One Christian Group’s Never-Ending, Futile Quest to Save America’s Children from Sex

Source: AlterNet

Author: Amanda Marcotte

Emphasis Mine

(N.B.: the most difficult aspect of blogging an information rich post such as this is to avoid highlighting everything!)

As anyone familiar with the Christian right can attest, there are a great many sayings Christians spout that are less charitable than it would seem. “I’ll pray for you” is a passive-aggressive way to tell someone to shove off. “It’s in the Lord’s hands” means that the speaker cannot be bothered to actually do something about a problem. And “we’re doing this for the children” means that adults and teenagers are doing something the Christian conservative thinks is ungodly, and children will be invoked to excuse attempts to control the choices of older people.

Take, for instance, the annual rite of the media watchdog organization Parents Television Council complaining about the MTV Video Music Awards. No one in the real world mistakes the VMAs for Sesame Street. The show starts at 8pm and doesn’t really get going until later. To make absolutely sure, the show is rated TV-14. Despite the many signposts alerting parents to the fact that this isn’t programming for the little ones, PTC always finds a way to use hand-wringing about the children to demand more censorship of the VMAs.

PTC seems like a very retro organization these days, still hammering on about what’s on TV when everyone has immediate access to whatever entertainment they want through the Internet. But the organization matters, not just because it is symptomatic of the larger tendency on the right to use “the children” as cover for attacks on the choices of older people, but because they are still the biggest organization out there setting the agenda for what kind of media conservatives are going to hold out as evil. You know, because of the children.

And while PTC might not be very successful at getting stuff off TV, it and its proxies in the media are extremely good at spreading the myth that our culture is oversexed, especially to conservative audiences. That, in turn, leads to attacks on sex education,  Planned Parenhood, and activists like Sandra Fluke who want insurance to cover birth control—anyone who is perceived as aiding this supposed over-sexualization.

Because conservative “watchdog” groups, with PTC leading the pack, set this agenda for the right, it’s no surprise that Fox News has picked up on PTC’s obsession with the evils of dancing and the VMAs in particular, such as Bill O’Reilly railing on for multiple nights on Fox News about the supposed threat to girls that the VMAs present and Fox News using the awards show to forward attacks on “modern feminism.” Sexy dancing is available to anyone’s eyeballs whenever they want to see it, but because PTC obsesses over the VMAs, so must Fox News.

Screaming about the supposed effect of the VMAs on children is such a big deal for the PTC that it released pre- and post-VMAs statement. The pre-statement was a threat, which really calls into question what kind of lessons PTC thinks are appropriate to teach small children. “The 2013 VMAs were a public relations kerfuffle for your network that I feel certain you will not wish to repeat,” it warned ominously, even though there is no evidence that the Miley Cyrus performance it referenced did much beyond garner more attention for Cyrus’ burgeoning career.

PTC demanded a TV-MA rating for the show, even though it has no nudity and never anything more ribald than dancing. The TV-14 rating, according to the PTC, “was simply unacceptable to the families who depend on the television ratings system to be applied accurately and to the millions of families whose children are marketed to by MTV.”

The PTC was founded in the ’90s by Christian right activist Brent Bozell, and for most of its life, it didn’t bother to hide that it was an organization rooted in Christian right ideals. It’s been undergoing a makeover to appear more as a secular organization in recent years, hiring Tim Winter, a registered Democrat, to take over from Bozell in 2007. Under Winter’s direction, PTC has made a few moves to actually try to be a bit more convincing when it comes to the claim that they’re in this for the children, including creating a division of its website that takes a stab at pushing for better role models for girls in media.

But looking over the PTC blog, it becomes clear that it’s just the same old reactionary organization that exists mainly to complain about sex and profanity on-air, even in situations where broadcasters have reasonable expectations that small children won’t be watching the shows.

For instance, Winter, whose legal party affiliation as a Democrat hasn’t stopped him from writing for Christian right organizations like One News Now, wrote a piece in early August denouncing McDonald’s advertising.  He wasn’t concerned about the rising rates of childhood obesity or the way that McDonald’s targets children directly for manipulative advertising of incredibly unhealthy food. That’s for people who actually give a crap about children.

No, Winter is mad that McDonald’s advertised on a silly VH1 show called Dating Naked. “The juxtaposition of this historically family brand with such sexually graphic content is shocking,” he argues, even though the nudity on the show is obscured through pixilation and the contestants aren’t engaged in any more sexual behavior than on any other dating show. So McDonald’s can continue to use clowns and toys to encourage kids to eat all the grease and sugar they can stomach, but god forbid a dating show that admits people are naked under their clothes.

Even though bumping and grinding has been part of pop music since roughly forever, PTC has a special obsession with being angry at Miley Cyrus for engaging in the usual pop musician antics. “America Wants More “Sound of Music” – Less “Bangerz” reads one headline where the PTC bloggers unintentionally parody their own religious right obsession with eradicating any acknowledgement of sex from the entertainment industry.

Cyrus gets singled out because she had the temerity to change from a squeaky clean child star to a more mainstream, risqué pop performer. In other words, she grew up. “Miley Cyrus built her career on the backs of teens, ‘tweens’ and their parents. But the content of her Bangerz Tour is wildly inappropriate for children and families, and NBC knows it,” Winter complained on the blog.

Even though Cyrus is now a grown woman, she is obligated to continue acting like she is a child. No big surprise there, as PTC’s entire existence is predicated on using children as a cover story for what they really want, which is an entertainment industry that treats grown adults like we are children.

Amanda Marcotte co-writes the blog Pandagon. She is the author of “It’s a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments.”

 

See: alternet.org/media/one-christian-groups-never-ending-futile-quest-save-americas-children-sex?akid=12175.123424.DJwUEB&rd=1&src=newsletter1017100&t=6

5 Crazy Myths About Sex From the Religious Right

Source: AlterNet

Author: Amanda Marcotte

Emphasis Mine

Despite the fact that people have been having sex since literally before there were people, the religious right never stops acting like sex is some great conspiracy to bring about the end of human civilization. You have to give them credit for coming up with endlessly creative ways to go into full-blown panic at the idea that people are still having sex. Here’s five of the latest and silliest myths and legends about sex being floated by the religious right.

1) Sex education is an attempt to get kids “hooked” on sex, which is apparently an addictive drug now. Right Wing Watch found this video from the Christian right group Alliance Defending Freedom that is attempting to scare people about a proposed sex education curriculum in Tempe, Arizona. Even though Planned Parenthood has nothing to do with the curriculum in question—outside of being mentioned in its materials, accurately, as a place where one can go to receive sexual health care— ADF is valiantly trying to imply that they’re the secret masters behind this sex education curriculum.

“The question now is, is Planned Parenthood simply seeking to develop future customers and make a profit akin to tobacco companies providing cigarettes to kids?,” the video narrator asks. You start to get the impression that religious conservatives think that Planned Parenthood invented sex itself, just to trick kids into getting pregnant and getting abortions. It is worth pointing out that Planned Parenthood cannot “profit”, because it is a non-profit and all of its money goes right back into the organization so that it can better serve the health needs of the various communities it serves. Also, sex—and abortion—existed long before Planned Parenthood and will continue on even if the anti-choice movement was successful in wiping Planned Parenthood out.

2) Gay rights activism is a conspiracy to steal women away and turn them feminist. Fanatical misogynist blogger Robert Stacy McCain put up a post that was bizarre even by his remarkably low standards recently, arguing that feminism is run by “academic radicals who relentlessly strive to teach girls that lesbianism is the feminist ideal” and that the “one purpose of education now is to prepare young people for their lives as gay adults”. It’s a garbled, pretentious mess, but a wonderful encapsulation of a bunch of right wing myths and fears: Anger about women getting education, accusations that gay people are trying to recruit, fear that feminist arguments really are compelling.

But above all else, you get the strong impression that McCain and his male readership are deeply afraid that if women are allowed to have choices, they won’t choose men like McCain and his readers. Not an unreasonable fear—the only evidence-based one they probably have—but certainly not a legitimate reason to rail against higher education for women or gay rights.

3) Planned Parenthood is trying to push your kids into having kinky sex! Lila Rose, with her organization Live Action, is single-mindedly obsessed with trying to take down the Planned Parenthood. Her ostensible reason is that the health care organization offers abortion, but it becomes clear, when engaging with her work, that the real objection is that Planned Parenthood offers support to people who want to have happy, healthy sex lives, and Rose really does not want people to have those happy, healthy sex lives.

This became exquisitely clear in her latest “sting” operation on Planned Parenthood, where she had volunteers go into Planned Parenthood offices, present themselves as people asking for information and advice on sex, and then filming the workers—and this is supposed to be shocking—answering the questions asked of them. The volunteers pretended to be young, sexually active people who had been reading Fifty Shades of Gray and wanted to know what bondage and S&M were. By and large, the sex educators responded to a direct question asking about a sexual practice with accurate, warm-hearted responses, with an emphasis on practicing bondage safely. Apparently Rose thinks they should have pretended to be shocked and thrown their patients out. Offering help to people who ask for it? Next thing you know, they’ll start letting people read about stuff they are curious about and then where will we be?

4) Lesbians can’t be pretty! The Christian singer Vicky Beeching has come out as lesbian, a process that was extremely stressful for her, considering her conservative background and her current conservative Christian fan base. Ed Vitigliano of the American Family Association reacted by being confused about how it could be that someone who is pretty to him might not be into men. “I think most men would think that Vicky was a very pretty lady, and those sorts of appraisals are usually made without thinking,” he writes. “This makes the subject of sexual orientation rather difficult to understand at times.”

He then goes on to explain, at length, how women really do it for him, as if this were information that anyone cares about at all. “I don’t know what it’s like to feel that way toward a man,” he adds. Okay, well, it seems that’s true of Beeching as well, making his attempts to make this seem stranger and more alien than it is even sillier.

Vitigliano reluctantly accepts that gay and lesbian people must feel the way they say they do—an admission he treats like it’s a huge favor he’s doing them—but concludes that they must therefore be “broken”, because “the human race is clearly designed as male and female”. In other words, pretty ladies are put here for men, and if you pretty ladies want something else for yourself, well, your mistake for thinking you belong to yourself.

5) Contraception is a conspiracy to ruin the family. Anti-choicers used to try to bother to keep up the pretense of being “pro-life” by sticking to picketing clinics that offer abortion, but those days are over. As Robin Marty chronicled for Cosmopolitan, anti-choice activists in Minneapolis are desperately trying to shut down a new Planned Parenthood there, even though it doesn’t offer abortion. Their reason? Contraception itself is an evil that must be stomped out. Anti-choicers have blanketed the area neighborhoods with flyers “urging residents to avoid the new Planned Parenthood, which they say offers ‘dangerous contraception,’ ‘promotes and encourages sex without limits,’ and is ‘destroying families.’” They argue that sex should only happen with no “medication or barrier devices” and only for couples “open to new life”.

In reality, contraception is actually quite good for families and marriages. Cristina Page accumulated the historical evidence showing that greater contraception use correlated strongly with lower incidence of child poverty and happier marriages. In contrast, religious conservatives and people who live in communities controlled by religious conservatives have higher rates of divorce, no doubt in part because their ambivalent or hostile attitudes towards birth control and abortion cause a lot of hasty commitments that shouldn’t have existed in the first place.

See: http://www.alternet.org/sex-amp-relationships/5-crazy-myths-about-sex-religious-right?utm_source=Amanda%20Marcotte%27s%20Subscribers&utm_campaign=13e26a5219-RSS_AUTHOR_EMAIL&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_f2b9a8ae81-13e26a5219-79824733&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

Learning to Think in a Society Ruled by Absurd Religion and Other Dogma

Source: AlterNet

Author: Dan Arel

Emphasis Mine

(The following is an excerpt from Parenting Without God by Dan Arel.)

One important thing to teach our children is how to think critically. It is easy to tell them they should, but it is not as easy to teach them how, mainly because we may not be that great at it ourselves.

How many atheists do you know who are anti-GMO or anti-vaccination? We know these can be smart people who took on a position that is full of emotion, misinformation or bad research methods.

Think back to earlier discussions about vaccinations when those opposed were flooding you with links, not links to scientific studies, but to blogs or “information” sites by doctors who seemed to be selling a cure-all at the same time they were telling you to avoid modern medicine.

This is a failure in critical thinking, and it’s usually the result of confirmation bias. If you start off with the notion that vaccines are dangerous you will be drawn to articles that confirm your position. Instead, a position should be started from a clean slate. This is not easy to do but it is crucial.

Ask the question, “Are vaccines safe?” Then look for information from trustworthy sources and see what they say. What do medical peer review journals have to say? What do medical organizations say? What do opponents think and what are their sources? Are their sources reliable?

This same method applies to religion. Who is making the claim, and does the claim defy the laws of nature that we understand? Is there a simpler explanation for what happened? Is it possible this claim ever happened at all?

Look at Noah’s flood, with two of every single animal on the planet and a handful of human beings on a single boat. First look at the logistics. How big would the boat need to be and how much food would be required? What about the carnivorous animals? If you only brought two of each, what did the lions eat for an entire trip?

This alone makes the story seem implausible, but then look at the scientific evidence. Have we found a boat that could have done this? Surely a boat of this size must have some rather impressive remains somewhere in the world. How about the placement of animals; did Noah go around and drop each animal off at its particular continent after the flood subsided? How did he do this?

Then we can look at the archeological evidence. Fossils form best in wet conditions. So just imagine the archeological goldmine left behind from this massive flood that would have drowned billions of creatures. What have we found? To date we have found nothing suggesting a flood of this magnitude. It seems fairly reasonable to conclude there was no flood. No mass killings of people and animals. This is nothing but a myth, and can be treated as such.

Thinking critically about such an issue is rather simple to find a logical conclusion. This can be used for every tale in the Bible. From talking snakes to virgin births, we can look at these stories and apply the same critical thinking skills to them.

Our children should be using this method every day in all matters of life. With claims from friends, question family, parents, and teachers, they should be well prepared to question everyone and everything. Doing this also allows them to become their own person and not simply a carbon copy of what people are telling them to be.

Many of us, especially those who grew up in religion, had it engrained that the questioning of claims is frowned upon and God has an exact plan for who we should be. Many never break out of that cycle and allow those they consider authorities to dictate how their lives should be led. The generation we want to raise would be a generation that questions everything, from religion to government and even science.

We often imagine we cannot question science, but the core of scientific research is questioning. That is what peer-review is all about. Theists, especially creationists, often claim we all have faith in science, or call science a religion because we simply accept what scientists say. This could not be further from the truth. However, this is something important we should be teaching our children. The method in which we apply critical thinking to science, the scientific method and the rigorous testing scientific ideas are put through ensures that only sound ideas come out the other end as scientifically valid. All the others are discarded as nonsense or failures.

Pseudoscience exists because some people lack the ability to discard disproven or untestable ideas. From homeopathy to astrology, science discards claims, yet people insist on continuing to believe these claims. People who hold onto these ideas and continue to believe them lack critical thinking skills.

Pseudoscience is a strong example of the dangers of not applying critical thinking skills to real life. Many people lose the battle with treatable cancer because they believe nonsense claims by alternative medicine practitioners who have a “cure” that has never been tested, or if it has, failed.

The Burzynski Clinic in Texas offers such a service, despite FDA warning that its treatments are not only unproven, but its advertising and claims are deemed to be unlawful. It has been sued for misleading patients, insurance fraud and not being up to state medical standards. Yet it remains open for business, offering a cure that is too good to be true, while people who are not using critical thinking skills continue to throw all their money at this fraud, no matter the results.

How many TV evangelists have we seen in our lifetime who can heal those who cannot walk or see, or help someone overcome addiction, by placing their hands on someone’s head, yelling prayers or speaking in incoherent tongues? Then boom, the people are healed, up walking and dancing, while the audience goes crazy and throws money at the pastor and church to continue this miraculous healing.

This is all a fraud: everyone involved is in on the secret. Faith healers know that people want to believe in miracles; they want to believe so badly they will suspend reality to do so. We are eager to believe in things outside the laws of nature, like the paranormal, even though we know that no evidence ever supports such claims.  It may be crazy, but think about it. How many people do you know who do not believe in God, yet seem to think ghosts are possible Maybe even you. But think about it: you don’t believe in a soul or an afterlife, yet you believe we somehow stay alive after death, or some or our energy sticks around. Even skeptical thinkers can fall victim to thoughts like this. We seemed to be evolutionarily primed for it. 

  Belief  
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Learning to Think in a Society Ruled by Absurd Religion and Other Dogma

Children should be prepared to question everyone and everything.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The following is an excerpt from Parenting Without God by Dan Arel.

One important thing to teach our children is how to think critically. It is easy to tell them they should, but it is not as easy to teach them how, mainly because we may not be that great at it ourselves.

How many atheists do you know who are anti-GMO or anti-vaccination? We know these can be smart people who took on a position that is full of emotion, misinformation or bad research methods.

Think back to earlier discussions about vaccinations when those opposed were flooding you with links, not links to scientific studies, but to blogs or “information” sites by doctors who seemed to be selling a cure-all at the same time they were telling you to avoid modern medicine.

This is a failure in critical thinking, and it’s usually the result of confirmation bias. If you start off with the notion that vaccines are dangerous you will be drawn to articles that confirm your position. Instead, a position should be started from a clean slate. This is not easy to do but it is crucial.

Ask the question, “Are vaccines safe?” Then look for information from trustworthy sources and see what they say. What do medical peer review journals have to say? What do medical organizations say? What do opponents think and what are their sources? Are their sources reliable?

This same method applies to religion. Who is making the claim, and does the claim defy the laws of nature that we understand? Is there a simpler explanation for what happened? Is it possible this claim ever happened at all?

Look at Noah’s flood, with two of every single animal on the planet and a handful of human beings on a single boat. First look at the logistics. How big would the boat need to be and how much food would be required? What about the carnivorous animals? If you only brought two of each, what did the lions eat for an entire trip?

This alone makes the story seem implausible, but then look at the scientific evidence. Have we found a boat that could have done this? Surely a boat of this size must have some rather impressive remains somewhere in the world. How about the placement of animals; did Noah go around and drop each animal off at its particular continent after the flood subsided? How did he do this?

Then we can look at the archeological evidence. Fossils form best in wet conditions. So just imagine the archeological goldmine left behind from this massive flood that would have drowned billions of creatures. What have we found? To date we have found nothing suggesting a flood of this magnitude. It seems fairly reasonable to conclude there was no flood. No mass killings of people and animals. This is nothing but a myth, and can be treated as such.

Thinking critically about such an issue is rather simple to find a logical conclusion. This can be used for every tale in the Bible. From talking snakes to virgin births, we can look at these stories and apply the same critical thinking skills to them.

Our children should be using this method every day in all matters of life. With claims from friends, family, parents, and teachers, they should be well prepared to question everyone and everything. Doing this also allows them to become their own person and not simply a carbon copy of what people are telling them to be.

Many of us, especially those who grew up in religion, had it engrained that the questioning of claims is frowned upon and God has an exact plan for who we should be. Many never break out of that cycle and allow those they consider authorities to dictate how their lives should be led. The generation we want to raise would be a generation that questions everything, from religion to government and even science.

We often imagine we cannot question science, but the core of scientific research is questioning. That is what peer-review is all about. Theists, especially creationists, often claim we all have faith in science, or call science a religion because we simply accept what scientists say. This could not be further from the truth. However, this is something important we should be teaching our children. The method in which we apply critical thinking to science, the scientific method and the rigorous testing scientific ideas are put through ensures that only sound ideas come out the other end as scientifically valid. All the others are discarded as nonsense or failures.

Pseudoscience exists because some people lack the ability to discard disproven or untestable ideas. From homeopathy to astrology, science discards claims, yet people insist on continuing to believe these claims. People who hold onto these ideas and continue to believe them lack critical thinking skills.

Pseudoscience is a strong example of the dangers of not applying critical thinking skills to real life. Many people lose the battle with treatable cancer because they believe nonsense claims by alternative medicine practitioners who have a “cure” that has never been tested, or if it has, failed.

The Burzynski Clinic in Texas offers such a service, despite FDA warning that its treatments are not only unproven, but its advertising and claims are deemed to be unlawful. It has been sued for misleading patients, insurance fraud and not being up to state medical standards. Yet it remains open for business, offering a cure that is too good to be true, while people who are not using critical thinking skills continue to throw all their money at this fraud, no matter the results.

How many TV evangelists have we seen in our lifetime who can heal those who cannot walk or see, or help someone overcome addiction, by placing their hands on someone’s head, yelling prayers or speaking in incoherent tongues? Then boom, the people are healed, up walking and dancing, while the audience goes crazy and throws money at the pastor and church to continue this miraculous healing.

This is all a fraud: everyone involved is in on the secret. Faith healers know that people want to believe in miracles; they want to believe so badly they will suspend reality to do so. We are eager to believe in things outside the laws of nature, like the paranormal, even though we know that no evidence ever supports such claims.

It may be crazy, but think about it. How many people do you know who do not believe in God, yet seem to think ghosts are possible Maybe even you. But think about it: you don’t believe in a soul or an afterlife, yet you believe we somehow stay alive after death, or some or our energy sticks around. Even skeptical thinkers can fall victim to thoughts like this. We seemed to be evolutionarily primed for it.

See: http://www.alternet.org/belief/learning-think-society-ruled-absurd-religion-and-other-dogma?akid=12161.123424.rh-T2m&rd=1&src=newsletter1016640&t=7   

Neil deGrasse Tyson Hit by Creationist Backlash for Explaining Universe Is Billions of Years Old

Source: AlterNet

Author: Dan Arel

Emphasis Mine

In the wake of the success of the “Cosmos” television series, which picked up four Emmy Awards earlier this week, Neil deGrasse Tyson discussed politics, religion and science in a recent interview with AlterNet.

When I asked if the success of “Cosmos” had surprised him, Tyson said he had not anticipated the kind of coverage the show would get by entertainment sites and blogs. Because of the show’s major network backing and primetime slot, he said, it was covered like any other television show. He said this forced many entertainment writers to write about all sorts of science topics not often covered in these publications, exposing the show to a new and possibly unintended audience.

Tyson was not as shocked by the backlash the show garnered from certain religious and political groups, mainly creationists who took issue with Tyson’s insistence on discussing evolution, the Big Bang theory and the history of scientific discovery. Their criticism of the show did not bother Tyson at all. “You have to ask yourself, what are the numbers behind the people making these claims? Someone like Ken Ham [owner of the Creation Museum] has beliefs that are even crazy to many Christians.”

Ken Ham’s criticisms came in the form of a weekly review on his website Answers in Genesis, a creationist organization. Ham’s comments gained some attention from the media and were often answered by science writers all over the Internet.

But Tyson wondered how Ham was even able to get anyone’s attention. He speculated it had something to do with Ham’s debate with Bill Nye, the Science Guy.

“Everyone knew Bill Nye, but almost no one had heard of Ken Ham,” Tyson said. “But after the debate [Ham] realized he had some media attention. You have to wonder—if that debate never happened if he would have even bothered covering the show at all?”

Tyson said he has no interest in addressing the claims AIG made against him or the show.

“What I say is not an opinion,” Tyson said. “Life is too short to debate people’s opinions. There is an old saying, if a debate lasts more than five minutes, both sides lost.”

This is the reason Tyson says he doesn’t debate. “My publicist wanted to set up a series of debates with me about Pluto, but I don’t care that much—call Pluto a planet, call it a planetoid, it doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “Just make sure that whatever you call it, you are doing so informed.”

Tyson said as an educator, his goal is not to tell people what to think, but to teach them how to think and provide them with scientific facts. It’s up to them to decide what to do with this knowledge. “I am not a totalitarian, I don’t want to tell you what to believe. I want to provide you with the tools and evidence to arrive at your position on your own, and if you disagree with me, that’s fine, as long as your disagreement does not harm others.”

Tyson was seemingly verging on a more political discussion, though he has stayed guarded on his political leanings. “I have opinions and I lean one way over another, but I am not here to share my opinion or tell someone how they should vote,” said the scientist. He also had a fear that his fans could adopt his opinions simply because Tyson had stated them and not because they arrived at the same conclusions on their own.

Tyson has a long history of not openly endorsing any political party. He believes that science is apolitical, and politicians should come to scientists for information when it is in regards to public policy. “One thing that brings me great sadness is when a scientific discovery that should be apolitical is politicized, and suddenly people are choosing sides on their own and not consulting with scientists.

He reminded me that the National Academy of Sciences was formed for this very purpose. If politicians needed to gather scientific information in order to write public policy, they would reach out to NAS, but today they choose sides that only seem to serve them personally.

When you cherry-pick information to serve a need, there is a problem,” he said, referring to politicians who ignore evidence that does not support their political position or religious beliefs.

While Tyson says he does not like to tell people what to believe, he has spoken out against many types of science denial, especially on episodes of “Cosmos” in which he addressed issues like climate change and discussed that you can really take it to climate deniers by hitting them where it hurts most, their wallets.  Tyson insisted he was providing the overwhelming evidence in support of the anthropogenic global warming theory, not simply by telling people it was true, but by showing them how we know it’s true and the significance of its impact. Tyson’s mission is to educate as many people as he can to think critically and to arrive at their conclusions and beliefs informed. He knows he cannot make everyone agree, but believes that if people are making informed decisions about science, we have a chance of making fewer bad decisions with the knowledge we have.

See: http://www.alternet.org/belief/neil-degrasse-tyson-hit-creationist-backlash-explaining-universe-billions-years-old?akid=12153.123424.6B9vC_&rd=1&src=newsletter1016414&t=4&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

How the Right Wing Has Been Wrong on the Question of Virginity

Source: AlterNet

Author: Amanda Marcotte

In the past couple of decades, the Christian right has aggressively championed the idea that “virginity”–an abstract concept that usually means someone has never had sexual intercourse before–should be elevated to an aspirational, even holy status. The argument is that being a virgin, at least for women, somehow makes you “pure” and that you should wait until your wedding night to have sex in order to give your husband the “gift” of your virginity, as if your vagina is a piñata that gets busted open once and releases the candy, never to be the same again.

This notion that non-virgins are tawdry and unworthy was pushed by the Bush administration, which manipulated federal funding to try to get “abstinence-only” programs teaching this view of sexuality into every public school in the country. It also surged within Christian right circles with the rise of virginity pledges, purity rings and even purity balls aimed mostly or exclusively at girls to send the message that you somehow become dirty or impure if you have sex without being married.

Well, new evidence has emerged showing that this effort to turn virginity into the measure of a young woman’s worth has been a big, fat failure. New research published in the Journal of Sex Research shows that, for women over the past three decades, feelings of guilt over losing virginity have been in decline. Women who lost their virginity in the years 1980-1991 rated their feelings of guilt as an average 4 on a scale from 1-7, but women who lost their virginity between 2002-2012 rated their feelings of guilt at 3.5.

More interestingly, taking pleasure in their first intercourse, which stayed at a steady 4.9 average rating for men over the decades, went up even more dramatically for women than feelings of guilt went down. The 1980-1991 cohort reported a low average 2.75 score on a scale of 7 when it came to enjoying their first sexual intercourse, but had gone up to 3.3 for the 2002-2012 cohort. Still too low, but the number is moving in a promising direction.

All of this increase in pleasure and decrease in guilt has occured despite the dramatic uptick in Christian right guilt-tripping over sex and pushing the idea that virginity equals purity. Even as Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson were making big public fusses over how they were supposedly virgins, ordinary young women were refusing to feel guilty about sex. The Bush administration tied sex education funding from the federal government to the requirement that schools shun contraception education to push the silly idea that everyone should wait to have sex until marriage, but young women bucked that pressure by having better, less guilty first times at sexual intercourse.

Now, it is possible that all the virginity pressure slowed down the rates of improvement. After all, having to take off that virginity ring in order to have sex was bound to invoke some guilt in women who otherwise wouldn’t have felt bad about sex. (What the virginity rings didn’t do, however, was actually cause young women to wait until marriage. A few did, but by and large , most virginity pledgers also have premarital sex, just like their non-pledger peers.) The most all this guilt-tripping about sex did was slow down a general trend. Overall, the numbers show that women are rejecting the idea that they should want to be virgins and that they should hang onto that status out of fear that they’re somehow spoiled if they have sex.

That’s good, because it just so happens to be true: There’s nothing wrong with not being a virgin. After all, 95 percent of Americans have had premarital sex, and the world has not stopped spinning on its axis. In fact, the truly harmful behavior may actually be putting a premium on virginity. The myth that virgins are somehow “pure” and that a man takes something from a woman by having sex with her can do immense damage to women’s self-esteem, even if they do follow all the arbitrary rules and wait until marriage to have sex.

Earlier this month, the writer Samantha Pugsley, writing for XO Jane, described the serious damage done to her life and her marriage by her “choice,” made when she was a mere 10 years old, to take a virginity pledge, a pledge she actually kept by waiting until her wedding night to have sex. Despite Christian propaganda pushing the idea that waiting until marriage leads to better sex, Pugsley found that her feelings of awkwardness and guilt about sex persisted even after the ring on her finger supposedly made sex okay. “Everyone knew my virginity was gone. My parents, my church, my friends, my co-workers,” she writes, adding that she felt “soiled.” “My virginity had become such an essential part of my personality that I didn’t know who I was without it.”

Eventually, her misery around sex caused Pugsley to get help and eventually come around to seeing that “the entire concept of virginity is used to control female sexuality.” But the concept of virginity and the idea that women who “lose” it are somehow spoiled and should be ashamed has ramifications beyond just the individual damage done to women’s psyches and relationships.

It’s not a stretch to say that much of the Christian right’s current activism is built around the idea that women–at least single women–should remain virgins. The relentless attacks on abortion access, the fight to remove contraception from the list of mandatory services covered by insurance, and the increasing attacks on family planning clinics all go back to this idea that women who choose to have sex outside of the narrow parameters set by the religious right are bad girls who need to be punished. (Yes, married women use contraception and abortion services, but that just goes to show how much the guilt-tripping about sex hurts even women who supposedly have permission from the Christian God to have sex.) Even the right-wing obsession with women who have children “out of wedlock” goes back to the idea that a woman who has sex is used up and worth less than a woman who hasn’t had sex.

So it’s a good thing, for women’s individual lives and for society as a whole, if women are shrugging off efforts to make them feel bad for having sex. There’s still a lot more work to be done, but this new research shows that the trends are heading in the right direction.

Emphasis Mine

See: http://www.alternet.org/sex-amp-relationships/how-right-wing-has-been-wrong-question-virginity?akid=12124.123424.Rr3VND&rd=1&src=newsletter1015426&t=5

Why You Can’t Reconcile God and Evolution

Source: AlterNet

Author: Greta Christina

Emphasis Mine

“Of course I believe in evolution. And I believe in God, too. I believe that evolution is how God created life.”

You hear this a lot from progressive and moderate religious believers. They believe in some sort of creator god, but they heartily reject the extreme, fundamentalist, science-rejecting versions of their religions (as well they should). They want their beliefs to reflect reality – including the reality of the confirmed fact of evolution. So they try to reconcile the two by saying that that evolution is real, exactly as the scientists describe it — and that God made it happen. They insist that you don’t have to deny evolution to believe in God.

In the narrowest, most literal sense, of course this is true. It’s true that there are people who believe in God, and who also accept science in general and evolution in particular. This is an observably true fact: it would be absurd to deny it, and I don’t. I’m not saying these people don’t exist.

I’m saying that this position is untenable. I’m saying that the “God made evolution happen” position is rife with both internal contradictions and denial of the evidence. You don’t have to deny as much reality as young earth creationists do to take this position — but you still have to deny a fair amount. Here are four reasons that “God made evolution happen” makes no sense.

1. It contradicts a central principle of the theory of evolution.

According to theistic evolution (the fancy term for “God made evolution happen”), the process of evolution is shaped by the hand of God. God takes the processes of mutation, natural selection, and descent with modification, and uses them to direct life into the forms he wants – including the form of humanity.

But in evolution, there is no direction. At the core of the theory of evolution is the principle that whatever survives, survives, and whatever reproduces, reproduces. Each generation has to survive and reproduce on its own terms: there’s no selecting for a particular feature that’s harmful now but will be useful ten generations later, after a little more adapting. If a particular trait isn’t either beneficial or neutral to these animals, these plants, these bacteria, in this generation here and now – it’s going to be selected out pretty darn quick. Evolution is all about the immediate present and the very near future: it’s about surviving, and producing fertile offspring that live long enough to reproduce.

And there’s a huge amount of random chaos in the mix. If any of a hundred thousand quirks go a different way, the outcome can be different – sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically. A flood shifts the course of a river, and a plant’s seeds float south-south-east instead of due south, and the seeds sprout on the part of the continent that splits off and becomes South America. An asteroid hits the planet and wipes out the dinosaurs, and these weird rodent-like creatures start reproducing like gangbusters, and in a few hundred thousand years some of their great-great-thousands-of-times-over grandchildren wind up as human beings.

Random stuff happens: if it happens differently, then different living things survive and reproduce, and it all turns out differently. Yes, the particular forms that life takes right now are wildly improbable — and if things had turned out differently, those forms would be wildly improbable. There’s no direction: there’s no selecting for life to take any particular form at any point in the future.

So it makes no sense to say that evolution is real, exactly as the scientists describe it — but that God is guiding it in the direction he wants. If evolution is exactly as the scientists describe it, there’s no direction for God to be guiding it in. God hasn’t got a thing to do with it.

Now, if the evidence suggested that evolution actually did work in this interventionist way — if the theory of evolution were based on it having no direction, but there were a bunch of evidence suggesting that it did have a direction, with some outside force pushing things in that direction — then the “no direction” part of the theory would have to go. And that would be fine. Our understanding of exactly how evolution works has shifted many times over the decades, and if there were a preponderance of evidence pointing to a Divine Tinkerer, we’d simply have to adjust the theory.

Which leads me to:

2. There’s not a scrap of evidence for it.

If there really were a Divine Tinkerer mucking about with evolution, like civil engineers re-directing a river or kids putting sticks in a stream, we’d see signs of it. When we looked at the fossil record, we’d see human knees suddenly re-shaped to better suit upright bipedal walking. We’d see human female pelvises suddenly re-shaped to better accommodate their infants’ larger brains without dying in childbirth. We’d see human brains suddenly re-shaped to better understand long-term cost-benefit analysis. And that’s just the humans.

We don’t see any of that. When we look at the fossil record — and the genetic record, and the geological record, and the anatomical record, and every other record from every branch of science that supports the theory of evolution and investigates how it works — we don’t see any signs whatsoever of outside intervention. What we do see is exactly what we’d expect to see if evolution were an entirely natural process, proceeding one generation at a time.

Now, some adherents of theistic evolution don’t think that God is tinkering with the process every day, or even every millennium, or even every epoch. Some theistic evolutionists are really more like deists: they think God set the entire process in motion, four billion years ago at the dawn of the planet, or 13.7 billion years ago at the dawn of the universe. They think God set the parameters way back in the mists of time, knowing how things would turn out, and is just sitting back watching it all unfold. That’s what they mean by “God made evolution happen.”

But there’s not a scrap of evidence for this, either. If your god is so non-interventionist that he’s entirely indistinguishable from physical cause and effect — what reason do you have to think he exists? In all of human history, the supernatural has never turned out to be the right answer to anything: natural explanations of phenomena have replaced supernatural ones thousands upon thousands of times, while supernatural explanations have replaced natural ones exactly never. So why would you think that an invisible god who set the wheels of evolution in motion, in a way that looks exactly like physical cause and effect, is more plausible than simple physical cause and effect?

As Julia Sweeney said in her performance piece “Letting Go of God, “The invisible and the non-existent often look very much alike.” Given that there’s not one scrap of evidence suggesting that this invisible Divine Tinkerer actually does exist — and a whole lot of evidence suggesting that he doesn’t — why would you conclude that he does?

Which leads me to:

3. There’s a whole lot of evidence against it.

Sinuses. Blind spots. External testicles. Backs and knees and feet shoddily warped into service for bipedal animals. Human birth canals barely wide enough to let the baby’s skull pass — and human babies born essentially premature, because if they stayed in utero any longer they’d kill their mothers coming out (which they sometimes do anyway). Wind pipes and food pipes in close proximity, leading to a great risk of choking to death when we eat. Impacted wisdom teeth, because our jaws are too small
for all our teeth. Eyes wired backwards and upside-down. The vagus nerve, wandering all over hell and gone before it gets where it’s going. The vas deferens, ditto. Brains wired with imprecise language, flawed memory, fragile mental health, shoddy cost-benefit analysis, poor understanding of probability, and a strong tendency to prioritize immediate satisfaction over long-term gain. Birth defects. 15-20% of confirmed pregnancies ending in miscarriage (and that’s just confirmed pregnancies — about 30% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, and asmany as 75% of all conceptions miscarry).

And that’s just humans. Outside the human race, you’ve got giraffes with a vagus nerve traveling ten to fifteen feet out of its way to get where it’s going. You’ve got sea mammals with lungs but no gills. You’ve got male spiders depositing their sperm into a web, siphoning it up with a different appendage, and only then inseminating their mates — because their inseminating appendage isn’t connected to their sperm factory. (To wrap your mind around this: Imagine that humans had penises on their foreheads, and to reproduce they squirted semen from their testes onto a table, picked up the semen with their head-penises, and then had sex.) You’ve got kangaroo molars, which wear out and get replaced — but only four times, after which the animals starve to death. You’ve got digger wasps laying their eggs in the living bodies of caterpillars — and stinging said caterpillars to paralyze them but not kill them, so the caterpillars die a slow death and can nourish the wasps’ larvae with their living bodies.

You’re going to look at all this, and tell me it was engineered this way on purpose?

Yes, there are many aspects of biological life that astonish with their elegance and function. But there are many other aspects of biological life that astonish with their clumsiness, half-assedness, inefficiency, pointless superfluities, glaring omissions, laughable failures, “fixed that for you” kluges and jury-rigs, and appalling, mind-numbing brutality. (See Some More of God’s Greatest Mistakes for just a few of the most obvious examples.) If you’re trying to reconcile all this with a powerfully magical creator god who made it this way on purpose, it requires wild mental contortions at best, and a complete denial of reality at worst.

On the other hand, it is very easy to reconcile all this with an entirely natural theory of evolution. In fact, according to the theory of evolution, it would be hugely surprising if biological life didn’t turn out this way. Again: Evolution proceeds one generation at a time. Each generation is only very slightly different from the generation that preceded it. It makes perfect sense that biological life would consist of awkward, inefficient, ad-hoc adaptations to forms that no longer exist.

And at the risk of anthropomorphizing: Evolution doesn’t care if you’re comfortable. Evolution doesn’t care if you’re happy. Evolution doesn’t need you to be perfect: it just needs you to be better than your competitors, your predators, and your prey. Evolution cares if you survive, and produce fertile offspring that also survive. Actually, even that’s not exactly true. Evolution doesn’t care if you live or die. If you die, something else lives. Evolution doesn’t give a damn who it is.

Evolution doesn’t give a damn about any of this. But God supposedly does. So why did he do it this way? If God is so powerful that he could bring all of existence into being simply by wishing it; if he’s so powerful that he can tinker with the genetics and circumstances of evolution simply by wishing it — why would he wish it to be so clumsy, half-assed, inefficient, jury-rigged, superfluous, and brutal?

Which finally leads me to:

4. If it were true, God would either be incompetent or malicious.

Here’s the thing about evolution. Evolution has led to some truly wondrous, truly amazing forms of life. (Or, to be more precise: Evolution has led to human brains that are capable of the experience of amazement, and that are inclined to be amazed at the variety and complexity of biological life.)

But evolution is messy. Evolution is wildly inefficient. See #3 above. It’s not just the products of evolution that are inefficient, either. The process itself is inefficient — inherently so, almost by definition. If you’re an all-powerful magical being trying to create sentient life, evolution is the long, long, long way around. If you’re trying to get from Point A to Point B, evolution is a slow, meandering walk down convoluted dirt roads, with thousands of stops on the way to visit your doddering uncles who never shut up.

And evolution is brutal. It’s not just that the results of the process are often uncomfortable, frustrating, even painful. The process itself is inherently brutal. The process ensures that most animals die in dreadful suffering and terror: they die from starvation, from injury, from disease, from birth defects, from being torn to pieces and devoured by other animals. Of all the billions upon billions of conscious living beings that have ever existed, an infinitesimal minority got to die peacefully in their beds surrounded by their families. The overwhelming majority died brutally, in pain and fear. And that includes the ones who actually won the evolution sweepstakes, and got to live long enough to reproduce with fertile offspring.

If there were a god who was using evolution to direct life in the direction he wanted, it immediately begs the question: Why? Why on earth would anyone do this?

If God were powerful enough to magically tinker with the process of evolution, in undetectable ways entirely indistinguishable from natural cause and effect — why wouldn’t he be powerful enough to just “whoosh” humanity into existence? If God were smart enough to know precisely how to set the parameters of existence so that billions of years later it would unfold into conscious human life — why wouldn’t he be smart enough to do it in a way that avoided the inefficient, hideously violent processes through which evolution has unfolded, and continues to unfold?

If theistic evolution were true — if there really were a god who either tinkers with evolution to create human life or who set the universe in motion knowing that evolution would eventually result in human life – then that god would either be grossly incompetent or cruelly malicious. That god would have to be either incapable of using the system of evolution to create life efficiently and with minimal pain – indeed, incapable of coming up with a better system for producing life in the first place – or brutally callous to the great suffering he has caused for hundreds of millions of years, and that he continues to cause on a daily basis.

Is that really the god you believe in?

A For Effort, F for Execution

I understand the desire to reconcile science with religion. I really do. People have a lot of reasons to be religious — community, family identity, cultural identity, an attachment to the ritual, a built-in sense of meaning and purpose, a desire to believe that the creator of all time and space personally cares about you, a desire to believe in an afterlife. And I definitely understand the desire to accept science: as flawed as it is, science has repeatedly shown itself to be the best method we have for understanding reality.

I understand that people want their religion to reflect reality. But there is no religion that reflects reality. If you want to accept reality in general, and the reality of evolution in particular, you need to accept that.

Greta Christina is the author of “Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why,” available in ebook, print, and audiobook. She blogs at Greta Christina’s Blog. Follow her on Twitter: @GretaChristina

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See: http://www.alternet.org/belief/why-you-cant-reconcile-god-and-evolution?akid=12086.123424.ZIQJ6I&rd=1&src=newsletter1014078&t=11

 

FFRF anti-church electioneering victory is final

Source:FFRF

 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has won a major victory: compelling the Internal Revenue Service to resume doing its job by policing tax-exempt churches that engage in illegal electioneering.

 

U.S. District Judge Lynn S. Adelman, Milwaukee, this week issued an order approving the joint motion for dismissal between between FFRF and the IRS. FFRF agreed to voluntarily dismiss its closely-watched federal lawsuit against the IRS after being given evidence that the IRS has authorized procedures and “signature authority” to resume initiating church tax investigations and examinations.

 

FFRF and the IRS filed an agreement on July 17 to dismiss the lawsuit voluntarily, following communications from the IRS that it no longer has a policy of non-enforcement against churches. Adelman’s decision and order agreed that FFRF may voluntarily dismiss its lawsuit “without prejudice,” meaning FFRF can renew the lawsuit if the IRS reverts to its previous inaction.

 

This hands a firm defeat to an obscure Milwaukee-area church, Holy Cross Anglican Church, which was intervening in the case with the help of the Becket Fund, insisting it had a “free speech” right to engage in partisan politicking from the pulpit without losing its tax exempt status. The judge explicitly denied the church’s motion to dismiss the case “with prejudice,” meaning FFRF would have been handicapped in refiling the case, should policies change.

 

“Our victory ensures that churches are not being singled out for preferential treatment as they were — with the IRS turning a blind eye to such events as the annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

 

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a Religious Right legal group, is behind that campaign to encourage churches to violate the law. ADF has called again on churches and their ministers this year to endorse from the pulpit on Oct. 5, in defiance of IRS provisions that bar any 501(c)(3) tax-exempt entity, not just churches, from politicking.

 

Contrary to the hysterical disinformation machine that is Fox News Network, and the scaremongering claims of religious zealots such as Tony Perkins and ADF, churches are not, as a result of our settlement, being selectively targeted by the IRS for investigations. The opposite was true, as our lawsuit showed. The IRS was selectively not enforcing the law when it came to churches, and now the IRS will go back to enforcing the law even-handedly.”

 

Added FFRF Co-President Dan Barker, “Our legal action has ensured that churches cannot act as unaccountable Political Action Committees using tax-exempt dollars to influence the outcome of elections.”

 

Currently, the Congressional probe of the IRS has put all investigations on hold, but FFRF could refile the suit if IRS provisions are not enforced in the future against rogue political churches.

 

FFRF, a state/church watchdog and the nation’s largest freethought association, now topping 21,000 members, is also suing the IRS over the housing allowance exclusion uniquely benefiting ministers of the gospel, with oral arguments set for early September before the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Read more about that case here. FFRF also has a case in federal district court challenging the exclusion of churches from the same transparent reporting requirements all other 501(c)(3) groups must follow to retain tax exemption.

 

View FFRF’s July 31 press update for details and links to all other relevant documents.

 Emphasis Mine