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All the Monsters Live in Ohio

February 12, 2020

Benjamin Radford takes on the myths and misinformation about the Wuhan coronavirus, and there’s a lot of important stuff here worth sharing with folks:

When people are frightened by diseases, they cling to any information and often distrust official information. These fears are amplified by the fact that the virus is of course invisible to the eye, and the fears are fueled by ambiguity and uncertainty about who’s a threat. …

… Hoaxes, misinformation, and rumors can cause real harm during public health emergencies. When people are sick and desperately afraid of a scary disease, any information will be taken seriously by some people. False rumors can not only kill but can hinder public health efforts.

Yonat Shimron digs into the data I talked about yesterday showing that, just maybe, the rise of the nones is slowing, and pulls out this interesting bit as a parenthetical:

… among Gen Z, 12% were comfortable calling themselves atheists. Among American adults as a whole there’s still some social desirability in not identifying as atheist; only about 4% identity that way.

The AP reports on corporate efforts to offer faith-based resources and support for employees:

Tyson [the chicken company] won points for its chaplaincy program; most of the others have formed either a single interfaith employee resource group or separate groups for major religions such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Google’s interfaith group, the Inter Belief Network, has chapters for those faiths and for Buddhists, while Intel has a group for agnostics and atheists, as well as groups for major religious faiths.

Oh, and this:

One employer, the Internal Revenue Service, has a group specifically for Christian fundamentalists.


Jeffrey Rosario at the Post looks at the role of the Senate Chaplain, after the current chaplain, Barry C. Black, raised eyebrows when he prayed for this before one of the impeachment sessions:

Remind our senators that they alone are accountable to you for their conduct. Lord help them to remember that they can’t ignore you and get away with it, for we always reap what we sow.

Rosario writes:

… a spiritual force like Black could potentially bring some accountability into that chamber. He could inspire more senators to rise above partisan loyalties and resist the pressure to stand with their “teams” when truth and justice are at stake. Perhaps it would be healthy for senators to be confronted more often with the sobering reality that they will reap what they sow and that — as Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) put it with his vote to convict Trump — taking an oath before God is “enormously consequential.”

Changes are coming to Title IX rules on sex-based discrimination in schools and even how schools deal with sexual assault. It sounds very bad. Deseret News reports:

Advocates like 21-year-old Elizabeth Boyle, University of Notre Dame student body president and an organizer for Know Your IX, a youth-led nonprofit initiative, say removing oversight of Title IX exemptions may lead to abuses of the law, and allowing mediation could make it easier for schools to promote a “forgive and forget” mentality when it comes to sexual assault.

“There have been cases in which religious schools are telling students, ‘Pray for your perpetrators. Just pray about it and forget about it. Go to a Mass, or go to a vigil instead, and everything will be solved,’” Boyle said. “One of my fears is if they lift a ban on mediation in cases of sexual violence, then religious schools, in particular, might push mediation on to survivors as this kind of twisted idea of forgiveness.”

The Albany Times-Union reports on the mountain of public comments being sifted through as New York’s state education department evaluates its rules on equivalency guidelines for private (really, religious) schools:

“There is no longer any question tens of thousands of students are being denied a basic education required by law,” [YAFFED’s Naftoli] Moster said. “The DOE report found that 26 out of 28 Yeshivas investigated are failing to meet the very minimum threshold of substantial equivalency. And it’s safe to assume there are more out there. Every day we delay enforcement is another day children aren’t receiving the skills promised to them and their families.”

Meanwhile, a “Religious Liberties in Schools Act” that just passed in West Virginia is frankly a big mess, ostensibly to make sure no one is being discriminated against for their religion, which of course really means allowing lots of prayer and the endorsement of other religious activity. West Virginia Public Broadcasting reports:

The bill was amended on Tuesday by request of Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, to add that this provision does not excuse students from answering a question correctly just because the content “is counter to the religious beliefs of the student.”

Del. Jim Butler, R-Mason, disagreed with the amendment. He said on Monday he proposed changing the bill to include a similar provision, but one with the “acknowledgement that sometimes science is either wrong or it changes as circumstances change or evidence changes.”

The Allegheny County Council in Pennsylvania votes overwhelmingly to ban pseudoscientific gay-conversion therapy for minors. One of the votes against the ban, Republican Sam DeMarco, said he was concerned that it would restrict free speech, which makes more or less no sense.

In Venice, Florida, Mayor Ron Feinsod thinks a moment of silence is a better way to open a city council meeting, as opposed to a prayer. The council thinks otherwise, apparently.

But these things always go so well. Take this preacher giving an opening prayer to the Virginia House of Delegates, via the Virginia Mercury:

Democrats walked off the floor of the House of Delegates Tuesday morning as the pastor invited to give the opening prayer delivered stinging remarks condemning abortion and gay marriage and said God would bring his “wrath” against those who don’t follow biblical principles. …

… As he walked off, a man accompanying Grant asked a group of reporters if they were aware that “sodomy” was once considered an offense worthy of capital punishment. He declined to give his name.


Daniel Schultz at Religion Dispatches considers the arguments of political scientist Rachel Bitecofer on the relative political weakness of the religious left and centrists more generally:

Modern elections, in her view, aren’t about candidates, or their positions, or compromises appealing to the broadest swathe of voters. They aren’t even about the art of persuasion, when it gets down to it. They’re about group identity, and hating the other guys more than you hate your own. It’s negative partisanship that makes U.S. politics go around, according to Bitecofer: American society is divided into two sprawling coalitions that fear and loathe the other, and the side that best taps into that existential ego threat is likely to come out on top. …

… Fortunately, the rank-and-file religious left seems to be moving away from mushy transpartisan centrism toward a more populist stance. That coincides with the rise of Bernie Sanders and the left wing of the Democratic party, but whether there’s cause to go along with that correlation is harder to say. What seems more likely is that the religious left, writ large, is simply one part of Bitecofer’s competing bases, less shaping the political conversation than being shaped by it.

Sigal Samuel at Vox looks at new research on biases against women in the sciences:

Quick, close your eyes and picture a scientist.

Did you just picture a man?

There’s a pretty good chance you did. Many of us unconsciously associate the concept “science” with the concept “male,” even if we would consciously reject that association. Unfortunately, the “science = male” stereotype is making it harder for female scientists to get promotions they deserve. Yes, even in 2020.

Tyler Broker at Above the Law makes clear what’s wrong with RFRA:

Unification behind our civil liberties requires equality under the law. Providing exemptions to criminal conviction based entirely on whether you practice religion or not is about as clear-cut a legal case of religious inequality as you’ll get.

The Justice Department, apart from all the terrible things its doing regarding Roger Stone and whatnot, is a big fan of Hookers for Jesus. Wait, what? Reuters reports:

Hookers for Jesus, which received $530,190 over three years, is run by a born-again Christian trafficking survivor who has lobbied against decriminalizing prostitution, a policy position aligning with many in the Republican Party.

Hookers for Jesus operates a safe house for female adult trafficking victims that, in 2010 and in 2018, maintained a policy of requiring guests to participate in religious activities, internal program manuals obtained by Reuters through public records requests show.

The safe house’s manuals had rules that included a ban on reading “secular magazines with articles, pictures, etc. that portray worldly views/advice on living, sex, clothing, makeup tips.” Other rules limited everything from who victims could call to banning them from bringing their purses with them on weekly shopping trips. Rule-breakers could be penalized by being assigned chores such as washing windows.

Bibles in hotel rooms. What’s up with that? More to the point, when will it stop being a thing? Maybe soon? Hannah Sampson at the Post reports:

In 2008 … 84 percent of rooms had religious materials, a number that had fallen to 69 percent in 2016 before dropping further two years later. …

… “The concept of putting a Bible in-room is an outdated practice and is exclusive to the religious denomination that believes in that scripture only,” Alastair Thomann, CEO of Generator and Freehand Hotels, said in an email. “We don’t provide Bibles in-room because our travelers are so diverse, and we want our properties to feel inclusive of all varying beliefs and spiritual traditions.”

“All the monsters live in Ohio,” writes Scott Wartman at the Cincinnati Enquirer, which I think would be a surprise to the people of Florida. Anway, he rounds up some of the cryptids that are purported to call the state their home, like Grassman, Frogman, and I guess also Bigfoot because why not.

Science educator Amanda L. Graze-Crampes writes at the NCSE’s blog about the challenge science teachers face when dealing with religion (which we know something about):

For many in the United States, the years of primary and secondary education represent the only formal exposure they will have to the sciences. It truly is the front line in efforts to promote understanding and scientific literacy as a whole. Despite decades of legal precedent and widespread scientific acceptance of evolutionary theories, states often omit evolution from the standards to avoid community conflict, and teachers, exercising their autonomy in the classroom, may gloss over or avoid teaching evolution to sidestep possible conflict with students. The result is a wide swath of the population that receives little to no evolution instruction; what is received is often fraught with misconceptions.

Speaking of misconceptions, PBS will be airing a documentary on Ken Ham’s creationist Ark Encounter fake-history museum/amusement park/money pit this Monday called We Believe in Dinosaurs. One of the two directors says:

I think it’s an important world that a lot of people I don’t think realize is there. This deep resistance to the idea of evolution on religious, moral, philosophical grounds, however you want to frame it, is driving this alternate reality.

Sounds pretty applicable to a lot of things today.

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.