Carnival of the Godless: You’re Going to Hell Edition

April 1, 2007

I want to tell everyone that I’ve found religion and realized that God exists. I’m not sure which God I believe in – the God my great great grandparents worshipped, the God that inspires people who bomb abortion clinics, or the God that inspires people who fly planes into buildings – but I know one exists and anyone who doesn’t believe is going to Hell.

Indeed, kindred spirit Jon Swift notes that the values of polytheistic heathen Gandhi are inimical to American values. Jesus implores people to uproot the noxious weed of logic and accepts that life begins at conception and ends at birth. And Buford Twain correctly recognizes that being religious is easier than being an infidel; doesn’t that immediately settle the discussion in God’s favor?

Maya notes how Godless liberalism is all around her: not only does the left believe in such lies as evolution and women’s rights, but also the right ignores God’s commandments to bathe after having sex, to bask in bashing babies against rocks, and of course to love one’s neighbor as one does oneself.

Dikkii correctly notes that Dawkins is overzealous and too harsh on agnostics. The problem is that Dawkins is of course too harsh on everything. You don’t have to read Dikkii’s post to know Dawkins is wrong – all you have to know is that he’s an atheist evolutionist.

It’s unfortunate that so many atheists think I’m one of them and spam me with their hatred. Of course, it’s always nice when they attack cults like Mormonism with its garments, or reproduce letters saying atheists should be thrown out of the US, or realize that God doesn’t subscribe to liberal doctrines like proportional response, or criticize religious liberals for having no intellectual leg to stand on.

But seriously, why send me all that hate literature? Do you think just because you can write secular poetry God will spare you? Do you think just making fun of the perfectly cogent argument that believing in God isn’t like believing in Santa Claus because nobody over the age of five believes in Santa Claus is substitute for accepting His authority (God’s, not Santa’s)?

Skeptico’s exploration of the acquittal of the cartoon editor who printed cartoons making fun of Muhammad stumps me; as I’m not sure whether it’s more enjoyable to bomb abortion clinics (motto: we kill the fetus without expensive medical instruments) or fly planes into buildings (motto: we fly packages straight to the office), I’m not sure whether I should rejoice that the courts permit caricaturing people of the wrong skin color and religion or be mad that blasphemers aren’t stoned.

But Mark Dominus’s complaint that the Bible gets the value of pi wrong is certainly off target. Like the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Wikipedia, the Bible is always right; whenever it conflicts with reality, reality is in error.

The same applies to John Wesley’s apologetics for sinning on the grounds that it’s a natural consequence of human civilization. Sean Prophet’s attempt to reconstruct the tree of knowledge by appealing to Godless science and some magic concerning citations in peer-reviewed papers is even more offensive to God’s creation.

As usual, there are the evolutionists who think they’re cleverer than God. Jared thinks merely pointing to scientific evidence for evolution is enough, as if God can’t change the laws of science at His whim. Biotunes goes as far as calling atheism the next evolutionary step for humans. And Jeremy Bruno dares make fun of a perfectly legitimate argument that God exists because the vanilla bee and vanilla orchid were created for each other.

Yet other people pretend to be serious intellectuals. GrrlScientist positively reviews God: The Failed Hypothesis, under the pretense that it’s possible to scientifically test God. A Load of Bright rants about how it’s bad for people to share their most intimate thoughts with God, who is omnibenevolent. Vjack says that Dawkins and Harris are very far from being atheist extremists. Rastaban makes five different arguments why God can’t exist, forgetting that the Lord works in mysterious ways knowable only to those who already believe.

And some people just want to insult us God-fearing folk. Aaron Ross Powell says atheism gives a higher value to life than religion does, which is just an outrage. AustinAtheist tries saying it’s bad for Christians to dialogue with one another. Hemant wants to desecrate the Gideon Bible. And Eight Hour Lunch says religion causes harm. If that’s notoffensive, I don’t know what is.

Finally, Stentor deserves to be commended for not spamming my inbox with anti-theistic graffiti. But he’s still going to go to Hell for saying that God brought Baal worship on Himself by instilling fear in His subjects.

Repent before it’s too late. The ludicrosity of what atheists say is self evident. If this doesn’t convince you, wait for two more weeks for the next Carnival of the Godless, to be posted on the heathen blog Neural Gourmet.


Georgia Violates Separation of Church and State

March 10, 2007

The Georgia Board of Education approved a new slate of classes, which purport to teach the Bible as literature and as a historical source, but will almost certainly become state-funded sermons.

Senate Majority Leader Tommie Williams, the Republican who sponsored the plan, said the Bible plays a major role in history and is important in understanding many classic literary works.

“It’s not just ‘The Good Book,'” Williams said. “It’s a good book.”

Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center, a nonpartisan civil liberties group, has said the Georgia policy is the nation’s first to endorse and fund Bible classes on a statewide level.

The bill approved overwhelmingly in the Legislature was tailored to make it clear the courses would not stray into religious teaching, Williams said.

The measure calls for the courses to be taught “in an objective and nondevotional manner with no attempt made to indoctrinate students.”

In theory, it’s a good idea. There are a lot of works with obvious ideological tones that should still be taught for their historical value; in the West, they include the Bible, the Qur’an, the Communist Manifesto, and the two Treatises of Government. But teaching just the Bible smacks of religious favoritism, since other scriptures, even those that are very relevant to a modern American, are excluded.

And further, in practice, classes will invariably become sermons. Even assuming that most Christian teachers can teach the Bible impartially, which is doubtful, there will be immense pressure on them to preach. Georgia has a large contingent of fundamentalists, who make a ruckus every time someone offends them by teaching evolution. In the land of anti-evolution stickers, I don’t expect Bible classes to remain impartial for more than a day.


Dominionism, Separation of Church and State, and Moderation

March 7, 2007

Jessica Dreadful notes that although Edwards claims God is neither a Democrat nor a Republican, he nonetheless rambles about how God agrees with him on issues like foreign policy and poverty. And as many people who know nothing of religious politics in the US, he ends up inventing his own position on school prayer, which is that children should get time to pray on their own. Jessica responds, “Great idea! Give children a certain amount of time to themselves where they can pray, think, basically do whatever they want! Why haven’t we thought of this before? Oh right, we have.. it’s called ‘recess.'”

Tyler uses the interview to start a frontal assault on the Democrats’ fellation of Dominionism. Why, he asks, do Democrats keep inviting people whose values are inimical to those of liberalism to the table? Or, in his own words,

The primary problem with Democrats appealing to evangelical voters is that most of them are bound to be like Jim Wallis. Maybe we have dragged them over on the economic issues, but they’re bound to be the same “culture of life” yahoos who current mill about on the right. In other words, we’ll probably end up with a crowd of modern William Jennings Bryans.

For a group to take over a party the way the religious right has seized the Republican Party, it must first have large numbers of voters and then have a leadership capable of telling the party to listen to its concerns. The leadership needs to be concerned primarily with the group’s main issues, and have a credible “We’ll vote the other way” threat; right-wing Dominionists don’t have the latter threat and aren’t interested in cultivating it, but make up for that in numbers.

Born-again Christians are already a quarter of the Democratic vote, but so many of them are minorities, whose leaders use their political capital to move the party left on race instead of right on religion, that they so far haven’t forced the party to adopt their religious agenda. More importantly, among minorities this arrangement has been there for decades; the influence of black churches has deterred the Democratic Party from cracking down on preachers who deliver tax-free political sermons, but has so far not prevented it from being pro-choice and mostly pro-science.

It’s plausible that the same arrangement could develop with working class whites. In such an arrangement, white Evangelicals would have a leader focusing primarily on labor and the environment, who would use religious language to talk to them but under no circumstances demand that the Democratic Party sacrifice a single socially liberal platform plank.

However, Jim Wallis is not such a leader. On the contrary, he openly disdains abortion and gay rights, and instead of telling religious people to vote Democratic spends his time telling the Democrats to lure religious people. His response to an incident such as Jerry Falwell’s claim that global warming is a Satanic myth would be more along the lines of telling the Democrats they must respect religious sentiments instead of ripping Falwell apart.

On the contrary, the group it makes the most sense for the Democrats to give voice to on matters of religion is non-religious voters. These probably comprise around 17% of the electorate now, albeit only 10% of voters, compared with 20% of the American population that attends church regularly. They naturally tend to be liberal, voting Democratic by margins approaching 3 to 1. And their primary issues are socially liberal platform planks that are already part of the core of liberal values.

When talking about issues important to people who vote based only on religious issues, it then makes much more sense for the Democrats to go all the way left. Obama shouldn’t be talking about the importance of religious charity; that only gives Wallis more political capital. Instead, it makes more political sense for him to talk about preventing religious charities from engaging in discrimination, which will lose him a small number of religious voters and regain an equal number of secularists.

Edwards’ approach is the worst, because it’s unreflectively moderate. On some issues, primarily foreign policy and some economic debates, there have evolved strong moderate positions that make sense in their own right. On religion, none has, so people who want to sound sensible end up making statements that are liable to piss everyone off. When Edwards says students need to get free time at school to pray, he doesn’t come off as a sensible centrist but as a clueless invertebrate.

The same pattern, in which there’s no serious moderate position, appears all over the map in social debates. On SSM, the moderate position, civil unions, has limited merit. On other gay rights issues, the American electorate has already abandoned the ad hoc compromise that is “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” On issues of science, there’s no compromise between good science and bad science. Abortion is alone among cultural issues in the US that admits a serious moderate position, but even it is different from what is considered sensible centrism on abortion, which is empty rhetoric about reducing the number of abortions.

And even on abortion, the Democratic Party has traditionally deferred to NARAL and Planned Parenthood. It’s changed lately, partly due to its courting of Dominionists and partly due to the waning influence of the old pro-choice movement. However, the latter has resulted mostly from women’s interests shifting to other issues; in contrast, no 34-year-old pro-secular consensus has existed that would make secular voters less interested in separation of church and state.


Obama Winks to Dominionists

March 5, 2007

What appears to be an innocuous battle between Clinton and Obama for black voters has in fact turned into a Dominionist reference on Obama’s part: “Generation Joshua.”

Obama, an Illinois Democrat, declared himself part of a new cohort of black political leaders that he called “the Joshua Generation.” It was Joshua, the Biblical successor to Moses, who led the Jewish people to the Promised Land after Moses delivered them from slavery in Egypt.

To the average voter, the term means nothing; it could just as well be yet another of Obama’s hope-inspiring phrases, one of many Biblical references to civil rights. It’s not exactly out of the ordinary to use religious language to refer to the struggle for black-white equality in the US.

But in fact, it has a very specific meaning to Dominionists: Generation Moses was the generation of parents who sequestered their children from the outside world by homeschooling them, while Generation Joshua is the generation of those now grown-up children who will conquer American politics for the movement. Like Bush’s phrase “Compassionate conservative,” this is a calculated wink to Dominionists that Obama is in fact one of them.

Unlike cases in which an organization coopts an opposing movement’s language, as in Feminists For Life’s title, here there is nothing to gain by talking about Joshua. The terms “feminist” and “pro-woman” have significant levels of support and are familiar throughout mainstream politics; the reference to Joshua is something nobody except Dominionists and people who have read Kingdom Coming will catch.

The actual racial references Obama makes are clever, but still not very remarkable. Obama notes that just like slave-descended blacks have a family history of slavery and segregation, so does his father have a history of being on the receiving end of colonialism. It’s clever insofar as it will define him as black to black Americans, who tend to care more about that than other Americans, and as practically white to white Americans, who only know about slavery; but it says nothing about his politics or even his campaign.

However, the religious references peg him once again as a Dominionist. His attempt to split the difference in his Call to Renewal and endorse the Dominionist charity agenda could be plausibly described as excessive moderation. However, excessive moderates don’t generally use extremists’ language. On the contrary, they’re typically more concerned with language than they should be, taking great care to e.g. not sound too socialist when they advocate more government in health care or education.

Even the appeal Obama made to black voters seemed to be too much about religion and too little about racial equality. Clinton at least paid lip service to poverty and inequality, though months earlier, when push came to shove, she was silent when NYPD murdered an innocent black civilian. Obama doesn’t even pretend to talk about those issues; instead, he tries talking to black people the same way the religious right is, and hopes that because he’s a black Democrat, he’ll succeed.


Carnival of the Godless #61 is Up

March 4, 2007

You know where to go. The highlights are a post on Daylight Atheism giving advice to the Christian man who has a problem with the fact that his wife refuses to have sex without birth conrol, which he believes to be a sin; a delightful takedown on atheism.about.com of the left-wing Dominionist notion that the Democrats must consider them the soul of their party; and a precise explanation due to Alonzo Fyfe of why Romney’s “We need a person of faith to lead this country” statement was pure bigotry. Finally, an even better albeit snarky takedown of Romney that didn’t make the carnival is on EvolutionBlog, explaining why Christians can’t be trusted to lead.


Tuesday Night Links

February 27, 2007

Echidne examines the consequences of shrinking government to the point that it can be drowned in a bathtub. She looks at what spending cuts have done to the FDA, which is conducting just half the food safety inspections it did three years ago (link). I don’t want to blow government out of proportions; I just want to increase it to the size that I can ride the subway without being infected with cholera, eat uncooked chicken without getting salmonella, and walk under a shed without worrying about the possibility of a collapse.

Ezra writes about free trade; although he has populist sentiments, he’s fairly pro-trade. In a heated argument between Brad DeLong and Jeff Faux, he comes down clearly on DeLong’s side after Faux dodges a legitimate question about free trade’s positive effects on China. Ezra takes Faux to task for ranting about Chinese domestic economic policy for being bad for the poor. Why impoverishing China by slapping tariffs on it will cause its government to change its policy when similar sanctions against other countries have miserably failed is beyond me.

Samhita asks whether it can truly be called feminist empowerment when women in Pakistan protest the demolition of illegally built mosques. The people on the comment thread tend toward realizing that, to quote EG, “Women are a huge segment of the population, and no social/political/religious movement would succeed without any support from women. But that doesn’t make the movement inherently feminist.”

Jenny explains why it’s not a feminist duty to support Hillary Clinton. Just like I don’t accuse anyone who opposes Obama of hating black people and anyone who opposes Richardson of hating Hispanics, so do I oppose allegations that opposing Clinton is something sexist. The proper feminist or antiracist or pro-gay or pro-atheist thing to do is support a candidate based on real issues, regardless of gender/race/sexual orientation/religion. Feminism doesn’t exist to empower Hillary Clinton, but to empower the 3,249,999,999 women who aren’t so powerful as to have a shot at becoming the most powerful person in the world.

Lindsay writes about the difference between the left-wing American blogosphere and the right-wing one. While the left-wing blogosphere seeks to turn itself into part of the Democratic Party, featuring a motley crew of policy analysts, movement activists, fundraisers, and screamers, the right-wing blogosphere only engages in scalping of the type Donahue did to Amanda.

Ruchira reproduces an article about Tehran that seems to strike the correct chord in depicting the city as highly cultured and developed and at the same time suffering from a fundamentalism problem. This isn’t Kandahar or even Baghdad we’re talking about, but a modern city that doesn’t have many ingrained problems a revolution won’t solve.

Brent notes that Mitt Romney is hardly the only person in the US who thinks atheists can’t be Presidents. A clueless law professor at Colorado University rants about atheists from about every imaginable angle, including coming out in support of Romney’s bigotry. Brent takes him to task for spouting inanities about atheists’ morality.

Skatje takes down arguments for preserving the Pledge of Allegiance so that you don’t have to. Hitting the nail right on the head, she says, “An oath of loyalty is something you see in totalitarian regimes, not something you’d expect in a nation that prides itself on freedom. In a classroom with children from as young as age five robotically chanting at a flag every morning, I’d also expect a big silver screen on one of the walls. I’ve already written about nationalism. Submission and obedience to a government is another leg of it.”

Tyler rants about excessive moderates who in order to look centrist compare atheists to fundamentalists. Unlike Tyler I don’t care enough for Dawkins to get agitated when someone does a hatchet job on him, but I do care enough for reality to see that atheism is as extreme as fundamentalism to the same degree that supporting full racial equality is as extreme as apartheid.


Religion and Welfare

February 26, 2007

In most countries secularism is positively correlated with support for welfare, but does welfare make people more secular? Anthony Gill of the University of Washington says yes; in 2004, he and grad student Erik Lundsgaarde published a paper arguing that welfare provides a substitute for church attendance, making people less likely to attend church.

The full theory goes as follows: in the 19th century, the power of Christian churches came from their ability to provide social services such as charity, education, and health care. As the state started providing the same services without requiring or expecting church attendance, it became less economic for people to attend church, and less economic for church leaders to focus on welfare activities.

This theory has a lot of holes in it, but the study has some empirical backing. There’s a statistically significant relationship between a Christian country’s welfare spending as a percentage of GDP and the percentage of people in it who report attending church weekly, even when controlling for such variables as education and whether the country is Catholic or not. The weakness of the study comes not from its lack of data, but from flaws in how the variables are defined, failure to look for alternative explanations, and problems with individual case studies.

First, the study doesn’t explicitly say how welfare spending is measured. This is significant because it right off the bat fails to control for key factors. Most importantly, the most expensive part of the welfare state is social security, whose cost increases with the old age dependency ratio. But more religious states have higher population growth rates, leading to younger demographics and lower social security costs.

It’s possible to get around that by looking at states that buck the trend and are both relatively religious and relatively old. The best case study here is Poland, which is simultaneously the most religious nation in Europe and one of the oldest. Additional examples include Spain, Portugal, and to some extent Italy. The only one of the four that appears in the scattergram plotting church attendance and welfare spending is Spain, which is considerably more religious than the regression line predicts.

In addition, even when one controls for old age pensions, not all governments spend welfare the same way. The USA prefers targeted tax breaks, making its welfare system appear stingier than it actually is. In addition, some benefits can be distributed either as welfare or as spending on health care and education, which the study doesn’t account for. A good example in the US would be free lunches in schools, a welfare service that adds to the education budget.

Second, the omission of education spending is crucial. A church often thrives by having its own set of parochial schools. The standard British joke about catechism is that religious education only secularizes people, though the more common sensical effect is the opposite, namely that greater availability of parochial schools will make the population more religious. Education spending is correlated to welfare spending via the mediating variable of economic liberalism or socialism. As such, Gill and Lundsgaarde commit a grave sin of omission by overlooking it.

Likewise, a more direct political mediating variable could account for much of the correlation. In a followup paper, Gill notes that the correlation between welfare and religosity holds within US states, too. But within the US, both welfare and secularism fall under the rubric of liberal politics, contrasted with the welfare-busting and religiosity of conservative politics.

This in fact holds true in Europe and Latin America, which comprise all countries in the study but two, the US and Australia. Throughout Europe and Latin America, even more so than in the US, there is a strong tradition of anti-clerical liberalism. It’s likely that all Gill’s motivating example of Uruguay shows is that Uruguay has a long history of domination by the left-liberal Colorado Party.

Third, the main measure used for religiosity, reported church attendance, is deeply flawed. The USA’s real church attendance rate is half its reported rate. The church attendance variable tracks not how many people attend church, but how many would like pollsters to believe that they attend church. This variable has some value, but is overall less important than data based on actual church attendance.

The other figure used, the percentage of people who declare themselves nonreligious, is flawed as well. There are two dimensions to religious affiliation – one’s choice of religion, which tracks culture, and one’s position along the religious-secular spectrum. More plural areas, especially those with strong connections between religion and culture, will have a lower percentage of people calling themselves nonreligious than less plural areas.

Fourth, many of the assertions in the study admit too many inexplicable case study exceptions. Ireland and the Philippines’ unusually high levels of religiosity are attributable to the role the Catholic Church played in pro-independence and anti-Marcos politics respectively; I presume Poland could be similarly explained away, were it in the study. But other exceptions require seriously modifying the theory.

For example, the study would predict an increase in American church attendance rates after the welfare reforms of the 1990s. The American study only finds a slightly less significant correlation between welfare and religion in 1995; meanwhile, there was a measurable increase in church attendance in the two months following the 9/11 attacks.

For another example, the case study of Britain goes in almost the opposite direction as the one the study predicts. Britain hasn’t had a serious welfare system since Thatcher’s economic reforms. And yet, in the 1990s, religious belief crashed, and while children of secular parents always grew up to be secular, children of religious parents had only a 50% chance of growing up to be religious. Levels of belief crashed even among Muslims, who Britain forces a religious identity on in many respects.

And fifth, there are alternative explanations that the study should look at but doesn’t. First, it’s legitimate to ask why support for welfare correlates so nicely with secularism in Western politics. It could be an ideological accident that modern liberalism is secular and pro-welfare and modern conservatism is religious and anti-welfare; after all, in turn-of-the-18th-century Britain, it was the Tories who were more supportive of extensive Poor Laws and the Whigs who favored a libertarian economic policy.

Or, equally well, it could be the realpolitik version of what the study is trying to say: welfare is a substitute for religion. As such, religious organizations are likely to ally themselves with political groups that oppose welfare. It holds to some extent for modern conservatives, though by no means for all. In 1900, the US populists were both pro-religion and pro-welfare, and would only embrace prosperity theology in the 1960s and 70s.

A good way of gauging such political explanations is seeing if the same trends hold for non-Western countries. Muslim organizations provide the same welfare Christian ones do; in fact, one of the main power sources of Islamist movements is their strong performance in disaster relief. Of course, Islamism has an entirely different dynamic to it – its main promise isn’t charity but change – but it’s useful to examine this dynamic and see how it can apply to the West. How relevant is the promise to change the morally uncertain status quo to the rise of American Dominionism?

I should stress that except perhaps for the problematic definitions of the variables, this study is not shoddy. A data set comparing religiosity and welfare is always useful. The study’s downfall is in using the data to confirm a theory that has no other evidence to it. Although the study seems to satisfy the falsification criterion in that Gill intended for it to highlight the failure of the theory, in fact it does not falsify the statement “welfare does not cause a decline in religiosity.” All it does is superficially confirm the statement that welfare does in fact cause religiosity to fall.

Of the many different angles the study could take, the one about a direct effect of welfare on religiosity is one of the most obvious two, which is probably why Gill went with it. The other, that religious groups lobby against welfare, is more empirically plausible than the converse direction of causation, but does not fit well into Gill’s theory. But more indirect links, for example with education or political liberalism as a mediating variable, look far more fruitful. The study’s ultimate downfall is not so much that it is wrong as that it is woefully incomplete, concentrating on perhaps the least enlightening theory available.


Real Oppression

February 20, 2007

Sheelzebub’s post about Christian bigots is a good reminder of how detached from reality a majority that feels dispossessed can be. I’m not making any apologies here: people who rant about how the US (or Europe) oppresses whites, Christians, men, “decent people,” and so on are idiots. Plain and simple.

In Saudi Arabia, Christians are not allowed to build churches. The state tolerates their religious practices as long as they’re confined to their homes, but does not allow them to practice Christianity in public. The same applies to any religion but Islam; Indian migrant workers have no hope of finding a Hindu temple to worship in. That’s oppression.

In the US, Christian children are allowed to pray in school iff they aren’t led or dragooned by teachers and pray during recess. Occasionally, when the Christian majority will abuse its powers and find an opportunity to pray that excludes religious minorities, the ACLU will file suit; if the religious minorities in question are lucky, they won’t be harassed or persecuted by angry Christian mobs. That’s oppression, too, but Christians aren’t the ones who are being oppressed.

Portraying one’s group as oppressed regardless of the facts has a long history, going all the way back to countless ancient populist struggles. Hitler didn’t rise to power by promising to abuse non-Aryans, but by promising to protect Aryans from outside humiliation and inventing a communist repression of Germany that didn’t exist. Just because you don’t get everything done your way doesn’t make you oppressed; it makes you less than an absolute dictator.

If you want to convince me you’re actually oppressed, you have to do better than rant about the evil ACLU/patriarchy/hegemony/Jewish conspiracy. If all you can give me is a heartwrenching anecdote, then all I can give you is an “Oh, that sucks” sympathy. Look, women and minorities are at best severely underrepresented in legislatures and routinely discriminated against in employment, and at worst confined to their homes and ghettos respectively. Gays are legally discriminated against and legally harassed. The religious groups that claim to be oppressed are often the ones that are perpetrating those persecutions.


Romney: Fanatic or Liar?

February 18, 2007

An anti-Mormon bigot heckled Romney at an event in Florida, calling him a “Pretender”; Romney responded, “We need a person of faith lead the country.” In other words, Romney believes, as Pat Robertson does, that atheists are unfit to lead.

Or, at least, that’s what he says to Evangelical crowds in Florida. To the mainstream media, he adopts a more moderate image, touting the importance of separation of church and state. On the one hand, he says, “Well, we have a separation of church and state in this country, and we should and it’s served us well.” On the other, like Obama, he opposes separation of church and state in practice. For example, on faith-based initiatives, he says,

Well, we don’t fund faith-based institutions, other than when they’re performing a non-faith role.

So right now we have faith-based initiatives in our state. Ann happens to lead that effort. And some of the faith-based institutions, particularly in the inner city, are doing a lot better job helping the poor, helping kids, helping families get on their feet than some government social service agencies.

So helping them in their secular role is, of course, fine.

There are several errors and sins of omission in that statement. Most importantly, there’s a huge problem of enforcement of laws against proselytizing on the state’s dime. In principle, religious organizations can get charity funding if a) they fund their charity activities from a separate, non-fungible account, b) the charity organization obeys all anti-discrimination laws, and c) the charity activities do not include any proselytization. In practice, none of the three conditions is seriously enforced.

It’s a trivial matter for a religious group to make its charity account de facto fungible. Engaging in charity is part of the job description; if the government didn’t put in a dime, the group would just step up its funding by spending less on religious activities. When Islamist groups engage in charity, Western governments often outlaw them based on ties to terrorism, even if the charity money is non-fungible. By the same argument, Dominionist groups that support discrimination against gays and atheists should be at least denied government funds, even if the government doesn’t outlaw giving them money.

Second, discrimination against gays in charity employment is routine. When New York State intended to start enforcing those laws, Salvation Army, which discriminates against gays, threatened to pull its entire operation from the state. Salvation Army went as far as engaging in lobbying against federal enforcement of anti-discrimination laws, while still enjoying a tax-exempt status.

And third, outside Romney’s disingenuous statements to the press, religious charities are always based on preaching. The prison initiative Brownback participated in was all about prayer. Obama’s Call to Renewal says that, “one can envision certain faith-based programs – targeting ex-offenders or substance abusers – that offer a uniquely powerful way of solving problems.”

In the rest of the interview, he keeps weaseling, waffling, flip-flopping, and triangulating. He first claims that “Abortion is taking human life” and then weasels out of answering the inevitable question of what the penalty should be. George Stephanopoulos tells him, “Murder is illegal in every state,” and he answers by spouting something about morals.

On gay rights, he begins by saying he’s against discrimination, and then continues by saying that “‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ has worked well”; presumably, that the US military dismissed Arab translators, who were in shortage, because they were gay, does not conflict with working well. As expected, he’s against gay marriage even though he still says he’s for equal rights.

One of the advantages of Brownback is that I know where he stands. I know that when he rants about morality or abortion, he means it. In contrast, Romney is just an overall liar. As a secularist I can’t fathom even being neutral on him because of his open anti-atheist bigotry. Equally well, if I were a Dominionist I’d be suspicious of him because of his constant waffling on cultural issues.


Carnival of the Godless #60 is Up

February 18, 2007

Manifold Fates is still down, so Brent posted the 60th edition of COTG on UTI, including my own post about freedom from religion, which I don’t remember submitting to the carnival.

In related news, accidental blogger Ruchira Paul writes about the Texas legislator who said the theory of evolution was a Kabbalistic conspiracy and therefore unconstitutional to teach in public schools. She concludes, “Texas Governor Rick Perry recently issued an executive order to make vaccination of pre-teen girls with Gardasil mandatory in order to protect them from the Human Papilloma Virus.  Alas, no vaccine, mandatory or optional, exists to protect the children from the willful ignorance of their elders.”

Ann’s Weekly Feminist Reader has two stories about fundamentalist outrage. First, in Israel, certain ultra-Orthodox Jews are working hard to dispel the notion that Islam is uniquely abusive toward women. In Haredi areas, such as the entire city of Bnei Brak, buses are de facto gender segregated, with women sitting in the back. Now a woman who was harassed for not going to the back of the bus is launching a class action lawsuit aiming to break the gender-segregated buses.

And second, the Catholic Church is ranting about Portugal’s referendum. The national conference of bishops whined, “The favorable result for the ‘yes’ is a sign of accentuated cultural mutation by the Portuguese people.” I’m glad the bishops are coming to understand they’re behind the times. The Catholic Church has only itself to blame; it doomed itself to irrelevance when it elected Ratzinger Pope.


Most American Christians Hate Atheists

February 16, 2007

Hat-tip to Jim: Gallup has just released a new “Would you vote for a well-qualified ___ Presidential candidate?” poll where the blank can stand for any political minority. As expected, atheists are the most hated.

If Your Party Nominated A Generally Would You Be Comfortable In Voting Well-Qualified Candidate For WH ’08 For A WH ’08er Who Was ___, Would You Vote For That Person?

                          Yes No
Catholic                  95%  4%
Black                     94   5
Jewish                    92   7
A woman                   88  11
Hispanic                  87  12
Mormon                    72  24
Married for third time    67  30
72 years old              57  42
A homosexual              55  43
An atheist                45  53

Nonreligious people were about 14% of the American population in 2001, up from 8% in 1990, so by extrapolation we can assume that 17% of Americans are nonreligious and that all of them would vote for an atheist. That means that of the remaining 83%, 64% wouldn’t vote for an atheist compared with 34% who would.

On another note, Romney is a Mormon, Giuliani is married for the third time, and McCain will be 72 in November 2008.


Tuesday Small Hours Links

February 13, 2007

There are so many good links from the last day or two.

Jessica Dreadful breaks another abortion ban story from South Dakota, this time with exceptions for rape and incest in order to make the bill more palatable. But even then, the rape and incest exceptions are created with the most draconian restrictions possible.

[Link] The bill would allow rape victims to get abortions if they report the rapes to police within 50 days. Doctors would have to confirm those reports with police; doctors also would have to give blood from aborted fetuses to police for DNA testing in rape and incest cases.

The Commissar explains exactly what is wrong with the Bush administration’s accusations of Iranian support for Iraqi militants. Instead of trying to doubt the intelligence that was used to gather the conclusions, he shows why the conclusions themselves are implausible.

At the recent US military briefing about the Iranian mortar shells given to Iraqi Shiite militias, it was reported that these super-bombs have killed 170 US troops since June, 2004. I’m sure that Shiite IED’s have killed American troops in Iraq. How many overall? If the Iranian EFP’s have killed 170 Americans, what fraction is that of the total.

(…)

Of the 553 (82+471) where the sect of the attacker can be reliably inferred, 15% of these deadly IED attacks were committed by Shiites. Extrapolated to the full set, that would be 144 overall. That’s right. Only 144 Shiite-IED related deaths since June 2004.

Ezra has a three part series on the horrors of prison rape. While he doesn’t use the wonky style we all know and love, his posts still come off as very strong. He notes,

According to the Justice Department, “[in] 2005 there were 3,145 black male sentenced prison inmates per 100,000 black males in the United States, compared to 1,244 Hispanic male inmates per 100,000 Hispanic males and 471 white male inmates per 100,000 white males.” This is important. The relative infrequency with which white Americans enter prison, particularly for extended periods of time, surely effects the political urgency of prison reform. Indeed, it’s likely the reason overall legislation pushes in the other direction — towards overcrowding and longer sentences and less rehabilitation.

Brent reproduces a letter about the invisibility of atheists in the US. Since atheists are impossible to immediately discern from theists, bigoted Christians can get away with assuming that everyone in their lives who is a good person shares their religion. Based on that, he urges atheists to come out publicly.

First, misconceptions about us abound because of this invisibility. People don’t realize that we are their doctor, their teacher, their spouse or the nice guy that just held the door for them. The only face of naturalism a person is likely to see is a militant one. Is there any doubt that the image of naturalists would improve overnight if politicians, stars and athletes would come out?

d of Lawyers, Guns and Money comments on a statement by Bill Kristol about Obama that makes Joe Biden look like the second coming of Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, W. E. B. DuBois, and Frederick Douglass all rolled into one. Kristol says Obama would’ve supported pro-slavery politicians in the 1850s. d notes,

When Kristol suggests — wearing his arrogant smirk like a badge of honor — that Barack Obama “would have been for Douglas in 1858,” he seems not to know one important historical fact. According to the laws of Illinois in 1858, Barack Obama would not only have been incapable of voting for Stephen Douglas, but he also would not have been allowed to enter the state in the first place. In 1853, Illinois passed one of the most restrictive black codes in the so-called “free north.” Blacks from other states were permitted to remain in the state for ten days; if they did not leave, they were subject to arrest and temporary enslavement — they would be sold to bidders who would be entitled to their labor until the mandatory $50 fine had been worked off. If the offending individual remained in Illinois after his or her release, the fines increased by $50 increments for each subsequent offense.

In her latest basic concepts post, Shelley turns to prions, the proteins that cause mad cow disease. Although they are proteins rather than organisms, they have the capability to mess with existing proteins in a way that makes them infectious in a way.

The protein that prions are made of is found throughout the body normally(called PrPc), although what their non-disease function is is not yet known. These proteins are encoded by the PRNP gene, and mutations in this gene are responsibly for inherited prion diseases. The disease-state prion protein is called (PrPSc) and is resistant to proteases which would normally denature a protein and render it harmless. The theory of how prions become infectious to other proteins is detailed below.

Abbas reproduces a letter by Waleed Hazbun, a visiting professor at the American University of Beirut. Hazbun describes the city,

Walking down the streets of the Hamra district of Beirut I think to myself that more cities across the Arab world should feel this way. Even as the city is re-dividing itself politically and police and security forces stand watch over public spaces, key buildings, and the residences of leading politicians, Beirut remains a urban, cosmopolitan environment. By invoking this term I do not refer to the fancy shopping districts with Euro-American name brand shops, the haut-hipsters hanging out a Starbucks (or even the much cooler De Prague), or the late night dancing parties going on at the trendy clubs. Beirut is a costal Levantine city that has never been cut off from other Mediterranean cities and trade routes nor fully isolated from its Arab/Islamic hinterland. It is not a show case ‘modern’ city built next to a museumfied medieval era ‘madina,’ like Tunis nor an artificial metropolis emerging out of a desert landscape due to royal patronage or the flows of petrodollars. It is more like Istanbul and how cities on coast of Mandate Palestine might have developed in some alterative reality.

Also on 3QD, Dhiraj Nayyar writes about the parallels between India and the US. India is aspiring to global superpower status, complete with economic domination and massive exportation of culture. But the social problems of the US pale in comparison with those of India.

Can India possibly claim to be superpower, the new emperor, just because some of it’s corporates are taking over firms abroad. Corporate might hasn’t turned into well-being for the majority of the people who still languish in poverty, illiteracy, hunger: basically dismal human conditions. Even possessing a few nuclear weapons doesn’t change this fact. And if half a country’s population cannot read, feed or cloth itself, what does that say about the empire? Even the American empire seems hollow when it is estimated that one in six people in the US is functionally illiterate, a large number of them live in poverty, where poverty is often a function of race, and where hurricanes like Katrina leave the mighty government fumbling for solutions.

Tyler expresses skepticism of much-hyped developments in quantum computing. In principle, quantum computers can factor integers in polynomial time, compared with exponential time for normal computers. In practice, constructing a quantum computer is about as feasible as fusion power at this stage. Tyler explains,

An actual working 16-qubit quantum superconductor that can overcome decoherence and the ubiquitous errors that plague any effort to build a computing device on quantum principles would be quite an achievement. It would indeed be interesting to do a full scale quantum computation, perhaps actually executing the Shor factoring algorithm. But A.) 16-qubits isn’t going to cut it and B.) they’ve been ominously reserved about releasing any results for professionals and academics to evaluate. And needless to say, with the grandiose proclamations the folks at the company have made, I’m skeptical.

Zuzu rips into the third chapter of Dawn Eden’s book, The Thrill of the Chaste (the parts Zuzu quotes sound as unintelligent as the title).

The chapter opens with a description of a continuing education course on “Living Single.” Dawn reads the description — which is all about helping people confidently navigate the single world, whether they’ve never left it or are re-entering it — and all she sees is “lack.”

She would, wouldn’t she?

I mean, her whole life, she’s felt lacking, and though she’s changed her strategy, her goal is the same: get married. Thing is, as she does so many times, she breezes right by the point. The course is designed to alleviate some of the social pressure that single adults feel to be in a couple, that they are in fact lacking something. It’s designed to help people understand that they don’t need to be in a couple to have fulfilling lives. But Dawn just sees the course as evidence that women are mired in a pathetic, pop-culturally-dictated “single lifestyle” that is all about lack — that lack being, of course, lack of a man and lack of God.

Finally, Bora collects all Darwin Day posts in one big link post. I haven’t had time to look at them yet, but you should.


Portugal Fails to Legalize Abortion, But All is Not Lost

February 11, 2007

Portugal’s referendum to legalize abortion in the first ten weeks of pregnancy was partially successful. About 60% of voters said yes, but turnout was too low to make the referendum binding; however, the result gives the Socialist-dominated parliament the political capital necessary to overturn the law itself.

Debate over the abortion law, one of the most restrictive in the European Union, pitted the Socialist government against conservative parties and the Catholic Church, which claims more than 90 percent of Portuguese as followers.

Under current law, the procedure is allowed only in cases of rape, fetal malformation or if a mother’s health is in danger, and only in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

(…)

It could still be some time, however, before the law is changed. A bill would have to be voted on first in parliament and then go to the president for approval. It would come into force only when the new legislation is published in the public records _ a procedure that usually takes several months.

Portugal is one of the most religious nations in Europe; it’s almost on a par with Poland. The Catholic Church is, as always, the prime mover behind abortion restrictions. The three EU countries with the strictest abortion restrictions – Ireland, Poland, and Portugal – are also the ones where the Catholic Church is strongest.

Officially, the Catholic Church’s position was that people shouldn’t vote. But that was the pro-lifer’s rational strategy, since voting no could increase turnout above the requisite 50% without unseating the majority for yes. If that sounds too abstract, consider this: at 60% yes and a turnout of 44% (though CNN’s reporting 34-40, not 44), if 7% of the population turned out and voted no instead of abstained then the turnout would’ve been high enough but there would’ve been a 52-48 majority for legalization.

Prime Minister Socrates is right when he calls the current law backward. Portugal has the second least sexually promiscuous population of all European countries surveyed but one of the highest teen birth rates; Poland has the least promiscuous population and about the same teen birth rate as Portugal. The third pro-life European country, Ireland, only has teen birth statistics, which are as bad as these of Portugal and Poland.

For sure, legalizing abortion alone only increases the abortion rate, though it’s at the expense of unwanted births. But it makes abortion safer and recognizes its existence. Portuguese women who go to Spain to abort don’t enter any Portuguese statistics. So this will help people recognize just how bad the problem of teen pregnancy is, and what is needed to prevent it (hint: there’s a reason NL has the lowest overall rate).


Catholics, Jews, and Delusions of Oppression

February 10, 2007

Fitz’s comment on Majikthise that the Catholic League is a Catholic civil rights organization, and the periodic casting of critics of Israel as anti-Semites, together display many unnerving parallels. The delusion of oppression is a radical pathology that is present in smaller amounts among non-radicals. Whether this oppression exists or not is immaterial; organizations like the Catholic League would look for it in the wrong places anyway.

Being an oppressed group carries a few fringe benefits: the right to call clueless members of the majority group bigoted, greater leeway in criticizing mainstream values, mainstream tolerance of safe spaces. These are far outweighed by the very real effects of discrimination, but white people are likelier to notice a black person who calls the media racist than a hundred white people who support school segregation.

Now, enter ethnic whites. Many were discriminated against in the past for being named Ferrera or Cohen or O’Leary or even Bauer, rather than Jones. In that climate, it’s easy for organizations like the Catholic League and the Anti Defamation League to sell themselves as civil rights organizations, while engaging in pure sacroturf and political intimidation.

Conservative WASPs can’t talk about the civil equality of people who came to the US on the Mayflower without looking like idiots. Therefore, they launch organizations that try to make it look as if white Christians are an oppressed group: the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family, the Moral Majority. Talk radio hosts like Limbaugh and Savage demonize black people and complain about black racism in order to portray whites as a marginalized group.

Obviously, some of these do suffer from latent discrimination. Hate crimes against Jews exist, though more in Europe than in North America, and in mostly Jew-free areas of the US, anti-Semitic bigotry runs rampant. The ADL really was a civil rights group for a long time, allied with the ACLU and the NAACP.

But right now, systematic discrimination against Jews and other ethnic whites is gone. Jews and Catholics are overrepresented in the Supreme Court. Kerry ws criticized for being insufficiently Catholic rather than too Catholic. For the individual cases of civil rights violations that invaribly linger, there’s the ACLU.

So in their lust to become oppressed minorities, many Jews and Catholics (Jews more so than Catholics) turn to organizations that support a controversial country’s controversial policies. For Catholics, that country is the Vatican, with its Papal social policy. For Jews, it’s obviously Israel, with its occupation of Palestine.

These delusions of oppression create absurd political alliances. Most hawkish Jews have internalized the notion that Jewry equals Israel to the point that they ally themselves with anti-Semites as long as they support Palestine. In Europe, they end up apologizing for anti-Semites on the extreme right whose redeeming feature is hating Muslims more.

And the Catholic League is simply the Catholic version of the religious right. Non-denominational and Protestant organizations call anyone who disagrees with them an anti-religious traitor with no evidence; the Catholic League uses “anti-Catholic bigot” instead.

This despite the fact that many Catholics in the US are in fact oppressed for being Hispanic. Given that almost all of the 14.5% of Americans who are Hispanics are Catholics, it’s likely that the majority of American Catholics are Latino. In light of that, supporting civil rights for Catholics in the US means supporting greater rights for immigrants and measures for racial equality.

It’s true that Anglo racism isn’t religious in nature, Samuel Huntingon’s rationalizations notwithstanding. But the NAACP and NOW don’t attack discrimination directly, either. Abortion, school funding, paid family leave, and public housing aren’t strictly speaking about gender or race; they just affect women and minorities disproportionated, making it sensible for NOW and the NAACP to advocate for them.

The organizations that do the most to advance Catholics’ and Jews’ civil rights are the traditional civil rights organizations, especially the ACLU. Although the ADL was traditionally a civil rights organization, it broke away from the civil rights movements after the 1960s, preferring to focus on shoring up public support for the occupation of Palestine.


Carnival of the Godless #59 is up

February 4, 2007

This edition’s host is Martin Rundkvist, the biggest blog whore I know of. It also happens to feature plenty of great posts, making it hard to only choose 2 or 3 highlights. I had to artificially weed out everything that was too abstract or talked too much about personal experience.

Nonetheless, here they are:

Churchianity Today has a parody timeline of the early 22nd century, in which the American Psychological Association declares religion a mental illness, and the Supreme Court okays institutionalizing religious people.

Saint Gasoline rebukes Terry Eagleton’s critique of Dawkins, explaining exactly why it’s appropriate for Dawkins not to immerse himself in pointless medieval arguments about theology.

Populist Party writes about the fundamental evil that is Dominionism, drawing parallels between Dominionism, sexism, racism, and imperialism.

The next edition is on Manifold Fates, to appear on 2/18. And I promise I’ll participate this time, after skipping this edition.


Freedom from Religion

February 4, 2007

Revere writes about a religion panel on CNN that berated an atheist family that got ostracized when it complained about officially-sanctioned prayer in public schools, and concluded that freedom of religion doesn’t exist. The money quotes from the panel are,

Hunter: I think they need to shut up about crying wolf all the time and saying that they’re being imposed upon. I personally think that they should never have taken prayer out of schools. I would rather there be some morality in schools. But they did that because an atheist went to court and said their child — don’t pray.

Schlussel: Listen, we are a Christian nation. I’m not a Christian. I’m Jewish, but I recognize we’re a Christian country and freedom of religion doesn’t mean freedom from religion.

Freedom of religion means that one has the right to practice one’s religion, within reasonable legal parameters. Choosing to eat kosher food falls under freedom of religion; stoning unchaste women doesn’t. That right appears in every liberal democratic constitution I know of, along with freedom of speech.

Freedom from religion means that one has the right not to have another religion imposed on him. This is somewhat fuzzier, since a lot of religious restrictions have ostensibly secular purposes. But even then, it’s usually possible to tell intuitively what violates freedom from religion and what doesn’t. Requiring all women to wear hijabs does, as does pressuring children to pray in public schools. Having no non-kosher restaurants in the neighborhood doesn’t.

That freedom is just as legally enshrined as freedom of religion. Sometimes, it’s enumerated explicitly in a constitution. At other times it’s not, but is inferred from other freedoms: freedom of speech, privacy, freedom of religion, and so on. In the US there is no explicit guarantee of freedom from religion, but there is a guarantee of the closest principle, separation of church and state. That ensures the state may not impose religious restrictions that have no clear secular purpose.

We can bicker about what “secular purpose” means, but usually the best appeal is to the justifications people give for a restriction. Restrictions on abortion or stem cell research are often motivated by religion, but justified by appealing to a secular principle. The same applies to some obscenity laws, especially those about the media. In contrast, bans on homosexuality and sodomy laws are almost exclusively justified by talking about God, which makes them impositions of religious values on the general population.

In principle, it’s possible to have freedom of religion without freedom from religion. In practice, it never happens. When there’s a sufficiently strong state religion, it always uses its power against other religions. Saudi Arabia doesn’t content itself with legislating the Shari’a; it also forbids Jews and Christians to establish houses of worship. In the West, Christian fundamentalists are at the forefront of the movement to turn Muslims into second class citizens.

Illiberal people tend to have an annoying tendency to see things in terms of power rather than of liberty. It makes them sound realist, but in fact they aren’t. Instead of seeing the world as it is, they deduce that what happens in realpolitik is a good moral compass. People seek unlimited power; therefore, our group should seek unlimited power.

Talking about one’s freedom to have a public school impose one’s prayer on everyone is dishonest. It’s not a question of freedom but of power, since the essence of that power is to deny freedom to others. Christian parents who use their power to enforce Christianity on atheist children are looking for freedom to the same extent as white families that prohibit blacks from living next door.


More Racist Bullshit About Islam

February 2, 2007

I hope this post will settle the shrill anti-Muslim comments that sometimes get posted on this blog. The argument that Islam is evil because it commands the believer to kill all unbelievers is bunk. It’s not “not nuanced enough to be true” or “overly simplistic,” but just plain wrong.

If you don’t believe me, pick up a copy of the Bible, and read chapters 7-9 of Joshua. Then turn to Psalms 137:9, which Biblically motivated pro-lifers might find risible. Then go to Matthew 10, especially 10:34, which will certainly explain the Crusades.

After you’re done, practice explaining why that doesn’t make Christianity and Judaism evil religions whose members must be persecuted and killed, until you can do it with a straight face.


Friday Link Roundup

February 2, 2007

Ann notes that HPV causes not only cervical cancer but also penile cancer, and wonders if it means legislators will be less squeamish about mandatory vaccinations.

Jenny Dreadful complains about people who argue for expanding birth control in the third world as a measure of environmental population control. Population pressure in third world countries too far away from the first world to induce massive emigration does increase the pressure on natural resources, but by less than the increase in population. The more global the issue is, the less this population growth has an effect: population explosion in Madagascar has contributed to soil erosion, a local issue, but not at all to climate change.

G. Willow Wilson writes about the Cairo Book Fair, which attracts a gigantic number of people every year. She worries mostly about the proliferation of religious propaganda:

It would be one thing if the religious texts in question were copies of the Qur’an and hadith and jurisprudence, but too often they are mere propaganda: texts that claim shaving one’s beard is a worse crime than adultery, for instance; because adultery is a momentary offense, but habitual shaving accrues bad deeds for as long as you do it, potentially years and years. I have seen Wahhabi books devoted entirely to the supreme virtue of fear.

Pam notes that Pope Benedict XVI can’t control his own church:

A yawning gulf between the stern doctrines preached by Pope Benedict and the advice offered by ordinary Roman Catholic priests has been exposed by an Italian magazine which dispatched reporters to 24 churches around Italy where, in the confessional, they sought rulings on various moral dilemmas.

(…)

Another journalist posed as a researcher who had received a lucrative offer to work abroad on embryonic stem cells. With the extra cash, he said, he and his wife could think about starting a family. So should he take up the post?

“Yes. Yes. Of course,” came the reply.


There Exist Anti-Abortion Terrorists; Therefore, All Christians are Murderers

January 31, 2007

On Winds of Change, Joe Katzman is trying to show that he’s even more extreme than Sam Harris by writing about a bunch of Jihadists in Britain who plotted to behead a Muslim serving in the British Army. Personally I would give kudos to the British security services and rant about British cultural policy, but Katzman has another comment:

Such nice people. Maybe if we treated them better and offed the Jews as a show of good faith, they’d be kind to us….

Katzman’s post’s title is “Religion of Submission Watch,” which takes me back to when I read about Harris’s positively kooky views on torture and the War on Terror.

There exist anti-abortion terrorists, but the only people who conclude that all Christians are murderers are the sort of extremists who complain that PZ Myers is too soft on religion. There exist settlers in the West Bank who abuse and kill Palestinian civilians, but the only people who generalize from them to Jews are recognizably anti-Semitic. And there exist mobs of Hindu extremists who burn Muslim slums in India, but the only people who call Hinduism the religion of live burning are Muslim terrorists in South Asia.


Religion in the Media

January 27, 2007

The main cultural complaint of atheist activists is that the media never brings up religion due to political correctness. Usually it takes the form of attacking the mainstream for not acknowledging the negative role of religion in many conflicts, but occasionally it branches out to a general attack on political correctness.

That’s the best framework to situate Jim’s post about some idiot who edited out the word “God” in the version of The Queen to be released for in-flight entertainment.

In most cases, it’s both a problem of religion being cut slack and secularism being unfairly attacked. When a conflict is clearly religious, people seldom deny it. The average non-Muslim has no idea what the difference between Sunnis and Shi’as is but recognizes that they are two distinct religious denominations that form the spine of the Iraqi civil war.

The problems arise in two different cases, mainly. First, a conflict can have several components, of which only one is religious. In that case, the religious component will get deemphasized, as in Bosnia and Sri Lanka, whose conflicts are viewed as purely ethnic. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an exception, in that the media overemphasizes its religious roots and ignores its nationalist element entirely.

And second, a conflict or social problem can be attributed to a secular notion or ideology that is seen as comparable to religion. In that case, bullshit analyses that nobody tolerates in the case of religion abound. Hence Darwin is responsible to eugenics, communist influence is ubiquitous, and secularism is responsible to the breakdown of society. The notion that pornography contributes to rape is related, although it also carries a significant element of puritanism.


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