George Takei has a few words to say to Clint McCance:
I just love the “lady doth protest too much, methinks” suggestion near the end.
Some background on this issue, if you’re unaware:
- George Takei is best known as Mr Sulu from the original series of Star Trek and is a man who fights for human rights, and he just happens to be gay.
- Clint McCance was a school-board member, an elected official, at the Midland School District in Arkansas who recently said the following — among other things — on his Facebook profile:
Seriously they want me to wear purple because five queers killed themselves. The only way im wearin it for them is if they all commit suicide. I can’t believe the people of this world have gotten this stupid. We are honoring the fact that they sinned and killed thereselves because of their sin.
- The reference to wearing purple and the It Gets Better tune relates to the It Gets Better Project (also see The Trevor Project), designed to show young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people that life won’t always suck as much as it seems to right now, and that with adulthood comes reduction of peer pressure and acceptance of who they are.
McCance has now been forced to resign his position, so he can’t do any more damage while in office. It’s hard enough growing up as it is, so I can barely imagine how much harder it would be growing up gay, especially in a culturally intolerant and heavily religious environment.
People suck, particularly when they cherry-pick from religious myths to justify their bigotry.
Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.
I spent yesterday afternoon visiting a friend in Southampton, which was a nice trip away from the Home Counties for a change. The weather was beautiful, and I hadn’t seen this friend in some time.
Anyone who’s travelled the UK motorways on a weekend knows that Sunday evenings tend to be a nightmare, as half the country are returning from day trips to the coast or city, so around 6pm and for a few hours it’s nothing more than a slow-moving queue. There were occasional fast patches, but then it would slow down again. I resigned myself to the long haul, and wasn’t too worried as it was still moving. Much better than the alternative.
As I passed Winchester Services, I noticed an old white Subaru estate zip onto the same carriageway alongside and eventually behind me, and immediately begin trying to weave through traffic in a bid to get ahead. For as far as the eye could see, nobody was travelling over 40mph, yet this guy figured he’d do his best to get ahead of, well, everyone.
Soon after, I see him try to get between the car off my left rear and me by straddling the lines for some time, so I tap my brakes to give him lights and see my nose dip, and he goes mental. He instantly forces his way between the car I’m slowly overtaking and me, pulls in front of me (I was perhaps 1.5 lengths from the car in front?) and stands on his brakes. I had to stamp on mine, and it was extremely fortunate that there was nobody close behind me. As I’m shaking my head and have my hands up in a “what the hell are you doing?” way, he sticks his arm out and gives me the finger and forks repeatedly — for minute or more, over and over.
Thinking that was that, a few minutes later after I’d managed to get into the left lane, I notice that he’s being slowed by traffic in the right lane, and I coast alongside him. The carload of people turn to look as I smile, point at the driver and do a cock-sucking motion. If I hadn’t taken my foot off the accelerator as I saw him lose it, he’d have slammed into me. He changed lanes straight into mine, trying to ram me or force me off the road. Utter psycho. I think his friends got him under control, as he zoomed off into the distance after that.
He looked like a white supremacist (or a football fan; it’s hard to tell), so I figured a gay reference would flip his switch. Spot on the money. Boy I know how to wind people up.
Aside from the shock of both of his overreactions, I was calm through the whole thing. But this guy was bouncing off the walls, even before I got involved. We’re all stuck in traffic — why be a dick?
I think I’ve made it pretty clear throughout this blog that I respect humanity, but I have no respect whatsoever for humanity’s religions. Beliefs have no automatic correlation with reality (experience has shown me they’re often in opposition to it), but beliefs do encroach upon reality in the actions of believers, giving us subjugation, torture, and wars all in the name of a name in a book. And it’s nearly always the name and book most popular in the country in which your parents were born. Your god smiles upon the arbitrarily accidental location of your birth! What a happy, joyous coincidence! Divine serendipity!
That’s not to say that some religions have no redeeming qualities — such as social cohesion, charity, comfort and a sense of purpose — but none of those positive qualities are unique to religion. (Unfortunately for humanity, the negative results mentioned in the previous paragraph aren’t unique to religion, either, though the justification is).
If you’ve ever wondered why I think this way, I think this quote sums it up perfectly:
“I like to point out how irrational it is to have any reverence for religion at all. We look at the ancient Greeks with their gods on a mountaintop throwing lightning bolts and say, ‘Those ancient Greeks. They were so silly. So primitive and naive. Not like our religions. We have burning bushes talking to people and guys walking on water. We’re… sophisticated.'” —Paul Provenza
It goes hand in hand with this equally excellent quote:
“I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” —Stephen Roberts
Such words are doubtless confrontational to believers in any deity but, in the absence of evidence for any religious text or doctrine being ‘real’ or ‘true’, they do serve to illustrate the logical chasm that exists in people who contend that their god(s) is real and that your god(s) is clearly an imposter or a delusion (they think you’re mentally abnormal). And with the latter quote, once you’ve excluded all other gods but your own, it’s really only a small step to freedom.
I don’t expect you to agree, but I do expect you to think about it. As I have probably done for your religion (as explained in earlier posts).
Hat tip: LOLgod
Following on from my previous post about the Pope’s apparent direct involvement in covering up the illegal sexual activities of some Catholic church staff, here’s something that illustrates how old this so-called “new problem” really is:
Two thousand years of sweet fuck-all being done about this problem strongly suggests that exactly the same will continue to be done about it unless the public makes it happen. The right-leaning religiosity of most modern Western governments almost guarantees they won’t be doing anything about it anytime soon.
However, as pointed out by Jack of Kent recently, care does need to be taken to determine whether crimes have actually been committed by Ratzinger. Particularly when you’re looking an international borders and legal differences.
Hat tip: PodBlack Cat
How appalling is this situation that there are even jokes about it?
If you’re unaware of the context: a Catholic bishop is on record using the same disgusting argument that rapists throughout history have used in their own defence: these children were asking for it, so it’s their fault. This is piled on top of the other crap they’ve been spewing about the issue, such as claiming that the voice of thousands of victims now coming forward about their own abuse is just petty gossip or that it’s a Jewish conspiracy (also called “the God-killing Joos done it!” gambit). Today’s latest is that the Pope “forgives” the Beatles.
None of these amateurish attempts at deflection or distraction hides the fact that for centuries, little boys (and girls) placed in the care of authoritarian father figures have not only been getting raped by the people who were supposed to care for them and show them the love and peace of their god, but that the organisation recruiting these monsters actively protects and shields these pederasts from justice by moving them away from one legal jurisdiction and into new predatory hunting grounds. And to add the final insult to that injury, it was The Pope Formerly Known As Ratzinger (TPFKAR) himself who appears to have been directly behind it for quite some time in his role as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It was in this role that he earned the telling nicknames of God’s Rottweiler and Pope’s Enforcer — neither have positive connotations.
It is to all our shame that we, as a society, have allowed the status quo to remain. And it is to the worldwide Catholic community’s shame that they elected such a man to be the representative of their god on Earth. As Christopher Hitchens said on Real Time with Bill Maher last month: the act that all levels of society and nearly all cultures consider to be one of the most heinous of crimes is the very one on which the Church wants some wiggle room:
Are we going to say these people are above our law. I appeal to people. I mean, that’s what’s being asked for. If you’re a clergyman, you’re not liable to the laws… Don’t let’s call it child abuse. It’s the rape and torture of children.
I wish success upon the campaign to arrest Ratzinger on his upcoming visit to the UK in September, using the same legal principle that caught Augusto Pinochet in 1998. At the very least, where the will of the majority has not been successful in preventing it, this threat may dissuade him from visiting at a cost of £20M to the taxpayer.
What odds will you give me that, at the last minute, Ratzinger will have to cancel his trip due to “unforeseen circumstances”?
Hat tip: LOLgod
There have been a couple of events over the last week that have given me cause to pause and reflect, and make for an interesting article.
Last week was the Henley Royal Regatta, one of the world’s best known rowing events, that plays merry hell with my daily commute through Henley-on-Thames. So for “regatta week” I take a different route through the equally beautiful Sonning-on-Thames, home of the infamous Uri Geller, over its weak bridge crossing the Thames. This bottleneck causes a queue (i.e. what other countries call a traffic jam) of a mile or so for a couple of hours twice a day. While sitting in this queue and listening to my podcasts, I typically use such time to reflect and enjoy the natural environment in which I’m temporarily stuck, and that includes observing the antics of the cars in front and behind (in my mirror).
On Thursday I noticed the driver of the car behind had that distinctly fundagelical look about him: immaculate goatee and hair, short-sleeved buttoned shirt, oversized car, mirror shades, and gleaming teeth and plastic smile (I’ve been to the US and I’m from Australia, so I know the archetype). I saw his attention fix on my Atheist Bus Campaign sticker (available online):
He leaned forward to peer at the large text and said a few words, then lifted his sunglasses to read the smaller text and I watched as his face started to go purple and he began gesticulating and shouting to nobody, and I honestly thought that he was going to get out of his car and have a go at me. But for the traffic inching forward shortly after, he may well have done. That would have been interesting.
Last night I watched a show on Channel 4 called Revelations: Muslim School, part 2 of an 8 part series on religion’s impact on the UK, covering the lives of two young schoolgirls in a Muslim faith school. Knowing most of my friends are unaware of what happens in a non-Christian faith school, I sent out a notification on Twitter. I recommend anyone watches it — particularly if you don’t know a great deal about “everyday Islam” in the UK, as it’s remarkably neutral for a British TV documentary, and I felt the children and people portrayed in the show were representative of British Muslims with its heavy Asian influence (post-colonial immigration, etc).
My tweet was noticed by a PhD student in Sheffield, Ruth, who invited me to participate in a post-screening discussion on a website forum. Aside from Ruth and me, those present seemed to consist of a fellow humanist, a non-practising (“default”) Christian, a man who began with “Open disclosure here: I’m a Southern Baptist, proud and true” (or along those lines), and one or two others who lurked. The 60-90 minutes that followed were quite interesting, and I was happy to participate to assist in PhD research, most of which involved answering questions about what we thought of the show, concepts within it, how it was presented, any perceptions of bias or preferences for or against its approach, how we’d like to see it done differently, etc.
What I found amusing was how the Baptist kept trying to steer to conversation into opinions on Muslims, reverting to familiar cultural and religious ad hominems. Invariably we’d ignore the attempt and continue with the conversation, but he persisted for the better part of an hour. He did contribute to the discussion occasionally, but seemed more intent on getting everyone to agree with his opinions on things like the hijab: to him it was extremism — until I reminded him that mainstream Christianity required female head-covering in church until quite recently.
However, in some ways he’s right. The furore over wearing hijab is indicative of a dangerous fundamentalism in Islam, where strict adherence to the letter of the Book is of paramount importance. But he wouldn’t have been able to see that this is essentially no different to dangerous Christian fundamentalism, with some sects becoming ultra-patriarchal, women not speaking in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35) or covering heads (1 Corinthians 11), or wars and foreign policy decisions when such people become national leaders, etc. Both lead to literal interpretations and cherry-picking of the worst parts of their respective Books, and actively discourage inquiry, investigation and understanding, and advocating Bronze Age knowledge and practises in favour of current knowledge. And in the case of those two religions in particular, they’re replete with awful, violent acts.
For the rest of us, we may not all have agreed with each others’ opinions, but we were able to play together nicely. And that’s what makes for great discussion and debate: differing opinion and the maturity to respect another’s position.
Both of these recent events reminded me of Bertrand Russell’s essay An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish, and this paragraph from it in particular (emphasis mine):
If, like most of mankind, you have passionate convictions on many such matters, there are ways in which you can make yourself aware of your own bias. If an opinion contrary to your own makes you angry, that is a sign that you are subconsciously aware of having no good reason for thinking as you do. If some one maintains that two and two are five, or that Iceland is on the equator, you feel pity rather than anger, unless you know so little of arithmetic or geography that his opinion shakes your own contrary conviction. The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way. Persecution is used in theology, not in arithmetic, because in arithmetic there is knowledge, but in theology there is only opinion. So whenever you find yourself getting angry about a difference of opinion, be on your guard; you will probably find, on examination, that your belief is going beyond what the evidence warrants.
Lastly, one of my company’s salespeople is a Pakistani-British Muslim who, despite being raised Muslim, has chosen to live pragmatically. He may go to mosque some Fridays for Jumu’ah, but all other aspects of at least his professional life are almost indistinguishable from any secular person (I’m not sure if he drinks alcohol or eats pork, nor is it any of my business): he doesn’t let his religion interfere with what he’s paid to do. For that he has my respect.
That’s why it surprised me this morning when he walked into the office and asked if the Peugeot in the carpark was mine, and then commented on the Atheist Bus Campaign sticker. I was pleased that he was able to joke about it, laughing how he’d “never be able to get away with that at the mosque on Fridays” and was non-confrontational about it despite much of the anti-atheist publicity and rhetoric that has flowed from self-appointed “religious authorities” since the Campaign started.
Only one of my fellow team members seems to dislike my take on religion, but then he’s the one who thinks life on earth was deliberately seeded by aliens as an experiment. So I’m crushed by his disfavour, as you might well imagine…
Where to begin? Perhaps to say that this post may polarise your opinion.
There have been certain events within the Catholic Church recently that have, well… baked my noodle. To that end, I’ve spent a number of hours researching, writing and re-writing this post to try to find the best way to convey its contents. I have no bias against Catholicism in particular, save for the fact it’s a religion with which I’m familiar. Should any Catholics reading this subsequently feel the need to don their victim hat, please be aware that I am not singling out your faith: I have the same level of respect for all religions…
There is no denying that the world’s major religions have inspired great works of art, kindness, love and majesty, and it can be a source of comfort to some. But there comes a point when one must ask if that contribution, knowledge and legacy sufficiently counters all the vile deeds done by, or in the name of, those religions?
It turns out that a sect of the Catholic Church in Ireland raped and brutalised (or worse?) children under their care and had been doing so with the knowledge and support of Church authorities for most of the 20th century, at least, in a time when the Church leader was still one of the highest ranking people within the social class system. Naturally when the facts were inevitably made public the Church did what all moral, ethical, pious, right-thinking organisations would do: first it threw its full weight behind covering it up and threatening the victims into silence, and then fought it in the courts. What’s more, some of the clergy claim to be unaware that such behaviour is illegal!
Yet, sadly, none of this is news. For those who may be unaware, that exact same sect did the exact same thing in Australia and Canada, news of which broke over 20 years ago. To underline how “not news” this is, this sect’s worldwide historical record of child abuse even has its own dedicated page on Wikipedia. Yet, despite the worldwide media coverage, a few words of apology from that nation’s Church head is all it’s taken for the media to go away, for the legal system to merely deal with those priests who haven’t been moved out of jurisdiction quickly enough, and it is allowed to go on as if nothing happened. Until it crops up again somewhere else.
Are we so frightened of a god we can’t see and are so scared of that god’s wrath that we sacrifice our children to it? What kind of god allows his sheep-herders to do this? Back to reality: why do we as a society permit it? We allow this to happen.
A friend’s father was a first-hand recipient of god’s love under that sect’s care. He is scarred for life, and it haunts him daily. I did know some others, but they chose to take their maker to task sooner than their natural lifespans would otherwise have permitted.
Yet according to the head of the Catholic Church in England, it is I who am not human. His exact words were (in this BBC interview excerpt; emphasis mine):
Whether a person is atheist or any other, there is in fact, in my view, something not totally human if they leave out the transcendent; if they leave out an aspect of what I believe everyone is made for. Which is a search for transcendent meaning — we call it “God.” If you say that has no place, then I feel that it’s a diminishment of what is to be human. Because to be human, in the sense I believe humanity is directed, because made by God, I think if you leave that out then you are not fully human.
One could see this as a poorly worded and delivered “they just don’t know what they’re missing.” I’ll concede that, but I think his track record and public speaking experience makes that extremely unlikely.
So we have this from the man who is the national representative of the organisation who gave the world such expressions of humanity and god’s love as this sample selection:
- The Spanish conquest of the Americas with it’s convert-or-die theology. The current Pope considers this to have been a justifiable purification.
- Collusion with the Nazi Party in the 1930s.
- The Pope-driven military campaigns known as the Crusades, originally to take back Jerusalem from the Muslim Seljuq dynasty in the 11th century, and later extending to various religious, economic and political enemies for another 500 years.
- The elite leaders of the Nazi Party. Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, and Joseph Goebbels were born and raised good Catholic boys. Despite popular pulpit fantasy, none of them were raised in a liberal or atheist household.
- The Spanish Inquisition — a religious kangaroo court that ran for almost 400 years — was an era where exquisite forms of torture were finely tuned into an art form. They were only then outdone by the “Angel of Death”, Josef Mengele.
- The unforgivable, systematic abuse of innocent children given to their care.
- The saint of suffering, 1979 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Mother Theresa, who ran her cult of cruelty with an iron fist and who believed pain and suffering were good and necessary, that such experiences would raise her glory and good works up to her sick and twisted god, and that the mountain of donations sat largely untouched because filth and impoverishment was more pleasing to her god of misery.
- The previous Pope, stage name John Paul II, who chose to insist that contraception a sin and thereby accelerating the spread of HIV and AIDS throughout Africa (original article) with its population who have mixed their ancient superstitious tribal beliefs with the ancient superstitious tribal beliefs of the missionaries who came to “help” them.
- The current Pope, stage name Benedict XVI, who not only kept contraception as a sin when he had a chance to alleviate needless suffering, but has recently gone on public record to emphasise the importance of this damaging point of dogma. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he chose to pour salt on it by saying that condoms actually worsen the spread of HIV and AIDS, which is about as reality-based as the belief that some African men have that raping a baby will cure AIDS. As if the previous Pope’s words and deeds hadn’t already sealed the fate of countless thousands from a preventable disease, this one goes a step further.
- Bonus Points: Last but not least, definitive, unquestionable proof of god’s existence by appearing daily on toast, dog flaps, frying pans, potatoes, and countless other domestic items. (It couldn’t be pareidolia — that would just be too preposterous!) I’ve read a book where this god’s fanatics say he created the world, parted a sea, flooded the world, turned water to wine and even raised the dead. Times must be tough all round if gods are reduced to tiresome party tricks these days.
And this Cardinal… this self-aggrandising, deluded fool has the temerity to suggest that I am sub-human. Of course there have been atheists who have done awful things, but I challenge anyone to name an atheist who’s done even a fraction of that in the name of atheism.
Students of history will recognise dehumanisation as a necessary technique to allow normal, civilised people to kill other people without hesitation. All governments do it whenever they’re itching for war. In fact, Hermann Göring said something about it at his Nuremberg Trial:
Of course the people don’t want war. But after all, it’s the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it’s always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it’s a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger.
I’m not suggesting that this buffoon is making a call to arms — modern evangelical Protestantism has been demonising even members of only mildly different sects for years — but rather pointing out the similarities between inflammatory public speeches and those used by propagandists to enable wars. It’s not just Christianity, of course — the media is filled with descriptions of that kind of behaviour by Christianity’s latest major competitor for bums on seats: Islam (knees on rugs?).
Perhaps we simply live in a time where many traditionally quiet religions are experiencing a surge of fundamentalism, which would explain the recent and numerous bizarre squawkings from the Catholic Church, the normally moderate Protestant sects (nutjob fundamentalist sects are a given), and the more recent inventions of the LDS Church, Sikhism and Scientology. Even the traditionally ambivalent or outright pacifist eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism have made news recently for their growing fundamentalism, whose fanatics are, in some cases, beginning to target foreign visitors and tourists.
Part of me suspects this is related to some of the world’s loudest western nations being virtual theocracies — I’m looking at you, Mr Bush — or appeasers of theocracies — I’m looking at you, Mr Blair — and unashamedly proselytising not only their religion but their particular twisted, perverted and intolerant version of it upon the nations they chose to occupy against the majority will of their respective peoples. Nationalism is probably a natural reaction to such consistent transgression. The military rules may say that proselytising in a theatre of war is forbidden, but it clearly happens. Even non-believers are being victimised in these Christianised armies. Is it any wonder that many Muslims refer to the War on Terror as the new Christian Crusades, or the Tenth Crusade?
Having said all that, I won’t speak against allied troops who are on the ground in the countries they have occupied. They are just like you and me, and are doing a job for their country, their squad mates, and often for their families (military service often offers better future prospects). It’s a hard job that someone has to do, and will have to do for as long as we have governments, religions and resource imbalances. Particularly if those governments continue to use religion as a tool in their territorial or resource agendas.
The pillock and the peerage
On a related note, you may be surprised to know that the inspiration for this post — the former Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor — is being considered for a Peerage by the British government. If you find that as offensive, and indeed inappropriate in the tireless pursuit of the separation of c
hurch and state, as I do, you may then be pleased to know that there is a petition that UK residents can sign to ask the Prime Minister that this peerage not be granted:
If opposing that honour is is something you agree with, then please consider signing the petition. It expires in March 2010, so you still have some time left…
It has not been my intention to insult or upset you, whatever your beliefs or lack of. Nor has it been my intention to suggest that all clergy, whatever their religion or sect, are guilty of such things. That is clearly not the case, but a partial complicity could be argued whenever a complaint is dismissed, sudden relocation of a member of the clergy is assisted, and any of a number of other possible scenarios.
Rather, is has been my intention to outline how unbelievable it is that the head of any church in any country could possibly consider atheists sub-human when the inhuman behaviour of his peers has resulted in permanent, irreparable damage to thousands of the most vulnerable members of our society. That anyone could say that absence of belief is more important — that it’s in the same ballpark, or even the same game — beggars belief.
Such statements and attitudes are indicative of a sense of priorities and reality so screwed and twisted that it belongs in the dank, darkened tribunals of the Inquisition, not in an age of western enlightenment where art can be created without fear of being tortured or killed, where life expectancy has doubled, where nearly all people have a roof over their heads (or have access to shelter), where life-saving operations can be performed without pain, where we look into space and realise that not only are we looking at faraway objects beyond our solar system but are also looking back in time, where we realise that the orbital motion of stars around galactic cores resembles the motion of planets around stars, moons around planets, all the way down to electrons around atomic nuclei, and that all life on this one blue planet — this pale blue dot — is made from star stuff and coded in a helical ladder combination of just 4 nucleotide bases.
We know all this through science. Religion has fought the discovery of this knowledge every step along the way.
So how — with such magnificent understanding and observation of the universe without and within (of which we’ve uncovered only the tiniest amount) — can we possibly sit by an allow such abuse to happen?