Movie Friday: An Epiphany

This blog is getting more and more race-y and less and less religion-y. Don’t think it hasn’t escaped my notice. I approach blogging in a sort of Taoist way, letting the items that crop up in the news and in my random online pokings around direct the content and focus of my posts. I know some of you came here when I was on a particular anti-theist binge, and I hope I haven’t bored you too much.

But there’s always movie Friday, right?

I like this video a lot for a few reasons. First, it does a pretty good job of debunking the frustratingly-common question I hear from theists when I criticize the concept of a god: “why are you so anti-God?” or “why do you reject God” I don’t reject the gods, I reject the idea of them because they are some combination of incoherent and evidenceless. For example, I don’t believe in Yahweh/Allah because He is described as merciful, kind and all-powerful, a portrayal which is not reflected in reality at all. I don’t believe in the Hindu gods because natural phenomena explain all the things that are supposedly the domain of the gods. Ditto for the Greek and Egyptian and Norse pantheons. I don’t see any evidence for the Buddhist cycle of rebirth, and the deist non-interventional god I used to believe in is entirely superfluous, and so might as well not exist. To call that rejection of your personal understanding of whatever god you believe in is taking things too personally – I “reject” all gods for the same reason – I don’t believe they exist.

Second, it posits a possible explanation for why believers see non-belief as ‘rejection’ rather than nonbelief. People’s god concepts are very real to them, and DarkMatter suggests a mechanism to explain why this is true: because people’s god concepts are simply reflections of themselves. I’ve long suspected that people twist the concept of a god to reflect what’s in themselves, but there’s a bit of a chicken-egg thing wherein people are taught what their god wants, which helps inform what they believe later. This video provides some support to the idea that God is personal. As Heinlein put it: “thou art god”.

Finally, there’s a really cool question that comes up from this video that I’d like to try asking a theist. Is there anything that God commands you to believe that you personally disagree with? Are there any instructions that you find immoral but follow anyway? Are there any things you believe that you recognize are absurd but adhere to because you think your god requires it? I know this was a major source of dissonance for me when I was a teenager – so many teachings of the Catholic church were completely abhorrent to me, but I was told I had to believe them. My solution was to reject the abhorrent teachings as simply a product of human stupidity, which was the first major step I took toward leaving theism altogether.

I am fairly certain that hardly any theists read this blog (I am only aware of 2 theistic commenters), but if you get a chance to have a conversation with someone – particularly someone who is a mushy ‘liberal’ theist, see what their reactions are to the question. I’d really like to hear the responses.

Anyway, next week will be no exception to the flood of race-specific stuff. I plan to opine on the riots in England, talk about some hate crimes, and hopefully finally get to tackle the issue of poverty that I’ve been wanting to talk about for months now. Don’t fret though – I haven’t run out of anti-theist rage and will return to my old form soon.

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Movie Friday: Not-so-good books

One of my favourite commenters showed up again this week to rehash an old battle – where do atheists get their morality from? The general argument is that while theists can point to a source of absolute morality, those that don’t believe in a god/gods must exist in a morass where all acts are permitted. Of course I’ve skewered this argument as fallacy before – atheist morality comes from a variety of overlapping sources. The important take-home message of that post was that saying something is ethical because a big book says so is not sufficient moral instruction because it doesn’t tell you what to do when it comes to stuff not in the book, but there’s an important piece that I missed: the book itself is ethically incoherent.

Qualiasoup helps me illustrate this point:

I find it unbelievably wearisome to hear people try and wave away the atrocities of their religious traditions by saying “we can’t understand YahwAlladdha’s plan” or “YahwAlladdha isn’t bound by human morality”. All you’ve done when you say that is announce that you have no idea what you’re talking about, and that I can start ignoring you. If you wish to claim perfect morality for your deity, and then say that humans are incapable of understanding that deity, then you’ve just admitted that you don’t have any idea what ‘moral’ means and that it’s fundamentally unknowable.

We can make intelligent statements about morality and justice without resorting to religious sources. We can clearly identify suffering and work to minimize it. We can see inequities and work to balance them. We can stop abuses of power at the expense of the powerless. None of these things require us to have any supernatural beliefs whatsoever.

But even beyond that, the source from which the religious claim to assert their morals is more of a confused quagmire of permissibility than anything they could claim of atheists. The book itself is nonsensical and self-contradictory, often permitting things that even those that profess to believe in it would shrink away from. If those believers wish to claim only the things that work in a secular moral sense (as I do on occasion, but of course without the appeal to authority) then they are free to do so; what they are not free to do, however, is to claim that they follow the book absolutely.

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Burnaby: Oh… well then neither can we, apparently

Well clearly I spoke too soon:

A group that opposed a Burnaby school policy intended to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) students is urging parents to pull their children from classroom lessons that offend their morals. The Parents’ Voice is distributing a form letter for members to complete and send to their schools requesting “alternative delivery” of lessons “that may in any way undermine our moral convictions with regards to non-heterosexual inclinations and/or behaviours.”

I was speaking with a friend recently about the idea of “death throes”. She asked me if I thought we were seeing a swing toward hyper-religiosity in light of developments in the United States and a mirror of that movement here in Canada. I posited that it seemed to me to be more of a desperation move (a “Hail Mary pass” if you’ll forgive the pun) of an ideology that has been left behind. Society has seen the flaws in religion, and is beginning to move past it. The religious establishment is getting busy trying to re-establish its relevance, but it’s too late for that. It’s a tantrum thrown by a child after she’s lost a game – all the tears and screams in the world can’t change the past.

This reaction from this parental group is just another such tantrum – ‘give my kid dissenting information, will you? Well I’ll show you!’ Pulling kids out of classes only hurts the kids – they’ll still learn about pro-gay attitudes from interactions with their peers. They will learn that there are other ways of looking at the world besides your stone-age mythology, and they’ll start to ask questions. Unless you’re going to erect a wall around your child and refuse to let any dissenting information in (a la Fox news), then you’re fighting a battle that isn’t just losing – it’s already lost.

The Parents’ Voice insists schools have a legal obligation to accommodate cultural, religious or ethical differences, and says Burnaby acknowledged that obligation earlier this year when it approved a policy allowing students to opt out of animal dissections in science classes.

I remember when there was a flap about frog dissection in my biology class back in high school. Kids were indeed allowed to opt out and learn anatomy another way. You know what happened to those kids? They didn’t learn the stuff properly.

Besides, there is one very important issue that is being overlooked here. Nobody is saying to the parents “you’re not allowed to tell your son or daughter that gay people are abominations and should not be accepted.” You can teach your kids whatever hateful bullshit you want in the privacy of your home. However, you don’t have the right to demand that the rest of us play your insulation game. Just as parents will be wrong about math, language, history, and science, they will be wrong about ethics. The schools have an obligation to teach, to the best of their ability, the truth. If your world view is hostile to the truth that LGBT people are not disordered or sinful, then that’s your problem.

Funnily, it’s usually parents of this mindset that trumpet the idea of “teach both sides” when it comes to things like evolution and the origins of the universe (as though there were only two sides, and that those two sides have equal evidence supporting them). It’s funny to see how hostile they are to having “both sides” taught when it’s something they disagree with.

Enjoy your tantrum, Burnaby. It’ll be the last time anyone pays attention to you.

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Canada’s third world nations

Remember when Katrina hit, and the underbelly of American neglect was exposed to the world? The fact that millions of people in the richest, most prosperous country in the world were living in squalor was the subject of much consternation and concerned tongue-clucking. The fact that the vast majority of people affected (and subsequently neglected) by the disaster were from a racial group that has historically been abused and continues to be patronized or ignored by the powers that be also didn’t escape notice. We here in Canada were comfortable, perched atop our high horse, thanking the heavens above that we were simply better than that:

Conditions in one Haida Gwaii hospital are so bad that chemotherapy drugs are mixed in an outdoor wooden shed and the morgue is housed in a temporary trailer. Not only that, but the regional hospital district says water needs to cleared from the main building’s roof by hand and physiotherapy sessions need to be conducted in an old greenhouse.

The problems at the 61-year-old Queen Charlotte General Hospital and Health Centre were detailed to the NDP in a letter from the North West Regional Hospital District, sent in mid May. On Tuesday, the NDP raised the issue in the legislature, pressing the government on why it has let the facility deteriorate to such a low level.

I am not a popular entertainer, and I don’t have an internationally-televised live broadcast to exploit. All I have is this humble blog and my microcelebrity (I got Pharyngulated yesterday! Sniny!) to make this statement: Christy Clark doesn’t care about Native people. Neither does Gordon Campbell, under whose watch all of this happened, but he’s gone. For those readers outside of British Columbia, I should probably explain. Christy Clark is the current premier (akin to a governor in the United States, or a First Minister in many other parliamentary democracies) of British Columbia, having recently been elected after the resignation of the disgraced Gordon Campbell.

Health care is administrated by the provinces, meaning that the premier is responsible for ensuring the funding and oversight of health care facilities meets a provincial standard. It is up to her (or him) to ensure that resources are properly allocated, which means that the extremely sub-standard conditions of the Haida Gwaii (formerly Queen Charlote Islands) are her responsibility.

If this were an isolated incident in which political powers neglect First Nations communities, then I might be content to shrug it off. Shit happens, and sometimes things get missed. But for some reason (more on my suspicions on what that reason is later) it is always Native communities getting a shipment of body bags instead of health supplies; it’s always Native people being the subject of NIMBY protest, and because they receive taxpayer support, everyone with an internet connection thinks that they’re qualified to offer an opinion on the issue, which usually contains at least one racial slur (prefaced by “I’m not racist, but…”) and an admonishment to “get off their asses”.

I’ve spoken before about the need for effective political opposition, and this is exactly what I was talking about. Instead of running around trying to score cheap political points and play games with the debt ceiling, the provincial NDP has found an area where the government is slacking, and has brought it to the forefront. My cap is tipped to them, at least on this issue (although I am no fan of the provincial NDP generally). However, this issue is not simply relegated to the provinces:

Announcing the release of the joint work plan, INAC Minister John Duncan noted that “Canada and First Nations have an enduring historic relationship based on mutual respect, friendship and support.” However, the 2011 June Status Report of the Auditor General of Canada (AG Report) tells a different story. Chapter 4 of the report highlights the ongoing appalling conditions on First Nation reserves, the stark contrast between conditions of First Nation reserves and other communities and the federal government’s repeated failures to address adequately the deplorable conditions on First Nation reserves.

The report itself is pretty chilling, detailing the several ways in which the federal government has failed to take meaningful action on issues of basic necessities to First Nations communities across the country. Their approach is disorganized, slipshod, and shows a complete lack of commitment to actually ameliorating the problems faced by First Nations people. And therein lies the problem: it is convenient and easy to blame Native people for their lack of success, but when the support they receive from the federal government is so woefully inadequate (compared, say, to the amount that municipalities receive), one cannot simply chalk these problems up to being lazy. We’re talking about thousands of people who don’t have clean drinking water. This isn’t asking for “a handout” or special favours – this is ensuring that our citizens have what we would describe as the bare necessities to live.

So, if bringing the conditions of Haida Gwaii to provincial attention represents a successful official opposition, then the complete lack of progress and the widening disparity between Native Canadians and everyone else represents an appalling dereliction of duty on the part of the Liberal Party of Canada (with whom I am aligned) and the New Democrats. Government has a duty to look after the interests of its people, and the opposition has the responsibility to take the government to task when it fails in that duty. This failure is just as appalling as what happened in New Orleans – more so, because it’s happened over the stretch of several years.

Shawn Atleo, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, describes the problem in much the same words I would use:

This isn’t about assigning blame or pointing fingers – it’s about accepting responsibility and saying “my brothers and sisters need my help.” And while Mr. Atleo wasn’t at liberty to say it, I will put into words the general feeling I got from his discussion: First Nations people are treated like the ‘niggers’ of Canada, and we have work to do if we care enough to change that.

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My cup of dissonance overfloweth

As a thoughtful person with strong convictions, it is inevitable that I find myself conflicted over some issues. For example, I’m not 100% confident in my stance on free speech, I sometimes have trouble  drawing the line in racial issues, and I continue to struggle with my feelings about Anonymous.

This story doesn’t help:

A U.S. military base is the latest target of the online activist group known as Anonymous, which has taken up the cause of Bradley Manning, the U.S. army private accused of leaking classified information to WikiLeaks. The group’s objective is to “harass” the staff and disable the computer systems at the Quantico, Va., marine base where Manning is being held, Anonymous spokesperson Barrett Brown said in an interview with MSNBC. The group plans to reveal personal information about base officials and disable the base’s communication networks in protest against how Manning is being treated at the base, Brown said.

Here’s my issue. On the one hand, I abhor what the United States military and government are doing in response to what is being called “Cablegate”*. Bradley Manning broke the law, and I do not dispute that (although it hasn’t been demonstrated in the court of law yet, let’s just stipulate that he didn’t confess to a crime he didn’t commit). As a result of breaking the law, it is entirely right to try him and punish him. Furthermore, hacking the U.S. military is no joke, particularly when they have active agents in the field. If such actions were undertaken by a foreign government, it would surely be interpreted as an incitement to war.

However, Manning has not been formally tried, but has been kept in solitary confinement. He is not a danger to anyone; he’s only threatening to the careers of politicians. The level of punishment far outweighs the crime. Considering that soldiers that are accused of war crimes have more freedom and privileges than Private Manning, his arbitrarily-harsh sentence reflects what the clear priorities of the military are – protecting their own asses. Considering also that the United States has set itself up as the ‘shining example of freedom’ for the rest of the world, their blatant hypocrisy in dealing with their military’s shortcomings and human rights violations is also a matter of national security. Also in light of the fact that freedom of speech is being suppressed by autocratic governments worldwide (and being met with overwhelming protest), it is entirely in the spirit of the Jasmine Revolution for a group to lodge protest against the suppression of free speech here in America.

So is Anonymous a cyber-terror organization, or a staunch advocate of free speech and a punisher of the iniquitous? At the present moment, I’m inclined to lean toward the latter definition. Their targets have been, up to now, unfailingly deserving of the negative attention. And it seems that their particular brand of internet policing is coming none to soon:

Last year on May 21, the United States Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) reported reaching initial operational capability, and news stories abound of US soldiers undergoing basic cyber training, which all point to the idea that traditional super powers are starting to explore this arena. Recent activities with one government contractor and Anonymous, however, show clearly that cyber operations have been going on for a long while, and that the private sector has been only too ready to fill the cyber mercenary role for piles of cash.

While I am wary of a disorganized mob of vigilantes hacking various websites, I am far more threatened by the collusion of government and private interests conspiring behind closed doors to spy on computer systems. Anonymous’ activities are done in the open, with a reasoned and defensible justification posted for all to read. The government and military have shown their duplicity for decades when it comes to covert operations. The strength of democratic government is predicated on its openness – the people must know exactly what they are voting for so they can know when a regime must be voted out.

Nobody voted for Anonymous, and it seems as though they/it are/is self-policed and limited only by its own ambition and the complicity of its individual members. There is no auditing Anonymous, no way to check its power, no way to punish it for abuse. In that sense I prefer government. I can show up at my MPs office and voice my displeasure. If I try to do that to Anonymous, I am likely to have my e-mail accounts flooded with child porn. There is no mechanism by which one can defend her/himself from a headless organization – no courts can protect you, no lawsuits can be filed, no restraining order can be put out. As we know, humans given great power and no mechanism for controlling it almost inevitably abuse it.

And so my mind is still not made up. I applaud Anonymous for making the U.S. military deal with the consequences of their treachery and their betrayal of human rights, but I fear what may happen if Anonymous decides that fighting the good fight no longer provides the necessary amount of lulz.

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*The -gate suffix is really stupid. The Watergate scandal, upon which all other ‘-gates’ are based, was based on a hotel called “The Watergate”. It was not a scandal that was related to water, and adding the suffix is therefore completely nonsensical

Movie Friday: God is not good

At the time of writing, some of you are reading last Friday’s edition of Movie Friday (I haven’t quite got back to my 2-week buffer, and since 2 weeks is too short a time to really respond to news I am making some slight adjustments to how I handle the writing). For those of you who are not regular readers (welcome!) and didn’t feel like clicking on the link (lazy!), last week I showed a couple examples of what I thought was an interesting development in hip-hop music: the introduction of the idea of religious doubt.

The reason why it’s particular interesting (to me at least) is that the black community is stereotyped as being particularly religious – traditionally Christian and more recently Muslim. Both of these faiths and their stereotypical overlap with the black community have good historical and sociological explanations. What’s even more interesting is the clip I want to show you today:

I’m not sure why all the Jews in this film clip have English accents, but whatever.

Jews are, from a sociological perspective, an incredibly interesting group of people. Judaism is an ancient religion that is not simply a philosophical belief, but a “live-in” religion with several traditions and rituals. Even people who are not religiously Jewish follow its traditional practices (I’m not completely sure, but I strongly suspect that all of my Jewish friends are atheist, but they all observe in one way or another). The story of the Jews is one of the oldest we have, and yet there is a lot in it that we would not, if given the opportunity for sober contemplation, consider good. Ultimately, historically, the story of the Jews is the story of a people that nobody wanted and many tried to wipe out.

What we see in this clip is an exploration of the kinds of questions that come with a sober contemplation of the story as it is given. A jealous, petty, vengeful and cruel god makes outrageous and illogical demands of a group of frightened people, and exacts lopsided and chillingly evil revenge against even slight transgressions. In return, he helps them kill and destroy entire cultures for having the temerity to either refuse to give up their land, or for following a different system of belief. It really is a shocking tale when it’s all stitched together.

So when people tell us that they get their knowledge of right and wrong from the Bible (or worse, that everyone should), I get the shivers. It’s a horrendously evil document that can be used to justify all sorts of things. It certainly demands that followers call evil things good and pretend that being punished by an abusive and jealous father is some twisted form of benevolence.

There are important questions that are asked by this clip. Anyone who believes that Yahweh is just and good, and bases that belief on the Bible needs to allow themselves to ask those questions. Those of us who don’t recognize the existence of Yahweh (or any other god) in the world around us already have answers.

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Love the sinner, hate this meme

I am officially back from vacation, with a full buffer and a great deal of enthusiasm. I enjoyed my time in Ontario, but I am glad to be back and bringing you the good stuff once again. Happy New Year!

When I was in high school I had a string quartet. We were called The Four Quarters and we played gigs in various places around southern Ontario. Our second violinist was raised in a conservative Christian household, was home-schooled, and was about as fond of religious bottled phrases as I am fond of butter tarts (which is to say a lot). She once shared with me her outrage over some guy who was told he wasn’t allowed to discriminate against gay people at his print shop. I expressed my bafflement that this was a problem for her – wouldn’t the Christian thing to do be to love all people? I still remember her response:

Her: As a Christian, I love the sinner but hate the sin
Me: Um… Jesus wasn’t really into hate.
Her: I don’t hate gay people, I just hate the sin
Me: Still, hate… not exactly very Christlike

It was the first time I heard the whole “love the sinner,  hate the sin” trope. At the time I was still a believer, albeit a much more liberal one than she was. I had never seen anything wrong with being gay, and hadn’t yet read the lovely passages in Leviticus and the letters of Paul that called gay sex an “abomination”. Even then, I knew it was a stupid phrase, because it’s still hate, and hate is not represented anywhere in Christian scripture. The only story we have that even comes close to touching on the subject is the one about Jesus and the adulteress, from which we get the famous line “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” It’s a nice story, provided you don’t think about it too much, and ignore the fact that it’s not in any of the other gospels, and couldn’t have been from an eyewitness, and probably got snuck in after the gospel of John was written, and probably never actually happened. The relevant point here is that sins should be forgiven. It doesn’t say anything about hating sin.

But back up a second and replay the story from the beginning. Assume Jesus had come to the crowd and instead wrote “Love the sinner, but stone the sin to death”. Who wants to lay odds that that woman would have made it out alive?

The problem lies in the fact that being gay, or doing the things that are a direct result of being gay, are labeled as “sin”. Whereas someone could, conceivably, make the decision not to commit adultery, there is no choice in the matter of being gay. Even if there was, while there is a clear harm from adultery (assuming the spouse isn’t okay with it), there is no clear harm to being gay, or expressing your sexuality as a gay person except insofar as all sexual expression has risks and harms, and the fact that small-minded bigots have made people feel ashamed of being gay.

“But Crommunist,” you say “it’s not me who says that homosexuality is a sin, it’s GOD! The Bible makes it very clear that is it a sin!”

Ah yes, that pesky God. You’d totally have no problem with homosexuality, but it says right there in black and white that homosexuality is an abomination. What can you do? You certainly can’t ignore the stuff it says directly in the Bible, right? I mean, if you could, for the sake of argument, ignore some parts of the Bible that don’t make any sense or are impractical, you would totally do it, right? If the Bible is the only reason that you condemn homosexuality, and you are capable of ignoring certain parts of the Bible that conflict with your personal beliefs, then you’d stop condemning it?

Well, consider it your luck day, because chances are you completely ignore lots of stuff in the Bible. Let’s start with the easy ones: if you have ever had sex for any reason other than procreation, you’re ignoring the story of Onan. Do you own a cross or a crucifix? Maybe a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus or a statue of the Virgin Mary? Whoops, you just ignored the second commandment. Let’s not even get started on what happens if you catch your neighbour working on a Saturday or a Sunday.

“But that’s all Old Testament stuff,” you say. “The New Testament is where all the real rules are.” Okay, fine, but then you’re no longer allowed to talk about the Ten Commandments. Obviously if stuff in the Old Testament that doesn’t make sense can be ignored, then we can stop talking about the “thou shalt nots” as though they have any real meaning. Also we can throw out Genesis, so that takes care of creationism (and Intelligent Design, it’s hilariously-ironically-named cousin). Just so long as we don’t disregard anything that’s in the New Testament we should be okay to call homosexuality a “sin”.

Do you support school prayer, or prayer in public places, or even group prayer in church? How about take an oath of office? Do you think people should be allowed to fight to defend themselves against violent attack? How about the right of people to save and accumulate money? How about… oh I don’t know… identify someone else as a sinner*? Whoops, you’ve chosen to ignore specific instructions from Jesus himself. What about specific instructions from Jesus about whether it’s okay to fuck another dude or make sweet sweet mouth-sex to another lady? Hmm… he’s oddly silent on that one.

So since you’re cool with ignoring some parts of the Bible when they are either out-dated or don’t seem to make sense, you have no reason to condemn homosexuality as sin, right? Well… unless that condemnation is just you trying to find a lame excuse about “loving the sinner but hating the sin” to justify your a priori hatred of gay people. But you wouldn’t do that, would you?

The fact is that identifying a set of behaviours that have no demonstrable harm to anyone as a “sin” is completely arbitrary, just as if I said that it is a “sin” to hold hands in public with your spouse, or encourage your daughter to play sports. By branding such a thing as a “sin”, you’re passing judgment on people who do it, and asserting (without evidence) that there is some sort of shame in their living their lives as they see fit. In so doing, you put the lie to the completely laughable statement that you are simply “hating the sin” whilst all the while “loving the sinner”.

TL/DR: “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is a false statement, since it is based on the premise that acts can be “sins” even if they harm nobody. People pick and choose which parts of the Bible they follow, so the excuse that God condemns it is also false. Calling someone a “sinner” is already condemnation, which is a direct contravention of the idea of loving them.

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*For the record, Matthew 7:1-5 has always been, and probably will always be, one of my absolute favourite Biblical passages. The idea of someone with a beam in their eye always made me chuckle, but it’s a great message to remember about hypocrisy.

Movie Friday: Wife-beating etiquette

“Wow,” you’re probably thinking “where exactly is Crommunist going with this?”

Exactly where you think:

Yeah… that just happened.

Apparently, according to this man’s religious convictions, the way that Allah honors the wife is to prescribe the specific way in which her husband is allowed to “discipline” her through physical beatings. Allah also sets out the circumstance under which it’s permissible to do so: if she won’t sleep with him. Thus is the majesty and mercy of Allah displayed – a woman has a choice of whether to be raped or beaten. God surely is great!

I don’t think any of my readers here are Muslim, or if I do have any Muslim readers I doubt they’re particularly devout, so I don’t think there’s much to be gained by expressing my complete disgust for this particular religious tradition; however, there is a larger point to be made. I’m sure someone somewhere looks at this and says “this is how you know Christianity is true – Jesus would have never allowed this.” Despite the fact that Jesus doesn’t say a single word about whether or not it’s permissible to beat your wife (I’d imagine he wouldn’t be cool with it, but we don’t know that for sure – I guess it wasn’t a very important topic to him), this is a completely circular argument:

A. Beating your wife is bad
B. Christianity says that beating your wife is bad
C. Therefore, Christianity is true

Here’s the problem: A is assumed to be true completely independently of the other premises. I happen to agree with A, but that in no way says anything about C. If A is a true premise, there is a way of establishing its truth outside the framework of any religious tradition. The logical way to follow B is to say “C: therefore,  Christianity is right about wife abuse.” If I start my own religion and say that it’s okay to murder penguins for lulz, but also say that the Earth orbits around the sun, does that make my religion true? Of course not – it just means that one specific claim that I have made is based on something we understood already.

Back to these two fucks in the video clip. The only words I can use to describe someone so debased, so twisted and depraved, so…

Y’know what? Let’s let Hollywood take care of the insults, shall we? (OMFG is this ever not safe for work)

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Religious “education”

Last week, Ian Bushfield wrote some thoughts on the idea of religious education in public schools:

By offering religious education/instruction, we could hopefully convince parents that the public school system is where their kids should be. Further, we can hopefully expose the children to different ideas about religion and morality, which, demonstrated by the uproar over the comparative ethics course in Quebec, can challenge the basic notions of faith as a virtue.

I happen to agree with Ian on this point (small wonder, we tend to agree with each other generally). Comparative religious education is like comparative literature or anthropology or history – presenting overlapping but non-redundant narratives presents fertile ground for developing a skeptic mind. Teaching kids that there may not always be a “right answer”, particularly when talking about humanity, invites them to consider and critique the evidence for the answers they are presented with. In the context of society, religion is something we should be particularly skeptical about.

Many atheists are wary of religious education in public schools, arguing that there ought to be an inviolable barrier between church and state. While those of us living in Canada do not enjoy that separation as a matter of law (we don’t have an equivalent of the First Amendment in the Canadian Charter), many of us still feel it would violate an important principle of a just society. Maybe those opposed to teaching religion in public schools are worried about something like this:

BBC Panorama found that more than 40 Saudi Students’ Schools and Clubs are teaching the official Saudi national curriculum to about 5,000 pupils. One text book shows how the hands and feet of thieves are chopped off…

One of the text books asks children to list the “reprehensible” qualities of Jewish people. A text for younger children asks what happens to someone who dies who is not a believer in Islam – the answer given in the text book is “hellfire”. Another text describes the punishment for gay sex as death and states a difference of opinion about whether it should be carried out by stoning, burning with fire or throwing the person over a cliff.

Well at least they’re teaching kids about their options…

I think the problem with the blanket objection to religion in schools is a failure to articulate the difference between teaching religion and teaching about religion. Religion, like science, or math, or art, or history, is an important subject to have a factual grasp on. I myself took a course on world religions in high school. Of course by the time I was that age I had pretty much dismissed all religions as having any claim to exclusive truth. However, learning about the historical roots of the different religions helped me better understand both the various faiths and their respective adherents.

I would argue that a proper understanding of religion requires a comprehension of world history and an appreciation for humanity’s foibles. The kind of education (for the former) and critical appraisal and mature cognition (for the latter) that is required for this kind of deep understanding might be beyond the mental capabilities of an elementary school child. However, kids can understand ethics on a more-or-less intuitive level. I would suggest instruction in ethics at that age – not simply a list of things that are right and wrong (the religious equivalent of “ethical instruction”), but instruction on how the kids can work their way through ethical dilemmas.

This would accomplish two things. First, it would help ingrain moral behaviour by equipping children with the tools to make good judgments in the absence of supervising authority. Second, it would help dispel the idea that morals come from religion, by showing the actual process by which we decide morality.

I am not opposed to instruction about religion in public schools. Just like we teach the orbital model of atomic structure as a way of showing what we used to believe, we can teach religion as one of mankind’s many failed models of the world, and what we’ve learned since then.

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Whoops, spoke too soon

Sometimes I overextend myself and make statements preemptively before I have all the facts. It can happen to any of us, and from time to time I have to walk back something I’ve said in a post here.

This is one of those times.

Yesterday, I made a statement in a post that could be interpreted as me saying that the Pope wasn’t evil:

Apparently the world is quite willing to hand an abundance of cookies over to the Pope for finally saying something that pretty much everyone else had figured out already.

But hey, at least he figured it out, right?

I’m sad to say that I have to walk back even this grudging attempt to paint the Pope in anything other than a completely negative light:

Pope Benedict XVI praised efforts of the Filipino bishops in blocking any attempts to promote contraception in the Philippines. The pontiff said the Philippine Catholic leadership has reaffirmed its commitment to confronting any attack on the sanctity of life.

“I commend the Church in the Philippines for seeking to play its part in support of human life from conception until natural death, and in defense of the integrity of marriage and the family,” said Benedict XVI.

Hmm, perhaps I should translate:

Pope Benedict XVI praised the corrupting influence in the Filipino bishops in ensuring that poor people are doomed to sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy in the Philippines. The ancient decrepit virgin said that the religiotic busybodies in the Philippines have reaffirmed their commitment to preventing any attempt to improve the quality of life.

“I commend the assholes in the Philippines for seeking to dictate its beliefs to other people in defiance of human rights from conception until natural death, and in defense of bigoted and outdated definitions of marriage and the family,” said Benedict XVI.

So it is to my great chagrin that I must apologize for misleading you fine readers. The Pope is completely evil and has no redeeming qualities. He is happy to whine and cry about the “oppression” of religion in rich countries, and then cackle with Palpatine-like glee as his Church dooms entire countries to a cycle of abuse and unwanted pregnancy in the poor countries.

Tim Minchin, play us out…

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