“Under God” Suits In MA, NJ

Public schools are, it seems, now alleging that pledging
Allegiance to flags, and to gods, is the rule;
“Under God” makes the word “indivisible” risible—
Laughable, really, for kids in their school—
Of course there are children abstaining, explaining
Their worldview prevents them from going along;
They’d say “under god”, but it’s blather; they’d rather
Say nothing at all, than to say something wrong

These kids will all face brutal mocking—it’s shocking,
That good Christian children would treat them this way
But kids know, the way to defeat them, is beat them
Till, bleeding and bruised, they have learned to obey
The truth is, the pledge that they’re saying is praying—
It separates children, by form of belief…
Just read Seuss’s tale of the Sneetches, which teaches
That such segregation leads surely to grief. [Read more...]

It’s Protective Custody, That’s What It Is.

Once again, recent events call out an older verse. I fucking hate it when that happens.

[...S]ome civil libertarians and women’s rights advocates worry that if Gibbs is convicted, the precedent could inspire more prosecutions of Mississippi women and girls for everything from miscarriage to abortion — and that African Americans, who suffer twice as many stillbirths as whites, would be affected the most.

Mississippi has one of has one of the worst records for maternal and infant health in the U.S., as well as some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease and among the most restrictive policies on abortion. Many of the factors that have been linked to prenatal and infant mortality — poverty, poor nutrition, lack of access to healthcare, pollution, smoking, stress — are rampant there.

“It’s tremendously, tremendously frightening, this case,” said Oleta Fitzgerald, southern regional director for the Children’s Defense Fund, an advocacy and research organization, in Jackson. “There’s real fear for young women whose babies are dying early who [lack the resources to] defend themselves and their actions.”

Jennifer, Jennifer, got herself pregnant,
The poor, irresponsible slut.
See, boys will be boys, so it’s up to the girls
To be moral, and keep their legs shut.
But Jennifer, Jennifer, couldn’t be bothered;
She led her young Billy astray.
They met, after classes, at Jennifer’s house,
And now there’s a kid on the way.

Jennifer, Jennifer, wants an abortion—
She says she’s too young for a baby—
But the law of the land says abortion is murder;
The answer is no, and not maybe.
See, murder is murder; we cannot condone
The destruction of innocent life.
And Billy, of course, is an innocent, too,
And he’s much, much too young for a wife.

So Jennifer, Jennifer, finds herself caught
In the view of a watchful Big Brother,
And Country and Church have a task on their hands—
How to keep the babe safe from its mother.
If murder is murder, for fetus or child,
Then surely assault is assault;
A fetus is damaged by drinking or smoking,
And all of it, Jennifer’s fault.

If Jennifer, Jennifer, falls down the stairs
Then the baby inside could be harmed;
And since that poor child is a ward of the state
It is right we should all be alarmed!
So Jennifer, Jennifer, needs to be safe
For the sake of the babe in her womb;
To keep the poor innocent safe from all harm,
Let’s keep Jennifer locked in her room.

But Jennifer, Jennifer, isn’t the first
Nor the last to be pregnant, you see.
The task that’s before us—protecting our children—
Is crucial, I think you’ll agree.
With the passing to law of my modest proposal,
I honestly think we’ll prevail.
It’s simple: Each woman who finds herself pregnant
Must spend the next nine months in jail.

Jennifer, Jennifer, shielded from harm
In a cell with a toilet and cot
With a closed-circuit camera, an unblinking eye,
For the safety of Jennifer’s tot.
When at last you deliver your new baby boy
We’ll whisk you right out through the door;
We care about kids while they’re inside your womb—
Once they’re out, we don’t care any more.

And Jennifer, Jennifer, can’t find her Billy—
Besides, he’s too young for a wife—
She weighs her alternatives, looks down each road…
And reluctantly takes her own life.

And the church says a prayer for the baby unborn
And a heartfelt and tearful farewell.
But Jennifer, Jennifer, so says the church,
Will be heading directly to hell.

There is, unfathomably, a lot of talk recently about what should have been settled long ago. What *was* settled long ago. And when even Jimmy Carter points to religion as a root cause of violence against women, there is no question which side atheists should be on.

A Humanist Prayer In The Arizona House Of Reps

Ok, this is really beautiful. Via Matthew Hendley writing for the Phoenix New Times blogs, we read that a second humanist representative, Juan Mendez, has had the chance to deliver the opening prayer for the Arizona House (the first was last May). Monday’s prayer wonderfully combines William Cleary’s “Grace to Shout” with Audre Lorde’s “Litany for Survival”, and it is, to my ear, a far more appropriate opening message for a legislative body than any supplication to a deity could possibly be:

In keeping with the spirit of the Opening Prayer during which we make a petition honoring our most sacred beliefs, I share with you a poem I adapted after hearing it from someone I respect — a prayer from my Humanist worldview that appeals to all our common humanness.

Today I ask for us all
the grace to shout
the grace to shout when it hurts,
even though silence is expected of us,

and the grace to listen when others shout
though it be painful to hear,

the grace to object, to protest, when we feel, taste or observe injustice
believing that even the unjust and arrogant
are human nonetheless
and therefore are worthy of strong efforts to reach them.

Do not choose a path that leads to the heart of despair
but choose to fill yourself with courage and understanding,

Choose to be that person who knows very well
when the moment has come to protest

I ask for us all the grace to be angry
when the weakest are the first to be exploited
and the trapped are squeezed for their meager resources,
when the most deserving are the last to thrive,
and the privileged demand more privilege.

I ask that we seek the inspiration we find inside each other to make our voices heard
when we have something that needs to be said,
something that rises to our lips despite the fear that was created in hopes to silence us,
to make us feel unwelcome

Audre Lorde, writer and civil rights activist asked us,
To remember that when we are silent we are still afraid
So it is better to speak
remembering
we were never meant to survive.

And so in closing I ask for us all to have the grace to listen when the many finally rise to speak and their words are an agony for us.

Beautiful and appropriate.

We can’t have that. Cue the obligatory commenter, reminding us that we are guaranteed freedom of, not from, religion, and suggesting that representative Mendez…, well, let’s let the commenter speak for himself:

This idiot athiest must be put shown the door and put on the next bus back to Mexico where he came from. His kind is not welcome here.

The good news is, the other commenters are not agreeing. The bad news is, you don’t have to look far to find scores who do.

On Debating Christian Apologists

Debating an apologist?
Get ready for a fight
Cos you’ve got an obligation
To get all the science right—
If you overstep your knowledge
Just a little, and you’re caught,
Then you’ve lost the weight of science
And you only get one shot

If your expertise is physics,
Or biology, or psych,
Best to know your limitations,
Not just wander where you like.
You may truly be an expert
And be perfect for the task
You may know your science backwards
But that won’t be what they ask

They’ll poke holes in what they’re able
And they’re gonna have a ball—
There’s an awful lot of science
And there’s no one knows it all
They would love to make you falter
And they’re surely gonna try
And your expertise is shattered
If they catch you in a lie

Say your answer misses something;
Say it’s off by one percent;
Say you quote the right researcher
But it’s not quite what they meant
Say the science isn’t settled,
Say there’s genuine debate
In the hands of an apologist
You’ve quickly sealed your fate

Now, it doesn’t really matter
If the one who’s right is you—
See, if science isn’t perfect
Then religion must be true
You’re debating an apologist?
Get ready for a fight
Cos you’ve got an obligation
To get all the science right.

A couple of days ago, Physicist Victor Stenger had a piece in Ye Olde HuffePoe on “How to Debate a Christian Apologist“. Now, Stenger is no stranger to this area–his books are carefully thought out, thorough, and devastating to Christian Apologetics (or rather, would be, if apologetics had to answer to the real world). And, you will note, he explicitly says in his introduction, more or less what I just said in the verse above:

Certainly atheist debaters will make their own arguments for atheism during their opening statements. I advise, again from observation and experience, that they limit these to their particular areas of expertise and avoid subjects outside those areas.

During their opening statements and throughout the debate, apologists are likely to make arguments with which atheists may not be so well versed. So, when the time comes for rebuttals, atheists often cannot provide cogent responses, or any responses at all, and so lose debating points.

An experienced debater will make note of every point his or her opponent makes and try to provide at least a one sentence response. That will prevent the opponent from coming back and saying, “My atheist friend never replied to this point.” This takes experience. I never had enough to be good at it. In a debate, impressions are more important than the substance of an argument and not answering a point makes a bad impression.

The point of his article, though, is to give some quick rejoinders to some of the Apologetic points he has heard again and again, so that the reader can see examples of how to quickly address some of the more common claims. It was not intended to be a thorough rebuttal:

I do not provide any technical details. These suggestions are meant to be short, punchy statements to use during your rebuttals, which are usually time-limited. If you are a cosmologist, biologist, or biblical scholar, you don’t need me telling you what to say on those subjects. If you are a non-expert on any subject, you should not say anything about it beyond your competence. Your opponent may call you out on it. I have seen that happen.

Alas, it seems that the good people at Uncommon Descent are as selective at reading Stenger’s article as they are at anything else, and must have missed that bit. Their reply:

Victor Stenger has his How to Debate a Christian Apologist in the Huffington Post. An atheist PhD physicist is reduced to using arguments many of which go beyond fallacious and border on the risible. I find the article very encouraging. If that’s all they’ve got, they ain’t got much.

Since most of their readers won’t bother to actually visit HuffPo to read the introduction, let alone the rest, score one for the people with a commandment against bearing false witness.

I would add one additional caveat to Stenger’s introduction. Because science works via a structured argument among experts, be aware that your opponent will be able (if properly prepared) to quote experts who appear to disagree with you (or your quoted experts). (For instance, Stenger makes the claim “Thoughts and emotions are observable electrochemical signals in the brain.” You don’t have to have read here long to know I vehemently disagree with this–thinking and emotion are not at all relegated to just the brain; they are observed across time in the interaction of a whole person with their environment, and cannot be reduced to brain signals. Mind you, I think his view is worlds better than theirs, but it’s still wrong.)

If you cannot reasonably expect to enlighten your audience about some substantial philosophical differences (and practical differences, of course, as well) between religious and scientific world views, perhaps the best bet is to stick to forms that are not stacked against the more nuanced and complicated view.

“Protestant Work Ethic” Vs. “Atheist Work Ethic”

The “protestant work ethic”
Was, we assumed,
Underlying the gains we had made.
A secular ethic, it’s
Clear, left us doomed—
And an atheist one, much afraid!

Our country was built on the
Fear of a God
Who would smite us for sloth (it’s a sin)
We have to believe, or
It’s all a façade—
And the atheist communists win!

The theories assume that a
Godly belief
Is so useful, we don’t need a test—
The thing is, they tested it:
Here’s the motif—
The atheist way is the best!

Statistical evidence
Must be dismissed
Or, at least, we must say that it’s fraud!
Or else, it is false, what
Believers insist…
Productivity hinges on God!

A recent article in the Journal of Institutional Economics explores the assumption that the protestant work ethic should be credited with… well, with all the warm fuzzies it is always credited with. And the answer is… no. Hemant has a version, too. This particular study focuses at the interstate US level; one cannot extrapolate to either an international level, nor an interpersonal level.

At the interstate level, though, religion is not predictive of entrepreneurial activity.

Mind you, there are partial answers at other levels. At an international level, for instance, an earlier article in the same journal suggests that some predictors of socioeconomic success (in particular, property rights and the rule of law) are negatively associated with religiosity.

The truth is, everything about us is complex. Nothing is simple–not even the relationship of god-belief to any given measure of culture. If anyone tries to tell you that the answer to everything is simple… the cool thing is, the answer to their proposition actually is simple.

No.

Well, unless it’s me. Me, you can believe. No, really.

Trust me.

Edit… I just looked at the recent FTB posts… if you have not yet, read this and/or this, either of which are far more important than the post you are currently reading.

Bad News From North Carolina: Christian Love Strikes Again

I thought I saw an atheist
Among the kids at school
Who didn’t understand that, here,
The Christian bullies rule
You may call it “brave” or “foolish”
But she dared to show her face
I may have seen an atheist…
They put her in her place.

I thought I saw an atheist,
According to report,
Who thought she’d start a godless group
For mutual support
But no such group was needed—
This is how the story ends—
The local bullies threatened her,
Her family, her friends

I thought I saw an atheist
As hopeful as she’s brave
If such a girl surrenders,
Then the situation’s grave
She made the choice she had to make—
The threats were aimed at her
I thought I saw an atheist
Show Christians what they were

I thought I saw a Christian town
Displaying Christian love
Who know they get morality
From heaven up above
With threats of harm directed at
Those different in their sight
Yes, by their acts we know them…
That’s Christian love, all right.

Via Hemant, the not-terribly-unexpected news (though saddening and maddening) that Canton, North Carolina will not be getting an atheist club in their school after all. Oh, it’s not that the town suddenly found a legal argument. No, they shut this one down the old-fashioned way, through bullying, intimidation, and threats to the 15-year-old girl who was looking to form the club, and to her family and friends.

I expect the good, tolerant christian folk of North Carolina to spring to her aid, identifying and denouncing the bullies… any century now.