Thursday, December 24, 2009

About Christmas

It's Christmas Eve and my wife read me a post from a forum she follows. A woman wrote that she didn't know why atheists would celebrate Xmas except, maybe, for the presents. My cool wife responded that she did indeed do it for the presents; she loves making and giving them.

I really love Xmas and I don't care whether Jesus was perceived as a deity, or whether he was a religious leader, or whether he was just a composite of several 1st cen. messianic types. I gladly take the day off and enjoy the time on Martin Luther King Day and Presidents' Day and I enjoy the green beer on St. Patrick's Day without once thinking of any of them as my god and savior.

I often read Xian writers who assume that unless one buys into the Jesus mythology, that they cannot, or perhaps, should not enjoy any aspect of the celebration. For one thing, many assume any reference to Jesus in song or activity would be an irritant that atheists would try hard to avoid, I think that's because so many Xians assume that atheists hate their religion when, in fact it's just that we don't believe any of it. So, they probably think we are tolerating unpleasant experiences just to get to the cookies and presents.

I will assure the Xians that the lights are just as pretty, the music is just as melodious, the people are just as generous and joyful, and the warm feeling one gets from giving is just as warm if you don't believe in the divinity of the birthday boy.

To everyone who reads this; happy holidays, whichever holidays you choose to celebrate. For those who don't understand, if you see me smiling, singing carols, generally enjoying the season, it's because I sincerely love everything about Xmas except the parts about Jesus being a deity. It doesn't mean that I'm faking it for the treats and it doesn't mean I've become a Xian again.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Shroud: Shrouded in Mystery

By an interesting coincidence, I read an article yesterday in Discovery News about a burial shroud found recently in a 1st cen. tomb in Jerusalem that is very dissimilar to the shroud of Turin. Then, today, I watched an episode of "Mysteries of the Bible" on the National Geographic Channel that was on the subject of the Shroud of Turin. Then in yet another coincidence, I started thinking about shows and articles about the shroud of Turin.

The discussion of the famous shroud is, not surprisingly, very polarized, with commentators frequently saying either it is a medieval fake or it is proof of the resurrection of Jesus. Rarely have I heard anyone discuss any possible interpretations between these two extremes.

I'll say up front that I lean more toward thinking it is a medieval fake (probably not a big surprise to anyone) but I would also point out other interpretations. For instance, one book I've read (I'm sorry I can remember neither the title nor the author) suggested that it is a burial shroud of a 14th cen. man tortured to death in an imitation of Jesus' crucifixion. The author even referenced an article about postmortem occurrences that account for the creation of the image on the cloth. This brings me to my main rant.

Even if one could prove that the Shroud of Turin is a 1st cen. shroud from Jerusalem, it does not prove that the image on the shroud is that of Jesus. Hardly anyone has suggested in their discussions that this image might be of someone else. Who is to say that this is not the shroud of Smelly Joe of Jerusalem whose extreme body odor caused permanent damage to all his clothing?

Proponents of the religious relic view point to the evidence of injuries consistent with the descriptions of the crucifixion in the bible (off the subject: does anyone else think it's funny that bible is pronounced "buy bull"?) but we have no way of knowing whether Jesus' treatment was unique or whether lots of people received similar treatment. The Roman soldiers might have been giving him torture package #7, especially since they seem to have had robes and thorny crowns conveniently at hand.

Likewise, the opponents of the relic view rarely consider that the shroud might not be an intentional counterfeit and they therefore may be overlooking some processes of decomposition or chemical action that may be serendipitously useful in a modern application. While this kind of scientific scrutiny would probably be the most beneficial use of the cloth, the odds of prying it out of the hands of the Catholic church long enough to do tests are pretty slim.

Meanwhile, for the faithful the less scrutiny the shroud receives, the better it is for them. Since Jesus' existence has never really been proven, positively identifying the man depicted on the cloth could be catastrophic, although like all inconvenient truths, most likely they would just deny it anyway. Still, the thought that maybe we should really be celebrating Smellyjoemas on Friday is pretty funny to me.

Friday, December 18, 2009

God Loves Copyright Infringement

What do you do if you want to attract young people to Xianity with references to pop culture? You break copyright laws. This artcle talks about Xian stores that sell shirts and things that take popular corporate logos and change them subtly to a Xian message, like, for instance, taking an Abercrombie & Fitch logo and changing the words to "Abreadcrumb & Fish."

Jay Reeves, the author of the article asked a manufacturer of Xian gifts about this practice and the manufacturer assured him that if the owner of the copyright wrote to ask them to cut it out, the manufacturer would stop production. Isn't that nice? I always thought that one of the 10 commandments said "Thou shalt not steal," but apparently it says "Thou shalt stop stealing after the victim finds out." It's just us heathens that believe stealing is wrong.

Needling Your Kids?

The good news is; the boy is recovering from surgery and will be all right as long as he avoids magnets. The bad news is that he's a two-year old whose step-father shoved between 30 and 50 "blessed" sewing needles into his body and only the 4 most life-threatening needles have been removed so far.

A news article from AP tells of a Brazilian man who shoved needles into the body of his stepson during a month-long series of rituals wherein the man's lover would enter a trance and then direct the insertion of the needles. The lover had supposedly had the needles blessed by a woman connected with the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomble and told the step-father that these rituals would allow them to be together.

Maybe I'm just too cynical, but I can't imagine agreeing to any of this, no matter how good a lover this lover was. I mean, if my girlfriend came over, went into a trance and started giving me instructions, even if it was something like making pickle-loaf sandwiches, I'm pretty sure that would be the minute that she became an ex-girlfriend. She'd never get the chance to explain why she had a shopping bag full of needles.

Then, who could listen to a person, with or without an altered state of consciousness, give instructions to stick needles in a toddler, and it doesn't have to be a step-son, even if you found a stray 2 year old by the side of the road and brought him home, wouldn't you get a weird feeling that somehow that plan was flawed. Seriously, I'd have trouble sticking a needle in a toad from the back yard; visualizing a sharp needle in close proximity to a helpless little child sends my stomach into gymnastics.

The bumper sticker says something like; People who believe absurdities can be made to commit atrocities. Or as apostates of fundamentalism have said; when they believe their religious leaders, they follow orders without question, they don't have to analyze the instructions or feel any personal responsibility. They're just a tool of the religion. Those horrible Brazilians just took it to the next level.

A girlfriend in a trance isn't responsible for what she says. She's just a conduit for a (higher?) power. The step-father isn't responsible because he's just following orders and he's using "blessed" needles that have magical properties. The baby is the only rational one of the bunch. It just goes to show how much it can suck to be in the care of believers in absurdities, but on the other hand, it shows there are worse things than threatening children with an imaginary hell.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Freshwater Defense Rests, Finally

The defense rested in the Freshwater hearing after giving John Freshwater the opportunity to tell the "truth" about the circumstances of his firing. The Mount Vernon News has an article detailing the testimony wherein Freshwater denied any wrongdoing and asserted that the school board's case was based on misunderstandings, misinterpretations and big fat lies. Furthermore, he has never, and would never teach creationism in the classroom.

Now, I could either believe that Freshwater has been the innocent victim of a conspiracy to destroy his career, or I could believe that his pants are in dire need of a fire extinguisher. Let me review.

If Freshwater is innocent, investigators of good reputation from a respected company are incompetent to do the job for which they were hired. The school board suddenly decided to pick one popular teacher with 20-some years of service out of the entire school system to fire for no reason. All of the witnesses whose testimony supported the school board's case, including some defense witnesses who did so unintentionally, were either mistaken or lying. Also, all of the items entered as evidence were modified to look incriminating or were misrepresented (Freshwater testified that the creationist handouts were negative examples, used to represent bad science).

The whole hullabaloo about religious freedom and and freedom of speech that rallied supporters and polarized the town must likewise have been a big misunderstanding. It is obvious that the majority of people supporting Freshwater were evangelical Xians who advocate for prayer in school, creationism in science class, and generally relegating that whole separation of church and state thing to the garbage disposal. They must have been shocked and disappointed to learn last week that the man they have been supporting with fundraising, websites and rallies is, in fact, opposed to their views on Xian influence in public school and has argued against creationism in science class.

The other possibility is that a boy really did get his arm burned as photos and witnesses suggest and that Freshwater denied, evaded, and destroyed evidence to avoid punishment. It may be true that Freshwater had religious displays and taught creationism in his classroom as handouts, posters, records of complaints (dating back many years), and testimony of many witnesses would suggest and that he felt entitled to evangelise and impose his beliefs on his students in spite of rules and laws to the contrary. Then, when he and his lawyer saw the accumulation of evidence against him, he chose to lie his ass off under oath and throw all the people, who have supported him through the whole ordeal, under the bus to save his own skin. I sure do wonder which version is true.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Conservative Bible Projection

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but some Xian conservatives, the kind of folks whom I have most often heard calling the Bible “the unalterable word of god”, have decided that the word of god needs alteration. According to an AP article, Andy Schlafly, the founder of and son of Phyllis Schafly (demonstrating, that like apples, nuts don’t fall far from the tree), has decided that liberals have tainted the translations of the bible. He has, therefore, decided that the word of god requires editing to bring it more into line with conservative views of the world.

Schafly and his conservative wiki-buddies have decided that the translators of the bible are college professors, and because they think all college professors are ultra-liberal, then all the bible translations have a liberal bias and need fixing. They, for example, insist that, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." should be deleted from the Gospel of Luke because it doesn’t appear in some early versions and because that quote is very popular with liberals.

Anyway, they probably want Jesus to be less Allan Alda and more Chuck Norris and maybe Moses could be a little more like Dick Cheney. The Sermon on the Mount should probably say the republicans will inherit the earth and Revelations should specifically say that democrats, gays, and atheists will get the worst punishments. Most importantly, the bible needs to affirm that whatever 21st cen. conservative Xians believe is indisputably right and anyone who disagrees will be doomed to hell.

What this silly editing exercise really indicates is that many modern Xians don’t care what lessons the bible was intended to teach and have no intention of modifying their own behavior to more closely follow those lessons. It is far more important that conservative Xians be able to make the bible appear to condone their current behavior. They might as well come right out and admit that they’re just making this stuff up as they go along and any correlation to any religious text is purely coincidental.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Impeach Who for What?

Driving through a nearby town, I passed a house where the owner frequently expresses his opinions on signs in his front yard. Today he had a sign that read "Impeach Obama". I'm not that knowledgeable about legal stuff, but I was pretty sure that one had to break a law before they could be impeached.

This reminds me a little of when Clinton was elected president. Conservative critics always insisted that they weren't conspiring against him, but they never explained why there were "Impeach Clinton" bumper-stickers everywhere even before Clinton had taken the oath of office. Had they had a premonition of future perjury?

I think some folks view presidential policy decisions that they disagree with as illegal acts, and right now some conservative pundits are doing their best to convince their fans that the presidential policies are disagreeable, even if they have to stretch the truth to the breaking point to accomplish it.

If more of the American people would (or is it could?) learn that being told what they want to believe isn't the same as getting the facts, then they might start focusing their outrage on reality, and actually accomplish something. Then the guy with signs in his front yard could go back to protesting the local egg farm.

Defending Freshwater Badly

Today's Mansfield (OH) News Journal contained an editorial accusing the Mount Vernon School Board of singling out John Freshwater for punishment just because he's a good Xian. The editorial, written by Marvin Gassman of nearby Fredericktown, is a collection of the standard evangelical rationalizations for trying to force their religion on public school students; Xians are the majority, their rights of freedom of speech and religion are being violated, the bad guys are trying to eliminate Christianity, blah blah blah. In other words, the fundies should have all the rights and everyone else can literally and figuratively go to hell.

More incongruous is the assertion that although he (Gassman) has been at the hearing every day, he says he's seen no provable evidence that Freshwater has done anything wrong. I suppose if one is predisposed to thinking that proselytising in public schools is doing things right, and that anyone accusing a "Good Christian" of wrong-doing must automatically be a lying bad person, then Gassman's view makes sense. It's almost as if the editorial was written by a fundy preacher, and, son of a gun, it turns out Marvin Gassman is the pastor of the Morrow Bible Church.

The most gratifying thing about Gassman's editorial is that, at this time, all the comments disagree with the article and support the teaching of science without religious views attached. Maybe people are beginning to catch on to the fact that the insertion of religion into science classes is detrimental, as is any teacher who insists on inserting his religion.

Monday, November 9, 2009

News Flash: Congressman Does His Job

All over the news this morning were stories about Representative Anh Cao, the lone Republican who voted for the Healthcare Bill in the House. His reason for voting in favor of the bill was that a large percentage of his constituency in New Orleans, LA are without health insurance and he felt this is what the voters wanted. Imagine that! It's become so rare that a Representative actually tries to represent what the voters in his congressional district want, that it's big news.

With all the political posturing, back-room strategising, kowtowing to special interests, and trying to embarrass the President, one Republican actually listened to the people who voted for him to represent them in Washington and voted accordingly. I don't actually know the motivations of the other reps. in their voting, but I do know that there has been damn little talk over the last few months about what the voters really want.

Any more that seems to be business as usual in Washington DC. During the campaign season the politicians all pay lip service to the needs of the voters, but once they're back in Congress all they care about is increasing their political power, raising more money, and trying to get reelected. They frequently have an open door to lobbyists or persons with a fist full of money, while voters from their district are lucky to get face time with one of their aides.

Maybe your rep. voted the way you wanted on healthcare, and if you are typical of most of the people in your area, that's great. Still, it's always good to remember that members of the House of Representatives are supposed to represent what their constituents want, not what their party leaders want, not what big corporate donors want, not even what they personally want. So, we all need to keep tally of the way our congress-persons vote and, when possible, note their motivations and if they don't seem to be doing the job we hired them to do, it might be a good idea to remind them that they are never more than two years from the next election are we're all paying close attention. If we all keep track, and use the power of the vote to keep these folks working for us, then a rep. voting for what the constituents want might be business as usual rather than front page news.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Celibate Marriage Experts?

According to an article in the "Faith and Values" section of the Columbus Dispatch, Bishop R. Daniel Conlon is advocating a renewed effort by Priests to support faith based marriage. To that end, hundreds of priest have gathered at a hotel in Columbus, OH this weekend to increase their education and enthusiasm for supporting the institution of marriage.

The Bishop felt compelled to do this because he sees more threats to traditional marriage than ever before, probably because when Xians feel threatened, they always seem to see more threats than ever before in spite of any evidence to the contrary. Although divorce and cohabitation are mentioned, I'm pretty sure it's gay marriage initiatives that are freaking him out. It's also clear that the Bishop perceives a "traditional" marriage as one Xian man + one Xian woman (preferably of the same denomination) wed in a Xian church by a priest (or a man of the cloth of of another title).

I have a few problems with this (as if you hadn't guessed). First, why would you take marriage advice from someone who's never been married? That's kind of like taking flying lessons from someone who's never been in a plane.

Second, traditional marriage is not unique to Christianity or even the Abrahamic religions. Marriages are found all over the world, including societies that have never heard of a bible. "We have to teach what we know to be God's truth about marriage, perhaps in a more forceful way than we have," Bishop Conlon said. That would be fine if he confined himself to his Catholic flock, but that's not what he said. The jurisdiction of bishops and priests is their cathedrals and churches, beyond that constituency people shouldn't have to be subjected to the mythology called "God's truth".

Third, sometimes divorce, cohabitation, and even same-sex marriage can be the right answer. Rigid dogma and the threats of social isolation and eternal damnation have trapped people in abusive relationships and forced people apart who should be together. If the clergy wants to insist that certain rules must be followed or the offending person must leave the church and if they wish to advise that person that they believe such-and-so will happen after they die, that's their prerogative. It's not appropriate to call their unprovable beliefs "truth", or to insist that a person doesn't have the free will to change to different beliefs, and it is never appropriate to insist that a general public, with guaranteed freedom of religion, should be subjected to their dogma codified into civil law.

So if all the Catholic clergy that visited Columbus want to go home and tell their congregations that that they should only marry if their pretty sure they can stay together "till death do us part", or if you want to send same-sex couples away to get married elsewhere, or if they want to tell persons that they cannot be a church member unless they follow certain rules, that's their job, and best of luck. However, when the clergyman steps out onto the public street, his authority ends and everyone should be free to believe what they want, and participate in marriage according to their own rules, as long as it doesn't break the civil laws.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Amelia; Casualty in War on Xmas

Amelia, OH has had a Christmas parade for the last several decades which, apparently, was sponsored by the Amelia Business Association, but this year the sponsor backed out because they couldn't get enough volunteers. The village council decided that was no problemo; the council would just sponsor the parade. The village solicitor, however, did see a problemo; using village money to sponsor a parade for a Xian holiday could make the village vulnerable to separation of church and state law suits. The village council said they'd solve that by calling it the Holiday Parade.

You might have thought that all the obstructions to the parade had been cleared. Enter the church people. If the parade wasn't going to be named after the birth of Christ, they didn't want to play, because, nothing makes people think about the Son of God like marching bands and floats. Unfortunately for parade fans, church parking lots were the staging areas at the start and end of the parade and those churches were saying; no Jesus, no parking lots.

As if that weren't enough heart burn for Amelia, Catholic League President, Bill Donohue saw an opportunity to escalate the animosity by declaring that this was part of "the War on Christmas" saying, “Make no mistake about it: The declared enemy of these cultural fascists is religious speech, and they will stop at nothing to censor it."

I don't want to suggest that Bill Donohue is an hysterical rabble-rouser who perceives anyone whose opinions differ from his narrow-minded views as a member of some great conspiracy to destroy the planet, because I'd be belaboring the obvious.
Also, I have never seen any evidence of any cultural fascists (look fascist up in the dictionary, Bill) whose declared enemy is religious speech, especially since in order to have a declared enemy, someone has to make a declaration (Anybody got a copy of that? Didn't think so).

What this hullabaloo is really all about is a village solicitor knew that there are laws that prevent a civil government from financing or advocating for a specific religion. It was a non-issue when the sponsors were private business persons, but a village council is subject to different rules. That the government of Amelia chose to abide by the laws should be applauded rather than vilified.

The churches that are angry about this don't want to admit that the laws exist and think that the opinions of church people should trump secular laws they don't like (because church people are always right and anyone who thinks differently is an evil anti-Christian, as well you know). Furthermore, the church people are not intimidated by the threat of law suits since the non-tax-paying churches aren't going to lose any money. The churches get a public venue to pontificate about their views and it's the taxpayers' money that disappears when the village is bankrupted.

This was a secular parade, not a religious procession and the outrage of the local churches is a ridiculous and egocentric overreaction, as is the so called War on Xmas. The truth is that the War on Xmas is really a war on all non-Xian beliefs. The goal is to support the Xian holiday while suppressing the acknowledgement of any other group's holiday that occurs around the same time.

Donohue noted that a "Holiday Parade" didn't point out which holiday was being celebrated which he sees as hypocritical since (in his tiny world) Xmas is the only holiday of relevance. The local church people may know how to google and therefore realize that Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, and other religions and cultural groups (including the odious Wicca) have holidays in December. They probably fear that a generic holiday name might imply to some that tacit approval has been given to the tolerance of all those "false" beliefs. Perhaps the "Ignorant and Bigoted Fundamentalist Holiday of the Only True Belief Parade" would be acceptable to them, although the parade would undoubtedly have lots of scary clowns.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween, or Not

It's Halloween and for me the scariest thing about today is how much money one must spend on candy to keep up with the demand in our town. Being a rural village, families come into our town from the hinterland to go trick-or-treating and we've had over 300 visitors in 1 and a half hours, but it's great for the kids having a nice safe environment in which to celebrate. I'm always a little curious, however, about how many local kids must be sitting at home unable to participate because their parents are evangelical Xians.

If you've been reading my posts (of course you have) or following the Freshwater hearing going on (well, off and on) a few miles up the road from me, you're aware that there is a large fundy population around here, and I've heard local parents express concerns about participating in a "satanic" holiday. So, there must be some especially paranoid Xians trying to shelter their kids from evil while making mental notes of which neighbors have devil-worship decorations (like inflatable ghosts or fake cemeteries) or dress their kids like witches or devils (because, if you dress like a witch, you either are or want to be a witch). Maybe the number of non-celebrants is lower here because the trick-or-treat activity is such a long-standing tradition in our town it seems more benign.

I first encountered fundyhalloweenophobia when I worked at a living history village. We put together programs for school groups to let them participate in 19th cen. style holiday celebrations but got requests from group leaders that the students not participate in our Halloween activities. I wasn't too surprised since many of our groups were of Xian home-schoolers, but it was irritating that apparently they not only didn't celebrate Halloween, they weren't even to learn that it was celebrated 150 years ago.

Our Halloween public evening programs sometimes drew complaints as well; some didn't like the fortune tellers or the ghosts or anything else they could find offence at. One incident stands out in my memory; we had a black woman that told traditional ghost stories in one of the houses. To add to the drama she had confederates who would scream or bang a door or make other noises at appropriate cues. One family, after visiting this story teller, complained to the organizers that Voodoo was being practiced in that house and they wanted it stopped! We'd scored a twofer; religious bigotry and racial bigotry at the same time. Of course she was shut down lest bigots stop buying tickets.

I suppose the most important thing is lots of kids get to enjoy a safe, fun Halloween that will leave them with many happy memories and if some chose not to participate, there's more candy for the rest of us. Have a fun Halloween and ,if you get a cut or something, wipe off the blood quickly so your neighbors don't suspect you of sacrificing a baby.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Could I Have an Opinionless Cashier, Please

This article in Yahoo News about a Home Depot employee who was fired for refusing to remove a pin from his apron that read "One nation under God" reminded me of some of the discussions I had with co-workers when I worked at a Home Depot. I worked at a store in Ohio when Bill O'Reilly started his big campaign to try to force retail stores to greet customers with "Merry Christmas" rather than something more generic like "Season's Greeting".

There were some staunch fundie employees who were convinced that a generic greeting was, at best, political correctness run amok, or at worst, an atheist conspiracy to wipe all references to Christianity out of the US. Efforts to make the fundies understand that a generic greeting was more inclusive and less likely to offend non-Xian customers was responded to with "Jesus is the reason for the season!" and similar cliches. Their insistence that Xmas was the only holiday that needed to be acknowledged was especially absurd that year because Dec. 25th was also the first day of Hanukkah.

What my co-workers and the guy in Florida could not wrap their minds around is that they don't have the right to advocate their own beliefs when they are being paid to reflect the policies of their employers and when their customers perceive them at representing their employers' views. Furthermore, others have the right to expect as much respect for their beliefs as the Xians demand for their own, and that people of other beliefs have as much right to be offended by a store representative advocating for Christianity exclusively (or theism in the case of the Floridian) as the Xian would be if the rep appeared to be promoting Wicca. The sense of entitlement among some Xians is so ingrained that conceptualizing other beliefs as having equal value would probably cause a brain aneurysm.

I think most US Xians, but especially fundamentalist, are so conditioned to unquestioningly accept what they've been told in church that they just cannot force their atrophied brain cells to think outside the little church-shaped box. People in the US with other beliefs don't have the luxury of such rigid thought because they are constantly bombarded with the message they are members of a lower class. Why else would something as innocuous as the phrase "There might not be a god" cause paroxysms of rage, or the mention of the proposed construction of a mosque or Buddhist temple in a neighborhood result in picketing, vandalism and threats of violence?

I can't imagine a life where I was dependent on someone else to tell me my opinions, especially if I was expected to believe that those opinions were facts, but it obviously has a strong appeal to a large number of Americans. I guess it's up to those of us with less impaired powers of cognition to keep chipping away at Xian cerebral concretions until, if they still don't understand, they might at least come to accept the fact that tolerance is the rule. Also, if someone proposed a law requiring periodic dope slaps for fundies, I'd support that.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

S. C. Talking Secession Again

OK, it's just the Episcopal Church of South Carolina that wants to distance itself, but not completely divorce itself, from the national church. The S. C. Diocese doesn't like the way the national church has allowed Gay bishops in the church or their tolerance of same sex unions.

At least the S. C. Episcopals are remaining consistent with the state's historic level of tolerance for minority groups, and bigotry is really what this is all about. Although those opposed to rights for GLBT folk have always supported their position with scripture, it's often pointed out that the same oppossers are more than happy to disregard any scripture that forbids something they like (shrimp cocktail, any one?) and the signs of simple bigotry are obvious.

When there is irrational hatred of a group there is a constantly moving target that must be hit by that group for acceptance. For GLBT's, they were criticised for being out of the mainstream, so they demonstrated their value in all sorts of occupations. Then the target moved. They were told they were too promiscuous in their private lives, so they made people aware that they were settled in long term monogamous relationships. So, the target moved again. The bigots insist their relationships are a mockery of real marriage; and on and on it goes.

History has many examples of this moving target treatment, with Blacks, Native Americans, religious minorities as a few examples. Some people just seem to need a group or groups to hate. The hatred never completely goes away but when a group can no longer be attacked in polite society, one can watch the bigots test the waters by attacking different groups until they find one for whom they can show intolerance without social repercussions. Gays are a great choice, because if you defend the gays, you can be accused of being a bad Xian.

Since a fair percentage of people seem to live to hate others, there will always be victims of bigotry in this country, but if we could convince South Carolina to secede again, then quickly fence them off before they can change their minds, it just might send a message to the rest of the country; if you want to advocate intolerance in the name of an entire state, there can be some very negative consequences.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Slides from my Vacation

Is this proof that the Christians are right?

What do they want to know? Spend my spare change? my free weekends? my momentum? What?

Actually, my wife and I laugh at these signs every time we pass them going west on I70. The people who put up these signs must think they are converting drivers to Christianity. We imagine the sign-posters visualizing drivers noticing the sign, slapping their foreheads and crying out, "Wow! Jesus and Heaven! I never thought of that before! I gotta get me some of that Christianity right now!" Call me a cynic, but I don't think that happens very often.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

How to Shoot Yourself in the Foot

I'm supposed to be packing for a trip to the inlaws' house, so I decided to goof off at the computer instead. Don't get me wrong, I love my mother and father-in-law, but my father-in-law has alzheimers as did my father for the last few years of his life. These men were 2 of the best examples, for me, of what Christians should be; moral, loving, generous men who gave a great deal of time to their churches and communities. They got one hell of a reward for years of faithful service.

An even more graphic example, from my wife's family, is what happened when her maternal grandfather died, survived by a maternal grandmother with alzheimers. Grandma, who lived with them, would, at least once a day, ask where her husband was, and my wife's mom had to explain that he had died, forcing both of them to grieve over his death again and again.

Most Christians, and people of all religions, dedicate great big chunks of their lives to trying to follow the rules in hopes of a reward and fear of punishment, but way too many end up spending their final years in agony. Meanwhile, at least in the US, their efforts to follow the rules of their religion include hamstringing any efforts to solve the problems they face. Organized efforts, especially in the name of Christianity, try to suppress and subvert education, science, and their applications.

Until we can convince these folks that education and scientific research are not biased against them, they'll keep protesting against misunderstood facts being taught in school, they'll continue to view scientific research only as potential for immoral acts, and they'll continue to elect representatives that can't understand that funding fruit fly research IS funding cancer research.

The dogma of religious groups, seem to make them their own worst enemies, and maybe it wouldn't bother me as much if they were only shooting themselves in the feet. They however keep bringing out the blunderbusses and insisting that everyone have a share in the bullet wounds. They can rationalize this by saying, "sure I've got massive trauma in my lower limbs, but my reward's in heaven.", but, to belabor the analogy, they're mostly going around with bandages and crutches for fear that something worse than cancer and alzheimers is awaiting them if they don't subject themselves and everyone around them to unnecessary suffering in this life. You could say Hieronymus Bosch's paintings of hell are why cancer hasn't been cured.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Christian Grip on Our Schools

John Freshwater was back in the news this week because the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that R. Kelly Hamilton, Freshwater's attorney, could not force members of the Mount Vernon School Board to testify at the hearing. The comments on the above linked article are a fair indication of the local views about the hearing except, this article having been printed in the Columbus paper, the number of comments supporting Freshwater are probably much fewer , and maybe a little less subjective, that if the comments had all come from the Mount Vernon area (but more numerous and subjective that most of Earth, I'll bet).

Mean while, the Christian Post had a couple of articles about the interaction of public schools and religion. I know I shouldn't go to the Xian home turf for material. It's unsportsmanlike, but sometimes I just need a laugh or to induce a headache when the aspirin's near its expiration date. Anyway, the first aricle was about the heart-break of having to tell public high school cheerleaders in Georgia that they could no longer display their banners with bible quotes at football games. The other article was about how 350 (I'm guessing public) schools in 43 states are offering courses in the bible (and I'm betting zero schools teaching the Koran or Rig-Veda. Any takers?). Texas has the most schools offering bible classes and #2 is (drum-roll) Georgia!

Comments supporting the cheerleaders' banners and the classes tend toward the "majority rules" rationale for perpetuating Xian bias in public schools, completely missing the point that the 1st Amendment's intent was to protect the rights of the minority groups against suppression by the majority. Also it is suggested that those on the other side of the issues are probably mean, immoral Xian-haters (and probably commie homo baby eaters). It is just like the way the atheist Muslims in Washington are taking away all their rights and destroying America. In summary; They're right and anyone who disagrees is the enemy. Most of these people couldn't shift a paradigm if it came with an automatic transmission and a copilot.

I'm sorry, I got a little off track there. My original intention was make early thoughts flow seamlessly into the next point I wanted to make (It could've happened. Oh yes it could. Could too. Could too! Could too infinity!). All right here comes the seamless part. Comments always seemed to express the problem as "keeping religion out of the classroom." It's like some book stores I've been in where the Religion section contains only books about Christianity and if you want a book about another religion, you have to look in the Philosophy section. It's not about keeping religion out of the classroom, it's about keeping A Religion and the blatant bias toward it, to the exclusion of all other beliefs, out of the classroom.

The problem in all these examples is that a protestant Xian majority has had a privleged place in American society for a long time and they have come to believe that it is part of the design of the US government and therefore anyone who suggests that a different belief is guarenteed equal treatment under the law is viewed as anti-America and therefore a legitimate target for their righteous hatred. I can only hope that continued court cases and public demands for equal treatment for all will slowly eat away at the strength of the intolerants until the vast majority of Americans see the obsurdity of their position and realize how ridiculous it is to support people like Huckabee and Palin who try to turn every political move into an evangelical sermon. Or maybe we could start by putting "kick me" signs on all their backs.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

When the Hell Did Psychotic Become a Political Party?

I’m not sure when paranoid psychosis became a legitimate voting bloc, but after reading more details about the How To Take Back America Conference, I’m pretty sure opposing drug use in the 1960’s must have caused brain damage. How the hell did so many people get so disconnected from reality and why are they so damn proud of it?

Granted, most of them are the same people who think the Adam’s family fed carrots to velociraptors until Eve started chatting up a tree snake (Go figure! You couldn’t swing a dead cat in Eden without hitting a friendly reptile and she managed find the only one with a hidden agenda!), but still, how can anyone seriously think that any US President could simultaneously turn the nation into Nazi Germany AND the Soviet Union? And how could that be one of the sanest things discussed at the conference?

Michelle Bachman, the goddess of truth and rationality (on Planet Wackoloonie) addressed the group. I don’t know what she said, but even if I had heard her, I doubt I would know what the hell she was talking about. The fact she was invited to speak is sufficient evidence that these people are out of their freaking minds.

Phyllis Schlafley, the woman who eschewed traditional female roles to make a career out of demonizing women that eschew traditional female roles, told a packed house “…that the feminist movement is the most dangerous, destructive force in our society today.” [...] I’m talking about drugs, sex, illegitimacy, drop outs, poor grades, run away, suicide, you name it, every social ill comes out of the fatherless home. Oddly enough, she seems not to have provided any statistical evidence to support her statements, but I suppose info from such a credible source stands on its own merits. Afterwards, Mike Huckabee presented her with the “American Hero of the Century” award. It wasn’t stated for which century the award was given, but I’m guessing the 17th.

Other highlights of the conference were calls to reclaim all the civil rights that have been taken away from upper-middle-class white protestants (WTF?), calls to be ready for armed insurrection against the legitimately elected government if they try to take over the legitimately elected government, and calls to fight to insure freedom of religion, as long as that religion is evangelical Xian and that those rights include suppression of all other beliefs, by violence if necessary (or if no one gets caught doing the violence, because the Prince of Peace hates it when righteous Xians go to prison for murder and stuff).

On the one hand I think a golden opportunity was missed during the conference to build a big fence around the whole bunch for the protection of the human race. On the other hand I think it’s nice that all these people got a weekend off from their normal routine of electro-shock therapy and straitjackets.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Ray Comfort and the Origin of the Feces

First, let me say that if you take information and intentionally misrepresent it, you are a liar. If you have others point out where your assertions are wrong (on national TV), but you continue to repeat your lies anyway, you’re also a hypocrite. If, in addition to that, you call those who have demonstrated that you lied, immoral, ignorant liars, and you claim moral superiority for yourself, you are an evil, sociopathic scumbag, Ray Comfort.

I just read the 50 page introduction that Ray Comfort has added to “The Origin of the Species” in the editions that he is donating to Universities. He is doing this, in part because he says he has learned that up to 60% of psychology and biology professors in major universities don’t believe in a god. So, he sees that persons who, almost by definition, are much better educated and more intelligent than average, have used that education and intelligence to arrive at the conclusion that there is no god, and he thinks a book, that’s already ubiquitous, can be given away with 50 pages of untruths, misconceptions, and unsupportable suppositions added and convert these professors.

This is a very typical collection of Xian apologist arguments that every supporter of evolution has heard before. Inexplicably, (after a quick biography of Darwin) it begins with a section about the structure of DNA. Since DNA structure was identified 96 years after “The Origin of the Species” was written, it is quite clear that this introduction has nothing to do with the book it introduces.

Not only is the introduction not specifically about the book, it appears that Comfort hasn’t even read the book. He presents a quote that’s footnoted as from pages 133-134 of the 1872 ed. I checked and it is from those pages, that is, one must combine sentence fragments from both those pages to achieve that “quote”. Later he employs the famously misrepresented introductory remarks about the complexity of the eye. He does mention that Darwin thought he could (not, noting that Darwin actually did) explain the evolution of the eye, but Comfort didn’t buy it anyway.

In case readers are not persuaded by the blatant misrepresentation of science, Comfort brings out the big guns for his final argument. It’s his own special version of Pasqual’s wager. According to him everyone needs religion and, although there are many choices, Christianity is the best choice because, if it turns out to be real, the punishment of burning and torture for eternity is worse than for any other religion. What a great way to choose a religion! Pick the one that has to threaten you the most to get you to join.

In summation, Ray Comfort, in a stroke of brilliance that exceeds his miraculous banana theory, is giving away a book that includes an introduction that can be rebutted simply by reading the rest of the book and the people to whom he is sending this book are among those most likely to have already read the book and whose backgrounds make them among the best equipped persons to demonstrate what a load of crap the introduction is. I think we should all applaud Ray Comfort for publishing and donating these books, in fact, I think we should encourage him to do the same thing with all the books that Darwin wrote, anyone named Darwin. Let’s keep him spending his money in this way until he’s as financially bankrupt as he is morally.

They Must Be Crackers

P. Z. Myers had a post on Pharyngula yesterday about the afternoon discussion he held in Fargo ND saying "My opening remarks were about being assertive atheists who challenge conventions and do things like desecrating crackers…", and then he commented on Catholics in the audience who expressed that they were offended. One can find examples of this kind of egocentric outrage any time a disregard for Christianity is expressed in the US (as in this later post).

They just can't shift their mental gears enough to understand that what they see as the "consecrated body of the Savior" is still just a cracker to anyone of a different belief. They think that because a priest said some words and made hand gestures over baked flour disks, everyone should perceive them as little chunks of human flesh that are part of their favorite person. A non-believer can do DNA testing, mass spectrometry, X-rays, fMRI's or satellite photos and still find nothing but flour and water. Unless one assumes that Catholics revere the Pillsbury Dough Boy, no evidence of a Savior can be found.

The point is that what is revered within a religion is perceived in a unique way by devotees of that religion, but for those outside that belief, these things are just mundane objects. Christians should understand this since it has been their attitude toward the religious objects of other religions for as long as there have been Xians. Missionaries have denigrated, defaced or destroyed religious objects of other people on every continent of the world (except, maybe Antarctica) and when the non-Xians rose up in outrage, the Xians would shrug and say, "What's the big deal? It's only a cracker."

Acts like Dr. Meyrs' "desecration" of a communion wafer need to occur to remind people that there are a lot of different views represented within the human population and one's own beliefs are no more valid than anothers. Most of the people that are outraged by the blasphemous acts of non-believers have themselves sneered at or desecrated what others believe to be holy. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. Catholics should not be too surprised if a non-Catholic looks at a communion wafer and sees only a cracker, and those same Catholics should not be surprised by the outrage of Native Americans when something they revere is desecrated by ignorant or uncaring persons.

For way too long Xians in the US have had the attitude that their religious symbols are "the body of Christ" but everyone else's are just crackers. They need to learn that the trappings of their religion have no more value than anyone else's, and no less, but once that wafer is out of the hands of a believer, what ever special powers it possessed are gone and it reverts to cracker status and is not worthy of your outrage.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Devalued Voters Summit

Big fat bummer! I missed the Values Voters Summit in DC this weekend. It sounds like it was quite a wingding with all the best and brightest of the Real Americans. Just check out the awesome subjects for the breakout sessions:

So how do you suppose the summit went? Well, if the schedule was followed, everyone got together and congratulated themselves for being such upstanding, moral, Xian patriots and guardians of American culture. Then a bunch of conservative politicians reiterated the self-congratulation. At every opportunity, some Xian ceremony or religious lip-service was added just in case someone forgot that all Real Americans are evangelical Xians, then they talked about fixing the ruination of all that is good in the world that has occurred in the last 8 months. Before going home, they all did more Xian ceremonies to insure that god knows what he's supposed to be doing.

Judging by the synopses of the above topics, and knowing the track record of some of the speakers, these folks spent the weekend convincing each other that whatever they believe is the unalterable truth and the will of god, and anyone who disagrees, or any idea created by her/him, is the spawn of satan and must be completely crushed lest the world should come to a horrible end before the next teabag meeting.

In short, these folks get together, reinforce their self-centered belief that they're the ideal examples of the true American Xian and then proceed to demonstrate that anything good or moral in the bible is beyond their knowledge. They vilify and demonize those outside their group with bigotry, distortions, and bold faced lies. They demand their civil rights, which they interpret as the right to impose their views on everyone else any time they want and the right to suppress or destroy even the most benign opposition. They then discuss their methods of achieving their goals including what amounts to destroying the constitution and overthrowing the legitimately elected government. These are our great Xian patriots.

The most repugnant thing about this summit is the way conservative politicians cater to these people and even aid and abet their delusional agenda. The world will always have crackpots that live in a fantasy world, but there is no good reason to encourage belief in a 6000 year old world, the world ending in the next few years, CO2 not effecting the atmosphere, the president being the antichrist (from a foreign country) or any other anti-reality, anti-American nonsense. It's time for people to step forward and point out that delusional, treasonous behavior is not acceptable in our government representatives. We don't tolerate victims of alien abduction, Atlantians, or reincarnations of Jesus in office, so supporters of the Flintstones as history, or Satan in the oval office should be treated the same.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fundamentalism Causes Babies

A new article on talks about higher teen birth rates among teens in communities that are "highly religious". Highly religious is their term, but what they are referring to, is areas with a high concentration of fundamentalist Xians. The article speculates about possible causes for the religious-preggers-ratio, but I have personal experience that strongly suggests that the main problem is ignorance.

In the distant past (1970), when I was a high school sophomore, my family moved from Danbury, Connecticut, which had one of the highest rated and most progressive public school systems at that time, to Avon, Indiana, that didn't. Danbury benefited from the sophistication spillover from New York City and as a result its High School health classes spent a great deal of time on human reproduction and contraception. Avon was a largely rural community that was just starting to become a bedroom community for Indianapolis and evangelical Xians who lived on farms were what the faculty still perceived as the student population. I don't remember health class in Avon, but I remember that many of the councilors and teachers seemed uncomfortable acknowledging that students had two sexes. The attitude of the educators was that ignorance was the best and only condoned contraceptive.

It was easy to see the effect of the different educational approaches: the "highly religious" community had a lot more teen pregnancies. Ignorance is one of the main objectives of fundamentalists. Since they insist that their members must believe the fundamentals of their group, the survival of the group is dependent on their ability to suppress or disavow any contradictory evidence. In addition to that, sex is icky and dirty and embarrassing to talk about so it's best to conceal the facts and hope the kids don't try to figure out what genitalia are for until after they're married.

Unfortunately, in spite of all the parents' prayers, or, according to fundies, because prayer is not allowed in school, hormones beat out ignorance when adolescents feel the need to insure the fitness of the human species. The result is a bunch of undereducated, emotionally unprepared children trying to raise younger children whose existence is frequently resented by the parents. The expectation would be a higher rate of sexually transmitted disease, more abandoned and abused children and more botched abortions. It seems like an awfully high price to pay for religious dogma.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ignorance on Parade

The Tea Party Express arrived in DC to protest government spending, rising taxes, destruction of the constitution, communism, fascism, and the eminent end of the world as we know it. As I've mentioned before, alluding to the Boston Tea Party when protesting taxes is already a mark of how misinformed the group is. The Boston Tea Party was to stop low priced surplus tea from being brought from England, thereby destroying the local tea business. If the people in Washington were protesting business monopolies, the tea party would be an appropriate symbol. As it is, perhaps it's an appropriate symbol for a large group that doesn't know what it's talking about, but nonetheless is sure it's correct.

The first thing I notice about these people is that they have amnesia of all things that occurred before Obama's inauguration. They don't remember that the recession and the bail-outs started during the Bush administration. They don't remember that there was a budget surplus when Bush came into office and a trillion dollar deficit when he left. They don't remember (or think is relevant) the unconstitutional acts of the previous administration, and they don't remember that, for most of them, they got poorer while their boss got richer. In fact, it's worth noting that while the "Tea-baggers" filled DC with anti-Obama signs and T-shirts, people were actually thrown in jail for wearing anti-Bush T-shirts at Bush's appearances.

The Atlantic just had an article about the economic legacy of the Bush administration, based on US Census statistics, which reinforces the bumper-sticker slogan; If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention. These protesters seem not to be paying attention to anything (except, maybe, the delusional rants of Glen Beck) and it's evident in their signs: Obama, depicted as Hitler, is turning the US to communism, government should keep it's hands off Medicare and Social Security, Obama's turning a Xian nation into an Islamic nation, and, if Obama's plans worked, everything should be fixed by now.

If these people really want to make this a better nation, they need to spend less time walking around with stupid signs, turn off the TV at home, stay home from the bible study meetings, and start reading some non-fiction for a change. When they learn that the spoutings of Glen Beck, Rush Limbo, and their anti-education fundy preachers are actually fiction, then, we can begin to have rational conversations about fixing problems and improving lives. Or, they can continue to parrot messages of ignorance and hate until we're all so angry and polarized that we annihilate each other. They have the freedom to chose.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Free Audio Books and the Beagle

I like to put audio books on my MP3 player and listen to them while working around the house or down in my wood shop. I'd been getting them through the Columbus Library's website where they have a fair selection of nonfiction and the books are professionally recorded. If you have a library card somewhere, check your library's site. You might have a similar deal. Recently I found another source that's very cool. Internet Archive has a large collection of audio, videos and Ebooks that are in the public domain. There are also opportunities to volunteer to record books into the audio collection (I may do some, but I talk so slowly that it may take half an hour to listen to a book title). Check it out, volunteer, donate and enjoy the accumulated knowledge.

The last book I listened to was "The Voyage of the Beagle" by Charles Darwin. I'd read a lot of his writings, but thought this book, usually described as a travelogue, would be no big deal. Boy, was I wrong. I think this book gave me more insight into the way Darwin's mind worked and his amazing powers of perception than anything else I've read by him. While his later works display the end results of his brain power, "The Voyage of the Beagle" allows the reader (or the listener, as it were) to observe the gears turning. Darwin not only seemed to gather more information from his observations than most people, he was then able to compare species he observed to taxonomically similar species in other parts of the world and determine the direction and possible methods of migration of flora and fauna. After reading this book, natural selection seems a more natural conclusion from the accumulated data than I had previously thought. I don't mean that reading about the Beagle voyage would allow anyone to reach the same conclusion, that obviously didn't happen, but, rather that Darwin's incredible intellect was so apparent that of course he figured it out.

Joe Wilson's Always Been Loud and Wrong

Everyone is talking about Joe Wilson (R. SC) yelling during Obama's speech, and some are even pointing out that Wilson was wrong. Apparently, this is an old habit. Daily Kos found a video of Wilson calling Rep. Bob Filner (D. CA) a liar and then insisted that he hates America when Filner pointed out, correctly, that the United States aided Iraq's biological and chemical weapons program.

It turns out Joe Wilson is the type of person that is frequently the subject of my blog; the type that that thinks everything he believes is correct and anyone who disagrees is not just wrong, but also the enemy. Another Rep. from SC declared that health-care would be Obama's Waterloo, but I'm hoping it be Wilson's Waterloo instead. Look over your shoulder, Joe. Is that Wellington gaining on you?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Aftermath of the Scary Speech

Obama's speech to the students of the US has come and gone and there are no reported fatalities. Of course, this could just the lull before the storm. When our guard is down, Nancy Pelosi might broadcast the trigger word that was implanted during the speech, then all the children will become ultra-liberal zombies who ravage the country with taxing, spending and creating social programs. Oh! The horror!

Now, Karl Rove has tipped us all off to what really happened; Pres. Obama was going to deliver a speech that would indoctrinate America's children into becoming communist-fascist, Islamic-atheist, terrorist-sissies. Thank goodness the outrage by the Real Americans forced the Antichrist administration to change their evil plan at the last minute, and, thank goodness we have the honesty and integrity of Karl Rove to thank for making that clear. Next, we need to demand to see the real speech as well as the real birth certificate.

Seriously, people like Karl Rove know that the most conservative, most fundamental Xians are very afraid of change and very easily swayed by religious talk, and are therefore easy to manipulate. That is, after all, what Rove did for a living when he worked for George W. Bush. He and other conservative pundits are intentionally tapping into this vulnerability to create a fictitious environment of fear that they know will scare the bejeesus out of a bunch of folks that don't have the rational tools to deal with it objectively.

There are people who were literally afraid to expose their children to a back to school speech. In an interview I read over the weekend, a woman said she didn't want her kids exposed to the President's speech, saying she was an American, the kids are Americans and she is very frightened right now. Does that seem rational to you?

The implication, of course, is that the President of the United States is not an American, that his plans do not consider the best interests of the US's people, and that something really, really, bad is this administration's real goal. They want to avoid their kids' exposure to our President in the same knee-jerk way that they would "protect them" from atheism, evolution and homosexuals. They're scared of the President in a similar way to how I'm scared of knee-jerk reactionaries who are armed with firearms but not with fully functional brains.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Let's Censor the President

Censorship has gone crazy. Science classes have to be edited to avoid conflicting with religious dogma. Books need to be banned from libraries lest someone should perceive the contents thereof as socially acceptable in the community. TV and radio broadcasters are expected to remove shows that some people find offensive, but would never even watch, and some parents even forbid their children from associating with kids from families with different religious beliefs. The list goes on and on.

There used to be one thing that couldn't be censored; addresses by the President of the United States. When Pres. Obama announced that he intended to give a TV address to the students returning to school, parents, even here in Central Ohio, called the schools threatening to keep their children at home if the schools exposed their children to the corruptive influence of the duly elected leader of their national government.

We seem to have created an environment in the US where some people think it is acceptable to be completely intolerant of any opinion other than their own and have a right to demand that nobody is even allowed to be exposed to an opinion other than theirs. Sadly, these narrow-minded folks are frequently the same ones who claim to be the most patriotic Americans and they are also the quickest to scream about their constitutional rights if suppressed in any way. The best solution to this is to teach their children to think objectively and give them a hunger for all knowledge, then maybe the next generation will be more open-minded and have a valid reason for being embarrassed to be seen with their parents.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Few of my Favorite Things

I just found this article at Bloomberg by way of a reference to it in Pharyngula. The article is about an investment con where honest investors lost their life savings to 3 guys who promised great profits on their investments, but delivered nothing. The scam was what the article calls "affinity fraud",that targets a group of like-minded people who are especially vulnerable due to the mutual trust among the members. Here's my I-told-you-so moment. The targeted group was evangelical Xians and Mormons.

As I have ragged about a couple of times, some Xians make themselves easy marks for unscrupulous individuals because of their bias toward, and greater trust of, those that identify themselves as Xians. The members of the group lower their inhibitions because they perceive themselves as in a safe environment. The conference call meetings of investors included praying (as well as preying) and talk of using the profits for good causes. No matter how absurd the reasons that were given for needing more money or how many warnings they got from friends and relatives, the investors did what ever they could to come up with more money, even getting second morgages.

This brings me to another subject I've blogged about; avoiding cognitive dissonance. Fundies may be the all time champs at refusing to acknowledge the contradictions between their beliefs and facts that would cause the discomfort of cognitive dissonance. Just like the text books say, the people with the greatest emotional investment in the investment are are most likely to deny being ripped off. Some of the folks who lost everything, even though the con-men are all in prison, insist that they lost their money because the FBI stopped the process before the highly profitable deal could be completed.

I feel very sorry for these people who lost everything just because they trusted their fellow man, but as I have suggested before (and as G. W. Bush's political team said), fundies are very easy to manipulate. It's just a pity they don't read my blog, or they would have been armed and ready for the scammers.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Comparative Religion Classes are not News

I got a Google Alert this morning about an article on John Freshwater in "Get". As one would expect from a site with that name, the writer, E. E. Evans, seemed dubious about the charges against Freshwater, but what was also clear was that Mr. Evans and most of the commenters haven't found as much information on the case as I have and they don't understand why Freshwater was fired.

The article points out that Freshwater was charged with "teaching religion" in school, however schools are allowed to "teach about religion" as long as they don't advocate for a specific religion. The writer then points outs out that the press is more likely to cover a creationism vs. science story that a story about "teaching about religion".

First of all, Freshwater wasn't fired for just teaching religion in school, He was fired for teaching religion rather than the science curriculum he was being paid to teach. Had he been teaching ballet instead of science, nobody would have questioned his firing and nobody would have written an article, but religion gets a special status.

Secondly, articles are being written covering teaching about religion. I've read articles about teaching the bible as history in Texas and comparative religious studies being added to high school curricula. Religious studies that don't advocate a specific religion shouldn't be news. These courses have been available in colleges (and some high schools) for ages and although I can imagine Freshwater's friends being outraged about their kids being exposed to "false" religions, there's no rational reason for it to be any more controversial than studying comparative cultures in geography class.

Just like all of the hullabaloo about Mount Vernon Junior High, some Xians think that anything that relates to their religion should be the center of everybody's attention. In a rational world, Mount Vernon residents would have all looked at the Freshwater case and said, "If the evidence indicates that he injured one or more students and that he wasn't teaching the prescribed curriculum, he should be fired."
Instead they say, "This is about MY RELIGION! Not just that, this is about diminishing the general public's exposure to MY RELIGION!" Maybe some comparative religion studies would get a few of these folks to understand that THEIR RELIGIONS are supposed to have equal rights, but I'm not holding my breath.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch or Mansfield

I've mentioned before how some Xians always assume greater honesty in others who identify themselves as Xians in spite of evidence to the contrary. I thought about that while reading this article about a youth minister convicted of 42 sex crimes in Mansfield, OH. Then I was reading about the kidnapper of Jaycee Lee Dugard who turned up 18 years later in Antioch, CA after Phillip Garrido, her kidnapper-rapist, drew the attention of police at UC Berkley when he and his 2 daughters (that he fathered with the kidnap victim) were passing out religious tracts. Garrido claims to be a devout Xian but his neighbors just think he is psycho.

I'm not saying all Xians are bad (although the ones I blog about usually are), I'm just saying that anyone who assumes that someone identifying himself as a Xian is automatically more trustworthy, honest or moral than average, should probably paint a target on their forehead and put a "kick me" sign on their back. There is no evidence that those who identify themselves as Xian are more honest than average and if anyone bothered to check, I suspect they would find a correlation between how loudly a person espouses his religion and how dishonest he is.

A last minute addition: The Friendly Atheist just posted something about one of the kind of person I was talking about.

A Little More from Mount Vernon Schools

In further news from Mount Vernon School District, they have settled a federal law suit with a student whose family sued because the student was being taught religion in science class in violation of his constitutional rights. The school board's insurance co. agreed to pay $55oo to the the family and $1 each to 2 other individuals plus paying $115,500 of the plaintiffs' legal fees. A similar suit is still pending against John Freshwater.

An article from the Cleveland Plain Dealer mentions that the suit against the school was was brought by the family of the boy who said he was burned by Freshwater. At the end of the article, it is pointed out that 12 fellow teachers have testified on Freshwater's behalf. The article doesn't mention that most of those teachers are also members of the church Freshwater attends or that some of them had also been promoting their religion at school.

What angered me most in the Plain Dealer article was the mention that the plaintiff family has moved to another town and school district do to the backlash against them in Mount Vernon. Those doing the backlashing would, of course, be the loving, forgiving, good, evangelical Xians of the area who apparently feel that as long as their dogma is being taught, that trumps contractual agreements, state and federal laws, and any truth that might indicate Freshwater's guilt. Speaking of that kind of Xian, the photo in the Plain Dealer article shows Freshwater standing next to god's playground bully; Dave Daubenmire of Pass the Salt Min.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Instruct those MV Instructors

Here's a bit of good news; according to the Mount Vernon (OH) News, all Mount Vernon School District staff will be instructed in what is legally acceptable concerning religion in school. If you've read my blog, or even better, The Panda's Thumb, then you know about the ongoing hearing related to the firing of fundamentalist Xian science teacher, John Freshwater who is accused (among other things)of teaching creationism to his 8th grade science students. Witness testimony in the hearing indicates that several teachers have engaged in evangelizing in the classroom and said they thought it was a good idea. This is probably partly a result of so many of the teachers in the school district having graduated from Mount Vernon Nazarene Univ. which seems to advocate evangelizing in the public schools.

Unlike Freshwater who was reportedly ordered to stop teaching creationism but instead just got more sneaky about it, most other teachers have said they were never told that they couldn't preach fundy dogma in their classes. This new instruction should prevent the all-week-long-Sunday-school-teachers from using ignorance of the rules as a defense. I'm not naive enough to believe this will completely stop teachers from trying to save all those captive heathens, but after going through a hugely expensive, drawn out, circus of a hearing, I doubt the School Board will be very forgiving of transgressions.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Christian Nation is a Civil Right. Right?

The insistence that we are and were always intended to be a Xian nation is much like other aspects of evangelical Xian belief, where they cherry-pick a few factoids and ignore or deny everything else, it makes me want to taze the whole bunch in hopes the shock makes some of their synapses fire ( Zap! Hey, I just noticed that opinions aren't the same as facts!). Yes, it's true that the Pilgrims were Puritans and Virginians were Church of England and, in fact virtually all the 13 colonies were Xian. That, however, does not mean that in 1776 the founding fathers wanted religion incorporated into their government.

Currently, evangelicals are the most insistent that we were always intended to be a Xian nation. This does a great disservice to their forefathers. The evangelicals at the dawn of our nation were the most adamant supporters of separation of church and state. Heck, Roger Williams, Baptist minister and founder of Rhode Island is credited with first using the term "a wall of separation," when talking about keeping church and state separate. The prevailing attitude at that time was, that anyone who felt their religion needed help from the government, had very weak faith in their religion.

Unlike today, the first generation of US citizens had seen plenty of examples of Xian nations for comparison. They viewed the Church of England as synonymous with the British government from whom they were seeking independence, they'd observed how the Catholic Church controlled the governments of other countries and, many of the people had themselves been driven out of their homes for following the wrong religion.

The colonies themselves were also examples. The Puritans of Mass. didn't come to America for religious freedom so much as they came to isolate themselves from the less conservative religions. They drove out or, in a few cases, killed those who wouldn't convert to the Puritan religion. At the same time, in Virginia, one could not get a government job without joining the C of E. Bigotry against Catholics and Jews was prevalent and it's estimated that only about 15% of the American population were members of a church when the Constitution was written.

All of that history is largely irrelevant since every time the separation or church and state is argued in court, the separation is reiterated. Still we get people standing up at school board or local government meetings insisting we are a Xian nation, therefore we have a right to blah, blah, blah. I think the problem is that since they have the right to freely practice their religion, any opinion shared by a majority of their church congregation must also be their religious right to practice.

They think subjecting the general public to Xian ceremonies is a good idea, then it must be their 1st amendment right. The same is true about what constitutes a fact, what media should be censored, what politician should be elected, what minorities should not be tolerated, or whether miniature marshmallows should top the jello salad at the potluck. It's not opinion; it's their god-given constitutional right. Right?

Pass the Gate-Crasher Ministries

It sure can be interesting living in my county sometimes. A private fund-raiser for US Congressman Zack Space was held last night in Gambier, OH. The event was by invitation only. David Daubenmire of Pass the Salt Ministries was not invited but felt he needed to talk to Rep. Space so he acquired a copy of the invitation email and reproduced part of it with the RSVP phone no. then emailed it to Pass the Salt members suggesting they call the number and identify themselves as invited guests to get into the party. When the hosts found out about Daubenmire's email, they were forced to start screening RSVP calls and hire security.

David Daubenmire first came into the public eye when he was a coach at London (OH) High School where he refused to quit leading Xian prayers at practice and games. After being fired, he started Pass the Salt Ministries and Minutemen United. The ministries preach ultraconservative fundamentalism and insistence that the US is an exclusively Xian nation. Minutemen United is a group that protests, disrupts and tries to intimidate political groups and churches that express tolerance for gays, reproductive choice or the presence of other religious beliefs.

Daubenmire was also a highly visible supporter of John Freshwater and may have originated the bogus claim that Freshwater was only being fired for having a bible on his desk. He tried to get the board of education members removed who favored Freshwater's dismissal.

Zack Space, no doubt, is aware of the ideology of the Salty-Minutemen and also aware that they are media whores who seek out opportunities to get TV face-time where they can spew their narrow-minded, intolerant hatred. According to an article in the Mount Vernon News, the Salt Passers started showing up about 1/2 hr. after the fund-raiser started but were kept from approaching the home. Jeff Cline, speaking on behalf of the group, said they had a message that they needed to give to Rep. Space and then began to outline that message to the reporter.
It included lots of gems of enlightened wisdom like; “God is in control of this nation, not man. But our politicians seem to think they can do whatever they please. We believe that we, as Christians in this country, have to stand for what’s moral and what’s right. It’s pretty basic and pretty simple. [The hate crime bill] is they are going to legislate thought and speech on what we can say and what we can’t say. Jesus Christ should be the standard in this country, not Allah, not Buddha, not man. We firmly believe that God is bringing down a curse on this nation. We have turned our back on God in this country."

After the meeting, Zack Space offered to meet with two of the Salties without the media present. Not surprisingly, that offer was declined since that wouldn't allow them to tell the general public that the salty-minutemen are the most Xian, most patriotic, most knowledgeable about the best direction for the nation, most perfect interpreters of the desires of Jesus, and anyone who disagrees is a god-hating, America-hating, fag-loving, baby-killing, nation-destroyer who has no right to live in this country. What a fun group.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Wouldn't a Healthcare Riot Be Fun?

I think I just experienced my first push poll. This is probably because I'm still registered as a Republican even though I'm not homophobic, xenophobic, or Xian, and I don't tell or believe lies that are labeled as facts (these appear to be the current prerequisites for membership). My wife and I just decided long ago that one would register as a Dem. and the other as GOP to get all the voting info from both parties. I lost the coin toss.

Anyway, the phone rang this afternoon (I wish I'd paid more attention before I realized what was happening) and a woman's voice asked me to participate in a poll, she then ask me something like "Do you believe the government is being reckless in their handling of health-care?" I said "no", and she said "thanks", and hung up.

It's my understanding that a push poll usually has only one question, and the intention is not to get the called person's opinion, but to plant an idea in the person's head; in this case that the new health-care legislation is reckless and will jeopardize my health insurance. Probably the most famous push poll was right before the SC primary in 2000, when a "pollster" called people all over So. Carolina and asked if they knew that John McCain had fathered a black child. G. W. Bush's win in that primary is attributed to that push poll.

By comparison, this one question poll was pretty darn subtle and obviously some people are still trying to screw up health care legislation every way they can, but this conservative win-at-all-costs attitude is enabling the lunatic fringe. The resulting tumult is building some very scary momentum. Booths are set outside town hall meetings offering info that perpetuates the lies about death panels, euthanasia, ruination of medicare, etc. Signs depict Obama as Hitler, accuse him of taking not just their health care, but their religion, their guns, their money and their civil rights. People are screaming in the meetings and carrying guns outside.

We have healthcare execs financing disinformation to protect their multi-billion dollar profits, conservative politicians gleefully egging them on because they think of a failure of the plan as a personal victory, pundits spewing lies and hate to feed their own huge egos and show ratings and the victims of these puppet-master wannabees are frightened, frustrated, misinformed people who are on the verge of blind rage and could become homicidally violent at any moment.

There is a point where manipulating political facts for personal ends turns to inciting riots and conspiring to commit murder and I hope we're not as close to that point as it appears. Not that any of those doing the pot-stirring would admit any guilt, but I'd like to know how many murders and injuries do they think a political victory is worth? Also, if the victims arrive at the hospital without health insurance as a result of their machinations, is that a victory too?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Not Perfect, Just Forgiven. So?

Once again, someone directly involved with a Christian church has been indicted for a really heinous crime, but I doubt it will have any effect on the bias in the Xian community toward other Xians. A Sunday school teacher in CA has been indicted for kidnapping, raping and murdering an 8 year old girl and drugging a 7 year old and a 37 year old man in a separate incident.

This sort of thing occurs with enough frequency that it should give people pause before being more trusting of a person just because of a religious label, yet it never seems to work out that way. Some people will read a headline about priests or ministers molesting children in their care, or about a serial killer being an officer in his church, or about a religious leader conning people out of their life savings, then set the paper down and go vote for someone because that candidate is a Xian and therefore can be trusted.

When I was growing up, I always heard that someone, who added religious symbols or statements to their secular business, was prostituting their religion for personal gain, and was therefore neither a good Xian or a trustworthy businessperson. Nowadays it seems like every other business has a cross or a bit of scripture prominently displayed, knowing that plenty of folks will prefer that business because, "Oh! They're good Christians! We can trust them to be honest." The same thing goes for politicians, museum owners, book publishers, and apparently molesters, murderers and thieves.

Forrest Gump's mom always said, "Stupid is as stupid does," but I still am amazed that so many people can absolve themselves of responsibility for their own cognition. Yup, yup. Cross on sign, good, no cross on sign bad. Time to go back to thinking about dinosaurs on the ark.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Why Xians Need Rules

Maybe I just need to stop listening to and reading anything Xians write about their beliefs. I feel compelled to write comments arguing against their assertions, but the Xians just ignore them and the free-thinkers have heard it all before. A case in point; In the middle of some forum, one of god's select had to throw in the ol' chestnut about atheists not having morality because they don't have a religion to tell them the rules. As always, a freshman college course, in this case Social Anthropology, is sufficient to rebut that assertion, but I also thought about the light this assertion sheds on the Xian.

The insistence that morality can't exist without religious guidance, in spite of the fact that they keep addressing this to atheists who clearly understand and practice morality as adeptly as their Xian counterparts, suggests that maybe the Xians have no capacity to act morally without threats of eternal damnation. If these Xians feel that they, themselves, would be unable to act morally without thinking a vengeful god is watching over them, maybe they cling to the structure of religion to help them control their sociopathy.

Let's see, what are the symptoms of a sociopath, or what they now prefer to call a person with antisocial personality disorder? They include persistent lying (where have I seen that lately? Oh yeah, Ken Ham's Museum-o-lies.), an extreme sense of entitlement (like when someone feels that his personal beliefs should be part of public school curricula and be codified into local, state and federal law), lack of remorse or empathy (like the way he doesn't understand or care when people become upset, or become the victims of prejudice, as a result of his personal beliefs becoming part of the curriculum or the law), a tendency to violate the rights and boundaries of others (like when he fights to keep other religions out of his neighborhood, also see above), aggressive behavior (like threatening to murder someone for breaking a cracker), and, of course, a general difficulty distinguishing between right and wrong.

Well, maybe there are some slight similarities between sociopaths and evangelical Xians, but they're mighty subtle. So if these Xian writers assert that morality requires adherence to religion, because they themselves are unable to be moral without adherence to religion, we may never know for sure. Oh wait! What's the difference between a sociopath and a psychopath? I may have looked up the wrong one.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Christian Peace and Harmony

An article today in Yahoo news about a rift in a big Presbyterian church in FL, got me thinking about how often one sees claims that peace and harmony are among the benefits of being an Xian compared to the actual observed evidence. The above church is only unique in that it was one of the first mega-churches and that it has connections to Billy Graham and religious right leader D. James Kennedy. There's nothing at all unusual about seeing a headline that there is a rift within or between Xian denominations, and I suppose we should be glad that, at least in most places, the denominations aren't torturing and killing each other any more, but you'd think that when they make bumper stickers and song titles they might want to stick to claims that are less demonstrably false.

Most of the time when I hear of religious discord, I think of the bloody wars and suppression between Protestants and Catholics in Europe and Britain, but the first thing that came to my mind today was Africa. Have you ever wondered why there are so many followers of Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa, even though most of those nations were colonies of Xian countries? It seems that when the imperial Europeans decided to claim ownership of Africa, they included the traditional imposition of missionaries on the indigenous population, but the different Xian denominations spent so much time arguing with each other over who had more right to force their religion on the locals, that the Islamic missionaries were able to walk in with a monolithic message and convert everyone.

Maybe I'm the only one amused by this, but I'm always hearing about how the spread of Christianity, with all its manifest benefits, throughout the world is evidence of it being the true religion. Yet, it seems these guys are their own worst enemies and in spite of the constant discord, they'd like us to believe they are the primary force for achieving world peace and harmony.

Doing the Homework

I've been thinking back on a lot of the conversations, or maybe they're arguments, I've had with creationists and one thing stands out. I've read their bible and I've read some of the books written by Xian apologists, but it is clear that most, maybe all, of the creationists with whom I've conversed have never read anything that actually explains evolution, not even a Wikipedia article.

They all think they know what they're arguing against, but I seem to spend a lot of time explaining that the ideas they oppose are not really part of evolutionary theory and the ones who think they are most knowledgeable on the subject have only read the books that argue against evolution so they're just more adamant about their misconceptions. Basically, they are like someone who thinks he's an expert on a book because he's read a few reviews.

I was going to say something about how I wouldn't base my opinions on a critique of an idea without researching the actual idea, but that may be a big part of why I argue in support of evolution, and education in general, and they don't.

What I plan to do, and suggest others who support reality based concepts may also want to try, is start insisting that before a person can argue evolution, they must read at least one real book on the subject. If it's someone I trust I'll even loan them a book by Dawkins, Gould or the like. I also think I'll recommend, especially to those who have read some the apologist junk, that they read On the Origin of the Species just so they can see how often it is misrepresented. Everything by Darwin is available on line, so they have no excuse for not reading it unless they're Amish.

I don't know how well this strategy will work; maybe some people will end up reading some real science or maybe I'll just stifle communication, but it seems to me that we need to be more insistent that those who oppose evolution demonstrate that they've at least done a little homework on the subject they argue against. What do you think?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Insights on Insights on the Creation Museum Visit

One of the tweets about #CreoZerg contained a link to the site of Pastor Tom Estes, a man whose name I recognized from blog comments in defense of the Creation Museum. Estes’ blog contained a couple of articles relating his shared experience with the SSA group at the Museum which I thought were enlightening and a little baffling as to his point of view.
His first post described the visit itself beginning with him introducing himself to P. Z. Myers in the parking lot. He mentioned how relieved he was to not have to identify himself in front of hundreds of atheists, although he didn’t say why. Perhaps he thought they would pummel him with copies of Darwin’s writings. Anyway, Estes determined from his exchange of 5 or 10 words each that P. Z. was sarcastic.
Inside the Museum, Estes sat with Looy, the co-founder of AiG and one of the VP’s but later got up and listened to and watched the atheists go through the exhibits, but they were disrespectful, made fun of what the exhibits said and wore T-shirts that were against the rules (Actually, at least one student was taken to the restroom and ordered to turn his shirt inside out. Apparently he had ruined a family’s entire vacation by displaying a slogan with which they disagreed.) Furthermore, they said things like “That’s stupid,” without elaborating on why and he heard someone say he wished he had a 2 way radio to hear P. Z.’s comments. Oh yeah, the group looked like a bunch of misfits, and P. Z. was on an ego trip basking in the adoration instead of learning all the science there.
Incomprehensibly, what Pastor Estes seemed most concerned about was that someone might recognize him and take his picture! He even thought he caught some people surreptitiously trying to take a picture while he wasn’t looking. What is that about? Does he think the camera will steal his soul? Does he think his picture will be sent to freethinking hit men? Does he fear we will all draw a mustache and goatee on his picture and put it on a dart board? Sorry pastor, I don’t think anyone really wants your picture, except maybe to show a friend that this is that guy who was commenting on Pharyngula. As for hit men, I think you’ll find that when someone stalks and kills a person because they disagree with their beliefs, the atheist is usually the victim and the Xian the shooter.
As for P. Z. Myers, he is a hero to a lot of us and we’d never gotten to meet him before. Everyone would like to hear what he says, not because we’re little lost lambs in need of someone to define what we should think (that would be the Xians again), it’s because he is a Doctor of Biology and a college professor who is an expert on the science that is being desecrated in that museum. Plus we all admire his fashion sense.
Pastor Estes’ follow up article was a rebuttal to the post about the museum in Pharyngula. I think the Pastor’s view can be summed up by this quote from him: “In this statement he seems to show his complete lack of understanding in what the Creation Museum stands for. Obviously Ken Ham, Mark Looy, and the rest of us idiotic Bible believers believe in the flood, and if you believe the flood happened around 2348 BC, then naturally the fossils would be dated from that time.” He really thinks that starting with an untenable assumption and the cherry-picking and misrepresenting a few scientific facts so they appear to support his claim, is science. Quoting William Watkin from the ABC article about CreoZerg, "Everything they said about sediment deposition, about Mount St. Helens … anyone in first year geology would say 'wrong from top to bottom,”.
This is the whole point of what Estes saw and heard. This SSA group consisted of college students, college graduates, teachers and professors, who all know more about real science than he does. Of course they called things stupid without elaborating. They had all studied enough biology, geology, anthropology, paleontology, history, chemistry and physics, etc. to know why the entire museum and almost all its assertions are not scientifically honest or valid. One of the greatest exceptions being the display that talks about the irrelevance of race in our acceptance and love for the whole Human population. That was good.
If Pastor Estes would take a few undergrad science courses at a state university he might understand the difference between what Ken Hamm calls science and what people who actually do science call science. Then maybe he could put himself in the shoes, just for a minute, of someone like P. Z. Myers who has spent his entire adult life studying and teaching real science in real educational institutions and museums and see what a huge insult to and attack on every honest educator and student in the world this shrine to ignorance and propaganda, the Creation Museum, really is. And that's the Hard Truth.