Archive for September, 2010

Sunday Sermon: Foxhole atheism

Some inspirational verse from Richard Tillman, brother of atheist hero Pat Tillman, whose family’s thirst for the truth led them to refuse to believe the authorities’ lies. Starting about 5 minutes into the video, we see how the family started standing up to those lies right at the funeral, when Richard follows John McCain’s religious platitudes by stating flatly that Pat was an atheist and isn’t “home” or “with God” or anything like that — “He’s fuckin’ dead.”

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Sunday Sermon: The ballad of Giles Corey

On this date, in 1692, Giles Corey died in Salem, Mass., after two days of constant torture, having heavy stones laid on top of him in an attempt to force him to confess to witchcraft. His last words were “more weight.”

This is remarkably similar to a passage in Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses,” except there the victim is a Muslim being forced by Hindus to “confess” to the existence of a multitude of gods. He dies while repeating “one, one, one,” making an indelible impression on the Hindu narrator watching the scene (it must have made an impression on me as well, since I still remember it 20 years after reading it).

And it turns out Corey was used as a character in Arthur Miller’s play “The Crucible,” based on the Salem witch trials but also intended as a commentary on the McCarthyist hysteria of the time.

It’s entirely possible that Corey wasn’t acting entirely out of principled opposition to the witch hunt, since his refusal to plead meant he got to keep his estate and pass it on to his family, rather than have it seized by the government. But still, 2 days of religiously inspired torture is a pretty intense thing to be able to stand up to.

I don’t know exactly what all of this means. But it’s worth reflecting on what religious hysteria is capable of doing, and what ordinary individuals are capable of doing in response.

(via Reddit)

Walking the walk

I’m trying to avoid letting this become just a link blog, but my new job (yay!) is cutting into my online time because of their no-surfing policy (boo!). And sometimes,  somebody either says something really awesome, or does something really awesome, or both, as is the case here.

Dale McGowan at the awesome and excellent Parenting Beyond Belief blog is recounting the ongoing saga (well, perhaps ongoing, perhaps as resolved as it’s going to get) of his efforts to handle what appears to be a creationist science teacher at his son’s school. I can’t strongly enough urge you to read the entire saga, starting with the first post and continuing via the links at the bottom.

It’s easy to talk about how to push back against religious nuts while still being polite and respectful, but Dale gives us all a textbook example of how it’s done.

(via The Panda’s Thumb; pic via Adventures in Science)

Sunday Sermon: God, in the cockpit, with the boxcutter

A dreadful 9/11 poem called “Meet Me In The Stairwell” was posted to the Christian-run forum where I spend way too much of my time. It’s noteworthy as a typical example of the kind of rationalization religious people engage in when they’re trying to figure out how a loving God could allow such horrors, and they can’t bring themselves to accept the obvious answer.

The poem is from God’s POV, talking about where He was (everywhere, of course) and what he was doing (not very much except bringing people “home,” i.e. killing them).  The part that really strikes me is, “I was on all four of those planes, in every seat, with every prayer.” Yeah, including the pilot’s seat, with the prayer of “Allahu akbar!”

Another favorite (if that’s the right word for it) passage: “I was in Texas, Virginia, California, Michigan, and Afghanistan. I was standing next to you when you heard the terrible news. Did you sense Me?”

Well, I definitely sensed something horrible and evil. So yeah, maybe so.

P.S. To all those Facebookers who reminded me yesterday to “never forget” — you really didn’t need to worry about that. Trust me.

(pic via CafePress)

Rotten to the Koran

A few scattered thoughts on the Muslim center in NYC, the Koran-burning in Florida, and related concepts:

“The Daily Show” nailed it pretty well — we’re calling Christians extremists for burning Korans, and we’re calling Muslims extremists for reading them.

On the one hand, there are similarities between the two controversies. Both involve legal expression of 1st Amendment rights, and in both situations a case can be made that it would be wiser to refrain from this particular exercise of those rights. But there’s also a false equivalency being drawn, as we can see from the number of Republicans who are speaking out against the Koran-burning (usually mentioning the Muslim center in the same breath). There’s a big difference between doing something that causes offense, and doing something *because* it causes offense.

And all along, the wingnuts have been saying that the “Ground Zero Mosque” is some sinister gesture, rather than merely moving to a new location because the congregation has gotten too big for the old location. Condemning both the Koran-burning and the Muslim center, and thus creating a false equivalency between them, plays nicely into the GOP narrative.

PZ says Obama’s a “damned fool” for condemning the Koran-burning, while declining to comment on the “wisdom” (or lack thereof) of the Muslim center’s location. I’m not so sure. I think he may be treating them differently, not in terms of their rights but in terms of commenting on their wisdom, because in fact they are distinctly different situations.

The Muslims didn’t pick the Burlington Coat Factory in order to make some grand and silly gesture of defiance, while the idiots in Florida did decide to burn Korans on Sept. 11 for precisely that purpose. It’s worth keeping that in mind, even as we (hopefully) all acknowledge that the Koran-burners and the Muslim center folks both have constitutional rights to act as they’re acting.

(pic via SodaHead)

The bright side of Islamophobia

So, a Christian blogger (that is, a blogger who happens to be Christian) jumps into the “Ground Zero Mosque” debate (about the non-mosque that’s not at Ground Zero) and decides to take a hard look at Islam, to show that it’s the whole religion, not just the nutty extremist wing, that is rotten to the core. He ends up realizing that other religions are just as wacky … even his own.

Here’s a particularly nice passage:

My faith was challenged when I read the Koran. My faith in reading comprehension, that is. I didn’t understand a word of it. Apparently, no-one else has either, because they’ve been debating it for a thousand years. Does it sanctify killing or not? Depends on how you want to read it, or who you ask. It’s still being debated how many wings are on an angel, how many wives you can have, and what kind of food you can eat. I heard that one passage was interpreted to say, “Thou shalt not speak the number (3). (3) is the number thou shall not speak.” This translation may not be 100% true, but it’s a pretty good example of the Koran, and a good scene in a Monty Python movie……

P.S. About the title — I don’t mean to be implying that Islamophobia is a good thing, any more than unthinking hostility toward any belief (or unbelief) is a good thing. I just thought it was interesting that a Christian’s hostility toward Islam led him to a greater understanding of the foibles of his own belief system.

(via Reddit, pic — which I think I’ve used before, but it’s just so appropriate here — via Hemant)