Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Why Non-Believers Need to Question the Reliability of Church Leaders

As we already know, religious believers are not likely to be skeptical of what they are told by church leaders. This is part of what sustains religious belief and the church as an organization, and it is part of what makes the church so dangerous. In many cases, the idea that the church leaders know what's going on - that their wisdom is the way to heaven, and should be heeded - is constantly reinforced, albeit subtly, by the church. Bible study and sermons are periods of instruction given by church leaders to the congregation. As the de facto head of the church, they are, as Jesus supposedly was, shepards of their respective flocks. Priests and Pastors (where did that title derive from, I wonder?), we are told, are people that we should go to when we have problems. They are tauted as confessors, counselors and teachers. The are often viewed as the wise men in the community, especially when it comes to religious doctrine. Have a question about religion? It's much more likely that you'll ask your pastor then that you'll try looking it up for yourself. And for many believers, the case is the same with regard to questions about morality, or difficult life issues. This is especially true in the Catholic Church. So when church leaders make a statement, the religious tend to listen, and they act accordingly. This can be dangerous, as not only does it compound the problem with faith - that of not thinking, reasoning and checking - but it can also lead a large group of people to think, speak, act, and vote as they are told to by a small minority of individuals.

The freethinking community needs to deal with this. The attack on faith is certainly a crucial step, but I think another step must be taken first. Before you can attack an individual's reasons (or lack thereof) for believing in something, you have to make sure that they are actually thinking and believing for themselves. If they are following their church leaders, your attack on their faith will be useless.

Think of it another way. I trust (as a result of past evidence) the leaders of the scientific community when it comes to science. I've also done some reading on my own about natural selection and evolution. I've looked at some of the evidence for common descent on my own (I didn't gather it, mind you, but I've looked at it). On the basis of this, I believe that evolutionary theory is true. Now, if you try to attack my reasons for believing evolutionary theory to be correct outright, you won't get very far. Why? Because I still have trust in scientists. I trust that they have gathered their evidence correctly, that they have tested and retested, and that they wouldn't hold evolution to be the basis of biology if they didn't have good reasons. So you might get me so far as to say, "okay, well my readings don't really give me sufficient evidence, but it's still there - the leading scientists have it". In order to get me to question my belief in evolutionary theory, then, you'll first have to put the ball entirely in my court. You'll have to destroy my confidence in the leading scientists of the day. That, of course, would be a difficult task, but it is what would have to be done.

The case is similar with religious belief. An attack on an individual's faith in god or religious doctrines is useless if their belief system is partially supported by an appeal to authority. The difference, of course, is that I have good reasons for trusting the statements of leading scientists, which is something that can not necessarily be said with respect to the believer's trust in religious leaders.

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Surprise! The More Religious the Society, The Higher the Abortion Rate.

Given that many religious ideologies involve the condemnation of comprehensive sex-ed, or something like it, and various birth control methods, this actually isn't surprising at all. If you're really interested in reducing the number of abortions, taking a more liberal attitude toward human sexuality is definitely the way to go. Oh, and if that's the case, then John McCain is not your man.

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Colorado Has Lost It Too

On the heels of Georgia's proposed bill to define personhood as beginning at conception, Colorado now has a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would do the same. And Mike Huckabee has endorsed it.

I don't think it necessary to rehash the idiocy, from a practical standpoint, of legally defining a fertilized egg as a person. What really confuses me is that it seems as though the people of Colorado and Georgia haven't really thought about this - which is certainly something one ought to do before making something the law of the land.

Speaking of the people of Colorado and Georgia making something the law of the land, since when are facts determined by a popular vote? There is a fact of the matter as to whether or not a fertilized embryo is a person. This is something that certainly hasn't been determined. And without significant justification for the claim, which anti-choicers haven't provided (and I suspect can't provide), voting to recognize this "fact" seems both premature and arrogant.

I'm not saying that we can't possibily recognize a fact even when it's not completely settled. What I am saying is that before you can legally recognize a fact, you should have and provide evidence that it is a fact. Anti-choicers have not done this.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Vote Pro-Choice and Sit With Satan

Joe Feuerherd is wondering whether voting for a pro-choice democrat will endanger his immortal soul. I've posted on this issue before, but I think it's important to continue dialogue about it. Feuerherd is pro-life, but takes other issues facing the country to be more important. As a result, he plans on voting for a democrat despite the fact that church leaders (in this case, the Vatican) have said that doing so may result in eternal damnation. Now, I certainly do laud Feuerherd's bravery and integrity. He's willing to risk it, presumably because he thinks that, on this issue, the church is wrong. But how many others will be frightened away from voting their conscience by the warnings of church leaders that if they vote for anyone who supports abortion rights they will have to spend eternity at Satan's place? Can we really expect a large portion of the "flock" to go their own way, under the threat of hellfire? I don't think so. And that's scary. This is one of those points where the organization of religion is more dangerous than religious belief itself (although, it is, of course, sustained by religious belief).

Religious leaders should be ashamed of themselves. Not only is there no real theological or biblical foundation for the idea that abortion is a sin, but even if there were, it is sheer arrogance on their part to assume that they know which issue is more important in any given election. And it is even worse for them to try to frighten people into voting one way rather than another. Religion may be motivated by fear, but that doesn't mean voting should be.

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Abstinence Only Driver's Ed

This is just awesome.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Wiretapping Case

The Supreme Court has refused to hear a case brought by the ACLU about the government's warrantless wiretapping program. When the highest court in the land refuses to hear a case involving issues that are at the heart of our civil liberties... and how we have been gladly handing them over to the Bush administration out of fear, you know things are bad.

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Colorado Rep. Calls Teen Parents "Sluts"

Oh, this is rich. Colorado Rep. Larry Liston made the following statement a a Republican caucus luncheon about teen parents:

In my parents' day and age, they were sent away. They were shunned. They were called what they are ... There's no sense of shame today. Society condones it ... They're sluts. And I don't mean just the women. I mean the men, too.

This is a prime example of the pro-life religious right's real agenda. They say they're all for saving babies. But rather than pushing for measures that would reduce unwanted pregnancies and abortions, they'd rather shun those who find themselves in the unfortunate situation of being unmarried, young, and pregnant.

After all, a culture that denys its youth access to birth control and then shuns girls who get pregnant, brands them whores, sends them away, and destroys their future couldn't possibly prompt pregnant teens to opt for abortion, could it? At the base of this is just an outright hatred of women, and a fear of female sexuality and female empowerment. Rep. Liston wants us to return to the good ol' days when women's sexuality was treated as something that didn't exist, and women were denied power over their bodies, their futures, their lives, by the very cultural mores that he lauds. And, by the way, as far as I know, the men were never branded as sluts in those good ol' days.

Liston later apologized:

The derogatory term I used was offensive and inappropriate and I would like to apologize for using it.

To my mind, though, this is a non-apology. He apologizes for using the term "slut". But it doesn't matter what word he uses; it's the notion behind it that is offensive. I would only be satisfied by an apology that recognized the misogyny in Liston's original statement, and rejected it outright. I won't be holding my breath.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Carlin on Abortion Rights

In a previous post, I mentioned some of the problems with legally defining a zygote as a person, as a bill before the Georgia state legislature proposes. George Carlin hits pretty much each and every point I made... with much better timing.

Warning: He uses explicit language and there are adult themes, so if you're seriously offended by that sort of thing...well, you're missing out.

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To Moderate Christians - Come Out of Hiding!

If only more Christians were of the same mind as John C. Danforth. The episcopal minister and former Missouri Senator has an op-ed piece at the New York Times calling on moderate Christians to speak up against the radical right.

According to Danforth, for moderates

...the only absolute standard of behavior is the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. Repeatedly in the Gospels, we find that the Love Commandment takes precedence when it conflicts with laws. We struggle to follow that commandment as we face the realities of everyday living, and we do not agree that our responsibility to live as Christians can be codified by legislators.

When, on television, we see a person in a persistent vegetative state, one who will never recover, we believe that allowing the natural and merciful end to her ordeal is more loving than imposing government power to keep her hooked up to a feeding tube.

When we see an opportunity to save our neighbors' lives through stem cell research, we believe that it is our duty to pursue that research, and to oppose legislation that would impede us from doing so.

We think that efforts to haul references of God into the public square, into schools and courthouses, are far more apt to divide Americans than to advance faith.

Following a Lord who reached out in compassion to all human beings, we oppose amending the Constitution in a way that would humiliate homosexuals.

For us, living the Love Commandment may be at odds with efforts to encapsulate Christianity in a political agenda. We strongly support the separation of church and state, both because that principle is essential to holding together a diverse country, and because the policies of the state always fall short of the demands of faith.

I'm often told that the arguments of many of the new atheists are fallacious in that they attack a strawman. Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris and their ilk are attacking the radical views of a few wackos, the argument goes, but most religious people don't believe those things. They are moderates.

Now, I have to admit that even when it comes to so-called moderate religion, I'm still troubled, for even the most moderate Christianity involves believe in a personal god for which there is no evidence. And the same goes for more "eastern" or "new age", "spiritual" belief systems, that lack a personal god, but include weird talk of spirits and energies for which there is no evidence. I sincerely believe, however, that if moderates exist, the discourse between such people of faith and unbelievers could be much more civil, and hence much more productive.

The problem is that I can't seem to find them. Sure, I'll encounter someone who refers to himself or herself as "spiritual", which usually amounts to their being an atheist but not wanting to accept the label, or viewing "atheism" as involving commitments which it does not. The religous people I encounter, though, and the religious people that I see in the media, or in online forums, are not moderates. They are fundamentalists. They are people who think that it's an attack on their faith to demand that their belief system not be given special treatment. They are people who think that they know god's will and they have a duty to enforce it on others. I'm coming to realize that there is no reasoning with these people, and that is because, when it comes to anything attached to their religious beliefs, there is no reason there. It is impossible to defeat dogma via reason and evidence. That's what makes it dogma.

So, where are you, moderates? Danforth has come out, and, while I may disagree with some of his beliefs, it seems much more likely that unbelievers and people who have faith in the way that he does would be able to work together. I'm on board with Danforth - the rest of you moderates need to come out of hiding. You need to make your voices heard. You need to come together with your unbelieving and "spiritual" brethren to work against the radicals in this country. Because they aren't stopping. They don't believe you are "true Christians". And if you really are out there, and as numerous as we've heard, then it is really only with your help that we'll be able to stop the crazy fundamentalists. If you don't come out and stand up against the well funded and very powerful religious right, your moderate stance may eventually put you in the position of atheists in this country. And believe me, you don't want that.

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Pharmacists and Plan B

Another idiotic ruling with regard to pharmacists and Plan-B has been handed down. At the core of this dispute is, to my mind, the special treatment given to religion in our society. If a vegetarian got a job at McDonalds and then refused to serve meat products because he believed their consumption to be grossly immoral, do you really think a judge would claim that he has a right to keep his job but not fulfill all the obligations that come along with it? Of course not. I have a personal hatred of guns. It's part of the core of my belief system, but I'm pretty sure that if I started working for Walmart and refused to sell the guns they keep in stock, no judge would say that I should have an exception. But because these pharmacists are objecting on religious grounds, they can get away with not doing their job and denying women much needed services. What a load of BS.

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Georgia Anti-Choicers Have Lost It

A bill is being pushed in the Georgia state legislature by anti-choicers in that state. The bill criminalizes abortion, enshrines in law false statements about the effects of abortion, but also, most shockingly, defines a fetus as a person from the moment of conception.

Now, attempting to criminalize abortion is the full out goal of the anti-choice movement, and it is not shocking that they would attempt to legitimize some of the false claims they make about abortion by having them included in legislation. What's really crazy about this bill is the fact that it makes the bald assertion that personhood begins at conception. I'm seriously wondering how the anti-choice movement in Georgia could have failed to consider the implications of making this actual law.

First off, contrary to the reasoning in Roe, a woman's right to an abortion has nothing to do with personhood status, or lack thereof, of a fetus. The right to an abortion derives from the human right to bodily autonomy. No person can use the body of another without their consent. This is what grounds our right not to be raped, our right not to have our organs forcibly removed from us, and our right not to be used in crazy experiments without our consent. Whether a fetus is a person or not may very well impact the moral status of abortion, but it has no relevance to whether or not a woman has a legal right to an abortion.

So defining a fetus as a person from the moment of conception doesn't impact the reasoning behind the conclusion that a woman has the right to choose. But it seems to me that the Georgia legislators who introduced this bill, and the anti-choicers that are pushing it, haven't thought about the implications separate from the abortion issue that result from defining an embryo as a person. Would every embryo be given a social security number? How would that work? Would parents of this embryo get a child tax credit? Would the presumptive father have to start paying child support right then and there? How are they defining conception? If they mean fertilization, this would seriously impact the question of birth control. A number of methods allow fertilization but prevent implantation. Would use of those methods be murder? It seems like they must be, if these anti-choicers are right. And many of them stand behind this conclusion, holding that birth control is an abortifacent - and hence murder.

Invitro fertilization would also seem to lead to murder, since many fertilized embryos created in the process are never implanted, and are eventually destroyed. Guess that means that barren couples will just have to suffer despite the fact that the science exists that would allow them to have their very own child.

Additionally, a goodly number of fertilized zygotes fail to implant and are flushed out of the body. Are those to be counted as deaths? How will we know when such a death has occurred? Will we have to start mandating monthly pregnancy tests for women? Will we be reduced to checking tampons and maxi-pads for the remains of the dead? If they are really serious about this, then, on pain of inconsistency, it seems as though we would have to go through serious privacy violating measures in order to keep track of all these zygote-persons.

If a woman miscarries, or if a fertilized embryo that failed to implant is flushed out of her system, will we be holding her accountable for the death of this "person" if she, say, exercised too much? Or smoked? Or had a glass of wine or two? Or didn't eat enough? How much jail time should a woman who exercises vigorously be given if we happen to find a zygote on her tampon?

The Georgia anti-choicers apparently haven't thought about all this. But then again, that's not surprising. If anti-choicers thought a bit more about the implications of their views, they probably wouldn't be anti-choice.

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