Merry Christmas!

Hey all … just a little bit of reassurance that I’m still alive, albeit a little less verbose than my usual self.  I just wanted to break my silence to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, kickass Solstice, joyous Festivus, and a rockin’ Isaac Newton’s Birthday.

I admit that even though I do the whole “secular Christmas” thing without any feeling of cognitive dissonance, I should probably give a little more attention to the father of calculus seeing how we actually know that 1) he existed and 2) he was born on December 25th.  

I’m also happy to see things like same-sex marriage moving along, and at least in one case in a state I never would have expected (Utah?  Really?)  We’re about a third of the way there, with a few more states like Oregon just about ready to go full blue, but in need of that one final push.  We’ll see in November. 

Then, there’s the standard noise like that jackass from Duck Dynasty.  The only surprising thing about that for me is that he hadn’t said something boneheaded like that before now.  Cue the outrage on the conservatives about “free speech” and “First Amendment rights”, which is amusing since to my knowledge, no one in any level of government gives two shits about this.

Oh hey, I’m going to be on Boolean Union sometime in January.  I’ll post a link when it’s up, but it’s another Chick Tract dissection.  Talk to you then … and in the meantime, have a happy holidays!

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Promise of a Better Future, Plus an Announcement

Europe’s First female genital mutilation clinic opens

The Desert Flower, located in Zehlendorf, south Berlin, will be the first of its kind in Europe to offer physical and psychological care for victims of female genital mutilation with an estimated rate of 50-100 patients per year.  The WHO estimates that approximately 140 million women have suffered FGM, with 50,000 currently living in Germany.

[Female circumcision,] also referred to as female genital mutilation (FGM), the World Health Organisation (WHO), states that the ritual procedure is carried out every 11 seconds, to varying degrees. These include cutting off a woman’s clitoris, sewing together her vagina, or even sewing together the entire genital region.

This can result in infection, incontinence and even fistulas – as the colon can be broken if the doctor is unskilled. Chronic pain and infertility are also possible consequences, as is an increased chance of a baby dying while it is being born – as their way out can be restricted due to badly healed scars and stitching.

This situation is much worse than what we normally seen done for boys here in America, where only the foreskin is cut off.  While it can be argued that they should be stopped as well, they’re still far less invasive and significantly less damaging since urogenital function is wholly preserved.  Not so for the overwhelming majority of women affected by this procedure.  To have a clinic like this finally available in Europe for those who have escaped the barbarism is a huge step forward … and will give hope of a normal life for those who have been scarred both emotionally and physically.

Waras Dirie of the Desert Flower Center

***

In other news … this is going to be my last post for a while.  I had originally intended to use this blog for writing about my thoughts and discussing interesting articles I found in the news, but it quickly turned into a daily thing early last year when I was waiting for work to start up … and then stayed that way long after my regular work schedule established itself.  With some of the other “busyness” going on here, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to write every day without feeling like there just aren’t enough hours to do it all anymore.  So, that said, I’m taking a bit of a break.  I’ll probably still write some other Chick Tract dissections (they’re the most fun!) but I’m probably not going to get back into the “daily feed”, at least for the foreseeable future.

Besides, at this point, I think I’ve run out of the number of ways I can say the same things about the same issues.  I feel less like I’m making any kind of difference and more like I’m shouting at the television when the news comes on.  Now, don’t get me wrong, that can be cathartic, but in the end it’s ultimately unproductive.  When things become a little more certain around these parts, I’ll probably join a local secularist / freethinker society, and do some writing for them.  In the meantime, I’ll still be checking email and keeping up with some of the friends I’ve made in the blogosphere during the last couple of years.

Thanks to everyone for reading … and don’t worry, I’ll still be around.  You can’t get rid of me that easily.

Posted in Freedom from Religion, Society Marches On | Tagged , | 10 Comments

Dammit, I Liked Those Things.

During September of this year, the state of California passed Assembly Bill 1266, which was designed to allow students to use restroom facilities associated with the gender with which they identify and not the one they were necessarily born with.  Within a month of it passing, a conservative religious group called “Privacy for All Students” announced that they intend to repeal the law with the help of the local Republican Party and other conservative organizations like the Capitol Resources Group and the Watchmen Ministry.

“Clearly the California Republican Party understands that AB 1266 is a threat to the privacy and safety of public school students throughout California,” said Gina Gleason of Christian group The Watchmen Ministry. “Forcing boys and girls to share bathrooms, showers and locker rooms will not decrease bullying. It is bullying.”

Yeah, yeah, it’s “bullying” as soon as you don’t get your way anymore.

Now, I admit that when it comes to exactly how to handle transgender / generic LGBT issues in the context of sharing restrooms, dorm rooms, etc., I’m a little lost.  Speaking as a heterosexual cisgender male, I can’t say I speak from any useful frame of reference.  This means that when issues like these come up, I tend to leave the solution to the discretion of psychologists, sociologists, and LGBT advocates.  If it’s one way I know I’m taking the sane and rational approach, it’s when evangelical groups with a history of homophobia and bigotry start complaining about it.

Helping this process along is the fact that the president of Privacy for All Students is Frank Schubert, the mouthpiece for the National Organization for Marriage.  ‘Nuff said.

Herman Rowland Sr. (from the Advocate)

Speaking of people complaining, it would seem that Jelly Belly chairman Herman Roland Sr. has a strong enough opinion on this issue that he donated $5,000 to help fund the repeal of AB1266 as well.  For the record, I think this entire situation is newsworthy, not just the fact that the Jelly Belly chairman jumped on the bandwagon.  It’s just the first I heard about it all, so I thought I’d add it in for good measure.  I also wonder if this going public will make his company go the way of Chik-fil-A and Barilla and end up being put in the crosshairs of progressive organizations for its views on LGBT rights.  That $5,000 investment might end up losing him a lot more in the long term.

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Have You Even Consulted an Attorney?

A couple of weeks ago, a story broke on Fox “News” about the US Army’s recent decision to include the American Family Association – described as a “well-respected Christian ministry” that “advocates for traditional family values” by the folks over at Fox News – in the list of domestic hate groups during a briefing at Camp Shelby in Mississippi.  The story was leaked by a member of the class who is a loyal member and can’t see how or why his involvement in an organization that spends to much time blaming homosexuality and those who “choose” that lifestyle for the ills of the world.

Well, the folks at the AFA finally got find of the report and issued a response during an interview with media giant WorldNetDaily.

In an interview today with WorldNetDaily, American Family Association spokesman Bryan Fischer said that his group may file a lawsuit against the US military because the AFA was included on a list of domestic hate groups in an army training. Fischer said that Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) is “demanding answers” from the Pentagon about the list and why the military is “even spending time focusing on groups that are made up of American citizens.”

Bryan Fischer, in his favorite position: looking down on everyone else. (from SPLC)

Maybe that’s because organizations like these are especially dangerous if they have loyal members of the military who identify strongly with their ideals?  Is this man not aware o the problems inherent with giving comprehensive military training – including small unit tactics and firearms operation – to a group of people with a pathological hatred of any particular demographic on the basis that some divine being said they were icky back when our ancestors were still in loincloths?

“We are considering legal action, we think this is defamatory, it’s outrageous, it’s libelous,” Fischer said. “It’s not beyond the possibility that we would resort to some kind of legal action.”

It’s not libel if it’s true, so I’m going to shoot from the hip and say it’s not going to go further than this.  They’re saying this in order to beat their chests and claim persecution, but a cursory glance at some of their more famous statements makes their case extremely difficult to prosecute:

“Homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews.”
– Bryan Fischer, AFA director of issue analysis for government and public policy, 2010

“If President Obama, Congressional Democrats, and homosexual activists get their wish, your son or daughter may be forced to share military showers and barracks with active and open homosexuals who may very well view them with sexual interest.”
– AFA press release, February 2010

“Homosexuality is not only harmful to homosexuals themselves, but also to children and to society.”
– Stephen Bennett, AFA writer, 2004

“As with smoking, homosexual behavior’s ‘second hand’ effects threaten public health….Thus, individuals who choose to engage in homosexual behavior threaten not only their own lives, but the lives of the general population.”
– Gary Glenn, president of Michigan chapter of AFA, 2001

“[T]he homosexual lifestyle is characterized by anonymous sexual encounters and celebration of sexual obsession and perversion unparalleled in any other social group.”
– Richard Howe, “Homosexuality in America,” AFA publication, 1994

Bryan Fischer, if you remember, has a long track record of saying completely insane shit about homosexual, including my personal favorite that the adopted children of same-sex couples should be kidnapped “Underground Railroad” style to save them from their new parents.

Frivolous lawsuit aside, I think this is wonderful news to hear that the US Army is taking a more aggressive stance on domestic hate groups that include right-wing Christian organizations.  It’s unconscionable that they’ve been given a pass up to now, but it seems as though that’s finally changing.  With their number of allies dwindling in the military, groups like these will hopefully be rendered extinct within a generation … or at least so thoroughly marginalized that they are no longer relevant to the conversation.

Posted in Freedom from Religion, Profiles in Fundamentalism, Religion and Public Life, Religion in the News, Society Marches On | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Just a Helpful Chart

Not sure if I posted this before, but this is a helpful image relating theism with gnosticism:

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Hey, They Only Give God 10%, So …

Earlier this week, a 20-year old openly gay waiter at Carrabba’s Italian Grill in Overland Park, Kansas was stiffed on a tip because the customers were conservative Christians.  Instead of leaving any money, they decided to write him a note on the back of the check, calling him a fag and “praying” for God’s mercy for him.

“Thank you for your service, it was excellent. That being said, we cannot in good conscience tip you, for your homosexual lifestyle is an affront to GOD.  Fags do not share in the wealth of GOD, and you will not share in ours,” the customer wrote. “We hope you will see the tip your fag choices made you lose out on, and plan accordingly. It is never too late for GOD’s love, but none shall be spared for fags. May GOD have mercy on you.”

First point:  I was a waiter and a busboy, and was friends with many more at the time.  I have to say that every time I found out I had a Sunday morning-afternoon shift my heart would sink, because that’s when the large church groups would come in, eat their fill, and then leave it to God to provide my tip because they sure as hell didn’t.  I’d regularly get 7% tips on tables with groups of 8 or more, complete with an unbroken chain of toddler-meltdowns spanning from about 11AM to a bit past 3.  This was, sadly, before the “18% gratuity automatically added for tables of 6 or more”.  I don’t think it would have made a difference, though, since I’m convinced that even if that were policy back then, it would have been disputed too often to make it worth enforcing.

Anyway, the point is that even outside of the Bible Belt, I know what happens in restaurants when certain church groups come in en masse.  For a conservative Christian couple come in, allow themselves to be served by an openly gay waiter, give money to the restaurant in which he works for the food and drink, and then screw him over at the very end after they get what they want out of the situation has nothing to do with Christianity and everything to do with using the bible as a convenient excuse to act like an asshole.

I’ve had less than charitable things to say about Kansas in the past, though they have managed to redeem themselves somewhat in recent years through the establishment of more strict (and science-based) textbook requirements for their school districts.  And now, there’s this:

As word has spread through social media, other customers are coming in to offer words of encouragement and tip the young server extra.  [...]  The anti-gay message has galvanized support for the server on social media with a campaign underway to flood the restaurant on Friday. Dr. Marvin Baker and his partner had lunch at the restaurant on Thursday and asked to be seated in the server’s section.

Baker served as a pastor for many years and currently leads a Bible study group for LGBT members. He said the couple’s behavior was ungodly.

“This does not represent Christianity. I called them Pharisees,” he said. “God really loves us. And God does not advertise or promote hate. That is not love.”

As with yesterday’s post, it gives some hope to see incidents of bigotry and intolerance like these are proving to be the exception to the rule in traditionally conservative parts of the country.  The server (whose name was withheld) has certainly made up for the lost tips at this point, and is now fully aware of the magnitude of support he and others like him has from the local community.

So … thanks, Homophobic Christian Couple!  You brought an entire – largely Christian, I assume – community together to show their support and encouragement to a gay man, giving him hope and assurance that not everyone is as backward and self-righteous as you.  Keep up the good work!

Posted in Freedom from Religion, Profiles in Fundamentalism, Society Marches On | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Care Packages of the Damned

The Upstate Atheists of Spartanburg, South Carolina have a lot of experience doing volunteer work with people across the religious spectrum, including Habitat for Humanity and the March of Dimes.  Their philosophy is that volunteering together can not only help the community but build bridges between believers and non-believers at the same time.

Then there are some folks who are convinced that winning the spiritual war is more important than working together to help people.  A few days ago Eve Brannon of the Upstate Atheists was informed by a local soup kitchen that they weren’t allowed to volunteer explicitly because of their lack of belief.  This was even after the director of the kitchen was given repeated assurances that there would be no way for anyone to identify the volunteers as atheists.  Nope.  They did not want to be party to sin.

Lou Landrum, executive director of the Soup Kitchen, told the Herald-Journal she would resign from her job before she let atheists volunteer and be a “disservice to this community.”

I don’t see what difference a person’s religion makes in any measurable capacity to a homeless person in desperate need of a hot meal.  Or, for that matter, to a kitchen that needs volunteers.  Again, though, I’m seeing this from a practical standpoint, not a spiritual one.  These people wanted to help make a difference, and were rejected on principle.  I’m sure some hungry family completely understands.

“This is a ministry to serve God” she said. “We stand on the principles of God. Do they (atheists) think that our guests are so ignorant that they don’t know what an atheist is? Why are they targeting us? They don’t give any money. I wouldn’t want their money.”

You should.  Good Lord, woman, I never asked this question before now to anyone, but what the hell would Jesus do?  Here’s a hint:  Luke 10:25–37.  The moral for you is that you need to spend some time to reflect on who your “neighbors” truly are in the fight against poverty, hunger, and homelessness.

“They can set up across the street from the Soup Kitchen. They can have the devil there with them, but they better not come across the street,” Landrum said.

Hemant Mehta brought my attention to their mission statement, which included this gem:

[We believe that] Every human being should be treated with dignity and respect, therefore we treat all people that eat at the Spartanburg Soup Kitchen as our guests and everyone is welcome at our table.

… except atheists.  She’s far from the first to make grand statements about treating everyone with equal love and compassion, only to drop those principles without a moment’s hesitation when dealing with those people.

The bottom line is that this lady has fallen off her rocker, turned volunteer work into some pointless “spiritual war”, and clearly doesn’t represent the norm when it comes to Christian charities and their willingness to cooperate with non-believers for a common goal.  Honestly, I found the few paragraphs about their success stories far more encouraging than the one case of it going sour.

For their part, the group is planning on setting up a small booth across the street from the soup kitchen and giving out care packages of their own.

The 300 packages contain socks, gloves, toothpaste, toothbrushes, combs, soap, rain ponchos, snacks, shaving razors, antiseptic wipes, deodorants, tissues and gum.

“I hope we can provide a package for everyone who needs one,” said Eve Brannon, president of Upstate Atheists, a group started in 2011 that includes about 200 members. “Whatever we have left, we will donate to a homeless shelter in the Upstate.”

You know … real goods to provide practical help to people in need.  No word yet on whether they contain atheist literature or a set of instructions on how to summon your familiar … but I’m sure they’re in there.

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