Tag: Religion

Double Standard

Following along the same vein as my previous post about Indiana’s new Religious Freedom law, and Hal’s followup, I found this interesting.

Jack, of Castle Rock, Colo., is making national headlines over an experiment he conducted in the wake of attacks on Christian business owners who refuse to provide services for same-sex marriages.

Last year, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled that the Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood unlawfully discriminated against a gay couple who wanted a wedding cake. Jack Phillips, the owner of the cake shop, is a devout Christian, and his attorneys argued that to force him to participate in the gay wedding would violate his religious beliefs.  The Civil Rights Commission saw it differently.

So if Christian bakers who oppose gay marriage are compelled under law to violate their beliefs – what about bakers who support gay marriage? Would they be compelled to make an anti-gay marriage cake?

 Jack, who is a devout Christian, asked three bakeries to produce two cakes – each shaped like an open Bible. On one side of one cake he requested the words, “God hates sin – Psalm 45:7.” On the other side he wanted the words, “Homosexuality is a detestable sin – Leviticus 18:22.”

On the second cake he asked them to write another Bible verse: “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us – Romans 5:8” along with the words “God loves sinners.”  And finally, Jack wanted the bakers to create an image – two grooms holding hands, with a red “X” over them – the universal symbol for “not allowed.”

Now if you read the national news accounts of Jack’s experiment – you would’ve read that he wanted gay slurs written on the cakes. But that wasn’t true.

According to the commission’s own report, there’s no mention of Jack using any gay slurs – unless you consider Bible verses to be gay slurs.

Mark Silverstein, the legal director for Colorado’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, accused Jack of wanting obscenities written on the cakes.  “There’s no law that says that a cake-maker has to write obscenities in the cake just because the customer wants it,” he told the Associated Press.

Does the ACLU consider the Bible to be obscene?

As you probably guessed, the bakeries rejected Jack’s request for what some would call “anti-gay” cakes.  “If he wants to hate people, he can hate them not here in my bakery,” Azucar Bakery owner Marjorie Silva told 7NEWS. She called the writing and imagery “hateful and offensive.”

So Jack filed a discrimination complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission – just as the gay couple did in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.  Using the commission’s logic – if a Christian baker is forced to violate his beliefs, shouldn’t all bakers be forced to violate theirs, too?

Absolutely not, says the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.  It ruled that Azucar did not discriminate against Jack based on his creed. It argued that the bakery refused to make the cakes because of the “derogatory language and imagery,” The Denver Channel reported.

Seems like a pretty clear double-standard to me.  One cake maker was forced by the government to defy their beliefs.  The other cake baker was not forced by the government to defy their beliefs.  Because one was for religious reasons, and the other wasn’t, that makes it OK somehow?  The freedom of religion is guaranteed in the US Constitution.  Shouldn’t that make it even more sacrosanct in this regard?

 

The President and ISIL

With recent pushes into Kurdish territory and the beheading of 21 Christians in Libya, there is a growing fear that ISIL is growing more and more powerful. The President has asked for an authorization for the use of military force (finally). I’ll get to that in a moment. But my first concern is that he’s been making the argument, yet again, that ISIL doesn’t represent “real” Islam, even dragging out the old arguments about the Crusades as a moral equivalence.

The thing is that ISIL doesn’t agree with him. They are not like Al-Qaeda, which was an amorphous terrorist movement dedicated to bringing about the caliphate but operating within the modern world. ISIL wants to create the caliphate right now and the caliphate they want to create is violent, barbaric, medieval and based heavily on old-school Islam and literal interpretations of the Koran:

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We’ll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal.

(You really should read that entire article. Think Regress has posted a lame response that basically ignores Wood’s point: that while many Muslims don’t take the Koran’s more violent texts at face value, organizations like ISIL do.)

When the President says that violent extremists like ISIL are not the real face of Islam, he is both right and wrong. The face of Islam can be one of tolerance and peace. But it can also be one of intolerance and violence. Islam has gone through periods of enlightenment and gone through periods of horrific fundamentalism. At this point in history, it hangs in the balance caught between hundreds of millions of peaceful Muslims and violent sects that, while a minority, wields enormous power and influence. We’ve seen in pre-war Afghanistan and in the ISIL-controlled territory what these people want: beheadings, slavery, crucifixion, stoning. Their ideology recognizes no authority other than “pure” radical Islam. Whether they represent a minority or not is beside the point. The Nazis were never a majority in Germany. The Communists were never a majority in the countries they ruled with an iron fist. But they were able to control massive parts of the world and enormous armies through violence, intimidation and bloodshed.

The “most Muslims are good” argument, while based in truth, has no practical meaning. Most Germans are good people. We still had to defeat them in two wars. Most Russians are good people. We still had to fight a dangerous and tense Cold War against the Soviet Union. Most Japanese are good people. We still had to drop two atom bombs on them. It doesn’t really matter what the vast majority want when the monsters have the floor. The problem is that while most people are good, they are also easily persuaded or coerced to do bad things or stand aside while bad things are done. This is true of everyone in the world. There is not a religion or country that isn’t capable of doing horrible things. The question is: who is in charge? We’ve seen what happens when people like ISIL are in charge: entire regions of the world become unspeakably violent.

The President has finally asked Congress to recognize the semi-war we’ve been fighting for a while. I think they should do so, but with some limitations. A land war is not necessarily going to solve ISIL (although letting them overrun Baghdad or Kurdistan — as they’ve threatened to — would be a disaster). In fact, it could play right into their apocalyptic prophecies. But I do know that we can not disengage. It’s important that we keep ISIL and AQ from reconciling (which the President’s rescue attempt threatened to do). The longer ISIL survives and the more territory they conquer, the more legitimacy and power they will accumulate in the eyes of radical Muslims. Stopping them might mean air support, training, weapons and/or money to the forces opposing ISIL. If that means what we end up propping up one side in a bloody decades-long struggle for the soul of Islam … well, that’s what it means. We have a national interest in preventing the rise of ISIL to a real caliphate. The only way it will end is when this supposed peaceful majority rises up and ends it.

Forced charity is still bullshit

The new pope is making the case that caring for the poor doesn’t make you a communist, and he is right. What can be argued makes you a communist, or if you want to be pedantic and stick to the definition that communism means the state owns everything, what it makes you is a collectivist douchebag, is when you expect government to do it after it uses force to confiscate the earnings of others, and all under the pretense it is doing so to help.

Fuck the lot of you slavers. If you want to care for the poor use your own money. That’s what makes it nobel. Speaking of using their own money, that cult in Rome can really help the poor if it sold off some of that wealth it has and used that instead. Know what I am saying pope?

Whither Turkey

I’ve been a bit pre-occupied this week but have spent part of today trying to catch up to the Turkish situation. I think Fareed Zakaria makes the best case scenario that this is essentially a collision of two backlashes. The first was against the extremely secular government that Turkey had for a long time (veils were forbidden in public places, for example). The second is response to Erdogan’s rather authoritarian approach to bring more Islam into the public space and the natural fears that this will lead to fundamentalism.

I’m not sure how this will play out but I’m more optimistic about this than I was about the Arab Spring. For one thing, Turkey already has an established democracy and a secular society. There isn’t really anything like the Muslim Brotherhood to step in and start to assert true Islamism.

Still, it’s critical that we keep an eye on what’s going on. Turkey is our most critical ally in the region (non-Israel division). What happens in Turkey is far more important than what happens in Syria, Libya or Egypt.

Monday Must-Read

Ken at Popehat has an amazing compilation of ‘The Year in Blasphemy” where he basically lists every documented case he could find of someone being accused of blasphemy or punished for it. It’s a must-read (actually, Popehat is a must-read full stop).

Money quote, which should be tattooed on every apologist for radicals:

There you have it — a year of what Eric Posner might call “other values and the need for order,” a year of what Anthea Butler might call incidents of people being “inflamed,” a year of what Garrett Epps might say are different understandings of freedom and different views of the “essence” of free speech, a year of the competing “international norms” referred to by Professor Peter Spiro. These are the values to which we, as Americans, are invited to yield.

I think not.

As the Posners and Butlers and Eppses and Spiros of the nation have begun to speak in the wake of Benghazi, others have refuted them. Some have pointed out a truth illustrated by this year of blasphemy: anti-blasphemy laws are a tool for religious majorities to suppress religious minorities, and a mechanism for the more powerful to oppress the relatively powerless, and tend to be used in a lawless manner resembling modern witch hunts. That is the norm we are asked to embrace.

The “witch hunt” verbiage is particularly apt. As you read over the list, the thing that jumps out is how arbitrary this is. Basically, these Islamist governments (and, to be fair, a handful of Christian fundamentalists) arbitrarily crack down on anyone who catches their attention. All you have to do to ruin someone’s life if accuse them of slandering Muhammed or defiling or Quran or having a smart look on their face during prayers. And then the full power of the religious state comes down on them, resulting in prison, lashes, ruination and sometimes death.

(A lesser version can be seen in laws in places like the UK which punish people for saying offensive things on the internet. Popehat again, on the case of Michael Woods, now sentenced to three months in jail for making sick comments about a murdered girl. As noted in the link, this law is applied completely arbitrarily. A million bad comments can go by without a trace. But if you hit a celebrity or a high-profile criminal case and your comments happen to get the attention of the media … well, enjoy prison.)

We simply can not waver in our defense of the First Amendment. To falter even for a moment is to invite the fanatics in, to give them the power to single out a citizen and destroy his life; perhaps because of something he said but more likely because he happened to piss them off. While Obama’s speech on this subject to the UN was problematic, there was one passage that was worth quoting:

I know there are some who ask why we don’t just ban such a video. The answer is enshrined in our laws: our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech. Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense. Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs. Moreover, as President of our country, and Commander-in-Chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so. Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views – even views that we disagree with.

We do so not because we support hateful speech, but because our Founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views, and practice their own faith, may be threatened. We do so because in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can become a tool to silence critics, or oppress minorities. We do so because given the power of faith in our lives, and the passion that religious differences can inflame, the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech – the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect.

I know that not all countries in this body share this understanding of the protection of free speech. Yet in 2012, at a time when anyone with a cell phone can spread offensive views around the world with the click of a button, the notion that we can control the flow of information is obsolete. The question, then, is how we respond. And on this we must agree: there is no speech that justifies mindless violence.

I quoted Salman Rushdie some time ago. Worth quoting him again:

Of the current confrontation, [Rushdie] says, “I think it’s very important that we hold our ground. It’s very important to say, ‘We live like this.’ ” Rushdie made his post-fatwa life in America in part because he reveres the freedoms, including the freedom, not so protected in other Western democracies, to say hateful, racist, blasphemous things.

“Terrible ideas, reprehensible ideas, do not disappear if you ban them,” he told me. “They go underground. They acquire a kind of glamour of taboo. In the harsh light of day, they are out there and, like vampires, they die in the sunlight.”

Bookmark that Popehat post. Read it any time you waver in the defense of free speech. Because if we ever give in, that’s the kind of world we will live in: a world where neighbors can accuse neighbors; a world where the socially and politically powerless can have the power of the state turned on them; a world in which law is even more arbitrary and oppressive than it already is; a world in which women and child can be beaten, lashed, assaulted and even killed with the smiling approval of the state.

When The Rapture Fails

Well, the rapture failed to happen and we all had a good laugh. There’s been some pushback against the laughter and some calls for mutual understanding and so forth. But while it’s true that it’s not nice to laugh at the misfortunes and humiliation of others, I think it’s a reasonable substitute for what we might otherwise feel: unadulterated rage.

Why? Consider this article from the NYT:

With their doomsday T-shirts, placards and leaflets, followers — often clutching Bibles — are typically viewed as harmless proselytizers from outside mainstream religion. But their convictions have frequently created the most tension within their own families, particularly with relatives whose main concern about the weekend is whether it will rain.

Kino Douglas, 31, a self-described agnostic, said it was hard to be with his sister Stacey, 33, who “doesn’t want to talk about anything else.”

While Ms. Haddad Carson has quit her job, her husband still works as an engineer for the federal Energy Department. But the children worry that there may not be enough money for college. They also have typical teenage angst — embarrassing parents — only amplified.

“People look at my family and think I’m like that,” said Joseph, their 14-year-old, as his parents walked through the street fair on Ninth Avenue, giving out Bibles. “I keep my friends as far away from them as possible.”

The NYT (and other stories) talk about children pressured to spread the word, about family members not talking to each other, about college savings being burned. If these are the people who will talk to the Times, you can imagine how much worse it is out there for families who won’t. Growing up in the Bible Belt, I’ve seen friends wounded in the battle between True Believer parents and Heathen children. It’s only made worse when the end of the world is at stake. Imagine all the small children — 10 or under — who’ve been hearing about this for months. As a kid, I sometimes had nightmares about a nuclear war. Can you imagine what it’s like when your grandmother is talking about the End Times every damned day?

That’s not to mention the clearly mentally ill people this tipped over the edge, like the woman who tried to kill herself and murder her daughters to avoid the tribulations. Or those who ruined themselves financially:

Keith Bauer, a 38-year-old tractor-trailer driver from Westminster, Md., took last week off from work, packed his wife, young son and a relative in their SUV and crossed the country.

If it was his last week on Earth, he wanted to see parts of it he’d always heard about but missed, such as the Grand Canyon. With maxed-out credit cards and a growing mountain of bills, he said, the rapture would have been a relief.

Others had risked a lot more on Camping’s prediction, quitting jobs, abandoning relationships, volunteering months of their time to spread the word. Matt Tuter, the longtime producer of Camping’s radio and television call-in show, said Saturday that he expected there to be “a lot of angry people” as reality proved Camping wrong.

Another man blew $140,000 of his own savings spreading the good word.

Now we might be happy to say, “Hey, these gullible idiots got what they deserved”. After all, we’d never follow a doomsday cult and ruin our lives. Only, as — of all places — Cracked pointed out:

Studies show cult members are just as intelligent, if not more so, than the general public. And around 95 percent of cult members are perfectly sane (when they join up, anyway), with no history at all of real psychological problems. They’re not stupid, and they’re not crazy.

As social animals we are hard-wired to want to belong to a group. It’s a need as basic and real as hunger or sex. When we get cut off from our group–say we lose a job, or move to a new city, or break up with our girlfriend–we go a little crazy. Cults are very, very good at finding people in that exact moment of weakness, and saying exactly the right things. Those pamphlets that sound so corny and transparent to you, read like a glorious breath of fresh air to somebody caught in one of those rough spots.

So sure, when we’re in our normal, stable state of affairs we like to imagine ourselves coolly shooting down all of the charismatic cult leader’s stupid-ass claims with the power of pure critical thinking. But remember that the next time you’re drunk dialing your ex-girlfriend in the middle of the night, or stalking her new boyfriend, sneaking into the parking lot where he works and pooping on the hood of his car.

It’s no accident that televangelists target lonely seniors or that weirdo cults target young people in the early and difficult phases of their careers. In times of stress — and if you hadn’t noticed, our times are pretty stressful even for those of us with families, jobs and houses — there’s comfort in hearing that it all makes sense; that it’s all part of a plan.

So when I laugh a the rapturists, it’s because it’s the only thing keeping me from punching Harold Camping and his fellows in the face. At best, they are charismatic lunatics who got people to act stupidly. At worst, they’re cynical charlatans who got decent but vulnerable people to turn their lives upside down.

So no, I’m not prepared to be understanding about this. And I’m not prepared to be understanding about the next End of the World panic — this one coming mostly from the non-religious — about 2012. You can bet that the above stories will be repeated all over again in about 2 years.