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Posts Tagged ‘fundamentalism’

Worst title ever. Let’s forget my poor, fatigued brain even come up with it and move on to the important stuff.

Two grand-daughters of Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church (famous for loudly and unwaveringly Hating Fags on God’s behalf), have left the church they’ve grown up in and been part of their whole lives.

For decades, it was all they knew, and now they’re outta there.

I am fascinated by shit like this.

I mean, the Westboro Baptist Church is a bewildering and hypnotically fascinating phenomenon in itself. They cheerfully revel in the contempt they inspire in almost literally every single person who encounters their message of hate and intolerance. They seem to sincerely take any publicity as good publicity, and their obsession with deviant sexuality and persistence in making as obnoxious a noise as possible are central to their monumental feat of unwaveringly trolling the entire country.

But some of them really seem kinda nice.

I mean, did you see Louis Theroux’s documentary about the time he stayed with them? It’s not the only time they’ve happily invited media scrutiny and been entirely candid about just what a small-minded shit their god is, but it’s one of the most accessible. If you’ve read much about the Church already, the show probably won’t contain a lot of astonishing facts, such as that most of its members are not easy people to like. Grand Patriarch Fred, in particular, is twisted with genuinely unsettling fury and disgust at the world. Watching the children being indoctrinated with dementedly homophobic dogma isn’t easy, either.

But some of the young adults – possibly including the two girls who left, I think, but you know how I feel about research – seemed much more personable. Louis genuinely seemed to get on with them at times, and not just because he has a superhuman patience. They were friendly with him, engaging, chatty. They didn’t seem to act unkindly to him at all. They believed he was an appalling sinner whose depravity in the eyes of God was such that he was destined to suffer deservedly in eternal hellfire… but that isolated belief didn’t seem to impinge on the rest of their worldview.

And now it seems like that worldview’s getting left behind.

They’ve not suddenly become devoted skeptics, or even atheists. The “revelation” they’ve had isn’t one of rational enlightenment; it’s still a fundamentally flawed logic that’s led them to their new conclusions. But despite remaining orthogonal to reason, some glimmer of compassion has overcome a lifetime’s inculcation of hate.

If things were how I was taught, God would be cruel and unkind; God cannot possibly be cruel and unkind; therefore, things are not how I was taught.

That’s the basic gist of how it goes. It’s still an obviously faulty argument, but the motivation driving the cognitive biases in play here is fantastically different than what you tend to see in the Phelps clan. And it seems they feel it strongly enough to take their leave of their entire family, who they must have known would shun and publicly disavow them if they strayed from the path – they’d seen it happen to other family members, after all. And yet from somewhere has come the determination to stick to what they believe to be true, even now that it’s actually costing them something meaningful.

I don’t want to get too celebratory and prodigal-son-ish here. It’s a long road from the Westboro Baptist Church back to decent society, and most of it’s still ahead of them. But still… it’s a heck of a first step to have taken.

More on this from JT, Hemant, and much of the rest of the internet.

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– So, this NHS reform bill it looks like the coalition government might be inflicting on us. Who thinks it’s a good idea, and who’s against it?

– If you think it’s worth hedging your bets on Pascal’s Wager, you shouldn’t even be in the casino. You’d be much better off having a game of Pascal’s Roulette.

Privatising prisons is all kinds of scary.

– An excellent way to spot comical fundamentalists on social networking sites. My favourite quote: “if there if is a bing bang there needs to be a big banger God”.

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I started writing this when I was still going on about the Protest The Pope campaign, and the resulting backlash against Dawkins’s few minutes of speaking to a small crowd, which for some people who weren’t there was the only important thing about the 12,000-strong day of campaigning. But then I forgot to get it finished.

And actually, this post is a return to another prominent bugbear of mine from recent weeks. This article was written in response to the Koran book-burning that didn’t go ahead last month. What would be the global reaction to a similar “attack” against a demographic who were not religious?

Atheists, who hadn’t been expected to come out in pick-up trucks with gun racks on their rear windows and circle his church with their engines revving like goaded Rottweilers, didn’t.

In Britain and France, countries that remember the Enlightenment, and in Russia, with her seven decades of secularism still befuddling her, nobody burnt Uncle Sam in effigy and mobs of unbelievers didn’t riot and burn churches, nor were believers flogged or beaten. So far the body count is nil. Atheists have turned the other cheek. Christians have called this a nasty plagiarism.

All sounds about right. And makes me wonder, in fact, whether we shouldn’t consider encouraging such an event ourselves, as a chance to demonstrate the value of chilling the hell out about shit that doesn’t matter.

So, maybe the next time some Koran-burning or similar kerfuffle makes it into the news (and you know it’s only a matter of time), this would be a way of showing what we’re about. Sure, buy up some Dawkins, Hitchens, Darwin, and the rest of them, and consign them to the fire. So long as they’re your property and you’re not contravening fire safety laws, you will find no objection from the atheist quarter. We’re proud of our message, but we don’t feel driven to indignant fury and unjustifiable personal attacks, over nothing more than an impersonal and unobtrusive sign of disrespect.

Ooh, I’ve just had a thought: Bonfire Night’s in a month. Maybe this would be a good time to make a point with a selection of literature.

(h/t The Friendly Atheist)

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Russell Blackford sums up the problems I had with that piece by Caspar Melville, editor of the New Humanist, about the state and direction of New Atheism.

Which is handy, because it means now I don’t have to.

Well, okay, just a bit. Here’s one bit which resonated with me:

Melville seems to think there is something “dangerous” about any degree of solidarity among people who are “critical of religious power and authority and theocracy and irrationalism and superstition and religious exploitation”.

This is what’s annoyed me before about certain anti-Dawkins atheists, who not only like to describe him as some sort of frothing fundamentalist, but pick up on any instance of more than one person agreeing with him simultaneously, and paint it as some kind of sinister rally.

Many of Dawkins’s fans are sensible people. When they agree with him, it’s because they agree with him, not because he is the Leader Who Must Not Be Questioned. He can be fairly criticised, and often is even by those within “the Dawkins camp”.

Of course, not every member of every demographic will always succeed in acting rationally, or arguing without resorting to misplaced emotion and fallacy. No doubt he has supporters who are more fanatical than most of us would see as entirely healthy, and for whom fair criticism might not always get through and be taken on board as it should. But that doesn’t make us all a rabble of fundamentalist sheep.

Caspar wasn’t going that far, certainly. But he seems to be on the verge of siding with those who call it dangerous groupthink whenever there’s a group of people who, well, think the same. The fact that a crowd have gathered to foster a sense of community and express their shared views is not, in itself, antithetical to rational thinking. People are capable of holding onto themselves, even in the midst of other people shouting. Give us some credit.

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Yeah, that’s right! I’m one of those godless heathen non-believers, and I say that your holy book is full of inaccuracies! It’s not historically reliable at all, let alone divine and inerrant! Contrary to what all those hard-line conservative fundamentalist wackaloons think, it actually contains numerous-

Wait.

What?

Some of the conservative nut-jobs are with me on this? Those same freakazoids who believe the universe was created 6,000 years ago based on a literal reading of the Bible? They believe that all current versions of the Bible are inaccurate and unreliable?

Yep. The Conservative Bible Project really exists. It’s about trying to edit any “liberal bias” out of the Bible, and produce a more perfectly conservative version. One with a message more in line with what Jesus obviously meant to say, which just happens to very neatly align with Andrew Schlafly‘s own politics.

Wait.

What?

…the fuck?

I mean, I know anything even on a nearby plane to competent rational thought is going to be a non-starter with someone like Schlafly, but this is one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever seen. It’s bad enough when hordes of homophobic bigots use some passage in Deuteronomy to justify what is obviously a personal prejudice against gays, while carefully ignoring the surrounding bits about stoning disobedient children to death. But the one thing fundamentalist Christians have to support their position is the idea that God has provided them with a flawless historical record and set of instructions and guidelines for how to live.

And now he’s saying that, because some parts of the Bible imply that God doesn’t agree with his perspective in every single regard, the Bible must be wrong. Because he knows what God thinks better than his holy text does.

Jesus Christ.

Wait, maybe Jesus Christ wasn’t even his real name after all. Schlafly, if you’re reading this, can you leave a comment to let me know if I’ve been blaspheming wrong all this time? Thanks.

Seriously, look at some of the ways on that list in which the Bible is deemed to be deficient. “Wordiness” is apparently a liberal thing, and because the word “Lord” is so much more concise than “Yahweh”, he’s getting out the red marker pen. Any parable which doesn’t expound the benefits of the free market is obviously a distortion, too. I mean, there’s no way Jesus would’ve favoured any kind of hand-outs. You might think that Jesus wasn’t keen on profiteering and rich people, and was pretty big on things like forgiveness, but that’s probably because you’re still reading the Bible, and so your understanding of Jesus is tainted by all that liberal bias. Throw that rag out, and listen to Andrew Schlafly.

Oh, and some parts he’s apparently entitled to just edit out completely. Like that whole “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” bit. That just makes Jesus sound like a pussy. Admittedly, it does go against God’s own advice in Leviticus, but if you’re going to try and excise all the stuff that contradicts the other stuff, then you’re not going to have much left.

Anyway. Bored now.

Hat-tip to PZ.


Reminder: I’m hosting the next edition of the Humanist Symposium blog carnival. If you have anything which you’d like to be featured, you can use the usual submission form, or email a link to cubiksrube, (at) hotmail {dot} co [dot] uk, by October 17th. Full guidelines for how the symposium works are here, so check those over first to find out about the kind of thing we’re looking for.

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Okay, here’s something that occurred to me. It may not be a great analogy, but maybe it’ll get better as I keep typing and think it through further.

There’s a scene in the film Good Will Hunting, where Will’s talking to Robin Williams’ psychologist character about how his abusive father used to get drunk and beat him. From IMDB:

Will: He used to just put a belt, a stick, and a wrench on the kitchen table and say, “Choose.”
Sean: Well, I gotta go with the belt there.
Will: I used to go with the wrench.
Sean: Why?
Will: ‘Cause fuck him, that’s why.

I thought of this when I was listening to an old interview with Stewart Lee recently, and they started talking about those cartoons which appeared in a Dutch newspaper, depicting and mocking the Islamic prophet Mohammed, and which so outraged certain religious extremists that they started issuing death threats and blowing up buildings.

There’s been all kinds of commentary and discussion about those in the months and years that followed the zenith of all the fuss, about whether the papers were being childish and deliberately provocative to print these offensive things, or whether uncompromised free speech should win out. In general, I’m against censorship, but I’m also in favour of not being a gratuitous dick, and think we should be nice to each other, and not go out of our way to be antagonistic just because we can, and all that hippie crap.

But if someone starts planting bombs and murdering people, in response to someone drawing a picture of a man, then I think it’s a profoundly correct and appropriate response to say “Fuck them,” and keep using your freedom of speech however you damn well please.

Last year, a student in the US received hate mail and death threats after disrespecting a small piece of bread. In response to the outrage that such a banal activity provoked from some directions, PZ Myers publicly and ostentatiously desecrated a Catholic communion wafer himself. I defended him here at the time.

‘Cause fuck them, that’s why.

In the movie, Will was telling his father: You want me to be scared of you; you’re trying to bully me into making the choice that defines me as a coward; you want me to hope that what I’m doing will appease you; you want me to voluntarily disempower myself and submit to the force of your might. Well, fuck you. I refuse to be backed into a corner, where I’m making my own decisions out of fear.

I have friends of various religious denominations. We discuss this difference of opinion sometimes, but not that often, and when we do it never really reaches the level of an argument. It’s rarely even a debate. We just chat. There are things that I could say, which I have every right to say, which would antagonise and possibly offend them, but which might form a legitimate part of the discussion, or provide honest criticism of their point of view. I don’t tend to say these things, because I respect these people and their preferred boundaries. I don’t feel that their sensibilities really deserve to be swiped at; I’d probably just upset someone I care about. I’ve no doubt they often indulge me in a similar way, and I appreciate it.

These are intelligent, tolerant people, whose reaction to seeing obscenities cast against the values they hold dear would be unlikely to rise much above annoyance. Giving ground to my friends like this isn’t appeasement; it doesn’t legitimise some overblown response that I’m fearfully trying to avoid. I’m just trying to be nice.

But when people are being so irrational or unfair, or acting with such a distorted perspective on how it’s reasonable to behave, that other people are being murdered over a picture of a man, then it seems utterly wrong-headed to just shut up and sit quietly and abide by their rules and hope they don’t hurt us any more. We don’t have to take this shit. We are going to keep drawing pictures, and disrespecting small pieces of bread, and whatever the hell else we have a right to do, whatever those maniacs have to say about it.

‘Cause fuck them, that’s why.

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…as oxy is to moron. (Is that needlessly unkind and abusive? Probably, but I needed a contrived pun.)

The method some true believers choose for addressing scientists, skeptics, and anyone else who cites things like evidence as a reason for not going along with their pet idea, is to complain about our whole system of thought and way of working. They equate skepticism with cynicism, allege conspiracies that don’t allow for new discoveries like theirs, protest the necessity of faith, all the usual stuff. Others prefer to ingratiate themselves, or perhaps just confuse anyone not familiar with the subject in question, by acting as if they’re just like us. They’re doing science too, they’re skeptical, they’re totally taking a balanced and rational approach to their study of the underpants gnomes, and they’re definitely not crackpots at all!

Today’s case in point is Christian Skepticism. The description in their banner reads…

We are incredulous and skeptical of any truth claim…

Well, good. I try to maintain just such a standard myself. Well done, guys. Good to see a sensible, reality-based approach being taken by- oh, wait, there’s a bit more.

…that does not originate from or is not glorifying to the Trinitarian God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) or detracts from Holy Scripture.

D’oh.

“Look at us, we’re skeptics! If anything turns up which seems to contradict our rigidly defined dogma of presuppositions, we’re skeptical of it!”

Yeah, that would be fundamentalism, kinda the exact opposite of skepticism. So close. You nearly had it.

Not that this seems worth devoting much time to, but a quick overview of their front page as it stands now:

Suggesting that a woman might not be permitted to act as vice president under Christian law, based on the “precedent” of men’s role as heads of the house and the church, is about as odious as suggesting that they should be disqualified from the role on the grounds of hormonal instability.
– Wow, a four-word quote from the middle of a sentence – that sounds like a plausible and fair way of illustrating the guy’s point. It probably doesn’t make any difference what context he speaking in, or whether he was trying to make some broader point about the way science attempts to model reality, and is always amenable to change in the face of new evidence, and how the word “theory” in scientific terminology differs from its everyday use. Nah, that stuff can’t have been as important as… as whatever point you were trying to make, which is apparently implicit in just those four words.
I understand gravity, but that doesn’t mean I should go around pushing people over.

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