Saturday, March 27, 2010

Democracy and Ignorance

A Harris Interactive Poll just released is frightening and sobering, which is truly an understatement. The Poll reveals that large portions of the American voting public have little grasp of some pretty unchallenged facts while holding some delusional opinions, to put it mildly.

The Poll asked some hot-wire questions: "... here are some things people have said about President Obama. Please indicate for each whether you believe it is true or false." You can find all the questions and a breakdown of the responses by political affiliation and education here:

It apparently is pointless to prove how nuts some of these beliefs are since they have been proven false many times over, but since these beliefs are easily disputed, here we go again.

The Obama is a foreigner, Muslim, not legally president stuff which can be shown to be objectively false has been well covered at and

The other items in the poll are, more or less, opinions. Is Obama a racist, Wall Street catering socialist(!) who wants to take our guns and who wants the terrorists to win?

Take the craziest of the above ideas: let's say that Obama "wants the terrorists to win" is the craziest idea; why on earth would he want this? What possible motive could a US president have in wanting terrorists to win against his own country?

Could it be that Obama is a Muslim and, of course, all Muslims want the terrorists to win? This is simply another certifiably nutty idea besides being totally untrue in its depiction of Obama as a Muslim. In fact, I would bet that the majority of those who believe that Obama is a Muslim think that being a Muslim means being a member of a race, such as Caucasian, or that it's a nationality, such as Canadian. It is just ignorance, stupidity and arrogance.

Add to this nonsense the impossible to ignore real world escalation of American efforts by the Obama administration in Afghanistan to FIGHT THE TERRORISTS, then it becomes simply undeniable that this opinion is just crazy.

Yet 23% of Republicans believe that Obama wants the terrorists to win! 57% of Republicans, versus 15% of Democrats think Obama is a Muslim! In my humble opinion, it is obviously fine to take issue with many of Obama's policies. However to believe that Barack Obama (or George W Bush before him) wants bad things to happen to the country is idiotic. It is possible that presidential policies can lead to American misery, and they have, but even W did not ruin our country on purpose!

But the cherry on top of American and particularly right-wing insanity is the belief of 24% of Republicans and conservatives that Obama may be the anti-Christ. This indicates a belief that there actually could be an anti-Christ, which is crazy enough, but it also supports a belief that, conveniently, their current political opponent is equivalent to the greatest evil of all time. What could be more evil than the anti-Christ?

I'm sure that this kind of idiocy is not confined to the right wing; many left wingers shared extreme beliefs about President Bush and his administration, including the nonsense that he somehow allowed or planned the 9/11 attacks as opposed to merely being incompetent or ignorant. But it would seem that the left wing nuttiness was truly confined to the extremes. 24% of Republicans believe that Obama is the anti-Christ and 57% think he's a Muslim and 45% think he's not legally the president. This is no fringe movement - if this Harris Poll is accurate (it would be good to review their methodology which was not perfect but may not have affected the results) insanity is now a component of mainstream Republicanism.

Where is this all coming from? What is the cause of the outright rejection of obvious facts or the formulation of ridiculous and illogical conclusions?

Could it be the mainstream and acceptable indoctrination of the average person into believing the planet is about 6,000 years old, that the universe is governed by an invisible man somewhere up in the sky and that death is not the end for us.

Maybe this indoctrination works not only to get us to believe the impossible, but to disbelieve the obvious.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Pope and Child Abuse

It may appear that I have some special animus towards the Catholic Church but I have no particular grudge with them. I was raised a Catholic but never experienced any abuse. My experience with them was ordinary and mundane. They are simply the biggest religious institution in the world and therefore the biggest and easiest target. And irrationality is a staple of any faith-held system of belief or dogma which often leads to human misery. Hence the numerous comments.

Right now the Church is experiencing in various European countries the same scandal that has rocked the US - that of pedophile priests and the inevitable coverup by the Church hierarchy.

The Pope apologized in that special papal manner: The Pope said Irish bishops "failed, at times, grievously," and "serious mistakes were made" when confronted with clerical sexual abuse. He called the abuse, which was outlined in devastating detail in two investigations released last year in Ireland, "sinful and criminal." (Go to .)

But the Pope did not admit that the Church hierarchy had any culpability; the organized and papally directed obfuscation remained off limits and not apologized for. What else did anyone expect?

But the Pope went further; The Pope cited the country's long history of "persecution" and "recent decades of secularization" as some of the many cultural and societal factors that left Irish Catholics more vulnerable to "the disturbing problem of child sexual abuse."

So it was "secularization" that caused priests to rape children and for their superiors to cover it up!

It could not have been Church policy, could it?

From the Guardian: "Pope Benedict XVI faced claims last night he had 'obstructed justice' after it emerged he issued an order ensuring the church's investigations into child sex abuse claims be carried out in secret.

The order was made in a confidential letter, obtained by The Observer, which was sent to every Catholic bishop in May 2001.

It asserted the church's right to hold its inquiries behind closed doors and keep the evidence confidential for up to 10 years after the victims reached adulthood. The letter was signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was elected as John Paul II's successor last week."
(Go to .)

The Pope is, in my opinion, a liar and, in my opinion, has been an active enabler of the sexual abuse of children.

ADDENDUM: 3 27 2010: (From AOL News)-- "Just days after Pope Benedict XVI chastised Irish bishops for covering up clerical sexual abuse in Ireland, new documents suggest he did nothing to discipline a Wisconsin priest he knew had molested scores of deaf boys -- and may have blocked a church trial in the case." (Go to .)

While the media struggles to admit the obvious, which is the Pope has covered up child rape in the past, these stories just seem to keep multiplying.

I'm shocked.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Pope's Silence: Fundamentalists Running Wild

You know, I really wish that it wasn't necessary to write stuff like this. It is not a pleasant task to dwell on how immoral the world's largest religious denomination's hierarchy is, while at the same time noticing that other denominations and religions are, well, even worse!

Here's how the Catholic News Agency described a recent meeting of Pope Benedict and Ugandan Bishops at the Vatican in early March 2010: "Pope Benedict XVI met with the bishops of Uganda this morning in the Vatican on the occasion of their “ad Limina” visit to the Holy See. He urged them to be strong in renewing evangelization in the east African country and resisting "the seduction of a materialistic culture of individualism.'"

By "materialistic" culture, the Pope does NOT actually mean money or a possession-centered culture; as we all can see, the religious love money as much or more than the rest of us. How much money does the Vatican have, anyway? What the Pope actually means by a materialistic culture is one that is reality-based and not supernaturalism-based.

Great advice, huh? Who needs reality? Who needs a morality based on whether a behavior makes the world a better place? Not the Pope, apparently. He thinks we should just obey him since he has the direct line to God, like so many others.

And no, this is not the specific point of this little article. There is quite a miserable thing going on right now in Uganda that the Pope made no mention of in his meeting with the Ugandans.

From the AFP: Hundreds of anti-AIDS campaigners on Monday urged Ugandan lawmakers to reject a proposed anti-gay law calling for tough penalties against homosexuality, including the death penalty.

Around 400 activists presented parliament speaker Edward Ssekandi with a petition, criticising the bill as a violation of Uganda's constitution... But the parliament speaker said the bill had to undergo the due process...

The bill, which has sparked widespread international condemnation, would criminalise public discussion of homosexuality and could penalise an individual who knowingly rents property to a homosexual. It also calls for the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality", in cases of rape of a minor by a person of the same sex, or where one partner carries the virus that can cause AIDS (Ed.'s note: The law does not equally apply to heterosexuals). Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda, punishable by life imprisonment in some instances.

So while the bill to seriously criminalize homosexuality is working its way through the Ugandan government, the Pope chose to say nothing about it during his visit with the Ugandan Bishops.


Could it be that the Pope thought that opposing the law might somehow lose the Church some followers in Uganda or lessen the Church's influence with the government? We know from past actions that he is not afraid to interfere with the legislative process in various counties. In the past he's called gay parenting "child abuse." He opposes efforts to legalize gay marriage around the world. He's not usually reticent on such important matters.

Actually, the reason does not matter. What matters is that the Pope had a chance to do something good in the "materialistic" real world but chose instead to only address irrelevant spiritual concerns.

And here is the kicker: The Pope's crime is only silence; by speaking out, he might actually have helped some poor soul.

Other religious denominations however, such as fundamentalist Protestants and Muslims, are actually promoting the law that could imprison or kill gays. They are not fringe believers; they are in the Ugandan mainstream politically and are supported by a number of American Christian fundamentalist preachers and politicians too. While the American supporters are not directly promoting the "kill the gays" law, they are also not denouncing and disowning their protege's from Uganda.

Once upon a time, the US supported religious fanatics in Afghanistan who opposed the USSR. That turned out badly. Now we are supporting Christian fanatics in Uganda and the ugliness has already begun.

We never learn.

The Pope's silence is bad; and that's religion's best face on the subject. What a disgrace.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What is Love?

"You say you're supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense. I don't have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist. I can love the people who hold false opinions but I don't have to be nice to them." Pat Robertson, The 700 Club, January 14, 1991

The above statement by Pat Robertson is perhaps the most illuminating statement I have ever heard or read. Seriously! This insipid statement by Mr. Robertson really got me thinking, and ultimately enlightened me!

Now in my humble opinion, Mr. Robertson, despite being a self-made billionaire and a former "credible" presidential candidate, is unbelievably stupid. As an aside, and before I get to the point, these two factoids about Mr. Robertson do not in any way shatter my understanding of the way the world works; idiots can become rich, either by luck or excessive risk taking which (luckily) then pays off; and in certain political situations and political parties, it's not what you know and what you can do that matters, it's what you say you believe. Pat Robertson fits nicely into such an understanding of the world.

But to the point; Mr Robertson's above utterance has profound implications even if he is unaware of them. What is love to someone like Pat Robertson? What is love to all of his millions of followers who have, basically, made him impossibly wealthy and powerful? Can you love someone and NOT be nice to them? Can you forgive someone while wanting them punished or harmed? Can you repent without making things right?

Can God love a person he has condemned to an eternity of misery?

The majority of persons on Earth are probably in the Pat Robertson camp on this and related questions, which is to say that they either haven't given this any thought or that their thoughts are incoherent.

Consider the Religious Right's typical support for the death penalty; whether it should or should not be instituted is not the question here. The real question is whether those religious persons who are "sinners" themselves (so they say) and who claim to follow a God who supposedly loves all of us should support killing a fellow sinner who happened to break a law. What about the condemned opportunity to repent and hence, be forgiven and avoid eternal damnation? Being executed could deprive a person of the chance to "be saved." Who needs this kind of "love"? Executions that could deprive a person of a chance to repent should not happen at the hands of a loving God or his followers, should it?

It does happen, however, and with a vengeance. The Religious Right are typically the staunchest supporters in society of the death penalty. And at the same time, many Religious Right types (such as ex-Governor Huckabee) seem to love those criminals who have repented and "found" God - even though these "saved" criminals are just as apt as to return to crime as those who remained "unsaved". This endless set of contradictions makes no sense, of course.

Alright: the Religious Right is both eager to kill sinners depriving them of their chance to be saved and at the same time loves sinners who did get saved before they died or were executed. Is this nuttiness confined to the death penalty? Do religious zealots believe in harming others generally in the name of God while doing so in the name of love?

How many religions promote harm to sinners, unbelievers and heretics and how many of the followers then actually do so?

From the Koran:
Sura 33: 65.
ALLAH has, surely, cursed the disbelievers, and has prepared for them a blazing fire,
33: 66. Wherein they will abide forever. They will find therein no friend, nor helper.
33: 67. On the day when their faces are turned over into the fire they will say, `O, would that we had obeyed ALLAH and obeyed the Messenger
33: 68. And they will say, `Our Lord, we obeyed our chiefs and our great ones and they led us astray from the way,
33: 69. `Our Lord, give them double punishment and curse them with a mighty curse.

Sura 5: 52.
O ye who believe ! take not the Jews and the Christians for friends. They are friends of each other. And whoso among you takes them for friends is indeed one of them. Verily ALLAH guides not the unjust people.

Now the above Koranic citation should not allow for any smugness on the part of Christian America. It was in California where many Barack Obama supporters helped pass a proposition last year making gay marriage illegal. The Pat Robertson "logic" was in full command of the situation even if Obama voters were in the majority. The problem was that a "loving" God demands that his "loving" followers not be "nice" to a certain class of fellow "sinners": homosexuals.

It is a sad thing to conclude but it's obvious: most people have a worthless definition or concept of love. It would then follow that the concepts of "forgiveness", "repentance" and so on, are also poorly conceived as well. I said that Pat Robertson's idiotic statement had profound implications...

Love should compel a person to be "nice" to the beloved. Love should preclude harming others when no just cause is at stake. A God cannot simultaneously love humans and create a hell for many of them. He certainly is a monster if some persons are pre-destined somehow to their hellish fate or if, as an omniscient being, a God knows, even before they are born, that they will spend an short time alive and the balance of their existence in hell.

Love may indeed be a "feeling" that many persons claim to experience; but so what? If I claim to love someone and then harm them, does it matter if I "loved" them or "hated" them? Answer: NO!

So "What is love?"

To a humanist who judges behaviors by their consequences, a loving behavior is a behavior that leads to the well being of those to whom this behavior is directed. This definition does not preclude the idea of "justice" which requires that those persons who have caused harm must answer for their transgressions in a way that most benefits the society that was harmed.

A loving behavior is not mere romance or the mere appearance or claims of love. Love requires loving actions. Love is being honest while diplomatic and courteous; love is being responsible and courageous; love is being kind, reliable and loyal.

Love is not a mere gesture; it is a commitment to a way of living. Yes, a good, useful love is difficult to express!

The idea that love is a mode of behavior is very humanistic since it is consequentialist. It is not religious or dogmatic since the facts now matter; it now matters whether a person's love made the world a better place or not. Whether a God was "pleased" or not is irrelevant. With humanist love, one MUST be "nice" to the beloved.

When Judges Give Religion "Respect"

News Item: 1/12/2010 A Kansas judge's decision to allow a confessed killer (Scott Roeder) to argue that he believes the slaying of one of the nation's few late-term abortion providers was a justified act aimed at saving unborn children has upended what most expected to be an open-and-shut first-degree murder case.

Prosecutors have challenged the ruling that allows Scott Roeder to tell a jury that the fatal shooting of Wichita doctor George Tiller was voluntary manslaughter. A Tuesday hearing is scheduled to allow Roeder's defense attorneys to respond.

Some abortion opponents were pleasantly stunned and eager to watch Roeder plead his case. Tiller's colleagues and abortion rights advocates were outraged and feared the court's actions give a more than tacit approval to further acts of violence.

"This judge has basically announced a death sentence for all of us who help women," said Dr. Warren Hern of Boulder, Colo., a longtime friend of Tiller who also performs late-term abortions. "That is the effect of the ruling."
Go to .

Think about the implications of this ruling: murder can be a life sentence while voluntary manslaughter can be 5 years in prison. And it all depends on "belief".

According to reports, "Kansas law defines voluntary manslaughter as "an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force." A conviction could bring a prison sentence closer to five years, instead of a life term for first-degree murder."

If this ruling by the judge is sustained, then every politically or religiously motivated murder in Kansas can then be argued as "voluntary manslaughter." If a terrorist kills an infidel, didn't he have an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force?

What if a citizen unreasonably but sincerely believed that the judge in this case should be killed? Would the judge say that was only voluntary manslaughter?

Make no mistake: the judge did not make a ruling based on precedence; he made a ruling based on his respect for religious belief. I'd bet that this defense has never been allowed when self-defense was not remotely involved (the murdered doctor was in his church at the time of the killing). What else could motivate the judge to declare open season on anyone as long as someone else has an unreasonable yet "sincere" belief that their murder is justified!

Here's my advice; don't make anyone mad in Kansas; it's only 5 years in prison if they shoot you.

UPDATE: Scott Roeder was convicted by the jury of first degree murder and in only 37 minutes no less. The judge, after hearing Mr Roeder on the witness stand decided to disallow the possibility of a voluntary manslaughter defense since abortion is legal and Dr. Tiller was not an imminent threat to anyone.

Huh? Wasn't this always and obviously known to be true all along?

Then why did the judge decide to allow the possibility of this defense at first?

The suspicion is the judge was just correcting an earlier error. Thankfully, murder remains illegal in Kansas.