Category Archives: Religious Insanity

Fuck The Experts

One day during my recent trip to New Mexico, I was driving along in my rental car with a co-worker, who I will call Curtis. We were admiring the landscape when I said something about how what is desert now was once a river flood plain and the city of Albuquerque sits atop millions of years worth of sediment from the Rio Grande. I already knew Curtis was religious, I just didn’t realize he was young earth religious until he went on a bit of a rant:

I don’t think they have the foggiest idea how old the earth is. They claim they do, and they are just as arrogant about that as they are about climate change. How can they tell me what the climate was 10,000 years ago, and predict what it will be 10,000 years from now, when they can’t accurately tell me what the weather will be next week?

There was more, but this is the part I remember well enough to give a near-verbatim quote. The word “they” is doing a lot of work in those few sentences. It starts out referring to geologists in general, then flips to climatologists in general, before landing specifically on Curtis’ local meteorologist. The written quote of this mini-Gish Gallop doesn’t really convey the disdain in Curtis’ voice for all of them.

I am far from a scientist, but I could have provided Curtis some good information about the methodology behind scientific estimates of the earth’s age. Or I could have pointed out how his tired, old argument against climate change conflates climate and weather, but honestly, the older I get the more I feel that life is too short to waste time arguing with Creationists and other magical thinkers. I changed the subject of conversation.

Curtis is an intelligent man. He did not come to his conclusions through ignorance. As with all ideologues, he chose to believe what he believes, therefore questioning his beliefs is tantamount to questioning his judgement, and will only be met with anger and a tighter clinging to those beliefs. Eventually ideology becomes more than an obstacle to the exchange of ideas, it becomes a barrier to objective reality.

Only slightly apropos of that, I purchased an e-copy of a new book by Thomas M. Nichols entitled The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters. Here is Amazon’s blurb about it:

People are now exposed to more information than ever before, provided both by technology and by increasing access to every level of education. These societal gains, however, have also helped fuel a surge in narcissistic and misguided intellectual egalitarianism that has crippled informed debates on any number of issues. Today, everyone knows everything: with only a quick trip through WebMD or Wikipedia, average citizens believe themselves to be on an equal intellectual footing with doctors and diplomats. All voices, even the most ridiculous, demand to be taken with equal seriousness, and any claim to the contrary is dismissed as undemocratic elitism.

As Tom Nichols shows in The Death of Expertise, this rejection of experts has occurred for many reasons, including the openness of the internet, the emergence of a customer satisfaction model in higher education, and the transformation of the news industry into a 24-hour entertainment machine. Paradoxically, the increasingly democratic dissemination of information, rather than producing an educated public, has instead created an army of ill-informed and angry citizens who denounce intellectual achievement.

Nichols has deeper concerns than the current rejection of expertise and learning, noting that when ordinary citizens believe that no one knows more than anyone else, democratic institutions themselves are in danger of falling either to populism or to technocracy-or in the worst case, a combination of both. The Death of Expertise is not only an exploration of a dangerous phenomenon but also a warning about the stability and survival of modern democracy in the Information Age.

That last paragraph sounds remarkably prescient, doesn’t it? If no one respects knowledge and intellectualism any more, we could end up with our government run by a dangerously ignorant, astonishingly arrogant, loudmouth blowhard reality teevee con man. Sounds pretty scary.

I haven’t started the book yet. I’m going to dive into it as soon as I finish the trashy sci-fi paperback I’m currently working on. I’m not feeling optimistic that Nichols will offer any realistic solutions, though. We are way, way down the rabbit hole.

 

More Religion Blaming*

In my last post, I pointed out how Jeb(!) Bush punted when he was asked how to defeat an ideology. Well, I asked myself the same question and I’m afraid I didn’t do much better. How does one defeat an ideology? Since an ideology is merely a set of ideas, one would logically think that defeating an ideology would be as simple as offering up a better ideology, a more useful set of ideas.

But one would be wrong. Especially when it comes to religious ideologies, and the uniquely human ability to believe-with-a-capital-b. Religion is man’s preferred antidote to the futilities of everyday life. Churches sell the dream, the illusion of control, the happy ending. Just follow the rules of some ancient sacred text — as interpreted by your preferred purveyor — and live forever in paradise.

Monotheistic religious ideologies, by definition divisive and exclusionary, have the added strength of being backed by a all-powerful, all knowing invisible cloud-daddy. The problem is, each of these ideologies has its own version of that cloud-daddy. To an atheist outsider like myself, witnessing a conflict between two mutually exclusive monotheistic religions, simple logic dictates that one of the religions in conflict must be bullshit, and since there is no objective evidence for either religion, one can safely assume that both are bullshit. In theory, one could extrapolate that logic to all religion. Indeed, one does.

But for the true believers, trapped in these eternal conflicts, there can be no solution, no compromise, no peace, because to lose is to accept life as finite. For them, victory in a “holy war” is the ultimate confirmation of bias, as if they can will their beliefs, their god, into existence. The defeated religion becomes a “mythology” and the triumphant get to hang on to their dream of a happy ending.

But it is just a dream. You and I, and every other living thing will eventually die. Cease to exist. Death defines life by revealing it’s cost. The price of life is death, and the price of consciousness is awareness of that eventual death. It is an awareness that 90% of the world’s population just can’t face. They want the happy ending so badly they will consciously flee the uncertainties of objective reality for the absolutes found only in fantasy. And if my life has taught me anything, it is that you cannot reason someone out of a position that they did not arrive at through reason.

Circling back to the question at hand, it seems to me that ideologies are strongest when under attack, whether real or perceived, when the adherents of that ideology must fight together to defeat a common enemy. (That’s why Fox News Outrage Channel brings us their annual War on Christmas.™) So how do you defeat an ideology? I say ignore it. Ignore it to death.

 

* I’m thinking I might just make the title of this post a new category.

Razorback Madness

The politicians from my native state of Arkansas are embarrassing me again. And themselves. And the country. If this keeps up, I may have to create a new blog category just for them.

Last week, Teabagger Tom Cotton, freshman US Senator, penned a letter to Iran. The explicit purpose of said letter was to sabotage negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. It appears — at least for now — to have failed that mission, but it did succeed in detailing just how dysfunctional and divided our government has become. Cotton was, after all, able to get 46 of his fellow Republican Senators to co-sign the letter. Several of those 46 have since expressed second thoughts, but the damage is done.

The whole world now knows that the US Republican Party will go to any lengths to torpedo any potential accomplishments by our current preznit. These negotiations have the stated goal of preventing Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons, a goal shared by pretty much every country on the planet. But, for purely partisan reasons, the Republicans have declared the deal “bad.” The rest of the civilized world knows the Republicans have not read the deal they have declared “bad” because no deal has yet been written, and may never be. Negotiations for a deal, however, continue.

Meanwhile, Teabagger Tom has become the latest right-wing media darling. What the rest of the world sees as scoring an own goal, counts as victory for his conservative base. He showed that nigger in the White House a thing or two.

Cotton has the zombie-eyed look of the true believer, the zealot, and his actions thus far in Congress reflect that.

While in the House in 2013, Cotton introduced an amendment to prosecute the relatives of those who violated sanctions on Iran, saying that his proposed penalties of up to 20 years in prison would “include a spouse and any relative to the third degree,” including “parents, children, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, grandparents, great grandparents, grandkids, great grandkids.” Forget about the fact that the Constitution expressly prohibits “corruption of blood” penalties — just consider that Cotton wanted to take someone who had violated sanctions and imprison their grandchildren. Needless to say, this deranged piece of legislation was too much even for Republicans to stomach, and it went nowhere.

Hoo boy, that’s some crazy shit, right there, so of course it’s got people thinking Cotton’s name belongs on a national ticket.

Indeed, a legislator in his home state of Arkansas has just introduced a bill that would allow Cotton to run for both re-election to his Senate seat and for president in 2020.

Ah, the Arkansas State Legislature. The minor leagues of modern conservatism. Which brings me to this story about State Representative Justin Harris. Another true believer, the “good Christian” kind, that uses his position in the legislature to pressure the Department of Human Services to approve he and his wife’s adoption of three troubled little girls, even though the DHS told them they wouldn’t be able to handle the girls special needs. And when the DHS predictions proved true, the Harrises gave them away re-homed the girls. With a child molester.

And it gets worse. Apparently Representative Justin Harris and his wife Marsha are both nuttier than squirrel shit.

According to Goldsborough, the two girls were kept in separate rooms that were outfitted with locks, alarms and video cameras. They were not allowed to be around each other because of the Harrises’ belief in demonic possession and telepathy, she said.

You really should read the whole story. It’s got all sorts of crazy; child abuse, political extortion, lots of lying and even exorcism of a 4-year old. To top it all off, the Harrises run a Christian day care center that, of course, collects state funds. Oh, Arkansas…

Deleting Stuff

Many times, in my travels around the intertoobz, when I am chasing whatever particular rabbit that has caught my eye, I run across items I think I might want to come back to later. As a result, I collect bookmarks like a crazy, old cat lady collects… uh… cats.

So periodically I spend a couple of hours going through all my bookmarks, opening a tab for each one and taking a quick look to decide whether to keep or delete it. (It’s a bit like cleaning up after a party, except there is no recycling to sort.) Most everything ends up in the bit bucket, sometimes because it’s dated or boring, other times because I have no idea how I found myself on some of these websites in the first place. This morning I found I had bookmarked three websites in a row where people — mostly women, it appears — tell their stories about escaping from the evangelical, homeschooling, Quiverfull life. (Sometimes it’s like cleaning up after a very sad party.)

I did find one bookmark worthy of a re-read before deletion; a January interview with Ralph Steadman, just after the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris. I don’t know much about cartoon art or cartoonists, but I know what I like. There is something truly strange and unique, almost schizophrenic, about Steadman’s work. His is, in fact, the only cartoonist’s work I could recognize on sight. I’ve been a fan since I first read Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas way back in the ’70s.

Steadman sounds like a very interesting man, someone I would enjoy sharing a pint with. As with most political cartoonists, he has a knack for drilling down to the core motivations of his targets. This observation really hits home:

In many ways, Steadman argues, “I think that terrorists and some political leaders share a similar mindset, in that they consider themselves to be believers. They are devoted to a cause and they’ll go to any lengths to uphold their chosen position. They are not completely stable, as the word is usually understood.”

“So you can see a kind of similarity between terrorist operations and the rationale that led to the excursions to Vietnam or Afghanistan?”

“I can, and a big part of it is that sense of pride. Once they start the war, or the mission, they feel they can’t stop. That would mean losing face.

Nail, meet hammer. This goes right to my biggest concern with our next preznit. Whether it be Hillary or whoever falls out of the current GOP clown car, there is a very good chance that their “sense of pride” will have us getting our war on in the Middle East again. I’m usually not one to go around quoting the bible (no, really), but their is a Proverb that seems appropriate here, something about pride going before destruction. Just saying…

Reading Assignment

In an article for The Atlantic titled What ISIS Really Wants, Graeme Wood provides an excellent history of the Islamic State and further strengthens my theory that religiosity is the only contagious mental disorder. It’s much too long to finish during the average poop, so the vast majority of Amurkins won’t read it, even though they should. It should be mandatory for our elected officials, especially all the chicken-hawks calling for boots on the ground. But who am I kidding? Most of them are very much like the jihadists they want to send our kids to attack. They would never let knowledge or facts get in the way of their beliefs.

I really hope Michelle’s husband resists the pressure from John McCain’s war-boner battalion. I know it’s got to be tough. If I were preznit right now, I would probably have my generals trying to figure out a way to get as many jihadists in one place as possible, so as to drop a small nuke on them. But I ( much like John McCain) am not exactly preznitential material. This is the ideal time for some of Michelle’s husband’s level-headed pragmatism. From the article:

And yet the risks of escalation are enormous. The biggest proponent of an American invasion is the Islamic State itself. The provocative videos, in which a black-hooded executioner addresses President Obama by name, are clearly made to draw America into the fight. An invasion would be a huge propaganda victory for jihadists worldwide: irrespective of whether they have given baya’a to the caliph, they all believe that the United States wants to embark on a modern-day Crusade and kill Muslims. Yet another invasion and occupation would confirm that suspicion, and bolster recruitment. Add the incompetence of our previous efforts as occupiers, and we have reason for reluctance. The rise of ISIS, after all, happened only because our previous occupation created space for Zarqawi and his followers. Who knows the consequences of another botched job?

This. A thousand times, this. Preznit dubya’s idiotic War on Terra legitimized jihadism. And despite all the crowing from the right-wing about victory and The Surge® and establishing democracy, all we really created in the Middle East was a big fucking mess. And now, the same numbskulls that gave us that disaster are cheerleading for more of the same. If we invade and occupy Iraq again, we will legitimize — and strengthen — this shiny new caliphate, prolonging it’s existence, perhaps for decades.

Do yourself a favor and read the whole article. It’s worth your time.

Just Another Atheist Lament

There are only two stories above the fold on the front page of today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Most of that space is taken up by coverage of the mass murder at a magazine in Paris. It seems the whole world is outraged. The intertoobz are full of lofty rhetoric about freedom of speech and journalistic integrity, but for me, it’s tough to even work up the energy to comment on this latest atrocity. It is commonplace; it is our new normal. It is merely Islamic fundamentalists doing what Islamic fundamentalists do. It’s not going to stop. Ever.

Right next to the story about Muslims going medieval on a magazine is this article about a Catholic cardinal getting his hate on. It is an interesting juxtaposition. Two religions. One intolerant mindset.

We loves us some Cardinals here in Misery, but this guy, Raymond Burke, not so much. He was Archbishop in St. Louis for a few years back in the aughts, and established himself as quite the right-wing jackass even in that era of right-wing jackassery. I’m pretty sure most of the Catholics around here breathed a sigh of relief when the last Pope promoted him to Cardinal and called him to Rome. He doesn’t get along well with the new hippie Pope, Francis, and his mouth got him demoted a couple of months ago. Now, he’s bitter and blaming it all on the church becoming feminized.

Burke, the former St. Louis archbishop who was recently demoted from the Vatican’s highest court to a ceremonial philanthropic post, also pointed to the introduction of altar girls for why fewer men are joining the priesthood.
“Young boys don’t want to do things with girls. It’s just natural,” Burke said in an interview published on Monday.

Hmmm. I think I see the problem here, Ray. See, out here in the real world, young boys do want to do things with girls. That is natural. What is unnatural is a man spending a lifetime wearing a dress, but hating women. It isn’t just women that Burke thinks are ruining everything, though.

In the interview, Burke also blamed gay clergy for the church’s sexual abuse crisis, saying priests “who were feminized and confused about their own sexual identity” were the ones who molested children.
Researchers have disputed that claim, and experts note that the reported rise in the number of gay men entering the priesthood since the 1980s coincided with a sharp drop-off in abuse cases.

I don’t remember the misogyny so much from Burke’s time in St. Louis, but I do remember the gay-bashing. I suspect all this talk of “feminizing” the church may be his way of calling Pope Francis a fag. The last sentence of this story kills me.

Burke, a liturgical traditionalist as well as a doctrinal conservative who is renowned for wearing elaborate silk and lace vestments while celebrating Mass, also said that “men need to dress and act like men in a way that is respectful to themselves, to women and to children.”

Methinks the Cardinal doth protest too much. I guess I should just be thankful he doesn’t bust out a Kalashnikov and kill some bitches.

On Religion

When I became an atheist, almost 40 years ago now, my young mind was teeming with the possibilities of science and research and evidence-based thought. I felt sure that my own awakening was something that could — and would — happen to everyone eventually. All they needed was a little nudge of reason. By the time I reached adulthood, having witnessed the sheer power of religious thought, my optimism had faded considerably. I had learned one of my first, and most important, life lessons. You cannot reason someone out of a position they did not arrive at through reason. If you could, there wouldn’t be any religious people.

But, even having learned that lesson, for decades I still carried around with me the notion that religion was something mankind would eventually get over, or grow out of. I don’t know when I stopped believing that would happen. It’s fairly recent, perhaps coinciding with my embarkation on the roller coaster ride that is middle-aged depression. (Or perhaps I am confusing causation and correlation.) Regardless, I now suspect religion is our fundamental, fatal flaw.

As someone on the intertoobz once said, the person who invented the water heater did more for mankind than all of the theologians who ever lived. Secular science and ingenuity have brought civilization to where we are today, dragging religion kicking and screaming and sabotaging along the way. We have made great strides, won many battles, but it is a seemingly endless war, one that we may in fact be losing.

After thousands of years, theologians have never managed to settle a single argument, yet religion remains mankind’s preferred antidote to the fears and futilities of everyday life. It is because churches sell the dream, the illusion of control, the happy ending. Follow the rules of some ancient sacred text and live forever in paradise. We can’t get past religion because we can’t get past our love for ourselves, the idea that man is special, and therefore deserving of eternal life.

But it is just a dream. You and I and every other living thing will die. Cease to exist. Death defines life by revealing it’s cost. The price of life is death and the price of consciousness is awareness of that death. An awareness that 90% of the world’s population just can’t face. They want the happy ending so bad they will ignore the contradictions of reality, as if they can will their god into existence. I believe it is this inner conflict that generates the anger, the outright hate, that spews from religious people when their beliefs are challenged. It is an internal flight from the uncertainty of life for the absolutes found only in fantasy.

Mutually exclusive religions clash violently because, logically speaking, in order for one of those religions to be true, the other must be complete bullshit. It is a recipe for eternal conflict. There can be no solution, no compromise, no peace because to lose is to render your invisible cloud daddy irrelevant. Victory is the ultimate confirmation of bias. The defeated religion becomes a “mythology” and the victorious god gets stronger. I watch the world fight over something that doesn’t even exist and I despair.

Although I now know I will never see it, I still often wonder what our world would be like without religion. Would we take all the excess human energy that gets channeled into divisiveness and false hope, and put it into something constructive? Would we take control of our destiny,  and build a society that doesn’t thrive on conflict? Or would we just manufacture other reasons to hate each other?

 

Middle East Madness

A few days ago, the fundamentalist religious fanatics who are, this week, calling themselves the “Islamic State” beheaded an American journalist. Now, based on what the talking heads on my electric teevee machine are saying, it looks like the rest of American journalism has shat it’s collective pants in fear. One of theirs got killed, so now they all want to jump on John “WarBoner” McCain’s bandwagon of death.

They want Michelle’s husband to get busy dropping bombs. It doesn’t seem to matter where, or upon whom those bombs get dropped. This morning they are calling for air strikes in Syria against the Islamic State. I can’t help but notice these are the same people who, a few months ago, were calling for air strikes against Bashir Assad’s regime in support of these very same nut jobs they now want to bomb.

Here’s something else I can’t help noticing. The Islamic State declared their intention to form a caliphate, a nation based on a single religion, and set about doing so, basically by killing everyone who disagrees with them. The Washington DC elite is aghast and skirred, screeching that our preznit must do something about it.

But yesterday, about 500 miles to the southwest, Israel, a nation based on a single religion, dropped an entire 17-story apartment building because some of their enemies used to live there. The reaction from the DC village? A collective yawn and some mumbling about Israel having the right to defend itself. This is why we have no credibility in that area of the world.

It’s also why I doubt there will ever be a solution. All of our political and foreign policy decisions — just as with those of every other nation — are entirely too dependent upon which strain of the brain disease known as religion we carry.

We Are Doomed

One of my very first posts as a blogger, almost 8 years ago, was a rant about two Supreme Court decisions that I thought were the root cause of much of our nation’s political problems. The first was the ruling, from way back in the 1800s, granting corporations personhood. The second, from the mid-1970s, declared that money is equivalent to speech. That was 3 or 4 platforms ago for the blog, and that post is long lost, but trust me, it was a brilliant observation our nation’s journey from representative democracy into oligarchy.

On Monday, our Supreme Court handed down a decision that will hasten that slide by granting family-owned or “closely held” corporations the protections of religious freedom. I am referring, of course, to the Hobby Lobby ruling.

This ruling really gores my ox. While ostensibly about Hobby Lobby’s owner’s objection to supplying their employees with insurance that covers contraception, the ramifications are much larger. Now, not only are corporations people, certain ones can hold religious beliefs. And not only can those corporations hold those religious beliefs, they can force those religious beliefs on their employees through personnel decisions. How long before some publicly held corporation sues the government for the same “rights” just granted to closely held corporations?

The horse is out of the barn. Corporate theocracy has come to Amurka. For an atheist lefty like myself, it is the stuff of nightmares.

Patriarchy Problems

I already know this post will be a bit of a multi-topic mess, but sometimes the dots just connect themselves…

I recently finished reading a lovely novel called Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Much like Adichie herself, the protagonist of Americanah is a young Nigerian woman who comes to the United States in pursuit of a college education. I really enjoyed this book, not so much for the love story at its center, as for the glimpse into what life is like for an African in America (as opposed to an African-American).

As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to see the uncomfortable truth in the feminist trope that we white males in America spend our lives enjoying the benefits of patriarchy without acknowledging — or even realizing — that it exists. Parts of Americanah really brought that truth home for me. (Along with more than I ever wanted to know about black women’s hair.) I found it fascinating that something written in English could be so foreign to me.

Speaking of patriarchy, a couple of weeks ago, while I was in the middle of reading a Nigerian writer’s novel, Nigeria was in the news because of a mass kidnapping in the town of Chibok. The Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram attacked a government girls school, shot the guards, loaded 234 teenage girls into trucks, and disappeared into the forest.

The name “Boko Haram” loosely translates as meaning “Western education is sin.” That’s right, their entire reason for existence is to keep people ignorant. Especially the women. They are neanderthals that use religion to justify treating women as property.

Which brings me to this AlterNet article I discovered this morning using my google-fu. It’s two years old, but still very topical. The author delves into why our very own religious conservatives are constantly fighting against contraception.

Until the condom, the diaphragm, the Pill, the IUD, and all the subsequent variants of hormonal fertility control came along, anatomy really was destiny — and all of the world’s societies were organized around that central fact. Women were born to bear children; they had no other life options. With a few rebellious or well-born exceptions (and a few outlier cultures that somehow found their way to a more equal footing), the vast majority of women who’ve ever lived on this planet were tied to home, dependent on men, and subject to all kinds of religious and cultural restrictions designed to guarantee that they bore the right kids to the right man at the right time — even if that meant effectively jailing them at home.

No surprise really, just as with Boko Haram, it’s all about keeping the women folk in line. Otherwise, bitches get uppity.