Questionable Motives

December 2, 2010

Do you know what abstinence only sex education through taxpayer funding look like in practice?

Filed under: Morality,Public policy,School Board,Sex Education,values — tildeb @ 10:08 am

October 19, 2010

The moral minefield: is there an alternative to the is-ought divide?

Filed under: Harris,Morality,Religion — tildeb @ 9:55 am

Religion and its pervasive role throughout the world in human affairs is an area of tremendous interest to me. Any criticism of religion and its deleterious effects soon runs into the assumption that our moral values require an ethical framework and that religion is a particularly suitable engineer for just this task and so it is a necessary construct that mitigates all its shortcomings in practice . But is this true? Does religion and its varied beliefs in supernatural agencies build a good framework? It is this question that needs serious critical review. Not surprisingly, most atheists tend to avoid this moral landscape because we recognize the pitfalls that divide the is from the the ought. But is this divide unbridgeable, thus allowing religion and all its rational incoherencies the narrow and treacherous escape route it requires from criticism of its actions in moral terms in the human domain?

I have long admired Sam Harris’ veridical writings, presentations, debates, and cogent thoughts. So it is no surprise, then, that I am interested in hearing his thoughts about this moral landscape and his ideas about suggesting that some better framework can, in fact, be used… a framework based on something that allows a better comparison than claims between relative and unverifiable objective moral truths. This framework, Harris suggests, can be built upon the well-being of conscious creatures.

Excerpts from an interview between Salon and Sam Harris about his new book The Moral Landscape:

It just so happens that religion traffics in ideas that are intrinsically divisive, intrinsically insensitive to the actual details of human and animal suffering, and in many cases purposed toward an afterlife that doesn’t exist. That combination of traits leads to a kind of callous disregard for the sane purposes that we would otherwise form for collaboration in this world.

Well-educated, liberal, secular people in the West think you should withhold judgment on certain practices. You look at female genital mutilation in a country like Somalia, and you have to say things like “Well, of course this has to be understood in context. Who are we to say that this is evil in any deep sense?” But my argument is that withholding judgment is tantamount to saying that we know absolutely nothing about human well-being. Maybe cutting off a girl’s genitalia with a septic blade at age 8 is just as good as any other practice in terms of raising them to be happy and well-adjusted people. We know that’s not true. And that’s a scientific claim.

We notice causal patterns in the word, and we tell ourselves stories about these patterns. We do this in science and in religion. Religion just amounts to bad science, in the end. It’s our most primitive effort to describe our origins and the reasons for why things happen. When you don’t understand the weather, when you don’t understand why crops fail, when you don’t understand the origins of disease, you make up explanations. And this is religion. When you develop a methodology by which these things can be understood, you rely on honest observation and clear reasoning, and this is science.

I think we must form a global civilization. We have no choice. We have a global economy, we have a single environment, we have infectious disease that spreads with every airplane flight. The question is, How do we create a civilization in which the greatest proportion of people can thrive, and in which the causes for war become distant memories? Within a nation-state, wars can be a distant memory. The likelihood of a war between Vermont and Florida seems incredibly remote. Why is that? We understand the stability of a single state. We need to engineer a similar degree of stability at the international level. There has to be a way to enforce international law. The question is how to do that, and how helpful is it that 1.5 billion Muslims and 2 billion Christians both think they have the perfect revelation of the creator of the universe, and that the world will end, ushering in the fulfillment of their eschatology. This isn’t helpful at all, and should be terrifying to every rational person.

Religion isn’t the only problem. It’s all the forms of tribalism: nationalism, racism, et cetera. But religious tribalism is the most difficult, because it’s the only one that comes with an ideology that is transcendental. It’s the only one that gets people, for the most part, to celebrate the deaths of their children, because the belief in paradise actually removes the last barrier that sane people have to doing horrendous things and making huge sacrifices for idiotic reasons.

I am intrigued. It’s time for me to buy the book.


August 16, 2010

Catholic evidence of an alternative universe?

Yup. Michael Voris of The Vortex shows us clear evidence how his faith allows him to live in alternative universe while using the rights and freedoms found in this universe within his country’s secular society to advocate that all of us should join him there.

(Tip to Pharyngula)

June 11, 2010

Is there a social cost to atheism?

Filed under: Atheism,Bias,Bigotry,Morality,Religion — tildeb @ 9:53 am

Lauri Lebo has written an article over at Religion Dispatches that raises this question. Lauri is well known for having written the definitive book about the Dover trial in Pennsylvania (The Devil in Dover: Dogma vs Darwin in Small Town America).

The results of an online survey published in the latest issue of Skeptic Magazine show that atheists in America fear paying a high social price in coming out as a non-believer. “The Stigma of Being an Atheist: An Empirical Study on the New Atheist Movement and its Consequences,” written by Tom Arcaro, was based on the results of 8,200 people who identify as atheists or non-believers in God.

The survey, “Coming Out as an Atheist,” was posted live on the Atheist Nexus Web site for four months from September to December 2008. Respondents were asked various questions such as “In general, how stigmatized do you feel atheists are in your culture?” and “Do you feel that there would be any social repercussions if people in your [workplace/family/local community] found out the you were an atheist?”

By a wide margin, atheists in the U.S. were more likely to feel a sense of stigma, highest among those living in the south. For instance, 57 percent of U.S. respondents said they felt they would suffer at least minor social repercussions in the workplace if they came out as an atheist, compared to only 35 percent of respondents in Canada, 24 percent of Australians, 15 percent of residents of United Kingdom, and 12 percent of Western Europeans.

More than two-thirds of Americans said they would suffer stigma in their community and 61 percent said they would suffer stigma from their family.

But what do those numbers look like in someone’s life? Consider this comment:

It was not worth the trouble. My entire familiy , church, friends, wife, job… nothing left.. Nobody talks to me, nobody returns my emails, phone calls, nobodies says Hi…..At my fathers funeral, my mother had the pastor give a sermon about how the family will be reunited, except the son who will never see the father again.

I would have gotten a better reaction if I had announced I was communist Islamic Lesbian Satanic serial-raping Dark Lord of the Sith.

My advice is keep your atheism to yourself if you hate to be demonized and are surrounded by christian friends and family……christians cannot understand the truth of basic Reality, they certianly will never understand your Apostacy.
Christians will demonize their own mother into the devil to protect their fears.

I don’t agree with the advice; I think wider change for the better only happens when the bigotry over the false claims of atheist immorality is exposed for the lie it is. That exposure always carries a personal cost – sometimes sleight and covert, sometimes heavy and overt – but all we can do is push ahead and maintain our intellectual honesty in the face of the biased opinions and social shunning by unenlightened others.

June 9, 2010

How does the Vatican plan on dealing with its abuse of Irish children?

By blaming the godless secularists, who are the REAL reason priests in Ireland raped and abused Irish children. (And don’t you love this picture gracing the cover of a catholic magazine?)

Come on people: you don’t think it can blamed on the catholic church or anyone in position of leadership from the Holy See, do you? Nope. Clearly, Irish catholics are getting too uppity and assertive in their indignation of being victims of organized abuse and need a visit from the Vatican version of ‘Special Forces’ to re-establish proper order, necessary hierarchy, and renewed respect for their abusers. This clean up will begin with getting the Irish clergy whipped into theological – meaning ‘roman catholic’ – shape. Excerpts from the Independent:

VATICAN investigators to Ireland appointed by Pope Benedict XVI are to clamp down on liberal secular opinion in an intensive drive to re-impose traditional respect for clergy, according to informed sources in the Catholic Church.

The nine-member team led by two cardinals will be instructed by the Vatican to restore a traditional sense of reverence among ordinary Catholics for their priests, the Irish Independent has learned.

Priests will be told not to question in public official church teaching on controversial issues such as the papal ban on birth control or the admission of divorced Catholics living with new partners to the sacraments — especially Holy Communion.

Theologians will be expected to teach traditional doctrine by constantly preaching to lay Catholics of attendance at Mass and to return to the practice of regular confession, which has been largely abandoned by adults since the 1960s.

An emphasis will be placed on an evangelisation campaign to overcome the alienation of young people scandalised by the spate of sexual abuse of children and by later cover-ups of paedophile clerics by leaders of the institutional church.

A major thrust of the Vatican investigation will be to counteract materialistic and secularist attitudes, which Pope Benedict believes have led many Irish Catholics to ignore church disciplines and become lax in following devotional practices such as going on pilgrimages and doing penance.

Those damned secularists and materialists are everywhere… especially where pedophile priests have had free reign. Funny, that. What people who hold the church responsible need is a good dose of catholic discipline to fix everything.

Why is there a single catholic left in Ireland? Do they really think so little of themselves that they are willing to tolerate this colossal arrogance and disrespect from their religious leadership? How is it that catholic guilt runs so deeply in the laity but apparently not at all for real crimes at its highest leadership that caused so much suffering and so many victims… of children? What moral cowards, one and all.

June 8, 2010

Why are atheists morally bankrupt?

Filed under: Atheism,Jesus and Mo,Morality — tildeb @ 8:47 am

Thanks to Jesus and Mo

How does the RC church make a sex abuse scandal go away?

Filed under: abuse,Catholic Church,Morality,Priests,Scandal — tildeb @ 7:40 am

It orders a ‘fixer’ to come in and get to work. Ex-Benedictine monk, Patrick Wall (Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes: The Catholic Church’s 2,000 Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse), recently provided a revealing, disturbing, angering, and heartbreaking 12 minute radio interview describing his role in helping to make clerical abuse scandals go away. The broadcast is from CBC Radio:

I was a company man, I thought, “this is something I’m doing to both help the university as an alumnus, help the monastery which I belong to…”  When you’re trained to follow the workings of the Holy Spirit, unfortunately you assume it’s the Holy Spirit in action, rather than human error.

Was there no part of your mind that deep down said, “Hang on, I do know this is wrong?”

It was never on the radar screen.  It was just not there.  It was just never discussed, it was one of those things that was sub rosa and people knew it was going on, however, in defense of the institution, which we believe was instituted by God and as, basically, as a remnant of the Holy Roman Empire, you’re there as a soldier, you’re literally there to assist and defend the institution.

So your part in all of this, Patrick, was to make sure that everything was smoothed over, would that be the right way to put it?

That’s exactly what a fixer does, it doesn’t matter what diocese in the world, what religious order in the world, that’s exactly what you do.  You go in, you assess the situation, you try and find survivors, report it up the chain of command, and you try to make it as positive and life bearing as possible.  In fact, I was fortunate to have lunch a with a priest a couple weeks ago in Washington, D.C., former priest, who was a fixer in a northeast diocese and he recounted to me the same exact things I was assigned to do that he was assigned to do before he left… There’s been a consistent, uninterrupted procedure on what to do when clerics sexually abuse kids for centuries.

When you were still at the abby did you think, I should go tell somebody, I should go tell the police, what is happening here is illegal?

Never even crossed my mind.  We’re not trained to talk to any outside institution.  I remember going to a workshop in the fall of 1992 and we had a civil lawyer there, we had a canon lawyer there, we had a number of experienced people in dealing with priest sex abuse, explaining to us about how the civil legal system worked and never once was the discussion about calling child protective services, calling the police, calling any state authority outside the Church, it’s always keeping it in-house and dealing with it, in house…There’s very little about pastoral outreach to the victim, because the victim is now a liability, the victim is now a huge financial liability, a point of scandal, and a real problem, so that’s why we were trained to work in getting the people under control, so to speak, before they filed a civil complaint and working with them to keep it all in-house.

When these priests were moved on was there any warning given to the communities they were being sent to as to why they were being disrupted in the job that they were in?

Oh absolutely not, they’re not going to say that Father So and So had a problem with sexually abusing kids because if you did that more then more victims were going to come forward and you’re going to have more lawsuits.  Usually there was some kind of a cover story that Father Tom had to go to alcohol treatment. The key was that if you tell the lay people exactly what is going on, you’re going to start a reformation because with proper information people will make different decisions.  But if you keep them in the dark and you give them a pious answer, then they’re going to continue on thinking, “well, things are fine”, when in reality, it was the same old problem: childhood sexual abuse.

(Thanks to Camels With Hammers for the excerpts.)

May 27, 2010

Why is religious morality hypocritical and duplicitous?

Filed under: Christianity,hypocrisy,Islam,misogyny,Morality,Religion,Secularism — tildeb @ 10:43 am

Morality. The purview of religion. Or so religious spokesmen – and they are always men – assure us. And far too many of us go along with assertion and pay heed. But the unasked question is whether or not the application of some religious moral code is warranted when it comes to human activity. Why do religious spokesmen speak out as if authorized by god to make moral pronouncements on so many human issues and religiously tread without thought or care to human rights and the dignity of personhood and why are they not held to account by the majority of us?

We are treated to a non-stop litany and repeated insertions of moral pronouncements by various clergy whose only expertise is the imaginings of theology to deeply affect attitudes and practices and funding of issues outside of the religious purview – medical issues like abortion and research, legal issues like gay rights and marriage, political issues like constitutional reform and education, and so on. Into this arena of human activity comes religious pronouncements using morality as a wedge to pry open every human activity and concern possible – from diet to dress to sex to parenting… there is no end – to allow religion to be seen as relevant and meaningful even when it has no legitimate expertise or informed opinion about the activity or issue itself.

Far too many of us go along with this charade, this crock. But at what cost? What is the downside to granting religious imaginings and moral judgments filtered through various Iron age moral codes and their often ignorant and anti-intellectual immoral conclusions a place at the modern discussion table? There are many costs and most relevant to all is the cost to human rights and human dignity we allow to be sacrificed on the alter of religious morality by tolerating this public interference.

Take, for example, this article in the Ottawa Citizen from which I have posted some excerpts (but note the article’s repeated dichotomy about muslim versus christian rather than religious versus secular – you’ll see what I mean in a moment) :

When Shazia Hidayat was training for the Olympics in her native city of Lahore, Pakistan, she was forced to jog through the streets in the middle of the night with her brother cycling beside her. A woman, particularly a Christian one who did not cover her head, was not safe working out during the day. So Hidayat would wake up at 2:30 a.m., don a baggy T-shirt and full running tights for modesty, even in 40C weather, and run 15 to 20 kilometres.

When she dared run in public mixed-gender races, groups of men hurled stones and shouted insults. At other times, extremists from certain mosques threatened her life, yelled it was shameful for women to exercise in public and even confronted her with a Muslim “husband” whom they ordered her to marry. She would then, by law, be automatically considered a Muslim. They saw Hidayat not as a strong role model for girls, but as a symbol of moral decay.

Women, particularly Christian women, must keep a low profile in a country whose supreme court has outlawed kite flying, and whose legislature passed a law last month banning non-Muslims from becoming prime minister.

In 2005, Hidayat decided to run in Pakistan’s first mixed-gender marathon through the streets of Lahore. This would be the third attempt by athletics officials to hold a mixed event. At a race earlier that year, extremists had forced the cancellation of a race in the city of Gujranwala.

“Several hundred activists affiliated with the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (a coalition of Islamist political parties) used petrol bombs, clubs, and bricks to attack participants, organizers, spectators, and police at a mixed-gender marathon in Gujranwala. The activists torched 19 vehicles and smashed windows in the stadium and adjacent buildings. Police used batons, tear gas, and firing in the air to restore order. The clash resulted in injuries to 15 persons,” read a U.S. state department report.

At a second attempted mixed marathon race, police arrested participants — particularly the women — and detained them for several hours before the race was cancelled.

On the eve of the Lahore Marathon, various extreme religious and political leaders vowed to protest or threatened violence against any woman who ran, or those who organized the race.

In The Daily Awaz, a Lahore newspaper, religious figure Allama Muhammad Mumtaz Awan vowed his followers “would make bitter protest and take out rallies today against the shameless Marathon Races that are being officially promoted in support of moral corruption and nudity and in violation of Islamic culture and decency. At this occasion all … will make loud protests in the mosques during the Friday congregations and move condemning resolutions through the worshippers against the Marathon race that is being undertaken at American instigation to promote western culture and civilization.”

Hidayat and hundreds of other women from Pakistan, Europe, Kenya and other countries defied the threats and ran anyway. Hidayat, wearing a T-shirt and full tights, was ridiculed and called vicious names. Many men threw stones at her and the other women.

Hidayat notes things are improving for women and Christians in a few limited ways, but regressing in many others.

So Hidayat has left Pakistan and come to Canada to live, work, and run in – of all places – Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (bit nippy for half the year). Pakistan’s loss, Canada’s gain. But she did so not for reasons of being a woman, particularly a christian woman, as the article would divert us into believing, but for exchanging religious oppression for secular freedom… including being a woman without cost and being a christian without cost.

Is running a moral issue? Well, no… as long as it is done by a human equipped with a penis. I guess god’s okay with the morality of a running man. But apparently, no vaginas are allowed to run in public by order of this same imaginary sky father as some would have us believe. Why? Religiously inspired morality! But just look at how convoluted the reasoning must be – empowered only by religious belief –  to turn the running by a woman into a moral issue! And one set up that – oh by the way – just so happens to directly detract from her rights but not his. Coincidence, I’m sure.

Not surprisingly, the morality of misogyny itself is never at issue when religion comes calling to drive a wedge into separating the rights and opportunities of men from the rights and opportunities of women; isn’t it high time religious misogyny itself becomes the central issue each and every time religious interference is brought into the public domain?

Unless and until the basic tenets of religious belief becomes a workable model of equality that enhances human rights and human dignity rather than intentionally detracts from this respectable moral goal, the pronouncements about applying religiously inspired morality to human issues have no legitimate place. And a good start to this rejection of religious interference on legitimate moral grounds is for enlightened and educated individuals to grant no audience whatsoever to the hypocrisy and duplicity that empowers religious morality to be inserted into the public domain.

May 25, 2010

The moral high ground: Is this how you teach atheists to play Nice?

Dr. Karl Giberson, a professor at Eastern Nazarene College and co-president of the BioLogos Foundation, tells us in his article published in USA Today that New Atheists need to learn how to play well with others.  His main argument here is that because some well-respected scientists are christian, christianity is compatible with science. Supposedly he’s just as fine with the same logic that because some catholic priests are pedophiles, pedophilia is compatible with catholicism. Setting aside the main thrust of this very stupid argument, he admonishes the New Atheists for countering such very stupid arguments and pretends to take the moral high ground to do so, and reminds us that Nothing is gained by loud, self-promoting and mean-spirited assaults on the beliefs of fellow citizens. In addition, he tells us that it appears that the New Atheists are behaving like a boorish bunch of intellectual bullies.

Mean-spirited assaults. Boorish bullies. Yes, those New Atheists are a mean and boorish bunch and they are loud because they wish to promote themselves. Terrible people, really. How do we know this? We know this because people like Giberson keep telling us it is so. It’s the standard ‘tone’ argument; religious apologists keep telling atheists that they need to change the tone of their arguments to be more effective countering very stupid arguments offered up by religious believers that in turn counter the claim that science and religion are compatible ways to know what’s true. ‘Tone’ is often code for ‘Just shut the fuck up and keep your filthy mouth closed because what you are saying is disrespectful of my very stupid arguments and therefore disrespectful of my god.’ As evidence for this mean-spirited assault, Giberson tells us that New Atheist Jerry Coyne raked Brown University cell biologist Ken Miller and him  over the coals in The New Republic for their claims that Christians can unapologetically embrace science. Now isn’t that mean-spirited? Downright boorish and bullying, too.

What did Coyne actually write in The New Republic?

Giberson and Miller are thoughtful men of good will. Reading them, you get a sense of conviction and sincerity absent from the writings of many creationists, who blatantly deny the most obvious facts about nature in the cause of their faith. Both of their books are worth reading: Giberson for the history of the creation/ evolution debate, and Miller for his lucid arguments against intelligent design. Yet in the end they fail to achieve their longed-for union between faith and evolution. And they fail for the same reason that people always fail: a true harmony between science and religion requires either doing away with most people’s religion and replacing it with a watered-down deism, or polluting science with unnecessary, untestable, and unreasonable spiritual claims.

See how mean-spirited that is? Why the boorishness and intellectual bullying almost leaps off the page, doesn’t it?

The truth of the matter is that it is liars like Giberson, who paint New Atheists inaccurately and then have the gall and temerity and lack of moral integrity and intellectual honesty to deal with legitimate criticism against their religious ideas like grown-ups, resort instead to name calling and spreading false rumors. In religious terminology, I think it is relevant to call what Giberson does bearing false witness.  And it is offensive because it undermines exactly the supposed point of why the article was published in the first place: that playing nicely results in more respect for compatibility.

As Ophelia Benson writes about the mean-spirited and boorish bullying accusation,

That’s a really offensive claim. Not offensive in the frivolous sense the word is so often used to convey, but genuinely offensive, because it is untrue. Coyne doesn’t rake Miller and Giberson over any coals; he says good things about both of them in that long review in The New Republic; he also disagrees with much of what they claim in their respective books. He does it honestly, and carefully, and with detailed argument. That is not the same thing as raking people over the coals! It is offensive for Karl Giberson to make that accusation in a large-circulation national newspaper. Yet here he is telling other people how to play nicely. It’s so typical – say things about atheists that are not true, in the very act of telling atheists to be Nicer.

Giberson is not alone. Typical criticisms by religious apologists against the New Atheists – for daring to criticize religious beliefs by pointing out the incompatibility between science and religion – can’t win on intellectual merit. Nor can Giberson and his religiously apologetic ilk win the argument on honest moral grounds; what we do see is that the New Atheists have to be demonized first by mean-spirited and boorishly bullying methods even if it requires blatant unapologetic lying to do so. You see, by hook or by crook, any method to inaccurately portray New Atheists poorly and get the false message out there that they are terrible people to the broadest audience possible is really all that matters to people like Giberson. Playing nice, as you can plainly see, has nothing to do with the point of his article and is just another example of duplicity by the faithful to support the maligning of atheists themselves rather than deal honestly, openly, and fairly with their legitimate criticisms. Such people as Giberson who prefer to believe the worst about atheists in spite of contrary evidence and those who prefer to agree with their boorish and bullying tactics are really nothing more and nothing less than intellectual cowards.

May 21, 2010

What does fear of gays look like in action?

From the CBC:

A judge in Malawi has found a gay couple guilty of unnatural acts and gross indecency after a trial that drew worldwide condemnation of that country’s laws on homosexuality.

Blantyre Chief Resident Magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa issued the ruling Tuesday. The couple could be imprisoned for up to 14 years.

Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, had been jailed since their arrest Dec. 27, when they celebrated their engagement with a party that drew crowds of curious and jeering onlookers.

Their hearings also drew ridicule, an indication of views on homosexuality in this traditional society — and elsewhere in Africa.

Homosexuality is illegal in at least 37 countries on the continent. In Uganda, lawmakers are considering a bill that would sentence homosexuals to life in prison and include capital punishment for “repeat offenders.” Even in South Africa, the only African country that recognizes gay rights, gangs have carried out so-called “corrective” rapes on lesbians.

What can I say? I was offended, so I wrote to the Malawi high commissioner:

The sentencing by this Malawi ‘court’ of Steven and Tiwonge is a mark of bigotry and shame that contravenes section 20 of your country’s constitution. And your government seems to be in full agreement with this ruling. When court rulings support populism, but break the spirit of guaranteed constitutional rights and freedoms for all, then all citizens lose. The fact that your government is satisfied with this ruling makes a mockery that human rights are respected and are of any legal value whatsoever in Malawi. On the world stage, your country has taken a giant step backwards into an age of superstition and fear about a victimless activity between consenting adults some in your country find offensive.

So what?

Unless and until the government of Malawi and its agents in positions of authority have the moral courage and political fortitude to step forward and accept that rights and freedoms for all outweigh popular superstition and bigotry against some, your country’s voice will be one of regressive and brutal bigotry codified and enforced by a bullying and ethically corrupt government that deserves nothing but condemnation and marginilization for it lack of intestinal fortitude. If your government can so easily discriminate against these two men because you find their behaviour offensive, then I see no reason why your country should not wholeheartedly agree to have its membership at the United Nations revoked and sentenced to 14 years of hard labour for offending the many people other governments represent who find your ruling so offensive. Simply put, your country does not belong at the same discussion table as civilized nations because your failure to act in this matter of Steven and Tiwonge is uncivilized and deeply offensive. Your government’s failure to intercede and insist that your courts enforce the law equally on behalf of these two men is at the very least a disgrace, an abdication of your government’s responsibility to all the people it represents like Stephen and Tiwonge, and I consider criminally negligent.

If nothing else, overturning the court’s decision on constitutional grounds would show the world that your government at least has the merit, unlike 37 other timid and scared African countries, of having grown a pair.

There. That feels better.

« Previous PageNext Page »

Create a free website or blog at