Archive for the Religion Category

Today on FoxNews I see the headline “Clinton Urges Against Iran Military Expansion”, and my first reaction is:

Why does anybody, anywhere, think that anything anyone SAYS matters a damn?

Kyle, in the other room, responds, “Because they believe in magic?”

The United States, Clinton said, is increasingly concerned about the rise of military power in Iran, the main U.S. adversary in the Middle East.

That’s wonderful, Hillary. We’re concerned. And how long have we been concerned? I, for one, can remember us being concerned as far back as when Henry Kissinger was Secretary of State. The word “Ayatollah” has always been an epithet for my generation. We remember the hostages taken in Tehran in 1979, and that wasn’t the Shah who was in power at the time.

“But the early advocates of it said this would be a republic. It would be an Islamic republic, but it would be a republic. Then we saw a very flawed election and we’ve seen the elected officials turn for the military to enforce their power,” she said.

“Republic” is just a word. And to suppose that it is even possible for a government to be Islamic and have any semblance of liberty in its operation is, at best, naive. To permit any religion to dictate the functioning of government is an inherently bad idea. With Islam it is especially pernicious, because of how hostile Sharia law is to the idea of freedom and individual rights. While I understand that there are many regional variations of Sharia, and the extent to which it is implemented may vary, I will firmly claim that it is not a system under which anyone should be forced to live simply because it denies individual rights and equal treatment under the law.

Mandatory tithing (zakat) is described by Sharia. Inheritance is dictated, rather than being chosen by the owners of the wealth. Virgin women have their husbands chosen for them, and Muslims in general may only marry other Muslims. Any sexual intercourse outside the confines of marriage (and with the spouse) is forbidden and carries heavy penalties that include flogging and death. It is notable that women are typically punished more severely than men.

Court proceedings under Sharia are conducted by a judge only. There is no jury, no attorneys, no discovery process, and no punishment for perjury. Witnesses are considered more important than empirical evidence (modern law enforcement has long since known how unreliable even honest witnesses can be). Most of the legal protections and precedents codified in modern Western law are not recognized in Sharia.

I could go on at length about this. But my point is that talking about how much we dislike Iran doesn’t mean a goddamn thing. It won’t change Iran’s behavior. It won’t change their beliefs. It won’t do anything to address the threat that country is to its neighbors and the world at large. Clearly we are going to have to learn the hard way. Again. Iran is going to build a functioning nuke and deliver it to a major city, probably Tel Aviv.

What will we do then? Keep talking? Wring our hands and whine like we always do? Israel can probably be counted on to bomb the shit out of them, and anyone who tries to claim they shouldn’t will have absolutely no moral standing.

You would THINK that flying three airplanes full of people into 3 buildings full of people (and I can only wonder if the fourth plane was meant for the Capitol Building), causing the deaths of several thousand human beings and destroying a major cultural landmark in one of the world’s most prominent cities would wake people up. Especially people who remember it like I do. The enemy tried it once before in 1993 with the underground parking garage at World Trade One and Two, and failed, and we all went “ho hum”.

But no. We’ve forgotten. Politicians have let themselves feel safe again, and gone back to petty bickering about money and their own reelection. The President is babbling about another economic “stimulus” (which won’t work any more than the last one did, and will actually make things worse. Again) or some shit. Maybe if Flight 93 had destroyed the Capitol Building and killed 90% of Congress, we would have taken it more seriously. Somehow, with this level of apathy, I doubt it.

There is a simple solution to this, and it’s called “homeschooling”. I especially enjoy the internal contradiction of this:

A New York couple is suing a Catholic high school for refusing to grant a religious exemption that would allow their 14-year-old son to enroll in ninth grade without state-required vaccinations, claiming immunizations are a “violation of God’s supreme authority.”

They claim their son . . .should be granted an exemption to public health laws that require children to be inoculated for diseases including mumps, measles, rubella, hepatitis B and others.

“[W]e are all created in God’s image,” reads a letter the Polydors sent to the school on Feb. 13, according to the lawsuit. “Therefore, we must not defile our blood and our bodies with diseases and other impure substances. As the divine Architect, God designed our bodies to have immune systems that must not be defiled by vaccines. Immunizations are a violation of God’s supreme authority, and therefore, unholy. Since immunizations are unholy they violate my religious beliefs.”

The Polydors also claim that using vaccines would show a “lack of faith in God, and His perfectly designed immune system,” according to the lawsuit.

Okay…so…God created a perfect immune system for mankind. And that’s why nobody ever gets sick. Oh wait, is that only supposed to apply to people whose faith is strong enough? Or does it only apply to people who never “defile” their bodies from the time they’re born?

If the latter, it’s not very perfect, is it?

I’m used to reading about parents’ whaargarbl about their snowflakes being entitled to an education in a public school regardless of whatever ridiculous exceptions and special cases they insist upon. But for this whaargarbl to extend to a private school is a whole new level of entitlement. “I DEMAND THAT YOU TAKE MY MONEY AND MAKE AN EXCEPTION TO YOUR RULES”.

What the hell, guys? Find another school. That’s unlikely, however, given that God’s perfect immune system seems vulnerable to measles, mumps, rubella, polio, diphtheria, hepatatis B, and a variety of other dangerous illnesses.

Schools are ideal transmission vectors for diseases like this. For a school to not require immunizations is an invitation to epidemic among its students. It’s precisely because of the vaccine hysteria that diseases like measles are being seen again in outbreak clusters.

I don’t even want to talk about the “autism is caused by vaccines” issue. It’s stupid and doesn’t have a shred of evidence to support it.

This situation highlights the problem with the whole “religious exemptions” concept in our society. These people are just making up something that they want a religious exemption for. Is that the same thing as Muslim Sikhs who want to wear a kirpan (which, regardless of its symbolism, is a knife) to school or work? Is it the same thing as Catholics insisting on having Christmas Day off because it’s a high holy day for them?

I would argue that it is the same thing. Businesses and schools have rules. If you don’t like the rules, you should be free to find another business or school (yeah I know, the public education thing is another conversation entirely). Now personally I happen to think people should be allowed to carry daggers, even if they’re not Sikhs. Want Christmas Day off? File for vacation time.

But if you’re not willing to abide by the rules of a place, then that place should have the right to exclude you. Yes, I’m including things like disabilities, too (in some cases it’s a dick move but that’s part and parcel with private property rights and freedom of association). Courts should not even entertain a case like the Polydors’, because it should be an open-and-shut example of “private owner gets to make the rules on use of their own property”.

It has come to my attention that I have not been clear in my blog over the past couple of years (due to the fact that I largely stopped blogging for reasons now unclear to me) that my opinions of Bush and his policies have changed significantly from when he was first elected.

I was recently challenged on another forum to cite examples of my own writing where I have denounced various Bush era activities and policies. I was surprised to find that I was not able to give such citations, as they exist only in my mind. I have never committed it to print. So I will rectify this.

GUANTANAMO BAY
The capture and detention of prisoners of war is acceptable. What was not acceptable was the fact that the facility simply imprisoned them and then did nothing more. The prisoners should have been investigated according to military procedures to establish their crimes and involvement (to make sure we didn’t imprison actual innocent bystanders).

Prisoners of war captured on the battlefield are not entitled to the protections of the American civilian justice system.

But as a prison for convicted terrorists, I don’t have a problem with it.

IRAQ
Wrong target. Although it is nice that Saddam Hussein is no longer around to torture his people, that was never our job or our responsibility. We should not have invaded Iraq. We should have invaded Iran.

AFGHANISTAN
Although terrorists do hide in and are supported by Afghani forces, Afghanistan is not the main target. It is peripheral. Establishing “democracy” in Afghanistan is not going to solve the problem.

IRAN
Iran is the hornet’s nest, the source of the funding and training of most Islamist terrorists. We should have invaded Iran and wiped out that support infrastructure, but we didn’t.

THE MIDDLE EAST IN GENERAL
We should not be trying to “liberate” the Middle East. For one thing, what Bush/Obama want to do is not liberty. Secondly, the cultures of the Middle East don’t know how to be democratic (nor do they really want to be). Sometimes various factions hate their governments, but tyranny is okay. They just want it to be their kind of tyranny.

Dictatorship, especially Islamic dictatorship, has been the government of choice in that part of the world for centuries. Various religious factions vie for supremacy. They don’t want to get along — they each want to be the one in charge.

Even if we free them and give them democratic choice, they will just choose to install another dictator, and be back to square one. We are seeing this pan out in Iraq right now.

PATRIOT ACT / WIRETAPPING
I am not an expert on the contents of the Patriot Act or the implications of it. But in general I do not endorse the restriction of individual rights and/or liberty. Government invasion into personal freedoms never has an innocent motive and never has good results.

TSA / AIRLINE SECURITY
All this new “security” at airports in the US is a farce, a dog and pony show some call “security theater”. It doesn’t actually make us safer. There are still many obvious loopholes that would allow a determined terrorist (or even a halfway intelligent one) to destroy an airplane and kill everyone on board.

The failure to apply proper profiling further reduces it to a circus. That 82-year-old white grandmother from Iowa is not a terrorist. But that 27-year-old Arab guy from Turkey might be.

DEFICIT / NATIONAL BUDGET
Bush’s military spending would have been justified if we had actually fought the right war, in the right place, against the right enemies (Iran). But we didn’t.

TORTURE / WATERBOARDING
I do not and have never endorsed torture (including waterboarding) as a method of interrogation on prisoners. It doesn’t work. A torture victim will say anything to avoid more torture. Information thus gained is not reliable.

SUSPENSION OF HABEAS CORPUS
On November 13, 2001, Bush suspended the right of habeas corpus by executive order. Basically, habeas corpus means that detainees have the right to seek relief from unlawful imprisonment. This is tied up in the right to a hearing, a trial, legal counsel, and the right to be free from detention if not charged with a crime.

This was to be used on “enemy combatants”, to allow the government to capture and indefinitely detain terrorists. The status of “enemy combatant” has been applied to American citizens, effectively suspending their rights to due process.

Foreign enemies are not “tried in courts”. They are captured on the battlefield and dealt with as prisoners of war by the military. The people waging war on the United States are typically not Americans. They may be here on visas, but that’s not the same thing. They are usually citizens of a foreign nation, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, etc.

I do not support the suspension of habeas corpus. An American citizen who wages war on the United States (such as John Walker Lindh) is guilty of sedition and treason, and should be charged and tried appropriately, with all rights normally due to citizens in an American court.

TARP / BANK BAILOUTS
This was never a good idea and I opposed it entirely from the first moment it was mentioned. “Too big to fail” is ridiculous. The banks should have been allowed to fail and recover on their own. Yes it would have impacted the economy. But it has anyway because TARP doesn’t work and was never capable of working.

AUTO INDUSTRY BAILOUTS
That’s Obama’s mess, not Bush’s.

I will add more material later as necessary.

Herewith my and Anne’s entries.  You will note that Anne is a much better artist than I am.

maybe-mohammad

Muhammad

For those interested in more drawings of Mohammad, Craig Biddle has a collection over at the Objective Standard website.  And for those who just can’t get enough, check out the Mohammed Image Archive.

While trundling around Usenet, I stumbled over a piece of spam by a religionist with the subject “What have atheists ever done for humanity?”  The question struck me as interesting, not because of its contents but because of the way it frames the conflict between the religious and non-religious worldviews.  The poster wants to provoke the following line of thought: ‘What have atheists done for humanity?  Well, let me think of some famous atheists… hmm, nobody really comes to mind.  I guess there were the Communists, and Madeline Murray O’Hare.  Gee, I guess all we’ve gotten from atheism is mass slaughter.  Wow, I guess religion really must be a good thing!”  And, indeed, he is correct that overt atheists are pretty sparse on the list of great benefactors of humanity.  But does his conclusion follow?

The problem comes from the way the distinction is framed: religion versus atheism.  But is this the right way to think of the dispute?  Atheism, per se, is a purely negative doctrine.  It indicates the lack of a specific kind of belief.  But men act on the basis of what they do believe, not what they don’t.  I’m an atheist, but that isn’t the essential defining characteristic of my beliefs.  Fundamentally, I’m an advocate of reason.  Atheism is a derivative consequence, not a primary.  I don’t believe in God because there is no rational basis for doing so.

If you reframe the question in terms of reason and faith, the entire playing field changes.  What has reason ever done for humanity?  In a modern industrial society it’s difficult to identify a concrete value that doesn’t flow from reason.  Science, technology, medicine, industry, political freedom — all are children of the age of reason.  (Stephen Hicks has a nifty diagram of the connections in his book Explaining Post-Modernism; on-line version available here.)  Now consider the contrary question: What has faith ever done for humanity?  The era of history in which faith was most dominant is aptly named the Dark Ages — a time when the average lifespan was approximately 30 years and everyone existed in what we would today consider grinding poverty.  Disease ran rampant, literacy was extremely rare.  Heretics were burned at the stake.  Men who took their faith the most seriously, like Saint Francis, would use rocks as pillows, drink laundry water, and sprinkle sand on their food to dull the taste.

Reason is man’s basic means of survival.  In essence, the answer to the question “What has reason ever done for humanity?” is “Allowed it to live and prosper.”  The answer to the question “What has faith ever done for humanity?” is “Led it to suffer and die.”  The religious men whose actions benefited humanity created those benefits to the extent that they acted rationally, i.e. to the extent that their faith did not interfere with their reason.

Attempting to think about this issue in the terms laid out by the religionist is futile.  The setup leads down a blind alley to a false conclusion.  The lesson is that one should never uncritically accept the terms in which an intellectual opponent wants to frame a debate.  Concepts matter.  Don’t let your enemies pick the ones you use.

In an interview with Al-Arabiya, President Obama commented that “the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there’s no reason why we can’t restore that.”  30 years ago, in 1979, the relationship between America and the Muslim world was dominated by the Iranian Hostage Crisis.  20 years ago, in 1989, it was the first Gulf War.  In other words, the “respect and partnership” that America had with the Muslim world 20 or 30 years ago was characterized by a virulent Islamic totalitarian movement waging a terror war against the United States, and a large-scale American invasion of Iraq.  Sounds familiar.  What exactly needs restoring, again?

Those ignorant of history…

Update: Sorry, brain fart.  The first Gulf War was, of course, in 1991 — not 1989 as I said above.  I think I conflated it with the fall of the Berlin Wall for some bizarre reason.  ‘Those ignorant of history’ apparently includes me.  Ok, so it was 18 years, not 20, and the irony only holds 50%.  Still, I think the basic point — that the relationship between the United States and the Muslim world over the last three decades has been a pretty consistently bloody and violent one — stands up.

Do government regulations covering the transportation of human body parts apply to sanctified communion wafers?  (Bonus question for the religious: Should they?)

Ezra Levant is currently my favorite Canadian. He’s been fighting a solid, principled battle for free speech in Canada in the face of radical Muslims trying to use Canada’s “human rights commissions” to crush speech critical of Islam. Freedom of speech is the carotid artery of peaceful cultural change — block it off, and the prospects for improving the culture die with alarming speed. The kinds of things Levant is facing are a microcosm of the future we face in the United States unless we are vigilant.

I don’t know much about Mr. Levant or his views apart from the free speech issue, but on that he is dead-on accurate. Recently he testified before the U.S. Congress. He also has an interesting post commenting on testimony by a Pakistani diplomat on the efforts by Muslim nations to twist western legal systems into penalizing criticism of Islam (“blasphemy”) under the code word “defamation”.

Oh, hell, just go to his blog and read the whole thing. It’ll probably scare the pants off you, make you a better person and give your dog a bath, all at the same time.