Upskirting The Law

It might be bad; it might be wrong;
An upskirt shot that shows a thong
But perverts told us all along
There is no law against it

Now Massachusetts’ highest court
From justice fell extremely short;
Compassion, in today’s report?
The courts had not dispensed it

Since lawyers live by splitting hairs
The clothing that a woman wears
In subway cars or café chairs
Defines her as “not nude”

So perverts, then, can snap away
The upskirt photo won the day
And, all too late, lawmakers say
The laws will be reviewed.

We have a freedom fetish in our culture. I don’t think even Michael Robertson‘s own lawyer would argue that what he is doing is good, or right, or admirable. But, since a judge has ruled that there is no specific law that is being violated here, Robertson’s loathsome behavior is–not good, not right, not admirable… and not illegal. Because the women he did not ask to take upskirt photos of were actually wearing clothes (thus, it seems to me, signaling to the world that they were not in the subway to serve as someone’s masturbatory models, but were in fact commuting to or from work), they were thus not “nude or partially nude” (in which case, he’d have been violating Massachusetts’ “Peeping Tom” law).

The law always is reactive–it took a while to catch up to video technology, and to the internet… We can’t prescribe particular behaviors, because that infringes on freedom. We have to allow anything and everything that is not specifically prohibited. As such, it is the lot of some people to suffer indignities that are not against the law, until their case inspires new law… too late for these people.

Did I say “people”? Sorry, I meant “women”.

TV Snake-Handler Dies (Spoiler: Not Old Age)

There once was a pastor
Who handled some snakes
For goodness’ sakes—
He handled snakes!
(He knew the stakes)

There once was a serpent
With venomous bite
Oh, what a plight!
A venomous bite!
(And deadly, quite)

The pastor, he handled;
The serpent, he bit
With a venomous spit
He bit and bit
(And wouldn’t quit)

The pastor’s behavior
Had faith as its source
With no remorse,
His faith was his source
(He died, of course)

Via Doubtful News, we hear the utterly predictable news of the death of a snake-handling pentecostal preacher, from (naturally) snakebite.

In an era of sophisticated theology, yes, snake-handlers still exist. Though, frankly, not a lot of them, despite how often the same group makes the news. Usually, for dying by snake bite.

I wonder, sometimes, what it would be like to be from a family where you pretty much all eventually died from completely preventable, proudly public, dangerous behavior. Do the extended relatives admit their connection? Are they proud? Ashamed? Anyway, my condolences to the family–may this be the last one to die in this manner.

Your Chance To Be A (Reality) TV Star

So… I just received an email
Sent especially to me;
Cos he’d stumbled on my blogging
And he’d really like to see
If I’d like to take my chances
On reality TV,
If I’m leaving the religion of my roots

Now, he doesn’t get the concept
Of a cuttlefish, I think;
Never seeking out the limelight—
Rather, hiding in my ink.
I would sooner find a little glass
Of cyanide to drink
Than engage in any televised pursuits

I guess I should be flattered
Though for me, it’s clearly wrong
But my readers might be braver,
So I’m passing it along;
If you’d like to test your courage
(Clearly, mine’s just not that strong)
If you want to try, he’s looking for recruits!

No, seriously. I got an email inquiring whether I would like to try out for a proposed reality TV show on people who have recently made a change, or are looking to make a change, in their spiritual lives. This is clearly not a job for a cuttlefish, let alone a Cuttlefish. Sure, I’ve got the telegenic looks, the witty repartee, the quiet confidence that draws others to me, and I naturally speak in rhymed heroic couplets… but I can’t stand those shows. This show (about which, more below) is by the people who give us “Breaking Amish” and “Amish Mafia”, among other shows. Sure, the shows are on networks that pretend to be sciencey, like NatGeo and the Science network… but I would sooner chew my foot off at the ankle. I’m not even curious about the money–there simply isn’t enough in the world, even with the house needing work and the car now 14 years old.

But I know full well I don’t represent everybody, and if someone else wants to give it a shot, I would not think any less of them. It could be a really nice project, a positive look at leaving religion that will open people’s eyes to that possibility, one that many never consider. So, yeah, this could be a really good thing… just not for me.

Anyway, the blurb:


Have you lived your entire life devoted to your spiritual beliefs? Do you constantly find yourself following along with your religious order even if you don’t necessarily agree? Whether you simply don’t believe in the customs and traditions, or are looking to branch away from your “extreme” religious lifestyle in a quest for self-empowerment, we want to hear from you.
An acclaimed television production company is searching for individuals who want to leave their religious communities. We are especially seeking people with unique personalities and compelling backstories, who have the courage to stand up for what they truly believe in.

To be considered, or to nominate someone, please write to us at with the following information [**if you are nominating someone else, please be sure to include their contact info, as well**]:
-Name & any nicknames
-Your city & state of residence
-Brief cover note discussing your story and religious background
-A few current photographs
-The best phone number(s) at which to reach you

Thank you for your time, and we look forward to hearing from you!

“Hostility Toward Religion”, or “Religious Hostilities”?

Let us celebrate the power
Of the simple preposition
Making bullies into martyrs with a word
When the truth is somewhat sour
Simply make a small edition
Though the putative conclusion is absurd

When “religion” and “hostility”
The Pew researchers mixed,
It’s religion on religion causing harm
To the best of their ability
The Post has got it fixed
Groups are hostile toward religion (sound alarm)!

When religions start attacking
The religious are the victims
Though that leads to a conclusion, rather odd:
Though the evidence is lacking,
There among the Christian dictums
Is that all religions worship the same God

It’s an internecine battle
True believers on both sides
And religious groups have earned their share of guilt
Yet the Christian Post will prattle
While the honest truth still hides
In the house of cards the Christian post has built.

The Christian Post headline (High Social Hostility Toward Religion Reported In A Third Of Countries Worldwide) tells you all you need to know about how they are going to spin the story:

A high or very high social hostility toward religion was reported in a third of the 198 countries and territories analyzed by the Pew Research Center in a report released on Tuesday, marking an increase in almost every major region around the world.


Christians and Muslims were the two religious groups harassed in the most countries between June 2006 and December 2012. Christians faced harassment in 151 countries, Muslims in 135, and Jews in 95.

Also true. But if you remember last year’s BBC report on martyrs (in which we find that by far the greatest number of Christians killed in religious hostilities were killed… by other Christians, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and earlier in Rwanda–in both cases, with Christians on both sides of the hostilities), you might be curious about the reporting this time, too.

The Pew report on their study has a different headline (Religious Hostilities Reach Six-Year High) that makes it clear that the report is looking at more than just hostilities toward religion.

For instance, there has been an increase in

abuse of religious minorities by private individuals or groups in society for acts perceived as offensive or threatening to the majority faith of the country. Incidents of abuse targeting religious minorities were reported in 47% of countries in 2012, up from 38% in 2011 and 24% in [2007].

(bolding in original) The report gives examples–it is well worth reading.

The study finds that the share of countries where violence, or the threat of violence, was used to compel people to adhere to religious norms also increased in 2012. Such actions occurred in 39% of countries, up from 33% in 2011 and 18% as of mid-2007.

Again, many examples are given–most are new to me, but involve “efforts to enforce religious norms” not held by all citizens.

There is much, much more at the study. With so many (and increasing) incidents of religious hostility, it is small wonder there might be government restrictions on religious expression–hell, I would want the government to restrict, say, a church from dictating what my medical care includes! Ah, but even here, the report includes government restrictions where the government is itself taking the side of one religion:

Governments used force against religious groups or individuals in nearly half (48%) of the world’s countries in 2012, up from 41% in 2011 and 31% as of mid-2007. In April 2012 in Mauritania, for instance, “the government arrested 12 anti-slavery activists and charged them with sacrilege and blasphemy, along with other civil charges, for publicly burning religious texts to denounce what the activists viewed as support for slavery in Islamic commentary and jurisprudence,” according to the U.S. Department of State.

Oh, and it is worth noting that the Americas have far, far less religious hostility, either social or governmental, than other areas of the world. This despite determined bleating about a “war on religion” (a subsidiary of the “war on Christmas”, itself a subsidiary of “Fox News”).

Satanist, Atheist; Tomayto, Tomahto

The folks at Fox News have been hatin’ on Satan;
The thought of him sickens their good Christian hearts
A statue? in public? And Gretchen was retchin’,
While all of her guests played their usual parts:
“That statue’s offensive! It’s hateful! A state full
Of Christians would never have voted it in!
Majority rules—you don’t like it? Then hike it
To some other state that might tolerate sin!”

Conservative pundits are trying, by lying,
To claim the majority writes all the laws
Their cry “it’s Commandments we follow!” rings hollow:
They always forget the establishment clause
Not wanting to, yet, let them all in, they’re stallin’—
They’ll wait, while this case makes its way through the courts
In the meantime, the Decalogue only, so lonely,
Cries out to be joined by some goat-headed sorts.

Yeah, well, ok, I’m not really happy with this verse, so I’ll post it quick before I just throw it away. It started out as a comment on Gretchen Carlson’s innocent gaffe, then took a detour into the shouting match her guests launched (have you ever noticed how few guests actually answer the questions they’ve been asked? They answer completely different questions instead, loudly and independently of whether anyone else is talking), then into a vague commentary on the whole satanic statue thing. So it needs a good editing… which would kill the meter and rhyme. What ya gonna do?

There is much fodder for hair-pulling at that link, though. Misrepresentation of the Satanists who are proposing to donate the monument (satanists, rather, are the stuff of pulp novels, B movies, and Chick Tracts), “majority rules” being demanded by the Jewish talking-head (who asks “what did goats ever do? I don’t know why they are having to suffer.”… forgetting that his own religion gave us the “scapegoat”), a member of a smaller minority than atheists; Gretchen’s “the rabbi has a good point” after the rabbi’s alleged point disappeared in a haze of shouting…


There is beauty in simplicity
When simple things are true;
But solving complex mysteries—
There’s beauty in that, too

There are simple things, and complex things,
And mysteries and more…
Sure, sometimes you have favorites,
But it isn’t either/or

Ok, so I saw this commercial, and it really bothered me:

Do you want to hear about the chemical composition of the sun? Or simply feel it on your face? Do you want to talk about all the muscles it takes for two hands to connect? Or just enjoy that they can? Do you want to debate why an apple a day keeps the doctor away? Or just take a bite? Do you want to talk about what it takes to make a miracle happen? Or just look at one?

To have a kid’s voice say these lines is, to my ears, just horrible! Kids want to know the chemical composition of the sun, and are fascinated by how muscles, sinews, bones and skin combine to make hands work. The ad writers have the kid certain that apples work, and that babies are “miracles”. Kids are naturally curious–why on earth would you base a “simplify” commercial around someone who probably makes Rube Goldberg machines out of kitchen appliances, clothes hangers, and tape. Kids see the beauty in complexity–in stuff that takes a lot of work to understand. That’s one of the best things about kids.

I can see why a healthcare plan might want to simplify. But damn, this commercial just grates at me whenever I see it.

Oprah Says Major Religions All Wrong

So Oprah says the atheist is really a believer
Cos she views the world with wonder and with awe
You see, wonder, awe, and mystery are really what God is
Thanks to Oprah, we can see religion’s flaw!

Oprah’s telling us the Christians have a silly view of God
So do Muslims, so do Hindus, so do Jews—
They are far, far, too specific, and the details are all wrong
Big mistakes that even Oprah can’t excuse!

There’s no “wonder, awe, and mystery” in mainstream Christian faith
There is certainty—adherence to a creed!
There are pastors, priests, and reverends who’ll explain it all for you
And a bible that’s the only book you need!

It’s the opposite of mystery—the answers all are there!
So it’s obvious—and Oprah gets the nod—
That religions, with their dogmas and their answers and their books
All have overlooked what Oprah says is God.

So, yeah, you’ve probably already heard, Oprah had a really tough time accepting that Diana Nyad is an atheist. The story is everywhere now, but everyone is missing the big picture. You see, in her eagerness to fold everyone into the believer camp, Oprah has redefined “God” in a manner that is incompatible with the majority of modern religious believers.

The thing is, today’s religions are not about wonder, awe, and mystery, they are about providing simple answers to the things that lead to wonder, awe, and mystery. How did we get here? Magic. (I’m paraphrasing Genesis here.) Why do bad things happen to good people? They don’t, not really, when you look at the big picture, so quit complaining and get back to work. What happens when we die? You get to see all your friends again, and your pets, and your family, and all the people you don’t like will be in another place getting what they deserve.

Awe, Wonder, and Mystery (don’t they deserve the caps?) are wonderful things, but a god that has specific dietary restrictions isn’t mysterious. No god ever described, when compared to the Hubble photos, or to our modern understanding of the depths of time in our cosmic and biological histories, or to our emerging understanding of the development of individuals from strands of protein, no god ever described deserves the word “awe”. Gods are simply too small. Gods are answers before we had answers, before we knew the size of the questions.

Wonder, Awe, and Mystery are far more worthy of our time than any god has ever been. And I, for one, thank Oprah for pointing out the petty inadequacies that currently make up so much of religious belief.

Gee, Oprah, I don’t call you a believer–you sound almost like a good atheist.

The Unintentionally Worst Thing Heard About Grand Theft Auto V

So I was listening to NPR.

On NHPR’s “Word of Mouth”, a discussion of Grand Theft Auto… let’s see… it was The Bankable Legacy Of Grand Theft Auto; audio is available at the link. There was discussion of the economics, of the controversy, of misrepresentation of an adult game as a bad children’s game… honestly, I was mostly shopping, so I did not hear all of the program. I did hear one comment though, that went unremarked on the program, and I wanted to remark on it. At around the 8-minute mark, Jamin Warren, of Killscreen, a “video-game arts and culture company”, responds to the host’s (the excellent Virginia Prescott, I think) comment that one can, if she remembers correctly get points in this game for beating up prostitutes. His immediate response (my apologies if I transcribed it poorly–I think I got it, though):

(8:04) I think the important thing that is important to remember is that there are many things you can do in Grand Theft Auto; some of them, I think, are distasteful—well, I guess, a lot of them are at some level distasteful—but I don’t necessarily think that the violence in Grand Theft Auto against women–obviously it’s problematic at very, like at a very base level, but I think if you were to look at it in the landscape of broader media, it wouldn’t necessarily be anomalous.

And yes, (as I understand it) you can, but are not required to, beat prostitutes in GTA V. I played an earlier version of the game, and never once treated it as anything but a driving simulator with some really bizarre racetracks. It was well designed without the added violence against women; my personal tastes would have it with playable female lead characters, and none of the violence, but my personal version would sell, like, twelve copies in total.

But that’s not the important thing. I suspect you caught the important thing, though. “It wouldn’t necessarily be anomalous.” The distasteful violence against women… yes, it’s there, but it’s everywhere, so that’s ok.

No, that’s not ok. That’s terribly depressing. When the poster child for symbolic violence against women can simply point to “the landscape of broader media” and say “we’re just following your example”, this is not a point in favor of the game, or of the broader media, or of much of anything.

Let’s beat up some women;
Let’s beat up some whores;
Let’s steal us some autos
And rob us some stores
Let’s tell everybody
It’s only a game…
Cos the rest of the media
Looks just the same.


The billboard, up just down the block
Has left us in a state of shock:
Its “shocking” message? Here’s the gist:
Atheists… exist.

Not much of a story here–the fun part is behind the scenes. An Austin TV station’s website has their story of one of the local atheist billboards. It’s a nice enough story–the representative atheist is well-spoken, the representative Christian is concerned…

But, for those of you who clicked through, did you notice the URL? The article title, now, is “Atheist Community Building Support with Billboards”… the URL, though, includes the phrase “atheist-community-building-support-shocking-billboards”. That’s right, “shocking”.

Yup, they bear the radical message “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.”


Hey Rachel, Let’s Make A Deal

See, it’s not the proper mainstream
It’s the loonies at the fringe;
I can listen to the former
But the latter make me cringe
As it’s painful to the both of us,
A wound we ought to heal,
I’m proposing a solution—
Yes, I want to make a deal.

Professors of biology
Who go to such extremes
That they see religious practice
As evolving social memes
We will gladly just ignore them
When they say a bit too much
If you’ll just ignore Pat Robertson
When he goes off a touch

And Ph. D. philosophers,
And physicists, and more;
Psychologists, neurologists,
And others by the score
We’ll listen to their ranting
And we’ll try to stifle moans
If you’ll ignore their counterparts—
For instance, Terry Jones.

Extremists do not speak for all—
You understand, I hope—
It’s such a silly strawman
When you criticize the pope!
Let’s peel apart the radicals;
Dismiss them, one by one,
And look for truth in what remains
When all the culling’s done

Rachel Held Evans wants to make a deal. She noticed Dawkins’s comments about “mild pedophilia”, and feels our pain.

As tempting as it is to classify Dawkins’ views as representative of all atheists, I can’t bring myself to do it.

I can’t bring myself to do it because I know just how frustrating and unfair it is when atheists point to the most extreme, vitriolic voices within Christianity and proclaim that they are representative of the whole.

So, atheists, I say we make a deal: How about we Christians agree not to throw this latest Richard Dawkins thing in your face and you atheists agree not to throw the next Pat Robertson thing in ours?

Now, while you may have noticed multiple posts here at FTB and elsewhere calling out Dawkins for his words, he is still seen as one of our leaders (especially by those trying to equate atheism with religion). And don’t think that Christians don’t criticize Pat Robertson on occasion, like when he blames natural disasters on sin, or when he’s too liberal in his political endorsements. So, yeah, the two are roughly equivalents–you see politicians courting Dawkins’s king-making endorsement all the time, and retirees sending him all their money in return for his good word greasing their way into the afterlife, and there’s Dawkins’s television network, too. (I can’t find a comparison of book sales numbers–if anyone has that information, I’d love to see it.)

Pat Robertson does not represent all Christians. But the one-time Most Dangerous Man In America is not, in any way, the opposite number to Dawkins. I can see why agreeing to dismiss both of them would be a tempting offer… for Christians.

But what if we resist the urge to use the latest celebrity gaffe as an excuse to paint one another with broad brushes?

What if, instead of engaging the ideas of the most extreme and irrational Christians and atheists, we engaged the ideas of the most reasonable, the most charitable, the most respectful and respected?

My goodness, if you want extreme and irrational atheists, don’t use Dawkins as your example. He says stupid things on occasion, but believe me, we have some who seemed to have carved out a comfortable niche wholly immersed in stupidity. But again, I can see why you would wish to call this an even trade.

So, yes, Richard Dawkins is an atheist. But so is ethicist and humanitarian Peter Singer. So are authors Greg Epstein and Susan Jacoby. So is my friend and fellow blogger Hemant Mehta. So is Sir Ian McKellen.

Yes, Pat Robertson is a Christian. But so is Nelson Mandela. So is acclaimed geneticist Francis Collins. So is Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee. So is Barack Obama. So is Stephen Colbert.

Let’s take Collins. Yes, he’s a nice guy. But he’s still wrong. And nice atheists also have dumb ideas.

I think it was the eminent philosopher Batman who said (stole) “it’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me”. When someone does or says something that is worth criticizing, then it doesn’t matter if it is Robertson, Dawkins, or Cuttlefish (yes, I put them in order of number of things worth criticizing); criticize.

As for getting rid of “extremists” on both ends, and looking in the middle… “When two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly half way between. It is possible for one side simply to be wrong.

But then, that was said by an extremist.