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Excommunicate Me

January 23, 2020

Ed Powers at The Independent memorializes Terry Jones, here looking at his approach to the film Life of Brian:

His target – and it’s hard to imagine the historic Jesus objecting – were the frauds cashing in on the public’s credulity. Hence his enduring bafflement that anyone could consider Life of Brian blasphemous.

“The definition of blasphemy has to do with belief,” he said. “[The film] accepts that Christ is the son of God and it accepts that miracles must happen. The film is supporting some of the beliefs which I personally find hard to justify. The mistake is to [consider] an attack on established religion as blasphemy.”

Speaking of blasphemy, Howard Jacobson at The Guardian considers the recent fictional takes on the Holocaust and Auschwitz:

But there is all the difference in the world between pornographic exploitation of the Holocaust and a dramatisation of how reading about it can be deranging. The forms in which we receive and process images of the camps are integral now to what the Holocaust means to us. There is nothing titillating about their study.

Nor is there blasphemy in disturbing the solemn hush with parody and satire. If we are to know and bear witness while accepting Levi’s injunction against “understanding”, we need all our wits about us. … comedy can be a contentious and disruptive force whether or not its subject is the Holocaust. The important thing is to accept that seriousness can take many forms.

And speaking of the Holocaust, Pew Research reveals how bloody ignorant Americans are about it. Less than half of respondents knew that Hitler came to power through normal democratic processes (25 percent thought he violently overthrew the government, which, if you know your history, you know he would have botched) or knew that 6 million Jews were murdered. Even worse, though, is looking at the chart of responses and seeing how big the bars for “not sure” are for every question.

There is no such thing as a silver lining on a subject like this, but at least all of us already-intellectually-smug smartypants atheists can say that we fared better on Pew’s questions than any group other than, of course, Jews. Now go read Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Yes, it’s very long, but it’s astoundingly good and horrifying.

Consensus about the Supreme Court’s attitude toward Espinoza v. Montana is that, yeah, they’re gonna make Montana resurrect a dead law and force taxpayers to fund religious private schools. Our own Nick Little calls this an act of vandalism by the Court, so that’s why I made that silly header image for his blog post on the subject. It’s Kavanaugh if you can’t tell. Anyway, Nick does have a warning for the presumed victors:

The religious right should be careful what they wish for, though. If taxpayers are funding private, parochial education, then the clamor for taxpayers to have a supervisory role on those private schools can only grow. You can’t raid my wallet and then deny me the right to weigh in on how it is spent.

And on a broader scale, it is no secret that the countries of Europe, often with fully established churches, and with open government funding of religious schools, are far less religious than the United States. Jefferson’s separation of church and state hasn’t just protected society from religious control, it has protected religious groups from becoming unpopular, ineffective, and supervised wings of the state.

The International Court of Justice at The Hague declares that the government of Myanmar must “take all measures within its power” to stop the slaughter, displacement, and persecution of Rohingya Muslims. It is not expected that Myanmar will do so.

Amy Littlefield at Truthout unpacks the plot behind Project Blitz, the legislative playbook that Christian nationalists use to dictate the shape of policy in the states. Oh, and as you can see, it’s all going according to plan:

The Project Blitz handbook divided its agenda into three categories based on the amount of opposition it expected the measures to receive. The first category, intended to appear the most innocuous, included bills to promote “In God We Trust” license plates (now offered in at least 20 states) and the display of the “In God We Trust” motto in public schools. (Some version of the display legislation has passed in at least 10 states.) The next batch of bills centered on emphasizing “Christian heritage” and “the importance of the Bible in history” to promote the notion that the U.S. is a Christian nation. The third category, which organizers noted might be “the most hotly contested,” sought to empower licensed professionals to deny health care and other services based on religious beliefs and to enable adoption agencies to reject adoptive families on religious grounds. (At least 10 states have laws that allow discrimination by child welfare agencies, most of which have been passed since Project Blitz launched in 2015.)

Robert Gehrke at the Salt Lake Tribune opines on proposed requirements for clergy to report their knowledge of the sexual abuse of children, even if they find out in the confidence of a confessional:

This piercing of the clergy privilege is a hot-button issue, particularly for Catholics, who view the sanctity of the confessional as absolute with priests who violate it facing excommunication.

[Bill sponsor, Utah State Rep. Angela] Romero, who is Catholic as well, was at Sunday dinner and her family warned her that what she’s attempting to do could get her excommunicated, too.

“If I’m standing up for children, then excommunicate me,” she said.

Meanwhile, Utah has become the 19th state to ban pseudoscientific gay-conversion therapy for minors.

Oh hey look: We’ve got the video of Brian Greene’s presentation at CSICon 2019! He’s talking black holes and string theory, y’all.

And this too! On Point of Inquiry, Jim Underdown has University of Notre Dame philosophy professor James Sterba to talk about the logic (or lack thereof) of the existence of a morally good God.

Benjamin Radford considers what the Oscar-nominated film 1917 tells us about information and “the inherent difficulties in transmission”:

Whether it’s a character in a fantasy or horror film being told exactly what words to say or what to do when confronting some great evil at the film’s climax, as a natural skeptic, I’m often left wondering, “How exactly do you know that? Where did your information come from? Who told you that, and how do you know it’s true? What if they’re lying or just made a mistake?” … 1917 takes the matter deadly seriously, depicting the decidedly unglamorous horrors of warfare.

Dr. Jen Gunter is starting a web series to counter pseudoscientific crap, Jensplaining. Here, she’s interviewed by Now Toronto:

“Science hasn’t done a great job of making science accessible, from the way we teach kids in school all the way up to how we all live our lives,” Gunter explains.

“And it’s kind of all at our peril, because we all need science. I mean, science keeps the airplanes in the sky, it keeps our food safe. It does everything for us. We don’t appreciate that.”

Weirdly enough, Goop is directly responsible for Gunter’s show.

“There’s nothing like getting attacked by a celebrity to raise your profile,” she jokes.

There is apparently some hubbub around a professional player of American football by the name of Aaron Rogers, as he has confessed his religious skepticism:

I don’t know how you can believe in a God who wants to condemn most of the planet, you know, to a fiery hell. Like, what type of loving, sensitive, omnipresent, omnipotent being wants to condemn most of his beautiful creation to a fiery hell at the end of all this?

GOP Rep. Gregory Steube introduces a bill to allow the use of the U.S. Military’s trademarks on religious merchandise. Hemant says:

…this is what Republicans do. They carve out opportunities for Christians to get away with damn near anything no matter how much it hurts the country. Passing this bill would send a clear message that our military is okay being used as a pawn in a faith-based culture war.

You may have heard of the Raelians, the UFO cult that believes that alien scientists created humans ands are coming back to help us solve our problems. Sounds legit. This guy who calls himself Rael and says he’s the son of the alien Yahweh and the half-brother of Jesus is their leader. Matthew Hendley at Newsweek writes about the group and their “Happiness Academy,” and I just loved this bit:

Susan J. Palmer, a religion sociologist, paints a conflicting picture of Rael, however. “He’s not a very well educated person and he doesn’t write very well either.”

That blurry brown thing in front of a tree, which is also blurry and brown, is obviously Bigfoot.


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