Thursday, October 11, 2012

Justice for Malala Yousafzai will come at a price worth paying.

The religious have a way of making a virtue of infamy.  Not by anything they do, of course: self-loathing makes a mockery of individuality and of unfettered inquiry.  Genuflections and ululations are de rigueur of the faithful; any exercise into the intellectual realm is both prohibitive and prohibited.

(Yes, I understand that there are some out there who are quite willing to guffaw at this idea: they after all are normal law-abiding citizens of secular republics and Western democracies; they live in relative peace with their neighbors who have different and diverse confessions of faith.  Their own spiritual beliefs are personal to them and harm no one, or so it seems.  And that might well be be true; but truer still: as an American I can esteem their right to believe what they want and find disdain for their cognitive dissonance. )

Malala Yousafzai?  What do the 'faithful' say about her?  Well, for a start, all indications --clearest of which is a bullet that was launched and lodged into her brain by the Pakistani Taliban (Malala's assailant... no... Malala's furtive and failed assassin hid behind a balaclava)-- point to the convincing fact that the Islamic faithful of the Swat Valley want to see this fourteen-year-old girl dead for nothing more than wanting to go to school.  The thinking world is outraged enough by this simple act of barbarism that even the not-too-esteemed Laura Bush has spoken out.

Scrambled Middle Eastern geopolitics aside, Malala's attempted murder and the current bounty on her teenage (think about it: this girl is a seventh grader!) head should be a pivot point for the remaining foreign policy debates between President Obama and former Governor Romney.  Sadly, the damage of Benghazi, and the butcher of Syria  will politicize Malala into the deepest recesses of newspapers, blogs and 'interest'.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Pope's No Pills

One of the benefits of reading the classics is that one can find quite easily history repeating itself; or perhaps better phrased: the insight of an author that has lived and died resonates as if written but literally today.  Take for example this gem from Rebecca West's Black Lamb and Grey Falcon:

[Y]ou should see the Roman Catholic Church for what it really is:
not at all democratic, not at all in favor of speculative thought; far 
more alarmed by the vaguest threat of social revolution than by 
actual oppression, provided it is of monarchical or totalitarian
origin, and wholly unsympathetic with any need for free expression but its own.

The context of this quote, admittedly is not about contraception.  The dialogue is between West's husband --quoted above-- and their Croatian friend Valetta; the two were discussing a short-lived concordat in 1937 between the Yugoslavian government and Pope Pius XII that gave greater advantages to Roman Catholics as regards both religious education and practice than the Eastern Orthodox Christians of Serbia and greater Yugoslavia.  West's husband (the reader is never told his name) surely can not have known how prescient his words would become more than seventy years later.  Today, rather than 'Holy Mother Chruch' meddling in the affairs of federated European states oppressed for centuries by the parties of god, its focus is now on the subjugation of half of its 'flock' living in a secular and democratic republic.

The claimants of the current conservative harry against the Obama Administration assert that by requiring Catholic hospitals and charities to provide contraception to its employees, the federal government has violated the spirit and letter of the First Amendment.   As I write this, the only words that come to my mind are: 'I wish I knew how this is a violation of'..., but that is not really the case, because I really don't wish to know.  In fact, the better phrase would be: 'I wish I knew what the hell they were talking about.'  The recent political maneuver of President Obama allows the Catholic Church to continue its assertion that the 'Holy See' has command over the reproductive organs of its parishioners, yet mandates that insurance companies provide contraceptives to employees of the 'One True Church'.  Any Catholic who wants access (as it seems nearly 99% of them do) to birth control, will have it so; those who wish to maintain the lugubrious and precambrian practice of the 'rhythm method' as their birth control of conscience are left unmolested by adherents and apostates --although the latter may snigger.  But no: this simply isn't going to appease the US Conference of Catholic Bishops; they are quite concerned about lingering 'serious moral concerns' with the Administration's riposte to their redress.

Among his contributions to the English lexicon, the late Christopher Hitchens added: 'what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence'.   No problem wondering what the hell that means! The proclamation of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops or any other authorized body of the 'Holy Roman Church' who maintain their organization as the final moral authority, while harboring pedophile priests behind the walls of the Stato della Città del Vaticano can not --either in principle or practice-- asseverate anything remotely decent or just.

As West's husband concludes his colloquy with Veletta, I am left with the thought that perhaps his words could equally resonate in the early twenty-first century as they did on the cusp of the Second World War:

You should proceed with the difficult task of deciding whether you can 
reconcile yourself to this bias of the Church for the 
sake of thespiritual benefits it confers upon you.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Don't Bite Your Tongue

In following the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science on Twitter I found the following link from noted freelance journalist Abigail Esman, whose latest article at Forbes opines the ill conceived and lugubrious UN resolution 16/18, and its backers, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.  Were it not for my new year's resolution to become a more engaged and politically aware citizen of not only my state of Utah, but as a citizen of the Republic of the United States of America, I may have skipped this article altogether and navel gazed at the prospect of providing myself another whisky mac.

In his review of Andrew Roberts' book A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, Christopher Hitchens quotes Roberts on the failure of the European Union to produce a viable constitution:

Roberts correctly notes that “along with over two centuries of amendments the entire (readable and easily intelligible) U.S. Constitution can be printed out onto twelve pages of A4-sized paper; the (unreadable and impenetrably complicated) proposed European Constitution ran to 265.”

I certainly don't believe in the cliché of 'great minds' thinking alike, but I will be happy to double-down on the fortunate hand dealt and gamble that one can have the same idea or arrive at the same summation as those who have tarried on a subject for far longer and deeper than one has time or perhaps inclination.  Thus, after reading the entirety of Resolution 16/18 --all one-thousand one hundred and sixty-nine words that produce more of an aural din rather than anything remotely resembling ecumenical affirmation-- I found that the prominent thought that kept moving from the the subvocal to words outright was: too much damn ink.

Resolution 16/18, designed to 'combat intolerance' of persons based on religious belief is nearly twenty-six times as long as the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and is easily twenty-six times as superfluous and nebulous.   In part, it calls for the adoption of 'measures to criminalize incitement to imminent violence based on religious belief.'  If you, my dear reader can make any sense of that statement, then you will be most likely the first and the last to do so.  The syntax of the phrase leaves me to wonder who is to be criminalized, the victim or the perpetrator; it also leaves me wondering which is which.

I live in the state capital of Utah.  Within my neighborhood alone, there are four Mormon churches; within a fifty-mile radius of my house, there are at least five Mormon temples.  From the privacy of my own home --and often on Sunday-- I find time to not too tersely comment about the continued attempts of the LDS church to claim moral superiority in their continued --and vain-- attempts to usurp the Fourteenth Amendment, by asserting that the marriage standard is between one man and one woman and that any deviation from said standard is not only immoral, but should not be made legal.  Never mind their history for a moment of wishing to have more than one mother-in-law concurrently; and certainly never mind the fact that when a minister of any church performs a marriage, they are acting for and in behalf of the state, and not the other way around.  Would my critical and shared meditations of how odious it is for one human to tell another that since they happen to be sexually attracted to and fall in love with someone whom they share the same karyotype be a cause for some self-righteous prig to become so incensed that my words suddenly cause incitement to imminent violence against me?  Could one find oneself incarcerated because one spoke out against Rick Santorum and his unlettered rhetoric on the subject of comparing homosexuality to polygamy; or perhaps pay a fine and perform community service because it is all to easy to find offensive the stance of both Santorum and his church who continue a cretinous fight against the emancipation and education of women?  What, pray, will be one's sentence be in shouting down and actively fighting against the goons of the Christian god?  And one need not be a betting man to affirm that one's atheism is surely to cause incitement to imminent violence upon me by Islamists who live for a dystopian future of a sharia-bound world caliphate.

But, for the time being, my Mormon neighbors go to their church and their temples without constraint; the former Senator from the Keystone State expresses his opinion freely --constrained only perhaps by his political aspirations, which appear staler than lofty; his church can address their grievances to their government; the odious Phelps clan can affirm the grace of the Supreme Court through their gracelessness.   And I look forward to my continued plucking of the thorn of roses and placing them squarely in the sides of those who, in behalf of their fairy-tale fantasy of paradise, demand my silence and estrangement from the following forty-five words:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

By all means, let's look at Mitt!

With Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, Jr. in the pursuit for the Republican endorsement to run against President Obama, there have been some --and I can only assume most if not all are Latter-day Saint adherents-- who are calling such a quest 'The Mormon Moment'.  The capitalization is intended to suggest that  this contest to hold the Office of the Executive of our grand Republic exemplifies the arrival of Mormons onto the national and indeed the world political stage; as if this time is the superlative moment of acceptance for a sect that has pursued the executive office since its inception and has repeatedly failed.

Yet this latest 'mormon moment' is but one of a list in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that have caught the attention of the American population:

The introduction of Mormonism in 1830 must be viewed properly as the first 'Mormon moment', regardless of the fantastical and clearly debunked claims made by its founder, Joseph Smith.

1843 was the year that polygamy was codified as doctrine among the Latter-day Saints, although it had been practiced at least by Joseph Smith more than a decade earlier.  It wasn't the date of when polygamy started, but the practice itself that caught the eye and ire of those Gentiles who lived among and near the early Mormons.

The Mormon exodus of 1847 is another stage in Mormon history that perhaps defined Mormon partisans greater than any other, for both good and for ill.  The over-zealous and violent persecution of Mormons was not justified, the martyrdom of Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum were clearly murderous in intent; but the event has left a germ of a persecution complex that blossoms fully whenever Mormonism is critiqued, regardless how sharply.

September, 1857 is a 'Mormon moment' that the Saints would clearly rather forget, unjustifiably so. The events in a small glade in idyllic southern Utah over a century and a half ago are still raw to the descendants of the Baker-Fancher party, who met death far too early at the hands of a mob that can only be described as self-righteous and self-loathing fanatics who murdered in the name of their god.

1890 can be seen as a year of progress of a kind for Mormonism when the official --and by definition, doctrinal-- repudiation of at least temporal polygamy was put forward by the Mormon hierarchy in October.  That's not to say there is evidence to suggest that polygamy was covertly taking place in the Utah Territory and was sanctioned by the church headquartered in Great Salt Lake City.

The same could also be said of the events of 1978, when the Latter-day Saints finally allowed full faith and fellowship to black Africans, some fourteen years after the enactment of the Civil Rights Act.

The excommunication of Sonya Johnson in 1979 for her position on the Equal Rights Amendment garnered world-wide media attention, much more so than the 1993 excommunication and disfellowship of The September Six: Mormon feminists intellectuals and historians who opined alternative doctrinal views from that of 'the brethren'.

And as late as 2008, the hierarchy of the Mormon church directed its rank-and-file members to donate --to the sum of over $20 million to defend the California ballot initiative entitled: Eliminates Rights of Same-Sex Couples to Marry. Initiative Constitutional Amendment, otherwise known as Proposition 8.  

Now enters Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, Jr.  No doubt they will quote Article IV Paragraph III of the United States Constitution which bars the enactment of a 'religious test' for high office.  More to the point, they would be unwise not to quote it.  Yet they have to bear in mind the following:  the electorate have the right and will exercise said right to establish individually any set of criteria they deem fit --oafish or not-- to decide their choice of candidate for president; they would also have to concede that if those who vote against them solely on their 'faith' are being narrow-minded, then ipso facto so are those who vote for them simply because they share the same church membership.  

If either candidate is supported and elected in the primaries by the Republican Party to be on the 2012 ballot, then they should be aware that the next big hurdle for Mormonism will be the opening of the temple doors.  Suddenly the long-waited 'Mormon Moment' has its fissures.  Will conservative Christians and non-believers and a well-read and educated electorate choose to vote for someone who claims a faith that is off limits to critique; that holds ceremonies that they deem are so sacred that they are not available for public or intellectual critique?  Doubtful.  Romney and Huntsman should be wholly aware there are no sacred cows in politics.  

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Pass the Alka-seltzer, Marko.

If one is lucky enough to have lived in Utah for any length of time, one will no doubt know of the semi-annual meetings of Mormon faithful in Temple Square in Salt Lake City, who gather to listen to their leaders sermonize on everything from church membership, to 'moral' exhortations.  Held in the autumn and spring, these conferences are a weekend event, starting Saturday morning and ending Sunday afternoon. One has come to enjoy listening to these homilies for no other reason than they give an opportunity to critique loudly and publicly the insidious nature of religion in general.

This year, faithful Mormons have been graced with a prequel: Evergreen International, an organization that does not 'affiliate' itself with the LDS church, yet in its mission statement affirms the doctrines and teachings of the Mormon church, met in the LDS church-owned Joseph Smith Memorial Building a week before the Mormon general conference.  Those who struggle with same-sex attraction were told by the LDS church hierarchy that finding peace in their lives would come only through focusing on Jesus and his purported eternal and mortal self-sacrifice.  One wishes that one could call this progress of a sort; after all, the 'holy book' that Mormons --and indeed all other Christians-- carry with them to their Sunday services proscribes homosexuality and warrants capital punishment for those caught in such homo-erotic flagrante delicti.  Instead, the Mormon hierarchy is capriciously moving the goalposts.

While still claiming 'moral authority' from the horse-and-buggy rantings of Spencer W. Kimball --who declared that 'homosexuality is an ugly sin, repugnant to those who find no temptation in it, as well as to many past offenders who are seeking a way out of its clutches...  All such deviations from normal, proper heterosexual relationships are not merely unnatural but wrong in the sight of God'-- Mormon leaders are desperately attempting to eat their cake and have it, too.  In 1969, Kimball, known to the faithful as the twelfth 'prophet seer and revelator' of the Mormon church, penned -and quoted above-- a ghastly and guilt-ridden tome that is not only extant and popular among the rank-and-file members of Mormonism, but is still referenced and sanctioned by Mormon leaders in the twenty-first century as a guide for teaching children about the 'evils' of homosexuality.  Yet talk to a Mormon leader or votary about what their church's stance is on being gay and you are quite likely to hear that being gay isn't the 'sin', it is the act of  actually intimately loving someone of the same sex that puts one's 'soul' in 'eternal jeopardy'.  Strictly stated: a gay or lesbian can be an adherent Mormon if they are willing to live either in the pitiful state of abstinence or conning themselves into marrying and having sex with someone they really don't want to be with.

The best Kimball ever came up with was the feeble attempt to argue from nausea and cliche; that is, if a behavior or act causes one to to be 'sick to one's stomach', then it follows that such an act is 'immoral'.  Kimball is long since dead so there is no need to worry about offending his puerile and parochial sensibilities, but the thought of anyone over the age of sixty-five, heterosexual or otherwise engaging in any activity that requires disrobing has the same effect as a bottle of ipecac. The worst of course was his (ab)use of his 'authority' as god's mouthpiece to scare gay Mormons straight, lest they be damned from their families and god for eternity.

The jejune and smug forays of the religious into the inner wonders of simply being human puts me in the mind of the blottoed protagonist in Billy Collins' poem, Hangover

If I were crowned emperor this morning,
every child who is playing Marco Polo
in the swimming pool of this motel,
shouting the name Marco Polo back and forth

Marco Polo Marco Polo

would be required to read a biography
of Marco Polo – a long one with fine print –
as well as a history of China and of Venice,
the birthplace of the venerated explorer

Marco Polo Marco Polo

after which each child would be quizzed
by me then executed by drowning
regardless how much they managed
to retain about the glorious life and times of 

Marco Polo Marco Polo

From anthropology to zoology, religion has offered us pitiful 'theories' of the natural world; why on earth would it be any different with sexuality.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Nine Word Nein

It is not too often that that an NPR reporter can raise my blood pressure to new and dangerous heights, but Julie Rovner did it with just nine words.  At the beginning of her report on Personhood USA (Abortion Foes Push to Redefine Personhood) that aired on June 1, 2011, Rovner opened her on-air story thusly: 'When life begins, of course is a theological question.'  Perhaps the producer or editor of her story should have added that such a statement falls within the clear definition of commentary.  

I'll gladly concede that believers of all stripes have entered the debate not on how but when life begins, but the question is not solely theirs.  Homo sapiens --and perhaps H. neanderthalensis--  have mused on death and life's beginning for millennia, calling on unknown and long-since-dead gods for explanations of both.  And long before Keith Mason or his god showed up; and the question can be asked by believers and non-believers alike; and we continue to find that the question is still not fully answered.  A moral question? Certainly.  A theological question? Perhaps.  Regardless, a peerless philosophical and scientific question posed seductively and perfectly for the dialectic. 

Rovner's introduction is nothing more than the retooling of Gould's NOMA argument. Is there anything more dangerous than leaving the rich debate of the ultimate meaning of life wholly to those who peddle fairy tales from the Stone Age; to crystal-wearing tie-dyed charlatans wishing for a return to the Age of Aquarius? Rovner's capitulation to theological faith-claims leave the question of when life begins open to Jedi masters, but not to Richard Dawkins.  Or worse: those who believe that there is no god but god and Mohammed is his messenger --who subscribe to suicide and to murder and to the atomization of the infidel-- are welcome to the table for discussion, while Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens are left holding their intellect and reason on the front porch pondering the danger of the 'no solicitation' sign on the door.  

No matter how kindly offered, one does not accept a belly rub from the intelligent design --or indeed from any faith-based-- community when it comes to their erroneous summation of the age of the Universe.  And one certainly isn't going to beg for a tail-wagging scratch when it comes to figuring out when life begins after the dust settles from the musky dance that literally fleshes out the question in the first place.  If Keith Mason and the remaining followers of the Nazarene want to reduce the number of unwanted and aborted pregnancies, then they must endorse the wholesale emancipation of women and the education of children as regarding sexual and reproductive health. Anything less is window dressing for their version of an Orwellian nightmare of control and caprice.  

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The nauseating argument from nausea

Danke, Herr Ludwig for being a catalyst to my hot caffeine fix this morning. Instead of hearing positive news from my home town, I find a caustic wasteland of hatred and ignorance spewing from your mouth.
My contention has always been that the more a religion emerges as oppressive and absurd, the more humorous and ironic it becomes. (I don't make the assumption that Herr Ludwig is Mormon). Must I expose the irony of Brother Evan's unlettered statement of gays (as if they are a collective) trying to solicit kids into their 'lifestyle'? Must I point out to him that his church has one of the largest proselytizing/recruiting programs that they are so fond of boasting about? Must I present to Bruder Evan the feeble and fatuous attempts of Evergreen International in trying to turn gays into straight-loving-tithe-paying-Boyd K. Packer - fawning Saints the the great Jehovah wishes them to be?