Rhode Island prayer mural ordered taken down

A high school in Rhode Island had an obviously illegal prayer banner hanging on its walls. It opened with “Our Heavenly Father” and closed with “Amen”. Student Jessica Ahlquist pointed out that the school can’t go about promoting Christianity, so they ought to take it down. She made a few direct pleas, spoke with administrators, and made a Facebook page for starters. In other words, she had a perfectly reasonable and measured initial response. So you’ll never – never! – believe what happened next: the Christians and high school administrators were stubborn and said “no”. I know, I know. Who would have thought people who supported Christianity and chose to spend their lives controlling teenagers would be stubborn. I swear, I can’t think of more than three or four thousand instances of stubborn actions from the people who ran my high school.

Anyway. Once the mooks rebuffed the constitutional efforts of one of their better students, Ahlquist sued. And won:

U.S. District Judge Ronald Lagueux rejected the school’s claims that the message in the mural – which opens with “Our Heavenly Father” and closes with “Amen” – was purely secular.

“No amount of debate can make the School Prayer anything other than a prayer, and a Christian one at that,” Lagueux wrote in a 40-page opinion.

And now the school has a short period in which it must remove the mural. This is excellent. No one should be using public funds to promote any particular religion. This is especially true when those subjected to that promotion are impressionable teenagers.

Of course, the school had the audacity to claim the prayer was somehow secular in nature. I can’t help but feel everyone involved knew that was a lie. But even if they didn’t, it’s still a stupid argument. I’ll let the judge take this one:

[N]o amount of history and tradition can cure a constitutional infraction.

Not even for you Christians out there.


Irony much?

I recently made a status update on my Facebook wall which mocked Christianity. As sometimes happened, it soon gathered together a small chorus of people who feel nothing mean should be said about religion. “Why, live and let live, Michael!”, they will say. Of course, then we get faith healing laws in the U.S. and imprisonment of gays in Christian Uganda. For that sort of reason (and more), I think it’s perfectly reasonable to mock religion; it is a hell of a force for evil in the world. (In democratic nations where the populace has been able to rid itself of most of the religious nutbags – our mainstream – life is far, far better on the whole.) I would love to see religion go away.

But out of that status update came a common cowardly Christian. Instead of diving into the discussion, he went to his own wall and made a passive-aggressive response. (In terms of my own status, it was probably for the best. My wall actually fostered (and is still doing so) a pretty good discussion amongst a number of intelligent individuals.) First let me show the comment that spurred the passive-aggressiveness. This was made by a friend of mine:

1.) Respect for beliefs and respect for the people who hold them are often confused with each other. Demanding that we respect each other’s beliefs is silly. I respect my room mate. However, I don’t respect his belief that it’s ok to leave the bread bag open. Similarly, I respect my girlfriend. But I don’t respect her belief in God. To ask someone to respect a belief with which they disagree is essentially asking them to agree with it. The very reason people disagree with something is because they don’t respect it.

2.) Religious beliefs often bring with them the encroachment of others’ rights. It’s the belief of many that gays shouldn’t be able to marry. And you think that deserves respect?

3.) Condoning such wide-scale subscription to superstition is a huge impediment to progress.

That was a response to a variety of points, but the part which caught the attention of the cowardly Christian was number 1. Here is his passive-aggressive status update:

Evidently I’m supposed to tolerate your beliefs but mine are to be mocked.

Rather than explain the rather simple distinctions between toleration, acceptance, and respect of beliefs, I decided to point out that he was being passive-aggressive. If he wants to respond to what he sees on my wall, he should grow a pair and make a post in the proper, adult location. (It’s like all those Christian blogs that make response posts but refuse to link back to the original posts because they come from atheist blogs.) This then turned to another Christian saying I was passive-aggressive. It was a stupid reflection of my rhetoric and it had no basis; people may think what they wish about me, but imagining that I’m passive-aggressive is just silly. I quickly dispelled the notion:

[Name of Second Christian], I think you are a genuinely stupid person who cannot understand the majority of arguments you hear. I think your anti-science bend comes from your quack of a mother, and I sometimes pity your ignorance.

How’s that?

(That person is a creationist and his mother is an alternative ‘medicine’ practitioner.)

Well, you can imagine how that went over. “Why, you, sir, have insulted a person’s mother! That’s just awful!” It’s a silly complaint, really. I insulted her ‘profession’ and used her as a proxy to do so. Since the attack portion of my comment is hardly that specific to her, it’s just people having a knee-jerk reaction. It’s like getting upset over “Yo momma” jokes, except the momma in this case really is a quack.

But I’m used to whines about tone. People who can’t argue their points bring it up as if it’s legitimate. Sometimes it’s because of thin-skin. Most of the time it’s a way to demand respect. If it is off-limits to be disrespectful towards something, whether it be religion or quackery, then it will quickly appear as if that something is worthy of an academic or intellectual discussion. And so whines about tone are aplenty. Of course, that gets boring pretty quickly. Just about the only thing that can make those whines worth reading is when they come with a splash of irony. That happened about 50 comments into the status update with this gem:

Ok ‘michael hawkins’, you dont have to believe anything you dont want to, and im not trying to convince you because frankly, from the things you have said in this entire blog, you should burn in hell because its EXTREMELY disrespectful how you are talking to us.

How Christian.

I imagine if this person recounted the Facebook comments to a friend of hers, it would go something like this. (Let’s call her Suzy.):

Suzy: So yeah, this guy called a person’s mother a quack.

Suzy’s Friend: Whoa! Someone’s mom?

Suzy: Yeah, I couldn’t believe it!

Suzy’s Friend: So what did you say?

Suzy: Oh, I told him to go to hell…out of respect, of course.

Suzy’s Friend: Of course.

(I realize that by not naming names, it may seem as though I am ironically being passive-aggressive. If these comments came from a public page, I would post names. Given that I know this person’s Facebook page is only visible to his friends, it would be wrong for me to say who said what. But worry not, each party involved will get the message.)

Science and religion conflict

It’s popular amongst theists to claim that science and religion do not conflict. They recognize the basic validity of science, so for religion to be in conflict with it would undermine their most cherished beliefs. This is why we get these inane rationalizations from places like the Catholic Church which say that evolution is true yet it somehow can work with theology. It obviously can do no such thing, but that isn’t about to stop the Pope from pretending like the Bible supports the theory. That’s really the way they all do it: get the facts from science and then change the theology to match it. I understand the hands of believers are being forced, but their ruse is just too transparent.

But with things like evolution, it isn’t that hard to twist the theology to fit the facts. There is no method whatsoever within theology that can show any holy writ to be accurate or not, so changing it around on a whim is not that difficult. But what about more fundamental issues? If there is some fact which contradicts something that believers absolutely cannot do without, then we really could stop with these silly claims that science and religion do not conflict. Fortunately for you, dear reader, I have just the example:

Science says the laws of Nature cannot be broken. Ever. Never ever. Go on, ask any physicist or cosmologist or astronomer. Or just look at the evidence yourself. The physical laws are the physical laws and they change for no one. But what do religions say? They say God intervenes. Whether he does it by answering prayers or by directing evolution, he takes the known laws of physics and causes them to go on a path, according to all religions, in a way they otherwise would not have gone. That is not possible according to science. And, yes, every religion with a god has some fundamental dogma within it which says that its god has interacted with the Universe in a way that alters its physical laws on some level.

Thought of the day

It’s true: Of all the mysteries ever solved, not one has been because of magic.

Double standards

This video is both awesome and sad at the same time.

“I won’t give my approval!”

This post title is increasingly one of the most common lines that anti-gay bigots use. “Why, I didn’t vote for equal rights for gays because that’s like asking for my approval of their ‘behavior’! It’s just absurd!” It’s little more than bigot talk and here’s why.

Imagine 38 states get together with Congress and the President and want to pass a constitutional amendment that says the KKK can no longer have parades or organize or do any of the things they legally do today. We all get an opportunity to vote in favor or against the amendment. If the bigots who hate gays – and come on, that’s all this is about for them – were at all consistent, they would immediately vote in favor of the amendment; I’m sure a few of them actually would. But I think an overwhelming majority would recognize that the question on the ballot isn’t “Do you approve of the KKK?” Only a fucking moron would think that. No, most people would realize that they hate the KKK, but that there are dire consequences when we take away one group’s rights. Most people would have to vote the proposal down.

And they would be right – without approving of the KKK in the least. In fact, most of today’s bigots do actually say they support X group’s right to free speech despite not liking the group. This is really basic, really easy, really obvious logic. It is a lie, a damn convenient lie, when a bigot claims not to have voted for a civil rights measure because he would then be approving of the group facing discrimination.

We have a huge number of states all across the country that still don’t have protections for sexual orientation in housing, education, work, and other areas of daily life. Think about that. Gays can fire straight people for being straight. Straight people can deny gays home loans simply for being gay. It is absurd. And the bigots want us to believe that it’s all because fixing the problem and protecting civil rights would be the same as giving moral approval for a group? Puh-lease.

It would be nice if the bigots of the world could stop lying and just come clean: They hate gays because 1) their religion, not reason or rationality, tells them it’s wrong to be fair, 2) they don’t understand them, 3) they’re ignorant and unwilling to learn, 4) gays are different and they find that yucky, and 5) they are sexually immature little infants.


Sudan may soon become two nations.

Sudan was troubled from its birth when, in 1956, the British handed over power to the Arab northern elite, despite the country’s vast ethnic and cultural pluralities, setting the parameters for one of the world’s most dysfunctional states. So it is not surprising that the southerners — who have suffered through the two civil wars, from 1956-72 and 1983-2005, which left 2 million people dead and 4 million displaced — are pulling the plug on Africa’s largest nation. The voting in a referendum on southern independence — the key component of a 2005 peace deal — began on Jan. 9 and will last until Jan. 15; the results, not in doubt, should be announced later in the month or in early February.

“Cultural pluralities” is partial code for different religions. Of course, that is only one piece to the puzzle – and not even the biggest piece. But that said, I was reminded of something I said about Nigeria last year:

There is no permanent solution to violence. There are only best solutions. In this case, it is necessary that religious divides be destroyed – and the only way that will happen is either if one group absolutely dominates the landscape or if both groups dissipate. There is nothing like the organizing power of religion and bizarre beliefs…to get a whole pot of hate and violence stirring.

The problems of a poorly developed nation like Sudan aren’t going to go away simply because of a successful separationist movement. But the exacerbation? At least a little of the fuel? It isn’t going to be there. I predict improvements in the two Sudans in the coming years. (I will also point out that if Iraq was diced up according to its religious divisions, a notable bit of the violence there would be quelled – not as much as would be quelled if we just left, but still a notable amount.)