Target: reason

Wow, this theocratic call-to-arms by Baroness Warsi slipped right by me! She’s actually proud to be leading “the largest ministerial delegation from the United Kingdom to the Vatican” ever (that is, to a “country” which despises everything modern liberal democratic states hold dear in favor of totalitarian theocracy.) Her tactic is to pretend that religions are all friends with one another and that the big bad wolf is militant secularism. Sound familiar? Those pesky secularists, always poking fun at wholesome religious craziness!

Go ahead and read the piece. It’s funny if you don’t dwell on the fact that she’s a representative of the UK government who wants to mainline religion back into politics – just like the good ol’ days. And Warsi gets a bit nasty, too, when she asserts:

“[Secularism] demonstrates similar traits to totalitarian regimes – denying people the right to a religious identity because they were frightened of the concept of multiple identities.”

I wonder if Warsi has reflected on the fact that the Vatican – which she is so proud to visit – signed concordats with both Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, and supported every fascist regime in Europe throughout World War II (when they pragmatically thought the future of Europe would be fascist). No, I bet she hasn’t thought much about that one.

Warsi loopholes her way out of this, however. She reassures us secularists, “I am not calling for some kind of 21st century theocracy.” She’s just calling for more respect for religion. That’s reassuring. But why should religion get our respect without earning it?  That’s not clear from her article. She’s too caught up in her ridiculous revivalism.

via WEIT

Extra! Extra! Pope smooches imam!

The Freethinker brought this to my attention:

Apparently the BBC wouldn’t risk reproducing the image on their website, and even Benetton removed it from theirs. The ad is part of a campaign pitting “world leaders who are often at loggerheads, such as President Obama and Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, locking lips.” What’s so controversial about that?

I don’t know if the imam’s people went apeshit over the ad, but you can just imagine those pasty fellows over at the Vatican pulling their hair out over it. No respect for the Holy Father! Lolz.

I think it’s pretty hilarious, and I long for the day the religions can no longer throw their weight around in defense of “the feelings of believers.” Considering that Catholics are spoonfed homophobia from a young age as part of their church’s doctrine, I don’t think they have the right to have such “feelings” respected.

Making stuff up

Watch Jerry Coyne get pugnacious on theologian John Haught. If ever a theologian was his own worst enemy, it is Haught. (Just try and follow his logic; you’ll get nowhere.) Coyne’s verdict: theologians “make stuff up.” (At the end of the first part, Coyne goes through a list of awful things that Catholics have done to the world thanks to their adherence to the arcane doctrines of their church. Haught is a Catholic theologian.)

Read Ophelia Benson’s view of what theologians do here. (Update: the videos appear to have been removed. Update: Now it’s back.)

How do you say “facepalm” in Hebrew?

h/t R.S.H.T.

Yaakov Swisa, founder of FaceGlat – an ultra-orthodox Jewish version of Facebook – has this to say:

“People who are God-fearing and care about their children’s education – cannot tolerate the ads and pictures one sees on the regular Facebook. I personally know people who have deteriorated spiritually because of all kinds of things they were introduced to there.”

You mean people who believe in a neurotic, psychopathic deity can’t deal with ads for, say, vacation houses in Croatia? (I just took a quick look to see what Facebook was offering me.) What’s wrong with them?

As for their children’s education, does Swisa really think Facebook offers tutorials on the theory of evolution, the age of Earth or any of those frighteningly atheistic things normal people learn about in school? No worries!

If people can’t have fun on FaceGlat and meet some interesting folks – or even converse with their own spouses – then what the hell are they doing there? Aren’t there enough morality police in Mea Shearim already?

Kill the men, rape the women

It doesn’t look too good for Rabbi Shapira’s plan to beat the swords of modern combat into the ploughshares of Yahweh-inspired warfare. Yesterday I wrote about his proposal for Torah-based practical combat; today I want to follow it up with a short paragraph from a book I’ve been reading intermittently for over a year. The book is called War in Human Civilization (OUP, 2006) by Azar Gat, a professor of political science at Tel Aviv University. Gat writes:

Warfare regularly involved stealing of women, who were then subjected to multiple rape, or taken for marriage, or both. Indeed, the story of Moses’ command to the Children of Israel to kill all the Midianites except for the virgin women who could be taken (Numbers 31. 17-18) typifies victors’ conduct throughout history: kill the men, rape the women, and take most of the young and beautiful as war trophies. If women could not be taken because of the enemy’s opposition, or because of domestic opposition at home, they would often be killed like the men and children, in order to decrease the numbers of the enemy.

Here, for the record, is Numbers 31. 17-18 (that’s part of the Torah for those unfamiliar with the term):

17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. 

18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

According to BBC, the King’s Torah (Shapira’s controversial book) “suggests that babies can justifiably be killed if it is clear they will grow up to pose a threat.” This would be perfectly coherent with Torah-regulated combat, as we saw above.

The Torah may have been a slight improvement over earlier codes of law like that of Hammurabi – itself perhaps rather innovative for its time for actually codifying laws – where the punishment for nearly everything is death, but it has long been surpassed by modern secular ideas of justice in every way.

The Torah, like the Gospels and the Qur’an, is a document produced in a certain time and place by humans very much of their time (no human has ever been of any other). As such, it’s a fascinating thing to study. But any proposal that modern values be abolished or subverted out of allegiance to this ancient anthology of Near Eastern literature should be met with jeers. As a thought experiment, imagine what life in your country might be like right now if ancient Babylonian law was suddenly put into practice.

If fire break out in a house, and some one who comes to put it out cast his eye upon the property of the owner of the house, and take the property of the master of the house, he shall be thrown into that self-same fire.

Now does that sound reasonable to you?

Torah-based practical combat

Sound like a guide to warfare based on the laws promulgated in the Torah? Well, that’s what it is. Rabbi Shapira explains:

“I think that people who read the plan will realize that what the Torah says is much more sincere than ‘purity of arms’ (IDF’s official doctrine of ethics). I think that calling it ‘purity of arms’ is a disgrace – it’s putting human life in risk.

“The Jews are wise people; they will come to their senses. The conscious and behavioral revolution will take place easily and pleasantly, and I hope we won’t have to experience difficult things for it to happen. We can’t go on acting like we’re acting today, because then the situation of the Jews here will be worse.”

This is a disgrace. “Jews” are not “wise people.” Individuals may have some modicum of wisdom, but no ethnic, national or religious grouping can be “wise.” Rabbi Shapira is a prime example of a Jew who is dangerously unwise, for example.

He doesn’t seem to realize that a “conscious and behavioral revolution” has already taken place in much of the world – and right there in Israel, too. That Israel practices an imperfect form of combat (often the IDF is chided for its “brutality”), yet doesn’t resort to fire-bombing wide swaths of enemy territory in order to cause maximum damage – a practice which would be rather simple given their technology – is itself an improvement over less moral ways of doing war. And it is definitely an improvement on the Torah.

…the rabbi strongly criticized Israel’s legal system and former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak. According to Shapira, Barak decided to confront the Torah with all his might…

As well he fucking should have. A supreme court bound by allegiance to the Torah would fast turn Israel into the most backward nation in the Middle East. As a Jew and a liberal Zionist, all I can say is: to hell with the Torah. Fuck it. Throw it in the garbage. Don’t base your life on its teachings, and don’t let it rule your courts of law. If Israel has any advantage over its neighbors, it is to be found in its (rocky) adherence secular principles, not in the factoid that “Jews are wise.”

* h/t Ophelia Benson.

The Italian Parliament is not secular

Italy’s Northern League wants a crucifix in Montecitorio, the Italian Parliament. They’re taking the Lautsi vs. Italy decision as carte blanche to impose their religious views in every angle of Italian life. The problem is, according to Cronache Laiche, they’re right:

Hanging a crucifix in Parliament is an act of coherence. The opposition, istead of lashing out, should have approved – even raised the bid – asking to hang a crucifix, a huge crucifix, in every angle of the Chamber and Senate as a warning to anyone who still thinks that the secular State functions independently of religion. A provocation? No, just the unavoidable truth. So that Europe and the entire world can see who we are, not that which we pretend to be.

Seriously, I thought they already had crucifixes in Parliament. How did they not get them on the walls before now?

A poison apple

Today my wife is attending a funeral for a young man – twenty five! – who recently died of a brain tumor. He was diagnosed only a month before.

My aunt died of cancer a few years ago, after a four year struggle. She was a very religious Catholic, went to church, kept statues of Padre Pio in her home and pictures of the Virgin Mary on the wall of her bedroom. She took trips to sanctuaries. She counted priests among her friends. And yet…she withered away to almost nothing. She lived in tremendous pain. Then she died.

So where is this great God believers speak of? Either he is fucking with us – in which case he is an evil God – or he just plumb don’t exist. Why it would give anyone solace to have faith in  such a thing baffles me. Even some atheists I know talk of the “gift of faith” with not a little nostalgia (that they never received it.) All I can think is, What’s wrong with you people? We can do better than this!

We all suffer, atheist and religionist alike. No one is exempt. Life will end in death for all of us, with no regard for our belief systems, education, successes and failures. We all know this. It does no good to pretend that there is a benevolent being who is looking out for us, who is amenable to prayer and flattery, and who will save us when the going gets rough. It does no good because this is quite obviously not true.

Let’s stop pretending it is, and that faith is a gift. It’s a poison apple if it’s anything.