5.20.2011

The Batshit Files: News Roundup (Rapture Edition) | 5.20.11

Your daily tub o' crazy:
  • The "Don't Say Gay" bill has passed in Tennessee senate in a 20-10 vote. Gay kids appear to still be gay. (The Advocate) 
  • Rush Limbaugh says "The global warming people" are "almost identical" to the rapture people, which is almost identical to saying meteorologists are almost identical to palm readers. (Media Matters)
  • Palin has a "fire in her belly" for possible White House run. Hopefully it's something she ate. (Fox News)
  • Michele Bachmann's headbanging anti-gay BFF says Obama's not a Christian during MN House prayer. (Mother Jones
  • Gingrich says young people should have to pass a history test before they are allowed to vote. If he knew his history, he would know that this would be illegal under the 1965 Voting Rights Act. (ThinkProgress)
  • End Times enthusiast Tim LaHaye says Obama and Clinton are not Christians. They're Socialists. (Right Wing Watch)
  • Bryan Fischer, the wart on the ass known as the AFA, says gay activists are the "number one perpetrators of hate crimes in America." (Right Wing Watch)
  • Unattractive evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa may lose his job for his article stating "black women are significantly less physically attractive than women of other races."(Jezebel)
  • It's official: Kentucky will grant tax incentives to the ark park. (NCSE)
  • The 16-year-old NJ girl who challenged Michele Bachmann to a debate has been threatened with violence and called a "whore."  (KARE)


More People Believe In The Rapture Than You Think

The May 21 Rapture sure has been a source of humor for most people.  We laugh about it and equate Harold Camping with the stereotypical nut on the street corner with a "The End Is Coming Soon" sign.  What a loon!

Yet, according to the Pew Research Center, 41% say Jesus Christ will return in the next 40 years.  Forty-one percent.  That's not far off from the percentage of Americans who voted for John McCain in 2008. And nearly 80% of American Christians believe that Jesus will return to earth someday

So, as we joke about Saturday's Rapture, just remember that a whole hell of a lot of people agree with Camping that the Rapture is coming. They just can't agree on when it will happen.

5.19.2011

Ask a Humanist, Vol 5: Why Do You Care What People Believe?

(Part 5 of an ongoing, meandering stream of undefined scope.)


I get into discussions.

They used to say, "Never talk about politics or religion," but for some reason, those are the two things that fascinate me most. Religion and politics are hopelessly intertwined in America, and each informs so much of American culture, that it's difficult to get too far in a conversation before we're off and running down a path that might have been avoided in more refined times.  There are times, if I voice frustration with a particular religious belief, when someone will ask, "Why do you care what people believe?" or any number of variations: "What happened to live and let live?" or "Can't you just be happy that people find comfort in their beliefs?"

Those are all valid questions, and I'm quite aware that my tendency to speak my mind on such matters have offended some people. That is not my intention.

Non-believers as smug, arrogant, condescending, and intolerant.

If one were to ask religious folks to describe the non-religious folks that they have encountered in conversation, I'm pretty sure that those descriptors would include: angry, condescending, smug, arrogant, annoying, intolerant, and so on. While I don't doubt that there are some angry, condescending, smug non-believers, these perceptions and attitudes have more to do with misconceptions than anything else.  A study conducted by the University of Minnesota found atheists to be the most despised minority in America.  I know quite a few of them, and although I don't think any minority should be despised, I can attest that most of the ones I know are incredibly kind, intelligent, responsible, ethical citizens. Just like most of the religious folks I know.

I am fairly self-aware. I am quite aware when I am in a state of anger.  I can attest that, in my case (and likely in the case of many non-believers), most of this perceived anger is a by-product of worry and impatience.  The perception of aggression or antagonism is quite often due to the fact that we are passionate and we care.

Why do you care?

The answer to "Why do you care what people believe?" is pretty clear.  I care because, unfortunately, religious belief too often creeps into areas where it either does not belong, or where it infringes on the rights of others.  Although the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution prohibits the establishment of a national religion, or a preference of one religion over another, religion continues to creep into all areas of our daily lives: our public schools, our courtrooms, our government, our workplaces, our healthcare, our military, our bedrooms, our environment, our elections, our wars.

I only care what people believe if and when their beliefs begin to encroach on my rights.  I may become impatient when I see organizations or politicians repeatedly push their particular brand of religious belief into the public sphere.  When laws and societal attitudes are defined by an ancient text, and not by the evolved capacity for moral theorizing and compassion for others, I become concerned.

When we tell ourselves that religious thought isn't something that we should worry about, we are forgetting the suffering and destruction that is brought on by religion, and which continues to occur each day.  If you're not aware of it, you're not paying attention.  We can turn to conflicts in Palestine (Jews vs. Muslims), the Balkans (Orthodox Serbians vs. Catholic Croatians; Orthodox Serbians vs. Bosnian and Albanian Muslims), Northern Ireland (Protestants vs. Catholics), Kashmir (Muslims vs. Hindus), Sudan (Muslims vs. Christians and animists), Nigeria (Muslims vs. Christians), Ethiopia and Eritrea (Muslims vs. Christians), Sri Lanka (Sinhalese Buddhists vs. Tamil Hindus), Indonesia (Muslims vs. Timorese Christians), Iran and Iraq (Shiite vs. Sunni Muslims), and the Caucasus (Orthodox Russians vs. Chechen Muslims; Muslim Azerbaijanis vs. Catholic and Orthodox Armenians) are merely a few cases in point. These are places where religion has been the explicit cause of literally millions of deaths in recent decades. (Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation)

Aside from perpetuating violent conflicts across the globe, religion can have a corrosive effect on numerous aspects of society if we allow doctrine to inform public policy. We, as a society, also have this strange idea that if something is part of a religious belief that it becomes something that is protected from examination, that we must solemnly respect it. This is dangerous, as evidenced in the recent "Kill The Gays" bill in Uganda. Although the bill still threatens to pass, it is due to public outcry, and rejection of the criminalization of homosexuals (which has been influenced by extreme evangelical beliefs), that the bill's passage has been delayed.  Religious doctrine can also be detrimental to public education, as creationism is introduced into school curricula despite the fact that evolution serves as the bedrock of modern biology. 

Progress.

We must also take care to ensure that beliefs derived from ancient texts do not impede progress.  The Oxford Dictionary defines progress as "development towards an improved or more advanced condition." And I think we would all agree that the minimization of suffering is what we should strive for in humanity -- this would be an improved and advanced condition.  If one's religious beliefs impede a society's progress towards this condition, then it is my duty, and my right, to challenge the validity of those beliefs.

Tolerance.

I have been called a hypocrite on many occasions. At times I am (aren't we all?), but I reject any and all claims of hypocrisy as they relate to my rejection of religious beliefs which impede progress or infringe on the rights of others.

The U.N., in its Declaration of Principles on Tolerance, defines tolerance in great detail. In addition to the primary meaning of tolerance, the UN states the following:
Tolerance is not concession, condescension or indulgence. Tolerance is, above all, an active attitude prompted by recognition of the universal human rights and fundamental freedoms of others. In no circumstance can it be used to justify infringements of these fundamental values. Tolerance is to be exercised by individuals, groups and States.

Tolerance is the responsibility that upholds human rights, pluralism (including cultural pluralism), democracy and the rule of law. It involves the rejection of dogmatism and absolutism and affirms the standards set out in international human rights instruments.

Consistent with respect for human rights, the practice of tolerance does not mean toleration of social injustice or the abandonment or weakening of one's convictions. It means that one is free to adhere to one's own convictions and accepts that others adhere to theirs. It means accepting the fact that human beings, naturally diverse in their appearance, situation, speech, behaviour and values, have the right to live in peace and to be as they are. It also means that one's views are not to be imposed on others.
This is as fine a definition as one will find.  When we are tolerant, by no means are we required to tolerate the maligning, physical harm, or oppression of others. Nor are we required to sit idly while a religious belief  informs public policy.

Caring about the beliefs of others.

Our society is so incredibly influenced by religion that we often forget which issues have a religious basis and which do not.  The tentacles of religion have entangled themselves in every wedge issue we encounter: abortion, LGBT rights, stem cell research, healthcare, the environment, etc.  Many times people will oppose a particular idea because it is "wrong."  If we step back and ask ourselves why it is wrong, we often see that, outside of a mention in an ancient text, there is no evidence supporting its is detrimental to society.  In other words, there is often no secular justification for many of our stances on these issues. We often will find that alongside this scriptural "evidence," we also have evidence that many other things are "detrimental" -- things we have dismissed as not relevant to modern times (i.e. shellfish, blended fabrics, etc.)  It is at this point that some will state that, "without scripture, we would not know what is right and wrong." This is not only untrue, but also ignores evidence of millions of years of group cohesion, human cooperation, and altruism.  Right and wrong can easily be defined outside of religion, and we can be certain that wearing blended fabrics, eating shellfish, and loving someone of the same sex will not lead to a collapse of society.

We Humanists believe that a religious text is not necessary to be good. In fact, we find that religious texts are limited in their ability to act as a moral guide (yes, there are some wonderful moral lessons to be gleaned from scripture, but there are also some highly questionable ones as well.) Ten commandments are not necessary.  We can get by with one: Always act with the intention of minimizing suffering and increasing the well-being of others. When we see others suffering as a result of religious beliefs, then something is drastically wrong.  And let's be clear. Denying the rights of human beings based on their sexuality is indeed acting with the intention of causing suffering. Favoring the life of a blastocyst over the potential eradication of unendurable misery of millions of human beings is indefensible, and grossly impedes progress. Denying climate change because God said he wouldn't allow man to destroy the earth is irresponsible.  Applying supernatural motives to natural disasters is Bronze Age thinking, and only adds to the suffering that has already occurred.

The point is: we care because we care about others, and we care about the world in which we live.  We care enough that we will stick our necks out and risk being perceived as condescending or smug.  But we hope that others will see that what is being perceived as anger is actually concern, even for those who see us in a negative light.



Ask a Humanist



5.18.2011

The Batshit Files: News Roundup | 5.18.11

Your daily bucket o' crazy:

  • Kirk Cameron says Stephen Hawking is wrong about Heaven: "Why should anyone believe Mr. Hawking's writings if he cannot provide evidence for his unscientific belief that out of nothing, everything came?" Yes, Kirk, why would anyone believe something without evidence? Oh, wait. (TMZ)
  • Harold Camping, the Christian broadcaster and President of Family Radio, the group claiming The Rapture is coming Saturday May 21, explains how it's all because of gay people. (Towleroad)
  • The AFA's Bryan Fischer stated on his radio show that gays are literally Nazis and that they will "do the same thing to you that the Nazis did to their opponents in Nazi Germany." What a dick. (Right Wing Watch)
  •  The following words actually came out of Newt Gingrich's mouth: “Any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood.” Is he a Jedi? (Firedoglake)
  • Texas Governor and complete douchebag Rick Perry could make a run for president. *shudder*  (Religion Dispatches)


    Korean Man Committed Suicide by Crucifixion

    Via AFP:

    A middle-aged South Korean taxi driver found dead on a crucifix after Easter weekend nailed himself to the cross, police said Tuesday, adding his deep religious faith helped him withstand the pain.

    The body of the 58-year-old man surnamed Kim was found on May 1 on a wooden cross in an abandoned quarry in the central city of Mungyeong, with nails protruding through holes in his hands and feet.
    He was wearing only underpants and a crown of thorns. He had a stab wound on his right waist and several whip marks in an apparent reconstruction of Christ's death.

    How did he do it?

    Forensic experts reconstructed the death based on notes found at the scene describing how to carry out a crucifixion, local police said, adding the handwriting matched Kim's.

    They said Kim, standing on a small footrest on the cross, nailed his feet to the cross. He lashed his neck and chest before stabbing himself in the waist and piercing his hands with a power drill. Kim then apparently slipped his pierced hands over nails on the cross.
    "We believe that deep religious faith made it possible to carry out the series of extraordinary actions involving extreme pain," police said, adding Kim died of suffocation and blood loss.

    That's certainly one way to celebrate Easter.

    Gingrich Showered With Rainbow Glitter: "Feel The Rainbow, Newt!"

    Newt Gingrich was in town to address The Minnesota Family Council, a Religious Right organization with a strong focus on anti-gay activism. He signed books as part of the MFC's Annual Dinner.



    Sexual Revolution Cited as Cause of Catholic Abuse Scandals

    Via the New York Times:
    A five-year study commissioned by the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops to provide a definitive answer to what caused the church’s sexual abuse crisis has concluded that neither the all-male celibate priesthood nor homosexuality were to blame. Instead, the report says, the abuse occurred because priests who were poorly prepared and monitored, and were under stress, landed amid the social and sexual turmoil of the 1960s and ’70s.
    What else were these priests to do while everyone else was at Woodstock having sex with children?

    5.17.2011

    Some Important Details on Saturday's Rapture

    Some important new details to help you plan for this Saturday's rapture. According to one of Harold Camping's followers, the rapture will begin at approximately 6pm. I know lots of folks are busy on Saturdays with their children's soccer games and dinner plans, but don't worry about missing out on the start of the rapture. There will be a massive earthquake to let you know it's underway.
    …"starting in the Pacific Rim at around the 6 p.m. local time hour, in each time zone, there will be a great earthquake, such as has never been in the history of the Earth," he says. The true Christian believers -- he hopes he's one of them -- will be  "raptured": They'll fly upward to heaven. And for the rest?

    "It's just the horror of horror stories," he says, "and on top of all that, there's no more salvation at that point. And then the Bible says it will be 153 days later that the entire universe and planet Earth will be destroyed forever."

    I suggest that people keep off of Twitter and Facebook to avoid any spoilers.

    The Batshit Files: News Roundup | 5.17.11

    So much batshit, so little time. Here's your tub o' crazy for the day:
    • Michele Bachmann’s Head-Banging, Gay-Bashing BFF: How the Minnesota lawmaker fell in with a controversial hair-metal evangelist (Mother Jones)
    • Scott Walker's next battle: The WI governor takes on the state's domestic partnership law (Huffington Post)
    • Totally insane rant about "The Homosexual Agenda and the US Military" (Canada Free Press)
    • Glenn Beck Announces 'Restoring Courage' Rally In Jerusalem (Huffington Post)
    • Jury selection begins for the case of the 15-year-old girl who was raped by a fellow church member and forced to stand before the congregation to apologize for getting pregnant. (MSNBC)
    • The Botox beauty pageant girl has been taken into custody. (Daily Mail)
    • The American Family Association (emphasis on the Ass) warns that a Harvey Milk Day could include "cross dressing contests" and "mock gay weddings" in our children's schools. (OneNewsNow)
      • Malawi President Bingu Mutharika says gays are "worse than dogs." (BNL Times)
      • Evolution denier and "free" credit report scammer Ben Stein thinks IMF chief Strauss-Kahn must be innocent, because economists usually don't commit sex crimes. (Wonkette)


          Santorum in '12: A frothy mix for America

          Finally, a GOP bumper sticker I would put on my car:


          Get yours here.

          (via JoeMyGod)

          Bill O'Reilly vs. Jon Stewart

          Jon Stewart explains to Bill O'Reilly that there is a difference between denouncing injustice and celebrating murder, and that "It's Raining Men" isn't literally about human precipitation.





          5.15.2011

          Religious Affiliation and Your Earning Potential

          According to data collected by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Hindus have the most college graduates, and Reform Jews make the most money.

          Jehovah's Witnesses have the least amount of college graduates and Pentecostals make the least amount of money.

          Of course, when it comes to our belief systems, money and education are often of little importance. But we would be naive to think that there are no correlations between religious beliefs and education (and earning potential), just as we would be naive to believe that religious affiliations (and their communities) do not play a part in our employment opportunities (or lack thereof).

          As David Leonhardt writes in the New York Times:
          The relationship between education and income is so strong that you can almost draw a line through the points on this graph. Social science rarely produces results this clean.


          He also warns of making too much of the religious aspect, since there are so many factors at work here:
          Some of the income differences probably stem from culture. Some faiths place great importance on formal education. But the differences are also self-reinforcing. People who make more money can send their children to better schools, exacerbating the many advantages they have over poorer children. Round and round, the cycle goes. It won’t solve itself.


          Stephen Hawking: 'There is no heaven; it's a fairy story'

          In an exclusive interview with The Guardian, the iconic cosmologist shares his views on life, death, and the afterlife.
          "I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I'm not afraid of death, but I'm in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first," he said.

          "I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark," he added.
          Hawking's comments on death and the concept of heaven are sure to provoke further backlash from those who took issue with comments in his 2010 book, The Grand Design, in which he stated that the universe did not require a creator.

          Although Hawking has often been quoted by religious figures for his references to God, it has remained quite clear that Hawking's use of the word 'God' is metaphorical (as was Einstein's).

          Hawking has said of his use of the word 'God':
          "If you believe in science, like I do, you believe that there are certain laws that are always obeyed. If you like, you can say the laws are the work of God, but that is more a definition of God than a proof of his existence."

          "If you like, you can call the laws of science 'God', but it wouldn't be a personal God."
          In his brief interview with The Guardian, Hawking had a very simple suggestion for how humans should live their lives:
          "We should seek the greatest value of our action."
          Read the full interview here.