Showing posts with label Saturday Inspiration. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Saturday Inspiration. Show all posts

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Sir, With Much Respect, I Encourage You To Keep This Up!

A rite of spring - the calving of an iceberg


























I'm from Newfoundland, known not only as the place where the events portrayed in the hit musical Come From Away take place, but also one of the best places on earth to view an annual parade of icebergs.

Newfoundland's icebergs "calve" off the glaciers on the west coast of Greenland. They break off in late winter/early spring, and make their way via the Labrador current out into the north Atlantic ocean. Then, they hug the coastline of the island of Newfoundland, gradually losing mass as they enter warmer waters below the 49th parallel until they melt entirely away - usually at some point just south of the Grand Banks.

Historically, the number of ice bergs that can be found in the northwestern Atlantic varies from year to year. In an average year, the peak of iceberg season (usually late May) would see a few hundred ice bergs drifting in the transatlantic shipping lanes. As of the first week of April, 2017, more than 400 ice bergs had already been counted in the area. The average for early April is about 80 bergs.

A warning by USCG ice patrol Commander Gabrielle McGrath notes that, early this month, three icebergs were found outside the boundaries of the area the Coast Guard had advised mariners to avoid and she is predicting a fourth consecutive “extreme ice season” with over 600 icebergs in the shipping lanes during the peak of the 2017 season. 
John Konrad, gCaptain, April 19, 2017.

People who deny the reality of global climate change can spew their pseudo-science but Newfoundlanders know this is not normal. The effects of all that sea ice and the hugely increased number of ice bergs are numerous and not limited to just the ice. The increased ice keeps the ocean temperature offshore colder later into the year, too. Apart from a longer colder spring (and in Newfoundland, spring is an often miserable, foggy, wet, cold season), the colder ocean temperature means that the annual capelin spawning season has been pushed later and later into the summer. The capelin roll that used to happen in early June every year, is now occurring in mid July and even as late as early August. Whales travel to Newfoundland in summer to feed on the capelin and it is not yet known how this altered capelin season may effect the whales migratory habits and wellbeing.

Global warming is the cause of many similar cascading effects around the planet. The effects of global climate change on ice, capelin and whales are just the tip of the iceberg regarding how planetary ecosystems may be disrupted by the changes. Some we already can predict and it is possible that there will be many more effects that we cannot yet foresee.

Some people, like William Happer, you'd think would be able to grasp science - being a physicist and all -but no. Maybe, since his discipline is physics and not climate science, the professor simply cannot comprehend the overwhelming conclusions of the vast majority of climate scientists that global climate change is real and it is being accelerated by human activity.

Then again, his penchant for comparing the work of climatologists to Nazis (WTF!) throws up a vaguely familiar flag. Happer has been vying for a position in the Trump administration. So, there's that to consider.

The world is a complex ecosystem and sometimes we just need someone to explain things in plain language to help make sense of things. Enter Bill Nye, the science guy! Nye is well-known for making science fun and interesting to kids, so he is probably the best possible person to explain the danger of ignoring climate change to the ignorant - and the willfully ignorant - in the Republican party.

"Sir, with some respect, I encourage you to cut this out..." 
Bill Nye to William Clapper

A mechanical engineer, Bill seems to be about as qualified to speak about climate science as Happer the physicist. More trustworthy, too, since Nye is not vying for a job in a corrupt, science-denying administration and has little to gain by it. Of course, a couple of minutes of air time and even less for each member of the panel, didn't give Bill much time to get a message across about the science of global warming, so he used his time in an even better way: to school Happer on his willful ignorance and misleading of the public, and to draw attention to the false equivalency that various media perpetuate in their eagerness to appear to be "even-handed".

Check it out:



Saturday, April 22, 2017

Earth Day - March For Science!

Photo credit: NPR























In 1970, 20 million people demonstrated in cities and towns all across the United States to bring attention to their concerns about the environment and humankind's impact on our planet. According to the website, earthday.org, the first Earth Day and the activism it inspired led to the formation of the Environment Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act by the end of that year.

A big part of that success story was that in the 1960's and 70's, respect for science had not yet been eroded by Christian fundamentalism. Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle were able to agree on basic scientific data and to work together to create legislation, based upon solid science, which would benefit the entire nation for decades to come.

Today, we live in a very different world.

The dismantling of the wall between church and state, which was facilitated in earnest during the Reagan years, has led to myriad devastating consequences for the country, but perhaps the most critical losses have been the gutting of public education (as funds have been siphoned off for religious private and charter schools) and the gradual acceptance that religious belief is being taught to millions of kids and presented to be as valid as the scientific method for understanding what is true about the world around us.

In 2017, we now have an upside down reality where anti-environment people have been put in charge of the EPA, where religious extremism has been allowed to dictate environmental policy and deny global climate change and where the new administration has declared war on air, water, earth and humanity.

What can we do?  Quite a lot!

Public protest works. Speaking out and showing up, works.

This morning, all across the United States, people in cities and towns will be demonstrating on Earth Day again, just like in 1970.  The March for Science is for everyone interested in a sane and safe world. It's time to stop the madness and insist that community and national leaders stop allowing public funds to be siphoned off to underwrite harmful mythology-based education and patently false pseudo-science, and restore actual science and the rigor of the scientific method of enquiry to our public offices.

Decisions which affect the life-sustaining earth, water and air of this planet must be made based upon the best science and research we can achieve. The time has come to insist upon it.

March for science today!

Look here to find a March for Science near you. And listen below for a little Saturday Inspiration as you head out the door!

Symphony of Science - MelodySheep

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Tax Day Marches - We Can Be Heroes




























April 15 is tax day. Where are Trump's tax returns? Today there will be marches all over the country by concerned citizens who are demanding that President Trump release his tax returns.  Everyone hates filing tax returns and paying taxes and few of us have much interest in the tax returns of other people. The president's are a big deal, though. The tax returns will point to the true sources of Trump's "wealth" and financing. They can answer many questions about his connections and associations and to whom he owes money. Trump has broken his promise to release them for a reason. He is hiding something.

Stand up. Speak out. Resist.  We can do something. Resistance works.

For a little inspiration to help keep up the fight, here is David Bowie singing We can be heroes.


Heroes

I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing, will drive them away
We can beat them, just for one day
We can be heroes, just for one day

And you, you can be mean
And I, I'll drink all the time
Cause we're lovers, and that is a fact
Yes we're lovers, and that is that

Though nothing, will keep us together
We could steal time, just for one day
We can be heroes, forever and ever
What d'you say?

I, I wish you could swim
Like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim
Though nothing, nothing will keep us together
We can beat them, forever and ever
Oh we can be heroes, just for one day

And the shame - it fell on the other side...

I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing, will drive them away
We can be heroes, just for one day
We can be us, just for one day

I, I can remember (I remember)
Standing, by the wall (by the wall)
And the guns, shot above our heads (over our heads)
And we kissed, as though nothing could fall (nothing could fall)
And the shame, was on the other side
Oh we can beat them, forever and ever
Then we could be heroes, just for one day

We can be heroes
We can be heroes
We can be heroes
Just for one day
We can be heroes

We're nothing, and nothing will help us
Maybe we're lying, then you better not stay
But we could be safer, just for one day
Oh-oh-oh-ohh, oh-oh-oh-ohh, just for one day

- David Bowie


Saturday, November 21, 2015

It's Beginning To Look A Bit Like The Holidays!


























Chicago received its first measurable snowfall of the 2015-16 winter season overnight!  It's beginning to look a bit like the holidays and that's Nifty's cue to start plastering holiday-themed music and poetry and videos all over NiftyIdeas.

Like this one:  Snowmen, a pretty song and a cute story -- what's not to love?

Enjoy!


Saturday, November 7, 2015

SISTERS Saturday!




















Happy Saturday, NiftyReaders!

For a little Saturday Inspiration, I give you Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen singing and dancing this classic number from Irving Berlin's White Christmas.

I'm excited to be seeing a stage adaptation of that musical this weekend at Drury Lane in Chicago. CAN. NOT. WAIT! The reviews have been fantastic and I was delighted to see that one of my favorite stage performers, Sean Allan Krill will be playing the role of Bob Wallace (the Bing Crosby role in the 1954 film version), so I am pretty sure that I am going to love this production, just because of that fact alone!  (Anyone who was lucky enough to catch Sean Krill in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's spring production of Sense and Sensibility will understand what I am talking about -- oh and looky here! I happen to have a link to a glorious montage from that wonderful musical!).

This particular number has been one of my favorite film songs for a long time and since my own sister will be arriving tonight for a long anticipated visit, it is the perfect musical Saturday inspiration. The movie White Christmas has long been "our" holiday movie and this song in particular always brings smiles and laughter.  By happy coincidence, the Drury Lane production of the musical coincided nicely with our visit and so we will be able to attend together. Yes!

Enjoy your Saturday!



Saturday, December 21, 2013

The December Solstice



























At 6:11 GMT (11:11 am CST) the north pole reached it's furthest tilt away from the sun, and the planet has achieved it's southern solstice. In the northern hemisphere, we experience the shortest period of daylight of the year, while the southern hemisphere receives its longest day. This is the time of the midnight sun for the south polar region.

As in June, the exact date and time of the December solstice varies from year to year, but it is always on December 20, 21, 22 or 23. Interestingly, because the earth's orbit around the sun is an elliptical pattern, the seasons are not exactly uniform in length. Northerners who love the warmer months will be delighted to learn that spring and summer are slightly longer seasons than winter and fall!


The Shortest Day
by Susan Cooper

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!!


For your Saturday Inspiration, here is the final violin concerto in Vivaldi's Four Seasons: Winter.
Performed by violinist Julia Fischer accompanied by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields at the National Botanical Gardens in Wales.


Saturday, June 22, 2013

FTB CONscience!!



























Exciting news!  FreeThoughtBlogs announced this week that they will be hosting an online conference:


"FtBCon is a free, online conference organized by the Freethought Blogs network. It will take place on July 19-21 and will focus on social justice, technology and the future of the freethought movement. Without travel, registration, or hotel costs, FtBCon will be accessible to freethinkers around the world. Conference sessions will be held through Google+ hangouts, and attendees will have the opportunity to interact with each other in chat rooms and to submit questions to moderators.

We are currently assembling our schedule. If you or your organization are interested in participating, submit your session ideas for consideration by e-mailing PZ Myers with a proposal."

It's free! It will be packed with fantastic speakers and contributors! It will be interactive!

This might just be the best news you'll read all day. Mark your calendars, NiftyReaders!



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 voilĂ !  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!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Hitchens on Free Speech




There was much to admire about Christopher Hitchens. His incredible facility with language, his rapier wit, his impressive intelligence. He was extremely well-read on a wide range of topics, but his passionate defense of free thought and free speech are perhaps his greatest legacies to humankind.

 I don't agree with everything Christopher Hitchens said and did (I think his vehement support of the invasion of Iraq combined with the sharply rightward tilt of his ideology in the last decade of his life were deserving of the criticism they received), and I find some of his remarks in this speech discomfiting, too. However, if one allows the full arc of the speech to be heard, the overarching message is of essential importance. The discomfort he evokes in his audience is necessary. With his trademark eloquence - and the inevitable poke in the eye for 'political correctness' - Hitchens makes a powerful argument for the urgent need to protect Free Speech.

Context: In November 2006, Christopher Hitchens was invited to speak at the University of Toronto's Hart House Debating Club to voice his opinion on the subject of the evening's debate: Be it resolved: Freedom of speech includes the freedom to hate.

In honor of Christopher Hitchens birthday: On free speech:

(It is better to watch and listen, but if you prefer to read, here is a transcript courtesy of how to play alone):


Fire, fire, fire, fire. Now you’ve heard it. Not shouted in a crowded theatre, admittedly, as I seem now to have shouted it in the Hogwarts dining hall. But the point is made. Everyone knows the fatuous verdict of the greatly over-praised Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who, when asked for an actual example of when it would be proper to limit speech or define it as an action, gave that of shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre.

It’s very often forgotten what he was doing in that case was sending to prison a group of Yiddish- speaking socialists, whose literature was printed in a language most Americans couldn’t read, opposing Mr. Wilson’s participation in the First World War, and the dragging of the United States into that sanguinary conflict, which the Yiddish-speaking socialists had fled from Russia to escape. In fact, it could be just as plausibly argued that the Yiddish-speaking socialists who were jailed by the excellent and over-praised Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes were the real fire-fighters, were the ones shouting fire when there really was a fire in a very crowded theatre indeed.

And who is to decide? Well, keep that question if you would — ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, I hope I may say comrades and friends — before your minds.

I exempt myself from the speaker’s kind offer of protection that was so generously proffered at the opening of this evening. Anyone who wants to say anything abusive about or to me is quite free to do so, and welcome in fact, at their own risk.

But before they do that they must have taken, as I’m sure we all should, a short refresher course in the classic texts on this matter. Which are John Milton’s  Areopagitica, (Areopagitica being the great hill of Athens for discussion and free expression). Thomas Paine’s introduction to The Age of Reason. And I would say John Stuart Mill’s essay On Liberty in which it is variously said — I’ll be very daring and summarize all three of these great gentlemen of the great tradition of, especially, English liberty, in one go: What they say is it’s not just the right of the person who speaks to be heard, it is the right of everyone in the audience to listen, and to hear. And every time you silence somebody you make yourself a prisoner of your own action because you deny yourself the right to hear something. In other words, your own right to hear and be exposed is as much involved in all these cases as is the right of the other to voice his or her view. Indeed as John Stuart Mill said, if all in society were agreed on the truth and beauty and value of one proposition, all except one person, it would be most important, in fact it would become even more important, that that one heretic be heard, because we would still benefit from his perhaps outrageous or appalling view.

In more modern times this has been put, I think, best by a personal heroine of mine, Rosa Luxembourg, who said freedom of speech is meaningless unless it means the freedom of the person who thinks differently. My great friend John O. Sullivan former editor of the National Review, and I think probably my most conservative and reactionary Catholic friend, once said — it’s a tiny thought experiment — if you hear the Pope saying he believes in God, you think, well, the Pope’s just doing his job again today. If you hear the Pope saying he’s begun to doubt the existence of God, you think he might be on to something.

Well, if everybody in North America is forced to attend, at school, training in sensitivity in Holocaust awareness and is taught to study the "final solution", about which nothing was actually done by this country, or by North America, or by the United Kingdom while it was going on, but let’s say as if in compensation for that everyone is made to swallow an official and unalterable story of it now, and it’s taught as the great moral exemplar, the moral equivalent of the morally lacking elements of the Second World War, a way of stilling our uneasy conscience about that combat.

If that’s the case with everybody, as it more or less is, and one person gets up and says, “You know, about this Holocaust, I’m not sure it even happened. In fact, I’m pretty certain it didn’t. Indeed, I begin to wonder if the only thing is that the Jews brought a little bit of violence on themselves.” That person doesn’t just have a right to speak, that person’s right to speak must be given extra protection. Because what he has to say must have taken him some effort to come up with, might contain a grain of historical truth, might in any case get people to think about why do they know what they already think they know. How do I know that I know this, except that I’ve always been taught this and never heard anything else?

It’s always worth establishing first principle. It’s always worth saying what would you do if you met a Flat Earth Society member? Come to think of it, how can I prove the earth is round? Am I sure about the theory of evolution? I know it’s supposed to be true. Here’s someone who says there’s no such thing; it’s all intelligent design. How sure am I of my own views? Don’t take refuge in the false security of consensus, and the feeling that whatever you think you’re bound to be OK, because you’re in the safely moral majority.

One of the proudest moments of my life, that’s to say, in the recent past, has been defending the British historian David Irving who is now in prison in Austria for nothing more than the potential of uttering an unwelcome thought, on Austrian soil. He didn’t actually say anything in Austria. He wasn’t even accused of saying anything. He was accused of perhaps planning to say something that violated an Austrian law that says only one version of the history of the Second World War may be taught in our brave little Tyrolean Republic. The republic that gave us Kurt Waldheim, as Secretary General of the United Nations, a man wanted in several countries for war crimes. The country that has Jorg Haider the leader of its own Fascist Party in the cabinet that sent David Irving to jail.

You know the two things that have made Austria famous and given it its reputation by any chance? Just while I’ve got you? I hope there are some Austrians here to be upset by it. A pity if not. But the two greatest achievements of Austria are to have convinced the world that Hitler was German and that Beethoven was Viennese. Now to this proud record they can add, they have the courage finally to face up to their past and lock up a British historian who has committed no crime except that of thought in writing. And that’s a scandal. I can’t find a seconder usually when I propose this but I don’t care. I don’t need a seconder. My own opinion is enough for me. And I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, any place, anytime. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in line, and kiss my ass.

Now, I don’t know how many of you, don’t feel you’re grown up enough to decide for yourselves and need to be protected against David Irving’s edition of the Goebbels diaries for example, out of which I learned more about the third reich than I had from studying … and … combined, when I was at Oxford. But for those of you who do I recommend another short course of revision.

Go again and see not just the film and the play but also read the text of Robert Bolt’s wonderful play “A Man for All Seasons”, I am sure some of you must have seen it – where Sir Thomas More decides that he would rather die than lie or betray his faith. And one moment More is arguing with the particularly vicious witch-hunting prosecutor: a servant of the king and a hungry and ambitious man.

And More says: “You’d break the law to punish the devil, wouldn’t you?”

The prosecutor - the witch-hunter - says: “Break it?" he said, "I’d cut down every law in England if I could do that, if I could capture him”.

And More says,“Yes you would, wouldn’t you?” And then “When you would have cornered the devil and the devil would turn around to meet you, where would you run for protection, all the laws of England having been cut down and flattened? Who would protect you then?”

Bear in mind, ladies and gentlemen, that every time you violate – or propose to violate – the right to free speech of someone else, you in potentia you’re making a rod for your own back. Because (…), to whom do you award the right to decide which speech is harmful, or who is the harmful speaker? Or to determine in advance what are the harmful consequences going to be, that we know enough about in advance to prevent? To whom would you give this job? To whom are you going to award the task of being the censor?

Isn’t the famous old story that the man who has to read all the pornography, in order to decide what is fit to be passed and what isn’t, is the man most likely to become debauched?

Is there anyone you find eloquent enough to decide for you what you could read? You would give the job to decide for you? To relieve you from the responsibility of hearing what you might have to hear?

Does anyone have a nominee? Hands up?

You mean there is no one who is good enough to decide what I can read? I had no idea.. But there’s a law – or some piddling sub-section of a law – that says there must be such a person. Well, to hell with that law. It is inviting you to be liars and hypocrites and to deny what you evidently know already.

About this censorial instinct: we basically know already what we need to know, and we’ve known it for a long time, it comes from an old story from again a great Englishman (..) Dr. Samuel Johnson, the author of the first great dictionary of English language. When it was complete he was waited upon by various delegations of people to congratulate him, (..) also by a delegation of respectable ladies of London (…). "Dr Johnson," they said: “we are delighted to find that you’ve not included any indecent or obscene words in your dictionary.”

“Ladies," said Dr Johnson, “I can congratulate you on being able to look them up.”

Anyone who can understand that joke gets the point about censorship, especially prior restraint as it is known in the US for it is banned by the first amendment of the Constitution. It may not be determined in advance what words are apt or inapt. No one has the knowledge that would be required to make that call and – more to the point – one has to suspect the motives of those who do so. In particular those who are determined to be offended, those who will go through a treasure house of English language (..) in search of filthy words, to satisfy themselves, and some instinct about which I dare not speculate…

Now, I am absolutely convinced that the main source of hatred in the world is religion, and organized religion. Absolutely convinced. I am glad that you applaud, because that is a very great problem for those who oppose this motion (the motion to cut the law on hate speech). How are they going to ban religion? How are they going to stop the expression of religious loathing, hatred and bigotry?

I speak as someone who is a very regular target of this, and not just in rhetorical form. I have been the target of many death threats and I know several people (), who can’t go anywhere without a security detail because of the criticism they’ve made on one monotheism in particular. This is in the capital city of the United States. So I know what I’m talking about, and I also have to notice, that the sort of people who ring me up and say they know where my children go to school, what my home number is and where I live, and what they are going to do to them and to my wife, and to me, whom I have to take seriously because they already have done it to people I know, are just the people who are going to seek the protection of the hate speech law, if I say what I think about their religion, which I am now going to do.

Because I don’t have any ethnic bias, I have no grudge of that sort, I can rub along with pretty much anyone of any origin – as it were -, or sexual orientation, or language group – except people from Yorkshire of course, who are completely untakable – and I’m beginning to resent the confusion that is being imposed on us now between religious belief, blasphemy, ethnicity, profanity and what we might call “multicultural etiquette”.

It is quite common these days for people now to use the expression – for example – “anti-islamic racism”, as if an attack on a religion is an attack on an ethnic group. The word islamophobia in fact is beginning to acquire the opprobrium that was once reserved for racial prejudice. This is a subtle and very nasty insinuation that needs to be met, head on.

Who said “what if Falwell hates fags? What if people act upon that?" The Bible says you have to hate fags. If Falwell says he is saying it because the Bible says so, he is right. Yes, it might make people go out and use violence. What are you going to do about that? You’re up against a group of people who will say ‘you put your hands on our Bible and we’ll call the hate speech police’.  Now what are you going to do when you’ve dug that trap for yourselves?

Eh, somebody said that the antisemitism and Kristallnacht in Germany was the result of ten years of Jew-bating. Ten years?! You must be joking, it is the result of 2000 years of Christianity, based on one verse of one chapter of St. John’s gospel, which led to a pogrom after every Easter sermon every year for hundreds of years. Because it claimed that the Jews demanded the blood of Christ be on the heads of themselves and all their children to the remotest generation. That is the warrant and license for – and incitement to anti-Jewish pogroms. What are you going to do about that?

Where is your piddling subsection now?!? Does it say St. John’s gospel must be censored?

Do I – who have read Freud and know what the future of an illusion really is and know that religious belief is ineradicable as long as we remain this stupid, poorly-evolved mammalian species – think that some (Canadian) law is going to solve this problem?

Please…

No our problem is this: our prefrontal lobes are too small. And our adrenaline glands are too big. And our thumb/finger opposition isn’t all what it might be. And we’re afraid of the dark, and we’re afraid to die and we believe in the truths of holy books that are so stupid and so fabricated that a child can – and all children do, as you can tell by their questions – actually see through them. And I think it should be – religion – treated with ridicule, and hatred and contempt. And I claim that right.

Now, let’s not dance around, not all monotheisms are exactly the same – at the moment. They’re all based on the same illusion, they’re all plagiarisms of each other, but there is one in particular that at the moment is proposing a serious menace not just to freedom of speech and freedom of expression, but to quite a lot of other freedoms too. And this is the religion that exhibits the horrible trio of self-hatred, self-righteousness and self-pity. I am talking about militant Islam.

Globally it is a gigantic power. It controls an enormous amount of oil wealth, several countries and states with an enormous fortune it’s pumping the ideology of Wahhabism and Salafism around the world, poisoning societies where it goes, ruining the minds of children, stultifying the young in its madrasas, training people in violence, making its culture death, suicide and murder. That’s what it does globally, it’s quite strong.

In our society it poses as a cringing minority, who’s faith you might offend, who deserves all the protection that a small and vulnerable group might need.

Now, it makes quite large claims for itself, doesn’t it? It says it’s the final revelation. It says that god spoke to one illiterate businessman – in the Arabian peninsula – three times through an archangel, and the resulting material – as you can see as you read it – is largely plagiarized from the old and the new testament. (...) It has to be accepted as the final revelation and as the final and unalterable one and those who do not accept this revelation are fit to be treated as cattle infidels, potential chattel, slaves and victims.

Well I tell you what, I don’t think Mohammad ever heard those voices. I don’t believe it. And the likelihood that I am right – as opposed to the likelihood that a businessman who couldn’t read, had bits of the old and the new testament re-dictated to him by an archangel, I think puts me much more near the position of being objectively correct.

But who is the one under threat? The person who promulgates this and says I’d better listen because if I don’t I’m in danger, or me who says “no, I think this is so silly you can even publish a cartoon about it”?

And up go the placards and the yells and the howls and the screams – this is in London, this is in Toronto and this is in New York, it is right in our midst now – “Behead those who cartoon Islam”.

Do they get arrested for hate speech? No.

Might I get in trouble for what I just said about the prophet Mohammad? Yes, I might.

Where are your priorities ladies and gentlemen?

You’re giving away what is most precious in your own society, and you’re giving it away without a fight and you’re even praising the people who want to deny you the right to resist it. Shame on you while you do this. Make the best use of the time you’ve got left. This is really serious.

Now, if you look anywhere you like, because we had implications of a rather driveling and sickly kind tonight about or sympathy, what about the poor fags, the poor Jews, the wretched women who can’t take the abuse and the slaves and their descendants and the tribes who didn’t make it, and their land of which all was forfeit… look anywhere you like in the world for slavery, for the subjection of women as chattel, for the burning and flogging of homosexuals, for ethnic cleansing, for anti-Semitism... 

...for all of this, look no further than a famous book that’s on every pulpit in this city, and in every synagogue and in every mosque.

And then just see whether you can square the fact that the force of the main source of hatred, is also the main caller for censorship. And when you’ve realized that you’re therefore this evening faced with a gigantic false antithesis, I hope that still won’t stop you from giving the motion before you the resounding endorsement it deserves. Thank you. Night night, stay cool.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Thorsday Tonic - Now This Is A Mayor!
























This week, the northeastern United States and Eastern Canada are bracing for a snowstorm projected by some news sources to be "historic" in snowfall and disruption. While nor'easterners are battening down the hatches and preparing for the coming excitement, The Weather Channel and its affiliates NBC and Weather Underground have gleefully "named" the storm Nemo, and have wallpapered the internet and TWC with hysterical "reports" about the possible magnitude of the storm. 

This naming of winter storms is an effort to equate (in the public psyche) regular winter events with massive, life-threatening but far less regular occurrences such as tropical cyclones. So, let's talk about that.


The northeast has endured wicked winter storms for centuries. 
The people really do know what to do and how to handle themselves.

Winter storms are a pain. They also have the potential to cause life-threatening conditions, but nearly always of the sort that can be avoided by sensible people preparing for normal winter events. Slippery roadways and cold, while potentially deadly, are nearly always avoidable or manageable - unlike 120mph hurricane winds taking the roof off your only shelter or massive flooding caused by a cyclone which inundates every shelter for miles. Except in rare circumstances, winter storms are just a costly nuisance. That is the reason why very little is being made of the possible aftermath of "Nemo" - because the truth is that it will cause a lot of headaches for a couple of days and then nearly everyone will get back to normal life. 

In this age of easily roused rabbles and the 24-hour panic-of-the-week news cycle, it is a refreshing change to come across an elected official who behaves like an adult, calmly assessing the situation and then sensibly describing the reality instead of throwing out hyperbolic statements to score political points. Upon learning that a similar storm was bearing down on his city a few weeks ago, Mayor Dennis O'Keefe of St. John's advised the citizens to be prepared for a lot of snow and possible power outages, stay off the roads and try to enjoy the unexpected day at home. 

 Mayor O'Keefe: leading by example




“Enjoy the day and 
get ready for the clean up. 
Don’t panic, 
don’t sweat it. 
The power will come back.” 
Mayor Dennis O'Keefe






Solid advice. Most valuable, however, was the Mayor's calm demeanor. You've been through this a hundred times, he seemed to say. You know how it goes. There is nothing to be gained from scurrying around in a panic. There will be plenty to do later. Get ready, then relax and rest up for the work to come. That night, the storm came and the storm raged and there was, indeed, a "heavy snowfall". Nearly two feet fell over most of Mayor O'Keefe's city. The wind howled -  blowing heavy wet snow in front of it. The power did go out in a lot of places, but people were mostly prepared.

People hunkered down, lit candles, fired up the grill and made hot beverages. They joked with their neighbors, embraced the unexpected long weekend, griped about losing power or rejoiced about power restored. Facebook friends offered to deliver hot food and drinks to friends without power, and everyone kept tabs on everyone else in case help was needed. People settled down for a long winter's night. As they have done for years.

And in the morning, the clean up began. The power did come back - not as quickly as some people would have liked, understandably - but it did come back thanks to the efforts of linemen and power crews who braved the elements to repair lines thrown down by the gale force winds. Neighbours and friends worked together again to shovel driveways and dig out cars and clear a pathway to the front door.

"Nemo" may dump up to two feet of snow on parts of New England before it finally pushes off to the north Atlantic. But, like Newfoundlanders, northeasterners are used to winter storms. They know what to do!

Whipping people into a frenzy with hyperbolic projections of "historic" storms is really not helpful for anyone but those who stand to benefit from increased viewer ratings (ahem, NBC). The northeast has endured wicked winter storms for centuries. The people really do know what to do and how to handle themselves. The damage and the scope of the coming storm may indeed be greater than most storms in the past, but not so much greater that it should be used to pad TV ratings, stoke the panic machinery and drive storm-related purchases. The stuff you did to prepare for the regular old snowstorms before the naming nonsense began in 2012 is still the stuff you will always need.

It's probably going to be a blizzard. Judge yourselves accordingly. Stay informed and stay prepared, but don't let the panic-mongering of modern commerce rattle you. You know what to do. Do it.

Preparedness tips from Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency here.


Saturday, February 2, 2013

A Modern David and Goliath Story - Teenager Zack Kopplin Takes On The Christian Right






























When Zack Kopplin was in his sophomore year at Baton Rouge Magnet High School, in 2008, he started his fight against a new law called the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA), which has earned him fame and notoriety for being a notable advocate for science in defiance of this law's disguised attempt at introducing creationism into the classroom in Louisiana.*


For your Saturday Inspiration, may I present a modern day David vs Goliath story:

When Christian fundamentalists in the Louisiana legislature passed the Louisiana Science Education Act, it was a signal that the religious right had finally declared open war against reality-based public education. This law virtually guarantees that growing numbers of children will be deprived of education as the modern knowledge available through comprehensive educational curricula is replaced by medieval constraints on learning where all access to knowledge must be restricted to whatever can be Biblically referenced.   

Alarmed and angered by these developments, LA teenager Zack Kopplin pushed past his shyness and fear of retaliation to protest the law. Zack began by writing a research paper on the subject while still in high school. Since then, he has sought and gained the support of 78 nobel laureates in his effort to persuade the Louisiana legislature that the LSEA was not just a mistake, but potentially disastrous for Louisiana children and the future economic growth of the state. He was disappointed in that effort: the Louisiana legislature refused to repeal the law. To Zack's (and many others') horror, Tennessee soon followed Louisiana's example and passed a similar creationist bill of their own.

Zack's concerns are founded in chilling reality. Not only has the LSEA opened the door for creationism to be taught to unsuspecting children by dishonestly calling it "science", but the Louisiana legislature - with the blessing of Governor Bobby Jindal - has also passed bills for school voucher programs which funnel public tax dollars into religious schools which teach this overtly religious material. This blatant violation of the Constitutional prohibition against government endorsement of religion was made possible through a cleverly packaged bill purporting to support "academic freedom".

While science has been in the crosshairs of religious fundamentalists for decades, it is not the only school subject in danger. History is being rewritten in Texas (the source of the vast majority of textbooks used by all American schoolchildren), while Bible-based Mathematics (yes, Math!), Economics and  Literature, currently being taught inside the Christian homeschooling movement, are poised to be launched into the public school curricula as soon as Christian fundamentalists succeed in getting their agenda passed in state legislatures around the country. Louisiana is far from the only Republican-controlled state to be pushing through these anti-education measures, either. In addition to Louisiana, Tennessee, and Texas (unofficially), four more states are considering legislation which will allow religious fundamentalists to do an end run around both the Constitution and reality-based educational standards.

Fresh legislation has been put forward in Colorado, Missouri and Montana. In Oklahoma, there are two bills before the state legislature that include potentially creationist language.
A watchdog group, the National Center for Science Education, said that the proposed laws were framed around the concept of "academic freedom". It argues that religious motives are disguised by the language of encouraging more open debate in school classrooms. However, the areas of the curriculum highlighted in the bills tend to focus on the teaching of evolution or other areas of science that clash with traditionally religious interpretations of the world.
Four US states considering laws that challenge the teaching of evolution, Paul Harris, The Guardian, January 31, 2013.

Why are religious fundamentalists so determined to inject religion into science curricula (and into public education, generally) anyway? What possible benefit can there be in denying reality and refusing to accept the scientific theories which enabled humankind to develop technologies and medical treatments which these same people presumably do not refuse to use? The answer is sadly banal. Christian fundamentalists are attempting to destroy secular public education for the same reason that religion has always opposed allowing the people access to real education: for the preservation of the religious elite's power and wealth.  

American Christianism - like all religions - is a symbiotic relationship: religious elites derive their power and wealth from legions of followers who look to pastors and preachers for leadership and who believe that the religion they promote is true. Church is big business. From the enormous, multi-million dollar mega-church corporations to the one-man storefront church business, there is a huge incentive for preachers and their organizations to do whatever they need to do to maintain their "moral authority" over their flocks and thus hold on to their power and wealth.

The allure of religion
For their part, Christian believers provide a steady flow of income and huge political power to their church leadership (in the form of the "Christian" vote) in exchange for a sense of order and purpose in life, moral guidance and perhaps most important of all (though seldom acknowledged as a separate reason) the sense that they are valued members of a powerful majority.  For many born-again believers, that sense of belonging to a powerful majority is one of the few comforts they have in an often bewildering, disempowering and depressing life. 

The foundation for this mutually beneficial relationship is the Christian belief system. The moral authority of the religious leadership depends upon general acceptance of - and willingness to profess belief in - the doctrines of the faith. It is this belief system which is the weak link in the power structure of the business of religion. When the supremacy of the belief system is challenged, the power of the leadership is threatened. 

The problem for both the fundamentalist leaders and their willing followers is this: Christian beliefs - like most religious belief systems - are founded in mythology and the supernatural so evidence-based reality is obviously a threat to that foundation. Reality-based education, the goal of good, secular schools, is a direct threat to religion because by teaching children empirically supported facts about the natural world and giving them the critical thinking skills to continue to seek the truth about the world and our place in it, it teaches them the skills they need to understand how religion manipulates and controls the culture and to see how that manipulation is often motivated by very worldly, selfish goals. 
The Christian right has long suspected
that colleges are their enemies.

Well-educated people may not lose their belief in gods, but they often move away from organized religion. As more and more educated people moved away from organized religion during the last century - and gained independence from religiously-mandated tithing, rules for living and political activism - the wealth, power and influence of the church began to decline. The religious elites realized that public education was their mortal enemy. In the 1970's, a group of influential evangelical Christian leaders joined forces and formulated a plan to "take back America" - and a major focus of that plan was to undermine the public education system which they saw as the most dangerously effective dispeller of religious mysticism.

It wasn't only religious leaders who wanted to maintain the illusion of religious Truth™, however. If that were the case, they would have failed miserably since they are a relatively small elite with nowhere near the number of votes they would need to control elections or influence legislatures. They needed an army of loyal followers willing to act against their own material interests to provide the financial backing and votes needed to support the fundamentalist Christian agenda. Incredibly, they were able to marshall just such an army of dedicated, ideologically-driven followers within a couple of decades. Why?

Why would millions of people vote against their own interests and support a leadership which is working to deprive them of rights and their children of education?  On some level they know the Bible-based worldview is flawed and that the anti-science movement is wrong. They know it - even if they refuse to acknowledge it - because they use science-based technology, medicine and reproductive technology every day. Yet they deny the truth and vote to deny the truth to their own children and their neighbors' children, too. 

It is tempting to chalk this up to stupidity or irrationality, but that is a mistake. Christians are no more stupid than any other Americans. They can understand the truth but they choose to ignore it. Religionists see that the power lies in going along with the fiction, and they see what happens to people who refuse to bow to religious power. People gravitate to power and they can see that in a democracy the power is with the majority, so many make a choice to join the majority. That is not stupidity, it is calculation. In a purely objective calculation - looking at the negative social consequences experienced by outspoken non-Christians, for example - it may actually be more stupid not to go along with the Christian majority.  

The charge that Christianists are "irrational" is probably without merit, too. We cannot know what people really believe in the privacy of their own thoughts, only what they profess to believe. We can, however, see that perfectly sensible people say and do objectively irrational things for very rational reasons.  For example, when people endure hazing rituals in order to be accepted into a highly desired group, it is clear that they do not "believe in" the irrational things they must say or do to win a place in the group, but it is equally clear that they are willing to do whatever it takes to be members because they do believe in the value of belonging to the group. Self-professed Bible-believing Christians may or may not believe that the Bible is literally the source of all truth and knowledge, but they definitely believe that belonging to the Christian religion is worth saying that they do. When you consider the harm that they know they would experience in their social, personal and professional lives should they refuse to submit to the pressure to profess the Christian faith, it is undeniable that in a very real sense it is more rational to go along with Christian fundamentalism than it is to fight against it.

So, while it is true that supporting the Christian Right's agenda is harmful to their own material interests, for many Christians the psychological benefits - they might call it their spiritual interests - of belonging to the church are more important. Church followers were, and still are, anxious to preserve the fictional foundation upon which their own position in a powerful majority is built.  They support lies in order to preserve their religious privilege. Feeling safe in a modern world full of cures and conveniences made possible by science, they cannot imagine losing those gains so very few followers of fundamentalist Christianity can see any downside to denying reality in this manner. They don't see that, having grown up with a decent education themselves, their religious "belief" is a choice, but for children who know nothing else but indoctrination (backed up by the fear of hellfire), there may be no psychologically safe "choice" possible. They only see the upside: the consolidation of their group's position of supremacy in American society: the continued normalization and forced public acceptance of false beliefs which supports their own psychological comfort and social position. 

Public apathy about the creep of religious fundamentalism into the public sphere will have a profound impact upon the future of this country. This is not a fringe movement which poses no threat to our reasonable, sensible little corner of the world. This is a powerful, well-organized and - until very recently - stealthy campaign to concentrate power into a few hands, using religion as the weapon to subdue and incapacitate the people. Nearly 50% of the population already professes to believe that the creation myth explains our existence and the Bible is literally the source of all knowledge. That number could jump to an overwhelming majority of future voters if an entire generation of schoolchildren is deprived of the ability to think critically or to understand the basic principles of math and science which underpin nearly all of modern technology and medicine.

A child devastated by the  
"good news" of Christian
indoctrination. (Jesus Camp)
The school voucher concept was the brainchild of religious extremists who were determined to completely dismantle the secular public school system and reduce all education in this country to a training ground of future foot soldiers for the conservative Christian elites. They have been working on this elsewhere in the world (in places where the public education systems are far less robust than in the USA) through their "mission" programs, too.  The United States was a tougher arena for the Christian war for supremacy, but little by little, the religionists have succeeded in chipping away at the Constitutional protections which once guaranteed that American children would have access to an education free of ulterior agendas. Laws like the ones that Zack Kopplin is fighting in Louisiana deprive children of a real education while indoctrinating them mercilessly with the mythology, eschatology and psychological terrorism of fundamentalist Christian theology. The Christian right intends to return Christendom - within a generation or two - to an appalling condition where a majority of the population will not understand the nature of reality and will be too cowed by theological terrorizing to ask any questions about it. 
"Give me a child until he is seven
and I will give you the man."

Coming soon to a school near you: Belief instead of knowledge. Feeling instead of thinking. Obedience instead of understanding. Acceptance instead of justice. Conformity instead of liberty. Fearful self-loathing instead of hopeful confidence. 

Unless America wakes up to put a stop to this madness, the result of these laws will be the perversion of every cherished American ideal. Christian fundamentalists have been working on this particular strategy to control American society for more than 30 years (before that, they tried other strategies which were not as successful). If this sounds alarmist to you, consider that these religious extremists are counting on that. They are counting on the moderate middle of America to dismiss those who are raising the alarm, while they continue their stealth campaign to destroy the foundation of religious liberty and establish a Christian theocracy in the USA. If we continue to ignore this situation and allow religious extremists to write, lobby for and pass laws which enshrine a particular religious ideology as the government-endorsed national ideology, the consequences for religious, political and intellectual freedom - not to mention technological and economic development - in this country will be disastrous.

Please read more on this topic and spread the word.  Below, you'll find some links worth checking out (even if you have no time to read, please take 5 minutes to watch the video linked at the bottom of this post):

*Meet Zack Kopplin: The Millenial Fighting Creationism in Louisiana (Q&A), Dillon Zhou, policymic, January 28, 2013.
How 19-year old activist Zack Kopplin is making life hell for Louisiana creationists, George Dvorsky, i09, January 16, 2013. Loch Ness Monster used to debunk evolution in state-funded school, Claudine Zap, June 25, 2012
Christian Fundamentalists teach US Children Loch Ness Monster is Real to Disprove Evolution, Lucy Sherriff, The Huffington Post UK, June 25, 2012.
New Creationist Bill in Colorado, Ed Brayton, Dispatches from the Culture Wars, January 27, 2013.
She Brainwashed Me With Science, Ed Brayton, FTB, January 24, 2013.
Another Clueless Legislator on Evolution, Brayton, January 26, 2013.
Texas Public Schools: Still Teaching Creationism, Josh Harkinson, Mother Jones, January 28, 2013.
Critics say Montana allows creationism in schools, Associated Press (OregonLive), January 25, 2013.
Loch Ness Monster seen as real dinosaur in biology books taught in Louisiana school, Eric Ortiz, NYDailyNews, June 26, 2012.
14 Wacky "Facts" Kids Will Learn in Louisiana's Voucher Schools, Deanna Pan, Mother Jones, August 7, 2012.




If you doubt that the school voucher idea is for anything other than to undermine secular, public education for American citizens, please take five minutes to view this video excerpt from the documentary, School Choice: Taxpayer-Funded Creationism, Bigotry and Bias.