Thursday, March 29, 2012

No war on women? I beg to differ.

I have read quite a few articles and heard quite a bit from Republicans claiming that there is no war on women going on.  They love women but just favor small government (well except for all the invasive abortion laws they pass) Like most things relating to religion I have an opinion on this topic that I'm sure everyone really wants to know.

However, before I get into my argument let me be clear on a few things.  I am not saying that all republicans are in on some systematic conspiracy to force women back into the kitchen. (Though Rick Santorum may want this).  I am not even arguing that all Christian Republicans are part of some systematic conspiracy.  There is, however, a fairly large minority within the republican party made up of religious zealots who I think are ultimately waging a war on women's rights.  Now, they will all claim (including Santorum) that they are not doing this, and while some of them may be outright lying I suspect that most of them are being quite honest in their estimation of their own actions.  It is clear to me that their estimation is wrong.

Now, I generally think most Christians, just like anyone else, are genuinely trying to be good people and trying to make the correct choices.  I know this because I was a fundamentalist for years, and I did not become smarter nor did I suddenly decide that not being a jerk was a good thing after all.  Many of the Christians I used to know were trying to be decent people as well.  However, I do think they and other fundamentalists are very mistaken about certain things, and in this particular issue there is a pernicious view of how women relate to men which causes them to make some rather bone headed choices in this area.

Like most failures in Christian "logic" this one starts with the bible.
Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.   1 Peter 3:7
Now back when I was involved with Student Mobilization I remember hearing plenty of sermons about relationships and this was brought up quite a bit.  The typical apologetic that was used was to say that weaker was used in the sense of a expensive vase.  The idea was that men are tough and rugged, while women are dainty and need our protection.  Now Christians argue that this is not misogyny, they value women a great deal.  I beg to differ.

Let me offer some thoughts here.  Several years ago I applied for and got a job teaching English in Japan.  I read a lot of information that said that Japan was a bit racist especially towards non Asians, but didn't pay much attention to it.  However, after living there for 8 months I understood what people meant.  Now, I was hardly ever treated poorly by people.  In fact  I was usually treated quite well, but it was like living in a fish bowl.  Every one knew I was not a native, and most people thought that foreigners were incredibly interesting.  The reality is that I am nothing particularly special, and I could hardly live up to the expectations they had.

You see, bigotry doesn't always come in the form of saying someone bad.  For instance, there is a rather racist myth that black people are inherently better at basket ball.  Some people seem oblivious to the problem here, as if it was a compliment, but it devalues the effort that some one legitimately put into something to say they are only good at it because of some inborn trait like race or gender.

This relates because the attitude of fundamentalist men is to put women on a pedestal, a position which is unreasonable and not very fun for the person you put there.  My time in Japan taught me that.  Psychologists usually tell you that you should avoid relationships with people who want to put you on a pedestal just as much as the people who treat you like shit.  It isn't healthy and in the end the people who put you on a pedestal have just found a way to make their abuse seem more socially acceptable.  Don't believe me?  Take a look at a quote I found here while doing research for this article.
That women are usually physically weaker is undeniable, but the implication of the fall is that by virtue of her being deceived by Satan, women may also sometimes be weaker in other ways. That definitely does not mean she is less valuable (Ephesians 1:6) or that she does not have equal access to grace (Galatians 3:28). Rather, it is a basis for a husband to treat his wife with understanding, tenderness, and patience.
If you aren't used to the sort of double speak employed by apologists let me sum up for you.  He is telling men to be patient and understanding towards their wives because they are stupid and easily deceived.  After all Eve was deceived by the snake and it makes total sense to extrapolate from that one instance to the behavior and thoughts of all women every where right?  No mater what they say, no matter what they even believe about themselves, the religious right is not a friend to women's rights.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Why Are You Atheists So Angry?

Greta Christina just recently released a book entitled "Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Thing That Piss Off the Godless,"  which I have been reading through.  I highly recommend it.

Here is a video of her giving a talk on this subject over at last skepticon in case you are wondering if spending the 8 bucks on the book is worth it.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

True reason ain't what it used to be.

Some of you may know about the Reason Rally going on in Washington D.C. this weekend.  I am unfortunately unable to attend, but I did come across a website for a Christian group calling themselves True Reason.  (humble I know) This group is planing an "outreach," which is another word evangelism, at the Reason Rally to convince us that Christianity is the most logical position and they even wrote a book entitled "True Reason" for the occasion.

I realize that most of you have no time to read through arguments by Christian apologists so I have gracefully done it for you.  Let me say that every time I pick up a book by an apologist I think to myself that this could be the one that convinces me.  Perhaps Christianity is reasonable after all and I just missed it.  Of course  I don't feel this as strongly as I did a few years ago but I always hope, at least for their sake, that theist in question has managed to come up with something new.  Anyone willing to bet money on that?  I didn't think so.

The book is a compilation of essays by a host of the "most reasonable" fundamentalist Christians so of Course William Lane Craig makes this list.  For those who pay attention to apologetics you might remember Craig as they absolutely horrid person who tried to justify the biblical genocide of the Canaanites by saying that the true victims where the Jewish soldiers who must have suffered a lot from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after all that baby killing god order them to do.

I quote from his article here:
So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites?  Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgement.  Not the children, for they inherit eternal life.  So who is wronged?  Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves.  Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children?  The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.
Now I don't care what degree's Craig has, if this is the standard for high levels of rationality in Christianity then they have already lost their argument before it began.  However, In the books defense Craig's chapters mostly focus on the Kalam Cosmological argument, an argument which has been dismantled so many times I won't even bother.  Check out the Iron Chariots Wiki for a detailed rebuttal.  However, writers of the chapters dealing with moral arguments fair little better than Craig does.

Now, it would be impossible for me to go into all of the failures in reason I found in this book even in the chapters I have read thus far. So for the moment I will focus on on Chapter Fifteen by Glenn Sunshine which is about Slavery.  The reason for this is that history happens to be a topic I am better versed in than many of the others, and one that Sunshine is apparently quite ignorant (or just lying) on despite his degree in the subject.

So here is the first mistake I noticed, he says:
Whatever the reasons for being enslaved, throughout the ancient world slaves were legally property, not persons, and their status was permanent unless for some reason the master chose to set the slave free.  The sole exception to this was Israel.
Now, this is a gross oversimplification of the issue to the point of being inaccurate.  First, the notion that slave status was permanent in all other ancient cultures is wrong.  In Rome, for instance, though it was not common it was possible for a slave to buy his freedom.  Secondly the institution of slavery in Israel according the bible was not the kind and gentle institution he seems to want us to believe.  The exception he speaks only allows one to be slave for 6 years, however, of it only applied to Jewish men, all women and foreign men could be enslaved forever.  Further, in Exodus 21:4-6 the law gave the owner a way to turn someone into a permanent slave.  He could give the man a wife from his female slaves and upon manumission the slave would have to pick between his freedom and his family, since his wife and children would still belong to the slave owner.

He also engages in very selective reinterpretations of various passages.  Take this quote.
...and if a servant died soon after being struck by a master, the master was considered guilty of murder.  (Ex:21:20) that really what that passage says?  Lets take a look.
When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished.  But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner's property.  Ex: 21:20:21
Does anyone notice how he doesn't quote the second verse?  He doesn't even correctly reference verse 20, the passage does not say the owner is guilty of murder, it says he will be "punished."  True it doesn't name the punishment, but considering this is the book that makes being an unruly child a capital crime I think we can assume that if they had wanted the person killed for it they would have said so.  So this is clearly not considered murder, in fact as long as you only beat the guy bad enough to make live a few agonizing days before he dies then you get off with no punishment at all, after all he is your property.

He continues his series of audacious claims by saying that Christianity was alone responsible for the  decline of slavery in western Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire.  This is a typical post hoc fallacy.  It is true that slavery did decline after the fall of the Roman Empire, but the causes for its decline were varied.  Even his own arguments seem to defeat this position, for instance he mentions that one of the reasons that most Christians in the Roman empire where not abolitionists was because it slavery was such an intrinsic part of Roman culture and economics.  One of the reasons slavery declined was the total collapse of the economy rendered it infeasible for most people to own slaves, and the collapse of the legal system meant that slaves who escaped could not have been tracked down as easily as they could have been prior to the fall.  Owning slaves was simply more difficult after Rome's fall.

In fact, even as Sunshine begins to talk about the middle ages he points out that Clovis II passed laws against slavery because of the influence of his wife, Bathilda, who was a former slave.  Exactly where was the influence of Christianity in this?  However, the truly humorous part of this is when he mentions that by the 11th century a law that banned the enslavement of Christians
...effectively abolished slavery in medieval Europe, except at the southern and eastern interfaces with Islam where both sides enslaved one another's prisoners.
So Christianity ended slavery...except for the slavery they didn't end?  Why did non-Christians not get protection under the law?  Also, how can you argue that slavery is not a religious issue when people started drawing legal lines on who you could enslave based upon the religious beliefs of the individual?

Most of the rest of the article devolves into a string of no true Scotsman fallacies.  He basically admits that a lot of people who practiced slavery used the bible to justify it, but they weren't "true" Christians.  Even Pope's like Innocent the VIII don't escape his quick dismissal.

In the end Sunshine manages to completely miss the point of the criticism that atheists bring to bear on this point.  His entire argument is a straw man of the position of most atheists on this issue.   When we point out that Judaism institutionalized slavery we are not saying their culture was horrible or that it was worse than any other culture of the time.  We are pointing out that it is exactly the same, and thus the notion that the book was inspired by an all powerful being is in question. 

Sunshine's argument amounts to saying that the Jewish or Christian cultures he writes about are very slightly better than the other cultures around them, and even if I were to grant that argument, which I don't, it would be an incredibly weak one.  If the Bible were only the work of men living in that time it looks rather like we would expect, but if it were the work of the creator of the universe we ought to expect much better, not slightly better.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

16-year-old girl who was forced to marry her rapist

 Moroccans outraged over suicide of 16-year-old girl who was forced to marry her rapist

Some might remember a bit of friendly banter on my blog last month about this passage in the bible.

Deuteronomy 22:28-29, If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.

Also the Christian who argued on my blog that it wasn't immoral to force a women to marry her rapist if she happens to live a culture where a woman's worth is determined by her virginity.  It's an easy thing to say I suppose when it is only a theoretical concept about a long dead culture.  Not quite as easy when it is happening somewhere today.

This girl, Amina Filali, was actually forced to marry her rapist and eventually committed suicide to get away from him.

Here is a few important parts of the article.
Article 475 of the Moroccan penal code allows for the "kidnapper" of a minor to marry his victim to escape prosecution, and it has been used to justify a traditional practice of making a rapist marry his victim to preserve the honor of the woman's family.
The victim's father said in an interview with an online Moroccan newspaper that it was the court officials who suggested from the beginning the marriage option when they reported the rape.

"The prosecutor advised my daughter to marry, he said 'go and make the marriage contract,'" said Lahcen Filali in an interview that appeared on Tuesday night.

In many societies, the loss of a woman's virginity outside of wedlock is a huge stain of honor on the family.
While the people involved in this story were Muslims not Christians it hardly makes any difference.  This behavior is sick, and anyone who suggests this OK is sick.  If women loose "value" in a culture because they are no longer a virgin then the culture is wrong.  Admit that the culture is wrong and fix it.  Luckily that is exactly what people are doing there as there have been protests in the country to end this law. 

Forget Employers Refusing to Cover Contraception. Arizona Bill Would Allow Them to Fire You For Using It

Forget Employers Refusing to Cover Contraception. Arizona Bill Would Allow Them to Fire You For Using It
Arizona House Bill 2625, authored by Majority Whip Debbie Lesko, R-Glendale, would permit employers to ask their employees for proof of medical prescription if they seek contraceptives for non-reproductive purposes, such as hormone control or acne treatment.
Yes folks this is my state, apparently they want to make it totally cool for your employer to dig into your personal life to make sure you aren't doing anything that violates your employers moral values.

Seriously, what the fuck people?  You're employer should not have the right to ask for this sort of information, your medical coverage is between you and your doctor and as long as it does not impact your job it is none of your employer's business.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Is atheism really a religion?

I ran across this article the other day with another person claiming that Atheism Is a Religion.  I  usually find this sort of discussion fairly useless because it is mostly semantic nonsense and because it usually seems like a form of "shut up, that's why" argument.  I really suggest you read the article I link to there by Greta Christina.

However this article did give me pause to think.  Not because the article is more thoughtful or better written than most of the articles that make this claim.  It was full of the same poor reasoning that most of these articles are, but it did make me think so here I am writing this article.  Before I talk a bit about my thoughts on the issue I'll take a moment to speak about my thoughts on her article.

First she starts out by saying that she first said that atheism is a religion on Real Time with Bill Maher.  I wouldn't have known because I don't watch Bill Maher very much since I often find him just as unreasonable as fundamentalist Christians.  However, the first thing I found funny was when she said 
 It seemed pretty unaudacious at the time, but by dropping the simple sentence "Atheism is a religion," I opened a biblical floodgate of ridicule, name-calling, and abuse.
I did appreciate the use of the famous Monty Python God.
Now, I actually think these sorts of reactions by some atheists are fairly useless, we should be ridiculing ideas not people, but I if she really thought her claim was "unaudacious" then it seems she may well be out of touch with reality, and she is certainly out of touch with the audience of Real Time.

This is clearly a divisive issue for atheists, particularly ones like myself who became an atheist particularly because we were fed up with organized religion, and it immediately shows me that this person is fairly ignorant about the content of the arguments made by atheists if she simply didn't realize such a statement would get a reaction from many in the atheist community.

Now, there was actually one point in the article I thought she might be doing something that would be interesting then she predictably let me down.  She starts out with talking about the rather interesting topic of neural mapping in regards to religious practice.

You see, several experiments have been done showing that certain religious practices such as prayer or meditation cause similar parts of the brain to activate. You can read about one of the experiments here.  Now if you are going to argue that atheism is a religion there is a very interesting line of science based argument you could make at this point.  If you could show that the brain activates in similar ways for atheists when we engage in certain behaviors (say arguing with a theist perhaps?) you would have an argument in favor of viewing atheism as a religion, and one that any science nerd like me could not argue with, and while eventually she does make this argument she does so without the benefit of any actual evidence to back up her claim.
This does not prove God exists, but it does show humans are wired or biologically predisposed to believe in something.
Now, this actually isn't exactly what this evidence proves, it actually proves we are wired for certain types of behaviors that happen to be tied into certain religious beliefs, though this is perhaps a small distinction.  In any case she continues.
So, whether you make sense of the world as an atheist and don't require the God postulate to complete your understanding, or you are a theist and your feelings and experiences tell you something greater is there, biologically speaking, that big blob of gray Jell-O in our skulls is like a giant arrow pointing us in the same direction. I believe that is delicious. And religious.  
So while she had the opportunity to explore something interesting she chooses to say something exactly 100% wrong.  Even her own statement is "predisposed to believe in something." That something is not necessarily any sort of god.  After all the study she mentions Buddhists having the same experience even though many Buddhists do not believe in god, and theism is not really an important concept in most Buddhist philosophy.  Further, the fact we may be wired to get some sort of psychological benefit from things like prayer or meditation is not evidence that god actually exists, nor is it even remotely an argument that atheism is a religion.
When atheists rail against theists (as many did on my Facebook page), they are using the same fervor the religious use when making their claims against a secular society. By calling atheism a religion, I am not trying to craft terms or apply them out of convenience. I just see theists and atheists behaving in the same manner, approaching from opposite ends of the runway.  The entire discourse about religion stems from those who think they know more than the other guy. But what we really know is that we don't know much. And we seem to share the same mechanisim in our brains that drives us to make claims of faith and rationalism as a way of making sense of the great unknown.
He claims here that the mechanism in our brains that drives both faith and rationalism is the same mechanism, which is a snide way of saying science is not better at understanding the world than religion.  Now I mentioned earlier that I would be interested in such a thing if it could be proven true, but at no point does she offer evidence to support this conjecture.  Nothing in the study she quoted offers any evidence that atheists, or theists for that matter, who engage in rational thought are activating the same parts of the brain, which would be the sort of evidence that would support the claim she is making.  Indeed from what I have read that is the exact opposite of what we find in neuroscience.

Now, I'll end my critique of her article by saying while I don't know him personally I don't think the person writing this is so bad.  I think she is just a regular marginally religious person who doesn't get what all the hubbub is about and doesn't understand, really understand, why atheists object to being called religious.  She just seems genuinely confused as to why so many atheists take offense here.
If humanism is a religion, and secular humanists are atheists, then why not create more formal instructional dwellings, label them churches, and lap up the tax-free nectar your peers in Scientology, Mormonism, and Catholicism have been enjoying for years?...... Atheists should embrace their religiosity, recognize the biological component that drives them to make sense of the world like the rest of us, and church it up.
It is as if she really thinks that the only thing about religion is getting a tax free status with the government.  I am more convinced that ever that she has never really listened to the objections that atheists have to religion.

Now, putting that all aside, she argument may be bad, but is her conclusion correct?  Is atheism a religion? To me this argument mostly boils down to one of semantics.  Religion is a rather vague word because religions differ greatly in practice and thought.

If you look up the dictionary definition of religion some of those definitions would include atheists, but they might also include some sports fans or classical musicians, or just about anyone who is ardent about something.  We atheists also do lots of the same things that religious people do, one of the things I think the atheist movement had been working on in the last few years is building a better sense of community among ourselves, so we have conventions and gatherings and such.  I go hiking most Sundays with an atheist group so does that count as church for me?  It is a lot more enjoyable than sitting a pew and being told I'm evil, but is it religion?

For me it doesn't count because for me religion is all about giving you pat answers to things we don't know.  As an atheist I am free to admit I don't know.  I don't know where we came from, I don't know with certainty if there is a god or not.  I don't know and I am comfortable admitting when I don't.  The thing I have rejected about religion is the faith, the belief in something without evidence.  If you think that I am still a member of a religion despite my lack of faith then you are welcome to think that, personally I think it makes more sense to take my word for it, but I won't waste my time being offended by people who want to tell me what I "really" believe.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sometimes boycotts backfire.

I was going grocery shopping after work today and I saw someone selling girl scout cookies at the entrance and I remembered that someone had argued that people should boycott the cookies because the Girl Scouts of America had allowed a transgendered girl to join. 

I haven't bought Girl scout cookies in years, though I don't know why because they are super fucking awesome, but remembering that made me decide to buy some to peeve off the people who think there is something wrong with the choice....oh, and also the cookies.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Those damn Reapers

I was going to make a post today but instead I had to spend the day trying to raise an army to fight back the Reaper Scourge that is trying to wipe out all life in the galaxy.

....your welcome.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Another Catholic priest indicated in pedophilia cover up.

Sorry I haven't been posted for a few days, I've been rather sick the last couple of days.

Anyway, I ran across this story a few days ago and thought I'd post it. 

So, the story is that back in 1994 this priest named Bevilacqua ordered a memo destroyed by another priest by the name of Molloy.  This memo indicated 35 priests in the Philadelphia that were suspected of child molestation.  Molloy destroyed the documents but kept a copy of them along with notes detailing the issue.  Molloy died back in 2006 and the documents were recently revealed and turned over to the authorities.  

This is particularity important because Bevilacqua testified in 2002 that there was no cover up and did not mention the memo he had destroyed eight years earlier.

This is one of the reasons I find the Catholic church's current rant about contraception so laughable.  They argue that being required to offer insurance to their employees is offensive to their morality while the church has had a systemic problem with pedophilia and sexual abuse stretching back to the middle ages is just absurd.  

Really not much else I can say so I will leave you with the "The Pope Song" by Tim Minchin.   It makes copious use of F-bombs for those more squeamish.