Posts Tagged ‘secularism’

What if everyone forgot about the National Day of Prayer, like almost everyone does every year?

April 7, 2011

They don’t really answer that question in this commercial, but the vague response seems to be this: Terrible things would happen, that’s what! OMG OMG WTF Be afraid!

This idea of the Christian God being like an abusive stepdad who threatens to kill his family if they don’t buy him a nice tie for Father’s Day definitely has its biblical basis. Some of the more modern Christians try to frame this as if God’s usually protecting us, and that when horrible things happen that’s just the physical world attacking us for being sinful and it happens as a result of God’s inaction. But then there’s Isaiah 45:7:

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.

I still don’t get why people who believe in gods never seem to consider the possibility that God’s as petulant and childish as he appears to be in the Bible. If a real person made these kinds of threats, they’d probably be locked away. But when it’s an imaginary deity, suddenly they deserve worship. It makes no sense at all.

That last sentence was brought to you by Captain Obvious.

This post is about Israel but has nothing to do with the Palestine issue

October 5, 2010

… which makes it a rarity as far as blogs in general go, I guess.

OK so there’s this lesson we here in America ought to take from Israel, and that is that we should fire government officials who are in charge of science education and yet oppose the whole idea of science education. We haven’t had much of this at the federal level lately, but under Bush this was part of this drearily predictable pattern of appointing people to head departments who had the goal of undermining said department.

For example Bush’s Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao never had a labor job. She was always on the side of management. The Department of Justice was staffed with Liberty “University” grads who wanted to replace the Constitution with the Ten Commandments. The EPA was stripped of whistleblower protection, which also kind of undermines the point of having an EPA.

But this isn’t about early 2000s America. It’s about Israel in 2010. So I’ll try to get to the point.

Gavriel Avital was Israel’s chief scientist in its Ministry of Education until recently. He was fired for denying evolution and global warming. In other words he was fired for incompetence.

YNet News claims in its headline that he was fired for questioning evolution, which makes it seem as if he were fired for having an open mind. This seems like an injustice since science really depends on scientists having an open mind and being open to having even our most strongly-held beliefs challenged. But then you skim down the article a bit and you get a more accurate representation of his views:

“If textbooks state explicitly that human beings’ origins are to be found with monkeys, I would want students to pursue and grapple with other opinions. There are many people who don’t believe the evolutionary account is correct,” he said.

There are two logical fallacies in as many sentences here. The first is a strawman, since nobody but ignorant creationists claim that evolution means that humans evolved from monkeys. What it means is that humans and other apes share a common ancestor. So since textbooks don’t “state explicitly that human beings’ origins are to be found with monkeys,” it’s safe to presume that he wouldn’t want students to “peruse and grapple with other opinions.” But probably not, I’m guessing.

The other logical fallacy is an argument ad populum. From a scientific perspective (and certainly for someone in charge of science education), it doesn’t matter if there are “many people who don’t believe the evolutionary account is correct.” What matters is the evidence. But creationists don’t like to talk about evidence, so they try to make their weird conspiracy theories seem plausible by focusing on aspects of the discussion other than the evidence.

This is something we ought to learn from. It’s OK to fire someone for incompetence, even when their incompetence results from their religious beliefs. That doesn’t interfere with their freedom to believe whatever they want – it only interferes with their ability to get paid for a job for which they are clearly unqualified.

A tale of two nontroversies

August 23, 2010

I really don’t like getting caught up in the faux-controversies like the two I’m about to get caught up in. The way I understand it, controversies are supposed to involve two opposing positions, both of which are intellectually defensible by well-informed adults. These do not qualify by that definition, but the hypocrisy is just so glaringly obvious that it really needs to be pointed out. Here’s what I’m talking about:

  1. The construction of an Islamic cultural center two-ish blocks from Ground Zero by a Muslim group, the leader of which worked with the Bush administration as an example of moderate Islam, and
  2. A person named Laura Schlessinger on some primitive invention called “radio” said some very racist things to one of her callers.

The right wing’s reaction to the cultural center has largely been that it shouldn’t be built because it might hurt the feelings of New Yorkers and 9/11 victims’ families. There are some notable exceptions, like the Libertarian-style economist Grover Norquist and NYC mayor/billionaire media bigshot Michael Bloomberg. But for the most part the line has been that this offends some people and is opposed by popular opinion. Here is one example. Here is CNN making a big deal of poll numbers. And Twitter user Sarah Palin used the Twitter to explain why the “mosque” (which isn’t a mosque, actually) is very offensive and not at all politically correct and must be stopped somehow:

In other words, rights (and bills which outline them) have to be subordinate to popular opinion and political correctness. That’s what the opposition to this is all about. If it weren’t, then there’d be no need to continue the conversation beyond agreeing that they have the right to build it, because whether or not they should is completely irrelevant.

What’s weird about this is that whenever someone casually refers to America as a democracy, it’s always these same people – Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin and people like that – who nitpick the point by correcting them. America’s not a democracy, they say, because democracy means everything is decided by a majority vote. And if you really want to get that pedantic about it, then it’s a fair point, because America’s a republic. We make some decisions by majority vote, some are made by elected representatives, but some issues – rights, for instance – aren’t open to debate or discussion. It’s the job of the government to insure those rights for the citizenry. If this were a strict democracy, then a majority could vote to take away the rights of minorities (although, to be fair usually when someone says that we’re a democratic country, they mean by that that we have elections and free access to information and stuff like that, unlike totalitarian dictatorships).

There’s another inconsistency here, too. They don’t actually come out and use the term “politically correct,” but that’s the perspective they’re defending when they talk about how a cultural center at a former Burlington Coat Factory will offend people and therefore plans to build it should be halted. So you would think that when it came to another issue where the shoe is on the other foot, we should expect some consistency from Republicans on the question of rights v. political correctness.

But of course that’s not the case. When Laura Schlessinger went off on a crazy racist rant about how black (or “buhhh-LACK,” as she puts it) people  are overly sensitive and lack a sense of humor, Twitter user Sarah Palin used the Twitter to defend the radio host:

And this is almost verbatim what Schlessinger herself had to say about her situation. Apparently her First Amendment rights were taken away because her bosses decided to can her for being an ignorant hick. Also, none of her critics even said anything about government involvement inre: Schlessinger’s right to free speech as far as I know.

But even if we were to be generous and pretend that Schlessinger’s First Amendment rights were taken away (she said so on Larry King’s show, apparently without anyone in the government stopping her from doing so, but whatever), this is still a very clear double standard. You’d have to be blind not to notice it. In one case First Amendment rights need to be subjugated to the “will of the people” and cater to hurt feelings; and in the other First Amendment rights are precious and need to be defended regardless of how offended someone might be by someone else using them.

Here’s the best way to illustrate how obvious the double standard is: take any of the statements Gingrich, Palin, Limbaugh, or anyone like that made about Park 51. Then do a quick find/replace so that it’s appropriate to the Schlessinger story. And vice versa. This is what I got:

Schlessinger’s employers were teaching her a lesson in respect: This is not your place; it belongs to others. However pure your voice, better to let silence reign.
Charles Krauthammer

In that case, Krauthammer would actually be correct if he said that. The airwaves Schlessinger broadcasted on actually were owned by others: her employers. But he was making an analogy with Park 51 in the original quote and there he’s wrong. The Cordoba Initiative purchased the property completely legally and followed every step of due process in approving the construction of the building with the local authorities. It doesn’t “belong to others” – it belongs to them.

Or how about this one:

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf: don’t retreat…reload! (Steps aside bc his 1st Amend.rights ceased 2exist thx 2activists trying 2silence”isn’t American,not fair”)
-Sarah Palin

That would probably go over well, right? If Palin or literally anybody else tweeted to Rauf to “reload” and fight against the activists taking away his rights, what kind of reaction would you expect from Fox News? Is there any chance in hell they wouldn’t throw a gigantic week-long hissy fit over it?

Whether the Republicans want to be either the people who value hurt feelings and political correctness over Constitutional rights or the reverse, that’s up to them. It would just be nice to have a little consistency. At the very least they could try not to take such extreme and opposite ideological positions on the First Amendment in the span of a few days.

How to distinguishing between Is and Ought when arguing with irrational people

August 1, 2010

One of the awesome philosophical concepts David Hume articulated was the Is-Ought Distinction (or the Is-Ought Problem). It’s very similar to the naturalistic fallacy and it tries to deal with how we can derive how individuals and societies ought to act from objective, verifiable facts. Can we proceed directly from what is to what ought to be? Hume didn’t think so.

In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remark’d, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary ways of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when all of a sudden I am surpriz’d to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, ’tis necessary that it shou’d be observ’d and explain’d; and at the same time that a reason should be given; for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it.
A Treatise of Human Nature (1739)

Now in this context, Hume is criticizing those who try to derive the ‘ought’ from what someone believes is the ‘is’ of God. So the position he’s taking down is something like this: “Since God is X, we ought to do things that comply with X-ness.” Let’s say that’s the position of moral philosopher A. Then moral philosopher B comes around and says that A is wrong about what God is. B has a different idea of God with different focuses on different aspects of a God. And the moral/ethical philosophical discussion is framed around the question of What God is.

So Hume sees this and sees a badly neglected gap. Even if A or B are right about what God is, neither of them have justified that that observation leads to anything morally good. Why should a quality of a deity be something we want to emulate? How do we even know if that is good or not? Nobody seemed to be discussing that. Put this way, it’s very similar to the Euthyphro Dilemma:

“Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?”
Euthyphro, Plato

Now you can extend the Is-Ought Problem beyond just the Is of God (which is kind of a waste of time for nonbelievers like me) when people try to derive policy from history or observations of nature. The problem becomes less of one in these instances because, unlike God, nature and history are about empirical facts which can be verified or falsified. You still have the gap between what Is and what Ought to be (a problem completely lost on some creationists), but at least the Is can be checked independently of subjective theistic assumptions about the supernatural.

Now you have someone like Glennifer Beck saying that because Congress printed official, government-approved Bibles in the early period of American history (that’s the Is part), we therefore ought to not worry so much about that silly old separation of church and state thing anymore.

A secularist who doesn’t know his history might be tempted to argue along similar lines as Hume above; i.e. that just because it was the case that the government approved official Bibles for use in schools, it does not follow that we ought to revive that practice. But someone who made that argument would be missing a much better point, which is that even the initial Is claim of Beck’s argument is just factually wrong.

That’s part of a video series by Chris Rodda, who’s a Senior Research Director for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. She’s been going after the factual errors and misrepresentations made on the nature of secularism and America by people like David Barton and Beck. They’re very effective in how they just deal with the actual history without getting caught up in how to solve Hume’s Is-Ought Problem.

See, someone can say that we ought to have, say a public education system that hands out Bibles and whatnot, and then I can say why I think that’s a bad idea. But then we’re just arguing for subjective positions on an Ought issue. But when Beck claims that we ought to imitate history and then proceeds to misrepresent it, Rodda’s corrections of those misrepresentations cut the argument down to nothing. Here’s her unfortunately HuffPo-y RSS feed, and here’s some other of her great counterpoints to pseudohistory:

Our Constitution is not based on the book of Deuteronomy

And the newest one just out today about Barton’s claims of Founders who went to “seminaries.”

Pat Condell can go EABOD

June 12, 2010

Pat Condell is this YouTube user and British person who is very disappointed in us here in the colonies for thinking about maybe allowing the Mohammedans to worship their monkey-god near where they got all 9/11-y on the World Trade Center. It is all part of a “stealth jihad,” according to him. And our political correctness and lack of a backbone will apparently lead to Islamic enslavement of the entire world, etc. The way I see it, there are two ways of looking at this guy, and probably the most accurate way is a combination of the two:

  1. He doesn’t like people with too much melanin and has found a relatively safe way to disguise his irrational beliefs about race as if they were rational grievances against religion.
  2. He perceives an overabundance of political correctness and reacts to it in a kneejerk way by overcompensating wildly.

That noted source Uncyclopedia has some wise words to expand on the second point:

With the sudden explosion in the PC-Fag population, soon followed an equally large explosion in the Un-PC-Fag population. The PC-Fags would insist that a comedian like Larry the Cable Guy was offensive to minorities. Un-PC-Fags would insist that the PC-Fags stop being so offended, and then hail Larry the Cable Guy as the comedic mastermind of our generation. Meanwhile, all the sensible people came to a quiet conclusion that he wasn’t really all that funny, though they guess some of his material was all right, and that if anything they were offended that the Un-PC-Fags made him so goddamn popular when he has no fucking right to be popular.

The clear comparison here is that Condell’s an Un-PC-Fag. He is the Larry the Cable Guy of the atheist right. Even worse than that, he’s actively trying to make claims of American hypocrisy more valid, and that creates a larger reservoir of support for Muslim extremists whom Condell claims to oppose. He’s a bizarro-Barry Lynn – an atheist explicitly against secularism and government neutrality towards religions.

What makes this guy even more aggravating is that he claims that Americans aren’t proud enough of the values which make our society better than Islamic theocracies while simultaneously insisting that we pre-emptively undermine those exact same values. As it’s supposed to be now, our government doesn’t favor one religion or sect over another. That itself is what makes our society better than Islamic theocracies, and now some “bloke” or “twat” or whatever they call morons with webcams in the UK is trying to tell us to forget about all that because he thinks that “Ground Zero” is “sacred.” Cry me a river. In conclusion, Pat Condell can go fuck the fuck off. That is all.

America is not a Christian nation

June 12, 2010

First I should probably clarify what I don’t mean by the title of this post. I’m not denying that the authors of the Constitution were mostly Christian. And I’m not denying that the majority of Americans are Christian and always have been.

What I’m attacking here is the idea that our laws and government are based on “Christian values” or “Judeo-Christian heritage” or any other vacuous phrase theocrats invent. And what’s more is that it’s very easy to determine that this was the clear intention of the people who founded the country.

Anyone can dig up diary entries and letters by individuals involved in the founding of America to sell whatever kind of historical interpretation they like. And there’s no shortage of people attempting to do that on this issue. But our country isn’t based on diary entries and letters. You kind of have to wonder why, if these people were so insistent that this be a “Christian nation,” they neglected to mention that fact anywhere at all in its founding charter.

There are, however, some mentions of religion itself in the Constition. Let’s go through all of them right now. It won’t take long.

Article VII, Section II

Done in convention by the unanimous consent of the states present the seventeenth day of September in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven and of the independence of the United States of America the twelfth. In witness whereof We have hereunto subscribed our Names,

This is followed by the signatures of the delegates.

This one I can cover pretty quickly. The day I’m writing this is Saturday, which is named after the Roman god of agriculture. Does the fact that I call it Saturday mean that I’m a pagan? “In the year of our Lord” was, and in some ways still is, a dating convention of the time. Even “AD” is still used often when people are talking about ancient history.

The Establishment Clause

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

What I like about this one in this context is that it’s so clearly against the first of the Ten Commandments. In one the order is to not have any other gods before one in particular, and the other says that you can have other gods if you want. Killing people that don’t worship one specific god is a pretty extreme version of prohibiting the free exercise of religion. I can’t even believe this needs to be pointed out.

Article VI, Section III

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

Now there are religious tests for public office in a pretty informal way here in the US in that most voters will take a candidates’ religious views into consideration when voting. But whatever those views are won’t officially disqualify anyone from holding whatever public office they like. That’s what this refers to, and we know this because unfortunately Jefferson’s attempts to develop an 18th century functioning MRI which could monitor voters’ religious feelings while they cast their ballot were eventually de-funded.

Article VI, Section II and the Treaty of Tripoli, Article 11

These two tie together.

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

So the important thing to remember about this is that treaties signed by the US are equal to the Constitution in that they are both “supreme Law of the Land.” That’s half of this particular argument. Now even if you’re not convinced by the earlier mentions of religion in the Constitution, we’d have to ask whether or not there are anything more specific in a treaty made by the United States, since that would clarify the issue of whether or not America is a Christian nation.

The very first treaty signed under the authority of the United States was the Treaty of Tripoli.

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

It doesn’t get any clearer than that. It’s as if these guys are screaming from beyond their graves at Pat Robertson and similar douchenozzles that they’re wrong. But before you get all mad scientist-y and try to resurrect them for that purpose in a castle on a mountaintop during a thunderstorm, just remember that all we have to do to prove the “Christian nation” types wrong is to just go through our laws.

Government bailouts of Christianity

May 2, 2010

That’s what I think we ought to start calling these state/church separation issues. A phrase like “violation of the Establishment Clause” might interest nerds who are into constitutional law and secularism, but it’s the kind of phrase that causes everyone else’s eyes to just gloss over when spoken.

Anyway, this particular bailout comes in the form of a very weird case that goes back to 1934, when a group set up a big cross in the Mojave Desert to honor the dead from the first World War. Nobody really noticed it for a while.

The problem with this cross (besides the fact that many non-Christians died in WWI, but more on that later) is that it’s on federal land and so it amounts to a government establishment of religion, which flies in the face of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Having been challenged, the government offered to sell a single acre of the surrounding land to a private organization which would then maintain the cross on “their own land.”

This is kind of the reason we have humans for judges instead of just applying the exact letter of the law in every single case like a justice-distribution machine. It’s obvious what’s happening when someone buys a single acre in the middle of a 1,500,000 acre federal nature preserve where the only thing around is a giant cross. The interested parties were just trying to get around the law by making the area immediately around the cross “private property” on paper.

So this too was challenged, it eventually reached the Supreme Court, and last week they ruled in favor of keeping the cross in the desert. The way I see it, the only way to justify this ruling would be to say that the cross was “grandfathered in.” This means that it went unchallenged for so long that any challenges to it on constitutional grounds would be invalid. But the court’s “swinger” Anthony Kennedy went even further than that by insisting that the cross is not really just a symbol of Christianity. From the Globe:

“Here,’’ [Kennedy] added, “one Latin cross in the desert evokes far more than religion. It evokes thousands of small crosses in foreign fields marking the graves of Americans who fell in battles, battles whose tragedies are compounded if the fallen are forgotten.’’

This is a reiteration of an earlier and even more ridiculous exchange between Kennedy’s fellow justice Scalia and Peter Eliasberg of the ACLU on the same case:

JUSTICE SCALIA: It’s erected as a war memorial. I assume it is erected in honor of all of the war dead. It’s the — the cross is the — is the most common symbol of — of — of the resting place of the dead, and it doesn’t seem to me — what would you have them erect? A cross — some conglomerate of a cross, a Star of David, and you know, a Moslem half moon and star?
MR. ELIASBERG: Well, Justice Scalia, if I may go to your first point. The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of Christians. I have been in Jewish cemeteries. There is never a cross on a tombstone of a Jew.
(Laughter.)
MR. ELIASBERG: So it is the most common symbol to honor Christians.
JUSTICE SCALIA: I don’t think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead that that cross honors are the Christian war dead. I think that’s an outrageous conclusion.
MR. ELIASBERG: Well, my — the point of my — point here is to say that there is a reason the Jewish war veterans came in and said we don’t feel honored by this cross. This cross can’t honor us because it is a religious symbol of another religion.

I think Scalia and Kennedy and the other three who shared this opinion were trying to appeal to the popular images of national cemetaries where the war dead are buried. You’ll see lots of crosses there, but the reason for that is just because most soldiers – like most civilian Americans – happen to be Christian. If you look amongst the rows of crosses, you’ll see spotted here and there other grave markings of either some other religion or none at all. For example:

I don’t mean to ramble on about this forever, but the above image is of a gravestone where the family had to fight the government in court for their right to have a Wiccan symbol there. Now if soldiers all felt honored by the cross regardless of their religion, why do some opt out of having a cross? And why do some get lawyers to make sure they don’t have one there in the first place? And in the case of WWI, the reality of the draft and huge deployments overseas makes the possibility that none of them would have raised similar concerned if they were alive to do so an unrealistic premise. But those are the kinds of premises the right side of the Supreme Court seems to like best these days.

National Day of Prayer ruled unconstitutional

April 20, 2010

The Freedom From Religion Foundation‘s long-running case against the Bush administration for the National Day of Prayer has finally come to a kind of sort of conclusion last week when federal district Judge Barbara Crabb ruled the NDoP unconstitutional.

First, something about the FFRF. They have a certain legal strategy which is kind of controversial, even amongst freethought activists. Their strategy is basically to take every church/state separation issue very seriously and technically, and then to sue on as many of them as possible.

Some other organizations, like American Atheists, try to discourage this kind of strategy because it can lead to bad precedents. They encourage people to only take legal action when it’s clear that the case is going to come out in their favor.

So if you’re in a situation where secularism is being threatened and the legal system you would have to appeal to is stacked against you, then it would be better to wait for the political climate to change before bringing up the issue at all. Otherwise, you make an unofficial and semi-unspoken Establishment Clause violation into an official and legal Establishment Clause violation by setting a bad precedent. So there’s this discussion going on between those advocating legal action based on political tact (like American Atheists) and those advocating action based on principle (FFRF).

What this case makes clear is that we need a little of both of these strategies and to simultaneously be taking risks while understanding the probabilities of winning. Even though they may sometimes make bad precedent, and even though it’s easy to make fun of Dan Barker on the Daily Show, and maybe his debating leaves something to be desired, the FFRF also sometimes wins in court, and wins big.

There is, however, some question as to how big this victory will turn out to be. From the Associated Press:

Obama spokesman Matt Lehrich said in an e-mail to The Associated Press the president still plans to issue a proclamation for the next prayer day.

“As he did last year, President Obama intends to recognize a National Day of Prayer,” Lehrich said.

Now Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice (Get it? It’s the ACLJ, kind of like that other organization except totally different), which is defending both the Bush and Obama administrations in this case, is now appealing to a higher court. So this isn’t over yet. But, as far as I understand it, the judge’s ruling is still law while the appeal is pending.

The NDoP is scheduled for the first Thursday in May, so it is very difficult to believe that the appeals process will be over by then. So even if this ends up being overturned by a higher court, the FFRF will still have yet another lawsuit to press against the current administration for clearly acting against the judge’s ruling, as if the President were somehow above the law. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

UPDATE: Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State on Fox

Blasphemy law follow-up

March 14, 2010

Earlier this year I mentioned that Ireland’s anti-blasphemy law went into effect on January 1. After being made fun of on the internet and in other media for the past few months, the guy who proposed the law is now trying to get rid of it. Here is the justice minister Dermot Ahern from the report:

“There was a lot of nonsense about that blasphemy issue and people making me out to be a complete right-winger at the time,” he said. “There was an incredibly sophisticated campaign [against me], mainly on the internet. I was only doing my duty in relation to it, because clearly it is in the constitution. The attorney general said ‘there is this absolute, mandatory thing… it is an offence, punishable by law.”

I don’t remember anyone saying anything about the right wing. In fact, most of what I heard when it came to the politics of this was that was a part of a European trend of letting Muslims use existing, mostly secular government institutions in order to codify some of their religious beliefs into law, and that that was taking advantage of what might be too much political correctness in those countries. If anything, that itself is more of a right wing position.

And the whole reason we have elected officials in democratic countries is in order to interpret these laws and constitutional mandates. Obviously blasphemy laws are outdated. Anyone working in the government of a country like Ireland should be aware of that.

But it is nice that he called us sophisticated.

Bob Barr and the military pagans

February 17, 2010

What’s up with Atlanta today?

Former Libertarian Presidential loser Bob Barr wrote in the Atlanta Journal Constitution a hilarious piece of commentary about how he is shocked SHOCKED I TELL YOU that the military still allows pagans to serve openly in the military. He actually prephaces his problem with this, to the extent that he explains it, by saying that he finally realized that pagans can be moral even though they don’t believe Jesus Died For Their Sins. He discovered this amazing truth by being educated by pagan members of the military as a response to when he “took the Army to task for permitting the practice of Wicca on its bases, including at Ft. Hood in Texas.”

But then he explains that if he were in the military, he would have a problem following a commanding officer into battle if they were pagan.

I guess he’s worried about this because the military recruiter at his high school is pressuring him to sign up:

Or maybe not.

Science teacher gets slap on the wrist for teaching students about Satan

January 7, 2010

That was something close to the headline that led me to this story, and at first it seemed like this would be a pro-Satan book being distributed by a mentally-unfit teacher. It turns out that this is an evangelical Christian book telling “the truth” about Satan in the way that Reefer Madness told us the truth about “Marihuana” – the difference being that marijuana has the benefit of actually existing. But either way there’s a pretty clear Establishment Clause issue with a public school teacher using their position of authority in a classroom to proselytize their religion.

And you can tell this is a riveting read and well worth the five dollars Steven Arizmendi was charging to sell this book from his sixth grade students. According to Amazon, it’s the fifth best selling book on the very serious subject of “Angelology.” And just try to read this gripping, descriptive opening sentence without immediately going out and buying a copy RIGHT NOW:

“From the first moment she crossed through the doorway into that building, she sensed that there was something different about the place.”

I feel like a third grade teacher here, but how exactly did she sense it? Did she see something? Hear something? What did she see or hear? Seriously, what horrible writing.

I also like that while this teacher reportedly sold the book to some students, he also loaned it out to others. That’s gotta sting for the kids who shelled out the five bucks for this thing, now knowing that they could’ve read that tripe for free.

War on Christmas XVIII, Loch Ness Monster vs. Three Wise Men

December 16, 2009

In Howard County, IN, the Board of Commissioners received requests from concerned citizens to put up a Nativity scene on the courthouse lawn in downtown Kokomo. This was very important to some constituents because of how is mentioned in the Bible that Christmas is on December 25 and that it must be celebrated by putting religious symbols on public property. I can’t cite the chapter & verse or anything, but it’s in there. Trust me.

Anyway, as a response to these requests, the county decided to go another route. Instead of the same old boring, church/state separation-violating Nativity scene, they displayed a dinosaur. And the Loch Ness Monster!

Howard County, IN Courthouse Holiday Display (visual approximation)

WHERE IS YOUR “CHRISTIAN SIDE HUG” NOW?

From the Chicago Tribune report:

The lighted displays also include a fisherman, marching soldiers, a fire truck and lighted candles.

They neglected to mention that fishermen, soldiers, a functioning fire department, and candles are all more useful than the Jesus.

I must thank Howard County for singlehandedly making this the best War on Christmas EVAR.

War on Christmas VI, Arkansas Society of Freethinkers vs. Little Rock

November 25, 2009

The Arkansas Society of Freethinkers last year applied the state capitol to allow them to display a winter solstice thingy on their lawn. Their request was denied on the grounds that the display applied for was not described very specifically. Probably the ASF got the idea to counter a manger scene a little too late and, like many freethought organizations, lacked the organizational skills to accomplish their goals.

So this year, they decided to correct their past mistakes and apply in a more proper manner but their request was denied. And this time, no reason was given for such a denial. However, the good folks at the ACLU are on the case:

“It’s a pretty clear rule about how we use the space on the Capitol lawn. The thing that makes it constitutional to use our government property for displays is the fact that all different points of view have equal access and consideration. So it’s troubling to think that we might be in a situation where they haven’t been given that consideration,”
-Holly Dickson, ACLU Arkansas

I’m not a big fan of the winter solstice substitute for Christmas. The solstice was the basis for the whole Christmas holiday in the first place. So Christmas is just one superstition replacing another. One being older doesn’t make it less stupid. And besides, now we have the one true religion and can all make room on government property to celebrate His Noddlienss:

Hallelujah!

God and the weather

September 22, 2009

About a year and a half ago, Georgia’s governor organized a prayer. For rain.

Now, Georgia is being flooded. At least seven people have died as a result.

So is the Governor going to say that the flood is a result of their prayers? If not, then their prayers were ineffective.

Or will he say that  this flood is God’s response to the prayers? If so, then that makes God look like a bit of a dick. Like a slumlord, God ignores requests to fix something, then when it finally gets off its ass and does something, it screws it up badly. Maybe this God thing needs a subcontractor to take care of this kind of stuff. Isn’t that what angels were for? This analogy is getting weird.

This gives me an excuse to bring up this awesome story from about a month ago. Back in the 17th century, a Swiss town started praying to get rid of a glacier near them. They were sick of it. The glacier was bullshit. So now that the Catholic Church is pretending to care about the environment, this town is asking for a papal sanction to reverse their prayer request.

In other words, from their perspective, God waited a couple centuries until the Industrial Revolution to start to melt the glacier, cleverly making it look like it was a result of natural processes, and then overdid it. And now they need a request for God to cease and desist to be rubber-stamped by a bureaucracy in the Vatican and everything will be just fine.

Makes perfect sense.

Florida school officials face jail time for endorsing religion in a public school

September 18, 2009

The principal and athletic director of a Florida high school are facing contempt of court charges which could land them in prison for having led a prayer at a school event (CNN). Kanye West was not there to interrupt the prayer.

The lawsuit was filed by the ACLU, which is just fucking great because now conservative douchebags are going to try to make it look like the ACLU is throwing Christians into prison for praying when the truth is that they have nothing to do with the sentencing and are responding to school officials using state power to endorse religion, not a “simple prayer.” But that nuance will be missed by the jackoffs who take every opportunity to pounce on the ACLU for everything they do, even when it’s defending those very same jackoffs.

Anyway, there’s something called the Congressional Prayer Caucus. They wrote a letter in support of the defendants, which in part read:

“many of America’s Founding Fathers were resolute in their faiths, and the impact of such is evident in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and many of their writings.”

I’m not sure exactly what they mean by this being evident in the Constitution. The only possibility would be that they are referring to the dating method, where it said “In the Year of Our Lord.” But that’s kind of like saying that my calling  tomorrow Saturday is evident of my resolute faith in the Roman god of agriculture.

The DoI is a funny thing to pick out, since it’s clearly referring to a sort of deistic or pantheistic god, which is not something to which one would actually pray. And as far as “many of their writings,” so what? The country isn’t founded on letters and diary entries.If these guys meant for their private thoughts about religion to become national policy, I think they were smart enough to maybe mention that in one of the actual national policy documents.