Theists Have the Best P.R. Machine Ever III

Part I and Part II are also posted on this blog.

P.R. Claim: Religion fosters family closeness and family values.

 

Last night I watched “Polygamy USA.” I am aware that polygamous LDS is not standard LDS. And, further, LDS isn’t standard “Christian.” But what I saw that disturbed me, had nothing to do with the differences in these religious cultures, and represented, rather, obvious similarities. It had nothing at all to do with the polygamous aspect of the environment, and everything to do with how religion can strain ties between parents and children—putting distance between them by fostering irrational intolerance.

What I see over and over again, is that religion damages some aspect-X of society, but then successfully spins itself as beneficial to aspect-X. A commonly observed example would be religious groups that promote restricting access to both contraception and comprehensive sex education, as a means to reduce unwanted pregnancy. But sometimes the instances are not so obvious, even if they are just as common. Repeatedly, I see the P.R. claims slide through society unquestioned and unexamined. It appears that all religion has to do is continue claiming it’s good for aspect-X, and after a time, the claim, “it’s good for aspect-X,” takes hold, even among nonadherents.

What I’m about to discuss is not a problem restricted to religion, but rather a problem that religion compounds. In other words, without religion, there would be one less cause for this harm. Additionally, being a massive and well regarded institution, it has the potential to continue causing extensive damage, more than other ideologies that are not so socially far reaching, nor as lauded. [Read more…]

Can we please stop having religion, people?

So this idiot punk-ass Somali kid decides he wants to be a big jihad hero and set off a bomb in Portland, and is exactly dumb enough to walk right into a sting. I imagine the FBI was having a hard time not laughing as they handed him the cell phone he thought would trigger a massive explosion. “Dude, it’ll be just like on 24, except this time you’re the good guy!”

On Sunday some clodhoppers decide to retaliate by burning down the Islamic Center the kid attended, though they only managed to scorch part of it a little bit and cause some smoke damage.

In the midst of all this, we have the unsurprising spectacle of Christopher Hitchens turning Tony Blair into thin strips of beef tripe in a debate over whether religion is a “force for good” in the world. The only debate there is whether anyone who would answer yes to that question is merely deluded or maliciously ignorant.

Religion, more and more, is being revealed as a haven for lunatics willing to commit all manner of lunacy to curry the favor of an imaginary father figure. I see precious few good guys, only idiots with competing holy books trying to outdo one another’s monumental acts of barbarism. Whatever good “faith” may be doing anyone is well hidden from view, at best. Can everybody please just let it go already?

…Sorry. Slipped into a little reverie there. Back to bad old reality yet again.

Picking Up the Pieces

When I receive a communication like this one, I don’t know whether to be happy or to cry. On the one hand, it’s nice to be able to help someone. On the other hand, I’m sorry to have to help someone put their self-worth back together after it’s been badly damaged so unnecessarily.

I received this note privately from someone on Facebook:

I watch AE on ustream and just wanted to say that something you said really helped me work through a few things :) Forgive me for being candid about the subject!

While not brought up in the Catholic faith I went to Catholic schools and have suffered problems relating to sex due to various things (minimal relationship advice from embarrassed parents, virtually no sex education from school other than in science lessons). I have been in emotionally abusive relationships since a very young age and was taught to feel nothing but guilt and shame about anything sexual. Being English (and from Yorkshire to boot), we just don’t talk about those things with our parents.

Through my self-education over the past few years (and my interest in issues related to atheism) I have started to work through these things that have plagued me since I can remember. It really clicked for me however whilst watching you responding to a caller on one of the archived programmes a few days ago. You were explaining to the caller how we do not need saving from being human. You stated that seeing a person and thinking sexual thoughts is a normal state of being and entirely natural (even essential) to being human and why would we need saving from soemthing so inherant to us?

It sounds silly to say it now but I had never thought of it that way. I’d had so much misinfomation and guilt piled on me that I couldn’t see the blindingly obvious.

I’ve been reading John Gray recently and this concept of the human as animal and natural is only just now sinking in (I don’t agree with everything he says but that part got to me). It seems that you don’t need faith to be still affected by some of the dogma!

I turn 30 next year and have had so many good relationships ruined by this, so many tears and recriminations that I can’t explain it here. I can’t even begin to think how much I have lost.

I’d been working towards it for a while but you really made it finally click with your matter-of-fact approach. I felt like “duuuuuuuh” when I realised the crap I put myself through! And it was totally unecessary! :D

So thank you. I managed to open so much of my life recently and this was one part of the puzzle that bound me to that old guilt.

###

All I can say to her is “you’re welcome, and best of luck.”

And all I can add for anyone else is “Don’t tell me the average believer doesn’t cause any harm.”

Burning Korans, drawing Mohammed, avoiding hypocrisy, creative vs. destructive protests — religion just makes the whole frickin’ world crazy!

There’s a truth about the upcoming Koran cookout planned by Dove World Church and its grandstanding (and light-fingered) pastor Terry Jones: they have every right under the Constitution to do this thing. Are they a bunch of dicks who don’t care about the potential devastating backlash of their actions as long as they get the publicity they crave? Yeah, I suppose they are.

Recently, atheists proudly participated in an online event called Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, which was as deliberate a middle finger to Islam as we could have thought up. Before that, PZ Myers famously threw a cracker in the trash, making him the bête noire of Catholics worldwide. (Though they conveniently forget that he also trashed a copy of The God Delusion at the same time.) As people who are not above acts of deliberate provocation ourselves — indeed, as people who are currently arguing amongst ourselves about the merits of “being a dick” in our encounters with religionists — it would hardly be honest of us to join the chorus of chest-beating outrage against Jones’ church for the horrible offense of burning somebody’s holy book. While most of us, I’m sure, take Fahrenheit 451 to heart and deplore book-burning on general principles as a disgraceful act of intellectual cowardice and the suppression of ideas, we should also acknowledge the legitimacy of the act as a form of protest speech. After all, I can’t very well defend the rights of flag-burners while condemning a Koran-burner. Don’t work dat way!

I suppose where the conversation ought to go from here for atheists is in whether or not Jones is motivated by a desire to conduct a legitimate form of protest, or if he’s simply a crass political opportunist, playing into a rising tide of anti-Muslim bigotry in order to increase his profile from “obscure pastor of an outcast hick church” to “internationally famous martyr and warrior for Christ”. Well, what is legitimate protest in this context? Yes, radical Islamists brought down the World Trade Center. But all Muslims are not radical Islamists, and all Muslims did not partake in, let alone condone, the 9/11 attacks. So if Jones’s idea is that he’s protesting Islam for 9/11, he’s clearly throwing his net way too wide. The thing is, I suppose he knows it, but doesn’t care. He’s getting the publicity he wants.

The potential for hypocrisy in criticizing the upcoming burning has been much on my mind, and I’ve been forced to think about the similarities and differences between what Jones is about to do, and, say, Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. And then I’ve been forced to question whether or not any of my ideas are simply bullshit justifications I’ve been making up to feel better. I don’t think they are. But I do think it’s a positive thing, overall, that I’m willing to be self-critical. This is an advantage the godless life offers, I think, over the brazen certainties of God-botherers like Jones, who confidently assert that God (i.e., their projection of themselves upon the universe) truly wants them to do what they’re planning.

Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, for one thing, was on the whole a creative rather than destructive act of protest. It was a response, not only to the real Islamist violence and threats of violence that erupted in the wake of the publication of a few innocuous (and not especially good, when you think about it) cartoons, but to the arrogant assumption on the part of Islamists that non-Muslims were somehow obligated to follow Islam’s rules. Also, at the end of the day, what you had were a bunch of silly cartoons. While there was a little huffing and puffing about EDMD, in the end, the message I think got across (to the general public, if not to radicals) that taking someone’s life over a lame doodle was both insane and pitiful in equal measure. Lame doodles themselves can’t possibly hurt a fly. EDMD might have offended some Muslims. But in the end, no one killed anyone.

Now, piling up a couple hundred copies of the Koran and torching them — that would be a destructive form of protest. Furthermore, it’s hypocritical of Jones to justify it by condemning Islam as a hateful, intolerant religion, when he has a history of hate speech (against gays, the usual suspects) and intolerance. While I think Jones has the right to go through with his speech, I don’t think his motives are honest. He’s exactly what he condemns, except that his religious radicalism wears a cross rather than a crescent moon and star. (The atheists who took part in EDMD might condemn Islam and Islamist violence, but we’d never want to deprive Muslims of their right to worship, as many right-wingers do right now.)

Could this event trigger more terrorist attacks and counter-strikes against our troops overseas? Yeah, I suppose it could, though it isn’t as if they needed more reasons to do that. But if Jones ends up giving them one, the first such attack will be all the vindication he needs. “See, we were right about how violent Islam is!” Not caring that, in this instance, he threw the first punch. Yeah, it’s entirely valid to condemn radical Islamists for doing what they actually do, which is kill people who aren’t sufficiently “respectful” to their beliefs. But you limit your condemnation to those individuals and groups who do the violence. As has been pointed out to an indifferent Jones, it’s absurd and dishonest as hell for him to suggest that he’s only protesting the violent Islamists, and that “moderate Muslims” ought to support him, when it’s their holy book he’s burning too.

In the end, I think what we as atheists should take away from all this insanity is a sobering realization that this is the kind of world you get when religion runs the show. Belief pits us against our fellow man for the most absurd of reasons: failure to worship the correct invisible magic man in the correct way. And for all that defenders bleat about the alleged benefits of religion — that sense of charity, well-being, love and community we are told believers enjoy better than any of the rest of us — they always leave out the part about religion’s innate tribalism. Whatever benefits religious beliefs confer are only enjoyed by those within that particular belief community. If you’re an outsider…run.

We rationalists can only hope humanity outgrows its penchant for religious tribalism one day, and that all these vile superstitions are eradicated from our cultural landscape completely. (Not through violence, of course, but through intellectual and moral awakening.) There really ought to only be one tribe — humanity.

But until then…yeah, go ahead, burn that Koran. Whatever. I’ll be at home that day. Let me know when the smoke clears and it’s safe to breathe free again.

Is Cherry Picking a Good Thing?

This is actually a question I can see both sides of, even though I know which side I come down on. And recently a fan wrote in to express the following:

I’m ok with cherry picking religious beliefs in general because I think that it has helped push beliefs towards a more beneficial outcome. Today you hear people claiming that the Christian God is Love and other such nonsense, but I’d rather them intentionally ignore the bad parts in their holy book than to accept it all unquestioningly if they’re going to believe in both cases already.

He raised some good points about how it’s good many Muslims are moderate–and not like their more fanatical counterparts. I get the point, I really do. But here are my thoughts:

This is a question with no answer. Someone recently posted on Facebook an article about an American association of physicians who initially came out with a position that it’s OK to “nick” infant female genitalia as a substitute for a full female circumcision–which they feared some families would go back to the old country to get if doctors here wouldn’t do it. However, they then reversed their stance to say that, in fact, doctors should counsel and support the families, but not perform any such ritualistic procedures.

What should they do? Should they cause small harm, in order to mitigate greater harm? Or should they stand firm against all harm?

I compared it in a recent dialog to chemo therapy. Some chemo treatments have long-term, or even permanent awful effects on people’s bodies. But the idea is that this toxic cocktail will save someone’s life, so we induce harm, in order to mitigate worse harm. And most people agree this is the right course. BUT, what if we found a cure for cancer that inflicted no harm tomorrow, but some oncologists insisted upon continuing to use chemo treatments? Would it still be the right course of action?

Making religion somewhat less toxic, I can see, is preferable to having it be fully toxic. But I personally, as a reformed Christian myself, know that there is a cure available that eliminates the harm altogether. And with that knowledge, I can’t, in good conscience, pursue the course of mitigating harm, when a cure that eliminates the harm is available.


I can’t speak for everyone–but this is how I view it and how I address the problem.


And I think it also covers the “cherry picking” question. To support a book that encourages subjugation of women and killing other people who don’t believe what you do, to me, is inexcusable. It would be like joining the KKK because you like the social networking, but reject the racist agendas.


So, for what it’s worth?