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.

Heads I win tails you lose

Jun 29th, 2010 4:06 pm | By

The Vatican seems to want to have it both ways. It wants to tell everybody what to do, especially all Catholics, especially especially all priests. It wants to tell everybody what to do about abortion and condoms and assisted suicide. It wants to tell all Catholics what to do about that only more so, and on pain of excommunication. It wants to tell priests not to marry or have sex with women (children are ok) or go to the police when they know a colleague has been raping children. It wants to be the boss of everyone. But – then when people get angry about what its priests have been getting up to, it wants to say no no that is nothing to do with us, we don’t employ these priests, you cannot haul us into court and make us give you money like any peasant.

Jeffrey Lena, the American attorney for the Holy See, argued the Vatican is not responsible for individual priests in dioceses, saying the existence of the priest in the case “was unknown to the Holy See until after all the events in question.”…”The Holy See does not pay the salary of the priest, or benefits of the priest, or exercise day-to-day control over the priest, and any of the other factors indicating the presence of an employment relationship,” Lena said.

It tells the priest what to do, and what not to do; it issues rules, it consigns people to hell…but then when the bailiff shows up at the door, suddenly the priest is way off in the distance where the Holy See can’t even see it.

According to the lawsuit, Ronan, who belonged to a religious order, began abusing boys in the mid-1950s as a priest in the Archdiocese of Armagh, Ireland. He was transferred to Chicago, where he allegedly admitted abusing three boys at St. Philip’s High School.

Ronan was later moved to a parish in Portland, Ore., where he was accused of abusing the person who filed the lawsuit now under appeal. He was removed from the priesthood in 1966, according to the Archdiocese of Portland…

Which of course is entirely independent from the Holy See.

Ron Rosenbaum presents his offering

Jun 28th, 2010 6:01 pm | By

Well, Templeton got its money’s worth out of overpaid Ron Rosenbaum. He’s already hard at work saying how horrible “new” atheists are. Man, $15,000 and two weeks in Cambridge all expenses paid and a library’s worth of new books, all to kick the “new” atheists, when so many people are willing to do it for fifty bucks! Templeton is nothing if not generous.

I think it’s time for a new agnosticism, one that takes on the New Atheists. Indeed agnostics see atheism as “a theism”—as much a faith-based creed as the most orthodox of the religious variety.

Faith-based atheism? Yes, alas. Atheists display a credulous and childlike faith, worship a certainty as yet unsupported by evidence—the certainty that they can or will be able to explain how and why the universe came into existence. (And some of them can behave as intolerantly to heretics who deviate from their unproven orthodoxy as the most unbending religious Inquisitor.)

Isn’t it sad? He could have said that without setting foot in Cambridge. One wonders exactly what Templeton is paying for.

Faced with the fundamental question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” atheists have faith that science will tell us eventually. Most seem never to consider that it may well be a philosophic, logical impossibility for something to create itself from nothing.

And so on and so on and so on – the usual boilerplate. It’s all like that, and it’s a long piece. Ho hum.

Reasons for reasons for reasons

Jun 28th, 2010 5:42 pm | By

I was looking for something else, and stumbled on a blog post commenting on my post on atheism and reasons.

It’s one thing to have reasons to be an atheist (I do) and a Jew (I do), another thing altogether to adopt some level of “observance.” You can have good reasons to be an atheist, and other good reasons not to be observant–i.e. not to focus on it, talk about it a lot, promote it.

Yes but I wasn’t talking about being observant, I was talking about not pretending not to have reasons. I was talking about treating one’s atheism as if it were accidental, for the purpose of othering atheists. I wasn’t saying or suggesting that one should focus on it, talk about it a lot, promote it; I was saying that when one is an atheist one ought not to play accidental-atheist in order to suck up to the majority and throw non-accidental-atheists under the bus.

Maybe you have other goals that would be thwarted, if you got on the “religion, baaaad” bandwagon.  For example, maybe what really matters to you is the environment, or poverty, or animals, and you think you can advance progress in those areas if you reach out non-divisively to both religious and non-religious people.

Which of course implies, as Mooney always does, that atheism – including atheism-for-reasons – somehow prevents “reach[ing out] non-divisively to both religious and non-religious people.” It doesn’t.

Finally, it’s a very bad idea to use the term “anti-atheist” for unobservant atheists who criticize “the new atheists.”  It echoes “anti-semite” and thus misleads badly.

No it doesn’t. It’s just a shortcut, not an echo.

There are people who really do despise atheists in the way that anti-semites despise Jews. Unfortunately, I come into contact with such people, and they upset me.  Critics of the new atheists (like Chris Mooney, like me once in a while) are nothing like them. The critics have reasoned complaints about a subset of atheists; they don’t despise or fear or denigrate atheists just for being atheists.  They’re not “anti-atheists.” So much for that.

I disagree; I think Chris Mooney is very much like that. His complaints are not all that reasoned (he never explains why atheism prevents “reaching out non-divisively to both religious and non-religious people,” for instance), and they are very insistent and repetitive, as well as often inaccurate. Not all that reasoned. And as for “so much for that” – and as for the “Duh” in comments – well, that’s not all that reasoned either.

Vatican fuming

Jun 28th, 2010 4:35 pm | By

More Vatican rage at being treated like people as opposed to quasi-gods.

On the same day that Belgian police raided church offices to seize documents in a sex abuse probe, the Vatican found itself in the courts of another country, this time the United States, trying to fend off attempts to interrogate the pope and other senior Vatican officials in another case involving clerical sexual abuse.

Vatican attorneys filed a brief on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Kentucky in the case of O’Bryan v. Holy See, opposing requests from lawyers representing three sex abuse victims for depositions of four figures at the very top of the church’s power structure…

Ratzinger, “the Vatican’s Secretary of State” (whatever the hell that means), the Inquisitor, and the ambassador to the US.

The requests, the Vatican lawyers argued, are “unprecedented – akin to a foreign plaintiff seeking a foreign court order compelling the depositions of the United States President, Vice President, Secretary of Defense and ambassador.”

No, more like akin to a foreign plaintiff seeking a foreign court order compelling the depositions of the CEO, the CFO, and two other executives of a corporation in a criminal case. Not legally, to be sure (I know, Russell!), but in reality. Corporations are a good deal more accountable than the Vatican is though.

Flaming out

Jun 28th, 2010 11:42 am | By

Remember that post about anonymous blogging? Now it can be told – the blog in question was called You’re Not Helping, and it has now flamed out – though that of course does not mean that the blogger is not still blogging somewhere else, and in fact I think it is. But it has at least admitted that it was one person and not several, and that many of its “commenters” were sock puppets. It has admitted that much of what it claimed was flatly untrue, which means it has informed us that everything it claimed could be untrue. I know from personal knowledge that a lot of it is – much of what it claimed about me is untrue.

It was weirdly obsessed with me. It called me a liar, repeatedly. I’m not a liar, as a matter of fact. It has just admitted that it is a liar. This is an improvement.

It says it’s 23 years old. If that’s true, I doubt that it’s Kees/Bernie Ranson, because that started too long ago – it seems unlikely that someone that young would spend more than two years dogging me.

It’s interesting that some accommodationists have taken YNH seriously in spite of obvious, not to say glaring, signs of its unreliability, to put it no more strongly. Interesting and not altogether impressive.

Another imponderable

Jun 28th, 2010 11:16 am | By

The Telegraph tells us

In a move designed to stress a commitment to the Catholic Church, the Coalition has decided that the former Conservative MP would represent a suitably high-profile appointment.

Why does the Coalition want to stress a commitment to the Catholic Church? Seriously – why? The Lib-Dems have no particular love for religion in general or the Catholic church in particular, that I know of, and the Tories are more likely to be friendly to the Church Established, aren’t they? And right at this current immediate now point in time, the Catholic church is not looking like a particularly respectable institution, so why does the Coalition want to stress a commitment to it? It’s a nasty child-raping law-avoiding self-protecting gang that considers itself “holy” and somehow in cahoots with “God” – so what is it about the Catholic church that the Coalition wants to stress a commitment to?

I would love to know.


Jun 27th, 2010 12:04 pm | By

The pope and the Vatican are trying even harder to get the whole world outside “the Holy See” to loathe and despise them for their passionate selfishness and territorialism and their shocking, persistent, hardened inability to take the real and horrendous damage done to Other People more seriously than minor inconveniences to themselves.

Pope Benedict has joined mounting Vatican criticism of raids by Belgian police investigating alleged child sex abuse, calling them “deplorable”…Pope Benedict’s criticism of the raids came in a message of support to Brussels Archbishop Andre Joseph Leonard, the head of the Belgian bishops’ conference. “I want to express, dear brother in the Episcopate, as well as to all the Bishops of Belgium, my closeness and solidarity in this moment of sadness, in which, with certain surprising and deplorable methods, searches were carried out.”

Just so the stalwarts around Hitler might have described the deplorable methods of the crude and vulgar non-German soldiers who liberated the death camps.

I mean that. Not that Ratzinger is another Hitler, but that this imbecilic and vicious loyalty combined with contempt for laws and police that are there to prevent child rape is just that – it’s imbecilic and vicious loyalty combined with contempt for secular, democratically constituted law enforcement and for laws that apply to everyone. It’s simply disgusting that Ratzinger still can’t get it right – still can’t learn to just STFU and take whatever is coming. It’s simply disgusting that he still thinks he and his gang deserve some kind of special holy immunity from investigation and prosecution.

On Saturday Vatican officials compared the raids and investigation into allegations of child sex abuse with the treatment of the Church under communist rule.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, described the detention of priests “serious and unbelievable”.

“There are no precedents, not even under the old communist regimes,” he said.

The cardinal alleged that the Belgian bishops were left all day without food or drink, although this was later denied by the Belgian authorities.

The Vatican has summoned the Belgian ambassador to the Holy See to voice its anger at the incident.

I hope the Belgian ambassador gave the Vatican an earful.

Et tu AAAS?

Jun 26th, 2010 4:54 pm | By

Jen McCreight of Blag Hag is at the Evolution 2010 conference in Portland and she went to a 2 hour symposium on Communication this morning. It started well, with Robert Pennock giving some good advice…but then…

But it quickly went downhill. Much of the talk was about distancing support of evolution from atheistic views – that we need to stress that religion and science is compatible so people in the “middle” can still accept theistic evolution. That people are more willing to accept evolution if they hear it from their pastor. He lauded Francis Collins and the BioLogos foundation for being pro-evolution…even though BioLogos just had a piece trying to reconcile Biblical Adam and Eve with evolution.

Well that is being pro-evolution – it’s just not being pro-thinking straight, that’s all.

The reason why people feel compelled to do this is because religion holds a special status in our society where it can’t be criticized, even when it’s blatantly wrong. This really came out in the second part of the symposium, which was by a woman from AAAS (I unfortunately missed her name). She said there’s no use in including creationists or atheists in the discussion because we’re extremists who won’t change our minds.

Oh thanks. People from the AAAS are othering atheists now; that’s nice. Science and The Good People are all in the middle, and atheists are way the hell out there on the extreme margin, being marginal extremists, and weird and different and abnormal. I believe this is colloquially known as throwing people under the bus. It’s spotting an enemy and cold-bloodedly deciding to sacrifice an ally or friend to the enemy to save one’s own life or job or ability to get along with the neighbors. It’s not very principled or admirable.

Ratzinger v Belgium

Jun 25th, 2010 1:19 pm | By

The pope is pissed off because Belgian police are investigating Belgian citizens over allegations of crimes against other Belgian citizens (who were underage at the time) along with concealment and perpetuation of those crimes. What business, exactly, does the pope have being pissed off about this? He is the head of the organization the suspects work for, but so what?

The Vatican has expressed shock at raids, including the “violation” of a cathedral crypt, by Belgian police investigating alleged child sex abuse.

Well that’s typical, isn’t it – they’re “shocked” about the “violation” of a crypt – an inanimate object – when they were never all that shocked about the repeated violation of living breathing feeling human beings at their hands. They have a sick, disgusting sense of priorities, and they can’t seem to unlearn it, even with the help of relentless public scrutiny and opprobrium. They seem to be unteachable.

The Vatican has summoned the Belgian ambassador to the Holy See to voice anger over Thursday’s raids.

Summoned? Summoned? Who does he think he is? Okay he’s the notional head of the notional state to which the Belgian ambassador is the notional ambassador. But all the same – who does he think he is? What right does he think he has to “voice anger” over police investigation of crimes committed and concealed by his loathsome festering rot-riddled gang of theocrats?

The answer is probably sealed up in some crypt or other.


Jun 25th, 2010 12:57 pm | By

Hey – want to do something? Want to make a difference? Want to make all the horrid oil in the gulf turn into nice healthy salt water and plankton and plastic water bottles? You can do all that. Deepak Chopra and Jean Houston and all those people will show you the way.

First step is tomorrow, 10 a.m. where I am, whatever time it is where you are. That’s Setting Our Sacred Intention time.

We begin by setting our collective intention. Join Deepak Chopra to set our powerful vision and participate in a worldwide Intention Experiment with renowned author and journalist Lynne McTaggart. Explore how our collective intention, our voice and our commitment can impact the cleanup of the oil spill. And then we will be graced by Jean Houston who will share with us why this time matters and why we matter.

Next step is July 6, 5:30 p.m. where I am, you figure it out where you are. This is The Power of Sacred Prayer. (Not to be confused with The Power of Mundane Prayer.)

Our collective prayers and thoughts have the power to cause a profound shift on the planet. Pray with some of the most powerful spiritual thought leaders – Reverend Michael Bernard Beckwith, Joan Borysenko, James O’Dea and more. Together we discover that we have the power to change the world.

So at about 6:30 p.m. my time on Tuesday July 6th (frankly I don’t care what time it is where you are) all the oil in and around the Gulf will suddenly crinkle up like tissue paper and then kind of dry out like an old orange peel and then it will just evaporate, in a non-toxic way, and that will be the end of that. All everybody has to do is re-stock the fish and other fauna, and everything is made whole. Just by all praying together at the same time. Way easier than trying to engineer a way to seal off the oil, and trying to mop up millions of barrels of the fucking stuff. Also prettier, nicer, more spirichal, and with fluffier hair.

See you tomorrow at 10 a.m. my time! Bring pastries.

Put your hands out where I can see them

Jun 24th, 2010 5:37 pm | By

Belgian authorities heightened pressure on the Roman Catholic Church in a sex-abuse scandal on Thursday, raiding the Belgian church headquarters, the home of a former archbishop and the offices of a commission established by the church to handle abuse complaints.

Police arrived at the church headquarters, the palace of the archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, on Thursday morning while the monthly bishops meeting was in progress, a church spokesman said, questioning all of those present, from bishops down to staff members such as cooks and drivers.

Now that’s more like it. That sounds as if someone actually realizes that raping children is a crime, and not a little foible that can be gently discouraged by one’s colleagues without anyone’s hair having to get mussed.

The authorities’ decision to search church property, question bishops and seize documents and other potential evidence represented a major departure in such investigations and a sign that in criminal matters the church will not be afforded special treatment here. This sort of activity “Is extremely rare, very rare, especially in the house of a cardinal,” said Andrea Tornielli, a Vatican expert at the Italian daily Il Giornale. “It’s enormous.”

…Barbara Dorris, outreach director for the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said in a statement that the raid was “precisely what’s needed, not just in Belgium but in other church offices across the globe.”

“Law enforcement officials must stop giving the Catholic hierarchy a ‘free pass’ when it comes to clergy sex crimes and cover-ups,” Ms. Dorris said. “Police and prosecutors need to step up, and promptly and thoroughly investigate allegations against predator priests and corrupt bishops, and use their full powers to gain access to and control over church records that likely document the crimes and cover-ups.”

No more special treatment. That’s all. Not an unreasonable expectation.

The hermeneutic auction

Jun 24th, 2010 12:18 pm | By

First there’s Daniel Harrell’s essay for BioLogos explaining that Adam and Eve were really truly. The introduction (perhaps written by someone else – it’s not clear) says “science does not rule out the possibility of a historical Adam and Eve.” Wull, yes it does. A historical woman and man who were the only humans on the planet and lived about 4 6 thousand years ago? Yes it does. So does history.

Anyway, Harrell explains that we can decide that Eve and Adam were really truly in a different way from being created all of a sudden by god and then filled up with fake DNA to trick everyone.

Can we use “formed” and “breathed” to mean created through the long and continuous history of biological evolution (as were the other living creatures in Genesis 1)? If so, then perhaps “the Lord God formed the man” could be read emphasizing the novelty and uniqueness which humans inhabit.

Yeah, we can; sure. It’s a silly way to say that, but hey, whatever floats your boat.

But pesky sciency Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne and PZ Myers said it’s silly to bother working out a way to say that Adam and Eve are really truly.

So the president of BioLogos, Darrel Falk, wrote to Dawkins to tell him he’d misunderstood. Dawkins answered to say oh no I didn’t. He didn’t, too. He was saying the second option, partially quoted above, was silly, not that the first one was. Of course the first one is – the first one is just “it was just like it says here on the page.” The point is that the contortionist one is silly too.

Now Darrel Falk is all weary and washed out, because here he is offering the middle ground and all these people stomp their foot and say No! we don’t want your damn middle ground.

He wants us to see there is middle ground between saying Adam and Eve were really truly in just the way the bible says, and saying there were no such people as Adam and Eve. He wants to make it a matter of negotiation and adjudication and splitting the difference, rather than a matter of getting it right. What should we do, bargain away a bit at a time? They lived five thousand years ago. Ten thousand. A million. No? Five hundred thousand? Sold! They were part of a group of forty humans. Sixty. A hundred. A hundred thousand. No? Ten thousand? Sold! They had parents and grandparents. They had ancestors going back ten generations. They had ancestors going back a thousand generations. No? Fifty? Sold!

And then that’s what goes in the textbooks, and that becomes the consensus? Or what? What’s Darrel Falk looking for? What kind of middle ground is he talking about? Epistemic? Political? Both at once?

It won’t do. Either way it won’t do. Even if it’s just political, it won’t work, because it will be so obvious when all the sciencey types go right on saying humans began to split from other apes some 6 million years ago whenever they’re not doing politics.

Another cunning plan breaks down.

The blessing is not that God will actually do anything

Jun 23rd, 2010 5:12 pm | By

At the end of his oil spill speech last week, Obama got into some god talk – quite a lot of it, as a matter of fact. He told us about that pretty custom, “The Blessing of the Fleet.” He explained that what’s so pretty about it is not that it works, because it doesn’t, but that we have goddy company while we drown or choke on oil.

For as a priest and former fisherman once said of the tradition, “The blessing is not that God has promised to remove all obstacles and dangers. The blessing is that He is with us always,” a blessing that’s granted “even in the midst of the storm.”

The blessing is that he is with us, standing by and refusing to help, watching us as we struggle and gasp and flounder and kick, like the poor birds in the oil.

Remind me why that is a blessing, exactly? Having an all-powerful witness who could help but doesn’t, watching?

Sometimes the insult is just too god damn insulting.


Jun 23rd, 2010 11:59 am | By

As we’ve seen, Chris Mooney remarked a couple of days ago that “The fact is, journalism (and dialogue) about science and religion are pretty difficult to oppose.”

Actually they’re not. There are reasons for opposing some general enterprise of treating science and religion as necessarily connected, and there are reasons for opposing much of the product of that enterprise, too. There are also reasons for doing the opposite.

One reason for opposing the product, frankly, is that it tends to be a boring vacuous waffly waste of time. Witness the detailed blow-by-blow account by Tom Paine’s Ghost of the World Science Festival session “Faith and Science” for instance.

Check it out. It’s mostly harmless, it’s pleasant enough, but it’s at best drearily familiar, and weightless, and futile. Enterprises in squaring the circle usually are, I would guess. They don’t have anything really substantive to say, so they just discuss, in a circling inconclusive “what am I doing here” way. Mooney is probably right that there’s not much need to oppose that kind of talk with any energy (its implied messages are another matter), but it does look like a waste of time and effort.

Mooney himself felt somewhat the same way about the theology parts of his Templeton fellowship.

To be sure, we hear a fair amount about theological thought here–and I have my difficulties with theology as a field, simply because of my personal identity if nothing else. Being an atheist, it is pretty hard to relate to a theological perspective on something like, say, the meaning of the doctrine of creation. Why would something like that speak to me, resonate for me, or even make sense to me?

Why indeed – but it’s not primarily a matter of personal identity. He should have talked about the “if nothing else” part – the something else is the part that counts. Atheism is not just an identity; identity should come last rather than first. People are atheists for reasons. I assume even Mooney is an atheist for reasons, although he is careful not to mention them these days. That’s perhaps one of the most distasteful aspects of his anti-atheism: his reluctance to do more than say he is an atheist – rather as a non-observant Jew might say she is a Jew. It’s as if Mooney is a non-observant atheist.

But not all of us are. Lots of us really do have reasons for our atheism, and we think the reasons matter. Treating them as beside the point or unimportant seems odd to us. And the reasons we are atheists are the reasons we think science and religion don’t go together. We think they are different, for reasons, that matter.


Jun 22nd, 2010 5:32 pm | By

One more thing about Mooney and the jollification at the AAAS last week. Mooney keeps talking about dialogue between religion and science, bringing religion and science together. But what actually happened at the jollification, and what Mooney asked about there, was religious people and scientists talking. That’s a different thing. Obviously religious people and scientists can talk any time, and it’s unexceptionable that they do. But the fact that religious people and scientists talk to each other doesn’t mean that religion and science are somehow getting closer together, or even having a dialogue.

Oh don’t be silly, you may say; that’s what they mean – by “bringing religion and science together” they mean religious people and scientists talking to each other. But is it? I’m not so sure. I don’t think it is. I think we’re supposed to think that the two are sort of the same – that accomplishing the one is accomplishing the other.

Maybe this is a good thing, I don’t know. Maybe it’s just a sop to believers. Maybe the idea is that if religious people and scientists get together and talk, religious people will get the idea that science isn’t so scary after all, without science having to make itself a little bit more like religion. But on the other hand, maybe it works the other way; maybe the idea is that if religious people and scientists get together and talk, then BioLogos will somehow become part of science, and pretty soon it will be part of the curriculum, and…

Hold my hand, I’m scared.

There’s another thing. It wasn’t actually a dialogue on science and religion – it was a Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion. How did ethics get in there? What’s ethics got to do with science or religion? Why didn’t they throw in ballet and literary criticism while they were at it?

For real?

Jun 22nd, 2010 4:29 pm | By

Is this true?

A London council was at the centre of a religious row last night after it announced it had dumped Christian prayer in favour of poetry readings at the start of council meetings…The vast majority of councils choose to start meetings with Christian Prayers while a handful of other local authorities begin with other faiths.

Is that true? Most councils start meetings with prayers?

It sounds crazy. Anybody know the facts?

The eyes of Texas are bloodshot

Jun 22nd, 2010 3:22 pm | By

The Texas Taliban Republican Party really is a hoot. Their new platform wants to set up an Inquisition, take the suffrage away from women and Nigras, send Jews to Iceland to do sumpin about that there volcano -

Okay, I’m lying. No all the platform wants to do is, for instance,

restrict citizenship to children born in the United States whose parents are citizens

That’s all – it just wants to repeal the 14th Amendment, that’s all. You know – the one that was passed in the wake of the Civil War, that undid the infamous three fifths rule in the Constitution and the equally infamous Dred Scott decision. And you know what else that particular red-hot idea would do? You do if you’ve seen the latest News item, because I spilled it there already. Look at it. It would make the current president a non-citizen according to Texas. I find that fascinating – it makes my blood run cold.

The platform would also like the reinstatement of laws banning “sodomy,” and to make gay marriage a felony. A felony! With jail time!

I’m canceling that vacation trip to Lubbock right now. I don’t think I would feel cheerful there.

We try to keep the way we’ve been doing things for generations

Jun 22nd, 2010 12:11 pm | By

When “education” consists of nothing but studying one book, then not much is learned.

For thousands of years the way that ultra-orthodox Jewish children are taught has changed little and is based almost entirely on study of the Torah – the Jewish Bible.

But now a group of leading secular Israelis wants to force the ultra-orthodox, or Haredi, education system to modernise and adopt standard subjects like maths, science and English.

The reason, they say, is that thousands of Haredi students are unable or unwilling to participate in wider Israeli society and are becoming an increasing economic burden.

“Participate in wider Israeli society” looks a lot like “get a paying job.” The BBC is apparently reluctant to spell that out (why?) but it seems pretty clear that if all you have ever “studied” is the Torah, then nobody is going to hire you except someone who wants Torah-knowledge and has the money to pay you to provide it, which once again implies a job or some other source of income in the background. In short if everyone in a given society learns nothing but the Torah or the Koran or Harry Potter, then no one will be doing anything that produces material wealth, and all the Torah scholars or Potter scholars will sooner or later starve to death. In short there is something just a tad self-indulgent about infinite Torah-frotting unless one is already, like Mr Bingley, in possession of a large fortune.

The rabbi acknowledges that most of the boys he teaches will never work or participate in “wider” Israeli society – dedicating themselves instead to a life of religious study.

“We try to keep the way we’ve been doing things for generations – for hundreds, even thousands of years,” he says. “It’s the same idea of studying the Talmud, an explanation of the Torah. We see the success, the great success and don’t want to change a thing.”

What success? At whose expense? Who provides the meals and the roof over the head? Who pays for all this success?

How to do dialogue

Jun 21st, 2010 12:30 pm | By

Chris Mooney is in praise of dialogue again.

The fact is, journalism (and dialogue) about science and religion are pretty difficult to oppose.

Case in point: Last week, here in D.C. (my old, new home), I attended an event at the American Association for the Advancement of Science to reintroduce its Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion…At the close of the session, I rose and posed a question. One can never remember exact words, but in essence, it was this: “I’m glad you’re trying to foster dialogue between scientists and the religious community, and I’m sure you’ll succeed. But here is a harder question–how will you foster dialogue with the New Atheists?”

Oh that dialogue about science and religion – the one where everybody gets together and hates on “the New Atheists.” And if they’re slow to get around to that, fortunately, Chris Mooney is there to remind them to get down to it – Mr Communication, Mr Framing, Mr Can’t We All Get Along himself. Chris Mooney is a friend to everyone – except the evil marginal non-mainstream people he insists on calling “the New Atheists” as if that were a known classified species rather than a sloppy journalistic catch-all pejorative.

Good to have you back Chris. You’re a real piece of work.

Call it peace

Jun 20th, 2010 5:27 pm | By

Well how nice for Toronto – unlike poor sad deprived Britain, it gets to have Zakir Naik telling it what’s what.

Zakir Naik, founder of online Peace TV in Mumbai, India, tops the bill at the Journey of Faith Conference, July 2-4, at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. It is being described as the largest Islamic conference ever in North America. In videos on YouTube, Naik advocates death to homosexuals and to Muslims who leave the faith…“This guy has absolute hatred for the West,” Tarek Fatah of the Muslim Canadian Congress said Friday.

And homosexuals and apostates, apparently. I bet he’s not much of a feminist, either.

“What we want him to preach here is peace. We want him to talk about how we can live and coexist with non-Muslim communities,” said Rageh, the imam of Abu Huraira Centre. “I would not invite anybody who has problem with this message.”

Hmm. It sounds as if Rageh may have mixed up his file cards.