Why the Recent Spate of “Religious Freedom” Bills May Be a Good Thing

Anybody who has been paying attention to politics recently has probably heard about the “religious freedom” bills that have been hitting a number of states recently. It’s a little mind boggling that all of them have been making it to state legislatures all at the same time, with similar language, but so far it’s been very difficult to actually track where they are coming from. Usually when bills like this are all proposed simultaneously, there is somebody not only writing the model legislation but willing to claim it. So far it’s been difficult at best to track down the origin.

Regardless, what started in Kansas has grown to a number of other states including Georgia, South Dakota, Tennessee, Hawaii, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon, Idaho, Alabama, Michigan, Maine, West Virginia, and is being considered in Utah. Most famous has been the recent veto of a bill that passed both houses of the Arizona legislature.

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Go see why this might be a positive thing in a couple of ways in the full post over at Queereka.

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Lowered Expectations + Vague Statements = Person of the Year

fckh8-pope-meme

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

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

Daily Caller Mocks Trans* Students

There are some people who think that Tucker Carlson is a nice guy, one of those conservatives that aren’t fire breathing radicals. They remember when he was on MSNBC, they look at the bowties that preceded Doctor Who but not Buckaroo Banzai, and think, “he’s not so bad.” But they would be wrong, at least when it comes to his website.

The Daily Caller actually has a habit of being awful, especially to trans* people, but this is somewhat of a new (not really new) low: being awful to trans* kids. On September 11, the Douche Canoe posted an article titled, “This week in transgender high schoolers running for homecoming king, queen, whatever“, a misgendering nightmare about school districts that are giving trans* students a hard time about running for the appropriate Homecoming title.

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Thus begins my latest post for Queereka. Head over there and take a look.

Why Do We Keep Listening to Dawkins?

Seriously. I know he has been incredibly important to the atheist movement, but let’s take a step back and ask if it’s worth listening to somebody who apparently thinks that we can’t judge pedophiles before a certain arbitrary date because they didn’t know any better.

In a recent interview with the Times of London, Dawkins described his own early schooling and pointed out that he was molested as a child by a master at his boarding school.

Professor Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, describes in a new autobiography how a master at his Salisbury prep school “pulled me on to his knee and put his hand inside my shorts”. He writes that the episode was “extremely disagreeable” and that other boys were molested by the same teacher, but concludes: “I don’t think he did any of us any lasting damage.”

He also describes this as “mild paedophilia” and says that you can’t judge people in the past by your own moral standard.

“Just as we don’t look back at the 18th and 19th centuries and condemn people for racism in the same way as we would condemn a modern person for racism, I look back a few decades to my childhood and see things like caning, like mild paedophilia, and can’t find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today.”

Ok, first of all, how the fuck would Richard Dawkins know if any of his schoolmates who were also molested by this creepy schoolmaster suffered “lasting damage?” As Greta Christina points out, he can speak for himself, not for them. Considering his demonstrable disdain for the the science of human behavior, he probably wouldn’t accept the opinions of people who say that molestation can and does inflict lasting damage on many, many children.

Secondly, in exactly what year did it become no longer ok to touch children’s genitals for sexual pleasure? I’m really kind of curious. PZ touched on this as well, but I would like to point out that one of the many arguments that atheists use to counter the “the New Testament got rid of all that Old Testament stuff” is that the Old Testament stuff was never moral to begin with. The premise of the argument is that a perfect god would never have ordered the wholesale slaughter of thousands of people, or the capture and rape of young girls, or the stoning of any number of people, including those who had the audacity to gather firewood on the Sabbath. A perfect god would have outlawed those things to begin with rather than wait a few thousand years and then correct that error. Just saying, “Well, things were different back then, cultural context, it was the only way to protect them, blah, blah, blahty, blah,” doesn’t actually make any of those things ever a good or moral thing to do. It’s an effective tactic because the person making the argument must either admit that god wrote those things, but is not perfectly moral, or that men wrote them in the cultural context in which they lived and as they grew more enlightened, they started to correct their self-serving, barbaric behavior by claiming that a perfect deity changed its mind.

So to hear Dawkins say that there was a time when child molestation was a-ok basically undermines the argument that immoral behavior remains immoral whether or not the pervading opinions of the time hold it to be so. In other words, I damn well do hold the racism of the 18th and 19th century against the people holding those opinions. I may recognize that they were not in possession of the wealth of thought that I have available to me to formulate the conclusion that race is a bullshit idea with no bearing on a person’s potential except inasmuch as they must deal with racism, but that doesn’t mean that I will blithely excuse their terrible opinions or wave them off as insignificant. It means that I will engage their racism as I do with any of their other arguments and demonstrate why its wrong, even if that person may be right about other things.

Knowing Dawkins, he will spend the next couple of days on Twitter trying to explain how everybody just doesn’t understand the nuances of what he was saying, then trying to describe those nuances in 140 characters or less, but I sincerely hope that maybe he surprises us and actually learns from this that there are no degrees of pedophilia, that you absolutely can and must judge the past by the new information we have today, and that he doesn’t get to tell us whether his schoolmates suffered because of what happened to them.

UPDATE: Dawkins has clarified his statements and apologized for his presumption about his classmates’ reactions or experiences. I am, frankly, surprised, and while there’s a lot in there that suggests that it’s our fault for not getting it, he seems contrite on the important points, and that seems reasonable.

First US Administration to Actually Address Bi Issues

Bifurious Femininja

I want this to be a real manga (via)

I generally don’t like to make a big deal around token gestures. It’s one thing to talk about things and another to actually do something. But this does seem like an important step.

For the first time in history, a representative from the White House will be holding a roundtable discussion on bisexual issues, specifically how bisexuals are affected by public health problems, partner violence, and several other subjects that are usually discussed in the context of monosexuality. It will be hosted by White House LGBT liaison Gautam Raghavan on September 23.

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Thus begins my latest contribution to Queereka. Go take a look to read the rest.

Persecution Should Empathize With Other Persecution

You have no idea how hard it was to find one of these that wasn't actually racist.

You have no idea how hard it was to find one of these that wasn’t actually racist.

A couple of weeks ago, Bob Chipman had an excellent video on The Escapist about the rise of geek culture and how its journey into the mainstream has increased a very specific set of negative traits that always existed but are often mythologized away.

It was always an open secret, you see, that for all the pretense of refuge for those who were different, geek culture was always thought of and built around only one classical nerd archetype: white, male, heterosexual, cis gendered, first world, with enough disposable income to afford their hobbies.

 

And while it was common for idealized depictions of the culture to imagine that welcoming and understanding were the rule (after all, persecution must empathize with other persecution, yes?), in reality sexism, racism, and other forms of clique-ish and exclusionary behavior were often the ugly underbelly of the whole scene…

 

A culture that built so much of its sense of self around resistance to persecution and oppression has no moral or logical rationale to become an oppressor itself when it attains a seat of power.

I could quote the whole second half if I’m not careful, so go watch the video.

I think this speaks not just to geek culture, but rather any culture that has gone from an embattled position to a gradual acceptance into the mainstream. It’s not too difficult to apply much of what Bob said above to gay culture instead of geek culture which is still largely focused on the white, upper middle class, cis gender gay male. To an extent there is more acceptance of lesbians as well, though often in the sense that straight men find the idea titillating and therefore there must be more women having sex with women to watch. However, it’s still ridiculously difficult to be a bisexual in a gay space even if we are technically allowed there, and even closer to impossible by a long shot to be a transwoman in a scene largely dominated by gay men who may see crossdressing as a form of play, but certainly don’t accept that somebody may in fact be a woman, though they were born with a Y chromosome.________________________

Thus begins my latest piece over at Queereka. Go over and take a look at the full article.

Confronting the “Best Arguments”

Most people are pretty sure they’re right. Not necessarily about everything, but there are a few things they feel absolutely confident about. I know that I feel free damn confident about most of the stuff that goes up here, and when I’m not I will say so. However, there are two implications to this confidence: either I am really, truly amazing and right about everything I believe, or I am wrong about some things and haven’t heard the right argument yet.

It’s the latter that I find people banking more more and more. Let’s look at some examples:

What are marriage advocates to do? How can marriage—a thorough defense of which requires deep theological reflection or the complex natural law web of anthropological, historical, social, and scientific ideas contained in [Robert George’s] What is Marriage—compete with “all you need is love”? – Eric Teetsel, “On Winning the Marriage Debate

 

Not for Hitchens the rich cross-cultural fertilization of the Levant by Helenistic, Jewish, and Manichaean thought. Not for Hitchens the transformation of a Jewish heretic into a religion that Nietzsche called “Platonism for the masses.” Not for Hitchens the fascinating theological fissures in the New Testament between Jewish, Gnostic, and Pauline doctrines. – Curtis White, “Christopher Hitchens’ lies do atheism no favors

 

“Either this group is completely ignorant of arguments for and against God’s existence or they’re ignorant of the best theistic scholarship.” – Anugrah Kumar, quoting William Lane Craig, “Christian Philosopher William Lane Craig Calls Atheist Hotline a ‘Wrong Number’” (warning that the Christian Post is particularly annoying with its ads, with video ads that keep restarting if you pause or mute them)

We often see this regarding religious or theistic arguments, but it’s becoming quite popular among people who continue to put forward bad arguments: simply claim that the person who doesn’t buy into them hasn’t heard all the really good reasons why we should buy into what they’re saying. I think it’s a variation on The Courtier’s Reply.

I’ve encountered this before with theists and when I ask them to actually present those really good arguments, I will generally get a form of Pascal’s Wager. Occasionally I will get the Kalam Cosmological Argument and very rarely anything different. Unfortunately, both Pascal and Kalam are very easily debunked. In fact, I took a look at Craig’s ReasonableFaith.org (which is not as cool as a reasonable conversation, let me tell you) and it’s almost all Pascal and Kalam. You don’t have to believe me, go check it out yourself. I fact, if you check out his “The New Atheism and Five Arguments for God,” (for example) you can see that he brings up Kalam, but also the Thomstic Cosmological argument, the Moral Argument, the Teleological Argument (which is by far the most ridiculous and easy to argue against, as far as I’m concerned), and the ever absurd Ontological Argument, which is really just such a joke on the face of it that I’m going to assume it was developed by Dr. Frank-n-furter. Though I will point out that he forgot the Argument from Tigers.

I’ve looked at that site for a while now and see very little that isn’t a variation on these five, so I can’t help but ask Dr. Craig…where are you hiding these “best arguments”? Because the ones you presented are all childishly simple and only really convincing to people who want to agree with the premise.

Oh, and there’s the very popular “it’s a mystery“. That works for a lot of things.

Going to the Teetsel piece, we see basically the same argument being made for conservative principles. The problem is that people just don’t understand the wealth of thought and philosophy that goes into being a conservative, and are instead distracted by pop culture and celebrities. Liberalism, according to Teetsel, is the result of an abandonment of thought to shiny entertainment.

This is even more absurd than the Ontological argument. Teetsel is trying to tell us that the ideology that aligns itself with people who think somebody rose from the dead (several people, actually), the ideology that consistently denies the findings of science, the ideology that has never been right about a social issue since the founding of this country (and not too often before), is the thinking person’s option?

As David Sessions points out in this article for Patrol,

So Teetsel can’t pretend that the gay rights movement won simply by circumventing an intellectual debate. They had the intellectual debate when the religious right so took its own position for granted that it thought it didn’t need to argue; when the right finally started playing catch-up, even the most sophisticated versions of its ideas were too far outside the mainstream for a secular democracy. The right didn’t lose because of the “packaging” of its ideas, it lost because those ideas themselves were defeated in battle. (Similarly, Romney lost the election not because he didn’t get the conservative message across, but precisely because he did.)

This is also a lot like Penny Nance’s preposterous assertion on Mike Huckabee’s show that conservatives on college campuses are being “bullied” because they can’t explain their opposition to things like same-sex marriage. The sad truth is that they are able to articulate their positions just fine.

So, here’s the deal: we’ve heard your arguments, and they suck. I’m sorry, I don’t know if you’re just really invested in these things being true that you miss the obvious flaws in what you’re saying or what, but these arguments are truly awful. Fortunately, you don’t have to feel awful for having had them: you can change your mind. In fact, that would be great.

But if there are arguments that you’re hiding from me, ones that suddenly make it plausible that a wizard who lives on a cloud is up there mucking about with our lives, or that magically makes welfare queens a reality, or that convinces me that I’m a bad person for a propensity to not only be attracted to men but also act on it, now’s the time to break them out. Seriously, I don’t know what you guys are waiting for. Isn’t it time, after all this joking around, to break out the real “best arguments”? These are the gag arguments, right?

Right?