Archive for April, 2009

On the heels of a Newsweek article I already blogged about, the New York Times has published one of its own, and the Internet is again buzz:

More Atheists Shout It From the Rooftops

More than ever, America’s atheists are linking up and speaking out — even here in South Carolina, home to Bob Jones University, blue laws and a legislature that last year unanimously approved a Christian license plate embossed with a cross, a stained glass window and the words “I Believe” (a move blocked by a judge and now headed for trial).

They are connecting on the Internet, holding meet-ups in bars, advertising on billboards and buses, volunteering at food pantries and picking up roadside trash, earning atheist groups recognition on adopt-a-highway signs.

This Times article reads like a breathless discovery of a previously-unknown movement which is of surprisingly vast proportions. I’m sorry but this sort of thing is just bizarre. Atheism is not new, and no one in the mass media should be acting as if it were (not even the Religious Right’s publicity arm, Fox News).

Nonetheless they’re acting as though it is.

This is another of those cases where I have no idea what’s going on, and no amount of speculation about it makes any sense. If someone out there knows something about this, I’d appreciate more information.

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The wingnut Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas — known for its insane, even incomprehensible style of warfare against gays — finally showed up in Connecticut to protest the Nutmeg State allowing gay marriage. Not that their protest was big or notable, but I’ve been waiting for this ever since the state Supreme Court handed down its decision in Kerrigan v. Commissioner of Public Health in October of last year. The Hartford Courant reports on this anemic event:

Three relatives of a controversial anti-gay pastor from Kansas came to Connecticut today to protest the state Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage here.

“We travel out in teams like this at least weekly,” said Ben Phelps, 33, grandson of Rev. Fred Phelps, pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. He was joined on Capitol Avenue in Hartford by Fred Phelps’ daughter, Shirley Phelps-Roper, 51, and her son, Zach, 18.

So this “protest” featured just three of the Phelps clan, and did not even include patriarch and preacher-in-chief Fred Phelps. But their opponents took it seriously nonetheless, as did police:

The Hartford protest, which lasted less than 30 minutes, drew about a half-dozen counter-protesters and at least 10 law enforcement officials from several different departments.

Sending close to a dozen police to watch over a “protest” with only 3 protesters and 6 counter-protesters may seem excessive, but the Westboro folks have a poor reputation (albeit an earned one) which Connecticut law has already dealt, as the Courant goes on to say:

In the past, the group, which believes that the end of days forecast in the Bible is near, has shown up at military funerals, contending that service men and women were killed as punishment for the nation’s acceptance of homosexuality.

The Connecticut legislature passed a law in 2007 prohibiting pickets at funerals, largely in response to the church’s tactics.

As with megapastor Rick Warren and his repeated drivel, I have to wonder when clear-thinking Christians find some way to deal with the Westboro church and the Phelps clan. But I know they never will.

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A hat-tip to the Friendly Atheist blog, which comments on megapastor Rick Warren’s latest effort to rehabilitate himself after his previous excursion into stupidity, which as it turns out, became yet another example of exactly the same phenomenon. This time he spewed his drivel on Hugh Hewitt’s show (as related by the Friendly Atheist based on transcripts):

Watch how Warren explains New Atheism: …

HH: What do you make of the new atheism, whether it’s Lobdell or Hitchens or Richard Dawkins, and all the attention they’re getting?

RW: Well, first place, they’re making a ton of money, okay?

The implication is that making money reduces one’s credibility. People can make money publishing the truth, however, so Warren’s implication is false. Not only that … the last I know, Warren’s “Purpose-Driven” publishing franchise is a multi-million-dollar-a-year operation! So who the hell does Warren think he is to whine about someone else making money on books?

Fucking hypocrite.*

As usual, Warren veers into two very old, tired, and thoroughly invalid apologetic whines about atheists:

I’ve debated Hitchens and I debates [sic] Sam Harris, and I told Sam, I said Sam, to be honest with you, I have never known an atheist who wasn’t mad, who wasn’t angry. And he got angry about it. But the truth is, every one of them have a thorn.

This is the old “discredit atheists by labeling them as ‘angry'” tactic. Unfortunately, like his “they’re making money” remark, this too is fallacious. Not only can he not demonstrate these guys are “angry” (at least, no more or less than any other human being, Warren included), even if they were, their anger does not make them wrong. Angry people can be, and sometimes are, correct. The second old apologetic whine Warren tries is:

I could have gone up, stood up and said the fact of life, and for instance, far more people were killed in the 20th Century by atheist regimes than all of the people ever killed in religious regimes put together in history. When you take Mao, Stalin and Hitler, there’s no comparison the genocides that have been caused by atheists.

The Friendly Atheist reveals this complaint as bogus:

The whole argument about Mao and Stalin has been debunked repeatedly. While they may have been atheists, they didn’t kill in the “name of atheism.” Hitler was a Christian.

Having spewed these trite — and invalid — apologetic whines about atheists, he proceeds to regale Hewitt with a third one, which is new to me, if no less asinine:

Paul Vitz, who is an author with New York University, wrote a very fascinating book called Faith Of The Fathers, in which he went and studied the 72 most well-known atheists in history, the Bertrand Russells, the Voltaires, the Freuds, and the only thing he could find in common with every one of them is they all hated their dads. Every one of them. They had distant dad, demeaning dad, a dead dad, they had no relationships with their fathers.

So atheists are atheists because they had problems with their fathers, if we take Warren at his word. This is even more laughable than dismissing atheists as “angry.” What’s more, Warren knows he cannot prove that all atheists had problems with their fathers … so when he offers this theory, he is lying. Yet another lying liar for Jesus.

Not to mention, even if these people’s opinions were flavored by (bad) relationships with their fathers, that still does not mean they must be wrong. Even people with bad parental relationships, can be and often are correct about things.

I wonder when the rational Christians out there are finally going to summon the courage to do what they know ought to be done, and come up with some way to quiet Warren down, or else, drown out his crap somehow? (Answer: It will never happen. Christians do not criticize each other publicly. Ever.)

* Note that Warren — like virtually all other Christians who have ever lived — forgets that Jesus Christ himself explicitly, clearly, and unambiguously forbid his followers ever to be hypocritical. But that’s an old story.

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An outbreak of what is commonly being called “swine flu” (more scientifically, H1N1 influenza) is now underway. There is a real fear of the possibility of pandemic, so nations around the globe — including those not yet infected — are making plans to prevent this. In the midst of all the work that needs to be done, though, it turns out that someone has found the time to inject hyperreligiosity into the matter. The very name “swine flu” is religiously objectionable, as the BBC reports:

Israeli Health Minister Yakov Litzman has been updating a nervous public on the swine flu epidemic — and he started by renaming it for religious reasons.

“We will call it Mexican flu. We won’t call it swine flu,” said Mr Litzman, who belongs to the ultra-religious United Torah Judaism party. …

Yakov Litzman serves as deputy health minister in the recently-formed government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who took the position of health minister himself.

Mr Litzman is one of eight ultra-Orthodox Jewish ministers and deputy ministers in Mr Netanyahu’s administration.

Admittedly the term “swine flu” is not necessarily helpful in and of itself, and this particular outbreak may not have involved swine (the jury is still out on that). But, for better or worse, that’s how this particular variety of the flu is widely known, and has been for some time. Renaming at this point — for reasons other than scientific clarity — is probably not too smart, as it can promote confusion. But that hardly is the concern of hyperreligious folks. For them, names mean everything, to the point where they’re believed to have metaphysical power over things. Of course, it doesn’t matter that calling it “swine flu,” or “Mexican flu,” or “flibbertygibbet flu” for that matter, doesn’t make it any more or less deadly; but for those sufficiently in thrall to metaphysics, it does. I guess deputy minister Litzman doesn’t know his Shakespeare:

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet …
(Romeo & Juliet, Act II Scene 2)

Belief in the power of names to alter things, does not mean that they have this power. It just means people are able to delude themselves into thinking they do.

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We may as well forget about Pakistan. It’s lost to Islamic fundamentalism. CBS News reports on Pakistanis who are happy that the Taliban now controls part of the country:

Swat Valley is a picturesque region surrounded by high mountains in northern Pakistan. The government gave up the area to the Taliban (video) two weeks ago, in a peace-deal which a foreign ministry official on Thursday called “a local solution to a local problem”.

That local problem, however, is growing. Militants from Swat moved into the neighboring district of Buner this week.

Yes, folks, history repeats itself; as I predicted earlier, this is the “capitulation strategy” for dealing with enemies. (Then again, since Pakistan is a predominantly Islamic country and the word islam itself means “surrender,” what else could one expect?)

[T]he Taliban have been welcomed in Buner, as they were in Swat.

“Everyone here is happy with the Taliban,” one local man in Buner told CBS News. “The only people who are unhappy are the thieves, murderers and criminals. There is no Muslim in the world who would be unhappy with the Islamic way of life.”

Wonderful. Define the Taliban’s opponents as being — by definition — criminals, and naturally, no one will want to oppose them — for fear of being branded a “criminal”!

It turns out that mine is not the sole voice condemning Pakistan’s surrender to Islamic fundamentalism, as the CBS News report goes on to say:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said earlier this week that Pakistan’s leaders were “basically abdicating to the Taliban and to the extremists.”

She urged Pakistanis to “speak out forcefully against a policy that is ceding more and more territory.”

Sadly, no one with any power to stop this trend, has listened to her. Nor are they likely to do so any time soon. It’s over, folks. Pakistan will soon fall into the bottomless sinkhole of fundamentalist delusion … and there is pretty much no way to stop it.

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The little children who comprise the Religious Right in Connecticut — including the state’s Roman Catholic bishops, their puppets the Knights of Columbus, and various other theocratic groups — continue throwing tantrums over the fact that gay marriage is now legal here. A bill (SB 899) which would revise a number of state statutes to account for gay marriage is being considered — and the children are downright furious, as the Hartford Courant reports:

Six months after the state Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in Connecticut, opponents are opening a new front in the contentious battle.

Through a high-profile campaign that includes robocalls, TV spots, newspaper ads and messages from the pulpit, the Roman Catholic Church and other groups, both local and national, are making a last-ditch effort to carve out legal protections for business owners and professionals who oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds. …

What’s at stake, these groups say, are the rights of citizens whose religious beliefs teach them that homosexuality is sinful, immoral or wrong. They believe that being forced to play a part in such unions, whether as a wedding photographer documenting the nuptials, a justice of the peace overseeing the ceremony or a marriage therapist providing counseling afterward, violates their right to religious liberty.

The Catholic bishops are already on record as demanding the right of Catholic florists not to have to sell flowers to be used at gay weddings — even though Connecticut cannot guarantee this right for them, since it’s against federal civil-rights laws for businesses to discriminate against customers, and states cannot supersede that. These groups again are misrepresenting the truth, basing their claim on a unidirectional form of “religious freedom” (as the Courant article relates):

“Freedom of religion [is a] fundamental right that [has] been inscribed in our federal constitution forever,” said attorney John Droney, who is providing legal advice to the Knights of Columbus. “It doesn’t suddenly get put on the shelf because of this new, emerging right.”

Who a person chooses to marry is not the concern of the Catholic Church, or any other Religious Right group, if they aren’t members of that denomination or group. They do not accept that their “religious freedom” ends at the doors of their own homes and churches, and that other people, outside their religion, can do as they wish (so long as it’s legal). For them, having their own “religious freedom” requires they be allowed to interfere with the lives of everyone else.

The truth of the matter is that there is no “religious freedom” problem here:

Gay rights activists say they wouldn’t expect a Catholic priest to solemnize a gay union. But they say businesses and individuals that offer goods and services to the public must abide by anti-discrimination laws and face legal consequences if they do not.

“The United States constitution absolutely protects religious liberties and no one can force any religious organization to recognize any marriage they don’t want to recognize,” said Chris Edelson, state legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights group.

But, he added, “if you run a business that’s open to the public you cannot discriminate.”

As I’ve mentioned earlier, this principle is a federal civil-rights matter which companies such as Denny’s has run aground on. It is not at stake in SB 899, even though opponents irrationally and childishly claim it is. Unfortunately, we in Connecticut are forced to endure an extensive lobbying and advertising campaign based upon this lie that “religious freedom” is in peril:

Meanwhile, the National Organization for Marriage has launched a $1.5 million television ad campaign “highlighting the threat that same-sex marriage poses to the core civil rights of all Americans who believe in marriage as the union of a husband and wife,” the group said.

They can repeat themselves ad nauseum, but repetition doesn’t make them anything other than liars. (Why are we being subjected to so many lying liars for Jesus these days? Hmm?)

It’s worth noting that not all of Connecticut’s religious organizations and churches have fallen in with this lie. In a letter to the editor of the Courant, the conference minister of the Connecticut Conference, United Church of Christ, exposes this lie:

I object strenuously to the full-page ad that ran on April 16 and 17 about the same-gender-marriage bill now before the legislature. It asserts that “Church groups who won’t comply will be punished by the government.” This is not true and is fear-mongering at its worst. The other assertions about parents, schools and businesses are likewise false.

As the leader of the United Church of Christ in Connecticut, I can say with certainty that no citizen’s religious rights will be denied them with Bill 899. We have monitored it carefully and believe its passage, without amendment, will ensure the religious and civil rights of thousands.

It’s nice to see at least one Christian denomination standing up to these liars!

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Opponents of gay marriage, whose opposition is primarily fueled by religious belief frequently try to claim their opposition is based not on religion but on a general concern for children. They claim that anything other than a traditional “nuclear family” — complete with a working father and stay-at-home mother — is the single best form of family; anything else puts kids “at risk.” They spew this mantra endlessly without realizing that — although it may seem intuitively true (especially for those raised in such homes) — there is little to back it up.

Increasingly, it’s turning out that the opposite is true. Here’s a report from the Chicago Tribune (via its sister paper, the Miami Herald):

Sociologists Judith Stacey and Timothy Biblarz published an analysis in 2001 in the American Sociological Review of 21 studies of children raised by homosexual parents and found that, overall, they were no more likely to suffer from psychological problems than kids raised in conventional homes.

Ultimately, their findings were generally endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association and other mainstream organizations. …

Social scientists do raise issues about the methodology of any studies on the subject — arguing that the field is too young, the samples too small and the variables too many to obtain reliable data.

The bottom line is that within the research community there are no empirical studies demonstrating adverse effects, said Stacey, who is now at New York University. ”We know that a parent’s sexual orientation is not a significant factor. A good parent is a good parent … and parents who get along and are consistent in their child-rearing … have better outcomes than those who don’t,” she said.

In other words, there is no evidence yet that gay marriage is harmful to kids. Christians currently at war with gay marriage can believe all they want that it’s bad, but there is no evidence to support their claim. Their opposition is solely based on their own beliefs — nothing else.

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