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?

And another morally superior Christian goes down in disgrace…

Okay okay, the snark in the headline may have been overkill, since I do believe the whole discussion with Rhology about the presumed necessity of theism as a prerequisite for morality has reached its end. But it never ceases to fascinate me, that the people in our society who most frequently suffer humiliation and public disgrace are those whose public reputation for devout religiosity is most prominent.

Richard Roberts, whose every command God is reported to have told at least one ORU regent to obey without question, has resigned effective immediately from ORU’s presidency. The whole Roberts clan were exposed as having misappropriated university money for their own private use, living lavishly on the backs of their student body and faculty. Sleazy is as sleazy does. That a fundamentalist “university” has been exposed as just another money-making scam by those who subscribe to the “prosperity gospel” is, I suppose, not surprising. But it is depressing that, in the 21st century, religion still continues to hold human culture back from true enlightenment and progress, enabling venality and selfish excess under the justification that if you’re Godly, you’re forgiven already through Jesus’ “sacrifice” — so live it up!

New study shows right/wrong distinctions in infants

Apropos to the current round of discussions we’ve been having with Rhology, news has appeared today announcing the result of a new study suggesting that even 6 month old babies can distinguish fundamental differences between good and bad social behaviors, and choose all by their little selves the better option.

Babies as young as 6 to 10 months old showed crucial social judging skills before they could talk, according to a study by researchers at Yale University’s Infant Cognition Center published in Thursday’s journal Nature.

The infants watched a googly eyed wooden toy trying to climb roller-coaster hills and then another googly eyed toy come by and either help it over the mountain or push it backward. They then were presented with the toys to see which they would play with.

Nearly every baby picked the helpful toy over the bad one.

The babies also chose neutral toys — ones that didn’t help or hinder — over the naughty ones. And the babies chose the helping toys over the neutral ones…

The choice of nice over naughty follows a school of thought that humans have some innate social abilities, not just those learned from their parents.

“We know that they’re very, very social beings from very, very early on,” Hamlin said.

A study last year out of Germany showed that babies as young as 18 months old overwhelmingly helped out when they could, such as by picking up toys that researchers dropped.

There is an obligatory quote from a psychologist who isn’t convinced of the “innate ability” part, insisting these behaviors were learned. But it seems he’s not recognizing that all these babies observed were the actions of the toys themselves, which toys “helped” one another and which “fought” each other. They were not then told by the researchers which to choose to play with. On their own, they overwhelmingly chose the “good” toy over the “bad” one.

He does make a good point about the social experience babies have in their first six months of life, and how this likely plays a role. But this experience would be limited exclusively to family, where the baby will naturally be getting cared for in most cases. But often, even at that age, there can be bullying and sibling rivalry in multi-child households. I can think of one good control for a future study to test how much the babies’ choices are innate, but it would be difficult to pull off. Find some 6-month-olds taken from homes where neglect, if not outright abuse, was the norm, and see if they choose the “meaner” toy.

While nothing in science ever rests on one study, and there is more research clearly to be done here, I think what this study can be confidently said to establish is that it wasn’t necessary to hammer these babies with a fusillade of Christian moral indoctrination about their innate “depravity,” and nasty threats of eternal hellfire and damnation, in order to persuade them to choose nice over naughty. Sure, they’re not old enough to understand such indoctrination in the first place, but that’s the whole point: even at this young an age, very fundamental notions of beneficial social behaviors appear to be entirely comprehensible. And the babies didn’t even need parental authority — the real-world analogue to Christianity’s reward-or-punishment-based morality paradigm — to distinguish good from bad behavior. We’re a social species, and it’s human nature to want to get along. Sadly, it’s only as we grow older, and are exposed to whatever social, political, or religious ideologies appeal to us (or are forced on us), that we feel more inclined to divide ourselves and view our neighbors, our former playmates, with hate, fear, and suspicion.

Warren Jeffs sentenced; must serve at least 10 years

Polygamist cult leader Warren Jeffs was sentenced today for being an accomplice to rape by running his “Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints” as a sex farm for himself and older male members, forcing teenage girls into marriages with cousins and other men often old enough to be their grandfathers. Good riddance.

Now, I wonder how our pal Rhology will assess this situation. I assert, based on “personal” and “societal preferences” (yes, that slurping sound you hear are my eyes rolling yet again), that was Jeffs did was morally wrong because it is harmful to force any unwilling person into sexual submission and/or a marriage that they don’t want, and it’s especially bad to further manipulate them into consent by scaring them that they might jeopardize their rumored “eternal salvation” if they resist, when what’s really going on is that you have an oppressive theocratic society in which males dominate and subjugate the females and treat them like property. Freedom of choice, especially choices dealing with whom you marry and have sex with, should be left up to the individual. To remove that choice from a person simply because you wield power over them is abusive. I know these are not things I should ordinarily have to explain, but remember we’re dealing with Rhology here. Basic human nature eludes him.

So, I invite Rhology to explain whether he approves or disapproves of what Jeffs did, based on his vaunted “objective morality” that he still has yet to define. I invite him especially to give better reasons than the ones I’ve listed, based on this “objective morality,” as to why he think Jeffs was wrong for forcing underage girls into marriages, if indeed Rhology thinks he was.

Demerits for simply falling back on such unsupported presuppositions as “atheists don’t have objective morality so they’re in no position to condemn the acts of Christians.” (Though I suspect Rhology doesn’t consider Jeffs, leader of a splinter Mormon offshoot cult, to be Christian.) Remember, Rho, we’ve heard your premises over and over. We’re still waiting for you to defend and explain them. And whether my reasons are just “personal” or “societal” preferences, are my conclusions about the morality of Jeffs’ acts wrong? And if not, can we agree that your whole “objective morality vs. preferences” mantra is a big fat rhetorical red herring?

And now, for an example of that superior Christian morality in action, we take you to ORU…

Okay, so we all remember the recent series of scandals that has rocked Oral Roberts University in recent weeks, do we not? You know, where Richard Roberts and his family are accused of all manner of financial improprieties, as well as such sleazy activity as having ORU staff do their daughter’s homework for her? Well, I thought this would be an excellent example to put Rhology’s claims (see previous post) that Christian morality has a bulletproof foundation in God’s word, whereas atheist morality has no basis to distinguish right from wrong at all, to the test. What, exactly, was God’s word to ORU regents while the Roberts clan was skimming the university piggy bank for all they could get? Well, according to Chairman George Pearson, God was evidently an accomodating kinda guy.

When George Pearsons accepted the position of chairman of the ORU regents in May, he said in an address to the board: “I am standing here today because the Lord clearly spoke to me and said, ‘Do whatever Richard Roberts asks you to do,’” according to a copy of the address.

Wow. Carte blanche to do whatever. What a sound system of morals that is! God says it, I do it, that settles it. So if Richard Roberts decided, oh, “Let’s fly my daughter and a bunch of her friends to Florida on an expensive senior trip, and charge the whole thing to the university,” then that’s okay by God. And if we picky atheists raise our hands and say anything like, “Uh, hey, isn’t that a little dishonest and unethical, and possibly also illegal?” …Well, what do we know? All we live by are our “personal preferences,” and why should anyone else have to follow those if they don’t want to?

Heh. It’s always fun to have some pompous Christian turn up proclaiming the moral superiority of all Christians based on an ancient holy book, only to have the wind taken out of his sails by the mendacious and disreputable behavior of some of the most prominent Christians in our culture.

It’s clear that in the real world, the only people rooting their moral behaviors in their “personal preferences” are the ones shouting their Christianity from the rooftops. They just tell themselves that anything they do is all pre-approved by God, and alakazam, wrong is right, war is peace, and freedom is slavery. And it’s not like God can come down and correct them when he only exists in their minds, created in their own image. Christianity’s “morality” is like getting a Visa card with no spending limit, and someone else paying the bills every month, so that you never have to learn to be responsible on your own.

Rhology and Christianity’s misanthropic “morality”

A Christian blogger calling himself Rhology has discovered us, and is currently posting like mad in this comment thread with the usual run of “no morality without a God” canards. It’s interesting to read, mainly for the way in which Rhology argues, which involves telling us what we think (mainly, that we don’t believe in right and wrong), and just stating his assumptions, responding to challenges to those assumptions mostly by restating them. He demands we explain in detail what our basis is for deciding whether a situation is morally right or wrong, but does not himself provide a similarly detailed explanation for the basis he uses. It is sufficient for him to say, in essence, God lays down the law, it’s all in the Bible, and that’s all I need.

In repeatedly asserting the superiority of his “worldview,” he never actually gives an example of any circumstance where theistic morality would present a person with the ability to more accurately assess the right or wrong of a situation than a reason-based, secular morality. Is there any example Rhology can give where a Christian, using only the Bible as his moral guide, could more reliably decide when a situation is good or evil than an atheist could just by rationally assessing the situation using his poor, imperfect brain? I’d love to hear it.

Rhology’s vaunted “worldview” is chock full of deeply misanthropic presuppositions. Human beings are entirely evil and depraved, for one, with nary of hint of innate goodness. There is no difference in Rhology’s mind between being good and being perfect. One cannot be good at all unless one is perfect. Therefore, no one can be good, and we all need God. It’s a rather jaw dropping assertion, to be sure, and one that flies in the face of what anyone who actually, you know, interacts with people in the real world knows.

But it’s a necessary premise for Rhology’s arguments, because without that deep-seated misanthropic basis for his “worldview,” he would have to entertain the notion that maybe people can think for themselves, and reach a consensus morality sufficient for the success of our species and our society on our own. (In Aristotle’s words, that virtue arises from the proper application of reason.) If people can decide amongst themselves what’s right or wrong, then God looks less necessary. And Rhology cannot countenance that. So human reason must be denigrated at all costs. Rhology does this by trying to deride reason-based morality as nothing more than one’s “personal preferences,” as if everyone on Earth lives in a vacuum and just makes this stuff up. He cannot comprehend that human moral precepts are based on our shared experience of living together as a social species, and learning through endless trial and error what works for us and what doesn’t. There are things about human nature at a fundamental level that Rhology’s Christian indoctrination has rendered him incapable of understanding.

So hop on over to the thread and have a read, and pitch in if you can find more flaws in Rhology’s “worldview” than I and some other commenters already have. He’s an interesting example of how a too-dogmatic adherence to Christianity’s authoritarian teachings can cripple one’s understanding of — let alone respect and empathy for — his fellow man.

A sterling example of the moral bankruptcy of religion

Recently, Richard Dawkins wrote a piece called “Logical Path from Religious Belief to Evil Deeds.” In it, he proposed that the reason religionists can consider themselves morally superior to absolutely everyone who doesn’t share their beliefs is that religious belief “changes, for people, the definition of good.”

This is how, for example, the 9/11 terrorists were able to do what they did, and still believe themselves and their actions to be as “good” as it was possible to be. This is how psychotics like Fred Phelps and Donald Spitz can do what they do — the former staging his unspeakably vile protests and the latter claiming to be a “pro-life” champion while lionizing a murderer of an abortion doctor on his website as an “American hero” — and think they are the paragons of all that is good in the world. If there’s one concept religion — especially as practiced by Christians and Muslims — perverts beyond all hope of recognition, it’s the rational understanding of good and evil. To a believer, if you’re doing it for your God, it’s good, even if it’s the most backwards and disgraceful of bigoted beliefs, or the most inexcusable of crimes, including mass murder. It’s classic Orwellian doublethink.

This fact has been made clear once again by the latest blatherings of the mentally ill Ann Coulter. Yes, I’m sure all of you are poised to roll your eyes and go “come on!” at my choice of such an easy target. After all, Ann has never said a sane (let alone sensible or remotely factual) thing in her entire manufactured career. Isn’t pointing to her idiocies like shooting fish in the proverbial barrel?

Well, maybe. But that doesn’t invalidate the basic point, which is this: Ann is a deranged and hate-filled individual. And yet, she embraces Christianity quite fervently, a religion whose proponents repeatedly insist is all about love. But notice: Christianity, contrary to another claim of its adherents, does not in fact give Ann a foundation from which she can understand just how vicious and ignorant her beliefs are, and change them for the better — which is what it would do if it were a belief system founded upon sound moral precepts that provided comprehensible moral guidelines for living. Rather, it simply gives her a comfort zone from which she can continue to hold those beliefs, and then label them moral.

Look at this truly bizarre exchange between Ann and CNBC host Donny Deutsch. On Deutsch’s show last Monday, Ann made some of the most outlandishly anti-Semitic remarks to be publicly aired since April of 1945. And yet, with all apparent sincerity, she insisted that these statements were in no way anti-Semitic or the least bit hateful.

COULTER: Do you know what Christianity is? We believe your religion, but you have to obey.

DEUTSCH: No, no, no, but I mean –

COULTER: We have the fast-track program.

DEUTSCH: Why don’t I put you with the head of Iran? I mean, come on. You can’t believe that.

COULTER: The head of Iran is not a Christian.

DEUTSCH: No, but in fact, “Let’s wipe Israel” –

COULTER: I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention.

DEUTSCH: “Let’s wipe Israel off the earth.” I mean, what, no Jews?

COULTER: No, we think — we just want Jews to be perfected, as they say.

DEUTSCH: Wow, you didn’t really say that, did you?

COULTER: Yes. That is what Christianity is. We believe the Old Testament, but ours is more like Federal Express. You have to obey laws. We know we’re all sinners –

DEUTSCH: In my old days, I would have argued — when you say something absurd like that, there’s no –

COULTER: What’s absurd?

DEUTSCH: Jews are going to be perfected. I’m going to go off and try to perfect myself –

COULTER: Well, that’s what the New Testament says.

Wow, huh? Now, keep in mind, as part of the very same exchange, Ann is able to say this with perfect conviction.

DEUTSCH: You said — your exact words were, “Jews need to be perfected.” Those are the words out of your mouth.

COULTER: No, I’m saying that’s what a Christian is.

DEUTSCH: But that’s what you said — don’t you see how hateful, how anti-Semitic –

COULTER: No!

DEUTSCH: How do you not see? You’re an educated woman. How do you not see that?

COULTER: That isn’t hateful at all.

DEUTSCH: But that’s even a scarier thought.

Once your brain stops reeling, you may be given to wonder just how a person can hold such 1984-ish, contradictory attitudes and not have one’s head explode from cognitive dissonance. The answer is: religion. Religion redefines “good” to accommodate, legitimize and justify whatever the believer already believes. It is not a rational process in the least. If it were, then yes, it would impossible to make the pronouncement that, compared to you, an entire race of people is imperfect (and, by unavoidable extension, inferior), and simultaneously think that that is not only not a hateful comment, but one that embraces diversity. The moral and intellectual wasteland that is religion is never made more clear than when some religionist openly and proudly espouses these “war is peace, freedom is slavery” attitudes, and then gets all agog with confusion and denial when someone points out just how demented and hateful and just plain wrong they are.

If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a million times: religion provides no basis for a system of morals. It simply provides a smug sense of superiority for its adherents, in which the word “moral” is applied to the flock, and “immoral,” “imperfect,” “sinner,” and other divisive and harmful sobriquets are applied to everyone on the outside, irrespective of actual deeds.

I know, you’re shocked, aren’t you?

Word is getting around about the stupefying level of corruption and sleaze over at Oral Roberts “University”. You know old Oral. He’s the con man who told everyone God would kill him if he didn’t raise $8 million, and got the money, demonstrating conclusively that when it comes to getting filthy rich, there’s no sleaze so great it won’t sell. Well, the sleaze just got sleazier.

The internal document was prepared by Stephanie Cantese, Richard Roberts’ sister-in-law, according to the lawsuit. An ORU student repairing Cantese’s laptop discovered the document and later provided a copy to one of the professors. It details dozens of alleged instances of misconduct. Among them:

  • A longtime maintenance employee was fired so that an underage male friend of Mrs. Roberts could have his position.
  • Mrs. Roberts – who is a member of the board of regents and is referred to as ORU’s “first lady” on the university’s Web site – frequently had cell-phone bills of more than $800 per month, with hundreds of text messages sent between 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. to “underage males who had been provided phones at university expense.”
  • The university jet was used to take one daughter and several friends on a senior trip to Orlando, Fla., and the Bahamas. The $29,411 trip was billed to the ministry as an “evangelistic function of the president.”
  • Mrs. Roberts spent more than $39,000 at one Chico’s clothing store alone in less than a year, and had other accounts in Texas and California. She also repeatedly said, “As long as I wear it once on TV, we can charge it off.” The document cites inconsistencies in clothing purchases and actual usage on TV.
  • Mrs. Roberts was given a white Lexus SUV and a red Mercedes convertible by ministry donors.
  • University and ministry employees are regularly summoned to the Roberts’ home to do the daughters’ homework.
  • The university and ministry maintain a stable of horses for exclusive use by the Roberts’ children.
  • The Roberts’ home has been remodeled 11 times in the past 14 years.

Tim Brooker, one of the professors who sued, said he fears for the university’s survival if certain changes aren’t made.

It’s hard to imagine which of these is the most meretricious. That Mrs. Roberts appears to be a closet pederast? (What is she texting underage males in the middle of the night for, anyway? Football scores?) That the Roberts family shows their dedication to quality education at their “university” by forcing employees to do their own kids’ homework? That the place even has a “university jet”? Or, echoing the amusing remarks I’ve seen from women in other sites’ comment threads, why, if Mrs. Roberts was going to piss away 39 grand of misappropriated funds buying clothes, she’d do it at a place like Chico’s?

I personally hope Tim Brooker’s fears are realized, and that these revelations finally shut down the farcical ORU for good. Now if we could only unearth similarly scandalous behavior over at Liberty “University” and Bob Jones “University”, we could start to put a serious dent in the plague of fundamentalist miseducation and influence in this country once and for all.