Archive for April, 2015

Sharia Law in America?

April 28, 2015 Leave a comment

At a recent annual meeting of the NRA, group spokesman Steve Tarani claimed that “a friend” of his, whom he refused to name, claimed that the city of Dearborn, Michigan; has been effectively taken over by Muslim extremists who have instituted Sharia law in the city. His friend who is a member of Detroit’s SWAT team said that there were areas of the city that they do not go, because it is so hostile to non-Muslims. The story of course is bullshit. First off even if we grant that this “friend” exists, of course Detroit SWAT would never go into Dearborn, it is outside of their jurisdiction. Detroit SWAT has no place in Dearborn, the entire country outside of the Detroit municipality is a “no-go zone.” Secondly, the story is incredibly dubious when we consider that on October 28 of 2013, the National Report claimed that the city of Dearborn officially adopted Sharia Law…but the National Report is a satire website. That didn’t stop several right wing news agencies from running with the story as though it were the truth.

Obviously the story is being told to scare people. The NRA has changed in the last decade moving further and further into becoming an organization that is surpassed by the John Birch Society and Alex Jones into paranoid conspiracism. The whole point is to tell the people of their group that the government has just given up on defending them and instead allowed a group of religious zealots to take over an entire city.

If there was a city in Michigan, or anywhere in this country for that matter, that did legislate laws that were exclusive to a particular religion I would want those laws repealed. The law should not be in the business of favoring one religion over another with respect to approving ecclesiastical interpretations that serve the public good in no way. We even have a specific rule and more than 200 years of court cases that back up this separation.

Yet, despite these rules, we have these religious totalitarian rules that don’t have any place in the modern age. Take for instance the concept of “dry counties.” These are areas of the country where entire areas ban the sale of alcohol because of a weird interpretation of Christianity. There are around 500 of these areas throughout the country, including the county in which the Jack Daniel’s Whiskey distillery is located. In the 21st century, right now, there are areas where there is such a strict control by religious authorities that they literally ban the sale of a thing that they see as sinful. Yet the same people that are afraid of Sharia Law being somehow instituted in this country have effectively been supporting a law which those who would institute Sharia Law would support.

I don’t want to say that we should force people to drink alcohol. If you don’t want to drink, don’t drink. How is that not the solution to the problem of the “devil rum.” Why not just let the free market take care of it. I doubt that a bar could stay open in a county populated by Mormons, Southern Baptists, or strict Muslims; but instituting the law only forces other people to obey the rules of a belief system they do not adhere to. The difference between banning alcohol because of Christianity or banning alcohol because of Sharia is no different except in accidental details.

While Sharia law will never come to the United States we already have religiously intolerant laws here. While it’s a pretty trite example, the banning of alcohol is only one symptom of the same problem that has been attempting to ban gay marriage in the last decade or so (by that I mean that the laws being passed to specifically ban gay marriage or make it difficult to do so). Why are we letting religious law influence secular law? It makes no sense and is about nothing more than making certain people feel better about the rules that they are insecure about.

The same people that are trying to fight Sharia Law are the same people that claim that the government is getting too big and that think Socialism comes directly from the devil. Yet they apply enough cognitive dissonance to never put together the idea that they are asking for contradictory things. You can’t want the government out of your life if you are going to also ask it to determine who you can marry. Just as well you can’t ask for a free market system and then want that same free market to outlaw the sale of alcohol.

Categories: Uncategorized

The Side Effect of Going Clear

April 21, 2015 Leave a comment

In the interests of honesty this post comes is inspired by the hosts of the podcast “The Scathing Atheists” who made a good point on a recent episode in their review of the HBO documentary “Going Clear.”

I’ve been hitting the movie up for the last couple weeks for inspiration as it was so well done and really got in my head as far as how I view religion, cults, and belief, yet their point brought up something I hadn’t even considered. Just to recap the important points. The movie was an exposition on the church of Scientology. It gave an overview of the life of its founder, science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, its development from a pop-psychology book in the 50s and 60s, and then its transition into a religion. From there the movie delved into its modern practices under leader David Miscavige as well as how the religion treats apostasy, criticism, and its own adherents.

The average person is probably aware of the religion as something a bunch of Hollywood individuals are into and much like Gwyneth Paltrow’s vaginal steaming (which you should absolutely not do) they probably think it’s a bit crazy. After seeing this movie however they probably have a feeling that it’s a lot crazy and that something ought to be done about it. I’m not saying that people who have come across this movie think the religion ought to be banned by some legal measure but perhaps they think that people should be educated against this organization so that they don’t fall into its traps. I’m not sure but I know that I had a gut reaction bordering on moral indignation at the existence of this group–and I knew about them before I saw the movie.

I’m about to write a sentence that I never before thought that I would ever write so here it goes (deep breath): this isn’t fair to the Scientologists.

Let me qualify that sentence, as far as I know everything in the movie is true. It lines up perfectly with the information that I had before I saw the movie, so my issue is not that I think the movie was unfair in that falsely portrayed the group. The movie is unfair because while it portrays the religion has having crazy beliefs that cause us to ask, “how could anyone buy into this?” those beliefs aren’t significantly different than any other religion that exists. The distance one has to leap over their own logical faculty is just as far as any other, and that’s why it’s unfair. For religious people who are not Scientologists to cluck their tongues at this religion is ironic.

It’s a religion that was founded by a criminal who was kicked out of every country that he came across. Ok, how is that different than Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism who died in a gunfight while trying to escape prison wherein he was incarcerated for instigating an attack on a newspaper that was critical of him?

While the life of Hubbard is very strange, his death, according to the organization is described even stranger. They say that he shed his body to continue his research without it. He didn’t die, but merely learned to live without it. That is not fundamentally very different from the Catholic belief that Mary didn’t die but merely was assumed into heaven, a belief that was only instructed as being dogma in 1950. In order to complete their work both individuals overcame death by not dying.

Scientology is not the only religion that relentlessly pursues those who have left the church with harassment and isolation. Members of the LDS and Mormons who have left the church also leave their families who are instructed to never contact them again. We can also see this in the Amish communities and their practice of shunning those who have strayed from the path.

As far as harassment of critics of the religion we need look no further than what Islamic fundamentalists do to critics of their religion who draw cartoons or write shitty fiction novels that even hint that their religion might have problems. While that certainly is an extreme example (as Scientologists have yet to target to a newspaper for assassination) we can also show the almost universal rallying of members of other religions who blamed the shooting victims under the guise that one shouldn’t insult another’s religious belief.

Sure, Scientology is a “pay to play” group in which your dedication is measured by how much you have “donated” and even require members to work for the organization for slave wages. How their donation is substantially different from the tithing necessary in all of the religions is a mystery to me. Further, in my experience, the church and religious schools I attended both made “volunteering” mandatory with the only compensation being that I was allowed to continue being a “good Catholic.”

Do they attempt to force their political beliefs on their members by helping defeat gay rights laws? Sure, at least they did so in California but so did many other churches. Liberty University, a far right conservative Christian college, made mandatory that the students attended Ted Cruz’s presidential announcement (a stark violation of the IRS regulation on both schools and churches for tax exempt status) lest the students pay a ten dollar fine.

Is the church accused of a systematic cover up of physical and psychological abuse? They are, but look at the Catholic Church again and we’ll see the same thing.

It should be clear that I’m not defending Scientology from the accusations in the documentary. What I am doing is making the claim that for every crazy or morally objectionable thing the movie presented about the group can easily be found in the other religions. The sense of superiority that some people will get from watching it is ill founded. They are different in their behavior and beliefs in only the specific details of both. The larger issue is part of the definition of “religion.”

Adding to “Cult”

April 14, 2015 Leave a comment

The podcasts I subscribe to are about week behind my blog. This is obviously due to the fact that there is a lot more that goes into that than what goes into this. Some of them I listen to will talk about the same subjects and news stories, but I get them first because I don’t have to spend a week editing the audio together. I bring it up because in the last few days I have listened to three different podcasts all mention the HBO documentary “Going Clear.” Dr. Steven Novella, of the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, made a claim on their review that the divergence between a religion and a cult is in how they treat their followers as opposed to what kind of beliefs they held. He was indicating this in response to Dr. Neil Degrasse Tyson’s remarks that the beliefs of the Scientologists are not quantifiably any crazier than the beliefs of the Catholic church so it’s not that which makes a Scientologist a cult member.

Novella went on his show this week to clarify the difference as a listener wrote in to say that he was being to glib while simultaneously giving religion a special place when it comes to holding beliefs: i.e. if the group treats its members well it can have whatever crazy belief at its core and still be ok. The hosts of Cognitive Dissonance claimed that the reason Scientology sounds so out there is because it is new, a sentiment which can be found in Bill Maher’s movie “Religilous” with regard to Mormonism. The hosts at Cognitive Dissonance though raised a good point about Mormonism. It’s far back enough that still invokes the old spirituality, but also adds in the often incorrect scientific knowledge of the day. The time of Joseph Smith was an interesting one as it seems to represent the beginning of the end of the spiritualist movement. Yet, it’s not so far back that the beliefs couldn’t be couched in an obscure language with an unknown founder. We know everything about Joseph Smith to know that he was a con man and a criminal. We know the same thing about L. Ron Hubbard.

Part of what I said earlier was that I now view Scientology as a cult because of it waits as long as it can before you learn its creation myth, which is pretty ridiculous with its strange attention to details like the spaceships that look exactly like DC-8 jets. But that isn’t really enough. While I find it very telling it doesn’t separate religious sects that we know to be a cult but are still within what we consider to be established religions. The Branch Davidians made no secret about their beliefs, so we can’t consider them to not be cults. There has to be another qualification.

I would add this: that its adherents believe the external world is out to destroy them. The Davidians believed this to be the case, and then were unfortunately given empirical evidence that this was the case when the ATF showed up to arrest them for hording automatic weapons. Scientology does the same, as well as a large amount of smaller Christian sects that perceive the world as being hostile to their religion. It causes them to isolate themselves form the external world thus making the group more and more insular, forbidden in some respects to engage with the external world except where they have to interact in order to gain more followers.

This mentality is obviously absurd. If the Scientologists didn’t make their presence known, if they didn’t engage in law suits just because someone criticized them no one would pay any attention to the group provided they weren’t breaking any laws.

However this new qualification also applies to people like Rick Scarborough who thinks any action which is not in full line with his specific interpretation of Christianity is an assault against him. For instance he recently said that he and his followers should be prepared to go to jail or worse in order to protest gay marriage. I’m all for free speech and the right to protest, but who is he going to protest against, who is going to arrest or kill him for doing so? If the Supreme Court does render gay marriage to be a right, they will do so without regard to him and his followers, it has nothing to do with them. The idea that gay marriage now, arresting Christians later is absurd to the point of lunacy. Yet their belief, also shared by Dobson, Santorum, and many others is that somehow they are under an assault. It’s an us v. them, mentality that I think is awfully worrisome since the “them” is literally everyone who has no opinion on gay marriage or is openly in support of it.

In this respect they are in complete line with the Scientologists who also despise gay marriage and homosexuality (although I’m at a loss for what their justification is). As well as thinking that the world is populated by people who wish to destroy them. While I’m against their bigotry and intolerance, I don’t wish them near the kind of ill that people like Scarborough wish people like me. Combining qualification one and two I think we can move toward a more specific definition of cult so that we can isolate “Religion” from it.

Categories: Uncategorized

Persistent Stereotypes

April 7, 2015 Leave a comment

While the stereotypes continue to exist I’ll continue to write about them. Sometimes it feels that doing so is getting to be a rote exercise but when popular figures continue to propagate vile stereotypes of unbelievers, every once in awhile it serves the public good to write about why the common misconceptions about atheists and atheism are utterly wrong.

First on the dock is Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty. Phil often times gets himself in trouble for the things that he says, usually these things are said during a new season of the “reality” show that he stars in. I’ve never seen an episode of his show, I don’t know what exactly his family got rich selling, and I don’t care. However, he has a following as a star of this show and was speaking at a CPAC event when he went in to a long and overly graphic scenario where an atheist has his wife and kids raped and murdered in front of his eyes, while Robertson claims that there is nothing wrong with it because there is no higher authority to judge the action as wrong. The stereotype that he, and his audience (who remained quiet during his detailed description of the event) seem to believe is that if there is no god there is no morality, and because of that a person like me will do whatever satisfies my hedonistic impulses.

This type of issue is taken up in the back of Christopher Hitchens book “God is not Great” and is even dealt with by . It’s not only absurd but it’s abhorrent. I know several atheists, everyone does statistically. I will also guarantee that not one of them thinks like Robertson thinks. Those who do, are no different than religious people that commit crimes against other people. In fact, we have a word for them: criminals. If an atheist shoots three men in a parking lot, the news pundits begin to wonder if this is a problem that all atheists have, but when a Christian does the same thing we don’t hear the same proselytizing. Why? Because we recognize in the latter that it’s an aberration, it has nothing to do with the religion itself (unless it does, in which case we still don’t have the same debate) and in the former it’s the same thing: an aberration. I’ve killed exactly the amount of people that I have wanted to: zero. This is because I recognize that people have a value, that life has a value for each individual. Along with that I also recognize that a society cannot stand, it cannot move forward if people have to worry about being killed when they step outside their door. What I don’t need is the threat of punishment to motivate me into not murdering.

Aristotle, who according to Plutarch, said that he learned from Philosophy to refrain from actions that others refrain from only through fear of the law. I get that, and it frightens me that people like Robertson are only good because their religion tells them that goodness comes from the threat of punishment. I’m not attempting to make the claim that the only reason any religious person behaves is because of a divine threat, but for people like Robertson it sure appears to be the case.

Next up is Dr. Deepak Chopra. A once respected Cardiologist who discovered it’s more lucrative to hock new age bullshit to gullible Westerners by slapping some Pseudo-Hinduism and arbitrary use of the word “quantum” to sell books. Chopra is a semi-regular guest commentator for CNN and posted an op-ed title “The Problem with Atheism.” As he sees it, the main issue is that for the atheist or the skeptic (of which the latter he has had many difficulties with) is that they lose the sense of curiosity of the natural world. If all we believe in is what we can prove with evidence this to him stalls not only civilization but human development.

His argument is based on a false dichotomy that if you believe in the dominion of science in human knowledge that you must believe that the only thing that exists is material. Then he goes on to explain that according to some studies (which he doesn’t link to) that scientists go to church more than non-scientists. That they practice science without it turning into a moral dogma. Ok, sure, but so what?

I know a couple of people that believe in the dominion of science in knowledge, in fact, I’m one of them. Yet, my curiosity of the natural world isn’t impeded by this. Several of the podcasts that I listen to are run by atheists and they report scientific news as a method of exploring the universe. What I don’t get is how he thinks that wonder is killed by the idea that there is nothing beyond this life. The claim is utterly non-sensical.

Chopra himself is nothing more than a self-help author, despite his former medical credentials. Why he is brought in as an authority on anything is beyond me. Skepticism is merely the suspension of acceptance until proper evidence is found. How that actually stops or stalls curiosity is a mystery that he fails to explain. Yet it’s a stereotype that is readily accepted because universally religions posit “mysteries” in order to awe their followers when they can’t provide explanations for their various beliefs. Being a knee-jerk skeptic, or simply a person who wants proof for the claims made by those offering claims of a spiritual realm is anathema to him because his schlock can’t stand up against those requests.

There is no atheistic dogma. No skeptical creed by which there are adherents. What’s more confusing is that he writes “Secular society has sharpened our demand for truth. To me, this is a positive development.” Well, how do you think that we got here? By questioning the old ways, by demanding proof for their assertions, by not taking comfort in mysteries just because we don’t like the idea that this is a material world in which we live. You can’t have it both ways no matter how hard he wants to misuse “quantum.”