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.

Conservative? Check. Republican? Check. Atheist? Hang On There, Missy…

My mother-in-law is an atheist
And conservative, too, to the core
She’s a staunch and a lifelong Republican
But lately, I wonder, “what for?”

They claim that she ought to be Christian
That her outlook on life is all wrong
She’s in love with the party of Reagan
But feels, now, she doesn’t belong

Could conservatives really accept her?
And embrace her as one of their own?
All her life, she’s been growing more godless
But that’s not how her party has grown.

It’s a Christian Conservative Party
So atheists need not apply
They’re kicking her out of their playhouse…
They’re losing… and wondering why.

So, yeah, by now you’ve heard all about the CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) clusterfuck kerfuffle (on FTB here and here) initially accepting, then at the last moment rejecting, the American Atheists’ presence at the conference.

Clearly, they reacted exactly perfectly, because there are people complaining on both sides. That is, in the same sense that an oval-world compromise between flat-earthers and round-earthers would be exactly perfect. That is, the flat-earth contingent is currently offended that the atheist group was even considered, let alone accepted, to begin with, whereas the real world notes that there are, in fact, atheist conservatives, though it strains credulity to think they feel they belong. (The links go to various hair-pulling, self-flagellating examinations of where conservatives went wrong….in even considering the possibility of atheist conservatives. Well, mostly. I left some of the worst sites alone.)

It is absolutely true, my mother in law is a conservative republican atheist. She once approved of prayer in schools because Reagan wanted it. Since then, she has read Hitchens, and Dawkins, and more; she is a card-carrying Bright (myself, not a fan of the Bright idea). I am looking forward to the possibility that she will actually vote for a Democrat next time, for the first time in her life, simply because she is fed up with the religious right.

I know she is not the only one.

The Biblical Justification For Arizona’s Proposed Law

Jesus hated homos, which he says in [find this verse]
Yes, he also hated hypocrites, but really, gays are worse
So as Arizonans ask themselves just “What would Jesus do?”
He’d engage in homophobia, like [look this verse up, too]
See, Jesus always made it clear [um, look this up as well]
Baking cakes or taking photographs could send you straight to hell
The Arizona bigots simply want the bible heeded…
They follow all the bible’s rules [citation clearly needed]

“Life Begins At Conception” Bill Proposed In NH

In lawmakers’ fevered perception, conception
Is God’s definition of “when life begins”
If mothers-to-be raise their voices, their choices
By God’s perfect standards, are nothing but sins
Since God can’t be named, a reliance on “science”
Is lawmakers’ choice as they justify votes
Though putative “facts” they parade up are made-up
And not what you’d see in biology notes.

But science, they’re not even trying—they’re lying—
They’re claiming biology backs up their view
Designed to exacerbate friction, this fiction
Pits out-and-out liars against me and you
This ploy is a public-relations sensation;
It looks so objective; it seems so precise
They’re betting against their deception’s detection—
If that’s what they’re thinking, they need to think twice

New Hampshire is an interesting case study–conservatives in NH come in two flavors (not mutually incompatible): social conservatives and libertarian (small “l”, usually) conservatives. Social conservatives tend to lean pro-life, and libertarian conservatives tend to lean pro-choice (you will have no problems pointing to counter-examples in both camps). To get the libertarian conservatives on board with a social conservative anti-abortion agenda, you need something more than “god says it’s wrong”. Defining embryos and fetuses as persons would place them under the umbrella of libertarian human rights, so that is one of many possible end-around tactics.

But of course, you can’t draw a defining line due to religious belief–the first amendment prohibits that–so you dress it in science. You say that science supports your definition, and you do your best to say it convincingly enough that nobody asks any actual scientists.

Thing is, it doesn’t matter what the scientists think. When someone acquires rights is not a scientific question. We know this when it comes to driving, drinking, voting, and other actions that personhood alone does not confer rights to. In a world where I can take another adult’s life if they threaten me, and I cannot take their kidney without their permission, even after they die, the rights of a woman to bodily autonomy are paramount. What the proposed legislation attempts to do is to lay the groundwork for treating women as second-class citizens, as bipedal incubators subject to the wishes of the religious right.

When does life begin? Some three and a half billion years ago. Since then, it has not begun, it has continued. That is a scientific view–but not one that particularly advances a pro-life agenda. If you ask biologists (seriously, on this question, who better?) when life begins… you will find they disagree.

Sorry, politicians. You’ll need a different argument if you want to create an incubator class. In a state that equates freedom with life itself (“Live Free Or Die”), you cannot make women slaves to the state, bearing children they did not choose. You want to set “everyone on an equal playing field”? Then women need the same independence from the constraints of pregnancy that men have.

What, that wasn’t what you meant?

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.

Religion Means “This Law Doesn’t Apply To You”

My religion won’t allow it!
We consider it a sin!
If a gay man wants to shop here,
Why, I dare not let him in!
It’s infringement on my liberty—
Repression at its worst—
You’re a bigot, if you force me
Not to be a bigot first!

I’d kill animals humanely—
All my cattle, sheep, and goats—
But the Torah says, specifically,
I have to slit their throats
I’m opposed to simple stunning
But that’s all the law allows
All I want is my exception,
For my right to torture cows!

I’m just looking for a loophole;
There are laws I won’t obey!
I believe in equal treatment,
Sure, but not if someone’s gay!
It’s my right—well, it’s my privilege,
It’s my “free expression” clause
To read, “Only if you want to”
When interpreting the laws

From the first link:

The bill notes that businesses can refuse services and goods only if it furthers a civil union, domestic partnership, or same-sex marriage. The person or business would just have to say it was against their religion. For example, if a same-sex couple wanted a cake for their wedding reception, a bakery could refuse to cater to them.

But… good news!

Tennessee State Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) suddenly pulled his sponsorship of the so-called “Turn the Gays Away” bill on Thursday after the controversial proposal was subject to national attention.

From the second link above:

The Danish government has banned shechita, saying “animal rights come before religion”.

Denmark’s Agriculture and Food Minister Dan Jørgensen yesterday signed a regulation preventing Danish slaughterhouses from applying for an exemption to pre-stunning, which effectively bans any religious slaughter in the country.

President of the European Jewish Congress, Dr Moshe Kantor, said: “This attack on basic Jewish religious practice in Denmark puts into question the continuance of community life in the country and follows strongly on the heels of persistent attacks on Jewish circumcision.

Really, though, doesn’t it sound completely reasonable, that you shouldn’t have to follow a law if you really, really, really don’t want to?

“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.

Texas Judge Rules: Pull The Plug

The mother died back in November, remember?
She’d made clear her wishes (as all of us ought)
But, sadly, this happened in Texas, the nexus
Of Christian intrusion in government thought
Her will was denied, for a baby that maybe
Would live for an hour, with help from machines;
The state says “we’ve got to complete us a fetus”—
To rescue the baby, whatever the means.

The judge, as the calm voice of reason, who sees, in
This case there are people, not robots instead,
With that, saw some facts had eluded–concluded
Essentially, mother and fetus are dead.
The statute, though not found unlawful, is awful;
A woman’s autonomy, Texas denies
The one thing that no one’s denying is… crying.
That’s kinda what happens when somebody dies

Without ruling on the constitutionality of the law (I am of two minds here–I wish it had been slapped down [can't imagine it would be upheld], but this family has been through too much already, and I suspect this is a quicker and quieter end), a Texas Judge has found that Marlise Munoz is dead, and that her fetus is not viable, and has ordered that she be removed from the machines that turned her body into the state’s incubator. Which is what Ms. Munoz had expressed, what her husband and extended family had wanted, but which Texas law, as interpreted by the hospital, had seemingly denied.

My sympathies go out to the family. I know this is not an end, because these things never actually end… but at least it is the close of a particularly horrible chapter. And much as I would want to see the law overturned, holding your family hostage over that is every bit as bad as what the state just did, so that will have to wait.

After all this time… only now will the family be able to begin actual funeral plans. Texas should be ashamed, but I think the politicians there are immune.

Edited to add… perhaps the saddest thing I have read in years, the testimony of the husband, as reported by the NY Times:

“When I bend down to kiss her forehead, her usual scent is gone, replaced instead with what I can only describe as the smell of death. As a paramedic, I am very familiar with this smell, and I now recognize it when I kiss my wife. In addition, Marlise’s hands no longer naturally grip mine for an embrace. Her limbs have become so stiff and rigid due to her deteriorating condition that now, when I move her hands, her bones crack, and her legs are nothing more than dead weight.”

Maybe it’s just me, but I am a very smell-oriented person. I know exactly what he is saying, and it breaks my hearts.

Pennsylvania Voter ID Law Struck Down

A judge in Pennsylvania
Did his utmost to explain: “Ya
Gotta let the people vote—and make it easy!”
He said “Voting’s fundamental!”
And the message that he sent’ll
Go a ways to fix a process that’s, well, sleazy.
Court Judge Bernard L. McGinley
Found the state’s case spread too thinly
And the “voter fraud” more mythical than real;
Ruled in favor of the plaintiff,
Might become the voters’ saint, if
His decision isn’t scuttled on appeal.
His opinion was well reasoned,
Any thoughtful reader sees, and
You can bet your bottom dollar they’ll appeal

It’s another decision worth reading–not because it is as beautiful a smackdown as the recent same-sex marriage decisions, but because it is just so damned thorough. I especially liked the examination of different sorts of acceptable forms of ID (noting, for instance, that the requirement of an expiration date on an ID has absolutely nothing to do with whether that ID can actually verify a voter’s identity), with the conclusion that (my paraphrase) the only common factor was that they added additional hoops to jump through, barriers (to mix metaphors) between potential voters and the ballot box.

The judge also noted the history of misinformation on the part of the state, with official letters to potential voters telling them one (untrue) thing, but no official retractions, no official correct information, only uncredited TV or radio ads (without the authority of the government behind them) telling people the correct information.

Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election. The voter ID law does not further this goal.

Of course, comment threads are full of people who clearly have not read the decision, and who have drunk the kool-aid of voter fraud hysteria. Some of the comments can be directly countered on Snopes, they are so popular; others are anecdotal accounts of one or two alleged incidents. The real (and evidenced) threat to democracy, though, was in a voter ID law that would have disenfranchised perhaps half a million eligible voters, systematically members of particular minority groups. The patriotic rhetoric of the complainers does not match the reality of who (in this case, Pennsylvania’s Republicans) are really out to commit fraud.

(oh… given that the actual decision is over 100 pages of judge-speak, you might want the NY Times coverage instead. But I do recommend the ruling itself.)

“Hostility Toward Religion”, or “Religious Hostilities”?

Let us celebrate the power
Of the simple preposition
Making bullies into martyrs with a word
When the truth is somewhat sour
Simply make a small edition
Though the putative conclusion is absurd

When “religion” and “hostility”
The Pew researchers mixed,
It’s religion on religion causing harm
To the best of their ability
The Post has got it fixed
Groups are hostile toward religion (sound alarm)!

When religions start attacking
The religious are the victims
Though that leads to a conclusion, rather odd:
Though the evidence is lacking,
There among the Christian dictums
Is that all religions worship the same God

It’s an internecine battle
True believers on both sides
And religious groups have earned their share of guilt
Yet the Christian Post will prattle
While the honest truth still hides
In the house of cards the Christian post has built.

The Christian Post headline (High Social Hostility Toward Religion Reported In A Third Of Countries Worldwide) tells you all you need to know about how they are going to spin the story:

A high or very high social hostility toward religion was reported in a third of the 198 countries and territories analyzed by the Pew Research Center in a report released on Tuesday, marking an increase in almost every major region around the world.

True.

Christians and Muslims were the two religious groups harassed in the most countries between June 2006 and December 2012. Christians faced harassment in 151 countries, Muslims in 135, and Jews in 95.

Also true. But if you remember last year’s BBC report on martyrs (in which we find that by far the greatest number of Christians killed in religious hostilities were killed… by other Christians, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and earlier in Rwanda–in both cases, with Christians on both sides of the hostilities), you might be curious about the reporting this time, too.

The Pew report on their study has a different headline (Religious Hostilities Reach Six-Year High) that makes it clear that the report is looking at more than just hostilities toward religion.

For instance, there has been an increase in

abuse of religious minorities by private individuals or groups in society for acts perceived as offensive or threatening to the majority faith of the country. Incidents of abuse targeting religious minorities were reported in 47% of countries in 2012, up from 38% in 2011 and 24% in [2007].

(bolding in original) The report gives examples–it is well worth reading.

The study finds that the share of countries where violence, or the threat of violence, was used to compel people to adhere to religious norms also increased in 2012. Such actions occurred in 39% of countries, up from 33% in 2011 and 18% as of mid-2007.

Again, many examples are given–most are new to me, but involve “efforts to enforce religious norms” not held by all citizens.

There is much, much more at the study. With so many (and increasing) incidents of religious hostility, it is small wonder there might be government restrictions on religious expression–hell, I would want the government to restrict, say, a church from dictating what my medical care includes! Ah, but even here, the report includes government restrictions where the government is itself taking the side of one religion:

Governments used force against religious groups or individuals in nearly half (48%) of the world’s countries in 2012, up from 41% in 2011 and 31% as of mid-2007. In April 2012 in Mauritania, for instance, “the government arrested 12 anti-slavery activists and charged them with sacrilege and blasphemy, along with other civil charges, for publicly burning religious texts to denounce what the activists viewed as support for slavery in Islamic commentary and jurisprudence,” according to the U.S. Department of State.

Oh, and it is worth noting that the Americas have far, far less religious hostility, either social or governmental, than other areas of the world. This despite determined bleating about a “war on religion” (a subsidiary of the “war on Christmas”, itself a subsidiary of “Fox News”).