Vile child-rapist Tony Alamo is going down!

In the wake of recent, more interesting news, the child-sex trial of cult leader Tony Alamo — whose followers used to circulate his full-color newsletters under windshield wipers all around Austin and elsewhere — has been playing out largely under the radar. What stuns me about all of this is not just the ghastly spectacle of a senior citizen “marrying” little girls as young as eight or ten. It’s the way in which Alamo — or, shit, any authority figure at all — can exert such a powerful and hypnotic hold over his followers that the very parents of these little girls themselves became active participants in the violation of their children.

This is the authoritarianism of religion taken to its sickest inevitable extreme, and it illustrates the profound danger of accepting absolute authority as a concept in the first place. And I see this whole trial as a perfect chance to engage mainstream Christians, who, I suspect, would not hesitate to condemn Alamo’s actions in the strongest possible terms. Yes, what Alamo did to these girls is unspeakably appalling, no less so than that he justified it by claiming it’s what God wanted. But look at scripture, and you’ll see episodes of child abuse either directly prompted by divine command (Abe and Isaac) or carried out with tacit divine approval, such as the scene in Genesis 19 in which Lot offers his two virgin daughters to a lust-crazed mob (who, being gay, say no thanks).

Lot’s daughters don’t seem to have been all that offended at being offered as sexmeat by their father, since, later in the same chapter, they get him drunk and fuck him. Those biblical family values, I tell ya! Anyway, the point is: Is what Alamo did to children in the name of God any more reprehensible than what God either orders or tolerates seeing done to kids in the Bible, and the way their parents are so agreeable to it?

Science fiction story

I’m sure this is not terribly original, but here’s my story.

One day, spaceships appear in the sky.  Appearing on every television screen, radio, and pool of water, the ships broadcast the following message to everyone:

“Greetings, citizens of Earth! We are a race of life forms so vastly superior to you that our ways cannot be understood by your puny human brains. We also possess knowledge of morality that is advanced far beyond your own understanding and cannot be refuted by any of your Earth philosophers.

“According to our high moral standards, which we cannot explain to you, you all deserve to die the most painful deaths imaginable.  We shall now execute this sentence. Your insides will be melted, and your eyes will explode in their sockets. Your children and spousal units will be vaporized before your eyes. Your planet will then be incinerated.

“However, our laws also require mercy, and therefore you will have one chance to save your own miserable lives. If you become our slaves and do as we say from now on, you will be transported to another planet and allowed to survive. However, your unrepentant family members will still remain behind and be destroyed.”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen this movie many times. It involves the entire human race justifiably uniting to fight off the alien menace. Depending on what kind of movie it is, either we’re victorious or everybody dies for nothing.

Now the question I have is: How is this scenario any less outrageous if you rename the alien beings “God”?

Superior Christian morality!

Ted Haggard’s back in the news. This time, it’s been revealed that his megachurch New Life knew full well of Haggard’s homosexual proclivities, and that, in addition to the gay drug-dealing male prostitute situation, they paid a 20-year-old church volunteer a bunch of hush money to keep him from telling anyone about his own assignations with Haggard. Of course, the church wants you to think it wasn’t hush money.

“This was compassionate assistance. It was to help him move forward, not a settlement to keep him quiet,” said [Brady] Boyd, senior pastor at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Uh huh. Just some “compassionate assistance” to a young guy who happened to be in a position to embarrass the church publicly with news about some pillow biting with the pastor. Unless Boyd is implying that all of the church’s young members get “compassionate assistance” to pay their college tuition, moving expenses, and, uh, counseling, as a matter of course, and that this guy was no different than any other church member in that regard.

But wait, no, that can’t be the case, can it? Because the article also reveals that this “compassionate assistance” came as the result of a settlement between the church and the young man’s attorney.

So we have a pastor abusing his position of power for sexual favors, a church lying about the incident as well as their reasons for settling with the young man in question…gosh, it all just seems so wrong…somehow!

But wait, I forgot. I’m an atheist, and so I don’t have any valid “objective standards” for determining right or wrong. So I guess all this is okay, then. I guess it’ll just be easier if I remember the mantra: if Christians do it, it’s moral. Hey, that rationale worked for Nixon: “If the president does it, it’s not illegal.” Right? Right. And let’s not forget the second mantra either: Do as we preach, not as we do. Life is suddenly so much easier, isn’t it?

Ray is preaching my stuff!

I just checked the latest post from Ray Comfort and submitted the following response. I’m doubtful that he’ll post it and I’m very doubtful that we’ll ever have any sort of dialog…but, darn it, I just can’t stop trying. I guess I’m a bit more masochistic than I thought.

For those that don’t want to read Ray’s post, the short version is: the OT and NT gods are the same, righteous, perfect and equally stern in their pure justice. This version has only a single change…I’ve actually provided the link to the wiki, as I can pretty much do whatever I want to do here. 🙂

Thanks, Ray…for (almost) preaching the very sermon I’ve been preaching for years.

So many Christians (and many non-Christians) dismiss the Old Testament view of God in favor of the cheek-turning compassion of the New Testament version. The mistakenly think that the NT version is better, softer or more kind.

There’s just one tiny area where we disagree (actually, there are several beyond this, but I’m only addressing the comparison)…you think the OT and NT versions are equally good, righteous and perfect. I don’t.

While some non-believers might agree with you, but opt for ‘equally bad’ as the appropriate description, I simply don’t agree. The NT doctrine is far worse.

Your cartoonish oversimplification of the wages of OT sin being “Hell” is not consistent with Jewish tradition and not Biblically supported without anachronistic reinterpretation of the OT. The very understanding of death and what happens after death is rather nebulous in the OT and much more vivid in the NT. This renders the NT version of God far worse than the OT version – because the immoral doctrines of original sin is compounded by the unjust concept of eternal punishment for finite ‘sins’ (though you’ll probably point out that sins against a God are necessarily infinite…that’s just a convenient interpretation that isn’t supported theologically, logically or Biblically).

The idea that it is just to punish people for their thoughts, doubts or disbelief is a perversion of any reasonable concept of justice. The system is further polluted by the claim that it rewards belief, regardless of, or in preference to action.

While you’ll find this sad, possibly offensive and may even refuse to publish it, I have no problem at all asserting that my moral values are superior to those of any character in the Bible, including the various characterizations of God. In fact, I’d argue that the God of the Bible may be one of the least moral characters in that entire collection of ancient writings.

When you sacrifice your humanity, your decency and your rational sense of justice in order to claim that the tyrannical acts of a more powerful being are intrinsically just, appealing to the banality of ‘might makes right’ – you’ve lost the battle.

The Euthyphro dilemma begins to make this point about fiat-morality…but it’s worth extending.

If you’re so impressed with the Sermon on the Mount, I’d be curious to hear your take on my response to it.

Inequality via threats

In my August 10th Atheist Experience co-host gig (episode #565), I talked about the alleged “threat” of equality and why there was such a shrill opposition to it. California is a hot spot right now in that battle and there has been an interesting development there.

Some context: In May, the California Supreme Court ruled that the state must allow same-sex marriages under the state Constitution. Not surprisingly, conservatives (Christians mostly) have mounted an effort for a vote amending the California State Constitution known as Proposition 8. The main opposition to the proposition is ProtectMarriage.com. Much of their literature refers to a popular vote they had on same sex marriage in the state (Proposition 22 in 2000, a DOMA-style initiative), which got 61% of the vote. That was about the majority inflicting its will on the minority. California Supreme Court overturned the old Proposition 22 with this ruling.

In their usual style, proponents of inequality have trotted out the usual lies and scare tactics. The incomes of conservative Christian demagogues hang in the balance. If gays have full rights and can marry, these people lose a feared enemy and their churches (income sources) become split over biblical interpretation over gay rights. Let’s throw in polygamy, too, while we’re at it and re-open that old slavery thing, just for good measure. [Addendum: I have recently been informed that the Mormons have funded 77% of the work on the initiative, most from out of state. They have also funded a number of similar efforts since the first Hawaii battle over same-sex marriage recognition.]

Apparently, with all the liberal voters coming out in droves this election (thanks, George!), the Proposition 8 proponents are getting a little desperate. Their latest gimmick is to figure out who supported the other side and write little threat letters extorting money from them. One such letter, sent from ProtectMarriage.com to a San Diego Realtor recently surfaced. In it, they make the jaw dropping extortion threat:

“Were you to elect not to donate comparably, it would be a clear indication that you are in opposition to traditional marriage. You would leave us no other reasonable assumption. The names of any companies…that choose not to donate…to ProtectMarriage.com…will be published.

…We will contact you shortly to discuss your contribution.”

Apparently, the threat of equality is so scary to these people that they are willing to threaten others. I sincerely hope this Nazi-style coercion tactic backfires on these thugs and they all have to scramble to find honest jobs sometime soon.

Today’s Show – Moral Judgment

Today’s show discusses moral judgment, particularly with respect to the work of Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg. Though by no means the final word on the subject, both made significant contributions to our understanding of moral development.

Piaget’s model for moral development included only two stages. He observed that children younger than 10 or 11 consider moral dilemmas in a more rigid way than older children. Older children have a much more nuanced view of rules and moral judgments.

Kohlberg used Piaget’s model in developing his more detailed six stage model of moral development. His model consists of:

  • Stage 1 – Obedience & Punishment – rules exist, are fixed, and are handed down by some authority figure (parents or “God”). Something is wrong if you get punished for it; if you don’t get punished, it’s not wrong.
  • Stage 2 – Individualism & Exchange – rules are no longer seen as fixed. There is still a preoccupation with punishment, but it’s now seen as a risk to be avoided and not the determinant of whether something is right or wrong. There is also an emphasis on fairness, and a belief that it’s okay to break a rule if someone is being “unfair.”
  • Stage 3 – Good Interpersonal Relationships – children at this stage are usually entering their teens. The focus at this stage is on motives – a consideration of someone’s motives, good or bad, informs moral judgments about their behaviors.
  • Stage 4 – Maintaining Social Order – this is the law & order stage. The concern in this stage broadens to encompass considerations of society as a whole instead of just interpersonal relationships. The focus is on how laws help create a smoothly functioning society. Most adults stop at this stage of development.
  • Stage 5 – Social Contract & Individual Rights – this is the beginning of thinking about society in a theoretical way. There is a recognition that different groups within a society may have different values, but that certain basic rights must be protected. Furthermore, there must be a democratic process for changing laws for the betterment of society.
  • Stage 6 – Universal Principles – this is a theoretical stage in which there is an attempt to define the principles by which a just society operates. In this society, decisions are based on equal respect for all. For example, a majority would not get to vote on restricting the rights of a minority.

This is a very high-level summary of the Piaget and Kohlberg models, but it does provide some background for the work they did on moral development in children and adults. Their work, plus some interesting facts about neurobiology, make it clear that human moral judgments are not arbitrary as some theists claim and are not dependent on religion. Religion, in fact, adds about as much to moral development as it does to evolution.

So what does contribute to moral development? Our evolutionary legacy as social animals is one thing. Our capacity to reason is another. On an individual basis, moral development has its genesis in good parenting, brain development, and practice. Kohlberg was very clear about this last requirement – moral development is not a matter of simply growing up. And handing someone a set of rules and convincing them to follow them will not improve their ability to make moral judgments. This is a higher cognitive skill that is built up step-by-step over a lifetime.

Fortunately, humans have been doing this for our entire evolutionary history. We don’t need fictional characters from Bronze Age myths dictating to us what is right or wrong. We are fully capable of making sound moral decisions all on our own.

*puke*

From the odious Billy Graham:

Jesse Helms, my friend and long-time senator from my home state of North Carolina, was a man of consistent conviction to conservative ideals and courage to faithfully serve God and country based on principle, not popularity or politics.

In the tradition of Presidents Jefferson, Adams and Monroe — who also passed on July 4th — it is fitting that such a patriot who fought for free markets and free people would die on Independence Day. As we celebrate the birth of our nation, I thank God for the blessings we enjoy, which Senator Helms worked so hard to preserve…

From a comment following Graham’s disgraceful encomium: “Jesse Helms fought for FREE PEOPLE??? (emphasis mine) Would those be the white people who wanted to be FREE of having to associate with black people?” Uh huh. Seems fitting that a homophobic, racist piece of shit should be eulogized so fulsomely by an anti-Semitic piece of shit, eh?

Whoops, there goes our Cuss Rating.

On the whole “being offensive” thing

In my Dawkins report, I discussed the way many Christians — primarily of the conservative stripe — can’t stop whining about how horribly offensive the anti-religious rhetoric of the “new atheists” is, while intentionally ignoring, and even defending, far worse behavior from their own. A perfect example is this odious hypocrisy I read via Ed Brayton’s blog.

Oklahoma representative Sally Kern, not surprisingly a sponsor of the anti-education bill HB 2211, recently had a sickening homophobic hate screed of hers recorded and made public. Is she apologizing? Of course not. She’s a Christian, and morally superior to you, after all. So not only is she sticking to her guns, she’s got the lunatics at the WorldNutDaily (to which I refuse to link, so go over to Ed’s if you must immerse yourself in such filth) concocting a nice little conspiracy theory in her defense as well. Get a load of this. Here they are talking about how the thousands of gays and lesbians whom Kern gratuitously offended with her hate speech are the ones with the problem, and how they’re victimizing her.

Basically, they’re trying to silence her by threatening, intimidating, harassing and frightening her until she can’t take any more abuse. No dialogue, no debate – just crush her.

Only a fundie would think there’s something meriting “dialogue” and “debate” when some foul-tempered, hideous old cow (oh noes, the eebul afeist is calling her naaames!) rants about how gays and lesbians are more dangerous to America than terrorists, that they’re bringing about the downfall of civilization, and who lies about non-existent “studies” that support such idiotic ideas.

From where I’m sitting, the entirety of the “dialogue” and “debate” hate speech like Kern’s deserves can be summed up as, “You’re a sick individual, a disgrace, and a vile liar, and would you please go crawl back under your rock, you ignorant useless bitch. Thank you. Signed, The Human Race.”

That’s their game. It’s despicable, and utterly un-American.

While religious hate is just so praiseworthy and “pro-American,” of course.

In a sense, Kern does a better job of validating Dawkins’ points than Dawkins does. When Dawkins wrote in his essay “Logical Path from Religious Beliefs to Evil Deeds”

Religion changes, for people, the definition of good…. For non-religious people, the behavior of consenting adults in a private bedroom is the business of nobody else, and is not bad unless it causes suffering – for example by breaking up a happy family. But many religions arrogate to themselves the right to decide that certain kinds of sexual behavior, even if they do no harm to anyone, are wrong…. The following quotation from the Nobel prize winning physicist Steven Weinberg has become well known, but it is so devastatingly true that it is worth quoting again and again: “With or without [religion] you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion.”

…he was talking about you, Mustang Sally.

Now, back under the rock with you. Here, take your Bible. You’ll need that, since you haven’t got a brain.

Oh gee. Did I offend someone?

No need to think for yourself

I just finished watching this video, which shows the responses of anti-choice demonstrators in Libertyville, Illinois when asked what sort of punishment women should receive if they had an abortion after abortions became illegal. Go watch it…I’ll wait…

The responses speak for themselves.

I don’t want to get into the specifics about abortion (though I’ll proudly admit to being pro-choice) because it’s not an atheist issue. Atheists can be pro or anti-choice. I do believe, though, that it is (often) a church-state separation issue, fueled by emotion and irrationality.

My purpose in posting this video is to point out the sort of mindless sheep that are produced by religious thinking.

(I know, I know…you’re not all mindless sheep, so don’t get your panties in a twist about my generalization. If you’re not like the folks in the video, I’m not talking about you.)

Dogma, in all of its disguises, is evil. Magical thinking poisons the mind. Religion, as a combination of the two, renders its victims unable to deal with reality, incapable of questioning their beliefs and completely unconcerned about the consequences of their actions. They’re unable to follow any logical argument that might, in any way, jeopardize their beliefs.

The people in this video aren’t rabid fundamentalists. They’re not calling for the death penalty (though one of them allowed for that possibility). They don’t fit in with the true hatemongers who call for homosexuals to be put to death like some politicians have done… and some countries. They sincerely believe they’re doing the right thing — protecting innocent little babies — and none of them have given a moment’s thought to anything else. They believe that they’re doing god’s work and that they cannot be mistaken; which makes them just as dangerous and delusional as the truly hateful. To quote William S. Burroughs:

“No one does more harm than those who feel bad about doing it.”

I’m still amazed that anyone could avoid the simple concept that there’s no point in making something illegal if you don’t have a punishment for breaking the law… but that’s not the big question, the big question is this:

Why were they able quickly and easily to proclaim that abortion is the murder of a human being and yet they couldn’t quickly and easily agree to the punishment proscribed for murder?

The answer is simple. Even these sheep recognize a difference — they’re just unable to act on that recognition because their brains have been poisoned by religion. They neither need nor recognize rational arguments. Somewhere, deep in the compartmentalized recesses of their minds, protected by gross rationalizations, shielded by emotional pleading, they know that their beliefs don’t make any sense.

Now, if they could only be convinced to give a damn.