Meet the world’s most influential witchdoctor

18 03 2009

From The Guardian:

The Pope today reignited the controversy over the Catholic church’s stance on condom use as he made his first trip to Africa.

The pontiff said condoms were not the answer to the continent’s fight against HIV and Aids and could make the problem worse.

Benedict XVI made his comments as he flew to Cameroon for the first leg of a six-day trip that will also see him travelling to Angola.

The timing of his remarks outraged health agencies trying to halt the spread of HIV and Aids in sub-Saharan Africa, where an estimated 22 million people are infected.

The Roman Catholic church encourages sexual abstinence and fidelity to prevent the disease from spreading, but it is a policy that has divided some clergy working with Aids patients.

The pontiff, speaking to journalists on his flight, said the condition was “a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems”.

Rebecca Hodes, of the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa, said that if the Pope was serious about preventing new HIV infections he would focus on promoting wider access to condoms and spreading information about how best to use them.

Hodes, the director of policy, communication and research for the campaign group, added: “Instead, his opposition to condoms conveys that religious dogma is more important to him than the lives of Africans.”

Millions of lives are at stake owing to the sad fact that this man’s ill-informed and anti-scientific utterances are taken seriously. (That, compounded with the—hopefully diminishing—human desire to flush one’s brain down the toilet, ignore reality and prostrate oneself before dogma and self-appointed authority.)





Funny quote of the day

18 03 2009

From a Pharyngula comment thread on endeavours by well-wishers to free Kent Hovind (sung to the tune of “Free Nelson Mandela”):

Dr. Kent Hovind’s oppressors have to decide whether they want to live in fear or learn to live in love. If you don’t agree with this I question your commitment to Sparkle Motion.

Gold.





Sunday reading: Epiphenom on the link between religion and homophobia

8 03 2009

What’s the connection between religion and homophobia?

You don’t need me to tell you that religious people are more likely to be homophobic. But what you might not have thought too hard about is why that should be. Is it that religion makes people homophobic, or is it simply that religion attracts people who are conservative and/or authoritarian – people who also tend to be homophobic? Then again, ‘religion’ is a pretty broad church. Is all religion linked to homophobia, or is it just specific types?

And what about racism? Are religious people more likely to be rascist? And if not, why not? This is an important question because religion acts to strengthen group cohesion, and it also comes with a lot of moral rules. Either of these could explain the link to homophobia. But most religions tend to be at least overtly anti-racist. So if religious people are more racist, this is probably because the ‘group cohesion’ effect overrides the ‘moral censure’ effect.

Sometimes it seems like you wait years for big studies to come along tackling these issues, and then two come along at once! Putting both of them together starts to put some really interesting meat on the bones of this very fundamental question (with the caveat that, like most research in religion, these studies were done in the USA/Canada)

More here.





Quote of the week: Jerry Coyne on the incompatibility of science and religion

4 03 2009

Jerry Coyne, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, reviews two books by theistic evolutionists in The New Republic:

It would appear, then, that one cannot be coherently religious and scientific at the same time. That alleged synthesis requires that with one part of your brain you accept only those things that are tested and supported by agreed-upon evidence, logic, and reason, while with the other part of your brain you accept things that are unsupportable or even falsified. In other words, the price of philosophical harmony is cognitive dissonance. Accepting both science and conventional faith leaves you with a double standard: rational on the origin of blood clotting, irrational on the Resurrection; rational on dinosaurs, irrational on virgin births. Without good cause, Giberson and Miller pick and choose what they believe. At least the young-earth creationists are consistent, for they embrace supernatural causation across the board. With his usual flair, the physicist Richard Feynman characterized this difference: “Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” With religion, there is just no way to know if you are fooling yourself. Read the rest of this entry »





Great Moments in the History of “Christian Love” (TM): How Religious Fascism Poisoned Little Axe

28 02 2009

A recent episode of Ed Brayton’s Declaring Independence podcast (Feb 5th 2009) featured an interview with Joann Bell, one of the plaintiffs in a 1980s suit against the school district of Little Axe, Oklahoma. In 1981, the town’s elementary school was allowing a “voluntary” teacher-sponsored student prayer group called the Son Shine Club to operate on school grounds before classes began. The school buses used to drop students off in front of the school 30 minutes before classes began, and since school rules dictated that no student was allowed inside the building without permission before the first class, students had to choose between standing outside in the rain or cold, and joining the prayer meeting inside the school. Eventually, peer-pressure forced more students to attend Son Shine Club meetings, which would sometimes run over into the first class.

Bell, who belonged to a different denomination than the Baptist Son Shine Club, brought up the issue with the school board, where she was told to take it up with the ACLU. When she along with other parents brought a lawsuit against the school district (which the plaintiffs won on appeal), that’s when all hell broke loose: including death threats, assaults on herself and her children, and eventually the firebombing of her family home, forcing the family to move away from the town.

More details are available at Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, where we also learn the school superintendent’s response to his community’s loving Christian treatment of the plaintiffs: “The only people who have been hurt by this thing are the Bells and McCords. The school goes on. They chose to create their own hell on earth.”





The Bill Muehlenberg Trophy: Garret Oden’s Burgess Shale of ignorance

18 02 2009
Lately I’ve been weighing in to a debate on Matt’s Notepad between the eponymous Matt and one Garret Oden, regarding the latter’s “A couple reasons [sic] to believe that God DOES exist.” Pointing out the manifold factual errors and logical fallacies in Oden’s list of arguments for theism, a plurality of which are based on the assumption that arguments against evolution are arguments for the existence of God, would (if you’ll pardon the expression) try the patience of a saint; you may do so at your leisure. His waterboarding of reasoned argument is replicated in his exchanges with Matt and myself, such that it is difficult to determine whether or not Oden is a Poe. A glance at his website makes it all the more tempting to draw that conclusion:

 Source: http://www.fredthespot.com/

 
(Source: Fred the Spot)

[UPDATE: BTW, Fred the Spot "evolves" into a crucifix, complete with Biblical texts so grovelling and self-abasing that they would make a BDSM sub blush. This guy should be writing Chick Tracts.]

Garret’s name links to the aforementioned website, so it is reasonable to conclude that it is his. Here are a few tasty morsels, both from his own Forever Christian blog and from pages linked to Fred the Spot. Read the rest of this entry »





Things they would have difficulty believing in Salt Lake City XXX

14 02 2009

The week in fundie:

  1. For starters, given that it was Darwin Day only a couple of days ago, here’s the idiot quote of the week from Australian Bishop Tom Frame:

    The problem I face is weariness with science-based dialogue partners like Richard Dawkins. It surprises me he is not chided for his innate scientific conservatism and metaphysical complacency. He won’t take his depiction of Darwinism to logical conclusions. A dedicated Darwinian would welcome imperialism, genocide, mass deportation, ethnic cleansing, eugenics, euthanasia, forced sterilisations and infanticide. Publicly, he advocates none of them. (Brisbane Times)

  2. In Irasburg, Vermont, a public school is being sued by two families after it was claimed that a schoolteacher proselytised in class, bought religious (including creationist) literature with school funds for dissemination in the classroom, and punished students who complained. (Times Argus)
  3. OMGTEHHOMOSEXUALAGENDACONTROLSTELEVISION!!!!!!!!!!!! World Net Daily shrieks hysterically about teh radical homosexual agenda to control your TV sets and convert your children to gay homosexuals. “Note” “their” “over-use” “of” “scare-quotes” “around” “the” “word” “gay,” “as” “if” “gays” “don’t” “really” “exist”—“even” “though” “they’ve” “just” “spent” “the” “whole” “article” “whining” “paranoiacally” “about” “them.” “Morons.”
  4. Meanwhile, in Australia, loving Christians are up in arms at the Victorian Police Commissioner’s plans to march in the Pride Festival. Article writer Peter Stokes, of Christian group Salt Shakers, quotes Peter Stokes, of Christian group Salt Shakers: “The normalisation of homosexuality by these people is a disgrace!” (Christianity Today)
  5. There have been more than 50 murders of suspected “witches” in Papua New Guinea over recent months, according to Times Online. One woman was burnt alive on a pyre of rubber tyres. Another woman escaped death when she began to give birth while hanging from a tree.
  6. In the Indian state of Bihar, eight members of a poor family were shot and beheaded after a family member married a wealthy girl. (UPI)
  7. Also in India, Hindu extremists who recently stormed a bar, dragging out women and beating them, have warned that they will attack anyone they catch celebrating Valentine’s Day. (Telegraph)
  8. Journalist Laurie Lebo takes a look at anti-Darwinism as a “peculiar American institution.” (Religion Dispatches)




A lie for Jesus repeated often enough . . .

13 02 2009

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.” (Exodus 20:16)

There it is. The warrant, Christian apologists would have us believe, for their moral injunction against telling lies. Why is it, then, that these same apologists have become so practised in the weaving of falsehoods and misrepresentations? Why are they so unwilling to follow the very set of ethical prescriptions they would have the rest of us observe, for no more compelling reason than a deity (whose existence is asserted but never demonstrated) compels it? Case in point—Ray Comfort, telling lies about what atheists believe:

Atheists think of themselves as being intelligent. But if you are an atheist, you are saying that you have no belief in a God — a Creator. Creation just happened. Everything you see — all the different breeds of dogs (both male and female), all the different breeds of cats (both male and female), all the different fish in the ocean (both male and female), giraffes, elephants, cattle, sheep, horses, birds, flowers, trees, the sun, the moon, the stars, the four seasons, night and day, the marvels of the human body, the eye with its 137 million light-sensitive cells — all these marvels of creation were made by nothing. They all just happened. That’s atheism at its core. What an intellectual embarrassment!

Comfort, you see, is the epitome of the “loving Christian”, given what “loving” and “Christian” have come to signify in the hands of right-wing fundamentalists like him. He “loves” his enemies (i.e. atheists) so much that he will happily distort evolutionary theory beyond all recognition, travesty-ing evolution as the belief that “everything you see” was “made by nothing,” and then attribute this belief to atheists. He “loves” atheists so much that he will happily accuse us, on no evidence whatsoever, of all manner of atrocious and immoral behaviour simply because we don’t “fear” his deity.

A wise man once said something like, “Most I fear God. Next I fear him who fears Him not.” An atheist will lie to you and steal from you without qualms of conscience because he doesn’t fear God. We have a generation who have given themselves to fornication, lying, theft and blasphemy. We have school shootings, violence, pornography, etc. and what’s the common denominator? They lack the fear of God. Atheistic evolution completely removes God and moral accountability. This is a cancer that destroys a nation from the inside.

These are the words of a “loving Christian”, who sees “nothing wrong with debating, as long as we speak in love and in gentleness.” I see little point in debating with the likes of Comfort, for he debates with his fingers wedged firmly in his ears, content to contend with strawmen.  The degree of vitriolic chauvinism he evinces, in whatever form it takes or has taken historically, certainly does have the capacity to destroy a nation from the inside, and more than once in its history has the United States which Comfort calls home been taken to the brink. Fortunately, there have also been voices of reason and enlightenment who have refused to allow the medievalists and tribalists to hold complete sway. Long may their struggle continue.

Update: watch Joseph Farah fellate Comfort at World Net Daily (warning: you may catch a glimpse of Ann Coulter’s homely mug). HT to Personal Failure, who points and laughs.





Think of the children

18 01 2009

Three girls in Pennsylvania ranging in age from 14 to 15 took nude or semi-nude photographs of themselves with their mobile phones, and sent them to three of their teenaged friends. All six have been brought up on child pornography charges.

In the Pennsylvania case, a school official seized the phone of one of the boys after he was caught using it during school hours in violation of a school rule, according to local police Capt. George Seranko. The official found the picture on the phone, and after some interrogation, discovered that two other girls had also e-mailed photos of themselves in the nude to friends. That’s when the school called police, who obtained search warrants to seize the phones and examine them. Police showed the images to the local district attorney, who recommended they bring charges.Seranko said the images “weren’t just breasts; they showed [gasp] female anatomy.” Read the rest of this entry »





Feel like bashing a disgusting religious apologist?

15 01 2009

Have a crack at Madeleine Bunting, who not only completely misses the point of the atheist ad campaign on London’s buses, but in the same breath manages to be excruciatingly patronising about religious working poor (but we’ll get to that).

At first I thought it just plain daft; why waste £150,000 putting a slogan on hundreds of London buses: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” It managed to combine so many dotty assumptions – belief in God as a source of worry or as a denial of enjoyment – that I couldn’t see who it was supposed to convince. Besides, how can “probably” change someone’s mind?

What is the point of the campaign, by the way? Let’s take a look at the FAQ section of the campaign’s official website, which is more than Bunting bothered to do:

The campaign began when comedy writer Ariane Sherine saw an advert on a London bus featuring the Bible quote, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find Faith on this Earth?” [sic]. A website URL ran underneath the quote, and when Sherine visited the site she learned that, as a non-believer, she would be “condemned to everlasting separation from God and then spend all eternity in torment in hell”.

Incidentally, some Christians in the UK have complained to the Advertising Standards Authority that the ad—which reads “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”—is “offensive” (while, presumably, ads condemning non-believers to eternal torment and hellfire are not offensive).

Anyway, Bunting continues:

Then I thought about how it might look through the eyes of some of the people who travel on the buses I use from Hackney. The ones who look exhausted returning from a night shift of cleaning. Often they have a well-thumbed Bible or prayer book to read on their journey. And along comes a bus emblazoned with that advert. A slogan redolent of the kind of triumphal atheism only possible when you have had the educational opportunities, privileges and material security of the British middle class. The faith of this person is what sustains their sense of hope and, even more importantly, their sense of dignity when they are confronted every day by the adverts of affluence that mock them as “losers”, as failed consumers. Ouch, I winced that we can be so blindly self-indulgent to this elitist patronising.

Yes, Bunting: how can you be so elitist and patronising—not to mention positively Straussian? Suggesting that while we middle-class types can afford the luxury of our non-belief, the poor benighted plebs with whom you are forced to share a bus, and into whose psychology you claim profound insight in spite of such a fleeting acquaintance, need a faith to cling to. And who do those mean and nasty atheists think they are, with their mean and nasty bus slogans, making her fellow passengers, whose inner life Bunting purports to know intimately, feel bad about themselves? Perish the thought that the atheist bus campaign might be directed at these passengers also. No, no, says Bunting: they haven’t the education to cope with that.

Madeleine Bunting is a textbook illustration of the argument that religious moderates give cover to religious fanatics. Not in the least because, like many other religious moderates, she seems more concerned with demonising non-believers than with combating extremism and fundamentalism. To a moderate like Bunting, secularism, not fundamentalism, is the real Enemy.

Oh, and she doesn’t miss the opportunity to scoff at atheists’ support for Obama:

The irony of course is that the trio of intellectuals roped in to launch the advert, led by Richard Dawkins, are in all likelihood going to be celebrating the presidential inauguration of a passionate Christian, Barack Obama, next week – a man commonly agreed to be one of the most intelligent politicians of our age. But what they might prefer to overlook is that he chose – after an agnostic upbringing with doses of atheism from a distant father – to become a Christian in his 20s. “I felt God’s spirit beckoning me and I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth,” he writes in his book, The Audacity of Hope. You can’t do pick and mix on Obama: he is pretty forthright that Jesus died to redeem his sins.

There is no irony, of course, because simply being an atheist or a secularist does not preclude one from supporting public figures who have strong religious beliefs. (Even when they invite bigots such as Rick Warren to preside over the inauguration.) What matters is whether they advocate policies based on an appeal to reason, evidence and reality . . . and not on the basis of “because my sky-daddy says so.” And on that score, I’ll give Obama himself, c. 2006, the final word:

Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.








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