Social justice versus family values

Writing for the Christian Science Monitor, Brad Knickerbocker observes:

For the first time since the founding of the Republic, none of the major party candidates for president or vice president is a WASP – a white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant – a fact that was confirmed when Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan to be his running mate.

As Knickerbocker goes on to observe, if there’s anyone who wants to vote for a Protestant, they’ve only got one choice this year: Barack Obama. Is this the end of an era?

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Heroes that actually deserve the name

There are relatively few people in this world today who impress me enough for me to call them heroes. But they exist. Belatedly, imperfectly, incompletely, I would like to thank them for inspiring me and encouraging me to expect more and better things.

Here, in no particular order, are some of them. Please help me fill in the names I will inevitably overlook.

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Prayers for sale–but not for long

Freedom of religion notwithstanding, it seems that certain types of supernatural products and services are downright unworkable, for entirely commercial reasons. Just ask EBay.

Beginning Aug.30, the online auction site will ban the sale of curses, spells, hexes, magic, prayers, blessing services, magic potions, healing sessions and more…

“EBay regularly reviews categories and updates our policies based on customer feedback,” a statement from the company read. “We are discontinuing a small number of categories within the larger metaphysical subcategory, as buyers and sellers have told us that transactions in these categories often result in issues that can be difficult to resolve.”

I can see where this could be a problem. If I buy something that doesn’t exist, and nothing ever arrives, how do I know if it’s been shipped?

No word on whether or not indulgences are included amongst the list of soon-to-be-banned magical services approved for sale to the gullib general public.

FRC quick to exploit shooting

On Wednesday, a young man named Floyd Corkins made an inept attack on the offices of the Family Research Council, an act of politically-motivated domestic terrorism that is no different from bombing an abortion clinic. Clearly, such actions are unjustified, indefensible, and reprehensible. Working on the theory that one bad turn deserves another, the FRC immediately tried to exploit the shooting to launch an attack on the reputation of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a longtime foe of the FRC’s anti-gay crusade.

“Let me be clear that Floyd Corkins was responsible for firing the shot yesterday,” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins told reporters in Washington about the suspect. “But Corkins was given a license to shoot an unarmed man by organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center that have been reckless in labeling organizations hate groups because they disagree with them on public policy.”

Right. Because the FRC’s relentless slanders against gays wouldn’t have offended anybody if it hadn’t been for those damn kids and their stupid dog.

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Voting for Mormons: another perspective

Blair Kelly claims to “strongly disagree” with my position on voting for “a Mormon,” and has written a full post explaining all the why’s and how’s. It’s a pretty good read, and I’d recommend it. My only quibble is that I’m not so sure we really disagree.

I would want to ask any candidate, Mormon or otherwise, some of the questions I posed above. What I’m arguing is that a person who claims to be Mormon is likely to answer them in an unsatisfying way… Therefore if you say you’re Mormon, chances are I won’t vote for you. I argue this is a perfectly legitimate position to take. But if you say you’re a Mormon and that the story about the origins of the Lamanites is clearly bunk, homosexuals deserve equal rights, Joseph Smith’s tales were very tall indeed, creationism is a load of garbage, women should have all the entitlements of men, and that you support stem cell research, then you will have purchased more of my attention…

That’s pretty much the distinction I was trying to make. If you’re judging somebody solely on the basis of the fact that they’re affiliated with the Mormon church, you’re really making a decision without adequate information. You can assume that any Mormon swears allegiance to all the things Mormonism is notorious for (and odds are you’d be right), but that’s an unfortunate handicap, not a reliable basis for decision-making. Still, it happens a lot, especially in politics, where necessity often forces us to make decisions based on inadequate information.

The point I want to make, though, is that we should never allow ourselves to become so complacent about the facts that we no longer care whether there is any more to the story than the fact that the candidate is a Mormon. If no other information is available, then we may not have a better basis for our decision-making, but we must always bear in mind that under these circumstances, we’re making a poorly-informed choice. Determining the candidate’s actual qualifications means asking for more than just his or her denominational affiliation. Asking the right questions may turn out to prove that initial prejudices were correct after all. But we still have to ask, as a matter of principle.

Gospel Disproof #51: No good arguments for God

I’m going to piggyback off an excellent post by The Uncredible Hallq on the topic of whether there are any good arguments for God. You often hear Christian apologists protest that, when you disprove Apologetic Argument X, you still have not disproved the existence of God, because you haven’t addressed Apologetic Argument Y (and when you address Y, then they’ll claim you need to address Z, etc. etc.). All the apologist has to do is keep drawing one more line in the sand, indefinitely, in order to claim that the skeptic has failed to cross the right one.

Despite this ingenious exercise in goalpost-moving, though, the nature of the arguments themselves is enough to establish the fact that there are no good (i.e. valid and reliable) arguments for the existence of a deity like the Christian God.

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White House pulls plug on popular petition (or does it?)

The Electronic Privacy Information Center reports a disturbing but sadly unsurprising development in the struggle to recover our civil liberties.

At approximately 11:30 am EDT, the White House removed a petition about the TSA airport screening procedures from the White House “We the People” website. About 22,500 of the 25,000 signatures necessary for a response from the Administration were obtained when the White House unexpectedly cut short the time period for the petition. The site also went down for “maintenance” following an article in Wired that sought support for the campaign.

If you follow the link to the Wired article, you can read about the circumstances which led to the petition, which was basically asking the White House to intervene to get the TSA to comply with the law.

UPDATE: Commenter Eidolon tracked down a post from the petition’s author stating that the petition was not pulled early, but simply expired. He speculates that people were assuming that the signing period would extend through midnight, but instead it expired in the middle of the day, at roughly the same time as when he first posted it. That’s not unusual, given how computers keep track of time periods, and it’s understandable that this could create the misperception of a prematurely-terminated petition. He also notes that the petition was given an extra day to compensate for the outage.

Miracles and the power of suggestion

According to a story in the New York Times, the placebo effect isn’t just limited to a drug’s expected benefits. People can and do suffer negative side effects as a result of believing they are taking real drugs. It’s called the “nocebo” effect.

In a curious study, a team of Italian gastroenterologists asked people with and without diagnosed lactose intolerance to take lactose for an experiment on its effects on bowel symptoms. But in reality the participants received glucose, which does not harm the gut. Nonetheless, 44 percent of people with known lactose intolerance and 26 percent of those without lactose intolerance complained of gastrointestinal symptoms.

In one remarkable case, a participant in an antidepressant drug trial was given placebo tablets — and then swallowed 26 of them in a suicide attempt. Even though the tablets were harmless, the participant’s blood pressure dropped perilously low.

Is it any wonder that people have reported similarly astonishing effects produced from things like God, or demons? Influencing the imagination can and does produce measurable physical effects on the body, even in the absence of the things that are supposed to be causing them.

Something to think about the next time you’re flipping through the channels and find some shiny clean evangelist “healing” people.

The art of prophecy

Here’s a challenge for you. Consider these six words “He washes his clothes in wine.” Given that this statement appears in Genesis 49:11, can you turn it into a prediction that Messiah will be born of a virgin? Justin Martyr can, as we see this week at Evangelical Realism.