How not to be happy

An Irish priest has been asked to leave his parish and take a sabbatical owing to some gay porn he had on a computer and accidentally showed to parents. To be honest, I just feel bad for this guy. Most probably a man who, thanks to the Church, has felt guilty his entire life for being who he is and feeling what he feels. Quite possibly pushed into the ministry to help quell his “un-Biblical” desires. Living a celibate lifestyle because of his Church’s disapproval should he choose to be part of a loving, consensual relationship with who he truly wants.

How much of that was his choice, versus what was imposed on him? And to top it all off, the Church that is now throwing him out of the only life he’s known is the very Church that has been embroiled in huge scandals in Ireland regarding the decades-long perpetration and concealment of child abuse, or in Spain for tearing babies away from their mothers and forcing them up for adoption. This is the organization that claims the moral ground and feels worthy of the authority to disapprove of him.

“The church reported the incident to police, who said no crime had been committed.”

I disagree. But it’s not the crime the church thinks.

May this be the opportunity for him to find the freedom and happiness he most probably deserves. But he won’t find it in his church.


Casting stones

Several hundred years passed between Leviticus 20:10 (“I order you to put to death all the adulterers”) and John 8:7 (“…but only by those with no sin, which is no one.”). In the hundreds of years between this mandate and its “minor” clarification hundreds, if not thousands, of men and women were put to death. Stoned to death, in most cases.


Morality (Photo credit: tdietmut)

Today, societies still based on that kind of morality (and there are several) are rightly considered barbaric. That behavior wasn’t moral then, and it isn’t moral now. And anyone who makes that kind of commandment to his followers, we throw in jail and refuse their parole.

We don’t base our astronomy, chemistry, biology, medicine, physics, or any of our current understanding of the universe on blind unquestioning belief in any books on those topics written several millennia ago. By the same token, we have to recognize that we don’t base our morality on those books either, regardless of any claims of their supernatural origin. We can’t. We definitely don’t base our legal system in the US on it, and until you can show me the laws against graven images, I don’t think you can claim so.

We base our legal system and our morality on common, secularly-derived understanding of what is right, and reaching a mutual understanding of the type of society we would all choose to live in. It’s not divine inspiration, it’s definitely not biblical interpretation; it’s our use of reason. And reason is what allows us to look at these old books, understand their all-too-human and oh-so-fallible origins, pick the elements that are still OK and throw away the unnecessary rest; as it turns out, that discardable flotsam includes all the parts of the text that claim that our reason and our morality come from anywhere outside of ourselves.

Catholic pastor applauded for shunning anti-gay marriage drive

Catholic pastor applauded for shunning anti-gay marriage drive

“The congregation at Seattle’s Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church gave the Rev. Tim Clark a standing ovation Sunday when he announced that the parish would not gather signatures for a referendum to repeal same-sex marriage.”

Good for Rev. Clark. But it does highlight the issue of people trying to implement laws because they feel that they have a better grasp on the “right” interpretation of their god’s words. The fact is they have no proof that this is the case.

Mr. Clark has no proof (other than his personal feelings on the matter) that his interpretation of his church’s holy book is more correct than Archbishop Sartain’s or Archbishop Niensted’s. He has no proof that his statement that he “deeply believe[s]… that this approach is not in the mind of Christ” is more aligned to his god’s than the Archbishops’ approach. And the Archbishops in turn obviously believe, with no proof of their own, that their interpretation is the more correct one.

This is why we separate Church and State, and why we make sure that our laws don’t have a primary purpose of support for or discrimination against one religion’s interpretation of their own religious texts. And this is why the primary purpose for any laws MUST be secular: when religious texts can be used to support both sides of an issue, their use in deriving laws that affect people who don’t even share belief in that text is nil at best, and actively harmful at worst.

Move. Vote. DO.

The internet is full of incredibly passionate people who are strangely unwilling to get off their asses and DO something actually useful in support of the arguments about which they are so willing to spend hours in pointless online debate.

Your actions are your bona fides, and your words are unmoored if they are not anchored by what you’ve *done*. The rest is just empty air and the clicking of keyboards.

It’s an election year, let’s get off our asses.

Think different


Argument (Photo credit: Natesh Ramasamy)

This article reflects the reality I see in my debates with people on both sides of the spectrum… or is that just my confirmation bias talking?

People on one side (generally, the conservative and fundamentalist religious crowd) seem to, in my experience, tend to participate in a discussion by leveraging one argument or statistic (or Bible quote) that they have heard and confirms what they believe, and can therefore declare that the issue is settled: there is no further need for discussion. The need for closure has been met, no more information is required or will be collected.

But it’s interesting to note the reaction when that argument or statistic (or Bible quote) is countered, put into a larger context, disproved or even just balanced out to the point where it’s not a conclusive, end-of-discussion full stop. If someone responds negatively or with anger to a disproof of their statistic, it’s a fair bet to assume that you are disturbing their sense of closure, which puts them into an uncomfortable mental space where there are too many shades of gray. And that in-between position seems to be a far more uncomfortable position for conservatives and the ultra-religious to be in, when compared to more liberal and less religious groups. Living and thinking in that in-between space requires more context and nuance in reaching conclusions, which is more labor-intensive.

What I always find fascinating is that these simplistic, closure-meeting and generally incorrect (in the larger picture) arguments generally came from sources like authority figures and web pages frequented by those who tend to already agree with the point made. But there’s little curiosity to verify the claim instead of just taking it as given that it is true, which might lead to the uncomfortable realization that their source of truth may be wrong, sometimes egregiously so. So many times an argument against or for a position could have been very simply countered by searching for information about the context, the history or the bias of the argument… but it seems that people just want a data point to support their position, and stop searching for information as soon as they find one, regardless of the data point’s pedigree.

I see examples of this all the time in discussions on evolution, climate change, economics, politics, the harm vs. benefits of religion, atheism, the pros and the cons of specific candidates, and (especially interesting) when debating what the actual position of their favorite candidate is. How could, for example, anyone even start to believe that Michele Bachmann is or was pro-same sex marriage at any point of their career? But to an online pro-same sex marriage and Bachmann-supporting friend, it came as a complete shock when I informed her that she had expressed her opposition clearly on multiple occasions. How is that information blindness even achievable? That is, it must be said, an extreme lack of awareness, but the blindness or unwillingness to navigate their (sometimes quite contradictory) statements or actions appears repeatedly in discussions on many candidates’ positions.

It’s because of the way our brains are wired, and the cognitive biases under which which we all labor. Confirmation bias seems to be the strongest influence, but the “ambiguity effect” (where we avoid options in which missing or incomplete information makes probabilities less predictable), attentional bias (where we agree more with the people whose opinions we hear on the media we’re already paying attention to, and lend their opinions more weight… because we already agree with that media), and illusory correlation bias (where we assume a causal relationship between unrelated events if they support our stereotype or pre-existing assumption) all have their pernicious and usually unnoticed effect. And those are just four out of the many, many biases our thinking is prone to bluescreen on.

Life is far more subtle and nuanced and filled with shades of gray for people who are uncomfortable with a lack of closure. But comfort with a lack of closure should be our default position on a lot of issues.  At the very least the presence of an opposite position in the world, one upheld by a large segment of the population, should give us pause to consider: are we supporting our position because we have investigated it, explored the pros and cons, and reached a reasonable position that takes both sides into account (even if that means dismissing one side after careful consideration, as we must do in the case of the anti-evolution crowd), or have we latched on to the small handful of statistics that we found on our favorite website and assumed they are correct with no further analysis?  Are we demonstrating our cognitive biases (for which the answer will almost always be “yes”, the difference being usually only one of degree), or are we taking them into account in reaching our position?

Life requires a lot of thought.  Be skeptical of those who have the answers already set out for you, and especially those who claim that these issues (politics, religion, abortion) are simple, black and white, and require little thought.  As was the case with someone who once said “you are either for us, or against us” they are, almost inevitably, incorrect.

And as a side note, anyone whose position on ANY contentious topic can be summarized conclusively on a bumper sticker is someone whose opinion I will tend to discount quite heavily: bumper stickers tend to not encourage discussion, and seem to base the authority of their necessarily inarguable position on the fact that one car happens to be in front of another.

A reasonable compromise.

Since male “self-love” kills potential babies, there should be a constitutional amendment that requires a counselling session, a 24-hour waiting period and a intra-testicular ultrasound before a man is allowed to masturbate. In addition, the male should be required to individually name each of the sperm before proceeding, and write a short apology explaining to each potential child why he/she will never be.

If approved, you will be notified after your request has been reviewed by (a) a panel of local religious authorities following a book of rules that hasn’t been updated in 2,000 years, (b) Rick Santorum, and (c) the Community Relations Officer of the closest Hanes gym sock factory.

However, based on the current religious laws that are the foundational basis of the Constitution, it must be noted that since “onanism” is an abomination and sex must be used only for procreation AND NEVER ENJOYED FOR ITS OWN SAKE, masturbation will only be allowed directly into a woman’s… ummm… YOU KNOW (I can’t say it out loud)… her… ummm…


Only thus will we protect the sanctity of marriage.

Thank you, Mr. President.

Heck yeah, Obama.

Well, bravo. This is a stance that none of his opponents in the current GOP race would take, needless to say; especially not at this point when they’re all appealing to the right-wing before they Etch-A-Sketch to the middle for the general election.

Let’s do this thing in November, Minnesota. From the local MN elections all the way up to the Presidential elections. Get informed, get smart, and get active. The future can be awesome if we make it.