Agnostic? Then you shouldn’t have children.

An Indiana judge has issued a ruling stripping a father of joint custody of his three children. One of the reasons cited by the judge was the lack of religion of the father.

[Judge] Pancol’s order says [Craig] Scarberry “did not participate in the same religious training that the (mother) exercised and that (Scarberry) was agnostic.” Scarberry has until Dec. 1 to appeal the ruling, which has reduced his custody to visitation with his children four hours per week and on alternating weekends.

Watch this short news report.

Of course, there’s certainly more to the story, but all that’s out there right now is that Scarberry’s lack of Christianity is a contributing factor in why he is not allowed to retain joint custody of his children. There is no evidence of neglect or abuse, nor any accusations of any sort of thing.

The main issue for the ruling (and then affirming) judge is this:

The order severing joint custody was issued by Pancol on Nov. 1 and affirmed by Newman on Nov. 8. It said that when Scarberry had been a Christian, “the parties were able to communicate relatively effectively.”

So why give benefit to the mother? Both parents were given joint custody; that communication is difficult due to religious differences does not mean the Christian therefore wins the legal battle. There is no reason to presume the Christian is better – in any way – than the agnostic. Besides, the ruling is blatantly unconstitutional.

A secondary issue in all this is the right of the father to have a fair hearing in these cases. In the past, the father was considered the bread winner and there were financial and practical reasons for granting more rights to the mother. Except we aren’t living in a dysfunctional episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show anymore. For that reason, Scarberry has this planned:

A Navy veteran and health-care worker, Scarberry has obtained a permit for a demonstration in support of fathers’ rights for Dec. 16 at the Madison County Courthouse.

Scarberry, of course, will also be addressing his (non)religious liberty, or lack thereof. His case is a good one and his fight is for all the right reasons. I’m just worried about all the inherent and undeserved respect religion is getting in all this.

“I wasn’t interfering in their right to be brought up in a Christian environment,” [Scarberry] said, noting that the children still attend Christian school and church services as they have done in the four years that he has had joint custody.

It’s bad enough that both the ruling and affirming judges are letting their personal and cultural biases seep into the court room, but Scarberry doesn’t need to do it too. Or maybe he does. After all, the man is fighting for his children; what it takes, it takes. But ideally, he should not need to let undue respect squeeze its way in: children don’t have a “right” to be brought up in a particular religious environment. That sort of right goes to the parent. There is no such thing as a Christian (or Muslim or Jewish or…) child, much less one that wants to exercise its right to be brought up in a particular religion. Saying otherwise is like saying there are Democratic and Republican children. There aren’t. And to compound the whole mess, Scarberry cites the attendance of a Christian school and church services by his children. Again, the man is fighting for the children, so he has no higher concern, but the indoctrination of his children should not be looked upon as a good thing.

Maybe if the judges just read the first and final chapter of The God Delusion, they would get it.

Elevating Christians

Several years ago I was in Barnes & Noble with a friend. It was a random, exceedingly boring weeknight in small town Maine, so we were doing little more than wandering. We eventually sat in some random corner of the store, talking about whatever. As we were doing this, I had grabbed a rolled-up, tube-shaped world map that I was idly spinning in my hand. This prompted an older employee to approach me after some time.

Are you going to buy that?

No, I replied. I hardly realized it was in my hand.

Well, then you need to put it away!

She marched away proudly, elated that she had really put a random stranger in his place.

It wasn’t that she merely stated that I needed to put the map away, fearing I might damage it. It was the way she said it. She was rude, immature, and treating me as a mere child. Had she nicely asked me to put the map away, I would have promptly realized that, yes, she’s right, I might cause some damage to the merchandise. But she chose to go about it an entirely different way.

After gathering my thoughts, I calmly approached her. I began by offering leeway:

I know there are a lot of middle school kids who come in here during the summer and I know they might tend to mess around and I know retail is no picnic, but I feel like the way you approached me was inappropriate.

I continued to explain my position, being sure to approach the situation in the most mature manner I could muster – that is, in precisely the opposite way she chose to approach me. But she wouldn’t budge. I was wrong and she was right and it was fine and dandy that she treated people like that.

Having exhausted my attempt to reason with the woman, I addressed the manager. I ceded that, sure, spinning a map in my hand, as actually harmless as that is, probably isn’t the best thing I could be doing; my issue wasn’t in being told not to do something. I emphasized it was the way I was approached. The woman was immature and childish. That much is objectively true insofar as their are any standards for what constitutes immaturity and childishness. Insofar as subjective assessment is concerned, I suspect being in her 40’s and in retail has led her to an internal bitterness that causes in her a desire to show superiority towards others.

When relaying this story to a friend, two issues came up. First, I was accused of doing this for myself. Of course there’s an element of my own personal desires involved; there has to be. But this had a principle behind it. If this woman was willing to treat someone in his 20’s that way, how did she treat kids? Or even other adults? Even if I prevented her from being immature towards one person down the road, I did something worthwhile. Just like with the elderly, bitter couple from T’s Golf, it’s important to stand up when people are treating each other like shit.

The second issue was that there could have been a better approach. This led to a story.

There were two men who got into an argument. One man punched the other, a Christian man, square in the face. The Christian man fell to the ground, slowly rose, but did not punch his attacker back.

The story was slightly more detailed than that, but that’s the jist of it. Rather than seek revenge, the Christian rose above his anger. (Note, this assumes that the first issue, the one of this being a personal vendetta, is valid; it isn’t.)

We all understand the point and we can all appreciate it. We may, in fact, wish to apply it in relevant situations: rise above our anger, turn the other cheek. But notice the qualifier for the second man. He’s a Christian. There is no particular reason this needs to be so. It’s a superfluous detail in the story. Anyone, not merely Christians, can rise above their anger (though I had a principle to drive home that had the potential of benefiting others; there was little anger above which to rise).

As a counter to this undue elevation of Christians and Christianity, I noted this scene from Happy Days (relevant portion begins at 1:40). I think it ends this post succinctly.

Religiously-motivated violence gets worse in Nigeria

It’s only getting worse.

Witnesses say people are fleeing their homes in central Nigeria over fears of renewed religious violence between Christians and Muslims.

Witnesses say there has been at least one death in the city of Jos and people began fleeing on Saturday.

A military spokesman confirmed there was unrest in the city, but gave no details.

It isn’t going to be easy for Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, to deal with all the violence it currently faces. Some of it comes from corruption that pervades its entire government. Some of it comes from poverty. But much of it comes from religion; religion is the cause of all the killings between Christians and Muslims going on right now. To cause a significant change in the dynamics of the region, the fact of religion would need to be removed. It cannot simply be replaced with anything – only a simpleton would think that – but without religion, the basis of any violence would change. (It would also change if one religion was all that dominated, but then the entire country might come in conflict with entire other nations.) In places like Northern Ireland, an elimination of the Catholic/Protestant divide throughout the later half of the 20th century probably wouldn’t have completely eliminated all violence there, but it would have subtracted from the equation one significant piece of unnecessary (and untrue) ideology.

For Nigeria, the Christian/Muslim divide is acting as a reason to kill over a lack of fertile lands. Eliminate that divide and the lack of good growing land still exists, but one significant reason for all the murders will be gone. I suspect that for this country corrupt officials might step in to fill the void of controversy and unrest, but they would actually be a step forward in an effort of social and political reform for the better.

They certainly couldn’t be any worse than the two violent religions that have such a strong hold in Nigeria right now.

Christian sex therapist loses appeal

It makes no sense. Why would Christians even begin to think they had any qualifications as sex therapists? Certainly one can be Christian and be a competent sex therapist, but that falls apart when the sex therapist identifies his profession with Christianity itself (or really, any religion). That’s what Gary McFarlane of the UK did when he refused to treat same-sex couples – and it’s why he was fired.

Mr McFarlane said after the hearing that the decision not to let him appeal against the ruling left him “disappointed and upset”.

“I have the ability to provide counselling services to same-sex couples,” he said.

“However, because of my Christian beliefs and principles, there should be allowances taken into account whereby individuals like me can actually avoid having to contradict their very strongly-held Christian principles.”

It doesn’t work like that. Most professions have a set of ethics (whether specifically created by those in the profession or adopted from outside sources), and exceptions to those rules just do not tend to occur. If one person is allowed to skirt the tenets of his profession because he really believes something strongly, then there really are no more ethics; there are rules for some and privileges for others.

My favorite part of this whole thing comes from Lord Justice Laws.

Lord Justice Laws said legislation for the protection of views held purely on religious grounds cannot be justified.

He said it was irrational and “also divisive, capricious and arbitrary”.

The thing about religion and theology is that in all the apologetics and excuses and convolutions is the fact that if someone rejects the premise of a religion in the first place, then none of the intellectual masturbation holds any water. There are no attempts at universal appeals within theologies, and so they prove themselves useless in how society and professions ought to consider ethical guidelines and rules. Gary McFarlane’s religious beliefs do not deserve consideration because they have no justifications which can be utilized in how to counsel and treat patients on a human level.

Bob Emrich

Bob Emrich is a major bigot and a danger to the well-being of Maine and the good reputation of Maine. Of course, he is one of the hateful Christians seeking to invade the secular nature of Maine law to deny people the right to marry on the basis of gender. He also says dumb things like this.

State voters have repeatedly defined marriage as between a man and a woman when given the opportunity, with the latest vote in California, said Emrich, founder of Maine Jeremiah Project, which aims to get people of faith involved in setting public policy.

“Without exception, they’ve always voted to protect the traditional definition of marriage,” Emrich said.

And for a long time, so did the South. After all, the “traditional definition of marriage” for a very long time was that interracial unions were unholy and thus not allowed. Emrich is presenting a plainly dumb argument. “Well, we’ve been doing it for so long!”

I’m tired of parsing words or dilly-dallying around the issue. These people are fucking stupid. They have the intelligence of a glop of mud. These huge bigots (not that small bigots are okay) find homosexuality icky and/or they’re uncomfortable with their own sexuality. Often, their sexuality is repressed (see priests). They have immature views on what sex is, what its purpose is, what it means, and they are unable to make universal appeals which support any of the dogmatic inanity they embrace. Why do we listen to these fools?

Karl W. Giberson

Every once in awhile, a scientist will come out and say science and religion can co-exist. There will be some press coverage because of the obvious tensions between evidence-based thought and willy-nilly faith. So it comes as no surprise that physicist Karl Giberson is receiving some attention for his recent claim and book that says evolution and God can co-exist. (I presume the man has a longer history in the creationism-evolution issue than what LiveScience seems to suggest, but he evidently has yet to make a big splash.)

Obviously, he thinks one can be a Christian and accept evolution, but these two sets of knowledge “don’t make as much contact with each other as people think,” he said. Many fundamentalists “elevate Genesis beyond what is appropriate.”

Fundamentalists’ spin on the creation story in Genesis “robs it of everything that is interesting,” he said. Instead, readers should recall that the Bible repeats the refrain that God found what he made “good” and looks at the world as good.

It is true that bastardizing such a great piece of literature to literally mean something which is utterly absurd is a crying shame, but that doesn’t suddenly make evolution and religion, especially Christianity, compatible in any meaningful way. At best, perhaps the particular Christian god fully guided the process of evolution, making it mimic precisely what would be expected without any sort of foolish guidance, but that’s a rather superfluous compatibility. What’s more, that can comply to most any concept of a god that humans have had in the past 10,000 or more years. It’s a very non-cromulent way of thinking.

“It makes the world so much more interesting,” Giberson said. “The mystery of God’s existence is a more satisfying mystery than the mystery of how can all this arise out of a particle.”

Despite being a rather subjective claim, it seems difficult to fathom how anyone can honestly believe such a thing. First of all, it’s unclear how a mystery can be “satisfying”. It can be interesting and exciting and all that. Most of the good ones are. But satisfying? It’s when we solve the mystery or at least a piece of it that satisfaction becomes present. And, of course, the only way we can do that for most of the big questions is through the best way of knowing – science.

But what is your evidence, Shermer said, for belief in God?

“I was raised believing in God, so for me, the onus would be on someone to stop me from believing,” Giberson said, adding that “there is a certain momentum that is already there.”

This reminds me quite a bit of the silliness of George Smith. Apparently, an objective look at two sides is out of the question. It is the job of the non-believer to dismantle the long-term indoctrination of the believer. I almost don’t want to explicate on why this is so damn wrong. But I will.

Blind, stupid faith offers nothing of worth to a discussion. Once that argument is presented, any debate falls to shreds because faith is specifically belief without – or even despite the lack of – evidence. Perhaps an argument as to why faith is a bad way of knowing (indeed, it seeks to avoid a knowledge of anything) can be presented, but then one is simply dealing with a stubborn child. Perhaps it is that the onus is to lower one’s self to explaining why faith informs us of nothing.

Determined beliefs at birth

George Smith of the Kennebec Journal recently wrote an editorial prattling on about the state of the Republican party in Maine. He lists some of the recent failures of the Republican party and even invokes some of the older ones, a la Nixon. This is standard for George Smith. But then he goes on to say this.

Having switched from Republican to Democrat to vote for Adam Cote in the Democratic congressional primary last June, I told a friend on Election Day that I had not switched back because I wanted to be on the winning team.

But in truth, I remain a Republican regardless of what is recorded on the town voter list, just as I am a hunter, angler and Methodist. These things were determined at my birth and I remain true to the path of my parents.

Well, isn’t that just an awful reason for holding a position? This is actually a rather serious issue, not just in America, but among most civilizations. People believe A, B, and C because their parents happened to also believe A, B, and C. That isn’t ignorant or stupid or inane. It’s silly. It’s plain silly.

George Smith, as usual, is offering up evidence as to why he isn’t interesting in thinking. Mommy and daddy believed in a magic skyfairy and so does he. More over, he believes very specific things about this skyfairy – the very same specific things as mommy and daddy. Can you imagine if science were conducted this way? We’d still be stuck believing the world was stacked on turtles or flat or specially created just for us. Okay, well, a large number of people are actually arrogant enough to believe they are so important that they were specially created and have an entire planet, nay, a whole universe, which was created specially for them and their like kind. Fortunately, the best way of knowing, science, is doing its best to combat such insanity.

What George Smith needs to do is stop and actually invest some thought into a topic. I presume he’s being rather tongue-in-cheek about angling and hunting, but it looks like he’s waded too deeply and come to discover himself lost in the woods of silliness by just blindly believing in but one of thousands of religions simply because mama and papa believed this one, too.