highwaystarz - Adobe Stock

Crumbling Across the Board

June 24, 2020

The Pompeo Circumstance

Pranshu Verma at the New York Times has an important report on the anxiety-inducing activities of the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and his new “Commission on Unalienable Rights”:

Human rights scholars have criticized the panel, saying it is filled with conservatives intent on promoting views against abortion and marriage equality. … And former agency officials caution that elevating the importance of religion could reverse the country’s longstanding belief that “all rights are created equal” — and embolden countries that persecute same-sex couples or deny women access to reproductive health services for religious reasons. …

… Diplomats note the report could be a tool to advance Mr. Pompeo’s religious beliefs and political aspirations, while proving detrimental to preserving the rights of women and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people abroad.

Another way to put how scary this is, if it’s not clear yet:

“My hope is that this document doesn’t come close to establishing something that looks like a hierarchy of rights,” said Rob Berschinski, a deputy assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in the Obama administration. “But if it does, repressive governments are going to point to that fact and use it against this, and future administrations, to basically say ‘we are no different than you. You have your priorities, we have ours, now butt out.’”


CDC Director Robert Redfield does not have good news for us. The Guardian reports on his appearance before the House Energy and Commerce Committee:

“We have all done the best that we can do to tackle this virus and the reality is that it’s brought this nation to its knees.” …

… Redfield said that the US at local, state and federal level has chronically underinvested in “the core capabilities of public health”, including data analysis, “laboratory resilience”, the public health workforce, emergency response capabilities and “our global health security around the world”, adding that “now is the time” to step up spending.

Steven Novella explains why an air purification system in, say, a packed church for, say, a president’s campaign rally, won’t really help:

If you are talking without a mask to someone relatively close you are spraying them with small droplets, and if you are infected those droplets may be teeming with virus. Droplets can also spread the virus through intermediaries, like door handles, walls, or whatever people may touch. The bottom line is that in a mass gathering an air purification system is likely worthless in terms of reducing spread of COVID-19.

Just try to imagine this scenario, reported by Reuters, happening in the United States:

A Brazilian judge ordered President Jair Bolsonaro to wear a mask in public after the right-wing populist attended political rallies without one in the middle of the world’s second-worst coronavirus outbreak.

Federal Judge Renato Borelli ruled in a decision made public on Tuesday that Bolsonaro was subject to a fine of 2,000 reais ($387) a day if he continued to disobey a local ordinance in the federal district meant to slow the pandemic.

Can. You. Imagine. It’s understandable, seeing as how Brazil has the most COVID-19 cases in the wor. . . . I’m sorry, what? Excuse me, let me correct myself. Brazil has the most cases in the world, other than the United States.

Um, You First

A survey from the conservative American Enterprise Institute shows that Americans are not ready to go back to church. Yonat Shimron reports:

The survey from the American Enterprise Institute showed that 64% of Americans said they were “somewhat uncomfortable” or “very uncomfortable” attending in-person worship.

Even among those who reported their congregations offered in-person worship in the past week, 56% of respondents said they chose not to go.

And here’s the part that definitely won’t surprise you:

The AEI study found sharp racial and partisan disparities in Americans’ response to the crisis, with Democrats more concerned about contracting COVID-19 than Republicans. While 72% of Democrats said they are at least somewhat worried about a household member becoming infected, only 43% of Republicans said the same.

Those political differences drive religious views. The only religious group comfortable with church reopenings was white evangelicals — strong partisan supporters of the Republican Party and Trump.

David Gibson at Religion & Politics predicts that post-pandemic, “the forecast for religion looks more like recession than resurrection”:

The most visible religious icons of this pandemic are the few but vocal self-styled divines who insist on holding in-person services to make a grandstand on religious liberty or to show the secular world how tough they are. At best, they are preaching to the converted, the regular churchgoers, mainly white evangelicals and Catholics, who have already been trending conservative in recent decades. But their unholy foolishness is not the kind of witness that will stir souls to greater observance, and surveys show their numbers are shrinking. Such congregations have been more effective dispersal mechanisms for the virus than for the faith. …

… Our current evolution has meant there are many more religious “nones” among us—and the pandemic may well accelerate their numbers. Religion is good for religious people, as the saying goes, but everyone else prefers to walk their own spiritual path.

One spiritual path favored by many millennials, according to Tara Isabella Burton, is consumerism. But, you know, spiritualized consumerism. With brands:

These brands are selling not just products but values. In so doing, they are creating moral universes, selling meaning as an implicit product and reframing capitalist consumption as a religious ritual — a repeated and intentional activity that connects the individual to divine purpose in a values-driven framework. … The internet has also made us hungrier for individualization: for products, information and groups that reflect more exactly our personal sense of self.

A Fresh Coat of Paint

Paul A. Djupe looks at the increased acceptance of LGBTQ Americans among faith groups, particularly in terms of how people think their own religion prohibits or permits “homosexual behavior”:

This is not to say that the impulse to discriminate against LGBT Americans will end soon; large minorities still stand opposed to LGBT equality, buoyed by their religious groups, and there will always be holdouts. But the social foundations for that view appear to be crumbling across the board.

The statue of Brigham Young is coated in red paint, with the word “RACIST” spray-painted on its base. For those wondering what ol’ Brig’s specific sins were, Courtney Tanner at the Salt Lake Tribune enlightens us:

Both the faith and Young practiced segregation and preached the superiority of whites as a mandate from God. Some members held slaves, too, when Young directed Latter-day Saints to resettle in Utah — what was then Mexican territory. He supported it.

In a speech in 1852, Young said: “In as much as we believe in the Bible … we must believe in slavery. This colored race have been subjected to severe curses … which they have brought upon themselves.”

White House spiritual adviser and satanic pregnancy revoker Paula White says she’s told Donald Trump not to talk about his faith in public so he doesn’t get “trapped” by mean journalists’ questions. You know what? I sort of believe that. I mean, there are just so many rakes one can step on before one gets a concussion.

Remember how Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary disavowed Trump in 2016, only to cave to endorsing him for 2020? Here’s another example of his poor decision-making abilities: he explained his change of mind…in an interview with Isaac Chotiner at The New Yorker. You know, where dodgy explanations go to die, painfully. Like, watch how Chotiner opens things, with this question:

I once heard you say that you would like to live in a Victorian house, but not with Victorian medicine. Do you think the fact that we don’t have Victorian medicine has to do with changes brought about in part by these waves of secularization that you don’t like?

Mohler’s then all, I see what you did there. Anyway. Mohler says:

President Trump is a huge embarrassment. And it’s an embarrassment to evangelical Christianity that there appear to be so many who will celebrate precisely the aspects that I see Biblically as most lamentable and embarrassing. So I have to make a distinction between voting for a candidate and rationalizing for a candidate, much less being enthusiastic about what I would see as the character faults of a candidate. I intend to vote for Donald Trump in 2020, but my shift is from reluctantly not voting for him in 2016 to what you might call reluctantly voting for him in 2020, and hoping for his reëlection, because the alternative is increasingly unthinkable. But I will not become an apologist for the misbehavior of the President and for what I see as glaring deficiencies in his private and public character.

Wow, that Joe Biden must be a real monster.

Little Brains

Oh hey, this is good news: According to Pew, 65 percent of Americans want the government to do more to address climate change. There’s a dominant consensus on things like tax credits for carbon capture and tougher restrictions on carbon emissions, and still-overwhelming support for things like a carbon tax and higher fuel efficiency standards. Oh, and the most popular thing? 90 percent in favor of planting a trillion trees. I am so down with that one.

The Senate Intelligence Committee wants a public report on UFOs from federal intelligence agencies and the Department of Defense. Sure.

Scientists are growing little brain organoids (“mini-brains”) with human cells that have Neanderthal DNA in them. Just so you know that’s a thing that’s happening.

Next time your toilet clogs up, try commanding it to unclog in Jesus’ name. Worked for this guy.

We’re keeping track of COVID-19 pseudoscience, snake oil, fake cures, and more at CFI’s Coronavirus Resource Center. Separate fact from fiction and inoculate yourself from misinformation at centerforinquiry.org/coronavirus.

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.