Hitchens Must Die

My attention was elsewhere last night. I got the news from a friend:

Can’t talk about it online, but I’m pouring one out for Hitchens. His book was the one that made me an atheist. I owe him. Though after I became sad at some of his views. Still. God is not Great. I owe him for that one.

My first thought was that I didn’t know this friend wasn’t out as an atheist. I just thought there wasn’t much interest in talking about religion in public. I responded, “I started an atheist, so what he taught me was that we don’t have to give up flair to talk about it.”

My second reaction was to check with the news sites to see whether he was confirmed dead, rumored dead, or had just taken a drastic turn for the worse. The obituaries–and eulogies–had just started going up.

My third act was to turn to Twitter. Continue reading “Hitchens Must Die”

Hitchens Must Die

Atheists Talk: Glenn Kleier on “The Knowledge of Good and Evil”

Glenn Kleier will join Atheists Talk this Sunday to discuss his rousing new suspense thriller, The Knowledge of Good and Evil. Kleier has a background in advertising, marketing, and communication. In 1998 he published his first book, The Last Day, which received international acclaim from reviewers. His works of fiction are known for their suspense and controversial interplay of religion and politics in our modern global society.

In The Knowledge of Good and Evil, Kleier examines religious skepticism, belief, and faith. The book’s main character is Ian, a paranormal investigator and television report who was deeply damaged by the death of his parents when he was a child. He struggles with religion and his anger at God. When he learns of a journey that may prove the existence of God and Heaven, he becomes determined to undertake it. But while he seeks this knowledge, he is blocked by a secret society that will do everything in its power to keep him out.

Join us on Sunday as we discuss the inspiration behind and the creation of The Knowledge of Good and Evil with Glenn Kleier. Interview by James Zimmerman. Hosted by Brianne Bilyeu.

Related Links

Listen to AM 950 KTNF this Sunday at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call in to the studio at 952-946-6205, or send an e-mail to [email protected] during the live show. If you miss the live show, listen to the podcast later.

Atheists Talk: Glenn Kleier on “The Knowledge of Good and Evil”

Voter Fraud: Just Like Rape

As you probably know, the conservative war on “voter fraud” is a solution (disenfranchisement) in search of a problem. There is no credible evidence of voter fraud on a scale that would affect anything but the most closely contested of local elections. That’s not stopping legislators from instituting the modern equivalent of poll taxes and declaring those who have moved recently threats to our electoral system, however.

Yesterday, Christian Schneider offered a possible reason for this in the National Review Online.

Think about all the times you’ve been told that sexual assault occurs more than we think, as victims are hesitant to come forward and press charges. (A claim I believe, incidentally.) What if we just used arrest and conviction statistics to determine how often women are assaulted? Should we assume nobody in Major League Baseball used steroids in the late 1990s because no players were suspended?

Jonathan Bernstein has handled the sports question well at the Washington Monthly. I, as I frequently do, want to talk about rape.

Continue reading “Voter Fraud: Just Like Rape”

Voter Fraud: Just Like Rape

With Faith, Nothing Is Impermissible

That’s right. Not “impossible.” Impermissible.

We’ve seen how far faith gets you when you want to defy the laws of physics or reproduce miracles. That would be “not very.” However, it appears to get you much, much further when all you want to violate is basic human decency, as Ophelia has spent a good chunk of the day documenting.

Ohhhhhh shit, how did I miss this – the House passed a bill in October that “makes it legal for hospitals to deny abortions to pregnant women with life-threatening conditions.”

Remember Thomas Olmsted, bishop of Phoenix? Who stripped St Joseph’s Hospital of its Catholic status because it aborted a fetus that was doomed in any case, in order to save the mother (who has four small children)? Remember the ACLU letter to the Feds urging them to enforce the law – the law that says hospitals can’t deny patients life-saving procedures?

As she points out, passed by the House is not the same thing as law, but it’s a damned important step along the way. and what are we stepping toward?

Continue reading “With Faith, Nothing Is Impermissible”

With Faith, Nothing Is Impermissible

Gender Transitioning and Gender Stereotypes

A while back, when I asked what was wrong with radical feminism, I got one answer I agreed with: Radical feminism, in its concern over the institutions of gender, has often treated transgender and transsexual individuals very badly, trans women in particular. The rationale, such as it is, is that those who make an effort to live as someone of the “opposite” gender are indulging in gender essentialism. They are reinforcing the stereotypes of what it means to be male or female by insisting that these things make them feel they are the gender they are supposed to be.

It’s not hard to have some sympathy for the position. Reading the excellent profile of a family that took their young XY daughter seriously when she said she was female (if you have not read it yet, do so), one of the first things that confronted me was this:

Jonas was all boy. He loved Spiderman, action figures, pirates, and swords.

Wyatt favored pink tutus and beads. At 4, he insisted on a Barbie birthday cake and had a thing for mermaids. On Halloween, Jonas was Buzz Lightyear. Wyatt wanted to be a princess; his mother compromised on a prince costume.

Once, when Wyatt appeared in a sequin shirt and his mother’s heels, his father said: “You don’t want to wear that.’’

It hurt a little, as Barbie and princesses often do. My first impulse was to say, “No, no, no! That’s not what being female is about! You can love all those things and still be a boy just fine!”

Then I told myself to shut up.

Continue reading “Gender Transitioning and Gender Stereotypes”

Gender Transitioning and Gender Stereotypes

Cookie Time

For holiday gifts, my husband and I mostly give charitable donations. I say mostly because there are children in the connection who wouldn’t quite appreciate them in the spirit given, and there are a few people in enough need to warrant helpful gifts and a few people with specific gift traditions where ending them would leave a hole in the holidays. Mostly, though, we give donations.

Oh, also cookies.

Very soon, our kitchen is about to go into production mode. Extra butter, extra sugar, extra eggs. Fresh spices and nuts and fruit. A dishwasher running constantly. Cooling racks on every surface and pans rotating in and out of the oven.

People may not get commercial gifts from us. That doesn’t mean they don’t get our time and attention.

There will be the grandma cookies, of course. It isn’t Christmas without my Grandma Lylah’s “cottage cheese cookies” (so much better than that sounds). There may be ginger snaps, because it’s been a few years. Aside from that, however, I’m finding myself wanting to try new cookie recipes.

So, help a blogger out here. What are your favorite holiday cookies, and where can I find the recipes?

Cookie Time

Genes for IQ Found?

Well, no.

The authors tried to replicate published associations between particular genetic variants (SNPs) and IQ (specifically the g factor). They looked at three datasets, a total of about 10,000 people, and didn’t confirm any of the 12 associations.

As Razib Khan says in his post on this, “My hunch is that these results will be unsatisfying to many people.” I’d go further and say that no-one will be happy with these.

Continue reading “Genes for IQ Found?”

Genes for IQ Found?

Garter Porn

The following video is not for the faint of heart. Not unless that wobbly pitter-patter is coming from the heart of a herpetophile anyway. In that case, it’s definitely worth seeing (the shaky video does even out shortly).

The consequences to the female snake of engaging in this sort of behavior would satisfy the stodgiest conservative Christian.

Continue reading “Garter Porn”

Garter Porn

Perspective and Privilege

Skepchick recently added a couple of women to their team. Natalie has been writing up a storm since she joined, all of it good, but this morning’s post on privilege is a must-read.

Men and women alike only ever have their own specifically gendered experiences to draw from, and can’t make any direct comparison between how they would be treated as a man versus how they would be treated as a woman. This makes it very difficult to isolate sexism for the purposes of holding it up to examination.

Well… most men and women can’t make any direct comparison.

There are us trans people who have lived as both genders. Back in October, I found in one of Jen’s quickies a fantastic article about the experiences of trans men in the workplace, and how they noticed that they were taken more seriously, were listened to with greater interest, and felt more respected after transition. It made me realize that people who have transitioned are uniquely well positioned to observe the disparity in how our society treats men and women. We have the differing points in our lives as comparison. We have our new lives as experimental group and our memories as the control. It’s not in any way hard science, but it gives us more to go on than most people get, at least in terms of drawing from our own experiences. Hard scientific data is pretty scarce in sociology anyway, but qualitative research and ”soft science” is still whole lot better than no science, and anecdotal evidence is better than no evidence.

When someone claims “Women have it way easier than guys”, I get to confidently say, “No, we don’t”. And I have something pretty substantial to base that on.

The first comment, of course, suggests that Natalie’s experience doesn’t make for a decent comparison because trans women are treated worse than trans men. That is, also of course, pretty much the point.


Go read the whole thing. It’s fascinating.

Perspective and Privilege

The Christian Colonies

Did you know that migraines can have hangovers? Yep. While I deal with mine, enjoy this repost, originally posted here.

One side of my family is a fairly large extended connection, with plenty of people who have indulged in genealogical research over the last few generations. They have the standard reason–there’s plenty of history, and it’s pretty interesting. I found the whole thing fun for a little while, but I didn’t keep up.

I still think of the family stories, however, whenever someone decides to proclaim that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation. The usual arguments against the idea are that the Founding Fathers were, personally, largely deist and Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli. What is less often discussed is how, and why, bringing the colonies together into a single nation required that that nation be specifically non-Christian.

If given the opportunity, I like to take note of the fact that I’m just the latest in a long line of heretics. The English side of my family came to the colonies around the time when one’s status as a heretic–or not–was determined by who was queen and that status was likely to change at any moment. The Scottish side is said to have relocated first to Ireland, then to the colonies, after supporting the wrong king, at a time when that meant the same as being the wrong religion. (As opposed to my husband’s family, who are said to have left the auld sod “over a dispute over the ownership of a horse.”)

And then there’s the story about the U.S. westward migration being helped out by the family becoming unwelcome in one community for being the wrong sort of Quaker. Don’t ask me how that worked. I know Quakers, and I can’t imagine how you’d get them that riled up over differences of doctrine. All I can tell you is that my family may be special that way.

My favorite dead relatives, however, are the ones who were kicked out of the Colony of Massachusetts for being the wrong kind of Puritan, which means, as long as we’re clearing up matters of religious misconception, pure in matters of doctrine, not without sin. They’d come to the colonies, as many had, because they couldn’t practice their brand of religion in a land where the state was the head of the church. What they found (or perhaps helped to found, as the records aren’t very clear) was a colony where the church was the head of the state, just as many would like the situation to be today.

What they found was the colony that would eventually produce the Salem witch trials. Of course, they left before that happened. They left following Anne Hutchinson, who had some minor disagreements on theological matters with those in charge but seems to have been banned from the colony largely for being a successfully uppity woman. She was successful enough that my relatives weren’t the only people who left with her. (Mary Dyer, another of the uppity women banished at this point, later returned to the colony as a Quaker, becoming one of the Boston martyrs.)

The group was persuaded to move to the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations by Roger Williams, one of the founders of the Baptist church in America. The other founder of the American Baptist church was John Clarke, one of those relatives (assuming attribution of parentage is correct, my many, many times great-uncle) who had just been kicked out of Massachusetts.

Yes, the history of the Baptist church in America starts with a flight from religious intolerance. The church of the majority of those who want an American theocracy would never have made it to these shores had the laws of the Massachusetts Bay Colony been the law of all the land. And the other colonies of the time weren’t much different.

But…but not Baptist doesn’t mean not Christian, so the colonies were still Christian, right? Well, not exactly. Here is where the story of Rhode Island gets interesting. It was there that the “wall of separation” between state and church was born, and its father was none other than Roger Williams, co-founder of the American Baptists. He insisted on freedom of religious conscience and expression for the colony. Nor did he limit his tolerance to Christians. Rhode Island was one of the few colonies with a good track record of treating the indigenous peoples as people, rather than heathens who were clearly not part of God’s plan for this new world.

The colony was run on majority vote, but votes were only permitted on secular matters. This limitation was reaffirmed multiple times, and John Clarke had it incorporated in the colony’s charter, asking:

…it is much on their hearts (if they may be permitted) to hold forth a lively experiment, that a most flourishing civil state may stand and best be maintained, and that among our English subjects, with a full liberty in religious concernments…

The request was granted by Charles II:

…because some of the people and inhabitants of the same colony cannot, in their private opinions, conform to the public exercise of religion, according to the liturgy, forms and ceremonies of the Church of England, or take or subscribe the oaths and articles made and established in that behalf; and for that the same, by reason of the remote distances of those places, will (as we hope) be no breach of the unity and uniformity established in this nation: Have therefore thought fit, and do hereby publish, grant, ordain and declare, that our royal will and pleasure is, that no person within the said colony, at any time hereafter shall be any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinion in matters of religion, and do not actually disturb the civil peace of our said colony; but that all and every person and persons may, from time to time, and at all times hereafter, freely and fully have and enjoy his and their own judgments and consciences, in matters of religious concernments, throughout the tract of land hereafter mentioned…

No other colony matched Rhode Island’s stance on religious freedom. Pennsylvania came close, but the rights were only granted to monotheists. Maryland started as a place where Catholics could freely live and worship, but they ended up being persecuted there. Jews were allowed to settle in New York and New Jersey, but the history of their rights there is spotty. So how is it that the U.S. came to adopt Rhode Island’s incredibly liberal model of religious rights instead of some compromise?

The answer is that full religious freedom is the compromise between the competing rights of the followers of all the different sects that have fled to our land. Anything short of that is choosing sides, as the people of the time well knew, as the Baptists of the time well knew.

Our sentiments are uniformly on the side of religious liberty–that religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals–that no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious opinions–that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbors; But, sir, our constitution of government is not specific. Our ancient charter together with the law made coincident therewith, were adopted as the basis of our government, at the time of our revolution; and such had been our laws and usages, and such still are; that religion is considered as the first object of legislation; and therefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the state) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights; and these favors we receive at the expense of such degrading acknowledgements as are inconsistent with the rights of freemen.

The “sir” in question was President Thomas Jefferson, and the Danbury Baptists wrote to him as a religious minority concerned that their country’s new Constitution and even its Bill of Rights did nothing to protect them from the persecution as long as their state was still free to impose religion from above (the idea that the states couldn’t infringe on the rights in the Bill came later).

Jefferson’s response to the Danbury Baptists is famous for the statements that “he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions” and invocation of the “wall of separation.” However, it is his response to yet more Baptists, these in Virginia, that most clearly draws the connection to Rhode Island’s charter.

We have solved, by fair experiment, the great and interesting question whether freedom of religion is compatible with order in government and obedience to the laws. And we have experienced the quiet as well as the comfort which results from leaving every one to profess freely and openly those principles of religion which are the inductions of his own reason and the serious convictions of his own inquiries.

And thus it is that, while many of the original colonies were founded as Christian colonies, not all of them were. More importantly, when the time came to model our country’s religious character on all of the colonial experiments that had taken place, we chose the experiment that had worked.

We chose to not become a Christian nation.

The Christian Colonies