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The Interview

June 19, 2017 Leave a comment

A little break from the atheism to talk about the insanity of Alex Jones and the Megyn Kelly interview from last night.

Which I didn’t watch.

I didn’t watch it because I already know what’s about to happen, and he’s quite unbearable if you’re familiar with his shtick. I’m old enough to remember Pauly Shore, and it took halfway through the second movie before I thought, “Alright enough, it’s not funny anymore.” Jones is like that…minus anything that could pass for intentional comedy.

I didn’t boycott the interview, nor did I sign a petition, email an ad buyer, or put a long winded diatribe on facebook/twitter in which I chastised NBC or Kelly for airing the interview. In fact, this is what I wrote when I learned of the interview, “Alex Jones is an opportunistic piece of shit, but he tends to self-destruct when interviewed. Yes, he’s a Sandy Hook denier, but he’s also a total nutter. The interview might just expose him for being that.”

The boycott that erupted in response to the interview was an understandable one. Though I was mystified by it’s sole focus: the Sandy Hook denial. It’s horrible, it’s absurd, but it’s nothing more than he does on a daily basis. It’s also not the only thing he denies happened. I have a joke in my skepticism classes that every single time a shooting occurs it takes 24 hours, at the most, before Jones will either deny it happened or call it a false flag. I’m rarely wrong with that prediction (the baseball shooting was a remarkable exception).

We should be clear about what he’s saying with the Sandy Hook massacre. He’s not saying that the lone gunman didn’t do it, and that it was a coordinated attack by the deep state, or whoever his boogey man was at the time. He was saying that it didn’t happen. Everything from the dead bodies, the grieving parents, and the school was staged. I’ve looked into this theory, it is part of my job, and it’s just bad. I don’t buy into any conspiracy theory, maybe the Taylor Swift/Katy Perry feud is just marketing, maybe Ali’s first championship fight was a thrown fight (not on his behalf though, the theory is that his opponent was heavily in debt), maybe Michael Jordan’s foray into baseball was a secret suspension due to his gambling problems, but those are all theories that require few people and a low amount of moving parts to accomplish.

The 9/11 Conspiracy theory, in it’s absolute vastness, did raise some questions that I had to look up. I never once doubted the actual story, but there were some weird anomalies (which is all that theory relies on: anomaly hunting) that made the conspiracists somewhat reasonable, i.e. jet fuel and I-beams; but all of that is easily explainable.  I say reasonable because it’s a theory based on incomplete information filled in by a hack screenwriter and a rather decently produced “documentary” that was started as a teaser for an X-Files type movie.

The Sandy Hook theory was pure fiction. It wasn’t based on incomplete information, it was based on a fetish-like need to protect guns. There is very little anomaly hunting (home value listings were dropped to zero shortly after the shooting but then were fixed by the new year) and the “if you squint and want to believe it” idea that there existed crisis actors. Jones was the lead propagator of this theory. Even going on CNN at the time to claim conspiracy, though not going far enough on air to spout the “it didn’t happen” theory.

Any major event, again minus the baseball shooting, he’s on the radio in between hocking bullshit “nutritional” supplements and gold, claiming that it was a plot by the government. I get why the boycott groups focus on this theory of his: it was horrific even by mass shooting standards, the parents of the deceased children received hate mail and death threats. Yet everything from the Pulse Night Club shooting to the Boston Marathon bombing was fair game as well.

I have no issue with the boycott. Don’t want to watch it, don’t. Don’t frequent companies that sponsor the show, even write asking them to stop sponsorship. Those are fine.

However, that’s also the rub. The people, like me, who are familiar with him don’t want to watch him, but there’s a lot of people that aren’t and I have to agree with Bill Maher with people like this: they die in sunlight, with one important difference. The difference between someone like Jones and Yiannopolis is that Yiannopolis is a professional troll. His whole thing is pissing people off by being such a flagrant asshole (I mean pearls? C’mon, this isn’t the 1930s) giving him light doesn’t matter. Jones on the other hand, is regarded by a certain aspect of conservatism as a fringe guy that some people believe. Yet no one looks too hard at him.

Giving him this type of interview exposes his belief. William F. Buckley Jr. threw the John Birch society out of the GOP in 1962 for their outrageous claims regarding water fluoridation, and that then president Eisenhower was a Soviet sympathizer (or at worst, a Soviet Agent). While the Birch society has started as just a conservative group it quickly, under the operation of its founder Robert Welch, turned into the kind of nuttery that we see in Alex Jones today. This is important because the president has not only appeared on Jones’ Infowars, but endorsed his views, and given them press access.

This is a guy who talks about “life extension technology” and began screaming about “inhuman intelligence” on his show. He’s probably the biggest driving force behind the pizzagate attack and I doubt many people were aware of who he is or what kind of things he says. They probably regarded him only as another right wing pundit who is a little more extreme than the rest of them. Now however, he can’t be merely regarded as that, but instead as the insanity spouting conspiracy nut that he is. Hopefully this will encourage more people to denounce his views, maybe even the president.

 

 

Better to be an Atheist?

February 28, 2017 Leave a comment

I suppose it’s what I deserve for skipping a week. Last Monday I had a mini-conference on fake news at the University where I teach. It was rather informative though I think they could have spent more time concentrating on the purpose of fake news rather than just some techniques on how to teach students to avoid it. After that, I had a doctor’s appointment (everything is fine), and by the time I returned home I was too exhausted to write my entry. The thing about habits, with me anyway, is that if I miss the day I normally do something then it’s pretty likely that I won’t get to it. Still though, I persisted, and went to work searching subjects.

Then the Pope made the news. This is usually what I call a ‘freebie.’ I’ll spend only a paragraph so as to not bore long time readers familiar with my perspective on him. Pope Francis has this annoying habit of doing one thing right and then within a few days negating the net gain with a wrong thing. For instance in the same week news broke that he endorsed both the theory of evolution and the big bang (the latter if we remember, first theorized by a Catholic priest), he then authorized the ordination of a whole bunch of new exorcists (science/reality +1, -1). One step forward, one back.

Last week he said that (paraphrasing) it would be better to be an atheist than a hypocritical Christian. I agree, and I spent three weeks on this blog posting about Christian hypocrisy towards refugees. I claimed, by quoting their book, that Christians have a command by god to welcome refugees and help those in need. Further that they can’t say they are against homosexuality because of their book and simultaneously be against immigration because that’s abject hypocrisy. Cherry picking your moral commands isn’t morality. Not only did I say that but the three leading Christian denominations in the US agreed (Catholic church included).

Pope Francis was referring to those types of people who dutifully go to church, join advocacy groups, donate their money and time to the church, but then ignore the needs of the poor, immigrants, and other causes the church believes Jesus would have advocated for. It’s in line with what he said a few years ago regarding us non-believers: that as long as we’re decent people we can win too. Now, he’s gotten some kind of shit storm about this from the Trump supporters who think he’s attacking their icon (and they’re probably right about that). It’s the usual sound and fury, from this group of people that attack anyone who criticizes their dear leader. I doubt the Pope is chain smoking in the Vatican wondering what canon law he needs to exercise in order to return things back to the 15th century in order to get revenge.

One might wish to argue that this isn’t a step forward. That it’s just like the atheists can be good people too comment. However that person has to realize that he’s not making the proclamation to us atheists but rather saying that the standard isn’t just belief. Which is a good call because it impresses on the faithful that merely having faith doesn’t make you good. An idea that is so prevalent in this country that atheists are at the bottom of the pile when you ask about trustworthiness among believers. Even in Trump’s America, Muslims are viewed as being more trustworthy simply by virtue that they believe in something.

However that wasn’t enough for a full post. So, knowing history, and having the pattern recognition that has been essential to our survival as a species I waited. Then, with the predictability of Newtonian mechanics it happened: he took a step back. Yesterday the news broke that he was now lessening the punishments for priests convicted of pedophilia. This isn’t a blanket order, it applies to a handful of cases, and he’s doing it as part of an atmosphere of mercy that he wants the church to represent.

The problem here is that there is a certain measure of justice that needs to be put in place if we’re supposed to be trusting these people. Benedict was more stringent, and even Francis’ own words on this matter have been one of “zero tolerance.” However, just as the Medieval church was resistant to the very concept of zero so apparently is Pope Francis. I’m not claiming that he needs to send these people to the square to roast inside an iron bull, but the very least you could do is remove them from your organization as well as those that hide them. Instead of, you know, promoting them to the position of Chief Financial advisor or just telling them that they now have to do a lifetime of penance and prayers.

I was raised Catholic, a lifetime of penance and prayers is kind of the default. They’re priests so a lifetime of penance was going to be more their thing than otherwise. So how is this at all a punishment? Well they can no longer perform public ministry, which is a big deal for them, and they can’t be around children, which isn’t a punishment but rather a safety measure for any future victims. Five years of psychological counseling? I’m sure that’s the minimum, and this one I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, yes absolutely, since we aren’t sure what is causing this and why the percentage rate among Catholic priests doesn’t track with incident rate among the general population. Getting to the bottom of what the causal mechanism is should be a priority. However, not doing this from the inside of a prison but rather the full protection of the Vatican seems to be, again, on the outside of the concept of justice. I get the mercy thing, but there needs to be justice for the victims.

You almost made it a week buddy.

 

Rigged Election

October 19, 2016 1 comment

From time to time I stray away from thoughts on religion and indulge myself with a post on my skepticism. For new people to the blog (as I’m happily gaining followers) I teach a course on Skepticism with a focus on conspiracy theories. It’s an interesting topic because almost every conspiracy theory falls into the same traps, and to list a few (and this list is by no means comprehensive): they have no evidence, they rely on coincidence, and they would collapse under their own weight if they were true.

The last one is a subtle accusation and one that most people would deny. Sure it’s possible that all of these theories could be true, but that’s “possible” in the strictly logical sense of the word, as in there is inherent impossibility that these ideas possess. Whether or not they are plausible is a completely different story, and they are not. There are very few conspiracy theories that have even the remotest inkling of plausibility. Simply because of the numbers. Italian philosopher, politician, playwright, and guy who tries to steal a river (with Leonardo Da Vinci): Niccolo Machiavelli wrote that people cannot keep secrets. If a person needs to tell a person they need to tell no more than one person because the secrets get out otherwise. For almost every conspiracy theory to be true they require a vast amount of people acting in perfect concert and with a 100% success rate of secrecy.

Right now, GOP-ish candidate for US president is complaining that the election is rigged against him. This is an odd claim for someone to make before the election happens, and especially odd with three weeks to go, but nonetheless he’s attempting to delegitimize the election process so that he can go along in his happy little world never having to admit that it was him a majority of Americans are happily rejecting. Further he’s trying to claim that something called “the media” is against him as well. This claim is so pervasive that journalists who are assigned to cover his campaign are now assigned security to protect them against perceived threats from his supporters. Again, it’s the fault that he’s a simpleton whose appeal does not extend beyond a strain of nationalism that was, and I repeat was, lying underneath the mainstream American culture–no, it’s because the media is out to get him. Their methodology is apparently repeating the things that he’s said.

Let’s assume that he’s right and there is a conspiracy between the election process (in his own party as well) and the media. The simple question to ask is this: how many people would it take to conduct it? Machiavelli’s point about conspiracies is that they fail because too many people talk and eventually the authorities find out. The example I use in class is Gunpowder plot in England. It failed, not only because Guy Fawkes literally fell asleep at the match of gunpowder he was supposed to ignite, but also because someone who knew told Lord Monteagle to not show up to Parliament that day. Lord Monteagle expressed concern about the number of fellow Catholics that would have died in the explosion (although one analysis shows that there would have been no bang as the gunpowder had gotten wet due to the damp weather in London that year) and turned the letter in.

So back the question how many journalists? Given that most news media in the United States are at least sending a person to cover the election in person it’s a lot of people. That number increases when you consider in studio personnel that offer analysis from the field, moderators of the debates, newspaper editors, interns, owners of the newspapers, television editors, online media writers, editors, and support staff. Even at a conservative number we are talking thousands of individuals. I’ve tried to check on just one station but the numbers aren’t readily available.

You have to think about this because it doesn’t stand up to any kind of scrutiny. It’s simply way too many people for no one to have spilled the secret. What’s more important is that we realize that journalists are in the job of spilling secrets. They decided to get into a profession that literally is about telling people things and have decided to remain quiet about what would undoubtedly be the biggest story in American politics. Even if some of them said no, for this conspiracy to be true, it means they turned down whatever offer they were given because of integrity and then decided they wouldn’t talk about it anyway. Of course, the average conspiracist, is going to say that it’s because the editors are the ones in control. That type of argument may have worked in the past, but now with the internet it no longer holds any water. Sure, my editor can say no but then I can just go online and post the video/audio of being told not to talk about it, or I can just hop on any number of free hosting site (like wordpress.com) and write about it.

Finally, there isn’t a “the media” to begin with. “The media” is a collective noun we use to refer to a large group made up of individual news agencies. Everything from CNN to the BBC is “the media” and these are, in the United States at least, in competition with each other. This conspiracy, if it were true, is assuming that there is this one huge story that any number of these individuals could report on but all are collectively agreeing to keep it shut. A news report with actual proof that there is this agreement would garner not only a huge number of viewers/listeners but also the kind of media trust of Walter Cronkite levels that would guarantee it a loyal viewership in the far future. CNN’s moment came during the 1991 Gulf War and they are still trading on that reputation.

Rigging the election would require even more secrecy by a greater number of people. This in light of the fact that rigging any election is a federal crime. A whistle blower would be a hero if any of these accusations were true. Perhaps this type of crime would finally excise –gate from everything and we could call crimes and scandals something else for once. Too many people are required to pull this thing off.

All of that said, there is one part of the election that is rigged: the population of America are ill disposed to elect someone like Trump and that is what the system should do.

The Hidden Divine and Question Begging

May 23, 2016 Leave a comment

Theological question begging is one of the most frustrating aspects of the religious debate. In a way it puts the two sides of the argument on unequal footing making it impossible for the two sides to understand what the other is talking about. That is, of course, provided that neither side has any experience with the other. If the secular side is going to stick to the rational logical argument then they have to be prepared to hit the wall of fallacy. This should be patently obvious, especially when arguing against the typical Bible literalist who is just going to deny the evidence or just hide behind unprovable assumptions.

However, if you end up arguing with someone who is schooled in apologetics, who knows more responses than just the “it says in my book…” you may run into a rather subtle, and if I dare say, nuanced duo that until recently I just realized is a form of question begging.

Before we begin, the fallacy of question begging is not what most people think it is. I teach this in my Skepticism course as one of the most misused phrases in argumentation. Most people use the phrase “that begs the question” as synonymous with “that raises the question” however this is not a fallacy. Merely needing to ask a question doesn’t mean a person has committed a mistake. Begging the question is when premise A proves the conclusion, however Premise A is not itself proven. The example I always use is when an airport says it needs your ID because your ID is important without explaining why it is important (I have a photo of this sign that I took at the Baltimore airport many years ago). The phrase comes from the Greek, as Aristotle wrote about it in his Posterior Analytics (64b) which he describes it as “asking for the initial thing” in other words the arguer is asking their opponent to agree with the initial premise in order to support the conclusion…rhetorically. It’s similar to a special pleading argument where you have to accept an improbable premise in order to assent to the conclusion (such as I should buy a lottery ticket because someone has to win).

The two pronged question begging comes in with the use of the “faith as a test” and the “divine hiddenness.” Divine hiddenness is our thing. That’s where we ask, like Thomas Paine, where is this god that used to talk to people? God directly addresses Moses, Abraham, and Job after he’s done torturing him of course; but now we have to rely on millenia old reports. However, the concept of Divine hiddenness has been adopted by the apologetics crowd as a test of faith. The way this works is similar to a journal article I wrote a couple entries about entitled, “Praying to stop being an Atheist” in which the author, T.J. Mawson (International Journal for Philosophy of Religion June 2010) argues that a non-believer should pray in order to check to see if there is a god. In order to do this he runs an analogy about a lightless room.

Briefly, imagine that every day you pass a door. If you open the door, it is completely dark–like utterly dark, a kind unlight that you might find in Torech Ungol (yeah I know only about three of you got that reference), so you find the room to be empty. Shouting in gives no response and you assume the room to be empty. Yet, most people you know believe that inside the room is a person of great wisdom. These people ask questions into the room. They, and this is key, never receive an answer. No one who ventures into the room has ever heard or touched the person that is alleged to live in there. The only evidence is that a long time ago someone claims that they knew a person who saw the man in the room. Do you accept the existence of the man?

It’s an obvious analogy. Now let’s say that you get into a debate with someone who believes that there is a person who lives in the room (we’ll call them “roomies”) and you start by saying that there is no evidence the room is inhabited. You clarify and say that since no one knows a person with direct evidence of the person who allegedly lives in the room you refuse to assent to the proposition.

They counter by explaining that the person chooses to remain hidden. When you ask why, they respond that the person only responds to people who truly believe that in the man inside the room. The reason that no one has direct knowledge is because no one believes enough that he is in there. Then that person ridicules you for not believing at all, and says that your refusal to believe impinges on their belief.

The Roomie has used both excuses in tandem and to separate the one only shifts the goal posts toward the other. When you ask why is faith necessary they reply that it’s because the person in the room wants to remain shrouded in the darkness and will not give the direct evidence. When you ask why they wish to remain hidden the only reason they can give is to explain that it’s so that the belief without evidence can be shown to be real. However in each answer they are refusing to give any new information. In each case they can only repeat their previous answer.

Dispensing with the analogy it’s blatantly obvious that both features of the argument are created out of air. There is no reason, going back to the primary source material, to believe that a divine being wants to remain hidden–in fact quite the opposite. We only have the information that belief is necessary, but not for revelation, just for the eventual unprovable salvation. My problem with this is the extra step they seem to think that they have to take. The theists could just rest on the faith argument: I would be much happier with that, but in adopting the divine hiddenness argument they are clearly just making it up as they go along. Setting aside the fact that it would be a cruel game of the divine being to choose to remain hidden and then require everyone to believe: the very nature of the meaning of the divine hiddenness means that we cannot know any features of the divine to begin with. This is a complete assumption on their part.

The best way to argue against it is to point out that hidden part is made up and only hurts their position. It seems like you’d be ceding ground but you’re not, any time you can get a person to truly question part of their argument is one step closer to their realization that the only reason they believe is because they were told to and now it is a mere habit.

Trump and Intolerance

December 8, 2015 5 comments

I explained to my class (I teach a course titled: “Skepticism, Critical Thinking, and Conspiracy Theory) that the reluctance of the new media to call the Colorado Springs attack “Christian Terrorism” was a point that I had made earlier in the semester. I also explained that I don’t like gloating but I think it’s important that they understand that I’m not just some guy who is saying random things with little connection to the outside world. The initial lecture was a paraphrasing of the FBI report by Kenneth Lanning on occult crime. He pointed out that if a scene of a crime contained “occultic symbolism” or a perceived Satanic artifact the crime would be immediately labelled a “Satanic Crime.” However if the scene of a crime contained any kind of Christian imagery, it would never be labelled a “Christian Crime.”

I pointed this out on Tuesday to show that the Planned Parenthood attack still had not been labelled “terrorism” by any official. I also pointed out that it didn’t take less than an hour before the Paris attack had been labelled Islamic terrorism. Then almost to prove my point the San Bernadino shooting occurred and it was immediately labelled Islamic terrorism once one shooter’s name was discovered as being Sayeed. It turns out that the two shooters were both Muslim, and that one said she supported ISIS in a Facebook post. This has given rise to the panic and fear that she was working with them and then instead of having a rational debate about what to do with regard to ISIS, everyone started screaming about immigration (which wouldn’t have stopped anything) and gun control (which wouldn’t have changed anything either).

Then came earlier today in which Republican (and comedy) favorite Donald Trump called for an immediate ban on all Muslims entering the United States. A policy, which again, wouldn’t have helped prevent the latest shooting since the suspects were already in the country. I think I buried the lead there, it’s not that his policy wouldn’t work that’s the problem. I can produce a whole bunch of policies that would do nothing to stop either gun violence or ISIS infiltration, it’s that he’s suggesting banning people from entering the US solely on their religion. He, I wish to remind you, is the number one polling candidate in the Republican party for President of the United States.

As an Atheist situations like this force me to walk a fine line. On the one hand I don’t like Islam. I don’t like it for the same reason that I dislike all of the Abrahamic religions (and indeed all religions in general). Their contribution to human civilization should be regarded as a historical artifact but there is nothing left for religion to teach us. Spiritualism is a dead end, it offers us nothing, and the only thing that we can predict with it is that someone is going to take it too far against their fellow humans.

On the other hand I’m not anti-person, I’m not biased against anyone. I firmly deny guilt by association and if that association is “believes in roughly the same thing as someone else” it’s not applicable. Guilt by association is a fallacy for a reason: it doesn’t stand up to any level of scrutiny except from blatant racists. Sure, I’m anti-ISIS but that is because of what they do not what they believe. If they never put those beliefs into any kind of action, it wouldn’t matter. They’d be just another group of crazy religious nutters spouting off and we could just ignore them.

It’s not easy to say I don’t like religion X, that kind of talk always invites the vitriol of the American political division…from both sides. If I say I don’t like Christianity because of [insert legitimate reason here] I get attacked by Conservatives but if I criticize any other religion I get attacked by Liberals for being racist.

So, while I dislike the religion I will not remain silent while some hate mongers who have nothing going for them exploit fear by attacking an entire group of people who, for the most part, have done nothing wrong. How can I make this kind of distinction? Because I’m a rational human being that possesses a sense of morality. I’ve been roughly saying the same thing for the last three weeks, if you are an American you are far more likely to be killed by a Christian than any other group so why aren’t we calling for a ban on immigration of Christians?

Because, even though it would be representative of crime statistics, it would be equally insane and immoral. We don’t punish a belief for the crime of the believer, and saying that we should do so leads us down the dangerous path of judging which beliefs are valid and which aren’t. I’m not an Islamic scholar, I can’t speak to specifics but I’ll guarantee that for every call to violence and murder of non-believers that are in the Quran I can find at least one corollary in the Bible (probably more in the latter but that’s only because it’s a longer book).

Furthermore, candidate nutcase (as well as any other that propose rules based on religious discrimination like Mike Huckabee) should explain how he intends to implement this policy. Is the plan to just ask? A person seeking to enter the US because they want to escape the murder bombs of the Syrian government will probably answer honestly that they are a Muslim, but an ISIS terrorist seeking to commit crimes would probably lie, and it’s not exactly difficult to pretend to be a Christian. Especially when we consider that both Jesus and Mary figure into Islamic theology (Mary is given more page time in the Quran than the New Testament).

Could we give them a religious test? Maybe that would work, the only trouble is that all of these Christians who support these ideas couldn’t pass as Christians to begin with. It’s been awhile since I’ve been in the inside of a church (other than for funerals and weddings) but I’m pretty sure that Jesus taught to love our enemies and help those in need. Clearly, he couldn’t be the Republican Party’s nomination this year.

 

Colorado Springs

December 1, 2015 1 comment

One disclaimer before we begin: because this happened on Friday, the details of the incident are still coming forth. While the incident looks pretty apparent all of this could change.

I’m going to wear this quote out but I’m going to use it in every one of these situations: as Lucretius stated, “So potent was superstition in persuading men to evil deeds.”

Two weeks ago we had the Islamic militant group, ISIS, attack various locations in Paris through a coordinated and simultaneous act of terrorism. We know this because ISIS proudly took credit for the action. On Friday, a lone gunman attacked a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado killing three people. Why am I mentioning both incidents in the same paragraph? Because they both have one common underlying motivation: religious zealotry.

Both of these incidents were committed by religious extremists with the goal of pushing an agenda fueled by religion into terrorizing the rest of the world for not agreeing with them. Let’s not dance around the issue, the attack in Colorado was domestic Christian terrorism and pretending that it was anything other than this is not only willful ignorance but also quite dangerous.

The suspect in the case reportedly said, “no more baby parts” when he was arrested. This is in reference to faked video released by the deceptively named “Center for Medical Progress.” The video, in its edited form shows a Planned Parenthood official discussing the exchange of money for aborted fetal remains. The problem with the video is that it purposefully edits out the context of the discussion. Planned Parenthood takes money for the handling fees required in order to transport biological material–a practice that they no longer do, they don’t sell baby parts. Anyone claiming that this shooting is about anything else other than this issue is wrong.

What I really want to discuss is the hypocrisy that has since become painfully apparent. One of the issues that clogged up my facebook feed after the Paris attack were people demanding to know where the multitude of moderate Muslims were denouncing it. Despite the objective reality that many did, they seemed to think that silence is approval, and that every Muslim who said nothing was on the side of ISIS. Fine, let’s pretend that is a reasonable position for the sake of argument. That also means that every single Christian, Pro-Lifer, and Conservative ought to be doing the same thing in light of Friday’s attack and what we know about it thus far. It’s the definition of hypocrisy if you demand a thing of one group that you don’t demand of your own.

Last week I discussed the political fall out of the Paris attack in the United States. Leading GOP candidates for US President have been publicly asking for the most fascist level rules and policies to prevent Muslims from being able to conduct a terrorist attack here. This is curious since this act of Christian terrorism has produced none of the same rhetoric despite the fact that it is far more likely to happen than an attack by a Syrian refugee, of which it should be pointed out that no Syrian refugee was involved in the Paris attack. Where is Trump calling for the monitoring of Christian organizations? Where is Marco Rubio calling for the shutting down of places where Christians meet up to organize?

Opponents of my position will point out several things: first they will say that this lone individual was politically motivated against Planned Parenthood. They will also say that we don’t have all of the facts yet, that the lone individual is not representative of the majority of Christians, that this person obviously had some kind of disconnect with reality: either medically or psychologically or both.

I will reply that all of those things are true. He was probably politically motivated against Planned Parenthood, that seems to be where this story is heading. However, where does the vitriol and anger towards the group come from? It doesn’t come from the objective reality of the situation, it comes from hyperbole that is issued from Christian rhetoric. I’ve been there, I was raised in a Catholic environment and for a very long while was a true believer in it. I’ve never been to the protests but I know the narrative that they push. I was taught to view abortion doctors as monsters and murderers as people who should be perceived as less than human having sold their souls for money by killing the most defenseless of their fellow humans. This verbal mindset comes with the silence that followed attacks on Planned Parenthood, sure some groups will step out to condemn them but most often there is nothing. After Bernard Slepian was murdered in his home by an Anti-abortion extremist I don’t remember a word about it in my church.

Of course most Christians do not want to resort to this kind of violence. If they did, we would surely not be having this kind of discussion; but that’s not my point. My point is that the two largest religions both have violent extremists and if you are going to demand that members of one apologize you have to do both. Especially in the case of Christianity where there is one person who can speak for all of them. I’m not, however, holding my breath that the Pope is going to say anything. As I’ve said, it’s hypocrisy.

This person definitely has a disconnect with reality. Anyone that would go to those extremes does. The same could be said for all religious zealots, but the way in which he’s expressed that disconnect, the mechanism by which he felt compelled to purposefully cause the death of three people is fueled by his religion. The same could easily be said about the disconnect in members of ISIS who want to bring about the Apocalypse, the disconnect makes it easier for them to become violent extremists. Their belief system makes it easier to view other humans as being less than human.

We shouldn’t want to live in a world where violence, no matter the source, is how we institute change: that’s why we have the law. I don’t agree with the pro-lifers but if they want to protest or lobby for a change in the legal system I have no problem with that method. However the extremism that comes from their side is only different in specifics from the extremists they claim to oppose.

 

Paris and ISIS

November 17, 2015 3 comments

It really seems like I can just rehash a post from earlier in the year in which I responded to President Obama’s comments about ISIS not being an Islamic group, but I can’t because that would be merely retreading old ground. They are an Islamic group, not because Muslims are fundamentally violent or because there is something endemic to them to cause violence; but because their leader and their members claim to be an Islamic group. Who are we to say that they are lying–indeed, the one thing that we can usually count on from them is that they aren’t lying.

Of course I don’t want to get people inflamed against Muslims, I’m just stating an observable fact. It should go without saying (but it unfortunately doesn’t) that the great majority of Muslims in the world have no intention of harming other people. Even among the majority of those that do want to harm someone else the great majority of them don’t. In short, people are people and there is a general reluctance to murder each other. All of that being said you can’t separate religion from the attacks on Paris.

Lucretius wrote “so potent was superstition in persuading men to evil deeds” between 99-55bce and he was as right then as he is now. If a person wants to claim that the attacks were not the work of true Muslims you need to explain what makes them not-Muslim. At this point the temptation is to run a search for all the passages from the Quran which justify violence and then show that they are contradicted by all the passages which strictly limit those violent actions. At which point I’ll explain that the book is open to interpretation and can’t be used to justify either position categorically: QED you can’t say they aren’t Islamic because there’s no definitive definition. Likewise to those out there who think they’re agreeing with me I can do literally the same thing with the Christian Bible, the Hindu Upanishads, or any other religion who has had members commit atrocities in the name of their divine powers (in case you are keeping score, it’s all of them).

Back to religion: the problem isn’t that Islam or any other religion automatically turns followers violent, it’s that it is a convenient mechanism by which a person can do so. ISIS is an example of that mechanism, and the attacks on Paris are a great example of the mechanism in action. By what other method can a person convince others to kill a large group of random people with the full expectation that those agents are not going to survive the attack? The only benefit to the individual must be that their soul (or whatever the different name for it) will be rewarded for dying in service of their god. There is no other motive than religion which is able to accomplish this.

ISIS is an Islamic group, their members (citizens?) abide by a version of Islamic code and the fundamental nature of this group is that it is a doomsday cult. Unlike other Islamic terror groups who want either the destruction of Israel (in accordance with Christian doomsday cults) or merely to gain control of various parts of the world (the Arabian Peninsula most notably) by increasing their reputation; ISIS wants the end to be here. Their ideology is rife with end of the world doctrine and this facet is used to recruit foreign fighters. What ISIS wants is the last Caliph, a person named or titled “Mahdi,” and it’s current Caliph Baghadi is four from him.

The plan, foretold according to their interpretations, is to fight the army of Rome in the town of Dabiq which is in Syria. This is where ISIS believes the final battle will take place. However this final battle is a bit different than the battle in the book of Revelation, in that ISIS is supposed to lose. You read that correctly and I typed it correctly. According to the interpretation, ISIS is to engage the armies of Rome (which I suppose is going to be the French army which statistically is full of Catholics) become whittled down to approximately 5000 fighters and then divine interference will arrive to destroy the infidel leader ushering in a new age of Islamic dominion. My question to the world is, why don’t we give them that fight? Not aerial bombardments, but the land battle they not only couldn’t win, but don’t want to win. Let them lose troop numbers until they see that Jesus isn’t going to kill the enemy commander (it’s seriously Jesus), as the battle is already engaged they will be forced to give up.

This is a weakness in the ideology that I think gets too much ignored and it’s one that is integral to their existence. The worst thing a religious leader can do is be specific with regard to prophecy. It’s why televangelists like Pat Robertson always warn that something is coming because of our bad behavior, e.g. we allowed homosexual marriage in the US and the markets will crash eventually. Robertson and his ilk always use the phrase “eventually” because it’s unfalsifiable. Of course there will be a market downturn, it’s inevitable and they’ll shoehorn any situation to fit so that they appear to be correct. They can’t afford to be specific because everytime they are they turn out to be wrong.

ISIS hasn’t given a day and time, but they’ve crossed that threshold with the who and where. Their final battle takes place in the real world, not the metaphorical one as the Catholic interpretation of Revelation. They can be pressed into this. As the Atlantic reported: ISIS Twitter accounts exploded when they thought that American soldiers were seen in Dabiq (they weren’t, it was a mistake). It’s not their forces that need to be destroyed, it’s their ideology, without that they have no binding power for the followers. If so many of their members believe that this will be the final battle and their prophecies are not fulfilled they will have no choice but to question this interpretation. Every action of theirs has been to goad the Western powers into a fight to bring about this divine interference. France may just give them that battle but ISIS can’t hope to win–and they won’t. Their ideology is corrupted by a precise eschatology that will not come true.

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