New Atheists, Islamophobia, and the need for better public intellectuals

December 28, 2015

Author’s Note: Sooooo…hi. It’s been awhile. It seems I haven’t posted anything on this site for a year and a half. And even that piece was only one of three pieces I wrote here in all of 2014. But while I’ve gotten away from regularly blogging, I do, now and again, find the need to get some things off my chest, and this is as good a place as any. So, with that said, let’s move forward…

Regressive Left“New Atheists” have a serious Islamophobia denial problem. Contrary to how prominent New Atheist figures describe it, Islamophobia is not about merely objecting to religious criticism; rather, it’s about acknowledging persecution. Some innocent people do in fact get marginalized and persecuted for no other reason than being perceived as Muslim, a scary “other.” And I only use the words “perceived as” because there are many cases where Sikhs also face attacks because they are mis-identified as Muslims. This is a problem that magnified for a long time after 9/11 and has once again flared up in the wake of the tragic attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. There are plenty of undeniable examples of violence and persecution driven by Islamophobia (See: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here). That’s just a small sample.

Then of course there’s the case of Ahmed Mohamed, dubbed by various news outlets as “clock kid.” This was the case of the 14-year-old boy who was detained by police while at his Texas high school after bringing an electric clock he assembled to school to show his science teachers. It was confused for a bomb despite the device having no explosive material. This might have made for an hilarious sitcom misunderstanding if the arrested party was a white, Christian kid named Billy or Tommy. But of course this sort of confusion would never happen to a  white, Christian kid named Billy or Tommy. And we all know that. Well, perhaps everyone except famous atheist Richard Dawkins, who proceeded to cyberbully Ahmed Mohamed and encourage his Twitter followers to do the same for months.

Dawkins insisted the authorities were in the right to detain the child for hours for bringing a clock with no explosive material of any kind to school. Dawkins also claims the clock in question was just bought in a store, taken apart and re-assembled, and so therefore Mohamed should be criticized for cheating. Dawkins’ tweets about Mohamed grew increasingly more unhinged after news that the Mohamed family were suing the school for millions of dollars over the incident. Insisting that his primary issue was Mohamed’s cheating by falsely claiming to have built the clock — an accusation that I believe still remains unsubstantiated — Dawkins says the real issue at hand was the serious problem of children using their childhood as an excuse to avoid criticism. And, as his totally random example of why children DO deserve criticism, Dawkins posted an image of ISIS child soldiers. Of all the examples one might think to use, that seemed like a very, very odd choice. Not least of all because Dawkins has met accusations of Islamophobia in the past or that nobody in their right might believes these ISIS child soldiers had any real choice given the circumstances they were born and raised in, or the fact that Richard Dawkins himself has spent much of the last decade arguing the opposite point, that indoctrinating young children into religion is “child abuse.”

But to be fair to Dawkins, today he posted the following tweet:

dawkins

The article he linked to, about a case of Islamophobic violence, is here. One reply to the tweet read: “not saying you’re responsible, but hate speech against groups of people – like you & others engage in – fuels these flames.”

Now I started this piece by saying New Atheists had an “Islamophobia denial” problem as opposed to saying they’re Islamophobic. In Dawkins’ case, this tweet at least shows he can see bigotry and unfairness against people for simply being Muslim when there’s absolutely no ambiguity at all (much like how many people who did not condemn the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson did comdemn the shooting of Eric Garner in New York). But Dawkins quite often attacks and mocks the notion of Islamophobia, a term he says is used to silence legitimate criticism of “bad ideas.” And he’s not alone.

That brings me to Sam Harris, another major figure of the so-called “New Atheist” Movement that sprung up around 2006. I think a strong case can be made for Harris promoting Islamophobia and being Islamophobic himself. His public policy prescriptions certainly make a great case for that. Those articles have been written. But not enough is said about Sam Harris also being an Islamophobia denialist, even apologist. A recent Salon article highlighted this very point:

All of this can be excused, but only up to a point. What is inexcusable, and what should preclude Sam Harris from participating in any more projects on Islamic Reformation, is his complete lack of awareness about Muslims as they actually live today. He censures American Muslims for paying more attention to the coldblooded massacre of three American Muslims at the University of North Carolina than to the crimes of ISIS — proximity to Raleigh over Raqqa may explain why — before going on to say that hate crimes against American Muslims are “tiny in number, often property-related, and still dwarfed five-fold by similar offenses against Jews.” Reread that sentence and take in the moral callousness of this thinker.

The FBI says there are now 100 to 150 anti-Muslim hate crimes committed in the United States every year, a five-fold increase from pre-9/11 levels, and that’s before the San Bernardino attacks and Donald Trump’s fascistic fear-mongering. Furthermore, the vandalism and destruction of property is not something that should be taken lightly. Throughout American history, racially and religiously motivated violence desecrated the physical spaces minorities inhabited, threatening them everywhere, at all times, even in their places of worship. Anti-Semitism is a vile and contemptible form of group-hatred, but violence done against one minority should never be downplayed because there is greater violence against another minority. Harris has the supreme privilege — a rich, white man’s privilege, I should add — of remaining aloof and ignorant about these crimes, and it makes one wonder if he knows any Muslims beyond Maajid Nawaz and the two others he always cites, or if he has ever set foot in a Muslim-majority country and talked to more than a handful of Muslims.

Not surprisingly, Harris openly mocked this piece on Twitter as part of what he sees as Salon’s bias against him. I say “not surprisingly” because I can’t recall a single instance of Sam Harris ever publicly acknowledging a single critic of his so much as properly understanding him and honestly representing his positions. It’s only slight hyperbole to say that, at this point, Harris is almost more famous for his constant accusations that his critics are misunderstanding him or deliberately misrepresenting him than for any of the actual content he produces. Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks did a brilliant job of showing how Harris pulls this off by using doublespeak to effectively tow the line between two opposing positions. In this way, when you cite particularly distressing quotes like, “the people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists,” (source) Harris or his obsessively devoted fans will insist you’re taking him out of context and then proceed to cherry-pick other statements he’s made that express anti-fascist sentiments. Or, when Harris says, “Given a choice between Noam Chomsky and Ben Carson, in terms of the totality of their understanding of what’s happening now in the world, I’d vote for Ben Carson every time,” he provides so many hedges that he’s essentially disowned the entire quote without ever admitting he’s backed down or was only being hyperbolic. For the record, the person Harris says has a greater understanding of geopolitics than Noam Chomsky can’t name a single U.S. ally in the Middle East. Of course this doesn’t matter because Harris also said, “Ben Carson is a dangerously deluded religious imbecile… The fact that he is a candidate for president is a scandal. But at the very least he can be counted on to sort of get this one right. He understands that jihadists are the enemy.” So the quotes cancel each other out entirely and therefore, it’s like he said nothing at all. Except that, to me anyway, it still kinda seems like he’s saying that, DESPITE Carson’s idiocy, Harris agrees with Carson’s crazy positions on Middle East policy. Which is problematic. To say the least.

Ironically, despite Harris’ constant outrage of supposedly being misrepresented himself, he has no qualms about promoting blatant, cartoonish caricatures himself in the form of what he calls “the regressive left.” He frequently uses this term to dismiss any who dare add any nuance to the discussion of Jihadi terrorism beyond Harris’ simplistic, caveman-like Muslim=bad rhetoric. There is a huge distinction between acknowledging the fact that U.S. foreign policy has negatively impacted many civilians in the Middle East, and that that is one factor in the disenfranchisement that leads some to join terror groups and Harris’ straw man of liberals excusing Islam entirely and just blaming the victims for the terrorism that comes to our shores. And while I agree with Harris that Western nations should be outraged at even the heinous human rights violations done by U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia in the name of Islam, it’s important to recognize the desired social changes must happen gradually and that our influence is contingent on our not rocking the boat too much with leaders in Muslim nations. First of all, it’s important to recognize that Jihadi terrorists do not represent all Muslims by a long-shot; rather, Muslims remain the greatest victims of organizations like ISIS or Boko Haram. Next, the geopolitical reality is that the U.S. can’t defeat groups like ISIS alone without the local Islamic nations doing much of the work.  Alienating those nations will drive more disenfranchised to hate the United States and join groups like ISIS. It will also weaken the kind of Western influence that affect the kinds of social reforms we want to see in those regions. It’s all very complicated, and there is no  perfect solution to every problem we see in the Middle East,  the rest of the Islamic world, and religion in general.

Look. I used to really admire both Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. In fact, I’m almost positive I could go through the archives of this very blog and find pieces championing both. But the world’s changed. Or maybe I’ve changed. Or both. I don’t know. But I do know that I used to oppose the term “Islamophobia” like they constantly do, insisting it’s just a term that’s thrown out to deflect legitimate criticism of the bad ideas within the Islamic religion, which is just as full of bad ideas as all the other religions. And I used to hate the term “New Atheists.” Now, I just see it as a convenient way to distinguish skeptical, reason-based atheism from those Islamophobic or Islamophobia denialist New Atheists who just insist everything they’re doing is based on reason when it isn’t, much like the Klingons on Star Trek falsely insist everything they do is honorable.

The bottom line is religious beliefs should be criticized, but reason-driven atheists should not provide cover for such irrational, bigoted behavior against Muslim people. As the late public intellectual and New Atheist author Christopher Hitchens once said, “Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity.” I share the sentiment expressed by Jeff Sparrow over at The Guardian that atheism can be reclaimed from these increasingly more toxic voices, that it can be saved. But if we atheists are to reclaim the name, we’re going to have to break from the cult of personality around figures we once looked up to and find new, better representatives for rationality, while also being sure not to make the same mistake of creating more cults of personality.


What’s so bad about labels?

July 18, 2014

organic-gmo1Over the last several years, the issue I’ve probably been most heavily involved in — and certainly most heavily associated with in skeptics circles — has been dispelling anti-vaccine propaganda. And a year ago, I wasn’t very involved in the debate over Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs). And it wasn’t a subject I knew an awful lot about. But over the past year, as it became more and more clear that the media and most people of any consequence have stopped taking the anti-vaccine movement seriously, I’ve sort of shifted my focus onto advocating for GMO’s. This decision was largely fueled by the bombardment on my Facebook feed of anti-GMO posts by my fellow liberal Facebook friends.

Now recently, someone asked me why I object to laws imposing labels on GMO products, and it occurs to me that the answer to that question is very nuanced.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with labeling GMOs in theory, but the primary objection to them is that they’re just a Trojan horse for ideologues who will use them to do the opposite of their stated purpose for the labels, that they’ll be exploited to misinform the public about their food rather than educate them. We already see constant propaganda about how because some European countries have banned GMO products, that that’s in and of itself evidence they’re dangerous when it’s much more a product of scientifically ignorant or pandering politicians. There’s every reason to believe that once labels are imposed on GMO products (for no good reason because they’re as safe as their non-GMO counterparts), that anti-GMO activists will insist that the existence of labels is an admission by the U.S. government that GMOs are less safe. This is the Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire Fallacy.

And we’ve seen this logical fallacy used before by anti-vaccine activists who insist that the removal of Thimerosal, the ethylmercury-based anti-fungal and anti-septic agent once contained in some flu vaccines, fifteen years ago is evidence the substance is inherently harmful. However, the reality is the chain of cause and effect was the reverse. Thimerosal was actually removed because of that very political pressure by uninformed citizens groups insistent that it was harmful. Now, anti-vaccine fanatics exploit their own success in getting public officials to change policy to then claim we wouldn’t have removed it if it was truly safe. A very devious tactic, and sadly, often very effective.

Now if the GMO issue was all just a matter of personal preference, it wouldn’t be such a serious concern among scientists. But the problem is that by 2050, the world population is projected to reach 9 billion people, and we’ll need to increase food production by 70% to feed that many people. GMOs are not only one of the most important means of making that happen, but they’re also better for the environment and can save lives today in communities that lack certain forms of nutrition. For instance, a genetically modified banana, which has the potential to dramatically reduce infant mortality and blindness in children across Africa, is undergoing its first human trials. In those regions, the local bananas don’t contain enough Vitamin A, so hundreds are dying from Vitamin A deficiencies. This particular GM banana contains much higher quantities of Vitamin A, and will literally save lives. But those who are biased against transgenic foods refuse to accept these live-saving benefits and will inevitably use these labels as a pretext for pushing their ideology in a similar way to how creationists use the pretext of “academic freedom” to push their ideology in schools.

 


Libertarianism and Rent Control

June 24, 2014

ImageI’ve long ago abandoned the notion that Libertarianism is anything other than a deeply flawed ego-driven ideology, contrary to its adherents’ insistence of its basis in pure rationality. But as much as I try to avoid it, sometimes I get sucked into an online debate on social media and find myself wanting to preserve some of the debate.

Today, a libertarian friend mine posted the following on their Facebook wall:

Obnoxious-sounding-but-honest question of the day:

Why do we push for low-income housing in NYC (rent control, stabilization, etc)? It seems a strangely-specific attempt at wealth redistribution that can’t possibly be allocated fairly. What’s wrong with unrestrained real estate prices that mean the ‘good’ neighborhoods end up being exclusively rich? Why do we treat that luxury as something everyone should get…why not insist cars are sold at a loss to low income drivers (for example)? The end result would be that poorer people would have to find housing further out, and their commutes would be longer. But that’s already the case, for the most part, and is a generally-accepted aspect of wealth disparity.

Of course one would likely argue that humanity is improved by a shrinking of said wealth disparity, but this doesn’t change it, it just masks it for a lucky tiny percentage of the population. Doesn’t it?

I assume there’s a good answer for this, considering how widespread the acceptance of the practice.

This post was met with numerous responses including this thoughtful one from someone else:

There’s also the downside of gentrification as produced by market forces.

As rents in crease the poorer members of the neighbourhood have to move out and further away from the jobs they have, resulting in a higher and higher share of their income going to commute & transportation costs, forcing more and more of even those with good budgeting skills to live month-to-month with no savings. While the metro system of NYC and associated bus routes help mitigate that, it does not reduce it completely. Further, think of the shitty public transit in most places and how that affects this problem. Because when those people have to move out of their neighbourhood the only options open to them are low-rent, residential-only neighbourhoods with no jobs in them and further away from any jobs open to them. Neighbourhoods with jobs means those neighbourhoods have services which are convenient which means they cost more to rent or buy in. Vicious cycle.

Also, it’s not about everybody being able to have luxury, it’s about what we are willing to accept as the minimum decent standard of living for everybody. We’re not talking about everybody being able to have the latest octo-core 64gigs of ram gamer’s delight PC and vacationing in southern France every year, but rather a $300 laptop less than 5 years old and a week renting a cottage with friends upstate every couple of years. 

Rent control and affordable housing are two of the tools that can be used to at least slow down gentrification and at least help with giving the less well-off a chance at that minimum decent standard of living.

My libertarian friend responded:

OK, I’ve gotten a pretty good feeling for the benefits of artificially manipulating housing costs for the purported benefit of community and social cohesion (and stability, for the revolution-minded).

Now I’d like to hear from the other side. Where my libertarians at? Tell me why the benefits aren’t as good as we think, or why even if the benefits are real the cost is too high, or something.

As I stand now I’m pretty convinced the upside is real and good. I’m less convinced it’s actually feasible and even less convinced we’re doing it well. Perhaps those are really the only objections and this is an optimization problem. But I’d be interested in hearing out those who think it’s a fundamental bad, too.

A bunch of people posted some great arguments, and I chimed in with this:

Also leads to this, allegedly perfectly good restaurants who would certainly thrive if it was merely a matter of market forces but are going out of business anyway simply because of obscenely high rent:http://www.nytimes.com/…/union-square-cafe-joins-other…

After it was suggested high rent was a market force, I made this correction:

Correction: I meant in terms of competition exclusively. One business could prove superior to its competition and still lose for reasons almost completely out of its control.

To which my friend responded:

I am completely unmoved by the plight of Union Square Cafe. They could double their prices to afford to stay, but presumably they would lose customers to cheaper places. So…they’re in a neighborhood where rich people want to eat cheaply, and they must close. That’s the way businesses work. I fail to see a problem here.

My response was:

It’s not about one restaurant but the entire neighborhood. If none of the businesses can afford to supply the demand, the customers will spend their money elsewhere, which is detrimental to the entire neighborhood, not just one single business. Now I personally haven’t encountered many libertarians who’d argue something like “then screw the whole neighborhood.” Rather, I’d expect libertarianism to be able to present some kind of solution that would save a neighborhood from losing all its business other than the Kobayoshi Mari scenario of raise your prices and kiss your customers goodbye.

To which he responded:

That doesn’t make sense. If it’s detrimental to the whole neighborhood, the property values fall, and the restaurants can afford to operate once again. It’s exactly how markets are supposed to work. Why does that equilibrium fail to establish here? Do we know it doesn’t? Is it possible this is just a transitional period where we’re hearing from a segment of the population that feels adversely affected by an equalizing market?

And this led me to make this broader point about Libertarianism as a whole:

It seems to underscore the dehumanizing foundation of libertarian argument where people are merely abstractions or data points. What you’re describing can only be viewed as equilibrium if you’re looking at it from afar over a long enough timeline of decades or centuries. Up close, on the month-to-month or year-to-year scale, it’s perpetual instability as a neighborhood gradually moves from one socioeconomic extreme to another and back again over and over again as many thousands of people suffer. I fail to see the human benefit of maintaining a state of constant instability over trying to employ sensible regulations. Given the human cost of instability, if rent control prevents erratic fluctuations in the socioeconomic status of a neighborhood and the trade-off is a mild imposition on property-owners that sill allows them to prosper, there seems to be value in it that can’t just be written off by libertarianism as irrational sentimentality. Of course it always depends on the size of the imposition versus the size of the overall benefit to the community but pretty much all human interaction is compromise or negotiation in one form or another. Inevitably, there will be cases that err on one side of that equation or the other, but the alternative seems like the naturalistic fallacy to me. If everyone else has to suffer so that a few people aren’t impositioned, then what good is it? Rawl’s Veil of Ignorance seems like a better starting foundation for a society than Eric Cartman’s “Whateva, I do what I want” model.

There were some other people that made lengthy and very interesting points on both sides of the rent control issue, but I didn’t want to copy even more extensive quotes than what I have already without proper attribution. And I don’t feel right broadcasting who is saying what on social media. I think it’s reasonable to try to preserve some privacy on Facebook. Anyway, I thought it was an interesting topic and I hope this adds to the discussion. 


How I answered MoveOn.org’s request to know why I unsubscribed to their email newsletters

June 22, 2014

ImageForgive me, father, for I have sinned. It’s been about a year since my last post. In that time, I’ve become quite active in trying to dispel some of the many myths surrounding the topic of Genetically Modified Organizations (GMO’s), and it’s in the spirit of that new focus that I have decided to unsubscribe from MoveOn.org’s email newsletters after they introduced a dishonest initiative to undermine GMO’s.

The petition linked to above makes several factually incorrect statements and also uses manipulative language. For instance, note the use of the word “pervasive” when describing GMO’s. “Pervasive” has obvious negative connotations, negative connotations not at all justified by the evidence. Then the petition claims the GMO’s are “largely untested, possibly harmful for humans to eat.” Every GMO currently on the market has been safety tested. Granted, since not all GMO’s are created equal, some are perhaps better tested than others, but the vague statement that GMO’s in general are “largely untested” pretty much falls into the “pants on fire” category. And of course “possibly harmful” is a nice bit of legalese that really doesn’t say anything. Anything within reason is possible; one could just as easily claim GMO’s will possibly turn you into a dragon. I’m not saying it will, but I’m just not ruling it out. But of course any reader, particularly one who knows nothing about the science and already trusts MoveOn.org’s judgment, this is sufficient to poison the well and persuade that person that GMO’s are bad. MoveOn’s evidence? They don’t provide any.

Now what’s the real harm in a labeling campaign anyway? Should consumers not be informed what’s in their food? On the surface, it’s of course a reasonable-sounding argument. The problem is there’s already so much propaganda falsely implicating GMO’s for all many of unproven ailments and labels further give people an impression that the label exists to warn them of harm. This is an old tactic. Once the labels are there, the new argument made by anti-GMO ideologues will be, “If GMO’s are so safe, why did the government put warning labels on them?” This is called the Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire Fallacy.

So when asked for a reason why, I responded thusly:

MoveOn’s campaign against GMOs is fundamentally anti-science, every bit as anti-science as Right-Wing campaigns denying the human-effects of climate change and the teaching of evolution.

To quote Pamela Ronald’s excellent recent article in MIT Technology Review:

“If Vermont had honestly assessed genetically engineered crops, the bill would have indicated that there is not a single credible report of dangerous health effects from GMOs and that there is no science-based reason to single out the resulting foods for mandatory labeling. It would have mentioned that the technology has been used safely in food and medicine for 30 years. It would have stated that farmers’ use of GMO crops has reduced by a factor of 10 the amount of insecticides sprayed on corn over the last 15 years, reduced food costs, decreased carbon dioxide emissions, and enhanced biological diversity.” 

Make no mistake. Efforts to add warning labels to GM foods that have shown no indication of harm is every bit as corporate-driven as any efforts by the Koch Brothers or Big Oil, etc. Those most benefiting from it are parties marketing so-called “organic” foods, a product that, contrary to the hype, offers no health or environmental advantage over the alternative. 

MoveOn’s efforts in this arena are not only wrong-headed; they fly in the face of all the available evidence, stifle human progress, increase food costs for everyone, does immense harm to third-world populations, and denies the consensus of virtually all relevant reputable international science organizations, who universally agree that the process of genetic engineering is no more risky to human health than conventional approaches to genetic modification (http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2013/08/27/glp-infographic-international-science-organizations-on-crop-biotechnology-safety/#.U6CqifldWTO).

Some useful links:
ftp://ftp.cordis.europa.eu/pub/fp7/kbbe/docs/a-decade-of-eu-funded-gmo-research_en.pdf
http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2013/10/08/with-2000-global-studies-confirming-safety-gm-foods-among-most-analyzed-subject-in-science/#.UlTteYZOPTo
http://www.biofortified.org/2013/10/20-points-of-broad-scientific-consensus-on-ge-crops/
http://dangeroustalk.net/a-team/GMO

 

Oh, and I also created a petition on MoveOn’s website to MoveOn Executive Director Anna Galland.


Four lessons in brilliant PR from the new Pope

July 29, 2013

If ever you wanted to learn how to be a master at public relations, there’s no better individual to learn from than Pope Francis. This guy is such a good salesman, he could sell mink coats to PETA. 

So far, he’s managed to distract the press from the child sex abuse crisis that dogged Joseph Ratzinger throughout his entire administration. But that’s not all.

He’s also taught us all four simple, yet brilliant, tricks to capture the imaginations of an insanely naive and credulous media to avoid addressing embarrassing realities of the Catholic Church:

1. Get a photo-op where you’re seen washing women’s feet as a symbolic gesture that the press will fawn all over you as a feminist despite your having done nothing to change your church’s insanely misogynistic policies that don’t even allow women to become priests, let alone be considered for the position of pope. 

2. Make big speeches about fighting poverty so the press will fawn all over you for caring about the poor despite the fact that, while being possibly the one person on the planet with the power to single-handedly end global poverty tomorrow, you give less to charity than Mitt Romney.

3. Say atheists can get into heaven despite their evil, despicable nature so the press will fawn all over you for being so open-minded without noticing you’re actually insulting atheists and ignoring the fact that they don’t believe in heaven to begin with.

4. And finally, Pope Francis’ latest PR move:  saying it’s not your place to judge gay people despite their evil, despicable nature so the press will fawn all over you for being so open-minded without noticing you’re a bigoted asshole who’s actually insulting gay people and despite your having done nothing to change your church’s insanely homophobic policies and political views.

How effective was this last tactic? He’s got the press declaring him a friend to gay people just three weeks after condemning gay marriage. Now that takes serious balls. 


On the shaming of Miss USA pageant queens, and ‘The Hunger Games’

June 17, 2013

Have you heard? At the Miss USA  Pageant, both Miss Utah, Marissa Powell, and Miss Alabama, Mary Margaret McCord, gave ignorant or incoherent answers to questions related to current events? Everyone’s talking about it (See: here, herehere, here, here, here, here, etc, etc). And two of those linked pieces come from Joe Coscarelli of New York Magazine, who decided to write short pieces ridiculing each.

Some of these articles, if not the actual video clips (which I’ve decided to not help circulate here directly, though they are embedded on some of the above links), have been circulating like crazy on my Facebook wall. Ha ha! Isn’t it funny how dumb these stupid know-nothings are? I must share their ignorance across the internet at once!

I, however, have a different reaction to this. I feel like picking on a pageant queen is not only a waste of energy but also just playing into the Hunger-Games-like system the establishment has created. It’s not Miss Utah or Miss Alabama”s fault women are systematically underpaid or that the NSA is spying on American citizens without a warrant; it’s the fault of government and corporations. Miss Utah and Miss Alabama are just the latest child sacrifices from Districts whatever seemingly used by those in power to distract us from real enemies like the big banks or our completely ineffectual Congress.

And no, I don’t mean there’s necessarily a deliberate literal conspiracy happening here. But every time the news wastes our time on mind-numbing celebrity sensationalism, that’s less time they’re talking about prosecuting the Wall Street bankers who profited off of destroying the American economy or the blatant unconstitionality of the NSA surveillance practices, or the unequal pay for women in this country. And isn’t it funny how a woman has managed to become the target of scorn in the name of a feminist issue like equal pay for women? Funny how that works out, huh.

Now to be fair, even I’ve fallen into this trap before. Several years ago, I’m pretty sure I wrote an article on this very blog skewering then Miss California, Carrie Prejean (why do I still remember her name? Argh!). And I might have also mocked 2007’s Miss Teen USA Miss South Carolina over her now infamously incoherent answer. So I’m not going to pretend I’m innocent here in this public shaming by–let’s face it–mostly over-educated liberals, of beauty pageant contestants who are asked these sorts of serious political questions for no other reason than to make a shallow, despicable contest over nothing other than which barely legal girl a bunch of random swarmy yahoos happens to think is prettier seem less despicable.

But I guess I realized what my real problem is with this after a Facebook friend suggested, “I think you’re reading too much into having a few cheap laughs at the expense of someone who deserves it.” Watching mostly over-educated liberals shame these girls is one thing. but I don’t think the news media should be using their power and influence to have cheap laughs at a 23-year old girl who merely aspires to win a beauty contest.

The reason this is such a cheap and lazy story for news outlets is it feeds off the audience’s own smug sense of self-satisfaction. Everyone gets to congratulate themselves for knowing more about at least one thing than she does. What an accomplishment! Good comedy makes targets of the powerful. I guess where I disagree with my friend is I just fail to see in what way these girls deserve it.


Media fingers wrong ‘Man of Steel’ character in Jesus analogy

June 15, 2013

Unless you’ve been living on Krypton lately, you’re probably aware that the latest Superman film, “Man of Steel,” has hit theaters. And over the last few days, it seems like every entertainment reporter has jumped on the “Superman is an allegory for Jesus” band wagon while seemingly convinced they’ve uncovered some brand new interpretation to the world’s first superhero (Also see: here and here among others).

Their argument goes something like this. Superman sacrifices himself for humanity at the age of 33. Jesus sacrifices himself for humanity at the age of 33. Superman has god-like powers. Jesus has god-like powers. And there certainly are several other not so subtle visual cues sprinkled throughout the film. So I guess it’s case closed, right? If only these reporters had more hands on which to pat themselves on the back in a way that could properly express the level of their self-satisfaction!

Unfortunately, like a poor marksman, they missed their target. They fingered the wrong Jesus! (Writer’s note: that last sentence was not intended to sound as dirty as it did.). Let’s take a closer look at both these fictional characters and see if they really do have as much in common as I keep hearing.

1. Mission – Superman’s mission in “Man of Steel” (here on out referred to as MOS) is to protect the Earth and the human race from total destruction. According to the Bible, Jesus’ mission is to end the world.

According to Genesis 6, god already tried to exterminate humanity once before with a flood. The Bible clearly explains that The Second Coming of Christ will bring about a final solution commonly referred to as the “End of Days” or “Final Judgment,” where both the still living…and obviously the resurrected dead, will face God’s judgment. Even self-proclaimed Christians will be judged (Matthew 7:21-232 Corinthians 5:10). Those righteous will be granted eternal life while the wicked will…also be granted eternal life, only they’ll be tortured during all that eternity (Matthew 5:29-3025:31-46Mark 9:43-48). So really, since everyone’s getting an eternal life regardless of their behavior, the righteous get nothing…except freedom from senseless torture. Cause god so loved the world…yada, yada, yada. According to the apostle Paul:

We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (NIV, 2 Corinthians 5:6-10)

So part of Jesus’ mission is to make everyone submit to him…you know, kneel before God. But mostly it’s to end the world. Not exactly the same thing Superman’s after.

2. Response to adversity – Though Superman is willing to kill if absolutely necessary to protect humanity, he really kinda doesn’t wanna. In fact, it’s a pretty big deal with him. Not only does Superman avoid killing whenever possible, there are numerous examples in MOS where Superman restrains himself from so much as throwing a single punch even when individuals flagrantly harass him and those around him. Even when harassers taunt him to fight back while pushing him seemingly almost to his breaking point. Superman doesn’t even throw a punch. And it of course would be so easy for him to do so. He wouldn’t even have to ball his fist. A simple flick of his finger could sever a man’s head from his body. And yet, even at his angriest, Superman chooses not to fight back.

Jesus, not so much. According to the Bible, eating shrimp warrants the death penalty (Leviticus 11:10). Lot’s wife is transformed into salt for committing the crime of turning her head (Genesis 19:6). God floods the Earth simply because humans and angels started sleeping together (Genesis 6:1-6). God says disobedient children should be stoned to death (Deut. 21:18-21). God thinks all ten of The Ten Commandments are punishable by death. Hell, god sends down bears to murder 42 kids whose only crime was making fun of a bald man (2 Kings 2:23-24). One would have a hard time thinking up an offense god wouldn’t think warranted death. And then of course the fun doesn’t end with death. God also thinks that all sinners should then be tortured for eternity. Eat shrimp; eternal torture. Own any possessions at all; eternal torture. Hardly very Superman-like, if you ask me.

3. Sacrifice – In MOS, Superman willingly surrenders to his adversary, Zod, knowing full well it could likely lead to his own death. Superman so loved the world that he was willing to sacrifice his one and only life to protect them. If Superman believed in any kind of afterlife, there’s no indication in the film.  This is it for him. Superman literally puts everything on the line. So that we can live and the Earth will be safe. Jesus on the other hand, does not dramatically come out of hiding to turn himself in to his adversaries. He is arrested, tried, convicted, and executed against his will (well, except for his whole being part of the very god that made it all happen in the first place). Then Jesus sacrifices his mortality in order to return to being master of the universe. Talk about your first world problems. Am I right? Hold your horses, Mel Gibson. I know. I know. it was a really painful weekend. Tell that to all the Filipinos who actually willingly go out of their way to be crucified every Easter without the reward of becoming the most powerful god in all the Biblical pantheon at the end. Some sacrifice! Hey Jesus, next time let me take your place. I’ll happily trade my mortality to become a living god for the price of one shitty weekend.

4. Writers’ lack of subtlety – Not much rhymes with Superman. Buperman. Duperman. Blooperman. But you know what rhymes with God? I’ll give you a hint. Like Jesus, he too wants to end the world. Like Jesus, he too believes in killing his adversaries. Like Jesus, he too was tried, convicted, and sentenced to what was expected to be a certain death for the actions he took trying to save his people.

zod


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