May 31, 2009

Christian Terrorism in Wichita

The latest act of suspected Christian terrorism occurred today in Wichita, Kansas, where another physician was shot and killed. According the The Wichita Eagle, 67 year-old Dr. George Tiller was shot as he entered the Reformation Lutheran Church to attend services this morning. Dr. Tiller is suspected to have been murdered because he performs a medical procedure with which some Christians disagree - abortion.
Tiller has long been a focal point of protest by abortion opponents because his clinic, Women's Health Care Services at 5701 E. Kellogg, is one of the few in the country where late-term abortions are performed.
While searching for additional information about this story on Twitter, I came across a comment I thought I'd share. This is from Matthew Kamar (@Darkshore):
Karma is a beautiful thing. Cheers to the hero who sent George Tiller where he belongs...straight to hell.
This, ladies and gentleman, is what we are up against. It is people like Mr. Kamar who will keep me speaking out against Christian extremism.

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Miscegenation and Gay Marriage: Both Abominations?

The plaintiffs, Mildred and Richard LovingImage via Wikipedia
During the Civil Rights era, many Christians in the U.S. opposed miscegenation (i.e., mixing of racial groups through cohabitation, marriage, sexual relations, etc.). In fact, anti-miscegenation laws were common in many states until 1967. Today, such laws are widely acknowledged as mistaken examples of shameful bigotry. And yet, while watching African Americans protesting the Washington DC Council's recent legalization of same-sex marriage, it struck me that precious little was learned from the Civil Rights era.

In 1967, the year of the landmark Loving v. Commonwealth of Virginia, interracial marriages were illegal in 16 states. The case involved an interracial couple from Virginia (where interracial marriage was illegal) who traveled to Washington DC to be married. Upon their return to Virginia, they were arrested and informed that their marriage license was not valid in Virginia.

What was the big deal over interracial relations? Why were two consenting adults being arrested simply for loving each other? The judge who heard Loving had the following to say:
Almighty God created the races, white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.
Sound familiar? It should. Much of the rationale used for anti-miscegenation laws then mirrors that currently used to justify opposition to same-sex marriage today. Much of the religious gibberish uttered by those bigots is now used by modern anti-gay bigots.

Those who opposed miscegenation were convinced that race mixing was an abomination in the eyes of their god. We hear the same argument today, only this time it is directed at same-sex marriage.

Is this really what was gained from the Civil Rights movement: Black Christians can now join with White Christians in spewing hate and bigotry toward another group?

Carnival of the Godless #118 at Right to Think

The 118th edition of Carnival of the Godless is up at Right to Think. As usual, it is a good one and a great way to get one's fix of atheist reading from around the blogosphere. Check it out.

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May 30, 2009

Idiot of the Week: Kevin Wirth

Anti-evolution car in Athens, GeorgiaImage via Wikipedia

Idiocy this astounding deserves attention, and that is exactly what it will get here in the weekly Idiot of the Week series. A new winner will be announced each Saturday.

Admittedly, I am cheating a bit with this week's winner because the qualifying statements were made on Friday of last week. Still, I I would be remiss in my responsibilities to simply let it go. Therefore, I am happy to crown Kevin Wirth, Director of Product Development and Media Relations for Access Research Network, as Idiot of the Week.

And what, you ask, did Mr. Wirth say to qualify him for such a high honor?
Well, there currently exists under Obama's watch perhaps one of the most onerous abuses of our freedoms and Civil Rights that one could imagine. I'm speaking about Americans, not Islamic terrorists. Many of the freedoms guaranteed to all Americans are currently and have been under attack, but these actions are usually referred to as discrimination. I'm beginning to wonder if these actions shouldn't be classified as a form of terrorism. Who is under attack? The dissidents in our culture.
Wow! So American dissidents are currently under attack by a new form of domestic terrorism. That doesn't sound good at all. Dissidents are often a strength. We couldn't have had any social change movements (e.g., suffrage, civil rights, etc.) without them. Just who are these dissidents now under attack?
These are the folks who challenge the conventional views held within our scientific, philosophical, and academic communities. But they are often made to pay a huge price for speaking their mind. Many freedoms have been stripped from dissident educators, students, and scientists who disagree with conventional wisdom on issues considered settled by many experts. They are often dismissed as kooks, pseudoscientists, and charlatans who we should either ignore or consider as serious threats to the survival of our society -- depending on who you talk to.
Dissidents who are routinely dismissed as pseudoscientists? Hmmm...that's odd. Now you see where Wirth is heading, don't you?
The history of abuse by intellectual terrorists and Darwin fascists has just begun to be documented and is irrefutable. And, it presents Obama and Co. with a clear example of violations he says he will not tolerate. Terrorism of any kind that threatens the freedoms of any Americans should neither be excused or ignored.
And there you have it! Wirth is actually claiming that those who accept the foundation of modern biology and prefer to teach actual science as opposed to superstitious nonsense are...terrorists.

H/T to Bay of Fundie

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Carnival Against Child Abuse at Survivors Can Thrive

A wedding in the Manila CathedralImage via Wikipedia

The latest edition of the Carnival Against Child Abuse has been posted at Survivors Can Thrive. I contributed a post on Ireland's Catholic child abuse scandal. I was not sure they would accept it, but I am glad they did. I believe that it is important to continue to call attention to the link between the Catholic Church and child abuse. Again, what other institution has the power to conceal and enable abuse of this scope, to survive no matter what evidence surfaces, and to have so this much influence over so many people?

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May 29, 2009

Vatican Says Abortion Worse Than Child Abuse

The Roman Catholic Church in the United States
The Roman Catholic Church in the United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Like most of you (I hope), I was outraged by the Catholic abuse scandal in Ireland. Compounding the pervasive abuse were the efforts by the Church to conceal it and prevent the perpetrators from being held responsible. I attempted to document some of the early responses from Catholics, including those who will clearly continue to defend the Church no matter what atrocities its clergy commit. However, it soon proved impossible to keep track of all responses, and I had to be content with pointing out that Catholic doctrine itself facilitated child abuse. But now there has been another response, this time directly from the Vatican, that simply cannot be ignored.

The Irish Times is reporting today that Spanish Cardinal Antonio Canizares, described as a senior Vatican official, has been minimizing the importance of the Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse's report. In fact, the article describes him as suggesting, "...that the millions of lives lost through abortion represent a much more serious crime against humanity than clerical sex abuse."

While Cardinal Canizares deserves credit for agreeing that the behavior of the many perpetrators should be condemned, he was quoted as saying,

What happened in some schools cannot be compared with the millions of lives that have been destroyed by abortion. It (abortion) has legally destroyed 40 million human lives.
Suppose for a moment that he's right. What does this have to do with the latest (of many) evidence that the Catholic Church has been abusing children and attempting to hide it? What does it do with the fact that the Church has fought hard to limit the amounts paid out to victims and their families? What does it have to do with their continue efforts to help pedophiles escape criminal responsibility and continue to have easy access to future victims? What does it have to do with the fact that another Catholic abuse scandal is about to surface right here in the U.S.?

As Universal Heretic recently pointed out, "No other institution on the planet would be able to survive such monstrous scandals."

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What Happened to the "Get Tough on Crime" GOP?

NOPEImage by fPat via Flickr

Remember when Republicans proudly identified themselves as being "tough on crime," at least compared to their Democratic opponents? Now that they are determined to make sure that top Bush Administration officials who ordered torture escape a war crimes investigation, I cannot help wondering what happened to them. Even worse, it now appears that they are willing to can their own investigation of Clinton officials for rendition if it gets the Bush Administration off the hook with Justice. So much for being the party of law and order.

It seems awfully hypocritical for the "tough on crime party to oppose an investigation of something as serious as war crimes. Maybe "get tough on crime" only applies to poor African American drug offenders.

It seems even more hypocritical that the GOP is now trying to block a war crimes investigation by threatening to launch their own investigation of Clinton officials for using rendition if the Justice Department investigates war crimes. If they have evidence that Clinton Administration officials committed crimes, why have they not already investigated them? They should do so and do so immediately. And how absurd is it to attempt to use that as a bargaining chip now? If Clinton officials committed crimes, they should be investigated! And the same is true of Bush officials.

We have compelling evidence that top Bush administration officials committed war crimes by authorizing and then implementing torture. A criminal investigation is necessary. If it turns out that Pelosi was in on it, she must be investigated too. If it turns out that Clinton officials were doing similar things, they must be investigated too. Why is this so difficult to grasp? Criminals must be brought to justice regardless of what political party is involved.

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May 28, 2009

Atheism as Sex

The following quote is from Crutch of the Weak and brought to my attention by Oz Atheist's Weblog. It is simply too good not to share:
If atheism and religion were sex …

Atheism would be like masturbation - you know you’re there by yourself, but hell, you’re having a good time!

Religion would be like masturbating with a happy face drawn on your hand - it’s still only you, but you like pretending that you’re not alone.
Ain't that the truth!

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Blogging Tip #15: Don't Moderate Comments Unless You Have To

I have not written anything in the blogging tips series for quite awhile, so I thought it was time to do a quick one. This will indeed be a quick one, as the title gives away the tip. However, let me take a moment to explain why I think this is important.

I don't know anyone who isn't at least a little bit annoyed when they press the submit button after writing a thoughtful comment on someone's blog only to be rewarded with a message about how the comment will be visible after it is approved by the blogger. When we submit a comment, we want to see it appear right away.

When I am commenting on a top-tier blog, this is understandable. The blogger is likely swamped with comment spam, trolls, and the like. Comment moderation is essential in such cases to prevent the thread from filling up with garbage. But why are so many low traffic blogs with next to no comments moderating?

My advice in this tip is simple indeed: Do not enable comment moderation on your blog unless you have to. Unless you are receiving considerable comment spam, it easy to delete the rare inappropriate comment and/or ban the offender after the fact. Your readers will appreciate not having to wait for you to moderate their comments and are likely to leave more as a result.

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May 27, 2009

The Proposition 8 Ruling: Implications for Atheists

On May 26, 2009, California's Supreme Court made history by voting 6-1 to uphold Proposition 8, a voter approved amendment the state constitution to define marriage an an exclusively heterosexual act. One may wonder how such a thing could be possible in a state with such a liberal reputation. In brief, the initial passage of Proposition 8 was made possible by the massive financial support of the Mormon church and other Christian groups. And based on state law, it appears that the Supreme Court had little recourse but to uphold the law. I am optimistic that California will legalize same-sex marriage in 2010 when this issue is before the voters again, but that does not take away the sting of the latest ruling. There are lessons here for the fledgling atheist movement too, and we would be remiss to neglect them.

Proposition 8 should be a nightmare scenario for any atheist because it shows us that well-funded religious groups can essentially mold the law to enforce their bigotry. They believed that same-sex marriage is immoral on the basis of their religion, and they effectively banned it.

History provides numerous examples of where privileged Christians have legislated their view of morality. Whether we think of prohibition, anti-miscegenation laws, or efforts to censor certain forms of music in the 1980s and 1990s, we see a common theme emerging. These groups want to force their religion on others through theocratic means. They threaten everything that makes America worthwhile.

We have recently learned that at least one high-profile Christian extremist opposes marriage between atheists and Christians. Who is to say that this will not be the next measure to appear on the ballot? And who is to say that they might not achieve their desired outcome by pouring enough money into it?

I have recently grown frustrated with some heterosexual atheists talking about how they oppose Proposition 8 as some sort of gift to their gay friends even though it is "irrelevant" to them. If you are truly convinced that gay rights is irrelevant to those of us who are not gay, then I'm not sure why you would expect anyone to give a damn about our rights as atheists. How can the civil rights of any group be irrelevant?

I have reached the unpleasant conclusion that some sort of vaguely articulated atheist movement is simply insufficient. We need an atheist rights movement in order to protect those liberties we currently have from encroachment by Christian extremists and other religious fanatics. We need true atheist activism to raise awareness among atheists and other groups, to cultivate effective power, and to respond to religiously-motivated attacks. We need to build atheist community to provide support to those who are desperate for a kind word or a willing ear.

The forces of bigotry have learned a great deal about how to influence the political and legal processes. If we refuse to learn from our experience, we risk giving up our basic rights. That is one risk I am simply not willing to take.

(photo by Tony the Misfit)

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May 26, 2009

California Supreme Court Upholds Proposition 8

California Supreme CourtImage by Jamison via Flickr

California's Supreme Court voted today to uphold Proposition 8, maintaining the ban on same-sex marriage in the state. Today is a sad day for civil rights, but this one is not over. It is high time that we in the U.S. wake up to the fact that we have given religiously-motivated bigotry way too much power.

For more, see Atheists and Gays: Time For An Alliance.

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Decision on Proposition 8 Expected Today

Prop 8 protestImage by John Lemieux via Flickr

Today is the day we are supposed to learn the fate of California's Proposition 8. How California's Supreme Court decides this case will have nationwide implications. The decision is expected to be announced at approximately 10:00 am Pacific Time.

According to the activist website, the court will issue one of the following 3 rulings:
1) Upholding the anti-gay Proposition 8 in full, including invalidating the 18,000+ same-sex marriages that were solemnized before the proposition's passage last November 4th;

2) Upholding Proposition 8's ban on all future same sex marriages, but allowing the 18,000 already conducted to stand; or,

3) Invalidating in its entirety Proposition 8's discriminatory ban on same sex marriage.
Here is hoping that #3 is their choice. All eyes are now on California.

H/T to Pam's House Blend

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May 25, 2009

Challenges for the Atheist Movement

Movement / MovimientoImage by victor_nuno via Flickr

I was recently browsing the atheism directory of Reddit and voting up good pro-atheist submissions as I frequently do to combat routine down-voting by Christians, when I ran across an interesting op-ed in the New York Times. It was a mild critique of the atheist movement written by Charles M. Blow. It was one of those articles that did not make much of an impression on first read but got me thinking enough that I returned to it later and have now decided to share some thoughts about one part of it.

After challenging the conventional wisdom that the maintenance of religious belief requires early indoctrination, Mr. Blow notes that the most common reason given by people who come to faith later in life are "because their spiritual needs were not being met." He also reports that people are most likely to choose their religion because "they simply enjoyed the services and style of worship." He bases these statements on the recent Pew survey.

The part of Mr. Blow's brief op-ed that caught my attention, however, was the following:
While science, logic and reason are on the side of the nonreligious, the cold, hard facts are just so cold and hard. Yes, the evidence for evolution is irrefutable. Yes, there is a plethora of Biblical contradictions. Yes, there is mounting evidence from neuroscientists that suggests that God may be a product of the mind. Yes, yes, yes. But when is the choir going to sing? And when is the picnic? And is my child going to get a part in the holiday play?
Essentially, Mr. Blow is suggesting that "science, logic and reason" are simply not enough for most people. They do not speak to the daily concerns of the average person. I do not necessarily disagree with this. In fact, I have seen countless atheist bloggers making precisely this point over the past couple years.

However, I am not sure about Mr. Blow's suggestion for the atheist movement:
As the nonreligious movement picks up steam, it needs do a better job of appealing to the ethereal part of our human exceptionalism — that wondrous, precious part where logic and reason hold little purchase, where love and compassion reign. It’s the part that fears loneliness, craves companionship and needs affirmation and fellowship.
I agree with this up to a point. Science, logic, and reason alone certainly do not speak to much of what makes us human. Moreover, I think that most atheists recognize that we have not done a particularly good job of creating fostering a secular sense of community. As Mr. Blow suggests, we do need to do a better job in many of these areas.

Where I am not willing to go along with Mr. Blow is the implication that we need to go outside the natural realm (i.e., into fantasy and delusion) to meet these needs. Nature itself is an astounding source of beauty, awe, and even transcendence. It speaks directly to our emotional side and is an ideal alternative to shared superstitions. Science too often provides this experience to those who understand it.

The challenge facing the reality-based community is not one of learning lessons from religion, as Mr. Blow believes. The challenge is one of building effective secular communities, educating people about the unacceptably high costs of religious belief, and fostering a mutually beneficial relationship with nature.

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Humanist Symposium #37 at She Who Chatters

If your Memorial Day festivities were rained out like mine or you just feel like spending the day doing some reading, you'll be happy to know that the 37th edition of the Humanist Symposium is up at She Who Chatters.

Congratulations to Deep Thoughts on 5 Years of Blogging

I would like to congratulate Mojoey on the five year anniversary of his blog, Deep Thoughts. He may not consider Deep Thoughts to be an atheist blog, but he has done as much for the atheist blogosphere as anyone else. He may be best known for giving us the Atheist Blogroll, but he has also been a great source of inspiration for many of us.

Deep Thoughts was one of only a handful of active blogs dealing with atheism when I started exploring the world of online atheism. His Hypocrisy Watch series has long been the place to go in order to find examples of why religious extremism is so dangerous.

And yet, one of the things that attracted me to Deep Thoughts initially and has continued to do so ever since has been the eclectic nature of what Mojoey does with his blog. Some of his most enjoyable posts have been peripherally related to atheism, if even that. He is a happy atheist with a real zest for life, and this comes through well in his writing.

In short, Mojoey was one of the first atheist bloggers to inspire me. Best of all, he has continued to do so. I hope he keeps at it for several years to come.

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May 24, 2009

Catholic Doctrine Facilitated Child Abuse

I wanted to see a day or two pass without thinking of the tragic Catholic child abuse scandal in Ireland. I really did. But then I read a heartbreaking op-ed in The New York Times by John Banville, and once again, I just can't get it out of my head. Here is how Banville concludes:
Ireland from 1930 to the late 1990s was a closed state, ruled — the word is not too strong — by an all-powerful Catholic Church with the connivance of politicians and, indeed, the populace as a whole, with some honorable exceptions. The doctrine of original sin was ingrained in us from our earliest years, and we borrowed from Protestantism the concepts of the elect and the unelect. If children were sent to orphanages, industrial schools and reformatories, it must be because they were destined for it, and must belong there. What happened to them within those unscalable walls was no concern of ours.

We knew, and did not know. That is our shame today.
It is not my claim that Catholic doctrine, or even religious belief itself, caused this to happen. That would be far too simplistic. However, I believe it is fairly clear that religious belief facilitated this and continues to facilitate similar atrocities today.

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Anti-Atheist Bigotry: Still Socially Acceptable in America

The Los Angeles Times building as seen from Gr...Image via Wikipedia
I'm not sure why I've held off in posting about Charlotte Allen's bigoted tirade against atheists in the LA Times. I started to do so several times before becoming so enraged about the latest Catholic child abuse scandal. It isn't so much that I find myself exhausted from confronting bigotry and the perils of religious belief (although I do certainly feel this way at times). I actually feel somewhat energized and ready to take on whatever comes next. In any case, I've held off long enough. Allen's piece is a clear example of anti-atheist bigotry, and I want this post to show exactly why this is the case.

A Valuable Example From Friendly Atheist

We'll review our definition of bigotry in a moment and see that the Allen piece fits it perfectly, but I'd like to start with an excellent teaching example from Friendly Atheist. He suggests that we replace the word "atheist" with the word "Jew" in Allen's article. By doing this, he produces the following:

Here’s why I can’t stand Jews.
  • They’re boring.
  • They keep complaining about being oppressed.
  • They keep talking about the same damn things all the time — Holocaust this and Israel that.
  • They always claim they’re victims.
  • They only constitute a small percentage of Americans — probably because they can’t win over any converts.
  • They still complain about how state Constitutions bar them from holding office — really, only six of them do — even though the Supreme Court has said those provisions are unenforceable.
  • They want affirmative action for their kind — one representative from the “pity-poor-me” school of Jews even said they need “safe spaces” at colleges!
  • They assume everyone who doesn’t agree with them is “beyond stupid.”
  • They never want to take on the serious arguments that theologians have made in favor of the Christian god.
  • Some Jews think Jesus never even existed. So what do they know?
  • They’re not rational. They’re just angry. Angry because they think the world is unfair to them. Angry that someone forced them to go to church as a child. Some Jews are so angry, they sued the government to prevent a Christian prayer from being spoken at President Obama’s inauguration. The gall!
He then points out the obvious: if Allen had written this, she would have been widely (and appropriately) condemned and likely forced to resign. He's right. A newspaper like the LA Times never would have considered publishing such an article. And yet, they deemed it perfectly acceptable for Allen to say these things about atheists.

But Does It Meet Our Definition of Bigotry?

Here was how I defined bigotry previously:
In a nutshell, bigotry involves two ingredients: falsehood and unwarranted generalization. A false statement is applied to the victim of bigotry, often involving condemnation, by the bigot solely for belonging to a particular group. The bigot generalizes from an individual case (e.g., one lazy African American) to an entire group (e.g., African Americans).
With this in mind, it is fairly obvious that Allen's article drips with anti-atheist bigotry. She repeatedly refers to "atheists" without any limiting specifiers (i.e., she is making unwarranted generalizations about all atheists), and she spews one false statement after another. Saying "I can't stand atheists...because they're crashing bores" is akin to saying "I can't stand blacks...because they're lazy." In both cases, we see false statements applied in generalized fashion to all members of the groups. In both cases, we have bigotry.

The problem we are confronting here, quite clearly, is that anti-atheist bigotry remains socially acceptable in a way that other forms of bigotry are not. If this changes, it will change because of what atheists (and our allies) do. If it does not change, our apathy and inaction are to blame.

The good news is that many atheists are indeed speaking out on this subject. I hope they will continue to do so.

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May 23, 2009

Idiot of the Week: Bill Donahue

South Park adult cartoon portrays the League a...Image via Wikipedia

Idiocy this astounding deserves attention, and attention it shall receive! Right here in the weekly Idiot of the Week series. A new winner will be announced right here each Saturday.

I must admit that this is the first time since I started the Idiot of the Week series that there really hasn't been much competition. Well, that didn't come out exactly right. Of course there's competition - there's always way too much competition. What I mean is that this is the first time that I had such an obvious winner in mind before Saturday rolled around.

Following the release of a damning report by Ireland's Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse in which pervasive child abuse by Irish Catholics and a conspiracy by the Catholic Church going back to the 1930s to conceal the pedophiles among them were revealed, Bill Donahue had the following to say:
Reuters is reporting that “Irish Priests Beat, Raped Children,” yet the report does not justify this wild and irresponsible claim. . . . The Irish report suffers from conflating minor instances of abuse with serious ones, thus demeaning the latter. When most people hear of the term abuse, they do not think about being slapped, being chilly, being ignored or, for that matter, having someone stare at you in the shower. They think about rape.

By cheapening rape, the report demeans the big victims. But, of course, there is a huge market for such distortions, especially when the accused is the Catholic Church.
For more, see this post by outraged Catholic, Bitch Ph.D. And to give credit where credit is due, I'd like to point out that Bitch Ph.D. is precisely what many of us have been waiting for - a Catholic loudly and forcefully saying that Donahue in no way represents her:
Let's sum up.

Bill Donohue is defending a powerful institution, the Catholic Church, by minimizing and excusing the abuse and neglect of children, including deliberately overlooking oral rape, digital rape, rape with objects, or forced masturbation.
For some of our winner's "greatest hits," check out Media Matters' research on Bill Donahue.

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May 22, 2009

Religion Facilitates Evil

With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.
- Steven Weinberg

When I think of the latest Catholic abuse scandal in Ireland, the torture of children accused of witchcraft at the hands of Christian pastors in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the myriad of other atrocities committed by Christians, or even the many atrocities contained in the Christian bible itself, I find myself thinking that Weinberg was right. History shows us that humans are capable of all sorts of despicable acts. But again and again, we find religion associated with many of the worst. Superstition itself poses a danger.

Oh, and let's get the favorite Christian objection about Hitler, Stalin, and the like out of the way at the outset. The myth about Hitler being an atheist has been thoroughly debunked. By continuing to repeat it, one merely shows willful ignorance. Hitler was not an atheist. But what about Stalin, Mao, or Pol Pot? While they may have been atheists, they were obviously not motivated by atheism.

What I am saying here, and what Weinberg was referring to, is not the claim that religion is somehow responsible for most of the world's ills. I am saying is that there are aspects of religion which are dangerous and which seem to allow even worse behavior on the part of the actor. Dehumanization is an excellent example. Religion is not required for it to occur, but religion does appear to be associated with the most nasty form of it. Belief in hell is another good example for many of the same reasons.

H/T to Stardust Musings and Thoughts for the Freethinker

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Catholic Responses to Irish Child Abuse Conspiracy

Confronted by mounting evidence of the scope of their crimes, a conspiracy to protect the perpetrators from prosecution, and a growing public outcry (at least I sure as hell hope it continues to grow), some Church officials are issuing apologies while others are simply continuing to ignore the issue. In this post, I will examine some of the statements which have been issued so far by Church officials, former Church officials, and assorted Catholics speaking out.

We're Sorry

I'd like to start with the apologies. After all, many people will commend the Church for issuing them at all. Cardinal Sean Brady, described as the leader of Ireland's Catholics was quoted as saying the following:

I am profoundly sorry and deeply ashamed that children suffered in such awful ways in these institutions. Children deserved better and especially from those caring for them in the name of Jesus Christ.
The Sisters of Mercy, one of the homes for girls where the systemic pattern of atrocities were documented, stated that they:
Accept that many who spent their childhoods in our orphanages or industrial schools were hurt and damaged while in our care. There is a great sadness in all of our hearts at this time and our deepest desire is to continue the healing process for all involved.
Several victims have refused to accept these apologies, and I can't say I'm surprised. It wasn't just that the abuse occurred or that it was chronic and widespread. One must also remember that the Church successfully conspired to prevent prosecutions of the perpetrators and worked out a deal with the Irish government to limit the amount of compensation they would have to pay to victims and their families. In light of this long-term conspiracy, these apologies seem hollow.

We Didn't Know Child Abuse Was A Crime

As hollow as the apologies might seem in light of the horrific material contained in the report, I suppose they are somewhat better than the response from retired U.S. Catholic Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland:
We all considered sexual abuse of minors as a moral evil, but had no understanding of its criminal nature.
This accused rapist says that he had no idea that sexually assaulting children would have long-term consequences on them. He says that he:
Accepted naively the common view that it was not necessary to worry about the effects on the youngsters: either they would not remember or they would ‘grow out of it’.
Wow! I'm not sure what else to say about this.

Ignore It or Throw Faith at the Problem

And then there is what I expect will be the most common response of all - simply ignore the issue. This is from Fr. Roger J. Landry and was written in 2002 in response to the Boston abuse scandal:
We can focus on those who betrayed the Lord, those who abused rather than loved those whom they were called to serve, or we can focus, like the early Church did, on the others, on those who have remained faithful, those priests who are still offering their lives to serve Christ and to serve you out of love. The media almost never focuses on the good "eleven," the ones whom Jesus has chosen who remain faithful, who live lives of quiet holiness. But we, the Church, must keep the terrible scandal that we've witnessed in its true and full perspective.
This reminds me of the "bad apples" claim used by Bush administration officials to explain away detainee abuse after the photos from Abu Ghraib first surfaced. I do have to give Landry credit for one thing though. He does an absolutely outstanding job of unintentionally summarizing one of the things that makes faith so dangerous:
No matter how sinful a priest is, provided that he has the intention to do what the Church does — at Mass, for example, to change bread and wine into Christ's body and blood, or in confession, no matter how sinful he is personally, to forgive the penitent's sins — Christ himself acts through that minister in the sacraments.
Read those words again and let them sink in. See the problem? Yeah, it is a big one. I wouldn't have thought to include Landry's response to the Boston scandal here except that a self-described "faithful Catholic" presented it as an answer to the Irish scandal. That she regards it as an answer is disturbing.

Atheists Are Evil!

The only thing that could be better than ignoring the issue or attempting to obscure it with faith and Christianspeak would be ignoring the issue while demonizing everyone's favorite target...the atheists.

This appears to be precisely what outgoing Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, decided to do.
He said, rather controversially perhaps, that a lack of faith is 'the greatest of evils.' He blamed atheism for war and destruction, and implied it was a greater evil even than sin itself.
Hmmm, I didn't realize we were the ones raping children and concealing it. I didn't realize we were the ones making sure that those who committed these despicable acts would never be held criminally responsible for them.

What would I like to see in the aftermath of the news out of Ireland? I'd like to see the fall of the Catholic Church, but I'm not particularly optimistic that I will live to see that. However, there is something that I would accept as a consolation prize. I would like to reach the point where any discussion of Catholicism inevitably mentions widespread child abuse, systemic efforts to avoid prosecution and protect the perpetrators so that they may continue to prey on children, and the dangers of faith. Yeah, I think I'd take that.

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May 21, 2009

Let Latest Catholic Abuse Scandal Be Last Straw

St. Peter's Basilica at Early Morning Photo wa...Image via Wikipedia
It is tempting to use evidence of the "decades of rapes, humiliation and beatings at Catholic Church-run reform schools for Ireland's castaway children" to slam the Catholic Church. With a damning 2,600 page report including the discovery of "previously secret Vatican records that demonstrated church knowledge of pedophiles in their ranks all the way back to the 1930s," I think this is precisely what should happen. The problem of child abuse in the Catholic Church is not going away, and it is time for the outrage to translate to action. It is time for the Catholic Church to fall.

What is the appropriate response to learning that "church officials shielded their orders' pedophiles from arrest amid a culture of self-serving secrecy?" Outrage. Anything less is simply insufficient.

Action Skeptics Posts 111th Skeptics Circle: You're Gonna Love It

Action Skeptics has posted the 111th Skeptics Circle, and I think they have pulled off the coolest blog carnival layout I've ever seen. If you are as obsessed with the ShamWow guy as I am, you'll probably agree. Even if you don't have time to read all the posts now, go take a look out how they set the thing up. I love it!

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Christians and Gay Marriage

Same-Sex Marriage RallyImage by City of West Hollywood via Flickr

One of the things I have not been doing nearly enough of here is featuring particularly thought-provoking comments from my readers. This is because I get so many that I typically feel overwhelmed when it comes time to select any. My new approach is going to be to simply select those that intersect perfectly with whatever I'm thinking about at the time I encounter them.

Here is a recent one from Jenni in response to the Idiot of the Week: Carrie Prejean post:
You know, with all this insistence by theists that a marriage is between a man and a woman perhaps they should re-read their holy books to remind them of just what kind of marriages are sanctioned by their "beliefs." According to Deuteronomy 22:28-29 a man can marry his rape victim, Deuteronomy 21:11-14 says a man can marry his female prisoner of war, Judges 19:1-30 reminds us that a man is not limited to his wife, he may take concubines. All this prompts one to ask exactly what makes theists think they have the right to define marriage at all. A loving same sex marriage is way better than any of these their bible sanctions.
Jenni's comment makes me suspect that many Christians who oppose gay marriage do so not because of anything found in their bibles but because of what their pastors tell them and because of their own hatred of those who are different from them. After all, there is much in their bibles which they are perfectly content to ignore. As Jenni points out, there is even plenty about marriage which they routinely ignore.

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May 20, 2009

Pre-Order Dawkins' New Book

Richard Dawkins' new book, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, is now available for pre-order with a September release date. I will certainly add this to my next order. Not only is it the follow-up to the much loved The God Delusion, but it promises to present the evidence in support of evolution in one accessible volume. Very cool!

H/T to Friendly Atheist

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U.S. Military Burns Christian Bibles

CNN is reporting that U.S. military personnel burned Christian bibles which were confiscated at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan roughly a year ago. The bibles, sent to the base by a church in the U.S., were printed in the two most common Afghan languages and were confiscated due to concerns that they would be used for proselytizing.

Conveniently, the decision to burn the bibles emerged soon after Al Jazeera suggested that U.S. troops were being encouraged to spread Christianity in the Muslim nation. This allegation was denied by a U.S. military spokesman.

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May 19, 2009

Pentagon Will No Longer Include Bible Quotes In Daily Briefings

WASHINGTON - MAY 01:  President George W. Bush...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

You have almost certainly heard about how the Pentagon prepared reports for Bush with Christian bible quotes on their covers. For an excellent description of what was done and why you should care about it, I urge you to read this post from Daylight Atheism.

This is the same Pentagon accused of coercing military trainees to attend church and distributing Christian bibles. I also note that this is the same Pentagon that now wants us to believe that they are not deliberately proselytizing in Afghanistan.

It appears that someone in a fairly high position made the decision that separation of church and state has no place in the U.S. military. We have been warned repeatedly of a serious problem with Christian extremism in our armed forces. It is starting to appear that those warnings barely scraped the surface of the problem.

The good news is that there will be no more bible quotes on presidential briefings. I hope that those committed to resolving the other problems continue their important work.

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More Evidence of Christian Privilege

tryin to figure out which stack theyre gonna s...Image by eioua via Flickr
The atheist billboards and bus ads springing up around the world go after theism itself, often by saying something about god(s). In the U.S., it might make sense to go one step further and address Christianity in particular. And yet, we are unlikely to see this because of the inevitable outrage and cries of persecution that would result. I suspect that even many atheists would see this as borderline intolerant. Christian privilege is alive and well.

Imagine a billboard being erected in your town encouraging people to "Pull the Plug on Christianity." Can you imagine the sort of shit storm this would provoke? How long do you suppose such a billboard would even last?

And yet, Oz Atheist's Weblog brings us news of Living Waters' billboard campaign where we see exactly this sort of attack on atheism. What is the difference? Why is this unacceptable when directed at Christianity but perfectly fine when directed at atheism?

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May 18, 2009

Words of Wisdom: Thomas Paine

The study of theology, as it stands in the Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authority; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and it admits of no conclusion.
--Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason

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