That so-called “Christian morality” in action yet again

Sometimes, by happy serendipity, you discover something that, in a totally non-conspiracy-theory kind of way, allows you to connect a few dots and go, “Ah soooo!” Being someone who makes something of a close-to-full-time hobby of science fiction and fantasy literature, and knowing as I do a number of writers both professional and aspiring, I came across news recently of a potential scam targeting the latter group.

The sad truth of our world is that there are hucksters and con artists out there who latch onto your dreams and hopes and insecurities in order to rob you blind. Religion has refined this so expertly all you can do is stand in awe.

Aspiring writers are easy pickings for vile charlatans. And it is via the blogs of award-winning science fiction novelist John Scalzi and literary agent Janet Reid that I learn of a writing contest for newbie talents, the fine print of which can be summarized as “We Are Going To Fuck You.” (What does any of this have to do with atheism and religion? Wait for it.)

The contest is run by one Karen Hunter of First One Digital Publishing. Immediately, to anyone who knows anything about the legalities of actual publishing, red flags are flying all over the map. First flag: entrants must pony up a $149 entry fee. An entry fee isn’t problematic in itself, but this one’s exorbitant, to put it mildly. I just entered an online screenwriting contest for the princely sum of 12 bucks.

Then there is this tiny little rider that they hope you don’t notice, buried deep within the rules.

All submissions become sole property of Sponsor and will not be acknowledged or returned. By submitting an entry, all entrants grant Sponsor the absolute and unconditional right and authority to copy, edit, publish, promote, broadcast, or otherwise use, in whole or in part, their entries, in perpetuity, in any manner without further permission, notice or compensation. Entries that contain copyrighted material must include a release from the copyright holder.

For those of you not up on writing or intellectual property stuff, what an entrant is being told here is that First One Digital Publishing expects you to give away all of your rights to the story you submit, forever. Once they have it, it’s no longer yours, and not only will you never get paid a dime if, say, they sell the story to film or TV, you cannot even ask for it back if they do nothing with it. And you’re expected to shell out 149 bones for the privilege. I’m reminded of Sarah Palin suggesting that women should be charged for their rape kits.

As Scalzi points out, with rules like these, why would any writer with a story good enough to submit to this contest not simply submit it to a real agent or publisher? Because you see, in traditional publishing, a writer is never expected to sign away all rights. When, for instance, Random House accepts your story or book, they are never flat-out buying up the story, lock stock and barrel. They are simply buying first publication rights, which is a license allowing them to be the publishers of your story, to which you retain full copyright, for a period of time specified by the contract. Once the contract expires, the publisher can choose to negotiate a renewal of it, or not, leaving the author free to take the property elsewhere. (Note: there is a thing called “work for hire,” but I’m not addressing that here.)

But this contest is relying on newbie writers being utterly ignorant of their legal rights, which, sadly, almost all of them are. And considering that the accepted length for entries runs up to 65,000 words — right around the low end of what the industry considers a novel — this represents quite a lot of work Hunter is expecting a writer to pay to give up.

The fuckage continues. You don’t have to know jack about writing and publishing to raise an eyebrow at this one:

In the event that there is an insufficient number of entries received that meet the minimum standards determined by the judges, all prizes will not be awarded.

Get that?

If an “insufficient number of entries” are received, First One can simply call the whole thing off. How many entries are “sufficient”? Why, they don’t say. So they can get 20, or 200, or 2000, and decide, so sorry, we’ve received an “insufficient number” of entries, but thanks all the same for submitting. And for your entry fee. Wait, don’t you get that back if the contest is cancelled? Why, it doesn’t say, so I’m going to take that as a “No.” So the contest will be off, but they’ll still have your cash in their bank, and your story, which they can publish, edit, do whatever with, without paying you or even putting your name on it. Because their rules require you not only to grab your ankles but supply your own lube. Finally they wrap everything up with a kicker that leaves them legally untouchable for anything, including, one fears, any arbitrary decision to turn up at your house one day, shoot your whole family dead and burn the place down.

By entering, entrants release judges and Sponsor(s), and its parent company, subsidiaries, production, and promotion agencies from any and all liability for any loss, harm, damages, costs, or expenses, including without limitation property damages, personal injury, and/or death arising out of participation in this contest, the acceptance, possession, use or misuse of any prize, claims based on publicity rights, defamation or invasion of privacy, merchandise delivery, or the violation of any intellectual property rights, including but not limited to copyright infringement and/or trademark infringement.

No, I’m not sure what kind of writing contest could result in “property damages, personal injury or death,” but at this point I’m willing to believe they’ll think of something.

Seriously, even the prominent “Writers of the Future” contest, a major competition in SF publishing that has launched several notable careers, and which is run by the publishing arm of the Church of motherfucking Scientology, does nothing that isn’t strictly ethically above-board in their own rules. Hopefully, by now, I’ve made it abundantly clear what an exercise in total fail Karen Hunter’s little contest really is.

So now we get to that happy serendipity I mentioned earlier. Once word got out in writing and publishing circles — with people tweeting the living hell out of the Janet Reid blog in particular — some folks began to wonder just who this Karen Hunter person was. Particularly when she responded to Reid with an awesomely bitch-ass comment in her blog thread.

Janet,

While I appreciate your comments. And I understand your vested interest in this business because if we’re successful, we eliminate the need for literary agents, the contest hasn’t launched yet. So to post our rules and a link telling people that this is a contest to avoid is both self-serving and misleading. Are there issues with the rules, yes. But I think you should wait until the contest officially launches on Feb. 11, 2011, before you tell people to not join it. That’s the fair thing to do.

Could I, a 20-year veteran in publishing as a writer and publisher, afford to put out a contest that rips people off? I’m not desperate. The goal is to truly find the next great author, something not too many people are actually looking for. What’s been your success track record?

Blessings,
Karen Hunter

PS: I sleep extremely well every night because I operate in truth.

Man. Hunter wasn’t done. This comment was immediately followed by “If my response doesn’t appear on your blog, I’ll know what your true motives are. Thanks aga
in.
” Well, I’d say the contest, rather than revealing how unnecessary agents are, actually illustrates their extreme importance, as agents make their living running interference between clueless n00b writers and the hucksters like Hunter who try to scam them.

Even given the hilarious defensive petulance and rich irony of much of this whine, there was just a lot in Hunter’s language that sounded to me exactly like the kind of butthurt rhetoric we get in emails from creationists, or conspiracy fans, or alt-med anti-vax loons, or anyone who’s pissed at us for slamming something they’ve attached themselves passionately to, and who can’t articulate their anger other than to imagine wild ulterior motives driving us.

So it came as little surprise to discover that Karen Hunter has done the right-wing Christian talking pundit thing on cable news.

Do any of you remember the “atheists need their own Hallmark cards” lady? Well, this is that Karen Hunter. And if you aren’t familiar with her still, she made an appearance on Paula Zahn’s show on CNN about four years ago, where the topic happened to turn to atheism. Appearing alongside the odious Debbie Schlussel, Hunter offered such memorable bon mots as these.

What does an atheist believe? Nothing. I think this is such a ridiculous story. Are we not going to take “In God We Trust” off of our dollars? Are we going to not say “one nation under God?” When does it end? We took prayer out of schools. What more do they want?

If [atheists] had Hallmark cards, maybe they wouldn’t feel so left out. We have Christmas cards. We have Kwanzaa cards now. Maybe they need to get some atheist cards and get that whole ball rolling so more people can get involved with what they’re doing. I think they need to shut up and let people do what they do. No, I think they need to shut up about it.

And here’s my very favorite.

I think they need to shut up about crying wolf all the time and saying that they’re being imposed upon. I personally think that they should never have taken prayer out of schools. I would rather there be some morality in schools.

Oh, morality? Would this be the “morality,” Karen, that led you to think you could get away with trying to bogart the rights in perpetuity of possibly hundreds of hungry and eager aspiring creative talents, while taking their money and constructing an impermeable legal shield around yourself barring them from any recourse against you, even the right to have the fruits of their labors returned to them if you have no desire to publish them? Or if you do publish their work to great success, and overlook putting their byline on it, having set things up so you don’t have to part with a penny in royalties either?

And was it the same “morality” that gave you the smug arrogance to think you could avoid getting called on all this bullshit, by actual established and respected (and godless) professionals in the field to which you’re only a pretender? Is that an example of the Christian “morality” you disdain atheists for lacking? Then let me state how proud I am to have missed the lessons in “morality” you took to heart. As a creative person myself, nothing disgusts me more than the idea of a sleaze merchant like you exploiting the naivety behind someone else’s dreams, and all for your own petty personal enrichment. But somehow, knowing that you’ve probably convinced yourself it’s what Jesus would do, all I can say is, it figures.

Consanguineous bonds

Email question of the day:

“So I take it you have no argument against marriage between two consenting adults, even if these adults are, for example, brother and sister?”

It’s the question of the day because it sent me off to do a bit of research on incest in order to challenge/re-affirm my position. (Freedom won again…)

I also discovered a curious thing about Rhode Island law…they have an exception to incest laws that allows “any marriage which shall be solemnized among the Jewish people, within the degrees of affinity or consanguinity allowed by their religion”.

My response to the questioner:

While I personally find the concept of marrying a sibling, etc. rather “icky”, there are lots of things that I find “icky” that aren’t necessarily immoral and that society has no business restricting. My aversion is something that most of us experience and it’s known as the “Westermarck effect” but that’s not the case for everyone.

There are certainly biological reasons to avoid inbreeding, but marriage isn’t necessarily about procreation. There are also psychological issues that surround taboo relationships (both contributing psychological issues and psychological issues that result from such unions) but we have to be very careful to distinguish between issues caused by societal disdain for something (as was/is the case with inter-racial marriages) and psychological harm that is intrinsic to the relationship (a daughter raised segregated from societal influence in order to ‘brainwash’ an incestuous spouse).

I think there’s a compelling argument that we should generally discourage incestuous marriage in order to minimize the risk of birth defects and psychological trauma, but that we are probably not justified in prohibiting those unions as a matter of law. I’m also convinced that this issue isn’t compelling enough to spend much time on…as the percentage of the population interested in such a relationship is negligible.

Our ability to discern the moral evaluation of something like incestuous marriage is restricted — we just don’t have enough information and there are too many possible scenarios. It may be that the unions are, in and of themselves, detrimental to the couples and to society – or it may be the case that there’s no significant harm. I’m not convinced that we have enough information to make any such determination, but I haven’t spent any significant time studying the subject. Until such time as we have compelling evidence (and not just a visceral aversion), I’m not sure that I can support laws against such marriages — but I’m in favor of discouraging it by education and investigating such relationships to ensure that we have true, informed consent.

Finally, there are a number of scenarios where people meet, fall in love and later learn that they are siblings or otherwise closely related. I’m of the opinion that it would be more immoral to prevent their marriage that to allow it…and that colors the entire spectrum of possible incestuous relationships…especially when you consider that some people get married, lead happy lives and find out about their kinship years later.

It may be the case that this is quite often a morally neutral issue — along the lines of a victimless crime (a term I’m not fond of, but fits as we often criminalize things which are victimless). As a matter of personal freedom, unless someone can demonstrate clear harm, I don’t see a compelling reason to disallow it.


I’ve since done a bit more thinking and I’ll amend the above a bit…

Re-reading that, it looked like I was in favor of discouraging a loving relationship between people who happened to be related and that’s not the case. The education comment was intended to address the real risks and not be a pronouncement about whom you should/shouldn’t love or marry.

More Secular Morality videos: the follow-up panel

At last, we now have the videos (thanks to Catherine Blackwell and the Secular Student Alliance) of the follow-up panel on secular morality that followed Matt’s debate with Hans Jacobse. Abridged from the SSA’s write-up, the panelists include:

  • Gregory S. Paul: Labeled religion’s “public enemy #1″ by MSNBC, Greg Paul is a freelance author and researcher about the effect of religion on society, and vice versa. His work has been featured in Newsweek, Science magazine, Evolutionary Psychology, Philosophy and Theology, and numerous other journals and publications. Paul’s theory centers around the thesis that there is no “God gene” that gives people an inherent propensity for religion, and that “prosperous modernity is proving to be the nemesis of religion.” Greg is a Baltimore native and active in the Baltimore Ethical Society. Find out more about his “science of religion” writings at www.gspaulscienceofreligion.com.
  • John Shook, Ph.D. [debate moderator]: Dr. Shook is a scholar and professor living in Washington, D.C. He is Director of Education and Senior Research Fellow of the Center for Inquiry, and also is Visiting Assistant Professor of Science Education at the University at Buffalo, teaching for its online program in Science and the Public. From 2000 to 2006 he was a professor of philosophy at Oklahoma State University. Shook publishes on philosophical topics about science, the mind, humanist ethics, democracy, secularism, and religion, and he has debated the existence of God with leading theologians including William Lane Craig. He has authored and edited more than a dozen books, including the new The God Debates: A 21st Century Guide for Atheists and Believers (and Everyone in Between). [Shook is the fellow I took to task on NPR 9.9 for a recent HuffPo article chastising his fellow atheists with a variant of the Courtier’s Reply.]
  • Matt Dillahunty [debater]: Known for his extensive private collection of meerschaum pipes and inflatable sheep, Matt Dillahunty plays a mean Jew’s harp and once shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.
  • Robert Anderson, Ph.D: Dr Anderson is a UMBC psychology professor and student advisor. He teaches a number of courses, including aggression and antisocial behavior, abnormal psychology, personality study, human sexuality and clinical psychology.

Enjoy. There will be other parts. I understand you need to turn the sound up.

The Source of Human Morality debate videos

Here are the first three (of nine) video installments of the debate between Matt and Fr. Hans Jacobse at The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, yesterday. According to the writeup, Fr. Jacobse “views the current world as a battle between competing moral visions of the secular and the sacred, and hopes that Christianity can restore the moral tradition of the gospels.” Whether this involves angrily killing fig trees is, I suppose, left to be clarified. (Zing!) Anyway, enjoy. (Note: I’ll be embedding the rest of the vids as they are posted to YouTube, and will offer my assessments as I watch and absorb them.)

Final addendum, 9:30 PM 11/20: All 9 parts are now embedded, using the playlist embed code provided by the lovely and multitalented Catherine Blackwell. Thanks!

More risible moral arguments for God

One of my many godless Facebook friends (you mean you’re not one? — well, fine, be that way!) is a young Oregonian named Nathan who’s written some impressive essays that he’s posted to his Notes section, including a fine takedown of Zeitgeist. Sometimes, Christians in his own friends list try to challenge him on some of his Wall posts, and this happened most recently when Nathan posted a quote from Tracie to the effect that religious morality is little more than canine obedience. One Christian woman wrote the following, which I could not resist responding to.

It is important to remember that just as our perception of that which exists is limited, so is our idea of morality apart from its author.

Morality cannot exist merely because we perceive right and wrong in terms of human consequence….this type of moral structure is infinitely at odds with itself, ending in nothing but mere self-preservation. Societies that live at peace have not come up with a “morality that works” apart from the morality set forth in Scripture. You are assuming much when you suggest there might be any morality set forth by the secular world that has not been “borrowed” by the God of the universe. My premise, of course, is that God came first…we all came later.

So, then, we must also ask, is moral character conferred upon the author and creator of all things as you first implied, or does it exist because of that author? We are not the ones who attribute morality to God! We have, through the Scriptures, been given a glimpse of morality as it is merely a reflection of who God is. It comes from him. We do not define it or attribute it to Him. It is a reflection of the person of God, not an idea that floats around in our endlessly depraved minds.

That slurpy sound you hear is that of an atheist theatrically rolling his eyes. Seriously, every moral argument for God I’ve heard has been a total intellectual faceplant, but this one more than most. It really does read as if this woman is simply parroting claims she got from some apologetics source, without thinking them through for even a moment.

First off, in what way is a set of moral precepts based on an understanding of the consequences of actions any more “at odds with itself” than a set …of moral precepts simply handed down as rules from a divine authority figure who expects to be obeyed upon pain of eternal torture? The former has at least something to do with compassion, empathy, and kindness. The latter is little more than simple subservience based on fear.

Moral precepts rooted in human empathy and consequences, while no one would claim they are perfect, at least have a real-world referent. Human beings, being thinking creatures, can understand the difference between observed positive and negative consequences. Moreover, another point she ignores in her claim that secular morality leads only to “self-preservation” is the fact that we are a social species, and our instinct for self-preservation is still tied to species success. It is not the norm for human beings to exist in total isolation, and in order to coexist we develop behaviors that are beneficial to maintaining that coexistence. (And humans are far from the only species that do this. Basic moral behaviors have been observed in a number of primate species, as well as in such animals as dolphins and dogs.)

If anything, it is religious “morality” that stems from self-preservation, because a person who adopts moral behaviors simply in order to please a god whom he fears will punish him otherwise is not really a moral person, just a terrified, submissive and broken one. He has been given no reasons to be “good” other than to avoid negative consequences to himself. Beyond this he has been given no understanding of the positive benefits of his moral behavior. Religious morality, as has been said here many times, gives people bad reasons to be good. If you live a moral life simply to score yourself a ticket to heaven, you’re doing it wrong, and worst of all you haven’t been given the intellectual tools to understand why.

You’ll have noticed the woman responding to Nathan makes bold assertions that she glibly fails to back up in any way. At the same time, all she offers as support for her God’s alleged moral nature are tautologies (God is moral, morality is of God, is basically all she’s got), with a sprinkling of “and anyway, God’s just beyond our puny human perception.” These are not sound bases for an argument.

If her premise is that “that God came first…we all came later,” she must first support that premise with evidence before she begins to argue from it. She says that secularists are “assuming much when you suggest there might be any morality set forth by the secular world that has not been ‘borrowed’ by the God of the universe.” I would say that she’s assuming infinitely more when she claims that there is a “God of the universe” to begin with. Demonstrate through evidence that this is true first, then she can begin to argue that morals come from this God.

She asserts that “societies that live at peace have not come up with a ‘morality that works’ apart from the morality set forth in Scripture,” without, of course, citing any source to support this claim. Indeed, I suspect that the bulk of the world’s cultural anthropologists would be laughing their heads off about now. The Code of Hammurabi predates most Biblical writings, and Confucius came up with something very like The Golden Rule more than 500 years before Jesus is said to have done so. While you might argue that many of the punishments laid out by Hammurabi would be barbaric by modern standards, so would the morals of the Old Testament. After all, this is a book in which Lot, said to be the most virtuous of men, offers his daughters to a gang of rapists simply so that they’ll leave his male house guests alone. Later these same daughters get him drunk and have incestuous sex with him, because God wants them to. (God doesn’t explicitly command it, but given that this is one pissed off motherfucking deity who’s just firebombed the living shit out of two whole cities for their sexual shenanigans, it’s hard to imagine that He just stepped out to grab a smoke and totally missed the act of drunken incest, let alone failed to notice the subsequent pregnancies that gave rise to two whole new lineages.)

Among the “moral” precepts God is proud to have handed down to me is that I must be put to death for eating shellfish, gathering sticks on a Sunday, or having sex with a woman during her period. On the other hand, if I rape a girl, all I have to do is buy her from her father for 50 shekels, and it’s all good. If these “morals” are a reflection of “the person of God,” then God is a person I don’t care to know. (Oh yes, this God also explicitly, unambiguously, and without any possibility of spinning it otherwise, endorses slavery.)

I think if this woman ever chooses to crack a history book that hasn’t been vetted and redacted by fundamentalists, she’ll learn a thing or two: that the time when such modern concepts as human rights, equality, free speech — ideas that emerged from the “endlessly depraved minds” of people — began to take root is known as the Enlightenment. And this period is notable for the decline of the authority of religion over all of the affairs of humanity.

Finally, I’m going to repeat a point I made in my last post on this topic: what use would God have for morality? This is an all-powerful being, who needs to answer to no one at all for his deeds. He can never face any form of punishment for even the greatest atrocity he could conceive. Furthermore, why would God care if we were moral? If all God wants is our unyielding worship and adulation, why would morality need to be part of that equation? We could all wipe ourselves out in the worst of all possible wars, and God could simply chuckle and, being all-powerful and stu
ff, just recreate the human race from scratch. So why would God have bothered to “author” something like morality in the first place, when its own consequences could never apply to him, and its application to our own lives could not possibly be relevant to him?

Morality is entirely comprehensible when considered as an emergent social phenomenon occurring within social frameworks. It is incomprehensible when thought of as originating from a supernatural being utterly immune to its consequences or even its practical application.

We get email some more

I swear, gang! We don’t make this stuff up! Really.

Subject: i can prove god existthe christan

Hello to all that would take the time to read my email. i just recently became aware of you syndicate talk show and find it belittling how the christian community is betrayed as unlearned individual, having watched a few of your broadcast i can honestly say from the caller in it would be a simply job to disprove the christian faith. having said that i am some somewhat adequately intelligence (not to belittle anyone else) and can adequately debate the issue with you. The topic of the broadcast i view was proving the existence of God and i would like to give my view point on the matter,having said that lets that Yahweh(or as you may call him GOD) out of the equation for a moment as well as all other believed deity and focus simply on the the fact of a higher power(i;ll get back the Yahweh in a moment) but to prove the fact of a higher power i will bring into focus the human conscience.If it is as you state “no god” then i would ask why is all human being born with a conscience?

Having said that let us look at the definition of Conscience { Webster’s definition conscience as a knowledge or sense of right and wrong, with an urge to do right; moral judgment that opposes the violation of a previously recognized ethical principle and that leads to feelings of guilt if one violates such a principle} now lets focus on the fact that by scientific belief that all other animals act simply on instinces, down to the most primitive single celled life form with the exception of the human being. Now let being Yahweh back into the picture if has being proven by modern science that the Torah is the oldest documents of mankind (carbonation). now the Torah also known as the first 5 books of the bible happened to have the book of beginning as it first book(book of genesis) and in that book moses(it author) addresses the human consciousness as the tree of good and evil with well translated back to the original text is self awareness and knowledge and can also be broken down to awareness of god and evil(mind you according to modern day science these writings are only copy of the origins and date back hundreds on thousand of ago giving the same definition) having said all of that is there was no higher power or god overseeing mankind,if we were mere accident or came to be by a cosmic chain of events as most atheist believe the conscience is relevant and one shouldn’t bother with anything beside enjoying them self to the fullest because once your dead it over correct?but if this is not the case and there is a universal law of right and wrong set my god the throuh the consciensness then it makes perfect sense because it is as the bilbes states God standard of moral law given to all human even those who choice not to use it or believe.

p.s
if you fail to agree with this take into consideration that even a child knows when they are doing wrong,and have a natural sense of guilt (condemnation) upon taking part in a unjust act a simply as stealing reference back to the webster definition of conscience. Just my food for though

Good grief. Are people still out there trying to make moral arguments for God? Look, setting aside the usual evolutionary business about how we’re a social species — as are gorillas, elephants, dolphins, et al — and the fact such species develop cooperative behaviors as the obvious survival strategy, and the fact that we explain our behaviors with terms like “conscience” and “right and wrong” because we have the ability to form words to communicate to one another with (for all we know dolphins have a particular chirp for right and another for wrong and a very elaborate one for “Hey, that’s my fish, asswipe!”)…

…it has obviously not occurred to such apologists to consider a painfully obvious point: What need would an all-powerful monotheistic God have for morals?

That’s the whole frackin’ point of Euthyphro. This would be a unique being. It could suffer no consequences for any action it might take. There is no one for it to answer to. And it could have no practical reason to care whether or not any lesser beings it created were moral or not, as it could always create more if they happened to wipe each other out.

Now, I know we always argue that it is homo sapiens‘ innate sense of empathy, not merely the desire for reward and fear of punishment by some authority figure, that explains human morality. Because we evolved as a social species, empathic behaviors are part of our makeup. But an all-powerful God would not have evolved as part of a social species, and therefore would likely not have a sense of empathy. After all, to whom or what would it be directed? The only reason a being so uniquely powerful might have to choose beneficent over malign behaviors would be because it had some good cause to fear the consequences of its actions.

I can certainly see such a God creating a species of worshipers out of a sense of crushing loneliness. But to admit that God can be lonely would be to admit he is imperfect, and needs love and worship. And Christians are all about God’s total and indisputable perfection. Well, if you’re perfect, that pretty much means you’re complete in yourself, and nothing can be added to improve you. So then…morals, love, right, wrong, approval, worship, what have you…what does God really need with any of it?

The moral compass

A fan just wrote in with a quote from a Catholic instructor who offered their moral opinion on both rape and masturbation:

“Rape is better than masturbation because there is a chance of a child to be conceived rather than wasting that of which God gave us.”

This probably doesn’t represent the view of every Catholic (or even most) and may not even map to orthodoxy – that’s not my reason for posting it.

Navigating the moral landscape can be difficult and religions give the illusion of simplifying the process while actually making it more difficult. Even the most flexible cognitive contortionist will struggle to reconcile the web of confusing, vague or contradictory conclusions that result from flawed religious premises.

I understand the appeal. Religious adherents get to be intellectually lazy. They get that comforting “problem-solved” feeling that you get when someone else does the work for you. They get to avoid responsibility for their moral views by shrugging and pointing to their imaginary scapegoat.

The big problem is that religious moral claims gradually surround one’s moral compass with magnets.

We may be able to discuss and debate the moral impact of masturbation (I’d say there’s no moral assessment to be made), but if you believe that masturbation is worse than rape, you’re no longer eligible to participate in the discussion. You’ve sacrificed your humanity on the altar of laziness and blind servility and you won’t be allowed to rejoin the discussion until you correct that.

The rest of us are trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together and we don’t need you spilling your coffee all over the table while you try to force pieces together – especially as you seem to have brought pieces from some other puzzle.

Atheism in the news? Not really…

Read this post from the blog of the religion reporter at our local newspaper.

My comment was long, so I wasn’t sure if it got posted and thought I’d post it here, as well.

Three comments, in mixed order:

First, the study isn’t worth the attention it’s getting. In addition to all of the other problems with IQ, the variance here simply isn’t notable. This is a weak correlation and little more.

Second, the UTSA event is not to everyone’s taste, but your question; “why equate it with pornography?” is an interesting one. The implication is that you’d like to label porn as ‘bad’ but the Bible as ‘good’ or ‘not as bad’. I don’t find pornography objectionable, yet I find the Bible incredibly objectionable…so, your implication is correct, they’re not equal. I think most Bible-supporters know this which is why, despite calling it the “Good Book” not one of them would agree to let me read Bible stories of my selection to their children.

Some people are uncomfortable about nudity and sex, and that’s their prerogative.

Those, though, who would exalt a book that explicitly endorses slavery – the owning of another human as property, the beating of that property and the instruction for slave to obey cruel masters – just one of many objectionable points, can never claim the moral high ground. They have sacrificed their humanity for a poisonous and corrupt ideology.

And that, leads me to the third point – the focus on the fact that this individual had books on atheism and demons. There is nothing within atheism (because it’s a single position on a single question) that would direct one to burn a church. Atheism is not a necessary and sufficient cause for any act, let alone this one.

But the problem here is the self-righteous bigotry in both the headlines, the focus and the commentary. Where is the headline that reads “Bible found among clinic bombers belongings”?

Christianity and the allure of “cheap grace”

One aspect of religion that has often come under atheists’ critical fire is the way in which it enables the most egregious hypocrisies amongst its most devout adherents. Considering how important Christians will tell you Scripture is to their lives, it’s remarkable how selective they are in their reading of that Big Book of Multiple Choice. The warnings against hypocrisy among believers that comprise most of Matthew 6 would be sufficient to shut up almost the entirety of the American Christian Right, if they were the kinds of people who practiced what they preached.

But I think there is something about religion that’s even more insidious than hypocrisy, and that’s the way it puffs up believers’ hubris, allowing them to think they’re more special and entitled and deserving, even (and especially) without having done anything to earn it. Religion tells people they’re part of a select group, favored over others by God. And yet these are the same people who routinely like to attack unbelievers — and the intelligentsia many unbelievers are part of — as “elitists.” What could be more elitist than believing everybody but you deserves eternity of torture in hell, simply because you belong to the Jesus Fan Club and they don’t?

I’ve been thinking about this over the last couple of days since my attention was drawn to something that hasn’t really turned up on atheists’ radar: the Manhattan Declaration. This is a kind of manifesto that has recently been put together by several prominent conservative Christian figures — among them arch-bigot Tony Perkins and Kazim’s old pal Chuck Colson — as something of an ideological purity test. It begins as follows:

We are Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical Christians who have united at this hour to reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in defending them. These truths are:

  1. the sanctity of human life
  2. the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife
  3. the rights of conscience and religious liberty.

Some quick Googlage has revealed that this Declaration has already ruffled the feathers of liberal, progressive Christians, who have quickly called the whole thing out as an effort to enshrine conservative prejudices as “fundamental truths about justice and the common good.” Only the most smug and arrogant bigots could claim with a straight face that a Declaration that openly repudiates GLBT marriage equality is one that favors “justice” in any form. I think that word, to quote The Princess Bride for the 80 billionth time, doesn’t mean what they think it means.

Basically, the highfalutin language of the thing does little to disguise the fact that it’s a huge anti-gay-rights and anti-abortion petition, and it takes a Bushian “with us or against us” attitude that is nothing less than a gauntlet thrown down to all those liberal Christians who haven’t toed the Hate Line to the satisfaction of their conservative betters.

Surfing the blogosphere, I come upon this post by blogger Hugo Schwyzer — who, as an avowed pro-GLBT liberal feminist Christian, is about as far from the fundies’ notion of ideological purity as a guy can get — where he takes the Manhattan Declaration to task for being little more than a reactionary pushback against the tendency among the younger generation of modern Christians to reject right-wing fundie obsessions with “pelvic morality” (basing culture war talking points on sexual and reproductive issues to the near exclusion of everything else) in favor of broader moral concerns — saving the planet, helping the needy — that are generally of interest only to those damn latté sipping libs. Schwyzer makes an astute point about the “cheap grace” enjoyed by fundies whenever they beat their chests and pontificate over such narrow-minded issues: that these are fights they love precisely because they have nothing at stake.

Here’s the thing: fighting against abortion and gay rights is, in the end, cheap. It requires no particular personal sacrifice or reflection on the part of those who claim these are the top issues. Men who will never get pregnant; heterosexuals who have the privilege to marry those whom they love — they surrender nothing precious to them by fighting tooth and nail against reproductive and glbtq rights. The struggle against global poverty and the struggle to save the planet from environmental degradation, on the other hand, make radical claims on all of us — particularly on the affluent in the West, whose unsustainable consumption patterns are directly linked to human and animal suffering. Fighting against climate change and poverty require that the wealthy transform their lifestyles; fighting against gay rights requires nothing more than censorious and self-righteous indignation.

Bam! — direct hit, below the waterline. But I’d caution Schwyzer not to forget that, in a very real way, “cheap grace” is at the heart of all Christianity, not just the version practiced by wingnutty Sarah Palin and Carrie Prejean fans. Christianity presents believers with this odd notion about morality, sin, and fate: that, merely by virtue of being alive, a person is a worthless sinner damned to eternal agony because of the Fall; but hey, not to worry, because Jesus took all of that punishment upon himself, poor chap, and now by virtue of his sacrifice, you’re good to go, and all you need to do is make sure (at some point before you die) you publicly high-five Jesus for taking one for the team, accepting him as your savior. So, we’re damned, but we’re not, and eternal salvation is ours simply by the rough spiritual equivalent of clicking a confirmation email.

So right from the outset, Christians are more or less raised in the extremely confident belief that all the heavy lifting for their own personal redemption was already done 2000 years ago. Their own efforts require no personal sacrifice at all. If this is not cheap grace, what is?

The very thing that Christianity tries to sell as its most morally and spiritually profound element — salvation by proxy — in fact cheapens the entire notion that in life, self-respect, the respect of others, and an enduring reputation as the kind of good person whom the rest of us should want to emulate, must be earned. The whole notion of salvation by faith and not works (which, admittedly, might be more favored by conservative Christians than liberal ones, though I think God, if he’s up there, ought to do his job right and clarify matters) gives Christians the ability to think pleasingly of themselves as among the saved elect, regardless of how they might actually behave in their lives. The popular Christian bumper sticker “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven” conveys egotism, not humility, as it’s basically saying, “Yippie! I’m a Christian, and I never have to change, never have to better myself, never have to take responsibility at all.” The very hypocrisy Matthew 6 rails against is enabled by Christianity’s entire salvation mechanism. How else could so many arch-scumbags (insert names here, but off the bat I think of Kenneth Lay and Jim Bakker) preen with such pride while living the sleaziest, most immoral lives they could manage?

So, while I’m always pleased to see liberal Christians who aren’t afraid to take on the Right Wing Noise Machine (a thing we have pointedly challenged them to do for a decade on AETV), I’d caution Schwyzer and his liberal Christian brethren not to overlook the cheap grace at Christianity’s very foundation. But to be fair, perhaps the fact that guys like him, at the very least, do try to live decent lives of higher personal responsibility, supportive of the real meaning of terms like “justice” and “equality” that the wingnut
s simply treat as pious catchphrases, means they’re more aware of it than they might like to admit.