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Monday: Be Good for Goodness Sake

Ok, bear with me, these things are related.  I think.

I was idly surfing the web, as I sometimes do.  You do that too, don’t you?  And I ran across a podcast on the crazy super secret handshakes and decoder rings of the Church of Latter Day Saints aka the Mormons and that lead me to a playlist of a lecture on youtube on the modern secular movement.  As it turns out, people who identify themselves as non-religious, ie secularists, atheists, freethinkers, pastafarians etc) belong to a fast growing group here in the US.  Although the official number is around 3%, the leaders of this movement think that the number of non-religious Americans is about 10%.  Revealing your atheism is still pretty risky these days so there are probably more than the surveys say.  Compare that to the population of Jews in this country, which is only around 1.5%.  I find that number incredibly low but that’s probably because I live in New Jersey.  I know a lot of Jews.  So, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think there are a lot more atheists around than we think.  In fact, I live with one who announced her atheism at 9 yrs old just before she asked if she could have another cookie.

Anyway, one of the more accesible speakers on atheism has to be Dan Barker.  Barker became a born again Christian at the age of 15 and studied to be an evangelical, fundamentalist preacher.  He preached for 19 years before his side line as a composer of Christian music took him out of his comfort zone in fundamentalism and into mainstream Christian churches.  It was all downhill from there.  Before long he was learning liberal theology and reading stuff and asking questions.  Eventually, he decided that there was no god.  In his YouTube lecture on the subject, he relates his experiences as a secretly atheist preacher in the final days of his ministry and how awkward it was.  Finally, he came clean with his friends and relatives and sent them all a letter announcing his atheism.  Some of his friends dropped him.  Others loved him anyway.  In particular, his mother, a devout Christian, started asking her own questions.  It wasn’t long before she too gave up God, with some relief.  She said, “Being an atheist is great.  I don’t have to hate anyone!”

Dan Barker’s lecture is interesting.  He has a lot to say about  fundamentalist minds and their worldview that those of you who have grown up in normal families were fortunate enough to have missed.  Both he and another leader of the secular movement, Dr. Sam Harris, confirm what I’ve been said about arguing with fundamentalists.  Don’t.  I mean, don’t bother.  Their whole reason for being is to lure you into conversations with them for the express purpose of shooting down your belief system.  They’ve got their arguments all lined up like a gatling gun.  There is no give and take in these conversations.  They are not interested in your point of view.  You may think you are debating.  You are not.  And if you are the kind of person who routinely applies reason and logic in your approach to the world, a fundamentalist is not going to impress you.  Just politely excuse yourself and go get another cocktail.  In fact, let this be a warning to fundamentalists.  Don’t get into an argument with a person who applies reason and logic in his/her approach to the world.  You’ll just be wasting your precious time. Cross them off your life list.  They’re lost causes.  Find an easier mark.

So, the Dan Barker lecture lead me to The God Debate II where Sam Harris debated William Craig on morality.  This one was good too but I found Harris’s intro speech particularly illuminating.  My tin foil antenna picked up signal about how we may have ended up with the stupid decision on Plan B.  Take a listen starting at minute mark 27.35:

For those of you who want the short summary, here it is.  Harris went to a conference and met a bioethicist who was appointed by President Obama.  The bioethicist, a woman, took Harris to task for his condemnation of the Taliban’s treatment of women.  She asked what right Americans had to condemn forcing women into burqas.  That’s what the Taliban and Afghanistan valued.  Harris countered that he didn’t think it was good for the well being of women to be stuffed into bags and to be beaten for not wearing them and that the Taliban’s treatment of women resulted in low lifespan for women as well as high illiteracy, and maternal and infant mortality.  He was surprised by her attitude so he asked how she would feel about a culture whose religion dictated that the eyes of every third child should be put out because their scriptures said, “Every third one shall walk in darkness.”  The bioethicist said it wasn’t our place to judge.  Harris was amazed at this response since earlier in that conference, he’d heard this same bioethicist give an impassioned speech on the unconstitutionality and immorality of torture in detention.

What are we to make of that and what does it have to do with Plan B?  First, it seems to me that the bioethicist has no problem accepting international and constitutional legal proscriptions regarding torture.  But when it comes to matters of religion, there seems to be a hands-off attitude because to insert oneself between another person and their god is arrogant and cultural imperialism, even if the religious act results in another form of physical torture.  It’s not the torture that is the problem, it is the context in which the torture is carried out.  As long as the torture is religious in nature, the bioethicist felt that to give offense was worse than allowing the torture to happen.

In the past couple of months, the right wing nutcases have rolled out their campaign for “religious freedom”, which, from what I can tell, means sufficiently fanatical religious people have the freedom to shove religion down your gullet whenever and wherever they want or they will have a noisy, screaming, bloody tantrum.  Their religious freedom trumps your right to be left alone.  It’s simply not enough to be able to practice their religion at home and not be persecuted for practicing their religion in a place of worship.  No, they have to be in your face, 24/7, and be able to take their religion everywhere.

And it looks like President Obama is going to let them do it and let them push the envelope as far as it will go.  Because it is OK by him for the mayors of various cities to enforce petty little laws that truncate your right to protest government in public but no one in his administration will dare to condemn you for practicing religion any damn place you please even if everyone around you finds your values abominable.  It’s simply uncouth.  One doesn’t do such things.  It’s like discussing religion and politics at Easter dinner.  Very rude.  Besides, religious people are inherently moral beings, even if what they do doesn’t seem right to the rest of us.  Who are we to judge?

So, protestors chanting “We are the 99%” and non-violently camping in a public park?  Dangerous malcontents.  Fanatically religious, viciously ugly, men and women hatefully humiliating women outside an abortion clinic?  Moral upstanding citizens.  Scared 15 yr old teenager who let nature get the best of her thinking self?  Bad little girl.  Obama administration who overruled its FDA?  Benevolent moral father figure.  What about the rest of us who aren’t religious who don’t think the administration had any right to deny our high school daughters access to Plan B?  Why do I get the feeling that the answer to that question is another question?  “Why aren’t you religious?”

Should we be asking ourselves if only religious people in this country have rights?  And do those rights include the ability to invade other people’s privacy at will?  And what does Harris’s story about Obama’s bioethicist say about how the administration will handle other issues where law and religion conflict?  According to most religions, women are subservient to their husbands and fathers.  Is this what Obama is sanctioning with his Plan B decision?  Because that’s what it sounds like to me.  So, will it be OK for men to beat their wives into submission again?  Interfere with her right to get an abortion?  Deny her birth control?  Forbid her from getting a higher education or work?  Where does Obama draw the line?  Must we always meekly defer to the religious for fear of denying their freedom for imposing some legal standards of behavior on them?

And what are we to make of the new religious freedom campaign in this environment?  I’d say the Republicans and religious crazies know just which buttons to push with President Obama.  And they will keep pushing them as long as he lets them get away with it.  It could be just a re-election strategy or it could be his own personal philosophy.  When it comes to the religious, he’s non-confrontational.  Better to just let their morality lead and get out of the way.  Is this a backdoor way of allowing for the establishment of religion?  If you can’t question the religious and you allow their morality to make your decisions, then the rest of us are involuntary participants against our own consciences.

If this is the way Obama’s administration operates, expect to see a lot more catering to the religious right in the next year.  They’ll push and he’ll cave so that he isn’t perceived as overriding their right to follow their religious moral teachings, even if it means letting every third child walk in darkness or get pregnant in high school.


And on the right side of the aisle, Newt Gingrich drills into the dark recesses of the authoritarian follower’s unconscious and digs up an all too real sounding modern apocalyptic scenario.  In Among Gingrich’s Passions, a Doomsday Vision, the New York Times reveals Gingrich’s warnings about EMP, electro magnetic pulse.  The scenario goes like this: some crazy axis of evil country detonates a nuclear device in a certain stratum of the atmosphere over our country, the home of the free, land of the brave, and takes down the entire electrical grid.  Suddenly, nothing electrical will work.  Your refrigerator, TV, cell phones, trains, even some cars, all dead.  The wires of the grid irretrievably destroyed all over the country, the nation plunges into a period of darkness, chaos, starvation and danger.

There was a work of fiction written about this a few years back called One Second After.  Wouldn’t you know, Gingrich wrote the introduction for it.  {{rolling eyes}} I happen to have listened to this book because it was recommended on audible.  Not knowing that it was a work of propaganda, until after the intro, I listened to about half of it before I couldn’t take it anymore.  The book was designed for middle aged guys with a hero fantasy.  Picture Rambo crossed with the protagonist from a Tom Clancy novel, except with a patriotic, moral “family values” streak.  He’s rugged and good looking and he snags the best looking babe.  He’s wise, he’s tough, he has a gift for planning, strategy and war.  He takes care of his family first and doesn’t flinch when he has to execute people who don’t follow the law he has laid down who get in his way. He has no patience with civil liberties. It’s the kind of book only your annoyingly righteous brother could love and pack away with his stash of MRE’s and survivalist gear in the basement.

I think we can see who Newt’s target demographic is.  Newt is appealing to the apocalyptic nervous Nellies who want a strong, fatherly type who will get them through the coming tribulations with hard and fast authority.  There are no shades of gray in this world.  He’ll do what he has to do to keep his country safe from dangerous entities who want to kill us in the night.  He will be vigilant, he will be patriotic, he will not be soft.  And he won’t have any patience for basic constitutional rights or charity for others.  He will put the country on a war footing.  We’ll all be twitchy just waitin’ for someone to step out of line.  (By the way, have you read what Paul Krugman wrote about what happened to Hungary?  It’s a country that Gingrich could admire.)

I did skip ahead to the end.  You’ll be happy to know that the Army does finally come to the rescue at the end and that the lights do slowly come back on.  But the country is irreparably changed by then.  Most of the population is dead from starvation or just plain killin’.  And the hero rules his roost like a not so benevolent dictator while his neighbors and recruits worship him for saving them from what surely was the end of the world.

Newt is a little bit like Walt Disney.  He’s going to make his fantasies come true and it will be one scary E- ticket ride.


49 Responses

  1. my advice to the religious nuts.MYOB!!! 😆

  2. I never trusted these surveys that asked if you believe or not because most people don’t want to be judged even if it’s an anomynous poll taker.

    When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that we would be taking a country’s stance on human rights for gays and Lesbians into account when it comes to aid, I was shocked. How did Obama let that happen?

    • He consulted his campaign data miners and found that religious people were less concerned with gay couples getting health care together than for women to get good reproductive health care. Let it not be said that Obama doesn’t know how to split hairs.

  3. Well, I’m an atheist, and I don’t appreciate religious people limiting my freedom based on their religious beliefs. But I also don’t appreciate people declaring themselves to be the “99%” without asking the rest of us who make up the 99% if we want to be part of their group. For too many people it’s OK for people to step on other people – shut down their place of work, limit their ability to travel around a city freely, damage public and private property, curtail your choices, if they agree with you, but not if they don’t.

    • Are you making $500K per year off of your investments? If you’re not, you’re part of the 99% whether you want to be or not
      Please stop kissing the whip. Protests are supposed to be irritable. That’s why they’re so effective.
      As for damage, I’ve been to Zuccotti park and you will be happy to know that no damage was done by the erection of a few tents.
      Ellie, do me a favor and go back to crawdad hole. Your whining about a protest that didn’t inconvenience you in the least is pointless and boring. It’s making you sound like a cranky old lady.

      • Good for you, RD! Now ban that whole lot. Speaking for the entire TC readership — we’ve had enough of the nay-flies.

        • I can’t do that. There are still a lot of people who visit both blogs and some of them I really like. They’re not assholes who are trying to justify their selfish disregard for social injustice by arguing that their blessed upper middle class existences have been inconvenienced by the rabble. Nor do they try to argue that we are too good to be hanging around with the riff raff who are into public sleeping. Elliesmom wouldn’t touch them with the tips of her soft and supple fine grained leather gloves where I would reach out with my bare hands. In other words, Elliesmom is an insufferable snob. Or a plant. Or both.

          • I wasn’t 100% serious when I made that comment, maybe 65%. I was actually in a jolly, blustery mood; hence speaking for the blog. Your replies to some of the anti-occupy crowd have been thought-provoking as to the freedom of peaceful assembly and to my thinking about changing the power dynamic we now live under. Some years ago, when French farmers became furious with their government, they clogged the roads into Paris with their tractors. Just a tip: if they try to foil the January DC mall from the million encampment, clog the streets.

    • I didn’t know you were a West Coast longshoreman. Surprises never cease.

  4. I read somewhere where Newt also wants to put a system of mirrors into outer space to reflect back sun/moon beams onto the earth so that – get this – we won’t have to light freeways at night anymore.

    What the hell! So we have full moon skies for the rest of our lives? No thank you – I love a totally dark sky with stars twinkling brightly over my head and an occasional shooting star/meteor thrilling my soul.

    • Obummer really hopes the GOP loses its mind and nominates the Gingrinch. 😉

      • Maybe obama thinks that would help. But Gingrinch will eat him for lunch and not give a damn who calls him the R-word (not republican) nor will he give a damn if he is accused of dog whistles. It could be amusing during the run-up to the election. They will debate and just make stuff up.

        I don’t think it matters who gets handed the election by the MSM or Supreme Court this time out since any one of them will just be horrible.

        • Gingrich will eat shit and explode. That rodent isn’t dogcatcher-ish, let alone presidential.

  5. Obviously, OWS needs to set itself up as a religion.
    That’ll fix everything.

    • Probably. But I don’t think it would be long before the right wing noise machine started cranking out the idea that the leaders of OWS are just a bunch of false prophets. That is, if they could identify any.

  6. I’ll pass on the Harris video, thanx. I find both the fundamentalist believers and his kind of nonbelievers–whom I call “evangelical atheists”–quite tedious.

    • Oddly enough, I don’t find them nearly as tiresome as the religious fundies. They come off like they’re tired of defending themselves. It’s sort of like being dragged in front of a bloggers ethics panel for the 400th time. At the end of the Harris video, after he’s debated this dude for almost two hours, Craig says something like, “As an atheist, you didn’t give me a basis for your moral judgment” and Harris says with no small exasperation, “I’ve *tried* to give you a basis” or something to that effect. Actually, that video is quite revealing. Craig pulls out a lot of technical language but he uses a lot of circular logic. You can almost hear the panic in his voice get worse as the debate goes on. Harris on the other hand is calm, cool and uses a lot of practical examples. There’s no doubt where he’s coming from. Craig seems to want truth tables and PLS schema or something.
      It’s the classic example of someone trying to baffle the audience with bullshit. He’s been lauded for so long that he forgot how to argue.
      Neither Harris or Barker come off as obnoxious atheist evangelicals. Harris doesn’t try to force atheism down anyone’s throat and states pretty clearly that he believes humans are capable of spiritual experiences that are quite real. He just has no reason to believe that a god is responsible for any of that. He says that if you could prove god exists, he’d believe. So far, no one has been able to convince him. And Barker still relates to his audience like a preacher. His manner is soft, charming, humorous, friendly and persuasive but never in your face. Dawkins and Hitchens are belligerent atheists but not these two.

      • Richard Dawkins would be the prime example of an evangelical atheist. Listening to that douche nozzle could turn someone to religion.

        • Re: Dawkins — hear, hear. That guy is always spouting off on issues he hasn’t studied. In that sense, he’s as annoying as any fundamentalist religionist who thinks he knows all the answers before he has properly heard the questions.

          Robert Anton Wilson once said that such people have an Automatic Answer Machine in their heads. (He sometimes called it a Correct Answer Machine.) Dawkins, no less than Pat Robertson, is an AAM kind of guy.

          Perhaps it is a manifestation of my own Automatic Answer Machine, but I tune out atheists as routinely as I tune out religious people. At some point in the mid-70s, I realized that they have nothing left to tell me. I’ve heard their rap, heard it dozens of times, and I don’t want to hear it anymore. Even when I agree, I still don’t want to hear it.

          What bugs me about atheists is the same thing that bugs me about fundamentalist Christians: They honestly seem to think that their rap is new. A Southern Baptist trying to score a conversion genuinely believes that the only reason you don’t believe in the doctrine of Justification by Faith is that you’ve never encountered it before. Guys like Hitchens and Dawkins are just as bad.

          Me, I’d rather hear from someone who has formed a religion around …oh, I dunno, around the idea that leprechauns are real. It’s not that I believe in leprechauns myself. It’s not that I am persuadable on the leprechaun issue. I’m not even slightly leprechaun-curious. It’s just that I’ve never encountered anyone making such an argument before. The novelty would be appealing.

          As some French dude once said: Astonish me!

          • I’m not an atheist. I’m a panentheist. For absolutely sure I do not believe in the god of the bible or Koran.
            But I suspect that if more people met Dan Barker, there would be a lot more Atheists and freethinkers like Sam Harris. Neither one of them set off my alarms.

          • I agree 100% with every word. Astonish me! That’s very appropriate.

          • Ironically, I prefer Dawkins to Harris, for reasons unconnected to their mutual atheism. IIRC, Harris defended the use of torture by the USA, while Dawkins has condemned the US’s imperial wars.

      • I would guess that you find the fundies much more tiresome than the EAs because you were cursed with a fundy upbringing.

    • I agree. I especially don’t like people who are convinced that everybody needs to believe like they do.

    • me too, people who are positive they alone are the only ones who know the real truth….yada yada yada,,,snore

  7. I’ve had this particular conversation more than once here in good old NE Texas.

    “So I heard you were an athiest? Why do you worship the Devil?”

    I don’t believe in the Devil. He doesn’t exist.”

    “Why don’t you love the baby Jesus?”

    I don’t believe he ever existed. However, I do love the teachings of the Buddha from whence I believe early Christians got many of their ideas.

    “Well, I’ll pray for you. I hope you come to your senses soon. I can’t see why anyone would want to go to Hell.”

    I don’t believe there is a Hell. It is a work of fiction.

    “My friends and I are all going to pray for you.”

    • I had the following conversation with a JW who came to the door recently:
      Me: “sorry, my mom was a JW. I know all about you. I’m not interested”
      Him: Well, why dont you want to hear about God’s…
      Me: I’m sorry but I don’t believe in your god. I have my own concept of god.
      Him: that’s very interesting (thinking he has a live one. Now just reel her in) Why don’t you tell me about your god.
      Me: sorry, my beliefs are not up for a vote or negotiations
      Him: well, I have been in The Truth for…
      Me: see, that’s the thing, I’m pretty sure that you don’t have the truth. But it doesn’t matter. I’m sure you wouldn’t want me to talk you out of your beliefs. Right?
      Him: um, no.
      Me: well, neither do I. But it’s a nice day. So enjoy your walk outside. Have a nice day. Gotta go.
      Short, sweet. Everyone got the point. He knew that *I* knew what was going on. So, he gave up and left. Maybe they’ll leave me alone after that

    • I’m from Austin so I get the drift of that well. I just tell them “Thanks for saving me”. It shortens the conversation. 🙂

    • Hell is where the people who believe in Hell go to.

  8. Just a reminder – there are NO religions that privilege women the way the major American (and world) religions privilege men. If there were, the whole over the top protection of religion in America would never have arisen.

    Can you imagine a woman pharmacist being allowed to refuse a saving drug to a member of any of these exclusively male ruled religions because her religion forbids helping those who hurt women?

    The current religious freedom zealotry is a moral whitewash for sexism, pure and simple.

    • I think the current religious freedom zealotry is a lot of things, but a whitewash for sexism is certainly a huge part of it. But I would label it misogyny. Downright fear and hatred of the power of women over their poor little boy egos is really what is at play here.
      I saw some discussion last might about the reality show about Muslims in Michigan. Lowes has pulled their advertising because a conservative group called the show propaganda. I don’t know about that. I do know that one woman on the show decided to start wearing the hijab again and no one explained what the purpose of wearing it was. They talked all around the topic saying things like “it’s complicated” and “it means so much more than people think”. To which I wanted to yell at the TV, “WHAT DOES IT MEAN”? Why should I accept that there are places in the world where women are beaten if they don’t completely cover themselves from head to foot? I REFUSE to respect and accept that.
      Hell no I do not think we have to respect all religious dictates. In this nation we have thrived as a people who came together from all corners of the world because we assimilated to what was originally begun by northern Europeans. I will not say that I think it is okay that there are high schools in MI where girls run track wearing long robes and Hijab. I do not accept that there is a judge in NJ who takes Sharia law in to account when a man murders his wife. Instead of saying this murdered woman deserved the right to be protected by the laws of the United States where she was a citizen when she was murdered, the judged said the man had a right to be judged by the sharia laws that he believed in from his country of origin and his religion.

  9. Michael Savage is a spoil sport …

    Radio host offers Gingrich $1 million to drop out of GOP race

    “If Newt Gingrich really loves this country as much as he says he does, if he really wants what is best for America, he will set his ego aside, call me, and accept my offer,” the statement said. “His continued candidacy spells nothing but ruin for conservatives, Republicans and all true American patriots. One million dollars in exchange for preserving the nation, Newt. I say take the money and don’t run.”

  10. Thanks, I think, for seeming to distinguish between religious zealots and those of us believers, like Hillary and me, who are not zealots.

    I, for one, have no problem condemning belief systems that force women into second-class status.

    • Oh, there is *definitely* a difference. Fundamentalists are in a category of their own. Most people are not fundamentalists. The rest of the Christians range from pretty darn good to cafeteria Catholics who pay less attention to their popes than the president does. But by and large, they’re not pushy or zealous or deliberately ignorant. Presbyterians and Quakers are on my good list. I’m not too familiar with methodists. But anyway, they don’t usually feel the need to scream bloody murder at you.

      • I’m a Methodist, though a somewhat heretical one. 😉

        I have found that the UMC tolerates its heretics well–at least us lay members; I don’t know about among the clergy.

        • An old friend is a UMC minister, as is his son now. They are both quite liberal, vocally in favor of gay marriage etc, and I don’t think they have ever had any problems with the church.

      • Hillary is a Methodist. I think of them as slightly more earnest, less tendency towards elitism, Presbyterians.

  11. I am an undenominational christian.don’t go to Church.because he is always with me.
    however I never preach.that is not my job. 🙂

    • I wish I could go to church, but I work nights and sleep days, so I tend to fall asleep if I try to attend on Sunday morning, and none of the local UMC churches have evening services. 😦

      I don’t want to switch to another kind of church because, disproportionately, the churches around here that do hold evening services tend to be the kind that remind me of the Gospels’ portrayal of the scribes and Pharisees. 😛

  12. Many years ago a Pentacostal Christian co-worker (who was a much nicer guy than the people discussed in this post and thread) decided to try seeing whether I might be convertible to Pentacostalism. I don’t remember the details of the brief conversation but I remember saying something about how we are admonished to “Fear the Lord”, fear in this context being a sort of worship and respect. I noted that the Pentacostals and other fundamentalists seem to spend a lot of time and effort battling Satan and being afraid of Satan. I asked whether “fearing Satan” was not in fact a form of worshipping Satan?

    ” Ehhh. . . yer too smart for me, Mr. Reddy”. And thus ended the conversation.

    But based on that memory, I have since come up with the term Christian Satanism for this Fear (Worship) The Devil-based Christianity.

    Mormonism is not a part of the Christian Satanist tradition. A Mormon President would not terrify me the way a Christian Satanist President would. Think about it . . . a Christian Satanist President with its hands on the nuclear football . . . why its enough to make some people vote for President Obama all over again.

    If enough disgruntled democrats can invade the R primaries and get Romney or Huntsman ( but probably Romney) nominated, we will not have to face that stark choice.

  13. I wonder how they would respond if one called oneself a First Evolution Church of God Darwinist?

    “The God of Selection is a Callous God”.

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