12.09.2011

Louis CK: 'People Who Argue Against Evolution Sound Really Stupid'

From Louis CK:
This is an experpt or outtake from my new special "Louis C.K. Live at the Beacon Theater" which will be available exclusively on my website http://www.louisck.com starting on December 10th for 5 dollars via paypal. You can stream or download the special or both. It is only available on the site. This clip does not appear on the special. I feel very fat today.


Enjoy:





Rick Perry Doubles Down On Homophobic, Theocratic Ad, Still Doesn't Understand Things

Rick Perry responded to the public reaction to his homophobic theocratic abomination of a political ad in an interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN.

In the interview, he doubled down on his anti-gay rhetoric, stating that he'd reinstate DADT if elected. He also defended discrimination against gays by the Boy Scouts and Catholic charities.

When pressed by Wolf on the issue of DADT, Perry served up one of his famous 'gut feeling' answers (if you recall, when Perry was asked how he knows abstinence works, he replied that he knows it works, "from my own personal life."
BLITZER: But military commanders tell me, in the past few months since the policy has changed, they’ve had no problems. Including the commandant of the Marine Corps, who was originally opposed.

PERRY: Well, I’m just telling you the members of the military I talked to, when this was being talked about, I didn’t talk to anyone who was for it…

When pressed on the topic of Obama's 'war on religion,' Perry didn't fare much better, and resorted to McCarthy-esque absurdity, ignoring the many instances of Obama publicly embracing religion.
PERRY: We’ve got a federal judge, for instance, in San Antonio that said these kids can’t say an invocation at school. I mean, they say you can’t even use the word “invocation” at their commencement.

BLITZER: Is that President Obama’s war on religion?

PERRY: I’m just giving you some examples of what we’re seeing from the left, of which, I would suggest to you, President Obama is a member of the left and, uh, substantial left of center beliefs, that you can't even have a Christmas party. You can't say a prayer at school.

Rick Perry is ignorant, ladies and gentlemen. He is dumber than a bag of hammers. Sure, we hear the old 'why can't my kids pray to Jesus at their public school' thing from our ignorant uncle on Facebook, but this guy is the Governor of Texas, and a potential (although unlikely, at this point) candidate for the highest office in the country.
PERRY: I ask people, 'Which one of the Ten Commandments do you not like?' I mean, why aren't our children allowed to pray in school? Why can they not celebrate Christmas? Those are, I think, traditional and solid American values that we're seeing trampled upon by this Administration.

Well, Rick, I'll tell you the problem with the ten commandments. Four of them are solely religious edicts that have nothing to do with ethics or law, and three of them are one-dimensional prohibitions that are irrelevant to modern law. So, as a non-religious tax-paying American citizen, I don't care for the enshrinement of religious edicts. That kind of reeks of theocracy. You're not crazy about Sharia Law, so I'd think you'd be able to get your head around this.

Why aren't our children allowed to pray in school? They can pray all they want. Prayer is very much protected in public schools by our Constitution. There are simply some restrictions -- mostly that prayer can't be mandatory, and you can't have 'sanctioned' prayers during school time or school events. Because, see, that would be forcing it on someone who has the right to not be proselytized to as part of a captive public school audience. I am sure that if you imagine a teacher leading the class in an Islamic prayer, you can understand how this might not be cool, Rick.

Why can't they celebrate Christmas at school? Well, first of all, Christmas has in no way been banned in public schools. Again, there are simply rules that are appropriate to follow to avoid alienating students or identifying them with a religion not their own. Because, Rick, aside from the above issues relating to proselytizing, we live in a melting pot. It's not as homogeneous as it was when you were a kid. If you want the kids to celebrate Christmas in school, then maybe we need to provide equal time for other religions. Here you go -- here's an inclusive, interfaith calendar of several dozen holidays and festivals observed by Americans. Good luck getting any actual teaching done.

Here's the Blitzer-Perry video, for those who are interested in killing a few brain cells:






12.08.2011

Conservatives Fear Rampant Bestiality In The Military

Religious right nutjobs Michele Bachmann and Bryan Fischer are very worried that our military is going to start having sex with animals.

Yes, really.

Last week, the US Senate voted to repeal Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The repeal was part of a larger piece of legislation, the National Defense Authorization Act.

While the Defense Act has certainly been controversial, bestiality hasn't been the reason.

You see, Article 125 is an archaic statute which bars troops from engaging in consensual sodomy, and its repeal was tacked on to the defense act (hardly unusual in legislation) -- a move applauded by LGBT rights advocates.

However, since the article defines sodomy as "unnatural carnal copulation with another person of the same or opposite sex or with an animal," the nutjobs read this as the military condoning bestiality.

Here's World Nut Daily asking White House press secretary Jay Carney if the president approves or disapproves of sex with animals:


Last night, Michelle Bachmann and Glenn Beck watched that video together on Beck's web show.

Bachmann reacted:
It’s absolutely abhorrent, reprehensible and you think, this is the kind of thing parents try to keep from their children because parents want to have their children enjoy innocence. Children need that latency period, they need innocence and your own government legalizes this? … Are we really going to say ho hum and laugh and go back to sleep? There’s got to be something we stand for...So the big question is, is there anything that’s wrong? That’s my question. If that’s not wrong, Glenn what’s wrong? Is there anything that’s wrong? Then you have a very serious problem on your hands.
Here's that clip:


Bryan Fischer, of hate group American Family Association, stated:
You have an instance of bestiality now, and the military has no legal way to deal with it. That's been now normalized...Once you cross the threshold that sexual intimacy is between for a husband and a wife in marriage...once you cross that boundary, there is no place to stop."
Here's that clip. It's a little long and painful, but feel free to watch if you're so inclined:


Next thing you know, military animals will be requiring separate shower and bathroom facilities.



12.07.2011

Hi, I'm Rick Perry, And I Don't Understand Things

The Rick Perry campaign released a Hail Mary ad yesterday. It's a doozy -- thirty seconds of gay-bashing, patronizing declarations of faith, anti-Christian accusations, and a fundamental misunderstanding of constitutional law.

The video features a Marlboro Man-esque Perry (and his belt buckle) walking in nature, perhaps somewhere on Niggerhead Ranch.

He states:

"I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian, but you don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school. As President, I’ll end Obama’s war on religion. And I’ll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage. Faith made America strong. It can make her strong again.”




There's so much here, it's hard to know where to start. It's sad, but not surprising, that Perry would take a swipe at our gay and lesbian service members (although you'd think he might realize that many Christians actually support the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell), but last time I checked, kids can pray in school, and there's no law stopping them from celebrating Christmas. The difference, Rick, is in something called the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. Certainly the governor of a state with one of the highest immigration populations might understand that when people become citizens of America, they aren't required to leave their entire culture behind. Many immigrants - maybe not so much in Texas -- practice other religions. Perhaps the 22% of the population who don't call themselves Christians should be forced to recognize and take part in a religion that is not their own.

Rick, kids can pray. They can celebrate Christmas. They just can't have public school prayer-a-thons or Jesus parties. They simply need to refrain from pushing their religion on other kids. That's called being a dick. It's also kind of a violation of rights. Public schools are not in the business of endorsing religion, and are prohibited by the Establishment Clause from endorsing one religion over the other. This is basic stuff -- something that a president should understand and respect. Do we want a leader who disregards the rights of nearly a quarter of the US population?

And that thing about Obama's 'war on religion'? You mean like when he retold the story of Jesus' birth? Or his speech on prayer at the National Prayer Breakfast? Or maybe when he issued a National Day of Prayer proclamation? Perhaps when he expanded Bush's faith-based initiatives? How about when he invited Rick Warren to pray at his inauguration? Or opening rallies with prayer?

I guess we shouldn't be surprised. It's not like Rick Perry has been the poster boy for factual accuracy. This was quite simply a desperate attempt to court Christian conservatives, to raise tired (and misguided) questions about Obama's faith, and to curry favor with the segment of the population that is anti-LGBT, who feel that white Christians are being persecuted, and who believe Obama is a Muslim.




12.06.2011

Pat Robertson Ruminates On Time, God Speaks to Jim Bakker & Rick Joyner Via Thunder

Today is a banner news day for televangelist batshittery.

Here we have Pat Robertson ruminating on precognition and the mystery of time:




And if that didn't blow your mind, sit back and watch as God speaks to Jim Bakker and Rick Joyner through thunder:




You're welcome.



Anti-Science: In Which 'Age of Autism' Boos Me, And A Scientist Responds

This morning I criticized the website Age of Autism by way of a tweet highlighting their site as part of a list of the 10 worst anti-science websites. They subsequently blocked me, and tweeted 'Boo!' back to me.


As a big fan of free speech, peer review, and dissent, it peeved me that a benign public tweet mentioning AoA as part of a list, would result in being blocked. This is, after all, an organization who, in their own 'About Us' section, condemns those who "aren't interested" in other points of view, and who "don't listen."

Their choice of words, "Boo!", while annoying, perfectly distilled the essence of AoA's willful ignorance. It was the twitter equivalent of sticking fingers in ears and exclaiming, "Lalalalalalalalaaa!"

The science writer, biologist, and autism activist Emily Willingham was also peeved. (Full disclosure: I am one of Emily's followers on Twitter (and she is one of mine), and we have several mutual acquaintances. She has been featured in these pages, and I happen to think she kicks ass.)

Emily wrote a post on her blog, The Biology Files, where the AoA 'Boo!' episode served as a jumping-off point for a screed on the anti-science movement and the value of real science.

She writes:
This nadir of discourse is a perfect example of why the anti-science movement in this country is so damaging. The refusal to think critically, to alter conclusions as necessary based on new evidence, to budge from some pre-set notion regardless of information to the contrary--that "BOO!" sums it all up. It says, "We do not care that you think we're anti-science, and we have taken our ball and gone home." It says, "We are incapable of defending our position, as usual." It says, "We are childishly adherent to our cause, no matter its level of failure, no matter evidence to the contrary." That "BOO!" encapsulates well the attitude and argumentative capacity of those who promote anti-science values.

Yes, I said, "Values." Because the anti-science crowd operates together on a fundamental set of values, whether they're evangelizing against evolution, climate change, or vaccines. They place more emphasis on boastful "gotchas" than they do on getting it right. They use half-truths to get buyers for what they sell--and yes, they're usually selling something--and make people forget that the yin to a half-truth's yang is a half-lie. They value the power of emotion and testimony over method and evidence, and they use emotion and testimony cynically and unabashedly. But most of all, they value the opportunity to say "BOO!" to the folk who rely on the long-term, unemotional, data-gathering process we call "science" to form conclusions.
We see denialism everywhere these days. You can't turn on a news channel today without being bombarded with anti-science sentiment: climate change is a hoax, evolution is 'a theory that's out there,' a blastocyst is a person, Gardisil causes mental retardation. The list goes on and on.

Willingham on the damage caused by anti-science:
This clash of values between science and anti-science intersects every sphere of our lives. People turn to the anti-science practitioners and place their health and lives and their children's health and lives in jeopardy. People turn away from the conclusions of science based on available evidence and endanger everything from the food we eat and water we drink to the very balance of the biosphere. People turn away from educating our children in science, preferring the value of ignorance over the value of knowledge. People turn our nation away from being competitive by making a mockery of the value of knowledge and emphasizing instead the anti-science value of embracing half-truths and promoting scientific illiteracy. Were they able to spin in graves, our founding fathers, many of whom were extraordinary critical thinkers, would be spinning like tops to see the people of this nation they founded so proud in their emphatic and willful ignorance.

We live in a world in which, more than ever, critical thinking abilities and a broad and deep knowledge across the spheres of life and the rest of the physical world will be required tools for function and advancement. The anti-science emphasis on and exploitation of values of half-lies, ignorance, and illiteracy can only endanger us and the world around us, sometimes fatally. It's difficult for me to understand the mental processes of a person or a group of people who prefer ignorance and failure over method and evidence. But then again, my values don't involve resorting to playground childishness like "BOO!" as a retort to legitimate criticism.
Read Emily's entire post here. Share it. Tweet it to AoA, if you want. Warning: you will be blacklisted.



Are Shifts In Religious Morality The Result Of Secular Pressures?

Recently, over at Professor Jerry Coyne's blog, there was a discussion about a female pastor in South Carolina who had abandoned her religious teachings about sexual behavior in favor of practical measures such as handing out condoms and urging people to get tested for HIV.

A reader of Coyne's blog stated that this was a prime example of "religion being pushed into a moral change, not by any theistic insight, but through applying basic secular morality to the situation."

Coyne added:
...There’s neither a method nor an inherent trend in theology to reassess and alter its moral stands in view of changing conditions. Religious morality appears to change under only two conditions: either secular morality moves ahead of religious morality, causing it to change (e.g., treatment of women and gays or, in this case, condom use and birth control), or scientific advances show that the scriptural basis of religious morality is simply wrong (e.g., there’s no Adam and Eve and hence no Original Sin).

If a religion’s moral dictates remain fixed in stone for centuries, even under the press of secular advances, then that religion loses adherents. This, of course, is what is happening to Catholicism in so many places.
This sentiment is something that I have spent considerable time debating with friends and acquaintances -- the fact that religious morality is quite often inferior to a morality derived from secular values. In other words, there are many instances of morality in religion which, despite being handed down by a supreme deity, actually cause harm to others and diminish overall well-being. In many instances, not only is harm directly inflicted on others, but the groundwork is laid for a pattern of suffering, and for an extension of suffering into other areas of humanity.

For example, we know that religion is, more often than not, the source of anti-LGBT bigotry. It is rare to hear an argument against homosexuality or same-sex marriage that does not invoke religion. Yet, we are starting to see an evolution in some religious bodies, as some churches are beginning to soften their stance on homosexuality. I don't believe you would see many instances of religious bodies initiating these changes on their own, without pressure from outside. Most often, we see secular shifts in attitudes (pro-LGBT equality sentiment in popular culture, the legalization of same-sex marriage or the extension of benefits to same-sex partners) long before we see major shifts in attitudes within religious bodies. This seems to be the same cycle to which Coyne is referring.

An excerpt of the Dalai Lama's forthcoming book, Beyond Religion: Ethics For A Whole World, was recently posted on The Huffington Post.

In his book, the Dalai Lama urges humanity to accept a "new model for mutual respect and understanding - rooted in our shared humanity - between religious believers and non-believers."

The excerpt dovetailed nicely with the sentiment expressed in Coyne's blog post.

The Dalai Lama writes:
Certainly religion has helped millions of people in the past, helps millions today and will continue to help millions in the future. But for all its benefits in offering moral guidance and meaning in life, in today’s secular world religion alone is no longer adequate as a basis for ethics. One reason for this is that many people in the world no longer follow any particular religion. Another reason is that, as the peoples of the world become ever more closely interconnected in an age of globalization and in multicultural societies, ethics based in any one religion would only appeal to some of us; it would not be meaningful for all. In the past, when peoples lived in relative isolation from one another -- as we Tibetans lived quite happily for many centuries behind our wall of mountains -- the fact that groups pursued their own religiously based approaches to ethics posed no difficulties. Today, however, any religion-based answer to the problem of our neglect of inner values can never be universal, and so will be inadequate. What we need today is an approach to ethics which makes no recourse to religion and can be equally acceptable to those with faith and those without: a secular ethics.

I am confident that it is both possible and worthwhile to attempt a new secular approach to universal ethics. My confidence comes from my conviction that all of us, all human beings, are basically inclined or disposed toward what we perceive to be good. Whatever we do, we do because we think it will be of some benefit. At the same time, we all appreciate the kindness of others. We are all, by nature, oriented toward the basic human values of love and compassion. We all prefer the love of others to their hatred. We all prefer others’ generosity to their meanness. And who among us does not prefer tolerance, respect and forgiveness of our failings to bigotry, disrespect and resentment?
The Dalai Lama isn't speaking directly to the secular pressures upon religious bodies to change their morality. However, in so many words, he is saying that religious morality is inferior to secular morality in terms of obtaining a universal state of minimized suffering and an increased overall well-being for humanity.

While I normally would not compare the Dalai Lama with Sam Harris, it would be egregious to avoid mentioning the similarity of the Dalai Lama's premise with that of Sam Harris' in The Moral Landscape. In his book, Harris argues that "morality must relate, at some level, to the well-being of conscious creatures...if there are more and less effective ways for us to seek happiness and to avoid misery in this world—and there clearly are—then there are right and wrong answers to questions of morality."

Harris, on the flawed morality of the Catholic Church:
Consider the Catholic Church: an organization that advertises itself as greatest force for good and as the only true bulwark against evil in the universe. Even among non-Catholics, its doctrines are widely associated with the concepts of “morality” and “human values.” However, the church is an organization that excommunicates women for attempting to become priests but does not excommunicate male priests for raping children. It excommunicates doctors who perform abortions to save a mother’s life—even if the mother is a 9-year-old girl raped by her stepfather and pregnant with twins—but it did not excommunicate a single member of the Third Reich for committing genocide. (It excommunicated Joseph Goebbels, but this was for the high crime of marrying a Protestant.) This is an organization that is more concerned about stopping contraception than stopping genocide. It is more worried about gay marriage than about nuclear proliferation. Are we really obliged to consider such a diabolical inversion of priorities to be evidence of an alternative “moral” framework? No. I think it is clear that the church is as misguided in speaking about the “moral” peril of contraception, for instance, as it would be in speaking about the “physics” of Transubstantiation. In both domains, it true to say that the church is grotesquely confused about which things in this world are worth paying attention to. The church is not offering an alternative moral framework; it is offering a false one.
History offers many examples of secular morality effecting change in religious morality. Although there are still examples of public stoning being validated by religious belief, it is not tolerated by most religious bodies, despite its prevalence in scripture. Biblical instructions on how to keep slaves are ignored. Many churches now allow women clergy. These are but a few examples of shifting morality within religious institutions. Most often the shifts occurred as the actions, commands, or instructions in scripture became viewed as incompatible with society by those outside of the church. Sure, religious people have played a role in shifting morality from within (religious people have certainly been instrumental throughout history in condemning slavery, segregation, anti-LGBT bigotry, etc.), but it is often a case of the religious rejecting religious doctrine.

In other words, even though there are examples of religious justification for the rejection of doctrine (i.e. 'Jesus said love thy neighbor, therefore I cannot condemn my homosexual neighbor), we must not lose sight of the fact that such examples are a rejection of religion-based morality (i.e. 'homosexuality is an abomination.')

As the Dalai lama suggests (as does Harris, to a lesser degree), a secular morality does not require that one discard religion. However, both point out that we cannot rely on religion to dictate our shared morality. We must, instead, seek common denominators in a universal morality: morality which meets the criteria of a secular morality (i.e. 'acting with the intention of reducing suffering and maximizing well-being for all'). Both Harris and the Dalai Lama state that if our religious morality dictates that we act in a way that does not reduce suffering or maximize well-being, then that particular piece of guidance should be rejected.

The Dalai Lama writes:
I am of the firm opinion that we have within our grasp a way, and a means, to ground inner values without contradicting any religion and yet, crucially, without depending on religion. The development and practice of this new system of ethics is what I propose to elaborate in the course of this book. It is my hope that doing so will help to promote understanding of the need for ethical awareness and inner values in this age of excessive materialism.

At the outset I should make it clear that my intention is not to dictate moral values. Doing that would be of no benefit. To try to impose moral principles from outside, to impose them, as it were, by command, can never be effective. Instead, I call for each of us to come to our own understanding of the importance of inner values. For it is these inner values which are the source of both an ethically harmonious world and the individual peace of mind, confidence and happiness we all seek. Of course, all the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, patience, tolerance and forgiveness, can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I believe the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics that is beyond religion.
There are many current examples of religious morality that does not meet this 'common denominator' requirement. In Uganda, we are seeing faulty religious morality in the Kill-the-Gays bill. Here in the US, Michigan's anti-bullying bill protects religious tormentors. The Catholic church is attempting to ban insurance coverage of contraception, despite the fact that the pill is crucial to the treatment of many women's health issues unrelated to contraception. Same-sex marriage opponents cite religious reasons for the denial of rights to LGBT citizens. Each of these instances of religious morality, among many others, result in the suffering of others, as well as a diminishing of the well-being of entire swaths of the population. Such religious morality is inferior to secular morality. You will be hard-pressed to find a plurality of secular justification for the same moral conclusion.

It is because of secular pressures that we will eventually see shifts in religious morality. Regardless of the resistance to change, one would be foolish to predict that religion will not eventually budge on each of the above stances (and others).

While it is true that many religious people are pushing for similar change, we must remember that they are pushing for the rejection of religious morality according to doctrine. They are pushing for their religion to embrace attitudes already embraced by a secular morality based on the enhancement of human well-being and individual responsibility, and the elimination of human suffering.




12.05.2011

Courageous Kids

There have been a number of powerful and heartbreaking videos featuring young people being brutally honest about homosexuality, bullying, and same-sex marriage.

It's wonderful that the videos are made in the first place -- that the young folks involved said what they said, or did what they did. It's also wonderful that these videos make the rounds.

My fear is that the videos don't make it to the people who need to see them the most.

This holiday season, send one of these links to someone you think could benefit from it. Nobody likes proselytizing, but is it really proselytizing when lives are at stake?