Final talk – Margaret Downey

May 20th, 2012 8:20 am | By

Margaret Downey makes the undeniable (surely!) point that holidays are fun, and secularists should take over the work of Doing Fun Holidays.

Let’s celebrate with a Tree of Knowledge.

Even Tom Flynn says that’s a good plan!

Hang books on the tree. Celebrate knowledge, and reading, and free speech.

Chester County: the human tree of knowledge.

Too often the non-theist community disappears in winter. If we don’t show up, it looks as if we’re not welcome.

Visit “It’s up to us to make sure that secular celebrations are meaningful and honest.”

Children from a non-theist home are faced with a lot of peer pressure.

This is a helpful thing for ex-clergy.

Margaret calls Linda LaScola up to join her on the stage so that she can answer questions later.

“Many public officials simply do not comprehend what ‘secular’ means.” They think non-denominational is secular, so “holy matrimony” and “in the eyes of god” are ok for civil marriage. Wrong!

Reba Boyd Wooden takes the stage. Secular Celebrants at

“Or the bride has to promise to obey. I think I did this 50 years ago, but I didn’t mean it when I said it.”

Indiana is well represented here. Reba at the mic right now, Jen in the audience a couple of rows in front of me.

Fox News in Indiana have been very good to CFI Indiana – very fair. Huh. Whaddya know.

Writers for secular ceremonies: Ingersoll, Keats, George Eliot, Thoreau. (Jennifer Michael Hecht name-checked Keats in her poetry reading last night. High five!)

“Our legacy is our afterlife.”

Question: does the trend for same sex marriage help or hinder the movement for secular celebration? Margaret and Reba: it helps!

Linda LaScola on what clergy are like. The one thing the ones she knows have in common: wherever they started out, they all end up as liberal.

Celebrating non-superstition. Friday the 13th. The Museum of Superstition. Great because the press love it. Next bash: September 13, 2013, in Pennsylvania. Mark your calendars.

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

Making connections

May 20th, 2012 8:12 am | By


After I talked to Wafa last night at dinner I had an urgent need to talk to Liz Cornwell about connecting Wafa with the RDF so that Wafa will no longer need to broadcast her Arabic-language tv show via a Christian station. I just – in the last few seconds of the break – found Liz, and she’s already on it. Yesssssssss!

Wafa needs to be in the secularist movement; the secularist movement needs Wafa on board.

Welcome aboard, Wafa!

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

Sunday morning liveblogging

May 20th, 2012 6:11 am | By

It’s 9:03. People are milling. I can’t mill because I’m tapping on Simon’s laptop.

Last night at dinner I sat between Wafa and Annie Laurie. Jen, Ingrid, Greta, Simon, and Melody finished the circle. Good company.

Wafa asked me about penalties for being atheist, legal and social. (She says she always asks about that; she’s gathering the big picture.) I was able to point out Jessica at the next table and say what her penalties had been.

I also got a chance to talk to Jessica for a few minutes. She’s looking forward to the post-high school phase of her life.

Jennifer Michael Hecht is introducing the panel. The panel is Jen, Greta, Jamila, and Debbie.

Jen points out that Secular Students are growing hugely while Cru (as secular students call Campus Crusade for Christ) is going in the opposite direction…and they have WAY more money. Go us!

Greta says if the LGBT movement had had the internet in 1969 – wo.

When the internet blows up, it’s different. Hmmm. When the internet blows up about sexism, at least people think sexism is bad. Hmmm. I’m not sure about that.

(What do you think, Linda? I think the internet is [at least also] enabling sexist discourse, and fanning enthusiasm for it and a “community” of it the way it is for, say, atheists and secularists.)

Jamila: “Frankly, I’m a loudmouth and I like words.”

The future should be informed by the past.

“You don’t want to use birth control? Well be Quiverfull and get a show on the Discovery channel.”

Debbie: “So we weren’t really serious about that two minute thing, right?” [laughter]

The movement is broadening as the people involved become more varied. “As the scope broadens we’ll see more people involved.”

Jennifer says her next question is about coalitions. Is it a good idea for us to make coalitions with more liberal kinds of religion? Jen says it’s fine to work with religious groups but we don’t want to do “interfaith” because faith is not a good thing. Yeah.  

Jamila’s little boy is upstairs at the daycare. At his school 13% of the kids are at grade level in science. She’s willing to show up at his school. She might not wear her “show me on the doll where Jesus touched you” T shirt. But there are going to be times when the price is too high. There are going to be times when if you can’t sign the statement of faith you can’t participate. “You can’t come in unless you’re willing to cover. Your name is ‘Bey,’ what’s the problem?”

Debbie: we realize sometimes that there are groups who don’t want us there, because we’re atheists. Some feminist groups are full of woo, so that’s another kind of coalition-building – atheist feminists working with feminist groups and bringing along some skepticism. Ohhh yes.

Debbie: “the problem comes when people assume they know what everybody wants.” Everybody wants to hold hands; nuh uh. Everybody wants to talk about science all day; nuh uh.”

Jamila is invited to a secular inquiry parents group. “Wow, a parents’ group; I have a child; that’s really convenient.” And then – “Nobody starts a sentence with, ‘My child is an indigo child.’”

“This is why I’m so big about ‘be who you are, wear a button.’” We need to do more family stuff and bring kids so they get good memories and they will grow up in the movement.

Greta: “When it’s hard to come out, the people who come out are people who don’t care that much what people think of them.” That’s going to change. Now the movement is growing we’re going to get more people who are social, and do care what people think of them.”

Simon’s battery is about to die. I can’t spot him in the room. Will fall silent in a minute.

Or maybe 19 minutes, which might get me through.

Debbie: was there a world before YouTube? We all need more history. Yes we would benefit; no that’s not why people come to meetings.

Jamila: “We need to let people know there were always people who doubted.”

“I wish we did more reading as a society, especially since I’m a journalist. But then I’m a journalist on the radio…”

Greta: a focus on history shouldn’t mean getting stuck doing things the way they’ve always been done.

Jamila answers audience question: “As a journalist who covers women’s health issues, I’m a little pessimistic.” A journalistic shout-out. “Women don’t do op-eds.” There’s a thing called the Op-ed Project; google it and act accordingly.


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

Wafa Sultan

May 19th, 2012 1:57 pm | By

She faced restraint which stifled her life and virtually imprisoned her.

“My unfit mind devised a plan.”

She bribed an untrustworthy male acquaintance to be her children’s guardian, because she was not fit to be their guardian – being a woman.

“Liberty like mine was scarcely even imaginable.”

“Little by little, guilt and freedom inspired me to fight back….I began to fight for those I left behind…The road I have taken is dangerous…Even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t be able to peel off my skin.”

“I am here to unmask the true face of Islam…The abuse of women in Islam is legal…Can you imagine my frustration when people who have never lived under Islam deny the truth?”

Her own niece was forced to marry her cousin when she was 11, and he was over 40. This was allowed because the prophet married Aisha when she was 6.

Ok going to lose it now.

She’s choking.

This is hard. Deep breath.

Her niece kept begging her father to let her leave. He always said it was shame; he would talk to him.

At the age of 28 she killed herself by setting herself on fire.

The whole room lost it. Quietly.

Now it’s her patient.

Pregnant. Frantic. Husband dead 2 years. Husband’s brother having sex with her in exchange for money to feed her children. Returned after an abortion looking ill – she almost died – she had the op with no anaesthetic. Why? She didn’t have the money.

She used to cry all the time. Now she is free – but she still cries for all the Muslim women.

Not an eye in the house was dry.

“I was born in hell, I moved to paradise. Most Americans take it for granted, they don’t know how lucky they are.”

“Just walking to Starbucks by myself in the morning without being called a whore.”

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

Bernice Sandler

May 19th, 2012 1:00 pm | By

The chilly climate.

Women get interrupted a lot more than women men. Men get substantive, useful interruption; women get subject-changing interruption. This is true of all outsiders.

Women get much less eye contact.

Men get asked idea questions, women get fact questions.

Men get praised for being smart; women get praised for working hard.

Women don’t talk as much at meetings.

Surprise! – this woman has something interesting to say.

Pay attention when women are talking. Often what you see when a woman is talking is people looking around, finding a kleenex…

[I'm liveblogging! I'm totes paying attention, and Melody asked me to (and I'm happy to). I'm listening. I'm looking down most of the time because I'm typing.]

The rules of interruption:

The more powerful person gets to interrupt.

Men use the Voice of Authority. Women talk more softly and often in a higher register, and they apologize.

But hey – there’s research that shows talking softly encourages others to speak. Here’s the deal: everybody needs to be able to do both.

Informal rules. You learn them by talking to people. Relevant to going to lunch.

Men determine the subject of conversation. Women don’t.

We all do these things. Sandler once found herself looking at a watch repeatedly during a meeting – and suddenly noticed she was looking only while a woman was talking, never while a man was.

Women are treated in these ways because they are devalued.

A lot of us have trouble being direct.

[Battery at 38%]

Adapted biblical passage for the end.

[Battery at 44%]

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

Afternoon panel

May 19th, 2012 11:15 am | By

Susan Jacoby has introduced the panel – Why Women Need Freedom From Religion.  From Jacoby’s left on the stage: Wafa Sultan, Greta Christina, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Elisabeth Cornwell.

Annie Laurie wrote a book on the subject; probably the book on the subject.

Liz asks: what does religion offer that makes it worthwhile for women and other religion-oppressed groups to belong?

Once we know that, we can make it possible for people not to need religion.

If we re-frame the question we can get somewhere.

Greta says religion is women’s work; it’s part of the performance of being a woman.

Lots of us like being gender outlaws. Show of hands? Show of hands. Not every woman can be a gender outlaw.

Wafa Sultan got some fame as the first woman to tell a Muslim man to be quiet on tv. “I didn’t tell him to be quiet. I told him to shut up.”

“The more religious people are, the less creative they can be.”

Greta notes that being many kinds of outlaw is difficult.

Liz: “the secular movement cannot replace family.” The costs are extraordinarily high for women.

Annie Laurie: “Maybe we’re giving the church too much credit. Churches often get the credit, and taxpayers get the bill.”

Sultan points out that Hamas won that election because it had such good social programs – funded by the Saudis. (Not Iran?)

Greta suggests that if religion benefits from an unequal society, gee maybe let’s create a more equal society. [applause line]

Wafa Sultan tells us about a friend of hers who is a psychologist, and is veiled from head to toe. She considers herself a whore. Why? Because she was forced to marry a man not of her choice. She’s been married to him three years and not had a child; she hopes that will be his reason to divorce her.

We need to inspire young people, Jacoby says. Support the Secular Student Alliance, Greta says. Liz says there’s nothing like the religious right to get people passionate. “We have to ignite this passion in young people, and remind them what is at risk.”

“How fragile these gains are.”

“It’s a long game,” Greta says.

Audience question: what do you say to people who say concern about women’s rights in distant countries is “cultural imperialism”?

Someone in the audience two people away from me – “That’s bullshit – nobody says that.”

Greta: “Tell that to the girl who’s had her clitoris cut off, tell it to the girls who’s had acid thrown in her face – and then, fuck you.”


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

At the Women in Secularism Conference

May 19th, 2012 8:34 am | By

Get me I’m live blogging!

Edwina Rogers just did a quick talk about what the Secular Coalition does and is going to do. She had to dash off to get a train, so no discussion.

Now it’s Annie Laurie Gaylor. She is – as she said – bragging about FFRF’s latest win: a Colorado judge said yes an official state day of prayer is Not Ok.

[Interjection: naturally: by the time I got to the coffee urns during the break, all the regular coffee ones were empty. Only decaf. Yeah thanks but I want the caffeine.]

Women have been left out of the history of freethought.

The women’s movement was founded by the women freethinkers. Religions opposed every reform suggested.

Ernestine Rose: “I asked God if it was a sin and he didn’t say a word.” Big laugh line.

“Any family that has such a book [the bible] should be ostracized by all respectable families” – Annie Laurie quoting another firebrand from the 19th century.

“Give me truth: cheat me by no illusion.” Margaret Fuller.

“She warned about the Christian who preys.”

“I cannot understand why they have not rebelled.”

“We have heard enough about a paradise behind the moon.”

Vashti Cromwell of McCollum of McCollum v Board of Education.

“Denied the luminescence of her mind.”

Katha Pollitt – yessssss!

Taslima – our fellow FTB blogger.

“Denied the luminescence of her mind.”

Wendy Kaminer, Ann Druyan, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Julia Sweeney…Jessica Ahlquist.

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

Flurry 2

May 19th, 2012 5:02 am | By

Reception last night. I met all these people – Brian Engler, Whose name I’ve been seeing/hearing forever. Dave Ricks, who sees the point of B&W perhaps even more than I do. Mya Riemer, who comments here occasionally and whom I met originally at Readerville.

Rebecca. We have a lot in common. We were both editors of our high school literary magazine. We were both assholes in high school. High five! Stephanie Zvan, FTB colleague. Brianne Bilyeu, ditto. Skatje Myers, who will be observing us with a very skeptical eye. Alyson Miers, who’s written what sounds like a great speculative fiction-type novel. Jamila Bey! Who needs no introduction. Greta, ditto.


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

Seoarated at birth

May 18th, 2012 2:05 pm | By

The Old Post Office

Manchester Town Hall

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

Flurry part 1

May 18th, 2012 1:42 pm | By

Oh hai B&W reading peeples.


Where’dja go, you ask eagerly.

Well to start I walked through part of Arlington, because I felt more like being outside and walking then I felt like getting on the Metro. At Pentagon City I decided to take a deep breath and try to figure out the Metro. I had about six internal temper tantrums in the process of doing so, but I did it in the end. Went to L’Enfant Square – don’t ask me why; it seemed like a good idea at the time – bumbled around for awhile getting oriented – then managed that and went to the Smithsonian “castle”, which reminded me pleasantly of Manchester Town Hall – the Natural History Museum – around the White House -

The south side first, then the north, and on the north side there was a little gaggle of Christians standing in the middle of Pennsylvana Avenue opposite the gates, with a guy shouting Jesus stuff  into a microphone. They have a good sound system: I’d been hearing the guy for a couple of blocks. I fumed rather, and chatted with a cop about how rude they are, then I crossed Pennsylvania Avenue to Lafayette Park making the blah blah blah gesture at them. The guy stopped and then said, “why don’t you join us?” and I shouted – I was a few yards away – “because you’re driving me nuts, and you’re making way too much noise.” That was satisfying. Futile, but satisfying.

Then I passed the AFL-CIO building and got all excited about some murals I saw inside, and went in to ask if I could look at them. I could except I couldn’t, because the room they’re in was being set up for a meeting, but there was one in the lobby, and besides I got a visitor’s label which I’m going to keep forever, and a nice talk with the union guy at the front desk. Union!

Then Dupont Circle and environs, then the Old Post Office including the tower. I love the Old Post Office. I think it and Manchester Town Hall were separated at birth.

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

Hey it’s the airport again

May 17th, 2012 10:30 am | By

And I’m at it – on the way to DC to talk about women in secularism.

It’s cloudy. Phooey. It’s been cloudless for days but now it’s cloudy. Seattle is interesting from above, and I always like being able to look at it. Oh well.

On the airport train I saw a LOLcats ad that started “Oh hai train peeples” – which made me laugh despite boredom with LOLcats in general.

Oh hai airport peeples.

Soon it will be airplane peeples. Then hotel peeples. Then conference peeples. If you’re one of the latter, say hello. Or oh hai.

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

Those “moderate” Islamists running Egypt

May 16th, 2012 4:43 pm | By

Like Freedom and Justice Party MP Azza al-Garf, who publicly supports FGM.

Egypt’s New Women Foundation said they are suing Islamist Parliament member Azza al-Garf over her pro-female genital mutilation (FGM) statements. The women’s rights foundation sent a letter to the speaker of parliament Saad al-Katatny, informing him of legally going after Garf and asking for his permission to be allowed to take the MP to court.

Garf was reported saying that FGM is an Islamic practice and that the anti-FGM laws should be amended. Garf is a Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) member, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

“We are on our way to sue Garf to preserve our rights and the gains of Egyptian women,” said the open letter to the speaker.

“We are suing her for going against Egyptian laws that criminalize sexual harassment and FGM, practices that goes against women rights and human rights.

“We completely refuse Garf’s statements and announce that she does not represent us.”

But Garf thinks Allah wants little girls’ genitalia chopped off. Garf worships an evil shit.

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

Cath, meet Jessica; Jessica, meet Cath

May 16th, 2012 3:43 pm | By

Yikes. One of those days.

Two tweets right on top of each other but arbitrarily…and yet how connected they are.

London Complains@LondonComplains @CathElliott Well grumble ye not. When London’s declared a commie femicunt-free zone you won’t be able to get past the barricades anyway. x
Retweeted by CathElliott

Jessica Ahlquist@jessicaahlquist@tmsmith123: @jessicaahlquist it would so make my day if I heard you got gang rape by a bunch of black guys with AIDS.”

[Jessica quoting @tmsmith123]

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

Oh that kind of DNA test

May 16th, 2012 11:28 am | By

Uh oh…

A 15-year-old housewife lied to her husband when she told him she was having an affair with her uncle, a court heard today.

The husband of the Syrian teenager lodged a complaint at Al Qusais Police Station on November 14 after noticing the uncle’s number on her mobile phone.

When he confronted his wife she said her uncle often called her to flirt and that the two had been meeting for sex while he was not at home.

When investigators questioned the teenager she told them that her uncle – a 38-year-old from Saudi Arabia – had taken advantage of her young age and the problems she was experiencing in her marriage to convince her to have sex with him.

The uncle, you’ll be astonished to hear, denied it. Then – hurrah! – science backed him up.

DNA tests showed the uncle had not had sex with the teenager, so charges against him were dropped.

Say what?

How the hell could a DNA test show that?! What DNA test is there that could show that?

That’s some voodoo science they got going there.

Prosecutors said the teenager insisted on her version of events throughout most of their investigations, but eventually confessed to filing a false report to authorities.

Dubai Juvenile Court is scheduled to deliver a verdict on May 22.

That “15-year-old housewife” is probably a dead girl walking.

H/t Roger

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

Women were incapable of having seminal ideas

May 16th, 2012 9:53 am | By

I’ve talked about Sally Haslanger’s “Changing the Ideology and Culture of Philosophy: Not by Reason (Alone)” before – last October – but I’m off to DC tomorrow for the Women in Secularism conference so I feel like talking about it again.

In graduate school I was told by one of my teachers that he had “never seen a first rate woman [in] philosophy and never expected to because women were incapable of having seminal ideas.” I was the butt of jokes when I received a distinction on my prelims, since it seemed funny to everyone to suggest I should get a blood test to determine if I was really a woman. In a seminar in philosophical logic, I was asked to give a presentation on a historical figure when none of the other (male) students were, later to learn that this was because the professor assumed I’d be writing a thesis on the history of philosophy.

In other words…women can’t think.

I suspect this is one reason male atheists kept ignoring female atheists for so long (and some would like to go on ignoring us now). There’s an implicit stereotype that women can’t think, and organized argumentative atheism depends on thinking, so organized argumentative atheism had better keep women out or else it will fill up with stupid women talking about shoes. It will become Real Housewives of Atheism, and who the fuck wants to watch that?

My point here is that I don’t think we need to scratch our heads and wonder what on earth is going on that keeps women out of philosophy. In my experience it is very hard to find a place in philosophy that isn’t actively hostile towards women and minorities, or at least assumes that a successful philosopher should look and act like a (traditional, white) man.

Same again, with atheism replacing philosophy. There’s an implicit assumption that a prominent atheist should look and act like a (traditional, white) man. A woman atheist? Doesn’t compute. Makes the stuffing come out.

Problems arise when schemas clash. Valian uses the example of women in the military (Valian 1998, 122-3). The schema for women has us assume that women are life-giving and nurturing. The schema for the military, of course, has us assume that troops are life-taking and aggressive. In such cases, it is difficult to accept anything that seems to be an instance of both schemas. The deeper the schemas, the more difficult it is to tolerate a conflicting case.

Same again, with atheism replacing the military. Women are nurturing; men are aggressive. It takes aggression to face down god and god’s enforcers.

So, what to do? Persist. Show up. Keep talking. Perform the battle against god with words, which is the only way god can be fought. Be there. Push. Lean. Lean more heavily. Persist.

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

Level of difficulty

May 16th, 2012 8:55 am | By

You know Rawls and the veil of ignorance?

John Scalzi offers the same metaphor but in a different vocabulary.

Dudes. Imagine life here in the US — or indeed, pretty much anywhere in the Western world — is a massive role playing game, like World of Warcraft except appallingly mundane, where most quests involve the acquisition of money, cell phones and donuts, although not always at the same time. Let’s call it The Real World. You have installed The Real World on your computer and are about to start playing, but first you go to the settings tab to bind your keys, fiddle with your defaults, and choose the difficulty setting for the game. Got it?

Okay: In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.

Commenters point out that there are other variables – money, class, ability/disability, etc. True. Straight White Male doesn’t name all the ways there are to be better off than other people, for sure. But the metaphor itself is useful. Especially when you’re reminded of a couple of things.

And maybe at this point you say, hey, I like a challenge, I want to change my difficulty setting! Well, here’s the thing: In The Real World, you don’t unlock any rewards or receive any benefit for playing on higher difficulty settings. The game is just harder, and potentially a lot less fun. And you say, okay, but what if I want to replay the game later on a higher difficulty setting, just to see what it’s like? Well, here’s the other thing about The Real World: You only get to play it once. So why make it more difficult than it has to be? Your goal is to win the game, not make it difficult.

Oh, and one other thing. Remember when I said that you could choose your difficulty setting in The Real World? Well, I lied. In fact, the computer chooses the difficulty setting for you. You don’t get a choice; you just get what gets given to you at the start of the game, and then you have to deal with it.

Your quest for donuts starts…now.

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

Almost always women

May 15th, 2012 4:35 pm | By

One of the most painful passages to write in Does God Hate Women? was the one about women accused of being witches in Ghana. It drew on news reports, like this from the New Jersey Star Ledger:

Near death after a 30-mile, weeklong walk, Tarana says she arrived at the Gambaga camp, which has sheltered accused witches since the late 18th century. Chief Ganbaraaba, she says, took her in, had her wounds tended to, and sent for Tarana’s children.

Not one has come.

You can see why that segment was tough going.

Another one:

While Adijah Iddrissu’s doll-like hands busy themselves shelling groundnuts, her large piercing eyes track her grandmother.

At 7, Adijah already has put in a year at Kpatinga…

Iddrissu explains: ‘I would love to send Adijah to school, but I really need her to work.’

Fifteen of the 45 outcasts at Kpatinga have a granddaughter with them. Like Adijah, none goes to school. What’s worse, many of the girls cannot slide back into their communities after their grandmothers die. To do so means being stigmatized possibly stoned — as punishment for associating with a witch.

They, too, will live out their lives in exile.

Burkina Faso is taking some small steps to help women accused of being witches.

In Burkina Faso, when a death is deemed suspicious, a group of men carry the corpse through the community, believing the deceased will guide them towards the person responsible for the death. The accused – almost always women – are then chased out of their homes.

According to the ministry for social action and national solidarity, about 600 women across the country have fallen victim to this practice. Most have found precarious shelter at one of 11 centres around the country, run by NGOs.

The steps are small though. Some say too small.

Although civil society and human rights organisations welcomed the action plan, they are not entirely satisfied with the government’s ambition on the issue.

“Contrary to what many people think, we could quickly put an end to this phenomenon,” said Zongo, who directs CJP’s programmes against social exclusion. “It calls for clear legislation; for example, we could ban ‘the bearing of the body’. The authorities must be more ambitious to achieve the plan’s objectives. We feel they are not very proactive.”

Dacouré believes any approach that attempts simply to punish people who threaten and beat women accused of witchcraft will fail. She points out that such actions are carried out by crowds that are difficult to prosecute, convict and sentence en masse. Instead, she suggests measures that would oblige the head of the community, perhaps even the chief, to pay damages to the victim.

“I’m convinced that when we target the wallets of these people who burn down women’s houses, who assault and exclude women like this – when, instead of the government taking care of the victims, we go into their pockets for money to reintegrate people – they’ll think more carefully before they act,” said Dacouré.

Crowds, is it? So…these women are scapegoats? Hate figures set up for the pleasure and amusement of the crowd? What does that remind me of…

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

The pope actually mentioned women, for a second, sort of

May 15th, 2012 10:48 am | By

E. J. Dionne, pleased with himself, tells us he’s not going to leave the Catholic church.

I’ve never been a fan of Dionne’s. He’s so centrist, so conventional, so smugly mainstream, so insistent on received wisdom.

So it figures that he would get all bristly at the idea that the Catholic church isn’t a wholly admirable institution.

He’s in a huff that FFRF ran that ad urging liberal Catholics to drop the ‘Catholics’ part.

Catholic liberals get used to these kinds of things. Secularists, who never liked Catholicism in the first place, want us to leave the church, but so do Catholic conservatives who want the church all to themselves.

I’m sorry to inform the FFRF that I am declining its invitation to quit. They may not see the Gospel as a liberating document, but I do, and I can’t ignore the good done in the name of Christ by the sisters, priests, brothers and lay people who have devoted their lives to the poor and the marginalized.

Oh shut up. Nobody’s asking you to ignore any good done, but paying attention to good done is not a reason for continuing to support an organization that also does immense harm, and attaches strings to even the good that it does.

And on women’s rights, I take as my guide that early feminist, Pope John XXIII. In Pacem in Terris, his encyclical issued in 1963, the same year Betty Friedan published “The Feminine Mystique,” Pope John spoke of women’s “natural dignity.”

“Far from being content with a purely passive role or allowing themselves to be regarded as a kind of instrument,” he wrote, “they are demanding both in domestic and in public life the rights and duties which belong to them as human persons.”

You want to go there? Ok. Let’s take a look at Pacem in Terris.

The bit that Dionne quotes is in a section titled “Characteristics of the Present Day.” It starts with working men, and then goes on to women. The next section is titled “Equality of Men.” It begins

Today, on the contrary the conviction is widespread that all men are equal in natural dignity; and so, on the doctrinal and theoretical level, at least, no form of approval is being given to racial discrimination. All this is of supreme significance for the formation of a human society animated by the principles We have mentioned above, for man’s awareness of his rights must inevitably lead him to the recognition of his duties. The possession of rights involves the duty of implementing those rights, for they are the expression of a man’s personal dignity. And the possession of rights also involves their recognition and respect by other people.

Notice anything? Men. A man’s personal dignity.

I’m not convinced that Pacem in Terris belongs on the shelf next to Friedan’s book.

For the rest of the piece he scolds the bishops a lot. Well quite – but why is that not a reason to vote by leaving? The bishops are the ones calling the shots, not the rebel nuns and the Washington Post columnists.

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

According to our local imam

May 15th, 2012 9:51 am | By

I’ve just started reading Alom Shaha’s The Young Atheist’s Handbook, and it’s wonderful. Gripping, moving, funny, thoughtful – all the good things.

In the introduction he talks about “things in primary school which made me suspect that I had gotten a raw deal in having been born Muslim.” Other kids didn’t have to go to a religious building after school; they didn’t have to fret about being “good Christians”; their lives didn’t revolve around religion – plus Jesus sounded like a lovely man.

I couldn’t even read ‘our’ holy book because it was written in Arabic and, according to our local imam, all it seemed to say was that we should be really, really scared of Allah and that anyone who was not a Muslim was going to burn in the fires of hell for eternity. [p 13]

Not an attractive takeaway for a child, or for anyone.

There was a lot of Christmas stuff at school, and it was fun -

…a general having of the kind of fun that Muslims never seemed to have. The Ayatollah Khomeini once wrote, ‘Allah did not create man so that he could have fun’, and at times it felt to me like this was the dominant theme of Islam – the forbidding of fun. [p 13]

In chapter 2 he mentions being brought up, like many children,

with the notion that there is an invisible, all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful supernatural being who would reward me if I was ‘good’ and punish me if I was ‘bad’. There was surely a period in my childhood where I believed this… [p 45]

I love that ’surely’, because it’s something I puzzle over, too. I can’t remember ever really believing it, so I have to suspect I didn’t. I think if I had ever really believed it, it would have been a big enough thing that I would remember it. Instead I remember things like Howdy Doody and Clarabelle.


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

What do you mean “if”?

May 15th, 2012 8:47 am | By

There’s another thing about Romney’s chuckle chuckle notpology.

“Back in high school, I did some dumb things, and if anybody was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize for that,” Romney said in a live radio interview with Fox News Channel personality Brian Kilmeade.

Here’s what the other thing is about that. He was responding to the Washington Post article, so he knew what he was notpologizing for – he knew that it was for collecting at least five other senior boys to attack a junior boy, hold him down while he screamed for help, and cut off his hair.

Yet his response is to say “if anybody was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize for that.” If? If? If anybody was “hurt” or “offended” by being attacked by a gang of older boys?

What does he mean “if”? What can he possibly mean by it?

There is no “if.” It’s not an iffy thing. Assault isn’t conditional in that way. Assault isn’t a matter of taste – no, not even for masochists; assaulting a masochist is still assault. There is no “if.” Romney doesn’t get to change the well-understood meaning of things like a gang of boys attacking one younger boy, because he wants to make himself look better.

It’s odd, really. He could have done better. He could have promptly admitted it was a dreadful thing to do, and talked about how horrible it was for John Lauber, and said he feels really terrible that he was a mean, privileged bully as a teenager. I should think that would play better even as public relations. Instead he laughed, and minimized it as dumb, and made his apology conditional on people being petty and whiny enough to be “offended” by being attacked by a gang of older boys.

So he’s a shit; instinctively a shit. Not surprising, but not pleasing, either.

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