Lowered Expectations + Vague Statements = Person of the Year


By now you’ve heard that the Advocate has named Pope Francis its person of the year. In perhaps one of the most cringingly apologetic and sycophantic pieces published about the Supreme Pontiff, Lucas Grindley reaches to draw the barest scraps of meaning out of the most innocuous of statements. In fact, reading this piece, you’ll notice that most of the article is Grindley doing little more than repeating himself or explaining why other people deserve the praise more. I almost feel as if the editorial board made the decision, and poor Lucas was tasked with writing it up. But let’s examine this article to see if we can divine the thinking that makes what appears to be pandering to pop culture lionization into a legitimate choice.

As I mentioned, the first six paragraphs are about how other people should have been given this honor. Grindley focuses especially on Edie Windsor, the brave woman whose case got a part of DOMA thrown out in court. It’s followed by this remarkably cop out


Thus begins my new piece for Queereka. Read the whole article on that site.

Judge: Hiding Money From Rape Victims A-OK

Regular readers will know that I consider Timmy Cardinal Dolan to be an example of the worst that humanity has to offer. A fetid pustule bloated by self-righteous ego-mania, Timmy is more than homophobic, more than just a defender of child rapists, he is also a fraud and a thief. Except, not according to one Wisconsin judge.

I wrote in my Human Excommunication of Timmy about how, when faced with lawsuits for those priests he allowed to continue to rape children for years when he couldn’t pay them to do it as a hobby instead of professionally, the sanguine coward moved money around into another fund to make it immune from being seized and given to the victims he tried to silence.

Unfortunately, to Judge Rudolph Randa, compensating rape victims is a secondary concern to making sure that men in Milwaukee can continue telling people stories every Sunday because having to pay for their crimes would, “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.” Basically, because it was moved into a cemetery fund, and the upkeep of cemeteries is important to the Catholic faith, then taking away that money prevents them from practicing their religion. And, as we also see with the Magdalene Laundries, it‘s pretty clear that accepting responsibility for and making amends when you do awful, inhuman things is not a part of the Catholic faith, ergo Timmy’s accounting trick is legal.

Do I really need to go into the problems with this? I recently got a traffic ticket, so does that mean that I can simply insist that the Flying Spaghetti Monster disapproves of tolls but demands that the fastest available route be taken, therefore trying to make me pay to use roads hampers my free religious exercise? What we’re seeing with Randa is another example of people who seem to think that believing in fairy tales with enough conviction is reasonable justification for any action. Usually it’s trying to force other people to live by the strictures of your religion (e.g. abortion, abstinence only sex education, same-sex marriage, etc), but it’s becoming quite in vogue for prominent religious people in this country to say that their faith should exempt them from the law or even criticism of their ridiculous ideas.

The good news is that Randa is usually overturned on appeal. The bad news is that there is at least one person who is so monumentally screwed up that he thinks that denying compensation to rape victims is entirely ok if an invisible sky pixie wants to make sure the things we use to mark where we keep decomposing flesh are well polished.

Hey, instead of just saying that he won’t actively be mean to gay people as long as they’re sufficiently closeted, maybe this is a place where the Pope can step in and do some real good for a change!

It’s Not New, It’s Not Exciting

“OMG, OMG, OMG. Did you hear what the Pope said about gay people? Did you? DID YOU? This is a sea change! It’s so important! He’s said something amazing and groundbreaking!”

Now, please raise your hand if you’re, like me, getting tired of hearing people take a throwaway line and try to make it sound like it means that a man who has historically been a homophobe in one of the most homophobic organizations on the planet is suddenly all buddy-buddy with the LGBT community.

For those who missed it, on the way home from Brazil, Pope Francis held a press conference on the plane where he was remarkably candid about a number of topics. One of them was about homosexuals.

They say they exist. If someone is gay, who searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says they should not be marginalized because of this (orientation) but that they must be integrated into society.

Now, people have heard this and thought “Wow, this is such a change!” Hate to be the one who ruins the fun happy Pontifex Pleasure Party, but this is not a change. This is status quo.


Thus begins my newest post on Queereka about why it’s not a big deal what the Pope said and why we really should be less willing to praise what is basically just standard human decency.

I’m Not Ready for Jim Wallis

Jim Wallis, left-wing evangelical preacher and person who runs the Sojourners organization (and associated magazine), was on Real Time with Bill Mahar and I have to say I was not impressed. I’ve never been impressed with Wallis, nor most left-wing evangelicals, and this is exactly why.

I should point out that I am not the biggest Mahar fan, either, for various reasons, but I think he brings up a really good point here which is that Wallis kept avoiding answering the questions. And that makes sense, since the questions don’t have very good answers. He doesn’t want to cop to the fact that he wants the Bible to say the things he likes and only the things he likes.

I would like people to take the Bible literally when it says “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Reza Aslan (the lit major and Ana Mardoll fan in me sees the irony there) points it out the problem really well when he says, “What you don’t like is figurative, what you do like is literal. The reason the Bible matters…is not because it’s true or false, it’s because it can mean whatever you want it to mean.”

And that’s where I get stuck. I get that Wallis agrees with me on most issues, though his desire to stay “neutral” about things until fairly recently is disturbing, but I have trouble with him because he’s still making an argument that makes no sense. He avoids discussing why we should take his interpretation of these stories literally and somebody else’s figuratively.

Now, I would argue that we don’t need  those stories and that his morality has informed his Biblical interpretation, not the other way around. If the Bible is to be taken seriously as a social justice text, it should be easy to read as such, and not require the backflipping that Wallis and those like him have to do in order to make this book say the things it damn well should say. Instead, we’re left with this interview full of distractions and subject changes because Wallis can’t give a good reason why I should pay attention when Jesus says to love one another, but ignore it when he says that you should never get divorced.

Honestly, the most coherent I’ve ever heard anyone be on the subject is Fred Clark, who has argued repeatedly that the Bible is a collection of stories around a certain theme. I still don’t agree that that means that there is any indication of a savior or a need to be saved at all, but his general idea is to take none of it literally and to be honest about his application of outside morality to how to reads the book, since it’s not a source of authority in and of itself.

I think if Wallis et. al. want to make a case for their interpretation of the Bible, they need to stop pretending that it’s obvious that Jesus agrees with them and start explaining this book the way Clark does: as a collection of ancient stories that, when taken together, lean toward suggesting a more just society. Like any other collection of stories, there are good parts and bad parts. There are times when even the ostensible “good guys” do horrible things. But the main theme is that through all of that, eventually love and justice overcome, which is not a bad theme for a story. And then, like a Tolkien novel, you read the appendices and you see that bad stuff still happens.

I admit, as an atheist and the certified owner of a literature degree, this is a bit self-serving. I would like to see fewer people treating the Bible as if it has any sort of authority in and of itself. I would like to see it treated like any other short story collection and be open to literary criticism (a post-colonial reading, for example, could be really fascinating considering how often Israel changes hands). That being said, trying to treat it any other way leads to what we see in this video with Wallis: red herrings, No True Scotsman fallacies, question begging, and abrupt subject changes. It’s all you really can do if you don’t want to just say, “I like these parts, so they’re true, and the parts I don’t like aren’t because of reasons.”

So I really would like to be on board with Wallis. I appreciate his alliance and, now that he’s finally come around on the LGBT thing, I appreciate his evolution. I wish there were more vocal evangelicals like him. But he needs to look at his arguments very closely, because he’s no Harry Jackson, Rick Scarborough, or Mike Huckabee, all of whom are used to blatantly lying about what they believe and shifting the conversation to avoid hard questions. Jim Wallis isn’t a good enough liar to be able to hold these positions and still sound coherent, so it’s time he looks for a way to communicate his message without sounding like he can’t even explain it.

Why Believe That At All?

Fred Clark has a wonderful piece over at Slacktavist about believers who find that their sense of obedience (which is required on threat of eternal torment) conflicts with their conscience, vis a vis gay people. In this case, he compares two approaches: a guest post on Timothy Dalrymple’s blog and the post that that post is referring to. The later is from a pastor who recognizes that sometimes those things pull in opposite directions, but basically says that you should go with obedience anyway. The former at least puts the struggle in realistic terms.

That being said, Clark quotes a bit that I think is important.

If you say to everybody, “Anyone who thinks homosexuality is a sin is a bigot,” [Jonathan Rauch] says, “You are going to have to ask them to completely disassemble the way in which they read the Bible.” Completely disassemble their whole approach to authority. You are basically going to have to ask them to completely kick their entire faith out the door.

Yes. Actually that is exactly what I’d like them to do. If your moral authority rests on the will of an invisible being who’s presence is notably indistinguishable from its absence, then it’s time to start letting that go. This is not to say that I don’t want you to believe in this or that, but rather that I cannot trust that even a benevolent outside being will remain so, and people who can hang their moral choices on outside figures are more dangerous than those who recognize that their choices are theirs and theirs alone.

Reality is not a jacket with so many buttons to sort through until you find ones that seem to look right.

That being said, I am trying very hard to empathize with people who are pulled in multiple directions. On one hand, I want to dismiss them, since I cannot imagine ever worshiping a being that tells me to act so opposite my conscience. It just would never occur to me that that sort of monster deserves my devotion and praise.

That being said, it’s not that easy, and I recognize that. As much as I try to empathize with other people, it’s so difficult to do so with members of the religious right since it’s nearly impossible for me to wrap my head around that ideology without immediately seeing it in terms of being self-serving and willfully cruel. Especially when we’re talking about people like Timothy Dalrymple who likes to pose as kindly unconcerned until backed into a corner.

For example, almost a year ago I got into a bit of a comment back and forth with Dalrymple on a number of subjects. You can see it all on his post or my post on the subject, but the specific point that stuck with me was when he insisted that evangelicals like him have no interest in keeping people from visiting their partners in hospitals. When I pointed out that Scott Walker was going out of his way as governor of Wisconsin to do just that, Dalrymple replied, “I didn’t say that no one’s views have those consequences. Scott Walker may care about preserving the meaning of marriage and not diluting that legal definition, but I assure you he could care less whether your partner visits you in the hospital.” For people like Dalrymple, hurting people in an effort to bring about another goal is all fine and dandy so long as you don’t care about the thing you did too much.

And it’s these sorts of rhetorical and logical backflips that make it so much more difficult to empathize with people like Dalrymple and Wehner. I have no problem empathizing with Clark since he feels no such compunction: his conscience tells him to be an LGBT ally, and while I don’t get how this is also in line with a supreme being’s will, it’s pretty clear that the decision didn’t pose much difficulty for him. Maybe it did, but as long as I have been reading the guy it’s seemed obvious.

Similarly, it seems obvious that a sexual ethic based on mutual respect and consent is better than the arbitrary decision to wait until marriage for sex, but as Libby Anne points out, Rachel Held Evans is doing the same logical backflips to justify her opinions without having to rely on purity myths. I’d be similarly curious to see how Peter LaBarbara, who has spent years warning that if gay marriage is legalized than those who oppose it will be arrested, justifies his support of a Russian law to do exactly that to supporters of gay anything.

It’s all very confusing, and I don’t get why you would bother to make all of those incredible leaps to protect a belief that resists inclusion on any terms other than its own. A lot of people have managed to do so, but it seems like so much work when a well developed moral sense can be acquired through empathy and compassion.

Or at the very least we can stop trying to make every decision something that can be measured against a universal moral framework that we must be subject to and instead recognize that while many behaviors are incompatible with a stable society, many just have no moral component that can be applied externally.


UPDATE: Clark followed up that post with another which was also pretty good. Here’s the teaser:

It took quite a while for me to realize that queasy feeling in my stomach had nothing to do with nerves or fear or a lack of faith or being “ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” That queasy feeling was my conscience reminding me of Rule No. 1 and pleading with me not to be a jerk. That was why I didn’t want to knock on doors or walk up to strangers on the sidewalk or distribute tracts to wary passers-by — because those things made me feel like a jerk. Why? Because acting like a jerk tends to make one feel like a jerk.

Contextless, cold-calling, hard-sales evangelism almost always and almost inevitably entails acting like a jerk. It involves treating other people as objects rather than as subjects. It involves forcing onto them an experience that none of us would want to have forced onto ourselves.

This update is mostly a reminder to myself to think more on the subject/object line, since that seems important. If any of you have any thoughts, feel free to comment.

Confounding Quotations

Well, I am home sick this weekend rather then spending my time hanging out with friends, snuggling my girlfriend, fencing, and singing folk songs well into the night. I actually have a new one I wrote and wanted to premiere when it wasn’t 1:30 in the morning!

But so long as I am here getting over whatever the fuck has ruined my SCA event plans, I have at least gotten a chance to start catching up on the news I’ve been missing because of work deadlines. And I have to admit, while there has been plenty to make me angry, I find that I’ve just been confused by a whole lot of what’s being said. And today we’re going to work out some of my confusion on a number of quotes.

So here we go!

1. Divine Protection Racket

It’s often joked among atheists that what Christians call “salvation” (and other religions call other things) basically sounds like a Mafioso extorting people. “Hey, nice soul ya got there. Be a shame if something happened to it, like it burned in a lake of fire for all eternity.” It’s a bit of hyperbole to highlight that God is often trying to save us from itself. And that’s why this quote from Rep. Randy Weber is so hilariously confused and confusing.

It’s a good thing that he’s a holy, just non-vengeful God. It’s a good thing we’re not vengueful [sic], because he [sic] might ask him to bring an untimely demise to those in the abortion industry who are killing our babies. But we’re not that way. He’s a God of second chances.

Anyone else get the impression that the only thing keeping Randy Weber from murdering every abortion provider he can get his hands on is mortal law and disapprobation rather than divine grace? I mean, this quote is so all over the map. “It’s a good thing God doesn’t kill people, because we might wish God would kill people and God would do it, but he wouldn’t and we wouldn’t wish that on those goddamn BABY KILLERS that we totally wouldn’t wish harm on.” He really, really wants to be able to call for violence (and I would want to as well if I believed that people were actually killing babies), but he knows that that tends to look bad, so he keeps walking up to that line and backing away again.

It doesn’t help that he’s backing up world class idiot Paul Broun, which makes it difficult to be coherent. That being said, this was so out there that I’m not sure that it can be covered merely by being the Lou Costello to Broun’s Bud Abbott.

2. Getting What You Pay For

I really, really hate to bring up Ron Lindsay again, but the man keeps making these strange, nonsensical statements. First it was his introduction at Women in Secularism, then his absurd comparison of pushback to North Korean propagandists, and now this tweet.

Free inquiry. Free expression. Not only are these indispensable in our quest for the truth but they’re necessary conditions 4 human dignity

Where is this coming from? Ceiling Cat be praised, this is as ridiculous as The Thaw! Who has told Ron Lindsay that he can’t inquire or speak? Seriously, who? Is this just a general statement that coincidently sounds like a defense of his increasingly ridiculous and paranoid assertions? Again, we seem to have a person who is under the impression that in order to be free, they must be free from any criticism. Criticism is only something that Ron Lindsay and the people he agrees with are afforded the right to, you see. Anybody who questions that, even in the mildest of terms, is an enemy of freedom, I suppose.

Also, it’s taking a stand on some pretty nasty stuff. How do people’s heads Photoshopped on porn advance human dignity? How does publishing a person’s home address in front of a bunch of people who hate that person advance human dignity? As PZ pointed out in the link above

When they photoshop our faces onto porn, when they call us “manginas” and “cunts”, when they flood CFI conference streams with denigrating insults to the speakers, they are not making “free inquiry”, they are not using “free speech” in a “quest for truth” or to advance “human dignity”.

Not all expression is some noble gesture in favor of free expression. Listening to it is more a testament to the greatness of free expression than just saying whatever stupid thing comes to your brain. As per usual, I go to MovieBob’s The Big Picture on political correctness, which he defines pretty well as “being nice” and the enemies of political correctness as people who simply feel that some people don’t deserve their niceness. That doesn’t make you a samurai sworn in fealty to the First Amendment, ready to slit open your own belly if it’s necessary. It makes you a jerk who doesn’t want to be called a jerk while still predicating your behavior toward others on whatever impulses you have at the moment rather than anything they happen to do.

3. The Best Kept Secret

This is one that confuses me more on the practice than on the actual thing said. So, a couple of days ago, Pope Francis said a kind of nice thing about atheists and non-Catholics in general.

The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.

It’s not much, but it’s something, at least. And it’s something I can get behind, too, since I’m more than happy to work with believers of any kind in making a positive change in the world. I do it fairly often, in fact.

But this is the Vatican, and they really can’t let stuff like this go without swooping in to ruin the fuck out of it. Emphasis mine.

On Thursday, the Vatican issued an “explanatory note on the meaning to ‘salvation.’”

The Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Vatican spokesman, said that people who know about the Catholic church “cannot be saved” if they “refuse to enter her or remain in her.”

Look at that highlighted part right there and really think about it. It’s Catholic doctrine that people who are unaware of the Church get a free pass on the whole Jesus thing, so why the fuck would you tell anybody about it? No, seriously, if you care about the state of people’s souls after death, and you know that if you simply don’t tell them that there’s an option to sell your soul to a tiny nation-state in the middle of Italy instead of just doing whatever it is you do already, why wouldn’t you just not tell them about it? Wouldn’t that get more people into Heaven? Wouldn’t that just starve hell of people because nobody knew they had the chance to give 10% of their income to men in fabulous, if poorly cut, dresses? Catholicism should be two guys who live in secret and make sure the other one is always following the catechism and nobody learns of their arcane practices.

This also suggests the other question: what if the one true religion involves two brother gods fighting over the last doughnut eternally, one guy in Luxembourg knew about it in 1751 and died without telling anybody, and because of the loophole that you don’t have to believe if you’ve never heard of it, any person who is decently good and generous gets to spend eternity in the Divine Krispy Kreme, where the red light is always on? It’s no less plausible than any other myth base.

4. Designed Economics

The Sensuous Curmudgeon is hilarious. I love reading their take on creationists and their mockery of evolution deniers. It’s really something to read every time. However, they also are a fiscal conservative, so occasionally will write a post discussing economics that inevitably misses a point someplace. This was, however, exceptionally weird.

This post is based on their support of a quote from Ronald Bailey, which goes, “Intelligent design is to evolutionary biology what socialism is to free-market economics.” There is then a lot of writing about how shopping malls are like evolution in that stores change and the mall you knew growing up is probably almost nothing like the mall you know today. I think this may be the crux of their argument.

Aside from the mall itself, who planned the assembly of all the individual stores, with all the wares they display? No mall developer could possibly design all that. Even if he started out with a few chain stores in mind as tenants, the roster of retailers currently at the mall is probably quite different from the original tenants, many of whom may have gone out of business and were replaced by new retailers. Not only do the stores gradually change over time, but the goods being sold are probably different from those that were originally on display. In the space of a decade or two, virtually everything is different.

I’m not sure if the Curmudgeon thinks that developers create malls, take on original tenants, then just let them go and develop as they will or what, but developers have constant say in what can go on in stores in a mall. When one store fails, the developer finds another store to replace it. Stores have very strict limits on what they can display and how they can display it. A mall quite literally is intelligently designed constantly.

Down here in Orlando we have the Mall at Millenia, which is supposed to be high end stores. Take a look at the directory. I see a Crate & Barrel, Monteblanc, Louis Vuitton, every Gap brand except for Old Navy, an Apple store, Prada, Rolex, and several other places that cater to the wealthy. Know what I don’t see? Spencer Gifts. Or Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Or Target. Why? Because there is a developer who has complete control over this mall and decides who can and can’t open a store there. That’s nothing like evolution, which would allow any store that set up shop and made money to thrive, whether it was Tiffany & Co. or Dollar Tree.

The original quote makes no sense, either. As I pointed out, most businesses are, in fact, intelligently designed. The original person just took two things he liked and two things he didn’t like and made a syllogism that only stands as true if the comparison is something that Ronald Bailey approves of to something that Ronald Bailey doesn’t approve of.

The other problem with this quote and the whole perception is that this isn’t necessarily a good thing. I mean, think about it: two common atheist complaints about religion are that a) evolution is an endlessly cruel process and it’s hard to imagine an all-good creator putting entire species through that, and b) if we are intelligently designed, then the designer isn’t that good at their job since there are so many ways things could be better. We reject ID because it’s in all likelihood not true, not because there’s something inherently bad about the idea of a designer. Hell, if there were a genuinely omni-benevolent creator who knew what the fuck they were doing, that would actually be a lot better! We would have redundancies built into our bodies, we wouldn’t have pointless organs, we wouldn’t run down with age, there would be no part of us that didn’t heal or grow back, we wouldn’t be so fragile, we wouldn’t be susceptible to disease…the possibilities for improvement are endless. Why wouldn’t we prefer it if species were just gotten right the first time and didn’t have to go through the gruesome machine that is natural selection?

To apply that to economics, why would we prefer a system that is manifestly more brutal and apathetic to human suffering than one that actually tries to alleviate human suffering? No, I’m not talking about pure socialism, which doesn’t work, but surely we can socialize aspects of things to increase the happiness and well-being of as many people as possible instead of shrugging our shoulders and saying that that’s just the price of free markets. Again, atheists are constantly saying that given omnipotence we could do better than any of the perceived gods thus invented, so why would we embrace apathy instead of empathy when we have the chance?

5. Timmy and the Washing Well

Regular Conversationalists know that I consider Timmy Dolan one of the most horrendous humanoid creatures to walk the face of the Earth. I mean, the slimy trail he leaves through the media is toxic in the most nauseating sense of the word. I’m pretty sure he can’t order breakfast without a back handed compliment to queer people or atheists, and his excessive pride in what he thinks is incredible subtlety reads like a child who can see up a girl’s skirt and can’t stop giggling at their own naughtiness.

Which brings us to this bizarre piece of tripe that he wrote titled “All Are Welcome!” in which he describes how the Church loves people to show up and wants them to know Jesus and blah blah blah. Then we get to this.

This balance can cause some tensions.  Freddie and I were loved and welcomed at our family table, but the clear expectation was, no dirty hands!

He’s, of course, talking about gay people, people who live together before marriage, and people who have been involved in abortion in some respect. To his credit, he also calls out businesmen (and only men) who don’t pay their workers a fair wage, but it feels tacked on considering he rarely seems to discuss it otherwise and the Church doesn’t throw their weight behind living wage laws as much as they do behind fighting marriage equality or contraception.

But what is bizarre and infuriating about this particular extended analogy, is that he really didn’t think that anybody would question his comparison of being gay or cohabitating to being dirty.

It gets worse in that when several Catholics showed up at St. Patrick’s Cathedral (where Cardinal Timmy preaches) with dirty hands for a silent protest, they were not only told they weren’t welcome inside, but Timmy of the Imposing Jowls called the NYPD to have them removed! And, what’s worse, the NYPD enforced it! Because, as we all know, it’s imperative that an organ of the state enforce religious rules like the one that was broken here (i.e. “Do what I fucking tell you because I have a fancy hat!”).

I admit, this one pisses me off, but the idea that protestors don’t plague him like the Furies did Orestes also pisses me off. What baffles me is the repeated failure of people to stop and think in this whole debacle. First Timmy having a secretary translate his crayon scribble into a blog, then him calling the cops to prove that “all are welcome”, then the NYPD showing up and enforcing religious dictates. It’s just failure after failure after failure here, and nobody was able to figure out that this might not look very good, even if they weren’t sure if it was right or not? I know that the Catholic church doesn’t much care about bad PR at this point, but I thought the NYPD still did. Maybe too many loving handjobs on network television that convinces people they’re all saints in blue suits?

(h/t to Slacktivist for that last one)

So, yes, things have gotten really confusing while I’ve been away. Am I being unreasonable, here? Do these things really make perfect sense and I’m just being dense? Because I really can’t figure out how any of these things have gotten said or done.

No, John, That’s Not Rationality

Let me start by saying that I like John Shore. On the scale of liberal Christians, he’s second only to Fred Clark in my book. He’s smart, funny, snarky, and exhibits a quality that is noticeably lacking in the vast majority of liberal Christianity: he calls out the church regularly in uncompromising fashion when he thinks they’re wrong. None of this “trying to find a middle ground” or “showing eternal grace” bullshit. When people are wrong and believe terrible things, Shore is there is call them out and mock the fuck out of them because they’re wrong and believe terrible things.

With all of that said, though, I can’t help but take exception to many of his apologetics, largely because they’re really bizarre. They don’t have the smirking dishonesty of William Lane Craig or Lee Strobel, who know the holes in their logic and continue to make the same arguments over and over again anyway as if they’ve never heard why it’s bullshit. No, Shore’s apologetics are instead really sincere, and it’s clear that these are the ideas that he’s chosen to hang his spiritual hat on, but you’re left wondering why he doesn’t notice that that particular hatrack is termite stricken and falling apart. And not even really there. And actually a table. An invisible table.

In this case, I’m referring specifically to his fairly recent post on why he gets upset when people accuse him of holding irrational beliefs. His premise seems to be that “core Christianity” is entirely rational so long as you accept the premise of God a priori because it has a recognizable story arc.

Business I do accept as mine, though, is defending the sheer, clear, tight-as-a-frog’s-butt rationality of what I believe. As a logical construct, core Christianity has always been as solid as a Roman arch. It is simply not vulnerable to the accusations of being intellectually untenable. And I must admit that I find exasperating the constantly proffered assumption that it is.

If it’s true that God exists (and the chances are exactly even on that either way; so choosing to vote that there is a God hardly represents a failure of reasoning), then the traditional, old-school, Gospel-based story of Jesus Christ is perfect. It works. It makes sense.

And this is where I start having problems with Shore’s assertions. This doesn’t even really make sense, but let’s start with the most problematic and easiest bit to answer.

If it’s true that God exists (and the chances are exactly even on that either way; so choosing to vote that there is a God hardly represents a failure of reasoning)…

Hold on a minute. Stop right there. “The chances are exactly even on that either way”? By what measure?

I’m reminded of one of my favorite sketches from The Daily Show. I don’t know how to embed non-Youtube clips into WordPress, but you can find a copy here. It’s from the John Oliver bit about the Large Hadron Collider and fears that when it was turned on for the first time, it would destroy the world. Oliver speaks to a scientist who gives the odds of that happening, then he speaks to Walter Wagner, just in case, who says that the odds are “a one in two chance” because “if you have something that can happen, and you have something that won’t necessarily happen, it’s either going to happen or it’s not going to happen.”

Suffice it to say, it ends with Oliver and Walter sitting in a bunker together and this exchange:

Oliver: “Walter, if we’re the only two humans left on Earth, we might as well try breeding, right? It’s worth a shot is all I’m saying.”

Wagner: “No, I don’t think it’s worth a shot.”

Oliver: “Well, like you said, there’s a fifty percent chance it’ll work.”

Now, I know it’s bad form to explain the joke, but I think it’s necessary because what Oliver says as a joke is what Shore is claiming here. What’s funny about the punchline is we know that there is a zero percent chance of a man getting another one pregnant. I don’t need to “disprove” the possibility of this because there is no evidence of a human male getting another human male pregnant, let alone being able to populate the planet, in the history of humanity. The lack of evidence for it ever happening changes the odds significantly.

Similarly, we’re not discussing “if there’s a chance god does exist, and a chance god doesn’t exist, that means that it’s a dead even chance that either is possible.” We can instead look to the fact that no observable evidence for the supernatural has ever been found. Never has there been a replicable violation of natural law. Not once in the history of humanity has something that had a naturalistic explanation been found to be the cause of the supernatural, yet mysticism is replaced by naturalistic explanations all the time. These are important factors that Shore discounts, relying instead on a formula that makes his position sound plausible.

He then goes on to explain the basic story construction of Christianity. I’ll skip the long quote and quote him boiling it down to the basics.

To boil it down to its absolute essence:

God → us → free will → guilt/shame → suffering  → Jesus → Jesus on the cross → forgiveness  →  reconciliation → peace. (And, for an extra-special bonus, the Holy Spirit!)

Again, his premise seems to be that if you accept that god is real, the structure of this story makes it seem plausible. But that doesn’t actually make any sense.

Let’s take one of my favorite examples. I make no secret of the fact that I consider Willow to be one of the most perfectly written stories in all of moviedom. It’s tight, it tells us exactly what we need to know and nothing else, it shows instead of tells, and every step of the journey follows logically from the last one, allowing the characters to develop along the way.

However, by Shore’s logic here, I could easily say, “If you accept the existence of magic (50/50 chance it exists), then there’s no reason to not believe that Willow isn’t a fantasy film, it’s historical fiction.” Think about it, we have Little People in our world, which is what Nelwins are. We have humans (Daikini), obviously. We have babies. We have swords. We have Val Kilmer in a dress. We even have kingdoms that have been lost but we find out later existed, so nothing says that Nockmaar, Galladoorn, and Tir Asleen couldn’t have once been real places. Everything else? Evil sorceresses, good sorceresses, fairies, brownies, trolls? All of these things can have their existence explained by the addition of “magic” to the world.

However, there’s no reason to arbitrarily add the assumption of magic to the world. It’s like when hack writer Jennifer Rubin was trying to say how good a president George W. Bush was and pointed out

Unlike Obama’s tenure, there was no successful attack on the homeland after 9/11.

Wh-wh-what? Why are we drawing the line there? That’s not even really true, but even if it was, why would we exclude 9/11 from the list of national security issues?

Similarly, I don’t see why we would arbitrarily decide, even given the weird 50/50 chance assumption, that we’re going to go with believing in an invisible, inaudible being that is both perfect and not particularly good at communication. It makes his argument somewhat circular.

In the end, Shore doesn’t much care what people believe and don’t believe, and I can kind of get behind him on that when it comes to the existence or non-existence of something that seems to have no meaningful effect on my life that doesn’t exactly resemble it not being there, but I really am having trouble buying into this logic. While it lacks the malice that comes from Craig and Strobel, it is no more consistent or logical, and I think Shore can do better than that.

Feel free to claim that you’ve had a personal revelation. Say you like some of the ideas and that means you believe. Even say, like Clark, that you realize that the stories are probably made up but they tell an overarching story about a world that bends ever more toward justice. But please don’t try to tell me that a book that is known primarily for the parts where the rules of reality are shattered to pieces is the rational position because it happens to have a beginning, middle, and end buried somewhere in the scores of meaningless subplots. That simply doesn’t hold up.

PA Couple Murders Second Child By Faith

CN: Child abuse resulting in death, failure of the justice system

I wasn’t going to write about this. It makes me too angry. I want to scream and rage, I want to Hulk the fuck out and smash the church this couple attends. I want to make broad, sweeping statements that are emotionally satisfying but I know aren’t correct because they will make me feel better. And it’s taking everything in me to not do the last one, so I may fail, but please know that I am attempting it.

That being said, it’s because I’m so angry that my brain won’t stop thinking about this until I write down what I’m thinking.

What I’m thinking is that these parents have been allowed to murder two of their children because it was done initially in the name of faith, when they should have never been told that blind adherence without evidence is a virtue in the first place.

I am referring to Herbert and Catherine Schaible, a couple who, in 2009, were convicted of manslaughter charges for praying over their sick child instead of bringing them to the doctor. Rather than get something closer to the maximum penality of 17 years in prison, they were given 10 months years probation and made to promise, really promise, that they would take their children to the doctor in the future. They didn’t and now their 8 month old son has also died.

This is where we point out that their church teaches that going to doctors shows insufficient faith. “It is a definite sin to trust in medical help and pills; and it is real faith to trust on the Name of Jesus for healing,” says their sermon on healing and medicine.

The problem is not now, nor was it four years ago, that this couple didn’t love their children. They absolutely loved their children. They loved their children so much that they wouldn’t risk those children’s immortal souls to eternal torture, and instead watched while they both died horrible, painful deaths. That must have been the hardest thing both of them had ever done, twice, calling out to the heavens for god to heal their children and watching them be ripped away after suffering.

And that’s the problem. These parents were convinced that it’s a good thing to put your trust in an unknowable thing rather than knowable medicine. They bought into the idea that faith, any faith, is automatically good. They genuinely believed in a number of irrational things: 1) that there is a being who definitely takes an active interest in our lives and actively manipulates the universe based on requests from humans, 2) that this same being dislikes human medicine, and 3) that even if propositions 1 and 2 were true, that this being would somehow be worthy of worship.

Make no mistake, this is a couple who were so twisted by their faith that they saw what they believed to be god take their two year old boy from them for no good reason, then continued to worship that same being to the point where they watched another of their children die rather than offend it.

Here’s where I point out that I’m not saying that everybody of faith is irrational. Quite the opposite, I think most people of faith are highly rational when it comes to things like this, because they choose to ignore the dictates of their faith and behave in a fashion that matches the evidence of the world around them. Or they believe in a faith that doesn’t buy into this.

The interpretation of the Bible that the Schaibles church gives is no less valid than any other one. The difference is that most people choose to ignore those things, or at least have the decency to engage in a virtual Cirque du Soleil of theological backflips to demonstrate why that’s not really what’s being said there.

What I’m saying is that if you are going to have faith in an unproven creator, then I still expect you to put that aside when it comes time to make a decision that really matters. Whether it’s climate change, science education, child bearing, or child rearing, if your faith contradicts reason or human decency, I expect you to set it aside. If a person refuses to, I will blame not only them, but the bad ideas that informed their behavior, because people are not good or evil in a vacuum. They are guided by their cultures and the decisions they make are made based on the values they are taught to hold dear. If those values raise the will of a creator being above the health and well-being of children, you end up with people like this couple.

It boils down to this: if I am correct and there is no deity, then two children just died for nothing. If I’m incorrect and this is one who demands that medicine be ignored in favor of prayer, that deity should receive nothing but scorn and disapprobation from every human being with even a shred of decency. I know that I have a lot of friends and readers who are moderate believers, but even if we disagree on whether there is a supernatural, I think we can agree that the homicidal creature worshiped by the Schaibles is either a fiction or a monster, and deserves praise in neither case.


Just want to point out that part of the problem is that the PA legal code has things like this in it (h/t Friendly Atheist, emphasis theirs):

If, upon investigation, the county agency determines that a child has not been provided needed medical or surgical care because of seriously held religious beliefs of the child’s parents, guardian or person responsible for the child’s welfare, which beliefs are consistent with those of a bona fide religion, the child will not be deemed to be physically or mentally abused.

You might also want to look at the multi-part expose that Libby Anne is doing on the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) and how they go to great lengths to prevent any laws that would stop child abuse.

Timmy Dolan Admits the Church is Failing

Regular readers all know my deep and abiding feelings (mostly disgust and nausea) for Timmy Cardinal Dolan, child-rape defender and financial fraudster extraordinaire. So I find it entirely unsurprising that in his recent interview with George Stephanopoulos he said some stupid things about gay people and people with no religious affiliation.

This should come with two caveats:

1. At least he wasn’t saying awful things about these particular groups for once.

2. This is April Fool’s Day, or, as Dave Weigle puts is, “‘the internet is unreadable’ day”. That being said, if this is an elaborate prank by ABC, they did a fine job of fabricating video and I tip all of my fabulous hats to them.

Ok? We good? Moving on.

First, Dolan was asked about the Rise of the Nones and if the Church will somehow be able to bring people back in. This is how he responded.

What I’m afraid is that that’s afflicting society in general. That’s afflicting families. That’s afflicting — communities.  People want privacy.  People crave isolation.  We’re hearing parents say that they can’t even get their kids to talk anymore. They’re – they’re tweeting one another.  So, this – kinda this craving of individualism, being alone, be – aloofness, that’s afflicting all of culture, all of society. We’re feeling it in the Church, too, because we’re not about ‘me.’  We’re about ‘us.’ We’re about the ‘our.’  We say ‘Our Father.’ But society is saying, ‘It’s me, myself and I.’

Keep in mind that part of the question was about the tone-deafness of the Church, and Dolan displays a tin ear that can only come from decades of sitting through Mass.

He really, truly thinks that child rape, baby snatching, forced castrations, increasing AIDS in Africa, opposition to birth control, opposition to outspoken women, opposition to gay people (do I really need more links about this?), allowing women with difficult pregnancies to die, running unofficial prisons for people who have sinned but broken no laws, and living in opulance during a global economic catasrophe have nothing to do with people leaving the Church? Actually, that’s not a question, of course he does.

The problem, Cardinal Dolan, isn’t that people don’t want to be part of a group or that those of us with no religious affiliation are somehow poor loners who will cut ourselves off from the world in order to avoid the responsibilities that come with knowing people. In fact, this happy little atheist is more social butterfly than most of the people I know, and spends so much time with friends and family it’s often weeks before I have even a minute to myself.

No, the problem is that the “we” you’re offering is a corrupt organization run by terrible people such as yourself. Ones who prize authority over justice, ones who believe themselves above the law, ones who will pursue any ends that result in more power for Holy Mother Church. People want to be part of something larger, but the cesspool that the Church offers is not the one they choose. Instead, people find their connections elsewhere, in healthy spaces that will respect them and their loved ones. Not being part of the Catholic Church isn’t an indication of social dysfunction, it is an indication of good taste.

Next, we see Timmy struggling to deal with how the Church approaches LGBT people. Well, LGB people. As per usual, trans people aren’t addressed unless somebody is freaking out over what bathroom they’ll use.

Well, the first thing I’d say to them is, ‘I love you, too.  And God loves you.  And you are made in God’s image and likeness.  And – and we – we want your happiness.  But – and you’re entitled to friendship.’  But we also know that God has told us that the way to happiness, that – especially when it comes to sexual love – that is intended only for a man and woman in marriage, where children can come about naturally. We got to be – we got to do better to see that our defense of marriage is not reduced to an attack on gay people.  And I admit, we haven’t been too good at that.  We try our darndest to make sure we’re not an anti-anybody.

Here, I can only fault him with believing in something stupid and bigoted. To an extent, he’s correct. If these are your beliefs, it’s very, very difficult to not come across as if you’re against people.

I would argue that “trying [your] darndest” would be to avoid calling sex between queer people “intrinsically disordered” and describing homosexuality as a “condition” that needs to be “overcome.” Also, using Christmas to say that gay marriage is a “manipulation of nature” and calling it a threat to world peace. But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Dolan is being legit and the Church really is trying not to be “anti-anybody.”

He still runs into a problem: there is no way to communicate the message that the emotional connections between people and the physical manifestation of those connections are evil without also condemning the people who have them. No amount of dancing around the subject or drawing imaginary lines between “nature” and “actions” can make a position like that anything but anti-somebody. The Vatican is trapped by their own dogma, and no brilliant theologian is going to show up and demonstrate how they can maintain their current opinions while not appearing hateful and bigoted.

People are therefore left with two choices if they disagree with that stance: stick around and hope things will change or leave. Personally, I support the latter, for obvious reasons. If your life if inextricably intertwined with the Church, especially in your community, it can be difficult to walk away, and that is entirely understandable. But if you’re going out of habit, surely you can find something else that better matches your experience of the world around you. Obviously, I’ve chosen reality, a system in which I work with the things I know and can check with independent observers to get an idea of what “truth” there is to be found. Some people prefer to think there is somehow more out there, which is fine, though I can’t imagine how much more you could want with such a universe as we can observe. Some people like the sense of community that is provided by a worship ceremony, and I assure you that there are plenty of places where you can find that without being part of the Church.

I have no doubt that there are other reasons people stick around, but I really hope they reconsider. What this interview shows us, more than any of the bigoted tirades in the past, is that the Church leadership really doesn’t get it. They don’t understand why so few of their parishioners actually agree with them, they don’t get why people have been walking away from religion in droves, and they don’t get that the way to stop saying terrible things is to abandon the terrible beliefs that drive them.

The Church is failing to reach out to LGBT people, allies, and Nones because it refused to accept responsibility for any of its mistakes and fix them, as if we still lived in a world where they are not easily found by anybody who cares to make an effort. The Church is stuck: it needs to change, but it can’t without actually changing. The question becomes, is a Church that will one day be relegated to impoverished African citizens and a handful of people on the other continents worth trying to maintain doctrinal purity? That’s slowly what’s happening. Timmy Dolan will probably not live to see the ruins left of his once mighty Church, but his successor just might, then maybe they will find their way to accepting other people on their merits, the same way they had to do for an earth that orbits the sun.

(h/t Pam’s House Blend)

Elective Bible Studies

Via the Sensuous Curmudgeon, we learn that North Carolina has just had a bill proposed that would allow for an elective Bible class (or, more accurately, potentially three, one in each Testament and one that combines them) in public schools. Let’s take a look at some of the stuff being proposed.

(g4) Bible Study Elective. – Local boards of education may offer to students in grades 7 nine through 12 elective courses for crediton the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) , the New Testament, or a combination of the two subject matters. A student shall not be required to use a specific translation as the sole text of the Hebrew scriptures or New Testament and may use as the basic textbook a different translation of the Hebrew scriptures or New Testament approved by the local board of education or the principal of the student’s school.

OK, so it’s an elective course, which is a step in the right direction. That a specific translation isn’t used helps as well, though it could pose a problem in that translations can be vastly different, not include the same verses, and often say drastically different things. When I was in college and taking a Chaucer class, we studied Troilus and Criseyde which was, of course, written in Middle English. Thinking I was clever (I wasn’t), instead of buying the book with the translation that the teacher assigned, I got it online for free. And I was so damn lost! That’s Middle English, which is still pretty close to modern English (though nothing like Modern English), not Greek and Hebrew.

The problem is, of course, that the law is too narrowly defined. In order to pass First Amendment muster, it cannot just allow for Bible classes. It has to offer the option of a full Talmudic survey, an in depth look at the Bhagavad Gita, a hard hitting examination of the Tripitakas, and even, FSM protect me in your saucy embrace, a deep study of the Quran! In order to not show favoritism to any one faith in public schools, not only must a school allow the possibility of elective classes in all religions and no religion, they must also demonstrate that the law will not favor any particular religion in practice. I don’t see that happening in North Carolina.

This bit of the law is what really jumped out at me, though. Emphasis by the Curmudgeon.

(1) Knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture, including literature, art, music, mores, oratories, and public policies.

Actually…that’s kind of true. Over Christmas when I had a problem with one of our guests, a family friend who is a fundamentalist with all that entails, said friend was trying to feel me out about possibly being a True Believer because of my knowledge of the Bible. I didn’t mention that atheists tend to know his holy book better than most Christians, but I did mention that when I got my English degree, it came with an unofficial certification in Biblical scholarship, since Biblical allusion is among the most common literary techniques in Western literature. If you don’t know your Bible, you’re missing out on a lot of the subtext in the vast, vast majority of the literary canon. And, to be perfectly honest, I’m really glad I have that background since it makes literature much more rich for me, adding dimensions to the texts that aren’t clear on the surface and regularly improve them greatly.

For example, without knowing the parallels that he’s trying to make, Steinbeck is depressing and largely unreadable. Sorry, but he comes from the “everybody suffers in the end or it’s not art” school of writing. However, knowing and understanding the Biblical references he’s making in most of his work gives the story scope and context, transforming his works from singular sad tales to a larger, more human commentary. They’re still depressing, and I still don’t really like them, but they are significantly improved.

That being said, that’s what literature class is for. Understanding the religious underpinnings to war should be covered in history class. I’m not sure where we would address religion in math courses, and it has no place in science courses, but the point is that another elective class is not necessary to create a sense of the impact of the Bible on our culture.

The biggest problem with this is that it’s very, very difficult to teach about a specific religion without running into First Amendment issues. It’s one thing in English class to point out the parallels with between John Casey and Jesus, quite another to have to avoid every passage in the Bible that proclaims its absolute and uncontested truth. Plus, there is the high likelihood that teachers who instruct these classes will use the opportunity to preach.

So, yea, I see what Sen. Stan Bingham, R-Davidson, is trying to do, giving him the most charitable interpretation of his actions, but it’s not going to work. It’s a waste of time and resources that will inevitably be brought to court and lose. If his concern is actually teaching about the religious underpinnings of Western art and culture, then there are ways to accomplish that. The first is the pay teachers better so you can get better teachers with advanced degrees who know this stuff. The next is to encourage school boards to discuss these things as they relate to specific areas of study, not as a stand alone project.

In other words, there are eight churches in downtown Davidson, NC alone. Surely one of them offers a Bible study on the weekends. Let them handle the Biblical instruction and don’t waste time and money on a law that will ultimately fail.