New Fishnet Story: “Broom Closet”

Fishnet logo It took a little bit of cunning to get out of “Serenity Now — Step One” class, but since I’ve been such a goody-goody I’d racked up some trust points and the instructor bought my story that I was feeling queasy from weaning off my meds. The truth was I was feeling really horny and wasn’t about to pass up broom closet sex.

I went back to my room to give my lie some credibility, and to change into a skirt and take off my panties, having the passing thought that what if he just wants to talk?

In a broom closet? Not likely, dummy.

*

That’s an excerpt from the latest story on Fishnet, the online erotic fiction magazine I’m editing: Broom Closet, by Paula Treconi. To read more, read the rest of the story. (Not for anyone under 18.) Enjoy!

Atheist Meme of the Day: The Comfort of Reason

Scarlet letter Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day. Pass this on; or don’t; or edit it as you see fit; or make up your own. Enjoy!

Atheism does offer comfort in the face of suffering. Among other things, it offers the idea that our suffering isn’t a mystifying punishment or attempt to teach us a lesson. It’s simply cause and effect, and we can make reasonable, reality-based decisions about how to deal with it. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

Why I’m Drawing Mohammad

This is my drawing of Mohammad.
Greta drawing Mohammad

I wish I were a better artist, and could draw something other than a stick figure. But I actually kind of like its purity. If a simple, entirely undistinguished, smiling stick figure with the word “Mohammad” above it can be so offensive as to earn me a possible death sentence… that makes the whole silly idea seem even sillier. And I like the fact that it’s a photo of my hand actually making the drawing. Gives it a certain punch, I think.

Today is Everybody Draw Mohammad Day: an event in which people around the world… well, draw Mohammad. We’re deliberately violating the Muslim law against creating images of the prophet Mohammad — a law that some radical Muslim extremists are attempting to enforce with violence and death threats. On everyone. Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Draw-Mohammad-Promo Actually, strike that. It is a law that some radical Muslim extremists are successfully enforcing with violence and death threats. Everybody Draw Mohammad Day was instigated by Seattle cartoonist Molly Norris, after Comedy Central cut a portion of a South Park episode following a death threat from a radical Muslim group. And this is hardly an isolated incident: when the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten ran the cartoons of Mohammad that sparked violent protests around the world, many news publications declined to publish the cartoons in question, despite their obvious newsworthiness. Many newspapers still won’t publish them. And when this self-censorship happens, the Muslim law against drawing Mohammad has successfully been enforced.

Today, along with hundreds of people (hopefully more), I’m drawing Mohammad.

I want to explain why.

*

Atheist-cartoon I don’t normally go out of my way to offend people’s religious sensibilities. I’m perfectly willing to do so, obviously: most of what I write here offends somebody’s religious sensibilities, and of course I know that most of my atheist writing is deeply offensive to many religious believers, simply because it is atheist. But offending people’s religious sensibilities, while it’s something I’m willing to do, is secondary. It’s a side effect of the fact that I’m making some point. It’s rarely the point itself. I rarely offend people’s religious sensibilities just for the sake of it, simply because people find it offensive.

That’s more or less what I’m doing today. I realize that.

I’m doing it because, in some cases, offending people’s sensibilities is, in and of itself, a valid point. And this is one of those instances.

The idea that the rules of a religion ought to apply to people who don’t follow that religion? It’s flatly absurd. As Hemant Mehta of Friendly Atheist so brilliantly pointed out, “You never hear about Hindus walking into McDonald’s and telling the manager they’re not allowed to use beef products anymore. If they did, we would laugh it off. We’d say that’s absurd because non-Hindus don’t have to follow their rules.”

But that’s exactly what these radical Muslim extremists are doing. Despite the fact that they will happily violate the Hindu rule against eating beef, or the Orthodox Jewish rule against interfaith marriage, or the Yazidi rule against wearing the color blue, they nevertheless feel that it is their right, and indeed their duty, to enforce the Muslim rule against drawing Mohammad — even on people who aren’t Muslim. Using violence, and threats of death.

Mohammad cartoons-thumb And it is not possible to effectively protest this by simply saying, “This is wrong.” The only way to effectively protest this is by violating the damn rule. If we all wring our hands and say, “Oh, yes, this is terrible, how dare these terrorists use violence and death threats to enforce their religious rules on people who don’t share them” — and still nobody will break the damn rule because we’re afraid they’ll hurt or kill us — then their terror tactics will have worked.

I’m drawing Mohammad to send a message to Muslim extremists — and other religious extremists — that their terror tactics will not work.

I’m drawing Mohammad to reject out of hand the attempt to make criticism of Islam — or of any other religion, for that matter — off-limits, simply out of fear of violence.

I’m drawing Mohammad because many people feel comfortable critiquing, or poking fun of, or indeed commenting on, any other religion… but avoid doing any of this with Islam, for fear of violent retribution. And I refuse to allow myself to be extorted in that way.

And, perhaps most importantly of all, I’m drawing Mohammad to spread the target around… so there are so many people drawing Mohammad, the terrorists can’t possibly go after all of us.

Infidel This is a point made by Ayaan Hirsi-Ali — former Muslim, current atheist, target of a fatwa for her outspoken blasphemous criticism and defiance of Islam. In a piece she wrote about the South Park/ Comedy Central incident — and about the seriousness of the death threats against the show’s creators — she asked, “So what can be done to help Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone?” And she answered, in part, “Do stories of Muhammad where his image is shown as much as possible. These stories do not have to be negative or insulting, they just need to spread the risk. The aim is to confront hypersensitive Muslims with more targets than they can possibly contend with.”

That’s the point.

And there is no way to make that point without actually violating this rule.

Perhaps you think that going out of your way to offend a cherished tenet of people’s religious beliefs is… well, offensive. Hurtful. Perhaps you think that secular groups and others organizing “Draw Mohammad” protests are engaging in anti-Muslim or anti-Arab marginalization. Perhaps you think that deliberately breaking another religion’s sacred rule, with the sole and stated purpose of breaking that rule, is a form of religious bigotry. Or even just childish jerkitude. A lot of people think that: moderate Muslims, and others.

To them, I say… well, Claudia commenting at Friendly Atheist said it way better than I could, and I’m just going to quote her: “The day drawing a bloody stick figure isn’t something you have to do while looking over your shoulder. The day cartoonists don’t have to build panic rooms in their homes (!!) for a rough picture of a dog with a mans head. The day dozens of people don’t die (again !!) because of some cartoons. On that day, I will agree that the secular group is just being immature and hurtful.”

Is it hurtful to deliberately poke people’s sore spots with a stick, just for the sake of doing it? Yes. I don’t think it’s a very nice thing to do, and I don’t generally do it.

But is it far, far more hurtful — not only to certain individuals, but to every individual in the world, and to society as a whole — to use violence and death threats to frighten people away from criticizing your religion, and to force obedience to your religious views on the entire human race?

By a thousand orders of magnitude, yes.

And in this case, the only way to oppose the latter is to engage in the former.

There’s something I want to say here: words that keep brimming up in my head and won’t shut up. I’m reluctant to write them down; I cringe a bit at the thought of posting them; they’ve become such a cliche that it’s embarrassing to even think them. I never imagined that I’d say these words as anything other than a joke. I never imagined I would say them with any sort of sincerity or passion.

But if we don’t draw Mohammad, the terrorists win.

Atheist Meme of the Day: Religious Rules Don’t Apply To People Who Don’t Believe Them

Scarlet letter Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day. Pass this on; or don’t; or edit it as you see fit; or make up your own. Enjoy!

No religion has the right to expect other people to follow its rules. It is absurd to demand that people obey religious laws they don’t believe in. And it is absurd to claim that failure to do so is a form of disrespect. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

Porn, Social Criticism, and the Marginalization of Kink

Rocco-animal-trainer-5 Is it valid to criticize rough-sex porn for perpetuating misogynist images of women?

Or, to look at the question from the other side: Is it possible to critique rough-sex porn without marginalizing kink?

If you’ve been around the porn wars, you’ve almost certainly run across a particular form of anti-porn critique. “Erotica may not be inherently bad… but look at how misogynistic so much commercial porn is! Look at how it portrays degradation and violence against women as sexually pleasurable! Women being slapped and treated roughly during sex! Women being called sluts and whores and sex toys! Women being given forceful deep-throat blowjobs that make them choke and gag! Is that a vision of women and sexuality we want to accept?”

I was reading one of these screeds the other day (somebody linked to it in a Facebook conversation)… and I started spewing out a seriously annoyed mini-manifesto/ rant.

*

Thus begins my latest piece on the Blowfish Blog, Porn, Social Criticism, and the Marginalization of Kink. To read the mini-manifesto/ rant about how critiques of rough porn marginalize kink — and my more nuanced analysis of whether political criticism of porn should be handled differently from political criticism of any other form of pop culture — read the rest of the piece. (And if you feel inspired to comment here, please consider cross-posting your comment to the Blowfish Blog — they like comments there, too.) Enjoy!

Atheist Meme of the Day: “God of the Gaps” is a Bad Argument

Scarlet letter Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day. Pass this on; or don’t; or edit it as you see fit; or make up your own. Enjoy!

“Science doesn’t understand everything” is a terrible argument for religion. Supernatural explanations for the world have been replaced by natural ones thousands of times. It’s never once happened the other way around. So if we don’t currently understand something, why would we assume that it’s probably supernatural? Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

Why “I Feel It In My Heart” Is a Terrible Argument for God

This piece was originally published on AlterNet.

Sacred heart “I just feel God in my heart. I sense his presence. Why should I doubt that? Any more than I doubt my senses?”

As I’ve written before: Most of the arguments I encounter for religion are dreadful. They’re not even arguments. They’re attempts to make arguments go away: attempts to deflect legitimate questions; bigoted attacks on atheists’ character; fuzzy confusions between evidence and wishful thinking; the moral equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and yelling, “I can’t hear you, I can’t hear you!” Or worse.

But some arguments for religion and God are real arguments. They’re not good arguments — but they are arguments, sincere attempts to offer evidence supporting the God hypothesis. So I want to do these arguments the honor of engaging with them… and point out why, exactly, they don’t hold water.

Today’s argument: “I feel it in my heart.”

Reflection“I just sense God intuitively. (Or the soul, or the metaphysical world, or whatever.) I feel it. His existence seems obvious to me, in the same way that the existence of the Earth under my feet seems obvious. Why should I doubt that perception — any more than I doubt my perception of the Earth?”

This is a tricky one to argue against. Not because it’s a good argument — it’s not — but because it’s a singularly stubborn one. Religious experiences can be very vivid, very powerful. I had them myself, back when I had religious beliefs. (I still have them, in fact: I just don’t interpret them as religious anymore.) And they can feel real — almost as real as physical perception, in some ways even more so. What’s more, this argument is singularly resistant to reason… since, almost by definition, it’s not very interested in reason.

But here’s the problem. Well, one of many problems.

Our hearts and our minds can’t automatically be trusted.

As vivid as the experience of our hearts and minds can feel, if we’re going to treat it as evidence in support of a hypothesis, we can’t give it any more weight than we would anyone else’s experience. Intuition is important, but it’s notoriously unreliable and subject to bias. We have to step back from it, and view it like we’d view anyone else’s experience. And when we look at human experience in general, we see that our hearts and minds can’t automatically be trusted.

Crumb god genesis For starters: Lots of people have personal experiences of God. And those experiences are wildly different. Even completely contradictory. Some people experience a loving God who only wants us to be happy and take care of one another — others experience a vengeful God who rigidly judges every petty detail of our lives. Some people experience a nebulous World-Soul God, a fluid spirit animating all life — others experience a personal God, with a distinct personality and strong opinions and feelings. (Opinions etc. which, again, vary wildly from believer to believer.) Etc. The feelings people have in their hearts about God are almost as varied as the people having them. And these feelings change significantly throughout history.

If all these people were perceiving the same God… why would that be true?

That’s not true with our perception of the physical world. When we look at a tree, we can all pretty much agree about its basic features: how tall it is, what color it is, whether it still has leaves on it, etc. We might disagree about its taxonomy, or who it belongs to, or whether it’s prettier than another tree. But for the most part, our perceptions of the basic properties of the physical world are remarkably consistent. Especially when compared to our “perceptions” of the spiritual world. Our perceptions of the physical world are pretty consistent. Our “perceptions” of the spiritual world are all over the map.

All of which strongly suggests that, whatever people are experiencing when they experience God, it’s not something they’re perceiving in the external world. It’s something their brains are making up.

Which leads me to another problem, another way our minds and hearts can’t automatically be trusted.

JesusStorybookBible By a striking coincidence, people’s experiences of God almost always conveniently dovetail with the beliefs they already have. Or, at least, with beliefs they’re familiar with. Christians have personal experiences of Jesus; Muslims have experiences of Allah; Hindus have experiences of Ganesh; etc. And again, these experiences have changed radically throughout history. People who never heard of Jesus don’t have visions of Jesus; people in societies that have relinquished belief in Zeus don’t have visions of Zeus.

Now, some will make the “blind men and the elephant” argument here: God is vast and complex, and everyone just perceives a different aspect of him. But that’s a terrible argument. The physical universe is also vast and complex… but by comparing notes and putting our heads together over decades and centuries, our understanding of it has advanced beyond our wildest imaginings. That is conspicuously not true for religion. In thousands of years, religion has not advanced one millimeter in its ability to explain or predict the world… or even in its ability to resolve differences between beliefs. All it has is “agreeing to disagree” at best — and hostile, even violent squabbling at worst.

So again I ask: If all these people were perceiving the same God… why would that be true?

All this, again, strongly suggests that this “intuitive perception” of God isn’t a perception of something real in the world. It strongly suggests confirmation bias: the human brain’s tendency to believe what it already believes, and to notice/ magnify data that supports our beliefs, and to ignore/ undervalue data that contradicts those beliefs. It strongly suggests that this “intuitive perception” of God or the supernatural is an experience the brain is generating on its own.

Which leads me to yet another problem; yet another way our minds and hearts can’t automatically be trusted.

When people say they’ve had a personal experience of God… that’s not really what they mean. What they really mean is, “I had a personal experience (X) — which I’m interpreting as a personal experience of God.”

Radial_background What they mean is, “I heard a clear voice in my head telling me to change my life — which I interpreted as the voice of God.” “I saw a flood of light filling my visual field — which I interpreted as a vision of God.” “I felt a force gripping my hand and pulling me away from the accident — which I interpreted as the hand of God.” “I had an overwhelming experience of transcendent connection with something larger than myself — which I interpreted as an experience of God.” These people had mental and emotional experiences… which they interpreted as religious ones.

Now, to some extent, that’s true even of physical experience. As any college sophomore can tell you, we can’t be 100% sure that our physical perceptions aren’t hallucinations. (And in fact, we know that our physical perceptions sometimes deceive us.) When we see a tree, on some level what’s really happening is that our eyes take in a pattern of light and shadow and color… which our minds interpret as a tree.

Manusingmicroscope But our physical perceptions have a consistency that — see above — is strikingly absent in religious experiences. Physical perceptions can be measured, replicated, verified. When we measure the height of a tree, we all consistently get the same answer; when we drop a rock, we all consistently see it land at the same time. (Or consistently enough.) That’s the whole point of the scientific method: it’s a method of verifying our physical perceptions of the world, and seeing if those perceptions can be replicated, and testing whether our interpretation of them is likely to be right.

All of which strongly suggests that, even if our interpretation of our physical perceptions is flawed, there is a real entity with real existence that we’re perceiving.

And that conspicuously does not work for religious experiences. There is no consistent way to induce a perception of Jesus in all people, or even in most people. Religious experiences are un-measurable, un-replicable, un-verifiable. Everyone who has them has them in different ways; there’s no way to consistently generate them; many people don’t have them at all. And attempts to verify religious experiences using rigorous, double-blind, placebo- controlled scientific methods have universally failed across the board.

And again, I ask: If all these religious experiences were perceptions of the same God… why would that be true?

Isn’t it much more likely that “feeling God in your heart” is an experience the brain is generating all on its own — not a perception of a real entity outside the brain? Isn’t it much more likely that, whatever’s happening in a religious experience, interpreting it as a voice or vision of God is almost certainly mistaken?

Which leads me, finally, to yet one more problem — probably the most serious problem, the problem that encompasses all these other problems, the most profoundly important way that our minds and hearts can’t automatically be trusted.

The human mind is very, very far from perfect.

The human mind is an amazing instrument… but it’s a strikingly flawed instrument, loaded with biases and cognitive errors.

Mistakes_were_made And many of these cognitive errors have a powerful tendency to support religious belief. Our minds have a strong tendency to see intention, even when no intention exists — so we tend to see the design of a supernatural agent in events that are entirely natural. Our minds tend to see patterns, even when no pattern exists — so we see conscious supernatural design in events that are actually random. Our minds aren’t very good at understanding probability — so we think unusual events are more unlikely than they really are, and more in need of explanation by supernatural agency. Our minds tend to believe what we’re taught as children — which is why the strongest predictive factor for people’s religion is what religion they were raised with. Our minds tend to believe what we’re told by authority figures and others in our social group — which is how people’s religious beliefs get reinforced by people they trust. Our minds are wired with confirmation bias, the tendency to believe what we already believe, and to exaggerate evidence that supports our beliefs, and to ignore evidence that opposes them — so once people have a religious belief, they’re more likely to hang onto it. Our minds tend to hold onto beliefs we have a stake in — so once people have sacrificed time or money or happiness for their religion, they’re more likely to keep believing it.

Etc. Etc. Etc.

Brain The human mind did not evolve to perceive and process information 100% accurately. The human mind evolved to find food and escape from predators. Many of our cognitive errors are important and useful in helping us function (or they were 100,000 years ago on the African savannah when we were hunting gazelles and escaping from tigers)… but they make our minds not entirely trustworthy as sources of information.

And even taking these cognitive errors into account, the mind doesn’t always operate as it should. You don’t have to be mentally ill, or even on drugs, to have weird experiences of things that aren’t there. It’s not that hard to alter our consciousness. Exhaustion, stress, distraction, trance-like repetition, optical illusion, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, sensory overload… any of these, and more, can create vivid “perceptions” that are entirely disconnected from external reality.

So we can’t automatically trust our personal experiences. If we want to be reasonably sure that our experiences are real — or more to the point, that our interpretations of these experiences are correct — we have to be willing to subject these experiences to corroboration and rigorous testing.

So here’s the thing.

Perspective1 If you’re going to be rigorous about your beliefs, and if you’re going to use your personal experience as evidence supporting your beliefs, you have to treat that experience no differently from anyone else’s experience. You have to step back from your experience, and view it exactly as you’d view anyone’s experience. You have to treat your own experience as just another data point.

You can’t say, “I had an intense personal experience of God — therefore God exists.” You have to say, “That’s interesting. Person X (insert your name here) had an intense personal experience of God. What’s the most plausible explanation for this? Is there any corroborating evidence for this being an accurate perception of a real god? Are other people’s experiences of God consistent with this one? Does this experience too conveniently dovetail with this person’s biases and expectations? Is there a better explanation than a real perception of a deity? Is it more likely to have been a psychological glitch in this person’s brain function?”

Special_snowflake You can’t treat yourself as a special snowflake. As vivid as your own experiences may feel to you, you can’t give them any more weight than you would anyone else’s experiences.

And if someone else’s personal experience of Allah or Ganesh or the invisible dragon in their garage wouldn’t persuade you that Allah or Ganesh or the invisible dragon is real… you shouldn’t let your own personal experience of God persuade you that God is real.

I once had a debate with a believer, who asked, “If you saw a zebra in front of your house, would you ignore the evidence of your senses, simply because a zebra in front of your house is highly implausible?”

My answer?

Yes.

That is exactly what I would do.

Zebra If I saw a zebra in front of my house, I would want to test that perception before assuming that it was correct. I’d ask other people in my neighborhood if they’d seen a zebra. I’d call the zoo and ask if any of their zebras had escaped. I’d call the newspaper, and ask if they’d heard any other reports of zebra sightings. I’d post on Facebook, ditto. I’d check for zebra droppings.

And if none of these inquiries confirmed my sighting of a zebra, I would conclude that I almost certainly hadn’t seen a zebra after all. I’d conclude that I was sleep deprived, or that it had been an optical illusion, or that some neighborhood prankster had painted a horse to look like a zebra.

Or I’d conclude that I didn’t know what had happened… but it almost certainly wasn’t a zebra.

And given the wildly inconsistent, absurdly contradictory, entirely uncorroborated nature of religious experiences — given the strength of the arguments against religion, and the weakness of the arguments in favor of it — a zebra in front of my house is a whole lot more likely than God.

Aleister_Crowley_Thoth_Tarot_Deck Back when I was a believer, I used to have religious experiences. I would walk down the street, and suddenly feel the vivid presence of someone I loved who had died. I would read Tarot cards, and feel an almost physical spirit move through my mind as I spoke to people about their lives with uncanny perceptiveness. I would look at trees or clouds, and feel an overwhelming sense of connection with a living force that animated all existence.

I still have experiences like this. But I no longer interpret them as religious. I’ve looked at the evidence — and I now understand that the supernatural is by far the least plausible explanation for them. I understand that feeling the presence of my dead loved ones is simply a form of memory. I understand that Tarot readings are simply cold readings, and that people can add up unconscious signals to read another person with what seems like telepathy. I understand that the feeling of transcendent connection with the universe is generated by my brain, and that while I still experience it vividly, it makes far more sense to interpret it as a physical connection rather than a supernatural one.

I understand all this… because I know my mind is not perfect. And I am not arrogant enough to think that, even with its imperfections, my mind and my perceptions are still the single most reliable source of information about the existence of the supernatural… even with the massive inconsistency in supernatural experiences, and the absence of any corroborating evidence for any supposedly supernatural event, and the consistent history of supernatural explanations never in all the world turning out to be right.

I understand that I am not a special snowflake. I understand that the feelings in my heart — as important as they are to me personally, as useful as they are in framing my subjective experience, as helpful as they can be in making day- to- day decisions and suggesting possible avenues of inquiry — do not, by themselves, constitute reliable evidence. I understand that my personal experience, as valuable as it is, is profoundly flawed, and needs to be corroborated before I make any definitive conclusions about the nature of the universe.

And if you’re going to be rigorous about your beliefs, you need to understand this as well. If “I feel it in my heart” is the only argument you can make for God, you’re going to have to find a better argument.

Also in this series:
Why ‘Everything Has a Cause’ Is a Terrible Argument for God
Why ‘Life Had To Have Been Designed’ Is a Terrible Argument for God
Why “The Universe Is Perfectly Fine-Tuned For Life” Is a Terrible Argument for God

Greta Speaking in San Francisco, May 29: “What can the atheist movement learn from the gay movement?”

SFAbanner What can the Atheist movement learn from the gay movement? The atheist movement is already modeling itself on the LGBT movement in many ways — most obviously with its focus on coming out of the closet. What else can the atheist movement learn from the LGBT movement — both from its successes and its failures?

I’ll be speaking on this very subject in San Francisco, for the San Francisco Atheists group, on Saturday, May 29, at 6pm. I’ll be talking about coming out; making atheism a safe place to come out into; defusing the ongoing battles between the firebrands and the diplomats in our movement; avoiding squabbles about language and self-definition; making our movement more diverse; and other lessons that can be learned from the history of the LGBT movement.

The talk will be at Schroder’s Restaurant, 240 Front St (meeting room in back), in downtown San Francisco (between California and Sacramento Streets, near Embarcadero BART). The talk will start at 6pm; I’ll be talking for about an hour, and there’ll be plenty of time for Q&A afterwards. If you’re in the Bay Area, I hope to see you there!

Atheist Meme of the Day: Religion Is Not Entitled to a Free Ride

Scarlet letter Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day. Pass this on; or don’t; or edit it as you see fit; or make up your own. Enjoy!

Religion is not entitled to a free ride in the marketplace of ideas. It is not intolerant or disrespectful for atheists to point out its flaws, and to ask whether there’s any good evidence to support it — any more than it would be with any other idea. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

Why Is Anyone Still Catholic?

If your softball league or your children’s school did what the Catholic Church is doing, you’d quit in outrage. So why haven’t you?

Catholicchurch For any Catholics who might be reading this, I have a question for you:

Why are you still Catholic?

Presumably, I don’t have to tell you about the rash of child-rape scandals in the Catholic Church. I don’t have to tell you about the cover-ups, the shielding of child rapists in the priesthood from law enforcement, the deliberate shuttling of child-raping priests from town to town to protect them from exposure — thus enabling them to continue raping children. I don’t have to tell you about the Church using remote, impoverished villages as a dumping ground for priests who raped children. I don’t have to tell you that this wasn’t a few isolated incidents: it was a widespread, institutional practice, authorized by high-level Church officials. Including Cardinal Ratzinger — now Pope Benedict XVI — who, among other actions taken to protect child raping priests, delayed the dismissal of a child rapist in the priesthood… for the “good of the universal Church.”

And presumably, I don’t have to tell you about the Church’s response as this scandal has been exposed. I don’t have to tell you that, overwhelmingly, they have stonewalled, rationalized, deflected blame. I don’t have to tell you about the Church’s “Come on, the kids weren’t that young, most of them were over 11″ defense, or their “Hey, everyone else is doing it” defense. I don’t have to tell you how they’ve equated the accusations against the Church with anti-Semitism. I don’t have to tell you how they’ve blamed the child-rape scandal on gays, the media, the Devil , even the rape survivors themselves. (No, really. From the Bishop of Tenerife: “There are 13 year old adolescents who are under age and who are perfectly in agreement with, and what’s more wanting it, and if you are careless they will even provoke you.”) I don’t have to tell you that the Church is opposing a measure extending the statute of limitations on child rape. I don’t have to tell you about the Pope’s dismissal of the child-rapist-protection accusations as, quote, “petty gossip.”

And I’m just focusing on the child rape scandal. I’m not even talking today about the other recent scandals in the Church: the gay prostitution ring, the Church banning the use of condoms in Africa to prevent the spread of AIDS, the rape of nuns by priests and the ignoring/ concealment thereof.

You know about all of it.

So here’s what I want to ask you:

Why are you still Catholic?

If these scandals had taken place in any organization other than a religious one — would you still be part of it?

*

Thus begins my latest piece on AlterNet, Why Is Anyone Still Catholic? To find out why I’m exhorting Catholics who are horrified over the child rape scandal to leave the Catholic Church — and why I’m so baffled that more of them aren’t doing that — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!