It’s the Authority, Stupid

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…]

The Alternatives to Confrontationalism

Chris Stedman has one of those posts up at The Huffington Post today. You know the sort: “But I’m the good kind of atheist. Not like them.”

The first “them” in this case is the set of the American Atheists No God Blog, PZ Myers, JT Eberhard, and Al Stefanelli. Their crime? Not mincing words in calling Islam particularly violent, cowardly, and misogynistic. The problem?

None of these are reasonable critiques of any specific Islamic beliefs. They are broad generalizations and they do nothing to further the discourse on ethics — atheistic or Islamic.

What Stedman cites as objectionable are (except for Stefanelli’s, which is in the middle of a post that cites relevant passages from the Koran, making it rather bizarre that Stedman would level that particular criticism at it) offhand remarks in blog posts about things like threatening the lives of cartoonists who have depicted Mohammed or condoning forced child marriage and rape. The actions being condemned are, in fact, spurred by specific beliefs with their basis in the Koran, even if the bloggers don’t stop to cite chapter and verse.

I’m not sure what Stedman thinks would be a “reasonable critique” of these situations that would “further the discourse on ethics.” Perhaps a nice roundtable discussion of the various accepted interpretations of the passages in question? We could have a fundamentalist representative or two, a few more liberal members who think this sort of behavior should be reserved for Allah only (who could argue amongst themselves whether it was also acceptable for the prophet or whether his flaws merely proved his humanity), and someone who insists it’s all poetry, highly suitable for meditation.

This is, of course, the problem with much of the accommodationist set. They purse up their lips and flutter their fingertips in the general direction of all that strife, but they never tell you what the alternatives are.

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With Faith, Nothing Is Impermissible

That’s right. Not “impossible.” Impermissible.

We’ve seen how far faith gets you when you want to defy the laws of physics or reproduce miracles. That would be “not very.” However, it appears to get you much, much further when all you want to violate is basic human decency, as Ophelia has spent a good chunk of the day documenting.

Ohhhhhh shit, how did I miss this – the House passed a bill in October that “makes it legal for hospitals to deny abortions to pregnant women with life-threatening conditions.”

Remember Thomas Olmsted, bishop of Phoenix? Who stripped St Joseph’s Hospital of its Catholic status because it aborted a fetus that was doomed in any case, in order to save the mother (who has four small children)? Remember the ACLU letter to the Feds urging them to enforce the law – the law that says hospitals can’t deny patients life-saving procedures?

As she points out, passed by the House is not the same thing as law, but it’s a damned important step along the way. and what are we stepping toward?

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How an Authoritarian Protects the Vulnerable

Sexual assault happens disproportionately to the most vulnerable among us, those without resources, those who aren’t trusted or heard, those who are despised, those whom the law stands against. Women are assaulted at higher rates than men. The poor and uneducated are more likely to be assaulted than the rich and educated, and the homeless…well. Ethnic minorities are more vulnerable than whites. The mentally ill are more likely to be assaulted than the generally sane.

Sexual minorities are more likely to be assaulted than the vanilla, heterosexual monogamous. The genderqueer are more vulnerable than gender-normative performers.

Those who break (enforced) laws are more likely to be assaulted than those who don’t, both inside and outside of incarceration. Illegal immigrants are more vulnerable than those who can go to authorities without fear of deportation.

Then there are children.

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Understanding Penn State

I’ve read very little of the mainstream media coverage of the corruption in the Penn State football program, largely because if I hear/read someone talking about what this means for the future of the program, I may have to commit homicide. As a result, and because I follow some excellent people on Twitter, I suggest the following reading if you want to know what’s going on.

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The Police Must Be Protected

Recently, I put up a picture of police in formation in riot gear, with the caption, “You can always tell who came to start a riot by how they dress.” I got comments like, “I protesters refuse to stop breaking a law, then they need to be arrested, and more power to the police if they chose to wear protective equipment.”

One of the things I appreciate about the Occupy movement is that it is actually televised (yay, internet!). That means you can see what the police need to protect themselves from. Like this:

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Evil Enough Already

One of the progressive activists I follow on Twitter posted a link last night.

In a story that is almost too horrific to believe, what looks to be a childrens’ mass burial ground has been discovered around the Mohawk Institute Indian residential school near Brantford, Ontario, Canada.

The International Tribunal into Crimes of Church and State continues:

“According to Rev. Kevin Annett, Secretary of the International Tribunal for Crimes of Church and States (, the Mohawk Institute was “set up by the Anglican Church of England in 1832 to imprison and destroy generations of Mohawk children. This very first Indian [First Nations] residential school in Canada lasted until 1970, and, like in most residential schools, more than half of the children imprisoned there never returned. Many of them are buried all around the school.”

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Women Can Teach; You Just Can’t Be Obliged to Listen

Thanks (of a sort) to Dan J, who pointed me to an article on the question of whether it’s okay for good Christian men to listen to the speeches of a popular woman evangelical. Its title? “Is It Wrong for Men to Listen to Female Speakers?” The answer?

We don’t need to be picky on this. The Bible is clear that women shouldn’t teach and have authority over men. In context, I think this means that women shouldn’t be the authoritative teachers of the church-they shouldn’t be elders. That is the way Rick Warrenis understanding it, and most of us understand it that way.

This doesn’t mean you can’t learn from a woman, or that she is incompetent and can’t think. It means that there is a certain dynamic between maleness and femaleness that when a woman begins to assume an authoritative teaching role in your life the manhood of a man and the womanhood of a woman is compromised.

What I just said is unbelievably controversial. There are thousands, even millions of people that think this idea is absolutely obscene.

Personally, I find it all terribly…convenient.

Yes, of course you can use women to carry your message, but that doesn’t actually put them in any position to argue with you. It doesn’t give them any right to challenge your unearned authority. That is, of course, what religion is all about for you. As long as you get to keep the privilege of making your whims and prejudices everyone else’s business, you’ll let a few women make ridiculous amounts of money talking about them too. You’ll let them be persuasive and emotional on your behalf. But only as long as they agree with you.

Not that these few women get nothing out of the deal. The person who asked the question knows, even if the fellow answering it doesn’t, that it isn’t that simple to deny the authority of a persuasive speaker. That’s why he asked. But even beyond that, that rare woman who is publicly both forceful and humble enough to be allowed that job becomes a very special snowflake indeed.

So, yes, dear boys. You are allowed to listen to women speakers. You just can’t, you know, listen to them.

And girls, you may allow yourself to strive very hard to be the sort of woman who is occasionally allowed to be heard. Or, if you find the idea as obscenely regressive as author L. M. Montgomery did more than a hundred years ago, you can always see how well your church does without your help.

The Contraband Library

File under Things That Made My Day: What could make a Catholic schoolgirl more appealing than running a lending library of books her school has banned?

Nekochan wrote about the recent book ban: “I was absolutely appalled, because a huge number of the books were classics and others that are my favorites. One of my personal favorites, The Catcher in the Rye, was on the list, so I decided to bring it to school to see if I would really get in trouble. Well… I did but not too much. Then (surprise!) a boy in my English class asked if he could borrow the book because he heard it was very good AND it was banned! This happened a lot and my locker got to overflowing with banned books, so I decided to put the unoccupied locker next to me to a good use. I now have 62 books in that locker, about half of what was on the list.”

This is a win all around. With Nekochan’s help, these kids are not only challenging the arbitrary authority of their school and their religion. They’re also getting a better education than they would even if the books were assigned.

Nekochan recognizes the risk that she could get in trouble for supplying her classmates with banned books, but she believes that she is in the right. “Before I started [the library], almost no kid at school but myself took an active interest in reading! Now not only are all the kids reading the banned books, but go out of their way to read anything they can get their hands on. So I’m doing a good thing, right?”

Absolutely right, Nekochan.

[ETA: See the comments for doubts raised about the truth of this story–some silly and some more serious.]