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 9, 2013

Why is acting on the presumption of Original Sin moral hypocrisy in action?

This is just too good not to pass it on.

To all of those people who are so humble in their faith-based arrogance that they presume all humans are born with a fallen nature in need of salvation, that all are sinners unworthy of god’s love except by grace, who have the meekness and mildness to presume this opinion causes no harm but brings a moral benefit to all, have a listen to how strident, militant, shrill atheists, who make no such assumptions and who hold no patience to such unadulterated bullshit, dismantle its pious overtones to expose it for what it is: moral hypocrisy in action.

(h/t to Tracy Harris and Matt Dillahunty at Atheist Experience #795)

April 1, 2012

What’s the Tennessee ‘Monkey Bill’ and why does it matter?

“I ain’t kin to no damn monkey,” is a stereotypical religious response to the very notion of evolution by natural selection. But this isn’t the main reason for the stalwart position taken against the scientific consensus that we share common ancestry with other primates. The reason is religious.

As Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Society, explains,

The theory of evolution is incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ even as it is in direct conflict with any faithful reading of the Scriptures. (E)volution and Christianity are incompatible.

The explanation of common ancestry is incompatible with any religious belief that tries to suggest that humanity is somehow a special creation of a god… a god that can be ‘known’ because it/he/she has bestowed special gifts and favours and privileges to the human branch of the primate family and is therefore clearly deserving of our obedience to him/her/it… as it has been opaquely revealed in various scriptures (Creationism 1.0). In effect this assumption means that, to the faithful who presume special creation and/or divine intervention for humanity without evidence, we are to assume these different and mutually incompatible scriptures are actually divinely inspired science textbooks… textbooks that fail to adequately explain the overwhelming evidence for natural selection we find throughout reality – a reality that has revealed no compelling evidence to indicate any such divine interference anywhere in the chain of evidence for natural selection.  In spite of soothing words from the science organizations like the NCSE and religious organizations that support the  Clergy Letter Project that if one squints just right there is no compatibility issue between creationism and evolution, the fact is that there is no scientific basis on which hang a creationist hat, meaning that to maintain a belief in some kind of creationism relies not on evidence from reality but a faith-based belief alone. Those who wish to insist that humans have been POOF!ed into existence or that at some point somewhere some divine agency intervened in natural selection fail to appreciate that key word: natural. To be clear, one can sometimes find religion without creationism but you will never find creationism without religion.

Why does this matter?

As Mohler quite rightly points out, accepting the scientific explanation for evolution – a foundation upon which all modern biological sciences are built – causes an exodus of evangelical young people. Although Mohler references these effects on his own preferred religion, the point he raises is also true for any religious tenet built on a divine role in human development for which there is no evidence in support and much against (the latest being genetic evidence that clearly indicates no original human couple like the fictional Adam and Eve – which is explained in simpler language here). As the PEW forum on religion and public life notes,

All but a small number of scientists regard Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection as an established fact. And yet, a substantial majority of Americans, many of whom are deeply religious, reject the notion that life evolved through natural forces alone.

In other words, evolution is a very real threat to this creationist tenet regardless of which religion attempts to maintain it.

What’s a creationist to do but find some way to counter this scientific knowledge… but without any science to back it up?

Enter the Wedge Strategy, designed (pun intended) to “defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural, and political legacies and to replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God“.

Theists have been repeatedly thwarted by the courts in the US from including the creationist tenet in science class. The latest (Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover) directly addressed creationism in its most modern evolution, namely Intelligent Design (Creationism 2.0). The conclusion was clear: ID has no scientific merit so it doesn’t belong in the science classroom.

Oh dear.

Those who thought that perhaps this ongoing battle had finally reached a conclusion were premature; let us now be properly introduced to Creationism 3.0: Academic Freedom! Strengths and Weaknesses! Promote Critical Thinking! This – not scientific evidence – is the next evolution in the Wedge Strategy, brought to us from the Discovery Institute along with a standard petition on how to best promote it without being accused of promoting religion in the public domain.

In 2011, eight states considered bills to include ‘academic freedom’ into the science curriculum, as if this freedom rather than religiously inspired creationism was in some immanent danger of extinction. As Lauri Lebo so eloquently describes – revealing the common language source for all these state bills –

educators may not be prohibited from “helping students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.

Isn’t that grand? What’s so wrong with more critical thinking? What’s wrong is that the problems inherent in evolution – like any science – are trivial in comparison to the robustness of the general explanation. Trivial problems in fully understanding and describing human reproduction is not an invitation to bring Stork Theory into the science class. Somehow this point is missed when it comes to promoting the equally unqualified notion of creationism.

This language of academic freedom helped bring in the Louisiana it’s-okay-to-teach-creationism-in-science-class law (SB 733, LA Science Education Act) and is the template for the Tennessee Monkey Bill – coined accurately to be more  ‘stealth creationism’ by the indomitable Barbara Forrest who works tirelessly to show how this creationist influence remains dedicated to inserting faith-based belief into the science curriculum. This continues now in Tennessee in spite of student complaints and a dedicated campaign supported by 75 Nobel laureates by a Louisiana student Zack Kopplin showing how creationist dogma harms his educational standing for advancement and employment.

Note that as in the Louisiana law, those theories protected under ‘academic freedom’ can include “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning,” tying in very nicely with the stated aims of the Wedge document. This is stealth creationism in action in spite of the ridiculous instructions to future judges contained in the bills that these religious-only, non scientific ‘strengths and weaknesses’ talking points are not “to be construed to promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine.” As the Sensuous Curmudgeon points out, this is comparable to saying

“Hey, Judge: Here’s how to construe this law” to a suicide-bomber’s explosive-laden vest being sewn with a tag saying: “Attention Bomb Squad Coroner: The deceased wearer of this garment should not be construed to be a suicide bomber.”

All of this legal and legislative and advocating aside for the moment, the real effect described by Dr. Paul Gross from this agenda driven religious attack against the cornerstone of the biological sciences is this:

(It) discourages teachers from teaching evolution, or from giving it proper emphasis—if only by signaling that it’s a highly controversial subject. Teachers, understandably, fear controversy and potential attack by parents. Meanwhile, for this and many other reasons, science performance of our children against their overseas peers remains average to poor.

Really? Science education can be affected when so many attack it as ‘just another way of knowing’? And that affect produces poor student achievement results? Who could have possibly predicted this?

So just how poor is scientific literacy? Read it and weep.

This is the real cost all of us pay to keep creationists in business. Belief in creationism – no matter what form it may take – creates no new knowledge, opens up no new avenues of inquiry, produces no practical applications, and advances our understanding of the world we inhabit not one bit. It is a dead end resulting in thwarting, stymieing, and impeding real science, real progress, real technologies, real knowledge advancements. Seeing this pernicious religious effect in real people, who are convinced creationism deserves a passing nod of approval and wider public acceptance as a quaint alternative to contrary hard science, perhaps we can begin to better understand why biologists like Dawkins, Coyne, and PZ Myers spend so much time and effort counter-attacking this particular ignorance called religiously inspired creationism… for there simply is no other root cause for it.

Religious belief empowers creationism and it is religious belief that motivates its promulgation to infect and distort science. Some people will think themselves justified to doubt evolutionary science while accepting other branches like physics and chemistry conveniently forgetting that all are a single methodology. (But what can we expect with such poor scientific literacy?) Choosing to believe the physics of gravity here but not there to suit a religious belief about the aerodynamics of a flying horse for certain self-proclaimed prophets of god is as incoherent as accepting evolutionary biology within the framework of genetics here but not common ancestry there.

These kinds of Monkey Bills in public legislation matter a very great deal to all of us because they represent superstitious nonsense promoted and legalized and inserted under false pretenses in the public domain under the excuse of words that mean nothing more and nothing less that unsupported religious belief in divine POOF!ism. Rather than gain political capital from promoting poisonous religious beliefs imposed on the public domain, these politicians should be penalized by all of us even if some of us choose to remain privately dedicated to belief in creationism. Our future scientific literacy depends on it and all voters share in this current dismal failing grade we have achieved when we allow religious belief to have such a deleterious effect in our educational system. All of us need to smarten up and start complaining much more loudly and boldly whenever faith-based beliefs dare to enter the public square and demand effect.

December 29, 2011

What does sophisticated theology look like in action?

Filed under: Religion,stupidity,theology,tolerance — tildeb @ 10:18 am

The 1,700-year-old Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Jesus’ supposed birthplace, is maintained by three religious denominations:  the Armenian Orthodox Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, and the Franciscan Order of the Catholic church. It is one of the holiest sites in Christianity, is in a bad state of repair, largely because the priests cannot agree on who should pay for its upkeep.

From the BBC Online: Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the site where many Christians believe Jesus’s body was taken after crucifixion, has also seen similar incidents.

“It was a trivial problem that… occurs every year,” Bethlehem police Lt-Col Khaled al-Tamimi told Reuters.

And the money quote:

“No one was arrested because all those involved were men of God,” he said.

October 7, 2011

What’s wrong with a little bit of discrimination in the name of jesus?

A lot, it turns out.

Discriminating on the basis of gender and sexual orientation is illegal in Canada. Yet in spite of this clear law, some think that their personal religious beliefs outweigh the civil rights of others… beliefs supposedly ordained by the sometimes metaphorical/sometimes literal god and the sometimes metaphorical/sometimes literal scripture sometimes dictated/sometimes merely inspired. When the law is enforced to ensure equality under it, the outcry from many in the religious community is that religion (and the right to express it) is what’s under attack by those evil forces of darkness known as secularists. This is a clue for the rest of us: when up becomes down and black becomes white, we know we’re dealing with people who don’t care about what’s true and are comfortable in their hypocrisy. This is especially revealing when the religious embrace their hypocrisy and claim that their right to discriminate is violated by enforced equality-of-rights laws. The ability to appreciate irony in action is obviously lacking in such people.

A recent case in point:

The owner of the Trails End Farmers Market (in London, Ontario, Canada) was presented Saturday with a petition containing the signatures of more than 4,000 people. About 30 protesters arrived at the Market on Dundas Street East shortly after 11AM to personally present Ed Kikkert, who’s owned the market for 28 years, with their petition, asking him to reconsider a decision last month to ban transgendered employees from working at Trails End. Kikkert received the petition and thanked the demonstrators for stopping by, but indicated he was not interested in how many people had signed the document.

He said his petition, with one signature, carried more weight. When asked by one of the demonstrators who signed his petition, Kikkert replied “Jesus Christ.”

Note that the owner has no theological problem working on his sabbath in spite of clear scripture that this is a rather serious no-no. He probably picks up sticks on this day, too. We are left with the kind of intricate moral quandary that bible supposedly clarifies:  does god favour Ed’s father or brothers to stone him to death for these transgressions or should the wider community gather to carry out this enlightened punishment… in the name of jesus who upholds such a law, of course, whose decision should be the only one that matters apparently.

The absurdity of Ed’s hypocrisy in the name of jesus will be dismissed by other religious folk as being unrepresentative of christianity as a whole, that those who criticize the authority of scripture on the basis of such necessary hypocrisy do so only because they are unable or unwilling to appreciate a more sophisticated interpretation of god’s will in the matter (that is to say, unable to respect the correct cherrypicking of bits and pieces of scripture that agrees with a particular believer’s personal morality). But we can see how the claim to a higher authority derived from some personal religious belief like the kind Ed adheres to is in fact an unequivocal expression of a common religious belief that is antithetical to a shared acceptance of democratic and Enlightenment values and the equitable rule of law based on them. We can see that far from bringing people together to create a wider and more caring community so often advertised as religion’s central social contribution, religion just as easily can be used to drive a wedge between people, granting unearned and unjustifiable moral sanctity for some to discriminate against others only on the basis of cherrypicked religious belief.

As usual, we are left shaking our heads at how unreasonable and unfair some people can be while thinking themselves pious in their bigotry. But this kind of religious discrimination will never improve so long as so many of us continue to grant religious belief any kind of moral authority whatsoever in the public domain.

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.

August 13, 2011

Why do we need more gnu atheism?

Sorry for the absence: the reality that is life sometimes intrudes and I find I must sometimes yield. Apologies to all.

I came across this perceptive piece of thinking over at Eric MacDonald’s site, authored by Egbert (7th comment)… a voice of commentary I usually find rich in value (in other words, he usually gets me thinking about something in a clear and coherent way previously unconsidered, which a good thing). In describing why gnu atheism is different from atheism long practiced, and why that difference is so important to maintain, he writes about the commonly hostile responses from so many atheist accommodationists (too often self-portrayed as taking on the burden of ‘parenting’ of us naughty and willful children who misbehave in public) :

I think in one way, we’ve been aiding the rationalization and legitimacy and complacency of religion by dealing with religion philosophically and rationally, which goes back right through our modern history. But the New Atheism has certainly challenged this legitimacy in a more traumatic way, by taking away this respect, and deconstructing religious morality. The backlash from the these uppity New Atheists is for the bad parent to tell us all to stop being so shrill and strident, and go back to the rational and historical discussions. We must be careful not be defined by this draconian parent, we are not bad rioting children, we are not the stereotype given to us by the religious. But we must also not obey, and go back to the complacent respectful ways of old atheism.

I think this is worth serious consideration for all those who attempt to keep to the middle road of lip service to respecting the religious beliefs of others in the public domain – especially agnostics sitting so uncomfortably on the unstable points of the wobbly faith fence called don’t choose, don’t decide, don’t judge, don’t think, (just continue nodding while shrugging and repeating the mantra “It’s possible…” no matter how ludicrous the faith-based assertion may be while pretending the absence of evidence in reality holds no meaningful sway to such a tolerant and open mind as yours… so open in fact that your brains have fallen out unnoticed in the clammering accolades from the faitheists).

I think we need to continue to challenge faith-based beliefs in the public domain and expose them for the frauds of reality they are. I think we have to keep hammering home the importance of respecting reality itself – and not the faith-based beliefs of others – to be the arbiter of what’s true in fact. We need to keep asking “How do you know that to be true?” and make faith-based believers expose their own paucity of good reasons, absence of good evidence, lack of clear thinking, and unsupportable conclusions in the arena of reality we share rather than allow the faithiest defense to shift back into the comfy metaphysical realms from which they find protection against the very reality which is supposedly affected by all sorts of mysterious unnatural forces and agencies. The more we insist on speaking from a common position of a shared reality, the less likely it will become for public figures to espouse faith-based beliefs as a character reference rather than an perverted and cowardly admission of  belief in oogity boogity.

July 21, 2011

What’s wrong with religious belief and why is its exercise so bad for you?

Filed under: abuse,belief,Bias,Catholic Church,child abuse,theology,Vatican — tildeb @ 12:17 pm

What’s wrong is that by granting faith-based beliefs merit we end up warping our thinking to suit its assumptions about what is true, and when put into practice these beliefs often make the believer cause real harm to real people by exercising those beliefs in reality. Hitchens argues religion poisons everything; I argue that exercising faith-based beliefs poisons yourself… it’s bad for you because it interferes with your ability to interact honestly with reality.

So what?

What’s the harm in believing in some set of theological precepts that helps me to feel good about myself, helps me feel connected to some mysterious agency that cares about me, that has a plan with purpose for my life and helps to provide it with meaning? How can this be a bad thing?

Well, theological beliefs undermine our critical faculties by removing any possible constraints offered by reality. Reality is not accepted as the benchmark against which we can compare and contrast and test the beliefs’ truth claims  to determine their truth value. That is why theological beliefs require ‘faith’ in the religious sense of the word, meaning trust and confidence in the truth value of the central tenets of the theology without strong supporting reality-based evidence… a ‘I heard it from a guy who knows this guy who read about this guy who was there…’ kind of witnessing. It supports taking actions in support of faith, trimmed from what’s true in reality, that are in every way indistinguishable from support of delusion. This harms one’s intellectual credibility and integrity.

As weak and tepid that evidence may be to earn trust and confidence for some extraordinary claim about reality – a claim in conflict of the laws that govern reality as we know it to be – we must embrace the theology’s truth claims as if they were true first in order for us to enter the sacred domain where the really powerful evidence for the truth of the claims exists.

This is the same path to gullibility that provides con artists a means to make a living: don’t trust reality nor use it as an arbiter of what’s true… trust first how the con makes you feel.

So. What does it matter if a few billion people reduce and minimize the evidence provided by reality and first maintain a set of faith-based precepts that are in conflict with what we know about it?

A lot, it turns out.

For example, let’s first assume the catholic version of christianity is true. Let’s assume that the vatican’s leadership absorbs revelations from its god for enlightening its moral leadership in the world community. Let’s trust these assumptions as true for a moment first and see where it leads in the case of caring for Irish children.

We are naturally shocked – Shocked!, I tell you – that a great deal of sexual abuse took place involving tens of thousands of children under the watchful eye of catholic clergy charged with their care. We are shocked – Shocked!, I tell you – that the local church leadership in Ireland failed at every step to put the safety and welfare of children in their direct care ahead of protecting the reputation of the church when all kinds of abuses took place. We are shocked – Shocked!, I tell you – to find out that they put the interests of the church first and did so under specific direction of the vatican leadership over many, many decades. We are shocked – Shocked!, I tell you – that for many, many decades abusers were protected and that the increasing numbers of victims over many, many decades were blamed for their own abuse including rape. Of children. By clergy. And we are further shocked – but not so much in this case – to find out that sometimes even those in positions of public trust within various secular authorities – both in government and law enforcement – helped the church cover up the misdeeds of its agents, assuming first that such widespread abuse had to be the work of ‘a few bad apples’, the exception of rare abuse, a temporary and unfortunate set of misdeeds by some of those church agents too easily swayed by the secular times and secular expectations of behaviour. But public officials in government and law enforcement are not in the business of being agents representing god’s vicar on earth as are the catholic clergy; their job is to make and enforce secular law. And raping children – even in Ireland – just so happens to be against the secular law.

In spite of previous investigations and settled law suits and orders to make changes and agreements how to implement these changes, there remains a problem of catholic compliance. I wrote about it here. And, yet again, we find the vatican interfering to first protect its reputation.

So.

Another report was commissioned by the government called the Cloyne report.  In its finding we are shocked – Shocked!, I tell you – to hear the author of the report tell us that ““words are not enough nor is condemnation sufficient” to describe what has been allowed to continue to happen. But how can this be?

Of news to no one is the idea that systemic child abuse within any organization is morally wrong. That such abuse is allowed to continue in order to protect that organization’s reputation – a reputation clearly contrary to what is practiced in reality – is morally wrong. That no one who has ordered this skewed protection (not only in Ireland but around the world) is held accountable and culpable is morally wrong.

How do we know?

Well, if we lifted this entire mess out of the workings of the catholic church and its Irish and placed it, let’s say, in the public school system of a secular country, the vatican and catholic supporters would be clamoring to be first in line to condemn this abuse of secular power. (Secularism, after all, is assumed by most religious believers first to be a bad thing because it is not beholden and submissive to some theologically acceptable doctrine.) But when the abuse occurs under an organization that claims moral leadership by the assumption that it is in such a privileged position because of the truth of its theological claims, then we have a never-ending stream of inadequate excuses and apologies and promises to do better later. I am not aware of god serving a summation to those charged with crimes for a specific and public court date. That’s why the abuse has gone on for as long as it has; no one is accountable for their criminal behaviour except under legal decisions of secular law.

In total, then, what we see in practice is a moral capitulation by all those who continue to support the catholic church from its rightful responsibilities in order to protect its ‘reputation’ as an assumed  moral authority. Evidence from reality contrary to the truth value of the assumption doesn’t matter, you see. Belief is not beholden nor constrained nor restrained by what’s true in reality. And left in this belief’s wake in Ireland is tens of thousands of abused children with an unknown number yet to be sacrificed on the alter of the church’s reputation as a moral authority. For as long as the church is assumed first to be a moral authority as a matter of faith-based belief, then no evidence gathered from reality contrary to that belief will matter. And that belief – in action – causes ripe conditions for ongoing abuse that produces real victims of real people.

Whether the specific faith-based belief justifies this act or that, what we see are the symptoms. It can be argued that some faith-based symptoms are benign – like charity and aid and community work – while others are malignant – like misogyny and bigotry and abuse. What I am suggesting is that we have a faith-based problem: that reality and not belief must be granted primacy in arbitrating any truth claims. To grant theology the right to establish assumption and assertion and wishful thinking as equivalent in truth value without any outside checks and balances is to invite the conditions pregnant for abuse.

What is the vatican’s response to this report? I’m almost, but not quite, shocked – not quite Shocked!, I tell you – to find that they disagree:

Fr Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, denied that a letter sent by the former Papal Nuncio to Irish bishops encouraged them to cover up abuse allegations. (He said that) harsh criticisms of the Vatican following the report were “curious”, claiming they “demonstrate little awareness of what the Holy See has actually done over the years to help effectively address the problem.”

And how did they help effectively address the problem of clergy raping children and avoiding prosecution? I’m sure it had nothing whatsoever to doing with failing report cases of abuse to the civil authorities as required under Irish law, failing to put a system of support for victims in place after promising to do so, failing to appoint an independent advisory panel after agreeing to do so, and failing to properly record cases of sex abuse (we wouldn’t want to help any secular investigators, now would we?). See how the lack of awareness is on the part of secular authorities? The proof – exempt from reality as usual – is how the Holy See says it is doing everything it can to be as helpful while not doing whatever it can to be as unhelpful as possible.

When you are not beholden to reality to be arbiter of what is true, you are free to just make shit up and pretend it’s true. That’s what’s wrong with theology in that there is no way to tell in theory if it’s just made-up shit. And it’s bad for you because the inevitable result is behaviours justified within the context of the made-up shit that act contrary to what they pretend they are supporting. That’s why misogyny is presented as respect for women, bigotry against gays as loving the sinner but hating the sin (as if the two were separate entities), cruelty in law to honour god’s concern for us, and so on. Up means down, white means black, catholicism means moral.

July 10, 2011

How does theology work?

Filed under: Humour,theology — tildeb @ 11:41 am

One of my favourite cartoons.

July 6, 2011

Does creation ‘science’ disprove biblical creationism?

The short answer is Yes.

The long answer can be found in two papers, here and here.

Creation ‘science’ (an oxymoron if there ever was one) posits that animals fall into types, or baramins, which were created independently, but have diversified since. I’m sure you are aware of the creationist campaign to allow for microevolution but not macroevolution. Obtuse reasoning, but there you have it. Baramin is a word used to describe a kind of critter, say a cat to which all members of the cat ‘family’ (like lions and tigers) belong. The argument is that Noah’s ark brought on board not all animals we see today but only the essential kinds necessary to repopulate the world after the love of god was expressed by a murderously cleansing flood. Morphological gaps in the fossil record are used as ‘evidence’ for distinct baramins that could only have come about by a designing creator.

I know, but bear with me.

Dr Senter’s first paper – described in this BBC Nature Wonder Monkey article by editor Matt Walker – points the obvious, that if the fossil record for dinosaurs:

do show transitional forms, and are in fact genetically related to each other, then creationists are in a bit of a bind. Either they must accept that to be true, and therefore contradict their own position that these groups appeared without evolution. Or they must throw out the assertion, but also reject their own methodology, which they have used to validate their creationist claims. Dr Senter’s 2010 study, did of course, show that coelurosaurian dinosaurs are related, in particular that tyrannosaurs (to which T. rex belongs) form a continuous group with other dinosaurs belonging to a group called the Compsognathidae.

In the second and latest study, Senter looks at another creationist science method called taxon correlation, which is also a baraminological technique, and shows enough morphological continuity between dinosaurs to prove, by creationist standards, that dinosaurs are genetically related.

So what?

Well, it shows that dinosaurs can be grouped into eight kinds, or baramins, which would seem to make creationists happy. Eight kinds of dinosaurs are easier to load on to an ark than, say dozens of the huge monstrosities or thousands of smaller ones. So far, so good in the creationist camp. Ain’t life grand?

But hold on a second! This raises a rather sticky problem, namely, that:

in just a few thousand years, each “kind” of dinosaur begat the huge variation in fossils we see today.

In other words, incredibly rapid microevolution leading to macroevolution.

Bugger.

Heads, evolution wins. Tails, creation science loses.

Are we really surprised? Of course not… not if one honestly and with an open mind takes the time to understand why so many branches of science concludes that evolution is true. The evidence painstakingly gathered from every strand of inquiry except theology (again showing why theology is not an inquiry at all but a position of trust in certain assumptions) is mutually supportive and overwhelming. It takes a very firm belief to counter what is true in reality with what is simply believed to be true about it, and this is what theology does: it tries to convince people that reality and causal evidence should be no constraint to a good belief.

(h/t to MUR)

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