One million moms are complete idiots

The recent campaign against Ellen DeGeneres by the American Family Association epitomizes the total intellectual bankruptcy of the anti-gay movement. Even though their so-called “One Million Moms” project failed to find any plausible reason why she shouldn’t be the new spokesperson for J. C. Penney, they didn’t let that stop them – they went right ahead and said she’s wrong for the job simply because she’s gay. No further explanation was needed beyond that. She’s gay, and that’s bad, and that’s all there is to it.

According to these million moms, just hiring someone who’s gay is so intolerable to “traditional families” that they supposedly won’t want to shop at J. C. Penney now. That’s not just offensive to gay people. It’s offensive to those families, because it implies that this entire category of people is so uniformly homophobic that they can’t even bear to do business with a company that employs gay people. What makes them think every “traditional family” would agree with that?

They further demand that J. C. Penney “remain neutral in the culture war.” But since when does neutrality require the total exclusion of gay people from jobs just because they’re gay? How could that possibly fall under any imaginable concept of what it means to be neutral? It sounds more like they’ve tried to redefine “neutral” as only doing what they want, and to do otherwise must be a departure from that. How else could someone believe it’s neutral to discriminate against gay people for no reason whatsoever?

After their attack on Ellen backfired tremendously, they sent out an email claiming that “Ellen is attempting to indoctrinate our children.” Apparently she’ll be doing that via her role as a department store spokesperson, in which she’ll naturally be serving as an exponent of sexual morality. Clearly, that must be what J. C. Penney hired her to do. If they did decide to replace her, do those million moms expect that someone more representative of “traditional families” would use their position to instruct people on how they should be having sex? “Attention shoppers: Please don’t be gay! It makes a million moms really sad!”? How is this even tangentially related to their job? Are company spokespeople supposed to be a source of moral guidance now?

But they didn’t stop there. The American Family Association’s radio host Fred Jackson was unusually revealing when he said, “What makes Ellen DeGeneres dangerous is that she’s a nice person”. And he’s right: Ellen is dangerous. Not to the rest of us, of course. No, she’s dangerous to these people. She provides them with no way to use her as an example of the alleged depravity, sickness and misery of gay people. She’s proven that an openly gay woman can be accepted, appreciated, and even admired by middle America and “traditional families”. She absolutely overturns their reality in a way they cannot respond to without retreating to simple prejudice.

The sheer breadth of her achievement incinerates their claims that gay people are doomed to a life of isolation, desperation and ostracism. The only way they can try to rescuscitate their failed perspective is by working to force that exclusion and disapproval upon Ellen herself, as if to prove that life must really be that bad for gay people – and if it’s not, they’ll do their damnedest to make sure that it is. This is their last resort: trying to roll back progress by hand.

And how dare these “million moms” suggest that motherhood must mean shielding children from the fact that gay people can be successful? Fuck everything about that! Children deserve better than to be told that happiness and accomplishment are off-limits to anyone who isn’t straight. I’d rather have my kids “indoctrinated” by Ellen, because they should know that the world can be theirs no matter who they love. And I bet there actually are a million moms who agree with that.

FACT: Catholics do NOT oppose birth control!

Last year, the Department of Health and Human Services ruled that health insurance plans would be required to provide preventive care services for women, including contraception, at no extra cost and with no co-pays or deductibles. This January, they announced that certain religiously affiliated organizations would have an additional year to comply with this rule, but they would not be exempt from the requirement. It is still possible for a religious employer to be exempted if it meets the following four criteria: it must have “the inculcation of religious values as its purpose”, it must “primarily employ persons who share its religious tenets”, it must “primarily serve persons who share its religious tenets”, and it must be a non-profit organization. Under these standards, a church or synagogue would not be required to provide contraceptive coverage through their employee health care plans. However, religiously affiliated hospitals, universities, and charities would still have to cover contraception.

In the wake of this directive, over a hundred Catholic bishops have spoken out and claimed that this requirement is an attack on their religious liberty and a violation of their conscience. Officially, the Catholic Church’s doctrine on birth control holds that separating the procreative element from heterosexual intercourse is a sin. This includes the use of condoms, birth control pills, injections, IUDs, and other artificial methods. Instead, the church approves of “natural family planning”, which involves reserving sex for the phases of the menstrual cycle when a woman cannot become pregnant. So, according to the church, it’s okay to choose to prevent pregnancy by intentionally having sex during a time of known infertility, but it’s not okay to choose to prevent pregnancy by medically or mechanically precluding the possibility of fertilization. It’s not entirely clear to me how that doesn’t encompass the technique of ensuring that an egg won’t be present to be fertilized when you’re having sex, but I’m sure they’ve justified it one way or another.

In any case, whether the requirement to cover contraception is against the beliefs of Catholics is largely irrelevant. The hospitals and colleges which would have to provide this coverage employ people from every walk of life and every belief system. These Catholic-affiliated organizations do not exclusively hire Catholics. We’re talking about hospitals and schools that all kinds of people go to, and all kinds of people work at. With this objection, Catholic bishops are demanding that employees of the University of Notre Dame, St. Joseph’s Hospital of Phoenix, and practically any religiously affiliated business, should not have the same access to contraception that any other employees would. Why should non-Catholics and non-believers be denied that coverage simply because they work for a business that’s associated with a certain church?

Further, does this requirement actually conflict with the conscience of Catholics? Their doctrine considers contraception to be sinful, and their leaders have condemned this directive, but what do everyday Catholics think? Do they, too, have a problem with birth control? No! A recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 49% of Americans overall agree that religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals should be required to provide health care plans that cover birth control at no cost. How many Catholics agreed with this? 52%, dropping to 45% among Catholics who vote. The difference in support for this requirement between Catholics and all Americans is negligible. A survey by Public Policy Polling confirmed this, finding that 57% of voters believe women employed by Catholic hospitals and universities should have the same rights to contraceptive coverage, and 53% of Catholics agree with this.

But how do Catholics themselves feel about the use of birth control? A 2011 report by the Guttmacher Institute found that out of all Catholic women who have had sex, 98% used contraception other than the church-endorsed “natural family planning” method, which only 2% of them rely on – “even among Catholic women who attend church once a month or more”. 68% use IUDs, hormonal methods, or male or female sterilization. Another 15% use condoms. The statistics are largely the same for Catholic women who are married: only 3% use “natural family planning”, and 72% use IUDs, sterilization or hormonal methods.

If that’s the case, then why are these Catholic bishops claiming it would violate their conscience if Catholic-affiliated businesses are required to provide access to birth control methods which a strong majority of Catholic women have already chosen to use? Why are they depicting this as an attack on Catholic values, when most Catholics don’t share those values at all? When Catholic views on this policy hardly differ from those of Americans altogether, there is no way this can be honestly characterized as something that has a disproportionate impact on Catholics.

So why are the media uncritically parroting and validating this plainly inaccurate narrative? Why is Reuters running a story titled “Obama risks Catholic vote with birth-control mandate”, when surveys indicate he isn’t risking the Catholic vote any more than the average American vote? Why is USA Today letting Archbishop Timothy Dolan use their opinion page to allege that this policy is “un-American” – a claim which, in light of recent polls, doesn’t even make sense? Why does the archbishop of Atlanta get coverage for saying that “The Church is going to fight this regulation with all the available resources we have”, when a majority of church members don’t consider this worth fighting against, and many of them are actually using the very birth control methods at issue here?

If this is supposed to be about respecting the conscience of Catholics, then why has everyone been focusing on the bloviations of a handful of bishops, while ignoring the millions of Catholics who disagree with them? How does that possibly respect their values?

A Morality Tale

If you’re not a believer, you may be perplexed
When you see how they treat their most sacred of texts
Interpreted, twisted, distorted, and flexed,
Their exegesis leaves us feeling quite vexed
For whenever you quote what their holy book said,
They’ll claim that it doesn’t – you must have misread
If you think you’ve found something to leave their face red,
They’ve reasoned it means something different instead.

Six days made the earth? Just a metaphor, fool
We’re allowed to buy slaves? That’s no longer a rule
And Adam and Eve, with a literate snake?
It’s only a parable, make no mistake
Does it preach death for gays? No, they’re just damned to hell
You can let witches live, but they’re hellbound as well
And all of those laws that regard menstruation?
An old, obsolete, bureaucratic creation!

Excuses abound, with their long-practiced skill
They can write off most anything – you know they will
But then comes the twist in this splitting of hairs:
Their comrades have much different answers from theirs!
They’ve rationalized it a whole different way
You won’t get a straight answer, I’m sorry to say
For the doctrines of everyone other than they
Are the very beliefs against which they inveigh.

From Catholic to Baptist, Messianic Jew,
Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran too,
LDS, Christian Science, they all get their due
As each one insists that the rest are untrue
So who’s figured out the correct world view?
Which one do we follow? Which ones to eschew?
Who among them is right? Have they even a clue?
There’s so much to sort through. So let’s start our review…

Can women be clergy, or only the men?
What happens when Jesus comes back here again?
Was he even a god? Or a man, nothing more?
Was he stuck to the cross with three nails or four?
Could this holy wafer be part of his head?
A leg or a thigh, or just plain old white bread?
Did humans evolve? Were they made in a week?
Is Hell full of screaming, or nary a squeak?

Is the pontiff the antichrist? Some say it’s true
Is salvation by faith, or are works needed too?
Are gays really sinners? Just maybe, they’re not
Should saints be ignored, or petitioned a lot?
Must priests remain celibate? What’s the result?
Should infants be baptized, or only adults?
Is the Bible correct to the very last letter?
Did Joseph Smith Jr. write something much better?

And let’s not forget the apocalypse lore,
With horsemen and dragons and angels galore
Do we all have our own resurrection in store?
Or just one-hundred-forty-four thousand, no more?
Do we even know when it might happen, if ever?
Like 2012, on the fifteenth of never?
You might be surprised, because some people say
That the world ends once there are too many gays.

And that’s just a slice of the faith smorgasbord,
The diversity’s simply too vast to record
But if you cite the Bible, you won’t be ignored
You’ll be set upon by a devout, raging horde
From every direction, in mob and in throng,
They’ll rush to accuse you of reading it wrong
Though they shouldn’t be shocked when this doesn’t hold sway
For they all would be wrong, if they all had their way.

You can see how it makes for a frustrating time
When this mishmash of faith has no reason or rhyme
It’s enough to make atheists throw up their hands
And tell Christians to go figure out where they stand
But amidst all the turmoil, confusion and stress
Something very revealing comes out of this mess
For these plain contradictions, dissensions and shouts
Give us great ammunition for our kind of doubts.

In particular, one frequent question you’ll see
Can be answered quite swiftly – if you’ve got the key
“So God’s not your thing,” pounds the old Christian drum,
“But where do you get your morality from?”

Yes, it’s common enough to make anyone ill
Do they really believe that we’ll swallow this pill?
As if no one could possibly know wrong from right
Without putting their faith in a myth that’s so trite
Nope, I’d have no idea just what I should do
If I hadn’t read tales from around the year 2
I’d be paralyzed, frozen, bewildered and lost
Without moral advice from some guy on a cross.

To claim this sincerely is silly enough
Yet it raises a question that’s really quite tough
You’re telling me that’s how your ethics were seeded,
But how did you know it was this that you needed?
Just why did you think that the Bible was true,
And not the Qur’an, or the Mormon books too?
And once you’d picked out your religion of choice,
How’d you find the best church with the right faithful voice?

What made you decide contraception was bad,
And the Catholics are right when they get very mad?
Why did you believe that God loves all the gays,
And the liberal churches have found the true way?
What made you dismiss all that snake-handling crap?
Does your church say religion’s a self-righteous trap?
On origins, sexism, Hell, and the pope,
What made up your mind? Tell me, how did you cope?

It’s clear that you couldn’t be morally impotent
You picked your own favorite brand of omnipotent!
That was your ethical judgment in action
And we have that, too – it’s not owned by your faction
We use our own judgment to filter beliefs,
We just don’t make religion our ethical chief
While you claim your morals are guided by scripture,
I think we all know this is not the whole picture.

No matter your faith, and no matter how strong,
You use your own sense of what’s right and what’s wrong
Meta-ethically speaking, your god’s not a plus,
So please don’t pretend that you’re better than us.

A reminder about Komen and charity efficiency

During the recent controversy over the Susan G. Komen foundation declaring Planned Parenthood ineligible for breast cancer screening grants, Komen has been frequently criticized for allegedly allocating excessive funding to administrative costs and executive salaries, and insufficient funding to cancer research and health services. Administrative overhead provides a number that’s very easy to wield against almost any major organization. It’s trivial to point out that a lot of money goes toward management and advertising, and claim that it should have been spent on actually providing services to people. Instead of paying for fundraisers and marketing, they should be funding scientific research. So why would they direct any of their resources away from these initiatives? Clearly, they’re just being greedy.

This line of reasoning is easily understandable by everyone, and it’s also completely wrong. As a measure of an organization’s efficiency in funding certain initiatives, this tells us almost nothing. The implication is that the proportion of their expenses which doesn’t go directly to providing services is unacceptably high. But this conclusion can’t be justified simply by citing a number like 20% or 25%. Expecting that an organization should put all of its funding toward actual services, or even as much of its funding as is technically possible, demonstrates a stunning nearsightedness about financial planning. Such organizations must acquire their funding somehow. They have to manage how that funding is used, ensure a continued supply of funds, and defend against any possible threats to their organization. They need to make decisions about what they do. They need to hire people to make those decisions. And they need to find people who will make good decisions.

Six-digit salaries for top executives may sound outrageous, but they might also serve to attract extremely competent people. Under their leadership, the organization may find that this was a very worthwhile investment. Similarly, paying for expensive fundraisers and marketing campaigns might turn out to be worth it, earning them more money than they spent on this. If these funds had simply been used to provide services instead, the organization could find it has much less funding available for that purpose, due to unqualified management and dismal fundraising efforts. If acquiring more funding for their causes requires spending more money on marketing and directors, why shouldn’t they aim to maximize their available funding? It’s easy to get angry about a charity’s CEO making a million dollars a year. It’s not so easy to say that cancer research and health services for the poor should lose their funding because your sensibilities were offended.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that the expenses of salaries and fundraising should have no upper limit at all. There’s obviously a point where any further returns would be insubstantial and not worth the cost, and anything beyond that actually would be an unnecessary expense. Every charitable organization is responsible for striking a balance that’s appropriate to its goals. But even if they do manage to work out the best proportion of administrative overhead to maximize their funding, this still doesn’t show that they’re directing it toward a worthwhile goal. This isn’t always as easy to quantify, but it’s not hard to understand that efficiency is meaningless when you’re efficiently doing something wrong. “Wrong” is a concept that can be challenging to pin down, so let’s just consider a couple of especially striking examples.

The Toys for Tots Foundation claims to spend 98% of the donations it receives on providing gifts for less fortunate children. VillageReach provides vaccines in Mozambique, and is estimated to prevent one death for every $400-800 spent. If we have $800 to spend as we please, we can either give $800 worth of toys to a number of children, or we can give $800 worth of not being dead to someone in Africa. The choice is yours, but you do have a decision to make.

Going back to Mozambique, Remnant Publications reports: “They are hungry for the Word of God but cannot afford Bibles! The majority are fortunate to have even one meal a day. They need our help!” Indeed they do. In this situation, the numbers aren’t quite so important. For a starving person, no amount of Bibles can add up to the equivalent of food. Bibles are inedible, and for them to have any plausible purpose, their readers must first not be dead. It’s somewhat like trying to stop a flood by providing iPods instead of sandbags. Remnant Publications claims that every donation of $3 will ship one Bible to Mozambique. Knowing that $800 will prevent someone’s death, would you rather spend it on 260 Bibles or saving one life?

People make choices like these on a regular basis. They withhold their money from initiatives to provide food and vaccines – initiatives they may not have even been aware of – and instead spend it on Bibles or toys or the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Considering that this is how many people choose to allocate their donations on the scale of tens to hundreds of dollars, what the hell makes them think they’re qualified to manage the finances of a $400 million-a-year foundation?

To be clear – because some people tend to conflate these things – this does not mean that Komen’s current resource allocation is the best it could be, or even that it’s good. It does not mean that it isn’t possible for charity directors to be overpaid, or for marketing efforts to be excessive. It is not a defense of Komen’s litigation against other charities. It is not a defense of their senior VP Karen Handel, who believes that gay adoption should be outlawed and gay parents are less legitimate than straight parents. And it does not mean Komen was correct in rescinding their grants to Planned Parenthood. Those arguments can stand or fall on their own merits. But simply criticizing a charitable organization for having operating costs and paying its employees does absolutely nothing to show any kind of wrongdoing on their part. Overhead ratios don’t just give you an incomplete picture of an organization’s efficiency – they don’t tell you anything useful at all.