Poped Out?

I will agree that the current pope is better than many of his predecessors.  But the new media are treating him like he is Christ himself (whom of course does not exist).  Does the pope’s visit really merit the wall-to-wall coverage he is getting from CNN, MSNBC, and elsewhere?  Do professional journalists really need to get starry-eyed and sometimes even teary-eyed over the visit of the pontiff?  And yes, it is true the Francis has shifted focus to social justice, do we really need to laud him for that?  Shouldn’t the Church have been focused on these issues long ago?  And the pope remains very conservative on women’s issues.

In short, though he is a step up from some of his predecessors, by maintaining the authority of the institutional Church, the pope remains an enemy of free inquiry and unfettered rational thought.

At any rate, I am feeling a bit “poped out.”  I am sick of hearing ad nauseum about every trivial detail of the pope’s visit to the US east coast.

Public vs. Private

Recently, Ben Carson, one of the Republican clown candidates for President of the United States, got in a bit of trouble for indicating that he did not believe a Muslim could be acceptable as president, or that Islam accords with the U.S. Constitution.

Islam certainly has lots of problems, and, while there are without question far too many Muslim extremists, I think I could handle a Keith Ellison or someone similar as president.  But why not just say this: in their capacity as private citizen, anyone should be able to engage in any religious practice whatsoever as long as it does not violate anyone else’s rights.  But in their capacity as government actor, elected or appointed officials are bound by the parameters of the Constitution.  They cannot use their power in the public sphere to impose there religious views on others or to inhibit lawful practice of religion or non-religion.  It really is not that complicated.  Yet, this principle is not understood by the likes of Kim Davis and her supporters, nor does Ben Carson understand the distinction.

It is too bad that right wing supposed defenders of the Constitution do not take the time to actually study it, and to understand the distinction between public and private.

Gay Marriage Legal!

It’s about time, but the Supreme Court finally did the right thing and ruled that marriage between GLBT people is legal.  Because this is a human rights issue, this is a victory not just for the GLBT community, but for all humans.

And for those conservative Christians who predicted the end of civilization if this happened, I now boldly predict that they will be proven wrong.

Noli Timere Messorem

On March 12th, 2015, the world lost a true master of the written word with the death of Sir Terrence Pratchett, known simply as Terry Pratchett, at the age of 66 after his battle with Alzheimer’s.  Britain’s best-selling author behind JK Rowling–and if Harry Potter is your only real competition, then you deserve all the fame you can get–Pratchett is best known for his Discworld series, a long-running series of comedic novels starring many different characters from beloved long-runners such as Commander Sam Vimes and the young witch Tiffany Aching, to one-off but no less well-written characters like the orc Mr. Nutt.

Pratchett was a risk taker, he wasted no time in utilizing computers for his writing as soon as they became available, and was one of the first authors to use the internet to actively communicate with his fans.  And unlike many other fantasy novelists, he was not afraid to shake up the status quo, as evidenced by his last novel, Raising Steam, which introduced the steam engine and locomotive to his swords-and-sorcery fantasy realm.

In 2007, Pratchett was misdiagnosed as having had a stroke, and was later properly diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, specifically posterior cortical atrophy, which causes areas in the back of the brain to shrink and shrivel.  This “embuggerance” as he called it did nothing to reduce his zest for life and he kept writing and playing video games, proclaiming he had time for “at least a few books yet” and asking his fans not to offer help, though he joked that he would accept offers from “very high-end experts in brain chemistry.”  In his final years, he dictated his words to his assistant, or to voice-recognition software, as he had found it too difficult to write himself.  In 2008, after learning that Alzheimer’s research earns about 3% of the funding received by cancer research, he donated $1,000,000 to help find a cure, and his loyal fans launched “Match It for Pratchett,” raising another $1,000,000.

Pratchett received knighthood and was appointed an Officer of the British Empire for services to literature, was the British Book Award’s “Fantasy and Science Fiction Author of the Year” for 1994, won the British Science Fiction Award for his novel Pyramids and a Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel for Making Money.  He received nine honorary doctorates for his contribution to Public Service, a Carnegie Award in 2001 for The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, Night Watch (currently being converted into a TV series by his daughter) received the Prometheus Award for best libertarian novel, three of the four Tiffany Aching books received the Locus Award for Best Young Adult Book.  Going Postal was shortlisted for a Hugo, but Pratchett recused himself as the stress world mar his enjoyment of Worldcon.  I Shall Wear Midnight, the fourth of the Tiffany Aching novels, won the 2010 Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.

He was a pretty freaking good author is what I’m trying to say here!

Pratchett is survived by his wife Lyn Purves and daughter Rhianna Pratchett, herself an award-winning videogame writer.  Rhianna is currently working hard at turning Night Watch into a television series and The Wee Free Men, the first of the Tiffany Aching novels, into a feature film.  His novels, cunning social commentaries disguised as genre fiction, are timeless and taught many lessons, not least of which was to not fear Death, who appeared as a minor character in almost every novel Pratchett ever wrote.  And so, let me quote again from the Pratchett Coat of Arms “Noli Timere Messorem,” or in English “Don’t Fear the Reaper.”

And from the official Terry Pratchett twitter account:

“AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.

Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.

The End.”

FFRF repeats its request to the Elkington Middle School

As most of you know, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) wrote to the Grand Rapids School District in response to our notification that a poster advertising a “prayer time” in a classroom at the Elkington Middle School was on display in the hallway of the school. The poster identified a teacher and a classroom where the meeting would be held prior to the start of classes every Monday morning. Since the poster did not note that the meeting was neither sponsored or endorsed by the school district, it represented a church/state violation. It was also not clear that the teacher didn’t not actively participate or direct the meeting and this would further suggest a church/state violation. The School District had an attorney from the Twin Cities respond to FFRF and assure them that the poster would be corrected and that the teacher had no active role in the group.

A few weeks later at our monthly meeting, we learned that the poster was still on display with only a piece of paper tapped over the teacher’s name and none of the other requested changes. A photo of the poster was available and I forwarded this along with the other information suggesting the prayer meeting was still presenting a church/state problem. The FFRF attorney who had written the original letter to the School District has now sent a follow up letter noting that promised changes had not been made. He also noted that the School District’s mention of the Equal Access Act (EAA) raised further concerns since the EAA only applies to secondary schools and in Minnesota only the grades 7 through 12 are deemed secondary. Since the Middle School has children in the 5th and 6th grades, he asked for assurances that children of that age were not directly involved in the group as organizers or directors of the group. They would not be considered covered by the EAA.

We are now awaiting a second response from the School District and I will post that response as soon as we get it from FFRF. The failure of the School District to make sure that they were in compliance with the law suggests that they are not taking the problem seriously and may not have informed the teacher about his proper role and the limitations placed on teachers acting on religious beliefs while at the school and acting as an agent of the government.

Stay tuned.

Taking RFRA to its logical conclusion

From Daily Kos, we have an example of a Christian business man determining what sign he wants to put on the door or window of his shop so that he can freely exercise his religion in the operation of his business. Please note that there is no mention of LGBT discrimination in his notice. So he is not going to discriminate against gays so that’s not what the RFRA is about. He’s just going to follow his bible and demonstrate that he is an equal opportunity bigot against just about anyone.

They Had it Coming

Most readers of this blog follow current events very closely, and are therefore aware of the shit storm Governor Mike Pence of Indiana unleashed for himself.  Since most of us are aware, I will not rehash all the details, but it is clear that Indiana’s so-called “religious freedom restoration act” was designed to give legal sanction to anti-LGBT bigotry.  But attitudes in this country have changed, and Pence and others who supported the law are deservedly catching hell.  The RFRA in Indiana is not about religious freedom, it is about allowing conservative Christians to legally discriminate.  It is interesting that Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas was prepared to sign a similar bill in his state, but balked when the CEO of Wal-Mart (among many others) voiced opposition to the bill. Finally, big business is using its power to promote the general welfare.

At any rate, I am posting this simply to provide a venue for anyone who might want to discuss the Indiana law or any related issues.  What does everyone think?

Duck Dynasty Dips**t

Phil Robertson is a bearded waste of flesh disguised as a cuddly Southern patriarch by the A&E show “Duck Dynasty.”  Fanatically Christian, Robertson has come under fire for the foul (foul/fowl pun not intended) comments he has made in the past about Muslims and gays, but I think his most recent comments take the cake.

Warning, these comments are graphic.

“Two guys break into an atheist’s home. He has a little atheist wife and two little atheist daughters. Two guys break into his home and tie him up in a chair and gag him. And then they take his two daughters in front of him and rape both of them and then shoot ’em. And they take his wife and then decapitate her head off in front of him. And they can look at him and say, ‘Isn’t it great that I don’t have to worry about being judged? Isn’t it great that there’s nothing wrong with this? There’s no right or wrong, now is it dude?’ ”

He continues with:

“Then you take a sharp knife and take his manhood and hold it in front of him and say, ‘Wouldn’t it be something if this was something wrong with this? But you’re the one who says there is no God, there’s no right, there’s no wrong, so we’re just having fun. We’re sick in the head. Have a nice day.’ If it happened to them, they probably would say, ‘Something about this just ain’t right.’ ”

These comments were made at a prayer breakfast in Florida (it’s time to let that state go) about the supposed need for religious rules.  The problem is that all this does is prove that Robertson is a psychopath.  Seriously, what kind of man thinks about this kind of stuff?  It’s horrible; Salon, the Huffington Post, and Patheos have all slammed him for these horrendous comment, but Breitbart came to his defense, insisting that he was just making a parable (though they consented that it was extreme) and that the attacks on him are “ignorant” and “bigoted.”

Seriously, decent people slamming this scum for commenting on the torture of a man, the murder of his wife, and the rape and murders of his daughters are bigoted for being good people?  And what kind of mind-fucked asshole decides that his parable needs child rape to make a point!?

To put it more plainly: if you need to bring up rape–whether it be of a man, woman or child–to make your point, then your point is wrong.

Another Mencken?

Jerry Coyne has been posting comments and links regarding a fellow named Jeffery Taylor for a bit now. Mostly it is because Taylor is publishing critiques of religion or religious “apologetics” in places they are not usually seen, but also because of the style of writing. Recently he had noted that the quality and style of writing were clearly improving and, to both Coyne’s and my eye, reviving a style not seen much since H.L. Mencken. Clear, unapologetic, full of sarcasm and clever choice of words…in other words, fun to read.

Taylor’s recent post was a response to David Brooks op-ed in the New York Times about how secularists needed to improve their well…secularism. Those of you interested in Brooks have probably already read his article. There have been a large number of critiques, but none like Taylor’s. If you want to see what may be a new rising star in the secular/atheist realm of writing and commentary, you may want to read his article.

He starts by referring to Brooks as a “religious clown” and the NY Times “laziest” columnist. But name calling is not the focus of the article. Rather, it is a pointed critique of Brooks’ ideas and lack of any persuasive evidence or argument to support those ideas. Maybe not as literate as Hitchens, but certainly as snarky as Mencken. It’s got to be painful to see your ideas revealed as garbage in such a way. I doubt that Brooks will respond since he could likely end up just whining about being smacked. He doesn’t have any argument left at this point.

Taylor will be worth watching it seems. Now if only he could end up in debates and panels where Hitchens provided so much fun. I’ll have to check YouTube. He may already be out there.

The continuing decline in religious affiliation

The news that the “nones” continue to grow as a percentage of the American population is all over the place on the web, so this probably isn’t news to you. Since I read Jerry Coyne’s blog “religiously”, his WEIT location is the most recent place I’ve seen the numbers. Quickly, the percentage of those indicating no formal religious affiliation is now about 24%. That means that if the trend continues, in a few years the largest single religious group in the country will be NONE. Each percentage point gain amounts to 2.5 million people.

However, as Jerry notes, that doesn’t mean all these nones are actually non-believers. Many of them probably have some sort of spiritual beliefs and ideas, they just don’t exercise those things inside any particular church. According to the data, a fair number of them say they pray sometimes, but we don’t know exactly what they consider to be praying. I hope for things all the time. Does that count?

Some of you may remember Daniel Dennett’s video on the decline of churches in England. A survey identified a significant portion of the population identifying as Christian, but when asked about their habits revealed that they could hardly be considered religious. As I recall, 15% had never been in a church during their entire life. By a measure like that, I’m a bloody fundamentalist religious nut. I went to the church until I was about 18. I stopped being interested at 12, but I still went! How do you really know you are a Christian if you’ve never been to the church at all?

Since the only religious people I talk to regularly are the members of the Community Presbyterian Church (CPC) and we don’t talk about these numbers, yet, I don’t have a good sense of whether religious people in Grand Rapids are aware of, concerned about or ignoring these figures. Are church populations here declining or is this something happening mostly in urban areas? I know the Catholic church recently built a new facility including a school, but I wonder if the church is shrinking even as it has sunk a lot of money into a new building.

Maybe all the churches are adjusting their expectations to the current level of participation and don’t worry about all the people not showing up. If they built a large church during the good times and now have a building that’s decidedly less full each Sunday, what are they doing? What could they do? It appears that a good part of the country is finally getting tired of the church even if they aren’t tired of spiritual stuff. I guess it’s my feeling that this movement away from formal religion is one rather large step away from belief. If you never go to church and hear all the god talk, isn’t it hard to keep those ideas afloat? Don’t you start to forget or discover that you aren’t being whacked by some holy spirit?

Would we embarrass the CPC if we asked them how things are going…member wise, in donations, or how many people actually show up each Sunday?