Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Finding Words

I had promised to fire another broadside in the on-going, online discussion about evolution in schools

Dr. Esler pointed me to the following summary of the history of the struggle to teach evolution as published in the New England Journal of Medicine. I would point him to the far more complete discussion of the issue in Eugenie Scott’s book Evolution vs. Creationism. Of course her book isn’t available for free or online. Fortunately, since it doesn’t contain the word scrotum, it is probably still available at a local library.

If I had more energy, I would point out the fact that all the secular attacks outlined in the article seem to have been responses to people attempting to regulate scientific learning in classrooms. (In the case of the Scopes trial, they were successful for almost 50 years…) I would argue that is the problem. What are often perseved to be secular attacks on religion are simply an attempt to describe the world without recourse to God; to use naturalistic explanations and not supernatural apologetics to define how the universe works.

There was nothing new in the article, but it is a nice summary of the three main battles fought in the American war on science. (A war only really being fought in truly religious countries – countries like America and Turkey.)

Interestingly, I found the summary rather disjointed from the rest of the article. After showing reaction after reaction to efforts by religious groups to remove or derail the teaching of evolution in public schools the author sums up this way.

Of course, the theory of evolution cannot answer all questions about how life emerged or how the human brain developed, nor is evolution even relevant to the question of where the original matter of the universe came from. There is plenty of room for diverse opinions and beliefs on these subjects. Alfred Russell Wallace, for example, who, simultaneously with Darwin, proposed the theory of natural selection as the engine of evolution, believed that the development of the human brain could be explained only by divine intervention. Nobel laureate John C. Eccles, in his treatise on the evolution of the human brain, was unable to account for the unique individual self and concluded: “I am constrained to attribute the uniqueness of the Self or Soul to a supernatural creation . . . which is implanted into the fetus at some time between conception and birth.” And Stephen Hawking speaks for himself and probably for most physicists when he concludes that if and when scientists are able to construct a unified theory of the universe, humans will still be confronted with the nonscience questions of why we and the universe exist, and “about the nature of God.”

The quest to banish religion from politics and government is ultimately, as the Jesuit priest Robert Drinan notes, “hopelessly unrealistic, because religions are by their nature intended to create cultures, even civilizations.” Religion and government are not inherently incompatible, and they necessarily have formal and informal relationships with each other. Nor are science and religion inherently incompatible. Nevertheless, religion is not science and should not be taught in science class. In the United States, the higher power that prevents this is the First Amendment.

I guess I just have to pass.

If the point is to say government and politics are ridden with religious feeling, more today then say 230 years ago, I would have to agree. Secular beliefs are being pushed farther and farther into the gutter. They are being demonised.

But to point at, say, Iraq and decry the horrible sectarian fighting while proudly proclaiming America to be a ‘Christian Nation’ is, for me, deeply troubling. Wouldn’t an amendment to the constitution be simpler or at least honest? Revoke the first amendment and simply proclaim America Christian. Sixty percent of the American population would probably support the idea. Even the some members of the Jewish population would probably support the issue. I’m pretty sure Debbie Schussel would go along with it.

I really don’t think science answers all the questions. If it did, we wouldn’t need continuing research. I find it interesting that the author of the article seems to a priori define the limits of future research on evolution. I find it interesting that the author manages to mix decent with modification with the concept of the origin of the universe and the big bang. (Did Darwin go there? I think not.)

If the point is to say that science hasn’t answered all questions yet. My response is – well yeah. If the point is to go quote mining, for possible philosophical comments by scientists, there are whole books for that kind of thing. If the point is to say science will never answer the question, I would ask how you can be sure. Did Newton envision rockets to the moon? Would he have said you can’t get there because – well – you just can’t?

But even to point me to the article, is to misunderstand my point. It is to misunderstand what I am fighting for, or perhaps what I am fighting against.

My argument is simply that science is the process for understanding how things work and that is what needs to be taught.

I agree, science does effect both philosophy and religion. We no longer simply postulate that matter is made up of basic elements, we measure them, we refine them, we manipulate them. Most of us no longer follow the idea that the world is flat, or that the sun orbits the earth; both religious beliefs that were changed by science. But religion didn’t change the science, the science forced a re-interpretation of the religious doctrine.

I guess, I can’t stop people from feeling threatened, by feeling that their very beliefs are threatened by science. I would say that, for some – like the flat-earthers, those beliefs are threatened. I question the idea that the solution is to stop science, to stop teaching science, to make strawman arguments (“…nor is evolution even relevant to the question of where the original matter of the universe came from” – I mean, WTF?).

But on the other hand, I do get upset when people, using religious apologetics, nevertheless claim to support science. People who use science and genetics daily but claim it just doesn’t work. I seem to get so upset that I can’t even find the words to properly express my outrage, to express my position.

Since I seem to be having trouble getting my feelings across, I guess I’ll just wait a couple of weeks and let those people most effected speak out. Not the doctors, not patients, the the high school students themselves (Hat Tip: Bug_girl/Skepchick)

2007 National High School Essay Contest

Why would I want my doctor to have studied evolution? If you are a high school student in the United States, we want to hear your answer to that question. Send us an essay of not more than 1,000 words by March 31st. There are prizes for students and rewards for participating teachers.

If I’m having trouble finding the correct words, I sure hope these kids won’t.

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German Answer to Conservapedia

Having a bad God day? Speak German?

Then athpedia.de is the wiki for you.

Athpedia is an open encyclopaedia whose content is created by unpaid, volunteer authors. All contents can easily be edited by registered users directly in your browser. Athpedia is directed at all interested users, looking for information in the area of Atheism. Since atheism doesn’t represent a unified philosophy, it is the goal of this encyclopaedia is designed to objectively explain occasionally contradicting positions. In addition a critical discussion of the its contents and functions is a central area of Athpedia.

Athpedia is not meant to compete with Wikipedia, but rather be a special, complimentary offer for interested internet users. Athpedia can go into far more detail on humanistic themes and controversies than is generally possible in a general encyclopaedia.

As of this writing there were 131 articles.

Enjoy, or – um – should I say immitate?

Discovering Uncovering Allah

Perhaps the Discovery Institute should invite Dr Oktar Babuna to speak.

The Discovery Institute would like American schools to ‘teach the controversy’ about evolution, Dr Babuna would probably be more than willing to oblige. You see Dr Babuna is a Turkish neurosurgeon and doubts evolution. Indeed he does more than doubt, he actively disbelieves evolution.

But for some reason, I doubt the Discovery Institute will be inviting Dr Babuna anytime soon. You see, while both sides think evolution needs to be discounted, Dr Babuna is a creationist. That might not be too bad but he is also an Islamic creationist.

From the Florida Alligator,

What students learn about evolution in books is “fake” and has no scientific value, a Turkish neurosurgeon said to about 50 students Tuesday.

Human life is a result of Allah, not evolution, said Dr. Oktar Babuna, a controversial Muslim speaker.

In his speech, which was sponsored by Islam on Campus and cost $3,000, Babuna argued against Darwinism and said the only way to understand life on Earth is through Allah and the teachings of the Koran. Babuna said it is scientifically impossible for evolution to have occurred.

The fact that this information comes to my attention today can only be seen as either a bizarre case of synchronicity or a divine act of Allah.

There are a couple of things to look at here.

It has long been known that Turkey, although one of the most western Middle Eastern countries, trails behind all western countries in understanding and acceptance of evolution. According to Seed last November.

… It teaches evolution in its schools, but, even so, appears to be losing the science education battle. In 1985 the minister of education mandated that creationism be included in science textbooks. By the late 1990s, the BAV [Bilim Araştirma Vakfi (“Scientific Research Foundation”)] was attacking scientists who opposed a creationist curriculum via slander and death threats. The cumulative damage to science has been significant. Ümit Sayin, a neurologist at Istanbul University and outspoken critic of Turkish creationism, estimates that the number of university-educated Turks who understand evolution has dropped to 20 percent from 40 percent over the past 15 years.

BAV, founded in 1990, grew from the Turkish fringe into a global media empire. Oktar claims to have 4.5 million followers worldwide, who read his hundreds of books and essays and have seen the dozens of television documentaries that BAV produces and provides free of charge to Turkish TV stations. BAV’s Web sites offer downloadable PowerPoint presentations and questions to challenge science teachers. The foundation organizes anti-evolution conferences and petitions and runs a telemarketing scheme to sell books by Harun Yahya (Oktar’s pen name), which are available globally in 29 languages. Only Oktar and his lieutenants seem to know where the money for all these initiatives comes from, and they’re not telling.

But the BAV does seem to be making quite a bit of progress. They also produce a free textbook. The Atlas of Creation had already been covered by the Templeton Foundation in November.

In February, news circulated that a large number of these anti-evolution textbooks were surfacing in France. Surfacing is perhaps the wrong word, they were being mailed to tens of thousands of schools and universities for consideration as alternative teaching materials.

Of course evolution wasn’t the old target. That evil-doer Darwin was the main target. The coverage at Yahoo cleverly points out the real point of the book.

The book features a photograph of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center with the caption: “Those who perpetuate terror in the world are in fact Darwinists. Darwinism is the only philosophy that values and incites conflict.”

The theories of Charles Darwin are “the true source of terrorism,” it said.

The books sent by post from Germany and Turkey began arriving in French schools and universities about 10 days ago.

The French ministry of education was not amused. The connection I am making here is that some of those textbooks were mailed, not from Turkey, but from Germany.

Now, usually, all this Islamic creationist propaganda would just be grist for my evolutionist mill. That would be if I had not found a minor bit of information linking our Dr Babuna to another doctor I have discussed recently.

If the photos don’t lie, (and who knows they might be doctored in some weird Darwinist plot to overthrow the universe), it seems Dr. Babuna suffers from chronic lymphocytic leukemia or CLL. He has been treated in Seattle as well as the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Texas. Now the MDACC has been mentioned on Dr Esler’s blog before because Dr Esler is a haematologist – in Texas.

I seem to have fallen down the wrong rabbit hole this week.

Now. I don’t think this was just chance. How could all these things just happen?! Within one week! Blind chance? Think of the odds. Evolution? I don’t think so. Descent with modification?! Ha! Don’t make me laugh!

There is obviously a guiding hand here; an overarching design. I am definitely going to have to rethink the error of my ways. I need to make a decision; to finally take a stand.

What do I do this weekend – read the Bible, read the Koran or watch simply Twilight Zone episodes?

Still, my remaining psychic powers do give me one small bit of knowledge. Despite his involvement in denouncing evolution and his connections to Seattle, Texas, haematology and medicine in general, I know something else about Dr. Babuna.

I know the Discovery Institute won’t ever be inviting Dr Babuna to speak.

Because, despite all the things I have uncovered, they just don’t want to discover Allah.

Paine-ful Truths

As strange as it may seem, there are those people out there who are, even today, Thomas Paine fan-people. And not all of them live in Minnesota.

No apparently some live in Arkansas which was attempting to become the 10th state to create a ‘Thomas Paine’ day. But, Arkansas being Arkansas, just said no. (Allah Akbar!)

It seems that Mr Paine was obviously an un-American Islamic surrender monkey in – um – Founding Fathers clothing. Or at least that is what Rep. Sid Rosenbaum would like you to believe. You see Thomas Paine just didn’t get the memo on the Christian Nation talking points.

According to the AP feed as related through the Boston Herald, in a 46-20 vote, the proposal from Democratic Rep. Lindsley Smith to commemorate January 29 failed in the Arkansas House of Representatives.

”I think if Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were standing here today, they would give you the same presentation about Thomas Paine,” Smith said. ”He needs to be remembered and he’s not remembered.”

But Rep. Sid Rosenbaum, R-Little Rock, quizzed Smith about Paine and quoted passages from Paine’s book, ”The Age of Reason,” which Rosenbaum criticized as anti-religion.

”He did some good things for the nation, but the book that he wrote was anti-Christian and anti-Jewish,” Rosenbaum said. ”I don’t think we should be passing things out like this without at least debating it and letting people in the House know what we’re voting on.”

Remember. The newest scare tactic is to explain that America is a Christian Nation.

Just a couple of ‘facts’ about atheists…

  • The phrase “under God” was officially added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954.”
  • In God We Trust,” after a long fight finally replaced “E plurbus unum” on the American one dollar bill in 1957.
  • A recent Supreme Court ruling against the Santa Fe, Texas, Independent School District in 2000 was brought not by atheists but by a Catholic and a Mormon family who felt the predominately Baptist school district was establishing religion by having prayers before school football games. A good summary here.
  • Although many of the plaintiffs in the recent Kitzmiller vs. The Dover School board were accused of being atheist. None were. Many were deeply religious. The case was about religion attacking science and not science attacking religion (but never mind).

So. Let’s just re-write history. Get rid of the Paine-ful truths, held by the founding fathers to be self evident. Let’s create not just one nation under god but one world under an American God.

To do anything else would be too Paine-ful.

(Hat Tip: James Randi/Swift)

Athiest Scum

I live in Germany, so when I watch CNN I get the nicely toned down, CNN-International version of the Cable ‘News’ Network.

Usually I ignore it unless something obviously newsy and obviously visible happens. That way I can avoid both the attempts of ‘news’ anchors attempting to make things like Bulgarian oil import levels interesting or international soccer fouls scandalous. I also have the benefit of avoiding Larry King and getting the urge to break something.

Thus when the first comments about the CNN atheist ‘coverage’ crossed into my radar, I simply thought it was pretty standard water-bong um water-cooler um blog conversation. Teresa convinced me that not everyone had heard of this. Thus my own memeage (and obsequious grovel in honor of Richard Dawkins).

It all started so innocuously, so “far and balanced.” On the exceptionally originally named program Now hosted by Paula Zahn, CNN broadcast a report on the discrimination of atheists in America.

Then came, in typical truthiness tradition, the discussion panel. Since the topic was atheism, the producers a CNN put together a panel of experts. Karen Hunter, journalism professor (Christian), Debbie Schlussel, attorney and columnist (Jewish) and Stephen A. Smith, ESPN analyst (Christian). A fine group of experts to discuss discrimination of atheists.


Transcript here.

Um. Wow!

Now this will probably surprise many, but CNN oddly got flack for this.

I mean really. A journalism ‘professor‘ telling us “What does an atheist believe? Nothing.“ Debbie Schlussel, ‘attorney,’ explaining “freedom of religion doesn’t mean freedom from religion.“

The only person attempting to support the atheist side was Mr Smith, sports analyst. (And Sir I thank you.) Unfortunately he was ill prepared for the discussion (and how many people do you know, who have facts and figures on atheism on hand – um – in head?). On the other hand, Smith felt pressured enough to say, “We’re a Christian country. There’s no question about that. I love the Lord. So does Karen, so does everybody that I know.“

What is so off base here? *ahem*

Oh! And I won’t even touch the background banner slander comments questions.

Apparently, a few wackos wrote to CNN pointing out that it might have been a ‘good’ idea to have included an atheist on the panel. So, in standard, “We didn’t really do anything wrong but some ‘people’ are bitching” manner and in honor of Darwin Day (just to show how screwed up the discussion of evolution and religion really is), they did a second segment. This time they gave Richard Dawkins a (very short) chance to put forth a case for atheists. And they had a slightly more balanced panel. With an atheist! Yeah! (Full coverage at OneGoodMove)

Of course we couldn’t have this discussion either without those helpful ‘discuss among yourselves questions’ on the background banner. Questions like “Do Atheists Bring Intolerance On Themselves?” – Answer: I don’t know. Does CNN bring scorn and derision on itself?

Fortunately, and perhaps to help the beleaguered Mr Smith , a new and improved YouTube remix of the original appeared. With helpful answers and showing the repeated missteps.

I got the link from PZ Meyers who, unfortunately, had already concluded that the whole episode “convinced me of a couple of things. I apparently have not been militant enough, and am going to have to work harder at aggressively promoting godlessness. And I’m adding CNN to my list of news agencies to ignore, along with Fox.”

While I firmly support the last position but increased militancy will only play into the hands of the evil presented here. Increased understanding not increased militancy is the answer. Explaining that atheist is not Satanist and what the belief entails. Well. At least attempting to explain that before you get run out of town; tarred and feathered; or lynched.

One question on the February rebuttal show never got answered and I find it critical. Where do atheists get their morals? I would respond. Which is more important, where the American constitution came from or the ideals it represents? Most atheists have given morality and ethics a lot of thought. Indeed morality and ethics are almost as important to atheists as the question of the number of angels dancing on pins was to medieval theologians. But are the origins or the ideals more important. So, please, give me a step by step run down of the origins and precursors t0 the American constitution. When we finish that, I’ll feel obligated to you to discuss my ethics.

But I, thank God, do not live in a Christian nation. And am not forced to defend my rights to believe in –um – nothing?

(Hat Tip to BlondSense for my first contact on this. And to Trees/AnomalousData for showing me it was necessary to write it.)

Condi-Linguists

Gary Ackerman, Democratic New York Congressman, is trying to get America defeated in Iraq!

Yes, the same Congressman who ‘accidentally’ voted against pornography, managed the following exchange with Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday,

“Well, it seems that the military has fired a whole bunch of people who speak foreign languages — Farsi and Arabic, et cetera. After they train them . . . for 63 weeks, and presumably they all passed all kinds of security things,” Ackerman said. “For some reason, the military seems more afraid of gay people. . . . And if the terrorists ever got a hold of this information, they get a platoon of lesbians to chase us out of Baghdad.”

Ackerman suggested that the State Department hire back those people to do “what you’re suggesting would cost a lot of money to do and to train.”

“Can we have some kind of union of those two issues? Can we marry up these two — or maybe that’s not the right word. . . . Can we have some kind of union of those two issues?” Ackerman asked, sparking laughter.

So, it is not just the terrorist loving, dreadlocked, flashing-cartoon-character-spreading jihadists trying to bring America to its knees. No a Democratic congress will happily help by tying the shoelaces of liberty together.

Oh. Sure. Degrade and defame the face of religion. Where are the all the really homophobic evangelical preachers when you need them? Like Ted Haggard Pal Barnes Pat Robertson? (In treatment or doing leg presses? Oh.)

And considering the fact that the quote “And if the terrorists ever got a hold of this information, they get a platoon of lesbians to chase us out of Baghdad” obviously originated in a cave in the Hindu Kush, one can only shutter to think what is next.

What? Condi seriously considering hiring platoons of lesbians to work for the State Department; sort of marrying diplomatic efforts with girl on girl action?

Rice promised to look into it. Last night, Ackerman said in an interview that, after the hearing, he received a call from an aide to Rice who said that his suggestion was being taken seriously.

Rut Rho Elroy.

The homosexual destruction of America has begun! First Ted he’s-all-better-now Haggard now the State Department! Where will this end? A secret sex tape with Ann Coulter and Mary Matlin?

But one person knew this might happen. No wonder Laura Bush torpedoed any hope Condi might have had for the presidency by saying she didn’t have any real family or supportive friends. She secretly knew that Condi doesn’t hate homosexuals.

But I bet the terrorists will probably find the idea of lesbian platoons kind of hot.

(Hat Tips: Wonkette, FreedomToServe)

Evolution Sunday

Better late then never, I would also like to get the word out.

Next Sunday, February 11 will be the second Evolution Sunday. The organisational web site for 2007 is here. Evolution Sunday is basically a chance for the science friendly churches to strike back and show the false dichotomy between materialistic science and theology preached by the far religious right. The idea is to allow evolution to be praised not in the school room but from the pulpit. To show that the idea of evolution does not destroy religion but simply allows a different interpretation.

Even though time is short, I would encourage you to speak with your ‘spiritual advisor’ – ahem – pastor/priest/imam/rabbi – and ask them to preach on the subject of evolution next week.

This isn’t just for fun, it is very important.

The only country in the ‘western’ world lagging behind the US in belief in evolution is Turkey. An earlier fundamentalist Turkish government basically banned evolution from school textbooks in the 1980’s. I somehow don’t think that’s an area where America wants to be number one.

I’m also very glad to say that Carlos Wilton, of the Point Pleasant Presbyterian Church in New Jersey will be giving a sermon on this and was one of the early signers of The Clergy Letter.

In February 11, 2007 hundreds of congregations from all portions of the country and a host of denominations will come together to discuss the compatibility of religion and science. For too long, strident voices, claiming to speak for all Christians, have been claiming that people must choose between religion and modern science. More than 10,000 Christian clergy have already signed The Clergy Letter demonstrating that this is a false dichotomy. Now, on the 198th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, our church will join these thousands of others in affirming that Darwin’s theory of evolution does not threaten biblical Christian faith. Dr. Wilton will preach the sermon.

For those that haven’t noticed, Rev. Wilton is also (alphabetically) the first entry on my blog roll. I have been following his struggle with Non-Hodkins Lymphoma for more then a year. Perhaps because I clearly see the relationship between evolution, biology and medical care, I find his contribution especially appropriate.

So, is your church taking part? And why don’t you know? If your church isn’t taking part in Evolution Sunday, beg, barter or cajole your mosque/synagogue/church into taking part in this. If you only go to church on the ‘normal’ holy days, suggest to your imam, etc. that this might be a good day to add to the list. E-mail, talk and scold.

It’s us against the Philistines.

Crucifying The Messenger

In what can only be seen as a ‘shoot the messenger’ event, a school board in that liberal snakepit New Jersey has decided that indoctrination is better than hearing about indoctrination.

From yesterday’s New York Times,

After a public school teacher was recorded telling students they belonged in hell if they did not accept Jesus as their savior, the school board has banned taping in class without an instructor’s permission, and has added training for teachers on the legal requirements for separating church and state.

The back story is interesting here. This happened last year. According to the original story in the NYT

Before David Paszkiewicz got to teach his accelerated 11th-grade history class about the United States Constitution this fall, he was accused of violating it.
[…]
“If you reject his gift of salvation, then you know where you belong,” Mr. Paszkiewicz was recorded saying of Jesus. “He did everything in his power to make sure that you could go to heaven, so much so that he took your sins on his own body, suffered your pains for you, and he’s saying, ‘Please, accept me, believe.’ If you reject that, you belong in hell.”

The student, Matthew LaClair, said that he felt uncomfortable with Mr. Paszkiewicz’s statements in the first week, and taped eight classes starting Sept. 13 out of fear that officials would not believe the teacher had made the comments.

Since Matthew’s complaint, administrators have said they have taken “corrective action” against Mr. Paszkiewicz, 38, who has taught in the district for 14 years and is also a youth pastor at Kearny Baptist Church. However, they declined to say what the action was, saying it was a personnel matter.

Remember this guy is teaching history. The extra lessons on separation of church and state will probably not come as a big surpise. I am very sure his history also includes the ‘fact’ that America is a Christian nation. (All those ‘original’ writings from the founding fathers is obviously a liberal media plot to just hand America over to Obama Osama bin Ladin.)

The boy mangaged to get death threats and hate mail; the teacher – a slap on the hand.

Of course the only real problem is a separation of church and state. A history teacher explaining things like – say – global warming? That’s ok…

Meanwhile, Matthew said that Mr. Paszkiewicz recently told the class that scientists who spoke about the danger of global warming were using tactics like those Hitler used, by repeating a lie often enough that people come to believe it.

Mr. Lindenfelser said that the district did not investigate the report of that comment, which he said was not religious or a violation of “any kind of law.”

Mr. Paszkiewicz should know, he’s a history teacher.

And he can say anything he wants, just as long as no one tapes it.

(Hat Tip: John Bohrer/Huffington Post)

Reactions

There has been an ongoing online ‘discussion’ between Trees, of AnomalousData fame and Anne Liebermann from Boker tov, Boulder! The humor I use here gets far darker when I comment on Trees blog. As an example, I present the following exchange:

[Preface: this is heavily edited and snipped for effect. I chose not to identify the cuts because there would have been more ellipses than words. Just go read the original]

Trees: Given a choice between living under Shar’ia law as Anne believes we will have to do (She thinks the liberals are going to hand the U.S. over to the mullahs), or living with the Torah or the Bible, or the Zohar (or, more likely, all three together) as the imposed religious law of the country…
… well, I imagine that beheading is faster and less painful than stoning or burning, but I’d probably just learn French and go help Canada defend it’s borders.

Anne: Help Canada defend its borders… from what?

Trees: The hostile theocracy on it’s southern border, of course. 🙂

Me: But wouldn’t they start with Mexico first?

Trees: Why would they start with Mexico? Global climate change models have the American grain belt shifting north into Canada by 2025. All the food will be in Canada

Me: Hadn’t thought of global climate change…excellent point that.

Anne wondered if we, the mouth-foaming liberal dregs, could really be serious. Trees gave her answer explaining a very small part of her belief system in a measured voice; clearly stating her case in what I found a nicely moderated tone. *golf-clap* My response got long enough, I thought I’d use my own damn bandwidth. So here’s my response Anne.

If there is anything I worry more about in the world, it is intolerance. I really don’t care whether it is religious, racial or political. My experience has been that in moving from culture to culture, the only way forward is to integrate, adapt and accept. It probably isn’t realistic to think most people could live that way, but I try. While I would consider myself to be a-religious as opposed to anti-religious. I would also argue that I am probably genetically missing the “God antenna;” the lack is in me, not the belief systems of others and therefore I am not in a position to judge; I can only learn.

Perhaps most troubling for me is the thought that any idea can be used to justify persecution. Race is a nice marker. Should the Latinos be driven out of the southwest America and didn’t those populations displace the original Indio populations? Were there cultures destroyed before the Indio settlement of Mesoamerica? Nationalism, often coached using the euphemism Patriotism in America, is another way to separate and divide the them from the us. And, increasingly, groups are using religion (what an innovation!) to divide and disrupt.

Anne, I live in Germany and notice you post often about topics and things happening in Germany. One of your recent posts was about a rabbi who hides his kippa under a baseball cap in Germany. This leaves me rather uneasy. Where you don’t understand the dark, gallows humor Trees and I use, I can’t imagine your understanding of the current German culture. Anti-Semitism isn’t rampant in Germany; intolerance is rampant in the world. I could point to the Paris riots this summer where the frustration of being marked outsider for whatever reason is enough to limit or destroy chances and that frustration boiled over. I could point to examples in Germany like the Rütli school [German] in a disadvantaged part of Berlin (Neuköln). The teachers sent an SOS because of the violence. German kids chose not to speak ‘proper’ German because the racial situation with about 35% immigrants (primarily eastern European) and 25% Turkish, was so dramatic, it was better to ‘pretend’ not to speak German. Thus the gutter linguafraca was adapted. Misunderstanding breeding intolerance breading ignorance. Bravo!

Anne, one of the questions you asked was “When was the last time a fundamentalist Christian blew him/herself up in order to murder a crowd of innocents?” Trees pointed out the bombings of abortion clinics, the bomb in the Olympic Park etc. The only difference between current the Judeo/Christian viewpoint and the Islamic practice is that the Judeo/Christians believe one should sacrifice one’s self at the front of an army and not as a sole individual; thus we have hero worship and posthumous Congressional Metal of Honor ceremonies. But don’t get me wrong I am not foolish enough to believe that Buddhists only immolation themselves in crossroads and that all Hindus would like peace on earth and good will to cows, but let’s stay in our cultures shall we? The dead opponents probably don’t appreciate the difference whether it was a suicide bombing or a suicide attack.

Anne, in your answer you wondered about my reference to American labor camps; the idea isn’t that far fetched. We are only 150 years from slavery; about 90 years from the passage of the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918; about 90 years from a president who re-segregated the White House and cursed what he called hyphenated Americans. We are only 60 years from the Japanese internment camps, 53 from McCarthy, 48 years have passed since My Lai. We are only 3 years from Abu Ghraib. The organised abuse of power is neither purely American nor is it foreign to US shores. It is something lurking around the periphery of any society – American, Western, human. If religions can use traditions reaching back centuries and millennia, am I so off-base by choosing behavioral characteristics seen not just through history but in recent decades?

Anne, if I, from this side of the Atlantic, were to use your knack for finding news snip-its, than yes, I could say the labor camps are being built. I would argue Guantanamo and Diego Garcia are only the cases that have leaked to the press. I don’t believe it is happening but I could probably make a case for it and convince some people. But after consideration, I guess you are probably right on one part, the camps would be for internment and not labor. We can’t have anyone taking jobs from the “good” and “righteous.”

Anne, today division is accepted and allowed. Separation is celebrated. It doesn’t matter whether you are locking the bad guys in or simply keeping them out using privileged schools and gated communities. Today having a hyphen is politically correct. African-American, Mexican-American, Jewish-American. We claim to celebrate integration while highlighting and exploiting the differences.

So Anne, I ask you, am I a foaming-at-the-mouth liberal? Is a liberal one who thinks peace not conversion is acceptance; someone who realises that there are too many people, good and bad, adept and disabled, advantaged and disadvantaged for true equality and that while life isn’t fair, one must treat each person fairly? Is a foaming-at-the-mouth liberal someone who wishes for peace but is pragmatic enough to have lost faith in that hope? Someone who thinks equality is best championed using words and not bulldozers, fairness best advanced in tone and tolerance and not in rhetoric and hostility?

If yes Anne, than I am a foaming-at-the-mouth liberal. But Anne, I would argue there is one thing I hope not to be – intolerant. Reading your writing, I get the feeling that you perceive the world as a place of injustice and intolerance and you react in kind.

Perhaps you might just forget the reactionism and just try the kindness.

Those Joyful Colorado Churches

Well, it seems the Colorado megachurches are losing pastors about as fast as George W. Bush is losing support. In a weird twist I never thought I would take, I quote the blurb from the *cough* Christian Broadcasting Network.

The founding pastor of a Colorado church has resigned after admitting to allegations of gay sexual relations.

On Sunday, Paul Barnes, founding pastor of the 2,100-member Grace Chapel in Englewood, told his congregation in a videotaped message he had had sexual relations with other men and was stepping down.

Dave Palmer, associate pastor of Grace Chapel, told The Denver Post that Barnes confessed to him after the church received a call last week. The church board of elders accepted Barnes’ resignation on Thursday.

But since they were nice enough to point me to The Denver Post I thought I’d hop over and take a look. Thankfully, The Post did give me the satisfaction I wanted. They quote from Rev. Barnes’ November 6 sermon “Integrity, Sin and Grace” given during the Ted Haggard – um – thing.

Barnes defined integrity as “being the same on the outside as you are on the inside.”

All people come to God broken, he said. Maybe it’s alcoholism, he said. Or a bad temper. Or pornography. Some people overcome their problems; others continue to live with them, he said.

“Most of us, if the truth were known, we wear masks,” Barnes said. “… Sometimes, we wear masks because we want to be appear more perfect than we are. But the reality of it is, all of us are so very imperfect.”

Well, it would appear Rev. Barnes was speaking from experience. Again, my heart goes out to Char, is wife. While she might have know about the whole problem, I am sure she didn’t need this kind of international exposure.

In a another Post article, a second Christian leader seems rather pessimistic about the whole thing. (Maybe he knows more than we do.)

One prominent local evangelical leader, Denver Seminary president Craig Williford, predicted additional pastors would fall in the wake of the Haggard scandal.

When one person gets caught or confesses, it’s almost like others get a new courage to face this dark side of their private lives,” Williford said. “Not only that, but the person who is complicit with the pastor will come forward. We may not be done.”

But there is one thing in Barnes’ sermon I would agree with: “some people overcome their problems; others continue to live with them.” The issue is that our definition of ‘problem’ just seems to jar slightly. To completely rethink the position of their religion – like trying to come to terms with science and evolution or homosexuality – is unthinkable. The second article continues,

While evangelicals cannot compromise on their belief that Scripture condemns homosexuality, the movement also has been guilty of being too mean-spirited, Williford said.

We may have talked about the evils of homosexuality in attempts to justify our position and not been as evenhanded or fair in representing the homosexual community as we should have been,” he said. “At times, we have probably over- generalized the lifestyle and made villains out of people who live in homosexuality.” [my emphasis]

This is like saying the Spanish Inquisition was just a little harsh on the Jews. They don’t want to accept the existence of homosexuality. Being gay or lesbian is to be condemed. But you just don’t make villains of them. You hate them in a less mean spirited way – sort of a loving hate and revulsion. You put them back in the closet and ignore the issue because it doesn’t match the words the book you claim is law. You go back to those joyous times when Congressmen and Church leaders were all manly men. Even when they weren’t.

Well. One hopes that in this joyous season, the churches in Colorado might find a few more gay presents under the Christmas tree.

Fleeing Religious Persecution

We are about half way between Thanksgiving and Christmas and I was talking to a German friend about the meaning of the two holidays to Americans. He balked a little when I called those first settlers pilgrims because the traditional holy lands were in a diametrically opposite direction.

But you remeber the Pilgrims – those folks who left England for Holland and continued on to the North American continent because their beliefs were so extreme no one in old Europe wanted them? I mentioned to my friend the indoctrination I got in school that the reason behind the move was religious persecution and that religious freedom is one of the important pillars of American society. We both got a good laugh at that.

I present to you the case of talk radio host Jerry Klein who conducted a small experiment at the end of November.

When radio host Jerry Klein suggested that all Muslims in the United States should be identified with a crescent-shape tattoo or a distinctive arm band, the phone lines jammed instantly.

The first caller to the station in Washington said that Klein must be “off his rocker.” The second congratulated him and added: “Not only do you tattoo them in the middle of their forehead but you ship them out of this country … they are here to kill us.”

Another said that tattoos, armbands and other identifying markers such as crescent marks on driver’s licenses, passports and birth certificates did not go far enough. “What good is identifying them?” he asked. “You have to set up encampments like during World War Two with the Japanese and Germans.”

The article goes on to mention that a large number of callers were shocked at the idea. Indeed, I suspect most of the more moderate callers never made it on the air because moderate opinions don’t make good entertainment. You don’t keep listening. Thus the kooks and nut cases fill the ether with bile.

But is this kind of thing really only confined to radio? In this season of brotherly love, shouldn’t the focus be on getting along and not hate and exclusion? A further example in Houston says no. According to MSNBC (hat tip: Liz Smith/Blondsense), the erection of a Mosque and an Islamic day center in a Houston suburb has residents up in arms.

A plan to build a mosque in this Houston suburb has triggered a neighborhood dispute, with community members warning the place will become a terrorist hotbed and one man threatening to hold pig races on Fridays just to offend the Muslims.

Many neighborhood residents claim they have nothing against Muslims and are more concerned about property values, drainage and traffic.

But one resident has set up an anti-Islamic Web site with an odometer-like counter that keeps track of terrorist attacks since Sept. 11. A committee has formed to buy another property and offer to trade it for the Muslims’ land. And next-door neighbor Craig Baker has threatened to race pigs on the edge of the property on the Muslim holy day. Muslims consider pigs unclean and do not eat pork.

So. Maybe we don’t lock them up into camps for their religion. But we also don’t let them build any places of worship. They are free to practice their religion, just not in our backyard. I wonder if the same irritations would have arisen if it had been a new megachurch and not a mosque. Somehow I don’t think so.

Germany also has special day in November. It is not Thanksgiving; it is a day of remembrance. It takes place on November 9 and is, in a way, dedicated to religious freedom. It is dedicated to those who lost their lives on a night in 1938 – Reichskristallnacht – the night the Nazi’s burned over 1500 synagogues.

Maybe we don’t burn down the mosques yet, but tolerance and religious freedom are something else. They lead to different stories; not to stories about pig races and not to stories about camps.

They lead to stories where people don’t have to think about fleeing religious persecution.

Fallen for the Greater Glory of God(s) and Country

This is probably going to get the Christian right rather ruffled. According to the Washington Post (Hat Tip: Wonkette), the federal government has finally accepted witchcraft into the list of accepted religions for soldiers. At least for those who are beyond disciplinary action.

The widow of a soldier killed in Afghanistan saw a Wiccan symbol placed on a memorial plaque for her husband Saturday, after fighting the federal government for more than a year over the emblem.

Roberta Stewart, widow of Sgt. Patrick Stewart, and Wiccan leaders said it was the first government-issued memorial plaque with a Wiccan pentacle, a five-pointed star enclosed in a circle.

More than 50 friends and family dedicated the plaque at Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Fernley, Nev., about 45 miles east of Reno.

They praised Gov. Kenny Guinn (R) for his role in getting the Nevada Office of Veterans Services to issue the plaque in September. The agency cited its jurisdiction over the state veterans’ cemetery.

For those that don’t follow this that closely, Wicca is today’s ‘white witchcraft.’ Just making my life easier, I’ll just quote the Wiki article.

Wicca as a religion is primarily concerned with the priestess or priest’s relationship to the Goddess and God. The Lady and Lord (as they are often called) are seen as primal cosmic beings, the source of limitless power, yet they are also familiar figures who comfort and nurture their children, and often challenge or even reprimand them.

According to Gerald Gardner the gods of Wicca are ancient gods of the British Isles: a Horned God of hunting, death and magic who rules over an after-world paradise, and a goddess, the Great Mother (who is simultaneously the Eternal Virgin and the Primordial Enchantress), who gives regeneration and rebirth to souls of the dead and love to the living. Gardner explains that these are the tribal gods of the witches, just as the Egyptians had their tribal gods Isis and Osiris and the Jews had Elohim; he also states that a being higher than any of these tribal gods is recognised by the witches as Prime Mover, but remains unknowable, and is of little concern to them.

I feel really schizophrenic on this. (Maybe I’ve been cursed?)

On the one hand I support this. Wiccan was Sgt. Stewart’s belief or at least he professed to follow it. Even though he is beyond caring, his widow, family and friends seem comforted by this. That’s a good thing. At the same time, it shows that the Christian crusaders haven’t completely taken over the entire Pentagon. Thus this soldier gets a pentacle, which is made up of 5 triangles placed on the edges of a pentagon, (Hmmm. Coincidence? I think not!) on his grave.

On the other hand, a ‘new age’ belief, claiming some kind of historical background to a past that never existed, gets my dandruff up. Look. The European witch hunts (of which 25% of the victims were men) had little or nothing to do with magic. They were often  carried out for economic reasons and victims included both social outcasts and local political leaders. Dispite what modern witches want you to believe they had no basis in some kind of worship.

The ‘ancient gods of the British Isles’ are a product of modern fantasies. You might as well worship Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fairies – they are just as real. (You do? Never mind.) So while all you Wiccans are out having fun, hugging trees and flinging crystals about, the rest of us will be saving our money for the next iteration of iPods and forming a frenzied following of Paris Hilton. Go ahead, curse me for it. I dare you.

But one thing you won’t have to do – curse the Christian crusaders. As soon as this gets around, I’m sure they’ll have a collective heart attack.

Putting The ‘J’ Back In Christmas!

Julia Sweeney, outspoken atheist and comedian perhaps best known for her roles on Saturday Night Live, has an excellent post up about Christmas. After quoting a full page ad in the New York Times about returning Jesus and the religous meaning to public schools, she writes this. (Note: Ms Sweeney doesn’t like it when people quote her blog but that’s tough cookies. If she writes good stuff, grammatically correct or not, I’m going to quote it.)

Okay. Here’s what I say: I agree with [William A.] Donohue[, President of the Catholic League] (!!!). Well, I agree that it’s silly to take Jesus out of Christmas. I mean, we call it “Christ” mas, fer chrissake.

When I discussed this ad with my friend Jim Emerson (who sent it to me to begin with) he said, “Yeah, but you could also argue that the Christians took a perfectly good pagan holiday and made it about Jesus!” Which is also true.

But it kills me that Mulan [her daughter] can’t sing any religious songs at school for Christmas. Everything is all about Santa (as if that is less religious than Jesus!) and holiday-time. Which I really hate. I love the story of Jesus’ birth. A baby born in a barn, after a long trip? Born in the humblest circumstances and yet became a leader and revered? This is a great story. It’s a myth, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a great story. That means that if I want her to hear the Jesus birth story I have to take her to a church. Which sucks. I mean, this is the myth of our culture! Why do we have to pretend it is not?

I say brava, brava, bravissimo!

Really. I agree fully with her reasoning and her motivations. She takes an extremely pragmatic approach to Christmas and belief. This is what gets me about another extremely outspoken atheist, Richard Dawkins. He is an extremely intelligent man but he misses the point on this that Julia nails. It’s about myths and stories. They have a place in society and public schools.

This topic ties in well with my weekend Intertube viewing. I am hoping to find some time this weekend to watch to the rest of the Beyond Belief 2006 conference.

Just 40 years after a famous TIME magazine cover asked “Is God Dead?” the answer appears to be a resounding “No!” According to a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life in a recent issue of Foreign Policy magazine, “God is Winning”. Religions are increasingly a geopolitical force to be reckoned with. Fundamentalist movements – some violent in the extreme – are growing. Science and religion are at odds in the classrooms and courtrooms. And a return to religious values is widely touted as an antidote to the alleged decline in public morality. After two centuries, could this be twilight for the Enlightenment project and the beginning of a new age of unreason? Will faith and dogma trump rational inquiry, or will it be possible to reconcile religious and scientific worldviews? Can evolutionary biology, anthropology and neuroscience help us to better understand how we construct beliefs, and experience empathy, fear and awe? Can science help us create a new rational narrative as poetic and powerful as those that have traditionally sustained societies? Can we treat religion as a natural phenomenon? Can we be good without God? And if not God, then what?

This is a critical moment in the human situation, and The Science Network in association with the Crick-Jacobs Center brought together an extraordinary group of scientists and philosophers to explore answers to these questions. The conversation took place at the Salk Institute, La Jolla, CA from November 5-7, 2006.

The speakers included  Steven Weinberg, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michael Shermer and, of course, Richard Dawkins. The videos can be downloaded in full and cover the entire two and a half days of the conference. I’ll try to post a more complete wrap up next week because I’m only on the second day (and loving every most many minutes of it).

Unfortunately some of the speakers stake out positions I can’t accept.

Dawkins’ most outrageous claim is to say that calling a child a Catholic, an Muslim or a Hindu is a form of child abuse. Sorry, but WTF! I understand where he is going with this. But to call the association of small children with a specific religion child abuse is to demean child abuse. I’m sure Dawkins feels differently, but to me constant physical and mental torture are child abuse. Letting a child starve to death locked in a room where the only window is covered in paint (it happened in Hamburg last year) is child abuse. Screaming and yelling at a child for no other purpose than pure evil and ignorance is child abuse. Using the words Muslim, Hindi and Sikh in a newspaper picture caption is not child abuse.

A second person who I can’t warm up to is Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason. I haven’t read his book yet (it’s on back order) but he takes an ‘in your face’ approach to religion. He seems to accept only two possibilities, atheism or fundamentalism. I don’t accept that. But more next week (I hope).

Finally there is Stuart Hameroff, who is just bat-shit mad. I mean seriously. They should simply find him a keeper and medicate him; tenured or not.

The speakers I have enjoyed immensely? Glad you wondered. Up until now, my favourite lectures were from VS Ramachandran taking about the bio-chemical reactions in the brain associated with religious feelings; Susan Neiman, who is currently writing Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grown-Up Idealists discussing morality without recourse to religious justification; and finally, Patricia Churchland, who’s discussion of prairie voles I thoroughly enjoyed.

Further heros include Lawrence Krauss, a physicist and all-round level headed guy, and, of course, Michal Shermer, who gave a good but not spectacular talk.

But back to Julia Sweeney. She takes the same course I would. Churches, stories, myths and beliefs aren’t inherently bad. They are part of the culture and part of the make up of the people living in that society. They are important; too important to sweep under the carpet; too important to leave in the hands of fundamentalists. That’s why we need people like Julia Sweeney, Michael Shermer and Lawrence Krauss. People who think but also feel and understand. That’s what Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins don’t do. Or at least they don’t show it.

So yeah. Let’s put the Julia and the Jesus back in Christmas.

HOA backs down

Yesterday the Loma Linda Homeowners Association backed down from the wreath stupidity. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that the HOA has changed its mind.

A subdivision has withdrawn its threat of $25 daily fines against a homeowner who put a Christmas wreath shaped like a peace sign on the front of her home.

Homeowner Lisa Jensen told The Associated Press on Monday that the board of directors of the Loma Linda Homeowners Association had apologized, called the incident a misunderstanding and had withdrawn its request for the wreath’s removal.
[…]
Jensen, a past association president, said she was overwhelmed with hundreds of calls of support and offers to help her pay the $1,000 fine that would be due if she kept the wreath up until after Christmas.

I think this shows several things.

First, the power of getting a story like this out. Ms. Jensen would still be fighting this issue had not Channel 7 and then AP picked up the story. (Of course the bloggers did their part.) But after the official reporting, everything took on a life of it’s own. Mr Kearns and the board of directors were obviously placed in a completely untenable position by Mr. Kearns actions.

On the other hand, the overwhelming show of support for Ms. Jensen is heartening. It shows the true spirit of both the holiday/Christmas/Hanukah/Kwanzaa season and the peace movement. I suspect both motives were involved. Congratulations Ms. Jensen. I hope you have found some new friends (and perhaps rediscovered some old ones) through this disgraceful episode.

Third, although the board is attempting to spin this as a misunderstanding, that is a little difficult to swallow. The statement might be true if the board is saying Mr. Kearns misunderstood the meaning and Satanist background of the peace sign, but I doubt they are trying to tell the story that way. What I am missing here is Mr. Kearns resignation over this issue. He obviously got in way over his head, misread the political climate and tried to push through his rather narrow political and religious feelings. He failed. He is not the stuff of presidents; not even the president of a small Homeowners Association.

But that brings me to my final point. I suspect Mr Kearns has learned absolutely nothing from this. Otherwise he would have resigned. I am sure he sees this as a victory for Satan. He does not understand why people reacted so strongly to what he considered a vital part of the fight for God, church and country. An ordering I suspect he would approve.

Mr. Kearns, since calmer heads have prevailed in Pagosa Springs, I’ll save my stamp and not mail the letter I was writing. I would however like to share with you the biblical passage I had chosen to frame my arguments. I’m sure you will recognise it, it comes from Matthew.

Judge not, that ye be not judged
For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. [Matthew 7:1-5]

In closing, I’d like to mention the fact that, perhaps for the first time, Foxnews and I reported the same story with a similar slant yesterday. Of course Fox was simply passing on the AP story by Robert Weller without attributing the story directly to him (Yahoo!News did :-P). Nevertheless I’m not really sure how I feel about being on the same side of a story as Fox. Hmm.

Pregnant Pause in Papal Condom Ponderings

In April Pope Benedict ordered a theological and scientific study into condom use.

Reuters is reporting that the initial results of the study have been completed and have been passed on to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the spiritual successor to the inquisition) for further consideration and commenting before the report is eventually passed on to the Pope.

A study commissioned by Pope Benedict on the use of condoms to fight AIDS has passed its first hurdle and is now being reviewed by top theologians for possible use in a Papal document, a cardinal said on Tuesday.

“This is something that worries the Pope a lot,” said Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care.

The Catholic Church opposes the use of condoms and teaches that fidelity within heterosexual marriage, chastity and abstinence are the best ways to stop the spread of AIDS.

While this might mean a shift in the Catholic churches fight against condom use, it is unclear what, if any, effect this report might have. The report will not be made public which is fine, companies aren’t required to publish internal studies and there is no reason a church would need to do any differently. What I find interesting is that this study got commissioned in the first place. The Guardian reported some of the background to the study in April when it was first proposed.

The study comes only days after a contender in last year’s papal elections, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, challenged the Roman Catholic church’s official position by suggesting that condom use was the “lesser evil” in combating Aids.

I wonder if the church leadership in Rome is under pressure from the ‘frontline’ in developing nations. The power of African parishioners is growing both in influence and in raw numbers. The San Francisco Chronicle had a story about this when Benedict was elevated into the papal chair.

The Catholic Church is growing faster in Africa than on any other continent, with almost 150 million adherents in countries such as Nigeria, Tanzania, Angola and Botswana.

In 20 years, more Catholics may live in Africa than in Europe — a trend that has African Catholics hoping openly that an African will one day put on the papal robes of the Holy See.

Their dreams were not fulfilled last week. How close Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze came to being named pope is a matter of conjecture, but the fact that he was in the running is a sign that the future of the Catholic Church is in Lagos as much as it is in Rome.

Sub-Saharan Africa is also hardest hit by AIDS with UNAIDS estimating (pdf) that in 2006 24.7 million adults and children were infected, and there were 2.8 million new cases and 2.1 million deaths. Although South Africa was eventually able to force pharmaceutical companies to reduce (or eliminate) licensing costs for AIDS medications, all reports show Africa socially and economically collapsing under the effects of the epidemic.

aids_map_adults1.gif

“The Catholic Church is not a democracy” is a phrase widely repeated by bishops and priests. But if the only moral choice is between doctrine and death, I think all but the most calloused, dogmatic believers will come around to realistic, democratic ideas. Science is the ultimate democratic tradition and the science says condoms work.

This is something to keep an eye on. Not only for the theological and moral implications for the Catholic Church but the implications to abstinence only birth control/STD control programs being pushed by the American government and the evangelicals. The approval of condom use by the Catholics, even if only in the context of marriage and to prevent the spread of AIDS, would be a major blow to those evangelicals arguing that ‘abstinence only’ is an effective prevention. The opposite might mean not only the death knell for millions of individuals in Africa and thousands in Europe and America, but also for scientific reason. At least for STD programs in America.

Perhaps all we can do is pray. Somehow appropriate don’t you think?

(Hat Tip: Spiegel Online, German)

Tsk! Tsk! Taking Trees To Task

Trees over at Anomalous Data is having a high old time beating up on some poor internet ‚theologian’ the Senior Pastor at Millersville Bible Church, Steve Cornell.

She is slowly dismantling his arguments against atheism which seem to me to be nothing but poorly written Christian apologetics framed in a rant about atheism. The fact that Mr. Cornell’s arguments are bad atheism mixed with even worse theology doesn’t give Trees a pass on proper argumentation. Tsk, Tsk, Trees!

In part three of her multipart post, Ms ‘I Will Take This Evil Individual To Task’ attacks the following statement so foolishly posted on the Intertubes by Mr Cornell. (And no I won’t link to him, go her post for the original link.)

Yet, ironically, the atheist has to believe in miracles without believing in God. Why? Well, one law that nature seems to obey is this: whatever begins to exist is caused to exist. The atheist knows that the universe began to exist and since the universe is, according to the atheist, all there is, the very existence of the universe seems to be a colossal violation of the laws of nature (i.e., a miracle). It’s hard to believe in miracles without God.

Trees seems to be able to dispel this argument with a simple schoolyard chant.

“OK, Mr. Cornell, if God exists, and if everything that exists must be caused to exist, what caused God?”

*yawn*

NEXT!

I’m so glad I started this. It is so fun to devolve into third-grade playground philosophy once in a while. I believe that the last time I engaged in this argument, I was on the other side of it. I was in my parent’s basement with several other grade-school girls. It was three in the morning, I was having a sleep-over, and we were all juiced up on Kool-aid and Oreos.

I believe the most intelligent summary of it would be:

“Oh yeah, and what came before THAT? Yeah? And what came before THAT? Uh huh, OK, what came before THAT? No, YOU have another Twinkie and shut up. I KNOW you are but what am I?…”

Alas and alack, this argument doesn’t quite hold up. Mr. Cornell was coaching an extremely old argument in a fairly silly form. This idea dates back to Plato and Aristotle who first framed the line of reasoning. It was Thomas Aquinas who then brought the claim into the world of Christian apologetics in his work Summa theologiae as one of the five proofs for the existence of God (Quinquae Viae).

Interestingly, of the five proofs, the only one to stand the test of time is the argument of the first cause (ex causa) used by our intrepid Mr Cornell. This argument isn’t, as opposed to the first, third, fourth and fifth arguments, illogical just tautological. Being the lazy slime I am, I will simply quote Wikipedia for the main discussion,

Gottfried Leibniz stated the problem in his conclusion, although his terminology included some assumptions. If his principle of sufficient reason is indeed universally applicable, then the First Thing must either (1) be its own cause or (2) have a non-causal explanation. The non-causal explanation would either (a) make the First Thing’s existence be in some way self-explanatory or (b) make it follow in an explanatory way from self-explanatory truths, such as the truths of logic.

All three options have had defenders. Thus, option (1), the causa sui option, is defended by Descartes. Option (2a) is held by some of those like Aquinas who think that God’s essence is identical with God’s existence, or by those who hold, more weakly, that God’s existence follows from his essence. Option (2b) essentially holds that there is a sound ontological argument for the existence of God, albeit we may not have discovered it yet. It follows from the principle of sufficient reason that one of the three options holds, but a defender of the Principle does not need to give an independent proof of any one of these options. It is, after all, the conclusion of the argument that one of these holds. In fact, this conclusion might be the starting point for responding to the problem of identifying the First Thing with God–that is how it is in Aquinas, for instance. Thus, if one could show the premises of the cosmological argument to be true and show that options (1) and (2a) were not tenable, then the cosmological argument would turn into an argument for the existence of an ontological argument. We would then know that there is a sound ontological argument, even if we did not know what it is.

I would phrase the argument slightly differently. Although the universe as we now experience it requires a chain of cause and effect, this does not either exclude nor prove the possibility of a creator, something (someone?, somegod?) that forged the first link in the chain. Existing outside both space and time the existence of such a thing can be conjectured. But even though the possibility of such a creator exists, for me, the ‘proof’ breaks down when one asks the question of the probability of that creator. For me the probability isn’t guaranteed as would be required to make this a proof.

I, agnostic that I am, can equally well postulate an infinite number of universes, each with a slightly different combination of physical constants. [Physical constants are those ‘fudge factors’ which don’t seem to have a mathematical reason, the speed of light, the charge on the electron, the mass of a neutron, etc.] It just happens that our universe has the exact balance of constants leading to an age of the universe appropriate for the formation of rocky planets having the correct amount of chemicals allowing life. We just happened to be on the rock orbiting just the right star at just the right time with conditions just right for life to occur. While there might be many, many such rocks, we just happened to evolve from the right combination of chances into a species able to postulate about why we are here and where we come from. It is impossible to prove what is outside the universe because that is, per definition, outside the realm of our knowledge.

One can create belief systems describing an extra -temporal and extra-spatial being responsible for everything. One could also describe many such beings. Equally well, one can generate thousands of pages and hundreds of books describing things called ‘strings’ and ‘super-strings’ which have an equally imaginary effect on the current reality. But what one shouldn’t do is use incorrect arguments to snark down the foolish. Especially foolish internet theologians who are trying to preach to the converted with all the logic of a wart hog.

Trees, you should have known better. Tsk! Tsk! Tsk!

A Haggard Expression

I’d really like to be able to get up the energy to snark about the news of Reverend Haggard. You remember him, the voice of religious reason in Richard Dawkins’ ‘Root of All Evil?’ television program.

Unfortunately this neither surprises nor shocks me. I find it simply depressing. The key here isn’t that he did what he did or even that he lied about it. Both have happened far too often to make any different.

I quote Ted Haggard from the clip.

But you see – you do understand, you do understand – that this issue right here of intellectual arrogance is the reason why people like you have a difficult problem with people of faith.

I don’t communicate an air of superiority over the people because I know so much more. And if you only read the books I know; and if you only knew the scientists I knew, than you would be great like me.

Well, sir, there could be many things you know well. There are other things you don’t know well. As you age you find yourself  wrong on some things, right on some other things. But please, in the process of it, don’t be arrogant.

It’s true. Ted Haggard didn’t display intellectual arrogance. He simply displayed pure human arrogance. For no other reason than self gain. He did it in the name of religion and by invoking the name of God. And there are many people who will think he didn’t do what he did simply because he spent so much time telling them it is wrong.

Thus we get another evangelical fall from grace. Like the (non-biblical) story of Lucifer and his struggle with God and ultimate fall to hell, we have someone who felt they were better and could use whatever methods suited them. And again they failed. Like Swaggart, Bakker, Popoff and other  Christian televangelist scandals, Haggard lived an ‘normal’ life, called upon his flock to hate and distain the weak and turned out to be the very person he railed against.

The only highlight I can find here is that the church-goers in Colorado Springs still have their community. They still have their faith and they still have the hate filled feelings inspired by ‘Reverend’ Haggard. I suspect they will turn on him and his life will no longer be the same. He deserved it. No one else did, not his family, not his wife, not his parishioners.

Not even Richard Dawkins.

And I suspect Ted is looking rather ‘haggard’ right now.

God and Sports

Teresa, of  Anomalous Data fame, has a post up about her take on being raised a Christian. She also points to a rather disturbed (um – disturbing?) article comparing faith and sports. Something along the lines that Satan is the Pittsburgh Steelers (reading this made me wonder if this person a Broncos fan), we are on a small local team and Satan will win because he’s better. Wait no. Um… The whole thing was viserally upsetting.

Trees sums up her response on this idea with,

You don’t need God sitting on your shoulder with a harp every minute, day in and day out to be a good person.  The ability is within you.  In you mind and your heart.  Just do it.  Quit blaming your human nature, as if it only had one side, the bad one with the base urges.  Quit blaming your connection to God, as if somehow your God Pipeline got clogged that day.

It’s in you.  Everything that you are capable of is in you.  What you do is your decision.

I happen to believe that God gave us everything we need.  But you don’t have to believe that to use it.  However you got it, you have it.  You have love, power, reason, discernment, judgment, ability, drive, and resiliency.   Use it.

Her post is excellent and I strongly recommend reading it.

But on the other hand, some people are losers, others are made into losers. Not by a God, but by the very system put into place to help. The LA Times is reporting about poor people being ‘dumped’ on skid row after being released from the hospital.

The LAPD says it has opened its first criminal investigation into the dumping of homeless people on skid row after documenting five cases in which ambulances dropped off patients there Sunday. Police said the patients, who had been discharged from a Los Angeles hospital, told them they did not want to be taken downtown.

Los Angeles Police Department officials, who photographed and videotaped the five alleged dumping cases, called it a major break in their yearlong effort to reduce the number of people left on skid row by hospitals, police departments and other institutions.

Though police have documented other cases of hospitals dropping off recently discharged patients in the district, “this is the most blatant effort yet by a hospital to dump their patients on skid row against their will,” LAPD Capt. Andrew Smith said.

The article continues by pointing out that these people weren’t necessary indigent. Some not only had somewhere to go but asked to be taken there.

One patient the LAPD interviewed on videotape, 62-year-old Marcus Joe Licon, told officers that he “never wanted to go” to skid row and asked that he be dropped off at his son’s house. According to LAPD records, Licon said he was at the hospital because of problems with his knee and was released after they gave him “some painkillers and some medication.”

The real losers here aren’t the patients being dumped on skid row. They are victims – not losers. The real losers are the people doing the dumping. Those people who think that life is something that can be tossed aside, like a soda can out of a moving car. Just like the can, these people should be someone else’s problem, something for someone else to pick up. The real losers here are the hospital administrators who would define each of those dumped as ‘losers.’

So, maybe, just maybe, some people do need a God to become better. Not Trees. And probably not Brad Locke our misguided God/Sports fan. And God knows, Marcus Joe Licon probably isn’t a natural born loser.

But those motherfucking hospital administrators are losers. And I very and truly doubt that they have any love, power, reason, discernment, judgment, ability, drive, or resiliency – they are simply scum. Natural born scum.

And maybe a dose of God would do those administrators some good. Maybe a baseball bat would be better. And maybe, I can make God/Sports comparisons too.

Taking Liberals for a Spin

Wow! Someone even more cynical than I am. And eloquent. Wow!

Ross over at The Talent Show has a must read post about Kuo’s new book. His argument is that the religious right already has enough and knows exactly on which side their bread is buttered (and which page in the hymnal to turn to).

[…] Religious right might just be one of the most consistently rewarded interest groups in Modern American politics.

Don’t believe me?

Ask Chief Justice Roberts about his views on Abortion.

Ask public school officials how Abstinence only education is going?

Hell, ask every single outspoken Atheist or Secular Humanist about their chances of getting elected anywhere east of Los Angeles and South of Chicago.

Oh, while we’re at it, anyone out there read anything about how Americans finally kicked Intelligent Design Charlatans out of American Schools, en masse, and returned learning to the people who know something about science? Or about how the FCC stopped disproportionately responding to the complaints of a tiny minority of Religious Funduhmentalists? Ah, I didn’t think so.

Thus the recent ‘revelations’ by Tucker Carlson and the new book by David Kuo’s Tempting Faith is simply a way to get the centrist Republicans back on the right track. (Sorry)

My take is slightly different. Tucker was tossed out so Kuo’s information wouldn’t land like a complete bombshell. The Rove machine is still working on the proper spin. That spin will likely work with the exact ideas Ross is describing. Attempt to pull the center back in line while using the very tricks Kuo exposed, placing covert evangelical messages in speeches and press releases, in order to keep the evangelical right in line. This, coupled with high level meetings reassuring the mega-church leaders, who use their influence to pass the word (of God Bush Rove) down the line, will be designed to keep the the evangelical voters on tap.

Kuo seems much more sincere. He is deeply upset at what he sees as the betrayal of Christian priniples. The abandonment of the poor to push political themes – abortion, homosexuality etc. This is an example of Kuo’s naivity and not demonstrative of political realities. I really wonder if the Bush administration speaks any better of the top Republican leadership than of the top evangelicals. I somehow doubt it. I would probably even argue Kuo is right that the principles pushed by the religious right have little to do with what the bible said. (Except for the homosexual thing which the bible is really explicit on. Sad but true.) This feeling that Kuo is naive but not misguided is shared by E. J. Dionne Jr. in an OpEd for the Washington Post. He has another hope though

Exposés of hypocrisy are the mother’s milk of Washington journalism. Yet the most useful thing that could flow from Kuo’s revelations would not be a splashy exchange of charges and countercharges but rather a quiet reappraisal by rank-and-file evangelicals of their approach to politics.

I hope Kuo’s book promotes serious discussions in religious study groups around the country about whether the evangelicals’ alliance with political conservatism has actually made the world, well, more godly from their own point of view. What are evangelicals actually getting out of this partnership? Are they mostly being used by a coalition that, when the deals are cut, cares far more about protecting the interests of its wealthy and corporate supporters than its churchgoing foot soldiers?

Kuo is being cut up by some administration loyalists. That’s not surprising, but it’s painful for me. I met Kuo in the 1990s through a conservative friend and was impressed by the power of his religious faith and his passion for developing a conservative approach to helping the poor that would be as serious as liberal efforts but, in his view, more effective.

At the same time, while I do think Bush uses his evangelical born-again methods to political advantage, I also think that is one of the few areas where he is sincere. At least in the sense of following the current religious currents being formed by that segment of the population. His concerns are in banning homosexual marriages, abstenance first, abortion etc. He would prefer a unification of a church and state today and not tomorrow. And, perhaps worse, he thinks this would be good not only for the country but for the world. That is part of his worldview – it is filtered through politics or not.

Nevertheless, I really don’t think this is part of an amazingly elaborate vote trap put in place by that master spider – Karl Rove.

But maybe Ross is right, this teacup thunderstorm is just there to take liberals for a spin.

Foley Fallout

Staying with the nuclear metaphors this morning, I thought I’d give a heads up to the two Foley stories in the Washington Post and the New York Times. The slant is in the Times – evangelical conservatives are seeing Foley’s failings not as a republican issue but a private misstep. If anything, the liberals are to blame not the Republicans; the excellent example given in the Times

David Thomas, a father taking his family to the [evangelical rock group MercyMe] concert, said that he, too, was leaning toward voting Republican and that the scandal only reinforced his conservative Christian convictions. “That is the problem we have in society,” Mr. Thomas said. “Nobody polices anybody. Everybody has a ‘right’ to do whatever.”

Interestingly the evangelicals can probably spin Republican knowledge of the scandal to their own advantage. The Washington Post has an article about new revelations about who knew what, when.

A Republican congressman knew of disgraced former representative Mark Foley’s inappropriate Internet exchanges as far back as 2000 and personally confronted Foley about his communications.

A spokeswoman for Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) confirmed yesterday that a former page showed the congressman Internet messages that had made the youth feel uncomfortable with the direction Foley (R-Fla.) was taking their e-mail relationship. Last week, when the Foley matter erupted, a Kolbe staff member suggested to the former page that he take the matter to the clerk of the House, Karen Haas, said Kolbe’s press secretary, Korenna Cline.

How does this work for the Republicans?

It turns out that Jim Kolbe is the only openly gay Republican in the House. This fact is paragraph seven material for the Post but would be my lede in an evangelical sermon if I wanted to give one. Kolbe is also retiring at the end of this term. To toss him to the evangelical wolves is in line with how Karl Rove works. Even if there is no wiggle room, turn the strengths of the opponent into weaknesses. Returning to the New York Times

But in dozens of interviews here in southeastern Virginia, a conservative Christian stronghold that is a battleground in races for the House and Senate, many said the episode only reinforced their reasons to vote for their two Republican incumbents in neck-and-neck re-election fights, Representative Thelma Drake and Senator George Allen.

“This is Foley’s lifestyle,” said Ron Gwaltney, a home builder, as he waited with his family outside a Christian rock concert last Thursday in Norfolk. “He tried to keep it quiet from his family and his voters. He is responsible for what he did. He is paying a price for what he did. I am not sure how much farther it needs to go.”

The Democratic Party is “the party that is tolerant of, maybe more so than Republicans, that lifestyle,” Mr. Gwaltney said, referring to homosexuality.

The Democrats seem to have been unable to point the conversation in the right direction. Not that Foley was a gay paedophile but that the supposedly anti-homosexual Republican leadership knew of the problems and still supported him and his re-election campaign. It is this moral breakdown, tied to the Abramoff scandal and the increasingly blatant lies being presented about the war on terror that the Democrats must use. The fact that the Republican leadership is morally bankrupt just isn’t making inroads into the American media.

But presenting this issue as a Democratic failing, a Democratic problem is disingenuous. Then again the Ten Commandments doesn’t say ‘don’t lie’, it says ‘you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.’ (Exodus 20:16). Basically don’t lie about other people. This apparently gives the Republican leadership the religious out they need. It’s OK to lie, just don’t talk about specific people; it’s OK to use distortions against political parties, sexual orientations or when creating timelines.

Especially if the political fallout is religiously radioactive. But only for Democrats.

Evangelical Loss, Teenage Gain

The New York Times has an article headlined “Evangelicals Fear the Loss of Their Teenagers”

Despite their packed megachurches, their political clout and their increasing visibility on the national stage, evangelical Christian leaders are warning one another that their teenagers are abandoning the faith in droves.

At an unusual series of leadership meetings in 44 cities this fall, more than 6,000 pastors are hearing dire forecasts from some of the biggest names in the conservative evangelical movement.

Their alarm has been stoked by a highly suspect claim that if current trends continue, only 4 percent of teenagers will be “Bible-believing Christians” as adults. That would be a sharp decline compared with 35 percent of the current generation of baby boomers, and before that, 65 percent of the World War II generation.

While some critics say the statistics are greatly exaggerated (one evangelical magazine for youth ministers dubbed it “the 4 percent panic attack”), there is widespread consensus among evangelical leaders that they risk losing their teenagers.

I’ll leave the snarky comment that perhaps they never had the hearts and minds of even four percent of the teenagers stand and look at the article slightly differently.

First, I can’t remember a time when evangelical Christians didn’t feel that they were under attack. It is part of their us-against-them culture. This is mixed with an unhealthy portion of pity for the unsaved. But it is this kind of language that is also used to keep people in the fanatical churches. Using the last-bastion-of-goodness-and-morality argument allows evangelical preachers to install a feeling of fear into the congregation, especially in the hearts and minds of the teenage youth. Creating a feeling of separation is a standard technique for brainwashing, even if effects aren’t as dramatic and the comment not politically correct.

On the other hand, the increasing political clout of the religious viewpoint, both in America and abroad,  makes the position that the churches are losing fairly unsupportable. Perhaps at issue isn’t the number of  ‘God-fearing’ teens, but that the evangelical movement has gone even farther down a fanatical path than most people, adult or teen, can follow. By denying everything modern, they deny themselves even those mores accepted forty years ago.

It is this extremism that worries me. I wonder if the liberal, democratic idea of always trying to find common ground, a compromise even with the most extreme positions, isn’t inexorably pulling the modern world more in the direction of the religious right, Christian or Islamic. Slowly but surely changing not only the views but the very language. The idea of government pushing ‘Faith Based’ charities is an example. When did the term arise? Why is it even excepted as an alternative. Would an agnostic or an atheist charity be any less moral? The Christian apologists would have you believe that. Indeed according to Christian apologists, without religion, the world would be full of rapists and criminals – death and mayhem.

One of the worse episodes in German history was the Thirty Years War fought between the Protestant north and the Catholic south. No war caused more destruction and misery until the technological advances of the Twentieth Century allowed mass destruction at the pull of a trigger. The religious fanatics, convinced that only true believers are human, raped, pillaged and destroyed most of central Germany. It was only after both parties were spent and only after the real fanatics had died in combat, that the war finally came to an end.

It might be true that the evangelical claim that less and less teenagers are willing to accept their brand of religion. It might even be true that this is truly an end-of-days scenario. I however choose to believe that more and more teenagers are trying to find a moral midpoint and despite apologist worries are moving towards religion. And of course, I believe that the each teenager’s soul lost to an evangelical church, is a teenager saved from an evangelical church. A loss for a gain if you will.