Rationality Now Rotating Header Image

abortion

Abortion, Religion, and Deadly Force

A man in Dallas, Texas is facing charges after explicitly stating (by filing papers in a federal court) that he will use deadly force to stop an abortion. In the filing, he asked for a restraining order against law enforcement, asking that “officers not be allowed to harm him if he had to harm someone else.” He went so far as to name the specific clinic along with the date and the time when he would pay his visit.

From the MSNBC article:

Erlyndon Joseph “Joey” Lo, 27, of Plano, filed documents there Friday saying his religious beliefs entitled him to use deadly force to prevent an abortion. He listed the name of a clinic, its address and the time he was going to show up — noon that day.

“I plan on saving at least one human life in Dallas, Texas,” Lo wrote.

Fortunately, the FBI takes these kinds of threats pretty seriously, especially one that includes such detailed specifics, and Lo is now facing two charges, one for using interstate commerce to communicate a threat to injure and another for threatening force to “intimidate and interfere” with clients and employees of a reproductive health clinic.

Twenty-seven year old Lo, a Southern Methodist University law school graduate who lives with his parents, is serving as his own attorney, which may explain the absurd nature of the class-action lawsuit that he’s filing, seeking “more than $999 trillion in damages.” He’s also asking the court to pay him $1,000 per hour in attorney fees. He has also filed suit against the U.S. Supreme Court in an attempt to outlaw abortion.

Like almost all abortion rights opponents, Lo’s stance is based on religious belief.

From the Dallas News article:

He says he has been a Christian since he was in fourth grade.

“I accepted Christ into my life when watching TV. Some guys were really strong and breaking ice. They invited me to accept Jesus into my life and ask him to forgive me for the ways I sinned. I did so, and I was changed,” according to his site.

After doing “a lot of research on Wikipedia and the Internet,” he “decided to become a Catholic. Today I am a good Catholic, and I’ve never been better.”

And from the MSNBC article (emphasis mine):

“My religious beliefs include the beliefs that an individual is alive at the moment of conception, abortion is murder and is the worst murder of all murders possible because these babies are completely defenseless, and I am entitled under my religious beliefs to use deadly force if necessary to save the innocent life of another,” Lo wrote.

Where Lo differs (outwardly, anyway) from many others who oppose abortion rights is in his belief that he is entitled to use deadly force. Whether he thinks this makes him a sort of “holy warrior” is unclear, but what is clear is that religious belief is the root cause of his self-righteous, extremist stance. Not rational thinking, not reasoned morality, not scientific fact, not biology… religion.

This isn’t some radical form of Islam, either. Lo is Catholic. Not only is he Catholic, but he considers himself a “good Catholic.” There are, of course, those who will say that he’s not a “real” Catholic, but for every person who says that, there are plenty more who will make identical counter claims. It’s the “No True Scotsman” fallacy and doesn’t hold water. He’s a true Catholic… a true Christian… as much as any other Catholic Christian. Obviously he holds some varying beliefs from some other Christians, but that doesn’t make him less of one.

Religion encourages fuzzy thinking and superstition. It encourages unquestioning acceptance without supporting evidence. It encourages blind obedience in (questionable) authority. It encourages a self-righteous, unwavering belief that it, alone, reveals truth, defines morality, and creates meaning.

It creates a self-perpetuating fantasy world… where people like Joseph Lo thrive.

Great news!

Scott Roeder, the man who murdered Dr. George Tiller, received a life sentence for his crime, with no eligibility for parole for at least 50 years.

During his trial, Roeder testified that he killed Tiller in a bid to save unborn children.

In a rambling statement in court Thursday, Roeder blamed Tiller’s death primarily on the state for not outlawing abortion.

"I stopped him so he could not dismember another innocent baby. Wichita is a far safer place for unborn babies without George Tiller," Roeder said.

Roeder is a religious psychopath and deserves to be locked away. Regardless of whether or not you support abortion rights, it’s a legal procedure and Roeder’s arguments carry no weight whatsoever.

Tiller’s attorney called the murder "domestic terrorism" and I wholeheartedly agree. Not only can it be labeled domestic terrorism, but it can be labeled "religiously-based" domestic terrorism… and there are plenty of examples to back that up, including the "Army of God" website mentioned in the article.

The Tebow Superbowl Ad and Pam Stenzel

Tim Tebow The Superbowl ad featuring Tim Tebow (which has yet to be seen) has been causing a big brouhaha lately… with pro-choice groups opposing it to pro-life (anti-abortion) groups defending it. I’ve mostly ignored the situation, but after reading a Facebook note by Pam Stenzel and the accompanying comments, I figured it was time to toss my opinion into the mix.

Note: You can read the public Facebook note above, but you need a Facebook account to access it. You can also read the comments to the note (which I won’t address here), some of which are just as wrong-headed (if not more-so) than Stenzel’s piece.

Just to get it out of the way, I couldn’t care less if CBS shows the ad or not. I doubt if it’s anything over the top. Focus on the Family paid their $2.5 million for the ad, so bully for them. Tim Tebow sounds like a nice guy who’s done some nice charity work and is, evidently, a good football player. He and his family are overtly religious, having beliefs with which I obviously disagree, but they’re entitled to their opinions. Focus on the Family is well-known for its bigotry and intolerance toward homosexuals and pro-choice views, so I have more of a problem with them, but again… free speech.

On to Pam Stenzel’s note…

Stenzel starts with this (emphasis mine).

Tim Tebow’s pro-life ad on the upcoming Super Bowl is sure making the news and making lots of people uncomfortable. We’re always harping on athletes to be more responsible and engaged in the issues of their day, and less concerned with just cashing checks.

Really? We are? That’s funny, because what I normally see is people telling athletes and other celebrities to shut the hell up and stick to making movies. Since when have we (perhaps this is an exclusive “we” club) wanted our athletes to become political or social commentators?

Interestingly, Stenzel, who titles her post “Tim Tebow and the National Organization for ‘some’ Women!” claims that because of their opposition to the ad, the National Organization for Women isn’t pro-choice… they’re pro-abortion. She says…

Tebow’s 30-second ad hasn’t even run yet, but it already has provoked “The National Organization for Women Who Only Think Like Us” to reveal something important about themselves: They aren’t actually “pro-choice” so much as they are pro-abortion.

Interestingly, her piece never really explains how or why they are pro-abortion instead of pro-choice. Perhaps Stenzel’s low-tolerance worldview sees pro-choice as pro-abortion regardless of who delivers the message? …or perhaps it’s because her statement is blatantly false.

Here’s her summary of the Tebow story.

She [Tim Tebow’s mother] got pregnant in 1987, post-Roe v. Wade, and while on a Christian mission in the Philippines, she contracted a tropical ailment. Doctors advised her the pregnancy could be dangerous, but she exercised her freedom of choice, chose life, and now, 20-some years later, the outcome of that choice is her Heisman Trophy winner son.

It’s the classic “You would have killed Beethoven” argument which Richard Dawkins dissects in his Washington Post op-ed piece. It’s a silly argument for being pro-life. Aside from the fact that it could easily be turned on its head using Charles Manson or Pol Pot or any other “evil” person, it implies that, if only there would be no abortions, there would be more superstars in our midst. Dawkins does a fine job of dismissing it, so there’s no need to dwell on it here.

Stenzel does say that something we can all agree on is that everyone “wishes the ‘need’ for abortions wasn’t so great.” Yes, she put quotes around the word “need.” That aside, yes… I think pretty much everyone could agree that fewer abortions are better (they just don’t agree as to why fewer abortions are better). Stenzel’s solution is abstinence. That’s her whole shtick. However, her disgust and disapproval for anything other than her puritanical version of morality infuses her message, writing statements such as [sic]

“Apparently NOW feels this commercial is an inappropriate message for America to see for 30 seconds, but women in bikinis selling beer is the right one.”

“We need celebrities who are self-possessed and selfcontrolled enough to use their wattage to advertise commitment over decadence.”

“You know what we really need more of? Famous guys who aren’t embarrassed to practice sexual restraint until mariage, and to say it out loud.”

“Promiscuity is so the norm that if a stud isn’t shagging everything in sight, we feel faintly ashamed for him. How sad.”

Seriously? Given context, a Superbowl ad featuring bikini-clad women selling beer (I don’t think I’ve seen that one, but I’m looking forward to it) is perfectly appropriate.

I don’t even know what she means by “commitment over decadence.” Commitment to abstinence? Does decadence meaning “sex before marriage?” Perhaps it means “anything short of a Christ-like perfection.”

The absurdity of “practice sexual restraint until marriage” is perhaps revealing. After marriage, guys don’t have to have any restraint? Is that what Stenzel believes? What is bad about pre-marital sex, anyway? She seems to have a blanket problem with it and I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that it’s a biblical objection.

The last statement is an over-the-top straw man caricature that deserves no response other than outright derision.

Stenzel just keeps digging herself in deeper as she goes.

Abortion doesn’t just involve serious issues of life, but of potential lives, Heisman trophy winners, scientists, doctors, artists, inventors, Little Leaguers — who would never come to be if their birth mothers had not wrestled with the stakes and chosen to carry those lives to term.

Didn’t she already cover this? Didn’t I already respond with something indicating that that same list of “potential lives” could also include murderers, rapists, child molesters, drug dealers, and evil dictators? What about the mothers of those people? Stenzel doesn’t say, but if she were honest, she would include those categories in her list, too. She would also include women who don’t have sex when they ovulate… or men who masturbate.

Then Stenzel continues her rant against NOW.

But when a woman uses her right to choose but chooses life instead of an abortion, NOW has a fit!

No, Stenzel. That’s not the case. They don’t have a problem with a woman choosing to have a child instead of having an abortion. They have a problem with Focus on the Family’s bigoted, anti-choice imposition of their bronze-age values on women. Even though I haven’t seen the commercial, I can place a fairly safe bet that the message, though perhaps subtle, is “If you choose to have an abortion, you’re immoral.” That is what NOW sees as the problem and that is why NOW is actually for all women.

They promote a right to choose.

Scott Roeder convicted of 1st-degree murder

Scott Roeder, the man who murdered Dr. George Tiller on May 31st, has been convicted of first degree murder and faces a life sentence with the possibility of parole after twenty-five years. According to the article, Roeder’s attorneys wanted him to receive a lesser conviction of voluntary manslaughter, but the judge wouldn’t allow it.

I think, in this case, the judge was right in doing so. The murder was pre-meditated, evidently to the point of obsession. From the article…

In his testimony, Roeder told jurors he had considered elaborate schemes to stop the doctor, including chopping off his hands, crashing a car into him or sneaking into his home to kill him.

[…]

But in the end, Roeder told the jury, the easiest way was to walk into Tiller’s church, put a gun to the man’s forehead and pull the trigger.

Testifying as the lone defense witness at his trial, Roeder calmly explained what he admitted publicly months ago — that he killed Tiller to save the lives of unborn children.

Roeder is a psychopath and deserves his sentence.

Herding Cats and Situational Etiquette

In the atheist community, there are two sure things. The first is, of course, that atheists don’t believe in any gods. The other thing is that a lack of belief in any gods is pretty much the only universally common attribute of atheists. Atheist groups sometimes have trouble gaining or keeping members because, as the president of my local group, the Pennsylvania Nonbelievers, says, organizing atheists is like herding cats.

Because of this incredible variety in attitudes, outlooks, worldviews, political leanings, and philosophies, it’s no wonder that atheists don’t always agree on everything.

One point of disagreement is commonly at the forefront of atheist discussions… how to grow our community. How do we let other people know it’s okay to be an atheist? How do we get rid of the stigma associated with the term “atheist” and turn it into a positive? How do we go about criticizing religion, superstition, and pseudo-science without shooting ourselves in the foot?

In one case, there are outspoken, in-your-face atheists. They’ll wear “There is no god” t-shirts or accessories that proudly proclaim their atheism. They’ll bring up the topic constantly (sometimes in what some people consider inappropriate circumstances) and argue about it. They almost seem to be looking for a fight.

In other cases, there are proponents of science and critical thinking. They tend to focus more on education, whether it be astronomy, biology, or skepticism. They’re sometimes bold, but usually polite (but not always), and though they don’t shy away from outspoken criticism of archaic religious dogma, they tend to see atheism as the result of clear, rational, scientific thinking… not vice versa.

Other atheists tend to be quietly comfortable with their beliefs, and though they don’t go out of their way to bring them up, if questioned (or if the subject presents itself), they’ll happily (and amicably) discuss the matter, offering criticism where it’s due, but keeping a friendly tone and listening to the opposing views.

Of course, none of these are absolutes. People are combinations (or eclectic hodgepodges!) of these basic types and it’s probably rare to find someone who always fits in one single category.

I tend to be a combination of the science category and the friendly category. Why? I’m not an “in your face” kind of person. I’m friendly by nature and I like making people smile. I’m generally very good at gauging a situation to know what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate, so the idea of wearing a t-shirt that proclaims “ATHEIST” to work or to a 4-H meeting or to anything other than an atheist gathering seems incredibly rude to me… in much the same way I would find it rude for someone to wear a t-shirt saying “CHRISTIAN” or “MUSLIM” or “Abortion is murder!” on it in those same situations. For me, it’s far more appropriate to wear a pro-science t-shirt… and I think that’s a much better starting point for a discussion.

However, if someone brings up the topic of religion or asks me about it, I have no qualms about discussing it, but I’m not out “looking for a fight” in order to tell someone they’re wrong and start “preaching the gospel” of atheism. To me, that seems silly and counterproductive. Many (most?) atheists dislike fundamentalist evangelism, especially the “in your face” kind, and if someone is just out looking to start a fight in order to “preach” about atheism, it strikes me as the same thing.

If someone says that the Earth is 6,000 years old, I’ll question them. If someone tells me that vaccinations cause autism, I’ll question them. If someone claims that religion is the only source of morality, I’ll question them. If someone tells me that this country is a Christian nation or that Obama is a fascist or that evolution isn’t true or that the moon landing was faked… I’ll question them. I’ll do what I can to educate people or at least provide them with pointers to get the information they need to make rational decisions.

What I’m not going to do is walk up to people and, out of the blue, say “I’m an atheist and if you believe in Christianity, you’re wrong.” To me, that’s sort of what a t-shirt proclaiming “ATHEIST” says. It’s a chip-on-the-shoulder dare to Christians or Muslims or Hindus. It won’t win friends. It won’t win converts. It won’t educate. It only aggravates.

…and I think that’s rude.

Tea Party Rally a Scattershot Rage-fest

So Obama is like Hitler? From Bay of Fundie comes a slideshow of some of the signs from this past weekend’s “tea party” protest in Washington, DC. I’ve seen a lot of pictures from the event and have even seen a number of signs I do agree with (mostly related to bailouts and government spending), but the number of signs that portray true ignorance is just too great to ignore.

As I posted on my personal blog, protests are more about signs with clever slogans than addressing issues in any detail, but when those signs comprise an incoherent, inconsistent, scattershot collection of complaints with an underlying ignorance of the associated issues, there’s nothing productive about it.

In this slideshow, there are accusations of death panels, mandated abortions, liberal fascism, and communism. There are comparisons of Obama to Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, and Castro. There are complaints about Planned Parenthood, health care, ACORN, child trafficking in prostitation [sic], smallpox vaccinations (!!!), and the word “czar.” Even the tired old “Where’s the birth certificate?” nonsense is rolled out for show and tell.

Glenn Beck 2012? Please, no. There was even a sign with the words “Glenn Beck 2012.”

In other pictures, I’ve seen signs stating that the US is a Christian nation, that we’re “One Nation Under God,” that we need to pray more, and that Obama is a liar. There are plenty of other signs, but along with those signs come some interviews of some of the folks carrying them.

I will grant that the interviews are a small sample and may not be indicative of the ignorance level of the crowd in general, but based on the crazy signs I’ve seen, the interviews may not be too far off base.

What’s the common thread that runs through all the carriers of the more outrageous signs? Is it racism? Fundamentalist religion? Lack of education? Partisan hatred? I don’t really know, but I can make an educated guess at some of the causes. All of the above, perhaps?

Is this anti-Jesus or anti-liberty? The candle flames of racism, ignorance, and religious fundamentalism get fanned and fed by outrageous, hate-filled talk by the likes of Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, and other right-wing talking heads. These commentators help create and instill irrational fear in these protestors with spin, exaggerations, lies, and incendiary rhetoric. What’s worse is that the right-wing politicians do the same… assisted by fundamentalist preachers… assisted by conspiracy-theory proponents.

While some of the protesters had serious signs that indicated rational policy disagreements, a huge number (perhaps a majority) of the signs were simply banners of ignorance… spiteful displays of unfocused rage. In some of the interviews, protesters couldn’t explain what their signs meant or why they held the positions they did. They were just there to vent their nebulous, right-wing, Glenn-Beck-inspired rage to the Washington, DC mall and to be surrounded by others who were just as rage-filled.

We can do that in the United States. Our Constitutional First Amendment guarantees us that right, which is a beautiful thing. It’s one of the things that’s great about our country. When I see people like this taking advantage of that right, especially in a relatively well-mannered and orderly way, it makes me proud of our Constitution.

…but it makes embarrassed about our citizens.

Obama to meet with Benedict XVI

President Obama meets with Pope Benedict XVI President Obama is scheduled to meet with Pope Benedict XVI today. I don’t know if anything interesting will come of it, but it will probably be an intriguing meeting if you were a fly on the wall.

With the conservative vs. liberal views and the disagreements on abortion and stem cell research in particular, there could potentially be some uncomfortable moments, but I trust that Obama will handle it well.

It will be interesting to see if Obama gives another shout-out to non-believers, but I doubt that will happen. It’s probably not the appropriate venue for atheist talk. However, there might be some talk about Islam which could spice up the meeting.

I don’t have much confidence that the meeting will accomplish anything productive or beneficial other than, perhaps, some small modicum of camaraderie. When you meet with someone who thinks that condoms increase the spread of AIDS, wafers turn into flesh, dead men walk, and omnipotent beings communicate via burning shrubbery, it’s seriously tough to get a rational message to have any effect.

Maybe they’ll just talk about helping poor people.

Hypocrisy? I think so.

Sarah PalinToday I saw a video of an interview with Sarah Palin about gay marriage. The interview was The Christian Broadcasting Network in October of 2008, so it’s nothing particularly current. However, I think it highlights something that is all too common, not just regarding the gay marriage debate, but religious issues in general.

Here’s what Palin says during the interview.

In my own state, I have voted […] to ammend our  constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman. I wish on a federal level that’s where we would go because I don’t support gay marriage. Ummm… I’m… You know I’m not gonna be up here judging individuals, sitting in a seat of judgement, telling them what they can and cannot do, should and should not do, but I certainly can express my own opinion here and take action that I believe would be best for traditional marriage […]

I want to be clear on something here. I 100% support her right to have and voice an opinion that is contrary to mine or anyone else’s. I would never want to squelch free speech on any issue.

What I have a problem with, in this particular case, is the blatant hypocrisy. She says that she supports a constitutional ammendment on a state and federal level that would ban gay marriage by defining it as between one man and one woman. Then she says that she’s not “gonna be up here judging individuals” or “telling them what they can and cannot do, should and should not do.” That’s in complete contradiction with her first statement.

So which is it? Only Palin knows for sure, but I can speculate based on information from other statements she’s made. She does want to tell people what they can and cannot do. She is judging people. Not only that, but she’s doing it based on teachings from her religious holy book. If you listen to the entire interview, she goes on to say the following.

[…] speaking up for traditional marriage… that… that… instrument that it’s the foundation of our society is that strong family and that’s based on that traditional definition of marriage.

Putting aside her mid-sentence shift of meaning, she started out saying that “traditional marriage” is the “foundation of our society.” At least it is today. Tomorrow, our foundation might be the Ten Commandments. Perhaps later it could be Christian values or the right to life or a good work ethic. It seems that the foundation of our society can shift and morph and become whatever it needs to be to support the argument at hand, whether that argument is about gay marriage, religion in schools, abortion, political prayers, or other religiously-motivated topics du jour.

The all-too-common refrain, however, closely mimics Palin’s statements. You’re free to do what you want and believe what you want… as long as it goes along with biblical teachings. Nobody will judge you or tell you what to do… as long as what you’re doing is acceptable according to the bible.

I guess I won’t be having scallops for dinner. (Leviticus11:11-12)

A Perfect Example

Today, I read a perfect example of how religious dogma transcends all rationality and practicality. The link to the article is at the end, but here’s the synopsis.

A South Carolina Roman Catholic priest has told his parishioners that they should refrain from receiving Holy Communion if they voted for Barack Obama because the Democratic president-elect supports abortion, and supporting him “constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil.”

Evidently, the priest distributed a letter to parishioners telling them that they are “putting their souls at risk if they take Holy Communion before doing penance for their vote.” The article goes on to say “A few church leaders said parishioners risked their immortal soul by voting for candidates who support abortion rights.”

Doing penance for their vote? Risking their immortal soul by voting a certain way?

(more…)