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?

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January 12, 2012

Why does the Pope want to screw your child?

Because he can.

I have been remiss in not posting on the pope’s year end message but I continue to hope that the man and his organization will simply disappear after every supporter justly walks away from it.

I can dream, can’t I?

Christopher Hitchens once described the entire career of this current pope, Pope Benedict XVI, aka Joseph Ratzinger, aka Pope Palpatine, aka The Rat, as having “the stench of evil about it.” He was writing specifically about the depth of responsibility carried by this man towards creating and maintaining the catholic church’s ongoing child abuse scandal and protecting those criminals who participated in the raping of children. Clearly, Ratzinger’s concern has been and continues to be focused on insulating the hierarchy of the catholic church from its deeds by sidestepping responsible accountability rather than instituting meaningful change to protect the health and welfare of children in its care.

It is richly hypocritical then to read pope Palpatine’s latest attempt to try to deny gays and lesbians equality in civil law and social policies, in what The Rat calls settings… all in the name of protecting the family regarding child welfare! This is the evil Hitch describes, a pernicious and malevolent intent to harm others in the name of bigoted piousness and religious doctrine:

Among these (settings for teaching children), pride of place goes to the family, based on the marriage of a man and a woman. This is not a simple social convention, but rather the fundamental cell of every society. Consequently, policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself. The family unit is fundamental for the educational process and for the development both of individuals and States; hence there is a need for policies which promote the family and aid social cohesion and dialogue. It is in the family that we become open to the world and to life…

In this context of openness to life, I note with satisfaction the recent sentence of the Court of Justice of the European Union forbidding patenting processes relative to human embryonic stem cells…the European Court of Human Rights upholding the presence of the crucifix in Italian schoolrooms… I am convinced that legislative measures which not only permit but at times even promote abortion for reasons of convenience or for questionable medical motives compromise the education of young people and, as a result, the future of humanity. There is a need to implement educational policies which ensure that schooling is available to everyone and which, in addition to promoting the cognitive development of the individual, show concern for a balanced personal growth, including openness to the Transcendent. The Catholic Church calls for respect for religious freedom. This freedom has individual, collective and institutional dimensionsFinally I would stress that education, correctly understood, cannot fail to foster respect for creation….

And so on, and so on. It positively reeks of duplicity and dishonesty.  

For example, note carefully how insidiously this vile man circumscribes his way completely around the gay marriage bush without coming right out and saying it and how pleasing it is to him when public institutions kowtow to the Catholic church’s ignorant anti-life and bigoted positions. As Macdonald describes so well,

No, the pope doesn’t mention gay marriage at all, but he does speak about “policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself,” in a context where the heterosexual family — as the place where education for the future is to take place – that is, the restriction of marriage to a man and a woman (and the issue of that relationship), is the issue, and we know, from what the bishops in New York were up to recently (as the most salient recent case that I can think of), that when Roman Catholics say this, what they’re saying is that the very idea of gay marriage undermines the family, threatens human dignity, and the places the future of humanity itself in danger.

In other words, please stop whinging and complaining about nothing meaningful being done about the global scandal that is the Roman Catholic Church. It’s the fault of everyone but us. Now get to work incorporating our bigoted anti-enlightenment, anti-knowledge death cult doctrine into your secular institutions, your secular legislatures, your secular laws and into your secular schools. We who are Roman Catholic don’t just want to screw with our own children; we want to screw with yours, too!

January 4, 2012

How do Islamic nations abuse the United Nations?

I have written many times about this push by Islamic states at the United Nations to outlaw blasphemy through the UN Human Rights Council, to make it a ‘human rights’ violation to dare to criticize this odious religion. They have now succeeded. Resolution 16/18 is all about combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against, persons based on religion or belief.

The problem here is that some religious beliefs like Islam are themselves intolerant and discriminating against universal human rights and are in desperate need of sustained reasonable and rational criticism. The irony of fooling western secular democratic representatives at the UN into supporting this obscene piece of tripe by those whose sole intention is to undermine human rights and put all of us under the yoke of their assumed religious authority is rank and shows just how colossal is our collective stupidity in thinking that tolerating intolerance under the guise of respecting religion magically enhances human rights. It doesn’t. It enslaves us by undermining our human rights and replacing them with religious authority.

All those who voted in favour of this Resolution are a menace to all people everywhere and every single western secular democracy should denounce this Resolution in the strongest possible terms. Our governments need to fire those who dared to use their democratic vote representing us at the UN to undermine our basic democratic right to freedom of speech. Such decisions as this Resolution are incompatible with showing support and respect for human rights. This Resolution is a travesty, an abuse of democracy at the UN to reduce human rights in order to protect vile religious sensibilities from criticism.

But perhaps the most disturbing part of this disgusting Resolution is the notion of resorting to use  ‘combat’ against those who dare to criticize anti-human, anti-life authoritarian religious belief.  This open door to combat justified intolerance, justified discrimination, justified condemnation of religious authority, now needs to be closed firmly in the face of these religious stormtroopers who have a Resolution from the UN Human  Rights Council to intrude into your home, your head, your thoughts, your opinions and cartoons and editorials and blogs and commentary, and subject you by threat of force to paying homage to their religious beliefs that reduce your human rights.

For shame, people. For shame.

December 31, 2011

Why is the call for democracy the wrong call?

We hear it all the time, calls for democracy to somehow fix political problems, calls to support pro-democracy groups, to aid pro-democracy movements, to accept democratic decisions, as if democracy alone is the essential foundation for legitimate policies.

I beg to differ, summed up by the typically accurate phrase: Meet the new boss… same as the old one.

This is what we see happening again and again: some democratic change followed by a continuation of the same problems that led to calls for democracy in the first place:

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta conveyed his “deep concern” to Egypt’s military ruler over police raids on pro-democracy groups, the Pentagon said, after a major clampdown this week drew a torrent of criticism. Some of the organisations targeted in Thursday’s swoops on 17 offices of local and international NGOs charged that the security force action ordered by Egypt’s military rulers was worse than that under the veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak whom they replaced in February. (source)

And in Russia,

Medvedev said in his state of the nation address that Russia “needs democracy, not chaos” and that the government would strongly resist foreign pressure. (source)

In Pakistan, president  Asif Ali Zardari,

told tens of thousands of people gathered at the Bhutto family shrine at Garhi Khuda Baksh in the southern Sindh province that the best way to pay tribute to his late wife, killed while campaigning in elections in 2007, was “to defend and protect democracy and democratic institutions in the country and foil all conspiracies against it. (source)

The call is ubiquitous when it comes to trying to end conflicts and to fix political problems, from Serbia to China-Taiwan relations, to Syria’s ongoing revolt, as if holding presidential elections in Haiti, Afghanistan, and Iraq will help magically establish functioning and stable democratic countries. This is a pipe dream, doomed to failure.

Democracy is not the cure and neither is the lack of it the problem. Democracy – full, participatory, one person one vote democracy – is but a symptom of a healthy political structure built upon something else, something necessary, something that works, something that is practical and consistent, something enlightened, namely, the principle of reciprocity writ large: equal human rights recognized as the basis of law.

Without this cornerstone, democracy is nothing but mob rule susceptible to control by a strongman, ineffective and inefficient to create and sustain political and economic peace and prosperity. But with this cornerstone, democracy is the inevitable result, the final if temporary arbiter in political differences and directions for a set amount of time.

Without equal human rights recognized as the basis for authority of law, democracy and the rule that comes from it becomes nothing more than a tool to justify the tyranny of the majority, allowing abuses to be inflicted on minorities without care, redress,  or recourse. And this is exactly what we see happening where democracy is inserted on a population undeveloped in law respecting equal human rights. This is what we see in Tunisia and Libya as the leadership begins to  undermine equal human rights  with the imposition on all of Sharia. This is why the Arab Spring – to bring freedom and democracy to all – will fail to take root, fail to flourish, fail to address the real problems of inequality: their largely illiterate populations will democratically try to remain tyrannically democratic until a leader comes along who can reduce the accompanying violence from oppressed minorities and impose order, pockets of peace, and some small measure of prosperity for the favoured.

As long as the basis OF law is represented by something other than the willingness of those who are ruled to be treated fairly, honestly, and reciprocally IN law, democracy alone is an inadequate substitute FOR law.  Calling for it under this inadequacy is not a political solution or even an improvement but the wrong call altogether. It is a temporary diversion at best, a way to galvanize people to come together under a popular banner until old power is replaced. It is a false clarion, an empty promise, a tyrant in waiting. Pretending that democracy not built on the legal foundation of equal human rights is somehow a solution is like believing  a weather vane directs the wind; it is just another backwards belief.

September 28, 2011

What ever happened to Baby Joseph, ‘saved’ by the Priests for Life stormtroopers from the evil clutches of Canadian health care?

Back on March 22 of this year, I posted about why Priests for Life are theological thugs, fanatical religious stormtroopers who prey on the hopes of others to aid and abet and revel in the unnecessary suffering of others in the name of  honouring their god. Their latest victim was Baby Joseph Maracchli who, in October of 2010 at 10 months of age developed a brain fever and became vegetative just like another previous child of the Maracchlis. The family wanted a tracheotomy performed so that they could take the baby home to die but the hospital disagreed on compassionate medical grounds:

Eight physicians at LSHC were unanimously of the opinion that Joseph had no hope of recovery, and there was no possible treatment that could reverse his condition. They quite rightly pointed out what was obvious that he would never get out of bed nor interact meaningfully with his environment. As responsible and caring medical professionals, the doctors sought a second opinion from colleagues in Toronto. The director of the critical care unit for Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto (a world class facility and recognized leader for pediatric medical care) there agreed that further treatment was futile. Joseph’s doctors therefore proposed removing the tube that was assisting his breathing. If he could breathe unaided, he would go home to be cared for by his parents. If not, he would be given medication to ensure that he did not suffer, and allowed to die. A Canadian Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the Canadian hospital, ordering the life support removed.

This is when the Priest for Life entered and through their efforts helped make this sad story into a fundraising campaign, where they spent a considerable amount of donated money to fly the baby to St. Louis and have the tracheotomy. From their warped point of view, the priests were ‘saviors’ of the baby, vilifying the baby’s Canadian health care team in the process. The baby was released at the end of April and went home to Windsor Ontario.

Today, the Windsor Star reports:

Br. Paul O’Donnell, Major Superior at Franciscan Brothers of Peace, posted a message posted early Wednesday reported Baby Joseph had died.

“It is with great sadness that I report to you the passing of our dear Baby Joseph Maraachli. He passed away peacefully at home with his parents and family at his side. Praise God he had seven precious months with his family to be surrounded by love and was not put to death at the hands of doctors. May Joseph rest in the loving arms of his Heavenly Father surrounded by all the angels.”

Back in March, I pointed out that:

What is not reported very widely is that the couple’s first child who suffered from the same condition did receive a tracheotomy, at the parents insistence, and died a horrific death at home. That child suffered from infection, followed by pneumonia and eventually choked to death… it just took six months of additional suffering for this to happen. The physicians were rightly concerned on behalf of the quality of life of their patient to do as the family asked.

This time it took only five additional months for the baby to die after our priestly heroes intervened. They’re slipping as they get older, I guess, but any additional unnecessary suffering is a real feather in their theological caps.

April 19, 2011

Why are the Abrahamic religions blots on the dignity of humankind?

Because they they are misogynistic. Paula Kirby from the Washington Post explains why, from which I have extracted  the following but I know you’ll head on over to read the whole piece for yourself:

“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”

Here, in Ephesians 5, attributed to St Paul, we have in a nutshell the church’s attitude to the respective positions of man and woman. The man’s role is to be the head, the woman’s to submit to him. The meaning is crystal clear, unmistakable; and yet, despite the fundamentalists who firmly believe such Iron Age prejudices still apply today, there are many liberal Christians who have the decency to cringe at the primitiveness of such instructions and who therefore bend over backwards to pretend they’re not as bad as they quite patently are. “Ah yes,” they say, “but Paul goes on to say that husbands must love their wives. And not just love them, but love them as they love themselves. So clearly this is a reciprocal arrangement, equal in value, imposing constraints of equal weight on both man and wife. All is well with the world and we can continue to pretend that Christianity is the friend of women.” But no. All is not well with the world, and only the deluded or the disingenuous could claim to see equality where there is only subservience.

It is interesting to note the context in which this infamous passage occurs: immediately following the commandment to women to submit to their husbands we find the commandment to children to obey their parents, and to slaves to obey their owners. No amount of instruction to the husbands, parents and owners in question not to ruthlessly exploit their positions of power can alter the fact that women are classed with children and slaves when it comes to their social standing, freedom and self-determination and, like them, are called on to embrace their inferior status with cheerfulness and enthusiasm. In this same sequence of instructions slave-owners are exhorted not to threaten their slaves. Does this make slavery acceptable? Of course not. Only religion could attempt to present such a loathsome idea as though it were not a blot on the dignity of humankind, and the requirement for women always to submit to their menfolk is no less repugnant.

So isn’t this always the case even without these religious influences?

Show me a non-religious society that feels so threatened by the thought of female sexuality that it will slice off the clitoris of a young girl to ensure she can never experience sexual pleasure. Show me a non-religious society that feels the need to cloak women from head to toe and force them to experience the outside world through a slit of a few square inches. All three Abrahamic religions share the myth of Adam and Eve, the myth that it was through woman that evil was let loose in the world. They share the heritage of Leviticus, which declared a menstruating woman unclean, to be set aside, untouched, a revulsion that remains even today among some orthodox Jews, who will refuse to shake a woman’s hand for fear she may be menstruating. What kind of lunacy is this? It is the lunacy of a Bronze Age mindset fossilized by the reactionary forces of religion.

But of course the lunacies derived from religious beliefs neither begins nor ends here; it’s a fount for lunacy that keeps on giving.

Religion is one lie after another: the lie of original sin, the lie of eternal life, the lie of hell, the lie of answered prayer, the lie that life can have no meaning without religion, the lie that religion is the source of morality, the lie of creationism, the lie of a spy-in-the-sky who hears your every word and reads your every thought. And to this list we must add the lie that it views men and women as equal. It has got away for so long with the kind of lunatic word-games that allow death-by-torture to be presented as an act of love, and eternal torment in the flames of hell to be seen as a necessary act of justice, that we should perhaps not be surprised that it has also managed to dupe its followers into seeing the systematic suppression and silencing of women as an act of liberation and equality. Nevertheless, it is a lie, like all the others: a cynical and wicked lie. It is time women everywhere woke up to it.

That would be a good start.

March 26, 2011

When did bigotry become a fundamental human right?

Filed under: Bigotry,Catholic Church,Human Rights,hypocrisy — tildeb @ 10:13 am

When it was convenient for the church to claim it was so, of course!

Leave it to the catholic church to lead the charge in support of protecting bigotry from necessary criticism and legal sanction. We can’t have that. Bigots and the bigotry that defines their unjustified views must be protected, you see, and what better shield to use than claiming any criticism is an attack against human rights? Note that human rights are for all, whereas bigotry is to favour some over others. Hypocrisy has always had a long-standing and plush home in the rc church.

GENEVA (Reuters) – People who criticise gay sexual relations for religious or moral reasons are increasingly being attacked and vilified for their views, a Vatican diplomat told the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi said the Roman Catholic Church deeply believed that human sexuality was a gift reserved for married heterosexual couples. But those who express these views are faced with “a disturbing trend,” he said.

“People are being attacked for taking positions that do not support sexual behaviour between people of the same sex,” he told the current session of the Human Rights Council.

“When they express their moral beliefs or beliefs about human nature … they are stigmatised, and worse — they are vilified, and prosecuted.

“These attacks are violations of fundamental human rights and cannot be justified under any circumstances,” Tomasi said.

Well, I am shocked – simply shocked – that bigotry is being stigmatized. This is an outrage!

Obviously we must protect bigotry from being vilified when expressed and prosecuted when it is enacted because it a fundamental human right… if you believe it is. If we don’t offer special protection for bigots, imagine the consequence: pretty soon those who are against gender equality may have to show good reasons why they hold the bigoted views they do. How unfair is that? And racists? Imagine the chaos if those dead set against racial equality were to be criticized for trying to codify their bigotry into law. Why, there would be  no end to the call for justifications for maintaining these bigoted beliefs and that would undermine the comfort such bigoted beliefs bring to those who hold them to be true.

March 22, 2011

Why are Priests for Life theological thugs?

First, who is Baby Joesph Maracchli and second, what’s the big deal about his medical care?

Joseph Maracchli, the son of Lebanese immigrants, was born on January 22, 2010, and his parents say they noticed he couldn’t eat or breathe properly and wouldn’t open his eyes or cry. The family, who lives in Windsor, Ontario on the Canada – United States border near Michigan, took him to a Michigan hospital in June 2010, where he was diagnosed with a metabolic brain disease, which the doctor said would make him developmentally delayed. Maracchli was treated and returned to normal after a month. However, in October 2010 he developed a fever and was breathing rapidly and was rushed to the emergency room and later transferred to the London Health Sciences Centre in London (LHSC), Ontario. The hospital said he was in a persistent vegetative state from which he would never recover. Maracchli’s family wanted the staff there to do a tracheotomy so that they could take him home and he could die in the care of his family instead of a hospital. Sounds pretty reasonable, doesn’t it?

What is not reported very widely is that the couple’s first child who suffered from the same condition did receive a tracheotomy, at the parents insistence, and died a horrific death at home. That child suffered from infection, followed by pneumonia and eventually choked to death… it just took six months of additional suffering for this to happen. The physicians were rightly concerned on behalf of the quality of life of their patient to do as the family asked.

Eight physicians at LSHC were unanimously of the opinion that Joseph had no hope of recovery, and there was no possible treatment that could reverse his condition. They quite rightly pointed out what was obvious that he would never get out of bed nor interact meaningfully with his environment. As responsible and caring medical professionals, the doctors sought a second opinion from colleagues in Toronto. The director of the critical care unit for Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto (a world class facility and recognized leader for pediatric medical care) there agreed that further treatment was futile. Joseph’s doctors therefore proposed removing the tube that was assisting his breathing. If he could breathe unaided, he would go home to be cared for by his parents. If not, he would be given medication to ensure that he did not suffer, and allowed to die. A Canadian Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the Canadian hospital, ordering the life support removed.

Enter our heroes, the Priests for Life, those celibate men of the cloth who (incredibly and without shame) think their religious beliefs equip them with the kind of god-soaked moral knowledge necessary to determine proper medical treatment over and above a team of highly trained and specialized medical professionals who actually care for children as their daily job. Let us keep in mind that there has never been a suffering life these meddling priests have not tried to prolong. The Terri Schiavo debacle immediately comes to mind.

Peter Singer, professor of bioethics at Princeton University picks up the story:

Little Joseph Maraachli is a new poster boy for the “pro-life” movement. But what has happened to him should instead teach us what to do – and what not to do – if we are really serious about saving human lives. The 13-month-old from Canada, who has been having medical treatment for most of his short life, suffers from a severe neurodegenerative disease. He has difficulty breathing on his own. His head is small for his age and has not grown for three months. He has seizures. His pupils do not respond to light or follow a moving object. His movements are not purposeful.

Then Priests for Life, a Catholic -abortion and anti-euthanasia organization stepped in, chartering an air ambulance to fly Joseph from Canada to Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center, a Catholic hospital, in St. Louis, which will perform the operation the parents requested.

“We Rescued Baby Joseph!” says a page on the Priests for Life website. The organization’s director, the Rev. Frank Pavone, says he has been told that it could cost as much as $150,000 for Joseph’s stay in the pediatric intensive care unit. That doesn’t include the cost of the aircraft, which would have added thousands more to the bill. Priests for Life is, of course, asking its supporters to donate to pay these costs.

Here’s the irony. According to the most rigorous charity evaluation agency in the country, GiveWell.org, you can save a child’s life for about $1,000. All you have to do is give the money to their top-rated charity, Village Reach, which delivers vaccines and other urgently needed medical supplies to rural areas in developing countries.

If Priests for Life were really serious about saving lives, instead of “rescuing” Joseph so he can live another few months lying in bed, unable to experience the normal joys of childhood, let alone become an adult, they could have used the money they have raised to save 150 lives – most of them children who would have gone on to live healthy, happy lives for 50 years or more.

We’ve seen such things happen before. In 2005 the anti-abortion movement put a huge effort, and large sums of money, into “saving” Terri Schiavo. In the end, after Congress had been recalled specifically to enable a federal court to hear the case, she was allowed to die. An autopsy showed her brain had been severely and irreversibly damaged.

We can obsess over Joseph and Terri – or we can make an honest effort to save the lives of countless children whose names we may never know. It is our choice.

But the Priests for Life don’t want to save lives in the sense of protecting the dignity of those who are already alive yet suffering; they want to prolong the biological functioning of a body regardless of the suffering… the younger the better and a fetus especially, even if it kills women to do so. Since becoming involved in the medical treatment of Baby Joseph, the Priests for Life have mobilized support from the likes of the Hope Network and the legions of catholics and christians who think these groups do god’s work. Now the medical staff at LSHC have been the recipients of the kind of faith-based love the anti-abortion crowd – championed as they are by Priests for Life – sends out to those who disagree with their beliefs: hate mail and death threats.

Oh, I can hear the faithful claiming loudly that those extremists don’t represent the mainstream religious.

But they do.

You see, Priests for Life and the anti-choice crowd are no different than the mainstream believers in that they don’t give a rat’s ass respecting your life;  they care only for life, which according to their beliefs belongs not to you but their god. And they will continue to act accordingly not to respect your rights and freedoms as an autonomous individual where dignity of personhood must reside, if the term ‘personal dignity’ is to have any personal meaning, but as god’s Stormtroopers out to protect what belongs to him. That’s why they’re theological thugs and are empowered by those who respect their beliefs about what god owns over and above respecting your personal dignity.

March 10, 2011

Why will the Egyptian revolution fail?

Filed under: belief,civil rights,Egypt,Human Rights,Islam,misogyny,Religion — tildeb @ 10:07 am

It started off with such promise, but the revolution in Egypt will fail because the right to political and social equality for half of the population is held in contempt by the vast majority of its populace. The archaic anti-enlightenment belief directly supported by islam that women do not and should not have the same political and social rights as men has not been overthrown.

A demonstration on International Women’s Day by 300 women advocating for equality reveals this truth. The group was attacked and broken up by a much larger group of men who reportedly groped and beat and chased these women from Tahrir Square.  But this depressing result should not be surprising. PEW polling data reveals the scope and breadth of beliefs held by the vast majority of Egyptians that stand diametrically opposed to establishing political and social equality for women. And without equality in law for all citizens, the revolution is simply a period of time between being ruled by different strongmen.

Move along, folks. Nothing new to see here.

February 16, 2011

What is the role of New Atheism?

I simply have to re-post a comment because it is so articulately expressed by thephilosophicalprimate that I think nails the role of New Atheism. It involves a responding to a couple of posts by Eric MacDonald over at Choice in Dying – a wonderful new blog that is rich in good writing, interesting commentary, and important topics in need of our consideration – that deal with what’s missing from the New Atheist’s contribution to the world today and responds well to the issues Eric raises:

Here is where I think our prior discussion about the values at the heart of New Atheism has more potential than has yet been explored. New Atheists don’t just agree on a set of conclusions, but on a set of common underlying epistemological values, the norms which both motivate and structurally determine the arguments which we make in support of those conclusions. When I brought this up before, I mentioned in parentheses that I don’t think epistemological values and moral values are entirely separable. What you are talking about in this post, Eric, starts to touch on the territory where I think they intersect and overlap.

So what are those shared values? To rehash a bit: Atheists, for the most part, care a great deal about attempting to discover the truth rather than assuming that we already know it (i.e. fallibilism), and we reject anyone’s insistence that some claims can be or should be off-limits to rigorously applied critical thinking. Atheists care about evidence and reasoning, and think that claims ought to be accepted as true only to the extent that they can be justified. But why do we prize fallibilism and genuine truth-seeking justification so highly, and reject the opposite — faith — so thoroughly?

One answer is pragmatic: These are the epistemic norms that work! That is, consistently following such norms gives us the sort of reliable knowledge that we can use to accomplish our aims in the world, whatever those may be. And that’s fine as far as it goes.

However, a deeper answer points towards core moral values, not just instrumental/pragmatic values. Ultimately, faith almost always consists in relying on or accepting some authority: the authority of a holy book; the authority of the writers of such books who claim to speak for a still higher, divine authority (evidence for which is nonexistent); or, most commonly, the authority of those who claim the right to interpret the meaning of holy books and the wills of gods (but again, offer no evidence to back that claim to authority). Rejecting faith not only manifests epistemic values that treasure authentic truth-seeking over comforting or self-serving delusions, it manifests moral values that treasure human freedom and self-determination over bowing to illegitimate authority*. New Atheists value both intellectual and practical liberty, both freedom of thought (within the limits of legitimate concessions to the universe itself, i.e. epistemic norms such as fallibilism and evidence-driven reasoning) and freedom of action (within the limits of legitimate concessions to the similar freedom enjoyed by others). And when I say “New Atheists value” such and such, I am suggesting both that the extant New Atheists I’ve read and engaged with do in fact demonstrate that they embrace such moral values, but also that these moral values are logically connected to the epistemological values which drive the movement: A New Atheist who rejected such values (if there were such a creature) would be inconsistent in doing so.

Moreover, the pragmatic answer and the moral answer converge, at least by implication. Valuing sound epistemic norms because of their pragmatic value — they give us reliable knowledge useful for accomplishing our ends whatever those ends might be — directly implies that accomplishing our ends is, generally speaking, a good thing. (The “generally speaking” caveat is not trivial: Individually, we each consider accomplishing our own ends to be good, but the actual ends any given person is attempting to accomplish may or not be good in some universalizable moral sense.) However, the disconnection of pragmatic value from any particular end also implies, albeit indirectly, a live-and-let-live attitude towards choosing ones ends. In other words, valuing epistemic norms which let us accomplish our ends (whatever those ends might be) is integrally interrelated with valuing human freedom, for if the word “freedom” has any meaning at all, surely that meaning includes determining and pursuing one’s own ends.

So if you want to understand what moral values underlie New Atheism, I think you need look no further than John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. (Which, coincidentally, was published in 1859, the same year as another book of some considerable importance to New Atheist thought…)

That said, I’m not sure how far Mill’s very individualistic liberal political philosophy responds to the exact concerns you point towards here, which are all tied up with communal identity and activity. Then again, there is nothing in even the most individualistic liberalism which in any way undermines the value of communities and communal identities; it only demands that participation in such communities must always be wholly voluntary for all involved — which is exactly what New Atheists are fighting for. To elaborate a bit, for membership in any community or collective identity to be genuinely and wholly voluntary, no community or shared identity or set of beliefs (or institution formed by the like-minded) can occupy a place of special privilege or power above and beyond the basic freedom of its individual members. Guaranteeing voluntary participation in turn requires that the beliefs and commitments underlying any and every such community must be adopted or rejected by potential community members in a context where there is absolute freedom of thought and discussion, where no ideas or beliefs receive any special protection or privileged status that places them beyond question or criticism. Without freedom of thought and discussion, privileged positions or institutions (i.e. walling off religion from criticism) have an intellectually coercive power over citizens that undermines the very possibility of genuinely and wholly voluntary participation OR rejection of the position.

In other words, the fight New Atheists are already fighting springs from the same set of interrelated epistemic and moral values that I’ve been discussing here. The persistent and insistent claims that “something is missing” from the New Atheist world view is true; what is missing is the siren call of easy assent to illegitimate authority — the human instinct to blend in and concede our autonomy to parent-mimicking authorities who, unlike actual (good) parents, do not have our genuine best interests at heart. What is missing are some of the worse aspects of our human nature, not the better ones. Humanity is well and truly better off being rid of what is “missing” from the New Atheist value system, and I have yet to see any argument or evidence that the genuinely worthwhile value of community and collective identity are in any way excluded or undermined by our value system. Instead, serious commitment to human intellectual and practical freedom offers us the means to strip away the coercive and exclusive** components that make community and collective identity such a mixed blessing.

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* What constitutes legitimate authority? I think the most basic answer — the conception of legitimate authority settled on by everyone who thinks seriously about it, and the one that appears to have risen to the top on the tide of history — is some form of democratic authority. Authority is legitimated by the consent of those governed by the authority, and authority in the absence of consent is illegitimate by its very nature. Genuine consent, of course, cannot be produced by force or deception — and faith is the ultimate form of deception, since the deceived are persuaded to actively deceive themselves for the most part. (Although religious authorities engage in lots and lots of plain old deception as well as encouraging self-deception; you don’t think those statues *really* weep by themselves, do you?) Therefore, the authority of religion is always and forever illegitimate authority. It is no coincidence that religious traditions which place the least emphasis on faith — Buddhism, Unitarian Universalism and other broadly ecumenical traditions — are also the least authoritarian, and vice versa. And notice that this discussion of illegitimate authority and the coercive nature of privileged positions connects very closely to the discussion of the role of freedom of thought and discussion above.

** By “exclusive components,” I mean all the potential for communities and communal identities to manifest ugly in-group/out-group, us/them dynamics that undermine basic respect for the rights and basic worth of those outside the group — the foundation of genocides, religious wars, and simple bigotry. How does attention to human freedom strip out the exclusive elements of community? Because it is rooted in the fundamental recognition of all other humans as beings with the right to think for themselves, to decide what they think is worthwhile and to pursue what is worthwhile with the greatest freedom consistent with a similar freedom for all. Such a live-and-let live, individualistic morality undermines bigotry in all its forms, whereas more authoritarian values actively encourage it.

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