Conservative bloggers call for Campbell soup boycott fearing Islamic terrorism

What would you do if you saw someone homeless, legless, begging for help or at least understanding? Obviously your human compassion would kick in and you’d go to that person’s aid.

Not me – I’d plant a swift kick and walk away laughing.

Well… not really, but sometimes it feels like that.

Conservative bloggers in the United States — the same ones behind opposition to the Islamic centre near Ground Zero in New York — are calling for a boycott of Campbell’s Canadian-made soups, alleging Islamic terrorists are linked to both. Pamela Geller, who runs a widely read anti-Muslim site called Atlas Shrugs, is calling for a boycott of some 15 soups made by the Canadian subsidiary of New Jersey-based Campbell Soup Co.

This story is just too delicious (or should I say ‘Mmm, mmm, good’) to pass by without mocking. It has all the ingredients for a hilarious level of crapitalism: conservatism, Ayn Rand worship, completely ridiculous accusations of terror links, religion, and underlying the whole thing is soup. To conservatives: when you complain that the “elitist liberals” think that you’re all a bunch of troglodyte morons, this is why we think that. Every time you see a clownish buffoon rail against supposed connections between international terror and a friggin’ soup company, or something equally ludicrous, it’s some “family values” or “small government” nutbag right-wing group.

By the way, for those of you who didn’t read the story – the reason they think Campbell’s is connected to terror isn’t based on any deals with shady companies or foreign sources of funding. No no no, nothing so superficially reasonable:

Sold in Canada, the soups are certified by the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), which has been certifying halal foods since 1988. But Geller claims ISNA has ties to terrorist groups, including Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The other children on the playground are right to make fun of you, Ms. Geller – you’re a moron.

But my mean-spirited mockery doesn’t stop there; oh no, not even close:

“The Simpsons” just got a blessing from the Vatican. The official Vatican newspaper has declared that beer-swilling, doughnut-loving Homer Simpson and son Bart are Catholics — and what’s more, it says that parents should not be afraid to let their children watch “the adventures of the little guys in yellow.” “Few people know it, and he does everything to hide it. But it’s true: Homer J. Simpson is Catholic”, the Osservatore Romano newspaper said in an article on Sunday headlined “Homer and Bart are Catholics.”

The evidence for the assertion: prayer before meals, believing in God.

The evidence against the assertion: regular attendance at a “Presbylutheran” church, complete lack of Catholic doctrine, open mockery of Catholicism.

Ah yes, I keep forgetting. Using evidence with the Catholic Church is like trying to stop a buffalo stampede with road signs – they don’t understand it, and will completely ignore it. The Osservatore Romano based this on an analysis of a Simpsons episode in which God is discussed, the conclusion of which is that The Simpsons is the only kid’s show that discusses Christian faith and religion. Of course The Simpsons isn’t a kid’s show, it’s a cartoon sitcom for adults. Peter Griffin from Family Guy actually is Catholic, and is another popular cartoon sitcom that discusses Christian faith and religion on a regular basis, but almost never in a positive light. Hmm, wonder how they missed that? It’s the good old fashioned religious way of reasoning – come up with your conclusion first, then back-fill your explanation. Convenient!

Of course these are funny and light-hearted instances of when religious stupidity runs rampant. Sometimes it’s not a joke:

Sikh groups have urged US President Barack Obama not to avoid visiting the Golden Temple in Amritsar during his India trip next month, amid reports he is now unlikely to go there. A US official told the BBC there were “logistical” issues. Mr Obama would need to cover his head to enter the temple and there are reported concerns opponents would use this to show he is a closet Muslim.

It’s a sad reflection on all of us when we let the actions of idiots influence foreign policy. I mean, it’s bad enough that we play ‘accommodationist’ with these idiots, elevating their idiocy to the level of reasoned debate in some misguided attempt to appease people who have been left behind by the last century, but to allow people who can’t tell the difference between Sikhism and Islam, or even the difference between showing respect for another culture’s traditions and being a secret member of that culture… to allow these kinds of people to derail diplomacy with a potentially huge trading partner is an unbelievable tragedy.

So yes, I kick the homeless amputee, and walk away laughing. Religion deserves nothing but mockery when it pretentiously draws itself up and masquerades as something deserving of respect. Doing otherwise is to falsely pretend that it has some sort of merit and is above criticism.

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Movie Friday: Spooooooky ghoooooosts!

Because it’s almost Hallowe’en, I thought I’d take a bit of a side-trip from my usual topics and talk about some good old-fashioned non-religious superstitious nonsense.

Yep, I’m talking about ghosts:

Part 2/6
Part 3/6
Part 4/6
Part 5/6
Part 6/6

Many of you probably don’t know Derren Brown. I say this because up until a couple months ago I’d never heard of him either. Maybe you’ve all heard of him and I’m just a nincompoop. Whatever the story, Derren is a British skeptic who has taken up the mantle of James Randi and who shows how so-called “supernatural” phenomena are actually (and without exception) easily explained as either cons, tricks, or other misinterpretation of natural phenomena. In this particular episode, he’s following around self-proclaimed “ghost busters” who claim to be able to detect and communicate with dead people.

Of course, the idea of ghosts presupposes that there is a soul that is distinct from the body, that this soul can take on semi-corporeal form after the body dies, and that this semi-corporeal form sticks around to move around pots and pans and fuck with recording devices. Throw some religious mumbo-jumbo into the mix and you’ve got a party. The “exorcist” priest in part 3 spells it right out:

“Sometimes he has people who can really do with a good psychiatrist; and then he’s got the people who have got the explainable happening inside their homes, and that’s when he calls me.”

Yep, when something happens that you can’t explain, don’t bother looking for evidence. Call a priest! He’ll give you all the “explanations” you could ever want. Pretty weird how Christian people are always possessed by Christian demons. Just once I want to see a Muslim demon, or a voodoo demon, or even a deist secular humanist demon. Oddly though, they all seem to be susceptible to prayers from the belief system of the “possessed” person. Also kind of weird that God just sits on his ass and doesn’t do anything to help the “possessed” until some chubby guy with a dubious relic and a bunch of rituals comes into the picture, then all of a sudden he’s your best pal, driving out all the demons.

The larger point to be drawn here is the same one I brought up yesterday, which is that when we let our imaginations run wild, and use arguments from ignorance to explain real-life phenomena we don’t fully understand, we end up believing absolutely absurd shit, like ghosts. Of course when we throw religion into the mix, we get people believing in ghosts and demons and evil spirits. It’s really not that challenging to explain, as long as we’re willing to set aside kid’s stories and look for evidence.

None of the people in these videos are particularly stupid, I’m sure, at least not relatively to the general population. However, when we adopt an attitude of “well maybe it’s true” rather than “well maybe it’s false”, we end up giving license to the most ridiculous ideas our brains can come up with. It is for this reason that it’s a good idea to be skeptical.

Then again, if we’re too skeptical, we might miss out on meeting Gozer:

Happy Hallowe’en!

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Some Hallowe’en crapitalism

So I realize it’s not actually Hallowe’en, but I don’t care.

I’ve explained before why it’s important to fight against belief in superstition – in order to co-operate with each other we need to use transparent and reality-based mechanisms. If we instead rely on dewy-eyed “respect” for each other’s ridiculous beliefs, we can end up doing damage to each other and ourselves. When the stakes are low, it’s entirely practical to ignore the more weird things that those around us think are true. Case in point: a close friend of mine believes in ghosts – while I think it’s weird to think that dead people have “spirits” that stick around and appear to random people, but cannot be detected except by the flawed human eye/brain, it’s really not worth it to try and change his mind. After all our friendship is not based on ghosts, and it’s only come up once in the hundreds of conversations we’ve had.

However, sometimes people believe in ridiculous shit and it absolutely does matter:

Eighty mainly elderly people recently jailed in Malawi for up to six years for practising witchcraft should be freed, campaigners say. George Thindwa from the Association of Secular Humanism told the BBC the convictions were illegal as there was no law against witchcraft. He said the problem was that many officials were “witchcraft believers”. The justice minister disputed the allegations, saying the justice system was “reputable”.

Regular long-time readers will remember Malawi from previous posts about religious vs. secular values, the stupidity of sodomy laws, and of course their ass-backwards stance on women’s rights and polygamy. Basically, I’m not a fan. Well now they’ve been caught putting people in jail for being witches.

And then of course, there’s the absolutely ridiculous claim from the justice minister that the system is “reputable”. Yes, it has a consistent reputation for being full of shit. That’s not the same as being reputable.

Justice Minister George Chaponda told the BBC that a person could only be found guilty of practising witchcraft if they confessed to being a witch. But our reporter says the records showed all the suspects had pleaded not guilty. “We are intervening in this matter because we are concerned we still have prisons in Malawi [with] people being accused of being witches,” Mr Thindwa told the BBC’s Network Africa programme. “The courts were wrong 100%, [and] the police, to actually accommodate cases.” Most of those recently sentenced were women usually accused by children of teaching them witchcraft.

I don’t think the people of Malawi are inherently evil, or inherently stupid. They are however held captive to inherently stupid and evil ideologies, by which measles vaccinations are tools of the devil, polygamy is the right of every woman to be protected by a man, and the accusation of a child carries the same weight (in fact more weight) as any sort of evidence. This is why I am completely unashamed to call out bullshit in as loud a voice as possible – to do otherwise would be to grant assent and respectability to all kinds of crazy half-cocked hypotheses, like the existence of witchcraft.

But luckily we live in the enlightened West, where we’ve outgrown such idiocy, right?

A self-described witch in Moose Jaw, Sask., says she’s outraged that religious groups have pressured a local museum to cancel a Halloween seance. The Western Development Museum had been planning to hold a fundraiser on Oct. 29 called Ghosts of the Past, at which, for a $30 entry fee, adult participants could learn about ouija boards and “attempt to make contact with the spirits.” The event was cancelled, however, following complaints from religious leaders and residents, some of whom expressed fears the seance would conjure up evil spirits.

Good grief. If you want to see some medieval stupidity writ large in public, look no further than your religious communities. Of course, these are the good, moderate Christians who are all about tolerance and acceptance. Not those crazy fundamentalists who believe in weirdo nonsense. It’s a good thing there aren’t any of those types of crazies around.

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New Zealand doesn’t have a race problem

Those of you who are newcomers to this blog (I honestly have no idea how many new people there are from day to day, but the numbers are gradually getting larger so I can only assume…) won’t understand the context of the title of this post, or the 4 or 5 others in this series that precede it. A common trope in Canada (and yes, I actually do hear it) is that racism isn’t really a problem anymore. People seem to believe that racism is all stuff of history, but now we’ve progressed beyond that as a society. At least, in developed countries, members of visible minority groups don’t experience any racism. This is a transparent attempt to divest one’s self from any responsibility, since anyone who thinks they’ve experienced racism is clearly just overly sensitive and needs to “get over it.”

And so I’ve started throwing these stories up from time to time to keep poking my audience, reminding them (and myself) that racism is still alive and well, and won’t go away until we take concrete steps towards addressing it.

So today it’s New Zealand’s turn:

A television presenter in New Zealand has been suspended for suggesting on air that the country’s governor-general was not a proper New Zealander. Sir Anand Satyanand was born in New Zealand to Indo-Fijian parents. Presenter Paul Henry provoked a storm of criticism by asking the Prime Minister, John Key, whether the next governor-general would look and sound more like a New Zealander. “Is he even a New Zealander?” Henry asked. ”Are you going to choose a New Zealander who looks and sounds like a New Zealander this time?”

In case you missed the oh-so-subtle insinuation, a “real New Zealander” is a white person. Never mind, of course, the fact that white people are a recent addition to the human species in New Zealand, whereas someone who is Indo-Fijian has a much more legitimate claim to being “really” from there. Let’s ignore all of that. This is part of the centuries-old branding by white Europeans to define the “default” human being as white, whereas everyone else is some departure from that. The evils of “Darwinism” have shown us that, in fact, racial differences are less than 100,000 years old; and in some cases even more recent than that. Certainly since we have records of when the first white people landed on New Zealand and encountered people already present there, it should be ridiculous to even suggest that any white person is more  a “real New Zealander” than anyone else. But then again, these are logic-based arguments, whereas racism is based on prejudice and intentional ignorance of fact.

Oh yeah, please believe it doesn’t end there:

India has condemned “racist and bigoted” remarks by a New Zealand TV presenter who made fun of Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit’s surname. TVNZ breakfast show host Paul Henry broke into laughter a number of times as he mispronounced the surname – which sounds closer to “Dixit” in English. Mr Henry’s comments were broadcast last week on the state-owned channel TVNZ, but took a few days to be noticed in India. In the footage, Mr Henry mispronounces Ms Dikshit’s surname several times – apparently deliberately. He added: “It’s so appropriate because she’s Indian… I’ve known about her for a while and I’ve been laughing ever since.”

If you were ever looking for an example of white privilege, here it is. This is a guy who is on state-sponsored radio making outrageous and hurtful comments about someone’s last name for a cheap laugh. And why does he get the cheap laugh? It’s not because the jokes are particularly well-constructed or insightful, it’s because he has an audience that buys into the background cultural racism that says that someone from another culture is wrong or weird; not by virtue of any harm they do, but because their language is different than English.

I’m completely comfortable calling out Iran’s terribly destructive cultural practices because they’re destructive. I’ll bag on China for shutting down free speech because it hurts people. And if Mr. Henry were making a coherent critique of India’s performance hosting the Commonwealth Games, I’d have no problem with him shitting on the Indian government. However, that’s not what this is. This is an asshole with a microphone playing to the never-spoken racist feelings of his fan base (who I’m sure would swear up and down that they don’t have a racist bone in their bodies).

But of course New Zealand doesn’t really have a race problem, right?

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Movie Friday: 8 out of 10 Cats

Sometimes I wish we had more access to British guiz/game shows. It seems like they have way more fun on theirs than we do on ours.

Part 2/3
Part 3/3

Yes, that really is Uri Geller, amazing spoon-bender who has been debunked publicly several times, not the least of which was on the Johnny Carson show. And yet, people are willing to believe he can do crazy shit like make spoons jump across the room.

The host and guests get in some amazing zingers at Uri’s expense:

  • “If you believe in ghosts, go ‘oooooooh'”
  • “This is one of the biggest benders in the world here”
  • Pretty much the entire first half of the 3rd clip

Uri does a pretty decent job of mocking himself though:

  • Host: What do you think people find scary? Uri: Waking up in the morning and seeing your spouse
  • “It’s awful to be attacked by spoons”
  • “Did you know that the first spoon ever found was in the pyramids?

I also still love Tim Minchin. Also, the line “the worst part about being bitten by a poisonous spider is that you’re probably Australian.” Burn.

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Iran and the Catholic Church – not at all strange bedfellows

It never fails to amaze me how regularly religious groups fail to see that they are exactly the same. I saw a clip on The Colbert Report a few nights ago, where an evangelical Christian minister was warning people about how Islam was planning to take over America, and that we should all be worried. I had to do a double-take, as I realized that nobody called the guy out for being an evangelical Christian. By its very nature, evangelical anything means your stated mandate is to convert as many people as possible – this guy is just as guilty as those he’s accusing. Of course Islam has an interest in converting everyone, so does Christianity. Any religion that claims to be the “one true religion” is basically out-and-out stating its intention to bring the whole world under its thumb. To deflate the predictable protest from moderate Muslims and Christians who claim that their faith doesn’t mean they have to convert anyone, I’ll say that your particular version of belief is at odds with direct commandment from your scripture:

Matthew 28:19-20

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Matthew 24:12

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Luke 9:1-6

When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them.” So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere.

That’s just a handful of passages, please trust that there’s a loooot more. And for the Muslims… well I suppose you can just read this list – YahwAlladdha’s not exactly cool with non-believers.

With both religions claiming to be “the right one”, and having very clear commandments to destroy, convert, or otherwise gain supremacy over those who believe anything differently, it’s hard to imagine that there could be any kind of dialogue between them at all. But of course there is, as long as it’s politically convenient:

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has written to the Pope, thanking him for condemning an American pastor’s threat to burn the Koran last month. In his letter, Mr Ahmadinejad also called for closer co-operation between Iran and the Vatican.

I hope nobody is thinking “but the president of Iran isn’t a religious leader.” Iran is an Islamic theocracy, whose real power is wielded by the Ayatollahs. You can’t separate state power from church power – they’re the same thing.

At any rate, the hypocrisy of cozying up to an enemy when it’s convenient doesn’t surprise me, and shouldn’t surprise you. The thing that I found hilarious was this:

Mr Ahmadinejad also called for “a close co-operation of divine religions to restrict destructive moves such as ignoring of religious teachings, influencing people to be materialistic, which were eroding human societies”.

As though not enough religion was the thing eroding human societies. By my count, somewhere around 74 of the posts on this blog alone have been about religion, representing about 1/3 of my total output (including the 6 weeks I intentionally took off because I thought I was talking about religion too much). Iran is a country that is trying to bludgeon people to death with fucking rocks because of religion.

Anyone who thinks that the religions of the world will sit down at the table and play nice once they have unchallenged power over the countries of the world is delusionally ignorant of history and the mandates of religion. This is a match quite literally made in heaven – two oppressive religious theocratic forces attempting to enforce their small-minded agenda on everyone else have finally learned to team up, either out of expediency or necessity.

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Why are atheists so ANGRY?

Despite the fact that it is against the rules, I have cross-posted this piece on Canadian Atheist.

Most of you are probably unaware that I occasionally contribute to the group blog Canadian Atheist. This is a site with contributors from all around the country, discussing various activities and issues within the atheist community, with particular relevance to Canada. The authors, myself among them, are all young people from various walks of life (although predominantly students). The discussions are usually interesting, but most of the time I end up bashing my head against my keyboard and screaming. As I’ve often said I have no problem with people disagreeing with my positions – I am happy to admit that I don’t know everything and am overjoyed when someone approaches me with a cogent, well-reasoned refutation of a position I hold. I am married to exactly none of my ideas, except insofar as nobody likes to be told that they’re wrong.

The thing that frustrates me is when the opposing position is completely brainless:

I know this is going to sound like a bit of a rant, but an idea just occurred to me. I’ve noticed that atheists, quite frequently, have sour dispositions. They’re often stand-offish, critical, and unfriendly. I notice they are also quite frequently socially awkward, but that’s a different issue to tackle.

Crap. Crap crap crappity crap crap.

We need to work on our image. I’m not sure where to start, but perhaps approaching the problem from the ground up is a nice way to start tackling the issue. What I would suggest is for atheists everywhere to be a little more friendly to not only one another, but also to others outside their atheist circle of friends.

Depressingly crappy craptacular crap.

The point is that the great atheist leaders that many atheists regard so highly are often viewed by outsiders as extreme, unreasonable, and ridiculous. Even those who agree with our cause often feel this way. Which means that if we’re trying to get the public on-board with our ideas and opinions, we’re failing.

Unadulterated, pure, unprocessed, certified organic CRAP.

All of this crap, brought to you in this particular case by fellow CA author Brent Kelly, is in reference to an argument that I’ve talked about a few times, the virtue of confrontational atheism. My position, boiled down, is that there absolutely must be people who are not afraid to stand up and make their opinions clear, regardless of if those in the majority get their feelings hurt in the process. Some things are more important than feelings, and I would offer human rights and the future of our society among those things.

But the issue at stake here (in this steaming pile of crap) is not simply whether or not “firebrands” are right or wrong, it’s the complete lie that is painted about atheists. There’s this ridiculous caricature that has been cultivated by believers that atheists are these angry, bitter, misfits who rail against religion and foam at the mouth whenever anyone has the temerity to say “bless you” when someone sneezes. Before I knew anything about Richard Dawkins, for example, I knew that he was a smug, arrogant prick with a bug up his ass about God. Of course, once I actually bothered to read any of his stuff and watch him in debate, I found out that he was a nebbish British biology professor with a soft spot for literature.

It’s a lie. It’s all of it a lie. Atheists absolutely do not have sour dispositions, any more than the rest of the population. We are not stand-offish or unfriendly in the least. Saying that we are critical is a fair charge, since criticism is part and parcel with skepticism, and the two camps share close ties. As far as being socially awkward goes… Brent, I say this with great affection, but go fuck yourself sideways with a rusty spike. At this point, you’ve completely abandoned any kind of critical thinking and have just wholeheartedly embraced the same kind of ridiculous stereotyping that is enjoyed by anti-gay bigots and racists.

I know this is going to sound like a bit of a rant, but an idea just occurred to me. I’ve noticed that blacks, quite frequently, have lazy dispositions. They’re often stupid, apathetic, and superstitious. I notice they are also quite frequently criminals, but that’s a different issue to tackle.

I know this is going to sound like a bit of a rant, but an idea just occurred to me. I’ve noticed that gay men, quite frequently, have effeminate dispositions. They’re often hyper-sexualized, promiscuous, and over-the-top. I notice they are also quite frequently HIV positive, but that’s a different issue to tackle.

This is the level of criticism we’re dealing with here. The kind of criticism that is happy to abandon any reasoned investigation into why black people are imprisoned at higher rates than whites, or why gay men have higher rates of HIV, and instead chalk it up to some kind of dispositional issue. It then becomes the job of the stereotyped group to fix the problem:

And be open to their ideas too, you might even learn something. Do whatever, just don’t get into a shouting match and reinforce the stereotype that atheists are argumentative, unfriendly, and annoying.

Cee Are Eh Pee – CRAP.

The completely false picture of atheists, or blacks, or gay people, or communists, or secularists, liberals, immigrants, etc. etc. etc. is one that is always based on an intentional mischaracterization of that group, from a position of privilege enjoyed by the majority group. Whenever someone disagrees with the majority position, if the argument can’t be defeated on its own merits, the next step is to demonize the minority group based on stereotypes – “It seems to me that many of group X is like this…” Since the majority have never come in contact with a member of the minority, they’re happy to buy into the idea that these people fit the stereotype. The lie then makes its way into the public conscience, becoming more and more popular, until members of the minority can’t even speak up on their issues without someone tagging them with completely false attributions. The member of the minority group then has to spend her/his time fighting against a lie rather than dealing with the real issues.

The most frustrating part of all of this is when it comes from within the minority group itself. When we’re not fighting against bigotry coming from those who oppose us, but from those who are supposed to be our allies – happy to throw us under the bus in the name of appeasing the completely fraudulent stereotype of members of the majority who just want to be left alone.

Utter, elemental, pure mountain springs of crap.

TL/DR: Atheists are angry because people keep spreading lies about us. It is a stereotype with no basis in fact. I have no patience for other atheists who tell us that it’s our fault that we’re stereotyped by liars.

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Brent posted a response to this rebuttal later that day. As I predicted, it’s nothing more than a butthurt whine that being upset about being slandered is “proof” that the stereotype is true, coupled with goalpost shifting – “I was just saying we should explore whether it’s true or not.” Of course, 1100+ word post was largely ignored because there were some bad words in it. Also, stereotypes must have some truth, otherwise why would people believe them? In between sarcastic comments, Brent tells me that he’s just super busy right now, and therefore can’t respond to any of the multitude of criticisms, or takes a faux-principled stand and says he won’t address any issues that feel like a personal attack. Words cannot express how unimpressed I am.

Move Friday: Joel Burns says it gets better

Last week’s edition of Movie Friday was a sort of tongue-in-cheek joke about the ridiculousness anti-gay propaganda. In my zeal to mock those who would promote such a ludicrously false message, I glossed over the fact that those kinds of things are serious. There are actually people who honestly believe that gay people are abominations in the eyes of YahwAlladdha, or even divorced from religion that they deserve to be mocked, bullied, tormented, tortured, and even killed. The milder form of this idiocy comes in the form of invoking “natural law” as some kind of justification for labeling homosexuality as a “sin” – or saying that gays and lesbians are “going against nature”.

If you’re reading this on a computer, you’re going against nature. If you’re clothed while doing it, you’re going against nature twice. If you’re indoors, you’re going against nature. Basically every activity you’ve done today aside from eating and pooping is a violation of “natural law”. The three examples listed above are things that no species in nature does, save homo sapiens. Interestingly, homosexual sexual activity is not unique to our species, but again the use of facts is of limited use when confronting ideologically-based bigotry.

There has been a great deal of recent attention paid to the rash of suicides committed by gay kids as the result of bullying. Of course, this phenomenon is not new, it’s just a statistical cluster that is grabbing people’s interest. Religious groups of various affiliations have been falling all over themselves to try and claim that they had nothing to do with it. Because, you see, Jesus is about loving the sinner, but hating the sin. Here’s the problem with that assertion: defining someone’s existence as a sin is hate. Plain and simple – you call being gay a sin, that’s a statement of hate. The predictable response to that argument is that being gay isn’t a sin, only engaging in gay actions. Basically, the solution is to just stop being so damn gay. An absolutely ridiculous position that forces people to deny who they are, and suppress what actually does come naturally to them.

I could go on like this for a long time, but this is Movie Friday, and you came here to see a video, so here it is:

Dan Savage, a popular queer columnist created this video and the associated campaign to tell gay kids that while life might be unbelievably tough, things get better. As you get older, you will be able to leave behind the small minds and idiocy of your family, or your school, or your church, or your community and find some solace and acceptance.

Predictably, this campaign has caught on like wildfire and people have recorded their own videos in solidarity. I found this one particularly moving, from city councilman Joel Burns from Fort Worth, TX:

What’s interesting about both of these stories is that although complaints were made to the appropriate places, nothing was done to stop the bullying. Basically, if you act gay, then you’re the legitimate target of violence. That’s how hate works. People may not actively seek out and beat up gay kids, but they contribute to a culture that tolerates those who do. These religious groups who said that it wasn’t their fault are missing the whole point – you grant implicit license to those who commit atrocities by preaching the nonsense that fuels the hate.

Anyway, this will have to be the subject of a subsequent post (or many), as it is already toooooo loooooong. Enjoy the videos.

Why not offending the religious is bullshit

As I mentioned a couple weeks back, there is a debate within the atheist/secular community about the best approach to spreading the message that we exist and care about things. Briefly, the two camps boil down into accommodationists – those who think we should be working with religious groups and believers to find common ground, and confrontationalists – those who think that the preferable approach is to be assertive and not worry about making people feel good. Daniel Schaeller prefers the terms ‘diplomats’ and ‘firebrands’, which I think is an apt (and less unwieldy) characterization.

If it’s not clear from the way I write here (and the title on the top of this post), I ally myself more closely with the firebrands. While I recognize the simultaneous facts that a) both approaches are crucial to advance the secular position, and b) that the diplomats will get all the credit when the dust clears, I have never been one to shy away from controversy in the name of sparing people’s feelings. But there’s another issue in the mix that seemingly goes without comment.

Most of you have probably heard of Richard Dawkins, the British biologist and professor who is the author of books like The God Delusion, The Ancestor’s Tale, Climbing Mount Improbable, and most recently The Greatest Show on Earth. Undoubtedly if you’re not familiar with his work, you’ve simply heard that he’s a militant asshole. In fact, the term ‘militant atheist’ gets thrown around so much that I find myself being accused of being just as bad as those who murder in the name of their religion, as though clearly expressing my thoughts on a blog is the same as killing someone.

Here’s the problem. Richard Dawkins is not a militant asshole. He’s a nerd from England who likes poetry and evolutionary biology – that’s it. What is his major crime that has earned him the appellation of ‘militant’? He wrote some books and has given some speeches. He also refuses to pretend as though the weaksauce apologies for religion are worth more than the air it takes to utter them. But because he’s talking about religion, he’s somehow violent and hateful. Well I’m sorry, but that’s bullshit, and here are some reasons why.

1. Coptic Pope Apologizes for Insulting Islam

Earlier, Bishop Bishoy had said that – contrary to Muslim belief – some verses of the Koran may have been inserted after the death of Prophet Muhammad. Egypt’s al-Azhar Islamic authority said the comments threatened national unity… “Debating religious beliefs are a red line, a deep red line,” Pope Shenouda said in the television interview on Sunday. “The simple fact of bringing up the subject was inappropriate, and escalating the matter is inappropriate,” he added.

This is the religious mindset, when allowed to take root in the public conscience. Not only does a comment made by a member of one religious organization – made about a different organization – threaten national unity, but even talking about beliefs is somehow inappropriate. Can you imagine if someone from the Canadian government made an announcement that debating economic policy or health care or military involvement was “a deep red line” that couldn’t even be discussed? They’d be laughed out of the room, or perhaps chased out with pitchforks. And yet, when a religious person says something so breathtakingly stupid, we’re just supposed to follow along. If we don’t, then we’re somehow militant.

You want militant? I’ve got your militant right here:

2. Austrian temple shooting yields convictions

An Austrian court has convicted six Indian men in connection with a gun attack in a temple in Vienna in which a visiting preacher was killed. Indian preacher Sant Ramanand, 57, was shot dead and more than a dozen others wounded, including another preacher… Prosecutors say the men had planned the attack on the visiting preacher because of a religious dispute. The men went on the rampage wielding a gun and knives during a temple service attended by about 150 people.

That is what a militant position looks like. Ideas that do not conform to your own are not met with skepticism or even outright dismissal, but violence. The lives of those who disagree with your position are forfeit. People who think differently from you deserve to die. Assuming the men in the court case were literate they could have written a book. Even if they weren’t literate they probably could have started a blog (the internet has pretty low standards). They could have protested. They could have said “I am secure enough in my beliefs that I will completely ignore your obvious stupidity.” But that’s not what a militant does. What a militant does is get 5 friends, board a plane to another country, and then try to shoot and stab 150 people. And yet, when firebrand atheists point this out, the immediate response is that we are “no better” than these terrorist fuckbags for being vocally opposed to religion in public life.

The religious shouldn’t be worried about atheists, they should be worrying about each other:

3. Palestinian mosque set on fire

Israel is investigating Palestinian reports that a mosque in the West Bank has been set alight by Jewish settlers. Palestinian officials say settlers set fire to the mosque in Beit Fajjar, near the town of Bethlehem. They blame residents of a nearby settlement because the arsonists reportedly scrawled Hebrew graffiti on one of the mosque’s walls.

I recognize that the conflict between Israel and Palestine is beyond my full understanding. It is a complex issue involving history, geography, foreign political influence, and xenophobia. However, when it asserts itself in the form of the destruction of religious buildings, it’s difficult for anyone to try and say that religion doesn’t play a central role in the problem.

So I challenge those who would use the phrase ‘militant atheist’ to do the following: find me one example of threats of the destruction of national unity, or mass murder, or the destruction of religious buildings, committed by atheists in the name of atheism, and I will make you a batch of delicious cookies.

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Pope demonstrates why the cake is a lie

“To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself — that was the ultimate subtlety; consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.”

“The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them….To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.”

George Orwell, 1984

There’s a concept in the sciences called “regression to the mean”. In statistics, regression to the mean is a phenomenon whereby as you add more observations to a sample, the values will tend to fall around the average (mean) value. In science, this effect is seen in the form of extreme observations moving toward the average the more frequently or longer they are observed. In medicine, we see this phenomenon in sick people who spontaneously improve in a non-intervention (or a placebo) control group.

This somewhat overlaps with the “relative frame of reference” idea from physics – that is, that a stationary object appears to be moving towards you at the same rate you move towards it. As such, spontaneous regression to the mean, seen from an outside perspective, appears to be a move either up or down toward the average. However, if your frame of reference is one that views things from the perspective of an observation that lies far above the mean, regression toward the mean appears to be a move downward.

I’ve also spoken before about the completely false picture of Christianity that some Christians like to paint – that of poor beleaguered misfits just trying to practice their own beliefs in peace. It’s a complete lie, and thanks to the Pope, I have evidence:

The Pope said: “I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalisation of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance. There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere. There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none.”

Yes, Mr. Ratzinger (which sounds, incidentally, like a really unpalatable flavour of tea), from your privileged perspective high atop the social ladder, it would appear that Christianity is being “marginalized”. However, you betray your own ridiculous level of special pleading in your own words. The advocacy of moving religion out of the public square into the private sphere is not marginalization. Nobody is forcing Christians to stop believing what they like – they’re just not allowed to make decisions on behalf of other people. And yes, the people who argue against Christmas have a point – namely, that a specific religious belief system is not representative of the population at large.

The reason for the Orwell quote at the top is that the Pope spends the first 7 minutes of his address talking about the need for freedom of religion and the separation of church and state. He then pivots (on the head of Sir Thomas Moore) to talk about how religion should be more involved in political life. It’s not hypocrisy to him, it’s doublethink. He holds the ideas of freedom of religion simultaneously with the idea of greater church control of public life.

He also pulls the ‘lack of moral fundamentals’ card, a personal favourite of mine (so brazen is its hypocrisy). He talks a good game about the need to use reason, but in true Catholic style, he makes the Augustinian provision that reason should be subject to religion. He actually encourages more religiosity in the body politic, as though places like Iran, Somalia, the USA and Malawi aren’t warning signs that religion is a lousy way to run a country.

It appears to be Ratzinger’s intent to smear secularism, asserting repeatedly that it is somehow comparable to fundamentalism. Please show me one fundamentalist secularist. I’d really be curious to see one.

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