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.





If it’s Tuesday, it must be schadenfreude

6 01 2009

. . . or perhaps just your garden-variety pwnage. Quadrant editor and right-wing culture-warrior Keith Windschuttle has Sokal on his face.

Via Larvatus Prodeo





Another apologist flushes his brains down the toilet wrt to ethical reasoning . . . and counsels the rest of us to do likewise

22 12 2008

Prepare to stifle a yawn as yet another Christian apologist deludes himself that he is saying something insightful about atheism and morality:

. . . while we can certainly agree with Harris that we can know objective moral truths “without reference to scripture,” we are left wondering how human value and dignity could emerge given naturalism’s valueless, mindless, materialist origins. If, on the other hand, humans are made in the divine image and are morally constituted to reflect God in certain ways, then atheists as well as theists can recognize objective right and wrong and human dignity-without the assistance of special revelation (Rom. 2:14-15). But the atheist is still left without a proper metaphysical context for affirming such moral dignity and responsibility. And despite Harris’s claims, naturalism seems to be morally pretentious in claiming the moral high ground, though without any metaphysical basis for doing so. No, biblical theism, with its emphasis on God’s creating humans in his image, is our best hope for grounding objective moral values and human dignity and worth. (Via Richard Dawkins)

What makes biblical theism—which basically boils down to “right and wrong are what God judges to be right and wrong”—a proper metaphysical basis for morality? All the apologist is doing is allowing his holy book to do his thinking for him. Far from accepting responsibility for his views on morality, he simply passes the buck upstairs. “Don’t ask me, man. I’m just following orders.”

You want to be taken seriously when you claim the moral high ground over the unbelievers? You’re going to have to ask, and make more than a half-assed attempt at addressing, some pretty hard questions about your deity’s ethical philosophy. Let’s take, for instance, the injunction against murder. All we can garner from the Bible is that God thinks that murder is wrong. We don’t know why God thinks murder is wrong. We have no means of subjecting his arguments in support of his position to critical scrutiny because, well, he offers none. Murder is wrong, my dear sheeple, because God says it’s wrong. That is all ye know, and all ye need to know.

I am of course highly dubious about the concept of “objective right and wrong.” There is a difference between simply asserting that these exist—which is a very simple exercise which can be performed by anyone, and has been performed by many—and showing that they exist. Demonstrating that theists and atheists alike can have ideas about objective right and wrong does not solve the problem (and certainly does not constitute evidence that humans are made in the image of a deity, as the apologist presumes): all it demonstrates is that we have certain ideas about morality. That the “hardwiring” of such ideas may have given our ancestors a survival advantage is the subject of fruitful research in psychology and neuroscience, and is certainly more parsimonious an explanation (i.e. for why we have such ideas about morality as opposed to why they may or may not be the correct ideas) than the “Goddidit” argument from ignorance the apologist is serving us.





Things they’d have difficulty believing in Salt Lake City XXIX

27 11 2008

The week in fundie:

  1. The UN General Assembly has adopted a draft resolution calling on governments to ban the “defamation of religion.” (EuropeNews)
  2. The retired Archbishop of Bologna, Cardinal Biffi, revels in the stagnant pool of non-thinking that is conservative Christianity by insisting that Christian teachings do not change with the times. That’s nothing to be proud of, Biffi: it merely serves to demonstrate the irrelevance of your belief system and its wilful disconnection from the real world. (Catholic News Agency)
  3. Islam is the only religion that ensures protection and respectable status to women in society” says an academic in Pakistan. (The News International)
  4. Yoga is banned in Malaysia because “The Islam religion does not find efforts or actions which have no purpose and are done just for the sake of doing something, to be appropriate,” and “A soul returning to the world in another form conflicts with the principles of being punished or rewarded in the afterworld.” Transmigration of the soul? That’s crazy-talk. Post-mortem hellfire and torment for not being a Muslim? Perfectl reasonable. (Sabah)
  5. Morality and ethics, observed an American cleric recently, cannot be divorced from their religious antecedents. Indeed. (ABC News Online)
  6. Morality and ethics, observed an American cleric recently, cannot be divorced from their religious antecedents. Indeed part deux. (Pharyngula)
  7. A loving Catholic blogger lovingly declares: “Was there ever a sub-species of human being as useless as atheists??” (via Fundies Say the Darndest Things)
  8. A loving Baptist pastor lovingly declares that Jews are going to Hell and face—and I quote—“a fate worse than the Holocaust.” (via Fundies Say the Darndest Things)
  9. In India, a teenage boy committed the horrible crime of courting a girl from a lower caste. So of course he justly deserved the punishment of being beaten, paraded through the streets with his head shaved, and then thrown under the wheels of a train. (via Fundies Say the Darndest Things)
  10. The anti-vac movement has a following in the Islamic world, too. The leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Sudan has issued a fatwa against vaccination, declaring it to be a Jewish/Freemason conspiracy to rule the world. (via Fundies Say the Darndest Things)
  11. In South Africa, a 52-year-old woman was hacked to death with an axe by four men for being a “witch.” (Sowetan)




Too much book-learning makes baby Jesus cry

19 11 2008

In 1378 John Wycliffe first translated the Bible into English . . . and it appears certain rightwing Catholics are rueing the day.

The Rt Rev Patrick O’Donoghue, the Bishop of Lancaster, has claimed that graduates are spreading scepticism and sowing dissent. Instead of following the Church’s teaching they are “hedonistic”, “selfish” and “egocentric”, he said. [. . .] While not naming names, he suggested that such people had been compromised by their education, which he said had a “dark side, due to original sin”.Prominent Catholics in public life include Mark Thompson, the BBC’s director general, and Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister.

Bishop O’Donoghue, who has recently published a report on how to renew Catholicism in Britain, argued that mass education has led to “sickness in the Church and wider society”

In short, too much education is teh evil, because those Catholics who have eaten of this forbidden fruit and have become influential have “corrupted the faith of those who had not gone to university.” And what’s worse,

In the case of education, we can see its distortion through the widespread dissemination of radical scepticism, positivism, utilitarianism and relativism.”Taken together, these intellectual trends have resulted in a fragmented society that marginalizes God, with many people mistakenly thinking they can live happy and productive lives without him.

Just think . . . all this time I’ve been depressed and unproductive because I lack belief in the existence of deities. Ditto, these sad and lazy fools.

But O’Donoghue isn’t the first British Catholic clergyman to attack thinking: earlier this year the highest-ranked Catholic in the land warned that reason leads to terror and oppression. It’s just O’Donoghue is far more abrupt about what is at stake: educated Catholics, their minds poisoned by the “dark side” of their education—“original sin and concupiscence”—leading the sheep astray. Is this the voice of an institution worried about its waning power and influence, and increasing irrelevance? Or is it the voice of an institution that is in so much despair about its ability to defend its theological claims with reasoned argument and evidence, that it simply falls to demonising reason itself and demonising those who, having set foot inside the gates of a university, have developed the capacity to question Catholic dogma (and we can’t have that)?

Perhaps it’s both.








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