Archive for May, 2012

Are Churches Becoming Theaters of Violence?

May 31, 2012

This remarkable video is the latest evidence of a disturbing trend in American religion: the Sunday-morning church service, once the kindly domain of church ladies in flowered hats, is becoming a vehicle for representing and even enacting (God’s) violence.

Blood sacrifice is back, folks. Symbolism is dead. No substitutes. We want the real thing.

I’m not talking metaphors here. By any measure, this preacher’s accounts of his own physical violence strongly suggest that he—or the character he is playing—is psychopathic, and yet his audience appears awestruck and approving.

Framing is everything, as they say. If he were not telling his stories from the pulpit and claiming God’s sponsorship of his violence, his audience might possibly see the psychopath standing before them and flee in terror.

What’s next for this preacher? Why, he’ll have to assault an audience member during one of his “sermons.” The kindly lady in the flowered hat with the potluck dish tucked under her seat will have the devil thrashed out of her and end up in ER.

Truth vs. Truthfulness

May 31, 2012

Timothy Snyder and Tony Judt reflect on the distinction between truth and truthfulness:

Timothy Snyder:

Let’s begin with the Dreyfus Affair, with the entrance of the intellectual into modern politics, on a question of what you call smaller truth: whether or not a man betrayed his country. A French army officer of Jewish origins was falsely accused of treason, and defended by a coalition of French intellectuals. This moment, January 1898 in Paris when the novelist Emile Zola published his famous letter, “J’Accuse,” is seen as the beginning of the history of the political intellectual. But it strikes me that this moment cannot be seen only in historical terms, that from the beginning an ethical element is built into our sense of what an intellectual is.

Tony Judt:

Bernard Williams posits a distinction between truth and truthfulness. The Dreyfusards were trying to tell the truth, which is truthfulness, rather than acknowledging higher truths, as their opponents wanted them to. By “higher truths,” they meant that France comes first, or that the army must not be insulted, or that the collective purpose trumps individual interests. This distinction is what lies behind Zola’s letter: the point is simply to tell it as it is, rather than to find out what the higher truth is and then adhere to it. You tell whatever you know in the form in which you know it.

Now: that’s not what intellectuals end up doing in the twentieth century; very often, they end up doing exactly the opposite. In some ways, the model for the twentieth century intellectual was as much the anti-Dreyfusard as the Dreyfusard. Someone like the novelist Maurice Barrès was not interested in the facts of the Dreyfus case. He was interested in the meaning of the Dreyfus case. And I’m not sure that we have always fully understood the nature of the origins of twentieth-century intellectual exchange. This was a split in the personality which stays with us throughout the century.

(From Thinking the Twentieth Century, by Tony Judt and Timothy Snyder, Penguin, 2012)

The War on Gays

May 30, 2012

Chris Hedges delivers a grim assessment of red-state anti-gay animus.

The culture of hate feeds off the frustrations and feelings of betrayal among the impoverished, the unemployed, the underemployed and the hopeless. And the longer the expanding underclass is ignored, the longer we refuse to define what is happening to us in our corporate state as a vicious class struggle, the more the culture of hate spreads. The dwindling culture of tolerance, confined now mostly to white, urban, college-educated members of the middle class, because that group refuses to engage in the struggle of class warfare, unwittingly abets the economic dislocation that is empowering the increasingly potent culture of hate.

Read Hedges’ entire article here.

Kitty Dinner

May 29, 2012

Catholic Hierarchy Lobbies to Suppress Religious Freedom

May 28, 2012

Away Point / by Valerie Tarico

What do Koch Industries and the Catholic hierarchy have in common? A determination to shift rights away from individuals and assign them to institutions.

Since the founding of the United States our ancestors have wrestled with the question of who counts.  Who gets the rights and dignity that define the promise of America? For two hundred years generations of Americans have fought to bring the rights of personhood and citizenship to those who had been excluded:  the landless poor, religious minorities, Blacks, First Nations, women, gays.  But always, as we have expanded those rights it has been with the goal of giving greater dignity and self-determination to individuals.

Continue reading this article.

Rejecting Homosexual Children Results in Disastrous Health Outcomes—An Appeal to Parents

May 28, 2012

Not infrequently, science butts heads with culture as the data scientists collect about issues of the day may conflict with cultural perceptions and deeply-held beliefs. Attitudes and perceptions about homosexuality are, not surprisingly, a source of denialism as certain overvalued ideas about sexuality are being challenged with our deeper understanding of human sexual desire. For one, homosexuality is not a choice, despite all attempts to reprogram or suppress homosexual desires, the desires do not go away. One might even hypothesize the attempts to repress or disparage such a fundamental aspect of someone’s identity might cause harm long term and result in negative health outcomes. Sure enough, this article published in the journal Pediatrics last week suggests this is in fact the case, and I believe we must begin to view the rejection of homosexuality by parents as not just as small-minded, but actively harmful, constituting child abuse that has long term implications on their childrens’ health.

Continue reading this article. 

8 Ways Christian Fundamentalists Make People Convert—to Agnosticism or Atheism

May 28, 2012

ImageAlterNet / By Valerie Tarico,
May 27, 2012

If the Catholic bishops, their conservative Protestant allies, and other right-wing fundamentalists had the sole objective of decimating religious belief, they couldn’t be doing a better job of it.

Testimonials at sites like ExChristian.net show that people leave religion for a number of reasons, many of which religious leaders have very little control over.  Sometimes, for example, people take one too many science classes. Sometimes they find their faith shattered by the suffering in the world – either because of a devastating injury or loss in their own lives or because they experience the realities of another person’s pain in a new way. Sometimes a believer gets intrigued by archaeology or symbology or the study of religion itself. Sometimes a believer simply picks up a copy of the Bible or the Koran and discovers faith-shaking contradictions or immoralities there.

But if you read ExChristian testimonials you will notice that quite often church leaders or members do things that either trigger the deconversion process or help it along. They may turn a doubter into a skeptic or a quiet skeptic into an outspoken anti-theist, or as one former Christian calls himself, a “devangelist.”

Here are some top ways Christians push people out the church door or shove secret skeptics out of the closet. Looking at the list, you can’t help but wonder if the Catholic bishops, Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann and their fundamentalist allies are working for the devil.

Continue reading this article.

Regretting the Gay Cure

May 27, 2012

Psychologist Robert Spitzer has more to be sorry for.

Slate / by Katie Roiphe

Last night I had a nightmare about the prominentpsychiatrist, Dr. Robert Spitzer, whom I have never met: He was faceless and casting a fake Latin spell in the darkened corridors of a Harry Potter-like school. Before falling asleep, I had been reading about his dramatic late life apology for having trumpeted a highly flawed, wildly controversial study pointing to the success of reparative therapy in changing gay people into straight people. About to turn 80, suffering from Parkinson’s disease, he unambiguously recanted the 2001 study, pointing to what he called its “fatal flaw,” which is that one can’t reliably measure the success of that particular, elusive transformation.

Part of the impetus for Spitzer’s radical change of heart seems to have been an encounter with a journalist for the American ProspectGabriel Arana, who had written about undergoing this therapy himself. At the time, Arana’s therapist had suggested he take part in Spitzer’s study, as he seemed like a success story for enforced or imposed heterosexuality. But in fact, the therapy, and the effort to root out his natural attractions, launched him into a self-hatred so harrowing and profound he almost jumped out of his dorm room window at Yale, and ended up committing himself to a psychiatric hospital, when happily his father realized that “a gay son is better than a dead son.”

Read the rest of this article here

“Churches are becoming political organizations…”

May 27, 2012

Robert Ingersoll, 1833-1899

“It probably will not be long until the churches will divide as sharply upon political, as upon theological questions; and when that day comes, if there are not liberals enough to hold the balance of power, this Government will be destroyed. The liberty of man is not safe in the hands of any church. Wherever the Bible and sword are in partnership, man is a slave.

“All laws for the purpose of making man worship God, are born of the same spirit that kindled the fires of the auto da fe and lovingly built the dungeons of the Inquisition. All laws defining and punishing blasphemy—making it a crime to give your honest ideas about the Bible, or to laugh at the ignorance of the ancient Jews, or to enjoy yourself on the Sabbath, or to give your opinion of Jehovah—were passed by impudent bigots, and should be at once repealed by honest men. An infinite God ought to be able to protect himself without going in partnership with State Legislatures. Certainly he ought not so to act that laws become necessary to keep him from being laughed at. No one thinks of protecting Shakespeare from ridicule, by the threat of fine and imprisonment. It strikes me that God might write a book that would not necessarily excite the laughter of his children. In fact, I think it would be safe to say that a real God could produce a work that would excite the admiration of mankind. Surely politicians could be better employed than in passing laws to protect the literary reputation of the Jewish God.”

Robert  Ingersoll,  quoted from, Some Mistakes of Moses, Section III, “The Politicians,” in Works, Dresden Edition, Volume 2, 1879


Publicly Funded Family Planning Services in U.S. Prevent 810,000 Abortions per Year, Says Guttmacher Institute

May 24, 2012

by Cory Richards, Executive VP of the Guttmacher Institute, Washington D.C.

Guttmacher Institute research shows that the two-thirds of U.S. women at risk of unintended pregnancy who use contraception consistently and correctly throughout the course of any given year account for only 5 percent of all unintended pregnancies. The 19 percent of women at risk who use contraception but do so inconsistently account for 44 percent of all unintended pregnancies, while the 16 percent of women who do not use contraception at all for a month or more during the year account for 52 percent of all unintended pregnancies.

That’s why publicly funded family planning services to help lower-income women obtain contraceptives and use them correctly are so crucial. These services prevent almost 2 million unintended pregnancies each year, which would otherwise result in 860,000 unintended births and 810,000 abortions. Without these services, the number of abortions in the nation would be nearly two-thirds higher.

In short: Contraception works – and consistent, correct use of contraceptives comes close to eliminating the risk of unintended pregnancy. Making contraceptive methods easier for lower-income women to obtain and use is eminently sound public policy.