“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”).

Almost Heaven?

My goodness, what they put in the water in West Virginia! But that’s the price of Freedom. Freedom Industries, that is.
From the first link:

The Freedom Industries president downplayed the chemical’s health effects, saying it has “very, very low toxicity” and poses no danger to the public.

Strange… I originally posted the following as a metaphor. Never really thought I’d repost it so literally.

There was poison in the water
And it wasn’t fit to drink;
So we got ourselves together
And we had a little think… [Read more...]

Get Over It!

There are people doing something, which they seemingly enjoy,
But a different thing than I would like to do
I could celebrate our differences… or note how they annoy,
Demonstrating I’m superior to you

You’re a runner, with a logo on your car or on your shirt?
What a narcissistic way of showing off!
You’re a writer, with a column where you’re always slinging dirt?
Must be cushy, when you’re getting paid to scoff!

You’re a Catholic with a crucifix, a Baptist with a fish,
A new-ager proudly wearing “co-exist”
Superciliously asking for the local, vegan dish
Yes, I know the types—I’ve made a little list.

You’re a pompous ass “new atheist”, of which you’re very proud,
And you never waste a chance to bring it up
You proclaim it with your coffee (doesn’t have to be out loud)
With that scarlet “A” emblazoned on your cup

You support your local college, or your city, or your state,
You have t-shirts from the places you have been
It’s displaying your enjoyment that’s precisely what I hate
Cos I know you only do it to be seen

You’re just flogging your accomplishments—“ooh, look at what I’ve done!”
In a blatant move to make us all feel worse!
Yes, it’s simply inconceivable you do it just for fun…
It’s just showing off! (… he finished up… in verse.)

Ok, here’s the thing. I know that what I do is pretentious. But I either really enjoy doing it, or I am obsessively stuck unable to do otherwise (it varies by day). Fortunately, very few people (it has happened) tell me “yeah, ok, we get it, you can rhyme things, get over it.”

But Chad Stafko, in the Wall Street Journal, apparently just wrote a piece telling runners to just get over it.

There is one kind of bumper sticker I see almost daily here in my small Midwestern town: a small oval printed with “26.2″ or “13.1.” In case you’re lucky enough not to know what these numbers represent, let me explain: They indicate that the driver or someone in the car has run a marathon (26.2 miles) or a half-marathon (13.1 miles).

There is only one reason running aficionados display the stickers. They want the rest of us to know about their long-distance feats. So let me be the first to offer my hearty congratulations. I’d even offer to give them a pat on the back—once they’re done doing it themselves.

What’s with this infatuation with running and the near-mandatory ritual of preening about it?

Honestly? I was thinking, at about that point, that the column was going to be a brilliant metaphor–how the completely innocuous act of running, and our wearing of running-specific gear, was how we *should* be treating the display of, say, religious or political affiliations. Nobody gets bent out of shape because someone else is wearing a shirt from a local 5K race, after all. Except, Stafko does get bent out of shape over such shirts, opining that they are only worn to make the wearer feel superior to all the non-runners (and, importantly, to make the non-runners feel inferior). Apparently (and I would love to be wrong), the Stafko piece is literally about running, runners’ apparel, and showing off. Pretty much all of the commenters take it that way–including one commenter with a pitch-perfect reply:

There is one kind display I see almost daily on the internet: a small white, rectangle printed with up to 500 words. In case you’re lucky enough not to know what these words represent, let me explain: They indicate that the poster or who posted it can write.

There is only one reason writers become published with a byline. They want the rest of us to know about their publications. So let me be the first to offer my hearty congratulations. I’d even offer to give them a pat on the back—once they’re done doing it themselves.

What’s with this infatuation with writing an opinion article and the near-mandatory ritual of preening about it?

(it continues, translating the entire piece perfectly.)

Runner’s World offers their own translation of Stafko’s piece, from Bizarre Angry Rant into English, which is fun. Predictably, the commenters there are once again too literal, and see the snarky translation as every bit as small-minded as the original piece. Oh, well.

I wish it had been a story on how we should treat the various divisions in our societies as trivially as we treat the t-shirts we wear… but then I remember the t-shirt ads I used to get during the political season, and I shudder for humanity’s future.

But if you want a T-shirt that really and truly allows you to feel superior to everybody who is not wearing one, I do have some suggestions.

Oooh, Look! A Non-Atheist Manifesto!

My aggregator is having fun with me. It doesn’t often link to the Christian Post iPost section, but this one is special.

TEN REASONS I’M NOT AN ATHEIST (AND NEVER WILL BE)

Here it is, beloved folks! The world’s first ever non-atheist manifesto! Feel free to spread it online to as many people as you like. Just click “share” on the button below and the article will pop up on your page. Blessings…!

The first ever! (Excluding every religious manifesto ever, of course. I think maybe he means “anti-atheist”, and even there he may be a few generations late. Or maybe he means his first non-atheist manifesto… anyway, he’s new to the game, so maybe it’s something we’ve never seen before.)

1.- I shall not be an atheist because something doesn’t come from nothing.

I look forward to his explanation of where God came from. I also wonder which definition of “nothing” he is using. It matters.

2.- I shall not be an atheist because there is no way such harmony, order and perfection could exist in the universe without an intelligent mind behind it all.

He must be referring to multi-host parasites. It is indeed elegant, how a single organism can infect fish, birds, and snails in turn, or snails, ants, and sheep. It truly is a beautiful harmony. Of course, he could also be talking about the harmony, order, and perfection of a universe that is utterly hostile to us with the exception of less than half of one small planet, an infinitesimal fraction of the known. Beautiful in its rarity, but a cruel beauty.

3.- I shall not be an atheist because a mere chance explosion cannot explain how the structure of my brain is able to understand the laws pertaining to the universe’s harmony, order and perfection.

He’s absolutely right, there. Fortunately, no atheist has ever claimed this, ever. And I would argue that, without an understanding of natural selection (one of many important intermediates between the big bang and an understanding brain), his brain does not in truth understand the laws pertaining to the universe’s perceived order.

4.- I shall not be an atheist because I am much more than a rational bio-chemical machine. I am full of love, desire and hope. And I also recognize beauty when I see it.

Does he really think atheists do not feel love, desire, and hope? Does he really think we don’t recognize beauty? As an evolved animal, I will allow that I am a bit more elegant than any machine any human ever made, but “evolution is smarter than you are“, so this is to be expected.

5.- I shall not be an atheist because I have a moral conscience. I can tell the difference between good and evil. I believe in objective moral values.

A moral conscience is so important to humankind that we created religions just to support it. And while I believe that the writer believes in objective moral values, so do many others whose objective moral values disagree with his.

6.- I shall not be an atheist because every tribe and tongue on the face of the earth has a religious consciousness and the idea of a transcendent (or supreme) something or someone.

The fact that their religious consciousnesses disagree with one another to the point of conflict is only relevant when arguing against each other–when arguing against atheists, you all worship the same god.

7.- I shall not be an atheist because I whole heartedly believe my life has a purpose and a meaning.

If your life would be meaningless without a god, I humbly suggest you are doing it wrong. My life has purpose and meaning as well–it just does not have a god.

8.- I shall not be an atheist because although I am imperfect, I have the idea of an insuperable perfect being within me. Such a sublime concept cannot stem from little old me.

How do you know? And how do you know? If you are imperfect, how is it possible to know that the insuperable perfect being within you is not an illusion, and imperfect after all? And how, as an imperfect being, can you possibly know that it is impossible for you to believe this illusion? Sounds like wishful thinking to me.

9.- I shall not be an atheist because the fruits of practical atheism are- for the most part- ugly, wicked and downright perverted. And much of intellectual atheism is nothing more than an exercise in insoluble contradiction(s).

Well, yeah, I am just an accident. I don’t claim any privileged revealed information, like religions often do. But, frankly, there are moral imperatives because I am an atheist. But they do require us to think for ourselves.

10.- I shall not be an atheist because the Holy Spirit abides within me. I know God’s alive. I spoke to Him only five minutes ago.

To him, not with him? I spoke to my dog, but he did not speak back. Well, a bit, but I don’t speak dog. It is not abnormal, even in this modern day, to speak to (or with) God. What would be remarkable, though, would be if all those who claim to speak to God actually agreed on His message. We’d only need one religion! Gee… I wonder which one?

So… nothing new. Oh, well.

Where Are The Honest Atheists?

Where are the honest atheists?
The ones who think life is so bleak?
The ones who recall
There’s no value at all
And no ultimate purpose to seek?

Where are the doomers and gloomers,
Who have realized we’re here all alone?
Who know life passes by
All to soon, then you die,
And that’s it for the life you have known?

Where are the nihilist numbers?
Who see nothing above but the sun?
Whose lack of belief
Brings them nothing but grief?…
I’ll tell you—we’re out having fun.

The above is based on two sources, actually. First, a Yahoo article that shares the title, which claims that New Atheism is dead, and yearns for honest atheists who recognize the bankruptcy of our world view:

If atheism is true, it is far from being good news. Learning that we’re alone in the universe, that no one hears or answers our prayers, that humanity is entirely the product of random events, that we have no more intrinsic dignity than non-human and even non-animate clumps of matter, that we face certain annihilation in death, that our sufferings are ultimately pointless, that our lives and loves do not at all matter in a larger sense, that those who commit horrific evils and elude human punishment get away with their crimes scot free — all of this (and much more) is utterly tragic.

Author Damon Linker says that “Honest atheists understand this”, and cites Nietzsche, Camus, and others who have a considerably gloomier view of life than, say, I do.

The other source is something my aggregator pointed me to, a religious blog that took a look at Jason Rosenberg’s “The Atheist’s Guide To Reality” and found its conclusions bleak and not worth believing. “What atheism gets you”. Mostly I’m just pointing out that site because I commented at length there, and I’m too lazy to collect it back here.

Sure, there are some prominent atheist writers who see the world as bleak. There are, to be fair, writers of all stripes who may see the world as bleak. But that does not make them the “honest” ones. I am honestly an optimist; I honestly find great meaning in my life, without requiring a god to put it there for me. And I honestly wonder why some people can’t accept that.

Hunting The Gene For Evil

We’ve got the killer’s DNA
And you know what that means—
We’re going to look for evil
In some broken set of genes

We’re on a search for evil’s cause
And here’s an added plus:
We’re looking for an answer
That will distance him from us.

So, yeah, I’m behind the others on this (the Cuttlekids are still here, so I’m having fun in meatspace), but it seems there will be a search for answers in a place pretty much guaranteed to find something utterly meaningless and useless… which is exactly what is wanted.

You already know I think most of the public hypothesizing has been an exercise in self-protective othering; we see a monster who looks remarkably like us, and need to distance ourselves from him. Whether we blame the removal of prayer from classrooms (good people like us who want prayer would never have the sort of evil in our souls that could cause behavior like this), mental illness (the outsider label of choice for centuries), or an unfortunate genetic predisposition (it’s not his fault; he’s just different from us normal folk), we are pursuing an explanation that allows us to look for blame rather than cause.

There are abundant causes we can point to in the environment–but those are things that apply to the rest of us, as well as the killers that make the headlines. Mind you, most killers don’t make the headlines. We usually kill people by ones and twos, and hardly ever make the national news. Chicago, today, hit 500 homicides (oops–499 and counting); New York is on track for a 400-homicide year. We know that New England has the lowest regional rate of murder, and that the South has (by far) the highest. This is not a genetic difference, this is a difference of cultures, of economics, of education. But these are differences we could actually look at meaningfully, with an eye toward making changes. Maybe that’s why we’re looking at genes instead.

Far better to have something that we cannot change, that allows us to blame someone else, than to find something we *can* change if we accept that there are no monsters, just people like ourselves, and that it’s normal people, not monsters, who are killing one another by the thousands every year.

No Atheists At Memorials For Children?

The Los Angeles Times is running an interesting opinion piece, tying the memorial for the Newtown victims with church-state separation issues (among other things). It’s worth reading, and worth commenting on. They 1) note the ecumenical nature of the service, 2) assert that a non-religious memorial would have been somehow incomplete and off-putting, and 3) note the lack of complaint by atheist groups about the inclusion of religious text at a memorial held at a secular school. It’s as if they are surprised that atheist groups haven’t reacted to this funeral like, say, the Westboro Baptist Church has. (The WBC is not mentioned in the story.)

I was moved to comment at the LA Times site:

A few years ago, my atheist brother died; his atheist children and atheist siblings, myself included, were offended by, but did not object to, blatantly religious elements at his memorial. I could have gone on at length about how my brother’s good works grew from his atheism, from his understanding that he, not some god, was the power that could make the world better for the children he loved. That his actions, not prayers, made a difference.
His friends and neighbors knew he was an atheist, but not everyone did, and (it is the dominant, privileged culture, after all) christian messages were featured by many of the speakers. From the perspective of my brother’s children, this was inappropriate. I agree. But it would also have been inappropriate for us to choose that moment to make a stand. There was something far more important happening–we were comforting one another, knowing we would never see my brother, their father, again.
The fact that there are no explicitly atheistic elements at a funeral does not mean there are no atheists there. It does not mean that atheists don’t find some of the religious messages inappropriate. We (I speak for myself, at least) recognize that this is how the religious grieve. We let them, as we wish they would let us. It would be nice if my own funeral were non-theistic… but at that point, I won’t be able to control what happens.

What are your own thoughts? I was limited at the Times by character count, and perhaps by the need to speak to a different audience than reads here. Feel free to respond, both here and there.