Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Aug/10

1

Miscellany, August 1

  • Following objections from Roman Catholic and other churches, official panel backtracks from assertion that New Zealand is “secular state” [NZ Herald]
  • “Preachers who are not believers,” paper by Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola [Evolutionary Psychology, PDF, via Alex Tabarrok]
  • Australia: “Followers sue religious group after doomsday fails to occur as promised” [Overlawyered]
  • A WorldNetDaily writer named Chrissy Satterfield applauds vandalizing atheist billboards, and boy, does Ken at Popehat ever have her number.
  • Tyler Cowen outlines his “portfolio model of dogmatism“:

    most people have an internal psychological need to fulfill a “quota of dogmatism.”  If you’re very dogmatic in one area, you may be less dogmatic in others.  I’ve also met people — I won’t name names — who are extremely dogmatic on ethical issues but quite open-minded on empirics.  The ethical dogmatism frees them up to follow the evidence on the empirics, as they don’t feel their overall beliefs are threatened by the empirical results.

    Some people, if they feel they must always follow the evidence, respond by skewing their interpretation of that evidence.

    There’s a lesson here.  If you wish to be a more open-minded thinker, adhere to some extreme and perhaps unreasonable fandoms, the more firmly believed the better and the more obscure the area the better.  This will help fulfill your dogmatism quota, yet without much skewing your more important beliefs.

  • “Do not swallow your moral code in tablet form”: Chris Hitchens on the Ten Commandments [Vanity Fair]

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Feb/10

3

Head of St. John Chrysostom to visit NYC

The great thing about being in New York City is that if you wait long enough, every celebrity will come visit, even in this case one who’s been dead for 1,603 years. From the website of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia:

With the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, on February 6, 2010, the honorable head of the great teacher and hierarch St John Chrysostom, which is kept at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, will be brought to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Sign in New York. Here the holy relic will be displayed for veneration by the faithful until February 11, when it will be taken to St Nicholas Cathedral in New York. The delegation of the Moscow Patriarchate accompanying the relic will depart for Moscow on February 12.

Chrysostom’s Wikipedia page hints at some of the highlights of his career as Church Father: his role leading a mob in the destruction of the temple of Artemis at Ephesus, his railing against the theater and other worldly entertainments, his frank advocacy of the subjection of women, and his comprehensively ghastly views on the topic of Christian relations with the Jews. Gibbon treats him relatively gently in this passage from volume 2 of Decline and Fall. Wikipedia on his relics:

John’s relics were looted from Constantinople by Crusaders in 1204 and taken to Rome, but were returned to the Orthodox on 27 November 2004 by Pope John Paul II. His silver and jewel-encrusted skull is now kept in the Vatopedi Monastery on Mount Athos in northern Greece, and is credited by Christians with miraculous healings. His right hand is preserved on Mount Athos, and numerous smaller relics are scattered throughout the world.

H.L. Mencken’s words come to mind: “We must respect the other fellow’s religion but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.”

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Jan/10

18

Miscellany, January 18

More bits and oddments expanded and adapted from Secular Right’s Twitter account:

  • NYC’s Met Museum to rename Islamic Galleries, may yank art depicting Mohammed [NY Post] “Motoons republished throughout Europe” — why not here? [MWW]
  • “My advice, as a Christian priest, is to shoplift.” [CNN via Amy Alkon]
  • “Anti blasphemy law campaign begins in Ireland” [MWW, Times Online, Ilya Somin/Volokh]
  • In a nutshell, the three varieties of Straussians [Mike Rappaport, Right Coast]
  • “Atheism leads to brutality”: GOP Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels comes off badly in interview [Legal Satyricon]
  • How religious is your state? [Pew Forum]
  • Hitchens on Gore Vidal [Vanity Fair] And on our leaders’ absurd reaction to the attempted plane bombing [Slate]
  • “Spark of the divine” within each of us: Obama Nobel speech last month slighted unbelievers [Ann Althouse]
  • Spokesman for Prof. Robert George’s American Principles Project moves in circles quite different from those of this website [Michael Sean Winters, America]
  • Funny: Satan sends a letter responding to Pat Robertson on Haiti [Star-Tribune, scroll to second item]

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Dec/09

2

Miscellany, December 2

Yes, it’s true, I’ve been absent from the site for half a year (unless you count Secular Right’s Twitter account) and I’ll be scarce for yet a while longer because of the book manuscript I need to finish. But there’s still time to round up some short items from the past month that might otherwise pass without note:

  • “Few people are motivated by purely secular considerations to become …better people.” Really? [PrawfsBlawg]
  • Trail of proposed Uganda death-for-gays law leads back to U.S. [Box Turtle Bulletin]
  • “Why he stopped believing: confessions of a former missionary” [Amy Alkon]
  • “Coma man” tale: “CNN and MSNBC duped by ‘facilitated communication’” [Michael Rosch/Examiner, Orac/Respectful Insolence]
  • “War on Christmas” grievance-collectors really should lighten up [Ken at Popehat]
  • Successful “libel-in-fiction” claim against author of bestselling “Red Hat Club” novel included allegations that plaintiff had been depicted as atheist and “right-wing reactionary” [Fulton County Daily Report, Overlawyered]
  • “Hard Evidence: Seven salient facts about Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan” [Christopher Hitchens]
  • “How many Bibles must there be in the jury room to aid in the deliberations?” Four in this Texas capital case [Scott Greenfield]
  • “Man sacked for belief in psychics backed by judge” [U.K. Independent]
  • Heh: “Efforts to reach Christ for comment were unsuccessful.” [USA Today; Alabama woman who changed her name to "Jesus Christ"]

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Newt Gingrich, in Virginia Beach, certainly seems to have learned to talk the talk.

More: Allahpundit. And Ken Silber has a few “pagan” quotes to recommend to Gingrich, including this from Cicero: “Orators are most vehement when their cause is weak.”

Apr/09

21

Miscellany, April 22

  • For those who liked the earlier item on pareidolia (the tendency of observers to see religious or other significant images in random patterns) here’s a photo gallery with more such apparitions, including a “hand of God” in an image of a star’s energy field, a crimson flower resembling the Hindu elephant god Ganesh, and many sightings of the Virgin Mary, including one in a crispy snack of the onion-flavored sort known as Funyuns, for which $609 was offered on eBay.
  • Authorité: Hillary launches intimidating new fragrance line [The Onion] In all seriousness, evidence has been piling up that women’s ability to detect scent is different from and probably more discerning than men’s.
  • A cell of Iraqi children allegedly trained by al Qaeda as suicide bombers were given the name “birds of paradise”, said to be derived “from the Islamic belief that when children die they become birds of paradise”.
  • The “Durban II” U.N. anti-racism, anti-U.S. conference is the perfect arena in which to push those noxious resolutions encouraging countries to criminalize the “defamation of religion” (earlier here, here, and here). More: Jonathan Turley.
  • “Couldn’t possibly be a coincidence!” Or maybe it could; this video explains why seemingly uncanny events can in fact be probable.

Mar/09

20

Miscellany, March 20

  • Pareidolia is “that phenomenon wherein people see things that aren’t there because human brains are wired for pattern recognition”. Children see animals in the clouds or letters in a pile of sticks; adults are likely to see images fraught with special meaning, especially (though not only) religious images such as the Virgin Mary, the cross or the face of Jesus. Via Orac comes an irresistible six-minute video of the highlights of Christian pareidolia stories for 2008.

    Orac hazards the view — though I’m not sure what the evidence is in either direction — that in societies with a different religious foundation or none at all, people would see something else in grilled cheese sandwiches, tree bark, cinnamon bun residues, dirty windows, and other objects presenting random visual patterns. (Compare the 2005 story in which Burger King redesigned the swirl on an ice cream lid after a Muslim man objected that it was too reminiscent of the Arabic inscription for Allah).
  • From the same blog, but on an entirely different subject, a study of medicine and religion finds that (to quote the blog, not the study) “Faith in a higher power can often lead to more aggressive treatment than is medically warranted”. In cases of incurable cancer, strong religious conviction on the part of patients is apparently more likely to correlate with the use of ventilators, death while in intensive care, and other heroic/invasive measures, as opposed to hospice. Orac (who is a medical doctor specializing in cancer) has an extended and interesting discussion.
  • Finally, a Missouri library has agreed to settle “Deborah Smith’s claim that she lost her job as a librarian assistant in Poplar Bluff, Mo., because she refused to attend a ‘Harry Potter Night’ promoting the publication of ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ in July 2007.” Smith believed the Potter books dabble in the occult and was not mollified at the library director’s offer to let her participate behind the scenes where her fellow church members would not have to realize she was involved.

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Many other bloggers besides ourselves noticed the absurd and unconstitutional proposal floated in Connecticut’s Judiciary Committee to order the Roman Catholic Church to turn its governance over to boards of laypeople. Prawfsblawg carries the text of a stern letter written by one leading law-and-religion scholar, Douglas Laycock, and signed by a dozen others, including Eugene Volokh and Kate Stith. Following a loud outcry which quickly went national, the lawmakers identified with the bill have agreed to table it, and it’s dead for the session.

Many traditionalist Catholic commentators, like Kathryn Lopez at National Review, have promoted the view that the bill somehow constitutes “retribution” for the Catholic Church’s Culture War stands, specifically its promotion of Proposition 8 in California. (William Lori, Bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport, has made the same claim.) “The bill is believed to be an act of political retribution for the Catholic church’s opposition to gay marriage,” Lopez writes, and then spends an entire interview eliciting vigorous assent to that proposition from her interviewee, Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage.

Reports from news organizations that have looked into the Connecticut controversy, however, tell a different story. (more…)

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Catholic sites are up in arms, and rightly so, about a measure called S.B. 1098, introduced March 5 in the Connecticut legislature, which would by law remove control of Roman Catholic parishes from bishops and place them instead in the hands of lay panels of not less than seven nor more than 13 members, who would be legally assured full control over most aspects of church management other than religious doctrine itself.

It’s still far from clear who’s sponsoring or promoting this measure; it’s a “Raised Bill”, a bit of local terminology with which I’m unfamiliar. The National Rifle Association, discussing an entirely different bill in Hartford the other day, says the “raised” terminology “means the concept was discussed and the committee voted in favor of drafting a bill for consideration”. Whoever is responsible for it, Rick Hills is right in dismissing it as “preposterous” and so obviously unconstitutional as to raise no issues of legal interest. The issue it raises instead is: how can lawmakers in one of the nation’s most highly educated states understand so little about America’s basic premises of religious liberty? Despite cries of anti-Catholicism, incidentally, there are a number of hints in the coverage that the bill may reflect the views of disgruntled lay Catholics, not persons affiliated with other religious traditions or with none at all. So there isn’t necessarily anything paradoxical in the fact of this proposal coming up in one of the nation’s most Catholic states, any more than there is a paradox in the prevalence of anti-clericalism in countries of overwhelming nominal Catholic affiliation like Mexico and Italy.

Speaking of legislative idiocy, Rep. Todd Thomsen has introduced a resolution in the Oklahoma legislature deploring the University of Oklahoma’s extension of a speaking invitation to Richard Dawkins (via Ron Bailey).

P.S. According to former Connecticut resident Dave Zincavage of Never Yet Melted, the meaning of “raised bill” is that “no individual member took the responsibility for sponsoring it, but rather a legislative committee (in this case the Judiciary Committee) discussed the idea and the committee then voted in favor of drafting a bill.” And more: The Greenwich Time (via Christopher Fountain) reports that Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, introduced the bill “at the request of members of St. John Church on the Post Road in Darien, where the former pastor, the Rev. Michael Jude Fay, was convicted of stealing from parishioners over several years.”

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Feb/09

21

On a hard-to-reach library shelf

Per the Telegraph, some Muslims in Leicester, U.K.,

moved copies of the Koran to the top shelves of libraries, because they believe it is an insult to display it in a low position.

The city’s librarians consulted the Federation of Muslim Organisations and were advised that all religious texts should be kept on the top shelf to ensure equality.

So far as I can tell, most Christian viewpoints do not assign any particular value to placing the religion’s scriptures in a physically elevated location, and many would assign a positive value to making the texts accessible, which might be in tension with top-shelf placement.

Robert Whelan of the Civitas think-tank told The Daily Mail: “Libraries and museums are not places of worship. They should not be run in accordance with particular religious beliefs.”

And a spokesman for Engage, “which encourages Muslims to play a greater role in public life”, pointed out that there is no reason libraries should feel obliged to treat Christian and Muslim scriptures in a precisely equal way if believers take different views as to what constitutes respectful treatment.

Speaking of libraries, I’ll take this opportunity to suggest that readers visit my other site, Overlawyered, to check out my ongoing coverage of CPSIA, the dreadful new federal law that is encouraging used book sellers and even libraries to discard pre-1985 children’s books on the ground that some unknown percentage of them contain infinitesimal admixtures of lead in their ink and pigments. I wrote up the issue at the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal, and Daniel Kalder at the Guardian (U.K.) contributed good coverage yesterday. I’m happy to report that virtually every strain of conservative opinion, religious and secular, traditionalist and libertarian, seems to be united in agreement that this very bad law needs to be stopped now; its remaining defenders include Congressional potentate Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and the editorialists of the New York Times.

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