Responding to Christian moderates at Think Christian about the gays and morality [re-edited]

May 13, 2012

[Writer’s note:  As of May 17, 2012, this piece has been re-edited. The main reason is that due to the great length of my comment on Think Christian, they politely asked me to condense it down to 250 words or less and graciously agreed to link to this longer-form article on their Facebook page to create a larger discussion. So I’ve modified the second half of this piece featuring the comment and moved some of the material as to distinguish my comment from my additional points that didn’t make it into that 250-word cut. But also, rereading this piece, I wasn’t proud of how I phrased a few things, so I also modified the earlier section. My main points, however, have not been changed. With that, I’d like to welcome any readers who have been referred here by Think Christian as well as thank Think Christian for facilitating this sharing of ideas]

My love of the podcast Filmspotting recently led me to discover that the new co-host on the podcast also contributes to a website called Think Christian, a site run by Christian moderates. Think Christian is a Christianity I can kinda get behind. They are quite different from the ultra-Right-Wing fundamentalists and evangelicals I typically encounter from those who wear their Christianity on their sleeves. In my opinion (though I haven’t followed the site for long and they might disagree), Think Christian seems to wisely ignore much of the actual content of the Bible and form their own progressive moral viewpoints.  Though, while I rather like these guys, my one main complaint is I feel they somewhat misguidedly try to attribute their progressive humanist values to Christianity.

Politically, I think we share many of the same values. Again, they’re infinitely better than evangelicals and they’re living in the right century. But while I find this mutation of Christianity useful to progressive causes in the short-term, I think it becomes problematic to reinforce a system that needs to first re-brand any particular civil or human right as a “Christian value” before defending it, and doing so only on the grounds that its considered god’s will to do so rather than as a good on its own, independent of the opinions of any alleged higher power.

A perfect recent example of this was Barack Obama’s announcement that he personally supports same-sex marriage. Obama didn’t defend marriage equality as a civil rights issue. Instead, he dressed it up in Christian language, declaring it merely his personal feelings on the matter based on his interpretation of Christianity that places fairness and The Golden Rule above the actual text of the Bible. Despite the Bible denouncing gay sex repeatedly, Obama actually defended gay marriage on Christian grounds. And when the Bible was used to defend slavery, many abolitionists pulled the same trick of ignoring the Bible’s unmistakably pro-slavery content and presenting it as being somehow Christian to oppose slavery, defying what their god allegedly actually said in favor of their own human sense of righteousness.  Martin Luther King invoked alleged Christian values when making his case for civil rights as well.

In my opinion, re-branding  secular humanist values as somehow Christian when they categorically oppose what is actually written in scripture is just not the right or honest way to go about positive social change in the world. Far better is just accepting that the Bible and Christianity are largely archaic mythologies held originally by mostly barbarians from a barbaric age with a few decent ideas sprinkled in, while fighting to end social wrongs simply on the grounds that they are social wrongs and cause unnecessary human suffering. Isn’t that enough of a reason? Why must we add “my god also said it’s wrong” to the list before it becomes a worthwhile cause?

Now since I constantly get asked by religious individuals to explain how one can even objectively and rationally ground morality without the presence of a divine third-party, I just completed a separate, lengthy article ambitiously titled, “The basis of all morality“. I very briefly touch on some of it below, but I get much more in depth on my central thesis in that article.

But anyway, here’s the very interesting piece from Think Christian on the issue of marriage equality and the following is my response:

Ideologues do exploit science, twisting it to rationalize their biases when science can only inform our decisions. But ethics belongs to philosophy, not religion. Religion too is easily manipulated when religions stress tradition, obedience, blind faith, and submission, while reducing morality to the proclamations of a dictator.

You’re right that whether homosexuality is a natural part of the human condition or simply preference is wholly irrelevant to any moral discussion. Homosexuality naturally exists across countless species. Being a particularly social species, our factors for pair bonding are more nuanced, though research finds human same-sex pair bonding largely biological. But it’s irrelevant to ethics because, as you said, one can’t form an ought from an is. If homosexuality (or heterosexuality) were 100% natural, that wouldn’t make it right or wrong and if it were 100% preference, it still wouldn’t.

There’s insufficient evidence of societal or individual harm from homosexuality while we observe benefits such as providing parent-less children an opportunity grow up in a loving bi-parent environment, creating less overall human suffering.

Morality boils down to what’s good or bad for us, society. It’s the trial and error process of figuring out and weighing what’s most advantageous to society with the least suffering to or infringement on the individual. Traffic laws make a perfect microcosm of all morality in that we just do our best as a cooperative society to determine how to keep society and the individuals within thriving and as free of suffering as possible.

Now what didn’t make it into my 250-word comment but I wanted to bring up anyway:

I further agree with you about choices never being fully free. But this “we’re all children of god” and “we’re in the image of god” stuff seems to me to be all just shallow, empty platitudes. I don’t give a fig if a creature were the exact opposite of the image of the Christian god. If rats worshiped a god, it’d look remarkably just like them too. This just seems like rhetorical gibberish to take credit away from philosophy for secular progressive values. While some notable moral philosophers have been religious, it wasn’t their religion that led to their contribution to ethics. And as long as religion roots its moral positions in the uncritical worship of creatures that may or may not even exist, it will never make any significant contribution to ethics. And as for gaining “perfection through Christ,” he can keep it. What an dreadful existence perfection would be!

But the part of your piece where I couldn’t disagree more on is when the authors seem to suggest humans are only valuable because we were “made in God’s image.” They appear to me to be suggesting humans have no value on our own as unique individuals who think and feel and create and discover? Are they suggesting our human value is that we’re just lucky to be monuments to the vanity of a supremely vain and egotistical deity? Humans are valuable in and of themselves regardless of whether or not there is a god or a creator or whatever. We don’t need a deity to give us value. Shakespeare, Tennyson–greater poets than those who wrote the Bible have demonstrated man’s self-worth far more eloquently than I ever could.

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Pat Robertson gives mixed messages

June 28, 2011

I’m confused here. I thought God was supposed to be destroying the world anyway . And isn’t that supposed to be the great happy ending to Robertson’s fairytale belief? Why is he now suggesting it’s a bad thing?


News From Around The Blogosphere 9.24.10

September 25, 2010

1. Bra designed to double as two emergency respiratory devices

Caught in a disaster? You’d better hope you’re wearing the Emergency Bra. Simply unsnap the bright red bra, separate the cups, and slip it over your head — one cup for you, and one for your friend.

Dr. Elena Bodnar won an Ignoble Award for the invention last year, an annual tribute to scientific research that on the surface seems goofy but is often surprisingly practical. And now Bodnar has brought the eBra to the public; purchase one online for just $29.95.

“The goal of any emergency respiratory device is to achieve tight fixation and full coverage. Luckily, the wonderful design of the bra is already in the shape of a face mask and so with the addition of a few design features, the Emergency Bra enhances the efficiency of minimizing contaminated bypass air flow,” explains the eBra website.

What troubles me however is that they claim to be working on a counterpart device for men and I’m not sure I want to put something that’s been sitting on my junk on my face that isn’t a part of the female anatomy.

2. Saint candidate was once temporarily banished from Catholic Church – Mary MacKillop was a 19th century Australian who was being considered for sainthood. But it it seems that in 1871, she was temporarily banished by the Church and thrown out into the street. The reason why was that tried to report priests for–you guessed it–raping children! Everyone by now knows the Catholic Church hates tattletales. So they transferred the pedophile priests to a new diocese (like they always do) and kicked Ms. MacKillop out as punishment for squealing. Some things never change.

3. Texas Board of Education or Ministry of Truth? – The latest Orwellian plot being by the infamous Texas Board of Ed., who largely determine which textbooks are acceptable for use by the rest of the country, is to weed out all those textbooks promoting “pro-Islamic, anti-Christian half-truths and selective disinformation.” Ugh! Fortunately, the Texas Freedom Network has documented the falsehoods in their claims, and is closely monitoring the hearings. Hopefully, they’ll stop them before students are forced to learn that 2+2=5.

4. Six people arrested for burning their own Korans – From 1984 references straight to Fahrenheit 451:

In a joint statement, Northumbria Police and Gateshead Council said: “The kind of behaviour displayed in this video is not representative of our community as a whole.

“Our community is one of mutual respect and we continue to work together with community leaders, residents and people of all faiths and beliefs to maintain good community relations.”

Mutual respect…except when people make demonstrations they don’t like apparently. Regardless of how people might feel about book burning, it’s not a crime. I’ve been forced to defend more assholes this year than probably any other year in my life and I’m getting sick of it. Free Speech is not open to debate. It’s non-negotiable!

5. Canadian university student one-ups Leonardo Da Vinci – Da Vinci once designed a wing-flapping vehicle intended to make man airborne called an omithopter but he never actually built one, let alone flew one.

Todd Reichert, an engineering student at the University of Toronto, made history by sustaining flight in his ornithopter — named Snowbird — for 19.3 seconds and covering 475.72 feet. Snowbird is made from carbon fiber, balsa wood, and foam. The 92.59 pound vehicle maintained an average speed of 15.91 miles per hour.

Suck on that, Da Vinci!

6. 70 Zimbabwe children die within two weeks because of anti-vax religion – The children died of measles. Most the children who died belonged to this particular anti-vaccine sect. This story manages to demonstrate the dangers of possibly the two most destructive ideological forces on the planet, religion and anti-vaxxinationism. Individually, they can be quite destructive but combine the two and you end up with 70 kids dying in two weeks from completely preventable diseases.

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ComicCon vs. the Westboro Baptist Church

July 23, 2010

For some reason the Westboro Baptist Church decided to protest outside ComicCon. I suspect it was in hopes they’d see Summer Glau. But what I suspect they didn’t count on was the geeks fighting back:

There’s another video of what went down here.

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Lady Gaga vs. the Westboro Baptist Church

July 19, 2010
Lady GaGa concert
Image via Wikipedia

This isn’t the first time that the Westboro Baptist Church protested Lady Gaga but during their most recent picket outside one of her concerts with signs reading, “God Hates Lady Gaga,” the musician launched her own preemptive attack. Hearing about the intended protest in advance,  she posted a response on her website:

“At the risk of drawing attention to a hateful organization, I would like to make my little monster fans aware of a protest being held outside the Monsterball in St. Louis tonight,” Gaga wrote. “Although we have had protesters before, as well as fundamentalists at the show, this group of protesters are hate criminals and preach using lewd and violent language and imagery that I wish I could protect you all from.”

Calling the WBC “violent and dangerous” she warned fans not to engage them in conversation.
Ironically, “god” demonstrated his love for Lady Gaga by creating bad weather, which led to a poor turn out at the protest despite the WBCer’s claims that they believe they have immortal souls and don’t subscribe to scientific materialism.

Lady Gaga’s triumphant post-concert tweet read:

“Love and hate met in St. Louis. And love outnumbered the hate, in poetic thousands. Hate left. But love stayed. + Together, we sang.”

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This Week In God 7.16.10

July 17, 2010

1. Vatican equates ordaining women with raping children – Well I guess they’d know better than anyone. Still, I’m inclined to agree with PZ Myers, who in the above link, points out that this is a duel insult in that it manages to simultaneously downplay the seriousness of child rape and insult women at the same time. Seriously, who is running their PR Dept? Mel Gibson?

2. Vatican’s New Rules on sex abuse – No, they don’t say anything about reporting clergy rapists to the proper authorities. If they did that, who’d be left to run the Church?

Not like dusting crops

3. Answers in Genesis discover secret to faster than light travel…or not – Listen, if Scotty can’t violate the laws of physics, what would make AiG think they could:

Moreover, I have found both Scriptural and scientific support for this solution. This has led to the development of a new cosmological model which makes testable predictions. I have nearly finished writing a technical paper on this topic, which will shortly be sent to various experts for qualified peer-review. If it passes peer-review, we will publish the paper in the Answers Research Journal. This is our free, online journal. So be watching for it. If the paper gains the support of experts in the field, I may later write a non-technical article that summarizes the model.

Stop, stop. You lost me at Answers Research Journal.

4. Glenn Beck credits the Jews for saving all humanity– Well actually Count Beckula blamed them for Jesus’ death. But when you think about it:

A. Didn’t Jesus commit suicide?

B. Isn’t the central doctrine of Christianity that Jesus dying was the greatest news in history and the means on which he saved humanity? So wouldn’t that make killing Jesus be a good thing?

5. The Greatest Hoax On Earth? Refuting Dawkins on Evolution – Yup, there’s another book to add to the great big pile of inevitably unsuccessful and horribly unoriginally titled literature by Christians who have nothing new or original to say but try to  piggy-back on the success of far more successful rationalist literature like “The Dawkins Delusion?” or “The Devil’s Delusion”, “God Is No Delusion”, or “Letter To A Christian Nation: Counterpoint.” This is also the second of these books in which the publishers felt they required a Jeopardy title that’s in the form of a question. One wonders though if creationists are aware of the irony of their constantly selecting variations on the titles of successful rational books because it’s advantageous to piggy-back on traits that have already proven successful.

6. Creationists reframe lack of accreditation – The Institute for Creation Research was denied the freedom to issue degrees by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. But nobody seems to have told whoever writes their website, which claims they offer a Master of Christian Education (M.C.Ed.) degree. According to their FAQ page:

11. Is ICR’s School of Biblical Apologetics program accredited?

Due to the nature of ICR’s School of Biblical Apologetics—a predominantly religious education school—it is exempt from licensing by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Likewise, ICR’s School of Biblical Apologetics is legally exempt from being required to be accredited by any secular or ecumenical or other type of accrediting association.

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News From Around The Blogosphere 7.13.10

July 14, 2010

1. Church sued because world didn’t end – Two members of Australia’s Agape Ministries donated $1.4 million under the belief that doomsday was coming. But when the doomsday came and went without incident, they demanded their money back since it their generous gift was predicated on the church’s lies of impending doom.

2. Muslim Cleric calls for death to ‘Everybody Draw Mohammed Day’ cartoonist – Although we must take Anwar al-Awlaki‘s threat seriously, I suspect nothing will happen to Molly Norris, the subject of his outrage. Even he’s got to realize that the golden age of the West folding under the threats of Islamofascism are over. That was the indeed the whole point of Everybody Draw Mohammed Day in the first place. They can’t get all of us and there’s safety in numbers. Further, like a quicksand, every recent attempt by Muslim fundamentalists to quash “blasphemy” has only causes them to sink even faster. These scare tactics no longer work and only end up blowing up in their own faces (no pun intended, Muslim suicide bombers) in the Internet Age.

3. 2012 survivalist nut appears on Wife Swap -Yup, it’s another doomsday-related news story:

Dawn, a staunch 2012 believer, makes her adopted clan — a family whose daughter is a golf prodigy — train for the end of the world. “Apocalypse training” apparently means wearing matching camo shirts and making your dog don a flotation vest. Amazing television.

You can see a clip of this in the link above.

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