Grant Rants

Archive for the ‘religion’ Category

I get feedback: Creationists don’t like me edition

- February 27th, 2014

Greetings heathens, zealots, web denizens and the rest of you!

So in my recent column about the location of the new south Niagara hospital, I pointed out that denying some basic facts about the hospital is like denying the facts about evolution:

“To deny these facts is like denying evolution. Sure, you can do it, but you end up looking like a loon. Just ask Ken Ham.”

Well, as is always the case when I bring up the big E word, creationists go bananas, including one Harry Huizer of 
St. Catharines, whose response attempts to point out how evolution is really just a matter of opinion. Just to show how far creationists play in a world without facts, I think it worth responding to the points Harry makes.

“Grant LaFleche spoiled his article on the proposed south Niagara hospital with his insult to those denying evolution. To say they end up looking like loons is disrespectful and unwarranted. As an atheist, Grant doesn’t have much choice but to believe in the theory of evolution and we have to be respectful of his opinion.”

Harry goes right off the rails out of the gate here.

First, there is nothing to compel anyone to be respectful of anyone else’s opinion. Everyone is allowed to have an opinion and express it freely. That is what free speech is. But that doesn’t mean we have to respect the content of those opinions, or even be nice about them. This is particularly true about religion, where believers will regularly try to make the case that my disagreeing with them, by holding up their beliefs to scrutiny and even ridicule goes too far because, well, they believe it so. The honesty of their belief, they argue, should protect the content of those beliefs from being questioned or mocked.

I believe H.L. Mecken put it best when he said “We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.”

Creationist do end up looking like loons because they deny the facts to such an extreme degree they end up looking like people who live in a fantasy world. Just consider at the recent debate between science educator Bill Nye and creationist guru Ken Ham. Ham ended up looking like someone who lives life by jumping into bed and pulling the blankets over his head. The only “facts” he accepts are the ones  he reads in his bible by flashlight. But this doesn’t stop people like Harry from offering up extraordinarily strange arguments.

“However here are a few “facts” that Grant and others should know: The fossil evidence from thousands of years ago shows not a trace of evolution. Animals and man seem to have suddenly appeared. The origin of life is the Achille’s heel of evolution since scientists have shown that the chances of assembling even one living cell is virtually impossible.”

Ugh. I don’t know what is worse about the creationism crowd, that they know nothing about probabilities, that they know nothing about biology and its related fields of science, or that they flaunt their ignorance as though its a badge of honour.

The fossil evidence is one of the best sources of evidence about evolution. It has become so detailed that scientists looking to tract the path of the evolution of a particular species can predict where they should find fossils that demonstrate the evolution of a particular trait. This is how Canadian scientists were able to find Tiktaalik, a critter that helps us understand how creatures that lived in the water evolved into those that lived on land. Because of the fossil record, the scientists knew where on the planet and in what layers of rock the fossils should be found. If those fossils were never found, you would have a serious challenge to the theory.

We’ve been able to track the evolution of birds from dinosaurs, and the evolution of feathers in the fossil record. We can watch the evolution of human beings from our primate ancestors. There is no “sudden appearance” of “man and animals.” Rather we see their development over long periods of time through small changes. Harry is just ignorant of what the fossil record shows.

And of course, evidence is not limited to just the fossil record. Genetics has proved to be a powerful tool to understanding evolution. And like all scientific theories, evolution makes specific predictions that can be tested, such as the theory’s explanation of why we have one fewer pair of chromosomes than chimps:

Finally there is this bit about the origin of life being “impossible.” No, we do not know everything about how life arose on this planet. But we are learning more and more all the time and the picture is increasingly looking like it all beings with simple chemistry. Once you have something that can self replicate, you have something for natural selection to work on. Just because we do not understand something, does not automatically make a religious explanation suddenly valid scientifically. When we do not know something, we do not know it. QED.

Of course, what Harry completely misses is that the theory of evolution is NOT about how life got started. It explains how the variety of life we see now developed. The precise details of the absolute origin of life as we know it is outside the theory’s scope. But science gets closer to understanding that mystery all the time.

Consider the alternative Harry presents here: a sky god with no origin, that always existed, magically created the world, made a man out of dirt and a woman out of a rib and from these two magical people, the entire population of human begins arose. (Apparently inbreeding wasn’t a problem for Adam and Eve’s children.)

Where is the evidence for any of that, Harry?

Oh and one final point. Harry is trying to say evolution didn’t happen because the odds of life arising from chemistry (the development of a single living cell as he put it) are “virtually impossible.” He does not know the difference between “improbable” and “impossible.”

Consider poker for a moment. The odds of getting a royal flush is something around 650,000 to one. Not good odds at all. And yet, players do get dealt royal flushes all the time despite the odds being “virtually impossible.” Long odds are not the issue here. What matters is what happened and what we know happened, regardless of how improbably it may seem, is that life developed on this planet by the process of evolution.

“Many prominent scientists have come to the conclusion that there is an intelligent designer behind all creation.”

Actually, no, Harry. This is an outright falsehood. Because of the overwhelming amount of evidence for evolution, scientists support it as the best explanation we have for life. Those who do not accept evolution are neither “prominent” and have produced no scientific work that support the outright religious idea of “intelligent design,” which is little more than creationism dressed up in a lab coat. It’s religion in drag.

To claim otherwise is like saying “many important scientists have come to the conclusion that gravity isn’t real and concluded that the sun goes around the earth.” Sure you can say that, but that doesn’t make it true.

Intelligent design by the way, is a complete discredited idea that was cooked up by a bunch of American creationists who were looking for a way to get around a Supreme Court ruling that forbade creationism from being taught in public school classrooms. There is no scientific work to support it, no peer reviewed work, no theory to be tested. Just an idea that says “god did it.” It was part of a strategy to teach creationism without explicitly mentioning god, who is replaced by the phrase “intelligent designer.” It is frankly a more pitiful attempt at political camouflage than the Progressive Conservative’s recent effort to hang onto right to work policy ideas without actually using the phrase “right to work.”

The organization that was behind the entire intelligent design thing is a group called the Discovery Institute, which operated on a premise that became known as the Wedge Strategy, which stated that if they could overthrow evolution as the primary paradigm in biology, they could introduce the idea of an intelligent designer, and eventually sway people to believe in Christian creationism.

The entire ID thing was exposed a few years ago in Dover, Pennsylvania during a trial where the history, methods and truth behind the Discovery Institute and ID was brought to light. Here is a very good documentary about it:

Which brings us to Harry’s last point:

“Michael Denton, a molecular biologist says it best: “Evolutionary theory is still, as it was in Darwin’s time, a highly speculative hypothesis entirely without factual support.” I think Grant needs to study all the facts before making his comments and conclusions.”

Yah, so Michael Denton works for, you guessed it, the Discovery Institute. They produce a lot of books, but no scientific work. Harry thinks he has made a point by telling us that Denton is a molecular biologist. His creds mean nothing if his conclusions are unscientific and discredited.

Better luck next time Harry.

The stupid it burns: Dragons are real edition

- August 15th, 2013

Greetings web denizens, heathens, zealots and the rest of you!

This actually doesn’t require any pithy  comment on my part. I simply give you today’s burning stupid: Dragons are real because…the Bible.

The Feedback Facepalm: Sex causes tornadoes edition

- June 4th, 2013

Facepalm: verb. to raise one’s hand to one’s face, typically expressing exasperation, frustration, disbelief, horror or general woe in the presence of the burning stupid.

Greetings web denizens, heathens, zealots and the rest of you!

So after my recent  column and follow up commentary here on the Grant Rant Blog, I was lucky enough to receive this email. And by “lucky” I mean lucky in the same way one is lucky to have a root canal done by a blind, drunken dentist with no thumbs. And while I give its author credit for using his full name in the email rather than hiding behind a handle, Donny’s missive is still a fine example of the burning stupid. Here it goes, with my commentary:

Donny: when you tell God f****ts are okay —- you are telling him your word means NOTHING!!! Why sing the national anthem asking God to bless your land when he looks at it in disgust.

As readers of the rant know, I am an atheist. I don’t “tell” a god anything … well, except for Thor when there are frost giants about. I hate those guys. Anyway, if I allow myself to play a tho3bcf4274_n79020_facepalm2028house29ught experiment for a bit, if the average Christian concept of god is true — an all powerful, all benevolent, all loving creature — why would it hate anything? Why would it possess so petty a human emotion? Why would it hate the honest expression of love between two consenting adults, straight or gay? I’ve never understood why some believers insist upon defining their god as someone who love you, and then proceeds to crank out of list of things it hates and will torture you for.

If the god Donny here believes in existed, and fortunately it doesn’t, it would have to be opposed on basic moral grounds for it would be, as Richard Dawkins pointed out, a deeply unpleasant creature: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Donny: Look at all the tornadoes in Oklahoma – all because of a Gay pride parade. God destroyed Sodom & Gomorraha  because he calls homosexuality an abomination………

Ah, yes, the 700 Club, human sexual behavior model of meteorology.  I don’t have a degree in tornadology, but I am pretty sure that they are formed by the interaction of cold and warm air during a supercell thunderstorm in the part of the world that sees this type of weather event more than anywhere else.

Or by Thor. Take your pick.

All kidding aside, this sort of thinking is no different that a belief that throwing a virgin into a volcano will prevent an eruption. Fortunately, we aren’t living in caves anymore, we know for a fact that who we sleep with, or marry, or what food we eat, or crops we grow, or clothes we wear, or what days of the week we work doesn’t impact the weather. At all. To believe otherwise is to live one’s life under the gravest of misapprehensions.

By the way, since we are on the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, it is worth pointing out a bit of the story Donny has failed to mention. In it, two angels hit the city of Sodom looking for enough good people to prove to god that it is not beyond saving. But Sodom is kind of like the angry love child of Las Vegas and Mad Max’s Thunderdome. So naturally, the two supernatural tourists are chased down by a rape gang. They find shelter with a dude named Lot, but the gang isn’t about to let that stop them. They really want to a piece of these angels. Lot, being an upstanding and moral guy, offers to give his own teenaged daughters to the rape gang in exchange for leaving the two visitors alone….and Lot is the hero of the story! Seriously.

Donny: Today newspaper people don’t have the guts to report the truth most are cowards —– Canada is a disgusting country in the gutter with a f****t Premier and I am so glad I no longer live there.

You know, I am never one to believe in blind patriotism. It is, as Oscar Wilde said, the “virtue of the vicious.” Nevertheless, Canada remains a fantastic country with a proud history. We have our issues, our mistakes and missteps, but it remains one of the freest, safest, and best places to live on Earth. We should be proud that, for most of us, gay marriage is a non-issue and that our government had the courage to do what was right and make it legal several years ago. We should be proud that we have reached a point where the sexual orientation of our Ontario premier is simply not a relevant issue (except for good ole Donny here) save for the fact that is shows we are increasingly willing to judge people by their character and ideas and not by bigotry of a bronze aged religion.

I think I speak for many of us, Donny, when I say we are quite happy you aren’t living here. But be warned, the world is an increasingly shrinking place. The march of freedom and equality is not so easily stopped and sooner or later, it will catch up with you. So unless you can find yourself a time machine to go back to 18th century (I suspect you’d be happy there) you’d might as well get used to it.

Read the bible Grant – read Lev. and see what your creator said and guess what 10 out of 10 people die and they face God…..and queers do not go to heaven by their own choice. Wake up Pal!!

I almost don’t have the energy to keep going with this. Yes, I have read it. More than once. It’s an awful book with worse writing than than Fifty Shades of Grey. (A book that would have been popular in Las Sodom Thunderdome, no doubt.) It is little more than an artifact of a primitive, fearful and paranoid culture that knew next to nothing about the world they lived in or the greater universe beyond it. They lived in a world where the only explanation for the things that nature does was the actions of an angry god and finding ways to sate that rage was a serious concern.

Fortunately, we’ve moved on since then.

Donny: “Wake up every day like you are broke and hungry and you will never be either.”…

Uh, no. If you wake up like you are broke and hungry, you probably are broke and hungry. If you are neither but pretend you are, you need serious help.

The stupid it burns: vote for a pope edition

- March 11th, 2013

Greetings web denizens, heathens, zealots and the rest of you!

So it’s time to pick a new pope! The conclave of cardinals are sitting about in Rome now and will soon being voting on which of them gets to inherit the pointy hat and ruby slippers.

The process itself a tad dull, given that the head of the church purports to be the moral voice for the entire planet. The cardinals vote in secret and send out a puff of smoke, black or white, to indicate if they have chosen a pope or not.

Frankly, I think it can all be jazzed up a bit. Made a little more interesting. It’s crying out to be a reality show. I’m thinking a Big Brother-meets-Survivor-meets-The Exorcist sorta of thing.

The cardinals should all have to live together in a house, and compete to stay in the competition. You know, “Name that circle of Dante’s Hell” contest. A Stations of the Cross obstacle course. Wafer eating contest. Wrestling in those inflatable Sumo suits. (‘Cause that is just awesome) And, since the Vatican has been a viper’s den of infighting, scandal and betrayal lately, just watching this guys interact will be entertaining enough. At the end of each show, another cardinal is voted out of the house and the final two have to race to build the bonfire that will send out the puff of smoke to indicate who won.

Well, that or they could use the Joker’s method of “tryouts” from The Dark Knight:

If it seems like I am taking the selection of a new top Catholic priest as seriously I would take the claims of holistic dentistry, it’s because the entire thing has become a bit of a circus side show, with the strong man and dog faced boy replaced by a old men in robes.

I mean, how many times in the last year have we read stories coming out of Rome about scandals in the Vatican bank and corruption scandals and the like on top of the annual insult to human dignity that is the seemingly never ending scandal of priests raping children.

(And seriously, if anyone posts a comment akin to “well one bad apple spoils the bunch” about the child abuse scandals in the church, lava might actually burst from my ears. How many more times does it have to happen before it can be admitted that this isn’t an apple apple or two, but a rot right at the core? Consider how often it is reported in Europe and North America where there is a free press and a functioning justice system. What goes on in places like latin America where these things don’t have the same influence or freedom?)

The pope is the moral leader of millions upon millions of Catholics around the globe and purports to have the authority to tell the rest of the world how to behave. The last pope had little problem telling us how gay marriage was a clear and present danger to the survival of the species, for instance, and generally telling democratically elected governments that allowing gay marriage would be the worst thing since the cast of Glee started singing AC/DC covers.

The massive weight of the irony here is enough to create a black hole. An old celibate man, appointed by a closed group of old celibate men, tells elected governments how their citizens ought to conduct their private lives. Um…

The whole thing would be hilariously funny and irrelevant  if it were not for the fact that some of the cardinals choosing the new pope are actually neck deep in the whole sex abuse by priests thing.  Like Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, for instance, was part of the cover up to hide the abuse by priests.The New York Times described his actions by noting that “no member of the Roman Catholic hierarchy fought longer and more energetically than Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles to conceal the decades-long scandal involving the rape and intimidation of children by rogue priests. For years, the cardinal withheld seamy church records from parents, victims and the public, brandishing endless litigation and fatuous claims of confidentiality. ”

Fun guy.

Although now publicly exposed for his wrong doing, despite being known to be involved in the protection of rapists who prey upon children, the Vatican saw fit to bring Mahony to Rome to vote on the selection of a new pope.

Just let that thought ripen in your mind for a bit. The church that claims to be the moral light of the world sought out a man known to hide child abusers to vote upon who should lead said organization. That is a rather like bringing in a bunch of known mob leaders to vote on who should be the Attorney General.

If that doesn’t indicate why I don’t take the Papal Conclave seriously, and why the entire affair is, frankly,  a pitiful farce, I don’t know what will.

The stupid it burns: Government of Canada edition

- February 11th, 2013

Greetings web denizens, heathens, zealots and the rest of you!

Please, Ottawa, please, please, please, please pour some water on the burning stupid. Can you PUL-EEZE think through a decision. I mean, just once? We don’t have very high expectations of you, Government of Canada. We mostly figure you go about making silly choices based on polls on when the next election is rather than what is actually good for the country. But we really do expect that every once in a while you use your collective brains before jumping down the rabbit hole. Especially when the rabbit hole is more like a massive sink hole that just swallowed a city.

You didn’t, think that is, which is why you are now in the embarrassing position of having pull big pile of tax dollars from Crossroads Christian Communications. Why? Well, because this charming evangelical group likes to go about talking about how gay people are the worst of sinners and blah blah blah. The usual, narrow minded nonsense some evangelicals get about when they want to stick their noses into other people’s bedrooms. Frankly listening to that clap trap has reached a stage where I  figure it would be more pleasant to stick an angry hornet in my ear and then block my ear with a cork so the bug can never get out.

Why is giving them funding a problem? Well mostly because they use their government money to do missionary work in Uganda. Which is a charming country seemingly perpetually obsessed with finding new and fun legal ways to murder homosexuals for being gay. We here in Canada take a pretty dim view of that sort of thing, some religious fringe notwithstanding, and giving money to a group which likes to spend it’s time telling gay people how evil they are being to go work in a country that wants to kill gay people….is probably not the best idea.

Now to be fair, the government has yanked the funding for this group, thank Odin, but the point it probably should have looked into it a little more before writing the cheque in the first place. Maybe, I don’t know, looking at the group’s website which openly told homosexuals what big fat sinners they are? (In a move to not-so-suprising hypocrisy, the Crossroads Christian Communications yanked its “god loves you, but stop being such evil gay sinners, you evil gay sinners” screed from their website after the first phone call from the Canadian Press on the issue. A bit of Albertan wisdom for the folks at Crossroads: that is a big like fixing the barn door after the horses are gone.)

Simply put, Canadian tax dollars ought not to be given to groups that support, even in a broad sense, the political ideology of a murderous dictatorship.

Now, can I please have an aspirin? That hornet in my ear is really starting to cause me some pain.

 

PS. Crossroads is saying in news stories that it is in Uganda spreading the almighty’s love and using federal money for specific objectives (digging well and the like.) and not religious missionary work. It’s not a defense that is of much use. You don’t get to blast homosexuals at home, then take tax dollars and use them to do work in a country that is passing laws to kill gay people for being gay. You just don’t.

Friday Hitchslap for Friday, Dec. 7, 2012

- December 7th, 2012

HITCHSLAP: The process of utterly obliterating an opponent’s entire (usually religious or political) argument, usually in one or more succinct or terse statements, orally or in writing; employed almost exclusively by Christopher Hitchens.

No long intro into this today. Just the Hitch doing what he did.

The stupid, it burns: Dante’s ghostly criticism edition

- December 6th, 2012

Greetings web denizens, heathens, zealots and the rest of you!

One of the unavoidable effects of being a journalist, particularly one who also writes opinion column, particularly one who criticizes religion, is that one gets his fair share of hate mail and critics. Par for the course.

On occasion the criticism is thoughtful. I have had, for example, a long running conversation/debate with a reader by email on the subject of god and religion. We don’t agree with each other much, but our exchanges are lively and interesting. More often, however, the criticism comes from those who take shelter in the anonymity the internet provides, taking pot shots from the dark, never having the courage to voice their opinions in the same light of public consumption as the journalist does.

Case in point is a blogger who calls himself Dante Alighieri after the titan of poetry and theology. (Ironically, the blogger claims to be a non-believer. The real Dante most certainly was.) But since this fellow’s name certainly isn’t Dante, I’ve decided give him a random name. I’ve settled on Sean.

Sean is not a fan of mine and recently devoted a blog entry to what I presume he believes is some manner of rhetorical take down of me and my work.

Normally, I would not bother replying in detail, but Sean’s effort isn’t particularly long and mirrors some common criticism of not only myself, but other writers who publicly take exception to the efforts of the theoretically minded. And since he wanted to bring down the thunder by calling me out on Twitter, here we go:

“In a small local paper belonging to the QMI Corp. there is a regular columnist who exemplifies the worst of the fundamentalists, he rails against those whose ideas differ from his, mocks their ideas and world view, wishes their banishment from public view, wants their views suppressed, by the state if necessary, and calls them all types of names. His views seem to be supported by a large cast of “me too’ers” who join him in his vitriolic campaign.”

While I will often criticize religion, most often when religious activity attempts to shoe horn dogma into science class, attack the rights of other citizens, or claim a special status over others, I have never once called the suppression of anyone’s views – not even fans of Glee – even when they disagree with my own. In fact, the opposite is the case.

I’ve argued against creationism, using public schools as religious soap boxes, faith healing, religious attacks on homosexuals, gay marriage and women, the violence of jihadists ranging from honour killings to terrorism, suppression of free speech by religious groups and Scientology. Never, in any of that, have I once called for the suppression of free speech.

I am fairly certain that I have taken a much more strident view on free speech publicly than Sean has. I’ve done it several times. My opinion is  a long standing matter of public record. I have long argued that free speech is as close to sacrosanct an idea as there is. I have, on many occasions, argued that the state’s ability to limit free speech ought to be extremely limited and, as regular readers of my column will know, I like to drive the point home using an excellent quote from Noam Chomsky:

“Goebbels was in favour of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re really in favour of free speech, then you’re in favour of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise. Otherwise, you’re not in favour of free speech.”

So while I will take up the argument against unwarranted religious intrusion into our public institutions, mock end of the worlders, and insist that dogma does not belong in a science class, I have never called for the state to shut up the religious. In fact, as recently as September, I defended the right to free speech of that Christian zealot who made the idiotic anti-Islam YouTube video that triggered all manner of violence in the middle east. I pointed out an idea that has been well known in secular circles since the 19th century that says  you do not throw away free speech because some people, in this case radical Muslims, start an orgy of violence, even if the speech in question was stupid on the highest order. You combat bad speech with more speech, not censorship and violence.

So, sorry Sean, but you rather missed the boat there.

NEXT!

 I watch with amusement as he rants and raves against their intolerance and bigotry, unaware that he is acting in the same way that he accuses others of being. He is, not a religious bigot of the Fred Phelps/Westboro Baptist Church type, but of the new fundamentalist type, the atheist fundamentalist.

Ah, yes the claim that the atheist is a “fundamentalist” or a “militant.”

This too, fall well short of the mark. Fundamentalism, originally a term used by a brand of American evangelical Christianity, got it’s name because believers wanted to get back to the “fundamentals” of their faith. Because this involved a belief in Biblical inerrancy (including literal belief in a six day creation, the dead rising from the grave, miracles and several, non-textual beliefs regarded as so important they cannot be questioned) the term “fundamentalist” has become a kind of pejorative to describe any religious person who interprets their religious texts this way and then acts accordingly. Today, this mostly refers to some stripes of Christianity and Islam, though that is probably a limited view.

At their best, fundamentalists are intolerant bigots, obsessed with making sure gay people can never marry, women have little or no say over their bodies or that science is replaced by bronze age theology.

At their worst, fundamentalists murder abortion doctors, fly planes into sky scrappers, throw acid into the faces of little girls in Afghanistan for imagined crimes, and generally seek to find new and exciting ways to murder non-believers.

So what exactly is an “atheist fundamentalist?” The term makes no sense. There are no texts that are regarded as so important they cannot be challenged, no idea so invincible that it cannot be questioned, no argument so powerful that it can never be discussed.  Although being compared to Fred Phelps, you don’t see atheists protesting at military funerals, advocating the death of others, or the tearing down of democratic institutions. I certainly have never made any similar arguments.

“Fundamentalists” atheists write books and articles and advance arguments, with which others can agree or disagree. The worst of religious fundamentalists blow up buildings. The difference is not trivial, Sean.

Or it can be put this way:

Fundamentalists: believe 2+2 =5 because It Is Written. Somewhere. They have a lot of trouble on their tax returns.

“Moderate” believers: live their lives on the basis that 2+2=4. but go regularly to church to be told that 2+2 once made 5, or will one day make 5, or in a very real and spiritual sense should make 5.

“Moderate” atheists: know that 2+2 =4 but think it impolite to say so too loudly as people who think 2+2=5 might be offended.

“Militant” atheists: “Oh for pity’s sake. HERE. Two pebbles. Two more pebbles. FOUR pebbles. What is WRONG with you people?”

NEXT!

He seems to be offended by anyone who publicly states a belief in any sort of god-like entity, but really focuses his attention on those of the Christian faith. You never see him slagging or criticizing those of the Islamic faith. Although if you question him on it, he will respond with “well those too, as well”. He dislikes people who pray near him or open meetings with a prayer, place in public places symbols of their faith; mangers at Christmas etc.

I have said, in several columns that no one has a right not to be offended. I cannot recall a single instance where I have ever said I was “offended” by someone who publicly states religious belief. In fact my criticism is almost exclusively focused upon religious groups who attempt to hijack public institutions, such as public schools or elected houses of government or the courts.

Given my views on free speech, it would be odd indeed to get offended by public statements of faith. Nor have I taken exception to prayers in public meetings. In fact, I only once addressed the issue of prayer in government meetings when Premier Dalton McGuinty argued that it was time to dump the Lord’s Prayer from Queen’s Park. I agreed. Our elected houses are not churches and temples. They are secular and, as McGuinty correctly pointed out, should stay that way.  The business of government has nothing to do with appealing to one god or another, saving souls, or whatever else religions are up to. QED. We have lots of temples and churches for that sort of thing.

On the issue of “never” criticizing Islam, it’s pretty clear that Sean hasn’t really being read the Grant Rant. I have devoted considerable ink criticizing Islam on a number of fronts. I wrote extensively about the case of Muslim students in Toronto attempting to suppress free speech by using the human rights courts to silence a McLean’s Magazine writer. I have written several critical columns about the Taliban, the theocratic government in Afghanistan and the deplorable treatment of women and girls in Muslim countries.

NEXT!

He attacks the Christian through Human Rights complaints and court cases complaining that he is made uncomfortable by the actions and beliefs of the religious.

I have never, ever, used the human rights tribunal system in this province. EVER. For any reason. In point of fact, I have been a long standing critic of the human rights tribunals in Canada. For the most part, they have been used by religious groups, principally Muslims who have attempted to use the system to prevent public criticism of their religion. In Canada, atheists are not arriving to the tribunals in droves in order to shut down religious activities. Locally, the only such case was a Grimsby man who doesn’t want the Gideons to use his child’s school as a forum to win converts. And I quite agree.  It had nothing to do with being “uncomfortable” with religious belief, but a Christian group wanting the right to try and convert grade school students.

In point of fact, I have argued against the very thing Sean says I endorse – banning religion. I’ve argued, rather, that we shouldn’t shelter people, including school children, from the religious views of our world.

NEXT!

Now, I haven’t been in a church in over 20 years and that was for a wedding of a in-law. I couldn’t name more that 4 books of the bible, and have no beliefs in a “greater spirit”. Yet I don’t get palpitations when I hear someone professing a belief in a god, nor do I get cold sweats at the sign of a crucifix/cross in a public area, the sight of a manger on a city hall lawn at Christmas does not send me into uncontrollable spasms of rage. But for the Atheist Fundamentalist, all of the above seems to be a daily occurrence.

Oh Sean, this is not the sort of thing one should be proud of, especially for someone who claims wants to channel the memory of Dante! I don’t believe in any of the supernatural claims of the Bible, but I have read it several times. Being ignorant of it isn’t a badge of honour. Believe in the faith or not, there is no denying that the Bible is a key book of western history. Putting religion aside, you cannot hope to understand major works of literature if you don’t understand the Bible. Moby Dick and Hamlet, for example, are replete with Biblical references. Dante’s Divine Comedy makes no sense without knowing the Bible. The writers of these books, and many, many others, assume their audience has a working knowledge of the Bible.

To have not read the Bible is like not having read Homer or Shakespeare. One cannot claim to be culturally and historically literate unless one has an understanding of these stories. Sean, you may want to rethink your handle.

As for this nonsense about arguing against a city hall manager display during Christmas, well, it’s a pure fabrication. In fact, I have more than once argued that people need to get over the burning stupid that is the “war on Christmas.” A manager scene (Christian) a Christmas tree (Pagan) and other religious and quasi religious symbols used during Christmas do not violate the separation of church and state. They are quaint traditions that, frankly, few people give much thought to. It’s a non issue.

NEXT!

“If one is so afflicted that their daily lives are so disrupted, rather than seek to shut everyone down, a far simpler and less disruptive solution would be to seek the counselling needed to be able to co-exist within a community of diverse views and ideas. I do hope that he does seek out that counselling, I really do. Grant, I do feel your pain, although I don’t understand why you are so afflicted.”

I’m not “so afflicted” in my daily life by religion. Most of the time, it rarely crosses my mind. Professionally, I do write  more about it than most of my colleagues. And when the day comes that creationists stop trying to put their theology into science classes, stop trying to use public schools as a captive audience, stop trying to tell women what they can and cannot do with their bodies, stop trying to undermine free speech, stop selling faith healing to the credulous and the ignorant…then I will happily lay down my pen. There are things worth defending, even in print, important things like democracy and free speech. I make no apologies for having done so.

It is ironic that Sean should get my body of work on the subject so horribly wrong. There might be something actually worth discussing here. As it stands, his blog reminds one of the Shakespeare’s poor player who “struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more. It is a tale
told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

PS. Sean asked me on Twitter to  “point out where separation of church & state are mentioned,” and I will indulge him on this last point. I presume Sean means where is it mentioned in the Canadian constitution. Of course, it is not there. The concept was enshrined in the US Constitution (a vastly superior document to ours, in my view.) with the establishment clause, but cannot be found in ours. In fact, our constitution makes a single reference to god in the preamble.

Ironically enough, Canada has rarely had the mix of politics and religion we see south of the 49th. And while our constitution does not have an establishment clause, the logic of the document does indeed support the separation of church and state and a secular government. Moreover, we have been functioning that way since before we even had our own constitution. Canada has always had that wall between church and state, we just basically took it as the way we do business,  much like most of Europe. When it appears that wall will be breached – like John Tory’s plan to fund faith schools a few elections back – Canadian voters take a very dim view of it.

And it is also worth noting that although our constitution makes one, vague reference to a god, it doesn’t reference a particular faith, certainly never mentions Jesus or Christianity or assigns religion any role in the affairs of the state beyond making a clear statement of freedom of religion.

QED.

“Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.”

-Mark Twain.

 

 

Grant Rants hits television.

- December 3rd, 2012

Greetings web denizens, heathens, zealots and the rest of you!

I’ll admit from the start here that I don’t actually watch Vision TV. It’s dedicated to religious programing, and from the ads I saw Friday night, also Irish folk dancing. Not sure exactly how that all fits together, but they sure like their gods and dancing Irish over at Vision TV.

I turned it on because I made a short appearance (if you fill forgive the shameless self promotion) on a program called I Prophecy about Christian rapture theology – basically those who believe Jesus is coming back any day now to open up a can of whup ass on the world.

IMG-20121130-WA000

Hey look, I’m on TV…but WHAT is going on with my hair?

The show was, well, a little heavy on the crazy for my tastes, with a couple of preachers going on about their end of the world ideas, giving no thought the impact that has on the gullible and the ignorant who sell their homes and leave their jobs in anticipation of being sucked up in god’s holy transporter beam.

I was basically there to provide the rational response, I suppose, and my ultimate point (which fortunately made it into the final moments of the program) is how rapture theology and the preachers who push it, are really committing an emotional con job which has ruined the lives of far too many people.

I’ve written about this subject before, particularly last year when an end of the world group actually purchased a billboard in St. Catharines warning us of the specific date we were all going to die. I’ll allow you to judge how accurate their prediction was.

Watch the show and let me know what you think about the subject.

PS. If you missed it and want to watch a show on a subject with more meat that end of world types, check out my appearance on the History Channel’s “Outlaw Bikers.”

Friday Hitchslap for Nov 23, 2012 starring Richard Dawkins

- November 23rd, 2012

HITCHSLAP: The process of utterly obliterating an opponent’s entire (usually religious or political) argument, usually in one or more succinct or terse statements, orally or in writing; employed almost exclusively by Christopher Hitchens.

Biologist Richard Dawkins is an interesting and brilliant guy, but doesn’t posses Christopher Hitchens  rhetorical whit. His arguments are great, but often doesn’t have the kind of rapier to the heart style of speaking that The Hitch perfected. Nonetheless, every once in a while he comes out with a zing. Here are two.

Dawkins on Creationism:

Dawkins vs. Neil Degrasse Tyson:

Some final thoughts on Savita Halappanavar

- November 21st, 2012

Greetings web denizens, heathens, zealots and the rest of you!

So this week’s Grant Rant was about Savita Halappanavar, a dentist in Ireland who died because while her pregnancy was killing her and the fetus could not be saved, she was denied a life saving abortion on the grounds that Ireland is a Catholic country and abortion is wrong.

The reaction from some readers, as I have briefly noted, decided to take some shots at me rather than talk about the issue. Which is fine. It comes with the job. But the issue itself is, in fact, what matters. A spectrum of responses  in the comments section to that column are worth taking a look at.

They all share one thing in common: they ignore the fact that a woman is dead and fall into two broad catagories: Abortion is always wrong and religion is never wrong. Here are two key ones worth exploring.

1) Abortions never save a mother’s life:

It seems pretty clear by the facts of the case that have been released thus far that had Halappanavar been granted the abortion, she would have survived. At least the odds of her survival would have risen dramatically. However, the religious pro-lifers make an argument that, medically speaking, no woman ever has been saved by an abortion. This is the argument put forward today in that silly publication, the Holy Post,  by Andrea Mrozek who claims that good medical care saves lives and as medical care improves maternal mortality goes down and therefore no abortion has saved any woman, ever, anyplace.

Yes, thank you, Andrea Mrozek for pointing out that with better medical care few people die. So what? It has less than nothing to do with the case here. It’s a giant smelly red herring. The kind the Knights of Ni will ask you cut down the tallest tree in the forest with. The sad truth is that there are some medical conditions like preeclampsia and tubal pregnancies which, in some circumstances can only be resolved by ending the pregnancy. It’s awful, it’s grim but that is the facts. Fortunately they are not the norm, but they do happen. When they do, you cannot save the fetus. The only option is to save the mother or they both die. QED. At the point, those who want to make the argument that an abortion is NEVER necessary to save a woman have chosen to jump down the rabbit hole of faith thinking rather than deal with reality. And then people die.

2)The non-religious cannot make moral choices, like wanting to save Halappanavar.

This tortured argument goes like this: Saying Halappanavar should have been saved is a moral choice, and since morals cannot be decided by science, the desire to save her is a kind of faith thinking. Therefore, there is no grounds to say she should saved unless one accepts the morals of a religion, in this case, Catholicism.

This is in effect, the old moral argument for god which claims we cannot know right from wrong without divine warrant.

I think the first place to start to answer this one is from Christopher Hitchens, who demolishes the argument better than I can. It’s worth viewing the full interview. But I will say this. We know that our evolved faculties, including our ethical and moral impulses, are innate in us. They are not perfect, but they are there and are powerful. As social creatures we would not be able to even form the smallest groups that function if they didn’t.  Choosing to guide one’s ethics by saying that that reducing or eliminating suffering is a worthy cause neither requires, nor is dependent upon, the guidance of an unseen hand. And science can indeed be a guide by providing us with a clearer view of reality. If morals and ethics can be seen, as they I think they can (and I tend to agree with Sam Harris on this point) about human well being, then science is a powerful tool to help us decide action.

What I have taken away from some of the visceral response to that column is that there is a spectrum of “pro-lifers” who hold human life very cheaply. The death of a woman is vastly less important to them that the often, I dare say, irrational defense of the mixture of theology and politics that lead to her demise. The faith is more important than life. Even though there was no saving the fetus in this case, no exception can be made, even though the consequence was obvious.

When belief in the supernatural trumps the hard facts on the ground, when they contribute the death of an innocent, something has gone very wrong. Those who defend this view, ought to be ashamed of themselves.