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Unbelievers Undisturbed

January 27, 2020

Former Rep. Pete Stark, who in 2007 became the first Member of Congress to openly declare his lack of belief in God while in office, has died at the age of 88. The Post in its obit uses the word “atheist,” which I don’t think Stark himself actually identified with, but I could be wrong. Anyway, they say:

Mr. Stark had an independent streak, a caustic tongue and a willingness to ruffle feathers. He challenged colleagues to fistfights on the House floor and in 2007 became the first member of Congress to declare that he was an atheist. …

… “‘Feisty’ is a good word for him, and in some ways he was a contrarian,” Larry Gerston, a professor emeritus of political science at San Jose State University, said Saturday in an interview. “By marching to his own beat, he might have made people feel uncomfortable, but in a time when so many people are measured and careful in what they say, he was remarkable for his candor.”

Hey look! Our legal guru Nick Little is the guest on the podcast Oh No, Ross and Carrie! where he talks about our lawsuits against Walmart and CVS over homeopathy.

Trump threatens to withhold federal funding to the state of California over its requirement that health insurance cover abortion services.

At the March for Life, for which this threat was timed, Trump lies to the crowd. Vice reports:

As Trump listed his anti-abortion bona fides for the crowd, he also revived some of his favorite false claims about abortion, including that doctors who provide abortions in the later stages of a pregnancy will “allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb right up until delivery.”

This is not true. Not only is infanticide illegal, but abortion very rarely take place late enough in pregnancy that the fetus is viable, which generally occurs around 24 weeks. Nationwide, just over 1% of abortions occur past 13 weeks of pregnancy, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

This was a source of pain this weekend: Of all the things in my life and in the wider world that are being ruined by the current administration, at least, I thought, they can’t touch Star Trek. How naive I have been. Trump’s Space Force unveils its logo, which is almost a photocopy of Starfleet Command’s. George Takei, Sulu on the original Star Trek if you didn’t know, opines in the Washington Post:

… the final product with its concentric rings and swooping orbits looks so much like Starfleet’s, I fear it could easily confuse any Vulcans and Klingons who see it. …

… This somewhat comical appropriation of “Star Trek” imagery carries a certain irony. The universe of “Star Trek” has always provided a hopeful, near-utopian vision for humanity, where we have finally learned to set aside things like racial prejudice and gender inequality, and we all work together toward a common purpose and quest. Money is a thing of the past because no one wants for any material need, and we have united much of the galaxy in a peaceful assembly of sovereign worlds.

Contrast that for a moment with the current administration’s values and practices: racial resentments and fear stoked for cynical political purposes, the wealthy made even more obscenely so through grift and political influence, coarse and bullying behavior masquerading as diplomacy, to name but a few. Even the notion of a “Space Force” seems patently absurd coming from an administration where science is mocked and disregarded.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, being true to the noun they share with one of our publications’ titles, recognizes the problem with the Espinoza case and public funding of religious private schools:

Diverting the already limited resources for public education to religious and private schools would be disastrous. Such a decision would further decimate public education, creating even more inequity and inflicting damage on children like English language learners, in addition to children with disabilities and other physical, intellectual, or social limitations who are cut off from private school options. It would fly in the face of the bedrock separation of church and state, as well as the need for accountability and transparency of public money.

Mark Silk says the right is replacing the Wall of Separation with the Wall of Religious Liberty:

Today we’re seeing the building of a new wall of separation, this one resulting from a systematic effort to exempt religious institutions and individuals from government rules. … It’s a wall designed to permit religious conservatives to withdraw into a world of their own, one that permits them to live, work, and worship apart from the gender norms that have come to prevail in the rest of American society — even as their religious institutions insist on, and receive, access to the same governmental benefits as secular organizations.

David Gorski warns of the misinformation being spread by “chemo truthers,” and worries over what social media can do to keep it in check:

One thing I’ve learned is that antivaxxers forming new Facebook groups are very careful not to mention vaccines in the title and instead use terms like “medical freedom” or “parental rights” or other antivaccine dog whistles. Algorithms are dumb. They do what they’re programmed to do and can thus be gamed for a while before their creators realize they’re being gamed and tweak the algorithm to account for the gaming.

What is it with Popular Mechanics and UFOs these days? This time they’re all excited because a former Navy engineer who filed some patents for a hybrid aerospace-underwater craft powered by fusion, Salvatore Cezar Pais, answered an email from another outlet:

Could Pais’ work be an effort by the Navy to replicate technology seen by U.S. Navy Super Hornet pilots? Or is it entirely different and separate from those UFO sightings? Even more bizarrely, could the “UFOs” represent real-world tests of technology that a Navy representative assured the USPTO was taking place?

Elizabeth Warren announces an interfaith advisory council for her campaign, which, as you probably guessed, does not include any nonreligious representatives. Shrug.

Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro keeps trying to out-Trump the U.S., this time with the appointment of a literal creationist as head of the agency that oversees graduate studies programs.

The management of the New Orleans Saints doesn’t want the public to see how the organization helped the local archdiocese conceal its sexual abuse crimes. Release the lawyers.

Christian “news outlet” Charisma News runs a piece by Thomas Horn predicting that an asteroid will crash into Earth in 2029, in line with Biblical prophecy. The dude even checked with a scientist!

I now believe, in fact, if you were to ask a scientist (as I did) to explain what these verses seem to depict, they would tell you that the details of Revelation 8 very much match the sequence of either a binary asteroid (two asteroids orbiting a common barycenter — the area of mass around which two or more bodies orbit) accompanied by smaller fragments — or the breakup of a larger asteroid into two main portions accompanied by tons of smaller debris as it enters Earth’s atmosphere, followed by impacts.

To be clear, I would not be surprised if we do get hit by an asteroid around that time, and we probably have it coming, but it wouldn’t be because the Bible said so.

Did you know that E.B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web, was also the White in Strunk and White of The Elements of Style??? I didn’t. I also didn’t know that White was an essayist, and in a new collection of said essays, he hits at some important points of relevance to us right now. From a review of the collection by Joseph Peschel in the Portland Press-Herald:

When, during the 1950s, Eisenhower suggested that prayer was a part of Democracy, White disagreed and he did not equivocate.

“The implication in such a pronouncement, emanating from the seat of government, is that religious faith is a condition, or even a precondition, of the democratic life,” he wrote in an essay that’s included in “On Democracy.” “This is just wrong.”

Presidents should pray whenever and wherever they like, White believed, but shouldn’t advertise prayer. “Democracy, if I understand it at all,” he continued, “is a society in which the unbeliever feels undisturbed and at home. If there were only half a dozen unbelievers in America, their wellbeing would be a test of our democracy, their tranquility would be its proof.”

What, I wonder, might White have made of a Secretary of State who says, “God may have sent President Donald Trump to Earth to save Israel”?

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.