Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Party of Theocracy

In case anyone has any doubt about the fact that the Republican Party has become the party of theocracy, The Secular Coalition For America has released its 2011 Congressional Report Card.  It can be accessed at the link below.  Please read and send the link to your friends, especially if you have friends who are still in denial about the un-American nature of the current Republican Party.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

School Prayer and the Secret Ballot

I have written several posts on the subject of school prayer because I know it embodies so many of the ills of religion and reveals so much of the oppressive, totalitarian intent in the religious mind.  One point I have made repeatedly is that the school prayer scenario is inherently coercive, and it is precisely for this reason that the religious are so insistent upon it.

One tactic that non-believers can employ when this topic comes up is to compare it to other situations where coercion would not be acceptable--even to the religious.  (I must admit that as I write those last few words, it occurs to me that there are those among the religious who would find no level of coercion to be unacceptable.  One need only read accounts of life in John Calvin's Geneva to see a well-documented example of this.)

A key to dealing with the self-centered is to help them with their lack of empathy by positing analogous situations that would cause them to feel imposed upon.  The vast majority of people in modern, democratic societies would be aghast at the suggestion that the secret ballot be abolished.  They understand perfectly well that if they were to be forced to vote publicly there would be negative consequences.  They could lose friends or even their livelihood.  Elections would soon be controlled by those with the clout and resources to impose punishments on those who didn't vote as requested and give rewards to those who did.

In fact, before the implementation of the secret ballot, this is precisely the sort of thing that happened.  The secret ballot was adopted specifically to ensure that voters record sincere choices by forestalling attempts to influence the voter by intimidation or bribery.  The explicit purpose of the system is to achieve the goal of political privacy.  Provisions are made at the polling place for the voters to record their preferences in secret.  The ballots are specifically designed to eliminate bias and to prevent anyone from linking voter to ballot.  Partisans are forbidden from engaging in "campaign activities" in or near the voting place for the same reasons.

The secret ballot is a comparatively recent innovation (as, indeed, is the widespread popularity of democracy).  In the United States, most states moved to secret ballots in the only last years of the 19th Century.  The first President of the United States elected completely by secret ballot was president Grover Cleveland in 1892.  Yet, the secret ballot is such an obvious necessity for the proper functioning of democracy that most people are quite surprised when they first learn that it is of recent origin.

Because of its obvious necessity for the proper functioning of democracy, the secret ballot has become sacrosanct in most countries and in the minds of virtually every person in the sphere of Western Civilization's influence.  A politician who campaigned on a platform of doing away with the secret ballot would be lucky to attract any supporters outside of his or her immediate family.  One might as well campaign against democracy itself.

Yet, this is precisely the type of thing that politicians are doing when they campaign on a platform supporting prayer in public schools.  Organized prayer sessions in public schools force students to publicly declare their religious affiliation in most cases.  Non-believers and those in minority religions cannot participate without violating their religious conscience.  In other words, it is precisely those most in need of the law's protection who are forced to publicly declare their minority status by organized school prayer.  Their only alternative is to allow their religious freedom to be violated and conform to the expectations of the majority.

So, the next time the topic of school prayer comes up, make the point that religious preferences, like political preferences, are private and must remain so if we are to truly have freedom and democracy.  Point out that the purposes of the secret ballot, which the religious person almost certainly understands and supports, apply with equal validity to prayer.

Allowing the state to publicly point out members of religious minorities to the peers with whom they must spend every day is analogous to the state posting copies of each voter's ballot (with the voter's name on it) in his or her place of work.  It is an extreme invasion of privacy and clearly has no purpose except to use mob violence (or the threat thereof) to coerce conformity.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Perfect Example

On this most recent Thanksgiving a lunatic Christian troll came across some of my blog posts and left some very typical comments.  A couple of the comments were just very straightforward attempts at lies, to which I gave quick and easy replies.

One of the comments, though, was such a typical example of "befuddle them with bullshit" argumentation so often employed by the religious that I just shook my head.  After a while though, I decided it was best to take this bull(shit) by the horns--in no small part because this is exactly the sort of reply one might get from the religious in response to some of the points I have made here in my blog.

The comment was:
"Religion in which God is worshiped and not the self = narcissism disorder lol? What a bad atheist argument. No, that's humanistic atheism. Oh and, the high scholars of the DSM removed narcissism disorder as a mental disorder, guess why?

Atheism truly is a destructive lie that makes you morally backwards. So is the mindset of a narcissist."
First, note that this is a good example of the type of "so full of mistakes, I don't know where to start refuting it" religious argument.  Often in such case, the first thing to do is simply state this fact in order to give yourself a little time to begin processing the cascade of misdirection, mischaracterization, and mistakes of logic.

Now, let's take this nonsense one piece at a time.

The very first thing the commenter did was to confuse two different definitions of narcissism.  There is the classical term "narcissism" describing someone in love with himself as was Narcissus of greek mythology.  On the other hand there is clinical narcissism of modern psychology describing someone who presents a false, inflated self to the world in order to bolster his or her damaged ego.  These two things may sometimes overlap, but they are not the same.

It was, of course, the false self-image of clinical narcissism that my posts on narcissism were about.  I made that abundantly clear.  The false self-image that narcissists present to the world (and to themselves) encompasses religion as narcissism.  The false self-image of the religious narcissist includes the delusion that the religious narcissist is in possession of ultimate knowledge and is a friend and confidant of the most powerful being in the universe.

When one encounters this sort of argument, it is often difficult to determine whether the religious person is deliberately trying to be dishonest or is simply stupid--or some combination of the two.  I think it is usually a combination of the two--in a sense.

I find that usually the best explanation of the phenomenon is that the person is so driven by his emotional need to refute and belittle the "evil atheist" that he or she doesn't really take the time to make sure he or she is correct.  Trying to both refute and belittle one's opponent at the same time usually results in this sort of strawman argument where the religious person confuses the different meanings of the terms being used in an attempt to make fun of the non-believer.

As I mentioned before, this is their mistaken version of the reductio ad absurdum argument.  Reductio ad absurdum refers to an argument pointing out an inherent contradiction in the argument being refuted.  It does not consist of making fun of the argument being refuted.

Next, we have the assertion that "humanistic atheism" is narcissism.  This is another strawman argument, in which the religious person misrepresents what humanism and atheism are.  Humanism is a philosophy that holds that the best way for humanity to know itself and better itself is to study itself and learn the truth about itself and that such study will lead to true and proper ethics.  Or, as defined by the website of the American Humanist Association:

"Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity."
It is hardly narcissism for people to conclude that they need to know themselves and rely only on facts when determining what is real.  And, atheism, of course, is simply a lack of belief in a god or gods.  More than anything else, humanism stands for the proposition that humans can seek to better themselves without the guidance or threats of a god.  It is a response to those who maintain that this is impossible because they think humans are irredeemably evil without a god.

Finally, we have a blatant lie.  Narcissistic Personality Disorder has not been removed as a diagnosis from the DSM.  Recent headlines suggest that it might be at some time in the future because the American Psychiatric Association is considering a proposal to re-write the DSM.  The proposal does not, however, truly remove Narcissistic Personality Disorder, rather it proposes a more amorphous category, which would include Narcissistic Personality Disorder as well as others considered to be separate disorders currently, as a more flexible diagnosis.

Not only is it a lie to say that this has already happened, it is also a lie to imply--as does the troll's comment--that this change is in any way related to religion, atheism, or my assertions that religion should be considered a form of or symptom of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.   Instead, the proposal grew out of clinical experience in which it was seen that patients were often diagnosed with more than one of the current categories of personality disorder.  Excessive numbers of co-diagnoses indicated that the present categories overlapped too often to be considered truly separate in all cases.

The troll apparently googled the name of the disorder and came across an article such as this confused one in The New York Times from more than a year ago.  The third paragraph of the article makes the mistake of saying that this change "has" occurred, implying that it is a done deal, but also says that DSM-5 will not be published until 2013, which, of course, means that the change has not actually occurred yet.

Further down in the article (much further than the troll actually read, apparently) it becomes clear that the proposed changes are actually quite controversial in the community of mental health professionals.  It is not clear whether these proposed changes will, in fact, be adopted.  The troll, however, was not seeking the truth.  He was seeking a cudgel he could use to attack the "evil atheist".  He skimmed just enough of the article he found to deceive himself into thinking that he could make an argument based on it.

The great Giordano Bruno captured the essence of such hideous fools perfectly when he wrote:

"For they dispute not in order to find or even to seek Truth, but for victory, and to appear the more learned and strenuous upholders of a contrary opinion."

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Book Review: The Annointed

A couple of days ago, The New York Times published a review of a new book entitled "The Annointed".  The book, by Randall J. Stevens and Karl W. Giberson, examines the god experts in the evangelical fold who have been annointed by the others as their intellectual leaders as they try to undo the enlightenment.  I have often mentioned that many modern religious types want to drag us all back to the Dark Ages.  This claim is seen by many, who lack my experience with religion, as alarmism or even paranoia.

This book should help set the record straight.  Many religious people do, indeed, want to eradicate the enlightenment.  The book also gives us hope by showing how the movement is, as yet, confused in its goals.

When this posts was originally published, I provided a link to a re-publication of the book review, which was written by Molly Worthen.  The re-publication was in the Rick Ross website.  The site has since changed its name and can now be found at  I highly recommend this site for its content on cults--including those that are not often seen as cults because of their sheer size.  (The original site now publishes casino reviews, so don't go there.)

(Post amended Sept. 20, 2013.)