Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Neocons Who Cried Wolf

Right now, it has become clear that the next target for war by the Bush Administration is Iran, a country that cannot now hurt the US except by terrorist proxy.  Unfortunately for everyone, the neocons and their President still don’t seem to realize that Iran is a Shiite nation, and that Al Qaeda, unquestionably the primary terrorist danger to the US, is a Sunni organization.  Al Qaeda in Iraq has deliberately and brutally targeted Shiites, and one would think that Iran would have noticed this and therefore be reluctant to work together with them (duh).  One would also think that the neocons would remember someone explaining this to them, but don’t hold your breath.

Instead neocons will do what they do best; interpret foreign intelligence to suit their predetermined course of action, which is usually war.

According to an article from the LA Times, diplomats say “most US intelligence shared with the UN nuclear watchdog agency (IAEA) has proved inaccurate and none has led to significant discoveries inside Iran… None of the tips provided clear evidence the Islamic Republic is developing illicit weapons.”  (Go to http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-usiran25feb25,1,488919.story?ctrack=1&cset=true .)

An IAEA diplomat is quoted: “Since 2002, pretty much all the intelligence that’s come to us has proved to be wrong.”

There is even a question of fabricated intelligence: a document (in English) uncovered by US intelligence from an allegedly stolen laptop computer from Iran is viewed suspiciously by IAEA officials since the document was not in Farsi, the Iranian language.  How long will it be before VP Cheney begins to tout this piece of “evidence”?

Once again it would seem that reason and evidence is in short supply among those itching for war; what a shock!  Like arguing with Creationists, arguing with neocons requires challenging their “evidence” for possible fraud and misrepresentation; and of course this is still not enough.

Obviously, a clear and convincing case for war has not been made.  Worse, many Americans believe that this Administration is capable, not only of relatively minor intelligence fraud, but of staging an incident, much like the Gulf of Tonkin incident that was used to justify the Viet Nam War, that would then be used to justify an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Now it may be true that Iran is developing nuclear weapons in violation of a treaty that they’ve agreed to honor.  Such a thing is not impossible.  Then again, if they are not doing so, and the US goes to war against Iran anyway, it will serve to alienate even more Muslims around the world and the West will fall even further behind in the real “War on Terror,” the one that involves winning hearts and minds.

The ill-advised war in Iraq has probably cost the world a decade or more in this war against terror; an unjustified war against Iran would be far worse and only serve to gain sympathy for the theocratic fascists that run Iran at the expense of the growth of a growing Iranian moderate secular movement!

What is the right course of action?  It may be that nothing will work until an Administration is in place that values evidence and reason more than it values its own dogma.  Nothing this Administration claims can be accepted with any confidence, and if that is the case, even if the Administration was right, the reasonable decision might be to not believe them.  Yes, this is about as dangerous a situation as imaginable for the US, but it may be the case!

Even if the neocons were right, and the US was in imminent danger, there is absolutely no reason to believe them based on their history of distortion.  With the situation such as it is,the best course of action for the US may be no action.  One can only hope that any danger arising from Iran’s possible nuclear program does not increase in the remaining time this Administration has in office.  Let the next Administration, whatever is, take care of it.

Andrew Sullivan Defends Atheists and Replies

By Gerry Dantone

At a recent campaign stop, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a Mormon, was told by a heckler that he was a non-Christian and that Christians should not vote for him.  (You can see this @ http://blip.tv/skin/blipnew/cache/drudge/151254.html#comment_form. )

The audience was not amused by the heckler and Romney replied that in this diverse country, “We need to have a person of faith lead the country.”  Of course, the crowd erupted in applause.

In his blog, Andrew Sullivan, a conservative gay Catholic(!) wrote, “How is that not a religious test for the presidency?  The anti-Mormon bigotry displayed is ugly and wrong - but it will come up again.  Bush and Rove have built a Republican party on a sectarian base - and Romney is of the wrong sect.  But instead of standing up to this sectarianism, and affirming the right of anyone of any faith or none to be president, Romney panders to religious bias.  It seems to me that it is equally bigoted to say that a Mormon should not be president as it is to say that an atheist should not be president.  Romney has chosen to fight bigotry with bigotry.  We are finding out that he will say anything - anything - to get elected.  That is not the mark of a person of faith.  It is the mark of a person shot through with cynicism.”  (Go to http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2007/02/romneys_bigotry.html .)

Mr. Sullivan has been participating in online dialogue with evangelical atheist author Sam Harris, and you can view the debate @ http://www.beliefnet.com/story/209/story_20904.html.

The recent national interest in the “new atheism” is definitely real and the occurrence of a religious commentator defending atheists without prompting is but another manifestation.  Those who criticize the likes of Dawkins, Harris and Dennett should take note.

Much is yet to be accomplished, however; predictably many commentators were moved to defend Romney and criticize Sullivan.  Consider the following from the blog “Villainous Company”:

“It's not a religious test for the presidency in the same way that saying that anyone who thinks the best candidate for the Presidency would be a person of faith is bigoted, as evidenced by the title of your post, "Romney's Bigotry".  Mr. Sullivan obviously thinks the best candidate for the Presidency is an atheist.  (Ed.’s note: Nowhere has Sullivan made this claim.)  How, precisely, is that not equally bigoted, if (indeed) such an opinion is bigoted?

The thing is, the editorial staff happens to think the Founders intended for us to live in a country where we were free to think for ourselves, without morons like Andrew Sullivan misleading them about what the "religious test" clause of the Constitution actually says:

..."no religious Test shall ever be required as Qualification" for federal office Mitt Romney did not suggest that any candidate should be required to pass a litmus test before holding federal office.  He merely expressed his opinion that the nation would be better served by a candidate who believed in God.  That is his right as a citizen.  It is Andrew Sullivan's right to disagree with him.

It is not Andrew Sullivan's right to distort the truth by calling that a "religious test". It is not.  It is a personal opinion. Mitt Romney, as a candidate, does not have the ability to force any other candidate to submit to any so-called "religious test".  The very suggestion is ludicrous.”  (Go to http://www.villainouscompany.com/vcblog/ .)

Yes, this blogger is actually claiming that a voter believing that an atheist, or by logical extension, a Mormon, Catholic, Jew, or Muslim should not be president is NOT bigotry.  What WOULD be bigotry using this logic?  Basically nothing, since no reason or evidence is cited to support the argument – just “personal opinion.”  And of course, no personal opinion could be bigoted, could it?

Though the above blogger’s logic is fatally flawed, isn’t it possible that a person with an outlandish belief system should be viewed as unqualified for public office?

What is necessary, then, is a clarification of the attributes that one could reasonably use to disqualify one from public office.

If a Presidential candidate believed the world was flat, would that person be presidential material?  Answer: NO!

If a person believed, for whatever reason, that Catholics were the spawn of the devil, would that person be presidential material?  Answer: NO!

What then is the difference between the above blogger’s viewpoint and a reasoned viewpoint?

The difference is that mere religious affiliation (or non-affiliation) is NOT enough of a defining quality to judge a candidate, while at the same time it’s also not an excuse for a crazed belief system either, religious or non-religious.  Beliefs that are far outside the norm, indefensible and potentially dangerous to the citizenry should disqualify a potential candidate, but not merely a “label.”  Yet labels and/or other superficial attributes that do not reflect what a candidate would actually do in office, are what are most often used to make judgments; and the atheist label is still the worst label of all according to the pollsters.  What we should want in a candidate is a firm grasp on reality, and that includes views that are shaped by religion and views not shaped by religion.

It is clear, then, that Mr. Sullivan’s actions remain uncommon, and so, this writer wrote to him the following:

I saw (your article on Romney) on the Daily Dish and I'm sure you know how unique, as a religious believer, you are to defend atheists in any shape or manner.  I've also admired simply your willingness to debate Sam Harris online.

Thanks!  This will not be forgotten.  Gerry Dantone, Coordinator, Center for Inquiry Community of Long Island.”

Mr. Sullivan replied: “Freedom is indivisible.  Yours is mine.  Period.  Andrew.”

To which we will add: Amen!


Item: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified before the Senate that there is no express granting of “habeas corpus” in the United States, only a prohibition against suspending it.  Amazed Senators Arlen Spector and Patrick Leahy corrected the Attorney General, telling him that he not only was misinterpreting the Constitution but violating common sense.  (See the video @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mdpCABIuVY .)

Comment: In technical terms, Gonzales has lost his mind.  But he’s doing a heckuva job.

Item: (AP) Attorneys for Johnny Jessop, 18, asked a state judge to order Jeffs, head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, to tell Jessop how to find his 62-year-old mother, Elsie.  Jessop has not spoken to his mother in more than 18 months, attorney Roger Hoole said.

Jessop is among what may be dozens of so-called "Lost Boys" who say they were kicked out of the FLDS church in the past four years by Jeffs for being disobedient or because they were seen as competition to older men seeking young brides.

FLDS members consider themselves "fundamentalist Mormons," although the mainstream church disavows any connection.  They also consider Jeffs a prophet of God with dominion over their salvation.

Jeffs, 51, is in jail on two felony counts of rape as an accomplice for his suspected role in a 2001 marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her older cousin.  He has led the church since 2004, and dissidents describe him as a heartless ruler who has fractured dozens of families, sending fathers and husbands away and reassigning their wives and children to other men.

Jessop believes that Jeffs ordered his mother to cut ties with him and that the leader knows where Jessop can find his mother, Hoole said.

Comment: Now the FLDS are loyal to Mormon founder Joseph Smith’s vision of the religion, while the mainstream group has conveniently had “revelations” changing sexist or racist church policies at the most opportune moments.  Either way, you would think that someone would have many questions about the veracity, integrity and the honesty of the various forms of Mormonism.  Yet 72% of persons would say they would vote for a qualified Mormon for Public Office, and only 45% would vote for a qualified theist.  Go figure!

Item: (Time) On Aug. 31, 2005, a stampede among Shi'ite pilgrims on a bridge over the Tigris River in Baghdad led to hundreds jumping into the water in panic.  Several young men in Adhamiya, the Sunni neighborhood on the eastern bank, dived in to help.  One of them, Othman al-Obeidi, 25, rescued six people before his limbs gave out from exhaustion and he himself drowned.  Nearly 1,000 pilgrims died that afternoon, but community leaders in the Shi'ite district of Khadamiya, on the western bank, lauded the "martyrdom" of al-Obeidi and the bravery of his friends.

Eighteen months on, one of the men who jumped into the river to help the Shi'ites says al-Obeidi "wasted his life for those animals."  Hamza Muslawi refuses to talk about how many he himself saved, saying it fills him with shame.  "If I see a Shi'ite child about to drown in the Tigris now," says the carpenter, "I will not reach my hand out to save him."  In Khadamiya, too, the narrative about Aug. 31 has changed.  Karrar Hussein, 28, was crossing the bridge when the stampede began.  Ask him about al-Obeidi, and his cheerful demeanor quickly turns sour.  "That is a myth," hisses the cell-phone salesman.  "That person never existed at all.  He was invented by the Sunnis to make them look good."  Rather than jumping in to help, he claims, the people of Adhamiya laughed and cheered as Shi'ites drowned.

"The air has become poisoned [by sectarianism], and we have all been breathing it," says Abbas Fadhil, a Baghdad physician.  "And so now everybody is talking the same language, whether they are educated or illiterate, secular or religious, violent or not."

For those who follow Iraq from afar, the daily stories of sectarian slaughter are perplexing.  Why are the Shi'ites and Sunnis fighting?  Why now?

It is the product of centuries of social, political and economic inequality, imposed by repression and prejudice and frequently reinforced by bloodshed.  The hatred is not principally about religion. Sunnis and Shi'ites may disagree on some matters of dogma and some details of Islam's early history, but these differences are small--they agree on most of the important tenets of the faith, like the infallibility of the Koran, and they venerate the Prophet Muhammad.

"What binds them is not religion but common historical experience: Shi'ites see themselves as the oppressed, and they see Sunnis as the oppressors."

Comment: It is incredible that religion still receives a free pass when it is so obviously at the root of a particular problem.  Perhaps Iraqis would find some other way to identify each other, but the fact is they don’t: religion is the defining difference that determines whether you hate someone else or not, period.  And with that difference defined, it becomes moral to inflict nearly any moral atrocity on the other.

Why now?  Iraqis, like most other people, prefer privilege to justice; most religions and the various sects of Islam in particular preaches that non-believers are inferior or less moral, thereby justifying the fight for privilege.  With Saddam Hussein out of the picture, sectarian religious violence has overpowered any desire for freedom, justice and liberty.  This should not have come as a shock to anyone.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Item: Naomi Ragen, a 57 year old grandmother and author, was accosted on a public Jerusalem bus in Israel by a man who demanded her seat.  (Go to http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?c=JPArticle&cid=1167467807683&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull .)

This took place last summer in Jerusalem on a bus route that is the only service available not only to the Jewish Haredi sect, but also secular bus riders as well.  Yes, as a concession to this fundamentalist sect, the state of Israel has sanctioned segregation and second class citizenship for women on 30 bus lines!  Ms. Ragen has decided to take the laws allowing this humiliating treatment to court.

Comment: Now this kind of discrimination is not uncommon in that part of the world, but Israel was supposed to be an exception.  Unfortunately fundamentalism of any stripe often leads to this kind of degrading of humanity in favor of honoring primitive dogmas that have long outlived any usefulness or justification.

Liberal believers are little help in matters such as this unless they are in denial.  Clearly most scripture seems to endorse a paternalistic society – after all, men wrote most scripture as far as anyone can tell, with just a few possible exceptions such as the Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles.  And what they did write seems to give men a favored position – what a shock!

To deny the overall intent and in fact, the overall acceptance of this intent for many believers through the centuries is to be in denial about what the religion meant to those who created and first practiced the religion.  The writers of scripture generally were not feminists, or supporters of equal rights for women, and indeed the women of those times did not have equal rights with men.  For a liberal believer to read some kind of feminism into scripture now is less honest than the interpretation by an admitted sexist fundamentalist.

So what are the choices available to a liberal believer?  The one reasonable choice is the one they refuse to make; that is the rejection of any divine authorship.  By refusing to reject the divinity of scripture, they thereby cede the remaining intellectual argument to fundamentalists who then interpret scripture in the literal manner as it had been interpreted through the centuries.

Item: (Times Online) The NBA season entered its All Star weekend in Las Vegas with the recent revelation by retired British player John Amaechi that he is gay still resonating around the league.

Just as the issue seemed to be dissipating, former All Star guard Tim Hardaway came out with the most vitriolic anti-gay statements yet made on the topic, bringing Amaechi and the subject of gay players in professional sports, very much back to the fore.

"You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known.  I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people," Hardaway said in a radio interview.  "I'm homophobic.  I don't like it.  It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States.

"First of all, I wouldn't want him on my team.  And second of all, if he was on my team, I would, you know, really distance myself from him because, uh, I don't think that is right.  I don't think he should be in the locker room while we are in the locker room.

"Something has to give.  If you have 12 other ballplayers in your locker room that's upset and can't concentrate and always worried about him in the locker room or on the court or whatever, it's going to be hard for your team-mates to win and accept him as a teammate."

Comment: The incredibly bigoted comments by Tim Hardaway need a closer examination, particularly the following: "You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known.  I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people… I'm homophobic.  I don't like it.  It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States.

Exactly what does he want?  For all homosexuals to be imprisoned or exterminated?

The next thing that comes to mind is “What is the source of this hatred?”  At this time, there are no answers.



Item: (Christian Science Monitor) In the aftermath of a bombing that killed over 200 Shiites in Sadr City, Baghdad, many there blame US forces for this attack and others, and point to the US helicopter strike that engaged a Sadr City mortar position.  The search for a US military linguist of Iraqi descent, kidnapped more than a month ago and thought to be in Sadr City, has deepened anti-US feeling.

"I think the Americans cooperate with the Sunnis for these attacks.  When we try to counter-attack, the Americans stop us," says Abu Khadhim. "The Americans want Sadr City attacked, and our sons dead, and everyone to stay silent."

Comment: Exactly which side are we supporting or fighting and dying for in Iraq?  Is it the majority Shiite population who Saddam Hussein tormented over the years?

Answer: Well not exactly since they hate us and are aligning themselves with U.S. enemy #1, Iran.

Are we in favor of the minority Sunnis?

Answer: No, since they were in power before we invaded and include many Ba’athists who supported Hussein and make up the “insurgency.”  This is unfortunate since they are more secular and not about to align with Iran.

Do we favor the foreign fighters in Al Qaeda?

Answer: Are you crazy?

So exactly what constituency are we supporting?

Answer: There truly is no organized group that has even a minute chance of taking power that would be friendly to the U.S., not cozy up to Iran, not be anti-Semitic (we’re not talking simply pro-Palestinian rights here, we’re talking actual bigotry), democratic and freedom loving.

There is no potential outcome that we could be happy with – only one disaster after another.

If Sunnis make up the insurgency and many Shiites believe that we’re siding with the Sunnis to kill Shiites, what good is our continuing presence?

If a majority of Iraqis believe it is OK to kill U.S. soldiers, what is the potential for an Iraq we could be happy with after this war?

Answer: No potential.

The future will answer one question basically: in which form or combination of forms will this disaster take its final shape: civil war, ethnic cleansing/genocide, tyranny/dictatorship, misery, poverty, theocracy, and/or a new regime that is unfriendly to the U.S. and/or friendly to our enemies?

Some choice!

News Item: (LA Times) Canada's first sextuplets, born more than a week ago, are facing an additional complication to the usual premature baby's struggle for survival: Their parents' religion forbids blood transfusions, a typical part of a preemie's treatment.

The six babies were born Jan. 5 and 6 in Vancouver, British Columbia, to parents who are Jehovah's Witnesses. Delivered at 25 weeks, more than halfway through the typical 40-week pregnancy, the four boys and two girls averaged 1.6 pounds and can rest in the palm of an average man's hand.  The survival rate for such births is about 80%...

Blood transfusions are a typical part of a preemie's treatment, experts say, because of their low blood volume and vulnerability to anemia.  They also must have their blood drawn repeatedly for tests.

Although Jehovah's Witnesses can receive almost any medical intervention, including fertility treatments, organ transplants and vaccinations, the religion's interpretation of the Bible prohibits blood transfusions.

A passage in the Bible cited as the basis for the prohibition is from Leviticus:

"And you must not eat any blood in any places where you dwell, whether that of fowl or that of beast. Any soul who eats any blood, that soul must be cut off from his people."

The prohibition probably was meant to prevent the contamination of water supplies, wrote religious scholar Michael Duggan of St. Mary's University College in Calgary, Alberta. But the religion, which uses 1st century Christianity as its model, has interpreted it literally to forbid the "consumption" or spilling of blood.

Mark Ruge, spokesman for the Jehovah's Witnesses in Canada, said, "It mentions in the Bible to abstain from blood, and so we follow that.  We want the best for the children, but without blood."

When Lawrence Hughes, 56, was a Jehovah's Witness, he faced a similar problem. In 2002, his 16-year-old daughter, Bethany, needed blood transfusions as part of her treatment for leukemia.  His wife, daughter and the Jehovah's Witnesses community in Calgary opposed the transfusions.  After much struggle, he signed the consent forms, and was cut off from his family and congregation.

After Bethany had 38 transfusions, her mother took her into hiding, and the girl eventually died.  Hughes is suing the Jehovah's Witnesses, claiming the lawyers who fought the forced treatments did not act in his daughter's best interests.

Comment: Yes, they want the best for their children, unless it conflicts with their supernatural beliefs, and in that case, the children can rot.

Here is somethingRichard Dawkins would be outraged about: society generally considering these newborns as being “Jehovah Witnesses” to the point of them being allowed to be used as human sacrifice.  They are not Jehovah Witnesses; they are merely children of Jehovah Witnesses.

Item: BAGHDAD, Iraq ( AP, Jan. 29) -- Iraqi officials said Monday that U.S.-backed Iraqi troops had targeted a religious cult called "Soldiers of Heaven" in a weekend battle that left 200 fighters dead, including the group's leader, near the Shiite holy city of Najaf.  A military commander said hundreds of gunmen planned to disguise themselves as pilgrims and kill clerics on the holiest day of the Shiite calendar.

The Iraqi government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, said the raid on Sunday in date-palm orchards on the city's outskirts was aimed against a group called the Jund al-Samaa, or Soldiers of Heaven, which appeared to have had links to Saddam Hussein loyalists and foreign fighters.  Officials said the cult was hoping the violence it planned would force the return of the "hidden imam," a 9th-century Shiite saint who Shiites believe will come again to bring peace and justice to the world.

Provincial Gov. Assad Sultan Abu Kilel said the insurgents had planned to attack Shiite pilgrims and senior clerics in Najaf during ceremonies marking Ashoura, the holiest day in the Shiite calendar commemorating the 7th-century death of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.  The celebration culminates Tuesday in huge public processions in Najaf, Karbala and other Shiite cities.

Al-Ghanemi said 600 to 700 gunmen had planned to disguise themselves as pilgrims and attack Najaf on Tuesday,the day they believed that the Imam Mahdi, or the "hidden imam," would reappear.  He said leading Shiite ayatollahs consider such fringe elements as heretics.

Their aim was to kill as many leading clerics as possible, al-Ghanemi said.

Comment: Imagine if these religious extremists had been successful – and had killed Ayatollah Sistani, a relatively “moderate” cleric highly revered in the Iraqi Shiite community?  If there were any semblance of restraint on the part of the warring parties before, it would be entirely absent afterwards.  Such is the thin line between the chaos and disaster we have right now, and perhaps religious genocide and the worst policy blunder in American history.

Item: (AP) A Saudi Arabian judge sentenced 20 foreigners to receive lashes and spend several months in prison after convicting them of attending a party where alcohol was served and men and women danced, a newspaper reported Sunday.

The defendants were among 433 foreigners, including some 240 women, arrested by the kingdom's religious police for attending the party in Jiddah, the state-guided newspaper Okaz said.  It did not identify the foreigners, give their nationalities or say when the party took place.  The prosecutor general charged the 20 with "drinking, arranging for impudent party, mixed dancing and shooting a video for the party."

The religious police, a force resented by many Saudis for interfering in personal lives, enjoys wide powers. Its officers roam malls, markets, universities and other public places looking for such infractions as unrelated men and women mingling, men skipping Islam's five daily prayers and women with strands of hair showing from under their veil.

Comment: But of course, as apologists love to say, there is no compulsion in Islam.

Item: A startling new discovery has been made by the Rev. Tim Ralph, senior pastor for New Covenant Fellowship in Larkspur, who told the Denver Post that Rev. Ted Haggard has discovered he’s “completely heterosexual… That is something he discovered.  It was the acting-out situations where things took place.  It wasn’t a constant thing.”

Rev. Ralph was part of a four-man board of overseers who dismissed Haggard from New Life Church, the 14,000-member northern Colorado Springs church Haggard founded 22 years ago, for sexual misconduct and for purchasing crystal meth.

The Denver Post reported that Ralph said Haggard believed he discovered his heterosexuality during an intensive three-week spiritual restoration process in Phoenix.

Comment: Apparently this process seems to be one where a person can return to God’s good graces and avoid an eternal roasting in Hell.

It was not reported on whether Haggard “discovered” his lost sobriety during that three week period as well.

In the past it was not known that one could lose one’s sexual orientation in a manner such as one might lose one’s keys, and then find it again.

A similar occurrence may have once happened to actress Anne Heche, a former girlfriend of comedienne Ellen DeGeneres, but curiously she was not accorded the same amount of sympathy from the Religious Right as Rev. Haggard, even though it appears that she too, eventually found her lost heterosexuality.

In the future Evangelicals may be advised to tightly tape or otherwise attach their heterosexuality to themselves so that they do not accidentally lose or misplace it since the consequences are so disastrous.



Item: (AP, HOUSTON (Nov. 10, 2006) Michael Lord and Gary Lackey, a gay couple requesting bids for a landscaping job at their new house, received a polite - and, well, honest - e-mail from Sabrina Farber, a co-owner of Garden Guy: "I need to tell you that we cannot meet with you because we choose not to work for homosexuals."

Stunned, Lackey forwarded the e-mail to 200 friends, asking them not to patronize Garden Guy and urging them to pass the word on to friends and family.  "I'm still shocked by the ignorance that exists in today's society," Lackey said in his e-mail.  And word was indeed passed on - as fast as the Web could carry it.

Within days, the e-mail had been forwarded to thousands of people around the world, and quickly became the subject of heated and often ugly debates on the Internet.  Because of the furor, a professional association of landscapers created a nondiscrimination policy.

But Farber said she and her husband have also gotten hundreds of calls and messages offering encouragement and have been touched by that.  "We just cried.  We have been through so much," Farber said.  "We become accidental crusaders for Christ."

Comment: Yes, you read it here: Not cutting the grass for gay couples is “crusading for Christ.”  That makesit ok.

Item: (AP) Sir Elton John thinks all religions should be banned because they turn people into "really hateful lemmings... I would ban religion completely, even though there are some wonderful things about it," the British singer said in an interview with the Observer newspaper on Sunday.  "Religion has always tried to turn hatred toward gay people.  It turns people into hateful lemmings and it is not really compassionate."  The singer, who tied the knot with long-term partner David Furnish in a civil ceremony last year, said he admired the teachings of Jesus Christ, but disliked religious bodies.  "The reality is that organized religion doesn't seem to work," he added.

The 59-year-old singer, who has sold an estimated 200 million records, is no stranger to controversy.  In 2000, he hit out at the "ignorance" of the Roman Catholic Church after a priest said homosexuals were engaged in "a lifestyle that can never respond to the deepest longings of the human heart."  Since then he has received blanket media coverage for a series of high-profile outbursts.

Comment: As bad as many forms of religion are, you cannot outlaw religion; freedom of the mind to believe in even the most ridiculous things, including Zeus, Poseiden, Xenu, Virgin births, revelations from a god, Vishnu, raising the dead, a world-wide flood, a 6 thousand year old earth, and so on, is the most fundamental right of all human rights.

However, this freedom allows for another thing which is what Elton John should concentrate on: freedom to CRITICIZE orthodoxy.  This is the freedom that is the typically FIRST victim of religious intolerance.

Throughout history religious dissent has rarely been tolerated.  People cannot bear to hear anyone question their superstitious beliefs yet is it 100% certain that the majority of persons on earth have completely wrong beliefs since no one religion has more than 50% of the world as followers.  Even if the most popular religion were true, then most people are still wrong.  How will anyone learn what is true if criticism is not allowed?

Elton John has a right to be frustrated: his human rights are often directly threatened by religion.  Why should he have anything nice to say about it?  Why should Jews have something nice to say about Nazism?  There is no reason for them to be nice about beliefs that either want them dead (Christian Reconstructionists and other religions call for the death penalty for gays as does scripture) or have their rights restricted; but freedom of the mind exists to protect these unpopular beliefs while at the same time preventing governments from imposing religious laws on the unwilling.

If only the religious and Elton John understood this as well.

Item: In March 2006, 32-year-old Mary Winkler, a soft-spoken preacher's wife, was charged with the murder of husband Matt, a Church of Christ minister in the small town of Selmer, Tenn.  Shocked parishioners discovered Matt's bloodied body, riddled with a blast of bird shot, in the home the couple shared with their three daughters.  When Winkler was questioned the day after the shooting, authorities said she confessed to the crime, saying she had snapped after years of abuse... What's striking to many outsiders is how accepting and supportive the majority of the community has been to Winkler.  That sense of forgiveness, community members say, stems from the town's Christian roots and from its tendency to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Comment: Oh what baloney!  This “tendency” to give people the “benefit of the doubt” would quickly disappear if the person receiving this “benefit” wasn’t a publicly pious Christian.  If this was a murder case involving two atheists, forgiveness might be the last thing on anyone’s minds.  But if you claim to be a Christian, all can be forgiven.

This is just a case of people trying to make themselves feel better about a belief system that, in this case, failed utterly to deliver the goods promised.