Way back

I’ve been following (and doing what I could to share and draw attention to) Maryam’s work for a long time – since 2004. I did a search at the ur-B&W and had to click “previous entries” a lot of times to get to the first ones.

One of the first ones is The Politics Behind Cultural Relativism, an International TV Interview that Maryam did with Fariborz Pooya and Bahram Soroush.

Bahram Soroush: You are absolutely right. When you talk about the West, it is accepted that there are political differentiations, that people have different value systems, that there are political parties. You don’t talk about one uniform, homogeneous culture. But why is it that when it comes to the rest of the world, suddenly the standards change? The way you look at society changes. It doesn’t make sense. But it makes political sense. We are living in the real world; there are political affiliations; there are economic ties; there are very powerful interests which require justifications. For example, how can you roll out the red carpet for the Islamic executioners from Iran, treat them as ‘respectable diplomats’ and at the same time dodge the issue that this government executes people, stones people to death, carries out public hangings, and that this is happening in the 21st century. It’s a question of how to justify that. So, if you say that cultures are relative; if you say that in Iran they stone people to death and they veil women because it is their culture, your conscience then is clean. This is the reason that we are seeing that something that doesn’t really make sense to anyone, and which they would not use to characterise anyone else in the Western world, they use it to characterise people from the third world. In fact it is very patronising, eurocentric and even racist to try to divide people in this way; to say, it’s OK for you. For example, to say to the Iranian woman that you should accept your fate because that’s your culture. This is part of the larger discussion of what lies behind this sort of thinking, but the motive is very political. [Read more...]

Maryam

Here’s some Maryam, so that you can see why it’s good news that she’s joining FTB.

Iran Solidarity Stall at Frankfurt Book Fair 12-16 October

It is quite unbelievable that a regime that brutally kills off free expression
and those who use it, that forbids women to sing in public, a regime that bans
and censures books, films and the media in the tradition of the vilest
dictatorships will be able to freely spread their views and propaganda at the
fair. No doubt this will be done displaying a show of civility that the Islamic
regime hardly shows to its own people. In the name of representing ‘Iranian
culture’ we will see some well dressed, smiling henchmen of the very regime that has just honoured Iranian actress Marzieh Vafamehr with 90 lashes and one year in prison for playing in the film ‘My Tehran for sale’ which was first given permission (yes, films need to be approved by the regime) but subsequently banned. Inside Iran, the regime imprisons writers, journalists and directors – abroad it takes part in the Frankfurt Book Fair. [Read more...]

Iphigenia in America

Vyckie Garrison reviews a Quiverfull classic, Me? Obey him?

I am no less rational than my (ex)husband.  He also is gifted with a strong intuition and emotional intelligence.  Convinced as we were that I was more susceptible to Satanic deception, our family was deprived of my reasonable input in decision making.  My intelligence was squelched, my intuition was distrusted and my feelings were denied.  My husband developed an artificially inflated sense of his own powers of logic.  I can’t count how many times he said to me, “What you are saying sounds reasonable, but how do I know that Satan is not using you to deceive me?”  I had no good defense.  According to the Scriptures, we had every reason to believe that I was indeed being used to lead my husband astray.

What a horrible, sad, tragic way to live. How heart-breaking that Vyckie was convinced that she was susceptible to Satanic deception.

But it gets even more so.

When a concerned friend reported our family to Child Protective Services, my ex-husband lost custody of the children due to his abuse.  The social worker told me that I was guilty of “failure to protect.”  The only thing that prevented me from having my parental rights terminated and my children placed in foster care was my willingness to submit to a full psychological evaluation, undergo individual and family counseling, and cooperate with random unannounced home visits by Social Services.

My older children rightfully blame me for not protecting them against their father’s abuse.  Even though they know that I was influenced by books such as “Me? Obey Him?” to believe that it was God’s will to submit to the abuse, my children cannot be fooled into thinking that I was not really responsible for their suffering.  I have apologized for my neglect.  Most of my children have forgiven me — still, the damage is done and some things can’t (and shouldn’t) be forgotten.

Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum. (That was about a parent abusing a child too. Iphigenia.)

Cooking people is wrong

I saw a thing on tv a few days ago about a “spiritual retreat” in which some people looked for spiritual whatevers via a sweat lodge, and three of them died.

The “self-help guru” who ran the show was convicted of negligent homicide last June. He could have been convicted of manslaughter but that required ruling that he knew the sweat lodge was potentially fatal, beyond a reasonable doubt.

I was glad I didn’t have to be on that jury, because I would have been sorely tempted to convict, for legally bad reasons. I would have thought that if he didn’t know a sweat lodge could be dangerous, he should have. I thought the same thing about that “therapist” who suffocated a child to death in a crack-brained “rebirthing” exercise in 2000. Candace Newmaker, was the child’s name.

Mr Sweat Lodge.

Before the disastrous ceremony outside the New Age playground of Sedona, Ray had been on a rapid ascent in the rarefied, $11-billion industry of self-help gurus. Thousands attended the free lectures he gave around the country, and many of them later ponied up thousands of dollars to enroll in one of his many workshops.

Propelled by an appearance in a 2006 documentary called “The Secret,” about rules for success, he had appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “Larry King Live.” His business, based in Carlsbad, Calif., brought in $10 million annually and was growing fast, according to Inc. magazine.

During the trial, witnesses testified about the chaotic, two-hour event in the steam-filled sweat lodge. It ended with dozens of clients being dragged from the building. In addition to the deaths, more than 20 people were hospitalized.

Self-help gurus shouldn’t go around putting people in physical danger. That’s not asking too much, is it?

Scraping the barrel

Some fella says Richard Dawkins is bad and stupid and cynical and anti-intellectual because he refuses to debate William Lane Craig.

Really?

Well not the bad and stupid part, no, that’s my paraphrase, but it’s not far off; and the rest of it, yes, really.

Richard Dawkins is not alone in his refusal to debate with William Lane Craig. The vice-president of the British Humanist Association (BHA), AC Grayling has also flatly refused to debate Craig, stating that he would rather debate “the existence of fairies and water-nymphs”.

Yes, and? Are they required (morally though not legally) to debate anyone who asks? Are they not allowed to choose?

Given that there isn’t much in the way of serious argumentation in the New Atheists’ dialectical arsenal, it should perhaps come as no surprise that Dawkins and Grayling aren’t exactly queuing up to enter a public forum with an intellectually rigorous theist like Craig to have their views dissected and the inadequacy of their arguments exposed.

Oh, I see; it’s  intellectually rigorous theists that they’re not allowed to refuse to debate. Well there might be something to that, but what makes Daniel Came (he is the fella in question, the one who wrote the Comment is Free Belief piece) think Craig is intellectually rigorous? From what I hear he’s not a bit; what he is is a practiced debater, not a rigorous intellectual.

In his latest undignified rant, Dawkins claims that it is because Craig is “an apologist for genocide” that he won’t share a platform with him. Dawkins is referring to Craig’s defence of God’s commandment in Deuteronomy 20: 15-17 to wipe out the Canannites.

I am disinclined to defend the God of the Old Testament’s infanticide policy. But as a matter of logic, Craig is probably right: if an infinite good is made possible by a finite evil, then it might reasonably be said that that evil has been offset. However, I doubt whether Craig would be guided by logic himself in this regard and conduct infanticide. I doubt, that is, that he would wish it to be adopted as a general moral principle that we should massacre children because they will receive immediate salvation.

No, but he would defend it in the case of “God,” thus defending what ought not to be defended. As for infinite good, since no one can possibly know anything about such a thing,  it’s not very useful as a reason to say “oh well ok then” to wiping out a tribe or a nation. Dawkins is right to be indignant and Daniel Came is wrong to palter in this way.

As a sceptic, I tend to agree with Dawkins’s conclusion regarding the falsehood of theism, but the tactics deployed by him and the other New Atheists, it seems to me, are fundamentally ignoble and potentially harmful to public intellectual life. For there is something cynical, ominously patronising, and anti-intellectualist in their modus operandi, with its implicit assumption that hurling insults is an effective way to influence people’s beliefs about religion. The presumption is that their largely non-academic readership doesn’t care about, or is incapable of, thinking things through; that passion prevails over reason.

That claim might make some sense if Dawkins refused to debate anyone, but of course he does no such thing. He refuses to debate Craig, largely, I believe, because Craig is a dogmatic apologist, not a rational inquirer. You don’t go to William Lane Craig if you’re after thinking things through.

H/t Eric.

Arms linked

PZ notes that atheists and gays “often find themselves fighting on the same side in battles against the Religious Righteous.” Indeed, and also some wrangles with the let’s-all-get-alongists, who want to unite with absolutely everyone…except those pesky atheists or those pesky gays.

What to call it

We need a better word for…

Well for this. Start with what Julian said in that article.

Atheism does not own the scientific method, and nor does good, secular thinking reduce to scientific reasoning. What is too often forgotten is that modern atheism was born in a humanistic way of thinking that drew as much on arts and humanities as it did natural science, if not more so.

We need a better word for “good, secular thinking” that includes science but is not limited to it. We need a word that encompasses law, history, forensics and detective work, critical thinking, using what one knows and understands to navigate relationships and work and the world. Reality-based inquiry? Evidence-based? Reason?

Whatever it is, it’s compatible with the arts – it’s not in tension with them – but it’s not compatible with most religion, except of the “I enjoy the music and the ritual and the community” variety. It has no problem at all with just enjoying beauty in slack-jawed wonder or bliss, but it does have a problem with trying to translate that into something both definite and vague that deserves the label “spiritual,” much less “god.”

Any suggestions?

Hearing from Tiresias

Reposted from November last year, on The Woman Question again.

November 14, 2010

The old Tiresias trick comes in handy sometimes. The neurobiologist Ben Barres started out as Barbara, and he reports on what it’s like to be an intelligent woman.

The top science and math student in her New Jersey high school, she was advised by her guidance counselor to go to a local college rather than apply to MIT. She applied anyway and was admitted.As an MIT undergraduate, Barbara was one of the only women in a large math class, and the only student to solve a particularly tough problem. The professor “told me my boyfriend must have solved it for me,” recalls Prof. Barres…

Although Barbara Barres was a top student at MIT, “nearly every lab head I asked refused to let me do my thesis research” with him, Prof. Barres says. “Most of my male friends had their first choice of labs. And I am still disappointed about the prestigious fellowship I lost to a male student when I was a Ph.D. student,” even though the rival had published one prominent paper and she had six.

Well…women should just all do the transgender thing; problem solved. Right? Or would that be slightly inconvenient.

Some supporters of the Summers Hypothesis suggest that temperament, not ability, holds women back in science: They are innately less competitive. Prof. Barres’s experience suggests that if women are less competitive, it is not because of anything innate but because that trait has been beaten out of them.

“Female scientists who are competitive or assertive are generally ostracized by their male colleagues,” he says.

And called shrill strident bitches for good measure.