Does “Religion” cause creationism and homophobia?

There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.
Dawkin’s godless bus campaign. One implicit message: one cannot enjoy life while being religious.

I’ve already exposed one fundamental flaw of the New Atheism (also-called Anti-Theism): their failure to appreciate the fact that the entity they call Religion (with a capital R) is an incredibly diverse phenomenon.

If you want to argue (as evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne vehemently does) that ALL RELIGIONS ought to disappear, you cannot just rely on mean values and point out that secular folks are better off on average.

NO, you should consider every specific denomination and compare its own performance and problems with respect to science,sexism, racism or homophobia.

It is silly to say to a liberal Methodist defending Gay marriage: “Get out of here hateful bigot!” just because he’s an American Christian, and American Christians have on average a low view of homosexuals.

No, for the SAKE OF JUSTICE we ought to judge persons and denominations individually.

I’m glad to see that former fundamentalist Jonny Scaramanga (whom I interviewed a while ago) went in that direction in one of his responses to Jerry Coyne.

Jonny Scaramanga
Former fundamentalist Jonny Scaramanga. He is doing a PhD in education.

(What follows is his post I quoted while emphasising certain sentences).

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Jerry Coyne says I am wrong about creationism, misogyny and homophobia

Jerry Coyne, author of Why Evolution is True (both blog and book) didn’t like my recent posts about the link between creationism, sexism, and homophobia. In a recent post, he argues that I have made a logical fallacy and risk miring the battle against creationism in the ‘atheist wars’ over feminism.

Jerry introduced the post by saying some nice things about me, so I’ll return the compliment: I owe Jerry a great deal. Until I read his book, despite having not been to church in eight years I still thought it made sense to say “evolution is only a theory”. Although at that point I thought evolution was probably right, I had no idea how much evidence there is, nor why my understanding of the term ‘theory’ was wrong-headed. Thanks to him I entered the world of evolutionary science, and my life is the richer for it. And, as Jerry himself points out, he’s been a frequent supporter of my writing and I wouldn’t be as successful a blogger as I am without that patronage.Photo by Emma Rodewald. Creative commons.

I sort of appreciate the sentiment of Jerry’s opening sentence—”It’s never a pleasure to criticize the views of someone I admire”—but actually I see no reason why this should be an unpleasant enterprise. One of the best things about my post-church life is that I now feel free to disagree with people without automatically making them my enemies. It’s also possible that I am mistaken about this, in which case I should be glad he’s pointed it out.

The title of Jerry’s post is “Does creationism matter more because it’s connected with misogyny and homophobia?” When you phrase the question like that, I struggle to see how the answer can be anything other than “yes”. Misogyny and homophobia, Jerry and I agree, are unqualified ills. If you take something that’s already bad and add misogyny and homophobia, you make it even worse. I didn’t say (and I do not believe) that if creationism were not homophobic or misogynistic there would be insufficient reason to oppose it. I did argue that the homophobia and misogyny that creationism involves are more pressing matters, and it seems Jerry agrees on this point. Near the end of the post, he writes “In fact, oppression of women and of gays are matters of greater import than is the teaching of creationism, and if I could wave a magic wand I’d make the first two disappear before the third”, which might leave some readers wondering where exactly he and I differ.

Jerry says I’ve made a logical fallacy, which is always a handy shortcut making your opponent look bad. If I’ve made a logical fallacy, I am objectively wrong. This is no mere difference of opinion, or difference of values, which might take longer to sort out or even be irreconcilable. I have made a fallacy, and I am a phallus.

Except that I don’t think I have. Jerry says it’s the underlying cause of all three that we need to oppose, and that was exactly my point in “Why creationism matters“. Possibly I didn’t make this sufficiently clear, in which case I’m glad for the opportunity to do so. We must be tough on creationism and tough on the causes of creationism. Jerry is right. Sort of.

The underlying cause of creationism, homophobia, and misogyny, says Jerry, is religion, and it is religion we must oppose. And here, I suspect, it is Jerry whose logic is flawed. Clearly, not all religion is all of these things, although much (perhaps most) of it is. Some religious people are among the most vocal opponents of creationism, and for some their faith is an extra reason to oppose the subjugation of women and gay people. Some of those people are among this blog’s most vocal supporters. So we’re going to need a different reason to oppose all religion, because this one is not fit for purpose.

Biblical literalism, on the other hand, is a root cause of all three of the problems at hand. The problem is the way creationists read the Bible. It promotes not just creationism, patriarchy, and gay-bashing, but also the denial of history, the enthusiastic acceptance of immorality, and an irrational rejection of opposing evidence. It is an intellectual black hole. But not all religion is Biblical literalism. I am (if you’ll forgive the term) agnostic on the question of whether the world would be better off if there were no religion at all. My hunch is that it probably would, but there isn’t enough data to be sure. Anyone who claims with certainty that religion must be annihilated for the good of humanity is taking a faith position. Which is somewhat ironic.

In my follow up post, “Creationism is inherently homophobic and misogynistic“, I made a somewhat stronger claim, but I still don’t think I made a logical fallacy. The argument here was this: the Biblical creation myths themselves contain verses which are anti-women and anti-gay. Now I’m not going to say there’s only one possible interpretation of those verses, because only fundamentalists think that way. But I did argue that if you interpret those verses using the same hermeneutic that creationists use to interpret the surrounding text, then you reach nasty conclusions. And I backed this up by empirically showing that those are, indeed, the very conclusions that creationists often come to.

The most trenchant criticism of that post, funnily enough, came from a Christian. Regular reader and commenter Kevin Long pointed out that I was expecting logical consistency from a group of people who have black belts in holding internally contradictory beliefs.

You’re thinking too logically here. Religion is not particularly logical. People are not particularly logical or theoretical about these things. People don’t usually haul out their beliefs and inspect them item by item. Most people are handed a set of beliefs early on in life, and then they just run with them, accepting the whole thing, but adapting bits when they need to. Most of these beliefs are rather fuzzy. Your gay Creationist friend is an example of that, and that type of thinking is, and has always been, the majority. This is actually an encouraging thing: people who are adaptable always outweigh people who are strictly inflexible.

That’s hardly a defence of creationism or of religion, but it does mean I could be more optimistic about the possibility of equality-affirming creationists. Of course, the problem, which Kevin’s post hints at, is that creationist beliefs actually rest on church traditions and authority, despite the fundamentalist insistence that they come purely from a plain reading of the Bible. Those church traditions are usually patriarchal and exclusionary. Kevin also pointed out that there are creationists who are not literalists with regard to other aspects of the Bible; my argument obviously wouldn’t hold in those cases. Our thread on the subject is worth a read.

I think the most important reason Jerry Coyne didn’t like my posts is that they failed the SJW sniff-test. And yes, at this point I must reveal (if it was not already clear) that I am one of those pesky feminist atheists threatening to divide the ‘movement’ with concerns over misogyny. Because what happens in this life matters more to me than what people think is going to happen after we die, I care more about equality, access to education, and social justice than I do about the nonexistence of gods.

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Here follows my response to this post.

Simply amazing, Jonny!
If I didn’t fear to offend you, I’d be tempted to call you a prophet (in the noblest sense of the word).
There are so many true things you expressed here in such a stark and beautiful manner.

You (and Kevin) are entirely right that there is no consistent fundamentalist living under the sun.

Indeed, the Bible speaks with conflicting voices on many topics so that inerrantists have necessarily to distort some verses in order to take others at face value.

Their picking and choosing is (as you pointed out) strongly influenced by religious traditions and economical and social factors.

It is an interesting (albeit utterly consternating and depressing) fact that American fundies are completely focused on homosexuality while in the Bible it only occupies a truly negligible volume in comparison to social justice.

Now onto Jerry Coyne’s assertion.

In the context of the American culture war, it is all too easy to use words in a fuzzy way without clearly laying out their meaning in order to make ideological points.
Over and over again, one can find people shouting: “Atheism has killed millions of people in the former Eastern block! Atheism is responsible for the Gulags!” and other loudly saying that “Religion is killing millions of people in the Middle East!”

For the sake of the argument, I will assume that atheism means the denial of God’s existence and religion any community based on supernatural beliefs (bypassing the difficulty of defining “natural” and “supernatural”).

If that’s the case, it is completely fallacious to say that atheism caused all the atrocities committed by these regimes in the past.
There’s absolutely no logical connection between denying God’s existence and thinking that such kinds of mass murders are morally warranted.
Countless atheists find these utterly abhorrent.

Prisoners working in an
Russian Gulag where innumerable persons died under an atrocious pain.
Yes, the leaders were atheists. But does that reveal us the “true face” of atheism?

Likewise, it is completely fallacious to say that Religion causes misogyny and homophobia.
There’s absolutely no logical connection between asserting “there is a supernatural realm” and “Gay people and women ought to be discriminated”.
Countless religious folks find this utterly appalling.

While Jerry Coyne might be an incredibly brilliant scientist, he makes very blatant fallacies while wearing his armour of reckless culture warrior.

I appreciate your great modesty and the fact you care more about decency and love than about winning an argument.

I also think you’re entirely right to point out that the harmful moral beliefs of fundamentalists are worse than their teaching creation science.

Now I want to comment on the thought that the world would be better off without Religion .

I think it is a binary way to consider things.

As I wrote about Coyne’s initial defence of this idea:

“Basically his (implicit) reasoning was as follows:

1) It would be good to live in a world where creationism (and other anti-scientific beliefs) have wholly disappeared.

2) If ALL religions were to fade away, creationism would be no more.

3) Hence it is morally good to use our best techniques of psychological warfare to utterly destroy ALL religions.

Interestingly enough, French racists use exactly the same kind of reasoning:

1′) It would be good to live in a France where anti-white hatred no longer exists.

2′) If ALL blacks and Arabs were driven out of the land, anti-white hatred would be no more.

3′) Hence it is morally good to expel ALL blacks and Arabs from France.

Let us grant that both 1) and 1′) are true.

2) and 2′) are certainly technically true in both cases.

If ALL religions were to go away, there would be no longer any form of creationism, and if ALL blacks and Arabs no longer lived in France, anti-white hatred would be no more.

But it should be clear that a vital fact has been entirely left out of the picture in the second racist reasoning. There are countless blacks and Arabs (indeed the majority of them) who do not hate white folks and are completely respectful of French laws and customs.

It would be egregiously wrong to expel them as well for this would be a gruesome form of collective punishment.

Exactly the same thing can be said about Coyne’s reasoning.

There are countless moderate, progressive and even conservative religious believers who are not opposed to science and reason and who do not cause any harm to the society in which they live.

Advocating to systematically bully them out of their faith is equally egregious.
(I can modify the example if you don’t deem it appropriate here. I do think it’s a good analogy which nicely illustrates the dangers of this type of reasoning).

I am convinced that the world would be better off if all fundamentalists who jettison their reason and moral intuitions for the sake of dogmas would give up their belief systems (and there are also many “secular” fundamentalists satisfying this definition).

But I see no reason to think that a thoroughly godless world would be better off than a world with religious people who are all driven by genuine love.

Let me end this long comment by saying one positive thing about Jerry: he has an adorable kitten he takes care of 🙂

Thematic list of ALL posts on this blog (regularly updated)

My other blog on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP)

 Photo by Emma Rodewald. Creative commons.

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White privileges or lingering anti-black racism?

I recently came across an article in the Washington Post which completely caught my attention.

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Heroin addiction sent me to prison. White privilege got me out and to the Ivy League.

Second chances don’t come this easily to people of color.

Keri Blakinger, who spent more than two years in prison for drug possession, graduated from Cornell University after her release. (Courtesy of Keri Blakinger)

I was a senior at Cornell University when I was arrested for heroin possession. As an addict — a condition that began during a deep depression — I was muddling my way through classes and doing many things I would come to regret, including selling drugs to pay for my own habit. I even began dating a man with big-time drug connections that put me around large amounts of heroin. When police arrested me in 2010, I was carrying six ounces, an amount they valued at $50,000 — enough to put me in prison for up to 10 years. Cornell suspended me indefinitely and banned me from campus. I had descended from a Dean’s List student to a felon.

But instead of a decade behind bars and a life grasping for the puny opportunities America affords some ex-convicts, I got a second chance. In a plea deal, I received a sentence of 2½ years. After leaving prison, I soon got a job as a reporter at a local newspaper. Then Cornell allowed me to start taking classes again, and I graduated last month. What made my quick rebound possible?

I am white.

Second chances don’t come easily to people of color in the United States. But when you are white, society offers routes to rebuild your life. When found guilty of a drug crime, white people receive shorter sentences than black people. And even after prison, white men fare better in the job market than black men with identical criminal records.

It was prison that clued me in to just how much I benefit from systemic racism in our society. Until then, I hadn’t thought much about white privilege, which is exactly how privilege works – as a white person, I could ignore it. But sitting behind bars, I saw how privilege touches almost everything, especially the penal system.

It starts at the gate — or rather, who comes through the gate. When I moved into the state prison, the racial disparity was immediately obvious. I was surrounded disproportionately by people of color. While blacks represent just 13.2 percent of the New York State population, they are nearly half of the state’s prison population. Reasons for the disparities are clear: Nationally, blacks are more likely to be pulled over, more likely to be searched, and, if arrested, likely to be sentenced to more time for the same crime. Although whites and blacks use drugs at about the same rate and although whites are more likely to sell them, black youth are 10 times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes than are their white counterparts.

Once in prison, minorities are at an even greater disadvantage. Some corrections officers (though hardly all) were overtly racist. Some used racial slurs. One was rumored to sport a tattoo of a black baby in a noose. Even if the rumor wasn’t true, it says something about the prison’s racial climate that prisoners believed it conceivable enough to repeat.

In one case, I watched prison officials send a black inmate to solitary confinement for wearing her pajamas at 10 a.m. Apparently, there was a little-known rule prohibiting inmates from wearing pajamas after a certain hour, despite the fact that they looked nearly identical to regular state-issued clothes. I never even thought about when to change out of my pajamas, so I’m sure I wore them after the appointed hour, too. But nobody ever troubled me about it, let alone sent me to solitary. There were many times that black inmates were hassled for things that white inmates weren’t.

To be clear, it is not only minority inmates who could get sent to solitary for little to no reason. Whatever their race, inmates routinely get put in solitary for trivial rules violations such as having too many postage stamps, missing appointments, or talking back. Overall, though, black inmates are treated worse. In New York State, they make up 49 percent of the prison population but 59 percent of the solitary confinement population. And the superintendents who decide how long prisoners will spend in solitary are overwhelmingly white in my experience. I knew of only one African-American superintendent or deputy superintendent in the five female facilities that existed when I was locked up. (The New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision says they have two black superintendents now).

Of course, race alone doesn’t explain my story. There were other factors that led to my reduced sentence and my return to Cornell. I was arrested in in Tompkins County, a liberal jurisdiction with long-standing commitment to alternatives to incarceration and progressive sentencing. (If I had been arrested in any of the surrounding counties, my sentence could have been three to four times as long.) In another stroke of luck, New York rolled back parts of the notorious Rockefeller Drug Laws the year before my arrest. Had I been prosecuted under those laws, I would have gotten 15 years to life.

Although Cornell has a process governing the readmission of suspended students, they never explained exactly what persuaded them to allow me to return. When I was arrested, officials told me that it is standard to suspend any student who is arrested, though the Campus Code of Conduct doesn’t specify that punishment. Readmission is allowed on a case-by-case basis. I gathered letters of recommendation from former professors, my parents and my parole officer and sent them to the judicial administrator. I provided samples of my freelance writing to show I was working to support myself. I answered a standard set of written questions about what I had learned, what I had done to change my path and what safeguards were in place to make sure I don’t recidivate. I had a 20-minute or so phone interview with the judicial administrator and then waited on pins and needles for a response. It came in the form of a brief e-mail: “I am pleased to report that you have been approved to finish your Cornell degree, starting in January 2014.”

It’s impossible to know if a black or brown student in the same circumstances would have been allowed back in. But I think it’s likely. Through its Prison Education Program at a maximum-security state facility, Cornell allows inmates to earn Cornell credits. Clearly, it is a school interested in second chances.

I regularly encounter people who deny that things like racism and privilege still exist, who believe that we are living in a post-racial world. And yes, I dream of a world in which every ex-con could enjoy the opportunities I have. But I saw firsthand how deep and structural biases shaped our criminal justice system. For some, the battle is about ending racism and privilege — behind bars or anywhere else. But for others, the battle is simply acknowledging that there is a battle at all.

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The war on drug is an atrocity

The first thing I have to say is that the war on drug is a terrible moral atrocity. As I explained, I consider it deeply wicked to punish people for consuming drugs, most of them having, like Keri Blakinger, often started their consumption out of despair. I also do not believe that people dealing drugs for financing their own addiction should be punished if they’ve completely lost any control over their consumption. I think that a very good case can be made that countless addicts dealing drugs have got where they are through an unfortunate set of circumstances and unfavourable genetics.

Big dealers who do not take in the poison they sell ought to be punished extremely severely. Not their victims.

Besides the failure of providing poor children with a decent healthcare and its imperialistic policy, the war on drugs is another example showing that the US do not occupy any “moral high ground” Americans should feel proud of.

Q: Is it time to end the war on drugs? NO. NO.
The war on drugs in all its glory.

Is it really “white privilege”?

Now I want to go into the main topic of this post. There is absolutely no doubt that there is a differential treatment unjustly affecting African Americans. To quote the last sentence of Keri, it is undeniable that a considerable battle must be fought.

I beg to differ, however, with her views on the causes of this revolting state of affairs.

While she didn’t make it explicit, according to her things seem to be going like this (see the parts of her text I emphasised).

1) American society is incredibly harsh and unjust towards drug addicts.

2) Then “white privileges” step in. (Some) white junkies are helped just by virtue of their having the right skin colour. Black drug addicts do not take advantage of such acts of mercy.

While I’m open to being wrong on that, this seems to be the most straightforward way to read her.

With all due respect, I think she has it backward.

It might be that under rare circumstances, some people in the American judicial system decide to save a person otherwise doomed to a long stay in jail because they say to themselves “Oh! (S)he’s white! I wanna help her!“.

Likewise, it is quite possible that in some cases, people are helped because the officials like their physical appearances or voices.

I strongly doubt, however, that this is going to be a main factor in more than a few cases.

To my mind, the most likely explanation of the statistical disadvantage of black persons looks rather like this.

1′)  While still being very unjust, the judicial system has become more merciful towards drug offenders, to some limited extent.

2′)  African Americans do not take advantage of such opportunities because of lingering racist prejudices against them. A great number of law enforcement officials are still convinced they are far less to be trusted than their white counterparts.

In quite a few situations, I can very well imagine that white members of the judicial system are animated by egregiously hateful feelings against human beings having a black skin.

That my own explanation (namely that direct racism instead of “white privilege” is the culprit here) is much more likely to be true is well illustrated by the problem of discriminating policemen.

As she rightly wrote

It starts at the gate — or rather, who comes through the gate. When I moved into the state prison, the racial disparity was immediately obvious. I was surrounded disproportionately by people of color. While blacks represent just 13.2 percent of the New York State population, they are nearly half of the state’s prison population. Reasons for the disparities are clear: Nationally, blacks are more likely to be pulled over, more likely to be searched, and, if arrested, likely to be sentenced to more time for the same crime. Although whites and blacks use drugs at about the same rate and although whites are more likely to sell them, black youth are 10 times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes than are their white counterparts.

Of course, it’d be utterly absurd to think that days-in and days-out, policemen discover an equal number of white and black addicts and decide to leave most of the former alone because they’re white.

The true problem is that they are still persuaded that black people are inferior to white people and/or are driven by sheer racial hatred. Consequently, they’ll control disproportionately more black persons than white ones.

Does the difference really matter?

I guess that many liberals might react by saying:

“Yeah, I grant your point that these inequalities aren’t the results of a direct intention to privilege  white people but stem from racist prejudices and racial hatred against black people. Still, what on earth does that change to this tragic injustice?”

Other might say that the distinction I raised is purely semantic.

If black folks are discriminated, it naturally follows that white people are privileged. Period.

My problem with that answer is that “anti-black racism” and “white privilege” do convey different meanings.

While the first involves racial prejudices and hatred against African Americans, the second suggests a conscious effort to favour a person having white colour.

As I explained in the case of the the policemen, it seems very likely that the former plays a much more important role than the latter.

Are poor whites to be punished?

Far from being a mere semantic choice, this concept of “white privileges” is very important to white liberals because it lies at the very foundation of their political worldview.

According to their deepest conviction, a white is always an oppressor and a black is always an oppressed, regardless of their relative well-being and plenty of other factors.

I mentioned elsewhere it is morally wrong to favour a rich woman over a poor man (or a rich African immigrant over a poor white) just because the latter didn’t have the chance to be born with the right genes.

Times and times again, I hear that the victims have to gladly accept that “positive” discrimination because they benefit of “white privileges” anyway.

As we saw previously, the problem is not that American officials do  undeserved favours to white folks just because they’re white but rather that they’re much more severe and unjust towards African Americans because they believe them to be inferior.

It is cynical and inhuman to tell a homeless “white trash” that he cannot be aided because he belongs to the race of the oppressors. As I pointed out elsewhere, even more than 2500 years ago, an ancient Hebrew prophet preached against the notion that children have to pay for the sin of their parents.

How much more absurd is that to hold him accountable for misdeeds nobody among even his direct relatives committed?

Another thing I often hear is that there are worrisome statistical differences between whites and blacks in America in terms of successful careers, poverty, unwarranted incarcerations and so on.

(I agree this is a shame. )

They go on arguing that we must even out these statistics as soon as possible even if this means committing injustices towards members of the dominant group underway.

It is here I strongly disagree with the underlying philosophy.

Mean values, standard deviations and any other statistical values you can imagine are unable to feel  anything.

The goal of any human system of morality should ultimately consider the well-beings of individuals who are capable of experiencing emotions such joy, pain, suffering and happiness.

Far from creating a society where race no longer plays any important role, affirmative action perpetuates such a state and hinders a real reconciliation between the white and black lower classes.

As Martin Luther King put it:

It is my opinion that many white workers whose economic condition is not too far removed from the economic condition of his black brother, will find it difficult to accept a “Negro Bill of Rights,” which seeks to give special consideration to the Negro in the context of unemployment, joblessness, etc. and does not take into sufficient account their plight (that of the white worker).

Martin Luther Kind giving a talk.
Martin Luther King: modern prophet who truly loved his “enemies”.

I believe we ideally need a race-neutral affirmative action which considers the relative well-being of the two candidates in question along their chances of getting hired elsewhere.

Racial peace can only be reached once we’ve given up collective punishment and the idea that children are responsible for the sins of those having the same skin colour or the same Y chromosome as they have.