The church of FTB

A thought occurred to me as I was mulling over Natalie’s vivisection of the odious Be Scofield. On my third or fourth time through Be’s interminable swipe at Natalie for having the temerity to point out the harms that religious thinking has on trans people, I managed to ferret out his point. Side note: why¬†do people feel the need to secret their theses in a labyrinthine construction of verbose passages? Why can’t you just say what you mean? Anyway – Be’s inability to write clearly isn’t relevant to this post, I just thought I would express my beef.

Scofield, and those in his camp, think that religious edifices can be cannibalized to appropriate the things that it does well (social organization, community building, humanitarian aid) from the dangerous nonsense that props it up (i.e., everything else it does). One step beyond that argument is to state that those religions that do the good stuff with a minimum¬†of the other stuff are a net positive and should be exempted from the blanket criticisms of religion that Gnus should rightfully be directing only at the worst offenders. After all, how can we make the assertion that all¬†religion is bad if we haven’t seen them all? Shouldn’t we save our ire for groups that have demonstrated their harmful tendencies and let the ‘nicer’ religions skate?

As long as we ignore the fact that their argument is stupid, we can see the superficial appeal of using the scaffolding of religion for a secular purpose. Indeed, I myself have taken a very similar stance before – there’s no sense in throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and church seems to address a need that secular institutions have not found a way to replace. Why not¬†use religious institutions as a model? Are we rejecting it simply because religious faith is destructive, or is it out of spite and a vainglorious insistence that ‘we don’t need no steenking churches’? I have yet to receive a coherent answer to that question. [Read more…]

The (un)Friendly Atheist

I like Hemant Mehta. I really do. He’s a passionate advocate and organizer who regularly makes significant and positive contributions to the secular/atheist community (far more than, say, someone like me does). His blog is a regular read for me, which is saying a lot because these days I barely have time to read this¬†one. He’s actually been gracious enough to offer me a guest post in response to what I thought was a particularly terrible contribution by an ISSA member.¬†Gallingly, however, Hemant posted something today that was so uncharacteristically incurious as to drive me to take out my ass-kickin’ boots again. I don’t like¬†ragging on people who I (otherwise) respect and like, but this piece was beyond the pale:

If you read the blog posts and Twitter comments about Chris [Stedman], though, you’d think he was a religious man in atheist clothing. Or that he’s delegitimizing our work. Or that he’s undermining our goals. He’s not. He’s as much of an atheist activist as the rest of us. He just practices it by focusing on cooperation and conversation with people of faith instead of beating his chest with both fists and proclaiming his superiority.

Some day, and I hope it’s soon, we will finally be able to take this straw atheist who beats its chest and bellows defiance (instead of providing reasoned argument in opposition to a thoroughly-debunked meme) out behind the woodshed and put it out of its misery. Then maybe, just maybe, folks like Hemant will be able to muster up the restraint to stop attacking it.

I don’t know Chris Stedman, I’ve never had any interactions with him, and I don’t really care if I ever do. The same goes for Alain de Botton. I say this to forestall any accusations that I am getting personal – this argument could be about anybody. The problem with the approach that guys like Stedman and de Botton take has absolutely nothing to do¬†with the fact that they want to co-operate with believers. This has been pointed out so many times it’s hard to pick just one example to link to, so I will let you pick your favourite. Sure, were I in a particularly uncharitable mood I’d suggest that collaboration with an oppressive force like religion is a good way of preserving privilege in exchange for token concessions, but I recognize the willingness of many believers to counteract bigotry even when it comes from within their own ‘camp’. [Read more…]

Wrong per se

So this might be a first, but I am hoping to crowdsource some resolution on this topic. Last week I posted about the clear evil that I saw in abortion for sex selection. I thought for sure that the readership would join me in condemning such a barbaric and nakedly misogynistic practice.

What I got instead was a surprising amount of tacit “aww shucks” support for the right of someone to choose to abort a pregnancy because the child is female. Nobody thought it was a good¬†idea, but there were very few people who gave it the kind of blanket condemnation that I had initially approached it with.

This wouldn’t ordinarily be a problem for me. After all, any given post might yield a few or a lot of dissenting opinions. I consider it a mark of honour that I have engaged, intelligent and thoughtful readers who may disagree with me on any number of topics. It forces me to become better at defending my ideas, or to learn to change my ideas in places where it is clear that I am wrong. [Read more…]

Warning: this story is full of win

Sometimes the stuff I blog about gets me pretty down. There’s a lot of ugliness in humanity, and a lot of things to despair about. The ever-persistent stain of racism, rampant and unabashed misogyny, the easy lies of conservatism… it’s enough to wring a tear from even my stony gaze, and I have to reach for my supply of otter pictures.

Then again, sometimes a story comes along and completely cheers me up:

Poland’s first transsexual member of parliament has been sworn in, in what has traditionally been a socially conservative country. Fifty-seven-year-old Anna Grodzka was previously a man, known as Krzysztof, before having surgery in Thailand.

Okay, that’s pretty cool. Poland has made a progressive milestone by electing someone who, no matter how qualified, would not have been able to serve in office a generation ago. That’s pretty cheering. But wait, there’s more… [Read more…]

Wives, be subject(ed) to your husbands

I’m not married. I have no idea if I ever will¬†get married. But if I do, it won’t be to anyone who’s read this book:

Malaysian officials have banned a controversial book that offers sex tips to Muslim women, reports say.¬†The book, entitled Islamic Sex, is believed to have been read by a few hundred people.¬†It was published by a group known as the Obedient Wives’ Club, which has been widely criticised for promoting polygamy and denigrating women.

The Obedient Wives’ Club told journalists last month that the book was intended as a spiritual guide to be read only by club members to help them comprehend sex.¬†The club has previously said women should act like “first-class prostitutes” to prevent their husbands from having affairs or resorting to violence.


Funnily enough, there’s no advice to the husbands on how to make sex a life- and relationship-affirming experience for their wives. It’s almost as if the publishers of this book think that sex is a woman’s duty, and that the husband’s role is to simply enjoy it. Almost as if, despite constant propaganda from Muslim apologists (and other theists, to be sure), following the Qur’an doesn’t establish women and men as equals, but rather as a dominant and submissive relationship (but not the good kind). [Read more…]

You don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps!

I hope nobody can confuse me with someone who approves of religion, my recent posts supporting the idea of humanist ‘churches’ notwithstanding. I don’t. Religion is built on a foundation of unwarranted belief in claims that are nonsensical at best, and horribly destructive at worst. It concentrates unchecked and unimpeachable power in the hands of people who have done nothing to warrant it, and propagates abusive practices through threats and bribery:

Britain’s madrassas have faced more than 400 allegations of physical abuse in the past three years, a BBC investigation has discovered.¬†But only a tiny number have led to successful prosecutions.¬†The revelation has led to calls for formal regulation of the schools, attended by more than 250,000 Muslim children every day for Koran lessons.

The chairman of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board said he would treat the issue as a matter of urgency. Leading Muslim figures said families often faced pressure not to go to court or even to make a formal complaint. A senior prosecutor told the BBC its figures were likely to represent the tip of an iceberg.

But hey, so does the Boy Scouts, apparently:

CBC News has learned that Scouts Canada has signed out-of-court confidentiality agreements with more than a dozen child sex-abuse victims in recent years, shielding the incidents from further media attention.¬†In many of the agreements, a confidentiality clause prevents victims from revealing the amount paid or even the fact that there was a settlement. At least one bars a former boy scout from publicly divulging that the abuse took place.¬†Scouts Canada has refused to disclose details about any of the settlements. Sources tell CBC News that some settlements were around $200,000. [Read more…]

“Atheist church”: one week later

So last week I posted a Monday “think piece” in which I examined the arguments against and for a community for humanists, and explained why I thought it was not a bad idea. I followed it up with a spitballed example of what I thought one could look like. My basic position, boiled down to a couple of sentences is that I think there is a positive role that a humanist organization modeled after a church can play, particularly for those who find home and community in the church environment (but may not agree with all the positions stated there). I don’t think that all components of church, including ritual, are necessarily harmful, and that we should try to take as much good as we could, while leaving behind the bad.

This issue got more responses than just about anything I’ve ever blogged about, and I’m taking this opportunity to go over them and summarize. [Read more…]

My day at atheist church

So unlike others at Freethought Blogs, I am not a writer of fiction. I used to be, once upon a time, but gradually migrated toward polemic. The nature of what I want to talk about today lends itself well to fiction though, so I am going to give it a go. This is my offering for what an “atheist church service” could look like.

My day at atheist church

I’ll confess to you that I was a bit nervous going to the new atheist church in Phoenix. Circumstances had forced me to uproot my job and relocate to Arizona – not exactly my idea of ideal living conditions. Luckily, my freemam from back in Vancouver called ahead to Leslie, the freemam of the parish closest to my new apartment to let her know I was coming. While I hadn’t gone to church much in Vancouver, Jacob (my old freemam) suggested to me that it would be a good chance for me to get my foot in the door, maybe make some friends. Shortly after I arrived, Leslie had stopped by after work to welcome me to the area.

So, it was with mixed feelings that I showed up at the library that morning, and headed into the back room where the service was happening. Unlike how we ran things in Vancouver, there was a greeter at the door offering me a nametag – I thought it was a nice touch. “You don’t have to take one,” he said “but it helps people know who’s new. If you’re not a fan of being hugged, I’d suggest writing your name in red pen – yeah it seems like a weird rule but we’ve had problems in the past. Curtis has boundary issues and some people were uncomfortable so we figured this system was easiest.”

I chuckled. My old parish had a “Curtis” too – an overbearing French woman named Amelie who reeked of cigarettes and decided that everyone was her best friend. I opted for the blue pen anyway – what are the odds, right? [Read more…]

Biting the hand that feeds me: Why I am pro-church

One of the things I like the most about being a member of the freethought community is the fact that we, as members, prize debate and conversation above fawning civility. At least on the internet – maybe people are very different in meatspace. There are no sins in the freethoughtverse, except offering up a shitty argument. Doing that breaks the unwritten commandment of being a rational person: thou shalt not be boring. The inevitable outcome of a group of people all communicating with each other at the level of logical discourse is that oftentimes we see knock-down drag-out conflict over seemingly minor disagreements. Some people bemoan this fact – I revel in it. One of the ways we know that we are freethinking is when we disagree with each other – even those we deeply respect and whose views we otherwise share.

It is with that in mind that I say that I think PZ got this one wrong:

But freethinkers ought not to be shackled by rote and rites. And they especially should not be led by ‚Äúchaplains‚ÄĚ or whatever the hell they‚Äôre going to call them. No gods, no masters, no dogma, and no goddamned priests‚Ķnot even atheist priests.

This was the conclusion of his post responding to an idea by Greg Epstein¬†to create humanist ‘churches’ – secular institutions that perform the function that religious churches do, in much the same way. While I didn’t see the issue the way he did (I thought it was a nifty idea), I have been a Pharyngula¬†reader long enough to know that I will get my ass handed to me for straw-manning or otherwise misrepresenting PZ’s position on an issue, so I waited to get a fuller explanation as to what the exact nature of his objection was. I participated briefly in the discussion on Twitter about the idea, but it quickly turned into a debate over optics and semantics, and I tuned out. Then I read this: [Read more…]

I’ve got your amnesia right here

I try, at all times, to be an introspective person. Because of the kind of person I am – physically imposing and unabashedly forthright in expressing my opinion – I have a tendency to overwhelm other people in conversation. I don’t do this intentionally, it’s simply a byproduct of who I am. However, because of this fact I am particularly susceptible to a particularly pernicious type of confirmation bias, wherein people who disagree with me either don’t speak up because they’re intimidated, or are shouted into silence by the force of my response. My appeals to friends and colleagues to challenge me when I do this are often unheeded, and as a result I can get a false impression that people agree with me more often than they actually do. I constantly struggle to monitor my own behaviour and demeanour, particularly when I am defending a topic I am passionate about.

This kind of introspective self-criticism is, I think, a critical component of being an intellectually honest advocate of a position. The zeal with which I practice this behaviour on myself has, unfortunately, left me with little patience for hypocrisy. There is perhaps no greater font of hypocrisy in the world today than that which finds its home in St. Peter’s¬†Basilica:

Pope Benedict XVI encouraged thousands of young people gathered for World Youth Day in Spain to avoid temptation and non-believers who think they are ‘god.’

“There are many that, believing they are god, gods, think they have no need for any roots or foundations other than themselves, they would like to decide for themselves what is true or isn’t, what is right and wrong, what’s just and unjust, decide who deserves to live and who can be sacrificed for other preferences, taking a step in the direction of chance, without a fixed path, allowing themselves to be taken by the pulse of each moment, these temptations are always there, it’s important not to succumb to them,” the Pope said during his first speech to the pilgrims.

“Taking a step in the direction of chance, without a fixed path, allowing themselves to be taken by the pulse of each moment, these temptations are always there, it’s important not to succumb to them.”

The kind of unbelievable hubris and lack of self-awareness it takes for a man who claims to speak directly for YahwAlladdha and issues edicts that are, by his own claim, infallible – for this kind of person to go around telling others not to succumb to the temptation to think that they are god is the most shocking and frankly ridiculous type of hypocrisy possible. Beyond simply being rank dishonesty and a complete failure to recognize one’s own faults, it is ethically disgusting for someone with as much power as the Pope has to use that pulpit to encourage people not to think for themselves.

But it doesn’t stop there:

[The Pope] said that the continent must take into account ethical considerations that look out for the common good and added that he understood the desperation felt because of today’s economic uncertainties.¬†“The economy doesn’t function with market self-regulation, but needs an ethical rationale to work for mankind,” he told reporters traveling aboard the papal plane.¬†“Man must be at the centre of the economy, and the economy cannot be measured only by maximisation of profit but rather according to the common good.”

Now it so happens that I agree with the Pope in this particular case – our financial system’s pursuit of profit at all costs must be tempered by a strong regulatory climate to ensure that the human beings that make up the economy are protected from exploitation. However, for someone who is the head of an organization that is guilty of some of the most egregious ethical violations in the history of civilization to advocate the importance of morality and care for human beings makes one’s head spin in a most unpleasant fashion. It would be like hearing Robert Mugabe (that greasy pig-fucker) opine on the importance of transparency in government – yeah he’s right, but completely unqualified to offer an opinion.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the massive protests over the amount that the Spanish government, already reeling from financial hardships of its own, has spent on bringing the Pope to Spain to say things that he could have simply put on his Twitter feed.

Perhaps most gallingly of all, to me personally at least, was this statement:

Benedict told them their decisions to dedicate their lives to their faith was a potent message in today’s increasingly secular world.¬†“This is all the more important today when we see a certain eclipse of God taking place, a kind of amnesia which albeit not an outright rejection of Christianity is nonetheless a denial of the treasure of our faith, a denial that could lead to the loss of our deepest identity,” he said.¬†Benedict’s main priority as Pope has been to try to reawaken Christianity in places like Spain, a once staunchly Catholic country that has drifted far from its pious roots.

Humankind is, for the first time in our history, on the verge of throwing off the chains of superstition and fear that has been a millstone around our collective necks since we climbed down from the trees. Part of this burgeoning emancipation is the rejection of the boogie man of religious faith – the willing suspension of our critical faculties when some decrepit ‘holy man’ mutters some syllables about some bit of supernatural nonsense or other. Every time we have had the courage to pull the veil from our eyes and look at the world with vision unclouded by faith, we have been able to discover something new about phenomena that were previously consigned to the label of ‘mystery’. To be sure, not every such advancement has been positive, and we have made many mistakes. However, the solution to those mistakes is emphatically not¬†to simply refuse to examine the world. To exhort mankind to value faith is to point out how comfortable and reassuring those chains were when we were manacled to the yoke of religion.

I am overjoyed that we are denying such ‘treasures’, and I hope you are too.

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