Friday, August 24, 2007

The First Church of Swiper the Fox

Interesting things happen when you live in a religious culture, but have not yet educated your young child about religion.

The Tot attends daycare at our local YMCA while I exercise. I have struggled a bit with my feelings toward the Y, mostly because they have lots of propaganda festooning the walls. Which makes sense, since their mission is "To put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all." But really, except for the Christian banners, they seem much more focused on building healthy bodies and minds than the other stuff. So I've decided the whole package of benefits they offer more than counterbalances the Christian themes.

Anyway, as she sometimes does, the Tot was singing snippets of a song she heard that day. I couldn't really make sense of it at first, but then I realized it was some insipid religious song she must have picked up at the Y. ("Thank You for the puppies" is the line that stays with me.) Then I realized she was singing this refrain:

"Aw-w-Man, Aw-w-Man."

Well, it makes sense, right? She referred the phonemes back to something with which she is familiar. And since she's never been taught to pray at home, the closest match was Swiper's catchphrase.

This makes me feel a lot more comfortable about her being exposed to Christian ideas and rituals. It's going to happen, and the idea tends to make me nervous. However, this incident makes clear that the parental influence is a real determining force in how children interpret new ideas. Since she's going to the Y for preschool too, I'm sure there will be some great teaching moments when she comes home to ask me what the heck the teachers are talking about, and (in the words of Oolon Colluphid) just who is this God person anyway? And I also realize sometimes she'll just sit and listen to the story of Noah (the ark, not the naked drunkenness, presumably) or whatever, and interpret it as a fictional story like many others, without any further intervention from me.

But I am starting to wonder if one day she'll come home and ask, "Hey, why is everyone at the Y so crazy about Cheez-Its?"

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Okay, let's say a fetus IS a person

I still think abortion should be legal. Now, I don't happen to believe that a fetus is a person - for me that hinges mostly on cognitive capacity, rather than DNA or "living" status, or obviously on what the Bible supposedly says. But for the sake of argument, let's grant that the fetus is a "person," a fully fledged human being with the rights and protections of an independent adult.

I still think abortion is perfectly justifiable. That is because it is perfectly justifiable to kill a fully fledged adult human being, under certain circumstances. And those circumstances are always present in a pregnancy. If someone is threatening you with imminent, severe bodily harm, you are allowed to kill them. Even if they are not mentally competent, and even if they aren't trying to kill you. I think in pretty much every U.S. jurisdiction, deadly force would be justifiable to prevent an assailant from forcibly inserting a large object into the victim's vagina.

It is true that this assault is not imminent at the point most abortions occur - it is still months away. However, the situations are analogous, because there is no opportunity to avoid the assault other than by use of deadly force. In an attempted rape, you can kill the attacker if you have no reasonable ability to obtain protection by retreating or contacting law enforcement. Likewise, it is justifiable to kill a fetus because you have no reasonable ability to prevent significant bodily harm in any other way.

So, there we are. I don't see how anyone could accept killing an insane rapist in self defense, while simultaneously arguing that abortion should be illegal. Perhaps some people are truly so pro-life (across the board) that they would object to killing a mad attacker in self defense. But I'm guessing that position is rare.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Some additional thoughts on Christians and stupidity

Overnight I thought of a couple more reasons why atheists may latch on to the "Christians are stupid" idea.

First, it is true that atheism is associated with higher levels of education. And people with PhDs and professional degrees are typically thought of as smart. Also considered smart are leading scientists, such as members of the National Academy of Sciences (in 1998, a survey found a measly 7-8% believed in a god or immortality of the human soul).

Second, in an effort to convince others through logical means of beliefs not arrived at by logic, believers (the majority of whom are Christians in this country) will spout some astoundingly retarded statements, such as:
  • "The second law of thermal dynamics proves that evolution can't be true."
  • "God must exist, because if he didn't, then there wouldn't be a God to disbelieve in, in the first place."
  • "It was a miracle that Ms.Guided was the sole survivor when the plane carrying 100 people crashed into the ground."
(All of these come from merely the first page of this thread, which, granted, contains items that are simply weird or which espouse standard tenets of faith, but many of which are shockingly stupid, jaw-droppingly cruel, or both.)

Third, Christianity often encourages ignorance and anti-intellectualism. Sure, there are a lot of mainstream, liberal Christians who pursue knowledge with vigor. But the closer you get to literalist, fundamentalist belief, the further you tend to get from honest inquiry and well-rounded education. Most obvious are evolution deniers, who must wall off most of modern biology from their brains. Interestingly, reading Bart Ehrman led me to the realization that Real True Christians are carefully hamstrung even in studying the Bible. It's only "safe" to do so under proper conditions, or (like Ehrman) you might find yourself losing your tenuous grasp on fundamentalism and realizing, whether you like it or not, that the Holy Bible is an error-prone work of man.

On this third note, I leave you with a quote from Martin Luther, the "great reformer" and founder of Protestantism: "Whoever wants to be a Christian should tear the eyes out of his reason."

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Why we atheists think Christians are so stupid

That ^ is irony, for the impaired among you.

First, let's talk about the idea that atheists think religious people in general are stupid. I actually think there is something to this criticism of atheists. Many don't fall into this trap, but I have come upon the meme often enough that I don't deny it is prevalent. The mistake people are making is in confusing a selective, compartmentalized rejection of rationality with stupidity. It is abundantly clear that manymany intelligent, otherwise reasonable people turn off their critical thinking when it comes to religion. I don't think this detracts from their intelligence, merely from their rationality. And yes, intelligence and rationality are often treated as synonyms, or at least closely linked, in our culture, so it's understandable that people conflate them.

In fact, if you are religious and reading this, you probably bristled when I accused you of being irrational. Generally rationality is highly prized, and you probably protested in your head that you're very rational. Perhaps you even defend your religion as a rational conclusion, pointing to various apologetics. However, if any facet of your religion requires faith, (in the "belief regardless of evidence" sense), you are rejecting rationality. I don't dispute that in every other facet of life, you may be highly rational, and I don't think you're stupid.

But when someone rejects standard methods of discovering truth, and embraces beliefs pretty much just because they feel good, it is understandable that someone who doesn't share this propensity is going to feel a gut reaction that the person is stupid, or crazy, or both. Sometimes it's hard to get beyond that gut reaction to the empirical truth that lots of intelligent people are religious.

As a thought experiment, imagine some belief you consider total, obvious codswallop - whose roots and causes are clear to you as mistakes of observation or well-known foibles of human perception. Perhaps alien abduction stories, the healing power of crystals, astrology, or bigfoot sightings. Now, don't you just have a visceral reaction along the lines of, "How could anyone believe THAT? How could someone be so blind as to what is actually going on?" If you know a believer in this stuff who is otherwise bright and sane, don't you boggle at how they can carry both of these personality aspects in the same brain? That mystified disbelief is just how your atheist friends feel about you!

The second issue here is that Christians seem to feel that atheists unfairly target them, above all other religions. Some Christians complain that we're not anti-religious, objecting to irrational beliefs whatever their form, but that we seem to be gunning for Christianity and ignoring Islam, Hinduism, Wicca, Jainism, and so on. Perhaps it's just the natural tunnel vision we're all subject to falling into. Perhaps it's that Christianity teaches a lot about how its practitioners have been persecuted. But take a step back and realize that English-speaking atheists seem to focus on Christians because that is who surrounds us! 85% of the U.S. self-identifies as Christian. Christianity is the established state religion of Britain. The people trying to inject their religious beliefs into the schools, politics, and laws of my country are certainly always Christian, in my experience. Trust me, if the Wiccans mount a campaign to teach that the Goddess gave birth to her consort the Horned God in public school science classes, we'd go after them with equal gusto. If Buddhists smugly proclaimed from campaign platforms that those without Enlightenment were obviously incapable of morality, we'd be writing invective against them too. It's nothing personal - you're the most powerful people out there right now. Sorry.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Stuff Ma Ingalls never had to worry about - Please Comment!

So, I have this love-hate relationship with Ma Ingalls. Many will recognize her as the mom from Little House on the Prairie on TV, some will know her from the series of books written by her daughter, Laura Ingalls Wilder. They are great books - both entertaining and educational.

Now, I love Ma because she seems to exemplify a lot of qualities I'd like to cultivate. She was loving, protective, artistic, thrifty, and a good cook. But I hate Ma because she makes me feel monumentally inadequate. I mean, as a modern woman with tons of technology at my fingertips, only one child to mind, and a plethora of convenience items, I should be able to keep things in order, right? I don't have to cook in a woodstove, try to keep a dirt floor swept, or make my own butter and cheese. I have not only a vacuum, but a robot vacuum, for Chrissakes! So why is my floor covered in crumbs? If Ma could do it all, why on Earth can't I?

So I've been re-reading the books, and I'm starting to realize that perhaps my job is not so terribly easier than hers. So I'm starting a list of things Ma didn't have to worry about. First, let's look at a typical day, reconstructed from my reading so far.

Wake up. Take off nightgown, put on dress and shoes, make bed (sans decorative pillows, chenille throws, etc.). Most likely Pa built the fire, so next step is to make breakfast, probably biscuits, molasses, tea, and maybe some salt pork. Wash dishes (no need to sanitize). Daily work probably included gardening, sweeping (a very small house), and possibly taking care of animals, though Pa would probably do that. If there was a baby, I'm guessing diapers needed washing daily. Dinner was the main meal, in the middle of the day - meat, cornbread, molasses or fruit/preserves, vegetables if they were in season. Clean up dishes again. Each day of the week had its own chore as follows:
Wash on Monday,
Iron on Tuesday,
Mend on Wednesday,
Churn on Thursday,
Clean on Friday,
Bake on Saturday,
Rest on Sunday.
Washing was probably the biggest chore, being done by hand, and presumably including all clothing and linens. But again, "all clothing" was a few items per person. Supper was small - basically starch with flavorings: bread with molasses, cornmeal mush with pumpkin puree, that kind of thing. After cleaning supper dishes, Ma would do handicrafts like knitting or quilting. There does not seem to be a separate "child care" category - either the kids were entertaining themselves in the attic or outdoors, or they were working with Ma, from making their bed in the morning to helping churn the butter or washing dishes.

So, OK, Ma was definitely no slouch. There's a lot of hard work in there, much of it hard physical labor.

But let's think of all the crap we deal with that Ma never had to concern herself with:

Bathing daily - baths were on Saturday night only
Armpit sweat, "feminine odor," bad breath, shaving
Going to the gym because exercise is lacking from daily work
Maintaining a wardrobe - everything from dresses to underwear were changed/washed less often
Fashion sure, there were trends, but it's not like now when each season changes radically
Hairstyling - brush and braid, that's pretty much it
Grocery shopping
Driving to and fro generally - some modern mothers practically live in the car
Car maintenance
Home maintenance
Outside employment
Getting the kids to school
Kids' extracurricular activities
Paying bills
Getting the mail
Sorting through the junk mail
Filing and other paperwork
Answering the phone
Checkups at the doctor
Vaccinations (I'm grateful mind you, but it is another thing to deal with)
Entertaining children who have no siblings close in age
Stimulating kids' minds so they can be supergeniuses and get into the good preschool
College loans
Updating her blog ;)

OK, that's a good start. Tell me if you come up with some others. Gotta go entertain the child . . .

Saturday, July 28, 2007

A little example of faith versus science - in an unexpected place

This is not a post about religion at all. It is about warring approaches within the field of medicine. Specifically, how we in the U.S. deal with birth.

There are two layers of faith involved. First, and more obviously, is the faith people have in doctors. Sure, one should "have faith" in one's doctor in the sense of feeling trust and believing that the doctor knows what they're doing - the sense of "having faith" that refers to trust or dependability based on prior observation and evidence. However, (and yes, it was the homeopathy discussion that prompted this) many people seem to "have faith" in a more religious sense, i.e., they believe doctors are infallible authority figures, and promptly turn their critical thinking and confidence off when in one's presence.

The second layer is even more disturbing, especially combined with the first. In the field of obstetrics at least, doctors practice medicine by faith. And I mean "faith" in the full-on "believing things contrary to evidence, and stopping your ears and singing 'lalalaIcan'thearyou' when presented with such evidence" way. It all starts out very reasonably - giving birth is an uncomfortable, sometimes painful experience. It would be nice to alleviate the discomfort. Also, sometimes moms and/or babies are injured or even die during the process. It would be terrific if we could prevent that.

To this situation, add new technology. For instance, electronic fetal monitoring. It makes perfect, rational sense that EFM, which allows doctors to constantly monitor fetal heart rate during labor, would improve outcomes for babies. Babies that might have suffered hypoxia and brain damage or even death during labor could be identified and quickly rescued via c-section. All of this is perfectly reasonable, and I agree with the reasons EFM came into use. Of course at that time, there was no research available on actual outcomes with EFM - doctors went on logical deduction that it would be helpful.

Except, once research was done, it became clear that EFM is associated with poorer outcomes for mother and baby. The main reasons seem to be twofold - first, having constant information on heart rate means a very high "false positive" incidence for fetal distress. Scientific study indicates that intermittent readings with a hand-held doppler device actually result in more healthy moms and babies, perhaps because troubling trends that can be identified with this method are much more likely to be indicative of real trouble, versus isolated decelerations that are picked up by the always-vigilant EFM.

The other big factor is that EFM requires the mother to be lying in bed, stationary, so she can be strapped to the machine. As far as I know, every single study of labor and delivery has found better outcomes when mothers can stand, squat, walk, and otherwise remain upright and move around. Looking at the mechanics of birth, this makes perfect sense.

The story is similar for many other technological interventions - from epidurals to inductions to ultrasound estimates of size, it would seem that the innovation would improve birth outcomes, but they actually result in lots of pain, fear, and unnecessary surgery, injury and side effects to mothers and babies, and often disruption of breastfeeding, which has ill effects for both as well.

So it makes me cringe when I hear mothers blithely say, "Oh, my doctor said this is a big baby, so I have to be induced next week," or "Why wouldn't I get an epidural - the doctor says it's perfectly safe!" These people are handing over their intellect to a person who is a product of a system that rejects evidence-based practice in favor of authoritarian received wisdom and perceived infallibility.

Gee, that reminds me of something.

Friday, July 20, 2007

A Harry Potter Sabbath

I'm gearing up today - getting the shopping done, cooking dinner for tonight and tomorrow, tidying the house, and so forth. I probably won't drive my car tomorrow. I won't be refraining from microwaving the pre-prepared dinner, nor agonizing over whether opening the fridge door (and thus turning on the light) is allowed, thank goodness. But truly, I'm trying to set things up so I don't have to do any work tomorrow. My husband (in respectful recognition of this holy day) will be taking our daughter out of the house to play, and I will be planting my rear on the couch until I find out if Snape is really evil, and whether Harry gets to talk to Dumbledore and Sirius one more time.

Happy reading!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Nancy Leigh DeMoss embraces moral relativism - hurray!

Some days I really enjoy listening to Christian radio. Sometimes it's good for a laugh, sometimes it provides some cathartic recreational outrage, and sometimes it even reminds me that I'm not so terribly different from the people who listen in earnest.

Today was more of a laugh-providing day, as I heard a major figure in a literalist ministry explicitly advocate reading the Bible figuratively, in the context of a moral relativist philosophy.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss is evidently a very popular preacher among women, and it is clear why. In listening to her, I hear a great gentleness in her voice. She seems to have a lot of sympathy for the practical struggles women have in marriage and motherhood in particular. She mines the Bible for material which she weaves into inspirational, consoling messages about how to cope with stresses common to women in traditional roles. Note I said "mines" and "weaves." It seems apparent to me that she gets an idea for a nice message, then uses bits and pieces of scripture to support it. One wonders why this is necessary - presumably the omnipotent creator of the universe could have made the messages apparent on a simple reading of a single story, but even the hardcore Christians often have trouble with that approach.

Today's teaching was about the Book of Ruth. From listening, then doing a quick Wiki perusal, I gather that Ruth was the daughter-in-law of Naomi, they both became widowed, and they lost their family property and were pretty much destitute. DeMoss talks about how Ruth's request for protection from a strong family member mirrors the sinner's relationship with Jesus as savior. I guess that sounds nice enough, if you buy the premises. But here's where it gets interesting.

Before delving into further details, Nancy says,

As we enter into verse two, we’re going to see a scene that will sound a little strange to our modern ears, because it’s going to draw upon some ancient Jewish culture that is Jewish, and that is ancient culture that most of us are not familiar with.

If the things that took place in this chapter happened today, they might not be appropriate. They would be out of the realm of what would be right. But in this context they’re going to be absolutely appropriate.

Hmm, that sounds like moral relativism to me! Not to mention that it implies the Bible is not a clear catalog of directives for living a moral life, but at best some parts of it are literal directives, and others are merely educational or inspirational stories, not meant as instructions on how to live a moral life. And how one decides which is which? It's not mentioned, but it seems clear that modern secular moral thought is the guiding principle.

See, the reason she falls all over herself to exempt the story from literal moral education is that it basically involves a woman offering her daughter-in-law as a piece of chattel to a male relative, so that her husband's estate will remain in the family. Naomi directs Ruth to wash and perfume herself, and wear her best clothes, "to prepare herself as a bride prepares for marriage," in DeMoss's words, and to lie down at Boaz's feet in his sleeping place, and to do whatever he tells her when he wakes up. Yeah, I can see how you wouldn't want to model this behavior for modern women and their daughters. I guess in the end Boaz refrains from just screwing Ruth there on the threshing floor, but it seems motivated out of concern for another (male of course) relative's possible superior claim to her. In any case, it's clear what Naomi was setting Ruth up for, and it rightly makes DeMoss squeamish.

Don't get me wrong here - I'm always glad when modern religionists twist their teachings to conform to more enlightened morals. However, I can't help sniggering a bit when this teaching comes so overtly from the agent of an organization which states that
We believe that the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is God's authoritative, inspired Word. It is without error in all its teachings, including creation, history, its own origins, and salvation. It is the supreme and final authority in all matters of belief and conduct.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Homeopathy, a/k/a "Placebos"

I hate to impugn my sex and my job, but damn, hanging out with moms can be a skeptic's nightmare. Especially moms who are a little crunchy and into breastfeeding. For some reason, this set has a LOT of believers in homeopathy. Not to be confused with "holistic medicine," which may be associated with a lot of bunk, but not necessarily, as it can just mean treating the whole person, involving psychology in medical treatment and such.

No, homeopathy, is uniquely, demonstrably, bullshit. It is not based on any science, but on magical thinking. It is allowed by the FDA because a bigtime homeopathic practitioner was involved in the legislation founding the FDA, not because of scientific merit. The "remedies" have no active ingredients - and this is touted as making them especially effective! What happens when people get relief by taking them is so well-documented, it is accounted for in any reputable drug trial: the placebo effect. You take it (or give it to your kid), and your perception of the situation changes due to your expectations. It's like the Tinkerbell of the medical world - if you truly believe, and clap your hands, magic can be real!

And yet intelligent women, women who can rattle off the latest study on iron absorption in the newborn gut or the current research on the risks and benefits of continuous fetal monitoring, have somehow missed all the information on what utter tripe homeopathy is. It drives me so nuts, I want to stomp and scream!

Maybe it's a lost cause - a lot of them use chiropractors as their family "doctors" too. Sigh.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Christianity - I just don't get it

On a message board I frequent, there was a recent question, "What is your main beef with Christianity?" I thought about all the problems I have with Christianity (which is not to say Christians, btw). The attitudes about sex and gender. Strings-attached missionary work. Celebration of ignorance and irrationality. And probably several dozen more.

But the main problem I have is that, at its heart, Christianity makes no sense. God is infinite, omnipotent, and omniscient. Moreover, He is good. And He knowingly (by definition) created the world, and people, in such a way that people would be "sinful" and "deserve" to go to hell. Then after a few thousand years (if we're taking it literally) He decided to make part of Himself into his own son, send the son to Earth, and torture the son to death in a kind of goat sacrifice writ large, in order to pay the penalty for everyone's sins (or at least everyone who came after that time, it's not clear). But maybe not everyone's sins. Apart from the Universalists, most sects seem to think people need to say some magic words, or do proper rituals, or even do good works and be a good person (I can hear the Evangelicals gasping), in order to take advantage of this limited time offer.

Frankly, that is nonsensical. If God were omnipotent and good, He would have just made the world properly in the first place. And what could possibly be constraining God so that a blood sacrifice would be required for forgiveness? Even the beloved C.S. Lewis had to resort to a "deep, old magic" that had power over Aslan and required his sacrifice.

This story makes perfect sense from an anthropological point of view, as a permutation of traditions and beliefs of a nomadic people who originally believed that their god required sacrifices of everything from grain to fatted calves to innocent children ("Woops, just kidding!"). As a description of the actual reality of the universe, it fails right out of the gate at internal consistency and logic, without ever getting to pesky issues of evidence.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Behold! A comment!

It was very nice of Rachel to drop by and leave a comment, and how do I repay her? With total neglect of the blog for weeks on end! Sorry, Rachel - hopefully you will persevere and see I've finally got new content. Such as it is.

I've got an excuse for my slackness, however - I've just found out I'm pregnant, which is a big relief, because I was starting to wonder what the hell was wrong with me. Sleeping all the time, feeling vaguely nauseated, and just not right - I was reminded of my bout of mono in college.

Oh dear, the Tot is demanding I read Beauty and the Beast with her. More later!

Friday, May 4, 2007

Dueling Bible Quotes

"I tell you that even so there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance." Luke 15:7

"As it is written, 'There is no one righteous; no, not one.'" - Romans 3:10

Monday, April 23, 2007

This one goes out to the ones who love

Listening to Christian radio today, I heard them exhorting people to share the gospel at their workplaces, at their schools, to (blurg) "reclaim them for Christ." And I got to thinking about why Christians sharing their faith are so astoundingly obnoxious. You know, not people who matter-of-factly acknowledge their Christianity, and try to live well to teach by example. We're talking about people who feel they must Witness to you. I think we can all agree they are astoundingly obnoxious, even many of the witnessers themselves, if the Christian literature urging people to overcome their reticence about it is any indication.

So I thought, honestly, if people are genuinely trying to share something with you, something they believe to be the key to everlasting joy, why is it so freaking irritating? I mean, it's an offer, isn't it? It's something generous, right?

Except, maybe it isn't. Maybe the reason these interactions are so annoying is that they mirror the obnoxious door-to-door salesman far too much. The guy who knocks on your door (or calls during dinner) and tells you he has a fabulous offer for you. Who will. not. admit. that he is selling something. Perhaps we are getting the sense that underlying that surface generosity is nothing more than selfish opportunism.

Not that it's conscious on the proselytizer's part, heavens no. See, I think a lot of this febrile witnessing, this obsession with the Great Commission, is an attempt to prop up faith. I think maybe a lot of people have questions and doubts, and part of making that go away is bringing in new believers. If you can convince ten new people to believe, why, that must mean that your beliefs are true! It also gives you something to concentrate on besides pondering the real posers like the Problem of Evil, while also projecting your own doubts onto someone else, and taking a purely adversarial position toward such doubts: armed with predigested apologetics, witnesses assume the truth of their position, and use every trick to turn the arguments of the target. Much more comfortable than actually thinking about the questions. And if you fail, it's not because the faith is utter codswallop, rather it feeds the tempting idea that you're part of a persecuted group.

No wonder people get rude when a co-worker asks if they have a personal relationship with Jesus, or strip naked to greet the Mormon missionaries. We're sussing out the subtext of the message. On the surface, it is, "I love you, let me share this gift with you," but underneath it's clear: "I don't see you as a person, as an end in yourself, but merely as a means to prop up my own beliefs and prove my worth." No wonder people get offended. At least the salesman on your doorstep, however insufferable, is offering a good or service. Christian proselytizers really just want something for nothing.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Dueling Bible Quotes

I'm watching this nice piece from Nick Gisburne (disclosure: it's mostly quite sedate, but ends up with "Fuck off, God," so maybe not so safe for work), and it reminded me that at the YMCA we belong to, they have a whiteboard featuring bible quotes. A certain quote will be up for a few weeks, then it'll change. And I always have a totally evil impulse to sneak up and write a contradictory passage underneath it. Of course, I would never actually do such a thing.

But this is my
turf, so let's make it a feature. Whenever they put a new one up, I'll post a response.

Current quote: "For with God nothing shall be impossible." Luke 1:37

This is almost too easy: ""And the LORD was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron." Judges 1:19

They don't believe what they believe they believe

A year or two ago I read a short article, I believe in Free Inquiry, regarding what people say they believe, versus what their other beliefs and actions reveal. And it showed that people often seem to genuinely think they hold a belief, yet everything except their subjective assertion indicates that they don't.

I think religion is rife with examples, probably because it encourages compartmentalized thinking, avoiding inquiry, and denying dissonance. For instance, most Christians seem to believe in an omnipotent, omniscient god. Whether you're a hardcore Pentecostal or a cafeteria Catholic, that is a pretty basic shared belief. Also nearly universal is petitionary prayer. Tell your friends and family that you have cancer, and most of them will tell you that they will pray for you. People pray for huge things like an end to war, and ridiculously minor things like finding their car keys. There's a show on the local Christian radio station that is just a laundry list reading of prayer requests: "A woman in Greensboro prays that her swollen foot be healed . . . A man asks that his daughter find God . . ."

So my question is, how can you simultaneously believe that God knows everything that has and will happen, and knows the contents of your every thought, that He has a plan, that His will is not to be questioned . . . and then ask him to cure your psoriasis? Presumably He gave you the psoriasis, knowing full well how torturous it would be, and how much you would wish it gone. Indeed, He knew you would beg for relief, yet went ahead and caused it anyway. It makes no sense to ask for HIS WILL to be undone, given the omniscient/omnipotent/has a plan meme.

Another example struck me this weekend while listening to another Christian station (yes, I am a skeptomasochist). The preacher was going on about how people essentially choose to go to hell. If someone has heard the gospel, yet does not believe, that person is culpable and will go to hell. He strongly stressed that if you go to hell, it's your fault. But of course, this is in the context of a religion that believes that one omnipotent god created all of us, deliberately (since He knew Adam and Eve couldn't avoid sinning) to be inherently evil, vile, and irredeemable sinners. So how again is it our fault? We're created flawed, condemned for those flaws, and if we fail to say some magic words or lack the ability to believe in "things not seen" we get eternal torture? It makes no sense, unless you're discussing Original Sin and the crucifixion in one speech, and in an entirely unrelated speech discussing how we humans are really all to blame if we make the wrong choices. Then it seems it's easy to forget about the glaring inconsistency.

I'm not saying I'm immune to thinking I believe something and then acting to the contrary, or holding contradictory beliefs. However, I welcome being made aware of such inconsistencies. I like to examine my positions and modify them when presented with appropriate evidence. As Adam Savage said recently on Mythbusters, "I've been proved totally and completely wrong - I love it!"

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Vagina Moronologues

So, three high school honor students were suspended for uttering the word "vagina" at a school talent show. It seems the administration felt it would be traumatic for the attendees to hear this word, despite the fact that about half of them were carrying one in their pants that very night. So in anticipation of the event, the school told the performers they could do their reading from The Vagina Monologues, but they couldn't say the word "vagina." They said it, and they were suspended.

According to AP, "Principal Richard Leprine said Tuesday that the girls were punished not because of what they said but because they disobeyed orders not to say it." Oooooh, OK then. Dick Leprine (may I call him Dick? I think I may) is clearly a legal genius. If only he'd been around during those pesky Vietnam protests that culminated in Tinker v. Des Moines - see, the students aren't being punished for saying something - nonononono, that would be suppression of free speech. They are being punished for disobeying an order not to say the word, so everything is peachy keen with the Bill of Rights. Is this George Orwell High School?

I guess we're all just lucky the girls didn't offer a different portion of Eve Ensler's show, in which she intensely repeats, "Cunt . . . CUNT . . . cuuuuuuunt."

In related news, a theater in Florida (where else?) changed the title of Ensler's play to "The Hoohaa Monologues," after receiving a complaint from a passing motorist. Get this: the woman said she drove past the sign, and her niece asked what "vagina" meant, and that she was offended she had to answer that question from the child. Hell yeah, I'd be offended, too - offended that a kid old enough to read, and in possession of a vagina herself, didn't know the correct word for it. But clearly that is not the source of this phobic ninny's complaint. She evidently thinks no one should talk about such a dirty, evil, disgusting organ.

All this hysteria (new spin on that etymology!) ties in well with a little movie we just rented, This Film Is Not Yet Rated. It's not a fantastic movie, but it does highlight the fact that the MPAA, the de facto gatekeeper of movie distribution, seems to really hate vaginas. Well, really the whole related area, and its most popular use. You can show people having their brains blown out, being eaten alive by zombies or monsters, getting hung on meat hooks or having their nipples ripped off, and get an R rating. But, if you show female pubes in a sexual situation, you get an NC-17, and your movie makes no money because few theaters will show it. HEAVEN FORBID you should show someone going down on a girl, and the girl liking it. If people under 17 see such things, our civilization will collapse. It's a well known fact that kids do everything they see in movies, and we don't want our children having good sex. Please confine their viewing to shootings, stabbings, chainsaw massacres, and flayings. Heterosexual rape is OK as long as it's clear the victim is not enjoying any sexual pleasure. In this way, our children will remain innocent, and our girls will remain virginal until marriage, which is the most important thing, after all.

Seriously, what is going on with this weird phobia of the human body, never mind human sexuality? People have parts, and they have names. Are we so infantile as a culture that we can't bear to say "vagina" without at least giggling, if not outright fainting? Or is it indeed a perverse desire to keep teenagers from knowing about sex, in the patently stupid hope that then they will never have sex? And if so, why is the very word "vagina" so verboten? Sure, sex often involves vaginas, but plenty of vaginas exist sex-free. Most of us came through one to get here, for Pete's sake! Can we not simply acknowledge their existence, using a legitimate biological term? Apparently, many people still can't, and that's both frightening and sad.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Sex, Death, and Santa

I was reading Possummomma’s blog today, and it inspired musings beyond the scope of the comments page. So, why not start my own blog?

As a parent, I’m surprised by my child’s ability to absorb concepts that are usually defined as “adult,” and to extrapolate from what I’ve told her to more general ideas. She’s only three and a half, but like Possummomma’s P#3, she can tell fantasy from reality. This is a skill I believed only much older children could master, but the Tot seems to be doing just fine.

Last December, there were lots of cool shows on TV involving Santa Claus. Naturally, Tot wanted to know when Santa would come to our house. I simply explained that Santa is pretend, like other things we see on TV. I pointed out that in real life, we’ve never seen cars talk (Pixar’s Cars is a favorite) or bunnies wear clothes, and so on.

A few weeks later, Tot drew my attention to some fantastic cartoon character and told me, “He’s only real on my TV.” Right around Christmas, I picked her up from daycare, and she told me, “The teacher said ‘yes,’ but I said ‘no,’ and she said ‘yes,’ and I said, ‘NO!” I soon gleaned that this was a discussion of the existence of Santa, presumably brought about by some innocent comment like, “What did you ask Santa for?” While I tried to instill a little bit of diplomacy, I still couldn’t have been prouder of my kid.

Incidents like this have encouraged me to be straight with her on pretty much all issues.
“What’s that bump? It’s your clitoris.”
“Why are armadillos afraid of maned wolves? Because the wolves want to eat the armadillos.”
“What happened to Daddy’s fish? It died.”

Contrary to my concern that discussing sex would be awkward, or that the concept of death was too traumatic, Tot has received all this information with aplomb and continued curiosity. I now have hope that she will not have to undergo a wrenching realization that living things die, nor have a pathological fear of death like I did when I started questioning my religious belief. I am confident that she will know the facts about sex, and be able to weigh all the complex issues by the time she is old enough to contemplate romantic relationships, all without that dreaded, awkward event known as “The Talk.”

I feel a bit sorry for families that feel they must shield their children from some idea or another. The kids are left without vital knowledge – especially considering the avoided issues tend to be those central to the human condition. Meanwhile, their parents have the added tension and work of trying to obfuscate, delay, or even construct elaborate ruses to “protect” their innocent children. I say, protect them with the facts, and everyone will be much happier.