Friday, April 20, 2012

Thank Gods It's FreyaDay!

Happy drizzly Freyaday, Humans.

I do not mind the rain. I do not object if my sunbath is cancelled for today.

I will just wait here until my sunshine returns. Right here. Behind the blinds.

I wonder if my sunshine is up there behind those clouds?

I will wait here for my sunshine until my humans return. Then, I will bask in their warmth.

Thank gods it's Freyaday!

Thursday, April 19, 2012


I am planning to continue to bring up as frequently as I can the horrendous issue of mandatory ultrasounds - for no medical reason - being forced on women seeking legal abortion.  More than twenty states have or have tried to put laws on the books mandating these invasive ultrasounds. In the last year alone, at least seven other states have tried to pass similar anti-choice measures, with varying levels of success.  I worry that the Republicans will succeed in distracting women from this reality. I worry that women will forget that their freedom and human rights are in very real peril.

Rachel Maddow may be thinking along the same lines, and hopefully a lot of other prominent writers and journalists will not let this issue drop off the national radar as the election campaigning heats up.  This week, Ms. Maddow did a follow-up piece to her blog series about personalized Virginia license plates.  The video clip is great, but what is even more awesome is that one of my Facebook friends, Becky Kirkland Kremkau is one of the contributors!  The final - fantastic! - plate is Becky's:

Just to refresh your memory:

Charting the number of laws restricting abortion rights since 1985

Thorsday Tonic - Bill Nye on Evolution Part 2

Sit back and enjoy Part 2 of the evolutionary science video featured on Tuesday.

Bill Nye the Science Guy:  Evolution (Part 2)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Crime Scene! Temporarily Out of Service

Well, that was an interesting morning.  And by "interesting", I mean surprising, unsettling and scary.

Our house was broken into last night.  We were all at home asleep and did not hear a thing. A burglar came into our house, into the kitchen, stole whatever gadgets s/he could carry (laptop, briefcases, phones on kitchen counter) and left, presumably, when s/he could not carry anything more.

The first we knew of it was when I came into the kitchen early this morning and discovered the back door wide open. My first thought was "oh no!  more mice and who knows what other critters in the house!" and I marched off to ask everyone WTF?  Who left the door open all night?

But no one had left the door open.  It was a slider with a sketchy lock mechanism which we usually reinforce with a cut off hockey stick in the track.  Because of the actual hockey game on TV last night, Mr. Nifty and I were later than normal going to bed and neither one of us noticed that the hockey stick wasn't in the track.  The thief or thieves only had to push up hard on that door handle to slip it off the catch.

They must have crept in, grabbed what they could in the kitchen and made a hasty getaway, leaving the door wide open.  The thought of a stranger - a thief no less - in the house while we slept is pretty unnerving.

Almost as soon as it dawned on us that we'd been robbed (the thief did not mess the kitchen up or apparently even leave that room, so the tidiness did not at first scream BREAK IN!), the phone rang. It was our neighbor who had found the briefcases along the creek bed during his morning walk.  Obviously, no computers or other equipment was left inside, but our neighbor had managed to gather up papers strewn about.

Anyway, interesting series of thoughts on this:

1.  Lingering astonishment that I did not hear someone in our kitchen in the middle of the night.

2.  Relief that what I have always told the kids has been proven true in this case:  I have always told them that most thieves are lazy criminals who just want an easy mark.  They are not looking to confront people in their houses, determined to rob them anyway. They are hoping for a quick, easy robbery - preferably with nobody at home - and then to get away without getting caught.

3.  Renewed conviction that owning or wielding a gun in this situation could only have made a bad situation worse. We were asleep but unharmed and a petty thief took some stuff.  Yes it is infuriating and yes it feels like a violation of our "castle", but it was just stuff and no one was hurt.  Even if the thieves had made off with every thing of value in the house, none of our crap is worth a human life.

Having said all of that, though, I am spitting mad and taking steps to prevent this from ever happening again.  A locksmith just left (I know that slider had no locks on it, but one of the briefcases had keys in it so locks changed - $433. Grrr),  and a security firm is coming by this afternoon to quote us on an alarm system.  We should have done this before, but frankly it is deucedly expensive and we were not sure it would be worth it to us (because a system was installed in a previous house we had bought and -  oops! - we never engaged the alarm system so it was wasted).  Guess it is time to accept reality.

That's it for now.  Posting will be light today.  I don't feel much like writing, what with police and locksmiths and everything.  Back to work tomorrow, though!

Fabulous Fifteen - Greta Christina on Belief

A filmmaker who was working on a documentary about Christian beliefs about life after death interviewed Greta Christina.  That interview was later made into a podcast for "This is Really Happening".

The podcast features just Greta Christina's answers in the interview, giving the listener a pleasantly intimate experience. It feels as though Greta is confiding her thoughts about belief and the evolution of her personal set of beliefs to you, the listener, personally. (Spoiler alert!  Greta does not believe in the Rapture! Shocking, I know).

This is a quick, engaging and interesting 15 minutes.  Listen!  Greta Christina's podcast:

Update:  The first attempt to embed the podcast did not work,  so here is the link to the (free) iTunes version.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Is This Art?

The photo above has been making the rounds today and people are talking about it. Apparently there is controversy! Apparently, reasonable fair-minded people must weigh up these obviously equivalent* viewpoints:

It is art!   


It is a ghastly racist, misogynistic exploitation of the horrific experiences of women of color in societies which practice FGM for the benefit of a callously opportunistic "artist".

As you can see from all the laughter and smiling faces in the photo, the "art" cake was well-recieved in Sweden, at least amongst the delighted throng of white people who attended the event at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm.

According to this story, the "performance art" was part of an installation purporting to be highlighting the issue of female genital mutilation.  I don't doubt that the museum was trying to highlight the issue of FGM, but I think it would be mistake to assume that the museum's - or the artist's - motivation for highlighting this "issue" was to support the women whose lives are impacted by the practice. An alternative motivation, given the repugnant and culturally tone-deaf centerpiece of the opening party, could be that "highlighting the issue of FGM" has been identified as a hot topic likely to generate a great deal of interest and revenue for the artist and/or the museum.

The "art" consisted of a grotesquely caricatured, naked "African" woman's torso with the "head" being that of the artist who was sitting under the display table with his head poking out through a hole in the table placed above the neck of the cake sculpture.  The artist had painted his face in a ghastly "black face" mask, with a wide-mouthed exaggerated grimace complete with cartoonish wide-spaced teeth.

The "performance" element consisted of the "head" of the "woman" screaming in feigned agony as the Swedish Culture Minister - by previously arranged request - picked up a knife and cut the "genitals" on the cake, mimicking ritual female genital mutilation.  Riotous laughter apparently ensued. The Minister enthusiastically ate her piece of cake and even fed the artist a bit of cake, to the delighted amusement of all parties.

What could possibly be wrong with that?

Melissa McEwan had a few suggestions, as did Feministe and these news outlets:  BBC ,  New StatesmanMSNBC.  (Here is the Sarah Baartman story, which some of these articles reference).

Were these people sincerely trying to "highlight" the issue of female genital mutilation in support of the women whose lives are impacted by this horrible practice?  Perhaps they were.  But, if financial and promotional gain were not the real goals behind this mind-bogglingly offensive display, it is hard to think of a worse way to have "failed".

I'm no expert, but it seems to me that instead of a jovial celebration - complete with cannibalistic cake and re-enactments of terrible mutilations - why not simply take a more direct approach?  I don't know, maybe something like this:

* By "obviously equivalent", I mean: not. remotely. equivalent. Obviously.

Equal Pay Day

For all those who work for pay in the USA, today is Tax Day - midnight tonight is the deadline for filing income tax forms.  It also happens to be Equal Pay Day, which is pretty ironic.  Equal Pay Day marks the point in the year when the average woman has finally earned as much as the average man working at the same job had earned by December 31 last year.  Yes, the earnings gap remains that wide.

NPR touched on this subject yesterday in this interview.  It is hard to believe that a political candidate can be so utterly tone deaf, but it looks like Mitt Romney really is that out of touch with the reality of ordinary, middle-class life in the USA today.   From their privileged perch of inherited wealth, Romney and his homemaker wife, Ann, chastise women and the poor for not working harder.  The breathtaking lack of empathy or even basic human decency really does stun me some days.

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin,  a state senator is giving Republican governor Scott Walker a run for his money in the race to win this weeks' Most Misogynist Medal. Sen. Glenn Grothman asserts that earning money is just more important to men.

"Wisconsin state Sen. Glenn Grothman, who supports Gov. Scott Walker's repeal of a law that protected workers from pay discrimination, recently said, "You could argue that money is more important for men. I think a guy in their first job, maybe because they expect to be a breadwinner someday, may be a little more money-conscious."

Got that, ladies?

I wish this were an aberration, but this is just the latest attack in the War on Women from the Republican party. The push to strip away reproductive rights, to deny equal pay for work of equal value and to withhold support for continued authorization of the Violence Against Women Act because it might provide legal protections for LBGT victims of violence are all signs that the Republican party believes that it has drummed up enough support in the general voting population to come out openly with its nakedly bigoted and misogynist agenda.  What is really frightening is that they could be right.

Sandra Fluke wrote an excellent op ed for CNN about the importance of equal pay for work of equal value.  Try not to read the comments which follow the third year law student's well-written article. As if it wasn't bad enough that this is already tax day, equal pay day and a Tuesday*, it looks like the very worst of the bottom-feeding continent of CNN trolls made a special effort to be as despicable as possible there.  Do yourself a favor and click away as soon as you finish the article.

*Tuesday Tonics are here for a reason!

UPDATE:  The Zingularity has the latest polls gathered in one place, and the news is better than I feared. Perhaps the spin doctors hope to create a self-fulfilling prophesy by reporting that Romney's numbers are improving among women. Let's hope they are wrong!

Tuesday Tonic - Bill Nye on Evolution Part 1

Sit back and enjoy a little evolutionary science on a Tuesday morning.

Bill Nye the Science Guy:  Evolution (Part 1)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Isn't That Just Ducky!

I am a puppy and I like to play!  I run and jump and play all day!

I am a puppy and I like to cuddle.  I like to play with my human, and then I curl up in her lap and sleep.

I am a puppy and I like to play and cuddle.

Isn't that just Ducky!

Musical Monday - Run Runaway

Need some get up and go on a Monday morning?

Sit up, turn the volume way UP and bounce along to this music!

Great Big Sea:  Run Runaway

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sunday Sermon Antidotes - P.Z. Myers At GAC

An idea can take over the world - until it is replaced by better ideas!

The Global Atheist Convention has just wound down, but I am sure that there will be amazing material - speeches, ideas, videos - coming out of Melbourne, Australia for weeks to come.  I complain a lot about computers and the internet, but I am very thankful for the technology that allows us to see, read and listen to the ideas presented at this and other conferences and events with such ease and almost instantaneously.

P.Z. Myers spoke last night and he posted his "talk" on Pharyngula this morning.  I'll be eagerly watching for the video, but for now, you can enjoy reading it.  Here is an excerpt:

"The most brilliant thing Christianity ever did was to take that idea of the Word, that concept of identity wrapped up in an abstract set of ideas and stories, and to open it up to everyone. Aww, Rome fell? You're all alone? Here, we can help you find yourself, we can give a new meaning to your life, we have a standard that you can hold high and find unity with a greater people. It’s called the Bible.

I repeat, absolutely brilliant. It made Christianity bulletproof.

Cities fall. Kings die. Bloodlines fade. But ideas can go on and on and on. Now, a 21st century person can feel continuity with a 5th century priest; an American can share a central element of their self with someone in South Africa, with someone in China, with someone in Australia; heck, with someone on the space station, or walking on the moon. We can have the concept of an ecumene; people tied together by a common belief that crosses borders. It’s a powerful tool. It’s widely used, too; what is a United States citizen but someone bound by a set of documents, the Constitution?"

He went on to challenge atheist stereotypes, Christian assumptions about themselves and about atheists, harms done to humanity by religion and finally how the small, but growing segment of humankind who have shaken off the dehumanizing shackles of superstition and embraced reality has begun to make an impact.  Religionists are enraged because they know that their grip on the psyche of humanity is weakening at long last - and that it is weakening because of the hard-won advances made by science.

P.Z. Myers zeroed in on exactly why religion fights science so ferociously - why it has always hated and feared science. He discussed how science has been the true savior of humankind over the centuries - with religion fighting progress and useful knowledge every step of the way, of course - and he finished with a rousing battle cry:

"Yesterday I was listening to our Christian protesters outside, and I thought, “Huh. So that’s what you get when you give a sheep a microphone, amplified bleating.” There they were, calling on everyone to deny the richness of human experience and join the flock in the narrow boring confines of the sheep pen, so mindless they didn’t even realize they were calling to the wolves.

I have a different metaphor for us, my brothers and sisters in atheism. We are not sheep; there are no shepherds here. I look out from this stage and I see 4000 pairs of hunter’s eyes, 4000 hunter’s minds, 4000 pairs of hunter’s hands. I see the primeval primate hunting band grown large and strong. I see us so confident in our strength that we laugh at our enemies. I see a people thinking and planning, fierce and focused, learning and building new tools to conquer new worlds.

You are not sheep. You, my brothers and sisters in atheism, are a fierce, coordinated hunting pack — men and women working together, and those other bastards have cause to fear us. So let’s do it: make them tremble as we demolish the city of god."

Here is a  link to P.Z. Myers' speech at GAC. Take the time to read it.  It is worth every minute.

Housekeeping Notes...

My regular readers may have noticed a little change up yonder in the navigation bar - I registered my own domain name yesterday!  The moment I did so, however, I realized that I must have completely lost my mind. I have no idea how to set up the new domain for my blog. I wasted about an hour quite a long time trying to find a help page that could even point me in the right direction, before quitting in a fit of pique giving up in frustration.

I know nothing about web design, web hosting or anything else connected with the actual operation of computers. This is not false modesty (oh, I wish!), but a simple statement of fact.  Really, it is an understatement of fact, because few words can describe my sheer incompetence with computers. Obviously, my ritual of pouring a glass of wine to fortify me when tackling vexing computer-related issues is the one sensible thing I am able to point to in this story, but the rest was a disaster!

Actor portraying Your Frustrated Reporter
It may have all worked out just fine if I had had even the most elementary introduction to how computers work and basic keyboarding when I was younger. Instead, Mr. Nifty dragged me into the modern era, kicking and screaming, in the mid-1990's and soon thereafter left me to fend for myself. The intervening years have not been pretty.

I am not one to complain, but there are some things that are just ridiculously over-complicated and personal computers are the worst. I can never remember how to open programs or even to find things in my own files and the computer experiences regular meltdowns because I forget how to do the simplest operations. Actually, I barely know how to use a keyboard, either, having never learned it when I was younger and now being too old to learn these newfangled tricks!

As a matter of fact, I have been meaning to have a word with the gods about this.  I want to know why I had to suffer the misfortune of being born too late for the computer revolution? Really, it is all too much! Personal computers were just becoming a thing in the couple of years after I graduated from university. Yes, I made my way through college without the internet, without word processing - I hand-wrote most of my term papers and all of my essays! - and without any understanding whatsoever about any of the new technologies coming right up behind me. Life is so unfair!!
Huh? Speak for yourself!

Let us be perfectly frank: when it comes to computer technology, I am as ignorant and helpless as a baby. No wait, a baby would probably be ahead of me in this game. Aren't they training youngsters in basic keyboarding and DOS and fortran and all that nonsense in utero these days? It seems like that to me.

Anyway, in keeping with my usual thoughtless impulsivity mature reflection,  I decided to register my domain name in preparation for the hordes of internet traffic that will never  eventually  soon be visiting my blog every day, without a doubt!

Eventually, I managed to find help*, and figured out how to simply redirect this blog to that web domain and here we are!  It really is very simple for calm, capable people like Your Able Correspondent.

Nothing to see here!
Situation under control
Except that when I logged on this morning to check on my favorite bloggers from my blog list, the blog list was gone!  Searching frantically through random files and clicking crazily on every link I could find, I soon managed to create more chaos than is imaginable on one desktop put everything more or less to rights. True, files have been moved and stuffed wherever I may or may not have remembered they belong, and the desktop is cluttered with more zips and pix and other junk than you can shake a stick at, but I have everything under control!

I have gone through and put my favorite blogs links all back on here, but who knows what else may have been dropped into the internet void during the migration!  The horror!  I may never figure any of this out properly, but I plan to lurch haphazardly onward with my usual impatience  continue to work diligently toward my usual outstanding results!

I hope my regular readers will help out by letting me know if they notice anything that seems wonky on my blog, or if anything has gone mysteriously missing.  It is probable  possible that I may have  brought about blog armageddon overlooked one or two things during the transition!  Not to worry, though!  In no time at all I will have restored the blog to full operating capacity, tamed the internet demons and once again be sitting down to write daily at a desk that looks like this:

Artist's rendition of the future workspace of Your Faithful Scribe

Back to the NiftyUniverse forthwith!  Good Day to All!

*Pro-tip:  Type: "How the #$#!! do I set up my blog?" in the google window-thingie and voilà!  Step-by-step instructions. You're welcome.

Sunday Sermon Antidotes - Controlled

There are antidotes for the poison sprayed upon the multitudes in houses of worship across the continent every Sunday morning.

Sit back and take in some reality-based inspiration on this Sunday morning.

Tombstone da Deadman:  Controlled.

"You like that song?...I wrote that for you."

Saturday, April 14, 2012

T'is the Season...For Baseball!

"The Rookie"

To mark Opening Days across the continent.
Play ball!

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

Friday, April 13, 2012

Is There A Christian Word For Fatwa?

Last week, 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! Wait...
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 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.

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 - 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 - continued to spout patriotic platitudes while they worked 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 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.
Protect yourself from legal woes
What? This is just an innocent t-shirt!
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.

Thank Gods It's FreyaDay!

Happy Friday the 13th,  Humans.

I am not superstitious. I am not nervous about Friday the 13th.

I just like to sit here on the bookshelf. In the corner. Behind the sofa.

I just like to curl up here near Stephen King's books and think pleasant thoughts.

What do you mean my eyes are glowing?  Look away! Look away now!

Thank gods it's FreyaDay!

Christopher Hitchens' Birthday

Sit back and enjoy three minutes of inspiration: Christopher Hitchens on the immorality and unbelievability of Christianity. It is a defense of human dignity presented beautifully, clearly and respectfully.

Today would have been Hitch's 64th birthday.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

What About Love?


"I was a good girl, very obedient and believing ... So why am I an atheist? The short answer is because I finally saw my religion for what it was: a confusing set of beliefs that made no sense once carefully considered. That said, I would not wish this experience on anyone. Sure, I consider myself more moral and caring than I ever was before, but I also lost all my friends and am still rebuilding the trust of my family and my husband’s family. In the end, it’s worth it to be a rational person, but I will always feel haunted by my past and have regrets." CM, "Why I Am an Atheist" series on Pharyngula.

Christians do a lot of talking about "love". They talk about loving God and loving one another. They talk about the love they believe their god is showing them when events in their lives go well. They claim, in fact, that their religion is based on love, and most sincere Christians truly believe that it is. Most Christians believe that they are living righteous, moral lives according to this belief in their theology of Christian Love and honestly see themselves as loving people.

Most Christians do not question these beliefs. They uncritically embrace the pleasing notion that they are the chosen, most righteous and worthiest people on the planet. They may condescend to feel pity for non-Christians who they believe have not been exposed to their "good news", but that pity quickly changes to outrage if the non-Christians hear their message and yet remain unconvinced that Christianity is "good news" after all.

The message in the Bible is crystal clear, but it is important in a country dominated by Bible-believers to really understand it.  It is not actually love, but obedience to authority that is the root of the Christian belief system - as indeed it is the root of nearly every authoritarian belief system ever created by mankind (and I use the word "mankind" here deliberately). In the very first book of the Bible, this fact is underlined in the story of Adam and Eve. It is their disobedience which results in their expulsion from Eden and the subsequent staining of all future humanity with original sin. Christians believe that all human beings are born sinners because of this Bible story of the original "sin" of disobedience.

The Bible stories are cited to give legitimacy to the church's demand for obedience by followers. Little children are taught the stories about the consequences of disobedience early and well. Conformity to the strictures of the group, never failing to express the approved opinions, and obedience to the rules laid down by the church authority and its deputies (male heads of families) are the requirements for continued acceptance in a church community. Above all, followers are commanded to "put God/Jesus first" in their lives and - since the "presence" of God/Jesus is indistinguishable from his absence - the church authorities step in to represent the authority of God/Jesus and to bask in the loyalty and obedience that is meant for the god(s).

One of the rules of Christian church groups is that those wishing to remain a part of the community must accept (and repeat) the false assertion that this demand for conformity and obedience to authority is actually an expression of love. Even as individuals are shamed, emotionally abused and threatened with expulsion from the group for disobedience, they must describe these actions of the church (and the alleged actions of its god) to discourage disobedience as signs of the loving guidance of the authority. Threats and abuse become confused with "love". Shaming and ostracism are held up as examples of guidance from a "loving" authority - an authority with the power to annihilate. This is Christian Love.

The impetus for obedience and conformity is, of course, not love but fear. Fear of social ostracism remains one of the most powerful motivators known to humanity. That is because for most of the history of humankind, individual survival depended upon belonging to a group.  Life was brutal and short for everybody, but groups fared better against threats to human survival than individuals did, and ostracism was usually quite literally a death sentence.  We have evolved to have a bone-deep, visceral fear of social ostracism. Religion uses that fear to its advantage, and religious authorities use the religion to further their own ends.

In today's western culture, there is a lot of talk about "unconditional love", too. We strive to show family members and close friends the unconditional love which is almost universally seen as the only true kind of love. If we truly love another human being, we love them for themselves- for their quirky personalities, their talents, their hopes, their dreams, their likes and dislikes - the whole package that makes that person the unique person s/he is. Unconditional love means that we may not always agree with our loved ones, but we love them anyway - warts and all. The essence of who that person is - the essence of that beloved person - does not disappear when they make a mistake or adopt opinions with which we do not agree. Disagreements between loving people may cause pain, but the underlying love for each other cannot be washed away by the wayward tides of changing opinions and interests in life. Most people feel that unconditional love is simply LOVE.

One of the most painfully difficult things about coming out as an atheist in a world ruled by authoritarian theism is coping with the reactions of family and friends. Contrary to the Christian self-image, most human relationships are not, in fact, permitted to be based upon LOVE. Unconditional LOVE is reserved for the god (God/Jesus) while mere humans receive Christian Love. Obedience and conformity are the fundamentals of Christian Love, not unconditional love of complex and beloved human beings. This becomes obvious the moment that an individual within a faith community hesitantly expresses doubts about the religious beliefs shared by the community. When LOVE and Christian Love collide, the result is usually an emotional minefield, and the casualties are those non-conformists whose families and friends have embraced Christian Love, as well as the Christian families and friends themselves.

It is the very nature of Bible-based religious indoctrination to pervert and overturn every normal, healthy human emotion and reaction. That includes love, even familial love. Emotional cruelty is seen as loving guidance, because the Bible tells Christians that all of the ferocious punishments meted out by God were because he "loves" his followers. God/Jesus is not loved less because of this cruelty - he/they are offered the unconditional LOVE. In return, God/Jesus gives its/their followers Christian Love: love that is conditional upon belief.  It doesn't matter how good a follower is, nor how much s/he has tried to live by the rules of the religion, love hi/r fellow humans and believe in the goodness of the deity; it does not matter how precious and unique a follower is, how gentle to animals, loving to other people, brave, funny and wise.  None of what makes an individual lovable matters to Christian Love, because it does not matter to the deity in the Bible. The only thing that matters is belief. If the follower cannot believe - even if s/he lives an entire life following the rules of the believers according to the Bible - s/he is consigned to an eternity of suffering in a lake of fire. All that s/he is, all that s/he has done, all that s/he tried to do (including, in many cases, praying fervently to believe) means nothing. Without belief s/he is nothing. That is Christian Love.

This dehumanization of love is a hallmark of religious belief worldwide, and particularly of Christianity. It harms believers and non-believers alike. Families are dragged through a living hell when their belief systems are out of sync, and some families can never recover. Families apply enormous pressure to the apostate family member in an effort to force him or her back into the religious fold. When that fails, they often reject the disbelieving one out of anger and often out of fear of ostracism in the community themselves. Luckily, most human beings have stronger - real - love for their family members than the religious indoctrination can overcome, and many families survive a crisis of faith. There is tremendous pain, there are often long exiles and separations, but ultimately most families' sincere LOVE for each other overcomes the fearful Christian Love, and they find their way back to each other.

Fundamentalism harms both believers and non-believers.  The damage caused by Christian Love may never completely heal. The apostate must recover from the rejection of family and friends - from the realization that s/he was not loved unconditionally - at least not until s/he broke the spell of belief - and that without belief in the god(s) s/he lost nearly everyone who had professed Christian Love. The damage caused to the family may never completely heal either. The family often cannot truly obey the dictates of the church by permanently ostracizing a loved one - god-belief rarely completely overpowers the essential humanity of human beings, in spite of the intense indoctrination and psychological weapons it employs - but their sense of "failure" and their reluctant recognition of the shallowness of Christian Love often results in a crisis of confidence and ongoing anxiety. The resulting fallout of lingering anger, pain and insecurity can last a lifetime and even go on into the next generation.