Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Well, one of my favorite news sources these days is Fark.com, a wonderful collection of news items and unique headlines. I've been going there for about, oh, 4 years now. Since they are HUGE, you've probably heard of them. The only negative about them, in my book, are the numbers of close-minded secular humanists that frequent the message boards.
You read that right - close-minded secular humanists. An old pet peeve of mine from waaaay back, from even before I was religious.Here's the drill - there is a certain sub-set of secular humanists that are actively antagonistic toward religion and the religious. They tend to self-identify in one or more of the following ways; 1) they are aggressive in labelling themselves atheists (i.e., you don't need to ask); 2) they are adamant that they are not agnostic; 3) they are Objectivists with a capital 'O'; they identify themselves as anarcho-capitalists (a real oxymoron).
These sorts tend to have a train of thought that leads them to a certain level of blindness, a place where they are incapable of objective thought. Here's how it generally goes. A: there is no objective evidence for the existence of a supernatural deity. B: therefore, there is no logical way to believe in a god, gods, or any form of deity-related religion. So far, we're OK - its the next couple that get weird. C: therefore, anyone who believes in god, gods, or follows a deity-based religion is doing so for non-logical reasons. D: therefore, such people are incapable of thinking rationally. E: therefore, their ideas are inherently irrational and , thus, dangerous.
There aren't many people that follow this train full-blown (although more than you think). But there are a lot of people who go down this path quite some way before stopping. This path is more dangerous than you think because it means that the holders of such ideas use the rationale that they are more objective than others to reject ideas, concepts, and arguments without objectively examining them. In other words, their belief in their own inherent intellectual superiority traps them in to the logical fallacy of circular reasoning. Never good.
The place I run into this mental block most often is the debate over fetal stem cell research. Most 'rational, objective' atheists I run into have baldly told me 'you just think that because your superstitious beliefs prevent you from thinking for yourself' (a direct quote). They then do not address my key point; thus far adult stem cell treatments have been dramatically more successful than any fetal stem cell research. The results that fetal stem cell researchers hint may be years or decades away is already being acheived with so-called 'alternate' adult stem cell work.
In other words, my argument is that the use of fetal stem cells isn't warranted; most of the work with fetal stem cells have been a total failure, many of the 'successes' have been marginal improvements in treatments that still ultimately fail, and the moral issues are a quagmire. Why not focus on adult stem cell research, where the results continue to be amazing? (for more on this, start with http://rossolson.org/bioethics/stem_cell.html).
When I re-tried this argument, the result was, again, a rant against religion even though my statements were as utilitarian as his.
Go to any big forum online where such issues as abortion, stem-cells, politics, etc. are debated and you can see this same error in many degrees; "if you are religious, you cannot think". Watch for it. I have a friend from college who is firmly opposed to abortion. She is an atheist who feels that Aristotlean logic leads to the conclusion that abortion is immoral. She was booted out of her college Objectivist group because of her 'irrational adherence to religious concepts' before she could explain her logic. In her opinion, the others in the group assumed that if she agreed with the stance of religious people, her position could not be rational for any reason.
One of the people that I argued with about this is the person who calls himself Roman Piso. Google for this guy; he's hilarious. He insists that all ancient writings (up to, oh, about 1400) and a large number of modern works were forged by a single ruling group, all inter-related and, effectively, from one family. The Old Testament, the New Testament, the works of Pliny, Homer, Josephus, Tacitus, Julius Caesar - all faked. This family further totally dominates all religions and governments. The Caesars, the Holy Roman Emperors, the Popes, the Kings of Europe - all puppets to the secret masters, the Pisos. All source materials are faked, but he has learned to see through all the lies, all the obfuscations. By carefully understanding which words are true and which are fake, which are encoded and by whom and when, and by understanding how they worked, and (most importantly) by being one of the rare few who are smarter than some of the greatest minds that have ever trod the Earth, this man has revelaed the truth. Every other critic, historian, and archaeologist is a fool, a babbling moron beside Roman Piso. His proof? not one of these "experts" agrees with him.
His thinking is not so far removed from some Objectivists, I think.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Time to get back on the horse and discuss Deep Issues. Tally ho!

This time out - the recent statement by the Vatican on Feminism and its aftermath.
(I love the word 'aftermath' - implies something "went down", doesn't it?)

Cardinal Ratzinger (head of the Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith) said in this 37 page pamphlet that makes a number of points. One of the most critical is that governments should focus on helping working women so that they do not have to choose between families or careers. The document also criticizes attempts to create an adversarial relationship between men and women, discusses the importance of women within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, and decries the treatment of the work of women in the home as 'less important or less valuable than the work of women outside the home.

These points seem to be, if not well-received, 'under the radar'. The ones that cause real reaction are the statements on post-modern attempts to deconstruct gender. Cardinal Ratzinger challenges such attempts head-on as attempts to deny reality in the form of biology. Men and women are different in their essential nature and such ideas as 'male' and 'female' are not merely constructs of society and conditioning. Ratzinger argues that attempts by ideological feminists to state otherwise will have far reaching negative effects, some of which we are already seeing in assaults on the concept of family and marriage.

This document calso clearly condemns the subjugation of women and calls for a collaboration between men and women.

While I thought it was a very interesting work, where the core concepts of feminist thought (male and female equality; freedom for women to work; the valuation of women's work in the home; no sugjugation of women; etc.) are supported but the excesses of post-modern thought are discarded (as they should be). But here are some sample headlines concerning this document; 'Vatican letter denounces 'lethal effect' of feminism' (Washington Post); 'Vatian Fears Feminism Threatens Families' (ABCNews.com); 'Vatican Fears Effects of Feminism' (AJC). Many of these articles parrot one another as they mention the same things that i do; the core concepts of feminism are supported, but radical attempts to create adversarial relationships or to erase the biological differences between the sexes are condemned.

On NPR I heard a commentator state that (I paraphrase) "...women met the document with irritation or amusement...". But there seem to be quite a few who support it (check the forums at catholic.com, or any Baptist, Evangelical, etc. web site for the responses of women).As a matter of fact, some prominents Protestant speakers have thrown their support behind the document (although they shy away from 'that Mary stuff').

All in all, I think that we have two things going on in the media. First, they use misleading headlines. The Vatican doesn't 'fear' anything directly, they are concerned with the possible impact of certain ideologies on society. More importantly, the majority of the document supports equal rights for women. This reflects a long-standing dedication from John Paul II and the Magisterium to support and champion women. JP II has issued dozens of papers, encyclicals, and pamphlets support equal pay, equal treatment, and freedom from oppression for women. Most of the 'experts' quoted in the article either say that the document is no big deal or they point out the support to women that JP II has always given. The only real critical voice is Francis Kissling, and anti-Catolic media hound, and a professor that worries that it will be misused.

In short, a non-controversy blown up into one.