Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The end of religion as we know it: Why churches can no longer hide the truth

From Salon:  http://www.salon.com/2015/05/16/the_end_of_religion_as_we_know_it_why_churches_can_no_longer_hide_the_truth_partner/

"Caught in the Pulpit" author Daniel Dennett on closeted atheist clergy and our new age of radical transparency

Saturday, May 16, 2015

If Daniel Dennett is anything, he is a champion of the facts. The prominent philosopher of science is an advocate for hard-nosed empiricism, and as a leading New Atheist he calls for naturalistic explanations of religion. Dennett is also the co-author (along with Linda LaScola) of the recently expanded and updated Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Faith Behind, which documents the stories of preachers and rabbis who themselves came to see…the facts.

 Caught in the Pulpit is a close cousin to The Clergy Project, an outreach effort to “current and former religious professionals who no longer hold supernatural beliefs”—many of whom must closet their newfound skepticism to preserve their careers and communities.
 
For Dennett, closeted atheist clergy are not simply tragic figures, they are harbingers of great things to come. Peppered amongst Caught in the Pulpit’s character vignettes are mini-essays in which Dennett predicts a sea change in religious doctrine and practice. Our digital information age, he argues, is ushering in a “new world of universal transparency” where religious institutions can no longer hide the truth. To survive in an age of transparency, religions will need to come to terms with the facts.

Dennett spoke recently with The Cubit about institutional transparency, the parallels between religious and atheistic fundamentalism, and the future of religion.

You describe non-believing clergy as “canaries in a coal mine.” Why does this group hold such significance for understanding the future of religion?

I think that we are now entering a really disruptive age in the history of human civilization, thanks to the new transparency brought about by social media and the internet. It used to be a lot easier to keep secrets than it is now.

In the March issue of Scientific American, Deb Roy and I compare this to the Cambrian Explosion. The Cambrian Explosion happened 540 million years ago, when there was a sudden, very dramatic explosion of different life forms in response to some new change in the world. Oxford zoologist Andrew Parker argues that the increased transparency of the ocean made eyesight possible, and this changed everything: now predators could see prey, and prey could see predators, and this set off an arms race of interactions. Well, we think something similar is happening in human culture. Institutions—not just religions but also universities, armies, corporations—are now faced with how to change their fundamental structure and methods to deal with the fact that everybody’s living in a glass house now.

Protecting your inner workings is becoming very difficult; it’s very hard to keep secrets. Religions have thrived in part because they were able to keep secrets. They were able to keep secrets about other religions from their parishioners, who were largely ignorant of what other people in the world believed, and also keep secrets about their own inner workings and their own histories, so that it was easy to have a sort of controlled message that went out to people. Those days are over. You can go on the Internet and access to all kinds of information. This is going to change everything.

Continue reading at:  http://www.salon.com/2015/05/16/the_end_of_religion_as_we_know_it_why_churches_can_no_longer_hide_the_truth_partner/

The Big Picture: Expand Social Security with Robert Reich


Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Founder Of Mother's Day Hated What The Holiday Became

From Huffington Post:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/08/anna-jarvis-mothers-day_n_5282952.html

By 05/08/2014

The founder of Mother's Day wouldn't have wanted you to buy those flowers for mom. Or that card. Or those chocolates. In all likelihood, she wouldn't have wanted you to celebrate the holiday at all.
The fact that we will collectively spend nearly $20 billion on moms this year probably would have caused Anna Jarvis, the founder of Mother's Day, to throw her lunch on the floor like she reportedly did in the early 1900s, when she found out that a department store in Philadelphia was offering a Mother's Day special, according to Mental Floss.

Jarvis -- a West Virginia woman who didn't even have children of her own, according to History.com -- came up with the idea for a Mother's Day holiday, organizing the first celebration at a Methodist church in 1908. Annoyed that most American holidays were dedicated to honoring male achievements, Jarvis started a letter-writing campaign to make it a national holiday, involving wearing a white carnation, visiting your mother and maybe going to church.

Her campaign worked, but not in the way she hoped: She never wanted Mother's Day to be the commercial holiday it quickly came to be. (Although maybe she should have thought twice about getting financing for the first celebration from the owner of Wanamaker's, a major department store at the time.)

Soon after Congress made Mother's Day an official holiday in 1914, Jarvis was actively campaigning against it, leveling harsh criticism against florists, candy makers, greeting-card companies and anyone else looking to make a buck off the holiday.

A 1924 story published in the Miami Daily News and Metropolis detailed Jarvis's distaste for what Mother's Day had become. It pretty much comes down to this:

Consumerism stinks.
"Commercialization of Mother's Day is growing every year," says she. "Since the movement has spread to all parts of the world, many things have tried to attach themselves because of its success."
Florists are the worst.
"The red carnation has no connection with Mother's Day. Yet florists have spread the idea that it should be worn for mother who has passed away. This has boosted the sale of red carnations."
Candy makers are also the worst.
"Confectioners put a white ribbon on a box of candy and advance the price just because it's Mother's Day," she charges. "There is no connection between candy and this day. It is pure commercialization."
Greeting card makers are terrible (as are lazy kids who just send pre-written cards):
"The sending of a wire is not sufficient. Write a letter to your mother. No person is too busy to do this. Any mother would rather have a line of the worst scribble from her son or daughter than any fancy greeting card or telegram."
So there you have it. Straight from the founder of Mother's Day herself.

There’s a Reason Gay Marriage Is Winning, While Abortion Rights Are Losing

From The Nation:  http://www.thenation.com/article/205049/theres-reason-gay-marriage-winning-while-abortion-rights-are-losing#

Are these two “culture wars” issues really that similar?

Katha Pollitt April 22, 2015

Why are reproductive rights losing while gay rights are winning? Indiana’s attempt to enshrine opposition to gay marriage under the guise of religious freedom provoked an immediate nationwide backlash. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has allowed religious employers to refuse insurance coverage for birth control—not abortion, birth control—to female employees; new laws are forcing abortion clinics to close; and absurd, even medically dangerous restrictions are heaping up in state after state. Except when the media highlight a particularly crazy claim by a Todd Akin or Richard Mourdock, where’s the national outrage? Most Americans are pro-choice, more or less; only a small minority want to see abortion banned. When you consider, moreover, that one in three women will have had at least one abortion by the time she reaches menopause, and most of those women had parents, partners, friends—someone—who helped them obtain it, the sluggish response to the onslaught of restrictive laws must include many people who have themselves benefited from safe and legal abortion.

The media present marriage equality and reproductive rights as “culture war” issues, as if they somehow went together. But perhaps they’re not as similar as we think. Some distinctions:
§ Marriage equality is about love, romance, commitment, settling down, starting a family. People love love! But marriage equality is also about tying love to family values, expanding a conservative institution that has already lost most of its coercive social power and become optional for millions. (Marriage equality thus follows Pollitt’s law: Outsiders get access when something becomes less valued, which is why women can be art historians and African-Americans win poetry prizes.) Far from posing a threat to marriage, as religious opponents claim, permitting gays to marry gives the institution a much-needed update, even as it presents LGBT people as no threat to the status quo: Instead of promiscuous child molesters and lonely gym teachers, gays and lesbians are your neighbors who buy Pottery Barn furniture and like to barbecue.

Reproductive rights, by contrast, is about sex—sexual freedom, the opposite of marriage—in all its messy, feckless glory. It replaces the image of women as chaste, self-sacrificing mothers dependent on men with that of women as independent, sexual, and maybe not so self-sacrificing. It doesn’t matter that contraception is indispensable to modern life, that abortion antedates the sexual revolution by thousands of years, that plenty of women who have abortions are married, or that most (60 percent) who have abortions are already mothers. Birth control and abortion allow women—and, to a lesser extent, men—to have sex without punishment, a.k.a. responsibility. And our puritanical culture replies: You should pay for that pleasure, you slut.

§ Same-sex marriage is something men want. Lesbian couples account for the majority of same-sex marriages, but even the vernacular “gay marriage” types it as a male concern. That makes it of interest to everyone, because everything male is of general interest. Though many of the groundbreaking activists and lawyers who have fought for same-sex marriage are lesbians, gay men have a great deal of social and economic power, and they have used it, brilliantly, to mainstream the cause.

Reproductive rights are inescapably about women. Pervasive misogyny means not only that those rights are stigmatized—along with the women who exercise them—but that men don’t see them as all that important, while women have limited social power to promote them. And that power is easily endangered by too close an identification with all but the most anodyne version of feminism. There are no female CEOs pouring millions into reproductive rights or threatening to relocate their businesses when a state guts access to abortion. And with few exceptions, A-list celebs steer clear.

Continue reading at:  http://www.thenation.com/article/205049/theres-reason-gay-marriage-winning-while-abortion-rights-are-losing#

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Texas attack shows how US protects free speech – no matter how offensive

From The Guardian UK:  http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/may/06/texas-shootings-free-speech-constitution

Critics say Pamela Geller’s event was provocative and arguably crossed the line into hate speech – but protections afforded by the first amendment are unique

in New York Wednesday 6 May 2015

The fatal shootings in Garland, Texas, of two extremist gunmen as they attacked an anti-Islamist meeting was a vivid reminder of the virtually unique protections afforded by the US constitution to free speech, no matter how hate-filled or provocative, according to prominent first amendment experts.

In many countries across Europe and around the world, Pamela Geller and the American Freedom Defense Initiative, who organized the event in Garland, might have fallen foul of hate speech laws such as the UK’s 1986 public order act or article 266(b) of Denmark’s criminal code.

Coming just two months after the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris, commenters the world over have said Geller’s decision to stage the Texas cartoon competition – participants were invited to draw the prophet Muhammad, with a top prize of $10,000 – was clearly provocative and arguably crossed the line into hate speech.

Geller herself has a long history of inflammatory acts toward the Muslim community.

But there was never any question of the Muhammad event being barred, leading US constitutional scholars say, for the simple reason that the first amendment offers an almost watertight protection of public speech.

Harvard University law professor Laurence Tribe said the Garland attack illustrated a major difference in free speech law between the US and almost every other country in the world.
“Most other nations recognize a category of hateful speech that is likely to trigger outrage and even retaliation, but the first amendment has for many decades been interpreted to allow speakers like Pamela Geller to spread their disturbing messages to the world at large,” Tribe said.

While some aspects of US constitutional law are ambiguous or blurry, the first amendment is crystal clear on this issue. The government is prohibited from punishing hate speech or language that might incite lawlessness unless the words are specifically and deliberately directed at a particular target and likely imminently to trigger violence.

Given all the legal hurdles that a prosecution would have to clear in order to be successful, actions to block public events or censor hate-filled publications are virtually extinct in modern America. Legal scholars such as Tribe date the ascendancy of the first amendment in this area to the 1969 case of Brandenburg v Ohio in which a Ku Klux Klan leader was convicted under Ohio law for holding a rally with participants in full Klan regalia parading around burning crosses and vowing “revengeance” against the N-word and Jews.

Continue reading at:  http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/may/06/texas-shootings-free-speech-constitution

Why So Many Americans Feel So Powerless

From Robert Reich:  http://robertreich.org/post/117461327725

Robert Reich
Sunday, April 26, 2015


A security guard recently told me he didn’t know how much he’d be earning from week to week because his firm kept changing his schedule and his pay. “They just don’t care,” he said.

A traveler I met in the Dallas Fort-Worth Airport last week said she’d been there eight hours but the airline responsible for her trip wouldn’t help her find another flight leaving that evening. “They don’t give a hoot,” she said.

Someone I met in North Carolina a few weeks ago told me he had stopped voting because elected officials don’t respond to what average people like him think or want. “They don’t listen,” he said.
What connects these dots? As I travel around America, I’m struck by how utterly powerless most people feel.

The companies we work for, the businesses we buy from, and the political system we participate in all seem to have grown less accountable. I hear it over and over: They don’t care; our voices don’t count.  

A large part of the reason is we have fewer choices than we used to have. In almost every area of our lives, it’s now take it or leave it.

Companies are treating workers as disposable cogs because most working people have no choice. They need work and must take what they can get.

Although jobs are coming back from the depths of the Great Recession, the portion of the labor force actually working remains lower than it’s been in over thirty years – before vast numbers of middle-class wives and mothers entered paid work.

Which is why corporations can get away with firing workers without warning, replacing full-time jobs with part-time and contract work, and cutting wages. Most working people have no alternative.  

Continue reading at:  http://robertreich.org/post/117461327725

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Texas Police Kill Gunmen at Exhibit Featuring Cartoons of Muhammad

From The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/04/us/gunmen-killed-after-firing-on-anti-islam-groups-event.html?_r=3

Two gunmen were killed after they opened fire Sunday evening outside an event hosted by an anti-Islam group in Garland, Tex., featuring cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, local officials said. 
According to the authorities, the two assailants shot a security guard and were, in turn, shot and killed by police officers.

Officials did not name the gunmen or assign a motive for the attack. A spokeswoman for the F.B.I. in Dallas said the agency was providing investigative and bomb technician assistance to the Garland police.

The City of Garland confirmed the episode in a Facebook posting.

The shooting began shortly before 7 p.m. outside the Curtis Culwell Center at an event organized by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, an anti-Islam organization based in New York.

“As today’s Muhammad Art Exhibit event at the Curtis Culwell Center was coming to an end,” the Facebook posting said, “two males drove up to the front of the building in a car. Both males were armed and began shooting at a Garland I.S.D. security officer.”

The Garland Independent School District said in a statement that its security officer, Bruce Joiner, was shot in the ankle and taken to a hospital. He was later released.

The police, fearing that the gunmen’s car might contain an explosive device, dispatched a bomb squad and evacuated the center and nearby businesses, including a Walmart.

The event included a contest for the best caricature of the Prophet Muhammad, with a $10,000 top prize.

Drawings of the prophet are considered offensive in most interpretations of Islam. In January, gunmen in Paris attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical newspaper known for printing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, killing 12 people.

Continue reading at:  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/04/us/gunmen-killed-after-firing-on-anti-islam-groups-event.html?_r=3

Neil Gaiman stands up for Charlie Hebdo: “For f**k’s sake, they drew somebody and they shot them, and you don’t get to do that”

From Salon:  http://www.salon.com/2015/05/05/neil_gaiman_stands_up_for_charlie_hebdo_for_fks_sake_they_drew_somebody_and_they_shot_them_and_you_dont_get_to_do_that/

Gaiman, Art Spiegelman and Alison Bechdel on why comics are so controversial — and why they must be defended

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

When six writers withdrew in protest from PEN American Center’s annual fundraising gala last week, they set off a long and lively discussion of free expression and its limits. At issue is the Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award that PEN is tonight bestowing on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, eight of whose staff members were killed, along with four other people, when gunmen sent by the militant Islamist group al-Qaida in Yemen assaulted their offices earlier this year. The dissenting six were soon joined by more than 200 other PEN members, who signed a letter objecting to “enthusiastically rewarding” the magazine because they consider its cartoons of the prophet Mohammed to be offensive to Muslims.

But those six writers also left six empty chairs at the event, chairs ordinarily occupied by well-known literary figures who serve as “table hosts.” Over the weekend, six other writers stepped forward to fill those seats. They include journalist George Packer, “Reading Lolita in Tehran” author Azar Mafisi and Alain Mabanckou, a Congolese-born French author who will present the award to Charlie Hebdo’s editor-in-chief.
 
The other three are all celebrated comics artists: Art Spiegelman, Neil Gaiman and Alison Bechdel. Spiegelman, author of the legendary graphic novel “Maus,” had read that some PEN members had floated the idea of standing up and turning their backs when the award was presented, or hissing. “I thought, that’s obscene,” he said on the telephone yesterday. “I talked to a few friends, and Alison and Neil Gaiman were able and willing to come. Matt Groening [creator of "The Simpsons"] tried to come but he was in production this week. I thought it would be great to have someone to shout out, ‘Cartoonists’ lives matter!’ when the award is being given if anybody dared hiss it.”

Cartoonists tend to stick together because they have to; as Gaiman points out, their work is disproportionately singled out for suppression both abroad and in the U.S., while at the same time often regarded as not “serious” enough to deserve a full-throttle defense. “I spent 12 years on the board of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund,” Gaiman told me, “for which I was fighting on a daily basis to keep people who had written, drawn, published, sold or owned comics out of prison and from losing their livelihood for having drawn something that upset somebody.”

Cartoonists are particularly vulnerable when addressing Islam, as some (but not all) Muslims believe that it is sacrilegious to depict their prophet visually in any way. This is not a threat limited to Europe. Earlier this year, CNN reported that the Seattle cartoonist Molly Norris is still in hiding, four years after she attracted death threats for drawing non-satirical images of Mohammed on a teacup and thimble and domino. Her name recently appeared on the most-wanted list of the al-Qaida magazine Inspire.

Continue reading at:  http://www.salon.com/2015/05/05/neil_gaiman_stands_up_for_charlie_hebdo_for_fks_sake_they_drew_somebody_and_they_shot_them_and_you_dont_get_to_do_that/

Hillary Clinton Calls For 'Toppling' The 1 Percent

From Huffington Post:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/21/hillary-clinton-calls-for_0_n_7108026.html?ir=Business&ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000015

04/21/2015

Hillary Clinton believes that strengthening the middle class and alleviating income inequality will require "toppling" the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, according to a New York Times profile published on Tuesday.

The Times article quoted a host of Clinton confidants characterizing Clinton's economic policy record as a populist agenda akin to that of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). That includes a view that the ongoing accumulation of massive wealth at the top of the spectrum is holding back the broader economy.
In a meeting with economists this year, Mrs. Clinton intensely studied a chart that showed income inequality in the United States. The graph charted how real wages, adjusted for inflation, had increased exponentially for the wealthiest Americans, making the bar so steep it hardly fit on the chart.

Mrs. Clinton pointed at the top category and said the economy required a “toppling” of the wealthiest 1 percent, according to several people who were briefed on Mrs. Clinton’s policy discussions but could not discuss private conversations for attribution.
The Clinton campaign told HuffPost they could not confirm the precise language of the quote, but did not distance themselves from its populist essence.

“No one in the room remembers this quote, and it doesn't sound like language she'd use," a Clinton aide emailed to HuffPost. "That said, our economy was nearly toppled in 2008 because the deck was stacked for those at the top and Hillary Clinton has said she's running to reshuffle the deck for everyday Americans so that it doesn’t topple again and people can actually get ahead. It’s a belief at the core of her entire career fighting and at the core of this campaign.”

But while Clinton may be focusing on the wealthy, the Times article also seemed to underscore a lingering tension between some of her top advisers and Warren herself.

One anonymous Clinton adviser gave the Times a research memo championing Clinton's career in economic policy making, while dismissing Warren as a "footnote." Gene Sperling, a long-time economic adviser to Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama appeared to criticize Warren as an ineffective attack dog.

Continue reading at:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/21/hillary-clinton-calls-for_0_n_7108026.html?ir=Business&ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000015

Friday, May 1, 2015

American Psychological Association Emails Expose Direct Ties to CIA Torture Program

This is the same APA that has a history of abusing LGBT people.

Press Release

From Physicians for Human Rights: http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/press/press-releases/american-psychological-association-emails-expose-direct-ties-to-cia-torture-program.html

New York, NY - 04/30/2015

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) again urged the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the American Psychological Association’s (APA) complicity in the CIA torture program, following a new report in today’s New York Times. Internal emails obtained by Times reporter James Risen clearly show that the APA secretly modified its ethics policy to endorse psychologist participation in torture, with the aid of CIA and White House personnel.

“This calculated undermining of professional ethics is unprecedented in the history of U.S. medical practice and shows how the CIA torture program corrupted other institutions in our society," said Donna McKay, PHR's executive director. “Psychologists must never use their knowledge of human behavior to harm or undermine individuals. The Justice Department must look into any crimes or violations that may have been committed. It’s equally critical for psychologists to reclaim the principles of their profession and to reassert the values of human rights in psychology.”

PHR has repeatedly called on the APA to clarify its ties to the CIA torture program and its architects, including CIA contract psychologists James Mitchell (a former APA member) and Bruce Jessen. PHR said it looked forward to the findings of an independent investigation into the APA’s collusion with the CIA expected in summer 2015. In the meantime, there is sufficient evidence of wrongdoing to warrant a Department of Justice investigation.

PHR first called for an investigation into APA ethics policies in 2009, after a leaked APA email listserv revealed that most members of the secret 2005 APA Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS) had U.S. military and intelligence affiliations. Since then, additional email disclosures and related analysis – including articles by Risen – have exposed coordinated efforts by APA, CIA, and White House officials to bring key portions of APA ethics policy in line with the legal and operational needs of the George Bush-era torture program.
“By revising its ethics policies in order to align with the CIA’s torture practices, the American Psychological Association effectively endorsed psychologist participation in CIA torture,” said Widney Brown, PHR’s director of programs. “This supported the Bush administration’s spurious claim that brutal interrogation practices were ‘safe, effective, and legal.’ The APA’s complicity is a betrayal of the fundamental duty of all health professionals – to do no harm.”

Risen’s latest article discloses the purpose behind the changes made to the APA’s ethics policy, drawing on a new analysis by a team of independent psychological, medical, and human rights experts. The APA’s 2005 PENS Task Force policy revisions reversed a longstanding policy to specifically endorse psychologist research into and monitoring of interrogations – including defining “what constitutes cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.” This language comported with the then still-classified Department of Justice “torture memos,” which concluded that certain techniques would not violate the ban on “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment” if subjected to medical monitoring. Yet, at the time, the CIA Office of Medical Services objected to playing such a role. This legal indemnification strategy was therefore written into APA ethics policy, with the direct involvement of the CIA and a former behavioral science advisor for the Bush White House.

Since 2005, PHR has documented the systematic use of psychological and physical torture of national security detainees by U.S. personnel in a series of groundbreaking reports. Dr. Stephen Soldz, lead author of the APA email analysis referenced in the New York Times article, is anti-torture advisor to PHR and has collaborated on several of the reports. PHR has repeatedly called for an end to the torture and ill-treatment of detainees by the United States, a federal investigation into the role of health professionals in the U.S. torture program, and full criminal and professional accountability for any health professionals found to have participated.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

America, Land of Opportunity, Where a Rabbi Can Be Just as much of a Bigot as the Taliban Christians

RWW News: Jonathan Cahn Warns That God Will Punish America For Legalizing Gay Marriage

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Bill Maher, American hero: Laughing at religion is exactly what the world needs

From Salon:  http://www.salon.com/2015/04/26/bill_maher_american_hero_laughing_at_religion_is_exactly_what_the_world_needs/

Maher's stances get him called a bigot. We should thank him instead, for taking a necessary battle to the faithful

Sunday, Apr 26, 2015

Bill Maher, the host of HBO’s “Real Time,” is a shining beacon of the New American Enlightenment, radiant with goodness and hope.

But first, a bit of background.
 
No matter what anyone says, religion is a deeply, if darkly, hilarious topic, and the sundry tomes of the sacred canon read more like joke books than anything else, albeit sick joke books.  How can we, in the 21st century, having mapped (and even edited) the human genome, engineered pluripotent stem cells, and discovered the Higgs Boson, be expected to revere the dusty old Bible, for example, with its quarreling goatherds and idolatrous tribesmen, and its golden calves and talking snakes, to say nothing of its revenge-porn (against unbelievers) finale?  How can we not laugh aloud when Genesis declares that Almighty God made the world in six days and rested on the seventh, yet had to pilfer a rib from Adam to produce Eve?  What are we to make of Numbers 22:28-30, wherein the Lord intervenes, not to part the sea or still the sun, but to set Balaam’s donkey a-jabbering?  How are we supposed to accept Jesus as an up-to-snuff savior when, in Matthew 21:19 and Mark 11:13-14, he loses his temper and cusses out a fig tree, condemning it to death, for not bearing fruit out of season?  Any second-grade science-class student would have known better, and possibly even exercised more self-control.

“Properly read,” declared the science-fiction author and biochemistry professor Isaac Asimov, “the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.”  He was right.  The same may be said of the Quran, the holy book of Islam, which the late, dearly missed Christopher Hitchens called “not much more than a rather obvious and ill-arranged set of plagiarisms, helping itself from earlier books and traditions as occasion appeared to require.”

The proper response to religion, riddled as it is with absurdities, is, thus, laughter, either of the belly-slapping, table-pounding kind or the pitying, head-shaking sort.  Laughter, but also outrage.  After all, those who take such absurdities as manifestations of the Godhead have, especially since the Reagan years, hogged the moral high ground and commandeered American politics, polluting public discourse with their reactionary cant and halting progress in reproductive rights, science (think the Bush-era ban on stem cell research) and education (to wit: stubborn attempts to have oxymoronic “Intelligent Design” rubbish taught in schools).  Look abroad, and the panorama of savagery religion must answer for curdles the blood.  No rationalist could contemplate all this entirely unnecessary faith-driven regress and backsliding with anything but anger, tempered with despair.  If we want to do true and lasting good in this world, we are morally obligated to fight faith in the open, and root it out from every nook and cranny in which it hides.

Facing such a task, a desire for comic relief is only natural.  Bill Maher is where anger, outrage and religion meet – in humor.  (This essay will address only his stance on religion.)  There is nothing un-American about his faith-bashing – far from it.  Thomas Jefferson, who denied the divinity of Jesus, wrote that, “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions” – and what is religion but a jumble of unintelligible propositions about our cosmos and its origins?  Yet Maher has incited no small amount of ire among both the faith-addled masses (fully two-thirds of Americans believe Jesus actually rose from the dead, and almost half expect him to return in the coming decades) and their muddleheaded sympathizers for his brutal broadsides against religion, and Islam in particular.  Bigot! Racist! Islamophobe! they cry, at times bemoaning the “offense” they purport to have suffered from his words, and illustrating how far the cognitive capacities of so many of us have deteriorated since Jerry Falwell and his Moral Majority began meddling in politics.  (This can be no coincidence.)  Their real message to Maher: Shut up!

Name-calling is the last resort of losers — in this case, losers waging an unwinnable war against the spread of godlessness.  And “shut up!” is the last command of which the Greats of the Enlightenment and their heirs would have approved.  The 19th-century British philosopher John Stuart Mill, in On Liberty, put it best, referring to suppressed speech: “If the opinion is right, [the shutter-uppers] are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”  If Maher is really so wrong, why not let him hoist himself by his own petard?

Continue reading at:  http://www.salon.com/2015/04/26/bill_maher_american_hero_laughing_at_religion_is_exactly_what_the_world_needs/