Posts Tagged ‘atheism’


It is inevitable

January 7, 2014

By the time I’d spent a few months on Daily Kos, I figured it wouldn’t last for me. I don’t seem to possess the requisite hostility to put up with the environment indefinitely. I value causes more than in-fighting. But like a 24-hour news cycle, you can dispense with the petitions and peruse donation requests in a few minutes, which still leaves you with the rest of the day to fill up.

I’ve seen partisans on both sides of debates over whether Obama is a saint or an abomination – they’re all Democrats, but somehow they find reasons to war bitterly over things we can’t control. I’ve seen the ‘liberal’ gun enthusiasts, who try so hard to connect liberal values with anarchic gun rights and fail, troll and bait and drive off whoever gets in their way. And yesterday, I was amused to see religious privilege put so plainly it made me laugh, even as that community now seeks to drive off virulent skeptics.

If the goal of this blog were to express antireligious sentiment, I would never have come here. If you want a blog that is comfortably intolerant of religion, by all means go find one! I’m sure there are many. Intolerance of religion has never been an official or unofficial element of Daily Kos.

A comment from a believer taking offense at religion-bashing. Not xian-bashing or muslim-bashing (hell, people get away with the latter some days) but calling religion a problem. Or like the way Hitchens put it that religion poisons everything. I don’t have the same fire for the battle that I used to, but I have yet to find redeeming qualities to it that are not incidental, that cannot be found elsewhere. And yet so many believers will take offense on behalf of their religion. They seek to identify with their religion, to claim it as their identity the same way the color of their skin or their sexual preference is part of their identity.

Well, certainly people are born with their skin, subject to some change perhaps. And at least there’s data suggesting sexual preference is inborn. But religion? There’s not even compelling evidence for the ‘god gene,’ much less anything convincing about being ‘born’ xian or muslim or … whatever. Even a predilection for god-belief, however misguided, has to find a vehicle through which to manifest. And what is that going to be, but whatever religion hooks them first? Most likely, whatever religion their parents are taught to instill, because it’s so much easier to indoctrinate children.

Get ’em while they’re young. Works for cigarettes too, or so I’m told.

We Democrats have always prided ourselves on our big tent. One of the things that has prevented us from winning as many victories the past several decades has been a perceived intolerance of religion. I would suggest therefore that demonstrating tolerance for people of faith is one way the Democratic Party can expand its electoral victories.

So this commenter raised this question for me. A ridiculous question, but I’ll see if I can find an opportunity to ask it anyway, because I empathize with pragmatism and that’s what this is, a call to pragmatism. Maybe the premises aren’t all true, or maybe it’s not important enough to appease the religious majority by silencing skeptics. Or maybe it’s pointless, because of free speech someone will always speak up. But I want to ask the admins, seriously. Bashing religion is not the same as bashing people, although believers try so hard to equate it with bigotry and prejudice and shame people into silence.

They’re the ones that should be ashamed of themselves for trying to drive people off, but they obviously value their own hurt feelings more than mine. Big shocker.

Should skeptics be silent about religion in order to placate believers? Should we play along with the religious majority? Does the stated goal of Daily Kos, to elect more and better Democrats, mean we endorse this oppression of the non-religious minority by the religious majority? This actual exercise in intolerance, in bigotry, as opposed to the loud plaintive claims of the believers? Should I really get lost and find somewhere else to read and chat, some other outlet for supporting Democrats? I mean to find out. And while the believers claim such painful alienation when their precious religious beliefs are attacked, I’m already alienated enough to have stopped writing there, for months. Work slowed down enough for some new writing a while ago; I just haven’t bothered. And I already get enough email about petitions and causes to donate to. Maybe it is time to go.

So, this is more or less a reminder to self to raise the question at the next opportunity. I already know what I’d do, personally – that intolerant xian hypocrite can piss off. Take those wounded sensibilities and shove it with the actual oppression. They’re so oblivious that they complain about oppression of their ideas while trying to really drive me out of the community. Who is worse off, the ‘second class’ citizen in perception or the exile? But I’m a pragmatic sort. I’m curious to see if this fellow is an outlier or more representative of the community.


Rape culture pops up in the strangest places

August 3, 2013

This is a post I almost want to put up on Daily Kos, but I’m thinking better of it, because of the fight it would pick there. There’s a nice community of skeptics there, but there’s also a fair share of rabid catholic defenders there and I don’t enjoy interacting with them. (who would.) Besides, the great orange satan is being overrun by libertarian anarchist types, so…

Anyway, rape culture, catholicism. This should be fun eh?

So I was listening to a little MSNBC today getting ready for work. I didn’t get a chance to see much of it, but I can check it out later at length. I already found the pertinent bit, though.

I can’t embed it, but it’s the first clip of today’s Melissa Harris-Perry show and it’s about the end of the Ariel Castro court case. For kidnapping, imprisoning and raping three women over the course of a decade, he’s finished as part of this society — he gets to be housed in a jail until he expires. But he left society with a bang.

if you’ve seen the youtube video, amanda this weekend, this right there itself proves that this girl did not go through no torture. that woman did not go through no torture. because if that was true, do you think she would be out there partying already or having fun? i don’t think so.

This was Castro offering excuses for his behavior — that since these women have been seen to be happy since they escaped his clutches, they must not have suffered as much as they say.

i seen gina in the media. she looks normal. she acts normal. a person that’s been tortured does not act normal. they would act withdrawn and everything. on the contrary, i heard the opposite. she’s happy, the victims are happy.

Naturally Melissa’s panel had no kind words for Ariel Castro, and it’s amazing that he even tried. He’s the poster case for rape! The lengths to which he went to imprison these women, the chains they found, no one’s going to mistake what he did for anything but rape. But the panel went on to speak of a rape culture, a term I haven’t seen much, but I am aware of the concept. The one man on the panel had this to say about it.

so to me, what i heard there was an appeal to us in the larger community and society and saying, hey, if i did this, would this woman be out there partying? because what happens in rape culture, what happens in sexual harassment is that women are continuously put in a position, where they have to prove their innocence before their perpetrators, you know, are found guilty of what they’ve done.

It was an appeal to men. And why not, who else would it appeal to but men? Well, perhaps some women sufficiently indoctrinated or bullied into going along, I’ll get to that…not that MHP is one of those. She mentioned being a survivor and now I’m wondering about that, but this was her take on rape culture.

you literally must die to prove that you resisted sufficiently. this seems to me, we have policies substantiating this. we were just looking at the fact that in ohio, in fact, in 31 states, in 31 states, rapists can sue for custody of children produced in the context of rape and/or for visitation rights, in 31 states this this country. in only one state where there’s a waiting period for abortion can people who have been raped or are victims of incest even get that waived, right? but that idea of, who has to claim innocence, how much is that a part of rape culture? that you, the victim, the survivor are also the one on trial.

So, up to this point I was considering a DK diary until I remembered one of the many things I despise about the catholic church. This was what reminded me:

you literally must die to prove that you resisted sufficiently.

And there’s a valid argument about catholicism to be had here; but I know the G.O.S. is not that good a place for such arguments anymore. There is a patron saint, however, of rape victims.

Maria Goretti was born in October, 1890 to a family of peasant farmers. Alessandro, her murderer, was the son of her family’s landlord. The attack took place in July, 1902, when Maria was a few months shy of her twelfth birthday. Most accounts say that Alessandro had “propositioned” her before and she had always refused him. After her death, Alessandro went to jail, where he dreamed that he saw Maria in Heaven and she forgave him. He then repented and was forgiven by both the church and Maria’s mother.

And so, the patron saint of rape victims is an 11-year-old girl who was not raped, but who died rather than “allow herself” to be raped.

The Catholic Church holds up Maria Goretti as a shining example of purity and chastity. As Pope John Paul II explained, “St Maria Goretti is an example for the new generations who are threatened by a non-commital[sic] attitude that finds it difficult to understand the importance of the values which admit of no compromise.”

The RCC has several patron saints for this purpose. There’s Agatha, who was tortured and killed for rejecting a man’s advances and refusing customers after being forced into a brothel. Agnes of Rome refused to make sacrifices to pagan gods, and to surrender her virginity by rape, and was killed for it. Antonia Messina fought a rapist to her last breath: a martyr to purity, she’s called.

Detecting a bit of a theme, here.

Maria Goretti is another of these martyrs to purity. She was called that by Pope John Paul II, as recently as 2002. He also had this to say about her. Keep in mind the story of her death.

Her martyrdom reminds us that the human being is not fulfilled by following the impulses of pleasure but by living life with love and responsibility.

Contrast this with MHP:

you literally must die to prove that you resisted sufficiently.

The old pope (two popes back now I suppose) raises some questions about the choices people have, and how the church interprets them, as pointed out by this fellow skeptic

Given the context of promoting chastity, “following the impulses of pleasure” appears to refer to normal sexual desire. If so, what does “following the impulses of pleasure” have to do with Maria Goretti? Is the pope saying that if Maria had “allowed” herself to be raped, she would have been “following the impulses of pleasure”? Or is he saying that Alessandro was “following the impulses of pleasure” by wanting to rape Maria?

If the pope was referring to Alessandro, it still shows the Catholic Church’s lack of understanding about the psychology of rape. The act of a rapist is not the same thing as normal sexual desire. Not for the rapist, or for the rape victim. Rape is a violent act of domination. The fact that this case is about a 20-year-old attempting to rape an 11-year-old should already tell us that this is not an example of normal sexual desire.

There’s no good answer here, for the pope or the church. Of course, these best-case asexual eunuchs to their crucified god aren’t the sorts of people I would go to for any kind of expertise in this area, much less understanding. Empathy seems beyond them as well, when the examples they hold up to women are martyrs to purity. That the only proper path to show innocence is to die resisting. The church teaches that rape victims — survivors — must be in some measure guilty. After all, they’re not dead. There’s your rape culture. There’s a piece of it in church doctrine. I bet their priests teach catholic victims of rape to pray to saints like Maria Goretti, and hidden in the stories of these saints is a message to survivors that they failed.

you literally must die to prove that you resisted sufficiently.

And being a religion, of course, there is no political process by which we can seek to excise this cancerous idea from our midst. The most we can hope for is that most catholics don’t know about this rot in their belief system. I expect most don’t; I sure didn’t, back when I was one of them. But like most skeptics, I’ve learned quite a bit more about religion since I gave up believing in the stuff, quite often we know more about religion than the believers do.

This isn’t an attack on catholics, though. Charitably, one could call it an attack on their ignorance. Worst case, their priesthood knows. It’s on catholicism that the attack comes. And the reason I don’t bother putting this up on DK is that the catholic defenders’ league recognizes no such difference. I would like to think that I’d have a really hard time finding voices sympathetic to Pope John Paul II’s glowing endorsement of the martyr of purity. But this culture, this rape culture is pervasive. Clearly, the 31 states where rapists can sue for custody and/or visitation rights for the products of their violation speak to it.

I think I’ve internalized it to some degree, myself. In my wandering, reading and research I came across this tumblr and started reading. A lot of horror stories seem to start in parties with alcohol as a key ingredient, so to speak. I was thinking how it’s a shame that alcohol is around to facilitate this sort of thing, that I’m glad I don’t drink, it’s a wonder women go to parties at all…

If owning a gun and knowing how to use it worked, the military would be the safest place for a woman. It’s not.

If women covering up their bodies worked, Afghanistan would have a lower rate of sexual assault than Polynesia. It doesn’t.

If not drinking alcohol worked, children would not be raped. They are.

If your advice to a woman to avoid rape is to be the most modestly dressed, soberest and first to go home, you may as well add “so the rapist will choose someone else”.

…and that thought process came to a screeching halt.

It’s true, it’s not the booze. Women ought to be able to drink and have a good time like anyone else. This should not be what happens to women if they choose to have a few drinks. There’s something wrong with this society, and there’s something wrong with me. Step one, I suppose, recognize the problem. This is one occasion where I can quote Matthew 7 at myself.

7 “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and [a]by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how [b]can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Perhaps I’ve taken the log out of my eye? Or have I just figured out that it’s there. Progress either way, I guess. As a skeptic, it pays to check and examine what’s in my head as much as anyone else’s. Rooting out those sorts of assumptions will be the work of a lifetime for me. I may have been raised catholic, but I’m not even sure where this notion came from for me. It could just be from being male, in this society.

Anyway, I can work on myself along with those 31 states and the church. No one gets away scot-free. Except for the vast majority of rapists, I suppose. Also cited during the MHP show:

and it’s the rare moment where someone who has committed sexual assault is put in prison for that. right? so that’s the 3% of cases that that actually happens.

Got a lot of work to do.


No u

March 5, 2013

Just a quick lol for Bryan Fischer, of the American Family Association, for taking so many years to finally invoke the NO U response.

During his Monday Focal Point radio broadcast, Bryan Fischer insisted that liberals were modern “Pharisees,” a Jewish sect which was depicted as self-righteous and hypocritical in the New Testament of the Bible.

“You know who the American Taliban is?” he asked his listeners. “It’s secular fundamentalists because they are the one that want to remove all mention of Jesus from the public square… and they’re the Taliban. The Taliban wants to do the same thing. Taliban wants to drive Christ and any mention of Christ and drive Christians from the public square.”

“So, who is the Taliban today, who are the Pharisees today? Freedom From Religion Foundation, ACLU and secular fundamentalists all across the fruited plain.”

Meanwhile, skeptics have been using American Taliban to refer to, well, folks like Bryan Fischer, since the outbreak of the war in Afghanistan. There’s a good reason why The Raw Story shares the Bryan Fischer video clip from Right Wing Watch. Fischer is quite the regular there, and for good reason.

So, grats for taking so long to go with NO U.


Deathbed conversions

January 23, 2013

Well, I shouldn’t say “this doesn’t happen every day”…people die every day by the thousands. I don’t often see it happening in my community with any advance notice, but on Daily Kos a prominent couple is being threatened by a serious illness. To the point that the fellow not in the hospital says he’s been told, that his fiance will probably die.

Although it’s good to see the community come to his support, and I’ve done the same…a particular question comes to mind, and I can’t shake it. To ask, during, and after, does this change anyone’s views on god and their favored paradise afterlife story? But it seems rude, and so I don’t plan on bringing it up there.

Besides, if I did, there’s probably enough believers there to accuse me of trolling and get me banned from the site. Not much point in that kind of online suicide by moderation.

But for skeptics, this experience is fairly common. Unless I just…drop dead unexpectedly one day, I expect to go through the skeptic’s plight of supposedly well-meaning believers trying one last time for the conversion — for the deathbed conversion — the one they can crow about later, when the atheist’s courage wavers in the face of oblivion. Or hell, as they might see it. There’s no notion of propriety that seems to stop the believer from picking this fight at the absolute worst time in someone’s life. Indeed, they see it as an opportunity.

Happened to Christopher Hitchens, from what I’ve read. This is an evangelical explaining it from the believer’s POV.

This came to mind recently as I was considering the case of Christopher Hitchens. The irascible commentator and rakish champion of militant godlessness suffers from esophageal cancer. He has complained that many Christians, knowing his plight, have communicated to him that “Surely now would be the perfect time for you to abandon the principles of a lifetime.”

The complaint is understandable. Christians have a standard stock of counterfeit sympathies they send into circulation around the suffering and bereaved. It can seem coldly opportunistic when Christians respond to the suffering of a non-believer with: “Perhaps it will turn him to God.”

But Hitchens shows that he has not understood Christianity well. Christians, in this case, are standing squarely in the richness of their tradition. That tradition does not teach that sufferers are so wearied and weakened that they will abandon their moral and intellectual scruples. Rather, it teaches that suffering makes certain things plain to us. Suffering has the power to penetrate our illusions, shatter our masks, and unveil the fundamental realities of who we are and who God is. Like pain in the body, the lamp of suffering illuminates the architecture of the spirit.

It does seem coldly opportunistic, and rude. But in reading his explanation, what is it but a more pleasant rewrite? What qualitative difference is there between ‘wearied and weakened’ and ‘makes certain things plain’ except that it’s the self-serving, baseless reply of the faithful?

And if suffering reveals the fundamental truth of their god-concepts, then why don’t they just inflict suffering on people as a means to a just end? Surely their god would forgive them. Some of them even have built-in confession protocols for the purpose.

And then I think…oh wait. In many ways, that’s exactly what they do.

Now, the evangelical of course denies this idea as sinful. He claims to refuse to ‘valorize’ suffering, although that is of course what he’s doing. And then there is this curious contradiction.

I know for certain that some suffering can be valuable instrumentally—in its consequences within and around us. And I know in faith that nothing can separate us from the love of God, which always seeks us and seeks through our joys and sorrows to draw us unto him. Certain truths, certain essential truths, are only learned by a willing student in the school of suffering.

Now, what, about suffering and dying from cancer as Hitchens did, is a willing process? What about Hitchens’ writing up to the time of his death suggested he was a willing student of all this? He went kicking and screaming to his grave, and why not; for a skeptic, this is the one life we’ve got, and not given up without a fight.

But I wish believers didn’t have this pretense of caring to hide behind when they do this. I don’t for a minute believe in their sincerity. No one who cares about a skeptic ought to turn on them at a time like this. A bunch of random, faithful strangers, they just want to see the atheist fail. It means something to them, that last moment of despair. I’d like to give it back to them, but it seems rude to do so.

That impulse, at least, I don’t have to credit to some leftover shred of xian morality. I’m pretty sure this is one I developed on my own, because many believers clearly lack it.


The delusion they’ll never live down

January 16, 2013

Yesterday I had one of those rare points of disagreement with someone I respect greatly. And since the subject is about damaging the coalition that leads to progress in our country politically, it seems better to put my answer here instead of there. Warning: it is rather long. That may be a problem. If so, just go “TL;DR” and check out this lolcat, then go on your merry way.

So, here is the relevant chunk of the article in question. It’s about Martin Luther King Jr., about whom I can’t help but have some mixed feelings, since it was religion that guided him to some good goals, but his claims about religion and the bible are still questionable. On balance I can only wish that I could do as much good with my life, because I never will.

The black church is still the center of much black life, and leadership is still drawn from it. Few of our churches are uni-class. We may attend service and be sitting in the same pew with a housemaid or day laborer.

Even those who moved away from Christianity, gathered around other preachers—like Malcolm.

The lesson I learn when I look at the face of young Martin, is that he could have been any black child I see today. One of those black children missing no one pays attention to.  One of those black children murdered by stray gunfire. One of those black children who winds up in the school to prison pipeline. One of those black kids headed off to Sunday school.

I am also reminded (no matter my own non-christian persuasion) that those on the left who deride religion and spiritual faith openly on forums such as these, do little to forge the coalitions we need to move forward.

For many on the left who pride themselves in their openly militant atheism—poor whites and their churches and revival meetings are merely objects of scorn. There is vocal derision of evangelicals, yet one of the most powerful progressive voices we hear today is that of Rev. William Barber, head of the N.C. NAACP, an evangelical pastor.

The fact that you don’t believe is your business. Mocking those that do disses many members of our most solid and stable Democratic Party voting block.

Young Martin’s family was guided by their strong spiritual belief. This is true in many black families.

So when you quote or cite the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. remember young Martin.

Before you post remarks categorizing all people of faith as delusional, remember young Martin.

Before we get swept away in the celebrations to come—look at his young face. Then look at the faces of young black school kids.

Celebrate our children today.

Accept that many are growing up as he did.

Guided by faith.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.

There’s some irony to be sure — if only religious belief, or the lack thereof, could be simply our business. How hard is it to swap a few words from his speech, after all.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by their belief in god (or lack thereof) but by the content of their character.

Dismissing atheism as simply my business is to dismiss the discrimination that goes on in this country. Whether it’s the latest silly uproar about some nativity display or monument to the Ten Commandments, or the new House rep from Arizona, Kyrsten Sinema, who seems comfortable with being an ‘out’ bisexual but not an ‘out’ skeptic, to the point that she’s officially dodging the question and refusing the label. She knows that skeptics in Congress are damned rare — Pete Stark was the last, and he lost last year — and she knows that label can damage her. The next Republican opponent could well campaign against her on the issue, and probably will in spite of her obfuscation. Here, in Arizona? You bet! I will try to remember this so I can report back next year.

At the same time, comparing the current lot of the American skeptic to the discrimination and outright violence that black folks still suffer to this day diminishes their experience; that dismisses it to some degree, I think. So, it’s tempting to buy into that reconstruction from ‘I Have a Dream,’ but no. It’s not that bad. Not nearly. We may now have a black President while the prospect of having an atheist President in my lifetime seems…ridiculous, impossible. But we’re not prone to being attacked and murdered even now, as the ‘stand your ground’ laws have permitted in Florida, for example. Gun enthusiasts may argue, of course they would argue with that. But, like it or not, successful or not, Floridians have taken that law to mean open season if they feel threatened. As a result of their own racism, for example.

Still. This statement questions my openly militant atheism — which is kind of laughable in itself, ‘openly militant atheism’ — wow, we question nonsensical beliefs and attack religious conservatives who discriminate and legislate and work to punish women, gays, minority groups — that’s what counts for militant these days. I kind of scoff at the very notion of being a militant, like it does not do the word justice. The militant muslim, in Bangladesh, attacks an open ‘militant’ atheist and tries to stab the skeptic to death for the crime of blogging. That’s no joke, but perhaps the comparison is! The militant christian, in America, Scott Roeder, shoots and murders Dr. George Tiller for the crime of performing abortions. Protestants led the KKK. And us joker atheists, damn our hides, we discomfit you. We offend you. Wow. Thin skinned much eh?

And yet my atheism, speaking out against religiously inspired discrimination and suffering and violence, that’s militant and damaging to the coalition. I shouldn’t speak out against evangelicals because some of them are nice people whose religion coincidentally leads them to do good things. Well, you know what? I’ve never spoken out against Rev. William Barber, give it some time and I could probably find something…but I doubt it. I choose my targets with care and they deserve the attention I give them. And if guilt by association is enough to damage our coalition, then perhaps these evangelicals should think twice about those with whom they associate.

Not every skeptic speaks out with discretion, though. I understand that. I agree about the damage some skeptics do, and, hell. On DK I’ve had to help drive off one such fellow and helped get him banned (this diary was one good example of the skeptic going too far). That was truly a bizarre experience, but in the end I let the site rules dictate what to do. However much I would have liked to sympathize with a fellow skeptic, he made it real hard to.

Even I may shoot my mouth off a bit much for the DK community, I guess that’s why I’m writing here and sometimes I refuse to speak my mind there. I seem to have been lucky so far, I’ve only spotted one hide rate on anything I ever wrote, and that one’s just funny. I got dinged in retaliation for attacking someone who used the racist epithet ‘Uncle Tom’. That guy was so in the wrong, I don’t even fret about it.

Ok, finally. On the topic of delusion. I think it’s fair to say at this point that this idea, which I think dates back to 2006 and The God Delusion, is one where Dawkins kinda stepped in it. You can read above about “categorizing all people of faith as delusional”. And I know from experience, over the years since, that most people take it in the psychological meaning…

: the act of deluding: the state of being deluded
a: something that is falsely or delusively believed or propagatedb: a persistent false psychotic belief regarding the self or persons or objects outside the self that is maintained despite indisputable evidence to the contrary; also: the abnormal state marked by such beliefs
Unfortunately the word is associated with mental illness, so that’s how people take it. Guilt by association again, I suppose.

A delusion is a belief held with strong conviction despite superior evidence to the contrary.[1] As a pathology, it is distinct from a belief based on false or incomplete information, confabulation, dogma, illusion, or other effects of perception.

Delusions typically occur in the context of neurological or mental illness, although they are not tied to any particular disease and have been found to occur in the context of many pathological states (both physical and mental). However, they are of particular diagnostic importance in psychotic disorders including schizophrenia, paraphrenia, manic episodes of bipolar disorder, and psychotic depression.

But I have his book, and I’ve read it, and Dawkins pulls out his dictionary and provides for what he meant, “a false belief or impression”. He concurs with a definition that looks much like the first sentence from the Wiki article. However, he also quotes Robert Pirsig from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: “When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called Religion.”

It’s hard for me to argue against that point. Hard for anyone, I would say. And so the last recourse is simply to find it offensive. Cases like Martin Luther King Jr. serve as examples of religion being put to good use. And yet, he was a Baptist; and the Baptists, I find, have a checkered past in this country.

Slavery in the 19th century became the most critical moral issue dividing Baptists in the United States. Struggling to gain a foothold in the South, after the American Revolution, the next generation of Baptist preachers accommodated themselves to the leadership of southern society. Rather than challenging the gentry on slavery and urging manumission (as did the Quakers and Methodists), they began to interpret the Bible as supporting the practice of slavery and encouraged good paternalistic practices by slaveholders. They preached to slaves to accept their places and obey their masters. In the two decades after the Revolution during the Second Great Awakening, Baptist preachers abandoned their pleas that slaves be manumitted.[18]

Religion might seem like an utterly beneficent influence in the context of MLK, but it’s not hard to look a little further back — or forward — and find it problematic instead. It’s interesting to consider the matter of interpretation that took place amongst Baptists trying to spread into the South. A hell of a thing to do, actually. Rather than stand on principle, they abandoned that principle, reinterpreted, and grew popular; and the bible, their holy book, has enough contradictions in it regarding slavery that they could actually do it. For every instance of abolitionist rhetoric

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

…there is another to support the institution of slavery

Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ;

Now, I would bet that Martin Luther King Jr. gave this some thought. And at least his Baptist religion at that point in history had learned from that mistake. Religion can have a good influence on society. Those who are guided by faith may turn out well. But this is not inevitable. Being guided by faith does not always result in good outcomes. At best, it is a guess, a shot in the dark — that is the essence of faith, after all, as even MLK’s quote above explains. Faith is no guarantee of good results. Good intentions, perhaps. Yes, well. The religious have a saying about that, too.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

I reserve my worst mockery not for beliefs, but the horrible actions they inspire. We are entitled to believe what we want, but acting on it, that’s different, as religious users of peyote in this country have learned on occasion. Again — if this guilt by association offends, I suggest the believer reconsider that association. If it is bothersome to be catholic while the RCC covers up the scandal of pedophilia, if conservative evangelicals seek to pass laws to punish women for having sex, if right-wing religious nuts effectively murder their children by forbidding them simple modern medicines and choose prayer instead — the problem is not the believer’s offended sensibilities!

What’s the difference, anyway, between the likes of MLK and the case of Kara Neumann, who died of undiagnosed diabetes when her parents refused to seek medical help and chose prayer instead? In both cases we see people guided by faith. But one of them led to convictions of second-degree reckless homicide.

For my part, I will continue to choose my targets with care and criticize bad actions over mere beliefs, even if the beliefs are often disgusting. Eternal suffering in hell, for example. But I’ll try to be careful and focus on the real world and the consequences of religious beliefs. Hopefully, in return, those who are guided by faith will take it under advisement how little difference there is between them and the Neumanns.


On the lack of empathy

December 29, 2012

Since I’ve been on vacation this week (it explains the lack of an online presence), I have not been checking out my usual internet haunts, much. Instead I have been running errands, doing yard work, playing some WoW, that sort of thing. Unfortunately I chose today to see what was going on at Daily Kos.

There’s a pretty strong community of skeptics there, but there are also some nasty believers, and one of them who goes by ‘Timaeus’ apparently exploded late on Thursday evening. I’ve considered the chances that he will come looking for this blog and I figure it’s unlikely. In any case, I am entitled to speak my mind about it here. This space is as mine as any webspace gets. If he does stop by to comment, don’t expect to see it. I have the moderation power here.  🙂

Anyway. He has spent the last day, well, dealing with the fallout of his explosion. And I have seen some folks I otherwise respect engage in some disappointing and selective…empathy.

Anyone who writes up this sort of call-out against skeptics is liable to get some hostile responses…

Of course, the fundamentalist atheists like Sam Harris are gathering like locusts, insulting and attacking and mocking (as you can see if you just google “Eben Alexander”).  They don’t like having their religious faith questioned.  They’re wrong.

He then followed up in the comments by attacking his critics, insulting them, calling them a gang and worse, as if some group of skeptics is out to get him. He has since tried to explain his antics as the result of drunken posting, although he went on insisting that a gang was out to get him, that he didn’t deserve most of what he got. He’s also apparently looking at some risky and painful surgery.

The problem with these excuses, well…I’ve seen this fellow get nasty before, and there was no apparent booze, no stress, no surgery that I knew of, to explain it away. Having observed his behavior for a good while it is all of a piece. He’s hostile to skepticism and skeptics, atheists of course in particular, and a…passionate defender of the catholic church. Since I write about the RCC at times, I have some personal experience with his nastiness.

And yet there are folks willing to give him a pass, chalk it up to stress or alcohol, and even attack the likes of me (however indirectly) for lacking the empathy to let his supposed drunken ranting to slide.

And after all that — what does he apologize for?

My fault.  It’s foolish for me to engage that group. I apologize to everybody for my persistence. There are so many better ways to deal with that kind of criticism, much as I disrespect it.

Persistence. Not that he may have said some offensive, or insulting things, or called out the skeptical community (like always). Nothing about that. Nothing to indicate something…contrite, like…maybe he didn’t mean it. So apparently he did. Which in short puts me in a gang of hypocritical, fundamentalist atheists who nevertheless somehow have faith in their skepticism. In a gang of locusts who lashed out in anger and against the rules of the site, lashed out against a bunch of comments that didn’t merit the response — never mind that they did.

Never mind the subject — near-death experience — with which I have a bit of personal experience, myself. Never mind the year that it shook me, the time it took me to deal with it and move on, no help from…well, almost anyone. I expect the author of this ‘proof of heaven’ book got pretty much what I got. Everyone around more than willing to offer interpretation rather than reason. More than willing to put that experience under their lens of faith and invite him to join in, like they did with me. I nearly did. It’s tempting. The experience is very compelling. It’s hard to describe experiences that are so unreal and yet so indistinguishable from reality. I still struggle with the impulse to read more into it than I should. One person helped me; without her, who knows? I might have joined a blasted church.

But never mind that. Spit on that. Dismiss it out of hand. Condescend, even. Those foolish atheists and their ‘religious faith’.

They don’t like having their religious faith questioned.  They’re wrong.

No, this fellow’s mind conjured up heaven and that simply must be. Never mind that my experience had a different lesson to teach. Dismiss my own. Discard it. Accept the heavenly one. It suits the majority, the xian society. Where was the empathy for me, the understanding, the willingness to let me follow my own path? Sky-fairy forbid! Never mind that. No, instead empathy is corrupted into advice, encouragement, guidance, interpretation; whatever it takes to get me on their path, and all the while I’m sure everyone thinks they’re doing right, they’re showing…empathy.

I suppose this little exercise shows that there’s not much to trust about empathy, as it too is subject to interpretation. It’s my own interpretation that makes me write this here, and not write it up as a diary on Daily Kos, call out this festering catholic pustule and let fly there and damn the consequences. I’m just venting…ranting…in a safer space. I wonder if I would write this there, if I were drunk enough or stressed out. Perhaps it’s better if I don’t find out.

And to think, after all this bitching, moaning, insulting and complaining by the believer, he was defending a foolish book that had this to say.

Dr. Alexander received three key messages from God, several times:  1. We are loved. 2. We have nothing to fear. 3. We can do no wrong.

Yes, all of us can disagree at length with all of that.  Myself, I believe it.

We can do no wrong. The irony, it’s too much! Why complain about some skeptics criticizing him? Why write again just to complain further if they can do no wrong? Well, then. He may insult atheists and basically call me a hypocrite, a skeptic with ‘religious faith’ who gets mad when it’s questioned. He may say that, claim that — baselessly. I at least can settle for demonstrating his hypocrisy. He fails completely at living up to this tenet of ‘we can do no wrong’ that he supposedly believes.

Anyway, won’t be in any big hurry to dive back into DK and start commenting and writing a whole lot just yet. I have some vacation left to enjoy. No sense ruining it further!


Capping off a decent week

November 30, 2012

Much like the Friendly Atheist (where I first saw this) the mention of the Templeton Foundation makes me grimace. They’re well known in skeptical circles for blurring the lines between faith and science with as much punditry and offerings of cash as they can manage. Their mission as described on Wikipedia is

The mission of the Foundation is:

[to serve] as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality. We support research on subjects ranging from complexity, evolution, and infinity to creativity, forgiveness, love, and free will. We encourage civil, informed dialogue among scientists, philosophers, and theologians and between such experts and the public at large, for the purposes of definitional clarity and new insights. Our vision is derived from the late Sir John Templeton’s optimism about the possibility of acquiring “new spiritual information” and from his commitment to rigorous scientific research and related scholarship. The Foundation’s motto, “How little we know, how eager to learn,” exemplifies our support for open-minded inquiry and our hope for advancing human progress through breakthrough discoveries.[1]

Knowing that theologians have damned little of import to say to scientists, it’s clear to me at least that this organization is mostly a waste of time, and observation of its work product bears that out – most notably the Templeton Prize, a nice chunk o’ change. When they’re not handing prizes to the priestly class (who can beg for money on their own by writing useless books) they’re shopping for scientists willing to harbor a little cognitive dissonance for pay, like Francisco Ayala, who won their prize in 2010 as “a living person who has made exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension” and whose book Darwin’s Gift related the theory of evolution as a theodicy, or a solution to the believer’s problem of evil.

I haven’t read that explanation but I bet it would be a laugher. I have not yet found a good answer to that problem of evil. It remains a personal favorite.

This video however, where Neil deGrasse Tyson answers the Templetons’ question “does the universe have a purpose?” ended much better than…well, some philosophical drek from Ayala, I suppose. I thought it was worth listening to. The animation put to Tyson’s answer makes it worth watching, too. Amusing, if for nothing else than what the bacteria in our gut might think our purpose is. (More poop!)