South Dakota sleaze

Don’t ever claim that the little people can’t influence the course of government. Don’t assume that you need “credentials” or “knowledge” in order to make a difference. Read the inspiring story of the Unruhs and the South Dakota abortion ban.

Leslee Unruh, a person with no legislative or medical qualifications, drafts a law governing the medical care of female patients in South Dakota. She is also the the chief of the pro-ban campaign.

Alan Unruh, Leslee Unruh’s husband, a chiropractor, sits on the South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortions, and is tasked with studying and evaluating medical evidence, reporting the findings, and making recommendations on the need for any additional legislation governing ob/gyn medical procedures.

See? This little family of unqualified, ignorant people possessing nothing but zeal and faith were able to make an entire state a laughing stock and put thousands of women at risk. Follow your dream, people! It doesn’t matter if it’s crazy or vile or requires you to misrepresent your abilities—just do it!

Of course, it also helps if you wangle one of those incestuous little deals where lazy legislators let proponents write the laws and stock the review committees with ideologues rather than competent experts, but you know what? That’s incredibly common nowadays.

Haggard goes down in flames, and I’m not happy

Ted Haggard is one of those people I genuinely despise. He’s a major leader of a conservative evangelical organization, and as you can see in the clip below, he’s a genuinely creepy, hypocritical, arrogant little man.

He’s changed now, though. Here’s another clip of Haggard, being evasive and humble and making excuses for himself…and now we learn that he has stepped down from his ministry over accusations that he had a gay affair. I suspect, from his demeanor and responses, that he did have that affair, and that he’s now political deadweight, destined to be discarded for at least a good long while. (Latest news: Haggard has admitted to some of the indiscretions)

One smarmy preacher down. I ought to be pleased. I’m not.

He’s going down for the wrong reasons.

The bottom line in this business is that Haggard did nothing illegal. He may have cheated on his wife, which is deplorable, but it’s an entirely personal issue, not one that we should be concerned about, and not one that should cause him to lose his job. Having sex with someone isn’t a crime, and shouldn’t be the cause of all of this outrage. Being a moralistic hypocrite is also not an actionable business.

I’m also not too thrilled with Democrats pointing fingers and using this and the Mark Foley case to accuse the Republican party of being a hotbed of corruption and iniquity. These are people (creepy, unpleasant people, perhaps) who had consensual sex with other adults. Stop acting as if this is a sin or an evil—that kind of narrow moral certitude is the other party’s schtick! By playing that game, you’ve been coopted to serve the right-wing’s social agenda, reinforcing that homosexuality is a damnable offense.

Why don’t we instead see Haggard’s sanctimonious lies, his authoritarian appropriation of the church for the Republican party, or his ignorance, which he foists off on his congregation as wisdom, as the real crimes here? I really don’t care what he does with his penis in his private life, but that seems to be the major concern of everyone right now.

This is a start

But only a start. A new poll finds an encouraging level of doubt among Americans.

Nearly half of Americans are not sure God exists, according to a poll that also found divisions among the public on whether God is male or female or whether God has a human form and has control over events.

The survey conducted by Harris Poll found that 42 percent of US adults are not “absolutely certain” there is a God compared to 34 percent who felt that way when asked the same question three years ago.

Among the various religious groups, 76 percent of Protestants, 64 percent of Catholics and 30 percent of Jews said they are “absolutely certain” there is a God while 93 percent of Christians who describe themselves as “Born Again” feel certain God exists.

When questioned on whether God is male or female, 36 percent of respondents said they think God is male, 37 percent said neither male nor female and 10 percent said “both male and female.”

Only one percent think of God as a female, according to the poll.

Asked whether God has a human form, 41 percent said they think of God as “a spirit or power than can take on human form but is not inherently human.”

As to whether God controls events on Earth, 29 percent believe that to be the case while 44 percent said God “observes but does not control what happens on Earth”.

Rising levels of uncertainty about such a silly entity is good news. Next we should start hammering on those 36% who think God is male, for instance, and get them to explain their belief. How do they know he’s male? Does he he have a penis? How big is it? What does he use it for? I suspect that most of the people who responded in the affirmative have no idea where their dogma originates—they just assume—and haven’t thought through the implications of their assertions at all.

It would also be good to wake up and mobilize all those doubters. Muriel Gray has some suggestions for unifying principles, although I’m not too keen on her term for this group (“Enlightenists”?):

Enlightenists believe in the awe-inspiring, wonder, beauty and complexity of the universe, and aspire to unpick its mysteries by reason, constant questioning, observation, experiment, and analysis of evidence. The bedrock of our morality is empathy, from which logically springs love, forgiveness, tolerance and a profound desire to make a just, egalitarian society and reduce suffering. The more knowledge a person has, the more they question and understand the real world, and the more they are required to analyse what is true then the greater the increase in empathy. Enlightenists care and wish to do good not because a vengeful God tells them to, but because intelligence suggests it is the only and the right thing to do.

She also wants state-funded Enlightenist schools to oppose those crappy superstition (i.e., religious) schools. I’m not enthused about that—anything that takes resources away from the public schools is not a good thing in my book—but the idea that we freethinkers ought to be lobbying more is a good one. Richard Dawkins made a similar point, that even in the US freethinkers outnumber Jews, but the political difference is that only one of us has an effective lobby.

Once we got our schools and started churning out multiracial youngsters free from any kind of manipulation, save that of being taught to question everything, we could start our political lobbying. Why should religious concerns be put above ours? Why shouldn’t we have the right to be appeased when we are offended by religion, the way the religious whine like toddlers when someone shakes a stick at their myths? Why shouldn’t we be consulted and treated with respect as a community? Why are the sincerely held beliefs I’ve outlined inferior to those of a Christian, Jew or a Muslim? You think I’m joking. I’m not. I pay my tax. I want representation too.

All we need are a few charismatic freethinkers bold enough to state their views and rally all the people disgusted with the Christianists. I think there’s a solid constituency there, but no one is exploiting it.

A GOOD Republican

So I was way too depressing in that last post. Here’s one of those little notes of hope that we hear too rarely—an Ohio Republican using her reason to back the best candidate for a job, even if he is a Democrat.

Republican Martha Wise is backing Democrat John Bender in the race to replace her on the state school board.

Wise, who is running against Democrat Sue Morano for the state senate, said Bender is the only one of the four candidates in the school board race who agrees with her on keeping intelligent design out of science classrooms.

“I’ve spent five years of my life keeping intelligent design, or what you might call teaching religion, out of science classes,” she said. “He’s the only one who agrees with me.”

You know, if the Republicans were stocked with Martha Wises and the Democrats were a mob of Deepak Chopras, I’d be proudly calling myself a Republican. Now if only we could get both parties to nominate intelligent people, I’d be overjoyed to have to make a difficult decision at every election.

I have to wonder about this other candidate, though.

Roland Hansen, another candidate in the race, said he wasn’t surprised by Wise’s decision to endorse Bender, but didn’t think Wise should be basing her decision solely on his beliefs about intelligent design.

“It’s a terrible reason to endorse someone on one issue,” he said.

I think it’s an excellent reason. If someone were a paragon of experience and rationality on all the economic and political issues, but was utterly convinced that the Venusian mind-control rays were the paramount crisis of our times, wouldn’t that be reason enough to think that just maybe he’d be a poor choice for political office? It’s the same here: when someone is running for school board, they darn well ought to be competent on educational issues, including science, or they should be rejected.

No guts, no glory

Matt Yglesias comments on one of Amy Sullivan’s usual complaints about “secular liberal intolerance” in the most cynical, hypocritical way possible:

Now Amy’s right. It would be useful, for the purposes of electoral politics, for liberals in the media to avoid expressing the view that the belief — adhered to by millions of Americans — that failure to accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior will result in eternal damnation is daft. On the other hand, the evangelical view of this matter is, in fact, completely absurd.

What prompted this was Sullivan getting her back up because a writer called Pat Robertson insane for believing that the Jews were going to burn in hell—to Sullivan, that’s not insane, that’s just an ordinary article of faith for millions of Christians, and not to be questioned. And she’s right?

Look, this is a simple issue. Doing a little dance and trying to pretend you don’t believe what you believe because you think it’s good tactics, especially when you readily admit that you are doing some political maneuvering, is stupid. What’s far better is to simply be what you are: be sincere and honest and go ahead and state your mind. No one is fooled by the act.

Sweet Jesus, Pat Robertson is insane. Wouldn’t the whole country be immensely better off if crazy grandpas like Robertson were left to just putter about in their gardens instead of peddling voting blocs and being sucked up to by people who ought to know better? The only way we’re going to get to that much-desired situation is if more people speak up against lunacy. And I count moderates who accommodate insanity, like Amy Sullivan, as part of the problem.

(via Atrios. Am I damned for citing one A-lister citing another A-lister?)