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.

Definitely disgusting Bren

Mar 14th, 2012 9:18 am | By

More showoffy pseudo-knowing ”contrarianism” from Brendan O’Neill. This time it’s the daring dangerous idea that libbruls don’t give a shit about gay marriage itself, they just like having a shibboleth to filter out the unhip masses.

The speed and ease with which gay marriage has gone from being a tiny minority concern to become the No 1 battle in the modern culture wars has been truly remarkable – and revealing.

What it suggests is that gay marriage is more a tool of the elite than it is a demand of the demos. The thing motoring the gay-marriage campaign, its political engine, is not any longstanding desire among homosexuals to get married or an active, passionate demand from below for the right of men to marry men and women to marry women. No, its driving force, the reason it has been so speedily and heartily embraced by the political and media classes, is because it is so very useful as a litmus test of liberal, cosmopolitan values. Supporting gay marriage has become a kind of shorthand way of indicating one’s superiority over the hordes, particularly those of a religious or redneck persuasion.

Notice, first, how lightly and unapologetically he moves from “it suggests that” to ”is.” Notice the initial admission that he’s interpreting as opposed to drawing on actual knowledge, and then notice how quickly and completely he abandons that polite caution for the comfortable note of certainty and its attendant air of omniscience. Then notice how sneery and condescending the whole thing is. We could all do the same thing with him, couldn’t we – what Brendan O’Neill’s relentlessly illiberal commentary suggests is that he loves attention.

More important, third, notice that it doesn’t matter. Even if he’s right, it doesn’t matter; even if people support gay marriage for trendy self-regarding reasons, it doesn’t matter, because it’s still the case that there’s no good secular reason to forbid it in law and there are plenty of good secular reasons to allow it. Notice that it does make a real difference to real people. Notice that all this patronizing palm-reading is in aid of rebuking a move that would make a lot of people’s lives better and hurt no one.

The use of gay marriage as a platform from which to announce one’s superior moral sensibilities can be seen in the way that its backers, those ostensibly liberal reformers, look down with undiluted snobbery upon their critics and opponents. Those who are against gay marriage, whether it is Catholic bishops or conservative politicians, are not seen simply as old-fashioned or wrong-headed, but as morally circumspect, possibly even evil.

Morally circumspect? What can he have meant? Compromised? How sad, and how sad that the piece is a week old and no one has corrected that. Not very circumspect of them. But anyway – this is the bit where O’Neill gets downright perverse. Catholic bishops and conservative politicians are the kind of powerless disadvantaged marginalized people who are the victims of snobbery? Are you kidding me? Here’s a newsflash for Brendan O’Neill: Catholic bishops and conservative politicians have power, lots of it. They have the kind of real power that can fuck up or improve people’s lives. In the case of the bishops, the power is wholly illegitimate, unaccountable, and theocratic. It’s typical spiked/Institute of Ideas absurdity to try to paint them as the disadvantaged proles being bullied by the libbrul elites.

The bizarre emptying-out of political debate from the issue of gay marriage, and its transformation instead into a clear-cut moral matter that separates the good from the bad, shows what its backers really get out of it – a moral buzz, a rush of superiority as they declare, to anyone who will listen, that they are For Gay Marriage. In this sense, supporting gay marriage has become less a declaration of truly democratic instincts and more a kind of provocation. In declaring your support for gay marriage, you can provoke both fusty old religionists and the backward masses into expressions of disagreement or disgruntlement, and then bask in the glow of your own superior, better-informed outlook.

This is the reason gay marriage has become so central to modern political debate in America and Britain, despite there being almost no societal drive or urge behind it – because it lends itself brilliantly to expressions of a very elitist sensibility. It allows the upper echelons of society both to distance themselves from the old and the thick and to advertise their own mental, cultural and moral superiority.

Disgusting man. Playing stupid footling games with other people’s rights – and accusing other people of basking “in the glow of your own superior, better-informed outlook” in the process! He’s disgusting.

Update: forgot to h/t Sigmund.

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

Does truth matter?

Mar 13th, 2012 3:33 pm | By

Another chapter of Heathen’s Progress from Julian. The gist is that atheism is currently overcompensating for the stupid idea that atheism is nihilism and despair, by claiming that atheism is chocolates and a stipulated number of either raisins or virgins, and that this is a bad move because life can be shit and godlessness can’t help much with that.

Atheists have to live with the knowledge that there is no salvation, no redemption, no second chances. Lives can go terribly wrong in ways that can never be put right. Can you really tell the parents who lost their child to a suicide after years of depression that they should stop worrying and enjoy life? Doesn’t the appropriate response to 4,000 children dying everyday as a direct result of poor sanitation involve despair at the relentless misery of the world as well as some effort to improve things? Sometimes life is shit and that’s all there is to it.

Yes, but there’s an extra step there. The parents who lost their child to a suicide after years of depression may find the belief that god will redeem it all later a comfort…but then again they may find the belief that god allowed it to happen, or worse, deliberately caused it to happen, the opposite of a comfort. You can’t have the first without the ever-present risk of the second. That’s the big trap in theism: it can always turn on you. That can be far worse than thinking life is shit. It’s a nightmare idea, and it’s something atheists don’t have to fear. (Or not much. I suppose there’s always the possibility of a late or deathbed conversion to the belief that there is a god and it enjoys torturing us…but without the wishful thinking motivation, it seems pretty remote. Gnostics do believe that but they also believe that there’s a good god, outside the world with all its badness.)

Stressing the jolly side of atheism not only glosses over its harsher truths, it also disguises its unique selling point. The reason to be an atheist is not that it makes us feel better or gives us a more rewarding life. The reason to be an atheist is simply that there is no God and we would prefer to live in full recognition of that, accepting the consequences, even if it makes us less happy. The more brutal facts of life are harsher for us than they are for those who have a story to tell in which it all works out right in the end and even the most horrible suffering is part of a mystifying divine plan. If we don’t freely admit this, then we’ve betrayed the commitment to the naked truth that atheism has traditionally embraced.


I’m not sure that’s quite right. Suppose instead of “simply that there is no God and we would prefer to live in full recognition of that” we swapped “that there is a malevolent torturing God and we would prefer to live in full recognition of that” – would the claim still be true? I have my doubts. I think getting these things right is important, but then in a way that’s relatively easy, because it doesn’t involve “full recognition” that we’re the puppets of a monster. If getting things right meant full recognition that we are to god as fleas are to humans, I’m not a bit sure I would be very keen on getting things right.

Atheism is about getting things right but it’s also about getting free of a bossy demanding god invented by other humans. If it weren’t about that, it would (surely) be less attractive. (Less attractive than what? It’s not all that attractive in the US, is it! No it’s not, but I’m pointing out a way it could be even less attractive, and less attractive even to people who like atheism as commonly understood.)

So I’m not sure it’s really true that to be an atheist is simply that there is no God and we would prefer to live in full recognition of that. I think that’s part of it, but also that it’s combined with the fact that no-god is vastly less horrible and frightening than evil-god.

It’s a slightly disconcerting thought. If there were an evil god running the show, and if that were an obvious undeniable fact – a properly basic belief, as you might say – then I might well be a big fan of obstinate wishful thinking.

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

Is she doing her job in a satisfactory fashion?

Mar 13th, 2012 12:06 pm | By

Jerry Coyne has an interesting post about Jennifer Wiseman, who heads the  “Dialogue on Science, Religion, and Ethics” (DoSER) program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the largest scientific organization in the world.

I was recently informed (by someone likely to know) that the top people at AAAS are all Christians. I didn’t realize this – or possibly I once did and forgot it.

As I’ve posted before, DoSER is sponsored by not only the AAAS, but by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Smithsonian Institution. These are government organizations, so some of your tax dollars may be going to support a brand of theology. And, of course, the whole shebang is funded by the Templeton Foundation to the tune of 5.3 million dollars.

Not just a brand of theology but a particular, and bad, epistemology. Tax dollars are going to support claims that “faith” can know things just as science can know things, but by a different methodology or “way.” Really. If that claim is true, then it would seem reasonable for tax dollars to finance bridges built according to faith, medical research conducted according to faith, agricultural technology discovered by faith. Tax dollars pretty much don’t do that though (except when they do, as with “complementary” medicine). Why is that? Because “faith” is not in fact a way of knowing. Therefore, tax dollars shouldn’t be used to support claims that it is. Lying should be left to the private sphere.

DoSER is headed by Dr. Jennifer Wiseman, Senior Project Scientist in charge of the NASA Hubble Space Telescope, and, notably, the former head and now Executive Board member of the American Scientific Affiliation,  an association of evangelical Christian scientists.   The organization is pretty hard-line, for it takes some bizarre stands for an organization of scientists, especially one that includes Wiseman with her AAAS program meant to reconcile the truths of modern science with the beliefs of the faithful.  The problem is that the ASA doesn’t seem to accept those truths:

  • According to their website, “The ASA has no official position on evolution; its members hold a diversity of views with varying degrees of intensity.”

A “diversity of views”? With “degrees of intensity”? It’s all about holding views with degrees of intensity, and nothing to do with cumulative evidence? It’s just a matter of opinion? That’s the kind of faithy stuff that’s totes compatible with science?

JC sums up:

[Either Wiseman should] resign from the ASA, or the AAAS should find someone less embarrassing to head their accommodationist program. Actually, they should deep-six this execrable Templet0n-funded program, for its science “outreach” explicitly endorses a form of theology.

A very odd comment says

I cannot resist. Disclaimer: I am not a Christian. Questions:

(1) Is Wiseman performing her duties at NASA in a satisfactory and secular fashion?

(2) Do her religious beliefs literally interfere (not presumed, suspected or anticipated)with those duties?

If “yes” and “no”, where is the “disgrace” and why the prurient interest in her personal beliefs, writings and activities?

NASA has nothing to do with anything, but let’s assume it was a typo for AAAS; the comment is still very odd. No, of course Wiseman is not performing her duties at AAAS in a satisfactory and secular fashion; that’s the point. You can’t advance science by promoting a worthless epistemology. You can’t advance science in a secular fashion by promoting a worthless epistemology on the grounds that it is religious and therefore special and different but nonetheless reliable. You can’t advance science by running a program that says it’s compatible with bullshit. That doesn’t advance science.

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


Mar 13th, 2012 10:34 am | By

More about QED later, but meanwhile, something I missed while packing – Afghanistan’s Ulema Council issued a statement outlining “the rights and duties of women under Islam” and Karzai backed it. Heather Barr of Human Rights Watch reports:

The statement said some good things. It prohibited a traditional practice of giving a girl to another family to resolve a dispute (“baad”). It spoke against forced marriage. It confirmed women’s rights to inherit and own property.

On women’s duties, however, the statement took a turn for the worse: Women should not travel without a male chaperone. Women should not mix with men while studying, or working, or in public. Women must wear the Islamic hijab. Women are secondary to men.
The last item is the most striking one, in a way, if only because the others are already familiar. Clerics and their stooges in other religions have learned not to admit that that last item is what underpins all the others; they pretend to think and affirm that women are equal to men but complementary, as opposed to unequal to men because “secondary.” They don’t mean a word of it, but they’ve learned to say it. Ulema Councils haven’t, and don’t plan to.

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

Nope, still too strident

Mar 13th, 2012 8:07 am | By

Now to tell you all about it. I realize the one place-holding “post” I did on the subject was just that, a place-holder. There was no need for the slightly acid comment telling me so.

I think I’ll do it in parts, and not necessarily in chronological order. So I think I’ll start with Sunday, with late Sunday morning. I did a panel with Maryam and D. J. Grothe, moderated (and also participated in by [yes you can end a clause with not one but two prepositions]) Paula Kirby. It was both fun and interesting. When it was over people drifted up to the table to talk, and among them was my good friend whom I had never met, Author of Jesus and Mo. I was expecting him, because we’d talked about it beforehand, but I naturally couldn’t mention it publicly beforehand. Paula took us out to lunch along with Rhys and Paul Morgan. (Alas Maryam had disappeared, no doubt to prepare for her talk in a post-lunch slot.) I felt a bit self-pinchy the whole time. I spent most of January blogging about J and M and much of that time blogging about Rhys-and-JandM.

(You know, FTB is about to add a very exciting blogger. No no not Author, not Rhys, not Paula – not anyone I’ve mentioned. But very exciting. Now is not a good time for you to wander far. Stay tuned.)

Author and I went to Maryam’s talk, which was great (as I knew it would be). One of her illustrations was the latest J and M, which Author was surprised to see; he took a picture with his phone. That was another self-pinchy moment – here’s me and Author at Maryam’s talk and there are J and M on the screen and here’s Author taking a picture of his own strip and Maryam talking about it.


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

Get me, I have a hand

Mar 13th, 2012 5:38 am | By

I’m back. I had a sensational time. Here’s a photo I saw via Twitter of me telling everyone what’s what.

Update: the photo is Adam Lappin’s; he has a whole post on the talk, along with posts on many other QED talks. (No one person can have posts on all of them because there were usually two going on at once.)

It occurs to me that it may not be strictly necessary to wear one’s badge while giving a talk. Typical. One minute I forget to take it with me and have to go back to 1224 to get it, the next minute I’m wearing it in the shower. You just can’t get it right, can you Basil.

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


Mar 10th, 2012 11:11 am | By

Saturday, just after 6 in the evening. I gave my talk at 1. Met Maryam last night, also Paula Kirby, and Rhys Morgan, and Alex Gabriel.

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

Good morning from Manchester

Mar 9th, 2012 1:16 am | By

I am here.

The clouds broke up enough on the short flight to Manchester so that I could get a good look at the Pennines – they’re beautiful!

Manchester Town Hall lives up to its reputation. Also there’s Sackville Hall, part of the University of Manchester, just across the canal from the central downtown area – some drop-dead gorgeous Victoriana. The doors were locked (it was after 6) so I couldn’t go in to gape at the amazing stained glass and ceiling decorations; I plan to go back today and do that.

Geoff and Rick took me along to their Skeptics in the Pub yesterday evening – an excellent talk on Burzynski. Unfortunately the jet lag kicked in and I kept falling asleep – but now that I’m not exhausted any more I’m glad I went.

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

The mountain is out

Mar 7th, 2012 4:56 pm | By

Lucky you: another pointless I’m at the airport post. Can’t be helped – I was early, having over-estimated how long it takes via bus-and-train (despite having done it before), and the plane is running half an hour late. I just saw it pull in, as a matter of fact.

But I’m not fussed. I was very calm and un-irritable all the way here, and I still am. I’m in a very peaceful sitting area with chairs and tables and a killer view of Mount Rainier, which is on view today despite general cloudiness. (Rainier is seldom on view, and Seattleites tend to notice when it is.)

SeaTac is being a great deal pleasanter than LAX was.

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

Anoint all the roads with holy oil

Mar 7th, 2012 10:48 am | By

Almost time to leave for Manchester (well not really almost – about four hours). Meanwhile, some more detail about Orlando.

One of the first talks was EllenBeth Wachs, who explained what’s been going on in Polk County, Florida. Theocracy, that’s what. The mayor of Lakeland and the Polk County sheriff are involved in something called Polk Under Prayer.

They and others got together and anointed all the roads that border the county, announcing that non-believers should be either arrested or shoved out of the county.

EllenBeth is president of Florida Atheists; she wrote a letter to an official about an illegal transfer of sports equipment from a jail (publicly funded) to a church. She was arrested and handcuffed, and her two employees were held at gunpoint. She was arrested twice more. The details are lurid and horrible. Natalie Rothschild would do well to study them. The whole thing is both shocking and frightening.

Rita Swan gave a fantastic talk about her work to end religious exemptions for child health care.

There is a Victims page. One of them was Rita’s own child.

Lionel Tiger’s talk was in the afternoon. It was about “male original sin” – everything men do is bad in some way, now that feminism has turned everything upside down. Schools drug all the boys with Ritalin so that they sit there passively like girls. Plus there was the pill, which meant that when men went into bars, all the women were chemically pregnant, which is a turnoff. Plus women don’t have any use for men now. Plus some other things, all equally random. Plus women can just go out and get money and status any time they want to, and men can’t. Plus more random things.

This caused a good deal of rage, I found out afterwards. I found it kind of funny – I suppose because it seemed like such a parody, and so calculated to insult. But in sober truth, it was not a very good talk, because it had no structure at all. It was just some things, offered one after another, with no attempt to get from one to the next in any way other than jumping.

I have to go do some packing type things now.

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

True or false: atheism is the source of all evil

Mar 7th, 2012 9:40 am | By

More anti-atheist bullshit, this time from a college in Dublin. Michael Nugent explains.

Hibernia College Dublin, in its Higher Diploma in Arts in Primary Education, is teaching as part of its Religion module several untrue statements about atheism and at least two defamatory allegations about modern atheists. This includes course notes that claim that “What bothers very few of its latter-day exponents is the fact that atheist humanism produced the worst horrors history has ever witnessed, namely Nazism, Fascism and Marxism…” and a mock examination where the student is expected to answer that it is “True” that “Atheist humanism produced the worst horrors history has ever witnessed.”

The jaw drops. The eyes stare. The brain freezes.

Atheist Ireland sent a letter

to Hibernia College, the Minister for Education, the Higher Education and Training Awards Council; the Teaching Council; the Irish National Teachers Organisation; the Union of Students in Ireland; and selected politicians with an interest or responsibility in this area. We have already raised the matter with two Council of Europe delegations who are in Dublin this week monitoring Ireland’s record in protecting human rights. They are the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), and the Advisory Committee for the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM).

From the letter:

1. Hibernia College should not be teaching the disgraceful libel that very few modern atheists are bothered about the causes of the worst atrocities in history, and that we feel that anything is morally justified in the absence of gods. Nor should it be teaching untrue statements about atheism, such as atheism is a religion; atheism generally places its faith in some other absolute; atheism produced Nazism, Fascism and Communism; and atheism is not a benign force in history.

2. Hibernia College should not be setting online examination questions, presented in factual multiple choice format rather than discussion format, where the student is expected to answer that it is “True” that “Atheist humanism produced the worst horrors history has ever witnessed,” and that “Atheism has had, historically speaking, a negative effect on society.”

You would think that Hibernia College must be a Catholic school but in fact it’s not. It’s a nonreligious educational institution. Yet the geniuses at spiked tell us that atheists have a stupid victim-complex!

H/t Robin.



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

“Atheists are not being persecuted”

Mar 7th, 2012 8:54 am | By

Another pile of foetid dingo’s kidneys bashing atheists at spiked.

The title (not necessarily chosen by the author): God save us from atheist whining. The subtitle (ditto): A US campaign encouraging atheists ‘out of the closet’ is fuelled more by victim culture than secularist principles.

Says a UK publication, says a Swedish writer. I wonder if they really know enough about the US to be sure it’s a matter of “victim culture” as opposed to just plain victims. I wonder if they really know how bad it can get here. I wonder if they pause at all over this business of sneering from a distance at people who face very real persecution. I would urge them to refresh their memories on what happened to EllenBeth Wachs.

This idea that closet atheists need to be coaxed out into the open, and that they need to claim the right to rally together as proud non-believers, has become a central tenet of the ‘new atheist’ movement. The approach comes across as a curious blend of therapeutic thinking and fearmongering, and it is expressed with a kind of fervour that would not be altogether alien to the deeply devout. Silverman, for instance, believes that the Christian right ‘has unleashed an unparalleled slew of efforts aimed at Christianising the country’. The same kind of shrillness is heard among those religious people who imagine that atheists are tearing down the social fabric of America and are conducting a ‘war on religion’.

But is it untrue? Is it simply false that the Christian right is trying to Christianize the country? Rothschild doesn’t bother to say. She seems to think that calling it “shrill” is the same thing as demonstrating that it’s false. It isn’t.

In an article outlining the importance of coming out, Silverman speaks of the ‘fear of rejection’, the ‘shame’ and the ‘mental and physical’ toll experienced by closet atheists. Admitting you’re a non-believer is, Silverman says, ‘the first step’, but he implores readers also to be ‘proud, open, honest’ atheists and not ‘another closeted victim of the Christian right’. The advice here reads like a 12-step programme for people recovering from religion. Rather than a positive clarion call for secular values, this is a self-help scheme for people who see themselves as traumatised abuse-victims.

Again – easy to say if it’s not your problem. Try being Jessica Ahlquist for a few days. Try experiencing life in a Cranston high school as opposed to a Stockholm study.

But are Silverman’s sentiments even borne out by reality? Are atheists really a beleaguered minority in the US? Is it really a great taboo today to profess that you do not believe in God?

The so-called ‘new atheism’ movement has been headed up by esteemed writers like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens, and supported by famous people like Bill Maher, Tim Minchin and – unsurprisingly – the band Bad Religion. In other words, this is an outspoken crowd that does not need to cower in fear or meet behind closed doors.

What’s that got to do with it? What does the second paragraph have to do with the first? Is Rothschild really so stupid or so spiteful or so callous that she fails to understand the difference between being a teenager in a small town in Nebraska and being Richard Dawkins? And for that matter, the “esteemed writers” are also targets of vicious abuse, so her point fails there too.

Excuse me while I pant with fury for a moment. That paragraph is really disgusting in its shruggy indifference to the very kind of mendacious bullying it’s increasing itself.

…atheists are not being persecuted for denying the existence of God or prevented from holding secular values and expressing them in public.

Oh really!

She’s just making it up. You’re pathetic, spiked.

Thanks to Sigmund for the link.

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

Atheists v Hasids

Mar 7th, 2012 6:54 am | By

American Atheists were going to give the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn a very nice atheist billboard. Dave Silverman says they get emails from atheists there who feel very alone; AA wanted to let them know they’re not alone.


Silverman was at the site with the advertising company to erect the giant sign atop a residential building.

But landlord Kenny Stier refused to allow workers from the advertising company Clear Channel into the building, said Silverman. He told The Brooklyn Paper that he believes powerful rabbis in the largely ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish area persuaded Stier to block the billboard.

“It has been very disconcerting to see that the traditional victims of religious bigotry have become the purveyors of religious bigotry,” said Silverman, who was raised in the Jewish faith.

I’ve been reading Deborah Feldman’s Unorthodox; lots of religious bigotry there. Jesse Kornbluth reports that the Satmars (the branch of Hasid-ism [is that a word?] that Feldman was raised in, and left, and wrote a book about) have been needling him for writing a favorable review of the book. He also says they’ve been straining at a gnat while swallowing a camel.

What’s fascinating to me in all this is that the Satmars only want to engage on the smallest points:, like where Feldman went to school and the technicalities of her mother’s divorce, I’ve received not a word of protest about the conclusion of my review, which was, I thought, the most damning:

The real issue is sex. Not the act, but what it signifies — male control of women. That old story. We see it in far too many places; dehumanizing women is a key component of fundamentalist cults, from hardcore Muslims to certain Republicans.

Men who oppress women — they say they love them, but it seems more like they fear and hate them — haven’t been taught that sex is our reward for making it through the day. Like their women, these men have been sold the idea that sex is just for procreation. No wonder they feel like they’re the ones who are oppressed.

There are claims in this book that Hasids have disputed. I can’t tell what’s true. But I’m sure of one thing: Men who can’t live equally with women aren’t worth living with.

Why didn’t the Satmars take me on about the blatant sexism that oppresses both women and men in their community?

Because what could they say?

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

Man boobz v Reddit

Mar 6th, 2012 2:55 pm | By

David Futrelle has an information-loaded post on MRAs on Reddit explaining that and why “cunt” is not a sexist word via an equally compelling explanation that and why Rebecca Watson is -

you know the rest.

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

A deep practice of interiority

Mar 6th, 2012 2:25 pm | By

A fella called Rev James Willems (is Rev his first name do you suppose? did he perhaps change his name to Rev in order to trick people into thinking he’s a Reverend? or is he actually a Reverend? I do not know the answers to these questions) commented on Be Scofield’s profundity about god’s love for transgender people. His comment is a classic of its kind.

“God” is not an assertion, but, rather, is an experience. I have no problem with people rejecting institutional religion. I have profound problems with people who have not lived a deep practice of interiority reducing spiritual experience to religion.  When one begins to prescribes what is acceptable behavior for another person, that person should have the self respect to pay attention to what the “Other” is saying about one’s own experience.

See? Classic. Jargon mixed with sanctimony.

But it’s irrelevant to what Scofield is trying to say. It’s got nothing to do with “anyone who seeks to redefine God or say that God loves transgender people.” An experience doesn’t love people. A person or other conscious agent loves people. An experience is not a person or another kind of conscious agent. Rev says god is an experience, so Rev is saying god is a kind of thing that can’t love (or hate or any other emotion) people. But Rev’s point is clearly that teh atheists are rong and Scofield is right.

It is my claim from years of working with others in meditation that anyone who spends serious time in meditation will have an experience of transcendence. There is nothing irrational or unreasonable about such an experience. It is simply transcendent. I agree that communicative praxis reflects one’s cultural situs and its resultant conditioning. Yes, cultural bias requires a significant critique. Such a critique will never demolish or destabilize a living experience of transcendence. One’s radical commitment to identity (LGBTQ or other) is not endangered by transcendence. It is strengthened and affirmed.

Ooooh communicative praxis reflects one’s cultural situs – that’s a good one. What Rev says is still beside the point though.

Mind you, Scofield probably wouldn’t say it is. He would probably say it isn’t. But at the same time he wants to claim that god loves transgender people. He wants it all – a god who loves us, a god who is an experience of transcendence, a god who is both of those very different things at once – he wants it all, and he will get it via the alchemy of language, or rather, jargon. That and a lawless way with our friend the comma.

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

A fatwa crashed down on de Botton’s head

Mar 6th, 2012 10:13 am | By

More atheist-bashing, this time from Bryan Appleyard at the New Statesman.

Two atheists – John Gray and Alain de Botton – and two agnostics – Nassim Nicholas Taleb and I – meet for dinner at a Greek restaurant in Bayswater, London. The talk is genial, friendly and then, suddenly, intense when neo-atheism comes up. Three of us, including both atheists, have suffered abuse at the hands of this cult. Only Taleb seems to have escaped unscathed and this, we conclude, must be because he can do maths and people are afraid of maths.

Abuse? What kind of “abuse”? How are we defining “abuse”? How are we defining “cult”? What, exactly, are we talking about? Who is abusing whom?

De Botton is the most recent and, consequently, the most shocked victim. He has just produced a book, Religion for Atheists: a Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion, mildly suggesting that atheists like himself have much to learn from religion and that, in fact, religion is too important to be left to believers. He has also proposed an atheists’ temple, a place where non-believers can partake of the consolations of silence and meditation.

This has been enough to bring the full force of a neo-atheist fatwa crashing down on his head.

Really? How are we defining “full force”? How are we defining “fatwa”? Not, I trust, as the order given by the clerical ruler of a large state offering a reward for the murder of a foreign novelist.

It turns out we’re defining it as PZ Myers talking about de Botton’s book as an object of nausea. That’s the full force of a neo-atheist fatwa crashing down on his head.

So, as I said, who is abusing whom? You could say that it’s abusive to characterize the words of a member of the despised group “atheists” as a fatwa crashing on someone’s head. You could say that’s just whipping up more of the same old hatred of atheists that already inspires a good deal of real “abuse.”

At the end he says something inadvertently funny.

Happily, the backlash against neo-atheism has begun, inspired by the cult’s own intolerance.

Begun? It’s been in high gear since almost the moment Sam Harris’s book hit the shelves. And as for what inspired it – does Appleyard really think it has nothing at all to do with believers’ sense of outraged privilege? Not to mention the non-religious or only semi-religious defenders of religion who think it’s their duty to defend the less articulate believers from the scary monster atheists?

Honestly; you go away for five days and come home to a pile of fresh atheist-bashing. Never a moment to catch your breath.



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

Human rights and _____ rights

Mar 6th, 2012 9:41 am | By

Ron Lindsay did a post on the Women in Secularism conference last week, reminding anyone who needed reminding that it’s not just for women.

I doubt any of the speakers want a passive audience. They want an audience that will listen attentively, but who will also engage them with questions and challenges. Moreover, there will be ample opportunity for discussion not only with the speakers but also with one’s fellow attendees. This conference will be a great learning experience—for both men and women.

I do! I want a passive audience! I want people who will just sit there and nod agreement the whole time.

Just kidding.

Ben Radford (in a comment) expanded on the idea that women’s rights aren’t just for women.

What, exactly, are “women’s concerns”? I’ve never understood that. Usually people offer examples like child care, the right to an abortion, the right to equal pay, domestic violence, rape, and those sort of issues as “women’s concerns,” which I think is unfortunate and misguided. These are HUMAN concerns, and equally important to men; the characterization of these as “women’s concerns,” it seems to me, only serves to marginalize these important issues. It’s like saying that gay marriage is a “gay issue,” when it’s really a human rights issue. I can understand why people use the phrase as shorthand for a diverse group of social issues, but it always strikes me as somewhat sexist…

That’s a mix of categories. I think child care should decidedly not be a “women’s concern,” on the grounds that children have fathers as well as mothers. I think treating child care as a “women’s concern” just plays into the social custom by which mothers have all or nearly all the responsibility for child care, and that concern for women’s rights requires constant reminder that the responsibility can and should be shared.

But all the other items are specific to women. (Cue MRAs crying that men are raped too and the victims of domestic violence too.) In that sense it’s reasonable to call them women’s concerns, and it doesn’t imply that they’re women’s concerns to the exclusion of being human concerns and men’s concerns. But the rape of a woman, for instance, happens first of all to the woman who is raped. I don’t think it’s sexist to be clear about that.


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

People who know what god likes

Mar 6th, 2012 8:09 am | By

I have a squillion things to do before I leave again tomorrow (like preparing my talk, for instance…), including offering some more detail on the conference, but I can’t ignore a new bit of point-missing and god-frotting from Be Scofield.

It’s about how Natalie Reed says god doesn’t love transgender people and Be responds (by saying yes they do too so, of course).

Natalie Reed, an atheist who is transgender has a new article called “God Does Not Love Trans People” over at Free Thought Blogs.

I have to interrupt for just a second. I do wish people would learn to use that comma properly. I keep seeing this mistake, and it’s very irritating. If you interrupt yourself to explain something, you then have to un-interrupt yourself before you continue. If you have an opening comma to introduce your explanation of who Natalie Reed is, you have to have a closing comma at the end of your explanation. You have to. It’s not optional. If you omit it, the rest of the sentence becomes a dog’s breakfast. There should be a comma after “who is transgender.”

Natalie Reed, an atheist who is transgender has a new article called “God Does Not Love Trans People” over at Free Thought Blogs. It’s a very long post and raises numerous issues, many of which I simply can’t address for the sake of brevity.

Oh darn, I have to interrupt again. It’s a very long post? What does he think his post is, short? For the sake of what brevity? And as for “simply can’t address” – who asked him in the first place? Basic rule of blogging: be careful not to sound as if you think you’re official in some way, or answering some urgent need.

I do beg your pardon; I’ll try not to interrupt again.

However, I do want to spend some time on her main assertion: transgender people should not believe in God or participate in religion because these are both harmful and dangerous  and they enable the transphobic oppressive religious institutions. She states, “I honestly believe that religious faith is inherently dangerous and harmful.” For anyone who seeks to redefine God or say that God loves transgender people you are guilty of strengthening and bolstering a harmful and dangerous institution.

There, I made it to the end of the part I wanted to disagree with.

What does he mean about seeking to redefine God? On what basis does he or anyone say that God loves transgender people? How does Be Scofield (or anyone) know that “God” loves transgender people or that “God” hates them? How does anyone know anything about what “God” thinks of transgender people or any other people?

The short answer is that he doesn’t, and neither does anyone.

Given that, what is the point of “redefining” god? What is the point of paying any attention to god at all? Given that no one knows anything about it at all – why argue about its loves or hatreds?

To give more glamor and heft to their views, that’s why. But nasty people who want to persecute transgender people (and/or infidels, women, apostates, scientists, liberals, foreigners, you name it) also use god to give more glamor and heft to their views. It’s a bad idea. It’s risky, at best. Don’t do it.

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

My opinion of LA International Airport

Mar 5th, 2012 6:44 pm | By


LAX is a fucking pit.

They don’t make information about flights and gates readily available and clearly understandable, they don’t have helpful people readily available, the terminal is dirty and smelly, the facilities suck, the Wifi sucks, all the people who work at LAX suck – everything about it sucks.

The indicator board for flights and gates was far away from the arrival gate. When I found it it said the gate for my flight was “T3″ – which doesn’t even sound like a gate, and there was no indication where it was. The airport cop I spotted didn’t know. All the lines were too long to hang around waiting to ask. (Further annoying details omitted for brevity.) Someone who seemed to know told me T3 is Terminal 3 (then why have it under “gate” on the board?) and to go to gate 44 and go down the escalator and take a shuttle bus – but when I got there there was no mention of T3 or Terminal 3 on the signs so I went back up, and after much struggle and repeatedly nearly falling over people’s fucking wheely bags when the people were struck by a thought and abruptly stopped moving along with their wheely bags, I found someone else to ask and he said yes, take the shuttle bus at gate 44, ask the people there – so I went back and the person there told me I had just missed the bus for T3 and it would be 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes of listening to her scream at everyone who came along (further annoying details omitted for brevity), I was enabled to leave that portion of hell in order to step into another, to wit, the shuttle bus, which drove all over the airport, crossing runways and taxiways with gay abandon, past myriad signs chirpily suggesting “watch for aircraft.” We arrived at the back of a vile warehouse or garage sort of place and sat still for several minutes breathing the refreshing jet fumes while the driver sat motionless and silent – then she opened the door and said we’d arrived, pointing at some stairs and saying the terminal was at the top. So we climbed about 3 stories worth of dirty metal stairs with our baggage. One rather large woman stopped after about ten steps, looking warm.

This sounds like a joke or parody but it fucking isn’t. I’m not kidding. The bus comes only once in 20 minutes; it traverses the whole airport in among the moving airplanes; passengers are dumped out and told to climb 3 flights of nasty stairs with their luggage; no one offers to help or says “sorry for the inconvenience” or “thank you for taking the shuttle bus with us today” or “was that a vision of hell or what” or “have you ever been in a worse piece of shit airport in your life?”

This is apparently something to do with the fact that Alaska has taken over some of American’s business. I surmise that the arrangement is recent and they haven’t quite figured out how to make it go smoothly yet. I could give them some advice.

[I'm writing this on the plane now. I wrote the first part in the inferno where I waited for the flight to Seattle, and I'm continuing it on the inferno that is the plane.]

I could give them some advice. They could put big signs up at the arrival gates telling hapless passengers that their connecting flights may be with Alaska AND THAT THEY HAVE TO GO TO A WHOLE NEW TERMINAL AND THAT IT’S A FUCKING NIGHTMARE. They could also give the essential details of how to begin the life-cheapening process. They could hire someone for The Shuttle Bus Waiting Room From Hell who wouldn’t see her job as screaming at everyone who makes the mistake of turning up. They could hire someone to drive the bus who would act like a human being. THEY COULD APOLOGIZE ABJECTLY FOR THE STAIRS and explain what they are planning to do about them. They could warn people about having to carry their luggage up – honestly, it was ok for me, though I made a great show of struggling up because I was so furious, but it was not ok for the large woman – it was not ok physically and it was totally humiliating. Jesus. I’m getting pissed off all over again. I think someone did go down to help her, but not before standing at the top of the stairs gazing down on us. Yes really: they did. Two employees of that (this) stinking airline – the one that used to hand out prayers, you know – stood at the top of those 30 or 40 stairs watching us climb. When I got to the top they were just getting around to deciding that one of them should do something about the large woman, at least I think they were – who knows, maybe they were just pointing out that she seemed to be finding it all somewhat tiring.

They could do all this, and they could apologize often and in detail for the whole thing. That would be a start. They haven’t done any of it. I would like to line them all up and kick them on the shins.

Now, to continue the joke, I’m on the flight from hell to boot. I’m in the very last row, row 30. I couldn’t get a window seat (even though that’s what I asked for a month or two ago – I’ve got to learn that when other people book a flight for me they ignore my window seats request), so I’m in the aisle. We are having the worst turbulence evarrr - so I can’t get up and stroll around, but other people feel that they can, and they keep pitching into me on their way to the toilet which is about 6 inches from my left elbow. There are eleventy seven children and babies. There are two children in the row in front of me – being “good” but making steady, relentless, busy noise. In front of them is a baby who roared and screamed for the first hour. I think it’s now dead.

I mean, could it be any worse? I suppose there could be a talkative missionary next to me who also smelled bad, but short of that…what’s missing? Ah the toilet just flushed. What fun this is.

Oh hooray! The two children and their mummy are now treating their seats as a trampoline – the mummy just leaped out of her aisle seat and slammed herself down in the window seat, shaking all three seat-backs and nearly catapulting the remains of my orange juice onto this blameless little notebook. The guy next to me has his elbow resting comfortably on my arm, despite the fact that I am holding it well over on my side of the armrest. The flight attendants, a few inches behind my head, are partying away as colleagues should – I can hardly hear myself think. Whee – bumpity bumpity! More turbulence.

Ah well. It’s so awful it’s funny, at least it is once I start turning it into a blog post.

The baby is alive. It’s roaring again.

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

Please remove your belt

Mar 5th, 2012 4:54 am | By

Back at airport. There’s a non-stop to Seattle boarding right now, but it’s not mine…alas.

I take it you’re bored with conference chat. I’ll revert to normal posting for a couple of days – then I’m off to Manchester.

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