Arguing God In The New York Times

We can’t disprove a God, you know,
Cos God can’t be defined.
The God you claim cannot exist
Exists within my mind

My God cannot be fathomed, and
Will never be undone
Each heart perceives Him differently
But God is only One.

We disagree on details, like
His numbers, or His name,
But clearly, all believers know,
Their Gods are all the same

(What’s more, divine diversity
Is clearly heaven-sent:
Whatever God you just disproved
Is not the one I meant!)

A Godly game of whack-a-mole;
Forever un-disproved;
Each time you bring the hammer down
Too late! Cos God just moved!

A question, though, occurs to me—
I find it rather odd—
Why label this cacophony
“A shared belief in God”?

Ah. The horrendous interview with Plantinga was only the first in a series. Gary Gutting’s second interview is with Louise Antony, one of that large majority of philosophers who are atheists. This one was much easier to stomach, although I must say I was not nearly as impressed by Gutting in this interview. I guess he stood out in comparison to Plantinga, but here he seems determined to push Antony into Gutting’s own comfort zone that appears to prefer agnosticism to atheism.

But I do like the way Antony delimits her answers–her atheism is because theism has been proven false to her satisfaction, and she is perfectly comfortable with the notion that someone might disagree. She takes issue with a question about disagreement regarding the existence of God, wondering why that is any more significant a question than the myriad disagreements among theists regarding the characteristics of God (I have often pondered the extent to which different denominations can be said to be in agreement–here, here, and here, for example), which are certainly big enough disagreements to form schisms.

G.G.: Yes, I do think it’s relevant to ask believers why they prefer their particular brand of theism to other brands. It seems to me that, at some point of specificity, most people don’t have reasons beyond being comfortable with one community rather than another. I think it’s at least sometimes important for believers to have a sense of what that point is. But people with many different specific beliefs share a belief in God — a supreme being who made and rules the world. You’ve taken a strong stand against that fundamental view, which is why I’m asking you about that.

L.A.: Well I’m challenging the idea that there’s one fundamental view here. Even if I could be convinced that supernatural beings exist, there’d be a whole separate issue about how many such beings there are and what those beings are like. Many theists think they’re home free with something like the argument from design: that there is empirical evidence of a purposeful design in nature. But it’s one thing to argue that the universe must be the product of some kind of intelligent agent; it’s quite something else to argue that this designer was all-knowing and omnipotent. Why is that a better hypothesis than that the designer was pretty smart but made a few mistakes? Maybe (I’m just cribbing from Hume here) there was a committee of intelligent creators, who didn’t quite agree on everything. Maybe the creator was a student god, and only got a B- on this project.

In any case though, I don’t see that claiming to know that there is no God requires me to say that no one could have good reasons to believe in God. I don’t think there’s some general answer to the question, “Why do theists believe in God?” I expect that the explanation for theists’ beliefs varies from theist to theist. So I’d have to take things on a case-by-case basis.

The common ground that different religions share, that allows us to say they “share a belief in God”, is nowhere near what defines their different faiths.

Gutting, though, misses the bit where something that defies evidence and still gives rise to people who are absolutely certain about minute details (and who will fight over disagreements about those details), and presses Antony for a certainty that she does not feel the need to deliver:

G.G.: O.K., on your view we don’t have any way to judge the relative reliability of people’s judgments about whether God exists. But the question still remains, why are you so certain that God doesn’t exist?

L.A.: Knowledge in the real world does not entail either certainty or infallibility. When I claim to know that there is no God, I mean that the question is settled to my satisfaction. I don’t have any doubts. I don’t say that I’m agnostic, because I disagree with those who say it’s not possible to know whether or not God exists. I think it’s possible to know. And I think the balance of evidence and argument has a definite tilt.

So… yeah. This interview leaves me really liking Antony, really frustrated with Gutting, and all the more convinced that Plantinga can’t think his way out of a wet paper bag.

And the contrast in comments is interesting as well–the comments to the Plantinga interview ran strongly against him, and were frankly more intelligent than the interview. Today’s comments are still coming in, but it looks like evidence of an overall tendency of people to write in more often in complaint and disagreement than in concurrence. My favorite so far makes the argument that Antony can be disproven simply by defining God as “that which we cannot, and never will be able to, fathom”. Or as I have heard it before, “reality beyond the material“. Defining God that way pretty much means that any faith asserting any particular details about God must necessarily be false.

Hey, wait… maybe she’s onto something there.

A Heart-Felt Love Ode To Antonin Scalia

It must be depressing, to be a Scalia,
To see your words twisted in so many ways
To see your dissent—Windsor’s warning—adorning
The arguments cited in favor of gays!
Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky—how lucky
The activists were, that you wrote your dissent!
Your snarking in Windsor turned, now, to a how-to;
They probably know that it’s not what you meant!

I guess, in a way, we’re all grateful you’re hateful,
And focus your efforts on showing your wit;
Your sarcasm-laced “neener-neener” demeanor
Proved useful—well, after we translate a bit.
You couldn’t resist, so, self-smitten, you’ve written
A road map to marriage as federal right
So, much as you think we abuse it, we’ll use it,
And thank you, Scalia, for shining your light.

Context here, here, here, here, and here.

Rendering Unto Caesar

A little-known sacrament, hidden from view,
But it’s there if you happen to search…
Is the sacred ability—really, God’s right—
For a renter to park at a church.

The law is the law, and the rule is the rule,
Though enforcement has been, well, relaxed…
For over a decade, they’ve taken in money
But this year, their profits are… taxed!

University parking is scarce as can be;
The demand far outstrips the supply
Local businesses often will lease out some spots—
If they’re taxed, they don’t often ask why.

But churches are used to more delicate treatment
They’re not just a business, their business is God’s
And churches, of course, enjoy tax-exempt status—
It’s not like the faithful are frauds!

The church provides parking, on tax-exempt land,
That sits empty the rest of the week
So it’s “render to Caesar”, and time to pay up,
The end of their non-paying streak

They’re grudgingly paying their taxes this year;
The power of Christ can’t compel—
I still have a question they don’t want to hear:
Can we sue for back taxes as well?

Oh, the little things that show up in my aggregator! A couple of churches had been renting out parking spaces in a university town, and are shocked–shocked, I tell you–to receive a tax bill for their commercial and non-religious enterprise.

Two churches in downtown Durham that rent parking spaces to students and other motorists received an unpleasant surprise last year: A property tax bill.

Leaders of St. George’s Episcopal Church and Community Church of Durham say they’ve leased parking spaces for more than a decade without issue. Both plan to challenge the $2,737 assessment.

Ten years of windfall profits! If they didn’t expect to be taxed, they couldn’t have been making much money from them–as churches, this was probably very nearly a charity, right?

Durham Tax Assessor Jim Rice discovered last year the churches were not being taxed for the parking leases. At the time, he said, each church leased 30 spaces for $600 each.

Rice set the value of each church parking lot at $90,000. Based on that figure, the churches owed $2,737 for the 2013 tax year. Both have paid the tax bills.

“For whatever reason, they were never assessed in the past,” Rice said of the church lots. “There is no reason the taxes should not have been assessed.”

Other non-profits in town are taxed when they profit from leasing property–including another church that leases office space. No persecution here, just a case of presumed privilege, and an assumption that the rules don’t apply.

Frankly, ten years worth of back taxes would likely help the town… I doubt very much that they will go after the money, though. Even if it is legal, it will be viewed as attacking churches.

“We Assert That Images Of The Spiritual Leaders Of All Religions Should Be Deemed To Be Respectful”

So… if, by law, religious figures
Are deserving of respect
From the meditating Buddha
To the Manson, spittle-flecked,
From the image of Mohammed
To the memory of Jim Jones,
From Joseph Smith to Jesus Christ
To dusty relics’ bones
From the ancients on Olympus
To the modern Kanye West,
I’m required to respect them
Shall we put this to the test?
Say “there is no god but Allah”;
Aren’t you disrespecting Thor?
And if “Jesus is the only way”
That’s disrespect, once more—
If we see such disagreement
On what is—or not—divine
Can you force me to respect your views
Without respecting mine?
I won’t ask for your approval
Of the way I choose to live
(Which is fine, cos we both know it’s not
A thing that you would give)
I won’t ask you bow to other gods
I know you’ve got your own…
And in exchange, the thing I want,
Is left the fuck alone.
Your holy rules apply to you;
Their holy rules are theirs
You break each other’s holy rules
And no one really cares.
I have no god I worship, so
It’s really plain to see
Your holy rules apply to you…
They don’t apply to me.

(We all are bound by civic law,
And that is quite enough;
You want me to respect your god?
My one-word answer: tough.)

Context, and Cuttlecap tip to Ophelia.

Wait… A Town Is Going To Move Its Cross Without Going To Court?

Though the Christians could say “Batten
Down the hatches!” here in Stratton
They’ve decided unexpectedly to follow good advice:
“You’d do best to cut your losses
By distributing the crosses—
Maybe put them in some private yards; I’m sure they’d still look nice.”

Former Mayor, Fred Abdalla
Found removal hard to swallow:
“Move our crosses? For outsiders? We’ll do nothing of the sort!”
A solicitor-advisor
Whose opinion was the wiser
Said the crosses were illegal, and they’d surely lose in court

Current mayor, John (Fred’s brother)
Though they share, of course, a mother,
Seem to differ in opinion (and it’s John’s that wins the day)
Seems the town can’t be religious
‘less they want to get litigious
So the Stratton village crosses, now, are gonna go away.

So, yeah, the FFRF told the Village of Stratton, Ohio that some crosses displayed on public property were illegally placed, and warned that they would sue if they were not removed… and the village is, quite sensibly and unexpectedly, removing them. Mind you, they don’t want to, and a good number of locals would rather fight their relocation… but:

“I refused to remove them at first,” Mayor John Abdalla told The Herald-Star. “I have them for safekeeping. (The foundation) even raised hell about the manger scene at the front of the building.”
After speaking with the village solicitor, Abdalla decided the crosses were to be removed. But despite the removal, the crosses will now be given to private landowners to display on their property.
“At the regular council meeting at the council of the village of Stratton, council unanimously resolved to give the crosses that were taken off the building,” Stratton Village Solicitor Frank Bruzzese told WTOV-TV. “The result will be that (the crosses) will be on display actually more visible to the public than they used to be.”

A win-win! The FFRF will have no problem with crosses on private property, and the villages who love the crosses will get to have them all the more visible! Perfect, isn’t it? Well… not quite:

[Stratton Village Soliciter, Frank] Bruzzese stated that the atheist group has not produced anyone that was offended by the crosses.
Even though the crosses will still be displayed on private land, Abdalla is not happy about the situation.
“They don’t have the guts to come up and say, ‘It’s me that’s saying this,’” Abdall told WTOV. “Everything is anonymous.”

Cos if nobody is offended by you violating the constitution, then apparently it doesn’t count. Or worse, if you an intimidate people into not vocalizing their offense at your violation of the constitution, it doesn’t count.

It doesn’t help, though, that the former mayor and current sheriff (and the current mayor’s brother) wants to put up a fight:

But his brother, long time Stratton resident and former mayor, sheriff Fred Abdalla says they must stand up for themselves.

“We are not going to bow down and say oh well take the crosses down no well fight and let the fight begin,” sheriff Abdalla said.

And town residents ought to listen to the solicitor as well:

Some residents believe the village should be able to keep the crosses there.

Dan Carman of Hopedale says he does not understand the groups motives.

“You can be whatever religion you want. I don’t understand why you have to worry about satisfying anyone not being religious,” he said.

That’s right, Dan, you can be whatever religion you want. But your village cannot. It’s that simple.

Victoria’s Secret Kicks Out Nursing Mother

When a woman at the mall began behaving, well, parental
And she used her breasts to feed her baby boy
Some employees of a store that features breasts as ornamental
Tried to force her to behave a bit more coy

When they lavish them with laces, or with padding supplemental,
It’s no Secret that Victoria loves breasts
Thus it’s foolish and ironic that they’re acting so judgmental:
Nursing mothers being seen as second-bests

Now, it’s possible—not likely—that the slight was accidental
Though it really wasn’t handled with aplomb
If you’re known for lace and spandex, it behooves you to be gentle
And you never want to pick a fight with Mom.

Store policy is to allow nursing. Texas law allows breastfeeding in public. And Victoria’s Secret has made a fortune exposing more breast in their catalog pics than a nursing mother does (well, given that babies are rarely as sheer as fabric, and are, while nursing, kinda sorta blocking the breast from public view). This should have been a no-brainer.

Employees at a Victoria’s Secret in Texas banned a mother from breastfeeding in the store, even though nursing is allowed under company policy, Today.com reported.

A store employee in Austin last week told a mother to take her crying son into the alley outside of the store to breastfeed him after she requested a private changing room to nurse, she told a local TV station. Ashley Clawson, a 27-year-old mother of two, had just finished shopping and spent $150 at the store at the time of the request.

I’m sure the employees quickly realized their mistake…

She filed two complaints before the company told her she’d receive a response in the mail. Clawson received an official apology and a $150 store gift card after her interview with the local Fox affiliate, Today.com reported.

Any bets as to whether their apology gets bigger before it goes away?

Chris Christy–Model Politician

My eyes are getting misty
As I listen to Chris Christie
While he shows us his sophisti-
Cated grasp of how things are
So he canned some staffer lady
Cos she acted really shady
Which I heard on local radi-
O, while sitting in my car

I’ve been stuck here since September
(When my rage was but an ember)
Now I’m furious, remember-
Ing this traffic jam from hell;
Who’s the scapegoat? Bridget Kelly,
And Chris Christie’s doing swell-he
Showed us all that he can dele-
Gate, and really do it well

Now he’ll finish up his presser
A defiant non-confessor
Though we know he’s an accessor-
Y, a bully, and a jerk
All those vicious lies need quashing:
He’s not bullying, just joshing,
So let’s send the man to Washing-
Ton and let him get to work!

My prediction: All of this will have been forgotten by the short-attention-span public, and do Christie no lasting harm. Besides, who else do the Republicans have?

Satanist, Atheist; Tomayto, Tomahto

The folks at Fox News have been hatin’ on Satan;
The thought of him sickens their good Christian hearts
A statue? in public? And Gretchen was retchin’,
While all of her guests played their usual parts:
“That statue’s offensive! It’s hateful! A state full
Of Christians would never have voted it in!
Majority rules—you don’t like it? Then hike it
To some other state that might tolerate sin!”

Conservative pundits are trying, by lying,
To claim the majority writes all the laws
Their cry “it’s Commandments we follow!” rings hollow:
They always forget the establishment clause
Not wanting to, yet, let them all in, they’re stallin’—
They’ll wait, while this case makes its way through the courts
In the meantime, the Decalogue only, so lonely,
Cries out to be joined by some goat-headed sorts.

Yeah, well, ok, I’m not really happy with this verse, so I’ll post it quick before I just throw it away. It started out as a comment on Gretchen Carlson’s innocent gaffe, then took a detour into the shouting match her guests launched (have you ever noticed how few guests actually answer the questions they’ve been asked? They answer completely different questions instead, loudly and independently of whether anyone else is talking), then into a vague commentary on the whole satanic statue thing. So it needs a good editing… which would kill the meter and rhyme. What ya gonna do?

There is much fodder for hair-pulling at that link, though. Misrepresentation of the Satanists who are proposing to donate the monument (satanists, rather, are the stuff of pulp novels, B movies, and Chick Tracts), “majority rules” being demanded by the Jewish talking-head (who asks “what did goats ever do? I don’t know why they are having to suffer.”… forgetting that his own religion gave us the “scapegoat”), a member of a smaller minority than atheists; Gretchen’s “the rabbi has a good point” after the rabbi’s alleged point disappeared in a haze of shouting…

Narrow Ohio Ruling With Broad Implications For Same-Sex Marriage

If you’re living in Ohio
And you want to wed your mate
There are certain situations
Where they’ll send you out of state:

See, Ohio has its standards;
Still, the balance of your life
They will recognize your union—
He’s the husband; she’s the wife.

If you’re more-than-kissing cousins
And you want to tie the knot
There are states where you can do so
(Roughly twenty—not a lot)

You could fly to Alabama,
California, or New York,
Maybe Cape Cod, Massachusetts,
Say “I do”, and pop the cork

When you fly back to Ohio,
The remainder of your life
They will recognize your union:
He’s the husband; she’s the wife.

If you want to wed your sweetheart
But she isn’t yet fifteen
There are states that you could fly to
(Well, there’s one or two I’ve seen)

Though Ohio doesn’t like it,
You could wed your child bride,
Then it’s back as married Buckeyes
Cos it cannot be denied

Though Ohio doesn’t like it
It remains, for all your life—
They will recognize your union:
He’s the husband; she’s the wife.

But they made one big exception
Yes, they made a special note
And they said it was important
Cos they put it to a vote

And the people used the ballot
On that cold November day
To deny a legal status
If the wedded pair were gay

Adding injury to insult
Voters made it very clear—
If you’re legal in some other state
You’re still not legal here!

No, it won’t apply to everyone
With un-Ohio ways…
Not the cousins, nor the children,
No, it just applies to gays

But… the U.S. Constitution,
As amended, makes it clear
That we’re equally protected
Though Ohio thinks it queer

When majorities discriminate
And do it “just because”
It falls to the judicial branch
To scrutinize our laws

So, Ohio may not like it—
Disagreement may be rife—
But a man can wed a husband
And a woman wed a wife

Seems this is the week for court rulings you’ll want to bookmark. This time, it’s Ohio. The latest installment of (among other things) the story of John and Jim, whom we have seen here, here, and here.

Ohio’s ruling this week is very narrow, but with explicit hints that it applies to much bigger issues:

The court’s ruling today is a limited one, and states simply, that under the Constitution of the United States, Ohio must recognize valid out-of-state marriages between same-sex couples on Ohio death certificates, just as Ohio recognizes all other out-of-state marriages, if valid in the state performed, and even if not authorized nor validly performed under Ohio law, such as marriages between first cousins, marriages of certain minors, and common law marriages.

That is, once you get lawfully married in one state, another state cannot summarily take your marriage away, because the right to remain married is properly recognized as a fundamental liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution. U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1.

Moreover, as this Court held in its initial Orders this summer and reaffirms today, by treating lawful same-sex marriages differently than it treats lawful opposite sex marriages (e.g., marriages of first cousins, marriages of certain minors, and common law marriages), Ohio law, as applied to these Plaintiffs, violates the United States Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection: that “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall… deny to any person within its jurisdiction equal protection of the laws” U.S. Const. amend XIV, § 1.

Therefore, under the Constitution of the United States, Ohio must recognize on Ohio death certificates valid same-sex marriages from other states.

As with the last decision reported here, Scalia’s dissent in Windsor is cited–judges apparently love irony.

And in case subtle irony is too subtle, the final footnote (22, on page 43) is more explicit:

As a final note, although the question of whether Ohio’s refusal to grant same-sex marriages also violates Ohio same-sex couples’ right to due process and equal protection is not before the Court in this case, the logical conclusion to be drawn from the evidence, arguments, and law presented here is that Ohio’s violation of the constitutional rights of its gay citizens extends behond the bounds of this lawsuit.

Live Free Or Dye? Killing Baby Animals For Freedom!

I’ve never seen a purple duck
I never hope to spy one
But now New Hampshire (what the fuck?)
Would like to let you dye one!

Perhaps you’d like an orange chick
Perhaps a turquoise rabbit
For boosting sales, this does the trick:
“A bright pink gosling—grab it!”

It’s said they make great presents
But they just give me the creeps
They don’t much look like pheasants
No, they rather look like Peeps!

They’re cute and soft and green or red
And oh, how they’re adored…
A couple weeks, and most are dead
Cos kids, you know, get bored

But chicks and bunnies have no choice
And sellers must comply:
They hear the short-term market’s voice
That calls “Live Free and Dye”

Just so that Republicans don’t get the entire pro-business anti-ethical behavior vote, a NH Democrat (edit: and libertarian Free-Stater) is the one proposing to allow the dyeing of chicks, ducklings, goslings, and/or rabbits, so that more of them can be sold at Easter.

State Rep. Joel Winters, a Nashua Democrat, is proposing repealing a 1985 law that makes it illegal to dye the birds and bunnies to promote their sale, raffle or if they are to be given as a prize. Winters said Monday that he doesn’t think the law serves a purpose.

In 1985, John Sununu (Republican, later Chief of Staff for George H. W. Bush) was governor. Hmmm…. in a Republican, pro-business administration, why on earth would dyeing baby animals be prohibited?

Former Agriculture Commissioner Steve Taylor disagrees. He said he fought for the law’s passage 28 years ago because the process stresses the birds and many die as a result. Taylor said too many people bought the cute colored chicks at Easter without knowing how to care for them.

Oh, that’s right… because dyeing baby animals does nothing to enhance their sales to people who know what they are doing. It only makes impulse sales by exasperated and/or idiot parents more likely. Great news for short term profits, great news for kids who like purple ducks… and (here’s the best part) by the time the kids get bored with them, they’ll be close to death anyway!