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.