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?

October 6, 2012

What’s the harm of a little religious belief exercised in the public domain?

Rep. Paul Broun (R-Georgia) is member of the Science Committee of the House of Representatives and chairs the House Science Committee’s panel on investigations and oversight. He claims to be a scientist because he’s a medical doctor, which reminds me to remember that half of all medical doctors graduated from the bottom portion of their class.

June 13, 2012

Why are blasphemy laws an abortion of reason?

Because you have to abort any reason to be concerned about what is true in favour of showing greater concern for what is believed to be true.  Therein lies the definition of legal blasphemy: the offence of speaking sacrilegiously about god or sacred things; sacrilege meaning the violation or misuse of what is regarded as sacred; sacred meaning anything regarded with great respect and reverence; reverence meaning to regard or treat with deep respect. Blasphemy laws enforce (with the misuse of secular law) only what is regarded to be worthy of respect, namely, some belief claim. Whether or not the claim is true doesn’t matter, you see, so whatever reasons are brought forward also don’t matter. This is the rejection of reason, raising the question How do we know if some belief claim is worth respecting? Blasphemy laws circumvent the answer to this question as irrelevant.

But surely I jest! People are far too reasonable to go along with this absurdity, you must be thinking; the laws are intended to promote toleration and mutual respect for the belief of others, right?

Wrong.

The catholic church is a fairly large religious organization claiming over  a billion members globally. Surely it wouldn’t stoop to standing idly by while some bishop undertook this kind of legal abuse. But, right on cue, the mass producer and protector of pedophiles has shown that it too doesn’t care about what’s true (is anyone surprised… anyone?); it doesn’t mind that its agents use these laws to attack reason that stands contrary to whatever earns them cash and uses the secular branch of the judiciary to do this dirty work for it… to bludgeon what’s true into irrelevancy if it interferes with catholic aims and catholic beliefs and gaining money.

From the Friendly Atheist:

 

Indian TV channel (TV-9)asked the President of the Indian Rationalist Society to visit the Church of Our Lady of Velankanni in Vile Parle, Mumbai to offer his opinion on a supposed miracle. The President, Sanal Edamaruku, is like the Indian version of James Randi or Penn Jillette. He is well known in the country and has been debunking miracles for over 30 years.

The miracle in question involved the dripping of water from the feet of a statue of the crucifixion, a miracle that that seems to crop up all around the world… at least when pieces of toast with Jesus on them are in short supply.

Edamuruku was quickly able to pin the cause on a leaking drainage system, with water being drawn up through the nail holes in the statue’s feet by capillary action. Needless to say, the locals and the church were not happy.

Edamaruku accused the church of exploiting people for money, a tactic that did not go down well. Edamaruku later participated in a heated debate with the pastor of the church, Father Augustine Palett, on national TV. Father Palett had little time for actual debate and instead spent his time threatening action, by way of a blasphemy complaint, if Edamaruku refused to apologize. Edamaruku welcomed this, as it would be a chance to present his evidence in court with the priests and bishops on the witness stand. Of course, no apology was forthcoming and Palett has since made good on his threat.

Following the TV appearance, a group called The Association of Concerned Catholics (Think Bill Donohue, but Indian) lodged a complaint against him with the Mumbai police. They have now arrested him, charging him with “hurting the religious sentiments of a particular community.” This is a section in India’s penal code intended to prevent hate speech and should be used against deeply sectarian groups or individuals. The complaints against Edamaruku, however, are a grave misuse of these laws.

Edamaruku had applied for “anticipatory bail,” which would have meant he could have avoided jail during any trial. Bizarrely, this was rejected on the grounds that the judge thought jail would be the safest place for him.

Any democratic country with secular law cannot justify this poisonous intrusion of theocracy into its legal system. It’s an embarrassment to anyone who can think straight. Blasphemy laws must be removed if that country’s government doesn’t wish to advocate for the aborting of reason from its judicial system.

April 17, 2012

What does a politician need to do to abort a presidential campaign?

Filed under: abortion,Politics — tildeb @ 8:07 am

Thanks to Live Funny or Die, we can find out here.

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.

October 21, 2011

Is Newt Gingrich anti-American?

Of course not. He is a patriot (of the New and Improved kind!). But what that means to you now isn’t quite what you may think it means by the time you reach the end of this post.

I think he is the antithesis of a patriotic American because he is intentionally undermining both the Constitution, to which he has sworn to uphold and protect from enemies foreign and domestic, and the Bill of Rights using cherry-picked bits of history to revise it in a way that makes up seem down, left seem to be another kind of right, and American history to support the delusion that religion –  rather than the Enlightenment values of reason, liberty, science, and free enterprise – was responsible for these founding documents.

Gingrich quoted from OpEdNews:

I think if the question is Does faith matter, absolutely. How can you have a country which is founded on truth, which begins, “We are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights” — how — how can you have the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which says religion, morality and knowledge being important, education matters? That’s the order: religion, morality and knowledge.

Now, I happen to think that none of us should rush in judgment of others in the way in which they approach God. And I think that all of us up here, I believe, would agree. (Cheers, applause.) But I think all of us would also agree that there’s a very central part of your faith in how you approach public life. And I, frankly, would be really worried if somebody assured me that nothing in their faith would affect their judgments because then I’d wonder, where’s your judgment — how can you have judgment if you have no faith? And how can I trust you with power if you don’t pray? (Applause.)

Who you pray to, how you pray, how you come close to God is between you and God. But the notion that you’re endowed by your creator sets a certain boundary on what we mean by America. (Applause.)

Gingrich is a slippery one and vile in his abuse of history to serve his pro-religious anti-Americanism. And it is anti-American.

He is trying to make it appear that the country’s governance and public education has a religious foundation. This is what we call historical revisionism… a polite way of saying someone is approaching the line children and other plain speakers call lying. In Gingrich’s case, clearly he is attempting to use his knowledge of history to support that which is not historically accurate. The polite can call this historical revisionism. I call it anti-American.

Hamilton and Madison, who explained the Constitution clause-by-clause in the Federalist Papers, did so totally without scriptural references. Funny, that. Gingrich avoids these vital documents presumably because they do not support his revisionism nor the intention of his revisionism. Note that it would have been good politics for Hamilton and Madison to argue that the Constitution was based on scripture, but there was no scriptural basis for concepts like a decentralized federal republic, a two-house legislature, limited government with enumerated powers, representation based on population, checks and balances, prohibiting religious qualifications for holding office, allowing secular oaths, and providing that a man-made Constitution was the supreme law of the land, which derived power solely from the consent of the governed and not by god. This shows just how carefully Gingrich picks what he does: he has a religious agenda to serve and it is not to in the protection of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. His agenda is to undermine them in the name of promoting religious piety.

Gingrich would have us believe that this revolutionary Constitution recognized the supremacy of god, whereas in fact it removed god entirely from government of the people, by the people, for the people. As a historian, Gingrich is cherry picking only those quotes which seems to support the importance of religious faith in government, whereas in historical fact this revisionist claptrap is unequivocally and patently false. He is trying to claim black is white… always a good indication of an agenda-driven sleight-of-hand. In my mind, Gingrich has joined up with the movement I call lying for Jesus.

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 occurred under the Articles of Confederation, not the Constitution. Gingrich knows this but pretends the cherry-picked bit was part of the founding intentions for promoting religion in the public domain when it was no such thing. The national government wasn’t constrained by what became the Bill of Rights, but many of those rights were specified in the Ordinance (jury trial, habeas corpus, protection of property rights, sanctity of contract, prohibition of cruel or unusual punishments, etc.). Section 13 said:

And, for extending the fundamental principles of civil and religious liberty, which form the basis whereon these republics, their laws and constitutions are erected; to fix and establish those principles as the basis of all laws, constitutions, and governments, which forever hereafter shall be formed in the said territory: to provide also for the establishment of States, and permanent government therein, and for their admission to a share in the federal councils on an equal footing with the original States, at as early periods as may be consistent with the general interest.

Gingrich’s cherry-picking becomes obvious here when he ignores the context that highlights religious liberty as one of the central founding principles and chooses only those words from Article 3 that only gives the appearance of supporting religion in the education:

Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.

Note that it doesn’t require religious education — or any education; it merely encourages schools. So why did Gingrich mention this line alone, devoid of context in which it means the opposite of what he is trying to convey? Perhaps it’s because it gives the appearance that there’s some kind of founding authority that government schools should teach religion. This is bunk and Gingrich knows it is bunk. Any second year American history student knows this is bunk. Heck, even I know this is bunk and I am neither a university grad in history nor even an American. What’s Gingrich’s excuse for this gross misrepresentation?

Gee, I wonder.

What is clear is that he is prostituting his knowledge of history by cherry-picking bits and pieces he can reassemble into what amounts to a blatant misrepresentation of historical fact in order to appeal to the ignorant biases of his uneducated audience for his own political gain. That it comes directly at the expense of upholding the intentions of nation’s founding documents seems not to matter to him or his audience. Such historical revisionism contrary to the spirit of the Constitution and Bill of Rights smacks to me of sedition for political gain. This is what Gingrich actually means for America, although he does his best to paint non believers as the enemy, those who are morally suspect for their lack of faith who will abuse the public power they are granted by the electorate unless they have religious faith, yet we see just how willing Gingrich is as a believer to use that highly touted faith to increase his chances to win public power by undermining support for the those founding documents! With patriots like these, who needs enemies?  But under the skirts of religious piety, Gingrich and the other whack-a-mole religious nutjobs that front the Republican party are doing their level best to undermine their Constitution and Bill of Rights and call the endeavor patriotic. But hey, what’s revising a few words to mean their opposite when you are already willing to revise history in order to reverse the intentions of your country’s founding documents to mean what they don’t mean? That’s why I think Gingrich and his ilk are indeed the new and improved version of an American patriot.

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)

September 23, 2011

Why is there still confusion between what’s personal and professional?

Over at Wintery Knight, I came across a post about doctors being forced to act “like atheists.” Heaven forbid, of course. Naturally, I wanted to find out what this terrible imposition might be so I read the post about a doctor dispensing theological advice and commented. As night follows day, so too does moderation and deletion of my thoughtful comments occur by another cowardly intellectually bankrupt religious blogger (not that I’m biased). What are these delicate people – and I’ve come across many – so afraid of with a comment critical of their conclusions? That the sky will fall? It can’t be because of loss of audience: the hit counters reveal that the controversial comments I make increases the number of visitors, increases the number of pages viewed on the site, lengthens the time people spend there, and increases the number of comments made about the topic. I take the time and make the effort to comment because I think bloggers willing to espouse an opinion that interests me should be treated to mine… especially if it is contrary because the reasons will be (or, at least, should be) interesting to consider even if they are found inadequate or insufficient to change anyone’s mind. It seems a fair exchange in the public square. But editing and deleting my comments undermines any possibility for an exchange to occur, turning the site into a love-in of groupthink rather than promoting honest discussion about controversial opinions.

But honesty is always the preferred casualty when confronting faith-based beliefs with criticism because maintaining faith-based beliefs is contrary to maintaining intellectual honesty that has to account for the criticism. The honest answer to some faith-based belief is, “I don’t know,” rather than an assumption of the truth of the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. But this kind of honesty directly undermines the the legitimacy of any claim to some divine authority if it can be legitimately questioned and that’s why criticism and doubt are seen by so many religious bloggers to be ‘attacks against’ rather than ‘inquiries into’ faith-based claims. Because of this, faith of the religious kind naturally evolves into a garrison mentality because it is built on something that is need of constant shoring up of whatever cherry-picked defenses can be used. Consistency and accountability are dislocated from faith and this is necessary for the faith to survive. That is why at its root religious faith-based beliefs have no capability to be engage in honest dialogue by its supporters when it comes to inquiring into the faith-based beliefs of individuals; the beliefs can only be maintained by a willingness to first be intellectually dishonest, to reject the honest “I don’t know” and substitute the dishonest faith claim as if it were likely true, likely probably, likely correct, likely accurate… without any substantive reasons based in reality to tip the balance to that likely possibility. This is the intellectual dishonesty in practice.

To change gears for a moment (but I shall return to the entrenched loyalty to intellectual dishonesty by faith-based believers), let me now turn to issues of personal expressions carried out in professional settings and why this is a confused problem that isn’t going to go away any time soon.

Like I explained in my comment to Wintery Knight, let’s take a moment to consider police officer Bob empowered to enforce the law. Do any of us really want Officer Bob to use the professional powers of his office to promote his personal beliefs? I don’t think so; I think it is entirely reasonable to expect Officer Bob to act professionally while discharging his duties and obligations to enforce the law. While acting as that professional he will be subject to the code of conduct and ethical requirements demanded by that profession… and we should expect no less. But if Officer Bob decides to step beyond this line established by his professional obligations  and under which he is empowered to discharge his duties while acting in his professional capacities then he is open to professional censure. This is not unreasonable for Officer Bob any more than it is for a pharmacist or fire fighter or judge or soldier or doctor or teacher or any other profession who oversteps their professional boundaries into the private.

When a judge decides to use the court bench to favour personal beliefs (like the new appointee to Chief Justice of South Africa’s Supreme Court, who has a long and misogynistic history of doing just that) that are contrary to one’s professional obligations of impartiality (justice through the courts is supposed to be blind), then professional censure is only proper. When a teacher enters into a personal relationship with a student, then the professional boundary has been crossed and censure is only proper. When a doctor uses his professional standing to promote theological treatment (or non treatment for theological rather than medical reasons) at that medical office or hospital or clinic, then censure is only proper. It is the crossing of the line between what is professional while acting in that professional capacity and what is personal in a personal setting that should be acted upon. That is where the infraction has taken place and is need of professional censure.

I have found that many people become rather confused about what is being censured and seem to have great difficulty understanding that the personal aspect itself is not (necessarily) at issue. Quite often the personal aspect that has motivated the crossing of the line is religious, so the issue of non professional behaviour becomes distorted into a faux criticism of some personal religious behaviour… as if the stand alone behaviour under censure was about religion. This causes a lot of unnecessary confusion about what the problem actually is: crossing the professional/personal line and why that crossing requires professional censure when done in a professional setting; instead we have opinions like those expressed in Wintery Knight that mistakenly confuses the issue to be one of religious expression under attack by the secular state.That’s why I commented, to clarify this issue.

Now we return to the inherent intellectual dishonesty of supporting faith-based beliefs: because my comment was deleted there as well as at sites of other religious defenders who seem hell-bent on pretending their faith is under attack from the godless whenever religious behaviour is censured, I think they are misrepresenting the issue intentionally. Someone pushes the delete button. The issue of non professional behaviour in a professional setting is intentionally and dishonestly presented by these button pushers as the state arbitrarily trying to censure the religious… as if government agents are attempting to turn professionals into – gasp! – atheists. This is not only dishonest and intentionally so but downright ludicrous in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. And defending this garrison mentality over religious expression takes away from this issue that is causing so much confusion elsewhere.

Government is far too often brimming with those willing and able to abuse their public offices to promote tolerance and respect and accommodation for religious behaviour in secular settings, and are rewarded with political gain for their supposed sensitivity and politically correctness for doing so.  Many in government and its bureaucracy are also are quite confused about this issue; they not only start inserting allowances for accommodating personal preferences in professional settings that are professionally inappropriate, but attempt to legislate this confusion into quasi-judicial kangaroo courts under the banner of human rights commissions and tribunals to enforce it and financially punish anyone daring to criticize this state-sponsored abuse publicly.

But governments are not alone in this abuse: professional oversight bodies themselves confuse where the professional obligations end and the personal expression begins, insisting that certain professionals must live under its codes of conduct and ethics all the time… even into their private lives and hold an individual’s professional recognition hostage to this end.

As you can see, the confusion is endemic and it is not clarified when religious defenders attempt to co-opt what is an important issue desperate for public exposure, debate, and change to be corralled into serving only in religion’s defense. The removal of this confusion is in defense of all, for all, by all.

September 20, 2011

What is the role of science (and supporters of science) in politics and how is the media failing us?

Filed under: accommodation,Politics,Science — tildeb @ 9:49 am

There is all kinds of stupid being peddled in political debates masquerading as scientific debate. From Rick Santorum’s idiocy to Sarah Palin’s creeping creationism, from Perry’s prayer day to Bachman’s anti- stem cell ignorance,  science is under attack by Republican ignoramuses who represent leadership for great swaths of truly ignorant people – people who believe that a good dose of faith-based belief has equal footing with knowledge, supported by the confused who think accommodating the two incompatible methods of inquiry somehow promotes respect for science. That’s delusional.

Paul Nurse, who shared the Nobel prize for medicine in 2001, is president of the Royal Society and past president of Rockefeller University, New York, wades into the fray with this article warning us of this anti-science agenda by politicians. He writes,

One problem is treating scientific discussion as if it were political debate. When some politicians try to sway public opinion, they employ the tricks of the debating chamber: cherry-picking data, ignoring the consensus opinions of experts, adept use of a sneer or a misplaced comparison, reliance on the power of rhetoric rather than argument. They can often get away with this because the media rely too much on confrontational debate in place of reasoned discussion. It is essential, in public issues, to separate science from politics and ideology. Get the science right first, then discuss the political implications.

We need to emphasise why the scientific process is such a reliable generator of knowledgewith its respect for evidence, for scepticism, for consistency of approach, for the constant testing of ideas. Everyone should know and understand why the processes that lead to astronomy are more reliable than those that lead to astrology. We need to be vigilant about what is being said in the public arena. We need to be vigilant about what politicians are publicising about science and take them on when necessary. At elections, scientists should ensure that science is on the agenda and nonsense is exposed. If that nonsense is extreme enough then the response should be very public.

His conclusion is a rather sobering and important counter point to those people – scientists and non scientists alike – in the accommodationst (NOMA) camp:

It is time to reject political movements that reject science and take us back into the dark rather than forward into a more enlightened future.

I don’t think Nurse goes nearly far enough to simply reject the political movements that support ignorance in the name of faith-based beliefs; I think we need sustained criticism for anyone who pretends that there is some way to accommodate science and contrary faith-based beliefs in whatever form and wherever they appear. We need to hammer home the point that supporting those who refuse to respect the methodology of science on behalf of some faith-based belief does not attract scientific allies. It undermines respect for the method of science itself and has the effect of mitigating its contrary conclusions in the service of ignorance.

Accommodationism, plain and simple, IS anti-science.

September 10, 2011

What are the boundaries of religion?

Religions recognize no boundaries. There exists no issue in human affairs about which the religious think their faith should have no determining say.

This is the problem the evangelical faith-is-a-gift always brings to us all: a willingness to insert some tyrannical element of their faith into any and all human affairs regardless of the topic. This is why faith – built on the foundation of its own colossal arrogance that what is true in reality is arbitrated by faith rather than reality  – attempts to determine pious science, determine pious justice, determine pious rights and pious freedoms, determine pious morality, determine the very nature of the universe and everything within it. Not even satisfied by this boundary of the natural universe, the religious think themselves justified to define what lies beyond the natural – from ghosts and goblins and spirits to angels and devils and demons… right up to the Big Oogity Boogity Himself (BOBH): god. Suspending physical laws and inserting miracles galore as if they were true into the natural world is child’s play to the mind that has suspended all boundaries under which all of us do live – in the name of promoting this faith over that one –  for even reality itself is no boundary worthy of recognition by the faithful.

The gift that is faith is taken to be an open invitation to impose these beliefs by hook or by crook wherever and whenever possible – and any inconvenience to the rest of us busy dealing with reality by these enthusiastic and earnest and nice faith-heads is excused (by the faithful, of course) as simply a necessary burden (and the root cause of persecution should the response be anything less than nice… meaning having their offered tyranny denied). It’s hard work being the messenger, you see, self-aggrandized as having been selected – called into service! – by no less than the Big Oogity Boogity Himself (BOBH) to deliver the important Good News.

And this mission (and here) would be so much more effective if only the state would help impose this tyranny.

That’s why this warped thinking – that religion has a place in the public domain supported by the state – is a problem that will never, ever, fade away as long as there is a public domain that needs to be conquered, no matter how accommodating and forgiving and tolerant the average citizen may be of this arrogant and militant faith-inspired attack against our secular public domain. Always, and forever, the religious – armed by pious faith that their gift is necessary to the welfare of all, owned as we all are by BOBH who ‘gave’ us our lives – will push and push and push and push… never to take ‘NO!’ as an answer without disappointing the boss man himself, BOBH. It is for this reason, this recognition that faith drives this everlasting, never-ending, eternal conflict between the secular and the religious – sought out and initiated by jack-booted faitheists bent on dominion over the public domain through the abuse of state power – that the only rational response from those willing to support the separation of church and state in defense of freedom from this particular religion as well as that one requires a dedicated and determined push-back by those citizens – religious or not – who understand the need for a boundary between the two in law.

Whether we like it or not, all of us are involved – and are participants even if we do nothing and care even less  – in this battle. The choice is clear: we must either protect ourselves by supporting secular law to set the boundary that religions will never set for themselves or we fail to do our duty to the nation.  We lose, we capitulate, to religious faith gaining control of the public domain. There is no middle ground. The sooner the majority of us appreciate this fundamental truth and protect and support the role of secular law to separate our rights and freedoms and dignities from the authoritarian and dictatorial rule of the religious overlords, the sooner religious belief can be defeated from conquering this, our public domain, our public institutions, our public offices and public policies. Government of the public domain by those who insist we all bow down to their particular god’s authority is not governance of the people, by the people, for the people. It is tyranny in a clerical collar, dressed in an imam’s robes, topped by a turban, surrounded by the submission of the burka, and the defeat of its authority is a defeat that is worthy of our efforts, worthy of defending against all enemies, foreign and domestic who try to undermine our secular liberal democracies.

Our secular law is all that stands between us as free citizens and as subjects to what god’s secret-ballot representatives believe is what god wants… these arrogant pious self-appointed agents who just so happen to have privileged access – revealed to them because they were called to witness – to the wishes and desires and intentions of the Big Oogity Boogity Himself. Furthermore, we are told in so many ways that we really should obey the BOBH’s agent and alter our secular law to further his/her/its wishes in some human affair. It’s so palpably ludicrous a basis for political action that such charlatans and rogues and hucksters should be laughed out of the business of influencing governance. But we the public don’t do that because too often those villains are us, our neighbours and our friends, our families, and it would be disrespectful to the BOGH and those who believe in him/her/it… so let’s add insult to injury to the Enlightenment’s values that have led to the greatest emancipation from tyranny in world history and the primacy of reason in the public domain on which is has been founded and sacrifice these value and principles altogether to prove the depth of our gullibility faith to our various imaginary sky-fathers. In the meantime, we grant this faitheist insanity legitimacy by allowing the vatican statehood  and its child raping apologist agents as if they were diplomats, donate time and money to the campaigns of religious kow-towing anti-science Republican leadership hopefuls, re-direct public funds away from public educational boards to favour the parents’ religious biases to be indoctrinated into their children’s lives without their informed consent, assign parliamentary seats and parliamentary committee chairs to church officials who never have to face any electorate over which they exercise power, grant to ‘community’ spokesmen places on advisory councils, give platforms to religious representatives on international to local committees to examine and make recommendations on public policies. Ludicrous exemptions and special privileges for the self-deluded to feel special through faith rather than merit.

The latest effrontery, and the main reason for this post,  is to allow a faith-based directive to be give a place as  a proposition vote on the upcoming Mississippi ballot to change the law and constitute personhood  to begin at the point of conception. This vote – if the anti-choice religious fanatics are successful in fooling the majority of the voting population to go along with their lexicographical fraud (for by no stretch of the imagination is a zygote a person) – will have a profound and dramatic impact on the legal status of any woman as a fully franchised citizen under the law; she will become co-owners of her body with the introduction of a zygote – an incubator by law – and many will support this notion, believing as they do that the BOBH wants the law to be this way for everybody to align with their standard christian misogyny rather than support access to abortion as the medical service it is in reality that puts a boundary directly between that imposed faith-based  misogyny and the rights and freedoms and dignity of each fully adult, fully developed, fully human woman. Don’t believe me? Look to countries that have failed to maintain that boundary and see what such tyranny looks like in action.

All of us need to step up to the secular plate and get loud, get strident, get insistent that the boundary no religion will respect will be imposed out of necessity by secular law and enforced by the secular state, and that our active political support to  maintain that boundary will translate into making those who wish to insert religion into the public domain a burden and fatal liability for politicians to get elected. It is high time that citizens – believers, agnostics, and non believers alike –  grew up. It time they grew a pair and insisted that religion in the public domain – regardless how favourable to one’s own beliefs it may be – is out of bounds now, tomorrow, and forever. There is no longer any excuse under the sun except a willingness to support religious tyranny for anyone except an enemy of the secular state, an enemy of personal rights, personal freedoms, and personal dignity, to fight the establishment of that firm secular boundary.

This far, but no farther.

Now get loud about it.

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