Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hilarious Quote from Unconstitutional Kentucky Law's Author

Sometimes you have to work to find blog topics, sometimes they just drop in your lap. When an unconstitutional Kentucky law was struck down yesterday, it's author had this to say:
They make the argument ... that it has to do with a religion, and promoting a religion. God is not a religion. God is God.
Got that?? God is not religion, he's just ... God! Wow, I never knew that! If God isn't religion, maybe I can believe in Him even though I'm an atheist!! I feel so much better now!

I haven't laughed out loud at something this idiotic for a few days. This quote is from Kentucky State Rep. Tom Riner, D-Louisville, a pastor of Christ is King Baptist Church in Louisville, and also the man who wrote the law that was struck down.

Riner is so deeply immersed in his Christianity he has utterly and completely accepted God's existence as fact, and can't even recognize the difference between fact and belief any more.

I've written about separation of church and state before (also here), but I'm sure I'll have to write about it again. One of the simple facts about religion is that it thrives if it can force itself on others. The forces of memetic evolution favor religions that survive, regardless of how or why. Churches and religions that meddled with government are the ones that survived and that are still with us today. Churches that stuck to teaching just religion were not so successful. So it's not surprising that many churches, and of course the leaders of these churches, like Tom Riner, have inherited a legacy of meddling with government, a belief system that tells them it's OK to violate the United States Constitution and to behave in an un-American way.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Devil's Pact to Deny Global Warming: Creationists and Business

Global warming deniers seem to be in the same camp as so-called birthers (crazies who believe conspiracy theories that President Obama isn't a US citizen). Both groups believe that there is some vast, politically motivated conspiracy by liberals to ... do something bad? But in the case of Global Warming, it's hard to figure out why liberals would engage in such a vast conspiracy that would require the complicity of virtually every climatologist in the world.

However, one thing is clear: Most global-warming deniers are also conservative religious fundamentalists who believe in creationism. These are the people who ignore expertise of virtually every scientist on Earth about evolution, and they apparently have no trouble extending their ignorance to the environmental sciences.

Now, unfortunately, business is forming what can only be described as a Devil's pact with these people: The United States Chamber of Commerce is casting its lot with these deniers, via a court trial that pits the EPA's policies and the "soundest peer-reviewed science available" against the global warming deniers.

This is shameful. The US Chamber of Commerce is deliberately and knowingly trying to thwart the will of American citizens, and ignore the health and welfare of the entire world, purely for profit. Denying global warming is good for business, so in spite of the morality of their position, and the foolishness, they're going to attack science in a non-scientific forum. All for a buck.

One can only hope that, like the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial, science will win in the court of public opinion.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Irish blasphemy law: The Road to Chaos

Every blogger in the religion / agnosticism / atheism blogosphere will be commenting on the offensive new law banning blasphemy in Ireland, but I can't help myself, I have to add my voice to the chorus. We might expect this sort of thing from the Muslim world, which is trying to make it a crime worldwide to criticize Islam, even in the United States. But Ireland?

Isn't Ireland known as a the land of freedom fighters? Hasn't Ireland already seen enough death and destruction related to religious intolerance? Isn't Ireland a democracy?

Most bloggers are focusing on the censorship aspect of this law, the blatant and offensive violation of free speech. But there is a more subtle, and in some ways more damaging, side effect of stupid laws like these. Laws like this threaten democracy itself.

There are two principles, well known to legal scholars, that the Irish are violating.

First of all, laws must be clear. "Thou shalt not steal" is a great law, because in almost all cases, we know the difference between what belongs to us and what doesn't. When we break this law, we know we're breaking the law. On the other hand, "Thou shalt not view pornography" has turned out to be a horrible law, because nobody knows what pornography is. Even a Supreme Court Justice of the United States once famously said, "I know it when I see it." If a Supreme Court Justice can't draw a clear line between what's legal and what's not, how is the average citizen supposed to obey the law?

A blasphemy law fails this principle abysmally. Nobody knows what's legal and what's not. The Irish tried to inject words like "reasonable" into the law, which only muddies things further. Is Jerry Falwell "reasonable"? Many people thinks so, I don't. My book, for example, will almost certainly be considered blasphemous by many, yet many consider it important literature in the religion debate.

The second principle that the Irish law violates is best described by the quip, "Better to set ten guilty men free than to convict on innocent man." Most people think this is about the tragedy of sending an innocent man to prison, but it isn't. Tragic though it may be to jail a good citizen, the real tragedy is much worse: If innocent men and women are sent to prison, then there's no reason to obey the law in the first place. "What the hell," they might say, "I'm going to jail either way, why not just do what I want?"

Government can only exist when people give up certain freedoms. Laws are only enforceable when enough people agree with the laws. That willingness evaporates like vodka on hot pavement when innocent people find themselves in jail.

These two principles form a terrible synergy in the Irish blasphemy law: Nobody knows what's legal and what's not, and honest people who sincerely believe they're on the right side of the law will find themselves convicted.

I hope the Irish Parliament, which should be one of the shining beacons of democracy and free speech in the world, abandons this terrible law.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Convert Atheists on a Game Show??

This is almost too funny to be true. The title alone is enough to make your head spin: Penitents Compete! They're putting a panel of twelve atheists (which sounds Biblical to start with), on a TV show that tries to convert them to believers, using face-to-face talks with holy men and visits to mosques, temples and churches!

And there's a prize! Those who convert and become believers will get a free trip to their new favorite holy place! But the real prize, according to the producer, is even better: "We're giving the biggest prize in the world, God Himself."

The arrogance of religious people never ceases to amaze me. This TV program is so laughable it's kind of embarrassing. I will offer my own version of the religious arrogance: If any of those atheists are converted to belief in God by this program, I'm going to suspect a setup. I hope they've picked twelve atheists with a long and public history of atheism, otherwise the whole thing will look like a fraud.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Gay-To-Straight: Christian Programs Don't Work

At last, an honest and objective scientific report by the American Psychology Association has demonstrated what common sense and experience already knew: The Christian "Gay to Straight" programs simply don't work, and in fact are counterproductive. Instead of turning gay men and women into heterosexuals, they almost always fail, leaving the victims of this nonscientific hocus-pocus worse off than before they started.

Faith should never tread in science's domain, and this is a perfect illustration why. It is legitimate for Christains to ask, "Can homosexuality be cured?" (although even the word "cured" biases the investigation from the outset). But it is completely wrong, both scientifically and morally, for Christians to say "Yes" without one shred of objective scientific evidence, and further, to develop therapies, and claim those therapies work, with no science to validate their claims.

Good psychology can help people immensely, and bad psychology can damage people. Apparently that's what happened here: Gay-to-Straight programs actually do harm. They take men and women who are already having enormous psychological stress (caused, ironically, by the very Christians who claim to have the cure), and put them through a stressful program that almost always fails, leaving the victim still gay and feeling even more shamed than before. The Christians who run these programs assert with great confidence that people can change if they want to. When the program doesn't work, that puts an enormous load of guilt on the gay victims.

The good news is that the American Psychology Association's leadership endorsed this report overwhelmingly, by a vote of 125-to-4 in favor.

Christians should stick to matters of faith, and leave psychology in the hands of those who actually know the difference between a fact and an opinion.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Child Killer gets just Sixty Days in Jail: Christian Immunity

One couple punishes a misbehaving child by withholding food, and she dies. They go to prison for murder. Another couple withholds medical treatment from their child and she dies. The wife gets off scot-free, and the husband goes to jail (not prison) for just sixty days. Why no prison? Because they're Christians.

Was it lack of intent? No, in fact, the parents, Carl and Raylene Worthington, knew exactly what they were doing, and did it deliberately.

Were they ignorant? No, in fact the Christ Church to which they belong has a long history of children dying from medical neglect. Christ Church is such a problem that the Oregon Legislature has passed laws specifically aimed at the church's practices. The Worthingtons knew their daughter might die from their neglect.

The simple fact is that the Worthingtons knew exactly what they were doing. They knew full well their daughter could die, because other children in their church have died from easily cured illnesses. The Worthingtons killed their daughter, deliberately and with forethought. Their only excuse is that they believe God told them to do it.

So as far as I can tell, the only difference between the Worthingtons' murder of their daughter, and the couple convicted of murder for withholding food, is that one couple claims God is on their side, and the other couple claims the child was being punished. Both couples thought they were doing the right thing. Both couples were grossly, horrifyingly wrong.

What difference does that make to the dead children? Both suffered, both died for no reason, and either could have been saved by their parents.

The only argument you can make that would get the Worthingtons off the hook is if you believe that parents have a right to kill their children, so long as God says it's OK. That's what Abraham tried to do to his son Isaac, so some Christians might see why it's OK to kill your children: If God says it's OK, then it's OK.

As for me, if God told me to kill my children, I'd tell him to go to Hell where he belongs.