Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Criticizing the Extremists - Good or Bad?

Moderate believers often criticize atheists (and others, I suppose) for going after the extremists of their religion.  Even if they don't commit the No True Scotsman fallacy, they seem to suggest that only their kinder, gentler brand of [insert religion here] should be discussed.  After all, the fringes are irrelevant, aren't they?

As long as they don't bring up Stalin, we should be happy to return the favor.  Right?

Well.... we atheists were pretty quiet until 9/11/2001.  We thought the same thing about the extremists.  They were a little nutty but harmless, and after all they're a teensy minority.  Then 19 people changed the world.

Meanwhile, in January of 2001, a fundamentalist Christian president busily installed his fundy pals in executive branch offices.  The few of us who paid attention were quite worried about the future of our democracy.  Fundamentalist Christian comprise over 20 percent of Americans but are a huge and well-organized voting bloc that propels Republicans into office and takes office themselves.

Again, as long as they were merely being used by their puppeteers to put the oligarchical overlords into positions of power, they weren't a threat to religious freedom.  They only threatened good sense and good government. We'd survived bad government before, so what's the big whoop?

The big whoop is that secularism is under attack.  We are going after our attackers, not the bystanders.  If the bystanders don't like being swept into the umbrella designation of their religion, perhaps they should be the ones fighting the fundies.

We can't live in a society where fundamentalists have the power to change science curricula, take over government agencies, take over the military, or impose their religion on the rest of us in any way.  We can live in a society where the moderates go about their individual lives without causing anyone else any trouble.

Perhaps the moderates should be telling the fundies to stop denying evolution .... and geology and cosmology.  They should be telling the fundies to get out of government and stop grabbing political power.  They should tell them to take the commandment about telling lies more seriously, like stop calling America a "Christian Nation" or quoting the Declaration of Independence instead of the Constitution.

But they don't do it, so it's up to us.  We have more to lose.  The moderates are bit lazy, which is why they're moderates.  Being a fundy is hard work.  They have to go to church more than once a week, and read the Bible (at least the convenient parts) and worry about which of their neighbors they should hate.  They are complacent about the damage fundies can do.

American Christians feel superior to Islamic believers, which is a mistake.  Islamic moderates probably didn't use to worry about what fundamentalists would do if they took control.  How many Iranians in the 1970s expected to be suppressed after the Shah was deposed?  How many Egyptians are happy about the Muslim Brotherhood taking power now?

So... it's too bad that moderates feel they are unfairly maligned when reasonable people take issue with fundamentalists.  We're not the ones that created a messed up tangle of religious division.  We're the ones who struggled to get free from it.

But don't take my word for it, read this Washington Post blog op-ed:  It isn't just Islamic Fundamentalists...

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Bragging about child abuse? Pastor claims to have converted a kid by punching him

In other news:

Bullying Kids for Jesus:

A pastor at the Bible Baptist Church in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey is coming under fire after his church posted a video of him claiming to have converted a “smart aleck” youth by “punching him in the chest as hard as I could.”

Pastor Eric Dammann begins by saying that he met a young man in Calgary named “Ben,” who was “a nice kid, but one of those — he was a real smart aleck. He was a bright kid, which didn’t help things — made him more dangerous.”

“We were outside one day at youth group,” Dammann continues, “and he was just trying to push my buttons. He was just kind of not taking the Lord serious [sic].”

“So I walked over to him and went BAM! Punched him in the chest as hard as I could. I crumpled the kid. I just crumpled him.”

“Then I leaned over and said, ‘Ben, when are you going to stop playing games with God?’ I led that man to the Lord right there,” he concludes.

Isn't that charming? Here's the video where he brags about it:

Friday, January 9, 2015

Cartoonists Respond to the Charlie Hebdo Atrocity

I've seen a few of these around the web, but the best are all on this round-up:


How anyone could worship a god that can't take a joke is beyond me. Shouldn't Mohammed be able to brush off insults?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Child Abuse and Religion... Again.

Every time I think I've heard it all from religious nuts something new comes up.

This time the story comes from Florida, but the news is all about Charlie Hebdo, so I thought I'd pass it on.  On a quieter news day this would be the top story.

This man threw his 5-year-old daughter to her death from a highway bridge, and he doesn't want a court-appointed lawyer.  He wants to leave it "in God's hands."

The judge tried to get clarification... did he want to represent himself?  No, he wanted to leave it in God's hands.

On the one hand, I want to think he is suicidal and will off himself in prison, thus removing the legal process.  On the other hand, I want him to have a court appointed attorney who can at least get him a psychiatric evaluation.

And on the third hand I want to strangle him myself.

... and this just in:  his divorce attorney called 911 to report that the girl could be in danger.  She said he was delusional, and guess what kinds of delusions he was having?  Yep.  Religious ones, and naturally, religion gets a pass on this.

Genevieve Torres called 911 Wednesday to say her client, John Jonchuck, was acting strange. Deputies went out to talk with Jonchuck but said there was no evidence the child was in danger.

The 25-year-old father was at Torres' office in Lutz on a child paternity case. His daughter Phoebe was with him. The 5 year old quietly colored a picture and played.

"I called 911 immediately when he left the office and told them where he was going so someone could meet him there," she said.

In a 911 call, she told the operator, "He’s out of his mind and he has a minor child with him driving to a church now and I should’ve kept the child.”

According to police reports, Jonchuck asked his attorney to translate a Swedish bible during the meeting and even said he was “God.” He said he was headed to St. Paul Catholic Church in Tampa to talk with a member of the clergy.

“It was enough for me to say this is not usual behavior. This is, I use the word delusional. He was delusional and he had a 5-year-old girl with him. And I just thought you know—somebody had to take care of that little girl," she said.
Father Bill Swengros says Jonchuck showed up at the church with Phoebe.

"He seemed just like a typical dad, a 25-year-old dad with his daughter," said Father Bill.

He said he had his childcare workers watch Phoebe so he could talk to her dad privately.
Father Bill said she seemed well-adjusted.

"What impressed me about her actually was that she seemed very intelligent and very confident in herself."

He said Johnchuck himself seemed "off," and that Johnchuck claimed he was having a spiritual experience and wanted to be baptized immediately.

"His mind was racing in a lot of different directions but there wasn't anything that would suggest he was a danger to himself or his daughter," he said.

Deputies found Jonchuck at church, but according to their report he never threatened to harm his daughter or himself.
Jonchuck told deputies he was there because God spoke to him and gave him new clarity in his life. That wasn’t enough for Torres.

“I decided to call child protective services,” she said.

She called the child abuse hotline, where the attorney was also told the behavior did not legally meet criteria to investigate the case as child abuse

Saturday, December 27, 2014

God's Not Dead: They Watched it so You Don't Have To

In the absence of an MST3k treatment of this horrendously bad movie, we have some voice-over reviews & discussions by people who took one for the team.   Warning:  you may laugh out loud or snort your beverage through your nose.  Sometimes it will be the comments but sometimes it will be the sheer stupidity of the movie that gets to you.

This first one is by a film buff. So yes, it is as bad as it seems to be, according to an actual film buff:

Dusty Smith reduces it to five minutes, which is about as long as the plot really deserves. Oh, and he adds some gratuitous cuss words because that's what Dusty does.  (Also check out his review of TLC's The Bible):

Jake & Hugo of The Bible Reloaded spend a half hour telling you about the worst 90 minutes of their lives. This is pretty close to MST3k treatment. "Brrrrrzzzsht! Jesus rain!":

Wreckless Eating: Two guys on a couch making some amusing and pointed comments in their review:

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Next Collapsed Culture = Ours?

The Real Indiana Jones thinks we may be the next of many failed civilizations.

Arthur Demerest, an anthropology professor at Vanderbilt University, says the Golden Age often precedes a fall:
On the future of the U.S., or of Western civilization in general, I tend to be quite pessimistic. Perhaps that is simply because “collapse” is what I do. As an archaeologist, I have excavated single trenches, just a few meters deep, in which you can see stratigraphic levels of several civilizations. We find layers of artifacts and evidence indicating periods of great prosperity, but always separated by levels of burned earth, ash and artifacts that reflect the epochs of social disintegration, chaos and tragedy that seem to conclude the achievements and aspirations of every society.
The answer?
The answers and specific policies will only begin to emerge after voters and workers, as well as politicians and CEOs, lower their expectations a bit for prosperous societies to a somewhat lower level of growth (and opulence). As voters and stockholders, we need to expect less of our leaders and we need to begin thinking in terms of longer periods, and slower processes, for judging success.
As far as I'm concerned, we need to start with smaller families, or no families at all.  In other words, religion has to go!  The bullies of the world's religions have to embrace birth control and stop trying to win out by overpopulation.  The Jews have replaced the Holocaust victims by now.  The Quiverfull Christians have only been partially successful in convincing women to be brood mares for Christ.  Muslims number over a billion and constitute a majority in 49 countries.  Isn't that enough?

So the first lowered expectation:  family size.

The second lowered expectation:  religious hegemony.

The third lowered expectation will take care of itself after those are satisfied.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Rational Response to Ferguson?

In the wake of the recent grand jury decisions and subsequent outcry, many of my real life and internet friends are outraged.  Inflamed perhaps.  I agree that the grand jury isn't the best way to decide about charges against cops.  Only the prosecutor states the case, and the prosecutor and cops are on the same side.

I get that.  I agree that change is needed there.

But I am not nearly as passionate about this as my friends expect me to be.  In my view, each interaction between two people is more complex than race, including interactions between cops and teens.  I've lived and worked in diverse places.  I've had to break up fights between black teens.  I've been the victim of street crime committed by black teens.  One of my coworkers had to retire from a security job after being punched in the eye by a homeless guy.  He could no longer pass a firearms test to carry his weapon.  None of the people who did these things brandished a handgun, but none of them was innocent, either.  Cops know first-hand what harm people are capable of doing without a gun.  That's why they may respond with force to "unarmed" but not harmless people.

So here's rational reminder #1:  You can hurt someone badly without having a firearm.

Fortunately for me, I was the victim of grab-and-run rather than point-a-gun crime.  When I reported these crimes to the cops, they didn't ask if the people had a weapon.  They knew from my description of what happened that I would have no idea.  Unlike some media commentators, cops know that nobody has X-Ray vision when it comes to weapons.

One of the memes in outrage news stories is that the shooting victim was "unarmed."  Well, yes, you know that after they're laying dead on the street.  What about when they're resisting arrest?  Or even resisting talking to a cop?  "It is virtually impossible to know if an individual is carrying a concealed firearm."  That's a quote from Police Magazine, which goes on to advise complete control over the individual being confronted.  They add: "Write this in bold block letters somewhere across your mind: You cannot assume that someone is unarmed."  This article begins with the example of a cop who was killed by a jay-walker.  Sound familiar?

Rational Reminder #2:  You can't tell if someone has a weapon (until it's too late)

Cops have bulls-eyes on them all day long.  We worry about "driving while black" (or Hispanic), which is indeed a concern, but cops are hated by the worst of the worst.  And to make matters worse, tightly-wound people are triggered by the arrival of a cop.  Sometimes a cop will know ahead of time that emotions are running high.  Other times they have a right to expect a low-tension encounter but get killed.  Cops know when another cop has been killed.  The word goes out.  I bet they think about what they'd do in the same situation.  Did Officer Wilson know about the cop who was killed by a jay-walker when Brown resisted his instructions to move to the sidewalk?

Rational Reminder #3:  Cops can get killed in the most routine situations, and all cops know this.

The fact is that black teens do kill people, but usually other black teens.  If a cop who deals with trouble-making black teens all day long for weeks on end and only sees the thugs, drug users and punks, he's going to be biased.  In terms of classic fallacies, he has been the victim of "selection bias," in which he believes that his experiences represent the whole.   But it's his job to deal with just that segment of society.  If he's a "beat" cop, and he's working in a segregated community, he's not singling out any one person.  In my previous jobs I had people take offense when I didn't give them the answer they wanted to hear, and I've been accused of racism.  Seriously.  I was a white person from the suburbs making a choice to work in the "hood" when I could have taken a job almost anywhere else.  The person complaining to me certainly wasn't the only black person I dealt with during a typical day, but I might have been the only white person they dealt with.  The accusation of racism had three fingers pointing backward.  This is why I don't jump to conclusions in Ferguson and other cases.   My question is "Why wasn't he using excessive force every other day he went to work if he was such a racist bully?"  If there is evidence he was a racist, then show it.  If not, don't just make stuff up from innuendo.

In some cities there are programs that involve cops in the lives of the good kids, having them attend nerdy good-kid events to round out their "selection."   I think this is a great idea.

Rational Reminder #4:  Racial Profiling is wrong, but not unexpected.

Part of a cop's job is to protect kids from each other.  According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the prime age group to be either a victim or perpetrator is 18-24.   From 1980-2008, blacks were six times more likely than whites to be the victim of a homicide and slightly more likely to be the perpetrator of a homicide.

Additionally, the peak age for both victims and perpetrators of gang homicides is 18-24, and blacks and hispanics are more likely than white teens to join gangs.  (National Gang Center)

So... statistically, it is true that black men between the ages of 18-24 really are more likely to be murderers.    It may not be a wide margin, but when you consider the segregation of American cities, a cop in a black neighborhood is far more likely to be dealing with black criminals, and the highest percentage would be in the 18-24 male demographic.  So is Ferguson due to racism or the cop's personal experiences?  Did the cop have PTSD?  Was something else going on?  The media won't delve into that because it's not an easy story to tell.  But... if there were really an epidemic, none of the recent events would be newsworthy.  We'd be living in the 1960s and before, when only black newspapers reported on excessive force against blacks, including lynching.  Remember lynching?  Whites didn't pay attention to black victims until the civil rights movement.  Remember water cannons?  Remember the bridge to Selma?  No?  Look them up!  You have internet service!

Rational Reminder #5:  Yes, things have gotten better.  Excessive force even one time is too many, but it's not like the bad old days.

So settle down, America.  We're on this.  We aren't perfect but we're doing a damn good job compared to a few generations ago.

But but but.... there are still racists!

Well, yes, America there are, but there's no law that everybody has to like everybody else.  We can only legislate behavior.  Cops have to treat everyone with the same professional standards no matter how they feel about them.  Cops who give a break to a criminal outrage me just as much as cops who get a break.  A former coworker had a devastating spinal injury because of a 19-year-old college student who rear-ended her car with his pick-up truck while she idled at a red light.  The cop gave the kid a warning because "he's just a kid" and "he was scared."   (I have no idea what race either the kid or cop were)  My coworker needed multiple surgeries and couldn't work for months.  This isn't newsworthy but it's an injustice and it outrages me.

In my opinion, we need to make some changes but race is only one part:

  1. Cops need to be trained to handle quickly-changing situations without necessarily using their guns.  Because guns are so deadly, they have to pass regular firearms tests, but do they practice non-lethal tactics with as much dedication?  Depends on the place.  Ferguson isn't Everywhere, U.S.A., despite what the media says.  Some cities do indeed cross-train their cops in multiple methods.  We don't hear about those cities for obvious reasons.
  2. American cops need to develop better behavioral profiling.  It won't help people who rush a cop or refuse to drop something that looks like a gun, but it will help cops keep their heads in minor scuffles.
  3. People need to respect that cop's job is tough and they never know which day might be their last.  I made a cop jumpy in a store with wood floors one day when my cowboy boots hit a hollow section right behind him.  One part of his brain was picking out a yogurt for his lunch.  Another part of his brain was on alert in case someone wanted to grab his gun.  Yes, they do fear this.  And they should.
  4. Realistic toy guns should be banned.  Period.  There is no reason for these.   We do have school shootings, street shootings, accidental shootings, and playground shootings by kids, including young teens.  If a cop shows up to a report of a kid with a gun and the kid refuses to put down the gun,  the kid is going to get shot.... unless it's obvious that the gun is a toy.  We want our cops to be able to act quickly to save lives.  It's up to us not to give them a false impression.  Toy guns should be yellow or purple or green, and real guns should not be any of those colors.
  5. Any time a cop kills someone, it should be investigated by an independent body aside from the prosecutor's office.  I think this change will come, but we'll see.
  6. All officers and dead suspects' blood should be analyzed for substances and the results publicized.  Not that drunks and druggies deserve to die, but people on some drugs just do not behave like normal people, and they all have mothers who think their kid was an angel.  The kid the cop met may not have been the kid who kissed his mum that morning.  (Ditto for the cop)
And finally, we have to stop making our own fallacious assumptions based on sensational headlines.  We need to settle the fuck down!  We need to stop falling for the spotlight fallacy, in which media coverage substitutes for rational thought and research.  We need to stop taking the side that comports with our prejudices.  We need to withhold judgment until all the facts are in.  You know, be skeptical.

In the case of the guy who died from asphyxia, there's video and it's clear that cops didn't ease their hold when he said he couldn't breathe.  The Feds are on it.  It's probably going to turn out that the cops thought the guy was not being truthful and would have gotten away if they'd let go.  A full exploration of the experiences of each cop might find that they've been fooled before.   I hope training officers will use this to develop better tactics.

As with other things, it's very hard to let go of old experiences and react to each one as if it's the first time.  This is something cops (and everybody, really) should gain some practice in.  We are pattern-seeking creatures.  It's in our DNA, literally.  It's why we are racist, why we take our umbrella to work on a cloudy day, and why the scientific method has changed our lives - we took ourselves out of observations.

I'm just amazed at the reaction of my atheistic friends.   People who otherwise believe themselves to be "rational""skeptical" "free-thinkers" are overreacting, in my opinion.  The data on police shootings and excessive force is incomplete, but Wikipedia keeps a list of news reports of killings both of and by officers so we can check for patterns ourselves rather than trust "news" outlets. Likewise, the grand jury deliberations are sealed so we can't say whether the results were fair or not.  We don't know everything about everything, so we need to learn more to have better judgement with this as with everything else.  I hope they will release more data, but until they do I'm not jumping to conclusions.

Don't let the media yank your chain.  Think for yourself.  Look for facts, statistics, you know... the truth.  Make up your own mind, and embrace nuance.  Be a skeptic.