Although…I would endorse “Christ Hunting”

Yesterday, I was sent a link to an appalling photograph: one of those standard trophy shots of a group of grinning idiots standing over the corpse of an elephant they’d sportingly murdered with their great big manly guns. There’s a whole gallery of cheerful assassins, if you want to see; I don’t recommend it. It’s basically a lot of rich white people who have paid to be coddled for a week while they safely point a high-powered rifle at a large, relatively rare and fragile creature and destroy it.


But one thing caught my eye. It is a small thing, but it added an additional frisson of disgust to the page. It was this banner:

Yep, it’s the Provider for Christ Hunting Adventure. They’ve taken a revolting act of senseless destruction and made it even more repugnant by justifying it with Jesus. For the low price of $2395 you get to fulfill this goal:

Goal: To Support the creation of new and more energized Providers for Christ, and the families of men and women based on Biblical principals [sic].

Oh. Biblical principles. So they hunt wildebeest and Cape Buffalo with bows and spears, possibly from the deck of a chariot? That would be a fair fight, and I would encourage more Christians to demonstrate their courage and battle lions with an assegai.

Wait, no, that’s not what it is: they’re still using great big guns to execute the local wildlife. What makes it Christian is that they get doped up on sanctimony by including local ministers who harangue the participants in seminars, and then they give the meat from the animals they kill to orphans at a squatter’s camp. Which does lead me to wonder what’s done with the meat on non-Jesusy safaris; it’s left to rot?

I have a suggestion: camera safaris. Support conservation organizations. Promote economic fairness and political stability, rather than palliation by numbing people with god. Don’t give more money to rich people with helicopters who are exploiting the environment.

How about putting the Christ Hunting Adventure out of business? I know, that won’t happen — there are far too many Christian assholes out there.

On using suicide as a rhetorical strategy

[Edited per Esteleth’s suggestion to put this para up top:

[notice]Please note that I am not talking here about people who are honestly worried about their own thoughts of self-destruction, and who want to ask someone close to them for help but end up doing so sidelong. None of us say or do things perfectly when we’re in crisis. There is a pretty significant gray area between people who really are in crisis and people who know that saying they’re in crisis will get them what they want. [/notice]

— CC]

I have been reluctant over the last couple years to write about Hugo Schwyzer, mainly because I’ve realized since the last iteration of the perennial shitstorm that he wears like a second hat that it was all the same to him, positive attention or abuse: any attention feeds his ego.

But there was this passage in the slowly-going-viral interview with Schwyzer at New York Magazine’s site, which NYMag dangled out to Schwyzer after he announced he’s stepping offline the way a desperate dealer would offer one last rock to a recently reformed crackhead, that roused me to sufficient anger that I have to say something.

Here it is:

One reason you became a punching bag is that there just are not many men writing feminist columns online. Why is that?
Look at me. I mean, who would want to be me? If you look at the men who are writing about feminism, they toe the line very carefully. It’s almost like they take their cues from the women around them. Men are afraid of women’s anger. It’s very hard for men to stand up to women’s anger. I did for a long time until finally my mental health had to be a priority. I just got out of the hospital. I’m not shy about that. I’m sober, but I checked myself into a psych ward for a week, when I became a danger to myself.

Others have ably dissected the line about men needing to stand up to women’s anger in order to write about feminism. Here’s one good example by Noah Berlatsky.  A couple others representative of the trend:


But it’s the last sentences of Schwyzer’s statement I want to pay attention to here. Again:

I did [stand up to women’s anger] for a long time until finally my mental health had to be a priority. I just got out of the hospital. I’m not shy about that. I’m sober, but I checked myself into a psych ward for a week, when I became a danger to myself.

Those nasty feminist women criticizing Schwyzer drove him to the brink of suicide, in other words.

I have a long history with Hugo, including a real-life meeting, and though I decided two years ago that he was too toxic a person to interact with I still hope he can get well. (Or maybe because I decided that he was too toxic a person to interact with.) I honestly think Hugo’s stepping away from the Internet is one of the smartest things he’s ever done, and I sincerely hope he finds some help so that he can stop hurting people. Including himself. And that’s the last I’ll say about him directly in this post.

But I want to talk about the use of the “they upset me so much I nearly killed myself” trope, because it seems to have slipped past many people’s notice by coming in the wake of the egregious “beleaguered feminist men” thing.

Far too often, people threaten harm to someone as a way of getting attention. They do so to coerce other people into doing things. As we’ve seen in the recent example of every woman who says something on the internet ever, people make threats of violence in attempts to shut people up. They make threats, sometimes, just to get people to listen.

We see these threats for what they are, most of the time: violent abuse. But when the person being threatened is the person doing the threatening, our vision gets clouded. Our sympathy gets played. None of us want to see people hurt themselves. We tone down our criticism. We shelve our disagreements. We put what we were doing on hold to stroke the avowedly self-destructive person’s hair and coo at them.

It works. It gives the threatener what he or she wants. That’s why one of the most common situations in which suicide threats are used is in the context of abusive relationships. That goes for direct statements, as well as passive-aggressive references to suicide like the one quoted above. Abusers use threats of self-harm to keep their victims in relationships, because it works.

And as a consequence, anyone who’s been subject to that kind of emotional abuse is likely to find new examples of rhetorical suicide threats like the one above supremely triggering, even if they’re made in, say, overly dramatic “I feel sorry for myself” blog posts or what have you.

Please note that I am not talking here about people who are honestly worried about their own thoughts of self-destruction, and who want to ask someone close to them for help but end up doing so sidelong. None of us say or do things perfectly when we’re in crisis. There is a pretty significant gray area between people who really are in crisis and people who know that saying they’re in crisis will get them what they want. A very long time ago, during a difficult discussion in a group of trusted friends, I referred to my own self-destructive thoughts and I’m still not sure which side of that gray area I was on.

But if the statements are made where more than one or two people can see them, in a NYMag article or on Facebook or Tumblr or LiveJournal, the safe bet is on “abusive manipulation.”

Public suicide threats, whether direct or oblique, should be presumed at first glance to be forms of emotional abuse. If they’re direct threatening statements, the best helpful response, if you can use it safely, is “do you need a ride to the hospital?” If the person’s really suffering — and again, I have personal experience with both sides of this interaction — it may either get them the help they need or put things in perspective.

But if the person is using the threat as a rhetorical strategy, it serves as a reminder that there can be consequences for committing acts of emotional abuse on people you claim to care about.

It’s time for people to start calling rhetorical suicide references out as the abusive crap they are.

And if you’re thinking of killing yourself, trust me: whining about it on Facebook won’t help. This will. That link leads you to a list of suicide hotlines around the world. Call them. Get some help.

Above the law

This is a little thought exercise. Imagine that American Atheists had $57 million in their bank accounts (I know, I already broke your brain, but try. This is entirely imaginary and disconnected from reality.) Now imagine that we learned that American Atheists had been carrying out some criminal activity for the past decade…say, scamming little old ladies out of their pensions, or sending out roaming teams of atheist thugs to beat up children and steal their lunch money (wait, now you’re having an easier time imagining that? Stop reading this blog, Christian.)

Then, they’re caught. Documents are uncovered that show long-term official support for these unethical behaviors. Retribution is to be delivered: the courts are about to enforce penalties, forcing American Atheists to give the money back to the little old ladies and children. Dave Silverman cunningly transfers all $57 million out of their bank accounts and into a new account labeled “Widows, orphans, and kitten trust fund” and declares that the money is no longer an American Atheist asset and therefore is not subject to any kind of seizure or penalty.

Now that you’re holding that improbable train of events in your head, ask yourself, “Would the courts buy it?” You can also ask yourself, “What would the public think of American Atheists and Dave Silverman?”

You would hope that the courts wouldn’t fall for such a transparent ploy, and you’d expect that the whole country would revile the organization.

You’ll be relieved to know that no, American Atheists has not perpetrated such a dastardly move (and, unfortunately, their pockets are not jingling with $57 million, ill-gotten or not). But guess who has?

Replace “American Atheists” with “the Catholic Church” up there, and substitute Cardinal Timothy Dolan for Dave Silverman. Are you surprised that the courts fell all over themselves to exempt the Catholic church from punishment?

A federal judge in Wisconsin handed down an opinion yesterday granting the Catholic Church — and indeed, potentially all religious institutions — such sweeping immunity from federal bankruptcy law that it is not clear that it would permit any plaintiff to successfully sue any church in any court. While the ostensible issue in this case is whether over $50 million in church funds are shielded from a bankruptcy proceeding triggered largely by a flood of clerical sex abuse claims against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Judge Rudolph Randa reads the church’s constitutional and legal right to religious liberty so broadly as to render religious institutions immune from much of the law.

The case involves approximately $57 million that former Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan transferred from the archdiocese’s general accounts to into a separate trust set up to maintain the church’s cemeteries. Although Dolan, who is now a cardinal, the Archbishop of New York and the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has denied that the purpose of this transfer was to shield the funds from lawsuits, Dolan penned a letter to the Vatican in 2007 where he explained that transferring the funds into the trust would lead to “an improved protection of these funds from any legal claim and liability.”

That loud grunt you heard a couple of days ago was every skeevy televangelist, every child-diddling priest, and the entire hierarchy of the Catholic church having a simultaneous orgasm. Crime does pay if you’ve got a religious excuse.

One bit of hope:

Judge Randa, a George H.W. Bush appointee, has a history of being reversed by higher courts in cases involving hot button social issues, so there is a good chance that his opinion will ultimately be reversed on appeal. In the meantime, however, Randa effectively places the church above the law — and leaves what could be hundreds of sexual abuse victims in the cold.

This is the kind of thing that gives philosophy a bad name

In the NY Times Opinionator, Gary Gutting indulges in a little public philosophical masturbation: did Zeus exist? And he concludes that we can’t decide that he didn’t.

On reflection, then, I’m inclined to say that an atheistic denial of Zeus is ungrounded. There is no current evidence of his present existence, but to deny that he existed in his Grecian heyday we need to assume that there was no good evidence for his existence available to the ancient Greeks. We have no reason to make this assumption. Further, supposing that Zeus did exist in ancient times, do we really have evidence that he has ceased to exist? He may, for all we know, just be in hiding (as Heine’s delightful “Gods in Exile” suggests), now that other gods have won humankind’s allegiance. Or it may be that we have lost the ability to perceive the divine. In any case, to the question, “May we properly remain agnostic about whether Zeus ever existed?” the answer is “Yes, we may.”

I’d tear that up, except I don’t have to: The Digital Cuttlefish beat me to it, and includes a poem, too.

Two things, then. One, I’m surprised that a philosophy prof is conflating ideas of belief with ideas of knowledge. Disbelief in Zeus is absolutely grounded. Without convincing evidence (this is where “knowledge” comes in, and where his objections actually matter), Zeus has not passed the threshold for my belief. I have no obligation to believe in something that has no positive evidence for it, just because there is no evidence against it.

Which leads to my second thing. Presuppositional arguments may be logically airtight, but this example shows why good logic can lead to bad conclusions. It is absolutely true that science has to presuppose that there are no supernatural entities intervening, in order to examine the natural world. And we, therefore, cannot conclude there is no supernatural, since that would simply be circular logic, assuming our conclusions. And since our conclusions about the supernatural depend on our assumptions, the logic is no help at all.

I have two things, too, though. One is that DC is using philosophy to argue against Gutting, so let’s not make this a blanket condemnation of all philosophy.

The other is a point of disagreement: “It is absolutely true that science has to presuppose that there are no supernatural entities intervening”. I disagree strongly with that. If they are intervening, they are having an effect on the natural world that can be examined with the tools of science, even if the supernatural entities themselves are completely invisible to us. If every time I mumbled a magic word before throwing a die, it would come up six, and this effect was statistically robust and worked with such reliability that I could clean up at the craps table in Vegas, I’d have to postulate a force outside of our understanding to explain it. I’d still be able to investigate the effect scientifically, however, and clearly it would demand extensive replication…say, a grand tour of every casino in the country.

I agree that we cannot conclude that there is no supernatural that is operating outside of our universe. We can conclude that there has been no consistent detectable supernatural phenomenon meddling within our universe.