Questionable Motives

October 14, 2011

Can we know what’s true in reality?

I keep coming across this notion that all truth is relative, so that scientific findings accomplished by man should be understood to be less reliable that the certainties that can be assumed deduced from faith-based beliefs.

I admit, this argument drives me nuts. The latest was from reader Daniel who argues that Truth is a being with whom we can have a personal relationship, and that atheists lose effectiveness in theistic discussions when they fail to appreciate this special relationship the faithful have with their ‘truths’ cum manifestations of various gods. One responder wrote:

In a life filled with people whose individual realities depend on their personal perceptions instead of the true unprejudiced reality, our belief systems…our truths, if you will, are definitely biased. Everyone’s reference points are based on their perceptions of their experiences. Even our perceptions of the truths [...] are subject to unreliability because we are who we are and our eschewed views. Only one who has the life of God in him can hope to taste of truth and only as we constantly examine ourselves and stay in fellowship with Him can we hope to interpret that truth correctly.

So I responded:

I think Feynman’s quote here is apt when it comes to trusting beliefs and perspectives:

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.

How do we not fool ourselves? Respecting the method of science – by using what is known as methodological naturalism – is an excellent starting point. The products of this method speak for themselves: so far, they work for everyone everywhere all the time. How is that ‘relative’ just because it always maintains room for doubt?

This notion – that what is true is somehow relative to one’s subjective experience and beliefs – is probably one of the most common yet odious opinions bandied about as if it were widely accepted as correct. It’s not. It’s an epistemological placebo for the intellectually lazy.

Yes, Virginia, there is a reality, and we can actually know something about it if we choose to make the honest effort. Pretending that our subjective faculties prohibits this discovering of reality is the worst kind of apologetics because it assumes we cannot know without certainty… and confuses anything less than certain with something less than what’s true in reality. This little shell game of substituted word meanings tries to make anything less-than-certain equivalent – and that’s where it veers off the twin paths of reason and reality and inserts the term ‘relative’ as if that were appropriate answer to this warped thinking. It’s not. It’s dishonest.

The physical laws of nature are not relative just because someone is so intellectually impoverished that they can only appreciate probabilities of P=1 to equate with what’s true and knowably so. It does not bolster this misunderstanding to pretend that all other and lesser probabilities are equivalently ‘relatively true’. That’s absurd and demonstrably so. To assume that anything less than certain means it is equivalent to something unknown is ridiculous by all practical measurements unless someone is honestly and equally surprised each and every morning that the sun rises. Such a person isn’t intellectually lazy but brain-damaged. Even so, few people are actually so dull and unimaginative that patterns in nature are either unrecognizable or equally untrustworthy.

To call anything less than certain ‘relative’ is a gross distortion of how much we can know and trust about that knowledge of reality we have gained. Relativism is an intentional and misleading excuse to try to make equivalent faith and fact, as if Ergo Jesus is a legitimate answer in place of I don’t know because I have some element of uncertainty. Relativism argued on the basis of this subjectivity is just broken thinking petrified into ignorance by a lack of intellectual honesty.

Any thoughts?

October 12, 2011

Are the religious more socially responsive through charity and volunteering than the non religious?

It is not unusual for me to be presented with this notion by supporters of various religions in full agreement with each other on this issue… as if it were unquestionably true. After all, there really are many religious charities and organizations doing socially responsive work. I even see some advertised on the local public transit. Fortunately, we have some census data out of Great Britain that may surprise these supporters (I have added some bold):

In terms of civic engagement and formal volunteering, the figures show no significant difference between those with a religion and those with no religion (57% and 56% respectively). There is scarcely any difference in participation between those with no religion and self-described Christians (56% and 58%). At 44%, the proportion of Hindus and Muslims participating in civic engagement and formal volunteering is actually lower than the proportion of non-religious people doing so, and the lowest of all groups. This is no flash in the pan – it is a continuing feature of the figures over a number of years.

The figures supplement other data that makes the same point, not only from previous years’ citizenship surveys. In 2007, Faith and Voluntary Action, from the National Council of Voluntary Organisations found that “religious affiliation makes little difference in terms of volunteering”, and as a matter of simple numbers, the overwhelming majority of the voluntary, community and charity sector in the UK are secular.

I think the Guardian article helps explain further:

Non-religious people are volunteering all the time, but don’t feel the need to do it in the name of being non-religious. They may even do it for charities that have a nominally religious origin. Being therefore less visible than specifically religious contributions to society, this can support the myth that non-religious people do less community work. This anecdotal misconception can only be corrected by data, which is not something to which most people have access.

So I’m just doing my bit to spread the data to a wider audience (and even I have donated through religious organizations for specific charity work and I wouldn’t consider myself much of a religious supporter). Yes, Virginia, you really can be good without god  Now… where’s a bus to carry that message? Oh right… this atheist campaign to adorn buses with reassuring messages that morality is not dependent on religious affiliations was refused access to advertise on public transit in my hometown. Too… militant and strident and divisive for the public transit commission officers making the decision to reject it. That the message happens to be true in fact doesn’t seem to carry much weight in such decisions made on the public’s behalf. No surprise there.

September 24, 2011

How can this kind of dedicated faith-based attack on Enlightenment values be accommodated?

It can’t.

This attack on the secular foundation of liberal democracies has to be fought in the public domain by anyone and everyone who thinks all of us have the same rights and freedoms to believe or not believe as each of us sees fit. No one is more at risk by this kind of fundamentalist evangelical advance into the political domain than those believers who value their religious freedom.Don’t be swayed by the notion that the state will favour the same one you do; what is lost is your freedom to choose otherwise and that’s not an insignificant right to sacrifice in the name of christian piety.

There is no middle ground in this battle.

(h/t sensuouscurmudgeon)

May 5, 2011

What do we do to keep from lying to ourselves?

We do science.

This site posts about these lies all the time and continues to urge that we respect the knowledge science produces. That may sound very reasonable and perhaps even self evident in almost every area of our lives where the results of science have produced practical and beneficial applications we can rely on. The screen in front of you is just one.

But it’s much more difficult to convince anybody to continue to respect the results of good science when it contradicts or appears hostile to our privileged biases and comfortable prejudices and favoured perspectives. We switch mental gears to rationalizing why this exemption is allowable in order to keep them  safe and sound from the harsh glare of sceptical and critical thinking that drives good science. It’s important that we begin to recognize that our motivations for doing so are thus questionable (hence the blog label).

Many of the posts I have made are about religion – probably the single most powerful bias we as a society privilege from critical review. But I have also posted about other biases many of us have… from questioning the anti-vaccine movement to dowsing, from what is ironically called complimentary and alternative medicine to misogynistic cultural practices… and tried to show that the same method of privileging faith-based beliefs from critical review through weak rationalizations is also prevalent in many areas of our lives. It’s all the same thing and we are all susceptible to its easy charms.

But this privileging carries with it an inherent danger from recognizing what is knowable and true… out of preference to believe what is not necessarily true but what we believe is knowable and true.  And nowhere is this danger more important to recognize than in looking at the results of climate science and respecting its conclusions.

The effects of allowing greenhouse gas emissions to continue rising while we pretend that the science is inadequate to even be able to draw good conclusions about what this means carries with it the cause of significant climate change. Our inaction – for whatever reasons we may think we have through our rationalizations and privileging our favoured beliefs about the topic – carries with it a considerable cost to everyone now and in the future. The cost of this change will be enormous in many ways, not least of which is an increased threat to human life and well being not just for us but for generations yet unborn. What these effects will be specifically is very difficult to calculate but we know enough to know that doing little will mitigate it not at all. If we wish to mitigate the effects, the very first step is to recognize that we even have a problem about which we can actually have an effect.

So.

Is the science of climate change dependable and, if so, what is it telling us? To this end I am posting the following video to help explain why we need to start respecting the scientific consensus that informs today’s climate science :

April 29, 2011

Why is the NCSE wrong to accommodate creationism?

Russell Blackford quite reasonably points out that When it comes to science education, public school systems in the United States and other liberal democracies generally have the secular goal of teaching students well-established findings, those that are generally accepted by working scientists.

But this isn’t reasonable enough for the NCSE (National Center for Science Education) when it comes to evolutionary biology. Unlike its treatment of all other scientific topics, when it comes to evolution in public education, they feel we must deal more delicately with the religiously inclined. They feel we should be more respectful dealing with christians even though many hold different views about how creation has actually taken place. They feel it wise to avoid dealing with the fact that most of them are wrong, can be proven wrong, and should, at least implicitly, be demonstrated to be wrong. Holding to some form of creationism – it is merely a matter of degree and not kind between Young Earth Creationsim and theistic evolution – avoids the fact that nothing in biology makes sense in light of creationism.

If the Pooh Bahs over at the NCSE wish to respect the notion in policy that parts of the bible remain divinely written or inspired, then is a matter of honesty to admit that the organization, as Coyne argues, is taking itself out of the ambit of empiricism and reason. You’re making a purely subjective decision based on revelation.

This is why the issue is important for the integrity of science education as a whole and the National Center for Science Education in particular to realize that’s why science organizations that endorse some brands of theology, while decrying others, are making a serious mistake. As Jerry Coyne points out in his open letter to the NCSE (motivated by repeated negative articles posted at The Chronicle of Higher Education , let the science of evolution speak for itself.

When this policy is altered to accommodate the kind of theology that presumably (there is little evidence of efficacy) allows for some kind of wider public acceptance for some kind of evolution, then the NCSE is choosing to support a theology that is favourable and good to its aim. Note this is not done for geology and plate tectonics, vulcanism and geography in spite of providing strong evidence against the christian doctrine of a great Flood. No special allowance is made for those who believe the tenets of astrology in the curriculum for astronomy. Alchemists don’t get special consideration and accommodation in chemistry. The subject of physics is not enhanced by pretending that it doesn’t interfere with belief in immaterial things. Yet when it comes to creationism and evolutionary biology, suddenly the wise people at the NCSE think special consideration for christian religious beliefs is necessary and thus warranted. That’s bizarre and, I think, highly counter productive for an organization concerned about educating our youth about science. As Coyne quite rightly points out, who are they (the NCSE) to decide what is “good” theology? What they mean by “good”, of course, is not “theology that gives us a more accurate sense of the divine,” (as stated in their policy) but “theology that best comports with our desire to sell evolution to the public.”

And I think Coyne’s conclusion – supported directly as it is by such people as Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers and many other highly reputable scientists in evolutionary biology – is worth serious consideration because it raises an issue that I think many at the NCSE fail to understand:


First, your repeated and strong accusations that, by criticizing religion, atheists are alienating our pro-evolution allies (liberal Christians), has precisely the same alienating effect on your allies: scientists who are atheists. Second, your assertion that only you have the requisite communication skills to promote evolution is belied by the observation that you have, by your own ham-handed communications, alienated many people who are on the side of good science and evolution. You have lost your natural allies. And this is not just speculation, for those allies were us, and we’re telling you so.

January 4, 2011

Why isn’t MSNBC heaping scorn on those who ‘predict’ the date of the Rapture?

I usually just ignore these end-of-the-world so-called ‘predictions’ that have a long and solid history of being absolutely wrong. Even a semi-reasonable person should take such predictions as laughable jokes, yet when it comes to the rapture, far too many people seem more than willing to lend it an ear of respectability as if this time it may be true… just in case… and it is to those folk that I think we should hold in high contempt for their willingness to be so gullible.

MSNBC has within its editorial ranks just such people, who tell by the publication of this non-contemptuous article that there is

a movement of Christians loosely organized by radio broadcasts and websites, independent of churches and convinced by their reading of the Bible that the end of the world will begin on May 21, 2011.

Treating this religious inspired lunacy without scorn lends to it an air of legitimacy to the possibility that the  basis of the ‘prediction’ – in this case a calculation based on a scriptural interpretation  – may have some merit when there isn’t even the slightest shred of evidence to justify any such distinction. This faith-based gullibility – especially for those rational enough among us who actually know better but wish to pretend that their agnosticism is a more reasonable and tolerant position than a firm stance of ridicule for this absurd ‘prediction’ in the absence of any meaningful evidence – does a disservice to respecting a legitimate prediction based on what’s probably true, probably accurate, and probably correct.

It’s important to understand why and how these legitimate probabilities inform legitimate predictions rather than cast all predictions into the same pot from which we can draw whatever made-up crap we want and pretend that all are more or less the same quality… as long as we call them predictions rather differentiate made-up crap from evidence-based probabilities. The  May 21 rapture is no ‘prediction’: it is a guess about when the end of the world will occur with an extraordinarily high probability of turning out exactly like every other religiously inspired faith-based guess: absolutely wrong.

So here is my informed prediction: the world will still be up and running on the 22nd of May, 2011. You are a moron to believe otherwise.

May 20, 2010

Trouble in (before) paradise?

  • Of the 1,050 pastors we surveyed, every one of them had a close associate or seminary buddy who had left the ministry because of burnout, conflict in their church, or from a moral failure.
  • 90% of pastors stated they are frequently fatigued, and worn out on a weekly and even daily basis (did not say burned out).
  • 89% of the pastors we surveyed also considered leaving the ministry at one time. 57% said they would leave if they had a better place to go—including secular work.
  • 81% of the pastors said there was no regular discipleship program or effective effort of mentoring their people or teaching them to deepen their Christian formation at their church (remember these are the Reformed and Evangelical—not the mainline pastors!). 
  • 77% of the pastors we surveyed felt they did not have a good marriage!
  • 75% of the pastors we surveyed felt they were unqualified and/or poorly trained by their seminaries to lead and manage the church or to counsel others. This left them disheartened in their ability to pastor.
  • 72% of the pastors we surveyed stated that they only studied the Bible when they were preparing for sermons or lessons. This left only 38% who read the Bible for devotions and personal study.
  • 71% of pastors stated they were burned out, and they battle depression beyond fatigue on a weekly and even a daily basis.
  • 38% of pastors said they were divorced or currently in a divorce process.
  • 30% said they had either been in an ongoing affair or a one-time sexual encounter with a parishioner. (This and the previous statistic raises an interesting reflection on what Family Values look like to those in the ministry – tildeb.)
  • 26% of pastors said they regularly had personal devotions and felt they were adequately fed spirituality.
  • 23% of the pastors we surveyed said they felt happy and content on a regular basis with who they are in Christ, in their church, and in their home!
  • Of the pastors surveyed, they stated that a mean (average) of only 25% of their church’s membership attended a Bible Study or small group at least twice a month. The range was 11% to a max of 40%, a median (the center figure of the table) of 18% and a mode (most frequent number) of 20%. This means over 75% of the people who are at a “good” evangelical church do not go to a Bible Study or small group (that is not just a book or curriculum study, but where the Bible is opened and read, as well as studied). (I suspect these numbers are actually lower in most evangelical and Reformed churches because the pastors that come to conferences tend to be more interested in the teaching and care of their flock than those who usually do not attend.)

From the article Statistics on Pastors over at the Schaeffer Institute.

These stats line up nicely with Daniel Dennett’s latest work about preachers who are not believers (pdf here). And their numbers are growing . What is striking in this compilation of stats is that more than half would leave if they could. Three quarters are fighting depression and nine in ten can’t cope with the challenge of ministry. But why? If religious belief added some measurable quality of life and comfort as we have been led to believe, then these numbers should be strikingly different by those who champion it. But as I have long suspected, the show-and-tell of religion are quite different: we see the show of happy and well-adjusted people who pretend religious belief is a marvelous way to live – even a necessary element to living morally well – but underneath that facade we find a very different story.

March 28, 2010

Why is the current catholic theme “We’re no worse than others!” so hypocritical?

Archbishop Dolan of the New York Archdiocese has posted a commentary here against the unfair treatment against the catholic church by the press and offers us a defense of the church in general and the pope in particular. He writes

What causes us Catholics to bristle is not only the latest revelations of sickening sexual abuse by priests, and blindness on the part of some who wrongly reassigned them — such stories, unending though they appear to be, are fair enough, — but also that the sexual abuse of minors is presented as a tragedy unique to the Church alone.

That, of course, is malarkey.  Because, as we now sadly realize, nobody, nowhere, no time, no way, no how knew the extent, depth, or horror of this scourge, nor how to adequately address it.

Really? Is that true? Nobody?

As head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, didn’t Ratzinger – who admittedly had to read thousands of detailed reports and has since publicly stated that this revelation was cause for his enormous spiritual pain – know something of the extent, depth, and horror of this scourge? Is Ratzinger a ‘somebody’ in the archbishop’s estimation? More importantly – and certainly very revealing – is the answer to the question what did the man do to effectively stop this kind of abuse within the church? Well, the sad fact of the matter is that he shifted blame to others while maintaining and justifying the very policies of Vatican secrecy and interferences in judicial investigations that led to the abuse becoming a scandal wherever the church operated as an institution and not, as the pope himself would have you believe, merely unconnected local scandals the world over.

Now look what Dolan is doing: he, too, is playing the time-honoured blame game: ‘We’re no worse than anybody else!’.

So what?

What seem singularly difficult for the leadership of the church and their supporters to grasp is that calling on a fair comparison of abuse to other public institutions like schools and prisons is simply not relevant. Schools and prisons do not claim moral superiority the way the church does. The church has never claimed to be only a human institution; it claims to represent Jesus and his way of salvation in the world. Never just a human institution, that is, until it wants mercy for its culpability in criminal activity. Then, and only then, is the leadership of this institution willing to give up the claim to expect all kinds of worldly authority to be granted to it based on its self-proclaimed exalted moral status, but plays the childhood recess game of blaming everyone else for its failure to live up to its own claims and self-proclamations.

And you, dear reader, will note that whatever excuses we hear from church leaders like Ratzinger and Dolan for the church’s moral failings is always in response to secular revelations of these criminal activities – the same secular influence the pope blames for supposedly creating the social conditions that influenced helpless clergy into abusing, sexually assaulting, and raping children around the world. Yeah, secularism is the problem, we are told. But let’s remember that if it weren’t for this secular influence and investigations into abuse of children within the catholic church, we would know nothing about it. That’s the real danger secularism brings to the cloisters of the catholic church: exposure of what’s true.  That fact, that we the public find out about the depravity within the church only through secular investigations, is also quite telling and reveals the depth and breadth of the hypocrisy needed to defend and excuse the church as just another human institution with a few bad apples. That spin – between calling the church holy or human depending on what suits the church’s leadership at the time – is not an example of moral superiority but hypocrisy. The message from Jesus, if the church could ever be honest with itself, would probably be much more critical than anything offered up by secular authorities:

“whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

Maybe after all the hypocrisy from the Holy See and the rest of the church’s leadership and supporters is revealed, that’s where the Vatican properly belongs.

Or we could just stop supporting it as any kind of moral authority when it clearly is not.

I prefer the latter.

March 26, 2010

What is a Conscience Clause and why is it unconscionable?

A Conscience Clause is a clause in law or code of professional conduct that permits pharmacists, physicians, and other providers of health care not to provide certain medical services for reasons of religion or conscience. Those who choose not to provide services may not be disciplined or discriminated against. The provision is most frequently enacted in connection with issues relating to reproduction, such as abortion, sterilization, and contraception, (hence the term provider conscience is used) but may include any phase of patient care.

From the BBC comes an example of just how such a conscience clause can affect health care, with a tip to Misunderstoodranter who provided the link:

Pharmacists across the UK, for example, have been told they can continue to refuse to prescribe items that may clash with their religious beliefs. A revised code of conduct from the new industry regulator will allow staff to opt out of providing items such as the morning-after pill and contraception. But they may in future have to give customers details of alternative shops. The National Secular Society wanted the General Pharmaceutical Council to scrap the so-called conscience clause.

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) is to take over the regulation of pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and the registration of pharmacy premises from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society later this year. Under its new code, pharmacists with strong religious principles will still be able to continue to refuse to sell or prescribe products if they feel that doing so would contradict their beliefs. But the GPhC says pharmacists who refuse services could be obliged to tell patients where they can access them and it plans to consult more widely on the issue.

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said he was disappointed by the code.

“This was a perfect opportunity to severely restrict the exercise of this supposed conscience clause which has caused a great deal of embarrassment and inconvenience to people recently. “It seems incredible that pharmacists can arbitrarily tell people that they won’t serve them with medication that has been prescribed by a doctor.” The issue was highlighted recently by a woman denied the pill by a Sheffield chemist. She was told to return to the shop the following day when another staff member would be on duty.

To help us see what is so unconscionable about this clause, imagine a police officer arriving at a domestic dispute but, rather than intervene and enforce the law, decides to arbitrarily  respect his conscionable religious beliefs about the respective roles of  ‘allowable’ conduct of husband and wife. What might be the problem here?

Imagine if operating room staff decided to respect conscionable adherence to proper religious clothing ahead of professional sterilization procedures. What might be the problem here?

Imagine a teacher in a language class insisting that all those of an opposite gender had to leave the room to suit one student’s religious sensibilities that agrees with the teacher’s. What might be the problem here?

When we allow professions to suspend and subvert their professional codes of conduct in place of and out of a misguided respect for personal religious beliefs held by individual practitioners, we are prostituting the profession. We undermine the ethical framework that describes the role each member of the profession is to uphold and allow religious belief to take its place out some misguided and unjustified sense of tolerance and reasonable accommodation. This subversion is unconscionable.

If someone decides that personal religious beliefs rather than professional standards should be the measure of conduct while acting as a representative of that profession, then the confused individual must either voluntarily resign or be stripped of professional status. One cannot have it both ways: if one wishes to act only as an individual with various beliefs and preferences, then that’s fine. Act as an individual by being an individual. But if one wishes to act as a representative of a profession, then one must be willing to put aside the personal while acting as a professional of that profession.

For example, it doesn’t matter what laws an individual may think deserves more respect than others: when acting as a police officer, one acts as a representative of the law and not a representative of the individual with preferences. The higher allegiance a police officer must have to be an ethical professional is not a greater respect for his or her individual preferences and beliefs but to the professional code of conduct under which he or she acts as a police officer. If one wishes to act as a representative of the profession of pharmacists, then one must put aside one’s personal preferences and beliefs and act according to the professional code of conduct of a health care provider.

When professional codes of conduct are perverted, abused, and manipulated to protect individuals exercising their personal preferences while acting as a representative of various professions, then each professional body that goes along with this abuse under a Conscience Clause has subverted its very reason for being.

In the same way, if enforcing the law is dependent on each individual police officer determining which laws he or she will enforce according to some personal preference, then we have subverted law enforcement. If we allow dispensing prescribed medication to be dependent on each individual pharmacist determining which drugs he or she will dispense according to some personal preference, then we have subverted health care. And to subvert what it means to be a professional – to act as a representative of that profession with recognized rights and privileges based on guidelines and rules and areas of specialized knowledge and expertise – to suit the unjustified religious beliefs of certain individuals within professional bodies does not serve either the interests of the profession as a whole or the public trust in that profession… it undermines our confidence in both the profession and the professional.

I think that to support this willing sacrifice of what it means to be a professional by professional bodies of oversight on the alter of religious belief under the fictitious banner of tolerance and accommodation is unconscionable stupidity and ethical capitulation.

March 23, 2010

Creeping religious accommodation: why should we enforce respect?

We shouldn’t.

Excerpts from John Hari’s article in The Independent:

In 2005, 12 men in a small secular European democracy decided to draw a quasi-mythical figure who has been dead for 1400 years. They were trying to make a point. They knew that in many Muslim cultures, it is considered offensive to draw Mohamed. But they have a culture too – a European culture that believes it is important to be allowed to mock and tease and ridicule religion. Some of the cartoons were witty. Some were stupid. One seemed to suggest Muslims are inherently violent – an obnoxious and false idea. If you disagree with the drawings, you should write a letter, or draw a better cartoon, this time mocking the cartoonists. But some people did not react this way. Instead, Islamist plots to hunt the artists down and slaughter them began. Earlier this year, a man with an axe smashed into one of their houses, and very nearly killed the cartoonist in front of his small grand-daughter.

This week, another plot to murder the cartoonists who drew caricatures of Mohammad seems to have been exposed, this time allegedly spanning Ireland and the United States, and many people who consider themselves humanitarians or liberals have rushed forward to offer condemnation – of the cartoonists. One otherwise liberal newspaper ran an article saying that since the cartoonists had engaged in an “aggressive act” and shown “prejudice… against religion per se”, so it stated menacingly that no doubt “someone else is out there waiting for an opportunity to strike again”.

Let’s state some principles that – if religion wasn’t involved – would be so obvious it would seem ludicrous to have to say them out loud. Drawing a cartoon is not an act of aggression. Trying to kill somebody with an axe is. There is no moral equivalence between peacefully expressing your disagreement with an idea – any idea – and trying to kill somebody for it. Yet we have to say this because we have allowed religious people to claim their ideas belong to a different, exalted category, and it is abusive or violent merely to verbally question them. Nobody says I should “respect” conservatism or communism and keep my opposition to them to myself – but that’s exactly what is routinely said about Islam or Christianity or Buddhism. What’s the difference?

This enforced “respect” is a creeping vine. It soon extends beyond religious ideas to religious institutions – even when they commit the worst crimes imaginable. It is now an indisputable fact that the Catholic Church systematically covered up the rape of children across the globe, and knowingly, consciously put paedophiles in charge of more kids. Joseph Ratzinger – who claims to be “infallible” – was at the heart of this policy for decades.

And the ever perceptive Jesus and Mo:

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