Not The Tom Payne of Tibet

It’s been a while since Obama did anything I could applaud. it’s just too bad this is so inconsequential:

The Obama Administration may think its decision to cold shoulder the Dalai Lama on the Tibetan leader’s upcoming trip to Washington is smart politics. But if the leader of the free world doesn’t stand up for religious freedom, who will?

I fail to see how meeting with the deposed theocrat of a conquered nation is standing up for anything. The same people who think the Ayatollah of Iran is evil and the likes of Pat Robertson are backwards, dirty cocksuckers, give the Dalai Lama a pass, just because he’s a Buddhist. As if that somehow excuses the fact that, for the last 1500 years, he and his predecessors* have been the autocratic rulers of an absolute theocracy, using the local superstition to keep themselves in power.

And yes, yes, I know, the Chinese are evil bastards, invading sweet old Tibet, etc. Whatever. Being ruled by a nominally Communist dictatorship rather than a religious dictatorship is more of a lateral move. And it’s galling to listen to the Dalai Lama wander around aimlessly blathering about human rights when, if he had his way, he’d be back in Tibet, working to keep women as second class citizens and overlooking the abuse of children by monks. Lhasa never was the bastion of enlightenment the aging hippies made it out to be. It’s  just the Vatican of the Himalayas. For all his talk of peace and human rights, The Dalai Lama hasn’t really done anything but ask people to be nice, so that maybe, one day in a thousand generations, we’ll be better people. he could do more, but as a Buddhist, it’s against his religion to actually do anything that might be helpful.

While I’d like to see the people of Tibet become free, it won’t be because of the Free Tibet Movement, who seek to reinstall the Dalai Lama of Tibet become free, they need to do so by winning their independence (by force if necessary) and establishing a democracy. If they want to keep the Dalai Lama and his cadre of incestuous priests on hand as ceremonial fiure heads, that’s their business.

And sure, China has been mistreating Tibetans for quite some time, torturing monks and squashing demonstrations. They don’t get a pass either, and if it turns out that Obama is snubbing the Dalai Lama just to win brownie points with Beijing, I’ll be just as disappointed. I’d prefer to think Obama just has more important things to occupy his time than entertaining mystics.

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*Or, if you believe in reincarnation, the same man. What is worse, being ruled over by an endless parade of deluded self righteous men, or the same one repeatedly? Kind of a wash.

Paranoia Suits Him Anyway

Bill Donohue doesn’t like, well, much of anything, and now it’s driven him paranoid:

Catholic League President Bill Donohue presented a paranoid side of his personality to Fox News Monday morning, declaring that “militant, dogmatic” atheists are “out to get” Catholics and dismantle American society.

“I’m talking about the extremists within [liberal] ranks who have become very, very vocal,” Donohue said. “And over the last several decades what we’ve seen is an all-out assault. This kind of new atheism. This militant dogmatic fundamentalist atheism out there to get us.”

The latest pimple on Bill’s Donohue’s ass is a show by Penn & Teller, those noted teetotaler magicians. Scary I know. (Though to be fair, Penn is kinda tall). It seems P&T did an episode of their show, Bullshit on the Catholic Church and it’s rather, let’s call it checkered, past. So, now talking about stuff that actually happened is an assault on Catholicism and the wholesomeness of the Virgin. We atheists are nothing if not subtle. (I’m doing my part to get Catholics by marrying one!) Though notice that an “assault” by “extremist atheists” consist of publishing books, talking about history and refusing to shut up when blowhards like Bill Donohue tell us too. Unlike an assault by extremist true believers, which consists of suicide bombers, hijacked airplanes and a massive coordinated ground invasion and air strike. One gets you killed, the other involves listening to Penn Jillette or Richard Dawkins talk about something they are informed on and passionate about.

“This was the most Nazi-like assault,” Donohue said. “The most unrelenting half an hour of bashing I’ve ever seen.”

The Nazi comparison appears to be Donohue’s theme for his publicity battle with Penn & Teller, which he blames on CBS, as it owns Showtime, the network that airs Penn & Teller’s show.

“The Nazis couldn’t have done better,” Donohue said in a statement. “Having been in this job for over 16 years, I have never seen a more defamatory, obscene and vicious show on TV.”

Though it’s kind of ironic that Donohue referred to Penn & Teller as Nazis for talking smack about the Pope, a former Hitler Youth member. also, Hitler was Catholic. So, yeah, maybe Bill should choose a different boogy man to describe atheists, one that doesn’t come from his own closet.

I Called It! I’m So Sad…

This makes sense and that is the problem:

Incredibly, President George W. Bush told French President Jacques Chirac in early 2003 that Iraq must be invaded to thwart Gog and Magog, the Bible’s satanic agents of the Apocalypse.

Honest. This isn’t a joke. The president of the United States, in a top-secret phone call to a major European ally, asked for French troops to join American soldiers in attacking Iraq as a mission from God.

Now out of office, Chirac recounts that the American leader appealed to their “common faith” (Christianity) and told him: “Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East…. The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled…. This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins.”

This bizarre episode occurred while the White House was assembling its “coalition of the willing” to unleash the Iraq invasion. Chirac says he was boggled by Bush’s call and “wondered how someone could be so superficial and fanatical in their beliefs.”

Next time someone asks me why I’m an atheist, I’m just going to point them to this story. Atheists don’t start wars because of fairy tales.

Once we figured out that all the bogus excuses for the war were so much bullshit, it became pretty obvious that President Kill Again was an empty suit, listening ot the voices in his head. “No! Sadam’s gonna send the model planes of death to kill us all!” we were told by the wingnuts. Yeah. So, there you go. It was all about the Jeebus.

Can we leave now?

What Books Would Jesus Burn?

Guardian UK:

In a scene which appears to have been lifted straight out of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, a group of Christians in Wisconsin has launched a legal claim demanding the right to publicly burn a copy of a book for teenagers which they deem to be “explicitly vulgar, racial [sic], and anti-Christian”.

The offending book is Francesca Lia Block’s Baby Be-Bop, a young adult novel in which a boy, struggling with his homosexuality, is beaten up by a homophobic gang. The complaint, which according to the American Library Association also demands $120,000 (£72,000) in compensatory damages for being exposed to the book in a display at West Bend Community Memorial Library, was lodged by four men from the Christian Civil Liberties Union.

Because if history has taught us anything, it’s that burning books works, suing for the right, doubly so. Also, it never, ever makes them more popular.

I haven’t read Baby Be-Bop, but I did recently read Weetzie Bat, the first book in the same series. It’s a beautiful story, about people (some of them gay!) looking for love and acceptance, a topic I know really rankles Christians. I think it was in the Gospel of John where Jesus said, “Fuck all those pansy-ass fagots, they’ll burn for wanting to be loved like a real person.”

Link via @neilhimself

BSG: Telling It From The Mountain

So, I was reading Pandagon yesterday when I discovered that some really weird folk think Battlestar Galactica is secretly a Mormon recruitment tool[1]. Their evidence? The show makes use of religious imagery and mythology. Which is pretty week as arguments for propaganda go. By this definition, Superman,[2] Star Wars[3] and everything Philip K. Dick[4] ever wrote is also super secret (but right out there in the open) religious propaganda.

Once upon a time, this argument might have applied to the original BSG, which was Mormon mythology dressed up in swank, quilted late seventies space opera. But the new series? Not so much. As Amanda Marcotte pointed out, just because a story derives some of its momentum from popular religious ideas doesn’t automatically mean the creators are promoting that religion. Also, religious pluralism, modern gender roles with women in leadership positions and decidedly secular attitudes towards sex, drinking and drug use don’t exactly scream, “Join The Mormons!” As with any artfully done work of storytelling, it’s not that simple. BSG can’t be broken down into simple declarative statements about its morals and message. It’s a nuanced discussion of various current ideas.

But there is one really obvious way you can tell that BSG isn’t telling it from the mountain: stories told with an ideological agenda are no fun. Whether they are serialized TV dramas, movies, comics or novels, an ideologically driven narrative stands out because the author is selling you a flat pack of easy answers to hard questions. And he (usually it’s a he) is not afraid to beat you silly with the truth stick to make his point[5]. This has some predictable effect on the way the story is told.
Continue reading “BSG: Telling It From The Mountain”

May Day!

Greetings to all my Communist Comrades!

Secret handshakes to my Anarchist buddies!

For all you Socialist Workers out there, keep up the good work!

I hope all you Witches had a lovely Walpurgis Night and many happy turns around the May Pole! Think of me whilst you frolic.

It’s a joy to see hundreds of little Catholic School Children twirling around a fertility symbol, all in honor of the Virgin. Wink.

Happy Birthday Ma Sanchez!

Unfortunately, May 1st is The National Day of Prayer, according to the Bush Administration*. Fuckers know how to spoil a good thing, that’s for damn sure.

A holiday about activism and social reform? Not anymore! Now it’s a day to commemorate the absolute, literal least you could possibly do to change anyone’s situation, anywhere.

A Christmas Story

Razib at Gene Expression has a great post on Christmas and what it means, if anything:

Ed, Greg & PZ have commented on the strange reaction of the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary toward Richard Dawkins’ enthusiasm for Christmas traditions. So “why would an atheist want to sing Christmas carols?”

The same reason that the study and reading of literature has not been reduced to physics. We humans appreciate great stories, and we can conceive in our mind’s eye ideas which may not be true, but we enjoy the play of those ideas nonetheless. One does not have to be a Greek pagan to appreciate the beauty and power of the Iliad, and in fact for centuries pious Christians have been moved by the poems of Homer without acceding to the reality of its relgious vision. For them Homer was not about the Truth of the gods, but the Truth of human experience. We don’t need to appeal to a classical education though, anyone who reads a piece of moving fiction can be emotionally impacted, without entertaining that the narrative is real in a positivistic sense.

Today many Christians complain about a “War against Christmas,” but they might be surprised to know that until recently the soldiers in that war were avowed Christians! During the 1650s the ascendant Puritans in England waged a war against Christmas because of its associations with “Popery” and paganism. The reasoned argument was that Christmas had no Biblical foundation, that was not grounded in Truth, and that a host of practices were obviously extra-Biblical interpolations from the pagan milieu of their ancestors, residue from the age of darkness before the Savior. Politically, the practice of Christmas traditions was a sign that perhaps one was for the Cavalier cause or a recusant Catholic. In the the name of utilitarian economic efficiency these early fundamentalists also abolished most holidays and religious festivals because they had no Biblical grounding, and so were not rooted in Truth, and were a waste of time and without any utility. In may ways I think these early Protestant fundamentalists had much in common with latter day social engineers, such as the Khmer Rouge, who seemed driven by an unnatural and distorted Benthanmite conception of what drives human nature and what gives joy and fullness to our lives.

I believe in human nature. We are not a blank slate into which one can pour in prior values and assume that our lives will be shaped by these exogenous inputs through a chain of necessary propositions. We enjoy good food, music, the company of family, gossip, socialization and the broader succor of our community. These are not social constructions, they are are the core of our humanity, and any belief system or model of human action which neglects these natural impulses will lead us astray. I am not denying flexibility of the parameters, but that flexibility exhibits constraints and stress when deviated from the central tendency.

The whole post is great and hits on several ideas that have been whirring about in my brain for some time. One idea in particular that jumped out at me was his statement that, “anyone who reads a piece of moving fiction can be emotionally impacted, without entertaining that the narrative is real in a positivistic sense. This cuts to the heart of the Fundamentalist problem with other narratives, not just the Christmas Story.

Continue reading “A Christmas Story”

I Swear To God, I Wish I Had Some Lions

So, today the United States House of Representatives passed a resolution declaring Christmas and Christians important. Now, one would think, in a nation that is 70% Christian, where there’s a church on every other fucking street corner, this would be superfluous. Guess not. If the 12% of us Agnostics and Atheists scare American Christians that much, simply by our desire to sleep in on Sunday mornings, than your religion isn’t worth shit. Apparently, the very knowledge that some people, maybe living next door or down the street (or in your own house, even!) don’t believe in the same imaginary friend really spooks True Believers. But it’s not persecution. I live in a state that still has Blue Laws. I can’t buy a bottle of wine on Sundays to go with my dinner, like any civilized European or Northerner, yet you’re the one whose oppressed?
Continue reading “I Swear To God, I Wish I Had Some Lions”

From The Outside, You All Look Like Scientologists Anyway

So, Mitt Romney gave a speech, did you hear? In it, he blathered on, as politicos are want to do, about the importance of religion, and our shared spiritual values and how, so long as we all believe in Jesus, at least a little, than Freedom! Cake! Puppies and kitties! Vote for Romney!

Continue reading “From The Outside, You All Look Like Scientologists Anyway”

Bask In the Glow of My Crapulant Halo

On this, the 6010th anniversary of the World’s supposed creation, the Barma Group releases a poll saying that 60% of Americans believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis. At least, they say they do. The problem with this and most religious polls is that they suffer from the Halo Effect.

Americans are raised form the time they are toddlers to say they believe in God because Saying You Believe in God is a signifier. It’s like a Galactic Hitchhiker’s towel; if you have a towel, most people will assume you also have a toothbrush, soap, space suit, etc, or had them at one time and simply misplaced them and so will gladly lend you whatever you’re lacking. Say You Believe in God and most Americans will assume, without any evidence, that you are a good and decent human being who sends their mother Birthday cards and is kind to puppies and children.

So, most people say they believe the Bible, Jesus, God or whatever will make you think they are a good person. They tell pollsters what they think they want to hear, not what is true. Truth is, most Americans don’t really believe any of these things. They just say they do. Probably about 20-30% really do believe these things to some degree but if pressed on the matter, will admit that OK, yeah, a talking snake is a little far fetched and maybe Geologists have a point and the Earth is really 4.5 Billion years old but still they Believe! Every other Sunday. For an hour. Maybe an hour and a half if the Sermon runs long.

The fact that + or – 25% of the population still believes this nonsense is anything but bronze age poetry is a problem and means that we nasty, vociferous atheists aren’t being loud enough. Thing is, it doesn’t take much to convince most people. You just have to ask questions gently, get them to think about how absurd religion is, which most people have simply never bothered to do and they’ll come around on their own. That little hard knot of Fundies and True Believers, well, they’re never going to learn, which is why we make fun of them. because it’s easier than breaking your forehead on a brick wall.

Via: PZ at Pharyngula.