Saturday, January 24, 2015


Let us consider for a moment the nature of what is and is not offensive.

Some people have said that Muslims have a right to be upset over some of the things in Charlie Hebdo.  I think this is incorrect for two distinct reasons.

The first of these reasons is the fact that satire is a useful tool.  Being in poor taste does not make something offensive of itself.  Let's look at art done about other similar topics.

Let's take for example a comic such as this, this, this, another, and so on.  Any of these could easily be as offensive, to a particular person, as any of the cartoons about Muhammad, for example.  This does not mean that they are offensive of themselves.  The cartoonists are not bringing hate upon themselves for pointing out things that are actually happening.  Just because some people who sympathize with particular viewpoints are offended, doesn't mean the content is offensive.  Each of these can be seen as offensive, but that doesn't justify hate crimes. 

The Hebdo incident involving an anti-semitic journalist is different, because that fellow did, in fact, engage in hate speech, by saying a class of individual should die (note that terrorists tend to think this way as well, also Muhammed teaches to behead infidels [and islamic states have death penalties for apostates and atheists], and Christians have burned 'sinners' at the stake, and sent unbelievers to hell).  Pointing these things out, however, is not offensive, especially in the context of satire, because that is what satire is for.  And again, if you're offended that I pointed out that some followers of Islam do indeed want to kill anyone who doesn't believe, or that some Christians still want to send heretics to hell (or punch in the face, as the pope so eloquently put it, anyone who 'offends' the faith [by discussing these things?]), then it's probably not the fault of my speech that you are offended.

But let's move on to that second reason.  This one is a bit more subtle, so let's work it backward.

Let's take a picture like this one:

And let's take a picture like this one:

Now, which of these strikes as more offensive?  Some modern followers of Islam, for example, think the latter is blasphemy.  The Bible clearly states that the former is blasphemy (Exodus 20:4, I mean, come on, it's in the friggin' Ten Commandments).  Even ignoring the fact that Jesus was from Bethlehem, in the middle east, and was clearly not white, it's rather offensive to go against the literal teachings of god, one would imagine. 

But putting aside that, one picture is literally an affront to the other.  A depiction of Muhammad is, essentially, also creating a graven image of a false idol under scripture of the bible.  Similarly, painting Jesus in stained glass is clearly an offensive front to any follower of Islam, as that would clearly make one an infidel, apostate, or blasphemer - implying some other god exists. 

This leads me more directly to the point: anything that goes against what you believe can be offensive.  PETA, for example, have done some good work in uncovering a few instances of negligence and abuse, but also routinely kill animals at their own no-kill shelters. 

This is exactly the same sort of thing the Charlie Hebdo comic was discussing, the disproportionate acts of those in power in Islamic countries to those who simply disagree with them.

This image of the leader of ISIS wishing people good health.  This is the image that supposedly sparked the attack on Charlie Hebdo.  If this is offensive, then every other image in this article is also.  Should all political cartoonists have to worry about violence because they talk about things that make people uncomfortable?  No.  Are people justified to act out in violence because they are offended?  Again, no. 

We are Charlie Hebdo.  We all have a right to express our disdain for things.  We all have a right to poke fun now and again.  We all have a right to make people uncomfortable.  We don't have a right to be violent, however.  We don't have a right to simply kill people we disagree with. 

Then again, there's a third, even more subtle point here: we are all human.  Why must we subdivide?  Would this be less offensive if it were Kim-Jong-Un (wishing everyone a happy new year, including his 200k or so enslaved citizens)?  Would it suddenly be more acceptable?  What if it were the pope (wishing well all those people he'd punch in the face for calling Jesus an etherial skydaddy), or maybe Charlie Manson (wishing his victims well from his prison cell)? Are those really more acceptable satires?  Are they any less offensive?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Open Response to Bill Donohue, part 2.

Picking up right where we left off.

Stephane Charbonnier, the paper’s publisher, was killed today in the slaughter. It is too bad that he didn’t understand the role he played in his tragic death. In 2012, when asked why he insults Muslims, he said, “Muhammad isn’t sacred to me.” Had he not been so narcissistic, he may still be alive. Muhammad isn’t sacred to me, either, but it would never occur to me to deliberately insult Muslims by trashing him.

The first part is tantamount to saying he asked to be executed because he drew a cartoon.   This is exactly the same as saying that a woman asks to be raped because she dresses less than modestly in the opinion of someone

Bill says he would never have the thought to deliberately insult Muslims by trashing them, implying he would never deliberately trash anyone he doesn't agree with, or who has ideals he doesn't happen to hold sacred.  This is clearly not the case.  He reminds us that he favors blasphemy laws, and he trashes people he doesn't agree with as 'clueless.'  He even reminds us he doesn't hold free speech as sacred (that is, any speech that doesn't agree with what he says).  He even holds that firing a member of it's editorial staff over internal editorial standards (which aren't even related to this) is exactly the same as killing people over a comic.  It isn't, Bill.

Further in that same article, he conflates workplace harassment and discrimination (on the basis of sexuality - illegal here in the states) with posting a cartoon critiquing one of the major motivators of such divisive practices in the first place.  This is intellectually dishonest, ethically reprehensible, and really just not a good thing to do.  If the right to offend should be condemned, then Bill really needs to re-evaluate how offensive it is telling people that they are 'clueless' or 'phonies.' 

Clearly, I think Bill isn't saying that the people he offends have the right to kill him, those 'phonies' who are 'clueless,' the people who should be whipped for offending his god, the people who should be killed for blaspheming his particular sacred thing while he traipses over whomever else's sacred things he feels like.  Then again, as Bill says, that's a pretty damned narcissistic view to take.

Killing is bad.  This response to his words is appropriate.  Any further action should not happen, and will not happen.  It is important to note that Donohue also agrees with the pope's notion that offending someone's faith is okay to meet with violence - you know, as long as it isn't HIS faith.  Keep in mind, the pope said it was okay to punch someone who insults one's mother (bearing in mind that my mother was a real person - an important distinction).

To use Donohue's own words, why they would want to be associated with a man like the pope anymore defies rational explanation.

Anti-Catholic artists in this country have provoked me to hold many demonstrations, but never have I counseled violence. This, however, does not empty the issue. Madison was right when he said, “Liberty may be endangered by the abuses of liberty as well as the abuses of power.”

Sure, he claims he never encouraged violence, but that's clearly a lie.  Blasphemy laws are violent.  He literally sides with the pope, saying to punch people in the face if they insult your mother (read: your faith, your god, your pet, your car, whatever).  As I've said before, just because someone is insulted doesn't mean that the speech was offensive, nor does it mean it was aimed at the person it offended. 

And the last line, that's just SO IRONIC IT HURTS. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Open Response to Bill Donohue.

In response to Bill Donohue's open letter, from the Catholic League website.

This is the kind of thing Bill Donohue thinks is insulting, offensive, and to be angry about.
Killing in response to insult, no matter how gross, must be unequivocally condemned. That is why what happened in Paris cannot be tolerated. But neither should we tolerate the kind of intolerance that provoked this violent reaction.

First sentence, great.  I agree totally.  Killing is bad, and let's try not doing it.

Second sentence, also wonderful.  It's good to condemn people who kill other people, in this context especially.

Third sentence and, well, we've hit a wall.  What kind of intolerance should we not tolerate?  It's pretty damned intolerant to say we shouldn't tolerate freedom of expression.  Bill doesn't seem to realize that lots of things that Religious people say are just as inflammatory.  Bill has no problem using religion to defend his intolerant stances:  
"Anti-Catholicism is sadly tolerated at a time when much progress in curbing bigotry has been made by other demographic groups. The reasons for this condition are complex, but they are unacceptable regardless. Our job is to continue the fight: at least we know that our effort is on the side of the angels."  -Catholic report thing
And just so you know, Bill has no problem if the offensive speech is catholic.  For example, January 30 shows us pretty clearly that he thinks Catholic Schools should be free of such petty things as human rights and tolerance toward individuals who don't agree with your religion.  But we shouldn't tolerate this kind of intolerance, wasn't that his point?  Can he seriously not imagine people getting angry enough to become violent about it?  Ruining people's lives, running campaigns of hate against them, is still a violent kind of intolerance.

Back to the initial letter.

Those who work at this newspaper have a long and disgusting record of going way beyond the mere lampooning of public figures, and this is especially true of their depictions of religious figures. For example, they have shown nuns masturbating and popes wearing condoms. They have also shown Muhammad in pornographic poses.
 So, let's get this right.  He first says they have a long history of going beyond mere lampooning, but doesn't really show anything that's gone beyond lampooning?  Catholics rape little boys, but talking about it is the bad thing?   I'm sorry, but where did this cross the line, and since when is 'lampooning' a 'mere' thing?  Satire is a useful tool, and Bill has absolutely no problem calling his followers to be violent in the face of this exact kind of violence.  He seems to forget about those catholic crusades, Salem witch trials, more recently anti-LGBT stuff that has caused such people to kill themselves because of exactly this sort of intolerance.  You don't have to be holding a rifle and firing bullets to promote the kind of intolerance that kills people.

While some Muslims today object to any depiction of the Prophet, others do not. Moreover, visual representations of him are not proscribed by the Koran. What unites Muslims in their anger against Charlie Hebdo is the vulgar manner in which Muhammad has been portrayed. What they object to is being intentionally insulted over the course of many years. On this aspect, I am in total agreement with them.

Not sure what the first sentence has to do with anything.  You can find in-groups within any group of people who object to anything, and others who do not.  Reversed, it's like saying some Christians object to the Westboro stance on homosexuality, and some do not (Bill appears to agree with it, see June 3)

But let's keep moving.  Sentence two, he backtracks.  Either all muslims object to it and are angered by it, or not all muslims object and thereby cannot be angry about it.  This is logic 101, you can't have it both ways.  And even if they're angry about it, what has that got to do with killing apostates?  Sentence three belies his underlying stance, that somehow making fun of a religion is making fun of its adherents.  This is not true at all.  You are allowed to believe in an ethereal being, and I'm allowed to believe that's crazy.  I have to respect your ability to hold opinions, no the opinions themselves, especially if they are unfounded in any observable evidence.  Telling me you talk to unicorns and telling me you talk to Jesus are roughly commensurate.  No one has provided a test that would demonstrate the existence of either.  If someone had, we'd fund it with our science tax money.  If either were shown real, someone would win the Nobel prize.
 Another picture Bill thinks it is okay to be very angry about.

But back again to the arguments at hand.  He agrees it's good to be angry because someone 'insults' an idea that you happen to hold.  What if I were angry that you didn't believe in brownie monsters?  What if I said it was alright that people who don't believe in brownie monsters were right to be angry when told maybe they don't exist? What if I said I was angry enough to justify people who killed other people for making fun of brownie monsters, leprechauns, gnomes, unicorns, and other beasts that only I and other believers in them could see?  Is this a defensible position?  Because this is EXACTLY the sort of thing you are defending, Bill.  You're saying it's okay to be angry because your indefensible position is being called into question, or 'insulted' as you like to say.

Creationism is an insult to Evolutionary Science (sure, you did all that science, but we're just going to belittle all that and say some skydaddy made everything instead - because science is silly?) in exactly the same way Hebdo is an insult to religion.  If you want to argue one, you have to argue every case like this, and that's the fallacy.

Part two next time, since I have to go do my real-world work thing now.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Secular Atheism.

I was at the bar the other day,  and an acquaintance mentioned off the cuff something about religion.  I showed him my card,  indicating we shared a perspective,  as I am a registered preacher for the first church of atheism.  

This took him a moment to comprehend, apparently.   He proceeded to tell me,  in a tone that was clearly demonstrating his unease,  that he didn't like atheist churches because they were going around collecting monies to build atheist schools in developing nations.   This,  said he,  is why he is a secular atheist. 

Now,  it is important to note that there is not a physical house of worship yet,  and there is but one established Sect of atheistic churches.   Upon cursory examination of Google,  as well at the FCA website,  I could find no such examples of atheist churches building schools in such places.  

But let us consider for a moment what an atheist school would really teach.   As an atheist,  i tend to know more about most religions than most people do.  Atheist curriculum would logically be the core STEM stuff, language (perhaps more than one, as early language learning helps encourage better thought processes, studies have shown), arts,  cultural studies,  and just about every other subject one might imagine in the typical public school.   Even religious studies would be fine, I think.   It is amazing how many Sunday schools and missionary schools seem to forget about the vast majority of gods that aren't theirs. Ask the average Christian to name thirty gods other than their own (substitute Muslim, Jew, Mormon, etc. ), or thirty religions, and see how complete the list is, without counting sects of various religions (protestants and catholics are all Christian, as Shiite and Sunni are both Islamic). 

So,  as one can see,  I didn't really understand the derision.   Is it really so bad to want to teach kids math without teaching them that they will go to hell unless some magic water is sprinkled on them?   Is it really so bad to tell kids that it is moral to treat people equally, but then bringing up that some gods think that women and children should be subservient to men? How can we teach children that it us not okay to kill,  but then explain that various gods extol the virtues of killing enemies (matthew 10:34, quran 4:89, Grímnismál, et cetera)?  This is an untenable and indefensible proposition.

Let us move on to the secular portion.   I know of no atheist who also doesn't encourage separation of church and state.   Secularism has nothing to do with atheism.   I do not wish to insert atheist churches into schools, but Christians do this all the time.   Some Christians are indeed secular as well.   Oddly enough, most Jewish are also quite secular.  Perhaps it is a firm belief in Jesus that removes secularism.   Even most Islamic peoples do not support (and actively decry, as Malala, the 17 year old Nobel Peace prize winner, does) in exactly the same way most Christians decry the violence of Jesus (as Luke 19:27 for example).  The point is, secularism has nothing to do with being theistic, in much the same way theism has nothing to do with being agnostic. Every person in the atheist church should logically be secular.   We don't want religion in schools,  we want education in schools. 

Although,  it is probably worth pointing out that the supreme court now thinks that most religious services are just speech from a religious viewpoint.  I wonder if that means that church buildings and staff should no longer receive tax benefits,  since Sunday services aren't actually religious now. ..