Westboro scum slapped with $11 million judgment

Filthpig Fred Phelps and his gang of funeral-picketing ghouls have been ordered to pay the family of Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, killed in Iraq, nearly $11 million in damages as a result of a lawsuit brought by the slain veteran’s father.

Naturally, they will appeal, as the judge in the case fully (and, one assumes, cheerfully) admits that the award “far exceeds the net worth of the defendants.” Hell, that would be the case if Snyder’s family had been awarded a sack full of cat turds. Still, there are two ways to deal with Phelps and his disciples, it seems. Either walk up to them when they’re at their next picket and shoot each of them in the head (which, I suspect, would be frowned upon as overdoing it even by everyone who doesn’t like them), or keep bleeding them white with these suits until they can’t even afford to keep a vehicle to drive them all to their latest hate rally. Yeah yeah, free speech, whatever. If it’s their free speech to be dispicable swine, then I say it’s everyone else’s to counter them however they see fit. Remember, this kind of thing — hate speech, I mean — doesn’t so much take place in a “marketplace” of ideas as in a boxing ring. Phelps is free to don his gloves and jump in for a few rounds. But he shouldn’t snivel and whine if he gets TKO’d.

Let’s hope the appellate court has the decency to uphold the award, and isn’t swayed by the “but it’s our religion!” argument to rationalize antisocial behavior intentionally designed to inflict pain and suffering.

Two sleazy rackets that go extra-sleazy together!

From CNN comes this fascinating article informing us that some Christian churches have started incorporating, of all things, Scientology literature into their ministries. One of these churches is right down the road in Houston, where Rev. James McLaughlin of the Wayman Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church (that’s already a head-swirling doctrinal combination as it is) has begun teaching from late sci-fi hack L. Ron Hubbard’s The Way to Happiness.

“I’m looking for solutions, and the people that I help, they don’t ask me who L. Ron Hubbard is,” said McLaughlin, who works with addicts. “You know what they say? ‘Thank God.'”

Well, sure they do, because religion basically appeals to emotionally weak and vulnerable people who aren’t big into rationalism and critical thinking in the first place. All you have to do is sell them warm, fuzzy hope in an easy-to-absorb, Sesame Street-level lesson plan, and they’re hooked. They don’t notice the discrepancies between Scientology’s and Christianity’s disparate teachings, because they’re not the kinds of people who think about their beliefs. They just believe their beliefs.

Still, these ministers ought to know better. It’s bad enough they’re pushing Christianity’s repugnant dogmas in the first place. To be patently indifferent to Scientology’s repellent history of cult indoctrination, harassment, intimidation, and outright murder as long as they get some kind of vapid “feel-good” message across shows their moral bankruptcy in all its dark splendor.

Halloween and the fundamentalist inability to distinguish fantasy from reality

While the rest of us gather ’round every October 31 for parties, dressing up, taking the kids (if you got ’em) trick-or-treating, and watching scary movies on DVD till all hours, it’s easy to forget that there is an entire segment of the populace — Christian fundamentalists — who go out of their way to avoid Halloween altogether on the grounds that it really scares them. Scares them because they think Satan and demons are really real, and that the guy with the pitchfork and his wicked minions actually walk the earth on this fell night.

A recent article on ChristiaNet.com points out:

Out of 2,000 Christians surveyed, an overwhelming 66% believed that all Christians should avoid the celebration of Halloween all together. One poller said, “Halloween is evil. It glorifies the Devil!” Others made references to the original roots of the holiday, “Halloween was a Pagan festival and still is. If we participate in it, what are we teaching our children?”

This last quote is particularly funny, because as anyone should know, Christmas and Easter were originally pagan holidays too. Christianity didn’t exactly introduce any new holidays into the calendar. It merely co-opted those that were already there.

As for the question of what they may be teaching their children (and I pity those children), the best guess I can make is that they’re teaching them that their family are a bunch of killjoy weirdos who make them stay home while all their friends get to go out, play dress-up, grab loads of free candy, and have a good time.

Here’s the Good News, folks: demons and monsters don’t exist. The kinds of ooga-booga creatures of the night we all have fun dressing up as on Halloween have always been mere externalizations of humanity’s inner demons, those neuroses to which we affix labels and faces, to detach ourselves from them and make them easier to deal with. Zombies take humanity’s innate fear of death and make it ridiculous by representing it in the form of pathetic, shambling flesh-eating automatons who are easily dispatched with a shot to the head. Ghosts represent people’s belief in (and desperate need for) an afterlife, and though their presense is usually in a scary context, most often, they’re simply trying to reach out to us, to let us know, hey, don’t be scared, there’s life beyond the grave, it’s not all going to end.

Understanding why our cultures come up with such boogeymen in the first place is a helpful way of loosening up and understanding that, on Halloween, we are all getting together to thumb our noses at our fears — death and what may or may not lie beyond — and, in turn, celebrate life more gratifyingly.

But this understanding is lost on those poor saps indoctrinated into fearmongering belief systems that take all of those helpful metaphors and literalize them, until one is so deluded one sees “reality” where sensible people see the smoke and mirrors and wirework. Only this can explain why ChristiaNet.com offers its readers, with a completely straight face, a “Free Demons Quiz,” to “help educate Christians on the topic of demons…” Seriously.

Oh well, while all you fundies are out there girding yourselves for the final battle against Satan’s demonic minions, I’ll be over at the punch bowl. Do give me a sitrep now and then, won’t you?

About those 9/11 conspiracies

Since it’s been a slow week for this blog, I thought I’d link a post I wrote today about the incredibly annoying “9/11 truth” gang.

These folks have often called the TV show in the past, and they’ve been popping up on YouTube a lot lately. I’ve been meaning to vent about them for quite a while, so now I’ve gotten around to it. Also included in the post are some terse remarks on this two hour “Zeitgeist” movie that’s been making the rounds on the net. Many people have emailed us to ask our if we’ve seen the movie.

Yes. We’ve seen it. (Some more than others. I think Matt watched the whole thing; I couldn’t sit through it.) Mostly, we think it sucked. More on that in the post.

Southern Baptists offering “Stepford Wife” classes for women

Hat tip to Tara at Aetiology for this bloodcurdling article. The Southern Baptists want all you uppity bitches to know just who wears the pants around the house. And to this end, they’re offering classes with such titles as “Biblical Model for the Home and Family.” A more overt display of the way in which Christian fundamentalism treats women only marginally better than Muslim sharia law (at least the Baptists won’t murder you because you let someone see your ankle, so I guess that’s progress) could not be found.

Shudder to these testimonials. These are Christian women who have gleefully swallowed the notion that they are inferior to males and on this earth for no other reason than to do the Suzy Homemaker thing while hubby is out making something of his life. They have actually been indoctrinated to accept the idea that their own personal happiness is irrelevant.

God values men and women equally, any student here will tell you. It’s just that he’s given them different responsibilities in life: Men make decisions. Women make dinner….

It all sounds wonderful to sophomore Emily Felts, 19, who signed up as soon as she arrived on campus this fall.

Several relatives have told Felts that she’s selling herself short. They want her to become a lawyer, and she agrees she’d make a good one. But that’s not what she wants to do with her life.

More to the point, it’s not what she believes God wants of her.

“My created purpose as a woman is to be a helper,” Felts said firmly. “This is a college education that I can use.”

The whole point of taking college-level homemaking, she said, is to ensure that her husband won’t ever feel that he has to darn a sock or do the laundry. Those are her jobs…

“I’m not one of those out to rebel, out-to-be-my-own-woman types,” she said.

Yeah, being your own woman would really suck. I mean, y’all are different, right? It’s a man’s duty to be his own man, but for you ladies, well, there’s the kitchen…get to work!

I can’t remember where I read it, but I have heard that the number of over-35 women in America as whole who regularly take antidepressants and other medications is sky-high. Add to that a devastating regimen of brainwashing such as this, and the level of misery poor Emily Felts is likely to experience when she hits the big four-oh and realizes she’s thrown away the best years of her life can scarcely be imagined.

Now, to be fair, the article points out that the Southwestern Baptist Indoctrination Camp Theological Seminary is a fairly small establishment to begin with, and that very few women among their student body have signed up for these homemaking courses so far. And it goes on to point out that others in the Baptist community consider this master/servant outlook on marriage to be a throwback. But it’s hard to stomach that the entire female side of the student body is constantly hammered with the “submit!” message, when you consider that this place actually offers classes with names like “Clothing Construction,” “Meal Preparation,” and “Value of a Child” in the first place. With a straight face, too. Gee, how about spreading the notion that a marriage is a partnership among equals where responsibilities are to be shared? Or is that too “liberal”? Probably.

Maybe here we can see another reason why that Barna survey of several years back revealed that atheists have a lower divorce rate than Christians — with Southern Baptists suffering the highest divorce rate across all Christian denominations! I’m just sayin’…

Earth’s Birthday celebration

Well, not surprisingly, I was too lame to get over to Book People to join the Earth’s Birthday festivities, but it all got a fantastic write-up in the Statesman. Congrats to CFI-Austin for another successful do.

I did have great fun co-hosting the TV show, though, and I’ll talk about that in my next post.

Sunday Austin fun

Tomorrow at Book People here in Austin, the fine folks of CFI-Austin will be helping the creationists celebrate Earth’s birthday! As we all know, creationism proves the Earth was magicafully wished into being by God on October 23, 4004 BC. So in celebration of this momentous occasion, let there be cake, let there be cookies, let there be punch, and let there be talks by prominent UT scientists! Uh…okay, that last bit might throw a little bit of cold water on the creationists’ view of things. But who says that getting a real education can’t be fun? Come one, come all. Festivites run from 1:00-3:30 pm.

Marginally more awesome than this is that I’ll be ducking out of the party early to be a guest on the Atheist Experience TV show for the first time in ages. This is all part and parcel of the show’s 10th Anniversary celebrations, the main program for which takes place next Sunday with a full round-table featuring every host and co-host the show’s ever had. Thing is, I can’t make it next Sunday, so they’re putting me on tomorrow instead. Tune in and call up. 3:00 pm on channel 10, as usual.

Fear of an Atheist Planet — again

Coral Ridge Ministries, home of the late D. James Kennedy, has finally figured out a way to unload all that unsold inventory of Kennedy’s book Skeptics Answered: whip up fear of the “evangelizing” “crusade” of the “new” atheists.

I think this one might backfire. I actually started to read Skeptics Answered, and I can say that even by the generally low intellectual standards of Christian apologetics, it’s a really, really lame and hopelessly dishonest effort. I never finished my fisking of it, unfortunately, but the part I did complete is still online. Contrary to the Coral Ridge e-mail, the book will hardly “arm” believers with “intelligent answers” to atheists’ criticisms, and any Christian who tries to use Kennedy’s arguments in a debate with an informed and experienced atheist arguer will find himself having his ass handed to him in a most humiliating fashion. Nope, Kennedy doesn’t do his flock any favors with this book.

Still, I guess they gotta unload those books somehow.

An ig-Nobel fellow, but one to be censured, not censored

By now many of you have heard or read about how the distressingly-zombielike Nobel laureate/DNA co-discoverer James Watson made an ass of himself by publicly opining on the supposed intellectual inferiority of black Africans. This led to worldwide condemnation, the cancellation of at least one sold-out speaking engagement, and now the termination of his chancellorship at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

Now, Watson has actually gone and made things worse by trying to apologize, but doing so in the most intelligence-insulting way possible. (Perhaps he thought the hundreds of millions of black people he offended would be too dumb to notice.)

“To all those who have drawn the inference from my words that Africa, as a continent, is somehow genetically inferior, I can only apologize unreservedly. That is not what I meant. More importantly from my point of view, there is no scientific basis for such a belief,” he said.

Watson has just one little problem here. His original remark is on record and still very fresh, and so it’s going to be a little hard for him to sell the whole “I didn’t mean to say black people were stupid when I said they were stupid” pitch.

The question which will arise now is: Is the inevitable piling-on going to go too far? PZ Myers has already weighed in on Watson’s getting the heave-ho from Cold Spring, pointing out that “it’s a declaration that their director must be an inoffensive, mealy-mouthed mumbler who never challenges (even stupidly).” The case is similar to the Don Imus firing, back when he made racist jokes about that African-American girls’ sports team. That speech can and will be offensive is a fact of life, but should those who engage in offensive speech be automatically stamped with “pariah” on their foreheads and sent to the bleachers for good, no longer to participate in public discourse? Or should their asinine views be aired openly, the better to thus engage them?

Goodness knows, I’ve inveighed here against neocons and Christian conservatives who say stupid things, and have not been shy about being inflammatory myself in castigating them. Most recently, Ann Coulter’s anti-Semitic ravings. But as loathsome as I find Coulter or Rush or Falwell (well, okay, we don’t have him to kick around any more) or Robertson, I’d never want to see them barred from public speaking. Free speech, like free anything, is a two-edged sword. You cannot have a culture that nurtures and develops the highest and most noble ideas without the freedom that also allows for the most pathetic ignorance and arrogance. And as Watson’s case reminds us, it’s not always necessarily the religious fanatics, or the Coulters of the world, who lose their marbles (not to mention their fundamental human decency) and shoot off their mouths without first loading their brains.

So yes, we have to put up with racism, and anti-science, and religious fanaticism and intolerance, because that’s the price we pay for the privilege of living in a freethinking society where we can openly critique those ideas and, with luck, educate people away from them. Yes, Watson has become a senile old asshat. But even in his intellectual decline, maybe he can still teach people something.