George Stinney

Last Wednesday was a good day for George Stinney: after a long, protracted battle in court, he was finally cleared of all charges. The charges were serious: first degree murder of two pre-teen girls. But it was now established that Stinney could not have committed the crime. So all is well that ends well, right? Not quite. Stinney already has been executed. He was 14 years old when the state of South Carolina put him on the electric chair.

When people ask me why I’m against capital punishment, this is the second most important point: we can be wrong, but death is permanent. We can never be 100% sure. It is estimated that between 5-8 percent of all US death row inmates are not guilty of the crime they have been sentenced for. In 2012 the USA executed 43 prisoners, thereby killing at least 3 people that are innocent. Whoopsies? I think not.

That point alone should convince us to never execute a prisoner. So what’s the number one reason to abolish capital punishment?

Because we no longer are savages.

Gay choice

There are some (usually religious homophobes) who maintain that ‘homosexuality is a choice’. Anyone who has ever tried that knows that it’s really not. Your sexual orientation is about as much a choice as your ‘decision’ to breathe. Those to whom sexual orientation is a choice are usually either bisexual (lucky bastards!) or sadly repressed homosexuals who are afraid to live their true self.

But let us, for the sake of discussion, imagine sexual orientation was a choice. Now what?

Well, homophobes do not really say ‘homosexuality is a choice’ – they say ‘homosexuality is immoral, and if you choose to be attracted to your own sex, you are being immoral’.

But would choosing to be gay really be immoral? Why exactly? Are you telling me that loving someone is immoral? What exactly is immoral about loving someone? Wait – are you saying that another person’s attributes decide the morality of what I do? Does that even make sense?

Let’s face it: saying that loving someone of your own sex is immoral really only tells us one thing: you mustn’t be asked for moral advice.

Nuclear Blasphemy

There is this recurring pipe dream many liberals have (and this did include me) that most muslims are peaceful people (which is true) and that only a tiny minority harbors dangerous ideas. People who say differently are often denounced as bigots, racist (really?) or ‘Islamophobes’. Now, there doubtlessly are people who deserve to be denounced for irrational hatred of Islam or religion. Others have unfairly been accused of being anti-Islam for merely pointing out a provable fact.

While I agree that the majority of muslims are peaceful, it is also a provable fact that the absolute majority of muslims today harbor dangerous ideas: that blasphemy and apostasy are punishable offenses. This is definitely not something that only a few lost causes believe: a few days ago, the Lahore Supreme Court confirmed the death penalty for Asia Bibi, the woman whose only crime is an alleged unkind word about Allah. She is to be put to death because of something she said – and the majority of her country agrees that this is justified. The same is true for most (perhaps even all) muslim dominated countries; it would be foolish to argue otherwise, as that fact was established via polls multiple times over the past three years. So while most of these muslims are indeed peaceful and loving people, a dangerous flaw in their ideology will prevent them from stopping grave injustice. That is the indisputable result when a majority harbors dangerous ideas, and Asia Bibi will pay the ultimate price.

Now, you may think that this is tragic on an individual level, but should have no significant consequences for the world. Until you realize that the same country that sentences a woman to die for uttering a word, also has an arsenal of nuclear weapons.

What do you think will happen if this nation felt that another country has insulted their god? Do you really think that in this case suddenly the majority will realize that blasphemy is not an offense punishable by death? Phrased drastically:

Do you really want someone who thinks insulting his imaginary fried is a capital offense have their hands on a nuclear trigger ?

Of course above question is much too simplistic, as there are (hopefully) more checks in place that control the release of nuclear weapons. I don’t think that Pakistan is on the verge to nuke another country.

But people should not be punished for pointing out the truth, even if that truth does not meet what we wish was true: that only a few bad apples spoil the batch. Currently, a substantial portion of the muslim society is tainted by ideas that can cause immense suffering. This doesn’t mean that it makes people behave immoral, but it can – and does – prevent them from becoming more ethical. Being ethical means to never intentionally harm someone and to prevent people from making others suffer. It’s the latter part that is more important – because it’s what makes us a society. If prevent harm to others is somehow subverted, the whole society suffers, dragging their ethical standard down. If your religion or some other ideology stays your hand while a human is made to suffer – because they are gay, blaspheme, changed their religion or have a different skin color – you and the society you live in is ethically deeply flawed.

I should be able to point out this basic fact without being branded as an immoral, irrational bigot.

Or be put to death for blasphemy.

Moral Muggles

A few days ago, Chief Roman Catholic Exorcist Gabriele Amort stated that one reason for Satan’s victory over weak souls and the general decline of morals is reading Harry Potter.

Interesting. A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology now shows proof that children who read Harry Potter and similar fiction show a much greater likelihood to be tolerant of other people: they were less prejudiced and less likely to discriminate against others. In short, people on average behave morally superior to those who did not read the same books that The Exorcist warns you against.

Which just goes to show that the Church knows nothing about modern morals.

Nor reality.

The Internet destroys God!

A few days ago, headlines around the world screamed ‘Internet is killing God’! Well, Nietzsche’s knickers in a twist, Batman! Now, it is a slow news week, and click bait is easier to come by than real news. The study the news articles reference speaks a more measured language, and confirms what everyone knows: Increase someone’s knowledge and that will decrease their likelihood to believe stupid things. Phrasing that more carefully, the researchers say that

Internet use is associated with decreased probability of religious affiliation.

This is not at all surprising. Before the internet connected the homes of sparsely-populated regions (for example the US ‘Heartland’ a.k.a. ‘Hick Central’) to civilization, people had no choice but to believe their priests – they had no viable means of independent confirmation. In Palinland, the Bible was the definite authority on law, moral code and science. This has changed.

The internet works as a catalyst for the mind; it’s not the cause for a pandemic of unbelief. We now have vast resources of scientific knowledge, indexed, fully searchable versions of Bible, Quran and other religious texts, and, admittedly, even vaster resources of cat pictures available at our fingertips. Inquisitive minds use this to confirm or, increasingly, disprove millennia-old hate-filled myths. But it still requires an inquisitive mind.

So the headlines have it wrong. It’s not the Internet that destroys God. It’s knowledge that destroys silly superstitions. If, on the other hand, you want to keep your people religious, you must do as the Taliban and Boko Haram do: forbid education and do your worst to subvert knowledge.

That’s where faith-based schools come in.

Moral Failings

Pastor Bob Coy, head of a Florida Megachurch (i.e. a congregation of more than 20’000) and evangelical radio show host resigned over unspecified ‘moral failings’ – his church declined to state what failings that would be. Except the admission of multiple affairs outside wedlock, and – of course – addiction to pornography. As lazy, ridiculously dishonest pseudo-excuses go, the latter has recently turned into the de rigueur ‘defense’ for screwing around. Which only makes sense to those who think morals and sex (or morals and pornography) have something to do with each other.

So his church is not clearing up where Bob the Priest’s morals failed, and helpfully removed from their web site all advice he gave on moral issues like screwing around or porn consumption. Which goes to show that his Church doesn’t have the first inkling about what’s being moral.

Being moral also means owning up to your shortcomings, and to take responsibility. Bob Coy and his church don’t do that. They admit only to what can be proven, and try to hide the rest. That’s not taking responsibility. That’s taking evasive action.

There may have been moral failings in Bob, but the good pastor is in good company within his church.

Sharia-conform blood diamonds

Ah, unreason. The other name for faith, bigotry and hate. Consider this:

There is no doubt that the word ‘sharia’ carries huge challenges in relation to public relations. If you talk about anything [related to] ‘sharia’, the first vision people get is chopping off of people’s hands, having four wives and all sorts of unusual practices which, in today’s world, are not compatible with the values which we live by.

So far, everyone would agree. The problem: thus begins a staunch defense for Sharia law. How is that possible? There’s a reason we associate Sharia with chopped-off hands, misogyny and homophobia: because Sharia law is exactly that. This isn’t even a matter of contention – it’s documented in the Quran, Sunnah and Hadith, and actively fought by major Human Rights Organizations. Just like Christian or any other religious law, Sharia law is highly immoral. A pig’s a pig, no matter how much lipstick you put on it. It boggles the mind how grown, educated people manage to add One plus One, and arrive at Lalateen.

It’s fitting, then, that the person who uttered above quote is UK’s Minister of Unreason, Baroness Warsi. She attacks the problem of Sharia’s bad reputation from the wrong direction. Instead of trying to correct what’s wrong, she wants to make Sharia law more acceptable in the UK by tapping into Sharia-conform finance.
This comes from the same woman who is on the record as bemoaning that Islamophobia had “passed the dinner-table test” and become socially acceptable in the UK. Yet she sees no problem when expressedly barbaric, misogynic and homophobic Sharia law does pass the same test.

To be blunt: Sharia-conform financing is the ethical equivalent of purchasing blood diamonds. It’s advancing morally corrupt and unacceptable behavior. It’s unfathomable how Warsi can’t see it.

Now, Warsi admittedly isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. But is it really that much to ask of a member of a country’s government that they perform some gross error checking before speaking up? She’s starting to make american ex-governess Sarah Palin look good.

Moral’s low watermark

When discussing the obvious shortcomings of biblical morals (slavery, misogyny, homophobia, genocide), I often hear a peculiar argument, one that never sat well with me:

‘you have to understand that biblical morals were meant for the people at that time’.

That argument is peculiar for multiple reasons:
First, it is a tacit admission that the morals as written in the bible aren’t up to today’s standards, and should, therefore, not be used today.

But underlying this is a much bigger issue. Unfortunately, most people are caught up in their biblical history; we often don’t realize that we can’t see the forest for the trees:

According to the bible, God made us. But if he made us, why did he make us the morally backward people we where then? After all, we were able to improve to the point we are today. He could have saved us a lot of suffering, had he poofed us into existence with the morals and ethics we have today.

Yet he didn’t.

Why not? And why make the situation even worse at some arbitrary point in time and encumber us with written rules that from that point on forward were retarding moral progress? If God had wanted us to be moral, shouldn’t he have used the bible to proscribed advanced morals, instead of the de-facto barbaric standards of the time?

Since all we got were primitive morals, that only leaves one conclusion: when he gave us the ten commandments, God thought that we were nearing the apex of morality; that apex was his own moral standard.

If you argue that biblical morals have to be interpreted in the context of time you therefore also argue that god’s morals represent the low watermark of human morals; that we have long surpassed him.

The Go(o)d Tax?

Only two things are certain: death and taxes. In Switzerland, this is also true for companies. Nothing new here. Also not surprising for a highly efficient and organized country, Switzerland’s churches are financed via Church tax (a more apt name would be ‘God Tax’).

An interesting wrinkle is that this tax also applies to companies. This is interesting because – perhaps to my superficial understanding – taxes are levied to pay for some kind of communal service: say roads, or infrastructure in general. The service that Churches provide are, well, special. They provide a service for your soul: redemption, but only if you believe that. So anyone in Switzerland can refuse to pay Church tax on grounds that they don’t believe in gods.

Unlike companies – they are forced to pay Church tax no matter what. Which is no small matter: the taxes collected from companies in the Canton Grisons (Graubünden), for example, make up 90% of the Catholic church’s total income. Now, nobody has ever accused a company of having a soul, or of being religious. The service rendered to companies in return for Church tax is, therefore, zero. Or when was the last time you shared a pew with a company?

And so, in swiss democratic tradition, the people of Grisons will vote on February 9th to decide if this taxation law is going to be changed. Not very surprisingly, the church is opposing the proposal, and is campaigning heavily against it – with a budget ten times (almost literally: $110’00 vs. $15’000) of that from the proponents. You’d not be the first to note a ‘David vs. Goliath’ situation.

In church tradition, the campaign is funded via Church tax. This means that in this case, the companies are forced to fund a campaign against their own interest. By the church. Whose services they can’t, by definition, use.

Because the Church, lest we forget, has the moral high ground.

Sarah Palin: Taking the road less traveled

How do you annoy a Christian? Give him Sarah Palin’s “Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas”. Giving it to an atheist will garner you a wink and a wide grin: it’s purest atheist porn. Of course Palin is stupid enough to bring up Hitler, Stalin and Mao, and of course she asserts that only religion has god-given morals. Her single-digit IQ ensures fresh perspectives on common things, and it is exhilarating to read how she mixes guns with Christmas and the message of Jesus. Personally, I’m not sure she hasn’t accidentally confused the ‘Peacemaker’ Colt with Jesus, but I digress.

To her, the ACLU is a hate group, and ‘the seculars’ are so godless (go figure) that they are personally responsible for the american disease of hyper-correctness that make people say ‘happy holidays’ instead of ‘merry christmas’. As expected, the book’s a light read, consisting of only simple words, simpler ideas and only two colors: black (secular gun-hating peaceniks) and white (Sarah Palin). In her love for God & Guns, she quotes JFK slightly out of context – and blithely forgets that he, I suspect, would probably also be gun-averse today. But, again, I digress.

So, yes, in many ways, this book doesn’t disappoint: Just like we expect her to, Sarah intellectually wanders the roads less traveled, and makes the arguments most people try to avoid. The laughs begin even before you can open the book:

The cover shows an Advent wreath. If Sarah knows that the Advent wreath is an ancient pagan symbol that was lit around winter solstice in anticipation of spring, she sadly fails to point this out in her book. But she does make the point about Christmas being on solstice – even though her wording mysteriously makes it sound as if she’s somehow managed to look down history the wrong way: in her mind those godless liberals are trying to supplant holy christmas with a newfangled solstice celebration.

There’s something in there for everyone – even the cynics get a good laugh – and, they too, don’t have to wait long:
In a somewhat surreal introduction, Sarah first recounts how great and loving Christmas has been for her in the past, only to serve up the heart-warming story of Christmas 2012 when she gifted her husband a gun, finishing off this cute-as-a-bunny bon mot with a pun about her tits:

Last year, however, I think I was able to pull off a good one for him. To combat the anti-gun chatter coming from Washington, I surprised him with a nice, needed, powerful gun. I then asked him for a metal gun holder for my four-wheeler. Not only was this small act of civil disobedience fun, it allowed me to finally live out one of my favorite lines from a country song: “He’s got the rifle, I got the rack.”

Jeez, that’s Christ’s message of peace right there! Even better: that ‘anti-gun chatter’ she was talking about? That was the backlash over the Adam Lanza school shooting that happened a week earlier and left over 20 children dead.

Comic gold.