Historical Context: The 14th amendment and the right’s attempt to rewrite history.

Birthright citizen ship came up in the Republican debate last week and predictably they had a lot to say about the 14th amendment, much of it untrue, or at least questionable. The part that I think is most worth of mention was when Rand Paul said:

The original author of the — of the 14th Amendment said on the Senate floor that this was applying to slaves, and did not specifically apply to others.

Before I talk about the problems with this statement we should note that this is very different than the oft heard claim that the 14th amendment should not apply to those who entire the country illegally. (a claim also made during the debate) That argument largely hinges upon the meaning of the word “jurisdiction” and whether or not those who have illegally entered into the country are within that jurisdiction. While this is not how current jurisprudence treats the children of those who entered the country illegally it’s an argument that is not entirely without merit. Further, the differences that exist in immigration law between the authorship of the 14th amendment and now make it difficult, if not impossible, to determine whether or not those who penned the amendment would have included those are considered illegal by todays standards.

Paul’s quote says something quite different, he is saying that we should not apply the 14th amendment to ANYONE except the descendants of slaves, and he makes this argument based upon the notion that those who originally wrote the amendment did not intend to include anyone else. Leaving aside the unstated assertion that the intent of the authors is most important, or perhaps only, measure by which we interpret the constitution, a position which isn’t even accepted by many conservative judges and legal scholars1, is it actually true that the authors of the amendment only intended it to apply to only to the children of slaves?

The historian Eric Foner, says this about the argument.

I don’t think that’s true. I mean again they were not debating immigration at that time, but they were well aware that these measures, put in abstract terms, would affect many. In my book, I seem to remember I actually quoted a congressman who said this affects immigrants from abroad, it affects everybody. But we know they were thinking of other groups because when they passed the Fifteenth Amendment, they specifically reworded it, unfortunately, to allow western states, I have to say, to exclude the Chinese from voting. Because you know the original language of the Fifteenth Amendment was a positive grant of the right to vote to males over the age of twenty-one, which would’ve eliminated a lot of the methods that southern states eventually used to disenfranchise blacks. But California, Nevada, Oregon said, no, no, no, we can’t let these Chinese vote, so they turned it around and said you can’t deprive a person of the right to vote on the basis of race but you can on other grounds. So they realized that these principles were going to be applying to other people than former slaves.

In fact, the people who wrote the 14th amendment (the who senate was involved not just one person like Paul’s quote would indicate) knew very well that it’s wording would include more than just the slaves, and it’s easy to see that this is the case by looking at the minutes from the congressional debates about the amendment. For instance:

On January 20 the Joint Committee’s subcommittee considering drafts of constitutional amendments reported to the full Joint Committee an expanded form of the Bingham proposal that read as follows:

Congress shall have power to make all laws necessary and proper to secure to all citizens of the United States, in every State, the same political rights and privileges; and to all persons in every State equal protection in the enjoyment of life, liberty and property.”

or this:

On January 27 the Joint Committee considered a draft of the constitutional amendment reported by the subcommittee of Bingham, Boutwell, and Rogers. It now read:

Congress shall have power to make laws which shall be necessary and proper to secure all persons in every state full protection in the enjoyment of life, liberty and property; and to all citizens of the United States in every State the same immunities and also equal political rights and privileges.

Statements like this can be found over and over in the debate about the 14th amendment and should make it clear that people were well aware that this bill was going affect more people than just the former slaves. The fact that people knew this is made even more clear by the fact that some of the western senators wanted the amendment reworded to specifically exclude Indians and Chinese from the amendment. This was only partially implemented by including the phrasing “excluding Indians not taxed” from section 2 of the amendment.

Another interaction, and perhaps one of the best examples in showing that Paul’s claims are wrong, happened between Senator Edgar Cowan (R-PA), and John Conness (R-CA). Cowan argued against birthright citizenship saying that that his state ought to have the right to expel foreigners who invade it’s borders and objected to the children of those from foreign nations being treated as citizens saying of them, “who own to her (the U.S.) no allegiance; who pretend to we none; who recognize no authority in her government; who have a distinct, independent government of their own…” Cowan also voice the fear that opening up citizenship to “nonwhites” would result in the annexation of California by the emperor of China through large numbers of immigration into the state, and compared the Chinese to Gypsies who lived in Pennsylvania.

Conness responded to Cowan’s concerns in the following way.

The proposition before us … relates simply in that respect to the children begotten of Chinese parents in California, and it is proposed to declare that they shall be citizens. … I am in favor of doing so. … We are entirely ready to accept the provision proposed in this constitutional amendment, that the children born here of Mongolian parents shall be declared by the Constitution of the United States to be entitled to civil rights and to equal protection before the law with others.

He also dismissed Cowan’s predictions of being overrun saying that most Chinese would not take advantage of the amendment preferring to work for a time and then return to their own country, saying if Cowan “knew as much of the Chinese and their habits as he professes to do of the Gypsies, … he would not be alarmed.”

At this point it should be clear that Rand’s statement is false, and that those involved in drafting the 14th amendment both knew that it would, and intended it to, affect more than just the children of former slaves. While part of the amendments focus was specifically on overturning Dred Scott, they clearly had the goal of making sure that no similar decisions could be handed down about other groups of people in the future. In addition, the nativist arguments made by Rand and others have a lot more in common with those like Cowan who opposed passing it in the first place, than it does with those who supported the amendment. This is quite simply an attempt to rewrite or ignore history on the part of Rand Paul, either that or he simply doesn’t know his history as well as he thinks he does.

  1. Even Justice Scalia, who is one of the most consistent conservatives in SCOTUS thinks that textualism, is more important than authors intent in interpreting the constitution.
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How belief in Christianity destroyed my self esteem

I became a Christian in my late teens, of course I had always loosely believed in god but I had never found the topic of religion particularly interesting. For instance, I would have said I believed in evolution, but as a 15 year old who had never taken a class on biology I really had no idea what that meant. My conversion was prodded primarily by my parents who came the the conclusion that I was going to become a hardened criminal if they didn’t get me some religion, so I was forced to attend church.

My parents had been, prior to this, fairly nominal in their religious beliefs so the specific situation that prodded this action on their part was my, unsuccessful, attempt to swipe a couple of porno magazines from a gas station. Not my smartest move by a long shot, and I’m certainly not going to claim that stealing porn is a particularly ethical act. However, their claim, which they still make to this day, that I would have become a career criminal if they hadn’t forced me to attend church just might be a bit overboard. I’m fairly certain that, in the days before the availability of internet porn, more than a few 16 year olds tried (some more successfully than me) to steal a porn magazine and then went on to live productive, non criminal, lives.

I actually converted pretty quickly, within a year I had been baptized at a small Methodist church down the road from our house. I even went through a phase where I got rid of my secular music and started listening to Christian music exclusively. Why did I become a sold out believer so quickly? Well for one, despite my parents belief that I was rebellious and had the makings of a criminal, I actually still looked up to them and wanted their approval; I was also rather alone, having spent most of my childhood being picked on and not fitting in, so I on some level I was enamored with the ready made social group available to me through the church.

What most people will have grasped by this point is that I didn’t have particularly good self esteem. My parents dealt very poorly with my teenage sexual drives and had mostly shamed me for them along with jumping to some rather extreme conclusions about me that both hurt me and made me afraid they might be right. I had very few friends at the time and was often worried that even the ones I had didn’t really like me. In many ways Christianity seemed like a literal God send for fixing the troubled relationship I had with my parents and giving me social outlets through which I could make more friends.

The reality, unfortunately, was a lot more complicated. While my relationship with my parents did improve somewhat during this time it turned out to be (as readers and friends know) a temporary fix at best, and I was still afraid deep down that my new friendships were not entirely genuine. Further, as I became more serious about my beliefs I encountered the notion of original sin. In a twist that should shock no one, being taught that I was a terrible person deep down did not do anything for my self esteem, and being told that despite that God was willing to die for me was not terribly comforting. I did talk about this issue with other Christians, even pastors and leaders, but the answer inevitably reached in those conversations is that I just didn’t understand the concept correctly, so I was a screw up at that too.

We were told that the salvation narrative was supposed to make us happy, that this was not working for me surely had to be my fault and not God’s. Which brings us to the most insidious part of the evangelical teachings about original sin and following god. If something great happens in your life you don’t really get to take credit for it; the correct reaction is to give all glory to god. However, when something bad happens it’s can’t be God’s fault because he is perfect, therefore it must be your fault.

There is an oft repeated saying by evangelicals. “If you feel distanced from god guess who moved?” This saying appears on Christian bumper stickers, memes, and even twitter accounts.

So Christianity visited upon me an inability to properly own my own successes, along with a tendency to take my failures even harder since I managed to screw things up despite an all powerful being having my back. Not only did this not help my self esteem during my college years, it caused me to take foolhardy moves, because I was certain God told me to, and then predictably failing. For instance, I changed my major to music even though I had a poor background in the subject, and then I flunked out of 2nd term of music theory even though I studied for the class constantly. Failures like this not only made me feel inadequate and stupid, it made me feel like I was not close enough to god because I was either not hearing god correctly or not trusting him enough to provide me with what I needed to accomplish his goals in my life.

I was consistently rankled with these doubts and questions during my college years leading to periods of deep depression. Of course friends I had noticed this and tried to talk to me about it at times, but they mostly mishandled the discussions for various reasons, mostly because they didn’t seem to understand what was troubling me so deeply. How could they when I didn’t really understand it myself at the time? In fact, it wasn’t until after I deconverted that I began to understand just how much these ideas had contributed to my depression and low self esteem. These days when I talk about my experiences Christians rarely want to deal with them except to claim, in grand victim blaming fashion, that I just didn’t believe in Christianity the right way. I’ve been down that road of constant self doubt and constant focus on my failures, I’m not interested in traveling it again.

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That time Pentecostals turned me into an atheist.

The journey from a staunch fundamentalist Christian who believed in young earth creationism to an atheist was one that took me a number of years, but there were a number of specific experiences along that path which caused me to ask hard questions about my beliefs and slowly begin to shift my perspective on things.

One of the first, if not the very first, of such events happened in the summer of 2000. I had just finished my third year of college, and after spending my first two summers at a stateside missionary training program called Kaleo, I was reading for something more challenging. The campus ministry I was involved in there had several overseas mission trips but they had no more spots open on those trips. So someone I knew from the campus ministry recommended a group he had heard good things about which had some openings.

doinglaundryI filled out an application, raised some money, and several weeks after college ended I found myself on a plane to Calcutta India for two months. There were a number of things I had to adjust to washing my clothes in a bucket being one of the more memorable of them, but what lead to my epiphany was something less mundane. The Christian tradition I was steeped in was a traditional fundamentalist one, Baptist, Methodist, and a few non-denominational churches, but the majority of the people in the group I ended up in were from a charismatic background.

For those unfamiliar with the differences between these groups, the traditional groups I was part of tended to follow a tradition that was at least superficially intellectual and tends to hold to the doctrine of cessationism. (the belief that spiritual gifts have ceased) However, Charismatic Christian groups, like the Pentecostals, tend to a more emotional and expressive faith, they reject cessationaism which means they believe in things like faith healing, laying on of hands, and glossolalia, otherwise known as speaking of tongues.

This let to some interesting situations during my two months in India, ones in which I, ironically since I was a fundamentalist, found myself defending the more reason based position. For instance, one of our members got sick and while I recommended bed rest medicine the others wanted to anoint him with oil and pray to remove the demons Satan had placed on him to prevent him from doing his mission work. (we had a rather vaulted opinion of our work) I also had a number of awkward moments in prayer groups when people started praying in tongues, but if this had been the extent of it I probably wouldn’t have been so shaken up by this trip.

The real watershed moment came in the second month of the trip. We took a week break in the middle of the trip to visit Darjeeling and when we came back we moved to a new place, another missionary group was also staying there, they were also very Charismatic and on one of our break days I had a lengthy conversation with them. My experiences with my fellow charismatic missionaries had made me curious about their brand of Christianity in a way I had never been before, and part of me really wanted to experience things the way they did. Of course I had had spiritual experiences while I was a Christian but their seemed more engaging or real somehow.

They told me it was actually pretty easy for someone to get the “gifts of the spirit” if they really wanted them and at a certain point in the conversation they convinced me that they could pray over me and give them to me. So a group of five or six people I barely knew gathered around me, laid hands on me, and started praying for me to receive the gift of glossolalia, and they prayed, and they prayed some more. I felt…nothing, absolutely nothing, other than their hands about my head and shoulders of course, but they started insisting that they could see that I had the gift now and I could start speaking in tongues when I was ready.

This whole thing probably took three to four minutes, which might not seem like long, but at the time seemed like an eternity, all the while I still didn’t feel like anything had changed. Finally the mix of peer pressure and embarrassment caused me to try to fake my “heavenly tongue,” mostly believing that these spirit filled Christians would out my fakery right away. I was almost certain that the holy spirit would tell them that I was faking, but thought it would at least bring an end to this awkward experience and I could retreat to my room and avoid them for the next week or two before we left.

So I found myself rather surprised when my new charismatic friends fell for my charade completely. None of them voiced even the slightest notion that I might be faking things, but there was no doubt in my mind that I was doing just that. I went back to my room after the experience feeling a bit drained. I remember having a conversation about the experience with one of the few missionaries from my group who was not a charismatic, he was a Calvinist who I’d had a few lively theological debates with since I leaned towards the Armenian side of that debate, but I hedged my feelings on the experience even then, not wanting to admit to myself what a let down the experience was.

In the days and weeks following this experience, particularly after I was back in the U.S. and had time to process my experiences on the trip, I went back over those events a number of times, and there was one thing that really started to bug me. If those missionaries could be so convinced that their experience with their charismatic version of Christianity was real, while my personal experience indisputably told me that it was not, then how could I be sure of my own religious experiences?

As a religious studies major I had known for some time that there were some chinks in the intellectual arguments for Christianity generally and even more so for fundamentalism specifically, but I felt I could safely ignore those because I had an experience with the risen Christ. I trusted that answers to my intellectual questions did exist because I already knew Christianity was true thanks to that experience, but now that I suddenly found myself doubting the reliability of  said experiences those questions didn’t seem so easy to put off.

I decided I needed more than just an experience, and the promise of answers on some far off day. For the next several years of college, and beyond, I began dig more into my beliefs to see if they held up to scrutiny. Understand, at the time I had no intention of leaving Christianity entirely, but I did start questioning some of the beliefs I already had doubts about. As I remember biblical inerrancy was the first doctrine I rejected, but I’ll leave things there for now.

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Why Kim Davis’ legal defense didn’t work.

By now most of you know that Kim Davis is currently being held in jail based on a contempt of court charge, but I think it’s interesting to take a look at the arguments she and her lawyers made, why they didn’t work, and frankly why the should have known they wouldn’t work going into this legal battle. This is particularly important because people on her side are still claiming that she has been jailed for being a Christian, or for standing up for her personal beliefs, and as most of my readers will probably agree, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

So Davis and her lawyers tried to defend her refusal to issue licenses by saying that issuing said licenses conflicted with deeply held religious beliefs, arguing that “compliance is factually impossible” the reason being “because it irreparably and irreversibly violates her conscience by directing her to authorize and issue SSM licenses bearing her name and approval.”

Now, I’ll state upfront that I’m not a legal expert, but it seems that this argument rests upon some assumptions that are legally problematic. First she wants her beliefs about homosexuality and gay marriage treated as central tenants of her religion, but this a complex question from a legal perspective. If the court just accepts any claim that a religious belief conflicts with a law without applying any scrutiny to the claim then anyone could potentially get out of following all sorts of laws or court orders. However, applying scrutiny to such claims could potentially involve violating the excessive entanglement prong of the lemon test, by requiring the government to decide which beliefs should qualify for exemptions. All of this is why the courts tend to want public officials to keep their personal beliefs out of the job they do.

Second, the argument made by her and her lawyers depend on there being a clear connection between her beliefs about homosexuality and the licenses she issues. In other words we must accept that her issuing those licenses represents a tacit endorsement of gay marriage and homosexuality. The problem is, while she may feel issuing such a license does represent such an endorsement, the law has made no such connection, and is in no way asking her to endorse homosexuality or change her religious beliefs or ethical positions by asking her to issue those licenses, and for obvious reasons the court is more concerned with the letter of the law than someone’s personal feelings about whether or not they have committed a crime.

Posted in LBGT, Politics | Leave a comment

Historical Context: Dred Scott and the states rights argument.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted regularly, and this is a situation that I’m planning on changing. Along these line I’m wanting to expand and change the subjects I write about. I’m intended this to be the first in a series of posts in which I discuss a very narrow facet of history and it’s relevance to modern political and ethical issues. The purpose of this is to give people a better understanding of how various elements of history effect our modern life, and how argue about political issues in a more informed and nuanced way.

With all the recent kerfuffle over the rebel flag being taken down in South Carolina and the subsequent conversations about the issue it was inevitable that a lot of people came out of the woodwork to defend flying the rebel flag. These arguments take a number of forms, but the most common one is to attempt to reimage the southern state’s reasons for succession as having nothing to do with slavery, and thus nothing to do with institutionalized racism.

The most popular, though by no means the only, alternative reason for the civil war that is offered is states rights. The argument being that the southerners were staunch defended of limited federal government as envisioned by Jefferson and other strict constructionists and northerners like Lincoln were interested in expanding the powers of the federal government and forcing southern states to make changes they didn’t want to make.

There are a lot of problems with this argument, but the goal of this series is brevity I’m going to focus on one specific problem with this argument, the Dred Scott case. For those that are unfamiliar with this case I’ll give a brief summary. Dred Scott was a slave who had spend some time living in a free territory, Wisconsin, and a free state Illinois. He had been working to obtain freedom for himself and his wife starting the early 1840’s. This eventually lead to the Supreme court picking up the case in 1856. They ruled 7-2 against Scott in March of 1957 based on the reasoning that blacks were not American citizens, even if they had been granted citizenship in the state they resided in, and therefore did not have standing to sue in a federal court. They also ruled that the Missouri compromise was unconstitutional, relevant because Scott had been living in a territory.

Now it’s important to note that 5 of the 7 justices who ruled against Scott were from the south, and the decision was generally lauded in the south.

Jefferson Davis, who would eventually become president of the confederacy, had this to say about the decision.

Instead of accepting the decision of this then august tribunal—the ultimate authority in the interpretation of constitutional questions—as conclusive of a controversy that had so long disturbed the peace and was threatening the perpetuity of the Union, it was flouted, denounced, and utterly disregarded by the Northern agitators, and served only to stimulate the intensity of their sectional hostility. (full quote here)

Now what’s interesting about all this is that the Dred Scott decision was anti-state rights, probably the most anti-state rights ruling that had been made at that time.  Basically, the northern states were worried that the decision could essentially invalidate their laws against slavery since based on Dred Scott anyone could have bought a slave in a slave state and them moved to a “free state” in which that slave would continue to be a slave. If the major concern of the southern states was states rights, they would have attacked the decision, yet it was the north who opposed Dred Scott and the south who supported it. The fact that the south was supportive of a decision that protected slavery at the expense of state rights is a pretty strong piece of evidence against the states rights argument.

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Camille Paglia calls atheists “juvenile”

Salon just published an interview with Camille Paglia in which she attempts to skewer atheists who critique religion, saying we are “juvenile” and have “stunted imaginations” Paglia clearly thinks highly of herself, as she suggests at one point that her own professions to be an atheist started the “fad” of identifying as an atheist in the early 90’s.

Richard Dawkins was the only high-profile atheist out there when I began publicly saying “I am an atheist,” on my book tours in the early 1990s. I started the fad for it in the U.S, because all of a sudden people, including leftist journalists, started coming out of the closet to publicly claim their atheist identities, which they weren’t bold enough to do before.

I can’t speak with certainty for others but I can say my own identification as an atheist had nothing to do with her, particularly since I’d never even heard of her before I read this article and subsequently read a Wikipedia entry about her. I suspect that her identification as an atheist had very little influence on anything. Regardless, let’s take a look at the content of her arguments about atheism.

She is asked what she thinks about people like Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens, and others who have no respect for religion, to which she answers.

I regard them as adolescents. I say in the introduction to my last book, “Glittering Images”, that “Sneering at religion is juvenile, symptomatic of a stunted imagination.”  It exposes a state of perpetual adolescence that has something to do with their parents– they’re still sneering at dad in some way.

In terms of content she hasn’t said much here, preferring a bunch of name calling, and bad psychology. How exactly did she determine that atheists who criticize religion are angry at their fathers? Part of the irony of these statements is that they are delivered in the context of the rest of her statements in which she says that liberals think of themselves as open minded but are in fact not. Does Paglia actually think her name calling is being open minded? Why is it not OK to sneer at the ideas of the religious, but completely reasonable to sneer at the ideas of the non-religious?

I’m speaking here as an atheist. I don’t believe there is a God, but I respect every religion deeply. All the great world religions contain a complex system of beliefs regarding the nature of the universe and human life that is far more profound than anything that liberalism has produced.

OK, first let me say that there are religious individuals who I respect. There are, and have been, many important intellectual figures who held religious beliefs, and dismissing the rest of their contributions to humanity because I disagree with them on this one issue would be quite irrational. However, there is a difference between respecting someone despite disagreeing with them on some subjects, and respecting the ideas on which we disagree.

Secondly, while many religions have produced complex ideas about the nature of the universe, I’m not sure why that, alone, is something which we owe respect, incorrect ideas are still incorrect even if they are complex. I’m also not sure how she came to the conclusion that liberals don’t have any profound ideas. I find that philosophers who address these big questions without appealing to religion do a much better, and more honest, job of grappling with them than religion generally does.

She continues.

We have a whole generation of young people who are clinging to politics and to politicized visions of sexuality for their belief system.  They see nothing but politics, but politics is tiny.  Politics applies only to society. There is a huge metaphysical realm out there that involves the eternal principles of life and death. The great tragic texts, including the plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles, no longer have the central status they once had in education, because we have steadily moved away from the heritage of western civilization.

I’m honestly not entirely certain what Paglia is actually arguing here. Is she claiming that there are not non-religious attempts to address issues like value and ethics? If that is the case then I would suggest she is the ignorant one since there are any number of philosophers, some of them even Christian, who have written about these issues without appealing to religion.

Though perhaps that reading does not treat her statements with enough charity. It’s also possible that she is merely claiming most modern liberals don’t have enough nuance in their views, and haven’t spent enough time understanding the moral philosophy and ideas that are suppose to underpin liberal values. If this is what she is attempting to say then I agree that this is true of many liberals, but point out that this criticism could just as easily be used against virtually any other political or religious affiliation. How many libertarians have studied the works of libertarian academics like Robert Nozick; how many Christians have done the same with Thomas Aquinas or Martin Luther?

Though Christianity has played an undeniable role in the intellectual history of western civilization, I see no reason to think that the average conservative Christian is any better educated on political philosophy or that history in general than the average liberal atheist. I’d also point out that her statement seems to smack of a kind of intellectual arrogance that declares other people are ignorant or stupid because they aren’t well educated in the subjects she considers most important.

There are no truly major stars left, and I don’t think there’s much profound work being done in pop culture right now.  Young people have nothing to enlighten them, which is why they’re clinging so much to politicized concepts, which give them a sense of meaning and direction.

I’m not sure how else to read this except as a statement from an older generation chastising the younger generation for not being as good as their generation. We aren’t producing art up to her standards, we aren’t producing political discussions up to her standards, etc. Thing is, forty years ago people were saying the same things about her generation, and forty years before that…well you get the idea. You can find writers in ancient Greece saying the same things.

The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. – Socrates

Maybe in another thirty or forty years I’ll be right there in the same place, loudly denouncing the future generations for not being exactly like me, though I’m going to make a concerted effort to not end up that way, but what baffles me is that, for all her anger at the rest of society for not understanding the past she doesn’t seem to be making much effort to understand the present.

The rest of the article proceeds in a similar fashion, she criticizes the “liberal media” for failing to report adequately about the recent video of planed parenthood supposedly selling organs even though it turns out the video was essentially a lie created by creative video editing, and at the moment I see multiple non conservative news organizations who actually have reported on it. She also praises Donald Trump for being willing to say rude and mean things as if that is something we should actually encourage in people. In short with a few minor exceptions, like her praise of Bernie Sanders, most of what she says is terrible.

Posted in Atheism, Politics | 1 Comment

Several arguments against the mom in the Maine diner (and why they are wrong)

When I first heard about this story last week I was a bit irritated that a restaurant owner thought they had the right to yell at people, including a child, and verbally abuse them after the fact. To fair both sides tell a different story, the parents claiming the child was a bit fussy for a few minutes and the owner seeming to believe that the child was behaving badly for a long period of time, though in either case cussing out your customers is not very professional. (There is also a bit of irony in the owner complaining about the bad behavior of a toddler while not being able to control their own emotional reactions as an adult)

However, my more general issue is how many people have responded positively to the owners behavior and some of the arguments they have used to justify their position.

1. If children behave this way it’s because the parents are terrible or the child is a “brat.”

Here is the thing that people, particularly those without kids, need to realize. Toddlers don’t usually have melt downs or get fussy because they are intentionally trying to control people or manipulate the situation, and it’s not necessarily evidence that the parent is bad at their job. Is the child being irrational? You bet, because they are 2 years old, and they don’t have the same capacity for rational thought that adults, at least ought to, have. Children have limits for stress just like adults, but their limits are lower, and they don’t have very good skills for coping with things. They are also still trying to figure out the world and what their limits are. Coping skills and logic start to develop along with language.

Even good parents have to deal with this issue with children between 1 to around 3. If they are still doing this at 5 or 6 that might indicate a developmental problem, but at 2 it’s perfectly normal, and not evidence that the child is spoiled or that the parents aren’t doing a perfectly good job raising them.

2. Keep your child out of public spaces until they learn to behave.

The first, and most obvious, issue with this is that it is the very exposure to public spaces and other people which help children learn how to socialize. Yes, there are certain places that it’s going to be best not to take them, which is why my wife and I haven’t been in a movie theater in half a year, but they need human interaction, and for that matter so do parents. Which brings me to the second issue I have with this argument.

When you go out in public you are required it interact with the public, and children are a part of that public. Parents and their toddlers are just as much a part of the public as anyone else is and have every right to have a night out too. I suggest that if you don’t want to see children you be the one to stay home, or only go out to places that don’t welcome children, of which there are plenty.

Honestly I’ve had evenings out disrupted by adults who were unnecessarily loud more often than I have had them ruined by children. How many times do you think I’ve gone up to those people and screamed at them for being too noisy? If you guessed zero you would be right, because unlike my toddler I AM and adult and I have some self control.

3 .Get a babysitter.

I mostly hear this said by people who are relatively well off, or in other words people who can generally afford to hire a baby sitter any time they want, so there is a bit of classism in this argument. Not everyone can afford a babysitter. For all you know that person out to eat with their toddler can only afford a night out at a restaurant once every 6 months and hiring a babysitter would mean they could only go out once a year. Further, some people actually like spending time with their children. Like I mentioned in point 2, you are in public and children are part of the public, so be the adult you actually purport to be and deal with it in a socially acceptable manner. It’s understandable when a two year old has a melt down in public, it’s not so understandable when an adult does it.

4. If that were my child I’d discipline them.

This is sort of an extension of point 1, but I hear this argument on it’s own quite a bit, the suggestion is that you spanked (I.E. hit) your child you could get them to quite down, and that the child’s behavior “problems” stem for the parent being too liberal or wussy to lay down the law with their child and give them a whooping if they misbehave.

First, it ought to be common sense that hitting a child is going to make cry more not less. Secondly, there is lots of psychological work that has been done which demonstrates that spanking or other forms of physical punishment do not work as long term behavior control, and don’t work very well even in the short term. In fact, some studies have linked physical discipline an increase in long term behavior problems. Further, It’s frustrating to see otherwise reasonable people buy into an idea which has largely been debunked by science because of tradition, so this point goes double if you are an atheist or skeptic reading this, because you ought to know better.

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An example of Christian “love”

Last week I posted about Adam4d’s comic about homosexuality. This post attracted attention on my Facebook page from an evangelist, who intoned, like the many who have come before, that I’m a “wretch” who needs Jesus to fix me. You can read the entire exchange on my under the heading of the relevant post on my Facebook page, but I’ll just give you the relevant bits. 


Understand that just previous to this I had already indicated at this point that I rejected Christianity for intellectual reasons, yet, rather than listening to me, he choses to suggest, in the form of a “question,” that I must have been hurt by believers. I put “question” in quotes here because it becomes clear pretty quickly he wasn’t really interested in any answer I might give.

apologist 2

Notice that a no point does he even attempt to address anything I’ve said, or actually learn anything about me. Each answer I give is summarily ignored and in it’s place he concocts “reasons” I rejected my former beliefs that allow him to fit me, and other atheists, within his existing world view. He even outright says he is going to jump to another conclusion about me after being specifically asked not to do that. My own accounts of my life are discounted because he believes he can psychoanalyze me based on a few posts on Facebook and what his religious tradition says about atheists.

I spelled out that my reasons for leaving were intellectual, and rather than ask me what those reasons were, and then discussing that with me he leaps to the conclusion that the real reason I left was “pride.” Understand, I’m not demanding that he, or other Christians, accept my reasons as correct, I’m just asking them to actually engage with my statements as if they accurate portray my views. I’m perfectly comfortable having a conversation with a Christian that argues that my reasons for leaving are incorrect for some reason. I’ve had many such conversations, and I would, by definition, expect them to take that position. Unfortunately those evangelicals who are willing to engage in genuine conversations with non-believers seem few and far between.

Instead, they, disrespectfully, insist that my reasons for leaving aren’t actually my reasons, that my claims to be intellectually unsatisfied with Christianity’s view of reality are a smoke screen to justify a love of sin, pridefulness, or anger due to mistreatment at the hands of other believers. In doing this they opt to preach AT me rather than converse WITH me. This is a formula for convincing the person you are speaking to that you do not see them as an equal, and that you do not respect them. What’s worse is that when you try to point out this behavior and explain, very calmly and rationally, to them why this behavior is disrespectful they inevitably try to claim that it’s our fault, they claim we “get insulted easily,” or any other of a thousand ways to claim that that we are the ones at fault for the situation.

For any evangelical who happens to read this, being loving means also being respectful, and having respect for those that you love, even when you disagree with them, being loving means you respect people’s boundaries. It means you accept their own accounting of themselves and don’t accuse them of lying or being incapable of understanding their own thoughts and motivations without just cause. (no your bible saying so is not just cause) It means, when you converse with them, that you listen to them and take their ideas seriously, even if you think they are incorrect. Feeling “sorry” for someone is not love either, it’s pity, and most people don’t wan to be pitied. If you can’t respect me enough to actually listen to what I have to say then you don’t actually love me, you just love the idea of playing the pious Christian who says you love everyone because it’s what you are supposed to do.

Posted in Atheism | 6 Comments

Adam4D insults our intelligence with a comic about homosexuality

Adam4D calls refers to itself as “a curiously Christian webcomic” but the only things I’ve ever found curious about the webcomic are is distinct lack of humor and how it seems to copy The Oatmeal’s style. After the gay marriage ruling last week he published a webcomic “explaining” to gay people that he loves them.

He starts the “comic”* by claiming they homosexuals are not really on the opposite side of the culture war by saying we are all sinners, of course he does this by claiming any sexual thoughts about anyone your aren’t married to (gay marriage doesn’t count) are wrong, and of course sermonizing about how we all need Jesus. So he starts this comic with a bunch of sex negativity, invoking the concept of thought crimes, and preaching at us, a less than auspicious beginning to this argument.

Then he moves on to the next predictable argument, he claims he isn’t saying that his way is better than our way but that god’s way is better than our way. There are several problems here, for one lots of people would dispute his claim to know what god really wants. (or whether or not there even IS a God) See, what he doesn’t get is that we atheists tend to view statements as a sort of supernatural version of “don’t shoot the messenger.” It seems clear that they think this statement is supposed to imply humility, but the claim to know what the creator of the universe wants is not exactly dripping with humility. Either way they are still claiming to hold a correct opinion about something, the source of the opinion is not really important, I think I’m right and they are wrong, but I own that, it’s frustrating that they refuse to do the same.

Then he goes on to say we have to give up things to be with god, “even sex,” he says. A disappointingly predictable statement that is built on the assumption that homosexual relationships are about nothing except sexual gratification. I suspect he would be offended if anyone suggested the love he has for his wife could be summed up as nothing but lust and sexual satisfaction, but he sees no problem doing the same for homosexuals.

Finally the most insulting part of the entire “comic.”* He claims that everyone else wants to “exploit” peoples “gayness.” He claims that all the business owners, politicians, and liberal “churches” (Scare quotes to indicate that liberals aren’t real Christians) are just using gay people rather than truly supporting their cause. How he can state with such certainty that every single member of those groups are being disingenuous about their support he doesn’t explain, but this isn’t the first time I’ve seen him generalize about entire groups based on no information.

You might ask, if Adam is convinced all those groups are lying, who is it, he thinks, really loves gay people? The very predictable answer? God, and Adam, of course, they really love gay people, so much they are want to save you from what god will do to you if you keep being gay. He says:

We do not hate you. We love you. We do not want you to be unhappy. We want you to be supremely and eternally happy. We do not want to deprive you of rights. We want you to have every right God so graciously bestows upon his children. We do not want to keep you from fulfillment. We want you to have the true fulfillment which is found only in Christ.

Adam, a message if you, or anyone who thinks like you, ever happen to read this, I want to humbly submit to you that you do not understand what love is. If you actually loved Homosexuals, or for that mater atheists and other non-believers, you would actually ask us if we are happy and fulfilled, rather than assume that we can only be those things if we join your religion. You treat us, not as people, but as projects for you to work on. Being loving means respecting other’s rights to make their own choices, even if you think those choices are wrong. Insisting that we are broken and need to be fixed while refusing to accept our own accounts of our motivations and thoughts is not loving in any meaningful sense.

Not only that, but to claim that you love a mass of people you have never even met doesn’t really make any sense, it’s just feel good rhetoric that you repeat because you believe the bible says you are supposed to love everyone, and if all you mean when you say you love them is that you want them to be happy in some vague generalized way then you have a low bar for “love.” I generally want those things for the mass of humans on this planet too, but I wouldn’t dare compare it with the feelings I have for my wife, daughter, or my friends.

Further, claiming you don’t want to take way other people’s civil rights but then subtly suggesting others aren’t entitled to certain rights (like gay marriage) because they aren’t rights god wants to give us, is by no means respectful of our rights. Not that I expect you to be respectful of those rights, after all you said yourself in this same comic that it’s “rebellious” to want to go our own way. Christianity, at least your version of it, is fundamentally incompatible with the notion of civil rights, as it demands that we subsume all our “rights” to what god wants. If you want to have an honest debate with unbelievers at least admit that this is the case. Claiming to want to guarantee other’s civil rights while advocating they join a religious system which fundamentally denies one’s right to self determination is disingenuous at best. 

He ends in trying to justify evangelism.

Just like a guy loved me ten years ago when I was a devout atheist, hostile towards Christians and he decided to tell me about Jesus anyway.

Love seeks the highest good of another.

First off, when someone says they were a once a “devout” atheist, or claims they were “hostile towards Christians,” I immediately suspect them of being dishonest. Most of the time I find that people who say things like this end up being sort of backslidden Christians before their “conversion.”

Either way, this is just a rationalization to justify forcing your ideas on other people. “Love seeks the highest good of another.” is just high minded rhetoric to defend your unwillingness to respect other people’s personal boundaries. I get it, you think we are going to hell, and in your mind this justifies violating our personal boundaries. However, you presumably wrote this comic because you feel like your own boundaries have been violated, by the recent SCOTUS decision. They actually haven’t been, but the point is that if you want other people to respect your personal boundaries you owe it to them to do the same. The question isn’t whether or not you love us enough to try to save us, but whether you love us enough to allow us to make our own way in life, even if that way means that we, in your estimation of things, will end up in hell.

* I put “comic” in scare quotes because 90% of his comics are almost always text. It’s usually more like a blog with a few interspersed drawings that he happened to store in PNG format instead of text.

Posted in Atheism, LBGT | Leave a comment

Gay marriage legal, now what are its opponents saying?

First, congratulations to everyone who has fought hard to make gay marriage legal in the United States. Of course now that the judgment has been handed down many conservative evangelical pundits, politicians, and even the four dissenters on the supreme court had a lot of negative things to say about the decision. Let’s look at a few of the more ridiculous ones. 

I am, however, disappointed that the Supreme Court disregarded the democratically-enacted will of millions of Americans by forcing states to redefine the institution of marriage,…I believe that marriage is a sacred vow between one man and one woman, and I believe Americans should be able to live and work according to their beliefs. – Speaker John Boehner

Guided by my faith, I believe in traditional marriage. I believe the Supreme Court should have allowed the states to make this decision. I also believe that we should love our neighbor and respect others, including those making lifetime commitments. In a country as diverse as ours, good people who have opposing views should be able to live side by side. It is now crucial that as a country we protect religious freedom and the right of conscience and also not discriminate –Jeb Bush

From what I’ve read a lot of people on the right found Bush’s statement to be a bit wishy-washy, though he seems to buy right into the narrative that this ruling will somehow lead to discrimination against Christians. The majority opinion ruled that marriage is a constitutional right, which is consistent with their other rulings on the subject, which means it’s not subject to a vote by the state or anyone else. We don’t leave the decision to grant free speech or freedom of religion to the states either, has democracy been damaged because we can’t vote on those things?

I believe SCOTUS’ decision is a grave mistake. 5 unelected judges have taken it upon themselves to redefine the institution of marriage.- Scott Walker

This irrational, unconstitutional rejection of the expressed will of the people in over 30 states will prove to be one of the court’s most disastrous decisions, and they have had many. The only outcome worse than this flawed, failed decision would be for the President and Congress, two co-equal branches of government, to surrender in the face of this out-of-control act of unconstitutional, judicial tyranny. – Mike Huckabee.

SCOTUS did not write a law here, it used it’s well established right of judicial review to invalidate laws baring same sex couples from marriage.

A lot of conservatives seem to be making a big deal out of the fact that SCOTUS members are appointed rather than directly elected, and insisting that non-elected officials should not have the power to overturn laws passed by popular vote.

First off, this position is completely at odds with the entire concept of judicial review, and that the founders very specifically wanted SCOTUS members to be appointed rather than elected so that they WOULDN’T be subject to the will of the people when interpreting the law as a check against the elected branches of government.

Secondly, Only 24 hours ago these same people said that the ruling in favor of the ACA was wrong. Huckabee even used the exact same phrasing, calling the decision “an out-of-control act of judicial tyranny.” This is rank hypocrisy as far as I can see, if it is wrong to overturn gay marriage bans because they were voting on by the people, why is it okay to over turn the ACA which was passed by legally elected representatives? You can’t have it both ways people, either you think judicial review of laws is constitutional or you don’t.

Thirdly, many of the people using this argument, Huckabee included, have advocated for repealing the 17th amendment which provided for the direct election of senate seats. If you think it’s unethical for the SCOTUS to legislate because they were appointed not elected how on earth do you justify the position that half of congress, the actual legislative branch, should be appointed instead of elected?!

The Supreme Court can no more repeal the laws of nature and nature’s God on marriage than it can the law of gravity. Under our Constitution, the court cannot write a law, even though some cowardly politicians will wave the white flag and accept it without realizing that they are failing their sworn duty to reject abuses from the court.  – More Mike Huckabee.

SCOTUS never wrote any laws, they nullified existing laws through the well established right of judicial review. Also since they can and did repeal said law it’s clearly not the same as the law of gravity.

However, some of the strangest stuff came from the four dissenters on the SCOTUS. Not because the reasoning is any more strained mind you, but because I expect these sorts of bizarre statements from pundits and elected officials, but I would have expected more legal nuance and less rhetorical chest thumping from members of the Supreme court, even the conservative ones.

Indeed, however heartened the proponents of same-sex marriage might be on this day, it is worth acknowledging what they have lost, and lost forever: the opportunity to win the true acceptance that comes from persuading their fellow citizens of the justice of their cause. And they lose this just when the winds of change were freshening at their backs. – Roberts

Justice Roberts pretending to be sad that gay marriage supporters won their rights the “easy” way instead of the right way. First off anyone who thinks the work done to make this ruling happen was easy has no idea what they are talking about, secondly if we had just passed laws making gay marriage legal a simple majority could have overturned that at any time, with a SCOTUS ruling this is much more likely to stick since it’s unlikely there will ever be enough support for a constitutional amendment.

As a result, the Court invalidates the marriage laws of more than half the States and orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs. Just who do we think we are? Roberts…again.

Basically an argument from tradition, but the way in which it is made is so bizarre. The Chinese used to bind women’s feet, essentially crippling them, the Aztecs engaged in human sacrifice, are we expected to uphold those traditions too? How many societies have to agree on a practice before it becomes incontrovertible in Roberts mind?

The strikingly unrepresentative character of the body voting on today’s social upheaval would be irrelevant if they were functioning as judges, answering the legal question whether the American people had ever ratified a constitutional provision that was understood to proscribe the traditional definition of marriage. But of course the Justices in today’s majority are not voting on that basis; they say they are not. And to allow the policy question of same-sex marriage to be considered and resolved by a select, patrician, highly unrepresentative panel of nine is to violate a principle even more fundamental than no taxation without representation: no social transformation without representation. – Scalia

His statement is a bit more eloquent and legally complex than those of Scott Walker and Mike Huckabee, but the message is essentially the same, people voted on this so we shouldn’t overturn their will. His statement that there should be “no social transformation without representation” is particularly ridiculous since Scalia is essentially saying that, judicial review, which, as a member of the SCOTUS, is pretty much his entire job, is unconstitutional.

The opinion is couched in a style that is as pretentious as its content is egotistic. It is one thing for separate concurring or dissenting opinions to contain extravagances, even silly extravagances, of thought and expression; it is something else for the official opinion of the Court to do so. Of course the opinion’s showy profundities are often profoundly incoherent. – Scalia, Emphasis added

Irony thy name is Antonin Scalia.

In our society, marriage is not simply a governmental institution; it is a religious institution as well. Today’s decision might change the former, but it cannot change the latter. It appears all but inevitable that the two will come into conflict, particularly as individuals and churches are confronted with demands to participate in and endorse civil marriages between same-sex couples. – Thomas

Thomas has served on the SCOTUS for 24 years, and has been working in law longer than I’ve been alive, which is why it’s so incredibly bizarre that he doesn’t understand why this fight he has imagined is never going to happen. He has to know, probably better than I do, that there is already a legal distinction between the civil and religious aspects of marriage, and that the first amendment already protects churches from being required to solemnize marriages they don’t agree with for whatever reason. Loving V. Virginia was handed down nearly 50 years ago and yet churches can still choose to refuse to marry interracial couples without facing any legal consequences. Thomas is actually in an interracial marriage, how does he not understand this?

The corollary of that principle is that human dignity cannot be taken away by the government. Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity)
because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them. And those denied
governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits. The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.… – Thomas…again.

Seriously Justice Thomas? The government can’t take away your innate dignity so therefore it’s cool if they strip you of civil rights? What the heck were you thinking?

It will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy. In the course of its opinion, the majority compares traditional marriage laws to laws that denied equal treatment for African-Americans and women. The implications of this analogy will be exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.

I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.

By imposing its own views on the entire country, the majority facilitates the marginalization of the many Americans who have traditional ideas. Recalling the harsh treatment of gays and lesbians in the past, some may think that turnabout is fair play. But if that sentiment prevails, the Nation will experience bitter and lasting wounds.

Alito actually says something that is reasonably true, I expect that as this new normal takes hold those who cling to these old bigotries against gay people will feel the sting of social marginalization, and only feel comfortable voicing those opinions in their own homes. So what? Being socially ostracized for your backwards beliefs, is not the same as being legally discriminated against so the comparison between the two is false, and I’m no more concerned about the social marginalization of those who oppose gay rights than I’m against the same for racists.

There is nothing illegal, or even unethical, about criticizing bad ideas and exerting social pressure against those who hold those ideas to either change them or at least keep the ideas to themselves. I can’t stop a racist from being racist, but I can make it uncomfortable for him to voice those ideas publicly, and I don’t feel the least bit bad about doing so because I’m more concerned about the people belonging to the races he is attacking feeling comfortable and accepted than I am about making sure the racist feels comfortable and accepted. If you don’t want gay people to get married and this decision makes you feel marginalized…to bad.

Posted in Ethics, LBGT, Politics | 1 Comment