On the cause of the Sandy Hook shooting…

Since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, there has been a meme going around to answer the question of why the Christian God did not prevent the shooting.

“God is not allowed in schools.”

I think most of the people getting behind this meme are generally decent people who love their country and respect their fellow Americans of other religious beliefs, including none at all. With that in mind, I want to tell you how this answer looks to those of us on the outside.

You’re effectively telling us that your God could have stopped Adam Lanza from going into that school and shooting all those people, most of whom were little kids, but he chose not to intervene, because the U.S. makes public schools a secular zone.

I grew up Christian, so I know that God is supposed to be extremely powerful. The God that I was taught to believe in would not let a small thing like the First Amendment get in the way of protecting children from getting shot while they sit in their classrooms. To be honest, I’m not quite sure how my childhood church would answer the question of why God didn’t make Adam Lanza use the first bullet on himself, but they would not tell us that those children and staff were killed because of the nation’s decision to make public schools a religion-neutral zone.

To those of us who believe in no God at all, you’re saying that your God is an asshole. You’re telling us that making everyone worship Him is more important to God than saving children’s lives.

To those who believe in different gods, or different ideas of the same God, you’re telling them that they are part of the problem because they want their children to go to school in a non-sectarian environment. You are asking them to think there would be less violence in the world if they allowed your religious traditions to be honored in the public sphere, at taxpayer expense, above their own.

All that said, I think this idea is most offensive to American Christians who respect the separation of church and state, because it’s ostensibly their God that chose not to prevent Adam Lanza from killing all those people. You’re also telling them that they are contributing to the problem by not demanding that their religious traditions be honored above all others.

Most of all, the message you’re sending is that a mass murder with mostly very young victims is a good time to discuss the merits of church-state separation. This may seem fair enough, because a lot of other people are using this occasion to point out the dangers of handguns. However, there is an important difference between God and guns, which is: we don’t need to debate whether guns exist. We can all look at a gun placed in front of us, take it apart, and learn the mechanics of how that gun can be used to kill people. In this case, we all know for a fact that guns were used to enable the killing of many people in a short span of time. There is no faith involved in understanding gun-related deaths. The evidence is readily available to all of us. The existence of God, and especially the supposed role of God in this tragedy, is all a matter of dueling beliefs. So, now you’re telling us that a lot of violence could be prevented if we all started worshipping the same God and in the same way that you do, but where’s your evidence? Why should we believe you over all other faith traditions, as well as the physics of handgun technology, the biology of death by bullet wound, and the sociology and psychology of violence? I don’t doubt that your intentions are genuine, and that you really think what this country needs more than anything is more love of God. The shooting at Sandy Hook was not a crime against God nearly as much as it was a crime against human beings. If you think your religion has a monopoly on compassion for human beings, you are sorely mistaken.

Remember Savita

You may have heard about the death of Savita Halappanavar, who died  in Galway, Ireland on October 28th due to a preventable infection that resulted from a protracted miscarriage.

I’m at work now, so I’ll give you a quick round-up.

PZ Myers: It’s time to abort the Catholic Church.

Biodork: Savita Halappanavar’s death

A Million Gods: Faith and Begorrah

RH Reality Check: We are all Savita Halappanavar.

The most thorough coverage is from Michael Nugent.

Most of the links I just posted are from non-theist blogs, but even the post at the site dedicated to reproductive health issues frames the case as a matter of religious oppression.

The reason for that emphasis is in the answer Savita and her husband received from the hospital staff when they requested a medical termination of the non-viable pregnancy: “This is a Catholic country.”

That is not a scientifically or medically meaningful explanation. Mrs. Halappanavar was denied life-saving care because of laws based on Catholic beliefs. The fact that Savita was not Catholic did not save her from dying under Catholic rules. Of course, we all expect someone to follow the laws of the country in which they’ve decided to live. The doctors at University Hospital would not have escaped prosecution for providing an abortion simply because their patient was of a different religion than the majority of the country. That there is the problem: doctors in Ireland who care for pregnant women have to fear prosecution if they perform abortions, even to save their patients’ lives. If the law only makes sense from within a religious framework, then it is effectively forcing other people to live within someone else’s religion.

When those religion-based laws result in easily preventable deaths, one might even call it a violation of human rights. Savita could have recovered, gotten on with her life and had more babies. Instead, she was left to die of septicemia after days of horrible pain because “this is a Catholic country.”


School voucher program brings out the stupid in Louisiana.

Louisiana state Rep. Valarie Hodges, who looks like Sarah Palin’s dowdier sister, is simply shocked—shocked, I tell you—to hear that when they say “use state funds to send kids to religious schools,” it includes religions other than hers.

“I actually support funding for teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion, which is Christianity, in public schools or private schools,” the District 64 Representative said Monday.

“Unfortunately it will not be limited to the Founders’ religion,” Hodges said. “We need to insure that it does not open the door to fund radical Islam schools. There are a thousand Muslim schools that have sprung up recently. I do not support using public funds for teaching Islam anywhere here in Louisiana.

That is a lot of wrongness in a little bit of word count.

I will save the school voucher debate for later. The religious freedom debate, however, is fairly straightforward. If you do not want state funds supporting schools of a particular religion, you do not allow state funds to support schools of ANY religion. In fact, they shouldn’t be using state funds for anything but secular schools anyway, but a person who’s been elected to a legislative position really ought to be aware of the connection between “religious schools” and “religions she doesn’t like.” I think I learned that in 9th-grade Civics class. It was a well-funded public school.


DELICIOUS anti-gay nonsense!

While I had a very good time behaving like an asshole on Twitter yesterday while the Maryland Senate debated a marriage equality bill (and they passed it!), I heard some amusing new variations on the usual ridiculousness, but not really any new arguments against.

I find that much of the case against legal same-sex marriage rests on daring us proponents to criticize religion and the privileges it has long enjoyed in our society. I realize it may be a fairly recent development for progressives to come right out and tell you that they have no problem with religious groups losing public funding for public accommodations if they do not follow the public’s rules, but they really should have figured out by now that showing us Bible verses is a hilariously stupid idea.

It’s like this: if you tell us that same-sex marriage is wrong because of a couple of verses in Leviticus, we will point and laugh at you. It’s not even about punishment, it’s just a simple matter of cause and effect. If you expect us to believe that God hates Teh Gheyz because it says so in the Bible, you will have a gaggle of smartassed liberals throwing popcorn at you. Go out into the rain without an umbrella, you will get wet.


The Obama Administration is Having None of That Bullshit

According to Amanda Marcotte, Pres. Obama just brought out a “compromise” on mandatory contraceptive coverage that makes the GOP look like a pack of ridiculous assholes. Not that it’s all that difficult:

After two solid weeks of Republicans rapidly escalating attacks on contraception access under the banner of “religous freedom,” Obama finally announced what the White House is proposing an accomodation of religiously affiliated employers who don’t want to offer birth control coverage as part of their insurance plans. In those situations, the insurance companies will have to reach out directly to employees and offer contraception coverage for free, without going through the employer. Insurance companies are down with the plan, because as Matt Yglesias explained at Moneybox, contraception actually saves insurance companies money, since it’s cheaper than abortion and far cheaper than childbirth. Because the insurance companies have to reach out to employees directly, there’s very little danger of women not getting coverage because they are unaware they’re eligible.

That’s the nitty-gritty. The fun part of this is that Obama just pulled a fast one on Republicans. He drew this out for two weeks, letting Republicans work themselves into a frenzy of anti-contraception rhetoric, all thinly disguised as concern for religious liberty, and then created a compromise that addressed their purported concerns but without actually reducing women’s access to contraception, which is what this has always been about. (As Dana Goldstein reported in 2010, before the religious liberty gambit was brought up, the Catholic bishops were just demanding that women be denied access and told to abstain from sex instead.)

Right. So, that happened, and meanwhile, Anna North reports that still, not everyone is satisfied by the compromise:

She’s right — some conservatives are unsatisfied with the compromise. In advance of the official announcement, Katie Pavlich of TownHall.com wrote,

Later today President Obama is expected to announce a “compromise” that allows religious employers to opt out of paying for providing birth control to women, but will still be required to provide contraception. What this means is, insurance companies will pick up the tab for contraception, but religious employers are still required to provide contraception through insurance plans to their employees, despite the move being against religious beliefs.

Let me see if I have this right: there are some employers who do not want to provide their employees with insurance plans that include full coverage of contraceptives, even if the insurance companies themselves eat the cost of providing the contraceptives, because…the employers’ religious beliefs are not amenable to birth control.

So, that means, these employers simply don’t want their employees to have full coverage of birth control, because it makes baby Jesus cry. They feel that their religious liberty is infringed-upon if they have to allow their insurance company to provide employees with fully-covered contraceptives.

Let’s keep in mind that we’re talking about organizations which are not primarily concerned with religious activities, but with providing services to the general population. We’re talking about hospitals and universities, for instance. They also hire from the general population, which means that many of their employees do not hold the same religious beliefs.

If one of those employees observes a religion that prohibits use of hormonal contraceptives, for example, then she is free to refrain from using them. No one is stuffing birth control packs in her purse before she leaves for the day.

However, most of those organizations female employees within a certain age range either are currently using or reasonably expect to use some birth control method in the future, and aren’t worried about what their God (if they even believe) thinks about their not being pregnant all the time.

The opponents of full contraception coverage are not concerned about defending religious liberty. They are defending the rights of religious organizations to force their beliefs on employees who may or may not agree. IOW: what about the employees’ religious liberty to plan their families? Who’s defending that?

Well played, President Obama. You’ve earned that shit-eating grin.

There are, in fact, some religious leaders in RI who behave like grown-ups.

Good. Let’s have more of this and less of this.

Via WPRO, we have religious leaders from around RI who are setting a good example and showing some backbone:

“Crucify her, crucify her, cry those who fear the future, and hold on to the past,” said Rev. Betsy Garland, President of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches and interim pastor of the Riverside Congregational Church, United Church of Christ. “Today, we are all Jessica Ahlquist.”

“It is Jessica today,” said Rev. Kai, “it could be me tomorrow.”

This is a good thing. This is what leadership looks like.


“I’m Rick Perry, and I fail at not parodying myself.”

Oh, now really.

Aside from the bald-faced lying like a cheap rug—no, Rick Perry, nobody is stopping you from openly celebrating Christmas! Just don’t do it in your capacity as a taxpayer-salaried public servant!—there’s the very not-subtle juxtaposition of “gays serving openly in the military” with the (fabricated) liberal encroachments on Christians’ freedom to worship. Once again cross-pollinating the Christian persecution complex with the majoritarian-American sense of entitlement, he’s transparently pitting his fellow travelers against The Rainbow Menace, making gay rights antithetical to freedom of religion.

I know that there are some people who will lap that shit up. The meme of gays as the enemy of Christians isn’t yet dead, but it’s putting him on the wrong side of history. For the younger generations—that is to say, those who will still be voting after Rick Perry and the rest of the GOP Clown Car bunch are dead—if you pit equality of civil rights for gays against Christianity, more and more people will chose the gays. Record numbers of Millennials are losing their religion because their churches have nothing to offer but hate.

Besides all that, it’s a crappy video. I could have chosen better background music. I do like the jacket, though. It’s very Jake Gyllenhaal meets Heath Ledger.


The religion of Macy’s is “Thou Shalt Not Suck at Turning a Profit.”

Is this the new front in the War on Christmas? Are we now taking the battle to vicious, soulless corporations who heartlessly force their employees to do their jobs?

A week ago, a Macy’s employee spotted a transgender woman going into the women’s dressing room, and decided to stop her and inform her that she wasn’t really a woman. The company promptly fired her, but now the employee has enlisted the help of a hatemongering conservative organization and is claiming that Macy’s discriminated against her religious beliefs by denying her the right to harass whichever customer she chooses.

Johnson says she told a manager, “I’ve made my choice the other day … I refuse to comply with this policy.” Since she was incapable of complying with company rules, Macy’s fired her. Johnson went to the Liberty Counsel, a conservative organization that’s called GLBT rights “a radical agenda,” then filed a complaint with the federal employment commission. When asked for a response, Macy’s said it doesn’t “comment on personnel matters,” adding, “At Macy’s, we recognize and appreciate the diversity of our customers and associates.”

Johnson says that by mandating that all employees appreciate the diversity of Macy’s customers, the store is forcing her to violate her Christian beliefs.

Right. Here we have the overinflated sense of entitlement multiplied by the persecution complex which American Christians have raised to an art form.

That said, I also think that, Liberty Counsel notwithstanding, most American Christians, including the ones who agree with Natalie Johnson’s rather reductive view of gender, would agree that if you cannot perform your work duties as your employer requires, you can work somewhere else.

You are entitled to your beliefs. You are entitled to practice your religion, but only within bounds that do not encroach on someone else’s beliefs. You are not entitled to have your employer bend its policies around your beliefs. You are not entitled to force customers to live according to the rules of your religion.

Your customers do not have to follow your religion. Your employer does not have to follow your religion. The imperative of a major retailer such as Macy’s is to turn a profit by selling goods, and they accomplish that goal by providing good customer service. If you do not provide good customer service, they will not employ you. No one is entitled to draw a paycheck for a job they refuse to do. I could go to my supervisors today and tell them that duplication of efforts is a violation of my religious beliefs, and rather than re-arrange our department’s workflow so that I never have to deal with duplicate invoices, they’d fire me and hire someone who isn’t too devout to get the job done.

If allowing a transgirl into the woman’s dressing room is a violation of your Christian beliefs, then you can go find a job that doesn’t involve dressing rooms. Meanwhile, Macy’s will employ someone who serves all customers so that they will purchase goods. Problem solved on both sides.


DELICIOUS religion-pushing nonsense! My fangs are getting so sharp!

Robin Marty keeps dangling shiny things in my face at RH Reality Check, and this time, she actually goaded me into clicking over to an article at the National Catholic Register so I could get the full names and quotes. According to Bishop William E. Lori of Connecticut, religious liberty doesn’t exist unless Catholic institutions get federal funding to do whatever the heck they want on anyone their net happens to cover.

“There is no religious liberty if we are not free to express our faith in the public square and if we are not free to act on that faith through works of education, health care and charity,” Lori said in his first address to the bishops as chairman of the newly formed Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Education = Indoctrinating impressionable children with the fear of Damnation.

Health care = Denying birth control access to human trafficking victims.

Charity = Shutting down social services rather than provide contraception coverage to employees in your health care plan.

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