The (un)Friendly Atheist

I like Hemant Mehta. I really do. He’s a passionate advocate and organizer who regularly makes significant and positive contributions to the secular/atheist community (far more than, say, someone like me does). His blog is a regular read for me, which is saying a lot because these days I barely have time to read this one. He’s actually been gracious enough to offer me a guest post in response to what I thought was a particularly terrible contribution by an ISSA member. Gallingly, however, Hemant posted something today that was so uncharacteristically incurious as to drive me to take out my ass-kickin’ boots again. I don’t like ragging on people who I (otherwise) respect and like, but this piece was beyond the pale:

If you read the blog posts and Twitter comments about Chris [Stedman], though, you’d think he was a religious man in atheist clothing. Or that he’s delegitimizing our work. Or that he’s undermining our goals. He’s not. He’s as much of an atheist activist as the rest of us. He just practices it by focusing on cooperation and conversation with people of faith instead of beating his chest with both fists and proclaiming his superiority.

Some day, and I hope it’s soon, we will finally be able to take this straw atheist who beats its chest and bellows defiance (instead of providing reasoned argument in opposition to a thoroughly-debunked meme) out behind the woodshed and put it out of its misery. Then maybe, just maybe, folks like Hemant will be able to muster up the restraint to stop attacking it.

I don’t know Chris Stedman, I’ve never had any interactions with him, and I don’t really care if I ever do. The same goes for Alain de Botton. I say this to forestall any accusations that I am getting personal – this argument could be about anybody. The problem with the approach that guys like Stedman and de Botton take has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that they want to co-operate with believers. This has been pointed out so many times it’s hard to pick just one example to link to, so I will let you pick your favourite. Sure, were I in a particularly uncharitable mood I’d suggest that collaboration with an oppressive force like religion is a good way of preserving privilege in exchange for token concessions, but I recognize the willingness of many believers to counteract bigotry even when it comes from within their own ‘camp’. [Read more...]

Religious no-longer-free-dom

If they weren’t such a bunch of self-righteous, predatory, literally holier-than-thou, shockingly dangerous and immoral scumbags, I’d have some sympathy for the Catholic Church. After all, after centuries of iron-fisted rule over the minds of powerful nations around the world, the level of power afforded the Holy See has diminished substantially. As people have learned to pull back the curtain and find out who’s working the levers and dials of the Great And Powerful Pope, the church has had to start chasing believers and whining like a bully whose victims are finally fighting back.

One of the things that truly baffles me about public policy and religion is the fact that churches are tax exempt. I suppose it is defensible insofar as some churches provide charitable services; however, that is not even close to all they do. Their main activity is doctrinal instruction, not charitable organization. That kind of ‘service’ does not, in my mind, warrant getting the special privilege of having all income declared tax-exempt.

The Vatican has a weird relationship with Italy. It’s like when a spoiled child announces that ze is now going by a new name, and then the parents just kind of go with it until ze grows up and stops demanding to be called “Tangerine”. Except in this case, the parents are all the countries in the world, and the bizarre name is “Vatican”. True to its form, because the Vatican is technically a church, it demands tax exemptions for all of its properties, even those which are obviously not places of worship (as though that made a relevant difference).

I think the parents are getting fed up: [Read more...]

Islamophobia exists

So I am lucky to share the FTB platform with two titans of free thought: Ophelia Benson and Maryam Namazie. I was fans of both of these women long before I ever even dreamed about being counted among their colleagues. And because of the level of fearspect I have for both of them, I am really quite hesitant to disagree with them, so I haven’t so far.

What I am talking about is their seeming denial of the existence of Islamophobia:

That’s what the term is there for – to protect Islam – from prejudice, not Muslims. Given the havoc Islamism (and its banner, Islam) are wreaking worldwide, a criticism is not just a right but a historical task and duty.

Yes but even though there is such a thing as stupid blanket hatred of a meaningless collective noun called “Muslims,” it still shouldn’t be called “Islamophobia.”

In all fairness, and to hopefully safeguard against accusations that I am straw-manning their argument, I think they object to the word ‘Islamophobia’ on more or less the same grounds that I object to the term ‘reverse racism‘. It is a political phrase, built on a foundation of false equivalence and poor argument. It is used almost exclusively to describe any criticism, no matter how valid, of Islam as a religion, or the activities of extremist Muslim groups (or the complicit silence of moderate Muslim groups in the face of extremism). By throwing up accusations of intolerance every time someone makes disparaging comments about a particular religion, you create a smokescreen to deflect attention from real problems. It is a trap to bait arch-liberals, who refuse to distinguish between criticism and bigotry, into attacking secular arguments for reasons of misdirection rather than actual flaw.

If the argument started and ended there, then I strongly suspect that Ophelia, Maryam and I would be all pulling in the same direction. However, I cannot join them on their blanket dismissal of the word Islamophobia, or their statements that seem to indicate belief that the word is purely fiction, created as an obfuscatory countermeasure by Islamists to discredit anyone who criticizes Islam. The fact is that there is irrational fear and hatred directed toward Muslims because they are Muslims, and not for any other reason. To wit: [Read more...]

Science says we should blame the victims

Let’s face facts, people: if you get assaulted, or worse, it’s your fault. You shouldn’t have been walking in that area. You shouldn’t have been out at night. You shouldn’t have been alone. You shouldn’t have worn that dress or those shoes, or been wearing such an expensive watch/handbag/ribbon.

I mean, there are studies to demonstrate these things.

You can, of course, ignore this information. But once you know that certain behaviours increase your risk, then choosing to express that particular behaviour… Well… That’s all on you.

Right?

[Read more...]

So what kind of week has it been?

Have you ever noticed that sometimes things seem to happen all at once? You know how it is – your boss compliments your work on the same day that you find a pair of jeans that fit perfectly on the same day that the radio plays all your favourite songs? Then a week later, your boss forgets your name, you spill bleach on the jeans, and your radio stabs you in the kidneys with a switchblade*.

You all know what I’m talking about, right?

Some times we have really good weeks, and some times we have terrible weeks. Most of the time it’s a mixed bag, but there’s those occasional periods where the scales seem to be tipped predominantly in one direction. So… what kind of week has it been?

Costly federal appointments office has nothing much to do

In the six years since the Harper government came to power, Canadian taxpayers have spent millions of dollars on supporting a federal appointments commission that doesn’t exist. The money has disappeared into a bureaucracy set up to support the commission — a bureaucracy that seems to have just about everything except a commission to support.

So you know the old trope about conservatives being in favour of ‘small government’ and cutting ‘wasteful’ spending (by which they mean things they are ideologically opposed to)? Yeah… it seems as though the evidence continues to mount that the supposed fiscal restraint associated with the right wing is as illusory as the moral superiority their base keeps talking about. This isn’t the only ghost department that the Harper government has created, mind you:

A federal agency created by the Harper government with great political fanfare in 2008 is costing millions of dollars to achieve pretty much nothing. The Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board has just about everything a budding government agency could want.

So far, it has spent over $3.3 million for new offices, computers and furniture, well-paid executives and staff, travel budgets, expense accounts, board meetings, and lots of pricey consultants. All that’s missing is a reason for it to exist at all. [Read more...]

Movie Friday: In the Flesh

Since we talked about Republicans and their famous political strategy of demonizing minorities to gain the votes of the ignorant and bigoted, I’ve had this little ditty buzzing around my head:

Now I hope it is quite clear to everyone reading this that I do not consider the Republican party a violent white supremacist fascist group. They are not there yet, and I doubt they ever will be. As long as there can be free press and media in the United States, there will be enough people who can see through the darkest parts of the GOP (irony intentional in the word ‘darkest’, of course).

However, the threat of fascism to the USA will undoubtedly come from that party. For all their hysteria about “socialism” and fetishization of “small government”, it is the Republican party that has been committing the greatest crimes against democracy over the past decade, and who have been wielding government as a cudgel against those who don’t qualify as “real” Americans.

Anyway, I will try to find some happy things to write about next week.

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Republicans, Racism, Religion, and Revulsion

You may not find it odd that I haven’t yet said anything about the ongoing race for the GOP primary, but I do. After all, I talk about politics all the time, and every media outlet has something about the nomination fight up on an ongoing basis. I don’t know if there’s any particular reason I haven’t felt like writing about it – I’ve certainly been following it. If anyone’s curious about my thoughts on the whole situation, I’ll try to provide them to you briefly.

1. Everyone in the race is the worst human being I’ve ever seen

I have a strong dislike for conservative ideology. I have an even stronger dislike for whatever you call the Republican ideology. The Republican party resembles to me a wholly-owned subsidiary of feckless pandering to the worst and least informed instinct in all of us, and naked avarice. While it has become fashionable to say “well both parties are bought and paid for”, the fact is that the Republican party is far and away the most egregious sinner. [Read more...]

A surprising story (and a not-so-surprising one)

If you’ve been with the blog from the beginning, you know that I’m not really a fan of Malawi. From their persecution of ‘witches’, to their attitude about polygamy (that women should be under the protection of a man, so men should marry as many women as possible), to their backwards policy about homosexuality - let’s just say that Malawi is not the most progressive place in the world. I don’t know why, aside from the fact that most places in the developing world haven’t yet moved beyond the traditions and superstitions of a pre-scientific age (owing in no small part to the fact that many don’t have access to education), and perhaps the more pervasive influence of religion in that region.

Whatever the various causes, Malawi is not a place where you expect to hear a strong statement of enlightenment princples. Which is why I was so flabbergasted to read this: [Read more...]

#SOPA/#PIPA blackout post no. 1

In solidarity with the sites (including FTB) that are down for the day, I will not be providing original content today. I encourage you to poke around the archives. There’s nearly 2 years of quality posts to rummage through. Instead of writing myself, I have compiled a few interesting articles that I think you should read. Regular posting will resume tomorrow.

Tim Wise – “If I Were a Poor Black Child”…White Saviorism and the Politics of Personal Responsibility

Last week, Forbes Magazine’s small business reporter Gene Marks penned a column that has set the internet abuzz ever since. Therein, Marks, who quite accurately describes himself as “short, balding and mediocre,” proceeded to counsel poor black children as to how they might succeed in America, despite facing, by his own admission, longer odds than white youth like his own children, or other white middle class kids in general. Far from a harsh right-winger bent on condemning the moral decency, character or abilities of the black poor (or like Newt Gingrich in his 1994 vintage, ripping them away from their mothers and dumping them in orphanages), Marks appears to fashion himself an enlightened benefactor of good advice, a caring liberal who believes in the ability of anyone to make it with the right combination of hard work and a positive attitude.

No believer in Bell Curv-ish nonsense about black intellectual inferiority, Marks makes clear that the children about whom he speaks are no less capable than his own kids. Of course, one wonders just how much of a compliment Marks really intends for this to be, given his strange habit of dissing his offspring, on more than one occasion, as rather unintelligent, unmotivated, promiscuous and even inclined to petty criminality. Not sure what kind of asshole says things like this about his children in print, but I suppose we can leave that discussion for another day.

Read the rest of the article, leave your comments here.

Like this article? Call your senator, call your congressperson, tell them that you oppose SOPA and PIPA, and that ze should too. Not American? Neither am I.

Tough language, soft heads

Imagine for a moment that somebody wanted to build a zipline across your back yard. Let’s say that, thanks to minimal consultation and a cozy relationship with the city bylaw officers, that they want to tear up your land so that they can shoot through your property in a quick and effective manner. I’d imagine you wouldn’t be too thrilled about the idea, especially if they’d done it at someone else’s house and some ziplining wacko had ended up kicking one of their kids in the face.

“But think of the jobs this will create,” the company would be quick to reply. “Thousands of Canadians will work on this zipline, building and maintaining it!” “That’s very nice,” you might reply “but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re going to destroy my property, and I don’t want it there. What if someone falls on my property and wrecks my patio furniture?” “Poppycock,” says the zipline company “any damage will be reimbursed and cleaned up.” “I don’t care,” you might say “I don’t want people zooming through my yard. I don’t trust you to replace my furniture – my uncle carved it and it can’t be replaced that easily.”

Let’s say your neighbour came over and said “you know what, it’s probably not a good idea to run a zipline through hir property – it doesn’t seem safe at all.” The two of you stand resolute in opposition to what you see as a dangerous and unwelcome intrusion onto your land. What would that make you? A proud homeowner? A defiant citizen? A good custodian of your sovereign rights?

Nope, you would in fact be a dangerous, foreign-supported radical: [Read more...]