North Carolina: Theocracy in Action

Lawmakers in North Carolina want to make it a Christian theocracy:

Raleigh, N.C. — A bill filed by Republican lawmakers would allow North Carolina to declare an official religion, in violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Bill of Rights, and seeks to nullify any federal ruling against Christian prayer by public bodies statewide.

The legislation grew out of a dispute between the American Civil Liberties Union against the Rowan County Board of Commissioners. In a federal lawsuit filed last month, the ACLU says the board has opened 97 percent of its meetings since 2007 with explicitly Christian prayers.

Overtly Christian prayers at government meetings are not rare in North Carolina. Since the Republican takeover in 2011, the state Senate chaplain has offered an explicitly Christian invocation virtually every day of session, despite the fact that some senators are not Christian.

That they’re having religious prayers of any kind in a government body is odious to begin with, but Republican theoconservatives have really gone over the deep end with this one:

House Bill 494, a resolution filed by Republican Rowan County Reps. Harry Warren and Carl Ford, would refuse to acknowledge the force of any judicial ruling on prayer in North Carolina – or indeed on any Constitutional topic:

“The Constitution of the United States does not grant the federal government and does not grant the federal courts the power to determine what is or is not constitutional; therefore, by virtue of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the power to determine constitutionality and the proper interpretation and proper application of the Constitution is reserved to the states and to the people,” the bill states. “Each state in the union is sovereign and may independently determine how that state may make laws respecting an establishment of religion.”

Clearly, someone did not read their constitution. Yes, Mr. Warren and Ms. Ford, the Constitution does give the power to the federal courts to decide what is and isn’t unconstitutional. They’ve been doing this for centuries.

Furthermore, the 14th Amendment makes the Bill of Rights binding on the states, and the 9th Amendment states that powers that neither the federal government nor the state government have is reserved to the people. Deciding what religion you’re going to be is most certainly a power reserved to the people.

It makes me shake my head when I see stories like this. Is this what libertarianism “fusionism” with the “Right,” with theoconservatives, has gotten us? This is terrible. This is not the America our Founding Fathers envisioned. This is not the America that will prosper and go on for a long time defending individual liberty.

I know I have mocked other atheist groups for doing rather silly things, but that’s because they’re taking attention away from things that are genuinely important. LIKE THIS. This is where people should be devoting their effort and energy, to combat idiocy of this nature that seeks to impose itself upon all of us, and that will actually have a powerful effect, not something that means nothing. A state that goes against the Constitution to willfully trample over religious liberty and individual freedom of conscience cannot be tolerated.

North Carolinians should call their state reps, tell them to vote against this bill, and then tell everyone else that fought so hard against the contraceptive mandate on religious liberty grounds this is the same thing. They should also tell that to anti-gay marriage people who used the religious liberty argument. They can’t have it both ways.

If this is going to become the future of the United States, then we have a serious problem. Best to nip it in the bud today.

“Is the pope catholic?”

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/dmataconis/status/311933474351226880″]

That’s the Tweet that summed up a lot of the nonsense surrounding American media coverage of the papal election. “What?” the media said. “You mean the new pope doesn’t support same-sex marriage and is against abortion? What kind of a pope is that?”

A Catholic one, you dummies.

Look, I’m not going to say that I’m in favor of these hardline socially conservative positions. But that is Catholic doctrine. That is what the Catholic church is about. And if you don’t like it, you can leave.

This is not the medieval era. No one has a gun to your head and is forcing you to be a Catholic. You can quit. You can leave. I’m sure there will be severe philosophical and theological problems for you in your head. I’m sure there will also be some societal pressure, notably from your family. But at the end of the day, in the Western world, you are not forced to be Catholic.

If the Catholic church still holds on to backwarded ideas of bigotry towards homosexuals, the idea that a mere embryo is an entire human being, that condoms cause AIDS, and any other number of weird things, that’s not really a cause to change the religion from the inside. That’s not a call to reform. That’s a call to leave.

Religion is religion. That’s why they call it religion. It has concrete, set beliefs. Although attempts are always made at reform, they usually just end up as a schism. And any expression of surprise towards a religious leader following his religion’s beliefs, and not the ideas of the day, is just ridiculous.

If Catholics or any other Christian have a problem with the church and the religion, maybe they just shouldn’t work within it. Maybe they should questioning the more absurd things they are being presented with. And then maybe, with a dash of critical thinking, they’ll come to realize that these things are not magical or awesome, they’re just absurd.

Anyways, that’s the end of a brief rant. In short: Is the pope Catholic? Then stop whining about things like this.

Also, this:

Author’s Note: Meant to publish this earlier, but it didn’t happen due to life intervening. Hence, why it seems out of sync with the news cycle. Oh well.

The #headdesk Files: Freedom From Religion Foundation’s Silly Lawsuit

The Freedom from Religion Foundation is back on my radar, again, this time for launching another lawsuit against the government’s cozy relationship with religion. I think the general idea is sound, and I support it–there needs to be a stronger sense of laïcité in America, and there is still a too close relationship between church and state.

But some lawsuits are just dumb. Like this one:

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, along with 19 other plaintiffs, is suing the U.S. Treasury for stamping “In God We Trust” on currency. Honorary FFRF board member Mike Newdow is acting as legal counsel in the suit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on Feb. 1.

The complaint alleges that the religious verbiage is proselytizing, discriminatory and a per se establishment of monotheism in violation of the Establishment Clause.

The complaint, a tour de force of historical research, unequivocally shows that there was a purely religious purpose and intent behind putting God on our coinage. Newdow quotes representatives who voted for the addition as seeking to use the money to proselytize around the world. Rep. Herman P. Eberharter (PA) said: “[T]he American dollar travels all over the world, into every country of the world, and frequently gets behind the Iron Curtain, and if it carries this message in that way I think it would be very good. I think that is one of the most compelling reasons why we should put it on our currency. … the principles laid down by God and the teachings of our way of life should be kept alive in the hearts and minds of our friends enslaved behind the Iron Curtain.”

Plaintiffs are forced to proselytize — by an Act of Congress — for a deity they don’t believe in whenever they handle money.

Really, now? Let’s break this down.

First, the “per se establishment of monotheism in violation of the Establishment Clause.” Well, what does the Establishment Clause actually say?

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. . . .

Okay then, what religion is the text “In God We Trust” establishing? Judaism? Islam? Pantheism? Rastafarianism? Christianity? Oh, well then what sort of Christianity? Catholicism? Baptism? Lutheranism? Methodism? Mormonism? Seven-Day Adventism? Ad nausea.

Monotheism, as the Foundation is focusing on, is not a religion in and of itself. It just isn’t. What monotheism is is more of a vague belief, a “philosophical position,” as I would say, on deities. There is no doctrine of monotheism, no specific church, no dogma, no holy text. There are many different montheistic religions, just putting “God” on a piece of paper doesn’t make it one.

And then there comes the question of “What God are we talking about?” I’m sure the Representative they quoted is some form of Christian, and was referring to the Christian god. But is that the god everyone is talking about? I don’t know. If you were to line up 100 different people and ask them what they thought god was, you would get 100 different answers. The fact remains that the word “god” is meaningless, so malleable it has no form and can be twisted to mean anything. No other word in the English language in the modern age has quite the same level of malleability.

Let’s get to the second part of their complaint, that it is “discriminatory.” I genuinely sympathize with this, but let’s be honest, how is it really discriminating against anyone who isn’t a believer? Are we losing our jobs? Our property? Our lives? Uh, no, we’re just exchanging money and getting some food.

And then there’s the third point: that we’re “proselytizing” against our will. This is just so ungodly stupid (if I may be granted a pun pass.) Does anyone really take a look at the dollar bill and go “Wow! There’s god on here! Using this money means I trust in god! Maybe I should go home and rethink my life and become a monk!” Seriously? Do people pay attention to that line of text at all? Most don’t even notice it, and I would suspect a vast number of Americans don’t even know it’s there. So congrats, FFRF guys, you just drew everybody’s attention to that.

And then there’s the one thing that blows this out of the water: most of our transactions aren’t cash-based. The vast majority of things we buy we buy with credit cards and online. In fact, cash accounts for only 29% of all transactions in the United States. That means in 71% of all transactions, nobody sees “In God We Trust” because they’re not using anything that has “In God We Trust” on it. Heck, they’re not using anythng that could even have anything on it because it’s intangible! (And in Sweden, cash transactions are down to 3% of their transactions. That’s it. Just 3%. That’s probably where we’re headed.)

There are things we should be focusing on in the struggle between religion and superstition and nonbelief and reason. This is not one of them. We should be going after creationism in the schools, kids being forced to pray against their will, people who are harassed or even murdered for not being believers (it has happened), and the insistence of our political leaders of bringing religious claptrap into every political decision and public policy argument. But to raise a stink about “In God We Trust” being printed on our currency? To me, that seems an epic waste of time, energy, and resources that could be devoted to other things. Nobody pays attention to it and nobody cares. People will look at this thing and go, “Really? You’re upset over that, of all things? That’s pathetic.” And where does that leave everyone who doesn’t believe? Right back where we started.

Pick your battles, guys. And sure as hell don’t pick stupid ones.

This is why I’m an igtheist

Comment #532550 – Igtheism and Ig-belief – RichardDawkins.net.

The money shot:

As it seems that only way belief in God can survive is for believers to say that God is too mysterious to subject to science, then it’s perfectly reasonable to take them at their word and say that the idea of God is therefore nonsense.

Otherwise, it’s rather like playing a game with a young child who holds their empty hand behind their back and asks you to guess what they are hiding. Whatever you guess they will say “no” and giggle. The problem with modern theology is that we aren’t dealing with children, and believers are convinced that their empty hand holds God.

A comment from an excellent essay, written here.

Also, do read this blog post by the “Advocatus Atheist.” It also does a better job than I ever had about summing up my igtheism (although this blogger uses the term “ignosticism,” they are completely interchangeable.)

EDIT: Another good thing I found on the web, and surprisingly, it’s from Yahoo Answers of all places:

Igtheism is not a term that embraces atheism. Atheism is a belief that there is no god, a + theism i.e. ‘no-god’. To assert that, you would need to have some concept of the thing it is the existence of which you are denying. The term igtheism is ig + theism i.e. ignorance of what the term ‘god’ means; even a denial that it means anything at all. So an igtheist is not denying that god exists, they are denying that the term ‘god’ actually refers to anything meaningful at all. In that case it would necessarily be quite impossible to deny that it exists, just as it would be impossible to assert that it does. A possible response to the igtheist’s position would be to explain what the term ‘god’ does mean. Since so far nobody seems to have been able to do that except in the vaguest and most vacuous terms, e.g. a ‘something up there’ or ‘the uncaused cause of it all’, igtheism would seem to be a reasonable stance. But it is very different from atheism.

I don’t think that igtheism is “very different from atheism.” I think it’s actually closely related, and that it’s more of a subtle difference–but it is a difference, and it does have implications.

I brought this up in a discussion with a guy who claimed that igtheism and atheism is the same thing–which I think is true only in a colloquial, “well we don’t believe” sort of way–and said that it was atheism because of the “soft atheism” definition. That’s the idea that there are two main flavors of atheism: soft, which is “I don’t believe in god,” and hard, which is “god doesn’t exist.” But I’ve always thought that to be a distinction without a difference. If we’re talking about things that supposedly exist beyond the natural realm and are thus meaningless in the sense the Advocatus Atheist puts forward, isn’t saying you don’t believe in them a total denial of them? It’s the same thing. Get over it.

I’m a horrible bastard, probably

Tim Carney: An awful loss, a beautiful life, a daunting task | WashingtonExaminer.com.

I’m sure, after you read the linked story above, and read what I’m about to say, you are going to think what the headline says (except I’m the bastard, not you. Probably.)

The above story is from Tim Carney, a columnist at the Washington Examiner, who is understandably conservative. The story is about his nephew, who lived for only 442 days before dying, and suffering every one of those days with spinal muscular atrophy, being just about paralyzed at birth and getting worse as the days went on.

Carney writes about the love that the boy’s Catholic parents had for him, and how he spread love by being an object of attention:

Pat and Elena are devout Catholics from strong families, but their answer to this question can’t be set aside as some teaching in the Catechism. It’s a truth written on the human heart.

Jesus said that the two greatest commandments are to love God and love your neighbor. This is our purpose. This view is not uniquely Christian. It’s understood in other religions and in secular worldviews.

In this regard, John Paul lived a superior life. He exuded love. Before he lost control of his facial muscles, he beamed smiles that made grown men sob. Babies can love those around him with the pure, unconditional love we all should show.

Also, JP drew love from others. Neighbors, relatives and strangers cooked meals and gave time, equipment and money to help the Kilners. JP’s brothers and sisters showered him with affection. And Pat and Elena sacrificed immensely to care for him.

Before the wake at St. Patrick’s in Rockville, during an observance called Stations of the Cross, we read a Gospel passage in which Christ explains our duty to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the sick.

“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine,” the Lord says in this passage, “you did for me.”

Clearly a call to charity, this is also an exaltation of parenthood. Even moreso, this exalts the work of caring for helpless JP.

Tribulations both reveal character and form it. JP’s struggles revealed his parents’ heroic virtue and fostered virtue in others.

Pat and Elena saw John Paul as a blessing, and they generously shared that blessing with the world. They took him wherever they could, in a chair rigged with a ventilator and an IV. Elena shared wider, by penning hopeful, contemplative letters to John Paul every few weeks, which she posted on a blog.

One friend of mine, who never met the Kilners, read the “Letters to John Paul” blog. She wrote me, “John Paul’s story made me want to be a better person.”

John Paul continued shaping souls even in dying. A priest at St. Patrick’s took confessions during and after the wake. He commented afterwards that he heard some of the more honest, searching and contrite confessions he’s ever heard.

More than 500 people attended the beautiful funeral. One non-Catholic mourner was moved so much by the Mass she told Pat, “Now I understand why you’re Catholic.”

John Paul, who never spoke a word in his life, was the greatest evangelist of love, faith, virtue and hope I have ever met.

I look at this and shake my head. I don’t necessarily see love here. Yes, John Paul’s parents loved him, as any parent would, and they sacrified for him, as any parent would. But I look at this and think, “Why didn’t they just abort?”

Ayn Rand said it best when it came to abortion:

An embryo has no rights. Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born. The living take precedence over the not-yet-living (or the unborn).

Abortion is a moral right—which should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered. Who can conceivably have the right to dictate to her what disposition she is to make of the functions of her own body?

–“Of Living Death”, The Voice of Reason, pgs 58-59

Never mind the vicious nonsense of claiming that an embryo has a “right to life.” A piece of protoplasm has no rights—and no life in the human sense of the term. One may argue about the later stages of a pregnancy, but the essential issue concerns only the first three months. To equate a potential with an actual, is vicious; to advocate the sacrifice of the latter to the former, is unspeakable. . . . Observe that by ascribing rights to the unborn, i.e., the nonliving, the anti-abortionists obliterate the rights of the living: the right of young people to set the course of their own lives.

–“A Last Survey”, The Ayn Rand Letter, IV, 2, 3

Because of this stance, which I agree with, I don’t consider an embryo or a fetus to be a person like a born human, and thus am not a “pro-lifer.” (I’m willing to accept that personhood would emerge when the fetus displays cognition, or “neonatal perception,” but that’s very late in the pregnancy, and virtually nobody gets abortions at that stage.)

That’s also why, when I look at this, I think that the parents should have aborted. If they had known that the fetus was going to have spinal muscular atrophy, and therefore was going to have a short life full of suffering, why bring the fetus to term? Why increase suffering in the world?

Shouldn’t we, you know, work at reducing suffering? And if we should be doing that, then why bring to term a fetus that has congential problems and is going to have a life full of suffering? It doesn’t make any sense, and to me, it seems pretty sick to do so. Of course, I know some will retort that he wasn’t suffering, and the love he was receiving from his family was proof he wasn’t. But that’s crap. He was clearly in pain for 442 days, he was clearly suffering, there is no way around that.

UPDATE: In this case, the parents didn’t know…which means a great part of this is moot, for this case. In this case, continuing with the pregnancy is completely logical and understandable, and thus giving all you can for the child is similarly logical and understandable. Thus, a huge chunk of my blog post is irrelevant, and so I’ve deleted it. But I still stand by the idea that if a fetus has mental and physical problems, you should still head off at the pass a life full of suffering. That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it. Thus I won’t take down the rest of the post.

Even some pro-life people think it is okay to have an abortion if the baby is going to be born with severe complications:

Over one-quarter of pro-life individuals think that abortion should be legal if the baby may be metnally or physically impaired. And for good reason: they don’t want to increase suffering.

Let’s actually try and reduce suffering as much as possible in this world. Stop with the displays of “care,” “compassion,” and “love,” the ones meant to make yourself look good, and actually do something. I’m not perfect–I myself need to take this up–but we can all start. And maybe one of those places is not bringing in infants into the world who are very clearly going to live only in pain and suffering.

Yes, that probably makes me a bastard in many people’s eyes. But so be it.

Comment on BHL Blog: Science, Religion, and the Great Stagnation

Seems to be the comment system over at BHL is eating up my comments. Ah well. Here is what I’ve been trying to say on this post:

Original comment got eaten. Aaargghhh….

1 – I’m not sure if science and theistic religion are really all that compatible. Theism, in all its myriad ways, purports that there is an omniscient deity that not only created the universe, but gets involved in humanity on a daily basis (or some other time interval.) As the intelligent design argument has shown, science has effectively ruled this out completely. You can’t really talk about physics and biology and then say there is some deity pulling all the strings so we look exactly how we are now.

2 – *Deism*, on the other hand, may be a different matter, because all deism is about is that there is a god, who created the natural laws that lead to the universe, and then was never seen again. Although there are problems with this view too (Austin Cline notes that the universe appears much more dynamic and chaotic than one would suppose it would be if it were designed) I think deism and science are fairly compatible, and indeed, deism could easily become the new religion of the US as trends continue.

3 – As for the social status of scientists, I don’t really think that’s the basis for the problems we face today. Leaving aside the matter of if we have a great stagnation or not, it seems clear to me that the problems really stem from cronyism, fiat monetary systems, and special interests gaming the market to the point where it is more like participatory fascism, as Randall Holscomb puts it. While there are certainly problems with science today–namely how it has been politicized over climate change and environmentalism, to the point where it has sustained serious damage to its credibility–I don’t think the lack of “Likes” on scientists’ Facebook fan pages is the reason for the problems and difficulties we’re facing today. I mean, we’re churning out new products and technologies all the time. Hell, in 20 years, we might even have an outpost on Mars, for all we know.

EDIT: Aha! And now the comment system is back, meaning my original comment is up there, but this one, which retrospectively feels superior, is not. Blast it, Zwolinski, are you trying to confound me?

Atheism Did Not Cause The Newtown Tragedy

In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, many stupid things occurred. The media, for one, completely failed to deliver any reliable information, but Matt K. Lewis of the Daily Caller has already ripped them to shreds on that, so I have no need to. Instead, I’m going to tackle those who blamed the Newtown tragedy on a lack of religion and atheism.

Yes, that is what some people have said, and they are the worse for saying it.

I first saw this sentiment expressed in my Twitter feed by Jon Gabriel (@exjon), who tweeted the following:

I was really annoyed with him, but I didn’t respond to those tweets specifically because at the time I had no desire for a Twitter war, especially in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.

Of course, someone far more famous (sorry, Jon) said something similar, so I can just bash him instead:

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (R) weighed in on the massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. on Friday, saying the crime was no surprise because we have “systematically removed God” from public schools.

“We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools,” Huckabee said on Fox News. “Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”

This line of reasoning isn’t new for Huckabee.

Speaking about a mass shooting in Aurora, Colo. over the summer, the former GOP presidential candidate claimed that such violent episodes were a function of a nation suffering from the removal of religion from the public sphere.

“We don’t have a crime problem, a gun problem or even a violence problem. What we have is a sin problem,” Huckabee said on Fox News. “And since we’ve ordered God out of our schools, and communities, the military and public conversations, you know we really shouldn’t act so surprised … when all hell breaks loose.”

Riiiiiiiiiiiight. Let me go through three major points to show how BS this all is.

The first thing I want to say so I can get it out of the way is that these guys, both conservatives (or, in Jon’s case, maybe a conservative libertarian), sound awfully like liberals. I mean, it is always the liberals pushing for gun control, and the conservatives rebut with, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” They are right to put the blame on the perpetrator and not any tool or inanimate item, but aren’t these guys committing the same fallacy that liberals are here? Instead of putting the blame on the shooter, they’re attempting to reroute that blame onto something else–in this case, religion, society, and specifically atheism. Man, why aren’t you guys in the Democratic Party?

With that out of the way, it’s time to move to a much more constructive and solid argument: data.

The first piece of evidence in this one-two punch is the violent crime rate, which is at it’s lowest in the past 40 years:

The number of violent crimes in the United States dropped significantly last year, to what appeared to be the lowest rate in nearly 40 years, a development that was considered puzzling partly because it ran counter to the prevailing expectation that crime would increase during a recession.

In all regions, the country appears to be safer. The odds of being murdered or robbed are now less than half of what they were in the early 1990s, when violent crime peaked in the United States. Small towns, especially, are seeing far fewer murders: In cities with populations under 10,000, the number plunged by more than 25 percent last year.

This datapoint is not in dispute. Violent crimes rate, while perhaps up in some urban localities, are down across the board quite dramatically.

Concurrently, there has been a rise in disbelief in America:

Unbelief is on the uptick. People who check “None” for their religious affiliation are now nearly one in five Americans (19%), the highest ever documented, according to the Pew Center for the People and the Press.

The rapid rise of Nones — including atheists, agnostics and those who say they believe “nothing in particular” — defies the usually glacial rate of change in spiritual identity.

Barry Kosmin, co-author of three American Religious Identification Surveys, theorizes why None has become the “default category.” He says, “Young people are resistant to the authority of institutional religion, older people are turned off by the politicization of religion, and people are simply less into theology than ever before.”

Kosmin’s surveys were the first to brand the Nones in 1990 when they were 6% of U.S. adults. By 2008 survey, Nones were up to 15%. By 2010, another survey, the bi-annual General Social Survey, bumped the number to 18%.

Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church, the nation’s largest religious denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, Methodists and Lutherans, all show membership flat or inching downward, according to the 2012 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches.

The 19% count is based on aggregated surveys of 19,377 people conducted by the Pew Research Center throughout 2011.

If we take these two datapoints together–a dramatic decline in violent crime, and a similarly dramatic rise in nonreligious Americans–and then use Gabriel’s and Huckabee’s logic, what do we get?

“Jesus, atheism and nonbelief have surely led to a decrease in crime! We should all become atheists to stop all murders!”

Of course, the above statement is completely untrue and nonsensical–but then, so are Gabriel’s and Huckabee’s comments. The fact is, religion–or the lack thereof–had nothing to do with the tragedy in Newtown, and to try and pin it to that is a sign of sheer stupidity.

What I think they’re really trying to say is that there is a dearth of moral teaching going on in our schools and society, but then this brings me to my third major point: is the Bible really such a good source of morality? Look, I don’t want to start a theological war here, but if we’re going to talk about morality, let’s look at the text that is the core of Christianity and from which Christians wish to use to teach young people morals.

I mean….it’s pretty freaking violent. You have Abraham who comes this close to killing his son. You get two cities nuked with Sodom and Gomorrah. You have the Israelites murder everyone in pre-Israel Canaan, and do it gleefully. And then there’s the smut; I mean, for crying out loud, you have sons sodomizing their fathers and Lot’s daughters sleeping with him. I’m not sure that would be something I want to teach to my kids.

Maybe it’s better we don’t have that stuff in schools.

There are also numerous examples of Christian-based violence in the modern world. Take some of these:

Christianity is not innocent, so to blame this tragedy on a lack of it doesn’t make any sense at all to me.

The point of this all is that religion and nonreligion are completely irrelevant to why this shooter went into a school and shot a bunch of children. While Christianity is itself a violent religion in many aspects (Crusades, anyone?) I wouldn’t blame it for what happened either. The blame for Newtown doesn’t lie with organized religion, or the lack thereof. It doesn’t lie with society. It doesn’t lie with the education system. It doesn’t lie with guns. The blame lies solely with the man who did this. It was his choice to do so, and he did.

Both sides are trying to pin the blame on something nebulous and distant. Stop it. The blame is with the shooter. Saying anything else is nonsensical and morally wrong.

Questions on CT School Shooting

At least 26 dead in shooting at Connecticut elementary school | Fox News.

DEVELOPING: Authorities say at least 26 people, including 18 children, were killed Friday when a gunman opened fire inside a Connecticut elementary school.

A law enforcement official said the shooter, who is dead, is believed to be a father of one of the students at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

An official with knowledge of the situation told the Associated Press that the man apparently had two guns.

Earlier reports of a second gunman are unconfirmed. The Connecticut Post reports that police are also questioning a handcuffed man in connection with the shooting. Witnesses told the newspaper he was led out of the woods by officers.

I’m not going to talk about gun control. I’m not going to lay down any of those challenges. Although there is a part of me that thinks such bans imposed by others (EDIT: I’m referring here to those “bans” on talking about gun control or political issues immediately after a tragedy has happened, not gun bans themselves), in the name of sacredness or whatever, are silly, I’m not going to do that. I can’t be arsed.

Just two quick thoughts on this tragedy:

  1. Until and unless we learn to excise force from human vocabulary, until we get to the point where all of humanity believes that using force is anathema and repulsive, these acts will continue. Ultimately, we need to do more than just promote free markets or liberty or whatever. We need to get people to just stop using force, period. For the most part, as Stephen Pinkner has pointed out in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature, we’ve done that. Violence is at an all-time low. But unfortunately, we have not completed that journey. So I must ask: when the hell are we going to get there?
  2. I’m noticing calls from all over the Twittersphere calling on people to pray for the families in Connecticut. As an atheist, I don’t pray. I don’t even meditate. I’m curious what other atheists would do in this instance–would they say “Our thoughts are with the families”? I don’t know. I’d like to find out.

And for now, let us come together and denounce this as the tragedy it is. Hopefully my questions will be answered at some point.

EDIT: Actually, I have one more question that you would think I should have grasped earlier, because it is so obvious:

  1. Who the hell shoots kids? As much as I detest and abhor violence, I can see the case for shooting an adult from time to time, in certain circumstances. But a child? I just don’t get that. I don’t get how you could shoot a kid. The only thing that comes to me is what I’ve known all along: people are irrational fuckwits. People are not rational. End of story. But that isn’t really adequate. So I must keep asking: who the hell shoots kids?

Scary polls on demonic possession

Poll: Nearly six in ten voters believe in demonic possession | The Daily Caller.

From my friend Mike Bastasch, who works at the Daily Caller News Foundation:

The “Exorcist” may have moved public opinion more than previously thought. Nearly six in ten registered voters believe it’s possible for people to become possessed by demons, according to a new poll by Public Policy Polling.

Fifty-seven percent of voters believe possession is possible. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to believe in demonic possession by a 68 percent to 49 percent margin. Furthermore, women are more likely than men to believe possession is possible by a 59 percent to 56 percent margin.

The most interesting part, though, is this:

Republicans by a 39 percent to 35 percent margin. And women are more likely than men are to believe in ghosts by a 39 percent to 35 percent margin.

Democrats are also more likely than Republicans to say that they have seen a ghost by a 31 percent to 22 percent margin. However, only 26 percent of voters at large say they have seen a ghost.

And they say Republicans are unscientific.

Second most interesting:

Despite, widespread fear of ghosts and demons, they don’t actually rank as the scariest monster. That dubious honor goes to zombies with 29 percent of voters saying they are the scariest, and coming in a distant second were vampires with 15 percent saying they are the scariest monsters. However, the category “something else” did actually beat out vampires suggesting voters have something much spookier in mind than lame Twilight vampires.

And Mike scores points for bashing Twilight.

To be fair, even though I’m an atheist, I’m not what they would call a “philosophical naturalist,” who totally rules out ghosts and such like that. I am inclined to think that these things don’t actually exist in real life…but I have never experienced such a thing, and I like to keep my mind open, particularly on ghosts. I mean, they could be artifacts from trans-dimensional bleedthrough, and only some people are sensitive enough to notice.

I don’t know, though, but when you consider that 41% of Americans think Jesus will return by 2050, it’s not all that surprising to see such high numbers.