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.

Guest post: The enslavement of those who are most in need of freedom

Nov 7th, 2014 6:46 am | By

Originally a comment by Eric MacDonald on A bishop always knows better.

There are several things wrong with the bishop’s objection to Brittany Maynard’s choosing to die. First of all, the term ‘dignity’ is a highly contested one, but Ignacio plays on two completely separate and unrelated meanings of the word. In Roman Catholic theology (and I think this is a new use of the word, though I have not been able to establish this), ‘dignity’ refers simply to the “God-givenness” of life. It does not refer to dignity in the strict sense, which consists in a person’s feeling of respect for herself (given present circumstances), and the respect paid to her by others (as opposed to pity, for example).

Dignity, in the sense relevant to Brittany’s decision, is acting according to one’s own will and in accordance with one’s own sense of value as a person.

Catholics will say that human life itself has dignity, but this is a far cry from the individual’s sense of her own dignity. What Catholics mean, I take it, is value, and they think of the value of life as infinite. However, someone in Brittany’s situation cannot feel that what the future holds (especially in the case of a brain tumour, than which there is perhaps no more excruciatingly painful way to die) will be characterised by dignity in the personal sense, however much Ignacio might hold a life characterised by unbearable pain to have infinite value.

Besides, how he supposes that Brittany would have been able to carry out the church’s mission at the point of direst pain is simply beyond me. I have sat and watched helplessly a patient with brain cancer die. Her last hour was one long, uninterrupted scream, the doctor standing by meanwhile saying defensively that there was nothing he could do. How someone in that situation is supposed to carry out a mission to others in that condition is simply beyond me, and Ignacio does not explain, because he can’t. These are rote proclamations based on the church’s dogma, and do not reflect the actual situation of people in such conditions.

I think the term ‘dignity in dying’ is an appropriate one, for most people’s deaths are not dignified. In my life as a priest I saw only one person die with what I could describe as dignity. The rest simply crumbled away into pain and a final struggle for air, or continuous vomiting. How aware they were I did not know, but their lack of dignity was the most striking thing about their deaths. Many relatives and loved ones stay away because they “didn’t want to remember [their loved one] in such distress.” They wanted to remember them as the people they really were, people with dignity, acting from their own centre, and in accordance with their own desires and values. It is a scandal that the church cannot see beyond the repetition of its dogma, rather than consider with compassion what might be the best way for a person to die, given their own choice in the matter. Forcing someone to die in a manner not of their own choosing is slavery (as Montaigne aptly said). It is interesting to see that the church still maintains this residual commitment to the enslavement of those who are most in need of freedom.

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

A bishop always knows better

Nov 6th, 2014 5:25 pm | By

Now that I’ve given you something elevating to contemplate in the ALMA picture of planet formation, we have to bump back down to squalid theocratic bullying again. This time it’s the Vatican’s reaction to Brittany Maynard’s decision to die before reaching the last horrible stages of death by brain tumor. Catholic News Agency reports what an official had to say.

Spanish Bishop Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life at the Vatican, explained to ANSA news agency, “We don’t judge people, but the gesture in itself is to be condemned. What happened in her conscience we don’t know.”

Bishop Carrasco de Paula said Maynard decided to take her life “thinking she would die with dignity, but that is the error.”

No it isn’t. I’m not a fan of the phrase “death with dignity” but even so, I think there are a lot of kinds of helplessness and malfunction that are hell on anyone’s sense of privacy, self-respect, dignity, enjoyment of not being a helpless excreting blob in a bed. It’s not an error to prefer to die before losing the ability to hold a spoon or walk to the toilet or brush one’s own teeth. It’s a preference, and different people will have different preferences, and it’s not up to the bishop to say Maynard’s was an error.

He called this view “an absurdity” because “dignity is something incompatible with putting an end to your own life.”

“Committing suicide is not a good thing; it is bad because it’s saying ‘no’ to one’s own life and to everything that it means regarding our mission towards the people around us in this world.”

Not when you have a terrible terminal illness it isn’t. But the Vatican doesn’t seem to accept that it has any obligation to take particulars into account when delivering these dogmatic generalized announcements.

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

Planet formation

Nov 6th, 2014 4:35 pm | By


Have a snapshot from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), courtesy of a press release from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

Astronomers have captured the best image ever of planet formation around an infant star as part of the testing and verification process for the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array’s (ALMA) new high-resolution capabilities.

This revolutionary new image reveals in astonishing detail the planet-forming disk surrounding HL Tau, a Sun-like star located approximately 450 light-years from Earth in the constellation Taurus.

ALMA uncovered never-before-seen features in this system, including multiple concentric rings separated by clearly defined gaps. These structures suggest that planet formation is already well underway around this remarkably young star.

A snapshot of planet formation! How cool is that?


ALMA image of the young star HL Tau and its protoplanetary disk. This best image ever of planet formation reveals multiple rings and gaps that herald the presence of emerging planets as they sweep their orbits clear of dust and gas. Credit: ALMA (NRAO/ESO/NAOJ); C. Brogan, B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF)

All stars are believed to form within clouds of gas and dust that collapse under gravity. Over time, the surrounding dust particles stick together, growing into sand, pebbles, and larger-size rocks, which eventually settle into a thin protoplanetary disk where asteroids, comets, and planets form.

Once these planetary bodies acquire enough mass, they dramatically reshape the structure of their natal disk, fashioning rings and gaps as the planets sweep their orbits clear of debris and shepherd dust and gas into tighter and more confined zones.

The new ALMA image reveals these striking features in exquisite detail, providing the clearest picture to date of planet formation. Images with this level of detail were previously only seen in computer models and artist concepts. ALMA, living up to its promise, has now provided direct proof that nature and theory are very much in agreement.

That’s exciting.

ALMA’s new high-resolution capabilities were achieved by spacing the antennas up to 15 kilometers apart. This baseline at millimeter wavelengths enabled a resolution of 35 milliarcseconds, which is equivalent to a penny as seen from more than 110 kilometers away.

“Such a resolution can only be achieved with the long baseline capabilities of ALMA and provides astronomers with new information that is impossible to collect with any other facility, including the best optical observatories,” noted ALMA Director Pierre Cox.

These long baselines fulfill one of ALMA’s major objectives and mark an impressive technological and engineering milestone. Future observations at ALMA’s longest possible baseline of 16 kilometers will produce even clearer images and continue to expand our understanding of the cosmos.

We live in interesting times.

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

A news release from the UN Human Rights Commission

Nov 6th, 2014 1:40 pm | By

UN human rights experts set out countries’ obligations to tackle harmful practices such as FGM and forced marriage

GENEVA (5 November 2014) – For the first time, two UN human rights expert committees have joined forces to issue a comprehensive interpretation of the obligations of States to prevent and eliminate harmful practices inflicted on women and girls, such as female genital mutilation, crimes committed in the name of so-called honour, forced and child marriage, and polygamy.

“Harmful practices are frequently justified by invoking social or religious customs and values often embedded in patriarchal cultures and traditions. They are deeply rooted in attitudes that regard women and girls as inferior to men and boys. They are also often used as a means of ‘protecting’ the honour of women, children and their families and as a way of controlling women’s choices and expressions, in particular their sexuality,” said Violeta Neubauer from the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

“Harmful practices are found across the world. They have become increasingly common in some countries where they did not used to exist, mainly as a result of migration, while in some regions, especially those affected by conflict, they had declined but are now re-emerging,” said Hiranthi Wijemanne from the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
The Committees’ Joint General Recommendation/General Comment* – released today – also highlights other harmful practices such as virginity testing, binding, widowhood practices, infanticide, and body modifications including fattening, neck elongation and breast ironing. The Committees also pay attention to practices such as women and girls undergoing plastic surgery to conform to social norms of beauty.

“It is time to examine harmful practices from a human rights perspective. Children have a right to be protected from practices that have absolutely no health or medical benefits but which can have long-term negative effects on their physical or mental well-being,” said Ms. Wijemanne.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child both contain provisions under which harmful practices constitute human rights violations and obliging States to take steps to prevent and eliminate them.

“Prevention is vital, and that requires the design of measures aimed at changing existing social norms and patriarchal cultures. Very often, the parents who decide to marry their girl-child or agree to FGM being performed on her do so in the belief that they are doing what is best for their daughter in a given community,” said Ms. Neubauer. “We also need to recognise that boys also suffer from harmful practices and that men and boys have a key role in eliminating them,” Ms. Wijemanne said.

The Committees’ recommendations to States on ensuring their full compliance with their legal obligations detail the criteria for determining the causes and manifestations of harmful practices. They call for a holistic approach, backed by appropriate legislation, political will and accountability, to tackling them. Strategies should be coordinated at local, regional and national level and across sectors such as education, health, justice, social welfare, law enforcement, immigration and asylum. Communities, including traditional and religious authorities, should be involved in challenging and changing attitudes that underlie and justify harmful practices.

The joint General Recommendation/General Comment reflects the common effort to ensure respect for the rights of women and children, and has been adopted as CEDAW marks its 35th anniversary and CRC its 25th anniversary.

H/t Michael DeDora

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

More recognition for Taslima

Nov 6th, 2014 1:32 pm | By

The Swedish Humanists, Humanisterna, have awarded a prize to Taslima. Here’s my edit of Google Translate’s version:

The Hedenius Prize 2014  has been awarded to the writer, commentator and feminist Taslima Nasrin, for her commitment to freedom of thought and equality for women. The prize is awarded annually by the Humanist Association to a Swedish citizen who worked in the spirit of the philosopher Ingemar Hedenius. On Sunday 9 November at 2 p.m.  Taslima Nasrin will accept the award at the ABF building in Stockholm, and give a talk about the need for a new enlightenment and secular renaissance in the world.

Wkipedia on Ingemar Hedenius:

Per Arvid Ingemar Hedenius (April 5, 1908–April 30, 1982) was a Swedish philosopher. He was Professor of Practical Philosophy at the University of Uppsala (1947-1973). He was a famous opponent of organised Christianity. The Swedish Humanist Association, known in Sweden as “Humanisterna”, offers the Ingemar Hedenius Award each year to support humanist ideas and critical thinking.

Grattis, Taslima!


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

Adam Savage on GamerGate

Nov 6th, 2014 1:05 pm | By

Adam Savage talks to Indre Viskontas for Inquiring Minds. In the final segment he talks about GamerGate and what Indre (rightly) calls “so much rage against women in these fields.”

Rebecca Watson tells us that he is a for-real feminist, and one who gives a shit.

The full interview is great, but my favorite part was when Adam weighed in on the issue of #Gamergate and harassment of women online. I know this is an issue he feels passionately about, and I also know that there are a lot of people in his audience who he can help educate and motivate. I hope he gets more opportunities to speak out about it – it’s unfortunate but true that a man will have more of an impact saying the same thing women have been saying for years. Adam knows this and takes great pains to make sure he is helping without speaking over women. He’s one of the best, most thoughtful male feminists I know, and I’m glad that other people are now seeing that side of him as well.


Here’s the full interview:


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

A whipping is the penalty of not being in the field at sunrise

Nov 6th, 2014 11:07 am | By

I’m re-reading Frederic Douglass’s Narrative. It’s available at Project Gutenberg, so it’s easy to share passages for discussion or admiration.

There’s the early paragraph about his relationship with his mother…

I never saw my mother, to know her as such, more than four or five times in my life; and each of these times was very short in duration, and at night. She was hired by a Mr. Stewart, who lived about twelve miles from my home. She made her journeys to see me in the night, travelling the whole distance on foot, after the performance of her day’s work.

She was a field hand, and a whipping is the penalty of not being in the field at sunrise, unless a slave has special permission from his or her master to the contrary—a permission which they seldom get, and one that gives to him that gives it the proud name of being a kind master. I do not recollect of ever seeing my mother by the light of day. She was with me in the night. She would lie down with me, and get me to sleep, but long before I waked she was gone. Very little communication ever took place between us. Death soon ended what little we could have while she lived, and with it her hardships and suffering. She died when I was about seven years old, on one of my master’s farms, near Lee’s Mill. I was not allowed to be present during her illness, at her death, or burial. She was gone long before I knew any thing about it. Never having enjoyed, to any considerable extent, her soothing presence, her tender and watchful care, I received the tidings of her death with much the same emotions I should have probably felt at the death of a stranger.

Short, and heart-breaking. Imagine being that mother. Imagine those journeys to be with her little boy: twelve miles, over bad roads or rough ground, after a hard day of labor, and then twelve hours back having to start hours before dawn.

In chapter 7 there is a passage on his early reading and how it affected him.

I was now about twelve years old, and the thought of being a slave for life began to bear heavily upon my heart. Just about this time, I got hold of a book entitled “The Columbian Orator.” Every opportunity I got, I used to read this book. Among much of other interesting matter, I found in it a dialogue between a master and his slave. The slave was represented as having run away from his master three times. The dialogue represented the conversation which took place between them, when the slave was retaken the third time. In this dialogue, the whole argument in behalf of slavery was brought forward by the master, all of which was disposed of by the slave. The slave was made to say some very smart as well as impressive things in reply to his master—things which had the desired though unexpected effect; for the conversation resulted in the voluntary emancipation of the slave on the part of the master.

In the same book, I met with one of Sheridan’s mighty speeches on and in behalf of Catholic emancipation. These were choice documents to me. I read them over and over again with unabated interest. They gave tongue to interesting thoughts of my own soul, which had frequently flashed through my mind, and died away for want of utterance. The moral which I gained from the dialogue was the power of truth over the conscience of even a slaveholder. What I got from Sheridan was a bold denunciation of slavery, and a powerful vindication of human rights. The reading of these documents enabled me to utter my thoughts, and to meet the arguments brought forward to sustain slavery; but while they relieved me of one difficulty, they brought on another even more painful than the one of which I was relieved. The more I read, the more I was led to abhor and detest my enslavers. I could regard them in no other light than a band of successful robbers, who had left their homes, and gone to Africa, and stolen us from our homes, and in a strange land reduced us to slavery. I loathed them as being the meanest as well as the most wicked of men. As I read and contemplated the subject, behold! that very discontentment which Master Hugh had predicted would follow my learning to read had already come, to torment and sting my soul to unutterable anguish. As I writhed under it, I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing. It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy. It opened my eyes to the horrible pit, but to no ladder upon which to get out. In moments of agony, I envied my fellow-slaves for their stupidity. I have often wished myself a beast. I preferred the condition of the meanest reptile to my own. Any thing, no matter what, to get rid of thinking! It was this everlasting thinking of my condition that tormented me. There was no getting rid of it. It was pressed upon me by every object within sight or hearing, animate or inanimate. The silver trump of freedom had roused my soul to eternal wakefulness. Freedom now appeared, to disappear no more forever. It was heard in every sound, and seen in every thing. It was ever present to torment me with a sense of my wretched condition. I saw nothing without seeing it, I heard nothing without hearing it, and felt nothing without feeling it. It looked from every star, it smiled in every calm, breathed in every wind, and moved in every storm.

He got out, but he was the exception, not the rule.

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

A visit to the adult table

Nov 5th, 2014 5:50 pm | By

PZ listened to all of that conversation between Stefan Molyneux and Peter Boghossian. I managed only about twenty minutes, because it’s so gross and also so tedious, and I plan to go back to it, but PZ did it in one gulp. He took some notes – not a transcript, because he was doing other work at the time, which is the only way listening to the whole thing could be tolerable – not a transcript but just some notes.

Curiously, Boghossian is having a conversation with Molyneux, who is notorious for his misogynist remarks. Not just the mild, unthinking sexism that so many Atheist Thinky Leaders engage in, but outright contempt for women. This is the guy who claims that women are the root of all evil, because Women have to be held accountable for choosing assholes. They have sex with assholes and have little baby assholes, none of which is the father’s fault, but entirely due to women’s evil choices.

You might be wondering who these “they” are — they refer to “them” constantly through the video. But there’s only one place where anyone is mentioned by name.

5:00 (PB) PZ Myers, Rebecca Watson, Ophelia Benson, and Greta Christina.

Interesting. We’re the enemy, and they get to make clumsy elisions, accusing “them” of making bomb threats, death threats, and shouting down people with bullhorns. But the only people they name don’t do any of that. Drawing lazy equivalences is just something philosophers do, I guess.

Well they have to, they’re fighting for justice. No wait, I thought we were the social justice warriors. So they’re fighting for…doing nothing? Is that it?

Seriously though, one reason I could take only 20 minutes or so was how empty the conversation was. It really was just a lot of very familiar banalities tossed back and forth, with a lot of repetition. It wasn’t impressive.

Also, where did this idea that being totally free of any ideological framework is a virtue come from? It’s not. It’s a lie. It’s part of the rhetorical strategy of declaring that I have an accurate representation of the world, you have an ideology.

17:10 (PB) they can’t even present the evidence in a rational way

18:30 (PB) these cultures of being offended

19:00 (SM) Thought-crime!

20:10 (PB) This fringe have hijacked a narrative…these cultures of offense; they conflate disagreement with harassment.

Christ, this is annoying. Of course we present rational arguments, with evidence. When we say that Sam Harris said something sexist, we quote the words he said in context. We make these arguments over and over, and these wackos with an authoritarian ideology simply shut down at the thought that we’d disagree with an Atheist Thinky Leader.

We might be offended — Molyneux in particular is an expert at saying grossly offensive things — but what’s at the heart of what we say is principled disagreement.

Yes but…offended…Stephen Fry…so fucking what…beep beep boop

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

A kind of proxy blasphemy code

Nov 5th, 2014 5:21 pm | By

The ExMuslims Forum (i.e. someone from the forum, writing under that name) has an excellent comment on a wrong-headed piece by Andrew Brown at Comment is Free. Brown’s claim in his piece is that people who criticize Islam in fact hate Muslims. I saw progressive liberal Muslim friends venting huge irritation with Brown and his article. It’s a myth that liberal Muslims also hold the view that people who criticize Islam in fact hate Muslims; they don’t.

As Exmuslims, we critique Islam because there are many aspects of Islam that need to be critiqued. In particular, we seek to oppose Islam’s apostasy codes, which are oppressive and lead to persecution.

We have found it is quite difficult to get some people to listen to our stories because they fear that acknowledging these issues will contribute to a critical view towards Islam.

The idea is that particularly reactionary teachings and aspects of belief that lead to critical judgements of Islam are in and of themselves prejudiced. The resulting logic of this is that Islam should have special privileges, in as much as basic human conscience and ethical critical judgement of people living in a secular culture should not apply, or be expressed, towards Islam.

The fact that criticism exists, is the offence.

Effectively, this is to propose a kind of proxy blasphemy code and apostasy code, wherein the liberal secular space defers to Islamic taboos. Dissenting Muslims and Exmuslims have to conform to these proxy codes too. Everyone else is free to critique their own religion, and other faiths and ideas too. But Islam must be protected.

However, Muslims are free to critique all religions, belief systems and moralities, because evangelising Islam, and proffering critique and judgement is not only a divine prerogative, but the closing down of ethical, critical judgement towards Islam is also a divine right.

As we can see, this is an ethical and moral mess.

This is an aspect of liberal relativism that is morally flawed and unsustainable without damaging basic principles of liberal secularism. It also means that aspects of Islam that need to be criticised, like Islam’s apostasy codes, remain unexamined, and with that authority unquestioned, their capacity to hurt people and cause harm increases.

Another fear is that being critical of aspects of Islam manifests in prejudice towards Muslims, and this is an understandable response given how parts of the far-right do project generalising narratives of communal responsibility on Muslims. As Exmuslims, we understand this, because being from ethnic minorities ourselves (apart from growing numbers of former white converts) we are also prone to be in the targets of bigots who project their hostility onto anyone who ‘looks’ Muslim, whatever that is supposed to be.

The key to dealing with this is for the Left to take ownership of the issues that need to be critiqued, and do so through the prism of liberal secular values, so that they cannot be co-opted by the nationalist right, who have agendas that are not tolerant.

Yes yes yes. Support people like Irshad Manji and Tehmina Kazi and Maajid Nawaz, as well as ex-Muslims. Amplify their voices, link to their writing, spread the word.

Sadly the instinct of relativism too often prevents this reckoning from occurring. The silencing of Exmuslims voices is the norm, although we are trying to change this.

There are three main layers of silencing of apostates voices. The first layer is the hardcore religious silencing, which includes notions that we deserve to be killed and harmed. Under that is a second layer of some Muslims who may not agree we should be persecuted, but don’t want to have these problematic aspects or religion talked about, because of feelings of embarassment, fear of the consequences, or cognitive dissonance regarding apostasy / blasphemy codes. The third layer underneath this is the relativism of white liberals who are often in concordance with silencing instincts over these issues, including silencing of Exmuslims, for the reasons we outlined earlier. Often, relativist liberals simply pretend we don’t exist.

But silencing never works, and it only increases the problems.

It is important to understand that anti-Muslim bigotry is real. At the same time, the reality of the need for Islam to be critiqued has to be acknowledged by the Left, and by Muslims who live in liberal secular democracies too.

epilogue: Some of these issues were touched on by a Pakistani-Canadian Exmuslim called Eiynah, in a response to the recent heated debate over Ben Affleck’s appearance on Bill Maher’s show. You can read it here. Please do check it out.

Give Andrew Brown some food for thought for a change.

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

What magic words?

Nov 5th, 2014 4:30 pm | By

Sometimes laws can be hard to understand. There’s a case in the UK where an underage girl was violently married off and raped, but the judge says he can’t annul the marriage. Sorry for citing the Daily Mail but it’s the only source:

A judge says he cannot nullify the marriage of a teenage mother who says she was forced at ‘gunpoint’ into becoming a bride when she was just 14.

Instead the girl, now 17 and a mother of a one-year-old, must defy her family if she wants the union formally annulled, said Mr Justice Holman at the High Court.

The teenager, who was born in Britain and whose family has lived here for 40 years, says she was shipped out to Pakistan to contract a forced marriage with a 24-year-old man two years ago.

She told how she was subjected to ‘harrowing’ violence and menaced with a gun to go through with the ceremony – and was two weeks later forced to have sex with her ‘husband’, giving birth to his baby who is now aged just over one.

After she came forward with her account, her local authority took both her and her baby into care and asked Mr Justice Holman to formally declare that her marriage – which effectively made her a rape victim – could never have been recognised under English law.

But there’s a statute that says he can’t, so he said no.

It seems grotesque, doesn’t it. She never consented, in fact she was forced at gunpoint, so…how was that ever a legal marriage in the first place? You’d think they could carve out an exception for fake “marriages” that are actually not marriages at all but a collection of felonies. Abduction plus menacing plus rape shouldn’t add up to marriage.

Mr Justice Holman accepted that – as the girl was ‘domiciled’ in the UK; had been put under duress; and, most importantly, was under 16 at the time of the ceremony – the marriage was ‘on the balance of probability, void’ under English law.

However, he said he was prevented from making a solemn declaration to that effect by a section of the Family Law Act 1986, which states: ‘No declaration may be made by any court…that a marriage was at its inception void’.

But is it “a marriage” at all? It doesn’t seem like a marriage to me. It seems like a crime, and a very serious crime at that. It’s enslavement enabled by abduction and violence, not marriage. What magic words make it a marriage under those circumstances?


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

Was it a sincere question?

Nov 5th, 2014 11:55 am | By

Chris Stedman has a post at RNS replying to Peter Boghossian’s “why gay pride?” tweet. He is, you won’t be surprised to hear, much better at being even-tempered about it than I was.

Many atheists, such as LGBTQ atheist author Greta Christina, responded—but Boghossian dug in and continued to defend his statement, tweeting additional statements like “Questioning that one can be proud to be gay is a leftist blasphemy.”

As a queer atheist, I too am perplexed by both Boghossian’s question and his defensive reaction to criticism—especially from someone who lists “reason, rationality, critical thinking” in his Twitter bio.

Quite so – except that I, being so much less even-tempered, am not so much perplexed as irritated. Or, rather, both. I’m perplexed at Boghossian’s willingness or indeed eagerness to be so overtly…what…provocative-reactionary. I’m irritated by the same thing.

Perhaps he truly doesn’t understand why some LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) people feel proud to be LGBTQ. Rather than assume a more cynical motive, I’m going to treat his question as sincere. But when confronted by an LGBTQ-related question you don’t understand, the reasonable next step is to ask LGBTQ people. And it doesn’t take much investigating to find out why many LGBTQ people feel a sense of pride.

That’s where my smaller supply of even-temper comes right into play – I find it pretty much impossible to treat his question as sincere, because I don’t honestly see how it could be. He lives in the world; he’s not fresh from a desert island or a locked room where he was fed through a slit in the door. I don’t see how he could possibly be sincerely unaware of what gay pride is all about. I find it pretty much impossible to believe he need to investigate to find out why many LGBTQ people feel a sense of pride, when that’s been common knowledge for decades. He hasn’t been tucked away in a Quiverfull enclave all these years has he? He’s not the secret oldest son of Michelle and Jim-Bob Duggar?

Of course, not all LGBTQ would say that they are proud to be LGBTQ. They’re free to their own perspective. But why imply that it is not even remotely understandable that some would?

In a time when more and more atheists are encouraging their fellow nonbelievers to be “openly secular,” I wonder if Boghossian sees any parallels between the celebratory spirit of LGBTQ pride and the joy many atheists find in being honest about what they believe. It’s an imperfect parallel, but maybe he understands on some level what it’s like to feel proud to claim an identity that comes with consequences. 

I bet I know what Boghossian would say. He’d say atheism is something that one “works for” while being gay isn’t. Well, yes and no. It isn’t for everyone. For some people atheism just is. The idea of “god” just has no purchase. And then, being open about it is a separate issue, and there the parallels are quite close. Stigmatized identity is stigmatized identity.

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

Parents raised concerns about her trip to Kenya

Nov 5th, 2014 10:52 am | By

Africa’s a big continent. A very big continent. It can be hard to grasp just how big if you’ve grown up on maps that make it look as if the US dominates the universe. Joan McCarter at Daily Kos provides a nice graphic that shows how easily China, India, Western Europe and the UK, and Argentina all fit into the space Africa takes up, with some to spare.

McCarter does that by way of illustrating the cruel ignorance of this story:

LOUISVILLE, Ky., Nov 3 (Reuters) – A teacher at a Louisville, Kentucky, Catholic school has resigned rather than take paid leave after parents raised concerns about her trip to Kenya, half a continent away from the Ebola epidemic in western Africa, WDRB Channel 41 TV reported.

Susan Sherman, a religious education teacher who is also a registered nurse, was recently on a mission in Kenya in eastern Africa. When she returned, St. Margaret Mary school requested she take a precautionary 21-day leave and produce a health note from her doctor, according to a statement from the Archdiocese of Louisville.

Well hey now. I’m on the same continent as Texas, where Thomas Eric Duncan died of Ebola. So are some 350 million people in the US and 35 million in Canada and 120 million in Mexico. Should we count the rest of America down underneath Mexico, or should we consider the narrowness of Central America a good enough reason to consider them two continents? Oh what the hell, if St Margaret Mary school can’t be bothered to check the distance between Liberia and Kenya, we might as well err on the side of inclusiveness and add another 400 million people. We should all have been in quarantine for 21 days after Duncan was diagnosed with Ebola, right? All billion-plus of us? Because of a disease that is spread by contact? A disease that is not airborne?


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

A candid

Nov 5th, 2014 10:16 am | By

What a screenshot of mansplaining looks like.

Embedded image permalink

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An incident took place in the area

Nov 4th, 2014 6:05 pm | By

Another pointless benighted god-soaked horror out of Pakistan. Dawn reports:

An enraged mob beat a Christian couple to death and burnt their bodies in the brick kiln where they worked on Tuesday for allegedly desecrating a copy of the Holy Quran, police said.

It’s a book. A book. Allah didn’t touch it, Mohammed didn’t touch it. It’s just a book, made in a factory. It’s not a reason to kill people. It’s not a reason to beat people to death.

“A mob attacked a Christian couple after accusing them of desecration of the Holy Quran and later burnt their bodies at a brick kiln where they worked,” local police station official Bin-Yameen told AFP.

“Yesterday an incident of desecration of the Holy Quran took place in the area and today the mob first beat the couple and later set their bodies on fire at a brick kiln,” he added.

Note that the cop starts with the bogus “crime” and says it actually happened – which I don’t believe – and refers to it as “desecration” of the “Holy Quran” – which is magical bullshit. It’s an insensate manufactured object. Only after urinating in the well does the cop say the mob murdered the two people.

The victims were only identified by their first names, Shama and Shehzad, and were a married couple.

Pakistan’s brick kiln workers are often subject to harsh practices, with a study by the Bonded Labour Liberation Front Pakistan estimating that 4.5 million are indentured labourers.

Maybe Pakistan should turn its attention to the exploitation of laborers instead of religion.

Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in the country, with even unproven allegations often prompting mob violence. Anyone convicted, or even just accused, of insulting Islam, risks a violent and bloody death at the hands of vigilantes.

So, what do we learn from that? Don’t ever go anywhere near Pakistan. It’s not safe.

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

Even to change their beliefs

Nov 4th, 2014 3:35 pm | By

Seven years ago an Anglican bishop was saying that laws against “apostasy” are a bad thing.

One of the Church of England’s most senior bishops is warning that people will die unless Muslim leaders in Britain speak out in defence of the right to change faith.

Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, whose father converted from Islam to Christianity in Pakistan, says he is looking to Muslim leaders in Britain to ‘uphold basic civil liberties, including the right for people to believe what they wish to believe and to even change their beliefs if they wish to do so’.

Even change their beliefs, yes imagine that. Beliefs aren’t like friendship or marriage; you’re allowed to leave and loyalty isn’t necessarily a virtue.

Ali, who some see as a potential Archbishop of Canterbury, has told Channel 4’s Dispatches programme of his fears about the safety of the estimated 3,000 Muslims who have converted to other faiths in Britain.

‘It is very common in the world today, including in this country, for people who have changed their faith, particularly from being Muslim to being Christian, to be ostracised, to lose their job, for their marriages to be dissolved, for children to be taken away,’ Ali said. ‘And this is why some leadership is necessary from Muslim leaders themselves to say that this is not what Islam teaches.’

In the long run, it would be better to say it’s the wrong thing to teach, period. Never mind whether “Islam teaches” it or not. Reform. Reform whether Islam says ok or not. Let Islam catch up, if that’s what it takes.

The bishop warns that Muslims who switch faiths in Britain could be killed if the current climate continues. ‘We have seen honour killings have happened, and there is no reason why this kind of thing cannot happen.’

In 2004, Prince Charles asked British Muslim leaders to renounce laws of apostasy and the death sentence for converts in Islamic countries, but no public statement was ever made.

Well good for Priss Choss; that may be the one useful thing he’s ever done. But how pathetic that it sank like a stone.



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Guest post: They calculatedly choose a woman they think will keep quiet

Nov 4th, 2014 3:01 pm | By

Originally a comment by blondeintokyo on Dude, just grab her.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking Japanese women are weak or somehow submissive. How a woman would react would depend on her personality. I’ve seen Japanese women yelling at, hitting, kicking, and running chikan (subway gropers) off trains and chasing them down the platform.

I saw one woman determinedly hanging onto a guys coat as he hit her about the head and shoulders in an attempt to break her grasp and escape before the transit police could arrive and grab him. So don’t judge Japanese culture by that one video – I find it highly likely that some women DID hit, kick, or yell at him, but he just didn’t publish that footage.

And keep in mind- you can’t judge these girls’ reactions through the lens of your culture. You have to understand that in Japan it’s considered to be immature and shameful to act out in a way that bothers others or otherwise draws attention to yourself in public. It’s considered to be “meiwaku” and is generally scorned. For this reason, you won’t usually see people being loud, confrontational, or causing scenes in public places- they’d be embarrassed or ashamed to draw that kind of attention to themselves. Unfortunately, not calling attention to yourself includes not reacting in a visible way even when something happens, like being groped. This is actually the sort of frozen, stoic reaction that the chikan count on to keep women quiet. They calculatedly choose a woman they think will keep quiet, a woman who won’t want to cause a scene and embarrass herself. They depend on her shame to keep her quiet- sound familiar? It’s really not that different from what happens in the US or other countries. These guys pick on those they perceive as weak, as no doubt this guy did.

(Which by the way, is also why the chikan pick on western women…they assume that they won’t be able to speak Japanese and so won’t be able to report them.)

I also think the girls’ confusion and giggly reaction was at least partly due to that guy being a foreigner. People here really don’t speak English all that well, and these girls likely had no idea what he was saying, what to say to him, or how to deal with him. The general public honestly isn’t used to dealing with foreigners, and this sort of gives foreigners a kind of invisibility cloak and lets them get away with behaviour that a Japanese could never get away with – no one wants to confront the scary foreigner. I’ve seen it happen in all kinds if situations, from being drunk and loud in public, to getting out of speeding tickets. It always irritates me when I see foreigners take advantage of the Japanese tendency to be non-confrontational, but this guy in particular really galls me. It’s abhorrent behaviour and he shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it. I only hope that next time someone has the presence if mind to call the cops, because this would be covered under Japan’s sexual harassment and public nuisance laws. If caught, he’d be arrested and spend at least a month in jail. And I would dearly love for this guy to spend time in a Japanese jail.

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

The real issue with Reza Aslan

Nov 4th, 2014 12:23 pm | By

Act one, Vlad Chituc wrote a post at Nonprophet Status yesterday saying how great Reza Aslan is and how wrong ex-Muslims are to have any quarrel with the things Reza Aslan says.

The hashtag campaign #AnApostatesExperience initially drew my attention because it seemed like a welcome attempt to elevate the experience of ex-Muslims in conversations about Islam.

Instead, the campaign seems to have started as a response to this tweet by Aslan:

Reza Aslan @rezaaslan

I’ve written about Muslims, Jews, Xtians, Buddhists, Hindus, Atheists. I’ve never received more venomous threats than I do from Atheists.
8:31 AM – 13 Oct 2014

To quote fellow Patheos blogger Dan Arel, #AnApostatesExperience was meant to show “what real threatening and venomous attacks look like,” as if that erased the threats that Aslan received. It’s hard for me to see how this is any different than “Dear Muslima,” except this time it’s a Muslim as the target.

Heina has written a response to him today.

To answer the title, i.e. “Why is it so hard for critics to read Reza Aslan charitably?”: It’s because Aslan is far too charitable when it comes to the oppression that Muslims perpetuate within their own communities. Further, I find the characterization of #AnApostatesExperience in the post to be not only uncharitable, but also poorly-informed as to the real issues with Reza Aslan and with ex-Muslims.

We at EXMNA were hardly one-upping Reza Aslan in some Dear Muslimah-esque ploy. Rather, we were responding to Aslan’s long and storied history of pretending as if Muslims as a whole are far more progressive than they are, i.e. as progressive as he happens to be.

Here’s a news flash for Vlad Chituc: not all progressive Muslims do that, to put it mildly. The really progressive ones are far more interested in standing up for progressive values than they are in defending Islam from criticism.

In fact I have that in common with them; lots of us have that in common with them. We’re all far more interested in standing up for progressive values than we are in defending our theist/atheist community from criticism. We want our theist/atheist community to get criticism, and to pay attention to it and to change for the better. We want that community to include us and all the marginals as equals, not as a servant class to the Real members.

Setting Aslan’s disingenuous arguments aside for just a moment, the Dear Muslima comparison feels like a rather low blow. Personally speaking, I joined Skepchick on the heels of the so-called “Elevatorgate”. Part of why I did was my disdain with Richard Dawkins’s use of people like me as props in his arguments against Western feminists. I wanted for my own voice to be heard about issues involving me rather than people squabbling about people like me as if we were rhetorical points rather than human beings. My fellow ex-Muslimah and Freethought Blogger Hiba has also spoken up and out against the Dear Muslimah tactic. That we were accused of doing so to Reza Aslan is painful as well as inaccurate.

And yet appropriate, in its way, because it’s another iteration of this pattern of throwing feminism under the bus in order to give preferential treatment to theism/atheism. Odd, that, isn’t it – theism and atheism are opposites, yet both have weirdly parallel “issues” with women and feminism.

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

Also a target

Nov 4th, 2014 11:54 am | By

Iram Ramzan reports an appeal for Muslim women to report domestic abuse.

Shaista Gohir, chair of the Muslim Women’s Network, made the appeal after a report highlighted the sexual grooming of Asian girls by gangs.

The MWN report was compiled after high-profile cases showed mostly Asian men were preying on young white girls.

The report showed Asian girls are also a target, most vulnerable to offenders from their own communities.

Now Ms Gohir wants to speak to victims of sexual abuse by family members for a new report. During her research last year Ms Gohir said many victims she spoke to asked if she was looking for stories on sexual abuse in the home, and needed a separate study.

She said: “I thought at the time it must be really common. I want case studies within the Muslim community to make them realise that part of the problem is our silence. The problem is getting worse and worse.”

Part of the problem is always silence, isn’t it. Family violence is always at least initially covered up, because that’s how family works. There have to be people like Shaista Gohir reaching out to help.

“Women are the barrier to justice. You’ve got mothers, who you expect to be nurturing, who are covering it up. Isn’t it our fault as a community if we instantly protect the offender and demonise that victim? This happens in all communities, but within Asian culture there are shame and honour issues that result in a cover-up.

“From what I’m hearing, sexual abuse in the family is a bigger problem than gangs.”

The Muslim Women’s Network can help.

Contact Shaista by email at or call 078022 25989. More info:

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

Men respond more readily

Nov 4th, 2014 10:37 am | By

Adam Lee notices that William Lane Craig has a lot in common with Sam Harris and Michael Shermer. Craig wrote a column about the “feminization” of Christianity, and well you’ve guessed the plot already, haven’t you.

[H]e’s noticed that the audiences for his lectures are nearly all men:

First is my observation that apologetics seems to have far more interest for men than for women.

That observation is based upon an enormous amount of experience in speaking on university campuses, at apologetics conferences, and in classroom teaching… It became very evident to me not only that the audiences which came to these events were largely male but that in event after event only the men stood up to ask a question.

Oh dear. We all know what’s coming. It’s so easy to guess the plot when they start that way. We could recite the rest in our sleep by now.

And why should apologetics classes appeal predominantly to men? To explain this, Craig dusts off the old saw, “women don’t do thinky“:

Second is my hypothesis that this disparity is to be explained by the fact that men respond more readily to a rational approach, whereas women tend to respond more to relational approaches.

Bingo! We have bingo. We have so much bingo we’ve run out of places to put it all.

Once again I will point out that he probably wouldn’t say that if the comparison were not women : men but blacks : whites. He would probably come up with a different intuitive explanation, perhaps equally wrong and uninformed, but not invidious in quite that way.

Yet man after man after man after man has no inner check whatsoever on saying that about women. “Women don’t do rational.” They think it and say it and don’t even notice how glaringly sexist it is. They think it and say it and don’t even notice how barely separated it is from saying “women are stupid” or “women can’t think.” All that, and they respond with outrage and indignation when women say yo that’s sexist.

It’s striking how much Craig, a staunch Christian apologist, sounds like some of our male atheist “leaders”. They, too, have fielded questions about the gender imbalance in their audiences; and they, too, have often responded with clueless, patronizing, armchair answers about how they’re just too unimpeachably rational to appeal to women – that is, when they’re not snarling about “social justice warriors”, or pining for the good old days before political correctness when men could grope women with no repercussions.

It is striking, isn’t it. It never stops surprising me. I always – naively – think they must know better, so I’m always surprised to see that they don’t.

H/t Dana

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

Tutti a tavola

Nov 3rd, 2014 5:04 pm | By

You have been schooled. Or relegated. Or something.

Peter Boghossian isn’t going to talk to you any more, because he’s the adult and you’re the child.

If you’ve been relegated to the Kid’s Table because you can’t have an adult conversation, I’ve banned you & won’t be able to see your tweets.

That’s not convincing, coming from him. I’m not going to claim I’m always adult and level-headed, because I’m not – but I don’t see him as a paragon of reason and maturity either. On the contrary, I see him as someone who makes a point of provoking people and then jeering when they react; a troll, in short.

And he doesn’t, that I’ve seen, provoke people for good reasons, or on trivial points. He does it for bad reasons and on subjects that cut deep. What’s so adult about that?


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