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.

They hid behind masks & helmets while beating up ordinary people

May 12th, 2012 9:22 am | By

Actually, that Jakarta Post account of the “protest” at Irshad Manji’s bookstore talk was a good deal too minimal. Manji gives a fuller account on (ironically) Twitter.

Four years ago, I came to Indonesia and experienced a nation of tolerance, openness & pluralism. In my new book, I describe Indonesia as a model for the Muslim world. But things have changed. Last night at LKiS community center religious extremists assaulted about 150 citizens of Jogja, as well as my team. My colleague, Emily Rees, was struck with a metal bar and had to be rushed to hospital. Her arm is now in a sling. Two other attendees sustained head injuries. I have spoken with them both and, by God’s grace, they will recover. But the reputation of the criminals should never recover: They hid behind masks & helmets while beating up ordinary people & destroying property. These men are cowards. In sharp contrast, the moral courage of several citizens saved my own life. As the gangsters shouted, “WHERE IS MANJI?” citizens shielded my body with theirs. I am immeasurably grateful for and humbled by their bravery. They have proven that Indonesians can unite for human dignity. Indonesians tell me that their police and government are capitulating to the thugs.

But the people needn’t capitulate, she adds.

Anyway – bad stuff. Thugs in masks hitting people with metal bars in an effort to silence a liberal Muslim woman who has a “wrong” kind of sexuality. Bad bad bad stuff.

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

A much more conservative vibe in the capital

May 12th, 2012 9:07 am | By

Irshad Manji has been getting some unwelcome attention in Indonesia.

During a discussion and an event to launch her latest book, Allah, Liberty and Love, at Salihara in South Jakarta last Friday, she said she sensed “a much more conservative vibe” in the capital.

As if on cue, Manji had barely finished her opening talk when a police officer announced that the event had to be postponed partly due to protests from local residents and hardline groups.

Minutes later, shouts of disapproval from those claiming to be local residents were heard. The discussion was cut short formally and Manji had to be escorted out of the venue.

Manji faced more protests from various groups during her next few days in the country with the largest Muslim population in the world.

Hundreds of members of the Indonesian Mujahidin Council (MMI) attacked the LKiS publishing office in Yogyakarta where she was speaking about her book on Wednesday night.

Because they don’t want no stinkin’ liberty & love along with their Allah.

The Trouble with Islam Today, which addresses issues such as alleged animosity towards Jews and inferiority of women in some Muslim-dominated societies, and calls for Muslims to be more critical of their own community, was, according to Manji, driven by anger.

“That anger was real … and it needed to be expressed at least for me. But in the last 10 years as I have been engaging with people like you all over the world, my own anger has been replaced with aspiration. I now believe that we shouldn’t just expose the corruption. That we can strive for better and that we can, as the Koran tells us, change ourselves in order to change the condition of our society,” Manji said to the audience at the Salihara discussion, which was mostly composed of young people.

That’s nice, but it’s not just the Koran that tells us that.

I know Manji knows that. I know she says it to make the point that changing ourselves and the condition of society are compatible with the Koran. But still – it’s not just the Koran that tells us that.

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

Ew, girl cooties

May 11th, 2012 4:33 pm | By

In the news from Phoenix (oh god Phoenix – whose bishop is Joseph Olmsted, who tried to force a hospital to promise never again to prevent a woman from dying by aborting her doomed-anyway fetus) -

Instead of playing in a championship baseball game, Paige Sultzbach and her team won’t even make it to the dugout.

A Phoenix school that was scheduled to play the 15-year-old Mesa girl and her male teammates forfeited the game rather than face a female player.

Well that’s insulting.

Our Lady of Sorrows bowed out of Thursday night’s game against Mesa Preparatory Academy in the Arizona Charter Athletic Association championship. The game had been scheduled at Phoenix College.

Paige, who plays second base at Mesa Prep, had to sit out two previous games against Our Lady of Sorrows out of respect for its beliefs. But having her miss the championship was not an option for Mesa Prep.

Excuse me?! Out of respect for its beliefs? She sat out two games out of respect for its beliefs that women are inferior?

Can we stop doing things out of “respect” for vicious unreformed I’m-better-than-you beliefs that don’t deserve the respect you would give a gob of phlegm on the sidewalk?

“This is not a contact sport; it shouldn’t be an issue,” Pamela Sultzbach said. “It wasn’t that they were afraid they were going to hurt or injure her, it’s that (they believe) a girl’s place is not on a field.”

And they believe they have the right to insult her by ostentatiously acting on that moronic belief. They believe they have the right – and “respect”! – for trying to deprive her of the right and ability to participate in a game that she presumably likes and does well. They believe they have the right to try to make her have a smaller more impoverished life, more hemmed in by stupid nasty restrictions forced on her by a gang of Catholic men and boys. It’s revolting.

Officials at Our Lady of Sorrows declined comment. In a written statement Thursday, the school said the decision to forfeit was consistent with a policy prohibiting co-ed sports.

The statement also said the school teaches boys respect by not placing girls in athletic competition, where “proper boundaries can only be respected with difficulty.”

Our Lady of Sorrows is run by the U.S. branch of the Society of Saint Pius X. The group represents conservative, traditional priests who broke from the Catholic Church in the 1980s.

Oh, that explains it – they’re even more fascist than the church gang. Well you know what then? Nobody should agree to play them. Period. Not if they refuse to play a team that includes a Jew, or a Muslim, or a Nigerian, or a Malaysian – and the same goes for A Girl.

H/t Michael Fugate.

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

We won’t be silent

May 11th, 2012 3:46 pm | By

“If you have freedom of speech, please use your freedom to help someone else have theirs.”

Isn’t it time you spoke out?

“Think for yourself and let others enjoy that privilege too.” Voltaire.

Via Tarek Fatah

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

The bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth

May 11th, 2012 10:48 am | By

The Washington Post suggests that maybe the “tense relationship” between the Catholic church and the Girl Scouts is approaching a “resolution” – without really clarifying why the bishops think it’s any of their business or why anyone else does either.

Potentially at stake is whether troops can continue meeting in Catholic churches, and whether many Catholic girls, who make up a quarter of the nation’s 3 million Girl Scouts, will continue in scouting as the organization marks its 100th year.

How can the second item be at stake? The bishops can’t actually force people to do things, after all. They’re not cops. They don’t have badges or guns or clubs, and they’re not licensed by the state to enforce the laws. It’s really not within their power to tell Catholic girls what groups they can belong to. (They can tell, but it’s just noise.) They’re not the boss of Catholic girls. They’re not the boss of anyone except their own employees. They can’t stop Catholic girls continuing in scouting.

“There had been some complaints about the Scouts, and the bishops couldn’t turn a deaf ear,” said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the bishops. “So they want to know, what’s the story?”

Couldn’t turn a deaf ear? Why not? Who says?

Critics of the Girl Scouts contend their materials shouldn’t have any links to groups like the Sierra Club, Doctors Without Borders and Oxfam, or other groups that support family planning and contraception. Other critics are unhappy that the American Girl Scouting organization is a member of an international scouting association that supports contraception access.

Oh yes? Is that right? Well I say the Girl Scouts shouldn’t have any links to the Catholic church, which attempts to mandate and impose a state of affairs in which women are stripped of any right to control their own fertility and are left helpless to avoid or postpone childbearing unless they avoid sex altogether. That’s what I say. Too bad I can’t impose my wishes on anyone.

For the past two years, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has had its Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth ask the Girl Scouts to explain their stances and materials.

Could you ask for a better list of things the Catholic church knows nothing whatever about, is self-handicapped from knowing anything about, and has no business on earth interfering with? What does it know about laity? Much less marriage? Or family life? And all it knows about youth is how to swear it to secrecy when a priest is caught raping it. Fuck its Committee, and fuck its asking.

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

A pattern

May 11th, 2012 10:00 am | By

Not just for Catholics any more. You don’t have to be Catholic to love special rules for child-raping theists. Nothin’ says lovin’ like a district attorney who lets clerics deal with child-rape in their “communities” with no pesky police involved.

In short, it’s not just Ireland and it’s not just Catholic priests. It’s also the Brooklyn district attorney and ultra-Orthodox rabbis.

An influential rabbi came last summer to the Brooklyn district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, with a message: his ultra-Orthodox advocacy group was instructing adherent Jews that they could report allegations of child sexual abuse to district attorneys or the police only if a rabbi first determined that the suspicions were credible.       

The pronouncement was a blunt challenge to Mr. Hynes’s authority. But the district attorney “expressed no opposition or objection,” the rabbi, Chaim Dovid Zweibel, recalled.

This apparently means child sexual abuse by any “adherent Jews,” not just by clerics.

Mr. Hynes has won election six times as district attorney thanks in part to support from ultra-Orthodox rabbis, who lead growing communities in neighborhoods like Borough Park and Crown Heights. But in recent years, as allegations of child sexual abuse have shaken the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, victims’ rights groups have expressed concern that he is not vigorously pursuing these cases because of his deep ties to the rabbis.

Many of the rabbis consider sexual abuse accusations to be community matters best handled by rabbinical authorities, who often do not report their conclusions to the police.

Ah, fabulous. A tight-knit “community” of religious zealots and their unfortunate trapped dependents, who have given themselves permission to do their own policing of child rape, and gotten the district attorney to go along with this arrangement. That should work out well! Just as it does among the Amish.

There’s been a crackdown of sorts, leading to arrests – but there are still special rules.

Mr. Hynes has taken the highly unusual step of declining to publicize the names of defendants prosecuted under the program — even those convicted. At the same time, he continues to publicize allegations of child sexual abuse against defendants who are not ultra-Orthodox Jews.

This policy of shielding defendants’ names because of their religious status is not followed by the other four district attorneys in New York City, and has rarely, if ever, been adopted by prosecutors around the country.

Some sex-crime experts and former prosecutors said the policy contributed to a culture of secrecy in ultra-Orthodox communities, which made it harder to curb sexual abuse.

Well it would, wouldn’t it. Why else would the DA be doing it? You can’t keep secrets of that kind without contributing to a culture of secrecy. No one must know that Daddy raped a few kids. So nobody knows, and Daddy is more careful in future, and he rapes some more kids.

Marci A. Hamilton, a professor of constitutional law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, blamed Mr. Hynes for not speaking out against the ultra-Orthodox position that mandates that allegations must be first reported to rabbis. The position potentially flouts a state law that requires teachers, social workers and others to report allegations of sexual abuse immediately to the authorities.

She said Mr. Hynes was essentially allowing rabbis to act as gatekeepers.

“That’s exactly what the Catholic Church did, what the Latter-day Saints did, what the Jehovah’s Witnesses did,” said Ms. Hamilton, author of “Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children.”

Quite. It would be nice if secular law enforcement would refrain from helping them to do that.



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

About the questions being asked

May 11th, 2012 9:06 am | By

Another thing, on the matter of Edwina Rogers.

I was re-reading that contested part of Greta’s interview with Roy Speckhardt in a post of Chris Hallquist’s -

I don’t take your characterization as accurate that she was being evasive. I listened to her interview, and actually, the first thing I thought of was, “Gosh, you know, I’ve done a lot of media interviews, and if you do media interviews, you learn how to get your talking points across and not worry, necessarily, all the time about the questions being asked. If you want to get your own message across, this is a technique that you’ve got to learn, to get out there and put across your viewpoint.”

And I had another thought about it.

Yes, ok, it probably is a technique you have to learn, if you want to get your own message across. It’s true that we don’t want to be naive about this and just say let the best argument win, because interviewers can have agendas and it would be stupid to simply comply with what the interviewer wants no matter what. But.

But. Doing things that way rules out doing things a different way, and if you learn the technique so thoroughly or enthusiastically that it becomes the only one you know, then you become simply a talking agenda, and that seems a bad thing for the Executive Director of the SCA. It might be all right for a designated PR person for the SCA, for someone whose only job was to get a particular message across, but surely as ED Rogers has more jobs to do than just getting a particular message across. I get that that’s a big part of her job, but it’s not all of it, is it?

And it’s not a good general technique to focus like a laser on your own message and blank out all questions. That’s not a technique so much as a disability. An unchanging pre-determined message that is non-responsive to questions makes a good definition of religion, and secular thinking should be the opposite of that. Secular thinking (properly conducted) is responsive and open and cumulative and flexible. Dialogue is of the essence. Dialogue isn’t dialogue if one party just sticks to a message the whole time.

I think this is part of the broad unease about the appointment. She might be a brilliant hire as the head of PR, but not as ED.

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

What you can see on a walk

May 10th, 2012 4:43 pm | By

I took my friend Cooper to the beach yesterday afternoon.

Not that beach, but that Cooper. He’s a little over a year old.

This isn’t about him though, it’s about sea stars. It was very low tide, so I went squidging and mincing through the intertidal zone with him so that he could swim after the tennis ball, which he loves doing with a passion that never fades. I eventually noticed a sea star, and then a couple more, and then another.

One was a rather faded dry purple; maybe it was dead. The next two were a vibrant deep purple – probably Pisaster ochraeus.


The last one was red, and many-armed, and it had spinelets along each arm, that were moving. It was extraordinary. Maybe the rose sea star, Crossaster papposus.

How about that?

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

Bishops v Girl Scouts

May 10th, 2012 4:02 pm | By

It’s turning into a “you’ve got to be kidding” day. One “you’ve got to be kidding” after another.

What now? The notoriously vicious US Conference of Catholic Bishops is pitching a huge fit at the Girl Scouts.

Long a lightning rod for conservative criticism, the Girl Scouts of the USA are now facing their highest-level challenge yet: An official inquiry by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

An official inquiry? What does that even mean? What standing do the US bishops have to inquire officially into the Girl Scouts? What business are the Girl Scouts of theirs?

At issue are concerns about program materials that some Catholics find offensive, as well as assertions that the Scouts associate with other groups espousing stances that conflict with church teaching.

So what? So what so what so what? How is that any of their business? Why are they inquiring into it? Why do they think they get to tell people what to do? Why is it anything to do with them if the Scouts associate with other groups espousing stances that conflict with church teaching?

This is making me frantic, it’s so presumptuous and intrusive and theocratic. Whatever next? An official inquiry into bloggers? Atheists? Publishing? Public schools? Everything?

Why do they think they have any jurisdiction at all? Who exactly do they think they are? And who do they think we are? Their subjects?

The new inquiry will be conducted by the bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. It will look into the Scouts’ “possible problematic relationships with other organizations” and various “problematic” program materials, according to a letter sent by the committee chairman, Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne, Ind., to his fellow bishops.

It’s none of their business. It’s none of their business, it’s none of their business, it’s none of their business.

Girl Scout leaders hope the bishops’ apprehensions will be eased once they gather information. But there’s frustration within the iconic youth organization — known for its inclusiveness and cookie sales — that it has become such an ideological target, with the girls sometimes caught in the political crossfire.

“I know we’re a big part of the culture wars,” said the Girl Scouts’ spokeswoman, Michelle Tompkins. “People use our good name to advance their own agenda.”

“For us, there’s an overarching sadness to it,” Tompkins added. “We’re just trying to further girls’ leadership.”

I feel murderous. I want to make the USCCB a universal pariah. I want the bishops and their “conference” to be hated by every human on the planet except the pope. I want them to have to stop being bishops and get jobs picking cotton instead.

Mary Rice Hasson, a visiting fellow in Catholic studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think tank in Washington, accuses McCarty [executive director of the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry] of “whitewashing” Girl Scout programs and policies that struck some Catholics as counter to church teaching.

“They just repeated the Girl Scouts’ denials,” Hasson said. “Families’ concerns were minimized or ignored.”

Hasson is pleased that the bishops are launching their own inquiry but is skeptical that further rifts can be avoided.

“A collision course is probably a good description of where things are headed,” she said. “The leadership of the Girl Scouts is reflexively liberal. Their board is dominated by people whose views are antithetical to the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

Jesus christ. They really do think they get to tell everyone what to do. They think they get to have “official inquiries” into whether or not some people are liberal and have views antithetical to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

I wonder who Mary Rice Hasson thinks she is. Doesn’t she realize she’s a woman? What’s she doing being a fellow at a think tank, and accusing people of things, and saying things? That’s not “complementary.” She’s denying The True Nature of Woman. The bishops aren’t going to let her into their club no matter how much accusing she does.

Ugh. I have a bad case of Catholicismophobia at the moment.



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

Advanced groveling

May 10th, 2012 11:27 am | By

And then via Stephen Curry on Twitter I learn that Priss Choss has a veto on legislation that might affect his private interests. Say what? No really; he does. I don’t know how I managed to miss this last October.

Ministers have been forced to seek permission from Prince Charles to pass at least a dozen government bills, according to a Guardian investigation into a secretive constitutional loophole that gives him the right to veto legislation that might affect his private interests.

Since 2005, ministers from six departments have sought the Prince of Wales’ consent to draft bills on everything from road safety to gambling and the London Olympics, in an arrangement described by constitutional lawyers as a royal “nuclear deterrent” over public policy. Unlike royal assent to bills, which is exercised by the Queen as a matter of constitutional law, the prince’s power applies when a new bill might affect his own interests, in particular the Duchy of Cornwall, a private £700m property empire that last year provided him with an £18m income.

And neither the gummint nor the royal corporation will give details. Away with you, peasants, they say.

“We should know why he is being asked and the government should publish the answers,” said Lord Berkeley, who was last month told to seek Charles’ consent on a marine navigation bill.

Because it might affect his private interests – how crazy is that? Are his private interests sacrosanct? If they are, why are they?

Omigod omigod – I’m reading the letter sent to Lord B telling him to ask Prinny’s permission – and they capitalize “His” – would you believe it?!

He (Lord B) has to write to Earl Attlee to ask him “to approach Clarence House” – Lord B can’t just call Priss C on the phone, god no, that would get him 40 years in a Thai prison – “to approach Clarence House to seek the consent of the Prince of Wales to the Marine Navigation Bill so far as it affects His interests.”

Jesus Christ almighty – I didn’t know they were expected to capitalize the pronouns. How obsequious can you get. Hey Choss? You’re just a you as far as I’m concerned, dude. If we were speaking French I would tutoyer you.

What should one pack for life in a Thai prison?


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

A misguided species

May 10th, 2012 11:07 am | By

A horrible item out of Thailand a couple of days ago.

A Thai man in his 60s who became known as “Uncle SMS” after he was convicted of defaming Thailand’s royal family in mobile phone text messages, has died while serving his 20-year prison term, his lawyers said on Tuesday.

A 20-year prison term. For a guy in his 60s. For “defaming” a royal. It’s beyond belief in its brutality and pettiness.

Plus he was ill. Cherry on the sundae, that is.

The case of Amphon Tangnoppakul, a grandfather who had suffered from mouth cancer, drew attention to Thailand’s severe lese-majesty laws last November when he received one of the heaviest-ever sentences for someone accused of insulting the monarchy.

God damn human beings, with their hateful little taboos and idols and pieties coupled with enormous punishments and revenges and extortions. So he “insulted” the monarchy; so the hell what. Get over yourselves.

Amphon’s cause of death was not known, but he had complained of stomach pains on Friday and was transferred to a correctional department prison, his lawyer, Anon Numpa, said.

It was not immediately clear when he died, but Amphon’s wife learned the news on Tuesday during a visit to the Bangkok prison where he was being held, Anon said.

Oh, that’s nice. That’s a nice touch. They couldn’t let her know, they had to wait until she turned up for a visit.

Amphon was arrested in August 2010 and accused of sending four text messages to a government official that were deemed offensive to the queen. He denied sending them, claiming he did not  know how to use the SMS function on his telephone.

He wept during his court proceedings, saying: “I love the king.”…Before his arrest, Amphon had lived in retirement with his wife, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren in a rented room in Samut Prakan province on the outskirts of Bangkok.

In other words he was dirt-poor. Well done royal family of Thailand. We all think tremendously highly of you now, you can be sure.

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

Index on Censorship says: we did it!

May 10th, 2012 9:28 am | By

Check out #libelreform on Twitter to find Simon Singh, Ben Goldacre, Richard Wilson, David Allen Green, Padraig Reidy, Sense About Science and all the rest of that crowd – the geek-political interface, as Ben calls it – high-fiving the Queen’s speech mention of libel reform. Booya.

Index on Censorship says booya.

Index is delighted to announce that thanks to our Libel Reform Campaign, the Queen has announced a defamation bill in the next parliament

This will be the first wholesale attempt at reform since 1843 and an amazing achievement for the campaign and its 60,000 supporters. The bill will open the way to ending libel tourism and protecting free expression for journalists, writers, bloggers and scientists around the world. However, there is still work to be done and we will carry on fighting to make sure that the detail in the final Bill will truly deliver reform.

Yay campaign. Yay 60,000 supporters. Yay geek power.

Over the coming months, the Libel Reform Campaign which represent the efforts of English PEN, Sense about Science and Index will continue to fight for:

  • a public interest defence so people can defend themselves unless the claimant can show they have been malicious or reckless.
  • a strong test of harm that strikes out claims unless the claimant can demonstrate serious and substantial harm and they have a real prospect of vindication.
  • a restriction on corporations’ ability to use the libel laws to silence criticism.
  • provisions for online hosts and intermediaries, who are not authors nor traditional publishers.

Sign the petition. I thought it was for UK citizens only, but it’s not (and it shouldn’t be, since libel tourism is a global threat, not just a UK one), so I signed it.

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

The river of Christian orthodoxy

May 10th, 2012 9:06 am | By

Wunderkind Ross Douthat has a book out, called Bad Religion. If the review in The New Republic is any guide, it’s about what you’d expect from Douthat.

Most troubling of all are the mistakes that bear directly on his central argument. And what is that argument? “A chart of the American religious past would look like a vast delta, with tributaries, streams, and channels winding in and out, diverging and reconverging—but all of them fed, ultimately, by a central stream, an original current, a place where the waters start. This river is Christian orthodoxy.” In the 1950s, Reinhold Niebuhr and Bishop Fulton Sheen carried the arguments for orthodoxy while Bing Crosby and Karl Malden brought the presbyterate onto the Hollywood screen and Charlton Heston came down from Sinai with God’s Holy Law. Everyone went to Church and understood the value of chastity. Then came the 1960s and liberal theology, the pill, and Vietnam, and America went to hell.

Oh for the days of yore, when everyone went to church and nobody was unorthodox.

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

A wholly new institution

May 10th, 2012 8:19 am | By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even now, I have Atheist friends

May 9th, 2012 5:37 pm | By


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

With an instrument

May 9th, 2012 4:58 pm | By

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

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

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

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

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

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

And another interview

May 9th, 2012 12:07 pm | By

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greta explained why.

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

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

I found Speckhardt’s answer quite startling.

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

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

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

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

No one dares distinguish

May 9th, 2012 10:24 am | By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Dawkins asked her the same question in that interview.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Eat leer eat

May 8th, 2012 5:20 pm | By

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

17 more like that, and then

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

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

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

The awful scars

May 8th, 2012 4:46 pm | By

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

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

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

I hadn’t seen it. I have now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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