Another Priest, More Child Porn

I will assume that most of you have seen by now that another Catholic priest is a suspect in child sexual abuse.  The Vatican had to withdraw one of its diplomats from the US following allegations that he violated US laws in regard to possessing child pornography.  It was reported that the Vatican was asked to lift his diplomatic immunity so that he could be charged, but the request was denied.

This time I am not going to go through the outrage of yet another priest being charged being protected by higher ups in the church.  So much for the new levels of accountability and transparency that Pope Francis promised.  Same shit, different priest, it looks like.  I am going to hold my outrage over that to make what may be a larger, more comprehensive point.

This is proof the Catholic Church — from Francis on down — doesn’t believe its own shit.

Now, with all the “this is still just alleged” caveats in place, we can use this guy or anyone of the Catholic priests in similar situations to show this.

So, if you really believed that there was an eternal god who watched everything you do and who could send you down to eternal torment and damnation, would you really be downloading child porn to your computer?

This is not some case of rationalization: “If I browse incognito, my wife will never find out, and any way divorce ain’t so bad.”  This is a guy risking eternal damnation from an all seeing, all knowing god.  There is no way to rationalize or hide his guilt.

Normally, I would say, “There is no way to really know what someone believes,” but in this kind of case we have some serious clues.  In this case he seems afraid of facing the civil authorities, looks like he is more afraid of jail time than eternal damnation.  Seriously?  Jail worse than hell?  Apparently so.  This guy clearly doesn’t believe what the church preaches.

And neither does Pope Franky.  If there really was a god who has strategy sessions with Franky, what do you think the chances are that secrecy and coverup is what god would recommend at this point?  Maybe at some point it could have been argued that covering up a stray case or two might have been best for the organization (I would not make such an argument, but it could be made).  But that time is well past.  This kind of report clearly hurts the organization, with Franky risking being dismissed as just another hypocrite.

But is Franky at all concerned about divine retribution toward himself or the church?  Sure as hell doesn’t seem like it.  Sure seems like the attitude is, “If we can sweep this under the rug until people forget, we are OK.”  But god supposedly sees all and remembers forever.

I usually say that we can’t really know what people really believe, but judging from their actions, the Catholic church believes in a god that is much more concerned about what people eat for lunch on Fridays than about stopping child sexual abuse.

And these are the kinds of “absolute moral standards” that belief in god is supposed to bring us.

No thanks!!

Tough Being a Bigot These Days

Don’t get me wrong, I am not talking about our current atmosphere of normalizing bigots from the White House on down.  I am speaking here philosophically, what can your modern bigot really believe in?

Even a modicum of science shows that there are no “races” among human beings, but only one “race,” human.  Once again, don’t misunderstand, I know that bigots are really big on the Black vs White thing, but once you get beyond that, bigots must be confused these days.

You really have to wonder how many of those Neo-Nazis and Neo-KKKers in Charlottesville and elsewhere even know the history of their bigotry.

Steve Bannon must know that it was not that long ago that Irish Catholics were not considered  were not considered “white.”  At the same time, Catholics were considered “UnAmerican” because of their religion.  The idea was that because their loyalty was directed toward the Pope that they were incapable of participating in a liberal democracy.  Sound familiar?

And don’t even get me started on whatever the hell “Aryan” might be.

After the Irish, during the early part of the 20th Century, southern and eastern Europeans were not considered “white.”  These two paragraphs sum up the situation pretty well:

Between 1880 and 1910, almost fifteen million immigrants entered the United States, a number which dwarfed immigration figures for previous periods. Unlike earlier nineteenth century immigration, which consisted primarily of immigrants from Northern Europe, the bulk of the new arrivals hailed mainly from Southern and Eastern Europe. These included more than two and half million Italians and approximately two million Jews from Russia and Eastern Europe, as well as many Poles, Hungarians, Austrians, Greeks, and others.

The new immigrants’ ethnic, cultural, and religious differences from both earlier immigrants and the native-born population led to widespread assertions that they were unfit for either labor or American citizenship. A growing chorus of voices sought legislative restrictions on immigration. Often the most vocal proponents of such restrictions were labor groups (many of whose members were descended from previous generations of Irish and German immigrants), who feared competition from so-called “pauper labor.”

To add fuel to the fire, new developed “intelligence” tests were widely used to test soldiers for the armed forces in World War I.  The main developer of the test, Lewis Terman, believed (early in his career) that…

The tests have told the truth. These boys are ineducable beyond the merest rudiments of training. No amount of school instruction will ever make them intelligent voters or capable citizens. . . . They represent the level of intelligence, which is very, very common among Spanish-Indian and Mexican families of the Southwest and also among Negroes. Their dullness seems to be racial, or at least inherent in the family stocks from which they come.

 Again, sound familiar?  In my own cultural upbringing we were still telling Italian and Polish jokes in the 1960s that reflected Terman’s view that such people were culturally and genetically doomed to idiocy.    But now, racist Richard Spencer’s wife is (apparently) of Eastern European descent, not to mention Trump’s (latest) wife as well.
Again and again, racists have taken up the cudgel that says that some group or another can’t ever be smart enough, dedicated enough or whatever enough to be as good as the “leading” group.  Humans, being infinitely adaptable prove this trope wrong over and over again.
Which leaves racists in trouble again and again.  Does “white” include Asians, who just happen to out perform many “whites” academically?  Are Greeks and Italians now “white?”  What the heck “race” are Jews and/or Israelis?  Are the people who come from the modern Caucacsus  region “white” (that is to say, Caucasian)?  Even if they are Muslim?
Seems like it is pretty damned hard to know who to be racist against thse days.
Some racist types try to get around this by not referring to race specifically, but rather “culture” or “heritage.”  So they will refer the superiority of say, “European Judeo-Christian” culture.  And yet, this idea of such a “culture” doesn’t extend to Mexico, even though “For three centuries Mexico was part of the Spanish Empire, whose legacy is a country with a Spanish-speaking, Catholic and largely Western culture.”
Which leads me to wonder if the problem in Mexico is that the Spanish were not quite as thorough in their extermination of the native peoples, like the “superior” Europeans were north of the border.
And again, for some racists, those of “Judeo-Christian” heritage doesn’t actually include Jewish people.  For other racists, coming from “Western Civilization” doesn’t actually include modern Italian and Greeks — WTF??
The “cultural” idea also breaks down because “culture” is obviously behavioral to a large extent.  People can adopt new cultures or ignore old one.  Richard Spencer says he is an atheist, but also claims to be a “cultural Christian.”  WTF does that even mean?  So, he can reject large chunks of his “culture” but still claim membership in it?  But other people can’t adopt that culture and have actual membership in it?
Confused?  I know I am!
Near as I can tell the racist types decide who is in what camp on a case by case basis, which is, of course antithetical to the idea of racism.  Which is not to say that racists are somehow admirable in modern society, only that they don’t seem bright enough to even figure out what they are really about.
Other than just hating other people, of course.

Islam, Pishlam

In both the atheism community and the wider culture there is a stream of thought that Islam is the worst existential threat to Western Civilization, since, well, ever.

While this video is representative of the genre, it is not the best, or even the most over the top, there is probably someone more shrill on Fox news at this very moment, but he does pretty much hit the high points and happened to be in my feed the other day.

For me, the most hilarious part of the video is when he says that Islam is more dangerous to the West than the Nazis or the Communists.  This is completely laughable.  ISIS is certainly reprehensible, but as powerful and dangerous as Nazi Germany?  As scary as the Soviet Union with its nuclear arsenal?  Get real please.

Don’t get me wrong, ideas can certainly be dangerous, but ultimately it isn’t really ideas that kill people.  Murderous regimes have come about under all kinds of guises and ideologies.  People have killed in the name of Jesus, Mohammed, Odin; for communism, socialism and capitalism.  I sometimes wonder if the desire to kill comes first and the ideology comes later as cover or explanation for what people wanted to do in the first place.  As of yet, Islam has not captured the full power of modern industrial state to carry out some program of world conquest, like the Nazis did in Germany.

Nazism is certainly a dangerous idea, but without the power of a state behind it you get Charlottesville, not the Holocaust.  Islam is not going to “destroy the West” any time soon.

I would agree that Islam is more on the radar right now, but I don’t think there is something unique about the religion that creates terrorists.  When you look around at the world at the moment the areas of the world that have failed states or people with extreme grievances fall into areas with Muslim populations.  Whatever religion Pakistan, Afghanistan and Lebanon harbored would be a problem in today’s world.

In the same way, I disagree very strongly with Sam Harris (and others like him) that say that Islam poses some kind of unique threat to the world.

There are billions of Muslims in the world and most of them are like most of the Christians in the world, in that religion is but a small part of the make up of their lives.  They spend most of their time just trying to feed their families with and occasional nod toward the mosque.

Are Muslims getting more conservative, literal and public with their religion?  Yes, I think they are.  Even here in small town Wisconsin I have seen women wearing headscarves.

But the exact same thing can be said about Christians as well, large numbers seem to be getting more conservative, literal and public with their religious observances as well.  For the last 50 years they have been trying to force their religious views into public policy on abortion, contraception and gay rights.

I am also pretty sick and tired of the “Islam, religion of peace my ass” memes that go around.  Again billions of Muslims go about their business not being a threat to anyone.  I am no expert on the Koran, but I really do find it hard believe that it has any more violent or stupid laws or incidents than the Bible does.  And even if it does, most Muslims in most countries ignore that stuff just as easily as most Christians ignore the need to be stoning people for various “offenses.”

Some of the Islamic Alarmists point to the fact that Muslims will probably outnumber Christians in the next 50 years or so.  OMG they are converting the world!  Well, actually no.  Being that Muslim countries tend to be poor (and Asian, believe it or not) they are simply out reproducing Christians at the moment.  Oh and the largest populations of Muslims are going to be in Indonesia and India.  Countries we worry about all the time, right?

Now, it is certainly understandable that Fox news is going to continue to demonize and overhype the Muslim threat to “Western Civilization.”  That’s what they do.

I wish though, that actual smart people, like Sam Harris, would get off the idea that Islam poses some kind of unique threat.  It doesn’t.  It is the same as pretty much any other religion.  The really ironic thing is that conservative Christians and Muslims agree much more than they disagree.

Both oppose evolution, reproductive rights, women’s rights and secularism.  Both feel that they understand exactly what is in the mind of god and that it is their duty to impose the “will of god” on everyone through a theocratic government.

All of that is dangerous and needs to be opposed, no matter which god or “holy book” is behind it.

Beyond Belief

I have had several streams which have brought me back to this subject/idea which I have written about before.

The idea is simple, as a person who studies psychology, I am pretty sure that there is no way to actually know what is going on inside a person’s brain.  If I can’t know if we both see the same color red, there is certainly no way I can know how you actually feel about something.  Specifically, there is no way I know whether or not someone really believes in god.

Recently on Reddit, someone asked whether Hitler was a “Christian.”  The answer at some level was “yes,” as he was born and raised in the Catholic church.  But throughout his life he expressed all kinds of opinions about the church.  What did he really believe?  I contend we will really never know.

It is also clear to me that the same question can be asked today of people like Joel Osteen and Newt Gingrich.  Do they really believe?  It is easy for the cynic to say that they are simply using religion to further their political and financial goals (which is also probably true), but they might really believe what they say as well, I don’t think we can ever know.

The other stream that lead me to think along these lines again is the last few episodes of the Thinking Atheist podcast, Seth is sounding a bit like I have been feeling over the last six months — burned out and losing a bit of hope.  Seth’s recent episodes have got me thinking about atheism and our movement.

Oddly, the atheism movement has its ideologues, people who think that agnosticism is wishy-washy atheism, and that, in fact, accepting atheism means accepting an entire skeptical worldview.  As an atheist (to hear some say it) I am also supposed to not believe in ghosts, UFOs and Bigfoot as well.  That somehow atheism relates to the acceptance of the effectiveness of vaccines as well.

For myself, I am moving away from an “anti-theism” position to much more of a “anti-coercive-religion” position.  This might take a bit of explaining, I suppose, so I will use my children as an example.

After my divorce, my ex plunged deeply back into her Catholicism.  During the divorce she accused me of “browbeating” her to join me in my lack of religion (by letting her go to church while I stayed home and made breakfast, apparently) so she doubled down after we split.  She continues to raise the kids in the church, which I can’t do much about.

Now that they are entering adulthood, I find myself not really caring what my kids “believe.”  If they want to believe in god, UFOs or Bigfoot, that is OK.  I just don’t want them going off the deep end.  It is one thing to think you just might see Bigfoot someday, it is quite another to move to Saskatchewan into a remote cabin to dedicate your life to getting a picture.

I hope very fervently they will leave the corrupt and evil Catholic church.  Do I care if they say “Thank god” when something good happens.  Not really.  Do I care whether they meditate or pray?  Not really.  Whether they offer “thoughts” or “prayers” in tough times?  Not really.

Of course I would prefer if they used critical thinking skills and made decisions based on evidence.  But I understand that no one does that all the time and a few irrational beliefs are a part of our humanity.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that beliefs and attitudes affect our eventual behavior.  I know there has to be a middle ground between the slippery slope argument that any belief in god eventually leads to the Inquisition and the very real idea that allowing for a belief in god also allows for the belief that the Bible is really the word of god which allows for the belief that homosexuals must be killed.

It is my opinion that we don’t necessarily need to go back to the belief to prevent the slippery slope.  If my kids tell me they think Bigfoot is real, OK, maybe he is out there somewhere.  If they tell me that Bigfoot is emptying their birdfeeder, then I am going to need some kind of evidence.

Which brings me back to agnosticism, which actually I find to be a viable philosophical position.  Is there a god?  Maybe.  I see no evidence there is, but there is also no evidence to alien civilizations, but they might exist.

Philosophically, I can concede the existence of god without really changing anything.  For example William Lane Craig likes to use the Kalam Argument to “prove” god exists.  I think it does no such thing, but even if I concede that it does, I see no way to get from “Something supernatural created the universe” to “Everything in the bible is true and Jesus died for our sins.”  And apparently Craig doesn’t either as he just leaps over the gap with no further explanation.

I see it as perfectly possible to be against any and all religions — whether or not a god exists.  In fact sometimes I find the logic of “Do you really think that I god who created all this would say the silly things people have put in his mouth?” to be a fairly persuasive argument.  Really?  The creator of the infinite universe is offended and upset how some people have sex?  Makes no sense.

I also find that this position is helpful from a political standpoint.  Many religionists are actually in agreement with us that secular government is the way to go.  We need all the allies we can get in these times.

For me, anti-theism is not an immediate or even long term goal.  Being against religious people and organizations that want to impose the “will of god” on other people is now my goal.  I don’t think for a minute that atheism is necessary to want “freedom from religion.”


A Painful Admission

It is painful for me to admit, but I lost heart.  Totally lost heart.  It wasn’t so much that I knew the incoming administration would be bad (and the reality has been worse than the anticipation), but rather that the country had been duped and worse, was OK with being duped.

Watching the entire country make a disastrous decision based on bad information is a really hard thing for a teacher of critical thinking to live through.  Even worse was that many of my actual students were in agreement with the country’s decision.  It continues to amaze me how many of my students, both male and female, are Trumpian in outlook.  It saddens me deeply.

I lost heart so much that I just couldn’t write.  Words seemed hollow and useless.  I thought lots of words, but none of them seemed useful to actually put on “paper.”

This is a halting restart of my writing…more to follow.

Encouragement most welcome.