Daily Gnuz, Sunday Shitehole

America’s descent into hell is accelerating inexorably.

From Friday’s ThinkProgress, another murderous police officer gets off in a stupefying “innocent” verdict. WARNING: the article does include the graphic bodycam video of the murder. I did NOT watch it, as the article’s description of the senseless killing was more than enough. Read it and weep – I did.

Next, here’s what Rep. Mark “Trailhiker” Sanford said about the “tax reform” bill in a brief interview with Erica Werner of the Washington Post:

Mark Sanford (R) admits tax bill is a sham.

A new survey shows that 30% of white Evangelicals are still willing to overlook pretty much every non-christian thing that trump says or does. Here’s a brief excerpt from an article by Christian Post reporter Samuel Smith:

“On Tuesday, PRRI [Public Religion Research Institute] released its annual American Values Survey titled “One Nation, Divided, Under Trump,” which found that just over four in 10 white evangelicals (42 percent) were weak Trump supporters, answering that although they support Trump, it is still possible for them to lose their support. Meanwhile, 30 percent of white evangelicals say they approve of Trump and “there’s almost nothing President Trump could do to lose my approval…”

NOTE: Definitely check out the link at “One Nation, Divided, Under Trump”, interesting statistics laid out there.

Last, in keeping with the above Christian Post theme, another article confirms that not ALL Evangelical “christians” believe that getting another anti-abortion vote in the Senate is worth the cost. This opinion piece by Craig M Watts in The Christian Post starts out:

“Once again, abortion is being used to justify supporting a political candidate that deserves nothing but condemnation by Christians.”

Open Thread – enjoy! (or whatever more appropriate term you want to use.)

The Watering Hole, Monday, October 31,2016: The Bonfires of Samhein

Two thousand years ago at this time of year, Druids would gather on the Hill of Tlachtga in medieval Ireland to light a bonfire that began a ritual throughout the country. The light would call on other people to light their own bonfires. It was the start of the season of darkness, and people celebrated with dances and feasts around the fires. The fires were to honor Samhein (pronounced sow-in), the god of Darkness and Winter. Many of the rituals associated with the celebration in America of Halloween can be traced back to these Celtic ones. You can learn more about all of these at Smithsonian Magazine.

Personally, I don’t play dress up games. I spend the entire year trying to make people believe I’m somebody I’m not (just like everyone else) that I don’t feel any desire to add a costume to it on one particular day of the year. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just not for me. Then again, I’m kind of anti-social in a lot of ways like that. I don’t go along with what everybody else is doing, often because I see it as silly and pointless, or possibly even dangerous. (Pokemon Go has already gotten some people killed.) I realize it’s just a diversion and people can find them fun, but sometimes they can become too pervasive and counterproductive to a functioning society. Is it really a good idea that young people gather together in public to stare at their phones? But I suppose the rituals of American Halloween aren’t too terrible. It’s just a good idea that people understand them, and how they compare to one’s own beliefs, especially where Religion is concerned.

For example, if you acknowledge the observation of Halloween, then you acknowledge the existence of other gods since this was a celebration of one of them. For many Conservative Christians, this is against their belief in God as the only God. I hesitate to point out to them that this is not correct at all, and even the God they worship said so. His First Commandment was to have no other Gods before Him. That doesn’t mean to deny the existence of other gods, but just not to put any of them ahead of this particular god (on account of his constant problem with the deadly sin of Jealousy.) But since they celebrate the holiday anyway and perform the pagan rituals, it’s just another example of their religious hypocrisy. I just hope there aren’t too many kids dressing up as Donald Trump. It would indicate a generation of kids totally lost to the idea of sense, reason, and logical thinking.

Lastly, I wouldn’t be me without a little nerd joke once in a a while, so…

Why do programmers confuse Halloween and Christmas? Because OCT 31 = DEC 25.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss ancient gods you’ve worshiped, or any other topic you wish.

The Watering Hole, Monday, July 25, 2016: Of Interest To Christians

The Christian Post (CP), which calls itself “the nation’s most comprehensive Christian news website” (see their Statement of Faith at the bottom of their About page, showing the inherent contradictions in their viewpoints), published two posts detailing thirteen items from the Republican and Democratic convention platforms they deemed to be of interest to Christians. Specifically, Conservative Christians, as explicitly stated in the article on the Republican platform. [NOTE: In order to discuss what CP says about the platform, I will be quoting from their articles. Also note that I am taking the inclusion or not of amendments from the CP articles. I did not compare anything from the actual GOP platform as passed. And, obviously, the DNC is about to begin their convention later today.]

Starting with the Republicans, CP points out that the GOP will no longer be calling for a constitutional amendment to define “marriage” as being between one man and one woman. Instead they’ll say they object to the ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges and go back to their usual “this is an issue for the states to decide” argument. Except that the Full Faith and Credit clause throws a wrinkle into that plan, as you would still have to recognize a marriage performed in another state. Another plank pointed out was one to support the First Amendment Defense Act, another inappropriately named Republican bill, this one to protect someone’s right to discriminate because they hate Teh Gays. Tony Perkins, the miscreant in charge of the Family Research Council, helped get this plank adopted, then backed away from supporting it because it has been “weakened” in Congress by a change in the language that would further a “two views” approach to marriage. IOW, they wanted the right to say, “Your marriage disgusts me so I don’t have to recognize it as such, or even serve you in a matter unrelated to your marriage,” to be the law of the land. It can’t work. The Anti-Gay Forces had another victory with a measure that “would keep publicly funded adoption agencies from being able to grant custody of children to same-sex parents.”

While up for consideration, the measure was opposed by Annie Dickerson, an adviser to billionaire GOP donor Paul Singer, who called the measure “blatant discrimination.”

“We need children to be adopted, so hooray to the gay community for trying to raise children in a happy and stable home,” Dickerson, who has adopted children, said. “I object to allowing patent discrimination against gays over the right to adopt.”

Interesting that out of the seven things CP felt would be of interest to Christians, the first three are about gay marriage, and how yucky they think it is and they shouldn’t be forced to think about it. Except nobody is making them. The issue is decided. They lost. The only ones making them think about it so much, and they do think about it a lot, are them! CP shifted it up a bit and listed a measure to repeal the Johnson Amendment of 1954. This was an amendment to the US Tax Code that said certain tax-exempt organizations, like churches, could not conduct political activities meant to influence the outcome of an election, including the endorsement of a particular candidate.

IRS explanation of the statute
The Internal Revenue Service website elaborates upon this prohibition as follows:

Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.

Certain activities or expenditures may not be prohibited depending on the facts and circumstances. For example, certain voter education activities (including presenting public forums and publishing voter education guides) conducted in a non-partisan manner do not constitute prohibited political campaign activity. In addition, other activities intended to encourage people to participate in the electoral process, such as voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, would not be prohibited political campaign activity if conducted in a non-partisan manner.

On the other hand, voter education or registration activities with evidence of bias that (a) would favor one candidate over another; (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, will constitute prohibited participation or intervention.

In their twisted minds, they are being “silenced.” No, they are not. No one is going to throw them in jail and deny them their freedom for endorsing a candidate from the pulpit. They’ll just have to start paying taxes on the property on which they made the endorsement. And no matter what anybody from the right tells you, being forced to pay taxes is not equivalent to Slavery. The Republicans then added an amendment to support the right of parents to subject their children to the abuse of “conversion therapy” (or as it’s sometimes known, “Pray away the gay.”) It doesn’t work and does more harm than good. The Conservative Christians decided to lump all forms of pornography together and claim it is all a “public health crisis.” But then they specifically call for more “energetic prosecution of child pornography.” Okay, child pornography is a horrific thing and ought to be stopped entirely. But not all pornography involves children. And, yes, some of it involves human trafficking and sex slaves participating against their will. And that should also be stopped. But much of it involves two consenting adults (usually two) doing what consenting adults are allowed to do and letting me watch – I mean, letting other people, not me, watch. It is very much not the same thing, but their broad generalization of pornography, and its availability on the internet, is that it is “harmful to children.” Again, I call bullshit. Better they watch two consenting adults doing it right, then watch them try to kill each other. It isn’t about the children at all. And lastly, they’re looking for a back door way to get Bibles back in the schools, based in part on the common right wing lie that the first Congress specifically authorized putting Bibles in schools. That’s the top things the Christian Post thought would be of interest to Conservative Christians. Nothing about helping people. Probably because there wasn’t any.

In a subsequent post, the CP highlighted items they thought would interest Christians (Conservative ones) from the Democratic platform. They began with an alarm that the Dems want to repeal the odious Hyde Amendment. But, naturally, the CP quotes someone lying about the right to abortion and referring to it as “abortion on demand,” which no serious person on the left is calling for. We’re just sick and tired of Republicans throwing up obstacles over bullshit reasons to make it all but impossible to get an abortion. The Dems also want to support the Iran Nuclear Deal. This is alarming to the right who never seemed to demonstrate any understanding of what was involved in reaching that historic deal. I refuse to believe anything they say now. The CP also points out that a measure to name Israel as an occupying force (which they are) failed along with a measure to join the BDS movement. But then they quote what made it into the draft, and one wonders why they mentioned the opposing failed language.

“A strong and secure Israel is vital to the United States because we share overarching strategic interests and the common values of democracy, equality, tolerance, and pluralism,” the draft reads. “That is why we will always support Israel’s right to defend itself, including by retaining its qualitative military edge, and oppose any effort to delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement.”

Let’s be honest here, Christian Post. The Conservative Christians in this country support Israel for one and only one reason – The End Times and The Rapture. Israel has to be around for Jesus to return. That is their only concern. It’s a pretty ill-founded and baseless one. (The Bible is not a historical document.) The Democrats also expressed opposition to standardized testing, and want to fight for the right of parents to opt-out. They want free tuition to in-state colleges for families earning less than $125,000 per year. I would support this but ask that the cap be adjusted for cost-of-living differences around the country. And lastly, for the first time ever, the Democratic platform will call for the end to capital punishment. I wholeheartedly agree with this position.

This is our daily open thread. Grab a cup, scoop some water from the watering hole, and chat about whatever you wish.

The Watering Hole, Monday, May 23, 2016: Why Do Donald Trump’s Positions Appeal To You When He Clearly Has None?

We on the Left often talk about low information voters more than they do on the Right, but that’s only because the Right depends on them so much to stay in power. Without the low information voter and the low effort thinkers, Republicans would never have been able to grab onto and retain the political power they currently enjoy and abuse, not only on the national level, but at the state level, too. An informed voter would never vote for a Republican unless that voter was a greedy, rich, selfish bastard who couldn’t care less about helping his or her fellow human beings who are in trouble (often due to Republican policies.) And face it. If you aren’t greedy, rich, or selfish, you really have no reason to vote for a member of a party that openly admits to doing things that help the super rich far more than they help you or anyone else you personally know. I mean, seriously, do rich people need more tax cuts? We are talking about taxing income beyond a ridiculously high point at which they’ll literally be bringing in (not necessarily earning) more money than they can possibly use in their life times or their grandchildren’s, so why do Republicans insist on lying and acting like taxing more of that income will take away all incentive to make money? That’s pure selfishness talking, not sound public policy. And if it’s sound public policy you want out of your public servants, then why on Earth would you vote for Donald J. Trump? What possible argument could you have?

It can’t be because of Trump’s positions on any of the major issues. In addition to the fact that Trump often speaks in incoherent phrases, he has often been unable to state a position and stick to it. Whether it’s on taxing the rich, paying down the national debt, a woman’s right to exercise her constitutional right to an abortion, the minimum wage, money in politics, defeating ISIS, following international laws, immigration, H-1B visas, border control, the Syrian refugee crisis, banning Muslims, being so popular with white supremacists, the KKK and David Duke, the multi-national Iran nuclear deal, or even healthcare in the US, Trump has often stated, then reversed, then modified whatever position he had, sometimes within hours. He expressed three separate and conflicting opinions on abortion in less than an hour and a half. And some of his current positions are in conflict with longstanding planks in the Republican Platform. Here’s the thing: Whichever position Trump had that attracted you to him is almost certainly changed by now, possibly to be the opposite. And if his current position is appealing to you, just wait until he gets criticized on it and it will change again. “Everything’s negotiable” to Trump, even the interest paid on treasury bonds, which is ridiculous, of course. But Trump’s typical low-information, low-effort-thinking supporter doesn’t know that, nor does he know that the people who hold the highest amount of our national debt are you and your fellow American citizens, not the Chinese, as Trump often infers but never states outright (as far as I know.)

It can’t be because of his “honesty” (about which he often brags). Trumps says a lot of things on the campaign trail that simply aren’t true, or even close to true. Sadly for our nation, studies have been showing that, regardless of your political ideology, the truth doesn’t seem to matter. It would appear, to many Conservatives especially, that what you feel to be the truth is what is the truth (to you, anyway). This could explain why Trump tells lies to appeal to Conservatives emotionally, even though the lies aren’t in the least bit grounded in Reality. It feels right to Conservatives, so there must be something wrong with the evidence. It’s a shame, but not a surprise really, the Republican Party has been so antithetical to funding public education. Despite the fact that the truth may not matter, it’s still important that people learn how to think critically about a subject, regardless of whether it’s politics or religion, instead of just accepting what they’re told as true. But critical thinking requires effort, and your average Joe Sixpack conservative has neither the desire nor the ability to put a lot of thought into things. So when they do put that small amount of effort toward a position on something, they often end up choosing the Conservative point of view, even when it provably isn’t the best choice, or even the one that will move them toward their ultimate goals, whatever they are. Donald Trump may at one time in his life said something you also believed. He once said he believed in a woman’s right to choose to undergo an abortion. Now, because he panders to a bunch of low-effort thinkers, he says abortion should be criminalized (despite its being a Constitutional right) and that the doctor should go to jail for performing one, not the woman because she is also a victim. That kind of “thinking” requires you to believe the woman was not choosing to undergo an abortion and that it was done against her will. Kidnapping is already a felony so why would any new laws be needed? If taking away someone’s Constitutional rights can be done by making it illegal to ever exercise those rights, then we should be able to solve our national gun problem by making it illegal to exercise your right to own guns. But that’s not how it’s supposed to work, so these Republican efforts to ban abortion by criminalizing the performance of one cannot possibly withstand Constitutional muster. And neither will Trump’s efforts to bring back waterboarding and other methods of torture (“even worse”). Nor will barring people entry to this country because of the religion they practice. Nor will deporting people born on American soil. Trump has held many different positions on many different topics, so which position on which topic makes you believe Trump would make a good President? Or an effective one? Or even a competent one? Because by the time Election Day comes around, it’s entirely possible that Trump will no longer hold that viewpoint you thought made him better than the rest. So why would you vote for him?

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to make fun of Donald Trump, or discuss anything else you wish.

The Watering hole, Saturday, May 7, 2016: Who You Calling a God?

I want to talk about something that’s important to me and I know that along the way I’m going to greatly offend a significant portion of you wonderful people reading this. And even if it isn’t what I say that you’ll find offensive, I’m sure some of you won’t like the way I say it. But as the closing song in “Night Shift” (sung by Rod Stewart) goes, “That’s What Blogs Are For.” I am atheist. I do not believe in the existence of gods. To be clear, I do not believe in the existence of gods as they have been portrayed in most religions, entertainment depictions, and writings known to many. I don’t believe the set of gods worshiped by the ancient Romans and Greeks actually existed. Ever. Nor do I believe the “One True God” worshiped by Jews, Christians, and Muslims actually existed. Ever. Nor do I believe any of the other gods worshiped by billions of other people throughout human history actually existed. Ever. I do not believe that the Universe was created by some kind of sentient being, often, and for purposes of this discussion, referred to as “God.” I also do not believe that a Universe without God means we got “something from nothing.” People who say that do not understand the Big Bang theory. It wasn’t “nothing,” it was a hot, almost infinitely dense singularity that exploded, expanded outward, and eventually formed what we often think of as the “Universe.” And when I refer to “the Universe,” I am specifically referring to the Matter and Energy that directly resulted from the Big Bang event that created “our” Universe. I have reason to think there are things out there unrelated to our Big Bang, but I’ll eventually get into that in a later post. My point is simply that there is a scientific explanation for how things came to be (the Big Bang event being just one possible part of it; other scientific theories exist), and that there doesn’t need to be anything like a god to explain it all.

This may surprise some of your Christian relatives and friends, but in many other religions, the Creation of the Universe is explained in completely different ways. And what your Bible taught you is but just one of many thousands of unproven, and impossible to prove, explanations for how we came to be here. And it is no more valid than any of the others, no matter who told you otherwise. Because just like all the others, it relies completely on Faith and the cognitive dissonance needed to reject all the Science that says otherwise. It’s going to sound like I’m picking on Christians in this piece but remember a few things: I’m an American living in America. The vast majority of people I interact with believe one or another version of Christian thought. And whether or not they want to believe this, their set of beliefs about Creationism are just as much nonsense as your deity-based explanation for how we got here. But having grown up here, Christianity is the religion to which I’ve most been subjected, so I’m going to use it more than most others. But this is supposed to be more about gods in general.

Do I believe gods exist? No. Not the kinds of gods you’re thinking of. But being an ardent fan of sci-fi, especially of Star Trek, I believe there are many life forms throughout all of the universe (not just the Milky Way Galaxy), and that many of them reached different levels of Evolution far beyond our own. These creatures may be able to manipulate matter and energy simply with their own thoughts and could even bring into existence something like a Big Bang event that could eventually lead to people like you and me. (But not Trump supporters.) The important thing is that even if such beings do exist, I maintain that they would be NOTHING like the God described in the Bible (or any other deity-based religion.) And I certainly don’t believe they designed and created human beings. The human beings you see walking around today are the result of billions of years of Evolution, not the result of some being with great powers wishing us into existence, just as we are today. I mean, it’s pretty obvious we humans have genetic flaws, and remnants of body parts serving little or no purpose. Are you seriously going to say we were designed to get diseases from microscopic viruses we can’t see, and which seem to have no purpose for existence but to kill? By design? Really? That makes sense to you? A perfect being should be able to do better than we humans.

So, while I will agree that it’s possible there are sentient life forms capable of manipulating matter and energy, I don’t believe any of them could be confused for the God of the King James Bible, which can’t realistically exist. If he’s responsible for all Life on Earth, then he created horrible things that can’t be justified. And if He only meant to create Life here on Earth, then what purpose to the other stars in the Universe serve, or the other planets in our own solar system, for that matter? American Christians, particularly Conservative Christians, are often discouraged from asking too many questions about the religious stories they were taught as children. Dad says it’s true, so it’s true. And they never seem to want to question it because if it turns out Dad’s wrong about God, what else is he wrong about? And soon, Dad begins to lose his authority over his children, and they go off and learn truths about the world he’d rather they never learn. Which might not happen if he didn’t choose to lie to his children about the existence of God in the first place. It’s okay to be honest and tell them that we’re not here because some strange, sadistic, schizophrenic sociopath created us on a whim, then killed most of us when he didn’t like how we turned out, but that we’re here simply because the conditions necessary for life forms such as ourselves to evolve existed here and in few other places. Yes, it is random chance. No, there really isn’t any reason why we’re here. Does that mean Life has no purpose? Well, if you’re willing to accept the fact that we’re not here for any special reason, then your life’s purpose can be what you want it to be (within the acceptable norms of Society.) You want to help people less fortunate than yourself? Good for you. If you’re lazy, like me, you can help them by paying your taxes and letting the government do the heavy lifting. That’s what programs that help the poor are there to do. You can tell Republicans don’t want to help their fellow human beings. They’re more interested in helping those that have already helped themselves to more than their fair share.

Open thread. Have fun.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, April 9, 2016: David Barton – What a Fool Believes

I know you’re at least a relatively intelligent person. I know some of you are at least as intelligent, though nowhere near as vain, as I. I know you’re not incredibly stupid, because you wouldn’t even be trying to read this blog if you were. You’d be perplexed by the preponderance of polysyllabic put downs pointed at perennially petrified prevaricators of poison posing as presidential possibles as you probe your proboscis with a pinky. You poopy-head. So I know you’re not so foolish as to believe what self-titled “historian” and delusional snake oil salesman David Barton had to say about the relationship between how one reads, interprets, and understands The Bible (specific edition and reasons why it’s better than the other versions unknown) and the Constitution of the United States (the one that makes no mention of The Bible or God, and which even says you can’t require a religious test for any public office in the United States, including Chaplain.) Barton’s been known to say ridiculous things many, many, many, many times before, but this recent one was a real head scratcher. Even scratching someone else’s head didn’t help.

“If your religious faith is such that it doesn’t connect you to God, you’re not going to be good for the country. How they look at the Bible will tell you how they’re going to look at the Constitution. I’m not saying the Bible and the Constitution are the same thing, but I’m saying you have the same view toward authority, you have the same view toward there are absolutes, there are standards that should be followed and must be followed.

He continued…

“The fervency with which someone follows their religious faith, a biblical faith, is nearly always a direct indicator of how well they will follow the Constitution. If they don’t respect the Bible, they won’t respect other firm, fixed documents like the Constitution, so we, as citizens, ought to engage in that type of personal religious test for our president.”

Didn’t someone just mention how the Constitution prohibits any kind of religious test to hold public office in the US? Oh, yeah! It was me, just a few sentences ago. My how time flies. And my how wrong he is. So very, very wrong.

If your religious faith is such that it doesn’t connect you to God,
There are thousands of variations of what are legitimately called religious belief systems practiced, for good or for evil, throughout the world. Many of them involve no gods of any kind, but instead promote a spiritual connection to the planet and all life on it, especially your fellow human beings. Atheism is not one of the religious belief systems, because Atheism is not a religion. It’s simply the belief that there are no such things as gods. Any other beliefs about the Universe, its origins, and whether or not you should work with your fellow human beings to make life better for all of us or be a selfish conservative jerk are entirely separate.

you’re not going to be good for the country.
I’m going to stop you again right there, Davey. There is this false conceit among Evangelicals that it is impossible to have a moral center without a belief in, and fear of, one or more gods. Nothing could be further from The Truth. People can be and are good without God. No matter which God you believe will punish you or reward you after you die, that God still wants you to follow one rule above all others that even the people who don’t believe in that God follow: Treat other people the way you would like them to treat you. It’s so simple, and there’s no argument against it. Human beings are social creatures (not me; I am a creature, just not a very social one), and in order to both survive and prosper, we depend on other people. No matter how much of a rugged individualist you might think you are, you cannot prosper alone. You might be able to survive, but you won’t be able to do more than that. And you probably won’t smell too good, either. We need the help of others, so it makes sense to treat others the way we’d like them to treat us. You don’t need to fear an eternity of pain and suffering after you die on this plane of existence to understand that. So why bother fearing it?

How they look at the Bible will tell you how they’re going to look at the Constitution.
How I look at a work of pure fiction, put together for the sole purpose of controlling people’s lives through fear and intimidation, will tell people how I look at the founding document that guides how my country will govern me and treat me as a citizen? Even when the founding document makes no mention of the work of pure fiction, or whether or not I have to believe it? Not sure how they’re the same.

I’m not saying the Bible and the Constitution are the same thing,
Good, because it would prove you’re an idiot if you did.

but I’m saying you have the same view toward authority,
No, you don’t. The Bible commands the People to obey the ones in authority; the Constitution commands the ones in authority to obey the People. The Bible is not for people who want to be free, it’s for people who want to be authoritarian followers.

you have the same view toward there are absolutes, there are standards that should be followed and must be followed.
I don’t want to digress into an area in which I’m not well educated, that of moral absolutes, but I will say that throughout human history there have been people who have found excuses to commit the most heinous of atrocities against other human beings, and often those excuses had their roots in religious beliefs.

“The fervency with which someone follows their religious faith, a biblical faith, is nearly always a direct indicator of how well they will follow the Constitution.
That would mean the reverse is true, too. That how well they follow the Constitution is an indicator of the fervency with which they follow their biblical faith. There is absolutely no connection between the two. Virtually every president in our nation’s history, from all parties, has to a certain extent violated the Constitution. Some did it to test principles, and some did it because didn’t know any better. But all of them (to date) claimed to be Christians. I can only name one president who I know practiced what his faith taught him to do, who actually did what his religion said he should do for people less fortunate than himself, and to this day he continues to be vilified by the very people who claim if you’re not Christian, you’re not worth public office in the United States. And that man is President James Carter. The Religious Right wanted to deify Ronald Reagan so much that they had to make the political opponent he defeated, Jimmy Carter, out to be the most evil human to walk the planet. If Ronald Reagan was going to be a saint, then Jimmy Carter had to be the devil. Does anybody truly believe that Jimmy Carter would deliberately violate a law passed to ban him from giving money to certain people by trading arms for hostages? Religious Conservatives is so nutty.

If they don’t respect the Bible, they won’t respect other firm, fixed documents like the Constitution,
There is absolutely no truth to this statement, and it’s a mighty huge insult to anyone who does not consider him or herself a Christian, to suggest that you must respect the Bible in order to be able to respect the Constitution. BTW, Barton is also promoting the staunchly held but wrong conservative belief that the Constitution is fixed, with only one correct interpretation. To believe something like that, you would have to think the Framers had no intention of the government having a say in how things like electronic communication devices could be regulated or used. Or in how huge multi-national oil companies (which they would have objected to being allowed to exist in the first place) could exploit our habitat without concern for anyone telling them how they can run their business in the US. Such things did not exist 230 years ago, so by conservative logic, nothing in the Constitution should apply to those things.

so we, as citizens, ought to engage in that type of personal religious test for our president.”
Except for that no religious test thing again. If only the Constitution didn’t keep getting in the way of forcing everyone to follow the Bible, they could turn this place into Hell on Earth. And then they’d put Ted Cruz in charge of it. And Life as we know it on this planet would come to an end.

And then a few million years from now, asteroids carrying various minerals will crash into what’s left of the Earth. The minerals they bring will combine with amino acids to form new lifeforms, just as they did here billions of years ago. And Evolution will kick in as more and more life forms develop so that the ones most suitable to the environment as it will exist then will prosper the most, and pass on their DNA to their offspring, some of whom will be slightly different from their parents. And before you know it, Jesus will be saying, yet again, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” That is, if you’re a Christian who claims to believe in Evolution.

Daily open thread. From whom do you buy your snake oil?

The Watering Hole, Saturday, March 26, 2016: God Doesn’t Want To See You Pray In Public

No matter what the Evangelicals tell you, God does not want you to pray in public. God doesn’t need to hear them out loud, because God knows what you do in secret. God knows when you secretly give to the poor with your right hand without letting your left hand know what’s happening. And God doesn’t want you to gather out in the streets and in the public square and pray to him so everyone can hear you. Instead, God wants you to go into a private place in your own home, a closet even, and pray silently to God. Bryan J. Fischer told me that the admonition against praying in public was about the reason for doing it, to be seen doing it. [I’ll update it if he answers me. I’m surprised he did at all, considering how rude I’ve been to him before. And it wasn’t just because I’m from New York, he had it coming.]

Conservative Christians are so afraid of (among many, many other things) religious persecution against them, as opposed to from them, which they have no problem doing. This is despite the fact that we’ve had 43 different men occupy the highest political office in the country, and every single one of them practiced some version of Christianity. How it could be considered the “one true religion,” as all deity-based religions do, baffles me. It would seem unnecessary to have more than one. If there’s only one God, then why are there different ways to do what He wants? FTR, I believe there is no such things as gods at all, at least not in the sense that most humans think of them. I suppose it’s possible there are more highly-evolved creatures than us capable of doing things we’d think only a god could do, but then you’re straying so far from the image of God as portrayed in the monotheistic religions that it becomes clear we’re taking about two different things. OTOH, even the religions that do believe in gods claim there is more than one. If you’re Judeo-Christian, the First Commandment says not to put any of those other gods (you know, the ones that created all the people God didn’t, such as Cain and Abel’s wives) ahead of Jehovah because he is a jealous god. I can say his name, you can’t, because I don’t have anything to fear from him. Which brings up something else. For those who believe in God being perfect and humans being sinners, if envy is a sin, why is a “perfect being” like God allowed to have it? If God is perfect, and if he’s capable of being envious, then why should being envious be a mortal sin? What’s wrong with envy if it’s a trait of the most perfect being in the universe?

Still ducking the question:

The reason Religion is so rife with con men is because it’s easy to go around telling everyone, “Listen to me, Folks. I just had a chat with God and he has some things he wants me to say,” and have people believe you. Why? Because the truth is there’s a lot of stupid people out there who either don’t like to think, on account of it hurts too much, or they can’t, on account of they’re stupid. They don’t ask for proof that the person talking really did talk to God, they actually think it’s neat and wish it was they to whom God spoke. And they believe every thing this con man says, even when it makes no sense at all to those who are capable of critical thought. At some point you have to acknowledge that the instructions we’re being given by these men, who supposedly know what God wants us to do, are self-contradictory. Why do we persist in believing them when what they say can’t possibly be the truth? And why do we believe what they’re saying to be the Word of God, who is supposed to be perfect, when what they’re saying is so clearly and obviously imperfect? Faith alone isn’t going to change the fact that sometimes the Bible says one thing and sometimes it says something in complete contradiction to it. In Logic, which I know you’re not supposed to use where the Bible is concerned, if you start with a premise and show that the premise leads to a contradiction, then you’ve proven the premise false, and any argument derived from it must find another premise. If your premise is that the Bible (the word means a collection if little books, which were assembled, translated, and chosen for inclusion by flawed human men working for King James) is the inerrant Word of God (even if you believe Him to be the only God, which contradicts his First Commandment), and you find it contains a contradiction, then it cannot be “inerrant,” since a contradiction is an error. It is not a test of one’s faith, it’s a mistake. Which means the premise that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God must be False. That’s how Logic works.

I tried a different tack with Fischer, since he doesn’t want to answer the question I’m asking him. Fischer thinks we should vote for Ted Cruz. But Teddy Panderbear likes to make a big show of praying in public. We’ve all seen the pictures.

BTW, notice how he tries to paint a Nazi-esque picture of Liberals with the “Uberleftwing”? Of course, if one thinks about it for a moment, why wouldn’t Right Wing Watch be as far left as possible when the entire reason they exist is right at the top of their webpage: “A project of People For the American Way dedicated to monitoring and exposing the activities of the right-wing movement”? If they aren’t very far left, then they’re too far right to be counted on to do what they tell us they do. But conservatives don’t really like to think about things for a moment. And why would they feel they need to? Conservatives often do not see hypocrisy as negating their argument. They’ve also been known to project a lot, and Fischer probably thinks that since he would use such a website to advance his own secret agenda, Norman Lear must be doing that, too. Frog-Human Hybrid The Least Reverend Jimmy Faye Bakker must think like that, too. He thinks that American Christians are being persecuted in America (as opposed to the real phenomenon of American Christians being captured and killed by murderous scumbag assholes who wrongly use religion as a cover for their evil elsewhere in the world), and that if we continue down whatever path it is he imagines we’re traveling, in the end people who pray in public will be gunned down by machine guns. If you watch the following clip carefully, you can see Bakker catch and eat a fly with his 24″-long tongue.

Okay, that must have been a different clip. But he’s totally wrong, of course. Not only about the eventual outcome being people like him who pray in public will be machine gunned down, but about whether or not people should be praying in public in the first place. Jesus thought that people who made a show of praying in public so that others would see them, including inside houses of worship, were hypocrites, and that if all they wanted was for others to see them praying, they got their reward. He said that God would prefer that you not pray where everybody can see you but in the privacy of your own own. Specifically, your closet, where I’m sure many, many Conservative Christians can be found. He said praying in public was unnecessary because God knows what you’re going to ask him before you ask it (which makes me wonder why praying is necessary at all), and so you should do it where no other people can see you doing it. God hears your secret prayers which, again, makes me wonder why it’s necessary to vocalize them at all. In fact, if He can hear you when you’re “praying” quietly to yourself, there shouldn’t be any formal procedure necessary. You should just be able to keep walking along and say to yourself, in your own mind, “God, could you please make that asshole Wayne burst into flames and be gone for good?” and it will happen. But since it didn’t happen, and because I know at least a few of you asked for it to happen, we must logically conclude that prayer doesn’t work. Which makes the premise of God answering prayers a false one. Yeah, sometimes the answer is, “No.” I know. But that would mean He can’t really be an all-loving God, since that would take away from the premise of him being a perfect being. Why would a perfect being hate anyone? Why would he make someone he would hate? Why would He make me, and let me sit here denouncing his very existence after so many of you asked Him a few moments ago to make me burst into flames? I know, I was there. I heard you. And yet I’m still here. Which makes the premise of him being some kind of “perfect being” a false one. Which I’ve been trying to tell you for years.

Open thread. Go for it.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, March 19, 2016: Please Don’t Feed The Bible Literalists

There are people going around expounding ridiculous theories on the history of Earth and the Life that has existed on it, and we have to stop encouraging them. I’m not suggesting they be locked up in prisons or mental institutions (the former might be a bit harsh but I do think the latter might do them some good), but I am saying that we have to stop treating these ridiculous ideas as if they have any merit whatsoever just because there are still people around delusional enough to believe them. There are many such ideas, but the one I want to talk about today is the Biblical story of the farmer’s daughter and the traveling salesman Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood. They never happened. There was no flood 4,400 years or so ago that wiped out all humans and other living land-based animals on the planet. There may have been flooding in various parts of the world, but it wasn’t a global phenomenon, and it didn’t rain for nearly six weeks, and then take nearly six months for the waters to recede. For one thing, even if all the ice on all the land melted, the waters would never rise enough to submerge all the mountains or come anywhere close to doing that. And if, as the story goes, the waters rose high enough to cover the mountains all over the world (not just in the know part of it at that time), then to where did the water recede? Did it just evaporate off the planet? Did it go down some giant drain that God temporarily plugged up while it rained? The water that rained down had to have come from somewhere. If it came from the oceans, then they would have been depleted by the amount of water they gave up to become rain. So the water coming back down out of the sky couldn’t possibly have been more than what went up into them. So the waters from the rain couldn’t possibly rise higher than the mountains. It’s just not possible.

But don’t waste your time trying to explain that to Wayne Propst, of Tyler, Texas. [First name Wayne = Red Alert.] Wayne is convinced he found evidence of Noah’s flood in his aunt’s front yard. “How much better can it get?” he asked, unfortunately to a reporter from a local television station as opposed to no one in particular. I guess that would depend on your definition of “better” and in which direction you want this story to go. For example, Wayne wants to claim the fossil he found is proof that Noah’s flood happened. (Why do they call it Noah’s Flood? He was the one good guy on the planet. He didn’t flood the earth. God did.) But if that were true, then when would the flood have happened? About 4,400 years ago? So his fossil couldn’t be older than that. But fossils, by definition, are at least ten thousand years old. If you find a fossil, then you have found something that, by definition, pre-dated the story of Noah and His Technicolor Dream Flood. Therefore it cannot be proof that the flood story ever happened, because it was already there in the ground when the flood supposedly happened above it. In fact, if you’re a Bible literalist, it was in the ground before the Earth was created.

Speaking of Noah and Worldwide Synchronous Drowning Event, I hear many people wrongly say that God’s Covenant to Noah was that he would never destroy the world again, and that the rainbow in the sky would be a reminder to Him (God, not just Noah and the other remaining seven people on the planet) of that covenant. Okay. Why would an omnipotent being need some kind of reminder about something? Does that make any sense at all to you? He’s all-knowing, yet there are things he can forget happened. He’s all-powerful, except against memory loss. But that’s not what God promised Noah. He only promised Noah and his family that he would not destroy life on Earth by flood again. Read it for yourself. But why would He have even done so in the first place? He’s an all-powerful entity, isn’t He? Doesn’t he later send out a mysterious ankle-deep fog that killed the first-born male child of every household (according to Cecile B. DeMille)? If He had the ability to do that, why not do the same thing without the first-born male filter? Why the scientifically wrong flood story? But He never said he wouldn’t do the opposite, either. He never said he wouldn’t destroy all life on Earth by drying it up, and letting it catch fire. Or by making the air unbreathable. Or by setting loose a killer virus, unstoppable by modern medicine (which some people think violates his wishes, too.) He created the world in six days, but he needed forty to flood it with extra-terrestrial water and another 150 days to let it dry up? He couldn’t do all of that with the same wave of His Hand he used to create all Life on this planet? Does that make any sense to you at all? Because it sure as shit doesn’t make any sense to me. Why do people believe such nonsense? And why do we treat them like they’re sane when they tell us they do? How can “the Bible” (which is just a collection of little books) be the “literal word of God” when it was translated from stories written in languages unspoken in centuries, by flawed human men who obviously mistook the ancient word for “moon” or “month” as the word for “year” (hence, all these old men living twelve times longer than normal), and it contains such blatant falsehoods? Please, tell me you don’t believe the Bible is literally true. I want to be able to talk to you again.

This is our daily open thread. You know what to do, and what not to do.

The Watering Hole, Monday, February 29, 2016: Leap of Science Day

Monday, February 29, 2016, marks another nearly-quadrennial observation of the triumph of Science over Faith. Leap Day. The day we add to the calendar to correct for the fact that God didn’t make the Earth go around the Sun in a way that has any relation to how long it takes to spin once on its axis. Nor did God make the Moon orbit the Earth in an even number of days, or in relation to the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, which turned out to be the Center of our own Solar System (one of, it turns out, a hundred billion in just this Galaxy) contrary to what those men who had a direct pipeline to the Almighty Creator told everyone was true. Not for nothing, but doesn’t the fact that some otherwise ordinary man who was in charge of a Religion tortured people for not believing something that was scientifically inaccurate and still got to be called “infallible” make you think, even for a second, that maybe their Religion was wrong about other things, too? But I digress. Or not. Now the Moon goes around the Earth 13 times for each revolution of the Earth around the Sun, depending on how you measure them. I thought the number 13 was supposed to be bad. So why would God make our Moon go around the Earth a bad number of times in a year? In fact, assuming God did make our solar system, why make our planet have such a strange orbit? Why not a regular, circular, easily predictable, revolution, with no tilting of the planet and changing of the seasons? And why not start life in the tropics, instead of a desert? And why even bother with the other planets and planetary debris and asteroids if the point of this planet was to support life for the only living things in the universe? If there’s nothing on Mars for us to see, then why would God make Mars for us to see? Or let us name it for an inferior god? Sorry, but the whole Christian Creation Myth makes no more sense than any other cultures’ creation myths. When something doesn’t make sense through Reason, they tell us you have to have Faith. But Faith is just the rejection of Reason, so they are really telling us, “It makes sense if you don’t think about it.” Then why believe it? Why believe something is literally true if it makes no sense when you think about it? Then explain to me why you should threaten peoples’ lives for not believing it? But I digress. Again. Leap Day is a triumph because it was Science, not Religion, which revealed to us our method of keeping track of time needed adjusting if it was to keep in alignment with whichever celestial body was guiding our long term time reckoning. The ancient Egyptians used a much simpler calendar, which they knew needed tweaking every four years. To understand why we do it today, you have to go back to the time when Romulans walked the Earth.

About 2770 years ago, King Romulus, the first king of Rome and leader of the Romulan Empire, which consisted pretty much of just his kingdom, was said to have invented the Roman calendar. Other people were keeping track of time in their own way, so it’s not like he invented the entire concept of the calendar. He just invented the one that would become the basis of the one we use here in America today (and many other places, which are alleged to exist on this planet.) The one that started when winter ended, in a month named for the God of War. Wait, what? You heard that right. King Romulus may not have been entirely sure of what he wanted, but hew knew he wanted his calendar to have ten months. Some historians believe (which means the rest don’t) that the ancient Romans did not believe in fighting wars during the Winter, so the new year began when Winter ended. Which is why they named their first month Martius, after Mars, the God of War. The next month was named Aprilis, though no one’s really sure why. Some think it was really called Aphrilis and was named for Aphrodite. But that would be silly because Aphrodite was the Greek Goddess of Love, not the Roman one, Venus. Others less silly think it was named for the Latin verb Aperire, meaning to open, on account of that’s about the time flowers started opening all over the place. Makes better sense than naming it after another group’s gods. His third month was called Maius, after Maia, the Goddess of growth and plants. The fourth was called Junius, named after Juno, Queen of the Gods and patroness of weddings and marriages. Then King Romulus must have gotten tired because the remaining six months were named after the numbers Five through Ten. Quintilis, Sextilis, September, October, November, and December. Martius, Maius, Quintilis and October would have 31 days, the rest 30. Then they apparently let 61 days and a couple of moons go by before they would begin their new calendar.

Loonies that they were, the Romulan calendar was based on the phases of the Moon. Now if the point of having a calendar is to tell when you when it’s time to plant the crops, you’re going to run into problems basing it on the phases of the moon. Here’s why:

The orbit of the Moon around the Earth is not an easy process. The Moon makes a complete orbit around the Earth approximately once every 28 days. This means that the Moon orbits the Earth around 13 times in a year. The complex part pops up because there are several ways to consider a complete orbit of the Moon, but the two most familiar are: the “sidereal month” being the time it takes to make a complete orbit with respect to the stars, about 27.3 days; and the “synodic month” being the time it takes to reach the same phase, about 29.5 days. These differ because in the meantime the Earth and Moon have both orbited some distance around the Sun.

“Phase” is the way to describe the relative position of any object that moves in a cyclical form. The phase of the Moon is measured in degrees, from 0 (zero) to 360 (three hundred and sixty).

It doesn’t take long before a lunar-based calendar gets, to use the technically correct scientific term, out of whack. And that happened to the Romulan calendar. Each of its months had day markers that fell on the first new moon, the days of the half moons, and the days of the full moon. The new moon marked the first day of the month and was called the Calends. The Ides fell on the full moon, and the Nones were eight days before the Ides. Events were documented according to how many days they happened before or after these markers. This calendar really didn’t work because it didn’t align very well with the seasons, so about fifty years later, King Numa Pompilius, decided to make some changes. He added Januarius and Februarius to the beginning of the year, rather than to the end. This meant the months named for their position in the year no longer matched. I’m sure that bothered a lot of people. It bothers me to this day. And it still didn’t work. They even had a system where someone (not necessarily the emperor) would add an extra month, called an intercalary month, to try to get the calendar in line with the seasons. Finally, Julius Caesar (inventor of the Orange Julius and, later in his career, a successful Las Vegas casino magnate) did away with intercalary months, renamed Quintilis after himself, and borrowed the idea of the Leap Year from the Egyptians, whom he was fucking on the side. Some final adjustments were added by a subsequent ruler, Augustus, who took the liberty of renaming Sextilis after himself. Who knows? If Rome hadn’t fallen when it did, the months of September through December might be called something else by now.

The Gregorian Calendar we use today was based on Pope Gregory’s dislike of the idea that Easter was always shifting around on the calendar, so he made some more adjustments that included the fact that while there would be a Leap Year every four years, there wouldn’t be in years divisible by 100 (such as 1700, 1800 and 1900) unless they were also divisible by 400 (2000). Then he decided to take eleven days out of the calendar to make everything line up better. The official change in the colonies happened in 1752. George Washington was actually born Feb 11, 1732 under the Julian Calendar. When the switch to the Gregorian was made, Washington simply changed his birthday to the familiar Feb 22, 1732. Some people, perhaps those who believed God really did have a book in which He wrote your date of birth and death, thought they were suddenly moved eleven days closer to their date of death (as determined by God’s Little Black Book.) This was nonsense, of course, because everyone knew God was using the Mayan Calendar and we were all going to die in 2012. So even though the motivation to change the calendar was based on Religion, we can thank Science that there was a rational, logical, objectively justifiable reason to add a Leap Day, and not because God told somebody to do it.

This is our once-every-four-years thread. But you can still feel free to discuss what you want.

The Watering hole, Saturday, February 13, 2016: We Need Less of Moore’s Ilk – UPDATED

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore is at it again. It seems no matter how hard he tries, which appears to be not very, Moore can’t seem to wrap his head around the fact that the Supreme Court is the highest court in the land, and its rulings take precedence over any state or local law. Despite having lost his job once before in 2003 for refusing to follow the orders of the SCOTUS when they ruled he must remove a monument to the Ten Commandments from state property, Moore may be about to lose his job again, and for the same reason – failing to obey a SCOTUS ruling because it contradicted his personal religious beliefs. Moore claims the SCOTUS ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges is confusing because it says that not only must Alabama let gay people marry, but it has to recognize lawful same-sex marriages in other states. This violates the Chief Justice’s personal religious beliefs and he believes that is reason enough to order all Alabama probate judges in Alabama to stop issuing marriage licences to same-sex couples. He is wrong, of course, and in violation of his oath of office. Again. Like every public official in this country, elected or appointed, Moore took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. That oath does not allow for exceptions where you feel your religious beliefs are being ignored, or because you feel that state law takes precedence over federal law. In fact, on the latter point the Constitution is quite clear. “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.” Chief Justice Roy Moore does not believe this means SCOTUS rulings take precedence over Alabama State Law. How he ever got through law school and was allowed to practice law and even become a judge with this belief is beyond comprehension. What in that clause would make anyone think a state’s constitution or laws would be superior to the federal Constitution? How can any sane, intelligent person make that argument? The answer is they can’t, which means any person making such an argumetn is not sane and intelligent. Especially when they say their religious beliefs are superior to any court rulings. Part of the problem here is that Alabama elects their state’s highest judges rather than appoint them and make them go through a confirmation process conducted by people who at least have more of an understanding of the law than the average voter. (In my home state of New York, our state’s highest court judges are appointed by the governor and confirmed by our State Senate.) Your average voter is completely ignorant about how the law and the constitution work, so putting the choice of who should be deciding how their laws are interpreted in the hands of people who are completely unqualified to make that determination is ridiculous. Too many people wrongly believe this nation is officially Christian and should abide by Christian law, which seems to be based entirely on Jewish Law given how often they quote the Old Testament. This is the kind of person Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore is: a conservative evangelical with the warped belief that Christianity is the law of this land, the First Amendment to the contrary notwithstanding. He needs to be impeached, convicted, removed from office and barred from ever holding public office again. So does Associate Justice of the United States Antonin Scalia.

Justice Antonin Scalia is also at it again. What he’s at is demonstrating his complete and utter disqualification to be interpreting our nation’s constitution. In a recent speech to a Catholic high school class, Scalia made the claim that “there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that prohibits the government from legislating, establishing, or favoring religion over non-religion.” He thinks it’s possible, but he seems unsure, that the Constitution may prohibit the government from favoring one religion over another, but it can certainly favor religion over non-religion. I don’t make any claim to be an expert in the law or the Constitution, but that claim strikes me as being, in legal parlance, “bullshit.” Even before the third amendment sent to the states became the first one ratified (there were twelve amendments sent to the states; the first never passed and the second eventually became the 27th Amendment, and the other ten became the Bill of Rights), there existed a clause barring religion from playing a part in our government. Article VI clearly states “…but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” How then, can one argue, should our laws should be based on the Bible if it’s unconstitutional to require anyone to prove they believe the Bible to be something that should be the basis of our laws? I certainly don’t think it should be. Have you actually read it? It’s horrifying! It’s a form of child abuse to teach children it’s the truth. The same for any deity-based religious text. Prove to me that gods exist before you start telling me I have to do what you claim they say. But you can’t presuppose the existence of gods and claim that as your proof. Nor can you claim that only something like a god can produce everything we see around us, because that would be the same thing. First prove gods exist, then prove they made everything around us. Not the other way around. Don’t say only a god could produce everything around us, so that proves they must exist. Scientists have been debunking that for centuries. Nor can you make the extraordinary claim that gods exist but that it’s up to me to prove you wrong, so in the meantime I have to follow your god’s laws. There are so many flaws in the belief that gods exist, let alone that one or more of them created everything, that it simply defies logic to believe it’s true. And please, don’t tell me my disbelief is because I lack faith. Faith is the rejection of facts, evidence, and experience in favor of believing what one wishes to be true. To say something is true simply because you have faith that it is true is to literally reject logic and reason and say it’s true because you say so. Well, that’s not good enough for me. If you’re going to tell me I have to follow the laws laid down in your deity-based religious text, then I require proof that the deity on which your religious text is based actually exists and will do me harm if I don’t follow those laws. Is that really too much to ask? It’s not enough for you to tell me what your religious texts say will happen, because you still haven’t proven to me that your religious texts are based on anything real. In recent years, the Church of Scientology has been exposed as a giant scam. Nobody seriously believes our bodies were invaded by extraterrestrial beings from a planet billions of miles away. I mean, the entire story line is ridiculous, and I think most people would agree. So why are deity-based creation stories any more credible? Because you say they are? Can you imagine what would happen if someone tried to make Scientology the official religion is the United States and forced everyone to practice it? Well that is exactly what the founders of the United States, under the US Constitution, feared. Did you know that before the United States came along, every nation had an official religion? The USA was the first one to say, “We’re not going to do that. We’re not going to say one religion is better than any other. And we’re not going to say you have to practice one particular religion, or that you can’t practice certain other religions. We’re not going get into any of that at all. You are free to practice whichever religion you wish, or even no religion at all.” And that’s the part Conservative Christians like Associate Justice Scalia and Chief Justice Moore get wrong.

Nobody can be required by law to do anything just because a religion requires it of its adherents. There may be perfectly valid non-religious reasons to lass a law banning something, and those have to be the ones cited as justification. The one thing you’ll find in common with such valid laws is that they follow a principle common to many religions but also to non-religious philosophies alike. And it’s a principle most atheists you’ll ever meet follow: Treat other people the way you would want them to treat you. You don’t want someone to be able to murder you? Then make it a crime to murder someone. You don’t want someone to be able to steal your stuff, then make it a crime to take other people’s possessions. This has nothing to do with religion, or what reward or punishment (if any) one might have to endure after one dies, it’s simply the right thing to do. I am amazed at how many people distrust atheists. In fact, there are seven states where atheists are barred by law from holding public office. Those laws are unconstitutional, of course, and must eventually be struck down even if they’re never enforced. For reasons surpassing logic, people seem to believe that it’s impossible to have a moral code without a belief in God. This is nonsense. If the only thing that makes you do the morally right thing is the belief that you’ll be rewarded or punished after you’re dead, then you really don’t want to do the morally right thing, do you? I don’t believe in an afterlife, or a reward for good people or a punishment for bad ones. I try to treat other people the way I would like them to treat me because it’s the right thing to do. I’m 100% positive that it won’t make any difference to me one way or the other what happens to me after I’m dead because I won’t be around to experience it. And if you want to wave your religious books in my face and tell me I’ll suffer eternal damnation for not believing what you do, understand that the only thing preventing me from taking your religious book out of your hand and smashing you in the face with it is my morals, the ones you say I can’t possibly have because I lack a belief in God.

UPDATE: Associate justice Antonin Scalia was found dead at his ranch in Texas. http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/us-world/article/Senior-Associate-Justice-Antonin-Scalia-found-6828930.php?

I will not celebrate the death of any man, but I will not weep for this one.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to make fun of religious nutjobs like Moore and Scalia, or discuss anything else you wish..

The Watering Hole, Saturday, January 30, 2016: Bruisin’ From A Cruz-in’

As a human being, you are capable of believing whatever you want to believe whether it has any connection to factual reality or not. For example, while I don’t think either is real, I would believe that The Matrix is real before I believe any crazy story about a mythical being creating the universe and everything in it. At least The Matrix makes some sense and explains better why I seem to encounter several examples of the same kind of thing on my way to work on any given day. Like that car that goes by with one headlight out. I might not see a car like that for several days or weeks, and then one day I’ll see three or four go by me, all on the same drive. Or a car who wants to go slower than I will pull out of an intersection ahead of me before turning off down a side road, but not before another pokey pulls out in front of him, for the obvious sole purpose of keeping me from getting where I want to go in my lifetime. I could more easily accept that these are subroutines being repeated in a computer program than I could that some omnipotent, omniscient Being is trying to send a message to me through bad drivers. (A more effective technique might be to leave a message in green lipstick on my bathroom mirror, knowing that my wife has no green lipstick nor any intention of ever wearing any. I’m more open-minded on the subject.) It makes zero sense to believe in Creationism. And in order for it to make any kind of sense at all, you have to attribute so many contradictory rationales to the Being responsible that it ends up making even less sense. Does God really care if I masturbate or not? Do you really think Jesus never masturbated as a young teenage male? After all, Jesus didn’t find his calling until the last few years of his life. So he wouldn’t have grown up thinking he was God’s personal offspring, or that his “special purpose” really had a special purpose. It just doesn’t make any logical sense. People tell me I say that because I lack Faith, and they’re right. I do lack Faith. Because I need to see evidence, backed by science and observation. It’s true that I will accept something as true just because Neil deGrasse Tyson or Bill Nye says it’s true, but that’s because I know they base their beliefs on evidence, backed by science and observation. And I also know that if evidence based on science and observation proves them wrong, that they’ll change their views. And hearing them explain why they now believe what they didn’t before, I’m more likely to change my views, too. Before you counter with that’s an Appeal to Authority argument, I’ll tell you why it isn’t. First, I’m not arguing any point in particular and telling you it’s true just because NdT says it’s true. Second, I wouldn’t say something is true just because he said it was, but for the reasons he said it was true, which I know derived from evidence based on science and observation (not the millennia-old speculations from scientifically illiterate people.) So I wouldn’t be making an argument that appeals to authority, I would be making one based on the same evidence that appealed to my authority.

But you can’t do that when you insist on accepting something on Faith alone because, by definition, you are accepting it without evidence based on science and observation. And Faith demands that when the evidence proves you wrong, you discard the evidence and continue to believe the now disproved thing. How can anybody live that like? How can you go through life believing things proven to be false, or follow the advice of a book proven to be self-contradictory and scientifically inaccurate in so many ways? As just one example, bats are not birds, no matter what any religious text tells you, even one followed by two major religions. How could such a text possibly be “the inerrant word of God” when it contains such a blatant error? If the error is entirely attributable to the flawed human who put the words to paper, then how can it be considered “inerrant”? And if it was transcribed exactly as God intended, then how could God not know bats are not birds? Something has to give in to logic and reason if it is going to be a valid argument.

In an interview earlier this week with Dana Loesch (a famous conservative who, by standard conservative reasoning, must fear me quite a lot because she actually blocked me on Twitter, and she would say that if I blocked her, it must have been because I feared her), Rafael Cruz, the foreign-born father of foreign-born US Senator Ted Cruz, actually said this when asked if it was “difficult to see people go at” his son

“It is, Dana, but at the same time, you know, if you are not making a difference, if you are not having an impact, nobody’s going to attack you,” he said. “Jesus said, ‘They persecuted me, they will persecute you.’ When you are having an impact on America, those who disagree with you are going to come out lashing at you with everything they’ve got. But you know what, we get encouraged for seeing that we are making a difference, Ted is making a difference, that truth sets people free. And he’s speaking the truth and those who don’t want to hear it are going to lash out.”

I’ll let the fine folks at PoliticusUSA, FactCheck and Politifact recall just a few of the many lies Ted has told, but I want to respond to a few of the inanities his dad said here. I’ll begin with “…if you are not making a difference, if you are not having an impact, nobody’s going to attack you.” First of all, Conservatives (especially the Christian kind) equate attacking a person’s position with attacking the person himself. So when they don’t like someone’s position, they see no problem with attacking the person himself. Being projectionists, it’s what they would do, so they assume it’s what everyone else is doing to them, even when it clearly isn’t. Second, people are attacked and even murdered all the time, and it has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with that person’s impact on anyone else, other than they had the misfortune of being near their attacker at the wrong time. So it is simply, factually untrue that “nobody’s going to attack you” if you aren’t making a difference. This is just pure, delusional, Christian Persecution Complex thinking at work. Raffy then goes on to claim that he and his son “are making a difference, Ted is making a difference, that truth sets people free.” Now I can’t tell if this one is the result of Conservatives not knowing what words mean, not caring what facts are, or a combination of the two, but it’s not true for two reasons. One, nobody’s mind is being changed by the Los Cruz. Nobody is listening to either man for the first time and saying, “You know, he makes a lot of sense. I’m going to start following him.” No, the people listening to them have already made up their minds that what the two men go around saying is true, so they show up to listen for the reinforcement of their own set of beliefs. And, two, Ted isn’t telling the truth (as PoliticusUSA, FactCheck, and PolitiFact have been trying to tell us.) He lies constantly, so how can what he says set anyone free? “And he’s speaking the truth and those who don’t want to hear it are going to lash out.” He’s not speaking the truth, and we are not trying to “lash out” at him, we are pointing out that the things he says all the time are factually incorrect. We’re attacking the things he says, not him personally. Except for the fact that he continues to repeat false things, so we have to question his motives, sanity, intelligence, honesty and character along with them. If Ted would stop repeating lies, nobody would have to attack anything he says, and we certainly wouldn’t have to attack his character. Los Cruz can end the persecution they feel simply by admitting they’re both bearers of false witness. But that’s one Truth about themselves they’ll never face.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss logical reasoning, something Rafael Cruz might have said, or anything in between.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, January 9, 2016: The Hole In The Head Gang

Whenever anyone tells you they are doing what God wants them to do, run. And I don’t mean for president. It’s amazing how many people claim God told to run for the same public office, especially in America, which is officially and constitutionally a secular nation. There were all those Republicans in 2012 who said they heard God calling upon them to run for president. The fact that none of them even came close to winning might suggest in an otherwise free thinking person that maybe those claims of being told by God to run were false. Not lies, exactly, just inaccurate. In fact, it makes a lot more sense to believe Satan told these people to run for high office. Why we never ask them if this was a possibility is beyond me. When you have at least four people standing on a stage each claiming to be there because God told them to run, why just accept that as truth? Why not grill each one and ask them why would God do such a thing? (And why would he tell even more of them to run this time?) It seems to me that an allegedly all-powerful deity wouldn’t bother with democracy. He could just make a bunch of write-in ballots appear all over the country, naming the person he wants to be president. That’s within his capabilities, isn’t it? Does anyone truly believe God wanted George W. Bush to become president in 2000? So much so that he rigged an election in a state governed by his brother to make the victory happen? And then addled the mind of several Supreme Court Justices, just to make sure? And then went further and told George to invade Iraq? Why believe anybody when they say God told them to do something? With no witnesses around to confirm it? Is there any reason to believe them? Even Adolf Hitler thought he was doing what God wanted him to do, so one really should question anyone making such a claim. Which is why I question Ammon Bundy’s claim that he is doing what God told him to do, even how to do it (which apparently included not preparing for it.) It may offend you to hear me say this, but it’s stupid to believe an all-powerful, all-knowing being would care about political candidates or sports athletes. It really is. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. And that’s precisely why it should disqualify anyone for public office when they claim God told them to run for that office. And an athlete that says his or her talent comes from God must think very lowly of their alleged Creator that he would endow them with athletic ability to entertain us, but not endow scientists and medical researchers with the talent and intelligence they need to find cures for diseases like cancer. OTOH, if you believe God created everything, you have to believe God created cancer. Otherwise your entire set of beliefs is false and unworkable. So how much does God really love you, that he would take your child away from you with cancer? God did not tell any of those people to do any of those things. They told themselves to do those things.

And why would God talk only to Ammon Bundy, and not his brother or any of the others there? And why would he put a lot of false notions in his head about the issues he’s supposed to be defending? These folks clearly do not understand the concept of “We The People.” They do not understand that the federal government IS us, and that we have constitutionally granted it powers to act on our behalf in preserving and protecting those lands. That the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge they claim to be taking back for the people already belongs to We The People. Nor do they seem to understand that the People closest to them (geographically) do not want them there, and do not want them to claim they are speaking for us. That they want the invaders to leave. (This was from a group Ammon Bundy helped form.) And they should leave, especially if they are illegally accessing the federal computers at the refuge they occupy. Regardless of the rationales they put out, they are not within their rights to do this. And they’re not right in their reasons for doing this. Nor are they right in the logic they use to come to the conclusions they have. The property they have improperly seized belongs to all of us, meaning it belongs to you and me, too. Would you want a bunch of armed delusional people squatting in your back yard saying they’ll use deadly force if anyone tries to make them leave? Because that is what they’re doing.

There is seriously something wrong with people who think the way these people think. Whether it’s the idea that God exists and tells several different people to do the same pointless thing (run for president against other people he told to run for president, or take over a publicly owned wildlife refuge in the middle of winter), or that the American federal government has no connection whatsoever to the People of America, these people clearly have a hole in their heads. They are the types who believe County Sheriffs have more authority than the federal government. They’re wrong here, of course, because they have occupied federal property, which makes what they’re doing a federal crime. It’s also a crime to use federal employee badges to access federal computers, which they obviously did. (The reporter said three of the four computer screens had screensavers running on them. I think it very highly unlikely that the people working at the refuge left those computers running over a long holiday weekend. Ammon Bundy’s brother Ryan claims they didn’t touch anything in that room, even though the reporter saw him try to hide the badges.) The best thing to do would be to have the local sheriff (whom they believe has more authority than the federal government, even on federal property) explain to everyone in that group that they are in violation of federal law, that they will be charged with violations of federal statutes once the occupation ends and they are brought out, that no one has any intention of firing upon them first, and they might as well give up now before anyone gets hurt over their complete and total ignorance about what they’re doing. I don’t want to see anyone die over this ridiculous issue. But the occupiers are the ones who brought guns to this showdown and threatened to use them. If any of them are killed, I’ll simply say what I always do when bad people die: I will not celebrate the death of any man, but I will not weep for this one.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss the occupation of public property by delusional wingnuts, or anything else you wish to discuss. Just don’t set up camp on my property.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, January 2, 2016: He’s Trump, He’s Trump, What’s On His Head?

If one were to believe the political poll results published by the scam artists, Donald J. Trump has a lot of support to be the presidential nominee of the Republican Party in 2016. I don’t. I’ve already talked before about why these things should be taken with a grain of salt. Besides the facts that neither the primary nor the general election is being held tomorrow (making the entire premise of many of these question meaningless,) people who make a living following these things say that the vast majority of voters don’t make up their minds until the final weeks before the vote. The only people answering these polls (which is about one out of the seven or eight folks they attempted to survey) have already put forth the minimal effort needed to reach their decisions and concluded that alleged billionaire real estate developer and reality show star Trump would be great for America. Even though he clearly won’t.

For one thing, he lies. One can immediately counter that all politicians lie, and that certainly has an element of truth to it. But Trump’s not a politician, he’s a narcissistic billionaire enjoying one of the biggest waves of popularity he’s ever personally experienced. Not that narcissism disqualifies one from being President; it might actually be a prerequisite to a certain degree provided he’s able to turn it off and listen to other people. Either Trump is incapable of doing that, or he’s surrounding himself with sycophantic hero worshipers who would never tell him something he didn’t want to hear. But he lies. A lot. He lies about Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. He lies about so many things that Politifact couldn’t name just one for their Lie of the Year 2015, so they named Trump.

For another thing, the message itself that Trump delivers is not in any way shape or form a positive one. Sure he talks about “making America great again,” but who says it isn’t right now? And who says it has to be? Why can’t “really, really, really good” be good enough? The problem with a slogan like Trump’s is that it could mean anything to anybody. Trump’s not defining what would make America greater than it is now except to list the kinds of things all conservatives hate about our society as being the reasons it isn’t great, like the fact that we care about people and want to help make their lives better. Conservatism is about selfishness, first and foremost, so it stands to reason a narcissist trying to win the nomination of a predominantly conservative party would concentrate on the things that most annoy people who think of themselves, first. And fear works on people like that. Make people afraid, tell them whom to fear (please, we don’t need to name any former propaganda ministers), and if they’re the type who don’t put a lot of effort into their thinking (which might expose the lies behind your fear mongering), they’ll do anything you ask (or just imply you think would please you, like beating up a protester at your rally.) Trump’s fear mongering and lies have gotten so bad that terrorists really have started using his anti-Muslim comments in a recruiting video.

And where the narcissism I spoke of earlier should be damning to a group of people who are taught to practice humility in their lives, Conservative Christians (an oxymoron, as Conservatives do very little Jesus would approve) seem to absolutely love Trump. And considering what they believe their religion teaches them about women and sex (including Trump’s lawyer, who thinks marital rape is impossible), the sexism Trump regularly displays can only strengthen their ill-conceived love of the man. This would not otherwise be a problem in a country where the freedom to peacefully practice one’s religion is constitutionally guaranteed, but these people vote. And they base their decision to vote on whom they think will move this country toward their idea of a Christian paradise. Which is ironic considering Trump’s fear mongering them into believing the religious extremists want to install Sharia Law across America, in violation of their religion freedom to do the same with Christianity.

Long before the Republican convention is over and a nominee and his or her running mate is announced, all of these things about Trump, his viewpoints, his policy proposals, his budget numbers, his own hypocritical, self-serving lifestyle, all of it will convince the Americans people that the Office of President of the United States is not a character in a reality show, and not a job to give someone barely suited to do that. Donald J. Trump is, if anything, less fit to serve as President of the United States than I, and I know something about the way the world really works. (Hint: It isn’t always for us, and we can’t fire them and replace them with China.) Trump thinks we can order other countries to do as we please or, in his case, as he pleases. Or maybe as his BFF and admirer Vladimir Putin pleases. And what pleases Putin is having journalists murdered. Which Trump seems to refuse to believe is true. And while it may be technically true that no proof exists the man who once ran their secret intelligence agency left no evidence of his involvement in those journalists’ murders, we would then have to believe that being a Russian journalist critical of Vladimir Putin simply has an inexplicable mortality rate significantly higher than one of those not so critical. And that’s not likely.

Stop supporting Donald Trump for president. He doesn’t deserve it, and he isn’t fit for the job. Running a country is nothing like running a corporation, even an international one. And anyone who thinks otherwise is basing his vote on a dangerous fallacy. But then, that’s just what the Republican Party wants you to do. Otherwise they’d never win elections.

This is our daily open thread, so you are totally free to talk about anything other than Donald Trump, which in itself would displease him very much. Go on. There’s other things happening out there. Tell us about a few of them. Just stop making me think of Trump! 🙂

The Watering Hole, Saturday, December 26, 2015: A Man, A Turtle, and Fear of Muslims

Bret Colvin and his turtle - photo Miles Bryan of Wyoming Public Radio

Bret Colvin and his turtle – photo Miles Bryan of Wyoming Public Radio

Bret Colvin is prejudiced. We all are, to a certain extent, and it’s partly a survival mechanism. If you don’t learn to recognize potential dangers by doing some internal “profiling” in your mind, you could get killed. And it works, so long as your prejudices have some rational basis. Bret Colvin’s do not. Bret is afraid of Muslims he has never met. This is a stupid kind of fear to have because virtually any Muslim he’s likely to meet will pose no more danger to him than any non-Muslim would. I’d even say it’s highly likely that anyone he meets who does pose a danger to him will do so for reasons that have nothing to do with Islam. He’s in Wyoming, FFS. There aren’t a lot of Muslims to fear there in the first place. In fact, the mosque that got him so worried he started a Facebook page called “Stop Islam in Gillette” is only the third mosque in the entire state of Wyoming. And it was started so that members of one particular family would have a place to freely exercise their First Amendment right to practice the religion of their choice. They hope to save enough money to build a new mosque (this one is a regular house, converted for their purposes) to which they would welcome Muslims from other areas. It’s the American dream from before there was an America built on consumerism (in violation of the Ten Commandments.) In response to Bret’s FB page, another FB page was started called Save Islam in Gillette.

Since then, Bret has changed the name of his FB page to “Stop Forced Syrian Immigration to Gillette.” (Maybe the little chat he had with one of the mosque’s founders convinced him to refocus his hate and ignorance.) His concern now is, “Well, I don’t want Jihadis in my neighborhood.” Is that a rational fear? Of course not! Why not? Well, for one thing, Wyoming is the only one of our 50 states that does not have a refugee resettlement program. Which means that when the federal government eventually finishes its extensive background checks and interviews with refugee applicants some 18-24 months from now, they won’t get settled in Wyoming. I’m guessing Bret is totally unaware of the procedure for Syrian immigrants to apply for refugee status and resettlement in the US. The fact that Bret is a YUGE Donald Trump supporter makes me certain he doesn’t know what he’s talking about when it comes to immigrants, refugees, and terrorism in general. He’s not the only one with that problem.

According to a NYT survey, a lot of people have a misguided fear of terrorism. Which brings me to a second point on which I’d like to rant – public opinion polling. I am thoroughly convinced (okay, maybe there’s a teeny, tiny chance my mind can be changed in this, but I’d be surprised if the right evidence and facts could be shown me to convince me I’m wrong) that public opinion polling in America is pure bullshit, and there are several reasons for this. It’s not the mathematics themselves, just their application to poll results. Statistical analysis is fine when you’re analyzing actual facts or events that have actually happened. For example, by analyzing the time of day at which people actually had heart attacks, you can come up with the day of the week and time of day at which you’re most likely to have a heart attack. (I believe this was done once and the answer was Monday mornings.) And that’s fine and it’s valid and it makes sense because it’s based on actual facts. But if a bunch of inaccurate days and times were thrown into the results, would the final number really have any meaning? Could you point to this analysis and be confident with the result if you knew a bunch of lies and misinformation were factored into the final number? Opinions are not facts. And worse still, opinions based on lies and misinformation are less than worthless. And that’s what public opinion polls are often based on – lies and misinformation.

For example, suppose I’m an idiot who believes leprechauns, pixies, unicorns and elves are all real and plotting together to take over the Earth from humans any day now through violent acts of terrorism, but I keep that to myself. You come along and ask me a survey question asking me what I thought the likelihood of a terrorist attack on the United States is. Of course I’d tell them it’s high or very high, but do you think my opinion has any merit and should be considered as part of this survey response? Do you think the President should consider my opinion when developing our counter-terrorism strategy? Should he factor this in and order the Dept of Defense to stock up on poison darts to kill the elves? Of course not, because there’s no reality-based reason for my fear. Now replace “leprechauns, pixies, unicorns and elves” with “typical Muslims.” Is my opinion any better? Is there any reality-based reason to believe typical Muslims are plotting to take over the Earth through violent acts of terrorism? Of course not. But the guy asking me the survey question doesn’t know on what I base my answers, so why should it be lumped in with all the reality-based answers and factored into the poll results?

Donald Trump is polling well among Republican voters, but should we really assume he’ll win the general election (or even the nomination of his party, whichever that is this year)? Are we really going to operate on the premise that the people saying they support Trump are basing their views on facts and reality? He is saying things that appeal to people who do not put a lot of effort into their thinking. Do you want a nation’s foreign policy to be based on the opinions of people whose views of Muslims is no more accurate than that of someone who says they believe leprechauns, pixies, unicorns and elves are all real and plotting together to take over the Earth from humans any day now through violent acts of terrorism? I have a surprise for them. My brother’s ex-wife married a Muslim who helped raise my nephews, and I never once feared that he might secretly be a terrorist waiting to do terrorist things. Not once. Not even for a nanosecond. Abraham is a good man and I am even grateful for his being a part of raising my nephews. The men in my family have a little problem with alcoholism and my brother was not immune to this. (Neither am I, which is why I gave up drinking decades ago.) So when Abraham instituted a rule that there would be no alcohol in his house, I was glad because it meant my nephews would be less likely to turn into full blown drunks. But it also meant that they would have a good role model in their stepfather because, like 99.9% of all Muslims, he’s a man who practices Peace. But the people telling the pollster they fear a terrorist attack probably wouldn’t know that.

Here’s something else about polls: You can never be sure how the person answering is interpreting the question. For example, what do they consider “terrorist attack” to mean? Is it a bombing or mass shooting committed by radicalized Muslims only? Could it also be a lone, crazed Christian who thinks the vast majority of what Planned Parenthood does is abortions? Could it also be someone who thinks the federal government killed those people in the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, TX, and then went too far with a ban on assault weapons? Could it be a white male who wants to start a race war by executing nine people in a church just because they were black? You don’t know. The person answering is free to apply his own definitions of the words used in the question so, in essence, you’re really not getting answers to the same question from different people. There’s too much room for lies and misinformation to enter into the process and, therefore, you are no longer applying statistical analysis to empirical facts. You are applying them to worthless answers, answers that may not have any connection to Reality. Can you still conclude that there are Americans who fear we might be subject to an act of terrorism? Of course you can, for two reasons. One, you don’t need a survey to learn there are people who are afraid of terrorism. And two, given how broadly one can define “terrorist,” it’s obvious we’re going to be subject to another terrorist attack. But it doesn’t mean we have to seal our borders, build a giant wall along one of them, and stop all Syrian refugees fleeing war in their home country. We can’t let fear dominate our decision-making. Because that’s what the terrorists want us to do.

Note: There is no evidence that Bret Colvin’s turtle has expressed fears about Muslims in Gillette, which makes the turtle a better man than Bret.

Late though it is, this is our daily open thread. Feel free to talk about irrational fears, untrustworthy poll results, lazy bloggers, or anything else you wish to discuss.

The Watering Hole, 12/02/2015: Quotes

Some quotes from Thomas Jefferson:

Enlighten the people, generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day.

I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.

Say nothing of my religion. It is known to God and myself alone. Its evidence before the world is to be sought in my life: if it has been honest and dutiful to society the religion which has regulated it cannot be a bad one.

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The Watering Hole, Saturday, October 3, 2015: Backward, Christian Soldiers

There is a belief among some people (and when I say “some people,” I mean Conservative Christian Americans) that the United States of America was founded as a Christian nation, on Judeo-Christian values, and for the benefit of Christians. They are wrong on all three counts. The only evidence I’ve seen that the USA was “founded” as a Christian nation come from David Barton, a well-known snake oil salesman who has been misleading people for decades, and all of it refers to the USA as it was founded under the Articles of Confederation. Barton and his ilk want the USA to be a Christian nation so badly that they promote a philosophy called Seven Mountains Dominionism, which is a plan to establish a virtual theocracy here. In their minds, the Bible takes precedent over the US Constitution. (I can promise you this atheist will oppose such a movement at every turn, but I seriously doubt any such thing will ever happen.) But I don’t believe that any of their thinking is correct regarding the secular United States of America formed under our present Constitution. The authors of the First Amendment saw what a government run according to someone’s idea of Religion, Christian or otherwise, could do and decided they wanted no part of that. Besides, when Conservatives speak of “Judeo-Christian values,” what they’re really talking about is Old Testament punishment for things they personally find offensive, especially gay people. (If someone could explain below why there are both Leviticus 18 and Leviticus 20 in the O.T., I’d really like to know. Both list pretty much the same sins, but Lev 18 says the sinners should be banished, while Lev 20 says they should be put to death. Which one Conservative Christians quote can tell you a lot about them as human beings.) And just because it was Christians escaping persecution in Europe for their extreme conservative Christianity who landed here and took the land from the people living here at the time does not mean this nation (under our present Constitution) was founded just for Christians. Again, some people (see above) actually believe that. The only argument I can say against that belief is that nowhere in the body of the Constitution, or in its Amendments, are the words “God,” “Christ,” or “Christianity” to be found. If the USA was really “founded as a Christian nation,” wouldn’t you expect those three words to be all over the Constitution and its Amendments? Why would they not be? BTW, through his usual tactic of lies and deception, Barton is pushing a new movement to get Conservative Christians to vote for Christians candidates and principles. I have to wonder why this movement would be necessary if this were already a Christian nation, founded on Judeo-Christian values, for Christians. Logic means nothing to people like this.

There is also a belief among some people (and when I say “some people,” I mean Conservative Christian Americans) that Christians in this country are being persecuted for their beliefs, with Rowan County, KY, Clerk Kim Davis being one of the latest examples. They believe that Christianity itself is under attack. They’re so insecure in themselves and in their Religion that they act as if the mention of any other religions will bring everything they believe crashing down. (In reality, the Truth is enough to do that.) It has gotten so bad that a conservative Christian organization in Georgia is freaking out because students are being taught the basics of the three Abrahamic religions (the ones who all worship the same God under different names) in their studies of the Middle East. [Never mind the school district being targeted has been teaching the same class for nine years without prior complaints.] Now face it, you can’t begin to comprehend the cultures and events in the Middle East without first understanding the role Religion plays in the region. For one thing, it is the birthplace of all three Abrahamic Religions. On that topic there’s something I have to say. For the life of me, I don’t understand how we can get three major Religions who all worship the very same God (on this, there is no dispute, even though some people in the story expressed disbelief of this, which is proof that this particular education is needed there) but who all say that worship must take place in different forms, under penalty of death (all three, not just one), yet all claim to be the “One True Religion”? And how can there be hundreds and thousands of variations of these Major Religions who also claim to be the one correct way to worship God? (They must be different or else they would all be the same one.) Anyway, perhaps that’s something the curriculum might have explained, but I’d have to move down to Georgia to hear it, and I have spent enough time in Georgia, thank you. (Military training. Can’t say more.) But why do Conservative Christians see teaching someone the basics (some call them “tenets”) of other religions as a threat to the free exercise of their own? Learning about them is not converting them to that religion. Besides, it’s what you actually do, not what you tell others you do, that defines which religion you practice. You can learn everything you want about Islam, but if you still pray to Jehovah, and you still attend church services each week, and you still wear a cross around your neck, you’re still a Christian, so stop worrying about it. There’s nothing wrong with being a Muslim anymore than there is with being a Jew or a Christian. You can pick apart any Religion based on a belief in a supernatural being who secretly tells only three people what he wants, and then expects everyone to believe that person (again, under penalty of death in all three cases), and find all kinds of things that make that religion look bad. If you want to save time, I’m sure you can find things in all three that make them look good. But there’s no reason for American Christians to fear persecution just because other Americans are exempt from Christianity’s rules. That hasn’t stopped our installing 44 consecutive Christians as President (one of them twice.) Get over it, Conservative Christians. No one is coming for your cross.

There is yet another belief of at least one person (and when I say “one person,” I mean the conservative Tennessee Lt Governor Ron Ramsey, a gun nut who believes the NRA’s crap about the purpose and scope of the Second Amendment) that because this latest mass shooting specifically targeted Christians because of their faith, those “who are serious about their faith” should “think about getting a handgun carry permit.” He goes on to say, “I have always believed that it is better to have a gun and not need it than to need a gun and not have it.” That’s funny, I have always believed it is better to resolve a situation without someone dying than it is to kill someone to bring it to an end. What I don’t understand is this belief that a gun is the only option for self-defense. It is because of this cavalier attitude toward guns that so many children have died from being shot by other children. I understand why Conservatives feel this way. (It has to do with the way their brains perceive danger more than a Liberal’s brain might.) But what I can’t understand is why a Christian would believe this, too, especially one who was “serious” about his faith. Jesus never carried a gun nor did he preach violence. The Lt Gov concluded his post with, “Our enemies are armed. We must do likewise.” Really? I’m no ally of any organized religion, and I may even go so far as to call myself an enemy of them, but I also believe in non-violence and I would never carry a gun around with me (absent the collapse of civilization) to make my enmity toward religion known. Like Jesus, I would use words to persuade my fellow Americans that more guns and religions are not the answer to America’s problems, one of which is the presence of too many guns and religions.

If nothing else, Conservative Christians want to take this country backwards, not forwards. They are likely the very people to whom then-Senator Barack Obama referred on the campaign trail as those who “cling to guns and religion” during frustrations with economic conditions. [BTW, I learned something in looking up that remark. I always heard that Mid-West Christian gun owners were offended by that remark, but they weren’t the only ones he mentioned. The entire sentence was, “And it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”] I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Jesus wasn’t a Conservative. And he wasn’t a gun nut, either. And he wasn’t afraid of other people. You’re the ones who are supposed to be like him, not me.

Give us this day our daily open thread, and forgive us our late posting, as we have forgiven those who have failed to timely post before.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, August 15, 2015: How The Right STILL Gets Religious Freedom Wrong

This past Thursday, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins interviewed Fox News Channel Host/Parasite – I forget which – Todd Starnes (both men can best be remembered by forgetting they exist as soon as you finish reading this post) about a recent federal appeals court ruling that said a Colorado baker violated a couple’s rights when he refused to bake them a wedding cake just because they were both men. Here is my own (generously abridged) transcript of an exchange between Perkins and Starnes courtesy of the good folks at Right Wing Watch:

STARNES: It was really chilling to hear you read what they, what the government wants this Christian business owner to do. And when you read the ruling – I’ve had a chance to read the 60-some-odd pages of the Court of Appeals ruling, which is affirming the lower court’s decision – it’s not much of a legal stretch to imagine the day when they will tell pastors the same thing, “You will participate in these gay weddings.” So it’s a troubling thing when you look at this document and you realize that Christian business owners, at least in Colorado, really don’t have as much freedom as they thought they did.

PERKINS: Yeah, and that’s one of the points I’ve tried to make with pastors, you know, I know pastors have been concerned that, you know, any day now they will be forced to do same sex weddings and I say, look, look, look, it probably will come but not immediately. What’s more immediate are the people sitting in your pews, the bakers, the photographers, you know, the florists, we’ve seen those already. But it’s coming, you know even further, it’s coming to the fire chiefs, like Kelvin Cochran, who’ve you written about in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s the regular business people, the public servants. It’s Judge McConnell in Ohio, a city court judge, who did not want to do, perform, actually have to perform, and there was, I don’t know if you saw this, Todd, but there was a ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court Ethics Board that said he was required, as a judge, to perform same sex weddings.

Where to begin? Let’s start with the apparently malleable term “Christian business owner.” What is that, exactly? Is it the owner of a business specializing in Christian merchandise? Or is it the owner of a business who happens to be a Christian? If it’s the former, then an argument could be made that Christianity plays a part in how this business owner runs his business. And one might (if one wanted to try hard enough) be able to make an argument that he should be able to run his business according to Christian principles. Otherwise the latter applies and Religion has absolutely nothing to do with how you run your business if your business is one that’s open to the general public. If your business is one that’s open to the general public, then it has to be open to ALL of the general public. If you wish to start a private service to your friends and other like-minded bigots and operate on a membership-only basis, you can do that. You just can’t pretend your business is open to the general public. And since we’re not talking about business owners who specialize in selling Christian things, the word “Christian” when attached to the words “business owner” means nothing. Starnes says it twice, but in neither case does it bolster his argument because he’s primarily trying to apply it to the owners of a general business. And operating a business in the United States has nothing to do with Religion. You are free to practice Christianity. And you are free to operate a business. But you are not free to operate a business according to any Christian principles if those principles infringe on anyone’s Constitutional rights. To do so would be to force others to practice your Religion, and you are never free to do that.

Starnes, who to my knowledge has as much legal training as I (zero), then goes on to say one of the most ignorant things one could say about this subject, “…it’s not much of a legal stretch to imagine the day when they will tell pastors the same thing, ‘You will participate in these gay weddings.'” Actually, Todd, it is just that – a legal stretch, and a huge one at that. Here’s why. In the United States of America, Marriage is considered a civil institution, not a religious one. (By contrast, in Israel, marriage is considered a Religious institution, and certain people can be denied the right to marry in Israel. It doesn’t mean legal marriages performed outside Israel won’t be recognized, it just means Rabbis in Israel do not have to perform same sex weddings.) If anything, we accommodate Religion by saying if your wedding ceremony is a religious one, performed by someone recognized by the state as being a member of the Clergy sanctioned to perform marriages recognized by your Religion (a priest, not an altar boy), then the State will also recognize that marriage and you won’t have to have a separate wedding for civil purposes. So all religious marriages are recognized as civil ones, too. But not all civil marriages are, nor should they be, recognized by any religious entity. My wife and I were married in a restaurant by a Justice of the Peace. There was no God mentioned or involved. And yet our marriage is considered 100% legal by the State of New York and, by extension, all the other states. Nobody could rationally dispute that our marriage is valid. And since a civil marriage is possible for all citizens, regardless of their religious beliefs (or lack thereof), no clergy or church will ever be forced to perform a same sex wedding. In fact, in every state that legislatively passed some kind of Marriage Equality Act (including my own state of New York), there has always been an exemption for churches or clergy members who do not wish to perform same sex weddings because their religion forbids them. And to my knowledge, no church has ever been successfully sued for refusing to perform one. And nobody is saying they should. If your Religion refuses to live in the 21st Century, that’s your Religion’s problem.

Lastly, Todd, the fact is that nobody has as much individual freedom as you think, as least as far as forcing others to practice your personal religion goes. But what we all have, including you, is the freedom to refuse to practice someone else’s religion. Some religions believe you should always keep your head covered in deference to God. Should you be forced to follow that practice if you’re not a follower of any of those religions? Of course not. And saying that two people of the same gender should not be allowed to marry because YOUR religion forbids it would be the same thing as forcing them to practice YOUR religion instead of theirs. You also don’t have the freedom to punch Liberals in the face, despite the fact that many Conservatives have publicly expressed a wish to do so. So you’re not free to do anything you want. There are limits, and those limits generally apply to the point where they affect others.

Now for where Perkins gets things wrong. First and foremost, the day will never come when pastors are forced to perform same sex weddings against their will as pastors. If they’re also public servants that’s different and we’ll get to that shortly. As I said before, I know of no states where pastors and clergy are forced by law or the courts to perform weddings for two people of the same gender, and I seriously doubt this will ever be an issue.

For those who understandably forgot, Kelvin Cochran was the former Fire Chief of Atlanta who self-published a book about his religious beliefs that said some negative and ignorant things about LGBT people (while still Fire Chief.) He also distributed this book on city property, and for that he was suspended. What Conservatives coming to his defense fail to notice is that as the Fire Chief, he’s in a position to influence the careers of any firefighter serving under him, including those who happen to be gay. How then could a gay firefighter in Atlanta ever feel he or she has an equal chance at promotion or advancement knowing the person in charge thinks they’re ruining society just by being gay? There’s no evidence that he ever did, but how can you ever feel your job is safe knowing what the boss thinks of you?

But Perkins didn’t stop there. He tried to draw an equivalence between being a private citizen business owner and being a public servant. Toledo Municipal Judge C. Allen McConnell refused to perform a wedding for a lesbian couple citing his deeply held religious beliefs. (After a 45-minute delay, the couple were married by another judge.) Judge McConnell asked the Ethics Board to give him guidance and they did. They said he couldn’t refuse. And they were right. What Conservative Christians (an oxymoron, as the message that Jesus Christ gave was overwhelmingly Liberal, so how can any good practicing Christian adhere to Conservative beliefs?) fail to grasp is that your right to practice your religion is just that – YOUR right to practice YOUR religion. It is NOT, however, YOUR right to impose YOUR religion on anyone else. But more importantly, and often overlooked in the discussion, is that discrimination against gay people (and only gay people) has nothing to do with one’s religious beliefs. Would the Colorado baker refuse to bake a cake for a woman who happened to be menstruating? Would he refuse to serve a divorced woman? Would he refuse to serve a customer he knows eats shellfish? These are all things the same chapter of the Bible (Lev 18) says are worthy of banishment, so if he’s willing to serve all of them, then his objections to serving a gay couple have nothing to do with his religion. And despite what illogical Conservatives like Justice Scalia think, that does matter because it means the claim that he runs his business according to Christian principles is a lie, which means the legal argument he presented to the Supreme Court was perjury. If I said I refuse to serve Conservatives because my religion teaches me they have sex with elephants, do I really have a constitutional leg to stand on? Of course not, because such a belief is clearly not based on my religious beliefs. And neither was the baker’s.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss religious freedom, illogical conservatives, gay leaders of the community like Todd Starnes, Tony Perkins, or Justice Antonin Scalia, or anything else you wish.

The Watering Hole, Monday, July 6, 2015: How The Right Gets Religious Freedom Wrong – Still

It appears the Conservatives still don’t understand how religious freedom works, even if their State legislatures do. They definitely don’t understand how the Constitution works. Or how Executive Orders work. Even when they lose at the Supreme Court level, the way our Founding Fathers intended legal disputes to be resolved once and for all (it’s exactly what they said, in slightly different wording), they decide their right to freely practice their religion says they don’t have to obey the Constitution of the United States of America, because they are Americans, and they have Religious Freedom, just like the people who amended the Constitution said. Pay no attention to what the later people amended the Constitution to say, such as Equality Under the Law for everyone and Birthright Citizenship, the direct taxation of income from whatever source derived, the direct election of Senators by the People, the right of women to vote, and term limits on the President. Those are Amendments Conservatives have openly stated they would like to see repealed. Because they just won’t accept losing. I consider it one of their mental defects. (I have plenty of my own, as people who personally know me would be quickly paid to list.) But for a party that traditionally boasted their desire for Law and Order: SCU (Skull Cracking Unit) style life to prevail, they show an astonishing, almost pathological, intent to never be ruled by the laws they say the rest of us must follow.

Proving for anyone wishing to check that he has never read Article III of the Constitution, The Incredible Huck (I never believe a word he says) wrote an op-ed for Fox News Dot Com claiming he would not surrender to judicial tyranny, but you will surrender to his tyranny. He began by mischaracterizing the recent SCOTUS ruling on marriage equality thusly:

America didn’t fight a revolution against the tyranny of one unelected monarch so we could surrender our religious liberty to the tyranny of five unelected lawyers.

You mean like when your side told us to sit down and shut up about the Bush v. Gore ruling, the one where five unelected lawyers told the state of Florida to ignore the Constitution and not continue re-counting the votes because the result might harm the petitioner’s ability to claim victory (the petitioner being Bush and the likely winner of the recount Gore), which meant that if the recount was allowed to continue and it showed that Gore won, Bush would have a harder time claiming victory. That is exactly what they said. And THEN they said that, oh yeah, this decision can never be used as precedent for any future decision ever. Talk about judicial tyranny. How was this marriage equality decision like Bush v. Gore? His second sentence proved his ignorance of the concept of Separation of Church and State.

The Supreme Court is not the Supreme Being, and the Court can no more repeal the laws of nature and nature’s God on marriage than they can the laws of gravity.

There is a great body of scientific experiment that tends to support the Theory of Gravity as being valid. There is nothing which shows that your idea of the “laws of nature and nature’s God on marriage” exist anywhere but in your religious texts. Nor are any of us constitutionally required to live according to your religious texts. That’s what my religious freedom means. And I have never once heard you argue so vociferously against the marriage of divorced people or pregnant women, just gay people. I seriously question how sincere a religious belief this is, and not simply one of ignorant bigotry. But in case you thought Huck understood Article III, he continued

Last Friday’s same-sex marriage decision by the Court, which rejected the will of people in over 30 states, is an out-of-control act of unconstitutional judicial tyranny.

Actually, the other decision I mentioned was an out-of-control act of unconstitutional judicial tyranny. The Marriage Equality decision striking down the unconstitutional will of people in 30 states (because you don’t vote on rights) was exactly what they were created to do. To strike down laws that go too far, that violate the Constitution (of which the 14th Amendment is still a part). But then, Marbury v. Madison was another decision they didn’t like. And so, in traditional Conservative opposite-speak, The Incredible Huck vows to light a match to the Constitution by ignoring it.

While some cowardly politicians will wave the white flag and surrender to the false god of judicial supremacy, I refuse to light a match to our Constitution. We must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat.

Except, Huck, when the Supreme Court rules, it’s over. But you won’t let a little thing like the Constitution get in your way, will you? No, you’re just going to get around it by issuing the biggest, baddest tool of Executive Tyranny you have – the Executive Order. You think that as President, you have the authority to tell everyone working for the federal government that they don’t have to obey a Supreme Court decision. That is a far cry from issuing an EO that tells the Administration how it will carry out a law passed by Congress, which is the purpose and properly constitutional function of an EO. If a President feels a law passed by Congress is unconstitutional, he can fight that law all the way to the Supremes. But if they rule against him, he has no choice. He MUST follow the law. He (or She) can’t just tell the Administration that the oath he took to faithfully carry out the office of President allowed him to ignore the law. Nixon tried that approach and look where it got him. Dead. Okay, it had nothing to do with his death, but he did die Disgraced.

Another Conservative who is either illiterate or stupid intellectually challenged is Texas Attorney General Bill Ken Paxton. He believes that the Federal Constitutionally Mandated oath to support and defend the United States Constitution does not supersede his state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and that clerks in his state do not have to issue marriage licenses to a particular couple if it violates their religious beliefs. And he would be wrong on both counts. Not only must they all obey the Supremes' decisions, but Texas is one of those states that passed a RFRA that actually says you can’t deny someone their civil rights and use the RFRA as an excuse. Which means Bill Ken Paxton was wrong when he told his state’s clerks they didn’t have to issue licenses to “those” people because the RFRA said so, because the RFRA said the exact opposite.

What the Bill Ken Paxton’s of the world keep ignoring was the original intent of the federal RFRA. It was passed after the Supremes said Native Americans couldn’t use peyote in their thousand-year-old rituals if the federal law says nobody can use it. They thought they were being fair to everyone by saying that the law didn’t allow for any religious exemptions, so nobody could claim one. Except nobody, I mean nobody, seriously meant for federal anti-peyote laws to apply to people who appeared to be responsibly using it for millennia. So they passed the national RFRA to protect the right of Native Americans to practice their religious rituals. And nobody, and I mean nobody, intended for the law to be used to protect someone’s right to violate another person’s civil rights. And the first few state level RFRA’s were similar to the federal law. But that began to change in recent years, and Conservative Christians began using RFRA’s to claim the right to deny their services to gay couples on the grounds that it violated their religious beliefs to in any way support an attempt by gay people to get married. Never mind that the part they were being asked to play may have had nothing at all to do with the marriage itself (though some may), or that it seemed to be the only thing they refused to do on religious grounds. There are plenty of other people in both Lev 18 & Lev 20 (the source of the Conservative Christian Contempt for Teh Gay) that you’re told to treat just as harshly (be it banishment or stoning) but that you refuse to treat so. Are your religious beliefs only that strong when it comes to gay people? You have no problem selling a bridal gown to a pregnant woman? You have no problem selling wedding rings to a divorced woman? You only have a problem selling a cake to a couple of guys who want to celebrate the marriage ceremony they just finished with a party for their friends. I have a seriously hard time believing your wish to discriminate against gays has anything whatsoever to do with your religious beliefs, and everyone to do with your ignorant bigoted ones. So don’t ever lie to us again and claim your religious freedom is being threatened, because it’s not. As some of you know, I live in New York State (to my first-time visitors, How ya doin’?), and when we passed our Marriage Equality Act, we allowed churches and clergy to refuse to marry same-sex couples. I’m pretty sure even more conservative states would have fiercely insisted on having such an exemption in their laws, too. And rightly so.

And nobody’s, I mean nobody’s, religious freedom is being denied in any way. Only their hate.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss religious freedom or anything else you want.

The Watering Hole, Monday, June 8, 2015: Denny and the Duggars – An Example Of Conservative Hypocrisy

The Duggar Family, famous for being on a show currently called “19 Kids and Counting…”, are now being infamous for their rank hypocrisy. In an exclusive, if somewhat disastrous, interview with Fox News Channel’s Megyn Kelly, the Duggar parents lied or distorted what the official records show happened. For example, it’s not true that they told the police “everything.” It’s not true that they presented Josh to the police for interrogation in 2006. It’s not true that none of the victims were aware that anything happened. One woke up and felt her shirt being lifted, so it’s not true that all the “inappropriate touching” was “above the clothes.” So there’s a number of things they said that were not true. Lies make baby Jesus cry.

Leviticus 19:11 You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another. (*)

TLC’s page about the Duggar’s show describes them as having “values rooted in their strong personal faith.” Really? Strong “personal faith”? What is one’s “personal faith” but your own set of rules on how you think you should be allowed to live. It doesn’t equate to a “religious belief.” If it’s a “personal faith,” then who else is practicing it? I seriously question this lifestyle has anything to do with “religious freedom.” In the first place, Michelle and her daughters have no freedom. By the rules of their “Quiverfull Movement,” they are required to be completely subservient to their husbands, including the granting of sexual favors at his desire. That’s not religious freedom, that’s sexual slavery. The only person in that house that’s even remotely practicing a religion is Jim Bob Duggar, and I even question that. When your entire lifestyle is predicated on one passage of the Bible, then I say you are not practicing a religion at all, you are just taking one line out of context and fucking up a lot of people’s lives with it. In addition to all that, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar are very active in the fight against LGBT rights. Last but not least before leaving the Duggars, there were also accusations made by the family that the police records were illegally released. That is another lie.

Dennis Hastert became Speaker of the House of Representatives after Newt Gingrich resigned amid a sex scandal, and after Bob Livingston resigned before he could even replace Gingrich after his own sex scandal came to light. Hastert presided over the House while it impeached President Bill Clinton for his sex scandal. Then the Mark Foley sex scandal broke out, and Hastert resigned as Speaker over his handling of it. Now we can suspect why. Hastert had his own secret sex scandal he tried to hide from back in his high school wrestling coach days. It seems he got a little too gropey-fondley with one of the students and ended up paying him lots and lots of money to keep it quiet. Or maybe it was two. But if he at least supported the rights of our fellow LBGT citizens, we wouldn’t be able to call him a hypocrite so easily. Unfortunately, we can.

As a federal legislator, Hastert voted regularly against bills to empower gay people. In Congress from 1997 to 2007, Hastert voted for the so-called “Marriage Protection Act,” and in favor of a constitutional amendment to “establish that marriage shall consist of one man and one woman.” The year he stepped down, Hastert voted no on the “Employment Non-Discrimination Act,” a bill to prohibit companies from discriminating against employees “on the basis of sexual orientation.”

Even the Associated Press noticed that Hastert got 100% ratings from the National Rifle Association (or NAMBLA), the Christian Coalition, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Right to Life Committee. You have got to be one deceitful bastard to get a 100% on your voting record from the Christian Coalition while you’re hiding a same-sex child molestation scandal in your past.

But what is it with these anti-LGBT conservatives? They love to quote the Bible, specifically…

Leviticus 20:13 If a man lies with another man as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood guilt shall be upon them.

They like to quote this as their justification for all these anti-LGBT laws. No doubt Scott Lively used this passage to convince Uganda to pass its famous “Kill Imprison Forever The Gays” bill. But here’s the thing. Just two chapters before it, there’s a very similar passage that says simply this:

Leviticus 18:22 You shall not lie with a man as one does with a woman. It is an abomination.

You might well ask what Chapter 18 says the penalty is for this identical crime, and you’d be wrong to assume it was also death. In fact, while a few of the abominations, depravities, and perversions have specific penalties mentioned, the rest fall under the umbrella of this

Leviticus 18:29 For whoever shall commit any of these abominations, those persons who commit them shall be cut off from among their people.

That’s a far cry from killing them, and closer to what the Ugandan bill that ultimately passed requires as a punishment (for being yourself.)

If you want to see some more confusing things from which these folks get their rules, I suggest you go to the link below (easiest way to scan the Bible), and closely compare Leviticus 18 and Leviticus 20. Many of the same offenses that get you cut off from your people in Lev 18 get you killed in Lev 20. And in between is Leviticus 19, which lists a bunch of other rules conservatives hypocritically ignore. For example, there’s

Leviticus 19:26 You shall not eat anything with the blood in it, nor shall you practice divination or fortune-telling.

Somebody tell that to Pat Robertson, please.

Like I said. Hypocrites.

(*) All Bible quotes were found using Bible Gateway using the Modern English Version (MEV).

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss whatever you want.

Sunday Roast: The Hubris of the Huckabee

We knew it was coming, right?  Huckabee sticks up for those poor, poor Duggars.

Janet and I want to affirm our support for the Duggar family. Josh’s actions when he was an underage teen are as he described them himself, ‘inexcusable,’ but that doesn’t mean ‘unforgivable.’ He and his family dealt with it and were honest and open about it with the victims and the authorities. No purpose whatsoever is served by those who are now trying to discredit Josh or his family by sensationalizing the story. Good people make mistakes and do regrettable and even disgusting things. The reason that the law protects disclosure of many actions on the part of a minor is that the society has traditionally understood something that today’s blood-thirsty media does not understand—that being a minor means that one’s judgement is not mature.

Unless you’re Black or Hispanic…or from a broken home or unwed mother…or have gay parents, OF COURSE.  BTW, “mistakes” happen once or twice, not over and over again, leaving child victims in one’s wake.  A fourteen year old isn’t fully mature, but he should have a basic understanding of what’s right and what’s wrong — especially since the Duggar claim to be on higher ground than the rest of us in that area.

Those who have enjoyed revealing this long ago sins in order to discredit the Duggar family have actually revealed their own insensitive bloodthirst, for there was no consideration of the fact that the victims wanted this to be left in the past and ultimately a judge had the information on file destroyed—not to protect Josh, but the innocent victims.

Hmmmm, I would argue that revealing that Josh Duggar was (is?) a child molester was not to discredit the Duggar family, but to protect any little girls in his vicinity from being sexually abused.  Frankly, the “fact” that the victims wanted their sexual abuse at the hands of their own brother “left in the past” is suspect, since the parents who failed to protect the girls in the first place were the ones influencing such a decision-making process — AND they allowed the molester to return to the home.

Huck wraps it up with a brand new shovel:

It is precisely because we are all sinners that we need His grace and His forgiveness. We have been blessed to receive God’s love and we would do no less than to extend our love and support for our friends. In fact, it is such times as this, when real friends show up and stand up. Today, Janet and I want to show up and stand up for our friends. Let others run from them. We will run to them with our support.

Awwwww, Huck didn’t really want to be presidunce anyway, but don’t worry — he’ll keep up his folksy snake oil sales/sham campaign as long as he possibly can.

Huckabee’s self-satisfied assholierthanthou attitude has caught up to him, and his minions are not amused.

Oopsy.  Huck forgot to consider that some of his followers had been in the Duggar girls’ position.  Of course, he’s pretty consistent in forgetting unpleasantness.

Brava, Carisa!!  Critical thinking!  Keep up the good work.  Huck’s going to miss your subscription to “Learn Our History” most of all…

Montel Williams chimed in with this tweet:

And continued on facebook, with a nasty dose of Tony Perkins, as seen on RawStory.

In short, Mike Huckabee thinks he’s a brilliant, intelligent, compassionate Christian, who’s promoting excellent family values and sticking by his friends in hard times, but he’s actually a slimy bigoted skeev, who thinks anyone who DOESN’T believe what he believes is “less than,” and anyone who DOES believe what he believes can molest little girls (including his own sisters) and it’s just a “mistake” awaiting forgiveness from “god,” and we big meanies just need to get over.  He doesn’t give a shit about the harm done to John Duggar’s sisters, and I highly doubt he cares about the Duggar family at all, except for the weird political boost and associated publicity attached to them, and he’s stupid enough to believe we don’t know it (I’m pretty sure the Duggars are completely clueless when it comes to Huck — and everything else, except money).  Even worse, Huck KNOWS most of his followers are stupid enough not to know it, but is too filled with hubris to see past the end of his self-centered, hateful, bigoted agenda.

Buh bye, Mike.  I’d ask that you return to the underside of the rock from which you crawled, but I know the money’s just too good for a “good” “Christian” “man” like you to resist.

This is our very late daily open thread — I’m cranky.

The Watering Hole; Thursday April 23 2015; Religion in 21st Century America

There’s been a lot of religious chit-chat of late, mostly centered around complaints that LGBT people are being granted the right to (horror of horrors) participate in same-sex marriage. The (fundamentalist Christian) OUTRAGE has been, to say the least, extremely vocal and for the most part — to the rational ear, at least — completely irrational. It’s as if allowing others to live their lives in a manner not approved of by those of loud voice and particular “belief” is not only an abrogation of the rights of those who disapprove, but is also an assault on the first amendment’s clause that reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” an assault on the very foundation of the ‘Christian Nation’ aka the United States of America.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always thought that religion — no matter its name — had as its centerpiece a combination of generosity, of caring, hope, charity, and peacefulness, and that hate, fear, discrimination and their consequences were alien. To Religion. To practitioners thereof.

Pondering that notion reminded me that several years back I found — somewhere, can’t recall where — a brief synopsis of the world’s various religions, taken from appropriate quotes which more or less spell out at least the underlying and driving thesis for each. It’s interesting to read, also to wonder — while listening to today’s highly audible “religious” screamers (i.e. American right wing fundamentalist voices, aka Republicans) — what is it that’s gone so terribly wrong?

Brahmanism: “This is the sum of duty: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.” ~Mahabharata 5:15-17

Buddhism: “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” ~Udana Varga 5:18

Judaism: “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellowmen. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary.” ~Talmud, Shabbat 31:a

Confucianism: “Surely it is the maxim of loving-kindness: Do not unto others that you would not have them do unto you.” ~Analects 15:23

Taoism: “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.” ~T’ai Shag Kan Ying P’ien

Zoroastrianism: “That nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto another whatsoever is not good: for itself.” ~Dadistan-i-dinik 94:5

Islam: “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother what which he desires for himself.” ~Sunnah

Christianity: “Reason must be deluded, blinded, and destroyed. Faith must trample underfoot all reason, sense, and understanding, and whatever it sees must be put out of sight and . . . know nothing but the word of God.” ~Martin Luther

It almost seems as if Martin Luther’s comment has not only caught on, but may even define the attitude of today’s American right wing fundies, especially when viewed in context with most any religious right statement on most any event or policy with which they disagree. Here are just a couple of recent links that point toward their embedded fears and hatreds, as linked to their “fundamentalist” religious dogma.

Janet Porter: Gay Marriage To Blame For Noah’s Flood, Will Usher In End Times

Bryan Fischer: Tell A Gay Couple They Are Going To Hell On Their Wedding Day

Philosopher David Hume seems to have pretty much summed the enduring fundamentalist core dilemma when he noted that “Men dare not avow, even to their own hearts, the doubts which they entertain on such subjects. They make a merit of implicit faith; and disguise to themselves their real infidelity, by the strongest asseverations and the most positive bigotry.” Is that a fair summation of we’re seeing today? Probably not, but at least Hume points toward the “doubts” which must surely drive “faith” in the hate/fear realm. “Bigotry” in Hume’s context.

Abrahamic faiths seem to be most burdened. Judasim, Christianity, Islam — each acknowledges essentially the same God, each is convinced that it is the “true” religion, each is, in result, similarly burdened by the events common to life itself. As David Hume put it, “. . . the first ideas of religion arose not from a contemplation of the works of nature, but from a concern with regard to the events of life, and from the incessant hopes and fears which actuate the human mind.” Or perhaps, as historian Edward Gibbons suggested, “The theologians may indulge the pleasing task of describing religion as she descended from Heaven, arrayed in her native purity. A more melancholy duty is imposed on the historian. He must discover the inevitable mixture of error and corruption which she contracted in a long residence upon earth, among a weak and degenerate race of beings.”

Whatever be the case, the world today is beset by religious irrationality, and ordinary people suffer in result. Why is such nonsense tolerated, much less praised and worshiped by so many? Why can’t we all simply get along? Why does mythology occupy such a prominent pedestal in the human passage?

Gautama Siddharta — Buddha — perhaps spoke the best solution to religious fears when he said,

“Believe nothing just because a so-called wise person said it. Believe nothing just because a belief is generally held. Believe nothing just because it is said in ancient books. Believe nothing just because it is said to be of divine origin. Believe nothing just because someone else believes it. Believe only what you yourself test and judge to be true.”

Imagine what the world could become — if only . . . Meanwhile, ‘Homosexual Armageddon!’ Anti-Gay Activists Decry ‘Satanic’ Gay Rights. The beat goes on but the question remains: whereto from here, America?

OPEN THREAD

The Watering Hole, Monday, April 13, 2015: Guess Their Home Planets

Ben Carson is afraid. That’s not unusual for a Conservative, since fear is the primary thing that motivates them to action of any kind. But in Carson’s case’s case that fear is not warranted by anything happening on this planet. Carson is among the many conservatives who believe that all manner of terrorists will cross our border with Mexico with the express purpose of killing them, and only them, on account of we on the Left being their bestest buddies in the world. Courtesy of our friends at Right Wing Watch, at the recent NRA annual circle jerk meeting

Likely GOP presidential hopeful Ben Carson told the NRA’s annual meeting today that Americans need guns more than ever since the southern border has been exposed to infiltration from “radical extremist Islamic terrorists” whom President Obama doesn’t intend to fight.

“When they get here,” Carson said, “we need to be able to fight them, particularly if we have an administration that won’t fight them, we need to be able to fight them ourselves.”

He added that guns are necessary for people to “defend themselves against an overly aggressive government that wanted to exact tyranny in this country.”

But he is also among the delusional right wingers who feel Obama hasn’t done anything to fight terrorists who exploit a perverted version of Islam as a justification to kill innocent people, primarily those who are non-Muslim. Apparently these right-wingers are so caught up in their own bubble of mis-information that they didn’t notice all the complaining from the Left about Obama’s drone strike program and how it keeps killing innocent people. Obama, along with several other countries in the Mid-East, has been attacking these guys. He just isn’t committing huge numbers of ground troops to the operation like the right wing wants. And that’s because in the Conservative universe, military power is the only kind of strength anyone respects (because it’s the only kind of power they respect.) There are many planets where right-wingers like this can be found, but in Dr. Ben Carson’s case, that planet would likely be Sigma Draconis VI. This is the home planet of the woman who boarded the Enterprise and removed Spock’s brain while leaving his body alive and functioning. This was possible because of a powerful computer capable of giving someone temporary knowledge beyond their normal intellectual abilities, but whose effects are sadly temporary. The result is when the effects of the intelligence enhancements wear off, the person is left being so stupid they don’t even understand what a brain is, let alone how to successfully remove one. This is clearly what happened to Dr. Carson after he left his home planet and the effects of the machine that gave him the ability to be a brilliant pediatric neurosurgeon wore off.

Donald Trump is also afraid, but the only thing that frightens him is the thought that people may one day see just how irrelevant, meaningless, and buffoonish he really is. Trump, who understands nothing of nuclear power, foreign diplomacy, or when to keep one’s mouth shut, badmouthed the recent framework for a deal negotiated with Iran by Secretary of State Kerry and five other nations. And, naturally, since the historic framework for a deal did not involve bombing Iran’s current nuclear facilities, the right wing thinks it’s a totally bad deal. It’s not even a final deal yet, just the framework for a deal that will keep Iran from being able to enrich the kind of uranium that can be used to make a nuclear weapon. And right now, this negotiations for this framework have been the only thing stopping the Iranians from making that bomb. But Trump thinks it’s a terrible deal.

“The deal is terrible, this deal is going to lead to nuclear all over the place and everyone’s going to want to have it and it’s a disaster for Israel, I can tell you, it’s a disaster for this country.”

And we should listen to Trump because he wrote (what he claims is, and what may be, but which I don’t care if it is) the top-selling business book, “The Art of The Deal.” And as everyone in the Conservative Universe knows, Capitalism and International Diplomacy are interchangeable. If you’re good at one you must automatically be good at the other. Herbert Hoover was a Capitalist, and his economic policies led to the Great Depression. George W. Bush was an MBA from Harvard, but that didn’t mean he was the smartest person in the room when it came to foreign policy. Even his Secretary of State, who was supposed to be an expert on the Soviet Union, failed to see its impending collapse. These people know nothing about running a government, let alone how to negotiate with people from another culture. The Conservative Universe has many right wingers who don’t know what they’re taking about, but the Donald Trumps of Earth orginally came from Iota Geminorum IV. This is the home planet of the tribbles, small furry creatures whose purrs have a calming effect on humans. The pelt of one has been resting on Trump’s head for many decades.

As a country, we need to stop listening to people like this. I’m not suggesting they be silenced, just ignored. Many people say there’s no difference between the two major political parties. That is completely false. That doesn’t mean that one works for the benefit of the top 1% and the large multi-national corporations and the other doesn’t. But one party doesn’t have nearly as many crazy people holding crazy viewpoints that they think the rest of us are crazy for not heeding. And it is also not true that Liberalism and Conservatism are just two sides of the same coin. It’s more like two sides of the same circle – the inside and the outside. Conservatism is rooted in Selfishness, in looking out for oneself over the needs of strangers, in asking “What’s in this for me?” of anything new, and in preserving the status quo as much as possible. Like the inside of a circle, there’s a core set of not-always-well-defined principles intended to keep things from changing too much. Liberalism, on the other hand, is rooted in Altruism, in looking out for all of us rather than just some of us, in asking, “How does this benefit the most of us?” of anything new, and in changing things that don’t work for everybody. The two philosophies are in no way equal, so when trying to find solutions that would benefit the nation as a whole, why would anyone believe Conservatives have the best ideas? That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Conservatives don’t care about you. So stop voting for them.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss Ben Carson, brain surgery, Donald Trump, Tribbles as fashion accessories, or anything else you wish to discuss. Just don’t vote for any Conservatives.

The Watering Hole, Monday, April 6,2015: Conservatives Think About Gay Sex A Lot

Pat Robertson is a frightened man. That’s not any new insight, we’ve all known that for years. But with the outcry over Indiana’s RFRA law (which was neither the first, nor was it identical to the early versions), and their subsequent “acquiescence” to those protests, Old Man Pat has come to believe his worst nightmares are coming true: Gay people will be accepted into Society as equals. And when that happens, somehow they’ll take over the world.

“They’re going to force you into their mold, they’re going to make you conform to political correctness, they’re going to make you do what the Left thinks is right, they’re going to make you acknowledge homosexual marriage, they’re going to make you embrace lifestyles that you think are anti-biblical despite your religious belief.”

There’s a lot wrong with those few sentences, including both projection and cognitive dissonance. Whether or not they realize it, Conservative Christians want everybody to be compelled by law to follow their religious beliefs. When you talk about making our laws conform to the Bible, you are imposing your religion on everyone else. If you can’t understand that, then perhaps you should sit back and let the rest of us talk. It is a fact. It is what they want. As for “political correctness,” I ignore that term. It was created by a right wing misanthrope named David Horowitz, and it only makes sense within the framework of an extremely conservative mind. Essentially, it’s a complaint conservatives have when they get called out for saying the kind of hateful, ignorant, bigoted things they’re known for saying. As for making people do things that anybody says is right, that’s what laws are for. Our entire system of laws is based on somebody’s (often a lot of somebodies) idea of what the right way to behave in our society is. So, yes, we on the Left think there’s a certain way you should behave toward your fellow citizens. If people on the right have a problem with it, it’s because they want the legal right to mistreat, abuse, demean, or otherwise put down people different from themselves. Are we going to make you acknowledge homosexual marriage? Only in the sense that we want you to see it as “marriage,” and not anything different than what you’re used to. If you define a marriage by the style of sex you have, then your definition of marriage is the problem. As for the last part, “they’re going to make you embrace lifestyles that you think are anti-biblical despite your religious belief,” exactly what does that mean? Homosexuality is not a “lifestyle choice,” no matter how much the frightened straight people claim it is. And nobody is asking anybody to “embrace” homosexuality, whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean. As for it being “anti-Biblical,” that’s just too fucking bad. Lots of things are “anti-Biblical.” Lots of those same things are perfectly fine according to other people’s religious beliefs. Why should things that are “anti-Biblical” be singled out for being banned by law? Why should some particular interpretation of “The Bible” become the basis for the way the rest of us live? Why does it matter so much what kind of sex people have? As long as it’s consenting adults participating (of any gender and number), why should it be any of our business? If you want to claim people should live by the Bible, then prove it. Pick up a stone and start stoning all those people who work on the Sabbath. Stone the farmer who plants two different crops in his field. Stone that woman wearing a dress made from two different cloths. They’re just as deserving as the two men who love each other and want to live as a loving married couple just like anybody else. (I almost never hear anti-marriage equality people complain about lesbians getting married, except for Ellen, it’s always the guys getting married that bothers them. “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” You never hear, “It’s Adam and Eve, not Alice and Eve.” I tell you, they think about gay male sex a lot more than they want to admit.

And Old Man Pat Robertson is definitely one of them. After going on that rant he came back the next day to continue thinking out loud.

“It doesn’t matter what custom you’ve got, it doesn’t matter what holy thing that you worship and adore, the gays are going to get it,” Robertson said. “They’re going to make you conform to them. You are going to say you like anal sex, you like oral sex, you like bestiality, you like anything you can think of, whatever it is. And sooner or later you are going to have to conform your religious beliefs to the group of some aberrant thing. It won’t stop at homosexuality.”

One more time, Conservatives. Bestiality has nothing whatsoever to do with homosexuality. And homosexuals aren’t the only ones engaging in anal sex or oral sex. Many, many straight couples enjoy them, too, and nobody says we should deny service to straight married couples who engage in, what are legally called, acts of sodomy. And “liking” homosexuality does not equate to liking “anything you can think of.” That is just ignorant bigotry talking there, and why anybody would value the opinion of a man who believes such things is beyond me. Old Man Pat began this rant talking about the owners of Memories Pizza in Indiana, saying they should have kept their mouths shut. But if they did, there wouldn’t have been $842,387 raised on their behalf. The pizza owners claim their viewpoints (which they did not have to give) were misrepresented in the media. They claim they would be happy to serve gay people, but they just wouldn’t cater to a gay wedding. I hate to admit I agree with Pat, so I’ll just say that coincidentally enough, Pat agrees with me on this. This was an issue that would rarely, if ever, come up, because hardly anybody serves pizza at a wedding. But here’s the thing – by specifically saying they wouldn’t serve their pizzas to a couple holding a gay wedding, without specifying any other Biblical violations for whom they would deny service, they are admitting that the Bible has nothing to do with their viewpoint. The fact that they would be willing to serve gay people, just not their weddings, shows they are not adhering to Biblical principles. If the Bible is the reason they would deny wedding services to gay people, then they should be denying all services to gay people. After all, I’m sure they don’t question every woman who comes in to see if she is on her period. So the Bible can’t be the reason for their policy. But the Indiana law, as originally passed, would have given them the right to deny service to anybody they chose by citing their religious beliefs. It doesn’t have to actually be their religious beliefs, they just have to say it is. THAT’S what’s wrong with religious freedom laws like that – you are allowed to openly lie in court and claim something completely false led you to do what you did (or not do what you didn’t do.)

But Old Man Pat is not the only one confused about gay people. Mike Huckabee apparently has gay people confused with atheists. After insisting in an interview with Tony Perkins that the whole discussion about how far people can go to oppress the rights of gay people is a “manufactured crisis” (Huckabee insists the “war on woman” is a manufactured crisis, and that there is no war on women. Of course, what we call a “war on women” is just, to the Conservatives, Christians exercising their freedoms), Mikey went into full Conservative Defensive Projection mode. “The left has gotten very good on creating a crisis, something to divide the country, something to create this sense in which ‘we’ve got to go after these conservatives because they are trying to trample over our rights.'” Really, Mike? Can you say, “Benghazi”? He then went on to make the remarkable comparison:

“It is a classic example of — really a page out of ‘1984,’ when what things mean are the opposite of what they really are. And that’s what I’m seeing here is that in the name of tolerance, there’s intolerance. In the name of diversity, there’s uniformity. In the name of acceptance, there’s true discrimination.”

Let me stop you right there, Mikey. Never mind the fact that “1984” was about a lot more than just words meaning the opposite of what they really mean, about this whole “tolerance” thing. Conservative Christians simply do not understand the concept of tolerance. They seem to think that tolerant people are supposed to tolerate intolerant behavior, such as that exhibited by people who say the kinds of anti-LGBT things Conservative Christians are always being quoted saying. And we aren’t asking for uniformity in the name of diversity. Where the hell did you get that stupid idea? Frank Luntz? And, again, how is not accepting your discriminating behavior an example of discrimination on our part? You are the ones twisting words around, and projecting your own feelings onto us. Perky suggested that gay people who are denied service by one business should just go find another? But what if there are no others because your state law says places open to the public do not have to accommodate the public? He asks Mikey, “Where will it stop?”

“It won’t stop until there are no more churches, until there are no more people who are spreading the Gospel, and I’m talking now about the unabridged, unapologetic Gospel that is really God’s truth.”

What Mikey ignores is that there is quite a lot of disagreement over what constitutes the “unabridged, unapologetic Gospel that is really God’s truth.” Does it happen, in his mind, to coincide with the version of Christianity that he thinks is “correct”? I would argue that precisely because there are so many different flavors of Christianity that there is, in fact no such thing as an “unabridged, unapologetic Gospel that is really God’s truth.” As for where it stops? It stops, Perky, when guys like you stop using your Bible to insist that the rest of the country behave according to your religion’s rules. Your religion is just as false as all the other versions of your religion, and just as wrong as all the other deity-based, Creationist religions. Your belief system makes zero sense to a mind capable of critical thought. To insist that it’s correct if you have “faith” is the same as saying, “It makes sense if you don’t try to make sense out of it.” If that’s what your belief system comes down to, then it cannot and should not be the basis of anybody’s laws. And it cannot and should not be accepted as a valid argument against any law. Later, Mikey insisted that “unlike the gay community, conservative Christians would never boycott a business like Walmart.” Not only did Perky immediately say he was boycotting Walmart over their objections to Arkansas’ RFRA, but Mikey forgot about the conservative boycotts encouraged by Townhall.com a couple of years ago. Out of five companies being suggested for boycotts, only one was for anything to do with LGBT rights. The other reasons were unions, MoveOn.org, Alec Baldwin, and Obamacare. And I’ll say this again and for the record: Yes, I am an atheist, but I am not totally unfamiliar with the teachings of the Biblical character known as Jesus. And I do not believe that those teachings could at all be characterized as “Conservative.” Caring for the health and well being of strangers is antithetical to the philosophy of Conservatism, but central to the teachings of Jesus. So the term “Conservative Christian” must be an oxymoron. It is impossible to follow the teachings of Jesus and still be Conservative. And if you’re following the philosophy of Conservatism, then you cannot be following the teachings of Jesus. The two are incompatible. Besides, I’m pretty sure Jesus had nothing to say about whether or not gay people should be ostracized from society. I do remember hearing that, like many of us Atheists, Jesus encouraged you to treat other people the way you yourself would want to be treated.

This post is from a much longer one on my own blog. You are encouraged to read the original here.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss LGBT rights, Old Man Pat, Mikey, Perky, or any other closeted gay men you wish to discuss.

The Watering Hole, Monday, March 30, 2015: Indiana Wasn’t First, Connecticut Was, But Not For The Reasons You Think

Indiana Governor Mike Pence made headlines this past week when he signed into law Indiana’s version of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Proponents say the bill is necessary to protect the rights of Christians to practice their beliefs freely. There is a growing belief (entirely misplaced IMHO) on the right that Christians who wish to discriminate against certain customers on religious grounds are being denied the right to practice their religion under the First Amendment. Opponents say that’s precisely why the bill should not be passed, because it will be used as an excuse to discriminate against the LGBT community on alleged religious freedom grounds (even though there’s no evidence that Jesus said to discriminate against “teh gays”, but we’ll get to that later.) The opposition has been calling for a boycott of Indiana ever since, and there is speculation about how this would affect the NCAA March Madness Men’s Basketball Tournament, whose Final Four competition is to take place in Indianapolis, Indiana. The NCAA says it isn’t sure right now. (Fun Fact: Indianapolis is one of only four state capital names that begin with the same letter as their states. Can you name the other three? The answer is at the end.) The push for the boycott spread to other cities, as the mayors of Seattle and San Francisco joined in the boycott. The news came that Angie’s List, based in Indianapolis, announced it was cancelling its $40-million headquarters expansion project because of the RFRA.

Writing for The Washington Posts’s column, The Fix, Hunter Schwarz observed that nobody has been calling for a boycott of the nineteen (possibly more) states that previously passed some version of the RFRA. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), there are nineteen states that have passed some version of the RFRA. How did there get to be so many states passing what some see as an unconstitutional law? Simple, the Supreme Court said that the National RFRA passed in 1993 could not be applied to the states. Wait a minute, you mean there’s a National RFRA? You might be wondering when the Republicans got that first discriminatory bill through, and which Republican president signed it? One of the Bushes, right? Wrong. It was passed in 1993 by a Democratic-controlled Congress (my now US Senator Chuck Schumer introduced it), and signed into law by a Democratic President Bill Clinton. Was anybody calling for a boycott when Clinton signed the National RFRA law? No, and there’s why. It had nothing to do with protecting the rights of Christians to discriminate against gay people back then. The rights of Christians to practice their religious beliefs, yes. Sort of. But not the ones you’re probably thinking about. Actually, Jesus really had nothing to do with the story at all. Let’s step into the Way Back Machine.

The First Amendment says that Congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion (which means for those who wish otherwise that The Bible can never be the foundation of our laws, as that would constitute establishing a religion), nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Technically, this meant that your state could still pass a law respecting establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Until the Fourteenth Amendment came along, which says

“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

This meant that no state could pass a law which violated your rights as a citizen of the United States. Or so you would think. It took a long time before the Incorporation Doctrine was applied to guarantee that states could not violate your gifts under the Bill of Rights, which are not the only rights you have. (Apparently there is debate over this doctrine.) But from time to time the question would arise, “Can the government compel someone to do something that violates that person’s religious beliefs, or can the government prohibit someone from doing something that is part of that person’s religious beliefs?” At what point, in other words, is the government prohibiting the free exercise of religion?

For a long time, religious objectors only got exemptions to laws if the statute provided for them. Judges could provide common law exemptions, but these could be overridden by state laws. The right of a clergy to keep confessions confidential was an exemption provided by state laws. Things changed in the early 60s. The blog The Volokh Conspiracy explains:

But then in Braunfeld v. Brown (1961) the Supreme Court seemed to suggest that the Free Exercise Clause might sometimes constitutionally mandate exemptions. And in Sherbert v. Verner (1963), the Court expressly adopted the constitutional exemption model, under which sincere religious objectors had a presumptive constitutional right to an exemption. Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972) reaffirmed this, and the period from 1963 to 1990 is often labeled the Sherbert/Yoder era of Free Exercise Clause law.

Of course, a constitutional exemption model can never simply say “religious objectors get an exemption.” A wide range of generally applicable laws — murder law, theft law, rape law, and so on — must be applicable even to religious objectors. Even as to more controversial cases, such as bans on race discrimination in education, or generally applicable tax laws, the Court has found (even under the Sherbert/Yoder regime) that religious objectors’ claims must yield.

To distinguish cases where religious objectors win from those in which they lose, the Sherbert/Yoder-era Court used what it called “strict scrutiny” when the law imposed a “substantial burden” on people’s religious beliefs (e.g., when it banned behavior that the objectors saw as religiously compelled, or mandated behavior that the objectors saw as religiously prohibited). Under this strict scrutiny, religious objectors were to be given an exemption, unless denying the exemption was the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest.

But while the strict scrutiny test in race and free speech cases was generally seen as “strict in theory, fatal in fact” (Gerry Gunther’s phrase), almost always invalidating the government law, in religious freedom cases it was “strict in theory, feeble in fact” (Larry Sager and Chris Eisgruber’s phrase). The government usually won, and religious objectors won only rarely.

Then in 1990, the Court changed course: In Employment Division v. Smith, a 5-Justice majority returned to the statute-by-statute exemption regime, and rejected the constitutional exemption regime. So long as a law doesn’t discriminate against religious objectors, but generally applies to people regardless of their religiosity, it’s constitutionally valid. If religious objectors want an exemption, they need to go to the legislature. (This is an oversimplification, but let’s go with it for now.)

But before going with it, a little more background on the Smith, because it’s important to understand how it has nothing whatsoever to do with a business discriminating against someone based on religious beliefs. [From Wikipedia]: “The Court upheld the state of Oregon’s refusal to give unemployment benefits to two Native Americans fired from their jobs at a rehab clinic after testing positive for mescaline, the main psychoactive compound in the peyote cactus, which they used in a religious ceremony. Peyote use has been a common practice in Native American tribes for centuries. It was integrated with Christianity into what is now known as the Native American Church.” (See? Not the kind of Christians you were thinking about.) Back to the blog for more of the story.

Smith was broadly condemned, both by the Left and the Right. That coalition has since largely fallen apart, but it was strong back then: In 1993, Congress enacted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which gave religious objectors a statutory presumptive entitlement to exemption from generally applicable laws (subject to strict scrutiny). “Government may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person . . . is the least restrictive means of furthering [a] compelling governmental interest.” The vote in the House was unanimous, and in the Senate was 97-3.

RFRA was meant to apply to all branches of government, and both to federal and state law. In City of Boerne v. Flores (1997), the Supreme Court held that RFRA exceeded federal power when applied to state laws, but didn’t touch it as to federal law. Since 1997 (and in some measure before), about a dozen states enacted similar state-level RFRAs as to state law, and about a dozen more interpreted their state constitutions to follow the Sherbert model rather than the Smith model.

Therefore, the rule now is that there is a religious exemption regime as to federal statutes (under the federal RFRA), and as to state statutes in the about half the states that have state RFRAs or state constitutional exemption regimes. Religious objectors in those jurisdictions may demand exemptions from generally applicable laws that substantially burden the objectors’ practice, which the government must grant unless it can show that applying the laws is the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest.

All of that was written prior to the decision in the Hobby Lobby v. Burwell. Professor Volokh explains a bit about how the RFRA is supposed to be interpreted.

In interpreting the terms of RFRA — such as “substantial burden,” “compelling government interest,” and “least restrictive means” — courts look to Sherbert/Yoder-era Free Exercise Clause case law. The “findings” section of RFRA states that “the compelling interest test as set forth in prior Federal court rulings is a workable test for striking sensible balances between religious liberty and competing prior governmental interests” (emphasis added), and cites Sherbert and Yoder favorably. And the whole point of RFRA was to “restor[e]” a body of rulings that were overturned by Smith — rulings that recognized a constitutional right to presumptive exemptions from generally applicable laws.

Unfortunately, this body of preexisting case law is not terribly broad or deep. As we’ll see later, for instance, it tells us less than we’d like to know about what counts as a compelling interest. But what counts as a substantial burden is somewhat clearer; we’ll see this in more detail in a later post, but for now, note that the following all constitute a substantial burden:

1. The government’s compelling someone to do something that violates his religious beliefs, or prohibiting someone from doing something that is mandated by his religious beliefs.

2. The government’s denying someone a tax exemption or unemployment compensation unless he does something that violates his religious beliefs, or refrains from something that is mandated by his religious beliefs.

3. As to state and federal constitutional regimes, it’s not clear whether the above also applies when the objector’s conduct is merely motivated by his religious beliefs (e.g., the objector thinks it’s a religiously valuable thing for him to stay home on the Sabbath, rather than a religious commandment) and not actually mandated by those beliefs. The federal RFRA, many state RFRAs, and RLUIPA expressly apply to “any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by … a system of religious belief.”

4. The beliefs need not be longstanding, central to the claimant’s religious beliefs, internally consistent, consistent with any written scripture, or reasonable from the judge’s perspective. They need only be sincere.

Recall, though, that a finding of substantial burden on sincere religious beliefs simply shifts the burden to the government: The government may still justify the burden by showing that applying the law to the objectors is the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest.

As I said before, all of that was before the Hobby Lobby ruling. My first thought was that Hobby Lobby couldn’t argue that they had these rights under the RFRA because Hobby Lobby is a corporation, not a person. It turns out that I was wrong. Title 1, Chapter 1, Words denoting number, gender, and so forth:

In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, unless the context indicates otherwise—
words importing the singular include and apply to several persons, parties, or things;
words importing the plural include the singular;
words importing the masculine gender include the feminine as well;
words used in the present tense include the future as well as the present;
the words “insane” and “insane person” shall include every idiot, insane person, and person non compos mentis;
the words “person” and “whoever” include corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals;
“officer” includes any person authorized by law to perform the duties of the office;
“signature” or “subscription” includes a mark when the person making the same intended it as such;
“oath” includes affirmation, and “sworn” includes affirmed;
“writing” includes printing and typewriting and reproductions of visual symbols by photographing, multigraphing, mimeographing, manifolding, or otherwise.

And Justice Alito did indeed say the RFRA applied and that Hobby Lobby had standing as a person based on Title 1, Chapter 1. And despite the fact that Hobby Lobby was wrong in their beliefs, and despite the fact that they really weren’t sincere in their claims since they offered birth control coverage in their health care plans right up until the ACA became law, Hobby Lobby was granted their exemption. But that case had nothing to do with a business trying to deny services to people based on their sexual orientation. How did we get there by the time Indiana became the 20th state to pass their own RFRA?

When the Native Americans lost their centuries long-held right to use peyote in their religious ceremonies, everybody agreed this was wrong. Before the federal RFRA was passed, Connecticut and Rhode Island had passed their own versions of an RFRA, with the standard being the same as the one Smith reversed. Then Congress passed the RFRA, and in his signing statement, President Bill Clinton even mentioned that the purpose of this law was to reverse the Smith decision, which was about peyote use, not discrimination. This law was written to apply to both the federal government and to the states, so they stopped passing their own versions of the RFRA until the Supreme Court ruled it could not be applied to the states. Then in 1998 Illinois passed its own RFRA, with the language specifically saying it was in response to Smith (and to City of Boerne v. P.F. Flores, the decision which ruled the national RFRA could not be applied to states.) This was followed by Florida‘s RFRA law (which did not mention Smith or Flores), but Alabama‘s RFRA did mention them. BTW, an interesting thing about the Alabama legislation is its language that the bill be “liberally construed to effectuate its remedial and deterrent purposes.” That kind of talk from a very Conservative legislature? The following year saw a state RFRA law get vetoed. Arizona passed its own RFRA, but it was seen by many as being too broadly worded. In fact, the public outcry over how this bill could be interpreted (and the fact that Gov Jan Brewer wanted to address her state’s broken Child Protection System before anything else), led to Gov Brewer issuing a veto. This bill went further than its predecessors in that it contained a section that specifically allowed state licensed professionals to refuse their services to clients based on their own religious beliefs about anything, including sexual orientation. Remember, their beliefs do not have to be accurate, just sincerely held. After Arizona, South Carolina was the next to pass an RFRA. This bill is no more controversial than earlier ones in that it restores the standards put forth in the national bill that was intended to let Native Americans use peyote in their religious rituals. But pending legislation would allow clerks to deny marriage licenses to gay people based on the clerk’s personal religious beliefs. Idaho also has its own RFRA that’s harmless enough, but they also have legislation lending to amend the bill to include the right to discriminate based on bigotry. New Mexico passed just a basic RFRA bill, which declares the government must show a compelling interest in denying a presumptive right on a generic law. Oklahoma, on the other hand, also went pretty far in their RFRA bill, even specifying that nothing in the bill could be construed to “Authorize same sex marriages, unions, or the equivalent thereof.” But they don’t want to stop there, either. They also have bills pending that would allow anybody to deny doing anything for anybody else based solely on personal religious beliefs (however misguided, wrong, or not in accordance with the religion upon which they are supposed to be based.) I’m sure we’ll hear calls for boycotts of the Cowboy Hall of Fame when they pass. There was an eighteen-month lull in state RFRAs before Pennsylvania passed its version called the “Religious Freedom Protection Act.” This one should have triggered calls for boycotts, too, as it not only allows the same kind of personal discrimination based on personal religious beliefs the other bad bills did, but it also appears to directly refute the point of the national RFRA law that overturned Smith so Native Americans can legally use peyote. It would be hard for PA to argue this bill was in response to the Smith decision. Seven months later, in July of 2003, Missouri passed their basic RFRA. It did specify a number of ways in which the Act could not be used, such as supporting a defense to not pay child support, or as an excuse to harm anyone else. I’m glad one of the states thought about that. Their proposed amending legislation would apply religious freedom protection to students. Then things went quiet on the RFRA front for about four years.

In April 2007, the Commonwealth of Virginia showed all those religious bigots how to do it by re-passing a law originally passed by the Virginia General Assembly in 1786, before we officially became the United States under our current Constitution, weird language and spellings and all. Don’t believe me? After declaring that the following was passed in 1786, here’s the first sentence:

“Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishment, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion, who, being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do; that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, have established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through all time; that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical, and even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the ministry those temporary rewards which, proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labors, for the instruction of mankind; that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right; that it tends only to corrupt the principles of that religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing, with a monopoly of worldly honors and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it; that though, indeed, those are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet, neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion, and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency, is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he, being of course judge of that tendency, will make his opinions the rules of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own; that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere, when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order; and finally, that truth is great and will prevail, if left to herself; that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate; errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them:

As the Break-Up Song says, “They don’t write ’em like that anymore.” But as fancy and high-falutin’ as this was (and I’ll thank Virginia not to mention my burthens in public again), they still want to amend this law with a specific right to discriminate by saying no one can be denied a state-issued license just because something they refused to do something that “would violate the religious or moral convictions of such person with respect to same-sex marriage or homosexual behavior.” Once again, it’s only the gays against whom “religious freedom” can be sanctioned. No mention of people wearing tattoos, customers at Red Lobster, women wearing clothing made from two different fabrics, or people who work Saturdays, though they should all face the same Biblical punishments as gay people.

It was about another year before Utah passed its RFRA. If you looked at some of the previous links, you may have come across laws regarding religious land use. Utah’s bill took this form, primarily, but it also adds a protection for religious organizations or people acting on behalf of same if they wish to discriminate based on their alleged religious beliefs. Are you noticing a pattern here? In the beginning, the RFRAs were passed to make up for the SCOTUS saying the national RFRA could not apply to the states. And most of the early ones simply said that the government had the burden of proof if they wanted to infringe on religious freedom, such as banning the use of peyote in religious ceremonies like your ancestors did for centuries. But then the bills started to evolve into declarations that you don’t have to do anything that infringes on your religious beliefs, especially if it involves gay people. Again, not all sinners, just the gay ones. It’s hard for me to believe you can justify it as a religious belief when it’s the only such belief you have when it comes to who to discriminate against. More than a year after Utah, Tennessee passed its RFRA, and while it seems on the surface to be the same as the early RFRAs in that it sets the proper legal test for violations of religious freedom, it also defines “substantial burden” in a way that could be interpreted to mean “not all that substantial.” Almost a year to the day later, Louisiana passed its version of an RFRA. Like many of the overly-broad versions, this ones allows a person “the ability to act or refuse to act in a manner substantially motivated by a sincerely-held religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or a central part or central requirement of the person’s religious belief.” The problem I have with this kind of language is the “sincerely-held” part. I don’t dispute that these folks think gay people should not have equal rights. I strongly dispute that it’s their religious beliefs that makes them feel this way. Three years after them, Kentucky passed something they claim to be some kind of RFRA, but it’s very short (compared to the other bills), and doesn’t go into as much detail. The KY legislature overrode the governor’s veto. I think the devil was in the details of other bills that set the parameters for when it’s okay to discriminate. Kansas followed up in July 2013 with its RFRA. As you’d expect from a hard-right state government, they allow people to refuse to act in a way that goes contrary to their supposedly deeply held religious beliefs. And, finally, Mississippi passed an RFRA law in 2014. Not only does it restore the Sherbert/Yoder compelling government interest test, it also has these two gems: 1) “Nothing in this act shall be construed to authorize any government to burden any religious belief.” (Notice they no longer mention “substantial burden.”); and, 2) “Nothing in this act shall create any rights by an employee against an employer if the employer is not the government.” In other words, the government can’t suppress your religious freedom, but your non-governmental employer can. Because unless you’re a business owner, your rights are meaningless.

When you go through these laws, it’s impossible not to notice the gradual transition from simply ensuring that the government applied the same legal test to claims of religious infringement that it did before Justice Scalia decided Native Americans had no constitutional right to do something they were doing before we invaded their land and stole it from them, to enshrining the right to discriminate based solely on claims of religious belief. You don’t have to actually believe these things to claim they permit you to deny service to people you don’t like. You just have to say they do, and it’s up to the government to prove why you shouldn’t be an exception to the rule. Despite being members of a Christian faith, the Oregon Native Americans weren’t claiming a right to deny another person their services because of their religious beliefs, they were claiming a right to do something their people were doing long before anyone came along, took their lands, and set up new laws. But the Christians who support RFRAs are undeniably using them to justify treating some of their fellow citizens in ways their Lord & Savior would undoubtedly disapprove (if he ever existed.) Nor can it really be argued that the original intent of the RFRA laws had anything to do with codifying a right to discriminate, yet that is clearly what was being done by Conservative legislatures that passed recent versions. And do not, for a moment, believe that this right to discriminate has anything whatsoever to do with religious freedom or beliefs. I call bullshit on that one. This has nothing to do with Religion and everything to do with Hate. Are any of these businesses who refuse to sell goods or services to gay people because of their religious beliefs refusing to sell their goods and services to any other category of people not living in accordance with Scripture? Are the ones who won’t sell wedding cakes to gay people also refusing to sell wedding cakes to divorced people looking to marry again? Are they open on the Sabbath, when many weddings take place? If there are things your religious beliefs compel you to do but you don’t, then you shouldn’t be allowed to claim your religious beliefs compel you to act in a particular way, especially if that particular way is a trivial aspect of your religious beliefs. It makes a mockery of the free exercise of religion. Nothing in the Christian faith compels followers to treat anyone the way Conservative Christians want to treat gay people, and only gay people. If these so-called Christians want to claim the Bible justifies their actions (a justification not supported by anything in the Constitution), then they should be required to be consistent and apply the same rules to other people they encounter. Or maybe they have to accept the fact that their religious beliefs are inconsistent with their Capitalistic beliefs. You cannot operate any business in accordance with Biblical Law without violating either the US Constitution or federal Civil Rights laws. It was one thing to simply restore the legal test in place before Smith, but as expert on religious extremism Marci A. Hamilton explains, these RFRA bills have gone too far. They are not about protecting religious freedom, they are about protecting religious bigotry. Too many people forget that before the United States came along, every nation had an official religion. And everybody was expected to practice that official religion, sometimes under severe penalty (death), and sometimes under threat of ostracism by the people around you. And, of course, in many countries you were not allowed to even think of practicing another religion. Our Framers said that was wrong. This continent was invaded by Europeans seeking a place to practice their religion their own way, which was a much more extreme version than that practiced back home. They didn’t think their fellow countrymen were religious enough. That’s right. The people who founded what the religious right claims is a Christian nation were religious extremists.

You can visit the Religious Freedom Restoration Act Perils site here.

Oh, and for those breathlessly waiting to find out who rounds out the Final Four of state capital names that begin with the same letter as their states, the other three are:
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(look away if you want to work it out for yourself)
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Dover, Delaware; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Honolulu, Hawaii. How many did you get right? And how many did you get right without Googling the answer? Let us know. Thanks for playing.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss Religious Freedom, its Restoration, or anything else you wish to discuss.