Snakesssssss!

CNN reports that a snake-handling preacher has been arrested:

The pastor of a Kentucky church that handles snakes in religious rites was among 10 people arrested by wildlife officers in a crackdown on the venomous snake trade.

More than 100 snakes, many of them deadly, were confiscated in the undercover sting after Thursday’s arrests, said Col. Bob Milligan, director of law enforcement for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife.

Most were taken from the Middlesboro home of Gregory James Coots, including 42 copperheads, 11 timber rattlesnakes, three cottonmouth water moccasins, a western diamondback rattlesnake, two cobras and a puff adder.

Handling snakes is practiced in a handful of fundamentalist churches across Appalachia, based on the interpretation of Bible verses saying true believers can take up serpents without being harmed.

I feel a strong urge to recommend that all Christian nutjobs should go pick up some puff adders, but I will resist that urge.

Let’s think a little bit here. Aren’t there other ways to tell whether someone really believes in Baby Jesus?

Surely there are. I doubt the snake handling is the only litmus test.

And what is it with Christians and snakes anyway? That’s just so Ozzy of them.

-MC Spanky McGee


MC Spanky McGee is trying to get back in the saddle here at the Trumpet.

FLDS. Christ wept.

I’m somewhat surprised at myself for having not gone on a series of rant-rampages about this nutjob sect. But here I am–it’s 3 AM, and now I’m ready to spew.

Age of pregnant FLDS ‘girls’ disputed

When Texas child welfare authorities released statistics showing nearly 60 percent of the teen girls taken from a polygamist sect’s ranch were pregnant or had children, they seemed to prove what was alleged all along: The sect commonly pushed girls into marriage and sex. “

But in the past week, the state has twice been forced to admit “girls” who gave birth while in state custody are actually adults. One was 22 and said she showed state officials a Utah birth certificate shortly after she and more than 400 minors were seized from the West Texas ranch in an April raid.

The state has in custody two dozen other young mothers and others whose ages are in dispute. If most of them also turn out to be adults, it would be a severe blow to the state’s claim of widespread sexual abuse.

So the claim is that one of these females turned out to be legit, and now the reporter (or some other asshole) is trying to claim that the Texas authorities may be on a statistical slippery slope?

It seems that the author has made a mistake here. Even if it turns out to be the case that the state was wrong about its claim about the “60 percent,” it wouldn’t follow that the abuse was not widespread. Because (1) the number the author is pushing reflects only the supposed victims and not the number of abusers (I’ll return to this in a second) and (2) “Widespread” is sufficiently vague and could tolerate a connotation of even less than half.

But point 2 is sketchy. I’ll stay with 1. If it was common knowledge in the sect that underage girls were being abused by being forced to marry, etc., then the abuse was widespread. In other words, you had accomplices and accessories in a system of wrongdoing towards these girls. (I’m not exactly making a legal case, but a moral one. The legal definition of “accessory” may differ from the one I’m pushing.) In other words, the supposed new lower-than-expected number of abused girls is irrelevant, because the community of adults shared in the responsibility in the crimes that were committed.

Man, I miss the Heaven’s Gate crew….

-MC Spanky McGee

Wife Swap, Faith, and the Need to Balance Conviction and Skepticism

In his recent and, so far, very interesting book Experiments in Ethics, Kwame Anthony Appiah writes:

Now, in real life reasonable people will not hold most of their beliefs with the level of conviction that we call certainty. Most of us, most of the time, will allow that most of what we believe about the world could turn out to be wrong. So our actual reasoning is not from certainties to certainties but from the probable to the probable. (pp.51-52)

I wonder if Appiah is not being a little too charitable here when he says that “most of us, most of the time, will allow that most of what we believe about the world could turn out to be wrong.” I have two reasons for being skeptical. The first comes from occasionally (and even that is embarrassing) watching Wife Swap. They usually manage to find some kind of podunk, redneck family, and some kind of extreme new age, lefty, artsy, hippy kind of family and then swap the wives for two weeks. The first few days the new wives live by the “rules” of the new family, but after that they get to make their own rules for the family to live by, thereby imposing their views on how to do things on the new family. From “occasionally” watching this show it seems to me that people tend to think that they and they alone know how things are, and how things should be done; and they are unwilling, for the most part, to consider that they could either be wrong or that there might be other ways to do things.

But more importantly, the second reason for questioning Appiah’s claim, has to do with the number of Christians, and I imagine at least a good number of Muslims, that accept things on “faith.” Faith in the sense of holding beliefs without reasons supporting those beliefs or in spite of contravening reasons. It seems to me that when faith is involved, and when that faith “infects” all of one’s other beliefs, then there is not a snowcone’s chance in hell that one will be properly rational. And that is very unfortunate, given the importance of rationality and because I don’t see why one cannot be religious or spiritual and still go about it rationally (however, that does not mean that I see how one could be Christian, etc., and still be rational).  And if one denies the importance of rationality, then I’d like to hear the REASONS for doing so.

At the great risk of sounding pedantic as hell, one of the most important things I have learned from studying philosophy is the importance of balancing conviction with skepticism, conviction with the acknowledgment that I may have to revise some, most, or all of my beliefs given appropriate reasons. And that balancing act is not always easy to do; and it can be even harder to get others to realize its importance.

The Christian Right are some crazy motherf*ers…

I cannot believe what I just read. This shit is almost too crazy to summarize, so you’ve really got to read it for yourself. Some of it is so absurd it made me laugh out loud in a room full of people who have no idea what I was reading. But some of it really made me worry about these vote-wielding crazies – especially those who promote casting out the “demons” of such things as the intellect, philosophy, and…handwriting analysis.

Jesus Made Me Puke: Matt Taibbi Undercover with the Christian Right

Some highlights:

[B]y my third day I began to notice how effortlessly my soft-spoken [Christian alter-ego] Matt-mannequin was going through his robotic motions of praise, and I was shocked. For a brief, fleeting moment I could see how under different circumstances it would be easy enough to bury your “sinful” self far under the skin of your outer Christian and to just travel through life this way. So long as you go through all the motions, no one will care who you really are underneath. And besides, so long as you are going through all the motions, never breaking the facade, who are you really? It was an incomplete thought, but it was a scary one; it was the very first time I worried that the experience of entering this world might prove to be anything more than an unusually tiring assignment. I feared for my normal. ….

By the end of the weekend I realized how quaint was the mere suggestion that Christians of this type should learn to “be rational” or “set aside your religion” about such things as the Iraq War or other policy matters. Once you’ve made a journey like this — once you’ve gone this far — you are beyond suggestible. … [O]nce you’ve gotten to this place, you’ve left behind the mental process that a person would need to form an independent opinion about such things. … Once you reach that place with them, you’re thinking with muscles, not neurons.

This isn’t Christianity. This is a form of pop-pyschological brainwashing combined with a vague grasp of mythology. And it’s fucking scary.

In what sense might science require faith?

A bunch of us (MC Spanky McGee, Griff, me, et al.) were out last night at Joe’s Place:

And amongst other things we started talking about god, religion, and atheism. At one point, our homeboy MC Cigar (aka YoMama) brought up the issue of science requiring faith. Rather than recount the details of that conversation (which I couldn’t do anyway), I thought I would piece together various things here from other sources.

At answersingenesis.org, they make the following claim:

Much of the problem stems from the different starting points of biblical creationists and Darwinists. Everyone, scientist or not, must start their quests for knowledge with some unprovable axiom—some a priori belief on which they sort through experience and deduce other truths. This starting point, whatever it is, can only be accepted by faith; eventually, in each belief system, there must be some unprovable, presupposed foundation for reasoning (since an infinite regression is impossible).

There are a number of sticky issues here, but one of the problems with the above is that science is founded on experience and it is experience that is what, in some sense, stops the regress. That is, science is based, among other things, on the observation that the world behaves in a law-like fashion. That the world appears to behave in a law-like fashion is not an a priori (i.e., prior to or independent of experience) belief. There is of course the little ol’ problem of induction (thank you Hume) concerning whether there is any possible justification for believing that the world outside of one’s actual experience (say in the distant past, in the future, or just outside of the range of one’s sense organs) behaves in the law-like way that one does experience it (see here for more details). However, it is not clear that belief in induction requires faith in the sense claimed in the above answersingenesis paragraph.

More interesting than the answersingenesis claim is the following from the Transterrestrial Musings blog:

Belief in the scientific method is faith, in the sense that there are a number of unprovable axioms that must be accepted:
1) There is an objective reality
2) It obeys universal laws
3) Its nature can be revealed by asking questions of it in the form of experiments
4) The simplest explanation that fits the facts is the one that should be preferred

There is a similar problem here as with the other. The problem of induction is forever looming, but that aside, 2)-4) seem to be grounded in our experience of the world in general and in the process of formulating hypotheses and testing them. So, for example, with 4) it typically turns out that if my wife’s car is gone and she is gone at the time when I know she works, the reason she and the car are gone is not that aliens visited Jerry Seinfeld, brainwashed him into being a kidnapper, dropped him off at our house and he took my wife., but rather she is at work (i.e., the simpler explanation is the correct one). (Another question concerns how we should read the “unprovable axioms.” That is, what are the provable things that we are supposed to be contrasting with these axioms, if the axioms themselves are unprovable.) “Axiom” 1) from above is more complicated: while most scientists may accept 1) without much thought, it certainly is something that has been heatedly debated in philosophy using various arguments, i.e., reasoning. As such, even if it is just assumed by many, it is not therefore groundless or faith-based. Much more could, of course, be said concerning all of this.

Much more interesting, to my mind, than the claims above concerning science requiring faith is the following from Robert Pollack:

Science makes the following claim for itself, legitimately: most of what is knowable is unknown at this moment, and most of what is unknown will be knowable eventually through science. The faith of science makes a further claim: all that is unknown will be knowable through science. The distinction between the two turns on the question: Is there anything unknown now, whether or not it lies on the outer edge of what is knowable, that will never be understood, anything that is ultimately unknowable? No one denies that science will push the margin ever closer to full knowledge. The issue is whether some unknown will always remain. That question about science is by its very nature not answerable by science. Therefore to claim there is nothing unknowable is an act of faith, and to affirm this statement makes science into a faith. [From Practicing Science, Living Faith, Eds. P. Clayton and J. Schaal. Page 229]

Importantly, he goes on to make clear that he does not think that all scientists make the claim that “all that is unknown will be knowable through science.” And that may simply be because there are questions that science cannot answer as a result of contingent human limitations (e.g., whether there are extraterrestrials). Thus he is not claiming that the practicing of science necessarily requires faith. Rather, his claim is that a certain way of viewing science and knowledge requires faith. The crucial move in Pollack’s argument is “The issue is whether some unknown will always remain. That question about science is by its very nature not answerable by science. Therefore to claim there is nothing unknowable is an act of faith, and to affirm this statement makes science into a faith.” It would be great to see what others think about this move.

Nussbaum and Moyers on Religion, Equality, and the Separation of Church and State

Here is a link to a video of Bill Moyers interviewing the philosopher Martha Nussbaum: http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/04182008/watch2.html

Here is part of the transcript of Moyers’s introduction:

BILL MOYERS: … Consider one of the highest rated news shows on cable television this week:
BROWN: Tonight, we bring you something different in this already extraordinary campaign year. We are calling it the Compassion Forum…
BILL MOYERS: The compassion forum on CNN was touted as an opportunity for the candidates to “discuss how their faith and moral convictions” might guide them as president of the United States.
BROWN: You said in an interview last year that you have actually felt the presence of the Holy Spirit on many occasions. Share some of those occasions with us.
MEACHAM: Do you believe God wants you to be president?
BROWN: If one of your daughters asked you, “Daddy, did God really create the world in six days?” What would you say?
MEACHAM: Senator, do you believe that God rewards or punishes people or nations in real time?
BILL MOYERS: If you don’t think those questions at least imply a religious test for office, try to imagine what would have happened if one of those candidates had answered, “Well, I find the concept of the supernatural rather shaky and the evidence for it insubstantial. To be honest, I’m agnostic. So let’s talk instead about how we’re going to find the money to rebuild our infrastructure.”
That candidate would be burned at the metaphorical equivalent of the heretic’s stake. So I have a suggestion for the next compassion forum. Turn the tables, and insist that the candidates get to quiz the moderators on how well they have read Martha Nussbaum’s new book: LIBERTY OF CONSCIENCE: IN DEFENSE OF AMERICA’S TRADITION OF RELIGIOUS EQUALITY.

THIS is why religion can be dangerous. Parents merely pray while daughter dies.

http://www.cnn.com/2008/CRIME/04/28/prayer.death.ap/index.html

Two parents who prayed as their 11-year-old daughter died of untreated diabetes were charged Monday with second-degree reckless homicide. “

Family and friends had urged Dale and Leilani Neumann to get help for their daughter, but the father considered the illness “a test of faith” and the mother never considered taking the girl to the doctor because she thought her daughter was under a “spiritual attack,” the criminal complaint said. “

GODDAMNIT. This is senseless. The parents and their preacher should all be put in prison. They were running around, using faith–and wouldn’t ya know it–faith turned out to get someone killed.

A day before Madeline died, according to the criminal complaint, the father wrote an e-mail with the headline, “Help our daughter needs emergency prayer!!!!.” It said his daughter was “very weak and pale at the moment with hardly any strength.” “

If you know anyone who is like this, call the cops and the loony-catchers on their dumbasses immediately.

It’s called science, and don’t you dare tell me that science “doesn’t have all the answers.” No shit, assface. I know that. But it sure as shit drives that computer you’re now using to view this goofy-ass website. That Gateway Pentium-II you’re on doesn’t run on the Bible or Jesus-juice.

DAMNIT!

-MC Spanky McGee

Atheist soldier takes shit from Christians. Imagine that.

http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/04/26/atheist.soldier.ap/index.html

Known as “the atheist guy,” Hall has been called immoral, a devil worshipper and — just as severe to some soldiers — gay, none of which, he says, is true. Hall even drove fellow soldiers to church in Iraq and paused while they prayed before meals. “

It eventually came out in Iraq in 2007, when he was in a firefight. Hall was a gunner on a Humvee, which took several bullets in its protective shield. Afterward, his commander asked whether he believed in God, Hall said.

“I said, ‘No, but I believe in Plexiglas,”‘ Hall said. “I’ve never believed I was going to a happy place. You get one life. When I die, I’m worm food.”

The issue came to a head when, according to Hall, a superior officer, Maj. Freddy J. Welborn, threatened to bring charges against him for trying to hold a meeting of atheists in Iraq. Welborn has denied Hall’s allegations. “

Jeremy Hall: keep rockin’, Brobi Wan Kenobi.

As Dan Brown says, Christians love to act like they’re being oppressed by nearly everyone (it’s that damned Daniel in the lion’s den story and all that type of nonsense), but you should keep in mind the vast majority that they constitute–in this country, anyway.

Here’s a simple test for you determine the direction of the power flow: could there ever be an atheist president?

HELL NO.

I don’t know whether Hall was harassed or not. But I can tell you from personal experience that Christians do love to say the kinds of things that Hall alleges they did.

I hope Hall has some good evidence. One of moral of the story: when someone repeatedly gives you shit–record them.

Moral 2:

No one with Fort Riley, the Army or Defense Department would comment about Hall or the lawsuit. Each issued statements saying that discrimination will not be tolerated regardless of race, religion or gender.

“The department respects [and supports by its policy] the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs,” said Eileen Lainez, a spokeswoman for the Department of Defense. “

Atheism is not lacking a belief. It is having the belief that God doesn’t exist.

Since when did Christians get a monopoly on the word, “belief”?

DAMN.

More to follow on this. I’m hungry and gotta go eat some wings.
-MC Spanky McGee

Backup New York Giants Tight End Kevin Boss Godly Wikipedia

Kevin Boss Strange Wikipedia Entry

The New York Giants won the NFL Super Bowl back in February over the 18-1 not 19-0TM New England Patriots. Many have attributed some of the success to the fact that disruptive pro bowl tight end Jeremy Shockey got hurt and was unable to play. Rumors have since circulated that Shockey will be traded, released, or somehow not with the team next year and the move is likely to come during the first day of the NFL Draft.

Shockey’s replacement Kevin Boss is the only one that does not believe that.

“He’ll be back,” Boss said, per Vacchiano. “I’ve got a lot more to learn from him. He’s been a great mentor. Obviously he’s a better player than me. He can do some things I can’t yet.”

Doing a little research on the modest not as good Boss shows he is right about Shockey being the superior douchebag and football player regardless of whether he is right about him being back in blue next season or not. Research lead to the Kevin Boss Wikipedia entry that seemed simple enough except for one strange line (maybe I am missing something somewhere???):

Kevin Boss has also been referred to by many as God in the second coming.

WTF does that mean? Is that a prank? Is that a rightfully mad Giants fan that sees that Boss is not THAT good that you can throw away a talent like Shockey? Or is that Shockey himself editing that entry, after all he is disgruntled by the perception that the Giants got better when he was off the field.

Anyone have any insight on this or the Patriots trying to trade mark “19-0″ (link above) when they finished 18-1? Don’t Stop Believing

Pope passes the buck: “It’s not our fault…”

http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/04/16/pope.wed/index.html#cnnSTCText

He spoke at a prayer service with U.S. bishops at Washington’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Roman Catholic church in North America.

Benedict said the sexual abuse of children by priests has caused a “deep shame” and called it “gravely immoral behavior.” “

“What does it mean to speak of child protection when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today?” he asked.

Benedict urged the media and entertainment industry to take part in a “moral renewal.” “

Ok, Benny, I see the strategy.

Maybe the video game industry should stop making your priests and bishops play Grand Theft Auto. That’s surely corrupting them. I bet Law and Order has some adult themes. The makers of that show should stop targeting these helpless souls.

BAH!

The Pope is passing the buck. We’re talking about clergy, people. Tell them to turn off the TV and the XBOX (which, I assure you, they’re NOT playing).

Is the Pope serious? How is he going to blame the media? Don’t the priests and bishops have the self-discipline (1) to recognize these bad influences and (2) to get away from them? The Pope is full of shit here.

I suspect the problem is deeper. What do you think happens when you tell a man not to have an orgasm? Where does that pent-up sexual energy go? When a priest tries to deny his impulses, the result is simple repression. In all seriousness, a priest needs to masturbate. That will give him a way to channel his “energy.”

-MC Spanky McGee