 am | By

From the risible to the disgusting – Islam Online phones the Taliban in Swat to discuss their policy on ordering girls not to go to school.

Muslim Khan, a former seaman who has spent two years in the United States in late 1990s, contends that girls are bound to get religious education only. “Yes, education is a must for every man and woman (in Islam), but women are bound to acquire religious education only,” he said. “They go to school without observing Pardah (veil), which is against Islamic norms.”

So…education is a must for every man and woman (in Islam) but women are allowed to get only ‘religious’ education which of course is not education at all. Why are women allowed to get religious education only? Well, because if they got the real thing they might be able to escape, and that is not allowed (in Islam). But anyway – that’s beside the point because the sluts go to school without wearing bags, which is against Islamic norms, and therefore the sluts simply have to be locked up at home for life – real purdah as opposed to portable purdah. Who says? Silly question. See this gun? That’s who says.

Asked what if girls observe pardah, would they be allowed to attend schools, the spokesman said that the issue has been discussed by the TTS. “But the problem is that despite our warnings, only a few girls observed pardah. Therefore, we have decided to stop them from attending the schools.”

You see how it is. Our hands are tied. We tried – we gave it our best shot – we gave them every opportunity – but the filthy whores simply would not observe pardah. Therefore, we have decided to imprison them.

Security analysts do not give much importance to TTS’s warning. “No doubt it will create panic among the girls and their parents, but it will not last for a long time,” said Hamid Mir, an Islamabad-based security analyst.

Oh yes, quite, no doubt a lot of silly people will panic at being told they will be killed by people who have a reliable history of living up to their own threats, but hey, it will not last for a long time, because…because the Taliban will change its mind? No. Because the girls and their parents will no longer mind the prospect of the girls being killed? No. Because the Taliban will be disbanded and defeated? Not any time soon. Why then? Who knows.

Mir said the TTS threat will be used by the Western media to further tarnish the image of Islam. “And unfortunately, people like Maulvi Fazlullah often provide them the opportunities for that,” he said.

Yeah. God damn Western media. Without people like Fazlullah no one would have a word to say against Islam, because it’s so fair and even-handed and justice-loving. Did I mention the Western media?



Come on in, the water’s fine

Dec 27th, 2008 11:24 am | By

Good ne-ews – any religion, every religion can get you into heaven, and even better than that, the absence of religion can get you there too. Stone the crows! So there are no entry requirements at all! We’re all saved, no matter how spotty or bad-tempered or unfunny.

According to the American public anyway. This isn’t actually a factual discovery, it’s just the outcome of an opinion survey. The news is actually just that ‘Americans think’ you can get into heaven if you’re a Christian, or a Muslim, or a Buddhist, or an atheist, among other possibilities. In other words ‘Americans think’ whatever they feel like thinking. Not really news at all then. Ah well.

That’s not my favourite part though; my favourite part is this:

Also, many Christians apparently view their didactic text as flexible. According to Pew’s August survey, only 39 percent of Christians believe that the Bible is the literal word of God, and 18 percent think that it’s just a book written by men and not the word of God at all.

I love that ‘only’ – only 39 % of Christians believe that God actually wrote the bible in the same sense in which I am writing this. The 18% who think the bible is written by humans is equally risible – only 18% of a large segment of the population actually accept the blindingly obvious: that the bible, like other books, was written by human beings. The roughly 40% in between those two presumably believe the usual intermediate offering: that god ‘inspired’ human beings to write the bible – so that actually 80% of a large segment of the population believe that that ragbag of stories and poetry and bloodcurdling threats was to some extent made by a supernatural being who doesn’t make house calls. ‘Only’ about 80% of Christians believe raving nonsense.

And I can go to heaven with them. Terrific. I’d really rather not.



Spreading vulgarity in society

Dec 26th, 2008 12:50 pm | By

The Taliban in Swat work on building a better world.

In an announcement made in mosques and broadcast on radio, the militant group set a deadline of January 15 for its order to be obeyed or it would blow up school buildings and attack [meaning kill] schoolgirls. It also told women not to set foot outside their homes without being fully covered. “Female education is against Islamic teachings and spreads vulgarity in society,” Shah Dauran, leader of a group that has established control over a large part of Swat district in the North West Frontier Province, declared this week…The militants have also prohibited immunisation for children against polio – claiming that the UN-sponsored vaccination drive is aimed at causing sexual impotence – causing a sharp rise in cases of the disease…In many areas hardliners have established Sharia, or Islamic law, setting up their own courts and introducing public executions for those who break it. This month militants killed a pro-government cleric and hung his body up in Mingora, the main town of Swat, in full view of the Pakistani military and the local administration.

Allah the merciful.



Meet the elf

Dec 25th, 2008 11:15 am | By

On a lighter note – in case you’ve never heard it, or haven’t heard it lately – here is Santaland Diaries. I defy anyone not to laugh. ‘Santa doesn’t deal in coal any more. He comes to your house and steals things.’

The snow is still up to our ear lobes here, and the streets going down and up the hill are still closed, and the buses are still not coming up here or going down from here…but I’m going to wrap myself in heavy-duty plastic and pad myself with inner tubes and venture out, with good hopes of being no more than two or three hours late.



Silent night

Dec 25th, 2008 11:02 am | By

The Taliban in northwest Pakistan is in a festive mood.

Taliban in Swat district have imposed a ban on female education and have warned teachers of ‘severe consequences’ if any girl is seen heading for school after a 15-day deadline ends.

They’re not messing around.

“You have until January 15 to stop sending your girls to schools. If you do not pay any heed to this warning, we will kill such girls,” one official quoted the commander as saying. “We also warn schools not to enrol any female students; otherwise, their buildings will be blown up.”

They’re not shy. They clearly don’t feel any need to win hearts and minds.

Durran said local Taliban leaders were determined not to allow girls to attend school, saying: “We want to enforce the true Sharia in the area – for this, we are fighting and laying down our lives.”

They are fighting and ‘laying down their lives’ for the sake of murdering girls who go to school and destroying school buildings. They are risking their own lives and destroying those of other people for the shining inspiring goal of…preventing girls from getting an education. Humanity struggles and learns for thousands of years and arrives at the point of – packs of ignorant violent men whose main goal in life is to grind women into the dirt.

Joy to the world.



What do the bible say

Dec 24th, 2008 12:04 pm | By

Now…let’s think a little more about Rick Warren and this here ‘invocation’ and what it all involves. Let’s think about Rick Warren’s beliefs apart from gay marriage.

Let’s consult that cached page of faqs again.

The Bible is God´s word to all men. It was written by human authors, under the supernatural guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is the supreme source of truth for Christian beliefs and living. Because it is inspired by God, it is truth without any mixture of error. 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20,21; 2 Timothy 1:13; Psalm 119:105,160, 12:6; Proverbs 30:5

That’s nuts. It’s childish. You can’t cite statements internal to a document to back up the claim that the document is inspired by God and that it is truth without any mixture of error. That doesn’t work, and it doesn’t work for reasons that are so obvious that failure to grasp them is simply childish. If that did work then all authors could just say ‘this book is inspired by God and it is truth without any mixture of error’ and be taken seriously.

I know that seems too obvious to be worth pointing out, but that’s why religion gets a free pass on this kind of thing. It all seems so obvious, no one bothers – so then there are whole huge segments of the population who never hear that actually there is no good reason at all to think the bible is inspired by God.

In other words it makes sense to start with the basics and go on from there. This whole idea of bible-based beliefs and morals is a broken reed; it’s worthless before we even get to the specifics.

And then there’s the fact that the bible of Rick Warren’s church is a translation, so what can it mean to say that a translation is truth without any mixture of error? Nothing – but Rick Warren says it. It’s childish, but we’re supposed to take it seriously.

The question is: What does the Bible have to say about when life begins?

“You made my whole being; you formed me in my mother’s body. … You saw my bones being formed as I took shape in my mother’s body. When I was put together there, you saw my body as it was formed. All the days planned for me were written in your book before I was one day old.” (Psalm 139:13, 15-16 NCV)

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5 NIV)

Psalm 139 tells us that God knows us personally while we are being formed in the womb, and Jeremiah 1:5 is one of many verses in the Bible that clearly show that even before we were conceived God knew us as persons. Life begins when God creates, and the Bible tells us that that happens in the womb.

But the Jeremiah verse (in this translation anyway) says that God knew someone before the womb. It seems pretty clear that that’s a magical claim – that God is being made to say ‘I knew you before you were even conceived, I knew you before you were a leer on your father’s face, I knew you when your grandmother was still in diapers.’ So if that’s taken as some kind of rule about when a person starts to exist…it’s not much help. And then in any case, it’s just some words in a book. It’s a grand claim by a ‘prophet,’ it’s some poetry in a psalm. It’s interesting, but it doesn’t really tell us anything about the foetus. Yet Warren says the question, when thinking about stem cell research, is what the bible says about when ‘life’ begins. (He promptly confuses life with personhood, of course.) You might as well think that Wordsworth’s poem about daffodils tells us that daffodils know how to dance. It’s baby stuff – but here we have a lot of adults taking it seriously and presumably heeding its instructions. That’s more bizarre than people generally admit.



Heads I’m right tails you’re wrong

Dec 24th, 2008 11:14 am | By

Now look here – let’s get something straight. If a fundamentalist literalist bible-bashing preacher says something, then it is hate speech to disagree with him*. Not only that, it is also Christophobia, demonization, and hatred of the people in their glorious majority.

[Warren] says the criticism of him in the wake of his selection has been characterized by “a lot of hate speech” and by “Christophobia — people who are afraid of any Christian. Our nation is being destroyed by the demonization of differences.”…He reiterated his opposition to same sex marriage, but said he is in agreement with “the view of the vast majority of the world and the vast majority of religions.”

And the view of the vast majority is necessarily right on any given subject and not to be disputed or declared unconstitutional or in violation of human rights. Unless of course the vast majority disagrees with Rick Warren, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. The point now is that disagreement with Rick Warren is entirely illegitimate on a variety of grounds, also known as, any port in a storm.

“Free speech has to be free speech for everybody,” he says. “Some people feel today if you disagree with them that’s hate speech.”

Er – yes – as in the bit where he said ‘the criticism of him in the wake of his selection has been characterized by “a lot of hate speech” and by “Christophobia”‘…How quickly he seems to forget.

“I’m doing this because I love America and it’s a historic opportunity and it’s an honor to be a part of any inauguration of any president,” he says.

Indeed it is, and that’s exactly why we don’t want Warren to have the honor. We think he’s the wrong kind of person for a Democratic president to give that kind of honor. In fact a lot of us think he’s the wrong kind of person for any president to give that kind of honor at a secular government ceremony.

*Literalist fundies don’t go in for no women preachers, so ‘him’ is the right pronoun.



Marriage has meant one thing from the beginning of time

Dec 23rd, 2008 6:19 pm | By

Rick Warren is a bit of an ignoramus, isn’t he. He said when he endorsed Prop 8 in California

We should not let 2 percent of the population determine, to change a definition of marriage that has been supported by every single culture and every single religion for 5,000 years.

Oh really. Is that a fact. Every single culture and every single religion for 5 thousand years. Really. Never one man and five women? One man and thirty women? One man and a hundred women? Perhaps Rick Warren has never heard of Mormons, or considers Mormonism to be neither a religion nor a culture. He probably considers Islam a religion though.

And what about one man and one girl? Perhaps Rick Warren is not aware that some religions and some cultures define marriage as including one man and one female child or five or ten female children. But if Rick Warren is not aware of that – maybe he really ought to shut up about gay marriage.

An eight-year old Saudi Arabian girl who was married off by her father to a 58-year-old man has been told she cannot divorce her husband until she reaches puberty…In many child marriages, girls are given away to older men in return for dowries or following the custom by which a father promises his daughters and sons to marriage while still children. But the issue is complicated by different interpretations of sharia law and a lack of legal certainty…The father agreed to marry off his daughter for a dowry of 30,000 riyals (£5,400) as he was facing financial problems…No figures are available for the number of arranged marriages involving pre-adolescents in Saudi Arabia, where the strictly conservative Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam holds sway and polygamy is common. But human rights groups say they are aware of many such cases.

Oh, well…at least there are no faggots involved. Whew!



The bible very clearly says that football is a sin

Dec 23rd, 2008 12:17 pm | By

The Saddlesore church on homosexuality.

The Bible very clearly says that homosexuality is a sin…[E]ven if some physical difference were discovered, it would be no excuse for sin. We know that some people can develop a stronger physical addiction to alcohol than others, but that’s obviously no excuse for living an alcoholic lifestyle…It’s not judgmental to say that what the Bible calls a sin is a sin, that’s just telling the truth.

Actually, no, it’s not. To say that what the bible calls a sin is a sin is not telling the truth at all; it’s propagating a delusion, and to say that homosexuality is a sin is propagating a harmful dangerous immoral delusion. ‘Sin’ is not a meaningful concept, and the bible is not a reliable source for much of anything, and it’s childishly obscurantist to pretend otherwise. Yet this guy is playing an important part in the inauguration – of someone from the non-theocratic party. He’s being taken seriously, even though he think an old work of fiction and poetry is a reliable source of knowledge about what is a ‘sin.’ What a tragic joke.



Seasonal thoughts

Dec 23rd, 2008 11:55 am | By

Polly Toynbee muses on religion.

Labour has encouraged the power of the religions to a remarkable degree, consulting them on endless committees. To be an atheist is now unacceptable in a political leader: when Nick Clegg confessed his non-belief, he had to recant and re-define himself as an “agnostic”…Expect a worsening clash in the new Equality Commission between religious rights and gay and women’s rights.

As the pope and the guy from Saddlesore church are merrily performing even as we speak. Gay rights? What gay rights? Homosexuality is a sin and don’t you forget it. Being a woman isn’t exactly a sin, but it sure as hell is not the way to get to be head of a church and tell everyone what to do – so piss off with your rights.



The churches answered criticism in the past with murder

Dec 21st, 2008 12:30 pm | By

Anthony Grayling murmurs a few gentle words to the anti-secularism crowd.

In the last few years secular liberals have been uncompromising in what they say about religion, and the targets of their criticism have squealed and complained as loudly as if they felt real flames licking round their feet. The churches answered criticism in the past with murder; if they still had the upper hand would they now restrict themselves to their critics’ choice of weapon – words?

Judging by what the churches and mosques do in parts of the world where they still have the upper hand, the answer is No.

[T]he religious persistently ask for special treatment: public money for their “faith-based” schools, seats in the House of Lords, exemption from laws inconvenient to their prejudices, and so endlessly on. They even have the cheek to ask for “respect” for their silly and antiquated beliefs; and in Geneva at the Human Rights Council the Islamic countries are trying to subvert the Universal Declaration of Human Rights because it is inconvenient to their medieval, sexist, intolerant outlook…Believe what you like but don’t expect me to admire or excuse you because of it: rather the contrary, given the fairy-stories in question. And when you are a danger to the lives and liberties of others, which alas is too frequently the wont of your ilk, we will speak out against you as loudly, persistently, and uncompromisingly as we can.

Even if that means we sometimes have to speak out five or ten times every day.



Whatever your conscience tells you must be right

Dec 21st, 2008 11:57 am | By

How do Bush’s exciting new ‘conscience’ rules work, anyway? What exactly do they rule in, and out? Are there any limits? I haven’t seen any mentioned in the news coverage so far.

Well I suppose I’ll just have to look at the rules themselves – though not all 132 pages of them if I can help it. But judging by the Health and Human Services page on the subject, they haven’t ruled anything out. It’s just a matter of ‘conscience’ and ‘personal beliefs.’ So no matter what damn fool thing you believe, you have the ‘right’ to deny medical services to anyone and everyone as long as you announce that it’s a matter of your conscience. Worse than that, no matter what cruel unjust misogynist bigoted damn fool thing you believe, you have the same right.

How stupid is the Bush administration, exactly? What is going to prevent ‘devout’ Muslims from refusing to treat members of the opposite sex? Or refusing to treat women who are not wearing hijab? Or refusing to treat Jews? What is going to prevent ultra-Orthodox Jews from refusing to treat members of the opposite sex? What is going to prevent ‘devout’ Christians from refusing to treat homosexuals?

It doesn’t look as if that has even crossed their minds, but why wouldn’t it have? Do they think people inside American borders don’t act that way? But even if they were right about that – does it not occur to them that issuing what amounts to an open and warm invitation to act exactly that way might encourage people to do so? Does it not occur to them that ‘conscience’ can cover a lot of territory and that not all of it is anodyne? Does it not occur to them that even they might find a real theocracy a little uncomfortable to live in?