Tough Questions: On Banning Circumcision

Iceland is currently discussing a bill that would ban infant male circumcision and, if it succeeds, it will become the first country in the European Union to do so. I always knew that I would eventually comment on this most touchy of subjects, and in light of this current news I guess now is as good a time as any.

I am aware that for many people, this is not a “tough question” at all. Many have very strong opinions on the subject one way or another, whereas I find myself quite torn on the topic. I am also aware that, as someone who does not own a penis my opinions on the subject are somewhat less valid than someone who has more skin in the game, so to speak, but my current dilemma is mostly based on the science and the fact that both sides often exaggerate or twist it to fit their own notion.

Before we continue yes, I made a circumcision pun. I totally meant it. I apologize… kind of. Now let’s move on.

[Read more…]

The “I Don’t Judge” Cop Out

For those of you who are not up to date with Christian traditions, today is the last day of Carnival, and tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, i.e. the first day of Lent. Different Christian sects do Lent in different ways. The Orthodox, for example, go vegan for Lent, while the Catholics are supposed to not eat meat on Fridays and give up something else, usually sweets and fatty foods, until Easter arrives.

I mention this because this is how I came to discover the existence of “Father Mike”. An old friend of mine seems to have gone Catholic, as she posted a video by this Father Mike character on her Facebook page talking about what Lent is and what you are supposed to do as a Catholic.

Seeing a handsome man in a collar, I clicked on it hoping that it was going to be an ironic parody of some sort. But no, he is apparently a real priest, chosen to make online videos because of his 1980s-style good looks and friendly manner, who also happens to talk like he’s on speed, and the whole thing was rather boring. What caught my attention, however, were the other videos by Father Mike that popped up as soon as I had clicked play, one being entitled “Father Mike and Transgenderism”.

Oh dear. Oh boy. This seems to be the running theme of the Catholic Church these days, doesn’t it? Don’t change the message, don’t be more accepting, but just keep saying awful things about “the other” with a handsome toothy smile, assuring everyone that it’s not judgement, just love!

Maybe I’m being unfair. I clicked on the video, and forced myself to watch the whole thing this time.

Content note: get ready for some serious transphobia, willful ignorance, all served up smothered to death in condescension.


That. Was. Torture.

I knew my suspicions were going to be proven correct from the very first line, when he introduced the video with an anecdote about his nephew pretending to be a puppy, even though some part of me was shocked that he would be so blatant in his putting down of transgendered individuals. No, I thought, he wont, he wont go there….

But he did. He actually equated being transgendered to being a child playing and pretending to be a puppy. He then decided to get a little more “scientific”, and equated being transgendered to being anorexic and having Body Integrity Identity Disorder, which is when healthy people are convinced that they are disabled.

I can’t believe I actually managed to watch the entire thing without barfing, though I came very close indeed. If there is one thing in this world that can really get under my skin, it is condescension. I hated it as a child when people talked down to me, and I care for it no more as an adult. I can handle the scientific ignorance, and the blatant disregard for human decency stemming from that ignorance, because ignorance is something that can be dissipated with education. But this guy is either a smarmy patronizing asshole by default, and therefore cannot help coming off as one when talking about a topic of which he is completely ignorant, or he is pushing his staggering ignorance on his fans knowing full well that he is doing so.

This video is so childishly ridiculous that I don’t want to do it justice by going through it point by point and explaining why being transgendered is not like pretending to be a puppy, or not liking how your genitals look, if anything such an explanation will wind up being condescending in itself. If you want a better understanding of gender identity, how transgenderism is not a mental disease, and the complexity of what the transition entails, there are a number of transgendered bloggers, many of whom are on this network, who discuss the topic in detail and far better than I ever could.

What I am going to say is that this is exactly the kind of thing that I was talking about when I claimed that I want Ratzinger back. This phoney liberal facade is driving me up the wall. That cranky ex-Nazi SOB was honest in his discrimination, and he put the ugly face on hate that hate so justly deserves. The world is changing and society is progressing, and more and more people are recoiling in the face of vehemence and violent, unadulterated hatred. So, of course, hate has to adapt, or risk being lost altogether, and what will an institution like the Vatican be if it can’t other people anymore?

So, everybody! Do you want to still discriminate against people without looking like a tool? Just smile, and say things like love the sinner, hate the sin! Remind everyone that you’re not judging them, you’re just smothering them in your love for them while telling them they are diseased! Talk down to them, and no one will notice, because we all know that SJWs have the intellectual capacity of a toddler. Let’s not ensure the survival of our religion by actually progressing with society, but rather by changing the way we spew our disgusting ideas.

I am so sick of it. If you’re going to be an intolerant douchebag, just be upfront about it. That way, I can at least give you 1 point for honesty, which will bring your entire score to 1, I suppose. Still, there is integrity in honesty, and everyone can see your message for what it is, and dismiss it. Or, at least, Catholics will know exactly what it is they’re signing up for.

I’m Excited

It has come to my attention that Phillip Pullman is going to release a new trilogy to accompany his Dark Materials, and I am officially excited to take a look at them. There will be one prequel to the series, set when Lyra was an infant, and two sequels, which follow Lyra as a young woman.

I remember reading that Trilogy for the first time at 14, and being sucked into Lyra’s world from the start. I also remember not liking the sappy tone of the last quarter of the third book, disliking the way he left things, so I very much want to see how he proceeds with the story. I also remember rereading the books as an adult, and picking up a whole lot more of his parallels to, and fierce criticisms of institutionalized religion, which made me appreciate how his books could appeal to a very wide range of ages.

I have heard people speak of Phillip Pullman’s Dark Materials in very different ways. I have heard his treatment of religion in his books characterized as too harsh, as too pro-religion falling just short of C. S. Lewis, and others who missed the parallels he draws altogether, finding the books to be simply a fun fantasy story.

The last quote from Phillip Pullman in the article is indicative of the fact that he too is somewhere in the middle with his views on religion.

My attitude to religion is that religion is a most interesting and extraordinary human phenomenon. I’m fascinated by it, interested in it, and at some points critical of it. And the points when I become critical are the points when politics come into it, and religion acquires political power — political with a small “p,” for example, within the confines of a single family, or Political with a large “P,” on a national or international scale.

When religion gets the power to tell people how to dress, who to fall in love with, how to behave, what they must not read, what they must not wear, all those things, then religion goes bad. … Religion is private thing, and a fine thing and a good thing, as long as it remains private. As soon as it becomes public and political, it’s dangerous. That’s the position I’ve taken up in the first series and the position this current one takes up as well.

While I might disagree with his characterization of religion as a “good thing” even when it is private, on the whole I agree that religion’s habit of intertwining with politics and dictating people’s lives is by far the bigger problem. Regardless, I intend on reading his new books, though when I’ll find the time to fit them into my life remains to be seen.

I bring this up, partially to express my enthusiasm for new fantasy books, but also because I am curious about the FtB’s reception of his Dark Materials. My question to you is, have you read them? And if so, what was your impression of them?

I Agree With… Franklin Graham?!

There has been a lot of chatter about the current Trump Administration, the sweeping executive orders that he has signed, including what is or is not considered by many to be a “Muslim ban”. So far I have steered clear of this conversation, partially because I think that no one on this network disagrees that Trump is a loathsome human being, and partially because my recent crazy schedule has made me unable to properly update myself on current events from sources more reliable than facebook statuses.

However, some of the shared articles on the subject cannot help but catch my eye, and one such heavily commented article popped up on my feed yesterday, entitled “Franklin Graham said immigration is not a Bible issue. Here’s what the Bible says“.

I groaned.

The article is an opinion piece from the Washington Post. Despite the right wing leanings that the WP has been taking so far, I still allowed myself a little glimmer of hope that this piece would go on to explain how this argument has no place in politics. So, I clicked on the link, and read on.

Attempting to defend the ban from a religious point of view, evangelist Franklin Graham declared, “That’s not a Bible issue.”

He could not be more wrong.

Both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are clear and consistent when it comes to how we are to treat the stranger. Across the books of both testaments, in narrative, law, prophecy, poetry and parable, the Bible consistently spells out that it is the responsibility of the citizen to ensure that the immigrant, the stranger, the refugee, is respected, welcomed and cared for. It is what God wants us to do, but it also recognizes that we too were immigrants — and immigrants we remain. “Like my forebears, I am an alien, resident with you,” says Psalm 39.

The piece gets no better, and I’m going to stop you right there.

This argument is completely moot. I don’t give a flying rat’s fart what the Bible says about this issue. Even if the Bible only contained a whole lot of love and peace, and none of the sticky bits about conquering and enslaving different tribes, I still wouldn’t give a rat’s fart.

Whether or not the immigration ban is consistent with the Bible has no bearing on whether or not it is consistent with the United States Constitution, founding principles, or common human decency. How many times do we have to repeat that the United States Constitution is great because it establishes a secular nation. Religious people can debate amongst themselves about whether or not they like the immigration ban because of what they think the Bible says, but that conversation is appropriate to a religious forum, not the Washington Post. I would also not begrudge nerds worldwide debating whether or not they favor the immigration ban based on the principles of Star Trek, but I would likewise raise an eyebrow if such a discussion was brought up in the New York Times, rather than at a Star Trek convention.

It is precisely this special privilege that the Bible holds that makes this discussion not only moot, but counterproductive. Giving this debate a platform on one of the most established newspapers in the United States simply reinforces the idea that conflating religion and government is perfectly legitimate in the United States. We’re now arguing over whether or not the Bible condones Trump’s immigration ban, instead of focusing on whether or not the immigration ban is consistent with what the United States is and should be about, regardless of what the Bible says about the issue. If the Bible said “There will come a Trump and the faithful should oppose every executive order he ever signs” I still wouldn’t care, because the US is not Vatican City, or Saudi Arabia, no matter how much the religious right want it to be.

So thank you Washington Post. In a bizarre and extremely ironic twist, you’ve made me agree with the loathsome Franklin Graham. The immigration ban is not “a Bible issue”. It is an issue of politics, legality, human rights, and Constitutional principles. Now, please, let’s bring the argument back to a place of common sense, and let’s stop allowing the Christian right to normalize the conflation of religion and government by allowing this nonsense debate to continue any further.

Bring Ratzinger Back

It is official. I miss the old Pope, and I want him back.

That may seem like an odd statement coming from a liberal SJW atheist. I mean, we all know that this new Pope is miles more liberal than the old one, right? Sure, we’d all rather there be no Vatican at all, but given the situation, better a liberal Pope than one firmly stuck in the dark ages, right?

Well, I thought that at first, but now I think I’ll take Ratzinger over this new guy any day.

Regular readers will know of the way that the Vatican is trying to evict elderly people and families out of their homes in an attempt to make even more money on their tens of thousands of tax free, private properties in Italy, my own Grandmother included. It was during this personal struggle in my family that I finally realized how much harder all of our battles against the institution of the Vatican has become, and how much better it was to have that old fart who looked like evil incarnate in charge.

Pope Francis has been a marketing genius, there is no mistaking that. He hired a Fox News correspondent to head his PR campaign, who also happens to be a member of the extreme Catholic sect Opus Dei, something in direct contrast to his liberal media persona to begin with. But Greg Burke has been earning his paycheck and then some, and the whole world is enthralled.

But when it comes right down to it, what has really changed with this new Pope in charge? Other than washing a few feet of some Syrian refugees, and kissing a few terminally ill children?

The fact is, the giant eviction of the elderly in Rome, which begun under Ratzinger, is still going on.

The sheltering of pedophile priests and cardinals so that they do not have to face their accusers, is still going on.

Outside of the media spotlight, he is even ramping up the extreme faction of the Catholic church, like increasing the number and legitimizing exorcists and exorcisms, agreeing that there is an international crisis in dire need of such nonsense.

But when you try to point this out to people?

I see people like my Mother, or my friends. I am an atheist, and so I’m just being confrontational, when I criticize the new Pope. He’s wonderful, he’s doing his best to combat the corruption in the Vatican, they tell me. Surely he doesn’t personally know that the archbishop, that he appointed and brought with him from Argentina, is personally making regular harassing visits to my Grandmother, trying to convince her to clear out so that they can make more rent on her apartment. If he knew, he’d put a stop to it! No, I’m just being annoying, I wouldn’t like any Pope, let’s just let this guy do his job, he’s wonderful, did you see that picture of him kissing the dirty feet of that Muslim guy?

This is why I want Ratzinger back. Nobody liked that douchebag. Catholic attendance was plummeting across the world, it was becoming old-fashioned and lame, the picture of corruption, and Ratzinger was the ugly jewel bedecked face of it all. He was honest about being a nasty bastard, and he was a common enemy that atheists and Catholic sympathizers alike could fight.

But Pope Francis? Catholic attendance is back up, despite the fact that the Vatican is not cleaning up their act in any real way. And when sexual abusers are sheltered, it must be a fluke, or Pope Francis had to make a small concession to the other cardinals for the greater good. When they evict people from their homes to make even more cash than they already make, it’s just an oversight, and he’ll put a stop to it all once we write him enough letters and make him aware of the problem. There is nothing to see here, no real problem that is not on its merry way to being fixed.

I’m sick of it. I’m sick of watching the wool being pulled over everyone’s eyes, and no one standing up to fight for transparency, and for what is right. I’m sick of this complacency that his perfect PR image is causing, that no one can dare criticize what is going on less it goes against the angelic narrative that everyone has bought into.

Bring back Ratzinger. He may have been a crafty old SOB, but at least he was bringing the trend of Catholic attendance, Vatican support and confidence in the right direction: straight down the toilet.

Should You Get Unbaptized?

Ever since I met someone whose father was unbaptized, and thus discovered it was a thing, I’ve been toying with the idea. The difficulties of the process and the pros and cons of the decision will vary greatly between the different religions. In my case, it would be getting unbaptized from the Catholic Church*, and so I started doing a little research into how this is done, and why there is an ever growing number of Italians who are doing it.

Of course it is not necessary to be unbaptized to be an atheist. If you don’t believe that baptism is anything other than a few silly words, a splash of water and a party, no piece of paper will undo one of many meaningless experiences in your life. Rather, the reasons for taking the extra step towards unbaptizing yourself are more about a present distancing from the Catholic Church.


*For many religions, unbaptism is not necessary, because your membership to the organization is not based on your baptism, but rather is based on your attendance.

[Read more…]

Is That The Best You Got?

I admit it, I went on a little troll through the internet for material today. I’m in a weird mood, having very few discussions with people in my life, so I needed some ideas. Hey, Kent Hovind got out of prison last year right? He was always good for some science butchery, so what has he been up to lately?

While his blog seems to have gone defunct, he always did prefer youtube, didn’t he? I opened his page, and there it was, Kent Hovind: An Atheists Worst Nightmare (OFFICIAL TRAILER)

Dun dun dunnnn! OK Kent, let’s see what you got.


Really? Is… is that it? That was so anticlimactic I’m actually disappointed. The flashes of Nazi and genocide imagery is really not making you any scarier, either.

Hun, you’re talking to an atheist, who also happens to be a lucid dreamer and one who can feel physical pain in her dreams. Worst nightmare? You can’t even scrape the top 100 with this bollocks.

I need suggestions. Some material with actual meat on its bones for me to tear into. Biology-related always a plus! Because this was just… pathetic.

Tough Questions: On The Burqa Ban

Whether or not it is a good strategy to ban burqas is something that I have heard hotly debated, even amongst fervent SJWs. On the one hand, burqas are used as a tool of oppression of women, and are inconsistent with secular, western values. On the other hand, legally forcing women to uncover their faces when they are uncomfortable in doing so seems harsh, a western cultural imposition on women from other countries, and has led to a further marginalization of Muslim women in Europe. It can feel like further picking on an already very disenfranchised group of people. I also find myself torn between these two points of view, both of which, in my opinion, have some merit. However, I noticed that my position on the matter also wavers based on how, or why, burqa bans are passed and enforced. Often we talk about the French ban on burqas, but it is important to note that other countries also have these laws, though they came about for very different reasons.

[Read more…]

Woo Woo and the Scientific Method

Note: post from the old blog, with an added post-script to make the point I am trying to make with this post as clear as possible.

The other day I posted about an example of bad science, in which I explained that a common misconception that people have about scientists is that they dismiss anything that they can’t explain. The idea that everything has to have an explanation and until that explanation is found it is completely rejected is fundamentally untrue. The problem here lies in confusing the word “explanation” with the word “evidence”.

I think that an excellent example of this is this video that I saw a while ago on TheYoungTurks about a study on the effectiveness of prayer in curing AIDS.

This kind of study is one that left many non-science minded people scratching their heads. Prayer? But that’s bullshit! How can mumbling some words about someone help their sickness in any way? What a waste of time and money! Well yes, it is bullshit, but how do we know it’s bullshit? By doing a study.

Our logic tells us this doesn’t work, but what if it does? If the study were to demonstrate that people who were prayed for were statistically more likely to get better we would have evidence that prayer might work, even if we wouldn’t necessarily have an explanation as to why it works. The topic would be pursued and an explanation would be searched for, but many scientists would stop their scoffing and take a look at what might be going on. To do this, prayer would have to pass the same test that any other drug would: a double-blind random placebo-controlled study. Placebo-controlled meaning that people would not know what group they are in, therefore you control for the placebo effect. The double-blind part ensures that the researchers/doctors that collect the data for the study also do not know which patients are in which group, minimizing their own (conscious or unconsious) bias in collecting the data. Random so as to ensure that any patient has an equal chance of being placed in either group, to avoid (consciously or unconsciously) placing people that are doing slightly better in one or the other. If prayer passes this first hurdle then there is evidence that prayer might help, and the subject is pursued further. Problem: it hasn’t.

It is not a useless waste of money*. It is a valuable demonstration that prayer does not work. When scientists say that prayer doesn’t work it is because there is no scientific evidence that it works, not because they simply can’t figure out how it could therefore dismiss it offhand. Although there will always be people that refute evidence and believe whatever they want, studies like these keep logically minded people informed and hopefully further from the hands of scheming faith healers and con artists.

Don’t be afraid to demand the same evidence of “spiritual” or “supernatural” phenomena that you would anything that comes out of a lab. At the same time, don’t spit on studies like these that thoroughly debunk these phenomena as “too obvious to waste money on”. Believe it or not scientists do have a very open mind, they are open to the possibility that these things could work, the only problem is that there hasn’t been a single supernatural phenomenon to pass the first basic scientific tests. That is why scientists (most, of course) do not believe in this crap – not because they don’t want to, but because they have no good reason to.


*I would like to note that I understand why many would object to what money was used to pay for this study. There are limited resources for scientific research, and funneling money away from drug trials and towards this could certainly be considered a poor use of these resources. I am not trying to advocate for taxpayer or NIH money to go towards the testing of supernatural phenomena, not by any stretch of the imagination. I am rather trying to make the point that these kinds of claims can, and should be tested, in the interest of educating the public in what kind of evidence holds up to scientific scrutiny, and what to look for when deciding what to believe. I also want to emphasize the fact that these debates are not, like the alternative medicine/new agey groups would like you to believe, cold-hearted narrow minded scientists vs. open minded spiritually in touch people. It is a debate of evidence vs. a lack of evidence.

I am aware that many of you are well aware of the lack of evidence regarding supernatural claims. However, please keep in mind that many of those who have been taken in by the alternative medicine racket are not, and these kinds of studies play their own, important part in the defense of science-based medicine and logical reasoning.