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.

There’s probably no bus

Oct 9th, 2011 10:47 am | By

Oxford Christians tell Dawkins where to get off.

In 2009, atheists in London paid for 200 adverts on the city’s buses, declaring: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

Now Premier Christian Radio has paid for its own version on Oxford buses, after the distinguished evolutionary biologist turned down the chance to debate with Christian philosopher William Lane  Craig when he visits the city later in the month.

The new advert reads: “There’s probably no Dawkins. Now stop worrying and enjoy Oct 25th at the Sheldonian Theatre.”

The trouble with that as a witticism is that it isn’t true. It’s as if X taunts Y by saying “You flunked out of high school!” and Y returns the favor by saying the same thing, when in the first case it’s true and in the second case it isn’t. That’s one of the first things you learn as a child: when exchanging taunts with a sibling/cousin/friend/enemy you have to avoid that particular trap.

There are good reasons to think there is a Dawkins. I’ve seen him myself, I’ve exchanged a few words with him. I know other people who have talked to him. I’ve seen him on DVDs and YouTube, I’ve heard him on the radio and in podcasts, I have books he’s written. I don’t think Oxford University is deceived about his reality. That’s just a few of the good reasons to think there is a Dawkins.

God is very different in this respect. I’ve never seen God or exchanged words with it. I don’t know anyone who has. I don’t know of any reliable accounts of anyone who has – not one. All the purported information about God that I know of is in the form of stories or apologetics. I’ve never seen God on tv or You Tube or heard God on the radio or in podcasts. I have no books that God has written, though I have one it’s purported to have written (but is obviously written by a number of human beings). There are good reasons not to think God exists, and no good reasons to think God does exist. There are good reasons to think God doesn’t exist.

So the two ads are asymmetrical, you see. Because there are good reasons to think God doesn’t exist, the sentence ”There is probably no God” is not a daft sentence, while because there are good reasons to think Dawkins does exist, “There is probably no Dawkins” is a daft sentence.

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

Seen today in Trafalgar Square

Oct 8th, 2011 5:27 pm | By

Terry Glavin reports that Peter Tatchell went to a stoppers’ rally in Trafalgar Square today.

Attaboy Peter.

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

Libbruls unfair to evangelicals

Oct 8th, 2011 4:06 pm | By

Richard Bartholomew signs an open letter to Jim Wallis from writers about US religion and politics. The letter says

Dear Jim Wallis,

We are writing in response to your e-mail to the Sojourners list on September 29th, and your similar piece on The Huffington Post, in which you claim that “some liberal writers” — whom you do not name — are broad brushing evangelical Christians as “intellectually-flawed right-wing crazies with dangerous plans for the country.” You characterize unnamed writers — writers like us — as people who are “all too eager to discredit religion as part of their perennial habit and practice.” This charge is as unfair as it is unsubstantiated.

we are concerned that you have endorsed the essay by Mark I. Pinsky that appeared recently in USA Today. That piece attacked some of us by name and all of us by implication. Pinsky’s is but the latest in a series of prominently published smears against those of us who write about these subjects and their ties to powerful political interests. We are disturbed that you would cheer on these ad hominem attacks.

Finally, Pinsky tries to blame much of the published criticism of these elements of evangelicalism on left-wing Jews. We, including the majority of us who are not Jews, view this as a transparent effort to intimidate Jewish writers. We are shocked that you are endorsing and promoting Pinsky’s attack on these writers, whose work is well-sourced and painstakingly researched.

We want to remind you that in his essay Pinsky goes so far as to compare the work of those four Jewish writers to some of the worst anti-Semitic smears in history, including false claims that Jews had “horns and tails, ate the blood of Christian children and poisoned the wells of Europe with plague.. [and] conspired to rule the world through our Protocols.”

Whatever one may think of any of our published work, the fact is that none of it is remotely analogous to the false claims in the various notorious anti-Semitic forgeries known as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Pinsky ‘s equation of the work of the writers he names with the Protocols is despicable.

We value honest disagreement and debate, and hope that you value these as well. Indeed, as writers we know how essential they are to clarifying and even resolving differences, correcting errors of fact — and dare we say, perspective. These are necessary ingredients for democracy itself. We invite you take issue with any specific facts or characterizations in our work. Then we will have something to talk about. But we will not be silent in the face of smears and intimidation tactics — which are so very far from the values of the faith traditions from which many of us hail, and the civic values of free speech and respect for religious pluralism that we all share.

We call on you to stop making false characterizations of our work and stop promoting the false characterizations of others. We also specifically ask that you rethink your support for Pinsky’s smear and withdraw it.

The letter is also signed by Barry Lynn and Rachel Tabachnick among others.

There are even more things wrong with Wallis’s article than the ones cited in the open letter.

Let me try to be clear as someone who is part of a faith community that is, once again, being misrepresented, manipulated, and maligned. Most people believe me to be a progressive political voice in America. And I am an evangelical Christian.

I believe in one God, the centrality and Lordship of God’s son Jesus Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit, the authority of the scriptures, the saving death of the crucified Christ and his bodily resurrection — not as a metaphor but a historical event. Yep, the whole nine yards.

I take him to be agreeing with the “most people” who consider him a progressive. The things he believes are incompatible with his being a progressive. That doesn’t necessarily mean he isn’t a progressive in some sense, just as a scientist “can” also be religious, but it does mean that his religious beliefs are in tension with his politics. That’s because what he believes is a matter of dogma and authority, and it includes “the Lordship” of Jesus. It’s hierarchical and it’s inherently arbitrary and thus authoritarian, because there is no good reason to believe any of that. Believing arbitrary authoritarian things for no good reason is not progressive.

I love my liberal church friends, but am more theologically conservative. I have many allies on the religious left, but I am not a member of it. I work closely with brothers and sisters of other faith traditions where we have common concerns, but I will never compromise the truth of my own faith.

Same again. It’s not “progressive” to think that way. The last ten words are inherently anti-progressive.

Millions of evangelicals are neither conservative Republicans, part of the Religious Right, nor members of the tea party, and they don’t believe that Christian “Dominionists” or any other religious group, should take over America — despite what a rash of recent articles and commentaries have said.

I wonder if he actually knows that, or just made it up. Millions? Really? How many millions? Two? Does anyone know that?

Now for Mark Pinsky’s article -

Though some of the writers hail from Brooklyn or Washington, D.C., the tone is what I’d call ”Upper West Side hysteric,” a reference to the fabled New York City neighborhood. The thrust of the writing is that these exotic wackos — some escaped from a theological and ideological freak show — are coming to take our rights and freedom.

Chief among these are books such as Michelle Goldberg’s Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, Rabbi James Rudin’s The Baptizing of America, and several titles by Sara Diamond.

These days, it’s hard to turn to liberal websites, public radio or MSNBC without encountering some “investigation” or “exposé” of a splinter, marginal figure, such as David Barton or John Haggee, from the evangelical world — followed by some tenuous if not tortured connect-the-dots link to a presidential or congressional candidate. Most recently, Rachel Tabachnick’s Web piece on the New Apostolic Reformation has generated ink and air.

I’m as left wing a Democrat as they come, and I have lived among and reported on evangelicals for nearly 20 years. Let me tell you, this sensational, misleading mishegas has got to stop.

Oh no it doesn’t. It’s not splinter or marginal enough to ignore. It’s not safe to ignore active theocrats.

If, as Jews, we replace the old caricature of hayseed fundamentalist mobs carrying torches and pitchforks with one of dark conspirators trying to worm their way back into political power at the highest levels, we run the risk of accusing them of doing to others what we are doing to them: demonizing. We didn’t like it when people said we had horns and tails, ate the blood of Christian children and poisoned the wells of Europe with plague, much less conspired to rule the world through our Protocols.

Nice – comparing investigative journalism with lies and forgeries.

With friends like Jim Wallis…you know the rest.

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

Ratzinger at home

Oct 8th, 2011 9:45 am | By

The pope talked to the Bundestag a couple of weeks ago, and according to the Iona Institute, his remarks went down a treat. The II says they gave him a two-minute standing ovation, as if he’d sung an aria or acted Hamlet.

(Why, one wonders? German boy made good? Big famous holy guy in gleaming white outfit? Name recognition? Why?)

His talk was the usual bullshit – the Catholic church had a great deal to do with the wonderful flawless perfect morality we have today, even though the morality we have today is quite different from the morality we had when the Catholic church had real power and didn’t hesitate to use it, and even though the pope spends a lot of his time and talk saying how bad and rotten the morality we have today is and what a crying shame the world doesn’t pay more attention to the Catholic church when it thinks about morality.

…he reminded MPs that our concept of human rights is ultimately derived from Christianity.

He said: “The conviction that there is a Creator God is what gave rise to the idea of human rights, the idea of the equality of all people before the law, the recognition of the inviolability of human dignity in every single person and the awareness of people’s responsibility for their actions.”

Really. Is that a fact. Then why was there no such thing as equality before the law during the many many centuries the church was in the ascendant? Why did the conviction that there is a Creator God fail to give rise to the recognition of the inviolability of human dignity in every single person the Spanish conquistadors bumped up against in the Americas? For that matter why did the conviction that there is a Creator God fail to give rise to the recognition of the inviolability of human dignity in every single child a Catholic priest ever encountered?

Ratzinger needs to stop telling other people to remember and ponder and think about things, and do some real thinking himself.

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

No bouquets are handed out to women alas

Oct 7th, 2011 6:24 pm | By

I learned of True Woman and Nancy Leigh DeMoss from Frank Schaeffer’s AlterNet article on Bachmann.

The irony was that Pride preached a dogmatic, stay-at-home, follow-your-man philosophy for other women while turning her lucrative homeschooling empire into a one-woman industry. So Pride may be added to the list of powerful women — like Michele Bachmann — who just love those “traditional roles” for other women. And Pride’s successor in the patriarchy movement, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, was also one of those do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do best-selling career women doing high-paid speaking gigs while encouraging other women to stay home and submit to their men.

Here is DeMoss at True Woman with a call to Biblical Womanhood

Due to the modern feminist revolution, the value of women has come to be equated with their roles in the community and in the marketplace. Relatively little value is assigned to women’s roles in the home.

Today, no bouquets are handed out to women for being reverent and temperate or modest and chaste or gentle and quiet. Women are rarely applauded for loving their husbands and children, for keeping a well-ordered home, for caring for elderly parents, for providing hospitality, or for carrying out acts of kindness, service, and mercy. In other words, little attention is paid to the kinds of accomplishment that the Word of God says women should aspire to (1 Timothy 5:10; Titus 2:3-5).

True. It’s also true that no bouquets are handed out to women or men for being good bus drivers or electricians or supermarket checkout clerks or farmers. Most people don’t get bouquets for what they do. Factory workers and coal miners and truck drivers are rarely applauded, too. Little attention is paid to the kinds of work that most people do.

As for what “the Word of God” says women should aspire to -

  1. It’s not “the Word of God.”
  2. It’s only two items out of a very long bible (which is not the word of god anyway).
  3. Timothy is apocryphal.
  4. Who cares what “God” is supposed to have said a long time ago?
  5. God is not the boss of me.

It’s all very well, but we simply aren’t going to limit ourselves to the domestic virtues.

The feminist revolution was supposed to bring women greater fulfillment and freedom. But I can’t help feeling a sense of sadness over what has been forfeited in the midst of the upheaval—namely, the beauty, the wonder, and the treasure of the distinctive makeup of women.

Oh, sure you can. Get over it. And if you want lashings of  the beauty, the wonder, and the treasure of the distinctive makeup of women, just watch one of those Real Housewives shows on Bravo. They’re full of it.

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

An inspiration

Oct 7th, 2011 12:01 pm | By

Via Libby Anne -

Couple pleads not guilty in homicide of adopted daughter

According to court documents, the couple’s adopted daughter, Hana Williams, 13, was systematically starved, beaten, forced to use an outdoor toilet and
sometimes locked in a dark closet for days by the Williams.

Hana Williams was found dead in May – naked, face-down in the mud in her own backyard – after she had spent much of a cold, rainy day outside as a punishment, according to court documents.

Although she died of hypothermia, there were other contributing causes to her death, including severe malnutrition and chronic gastritis, doctors said.

The Williams had adopted Hana from Ethiopia in 2008 as a diseased little girl to begin a new life in America.

Instead, according to court records, she was beaten, starved, forced to sleep in a barn at times and deprived of love and basic necessities.

Child Protective Services said there are reports that Hana had lost a
significant amount of weight before her death. And the night she died, she was
out in the yard naked on a rainy evening, with temperatures in the low 40s.

Further investigation revealed that Hana had a number of injuries on the
night she died, including a large lump on the head, bloody marks and injuries
“consistent with disciplinary impacts with a switch,” according to court
documents released Friday.

Those same documents describe the hellish life that Hana endured in the months before her death – which included systematic withholding of food, forced times outdoors in the cold or locked in a dark closet, interspersed with regular spankings or beatings with a plumbing tool.

In interviews with the parents and other children in the household, investigators determined that the Williams withheld food from Hana as a punishment for being “rebellious,” court documents say.


Hana also was forced to sleep in the barn on some nights or kept outside for hours in the cold without adequate clothing or shoes, court documents say – but she was allowed to wear shoes if there was snow on the ground.

The Williams also confirmed that they used a flexible plumbing tool as a switch to punish Hana and some of the other children in their household.

The children told investigators that Hana sometimes was beaten with a switch for standing more than 12 inches away from where she was told to stand or for speaking without permission.

The Williams’ older biological children were sometimes encouraged to join in administering the punishment by their parents.

Every refinement of horrible cruelty you can think of…for an adopted child…13 years old.

They got their ideas about child discipline from Michael Pearl.

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

We demonstrate a noble submission to authority

Oct 7th, 2011 11:30 am | By

Here’s a fun new thing to explore: True Woman.

It haz a manifesto.

We believe that the creation of humanity as male and female was a purposeful and magnificent part of God’s wise plan, and that men and women were designed to reflect the image of God in complementary and distinct ways.

We realize that we live in a culture that does not recognize God’s right to rule, does not accept Scripture as the pattern for life, and is experiencing the consequences of abandoning God’s design for men and women.

Scripture is God’s authoritative means of instructing us in His ways and it reveals His holy pattern for our womanhood, our character, our priorities, and our various roles, responsibilities, and relationships.

We glorify God and experience His blessing when we accept and joyfully embrace His created design, function, and order for our lives.

Men and women are both created in the image of God and are equal in value and dignity, but they have distinct roles and functions in the home and in the church.

We are called as women to affirm and encourage men as they seek to express godly masculinity, and to honor and support God-ordained male leadership in the home and in the church.

When we respond humbly to male leadership in our homes and churches, we demonstrate a noble submission to authority that reflects Christ’s submission to God His Father.

That one’s a real humdinger, isn’t it – when we pretend that men are the bosses of us, we demonstrate a “noble submission” – how can submission be noble? Have it both ways why don’t you. Did slaves demonstrate a noble submission when they responded humbly to white leadership? Did colonized peoples demonstrate a noble submission when they responded humbly to European leadership?

It’s disgusting pernicious wicked crap, that’s what it is, pretending there’s some sort of virtue in arbitrary hierarchies and in one set of people “submitting” to another set of people.

And what’s the point of “reflecting” Christ’s submission to “God His Father” or the Roman cops? You could say the same thing about the Jews who went to Auschwitz. They “submitted” because they had no option; did that reflect Christ’s submission to God His Father? If it did, why is that a good thing?

They’re in love with “authority,” these people.

Selfish insistence on personal rights is contrary to the spirit of Christ who humbled Himself, took on the form of a servant, and laid down His life for us.

So nobody should have any rights; everyone should just grovel to everyone, because Christ humbled himself. Is that it? No, because men are supposed to do the opposite of that. No, it’s just inferiors who are supposed to humble themselves. Women are inferiors.

God’s plan for gender is wider than marriage; all women, whether married or single, are to model femininity in their various relationships, by exhibiting a distinctive modesty, responsiveness, and gentleness of spirit.

As befits inferiors.

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

Bishops running wild

Oct 6th, 2011 5:34 pm | By

The Iona Institute tells us that the US  Conference of Catholic Bishops has set up a Committee for Religious Liberty. That’s very funny, in a sick kind of way. Here’s why: Catholic bishops don’t really give two shits about religious liberty as such; they care only about religious liberty for them.

The Catholic church is not a Millian kind of organization. It’s not a liberal organization. It’s not dedicated to or interested in liberty. It’s a ferociously authoritarian hierarchical organization with a body of “teachings” that it does its best to impose on as many people as it can reach.

The Catholic church has nothing to do with ideas about liberty and freedom, autonomy and independence, self-fashioning and self-reliance. It is not a friend to human concerns seen in human terms. It is devoted to a cult of a supernatural god and the supposed rules it issued to us 2000 years ago. The only reason the Catholic church has to mention “religious liberty” is because it has gotten itself into trouble with the law in many countries, and it’s anxious to preserve its privilege of ignoring laws and law enforcement. It wants to wrap itself in the flag of “religious liberty” so that all state actors will continue to let it do whatever it wants to.

The Iona Institute doesn’t report it that way, of course.

The news comes in the wake of moves by the Obama Administration to require insurance companies to fund contraceptive services, including sterilisation procedures and abortifacient drugs regardless of religious affiliation.

The only exemption permitted to religious organisations is if they serve only individuals of their own faith. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo criticised the exemption as being so narrow ‘that the Good Samaritan would not qualify’ because he helped someone not of his faith.

See? There it is. They want “their” hospitals and medical workers to be able to deny legal services and drugs to everyone on the grounds of their “religious affiliation.” That’s their idea of liberty: the liberty to cite invented gods to justify mindless opposition to contraception and abortion, and the refusal to provide them even when that’s part of their job.

And then there’s the outrageous violation of the bishops’ “religious liberty” represented by the Justice Department’s attitude to the “Defense of Marriage Act.”

The Justice Department’s attack on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), presenting DOMA’s support for traditional marriage as bigotry. In July, the Department started filing briefs actively attacking DOMA’s constitutionality, claiming that supporters of the law could only have been motivated by bias and prejudice. “If the label of “bigot” sticks to us-especially in court-because of our teaching on marriage, we’ll have church-state conflicts for years to come as a result,” Archbishop Dolan said.

Wrong verb there. Archbishop Dolan threatened.

Liberty. They shouldn’t be allowed to utter the word.

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

The Iona Institute’s stealth patriarchy

Oct 6th, 2011 11:18 am | By

It finds “experts” to say policies that benefit working women are “unfair” to “women who want to stay home with their children.”

Keynote speaker Dr  Catherine Hakim of the London School of Economics told the audience that social policies which assume all women want to work are unfair and act against the actual wishes of most women.

What about social policies that assume all men want to work? Is it only women who should benefit from social policies which assume some women don’t want to work? How about social policies that assume no one wants to work? Wouldn’t that be the fairest thing?

Swedish  social policy expert Jonas Himmelstrand told the audience that Sweden’s  experiment with daycare had failed. Swedish policy in this regard is  frequently held up as a model for other countries to follow.

Mr  Himmelstrand said: “Sweden is the pioneering nation in comprehensive  highly subsidized daycare, a model which was put into practice 35 years  ago. Today a full 92pc of all 18 month to 5 year olds are in daycare.”

However, while Sweden topped many statistics, including welfare with low child  poverty, high life expectancy, low infant mortality and an admired  social welfare system, in other areas the picture was not so bright, he  added.

Yes we know, it gets dark way early there in winter.

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

Not to defend the Catholic Church but to smear the New atheists

Oct 6th, 2011 10:44 am | By

As long as we’re on the subject of Brendan O’Neill…let’s stay on it a little longer. I neglected him last year when he was making contorted attacks on critics of the pope and the Vatican. Allow me to make amends now.

He made a heavy-breathing correction to claims of how many priestly rapes there had been, then he explained why he did that.

Why point out these basic facts? Not to defend the Catholic Church, which  clearly has a sexual abuse problem, or to minimise the suffering of those  individuals who ”only” suffered being verbally abused, shown dirty photos or  fondled over their clothing by priests – all of those acts are abhorrent and  potentially punishable by law.

No, it is worth pointing out the reality of the extent of allegations against  the Catholic Church to expose the non-rationalist, anti-humanist underpinnings  of the current fashion for Catholic-baiting among the liberal, opinion-forming  classes. The wildly inaccurate claims suggest that modern atheism has zero interest in applying the tools of rational investigation and critical questioning, and is hellbent on using the politics of fear to invent a fantastical rape-happy ogre, in contrast to which it can pose as the pure defender of childlike innocence and integrity.

What a ridiculous specious malicious perverse claim. The people who oppose the Catholic church’s habit of protecting child-molesting priests are not doing anything anti-humanist. It is the Catholic church’s habit of protecting child-molesting priests that is anti-humanist. Opposing that habit is not “Catholic-baiting” and it’s sheer demagoguery to say it is. It’s not just atheists who oppose that habit – at least I certainly hope it’s not, for the sake of the self-respect of non-atheists – and opposing the habit is hardly slam-dunk evidence of zero interest in applying the tools of rational investigation and critical questioning. As for the politics of fear – really? It’s “atheists” who go in for that in contrast to the Catholic church? Please. And spare us the crap about “the pure defender of childlike innocence and integrity”; there’s no need for sentimentalism about children to think they shouldn’t be sexually abused by adults in positions of ulitmate power.

What a crappy crappy thing to do – defend the sinister self-interested self-protecting thugs and smear the people who would like to make them stop the thuggery. What a shameful toady Brendan O’Neill is.

In the past, it was the Catholic Church, especially during the Inquisition,  which demonised its enemies as depraved perverts. Now, the so-called New  Atheists have adopted these tactics in their drive to depict religion as the  greatest evil of our age.

Shameful. Toady.

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

“Secularism” in Turkey

Oct 6th, 2011 8:55 am | By

Burak Bekdil explains why Turkish secularism isn’t.

A majority of Turks, Sunni Muslims, overtly or covertly believe that they should be “more equal” than the others because they constitute the majority. They think that it is their natural right to enjoy preferential treatment in terms of governance and law enforcement. Remember how the crowds in Istanbul last year, trying to attack the Israeli consulate, shouted at the police who were trying to prevent bloodshed? “Leave the Jews to us! What kind of Muslims are you?” A simple search will produce thousands of examples of this nature unveiling the conscious or subconscious desire of the Sunni Turk for preferential treatment in public administration.

It’s not unlike the US that way. A great many Christians in the US also believe that they should be “more equal” than the others because they constitute the majority.

Most recently, the Istanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office charged a cartoonist with “insulting the religious [Muslim] values adopted by a part of the population [Muslim],” demanding that the artist receive up to a year in prison in its indictment. That cartoon may or may not insult part of the population. And yes, blasphemy laws are not exclusively Turkish. But a state, or in this case, law enforcement, that is equal to all faiths should ensure that similar cases are opened against, say, the Sunni majority when they insult, say, other monotheistic or atheist parts of the population. Can anyone imagine a Muslim Turk having to stand trial for writing a book that insults atheists?

Secularism combined with a healthy respect for free speech combined with an ability to live with perceived “insults” to beliefs and ideas would be the way to go.

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

Insulting the religious values

Oct 6th, 2011 8:14 am | By

Oh noes, a cartoonist did a cartoon. Call the cops!

A Turkish cartoonist will be put on trial for a caricature he drew in which he renounced god, daily Habertürk reported on its website Wednesday.

The Istanbul chief public prosecutor’s office charged cartoonist Bahadır Baruter with “insulting the religious values adopted by a part of the population” and requested his imprisonment for up to one year.

A mild and liberal response.

Baruter’s caricature depicted an imam and believers praying in a mosque. One of the characters is talking to God on his cellphone and asking to be pardoned from the last part of the prayer because he has errands to run.

Within the wall decorations of the mosque, Baruter hid the words, “There is no Allah, religion is a lie.” The cartoon was published in the weekly “Penguen” humor magazine.

And some bossy controlfreak pious meddling Fans of Allah filed complaints. No cartoons for you, no jokes for you, no irony about religion or praying or gods for you. Shut up and kneel.


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

New atheists think people are just monkeys so nyah

Oct 5th, 2011 5:41 pm | By

Frequent commenter Sigmund alerted me to another entity crying out for scrutiny and derision: the Iona Institute, an Irish “institute” (can any old thing call itself an institute? The Faraday Institute, the Tobacco Institute, the Iona Institute – are there any gates, any gatekeepers? is it just anarchy around here?) dedicated to saying how great the Catholic church is.

The amusing thing (amusing in a rebarbative kind of way) is that the Iona Institute invited dear auld Brendan O’Neill to give a talk, and he obliged. From Trotskyist splinter group to libertarian “contrarian” faitheist pope-cheering what-the-hell-is-that – that’s Spiked and its editor Brendan O’Neill. So the Trotskyist libertarian pope-fan told the Iona Institute…you’ll never guess what. That’s it’s all the fault of The New Atheism.

O’Neill, who also writes for The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph among other publications, said [there] was widespread antagonism “towards strong belief or solid faith”.

He said: “In our relativistic era of ‘anything goes’, when we are expected to respect all cultures as equally valid, a religion that considers itself the ‘one, true faith’ and as ‘universal’, is looked upon as dictatorial if not fascistic.”

Yes that’s right. A religion that considers itself the ‘one, true faith’ and ‘universal’ is bound to consider itself entitled – indeed mandated – to impose that ‘one, true, universal faith’ on everyone. Since Catholicism is not “true” in any sense that matters, that imposition is as dictatorial as it gets.

Speaking about the New Atheism, he said: “The New Atheism regards not only religious faith but any view which considers mankind as more than a monkey as suspect, strange, deluded.”

Well that’s just a stupid falsehood.

He continued: “New Atheists’ real problem with religion is its treatment of mankind as special and distinctive, as the governor of the Earth, as having ‘dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and every other living thing that moves on the Earth’.

No it isn’t. That’s one problem, especially when it’s the kind of “dominion” that entails treating all other living things as human property to do with as it likes, but it’s not “the real problem” – there are lots of real problems, many of them worse (at least from the human point of view) than that one.

“At a time when we are increasingly seen as mere bundles of genes, little more than DNA, sharing 90 per cent of our genes with bananas, religion’s sanctification of man is seen as perverse.”

Religion’s what?! Religion doesn’t “sanctify” humans – religion scolds atheists and humanists for focusing on human beings instead of imaginary gods; religion tells human beings they can’t understand god’s ways and reasons so they just have to obey; religions tells human beings they are nothing compared to god.

Concluding, he said: “The end result of the crashing together of these trends is a creeping and sometimes shrieking intolerance of Catholicism in particular, and religion in general. This has led even me – a lapsed Catholic and immoveable atheist – to worry about the illiberal streak to modern-day atheism, and to want to stand up for the absolute freedom of religion.

Funny that he decides to worry about the putative “illiberal streak to modern-day atheism” and not the well-known and very obvious illiberal streak in Catholicism. Chump.

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

Divination, not research

Oct 5th, 2011 12:23 pm | By

Frederick Crews has a fascinating pair of articles in the New York Review of Books on Freud’s cocaine addiction and its connection to his work.

According to the official version of Freud’s career, sexuality scarcely entered his mind as a topic of interest until, to his shock and embarrassment, it was forced upon him by his patients’ indecent confessions. His early psychological papers and his letters to Wilhelm Fliess, however, show just the opposite: it was a sex-obsessed Freud who tried to harangue those patients into admitting that they harbored the perverse desires and guilty secrets that were already on his mind. But when and why had sexual issues become paramount for him? His surviving letters from adolescence are those of a moralizing, misogynistic prude,  and the same qualities appear in his early engagement letters, beginning in 1882.

Perhaps the best-known result of taking cocaine is sexual disinhibition.

Crews makes a compelling case that the cocaine use and the sex-obsession are connected. And then there’s the grandiosity…

[T]hanks to Fleischl’s exhilarating influence and to his own solitary cocaine ingestion, Freud was beginning to feel that a choice was looming between directly intuitive, audacious knowledge and narrowly focused laboratory science. Returning from one nocturnal rendezvous with a suffering but voluble Fleischl, he wrote excitedly of “the intellectual elation, the stimulation and clarification of so many opinions,” and added,  “This magic world of intellect and unhappiness contributes a great deal, of course, to my estrangement from my surroundings.”

Given the well-known touchiness and grandiosity of habitual cocaine users, it is hard to avoid the inference that the drug contributed to the subsequent prominence of the contentious, self-dramatizing, and persecution-minded side of Freud’s personality.

Already by 1886, then, Freud was displaying premature certainty, impatience with methodological safeguards, truculence, and a belief that he was destined for great things. Those weren’t traits that blossomed after he developed psychoanalysis and felt a need to defend it. They were the very engine of invention.

Guru attributes, you might call them. Dunning Kruger for the gifted.

The use of cocaine favored a certain manner of thinking—associative, self-confirming, visionary, and all-explanatory—that was inappropriate to the traditional practice of science and medicine but well suited to the original mode of inquiry that Freud increasingly favored…Freud’s psychoanalytic inquiries put into play a deliberate lowering of his empirical guard: suspending skepticism, ignoring the judgments of his peers, and ascribing cryptic meaning to his own presumptive memories and to words tendentiously plucked from his clients’ rambling. If a metaphor or a suggestive pun came to his own mind, he would assume it had emanated from his patient’s unconscious and that it constituted evidence for whatever supposition he was favoring at the time. And, still more self-indulgently, he believed that such insight gave him veridical access to the patient’s traumatic past. That was divination, not research, and it entailed the same erasure of commonsense boundaries that occurs in drug states.

People who are convinced they know things that they can’t possibly know – they never cease to amaze me. It’s interesting to learn that it’s like a cocaine high.

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

Far from being in thrall?

Oct 5th, 2011 11:05 am | By

Is secularism really winning in the US?

The US is increasingly portrayed as a hotbed of religious fervour. Yet in the homeland of ostentatiously religious politicians such as Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, agnostics and atheists are actually part of one of the fastest-growing demographics in the US: the godless. Far from being in thrall to its religious leaders, the US is in fact becoming a more secular country, some experts say. “It has never been better to be a free-thinker or an agnostic in America,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the FFRF.

Well, it depends on what you mean by “in thrall” and “fast becoming” and the like. It also depends on what you mean by ”a hotbed of religious fervour” and “the homeland of ostentatiously religious politicians.” In other words it’s some of both. The US is becoming a more secular country in some ways, but it’s also becoming a less secular country in other ways. The US is in thrall to its religious leaders in the sense that religious zealots get elected to public office, including high public office, and several are running for president, with considerable success so far. The fact that agnostics and atheists are part of  growing demographic doesn’t rule out the fact that religious leaders entrance many people.

The exact number of faithless is unclear. One study by the Pew Research Centre puts them at about 12% of the population, but another by the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College in Hartford puts that figure at around 20%.

Most experts agree that the number of secular Americans has probably doubled in the past three decades – growing especially fast among the young. It is thought to be the fastest-growing major “religious” demographic in the country.

Good, good, but that still leaves a lot of people. The article goes on to admit that.

Yet there is little doubt that religious groups still wield enormous influence in US politics and public life, especially through the rightwing of the Republican party. Groups such as Focus on the Family are well-funded and skilful lobbyists.

However, it is still a brave US politician who openly declares a lack of faith. So far just one member of Congress, Californian Democrat Pete Stark, has admitted that he does not believe in God.

Well quite. We’re making progress, but it’s a mistake to exaggerate it.

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

Meeting in Oslo

Oct 4th, 2011 5:42 pm | By

Narendra Nayak has an article in Nirmukta about his experiences at the Humanist Congress in Oslo – which included getting - to his great surprise – an award for distinguished service to humanism, and getting his picture taken with one of Freethought Blogs’ overlords (who also got such an award, also to his surprise).


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

Test of honesty

Oct 4th, 2011 12:03 pm | By

Despite profound disagreements about elevatorism and its fallout, I can’t ignore useful investigations of the Templeton Foundation and similar at Why Evolution is True, like today’s post on Templeton’s ridiculous stealth “Faraday Institute” and its hot new “Test of Faith” project.

The “Test of Faith” project has a Study Guide. The study guide has an introduction. The introduction explains things.

The challenge that has been put forward so many times recently is that God is a delusion and science has removed the need for faith in anything. But there are many practising scientists who have a sincere Christian faith, even at the highest levels of academia. They have all been trained to think and test ideas to the limit. If their faith and their science are both genuine searches for truth, we need to hear from them.

Yes if; but are they?

No, they’re not; not in the same sense. Claiming they are is equivocation; it depends on treating different meanings as if they were the same. Science’s search for truth is not the same kind of thing as “faith”‘s search for truth. The criteria are different. The willingness to admit failure and error is different. The expectation of evidence is different. The very definition of truth is different.

Why bother thinking about science and faith?Ask two or three friends, family members or colleagues if they can think of a situation where science and religion (or beliefs) affect each other. What issues or questions arise?For example, what about:

In medicine? (Religious beliefs often affect ethical decisions.)

In education? (Children sometimes ask questions like ‘Who made human beings, God or evolution?

In politics? (E.g., the Archbishop of Canterbury is campaigning on climate change.)

Ah yes the archbish is campaigning on climate change…and the pope is campaigning on (i.e. against) condoms, secularism, reporting of priestly child rape to law enforcement, ordination of women, all abortions including pregnancies in which the fetus would die anyway and so would the mother. Funny that Templeton/Faraday/Test of Faith picks an example of right-on campaigning as opposed to the other kind.

Never trust a Templeton creation.

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

Without religion

Oct 3rd, 2011 11:52 am | By

One important step away from theocracy.

The court ruling last week that granted the writer Yoram Kaniuk the right to be registered with the Interior Ministry as “without religion” rather than as Jewish, is a step in the direction of separation of religion and state. Such is the view of Irit Rosenblum, who heads the New Family organization, which favors making civil marriage more easily available in the country.

Currently Jewish Israelis can only marry other Jews in the country under the auspices of the Orthodox rabbinate. A law was passed last year that allows civil unions and considers them as marriage for all intents and purposes – but only under special, limited circumstances in which both parties are registered as having no religion. The legislation was criticized for not allowing people to marry in a religious ceremony because they are not of the same religion, and for not allowing people who do not want a religious ceremony to get married in Israel.

God’s messengers meddle with people’s lives again.

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

If you start now to let women drive, let them go wherever they want…

Oct 3rd, 2011 10:08 am | By

So, Nawwaf, tell us why you think women should not drive – or rather, tell us why you think “we” should not “let” “them” drive.

If you start now to let women drive, let them go wherever they want, let them do whatever they want, we will be in the same position some day. Then Saudi Arabia will be like New York.

It’s not good for some girl to show her body, wear very short skirts. This
is not about Saudi Arabia, it’s about Islam. We’ve got a generation who were
raised watching Gossip Girls and other series. They only want to be
like that, dress like that, drive like that. It’s not about need.

Now it’s driving. After five years it will be taking off the abaya, after 10 years they will ask to be allowed to wear short skirts. This is how it’s going, that is how I feel.

Because we are we, and we get to decide what they are allowed to do. They are just they, so they don’t get to “go wherever they want”; they have to get our permission for everything.

I believe it will hurt our community. I understand the US traditions and I
respect them so other people, outsiders, need to understand our traditions and
respect them.

Our traditions – not theirs, of course. We decide and permit, they ask and obey.

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

A ruling of historic proportions

Oct 2nd, 2011 5:37 pm | By

This is huge.

After brief deliberations on the eve of last week’s Rosh Hashanah holiday, a Tel Aviv judge ruled that Israeli author Yoram Kaniuk could register his official religious status as “without religion.”

“Freedom from religion is a freedom derived from the right to human dignity, which is protected by the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom,” Judge Gideon Ginat of the Tel Aviv District Court wrote in his unusual ruling.  

“This is a ruling of historic proportions,” Kaniuk said to Haaretz yesterday, with audible emotion. “The court granted legitimacy to every person to live by their conscience in this land, in ruling that human dignity and freedom means a person can determine their own identity and definition. In this way I can be without religion but Jewish by nationality. I am so thrilled,” Kaniuk said.

In May Kaniuk asked the court to order the Interior Ministry to allow him “to be liberated from the Jewish religion” by changing his “religion” entry in the Population Registry from “Jewish” to “without religion.” The ministry had refused his earlier request.

In his petition, Kaniuk explained that he had no wish to be part of a “Jewish Iran” or to belong to “what is today called the religion of Israel.”

A historic step. Well done Judge Ginat.

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