Ritualized child abuse: circumcision

Want to spend an hour cringing and twitching? This is the abridged version of “Cut: Slicing Through the Myths of Circumcision“, and you will suffer if you watch it. It is a wasteful, terrible thing to do to a child.

One rabbi interviewed is at least honest about circumcision: “It’s painful, it’s abusive, it’s traumatic, and if anybody does it who isn’t in a covenant ought to be put in prison…I do abusive things because I’m in covenant with god.” What nonsense. What a wretched excuse for abusing children.

(Warning: lots of shots of babies getting chopped, as well as closeups of adult penises.)

The arguments for circumcision are pathetic and awful.

  • “You either believe [in the covenant of circumcision] or else nothing is true”. I’ve heard that before: it’s the argument creationists use to defend the absolute literal truth of the book of Genesis, because if that’s not true, the story of Jesus falls apart, and therefore the whole of Christianity is false. Yeah, so? Then it’s false.

  • “The mystery of circumcision is profound”. Ignorance should not inspire the kind of awe that motivates one to mutilate another person’s body.

  • The health benefits. Total bullshit. As one of the speakers in the movie explains, there have been progressive excuses: from it prevents masturbation to it prevents cancer to it prevents AIDS. The benefits all vanish with further studies and are all promoted by pro-circumcision organizations. It doesn’t even make sense: let’s not pretend people have been hacking at penises for millennia because there was a clinical study. Hey, let’s chop off our pinkie toes and then go looking for medical correlations!

  • It’s tradition. Grandpa and great-grandpa and great-great-grandpa did it, so I’ll perpetuate the cycle of abuse to my children. I have to reject that: it reduces a decision to do irreparable damage to a child to repetitive, superstitious, mindless behavior.

There is no reason, other than certain rare and specific medical conditions, for maiming anyone’s genitalia. Don’t do it to your children.

(Also on Sb)

Here’s what happens when you reconcile religion with “science”

You get mad raving nonsense.

In my opinion, Adam and Eve were born with a small organ attached to their appendix tube. An organ that produced stem cells which kept their perfect human body perpetually healthy and forever the equivalent age of thirty years old. In my opinion, this now missing human organ is the Tree Of Life depicted in the Bible’s book of Genesis; an organ that grew from a now missing 24th human chromosome in the human genome. To ‘take fruit’ from the Tree Of Life is to live forever… immortality.

As most of us know, Adam and Eve contaminated themselves by eating the forbidden fruit (cells) from the Tree Of The Knowledge Of Good And Bad. The forbidden fruit (cells) was the ingestion of cells, chromosomes, genes and DNA found in the flesh of mammals. This destroyed the 24th chromosome in Adam and Eve’s reproductive cells (sperm and egg), and also destroyed the Tree Of Life organ attached to their appendix tube. With the 24th chromosome gone from Adam’s sperm cells, and the 24th chromosome gone from Eve’s egg cells, hereditary immortality could not be passed on to their offspring, and hence, to all human beings thereafter. To ‘take fruit’ from the Tree Of The Knowledge Of Good And Bad is to positively die… mortality.

Most of us also know that God took a rib from Adam in order to build Eve. The rib was taken before Eve came into existence. The rib was taken before any kind of contamination to the human genome. The rib was human flesh, blood and bone; human cells, chromosomes, genes and DNA. The rib was made of human cells that have the 24th human chromosome that produces the Tree Of Life organ attached to the appendix tube. Adam’s rib cells are immortal human cells with 48 chromosomes (24 pairs), rather than our present 46 chromosomes (23 pairs).

My theories will also show you that Jesus was born from an uncontaminated rib cell. Jesus was born with a 24th pair of human chromosomes in his body cells, which produced the Tree Of Life organ attached to his appendix tube. Adam and Eve were born immortal (to begin with). Jesus was born immortal. My theories will show you that all human beings are destined to become immortal, after the ‘first’ death.

  • An opinion is not a sound foundation for a scientific hypothesis—or even a pseudoscientific one. Show me evidence.

  • There is no evidence of a magical small organ ever being attached to the end of the appendix.

  • We already produce small numbers of stem cells throughout life. They don’t confer immortality, nor is there any reason to expect they would.

  • A large collection of pluri- or toti-potent stem cells might have some advantages in enhancing regeneration. They’d have the disadvantage of also being a source of cancers.

  • Chromosomes don’t map to organs. Organs don’t grow from chromosomes.

  • Other apes do have 24 pairs of chromosomes. They aren’t immortal.

  • Eating fruit, or even magic fruit made of mammalian flesh, won’t selectively destroy a chromosome. And if it did, it wouldn’t have the mild consequence of knocking out an organ.

  • Where did Jesus’ mother get that uncontaminated rib cell?

  • 48 chromosome Jesus just confirms my hypothesis that Jesus was a chimpanzee. You can’t prove I’m wrong!

He goes on for many pages of absurd speculation. Did you know that when Doubting Thomas was poking around in Jesus’ wound, he was actually inspecting his appendicular organ?

(via Adam Rutherford)

Why I am an atheist – Lucretius of Mississippi

I had a happy childhood during which I was taken by my mother to the local Southern Baptist Church for Sunday School, Morning Church Service, Training Union (that’s extra night-time Sunday School for you non-Baptists out there) and Evening Church Service. As I got older, she added Youth Choir practice, Wednesday night prayer service, and Tuesday Visitation (during which we got addresses of folks who hadn’t been to church in a while, and also addresses of folks who had moved from another town and hadn’t come by to see us yet, and went out to see how they were doing.)

I remember that the message to the young folk in my small-town church was very positive. God loves you, Jesus saves, bring your cares to Him, rejoice in God’s love and love your neighbor as yourself. As I got up to about seventh grade questions started to surface about how old the world was. The message we got was that we didn’t need to worry about this. Probably, we were told, God’s days must have been pretty long back during the making of the world. Everybody had to read the Bible on their own, and nobody, not even the minister, could tell you exactly what to believe.

But shortly after that my Dad had to move for his job, (in 1966) and we were in the great huge city of Memphis. I started to hear a very different message. You could read the Bible all you wanted, but if you thought anything much different from what the preacher said, you must be in rebellion against God. And that faith stuff we’ve been telling you about? It’s great that you have faith, but guess what, we have proof too! The Bible is the literally inerrant word of God, after all!

I was a fairly well-read young Southerner and I found this to be a bit hard to swallow. It all came to a head a couple of years later during a revival. (That’s where a visiting pastor comes and preaches every single night for a week or two.) The man stood up and said that archeologists had found the ruins of Jericho, and the collapsed walls exactly proved the Biblical account. And the very next night the same pastor told the old story about how NASA computers were missing a day in the history of the universe, but it was explained in the Bible. (Believe it or not, people are still spreading this story, see: http://www.presentruth.com/2009/03/nasa-finds-the-missing-day/ )

The second story had so many holes in it that it defied credibility altogether. Um, let me think, there is a story of an eclipse in Egyptian records about 1200 BC but how could you possibly date the historical account accurately to check against your orbital calculations for eclipses during that time? Back that far, I think you would be lucky to date any event within 10 years plus or minus in Gregorian calendar terms, right? And any further than that, well, there’s enough orbital chaos you probably couldn’t really say when eclipses occurred. And besides, why in the world would NASA be worried about exact orbits three thousand years ago?

So I did make it to the library, found that sure enough, the NASA story was bunkum, as was the Jericho thing. (Yeah, there were some archeologists, and there were some old walls of Jericho, but the collapse of the walls was dated to a fire so long ago it was impossible to correlate it with any plausible date for the Exodus.)

I could go on and give more examples of crazy pulpit-talk. And of course I owe a tip of the hat to some children’s and juvenile books by the esteemed Henrick Willem van Loon (Story of Mankind, Lives, Tolerance) that prepared me for this day. Suffice it to say that from this point on, I began to accept a purely historical, non-supernatural view of the Bible and of the Church. No there is no resurrection, how in the world would Jesus’ sacrifice atone for my sins, etc etc. OTOH I had a very hard evening sitting there one day reading a book called “The Uses of the Past” by Herbert Muller that helped bring it all into focus to me- albeit in a way that seemed very hard to take, it was as if I was watching my favorite football team lose to a hated rival, it was a feeling of deep disappointment and disillusionment. I suppose I was about 15 years old.

However, I hate to disappoint the hardcore outspoken atheists here, but the fact of the matter is that I live in a part of the world where “coming out” as an atheist seems to be more trouble than it is worth. One sees the coming of a post-Christian England, one supposes that natural trends are heading the same way here without any of my feeble assistance, why should I subject myself to the inconvenience of making myself publicly heard? So I never told my parents or indeed any other member of my family.

But when I went to college, and later when I got married and had kids, I found it necessary to have a “flag of convenience.” Well, there are in fact some wonderful churches that treat people very kindly, where the preachers do not shout and scream, and you might even have a string quartet to play along with the choir, where you might go and sing some Thomas Tallis or some William Byrd or some Johann Sebastian Bach, and they tend to have very nice pipe organs. Since this is actually the sort of music I really like, I hung out there for decades, at least until my children were grown and gone.

But I have to say, living in the part of the world where I live, I still dread the sort of backlash and harassment that I imagine would ensue were I to make myself publicly known, and though I may invite the ridicule of this forum, at my age I am content to continue as I am. If I may offer one small point of argumentation in favor of staying in the closet, perhaps I could say that I think there are more pressing things than evangelizing for the cause of not believing in God. For example, science education, evolution, and climate change are burning issues where I think we should stand up against the forces of ignorance. But where I live, being identified as an out-and-out atheist is actually going to eliminate any credibility I might have and reduce any chance I have for being taken seriously or effecting any change whatsoever.

Lucretius of Mississippi
United States

What #HumanistCommunity?

I wasted too much time in the #humanistcommunity debate on twitter, so I’ll briefly summarize: because I detest the church-like model of Epstein’s humanist chaplain concept, I must dislike organization, leadership, and community. It quickly became obvious that many people are incapable of recognizing anything other than chaplains and churches as a reasonable model for community.

This is annoying because we have quite a few models for godless organizations that avoid that pitfall. CFI. American Atheists. SSA. They don’t have “chaplains”! I wonder how they manage without collapsing?

This is particularly galling because what Epstein claims to be doing is gathering empirical data on how best to run a secular movement. As I pointed out, we’re doing this already by having diverse secular groups springing up all over the place, not by having Greg Epstein defining what a secular meeting is supposed to be. He managed to diss one such incredibly successful group in his interview:

That’s not to say there aren’t homes for atheists on campus. Jesse Galef, communications director for the Secular Student Alliance, said his organization now has 306 chapters nationwide, up from 195 two years ago.

But those groups are loose-knit. They have no official format for meetings; some do service projects while others are as likely to hold an “atheist prom.” Most are led by students, not chaplains, and they have no institutional memory, since their membership turns over every four years.

Epstein wants to create something more permanent with a carefully thought out infrastructure.

Here’s one of the fastest growing secular organizations in the country…so what’s wrong with being “loose-knit”? It seems to work. What’s wrong with an “atheist prom”, or whatever idea provokes and entices the group? Maybe a “carefully thought out infrastructure” would be exactly the thing to crush the spirit of the movement.

Anyway, the argument will never end. Some people will follow this strangely pseudo-religious pattern, some of us will be more anarchic and let the organization bubble up from the bottom. But if we’re looking for empirical examples that work, it seems to me that the secular organizations that are succeeding all seem to have a shortage of chaplains.

Just call me a Quaker, I guess

My post yesterday declining to support churchiness for atheists seems to have irritated a few people, including Greg Epstein himself, and there was a bit of to-and-fro on twitter trying to convince me of the folly of my rejection. It didn’t take.

(There is apparently going to be more twitter chatter about it today, at 5pm (time zone unspecified), under the tag #humanistcommunity. I can’t join in — I’m doing an interview with Michael Slate around that time. I think.)

Now Hemant has joined in with a deeply flawed argument. He criticizes my complaint with a little sarcasm:

Right… who wants to bond with other people, perform community service, have fruitful discussions, find a secular way to celebrate rites of passage, and have someone they can talk to when they’re going through rough times who isn’t going to spit religion in their face?

Who’s disagreeing with any of that? Regular meetings, bonding, service, etc., all sans religion is great! Nowhere in any of my criticisms have I objected to any of those goals.

I also had people claiming my objection was to having weekly meetings. Again, I have no idea where that came from. Minnesota Atheists has weekly meetings, too, and I’d be going to them regularly if I didn’t live a three hour drive away.

Secular parenting, service, discussion, etc fine but if done weekly they’re a cheat & a waste?

So that’s just bizarre. I don’t have a clue what’s running through Epstein’s head. Have weekly meetings; have bi-weekly meetings. Have ‘em every day. Organize for community service, have discussions about science and religion, socialize, all that good stuff. Have secular celebrants come in to celebrate milestones in people’s lives. That’s all good.

Just don’t turn it into church. Don’t develop a structure. Don’t have it led by chaplains. I’ve heard Epstein speak; a lot of what he talks about seems to be fond recollections of the way familiar old churches and synagogues were run, and I’m seeing that echoing in the way he’s setting up this “chaplain” nonsense. It’s un-egalitarian, it’s non-secular, it implies a special knowledge possessed by a Head Bozo. Epstein is a product of a theology program and a divinity school, and he’s still trapped in archaic patterns of thought, just trying to stuff atheism into a familiar model. We have lots of atheist groups out there that function perfectly well with things like elections and committees without granting special privilege to people who go through Epstein’s Magic Course. I stated my opinion of chaplains:

And chaplains? I suppose their entrails are just as good for strangling kings as a priest’s, but that’s their only use.

I also asked why the heck we needed them, what they were good for, etc. This is Epstein’s reply.

Humanist chaplains are trained in freethought history & philosophy, ceremony & meeting facilitation, counseling, etc.

People who do counseling and get specific training in it are called “counselors” or “psychiatrists” or “therapists”. They have specific and valuable roles in any community, and it’s not as a generic leader of a group. I’m suspicious of any organization that churns out “chaplains” and calls them “counselors”. The other examples of knowledge…why do I need to be a chaplain to practice them? How do all those other atheist groups out there survive without chaplains?

My objection is simple. No priests. I don’t care what label you call them, creating a hierarchy of privilege is not acceptable to me. As I’ve also said, though, the Epstein approach will definitely appeal to people who are looking for a church substitute — you just won’t find me among them. I don’t want another church, I want them all gone.

I’m living in a small town with 15 petty little sects, each with their building, from humble to historically impressive, and I can encourage nothing that might add yet another sinkhole to the mess we’ve already got. In my perfect atheist future, each of them would shut down, one after the other, and be replaced by secular institutions that actually contributed to the community economically and socially. Replacing them with little Epsteins leading their flock through ceremonies and doing such productive work as lighting candles and playing group therapist and singing godless hymns…<shudder>…no, I wouldn’t be going. I’d be saying nothing has changed but the names.

I will be disappointed that humanity just can’t seem to break free of bad ideas.

I get email

Eugene Delgaudio, a fellow calling himself the “Public Advocate of the United States” and from an organization called “Traditional Values”, writes to me a lot. To be fair, I think some kook somewhere signed me up for his newsletter — I get a lot of peculiar email that I only get because random organizations have an open sign-up process that allows them to be used for harassment — but poor Eugene is such a persecuted sad-sack that I thought I’d point and laugh at him a bit. He’s always complaining.

Dear PZ,

In the past, the radical homosexuals have attempted to kill me, even threatening and stalking my family. [Evidence?] However, all that did was make me more determined than ever to fight them. [Oh, come on, Eugene. You’ve been salivating over gay men for ages]

And with Public Advocate supporters’ help, I did.

Together, pro-family Americans have really rocked the Homosexual Lobby. We’ve held off so much of their agenda for so many years. [Like equality? Way to go!]

But now they want to take supporters like you out of the fight.

I’ve received letters from three different government agencies ordering me to stop sending mail to members like you. [Well, you know, I sympathize with the agencies here, since I’m a perfect example of a recipient of email abuse. I didn’t sign up for his deluge of paranoia, but he has such a sloppy opt-in sign-up that anyone can sign anyone else up for his crap.]

One letter from a Post Office bureaucrat actually declared my correspondence with Public Advocate members to be obscene! [This is one of his milder efforts. He actually is obsessed with homosexual practices, and tends to fantasize graphically about them.]

You see, in their sick world radical homosexuals can desecrate churches [Like that would bother me], spread their filth across the internet [I could send him lots more heterosexual porn, if he’d like], and run naked through the very halls of Congress [Has anyone seen that? I haven’t.].

But when I try to tell people about it, my letters are labeled obscene by those who serve the homosexuals’ purposes. [Like the post office? Your mailman might be gay, Eugene!]

And if they can find a judge who agrees with them, the legal consequences could be severe. Even if we win, the legal fees could destroy your Public Advocate. [Tell someone who cares.]

That’s why I’m desperate for you to send a contribution of $50 or even $100 today. I need your help right away, so I ask you to send whatever you can afford today.

Wait, what? This feeble complaint is a fundraising gimmick? I have seen the light! Christians have been poisoning the body politic for centuries, they send me threats, they frolic in the halls of Congress (clothes mostly on, but maybe you should read about the degenerates in The Family), I find their prudery obscene, and look! Wackos are sending me harassing email! Send me money. Paypal accepted. Cash in small bills also accepted. OK, very large bills are also fine, if you insist on forcing them on me.

If only he’d been a good Christian, he might have gotten away with murder

This is a dismal story of a wretched man who murdered a young woman. No sympathy for the murderer is at all implied; he’s rotten and stupid, let the legal system handle him.

No, this is about the strange ethics of prison chaplain Peter Brotherton. Part of the evidence against the killer was a confession the chaplain received from the accused, a confession he felt no need to keep confidential and instead scurried off to prison authorities. The problem is why he felt no confidentiality was required.

Mr Brotherton said he decided he could not keep the information secret because Tabak was not religious. The prison’s senior chaplain then took the report to the security office.

So Brotherton is saying that if the accused, Vincent Tabak, had gone to church often enough, he would have kept mum about his admission? So that’s what religion is all about: sheltering the guilty.