Showing posts with label Bullying. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bullying. Show all posts

Friday, April 19, 2013

Day Of Silence

To mark this Day of Silence,  Cyndi Lauper's anthem True Colors

True Colors

You with the sad eyes
Don't be discouraged
Oh, I realize
It's hard to take courage
In a world full of people
You can lose sight of it all
And the darkness inside you
Can make you feel so small

But I see your true colors
Shining through
I see your true colors
And that's why I love you
So don't be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors
Are beautiful like a rainbow

Show me a smile then,
Don't be unhappy
Can't remember when
I last saw you laughing
If this world makes you crazy
And you've taken all you can bear
You call me up
Because you know I'll be there

And I'll see your true colors
Shining through
I see your true colors
And that's why I love you
So don't be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
Your true colors
Are beautiful like a rainbow

(Can't remember when I last saw you laughing)

If this world makes you crazy
And you've taken all you can bear
You call me up
Because you know I'll be there

And I'll see your true colors
Shining through
I see your true colors
And that's why I love you
So don't be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors
True colors are shining through

I see your true colors
And that's why I love you
So don't be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors
Are beautiful like a rainbow

Songwriters: Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly

Sunday, September 2, 2012

What? It's Just An Innocent Billboard!

(I am reposting this essay in light of this week's dust-up in - once again - Texas. It seems that a Texas judge's ruling in April (that threatening people through "prayer" is A-OK) has further emboldened some right-wingers to move beyond small trinkets like t-shirts and mugs.  Milton Neitsch decided to move the hate into the bigtime by plastering the disingenuous "psalm 109" message onto an advertising billboard. Many right wing Christians think the "Pray for Obama" Psalm 109 references are a clever joke, and many assume that nobody outside their in-group knows the Bible well enough to get it. Some of those people ought to learn to keep up.
Inciting violence against the President - even from a non-existent deity - is no laughing matter to the Secret Service and the FBI. Neitsch is under investigation since his clever "joke" could very well be interpreted by some faithful individual as a call to do "God's work".  Although religious extremism is rarely confronted by more moderate Christians, in this case discomfort over the billboard's implied threat won out over the usual silent complicity. It was actually a petition circulated in the town by a Christian pastor - Rev. Amy Danchik - which convinced Neitsch to take down the billboard.)

Last spring, a Texas judge ruled that publicly praying for harm to be done to another person is perfectly okay.  In the time-honored tradition of giving religion a free pass for behavior ( inciting violence) which could be prosecutable as a felony in any other context - especially, say, if people use their freedom of speech to demand justice when a brown person is murdered in cold blood - District Court Judge Martin Hoffman  made a summary judgement against Mikey Weinstein in favor of the former navy chaplain who had publicly posted an imprecatory prayer - Psalm 109, to be precise - for Weinstein's annihilation.

Non-Christians poised to gobble up Christians! 
In its crowing report about the lawsuit, the religious website WNDfaith defined "imprecatory prayer" thusly:

 "An imprecatory prayer is a prayer asking God to protect the weak and faithful from the strong and wicked."

It is hard to believe that any Christians in the USA could possibly not know that they comprise nearly 80% of the population, while other religious groups account for another 5-6%.  People who do not subscribe to any official religion but still believe in a god make up a further few percentage points. So, the claim that the "faithful" in the military - who are even more numerous relative to the non-religious than those in the general population of the USA - are "weak" is incredibly disingenuous.

Gordon Klingenshmitt was one of the nearly 2000 evangelical Christian chaplains who aggressively proselytize to American soldiers using public funds and with virtually no oversight. These chaplains, with the backing of COs, charge soldiers with a mission to proselytize everywhere they are deployed. Weinstein started the MRFF (Military Religious Freedom Foundation) several years ago in an effort to represent the small constituency of soldiers who suffered personal and even professional discrimination - some might even call it officially-sanctioned persecution - as a result of this unconstitutional establishment of the Christian religion within the United States military.

"surrounded by wicked men"
The judge ruled in favor of Klingenschmitt who claimed in his widely published prayer that he was "surrounded by wicked men" who were the "enemies of religious liberty".  In a military overwhelmingly staffed with Christians, where non-Christians are estimated to be outnumbered by nearly 90 to 1, it is difficult to imagine how this former navy chaplain concluded that he was "surrounded" by people who did not share his beliefs, much less how he could believe that he and his fellow Christians were the "weak" victims of the "strong and wicked" MRFF - the group whose raison d'être is to advocate for freedom from religious coercion, don't forget - and whom the Christians greatly outnumbered. It was like Goliath whining that David was looking at him during forced religious worship of Goliath's god.

Though they vastly outnumber their critics, and although they have used pressure and suppression, both through official channels and off the radar, to punish soldiers who protest the suffocating Christian crusading in the American military, people like Klingenschmitt claim to be persecuted for their beliefs. Klingenschmitt denied any ulterior motive, but by invoking Psalm 109 - notorious verses in the Old Testament inciting violence against "enemies" - he sent a message to the fringe elements among his co-religionists that the MRFF, and Weinstein and his family in particular, were legitimate targets for Christian vengeance. Then, he pretended to be the injured party, innocent of any wrongdoing.

What? This is just an
innocent coffee mug!

How do Christians justify such shockingly blatant lies?

As outrageous as it is that the courts have failed to protect a private citizen from the brazen call for his destruction by a powerful religious leader, this is not the first nor even the most shocking example of how religious privilege in the USA allows the elite leadership of the powerful Christian majority to threaten its enemies with impunity. A recent, and chilling, example of this type of perniciously subversive incitement of violence came to light shortly after the 2008 election of President Barack Obama.

Psalm 109 has been passed around the internet and referenced on bumper stickers, hats and t-shirts ever since shortly after the election of Barack Obama in November 2008.  Christians who sported the hats, t-shirts and bumper stickers disingenuously claimed no harm, no foul. Some columnists - once again in the time-honored tradition of giving religion a free pass on egregiously bad behavior - speculated that the people behind the imprecatory prayer (including pastors and devout bible-studying Christians) may not have been familiar with the full text of the psalm. Considering the emphasis on Bible study in fundamentalist Christianity, this assertion beggars belief.

Pretending that they are not using coded language or political dog whistles is yet another example of the stealth conservative strategy of the religious right, backed by powerful corporate interests in the unholy alliance formed during the Reagan era. Creating social tension to win political power has been the stock in trade of the Christian Coalition for two decades. Establishing plausible deniability in the event of an outbreak of the very violence incited by the coded language is the purpose of using secrecy and coded language. In the words of Ralph Reed, Christian Coalition leader:

What? This is just an
innocent teddy bear!
"But that's just good strategy. It's like guerrilla warfare. If you reveal your location, all it does is allow your opponent to improve his artillery bearings. It's better to move quietly, with stealth, under cover of night." Continuing, "I want to be invisible. I do guerrilla warfare. I paint my face and travel at night. You don't know it's over until you're in a body bag. You don't know until election night." Ralph Reed, 1992

Feigning innocence of having any wish that actual, physical harm might come to progressives, including the President - and under the protection of the privilege which religion enjoys in this culture - right-wing conservative elites were able to send a message - essentially to put out a de facto contract - to the most radical members of its much-vaunted "base". Psalm 109  was a coded reminder of all the Sunday morning exhortations that good Christians were under attack by a wicked, powerful enemy and that if anything should happen to these "enemies", it would be a righteous judgement from God.

Bible-believing Christians are proudly familiar with their Bible verses.  There is little doubt that most Evangelicals were "in on the joke" even as they were protesting that it was just a bit of post-election "fun". Just to be clear, however, here is a fuller passage from Psalm 109 from the Book of David, in the Bible:

What? This is just an
innocent prayer for our president!
8 Let his days be few; and let another take his office. 
9 Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow. 
10 Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places. 
11 Let the extortioner catch all that he hath; and let the strangers spoil his labour. 
12 Let there be none to extend mercy unto him: neither let there be any to favour his fatherless children. 
13 Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out. 

Having sent up the alarm, brazenly and in plain sight, while professing innocence of any subtextual motive, the right-wing conservative powerhouses and their political arm - the Republican party - continue to spout patriotic platitudes while they work tirelessly to undermine the foundations of the Republic for their own political and financial gain. If the strategy is successful, they will need only to sit back and let paranoia and delusions of Christian persecution - well-stoked for over two decades in the nation's megachurches and home-schooling movement - take their natural course as the fabric of society unravels in the face of the constant onslaught of religious and social strife.

What? This is just an
 innocent cell phone case!

The deployment of a Bible verse to commit or incite retaliatory action against one's perceived enemies is the one way that a person in a Christian- dominated culture might be able to get away - sometimes literally - with murder.  That a federal judge threw out the Mikey Weinstein case - and punished him for seeking a legal remedy by making him pay court costs and damages - is an indication that this situation may get worse before it gets better.

One small, significant irony in the situation should not be missed, however.
In declaring that there was no real harm - or potential for harm - suffered by Weinstein as a direct result of the imprecatory prayer for his destruction, the judge was ruling that prayer is ineffectual and Klingenschmitt's god does not exist.  If the court believed that the god actually existed - the Biblical god capable of smiting Weinstein - then the prayer would have been as dangerous as a mob contract, and Klingenschmitt would be facing trial for a felony offense.

By ruling that the prayer was irrelevant and caused no harm, the judge threw the weight of a U.S. federal court behind a ruling that God does not exist. Classic.

Digital Cuttlefish at FreeThoughtBlogs wrote an excellent poem summing this up far better, and far more succinctly, than I have done here:

Suppose you ask a hired gun
To wipe somebody out—
Could you be held responsible?
Of that there’s little doubt.
What? This is just an innocent t-shirt!
Protect yourself from legal woes
Behind this false façade—
When issuing a mortal threat,
Pretend you’re asking God!
So long as God is impotent
And cannot have His way—
You want your God to smite my ass?
Then go ahead and pray.
If someone overhears you, and
Decides to be God’s sword—
You’re innocent, cos you were only
Talking to the Lord.
Your prayer was posted publicly,
Where anyone could see—
The claim is still “It’s just a talk
Between the Lord and me.”
It’s funny… if there was a God                                                   
You’d ask, your soul to spare—
And if you tried out this defense…
You wouldn’t have a prayer.

What? These are just innocent bumper stickers!

Update:  Chris Rodda at This Week in Christian Nationalism blogged about the kind of ridiculously offensive mail that Mikey Weinstein regularly receives.  For a sickening glimpse into the mind of the true believer,  check out Chris's birthday post for Mikey Weinstein here.  And a belated Happy Birthday to you, Mikey Weinstein.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

ThorsdayTonics - This Remarkable Thing

Yet another achingly beautiful video about the awesome possibilities in the universe by Philhellenes.  A dose of tonic for the human spirit on a Tuesday morning. Soak it in and be recharged!

Because I am still on family vacation, I'm going to link to several excellent blog posts and articles this morning. These writers have said what I have been thinking about this week, but generally much better!

First, it looks like the ironically-named Illinois Family Institute is targeting Hemant Mehta again for some of its weapons grade bigotry and stupidity. IFI's Laurie Higgins seems to have a particular agenda of hatred against Hemant which she made very personal and very political a couple of years ago when she tried to use her influence to get him fired from his job as a high school math teacher because he is an atheist. Now, Higgins and her execrable organization are back to their campaign of hateful bigotry, urging parents to attack school teachers directly if they attempt to make their classrooms safe places for GLBTQ kids, because individual teachers make a much softer target than state and federal laws.

IFI issues ridiculous back-to-school warnings. Friendly Atheist, August 7, 2012

IFI is upset that people are mocking them. Friendly Atheist, August 9, 2012.

Not to be outdone by a mere state "family" association, the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer likens children to same-sex couples to slaves who ought to be kidnapped and removed from the protection of their families by "underground railroads" of Christian haters.  Seriously.

Bryan FIscher: Children of Same-Sex Couples Must Be Saved Through "Underground Railroad" Kidnapping Zack Ford, ThinkProgress, August 8, 2012.

This next story opens up the very real possibility that not only has Mitt Romney avoided paying his fair share of taxes for many years, but that he may also have participated in tax avoidance activities on a corporate level that could not only affect his candidacy, but could actually land him in legal hot water:

Did Romney Enable Company's Abusive Tax Shelter? Peter C. Canellos and Edward D. Kleinbard, CNN special report, August 8, 2012.

Follow up on the LCWR Nuns on the Bus post:  We're With You Sisters., August 9,2012.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

If the Right Wing Doesn't Speak For You, Who Does?

The inanity of evil: it's only chicken, right? 

Something I've been hearing a lot during the recent chicken flap has been, "But not all Christians are like that! They don't speak for me!" and that kind of makes me wonder: If the Christian right does not speak for you, who does?

I've noticed that most of the people who spoke up passionately about the recent disturbing mob powerplay tended to be people within the LGBTQ community or non-religious people. The moderate Christians who claim to stand independent of the Christian right were conspicuously silent - as they have been on virtually every important social justice fight for the past 30 years. Among their closest non-religious friends, they will preach to the choir, but neither individuals nor church congregations who claim to have progressive views, seem to speak up strongly when the going is tough for marginalized people.

The chicken flap was a chance for people to stand up for justice, but it seems like the moderates just sat down again.

The modern medium of Facebook was the scene yesterday of the following dance, played out on home page after home page of moderate, progressive Christians. It went something like this:

-Moderate Christian posts a mild statement of disappointment in the chicken chain

-A few fellow moderate Christians "like" the post and perhaps add a word or two of cautious agreement. Perhaps a tepid WWJD reference is made. Several non-religious friends add enthusiastic agreement.

-A more orthodox Christian (who is often in the same church with the OP)  fires a warning shot across the OP's bow - comments something like, "I am so surprised to see you posting such an anti-Christian status."

-The moderate Christian at first tries to defend the status pointing to Jesus as the defense (WWJD?!), but the Orthodox Christian watchdog does not accept it, expresses "disappointment" in the moderate Christian and wonders out loud if the moderate Christian is, indeed, a "real" Christian anymore...?

-An awkward but meaningful moment of silence ensues during which a quiet ultimatum is apparently communicated.

-The moderate Christian backs away from his original status, either completely negating it (often deleting it) or performing verbal gymnastics to make it acceptable to the Orthodox watchdog ie. no longer supportive of anything but the moderate Christian's desire not to be shunned by the church community. It's only chicken, after all...what is the big deal, amirite?

The thing is, it is not just chicken. This company spends millions supporting certified hate groups which actively work to oppress and dehumanize LGBTQ people. They spend millions to lobby legislatures to deny LGBTQ people equal rights. They use their power and financial clout against a marginalized and much weaker minority group. They even use their power and money to support overseas efforts to enact legislation to make being gay a capital crime punishable by death. Chick Fil A's legions of supporters have tried to paint this as a question of innocently differing opinions but there is a world of difference between "not agreeing with gay marriage" and actively funding hate groups which literally harm people.

Christians bring in the big guns and the big money.
That disingenuous framing of the situation was taken to a new low when powerful fundamentalists around the country began the campaign to send a warning to the LGBTQ community and to anyone daring to stand with them. The August 1 spectacle was a chilling orgy of hate:  a deadly serious yet exhilarating chance for Christians to make a special point -  to broadcast their bigotry in a big, well-advertized, well-funded and well-attended almost military operation. The Christians were giddy with excitement and power; thrilled that the public message of intimidation - tyranny of the majority - would be thoroughly understood...

If you say the socially conservative right wing does not speak for you, it means nothing unless you speak up for yourself and stand up for the values you claim to hold.  It means nothing to claim that there are millions of progressive Christians out there who want justice for LGBTQ people, for women or for other marginalized people unless those millions speak up for themselves as an important segment of society and stand up in defense of the values they claim to hold. Where are the strong moderate voices challenging and countering the radical right wing voices?  Where are the prominent progressive church leaders speaking out and challenging the hate and bigotry coming from the right wing leadership? Where are they?

The Christian right is doing real harm, ever day, to millions of people in this country. Christians number hundreds of millions of people, control billions in tax-free wealth, are hugely powerful in media and government - and yet, incredibly, the right wing is spinning this as a case of supporters of LGBTQ people bullying Christian supporters of Chick-Fil-A's anti-LGBTQ agenda because they are urging people to boycott the fast food chain." Moderates - who claim that the right wing is only a radical fringe of their religion - have the numbers, the financial clout and the political power to make a difference in this terribly uneven fight - if they truly want to make a difference.

The question is: do moderate Christians really want to see social justice?  Or does the conservative right wing actually, in fact, speak for you?

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.

Monday, April 30, 2012

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

The blogosphere was on fire over the weekend with a video and reports about Dan Savage's talk at a high school journalism convention.  Dan Savage is the co-founder of the "It Gets Better" anti-bullying campaign and he was at the conference to speak on the subject. There has been a fierce pushback from conservatives against anti-bullying campaigns, with particular viciousness reserved, as usual, for anti-bullying of LGBT people.

It is impossible to have an honest discussion about bullying without mentioning the Bible. The Bible has been cited by Christians as the authority upon which they base their rejection of homosexuality, and thanks to the extreme privilege of religion in society, this Biblical authority is accepted all too often in society as a defense for "understandable" Christian outrage toward unbiblical "choices".

Incredibly, when Christians persecute their gay peers, the power of religious privilege is so total that society is inclined to regard the Christian bullies as the victims. In fact, as I mentioned in another post earlier today, attempts have been made to grant Bible-based religious bullying specific legal protection in at least one state, formalizing and codifying what has long been the de facto position in virtually every state, anyway.

The moment Dan mentioned the word "bible", a student popped up out of her seat and walked out of the room, followed by a thin stream of smiling, smirking students who were obviously planted in the room to perform this bit of political theatre. One wonders if these student "journalists" heard any of the talks at the conference that did not confirm what they already "know", or were they simply sent there with virtual antennae raised until the dog whistle they were waiting for had sounded, triggering their patently insincere march of Christian persecution.

Several atheist bloggers have posted about this, and the subsequent twisting of the incident in the conservative media. Most were supportive of Dan and proud of the way he reacted by continuing his talk while acknowledging the rudeness of the walkout with the restrained scorn that such a premeditated and clearly orchestrated display deserved.

Behind the scenes, however, it appears that Dan received something far less than enthusiastic support. Although we can only speculate, it appears that forces with the power to destroy Dan's career made it clear that "one simply cannot call anyone’s religion “bullshit” in today’s America". Soon after the incident went viral, Dan Savage bowed to pressure to apologize to Christians for his remarks.

Some bloggers have reacted with emotions ranging from sadness and disappointment to defiance and outrage. Jen McCreight and Daniel Fincke are two bloggers whose approaches are slightly different (Jen is a science grad student; Daniel is a philosopher) but who make the same point:  it is time to stand up and say that religion should not be given unearned "respect" and deference.

From Camels With Hammers:

"Such demands make it clear to me that it is absolutely incumbent on those of us who think religions are bullshit to start saying so more frequently and to fight to stop this trend of insidious undue deference to baseless believing. It is the result of decades’ worth of concentrated effort by the Religious Right to make politics bow the knee to fundamentalist religion combined with the Left’s confused understanding of the value and limits of multiculturalism. No one deserves to be made into a second class citizen on account of their beliefs. But American freedom of speech has to not only politically but morally and intellectually guarantee that all beliefs are open to rational scrutiny by public figures and intellectuals without fear of career reprisals.
Religions do not deserve the support of the rules of politeness when it comes to their truth and falsity. The public sphere should not revere indiscriminately everything that tries to halo itself with the name of religion. The secular public sphere should feel no such shyness about sacrilege, blasphemy and treating religion rudely less it implicitly be in the political thrall of the religious sphere. To so refrain from unqualified, scrupulously rational, public criticism of religion is to favor and support it implicitly. This is intolerable. Forcing atheists to honor the excessive reverences of religious feelings is coercing atheists to treat as sacrosanct that which their own consciences do not judge to be genuinely sacrosanct. This goes beyond normal social politeness and deference to other cultures’ traditions to the point of atheists having to de facto accept religious restrictions in their own right, on account of their being religious. That’s intolerable to my atheistic conscience and should be to other atheists’ consciences as well, as it cuts to our very right to live thoroughly independent of deference to all religious authorities which we don’t believe in." Daniel Fincke, "Follow up on Dan Savage's attack on the Bible that inspired walkouts."

From Blag Hag:

"We can use “bullshit” to describe ideas like astrology, reptilian conspiracies, alien abductions, Big Foot… but God is off limits, despite being equally ridiculous.
That’s why Christian groups cry foul when someone points out flaws in their religion. It’s not their emotions that are so fragile: It’s their faith. Because Christianity, like all religions, simply cannot stand up to questioning. It’s why so many parts of the Bible actively denounce questioning faith. It’s why Christians have to run out of talks and make press releases about persecution. Because Christianity crumbles in the face of history, biology, and analytical thinking. Silencing dissent is the only way for Christianity to survive." Jen McCreight, "Christianity is bullshit, and I'm not apologizing for saying that."

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sen. Gretchen Whitmer for President!

Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, ally of Michigan youth 

In 2008, a clear majority of voters in the state of Michigan sent a strong message to their legislators that they approve of stem cell research and want it to go forward in their state universities. The University of Michigan has gained a reputation as a world leader in stem cell research for cures for several diseases and the people of the state rightly wanted that reputation - and the valuable research for which it was justly earned - to continue unmolested by partisan politics fueled by powerful special interest groups. So, of course you can guess what is coming.

Last year, Michigan house Repubicans, to please their socially conservative corporate backers, decided to execute an end run around the will of the people by inserting language into education funding bills demanding detailed - and unnecessarily burdensome - reports on details of the stem cell research over and above what had previously been required by the law. During the contentious debates which followed, the Republicans went as far as suggesting that the university was evading established rules of accountability to obtain funding underhandedly. Using the most devastating play in the conservative right-wing's handbook, the Republicans appealed to the well-tended public distrust of intellectualism and science, conflating them with their liberal anti-god conspiracy fears which have been equally carefully nurtured over the past few decades by the religious right and its political arm, the Republican party.

Democrats trying to prevent yet another Republican religious attack on higher education argued passionately to repeal the onerous language which had been inserted into the funding bill last year (and which threatens to be continued this year). In spite of these efforts - and in direct defiance of the will of the people who voted in November 2008 to allow stem cell research to proceed - the Republican controlled House and Senate passed the punitive, research-suppressing measures.

It seems that the corporate and religious right is perfecting its strategy to completely bypass the democratic process, undermine the republic and achieve its goal of near total power through a puppet democracy.  Thanks to Citizens United, they can now operate as super citizens - a tiny, elite and powerful group controlling 99% of the country's wealth - by pouring money into campaigns to ensure the elections of their personal agents in legislatures across the country. Using the Republican party as their political arm, powerful special interests - nearly always an alliance of churches and corporate "citizens" - now effectively rule the United States. Sadly, they have achieved this oligarchy with the willing compliance of millions of "moderate" Americans who have remained unwilling to rock the boat of their comfortable religious communities by speaking out against religious influence on public policy.

Senator Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, spoke out on the education funding nightmare, defending the right of American students and researchers to continue to receive the funding which the people of Michigan have declared they are entitled to receive.

In addition to fighting to save the world-class reputation of Michigan universities, Senator Whitmer has also stood up courageously for gay Michigan youth. In the fall of 2011, she gave this powerful speech on bullying after the Senate passed the Matt's Safe School Law. The outrageous law, cruelly named after a young Michigander who had been driven to suicide by relentless bullying by religious schoolmates, was touted as an "anti-bullying" law, but in fact gave legal protection to bullies whose persecution of others is justified by their religious beliefs.

Watch Sen. Whitmer's brief, but powerful remarks:

While religious conservatives and their corporate allies celebrate their almost total dominance of American government and society, there still remain a few dedicated voices for social justice and liberal ideals. Senator Gretchen Whitmer stood up for Michigan youth, for education and for scientific research, all anathema to the oligarchy which seeks to reduce American society to an uneducated feudal state.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Is Blasphemy a Victimless Crime?

Just the other day, I read an amusing blog post by Mano Singham about an Indian skeptic, Sanal Edamaruku, who challenged a religious guru - who claimed to be able to kill people using only his religious rituals - to do so on TV.  The resulting show was, as Mano said, hilariously "must-see" TV.

Edamaruku followed that debunking of superstition up with another application of healthy skepticism to a false religious claim, when he was invited by a TV station to investigate a Catholic church's claim that it had a miraculous "weeping cross" in front of its premises. Edamaruku simply applied his knowledge of the physical sciences and discovered the rational explanation for the phenomenon:

"Sanal Edamaruku identified the source of the water (a drainage near a washing room) and the mechanism how it reached Jesus feet (capillary action). The local church leaders, present during his investigation, appeared to be displeased."

It seems that due to the church's "displeasure", this story has taken a dark turn.  The Friendly Atheist reports this morning that a warrant has been put out for Mr. Edamaruku's arrest on charges of blasphemy:

"Yesterday (10th April,2012) Sanal received a phone call from a Police official of Juhu Police Station in Mumbai directing him to come to the said police station to face the charges and get arrested. He also said that FIRs have also been filed in Andheri and some other police stations u/s 295 of Indian Penal Code on the allegations of hurting the religious sentiments of a particular community. Mumbai police has announced that they were out to arrest him. It is apprehended that he can be arrested any moment."

Let's think about this. A church was claiming a miraculous phenomenon on its property. A skeptical thinker doubted the truth of the claim and then proved that the claim was false, showing how the phenomenon was actually caused. Outraged by the revelation that their "miracle" was false, the religious leaders appealed to the law to punish the skeptic for telling the truth.

Asia "Bibi" Noreen
It is hard to believe that this is actually happening anywhere in the world today. Yet, it is happening. Not just in one country, but in dozens of countries dominated by several different religions all around the globe. In first, second and third-world countries - post-modern and pre-modern - blasphemy laws act as a muzzle on free speech when it comes to the free expression of ideas which are not approved by religion.

The threat to Sanal Edamaruku's physical freedom for the crime of laughing when religious superstition was proven false is a chilling example of the oppressive abuse of privilege that religions employ against those who do not share their delusions and who refuse to bow down to their theological authority. Whenever governments (and people) give them the power to do so, religions use blasphemy laws to silence and oppress non-conformists. In many parts of the world, a charge of blasphemy - for actions which religionists claim the discretion to decide - leads to violence and sometimes even death to those accused of the "crime".

Some people say that "blasphemy is a victimless crime".  Of course, they mean that when a person speaks critically about or even disrespects religion, no one is actually harmed by the speech. While this is true in the strictest physical sense, religionists would argue that it is not true of psychological harm.  Blasphemy pains religionists because it challenges their cherished beliefs, which can cause psychological discomfort. Further, blasphemy disturbs a religionist's sense of the proper social order.  Religionists see their religion as the pinnacle of social authority, so a blasphemer outrages them by challenging that authority.

That sort of psychological harm is common in human social interactions, as anyone who was the brunt of a "nyah nyah!" taunt on the playground can attest. In nearly every area of human life, people must cope with their hurt feelings and their sense of injured pride when other people make fun of them - no matter how unjust the ridicule may or may not be.  Only religion is awarded the special status in most cultures which allows them to use the government and the courts to slap lawsuits - or worse - against those with whom they do not agree.

Tellingly, in some countries which have tried to provide legal protection against the very worst kind of ridicule perpetrated on the victims of relentless physical and psychological bullying, the one notable exception to prosecution under the proposed laws is: "sincerely held" religious belief.

The dangerous and undeserved privilege which religion continues to enjoy all over the world is something  against which people who value human dignity and individual freedom must protest, loudly and constantly. Blasphemy may or may not be "victimless", but blasphemy laws enable the kind of religious persecution - and provide legal protection to religiously-motivated violence - which I think is a crime against humanity.

Religion justifies fighting words with wars