Questionable Motives

May 7, 2014

Are ‘honestly held beliefs’ reason enough to justify legal discrimination?

can of wormsWell, let’s look at the principle upon which all of us expect to be treated fairly and impartially before and by the law, namely, that

“All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” (Article 26, UN covenant on political and civil rights)

To support legal discrimination in a particular case means you must provide a reasonable justification to the benefit of all for that particular exemption against the general principle. This can be (and is) done when that justification can be shown to enhance the public good. For example, we can legally discriminate against all of us who have not achieved the age of majority or all of us who have been shown to be incapable of being responsible for our actions. Legal discrimination is permissible without breaking the principle of the covenant… but the justification must be the same FOR ALL.

Now let’s consider the idea of ‘honestly held beliefs’ to be the metric for varying what equality rights mean. The question can be formulated this way: does an ‘honestly held belief’ by another person constitute a reasonable justification to the benefit of all in your mind for the loss of your own equality before the law and the loss of its protection to guarantee them? Are you willing to have your legal rights be subject and hostage to the variability of another person’s honestly held beliefs?

There are a couple ways to come at answering this.

The straightforward answer here is either Yes or No. There is no middle ground. You are either willing to allow others (based on their ‘honestly held beliefs’) to determine the quality of your legal rights or you are not. The metric at work here is belief, and rests in the willingness to have your legal equality rights rights rest not with you, not empowered in and by the law, but in the belief-based opinion of others.  This breaks the principle that currently supports legal equality for all of us… not just against those whose legal rights and protection you wish to limit for whatever beliefs you may deem important enough but your own. Supporting the notion that ‘honestly held beliefs’ is sufficient to devalue equality rights to personal preference of beliefs means that you do not support the principle that upholds your own.

The extent of privilege our societies grant to religious belief and the institutions and speakers who represent them is truly astounding. For example, returning to the UN covenant on political and civil rights, we find the following:

“Discrimination is allowed if it is based on genuine religious beliefs or principles. This includes the actions of religious bodies or schools.”

Take a moment and think about that. What does it really mean?

Well, it means that the previous principle for all has been replaced in practice by the beliefs of some. It means all people are not equal before the law; our shared equality rights are in fact subject to the religious beliefs (and principles contained within them) of others, others who would deny them first for ‘honestly held beliefs… before any other grounds of justification are introduced! Where is the universal justification for this discrimination that demonstrates its fairness and impartiality to the good of all? It’s absent; what we have are lot of assumptions and attributions and arguments and conclusions unsupported by compelling evidence. This is faith-based belief in action… simply presumed to be justified because it is religious.  And that’s religious privilege in action and it undermines the very principle of YOUR legal rights, YOUR legal equality, YOUR legal protections. This religious privilege buolt on faith-based beliefs is incompatible with the very principle of equality law.

Another way to understand and appreciate the scope of craziness needed to sustain the argument of privileging ‘honestly held beliefs’ over and above and preceding equality rights for all is to apply the same reasoning, the same privilege, the same lack of independent justification to some other area of public interest. We have a host to choose from but let’s take a public water supply for our analogy and see how well the justification works.

The management of that public water supply is based on the principle of providing clean water for all… and we are all in agreement that this water should be safe for all to drink because all of us drink from it! But let’s say some people in the management team decide that certain privileged exemptions to that principle are justified by the ‘honestly held beliefs’ of those involved with providing this service, making the water supply safe for some but not for others. When people complain that their water supply is, in fact, contaminated – because some people honestly believe that the addition of industrial waste products containing toxins and carcinogenics to this part of the water supply but not that part at the request of certain industries to eliminate their waste is a net benefit to all, while reassuring the rest of us that we will continue to receive only a clean water supply – how is it a justification that doesn’t directly undermine the principle of clean water for all? Would the same exemption be allowed, for example, if the quality of everyone’s water supply – including the captains of these polluting industries and the management team themselves – were to be subject to the same vagaries of who received what quality of water when? Or would we as a municipality stand united and insist that the water supply be kept clean for all? Sure, the industrialists might complain that they have a real problem with their toxic wastes, but why should the quality of our water supply be their solution… any more than threatening our shared legal rights of equality be the solution to the demands of these religious for privilege to exercise their bias and discrimination in the name of the public good?

November 2, 2013

Why is islam such a dangerous foe of liberal democracies?

Because of  the teachings of the koran stand contrary to them.

The music is irritating but the video reveals what I’ve been saying forever: the koran itself – and not a ‘few bad apples’ who mistakenly take its teachings too seriously – is incompatible with Western liberal secular values.  Pointing out this fact does not make one a racist or an islamaphobe. It makes one a realist who is awake and aware.

Sam Harris makes a very good comment on it here as does Jerry Coyne here.

August 26, 2013

Why is accommodating respect for faith-based beliefs stupid and irresponsible?

medical treatmentOver at  Jerry Coyne’s site, Why Evolution is True, he posted about a measles outbreak in Texas traced back to a mega-church and non vaccinated children.  Coyne titled his post, “Measles back again, thanks to religion,” and gave us information about the outbreak, the response from church authorities and its ‘medical’ team, and data on the disease, all very useful stuff (as usual). But I disagreed in one sense that the measles outbreak was due to religion. It was just as much back because of those who accommodate faith-based beliefs of any kind and smugly attack New Atheists for daring to criticize any of it publicly. This is what I wrote in my ridiculously long comment:

I apologize for the length of my comment, but this post highlights that the ‘enemy’ of reason and knowledge isn’t just religion per se but those who support and tolerate a methodology that is clearly broken, namely, the empowerment and public acceptance of any faith-based belief (an acceptance demonstrated by offering unjustified respect rather than justified criticism of those who exercise any faith-based belief. I’m talking to you, accommodationists).

Into the category of faith-based beliefs can be everything from religion to anti-vaccination, conspiracies to astrology, alternative medicine to Winfrey/Chopra/Dr. Oz-ian woo. Belief in these is all of a kind, and the root is faith- rather than evidence-based belief… a method of thinking that elevates possibility to be equivalent to probability, meaning that it’s a way to elevate any belief in something to be the same weight in consideration as not having belief in it. In other words, it’s a way to make any faith-based belief seem as reasonable as not believing… one either believes in alien abductions, for example, (by entertaining the possibility) or one does not (by seeming to be closed-minded when there is no compelling evidence in its favour). See? Equivalent: six of one, a half dozen of the other. How very reasonable and open-minded we are and not followers of scientism like those intolerant, strident, and militant folk who are Doin’ it Rong!

What’s lost, of course, is any meaningful way, a methodology we can trust, to allow reality to arbitrate the faith-based belief because the weight of evidence (supporting or not supporting the belief) plays no important role; the equivalency is already clearly established by believers, which is why any possible evidence for the most ludicrous of beliefs is drafted into service and used as if equivalent to the array of evidence contrary to them combined with the absence of compelling evidence where it should be if the belief were true. In this sense, the use of evidence (aka, reality) by the faith-based believer is only used in service to the belief, whereas in every other area of life we know enough to allow our beliefs to be in the service of reality… if we wish to function successfully in it.

Any method of inquiry that refuses to allow reality to adjudicate claims made about it is a guaranteed way to fool one’s self. Believers in faith-based beliefs fool themselves (along with the tacit approval of accommodationists who decide the appearance of being tolerant of foolishness is a higher standard of intellectual integrity than respecting reality to inform our beliefs about it). But it doesn’t end here and this is the point accommodationsits fail to appreciate. A measles outbreak doesn’t just threaten those foolish enough not to vaccinate; it threatens both the non vaccinated AND the vaccinated with exposure to a preventable disease! This is unconscionable stupidity and social irresponsibility in the face of spreading a very real disease because of acting on a faith-based belief. As if believing in such faith-based foolishness weren’t bad enough, acting on this foolishness carries with it a demonstrable cost to all of us that causes real harm to real people in real life. Faced with this reality, I must ask: where did all these ‘reasonable’ accommodationists suddenly go? This is where the rubber meets the road of why respecting faith-based beliefs by anyone including accommodationists is a public threat to the health and welfare of us all.

November 3, 2012

Why is it your civic duty to address faith-based beliefs in the public domain with public scorn and public ridicule?

Because reason doesn’t work.

How so?

Let me explain this way:

Question 13 (coincidence?) of the latest Public Policy Polling asks, Do you think it’s possible for people to become possessed by demons, or not?

What do you think the percentage of those Americans asked this question might be? Would you predict the percentage of Republicans would be higher or lower than average?

I’ll answer these in a moment, but first, I want you to consider the percentage of Americans who think global warming is a clear and present danger and then consider the percentage of Republicans who agree. Would that percentage be higher or lower than the average?

Well, the PEW Research Center provides us plenty of data about the increasing percentage of Americans who agree that global warming is on the rise, caused by human activity, and exacerbating climate change and altered weather patterns and more extreme weather. So let’s look at the numbers.

Regarding climate change, about two thirds of Americans accept that global warming is real, it’s here, and its human causes need to be addressed. That’s great. Better late than never. Among Republicans, about 43% agree that global warming is real but only about 16% think it’s due to human activity. And this is in the face of global scientific consensus.

Regarding demons, about 57% of Americans think they are real. The percentage of Republicans is about 68%. And this is in the face of no compelling scientific evidence.

Can you see where I’m going with this?

Let’s compare, shall we?

More Republicans believe in demons than they do anthropogenic global warming at a ration over 4:1, not because of any rational or compelling scientific reasons but because of the strength of confidence they place only in their faith-based beliefs.

So out of about 55 million registered Republican voters,  about 37.5 million of them believe in demons but only about 9 million believe in anthropogenic global warming. Public policy aimed at addressing climate change has very little support among this cohort and only slightly above a majority on average. Why? Because far too many people are willing to elevate their faith-based beliefs not equivalent (because the stats would show these as Undecided) but SUPERIOR to scientific consensus.

The cost of this lunacy, this elevation of ignorance to be considered superior to knowledge, is going to be high and all of us get to pay for it with unnecessary and imposed costs, pain, and suffering. So next time someone suggests that faith-based beliefs should be respected in the public domain because of some charity work motivated and organized by some well-intentioned but misguided religious activists, please remind these not-so- quaint fools that this respect is the very stupidity that sets the stage for the next Sandy, the next extended drought, the next flash flood, the next inundated slide. And that little bit of weather, as they say Down East, costs real lives and causes real damage in the tens of billions of dollars so that we can continue to pretend that faith-based beliefs in the public domain are not a net harm, are not a direct threat to our collective well-being, are not a danger to our lives (How much soup could you make and distribute, I wonder, for 50 billion dollars these days?).

We need to stop deluding ourselves that faith-based beliefs are in any way, shape, or fashion respectable when they are equivalent to malicious ignorance , and hold those who seem powerless to exercise reasonable critical thinking (when it comes to public policy contrary to their beliefs) to public scorn and public ridicule for their willingness to allow their superstitious nonsense to put all of us at real risk in the service of maintaining a faux-respect for their ridiculous faith-based beliefs.

May 18, 2012

What’s with all the censoring at religious blogs?

Filed under: belief,blogs,censorship,commentary,Criticism,Religion — tildeb @ 11:44 am

So here’s the motivating story:

Hannah Luce, daughter of Teen Mania founder Ron Luce, is continuing to improve as she recovers from a plane crash last Friday. She was the sole survivor among the five on board.

“The fact that Hannah is here with us is a miracle, and while I am overjoyed and so thankful to God that she’s here, I am also deeply saddened at the loss of Austin, Stephen, Garrett and Luke,” Ron Luce wrote Tuesday on his blog. “I can’t even begin to understand the pain their parents are feeling right now.”

And here’s the lovely poem (written originally about a case in which a man survived a fall from a skyscraper, with only 10 broken bones -both legs, right arm, multiple ribs, vertebrae. His brother was killed in the accident.) that was posted to Christianpost.com in response to the notion of this plane crash ‘miracle':

I always found it rather odd
When people think to credit God;
The doctors helped, at least a bit,
The rescue workers didn’t quit,
The strangers there, who saw him fall
And made the first responder call
So many people did so much
But still we see His Holy Touch–
You see, it seems the signs are there
That show this man has seen God’s care:
The shattered ankle, broken shin
The shards of bone that pierce through skin
The massive bleeding in his gut–
Yes, every fracture, every cut–
This is the way that God Above
Displays His omnipresent Love.
And just in case He’s still denied
Remember, this man’s brother died.
Such agony makes Man aware
Of just how precious is God’s care
And when Humanity forgets,
God has a way to hedge His bets:
He’ll find a patsy, just some guy,
Like this Moreno, way up high–
When disbelievers start to scoff
God simply pushes this guy off;
With bleeding, pain, and broken bone,
God shows us that we’re not alone,
With just a little Godly shove,
He gets a chance to prove His Love.

Apparently, the comment was deleted (or so I read over at Digital Cuttlefish).

I am always disappointed that so many ‘christian’ blogs seem to be so willing and even eager to moderate and censor even the most gentle criticism of any kind… assuming they even allow for any comments at all. They are not alone, of course; I’ve been censored at non religious sites, too (usually by perpetual moderation or a sudden disappearance of a comment – I’m looking at YOU, Chris Mooney at The Intersection, and YOU Sabio Lantz at Triangulations), but it is almost unusual not to be moderated at religious ones.  So my hat is off to anyone willing to submit their religious ideas and beliefs and commentary to public scrutiny and allow criticism; they seem to be few and far between. My latest forays include Tough Questions Answered, The Berean Observer, No Apologies Allowed, Rachel Evans, and The Search for Truth.

So my question is, do you have any you favour? If so, give them a shout out here – good, bad, or even ugly ones – and feel free to share any stories about your experiences.

October 10, 2011

Which religious movement is the correct one?

This, of course, is a fatal argument ignored by religious folk everywhere: which religious movement is the correct one and how can you know? On the up side, if a lack of evidence from reality is merely a convenience rather than a hindrance for maintaining this faith-based belief over that one, then the downside is that any and all beliefs in agencies of oogity boogity are equivalently empty.

Contrary claims between competing faiths are very amusing to behold as supporters bandy irrational arguments about undefinable agencies and their unknowable intentions. Perhaps this picture will help reveal why:

(vie Saint Thomas the Doubter Church)

September 2, 2011

How does sharia law explain why islam is an inquistition?

Filed under: Criticism,Islam — tildeb @ 1:30 pm

Maryam Namazie explains how sharia law enables anti-human theology to infect the public domain to practical effect and why islamicists are such a direct threat to the enlightenment values – through a willingness to engage in intimidation and violence against those who support and exercise them – upon which tolerant western secular democracies have been built.

(Note: the speech itself is only about 18 minutes long)

July 5, 2011

What is good science?

Filed under: Criticism,Science — tildeb @ 8:25 am

Good science is that method of inquiry that follows three seemingly simple concepts: don’t fool yourself, be honest, and uphold integrity. None are easy to do in practice, however, and so what we often end up with is what Richard Feynman calls Cargo Cult Science. It’s much more common than one might imagine so we must remain vigilant.

(h/t to onegoodmove)

June 27, 2011

What is that smell?

Filed under: Catholic Church,Criticism,Religion,Roman Catholic — tildeb @ 10:09 am
You didn’t think a state could pass a gay marriage bill without the rc church passing its loud and windy response in public did you? That’s not the catholic way.
Sure enough, New York passes such a bill and here come the bishops with their odious and odoriferous theology to add their stink of piousness contrary as it always is to this necessary and inevitable social advancement in legal equality.
Note what one bishop says:
“This is a further erosion of the real understanding of marriage,” DiMarzio told the Daily News. “The state should not be concerned about regulating affection.”
It is absolutely astounding how chauvinistic is the underlying assumption here: that they can pronounce with a straight face that the state should have no such concerns for legal equality but that the church should be entitled to enforce their bigotry through secular law. What arrogance is put on display in the public domain! And to then try to justify this interference in the public domain by pretending marriage is only about creating the next generation is a slap in the face of every childless couple or those beyond the age of reproduction… that their marriages must be shams if no new good little catholic sheep are being produced! But two of the main hurdles for same-sex couples to have children are a) unmarried status, and b) all kinds of unsubstantiated claims of being unfit parents that cause their children harm, and the main proponents of maintaining these hurdles are those who do so for – you guessed  it – religious reasons alone!
And to hear the complaint from a church official that lack of sufficient public debate about the legal establishment for same sex marriages is ‘disgraceful’ is laughable coming as it does from a representative – and a high ranking one – from the same organization that does everything in its power to impose absolute obedience by its authority alone… supposedly derived from private revelations gifted by god!
And public officials keep lending these proudly deluded bigots and misogynists and tyranny seekers their ears!
Incredible.  Incredibly stupid.
Let me be perfectly clear: the roman catholic church and EVERY SINGLE MEMBER of its organization who claims any kind of practicing or non practicing affiliation with it – but who fails to condemn in the strongest possible terms this unwanted and unwarranted religiously inspired intrusion into public policy and the passing of its laws – are hypocrites of the worst kind.
On the one hand they undermine secular law (that attempts legal equality for all) by freely associating with an organization that advocates for the legal imposition of catholic bigotry and misogyny over everyone to sustain and enforce legal inequalities. Of course, we’re not supposed to notice the man behind the curtain (or under the pointy hat) claiming without good evidence divine guidance for the church’s authority to do so. We are to assume catholic authority comes to us from a real god even if we don’t believe that lunacy for one second. And submit.
Well, that’s not going to happen.
On the other hand, the church attempt to enforce this anti-democratic authority they claim for themselves over everyone by use of democratic secular law.
This stinks of hypocrisy hiding as it so often does behind the critically unwashed veil of religious piety and ignorance. But piety alone cannot bring about social justice and legal equality and ignorance is no ally in this fight for what’s fair. For that we need the protection of secular law… the same law that allows us to believe different theologies without legal sanction or state interference. Yet leaders from many different religions seem to agree that they share common cause to undermine and vilify secularism at every turn as if it were some great evil thwarting moral goodness. Don’t be fooled. What it is really thwarting is the political and legal imposition of theocracy. That’s hardly a bad thing if we care about freedom and equality. Religious authority in this sense is a ruse meant to empower worldly tyranny under the guise of theology and we smell it for what it is when we note the religious call for the intrusion of its assumptions and chauvinism into our laws to impede the legal establishment of equal rights and freedoms and dignity of personhood for all.

April 28, 2011

What’s the problem with religious accommodation and why does it so annoy gnus?

Filed under: accommodation,Atheism,Criticism,Gnu Atheism — tildeb @ 9:45 am

Taken in parts directly from author Paul W. , comment#29, over at Butterflies and Wheels and an excellent overview of the issue why gnu atheists are so deeply annoyed at the accommodationist stance taken up and promoted by other atheists:

Gnu atheists think more people ought to regularly speak up critically about bad religious ideas, and that those bad religious ideas are common to “liberal” religion as well as, e.g., fundamentalism.

The reasons why gnus think there’s too little forthright criticism and accommodationists think there’s too much vary considerably.

Accommodationists typically think some or all of the following, in some mix:

0. Distinctively religious beliefs aren’t all false, or aren’t all inconsistent with science, or aren’t so importantly false as to be worth objecting to.

1. In terms of its effects on human well being, religion isn’t a bad thing overall. A lot of religion (e.g., fundamentalism) is bad, but a lot of religion (e.g., theologically moderate or liberal Christianity) is actually good for the world, on the whole, promoting civilized conceptions of morality, or at worst harmless. If we dispensed with religion, or just diminished the mindshare of religion across the board, we’d lose a lot of good along with the bad.

2. Liberal religion is our friend, because liberal religious people are our main allies in the fight against conservative religion. If we talk people out of being liberally religious, that won’t help anything much, and may hurt because it will weaken institutions that we should be strengthening, or leaving as they are. Liberal religion is a crucial part of the solution to the problem of bad religion.

3. You can argue against the worst sorts of religion effectively without arguing against the best sorts. Fundamentalism is he problem, not religion, and critiques of religion should generally focus on distinctive features of bad religion. We should argue against theological conservatism, as liberals, more often than we should argue against religion, as atheists.

4. Even to the extent that it might be advantageous to undermine religion across the board, it is strategically unwise to attempt to do so. It will mostly alienate potential allies and generate backlash, doing more harm than good. It is better to be very “civil,” and only gently criticize religion, and mostly focus criticism on especially bad religion. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Gnus, in contrast, tend to think at least some of the following to a greater extent than accommodationists:

0. Distinctively religious beliefs are generally false, are generally inconsistent with science, and are false enough to be worth objecting to, out of a more or less free-floating commitment to truth.

1. In terms of its effects on human well-being, religion is a bad thing overall. Some religion (e.g., very theologically liberal religion) isn’t especially harmful in its direct effects on people, and sometimes is even good, but most religion is a net negative, and religion as a whole could be dispensed with, and that would be a generally good thing, with lots of pluses and relatively few minuses.

2. Liberal religion is our friend in some senses, and not in others. On average, if we talk liberally religious people out of being liberally religious, that will be a good thing because they’ll be even better allies against religion, including especially conservative religion.

3. You can’t argue effectively against bad religion effectively without arguing against religion fairly broadly, because the most important features of bad religion—belief in God and souls and divinely or supernaturally inspired morality—are common to almost all religion. Once you grant those mistaken premises, or fail to challenge them, you’ve mostly given away the store, and are reduced to making the kind of lame-ass arguments that liberal religious people use so ineffectively against conservatively religious people. (E.g., justifying certain ways of picking and choosing religious beliefs—rather than explaining why it’s all a load of bollocks, for which there are much better more basic, and correct arguments.)

The root problem isn’t fundamentalism, but central premises of almost all religion, which are themselves stupid and dangerous ideas, acquiesence to which enables fundamentalism—and basic nonfundamentalist orthodoxy, which is a bigger problem than outright fundamentalism.

4. Criticizing religion does generate backlash and alienate some people, but fears of backlash are overrated, and it is important to challenge religious privilege and especially to shift the Overton window of public opinion. Being too afraid of short-term backlash—and too pessimistic about major shifts of popular opinion about religion—is a recipe for perpetuating religion’s privileged position and dominance. It is demonstrably untrue that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar—successful social movements generally require a spectrum of opinion, including relatively “extreme” views. Excessive moderation is a recipe for stasis, and you need both reformists and “radicals,” who more or less play good cop / bad cop.

What accommodationists say that sets gnus off is usually a criticism of gnus that implies that we’re wrong to be as “radical” as we are, and that we should sit down and shut up, or do something else instead, because our anti-religious fight

1) isn’t worth fighting in principle, because religion’s not so bad, or

2) isn’t winnable, to any particularly useful extent, so isn’t worth fighting in practice, or

3) isn’t winnable by our overt, backlash-generating means, so we should all be nice moderates like the accommodationists instead of being noisy troublemakers who undermine sound, centrist political triangulation strategy.

We generally think all those things are false, and get really tired of hearing them from people who don’t seriously address the issues of fact, of worthwhile goals, or of effective political strategy.

Every time we hear strategic advice that amounts to “you catch more flies with honey” by somebody telling us what to do, who is apparently entirely ignorant of Overton window strategies, it pisses us off.

We get really, really sick of people telling us what to do without addressing our very good reasons for doing what we’re doing, and actually showing that their reasons are better than our reasons.

One thing that does frequently bring deep emotions into play is the sense that accommodationists frequently advise us what to do as though they think we’re simplistic strategically naive zealots, as opposed to thoughtful people with well-thought-out positions, good arguments, and an arguably excellent strategic rationale that is almost never even mentioned, much less properly addressed, by people who proffer an “obviously better” strategy toward apparently different goals.

Until accommodationists are willing to talk very, very seriously about Overton issues, we’re going to dismiss their strategic advice as the shallow, platitudinous crap that we think it is. As long as they act like we don’t even have a strategy, and criticize us for not going along with theirs, we’re going to be seriously annoyed when they tell us to do what they want us to do, instead of what we’re doing.

Talking about us as though we’re simply strategically naive and gratuitously confrontational is straw-manning us, and we are sick as shit of it. Its been going on nonstop for years, and doesn’t show any sign of stopping.

We do understand accommodationist arguments. Of course we do. We always have. It isn’t exactly rocket science. (Or even passable political science.) And we’ve always had good reasons for disagreeing with them, which are almost universally ignored by accommodationists, who continue to talk past us, and talk systematically misleading cartoonish smack about us.

That’s just seriously annoying, isn’t? Should we not be annoyed by that?

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