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Two wrongs make a right?

Lately, I’ve seen a lot of excuse-making in the form of, “Well they did it, too!”

I’ve seen this in relation to the sexual abuses by the Catholic Church (and yes… at this point, it’s not just priests, it’s the church), racism and bigotry by tea party protestors, and political activity (or non-activity, as the case may be). In most cases, the people making the statement are trying to justify the actions, as if calling out an opponent’s indiscretions somehow makes the indiscretions of the defended group acceptable.

  • Defenders of the Catholic Church have said, “We’re not the only people who have abused children.”
  • Tea Party supporters have said, “There was racism, bigotry, and hatred during the Bush administration, too.”
  • Political pundits (on both sides of the aisle) have said, “They (the other party) have done this, too, so it’s perfectly appropriate for us to use it.”

In every case, it’s a petty response made in an attempt to vindicate the accused. It’s also rationally and ethically indefensible. How can you defend child rape by saying, “He did it, too?” How can you defend overt racism, bigotry, and hatred by saying, “He did it, too?” How can you defend obstructionist, ethically dubious, divisive behavior by saying, “He did it, too?”

Raping a child is not suddenly acceptable behavior if you point out it’s been done by someone else. The Catholic Church has attempted to do just that. Shuffling pedophile priests to alternate locations for decades in order to avoid criminal charges or damage to the reputation of the Church is not morally defensible. It’s vile. It’s reprehensible. It’s immoral. It’s despicable. It’s illegal.

Spewing lies, hate speech, racial epithets, bigotry, and intolerance is not acceptable behavior, no matter who does it. The Tea Party is obviously in the spotlight at the moment for this type of behavior, but it’s not unique to them. However, attempting to justify the behavior by pointing out that people behaved that way during the Bush administration does nothing to validate it. It simply makes the defenders look petty and vile themselves. Why would you even attempt to justify racism, bigotry, and hatred? Why would you not just condemn it outright… without qualifications… without caveats… without justifications?

Using questionable political tactics to obstruct progress as opposed to collaborating to create a nationally beneficial policy is not ethically defensible, either. Both parties have done it, but that doesn’t make it acceptable. When the only goal your political team supports isn’t to help the country, but is to thwart the other team, it’s time to look for another career.

Ethical and moral misbehavior should be called out and condemned regardless of whose actions are being called into question.

The defense of that behavior is, itself, ethically atrocious.

Bertrand Russell on God and Religion

A Facebook friend linked to this video (3:25 in length) and I thought it worth sharing. Bertrand Russell answers some questions (in 1959) about God, religion, and why he’s an atheist.

As a side note, when I was 13 and starting to seriously question religious faith, Bertrand Russell’s book Why I Am Not a Christian was the first book I ever purchased on the topic. The essays it contains put me on the path to understanding that intellectual honesty is better than blind, obedient faith and that ethics and morals based on rational concepts are far, far better than simply following vague, archaic laws from questionable holy books.

Russell famously said, “I am as firmly convinced that religions do harm as I am that they are untrue.”

I am in agreement.

Ken Ham Confirms His Moral Bankruptcy

Ken Ham in the Creation MuseumOn Opposing Views, Ken Ham wrote an opinion piece about the creation of the new Answers in Genesis video showing a young boy pointing a gun at the camera while a voice-over says, “If you don’t matter to God, you don’t matter to anyone.”

Along with my opinion that it is a fear-mongering, horrible message to convey, the video has been lambasted here and here and here (among other places). Video aside, however, Ham’s writing shows just how morally bankrupt he is. He asks, without God, why should we protect each other or act with kindness and understanding to our fellow human beings?

Here’s one passage in particular.

If we are truly just evolved from ape-like ancestors, then why should we fight for the sanctity of life and protect and cherish it at all costs? Why is it important for us to exercise self-control when we are angry or frustrated? Why should we deal with problems with love and understanding instead of violence if there is no sanctity of life? If God really doesn’t matter and perhaps does not even exist—if Darwin was right all along and we just randomly evolved from ape-like creatures, if we aren’t fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of a divine and loving God, then go ahead—let survival of the fittest rule supreme.

This is an all-too-common refrain heard from fundamentalists. I’ve addressed it here and here already, but just to emphasize the point… if you can’t come up with reasons to act kindly toward your fellow human beings without the threat of eternal damnation, then you’re morally bankrupt from the get-go. If you are only acting “morally” because of the dictates of a 2,000 year old manuscript, you’ve got no moral foundation. Christianity, in particular, is a free pass to sin your life away.

Oh, but there’s more from Mr. Ham!

If the Ten Commandments are ripped off the walls of our schools and courtrooms and disregarded as a basic ethical God-given code of conduct, then who should care if kids are killing kids and men are attacking defenseless women in their driveways at home at night? We watch animals hunt and tear each other apart every night on the Discovery channel. If you don’t matter to God, than tell me—do you truly matter to anyone? If God doesn’t care about what happens to you, is anyone else obligated to care?

If I wasn’t already familiar with Ken Ham’s general shenanigans, I would say the preceding paragraph was satire. Sadly, it’s not. In one paragraph, he displays his ignorance not only of evolution, but of human nature… of human psychology.

I’m sure that a vast majority of parents in the world would eagerly say that, even if a god didn’t give a rip about one of their children, that child would still matter hugely to the parent. The idea of a caring god is not a factor in why people care about their children… or their friends… or their family. At least, it isn’t for people who honestly care about others. Caring based on biblical dogma is shallow at best and intellectually abhorrent at worst.

In addition, I’ll go out on a limb here and speculate that even without the idea of a divine creator, almost all human beings can come up with reasonable distinctions between lower animals and humans. Most people can probably recognize how human behavior is (generally) based on more than just primal instinct.

It seems that Ken Ham is incapable of doing that. If God doesn’t care about us, he postulates, why would we act any differently than predator and prey on the Discovery Channel?

Ken Ham is the kind of person that I would not let near my daughter unsupervised. I wouldn’t feel safe having her around someone who is only acting kindly because he’s just following some ancient rules, fears divine retribution, or believes that a supernatural deity is keeping him under control. I’d hate to think what horrible actions are tempting Mr. Ham, contained only by his faith in a god. His irresponsible statements imply that humans are like barely contained rodeo bulls, precariously held in check only by the surrounding fence of God’s love.

The problem is that the fence is imaginary. If that’s the only reason people act kindly toward their fellow human beings, then as a species, we’re doomed.

Fortunately for us, it’s not the only reason. For most people, it’s probably not even truly a factor. And actually, I doubt that Ken Ham is a dangerous (other than intellectually) person chomping at the bit to steal, rape, and murder. I think he, like most humans on the planet, can tell right from wrong and act kindly without having to reference ancient dogma. People don’t need it to be good.

To be bad, however, and feel righteous about it… almost invariably requires religious dogma. Stephen Weinberg once said, “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” I suspect Ken Ham would disagree with that statement, given his apparent notion that God is the only thing that makes us good.

…but he also thinks the Ten Commandments are a good ethical code of conduct.

So Much for Catwoman

I’m not even sure how to begin with this one. It seems that the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops finds it necessary to have Senator Danny Martiny file a bill that will prohibit Louisiana scientists from creating human-animal hybrids for experimentation. I’m not kidding.

Conference lobbyist Danny Loar said the bill is designed to be a “pre-emptive strike” against scientists who might want to mix “human and animal cells in a Petri dish for scientific research purposes. . . . It is becoming more of an issue globally.”

Then there’s this statement…

Martiny and Loar said they are unaware of any attempts to do that type of research in Louisiana.

However, that won’t stop them from proposing legislation to ban it. I mean, it’s becoming a global issue! It’s not like there’s more important stuff that should be dealt with in Louisiana right now, anyway. Maybe they should also propose legislation banning the use of insects in space-flight research. I’m unaware of any attempts to do that type of research in Louisiana, but it could happen!

Martiny’s bill would make it illegal to “create or attempt to create a human-animal hybrid, . . . transfer or attempt to transfer a human embryo into a non-human womb . . . (or) transfer or attempt to transfer a non-human embryo into a human womb.”

That’s a far cry from doing some stem cell research. It seems that, about a year ago, the British Parliament approved legislation allowing scientists to mix human and animal DNA in cloning experiments. Any human embryos created this way would be destroyed after 14 days, the goal being to create new stem cells for use in research into the curing of diseases. They did, however, reject using sex cells of a human and an animal.

The Louisiana bill, however, seems to take issue with creating growing creatures in the womb… sort of a Doctor Moreau thing (though he was a vivisectionist). There doesn’t seem to be any attempt by scientists to create any sort of viable human-animal hybrid, yet it seems to be a fear of the Catholic Bishops… enough so to persuade a state senator to propose legislation banning it.

I’m not really sure what’s sillier: the fear that scientists are going to make mutant human-animal hybrids or the fact that a state senator actual proposed a legal ban on the act, presumably with a straight face.

At least Vincent gets grandfathered in.