“An Atheist Muslim’s Perspective” on Islamophobia

Wonderful piece by Ali A. Rizvi, who notes that its writing could get him killed in his home country and many other Islamic states. (What’s an atheist Muslim, you ask? Ali explains “I’m not a believer, but I love Eid, the feasts of Ramadan, and my Muslim family and friends.”)

For the longest time, Arabs and Muslims have rightly complained that labeling them anti-Semitic for legitimate criticism of Israeli policy was the Israeli government’s ploy to shield itself from accountability. Today, Muslims (along with liberal apologist allies like Greenwald) are doing the same thing with their generously broad use of the “Islamophobia” label against the likes of Dawkins and Harris, both of whom have spoken against all religions equally, even if they contend (rightly so) that Islam poses a unique threat at this time because of its greatly increased influence on (and integration into) world politics, as Christianity had for centuries in Europe.

Read it here. (Mirror here if the original 404s.)

Religion, Politics, and the Catholic Church in 2012

This is just going to be a quick post. The New York Times recently published a piece in the wake of the 2012 US Presidential Election entitled Christian Right Failed to Sway Voters on Issues. It’s a worthwhile read. A few things jumped out at me.

For one, this quote:

“I think good Catholics can be found across the political spectrum,” Bishop Soto said, “but I do think they wrestle with what the church teaches.”

Yep, we have seen this before, when I wrote Being Catholic, Believing Whatever. The idea of a Catholic who believes and acts just as the Catholic church wants is not an accurate one.

Despite this, Mr. Obama retained the Catholic vote, 50 to 48 percent, according to exit polls, although his support slipped from four years ago.

That’s a really weak margin.

In a development that highlighted the diversity within the Catholic Church, the “Nuns on the Bus” drove through the Midwest warning that the budget proposed by Representative Paul D. Ryan, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, would cut the social safety net.

That’s the first I heard of it, but good for those nuns. Lately Catholic nuns have been drawing some ire from the Vatican for taking positions different than the old Italian dudes’. It’s exciting, really; it would be a long time if we had for wait for the funny hats to move the Church forward. Thankfully, every couple hundred years, someone forces the issue.

The younger generation is even less religious: about one-third of Americans ages 18 to 22 say they are either atheists, agnostics or nothing in particular.


Women’s Suffrage and the Catholic Church

★ Fun fact: With Saudi Arabia giving women a vote in 2015, Vatican City will be the only nation where only men vote. @mr_atheist on Twitter

It’s true. According to Wikipedia, there are only three countries that do not let men and women vote equally.

  1. Lebanon requires women to show proof of elementary education before voting, unlike men; men are required to participate in elections.
  2. Saudi Arabia does not allow women to vote, but plans to let them do so in 2015 (this is the latest in a series of delays).
  3. Vatican City (which is its own country, geographically but not legally within Italy) only permits Cardinals to vote. As women are not allowed priesthood, much less allowed to be bishops or Cardinals, they’re out of luck, denied a vote.

There you have it. Pending changes in plans, come 2015, Vatican City will be the only country on planet Earth that only allows men to vote.

So Yes, That Is Why

Women are not allowed to wear bikinis in public in the Vatican. Paper burqas — I mean, paper clothes with sufficient coverage — are available for purchase on the streets.

Do Female Catholics Care?

A tangent, if you will.

Restricting the priesthood to men is an old tradition. Yet the question of gender and priesthood has been discussed by the Papacy at least as recently as 1994, when Pope John Paul II officially declared the Church does not have the authority to ordain women.

Given enough political pressure, these things can change. Consider the recent revocation of the dogma of limbo, for example (the idea of a baby-hell for infants who died without baptism, dropped in, what, 2009?).

So I wondered, do women in the Catholic Church care about their denial of priesthood?

I am not aware of any poll data on parishioners in general. If you are, do please contact me.

But I am encouraged to see some sites cropping up to further the cause.

On the flip side, however, consider Ann Widdecombe, a Catholic, female member of British parliament. When asked in a fantastic Intelligence Squared debate (opposite the brilliant Messrs. Fry and Hitchens; viewable on YouTube) if it bothered her that she was permitted a role in government but not her own Church, her reaction was, to me, unbelievable. She seemed almost shocked or affronted by the question. Quoted below (thanks to a transcript; PDF here).

Zeinab Badawi: Ann Widdecombe, one specific question to you, why not women priests in the Catholic church?

Ann Widdecombe: Well, no, the specific question was, why is it not alright for a woman to be a priest but it is for a woman to be an MP, that’s the specific question. And I have to say to you, that really does betray a vast ignorance. A Member of Parliament, male or female, does not stand in persona Christi at the point of consecration. But I don’t believe that it is any more possible for a woman to represent Christ at the point of consecration than for a man to be the Virgin Mary.

Um, I was raised Catholic. I understand that Mary required a uterus and other reproductive plumbing to, you know, give birth.

But somehow I missed the day in Sunday School they must have explained why a penis is required to consecrate the Host. You know, praying over the crackers to make ’em into bits and pieces of Christ.

How on Earth does one’s gender matter then?

But, whatever. That’s religion for you.

Poe’s Law, Atheist Humor, and “That” Tweet

Two days ago, we learned that Steve Jobs passed away.

Hero though he is, I’m not going to eulogize him. I mention it merely to provide context for the Westboro Baptist Church family member’s tweet:

Westboro will picket his funeral.He had a huge platform; gave God no glory & taught sin. MT @AP: Apple co-founder Steve Jobs has died at 56.

Dumb, yeah. Surprising, no. The interesting bit is coming up…

The above tweet was posted via an iPhone. Irony alert! When people started pointing out the hypocrisy, Margie Phelps countered:

http://bit.ly/mPXAPn via @manstuffjoe Rebels mad cuz I used iPhone to tell you Steve Jobs is in hell.God created iPhone for that purpose! 🙂

Yup. “Rebels mad cuz I used iPhone to tell you Steve Jobs is in hell. God created iPhone for that purpose!

I don’t need to tell you this is ridiculous, that Jobs’ company created the iPhone, etc.

What I would like to share is the eminent applicability of Poe’s Law.

Poe’s Law

Coined in a forum post, well-liked on Urban Dictionary, and even apparently the subject of academic research, Poe’s Law in the general form is:

> Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.

Ironically and desperately, Conservapedia unintentionally provides a great example:

> Poe’s law is a symptom of liberals [sic] illogical and superstitious thinking.

Right now, you may be thinking, surely Mr. Atheist made up that quote, or took it out of context. It’s so absurd on the face it. Surely no one really believes that?

But as far as I know, the inmates running the asylum that is Conservapedia are very serious, and the above quote is genuine.

But what does this have to do with the Phelps tweet?

My Kind of Humor

Every so often, I make a casual and dry sort of joke, in situations where a man-made tool or option is being overlooked.

For example: Someone near me is frustrated with their computer.

Them: “Why won’t this work? I even tried Control-Alt-Delete.”

Me: “Well, that’s why God gave us a restart button.”

It’s an easy joke. Not terribly funny, perhaps, but it amuses me to imagine someone actually believing God had anything to do with a restart button, or other man-made implements. Heck, even a creationist who believes in free will, a concept so fundamental to Christian theology, should agree God didn’t give us a restart button, or the Buick they drive, or nukes.

Fool Circle

So now it should be clear why I love this tweet. An extreme fundamentalist group member, making the same joke I do, but seriously.

Poe’s Law at its finest.

This is exactly why the hateful things coming out of Westboro do not bother me at all. They’re so far out there, so self-mockingly dense and reactionary and hateful and polemic, that I have to trust the general populace to react with scorn and rejection.

And I hope that that rejection leads some of them to further distrust religion, superstition, and illogic.

An update, years later

Margie’s younger sister was de-converted from the hateful Westboro Baptist cult via Twitter. Read more.

Men and Women

Cross and Madsen covered plenty of research showing that men think of themselves based on their unusual traits that set them apart from others, while women’s self-concepts feature things that connect them to others.

Might this help explain why women seem to be more religious?

The above excerpt is from a very long, compelling, and less commonly repeated explanation of gender differences from an evolutionary perspective. Read it here.

Thoughts, as always, are welcome.

Has S.E. Cupp been Called-Out for Pretending to be an Atheist?

I’m convinced S.E. Cupp is a fake atheist. I know that folks like PZ Myers have also questioned her authenticity — he suspects she’s playing at “The Good Atheist” that believers wish all of us goats acted like.

But has anyone in the traditional media — books, periodicals, newspapers, television — questioned her about this or accused her of being a fraud?

Please let me know, if so.

The Two Levels of Theological Understanding

It’s funny, really.

Most major religions have accepted evolution. The last two Vatican Popes have stated support for the evolutionary observation (it’s not just a theory). Yet about half of American Christians believe evolution isn’t the best explanation of human life on earth, and only 58% of catholics support the idea of evolution.

Where does the disconnect come from?

Plainly this is largely because pastors & priests mostly neglect to inform their flock that, despite a religion originally based on Jewish mythology, the creation story just doesn’t hold up. I would argue — influenced, no doubt, by the excellent book The God Virus — that these pastors intuitively realize that without the Garden of Eden, there’s no “original sin” to be erased by “the blood of Jesus,” thus nullifying tho whole religion. This is just common sense. And part of the application of memetic theory to religion implies that church leaders are not going to do anything that risks losing followers.

Now I know, and you know, that Catholicism has an official response to that problem in the form of sophisticated, convoluted theological arguments.

These arguments are wholly unconvincing to me, and, I have to imagine, quite a lot of laypeople and casual churchgoers. Or any convincing element is mostly an “argument from authority” sort of deal.

This is what I’m driving at with tho two levels of theological understanding: There’s the “professional” level which accepts, to some degree, modern scientific understanding and works around it with complicated theological contortions, and there’s the everyday understanding of God creating a world, Man immediately screwing it up, and then Jesus saving us from “our” mistakes.

And the result is a flock that isn’t on the same page as its shepherds.

I don’t really have a point here — just thinking out loud. See also: Being Catholic, Believing Whatever and “Free Will” Can’t Solve Theodicy.

“Free Will” Can’t Solve Theodicy.

Recently a Christian named Jordan told me that God had to have created a world with evil, because otherwise we wouldn’t have free will.

Here is my response.

Jordan, you are now implying that the ability to choose evil is more important than avoiding evil, in the eyes of God.

A bold assertion.

And yet a necessary one, probably, if one believes a “benevolent” (when it does not limit the ability of Creation to do evil), omnipotent god exists.

Still, I hold it makes no rational sense at all. We wouldn’t call god “good”, then, should we. We should call him evil-enabling, since that is what — by your own argument — he values more than goodness!

Since when has free will (or the illusion of it) needed the ability to do evil, and since when is free will more important than morality or general happiness? This is why I can never, ever respect theology. Each answer reveals more contradictions and absurdities.