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bursting bubbles

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David Masciotra discusses the ideological bubbles and wonders, don't all American live in their own little worlds?

It is likely true that many liberals live insulated lives of cultural and intellectual isolation, but it is equally true of conservatives. The construction of a bubble around an individuated life is part of human nature, but with typical idiocy and hypocrisy, American culture has issued a one-way, exclusive indictment against isolation for liberals and no one else. To condemn people of progressive politics for insular thinking and living is the equivalent to prosecuting a petty shoplifter for theft, while ignoring the bank robbery spree of a modern-day John Dillinger. Liberals, by any criteria, are the mildest offenders.

When was the last time any mainstream commentator suggested that a rural, white Christian conservative Sunday School teacher escape her bubble and befriend a group of black lesbians? Can anyone recall ridicule of a right-wing, suburban housepainter who believes God watches his every brushstroke for not attending a public lecture from an award-winning evolutionary biologist?

The absence of criticism against the conservative bubble, which is undeniably smaller and tighter that the liberal bubble, demonstrates that American culture has condescended to the conservative with, to resurrect an old George W. Bush chestnut, "the soft bigotry of low expectations."

"The entire framework of the 'bubble' conversation reinforces, unintentionally or not," Masciotra continues, "the bias that the 'real America' is white, rural and Christian:"

White Christian conservatives, according to what appears is the dominant assumption, have no bubble to escape because they have ownership over the social norms and cultural conventions of American identity. The atheistic, lesbian nurse in Chicago or the Muslim schoolteacher in Los Angeles should not have the expectation that the "real America" will make accommodations to understand her, but she does toil under the pressure to appreciate the "real America," even as mainstream discourse implies that she is not part of that parochial precinct.

His conclusion is spot-on:

White Christian conservatives, especially outside major metropolitan areas, occupy their own bubbles and from the distorted view of their self-imposed ignorance mistake the media as representative of all liberals and adopt the posture of persecution. Their false sense of oppression -- visible every December with protests against the "war on Christmas" -- inspires them to act defensively against anything that strikes them as "un-American."

Just as many right-wing Christians believe they are soldiers in a cosmic war between God and the devil over the fate of the universe, they also believe that they are the last line of defense against the destruction of the "real America."

They could check out the "Real American" majority in this country--all those communities that voted (with an impressive surplus of votes) to put Hillary Clinton in the White House. Pretending that most Americans are some variety of "un-American" is perhaps the most noxious bubble of all.

Trump's Muslim ban

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Anti-Defamation League's head Jonathan Greenblatt has a strong reaction to Trump's Muslim ban:

"If one day Muslim Americans will be forced to register their identities, then that is the day that this proud Jew will register as a Muslim," Greenblatt said.

The Trumpites are lying, of course, when denying "that he had ever advocated establishing a registry for monitoring people based on their faith." As the Guardian notes:

...in a video shot at a campaign event in Iowa in November last year, Trump said he would certainly implement a database for tracking Muslims, and that Muslims would be legally obliged to sign up.

I've been declaring for years that I will join Muslims when they're in danger, and this is one of those times.

This ban must be not allowed to stand.

Jeet Heer calls the late Jack Chick the Leni Riefenstahl of American cartooning:

Beloved by his fellow fundamentalists, who bought his tracts by the hundreds of millions and seeded them in bus stops and diners all over the world, Chick was widely derided by the world at large where he was seen, accurately, as a producer of hate literature.

Chick's tracts had a disturbing power to make you see the world through his eyes, a squirrelly and sweaty vantage point where everything is a demonic conspiracy to rob you of your soul.

Here, Heer makes the Riefenstahl comparison in detail:

Like the Nazi filmmaker who made Triumph of the Will, Chick was an artist of genuine skill who put his talent in the service of an odious ideology. Both Riefenstahl and Chick raise perennial and unsolvable problems about the relationship between content and form: Can art transcend the intentions of the artist? Can we separate out the message of a work of art from the artistry it contains? Art that helps us understand the mind of another is valuable, but what do we do with art by a mind like Chick's, whose sheer hatefulness numbs empathy?

It does seem an apt comparison, although I'm wary of Nazi analogies.

intractable

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The evangelical cartoonist Jack Chick, author of innumerable Chick Tracts, has died. Jezebel notes the following:

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Chick Productions announced Monday that their founder Jack Chick has died at 92, which is big news for anyone who's ever been fascinated, horrified, and occasionally delighted by his comic books. Chick was the creator of Chick Tracts, a long-running series of evangelical mini comics designed to bring people to Jesus through a combination of insane, bizarre, fairly campy storylines and extremely middling art.

An independent 2008 documentary on Chick, God's Cartoonist, calls him "the best-selling underground artist and publisher in the world."

For a taste of Chick's biblical bile, see Unicorn Booty's list of his top 5 homophobic rants--and shudder at their reminder that "Chick's tracts have been translated into over 100 languages."

The Religious Right loves to foster fears of pogroms based on religious belief, worrying that differences of theological opinion will lead to oppression. It appears that they were right:

As America becomes increasingly accepting of same-sex marriage, many conservative Christians have feared that their stand on gay marriage could cost them their reputations or even their jobs. This week, it actually happened: Hundreds of workers were formally notified by their employer that they could be involuntarily terminated for their religious beliefs. But, ironically, those at risk are progressive Christians who support the consecration of gay marriages.

What's that you say? Conservative Christians are the oppressors, not the oppressed?!

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA, a large ministry operating on 667 college campuses nationwide, has announced that it will begin dismissing employees who disagree with its theological stance on human sexuality...

"If an employee interprets the Bible in such a way that makes space for LGBT marriage," the article continues, "[IVCF is] asking them to leave:"

The policy imposes a doctrinal standard to which employees never consented. The decision to work for a non-profit ministry often means forfeiting a cushy job in the business world and accepting a lower level of pay in order to serve others. Untold numbers of InterVarsity's 1,300 staff members have made sacrifices to donate their best years to this ministry. Now the organization they love is moving the theological goalposts. [...]

It is not extreme to hold the conservative Christian position on marriage and sexuality. But it is extreme to think that those who don't, but are otherwise committed to your mission, should be fired. And while opposing LGBT marriage is not necessarily hateful, punishing those who support it can hardly be called loving.

arguing marriage

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Paul Waldman at American Prospect discusses the super-sexy case against same-sex marriage, writing that "this amicus brief filed by Robert P. George and two colleagues...is so laughable that it shows how far his side has to reach." Waldman notes that "according to George's logic, if there isn't a penis going inside a vagina, they won't have a 'true marriage':"

So conservatives (at least some of them) have retreated to a point where they're arguing that marriage is only secondarily about things like commitment or responsibility or love. Most importantly, they say, it's about sex, and if there's no sex, or not the right kind of sex, then it isn't "true." Talk about redefining marriage.

On the hyperbole front, New Civil Rights Movement quotes RI state senator Harold Metts explaining that "a cosmic battle between God and Satan...is the reason he opposes same-sex marriage."

Zack Ford points out at ThinkProgress that the "greatest challenge for gay and lesbian civil rights [is] the fact that sexual orientation is an invisible identity:"

Unlike race or gender, it cannot so easily be superficially assessed. Thus, conservatives are counting on doubt and distrust, urging the Court to dismiss whatever gay people actually say about their lived experiences -- discount every individual's coming out story, ignore decades of gay culture and gay history, and disregard the scientific conclusions of the entire major medical community. In fact, opponents of equality regularly claim that "the gay agenda" is merely a conspiratorial quest to validate sinful behavior -- as opposed to an effort to allow millions of people to participate fairly in society. [...]

The magic words to look for if the Supreme Court legally recognizes gay people is "heightened scrutiny," which is how the Court determines that the government cannot target a specific group for unfair treatment without substantial justification. For example, classifications based on sex are subject to "intermediate scrutiny," and classifications based on race are subject to the highest level, "strict scrutiny."

Ford concludes:

The end result of these cases will determine the legality of same-sex marriage, but for the first time, the Court could actually acknowledge that gay people exist and thus deserve protection under the U.S. Constitution. On both a symbolic and legal level, the latter victory could be much more significant.

In slandering the heretics, DisInfo's Colby Hess laments how we atheists "are made outcasts from our own society:"

In trying only to achieve a free and open civilization based on facts and on reason, as reward for our efforts we are attacked by those on both the left and the right and smeared with the label "intolerant" or told that sharing our ideas amounts to nothing more than "proselytizing." [...]

Atheist opposition to religion doesn't stem from some deep-seated bias or unconsidered opinion. It's not derived from some ancient book immune to rational criticism. Modern atheism is built upon critical thinking and knowledge of objective scientific facts about the workings of the universe coupled with an unblinking awareness of the countless, clearly documented instances--both in the news and throughout history--in which religious believers have repeatedly sought to impose their own narrow ideology in ways that restrict other people's rights and limit their freedoms. [...]

When you think about it, this charge of intolerance against atheists is itself a form of intolerance, for if atheists are not allowed to expressly dispute the claims made by religion--if we are required to just sit there politely with our mouths shut while twiddling our thumbs--then essentially we are not allowed to exist.

Just like in previous eras--the ones about which they reminisce so longingly.

conversion

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AlterNet maintains that Christians are good at getting people to convert--to agnosticism or atheism:

If the Catholic bishops, their conservative Protestant allies, and other right-wing fundamentalists had the sole objective of decimating religious belief, they couldn't be doing a better job of it.

Sometimes education does the trick, sometimes life experience opens one's eyes, and "[s]ometimes a believer simply picks up a copy of the Bible or the Koran and discovers faith-shaking contradictions or immoralities there." Institutional homophobia is a primary factor in driving people out of the church, as it "makes Fred Phelps a far better evangelist for atheism than for his own gay-hating Westborough Baptist Church." Biblical literalism fails because "it is easy to find quotes from the Bible that are either scientifically absurd or morally repugnant:"

But the more they resort to strict authoritarianism, insularity and strict interpretation of Iron Age texts, the more people are wounded in the name of God and the more people are outraged. By making Christian belief an all-or-nothing proposition, they force at least some would-be believers to choose "nothing."

One notable part of these spiritual successes is their long-standing war on gays. Mel White's new book Holy Terror: Lies the Christian Right Tells Us to Deny Gay Equality "examine[s] the innate cruelty and proto-fascism of the Christian right:"

"When I moved to Lynchburg it was a blue city, in spite of Liberty University being there," White said. "The reversal came with the collapse of our financial system [in 2008]. Suddenly everything blue was seen as costing too much money, including helping the poor. There was a revolt led by Fox News and its allies. It's difficult to find a restaurant or bar in Lynchburg that isn't playing Fox News. People quote Fox as though Fox is the arbiter of truth."

Tired of being scapegoated, White and his partner left:

"By the time Gary and I moved away from Lynchburg, a majority of Virginians seemed to be turning against gay people," White said. "They passed a constitutional amendment against marriage equality and new laws saying we cannot adopt [children] or provide foster care. More than half the people of Virginia seem to see us as the enemy." [...] "Too many of my sisters and brothers in the gay community don't seem to understand the power of religion," White lamented.

White points out that "[w]ithout religion there would be no homophobia:"

What other source of homophobia is there but six verses in the Bible? When Bible literalists preach that LGBT people are going to hell they become Christian terrorists. They use fear as their weapon, like all terrorists. They are seeking to deny our religious and civil rights. They threaten to turn our democracy into a fundamentalist theocracy. And if we don't reverse the trend, there is the very real possibility that in the end we will all be governed according to their perverted version of biblical law."

Here is Mr Fish's great illustration of religion's danger to humanity:

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In 9 great freethinkers and religious dissenters, Adam Lee asks "What kind of world would we have if a majority of the human race was atheist?"

The defenders of the faith argue that atheism inevitably leads to selfishness and nihilism, and that only religion can justify charity or compassion, bind people together in community, or inspire a lively and flourishing culture. But this assertion can only be sustained by ignoring the accomplishments of famous nonreligious people throughout history, of which there have been many.

Lee lists Albert Einstein, Robert Ingersoll, W.E.B. DuBois, Zora Neale Hurston, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Asa Philip Randolph, Robert Frost, Emma Lazarus, and Yip Harburg; for more examples, he recommends Susan Jacoby's Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism and Jennifer Michael Hecht's Doubt: A History.

Reason Being discusses the Catholic Church's war on America, observing that "The Church is waging a war on women, religious freedom, and general American values." This war is not merely punishing their own nuns, but by restricting the rights of non-Catholics to obtain contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage. Prime among these offensive campaigns is the Catholic Church's demand for special exemptions from healthcare laws:

One of the main problems that we are facing is the dishonesty of the Catholic leadership. Under the leadership of Pope Benedict and Cardinal Dolan the Church is trying desperately to frame this issue as a violation of their religious freedom. It is not. In truth, the goals of the Church would be a violation of the religious freedom of all non-Catholics in America. [...]

If the U.S. government were to pass a law that allowed Catholic institutions or businesses owned by Catholics to not offer contraceptive services it would violate the 'free exercise' clause of all non-Catholics. It would, in effect, be forcing people to live under the rules of Catholicism in many areas.

Commenting on the venality of the Vatican, RB cautions us to "not be fooled by the rhetoric of Rome:"

No one is forcing Catholic Churches to marry same-sex couples. Yet, this organization is fighting mightily to prevent unions between homosexuals. They are fighting against civil rights. When we remove religion from this conversation, the debate crumbles. The only opposition to same-sex marriage comes from religion in this country. That is wrong. [...] If a same-sex couple wishes to get married that is their business and none of the Church's. The Church should have no say in matters of civil rights.

Dennis Prager claims that "rational people" should fear big government, instead of big business, asserting that "You cannot understand the left if you do not understand that Leftism is a religion:"

It is not God-based (some left-wing Christians' and Jews' claims notwithstanding), but otherwise it has every characteristic of a religion. The most blatant of those characteristics is dogma. People who believe in Leftism have as many dogmas as the most fundamentalist Christian.

One of them is material equality as the pre-eminent moral goal. Another is the villainy of corporations.

Without a trace of irony, Prager blames these conclusions on "dogma - a belief system that transcends reason:"

Religious Christians and Jews also have some irrational beliefs, but their irrationality is overwhelmingly confined to theological matters; and these theological irrationalities have no deleterious impact on religious Jews' and Christians' ability to see the world rationally and morally.

This is, quite simply, patriarchal nonsense. Supporting it would require one to ignore religions' wars on sex education, contraception, marriage equality, stem-cell research, global warming, evolutionary biology, cosmology. Prager's conclusion is even weaker:

It is noteworthy that none of the 20th century's monsters - Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, Mao - were preoccupied with material gain. They loved power much more than money. And that is why the left is much more frightening than the right. It craves power.

Ed Brayton (who refers to Prager as "Rush Limbaugh with a thesaurus") points out the false dichotomy in Prager's argument--where "the right insists that nearly all government action is evil:"

...except when it puts someone to death, goes to war against an enemy that does not threaten or harm us, tortures people or violates their rights in the name of stopping terrorism, of course -- but that it is "socialism" to advocate preventing corporations from violating the rights of workers, squandering the hard-earned money of investors and depositors, or destroying the environment?

Of course giving any government too much power is dangerous, but so is giving a corporation too much power. It wasn't the government that polluted hundreds of square miles of the state I live in with dioxin, or created more than 1200 Superfund sites in the US, or was so negligent that they caused a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It wasn't the government that created the Bhopal disaster or that used hired thugs to kill union organizers. Unchecked corporate power may be less dangerous on a global scale because they don't command armies, but that hardly justifies letting them do whatever they want to do.

Government also didn't lay off millions of workers, issue and then foreclose on fraudulent mortgages, and crash the global financial system.

Richard Dawkins wants all our kids to read the King James Bible. He calls Ecclesiastes "one of the glories of English literature," suggests that "[a] native speaker of English who has never read a word of the King James Bible is verging on the barbarian," and writes that:

European history, too, is incomprehensible without an understanding of the warring factions of Christianity and the book over whose subtleties of interpretation they were so ready to slaughter and torture each other.

He does admit to "an ulterior motive" in promoting Biblical literacy:

People who do not know the Bible well have been gulled into thinking it is a good guide to morality. [...] I have even heard the cynically misanthropic opinion that, without the Bible as a moral compass, people would have no restraint against murder, theft and mayhem. The surest way to disabuse yourself of this pernicious falsehood is to read the Bible itself.

After a tour of various OT atrocities and barbarisms, he writes that "'Sophisticated' theologians (what is there in 'theology' to be sophisticated about?) now treat these horrors as parables or myths, which is just as well." and concludes that:

Whatever else the Bible might be - and it really is a great work of literature - it is not a moral book and young people need to learn that important fact because they are very frequently told the opposite.

Jerry Coyne agrees with Dawkins about the Bible's necessity for educated individuals, and asks is it great literature? He notes that "So many allusions (and illusions), and so much of what we hear, derive from that singular work of fiction:"

If someone wanted to place a single book in all schools that has not only literary value but a tremendous influence in our culture, let it be Shakespeare--preferably the complete works as compiled in The Riverside Shakespeare. The Bible is already in most schools, reposing unread in the library; why not ensure that every school also has a copy of Shakespeare's great works? They have all the beauty and humanity of the Bible with none of the stupidity and superstition. (I suspect that Shakespeare has added as many phrases to our language as has the King James Bible).

The Guardian observes that, much like the Bible, Shakespeare has benefited from cultural imperialism. Confronting the culture-warrior claim that "All the world loves Shakespeare! His plays are universal!" The Guardian's Emer O'Toole nails it: "Universal my toe. Shakespeare is full of classism, sexism, racism and defunct social mores:"

The Taming of the Shrew (aka The Shaming of the Vagina-Bearer) is about as universally relevant as the chastity belt. I'm sick of directors tying themselves up in conceptual knots, trying to frame poor Katherina as some kind of feminist heroine. The Merchant of Venice (Or The Evil Jew) is about as universal as the Nuremberg laws. What's that? Shakespeare allows Shylock to express the progressive sentiment that Jews are people before confiscating his property and forcing him to convert to Christianity, therefore Merchant is actually a humanist text? Come off it, sister.

So where has the idea that Shakespeare is "universal" come from? Why do people the world over study and perform Shakespeare? Colonialism. That's where, and that's why. Shakespeare was a powerful tool of empire, transported to foreign climes along with the doctrine of European cultural superiority. Taught in schools and performed under the proscenium arches built where the British conquered, universal Shakespeare was both a beacon of the greatness of European civilisation and a gateway into that greatness - to know the bard was to be civilised.

One should note that no wars have been waged over rival interpretations of Shakespeare; would that religions were as consistently ennobling.

Waged on many fronts, the conservative war on marriage is driven by "a conservative economic program that has wreaked havoc on the family lives of struggling Americans:"

For many, [marriage] rests on a commitment of two people to share their lives, to create a permanent union that provides support for children, and to manage the tradeoffs between careers, finances and services necessary to manage a family. This is an ideal held by both heterosexual and same-sex couples who are more financially secure. But it no longer fits large numbers of working-class couples who conceive children together. That's because the foundation for their relationships has been destroyed by the very people who accuse President Obama of a war on marriage.

They've attacked wage and job stability (unions in particular), work/family balance (including unemployment benefits and paid leave), women's autonomy, reproductive freedom, and fostered high incarceration rates and income inequality--and, typical of their projection-laden mode of discourse, the Right accuses liberals of waging a war on marriage for--horror of horrors!--recognizing same-sex unions. Obama "cited his Christian faith as a motivating factor in his decision" to support marriage equality, but New Civil Rights Movement looks at religion-driven homophobia and asks can we trust Christians?

Homophobic Christianity is rampant in our culture and made even more virulent by a media culture that over-emphasizes conservative Christianity. It also understates (or all out ignores) its moderate and progressive Christian counterparts.

There are over 5,000 congregations in the U.S. that have declared their unequivocal affirmation of LGBT equality. Four of the seven largest mainline Protestant denominations have institutionalized LGBT equality measures - ranging from ordination of LGBT pastors to embrace of same-sex marriage.

The piece suggests that "we must support 'conflicted' individuals as they journey towards LGBT equality:"

Just as President Obama needed to "evolve" on this issue, so will countless others. Our support of this process is essential for true change to occur...supportive Christian voices are necessary to win full LGBT equality. So today, let's stand shoulder to shoulder with our fellow LGBT advocates-even those who are Christian.

Adam Lee discusses the religious war on women--including the youngest and most vulnerable. Catholic bishops, he notes,

...are widening their quest to find and root out dissent wherever it may hide, and their gaze has landed on the latest culprits preaching radical feminism and undermining sound doctrine: that den of vipers known as the Girl Scouts.

Why? Because, as noted at HuffPo:

Critics contend that Girl Scouts materials shouldn't contain links to groups such as Doctors without Borders, the Sierra Club and Oxfam because they support family planning or emergency contraception.

Lee observes that "It's stories like this that make all the church's lofty rhetoric ring hollow:"

They claim they want to help the poor, but they're rabidly opposed to empowering women and letting them control the size of their families, which is absolutely essential if you actually want to reduce poverty in the long run. They've taken the teaching of Jesus - "For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you will, you can do good to them" (Mark 14:7) - and turned it into a prescriptive statement, actively fighting efforts to reduce poverty and thus ensuring an ample supply of poor people upon whom they can bestow charity to demonstrate their virtue.


update (5/23):
Rmuse writes at PoliticusUSA that Republican traitors declared war on the American people, observing that "it started in earnest in January 2011 when Republicans assumed control of the House of Representatives and several state legislatures:"

Shortly after taking their oath of office, Republicans immediately singled out women for their initial assault, and then set out to increase hunger and poverty with vicious spending cuts affecting the poor, children, and elderly Americans. [...] Cutting food stamps, housing and heating assistance, healthcare, and aid to children cannot be misconstrued as anything other than a war on the poor because none of the cuts will reduce the deficit or create jobs, and in fact will eliminate hundreds-of-thousands of jobs if not millions.

Rmuse analyzes Romney's 'first day in office' fantasy, and sees the underlying nightmare, commenting that "if Americans are not appalled at the blatant oligarchy Romney plans, then they are stupider than dirt," an opinion somewhat mitigated by the forces involved. "Republicans have the finest weapons their corporate money can buy," Rmuse notes, "racists, ignorant Americans, and the media:"

If Republican's supporters could get past their hatred of an African American President or their rank stupidity, they would ask Romney and Ryan what exactly they intended to do for the people. If their supporters were not stupid, they would ask why the GOP thinks giving the rich more tax cuts will have any different outcome now than it did eleven years ago when Bush tax cuts were first introduced. If the media did their jobs as advocates for the truth and transparency, they would ask Romney and Ryan how their economic plans benefitted anyone but the rich and corporations, but they do not and it is why Romney gets votes, and Ryan has support for his Draconian budget. The media is as complicit as Republicans in this war on America for never asking the right questions and failing to report what Republican legislation really entails, and if not for the Internet, few Americans would be aware of the looming crisis if Republicans prevail in November.

When asked what he finds interesting or surprising, Victor Stenger responded "I find it surprising that most scientists, believers and nonbelievers alike, refuse to apply their critical thinking skills to matters of religion:"

The rationale usually given by those who reject any role for science on religious matters is that science concerns itself, "by definition," solely with natural phenomena. Since the supernatural is unobservable, then, they assert, science has nothing to say about it.

However, while supernatural entities may not be directly observable, any effects these entities might have on the material world should manifest themselves as observable phenomena. Anything observable is subject to scientific inquiry. On the other hand, if the supernatural has no observable effects on the natural world, then why even worry about it?

Stenger concludes with the observation that "scientists and science organizations are being disingenuous when they say science can say nothing about the supernatural:"

They know better. Their policy of appeasing religion for presumably political reasons only empowers those who are muddling education and polluting public policy with anti-scientific magical thinking.

Jerry Coyne replies:

Can anybody really deny that? They do know better, or if they don't, they're dumb.

I wouldn't attribute this faith-driven blindness to an intellectual deficiency, but rather insufficient self-awareness. We all have blind spots, but it's odd that theists' blind spot is something so central to their psychological being.

Discussing the correlation between religiosity and well-being, Jerry Coyne points out that "those societies with higher levels of income inequality, child mortality, incarceration, and lower levels of health care ... are the most religious." Studies have documented "a pronounced (and statistically significant) negative correlation between the degree of religiosity of 17 Western nations (and Japan) and their 'success' as measured by the SSS [Successful Societies Scale]," which is "precisely the same relationship among states (using the HDI [Human Development Index]) as I found among countries: American states with lower HDIs are more religious:"

The HDI uses a set of traits that differ from those used in the SSS: the former amalgamates three traits (life expectancy, education, and income), while the latter combines 25 traits, including corruption, income disparity, child mortality, access to medical care, suicide rates, and so on.

Nevertheless, dead-end deists ignore the facts and insist that religion is indispensible.

An article asking why atheists align with Democrats finds a reason for the unsurprising "preponderance to be towards the left (Democratic) side of the political spectrum:"

The less religious a topic, the less atheists oppose it and the more divided they are in their opinion of it. The more religious a topic, the more atheists oppose it and the more homogenous their opinion of it. This becomes extremely clear with the following issues of women's rights, gay rights, and science [particularly evolution and stem-cell research].

The growth of atheists' numbers combined with their "align[ment] with Democratic policies and issues" has some positive implications:

As the voting block grows, there simply won't be the political support for right-wing religious issues anymore. No matter how hard they try, Republicans won't be able to ignore atheists. They can either fear them and lose or embrace them and change.

Or, more probably, they will do both. As demonstrated by the Uncle Tom Log Cabin Republicans, there could eventually be a group of atheist Republicans whose mere existence could be used as an alleged big-tent example while being demonized by the party's rank and file. The LCR problem is, of course, due to Republicans serving the Bible instead of the Constitution on LGBT issues:

The fact that Republicans immediately, in the dark of night, attached an amendment to a $51.1 billion Department of Justice and Commerce funding bill that reinforces the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) proves they are serving the Christian bible and not the Constitution. It is more evidence that Republicans are bible-inspired bigots who hate any American who is not a white Christian male and does not fit their paradigm of a good American married couple. The blatant hatred Republicans have for the LGBT community that they are willing to spend taxpayer dollars to defend discrimination and punish same-sex couples is nothing less than passive bullying. [...]

They may not be physically bullying gays like Willard Romney did in high school, but they are legislating state sponsored discrimination under authority of the Christian bible and they are breaking their oath of office to support the Constitution's guarantee of equal rights in the 14th Amendment, and failing to abide by the Separation Clause in the 1st Amendment. Their assertion that same-sex marriage is an attack on traditional marriage is fallacious in theory and practicality, but they are not known for objectivity when fear-mongering has worked so well for them in drumming up religious opposition to same-sex marriage.

The Boston Globe points out the evolution and de-evolution in presidential candidates' stances toward marriage equality. "By any objective standard," notes the article, "Obama's previous position was simply untenable:"

His administration ended "don't ask, don't tell" and stopped enforcing the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between and man and a woman. Privately, he supported gay marriage, and how and when he would make that clear was regularly discussed among his advisers and the press. But he was plainly in no rush.

"If Obama's evolution was awkward and embarrassing for a modern president," the article continues, "the same is also true of Romney's devolution:"

In 1994, he proclaimed himself "better than Ted Kennedy" on matters of gay rights. But by the time he began running for president in 2007, Romney had restyled himself, in typically heavy-handed fashion, as a staunch social conservative who favored a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage -- a shift in public emphasis no less expedient than Obama's.

In a sense, Obama and Romney are mirror images of one another: on gay rights, each is a cautious pragmatist trying to catch up to his party, although this entails their running in opposite directions.

Obama has progressed to meet both the Democratic majority position as well as that of the whole American people--while Romney has regressed to please Republican reactionaries in a stance that grows more embarrassing with each passing day.

This piece on rethinking Marx and religion is intriguing work. In addition to his well-known "opiate of the masses" remark from the introduction to Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right (1844), Marx made several other remarks on religion:

The Established Church ... will more readily pardon an attack on thirty-eight of its thirty-nine articles than on one thirty-ninth of its income. Now atheism itself is a culpa levis [a venial sin], as compared with the criticism of existing property relations. [Preface to Capital, Vol. 1 (1867)]

Christianity is...the special religion of capital. [...] One man in the abstract is worth just as much or as little as the next man. In the one case, all depends on whether or not he has faith, in the other, on whether or not he has credit.
[Theories of Surplus-Value, Chapter 24 (1863)]

Paul Lafargue's The Religion of Capital [here or here (PDF)] (1887) are also intriguing, and will perhaps eventually lead to John Raines' Marx on Religion.

Walter Benjamin's Capitalism as Religion (1921) observes that "capitalism is a pure religious cult, perhaps the most extreme there ever was:"

One can behold in capitalism a religion, that is to say, capitalism essentially serves to satisfy the same worries, anguish, and disquiet formerly answered by so-called religion.

Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek inverts Dostoyevsky's classic phrase, suggesting that "If there is a God, then anything is permitted:"

Although the statement "If there is no God, everything is permitted" is widely attributed to Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov (Sartre was the first to do so in his Being and Nothingness), he simply never said it.

The closest one gets to this infamous aphorism are a hand-full of apoproximations, like Dmitri's claim from his debate with Rakitin (as he reports it to Alyosha):

"'But what will become of men then?' I asked him, 'without God and immortal life? All things are permitted then, they can do what they like?'"

But the very fact that this misattribution has persisted for decades demonstrates that, even if factually incorrect, it nonetheless hits a nerve in our ideological edifice

He continues:

Lacan's reversal - "If there is a God, then everything is permitted!" - is openly asserted by some Christians, as a consequence of the Christian notion of the overcoming of the prohibitive Law in love: if you dwell in divine love, then you do not need prohibitions; you can do whatever you want, since, if you really dwell in divine love, you would never want to do something evil.

The inverse is more accurate:

...it is for those who refer to "god" in a brutally direct way, perceiving themselves as instruments of his will, that everything is permitted. These are, of course, the so-called fundamentalists who practice a perverted version of what Kierkegaard called the religious suspension of the ethical. [...]

Most people today are spontaneously moral: the idea of torturing or killing another human being is deeply traumatic for them. So, in order to make them do it, a larger "sacred" Cause is needed, something that makes petty individual concerns about killing seem trivial. Religion or ethnic belonging fit this role perfectly. There are, of course, cases of pathological atheists who are able to commit mass murder just for pleasure, just for the sake of it, but they are rare exceptions. The majority needs to be anaesthetized against their elementary sensitivity to another's suffering. For this, a sacred Cause is needed: without this Cause, we would have to feel all the burden of what we did, with no Absolute on whom to put the ultimate responsibility. [...] ...without religion, good people would have been doing good things and bad people bad things, only religion can make good people do bad things.

Religion, then, simultaneously justifies and protests transgressions:

Isolated extreme forms of sexuality among godless hedonists are immediately elevated into representative symbols of the depravity of the godless, while any questioning of, say, the link between the more pronounced phenomenon of clerical paedophilia and the Church as institution is rejected as anti-religious slander. The well-documented story of how the Catholic Church has protected paedophiles in its own ranks is another good example of how if god does exist, then everything is permitted. What makes this protective attitude towards paedophiles so disgusting is that it is not practiced by permissive hedonists, but by the very institution which poses as the moral guardian of society.

Dostoevsky's question thus points out another right-wing reality reversal.

AlterNet suggests that conservative religion makes the Right stronger because "conservative religious paradigms...play an essential role in giving conservatives a unique kind of emotional and social durability:"

Conservatives know, beyond the shadow of doubt, that they are on the side of the angels, and this profound sense of spiritual assurance reduces hesitation, spurs action, and increases their willingness to take big risks for the sake of the ultimate victory they know in their bones is coming. They shake off defeat more easily, too, because they know it's only a temporary setback on their way to that promised victory.

Progressives, in contrast, are "suspicious of that kind of deep spiritual certainty, because we know how often it's led people and nations into moral catastrophe."

Religion is a potent social technology -- and its greatest strength is not about theology, but rather in its ability to knit people together in tight, close communities of trust, commitment, care and meaning.

Conservatives may think and believe differently than we do. But their sheer political durability is due to some specific strengths in their communities and characters -- strengths that aren't out of reach for us, even if we arrive at them by different routes.

TruthOut writes about the rising phoenix of common-good conservatism, claiming that "American conservatism has degenerated into an intellectually and morally bankrupt ideology:"

It offers nothing more than bumper-sticker slogans that pander to the prejudices and ignorance of the lowest common denominator in order to enrich and empower an oligarchic elite. Angry, cruel and sneering, it is exemplified by the carnival barkers on talk radio and Fox News. High in volume, but devoid of substance, it has no long-term future because it lacks credible solutions to the range of very real problems American society is facing.

Worse, conservatism "has become infected with a virulent strain of extreme libertarianism heavily influenced by the thinking of Ayn Rand:"

Rand's disciples claim to champion liberty and freedom, but really care only about license - the notion that actions have no consequences and individuals have no broader responsibilities to anything or anyone but themselves.

"America needs a conservatism that can deal with reality," a strain that is lacking in today's political environment. The piece's main prescription is for a "common-good conservatism," which is defined like this:

It is a political philosophy rooted in the stewardship ethic of traditional conservatism. It begins with three simple premises: that recognition of the shared dignity of all human beings is the essential predicate of a just society, that rights always correspond to duties and that we bear a collective responsibility toward one another.

Can such common sense unify both the religious fundamentalists who hold up one of the GOP's tent poles, and the market fundamentalists who wield the other?

Savage

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Amanda Marcotte analyzes the faux controversy over Dan Savage's "bullshit" remarks:

The manufactured outrage over Dan Savage's remarks about the Bible that inspired what appears to be a staged walkout at a high school journalism conference may appear on its surface mostly to be a last stand of the anti-gay movement to regain ground by attacking one of the most compelling pro-gay activists in the country. [...]

[The Right] claims that Savage is a "bully" because he accurately recounted what is in the Bible. It's an attempt to redefine acceptable discourse so that statement of uncomfortable facts is considered off-limits, and, in fact, is redefined as "bigotry."

She concludes that "taking umbrage [at Savage's remarks] is, at best, nonsensical, and at worst, some kind of weird ax-grinding that has no respect for the truth:"

Which is basically what this entire Savage dust-up is about. The American right is undertaking a huge project of trying to put right-wing politics beyond criticism by shouting "religious bigotry" any time someone gets in the way of their political agenda. [...] Sounds ludicrous? Well, consider that we're currently debating whether or not it's oppressing Christians to accurately state what's in the Bible. Anyone who is actually supportive of gay rights shouldn't be playing along with this feigned umbrage, because it sure isn't going to stop until it's considered completely off-bounds to oppose anti-gay actions on the grounds that it's an attack on religion.

Today is the National Day of Reason, and the NDOR website promotes it as a reasonable alternative to prayer:

With faith-based initiatives giving preferential treatment to religious organizations, and strengthened attempts to introduce creationism in public school science classrooms, there has never been a better time in which humanists, atheists and freethinkers should affirm our commitment to the Constitutional separation of religion and government, and to celebrate reason as the guiding principle of our secular democracy.

Rep Pete Stark's proclamation got political:

Our nation faces many problems--bringing our troops home from Afghanistan, creating jobs, educating our children, and protecting our safety net from irresponsible cuts. We will solve these issues through the application of reason. We must also protect women's reproductive choices, the integrity of scientific research, and our public education system from those who would hide behind religious dogma to undermine them.

David Niose refers to NDOP as "the annual fiasco wherein conservative Christians utilize the apparatus of government to publicly exalt their theological beliefs, to ensure that their vociferous anti-secular views are promoted as official state doctrine." Herb Silverman summarizes:

I strongly support the National Day of Reason, although I wish it weren't needed. There would be no National Day of Reason if there were not a government-endorsed National Day of Prayer.

iPhone irony

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The Westboro Baptist Church's assholery continues with a threat to picket the funeral of (Buddhist) Steve Jobs:

20111006-wbcpicket.jpg

(Note the unintentional irony of sending this tweet from an iPhone...)

Today is International Blasphemy Rights Day, on the anniversary of the Danish Mohammed cartoons (see here for my previous comments).

Believers may wish to ignore the inconvenient parts of their scripture, but Leviticus 24:16 clearly demands that I be stoned to death for this offense (among others).

Come at me, bro!

At the risk of exhibiting a prematurely triumphalism, Nigel Barber's upcoming study looks promising. He wonders, "Why do modern conditions produce atheism?"

In a new study to be published in August, I provide compelling evidence that atheism increases along with the quality of life. [...] The reasons that churches lose ground in developed countries can be summarized in market terms.

First, with better science, and with government safety nets, and smaller families, there is less fear and uncertainty in people's daily lives and hence less of a market for religion. At the same time many alternative products are being offered, such as psychotropic medicines and electronic entertainment that have fewer strings attached and that do not require slavish conformity to unscientific beliefs.

The study's abstract is intriguing:

Findings show that disbelief in God increased with economic development (measured by lower agricultural employment and third-level enrollment). Findings further show that disbelief also increased with income security (low Gini coefficient, high personal taxation tapping the welfare state) and with health security (low pathogen prevalence). Results show that religious belief declines as existential security increases, consistent with the uncertainty hypothesis.

As people's actual lives improve, there is less need to imagine a supernatural successor.

PZ Myers writes about the Rapture-believers being wrong once again, noting that "everyone is laughing at Harold Camping now, except his followers... But you're missing the real joke:"

Look at every Abrahamic religion, with their myths of prophets and favored peoples and fate. Look at the crazy conservative church in your town, that preaches homophobia and anti-science and supports Israel because of the Armageddon prophecy. Look at the liberal Christian church down the street from you that has the nice Vacation Bible School and puts on happy plays for the older kids, and also teaches that one day you will stand before a great god and be judged. Look at your family members who blithely believe in death as a mini-apocalypse, in which they will be magically translated into another realm, again to be judged.

It's the very same rot, the poison of religion that twists minds away from reality and fastens them on hellish bogeymen. They're demented fuckwits, every one, and the big lie rests right on the fundamental beliefs of supernaturalism and deities, not on the ephemera of one crank's bizarre interpretations.

Phil Zuckerman follows up on the secular studies major that I mentioned here, describing it as "an interdisciplinary programme focusing on manifestations of the secular in societies and cultures, past and present:"

It entails the study of non-religious people, groups, thought and cultural expressions. Emphasis is placed upon the meanings, forms, relevance and impact of political secularism, philosophical scepticism, and personal and public secularity. Students will be expected to take classes from various disciplines: philosophy, history, sociology, psychology, science ... and yes, religious studies.

Zuckerman notes that "for centuries, the weight of scholarship has been disproportionately on religion," and I fully expect this single small contrary example to provoke a torrent of Christianist commentary.

enraptured

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Richard Dawkins tears WaPo faith-heads a new one for treating the Rapture-happy loons (led--this time around--by evangelist Harold Camping) seriously. The paper asked, in part:

What does your tradition teach about the end of the world? How does end time theology impact real world behavior?

Dawkins responded:

Why is a serious newspaper like the Washington Post giving space to a raving loon? I suppose the answer must be that, unlike the average loon, this one has managed to raise enough money to launch a radio station and pay for billboards. [...]

So, the question becomes, why are there so many well-heeled, gullible idiots out there? Why is it that an idea can be as nuts as you like and still con enough backers to finance its advertising to acquire yet more backers . . . until eventually a national newspaper notices and makes it into a silly season filler?

He then took aim at the question itself:

What my 'tradition' (or your 'tradition' or the Dalai Lama's 'tradition' or Osama bin Laden's 'tradition' or the bad-trip 'tradition' of whoever wrote Revelation) says about anything in the real world (including its end) is no more likely to be true than any urban legend, idle rumor, superstition, or science fiction novel. Yet, the moment you slap the word 'tradition' onto a made-up story you confer on it a spurious dignity, which we are solemnly asked to 'respect'.

Science is not a tradition, it is the organized use of evidence from the real world to make inferences about the real world...

In addressing a different instance of accommodationism, PZ Myers writes about his unconcern that "harsh criticism of cherished beliefs, like religion, leads to an immediate, emotion-based shutdown of critical faculties by the target, and makes them refractory to rational evaluation of their ideas:"

I don't care what happens in the mind of a believer five minutes or a day after I make an argument... [...] What I'm interested in seeing happen is the development of a strong cadre of vocal atheists who will make a sustained argument, over the course of years or generations, who will keep pressing on the foolishness of faith. I also don't mind seeing believers get angry and stomping off determined to prove I'm a colossal jackhole -- that means they're thinking, even if they're disagreeing with me. At the very least, I hope that a few of them will realize, even if they don't change their mind about the god nonsense, that quoting the Bible at me has no effect, and maybe some years down the road I won't be hearing as many idiots telling me "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God'" as if they've made a profound point.

Here's a straightforward welcoming video from Believe Out Loud, a group working toward LGBT inclusion within mainstream churches:

One would expect that Sojourners (a group of progressive-minded Christians) would be naturally allies of this effort, but Rev Robert Chase observes at Religion Dispatches that "Sojourners refused to run our ads:"

In a written statement, Sojourners said, "I'm afraid we'll have to decline. Sojourners position is to avoid taking sides on this issue. In that care [sic], the decision to accept advertising may give the appearance of taking sides." [...]

I called the folks at Sojourners and asked what the problem was, what the "sides" in question might be. The first response was that Sojourners has not taken a stance on gay marriage (the ad is not about gay marriage); or on ordination of homosexuals (the ad is about welcome, not ordination); that the decision, made by "the folks in executive" (why such a high level decision?) was made quickly because of the Mother's Day deadline. The rationale kept shifting. The reasoning made no sense.

I, too, am disappointed by Jim Wallis and Sojourners. Although he and his organization are allied with liberals on many issues, this is a big failure for them.

If you want to be a progressive ally, you've got to be fighting on the right side.


update (5/10):
After receiving bad press over refusing to run the Believe Out Loud ads, Jim Wallis made a statement about Sojourners' mission and LGBTQ issues, writing that Sojourners' calling "is much more focused on matters of poverty, racial justice, stewardship of the creation, and the defense of life and peace:"

Given the time Sojourners is now spending on critical issues like the imperative of a moral budget, the urgent need to end the war in Afghanistan, and the leadership we are offering on commitments like immigration reform, we chose not to become involved in the controversy that such a major ad campaign could entail, and the time it could require of us.

When Wallis writes that "this is an issue we want to openly discuss on and through our editorial pages and not through our ad space," one could be forgiven for wondering if this reluctance is partially due to a desire to avoid alienating the well-funded anti-LGBTQ fundagelical bigots and their potentially lucrative ads.

Friendly Atheist isn't satisfied either, calling Sojourners' position "a cop-out:"

There's nothing "controversial" about the ad -- if anything, by publishing them, you're making the issue less controversial. Who knew promoting tolerance and inclusivity was such a timesuck from the rest of their mission...

Pitzer College is now offering a major in Secular Studies, led by Phil (Society Without God) Zuckerman:

Professors from other departments, including history, philosophy, religion, science and sociology, will teach courses like "God, Darwin and Design in America," "Anxiety in the Age of Reason" and "Bible as Literature." [...] Studying nonbelief is as valid as studying belief, Mr. Zuckerman said, and the new major will make that very clear.

"It's not about arguing 'Is there a God or not?' " Mr. Zuckerman said. "There are hundreds of millions of people who are nonreligious. I want to know who they are, what they believe, why they are nonreligious. You have some countries where huge percentages of people -- Czechs, Scandinavians -- now call themselves atheists. Canada is experiencing a huge wave of secularization. This is happening very rapidly.

"It has not been studied," he added.

Of course, there will always be those who prefer to slander secularism rather than learn about it--someone has to keep Faux News and talk radio in business.

In lieu of a personal appearance, a letter from Christopher Hitchens was read at the American Atheists convention. Here's a taste of it, just to show you that his skills are undiminished:

Our theocratic enemy is in plain view. Protean in form, it extends from the overt menace of nuclear-armed mullahs to the insidious campaigns to have stultifying pseudo-science taught in American schools. But in the past few years, there have been heartening signs of a genuine and spontaneous resistance to this sinister nonsense: a resistance which repudiates the right of bullies and tyrants to make the absurd claim that they have god on their side. To have had a small part in this resistance has been the greatest honor of my lifetime: the pattern and original of all dictatorship is the surrender of reason to absolutism and the abandonment of critical, objective inquiry. The cheap name for this lethal delusion is religion, and we must learn new ways of combating it in the public sphere, just as we have learned to free ourselves of it in private.

Our weapons are the ironic mind against the literal: the open mind against the credulous; the courageous pursuit of truth against the fearful and abject forces who would set limits to investigation (and who stupidly claim that we already have all the truth we need). Perhaps above all, we affirm life over the cults of death and human sacrifice and are afraid, not of inevitable death, but rather of a human life that is cramped and distorted by the pathetic need to offer mindless adulation, or the dismal belief that the laws of nature respond to wailings and incantations.

I hope this isn't Hitch's last gasp; much work remains to be done.

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