When You Already Are the Middle Ground

We’ve all seen the media promote false equivalence in matters of science (evolution, climate change) and history (David Barton; need I say more?). Roy Speckhardt has a recent article up in The Huffington Post pointing out that they do the same thing when it comes to human rights.

Take for example the debates over LGBT rights. On one side are people who understand the constitutional guarantee of equal protection for all and advocate for marriage equality, employment non-discrimination, and equal benefits on that basis. Leading the opposition are religious fundamentalists, who interpret their holy scriptures as condemning homosexuality. While there are certainly two different opinions, only one is a valid expression of political thought, while the other is merely a vocalization of deeply held bias.

Arguments for LGBT discrimination are based not upon considerations for public health or legal precedent but upon religiously enshrined prejudice. It’s embarrassing and unjust that practices like employment or housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity persist in many states. And one of the ways this discrimination continues is through fabricated debate on topics not worthy of deliberation.

Speckhardt also mentions men’s rights activists in his post, which makes the comments what you might expect.

The important thing about these “debates”, aside from acknowledging that they are used to hurt and control people, is to recognize their shape. [Read more...]

We Have No Authority

By now I think we all know how the corruption and unparalleled power of the Catholic Church has led to the sexual assault and rape of an appalling number of children. Because Benny the Rat was responsible for policies that kept priests abusing, it’s easy to point to the top and say that we’ve found the problem.

Of course, that isn’t actually true. The unearned authority of an institution like the Catholic Church means that when a corrupt decision is made, it has far-reaching effects. It doesn’t mean that corruption can’t be a factor in similar cases on a much smaller scale.

Since Smith’s arrest in October on sexual abuse and statutory rape charges, which follow similar allegations from 2010, forgiveness from his congregation has become critical to his survival as its pastor. It is this group of about 100 souls — not a bishop, nor a disciplinary committee nor national church leaders at a faraway headquarters — who will decide Smith’s future in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Unlike members of many denominations — such as Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalian and Presbyterians — Southern Baptists don’t conform to a centralized, hierarchical structure.

Instead, authority resides at the local church level. And that’s true even amid allegations of clergy misconduct.

Would anyone care to guess what kind of considerations are being used to decide this? [Read more...]

Speaking for the Religious

When atheists criticize religion, we alienate the religious. The more harshly we criticize it, the more we alienate.

Right? That’s one of the pervasive tropes, invisible in its ubiquity. It is one reason given by some people who really want to do interfaith work and extend hands to the religious for telling us to hush up and tone it down.

We seem mean. We appear to be attacking people. Our anger and disgust are unpleasant, unattractive emotions. We’re pushing away the moderates who could be our allies.

But is it true? Well, let me tell you a little story.
[Read more...]

It’s the Authority, Stupid

This week is full of commitments and deadlines. Rather than try to meet all my blogging commitments with new work and failing, I’m pulling out some old posts. Given how my audience has grown, most of you won’t have read them at the time. This post was originally published here.

Massimo Pigliucci has a post up entitled “The goals of atheist activism.” *sigh*

I recommend PZ’s post deconstructing much of Massimo’s argument and note that Massimo is every bit as wrong about the confrontational tactics of the gay rights movement as he is about the civil rights movement. If he thinks people weren’t called “murderers” over their response to the AIDS crisis, he wasn’t paying attention.

I’ll add a harumph of my own for the idea that atheists don’t experience “real discrimination.” Maybe Massimo and his friends have things cushy enough that the kinds of discrimination atheists face aren’t real to them. It’s a little different for those who had to fight to prove they were fit to be custodial parents. It’s different for those politicians who know they can’t aspire to higher office without facing de facto religious tests in their districts. It’s different for those who work for religious bosses or companies and get to choose between being quiet and fighting a lawsuit for discriminatory treatment or termination that they can’t actually afford.

But this post isn’t actually about atheists. This post is about the fact that Massimo still managed to miss my main goal in his list, despite me pointing him to my response to the Stedman article when Massimo linked it on Twitter. [Read more...]

How They Do It

I’ve mentioned around here before that I spent sixth grade in three elementary schools. I’ve also mentioned that in the last one, I managed not to make a single friend in the six months I was there. I’ve never really talked about why.

It wasn’t me, particularly. It was the atmosphere of the classroom. [Read more...]

At Least He’s Trying

You’re getting newsy bits until I can stay awake and focused long enough to do some writing again. Here’s a local one–another sexual abuse scandal in a church.

Darwin Schauer worked for eight years as a lay pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lake George, Minnesota, a small community southwest of Bemidji. He did so despite the fact that district leaders of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod knew he was convicted in 1983 of sexual abuse of a minor.

Schauer, 70, retired in 2008, but continued to fill in as a minister at Trinity up until early March, when he was arrested and charged with 15 counts of criminal sexual conduct for allegedly having sex with a 15-year-old girl.

Now, the ordained pastor who replaced Schauer, the Rev. Don Kirchner, is demanding a shakeup of the Missouri Synod’s leadership in response to the fact church officials tolerated a sex offender continuing to work in a leadership position.

Let’s hope he gets it. It’s bad enough that the unearned authority of a priesthood is there to be abused in cases like this. It’s even worse that those with more authority abused their positions of trust to make it possible.

Note as well that this is one of the things that makes the structure of the Catholic church an evil in and of itself. At least this pastor has a chance of making changes. That can’t happen in a completely top-down organization with a leader who claims unique access to the mind of God.

Iowa Jury Decides Assault Just Fine for Pastors

That isn’t what the headlines read, of course, but it’s hard to read it any other way.

The confirmation student testified earlier Friday that the incident started when he wouldn’t stop using his cell phone in class.

The Mason City High School student said he was using his cell phone in class to text a friend about the Mason City High School homecoming football game.

He said Nelson told him to put the phone away and when he didn’t Nelson allegedly snatched it out his hand.

The boy said he responded by saying “What the (expletive)?”

The boy said Nelson punched him in his upper right arm eight to 10 times with a closed fist.

The only differences between the teen’s testimony and the pastor’s are that the pastor says it was six times with an open hand and that the teen swore twice instead of once. [Read more...]

How to Fix a Bad Pastor

You’ve probably heard of Bishop Eddie Long. If you didn’t already know him as one of the many “men of God” who have gotten into trouble for using their positions to coerce sex (Long to the tune of reported a $15 million settlement), you probably heard about his “crowning” just over a week ago.

Bishop Eddie Long has apologized to the Anti-Defamation League over an incident in which he was wrapped in a Torah scroll and crowned “king.”

As shown in a video that went viral, the televangelist was wrapped in a “Holocaust Torah” and crowned king during a recent ceremony at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, his suburban Atlanta congregation.

“The ceremony was not my suggestion, nor was it my intent, to participate in any ritual that is offensive in any manner to the Jewish community, or any group. Furthermore, I sincerely denounce any action that depicts me as a King, for I am merely just a servant of the Lord,” Long wrote in a letter dated Saturday.

Urban Faith has used the bizarre ritual as an opportunity to talk more generally about pastors behaving badly. [Read more...]

Catholics Still Trying to “Kill the Indian”

At the Sacred Heart Catholic Academy in Shawano, WI, just off the edge of Menominee reservation, which holds about half the state’s Menominee population, a seventh grader was recently suspended from a basketball game for teaching a friend a few words of the dying Menominee language.

The principal told Washinawatok that the assistant coach told him she was told by two teachers to bench Miranda for attitude problems.

The alleged ‘attitude problem’ turned out to be that Miranda said the Menominee word

“posoh”
that means
“hello”

and said

“Ketapanen”

in Menominee that means “I love you.”

Miranda and a fellow classmate were talking to each other when Miranda told her how to say “Hello” and “I love you” in Menominee.

“The teacher went back to where the two were sitting and literally slammed her hand down on the desk and said, “How do I know you are not saying something bad?”

The story did not end there. In the next session, another teacher told Miranda she did not appreciate her getting the other teacher upset because “she is like a daughter to me.”

That’s right: teachers ganging up on a student because she is part of a world they are not, because she dared to spend time in that world in front of them, because someone speaking a language they haven’t learned must be assumed to be doing something bad.

In this, of course, the Catholic school teachers were continuing the policies of Richard Pratt, the founder of the first U.S. residential school specifically designed to wipe out Native American culture. His is the infamous quote:

A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one. In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.

Remember that the next time someone wants to tell you that what happened in the boarding schools did not constitute genocide. It was explicitly intended to. Remember it also when you hear people talking about how immigration is acceptable as long as people assimilate. Remember the cultural heritage of people who insist those around them should speak only English.

The Menominee language is a highly endangered language as a direct result of the actions of Pratt and those who followed his lead–and of the Roman Catholic church. The church ran the boarding school on the Menominee reservation, a school where the native language was deliberately killed off.

Marie Warrington Floring doesn’t recall much of her childhood.

But some painful memories of growing up in a boarding school for Native Americans still linger.

Violating rules was met with harsh discipline; even worse punishment was meted out for speaking Menominee. For Floring and others — who went months each year without seeing parents or siblings — feelings of isolation were the worst of all.

Miranda is one of the few people of her generation to speak Menominee. Her grandmother is a linguist and very actively involved in preserving the Menominee language and culture. Miranda speaks Menominee at home with her family. But when she spoke it in public, when she tried to teach a fellow student (60% of whom are also Menominee), her Catholic school teacher decided she was doing something wrong.

Then, because it wasn’t enough to be told that anything the teacher couldn’t decipher must be something bad, Miranda’s pride in her heritage was marked as bad attitude. The punishment for that wasn’t simply meted out by this teacher, either. Two teachers ganged up on this child and persuaded the basketball coach to punish her for them. Instead of taking any interest in the heritage of 60% of their students, these teachers used their authority to try to wipe it off the map.

Ah, how far we’ve come.

D.J. Grothe on the Feminist and Atheist Blogospheres

In the discussion of my post suggesting D.J. Grothe has a bad habit of walking into arguments and taking a side without fulling understanding the implications (which he assures me he doesn’t), he signed off with the following:

This will be my last post on this topic. I’ll go back to believing what I have believed for a while now about some of these atheist blogs, now yours included: that fomenting movement controversy often seems to be prized over honest and sincere argument, that some folks are too quick to vilify and engage in destructive in-group/out-group thinking, that these online communities are exclusive rather than inclusive, and that unfortunately as a whole, the feminist and atheist blogospheres often operate quite separately from and counter the growing skeptical movement working to combat unreason and harmful pseudoscience in society.

Now, there are a few things to be noted about this statement. [Read more...]