Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Archive for August 2012



The peaceful Amish

Witness Describes Domination of Amish Leader:

Mrs. Miller and her husband, Martin, who live two hours north of Bergholz, were the first victims in the beard and hair attacks. Last Sept. 6, their six estranged children and their spouses pushed into their house and sheared Mr. Miller’s beard and hair, then cut Mrs. Miller’s waist-length hair to above her ears.

Their daughter, Nancy M. Burkholder, who was granted immunity from prosecution and compelled to testify, said Thursday that she had helped “take the beard and hair” of her parents in order “to help them lead a proper Amish life.”

Fanaticism is no human genius. It’s all too human.

No tags



A Question of Timing

Via Opposing Views:

The ‘Woman’s Health and Safety Act’ signed into law by Arizona Governor Jen Brewer in April goes into effect this month.

The law calculates a woman’s pregnancy as starting the very first day of the last menstrual period, reports the Daily Beast, which could be two weeks before the actual conception.

Women usually ovulate [and conceive] two weeks after the start of their last period. By saying that pregnancy starts two weeks before conception, Arizona’s new law narrows the window in which a woman can get an abortion…




Ghana, 2012

Via The Independent:

Around 700 women and 800 children live in Gambaga camp, and in five other witch camps across northern Ghana, where they are virtually cut off from the outside world. Housed in flimsy mud huts, without enough food, they have few basic health or education facilities. Their children and, often, grandchildren grow up inside the camps’ boundaries…

“I know nothing about witchcraft,” said Ms Gigire, when she was first brought to Ghana’s largest camp. “The girl’s father and three of the men from her family came to my house and told my husband that if I didn’t release the soul of the girl they will beat me to death. They said that if I wanted to stay alive I should leave for Gambaga straight away. My husband was not strong enough to fight all of them.”

Three months ago, Ms Gigire’s husband managed to get his wife out of the camp − paying £70 to the chief and buying animals for a ritual. She is now trying to rehabilitate herself to life outside, but the stigma of being accused is hard to shake off. Around 40 per cent of the women who leave the camps return within a year, according to an ActionAid report, Condemned Without Trial, to be published this week.

Women and children are also targeted in Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, and the Central African Republic. Earlier this year, a mother of two was burned alive in central Nepal after being branded a witch, and just weeks ago, four children were killed by a “witch doctor” in Haiti…

Suuk Lari, 51, was accused of being a witch when her teenage daughter died. She has lived in Gambaga camp in northern Ghana for more than three years. She returned home once, but, when another woman’s child died, she was again accused of witchcraft, and returned to the camp.

“At my daughter’s funeral, a mob attacked me. They hammered a nail into my ankle. People were saying ‘look at this woman, she is a witch’. More men came and beat me; one pushed me down a well. They said they would kill me.
“I prefer living here. I am with other women. When I wake up I hear laughter, and we can go where we want to go. I can’t ever return home.”

· ·



Same Script, Different Stage (Ctd.)

Cross-posted on the Corner:

Bamiyan, Timbuktu, and now Tripoli.

Al-Jazeera reports:

Attackers in Libya have bulldozed a mosque containing Sufi Muslim graves in the centre of Tripoli, a day after Sufi shrines in the city of Zlitan were wrecked and a mosque library was burned. The demolition of the large Sha’ab mosque happened in broad daylight on Saturday, drawing condemnation from government officials and Libyans across the country and abroad.

…A man who appeared to be overseeing the demolition told Reuters the interior ministry had authorised the operation after discovering people had been worshipping the graves and practicing “black magic”. The ministry was not available for comment . . .

In Zlitan, witnesses said that an armed group, claiming to be Salafis, carried out the assault on the Sufi shrine, the tomb of Abdel Salam al-Asmar, a 15th-century Muslim scholar…The attackers also set fire to a historic library, reducing years of academic and religious writing to ash. While the official line from the government is condemnation, there are reports security forces stood by and just let this destruction go ahead.

One of Libya’s highest-profile cultural clashes since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi has been between followers of the mystical Sufi tradition and ultra-conservative Salafis, who say Islam should return to the simple ways followed by its prophet.

Salafis have formed a number of armed brigades in Libya. They reject as idolatrous many Sufi devotions – which include dancing and the building of shrines to venerated figures…

· ·



Art Restoration

In the wake of this, this?

No tags



Leftists Attack “Speculators”

Via The Independent:

The G20 was under growing pressure to call an emergency summit on global food prices last night as the Vatican accused grain speculators of “hampering the poorest and neediest…

Yesterday the Vatican’s permanent observer at the UN in Geneva, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, claimed “market activities” such as arbitrage [buying and selling goods to exploit price differences] and the use of derivatives trading in grain supply chains, are “hampering the poorest and the neediest”.

I don’t know what is worse: The attempt to play a populist card, or the profound ignorance of economics that the Vatican has, yet again, revealed.

· ·



Huck Rides In

One clown rushes to the assistance of another.

Via CNN:

Tampa, Florida (CNN) – Mike Huckabee participated in a conference call Friday night with hundreds of Baptist pastors and Christian talk radio hosts in Missouri that was organized to coordinate a robust defense of Rep. Todd Akin as he faces pressure from Washington Republicans to drop his Senate bid against Democrat Claire McCaskill…

Speaking harshly about establishment Republicans who have tried to force Akin from the Missouri race, Huckabee at one point compared the National Republican Senatorial Committee to “union goons” who “kneecap” their enemies.

The former Arkansas governor said party bosses were “opening up rounds and rounds” of ammunition on Akin and “then running over with tanks and trucks and leaving him to be ravaged by the other side.”

“This is unprecedented, to see to this orchestrated attempt to humiliate and devastate a fellow Republican,” Huckabee said of Akin, who has deep ties to the Christian conservative movement. Akin spent Thursday in Florida meeting with evangelical leaders and evaluating his political future.

All we need now is Santorum.

· · · ·



The Science of Akin

From the Guardian, one possible theory for the source of Akin’s idiot ‘science’:

The idea that rape victims cannot get pregnant has long roots. The legal position that pregnancy disproved a claim of rape appears to have been instituted in the UK sometime in the 13th century. One of the earliest British legal texts, Fleta, has a clause in the first book of the second volume stating that:

“If, however, the woman should have conceived at the time alleged in the appeal, it abates, for without a woman’s consent she could not conceive.”

This was a long-lived legal argument. Samuel Farr’s Elements of Medical Jurisprudence contained the same idea as late as 1814:

“For without an excitation of lust, or the enjoyment of pleasure in the venereal act, no conception can probably take place. So that if an absolute rape were to be perpetrated, it is not likely she would become pregnant.”

This “absolute rape” is not quite the same as Akin’s “legitimate rape”. Akin seems to be suggesting that the body suppresses conception or causes a miscarriage, while the earlier idea of Farr relates specifically to the importance of orgasm. Through the medieval and early modern period it was widely thought, by lay people as well as doctors, that women could only conceive if they had an orgasm.

· · ·



Akin: a man of peculiar principles

It is of course sheer political opportunism to seize on Todd Akin’s use of “legitimate” to qualify “rape” as representing his views. There is not a chance that he meant to signify that rape is ever legitimate, but was rather clumsily trying to distinguish stranger rape from drunken acquaintance rape. And the debate over whether abortion following rape should be permitted is largely theoretical, allowing both sides to get righteously worked up over a principle. Akin’s doctor expert claims that less than 1% of rapes result in pregnancy; the New York Times’ medical experts allege that the data is weak but that the pregnancy rate may be more like 5%, still a pretty low number. But if Akin believes he is following God’s mandate, it shouldn’t matter if every rape resulted in a pregnancy—the principle is the same.




A Little Bit of Heaven

I did publish some reviews and columns during my absence, but probably the only such item that is much of a “fit” for Secular Right was my contribution to a symposium published in the June issue of The American Spectator.

The symposium was actually a group review of Peter Kreeft’s best-selling book about Heaven.  That is to say, myself and two other invitees ─ one Christian believer, one Jewish believer ─ all submitted reviews of the book, after a brief introduction by Bob Tyrrell, TAS editor.

My contribution is here.  Of the others, I liked Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s the better.  Very Jewish:  “Heaven, schmeaven ─ God wants us to be busy on Earth!”

I’m afraid I was not very kind to Kreeft’s book, which I described as warmed-over C.S. Lewis.  Which it is.

My review inspired a couple of spirited responses from Christians.

First came Roger Clegg, in the Letters columns of the July-August TAS.  His letter and my response are here.  My response is rather flippant: but then, Roger was impertinent and illogical.

Impertinent: He opens a window into my soul and asserts that: “Mr. Derbyshire, poor soul, is trying very hard not to believe.”

How does he know that? This is a standard Christian trope: That the atheist, poor fellow, is a believer really, but, like a naughty child, just won’t admit it.  Sooner or later the Hound of Heaven will get him!

My own religious history, hinted at clearly enough in my review, is precisely the opposite. For many years I tried very hard to believe, but just couldn’t. At last I sank gratefully into unbelief, which I found much more psychologically relaxing ─ better suited to my temperament ─ and not at all the agonized “trying very hard not to believe” posited by Roger. But then, I guess he knows my inner life better than I do.

Illogical: “Mr. Derbyshire demands ‘evidence’ of God and Heaven, but since there is plenty of evidence what he really seems to want is proof.”

No, it’s evidence. I describe myself plainly in my review (ninth paragraph) as “a rather severe empiricist.” If what I really wanted was proof, I would have described myself as “a rather severe rationalist,” wouldn’t I?  But again, perhaps Roger knows me much better than I know myself.

In the June TAS, not yet online, I get another scornful letter from L. Brent Bozell III of the Media Research Center. Brent fixes on my dismissal of C.S. Lewis’s famous “trilemma,” which argues that:

[Jesus of Nazareth] either was (and is) just what He said or else a lunatic, or something worse. Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.

To which I had responded, in my review: “Why couldn’t Jesus just have been mistaken?” Brent replies that anyone who mistakes himself for God Almighty must have been a lunatic. Jesus plainly wasn’t a lunatic.

I agree that the Jesus of the New Testament doesn’t seem to have been a lunatic, though it’s not impossible he was the kind of psychotic who’s terrifically good at faking sanity.  Not impossible; and way more possible than that Jesus was related by blood to the Creator of the Universe.

The things one might believe about oneself without being mad are many and various, though, and highly dependent on one’s time and place; and the limits of ordinary non-insane human self-deception are very wide, in my experience. My best guess is that Jesus really believed he was divine, but was mistaken. (This was also Martin Gardner’s opinion.)

I note, very incidentally, from my recent reading, that Abraham Lincoln seems not to have believed in an afterlife.  At any rate, I read this on page 56 of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals:

When his New Salem friend and neighbor Mrs. Samuel Hill asked him whether he believed in a future realm, he answered no.  “I’m afraid there isn’t,” he replied sorrowfully. “It isn’t a pleasant thing to think that when we die that is the last of us.” Though later statements make reference to an omnipotent God or supreme power, there is no mention in any published document, the historian Robert Bruce observes ─ except in one ambiguous letter to his dying father ─ of any “faith in life after death.” To the end of his life, he was haunted by the finality of death and the evanescence of earthly accomplishments.

The notion of an afterlife ─ a “metaphysical Disneyland,” Thomas Metzinger calls it ─ seems to me the most extravagantly improbable of all theological concepts.  On this I agree with Lincoln, whose religious convictions are chewed over here (and no doubt in many other places).

Whatever he believed, Lincoln was undoubtedly a great-grand-master of “Ceremonial Deism” ─ but that’s an oratorical style, not a confession.


No tags

Older posts >>

Theme Design by