Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Theology of Disproportionate Retribution

There will never be peace in the Middle East until both sides drop their theology of disproportionate retribution.

In the U.S. we have an expression: "The punishment should fit the crime."

Not so in the Bible.  One of the few sermons I remember from church-going days was an explanation of "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" as an attempt to dial back excessive punishment.  Instead of wiping out an entire town for the actions of a few people, that link in the Old Testament urges restraint.

Apparently only Christians have read it, but not many of them.

Even Christians who have read it misunderestimate the punishment.  Just after 9/11 I was talking to a Christian who was fuming with anger at the A-rabs who perpetrated the crime.  He said we should "nuke them all.  An eye for an eye!"  ... as if nuking millions of people was a suitable punishment despite killing millions of innocent people who had nothing to do with the al Qaeda terrorist attacks ... that weren't even launched from the Middle East - they were based in Afghanistan.

Our wonderful president and his "neo" Conservatives apparently felt the same way.  They punished Iraq for the actions of a group of people that secular Saddam Hussein actually had no use for.  The neo-cons had planned ahead of time for this, and then waited for a suitable trigger to set their plan into motion.  They started talking about it on September 12, 2001.

I suspect something similar happened in Israel.  Three teenagers were murdered, and rather than track down the individual(s) who did it, Israel launched an attack on Hamas itself. ... along with the innocent people who are either human shields or collateral damage, depending on your point of view.  The targets were too specific and too sweeping to have been chosen just recently.  This is a well thought-out campaign designed to bring down their (rather horrible) enemy.  The everyday people of Gaza won't blame Hamas for this, though.  They will blame Israel because people who had nothing to do with the murder of those teens are dying by the hundreds, leaving behind relatives with nothing left but their anger.

Most of what I've seen and read misses the point, I think.  The point is that both parties practice disproportionate retribution.  Just like the deity they worship, who supposedly wiped out the entire population with a flood (including innocent children and fetuses), and ordered genocide after commanding his people not to kill, they feel justified taking out their anger on large numbers of innocents.

Israel should not be building settlements so close to Gaza.  Palestinians shouldn't take it out on the residents of those settlements, because they're not the ones who are defying Palestianian sensibilities.  Those settlers could settle elsewhere.

And then when Palestinians take it out on the residents, Israel can't retreat.  That would be a sign of weakness!  They can't move the settlers to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.  They can't not bomb schools if they are being used to house both children and bombs. They can't cave in to the human shield because everyone would start using that tactic!

And Palestinians can't just take the bombing laying down.  There is nowhere for them to run. Egypt won't take them in, because they get too much money and arms from the U.S. in exchange for not waging war on Israel.  Jordan won't take them back because Jordan is not interested in them.  (They screwed them as far back as the 1940s)  Britain won't take them because although their colonization of Palestine is the reason the Palestinians were displaced to make room for post-war Jews, they are joined at the hip to the U.S.  When you can't take flight, you must fight.

And the U.S. can't let any of this change because Christian dominionists believe Israel's renaissance fortells the coming of the Lawd.  As long as Israel exists, the Lawd will come and take them to Paradise (because apparently the Lawd can't change his mind and blow off prophesy and just do what he wants, when he wants to)

And the Christian Lawd's retribution for not believing in him, or in believing in the wrong version of him, or for believing in some other deity, is disproportionate indeed.  A 13-year-old atheist will burn in Hell for eternity for a year or two of apostasy (assuming that children get some break for not being of an age yet).  A sincere believer in Catholicism, or Pentecostalism, or Methodism (take your pick) will burn in Hell for eternity for missing the mark, even though they've lived an ideal life.

If Christian dominionists didn't believe in the Rapture, if Jews didn't believe in a god who regularly ordered them to commit genocide, if Muslims didn't believe in a god who orders girls to marry their rapists, or apostates to be executed, or thieves to have their hands chopped off, then perhaps there might be something resembling peace.

You know, when a crime happens the criminals are punished, in proportion to their crime, and everyone else is left alone.  That's how secular people behave.

You know, morally.

Until then, the Middle East will continue to be the big mess it was as described in the Old Testament, with warring tribes committing genocide because that's what their deities would want.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Today's TED Talk: Muslim vs. Muslim Terrorism

Karima Bennoue is a law professor at the University of California - Davis School of Law and the author of Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism.

In this TED Talk, she speaks about the devastating impact of fundamentalist violence on people who don't share their vision of Islam.  She makes the point that fundamentalisms are dangerous, not just certain ones, and celebrates the courage of those who refuse to be repressed. I think her own successes should also be celebrated.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Well Organized Protection of Pedophiles isn't just a Catholic Thing

I have run across random references to the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church movement, but the word "independent" seems to give the stories of abuse in these churches some kind of pass for the other churches. But people who have been following them have revealed that there is indeed an organization of sorts underpinning their abusive practices, and that the abusive pastors, members and churches are not isolated incidences.

This story called A Christianity to Make Satan Proud at a Christian Patheos blog gives a chilling account of the power that men of this movement wield over women and children, and how they manage to avoid the long arm of the law.

In this post, a letter from a young woman who was sexually abused by her father for years, shows that denial and victim-blaming is endemic in this movement. Here's just one part of her story:

When I started to try to tell the pastor—my pastor—and his wife that my father had been molesting me since I was three or four years old, he stopped me. “Don’t tell me,” he said. “I don’t want to hear it! If you tell me, then I am required to call the police and report this. You don’t want your daddy going to prison over a misunderstanding, do you?”

Misunderstanding????   Children are indoctrinated into believing they can only trust insiders of their church, that all outsiders including others who claim to be Christians, are not to be trusted, and then what happens when they confide in their authority figures?

These horrible people make up about 2.5% of the American population.  There are probably some near you.

Notable points in her story:
  • Her pedophile father was moved to a different church in another state. Hmmm are they sure they're not Catholic?
  • Her grandparents were in collusion with her father and the church, sending her to a re-education camp (not the infamous Hepzibah House but it sounds similar) after she came forward with accusations of sex abuse.
  • She was instructed to visit her step-father in prison (there for other offenses) to tell him she forgives him.
  • She followed her family tradition of attending Bob Jones University, where denial and victim-blaming were just as institutionalized as in her local church.  BJU is the wellspring of the movement and the university that grants "degrees" to the Bible Church pastors perpetrating abuses around the country.
  • Her PTSD nightmares were so bad her dormmates' sleep was disturbed, and yet her accusations were dismissed. (How many people are dishonest in their dreams?)
    This isn't an isolated instance at all, just an incredibly well-coordinated suppression of the truth. The TV show "20/20" covered an equally egregious instance, in which a 15-year-old girl was sexually abused by her father and raped by a man in her church.  She was forced to confess in front of the entire congregation, then sent away to have the rapist's baby.... which the church forced her to give up for adoption to a "Christian" family.  They interviewed the pastor, who now works in Indianapolis, and he stuck to his guns.  Incredibly, after the 20/20 episode the creep kept his job! 

  • (God, however, was extremely pissed off and used a bus wreck to kill the pastor's son, daughter-in-law, and her fetus.  Note what they say on their site: "On Saturday, July 27, 2013 at around 4:30 p.m., the Lord allowed a bus accident to take Pastor Chad and Courtney Phelps and their unborn baby (see below) and Mrs. Tonya Weindorf (see below) home to enjoy Him in His presence forever")

    More sites:
    Baptist Deception: articles on the theological problems and abuses of the movement
    Bruce Gensner, a former IFB pastor, on the rise and (hopefully) decline of the IFB movement and on its cultish attributes.
    Sheldon, of the Ramblings of Sheldon blog, on the IFB as a guest blogger.  He also has a series on Exposing the IFB.

    Sunday, June 22, 2014

    June 21 Link Round-up

    Happy Solstice!  Time Magazine offers a run-down of celebrations around the world.

    Scientology apostate and film director Paul Haggis discusses bullying of ex-members by Scientologists.

    Spinia bifida could be prevented if folic acid was added to corn meal, but it would cost $1 million to test first. Really? Nobody can afford that???

    The BBC tells the story of the man who writes Leaving Fundamentalism blog.  He is a former student at a fundamentalist school in the U.K.  Now that muslims are running their own creationist schools, the U.K. is examining Christian "faith schools" that flew under the radar until recently.  Now that creationism is banned in U.K. publicly-funded schools, will "faith schools" be more popular?

    Meanwhile, Buddhist fundamentalism is on the rise, with violent consequences.

    Asian elephants comfort each other and show empathy.  Without having Ten Commandments to follow!

    Check out a new atheist blog by a guy named Josh, who grew up fundamentalist.

    Video of the week:
    Dick Cheney and his alter ego:

    Saturday, June 14, 2014

    June 14 Link Round-up

    A Missouri school pays the legal fees for the American Humanist Association after giving special treatment to a religious school group.

    The Executive Director of the American Humanist Association takes on the rhetorical tactic of Hobby Lobby's owners. No, religious "liberty" doesn't include freedom to discriminate.

    Atheism is on the rise in Saudi Arabia.   The downside of an official government religion -- disillusionment with the government leads to disillusionment with the government's religion.

    The jihadist group, ISIS, that has taken over Syria and threatens Iraq is so violent even al-Qaeda has distanced itself from them.

    This is an old article but new to me. I knew the Amish weren't the quaint harmless people we presumed them to be but they are worse than I'd imagined.

    Video of the week:

    The Amazing Atheist takes on Josh Feuerstein's video "disproving" evolution:

    Thursday, June 12, 2014

    Are Atheists "Offended" by Prayer?

    Recently I have encountered online comments from believers who ask why their god talk "offends" atheists. It's an accusation more than a genuine question, of course. The word is code for a message that we are too sensitive and we should just suck it up. After all, they're in charge and we have to live in their world. That's just how it is and we should get used to it.

    The online Webster's dictionary defines 'offend' this way:
    • to cause (a person or group) to feel hurt, angry, or upset by something said or done
    • to be unpleasant to (someone or something)
    • to do wrong : to be against what people believe is acceptable or proper
    So... feeling offended could mean we're just oversensitive sissypants, or it could mean feeling as if we've been wronged. But the definition is clear - the onus is on the person who offends. But... but.... but... they're such good people, doing what they believe to be good, what wrong could they be committing? It must surely all be in our heads.  Blaming the offended party obviates any need for self-reflection.

    Further down the page, Merriam-Webster says this: "offend need not imply an intentional hurting but it may indicate merely a violation of the victim's sense of what is proper or fitting."

    Well there ya go. But... if people get offended for a good reason, that's still the fault of the offender, not the offended. If I don't realize that the N-word is offensive, and I use it and someone gets offended, it's not their fault. It may be the fault of my ignorance (the first time) but I wouldn't blame the other person. I would apologize for saying the offensive thing, i.e., apologize for doing something wrong and promise not to do it again. Blaming the "victim" is the kind of thing a sociopath does, not a normal, decent person.

    Most of the time when I encounter this term it's in the context of government endorsement of religion. (Naturally, because I don't give a hoot about someone's religious expression any other time) When I e-mailed the principal of Lebanon High School in Missouri to admonish him for sneaking prayer into his graduation speech, he replied that he was sorry if I was offended. His public nonpology says much the same thing:

    “I sincerely apologize if any comments made in my speech offended anyone in the audience and our community, especially any of our students, and will strive to not let this happen again. Our district endeavors to fully comply with the laws and Constitution of the United States, and to provide quality education to all of our students. I wish each and everyone of the 332 fine young men and women who graduated that night the best in all of their endeavors.”
    -Lebanon High School Principal Kevin Lowery
    For additional information Contact:
    Jacy Tilton
    Director of Communications, Lebanon R-3 School District
    (copied from Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution is True site)

    I doubt that these words are all his. The district probably has a legal advisor, but still ... the comments offended people, not Lowery. By blaming the comments and not himself, he's still taking a step away from his guilt. It's like saying "I'm sorry if my bullet entered your body and caused an injury. I won't let bullets do that again." Who pulled the trigger, Mr. Lowery? Words don't just fly out of your mouth on their own without your brain putting them there.

    Recently I've been told that I'm unnecessarily "offended" in a debate with a Jewish Facebook friend.  I posted a link to a poll asking whether "Under God" should remain in the pledge."  She said that when she was in school (decades ago) she and a Jewish friend just stayed silent for those words so why can't atheists?

    I think she's missing the point.  Well, there are many points that she's missing, and she sounds like victims of hazing who justify hazing the next group of fraternity pledges.  There's some kind of victimology there, but I'll save that for later.  For one thing, no child should have to make that decision!  In protestant Christianity and Judaism, a child isn't of age to commit to a belief system until just before puberty.  Our age of consent for almost every adult act is older than elementary school age.  If a child isn't of age to enter into a contract, buy a pack of cigarettes, drive a car, or have sex, we shouldn't expect them to make a consent decision regarding religious expression.   Another problem I have with this is that it asks a child to opt out.  It's a well known psychological/sociological principal that opting in results in less compliance than opting in, for example in donor registration on driver's licenses (the "default" effect).  This results in god-talk being normalized, and silence being seen by the majority as abnormal or exceptional.  In the case of children and the pledge, we are asking children to obey their teachers at all time ... except when they disagree with their teacher about God. Is that realistic? Again, the child is getting the blame for putting up with something illegal, not the teacher who enforces it.

    The way we know that this is true is that believers don't like it when they are the ones who must opt in or out.  My Jewish friend asked me why atheists can't just opt out like she did, because opting in is so difficult.  It's as if the idea of not making children decide on their belief system at the beginning of the day for twelve years just doesn't exist for her. If the "normal" pledge has no god reference it's not in any way damaging... or should I say offending a believer. They don't say god all day long in every other activity in school. Not doing it during their morning flag recitation won't hurt them any more than not doing it while learning fractions.

    But my real complaint isn't that I'm personally "offended" or hurt if some child somewhere is forced to pray against his/her will, or if a principal prays at a graduation ceremony.  I'm not personally affected at all so my own feelings can't be hurt. I'm offended as an American that such things are going on in a country that supposedly did away with them. Expecting a 6-year-old or a 16-year-old to go along with a religious message in a school environment where they are expected to be obedient to authority is coercion, not free expression.

    Now, let's look at the other definition of offend:  to break the law.  Criminals are called offenders.  A school that forces kids to say "under God" and a principal who prays at a public school event is breaking the law of the land: the First Amendment of the Constitution and subsequent related case law.

    When someone commits an offense against a law, they are committing an offense against all the people, as represented by the government.  As one of those people,  I'm entitled to shout "HEY!  You're breaking the law!"  In criminal court, the prosecution represents "the people," even if there's a specific victim. Unfortunately, in civil court only aggrieved parties are able to file lawsuits against these malefactors.   I think crimes against the Constitution offend against everybody in the U.S., so anybody should be able to file suit, and Principal Lowery should be put on trial and jailed.

    Why do outsiders like Jerry Coyne, the Freedom From Religion Foundation and myself (to a much lesser degree of course) take "offense" at offenses against the Constitution?  In my case, it's because of the "Broken Window" effect in sociology.  When that first broken window doesn't get fixed, people think it's okay to break more windows.  They think, Nobody obviously cares about windows in this neighborhood, do they? It's a slippery slope, but not a fallacious slippery slope. In Law, it's called "precedent," and in principle it's called "tradition."

    God on our money, in the pledge, or in a public school graduation speech is a broken window in the one place on Earth that made a solemn promise not to let broken windows happen.  It was a founding principal of our government not to let get entangled with religion, and that principal needs to be restored.