Friday, May 31, 2013

El Salvador Supreme Court Blesses State-Sanctioned Murder

The Supreme Court of Injustice, El Salvador



























When a woman is pregnant with a doomed fetus - and when continuing the pregnancy will certainly damage her health irrevocably if it doesn't kill her immediately - is a law that forces her to continue the pregnancy pro-life? If the justification for denying abortions to women no matter what the circumstances is "respect for life", how do anti-choice activists square that justification with the reality that even when only one life, the woman's, is in jeopardy - and her life could be easily saved by ending the pregnancy - they continue to insist on the hardline no-exceptions anti-abortion laws?

Should the Salvadoran state 
have the right 
to murder this woman?
There really are no adequate words to describe or explain the deeply-rooted misogyny that underpins nearly all anti-choice activism. Anti-choice ideology has never been about "life"; it has always been about controlling women. The most recent surge of "pro-life" ideology in the USA can be traced directly back to Roe v Wade and the women's rights movement. The "pro-life" movement was a reaction to that landmark case establishing women's reproductive autonomy during the so-called "sexual revolution". The movement's goal was to restore the former legal apparatus which would compel women to return to reproductive slavery by criminalizing most female-controlled methods of reproductive control and to pass legislation enabling the state (and theocratic society) to punish sexually active women through denial of access to contraceptives or reproductive healthcare and through forced pregnancy. It is an ideology which refuses to acknowledge that most women are at risk of unwanted sexual activity and involuntary pregnancy at some point in their lives, and refuses to protect women from the consequences of coerced or forced sexual intercourse which it largely denies ever occurs. It is an ideology that presupposes that women are wanton, immoral sexual libertines who have no normal human feelings about life or its sanctity nor any normal human feelings toward other people. It is an ideology that rests on the assumption that women are so deficient in normal human sensibility that they can casually kill for convenience. It is an ideology based upon a distrustful hatred - and dehumanization of - women at the most primitive level of human subconsciousness.

For anti-choice activists, the core principle is that no woman should ever have sexual freedom because women cannot be trusted to behave like moral, neurologically-normal (male) human beings who possess a fully-developed conscience and natural human feelings. The only sexual activity a woman should be allowed is to be the sexually submissive "partner" within the bonds of matrimony, under the "headship" of a man - and at his pleasure. Under this system, while a woman may possibly be able to avoid marital rape if she has a decent husband, she is never allowed to effectively avoid an unwanted pregnancy. Whether a pregnancy is unplanned or planned, forced through rape or incest, an accident of failed contraception (if, indeed, a woman is able to get access to effective female-controlled contraception), discovered after a serious health issue has been discovered or any other of the dozens of ways women become unintentionally pregnant in any given year - anti-choicers say that no woman should ever have the right to say "no" to any pregnancy once fertilization has occurred. It is their trump card.

The modern "pro-life" movement is largely
funded by religious groups, but its roots
go much deeper in human culture.
To their fury, those who wish to deny women human rights realize that they cannot stop women from being sexually active beings who believe they are equal to men. That genie slipped out of the bottle for good after the sexual revolution. So, to ensure that sooner or later most women will be confronted with the brutal reality of their true place in this patriarchal world, the anti-choice movement campaigns for a state-sanctioned no exceptions, forced-pregnancy trap criminalizing nearly all reproductive choices which put women's bodily autonomy under their own control. Women are still not regarded as fully human beings. In spite of rhetoric paying lip service to notions of "respect" and "equality", the reality is that legally and/or culturally in nearly every society on the planet women continue to be regarded as little more than animals reduced to nothing but their biological functions. Perhaps even less than animals, since there are actually legal protections for most animals who face unintended pregnancies, and most people also recognize that animals have some emotions, feel pain and ought to be spared unnecessary suffering. When the topic is abortion, however, women are erased from the discussion; their emotions, physical pain and unnecessary suffering is ignored. All focus is centered on a zygote or fetus as if it is independently floating in space inside a magical bubble of "life"; as if its existence does not impact another human being's body and life at all. Because women are considered less than human beings - mere walking wombs - this is exactly how human cultures can continue to regard the issue as a "pro-life" one. When only one "life" is recognized as valid and fully human (the potential offspring of a fully human man), the threat to its existence may seem to be the only threat to "life". If a walking womb is maimed or dies while being forced to gestate a fetus it did not choose to carry, no human being has actually been harmed.

The ultimate social priority of religion is to confirm and enforce the authority of men over women. To that end, religious conservatives - and their men in government - are willing to grant even rapists and abusers privileges over women, to safeguard the authority of "godly" men. In short, in order to protect the privilege of all men, themselves included of course, even "godly" men who profess to abhor rape willingly award rapists and abusers the right to reproduce using women's bodies against their will. As always, there is no thought spared for the humanity of the women who would be sacrificed to this Christian ideology. At best, they are dismissed as the "blessed" recipients of a "gift from God". Wait, Consent Means WHAT? NiftyIdeas, May 1, 2012.

No matter how this
happened - it's her
cross to bear, now!
While many people would protest that this is not how they think or feel - and that may be true on an individual level - the reality all over the world is that in the eyes of the law in most societies, women are still possessions to be used by men for reproduction. Anti-choice zealots right here in the "progressive" west are proudly willing to force women to be pregnant by rape and incest in order to protect all men from the possibility that some day, somewhere, some woman might dare to deny a man the right to use her body to reproduce. In patriarchal societies, it seems likely that it is a fear that sexually emancipated women will abuse their perceived "power" to control men's ability to reproduce which ignites the anger and feelings of "male victimhood" behind the drive to control women. While a few anti-choice ideologues may ruefully admit that unjust forced births are regrettable, most are satisfied to sacrifice a few innocent women as a lesson to all that no woman who is sexually active without permission will ever go unpunished. If we allow any exceptions, the argument goes, then what would stop women from lying to obtain abortions (to deny men fatherhood!) any time they want them? The accompanying visual of the free-floating fetus (usually portrayed as a full-term baby or even a school-aged child), underlines the false and inflammatory notion that abortion is the murder of a living person equal to a 6 year old child, not the termination of a barely visible pregnancy which can only progress to viability if it uses an actual living woman's body for nine months - at great cost to her. Again, the argument is predicated on underlying assumptions that women are manipulative, amoral, sexually promiscuous, inhuman liars who are capable of killing without conscience and will say or do anything to get away with it.

Women are confronted daily with the harassment and intimidation of a human culture which seethes with resentment toward them.  But nowhere is the starkness of cultural misogyny more evident than in the viciously anti-woman agenda of the perversely named "pro-life" movement. This movement, backed by most of the world's major religions (but probably predating them), cheerfully condemns women to the status of mere incubators for the progeny of men. The physical toll of pregnancy (whether chosen or not chosen by the woman) is ignored; the risk of permanent disability or death due to pregnancy to all women - even seemingly healthy women - is ignored; the barely-existent "right" of women to be free of sexual or reproductive slavery is ignored.

That is because the "right to life" of a conceptus is, in fact, really just an extension of men's rights. A conceptus is always some man's potential offspring and, at its core, religious teaching is all about enshrining the right of every man to reproduce. If women are allowed the freedom to choose when and if they will become pregnant, some men would almost certainly have difficulty finding a willing mate with whom to procreate. Religions which enforce the authority of men over women and which restrict the freedom and choices of women therefore speak to the root of cultural misogyny - men's fear of the potential power of women to control their (men's) ability to reproduce. "Right to life" is actually the trojan horse by which male rights over women are being inserted directly into women's uteri. That's right. It's a great big legal 'fuck you, women'! NiftyIdeas, May 1, 2012.
When a woman is forced to endure the permanent
physical damage of pregnancy,
and the agony of labor and delivery of a dead fetus
in service of the ideology of others,
it is simply a her "cross to bear".
Such is the cold, 
pitiless inhumanity
 of "right to life" zealots.

Beatriz in El Salvador is facing this terrible reality today. A 22-year old mother of one toddler is being forced by the state of El Salvador to continue a pregnancy which may very well kill her. The fetus she is carrying has anencephaly - it has no brain and parts of its skull are missing. It will almost certainly die before or during birth and definitely cannot survive after. Only as a passenger in Beatriz's body - using Beatriz's blood, organs and taking nutrition from her - has the fetus survived to date.

The 22-year-old woman suffers from severe and complicated illnesses. Her doctors have told her that she will likely die giving birth, and the unborn child will most likely live only a few hours, but she is prevented by law from having an abortion.
"They [the Supreme Court] were not convinced this is the way... they are saying Beatriz is not in danger and she must pursue the natural way of delivery and we must see what happens," said Mata (Beatriz's lawyer). CBS News, May 30, 2012.

In addition to facing the long list of health risks that even a normal, voluntary pregnancy poses to a healthy woman, Beatriz faces a serious risk of dying if the pregnancy continues. The ethical medical protocol should be to urgently terminate the pregnancy to prevent further, unavoidable grave health consequences and possibly (her doctors say "probably") death. Beatriz has a number of health issues, among them a severe case of lupus, which is a serious autoimmune disorder. A video on YouTube which shows just Beatriz's hands as she softly tells her story, points to the possibility that she may possibly suffer from other autoimmune disorders - her hands show signs consistent with both vitiligo and rheumatoid arthritis - which suggests that in her case, one of the contributing factors to her extremely high risk of severe harm or death due to an inadvisable pregnancy is the possibility of a cascade of autoimmune disorders essentially shutting down her organ functions.

In the ruling, the court cited doctors as saying that “an eventual interruption of the pregnancy would not imply, much less have as an objective, the destruction of the fetus.”
Beatriz’s lawyer, however, described the ruling as “misogynistic” because it placed the rights of a fetus with little chance of surviving after birth over the welfare of a sick woman who already has an infant boy to care for.
“The court placed the life of the anencephalic baby over Beatriz’s life,” said Víctor Hugo Mata, one of her lawyers, speaking by phone from the Supreme Court. “Justice here does not respect the rights of women.”
Last month, a group of doctors overseeing Beatriz’s care at the National Maternity Hospital sent a report to the Health Ministry arguing that as the pregnancy progressed, the risk of hemorrhaging, kidney failure and maternal death would increase. Salvadoran Court Denies Abortion to Ailing Woman, Karla Zabludovsky and Gene Palumbo, The New York Times, May 29, 2013.

El Salvador is one of the few remaining nations which still officially enshrines reproductive enslavement of women in its laws. There, abortion under any circumstances - including rape and health (or life) of the woman - is criminalized and harsh sentences are passed on women who break the law, sometimes even after spontaneous miscarriage. The country whose national motto is "God, Unity, Freedom" ensures through forced-birth laws like this that the first word in the motto reigns supreme, even canceling out the other words - and definitely the last word - if you happen to be a woman.

People writing about this outrageous miscarriage of justice have frequently asserted that El Salvador is a putatively "Catholic" country, therefore blaming the Catholic Church for this among its many other crimes. But there is a danger that this viciously misogynist activism will be dismissed as a "Catholic" problem, even as the power of the Catholic church declines, thus giving cover to the other groups behind the push to roll back women's rights. Latin America has been heavily targeted by evangelical Christian "missions" over the past 30 years and those "missionaries" exported their anti-choice ideology along with their Christian fundamentalism. El Salvador now has a population whose religious affiliation reflects that fact. While just over 50% of the population still identifies as Catholic, nearly 30% identify as Evangelical or Pentecostal Protestant. This anti-choice ideology is not strictly a "Catholic" thing - indeed before the Protestant insurgency in the region, the rules around abortion had gradually been relaxing even when a much higher percentage of the population identified as Catholic.

Denial of the basic human right to bodily autonomy - and denial of the right to life of an innocent woman - makes a complete mockery of the claims of "civilized" people everywhere that they respect life. Whether for religious reasons - or simply in response to older, more deeply-ingrained animal drives - women in every society on earth still struggle for life and freedom in a world which brutally reduces them to a dehumanized tool in the service of the reproductive needs of men.

Here is a petition to ask the Obama administration to speak out against this travesty.





Thank Gods It's FreyaDay!





























Good Morning, Humans.

I am in a box.

I enjoy playing in this box.

My humans think it is funny that I am in this box.

They are so silly.

They do not realize that I am playing an exciting game I call Physics Cat!

I am Physics Cat! I am exploring the limitations of quantum mechanics.

If Apollo or Artemis wander over here, I'll show them some entanglement, too!

I am Physics Cat!

I am alive, I am frisky and I like to play in this box!

Thank gods it's FreyaDay!


Schrödinger's Cat

Photons spin, electrons whirl,
down there in odd quantum worlds.
The game is changed, some say deranged,
the sub-atomic ways are strange
and mysterious, and seriously surreal.

Is what you see, what you get;
There is no paradox here, Humans.
a particle of truth or a wave of regret?
The choppy chaos of the paradigm bet;
a unique mathermatic to fathom the set.

A new kind of looking with a new range of tools.
Up close and personal with weird molecules.
The study of coincidence that overturns the rules,
of anomalous phenomena and the prophesy of fools.

Protons spin, neutrons twirl,
like batons thrown by cheering girls.
Atoms twin in a spiral dance,
of random proteins, where all is chance
and mysterious, and seriously surreal.

In the multiples of universe, the elements collide,
to fashion pious fabulum in all its form and pride.
The infinite possibilities, the vistas open wide
to the parallel realities, existing side by side.

Micron thin, the plasma swirls,
deep within these nano worlds.
When is a cat, not a cat;
when it is, or where it's at?
It's all mysterious, and seriously surreal.

- David Smith-White


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Thorsday Tonic - Tropes vs Women in Video Games

                                                                                                                               photo via feminist frequency



























Back in March, I wrote a blog post featuring the work of feminist - and enthusiastic gamer - Anita Sarkeesian in honor of International Women's Day. Ms. Sarkeesian has faced down a veritable army of haters who have attacked her viciously for the 'crime' of criticizing the prevalence of harmful sexist tropes in video games.

In 2012, Sarkeesian made the "mistake" of launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund a series of videos examining the prevalence of sexist gendered stereotypes in video games. While the project was hailed as a great idea by many feminist gamers (both men and women), it was met with outrage by a significant subset of gamers and misogynists on the internet. The resulting firestorm of misogynistic harassment ranged from expletive-laced comments on the website to threats of rape, torture and death. Her blog, Feminist Frequency, was hacked. Enraged gamers created "games" featuring Sarkeesian as a character who is raped, beaten or killed (or all three) - one was called "Beat up Anita Sarkeesian" and featured the *fun* of punching the animated Anita until the blood-spatter turns the screen red. Furious gamers sent videos of the violence being done to her "game character", perhaps meant as a warning and a threat, but undoubtedly meant to harass, intimidate and silence her.
Yeah, this really was a thing.

The first video in the series, Tropes vs Women in Video Games, Damsel in Distress Part 1 can be found here

Yesterday, Part 2 of Damsel in Distress was released to almost instant attack by the same sort of internet trolls who have been harrassing Ms Sarkeesian from the moment she decided to challenge the status quo in the video game industry. As Jason at Lousy Canuck reported, her video was false-flagged and pulled from YouTube within an hour of its posting. 

Think about that for a moment. People are so desperate to attack Sarkeesian and any attempt at injecting feminist commentary into video games, that they’re willing to silence her by marking it as objectionable. Not because the content is incorrect, or because the content is damning of the industry, but because how daaaaaare this mere woman criticize this immature art form that we love so much? Jason Thibeault, Lousy Canuck, May 28, 2013.

The video is back up now and it is as good as, if not better than, the first one. 

Gather the teenagers 'round and take a few minutes to view. Don't forget to discuss!


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Bible in Under 11 Minutes



Back in March, I posted Dusty's first segment on parts 1&2 of The "History" Channel's "The Bible" - a Christian propaganda piece of monumental proportion.  The series was heavily promoted and, cashing in on the false presumption that a series on the History Channel would actually be... oh I don't know... historically accurate and factual, the producers managed to cull a very large audience for their proselytizing Christian lying for religion. Dusty cuts through all the nonsense and points out the laughable inconsistencies and ferociously vindictive evil described as god's love in the so-called "good book".

Here is Dusty's hilarious recap of parts 3 & 4 of that dishonest series presenting mythological horror stories as "historical" programming.  It is definitely Not Safe For Work (language, gruesome nature of Biblical mythology), but is definitely worth a viewing by those with strong constitutions (and few triggers). Caution:  graphic violence, rape, murder, blood.

Good job highlighting the twisted Christian "morality", not to mention the political agenda behind this sleazy propaganda.

via cultofdusty


Monday, May 13, 2013

Monday Music - One More Try



Brace yourself for this Monday Music. It packs an emotional punch.

If you are going through a tough time, maybe give this one a pass.

Before Adele, there was George Michael:

One More Try

I've had enough of danger
And people on the streets
I'm looking out for angels
Just trying to find some peace
Now I think it's time
That you let me know
So if you love me
Say you love me
But if you don't just let me go...

'Cos teacher
There are things that I don't want to learn
And the last one I had
Made me cry
So I don't want to learn to
Hold you, touch you
Think that you're mine
Because it ain't no joy
For an uptown boy
Whose teacher has told him goodbye, goodbye, goodbye

When you were just a stranger
And I was at your feet
I didn't feel the danger
Now I feel the heat
That look in your eyes
Telling me no
So you think that you love me
Know that you need me
I wrote the song, I know it's wrong
Just let me go...

And teacher
There are things
That I don't want to learn
Oh the last one I had
Made me cry
So I don't want to learn to
Hold you, touch you
Think that you're mine
Because it ain't no joy
For an uptown boy
Whose teacher has told him goodbye, goodbye, goodbye

So when you say that you need me
That you'll never leave me
I know you're wrong, you're not that strong
Let me go

And teacher
There are things
That I still have to learn
But the one thing I have is my pride
Oh so I don't want to
Hold you, touch you
Think that you're mine
Because there ain't no joy
For an uptown boy
Who just isn't willing to try

I'm so cold
Inside
Maybe just one more try...

Friday, May 10, 2013

Minnesota House Votes For Marriage Equality

                                                                                                                         photo credit: David Joles, Minnesota Star Tribune



























The Minnesota House made history Thursday, voting 75-59 to legalize same-sex marriage after three hours of heartfelt speeches from members on both sides of the issue.

The Senate is expected to OK the bill soon, and Gov. Mark Dayton has pledged to sign it into law.

In a closing statement just before the House vote, the bill’s author, Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, acknowledged that many opponents believe the change will “redefine marriage.’’ But Clark rightly pointed out that extending the right to same-sex couples “strengthens the meaning’’ of marriage by making it more inclusive. Minnesota Star Tribune, May 9, 2013.

House Majority Leader Erin Murphy
hugs Rep. Steve Simon who spoke on
the house floor in defense of
 marriage equality
It's been a good week for supporters of marriage equality in the United States. Yesterday, Minnesota became the third state in a week - and the twelfth in the country - to pass legislation affirming the right of all adult citizens to marry their partners. The other two states that moved forward with progressive marriage equality legislation this week were Rhode Island and Delaware.

Minnesotans should be proud to be in such good company. It speaks volumes about our sense of fairness to be among the pioneering states on this important equal-rights issue. editorial staff at MN Star Tribune, May 9, 2013.

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Full story here.

Here's to you Minnesota! Mazel tov!


                                                                                                                         photo credit: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

Thank Gods It's FreyaDay!




































Good Morning, Humans.

Why yes, I am comfortable, thank you.

Very comfortable.

My humans prefer to have me very close by when they are trying to work.

I keep things running smoothly around here, you know.

If I hadn't blocked the workspace like this, how would my human have remembered to

feed me treats, give me belly scritches and show me who's boss?

I am comfortable and in case you did not know this:

I am the boss!

Thank gods it's FreyaDay!





Training Your Human

Training your human is a thankless task.
"Why bother with it?", some kittens may ask.
The fate of the world is the issue at hand,
as felines worldwide stake a claim for their land.
Make no bones about it, we cats own the joint.
We spray in the corners to drive home the point.

Some say the meek shall inherit the Earth,
But they've no fangs or claws, for what that's worth.
The cat is the ultimate species, you see,
We're poised to usurp man's authority.
These silly old humans who cannot play nice!
We cats are peaceful, we hate only mice.

Just what does training your human entail?
A host of fun things you must do without fail:
The sofas and rugs need a little makeover.
The La-Z-Boy's target for kitty takeover.
Then sleep on clean towels placed in the guest bath.
And make their best clothing a target of wrath.

Tear down those new drapes with a quick forceful tug.
Then tatter the pile of the new Berber rug.
And when they are sleeping, you block off their nose,
paw at their lower lip, chew on their toes.
Strut on the mantle. If they give any flack,
knock down their trophies and all bric-a-brac.

Shed on mom's new velvet black evening gown,
as she's headed out for a night on the town.
If they leave you home all alone for the night,
(Any human doing this can't be all that bright),
They're telling you by leaving, it's perfectly all right,
To totally redecorate 'til dawn's early light.
Knock over tables and chew up the fern.
Hurry, go faster! Soon, they'll return...

When they try to punish, you mustn't show concern.
(All attempts of discipline a pussycat should spurn.)
A snide flick of tail will convey no remorse,
but they will try harder to scold you, of course!
So, hide in the closet until they forget,
and then launch out just like an F-14 jet.

Tear up their ankle, their forearm, their hand,
then when they've had all the pain they can stand,
dart from the room while they call 9-1-1,
and celebrate victory: The felines have won!
To humans, however, the battle's begun,
as they steep in their anger and wish for a gun.

Pathetic and lumbering and clumsy to boot,
My friend, human dominance is really a hoot.
Take charge in your home. It's destiny, meow.
(The verses above have already told how.)
So sleep for an hour, and then grab some chow,
And then train your human, beginning right now.

Author Unknown


Artemis occasionally gets the mistaken idea that she, too, is in charge. Silly Artemis!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Audi is Star Trekkin'!


via skyguyuk (hat tip to richardguru who posted a link to this treasure on Pharyngula)

This may be the best thing you look at all week!  For your Thorsday Tonic this week, I was planning to post "Star Trekkin'". But why wait until Thorsday? Let's make it a Wednesday Wonder!

Context:  So, it seems like the entire Facebook universe is sharing an AUDI S7 video ad featuring Leonard Nimoy (Spock, the original) and Zachary Quinto (Spock, recent incarnation).

Undeniably, the Audi ad rocks! If you have the spare chunk of change, I order all NiftyReaders to race right out to your local dealer and buy one of those cars at once! haha not really. But, wow, if awesome ads could ensure marketing success, Audi for the win!

For the younger crowd, the little 60's-vibe ditty ("Bilbo Baggins") that Leonard Nimoy is groovin' to as he drives to the club may be the most rocking thing about the entire ad - which is saying a lot! The video at the top of this post fills in the missing context. Enjoy!

And, because it is just so full of win, here is the Audi ad:


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Good News Clubs Are Bad News For America
























Urgent: If you're short on time, skip my essay and go straight to the excellent video at the bottom of this post. I've written about this before, but this video is well worth watching - in a short, fast-paced documentary, Sophia's investigation makes the case far better than my verbosity ever could.

The Child Evangelism Fellowship is a Christian dominionist group which directly proselytizes to young children in public schools, often in defiance of the wishes of parents (see shocking video below as parent group tries, unsuccessfully, to protest). The vehicle through which the CEF gains access to your children, whether you want them to have access or not, is the Good News Club. You may have heard of them. They are not "good news". The Good News Club is an ideological and psychological attack on our children by the Christian right.

The CEF does not even hide the fact, anymore. Since they were handed an unconstitutional invitation to invade the neighborhood public school and tell your children that they are filthy, dirty sinners who deserve to die and burn in hell forever and ever, the CEF has been crowing about its ability to target your child preferably without your approval and especially if you are trying to raise your child with a different religious worldview. Yes, the CEF prefers - and relishes - the fact that they have been given government power to inflict psychological harm on your children without your consent. They delight in the fact that you are powerless to prevent them from spreading their "gospel" of hate, shame and fear:

“How’s it going at that school you were telling me about? The one where the principal was - you know - uncooperative?” a gray-haired gentleman in a plaid button-down shirt asks a younger friend in a white vest. 

“We slaughtered ’em!” the younger man replies. 

They both nod, satisfied. Throughout the convention, a phrase that I keep hearing is “kicking in the doors” — as in 

“We’re going to kick in the doors of every public school in the country!”  (excerpt from The Good News Club: The Christian Right's Stealth Assault on America's Children).


Some parents may approve of these messages—but many, like Havener, find them antithetical to the values they want to instill in their own children. Because the club doesn’t reveal its hardline approach at the outset, it can end up converting children away from their parents’ beliefs. In fact, this is one of the Club’s explicit goals. At one CEF conference I attended, CEF leaders strategized about how to convert the children of Hispanic families. 

“Don’t discredit the Catholic church,” a head of CEF’s Spanish ministries named Claudia Calderon warned a room full of Good News Club instructors. “At least, not at the beginning.” Do Evengelical Kids Clubs Deserve Freedom of Speech in Public Schools? Katherine Stewart, The Atlantic, March 2012.

One would think that the public discussions of Jesus Camp, and the disturbing videos which came out about it, would have alerted concerned parents to the danger of letting religion have a free pass to indoctrinate their youngsters, but apparently not.  Religion is given a pass once more.  Actually, religion is not just given a pass but is still presumed to be, on the whole, a positive and good thing for children, even by parents who would be horrified if they knew the true intentions of religious proselytizers who have targeted their children for training as warriors for Jesus.

The number of Good News Clubs and their influence in schools and communities has been growing at an alarming rate.  A recent article in the Guardian by Katherine Stewart (author of The Good News Club: The Christian Right's Stealth Assault on America's Children) has broken the story that the clubs, emboldened by the protection of a bad 2001 Supreme Court decision, are no longer bothering to even pretend that their real agenda is not proselytizing and grooming Christian warriors:

The CEF has been teaching the story of the Amalekites at least since 1973. In its earlier curriculum materials, CEF was euphemistic about the bloodshed, saying simply that "the Amalekites were completely defeated." In the most recent version of the curriculum, however, the group is quite eager to drive the message home to its elementary school students. The first thing the curriculum makes clear is that if God gives instructions to kill a group of people, you must kill every last one:

"You are to go and completely destroy the Amalekites (AM-uh-leck-ites) – people, animals, every living thing. Nothing shall be left."

"That was pretty clear, wasn't it?" the manual tells the teachers to say to the kids.

The Slaughter of the Amalekites
Asking if Saul would "pass the test" of obedience, the text points to Saul's failure to annihilate every last Amalekite, posing the rhetorical question:

"If you are asked to do something, how much of it do you need to do before you can say, 'I did it!'?"

"If only Saul had been willing to seek God for strength to obey!" the lesson concludes.


Even more important, the Good News Club wants the children to know, the Amalakites were targeted for destruction on account of their religion, or lack of it. The instruction manual reads: 


"The Amalekites had heard about Israel's true and living God many years before, but they refused to believe in him. The Amalekites refused to believe in God and God had promised punishment." How Christian fundamentalists plan to teach genocide to schoolchildren,Katherine Stewart, The Guardian.

These Christian proselytizing vehicles won the right to insert themselves into public schools under the deceptive and insidious ruling (one of the few majority opinions authored by the conservative Clarence Thomas) in 2001. In that decision (Good News Club vs Milford Central School), the Supreme Court Justice disingenuously agreed with the CEF defense that the clubs were not religious in nature at all, but were merely clubs performing the laudable function of “teaching of morals and character development from a particular viewpoint”. Nothing to worry about there, right? But, wait. Here is the CEF viewpoint, straight from their "About Us" webpage:

Jesus Camps and Good News Clubs:
nothing but good, harmless fun!
"Child Evangelism Fellowship® (CEF®) is a Bible-centered, worldwide organization that is dedicated to seeing every child reached with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, discipled and established in a local church."

Many parents uncritically accept these clubs as being what their deliberately kid-friendly name implies: a club for harmless fun and a sense of belonging, in the spirit of the Good News Bears. These parents either do not realise or do not want to realise that the raison d'être of Good News Clubs is to convert children and turn them into Christian evangelicals.  These clubs are designed to pull in children under false pretenses (in many cases offering after-school care which is almost irresistible to parents who are struggling with poorly paid jobs and a lack of affordable child-care which is becoming a national crisis) and then convert them to fundamentalist Christianity. The benign-sounding name, the lure of a fun-sounding "club" and the fact that the children are often strongly encouraged to join by respected authorities (the schools) are all part of an insidious strategy to gain access to children without the truly informed consent of their parents and, obviously, of the children themselves. School acceptance of these clubs, mandated by the Supreme Court, means that both children and their parents are deceived into thinking that the secular, public schools endorse these religious clubs - and that there is no deeper agenda - which is one of the main reasons why the CEF fought so hard and so dishonestly to get them into public schools in the first place.

The Christian church has long used childhood indoctrination to ensure that obedient and thoroughly cowed legions of believers continue to swell their ranks, providing them with the power of numbers, financial wealth and, of course, warriors willing to die for their god/church/divinely appointed rulers. It has always been in the interest of those who hold power to have a large faith following, and religion has provided both the means and the ends.

"Knock down all doors, all the barriers,
to all 65,000 public elementary schools in America
 and take the Gospel to this open mission field now!
Not later, now!"

(CEF  national convention keynote speech, 2010)
There was empirical evidence behind the oft-quoted assertion of St. Francis Xavier (one of the first Jesuits, a Catholic order of priests famed as educators): "Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man (alternatively: "and I care not who has him thereafter"). The well-educated, observant and intelligent Jesuits had noticed that people who are thoroughly indoctrinated in religious dogma in early childhood retain those beliefs throughout life, while people in whom religious belief has not been inculcated early are more difficult to convert - and to control. They realized, though they did not have the language to describe it yet, that the psychological impact of early indoctrination - particularly indoctrination based upon fear and confusion - usually lasts a lifetime.

Young children have no defenses against deliberate indoctrination. When they are taught to fear a god through stories which illustrate the god's relentlessly violent and implacably unforgiving reaction - not to lying, stealing and murdering which the Biblical god often condones and even orders, but to disbelief and disobedience - they learn the lesson through fear and they learn it well.  The Biblical god is a terrifyingly powerful "awesome" god and the one "sin" He will never forgive is lack of belief. The children are primed first with the "fun" and then the stories are told, gradually leading to the point when the children are tearfully, fearfully professing "belief".

Research has shown that one of the most powerful human motivators is fear, and one of the most difficult psychological challenges to overcome is irrational fear, especially fear that has taken root in the mind at an early age. Religious proselytizers know this, and this is why they are so insistent upon childhood indoctrination. Children are vulnerable to lifelong damage from the powerful emotional appeal of fear and guilt-based religious proselytizing.  They cannot "unthink" terrible thoughts which have been planted in their minds early. They cannot "unfeel" the horror and the fear that is elicited in their psyches through early Bible instruction.

Religious eschatology - and the terrifying images it evokes - is nothing less than psychological abuse of children. Yet, not only are parents permitted to subject their own children to these horrors, but religious groups are being permitted to sneak their fundamentalist religious indoctrination into public and private schools where they can prey on other peoples' children as well. In fact, gaining access to the children of parents who would not voluntarily subject their children to this violent, misanthropic and destructive theology is precisely the purpose of the Good News Club.

What we don't want to know
may seriously harm the USA.
The CEF is an explicitly evangelical, explicitly fundamentalist, explicitly and unapologetically dominionist Christian group and by continuing to be willfully blind to their purpose, parents are participating in the indoctrination of their children into extremist religion, whether they want to admit it to themselves or not. It is vital that more people speak out about this strategy of the religious right. They have already insinuated themselves into thousands of public schools in the USA and around the world, and they do not intend to stop until they have converted every child.

Telling ourselves that one powerful religious group really cannot take over like that or kidding ourselves that the first amendment will protect people from religious tyranny is being willfully blind, deaf and dumb. As we have seen with the concurrent (and not merely coincidental) strategy of powerful groups to get issues affecting minorities' Constitutional rights onto ballots so that they can be put to a majority vote, the longterm objectives of the conservative right wing have been carefully and patiently planned. There is a real danger that the majority can use its power and clout to force their view on the minority until the power is so nearly total that complete annihilation of opposing viewpoints is achieved. The 2001 case heard by the SCOTUS is where the freedom from religion part should have been upheld – but the court has also been swayed by the power of the Christian majority.

Why is Katherine Stewart's nearly the only voice which has been raised publicly about this? Last year and again this year P Z Myers and Ophelia Benson blogged about it, as have I and some other bloggers, but why has this not been discussed in the mainstream media? It is a constitutional issue - a civil rights and religious freedom issue. Yet, the silence of the fourth estate is deafening.

This may be  one of those things where people who care about this country and who care about preserving religious freedom may have to make the effort to stand up for it, or risk losing it. The issue is now urgent. Please take half an hour to watch this thoroughly chilling video.

from ScottBurdick again: Sophia Investigates The Good News Club.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Monday Music - Consequence Free!




For your Monday Music today, Great Big Sea's tongue-in-cheek ditty about the false dichotomy between belief/conformity/sanity vs. unbelief/individuality/depravity.

Consequence Free

Wouldn't it be great, if no one ever got offended
Wouldn't it be great to say what's really on your mind
I have always said 'all the rules are made for bending'
And if I let my hair down, would that be such a crime?

[Chorus]
I wanna be consequence free
I wanna be where nothing needs to matter
I wanna be consequence free
just sing Na Na Na Na Na Ne Na Na Na

I could really use, to lose my Catholic conscience
Cuz I'm getting sick of feeling guilty all the time
I won't abuse it, Yeah I've got the best intentions
For a little bit of anarchy but not the hurting kind

[Chorus]

I couldn't sleep at all last night
cause I had so much on my mind
I'd like to leave it all behind,
but you know it's not that easy

[Chorus]

Wouldn't it be great, if the band just never ended
We could stay out late and we would never hear last call
We wouldn't need to worry about approval or permission,
we could - slip off the edge and never worry about the fall

[Chorus]

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Homeschooling Revisited


Why are there so many infants in this homeschooling logo?  Curious!


























(Updated with reader Elise's comment and my response below)

I have been curious about homeschooling lately. I have always been pretty certain that I do not have the temperament for it, because even though I always loved spending time exploring with my kids when they were younger - not to mention reading with them and amassing a book collection worthy of small library status - I knew that I lacked the organizational skills and the stick-to-it-iveness necessary for success. I have to admit, though, that some days the idea of sailing around the world with my partner and our kids - providing them with the best darn home-schooled education imaginable -  is very tempting indeed!

Actors portraying the Nifty family:
citizens of the world!
Anyway, this week I have had more than the usual number of those days and thoughts about sailing away have been drifting pleasantly across my mind, so this morning - just for fun - I decided to look into what kind of resources are out there to help people like me. You know: people who like to daydream about how cool it would be to sail the world with teenaged offspring, living off the grid- independently and self-sufficiently! - learning new skills (maybe the kids could learn a few things, too) and generally becoming quite literally the coolest family on the planet!  The same people who fail to consider the challenges and frustrations of trying to help said offspring finish their high school education while gallivanting around the globe (killjoy!).

Everyone knows that the homeschooling movement in the USA is dominated by religious fundamentalists - the movement was actually inspired by Rousas John Rushdoony, the Calvinist father of American Christian Reconstructionism - but I happen to know at least one secular homeschooler (Hi Jenn!)  so it has to be at least hypothetically possible that not everything connected to homeschooling would have to be drenched in the blood of Jesus.

Yikes! Website banner for Homeschooling Books.com
Education in the shadow of the cross? That is just creepy.
This morning, I decided to idly surf the web to see what resources would be out there for a parent seeking curricula, textbooks and supporting materials in order to provide a good, non-religious homeschooling experience for her children.  I found a secular homeschooling website!  The Secular Homeschool Community homepage lists forums, blogs, groups and resources tabs for homeschooling parents who wish to provide their children with an excellent, broad-ranging, thorough education that is not based upon religious dogma.  Excellent!

Perusing the google search page again, I typed in homeschool textbooks to see how easy it might be to find books and materials to support a homeschooling curriculum as suggested on the website.  At the top of the search results was Homeschooling Books. I clicked on it only to discover that it was obviously geared toward the Christian homeschooling community in spite of its deceptively bland website name and description.

The next site I opened, sporting an equally bland name (Homeschool Supercenter!) looked much more promising.  Their textbook menu included specifically Christian resources and texts, of course, since the majority of homeschooling families are homeschooling for explicitly religious reasons. But at the top of the menu - even before the undoubtedly more popular Christian resources - were several categories of secular textbooks!

Feeling delighted that the second most referred site on the google search for homeschool textbooks offered resources for secular homeschooling, I clicked on the secular science tab and voilà!  A little intermediary page of full curricula packages popped up. On it, not one real science package was featured, but prominently displayed on the top line was "Apologia", a creationist vomitus of Biblical mythology and anti-education, wrapped up in a fancy package with a SCIENCE label slapped on it.

I have news for the Homeschool Supercenter:  creationism is not science. Calling it science does not make it science. Slapping on a SCIENCE label not only will not make that creationist dreck science, but it is false advertising as well.

8th edition of a creationist textbook
Further perusal of that site unearthed what looked to be some actual science resources, but after the bait and switch in the first layers of link clicking before finding the real science buried under the stealth religion, I am not sure it would be wise to purchase them.  I think a secular homeschooler would need to research every text she is considering for her children.

It must be interesting - not to mention a constant training ground for investigative skills - for secular homeschoolers to avoid the traps that appear to have been laid for them by the Christian homeschool movement. Presenting religious mythology in sciency-looking packages and hiding religious dogma in sciency-sounding language in textbooks and materials is the sneaky tactic used by the religious right to trick people into buying that garbage. If they are really lucky, they hope that people will buy into the nonsense, too, thus fulfilling the greater goal of the religious education strategy, which is to deny children a full education - especially denying them an understanding of the scientific method, free thought and skeptical critical thinking skills - thus keeping them ignorant, fearful followers of the teachings of their church.

Parents are free, of course, to deny their children a full education. In fact, it appears that millions have decided to do just that. Encouraged by anecdotal data which point to superior performance of homeschoolers compared to public school educated children, many homeschool parents are rightly proud of what their children  - and they - are able to achieve. But those "statistics"* hide the complete story. Standardized tests can only test what children can regurgitate under less than ideal conditions, not how well-devloped their critical thinking skills have become. There is no way to know whether they have been taught to simply memorize actual scientific theories (which they are told are lies) for testing purposes, while being taught that religious mythology is the actual truth which they must believe or face eternal damnation.

Christian homeschooling websites often post
 optimistic - and totally fabricated - charts like this.
Homeschooling parents who use religious texts for science and history education deny their children access to reality. Worse, like the sciency-sounding but educationally bankrupt creationist textbooks and materials with which homeschoolers dazzle each other and obfuscate reality, the Christian home-schooled child evinces an educated-sounding pseudo-intellectualism which masks a chasm of ignorance so deep the child may literally never be able to climb out of it.

The Christian homeschooling movement continues to grow. According to hopeful Christian homeschooling websites (quickly google** "homeschooling statistics" or similar), it will continue to grow a lot.  I wonder if secular homeschooling is likewise growing?  I am going to keep my eye on this topic because it is related to some other things I am working on about education and the power of the religious right.

Meanwhile, however, I will just keep dreaming!


*My own informal search on the internet for a source of this type of "statistic" report outside the homeschool community turned up zilch. All of the charts and diagrams showing homeschooling superiority that filled pages of goggle** search results came from homeschooling websites and blogs.
** I accidentally typed "goggle" instead of "google", but really, I did sort of goggle at it, too.

                                           ********************************

There is a short string of old comments below the original Hmm...Homeschooling post which I won't republish here. If you are interested in reading what a Christian apologist has to say, then you can read it here.

The reason why I am reposting the essay now is to post an unexpected new comment which arrived back in January. It took me several days to notice the new comment on a much older post, but when I did I was pleasantly surprised by the thoughtful effort that the reader had given to it.

I was knee-deep in other projects through most of the winter, so it took me awhile to get back to this topic and to reply to the comment, which I think deserved an equally thoughtful reply. Thank you for your patience, Elise, and thank you again for an excellent contribution!

Here is Elise's comment and my response:


I see I'm a little late here, but I wanted to chime in. There is more than one homeschooler who is doing it for completely secular reasons. I really appreciate your point of view, and thoroughly enjoyed reading your article; particularly, "the Christian home-schooled child evinces an educated-sounding pseudo-intellectualism which masks a chasm of ignorance so deep the child may literally never be able to climb out of it." I might have to use that one some time. I really feel strongly that you are right about that, except that being a Christ-follower does NOT equate to being an empty-skulled, blind tow-er of the line of BS spewed by so much of the Christian Right. I (mostly) identify as a Christian, as do my children (by their choice), but we are solidly liberal in religious matters, and we certainly do teach evolution and the Big Bang. We also boycott Chick-fil-A, and support Starbucks, both of which decisions I have used as mini-lessons about social responsibility and equal rights. I am a strong believer in a well-rounded education, and in teaching the actual truth, rather than some narrow-minded group's stunted view of it.
You are completely right that there does seem to be a hidden agenda in much of the material available to homeschoolers. So much so that I have found it necessary to first skim descriptions of all resources and discard any that mention anything remotely Christian before I waste my time with it. It's so sad!

I am saddened, not merely that you feel the way you clearly (by the comments) do about Christianity, but more so that Christianity has failed so miserably to project anything remotely Christ-like for you or others to find uplifting. I was raised wholly Christian, but have recently come to realize that Christianity, as a religion, is a farce. Your quote of Pascal is dead-on. And I have recently come to realize that Christ himself (even if you only read him as an interesting historical figure) was radically anti-religion! I am starting to see that the Atheists and secularists have more in common with Christ than most Christians! But I maintain that there are more secular-minded homeschoolers than you probably realize. I am part of a secular group in our community that has discussed Pagan spirit days that lead to Halloween, the Yuletide and Hanukkah this past year. You might have to look a little harder for us, but we're there. Don't discount all homeschoolers as Religious nuts!

Well, I have just turned a quick comment into a bit of a rant. I apologize for that. I hope I wasn't too offensive to anyone with enough of a brain to think for themselves. In conclusion, my real points were: 1. You are right about homeschoolers being predominantly "Uber-Christian Right" morons pushing their agendas (and ignorance) on everyone. Like you, I'm saddened when I think of the generation kids being brought up to NOT think for themselves. 2. There are those of us who think homeschooling is the best option for the exact reason of offering our children a fuller, more rounded education. Traditional school is certainly not immune to the Christian Agenda. Finally, I'm trying to spread the word that not everyone who is a "Christ-follower" adheres to the Christian religious model of hate, bigotry, ignorance, and oppression of ideas. I have a suspicion that there are more of us than you'd think, but that we're so much more moderate or liberal that we just don't ever get heard above the spewing of the Right's idiocy. So I'm speaking up. Thanks for listening.
Cheers!

Hi Elise, thank you for your comment. I am glad that you speak up against bigotry when you see it, and that you are trying to teach your children everything that is good and positive about Christianity.
Before I respond to the excellent meat of your comment, I must respectfully object to the way you have characterized my argument as an attack on Christians using words like "morons", "empty-skulled" etc. I have never said anything like that because quite frankly I do not believe that. Christianity - and in particular its fundamentalist flavors - provides ample grounds for criticism and I try to be unstinting in my rebukes of it and all religions, but I reserve my stingers for the faith itself (including its powerful networks of promoters) not its lay adherents. Most people come to religious belief as children when they are defenseless against its effects on their psychological hard-wiring. I recognize that most believers are good people - many are highly intelligent, too - so you could say that I hate the 'sin', but not the 'sinner'.  :-).
I believe that allying oneself with the most powerful majority in this country is a very rational - if unreasonable - decision that millions of Americans make quite consciously. It's the smart, sensible thing to do. Rejecting religion is the irrational - although reasonable - thing to do. Publicly expressing unbelief is neither smart nor sensible because of the personal cost, though obviously for people who have higher moral values, the price for doing the right thing is one they may be willing to pay. For many other people, the social cost of coming out as an atheist is too high - they fear for their families, for example - and they must stay in the closet about their unbelief. In many areas, this is sadly necessary. I have said as much in many of my posts. It is dangerous to identify as a nonbeliever in our gods-soaked culture, and of course it is even more dangerous in some other cultures in the world. People who stay silent about their unbelief are rationally, sensibly choosing to remain within the fold where they and their children will be safest - sleeping with the enemy is safer than being identified AS the enemy by the majority which holds the power to make your life a living hell.
So, I'd like to make it perfectly clear that I do not think people who identify as Christ-followers are "morons" nor have I ever said anything of the sort. You can find examples of my writing about this here and here and here and here.
I thank you for pointing out again that there is a small but growing number of secular home-schoolers. I know several of them myself. The point of my article was that for people like them, the materials available for educating their children are nearly all religiously-based, though often the religious agenda is hidden in order to trick non-religious homeschoolers into buying those materials without realizing it. As you point out, this can easily happen unless a parent is very alert.
I sincerely appreciate your kind thoughts, but you need not feel sad for me or most atheists. Most of us feel we've made a very lucky escape from something immensely damaging and tremendously immoral. I, too, was raised in a Christian home and, contrary to your assumption about me, I grew up very much valuing the positive aspects of religion - so much so that I was well on my way to dedicating my life to a religious order in my late teens. 
I was a practicing Christian for 40 years. Although I am pretty sure that most religionists don't really believe it when they suggest that an atheist must either never have heard about how great religion can be OR was "hurt" by someone somewhere sometime and is just angry at religion, I would still like to point out that I, like most atheists, had a thorough religious upbringing - practiced a religion for years and loved my church - but came to understand that it is a morally bankrupt system of social control which harms people far more than it helps them. It was very difficult to give up the privileges and advantages that identifying as a Christian confers - belonging to a socially-acceptable (and quite powerful) community, fellowship, beloved rituals, music and a sense of cultural roots - but for most atheists the immorality of sincere religious belief left them no other morally defensible choice. 
There is a lot about religion that is good and appealing to all of us - that is why it survives even when people know on some level that it is, as you say, a "farce", that its doctrines are untrue and its claims to the moral high ground are deeply unconvincing. As I matured, I gradually realized that what is good about religion is what is good about humanity. It is human morality that imbues religions with their most beautiful aspects, but in most cases religious dogma provides a workaround for human morality to fulfill a political or social agenda (to concentrate power unto itself) which is chilling. Most good theists are good in spite of their religious beliefs, not thanks to them.
Most atheists are intimately familiar with religion. Many have read more of the Bible than most believers do. They know the theology and the dogma, and they understand where it leads when followed by true believers to its logical conclusion. It isn't lack of exposure to the "good news" that turns people into atheists. They understand what that message really is, and reject it for the opportunistic justification for power-seeking that it is. Whatever is good about religion is derived from human morality not the other way around. We literally are "good without gods". It is religion that seeks to thwart that human inclination toward empathy to fulfill its own ends. It is a lie that we need religion to have good morals; indeed, religious dogma codifies and justifies immorality. Religion's abiding lesson is obedience to authority, even if that authority commands that we persecute, rape, oppress or murder people.
Religious indoctrination begins in childhood for a reason - it is almost impossible for children to resist it when they are immature and dependent on parents for survival. The fear, guilt and anxiety which is inculcated through early religious instruction leaves psychological scars which few human beings can erase even if they grow up to embrace a more reasonable and moral world view. This is the understanding that underpins the religious insistence upon childhood indoctrination. And fear that we might be wrong - that eternal suffering will be inflicted upon unbelievers - is the lingering legacy of that early indoctrination that prods us to indoctrinate our own children, even if we attempt to transmit a kinder, gentler version of it to them. That lingering psychological fear, combined with the very real and rational awareness of the threat that a hostile, powerful majority poses to the actual physical and psychological safety of the unbelieving minority and our children seals the deal. We say to ourselves; "better safe than sorry".
For these reasons, I submit to you that children do not "choose" their religion. 
You sound like a thoughtful and thoroughly decent human being. I am so happy that you are trying to raise your children to be open-minded, well-educated and truly caring about their fellow human beings.
Thank you again for your thoughtful comment. I wish you every success in your homeschooling effort!