Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Cross Purposes

Via TPM:

The poll by the Democratic-leaning firm found that 57 percent of Republicans “support establishing Christianity as the national religion” while 30 percent are opposed. Another 13 percent said they were not sure.

It almost goes without saying that the Establishment Clause of the Constitution prohibits establishing of a national religion.

The poll was conducted among 316 Republicans from Feb. 20-22. The margin of error was plus or minus 5.5 percentage points.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that somehow the GOP is able to wiggle around the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and get Christianity designated as the “national religion.”  What exactly would it mean?  Would Christians be favored over people of other faiths to run for office, say for president?  Well, so far we’ve already had forty-four presidents and they have all been, in some fashion, Christians.  So that’s covered.  Would Christians get special dispensation from paying taxes on their religious sites and places of worship?  Seems we’ve got that covered already; churches don’t pay taxes.  But then again, neither do mosques, synagogues, or Quaker meeting houses, so maybe the Christians want those other faiths to cough up.  Would Christians get their holidays designated as federal holidays?  Okay, but try getting a passport or buying a stamp at the Post Office on December 25.  Easter, which is a Christian holiday, is always on a Sunday, but a lot of states and municipalities still have blue laws that prohibit doing business on the Christian Sabbath, holiday or not.  Friday and Saturday, which are the Muslim and Jewish days of rest respectively, don’t get that special treatment.  So it looks like the Christians already have their faith in place as the national religion, official or otherwise.

There’s an even more fundamental question, so to speak: which version of Christianity would get the designation as the “national religion”?  There’s an endless number of varieties within the faith, and varieties within the varieties: Roman Catholic, Old Catholic, Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Coptic, Episcopal, Anglican, Baptist, Southern Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Quaker, Unitarian, Brethren, and so on and so forth.  Each claims to be the true Christian church.  What would set one as the official one?  Or would they all be?  Who would decide?  Would there be a Department of Christianity that would oversee the functions of the national religion?  Would it oversee the implementation of laws that meet Christian standards much in the way that other theocracies like Iran or ISIS have a ministry that oversees sharia law?  Now there’s a good example to follow.

Or would the designation of Christianity as the national religion be something done just to go through the motions, a resolution passed by Congress with as much intent and enforcement as the designation of National Pickle Week?  That would be a slap to the faith; Christians expect something more from their government than just a scroll and a shout-out from the well of Congress.

It’s an interesting experiment to think what this country would be like if Christianity was the national religion, but in many ways it already is.  What’s a bit more ridiculous is that people who belong to the party that claims to be for freedom and smaller government think that it would be a good idea if we were to impose upon the country the one thing that has proved over time to be the very antithesis of both freedom and democracy: the Christian faith.  They really don’t seem to think these things through.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Cue The Meteor

If we have gotten to the stage in this country where people are actually being paid to write articles telling us that it’s President Obama’s fault that people question his religion, then we might as well bring on the meteor to wipe us out like the dinosaurs because there’s no hope left.

This is the dumbest shit ever. The idea that the President Obama is partly to blame for the confusion over his religious faith is ridiculous. While Andrew Jackson was our first Trinitarian president, and he only converted after leaving the White House, we have never had any president who professed to believe in any religion other than Christianity or its unitarian offshoots. If we elected a Buddhist or a Jew or a Hindu or a Muslim or a Mormon, everyone would know about it.

By the way, we’ve had two Quaker presidents — Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon — so chew on that while you wait for the firestorm.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Know Your Enemy

If we are to prevail over ISIS, then we should understand them.  This article in The Atlantic by Graeme Wood goes a long way towards that education.

Our ignorance of the Islamic State is in some ways understandable: It is a hermit kingdom; few have gone there and returned. Baghdadi has spoken on camera only once. But his address, and the Islamic State’s countless other propaganda videos and encyclicals, are online, and the caliphate’s supporters have toiled mightily to make their project knowable. We can gather that their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world.

The Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), follows a distinctive variety of Islam whose beliefs about the path to the Day of Judgment matter to its strategy, and can help the West know its enemy and predict its behavior. Its rise to power is less like the triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (a group whose leaders the Islamic State considers apostates) than like the realization of a dystopian alternate reality in which David Koresh or Jim Jones survived to wield absolute power over not just a few hundred people, but some 8 million.

[…]

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We’ll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal.

[…]

That the Islamic State holds the imminent fulfillment of prophecy as a matter of dogma at least tells us the mettle of our opponent. It is ready to cheer its own near-obliteration, and to remain confident, even when surrounded, that it will receive divine succor if it stays true to the Prophetic model. Ideological tools may convince some potential converts that the group’s message is false, and military tools can limit its horrors. But for an organization as impervious to persuasion as the Islamic State, few measures short of these will matter, and the war may be a long one, even if it doesn’t last until the end of time.

As Mr. Wood says, the closest comparison for Westerners is to the hardcore apocalyptic cults with a charismatic leader who takes a faith, perverts it to his own psychosis, gathers a group of followers, and proceeds to immolation.  It’s not limited to Christians; there are such examples in nearly every faith, and in some cases religion or the bastardization of it is merely a cover for a cult of personality centered around someone with a smooth tongue and refuge for the lost and hopeless.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Sunday Reading

The Truth Hurts — Ta-Nehisi Coates explains why the president’s speech at the prayer breakfast touched so many right-wing nerves.

People who wonder why the president does not talk more about race would do well to examine the recent blow-up over his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast. Inveighing against the barbarism of ISIS, the president pointed out that it would be foolish to blame Islam, at large, for its atrocities. To make this point he noted that using religion to brutalize other people is neither a Muslim invention nor, in America, a foreign one:

Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.

The “all too often” could just as well be “almost always.” There were a fair number of pretexts given for slavery and Jim Crow, but Christianity provided the moral justification. On the cusp of plunging his country into a war that would cost some 750,000 lives, Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens paused to offer some explanation. His justification was not secular. The Confederacy was to be:

[T]he first government ever instituted upon the principles in strict conformity to nature, and the ordination of Providence, in furnishing the materials of human society … With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. The architect, in the construction of buildings, lays the foundation with the proper material-the granite; then comes the brick or the marble. The substratum of our society is made of the material fitted by nature for it, and by experience we know that it is best, not only for the superior, but for the inferior race, that it should be so.

It is, indeed, in conformity with the ordinance of the Creator. It is not for us to inquire into the wisdom of His ordinances, or to question them. For His own purposes, He has made one race to differ from another, as He has made “one star to differ from another star in glory.” The great objects of humanity are best attained when there is conformity to His laws and decrees, in the formation of governments as well as in all things else. Our confederacy is founded upon principles in strict conformity with these laws.

Stephens went on to argue that the “Christianization of the barbarous tribes of Africa” could only be accomplished through enslavement. And enslavement was not made possible through Robert’s Rules of Order, but through a 250-year reign of mass torture, industrialized murder, and normalized rape—tactics which ISIS would find familiar. Its moral justification was not “because I said so,” it was “Providence,” “the curse against Canaan,” “the Creator,” “and Christianization.” In just five years, 750,000 Americans died because of this peculiar mission of “Christianization.” Many more died before, and many more died after. In his “Segregation Now” speech, George Wallace invokes God 27 times and calls the federal government opposing him “a system that is the very opposite of Christ.”

Now, Christianity did not “cause” slavery, anymore than Christianity “caused” the civil-rights movement. The interest in power is almost always accompanied by the need to sanctify that power. That is what the Muslims terrorists in ISIS are seeking to do today, and that is what Christian enslavers and Christian terrorists did for the lion’s share of American history.

That this relatively mild, and correct, point cannot be made without the comments being dubbed, “the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime,” by a former Virginia governor gives you some sense of the limited tolerance for any honest conversation around racism in our politics. And it gives you something much more. My colleague Jim Fallows recently wrote about the need to, at once, infantilize and deify our military. Perhaps related to that is the need to infantilize and deify our history. Pointing out that Americans have done, on their own soil, in the name of their own God, something similar to what ISIS is doing now does not make ISIS any less barbaric, or any more correct. That is unless you view the entire discussion as a kind of religious one-upmanship, in which the goal is to prove that Christianity is “the awesomest.”

Obama seemed to be going for something more—faith leavened by “some doubt.” If you are truly appalled by the brutality of ISIS, then a wise and essential step is understanding the lure of brutality, and recalling how easily your own society can be, and how often it has been, pulled over the brink.

The Pain is Exquisite — John McQuaid at Salon explains why chili makes the taste buds dance.

Chili heat is painful, yet enjoyable; fiery, with no rise in temperature. In 1953, T. S. Lee, a biologist at the National University of Singapore, tried to unravel the physiology behind this reaction. He asked a group of forty-six young men to eat chilies, and monitored their sweating. Perspiration is a physiological reaction to heat. Rising body temperature, whether from the surroundings or from muscles warming during exercise, triggers a reaction in the hypothalamus. Via a series of feedbacks between the brain and the body, sweat glands go to work. Sweat evaporating off the skin cools the body; when its temperature drops back to normal, it stops.

Lee had the volunteers dress in cotton trousers only, then painted their faces, ears, necks, and upper bodies with a solution of iodine and dusted them with dry cornstarch—a combination that makes sweat turn blue. Lee used peppers common in Asian cuisine, from the species Capsicum annuum. Their tapered red fruits are about ten to twenty times hotter than jalapenos. For the sake of comparison, at a different time Lee’s subjects also taste-tested solutions of cane sugar, bitter quinine, acetic acid, potassium alum (an astringent that makes the lips pucker), ground black pepper, mustard paste, and hot oatmeal. Some also gargled with hot water, chewed rubber, or swallowed feeding tubes.

In one experimental run, after eating chilies for five minutes straight, the subjects flushed red in the face, then all but one began to sweat. The areas around their noses and mouths turned blue, followed by their cheeks. Lee did another trial with seven participants, feeding them one pepper, then another: five continued to sweat, two profusely. Among the controls, only the acid and ground pepper made the volunteers sweat.

Eating chilies doesn’t raise body temperature, so there is no physical need for cooling. Yet in Lee’s experiment, the subjects sweated as if they had run a mile on a hot afternoon. To verify that the reactions to chili heat and genuine heat were equivalent, Lee had some volunteers put their legs in hot water. As their temperatures rose, the patterns of sweating on their faces were identical to those produced by eating peppers. Lee had already deduced that chili heat could not be a taste, because people felt its burn on their lips, where there are no taste receptors. His experimental results indicated another body system was at work: the one that registers discomfort from burning. The chili burn was a form of pain. But it differs in one important respect: touch boiling water, and the pain intensifies until the hand is withdrawn. Start eating a Carolina Reaper, and the heat builds for several minutes, becoming overwhelming. But continue, and the heat recedes, leaving the mouth numb to chili’s effects. Capsaicin causes pain, then blocks it.

[…]

The chili culture is all about pushing limits. Ed Currie believed embracing it had helped him overcome his own weaknesses. He had organized his life around a single, powerful sensation, and it had worked: Guinness named Smokin’ Ed’s Carolina Reaper the world’s hottest pepper in 2013. But success depended on staying ahead of the competition; the race would eventually take chili heat higher and higher, past two million Scoville units, into realms of pungency never tasted before. How far could he go, and who would follow?

Pleasure is never very far from aversion; this is a feature of our anatomy and behavior. In the brain, the two closely overlap. They both rely on nerves in the brainstem, indicating their ancient origins as reflexes. They both tap into the brain’s system of dopamine neurons, which shapes motivation. They activate similar higher-level cortical areas that influence perceptions and consciousness. Anatomy suggests these two systems interact closely: in several brain structures, neurons responding to pain and pleasure lie close together, forming gradients from positive to negative. A lot of this cross talk takes place in the vicinity of the hedonic hotspots—areas that bridge basic reflexes and consciousness.

He’s Back — Andy Borowitz reports on the return of Jonas Salk.  And boy is he pissed.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—The reanimated corpse of Dr. Jonas Salk, the medical researcher who developed the first polio vaccine, rose from the grave Friday morning on what authorities believe is a mission to hunt down idiots.

The zombie version of Salk, wearing a tattered white lab coat and looking “incredibly angry” according to one eyewitness, was seen advancing on the U.S. Capitol building at approximately 11 A.M.

While Senator Rand Paul, of Kentucky, hid in the Senate cloakroom, armed security forces repelled the zombie virologist, who, seemingly unharmed, moved on in search of new prey.

According to law enforcement, the reanimated Salk then stole a car and headed off in the direction of Trenton, New Jersey.

“We have reason to believe he’s coming for Governor Christie,” said a staff member from Chris Christie’s office. “Fortunately, the Governor is never here.”

With both Disneyland and Marin County on high alert, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security warned that, as long as the rampaging vaccine pioneer was at large, law enforcement would be stretched thin.

“Unfortunately, we do not possess the resources to protect every idiot in this country,” the spokesman said.

Doonesbury — Office gossip.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sunday Reading

Thou Shalt Not Commit Murder, Except… Valerie Tarico in AlterNet on the violence inherent in religion.

The year 2015 has opened to slaughter in the name of gods.  In Paris, two Islamist brothers executed Charlie Hebdo cartoonists “in defense of the Prophet,” while an associate killed shoppers in a kosher grocery.  In Nigeria, Islamist members of Boko Haram massacred a town to cries of Allahu Akbar—Allah is the greatest!  Simultaneously, the United Nations released a report detailing the “ethnic cleansing” of Muslims in the Central African Republic by Christian militias, sometimes reciting Bible verses. On a more civilized note, Saudi Arabia began inflicting 1000 lashes on a jailed blasphemous blogger—to be doled out over 20 weeks so that he may survive to the end. In media outlets around the world, fierce debate has erupted over who or what is responsible.  Is monotheism inherently violent? Is religion an excuse or cover for other kinds of conflict? Are Western colonialism and warmongering in the root of the problem?  Do blasphemers make themselves targets? Is the very concept of blasphemy a form of coercion or violence that demands resistance?  Is killing in the name of gods a distortion of religion? Alternately, is it the real thing?

Each of these questions is best answered “yes, and” rather than “yes/no.”

With the possible exception of Buddhism, the world’s most powerful religions give wildly contradictory messages about violence.  The Christian Bible is full of exhortations to kindness, compassion, humility, mercy and justice.  It is also full of exhortations to stoning, burning, slavery, torture, and slaughter.  If the Bible were law, most people you know would qualify for the death penalty. The same can be said of the Quran.  The same can be said of the Torah. Believers who claim that Islam or Christianity or Judaism is a religion of peace are speaking a half-truth—and a naive falsehood.

The human inclination toward peacemaking or violence exists on a continuum. Happy, healthy people who are inherently inclined toward peacemaking focus on sacred texts and spiritual practices that encourage peace.  Those who are bitter, angry, fearful or prone to self-righteousness are attracted to texts that sanction violence and teachers who encourage the same. People along the middle of this continuum can be drawn in either direction by charismatic religious leaders who selectively focus on one or the other.

Each person’s individual violence risk is shaped by a host of factors: genetics, early learning, health, culture, social networks, life circumstances, and acute triggers. To blame any act of violence on religion alone is as silly as blaming an act of violence on guns or alcohol. But to deny that religion plays a role is as silly as denying that alcohol and guns play a role.  It is to pretend that religions are inert, that our deepest values and beliefs about reality and morality have no impact on our behavior.

From a psychological standpoint, religions often put a god’s name on impulses that have subconscious, pre-verbal roots. They elicit peak experiences like mystic euphoria, dominance, submission, love and joy. They claim credit for the moral emotions  (e.g. shame, guilt, disgust and empathy) that incline us toward fair play and altruism, and they direct these emotions toward specific persons or activities. In a similar way, religions elicit and channel protective reactions like anger and fear, the emotions most likely to underlie violence.

The Odds of Marriage Equality — Garrett Epps in The Atlantic on the Supreme Court’s capacity to surprise.

I have many vices. I have been known to wager a dollar on those poker-hand coffee cups, and to go all in with deuces in the pocket. But I also once drew five aces and still lost; since then, prediction is not one of my bad habits. I’m not going to predict, then, what the Supreme Court will do with the same-sex marriage cases now that it has put them on this year’s docket. But if I were a bookie, I’d make marriage equality an odds-on favorite. It has been less than two years since Windsor v. United States, but it seems like a decade. Court after court has struck down bans on same-sex marriage; the “traditional marriage” camp has begun to seem like the enemy in Sun Tzu’s Art of War—exhausted, bewildered, devoid of hope or spirit. Take the decision under review in today’s grant of cert. The Sixth Circuit upheld the ban. But Judge Jeffrey Sutton’s opinion might generously be called listless. A famously bright and resourceful conservative was unable to muster a single serious argument why marriage equality was actually a bad thing; he was reduced to feebly protesting that it would be better for gay people themselves if they were to gain their rights through politics rather than law.

There’s not much there from which to fashion a last-ditch defense of  “one man, one woman.” Prodded by the federal courts, the nation has already decided. For the Court to affirm Sutton’s opinion would seem almost akin to reversing Brown v. Board of Education.

But even if Justice Anthony Kennedy’s vote seems foreordained, he must choose between the rights of gays and lesbians—an issue on which he has fashioned a historic legacy—and the prerogatives of the states, about whose “dignity” and honor he has often rhapsodized. He might be tempted to split the baby by holding for the states on the “celebration” issue but for the challengers on “recognition.” (The Court’s grant of review was careful to split the two questions.) That is, he might say, a state could refuse to perform marriages itself, but could not refuse those legally married out of state the benefits of marriage under state law.

But the temptation will be fleeting because that dog won’t hunt. In Kennedy’s Windsor opinion, he wrote that the federal government’s refusal to recognize legal same-sex marriages “humiliated” not only gay couples but their children. The children of couples who seek legal marriage in-state would be no less humiliated by their parents’ inability to marry than those of couples who married out of state. Once the issue becomes “the children,” we have probably entered the endgame.

That’s still not a prediction. This Court has shown a tremendous capacity to surprise. But if anybody wants to put down money on the states in the new case of Obergefell v. Hodges, please look me up. I will be the guy with the coffee cup and the careful poker face.

A President and a King — Jelani Cobb in The New Yorker on how Barack Obama wrestles with the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

…Yet six years in the White House have vastly complicated Obama’s relationship to King. They are two of the three African-Americans who have won the Nobel Peace Prize. (The first, Ralph Bunche, was awarded the prize in 1950, for negotiating a truce between Jews and Arabs in 1949.) When King accepted his award, in 1964, he began his speech by questioning his worthiness as a recipient, since the movement he led had not yet achieved interracial peace:

I conclude that this award which I receive on behalf of that movement is a profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression. Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts.

Obama opened his acceptance speech, in 2009, on a similarly self-effacing note, stating that he had barely begun his Presidency and his achievements were few. But then he departed from King’s reasoning. There is such a thing as just war, he said, under circumstances in which force is used in self-defense, is proportional to the threat, and, “whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.” He continued:

I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world.

A moral crusader and a Commander-in-Chief grapple with different prerogatives. King was never tasked with national defense; Obama’s election was contingent on a belief that he could keep Americans safe. Some observers nevertheless find it difficult to square elements of Obama’s foreign policy—drone warfare and its civilian casualties—not only with King’s concept of civilization but with the President’s own criteria for just warfare. Cornel West railed against the decision to use King’s Bible at Obama’s second swearing-in. “The righteous indignation of a Martin Luther King,” he said, “becomes a moment in political calculation.” Still, the King who denounced the triple evils of militarism, racism, and materialism would likely hail next week’s address, in which the President is expected to touch upon normalizing relations with Cuba, immigration reform, and providing free education for students at community colleges—along with the Administration’s efforts to prevent voter suppression, the cause that animated the Selma campaign, fifty years ago.

Beneath all this lies the irony that, nearly six years after the Cairo speech, Obama is less able to deploy the moral capital of civil rights, at least in the Middle East, not only because he is now established as the face of American authority but also because many of the battles that King fought have still not been resolved. Racism remains an Achilles’ heel. The protests in Ferguson, New York, and beyond were watched by a global audience, and, as during the Cold War, America’s domestic troubles become fodder for a morally compromised foreign power to deflect attention from its own failings. Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei took to Twitter to highlight the seeming contradiction that such actions were taking place under a black President. He tweeted, “Racial discrimination’s still a dilemma in US. Still ppl are unsecure for having dark skins. The way police treat them confirms it.” In spite of Obama’s debt to the civil-rights movement, the ideal of American exceptionalism is only as valid as the standing of people who have just as often been seen as exceptions to America.

Doonesbury — Hear that?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Denial of Service

This is terrible.

A “Dignity in Death” rally will be held Tuesday afternoon for a lesbian woman who was denied a funeral at New Hope Ministries in Lakewood, Colo. last week.

Vanessa Collier’s friends say the funeral was canceled by the church 15 minutes after the service was supposed to start because the church would not allow a picture to be shown of Collier proposing to her wife. The open casket and flowers were in place and about 170 people were in attendance.

According to Chaplain Greg Rolando, who would later preside over the funeral across the street at Newcomer Funeral Home, the New Hope Ministry is very community oriented. He says pastors there welcome those who are gay but ask that alternative lifestyles be censored in the church. New Hope Ministries is not commenting on the decision.

We are all too familiar with the extremism of some people in the Christian faith.  The screamers and GOD HATES FAGS signs of the Westboro Baptist Church and the neo-Nazi and Klan interpretation of the bible are, to be charitable, misguided by any measure of a reasonable reading of the book they consider to be the word of their god.  They use hate and discrimination as their sacraments, and we dismiss them as way out there on the fringe; they’re not the “real Christians.”

But as far as I can tell, the actions of the New Hope Ministry are just as bad as anything Westboro Baptist Church does.  No, there are no Day-Glo signs and bedraggled guttersnipes standing on a street corner.  The folks at New Hope cloak their bigotry in nice polite phrasing; “we’re sorry, but we’re unable to accommodate your request.”  It would have been better — and more honest — to have just come out with the WE HATE LESBIANS on the church sign and left no doubt about it.

So the next time you hear some fundamentalist Christian whining about religious persecution and “why do you scorn us?”, maybe, just maybe, this kind of bigotry and othering might be a contributing factor.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Rights and Wrongs

Frank Bruni in yesterday’s New York Times:

I’ve been called many unpleasant things in my life, and I’ve deserved no small number of them. But I chafe at this latest label:

A threat to your religious liberty.

I don’t mean me alone. I mean me and my evidently menacing kind: men who have romantic relationships with other men and maybe want to marry them, and women in analogous situations. According to many of the Americans who still cast judgment on us, our “I do” somehow tramples you, not merely running counter to your creed but running roughshod over it.

That’s absurd. And the deference that many politicians show to such thinking is an example not of religion getting the protection it must but of religious people getting a pass that isn’t warranted. It’s an illustration of religion’s favored status in a country that’s still working out this separation-of-church-and-state business and hasn’t yet gotten it quite right.

We’re at an interesting crossroads, brought about by the rapid advance of same-sex marriage. It’s now legal in 36 states, including, as of last week, Florida. Equality is increasingly being enshrined into law, and one response from those opposed to it is that the law shouldn’t apply to them.

Why? Because it contradicts their religious beliefs, which they use as a fig leaf for intolerance.

Fifty years ago the opponents of civil rights and integration asserted that “states’ rights” affirmed their belief that discrimination should stand.  Today “religious liberty” bears the same burden, and it fails to carry the weight.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

This Is Theocracy

Charlie Pierce on the murders in Paris.

…despite the fact that the witnesses make the murderers sound like Bond villains straight from central casting, this was unquestionably an assault on the right of free expression, probably committed in the name of religious fanaticism. It was an act of medieval, anti-Enlightenment barbarism, and the fact that a lot of people who aren’t usually so tender toward France and its leftists — or towards the Enlightenment itself, for that matter — have attached themselves to the horror in order to proclaim their righteousness atop a pile of corpses ought not to obscure the truth of it. There are genuine values — honored only in the breach by some, but no less genuine for that — under armed assault here. Charlie Hebdo‘s staff was murdered to stifle the publication’s voice, no less than Elijah Lovejoy was murdered to stifle his. This is the mass, unbridled, brainless Id of the barbarian at war with modernity in all its expressions. This is where anti-science leads, where a contempt for education leads, where the suppression of women leads, where marrying political fanaticism to religious fervor almost always leads. This is where theocracy brings us, over and over again.

Islam is no more to blame for this massacre than Christianity is to blame for the bombing of an abortion clinic in Florida or the assassination of Dr. George Tiller in Wichita.  The cause is religion reductio ad absurdum, and our gingerly response to those who preach it, no matter what their faith, will lead us down this hell-hole again and again.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Heavenly Correction

Apparently Pope Francis didn’t say that all dogs go to heaven.

It sounded like a story that was a bit too perfect to be true. Pope Francis, the pontiff who always seems to be breaking with the strict tone of his predecessor to portray the Catholic Church as a warm and inviting place, told a boy who was devastated by the death of his dog not to worry—the two would meet up in heaven. “Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures,” Francis allegedly told the boy, at least according to the hundreds of news outlets that picked up the hard-to-resist, immediately viral story. CNN reported it, the New York Times put it on its front page, and it began populating Facebook news feeds around the world.

The problem is it never happened. Francis never comforted that young boy and never specifically mentioned dogs and heaven. What really happened was an example of how a mistranslated story can make its way around the world, all because it was picked up by the right people.

The now-infamous words were, in fact, uttered by a pope: Paul VI, who died in 1978, explains Religion News Service, which tracked down patient zero as a piece in Italy’s Corriere della Serra.

[…]

The New York Times acknowledged its mistake with a long correction but continued standing by the main gist of the story. “The correction in the Times notes that the specific content and wording were wrong in the article. However, the pope did in fact make comments suggesting heaven is open to animals,” a spokeswoman for the Times tells Reuters.

For those of us to whom the concept of heaven and hell is a control mechanism concocted by the church to keep the masses in line with promises and threats, it is especially cruel to say that no, some of the sweetest souls you knew in life would be denied a place in paradise because they don’t deserve it.

It’s too bad that the Catholic church even has to have a discussion about it.  If their god is so all-loving, then it might be in his or her nature to promise that Sam will be waiting for me when I shuffle off this mortal coil.

Sam in Heaven

Cartoon by Charles Barsotti.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Monday, November 3, 2014

How About That

There’s a Christian conservative in Alabama who thinks the state’s proposed constitutional amendment against “foreign laws” (hint hint Sharia) is a bad idea.

Via ThinkProgress:

Randy Brinson, the president of the Christian Coalition of Alabama — one of the state’s largest network of conservative evangelicals — is one of the religious figures lending his voice to the opposition campaign. In an interview with the Birmingham News this week, Brinson said that the effort to pass Amendment 1 is “just silliness,” adding that “it’s all something that lawmakers can trumpet back to constituents that they’re protecting Christian values, but they need to be working on other stuff.”

“Sharia law is not going to be implemented in Alabama, it just isn’t,” Brinson said. “This is a tremendous waste of effort… My frustration is that people — good people — get behind something like this just because they want to score political points with the Christian community. But it’s redundant — you don’t need to amend the constitution to address these issues. I just don’t think they thought through this particular thing.”

Plus, Brinson opposes Amendment 1 because he believes it would communicate to other countries that Alabama doesn’t respect their laws. He also worries the measure could impose additional barriers on people seeking to complete foreign adoptions, get married abroad, or conduct business with colleagues outside the United States’ borders.

There’s hope yet.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Pope Francis and The Big Bang Theory

Who knew he was into the popular sitcom on CBS?  Oh, wait.

Pope Francis on Monday said that the Big Bang and evolution theories do not contradict the concept of creation.

“When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so,” he said at an assembly of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. “He created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfillment.”

“God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life,” he continued. “Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”

Not being a theology major, I am not sure what he means by saying that God is not a divine being.  Isn’t the definition of “god” sort of tied in with divinity?  Whatever; I just… oh, never mind.  I gave up trying to figure out popes ever since they told me they elect one by smoking something.

But somewhere Galileo and Darwin are nodding and smiling, as are Sheldon, Leonard, Raj, Howard, and Penny.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Trial Balloon Target Practice

It looked for a minute there that the Catholic Church was going to treat gay people with respect and dignity, but apparently the old farts that really run the place put the kibosh on it.

Under furious assault from conservative Catholics, the Vatican backtracked Tuesday on its surprisingly positive assessment of gays and same-sex relationships.

In a report Monday, the Vatican had said that gays and lesbians have “gifts to offer” the Christian community and acknowledged that same-sex couples can give “precious support” to one other.

The statement, an interim report from a closely watched meeting of Catholic clergy here, was widely praised by liberals. It is believed to be the first time the Vatican has said anything positive about gay relationships.

[…]In response to such reactions, the Vatican backtracked a bit Tuesday. In a statement, it said the report on gays and lesbians was a “working document,” not the final word from Rome.

The Vatican also said that it wanted to welcome gays and lesbians in the church, but not create “the impression of a positive evaluation” of same-sex relationships, or, for that matter, of unmarried couples who live together.

Yeah, heaven forbid that the Catholic church would come across as compassionate.  What does that have to do with religion anyway?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Friday, October 3, 2014

Antonin Torquemada

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia says its a “lie” that the Constitution cannot favor religion over secularism.

One of the nation’s most conservative judges yesterday dropped a bombshell that likely will leave many progressives and legal analysts furious. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told students at the conservative Colorado Christian University near Denver that it’s “a lie” that the government cannot favor one religion over another, or religion over secularism.

The Supreme Court’s “latest take on the subject,” Scalia told students, “which is quite different from previous takes, is that the state must be neutral, not only between religions, but between religion and non religion. That’s just a lie. Where do you get the notion that this is all unconstitutional? You can only believe that if you believe in a morphing Constitution.”

[…]

The longest-serving member of the nation’s highest court, Scalia also told the students that it’s “utterly absurd” to suggest that “the separation of church and state means that the government cannot favor religion over non religion.”

By that he means of course Christianity because that is surely the True Religion whereas all the other ones are fake or just a bunch of people sitting quietly in a room for an hour.

I think it’s time for the longest-serving member of the nation’s highest court to find something else to do.  Like torturing non-believers.

HT to NTodd.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Friday, September 19, 2014

Swearing Off

God is no longer required to be your co-pilot.

Airmen taking their enlistment or officer appointment oaths can omit the words “so help me God” if they choose, Air Force officials announced Wednesday.

The policy change comes after an atheist airman at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada struck out the words on his Department of Defense reenlistment paperwork and ran afoul of a policy that prohibits omissions. The case went up to the Department of Defense General Counsel, which issued an opinion saying the language could be left out if the airman preferred. All of the other military services have allowed the alternate language for years.

“We take any instance in which airmen report concerns regarding religious freedom seriously,” Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said in a statement. “We are making the appropriate adjustments to ensure our airmen’s rights are protected.”

This ruling has the usual suspects all twitterpated — Pat Robertson even got a touch anti-Semitic (blame the Jews!) — but there’s a little thing called the Constitution that explicitly forbids any religious test for holding a government job.  Rail on, supercilious twits.

Friday, September 12, 2014

ISIS In America

The wingers are fretting that if President Obama doesn’t go balls-to-the-wall war with ISIS, they’ll be coming here and bringing their religious extremism — convert or die, only True Believers can live within their state, and all laws must be based in their faith — with them.

It sounds like they’re already here.

Founder of the young Earth Creation Museum Ken Ham accepted the donation of a dinosaur from Michael Peroutka’s foundation in May 2014. Now Ham is going to headline an event with Peroutka and David Whitney and put on by Peroutka’s Institute on the Constitution.

Peroutka is a member and former board member of the League of the South; Whitney is the chaplain of the Virginia/MD chapter of the League. The League of the South advocates for the Southern states to secede to form a homeland whites of European heritage. Peroutka has pledged the resources of the IOTC to the work of the League, and Peroutka defended the League as a Christian group.

Just over a year ago, fellow right wing luminary General Jerry Boykin pulled out of a conference because of the presence of IOTC speaker David Whitney on the program.  Ham is a frequent speaker at right wing functions. Ham’s decision to partner with IOTC indicates the reach that the IOTC has developed within the Christian right.

The IOTC claims to properly represent and teach the Constitution. However, David Whitney teaches that only Christians should be allowed to be citizens…

How soon before we need some airstrikes for these folks…?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Athesists Need Not Apply

Via TPM:

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court gave its blessing to local governments that want to open their public meetings with religious prayer.

It was a victory for the town board of Greece, N.Y., which stressed that it was fighting not just for Christian prayer but for the right of all people express their views regardless of their faith. In a 5-4 ruling along ideological lines, the Court ruled against the Jewish and atheist plaintiffs, who argued that the practice violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

Less than four months later, the town of Greece has adopted an invocation policy that excludes non-religious citizens and potentially shuts out faiths that aren’t well-established in the town, according to a top secular group.

Seeking to “avail itself of the Supreme Court’s recognition” that government prayer is constitutional, the new policy restricts opening remarks to “assemblies with an established presence in the Town of Greece that regularly meet for the primary purpose of sharing a religious perspective.”

Translation: atheists and agnostics need not apply. And unless the board clerk decides that your faith has an “established presence” in the New York town of fewer than 100,000, you may not deliver an invocation.

I realize that it takes a lot of study of the law and you really have to be good at it to get appointed to the United States Supreme Court, but if the five men who ruled in favor of the town Greece didn’t see this coming, then they’re idiots.

Of course there’s always the possibility that they knew that this would happen but ruled in favor anyway.