Proof Harry Potter books are good for children

The Harry Potter series wound up being such a divisive force in the world when it was published and still makes headlines today. It’s been lauded as fantastic literature and condemned for promotion of magical thinking — at least in the minds of those who think magic is of the devil and that any of the spells and charms made up for this series could somehow work in the real world.

For those unfamiliar with the series (there are still some who haven’t read or seen it), Harry discovers he’s a wizard and starts school at the hidden magical place called Hogwarts where he learns how to develop his powers. Wizards and witches are very much a minority on Earth and keep to themselves as much as possible because the ordinary world might not understand what they are and thus might fear them. There is much to fear – Voldemort and his evil plots to take over the world. Voldemort and his supporters are very anti-Muggle and hate the fact that wizards and witches will marry into non-magical families. They call the offspring Mudbloods and it’s a terrible slur.

Voldemort might be the worst but even the nicest families (and Harry’s school) support slavery in the shape of house-elves tied to the property because they aren’t allowed to own anything. Other species within the wizarding world are also sidelined and seldom seen in polite company. Prejudice and bigotry run rampant and Harry (and his friend Hermione as it happens) come into this from the Muggle outside and see things differently, thus react to it differently.

Several psychologists have found this particular aspect of the series intriguing because it seems that people who enjoy the books wind up with a better sense of inclusion and equality – especially if they can identify personally with Harry and what’s he’s going through.

A couple studies were done in Italy and one in the UK to research this. The Pacific Standard sums up the studies as reported in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology.

For one of them, 34 Italian fifth-graders were given a six-week course focused on discussing the series. They started the kids off with a questionnaire first to record their opinions on immigrants, homosexuals and other stigmatized groups and then met with them weekly to discuss various passages selected from the seven books.

Half of the kids read, and talked about, sections that dealt directly with prejudice; the others focused on sections that discussed unrelated topics.

Afterwards, they again answered questions about their attitudes about immigrants, listed how many Harry Potter books or films they had seen, and revealed the extent to which they wanted to be like Harry.

The results: Those who read and discussed Potter passages about prejudices showed “improved attitudes towards immigrants.” The researchers caution, however, that this welcome reaction only occurred among those who identified with the title character.

It’s hard to know if different responses on a questionnaire translate to different behaviour around minority groups, though, but this is interesting all the same.

The second study featured 117 Italian high school students. They were asked how many of the books they had read; whether they felt an emotional kinship with Harry (or, alternatively, Voldemort); and, in what they were told was a separate study, expressed their attitudes toward homosexuals.

The researchers found those who had read more of the books also had a more positive attitude toward gay people—but, again, only if they felt a personal connection to the title character.

I remember when J.K. Rowling came out and said the Headmaster of the school was gay but I failed to see what difference it would have made knowing that going into the books or, like me, having this revealed after I’d read them all. Like it matters. But, maybe it does in the end — Harry trusts Professor Dumbledore and understands completely that the trust is mutual. If Harry suspected this unexpressed “truth” about his professor, it was a non-issue for him. Before he was Voldemort, the half-blood Tom Riddle also attended the school. He hid his Muggle history and was ambitious and cruel. He was also wary and fearful of Dumbledore, who suspected early on that he was taking a dark road into the future.

The last study mentioned took place in England with college students and their opinions on refugees. The researchers got similar results as the Italians.

here, the key variable was the extent to which participants identified (or failed to identify) with Voldemort. They also discovered the same likely mechanism behind the prejudice reduction: The books’ ability to prompt readers to view society from the viewpoint of a disparaged minority.

“Harry Potter book reading was positively associated with perspective taking toward refugees only among those less identified with Voldemort,” they report. “Perspective taking, in turn, was associated with improved attitudes toward refugees.”

More proof that books have power. The ideas and how they can change a person — that’s where the magic is.

Filed under: culture, In the Media Tagged: books, culture, Harry Potter, homosexuality, prejudice, psychology

Michael Behe and the edge of evolution

Michael Behe's book, The Edge of Evolution, is very interesting. His main thesis is that there are some genotypes that are beyond the reach of evolution. His examples include genotypes where two or three mutations have to occur simultaneously in order to achieve an effect. The probability to this happening is extremely remote but it could happen in some populations with very large effective population sizes.

The reason why mutations have to happen simultaneously in the same organism, according to Michael Behe, is because any one of them, by itself, is detrimental. This defines the edge of evolution because it's a result that cannot be achieved by mutation and selection (or by drift).

Behe is correct. If a given phenotype absolutely requires that two mutations happen simultaneously then this is going to be almost impossible in most species.

Read more »

Catholic Church Employee Fired After Getting Engaged to His Boyfriend… Is Anyone Really Surprised By This?

At some point, the Catholic Church needs to figure out where it stands on various issues. Does it have a problem with homosexuality or not? Does it support marriage or not? Because the way they’re handling these situations is just reeking of hypocrisy.

Colin Collette was an openly gay director of worship at Holy Family Parish in Inverness, Illinois. There was no problem with that. He served in that position for 17 years.

But this week, just days after he got engaged to his long-term boyfriend, the pastor of his church told him to come in for a meeting:

“He said, ‘I know this is something you’ve longed for your entire life.’ I said yes. He said ‘in light of that, I’d be happy to accept your resignation,’” said Collette.

Collette refused and says he was fired the next day. He had worked at Holy Family as director of worship for nearly 17 years and he says his sexuality was no secret. His partner has been to mass at the church, and even read scripture on special occasions. What changed was his intent to get married.

To be sure, there’s nothing illegal going on here. That’s not the point. The point is that the Catholic Church continues to punish gay people for the crime of wanting to commit themselves to another person for the rest of their lives. The Church, you’d think, would want to bless than union, not use it as a cause for termination.

But that’s how backwards they are.

Joe Offenburger is a mass coordinator at Holy Family, a place many describe as a progressive parish.

“It’s like a dagger in your heart for this parish,” said Offenburger. “To me, I think the Church needs to step into the 21st century, not stay back and I think the hierarchy is the last do that.”

“It’s a place for Catholics where we had hope, until now,” said Collette.

The problem is that people like Offenburger and Collette, who know the Church’s position on this is wrong, never walk out. They continue defending the Church, working for it, giving money to it. They say, “Yep, this ain’t right,” but refuse to do the one thing that might actually cause that change to happen.

I feel bad for Collette, since this incredibly happy moment in his life is now tainted by his firing, but he knew it was coming. He had plenty of time to find another job, but stayed at the church out of… obligation, I guess.

Did he really think the Church would do the sensible thing? It’s not like they have before, so why would they start now?

Democracy Now: "Enough Blood Has Been Spilled": Israel Condemned for Striking U.N. Shelter as Death Toll Tops 1300

Over 13,000 people have been killed by the Israeli assault, the vast majority are civilians, with a third of the victims children, writes The Washington Post. But even more disgusting is the continued attack by Israel upon internationally protected UN schools which are currently housing thousands of displaced Palestinians whose homes are being completely demolished by Israel bombs and

Bild sparks outrage with anti-Islam op-ed

Germany’s biggest newspaper, Bild, has been forced to grovel after Nicolaus Fest, its vice editor-in-chief attacked Islam in its Sunday edition.

Fest wrote:

I don’t believe in God, but at the same time Christianity, Judaism or Buddhism don’t bother me. Only Islam bothers me more and more.

According to this report, Fest then laid out why Islam’s “criminality,” “murderous contempt” and “honour killings” did not belong in Germany, in comments which prompted a raft of hostility online against the tabloid.

He added:

I’m bothered by the considerably disproportionate criminality of youths from Muslim backgrounds. I’m bothered by Islam’s murderous contempt for women and homosexuals. I’m bothered by forced marriages, ‘justices of the peace,’ ‘honour killings’.

All this, wrote Fest, was making Islam “a barrier to integration” – something which should be weighed up when assessing claims for asylum and visa applications to Germany. He concluded:

I don’t need any imported racism and I don’t need anything else Islam stands for.

The short piece, which by Monday morning had been shared over 9,700 times on social media, quickly drew harsh criticism of the paper by politicians calling it racist and calling for the paper to apologise to the estimated 4.3 million Muslims in Germany.

Bild’s editor-in-chief Kai Diekmann attempted to calm the debate with an online editorial rejecting Fest’s arguments for not drawing the line between Islam as a religion and the political beliefs of Islamism.

For Bild and Axel Springer there has been a clear, unshakeable dividing line between Islam as a world religion and the degrading ideology of Islamism.

That’s why in Bild and Axel Springer [publications] there is no room for generalized, depreciating comments against Islam and the people who believe in Allah.

The debate erupted in the wake of a number of anti-Semitic incidents by German Muslims during protests against Israel’s Gaza operation over the past weeks.

Meanwhile, it’s reported here that a Muslim cleric who was invited by Pope Frankie to deliver a prayer in the gardens of the Vatican earlier this month beseeched Allah to:

Give us victory over the unbelievers.

The unnamed imam babbling at the the Pope's ecumenical shindig

The unnamed imam babbling at the the Pope’s ecumenical ‘peace’ shindig

Vatican Radio, according to this Catholic blog, at the time:

Tried to give this an allegorical spin. It didn’t work very well.  At a certain point it seems they also tried to edit out the troubling passage.

The incident, reported by Andrea Morigi in Libero, was for a long time swept under the carpet. The text read by the Palestinian Sunni Imam was not agreed upon ahead of time and the harsh tones about infidels (miscredenti) were not in line with the spirit of the day which had been proposed by Bergoglio during his visit in the Holy Land.

Morigi recounts:

At that moment the dignitaries of the three monotheistic religions didn’t bat an eye. Those who knew Arabic pretended not to notice anything, even if the videos of the event show them decidedly embarrassed.

Hat tip: Trevor Blake (Vatican report)



Atheist Philanthropist Makes $10,000 Donation to Support Right Wing Watch Blog

I said a couple of years ago that atheist philanthropist Todd Stiefel‘s most effective donation may have been the one he made to Religion News Service to hire a journalist to focus on atheism-related issues.

But his latest gift, to the tune of $10,000, is going to an equally-worthy cause.

Stiefel is giving the money to People For the American Way in order to support their brilliant Right Wing Watch blog:

“The work of exposing the Right Wing’s extremism is critical to having a transparent conversation about the direction of our country,” said PFAW President Michael Keegan. “Journalists, bloggers and thought leaders rely on Right Wing Watch for trustworthy, authoritative information on what’s going on within the far right movement. We are grateful for the support of individuals like Todd Stiefel in helping us to expose the Right Wing’s incendiary rhetoric and extreme agenda.”

“People For the American Way and Right Wing Watch do critical work uncovering the vicious language the Right uses to attack anyone whose religious beliefs differ from their own — especially those with no religious belief at all, particularly atheists,” said Stiefel. “This gift is an opportunity to show gratitude to an organization that does critical work to protect and bolster the rights of both religious and secular Americans, and to help make sure they can continue this work in the future.”

I rely on Right Wing Watch every day and I can’t think of a more effective watchdog group in the country. To pull audio and video clips from as many sources as they do, every single day, is work I wouldn’t wish on anybody — but they’re incredible at it. (By the way, we have a really fascinating interview with one of their contributors coming up on the podcast!)

National Secular Movement Call – July 24 2014

This week in Secularism, President Obama has signed an executive order adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected categories on which federal contractors cannot discriminate against in employment practices. Our #KnitABrick campaign has surpassed its first goal, reaching above 400 bricks! Listen in for updates on this and much more on this week’s National Secular Movement update call! 

National Secular Movement Call – July 17 2014

This week in Secularism our #KnitABrick campaign is going strong, as bricks are starting to come in from around the country. Also this week, following a second dismal Supreme Court decision in Greece v Galloway, an atheist leader from the area gave a secular invocation at a town of Greece meeting. Hear about this and much more in this week’s National Secular Movement update call!

National Secular Movement Call – July 10 2014

This week in Secularism the Hobby Lobby decision has shaken up the freethought world. We are launching our #KnitABrick campaign to channel anger over this terrible ruling into a constructive demonstration of support for women’s reproductive rights. Join us in taking a stand against the Hobby Lobby ruling!

Underestimation can lead to embarrassment

I saw this video this morning, and it really bugged me.

What I saw was a bunch of farmers pulling the leg of an easily fooled and somewhat patronizing Dutch reporter. They’re cocoa farmers, but they had no idea what cocoa was used for? I didn’t buy it.

Good thing I didn’t: someone named ChuraChura posted a dismissal.

I find this video pretty distasteful (and that’s aside from the link between cacao plantations in Cote d’Ivoire and child slavery).

I work in southwestern Cote d’Ivoire, just on the border of Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia. The men I employ are largely cocoa farmers, when they’re not in the forest taking complex observational data on primate behavior and ecology.

Most of the people in this region are farmers with 5-10 acres in cacao or rubber production, and a much smaller subsistence plot with manioc, cassava, rice, pineapple, avocado, and oranges. Cacao is a labor-intensive crop. Once a year, the pods get harvested from the trees. They’re then cut open and the cacao bean is pulled out of the membrane and left on tarps in the sun to dry (everything smells like vinegar as the beans ferment), before being bagged up in 50L sacks, and then brought to central cacao-grower organizations. If you’re in a slightly more developed part of the country or part of a wealthy organization, you can get your cacao loaded onto trucks to bring them to a central location. Otherwise, we see men with these big sacks on bicycles pushing them from the village to their closest big town. Where I work, guys are generally walking 15-20 km. Once you get your cocoa beans to the organization, you’re at the mercy of the buyers. They generally set a price per kilo, and sometimes will set a quota for the amount they’re buying from particular regions depending on supply and demand.

Cacao is an attractive crop because demand is fairly steady, and the farms have been productive for a really long time. The problem is that you only harvest once a year, and then you have to rely on that lump sum of cash to get you through a whole year. This is particularly hard because mobile banking hasn’t really penetrated the market, and what (few) banks there are in rural southwestern Cote d’Ivoire aren’t really set up to cater to small-scale cash crop farmers. Some people are relying on the long-term prospects of rubber, which is currently getting better prices/kilo and can be harvested year-round – this makes it a lot easier to pay for things like school fees, uniforms, books, and supplies that need to paid for year-round. The problem is that rubber plantations take a while to come into production (5-7 years), so first of all you’re cutting down your producing cacao trees, and then you’re twiddling your fingers for 6 years while you’re not earning any money, hoping that the price of rubber won’t crash when all the new trees start producing, and that there’s still a market in the future.

The region is still politically unstable, and conflicts over land rights are a major part of that. A lot of the men I work with either fled themselves, or sent their families, to refugee camps in Liberia during the recent crisis. During that time, people from northern Cote d’Ivoire moved south and took residence in these abandoned farms – so even now, two years after La Crise officially ended, people still in refugee camps in Liberia are sneaking across the border and killing people they suspect took over their land. In addition, the effects of climate change are making the rains less predictable. The rainy season normally goes August-October (more or less); we didn’t get rain in 2013 until almost the end of November, which had serious consequences both for people’s cash crops and people’s subsistence crops. Food prices are rising, commodity prices are falling, and the situation is looking grim. The forested buffer zone around the national park I work in has now been entirely converted to fallow fields, cacao, coffee, and rubber plantations.

And, the men I work with know what chocolate is. When they can afford to buy it, their kids eat a knock-off version of nutella called Chocomax (it is pretty gross). These are smart, sophisticated adult men (and women, though fewer women own their own land… they mostly just do a lot of the labor on their husbands’ and fathers’ farms). Even if they didn’t know what chocolate was, they’re plugged into their local economies, they have a sense of larger global economic forces, and they know what’s going on (we listen to BBC world service: francais every night in the forest on Ferdinand’s satellite radio. They’d ask me cutting and incisive questions about stupid American politics, like who the hell is that Sarah Palin person anyway?).

But look, this is the way an extractive (exploitative) cash-crop economy works. It’s not cute or endearing that these men who are working incredibly hard have never, or rarely, had the opportunity to sample the end-product of their labor. It’s not touching that you have to go to the big city to find chocolate, and that only a little of it is locally produced (Milka is very popular in Abidjan; Ivorian brands less so), It wouldn’t be touching if you showed a cell-phone to a coltan miner in DRC and said "Look at this amazing machine your backbreaking labor in dangerous conditions enabled!" or a diamond miner in Sierra Leone with your sparkly pretty engagement ring and said, totally amazed, "But why don’t you have one?" Consumers in the developed world should be smarter than that. The producers in the developing world – the folks enabling our lifestyles – certainly are.

Now that’s actually interesting. It doesn’t fit into the racist narrative of the poor black subsistence farmers, though.

I also found this complementary video, in which the reporters went back home and showed the cocoa nut to European citizens. This ignorance I can believe, because I would have been baffled, too.

Who’s smarter? Who thinks they’re smarter?

Notes from the lame Clinton Starbucks…

I'm often frustrated because the people around me seem to believe that the society in which we live basically makes sense. They tell me:

 “America's pretty cool, right? I mean, the Founding Fathers basically had it together, right? Of course, we have to overlook the fact that lots of them thought owning other human beings was a cool deal, and the systematic genocide of 'savages' was the way to go, and, oh yeah, all this equal rights stuff was only for the rich white guys. But, you see, Kurt, they lived in rough-and-tumble times. The point is, it was a great stride forward, what they did. And we should be grateful. And look around us today. We've got our jobs (a lot of us) and stuff, and things seem to be going along all right. We'll have to get a handle on that global warming thing at some point before we wreck the world, and we seem to freak out and start blowing (mostly innocent) other folks up every few years, and if you take a historic gander at the CIA it's kinda spooky, but yeah. And, the people in charge are not psychopathic human malignancies, as you keep saying. Kurt. Our customs and mores kinda make sense, you know? I mean, if something was too weird the alarm bells would go off and the system would correct it. Because this world makes sense, Kurt, so let me just live my little life of consumption without worrying about all this crap you keep bringing up. Okay?”

Okay, so you think we can be trusted to notice when we're doing something completely bizarre?

You think you can't be mind-fucked, huh?

I've got two words for you, buddy: cigarette smoking.

What the hell was up with that?

And I'm not saying this from some holier-than-though standpoint. I smoked myself like a motherfucker for twenty plus years. But looking back on it, how did we think walking around with these toxic, burning stink bombs in our mouths all the time was okay?

And we did it fucking everywhere, constantly. The few non-smokers who didn't like it just kept their fucking wimpy mouths shut or we turned on them like a pack of rabid, bad-breathed, yellow-fanged wolves with dry hacks.

We did it on airplanes for fuck sake.

Right there at our desks at work, even here in Utah, we puffed away constantly, filling our ashtrays with those little, twisted, turd-looking butts.

Think of the number of people who got drunk and burned themselves up with the goddamn things.

And we'd trap our kids in the car and gas the little fuckers for hours on end (actually I never did that, but I would have if I were ten years older).

Oh, and when the evidence was finally over-fucking-whelming that we were killing ourselves, these corporations we worked for could be trusted to behave in a somewhat responsible manner, right?

Uh... if you actually think that, I'd suggest you look into it.

The answer is: FUCK NO!

Actually they were studying ways to get us addicted faster and more deeply, and lying about it.

For those of us old fuckers who can remember it, let's recall how fucked up it was.

You'd go into a bar and it'd be this curtain toxic smoke. And it wasn't just us – people had to work in that shit. And there was this huge industry set up to sell us that stuff, and lobbying our politicians and on and on. 

And it ain't really over even today.

Now it costs 8 or 9 bucks a pack and you have to stand out in the fucking cold 25 feet away from the rest of the world like you're carrying some kind of genital-melting remote-action STD or something, but I still see all these kids in their twenties doing that shit.

I can't fucking believe it.

And they do not see the irony in it. They have the tattoos which it would be more honest if they'd just ink the corporate logos on themselves instead of trying to be cute, and they're standing outside the bar sucking toxic corporate fart-gas dutifully into their lungs. And they've accepted their lives in the service industry and their bullshit education (or lack thereof) that they'll never finish paying for that led them fucking nowhere. 

'Hipsters', I guess they call them.

And don't get me started on the booze industry, which is another area where I've been sucked in as much as anybody, if not more.

But anyway, don't be telling me shit makes sense. It never made sense, and we are not to be trusted in figuring that out, apparently.

But, I'm reaching the limits of your attention span, statistics say.

I've damn sure reached the limits of mine.

And, anyway, you probably need a cigarette.

So, fuck you, have a nice day, more later...

A Christian Response to Fifty Shades of Grey: Reviewing Pulling Back the Shades by Dannah Gresh & Dr. Juli Slattery

The trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey is out, and at my day job as a bookseller (all opinions are mine, not my employer’s, etc), I’ve seen more copies of that book go across the checkout desks this past week than I’d like to admit. It’s having a surge in popularity and people are eagerly anticipating the Valentine’s Day 2015 release of the film.

I tried to read the series when it first came out and made waves, but I couldn’t get past the first half of the first book, in which logic and consent disappear in favor of all manner of impossible things before breakfast and abuse grooming techniques. There is very little in the plot’s setup that makes sense, and there is even less that is representative of a safe, ethical, average BDSM relationship.

But there are better places to go for reviews of the controversial series. I’m here to review a book that takes on the idea of erotica from a mainstream evangelical Christian perspective.

Pulling Back the Shades is written by Secret Keeper Girl founder and purity culture expert Dannah Gresh and Dr. Juli Slattery, a Christian psychologist with close ties to Focus on the Family. It’s the Christian purity thought leaders’ response to mommy porn, and they have a lot to say.

I’ve tussled with Gresh on purity culture before, and I generally dislike her approach, though she and I have talked and I think she’s warm and personable and a good listener in person. But she happens to be of that stripe of evangelical Christian who seeks to empower women by making them aware of the male gaze to push them to live according to the terms of complementarian gender roles. In this philosophy of gender, women are to own their wholeness as human beings by being sexual only inside of a cis-normative, gender binary, Christian marriage. Complementarian women are encouraged to leave their sexual power at home, in the bedroom, and not to pose a threat to the patriarchal structure of engaging socially only as supporters, nurturers, and encouragers, rather than as thinkers, leaders, innovators, and creators.

I’m less familiar with Dr. Slattery, but she presumably keeps ideological company with the complementarians as well.

The premise of their book is simple: Evangelical Christians believe that all areas of life can and should be subject to ethical scrutiny on the basis of whether or not a thing is biblical or godly, and the advent of Fifty Shades of Grey has brought the national awareness of erotica to a peak that has provoked these Christian purity teachers to give their response.

The problem is, one of them hasn’t even read the book series — Gresh admits this up front. Slattery has read the books, but their response is unanimous: they condemn the series and erotica in general as bad for Christian women.

However, they still want to encourage Christian women in (what they deem to be) healthy sexual expression, so they spend the rest of the 171-page book trying to explain, without much detail, how this can be done.

This book fails to do what it should, which puts it on par with every other Christian book I’ve ever read that focuses on relationships or sexuality. The intended message of “You are sexual and that’s good! And beautiful! And part of God’s plan for you! Enjoy it well!” gets utterly and completely drowned out in a downpour of repression- and shame-driven caveats and conditions.

I have so many problems with the culture of shame created by the Western evangelical church around the human body, and this is one of the biggest places where it’s evident. Gresh and Slattery desperately want to encourage healthy sexual freedom, but they don’t seem to know what it is well enough to articulate it.

The first and biggest problem with this book is the fact that they never, ever discuss the concept of consent — an idea that is the basis of all ethical sexual expression and one that should be taught in the church (and never or rarely is). As far as I can deduce, consent is understood by them to be a constant state, conferred on the partners by the condition of marriage. This leaves the door wide open for pretending that marital rape doesn’t ever occur — an issue that should be addressed swiftly, especially since they’re supposedly responding to and critiquing what they see as deviant sexual behavior. But consent and rape are never mentioned, except in one case, in a testimony of a woman was raped by her guardian when she was a minor.

They also don’t seem to know what exactly erotica is. Slattery defines erotica as “[fiction that] uses fantasy ultimately to promote deception — to make you believe you can have everything you’ve ever longed for.” They then proceed to illustrate this point by listing all the irrational or impossible things that occur to Anastasia during the course of the Fifty Shades series. This makes zero sense. Erotica isn’t an exercise in impossibility for the sake of self-deception and escape (though the worst of the genre sometimes tries to do only this); erotica, at its core, is designed to entertain and arouse, ideally in a way that allows the reader to explore his or her sexual desires without acting on them. It’s the safest form of sexual self-exploration.

But in the biblical world of Gresh and Slattery, arousal caused by someone or something other than your spouse is a form of cheating, and so erotica (and porn) are illicit pleasures tantamount to adultery.

All throughout the book there are little snippets of stories told to the authors by women in the church, and most of them express that a) erotica is addictive, and b) addiction to erotica ruined the life of the storyteller.

One such testimony opens:

I am single and erotica has ruined my life. I have been addicted for ten years and I am only twenty-five.”

Slattery comments:

“I believe this genre of literature… are very spiritual books with an aggressive spiritual agenda… These books take you on a journey that has a spiritual impact and an intended spiritual destination: destruction.

This. This is why the book fails later on when the authors try to encourage healthy sexual expression for their readers. They premise their whole approach on the assumption that anything not firmly grounded in reality and tied to the keeping of the marriage vows is something that Satan is going to use to destroy you. Beyond the whole silly use of the slippery slope fallacy here, this approach is centered on fear of unrepressed female sexuality. A woman fully alive to her own body and sexual needs and desires is something they believe to be inherently dangerous. That’s why dancing along the edge of it is hazardous; you’re inevitably going to fall in and be unreachably far into dirtiness and sin.

Pursuing sexual awareness for a woman, they say, is creating an “emotional land mine in the bedroom” — which is to say, to have a woman be anything other than utterly dependent on her husband for arousal and appreciation of her sexuality is setting herself up for the end of her marriage. In other words, don’t even think about appreciating or enjoying sex apart from your husband since good complementarian women aren’t supposed to be sexual unless he’s right there beside you.

This brings me to a pervasive problem in Christian relationship books aimed at women: the assumption that female sexuality begins with the initiation of a woman into the world of male sexuality. This can be through abuse, rape, regretful premarital sex, or happy married sex, but it always starts and ends with a penis. This gets taken to such an extreme that even masturbation is condemned if it uses any sort of imagination or fantasy to speed things along — that would be making oneself dependent on a man other than your husband, even if he’s fictional. Which would be cheating, and a misuse of sex (by their definition of the act).

Gresh is known for her interpretation of the Hebrew references to sex in the Old Testament (yada, according to her) as “to know, to be deeply respected,” and she explains that this is a sign of how sex was intended by God for marriage, where you can have that sort of intimate knowledge of your partner. She further asserts that sex always transcends the physical act, which is how she explains that cheating is wrong (again: no mention of consent here) and why she believes that no-strings-attached sexual encounters are also wrong.

She concludes this little explanation by saying:

“Erotica places undue emphasis on the physical and disables your ability to connect emotionally.”

I find this hard to believe, seeing as erotica is entirely based on the imaginative capabilities of a sexual human being to use fantasy for arousal, and doesn’t require anything physical at all. The focus in the fantasy, I agree, is physical rather than emotional, but can’t it also follow that heightened sexual awareness can help improve intimacy in the bedroom and increase emotional connection during sex? I suspect that Slattery and Gresh both have trouble connecting their own experiences of moments where they owned their sexuality to themselves as whole human beings in positive ways. The over-emphasis on the spiritual and intellectual understandings of sexuality leave the physical out in the cold in a very Gnostic, dualistic sort of way.

Gresh brings this split out further in a later chapter, where she tells a story from her marriage where she considered herself to be owning her sexuality in her marriage in a positive way: one evening, she wore a somewhat sheer black top to the dinner table on a night when she and her husband were dining alone by candlelight. He checked her out across the table, and she congratulated herself and felt empowered. Essentially, she was exploring her ability to perform for her small audience’s male gaze and felt good about her success in catching his eye.

But again, this is about him and his arousal and her sexuality is entirely defined in reaction to or performing for his sexuality. He is the fixed point and she orbits him. It’s as if she has no sexuality outside of him, and while she is quite articulate about how women should not be ashamed of their bodies when they are with their husbands, she shows little capability of being aware of herself as a sexual being independent of her sexual relationship with her husband.

This is not a critique of Gresh or Slattery as individuals. Their stories happen to be very common, compared with the many I have heard and witnessed in my years in the church. Evangelical American Christians don’t have a framework for female sexuality that doesn’t start and stop with a husband’s penis. And I think this is ultimately why erotica is seen as a threat: it’s a primarily female-focused genre, and it explores female sexual pleasure in ways that are infrequently seen in our society. A good erotic fiction piece is a sexual outlet for a woman that requires no permission, no help, and no penis.

I wish I had space to go through this book chapter by chapter and show you the shocking things they say, how dismissive they are about therapy (Jesus fixes everything!), how abuse is something to be overcome, how evil and scary BDSM is (they have no idea how it works), and how submission (a joke, ha!) should be done.

If this is all the church has to offer on healthy expression and exploration of female sexuality, no wonder they’re so worried that Christian women will be running out to buy Fifty Shades of Grey. I wouldn’t blame them, though I might recommend they try reading Anais Nin instead.

CRITICAL THINKING: “Are There Emotional No-Go Areas Where Logic Dare Not Show Its Face?” / Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins Are there kingdoms of emotion where logic is taboo, dare not show its face, zones where reason is too intimidated to speak?


I believe that, as non-religious rationalists, we should be prepared to discuss such questions using logic and reason. We shouldn’t compel people to enter into painful hypothetical discussions, but nor should we conduct witch-hunts against people who are prepared to do so. I fear that some of us may be erecting taboo zones, where emotion is king and where reason is not admitted; where reason, in some cases, is actively intimidated and dare not show its face. And I regret this. We get enough of that from the religious faithful. Wouldn’t it be a pity if we became seduced by a different sort of sacred, the sacred of the emotional taboo zone?


I deliberately [want] to challenge the taboo against rational discussion of sensitive issues.

Read more . . .

Atheist Scruples – what’s a “public phone”?

Really dating the game here, but it did come out before cell phones were in every pocket. Portable phones didn’t fit in pockets back in 1986.

“…$3300 retail.”


Anyway, the question:

You are using a public phone. Someone else is waiting. Do you cut your call short?

I’ll rewrite this for a 2014 audience:

You are talking on your cell phone while shopping. You’ve reached the till and are ready to pay. Do you cut your call short or keep talking to your BFF while gesturing impatiently or outright ignoring the sales clerk who is trying to serve you?

Biased much? I’m so not a fan of how people tend to use their phones these days.

In terms of the original Scruples question, I think I’d feel compelled to cut the call short but less out of courtesy and more out of “don’t listen in on my conversation.”

In terms of the 2014 question, a lot of people who talk on cell phones don’t care who’s in earshot and also don’t care who they inconvenience in the process. Privacy is a thing of the past in a lot of cases.

From Psychology Today, an article regarding noise/conflict in the workplace:

The microphones in most cell phones are so sophisticated that you can whisper into them and still be heard. This fact is lost on many of your office mates (and on people in elevators, restrooms, movie theaters, airports, weddings, and funerals), as they shout their personal details into their phones from the next cubicle over. “My doctor says my hemorrhoid operation is gonna take about an hour. They take this big metal tube and they put it in my . . .” Similar conversations about spouses, dates, relatives, sports, gossip, and politics abound, often at a volume in the office where these oh-so-important chats can be heard across the room and down the hall.

I think it’s entirely rude to remain on a phone call or stand there texting when you’re supposed to be dealing with someone right in front of you. Finish the conversation and then run your stuff through the till. Order quickly from a restaurant menu and resist the urge to waste 20 minutes of your waiter’s time taking group photos with your phone and posting them to Instragram. You really think they give a damn about where you’re eating today and what food looks like on a plate?

Opinions were mixed on a recent poll done by the Guardian over cell phone use in restaurants. Good publicity for the restaurant, annoying for other patrons.. This was a good comment made by someone using the name AhBrightWings.

It certainly seems odd that they wouldn’t see the free advertising potential, so they’ll get their just desserts.

Now, if they want to ban blathering into cell phones all night… I’m for that, as it has an impact on the atmosphere for other diners. We dined out on Valentine’s with our daughter (a first ever). It was she who, at fourteen, commented with disgust on the sheer number of people with their heads dropped into their laps texting away, or worse, bellowed into their phones.

One poor girl, was gazing sadly around the packed room while her date/partner spent the entire evening on his phone. My daughter whispered to me, “Look at that couple over there and that one there. Wish they could see the difference.”

The couple she nodded to were also young teens, but sans phones. Animated, laughing, hanging on each other’s words…they were an image from a bygone age and the very picture of young love. It was a delight to be in their presence.The other couple, unfortunately, were in good company, as nearly every table had marooned partners eating a solitary meal with a person at the table, but not really there.

Filed under: culture, Question of Atheist Scruples Tagged: cell phones, courtesy, culture, manners, privacy, Question of Atheist Scruples

Michigan Public School Officials Promoted (Religious) Baccalaureate Ceremony… Until Someone Finally Spoke Up

It’s really not that hard for a public school to have a baccalaureate ceremony for graduating seniors. The religious ceremony is legal as long as the school isn’t organizing or promoting it in any way.

Somehow, the Mona Shores Public Schools in Michigan never figured that out.

Here’s what we know happened at Mona Shores High School this year:

  • They held a baccalaureate ceremony on June 1 in the school auditorium, and it doesn’t appear that a rental fee was paid.
  • Sign-up sheets were available in the counseling office during school hours, suggesting that the school was helping with the ceremony.
  • Teachers and staffers attended the ceremony, presumably speaking at it and using their official titles (like “Biology Teacher Mrs. Smith”).
  • The school’s orchestra played at the event, another indication that this was a school-sponsored event.
  • The school promoted the ceremony on its school calendar, the district newsletter, over morning video announcements — all without indicating that this was a privately-sponsored event.

Freedom From Religion Foundation attorney Rebecca Markert was very direct in her June letter to District Superintendent Dave Peden:

The school’s apparent role in hosting and supporting attendance at this baccalaureate causes reasonable graduating seniors and parents to conclude that the District endorses the religious messages espoused at these services. The school orchestra may not perform at religious services. To avoid the perception of school sponsorship of religious practices, a public school should take measures to disassociate itself from religious activity. This means that no public school employees can be involved in the organization, planning or coordination of the baccalaureate services. Any advertisement for the service should include information indicating it is privately sponsored and the messages espoused in the service are neither approved nor endorsed by the District.

In a response letter from Peden written a month later, he indicated that changes would be made. They’re not quite enough, in my opinion, but the district is clearly on alert that a lawsuit is imminent if it doesn’t modify what it’s doing:

You may share with the complainant that we plan to:

1. Add language disclaiming any official endorsement of advertising for the ceremony.

2. Future email invitations will come from the organization running the ceremony and not the high school.

3. Make sure the orchestra students know it is a voluntary performance if in fact they perform.

4. If a school employee is chosen to be the speaker, we will not refer to his/her title with the district, just their name.

In a story on, reporter Lynn Moore got an even more damning admission from Peden:

Peden said the school was simply trying to “help the church out” in promoting the event to students, but acknowledged that a mass email that was sent out regarding the service “made it look like we’re endorsing it.” Forest Park Covenant Church holds the baccalaureate, Peden said.

I don’t know which student and/or parent tipped off the FFRF to what was happening, but that’s what it took to make the changes happen. School officials do this sort of thing all the time. They break the law — to benefit religious people — and they keep doing it until someone calls them out on it.

It seems strange to write this, but we need more students and parents with the courage to anonymously blow the whistle on school officials.

By the way, despite what some commenters on the MLive site are saying, what Markert did wasn’t anti-Christian in the least. It was pro-neutrality. It benefits everyone in the school. Christians can still hold their ceremony; they just won’t get to use taxpayer money in the process.

Labour party equality statement excludes non-religious people

Labour's policy making body – the National Policy Forum – has come under fire for adopting an equality statement appears not to cover non-religious people.