- Pakistani lawyer petitions for death of Mark Zuckerberg • The Register
- Proof that the "religion of peace" isn't *all* bad.
(tags: religion islam pakistan facebook mohammed)
- 19 reasons why God torched Jesus
- 19 reasons why that huge statue of Jesus in America burnt down: best one: "5) He is resin."
(tags: jesus religion funny fire statue christianity)
- The bright side of wrong – The Boston Globe
- Article which argues that cognitive biases may be the price we pay for being able to jump to probable conclusions.
(tags: psychology neuroscience cognition rationality cognitive-bias)
- The 10 Most Important Things They Didn’t Teach You In School | Cracked.com
- From the author of "John Dies at the End". Mostly obvious, but well done.
(tags: education funny cracked life sex)
- YouTube – Doctor Who: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Daleks (The Peter Jones-y Edit)
- Two great tastes etc. etc.
(tags: video doctorwho dalek hitchhikers science-fiction sci-fi parody funny youtube)
- Exploring the software behind Facebook, the world’s largest site | Royal Pingdom
- Facebook: evil but still cool.
(tags: development facebook performance php programming server software tools internet)
- Why the New Atheists Failed, and How to Defeat All Religious Arguments in One Easy Step
- A neat summary of Luke's problem with Dawkins, and what he thinks is a better argument against theistic explanations. Youtube video with a transcript (hurrah).
(tags: richard-dawkins dawkins atheism religion philosophy explanation)
- Curing the gays « Derren Brown Blog
- Derren Brown (who's gay, and who used to be a Christian): "I have, however, attended these sorts of church sessions and even courses which set about healing the ‘brokenness’ of homosexuality… I read of such things now and shiver."
(tags: derren-brown gay homosexuality christianity religion philippa-stroud sex)
- Top Tory Adviser Ran Prayer Group to “Heal” LGBTS
- Focusses on why the media have ignored the story. Contains a comment from one of the people quoted in the original Observer article, something which the regular media won't print, apparently.
(tags: philippa-stroud conservatives conservative politics sex religion homosexuality demons)
- Erasing David
- Ross Anderson on poor operational security in the NHS, made worse by politics: "Last night’s documentary Erasing David shows how private eyes tracked down a target by making false pretext telephone calls to the NHS. By pretending to be him they found out when he and his wife were due to attend an ante-natal clinic, and ambushed him as he came out."
(tags: privacy security nhs ross-anderson health)
- A Bit of Fry and Laurie – A word, Timothy
- "Berwhale the Avenger, the Weapon of the Chosen One." "He lives far beyond… in Saffron Walden."
(tags: funny fry-and-laurie stephen-fry fantasy parody berwhale)
Via pseudomonas, I got the news that Conservative high-flyer Philippa Stroud founded a church that tried to ‘cure’ homosexuals by driving out their ‘demons’. The Observer quotes a couple of people who were on the receiving end.
If you engage with Christians about philosophical arguments, where, say, God is advanced as the best, most elegant explanation for creation or the order in the universe, it’s easy to forget that both evangelical and Catholic Christians are committed to belief in the existence of Satan and his minions. For some reason, these Christians tend to downplay this aspect of their belief when evangelising. I’ve previously mentioned the slippery slope that someone might go down, from intellectual arguments for deism, to the Christian Trinity, to a pantheon with angels and demons and bears, oh my.
Those Christians who do believe in the Adversary can be further distinguished by how readily they’ll invoke him as an explanation. My former church saw the Prince of this World as primarily a tempter, not as someone who might possess a person: it might be the Devil’s fault if you had, you know, urges, but I don’t recall anyone attributing illness or even homosexuality to the actions of the Beast (as opposed to the generally fallen state of the world).
It sounds like Stroud’s church is a charismatic church, where people expect to have spiritual encounters, both with God and with the Evil One, much more directly than at more conservative evangelical churches.
Christian blogger and author Adrian Warnock tells us he plans to vote Conservative, partly based on Stroud’s influence on the party. He’s not talking about demons, though, but about social justice: both in Warnock’s article and the Observer‘s, it’s obvious that, in Stroud’s church, the hair-raising stuff about demons is married to a genuine concern for the poor, which I think can only do the Conservative party some good.
Still, I can’t help but think there must be alternatives where the party both wants to help the poor and doesn’t have its social policy written by people who believe demons cause The Gay.
Edited: Iain Dale writes that Stroud has been smeared by the Observer, and quotes a statement from her in which she denies that she thinks homosexuality is an illness. I think questions remain, though: after all, the Observer article didn’t say she did think it was an illness, did it?
Edited again: Andrew Brown chimes in with a utilitarian argument for Stroud.
And again: odd that the media isn’t reporting this one, isn’t it? Pam’s House Blend talks about why, and also has this comment from one of the people the Observer interviewed.
- AlterNet: What Happened When I Went Undercover at a Christian Gay-to-Straight Conversion Camp
- Via Metafilter. Comical yet sad stuff: you do end up really feeling for these guys even as you laugh at the silliness of the camps.
(tags: homosexuality religion christianity sex conversion)
- YouTube – Latin Technique Class – Cha Cha
- Walks and locks. Wish my hips did that…
(tags: cha-cha dancing video youtube)
- General election 2010: The liberal moment has come | Comment is free | The Guardian
- The Graun comes out for the Libdems. I endorse this message.
(tags: politics uk election guardian liberal-democrats libdems)
After the last case of nature imitating art, Gordon Brown’s gaffe reminded me of that moment on Yes, Prime Minister when Sir Humphrey learns an important lesson: the microphone is always live, just as the gun is always loaded.
I don’t know whether Mrs Duffy is a bigot. As Bernard Woolley might say, that’s one of those irregular verbs, isn’t it? I engage in open discussion on immigration; you are a bigot; he’s being charged under Section 19 of the Public Order Act. Andrew Rilstone says she’s read too much of the Nasty Press, and that Brown is himself too used to pandering to them, in public at least, both sentiments which seem fair enough, to me.
Justice and Laws
There’s a lot of blogging going on about the failure of yet another legal case where a Christian claimed they’d been discriminated against when they were sacked for discriminating against gays. Gary McFarlane, a relationship counsellor, was sacked by Relate for refusing to give therapy to homosexual couples. Lord Carey, the former archbishop of Canterbury, intervened in the case. He submitted a witness statement in which he called for special, religiously sensitive, courts to hear cases like McFarlane’s; said that Christians were being equated with bigots (that word again); and warned of “civil unrest” if things carried on (for an example of civil unrest organised by the Church of England, see Eddie Izzard’s Cake or death sketch).
It’s worth reading the full text of the judgement by the excellently named Lord Justice Laws. After giving his legal opinion, the judge addresses Lord Carey’s statement. He rejects Carey’s claim that the law says Christians are bigots, distinguishing discriminatory outcomes from malevolent intentions. He goes on:
The general law may of course protect a particular social or moral position which is espoused by Christianity, not because of its religious imprimatur, but on the footing that in reason its merits commend themselves. So it is with core provisions of the criminal law: the prohibition of violence and dishonesty. The Judaeo-Christian tradition, stretching over many centuries, has no doubt exerted a profound influence upon the judgment of lawmakers as to the objective merits of this or that social policy. And the liturgy and practice of the established Church are to some extent prescribed by law. But the conferment of any legal protection or preference upon a particular substantive moral position on the ground only that it is espoused by the adherents of a particular faith, however long its tradition, however rich its culture, is deeply unprincipled. It imposes compulsory law, not to advance the general good on objective grounds, but to give effect to the force of subjective opinion. This must be so, since in the eye of everyone save the believer religious faith is necessarily subjective, being incommunicable by any kind of proof or evidence. It may of course be true; but the ascertainment of such a truth lies beyond the means by which laws are made in a reasonable society. Therefore it lies only in the heart of the believer, who is alone bound by it. No one else is or can be so bound, unless by his own free choice he accepts its claims.
This debate is usually framed as Christians vs atheists and secularists. Indeed, Carey is still fulminating, fellow bishop Cranmer rumbles about establishment, and the Christian Legal Centre appears to think it’s a good idea for the courts to take a position on the veracity of the Bible (let me know how that one works out for you, guys). But not all Christians are with Carey and the CLC: some Christians call out Carey for bringing Christianity into disrepute, and some recognise that claiming persecution has become a cottage industry for Christians in the UK. See also How to spot a fundamentalist Christian lobby group in your news, where you’re encouraged to spot a pattern developing.
The Evangelical Alliance would like these cases to stay out of the courts. A common response to this sort of case is to ask whether some accommodation could be made to the discriminatory Christians: perhaps those who objected to dealing with gay couples could be excused such duties? That seems reasonable to an extent, but Lord Justice Laws makes it clear that there is no legal obligation on employers here. It would be churlish to object to employers freely choosing to make such arrangements, so long as they do not inconvenience co-workers who do not discriminate in this way, but it seems hard to argue that employers have a moral obligation to do so, either: co-workers would probably feel a bit like the elder brother in Prodigal Son parable, and might ask why should someone behaving badly get equal pay and more flexibility about their work then someone willing to do the entire job. More generally, if society has decided that such discrimination is wrong, why should those doing wrong get special treatment? What do you think, readers?
- The Tornado, the Lutherans, and Homosexuality :: Desiring God
- Well known complementarian John Piper explains how God sent a tornado to break the spire of a Lutheran church as a "a gentle but firm" reminder that gay sex is bad. Via a more sensible Christian on Unreasonable Faith.
(tags: church homosexuality sin bible christianity reformed sex gay piper lutheran lolxians)
- Boring men?
- In response to a Metafilter posting linking to an article about how all men are boring, Mefi user Pastabagel shares their idea of what it would be like if men responded to women asking what was on their minds.
(tags: funny metafilter relationships sex women boring)
- Apophatic atheology: an April apologetic
- "A great deal of needless offence and rancour, it seems to me, is caused by the unfortunate tendency of certain believers to take the speeches and books of atheism literally."
(tags: religion atheism apophatic funny parody ken-macleod)
- Biblical Evidence for Catholicism: Was Skeptical Philosopher David Hume an Atheist?
- Some interesting quotes from Hume scholars. Comes from a blog evangelising for Catholicism, so may be strongly filtered evidence, but worth a read, in any case.
(tags: philosophy hume atheism david-hume agnosticism deism religion scepticism)
- Nothing New Under The Sun – The biggest problem imo with organized religion
- is that it validates the very human impulse to think that we can "make up" for things – rewrite the past, undo what we have done, magic away the reality with something else – that we can fix our misdeeds and harms done by harming ourselves in some way.
(tags: religion atonement psychology morality)
- Ireland Archbishop stunned by Dr Rowan Williams’ criticism of Catholic Church -Times Online
- "The Archbishop of Dublin today said he was "stunned" to hear the Archbishop of Canterbury declare that the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland has lost all credibility because of the child abuse scandal." Rowan's peeved at the poaching Pope (and sensibly looking to put some distance between the two churches, by the looks of it).
(tags: catholicism catholic rowan-williams anglican anglicanism religion christianity ireland children abuse)
- Colin Marshall talks to economist, blogger and rationalist Robin Hanson
- "Robin Hanson is a professor of economics at George Mason University, research associate at Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute and chief scientist at Consensus Point. He’s also the thinker behind Overcoming Bias, a popular blog about issues of honesty, signaling, disagreement, forecasting and the far future, around which a large rationality-centric community has developed on the internet."
(tags: rationality signalling robin-hanson overcoming-bias economics)
- Evangelicals warn: women bishops will ‘put men off ordination’ – Times Online
- "They have girl cooties," a spokesman for the Doctrinal Rectitude Trust said today.
(tags: evangelicalism christianity religion women ordination reformed)
- Brainboxes, booze and sex – what a fascinating combination – Telegraph
- Ah, Newnham. (Though Celia Warden rightly says that the papers are only interested because of "posh girls shagging" angle).
(tags: sex newnham cambridge-university funny)
As a toxic neo-atheist fundamentalist neo-rationalist sceptic, it was difficult to know what to hope for in all the kerfuffle about the Equality Bill: is it better that the government narrows the scope for discrimination against homosexuals by religious organisations, or better that the church publicly admits it’s so important for it to discriminate that it’ll use the votes of the bishops in the House of Lords to accomplish it? Which will bring in the Kingdom of Dawkins sooner? It’s so hard to tell.
The only winning move is not to play
The story so far: the Government wanted to specify the scope of the religious exemption from the Bill’s provisions, after the European Commission said the existing exemptions were too broad and might result in legal action from the EU. The Government told the churches that their somewhat cosy position would not change and that the new wording was merely clarifying it, but the churches weren’t taken in: there were petitions organised by charming characters, everyone got terribly excited, and there was an amendment proposed in the House of Lords to strike out the more specific language. As Andrew Brown’s blog posting has it “Eight serving bishops and Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, voted for the decisive amendment which was carried by five votes”. Eight bishops and five votes, you say?
Brown says this may be a pyrrhic victory for the church, as its actions have shown it’s out of touch with Radio 4 listeners and other worthy types. If you were Rowan Williams (you remember, Rowan Williams), you’d probably be wondering how long the forces of antidisestablishmentarianism will be able to hold out against the floccinaucinihilipilification of the Christian heritage of this country.
Decorate the church with swords, or pictures of knights, or flaming torches
It’s not just Radio 4 listeners the church has to worry about. Over at the Times, Ruth Gledhill wonders why men don’t go to church. She quotes from this painfully awful advice from a Christian charity on how to make the church attractive to men: “Men appreciate ‘professionalism’… things done well. For instance, if you use a drama make sure it is good, otherwise men will find it embarrassing” (women are, of course, undiscriminating); “does the church always need to be decorated with flowers? … How would it go down to decorate with swords, or pictures of knights, or flaming torches?” How would it go down, readers?
Gledhill has a serious point, which is that the church is undergoing the evaporative cooling of group beliefs: society is getting more socially liberal, and those left in the church less so, because those who do have liberal beliefs cannot stand to stay in the church. Though Gledhill has some anecdotes about thriving liberal churches, she doesn’t back this up with data.
Luckily, someone else has gathered a whole load of data. According to the Guardian, the 2008 British Social Attitudes survey by the National Centre for Social Research showed that “36% of people thought sexual relations between two adults of the same sex were ‘always or mostly’ wrong, down from 62% in 1983” (detailed numbers are here, if anyone wants to play with them). Gledhill links to the chapter on religion from the survey, which makes interesting reading: between 1983 and 2008, the percentage of the sample describing themselves some sort of Christian fell from 66% to 50%. “No religion” rose from 31% to 43%. The percentage describing themselves as “Church of England” fell from 40% to 23%. In 2008, 62% said they never attended religious services.
We’ll nae be fooled again
As Brown says, there’s a tension between the government’s role in promoting libertarian freedom and promoting social goods. There is an argument for freedom of association, but the question is where to draw the line. My preference would be to allow the exceptions the church wants, on the condition that organisations making use of them will not receive public money or tax exemptions (such as charitable status). The church is dwindling, and out of step with society: the rest of us should not have to pay for it.
Anyone for another petition?
To give the impression that I’m fair and balanced, this time round I’m looking at a bad argument which is usually used by atheists.
There’s a scene The West Wing where President Bartlet tears a strip off an evangelical Christian talk radio host. In the scene (you can see it on YouTube, or read a transcript), the evangelical tells Bartlett that the Bible says homosexuality is an abomination. Bartlet then launches into a series of rhetorical questions, asking how he should carry out other Old Testament rules which we’d now find ridiculous, if not downright evil: “My chief of staff, Leo McGarry, insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly says he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself or is it okay to call the police?”
Let’s call this the Barlet gambit: the President’s argument seems to be that it’s inconsistent for evangelicals to say “homosexuality is wrong because the Bible says so”, because they’re not also keeping these other rules which are also found in the Bible. The gambit is a favourite with people who argue with evangelicals about homosexuality: sometimes they even quote Bartlet.
Unfortunately, the Bartlet gambit fails as an argument.
What’s wrong with it
Evangelical Christians have reasons why they’re not keeping the Old Testament laws despite regarding the Old Testament as scripture. The question comes up in the New Testament itself, once we reach the Acts of the Apostles, where we read of the first non-Jews converting to Christianity (up to that point in the story, what will later become Christianity is still a movement within Judaism, although a few Gentiles are impressed with Jesus in the gospels). The Council of Jerusalem ruled that Gentile Christians are allowed to eat shrimp and wear mixed fibres and, luckily for penis owners, don’t have to be circumcised.
So, according to Acts (which, like the rest of the Bible, is inerrant, remember), Christians sorted this stuff out in the first century AD. They aren’t going to worry about atheists calling them hypocrites for wearing cotton/polyester blend while “hating the sin and loving the sinner”.
Perhaps Barlet is specifically objecting to the evangelical’s use of Leviticus, which does put homosexuality on a par with things which aren’t kosher, rather than with things which are morally evil. Alas, even without Leviticus, there are other Bible passages which can be pressed into service against the gay, and you can rely on evangelicals to know most of them, because the issue has become a defining feature of evangelicalism. We could argue that these passages don’t apply to modern committed homosexual partnerships, but evangelicals don’t find these arguments impressive.
What to do instead
In the UK, many rank-and-file evangelicals are educated professionals. They didn’t get into religion to give gays a hard time, and, unless they’ve completely disappeared up their own sub-culture, they tend to be a bit embarrassed by the anti-gay stuff. Still, because it’s “what the Bible says”, they feel they’re obliged to go along with it anyway, even if the Guardian wouldn’t approve (the evangelical jargon phrase for that sort of thing is that it’s a “hard teaching” where you’ll just have to “trust God”).
If I were a gifted orator like Barlet, I think I’d appeal to their sense of justice. Is there perhaps something odd about the way churches accept straight couples who are openly in their second or later marriage (something about which Jesus had some strong words to say), but wouldn’t be happy with an openly gay couple? Some hypocrisy there, maybe?
Or we might try empathy. There’s the problem that, as Valerie Tarico says, evangelicalism “can re-direct our mother-bear instincts away from protecting vulnerable individuals and toward protecting the ideology itself. Believers may come to feel more protective of their religion than they are of actual human beings.” Still, it might be worth a go: is it fair to say that gay people cannot form committed romantic relationships? Imagine yourself in their shoes. If you obey the evangelical rules, it seems rather a lonely place.
- ‘Witch’ set to stand in general election
- Everyone's favourite Cambridge witch, Magus Lynius Shadee, is going to stand for MP for Cambridge. Policies include getting rid of faith schools (sort of want), banning RE lessons (do not want), more tax on booze (do want, I think). Previously, Shadee was in the news for summoning demons in the local Catholic church, and for threatening to open an occult shop in Cambridge. He's Satan's gift to local journalism.
(tags: witchcraft woo-woo paganism politics)
- Gay Teen Worried He Might Be Christian
- The Onion scores again. HT to Friendly Atheist.
(tags: politics religion humour funnny onion homosexuality)
- Oh no! “Licentiousness breeds extremism”
- "Yasmin Alibhai-Brown has a worrying column in The Independent. It is not worrying because of the concerns she raises about "licentiousness", "social nihilism", "debauchery", etc., but because it is another example of blaming the victims. Somehow the blame for Islamist terrorism is to be sheeted home to the relative sexual permissiveness of Western (in this case, British) society. It is also worrying because Alibhai-Brown is supposed to be an example of a moderate Muslim"
(tags: islam muslim uk politics sex religion terrorism)
- Conversations About The Internet #5: Anonymous Facebook Employee – The Rumpus.net
- Interesting stuff about privacy and re-writing PHP. HT to Andrew Ducker.
(tags: culture internet facebook security privacy media social programming php)
- Beyond belief
- Short but interesting article on the growth of atheism in Australia.
(tags: atheism religion australia)
- Heresy Corner: Sir Ian Blair defends the indefensible
- I do try not to link to every single thing Heresiarch posts, but this is a particularly good one. " Evidence that the powers have been used inappropriately is not hard to find. Much more striking is the lack of evidence that the powers have ever been used appropriately. No terrorism-related charges have been brought against anyone as a result of a search carried out under the 2000 Terrorism Act".
(tags: terrorism politics ian-blair crime police)