Thursday, November 3, 2011

If you want to talk about "slut shaming" . . .

There are certain things that enrage me. Rape apologists and "slut shaming" are right up there, toward the very top of the list. Get a load of this:
When a woman walks down a crowded sidewalk in revealing clothing, she is forcing herself on every man nearby.
The woman fully understands the powerful biological drives of men. She knows they cannot ignore her, not even if they want to.
She has chosen to advertise herself to everyone passing by, but she is looking only for a few men. The wealthiest, the most famous, the most powerful men she can attract. Yet her display is bound to be noticed by hundreds of men in whom she has no conceivable romantic interest.
That crap is from a post by a Giovanni Dannato, titled "Provocative Female Attire is an Assault Against Men."  You know what? I have "powerful biological urges," this is true, and if a woman I find attractive is dressed in whatever way I find sexy, it's hard to ignore. But so what? Part of puberty was learning a little self-control. The woman isn't responsible for my control. And speaking of control:
There’s an old elementary school custom…when you bring something tasty to class, it’s understood that you should put it away unless you intend to share it with others. The rationale:
  • It’s a distraction to the entire class.
  • The goodies are blatantly advertised without any possibility of fulfilling the promise of the advertisement for everyone.
  • It’s considered impolite to show off what you don’t intend to share.
Likewise, a woman who puts her goodies blatantly on display is making false advertisements. Nobody supposes or expects that she could share herself with her entire audience—not even if she wanted to.
We're not children. Even the teenagers going through puberty aren't children. Children DO often have issues with control, and boundaries, and understanding things like "It's mine, not yours." Adults should not. Oh, and women are not products. They are not billboards showing off their goods, they're people.

These feminists and manginas completely miss the point and resort to a straw man. They suppose that their critics believe it should be illegal for women to dress provocatively! They fail to understand that the rule of law is hardly the only set of rules that binds us.
Somehow, they are unable to understand that women exposing themselves without intent to reciprocate the attention they attract is impolite and inconsiderate – an act of aggression in which they use the power of their sex as a weapon. They publicly and proudly demonstrate callous disregard towards others without the faintest understanding that common courtesy is a two-way street…
 "An act of aggression"???? Are you kidding me!? Ok, look. I am not harmed by seeing a sexy woman, and not getting to touch her. Not even a tiny bit. I rather enjoy it, actually. So that's a pretty damned ineffectual weapon women apparently have.
When I studied abroad in Latin America during college, I was in a group of students from my school that consisted mostly of spoiled women. They would insist on going out in low cut tops and become outraged when local men started catcalling at them.
Rather than sharing their sense of righteous indignation, I found myself hiding a smile. It didn’t take me long to understand that tastefully dressed women never received catcalls. This sort of behavior was reserved for women who broke their side of the social contract.
They became enraged by the catcalls because those men were treating them as objects, and not people. They became enraged because those asshole men were assuming that women dressing a certain way meant the men could act a certain way, when there is no social contract specifying any such bullshit. As for your "tastefully dressed women," at one of my previous jobs there was a young woman who never once -that I recall- had a low-cut top, or dressed in any way that sane people might consider "provocative." Jeans and work appropriate shirts. She wasn't supermodel material by modern standards, had a little weight "problem" (as in, her doctor might have cared, but I didn't), but every time I saw her walking around I couldn't help but be immensely attracted to her. Why? Attitude, and sheer confidence. It practically radiated off of her. I loved it. No other woman there could draw my eye like that, and there were plenty in low-cut tops. I chatted with her a few times, found out she had a fiance, and chatted some more. Never once flirted, but always enjoyed her company, and remained extremely attracted to her. Still am just thinking about her. What's my point? Simple: how the fuck do you propose she should have avoided that? Answer: she shouldn't, and couldn't. Well, ok, she could have worn a burqa, and stayed at home where I couldn't see her, but hey, you know what? That would have been bloody stupid, and insulting to me. I was not harmed by her presence, I loved it. And it's not her job to control me, it's mine.
Catcalling, I realized, was a defense mechanism used by lower status men against women flaunting themselves publicly – for the benefit of millionaires only. Feminists and their defenders have a special place in their hearts for this sort of retaliation. They are reminded of horrible days of yore when Western women actually had social responsibilities – when even ‘loser’ males they considered beneath them could resort to public shaming when pushed too far.
Present first world societies allow men no defense whatsoever against predatory and false female advertising. In every social venue, women are free to treat men as they like and should males reciprocate their wanton sexual displays with similarly crude and aggressive behavior, it’s called ‘sexual harassment.’
"Lower status . . ."? "Defense. . . "?? "Predatory . . . "???

First, let me repeat: women are not billboards, they're people! Second, what lower status? Money? Yeah, sure, some people seek out the rich for partners, but most just want people they're compatible with (I was dirt poor when my very sexy wife met me, and she didn't seem to care). Socially lower status? Take a look at not just some history, but the modern world. Men STILL have more social and economic power than women.

Third, what harm are you seeing that you require defense from these "predatory" women? Because honestly, if you can't just enjoy their company as fellow people, and enjoy being able to admire beauty when you see it, the one with the problem is you. Not them. And you need to get over yourself.
Thus men are effectively strapped down, gagged, and muzzled while females can flaunt and taunt with impunity. For many men this pretty much sums up every single day of an entire lifetime at school and at work.
Bullshit. Total bullshit. If someone's harassing us, we've got the same options as a woman to address it. Women are not responsible for your reactions just because they're in your field of vision. If you don't want to see them, I recommend a monastery of all men, high in the mountains somewhere, preferably with no internet connection.
Western Women don’t just abuse their incredible sexual power, they pathologically lie about their inability to understand the effects and implications of their actions. In fact, they seem to derive a sort of sociopathic pleasure from being able to sow unpleasantness and discord without consequence – all while playing innocent. They express their contempt and hatred for men even as they troll the populace for providers. Their enormous power comes without responsibility and they love it that way.
Maybe they just expect better of us. I know I do.
For those who would doubt for a moment that these women know exactly what they’re doing, let’s take a look a recent events. How do Western women collectively respond when some male displeases them?
In the most vengeful, derisive, and mocking way they know how.
They call it a ‘SlutWalk.’ 
No, that's how they react when there's a culture that thinks how a woman dresses dictates how men can treat her. It's called a "rape culture," and it's perpetrated by crap like this. They are making a very key point that it doesn't matter how she dresses, YOU still need to control yourself, and not try to control her. You still need to recognize her humanity, her personhood, and her right to not be controlled by men.

In other words, Grow Up.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

An attitude problem about abortion

I saw a comment on Facebook tonight regarding abortion that bugged me. I couldn't comment since it was one of those "friend of a friend" threads that you can sometimes see when people don't have their privacy controls set to prevent strangers from seeing their posts. Let me paraphrase the comment, since it's a general attitude I've seen before:
They made the choice to have sex, knowing they could get pregnant. If they didn't want to get pregnant, they shouldn't have sex.
I doubt I'll hit on all the things wrong with this, but I'm going to try highlighting a few.

First, the easy one: rape. While I realize that some anti-abortionists make an exception for rape, not all do, and yet they will still trot this one out. By definition, a woman does not choose to be raped. Statistically, I've seen the numbers at "1 in 6," all the way up to "1 in 4," woman have been raped or sexually assaulted in the United States. Given how many go unreported, the actual numbers are probably higher. What does this mean? It means you probably know someone who's been raped or sexually assaulted. It means I've stopped being surprised when a woman tells me she was assaulted at some point, because so many have told me that -- and I find that lack of surprise sad. It means, well, there was no choice in getting pregnant from rape.

Second, health issues. Sometimes, a woman would love to carry to term and give birth and raise the resulting child. Unfortunately, during the pregnancy she develops health issues, perhaps directly related to the pregnancy, perhaps not. Doesn't matter. What matters is that the pregnancy is complicating things to a degree that it may be healthier to terminate the pregnancy, and at times, life saving. Some treatments cannot be used while pregnant, so even if life isn't threatened, long term health may be (and certainly short-term health is). It was not the woman's choice to develop these health issues, so even if she deliberately got pregnant, shouldn't she be able to reevaluate that choice in the light of new circumstances?

Thirdly, contraception failure. We do lots of things that have a risk to them, and we don't just tell people "you made the choice, deal with it." For example, eating steak rare (increased risk of getting sick), not flossing (increased risk of cavities or gingivitis), driving while tired (increased risk of car accidents), crossing the street (increased risk of a car hitting you), not washing our hands before and after eating (increased risk of getting sick), or any number of other things that you can probably think of. We especially don't say "deal with it" to those who have taken every reasonable precaution, and still have something bad happen. We let them get treatment, and well we should if we have any empathy at all. So if properly used (or even improperly used) contraception fails, contraception that has a 99% success rater (the pill, and a bunch of others), then in what way can it be said the woman "made her choice when she had sex knowing she might get pregnant"? If you wouldn't say to the person "hey, you chose to eat that steak rare, so quit complaining about your food poisoning, and you better not be using tax-supported Medicare to pay for treatment," then you bloody well shouldn't be saying the same damn thing about getting pregnant after contraception failure. The choice to avoid pregnancy was clearly there, regardless of the sex involved.

Fourth, and for now last, ignorance. Many teens are victims of poor sex education, such that they might believe the rhythm method, one of the least reliable contraception methods available, is actually effective. Many don't realize that when the guy says "hey, I'll pull out before I finish," his pre-cum will still have sperm in it, meaning the woman can get pregnant even if he doesn't ejaculate inside her. And some, in a truly atrocious display of poor education, don't even realize sex can get someone pregnant. How does choosing sex in this case mean someone's obligated to carry a pregnancy to term that they didn't think could happen?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Dealing with a few secular arguments against same-sex marriage (part 3a, of however many parts it takes)

This is part 3a of this series, with the "a" because I'm going to have to deal with this paper in multiple parts. It's a paper written for the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. In fact, here's the suggested citation they give at the download page:
Girgis, Sherif, George, Robert and Anderson, Ryan T., What is Marriage?. Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vol. 34, No. 1, pp. 245-287, Winter 2010. Available at SSRN:
It looks so official! *ahem* Let's get to the arguments, shall we?

A central question for the authors is "what is marriage?" It's a good question. They argue that based on the definition, and what follows from it, is that marriage is, and can only be, between one man, and one woman. So let's look at their definition.
As many people acknowledge, marriage involves: first, a comprehensive union of spouses; second, a special link to children; and third, norms of permanence, monogamy, and exclusivity.14 All three elements point to the conjugal understanding of marriage. (pg 252)
This then is their view of traditional, or what they call "conjugal," marriage, as opposed to "revisionist" marriage, which is
Marriage is the union of two people (whether of the same sex or of opposite sexes) who commit to romantically loving and caring for each other and to sharing the burdens and benefits of domestic life. It is essentially a union of hearts and minds, enhanced by whatever forms of sexual intimacy both partners find agreeable.(p246)
I think you know which view I'm most in support of, yes? Well, let's examine their definition in more detail.

As regards point one, "comprehensive union of spouses," they say
Marriage is distinguished from every other form of friendship inasmuch as it is comprehensive. It involves a sharing of lives and resources, and a union of minds and wills—hence, among other things, the requirement of consent for forming a marriage. But on the conjugal view, it also includes organic bodily union.(p253)
"Organic bodily union," if it's not clear, refers to sex. Specifically, penis-in-vagina-intercourse sex. This is necessary, they say,
. . . because our bodies are truly aspects of us as persons, any union of two people that did not involve organic bodily union would not be comprehensive—it would leave out an important part of each person’s being. Because persons are body‐mind composites, a bodily union extends the relationship of two friends along an entirely new dimension of their being as persons. If two people want to unite in the comprehensive way proper to marriage, they must (among other things) unite organically—that is, in the bodily dimension of their being.(p253)
 But why straight sex? You guessed it: babies.
But what is it about sexual intercourse that makes it uniquely capable of creating bodily union? People’s bodies can touch and interact in all sorts of ways, so why does only sexual union make bodies in any significant sense “one flesh”? Our organs—our heart and stomach, for example—are parts of one body because they are coordinated, along with other parts, for a common biological purpose of the whole: our biological life. It follows that for two individuals to unite organically, and thus bodily, their bodies must be coordinated for some biological purpose of the whole.
That sort of union is impossible in relation to functions such as digestion and circulation, for which the human individual is by nature sufficient. But individual adults are naturally incomplete with respect to one biological function: sexual reproduction. In coitus, but not in other forms of sexual contact, a man and a woman’s bodies coordinate by way of their sexual organs for the common biological purpose of reproduction. They perform the first step of the complex reproductive process. Thus, their bodies become, in a strong sense, one—they are biologically united, and do not merely rub together—in coitus (and only in coitus), similarly to the way in which one’s heart, lungs, and other organs form a unity: by coordinating for the biological good of the whole. In this case, the whole is made up of the man and woman as a couple, and the biological good of that whole is their reproduction. . . . bodily union involves mutual coordination toward a bodily good—which is realized only through coitus. And this union occurs even when conception, the bodily good toward which sexual intercourse as a biological function is oriented, does not occur. In other words, organic bodily unity is achieved when a man and woman coordinate to perform an act of the kind that causes conception. This act is traditionally called the act of generation or the generative act;15 if (and only if) it is a free and loving expression of the spouses’ permanent and exclusive commitment, then it is also a marital act. 
Because interpersonal unions are valuable in themselves, and not merely as means to other ends, a husband and wife’s loving bodily union in coitus and the special kind of relationship to which it is integral are valuable whether or not conception results and even when conception is not sought. But two men or two women cannot achieve organic bodily union since there is no bodily good or function toward which their bodies can coordinate, reproduction being the only candidate.16 This is a clear sense in which their union cannot be marital, if marital means comprehensive and comprehensive means, among other things, bodily.(p254-255)
To recap, marriage has to involve sex, that sex must be of the type that would be used to reproduce, because bodily union, which is necessary for a "comprehensive union," has to have some good that it aims toward, and the only available good to consider is reproduction. But interpersonal unions are still valuable in themselves!

Well, here's a problem, or several. Sex has multiple goods available to it, and reproduction is not the only one available. Among these goods are intimacy, shared pleasure, bonding, stress relief, and other possible benefits. Every one of these, on their own, would be a good worth aiming toward. Taken together, I'd say they are far and above being equal to reproduction as a good toward "which their bodies can coordinate." I don't really need to remind people that the brain and the body are intertwined and interwoven, and that what affects one affects the other, do I? Placebo effect, anyone? Sex can be completely valid as a means to those ends, and never mind that it's just fun.

Furthermore, if you have no intention of reproducing at the time you're having sex, or perhaps are not even capable of reproducing, then why should the mere doing of an act which could, at another time, lead to reproduction, matter as a means of "comprehensive union"? Believe it or not, not every heterosexual or bisexual person finds penis-in-vagina intercourse to be the most meaningful or intimate sex act. For example, I've met several people who consider oral sex to far more intimate than vaginal intercourse, and in fact have a sort of "meh" emotional reaction to vaginal intercourse.

In other words, I am forced to wonder just how boring and how limited the sex life of the authors must be, for it seems clear to me that sex in many (perhaps all) of it's forms, can lead to a positive good that has nothing to do with reproduction, that can therefore be a part of a "comprehensive bodily union," and is therefore completely "marital" -- when the couple is married.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Google plus, meet me.

Hey look, I'm on Google+ now! Look for me as "Nathan Salo Tumberg," if you happen to be on there.

Thanks to Ophelia Benson for the invite. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Very brief update

I apologize for not posting recently (how do prolific bloggers, like Hemant Mehta or Ophelia Benson, do it??). I did have a post up that I took down regarding belief, because I somehow posted it unfinished. I'll be working on that one as well. At any rate, I've just finished reading the next article I'll be addressing in my series dealing with secular arguments against same-sex marriage. You can read the article I'm looking at for yourself here (feel free to send me any thoughts you have on it). The pdf download is free. It's a scholarly article, and fairly long, so I'm going to be going through it again before I post anything about it, and might have to do it in multiple posts.

I appreciate everyone who keeps showing up to read my writing, even when it takes me a while to get something posted.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Support education, and go against Perry's anti-LBGT stance

I don't normally promote Facebook pages, but in this case, I'll make an exception. I get to support high school education while going against Perry and his anti-LGBT stance? I'm all over that! 
One Million Strong Against Rick Perry
We have to do a project for high school. We have to run a campaign to support a politician or to go against. I choose to go against Rick Perry! For his stands on LGBT Rights!! 
Go there, "Like" the page, and help out. Maybe we can get this page to really hit one million!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Belief matters

There's an idea that permeates certain parts of our culture. I've seen it in the religious, and the non-religious alike. It's an idea that seems ok at first glance, and has a warm fuzzy feeling to it. Here it is, in essence:
It doesn't matter what you believe, as long as you're happy and not hurting someone. Can't we all just get along?
Put like that, I too have an instinctive desire to simply agree and shut up. Yet, I can't, and here's why: belief matters. It absolutely, positively matters what you believe. Sometimes it's of great consequence, and sometimes it's of very little consequence.  But it matters.

Belief matters because it has direct, and sometimes indirect, effects on our actions. It can't help but do this, or put another way, we can't help but act according to our beliefs. If you believe that apple seeds contain enough cyanide to kill, you probably will make sure you don't swallow them when eating an apple. If you believe that ginkgo biloba can enhance your memory, you're more likely to spend money on it.

Those are small beliefs; it's even easier to see how large beliefs affect us. If you believe that "what goes around, comes around," or some version of karma, you're more likely to let certain offenses pass, since karma will bite them in the ass. On the other hand, if you believe that there's no such thing as karma, you're more likely to see a value in confronting the offense, rather than let it pass. If you believe that there's an afterlife, then you're more likely to be willing to risk your life, since death is not the end. But of course, if you believe there is nothing like an afterlife, then you're less likely to take that risk.

Our beliefs can also affect our happiness and general satisfaction. If you believe that everything works out for the best, always, you might be less likely to give in to depression when the going gets rough. Of course, you might also be less likely to work as hard as you need to get past that rough patch, since things "always work out." It's not always clear how one's beliefs will affect your emotions or actions.

But affect them they will. When I believed in reincarnation, karma, and a God that loved me, I made a conscious decision to consider ethical dilemmas as if all that wasn't true. Mostly, I think I succeeded. Yet, that decision was itself influenced by the belief that I had to share a world with people who didn't agree with me, and that there was a possibility, however small, that I was wrong.

This is why I care what you believe. Your beliefs affect what you do, and what you do might affect me. When it doesn't, that's when I quit caring -- but only until the next belief is confronted. I am happy to get along with you, with anyone, so long as your belief doesn't cause harm, or at least, is very unlikely to cause predictable harm, and so long as it doesn't interfere with the rights of others. But I will not say it doesn't matter what you believe.

After all, I'm sure it matters to you.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Dealing with a few secular arguments against same-sex marriage (second of however many posts it takes)

Back to dealing with secular arguments against same-sex marriage. This is my second post on this subject. **EDIT: The first one is here.** When researching this topic (thanks again adam), it came as a slight surprise to find that there are gay people out there who don't actually support the fight to provide marriage equality. Upon reflection, it shouldn't have come as a surprise, given how diverse people are, but it did.

In 2009 a group of people identifying itself as "Queer Kids of Queer Parents Against Gay Marriage!" wrote a single blog post speaking out against the fight for legal same-sex marriage. For the most part, they seem to be against it because there are other issues that they feel are more important, but they also believe that queers and queer families are different as a class from everyone else.
Having grown up in queer families and communities we strongly believe that queers are not like everyone else. 
That's from the last paragraph, and in fact, I'm going to start with that idea first, because it seems to underlie much of what they say.

I am not sure if the term "queer" is meant to represent only gay, lesbians and transexuals (they mention "trans" at a couple points) in this case, or if bisexuals and others who's gender expression is outside the norm are included as well. I'm going to assume that they're including everyone. And that's exactly what's wrong with that statement. It's a blanket statement, an over-generalization, that by its sheer breadth ends up excluding people.

For many, their sexuality really is the only difference between them and mainstream society. I don't know how common that is, and frankly, it's irrelevant how common it is for purposes of this issue. Neither the authors of the article, nor anyone else, get to tell them that they are wrong to desire and seek what they could have had, but for the accident of their sexuality and gender expression. Not without making a serious effort to back it up, which the authors have utterly failed to do. The authors speak from personal experience when they say
Believe it or not, we felt incredibly safe, happy, taken care of, and fulfilled with the many queer biological and chosen parents who raised us without the right to marry.
Wonderful. I truly am glad that you had that experience. That doesn't mean that marriage is bad, or that the LBGT people who want marriage, legal marriage, are wrong to desire it. At various points the authors wax poetic about how wonderful and diverse their community is, claiming that as a strength (as well they should), only to turn around and try and stifle and squeeze others into their particular mode. It does not work that way.
We think long-term monogamous partnerships are valid and beautiful ways of structuring and experiencing family, but we don’t see them as any more inherently valuable or legitimate than the many other family structures.  We believe in each individual and family’s right to live their queer identity however they find meaningful or necessary, including when that means getting married.
I agree. So why do you want to stop people in the LGBT community from getting married, directly contradicting what you say here? Oh, right. The other stuff.
We believe that the argument for gay marriage obscures the many structural, social, and economic forces that break families apart and take people away from their loved ones.  Just for starters, there’s the explosion in incarceration levels, national and international migration for economic survival, deportation, unaffordable housing, and lack of access to drug rehabilitation services.  The argument for gay marriage also ignores the economic changes and cuts to social services that make it nearly impossible for families to stay together and survive: welfare cuts, fewer after school programs, less public housing, worse medical care, not enough social workers, failing schools, the economic crisis in general.
Every single one of these issues is important. Every single one of these issues needs to be dealt with. And every single one of them is, has been and will be discussed, and hopefully, dealt with properly. It's true, or at least appears to be true, that politicians sometimes bring up same-sex marriage in an effort to distract the populace and their opponents. Unfortunately, it's usually the conservative right introducing legislation to block the right to same-sex marriage. When someone proposes to enact into law discrimination, it must be challenged. To let it go unchallenged simply because there are other issues on the table only perpetuates the attitudes behind that discrimination.

When we fight for same-sex marriage, it is not just the right to marry that is being fought for. We're also fighting to be accepted, to have the culture as a whole, and people as individuals, recognize us as equals. As we make our arguments for the legalization of same-sex marriage, we are making the argument that it's ok to be gay, bisexual, or trans. When we make that argument, we're standing up against the bullying that has led to many LGBT teens taking their own life, or being kicked out of their homes because mommy and daddy couldn't deal with their child being a sissy. That acceptance makes it easier for our voices to be heard on every issue, including all the ones the authors mentioned.

Isn't that at least as important as all those other issues? (Hint: yes)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Quick heads up

I'm having some issues responding to comments right now (as in, I can't). I've no idea if it's on my computer's end, or blogspot's end. I've already tried the usual things for fixing it (cache/cookies clearing, restarting the browser), so I'm going to have to dig deeper.

Or I might get lucky and it will fix itself by the time I can get back to it again tomorrow.

UPDATE: Figured out. It just doesn't like blockquote tags. Maybe I should look into installing a different commenting system.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Dealing with a few secular arguments against same-sex marriage (first of however many it takes)

Previously I asked if there were any secular arguments against same-sex marriage, both here and on my personal Facebook page ("Occasionally, I think" has a page too, but I haven't been doing anything there since I haven't figured out how to get the "Like" button on this site; readers, should I try harder?). I had some great responses (and major kudos to reader adam for doing a great deal of work pulling together links to various arguments). I can't deal with them all in one post, so here's the first of . . . however many posts it takes.

Writer Pastor Eddie Thompson wrote an article at making three arguments against same-sex marriage, two of which could be called secular.

First up:
First, gay and lesbians already possess rights equally protected under the law. They have the exact rights that I have today. They can marry a member of the opposite sex if they so choose, just like I have done. I can't marry a member of my own sex, even if I wanted to. So, we have the exact same rights.
What they don't have is the right to marry the person that they have fallen in love with. What they don't have is the right to start and raise a family that person with the full legal assistance and protections that are enjoyed by those who are married. So no, gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals (such as myself), do not have the "exact same rights."  What heterosexuals have is extra rights compared to homosexuals and bisexuals, which makes Thompson's next statement really wrong:
What is being suggested by the gay agenda is not "equal rights" but "extra rights."
Not so much.

Moving on to Thompson's second point:
Secondly, consenting adults can do many things, but there are some actions restricted even to consenting adults.
This is true, but those restrictions must be justified. If they are not, then those restrictions must be lifted.
[. . .] There are reasons we place restrictions on marriage. Homosexuals have never received marital status in the history of mankind until recently. 
Well, as a factual matter that's not entirely clear. It's also irrelevant. As we've developed as a society and a species, we've come to realize that many things that we've done historically should not have been done, such as the oppression of women, slavery, segregation, etc. Tradition is not a sufficient reason to continue with any practice, not when there are good reasons to stop.
There is a reason for that. It is not productive to continue to shred the fabric of our society. The burden of proof for changing history’s traditional marriage should fall upon the supporters of the homosexual agenda.
How is allowing same-sex marriage going to "shred the fabric of our society"? If changing what we do and accept as a society in the interest of fairness, equality, and justice is "shred[ding] the fabric of our society," then I say shred away. As for the burden of proof, we've met that. The burden is now with those against same-sex marriage.
I have heard of no compelling reasons that suggest homosexual marriages are necessary to the well-being of our society.
I have heard of no compelling reasons to believe same-sex marriages are harmful to society, or that denying same-sex marriage is somehow "necessary to the well-being of our society." Indeed, a number of states and countries have been permitting same-sex marriage or civil unions (not the same thing, I know) for years, and those societies still exist.

Pastor Thompson's final argument is basically a religious one, and as such, I'm not going to deal with it in detail, except for one line, because it bugs me:
They want us to validate something we consider wicked. 
Just as those who agree with Pastor Thompson want us to validate something we consider wicked: the supremacy of heterosexual marriage over any other form of marriage between consenting adults.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A video on morality

A video that I found through Friendly Atheist by QuoliaSoup. It's quite good, and deserves a look.

If your screen is making it look really tiny on this webpage, like mine is, you should just watch it at YouTube so you can actually see the animation and images.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

My view of marriage

I've been going through various articles and essays that attempt to give a secular argument against same-sex marriage, and I realized something surprising: some people have a fundamentally different view of what marriage is, and (more importantly) should be, than I do. It's not even a religious view, per se. I suspect that in the battles over same-sex marriage, this fundamental difference is going to be one of the biggest hurdles to overcome by supporters of same-sex marriage, even when religion doesn't make an appearance.


Yes, some people genuinely believe and argue that the primary purpose of marriage is to have and raise children. Joe Hargrave posted a piece in September 2010 at the American Catholic website making that very argument:
In my view only procreative unions should be recognized as valid and worthy of benefits, incentives, and the word “marriage.” For [Andrew Sullivan] is correct; to recognize non-procreative heterosexual unions and not homosexual unions has the following effect:
It creates one class of people, regardless of their actions, and renders them superior to another.
Procreative unions (including polygamy, though it is not superior heterosexual monogamy) ought to be superior to all other unions.
Now, it wasn't that long ago that I argued against Bishop DiMarzio referring to marriage as if it were just about procreation. I also objected strongly to him seeming to treat marriage as a vocation, or job. At that time though, I didn't realize that there might be a wider group of people who see marriage in much the same way. I will undoubtedly have to return to this argument another time, but today I wanted to just get my view of marriage out there and on the record.

I see marriage as a commitment to a relationship, a relationship built on romantic love, trust, communication, and respect. It's a way of saying to the world "we're going to stick this out and try to make this relationship work, because that's how much we mean to each other." Financial benefits, procreation, and other such things are all completely secondary to this basic foundation, and in fact not even necessary. I am well aware that this is not the historical viewpoint of marriage, but I do not think that I'm alone in seeing marriage this way. Given the vast number of book and movie romances that seem to put love first and foremost, I don't see how I could be the only person to view it this way.

When you see me arguing in support of same-sex marriage, remember that this is the foundational view, the basic premise, that I'm holding. Some of my arguments probably won't make much sense without it.

Anti-gay bullying in Anoka-Hennepin School District

Amidst everything else, I've recently become aware of a horrendous issue in Minnesota's Anoka-Hennepin School District. It seems that the district has a "neutrality policy" in place that prevents teacher's and other staff from discussing LGBT issues.
 Teaching about sexual orientation is not a part of the District adopted curriculum; rather, such matters are best addressed within individual family homes, churches, or community organizations. 

 This has contributed to an atmosphere of bullying in the district that has led to seven suicides attributed to bullying and harassment based on perceived sexual orientation or failure to conform to gender stereotypes. The school district does have an anti-bullying policy in place, and believes that is sufficient. Clearly, they are wrong. As Dale Schuster, a former student in the district, put it back in September 2010, “How do you stop the anti-gay rhetoric without explaining why it’s wrong in the first place?”

That's exactly it. It may seem like a good idea to avoid the issue by not talking about it, and to leave contentious issues such as LGBT lifestyles and rights to parental upbringing, and I can sympathize with the idea. It's the same basic thought that exists in many groups and families "We don't discuss politics or religion, and thus avoid fights." But this isn't a small private group or family, and the results of not talking about it are playing out under the noses of the staff. It's all well and good to say that bullying is bad, and as long as its reported we'll deal with it. But it won't be reported, not always, not even most of the time. If they bother to think back to their own days in school, staff knows this.

There's stigma attached to being a "tattle-tale." It's ridiculous, it shouldn't exist, but its there. While we can attack that stigma as well, we must still deal with the source and root of the harassment and bullying, and we can only do that by being willing to talk about it.

Here's the website for the Anoka-Hennepin School District that they've put up to deal with this. I suggest contacting them.

Monday, July 25, 2011

I have a question

And it's a serious question, because I really want to know:

Can anyone, anyone at all, show me a secular argument against same-sex marriage? One that doesn't rely on religion and "God said so"?

Let me know in the comments, please!

Monday, July 18, 2011

A little prayer

Apparently, this little prayer is showing up on Facebook:
Let Us Bow our Heads..... Dear God I come to you as humbly as I know how. I confess my sins, those known and unknown. Lord you know I am not perfect and I fall short everyday of my life, but I want to take time out to say thank you for your mercy. Thank you for my health, my family and my friends, the roof over my head, food on my table, and everything I have..... AMEN RE-post if GOD has blessed you in any way
Nice, isn't it? I do have a couple issues with it (besides the obvious). "I confess my sins, those known and unknown." How? How can I confess my unknown sins? If I don't know about them, then it's not very reasonable of me to feel guilty about them. That way leads to paranoia. This line goes back to the idea that we are constantly, in thought and deed, sinning, i.e., pissing God off. Sure, we sometimes do things that are unethical, but we haven't realized that they are unethical. If someone points out such a thing, and convinces me that I've committed an unethical act, then I'll cop to it, and do what I can to correct the situation. That would be appropriate. Assuming that I've done something wrong without it being shown to me, not so appropriate.

"Lord you know I am not perfect and I fall short everyday of my life,": well, I'm not perfect by my own standards, but I wouldn't say that I fall short every single day. Some days, I do pretty damn good, thank you very much.

"but I want to take time out to say thank you for your mercy." : I have a pretty good life, but even so, as I look around, if this is mercy? Well, then God has an odd idea of mercy. Rather, I would say "thanks for not being an even bigger asshole."

As for the rest of the thanks, let me take them one by one.

"Thank you for my health,": Yes, thank you to my doctor and dentist, and their staffs. Thank you to my insurance company. Thank you to those who have taught me good health habits, and those who have encouraged me to maintain those habits I follow. Thank you to the supervisors and human resources manager at a previous employer who worked with me to give me the time I needed to get healthy when I was constantly sick, helping me with the medical leave paperwork, and keeping the job for me for when I was able to return. Thank you to my wife for the joy that research shows is helping me be healthier.

"[Thank you for] my family and friends": Thanks Mom for all your hard work and sacrifice over the years. I know it wasn't easy, and I hope you feel it was worth it. Thanks to my stepdad, for all your help both for me and Mom. Thanks Grandpa for teaching integrity by example. Thanks to the extended family for all the good times, and the help in the bad times. Thanks to every friend (and honestly, the best friends become family) that has ever shared a good time with me, and helped me through the rough times. Thank you for saving my life when I was suicidal. Thank you for teaching me about difference, and having fun in new ways. Thanks to my best friend, the man who has become a brother to me, for all the conversations that lasted for hours, and for letting me borrow your books. Thanks to my wife for sticking with me through all my bullshit, and for sexing me up so often (and for anyone who thinks its somehow crass or "not done" to give thanks for sex, are you saying you aren't grateful when you get laid? for shame). I could go on like this for hours, but thanks to you all, even if you aren't mentioned specifically.

"[Thank you for] the roof over my head," : Thank you to our realtor, you were great and actually listened and worked for us. Thanks to the mortgage broker dealing with us through email and phone calls, and getting us a great rate that let us have a better house than we thought we could afford. Thanks to the bank for the mortgage. Thanks to my in-laws for lending us money for the downpayment. Thanks to the roofers who fixed the roof. Thanks to the seller's realtor who talked his client into taking our offer, and thanks to the seller. Thanks to the guy who fixed our heater.

"[Thank you for] the food on my table": Thank you to everyone who works in the grocery store, and the chain of supply behind you. Thank you to my employer for giving me a job that pays well enough to get food on my table. Thanks to all the farmers. Thanks to the credit card company that I too often have to use to put said food on my table.

"[Thank you for] everything else": Thank you to my educators. Thank you to the police. Thank you to the soldiers. Thank you to construction crews that fix the roads. Thank you to everyone who ever wrote a book. Thank you to the bloggers who give me so much to think about and enjoy. Thank you to the journalists who inform me about the world. Thank you to the scientists who discover the universe's wonders. Thank you to everyone who has ever challenged my views, and not shied away from the discussion. Thank you to my internet and cable provider. Thank you to the inventor of Pepsi. Thank you to the garbage man. Thank you everyone for everything you've ever done for me.

While I didn't include everyone in those paragraphs that I should thank, one name that doesn't deserve to be there is "God." It's pointless to thank someone that's not real, and insulting to those who genuinely deserve my gratitude.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sorry I haven't posted much

To those who keep coming back here, thank you. I do appreciate it. And my apologies for not posting much lately. There are reasons, but I won't bother to waste your time with those right now. I should be able to get back in the swing of this shortly.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A few quick things

Just a few quick things I wanted to bring to people's attention:

First something I should have mentioned when I talked about my aunt's death. There's now a Facebook page called "Grief Beyond Belief" that's there to provide support and resources to non-believers facing death and other things to grieve about. The religious often have communities to aid them through grieving, but these usually come with phrases such as "she's in a better place" or "they're with God now." Obviously, that's not very comforting to non-believers. So, if you have a need for grief support, or wish to help provide some, or have ideas to help, go there, read the Info page, and if you wish, "Like" it.

Second, another Facebook page (ok, they're all Facebook pages). This one is "Support the Secularity of Public Schools." It seeks to gather together those who support maintaining the separation of church and state in publicly funded schools in the USA, and doing things like keeping non-science such as creationism out of the classroom. One really cool part? The admins are Damon Fowler, Jessica Ahlquist, Harrison Hopkins, and Zack Kopplin. The first three I've talked about before, but I haven't mentioned Zack. Zack's the guy who went toe-to-toe with the government in Louisiana to repeal a law that was clearly a stealth move to get creationism into the classroom again. He succeeded too. Seriously, check out his story, and join the group.

Third, there's a new political party being formed, and they've got a Facebook page, complete with charter and platform: National Atheist Party. Now, I'm not going to come out and say I fully and one hundred percent endorse this. I have a few quibbles with parts of the platform (needs more emphasis on education, for example), and frankly, I'm not sure that this is the best idea for moving forward with the atheist cause, or the humanist cause. But I'm not sure it's a bad idea either. If the goal really is to get candidates that are avowed atheists elected, well, that might be discriminatory as well. I'm personally happy to vote for someone who's not an atheist, so long as I can find sufficient common ground with the candidate's views and policy proposals. I also think the name might backfire from a PR perspective. However, I still appreciate what they're trying to do, and the platform positions I mostly agree with, despite quibbles. Therefore, I wanted to bring this to people's attention, and let them make up their own mind. So head on over there, take a look, and make a choice.

Oh, and one more thing. Apparently, I've fallen from the Light Side and joined the Dark Side, because I signed up for Twitter: @NathanDST. Still trying to figure it out (sorta), and not sure if I'll keep with it, but I'm there for the moment. Do what you want with that info (oh dear, that wasn't a Facebook page, was it? whoops).

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pascal's Wager IS a risk . . . for the believers

Pascal's Wager is used too often by believers (especially of the Christian variety) to challenge non-believers, or warn them, or something. It's been dealt with numerous times in numerous places, and is always found wanting by the very people it's supposed convince. What I have realized though, is that it's also a problem (if indeed it is a problem) for the believers.

For those unfamiliar with it, Pascal's Wager (put forth by philosopher Blaise Pascal), was formulated with the Christian God in mind. It says that when attempting to determine whether to believe in God, it can be approached as a wager, heads or tails. God exists, or he doesn't. If you believe in God and follow his teachings and commandments in life, and you're wrong, you've lost very little -- a few fleshly pleasures perhaps, but not much of consequence. If you believe in God and do as he commands, and you're right, congrats, you get heaven. So it doesn't seem such a bad thing to believe in God. However, if you do not believe in God, and you're right, you gain little over the believer. If you do not believe in God, and you're wrong -- you get hell. Therefore, you potentially gain tremendously by believing, while potentially losing horrendously if you don't believe. The only reasonable wager then is to believe.

I'm not going to bother going through all the usual problems that are put forth with this wager, because it's been done so frequently. Go ahead and Google it,  you'll see. What I want to point out is the problem that I see for believers if they're wrong.

The wager says that there isn't much consequence if you're wrong, and you follow the commandments of God. Well, actually, there's a pretty big risk: the risk that you will cause or support needless suffering and immorality during your life. For example, homosexuality. If the believer follows the teachings that homosexuality is a sin, and uses that as an excuse to deny gay people a chance to love and be loved by their partners, but this is not in fact immoral, then the believer's wager has caused or supported suffering.

If you would like a more obvious example, then consider some of what is done under the auspices of the more fundamentalist Islam beliefs. If those believers are wrong, then things like honor killings, child marriages, female genital mutilation, and other abuses are all completely and utterly without a point. These horrible things will have been done to follow the commands of a non-existent God, causing suffering, misery, and potentially (even likely) caused the believer to miss out on some chances for positive, fulfilling relationships with the people s/he has harmed. I'd call that a huge risk.

Most of us don't like to be mistaken, and most of us don't like it when we make mistakes because of bad information. How much worse would it be to go against our empathetic and altruistic instincts because of a bad wager?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Marriage isn't about kids.

So, a Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio wrote an opinion piece at He's not happy about the passage of same-sex marriage rights in New York. His argument is summed up with this:
It is destructive because we fail to view marriage in the context of a vocation: a calling to participate in the great enterprise of forming the next generation.

Marriage is reduced to an empty honor.
Actually, no. Marriage is not just for "forming the next generation." If a man and woman get married who are incapable of having children, their marriage is NOT an empty honor. It will still (ideally) be a relationship built on love, trust, and respect. It will still be a visible commitment to the world of that relationship. It will be an opportunity to deepen their love, trust and respect for each other. It will be many things, but it will not be empty. Children are not the be-all and end-all of marriage, they aren't even the most important part of it. Marriage is not a job, it is not a calling, it's a relationship.

If marriage is just a job for creating kids, then who cares if you commit adultery? Just make sure you don't have kids doing it. If marriage is just a job for creating kids, then why not arrange marriages with an eye toward breeding kids with the traits we want? You know, like horse breeding. Indeed, if marriage is just a job for creating kids, let's start having interviews, and deny you marriage if you don't pass. You can put forth your qualifications in a resume: "good at child discipline, and believe in strict bedtimes." Don't forget periodic reviews! "Your child disobeyed an average of 2 times per week last quarter. What do you plan on doing to correct this trend?"

Marriage is a relationship. Whether it is good or bad has nothing to do with the gender of those involved. So how about we start showing a little fairness?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Free will and God

Early in June I noticed that another blogger had quoted my first post on this site. "Learning to Live Free" is a site for those who have left the Apostolic Lutheran Church and its cousins, and discussion of that. I actually rather like what I see there for the most part. From what I can gather, most people are still Christian on that site, but at least they are no longer stuck in one of the most conservative and limiting traditions in the Lutheran landscape. I was pleased to see someone mentioning me, because I'm not immune to feelings of pride, however small.

Some of the commenters on that site decided to address me directly, and for the most part were very polite about it. There's at least one glaring exception who posted a copy-paste of some stuff from a Ray Comfort site, but you won't see that if you go there, as the site admin deleted all but the link to that site, saying that those who wanted to read it could go there themselves. Well, I've been pondering a few of the things that were said to me, and decided to respond here, as that site doesn't seem the place to comment on my atheism or why the arguments presented are convincing.

First up, we've got Hibernatus:

What Nathan-Lucien really is discussing is why God created free will if giving free will made it possible to choose evil instead of good. Wouldn't it have been better to create only restricted will so it would have been possible to choose only good and not evil? 

In the Orthodox church, we say God didn't want to create slaves but sons who cooperate with him out of their free will and not as machines that have been programmed to always cooperate with God. Man was created as God's image. Would it be possible to call a pre-programmed machine an image of God? 
If you haven't followed the links above, he's responding to my story about first questioning religion through the story of Adam and Eve eating that fruit that gave them knowledge of good and evil, which went against the only "thou shalt not" commandment they had been given. I said that there were various ways that God could have prevented that result, and gave some examples. In other words, omniscient, all-loving, omnipotent God set them up.

Well, I agree that I don't want my children (when I have some) being automatons. I'd like them to know their options and make their choices. I'd like them to be people, in other words. The problem with arguments that God is simply letting us follow our free will is that if we are going to make good choices, we need good information, and the ability to understand that information. Most parents know that you don't just tell a child "don't drink the bleach, it'll kill you." That's good information, but you also make sure they can't get at it until they're old enough to understand the danger.

In the story of Adam and Eve, God said that they would die if they ate the fruit. Funny thing, they didn't die right away, but they did suddenly have a sense of shame, a conscience, if you will. And that brings me to how God could allow free will, or choice, but make it a heck of a lot more effective than it is, and all without turning me into an automaton. He could persuade me.

When I debate with my wife, my friends, or random people on the internet, each person is trying to persuade the other of their point of view. As humans, we have a limited ability and access to information, which means that sometimes we aren't able to put forth the best points or rebuttals. But God . . . if God saw that I was going to do something that he considers unethical, he could step in and actually explain why it would be wrong, perhaps accelerating my perception of time so we could hash it out without interfering with the progression of events. He could use his omniscience to anticipate each and every rebuttal I might make, and demonstrate why those rebuttals fail. He could do this without threats or promises of reward. And then, he could let me choose. He could do this for everyone.

Some might say that this is what the conscience is: the "still small voice" of God. Except that while the conscience might get me to feel guilt or shame, it doesn't tell me why I should feel guilt or shame for a particular instance. God could do that, if he'd actually bother, if he actually cared (and if he was real). As it stands, everyone's conscience seems to disagree with everyone else's at some point. One cop feels guilty for shooting a man in the line of duty, another has no issue with it. This world contains liars, thieves, and abusers, and not all of them feel shame or guilt.

I mean that literally. There are people in this world who have no sense of right and wrong, no conscience, and never have, even as a child. They're called psychopaths. They lack empathy and compassion, key components of any human attempt to be good to one another. They lie with ease, because unlike most of us, it doesn't bother them. The very presence of such individuals in the world says that this whole idea of "God speaks to us through our conscience" is a bust.

I've got one more commenter to respond to, and I promise it won't take as long. Anonymous said:

[Lucien's] statements are immature, showing a huge lack of biblical understanding, and he has made the error of calling God a liar. Yes God created us with free will; yes God allowed sin to enter the world; yes people suffer, but there is a reason for it all. God has an amazing plan that has not been fully revealed to humanity. Who are we to tell God how things should have been done?
We are the ones who are suffering, and thus, we are the ones who have a right to know why. If God is real, and this is all part of his plan, we deserve an explanation, and I for one, demand an explanation.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Hypocrisy revealed

So, over in New York the legislator is considering allowing gay marriage. There is still one lone Democrat, Ruben Diaz, Sr., who's against it. The Village Voice got to have a chat with Senator Diaz (at least until he hung up on them), and revealed a surprising hypocrisy. Apparently, Diaz thinks that divorce is wrong, morally wrong, because his religion says so (though he himself has been married twice). But he wouldn't say that divorce should be illegal. How odd. He thinks gay marriage should not be legal because it's morally wrong, but divorce, which is also morally wrong, is ok to have as a legal option.

So do you believe it is alright to be divorced?
No. Divorce is wrong. Gay marriage is wrong.
You think you are wrong, then?
When I got divorced, I was wrong, yes. Why are you asking me this?
But you believe that gay marriage is wrong and divorce is wrong, but that you should be allowed to get divorced and remarried, and gay people shouldn't be able to marry at all.
When I got divorced, it was wrong, but marriage is between a man and a woman.
So is being divorced OK with your religion?
No, it is not OK. Gay marriage is still wrong. This is what I believe.
At that point the interview goes into questions why Diaz once had his current wife and ex-wife working together at the same place, on the same payroll, and Diaz accuses the interviewer of just digging for dirt, and hangs up pretty quickly.

Now, I do have one criticism of the questions. I wish the interviewer had flat out asked "Do you believe divorce should be illegal?" Because while it appears that Diaz would say no, the answer to that question would have avoided any ambiguity. If Diaz answered "Yes," then the only hypocrisy is in the fact that he's been divorced. Since we've all occasionally done things that go against our ethics, Diaz could then go the route of showing regret for that action. Or, he could claim that he didn't believe it was wrong at the time, but does now. Hypocrisy disappears with that reasoning. Diaz would still be wrong, but not hypocritical.

On the other hand, if he answered "No, divorce should not be illegal," the interviewer could have pressed him on the discrepancy between that stance, and his stance that gay marriage should be illegal. I think the interviewer may have gotten too caught up in trying to highlight the hypocrisy with other issues. Maybe.

h/t to the Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta

Monday, June 20, 2011

Death and grief

Approximately one year ago one of my aunts died after a long and bravely fought battle with breast cancer. She went on chemo multiple times, and often it seemed she would beat it. Unfortunately, after being in remission, it returned, and spread throughout her body. Eventually, the doctors informed her and her family that it was terminal. She could fight it some more, and perhaps live a while longer . . . or not. She chose not. She felt better without treatment than she did with the treatment, and she didn't want her final days to be miserable. I cannot blame her at all, and might very well have made the same choice.

I was not able to be there at the end. I tried, but she died before I could get to her and the rest of my family. Still, she died with her closest brother and husband at her side, and my understanding is that she had a smile on her face, no pain, and went peacefully. She had accepted it.

I didn't know her well, but the days following still were not easy for me. I cried, a lot. I would be doing fine one moment, and the next I would remember something about her, and burst into tears. At one point, it just suddenly popped into my head that she was the first to ever use the phrase "29 forever" in my presence. I had asked her how old she was, because she seemed so young, and her response was "29 forever." I loved it. She told me her actual age after a moment, but I don't remember what it was, and don't care. I still sometimes use that phrase, now that I've passed my original 29th birthday more than once. Such a simple memory, but how could I not grieve at the loss of the one who gave it to me?

She was the joker in the family. I have other aunts and uncles, and all love to make each other laugh, but never was there so much laughter as when she was around. Whenever I saw her, she just seemed so vibrant, even with all her hair gone from the chemo. I miss her. I hardly ever saw her when she was alive, but now that I can never see her again, I miss her. Even now, I sometimes tear up when I think of her (such as right now).

Life moves on of course, and though there's still pain, it's a dull ache, no longer a crushing weight that makes breathing hard. Sometimes I don't want to remember, because it hurts, but that does nothing to honor her. And her memory deserves honoring. I miss you Naomi.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A little bit on faith

Over at Jerry Coyne's site, I found this little gem on the word "faith," as it's used in science and religion.

Let us once and for all make the distinction between the scientific and religious notions of faith—before they’ve become deliberately and permanently conflated by the faithful:
FaithSCIENCE :  Confidence, based on mountains of experience, that answers to questions about reality are best derived from a combination of evidence and reason.
FaithRELIGION : Confidence, based on no experience (indeed, even contrary to experience), that answers to questions about “reality” are best derived from personal revelation, authority, scripture, and dogma.
I agree entirely, but I wanted to say a bit more. I consider faith, of the religious variety, to be a delusion. More than that, I consider it to be a dangerous delusion. Why dangerous? Sure, plenty of fundamentalists have done horrible things in the name of faith, but there are also thousands of people who's faith has led and inspired them to do good and great things, such as fighting sexism. Well, yes, that's true. However, reaching a conclusion I (or anyone else) agree with based on a faulty premise is merely an accident -- beneficial perhaps, but not a good thing to encourage. Let me give you an example.

Here's an easy conclusion that most of us (I hope) will agree with: "It is wrong to rape a woman." Now, let's take two individuals, A and B, who both agree with the statement "It is wrong to rape a woman." Huzzah! A and B agree on this issue, and if so inclined, can work together to prevent people from raping women, and can work together to help women who have been raped, right? Great. Now let's consider the reasons that each has for believing "It is wrong to rape a woman."

A believes that a woman's body and sexuality belong to herself, and only herself. All rights and privileges pertaining to her body are hers, and hers alone. Rape is a use of her body that she has not in any way consented to, and therefore violates her rights. Thus, "It is wrong to rape a woman."

B believes that a woman's body and sexuality belong to her husband. All rights and privileges pertaining to her body are her husband's, and only her husband's. Rape is a use of her body that her husband has not in any way consented to, and therefore violates her husband's rights and property. Thus, "It is wrong to rape a woman."

Clearly, though A and B agree on the conclusion, the views and arguments that led to that conclusion are very different, and in fact, mutually exclusive. The two worldviews represented seem likely to lead to very different conclusions in other instances. Can a woman choose her own clothes? Can a woman choose for herself what surgery to undergo? Can a woman say "no" when her husband wants sex? Can a woman choose birth control?

Religious faith has led to good conclusions in a variety of people that I, and many others, would agree with. Faith has led people to donate money to charities, to be polite, to show compassion, to volunteer in food drives, to help the elderly when they need it, and to try ending wars. Faith has led people to fight against slavery, to promote women's rights, and to battle for equal treatment for minority races. Faith has promoted good works and good intentions.

But religious faith has also led to bad conclusions that I, and many others, would never agree with. Faith has led to people being rude, and gleefully telling someone they will go to hell. It has led to wars being started. Faith has led people to promote slavery, to oppress women, and to attempts at discriminating against minority races. Faith has promoted bad works and bad intentions.

Religious faith is often contrary to evidence, and this can lead to very bad decisions. For example, many with religious faith refuse to accept the evidence for evolution, instead believing that all life was created as is. This can lead to bad decisions in medicine. Evolution explains why it's a bad idea to quit taking your antibiotics before the full treatment is done, even though you feel better (it's not just to make sure you don't relapse, though that's part of it). Evolution explains why obesity is so easy to achieve in today's society, and why weight loss is not. Such understanding can lead to beneficial prevention and treatment measures. I could go on.

As another example, religious faith has led some to reject the dangers of global warming and climate change, on the basis that God won't let that happen. This is in contrast to the evidence that climate change is very real, and rather risky. That's a very dangerous attitude, especially when it's a politician making such a claim.

Faith may often lead to good, but since it's so subjective, and based on something not supported by evidence, it often leads to horrors. And because it can be so powerful, and tends to form the basis of the faithful's worldview, it makes it very easy to use faith to justify something bad, even for someone generally good. Faith is dangerous.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Matthew 7: 1-5

Once again I'm going to select a passage from the Bible, consider it, and render my judgement of it. Today, with a wee sense of irony, I shall select Jesus's words from Matthew 7:1-5. Here's the text (King James Version):

 1Judge not, that ye be not judged.
 2For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
 3And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
 4Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
 5Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.

For comparison, here's the text of the New International Version:

1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
   3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. 
This one's a bit of a mixed bag, and could be read in two or three different ways it seems. In the first couple of verses, we've got an admonition to not judge, with a warning that if we do, we'll be judged as well. Then we have 3 verses cautioning against hypocrisy. So we have 1) Do not judge, 2) Don't be a hypocrite, or 3) Don't judge, because that makes you a hypocrite.

Let's deal with number one first. That first verse captures the essence, doesn't it? Well, bad essence. Apart from the fact that it's probably impossible to completely avoid judging someone, it's really a bad idea to even strive for that. We have a moral obligation to judge others. That's right: an obligation. If we refrain from judging others, then how are we to say that it's wrong for a priest to rape a child? Or a man to kill another for the money in his wallet? How can we say it's good for a person with money to spare to donate to the poor? Or a father to donate his time as a Little League coach? We must judge these things. Note that it's perfectly acceptable to judge something as morally neutral. Dancing to a song with a good beat? Getting a tattoo?  Morally neutral. And certainly there may be nuance to consider in various cases, but nonetheless, we must judge. To claim that beating one's wife for going outside the house without a male escort is okay because that's the culture, that we cannot judge the man because we are not in that culture? Wrong, so totally wrong. Of course we can judge him, and we must!

Nor should we consider the warning ("you too will be judged") to be a warning, but a promise, and a welcome one. If we're of good character, we should welcome it when our mistakes and immoral actions are pointed out to us, because then we have the opportunity to correct our mistakes and make amends for our actions -- or at least try.

That's interpretation one, let's deal with number two, "don't be a hypocrite." Sound advice, and a good policy to follow. It can't be judged moral to scold someone for stealing when you're cheating on your taxes.

Well, that was easy! On to number three, "don't judge, because that makes you a hypocrite." Um, no, it doesn't. True, if you're judging someone for stealing when you're cheating on taxes, you are a hypocrite, and that's bad. The person you're judging is fully justified in pointing out your own failings. However, this doesn't mean that either should avoid making the judgements, or excuse the first thief for thievery, it only means the hypocrite has more that he's doing wrong. Each should be dealt with accordingly.

So, here's my judgement of this passage:

Interpretation one: Immoral.

Interpretation two: Moral.

Interpretation three: Immoral and silly.