Posts Tagged ‘Religious Right’


(This is an update of a post I wrote about 18 months ago, and have updated a couple of times since.)

No, I’m not kidding. Trump has actually done a number of good things.

First, let’s list only the unalloyed positives:

  • Trump has armed the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units) fighting ISIS in northern Syria, much to the annoyance of Turkish Islamist would-be dictator and ISIS enabler Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (Update: As of January 2018, the U.S. is planning to keep 30,000 troops in northern Syria — the Kurdish part of Syria — and is promising to help the Kurds builda protective border wall on the Syrian-Turkish border, where for once a wall will be a good thing.)

As for the Kurds themselves, the YPG, a major part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, is the most effective military entity fighting ISIS in Syria. It’s also the only secular, democratic, libertarian (with a small “l”) force in the region in which gender equality is actively promoted. (There are all-women YPG units.)

It’s worth noting that to appease Islamist thug Erdogan, Hillary Clinton, had she won, would probably not have armed the YPG. All of the facts noted above have been obvious for years, yet Obama refused to arm the YPG. It’s a good bet that former Obama Secretary of State Clinton wouldn’t have, either.

Update 12-23-18: Trump, as was predictable, just betrayed the Kurds by announcing a US pullout from Syria. There were only 2,000 US troops there, but they served as a trip-wire preventing invasion by Ergoghan’s, Assad’s, Putin’s, and the Iranian ayatollah’s thugs. Trump just betrayed the only real allies the U.S. has in the region, the only ones effectively fighting ISIS. God help the Kurds. And god help the people in the region once ISIS comes surging back, like a virulent case of syphilis after an inadequate course of antibiotics.

(For more info, see “The Anarchists vs. the Islamic State.“)

  • Trump killed the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a “free trade” pact and mutant descendant of NAFTA. (I won’t even get started on NAFTA here; for now, suffice it to say that it screwed American industrial workers and Mexican small farmers — spurring a wave of jobless workers across the border,  desperate to provide for their families — while vastly benefiting transnational corporations.) Among other things, the TPP would have a allowed commercial “courts” to overrule U.S. laws, would have made the already atrocious copyright situation even worse, strengthening the hold of the media conglomerates, would have allowed U.S. pharmaceutical firms to force companies in signatory nations to stop producing affordable versions of life-saving drugs, and would have allowed foreign firms to sue the U.S. and U.S. state governments over “loss” of projected profits caused by environmental regulations.

Clinton was in favor of the TPP abomination, calling it the “gold standard” of trade agreements. Until she wasn’t in favor of it. If she’d won, there’d likely have been a few cosmetic changes to it which would have made it “acceptable” to her. And we’d have been further screwed. Trump just did her one better by denouncing NAFTA and then delivering . . . . . NAFTA.

Update: Trump just delivered the rather gay-sounding USMCA. (He even mimed “YMCA” in celebrating it.) It’s essentially NAFTA with minor tweaks and a few minor provisions thrown in from the TPP.  Its $16-an-hour provision might, might, serve as a very minor brake to the export of jobs overseas. (Check out what just happened with GM if you believe this.) At the same time, it contained a provision screwing Canadian and Mexican patients in favor of big pharma by increasing the length of time before generic drugs are available.

  • Trump is reportedly going to crack down on H-1B visa abuse. This type of visa allows employers to hire foreign workers for jobs for which there supposedly aren’t enough qualified American applicants. In practice, this program provides employers with indentured servants working for half the prevailing wages (often in the computer industry). Even worse, some “employers” have been more slave traders than job creators, hiring H-1B workers and then renting them to actual employers while taking part of their wages. (Ironically, in 2017 Trump took advantage of the closely related H-2B program to hire 70 low-skilled workers [cooks, maids, food servers] for his Mar-a-Lago resort.)

Update: Nothing has changed.

  • Trump, almost certainly out of personal pique against CNN, has opposed the ATT-Time-Warner merger, which would have further consolidated media control into fewer and fewer hands.

Update: The merger went through.

  • Trump, through his defeat of Clinton, has partially broken the hold of the corporate Democrats on the Democratic Party — the Republicans’ junior partner in the looting of the American working class — and made it at least possible that the “democratic wing of the Democratic Party” will ascend.

For decades, the corporate Dems have had a stranglehold on the party as they’ve catered to the corporate elite (e.g., Obama’s refusal to prosecute any of the banksters responsible for the financial crash), taken massive amounts of money from the corporate elite, and refused to advance policies (most notably “Medicare for all”) favored by a large majority of Americans, and an even larger majority of Democrats.

At the same time, the corporate Democrats have been chasing the chimera of the “center” (the maybe 10% of eligible voters who are so poorly informed that they can’t make up their minds until the last minute) while ignoring the vastly higher number of those eligible to vote who don’t even bother to do it (41% in 2016), largely because of disillusionment, largely because they can’t see any real differences between the parties (at least in terms of economics).

Next, a mixed but overall positive move:

  • Trump has been pressuring U.S. allies to increase their military spending to bring it more in line with U.S. spending and thus, in theory, relieve financial pressure on U.S. taxpayers. Thus far he seems to have had some success with Canada, which will increase its military spending by 70% over the coming decade. This would be far more impressive if the U.S. didn’t already account for 43% of world military spending, and if Trump didn’t want to drastically increase that spending.
  • Trump recently signed a judicial sentencing-reform bill. It doesn’t go nearly far enough but it’s a good first step in ending America’s mass-incarceration nightmare (under 5% of world population; 25% of the world’s prisoners).

As for other good things Trump has done deliberately, none come to mind. But he has also inadvertently done some good:

  • He’s laid bare the hypocrisy of the Republican Party on healthcare. Republicans had seven years in which to prepare a replacement for Obamacare, and, after they unexpectedly won the presidency in 2016 (plus both houses of Congress), they had to scramble to come up with a nightmarish mishmash of cuts and half-measures that would have cost 23 million Americans healthcare coverage.
  • Trump has laid bare the hypocrisy of American foreign policy rhetoric. For decades, American “leaders” have been spewing the same line about “defending democracy,” while they’ve been supporting many of the world’s most barbaric dictators and authoritarian regimes. Trump’s praise for Putin, Erdogan, mass murderer Duterte, and our war-criminal, Islamist Saudi “allies” brings out in the open America’s support for dictators and authoritarianism.
  • He’s laid bare the racism of the Republican Party. For half a century Republicans have catered to racists — restricting voting rights of blacks and latinos, persecuting undocumented immigrants, promoting the war on drugs that has devastated black and latino communities, promoting “tough on crime” (tough on poor people) laws, and promoting outright slavery of the incarcerated — while at the same time hypocritically hiding behind code words and insisting that they aren’t racist. Under Trump, Republican racism is out in the open. (Unfortunately, that racism sometimes takes physical form; the assaults and murders it produces are a hideous byproduct of it.)
  • By acting as an apologist for neo-Nazis in the wake of Charlottesville, and by pointing out that Washington and Jefferson were slaveholders, he’s put a spotlight on a seamy side of American “revolutionary” history that virtually no one talks about. (For more info on this see “A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn.)
  • Trump, by announcing the move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, has ended the sick charade of the U.S. government’s pretensions of being an “honest broker” in the Middle East. In regard to Middle East policy, for decades the government has been hostage to the extreme right wingers in AIPAC, and to a lesser extent the religious right (some of whom want Armageddon), and has actively aided, abetted, and financed the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians. Trump just tore away the “honest broker” mask.
  • Trump has interrupted the creeping fascism that has been strangling America since at least the time of Truman, in favor of galloping fascism. The good news is that Trump is so repulsive and so inept — good only at manipulating and swindling the fearful, desperate, uninformed, and angry — that he likely won’t succeed in destroying what’s left of our freedoms.

Had Clinton won in 2016, creeping fascism would have continued; nothing would have fundamentally changed; popular discontent and resentment would have continued to fester; even while they controlled both the House and Senate, Republicans would have blamed everything that’s going wrong on the “liberal” (she isn’t) Clinton; and an overt, more competent Republican theofascist would probably have taken power in 2020, which, had Clinton won in 2016, could have meant “game over” for American democracy.

  • Without intending to do it, Trump has spurred a wave of political activism in the U.S., the like of which hasn’t been seen in nearly half a century. This is a good thing for American democracy.

Contrary to popular belief, Trump’s victory in 2016 hasn’t been a total disaster, and in the end might turn out to be a good thing — assuming he doesn’t start a nuclear war or crash the economy. In the long run, a Clinton victory could (in my view would) have turned out a whole lot worse.

Of course, things could and probably will, for now, get worse under Trump. He and his minions will continue to degrade the environment, abet the banksters and other corporate thugs in the looting of the economy, and will continue to impose the evangelical theofascist social agenda on all of us.

Still, they’re probably too inept to stage a Reichstag Fire and get away with it. But god help us if there’s a major terrorist attack. Naomi Klein at The Intercept offers a cogent analysis of this possibility in “The worst of Donald Trump’s toxic agenda lies in wait — a major U.S. crisis will unleash it.”

For now, just be glad that Hillary Clinton isn’t in the White House, and let’s hope for a wave of new social movements; let’s also hope that in the meantime the “democratic wing of the Democratic Party” will at least temporarily stave off the corporate-lackey Democrats and the theofascist Republicans until there’s an opening for real social change.


See Sharp Press will publish two titles during the Fall season:

Cutlure Wars (revised & expanded) coverCulture Wars: The Threat to Your Family and Your Freedom (revised & expanded), by Marie Alena Castle, graphically describe religious intrusions into the most intimate aspect of our lives — our rights to contraception, abortion, the right to marry, end-of-life decisions — and how preferential treatment of religion harms all of us financially.

The new edition with provide additional information on the rise of the religious right, its recent anti-women’s rights, anti-reproductive rights, and anti-LGBT campaigns, the Mormon Church’s misogynistic and homophobic attitudes and practices, the harm religious-right policies inflict on us when put into practice, with a particular focus on the havoc wrought in Mike Pence’s Indiana and Sam Brownback’s Kansas, and what we can do to combat the religious right’s assaults on our freedom.

Venezuelan Anarchism: The History of a MovementVenezuelan Anarchism: The History of a Movement, by Rodolfo Montes de Oca, is the newest title in our “History of a Movement” series. (The two previous titles are Cuban Anarchism: The History of a Movement and African Anarchism: The History of a Movement.) In it, Venezuelan author, attorney, and human rights activist Rodolfo Montes de Oca traces the rise of the Venezuelan anarchist movement from colonial times to the present day.

During the Spring 2018 season we plan to publish at least one, probably two, new science fiction titles and a new atheist title. We’ll announce them when it’s nearer to their release dates.


cover of Culture Wars by Marie Castle

(excerpted from Culture Wars: The Threat to Your Family and Your Freedom, by Marie Alena Castle)

“If writing the demands of the Book of Leviticus into the Constitution
is not a state-church separation issue, then I don’t know what is.”

—Randall Tigue, constitutional law attorney

Granting civil rights to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people (LGBT) has long horrified authoritarian religions. For centuries, armed with a Bible that calls homosexuality an “abomination,” they have established laws that marginalized and persecuted sexual minorities, and criminalized their sexual behavior. Since the 1970s in the United States, a gay rights rebellion against these laws has achieved repeal of most of them in the face of opposition that included violence and murder. In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court finally declared unconstitutional one of the last major types of discriminatory law, the criminalization of homosexual sex (sodomy) in its Lawrence v. Texas ruling.1 The decision reversed the Bowers v. Hardwick lower court ruling that upheld Georgia’s statute prohibiting oral and anal sex by either homosexuals or heterosexuals. The statute had used a “community consensus” on morality to deny a right to privacy. Lawrence rejected the idea that majority perceptions can justify the denial of rights for a minority.

In Lawrence, Justice Anthony Kennedy, supporting reversal, noted that centuries of majority hatred of homosexuality based on religious views had been the driving force behind discrimination against homosexuals. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, also supporting reversal and noting the element of hatred said, “We have consistently held, however, that some objectives, such as a bare desire to harm a politically unpopular group, are not legitimate state interests. When a law prohibits such a desire to harm a politically unpopular group, we have applied a more searching form of rational basis review to strike down such laws under the equal protection clause.”

But despite the Lawrence ruling, discrimination persists. Gays and lesbians can be fired because of their sexual orientation in 29 states, and it’s worse for transgender people, who can be fired in 35 states because of their sexual orientation. As a result, LGBT people often hide who they are for fear of losing their families, friends, or jobs. In many school districts, LGBT students are bullied and harassed with impunity.

One of the worst forms of abuse is the bullying of gay teens in high school, driving all too many of them to suicide. Here’s an example of the religious right’s barbaric manner of dealing with this form of persecution: In 2011 the Republican-controlled Michigan senate passed “Matt’s Safe School Law.” It was an anti-bullying law, but it exempted religion-motivated bullying from prosecution. Ironically, the bill as originally proposed was a response to the 2002 suicide of a gay teen who had been bullied by his classmates for being gay. Although the intent of the bill was to penalize such behavior, the Republicans modified it to exempt religion-based bullying. The Republican-passed version of the law “allows harassment by teachers and students as long as they can claim their actions are rooted in a ‘sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.’ Those who truly believe homosexuality is wrong, for example, are free to torment classmates consequence-free.”2

Strong opposition from Democrats caused the bill’s sponsor, Republican senator Rick Jones, to reconsider it. He allowed that it “’may not be perfect,’ but believed it to be ‘a step in the right direction.’” In 2012 in Minnesota, the same barbarism was exhibited when an anti-bullying school policy was deemed by religious right opponents as “unfair to students with conservative values.”3

In many states, opponents of homosexuality are attempting to deny lesbian and gay couples the right to adopt children or become foster parents.4 In Minnesota, a gay couple with children is treated differently under the law with regard to obligations, rights, taxes, benefits, etc., from an identically situated straight couple with children. The state actually has 515 statutes that discriminate against committed domestic partners, including same-sex couples.5

 
Same-Sex Marriage and the Culture War

There is no rational basis for religion-based hostility toward homosexuality. Of course, the religion-based views of one Christian religion are not the same as those of another, though all are based on the Bible. Liberal religions tend to take a humane approach, choosing the Bible’s “love” verses, while the conservative religions seem to prefer the equally mandatory “kill” verses. Some have tried the middle road of loving the sinner while hating the sin by being socially tolerant. Others have gone further, deciding that God loves everyone, and have ordained gay clergy and married same-sex couples.

Now, with laws against sodomy declared unconstitutional, same-sex marriage has moved to the political front lines in the culture war. So far, only six states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and DC. Most other states have banned it by law or constitutional amendment, and there are ongoing efforts to ban it in the remaining states. This issue is not likely to go away any time soon.

In 2000, California, voters passed Proposition 22, which banned same-sex marriage. Prop 22 ultimately went to the state Supreme Court, which, in 2008, ruled that same-sex marriages were constitutional based on: 1) the state constitution’s equal protection clause; 2) marriage being a civil right; and 3) the state having no compelling interest in prohibiting same-sex marriages. As a result, about 18,000 same-sex couples got married. This set off a campaign to prohibit same-sex marriage by constitutional amendment, so Proposition 8 went on the ballot and was passed. This was challenged in turn and this time the state Supreme Court ruled that Proposition 8 was constitutional because: 1) being a constitutional amendment, its provisions automatically became constitutional; 2) equal protection didn’t apply because only the word “marriage” was relevant and domestic partnerships were not affected; and 3) not being retroactive, existing same-sex marriages were not affected.6

The State of California, despite having its officials named as defendants, had refused to defend the constitutionality of Proposition 8 and left the defense to the religious zealots who had started the petition drive. This placed the religious motive for the enactment front and center, and supporters of same-sex marriage then filed a separate lawsuit on federal constitutional grounds rather than state constitutional grounds. Their case went before federal district court Judge Vaughn Walker who ruled in 2010 that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional, with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirming the decision in 2012. Judge Walker’s reasons for his ruling (as well as those of the Ninth Circuit Court) demolished all the supposedly “secular” arguments against same sex marriage, finding “no rational basis” to oppose it.7 Walker noted how weak the arguments were for opposing same-sex marriage. He cited all of them and concluded:

The court provided proponents with an opportunity to identify a harm they would face “if an injunction against Proposition 8 is issued.” Proponents replied that they have an interest in defending Proposition 8 but failed to articulate even one specific harm they may suffer as a consequence of the injunction. . . . Proponents had a full opportunity to provide evidence in support of their position and nevertheless failed to present even one credible witness on the government interest in Proposition 8.8

With these controversial state and federal rulings in place, the only place left to go is the United States Supreme Court. What is important here is that, if the Supreme Court rules against Proposition 8, the effect could be to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide. Meanwhile, the Court is expected to rule in 2013 whether the existing federal law—the Defense of Marriage Act—defining marriage as between one man and one woman is constitutional. Whether it recognizes marriage as a civil function with a secular rationale or a theology-based function whose religious traditions should govern society remains to be seen. The current makeup of the Court does not inspire confidence in a secular-based ruling. However, one thing working for advocates of same-sex marriage is that the opponents have found it impossible to come up with arguments that make sense that don’t include “Because God says so.” The Supreme Court might not be willing to so blatantly repudiate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. One can only hope.

 

Sexuality and “Natural Law”

Arguments for denying sexual minorities the same rights the heterosexual majority takes for granted are based on Bible-based religious doctrine, along with a religious interpretation of “natural law” (whatever that might be). Fundamentalists, Catholics and Mormons take it as a given that this “law” has produced males and females for reproductive purposes. Therefore, all sexual activity must be limited to male-female copulation and anything else is unnatural. The Protestant fundamentalists, Mormons, and the U.S. Catholic bishops have mounted a ferocious campaign to outlaw same-sex marriage based on this religious view of natural law. Here is the rationale, from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 2009 Pastoral Letter:

Marriage is a unique union, a relationship different from all others. It is the permanent bond between one man and one woman whose two-in-one-flesh communion of persons is an indispensable good at the heart of every family and every society. Same-sex unions are incapable of realizing this specific communion of persons. Therefore, attempting to redefine marriage to include such relationships empties the term of its meaning, for it excludes the essential complementarity between man and woman, treating sexual differences as if it were irrelevant to what marriage is.

Male-female complementarity is intrinsic to marriage. It is naturally ordered toward authentic union and the generation of new life. Children are meant to be the gift of the permanent and exclusive union of a husband and wife. A child is meant to have a mother and a father. The true nature of marriage, lived in openness to life, is a witness to the precious gift of the child and to the unique roles of a mother and father. Same-sex unions are incapable of such a witness. Consequently, making them equivalent to marriage disregards the very nature of marriage.

Jesus teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman. “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ . . . For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Mt 19:4-6).

. . . Today, advocacy for the legal recognition of various same-sex relationships is often equated with non-discrimination, fairness, equality, and civil rights. However, it is not unjust to oppose legal recognition of same-sex unions, because marriage and same-sex unions are essentially different realities. “The denial of the social and legal status of marriage to forms of cohabitation that are not and cannot be marital is not opposed to justice; on the contrary, justice requires it” [quoting from the Catholic Church’s 2003 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith publication No. 8, “Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons”]. To promote and protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman is itself a matter of justice. In fact, it would be a grave injustice if the state ignored the unique and proper place of husbands and wives, the place of mothers and fathers, and especially the rights of children, who deserve from society clear guidance as they grow to sexual maturity. Indeed, without this protection the state would, in effect, intentionally deprive children of the right to a mother and father.
. . . [T]he Church teaches that homosexual acts “are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved” [quoting from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2357].

. . . The legal recognition of same-sex unions poses a multifaceted threat to the very fabric of society, striking at the source from which society and culture come and which they are meant to serve. Such recognition affects all people, married and non-married, not only at the fundamental levels of the good of the spouses, the good of children, the intrinsic dignity of every human person, and the common good, but also at the levels of education, cultural imagination and influence, and religious freedom.9

This pastoral letter makes many alarmist claims, but provides not one example from real life of the destruction same-sex marriage supposedly wreaks. Not even a hypothetical example. So now that we have read these dire predictions that the workings of natural law, religious freedom, and civilization as we know it would be destroyed in some mysterious way by same-sex marriage, let’s visit reality, an area with which the bishops seem quite unfamiliar.

 

The Varieties of Sexual Orientation

The case for equal rights (including same-sex marriage) for sexual minorities stands on much firmer ground than Bible verses and papal pronouncements. The basic problem with the religion-based arguments is misunderstanding of what is meant by “natural law.” A toxic stream of wrongheaded ideas has spewed forth from that misunderstanding, causing needless suffering, hateful acts, and punitive laws. Natural law is not something handed down by a creator god, as religious opponents of same-sex marriage assume. There is no “lawgiver” involved. Natural law, in the only real sense of the term, is simply a description of how nature works, as best we can understand it from observation, experimentation, and testing. And what does all this observation, experimentation, and testing tell us? Nothing at all that is even close to the religious assumptions. It tells us that homosexuality is just one of the more harmless ways nature works. It is not contrary to natural law, but part of it. Religion has no relevance here.

Further deepening the religious confusion is an assumption that the way nature works reflects a purpose. Therefore, since heterosexual sex sometimes produces offspring, that is nature’s purpose. This idea prevails because a great many people are scientifically illiterate, thanks to fundamentalists’ attacks on science in the schools, and the consequent dumbing down of the science curriculum. Fundamentalists attack evolution, denying its massive factual support, and try to replace it with “intelligent design,” which is simply relabeled creationism, and is in no way a scientific theory. (It’s unfalsifiable; it makes no testable predictions.)

Nature is nothing if not prolific and varied. Changes wrought by evolution have produced an assortment of sexual and gender variations and orientations. In humans (and maybe other species), both sexes have observable physical characteristics of the other sex, although usually only the parts for one sex are developed. But physical manifestations of sex are not the only options nature has produced. Often enough, there are psychological variations too, and they direct one’s sexual behavior. The body may be configured for one sex while the brain is configured for the other. The result is that some people are transgender, meaning they don’t conform to the expected behavior patterns of their sex. Transgenders can be any orientation because gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same. Some are simply crossdressers. Some are transsexual, meaning their brain configuration tells them they are one sex, even though their bodies are of the opposite sex. Some transsexuals have sexual reassignment surgery because of this.

And then there are those with Klinefelter’s Syndrome. It is said to affect about one in 1,000 boys. These boys have three sex chromosomes (XXY). Since girls are XX and boys are XY, someone who is XXY is physically a male but infertile, while genetically being both male and female. Such boys can and do have girlfriends, but can be psychologically drawn to female behaviors. They are in reality two sexes in one. If such boys want to marry, which sex should they be able to partner with?

Some states try to deny the right to change one’s sexual configuration to conform to one’s core identity on the grounds that one has to keep the genitalia one is born with. (Why? Who knows?) But what if a baby is born with male and female genitalia, and both are about equally developed? It happens. Doctors used to ask the parents which gender they preferred and would then remove the unwanted parts. However, as these babies grew, sometimes the selected sex did not match an obvious psychological orientation toward the other sex. So now they wait a few years until the child’s gender-expressive behavior tells them which parts to remove.

Here’s a true sex-mixup story I know about first-hand. (I’ve changed only the names.) It should give the Vatican fits trying to work it into their mystical views of sexuality, sexual orientation, anatomical complementarity and who gets to marry whom: When Glen and George met, both were males presenting themselves as women. Psychologically they were essentially females trapped in male bodies. They wanted to get married, but same-sex marriages were not allowed, so George had sex reassignment surgery and became legally Georgia. Glen and Georgia were then able to get married, since they now had the Vatican-approved opposite-sex anatomical complementarity. Then Glen had surgery and became legally Glenda. The result is that Glenda and Georgia are now a legally married female couple that started out as a male couple (although presenting as females), then became a male-female couple before finally becoming the female couple they always wanted to be, thanks to surgery that put their physical and psychological makeup in sync. All is well.

As for what the law says about having sex reassignment surgery to bypass prohibitions against same-sex marriage, it probably depends on the state. For Glen/Glenda and George/Georgia, who live in Minnesota, there is no problem. In 2012, in a case challenging the right of a transgendered female to coverage on her husband’s employer-paid health care plan, a federal district court judge ruled that coverage could not be denied. He noted that the law prohibiting same-sex marriage did not apply and the sex change was irrelevant because “Minnesota law recognizes a married person’s sex when the marriage takes place.”10

Such simple, logical reasoning is not likely to come any time soon from the Vatican’s theologians. Their attempts to figure out what nature’s God is up to when it plays mix-and-match with gender identity, and medical science can end the confusion with a little genital reconfiguration, should be interesting to watch. No doubt the Vatican will deal with this entirely mystical non-problem in whatever way causes the most misery for people whose bodies and brains don’t match up sexually.

It wouldn’t be theology as we’ve always known it to decide there is no harm in letting one’s core psychological orientation prevail as long as no harm is done. It could, in fact, even be theologically demanded. After all, if there is a soul, where would it be located? In the brain! You can amputate or transplant or redesign or artificially replace almost any other part of the body, but you cannot do that with the brain. If it goes, you go. And if there is a soul in there, it goes too. Therefore, if the brain knows its body is really the opposite sex or if it feels sexually oriented to the same sex, then that’s the way it is and the only thing to do is adjust the body (and society’s expectations) to match. Sex reassignment surgery? Fine! Same-sex marriage? Why not? Some churches may raise doctrinal objections and insist that what appears between the legs at birth is ultimately defining and must stay that way. But it’s not the business of government to enforce those doctrines.

 

Sexuality: Nature’s Shotgun Approach to Species Survival

There is nothing wrong with this sexual mixing and matching other than the prejudicial treatment of LGBT people. It’s just what nature does. Nature has no purpose, only consequences, some of which we perceive as good, some bad, depending on their effects on us. Sexuality, driven by evolutionary processes, is not rigidly heterosexual, as can be observed throughout the animal kingdom. Every form of sexual attraction is out there. It may even be that pedophilia is a natural variation. However, that involves a coercive power relationship that harms children, so, natural or not, our laws prohibit it, just as rape—apparently another natural inclination—is prohibited. We simply have to resist and reject some behaviors to which nature mindlessly inclines us. Homosexuality is not one of them, since it does no harm. Sexually transmitted diseases don’t count. They occur because human contact transmits disease. We pass on diseases by breathing in another’s vicinity, by shaking hands, by a mother kissing her baby. Sexual contact is just another means of transmission.

Because heterosexuality produces offspring, heterosexual orientation predominates in the gene pool. Although the sex drive for homosexual couples does not produce offspring, there is still the emotional bonding that often accompanies sexual relationships—a good thing by itself in terms of social stability and harmony. As consequences go for humans, this has probably worked well if we can assume that prehistoric homosexual childless individuals were free to help raise the children of heterosexuals. Children need watchful care at all times, so the extra help surely aided our species’ survival. Until humans figured out where babies came from, sex was naturally directed by sexual orientation solely because it was enjoyable. Why would it not be? Once paternity was understood, the picture changed drastically.

Although the history of marriage shows many forms and rationales (including same-sex marriage), an overriding reason for its institutionalization was male interest in controlling women to ensure a prolific, no-guesswork paternity and, therefore, inheritance, economic aggrandizement, and ruling authority. Women became men’s property, as noted in the Ten Commandments, and enforced, until recently, by all religions, and even today by some religions. Women were treated legally as men’s property in the United States until around the time of the Civil War. Being in love didn’t become acceptable as a sole reason for marriage until some decades later. As recently as the 1970s, divorces were difficult to get unless one could prove adultery. Being abused didn’t count. I remember well the cottage industry that developed around staging fake adulterous encounters so a divorce could be granted. Those staged encounters didn’t fool anyone, but the letter of the law was upheld, so no questions were asked.

The Bible says Solomon (the wisest of all kings, according to 1 Kings 10:23) had 700 wives and 300 concubines (meaning sex slaves). Where was the one-man, one-woman tradition then? With such exploitation of women now illegal, marriage essentially legalizes a sexuality-based bond without regard for procreation. Reproductive interests have never been the sole justification for marriage in any case. Deliberately childless marriages take place for any number of reasons—financial concerns, physical problems, a need for companionship, even immigration status or the need for health insurance.

Some religions are convinced that same-sex marriage would destroy the institution of marriage. It’s hard to see how. The interests of religion and government are different (or should be where state and church are separate), so religions can set their own rules about whom they will marry. Religion is primarily concerned with rituals and such things as sexual behavior, religious affiliation, and procreation and indoctrination of children. Government is concerned with issues beyond procreation, such as mutual financial and personal responsibilities, inheritance laws, medical care, visitation rights, child custody (not limited to heterosexuals), and so on. Given this, it is socially advantageous to provide the legal benefits of marriage for loving, committed couples, whether gay or straight. Government has no compelling interest in being selective about the sexual orientations of those it marries for socially valid reasons. Those orientations are natural, and if one kind tends to produce children and the other doesn’t, so what?\

 

Anatomical Complementarity

Religious arguments against same-sex marriage tend to center on anatomy. Their position, put badly, is that since male and female genitalia fit together, and fitting them together often results in offspring, that must be its sole purpose. And because there are offspring, there must necessarily be marriage. Because there is marriage, government has the duty to oversee and protect that arrangement, limiting it to one man and one woman. (Lots of non sequiturs here.) Here’s what Archbishop John C. Nienstedt, of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis wrote in a letter to the editor. He claimed he was just defending reality, not his religious position. The Catholic Church, he said, “does not seek to impose its own beliefs on others . . . . The reality we are defending predates any religion or government. It finds its logic in the complementarity of the human anatomy, as well as the male/female psyche and in the propagation of the human species.” 11

What he meant by the male/female psyche in this context is anyone’s guess. If it’s the emotional aspect of sexuality, that psyche seems to be operating rather nicely for same-sex couples as well. As for anatomical complementarity, people of all sexual orientations have found that there is more than one route to complementarity. If nature was purposeful and wanted sex to be limited to one form of male-female complementarity, all these other options wouldn’t be available—some of them useful in preventing unwanted propagation. One is tempted to think that maybe nature actually is purposeful and finds it useful in natural-selection terms to provide a variety of sexual work-arounds to enable us humans to control this whole sexual orientation/anatomical/psyche/propagation business to our advantage.

And speaking of sexual purposes, I don’t recall ever reading any Vatican pronouncement about the clitoris. Unlike the penis, which has three distinct and useful purposes, the clitoris has only one—pleasure. It has no complementarity function. Yet there it is, conforming fully to natural law, doing nothing but providing the one thing that has historically made the Vatican nervous—sex-related pleasure. No wonder the Vatican is silent on this. Perhaps the Catholic bishops should study a good sex manual and a few books on sexual evolution before they expound on a topic about which they are so obviously dumb as a rock.

On the fundamentalist side, the Rev. Elden Nelson, a Lutheran minister from Plymouth, Minnesota, in reference to a proposed amendment to the Minnesota state constitution that defines marriage as between one man and one woman, says:

There is nothing discriminatory about the Minnesota Marriage Amendment, nor is it a political matter. Neither is it intended as an offense against any individual or group. Rather, it is a moral and ethical matter that finds its basis and answer in the infallible, inerrant and inspired word of God.12

How that squares with the First Amendment’s “Congress shall make no law concerning an establishment of religion” clause he does not say. Those propagating these views always assume that the only relevant part of the First Amendment’s religion clause is “Congress shall make no law . . . prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” That invariably is interpreted by fundamentalists, Mormons, and the Catholic Church as allowing religions to do whatever they wish, with the support of government, however much that destroys the religious freedom of others.

 

What It’s Like to Be in Marriage Limbo

One view of the same-sex marriage controversy is that the matter could be settled by simply designating marriage as between one man and one woman and creating domestic partnerships that are essentially contractual arrangements for same-sex couples. However, there is no way domestic partnerships can be legally equitable without them being a carbon copy of the marriage laws, so why call them something different? What’s in a name? Nothing, unless the names confer different rights and responsibilities. Domestic partnerships do that. They confer lesser assurances of equity than marriage, in which everything is automatic, no contracts needed.
Project 515 in Minnesota has compiled a list of the 515 Minnesota laws that work to the disadvantage of same-sex couples in domestic partnerships in ways marriage never does. (If it is this bad in a state as historically liberal as Minnesota, it can’t be much better anywhere else.) Below are Project 515 accounts of some of the harmful fallout from this inequity. The stories are true, as are the names except where otherwise noted.13

Trying to Teach Life’s Lessons to Our Children. (Names have been changed.) When Lisa, Susan and their 6-year-old daughter Paige moved to a new city, they chose to bank with Susan’s employee credit union. Wanting to teach their daughter good savings habits, they took Paige with them to open their new accounts and chose to establish one for Paige.

Lisa and Susan completed the required banking forms and were then informed that they could not open a joint account because they were not married. In addition, they could not open an account for Paige, they were told, because Lisa, not Susan, was Paige’s legal parent. This credit union carried the employer’s name, logo and colors in their signage and advertising. The employer had a strong nondiscrimination policy, and about 20% of its employees were not heterosexual. Yet, when Lisa and Susan protested, they were informed that the banking policies were set by the credit union board of directors, not the employer.

To set a good example for Paige, Lisa met with the manager and voiced her concerns about the policies and the lack of alignment with the employer. She expressed her disappointment and humiliation when the credit union rejected them and their daughter as clients. After they left, Paige became very angry and frustrated, holding on to her piggy bank and refusing to give anyone her money.

“Would this also be the policy if an employee who was a grandparent, aunt or uncle wanted to open an account for a child?” Lisa wondered. “If an employee wanted to open a joint account with a brother or sister, would they be refused?”

Sometimes Planning and Legal Work Aren’t Enough. Tim Reardon is a prudent man. When he and his partner Eric decided to have a child through a surrogate, they made certain all the legal documents were in order. They already had a partnership agreement, executed before their commitment ceremony in 2001. They had drafted powers of attorney, health care directives, and every document they could within the restrictions of the law to be certain their relationship to one another and their future children was clear and protected.

Yet when Tess was born in 2003, Tim and Eric waited for a year to get a judge’s order for a birth certificate because the state insisted on DNA testing for proof of paternity. The cost, both monetary and emotional, was enormous. Adding to the emotional burden was a serious health challenge. Three months after Tess’s birth, Eric was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. The family life Tim and Eric had dreamed of was thrown into chaos. Tim and Eric returned to their attorney to be certain their paperwork was in order. It had become imperative that Tim was clearly named the person to “call the shots” upon Eric’s death.

Four years later, when Eric was to go from the hospital to a hospice residence, a social worker conducted a financial eligibility screening to determine if Eric was eligible for funds to offset the cost of the hospice residence not covered by either insurance or Medicare. The hospital business office wanted to include Tim’s earnings in the calculation of “household income.” “They wanted to recognize our relationship when it was financially in their best interest,” Tim said. Tim refused. When Eric died a short time later, Tim was informed that the medical examiner would not recognize Tim’s relationship to Eric.

To make matters worse, the cremation society did not consider Tim next of kin, with the right to make decisions about Eric’s remains, even though Tim showed administrators a power of attorney document, a health care directive, and Eric’s will, all clearly naming Tim as the decision maker. Only with the consent of Eric’s mother and father was Tim ultimately allowed to sign the cremation society’s paperwork.

“I felt so violated and angry that at this most vulnerable moment of life, they would not acknowledge our relationship,” Tim said. “All our planning didn’t mean anything to these people. Eric’s wishes didn’t mean anything. This never would have happened to a legal spouse. All it takes is one challenge from a person with an issue or different belief system, and the cost to us in money, time and emotions is enormous—because we have no recourse in the legal system. Any legally married spouse is automatically recognized as next of kin and is granted that right by law with no papers, no lawyers, and no need to prove their relationship at life’s most vulnerable moments—the law protects them from such insult.”

Fighting to Keep One’s Home. (Names have been changed.) Jane’s partner Carol was diagnosed with a terminal illness late in 2004. By the time the disease had progressed to the point that Carol required full time care, she had already spent most of her assets on medical bills. Carol applied for and was placed on medical assistance, which provided her with around-the-clock care in the final months of her life.

Following Carol’s death, the state placed a lien on her home—the home she had shared with Susan for more than 15 years. By law, the state had the legal power to enforce the lien and recover the money it spent for Carol’s medical expenses. Jane was faced with the prospect of selling her home to pay off the state.

However, had Jane and Carol been married, Minnesota law would have protected the home. Current law provides that the state cannot enforce a medical assistance lien on the home of the person who received aid if the person’s spouse still lives in the house. In these cases, the state must wait until after the spouse has died before it can recoup money from the home’s equity.
No Secular Justification

Laws that support unverifiable religious views of sex and marriage have no place in a secular society. They should be nullified as unconstitutional, and some have been, but progress is slow. It does seem, however, that laws discriminating against sexual minorities are on the way out, due to the tenacious political organizing of LGBT people and their supporters. Public opinion is increasingly on their side. Same-sex marriage may be the last battle in the sexual-orientation phase of the culture war. Arguments raised by the Catholic Church and religious right arguing for defining marriage as only between one man and one woman are weak to the point of being ludicrous. None of them make any secular sense. All are based on religious dogma tied to an intractable ignorance of human sexuality. If the religious right zealots had any understanding of how evolution works, they would know that human sexuality as it actually exists (with LGBT people) is a prime example of “natural law”—a natural outcome of the evolutionary process.

To sum up, here is a list of 11 religious arguments against same-sex marriage, in no particular order of validity (since they have none) followed by the view from the real-world:

1. Marriage has always been about procreation so we are not mistreating homosexuals by not allowing same-sex marriage. Our ancestors were wrong about many things, such as slavery and subjugation of women (which marriage facilitated, of course). We abandoned their ideas because they led to mistreatment of subjugated men and women for no worthwhile purpose. We are now abandoning the mistreatment of homosexuals for the same reason.

2. Our sexual organs exist for procreation by a male and a female. Any other use is unnatural. Our sexual organs (the external ones we control) perform several functions, only one of which is procreation. The penis has three functions: urination, pleasure, and procreation. The clitoris has only one function: pleasure (interestingly, the only function common to both sexes). Homosexuality squares with all of these functions, including procreation, which can be, but not necessarily, achieved indirectly through sperm donation.

3. If the human sex drive is not controlled by marriage, limited to male-female couples for procreation, it will be misused in destructive, immoral ways. The human sex drive, being stronger than needed for procreation (thus suggesting its primary purpose for humans is pleasure), can indeed be misused. It is more extravagantly misused by heterosexuals, especially in sexual exploitation of women, but can be misused by homosexuals as well. Controlling one’s sex drive is a common issue for everyone, regardless of orientation.

4. Homosexuality, if it becomes acceptable, will harm society by leading to its degradation. Homosexuality has existed in all societies at all times, sometimes accepted, sometimes not. What society has it ever harmed? None. It has never been prevalent because it involves only a small percentage of the population. It can’t be caught and can’t be taught because it’s a natural orientation, just like heterosexuality.

5. If same-sex marriage becomes legal, what’s to stop polygamous and polyamorous people—even dog lovers and who knows who else—from demanding marriage rights? Probably nothing, but neither now nor throughout history has there been any sign of a widespread interest in such relationships. Same-sex couples feel the same pull of love as opposite sex couples. They value the same personal and emotional commitment that marriage can provide heterosexual couples. There is no sign of any such commitment operating among the other groups (with the exception of a relatively few polyamorous people), and certainly no interest in organizing a political movement around it.

6. Homosexuality, even if appearing to be harmless, exacts a spiritual cost that can lead to perdition. We should not be enabling that fate. Some religious people may believe homosexuality leads to “perdition” (whatever that is), but that is no basis for discriminatory laws against homosexuals. All such laws are a destructive, unconstitutional establishment of religion with no secular justification whatsoever. The Book of Leviticus may have a place in some churches, but there it should stay. It does not belong in our laws.

7. Same-sex marriage will destroy the institution of marriage. Religious people often make this argument, but have yet to provide a single concrete example of such destruction. They always fall back on abstractions. Divorce destroys heterosexual marriages all the time, but we allow it because, for one thing, it’s none of the government’s business, and for another, forcing incompatible couples to stay together only brings pain and misery from which no good ever comes. Does the availability of divorce encourage the dissolution of marriages? Perhaps, but this has nothing to do with same-sex marriages. Perhaps the feared destruction is that of religion’s control over marriage as a sacred institution ordained by God to license a couple to have sex so they can increase and multiply. If so, so be it.

8. Marriage is rooted in religious beliefs and cannot be cut off from that. No one is cutting marriage off from religious beliefs. Religions are free to set their own rules for marriage and to marry or refuse to marry whomever they will. But there is religious marriage and secular marriage, and they have different standards. Religions marry people for their own religious reasons, and governments marry people for their own secular reasons. Generally, the only marriages the state does not allow are those that are coercive or harmful. So, for example, an age of consent is required, and inbreeding by close relatives is not allowed (though if pregnancy is impossible in some cases, why not?).

9. Children need a mother and a father. Yes, but people who did not produce them in the traditional biological way can and do raise happy children. They may have adopted them, used a surrogate mother to bring them to birth, or conceived them by artificial insemination. The only thing that matters is that children grow up in a caring environment with one or more people who love them and help them become productive, responsible adults. Same-sex orientation has never been a hindrance to good parenting, just as heterosexual orientation has never been a guarantee of it.

10. If homosexual relations are natural, what is wrong with adultery, pedophilia, and bestiality if they are also natural behaviors? Yes, those behaviors are probably natural for those who engage in them, but we need to prohibit only those that are harmful. Adults can deal with the harmful effects of adultery on their own. Pedophiles, however, will have to find a way to control that tendency or we will continue to lock them up to ensure the safety of children. As for bestiality, we’d have to check with the beast in question as to any harm done. To most of us, bestiality is just disgusting (or possibly hilarious), but again (as with pedophilia) one runs into the problem of consent—both practices are by their nature nonconsensual. As for homosexuality, there is nothing harmful about it when it’s between consenting adults.

11. If same-sex marriage is approved, there will be harmful civil consequences for those whose religious beliefs cannot allow them to accept it. Yes, there will be consequences—just as there were consequences when civil rights laws were passed. No doubt there were town clerks who lost their jobs when they refused to marry mixed-race couples. No doubt religious adoption services found they could no longer discriminate against mixed-race couples. No doubt there were parents distressed when their children were exposed to public school classes about racial equality and justice. All because traditional views about race had been overturned by law. But that is the price some people have to pay when they can no longer inflict their irrational beliefs on others. Just as society has survived and improved in the absence of punitive racist laws, so will it survive in the absence of punitive marriage laws.

 


1. Lawrence v. Texas, 123 S. Ct. 2472; 156 L. Ed. 2d 508; 2003 U.S. LEXIS 5013, (2003).
2. Laura Hibbard in The Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/04/michigans-matts-safe-schools-law-allows-bullying_n_107649.
3. Maria Elena Baca, “Q&A: Parent group raises school issues,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, Jan. 15, 2012
4. Human Rights Campaign mailing, Feb. 2012. See http://www.hrc.org.
5. “Unequal Under the Law: 515 Ways Minnesota Laws Discriminate Against Couples and Families,” published by Project 515, October 2007. See http://www.project515.org.
6. See http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Perry_v_Schwartzenegger for a lengthy account of the Proposition 8 controversy.
7. Dahlia Lithwick, “A Brilliant Ruling.” See http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2010/08/a_brilliant_ruling.single.html.
8. Perry v Schwartzenegger, No. C 09-2292 VRW, United States District Court, N.D. California, Northern Division. Aug. 12, 2010.
9. “Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan,” A Pastoral Letter of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Chapter 2, Same-Sex Unions, issued by USCCB, Nov. 17, 2009. To order a copy of this statement, please visit http://www.usccbpublishing.org and click on “New Titles.”
10. Dan Browning, “Health plan can’t deny wife coverage due to sex change,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 5, 2012.
11. The Rev. John C. Nienstedt, “Gay Marriage: Church defends reality for the common good,” Minneapolis Star Tribune opinion page, Oct. 8, 2011.
12. The Rev. Elden Nelson, letter to the editor, Minneapolis Star Tribune opinion page, Feb. 21, 2012.
13. “Unequal Under the Law,” op cit.


cover of Culture Wars by Marie Castle

(excerpted from Culture Wars: The Threat to Your Family and Your Freedom, by Marie Alena Castle)

 

“[Mother Teresa] was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life  opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the  empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction.”

—Christopher Hitchens, The Missionary Position:  Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice

 

It is impossible to talk about religion-based laws without discussing the people most severely victimized by them—women, half the world’s population. They are the childbearers, so you’d think that would count for something in terms of decent treatment, but it doesn’t. Largely if not entirely because of that primal function, women have been the object of male dominance, abuse, and social control throughout history and across almost all cultures. With some exceptions, women have existed as men’s property from the time people figured out where babies came from. Was subjugation of women considered the best way to relieve male anxiety regarding paternity? To establish unquestioned heirs? It seems likely, but who knows for sure?

Regardless, women traditionally have been culturally limited to bearing children, and not allowed to do much else. The social reforms of the 1960s did begin to remove that limitation, however haltingly. Although “women’s lib” was ridiculed routinely, increased higher educational opportunities received support—by attaching those opportunities to motherhood. I often heard the argument in those days that an educated woman would be better able to raise children to be productive citizens. That always reminded me of the story of Moses, who was allowed to lead his people to the Promised Land, but for some arbitrary reason was condemned to see it only from afar and never go there himself.

When sex discrimination was included in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a last-minute amendment, it was greeted with laughter. Sen. Howard K. Smith, a Virginia Democrat and an opponent of the Civil Rights Act, proposed it. His motives were unclear. There was speculation that he thought his amendment would kill the bill; however, he had always been a strong supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment, so perhaps (as others speculated) he only wanted to embarrass fellow Democrats from northern states who opposed women’s rights in deference to male-dominated, sexist, labor unions. But the Civil Rights Act passed, and additional protections for women’s rights followed. Whether they’ll continue to hold is uncertain, given the misogynistic aspects of the culture war.

Religions seem always to have played on and reinforced misogynistic prejudices, assuming the right to control women’s childbearing function as a social necessity, with no consideration given to what women themselves might want or need. Irrational—even punitive—views of women have become so embedded in theology and in our laws that one could argue that controlling women’s sexuality and childbearing role has been the primary purpose of most religions. The contrived justification for such control is the Bible; and some of its interpreters go even further than it does:

  • Be fruitful and multiply. (Genesis 1:28)
  • Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. (Genesis 3:16-God’s punishment of Eve for seducing Adam into eating the forbidden fruit)
  • You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s. (Exodus 20:17)
  • Women will be saved through childbearing. (1 Timothy 2:15)
  • No gown worse becomes a woman than the desire to be wise. Men have broad and large chests, and small narrow hips, and are more understanding than women, who have but small and narrow chests, and broad hips, to the end they should remain at home, sit still, keep house, and bear and bring up children. (Martin Luther, in “Table Talk”)
  • Married life presupposes the power of the husband over the wife and children, and subjection and obedience of the wife to the husband. (Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii)
  • “However we may pity the mother whose health and even life is imperiled by the performance of her natural duty, there yet remains no sufficient reason for condoning the direct murder of the innocent.” (Pope Pius XI, Castii Connubii)
  • “Man was made to rule, woman to obey.” (Augustine, De Genesi)
  • “[I]n divine matrimony man receives by divine institution the faculty to use his wife for the begetting of children.” (Aquinas, Summa Theologica)

This is all mythical nonsense, of course, but the restrictive and demeaning attitudes toward women reflected in these passages remain much the same today around the world. Only in recent times, particularly since the 1960s, have patriarchal cultures and the religions that support them been forced in some places to loosen their control of women. These pockets of enlightenment, where women are free to make their own social, educational, economic and childbearing decisions, are the secular democracies.

The Last Stand

But not all of them. In the United States, the fight to maintain control of women continues, carried on by the Catholic hierarchy, the Mormon hierarchy, and Protestant fundamentalists. This fight has become increasingly fierce, although it’s concentrated primarily in one area. Control of women is no longer about opposing women’s right to vote or get an education or pursue a high-level career or (to some extent) practice birth control—religious misogynists have lost those battles. What is left now is their last stand: women’s right to abortion, to have the ultimate control over their own bodies. The Catholic-fundamentalist-Mormon coalition will not concede that right.

In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its Roe v. Wade decision, and on November 20, 1975 the United States Catholic bishops, acting in defense of papal authority, issued their “Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities.”1 It signaled the start of the culture war, and within a few years drew in Protestant fundamentalist allies—notably the Moral Majority, founded by Jerry Falwell and Paul Weyrich in 1979—acting in defense of biblical authority. The Pastoral Plan was not a reflection of either group’s desire to “save innocent pre-born babies”—as the hysterical anti-abortion rhetoric would have it. Catholic-dominated countries in Latin America (where abortion is illegal) have abortion rates much higher than in the United States,2 yet there is no campaign to stop them. Before Roe v. Wade, there were clandestine abortion clinics all over the United States, and doctors willing to do abortions in their offices. I knew about them and knew how to find them, as did most savvy women who were willing to ask around, yet there were no Catholic or Protestant campaigns to stop them (other than an occasional dustup somewhere by a vote-pandering politician). The reason is that they were illegal. And that is all the anti-abortion movement cares about, as will be explained below.

The following quotations expose the fundamental, governing rationale for the bishops’ Pastoral Plan: the protection of the Catholic Church as an institution and the credibility of the pope as the infallible representative of God on Earth. The quotations are from The Life and Death of NSSM 200: How the Destruction of Political Will Doomed a U.S. Population Policy, by Stephen D. Mumford.3 This highly readable book spells out in great detail the plans and strategies the United States Catholic bishops implemented to bring about the culture war that has fragmented our society.

The book begins by describing the failed efforts of the Nixon and Ford administrations to implement the recommendations of National Security Study Memorandum 200 (NSSM 200) for controlling population growth. NSSM 200 detailed the security threat to the United States of uncontrolled global population growth. It urged efforts to free women economically and socially through education, and to make family planning options available to them. It emphasized that population growth could not be controlled if abortion was not among those options. Mumford carefully documents the Catholic bishops’ efforts to derail the Study. They were successful, and the study was shelved permanently by the Reagan administration. Because of Mumford’s thorough documentation—including reproduction of original texts—his book is arguably the most important ever written on the cause of the culture war and the social-economic-political dysfunction that has ensued. Consider the following:

In his book, Persistent Prejudice: Anti-Catholicism in America, published by Our Sunday Visitor [the leading Catholic newspaper at the time] in 1984, Michael Schwantz summarized the position of Catholic conservatives on the abortion issue: “The abortion issue is the great crisis of Catholicism in the United States, of far greater import than the election of a Catholic president or the winning of tax support for Catholic education. In the unlikely event that the Church’s resistance to abortion collapses and the Catholic community decides to seek an accommodation with the institutionalized killing of innocent human beings, that would signal the utter failure of Catholicism in America. It would mean that U.S. Catholicism will have been defeated and denatured by the anti-Catholic host culture.” (p. 124)

In April 1992, in a rare public admission of this threat, Cardinal John O’Connor of New York, delivering a major address to the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, acknowledged, “The fact is that attacks on the Catholic Church’s stance on abortion—unless they are rebuffed—effectively erode Church authority on all matters, indeed on the authority of God himself.”

It is important to note here that, as Mumford says, laws outlawing abortion “. . . need not be enforced to meet the needs of the Vatican. The Vatican requires only that the civil law not conflict with canon law. Then papal authority and civil authority are not pitted against one another. It is only legal abortion that threatens papal authority.” (pp. 310–311)

I encountered this view myself several years ago when I was deep into organizing for abortion rights here in Minnesota. The anti-abortion man leading the anti-choice forces told me that if abortions were outlawed the Church would have no interest in enforcing the law because all it cared about was having the law validate Catholic doctrine.

And for that we have been dragged through decades of social and political chaos with no end in sight. Even birth control, long considered a basic, settled right, again became a major controversy in 2012 with the presidential candidacy of Rick Santorum, staunch Catholic, father of eight, and a reputed member of Opus Dei, a secretive, authoritarian Catholic society.

Mumford describes how the problem of papal infallibility and institutional authority surfaced in 1964 when Pope Paul VI authorized the Papal Commission on Population and Birth Control to see if there was a way to approve contraceptive use. (p. 126) The Commission met until 1966 without finding a way to do this consistent with Catholic doctrine. The commission’s lay members voted 60 to 4 in favor of approving contraceptive birth control, and the clerical members voted 9 to 6 in favor. Even though it undermined papal infallibility, the commission’s majority voted that way “because it was the right thing to do.” (p. 124) However, the minority (which included Karol Wojtyla, who became Pope John Paul II) prevailed to such an extent that Pope Paul VI, in his 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae, reinforced the condemnation of abortion and contraceptive birth control as well as his claim to infallibility. Here is an excerpt from the minority report:

If it should be declared that contraception is not evil in itself, then we should have to concede frankly that the Holy Spirit had been on the side of the Protestant churches in 1930 (when the encyclical Casti Connubii was promulgated), in 1951 (Pius XII’s address to the midwives), and in 1958 (the address delivered before the Society of Hematologists in the year the pope died). It should likewise have to be admitted that for a half a century the Spirit failed to protect Pius XI, Pius XII, and a large part of the Catholic hierarchy from a very serious error. This would mean that the leaders of the Church, acting with extreme imprudence, had condemned thousands of innocent human acts, forbidding, under pain of eternal damnation, a practice which would now be sanctioned. The fact can neither be denied nor ignored that these same acts would now be declared licit on the grounds of principles cited by the Protestants, which popes and bishops have either condemned or at least not approved. (quoted by Mumford, p. 126)

In other words, the Vatican found that it had dug itself into a hole and decided the only way out was to keep on digging. This would not be a matter of concern—or even noteworthy—if Humanae Vitae applied only to Catholics (most of whom have ignored it). However, in the Vatican’s worldview, Humanae Vitae applies to everyone, and governments have the duty to enforce its view of morality. Monsignor John A. Ryan, in his 1940 book, Catholic Principles of Politics, explains the matter:

If there is only one true religion, and if its possession is the most important good in life for States as well as individuals, then the public profession, protection, and promotion of this religion and the legal prohibition of all direct assaults upon it, becomes one of the most obvious and fundamental duties of the State. For it is the business of the State to safeguard and promote human welfare in all departments of life. (quoted by Mumford, p. 114)

The Power of a Living Fossil

Any rational, thoughtful person would want to dismiss such an absurd, arrogant claim out of hand, but that would be unwise. As Mumford explains in detail, the U.S. Catholic bishops have such a high level of organizational expertise, political shrewdness, public relations skills, and talent for negotiating alliances with religious-right fundamentalists that they have now brought those “state duties” alarmingly close to realization.

This is truly bizarre. The Catholic Church has no real power, only a perceived power because of its 2,000-year history, ostentatious papal encyclicals, impressive cathedrals, colorful rituals, magnificent music, and priceless works of art. Or perhaps it’s the Vatican’s seemingly bottomless pockets and ability to make common cause with Protestant extremists. A Feb. 21, 2012, fundraising letter from Americans United for Separation of Church and State noted this:

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released a study last year [2011] that showed lobbying expenditures by religious groups have increased about fivefold since 1970, with $390 million now shelled out annually. Most of these groups are ultra-conservative and are working around the clock to convince politicians to make their theology the law of the land.4

When the bishops announced a new lobbying group in 2011, religious right activists were ecstatic. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, wrote, “I welcome their renewed commitment to the fight before us. We are united in the fight for faith, family and freedom.”

Evidence of this “conviction” was that the Catholic bishops spent $26.6 million in 2009 lobbying Washington. Of the top 15 groups the Pew Form lists, 10 are religious right organizations or are aligned with the Catholic hierarchy.

Yet all the evidence from surveys and church attendance shows that most Catholics have little or no interest in papal restrictions on sexual matters, and they dismiss the pope’s pronouncements. Almost every Catholic I know fits this description. They remain Catholic out of habit or because they think of the Church as a social welfare service that feeds the hungry and shelters the homeless (see Chapter 8 for what is really going on) or because they love the pageantry or for other personal reasons. Catholics will turn out in massive numbers to see the pope, listen to him rant about abortion and birth control, then go home and guiltlessly engage in all kinds of non-doctrinal, essentially harmless, sexual and reproductive “sinful” behavior.

So what explains the political power of the Catholic Church? Single-minded dedication and organizing ability, which can outweigh almost any majority opinion. Mumford explains it in describing the Church’s initial failure to get a Human Life Amendment passed:

In September 1991, Catholic activist William Bennett, former Secretary of Education, and other Catholic “conservatives” announced the formation of Catholic Campaign for America. Creation of this organization even 20 years ago would have been unthinkable. For nearly 200 years, Protestants have warned that the Vatican plans to create such organizations in the U.S. and that American democracy was threatened. One needs only listen to what these Catholics are saying now to understand that the strategy Stephen Settle described in the National Catholic Register is being implemented—and to recognize that this minority, with its “stamina, smarts and perseverance” intends to impose papal law using any means necessary and to “co-opt” our democratic institutions. (p. 172)

Although Catholics are no longer a reliable voting bloc, politicians seem to tremble at the thought of opposing the bishops’ imperious anti-abortion demands. None of them have the courage to stand up for the victims of religious tyranny. Oh, some of them speak legalistically, and almost apologetically, of defending Roe v. Wade as the law of the land. But none of them, as far as I know, defend the women that ruling is supposed to protect. Their support of reproductive rights is too pro forma to inspire confidence. What might be the impact on how women (and the men who love them) vote if a candidate said something like, “Of course I support Roe v. Wade. I support it because I respect women. They’re childbearers, but they’re not a public utility for us to regulate. I respect their intelligence and their ability to know what’s best for themselves and their families. They don’t need me or any legislative body to make their personal decisions for them.” Sounds like a vote-getting speech to me.

 


 

1. Stephen D. Mumford, The Life and Death of NSSM 200: How the Destruction of Political Will Doomed a U.S. Population Policy. Center for Research on Population and Security, 1996.
2. See http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/journals. The overall abortion rate for Latin America is 37 per 1,000 women of childbearing age. For the Caribbean it is 50, for Central America it is 30, for South America it is 39. (Data are from 1995 but more recent figures show little change.) For North America, where abortion is legal (though not easy to access), the rate is 22 per 1,000.
3. Mumford, op cit.
4. Barry W. Lynn, Executive Director, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, fundraising letter, Feb. 21, 2012.

 


 

cover of Culture Wars by Marie Castle

 

by Marie Alena Castle, author of Culture Wars: The Threat to Your Family and Your Freedom

(This is a lightly edited, slightly shorter version of the cover article of the May/June 2014 The Moral Atheist,  the magazine of Atheists for Human Rights.)

 

 

 

 

Defensible Interests

. . . [T]o fulfill our deepest interests in this life, both personally and collectively, we must first admit that some interests are more defensible than others. Indeed, some interests are so compelling that they need no defense at all. . . . For nearly a century the moral relativism of science has given faith-based religion—that great engine of ignorance and bigotry—a nearly uncontested claim to being the only universal framework for moral wisdom.

— Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. pp. 190-191.

 

Not So Defensible Interests

“There are secular reasons to oppose abortion.”

— David Silverman, President of American Atheists, communication with the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), seeking common ground.

 

It’s Not As Bad As It Looks

We are calling attention to a problem the atheist movement has inexplicably ignored, perhaps because we are so inundated with it we don’t see it. That is the problem of the essential immorality of religion. Instead of pointing to and challenging it, we tend to accept the myth of religion as a morality -based institution and even try to emulate it. They do food shelves? We do food shelves. They do blood donations? We do blood donations. They do clothing drives? We do clothing drives.

Nothing wrong with this. It’s all good civic virtue stuff any decent society does if it doesn’t want to fall apart into chaos. But it doesn’t deal with the basic problem—all the ways religion harms society. How do we counter this? With billboards that say some of us are happy to be atheists or that religion is based on myths or that we can be good without God—implying there is a goodness about religious belief, and we atheists can also have that goodness?

No. There is no goodness about religious belief, but when do we bring that to the public’s attention? Not often, if ever.

The Road to Secular Hell

The road to secular hell is indeed paved with good intentions, however poorly thought out. American Atheists went to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in March (keynote speaker Sarah Palin) to let the generally atheistic “libertarian” fiscal restraint contingent of the far right know they were welcome in the atheist community. Libertarians want government out of a good part of our lives, including the personal part, so why would Silverman offer up women’s personal autonomy as a bargaining chip in seeking common ground?

It doesn’t take much experience with the atheist movement to know the answer. There is a strong view running through it—as with all of society—that women in their reproductive function are something of a public utility to be regulated. The idea of a woman having autonomy over her own bodily reproductive processes seems unthinkable and contrary to what nature intended, however mindlessly. The adverse effects on a woman of a disastrous pregnancy are pretty much viewed as irrelevant. She is there to have children, regardless of the cost to her.

And atheist organizations wonder why there are relatively few women in atheist organizations. Why align with any group that thinks your childbearing function makes you public property? There are only two atheist organization I know of that, as a founding principle, refuse to demean women this way: One is our own Atheists For Human Rights and the other is the Humanist Association of Canada, founded by the late Dr. Henry Morgentaler as a result of his experiences providing abortions to women, because he saw how necessary that was to their wellbeing. He was a morally active, human-centered physician, ultimately willing to pay the price of imprisonment to save the victims of religious tyranny . . . victims Silverman seems willing to throw under the bus to attract a few more members to his organization.

Timidity as a Moral Blindfold

Then there’s’ Sally Chizek’s experience in San Antonio, Texas. She’s a long time member of the Freethought Association of Central Texas (FACT). Here’s what she says:

For the past 15 years, I have gone to City Hall to protest the National Day of Prayer held on the City Hall steps. When I learned that the protest was not to be advertised as a FACT event I asked why. I was informed that FACT does not prescreen the signs and if the protest goes badly and the FACT sign is there it will likely cause irreparable damage to our reputation and our relationship with the city. While it has never been problematic before, all it takes are a few new folks with aggressive/insulting messages that then speak for all. The FACT officers were not willing to take this on on behalf of the members at large.

That was two members at large. One had not heard any discussion of official FACT sponsorship and thought individuals can do what they wish but not speak for others. The other didn’t want FACT involved because ‘some people are looking for an excuse to shut us down . . . . This ain’t the hill we want to die on.’

Only one man noted our web site—in About Us—concerning our objectives: ‘Challenge the encroachment of religion into . . . local government and eliminate all discrimination and limitations placed on our civil liberties. . . . Does the National Day of Prayer appear as a violation of separation of church and state? It’s fine you do not agree and you decided to click ‘not attending.’

“The event was advertised by FACT, but they wanted everyone to know it was not a FACT event. Why not? It was dealing with church and state. The Christians use the front steps and lawn so citizens who have business to conduct have to use the back door.

So Sally held her own protest and lined up people to attend. She made extra signs in case someone showed up without one. The signs supported state-church separation but did not mention FACT. “But what concerns me,” Sally said, “was how gutless the board members appeared to be. I am 86 years old and could be knocked down with a feather, but I’ll take my chances. Otherwise no one will protest and the NDOPers will think they have all the rights and just get bigger.”

Tim Gorski, founder of the North Texas Church of Freethought, agreed with Sally. “FACT was founded by the late Catherine Fahringer [a well known, outspoken and feisty activist], he said, “which makes it sad that it is not getting out in front of a protest against NDOP when there are people who want to participate. They won’t be able to prescreen the signs? Are they afraid someone’s sign will say, ‘Godless Bitches’? Oh, that’s already on FACT’s website. . . . Some people may show up with obscene signs? Just say, ‘They’re not with us.’ Besides, NDOP is itself an obscenity.”

The Moral High Road Not Taken

“NDOP is itself an obscenity.” Yes, that’s the point. The moral point that’s been there all the time and we’ve ignored it. There is an inherent organizational timidity at work that fears to take religion on where it is most vulnerable and it leaves activists like Sally Chizek to do what they can on their own. Atheist organizations should challenge the obscenities of religion. Challenge their claim to the moral high ground. They don’t own it; they are squatters. Atheists are distrusted and demeaned precisely because there is a prejudice that, without religion, a person is unlikely to be reliably moral and therefore not to be trusted.

But what is morality? Most of our social problems are caused by religious beliefs that are an obscenity. They seek to deny women’s rights, gay rights, the right to make our own end-of-life decisions, the right of medical researchers to do what is necessary to find cures for diseases.

The list of religion-caused social problems goes on, and atheist organizations dismiss them with lip service at best, saying they “are not atheist issues.” All of these repressive religious obscenities are based on batshit crazy religious beliefs, including the most bizarre of them all—that a fertilized egg the size of the period at the end of this sentence is a full human being with more human rights than a disastrously pregnant disposable woman has. This is insanity in its purest form, yet we are supposed to respect it because it is a “deeply held religious belief.”

Decent people don’t need religion to be decent. Most of us behave decently because we are programmed by evolution to want to get along safely and peacefully with others. It’s a matter of survival. Religions are established almost always by those with no interest in religion—faithless people using the faith and belief of others to steal from them, and to control them for their own self-aggrandizing purposes.

Will Atheists Ever Learn How to Fight?

Why do atheists think state-church separation involves mainly ritual things such as government-sponsored prayer, religious monuments on public property, religious graffiti on our money, and teaching creation myths as science? Yes, those are all significant matters, but they do not affect the sacred “morality” aura that surrounds religion. Why not show where respect for batshit crazy religious beliefs leads?

Prayer: I saw a report of religionists setting up a “Prayer Station” in a courthouse somewhere. Sure, that’s a state-church violation, but it doesn’t get to the point, which is that prayers are useless incantations that are (or should be) as embarrassing in public as picking one’s nose.

In such a case, of course go file a First Amendment lawsuit, but also set up a complementary prayer station with placards quoting Bible verses such as “Whatever you ask in my name it shall be granted unto you.”

Turn it into a theatrical event. Invite the press, and then publicly gather and solemnly pray to Jesus to turn, say, a pear in your hand into a carrot. Onlookers will laugh and possibly think about the value of that religious Prayer Station.

Same with legislative prayers. Set up tables that track the ineffectiveness of those prayers as legislation is run through the meat grinder sausage-making process. Onlookers will laugh and possibly think about the foolishness of legislative prayers. And don’t forget to note the biblical prohibition against praying in public.

Ten Commandments: American Atheists won the right to put up an atheist monument next to the Ten Commandments on government property. Fine! But the religionists have thousands of places where they can afford to do that. We can’t. Why not, instead, show public outrage (as we should regardless) at every government display of such an unAmerican barbaric set of “commandments”? Challenge the denial of religious freedom, the lack of commandments against slavery and torture, the commandment (not to mention the entire Old Testament) that treats women as property, etc., and demand that such an obscene monument be removed. Don’t simply demand “equal time”–point out how obscene the Ten Commandments are.

Abortion: Stop this timid “well, I support Roe v. Wade” stuff and hand wringing about it being a “gray area” or somehow open for discussion. It is totally a medical matter between a woman and her doctor. All restrictions, beyond regulations that affect all medical procedures, are a state-church violation.

If not, let’s hear David Silverman explain what his “secular reasons” for opposing the right to abortion are, and why they are not patriarchal and misogynistic. Take an unequivocal stand for women’s rights that show atheists are with them. Do the same for gay rights: Both women and gay people might see atheists in a better light, as a moral voice opposed to their oppression by the religious right.

Stem Cell Research: Our lives and our health should not be held hostage to embryo “personhood” insanity. It’s insane! Say so. Very plainly
.
End-of-Life Decisions: We should not have to suffer needlessly simply because of others’ crazy religious beliefs. Say so. Loudly.

Bible Reading: So just why do atheists want to stop this? Everyone should read the Bible. Just make it mandatory that students read the whole thing with both religious and atheist instructors explaining it. All Bibles given out in school should include a copy of Awkward Moments Children’s Bible. Great illustrations. Takes the Bible seriously and quotes it exactly. Not what the religionists want, of course, but it’s their Bible and they’re stuck with it.

Some commentators are starting to get the message. Greta Christina is talking about engaging non-religious young people in areas in which their interests lie. By and large they are not interested in school prayer and nitpicky things like that. Young people are leaving religion because religion is messing with their lives by restricting birth control and abortion and abusing kids. Americans United for Separation of Church & State has started opposing religious assaults because of their basis in law with no secular justification. One commentator is starting to note that religion is founded by hucksters. At AFHR, we’ve been saying this all along. Maybe someone out there is finally listening.

 

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snakeoilcover

 

(Excerpted from Spiritual Snake Oil: Fads & Fallacies in Pop Culture, by Chris Edwards)

Dinesh D’Souza’s book, Life After Death: The Evidence, is a Frankenstein’s monster of half-baked assertions, tweaked fallacies, and glaring contradictions all held together by the single thread of a new Christian narrative. These problems will all be dealt with in due course. However, the most important thing that any reader, atheist or religious, will take from his book is that science is the supreme arbiter of truth. D’Souza’s clumsy attempt to provide “empirical evidence” for the afterlife is not really a work of science at all. Instead it is an attempt to enshroud religion and science in a new narrative, one that is not detrimental to faith. But even a casual reader will be able to sense that this fails. By ceding the grounds for “truth” to scientific method, and by subjecting matters of faith to matters of science, D’Souza has posited a new revelation. In the Gospel According to D’Souza, the divide between reason and religion is only, like our lives on Earth, a temporary aberration. A better time is coming; one where the lion of science and the lamb of religion will lie side by side and the believer’s faith will be rewarded with intellectual fulfillment.

D’Souza’s entire book is a case study in contradiction. First of all, the main thesis of the book is that there is solid empirical evidence for the existence of the afterlife. Yet, mega-pastor Rick Warren wrote the Foreword. (Warren, who believes in talking snakes, invisible people, and the walking dead, blames the rise of atheism on “public gullibility.”) Also, for some reason, D’Souza includes a chapter about near-death experiences and then dismisses them but claims to keep an open mind. Why include evidence that he himself discredits? After his “scientific” case for the afterlife, D’Souza then includes a chapter about why it is good for people to believe in the afterlife even if it can’t be conclusively proved to exist. One could search through peer reviewed science journals for the rest of this life and the next and not see a similar argument made for the existence of neutrinos.

The main philosophical argument that D’Souza (and Warren) makes goes like this: No one knows what happens after we die, even scientists are guessing, so when we are dealing with the unknown at least Christians and religious people have faith, which is better than nothing. In other words, when there is an absence of evidence it is best to bet on faith. He sums up this up by illustrating how he quieted one of Daniel Dennet’s followers at a Q and A session after a debate. After a wordy explanation of David Hume’s philosophy, which states that in the absence of evidence that no claim can be made, D’Souza writes:

When I heard the student’s question, the first thought that occurred to me was that his so-called principle of parsimony not only wiped out religious claim; it also wiped out atheism. Consider the statements “God does not exist” and “there is no afterlife.” Are these statements inherently true? No. Nor can they be shown by external verification. Consequently they, too, are incoherent by this standard…Well, then, I said, by your own criteria the principle is meaningless. We can toss it out and not bother with it any further.
This was a good moment for me…. (29)

It is unclear why this was a good moment for D’Souza. First of all, he needs to understand that his argument is out of alignment with his claim. He’s claiming a belief in an all-powerful deity, and the best he can come up with is to say this can be proved with the statement, “there is no evidence for the deity, which means that his non-existence and his existence are equally plausible.” That’s pretty thin ice for a very big god to be standing on.

Secondly, in regards to the afterlife D’Souza doesn’t understand that atheists don’t make absolute statements. We merely assess odds. For example, looking at the afterlife is like looking at a locked door to a room without windows. If a rationalist and someone who believed in the supernatural were standing outside the door they could assess odds as to what is happening inside. The rationalist would concede that he doesn’t know what is going on in that room, but that it’s a pretty good bet that whatever is in the room is acting in accordance with the law of gravity. The supernaturalist, in contrast, could insist that Jesus and the twelve apostles were drinking beer and eating jalapeños in the room while levitating a foot off the floor—and that because the rationalist couldn’t prove that they weren’t there was a 50/50 chance that they were.

The point here is that the burden of proof falls on the positive, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, and that D’Souza offers no proof whatsoever for his extraordinary (afterlife) claim. Instead, he makes the bizarre assertion that absence of proof is somehow proof.

Oddly, D’Souza responds to the atheistic criticism that one can justify faith in any bizarre idea in this way:

A little scrutiny of these examples will quickly show that the craziness here is entirely on the part of the atheists. We have combed the earth without locating a single unicorn, we seem justified in rejecting unicorns…Celestial flying teapots are also very unlikely, as are Flying Spaghetti Monsters, but our derision is prejudicially solicited by the particular examples chosen. Teapots do not fly, and past is an unlikely ingredient to produce flying monsters. (27)

I might add that seas don’t part, men don’t rise from the dead, serpents don’t speak, and virgins don’t give birth. But that is beside the point. Here D’Souza makes a properly worded rationalist argument against absurdities like unicorns and pasta gods. He says they are unlikely and, since we haven’t found any evidence for them; they probably don’t exist. This is exactly what atheists say about god and other supernatural beings. But D’Souza then makes a very strange argument:

On the other hand, if we modify the examples slightly to involve matter and energy that is undetectable by scientific instruments yet is presumed to exist in order to account for the motions of the galaxies, we have just described “dark matter” and “dark energy,” widely accepted by scientists today. (27)

How the purported existence of dark matter works as proof of the afterlife is beyond me. I suppose D’Souza’s vague point is that since things (apparently) exist that can’t be scientifically measured (yet), that heaven could exist and be made of the same stuff. It’s a bit like saying that since we know there are tiny particles like quarks, then there must be microscopic horses. The two have no connection. Besides, dark matter is something that is posited in order to make sense of observations of gravitational effects. Likewise, before we had technology capable of detecting high frequency sounds above the human hearing range, it would have been acceptable for a bat-watcher to assume that such sounds existed so that he could explain bat behavior.

The problem of assessing statistics and odds is endemic in D’Souza’s book. Oddly, for a book that is supposed to be about the afterlife, the author insists on bringing up traditional (and thoroughly discredited) arguments for the existence of a god or gods. He spends considerable time going into detail about the “fine tuning” of the universe, and then tries to state that scientists, blinded by that pesky scientific method, are afraid to resort to a supernatural explanation. The message is that the odds that the universe is fine tuned for human life are so bad as to require some “tuner.”

Clearly, the universe is equally fine tuned for the existence of smallpox and venereal disease as it is for the existence of puppies and chocolate milkshakes. An African orphan dying of AIDS and malnutrition will find little comfort in the recollection that a series of highly unlikely events had to occur for her to be in her state of agony. Still, this “fine tuned” argument is often used by theologians to prove there is some power, nice or not, somewhere out there. The trick that D’Souza is playing here is simply to take an ordinary statistical principle and make it seem cosmic and mysterious.

The recipe for this statistical trick is simple. Simply state the odds that should be calculated before an event after the event. If you want the event to appear even more unlikely, begin adding complicating factors (which is very easy to do after the fact). Pretty soon, (voila!) you’ve made an ordinary event appear to be extraordinary.

D’Souza’s claim that in order to explain how our solar system is set up “just right” for life to exist on our planet, scientists must assume a fanciful polyverse is outright false. Life is here, the odds against life existing before the fact are meaningless after the fact.

D’Souza also tries to make the case that almost all cultures have a vision of the afterlife, going back to pre-Christian societies. Well, all cultures also produced language. Does this mean that each culture was tapping into a mysterious “language realm” or is it better explained by the fact that all humans share a voice box and flexible tongues?

Chapter six of D’Souza’s book begins with the old Platonic trick of reifying verbs:

[A]sk yourself, how much does your mind weigh? What are the dimensions—length, width, and height—of your consciousness? (92)

He might as well be asking how much running weighs, or what are the dimensions of eating. Thinking is a description of what the brain does. It is not a thing to be measured. This reification of thinking is a serious problem. How can “thinking” go on without a brain any more than “running” can go on without legs? States of consciousness can be changed by altering, through disease, education, experience, or trauma, the stuff of the brain. When the brain dies, consciousness ends—its supporting “hardware” is gone. Similarly, when the legs are gone, it’s safe to assume that running stops. Sure, it might go on in some nether realm, but, I mean, come on.

Even worse than his misunderstanding of statistics is D’Souza’s shocking misreading of evolutionary theory. I say it is shocking because D’Souza is neither a creationist nor a proponent of Intelligent Design. D’Souza seems well aware of the fallacy inherent in William Paley’s “Watchmaker Argument,” and his argument is just another form of the hourglass fallacy I detailed in the chapter about Deepak Chopra.

In chapter six, D’Souza attempts to fuse faith and evolution by citing two scientists, Christian de Duve, and Simon Conway Morris:

[T]hey insist that evolution among several species has followed predictable pathways. Eyes, they content, have evolved on separate evolutionary lines on multiple occasions. Placental and marsupial mammals are not closely related, and yet they have developed with similar structures and forms. Morris writes that “each group has independently navigated to the same evolutionary solution.” Duve and Morris don’t deny the factor of chance, but they insist chance itself follows a largely predetermined trajectory. (104)

This is where, D’Souza implies, god hides. Scientists can’t see it because they are trained not to look for supernatural causes, but it is there. D’Souza breaks up the big god that creationists and ID’ers so covet and puts the pieces in the cells. We have here not a single big god but trillions of tiny gods.

D’Souza is right that there is a principle which guides evolution—there are two in fact, which explain how complexity evolves, but there is nothing mysterious about them. The principles are “survive” and “mate.” The reason that eyes develop in so many animals is because it is useful for animals to detect visual (electro-magnetic) sensory data in a way that best suits their purposes. This is why flies and humans, both of whom have eyes, perceive and make sense of light in different ways. It’s the same with the other senses. Think of a rotting carcass. For humans, the smell is revolting. For vultures, it’s the olfactory equivalent of a dinner bell.

Virtually every page of D’Souza’s book is lousy with fallacies and false metaphors, and to point every one of them out would require a book in itself. It would also be to miss the point. D’Souza is not seriously trying to meld logic and faith. He’s trying to change the prevailing narrative in secular society, which is that religious dogma has given way to scientific truth. In a society that cherishes medical and technological advancement, one can hardly challenge the precepts of science any longer. The only thing left to do is to assert that religion and science are compatible.

The problems with trying to create a narrative around such notions are legion. First of all, atheism and science cannot be separated. Science is the daughter of atheism. Smallpox was only cured when people began looking at the disease as a natural phenomenon and dismissed any supernatural cause. In fact, everything that works in the world is a result of atheism. One has to begin with the assumption that there are no supernatural entities that interact with the world and then one can proceed. For example, despite what the tired cliché says, everyone in a foxhole is an atheist in practice. If they believed that a divine power would stop the bullets flying at them, they wouldn’t be in the hole.

Secondly, science has taken human knowledge further and further away from the narrative of the religious texts. This has been true in the Western world since Galileo. How can D’Souza square this circle? Early on he writes:

As an atheist friend of mine quips, “How can these Christians be against logic and inventions?” Actually, Christians aren’t opposed to either. Rather, they recognize that, to a large degree, science and reason have become enemy-occupied territory. Science and reason have been hijacked by the bad guys… (12)

However, D’Souza claims that if Christians will only embrace reason and science they will see that “it stunningly confirms the beliefs that they held in the first place. What was presumed on the basis of faith is now corroborated on the basis of evidence, and this is especially true of the issue of life after death.” (13)

If this is the new narrative, then it has serious problems. D’Souza tries to explain his point by stating that the authors of Genesis, for example, claimed that the universe had a starting point and did this despite the pre-Hebrew idea that the universe was eternal, and that this controversial notion has recently been confirmed by science’s Big Bang theory. This is an outright con. Will science one day come to prove the biblical assertion that the Earth was made before the Sun?

Occasionally, by chance, scientific theories and conclusions seem to coincide with ancient, vaguely worded mystical claims or predictions. But there are major differences. Scientific theories and conclusions are always orders of magnitude more specific than mystical claims and predictions. As well, science advances, mysticism doesn’t. Scientific understanding of the universe is constantly improving, while mystical (in D’Souza’s case, Christian) understanding of the universe has not improved in two thousand years.

D’Souza, spends a lot of time in his book explaining how quantum physics presents a universe which acts in ways we don’t understand, and he then builds a rope ladder to the moon from this.
His odd syllogism seems to be:

A. The universe doesn’t make sense
B. Therefore things that don’t make sense sometimes are true.
C. The afterlife doesn’t make sense so it must be true.

D’Souza then tries to dismiss the claim, based on quantum physics, made by Stephen Hawking, that the universe doesn’t need a starting point. Why does D’Souza dismiss this? Because it doesn’t make sense.

Anthropologists might more plausibly point out that the brain evolved for the purpose of survival in the wild in Africa. It is capable of abstract thought, but only after rigorous training. So it’s not surprising that the workings of the universe defy common understanding. It was not created to be understood nor were we created to understand it.

D’Souza’s theme about science supposedly proving what had once been presumed by faith is the only coherent thread in the book. He writes:

So what does modern physics have to say about the Eastern and Western conceptions of life after death? In Newton’s time, the verdict was decidedly negative. Today, however, the situation is completely different. Modern physics has expanded our horizons and shown how life after death is possible within the existing framework of physical reality. The materialist objection has proven to be a dud; in fact, modern physics calls materialism itself into question. In a crucial area, and sometimes against the objections of the scientists themselves, modern science has proven itself not the foe of religious believers, but an unexpected ally. (89)

And here is the New Narrative: Up until now, science has made a mockery of faith. However, this can only be because we have an incomplete understanding of the universe. As our understanding grows, we’ll see that science will come to prove the precepts of faith to be true. We are just now entering a stage where the spotlight of science has become broad enough to reveal that religious truths were right all along. This whole religion versus science thing has just been one big five hundred year misunderstanding that will be cleared up now that science is getting its act together. This process of reconciliation has been delayed only because close-minded scientists are trained not to see the supernatural.

One might add that very few people in the world, a very few scientific specialists, truly understand quantum physics. Dinesh D’Souza is not one of them. And the chutzpah of D’Souza in citing concepts he probably does not even vaguely understand as “proof” of his wishful thinking is breathtaking.

It is not possible to argue that god or the afterlife exists and that there is evidence, but that faith in him or it is required. An all-powerful god who wanted his existence to be known would not rely on inferences and statistical fallacies for his proofs. If he existed and wanted to be found, there would be no debate. A measurable afterlife would be something we could directly detect, not something we should believe in. D’Souza encourages Christians to embrace reason and science and trust that eventually this will support their faith. Maybe they will grasp what D’Souza didn’t, that you can’t have your faith and prove it too.

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