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A Smorgasbord of Micro-Obsessions

October 2, 2019

The Wall Street Journal has an op-ed by Richard Fernandez (a conservative blogger at PJ Media) on secular humanism. Let’s see how it starts:

The 20th-century left tended to define progress in terms of material goods, and that was true of liberals and Communists alike.

Well maybe it’s not worth reading past that first sentence. Nonetheless I trudge on, and we find who the real villain of secular humanism is…Greta Thunberg, of course!!!

Secular humanism seems to be having an existential crisis. Five-year plans and social engineering didn’t produce happiness. We got the electricity, and it’s destroying the planet. Yet the failure hasn’t persuaded ideologues to change their approach. “Some people say that we should study to become climate scientists so that we can ‘solve the climate crisis,’ ” Ms. Thunberg says. “But the climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions.”

Okay we can leave this now.

CFI’s Jason Lemieux reports back from the Secular Coalition’s Lobby Day, where he ran a workshop on how to talk to Congress, which, you know, he knows a lot about:

Many attendees had joined in previous lobby days. However, there were some newcomers who were apprehensive about meeting with a congressional staffer for the first time. I accompanied a few of them to meetings with members of Congress’s Maryland delegation. They did great! It was gratifying to help people make their voices heard in Congress where all too often, the concerns of regular constituents take a backseat to powerful special interests.

Hey you don’t want everybody to get the flu, right? You certainly don’t want it. What’s that thing called, where they give you a little poke and it helps keep you from getting the flu? No, not acupuncture. Oh right. VACCINES. We have an action alert to give vaccine policy a little, um, booster shot:

U.S. Representative Kim Schrier has introduced legislation to help stem the tide of fearmongering against vaccines. The Vaccine Awareness Campaign to Champion Immunization Nationally and Enhance Safety (VACCINES) Act (H.R. 2862) provides the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) with tools to strengthen vaccination rates through a better understanding of how and why some Americans decline to vaccinate and by educating the public about vaccine science.

Turns out that when you get a creationist propaganda operation together with a far-right congressman, sketchy things happen. Charles Bethea at The New Yorker reports on how Rep. Mark Meadows failed to disclose that he sold Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis a big chunk of property in (I kid you not) Dinosaur, Colorado that had, yes, lots of dinosaur bones. And it wasn’t an accident:

Meadows’s involvement with the land may have been, in part, a moneymaking venture, but it seems chiefly to reflect his commitment to, and entanglement with, the contentious and controversial world of creationist paleontology. … Mark Meadows and his wife homeschooled their children, and, in May, 2002, they took them on the Dragon’s Den Dig. … [In a creationist documentary] he describes a remarkable experience that he and his daughter have just had. “We were working towards the end of the day here, just trying to get one last bit of rock out before, you know, before we finished,” he says, when, “all of a sudden, we spotted a little bit of bone, we thought—and we found a claw.” …


According to multiple accounts, the bones were not discovered during the Dragon’s Den Dig; they were found in the fall of 2000, by the man who then owned the property, a local schoolteacher named Dana Forbes. And they were mostly excavated several months later, by a team that was led by a young-Earth creationist and fossil hunter named Joe Taylor.

And it goes on.

When Arch-Patriarch Pence was governor of Indiana, he signed in that terrible RFRA law. Then there were some tweaks to make it less terrible. Now a bunch of Christian groups are challenging the tweaks in court. The Republic reports:

The law firm filed the complaint on behalf of plaintiffs the Indiana Family Institute, Indiana Family Action and the American Family Association of Indiana, which contend the versions of the ordinances that protect the LGBT community from discrimination means the government could compel them to provide services to gay couples that go against their religious beliefs.

Don’t you just love how all the plaintiffs use “family” in their names? I don’t think they get to own that word anymore. Anyway, the lawsuit is being filed by the Bopp Law Firm. Mm. Bopp.

Much like saying “Merry Christmas” is not actually a thing anyone ever stops you from doing, Focus on the Family wants you to think that bringing a Bible with you to school will get you sent to a Martian mining colony or something, thus their “Bring Your Bible to School Day” campaign. Cavan Concannon at Religion & Politics explains what’s going on:

These materials reflect the anxieties and grievances that animate the white evangelical movement in the U.S. Though these communities have found themselves politically powerful as a faction of the Republican Party, white evangelicals have nevertheless watched their cultural dominance dwindle in a rapidly changing nation. Paying attention to BYBSD’s attempt to politicize the common practice of bringing a Bible to school demonstrates how evangelical anxieties are constructed and stoked.

Trump-backing billionaire Peter Thiel is holding a conference called “Hereticon” for those “booted from mainstream political discourse for ‘thoughtcrimes.'” Look, I just wish I had thought of the name first. Anyway, it’s a conference that will be quite full of itself, according to The Daily Beast:

Unlike gatherings of right-leaning online provocateurs that the event resembles, Hereticon will draw a more pedigreed set. … “From Galileo to Jesus Christ, heretical thinkers have been met with hostility, even death, and vindicated by posterity,” the blog post grandly opens, going on to declare that “troublemakers are essential to mankind’s progress, and so we must protect them.” … Conversations will center on a smorgasbord of libertarian micro-obsessions, including transhumanism, “the abolition of college” (a favorite of Founders Fund partner Peter Thiel), “the benefits of starvation” a la Jack Dorsey’s fasting diet, “the softer side of doomsday prepping,” and immortality, naturally.

On Twitter, Anil Dash has some thoughts about this:

This is classic horseshit that will give a platform & access to resources to people who want to oppress or exterminate folks like me (and maybe you) but no voice to anyone who wants to end things like Peter Thiel enabling violent white supremacy. Fuck this.

Ryan Burge looks at the data to see if Democrats have any hope of coaxing Protestants over to their side:

Four decades ago, 20% of Democrats were mainline Protestants; now it’s half that. Additionally, the religiously unaffiliated share has tripled, going from 8.8% in 1978 to 28% in 2018. Democrats stand at a crossroads.

Michael Wear at the Catholic magazine America says the DNC blew it when it embraced its nonreligious voters. But of course he thinks that. Anyway:

This “religiously unaffiliated” resolution certainly gave voice to some valid claims and legitimate frustrations with the religious right’s attempt to monopolize the discussion of “values.” But in its carelessness, it is just the kind of thing that helps Republicans hold on to political power.

CNN reports on the arrest of a man in Arizona who wound up killing a 6-year-old boy when he forced hot water down his throat in order to “cast a demon out.” The boy had been “acting demonic,” according to his adoptive mother.

Vice reports on the doings of UFO Kaokala, a UFO cult in Thailand (recently raided by authorities) that claims to have a backchannel to the aliens, communicating via space portal. So that’s where Loki wound up.

Israel’s Health Ministry held disciplinary hearings against two doctors who advised patients not to get vaccines and instead use homeopathy. But nothing has happened to them yet:

The ministry told Haaretz that “the vast majority of doctors [who advised against providing vaccinations] walked back their statements and stopped acting on the matter. There are proceedings going on against two doctors.”

An op-ed in the Pensacola Voice hilariously warns the public not to waste their money on fake psychics, but make sure they go to companies that rigorously screen their psychics to make certain they have real magic powers. Raise your editorial bar, Pensacola Voice.

Eating red meat may or may not be really healthy or really deadly and nothing makes sense anymore.

In New Zealand, skeptic activists are trying to put a stop to a tour by “psychic healer” Jeanette Wilson who claims to be able to talk to “spirit surgeons on the other side.”

Quote of the Day

Religious studies professor Arthur Farnsley contrasts himself with his friend Peter Pangore, who became famous for having “died” twice and had “afterlife” experiences. Farnsley is the skeptic, and finds it somewhat alienating:

I don’t troll around on social media mocking the “superstitions” of others, but I take pride in being as coolly calculating as I can be. … I also try to remember that my rationalist strategy leaves me in a pretty small minority. I don’t experience the comfort of a guardian angel or the optimism that everything happens for a reason. I do not sense God’s all-compassing love the way Peter does.

Or the way humans mostly do. In all of the world, in all of history, and even in America today, belief in supernatural experience is normal. Peter is normal. I’m the outlier.

Linking to a story or webpage does not imply endorsement by Paul or CFI. Not every use of quotation marks is ironic or sarcastic, but it often is.