March 2014 Archives

Salon's excerpt from Peter Watson's The Age of Atheists looks at atheism's radical new heroes:

In the past few decades, both evolutionary biologists like Dawkins and cosmologists--physicists and astronomers--have mounted a spirited attack on the basic dimensions of religion, in particular the main monotheisms, and in doing so have tried hard to reshape what--for the sake of a better phrase--we may call our spiritual predicament.

Some examples of this "spirited attack" mentioned in the article include Richard Dawkins' Unweaving the Rainbow (1998) and The God Delusion (2006), Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell (2006), Sam Harris' The End of Faith (2004), and Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate (2002), and The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011). Many others, such as Victor Stenger's God: The Failed Hypothesis didn't make the cut.

For another perspective, Jonathan Rée at The Guardian writes that "Atheism is in trouble, according to Terry Eagleton," and comments that Eagleton's new book Culture and the Death of God:

"takes us on a rapid tour of the intellectual battlefields of Europe over the past 300 years, sites where, according to the received version of history, the brave soldiers of progress and rationality have triumphed time and again over a rabble of reactionary God-botherers."

LGBTQ Nation comments on those those defenseless religious folk and their war against godless gays:

I'm finding it unusually difficult to avoid the urge to scream at the seemingly endless parade of pundits and spin doctors tell me, in their most deferential and conciliatory tones, that the rash of proposed "religious protection" laws are not about discrimination.

Oh heavens no! They're really just there to protect defenseless religious folk from the godless gays. Like innocent business owners, who could be accused of discrimination, just for standing behind their deeply held religious views.

Not surprisingly, they can provide no examples where this kind of hypothetical religious discrimination has occurred, though Anderson Cooper and other journalists have asked often and pointedly...

How to respond, one wonders:

I've been spinning my wheels trying to frame a response in my usual polite and respectful manner, and think I've finally landed on something appropriate.

"Bullshit."

Apparently trying to play nice hasn't worked, so it's time to call it what it is. Hate. Discrimination. Bigotry. You can couch it in terms like "religious freedom" all you like, but it doesn't make the emperor any less naked.

What's at issue is not the opinion of a person, but an action taken by a business:

Individuals enjoy a number of rights and liberties, including the freedom of religion, but businesses are not individuals. Your cake shop is not a Christian, though its owner might be.

When you start a business it becomes subject to another set of laws and responsibilities. There are city ordinances, health codes, and tax laws that are separate from those for individuals.

As a business owner you get to decide a lot of things, but you do not get to pick and choose your customers. You agreed to rules of which one says you have to serve everyone equally.

You can't turn them away because of the color of their skin or perhaps your religion takes a dim view of women in the workplace. But, refuse to hire a qualified female applicant and it's discrimination. Sexual orientation is no different. My money is just as green and your public business is, by law, open to ALL of the public, of which I am also a part.

This common-sense take is ignored by asshats such as Ross Douthat who whine about the terms of their surrender:

It now seems certain that before too many years elapse, the Supreme Court will be forced to acknowledge the logic of its own jurisprudence on same-sex marriage and redefine marriage to include gay couples in all 50 states.

Once this happens, the national debate essentially will be finished, but the country will remain divided, with a substantial minority of Americans, most of them religious, still committed to the older view of marriage.

So what then? One possibility is that this division will recede into the cultural background, with marriage joining the long list of topics on which Americans disagree without making a political issue out of it.

Yep, just like white supremacists still object to interracial marriage decades after Loving v. Virginia--and their retrograde opinions will be paid as little heed.

Douthat whines that "Religious-affiliated adoption agencies would be closed if they declined to place children with same-sex couples. (This has happened in Massachusetts and Illinois.)" but what he elides here is that these agencies were receiving public funds--and, when faced with the choice between bigotry and helping children, they chose bigotry. They elected to close their own doors, deciding, in effect, that they were primarily religious organizations and not adoption agencies.

His complaint that "the press coverage...was mendacious and hysterical" smacks of projection, but at least he makes one good point:

Christians had plenty of opportunities -- thousands of years' worth -- to treat gay people with real charity, and far too often chose intolerance. (And still do, in many instances and places.) So being marginalized, being sued, losing tax-exempt status -- this will be uncomfortable, but we should keep perspective and remember our sins, and nobody should call it persecution.

Check out this tale of 7 people with keys to the Internet and the quarterly process behind keeping DNS running:

It might be a fairly typical office scene, were it not for the extraordinary security procedures that everyone in this room has had to complete just to get here, the sort of measures normally reserved for nuclear launch codes or presidential visits. The reason we are all here sounds like the stuff of science fiction, or the plot of a new Tom Cruise franchise: the ceremony we are about to witness sees the coming together of a group of people, from all over the world, who each hold a key to the internet. Together, their keys create a master key, which in turn controls one of the central security measures at the core of the web. [...]

The keyholders have been meeting four times a year, twice on the east coast of the US and twice here on the west, since 2010. [...] All have long backgrounds in internet security and work for various international institutions. They were chosen for their geographical spread as well as their experience - no one country is allowed to have too many keyholders. [...] Each of the 14 primary keyholders owns a traditional metal key to a safety deposit box, which in turn contains a smartcard, which in turn activates a machine that creates a new master key. [...]

If the master key were lost or stolen today, the consequences might not be calamitous: some users would receive security warnings, some networks would have problems, but not much more. But once everyone has moved to the new, more secure system (this is expected in the next three to five years), the effects of losing or damaging the key would be far graver. While every server would still be there, nothing would connect: it would all register as untrustworthy. The whole system, the backbone of the internet, would need to be rebuilt over weeks or months.

new Jim Crow

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Salon looks at Arizona's SB 1062 (which would have created special religious-opinion exemptions from the law) and calls it the Right's new Jim Crow, continuing the history of conservatives' discriminatory policies. "Like Sen. Barry Goldwater did in 1964," writes Elias Isquith, "[Rand] Paul argued that the Constitution had no room for anti-discrimination. Roughly four years later, Glenn Beck made a similar argument, this time in defense of SB 1062," as did Tucker Carlson, Cato, and other right-wing mouthpieces:

If we put all these and many other conservative defenses of SB 1062 together, it's hard not to reach a clear and unsettling conclusion: While conservatives themselves have largely given up the racism that coursed through a previous generation's defense of Jim Crow, conservatism itself has learned no enduring lesson from the Civil Rights Movement and has made no ideological adjustments as a result.

The problem with conservatism's often-touted firmness of conviction is twofold: a reluctance to make necessary corrections, and a subsequent inability to acknowledge them.

Lest anyone doubt that a middle-class existence has become increasingly precarious, Salon's Edward McClelland tells the story of a former Web support technician's struggles in today's economy, and contrasts this reality with the right-wing fantasy of bootstrapping:

In order for this free market version of economic justice to make sense, wages can't be low because the economy is not producing enough good jobs; they have to be low because employees lack the training and/or the work ethic to command more money. [...]

It's Social Calvinism, a worldview that does not just see money as a reward for virtuous behavior, but as evidence of virtue itself. The 1 percent consider themselves an Economic Elect, whose wealth is a byproduct of self-discipline, intelligence, thriftiness and tolerance for risk. As inequality increases, so does the winners' conviction that they are more equal than everyone else. [...]

That helps explains why opponents of raising the minimum wage insist that being unable to afford food, clothing and shelter is a character-building experience. If unskilled workers earn enough to live on, the argument goes, they'll have no motivation to better themselves.

From this bleakness, there is a glimmer of optimism:

It's hard to tell people they deserve to be poor when they've done everything they were supposed to do to avoid poverty: gone to college, worked 40 hours a week. A free market that fails to reward honest toil and initiative must inevitably become less free. If Americans can't get the money and benefits they need from their employers, they will turn to the government for help. And if the government won't help them, perhaps they'll vote in one that will.

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