Blog Post

Of Humans and Hubris

There is much hullabaloo being started in the ‘Atheist/Secular Community’ about some alleged improprieties of the financial and/or ethical sort that have recently emerged. I won’t bore you with the details, but if you are so inclined you can read about them here, here, and here.

To be clear, I am not taking a position as to the whether the accusations are true or false. I am trying to be objective and let the process play out before making a judgement on that score. What bothers me almost more is not that these alleged misdeeds occurred, although if these did happen they are certainly bad enough within themselves, but the reactions these potential ‘scandals’ have elicited.

To paraphrase ‘Casablanca’, people seem absolutely shocked, SHOCKED, to learn this sort of thing could happen in our community! After all, aren’t we supposed to be above the fray, looking down from our twin ivory towers of reason and skepticism upon the corrupt hoi polloi that slither on their bellies below us?

The answer is an unqualified and emphatic ‘NO’! The problem is the assumption that just because we are atheists and /or freethinkers, we are somehow immune from human foibles and weaknesseses. This, of course, is absurd. We are all just evolved apes trying out best to figure out what is going on in this universe. We still have the same predilections for lying, stealing, and cheating as do the religious folks some of us like to mock. The inverse is also true : We have the capacity to be noble, kind, and generous to our fellow humans.

So, then, we should not be surprised that in a movement where we have deeds that portray the best of humanity, we also might have acts that show us at our absolute worst.

Thus, it is disturbing to learn that some would call for the dismantling of the community completely. However, the fact is that ALL human communities, of whatever size or complexion, are going to have these problems crop up from time to time, because of the fact that these are HUMAN communities, and thus embody all those traits, good and bad, noble and base, to which our species is prone.

The solution, therefore, is not to tear down the structures that have been built and that have helped so many, but to strive to improve ourselves, the members of that community. And while it may seem easier to ‘burn it all down’, to raze and rebuild, we must realize that no matter how strong the structure, it will ultimately fall if there isn’t a strong foundation. We should strive to build each other up, and not tear each other down. It is in this way that we will prove our worth to our fellow travelers, regardless of affiliation or belief.

The Problem of Talking Privilege

A friend posted on Facebook the other day regarding the hypocrisy of a White woman who often portrays Japanese characters in cosplay complaining about how a White woman and not a Japanese woman was cast in the upcoming live-action adaptation of ‘Ghost in the Shell’. I commented on this post and stated that rather than launching an ad hominem attack on the commenter, we should look at the issue on its own merits, because I thought it was worth discussing. He then proceeded to state that he didn’t care who played the role, because that was what actors are supposed to do: namely, act.

I was going to respond, but then realized that this subject was something that I would like to expound on more, and have decided to discuss it here as the first official post (the announcement of the blog redesign notwithstanding) of ‘The Podunk Polymath’.

And what subject am I alluding to exactly, one might ask? The subject I am referring to is that of privilege, because what I wanted to say in that response was something along the lines of ‘well, yes, of course you don’t care, because White is considered the default, and you are White, so it means nothing to you. You don’t have to think about race, for it rarely affects you in your daily life, but what about that Japanese person who sees the already abysmal representation of their ethnicity in media and entertainment? Do you not think this development is just another slap in their face? Do you not think that this feels a lot like cultural appropriation? That no blockbuster movie can hope to get made without a White lead character?

This situation is not unique in Hollywood. Don Cheadle spoke recently about how he couldn’t get enough funding for his Miles Davis biopic unless he cast a White character as a lead character in the movie. He seemed to be resigned to the fact that in order to get major backers for any film, one had to demonstrate appeal to a wider, read White, audience.

What exactly is privilege, though, and why do people, especially those of the White persuasion, get so defensive when the topic is brought up? Keep in mind, when we speak of privilege in the context of social justice, we define the word a bit differently. A good succinct definition I found is from the everyday feminism website:

We can define privilege as a set       of unearned benefits given to a people who fit into a specific   social group.

Now notice the definition doesn’t mention a specific group. Privilege can apply to ANY group, not just Whites people, or rich people, or males.

It is important that we also talk about intersectionality when discussing privilege. Again, this term has a specialized definition in the context of social justice. I asked a good friend in the LGBT community how he would define intersectionality vis-à-vis privilege, and he told me:

Basically, it means having privilege in some areas, but not others, and how they intersect. For example, as a gay man, I don’t enjoy the privileges straight folks enjoy, but I do enjoy the privileges of being a man that women don’t enjoy.

So, one person can have privileges in some ways, and be underprivileged in other ways. Sometime ago, I recall taking a test that assigned positive and negative numerical values to each characteristic you might have to determine your privilege. If you were White, you add a certain value. If you were gay, you would subtract. It was a fun yet informative way in understanding the concept of privilege and intersectionality.

As one can imagine, however, there was a huge backlash when the idea of privilege was introduced. The main thrust of the criticism that wasn’t just outright ignorant bigotry had to with the idea that those being identified as having some privilege were being personally attacked. They lived their lives, never said a racial or homophobic slur, and weren’t classist in any way. Another complaint was along the lines of ‘I work three jobs and live in a trailer, but I happen to be White. What the hell privilege am I getting? I don’t get special compensation for being a specific skin color!’

These reactions are understandable and actually fairly normal. We are all human, after all, and, generally speaking, we don’t like to feel like we’re being attacked for something we feel like we had no control over.

I think a lot of the confusion comes from the word ‘privilege’ itself. Many people assume that if you have a privilege, you are seeing some tangible benefit, such as being wealthy or being a member of selective club. When we are speaking in this context, though, the privilege may not be readily apparent to the individual. It is more subtle than that. As humans, unless we actually can see or feel something that is right in front of us, we tend to not think it exists.

Here’s an example. If you are born a Black male, you automatically, through no action on your part, are statistically more likely to go to prison or die before your 18th birthday. If you are born White, you have a better chance of graduating from college and making more money than your Black counterparts. Did the White person do anything to make this happen? Did he or she personally deprive their compatriot of any rights? Of course not. It’s just the fact of being born as a more privileged class. 

Many who feel personally slighted will ask ‘well, what am I supposed to do? Feel guilty for something I didn’t do? That I had no control over?’ NO! No one is asking you to take on personal guilt, unless you actively contributed to oppressing someone else. All anyone of a more privileged class can do is be aware. Have the personal maturity to realize that you have a higher position, though it is through no fault of your own, and to use that position to bring up other people to your level. That doesn’t mean you have to be some activist on the streets. Most people are not built for that.  In your daily life, you can make a difference by just recognizing inequality when you see it, and, if you are in a position to do so, calling it out. The great thing about privilege is that if we all actively contribute in whatever we can, the same level of privilege can be attained by all people. And, in the end, isn’t that what being a humanist is all about?

Planned Parenthood, Josh Feuerstein, and Criminal Culpability

On November 27, 2015, a man entered a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, CO, and opened fire, killing two civilians and a police officer. I am not going to give the name of the gunman because I don’t want to give him any more publicity than he deserves. As the facts started coming out about the gunman, he became apparent that we had another deranged, White male; one who identified with the anti-abortion movement and spoke of ‘baby parts’ after being detained. I am not going to speak to his motivations, because there will be plenty of armchair psychologists to tease that out. Nor will I speak about the media’s seeming reluctance to label the gunman as a terrorist, though he definitely fits that definition in my mind. No, the focus of this piece is going to be Josh Feuerstein.

Josh Feuerstein?

Yes, the very same earnest Christian evangelical YouTube personality who started a tempest in a coffee cup with his lament against Starbucks and the unforgivable sin of issuing a plain red cup for the Holiday season instead of a design festooned with all the symbols of his imagined ‘Christian’ holiday, although most of the symbols he is railing against are of pagan origin. But I digress.

The Paul Blart Mall Cop lookalike made another video not long after the Cecil the Lion imbroglio making the case that people were hypocrites for mourning the loss of a friendly lion, but yet were not mourning the killings of millions of babies by Planned Parenthood.  The full transcript of the video is below, taken from The Friendly Atheist:

So let me get this right. Tonight, America is crying about an old lion named Cecil that was killed by some dipwad who cut his head off and left his body there. But check this out.
Planned Parenthood has hunted down millions and millions of little innocent babies, stuck a knife into the uterus, cut them, pulled them out, crushed their skull with forceps, ripped their body apart, sold their tissue, and threw them bleeding into a trash bin.
You guys are crying about a lion, but what about the babies? You know what I call that? I call that being a hypocrite.
I say, tonight, we punish Planned Parenthood. I think it’s time that abortion doctors should have to run and hide and be afraid for their life.
Instead of some hunter.
Both are wrong. But one is a lion. The other are humans. Stand up for humans.

Of course, these are despicable things to say. He is basically calling for abortion doctors to be hunted and killed like animals. This is a new low even for this ignorant buffoon. But is it criminal?

Certainly, he is at least morally culpable to some degree, or so says a friend who has a degree in Philosophy. I will admit this particular branch of human thought, while crucial to human knowledge and quite fascinating in general, is one that I have difficulty fully comprehending and frankly gives me a headache. So I shall defer to her judgment on this. This is the same level of moral culpability that any of numerous right-wing bloviators might bear. Recall that some years ago Bill O’Reilly inveighed against George Tiller, or ‘Tiller the Baby Killer’ on several occasions on his show. Not long after, George Tiller was killed by a gunman while he was attending services at his Kansas church. There are of course many other examples this sort of irresponsible speech from all corners of the right-wing pundit-sphere.

But what O’Reilly and Feuerstein said, and what many others have said in the same vein, are simply not criminal offenses. Brian Dunigan, an attorney at Ponce Law in Nashville, put it this way:

The First Amendment protects speech even if it advocates violence, unless the speaker encourages “imminent lawless action.” This was decided in a case called Brandenburg v. Ohio. That case refined a concept you may be familiar with, the “clear and present danger” test. In a nutshell, it’s not illegal to call for violence at some indefinite time in the future. You just can’t incite someone to violence at that immediate moment.

Does this mean that people shouldn’t speak out against such speech? Of course not. In the ‘market of ideas’, these sort of disgusting utterances should be thoroughly discredited. Indeed, with the advent of the internet and the explosion of social and ‘new’ media, there are many voices doing exactly that : speaking out against the purveyors of such ideas. However, we must also remember that free speech in the U.S. is almost a religion all in itself, and those who would abridge that speech, regardless of any good intentions they might have, might be wary lest they invoke the law of unintended consequences. For the very sort of fiery rhetoric they despise coming from an opposing view might be the very type of speech they might engage in when a cause that is dear to them arises. And who is to say those very restrictions they enacted might not ultimately become shackles around their own wrists?

 

Changes

As most of you undoubtedly know by now, I have relinquished my hosting duties on the podcast. Joe is still hosting, however, and he has a new co-host named Sharon Bush. She brings a fresh perspective to the show, and I think she will prove to be an asset. Going forward, the tenor of the show will change, with less emphasis on ridicule and divisiveness, and more emphasis on what can be done to improve society through collaboration with secularists and theists alike. Of course, just is just a broad outline, and Joe has his own ideas, so I may be completely wrong, in which case I will gladly stand corrected. All podcast content will now be located at http://utbbpodcast.wordpress.com. I am going to leave the links for donation, Patreon, Stitcher, Spreaker, and iTunes on the page for now, as well as the RSS feed, until such time as all this information is transferred to the libsyn page.

This page will once again be solely a blog page for my sometimes cogent ramblings, which was its original intent. I am going to concentrate more on social and political issues, however, though of course secularism and skepticism will still inform much of my writing.  One thing I want to try to do from this point forward, however, is to try to be more pensive and less reactionary on any issue I discuss. Of course, this does not mean I won’t go off on the occasional tirade against something that really grinds my gears. What it does mean, however, is that I am going to try to approach everything I write about from skeptical point of view, including issues I am sympathetic with. I hope in this way to try to get to the central truth of the matter instead of reaffirming any preconceptions I might already have. Cognitive bias is a bitch, after all.

So, if you like the blog, by all means read, follow, or comment. If you want only to hear the dulcet tones of Joe and Sharon (and, really, who could blame you), then go check them out at the aforementioned website, and go like the page on Facebook. They can also be found on Twitter @JoeKindic and @SharonBushUTBB. Of course, there is always the show Twitter account @SeethinHeathen which I will also be using for the blog. Thanks and take care.

Bruce vs. Floyd, Final Round

What follows is a guest post by listener and fellow Middle Tennesseean Wraith Writer. He prefers not to use his real name because the views expressed in this piece could cause some devastating real-life repercussions, including the loss of his job. The fact that expressing views of tolerance and acceptance could result in such an outcome is a sad commentary on the state of our society, and it proves that, even though we’ve come a long way as a nation in the struggle for LGBT rights, we still have much further to go.

If you do not understand Caitlyn Jenner, it’s perfectly natural, and so is the fear you have.  It is human nature to fear what we do not understand.  Last year, many people didn’t understand that coming out of the closet was an “act of bravery”, and they ridiculed such a thing as being labeled brave. Here I see again the same people ridiculing ESPN’s choice to give Caitlyn Jenner the Arthur Ashe Courage Award as well as Caitlyn Jenner herself.

You do not have to understand Caitlyn Jenner’s sexuality or the many others in the LGBT community, but you need to understand the realization every LGBT person faces when they decide to fully disclose their nature.  They face the risk of being insulted, bullied, or  assaulted (remember gay bashing?); being ostracized by their community; disowned by their family;  fired from their job; and even being killed (12 transgender people murdered in 2014, and 9 people so far in 2015).

Yes, there are many other athletes who are very brave; who have inspired others; and who have faced death from a terminal disease. All of these people are accepted for who they are in this society and do not have to face ridicule for their nature. I have yet to hear of people being targeted for murder for being disabled, an amputee, or having a terminal disease.

These athletes did not have to deal with derogatory insults of it, thing, he/she, etc. Caitlyn is an athlete who is inspiring millions of transgendered people to be honest with themselves in the face of insults, violence, and death.  How shameful I find it that you chose to display your “courage” by attacking a female while you sit by and say nothing about award winning, wife-beating Floyd Mayweather. Your verbal remarks are a shining example of the misogyny ingrained in the religious culture of our society.

Sources: http://www.advocate.com/crime/2015/06/19/alabama-teen-becomes-ninth-trans-woman-murdered-us-2015

This Is Not The Messiah You’re Looking For : Matthew O’Neil’s “You Say That I Am : Jesus and the Messianic Problem”

I was fortunate enough to receive a copy of “You Say That I Am : Jesus and the Messianic Problem” from the author, Matthew O’Neil. For those not familiar with Mr. O’Neil, he is an educator with a with an MA in Theology as well as graduate certification in mediation and education. In addition to this book, he is releasing another book soon named Come Lord Jesus : What The Bible Really Says (and Doesn’t Say) About Sex, which should be an interesting and intriguing read! He was also covered. an episode of our podcast in one of our atheist/skeptical author segments. I also must mention he’s a pretty damn good musician, as well as an all-around cool guy.

The subject of You Say That I Am is the question of whether Jesus of Nazareth was truly the Messiah as foretold by the Old Testament of the Holy Bible. Spoiler alert : Mr. O’Neil’s answer is a resounding no! I must disagree on one point, which is really irrelevant to the subject of the book itself, but which I feels bears mentioning. Mr. O’Neill believes Jesus of Nazareth was an actual historical figure, while I myself am a mythicist, which essentially means I believe that Jesus was invented from whole cloth, or perhaps he is an amalgamation of different prophets who were quite common at the time. Mr. O’Neill in fact addresses the issue of Jesus’ existence in his first chapter, in which he explains why he believes that a historical Jesus DID exist, and gives cogent and well-reasoned arguments why he believe this to be the case.  As I said, however, this doesn’t really pertain to the main thrust of the book, for Mr. O’Neill and I do agree that Jesus was most definitely not the Messiah as prophesied by Jewish tradition.

Mr O’Neill’s arguments in favor of his contention that Jesus was not the Messiah are backed up by plentiful evidence from the scriptures themselves. Indeed, this is where his knowledge and background in Theology really come through to great effect. He uses specific verses to clarify his points, and he also uses background on the ancient Hebrew culture to explain the context of these verses.

Lest you think that this book is overly dense and difficult to read, Mr. O’Neill’s writing is clear and concise, even when tackling the most esoteric topics. He does an excellent job in explaining the topics he covers in such as a way as to enable the reader to understand his conclusions, even though the reader may not be familiar with the subject matter. Mr. O’Neill make sure that the reader is there with him every step of the way, and that is important when trying to reach a wider audience.

In his prologue Mr. O’Neil states that the idea for this book came from a question a student of his asked him : “Why don’t Jews accept Jesus as the Messiah?” He spends this book trying to answer this question, from Jesus’ very existence; to the definition of the word “Messiah”; to other titles used in the Hebrew bible which are equivalent to Messiah; on to the attributes of the Messiah as stated in Hebrew lore; and then including the problem of miracles (did Jesus perform any?), the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the acts of the apostles. When finally he comes through all this research and exposition, he finally has an answer to give to his student :

It should not be a question of why the Jews do not accept Jesus as the Messiah, but instead, given the evidence that has been presented, one of why anyone would ever consider Jesus the Messiah.

Why would anyone indeed?

A Handbook for Heathens : J.D. Brucker’s “Improbable : Issues With The God Hypothesis”

I became acquainted with the writing of J.D. Brucker about a month ago when I came across a post of his on Dan Arel’s Patheos blog, Danthropology. It was a bittersweet vignette about the death of a mentor and friend that he had lost contact with. When he tried to reconnect some time later, he found it out that in the intervening time, his friend had died in an accident. Rather than this story being one of despair and hopelessness, however, he told of his realization that death was just a word, and that what was truly important was to remember those who have died, and to live your own life fully.

This sentiment touched me and I started to converse with him via Twitter and e-mail. I spoke about him as the inaugural subject of a segment that debuted on our podcast, Unbuckling The Bible Belt, which highlights secular/atheist writers and journalists. He was kind enough to provide me with a copy of his first book, Improbable : Issues With The God Hypothesis, which I immediately read and thoroughly enjoyed.

One does not need to read far to find the purpose of his book. Indeed, the first sentence in the preface lays it out quite nicely.

This work has found its way into being based solely on the idea that the Abrahamic deity – known by the Muslim as Allah, by the Jew as Yahweh, and by the Christian as God – is the creator of all living and inanimate matter inside the known universe.

And then a simple question : “Does the god of Abraham exist?”

Thus begins a relatively short (Improbable only comes in at some 164 pages) but fact-filled, incisive, and at times scathing deconstruction of the arguments given by theists for the existence of God.

Mr. Brucker puts forth his plan of attack against the cultural behemoth that is the belief in a Supreme Being. There are seven chapters, each addressing a specific claim in his overall thesis. Unlike many theists such as Ken Ham who simply says “I have a book”, and considers that sufficient proof for any and all of claims they might make, Brucker includes citations for sources that bolster his argument. Such is the approach of a rationalist dedicated to the scientific method of inquiry.

The first chapter covers how the evolutionary history of our species, Homo Sapiens. The chapter opens with the Biblical version of the creation myth, with the apex of that story being the penultimate fairy tale of our Judeo-Christian culture: The story of Adam and Eve and their fall from grace. Brucker than tells the true history of human evolution, as it is known by scientists, and which is backed up by plentiful evidence gathered over centuries. He tells the complete story, from our origins in pre-human ancestors to the way our species came to be in Africa and dispersed across the globe. This is a story that is far more interesting and intricate than some tall tale invented by Bronze Age sheep herders.

In the second chapter Brucker takes Intelligent Design (a euphemism for Creationism) head-on, poking holes in the already flimsy theories put forth by Creationists as to how their God  was perfect, thus his creations must be perfect. Countless examples of imperfection in humans and other species are given that easily disprove this theory. Brucker instead offers the scientific theory of transitional species and evolution by natural selection. The theories are far more satisfactory, deriving as they have from observable phenomena as well as concrete examples in the fossil record. While the idea that our species is perfect in every way might be soothing to some, I find hard truth to be far more satisfying.

Chapter three covers biological explanations as to why humans seem so susceptible to belief in the supernatural, including religion. He looks at the example of near death experiences as to how our brains can trick us into believing we are experiencing a supernatural event, when really this is simply a defense mechanism to soothe us prior to impeding death. He also addresses the questionable morality of the various psychological rationalizations humans use to justify things they do in the name of faith, even actions that would be considered unthinkable in normal circumstances. We ultimately must conclude the human brain is very capable of altering perceptions and causing self-delusion. Thus God is of our own creation, not vice versa.

The fourth chapter covers the age-old question believers always ask non-believers : How can you be moral without religion? The answer is, of course, is that morality does not derive from religion, and it certainly doesn’t emerge from the Abrahamic tradition. If anything, people are moral DESPITE those blood-soaked works. Brucker offers up several verses from the Bible and Qur’an that shows the so-called “moral” prescriptions offered up were anything but moral, but instead can only be understood in the context of an existence where life was, as Hobbes put it, “nasty, brutish, and short” More often than not, these books tells its adherents to kill in the name of their God and permits terrible punishments for even the smallest transgressions. In contrast to this religious origin of morality, the scientific theory of our species acquiring morality through evolution is put forth by Brucker as the more sensible approach as well as the one with more evidence to support its claims. Again, Brucker puts forth the religious explanation and then presents the scientific theory, and the scientific theory wins out, at least to a rationally minded person.

Chapter five speaks to the creation of the Universe from both the Biblical and scientific perspective. Of course, the religious claim of an anthropocentric universe made with humans in mind is the one put forth by theists. Even those more moderate types who concede that the universe is probably more than 6000 years old try to use the Kalam Cosmological Argument to prove the universe must have been created, thus there must have been a Creator. In contrast, Mr. Brucker gives the scientific explanation that has been developed so far involving the Big Bang and the overwhelming evidence for this theory of how the Universe itself was created, and why a God isn’t necessary in order for this to happen.

In chapter six Brucker explores the area of the Middle East where the Abrahamic traditions developed, and how these religions were not unique in their beliefs. Indeed, Mr. Brucker gives several examples of traits and trappings of other religions that were almost certainly expropriated with little or no alteration from earlier traditions. We also see how the events in the Bible and the Qur’an have little to do with actual history and more to do with attempts to twist timelines to make their actions to appear more meaningful in a historical context than they actually were. Examples are given from both the Qur’an and the Bible of how things that are presented as historical fact cannot, in fact, be proved to have actually occurred. The argument is put forth by theists that these texts are not to be taken literally. This is, of course, until it is convenient for them to do so.

In the final chapter, Brucker drops the final bombshell : Moses and Jesus probably didn’t exist. Here we see perhaps Brucker’s greatest effort at disproving biblical accounts, as he points out inconsistencies and flaws in the historical record regarding these two Biblical heroes. Nowhere in Egyptian hieroglyphs is any mention found of any sort of mass exodus of Jews, nor is there any mention of mass deaths of Egyptians of plagues. Lest theists think that the general history of Egypt of that period is not very well-known, the reigns of the Pharaohs are very well documented, and calamities of the magnitude demonstrated in the Bible would surely have been mentioned. As to Jesus, he supposedly lived during the era of the Roman Empire, which is even more well-documented. The only mention of note, that of Josephus in “Antiquities” has been proven by scholars to be a forgery ; a reference to Christ later inserted by a Church anxious to mask the truth that its entire reason for existence never actually existed. Of course, these are a few of the many arguments put forth, but the preponderance of evidence cannot be ignored.

In his Afterword, J.D. Brucker tells why he decided to write this book. He speaks of a journey from doubt to his current stopover as an atheist and anti-theist. Towards the end, he speaks to the type of person he hopes to reach the most.

I wrote this book for the fence-rider in order to present the truth as we understand today. Along with most atheists, I can recall a time in which such information would have proved beneficial because having doubt in something – particularly religious teaching – is quite normal, and questioning the veracity of religious faith is a common occurrence.

Of course, this book is for anyone who is anyone interested in what arguments are out there to disprove the claims that theists make as to why their God exists, be they hardcore atheists or newcomers to disbelief. This is the greatest contribution J.D. Brucker has made with this work. He’s given us a handbook to debate those who would use fairy tales and fear to convince us to follow their God, and I for one am glad that such a book has been written.

Kirk Cameron and the Insidious Nature of Christian Persecution Complex

By now most, if not all, of you have heard of Kirk Cameron’s new Christmas movie “Saving Christmas”, and the horrible reviews it has received from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie rating aggregation site. It sits at a dismal 8% as of the time of this writing (11/25, at approximately 12:15 PM CST). You have also no doubt heard of Mr. Cameron’s furious reaction, and his call to all of his Facebook followers to go on the site and inflate the fan rating number as high as possible, because that’s after all what Jesus would want, and has absolutely nothing to do with Kirk’s desire to make more money off a piece of shit film. Just go to the original Facebook post to see with what enthusiasm his mindless minions pledge to go and defeat Satan by artificially increasing the percentage, and thus the perceived awesomeness of the film as rated by fans (Rotten Tomatoes has a rating determined by critics, and also, separately, one where fans can give their own rating. This is the one he was trying to raise).
For a time, this seemed to work. In the wee hours of Friday, November 21st, the fan favorability percentage was up to 94%. Oh, but those damned atheists caught wind of his scheme, and decided to counterattack the charge of the Christians by leaving their own negative reviews. So the fan rating went from a peak of 94% to its current rotten (but not quite as bad) level of 36%, with a total of 15,103 ratings, which is an average “tomato” rating of 2.1 out of 5. So it looks like his plan has, at least for the moment, backfired on him.
Now, there’s a couple of things about the ratings you could argue about. For one, the average critics’ review is only based on 13 ratings, which isn’t a very large sampling size, so the film’s backers could claim the judgment of “rotten” is thus invalid. Also, it says on the page itself that there is “no consensus yet”, which basically means they are conceding the point I heretofore mentioned. On the other side, the fan rating of 36% has almost certainly been inflated by his automatons, and probably is in actuality much lower.
Whether the rating of the movie on Rotten Tomatoes is accurate or not is really beside the point, however. The real issue is this is yet another example of what I call the Christian Persecution Complex (or CPC, if you like). As more groups actually call Christianity out, especially the far-right variant prominent in the U.S., on there ignorant and hateful bullshit, the proponents of the nutjob sects are starting to cry out that they are being persecuted. What is really happening is that instead of people standing by and allowing them to spew their poisonous bile as has happened for far too long in this country, the people are actually raising their voices and saying that, no, we don’t have to accept your sexist, homophobic, and all-around ignorant assertions any longer. We are going to speak out against you and all the destructive impulses you represent as an institution. Now, Christianity has to operate, not as a privileged and sacred cow impervious to attack, but in the free market of ideas, where it is subject to the same scrutiny as any other idea, and people are starting to realize just how fucked up this idea really is. Plus, in a world where anyone can Google anything from their fingertips and find out the answer to even the most mundane queries, people are starting to learn some uncomfortable truths about these religions ideologies that have held sway for so long. And these people are starting to question the basis of these ideologies. After all, there is a reason why man Christian sects want you to only read their holy texts with guidance from clergy : they don’t want you to see the ugly, vengeful man behind the curtain.
I give two shits about Kirk Cameron and his piece of medium that he chooses to call a “film”. This is a free country, and he can put out whatever tripe he wants. If some mindless morons watch it and want to artificially inflate the rating on a website, so be it. They have to live with their own stupidity. The thing I have a problem with is the furtherance of this notion that Christians are being persecuted because of their beliefs, and that they might be shipped off in boxcars to FEMA camps to concentration camps; or that they will be made to have gay sex; or that they will be forced to live under Shariah Law by some Muslim Dictator of The World. Because what this does is to minimize the suffering of the people who are REALLY persecuted in this country, mainly by these very same Christians. The LGBT community is one major target, but really anyone who has adversely affected by the very real and harmful damage done to them by Christian Fundamentalism is also a victim. All you need to do is hear some de-conversion stories from atheists coming out of religion to know what kind of emotional, mental, and physical trauma can be experienced by those who are the recipients of such abuse. It is truly horrifying. And, of course, there are also moderate Christians who do not condone these extreme practices. But they enable this behavior by not speaking up nearly enough against it. Until this country comes to grips with the people who are really persecuted, those under Christianity’s relentless dogmatic vise, it will not make any progress towards true justice.

Election Reflections : 2014 Midterm Edition

I just wanted to post some of my thoughts in the aftermath of the 2014 midterm elections. Of course, the big news nationally is that the Republicans won the Senate, and now control both houses of Congress. That’s bad news for anyone who cares about the less privileged among us, but is good news for corporations, because they got their money’s worth. Make no mistake, money played a huge role in this cycle, with this being the most expensive midterm in history, and it’s only going to get worse unless we somehow manage to get money out of politics. Of course, it didn’t help that only about a third of the electorate voted. Low turnout is a sure sign that Republicans will triumph. Democrats didn’t help themselves by running away from Obama’s achievements as a way to help highlight what government can get right, even if they are only half-measures.

For me locally, the bad news kept on coming. Marsha Blackburn, that vile, ignorant woman that is my U.S. House Representative (much to my chagrin) was easily reelected by the rubes in my district. Lamar! Alexander also had smooth sailing in his reelection bid, thus ensuring more mindless Republican drivel from our lovely state. The biggest disappointment for me, however, was the passage of Amendment 1, which reads as follows :

Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.

Basically, this amendment is going to allow the legislature to pass laws restricting abortion, and we only have to look at laws passed in Texas and Mississippi to see the disastrous results (these laws, for both Texas and Mississippi, have been blocked by the Federal Courts). There was a very definite split between rural (for the amendment) and urban voters (against), which is really just another example how country folks tend not to listen to, you know, FACTS, but instead rely on the porcine blathering of Rush Limbaugh, or the “reporting” of the propagandists at Fox “News”. I can only guess at what the consequences of the passage of this travesty, but suffice it to say that pro-choice groups, activists, and concerned citizens are going to have their hands full.
There are some positive notes from the election from other states : Alaska and Oregon voted for Marijuana legalization; Alaska, Arkansas, South Dakota, and Nebraska, red states all, passed minimum wage hikes; and Washington state passed background checks for firearms purchases. A few rays of light peeking through the dark clouds of political despair.
Ah well, such is the landscape of this deeply divided country. And while things are definitely not looking rosy in my neck of the woods, there are still solid, progressive victories elsewhere. I take solace in this, and can only hope that, eventually, progress comes to the Red States. If history is any guide, though, the change, if it comes, will be slow and hard-fought. But the battle is worth waging, and I hope to do my part.

The Cenk Uygur Interview with Sam Harris : Why Reasoned Debate is Important for Atheism

Recently Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks had Sam Harris on for a marathon 3-hour interview. This interview comes on the heels not only of the Maher/Harris controversy, but also appearances by Reza Aslan and CJ Werleman on The Young Turks. Werleman appeared on a panel discussion where he compared Harris to Sarah Palin, and called him dangerous because of a passage in his book “The End of Faith” regarding nuclear first strike and Radical Muslims.Werleman, who recently was caught plagiarizing in his articles (I speak about that on this post), is known for his polemics, and is not shy about saying so, but he seems to purposely misunderstand Harris’ meaning on this particular point. Reza Aslan did an interview with Cenk where he denigrates Harris as just a blogger sitting in front of a television, and thus can not possible understand the complexities of religion, especially Islam. Sam Harris is not a religious scholar, true enough, but he does have a B.A. in philosophy and a Ph.D. in Neuroscience, which I personally think qualifies him more to speak about crazy dogmatic bullshit that people come up with than does Reza’s questionable credentials (which are exposed ably on the Friendly Atheist blog here.) Of course Reza also injected himself into the controversy by going on CNN and playing the role as official Apologist for Islam (my thoughts on that here). While many lauded him for his “smackdown” of Maher and Harris, there were also plenty of others who called him out on his misrepresentation of facts, as well as just outright wrong information (A good example of these refutations is here.)

The interview itself was definitely interesting, and even at three hours, did not ever drag, although I will admit it took me two sittings to watch the entire interview, but that’s just due to my busy schedule. I thought Sam did well in explaining his position in a thoughtful, rational way. I have always thought he was a bit thin-skinned and thus easily offended, a conclusion I came to while following the tiff between him and Glenn Greenwald over a year ago, but I think perhaps some of his criticisms are justified. One point on the mechanics of the interview which I noticed, and which frankly pissed me off, was Cenk’s frequent interruptions while Sam was trying to make a point. If you watch his interview with Reza Aslan, you will notice that Cenk allows him to go on at length with nary a peep. Cenk does not seem to extend the same courtesy to Sam, cutting in on several occasions. Another point is that while Cenk came across as rather brash, often jumping to conclusions before Sam could finish his point, Sam came off as very thoughtful and deliberate, always seeming to think through every point he makes and being careful to use the proper words to convey whatever point he was trying to make.

I won’t go into a full summary : you can watch it for yourself here and come to your own conclusions. I for one think Sam did an excellent job in putting forth his arguments and “clearing the air” in regards to his views on Islam and extremism. Cenk did an adequate job as the interviewer, but I think he tried to inject himself too much into the dialogue, and Sam was perhaps too timid in asserting himself when it was necessary. All in all though, I thought this interview was a win for expressing some of the views and ideas behind Atheism, and getting those ideas out to a wider audience. And Sam Harris is as good a spokesman as could be asked for.