Archive for December, 2011

Rick Santorum’s Plan to Eradicate Heterosexual Poverty

December 29, 2011

Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum recently proposed a two-step plan for eradicating poverty in the U.S.

Number one, graduate from high school. Number two, get married. Before you have children. If you do those two things, you will be successful economically.

As Santorum is one of our country’s fiercest opponents of same-sex marriage, we would like to know how GLBTs fit into his plan.

According to a new study published by The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, lesbian, gay, and bisexual same-sex couples are at least as likely to be poor as opposite-sex married couples. Lesbian and bisexual (female) couples are much more likely to be living in poverty than heterosexual married ones. (24% vs. 19% in the 18-44 age range).

Married heterosexual couples enjoy more than a thousand federal benefits that unmarried couples do not. These are generally grouped in the following categories: social security benefits, tax benefits (e.g., filing jointly), estate tax and planning benefits, veteran and military benefits, federal employment benefits, and immigration benefits.

Same-sex couples married under state laws receive none of these benefits. Nor, of course, do the unmarried ones. The Williams Institute study concludes that “Ending marriage discrimination by expanding equal access to the legal status of marriage would increase LGBT families’ economic stability and help reduce poverty in the LGBT community.”

So, does Rick Santorum care? Having been so outspoken about the evils of same-sex marriage, he must have included GLBTs in his mental calculus when he announced this poverty-eradication plan. But his formula will not “eradicate” poverty if it does nothing to help same-sex couples, who now number over 900,000, according to the 2010 Census. Sixty percent of these couples are lesbian. Twenty-two percent have children.

Will someone who can get access to Rick Santorum with a microphone please try to pin him down about this? What is his plan for same-sex couples and their children?

Santorum’s past pronouncements about homosexuality—even the most recent ones—leave little doubt that he is a bigot’s bigot. He believes that gay sex is not equal to straight sex, that the purpose of marriage is procreation, that the state has the right to ban homosexual conduct altogether, that there is no constitutional right to privacy, that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” should be reinstated, and that gays should not be allowed to hold public office.

So what picture emerges when we try to integrate Santorum’s poverty-eradication plan with his extreme views about homosexuality and same-sex marriage? If he is consistent and principled—and if he is elected—we may witness social engineering programs that will surpass anything envisioned by the Nazis:

  1. GLBT couples will be told not to expect equality under the law. They must accept permanent under-class status and resign themselves not only to social opprobrium and loveless lives but also to poverty. If they are discovered having sex, they will be fined or imprisoned.
  2. GLBTs wishing to marry will be told they must find a partner of the opposite sex. Obviously, they may have to conceal their sexual orientation at least during the courtship phase of the relationship. After that, they will be expected to prove their bona fides by having children.
  3. GLBT couples who are already married under state laws will have their marriages annulled. (Read Michelangelo Signorile’s article about this.) Any children they may have will be put up for adoption in heterosexual families. All other GLBT couples will be allowed to cohabit only on condition that they become celibate.
Santorum was asked by lesbian filmmaker Kristina Lapinski (on 11/16/11) what he would do if she were his daughter. He replied that he would love her, but that he would encourage her to marry and have a family with a man.

Our jaws drop to the floor on hearing such things. Imagine a gay father “encouraging” his heterosexual daughter to marry a woman! Has Santorum never experienced love and sexual desire? Does he think they can be switched on and off, re-routed, stoked and stifled at will? If his reply to Lapinski sounds familiar, it’s because it is the vestige of a patriarchal mindset that is as old as the hills. Santorum’s use of the soft-power term “encourage” is his nod to modernity. Only a century or so ago, the term of choice would have been “force.” But love, as anyone who has ever been in love knows, cannot be forced.

The larger framework is a religious one. (Let’s not forget that Santorum is more Catholic than the Pope.) All legitimate power and authority emanate from God (a male, of course), down through the hierarchy of the Church (all male as well), and then on down through the head of the family (also a male). Sexual desires, love, and life plans are to be totally subordinated to the will of God as it percolates downward. Making the right “choice” in these matters is necessary if we are to please God.

Santorum’s views on homosexuality and marriage reveal a political ideology that is utopian and authoritarian. It is a “one-size-fits-all” social scheme that ignores human variability and punishes deviation from an arbitrary norm. It is based on an impoverished understanding of human nature and a rejection of the Enlightenment values on which our country was founded.

The ensemble of his views about homosexuality cannot be understood without reference to Catholic teachings about sin and free will. Like Marcus Bachmann (Michele’s husband), Santorum appears to sincerely believe that homosexuality is a choice. Catholic dogma describes it as sinful and teaches that sin is always chosen. We can, with God’s help, choose virtue over vice. Otherwise there would be no accountability.

It also seems plausible that both Rick and Marcus did make a “choice” about their sexual orientation in their younger days. If so, it is unlikely that either of them fully understood the nature of that choice. Marcus practiced reparative therapy because he believed others could “repair” themselves (as he had done?). Rick has made a career out of denouncing homosexuality. Both men are extraordinarily preoccupied with gay sex.

We don’t hear as much about “choosing” sexual orientation as we used to. Choicers know they may be asked about the circumstances of their own “choice,” and they don’t want to go there. Gays and lesbians know the truth—that the only “choice” one makes is to either accept and affirm one’s sexual nature or to suppress it. This truth flies in the face of Catholic teaching.

The “choice” claim is still humming in the background, however, and the Rick Santorums, the Marcus Bachmanns, and the Maggie Gallaghers need to explain how it figures in their thinking about marriage equality.

And we need to know from Rick Santorum whether, while eradicating poverty, he wouldn’t just like to eradicate gays as well. Sounds like he has a plan …

What if Jesus Had Been Aborted? (Continued)

December 28, 2011

The pious folks at the Manhattan Declaration organization are, by their own account, focused on three issues—abortion, same-sex marriage, and religious freedom. Their inspirational message for this holiday season is that the world would be a much worse place if Jesus had been aborted. There would be no towering cathedrals, no great requiems or cantatas, no Sistine Chapel. The New World might not have been discovered, and there certainly would not have been a Declaration of Independence or a United States as we know it. The list gets even sillier toward the end. No Veteran’s Day? No wine? My hunch is that someone at MD ought to lay off the wine.

But okay, now that they’ve started their ridicu-list, let’s keep it going.

If Jesus had been aborted, …

  • Approximately one million Jews and Muslims would not have been murdered by the Crusaders on their way to retake Jerusalem from the Muslim Turks (1095-1208, ME). (All figures from R. J. Rummel: Statistics of Democide.)
  • The Cathars of Languedoc, numbering about 200,000, would not have been exterminated by the Papacy in collusion with the King of France. (13th century).
  • Approximately 350,000 conversos would not have been tortured and killed in the Spanish Inquisition.
  • Martin Luther would never have written On the Jews and Their Lies, a rabid anti-Semitic tract that even the Nazis might have found shocking.
  • The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (1572), in which approximately 30,000 Huguenots were slaughtered by French Catholics, would not have occurred.
  • Giordano Bruno (philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician) would not have been burned at the stake  for heresy. (1600).
  • Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) would not have been threatened with torture and placed under house arrest for teaching heliocentrism.
  • The European Wars of Religion (1520-1648) would not have occurred. In only one of these—the Thirty Years’ War—5.75 million people died in the area now called Germany.
  • Witchcraft trials would not have occurred in Europe and the American colonies. Between 1480 and 1750, approximately 50,000 people were accused of witchcraft and executed.
  • Ireland and the Balkans would never have been torn by sectarian strife.
  • Slavery might have ended much earlier. (In the U.S., Southerners quoted the Bible—including the New Testament—for support of the slave trade.)
  • The Holocaust (Shoah) would not have occurred. (See photos.)
  • Women might have won full civil rights much earlier.
  • Rampant sexual abuse of children by pedophile priests would not have occurred.
  • Millions of Catholics throughout the world would not have died from AIDS and other STDs as a result of the Vatican’s long-standing ban on condom-use (finally reversed in November, 2010).
  • There would be millions fewer AIDS orphans in areas dominated by Catholic missionaries.
  • Untold millions of women would not have died from abortions performed under primitive and unsanitary conditions.
  • More family planning in African and Latin-American countries might have been possible, resulting in lower population growth and overall improvement of women’s lives.
  • Pat Robertson could have had a car dealership, and Jerry Falwell could have been a carnival barker.
  • Ted Haggard would not have become one of our era’s most confused men.
  • Jim Jones, founder of Peoples Temple, would have been unable to include Jesus Christ among those he claimed to reincarnate. (Others were  Akhenaten, Buddha, and Vladimir Lenin.)
  • Millions of gay children would not have been bullied, told that God “hated their sin,” disinherited, and dis-fellowshipped by their churches.
  • There would be far more marriages because gay men and lesbians would have been able to marry the ones they love.
  • There would be far fewer divorces because gay men and lesbians would not be pressured to marry opposite-sex partners.
  • 45% of the U.S. population would not believe the earth is less than 10,000 years old.
  • Darwinian evolution would have been introduced into the public schools curricula shortly after publication of The Origin of Species.
  • A brawl between clergymen of different Christian faiths would not have occurred after this year’s Christmas celebrations at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity.
  • There would be no Second Coming, no Rapture, no Millennial Reign (of Christ), no Armageddon.
  • Hal Lindsey could write science fiction or cheap romances.
  • In Pampanga, Philippines, there would be no Lent ceremony in which the faithful flagellate themselves until they are covered with blood.

I have to stop somewhere, so I’ll leave it to our readers to suggest other ways in which our world would be different … if only Jesus had been aborted.

What if Jesus Had Been Aborted?

December 27, 2011

[Hat tip to Sarah Posner at Religion Dispatches]

The pious folks at the Manhattan Declaration website must have been short on Christmas-themed content  this year. So they came up with this doozie. I can see them sitting around the table brain-storming. Only trouble is, their meeting was scheduled to begin immediately following the annual Christmas party at Joe’s Tavern down the street. To make things worse, there were a couple of jokers on the committee, so this is what they came up with:

If Jesus had been aborted, …

  • There would be no great cathedrals in Europe.
  • Michelangelo wouldn’t have painted the Sistine Chapel. In fact there wouldn’t be a Sistine Chapel. Or a Vatican!
  • Bach and Mozart would have been lesser composers.
  • America might not have been discovered.
  • There would be no Declaration of Independence and no U.S. Constitution.
  • Israel would have no strong allies and there would be no reason to travel there.
  • There would be no wine.
  • We wouldn’t have a Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, Martin Luther King Day, or Columbus Day.

Yes, the world would be a very different place. Please feel free to send your own ideas about how different the world would be.

Coming Soon: What if Hitler Had Been Aborted?

Also see: the continuation of this post.

Good Without God

December 24, 2011

From "The Book of Genesis Illustrated," by R. Crumb, 2009

I wrote in an earlier post that our moral values pre-date not only religion but human speciation.  This may come as a surprise to those whose religious indoctrination has equated atheism with nihilism, but it is nevertheless a fact solidly grounded in evidence from the animal world and, indeed, from human history.

The idea that everything is permitted in a world without god is mythical. Mothers don’t take care of their babies because God instructed them to, and there is no inherent difference between atheist mothering and Christian, Jewish, or Muslim mothering. If we abstain from murder, theft, or adultery, it is not because the Ten Commandments were drilled into us as children; Christians think nothing of making graven images or forgetting the Sabbath (Saturday). Children raised without religious instruction are no more prone to violent crime than others.

If we get our morality from God, then why does our moral sense so often override Biblical teachings, and why do we feel revulsion at the behavior of Yahweh in the Old Testament? How dare we? Do we think our moral sense is superior to God’s?

Louise M. Antony, in a recent New York Times opinion piece (“Good Minus God”), describes two theological theories about the nature of the good. The first, known as “Divine Command Theory” (DCT), claims that what is morally good is constituted by what God commands. In this view, things take on moral value because God prefers them; they have no inherent worth. For example, murder would have no moral valence were it not for God’s commandment not to murder.

The second theory, “Divine Independence Theory” (DIT), says that the goodness of an action is independent of God, and that God prefers such actions because they are already good. In this view, there is a moral order that supersedes God. The theory does not account for its origins, however.

The obvious problem with DCT is that anything that we consider immoral, such as enslavement, rape, and genocide, could be declared moral by God. And in fact, the Old Testament god did command his people to commit these atrocities. We now recognize such behavior as abhorrent and tyrannical, and our moral compass (superior to God’s) points us toward a stance of disobedience. Are we then to “challenge” God, as Job did, only to be slapped back into line? (“Where were you,” God said to Job, “when I created the heavens and earth?”)

DIT is no less problematic, partly because it doesn’t tell us where our moral sense comes from, but also because it demotes God into a being whose moral judgment may at times be seriously flawed—as when he orders enslavement, rape, and genocide.

Antony concludes that “the capacity to be moved by the moral dimension of things has nothing to do with one’s theological beliefs. … You do not lose morality by giving up God; neither do you necessarily find it by finding him.”

Is There Too Much Morality in the World? (Continued)

December 23, 2011

Steven Pinker, author of "The Better Angels of Our Nature"

A reader asks:

How does one argue successfully that morality pre-dates religion? It seems difficult to prove that religion hasn’t always been wedded to the moral impulse through the codifying of social behavior in some way.

It’s not at all hard to show that morality pre-dates religion and even human speciation. Not all of our morality goes back that far, of course, but most of the relational models that govern our interactions can also be found in other species. An anthropologist named Alan Fiske (cited by Pinker in his book) identified four models, three of which pre-date homo sapiens sapiens.

First there’s Communal Sharing, which is thought to be facilitated by the release of certain hormones such as oxytocin, the “trust hormone,” particularly in females during and after childbirth. Many species exhibit strong bonding behavior, share resources freely, and synchronize their movements and in some cases their feeding. In humans, the communal sharing mode manifests in a variety of ways: commensal meals, rituals of bonding, singing in unison, synchronized dancing, and the co-mingling of bodily fluids.

Then there’s Authority Ranking, which Pinker characterizes as “a linear hierarchy defined by dominance, status, age, gender, size, strength, wealth, or precedence.” And he adds, “Presumably it evolved from primate dominance hierarchies, and it may be implemented, in part, by testosterone-sensitive circuits in the brain.”

Third is Equality Matching, which involves tit-for-tat reciprocity and is the basis of our sense of fairness. Pinker writes: “Few animals engage in clear-cut reciprocity, though chimpanzees have a rudimentary sense of fairness, at least when it comes to themselves being shortchanged.” But he adds, “the neural bases of equality matching embrace the parts of the brain that register intentions, cheating, conflict, perspective-taking, and calculation.” These are all behaviors that other animals engage in to greater or lesser degrees, especially the primates.

Only the fourth model, Market Pricing, is unique to our species.

If the first three of these moral models pre-date homo sapiens sapiens, then religion must have inherited them. And so there you have an anthropological answer to the question that theists and atheists have recently been debating: “Can one be good without God?”

Yes. The answer is, unequivocally, yes.

Religion may have been a vehicle for moral models, but these models were on the scene long before religion was there. And if religion were to evaporate, they would still be there to guide and regulate our behavior.

New Study: Lesbian Parents Not Associated With Homosexual Behavior in Sons

December 21, 2011

by Warren Throckmorton

In one of the better studies of the effects of lesbians as parents of sons and daughters, researchers reported that 17-year old boys raised by lesbians were no more likely to be gay than those raised in straight homes. Gartrell, Bos and Goldberg found that 5.6% of boys raised in lesbian households reported sex with other boys, whereas 6.6% of boys from a representative national survey reported ever engaging in sex with other boys. The difference was not large enough to be considered a statistically significant finding.

Continue reading …

An Atheist’s Sermon

December 21, 2011

Jeremy Beahan

Jeremy Beahan, host of the Reasonable Doubts radio show and podcast, delivers an outstanding sermon about secular humanism at All Souls Unitarian Church in Grand Rapids, MI.

To listen, click here and scroll down to “An Atheist’s Sermon.”

Is There Too Much Morality in the World?

December 21, 2011

Steven Pinker

In his latest book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature” (Viking, 2011), Steven Pinker begins a section called “Morality and Taboo” (p. 622) with the following short and provocative declaration:

The world has far too much morality.

Yes, I, too, had to re-read that sentence. Is he about to say there should be more immorality? Well, thankfully, not. He explains:

If you added up all the homicides committed in pursuit of self-help justice [revenge, vigilantism, honor killings, etc.], the casualties of religious and revolutionary wars, the people executed for victimless crimes and misdemeanors, and the targets of ideological genocides, they would surely outnumber the fatalities from amoral predation and conquest. The human moral sense can excuse any atrocity in the minds of those who commit it, and it furnishes them with motives for acts of violence that bring them no tangible benefit. The torture of heretics and conversos, the burning of witches, the imprisonment of homosexuals, and the honor killing of unchaste sisters and daughters are just a few examples.

What Pinker is telling us is not too surprising when you think about it: the human moral sense can go off the tracks.

Unless one is a radical moral relativist, one believes that people can in some sense be mistaken about their moral convictions; that their justifications of genocide, rape, honor killings, and the torture of heretics are erroneous, not just distasteful to our sensibilities.

Pinker is careful to distinguish between behaviors that are deemed immoral and ones that are merely disagreeable, unfashionable, or imprudent. Only the moralized infraction is universalized, actionable, and punishable within the culture that prohibits it.

Some of these prohibitions are truly universal, or “pan-cultural.” In every part of the world, murder, theft, perjury, and extortion are considered moral infractions. Our revulsion at such acts reflects our species’ core moral values of fairness, justice, and the prevention of harm. Such values pre-date not only religion but indeed the appearance of homo sapiens sapiens. They have been promulgated exclusively via religion—and sometimes horribly abused and violated by it—only in societies where religion has been culturally all-pervasive.

But other “infractions”—e.g., apostasy, blasphemy, homosexuality, and idolatry—have been shown to be culturally contingent rather than universal. They are violations of archaic purity and sanctity codes that might have served some purpose in iron-age tribal societies but that are useless in modern pluralistic democracies. They persist wherever the secular state has not developed or has not completely disentangled itself from religion.

A society that values individual freedom and autonomy cannot bind its citizens to sectarian claims about what constitutes a moral infraction. We cannot all be required to forswear martinis or short shorts because they are forbidden by sharia law, and Mormons cannot expect us all to forswear lattes and black tea. Why then, do so many Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and Mormons hope to universalize their prohibitions against homosexuality? These prohibitions have no rational basis and are as culturally contingent as the scripture-based codes from which they are derived.

Yes, we have far too much morality. Maybe it’s time to return to the true moral universals and reassess our culturally contingent ones. Instead of asking whether a behavior was forbidden by ancient scriptures, let’s ask, “Who is being harmed?” Or, as Sam Harris might ask, “How does our behavior affect human and animal flourishing and the health of our planet?”

Today in Cairo

December 18, 2011

Conflicting Reports: Which is the “Real” Muslim Brotherhood?

December 18, 2011

Nicholas Kristof, writing for the New York Times, shares what he learned about the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s dominant political party, during a recent visit to Cairo. A couple of the Brotherhood’s activists invited him to their home for dinner, where he interviewed the hostess, a well-educated young woman named Sondos Asem. Sondos, who wrote her master’s thesis on social media, helps manage the organization’s English-language Twitter feed, @Ikhwanweb. She wore a hijab during the interview with Kristof.

Kristof does not say how he met Sondos and her husband. It is not unlikely that they were introduced by the Muslim Brotherhood itself. Interviews with New York Times columnists are not to be left to chance.

Here is, in a nutshell, what Sondos had to say about the Brotherhood:

  • Women are not repressed or marginalized. Fifty percent of the Brotherhood are women. Many of the Brotherhood’s Parliamentary candidates are women.
  • The Brotherhood is opposed to female genital mutilation (circumcision), which is inflicted on the vast majority of Egyptian girls.
  • The Brotherhood believes that illiteracy, lack of education, and poverty are obstacles to improving the status of women.
  • The Brotherhood is not planning any changes in the laws about alcohol (which is currently tolerated) or the veil (which is not required).
  • The Brotherhood’s priorities are economic ones, and its politics are moderate. The peace treaty with Israel will be respected, and Egypt will continue to have good relations with the U.S.

Eric Trager, writing for The New Republic a week after Kristof’s article appeared, asks, “Where did Nick Kristof get the idea that the Muslim Brotherhood is moderate?”

During his own recent trip to Egypt, Trager interviewed seven recently elected parliamentarians from the Muslim Brotherhood. One of them, Saber Abouel Fotouh, had on his office wall a huge anti-Zionist banner showing an image of a burning Israeli flag. When Trager asked him about it, he replied, “We burned [the flag] for our soldiers and for Gaza, and we will burn it again and again if they infiltrate anything in the region.”

All seven of these MPs, Trager reports, “share a commitment to theocratic rule, complete with a limited view of civil liberties and an unmistakable antipathy for the West.” All law, in their view, should be based on a pragmatic interpretation of sharia, with a particular emphasis on reinstating certain prohibitions. Among these are the bans on alcohol consumption, on “immodest” women’s dress, and on criticism of Islam (blasphemy).

One of the parliamentarians, Essam Mukhtar, told Trager, “There is no ultimate freedom, because your freedom ends at the freedom of other people. And if I humiliate things that you respect, I violate your freedom.” When Trager mentioned a recent Salafist call for holy war against the Jews, Mukhtar suddenly became, in Trager’s words, “a civil libertarian” and replied, “People are free to say what they want.”