Archive for the 'god' Category
Greenwald on Levant on the Alberta Human Rights Commission’s Investigation of Suspected ThoughtcrimeSunday, January 13th, 2008
Glenn Greenwald has some extremely apt things to say about Ezra Levant’s interrogation by the Alberta Human Rights Commission in response to Levant, publisher of a Canadian right-wing magazine, choosing to publish cartoons depicting Mohamed, and thereby eliciting complaints from an Islamic group’s imam: The Noxious Fruits of Hate Speech Laws. Among those apt things is his description of the above video as “nothing short of stomach-turning.” There’s also this:
For those unable to think past the (well-deserved) animosity one has for the specific targets in question here, all one needs to do instead is imagine these proceedings directed at opinions and groups that one likes. If Muslim groups can trigger government investigations due to commentary they find offensive, so, too, can conservative Christian or right-wing Jewish groups, or conservative or neoconservative groups, or any other political faction seeking to restrict and punish speech it dislikes.
And here I thought Pat Robertson was just a cynical, transparently dishonest huckster, an aging little man with a winning smile, an aw, shucks manner, and a willingness to lie to old folks to get them to send him their Social Security checks. Turns out I was wrong about that. He’s also a world-class athlete who, thanks to his faith (and to magical protein shakes — you can find out more about what’s in the shakes if you “register for your FREE booklet today!”), can leg press 2,000 pounds.
Interesting article from the New York Times’ Benedict Carey: Magical Thinking: Why Do People Cling to Odd Rituals?
Children exhibit a form of magical thinking by about 18 months, when they begin to create imaginary worlds while playing. By age 3, most know the difference between fantasy and reality, though they usually still believe (with adult encouragement) in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. By age 8, and sometimes earlier, they have mostly pruned away these beliefs, and the line between magic and reality is about as clear to them as it is for adults.
Unless they’re the current US president, in which case they continue to make speeches manifesting their magical beliefs all the way to the age of 60…
File this one with Monica’s blue dress, Ted Haggard’s recorded phone messages, the cameraphone video of Mostafa Tabatabainejad being tasered at UCLA, and Michael Richards trying (and failing) to be funny while dropping the N-bomb on hecklers. It’s all well and good to be present when something shockingly noteworthy is happening, but having documented evidence of the shockingly noteworthy something is way better.
In this case, a high school student in New Jersey went to his principal and said his history teacher was teaching creationism in class. After a month of complaining, the kid finally got a meeting with the teacher and the principal. And the kid was apparently getting nowhere with his charges — until he produced audio recordings: Student tapes teacher proselytizing in class.
Paszkiewicz shot down the theories of evolution and the “Big Bang” in favor of creationism. He also told his class that dinosaurs were on Noah’s ark, LaClair said.
On Oct. 10 — a month after he first requested a meeting with the principal — LaClair met with Paszkiewicz, Somma and the head of the social studies department.
At first, Paszkiewicz denied he mixed in religion with his history lesson, and the adults in the room appeared to be buying it, LaClair said. But then he reached into his backpack and produced the CDs.
The Ted Haggard story was an interesting example of high-profile lying. The footage of him being interviewed in his car on Friday, with his wife and kids, was especially powerful stuff. Check out the video, if you haven’t seen it yet: Haggard interview (WMV file).
But that interview was actually the second act (or so) in this three-act public tragedy (or comedy, depending on your sympathies). First came the earlier interview, from last Wednesday, in which Pastor Ted claimed not to know his accuser. Check that out here: Deborah Sherman on her two Ted Haggard interviews (WMV file).
If you just watch the second interview, in the car, it’s hard not to believe the guy is telling the truth. There’s a directness, an affected artlessness, to his manner, that is really compelling. He just exudes trustworthiness. Which shouldn’t be shocking, I realize, for a highly successful televangelist.
What happened between the first and second interviews is that his accuser produced audio recordings of Haggard’s messages, left on the accuser’s phone, and audio experts indicated that the voice probably was Haggard’s. It was Monica’s blue dress all over again. Haggard’s second interview put as good a face on things as he could, but with that first interview already out there, there was no way to reconcile the two statements. And once you realized that in at least one of those two statements Haggard had to be lying, it was all over.
And so today we got the third act. Haggard had the following read aloud to his former congregation at Sunday service: Statement by Ted Haggard.
The last four days have been so difficult for me, my family and all of you, and I have further confused the situation with some of the things I’ve said during interviews with reporters who would catch me coming or going from my home. But I alone am responsible for the confusion caused by my inconsistent statements. The fact is, I am guilty of sexual immorality, and I take responsibility for the entire problem.
I am a deceiver and a liar. There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I’ve been warring against it all of my adult life.
So, there you go. Think about that, people, the next time someone seems oh-so-trustworthy, oh-so-sympathetic. Surely Pastor Ted, of all people, couldn’t be lying to me.
Actually, yeah, he could.
I’ve been extra busy lately; sorry for the lack of posting. To tide you over until I get some more time, here’s an article I found interesting. From the NY Times: Disowning conservative politics, evangelical pastor rattles flock.
The requests came from church members and visitors alike: Would he please announce a rally against gay marriage during services? Would he introduce a politician from the pulpit? Could members set up a table in the lobby promoting their anti-abortion work? Would the church distribute “voters’ guides” that all but endorsed Republican candidates? And with the country at war, please couldn’t the church hang an American flag in the sanctuary?
After refusing each time, Mr. Boyd finally became fed up, he said. Before the last presidential election, he preached six sermons called “The Cross and the Sword” in which he said the church should steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a “Christian nation” and stop glorifying American military campaigns.
Makes an interesting comparison piece with that Barack Obama speech from a few weeks ago. I’ve heard stories about some evangelical churches’ open embrace of Republican politics, but I’ve never been to a service like that.
Supposedly some in the lefty blogosphere are saying nasty things about Barack Obama’s recent speech calling for a re-assessment of the role of religious faith in public life.
I have no sympathy for such lefty bloggers. That speech kicked serious ass, and the junior senator from Illinois can be my president any time he wants to, as far as I’m concerned.
I meant to link to this last Tuesday, when it was actually news, but failed to do so, dammit. Anyway, I’m linking to it now. From the WaPo: Judge rules against ‘intelligent design’.
You can also get the full text of Judge John Jones’ ruling in the Dover (Pa.) school district case: TAMMY KITZMILLER, et al., v. DOVER AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Defendants. MEMORANDUM OPINION (312 KB PDF file).
My favorite part:
The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.
Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.
One of my main motivations in originally setting up this web site was to have a place not only for highlighting glaring falsehoods, but also for recognizing the brave and forthright expression of truth. Judge Jones (a lifelong Republican appointed to the bench by George W. Bush, heh), by ruling as he did, definitely qualifies for recognition.
From onegoodmove, here’s a pointer to an interesting piece of research on the failure of people’s religion to influence their decisions on a series of contrived moral dilemmas: Morality without religion.
Consider the following three scenarios. For each, fill in the blank with morally “obligatory,” “permissible,” or “forbidden.”
1. A runaway trolley is about to run over five people walking on the tracks. A railroad worker is standing next to a switch that can turn the trolley onto a side track, killing one person, but allowing the five to survive. Flipping the switch is ____________.
2. You pass by a small child drowning in a shallow pond, and you are the only one around. If you pick up the child she will survive and your pants will be ruined. Picking up the child is _________.
3. Five people have just been rushed into a hospital in critical care, each requiring an organ to survive. There is not enough time to request organs from outside the hospital. There is however, a healthy person in the hospital’s waiting room. If the surgeon takes this person’s organs, he will die but the five in critical care will survive. Taking the healthy person’s organs is _________.
What I find especially interesting is that judging by the responses, there exists a rough working consensus as to which answers are “correct,” even among people who presumably are pretty divided on the big moral/religious issues.
Another essay by a prominent scientist and science popularizer, this one by arch-nemesis of Creationists everywhere, Richard Dawkins: Viruses of the mind.
In this 1993 essay, which helped establish the field of memetics, Dawkins attempts to answer a question that obviously bugs him: why do people persist in believing silly religious myths?
A beautiful child close to me, six and the apple of her father’s eye, believes that Thomas the Tank Engine really exists. She believes in Father Christmas, and when she grows up her ambition is to be a tooth fairy. She and her school-friends believe the solemn word of respected adults that tooth fairies and Father Christmas really exist. This little girl is of an age to believe whatever you tell her. If you tell her about witches changing princes into frogs she will believe you. If you tell her that bad children roast forever in hell she will have nightmares. I have just discovered that without her father’s consent this sweet, trusting, gullible six-year-old is being sent, for weekly instruction, to a Roman Catholic nun. What chance has she?
If you’ve been living under a rock the last few weeks (or the Astrodome perhaps), you may not have heard that the issue of “Intelligent design” is going to court next week. Today I saw one of the most interesting and rational commentaries on the subject to date, from a Presbyterian Pastor whose encouraging his parish to attend a class titled: “Evolution for Christians“.
I agree that science and religion answer very different kinds of questions, so I worry about the doors of science classrooms being opened to intelligent design … I would be very upset if the biology teachers at Robinson Secondary School, where my children are students, departed from the mechanics of mitosis and began to bring their Mormon or Methodist or Muslim beliefs into discussions of why God chose to create cells.
I also really like the comments from a psychology professor in his parish…
“intelligent design theorists don’t scientifically establish divine creation at all — they merely try to represent scientific problems as evidence of scientific inadequacy.” They assume, for instance, that since the human eye is marvelously complex, and since scientists cannot map a complete evolutionary path for it, then it must be a product of an intelligent designer. But the eye actually shows many signs of having evolved, including a number of defects that no intelligent designer would ever include — light receptors in the back of the eye, for example, behind blood vessels that obstruct the view. “Accusing a God of [designing] such a thing seems rather insulting, actually,”
And while we’re on the subject of Evolution, those who are interested should acquire some Charles Darwin Has A Posse stickers and plaster them all over God’s big blue bowling ball. There’s no better time then now.
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (which is, btw, a spectacularly good movie, one that you haven’t seen me gush about previously only because of my own pathetic sloth), Clementine talks to Joel on the train back from Montauk about how she wishes she could be the person whose job it is to pick wacky names for hair dyes. Joel expresses skepticism about there actually being a job like that, and Clementine responds, with characteristic certainty, “Someone’s got that job.”
In that vein, I bring you The New Republic’s Ben Adler, whose job it apparently is to call up prominent US conservatives and ask them what they think about the Intelligent Design movement: Evolutionary war.
Man. I want that job.
Here’s a funky site that the spirtually complex J.A.Y.S.O.N. passed on to me the other day: entrancestohell.com. It features such insights as this one:
Walking to what he after three years still thought of as “the new school”, Jeff Phillips realized that he had gotten used to how much his stomach hurt every morning. [Mamou, LA]
Weirdly variant takes on religion have been on my mind lately. My wife has been reading Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven, feeding me choice tidbits; when she’s done I hope to read it myself. It apparently concerns the actions of some members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, an offshoot sect of the Mormon church that believes in things like forced marriages of 14-year-old girls to aging patriarchs who already have lots of wives, and abandoning teenage boys on the side of the road in order to adjust the sect’s male-female ratio to facilitate the aforementioned polygyny.
It seems to be human nature to fuck with the message of God. Mormonism itself, for all that it has many devout, upstanding adherants, strikes me as a prime example of that. I can’t see any other way to read the life story of Joseph Smith than as that of an opinionated kid who really wanted to bring more Old Testament-style fire and brimstone to the practice of Christianity, and told a chain of preposterous lies in order to accomplish it.
You can see a similar process happening with Westboro Baptist, which I came across the other day via this funny posting by C. Monks of Utter Wonder: Fashion highs and lows of the Westboro Baptist Church.
At first I couldn’t tell if the church was real, or was a parody like Landover Baptist, but after some investigation I’m forced to conclude that Westboro Baptist, along with its spiritual leader, Pastor Fred Phelps, are all too real. For one thing, I don’t think the droll subversives who create sites like Landover Baptist would stoop to this kind of child abuse just to make a point:
What is it in human nature that makes us so anxious to imbue God with our own hatreds and fears, then use our faith as a stick to beat up on each other? I thought about that yesterday while browsing the FAQs posted by Tim Boucher, Occult Investigator. They include the folllowing:
Are you aware that you’re going to hell?
I’m absolutely dumb-founded by people who call themselves Christians but who go out of their way to be spiteful and mean-spirited. If you can show me how that is part of Christ’s message of love and forgiveness, I will eat my hat. And when I poop it out, I will eat the poop.
Christianity itself, from a certain perspective, is based on a perversion of Christ’s original teachings. The Church as a political entity isn’t based on Christ as much as it’s based on Paul, and a strong case can be made (and in fact, has been made, by A. Victor Garaffa of The pauline conspiracy) that Paul actually pulled off a coup de main, overthrowing the disciples of Jesus and erecting in their place a church that more-closely matched his own authoritarian leanings.
From what I’ve seen of the religious mutations taking place in my own time, I find that explanation easy to believe.
Here’s an unauthorized capture of the awesome bit by Julia Sweeney that This American Life aired over the weekend: Letting go of God.
Disclaimer: I, too, have invited Mormon kids going door to door in to discuss their beliefs, and found private amusement in the whole story of the gold plates and the magical translation device. So I guess I was predisposed to like this. But anyway, I do. And don’t neglect to scroll down in Norm’s posting to get Sweeney’s response, as posted on her web site, to all the people who’ve contacted her about the program.
Here’s a fun item from net.kook theferret: The weirdest book I ever got.
(P.S. Sorry I’ve been lax on posting lately; I’ve got a Wikipedia obsession going on, and have been caught up in updating an article on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on Iraqi WMD. Sigh. This too shall pass.)
This really is about the weirdest thing I’ve seen in a long time: The Junior Christian Teaching Bible Lesson Show. I ended up watching the whole thing, waiting for it to become normal. Then my nose fell off.
J.A.Y.S.O.N.: It’s a must-view for you.
I’ve been reading Richard Dawkins’ book The Ancestor’s Tale lately, and it’s fun stuff. I encourage you to track down a copy. In the meantime, here’s an essay Dawkins recently wrote for the Sunday Times of London: Creationism: God’s gift to the ignorant.
The whole creationism/evolution debate provides an interesting test-case of the objectivity I’m striving for in the post-manifesto lies.com. It helps clarify something that I think people (including some in the mainstream media) sometimes forget: Balance isn’t objectivity, and objectivity isn’t balance.
Back during the 2004 presidential campaign, there was a brief flurry of weblogger comment, both for and against, regarding a memo from ABC News director Mark Halperin, who wrote:
We have a responsibility to hold both sides accountable to the public interest, but that doesn’t mean we reflexively and artificially hold both sides “equally” accountable when the facts don’t warrant that.
This led to Kevin Drum’s doing an actual comparison of the two candidates’ lies, on the basis of which he ended up concluding that “deception seems to be central to George Bush’s campaign while it’s basically peripheral to John Kerry’s.”
It’s a similar story with the evolution/creationism “debate.” The people who seriously examined this question 150 years ago fairly quickly reached a consensus that evolutionary explanations were superior to creationist ones. And evolution didn’t win because of some a priori bias; it was fiercely resisted, and only won because compelling evidence from scientific research in many different fields converged to corroborate it.
I recently took Michael Williams’ Master of None weblog out of my blogroll. More than anything else, it was Williams’ periodic postings attacking evolutionary theory and touting Intelligent Design proponents like Stephen Meyer that caused me to yank him. I’m sorry, but if you can’t be troubled to do the research required to identify such nonsense as nonsense, you don’t deserve a seat at the table.
There are many real mysteries in the world, and evolutionary explanations of human origins do not provide all the answers. Also, everyone’s judgement is clouded by bias, by the desire to pick out the confirming bits in the matrix of evidence and ignore the disconfirming bits as representing mere noise in the data. But that does not mean all explanations are equal. They’re not. And a respect for the diversity of human backgrounds and viewpoints doesn’t mean I need to give all opinions equal weight.
Creationist explanations of human origins represent a precious legacy from our ancestors. They embody unique insights preserved and passed on through thousands of years of written and oral tradition. They should not be ignored; they should be reflected on, cherished, and revered. They have important things to teach us.
But they’re not science. And just because some people choose to pretend that they are doesn’t mean I have to go along.