Linkskrieg! (Second pass)

June 11, 2012

More things I never made time to write about.

1. “Unnecessary conflict” between science and evangelicalism:

This is not to say that I want to reject reason or science – quite the contrary! My point here is that understanding distinction between these truths of mythos and logos points the way towards realizing the compatibility of scientific and religious thought. We need them both. They don’t have to be enemies, as they represent different aspects of the human search for truth.

2. Live Science’s article on the extremes between the religious and the atheist:

Psychologists, sociologists and neurologists continue to study why some gobble up religion as profound truth while others reject it as superstition.

“This whole area [of research] teaches us something about the human mind and brain,” said Andrew Newberg, director of research at the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University and author of “How God Changes Your Brain” (Ballantine Books, 2009).

“There are a lot of philosophical and theological implications of this work and about how we understand the world,” Newberg added.

3. More about earthquakes and the Dead Sea’s “proof” that Jesus died on Friday April 3rd, 33AD:

In terms of the earthquake data alone, Williams and his team acknowledge that the seismic activity associated with the crucifixion could refer to “an earthquake that occurred sometime before or after the crucifixion and was in effect ‘borrowed’ by the author of the Gospel of Matthew, and a local earthquake between 26 and 36 A.D. that was sufficiently energetic to deform the sediments of Ein Gedi but not energetic enough to produce a still extant and extra-biblical historical record.”

“If the last possibility is true, this would mean that the report of an earthquake in the Gospel of Matthew is a type of allegory,” they write.

(I’m always amused by people who turn to science in the hopes of proving their religious texts aren’t just a bunch of made up hooey.)

4. Japanese Jesus tomb a big tourist draw:

Some 500 tourists attended a festival Sunday in the village of Shingo, Aomori Prefecture, where women in kimono danced in a circle around a cross erected on a spot that locals believe is the tomb of Jesus Christ.

Village legend has it Jesus survived his crucifixion and secretly came to Japan and lived out his natural life and died in the village, which used to be called Herai, a word that apparently came from the word Hebrew.

5. Pastor accused of beating kids:

Officials say the boy told deputies that the day before, his mother took him and his brother to see the pastor after church to talk with him about their misbehavior during services at the church on Ames Blvd.

“They were misbehaving in church, and usually, according to the mom’s statements, she would let the pastor discipline the kids following church,” said sheriff’s office spokesman Glen Boyd.

Investigators say the 10-year-old told them it was during that session when Smith, a Gretna resident, beat them with a belt.

6. Do secular TV shows offer enough morality lessons for Christian kids?

here’s where I tend to differ from many Christian parents I know: I’m not protective because I fear the moral damage television might do to my children. I’m protective because I want my children to stay children and not have to watch people being killed or hurt or harassed. I don’t want them to see how awful people can be to each other—not yet. I’m protecting their outlook on humanity.

7. Pastor accused of swindling an elderly woman out of property worth a fortune:

Abakporo, who owns a home in the wealthy part of Jamaica Estates in Queens, N.Y., is also a pastor at Deeper Life Bible Church, investigators said.

Instead of turning the checks over to McCarther, who prosecutors say was in declining physical and mental health, they deposited the rental checks into their own bank accounts.

Federal prosecutors say Abakporo and Pierce further tangled McCarther in a “web of lies” and ultimately persuaded her to sell them her property for $3.1 million. But instead of giving her real money, they paid her in phony checks, prosecutors said.

8. A bill in California has been offered banning conversion therapy:

The bill would ban anyone under age 18 from receiving sexual-orientation change efforts (SOCE). It would also require adults seeking SOCE to first sign a statement warning that that SOCE is “unlikely to be effective,” could be harmful, and is not recommended by mental health professional groups.

Efforts to change sexual orientation are “junk science, and it must stop,” said Democratic state Sen. Ted W. Lieu, the bill’s author.


A Question of Atheist Scruples – Round 3

May 15, 2012

I’m getting a kick out of doing this. Some of the questions out of this old Scruples game are a bit absurd and others leave too many options open for answers, but overall it’s getting interesting. Here are today’s ethical quandaries.

A friend asks you to join a demonstration for worldwide nuclear disarmament. You are busy. Do you go?

Where is it and how long does it run? If it’s at City Hall on a Sunday afternoon, I could probably swing it. Laundry could wait a few hours. If it would require weeks off work and cramped days sitting in a VW bus filled with angry sign waving hippies, I’d have to pass on it, no matter how much I might agree with them.

This isn’t news I stay abreast of, but I’ve found an opinion piece in the Toronto Star where the writer takes this position in terms of Iran.

Universal abolition of nuclear weapons is indeed a utopian ideal. As has been pointed out, it could not work in today’s international system of “a world divided into nations maintaining their full sovereignty.”

The authors of that comment were not utopians, though. They were the U.S. joint chiefs of staff. This was their judgment back in 1946, at the very dawn of the nuclear era.

Instead, we’ve gone the route of trying, by pressure and bribery, to limit nuclear weapons to respectable nations — or to weak ones (like Pakistan and North Korea). The consequence is an Iran within touching distance of gaining nuclear capability, and after it, almost anybody.

The alternative to that route would be, in essence, some form of global nuclear governance. Excruciatingly hard to accomplish, of course. But isn’t it time long overdue to have a serious discussion of that option?

And wasn’t that kind of initiative exactly the sort of thing that Canada, long ago it now seems, used to do and indeed was quite good at? Why not regain our voice?

We’ve seen the fall-out in terms of what happens in a nuclear event. Nagasaki and Hiroshima are testaments of that. No matter how bad one’s enemies are (or said to be), they’re still going to be surrounded by the innocent, those completely undeserving of the punishment. They didn’t necessarily choose their leaders and they don’t necessarily agree with them either. Those aren’t weapons anyone should use. They aren’t just enemy killers. They’re world killers.

Late one evening, your 19-year-old son asks permission for his girlfriend to stay over. Do you give it?

First, I’d be happy he asked. It shows respect for me and my house, which is cool, and if I said no, I think that means he’d abide by my decision instead of trying to sneak her in under the radar and risk disappointing me. (Or, he’s been sneaking her in for a while and finally feels some guilt about it…) While he’s nineteen and technically an adult, I’d rather know where he is and who he’s with than be up wondering why he isn’t home yet and what kind of trouble he might be getting into. If that means he has his girlfriend stay over once in a while, I think I’d probably be fine with it, so long as his girlfriend isn’t 17 or younger. I’d also be insisting on birth control, probably in some horribly embarrassing kind of way that only a parent can do.

You are a doctor. You have diagnosed a terminal illness. The family begs you to keep it from the patient. When the patient asks, do you tell him the truth?

If he asks, is it a safe bet that he probably already suspects that’s the case? I can’t see how lying to the guy would help the whole family cope with the news in the long run. I’d try to encourage them all to be open with each other and deal with the reality of the upcoming loss rather than pretend it’s not going to happen. They wouldn’t be giving their dad/grandfather/brother much credit. No doubt he’d notice a change in their behaviour towards him and know something was up. Also, how long does he have? If it’s a death that treatment could stave off for a few months, wouldn’t he want to know that option’s available sooner rather than later? At least give the whole family some time to consider the pros and cons of that.

Or, possibly the family just wants the news to come from loved ones instead of a complete stranger. Maybe they don’t intend to hide the truth from him at all, just choose the way they share it with him. In that case, I think I would have to respect their decision.

I leave the fourth open to readers:

The only available spot in the parking lot is reserved for the handicapped. You are in a hurry and won’t be very long. Do you park there?


Dad says Hell NO! to Jesus T-shirt

May 7, 2012

An update to the Nova Scotia story I hit on earlier this week:

A Nova Scotia student suspended from classes for five days for wearing a T-shirt with the slogan “Life Is Wasted Without Jesus” returned to school today wearing the same garment, but he was quickly taken home by his father.

William Swinimer, who’s in Grade 12, was scheduled to attend a session for all students on how to express their beliefs in a way that is respectful to all.

But John Swinimer said he wants Forest Heights Community School in Chester Basin, Lunenburg County, to only teach the basic courses, leaving religion out of it.

John Swinimer said his son will not return to school until it gets back to teaching the basics. (CBC)”He will not attend this school unless they are having reading, writing and arithmetic — good old-fashioned academics,” he said, waving a New Testament bible. “When they’re having forums, when they’re having other extra-curricular activity, he will not attend that school.”

Hilarious. I assumed a kid like that had active church parents. Wouldn’t you?

Students said William Swinimer has been preaching and making them feel uncomfortable, and the shirt was the last straw so they complained.

“He’s told kids they’ll burn in hell if they don’t confess themselves to Jesus,” student Riley Gibb-Smith said.

Katelyn Hiltz, student council vice-president, agreed the controversy didn’t begin with the T-shirt.

“It started with him preaching his religion to kids and then telling them to go to hell. A lot of kids don’t want to deal with this anymore,” she said.

That’s not what school is for. Dad’s got it right. Stick to the stuff that really matters from an educational perspective and leave the religious nuttery for the hours outside school.


In terms of comparative religion, why not include paganism?

April 15, 2012

I watched The Wicker Man recently; the 1973 release, not the Nicholas Cage remake that’s only good to watch for a laugh. Mind you, as an atheist I found humour in the original where I’m sure none was intended at the time it was made. I caught myself sniggering as the righteous Christian Sergeant Howie (played by Edward Woodward) gets more and more distressed at the education, habits and traditions of the people living on Summerisle. A very young Christopher Lee plays Lord Summerisle who explains to him how the paganist roots of the community got started. His grandfather had to engineer and modify the crops he brought to the island because they wouldn’t grow well in the soil otherwise. In order to make sure the locals had faith in his new apple trees etc., he had them pray to the Goddess of the Harvest and follow other ancient rites (a lot of which required naked women and outdoor orgies) and when they were rewarded with an excellent harvest, they were led to believe their new religion was the reason, thus encouraging them to keep it up year after year. But now it looks like the crops are starting to fail and Howie is easily led to believe that a young girl is going to be sacrificed on May Day to ensure a good crop next year. He realizes, a bit belatedly, that he’s a bit wrong about that…

But anyway, a friend of mine added a link to her Facebook page that I simply had to click on. It’s from the Daily Mail’s coverage of the news that Cornwall schools must add paganism into their religion courses, even down to the early childhood levels. Cornwall Council is clearly catering to a fringe movement in the area (the upper estimate puts 750 pagans in a population of 537,400 so .001 percent) but its inclusion gives it the practice a legitimacy that was otherwise lacking. This alarms the Christian campaigners who are against the move, of course. They’re claiming it’s a time issue, that the course can’t devote enough time to the majors let alone a fringe religion, thus it’s a waste of time including it.

‘Introducing paganism is just faddish and has more to do with the political correctness of teachers than the educational needs of children.’

Is it a fad to include Buddhism, Judaism and Islam, as well? Did anyone ever try to claim that those are only included because of political correctness instead of educational value? It’s too much of a straw man argument to extend this toward them wanting all Christianity all the time in that class and nothing else, but deep down it wouldn’t surprise me if that was the way a few of them think. It tops the list of commandments, doesn’t it? No other gods but me? (Commandments aimed very specifically at the Israelites and their YHWH, but neveryoumind…)

This, too, is something of a stretch, but I wonder if their attitude might have a bit to do with concerns over what might get taught in terms of how early Christians behaved toward pagans. They moved into the area and usurped a belief system that had flourished for hundreds of years and what beliefs they didn’t ban they stole and repurposed toward their own ends. Glory glory hallelujah.

Paganism is historically relevant in Cornwall so the fact that a minority of people have chosen to retain the traditions is a fact kids should be allowed to learn in school.

Neil Burden, the council’s cabinet member for children’s services, said that the move would give children ‘access to the broad spectrum of religious beliefs’.

The council said the teaching of Christianity still accounted for nearly two-thirds of religious education in its schools.

Clearly they don’t like things to be fair, with equal time devoted to all the religions included in the syllabus but maybe they’d make the argument that .001 percent worth of pagans suggests a mere .001 percent of class time should be given over to them. And I don’t think I’d disagree with using a rationing approach of some kind. If the intent is to expose students to all available religious lifestyles in their geographical area then it’s probably logical to spend more time on the ones they’re most likely to run into in their day to day lives and just touch on the others out there that aren’t so in-the-face all the time.

I wonder what their approach is in terms of validity of religions overall; if the teachers promote Christianity above all other faiths as if it’s the right and only one worth having, or if they teach this so kids will come away from the course understanding that every religion is essentially the same in terms of purpose; they all exist to impose some kind of order on an otherwise chaotic world.

Bottom line, I don’t see the harm in including paganism in this course. I don’t remember much about my school days but I know I learned nothing about whatever beliefs would have been held by the aboriginal population of my province before the Christians ran ripshod over their culture and decimated it. It would have been interesting but my religion class was aimed only at getting the kids ready to be proper Catholics, whatever the hell that might mean. I never had a religion class like this Cornwall one until I hit university and it was quite the eye opener, to say the least. It’s good that these kids don’t have to wait until university to get the same experience.


So I read Deborah Feldman’s book “UNorthodox”

February 22, 2012

It was released by Simon and Schuster recently and was a pretty quick but interesting read. Feldman grew up in Brooklyn as part of the Williamsburg Hasidic community and has written a memoir based on that life and the steps she ultimately took within her life to surpass those mentally crippling limitations.

It was eye-opening in terms of me learning more about that stricter version of Judaism. I hadn’t known women were expected to shave all their hair off after marriage and wear wigs or some other head covering. There’s a point in the book where it’s discovered that natural hair wigs purchased for these Satmar women were made of hair that Hindus had shaved off themselves as part of their own worshiping ceremonies and the Rabbi demands all the wigs be burned. God truly forbid they wear hair that belonged to those who worship false idols. But God also forbid they be allowed to keep and style their own hair – it might give the men Ideas. It seems the men have enough Ideas as it is.

Men and women being kept separate in temple is something I might have known about before but the purity laws that keep the temple and thus men “safe” from menstruating women seem outright laughable, even though it’s clear they take that shit seriously. Feldman describes the ritual of self-testing for bleeding and rules about bringing one’s underwear to the Rabbi if one’s not sure the stains are blood. Once married to the man chosen by one’s parents, there are even more rituals and rules to abide by – special purification baths to take and men not allowed to touch anything a bleeding woman has touched. As an outsider looking in, it all sounds so damned ludicrous. What she describes about her sexual anxiety on top of all that wound up being the most fascinating part of the book, I have to admit. I thought I had hang-ups…

She didn’t come out of the experience a complete atheist but she grew to understand why her mother felt compelled to leave that world (she was gay) and her life-long secret love of secular books eventually helped her realize she wanted a better education for herself and her son than they’d otherwise get. Her relationship with her husband was also poor (not just because of the bedroom problems) and it seems like it was a fairly easy decision for both of them to divorce.

I’m not much for reading memoirs. The brain can be a terrible place to store memories. The bulk of them wind up flawed and changed by memories of experiences that occur later, either our own, or those we hear of from other people. No matter how “true” a story might feel to the writer, it’s up to the reader to take it with a grain of salt. (One “reader” goes a step further; RS has a whole blog dedicated to exposing Feldman as a fraud, and provides different background to some of the stories she shares in her book.)

In terms of the book itself, I’ve read a lot of books and this one feels green. Amateurish, I mean. 25 she might be, but a lot of writers got a start younger than that and their first books are a lot more polished. It might be on account of the style she chose to write it, mind you. It’s a present-tense first person kind of thing so that while she’s describing events that might have occurred when she was nine, it’s written like she is that age, writing pages in a juvenile diary. I agree with the opinion of The Forward blogger, Debra Nussbaum Cohen, too:

Whatever the truth, something about Feldman still seems very young, though she is now 25 and the mother of a nearly 6-year-old son. In photos in the Post, posing in a sequined, sleeveless mini-dress, and in pictures on the ABC News website, where she sits on a park bench, wearing high heels, tight jeans and holding a cigarette in her hand, she looks like nothing so much as a young girl posing the way she thinks grownups are supposed to.

She reminds me of 13-year-old girls I see at some bat mitzvahs, teetering around on stiletto heels and wearing minis so short they can’t safely sit down.

I’m trying to think back to what I was like when I was 25. I think I was probably something of a poser, too, without enough life experience to see what parts of my behaviour merely reflected those around me and what came directly from myself. I think that’s a struggle everyone goes through at some point, even if they don’t realize it.

Now living on the Upper East Side with her son, she said there is nothing she misses about life in the Satmar community. “Everything I miss I can have,” she said. “If I want cholent, I make cholent. I have it all now. I am just exhilarated by it. There is not even within me even one shred of regret.”

If she feels like she has to prove something, I hope she realizes she only has to prove it to herself. It does take some daring to write about yourself, I’ll admit. I’m not that bold. Then again, a lot of what I’ve done is boring and quite forgettable. Truthfully, I don’t think I could remember enough childhood events to fill a chapter, let alone nine of them. UNremarkable. That’d be the title of mine…


Former Saskatoon priest charged with sexual abuse

February 8, 2012

CBC Radio 1 mentioned 89 year old William Hodgson Marshall this morning so I went hunting for more information. From CBC I learn he’s in custody in Kingston, Ontario and awaiting trial:

Marshall was a priest, basketball coach and mathematics teacher at St. Paul’s High School in Saskatoon between 1958 and 1961. The all-boys school, which was on the 400 block of 22nd St. E. downtown, closed in 1967.

On Tuesday, the Saskatoon police said Marshall has been charged in connection with indecent assaults that took place in 1959 and 1960.

The two alleged victims, now both 66 years old, were 14 at the time.

The Crown prosecutor’s office is arranging for a court appearance to take place in Ontario, Saskatoon police said.

In a written statement, Saskatoon Bishop Donald Bolen said the diocese was recently informed of the new charges.

“In all such cases, our first concern is for the suffering of those who have been abused. We are called to listen and to assist in whatever way possible as they move toward healing,” Bolen said.

Hmm. In other such cases I’ve read about, the Catholic church’s first concern has been to move the priest and/or pretend it never happened. Like in Memphis, and France, and Ireland and elsewhere. And, in a lot of cases, possibly all of them, it was a Vatican approved decision. These days the Vatican is under fire for not doing enough to protect victims and people are demanding a change. A New York Times article posted yesterday notes a conference finishing up in Europe where this has been the main issue being discussed.

Terence McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org , said the conference was intended to “change the subject and look like progress.”

“The Vatican is afraid, and it has reason to be,” he said, in light of recent charges against the church, including a complaint filed against the Vatican with the International Criminal Court.

The conference, which began on Monday and runs for four days, drew about 200 delegates, more than half of them bishops but also victims, rectors of Catholic universities and religious superiors. Cardinal William J. Levada, who heads the Vatican office that deals with allegations of clerical abuse, said Monday in his keynote speech that over 4,000 cases of sexual abuse of minors had been reported to his office in the past decade as the church toughened its responses. “We are still learning,” he said. “We need to help each other find the best ways to help victims, protect children,” and to educate priests “to be aware of this scourge and to eliminate it from the priesthood.”

Would step one be to boot out the priests known to be doing it and let the police and courts make mincemeat out of them? Put the ones suspected on some kind of probation where they’re never allowed to be alone with young boys? Apologize profusely for letting this get so out of hand and then offer to build and fund (but not operate) real counseling centers where real psychologists and other professionals won’t resort to prayer as a band-aid fix-it-all? That’s just off the top of my head, of course. I don’t know what they’ll actually decide on as a course of action.

It’ll be interesting to see what, if anything, comes of this.


Quotable opinion that matches mine

January 30, 2012

It’s from Heather Mallick’s recent piece for the Toronto Star, discussing her atheism in tandem with her approach to journalism and human rights. She notes religion has never been a big blip on her radar but I think she’s wrong when she claims, “Religion sails past atheists like a paper airplane.” Many atheists have a decent handle on the nature of religion on account of growing up in one and then finding the way out. Those who spend their time blogging about injustice and misbehaviour on the part of followers (and atheists, too – we’re equal opportunity complainers) make a point of pointing out the parts of the belief systems that create and allow that behaviour to flourish. She may consider herself one of the many soft-spoken atheists who haven’t yet been encouraged to reach full volume, as it were, but others are well on their way and always prepared to encourage more to make their voices heard. Anyway, a story she shares:

Last summer I wrote a column about a Don Mills school where imams conduct Islamic prayers in the cafeteria, with the boys at the front, the girls behind them and menstruating girls at the back in a sad little huddle.

I genuinely believed that parents and education officials who read this would object to two things: females being treated as second-class compared to boys, and students missing class time that would not be made up later. To me, religion had nothing to do with it.

What a dolt I was. I fully expected little bands of parent-protestors to show up at Valley Park with signs: Girls + Boys=Canada! We are the 99% for Grammar! End Tampon Shame!

Of course I was wrong. I was called a “gender Nazi,” whatever that may be. I heard from Muslims, any number of religionists who didn’t happen to like Muslims, incensed parents who put obedience over literacy, racists (many of these) and Angry Pyjamas (but I always hear from them) but I heard almost nothing from feminists or teachers.

This was a grave disappointment.

I shall try not to write about religion again, even inadvertently. For I am an atheist and we atheists have to keep our stick on the ice. We have no faith. We are polite. We do not believe. We are not interested in belief.

The world would be a better place if we made more noise.

I don’t know what Angry Pyjamas are, presumably the folks who read news stories as they enjoy their breakfasts in front of their computers and are awake enough to give the world what-for via flaming anonymous comments.

We all should be interested in belief, atheist or not. When beliefs about the world and one’s status in it are ruled by strange laws gleaned from the religious writings of old instead of decided via rational thought processes, that’s where the bulk of the problems crop up. The treatment of women in Islamic culture is a big problem, one Muslims would have to want to fix. It doesn’t matter how much outsiders might protest and rally for the women who want to drive or dress Western or get educated
. Until the believers are willing to set aside the archaic beliefs and match pace with the rest of the world in terms of human rights, stories like these will continue to hit newspapers and blogs.

But I agree with her. The world would be better if we made more noise, atheist or otherwise. Why do we sit by and let that crap continue unprotested? What’s up with the apathy? What’s up with the topsy-turvy reactions to what should have been the real issue at stake there? Why weren’t more people irate for the reasons she thought they’d be? Do people really want to see girls kept second class? I doubt it.


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