Americans Learn To Stop Worrying And Love Torture « The Dish

Yeah, so THIS is disturbing.

Americans Learn To Stop Worrying And Love Torture « The Dish.

Apparently no one actually READ the report, and saw how completely ineffective torture was. And even if they did (which… no, no they didn’t), a vast majority can somehow reconcile their religious beliefs with the torture of other human beings, including acts that resulted in the deaths of innocent people.

Let me repeat that: innocent people were tortured TO DEATH. And for nothing: no credible, actionable facts ever came from that torture. It was useless. No one being tortured has any incentive to tell the truth: their only incentive is to try to figure out what the person torturing them wants to hear, what they already believe, and tell them that as quickly as possible before they DIE.

This isn’t even a debate on whether what the CIA did should be considered “torture” or not: apparently we (for the most part) agree that it was. But by a WIDE margin, those with religious beliefs taken from a peacenik retro-hippie (whose own torture and death led to centuries of hatred, oppression and atrocities committed against Jews) seem to agree that torture is just okee dokee and a fine core value for Americans to support.

Torture destroys the humanity of two people: the person being tortured, and the person doing the torturing. How so many can reconcile that with their religion is just another example of how the “moral absolute truth” that religion claims as its own private domain is nothing more than the world’s most flexible form of self-serving justification for whatever you already want to believe.

And yet those of us on the right side of that chart are the ones with no moral compass.


Authors, intent and interpretation

Religion Stencil

Religion Stencil (Photo credit: murdelta)

An interesting summary of current biblical scholarship. Not from atheist scientists intent on destroying Christianity, but from the historical theologians within the religious traditions who are experts in these matters.

“The mainstream scholarly view is that the Gospels are anonymous works, written in a different language than that of Jesus, in distant lands, after a substantial gap of time, by unknown persons, compiling, redacting, and inventing various traditions in order to provide a narrative of Christianity’s central figure, Jesus Christ, to confirm the faith of their communities.”

That’s the mainstream religious scholarly view, mind: not the secular unbeliever scholarly view.

By all means: take the moral lessons, parables and teachings of the Bible and extract the ones that are good and make sense to you, and use them in your life. There are some good ones in there. But there are some pretty terrible ones too, and every reader parses them through their own worldview, cherry-picking what your morality already agrees with and discarding what it does not. It’s why the Bible was used for centuries to justify slavery, and at the same time was eventually one of the texts use to justify emancipation.

Just don’t take it as gospel (pun definitely intended). Since we lack the original texts (we only have copies of copies of copies, with each subsequent copier changing the text, introducing errors, adding clarifications so that their personal religious opinion issued forth from the mouths of the apostles in order to give them historical weight they didn’t deserve), we aren’t even really certain what they first said.

Is this a call for everyone to be non-religious? No. I’ve obviously made my choice on that matter, and this is only one of the many factors in my worldview. But what I do hope to get from posting this type of information is a counterpoint to those who center their perspective on major issues (same-sex marriage, bullying, abortion, contraception, the role of women in the church and in society, our role as men in society, what morality is and what it means, how we determine what is right and what is wrong, what is ethical or unethical, or what role ANY religious text should have in determining the laws that govern all of us) on what they believe are firsthand witness accounts of real events that are accepted as historical fact. They are, unfortunately, nothing of the sort: it’s up to you to bring morality to the table and make a case for your position on these issues, independently of what these texts say. They are not, in any sense of the word, definitive; regardless of what religious tradition you belong to, your focus should be on humanity and morality today, not what it was thousands of years ago.

The world and the things we know about it today are orders of magnitude different from what people knew back then. We know that common practices and beliefs from back in those days are today considered completely unacceptable, in some cases even immoral; we also know that no matter which particular one of the thousands of sub-sects of religion you belong to, your practice and beliefs today would be unrecognizable (perhaps even heretical) to people back then. Heck, there wasn’t even a common set of books recognized as part of the New Testament until hundreds of years CE. I’d love to hear someone debate a 3rd century religious believer and explain to them why the gnostic traditions in the Book of Thomas or the Book of Judas no longer apply, especially considering that authorship and provenance of those gospels is no less murky as those of Luke, Matthew or John.

Live a good life. Let others live theirs. Love thy neighbor, treat him/her the way you would like to be treated. Let him who has never sinned cast the first stone, all that good stuff. And accept that your interpretation of your religious texts is very likely quite different from those of members of your religion from a century ago, and completely different from those that were alive two or three or four millennia before that, so don’t get too attached to them as the only possible interpretation of how to live a good life. They are your interpretation, one out of thousands, and just that: nothing more. The odds that they are wrong are far from zero, a fact that we should all accept with vast helpings of humility regarding any perception of unquestioned and unquestionable veracity.

Unplanned and unintended consequences of proof-reading your briefs

Paul D. Clement, the lawyer before the Supreme Court who is defending the DOMA, made a very interesting argument as to why same-sex marriage should not have the same protections and rights as “traditional” marriage: apparently the state has an interest in supporting the “unplanned and unintended offspring” of different-sex couples, and that’s why their parents need the additional rights, protections, benefits and tax breaks afforded by the Federal definition of marriage.  Same-sex couples, on the other hand, have to plan ahead if they want offspring, so they can be better prepared, which means they don’t need government support.

It’s the first time I’ve EVER heard anyone make the case that same-sex marriage shouldn’t be allowed because gay people are MORE responsible, prepared parents. And the first time I’ve heard a Republican-backed legal argument FOR a government-provided safety net for the unprepared and irresponsible. Following that logic, the government has a greater interest in supporting Catholic families over non-Catholic ones, and a vested interest in giving money to people who don’t understand how birth control works.

It’s SUCH a weird argument to make, it almost boggles the mind. If the interest of the state is only in supporting unprepared parents, then marriage is meaningless and irrelevant and deserves no rights or protections at all until an “oops! baby” is born to the couple. And NO rights or protections should be made available to couples who adopt either, since they also have the opportunity to plan ahead.  But here’s the most bizarre part: many of the children that couples (gay or straight) adopt  come from “unplanned and unintended” pregnancies.  And since the brief quotes Baker v. Nelson (1972) by saying there is a legitimate government interest  in providing support for an institution designed to facilitate the raising of such offspring, the brief simply undermines itself on that point: if the government interest is there, then it exists for support of parents of unplanned and unintended babies AS WELL AS those who adopt them, gay or straight.

But he’s making the argument that straight people are a burden on the state, and therefore deserve more government money. 

Sure, I get where he’s going from a legal perspective: he’s trying to differentiate between the classes of people involved on either side, since you can only make an argument of allowable differences in treatment (AKA “discrimination”) if there are, indeed, significant differences between the classes. But this is pretty thin soup on which to base the case.  Granted, it’s not the ONLY argument made in the 60-page brief: it also makes the case that providing Federal benefits to same-sex partners would be an unforeseen and unbudgeted expense.  In essence this means that your rights and protections depend on whether we have chosen to pay for them or not, and if we have it in the budget this year.  It’s amusing that this is the case being made by a legal group paid by Congress (not the Executive branch through the DoJ, who has been told not to defend the DOMA), happily billing taxpayers up to $3 million to do so.

But it’s obviously the “unplanned and unintended” argument that’s getting the most attention, and for a good reason: it’s the weirdest one of the lot.

Clement spends a lot of time describing how the Federal government has the right to define marriage for the purposes of treatment, and to take into consideration how the states have defined it without being constrained by those definitions, but I’m not sure anyone is arguing against that.  And a lot of time making a “uniformity” argument: that the government has the obligation to treat everyone as equally as possible (which is true), but that invalidating DOMA and redefining marriage would inevitably lead to some couples getting one set of Federal rights in one state that recognizes same-sex couples, but no rights in a difference state that doesn’t recognize them.  How he reaches that conclusion is not explored, since the Federal government can easily make the definition of marriage at the Federal level dependent on whether the couple is considered “married” in any state in the Union, and treat that couple the same for the purposes of Federal benefits and protections regardless of the state law.

And of course, the “it’s for the CHILDREN” argument.  As if the only reason to support marriage is to encourage the baby-making and biological parents-only family.  As if all couples get married for the sole purpose of procreation. As if there are no childless-by-choice married couples, no infertile couples, no couples who choose to adopt children (from unplanned and unintended pregnancies) rather than bear their own, no couples who raise children from their spouses’ previous relationships as if they were their own.

Shouldn’t the fact that there are people who can’t have children who want to get married invalidate that argument?

This is apparently the best that up to $3 million dollars of your tax money can buy.

The Pope’s vision of the future of humanity has him in charge, of course

This article just makes me sad: read the full statement here.

I would suggest that a bigger threat to humanity’s future and human dignity is probably blind adherence to a rich, totalitarian authority figure who claims to be THE inerrant spokesperson for God… but @whatdoIknow.

I would also note that someone who claims that contraception is not permitted based on his interpretation of a 2500-year old myth is far more of a threat to humanity (see: AIDS and poverty in the third world) than anyone who just wants to commit the rest of their lives to a loving partner.

You know what, Benedict? There are billions of people who disagree with you, and there are a lot of them who are gay. They ARE humanity. What they are a threat to is not “human dignity and the future of humanity”, but to your power, as well as your position as official interpreter of your particular warped brand of God-ese.

The wall is there, but some people try to just walk through it.

Americans United for Separation of Church and ...

Wouldn’t it be fantastically refreshing if 7 or 8 of the GOP candidates woke up tomorrow morning after losing badly in the Iowa caucus and admitted that, since they are tanking in the polls and have no real chance to succeed, it probably wasn’t “God” that they heard “calling” them to run for President? And if they accepted with some degree of humility that perhaps, since they don’t have the kind of special revelation, access and/or insight they assumed, they are not the right people to interpret “god’s will” for the whole country??

This is one of the main reasons Jefferson wanted separation of Church and State: it’s not that anyone wanted to completely remove options for people to participate in their religions, it’s that the framers of the Constitution knew that it wasn’t a good thing for people who claimed special knowledge of “God’s will” to develop secular law that applied to everyone… including those who didn’t believe in their version of god. Because, you see, that would actually end up limiting freedom of religion, which was exactly the opposite of what they wanted.

“I guess it wasn’t ‘god’ telling me what to do,” the candidates would say in this fantastic utopia, “and therefore I have to conclude that I don’t really know what god wants. I will henceforth stop trying to pass laws that restrict other people’s rights based on what is very possibly a misinterpretation, and most probably just a projection of my pre-existing personal assumptions and beliefs. Sorry folks: my bad.”

A guy can dream.

The 99% is the 1% times 99

As it turns out, rich people are just like regular people, but with more money.

Just like none of us believe that we would have been slave owners / allowed ourselves to be slaves if we had lived in the 1700s, we all like to believe that we’re better people and would have risen above, given the same circumstances… but the odds are stacked pretty highly against that. And the odds are also pretty high that the 99% would behave exactly the same way the 1% does, given massive piles of cash.  Money changes everything, as the 18th century Austrian philosopher Cyndi Lauper once said.

This concept doesn’t forgive bad behavior on anyone’s part, it’s not in any way a justification for terrible things done in the past, but it does help in the discussion, in my opinion: “they” (the 1%) are not the Faceless Other. “They” are us; “they” respond to similar incentives, and demonizing people who are just as human as you are doesn’t help any of us advance the conversation.

That being said, the rich eat more foie gras, so they are less stringy and much tastier.

Civil unions: not an option

“Instead of trying to get married, same-sex couples should just get a civil union, they work exactly the same!” – argument I have heard repeatedly in discussions over the MN Marriage Amendment.

Well, no, they don’t. Not by a long shot.  And sometimes this argument comes from people who are enjoying the very rights that they are fighting to prevent same-sex couples from getting. The best that can be said about this opinion is that it’s “unaware” of the significant advantages that marriage has over a civil union. At worst, it’s a lie about which some people prefer that you never ask questions, since it falls apart rather quickly.  In reality, the only thing that is “like” marriage in the U.S. is… marriage.

A civil union is, at its heart, a legal agreement between two people. It does provide some benefits that (at a significant cost and a lot of time to draw up) can get a couple who is unable to get married slightly closer to the position a married couple gets automatically for their $40 marriage license fee. The very fact that one section of the population should have to pay thousands of dollars in fees and spend hundreds of hours to get some of the rights that others get for $40 is unfair from the get-go, but to make matters worse this approach misses a massive swath of rights, especially at the Federal level. And there is no recourse the get those rights, civil union or not.

As a perfect example, see this link from CNN on the money that same-sex couples end up paying as additional taxes, because of differences in the ways they have to file Federal taxes: you can’t sign a “civil union” contract with a partner that would force the Federal government to tax you at the same rates as married couples. In specific situations, this can mean massively larger tax bills.

In fairness, what this article fails to point out is that some same-sex couple would actually end up (eventually) paying more taxes as a married couple, thanks to the so-called “marriage penalty“. That applies in cases where the two partners are earning similar taxable incomes.  But different-sex couples still choose to get married (in massive numbers, some repeatedly) in spite of the tax “marriage penalty”: this shows how important an institution marriage is and how important (and valuable) the other benefits are, that it certainly doesn’t seem to be convincing a lot of people to stay single.   In any case, the “marriage penalty” has been a non-issue for most couples for several years now; it may return in 2013, depending on what Congress does about extending the penalty elimination implemented in 2001 that was set to expire at the end of 2011.

So for this reason as well as hundreds of others, a civil union is not a valid alternative, and cannot be.  Pension rights, hospital visitation rights, treatment in court cases, implicit legal agreements, treatment by companies for death and disability claims, health directives… the list goes on and on and on.  At the end of the day, there is a group of people in this country who want equal treatment under the law, and the equal application of rights: our first reaction as citizens who enjoy those rights already should NOT be “well, maybe someday, if they fight for years to get something like civil unions approved in all states against major opposition, they might get some percentage of those rights, eventually.”  And our first reaction should also never be “I’m OK with this group getting the same rights I have, as long as they change the name so that it is distinguishable from this other group of people who might be offended by you getting the same rights they do.”  Your first reaction, if you truly believe in the principles of equality, should be “equal rights for everyone NOW.”

MN Marriage Amendment: hypocrisy


Minnesota State Capitol building in Saint Paul...

Thank you, Gov. Dayton. It COULD be this easy if the Legislature chose to drop the “Bradlee Dean Amendment”, and we would save the state of Minnesota millions of dollars and lots of vitriol.

Odds of that happening are pretty small, though.

The actions of the Legislature need to reflect the reality of the culture and population they affect. It is ironic that Ms. Koch now has to experience, through her poor choices, the kind of under-the-microscope analysis and judgement of her personal life that the Legislature is imposing on other Minnesotans via the Marriage Amendment. There are people here in MN who would be ecstatically happy with the chance to experience the union of love, fidelity and rights that she has seen fit to treat with disrespect in her own life.

I am sure that there are many couples here in MN who would treat the institution of marriage with far more reverence than Ms. Koch has: I know many of them. It is painful to realize that thanks to her actions, the Legislature is trying to deny them the chance.

This is an opportunity for the Legislature to do the right thing, get on the right side of history, and seize the opportunity to increase equality in our state instead of trying to decrease it.

Perry wants constitutional amendment for prayer in schools

Let’s take this for what it is: Perry’s doubling down because he knows his Prez campaign is kaput and he wants to make sure he’s still in the good graces of his core base back home.

But even within that context, this is ridiculous.  Children can pray in school whenever they want, as long as they are not disruptive.  If Perry thinks that kids can’t pray, I suggest he lead a campaign of civil disobedience, getting kids to pray in their public schools.  The public would become quickly sympathetic to his point of view thanks to the resulting riots, police beatings and pepper-spraying of praying students, pictures on the front page of the newspapers…

Oh wait, that wouldn’t happen.  BECAUSE KIDS CAN PRAY IN SCHOOL, and they already do, presumably before and during tests.  What Perry seems to be frothing about is Supreme Court cases like Engel v. Vitale (1962), in which it was deemed unconstitutional for state officials to compose an official school prayer and require its recitation in public schools.  And many, many other cases in which it has been found unconstitutional for public officials to force prayer on students, regardless of whether they are religious or not.

Do you see the difference between the two?   Because Perry apparently can’t.

You can’t force people to pray in school.  State officials can’t force your kids to pray in specific ways, to specific god(s), and saying specific words at state-required times.  And you also cannot prevent kids from praying, as long as they’re not disruptive.  That’s the situation we find ourselves in today, and Rick Perry finds it unacceptable.  But other than frothing evangelicals that seem bent on forcing their religious beliefs on everyone else in the country, almost everyone else seems to be fine with it… unless they are presented with lies like “it’s illegal for children to pray in school, therefore we need a constitutional amendment to let them.”

I know it when I see it… on pay-per-view

Brigham Young

Check out that sexy, sexy beard.

Fun fact of the day! Provo is the 3rd-largest city in Utah, and home to Brigham Young University, which is operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In 2000, Larry Peterman of Provo, Utah was charged with selling obscene material at his “Movie Buff” chain of video stores. A jury found him not guilty: his defense demonstrated that in Utah County, a place that often boasts of being the most conservative area in the nation, the amount of porn being viewed on pay-per-view and at local hotels was “disproportionately large” compared to the rest of the country. Since obscenity is generally legally defined by local community standards, what Peterman was selling could not be classified as “obscene”, because local residents were watching METRIC CRAPLOADS of the stuff. This led to the word “Pornmons” being coined, which I just did.

That’s what I think of when I see Mitt Romney on TV. And now you will too.