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.

85% men 15% women

Jan 31st, 2011 5:43 pm | By

It won’t do, you see. The Wikipedia gender imbalance thing – when taken with all the other gender imbalance things – won’t do.

Jane Margolis, co-author of a book on sexism in computer science, “Unlocking the Clubhouse,” argues that Wikipedia is experiencing the same problems of the offline world, where women are less willing to assert their opinions in public. “In almost every space, who are the authorities, the politicians, writers for op-ed pages?”…

According to the OpEd Project, an organization based in New York that monitors the gender breakdown of contributors to “public thought-leadership forums,” a participation rate of roughly 85-to-15 percent, men to women, is common — whether members of Congress, or writers on The New York Times and Washington Post Op-Ed pages.

Or atheists talking at atheist or secularist or skeptical conferences. That won’t do, because it perpetuates itself. As Clay Shirky points out, if most “authorities” are men, then the voice of authority sounds male. That’s no good.

It would seem to be an irony that Wikipedia, where the amateur contributor is celebrated, is experiencing the same problem as forums that require expertise. But Catherine Orenstein, the founder and director of the OpEd Project, said many women lacked the confidence to put forth their views. “When you are a minority voice, you begin to doubt your own competencies,” she said.

What I just said. The voice of authority sounds male; you’re a minority voice so that must be for a reason and the reason must be that you’re not competent so…you’d better just be quiet.

That’s no good.

Oystercatchers and eagles

Jan 31st, 2011 12:36 pm | By
Oystercatchers and eagles

I’m back. The CFI talk was good fun. CFI Vancouver did a great bit on the CBC’s Marketplace a couple of weeks ago: they gathered outside a hospital emergency room (“just in case”) and took an overdose of homeopathic “medicine.” 

It rained almost the whole time on Friday, and the same Saturday. It was a bit tragic, because I was staying in a borrowed apartment on the 34th floor of a tower next to the harbor, which was spectacular, but I knew it would be considerably more spectacular if it were clear, and it seemed that it was never going to be clear. But then Saturday evening, after I’d gotten thoroughly soaked three times, it started to clear and then clear some more, and Sunday was cold and crystal clear. I went out at dawn to walk around the edge of Stanley Park. It was…well it was a hell of a good walk, I can tell you. I saw a bald eagle sitting at the top of a fir tree on the north side. I saw four oystercatchers digging around in the rocks near Third Beach. I saw an eagle flying overhead near Second Beach, then I saw one sitting at the top of another fir tree. I don’t know if that was three eagles, or two, or one.

Then I went back to the borrowed apartment, and nearly fell over when I saw what the view is like on a clear day.

And now I’m back.

Update: I forgot to say: Fred Bremmer took the pictures. I stole them from Facebook.

One more for the road

Jan 28th, 2011 7:44 am | By

I woke up early, so I have a little time to mutter things before I hit the road.

I’ll mutter about Sharon Rupp’s interview of wonderful me. I got a chance to name-check some atheist women:

 She is part of that cadre of professional atheists that includes best-selling authors Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, and a host of lesser known writers, none of whom seems to be a woman.”Oh there are women: Polly Toynbee, Katha Pollitt, Greta Christina…” Benson protests, noting that even the humanist-secularist-atheist crowd is subject to that old problem of blindness when it comes to women’s accomplishments. “I’ve asked conference organizers why there are no women speaking and some say it didn’t occur to them, others say they don’t know any.”

Actually I haven’t asked conference organizers, because I haven’t had the opportunity to ask them things, because they don’t organize me. Actually it was PZ who asked them, who asks them every time he speaks at one – “Will you please wake up and ask some women already?” And they tell him, “Uh……we couldn’t think of any.” And he smites his brow.

So props to Vancouver CFI, eh, they thought of one.

Kristof v Olmsted

Jan 28th, 2011 7:20 am | By

The bishop of Phoenix is getting some more glare of publicity, this time from Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times. I hope more people will start to grasp just what it is that he and his Conference of catholic bishops are saying. They are saying that hospitals – all hospitals if they had their way, not just Catholic ones – should flatly refuse to save pregnant women’s lives by ending early pregnancies. They are saying that if ending an early pregnancy is the only way a particular woman’s life can be saved, then that woman must die. (They make an exception for something they call “indirect abortion,” which is enormously generous of them.)

Now the bishop, in effect, is excommunicating the entire hospital — all because it saved a woman’s life.

Precisely. That’s the bit that needs to be emphasized, and repeated. Some people think the bishop simply doesn’t realize what he’s saying. Oh yes he does.

The hospital backed up Sister Margaret, and it rejected the bishop’s demand that it never again terminate a pregnancy to save the life of a mother.

But the bishop remains a free man. He has not been arrested. There is no talk of arresting him (except for around here). He is using all the “authority” and influence he has in an effort to compel hospitals to let women die, yet no one tries to stop him. People defy him, but that’s as far as they go.

A short break

Jan 27th, 2011 4:14 pm | By

As you may have seen (I think I’ve mentioned it), I’m doing a talk in Vancouver tomorrow, so I’m away for three days. Have a tranquil yet quietly thrilling weekend.

No wisdom

Jan 27th, 2011 1:13 pm | By

It’s so horrible about David Kato.

A school teacher, he became a prominent campaigner in recent years, especially taking on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which called for the death sentence to be imposed for some homosexual acts…

Ms Kimani said he was one of the most visible gay campaigners in Uganda, serving as the litigation officer for the group Sexual Minorities Uganda (Smug)…

He often faced accusations that he was trying to groom children, which Ms Pepe, who worked with him at Smug, blamed on “religious propaganda”.

“These allegations were of course were false,” she said…

Rebecca McDowall, a student in London who met Mr Kato at an event recently, said he was aware that what he was doing was dangerous.

“He was so inspirational as a public speaker,” she told the BBC. “He looked like a small unassuming person but when he got up, you couldn’t help but sit up and listen.”

Ms Pepe said Mr Kato’s family and friends are still in shock.

“We spoke to Waswa yesterday, he’s equally devastated – he’s trying to hold it together but he’s shattered because of course they were really close,” she said.

She and Mr Kato were chatting on the phone about an hour before he was attacked – and he had been laughing and joking.

“I keep hearing his laughter in my head – it breaks my heart,” she said.

Horrible. I have nothing wiser to say.

A sewer

Jan 26th, 2011 5:43 pm | By


Slightly afraid and slightly queasy in advance, I hunted up Glenn Beck’s website called “the Blaze” and looked for something on Frances Fox Piven.

And found it.


And people think violent rhetoric might be a problem…I can’t imagine why, can you?

Demonstrations, tenability, reasons

Jan 26th, 2011 1:06 pm | By

So now we’re disputing whether or not goddy claims can be untenable even if they’re not, technically, demonstrably false.

I think they can. It’s true that it’s not possible to demonstrate that goddy claims are false. (When Russell first met Wittgenstein, the latter drove the former crazy by refusing to agree that there couldn’t be [or that he couldn't know that there wasn't?] an invisible rhinoceros in the middle of Russell’s study, or some such thing.)

But that doesn’t make goddy claims tenable. It doesn’t make them plausible, either. There are myriad reasons that are short of demonstration but are still good reasons not to believe “God” exists.

To repeat the bit I quoted from Georges Rey:

Now, it doesn’t seem to me even a remotely serious possibility that such a God exists: his non-existence is, in the words of the American jury system, “beyond a reasonable doubt.” I am, of course, well aware that plenty of arguments and appeals to experience have been produced to the contrary, but they seem to me obviously fallacious, and would be readily seen to be so were it not for the social protections religious claims regularly enjoy.

It doesn’t seem even a remotely serious possibility that such a God exists. That’s not a demonstration that it doesn’t, but it’s a very compelling reason not to believe that it does. And this is no small thing. It rests on the idea that one should have good reasons to believe things (where possible, other things being equal, etc). It has traction.


Jan 25th, 2011 4:47 pm | By

A commenter at WEIT yesterday, strikingly named RPS, made a familiar point

I eagerly await your demonstration that the claim “God exists” is false.

She later expanded.

As they say, you don’t know what you don’t know. I’d be perfectly happy with a clear demonstration of how “God” as commonly understood doesn’t exist.

The fact that it’s difficult to impossible to demonstrate conclusively that something doesn’t exist does not mean it’s reasonable to believe that that something does exist. It’s also not a good reason to believe that it does exist.

It’s possible to imagine an infinite number of things, none of which we can demonstrate conclusively not to exist. That doesn’t mean we should believe they all do exist.

Why can’t we demonstrate that “God” doesn’t exist? Because there’s nothing to demonstrate – to examine or investigate. There is no specificity to test. But that’s not a reason to think God does exist; it’s a reason not to. Things that exist have specificity.

If people (however many) say there’s an X but won’t and can’t say where, how, what, how much, or anything exact enough to peer review…then that’s a reason to think they’re bullshitting. It’s true that that’s not a demonstration that X doesn’t exist, but then it doesn’t need to be.

The debut of Sans

Jan 25th, 2011 3:36 pm | By

Oh look, Sans has made its debut. It’s the new magazine put out by the splendid people at Fri Tanke who published Hatar Gud kvinnor? The theme of this first issue is religious oppression of women, including an interview with me, and there’s an occupied burqa on the cover. Barely had it hit the stands when a Christian think tank accused it of…wait for it…Islamophobia. Sayeeda Warsi would be so proud.

Sara Larsson and Christer Sturmark, the editors of Sans, wrote an article saying why the magazine is not Islamophobic and why the whole idea is bad and stupid. It’s in Swedish, but then not a few of you read Swedish, and then there’s Google translate. I used it and it did a pretty good job – there’s not much gibberish. I can give you the gist.

The Xians haven’t read the magazine yet – they’re just reacting to the cover. They seem to think the issue is all about Islam; it isn’t; it looks at all the Abrahamic religions. Islam does stand out, however, and the burqa is a good symbol of this. If including a picture of a burqa is “Islamophobic” then so is news coverage from Afghanistan. Accusations of Islamophobia threaten to paralyze the debate on human rights in general and serious assaults on women in particular. This is especially dubious when people do it from “from a very safe and cozy corner of the western media landscape.”

Damn right.

I’ve begged Sara to translate the article for me to publish; maybe she will.

Journalism 101

Jan 25th, 2011 11:28 am | By

Lauryn Oates points out that the TES reported the Taliban had gone all sweet and cuddly on girls’ education, while absent-mindedly also reporting that it had that on hearsay.

The only person quoted in the story was Afghan Education Minister Farooq Wardak, who reported, “What I am hearing at the very upper policy level of the Taliban is that they are no more opposing education and also girls’ education.”

No confirmation from the Taliban itself was provided in the story, or since.

Oh. Which, in basic beginners’ journalism, or basic beginners’ epistemology, or courts of law, or historiography, is Not Good Enough. NPR re-learned this just recently after it reported that Gabrielle Giffords had been shot and killed, based on a single source in the Pima County sheriff’s office.

With 10 minutes to spare, Newscast producer Diane Waugh began scrambling to get the story on air – if NPR could get a second source. As is common in newsrooms, NPR has a two-source rule, requiring two, reliable and independent confirmations before news is reported. Three is even better.

Relying on just one source – especially an anonymous one – can often lead to false or misleading reports in fast-breaking news.  One danger, for example, is one source getting its information from another source.

And yet…

The same day, the BBC picked up the story, using the headline, “Afghan Taliban ‘end’ opposition to educating girls,” while their counterparts at The Telegraph ran a story headlined, “Taliban ‘abandons’ opposition to girls’ education.”

The story quickly spread from the U.K. to around the world.

From one story reporting one source who was reporting hearsay.

And in this particular case, there is a lot at stake.

This afternoon, I watched dozens of girls fixated on their teacher in a dilapidated mud building that serves as a school in a poverty-stricken neighbourhood of north Kabul. Clutching their notebooks, they furiously recorded what the teacher lectured. There were no desks, chairs, or central heating as the grey, frigid winter prevails over Kabul. But there is nowhere else in the world they would rather be.

Their parents are poor, and school, even one like this, is a hard-earned luxury.

Education is a right that has not come easily for these kids. We shouldn’t be so quick to bid it away, leaping enthusiastically at a far-fetched rumour that the Taliban promise to be a little less demonic toward little girls who would do anything to be in a classroom.

Religions evolved to take the credit for good stuff

Jan 24th, 2011 6:28 pm | By

Paul W has another good comment on Ben’s post (from 2009 is it?). It’s about social science that purports to show that religion>happiness, and where the holes are.

One of the most robust findings in all of psychology is that people tend think their own children are above average. Should we then conclude that the large majority of children are above average?

Another of the most robust findings in the social sciences is that people tend to think that their own cultures are superior, and that the central, distinctive tenets of their own religions are true, and that the comparable distinctive tenets of others’ are false.

The robustness of a finding may not reflect ground truth, but pervasive systematic biases.

That’s what I’d tend to expect of anything about religion, because religions evolved to take the credit for good stuff, avoid any responsibility for bad stuff, and make themselves seem indispensible.

Why yes, so they did.

The social protections

Jan 24th, 2011 12:11 pm | By

Georges Rey says many pointed and relevant things about belief in “God”: meaning “a supernatural, psychological being, i.e., a being not subject to ordinary physical limitations, but capable of some or other mental state, such as knowing, caring, loving, disapproving” who “knows about our lives, cares about the good, either created the physical world or can intervene in it, and, at least in Christianity, is in charge of a person’s whereabouts in an ‘afterlife’.”

Now, it doesn’t seem to me even a remotely serious possibility that such a God exists: his non-existence is, in the words of the American jury system, “beyond a reasonable doubt.” I am, of course, well aware that plenty of arguments and appeals to experience have been produced to the contrary, but they seem to me obviously fallacious, and would be readily seen to be so were it not for the social protections religious claims regularly enjoy.

That’s exactly it, and that’s what puts the “gnu” in “gnu” atheism – the fact that it doesn’t seem to us even a remotely serious possibility that such a God exists and that we don’t feel inhibited about saying so in public discourse. It’s exactly that, at heart, that so annoys the unfans of gnu atheism. It’s supposed to be rude or intolerant or fundamentalist or conceited or vain or we think we’re so smartish of us to think that and to say it.

Yet that doesn’t apply to other obviously preposterous claims or beliefs or stories. Just the goddy one. Just the local goddy one, pretty much.


Power without scrutiny

Jan 23rd, 2011 5:12 pm | By

Andrew Anthony is good on the subject of Warsi’s little talk on “Islamophobia.”

She has complained that the last government was “too suspicious” of faith and treated it as “a rather quaint relic of our pre-industrial history”. Given that Tony Blair was overtly religious, his government expanded and promoted faith schools and consistently tried to pass censorious blasphemy laws, it gives pause to wonder how much more religious Warsi would like her own government to be. 

Really. She thinks Labour wasn’t religious enough?

In citing liberal critics of religion such as Polly Toynbee as representing an “abhorrent” attitude, she certainly made it clear how much less secular she would like society to be.

A lot less.

Last year, Number 10 made her withdraw from the Global Peace and Unity conference in London. Despite its title, the GPU event featured several antisemites and Islamic hate preachers. By all accounts, Warsi was disappointed not to attend. Had she spoken, she intended to challenge extremist attitudes.But she also saw in the GPU a chance to show the power of an organised faith community. As she put it in another speech: “In Britain, the resilience of religion gives us the confidence to reject the intolerance of secularist fundamentalists.”

This is the kind of language that plays well among many religious activists. However, there is a hidden paradox in Warsi’s position. She wants to give greater voice to religion in the political arena, yet she also wishes there to be less criticism of religion, in other words, power without scrutiny.

Just like the pope.

That’s cold

Jan 22nd, 2011 5:00 pm | By

Something Eric said in his latest post struck me. The subject is again Wilkinson at BioLogos, this time on his raised eyebrow at Eric’s moral arguments. Eric wonders why the eyebrow is raised.

But why, I wonder, does Wilkinson think that my moral arguments are quaintly old-fashioned? Is this just an example of theological scatter-shot, or did he have something specific in mind? My belief is that religion has completely disastrous moral consequences…

My own central moral concern, at least as this is exemplified in the name of this blog, is the religious insistence that people suffer intolerably as they die, and that they should be denied help in bringing their dying more quickly to an end.

I stopped reading there, because I wanted to think about that. It suggested something…

What it suggested is that religions of this type don’t love us. We’re not their cherished children or the objects of their concern or even empathy. They don’t give a rat’s ass about us, not us – not as we are, not our real fleshy mortal vulnerable selves. They may care, or think they care, about some abstract perfected us that lives on after we’re dead, but they don’t care about us as we are here and now. We know this because they want us to suffer. They are willing and indeed eager to force us to suffer if the only alternative is our deciding for ourselves. They are willing and eager to force us to suffer if the only alternative is our breaking one of their rules. They love their rules, and they don’t love us.

The bishop of Phoenix is angry because that mother of four young children is not now dead. He is morally indignant because she is not dead. It is his considered opinion that she should be dead now.

They want us to suffer when we would prefer not to, and die when we would prefer to live, for the sake of their rules.

They’re a cold-hearted lot.

Giles Fraser warns against slippage

Jan 22nd, 2011 2:06 pm | By

Giles Fraser is all in a lather about “Islamophobia.” He quite understands that it’s permissible to criticize Islam as such, sort of, though he’d much rather you didn’t, but still he does realize he has to say you can if you really want to, but

but but but

it’s really not. Actually. Since you ask.

Conversations generally begin with the sort of anxieties that many of us might reasonably share: it cannot be right for women to be denied access to education in some Islamic regimes; the use of the death penalty for apostasy is totally unacceptable; what about the treatment of homosexuals? The conversation then moves on to sharia law or jihad or the burqa, not all of it entirely well informed.

And then and then and then it falls right off a cliff into just plain hating Muslims, so the fact is, you can’t talk about the we might reasonably share items either, because if you do, an invisible cable will attach itself to your ankle and drag you inexorably over that cliff. No discussing women’s rights under Islamist regimes, no discussing the death penalty for apostasy, no discussing sharia or the burqa. Just don’t talk about it at all, if you please, because you do it rong, or you risk doing it rong, and therefore you have to stop before you start.

What can begin as a perfectly legitimate conversation about, say, religious belief and human rights, can drift into a licence for observations that in any other circumstance would be regarded as tantamount to racism. Like the 19th-century link between anti-Catholicism and racism towards the Irish, one can easily bleed into the other.

Racism towards the Irish? “Irish” is a race now?

Never mind. The point is, talking about one thing can lead to talking about another thing, and the other thing is bad, so talking about the first thing is forbidden, lest it lead to the other thing. Clear? And fair? And compatible with notions of the value of free speech and free inquiry? Certainly.

“I treat the Islamic religion with the same respect as the bubble-gum I scrape off my shoe,” suggested one contributor to the website of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, in response to Warsi’s speech.

He means commenter. If it were a contributor, he would of course provide an actual name. He’s so hard up for examples of his one thing leading to another thing that he offers an unnamed commenter on Dawkins’s site. He feels justified in ruling a large and important subject out of bounds because of an anonymous comment on Dawkins’s website.

I think we can safely discount his advice.

Signs and portents

Jan 21st, 2011 5:39 pm | By

Other people have been disputing BioLogos guest poster Loren Wilkinson; I’ll just add a footnote or two.

The BioLogos Foundation, with its commitment to the “integration of science and Christian faith” is one of many signs that the 150-year-old idea of a “warfare” between science and religion is ending. 

You wish. It’s actually just a sign that the Templeton Foundation has a lot of money, much of which it spends on a great many organizations and conferences and books devoted to creating “signs” that science and religion are deeply in love. The BioLogos Foundation isn’t some independent phenomenon that just happened without any interested parties helping and funding – it’s the product of a well-funded agenda. It’s disingenuous to look at it all wide-eyed and pretend to think it’s a portent. It’s not a portent, it’s a concerted effort.

The warfare language implies that there were two kinds of knowledge: “religious knowledge”, established only by emotion and authority, and scientific knowledge, established by experience, experiment and testing.

No. No no. No no no no. That’s not the idea at all. The warfare language implies, and often says, that there is knowledge on the one hand, and dogma on the other. That’s pretty much what the warfare is. The two are in tension. The two don’t mix well. When a cleric says women must be subordinate to men because God said so, actual knowledge has nothing to do with it. The cleric doesn’t know what “God” “said” any more than you do or I do; the cleric is just passing on some dogma as a way of backing up a stupid prejudice.

I see part 2 is posted. Dear oh dear, more reading wading to do.

The implicit tyranny

Jan 21st, 2011 11:46 am | By

Eric explains why he writes about religion.

Suddenly, I find myself reading more and more about religion, and, since I spent a lifetime in the church, and am trying to put this behind me, I need to explain to myself, sometimes, why I am doing so. For now, instead of trying to give an account of myself, as St. Paul would have said, for the faith that is in me, I write to oppose religion, and all, or pretty much all, that it stands for…I oppose religion because I find that it diminishes — and cannot fail to diminish — us as persons.

He zooms in on the religious tendency to try to mandate a “religious” view of the body without regard to the actual experience and feeling of the person who inhabits the body. He does not like it.

I don’t want to be told that I must find my body, which has been reduced to this, to be a sacred home, when it’s just not possible for me to see it in this way; and I don’t want people like Ackerman or Ziettlow to play their religious shell game with me, and tell me that I must simply give up the conceptions of a lifetime and find my dignity in something else.

That resonates very strongly with me. Our conceptions of a lifetime are ours, and religious people have no business trying to make us alter them. Doing so is a form of tyranny.

None of this is to say that people should not be treated with respect and dignity, no matter what their condition or stage of life. But it is to say that religious conceptions of the sacredness of the body are only applicable to those who find this language helpful, and it is, as Dworkin says on the same page, “a devastating, odious form of tyranny” to make “someone die in a way that others approve, but he feels is a horrifying contradiction of his life.” It is the implicit tyranny of Rev. Ziettlow’s remarks that I find so objectionable, because religious conceptions just are the kind of thing that people believe it is appropriate to impose on others, and that is, to a large degree — aside, of course, from the ineradicable epistemological problems of all religious beliefs — the most objectionable thing about religion. Religion believes itself in the possession of absolute knowledge, applicable to all people, always, and everywhere. That’s why I write about religion, because it is an affront to human dignity and a continuing threat to human freedom.

Yes. Exactly. It is the tyranny and the imposition that is so profoundly objectionable. That’s the fuel of gnu atheist wrath – we all resent the imposition and the tyranny. We all squirm when it tries to grab us, and we all want to drive it back into a safe corner where we can keep a wary eye on it.

I wrote an article about this last summer. I wrote it at the invitation of Adam Lee of Daylight Atheist, but he rejected it. I might post it here one of these days.

Who, us?

Jan 20th, 2011 12:53 pm | By

Just look at the Telegraph’s bland concealment of the nasty truth about misogynist Anglican clerics converting to Catholicism. Look at the jolly personable “we’re just a buncha nice guys” photo, look at the tactful phrasing:

The most Rev Vincent Nichols, leader of Catholics in England and Wales, ordained Andrew Burnham, former bishop of Ebbsfleet, Keith Newton, ex-bishop of Richborough, and John Broadhurst, former bishop of Fulham, as Catholic priests at a service at Westminster Cathedral in London on Saturday.

They are the first members of an Ordinariate specially set up by the Pope, for groups of Anglicans who wish to join the Roman Catholic Church while retaining aspects of their Anglican heritage.

Paras 1 and 2. It takes until para 8 for the paper to admit which “aspects of their Anglican heritage” we’re talking about – para 8 out of a 12 para piece. Lots of people read the first 2 or 3 or 4 paras of a newspaper piece without bothering to read the whole thing. If a vital bit of information is held back until para 8, the newspaper is playing games. Behold paras 7 and 8:

The ordinariate is expected to be joined by up to 50 Anglican clergy and two retired Church of England bishops.

Its formation comes after the Church of England voted last summer to press ahead with legislation to consecrate women bishops, a move opposed by Anglo-Catholic groupings within the Church.

Those ever-so-congenial laughing guys in the photo are men who want to go on keeping women out of their powerful boys’ club. And the Telegraph hopes no one will notice.

The final arbiter is the local bishop

Jan 20th, 2011 11:29 am | By

Just imagine, some people see handing over medical care to god-botherers as a bad idea.

“Physicians are being told they must refuse to provide certain services even when they believe their refusal would harm their patient and violate established medical standards of care,” said Lois Uttley, who heads MergerWatch, a New York-based group that fights the takeover of secular medical centers by religiously affiliated hospitals.

Church officials, bioethicists and hospital officials counter that the facilities are guided by directives calibrated to deliver state-of-the-art medical care without violating religious and moral beliefs.

But they shouldn’t be guided by directives calibrated to avoid violating religious beliefs. Period. Religious beliefs have nothing to do with decisions about what the best medical care would be, and they should stay out of it. Doctors, nurses, hospital administrations, ethics committees have no business imposing religious beliefs on other people.

Disagreements between dioceses and hospitals, as well as cases in which patients do not receive needed care, are exceedingly rare, they say.

They should be non-existent. Exceeding rarity doesn’t make them ok.

“We have literally hundreds of institutions that care for men, women and children every day and provide excellent care, especially to the poor,” said Richard M. Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities. “We always do so with respect for each and every life in our care.”

No you do not. That is not true. That is exactly what you don’t do. That is a falsehood. One of your bishops in particular, and your whole vicious Conference in general, insists that in a case like the one in Phoenix the mother must be allowed to die along with her fetus. Don’t tell falsehoods about your murderous policy; tell the truth about it so that everyone will know exactly what is at stake here.

Since 1971, Catholic hospitals have been guided by the Ethical and Religious Directives , which detail religious and moral justifications for care extending from conception to death. The interpretation of those directives is the responsibility of ethics committees at the hospitals, and the final arbiter is the local bishop.

The local bishop has the final word on policy for all Catholic hospitals in his diocese. The local bishop can set aside medical judgment any time he wants to. That’s an appalling arrangement.