Jo Hovind sentenced

One year and a day for Mrs. Hovind, whose charming husband — who’s now holding comical not-quite-Socratic dialogues with God, it would seem — once told her she needed to “advance” because she was actually starting to feel twinges of guilt and remorse over their dishonest and criminal activities. I’m not adding the “schadenfreude” tag to this one, because I actually feel a little sorry for Jo. It’s evident she’s played the role of quiet submissive Christian wife putting up with all manner of verbal bullying from an arrogant and self-righteous husband much too long. I hope when she gets out, she will advance — right down the road to the divorce court, to start over in a new life.

God’s forgiveness = self-forgiveness

From the world of phony sports — to which I customarily pay zero attention — comes this grisly tale of professional wrestler Chris Benoit, who murdered his wife and child and then killed himself. After killing his family, he placed a Bible next to their bodies.

This isn’t going to be another of those posts full of “religion kills” bromides. In this case, the possible reason for Benoit’s rampage may be linked to his use of too much of what the bodybuilding world calls Vitamin S. But the role the Bible plays here is interesting. Having no expertise in the mental health field at all, my built-in atheist’s “skepdar” (a wonderful term someone on the ACA’s Yahoo group came up with) tells me that Benoit was using religion as many people do in life: a forgiveness quick-fix, the moral equivalent of using Fix-a-Flat to pump up a punctured tire.

While Christians go on about how no one without religion can possibly have a moral compass to follow, what they never talk about is the way in which people who do embrace religion, however fervently or casually, typically behave no better than unbelievers, and oftimes worse. And when they do behave worse, they use religion as a convenient thing to fall back upon, either to justify their actions, or to showboat a fake display of remorse.

Many Christians will respond to this by agreeing wholeheartedly, then by attacking those people for moral hypocrisy and not being “true” Christians. This misses the point. I think Christianity unintentionally sets itself up to be used in this way by giving people a poor understanding of morality, and of the difference between right and wrong in the first place. As Stephen has pointed out here, Christianity paradoxically wants people to be good, then gives them bad reasons to do so. Christian morality is entirely tied in to how well one obeys divine rules and commandments. One should not kill or steal because it will anger God (except in those cases where it’s okay) and could doom you to hell. That killing takes a life, which is in and of itself bad, and that stealing involves taking something that isn’t yours and that you haven’t earned from someone who has earned it, which is in and of itself bad, is significantly less relevant to Christian thought. The only consequence to be feared is the displeasure of God. All of us have heard (and if you haven’t yet, it’s quite sobering to hear it for the first time) some Christians say that if there were no God, then they’d see no reason whatsoever not to just go off on a wild murder rampage, wreaking merciless havoc with gleeful impunity. Whether or not they actually would if presented with the chance, or whether it’s all just talk, is immaterial. That a Christian would even say such a thing with a straight face underscores the darkly ironic fact that many of the people who consider themselves to be the world’s poster children for all things righteous and moral simply do not comprehend what the terms “right” and “wrong” even mean.

But what of the believer who does go off on that rampage. Well, then, there’s God’s “forgiveness”. Since praying is really nothing other than glorified talking-to-yourself, how easy it must be for a person who does something really horrible to tell themselves, “Hey, it’s not that big a deal after all,” simply by praying, and enjoying a little delusional exchange in which they themselves, playing the role of creator and ruler of the universe, bestow instant “forgiveness”. Occasionally, the display is brazen, as in Kent Hovind’s bizarre dialogue with God in which Kent reinforces his belief in his own martyrdom and heroism to a degree that bespeaks genuine mental illness.

But other times, the self-forgiveness is more subtle and cynical. Benoit’s is a perfect example. I suspect he placed the Bible next to his murdered family either in the effort to convince himself that it wasn’t such a bad thing, what he did and all, because his wife and child were in Heaven now, or simply to assuage his own sense of guilt about the murders through a feeble gesture that he hoped would placate his invisible friend. Or both.

Either way, religion made it easier for him to carry out his crime, rather than giving him the intellectual and moral tools to stop himself from carrying it out. Because Benoit lacked the ability to make rational decisions in life — perhaps a combination of steroid use, religion, and too many blows to the head — he and his family are now dead. And all the little gestures of piety in the world don’t change that.

At least the neocon wingnuts can’t claim SCOTUS is too “liberal” now

Word is now getting around that the Supreme Court made the wrong decision regarding sudent free speech rights, when, this morning, they decided against a student who had sued his high school for suspending him over displaying a farcical banner reading “Bong Hits 4 Jesus”. Evidently even the hint that a student might be promoting drug use, even when the display is quite obviously a stupid joke, is enough that a principal can justifiably trample over that student’s expression.

“It was reasonable for (the principal) to conclude that the banner promoted illegal drug use — and that failing to act would send a powerful message to the students in her charge,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court’s majority.

Please. “Reasonable”? Only if you have two feet of a broom handle lodged up your colon. That the banner is an admittedly juvenile and stupid expression of humor ought to be obvious. There’s not even any context for the statement. To take it seriously prompts the question: is “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” advocating behavior to be enjoyed on general principles, or is it advertising a school club? No, it was just a teenager writing something dorky that other teenagers would find amusing on a banner, just to get a reaction. That may be immature, but should it be a forbidden form of expression?

One ought to be wary of slippery slope fallacies, but I can see this opening the door to other restrictions on student speech simply based on someone even thinking there may be the possibility that a student has just said something promoting an illegal act. Over the years there have been many attempts to ban certain books from school libraries, ban certain clubs (yes, I do happen to think those “pray around the flagpole” groups have a right to do their thing, as long as it isn’t sponsored by the school, and they only meet before or after school hours), and what have you. This decision will more than likely lead to more and more students having to watch what they say for fear of Big Brother. What kind of lesson is that to teach budding young citizens of a “free” country?

Today’s show topic: “Angry” Atheists

Here are links to the things I’m reading from on today’s episode of The Atheist Experience:

- Russell

Bush keeps dropping, but what’s the alternative?

Ol’ Shrub’s poll numbers keep plummeting, all the way down to a 26% approval rating in the latest Newsweek survey. Needless to say, three-dollar gas and ongoing headlines like “12 U.S. troops killed in Iraq in 48 hours” can’t be helping him. And his recent decision, once again, to put pandering to his Christian Right base before science and veto the latest stem-cell research bill that an overwhelming majority of Americans support are only knocking him lower.

But things aren’t all rosy for the Democrats either. Congress’s approval rating is only at 25%, with even 60% of Democratic voters disdaining the job they’re doing. And I’m one of them. These folks were voted back in charge of both the House and Senate in 2006 on the expectation that they’d stand up to this cretinous, renegade administration and force some accountability into the picture. Instead, they’re back to their old business of caving in with little fight, sending him a pathetic “compromise” bill on Iraq that doesn’t do anything so irritating as set a time limit for troop withdrawal. The Republicans may be theocratic scum, but fuck — the Dems are just pathetic in the extreme. To paraphrase Scalzi: here’s Bush, the least popular and least competent president in our nation’s entire history, and the Democrats, for nearly eight years, have consistently found themselves politically flummoxed and outmaneuvered by him at every turn.

If only Canada didn’t get so golddarn cold…

Lunatic Baptists shut down summer library program with threats of violence

Here’s a bit of “Christian Love” from South Carolina. A summer reading program geared towards young adults and children has been shut down following a number of threats, many of them violent, that have been traced to a local Baptist church. Now, here’s the thing: a lot of what was going to be covered in this program is stuff I would object to, on the grounds that it appears to have been in the interests of promoting lots of woo — astrology, Tarot, numerology, that kind of crap. I mean, damn it all, shouldn’t summer library programs be educational in nature, and all about such things as science, history, and literature, rather than promoting even more idiotic superstitions?

Now, the difference is that my way of objecting to the materials would have involved sending polite but strongly worded letters to the library directors, as well as to local newspapers. But that isn’t how these followers of the Lamb chose to go about it. And it isn’t that they object to teaching idiotic superstitions. It’s just that they only want theirs taught. Yoga programs were condemned as “teaching other religions” (whoa, can’t have that shit in a free and pluralistic society!), and a T-shirt making workshop was objected to — you’ll love this — as promoting “the hippie culture and drug use.”

Library Director Marguerite Keenan reports that at least one bomb threat has come in. What is it with religionists and blowing stuff up? Clearly, these brave Christian soldiers feel they’re doing what’s best for the sanctity of their beloved Christian community. Jesus loves you, remember that. And if you don’t, we’re coming after you!

Who the hell are these barbarians infesting my city?

Okay, this is not necessarily a theism/atheism issue, but it is pretty outrageous all the same. And I think it conclusively illustrates what happens when people dispense with reason and give in to base emotional impulses. Frankly, anyone who values “feeling” over thinking is a rank idiot, and this example settles the issue.

Here’s what happened: Following a Juneteenth celebration in east Austin, a man accidentally struck a small child with his car, causing only minor injuries. When he stopped and got out, he was set upon by an enraged mob. When his passenger got out to defend him, the mob turned on him and beat him to death.

Yeah, no shit. This is the 21st fucking century, and this happened.

Would it be redundant to say that this is the same kind of mob mentality that unscrupulous, fundamentalist religions exploit to persuade their lunatic followers to become suicide bombers? Would it be equally redundant to say there’s something so very Old Testament about crazed, murderous gangs exacting street justice? What we need more of in our culture is education in critical thinking — the simple art of using your brain, and not just its limbic system, to solve problems in a sensible and non-reactionary manner. Sadly, what too many people would rather see our educational system doing is forcing kids to their knees in prayer and embracing religious pseudoscience in biology class. Actually honing your mind so that it’s a skilled problem-solving instrument is less desirable, it seems, than filling it with ancient dogmas so you don’t have to think for yourself.

The cause of violence: evolution or religion?

Care to guess?

Heads up to PZ for this one. In the wake of the Viriginia Tech massacre, when deranged student Seung Hui Cho mowed down 32 people, right-wing commentators wasted no time in laying the blame on liberalism, secularism, and the teaching of evolution. Among the more brainless remarks was this one from — surprise surprise! — professional idiot Ken Ham.

We live in an era when public high schools and colleges have all but banned God from science classes. In these classrooms, students are taught that the whole universe, including plants and animals–and humans–arose by natural processes. Naturalism (in essence, atheism) has become the religion of the day and has become the foundation of the education system (and Western culture as a whole). The more such a philosophy permeates the culture, the more we would expect to see a sense of purposelessness and hopelessness that pervades people’s thinking. In fact, the more a culture allows the killing of the unborn, the more we will see people treating life in general as “cheap.”

Blah blah blah. Well, guess what it turns out was really on the mind of the VT killer? (Emphasis added.)

Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also think Cho mentally and physically tried to transform himself into an alter ego he called “Ax Ishmael” before his rampage…. Investigators think “Ax Ishmael” is based on the biblical figure Ishmael, the son of Hagar, a maidservant to Sarah, and the prophet Abraham. Ishmael lived as an outcast, and his brother Isaac was favored. Writings that Cho left in his dorm room, sent to the Virginia Tech English Department and mailed to NBC reveal twisted references to religion as part of his identity.

Cho, 23, of Centreville, whose family was religious and had sought help for him from a Woodbridge church, repeatedly made religious references. He said that he had been “crucified” and that, as with Jesus, his actions would set people free. He called himself a “martyr” who would “sacrifice” his life. He wrote that he would go down in history as the “Jesus Christ of the Weak and Defenseless.” He thought his actions would inspire others to fight back and get even.

Ah, so! Lessee here. References to the Holy Babble and Jeebus: lots and lots! References to Charles Darwin: zippo!

Now, I confess, the title of this post has a high snark level. For me to say that religion was the “cause” of Cho’s rampage would be every bit as stupid as the claims of uneducated creationists who say it’s the fault of teaching proper science and of not forcing religion down the throats of students every day. Mental health is a complex issue, and there are numerous factors that lead to madness.

However, it’s telling that we have frequently had accounts of all-out acts of wanton violence in society in which fanatical religious delusions reared their frazzled heads, and none in which science and evolution did. It’s also telling that religious mania is a known psychological disorder, whereas no one has ever been diagnosed with “evo-mania”. Possessing knowledge about how the world really works simply does not move a person to violence. Indeed, violence is most frequently perpetrated by people who are angry that the world isn’t working the way they feel it should, and the way they feel it should is most often dictated by a religious or political ideology.

Also disgusting is the way in which especially fanatical religionists make heroes and martyrs out of those who kill for their interests, all the while rushing to vilify science and “Darwinism” when people kill for reasons that don’t support extremist agendas. The most egregious display of pro-murder religiosity lately has been the announcement of “Paul Hill Days,” sponsored by the anti-abortion terrorist organization (that’s not hyperbole, people) Army of God, to whom I refuse to link. This repugnant farce, scheduled to be inflicted upon the citizens of Milwaukee, will celebrate executed murderer Paul Hill, who gunned down abortion provider John Britton and his clinic escort James Barrett. Hill also wounded Britton’s wife in the attack. Here’s how the sick minds sponsoring this “memorial tour” &#151 during which they plan to re-enact Hill’s murders — distort the situation: “On July 29th, 1994, Paul Hill boldly defended 31 babies from unspeakable violence by killing a paid assassin and his bodyguard. He was arrested, given a sham trial, and executed as a martyr.”

One simply does not have the warped view of reality presented here, and in the case of Cho, unless one has bizarre beliefs dictating that you have the right to kill and wreak havoc if reality isn’t flattering those beliefs. It’s no different than what motivates Islamist suicide bombers. And it doesn’t happen in the minds of atheists and rationalists with good educations in science and a firm grasp, not only on reality, but on the fact that reality isn’t obligated to revolve around them.

Scalzi to invade the Creation “Museum”

This is hilarious. Popular blogger and science fiction writer John Scalzi was being bugged by some of his readers to go visit Ken Ham’s ludicrous joke down in Kentucky, since it’s evidently a very short drive from where Scalzi lives in rural Ohio. Scalzi set up a challenge; he’d agree to go to the “museum,” and post a snarky report on his blog, if any fraction of his 25,000 daily readers would collectively donate a grand total of $250, which Scalzi will in turn be donating to Barry Lynn’s Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. (Personally I think a donation to the National Center for Science Education might be more apropos in this context, but hey, it’s Scalzi’s deal, so he can run it however he wants to.)

Pah! $250? That’s chump change! Scalzi has raised over $5100. So everybody’s happy…except Scalzi. The AU gets a whopping enormous donation, the blogosphere is about to get one of the funniest field reports from the Kentucky Monument to Willful Ignorance ever posted…but of course, now poor John actually has to go. His response to his readers: “Hate. You. All.” Yeah, fine, John. Just hurry back, won’t you! I can’t wait to read about the coconut-eating T. Rexes!

I personally love the idea of using the foolish activities of fundamentalist clots as a vehicle to fund-raise for groups that actually support quality science and who stand against theocracy and ignorance. I wonder what can be done in the Austin area to get some money for the NSCE or other like-minded groups? Maybe sending an atheist to a psychic fair to raise cash for the JREF, or something like that. But hey…don’t look at me!