Topic Tuesday #167 2015/09/29 "Willful Ignorance"

Topic Tuesday #167 2015/09/29 "Willful Ignorance"

Today I was planning on discussing Planned Parenthood being on the chopping block and why losing them would be a very bad thing. I also had the fall back that today is National Coffee day or some such made up holiday that gives us an excuse to have another cup of java. Alas, no, I was confronted with willful ignorance and it will not let go of my mind.  

I am, by my nature and practice, a skeptic; this is really nothing more than confirming that what I know is true through lines of serious questioning.  Because of this self evaluation, and internal consistency with reality, I have a real issue with those that refuse to incorporate facts into their worldview. For example, all I need to change my mind about something is convincing evidence. If someone finds that they will hold onto a concept even after evidence to the contrary is presented, and I mean irrefutable evidence... Then that person is just being willfully ignorant of reality. 

If you were considering that it may be alright to allow someone to languish in their irrationality, I beg to differ. There are consequences to believing things that are demonstrably false. In this day and age we don't have to look very far to see a prime example of this in the debates around the science of evolution and the consensus around climate change. These two items are hotly contested and frankly shouldn't be. This is nothing more than putting your fingers in your ears and saying, "I can't hear you!" The results are clear. The science is sound. To deny it is not to be skeptical, it is to be willfully ignorant of reality. 

Maybe it is just a pet peeve of mine... Perhaps I am being irrational about it. But you see... there I go entertaining the idea that I can be wrong and maybe I should change my view. I'm open to being wrong. I welcome change; there are many things I wish I was wrong about.  But one thing that I have yet to have a good argument for, is why being willfully ignorant could possibly be a good idea given how many strikes it has against it.

Topic Tuesday #164 2015/09/08 "Fear Pressure"

Topic Tuesday #164 2015/09/08 "Fear Pressure"

Today, one of my daughters came home with a sad story. She had been coerced into believing in God through her "friends" claims that if she didn't she would go to Hell, whatever that is. This is not informed consent, this is peer pressure and fear. It is despicable. 

For disclosure, I am an atheist, a secular humanist. a non-believer. I run a secular household. We don't pray. We don't attend church. This doesn't mean I keep my children sheltered from the concept of the super natural and gods and goddesses, far from. Once the question comes up, I have plenty of knowledge to share. I want them to have a strong knowledge of world religions so they are informed. I told her today, "You can believe in whatever religion you want, with one caveat. I want you to be able to explain to me why you do. I want you to know why you believe something." This concept is called epistemology, essentially, why you know what you know. 

I don't believe in any particular religious tradition, because I do not find any of them convincing. I have investigated almost all of them in more depth than the average church goer knows their holy text. I'm open to more knowledge, but I am not a blind believer and I require evidence for my beliefs. Facts serve us all rather well. 

So, I'm mad. I'm mad that little kids, under 10, would be afraid of a fairy tale place like Hell. That this would be the stick to the carrot of Heaven. I have a great distaste for indoctrination, and especially before the age of reason. You don't threaten a child with eternal torment! What kind of monster would do that?

Of course... there is the flip side. Let's assume that the majority regionally followed faith tradition is true. Is 100% correct.  Then the followers would be doing a great wrong to others by not sharing the good news. I understand that. I understand that proselytizing is the right thing to do for the true believer. I also understand that I should be stoned to death for speaking against it.  There are a great number of things that if you are the true believer you would be arrested for should you follow the letter and spirit of your faith. The social contract that you have found yourselves to be a part of, along with pluralities of believers, does not allow you to fully unleash your righteous belief.  There are many things in your tradition that are unacceptable to modern life. 

I would like you to keep your fear to yourselves. Think of the nightmares that can be caused by telling a child they are going to hell... Let them figure it out for themselves. If your religion is worthy, you have nothing to worry about. If it is not, perhaps you've been sold someone else's fear.


Topic Tuesday #149 2015/05/26 "Expectations"

Topic Tuesday #149 2015/05/26 "Expectations"

Look, I was promised flying cars and moon bases, okay..? I have a thing or two to say about expectations versus reality (as does everyone currently alive), but as I like to have a special relationship with reality by respecting it exists, I have lowered my aspirations to meet it. 

Recently a friend has had a run in with the intersection of reality and expectations at the crossroads where they diverge. It's hard on him to square this new aspect of reality to his pre-existing one. This is leading to a great deal of existential angst. I completely understand how it can be painful as I would wager we have all been disillusioned, of certain notions or had our noses rubbed in an unpleasant reality, from time to time. Be that as it may, reality doesn't care what we think of it. The universe, for all its wonders, is apathetic to its inhabitants. That quantum foam and fundamental forces don't care about what they look like on a macro scale is humbling. 

Long ago (in a galaxy not so far away), this revelation hit me pretty hard; it had ramifications and implications that my little mind had to grow to accept. This is my story and your milage may vary. I had to accept that there wasn't a guiding force behind me. That beyond my tribe, no one was going to care if I lived or died, succeeded or failed, lived up to expectations - or not. I was pretty much on my own in this big uncaring universe. It was up to me to be remembered or time would certainly forget me. The old saying goes, "Make hay while the sun shines." That seems appropriate a metaphor for life spent making legacies.  

Now, let's be plain, I care a great deal about what my friends and whatever they are going through. My path is my own and I can not profess any special knowledge as to how all this works, only what I have found works for me. If you find that spirituality, religion, mysticism, folk remedies, chakra alignment of your subluxation energy aura something or other, works for you - That's grand! HOWEVER - I have a request. Please make sure your views have a strong basis in reality. Believe as many factual things and as few false things as possible. You are less likely to suffer the heartache of realizing that Santa is not going to bring your flying car so you can spend Christmas on the Moon, and more likely to build it yourself.

Topic Tuesday #143 2015/04/14 "What's The Harm?"

Topic Tuesday #143 2015/04/14 "What's The Harm?"

Today my thought train derailed when an article crossed my path. It was one of those "ah ha" style moments. Some of those moments make you jubilant, and sometimes they drive you to drink; this was the latter.

Have you ever excused an action or series of events with the rhetorical question, "What's the harm?" I imagine you have. I have, in the past. I've reached a point in my life that "what's the harm" is a call to action instead of rhetoric. Dear readers, I challenge you to examine those things in your path that could be simple rhetorical questions and find out what the harm really is. 

Beware though; the truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.

I don't like to tease too much, so here is the story that jerked me around and made me really consider this topic. 

Briefly, here is the TL:DR version: Texas, a set of very religious parents starved their two year old boy because their faith leader believe he was possessed by demons.  After 25 days without food, the boy died and the couple fled to Mexico with the corpse to attempt to resurrect the boy. It didn't work, much to the grief of the bereaved parents.

So... What's the harm? What could possibly be harmful about religious practice?

They killed their son with the love of their faith. They didn't seek proper treatment for whatever was the root cause of the "demon possession" and rather took it on faith that... what were they hoping for?  As a parent, I can understand how terrible it can be to have a child in pain, or in a psychological condition that you do not know how to handle. I can sympathize that they were trying to save him. I can't fathom how difficult it could be to withhold food from their defenseless child who is completely reliant on their parents for their basic needs... The phrases "for your own good," and "this hurts me more than you" come to mind. That tough love... That ended up killing the recipient of their love. This brings another phrase to mind, "With friends like these, who needs enemies?" 

And of course, the echo in my mind, "What's the harm?" 

I think I figured it out, but you tell me. Cheers. 

I owe you all a drink after this downer. Sorry everyone, but the world is really screwed up and we need to fix it.

I owe you all a drink after this downer. Sorry everyone, but the world is really screwed up and we need to fix it.

Topic Tuesday #130 2015/01/06 - "The Knights Templar"

Topic Tuesday #130 2015/01/06 - "The Knights Templar"

Seal of the Knights Templar

Seal of the Knights Templar

On this day in 1128, Pope Honorius II granted papal sanction to the military order known as the Knights Templar, declaring it to be an army of God.

The organization was founded by Frenchman Hughes de Payens in 1118 to protect Christian pilgrims on their pilgrimage to the holy land during the crusades. For those that are unaware, the crusades were a series of conflicts with the aim of defeating Muslims in Palestine. More on that, next week. 

Temple Mount, Jerusalem

Temple Mount, Jerusalem

The Templars took their name for the location of their headquarters at Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Early on, it was a small organization owing its ranks to severe restrictions and vows. One typically had to be rich, powerful, and then vow poverty, obedience, and chastity.  Slowly their numbers grew, as did the wealth of the organization. 

The crusades lasted until the early 14th century, as was ultimately unsuccessful. The Templars wealth was a source of avarice from both mother church and the more secular powers of the day. In 1307, King Philip IV (France) and Pope Clement V combined forces to take down the Knights Templar. Grand Master Jacques de Molay, the head of the Templars, was arrested on charges of heresy, sacrilege, and Satanism. Later he confessed under torture, like many of his compatriots. They were burned at the stake. 

Those rushes look a bit flammable.

Those rushes look a bit flammable.

The Knights Templar was dissolved by the Pope Clement in 1312 and all of their assets (not claimed by the kings of France and England, were assigned to the Knights Hospitalers. The Templars were banned in France and England (and anywhere the Catholic Church exerted authority) as a matter of course.  Some likely fled to other territories, such as excommunicated Scotland or to Switzerland. Templar organisations in Portugal changed their name from Knights Templar to Knights of Christ. At its peak, there may have been as many as 20,000 members of the Knights Templar, about 10% of which were actually knights. 

The Catholic Church has admitted that these actions were unjustified and claim Pope Clement was being pressured by secular rulers... Though last I checked, Kings were not secular rulers.

Topic Tuesday #117 2014/10/14 "Sundays"

Topic Tuesday #117 2014/10/14 "Sundays"

As my readers have likely figured out by now, I'm one of those atheists that you've been warned are angry, sinful, good for nothing heathens. As you might have also figured out, atheists are not really that angry, sinful, or good for nothing. Don't get me wrong, I sin as much as the next theist, but I don't feel guilty about it.  Anyway, something that came to my attention this week was what new apostates do with their Sundays now that they are not tied up in worship. Folks, it might surprise you what atheists do on Sundays.

Most, sleep in. Many will head to a long breakfast in an otherwise uncrowded restaurant beating the after mass rush. Sunday movie matinees are always a treat. Taking care of shopping or housework, are necessary drudgeries. But ya know... Some of those crazy "nones" actually miss the community that comes along with being in a church.

Enter: Sunday Assembly

Stand-up comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans started the first Sunday Assembly in North London in January 2013. Their project has blossomed into a worldwide movement.

 From their charter:

The Sunday Assembly is a godless congregation that celebrates life. Our motto: live better, help often, wonder more. Our mission: to help everyone find and fulfill their full potential. 
We are here for everyone who wants to:
  • Live Better. We aim to provide inspiring, thought-provoking and practical ideas that help people to live the lives they want to lead and be the people they want to be

  • Help Often. Assemblies are communities of action building lives of purpose, encouraging us all to help anyone who needs it to support each other

  • Wonder More. Hearing talks, singing as one, listening to readings and even playing games helps us to connect with each other and the awesome world we live in

Often these "congregations" are led by members of The Clergy Project. Since March 2011 the Clergy Project has been a confidential online community for current and former religious leaders in vocational ministry, who do not hold supernatural beliefs and are struggling with deconversion and finding Hope after Faith (a book by the first Alumni of the Clergy Project, Jerry Dewitt).

One that occurred near me was reported in the Orlando Sentinel, here is a couple excerpts from attendees. 

"I wanted to come here and find other people who thought the same way I did that you could do good and be good without believing in God," said Diane Gulley, 50.
Atheists don't need God, but they do need community, said Carlo Adair, 36, another Sunday Assembly organizer. It's the gathering of a tribe splintered into the Orlando Humanist Association, Generation Atheists, Black Nonbelievers, Central Florida Freethought Community, Florida Atheists, Critical Thinkers and Skeptics.

They are popping up all over the world. Check out their page, and the sub pages of the individual chapters to see what they are all about.

You may find that the lack of divinity makes the experience all the more human. 

Topic Tuesday #102 2014/07/01 "Slippery Slope"

Topic Tuesday #102 2014/07/01 "Slippery Slope"


Like you, I am really tired of talking about this. But alas... I need to at least mention it here or I would be sorely remiss in my task of talking about topical things, for Topic Tuesday... Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled on the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Inc. case.  I touched on it in Topic Tuesday 94, should you want to revisit, prior art. As you likely know by now (as the ruling has become as virulent as wildfire in California) the ruling was 5 to 4 in favor of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Products. I'll sum up the case. These companies, being mandated to provide women birth control as part of the Affordable Health Care Act, decided to sue as the birth control was against the corporations religious freedom as stated in the Restoration of Religious Freedom Act of 1993. The jist of this, is best served by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She wrote a 35 page dissent (starts on page 60 of the verdict) of the verdict and was echoed by Justice Sonia Sotomayor and almost entirely by Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer.

  • "In a decision of startling breadth, the Court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs."
  • "[T]he Court holds that Congress, in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993...  dictated the extraordinary religion-based exemptions today’’s decision endorses. In the Court’’s view, RFRA demands accommodation of a for-profit corporation’’s religious beliefs no matter the impact that accommodation may have on third parties who do not share the corporation owners’’ religious faith——in these cases, thousands of women employed by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga or dependents of persons those corporations employ. Persuaded that Congress enacted RFRA to serve a far less radical purpose, and mindful of the havoc the Court’’s judgment can introduce, I dissent."
  • "The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield."
  • "Approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation could be 'perceived as favoring one religion over another,' the very 'risk the [Constitution's] Establishment Clause was designed to preclude."
  • "The exemption sought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga would…deny legions of women who do not hold their employers' beliefs access to contraceptive coverage"
  • "Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community."

...and to the detractors that say, "just pay for it yourself." 

  • "Any decision to use contraceptives made by a woman covered under Hobby Lobby's or Conestoga's plan will not be propelled by the Government, it will be the woman's autonomous choice, informed by the physician she consults."
  • "It bears note in this regard that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month's full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage."

... And the logical conclusion that is likely to occur...

  • "Would the exemption…extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah's Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]…Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today's decision."

I think she said everything that needs to be said, and is obviously more qualified than I to speak to the matter. I would like to stab at the heart of the entire thing, from my perspective. 

This is about 2 main points. 1. Money. The companies did not want to be forced to pay for ACA at all, and certainly not a good or service their founders saw as (and here is point 2) Abortion. I have written many time elsewhere on the matter of abortion. I will touch lightly on it here in the context of this example. The only reason they have an issue with it is because of their religion, which of course brings up the religious freedom issue. But... this tramples on the religious freedoms of their employees... the ones with actual human rights, opposed to some made up entity rights that corporations are issued to protect their shareholders from the acts of the company. This stinks. Everyone knows it stinks. Justices Samuel Alito, Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Antonin Scalia, Justice Clarence Thomas, and Justice Anthony Kennedy are all Roman Catholics; an organization with a long history of opposing birth control. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, is also a Catholic, but also has the distinction of being a woman, which in this instance may have been a deciding factor in her decision. If you were curious, the rest of the Justices: Ginesburg, Breyer, and Kagan - are all Jewish, in addition to being more liberally minded and progressive. I'm not saying that this background is the reason for the rulings, but it is foolish to think it does not inform their opinions on such matters. Scalia is rather infamous for his belief in literal demons and all that entails, as referenced by his statement, "Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that." . Here; I'll share it with you.

Jennifer Senior -You believe in heaven and hell?
Antonin Scalia - Oh, of course I do. Don’t you believe in heaven and hell?

Jennifer Senior - No. 

Antonin Scalia - Oh, my.

Jennifer Senior - Does that mean I’m not going?
Antonin Scalia - [Laughing.] Unfortunately not!

Jennifer Senior - Wait, to heaven or hell? 
Antonin Scalia - It doesn't mean you’re not going to hell, just because you don’t believe in it. That’s Catholic doctrine! Everyone is going one place or the other.

Jennifer Senior - But you don’t have to be a Catholic to get into heaven? Or believe in it? 
Antonin Scalia - Of course not!

Jennifer Senior - Oh. So you don’t know where I’m going. Thank God.
Antonin Scalia - I don’t know where you’re going. I don’t even know whether Judas Iscariot is in hell. I mean, that’s what the pope meant when he said, “Who am I to judge?” He may have recanted and had severe penance just before he died. Who knows?

Jennifer Senior - Can we talk about your drafting process—
Antonin Scalia - [Leans in, stage-whispers.] I even believe in the Devil.

Jennifer Senior - You do?
Antonin Scalia - Of course! Yeah, he’s a real person. Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that.

Jennifer Senior - Every Catholic believes this? There’s a wide variety of Catholics out there …
Antonin Scalia - If you are faithful to Catholic dogma, that is certainly a large part of it.

Jennifer Senior - Have you seen evidence of the Devil lately?
Antonin Scalia - You know, it is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn't happen very much anymore.

Jennifer Senior - No.
Antonin Scalia - It’s because he’s smart.

Jennifer Senior - So what’s he doing now?
Antonin Scalia - What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.

Jennifer Senior - That has really painful implications for atheists. Are you sure that’s the ­Devil’s work?
Antonin Scalia - I didn't say atheists are the Devil’s work.

Jennifer Senior - Well, you’re saying the Devil is ­persuading people to not believe in God. Couldn’t there be other reasons to not believe?
Antonin Scalia - Well, there certainly can be other reasons. But it certainly favors the Devil’s desires. I mean, c’mon, that’s the explanation for why there’s not demonic possession all over the place. That always puzzled me. What happened to the Devil, you know? He used to be all over the place. He used to be all over the New Testament.

Jennifer Senior - Right.
Antonin Scalia - What happened to him?

Jennifer Senior - He just got wilier.
Antonin Scalia - He got wilier.

Jennifer Senior - Isn't it terribly frightening to believe in the Devil?
Antonin Scalia - You’re looking at me as though I’m weird. My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It’s in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil! Most of mankind has believed in the Devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil.

Jennifer Senior - I hope you weren't sensing contempt from me. It wasn't your belief that surprised me so much as how boldly you expressed it.
Antonin Scalia - I was offended by that. I really was.

Now... I don't want to bore you with legalese, but there is something noteworthy that should be brought to light in this case. In the Affordable Care Act, it indicated a very specific type of medical service, especially ““with respect to infants, children, and adolescents." It's "evidence-based". "Evidence-informed." Here, read the section for yourself.

U. S. C. §300gg––13(a)(1)––(3) (group health plans must provide coverage, without cost sharing, for (1) certain ““evidence-based items or services”” recommended by the U. S. Preventive Services Task Force; (2) immunizations recommended by an advisory committee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and (3) ““with respect to infants, children, and adolescents, evidence-informed preventive care and screenings provided for in the comprehensive guidelines supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration””).

I wish everything in this case could be evidence-informed. We haven't heard the last of this one. See you in the funny papers.

Topic Tuesday #94 2014/05/06 "Equality?"

Topic Tuesday #94 2014/05/06 "Equality?"

As I pay attention more and more to the news now that I have a show that talks about it every week, I find some disturbing recurring themes. There is always violence, that has been pretty steady, with the whole, "If it bleeds it leads" mantra of news agencies around the United States. Today in the US, faith based matters dominate. Don't think so? I can see why you may think otherwise, as on the surface they seem to be other issues. Dig a little deeper, and you get to why it is an issue in the first place.

Take marriage equality, or "gay marriage" as an example. Is this a civil rights issue? Most likely. Why in the 21st century would such civil or even human rights be impinged upon? Religion. It's plain and simple. Countless articles and news stories, and the only ones causing a fuss about letting two humans marry each other, are those with a religious stake in the game. They are losing by the way, and I think that's a good thing for humanity. Eventually those that oppose gay marriage and homosexuality will fall to the side, like their predecessors did for slavery and the rights of minorities and supporters of women's suffrage (though equal pay has a ways to go...).

Take abortion, or right to life, or choose life, or any other number of phrases used to get legislation passed... If one looks at the issue from the position of medical science, there is no real question on the issue. It should remain in the hands of those trained to deal with these matters safely... Rather than those that look at it from the position of life beginning at conception or EVEN BEFORE conception in some cases... Now we can get into how cells divide and what constitues a person, and when the rights of the mother are somehow less than the child she bears... But we don't need to. Really we don't. You can comment if you like and I encourage you to do so, but be very honest with your arguments.

While on abortion, we also have Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, sueing to avoid having to pay for the contraceptive mandates within the Affordable Health Care Act. They are claiming that their publicly traded companies have a religious preference... When the entire reason to incorporate it to remove liability from an individual and make the company it's own legal entity. Now this legal entity has a religious preference. Funny how we can't imprison a company, or execute it for a crime, or even talk directly to it... Yet it holds, funny enough, the same religious views as its board of directors... So it can claim that based on its religious objection, it can withhold government mandated care from it's employees, effectively pushing their views upon others. 

If they open that door wide enough... There are monsters that lurk there. The monsters of other peoples faiths and preferences and then... laws.

Here is the problem... The separation of church and state as inferred by the 1st amendment's establishment clause,  no matter how you look at it, is there to prevent religions from hurting the rights of others by playing favorites. It's simple. Person 1 believes X. Person 2 believes Y. If you make a law that is based solely off of belief X you can infringe upon the beliefs of Person 2, because they believe Y, not X. The only way for both X and Y to co-exist peacefully is for there not to be any laws based on beliefs... A separation of law and faith; between church and state. It keep is fair. 

Now we had a recent result from the US Supreme court that narrowly sided (5 to 4) that it was permissible to have prayer before civic/government functions. All I can hope, is that the invocations/prayers come in from all faiths, equally. History tells us this won't happen and that such displays drive wedges in communities because of differing faiths. Bigotry... Faith Based Bigotry is still alive and well. And it needs to stop...