Thursday, May 31, 2012

Take That, DOMA!

CNN is reporting that a federal appeals court has upheld an earlier ruling (2010) that DOMA is unconstitutional:

"The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston has ruled the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, discriminates against gay couples."

Full story here.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Wandering God

Quote for the win:  "If God exists everywhere, then evil shouldn't exist anywhere."

Via the rational warrior, Tombstone Da Deadman.

Also, great question, why don't agnostics argue for the suspending judgement about the possible existence of any other gods besides the currently popular ones? (first few seconds part of a rap, followed by the actual talk).

Monday, May 28, 2012

Isn't That Just Ducky!

Hello, Everybody! Happy Memorial Day!

My humans are still in bed! Why you still in bed, Human?

The sun is shining! It is time to go outside! It is time to play!

Let's play! Can we play? Can I haz playtime with you?

Happy Memorial Day! Let's play!

Isn't that just Ducky!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Carl Sagan: The Reassuring Fable

(via LibertarianSara)

The humble, inspiring and timelessly apropros words of Carl Sagan narrate this brief (3:45minutes) video incorporating recent historical images.

"The significance of our lives - and our fragile planet - is then determined only by our own wisdom and courage. We are the custodians of life's meaning. We long for a parent to care for us, to forgive us our errors, to save us from our childish mistakes. But knowledge is preferable to ignorance; better by far to embrace the truth, than a reassuring fable. 

Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown, with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Our common-sense intuitions can be mistaken. Our preferences don't count. We do not live in a privileged reference frame. If we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find ourselves a worthy goal."  Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Thank Gods It's FreyaDay!

Good day, Humans. I am stirring from a nap to greet you.

The sun is shining, the wood floor is warm and I am content.

Back away now and go do human things. I will let you know if I need anything.

The sun is shining, the wood floor is warm and I am content.

Thank gods it's FreyaDay!

Next Thing You Know, They'll Want Man-Mouse Marriage!

Fun and Family-Friendly!

Just in case anyone is still clinging to the false notion that aggressive Christianity is a non-issue in countries other than the Jesus-soaked USA, consider a recent situation in Japan.

A lesbian couple approached the Tokyo Disneyland to request permission to hold a ceremony to mark their union as a couple. Japan does not allow same-sex marriage, so it could only be an unofficial "wedding".  Happily, Tokyo Disney agreed to the request. Chalk one up for Tokyo Disney!  However, the couple were barred from exchanging any vows because of "Christian teachings". Wait, what? Christian teachings? Wasn't there a lot of talk recently about how religion for the Japanese, if they had any at all, was some form of vague, spiritual Shintoism? What is that I hear people saying about Japan's enviable secular society? No, it's not. (Cue the "but this is an isolated incident" prevarication).

Warning: Christians, shield your
eyes from this terrifying image!
Anyway, after a brief kerfuffle over "an employee's" dictate that the ceremony must have one participant dressed in groom attire and one dressed in bride attire so as not to "offend" park visitors (an outcry on Twitter and other social media brought about a hasty retraction from Disney, thankfully), the theme park seems to have embraced a position of acceptance, setting the stage for future ceremonies so that same-sex couples can celebrate their union there with family and friends. Considering the cultural pressure against it - not to mention the powerful worldwide Christian lobby - my hat is off to Tokyo Disney for doing the right thing.

In the larger Japanese society, however, same-sex marriage continues to be the same thorny subject that it is in the USA:

"There needs to be more pressure for legal unions between gay people in Japan," said Taiga Ishikawa, one of only a handful of openly gay politicians in the country. "This is only a guess, but I'd say there are more people now who are in long-term relationships and want that to be recognized in the form of a civil partnership."

And of course, there are the usual homophobic and hateful tropes raised by prominent public figures equating marriage between two loving human beings to bestiality, pedophilia and general immorality. In this case, a film celebrity:

Commenting on TV on President Barack Obama's recent declaration of support for gay marriages in the US, the film director and comedian Takeshi Kitano told a fellow guest: "Obama supports gay marriage. You would support marriage between humanoid and animals eventually, then," before questioning the ability of gay couples to raise children.

These vicious and hateful slurs questioning the humanity and morality of GLBT people are one of the most repugnant weapons that Christians use in their bigoted campaign to marginalize and oppress. The "slippery slope" trope is particularly ironic coming from a group constantly balancing on the edge of a slimy slope of their own.  David Barton, Christian apologist and professional liar demonstrates (If you prefer text, read this transcript of a right-wing radio talk show interview with Barton for an even clearer insight into the way these people think, and to understand what they would gladly do once they have the power to do it):

"I don't care what the Supreme Court says". Yes, that's right. He is saying that Christians are above the law.

Christians are adamant in their "righteous" zeal and open about their intention to force everyone in this country to submit to Biblical law and, in due course, to force every country in the world to convert and/or submit to the brand of Christianity that they are aggressively spreading via the modern Christian "missions" movement. Anderson Cooper's interview (CNN) of a defender of the pastor whose horrific anti-gay rant I linked here underlines just where that slimy slope would dump us.

Bible-based law in action.
Christians want the US Constitution subordinated to or replaced by "Yahweh's Law". They are proud about this - don't forget: they truly believe that they are doing what is best for all of us, even if they have to lie, cheat and trick the rest of us to achieve their goal - and they are actively, tirelessly working to bring it about. This Christian version of sharia would reduce women to the status of domestic animals or chattel, would criminalize inborn human sexual orientations and would demand the death penalty for dozens of offenses which our modern morality recognizes are not only not capital offenses but in many cases are not offenses at all. But true Bible-believers honestly believe that is what God wants for us, though we may not understand and resist. Just as they see indoctrinating children with fear of hell before children are old enough to defend themselves against the often permanent psychological impact, they see it as their job to lead those who disagree with them out of "sin" by forcing their religious belief system on them "for their own good".

So, following the logic of Christian antagonists - who hate and revile GLBT people so much they call for their punishment, persecution and even deaths - we should take a closer look at their proposed "improvements" of current laws; laws agreed upon by elected human beings to whom they already believe they are not answerable.  Citizens who value the rule of law which protects our secular society for all citizens need to pay attention to what these Christians say and believe. They believe that their god's law supercedes the rule of civil law - including the Constitution of the United States and the Constitutions of all countries. When pressed on the question of who gets to say what "god's law" actually is, Christians point to the Bible as the final and inerrant authority.

This reality, following the Christians' own logic, begs the question of just where following "Yahweh's Law" will lead us. Conservative Christians have already succeeded in gaining enough power to roll back secular law to deprive women of most of their hard-won reproductive and equal pay rights. Christians have succeeded in denying GLBT people of the right to marry, their right to protection from bullying and a host of other forms of discrimination. Christians have succeeded in circumventing the legal separation of church and state in so many ways that their religion, their calendar and their privileges have become ubiquitous in the culture, and their power continues to grow.

If and when they succeed in changing enough laws that their continued power is assured, what then will stop Christians from imposing every jot and tittle of the Biblical laws upon all people? They already treat women and LGBT people as less than fully human. How soon before they will return us to the Biblical days of stonings for adultery and theft?  Forget "training up a child"; the Bible is clear that a rebellious child must be stoned to death.  What will stop the Christian majority from imposing these and similarly horrific laws on us?

"I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." Matthew:5:18 (NIV)

Christians insist that the Bible is literally, unerringly the word of God.  Those of us who have been avoiding the issue - telling ourselves that Christians just mean some of the Bible is to be followed to the letter, or only the New Testament or only the "red text" of Jesus' words - need to start paying closer attention. There is no way around the fact that the entire Bible is sacred truth to Christians and, in the New Testament, Jesus himself affirmed that the Mosaic laws must not be discarded.

Any doubts people might have about the determination of Christians to enshrine Biblical "truth" into this culture while they push out secular knowledge which threatens their religious beliefs - or threatens the justification of Biblical foundations for their ascension to authoritarian power - must be dispelled. This belief in absolute Biblical "truth" is the foundation of their efforts to force educators to teach Biblical creationism as science. This determination is the source of their push to deny global climate change. It is the impetus behind their efforts to undermine scientific research, to defund public education and to gut the public social safety net.

The Christian accusations against GLBT people have no foundation in fact, unlike my concerns about the slippery slope from Christian influence on secular laws to a return to the brutality and conservatism of a Bible-based legal structure.  There is ample evidence which unequivocally proves that the homophobic Christian hypotheses about the people they hate and fear are false, while there is no evidence that Christians would not persecute non-Christians, LGBTs and women should they gain enough power to do so, and plenty of evidence that they have begun to do exactly that. Indeed, we have a long history that shows just how viciously oppressive, immoral and evil unfettered Christian power can be.

Here is the true slippery slope: If Christians manage to impose any more "Bible-based" law onto the citizens of the United States (and in Canada, and in the UK, and in continental Europe, and in Australia, and in ...), it will only be a matter of time before women lose what remaining human rights they have not yet lost to religious conservatism (including the right to vote), children will be abused and even killed if they do not conform to Biblical strictures, and our dreams of a secular, free and open society of peaceful coexistence will be shattered for generations to come.

It has happened before. I hope we are wise enough to recognise that it could happen again, if we do not take steps to defend our freedom from religion.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Thorsday Tonic - Anti-Science

A refreshing dose of rationality on a Thorsday morning. Sit back and enjoy, "Anti-Science", another excellent rap created by the inimitable Tombstone Da Deadman.

Watch it! This song will stay in your head all day!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Time For A Little Color!

I'll take that cerise-colored house, please!

We are having a very dry spring here, after an extremely dry and mild winter.  I noticed the other day that the pine tree in our yard is showing signs of stress, it's needles faded and slightly rusty looking.  Today I saw that the grass in the local parks is dry and yellow like the end of July in a hot summer! Our spring flowers were forced out too early by the unseasonable heat in March and their colors faded within days - sometimes hours - of first blooming. When I was planting some summer annuals this weekend, the earth in some places was so dry it collapsed like gravely sand. I've never seen anything like it here before.

I hope we get rain soon and plenty of it!

Anyway, all of this dryness and wonky weather made me long for spring showers, the soft caress of cool damp fog on the cheeks and the sweet, clean fresh air heavy with the fragrance of lilacs after a late spring rain.  I am longing for deep, bright colors and cool refreshing damp air. And I know just the place to find that!
(via Newfoundland on facebook)

Some houses are wide.
Some houses are thin.
Some are so thin
you can hardly get in.

But wherever you go,
you will hear someone say,
"Come over to my house.
Come over and play!"

Come over to my house.
The fishing is great!
They bite all the time
and you don't have to wait.

Come over some day
and bring plenty of bait.

You can play on my roof, 
but my house is so tall,
it's a long way downstairs
to go after a ball.

My house is bright pink
and it's happy and gay.
Our streets are wet water.
We like it that way.

Every house in the world
has a ceiling and floor.
But the ones you'll like best
have a wide-open door.

Some houses are rich
full of silver and gold.
And some are quite poor,
sort of empty and old.

Some houses are marble
and some are just tin.
But they're all, all alike
when a friend asks you in.

There are so many houses
you'll meet on your way.
And wherever you go,
you will hear someone say  . . .
"Come over to my house!
Come over and play!"
From Come Over to My House, Theo.LeSieg (Theo. Geisel)

And, just for good measure - one last dose of color and glory - and an iceberg!
You're welcome!

Isn't That Just Ducky?

Hello, People!  I am on the road again!

I love driving with my human. I am her co-pilot!

Me and my human are on a roadtrip! I love to watch the world whizzing by.

I love to watch my human driving and she loves to be with me. I am her co-pilot!

We are on the road again!

Isn't that just Ducky!

(click to play!)        

(Willie Nelson - On the Road Again)

This Won't Hurt A Bit!

Amber Cooper with her son Jaden

On NPR this morning, an interview with Amber Cooper - a wife, mother, worker and liver transplant recipient - reminded me to get cracking on a healthcare series. 

Amber Cooper had a successful liver transplant when she was ten years old. She grew up, married, had a child, bought a house and holds down a job. She is a great success story for liver transplantation. She is a great success story full stop.
Life-preserving drugs for transplant
patients, as well as for heart disease
and other chronic life-threatening
conditions cost hundreds, even
thousands, per month.

Ms. Cooper requires expensive medications every day of her life to prevent her body from rejecting the transplanted organ that keeps her alive.  Because of her pre-existing condition, health insurance was always going to be a challenge, but Amber had insurance prescription coverage with her employer - until recently. 

At an all-employee meeting, Amber learned that her company was changing their health insurance coverage and the new "coverage" would not cover any of her most urgent healthcare needs.  You can read or listen to the story.

This story is only one of thousands of stories of Americans who literally face life or death decisions every day because they have no access to affordable healthcare services.  Millions of other Americans have no or not enough coverage, and their stories will join these sooner or later. The richest country in the world has made a huge business out of health, life and death. And Republicans fight tooth and nail to preserve it.

I think it is time that people honestly ask themselves: is this morally defensible?

A group called Physicians For a National Health Program put up an excellent webpage with questions and answers that people might have about the relative merits of a single-payer healthcare system compared to the current for-profit system. While I do not agree with everything they have written (more in future posts), overall this page is an excellent source of information to help people form clear and concise responses to the common concerns that many people have about socialized healthcare.

I will end this brief post with one quote from the site linked above, which is, I think, the fundamental reality of our situation in the USA:

"Q. Won’t this result in rationing like in Canada?  A. The U.S. already rations care. Rationing in U.S. health care is based on income: if you can afford care, you get it; if you can’t, you don’t. A recent study found that 45,000 Americans die every year because they don’t have health insurance. Many more skip treatments that their insurance company refuses to cover. That’s rationing. Other countries do not ration in this way." PNHP FAQs.

"If you can afford care, you get it; if you can't, you don't."  Words to ponder.

In a just society, should decent healthcare be a privilege reserved for the wealthy?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

transition to atheism

In just over eight minutes, TheraminTrees lays out exactly how a young atheist might feel and think on the journey out of theism.

(I could have done without the weird eyes bit, but that's just me. Everything he says is excellent. Clear and concise.)

Tuesday Tonic - Beyond Reason

Sit back and enjoy another rap inspiration on this Tuessday morning.

Tombstone da Deadman:  Beyond Reason


Monday, May 21, 2012

TAX These Christian Haters, NOW!

The YouTube version of this has been cut to remove the damning evidence of Christian hatred, illegal political influence and the most fetid and revolting inhuman bigotry. Obviously, someone from their ranks wanted to erase the evidence which shows the depth of their bigotry. Luckily, Left Hemispheres posted this uncut version.

This pastor openly tells his congregation of his awesome "solution" to the "problem" of homosexuality - herd lesbians into an enclosure surrounded by an electric fence, and herd the "queers" into another fenced enclosure. And "in a few years, they'll die.'

"I figured a way out — a way to get rid of all the lesbians and queers. But I couldn’t get it passed through Congress. Build a great big large fence, 150 or 100 miles long. Put all the lesbians in there. Fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing with the queers and the homosexuals. Have that fence electrified so they can’t get out. Feed ‘em, and– And you know what? In a few years they’ll die out. You know why? They can’t reproduce." Pastor Charles Worley of Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, NC.

Voices shout "Amen!"

He polishes off his remarks by asking his audience to imagine a same-sex kiss -  which "about makes him puke" don't you know. The poor guy!  Don't make him imagine it!  The horror!

There is so much real horror in this video, I hardly know where to start.  Is it the homophobia? The hatred of gays and lesbians - even to sharing a plan for their extermination? Is it the blatant violation of church and state as he tells the congregation how to vote?  It's a toss up right now what is the worst part in the video. But what is truly the worst part about this window into the bloodthirsty wishes of people like this is the reality that this is not a minority view in the Christian church in the USA right now. This is happening right now all over the country. If these people manage to gain any more power, they really will use it to harm other people - starting with gays and lesbians and anyone else who does not conform to the narrow gender roles that are acceptable to Christians.

Please watch and please SHARE!

And oh yeah: TAX CHURCHES!!!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

How Much Would You Pay For The Universe?

It's the weekend, People, and I have a yard to whip into shape!

Nevertheless, I am nothing if not a font of inspirational material for my readers.  Take a five minute break from your Sunday leisure - or if you are a productive person like Yours Truly, from your Sunday achievements - and listen to Neil DeGrasse Tyson's rousing words in defense of NASA research.

Let's reach for the stars!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Prom Night

Tonight is prom night for my sons and all their friends. 
Enjoy the evening of dining, dancing and the company of friends!

We Are Stardust

3 minutes of musical inspiration for a beautiful Saturday morning. We are stardust, in the highest exalted way. Stand in the middle and enjoy everything both ways; the tininess of us; the enormity of the universe.


[Neil deGrasse Tyson]
We are part of this universe
We are in this universe
The universe is in us
Yes, the universe is in us

[Lawrence Krauss]
Every atom in your body
Came from a star that exploded
You are all star dust
From a star that exploded

Look up at the night sky
We are part of that
The universe itself
Exists within us

We are star dust
In the highest exalted way
Called by the universe
Reaching out to the universe

We are star dust
In the highest exalted way
Reaching out to the universe
With these methods and tools of science

[Richard Feynman]
Stand in the middle and enjoy everything both ways
The tininess of us;
The enormity of the universe

The atoms that make up the human body
Are traceable to the crucibles
That cooked light elements
Into heavy elements

These stars went unstable in their later years
And then exploded
Scattering their enriched guts
Across the galaxy


We are part of this universe
We are in this universe
The universe is in us
Yes, the universe is in us

Friday, May 18, 2012

Thank Gods It's FreyaDay!

Good Morning, Humans.

It is a sunny, warm May FreyaDay, and I am sitting under the table.

My perch on the window is not restful. There is too much going on in the streets of city below.

Chicago is full of noisy Humans right now. I am sitting under the table until they all go home.

It is a warm, May FreyaDay, but I am sitting under the table.

Thank gods it's FreyaDay!

Obama Defeats Romney!

That's right, Democrats, this could happen to you. 

Fear-mongering and racial
dog-whistling are the stock
in trade of Super PACs.
James Carville wrote an opinion piece for CNN last week which spoke directly to my greatest fear about the November election: I am worried that there is a sense that the president (and the Democratic party) has the 2012 election sewn up. "After all", I keep hearing, "look at the Republicans!  They squabbled ridiculously over the primaries - flip-flopping endlessly on favorites before finally settling reluctantly on Mitt Romney for their presidential nominee. The roster of candidates was so bad, it almost seemed like a joke, and the lukewarm acceptance of Romney seemed to point to a dispirited party base who would probably stay home in November. Barack Obama is a sure winner in November!"

Let's get real, here. This is dangerously complacent thinking.

The Republican base that has been nurtured so assiduously for the past two decades through religion and fear-mongering will not stay home and sit out the election, no matter how disappointed they may be in their nominee. Because no matter how little they love Mitt Romney and how miserably uninspiring they find him, their hatred for President Obama provides inspiration that is greater, fiercer and more enduring. It will be the desire to throw President Obama out of the White House which will mobilize the Republican base this year; distaste for Mitt Romney notwithstanding. Mitt at least is white, male, and willing to pander to the religious and the rich.

 Billionaires flock to Republican operatives' Super PACs.
With the advent of super PACs and corporate "citizens", the power shift in the United States in favor of the wealthy and privileged has lurched more dramatically to the far right, tiniest stratosphere of society. People speak about a return to the "gilded age" and they do not mean a golden age for everyone. Money is power. A few very rich people and corporations can and do influence elections. With Citizens United, the Supreme Court handed the powerful few even more power to influence elections and to see to it that their chosen candidates win and keep power.

Voters are swayed by advertising. People believe or at least are emotionally manipulated by the messages that saturate the television and radio airwaves throughout an election campaign. And most people accept what they are fed through advertising uncritically. Super PACs are pouring millions into negative advertising campaigns every week because they work, and reports of equivalent money and power coming from average Americans, unions or one George Soros are greatly exaggerated.

"Newsflash: Nothing is in the bag. Nothing can be taken for granted. Everybody from the precinct door-knocker, to the Chicago high command, to the White House, to the halls of Congress, to the Senate and House committees, to congressional leadership, here is a simple message: If we don't get on the offense, reconnect with the American people, talk about how the middle class is in a struggle for its very existence, hold the Republicans accountable and fight like the dickens, we are going to lose." James Carville.

Vote Romney for a new gilded age!
The dirty tactics have already begun, and these smear campaigns will be bankrolled by fewer than 100 wealthy, powerful donors. This election could - literally - change the course of American history. We are on the brink of an abyss: poised to plummet - possibly for good - down into the kind of quasi-feudal society from which our forebears escaped. Everything that has been good about America has been bad for those who would prefer a society where a few can live like kings, surrounded by a vast and impoverished labor force willing to work for low wages, thus increasing the "kings'" wealth and power.

Writers and speakers and ordinary citizens who care about the future had better be paying attention. We must keep these issues in front of people. We must keep the electorate engaged and aware that this election matters. This is the year to knock on doors, make phone calls, write and speak out for the future of the American dream. People who care about the 99% had better fasten their seatbelts - we are in for the fight of our lives.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Rich People Are Job CREATORS?

via Upworthy

The language is not accidental.  The wealthy have been lionized as "job creators" quite deliberately by their political arm, the Republican Party. It is a lie. This video explains why it is a lie.

An excellent TED talk, by Nick Hanauer.  Please - watch (it is a brief 6 minutes) and share.

Instruction Manual For Life

A little awesome for a Thorsday morning:

TheraminTrees' beautiful, silent, short, animated video, Instruction Manual For Life.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Barmy Bible Study: Cain and Abel - A Story of Unexpected Consequences

It's that time again!  Wednesday night Barmy Bible Study!  Due to a rare organizational lapse, tonight's story is out of sequence with the two earlier Bible Study classes (Noah and Abraham), but these things happen so I don't want to hear any grousing about it.

Our text for tonight is from Genesis (NIV):  the story of Cain and Abel:

(Note: Atheists and other haters of GOD'S HOLY WORD scroll down past the blue text)

Cain and Abel (Genesis 4: 1-2.6)

    1 Adam[a] made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain.[b] She said, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth[c] a man.” 2 Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.

   Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. 4 And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

   6 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

   8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.”[d] While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

   9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

   “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

   10 The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”

   13 Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is more than I can bear. 14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”

   15 But the LORD said to him, “Not so[e]; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the LORD put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. 16 So Cain went out from the LORD’s presence and lived in the land of Nod,[f] east of Eden.  

  17 Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch. 18 To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and Methushael was the father of Lamech.

   19 Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. 20 Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. 21 His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. 22 Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of[c] bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah.

Cain goes to the land of Nod - gains
 a wife and child and builds a city
and-- wait, where the hell did all
 these people come from?
   23 Lamech said to his wives,

   “Adah and Zillah, listen to me; 
   wives of Lamech, hear my words. 
I have killed a man for wounding me, 
   a young man for injuring me. 
24 If Cain is avenged seven times, 
   then Lamech seventy-seven times.”

   25 Adam made love to his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth,[d] saying, “God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.” 26 Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh.

   At that time people began to call on[e] the name of the LORD.

This wonderful story of God's amazing fatherly wisdom is always a crowd-pleaser among the Sunday School set. Little sisters and brothers listen raptly to the story of the Heavenly Father who inexplicably favored one earthly son over another and the resulting jealous rage in which the spurned son murdered his hapless brother.

The first family: from
Eve we have all sprung!
Study Questions for Cain and Abel:

1. How did Cain and Abel demonstrate their devotion to God?

2. How did God react to their efforts? How does Cain respond to God's reaction?

3. What happens to Cain and what does the Bible teach us with this story?

Cain and Abel were the very first natural born children on earth. They were the children of the very first people on earth, Adam and Eve, whom Yahweh had created out of dirt (well, Adam was created out of dirt; Eve was just cloned from Adam's rib). Perhaps God was planning to create children for Adam and Eve out of dirt, too, but after Adam and Eve were thrown out of Eden for being tricked into disobedience, they had sex and started a family the icky human way. First Cain was born and later, Abel. They were the first four people on earth.

When Cain and Abel grew up, they learned about God - including how fond He was of being worshipped with shows of devotion and obedience - especially obedience. Cain was a farmer and Abel was a shepherd, so naturally the two boys brought offerings to Yahweh from their own labours.  Cain offered some of his crops while Abel offered a fat lamb from his flock.

Oh Cain, you're so lame!
God looked with favor upon Abel's offering, but he was unimpressed by Cain's offering of the fruits of his toil in the crop fields. The Bible does not tell us why Yahweh favored one of the brothers over the other. Maybe the story is a reflection of the antipathy that early hunter-gatherers felt toward settled agrarians who were beating them out in the competition for resources, but that would be silly because there were no other people except Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel on earth at the beginning of Creation! The text does seem to make it look like God just arbitrarily chose one of his children over the other, but of course Bible-believing Christians know that this is not the full story.

Everyone knows that God loved the smell of blood and burning flesh. Unless worshippers were prepared to extinguish a life and offer the bloody corpse up for for the deity's pleasure, they just were not doing it right. It is clear to any good Christian that Cain failed abysmally in showing proper devotion to his All-loving Father. Cain brought only the paltry products of months of his own hard physical labour - a few measly fruits and vegetables or maybe a bushel of wheat or something - while Abel presented Yahweh with the bloody carcass of a lamb, which he no doubt proceeded to burn as a sacrifice, so that the deity could breathe in the sweet smell of the burning flesh of a recently living creature. Nothing says love like blood!  Later in the Bible, we learn that the smell of burning flesh is the thing that pleased Yahweh the most so, although Cain had no way of knowing this, he should have had the dumb luck to just naturally be inclined to slaughter and burn a living thing like Abel did. It is really no wonder that Yahweh was displeased with Cain.

Cain and his wife and child and a few
other people wan-- wait, where did
all those other people come from?
In addition to being too stupid to read the mind of God, Cain was evidently a very poor loser, too. He reacted to Yahweh's arbitrary and inexplicable rejection of him by luring his divinely-favored* brother Abel out to the fields and murdering him. Yahweh, who is all-seeing and all-knowing, came looking for Abel and asked Cain where he was. Cain pretended not to know, saying "Am I my brother's keeper?" at which time God figured out that something was amiss.  A student of natural justice and logical consequences would think that God would then have smote Cain for the murder of his brother - especially in light of the Biblical stories of murder and genocide for merely failing to believe in the correct god - but that student would be wrong.

Yahweh merely chastised Cain and banished him from Eden. Interestingly, the Bible does not explain how Cain could be banished from Eden when, according to earlier verses in Genesis, he could never have been in Eden in the first place because God had banished his parents from there before Cain was even born. But never mind all that - who are we to question the mysterious ways of the Almighty? - Cain was banished. Not smited. In fact, God marked Cain with the mark of Cain to protect him from murder as he served out his sentence which was (at first) to be doomed to wander the earth. It quickly (the very next verse!) became apparent that God actually had big plans for Cain. Maybe it was Cain's boldness and daring that appealed to the deity. Certainly, Cain displayed a level of sociopathic self-interest that must have impressed Yahweh! By destroying his only rival for favor with God, Cain anticipated later Biblical figures who enjoyed God's full favor and indeed who obeyed God's orders to commit murder, rape and pillaging to win or keep His favor.  Best of all, Cain had corrected his error of failing to slaughter a living thing for Yahweh, and how!
Wait - what?

So, Cain was condemned to wander the earth, a lonely wretched outcast. But, hang on there! In the very next verse of Genesis, the Bible tells us that Cain went to a place east of Eden called Nod, where  - astonishingly - he suddenly had a wife, who then produced a child, Enoch. Cain never wandered, but built a city (!) instead which he named after his son. Who knows where these other people came from, since the Bible clearly tells us that Adam and Eve and their two sons were the first and only people on earth from whom all humankind descended. Perhaps the other people outside Eden were created by a rival god - several other gods are mentioned in the Old Testament, after all - but no, the Bible says that there is only one god (except when it mentions the other gods) and He is the Creator god.

Anyway, what does it matter? The Bible does not need to make sense. We must read it with faith because it is a work of revelation. God works in mysterious ways and the Bible never lies or contradicts itself. Now, let's move on.

They may have been centenarians, but
Adam and Eve managed to produce Seth
 and many more sons and daughters!
So, Cain went east of Eden with his wife (?) had a son, built a city, and may or may not have been the great-great-great-great-great-(x 50 generations) grandfather of Jesus.  Horrified that Jesus and all of humankind may be believed to be descended from Cain, the early Biblical scribes tucked in a reference to Adam and Eve having sex again 100 years after they had Cain and Abel, producing Seth who we know, to our great relief, is the true father of us all. That was totally not made up  and makes perfect sense. If you doubt that this makes sense, please note that later verses in the Bible make it clear that people back then lived for hundreds of years, so God could easily dot later generations with new children of ancestors. Sure, He never has done it in recorded history or any time when humans could verify the truth of the claim, but the Bible says it, we believe it and that settles it.

We can take away so many wonderful lessons from this story. We learned that a mere man can never know the mind of God and that even when someone earnestly tries to honor the deity with the fruits of his labour, the deity may capriciously reject it in favor of the randomly chosen offerings of another person. We learned that we can never understand the mysteries of God's behavior. Except when we do - absolutely! - understand what God hates and what He forbids when other people do it.

Red-haired Cain?
Stop messing with scripture!
We learned that the first humans in Creation were actually not the first humans, or maybe just not the only humans. Perhaps Yahweh was busy creating an alternate universe at the same time that he was creating Eden out of nothing, and He simply forgot to hand down those stories to the inspired recorders of scripture. It may seem like this makes no sense but it really does. The Biblical god is an awesome god and he works in mysterious ways.

Some people say that Cain was a red-headed spawn of Satan, but we know the Bible says no such thing. We don't know what color Cain's hair really was. People need to stop making things up that the Bible clearly never said. The Bible is God's perfect, inerrant Holy WORD. Nothing is omitted, nothing can ever be changed, nothing can be added.

Some people also say that Cain had a bad attitude and that he offered God inferior crops from his field. Although the Bible says nothing of the sort, we can make this stuff up when it suits us infer these things because our human sense of justice demands that there be a real reason why Cain deserved God's rejection, apart from capricious cruelty from the context of the Biblical passage. If you find the story of Cain to be confusing or if you are disturbed by its contradictions, then I am sorry to say that you lack the deep, blind faith necessary for sincere Bible study. I recommend that you beg for forgiveness for your sinful doubt. A week or ten days of prayer ought to fix you up.

And don't come out until you're right with God, sinner!
Class dismissed.

* With "divine-favor" like this, who needs "divine-disfavor"?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Sex, Pregnancy and Consent

A Facebook friend recently posted a link to an interesting story about the possibility of a future world where responsibility for - and control over - reproduction could eventually be more evenly shared by men and women. In the blog The Last Word on Nothing, Sally Adee discussed pregnancy, abortion, women's and men's rights in light of ongoing research into the development of external womb technology. Whether it is futuristic fantasy or a real possibility, the topic of ectogenesis shines a spotlight on one of the thorniest issues related to heterosexual human sexuality: unplanned pregnancy.

Coming soon: a brave new world?
Right now, though, there is no handy external womb to help level the moral playing field between men and women when it comes to decisions about preventing or coping with unwanted pregnancy. Women must face all of the emotional and physical risks and demands of a life-altering, physically-depleting, potentially life-threatening experience which results in their almost total loss of bodily autonomy and they usually face most of the burden of the financial and social costs as well. Men who father unplanned children may be held legally responsible for some, none or all of the pregnancy-related medical costs in addition to nearly two decades of child support - if they accept the responsibilities of paternity (or can be proven to be the biological father of a child and forced to accept responsibility).

None of the above is a big problem for two people who have freely chosen to take on these risks; who have planned for and consented to a pregnancy and who happily plan to be jointly responsible should the pregnancy result in the live birth of a child.  The above risks and responsibilities become a serious problem, though, when the two people have not planned for and consented to pregnancy. The physical, psychological and financial risks to a mother and the psychological and financial risks to a father of an unexpected pregnancy are far too high for the possibility to be dismissed lightly. Consent to sex does not mean consent to pregnancy. Pregnancy is easily prevented by mutually respectful sexual partners and it is easily aborted in the earliest stages in the unlikely event that responsible contraceptive efforts fail. Childbirth should never be accidental, unplanned or forced.

No sex, no problems!
That should work!
But, the uncomfortable truth is that, in a religion-soaked culture, people who are sexually active - especially young people with uteri - are presumed to be consenting to the possibility of pregnancy whenever they have heterosexual sex - even if it is non-consensual sex. This has been strenuously underlined in society through abstinence-only pregnancy prevention programs, suppression of contraceptive information for sexually active young people, rape victim blaming, and waves of legislation designed to restrict access to female-controlled birth control and abortion services - even if pregnancy has resulted from rape, incest or coercion. The religiously-motivated "abstinence only" advice to repress natural, healthy sexual desires by avoiding all forms of sexual expression is nearly as ineffective as it is stupid and psychologically abusive.

Less loudly proclaimed, but no less true, is that young people with penises are presumed to be consenting to the possibility of pregnancy whenever they have heterosexual sex, too. The law in most states requires young men to contribute child support toward their progeny's expenses until 18 years of age. Since young men do not suffer any direct physical, educational, social or employment interruptions due to pregnancy, they are often in a far better position to prosper in life than their pregnant female counterparts. The gap widens throughout life as fewer than half of pregnant teens ever manage to finish high school and less than 2% complete a college degree even by the age of 30. Yet, a depressingly small per centage of men actually meet these responsibilities.

Reading the comments under the article on external wombs, I was not surprised to find the often-cited complaint from a male reader that it is unfair that a man may be legally required to support children that he may not have wanted. This speaks to the point above: that the role of men in an unplanned pregnancy is very much downplayed in society, leaving many men surprised and angry when they discover that they may be held legally responsible for support, even if they did not consent to fatherhood.

Sure, give your heart,
but don't lose your mind!
In a perfect world, no unplanned pregnancy could ever occur. But, we do not live in a perfect world. Therefore, it is essential that sexually active people respect and care for themselves as well as their partners in a happy, healthy relationship, whether it is a long-term, monogamous partnership or a single joyous sexual encounter. Luckily, wherever there is safe access to affordable, reliable birth control, this situation can be easily handled by caring - and responsible - sexual partners. It's true that contraception is not a perfect tool for preventing unwanted pregnancy: the failure rate for contraception when only one sexual partner "handles it" is higher than necessary for many reasons, but the main reason is usually operator error. However, when more than one form of birth control is used simultaneously, the failure rate drops significantly. The logical solution to that problem is for both sexual partners to use a reliable form of birth control to protect themselves and each other from operator error. If a condom is one of the two contraceptives used, there is the added bonus of protection from STDs!  Win, win!

I think the foundational understanding should be this: healthy, sexually mature human beings should be able to enjoy worry-free consensual sex. It is one of the joys of being human. In healthy heterosexual relationships, all participants take responsibility for protecting themselves and their partners from unplanned pregnancy. Unless both partners have willingly agreed to try to become parents and both have explicitly consented to actively pursuing parenthood every time they have sex, then both partners must assume that there is no consent to pregnancy, though consent to sex may still be enthusiastic. For every single sexual encounter except those explicitly meant to result in conception, all participants should use some form of contraception.

Indispensable equipment
for fun, sexy times!
What if your partner will not use birth control?  If your partner will not use birth control, perhaps s/he is assuming that you have consented to the possibility of parenthood. You know what you need to do: Correct the assumption before you have sex! If you correct the assumption and your partner still refuses to use birth control, then it is time to consider whether this person respects you and deserves to have a sexual relationship with you. Why would you want to have a sexual relationship with a person who does not respect you? There are millions of people in the world - quite a few of them very interested in a healthy sexual relationship with you. Get out there and find someone else who respects and cares about you!

Look, if you are a man who is unprepared to become a father, or if your partner has not explicitly consented to try to become a parent with you right now, then do not engage in sex without using some form of male-controlled birth control. Men who, like the commenter on the ectogenesis thread, whine immaturely that "she said that pregnancy is unlikely! (she lied!)", or who complain that they think wearing a condom reduces their pleasure (so they won't wear them, dammit!) are men who are too immature for sexual activity.  It is every human being's responsibility to prevent unplanned parenthood. There is a wide array of products out there designed to enhance your sexual experience safely and at least one of them will work out just fine for you. Sex feels great with or without a condom, but subjecting your partner (and yourself) to the risk of an unplanned pregnancy because you want an already awesome experience to be even better (for you) is a lousy way to show respect and caring to a partner.

All-important accoutrements
for fun, sexy times!
If you are a woman who is unprepared to become a mother, or if your partner has not explicitly consented to try to become a parent with you right now, then do not engage in sex without using some form of female-controlled birth control. Women who have become unwillingly pregnant may whine immaturely that "he promised that he would look after contraception!(he lied!)", or who complain that the pill or the IUD may have unpleasant side effects or that it feels too slutty to plan ahead to prevent pregnancy, are women who are too immature for sexual activity. It is every human being's responsibility to prevent unplanned parenthood. There is a vast selection of products out there to enable you to enjoy worry-free sex and with a little effort you will find the one that works well for you. Sex is a wonderful enrichment of life, but subjecting your partner (and yourself) to the risk of an ill-timed pregnancy because you want an already awesome experience to feel thrillingly (for you) spontaneous is a terrible way to show caring and respect to a partner.

We have sexual relationships with other people: our actions affect our partners, and we must have the maturity to treat them with the same consideration that we hope for ourselves. Control over your own fertility should never willingly be ceded to another person, not only because unwilling or unplanned parenthood can and often does result, but also because every child deserves to be conceived knowingly and deliberately by two people who have made a conscious choice to be parents.

Religious conservatives get it so wrong when they declare that extra-marital, non-procreative sex is immoral. Consensual sex is moral, natural and good. But, consensual sex does not mean consent to pregnancy. Whenever you engage in sex without using personal birth control, you are unfairly denying your partner the right to consent to or not to consent to a possible pregnancy. And do you know what?  That would be immoral.

Ah, the joy of consensual sex!

The Poetry of Reality

Tuesday tonic!


[Michael Shermer]
Science is the best tool ever devised
For understanding how the world works

[Jacob Bronowski]
Science is a very human form of knowledge
We are always at the brink of the known

[Carl Sagan]
Science is a collaborative enterprise
Spanning the generations
We remember those who prepared the way
Seeing for them also

[Neil deGrasse Tyson]
If you're scientifically literate,
The world looks very different to you
And that understanding empowers you

[Richard Dawkins]
There's real poetry in the real world
Science is the poetry of reality

We can do science
And with it, we can improve our lives

[Jill Tarter]
The story of humans is the story of ideas
That shine light into dark corners

[Lawrence Krauss]
Scientists love mysteries
They love not knowing

[Richard Feynman]
I don't feel frightened by not knowing things
I think it's much more interesting

[Brian Greene]
There's a larger universal reality
of which we are all a part

[Stephen Hawking]
The further we probe into the universe
The more remarkable are the discoveries we make

[Carolyn Porco]
The quest for the truth, in and of itself,
Is a story that's filled with insights


From our lonely point in the cosmos
We have through the power of thought
Been able to peer back to a brief moment
After the beginning of the universe

[PZ Myers]
I think that science changes the way your mind works
To think a little more deeply about things

Science replaces private prejudice
With publicly verifiable evidence


Isn't That Just Ducky!

Hello there!  Do you want to play?

What is that pretty thing in your hand? Do you want to play?

What is that yummy stuff dripping down your hand?  Do you want to play?

I smell ice cream!  Can I haz ice cream?

Ice cream! Ice cream! Do you want to play?

Isn't that just Ducky!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Religion - The Bad Parent

A breath of fresh air from TheraminTrees on a Monday morning.

I was delighted to find this Spanish translation of the video. Bravo to TheraminTrees (or whomever is responsible) for making this excellent work more accessible!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Show Some Respect, Damn You!

Respect. How does that work, anyway?

“I have met some highly intelligent believers, but history has no record to say that [s]he knew or understood the mind of god. Yet this is precisely the qualification which the godly must claim—so modestly and so humbly—to possess. It is time to withdraw our 'respect' from such fantastic claims, all of them aimed at the exertion of power over other humans in the real and material world.”
― Christopher Hitchens, The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever

Respect.  We hear a lot about it. But, how do we as individuals and as a society determine who is deserving of our respect? The Paige Sultzbach story last week got me thinking about this.

Most of us are taught that we must show respect for the essential humanity of all people. We are told in school, at work and at home that we must respect other people as our equals - fellow human beings. Beyond this baseline, though, people are usually expected to earn any higher, more deferential level of respect through their meritorious behavior. We are not usually expected to pay respect to people who behave immorally, who harm us or who harm other people. Usually, we are not compelled to respect ridiculous or destructive ideas, either. But there is one glaring exception to these sensible guidelines: religion.

We hear every single day that we owe special, unassailable, respect for the religious beliefs of others, simply because they are religious beliefs. There is no way to evaluate the relative merits of religious ideas because the very act of questioning, evaluating or criticizing religious beliefs is deemed disrespectful and being disrespectful of religion is taboo. This catch-22 situation means that even when religious ideas clearly cause harm to ourselves or others, the cultural taboo which demands unearned respect for religious dogma and practices also forbids questioning them.

More precisely, people are pressured every day of their lives to pay respect - and be subordinate - to the religious majority wherever they live. In Iran, Pakistan or Saudi Arabia (to name a few countries under explicit Islamic rule) that would be the Muslim majority. In the USA, Denmark, Hungary, Canada and Great Britain (to name a few countries with explicit or implicit Christian state religions) it is the Christian majority. Of all of these, the United States was the first to explicitly guarantee in its Constitution that no single religion would be established by the state, thus preventing the official empowerment of one religious group over all others. In this way, the framers of the Constitution hoped to provide the foundation for a truly revolutionary new kind of nation: a country where people could be as free as humanly possible; where the rights and welfare of the individual would be balanced as far as humanly possible with the rights and welfare of the rest of the people, preventing both tyranny of the majority and the rise of theocratic dictators.

Freedom of religion!* 
*For Christians only.
The founding fathers, who were educated in religious and political history, understood that religious sectarianism has always resulted in oppression of minorities and the rise of theocratic dynasties - usually, but not always monarchies. Whether they were monarchies or putative republics, the ruling elites always claimed to rule by divine right. The framers of the US Constitution - James Madison and Thomas Jefferson in particular - recognized that constant sectarian strife and vicious social inequities enabled by the power structures which churches prop up would destroy Americans' hopes for a better life in the fledgling new state as surely as the suffocation of those very hopes had driven them out of Europe. And the founders understood that it was state-sanctioned empowerment of favored groups (nearly always identified by religion) which was the reason why the common people in every country in the world lived in miserable poverty under the rule of religiously-privileged "noble" classes.

Demonstrating a wisdom beyond experience (because such a nation had never been tried before), they determined that, in order to form a more perfect union, the United States must be kept free of the appalling religious strife that had destroyed virtually every great civilization in history before them. They were convinced that freedom of religion in a nation that could not legally favor any one religion over the others would offer the best hope for the country to prosper, by enabling the people to prosper in peaceful coexistence as equals.

But there have always been ambitious groups who seek to restore the bad old days of feudal oppression for their own benefit. There have always been people who consider themselves the chosen ones - the nobility which is called to rule over the lesser classes. Before the ink was dry on the US Constitution, religious groups were attempting to circumvent the prohibition of establishment of state religions. The freedom to practice their own religion has never been enough for some Christians; they have always sought special status and special power. That battle over the separation of church and state has been waxing and waning constantly in the 225+ years since Independence, and while the Constitutional guarantee has held in theory, in practice the religious power-play has succeeded in carving so many inroads into the separation of church and state that the country has been reduced to a de facto Christian nation.

You want to build a mosque? Well, we have news for you.
Just guess whose country we think this is! 
In theory, the First Amendment still protects religious minorities and non-believers from unwanted Christian intrusion into their lives, but in practice this is not so. From public holidays honoring Christian holy days to public religious displays, to compelled silence for Christian prayers in legislatures, in schools and at events of huge public significance, from the casual assumption of Christian privilege and prominence to the very real favoritism via tax exemption and government funding which has enriched churches - secretly and without public oversight - at the public expense, the reality is that churches, especially Christian churches, are intimately entwined with the state. The battle to gain special status and the resulting economic and political power was on from the moment James Madison signed the First Amendment (actually even before) and for good reason from the point of view of the churches. They have benefited enormously from these unconstitutional arrangements.

The truth is that the Christian religion has been quietly empowered both financially and politically, and it aims to gain supreme power by replacing the current republic with a Bible-based state. Christian conservatives will never cede that power willingly. The truth is that when minority religions or the non-religious expect equal respect from the Christian majority, the Christian majority cries persecution and refuses to honor the Constitution that they claim to uphold, but which they are undermining because they hate it as a threat to their ambitions. When a minority's beliefs conflict with majority Christian beliefs, the majority will use every avenue available to force the minority to accept having Christian belief shoved down its throat, even when the Constitution has promised that this will not happen. For Christians, the First Amendment guarantees their religion; they believe that it guarantees that they have the right to strip away the freedom of others to enjoy public life free of Christian proselytizing and the presumption of Christian supremacy. Christians regard the insistence of others that the Constitution guarantees them the same freedoms and rights as Christians as a challenge to Christian rights. long as it is Christianity
Merely requesting that the Constitutional guarantee for religious freedom for all be upheld results in public outcry from the majority, lawsuits, threats and ostracism of the individual(s) who dare to stand up for the right of the minority not to be oppressed by the Christian majority.  Respect for Christian beliefs is deemed of such paramount importance that we must disrespect the beliefs of others or we are accused of persecuting Christians and oppressing Christian belief. On the rare occasions when citizens (sometimes even Christian themselves) push back against the ubiquitousness of Christian belief  - for example  by objecting to its illegal injection into the publicly funded spheres of our society - the Christian majority shrieks that it is being oppressed or persecuted.

The very act of respecting the beliefs of non-Christians - or even of allowing them to be visible, free to simply exist in this society - is perceived by Christians as an attack upon them. In short, the Christian majority claims to be oppressed if they are prevented from oppressing others. It is an amazing fact of western life that the concept of religious persecution has been perverted by the Christian majority to such an extent that it is no longer recognizable as a meaningful description of the reality of what persecution actually means. It has been turned on its head. In the United States today, Christian religious belief is accorded such a level of public respect that it must be deferred to in every situation. In schools, in government offices, in supermarkets, hospitals and gas stations, non-Christians cannot escape the constant demand for public obeisance to Christianity.
Ah, religious respect 
for girls and women.

Last week, a young girl was made the scapegoat in a fundamentalist Catholic power-play. The fact that Christian misogyny is still so open and accepted in society is bad enough, but the repeated expressions of respect by everyone involved - including the victims of the discrimination itself - for this medieval, systemic marginalization of women and girls was little short of amazing. In a breathtaking show of oppositional apologia, the ultra-conservative Catholic school in question brazenly couched its policy of discrimination against girls as "teaching boys to respect ladies". Apparently, the only way to "respect ladies" is to bar them from sports they are qualified to play, deny them opportunities to compete with their ability peers and generally limit their horizons as far as possible within strictly segregated, narrowly traditional gender roles.

The gender roles that Our Lady of Sorrows and similar ultra-conservative Christian organizations advocate for boys and girls tend - as always when "religious tradition" is invoked - to mean these things: active, dynamic, leadership roles for boys;  passive, submissive, invisible roles for girls. In this religiously-fueled zeal to squeeze their female adherents into a suffocatingly circumscribed world of few joys and almost no choices, conservative Christians are exactly like their conservative brethren of other faiths - ultra-orthodox Jews and the Islamist Taliban - which enshrine repression of women into their orthodoxy under the same perniciously virtuous-sounding label of "respect for women".

A lifetime of shrouded invisibility.
Now, that's respect!
These religious extremists do not respect women. Their actions betray that their motives are the polar opposite of respectful; they intend not to respect the rights and autonomy - the humanity - of women and girls, but to deny them autonomy and rights - and their humanity. The purpose of this dogma is to control women for the use and service of men: to keep them subservient, less than men, silenced and invisible. The farce of conservative respect for women is nothing more than a cruelly ironic cover for the conservative campaign for the subjugation of women. There is real harm being done in the name of religion and it ought not to be allowed to continue without vigorous criticism.

I do not respect the beliefs of Our Lady of Sorrows school. I condemn their beliefs and their actions as the  immoral, repressive expression of deeply misogynistic theology. Attempts to establish medieval religious extremism should never go unchallenged in a civilized, egalitarian, free society. We would do well to remember that no society is impervious to the ever-present danger of right-wing authoritarianism. Domestic turmoil usually lays the conditions for the rise of oppressive theocracies, but war and failed government are not the only ways that authoritarian rule can gain a foothold in a contemporary society. Too often, authoritarian theocratic regimes take over when the people of a country have become complacently overconfident in their ability to detect and deflect such extremism. Tolerance of religious oppression is not respectful. It is foolhardy.

It is time to stop paying undeserved respect to religious groups which marginalize and disrespect selected groups of human beings - usually female human beings. People who possess sincere respect for the essential humanity and dignity of others must refuse to offer "respect" for these oppressive ideologies. We must stand up and declare that this behavior is an affront to human dignity. It is immoral and people must have the courage to call it what it is. Religion is powerful. It is powerful enough to call for the elimination of its opponents in most parts of the world, and most religions do not hesitate to do so when they are threatened. But, if people who value freedom of religion and who understand the threat which tyranny of the majority poses will not stand up, then we are - willingly? - participating in the destruction of our own democratic republic.