Can We Stop Calling Them Pro-Choice Now?

Look, I consider myself pro-choice. Ish. On the one hand, I embrace the pro-life argument: From conception, the zygote/embryo/fetus is a living organism; it’s human (I don’t really buy that it’s not quite human yet or whatever the justification is); morally, we’re left with murder, or at best, self-defense.

I guess I shouldn’t say “pro-choice” but “anti-law”. ‘cause if we take the moral absolute for our baseline for law, we end up with every woman’s uterus being a potential crime-scene. The potential for government mischief is boundless.
Abortions have always been done. The strongest deterrent, however, has probably been religion. I think if abortions are to be prevented, it’s really got to be up to religion. (It sure would be nice if the government stopped paying for them, though.)
But let’s not split hairs, shall we? While I think only a very small fraction of pro-life types are actually anti-sex or anti-choice, the mouthpieces of choice are, essentially, pro-abortion. The rabid hatred of Sarah Palin over Trig was indicative. But the howling over a benign Superbowl commercial that didn’t even mention abortion?
Yeah. You guys aren’t pro-choice. You’re pro-abortion. Abortion, remarkably, survived WWII without the taint of eugenics. Margaret Sanger was all about stopping the non-whites from reproducing, yet somehow remains a hero and frequently cited hero for Planned Parenthood. (At least the FBI has the taste to be a little ashamed of Hoover.) Planned Parenthood’s holy grail is forced sterilization; Not so much with the “pro-choice”.
Now all the feminist groups have aligned with the environmental groups, and the environmental groups have never relinquished their Malthusian influences either. John Holdren advises Obama on “science” matters, and he’s a big fan of forced abortions and other means of “birth control”, too.
So, yeah. Not pro-choice. Like many other slippery moral paths, an expression of a desire for “freedom” to do something traditionally considered immoral hides a desire to force people onto that path.

Are The Chinese The New Japanese?

Actually, my first question is: Have I become ultraconservative or prude or something?

Let me back up. If you haven’t seen this ad for an inflatable bra from China, you should. I first thought it was Japanese because, hey, you know: Japan. Also, the women there seem to have trouble interesting the men in coming out of their parents’ basements while China is suffering a shortage of women, thanks to population control policies.

But, of course, Japanese sounds nothing like Chinese.

It does make me wonder if China is the new Japan. Remember when everyone was panicked about the Japanese taking over? Not so much any more, eh? Also, the Chinese—despite the crushing hand of whatever form of government they have—seem to be getting weirder and weirder.

The other thing that jarred me, though, was the use of the phrase “God’s hands”. That’s right: This bra company is making the “She’s Mine” bra which uses “God’s hands” to lift up and mash a woman’s breasts together. (Nice touch: adjustable to various cup sizes. After all, a girl wants to be appreciated for her other features as well. Just not always.)

But…God’s hands? Really? Isn’t that the very definition of “profane”? I mean, I’m more amused than anything. After all, the Chinese know what’s profane to the Chinese, right? And the Chinese have never seemed to have the same sort of relationship with God as Western civilization has.

Still. Odd.

Penn and Teller on The Vatican

Wow, this was awful. Line up a bunch of anti-Catholics to talk about the evils of the Vatican? Sorry, guys, but that’s bullshit. I say that as a never-been-Catholic, who has had more than a few historical beefs with The Church.

This was an awful, hacky one-sided hit-piece.

It started, as all these things do, with a long-winded list of the horrors committed over 2,000 years—well, it should be 1,600 years—which sure seem horrible. But then you realize it’s over 2,000 years. Name an organization that’s been around for that long that hasn’t committed far worse.

Tough to think of many who’ve been around even a fraction as long. And, golly, the ones that have been around for any length of time? Most of them have done something awful, within the limits of their power.

Then, of course, there’s child molestation. There are few crimes that are as devastating, and The Church has handled it badly, but part of their objection was that the current Pope (back in ‘60s) was part of the policy of covering up the crimes.

Well, duh. Was the Church supposed to adopt a policy of shouting this from the rooftops? The real sin, of course, was not taking the crimes seriously enough to remove the real risks. School systems across the country do the same thing, of course, but nobody seems to notice this.

Now, one could argue that the Church should be held to a higher standard, but this comes very close to Alinsky’s Rule #4: “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” To blame the Chruch, I think, you should make a case that it was policy to approve of abuse.

Most of the rest is about hatin’ on the Church for believing what it believes. For example, the idea that being gay is not a sin, while acting gay is, and using the defense “You’re saying they can’t act in their nature.” Well, yeah.

See, that’s what religions do. (Western religions, anyway.) They say, “Yes, it’s in your nature to kill those who stand in your way, covet like mad, and put your reproductive apparatus wherever you think it might feel good, and we’re telling you not to, because you’re better than that, it pisses God off, and all that short-term stuff pales next to an eternity of bliss.”

I never get this argument of “It’s our nature.” Is it not a serial killer’s “nature” to kill? Does anyone accept the pedophile’s argument that it’s in his “nature” to molest? Obviously, what two consenting adults do isn’t in the same league as rape and murder but, let’s not forget that coveting women is also on the no-no list, and few would argue that that isn’t part of male nature.

It’s not difficult, people: The Church says non-reproductive sex is a forbidden. There’s no way gay sex is going to be okay under this dogma. If you are gay, your particular cross to bear is not having the sex you want to have. And, actually, that’s probably your cross to bear even if you’re not gay, if fantasy is part of your sex life, or you might want to have sex with anyone other than your spouse, ever.

Then they get around to blaming the Church for AIDS in Africa. See, the Church forbids condoms. Therefore people are having unsafe sex and passing on AIDS to each other. Well, guys, the Church forbids having the sorts of sex that make sex unsafe in the first place. You’ll have to explain to me why you think that a bunch of promiscuous dry-sex fans are going to ignore the Church on sex but follow religiously (heh) on condoms.

No sale, guys.

The constant refrain of “Times have changed! Get with the program!” is really just a cover for “You try to make me feel bad about something I want to do.” Or “You make others I want to do something with feel bad about it.” As judgmental as P&T are, you’d think they’d get less fired up about others who are quite possibly less judgmental than they are.

They even screw up what should have been a pretty good point when they bring on the blaspheming comic. An Italian satirist suggested the Pope was going to go to hell and be sodomized by vigorous gay devils. According to P&T, the Vatican threatened the woman with a liable lawsuit which carries a potential penalty of five years in jail. Bill Donahue says this is an outright lie. (He also froths over the language, which is kind of dopey.)

First, they laud this women like she’s really doing something brave. I don’t buy that: Italy is rife with anti-Catholic, anti-Vatican types, not all of whom are Communists. But I think when porn star Cicciolina got involved in government 30 years ago, it was safe to say that The Vatican had lost a lot of its supposed clout.

Next, they applaud her for saying that the Church is wrong for meddling with peoples’ lives. For merely having opinions on things and getting them into the media, they are just like Islam. (I bullshit you not: This comparison is made.)

Libertarian much? I guess not: P&T champion free speech, but seem to object to it when it comes from religion.

Sadly, while they’re usually pretty pro-human, they look at all these Catholic people in the world and say, “Except for you guys. You guys are stupid.” Er, no, the Church is “pulling the wool over their eyes.”

Penn and Teller always approach their subject with a bias—the kind of glib smugness that comes from knowing the dogma and apocrypha of the era—but this is typically tempered with an allowance for the bias and humor. Even the tax show, which was supposedly rather personal to them, had plenty of humor in it.

This one? Nary a laugh. It was scold from the first minute to the last. Having decided up front that the Church is responsible for the sins of the world (that they could prevent if only they changed everything they believed in), they close by saying maybe you shouldn’t believe in a God whose representative on Earth would do all these horrible things (i.e., disagreeing with P&T).

A sad, hacky ending to an otherwise decent season.

Big Love vs. The Latter Day Saints

The Mormon Church got a bit miffed by the HBO Series “Big Love” showing one of their private rituals as part of the show this season. I thought the church handled it correctly: They expressed their displeasure and distaste, but didn’t get all outrage-y. I also agree with their position: The ritual really shouldn’t have been used in this fashion. It’s profane (in the original sense of the word) and probably fundamentally misrepresented in some important way.

Now, having seen it, I think they treated it fairly reverently, given the profane starting point. Troop points out that Catholic ritual has been rigorously mocked, and that made him uncomfortable that this Mormon ritual was used. Did it draw laughs from viewers? I wonder.

I didn’t find it weird or risible, myself. And Barb’s crisis of faith touches on a lot of what Hector and I have been hashing through over the past few months, as far as the purpose of religions and the conditions that create binding pacts.

In this episode, Barb comes right up against the debate of religion versus spirituality. It is, of course, popular these days to say, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” That’s a fairly natural outcome of our self-centered existence: It allows a person to profess to an interest higher than the material without most of the mockery that all religions endure.

The net benefit to society, however, is close to nil. Yet this is inverted in this episode of “Big Love”. The Henrickson family pursues a spirituality that isn’t Mormonism but isn’t one of the polygamous splinter cults either. Barb realizes her pursuit of spirituality gives her all the pitfalls of religion–she’s persecuted, mocked, she lives in fear, she’s blessed with a belief in eternity but cursed with fears about how it will play out–and none of the benefits, as she’s estranged from the group itself.

Still, I think it’s important to remember not to take your ideas about a religion from a TV show. I’d be uncomfortable with a bunch of non-Mormons using my faith as a vehicle for soap opera if I were a church official.

Are You There God? It’s Me, That Guy Who Doesn’t Believe In You

Hector and I were talking in the Smoke thread about the phenomenon of atheists in Church. I think it’s not uncommon. I wrote:

Religion serves a purpose that isn’t diminished by disbelief. I go to the Jews again here, because they adhere to the roots of religion which are “to bind”. Many of the great atheists were Jewish because, of course, Jewish-ness transcends what one believes. Every Jew knows, I think, that when the next round of pogroms start, whether or not they’re practicing will not change their fate.

So the outside world binds them as well.

I think the need for the religious binding remains even when we can’t see God.

Hector responded with some interesting questions.

1) does Pascal’s wager imply some contempt for God’s intelligence? Isn’t it just a transparent ruse?

Pascal’s wager, of course, says (roughly) that there’s no penalty for believing in God and a tremendous penalty for not (believing in the Christian God), therefore belief is the safest choice. You can read the various rebuttals and apologetics, but I think the key to Hector’s question comes from a subtler view of the wager.

That is, Pascal is not advising anyone to pretend to believe in God; nor do I think that he came up with this wager to win converts. No, I think Pascal’s wager is meant to be a comfort to Christians who, like Pascal, lead logic-driven lives and then have to confront the challenges of faith.

2) is there a way that does not involve belief in God (or deities of some sort) to get the sort of social networks that churches promote, in which people care for, and actually help, people outside the group of their blood or marriage relations? Is this commitment of people to care for one another what you mean by “the religious binding?” If so, is belief in a God or Gods required to make it work?

I think people are bound by necessity. I think that’s why, for example, bonds are generally less powerful today in the developed world: Lower necessity means a weaker bond. (You can see this writ small on marriage: Women need men less, and men are more likely to see women as an unnecessary enemy.) So I think you do see a binding in, say, frontier towns that isn’t necessarily driven by religion. But it’s tied to the frontier. It wouldn’t survive a diaspora.

Does it need a God? Not exactly, I don’t think. If we look at the other things people could bind over (blood ties, geography, philosophy, God, ritual, occupation, military service athleticism, TV shows, etc.), it’s clear that some things work better than others. And if we look at the many forms of statism (including communism, socialism, fascism, etc.), you see that it doesn’t work at all, and in fact undermines other bonds.

I think that’s a clue. Statism places the authority of the state above all. Spiritualism tells Man that he is, in portion, greater than any temporal organization. That there are fates worse than death. And that he has responsibilities that go beyond his own body. (I believe this is what underlies the antagonism between Church and State.)

So, I think you need a powerful abstraction to unite people. People sign on to collectivist ideas because it’s fundamentally true that we are interdependent. But the State quickly–like, immediately–reduces to a self-aggrandizing monster, and so fails to bind people. (Except in the same way a natural disaster binds people.)

Modern libertarianism–probably the most logical approach to governance–also fails to unite people very strongly, because it describes a negative. Compare “the virtues of selfishness” to “All Men are created equal…[and]…are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. Both describe the same thing, essentially, yet Jefferson’s argument posits a noble Man.

Sidebar: I think this is the reason for Jefferson’s ascendance over Adams. Adams was probably a better President, a nobler man, maybe even a better human being than Jefferson, but Jefferson set the gold standard in appealing to our better nature. Adams was wary of us, Jefferson told us we were better than anyone had let on before.

God, in His various forms, unites people in much the way Santa Claus unites children: There’s a guy out there watching and judging your every move. This works because it’s true, because minimally you–your Inner Jefferson, if you like–are watching and judging your every move.

In summary, God isn’t necessary, but you need something huge–and there has to be some truth. Consider Selma and the Civil Rights Movement: Something huge has to be behind you if you’re going to stand up to the awesome power of the State. (See? The State knew the Church was trouble!)

3) do the Unitarian Universalists have the answer to #2? If so, why aren’t they more successful? In terms of membership numbers, or any other objective measurement.

Oh, I think the other major part of binding that’s necessary is missing with UUs: Sacrifice. Religions require sacrifice. Time. Money. Food. Sex. Public approval. It costs something to be Jewish. If you’re born Jewish, you carry that potential sacrifice with you all the time, even if you renounce the faith. If you practice the faith seriously, there are all kinds of things you can do, you can’t do, etc.

The modern attitude is “Why do I need all this? Does God really care if I keep my foreskin and eat ham sandwiches?” Thus completely missing the point. If you want to believe that a particular faith is right, you can without any other fuss. But you’re not a member of a religion till you make the necessary sacrifices.

Most religions deal with severe persecution. Christians with their lions. Jews with, well, practically everyone. The Druze are so secret, even they don’t know what they believe. What do UUs sacrifice? Not only have they no Big Idea, they have no shared sacrifice.

Look at evangelicals: At some level, they’re responsible for the soul of every living human. What are Unitarians responsible for? (You can translate this to the marriage debate pretty easily.)

This also explains why disbelief doesn’t diminish religion. Even if you’re an atheist, you can appreciate religion and what it does. Religious people are usually happy to share their experiences and welcome you in. You can fight alongside them in righteous causes. And the question of whether you are a True Believer is entirely separate from the actual practice of religion. (Consider me the anti-Bill Maher.)

4) Would you like to keep the tone of The Bit Maelstrom a little lighter than this? If so, feel free to delete this comment, I won’t mind a bit. (Won’t mind a bit! Hah! And I say things about Larry Niven’s prose style being telegraphic, when I do it myself all the time.)

You know, I tend to ramble, and I can go on for days about this stuff, which is why I tend to avoid it. I find it fascinating, but pointless without an interested listener.

Irony? Or Karma?

One of my pet formulations is that environmentalism (or ecology as it was drummed into me as a child) is a luxury. Poverty starves environmentalism like [some random fat celebrity] starves the other customers at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

To a man without shelter, a two-thousand year old redwood looks like a roof, some walls, maybe even a floor.

To a man without food, a spotted owl is a feast.

Now, one of the more obvious ramifications from environmental policies is poverty. Energy is more expensive because it’s too difficult to produce more of it, owing to various environmental restrictions, just for example. The Kyoto protocols would’ve cost us enormously even though, without them, we came closer to its goals than the nations that actually agreed to it, and those nations are dropping Kyoto like a hot potato in the face of serious economic problems.

Environmentalists are obsessed with our footprints. Not just our carbon footprints, but every resource we “consume” in our existence. This year’s Wall-E (a shoo-in for the animation Oscar) took as given the idea that consumerism would lead to the destruction of earth and our own near extinciton. But the lives led aboard the space station by the remaining humans didn’t really affect the earth, and I have to believe that most green-types would approve of that. (Although there was the curious issue of the space station making tons of trash, and no explanation of where the raw materials were coming from.)

Wealth is anathema to this crowd.

Their policies create poverty.

Poverty leads to resistance to their policies.

I just can’t figure out if that’s ironic or karmic.

Education and Religion

I’ve maintained all along–and no one agrees with me–that education is an inherently religious and moral matter, and therefore the government really shouldn’t be involved at all.

The citizens of the country have strong motivation to educate their young, and to do so better than any bureaucracy ever could, so there’s no need being filled unless one accepts some arbitrary definition of what a good education is. (Which, of course, people do.)

But just for starters, in order to educate, you have to take a position about what it is you’re doing. And if you believe that children are animals that need to be trained, or automatons to be programmed, or spiritual beings to be communicated with, that choice is going to be reflected in your approach.

Does your local school look like a temple, a data center–or a zoo?