The United Kingdom has no Constitutional prohibition against established religion; in fact, the head of state is also the head of the church. But the UK has a much deeper secular grain than we have, to the extent that many people in the country get quite exercised about even public prayer. The Washington Post explains the latest row:
Local lawmaker Clive Bone, an atheist, was backed by four of his peers in challenging the long-standing tradition of opening public meetings with blessings by Christian clergy. After losing two council votes on the prayer ban, Bone took the town to court — winning a ruling last month that appeared to set a legal precedent by saying government had no authority to compel citizens to hear prayer.
Bone, a transplanted Londoner and retired management consultant who has given up his seat on the council, said: “This isn’t about freedom of religion. I will defend their right to pray in their churches to my dying breath. Just don’t make us listen to it anymore. It is a backwards tradition that alienates people in this country.”
Most people I know in the UK say religion is entirely private, and would likely be offended at having to listen to prayers at minor public meanings. It's yet another example of how really out of step the rest of the Western world are with us.
The astrology nutters who sued the time zone database for copyright infringement have withdrawn the suit.
Plaintiff's attorney Julie Molloy filed the notice of voluntary dismissal today in the District of Massachusetts under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1).
So, reason prevailed. Good.
Republican Presidential candidate Rick Santorum, someone who expects to be taken seriously as a potential leader of a 21st-century republic, has taken yet another step back from the reality-based community:
“We were put on this Earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the Earth, to use it wisely and steward it wisely, but for our benefit not for the Earth’s benefit,” Santorum told a Colorado crowd earlier this month.
“When you have a worldview that elevates the Earth above man and says that we can’t take those resources because we’re going to harm the Earth; by things that frankly are just not scientifically proven, for example, the politicization of the whole global warming debate — this is all an attempt to, you know, to centralize power and to give more power to the government,” Santorum said.
This illustrates two common tactics of the religious right. The first is to blow a dog whistle; that is, to use a word or phrase indicating support of a fringe idea without actually saying explicitly that he's a supporter. In this case, Santorum's use of the word "dominion" suggests he believes in Dominionism, which is essentially that the U.S. should become a Christian theocracy.
The second is to make a frightening accusation about the opposition (i.e., the rational people making up a majority of the Western world) that actually applies to the person making the accusation. In this case, "an attempt to, you know, to centralize power and to give more power to the government." It's a stretch to see how saying "these observations of empirical data lead all but the most obtuse to see that humans are changing the climate, so we should perhaps take steps to mitigate that problem" is radical centralization. It's less of a stretch, however, to see how saying "I want the government to adhere to the theology I believe in and criminalize everything that disagrees with that theology" is anything but.
Dog whistles and accusing your opponents of exactly what you're doing: this is what Lincoln meant in the Cooper Union speech when he said, "A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, 'Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!'"
That is cool indeed.
Author Sam Harris likens our love of wood fires to other unshakable beliefs:
The case against burning wood is every bit as clear as the case against smoking cigarettes. Indeed, it is even clearer, because when you light a fire, you needlessly poison the air that everyone around you for miles must breathe. Even if you reject every intrusion of the “nanny state,” you should agree that the recreational burning of wood is unethical and should be illegal, especially in urban areas. By lighting a fire, you are creating pollution that you cannot dispose. It might be the clearest day of the year, but burn a sufficient quantity of wood and the air in the vicinity of your home will resemble a bad day in Beijing. ...
Most people I meet want to live in a world in which wood smoke is harmless. Indeed, they seem committed to living in such a world, regardless of the facts. To try to convince them that burning wood is harmful—and has always been so—is somehow offensive. The ritual of burning wood is simply too comforting and too familiar to be reconsidered, its consolation so ancient and ubiquitous that it has to be benign. The alternative—burning gas over fake logs—seems a sacrilege.
The entire essay is worth reading. And when you dig into it, given how few people have ever tried to annihilate their neighbors over wood smoke...well, you can see where Harris is going.
Zack Beauchamp, writing on Andrew Sullivan's blog, has a well-argued explanation of how the Obama administration is not threatening the religious freedom of the Catholic Church by enforcing regulations on health insurance coverage:
Allowing "conscience" exemptions whenever an employer doesn't feel morally clean when complying with regulations in principle neuters all regulation. The argument for allowing Catholic hospitals a pass on covering birth control has to rest or fall on the specifics of the case rather than a general commitment to protecting "voluntary communities."
This is where the case against the Administration's ruling is at its weakest. Birth control is for 98% of women the principal means of protecting a right central to their own liberty - the right to choose when to create a family. Chances are most women employed by Catholic universities and hospitals are part of the 98%. For these women, not having access to birth control renders a crucially important right meaningless.
I'm fine with religious freedom. I am not fine with religious organizations taking public money, and then claiming special conditions on how they'll accept it.
Sure, I've posted photos of the moon before, but it never gets old to me:
Well, all right, at 4½ billion years it is old to me, but you know what I meant.
On a side note, I just Googled "age of the moon" and discovered that many of the top results are from outside the reality-based community. For example, the second item on my results came from the Institute for Creation Research ("Biblical. Accurate. Certain."), in which one Thomas G. Barnes, D.Sc., begins with the assertion: "It takes but one proof of a young age for the moon or the earth to completely refute the doctrine of evolution." If you're a science teacher, you might want to have a look at this article, because it could be a great way to introduce kids to the meanings of theory, hypothesis, and fallacy.
And could someone please tell me what the credential "D.Sc." purports to be?
To counter SOPA, a Swedish group has gotten official recognition as a religion on the idea of Holy Information:
The church, which holds CTRL+C and CTRL+V (shortcuts for copy and paste) as sacred symbols, does not directly promote illegal file sharing, focusing instead on the open distribution of knowledge to all.
It was founded by 19-year-old philosophy student and leader Isak Gerson. He hopes that file-sharing will now be given religious protection.
"For the Church of Kopimism, information is holy and copying is a sacrament. Information holds a value, in itself and in what it contains and the value multiplies through copying. Therefore copying is central for the organisation and its members," he said in a statement.
I can't wait to see which angels help them decipher their silicon tablets...
Reader Curtis Manwaring alerted me this morning to movement in the copyright infringement case against Arthur David Olson, late of the Posix time zone database. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has taken up Olson's (and Paul Eggerts') defense, and yesterday threatened a motion for Rule 11 sanctions against the plaintiff's attorney if they don't withdraw the case within 21 days:
If there were ever a pleading that invited Rule 11 sanctions, Plaintiff Astrolabe, Inc.'s Complaint is it. ... Astrolabe's frivolous and unfounded Complaint has already caused harm, and not only to Mr. Olson and Dr. Eggert. ... Perhaps realizing the folly of filing such a Complaint, Astrolabe has not yet served Defendants. Yet Astrolabe refuses to voluntarily dismiss its baseless Complaint, and thus the threat of full-blown copyright litigation looms, to the detriment of Defendants and the public interest in obtaining accurate time zone information on the Internet.
Astrolabe's Complaint illustrates the harm that frivolous claims of copyright infringement can cause to a public, collaboratively maintained factual resource. Under Rule 11, the Court should remedy this abuse of the legal system and deter future abuses by striking the Complaint and awarding defendants their costs and attorney fees.
I predicted this motion back in October. I can't wait to see how Astrolabe and their attorney respond.
Chicago's Francis Cardinal George, the highest-ranking member of the Roman Catholic Church in Chicago, apparently thinks gays are like murderous racists:
George’s initial comments came in connection with a controversy over whether next summer’s gay pride parade would interrupt morning services at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in the Lakeview neighborhood.
“Organizers (of the pride parade) invited an obvious comparison to other groups who have historically attempted to stifle the religious freedom of the Catholic Church,” the cardinal said in a statement issued Tuesday. “One such organization is the Ku Klux Klan which, well into the 1940s, paraded through American cities not only to interfere with Catholic worship but also to demonstrate that Catholics stand outside of the American consensus. It is not a precedent anyone should want to emulate.”
Cardinal, I think you're outside of the American consensus in so many ways, it really doesn't take much to demonstrate this point. However, given the KKK's history of murder, thuggery, intimidation, voter suppression, and did I mention murder?, and the Gay Pride movement's history of being murdered, being beaten in the streets, being intimidated, and did I mention being murdered?, perhaps you want to change the comparison. In fact, opposition to gay rights, murder, intimidation, and so on, is a common theme in Catholic Church history and...well...I think you can see where this is going.
Any comment from the Church?
So I thought I'd take another look at Sebastian Gutierrez' film Girl Walks Into a Bar the other day. But before the film started I saw this:
Not knowing what to make of these options, I chose the two minutes of proselytizing and went to make my lunch. When I got back, the movie was on its way without interruptions, as promised.
What the LDS church hopes to accomplish through this PR campaign escapes me for the moment.