March 30

Saving Pence

019Indiana Governor Mike Pence has really done it this time.

The IRFRA was a bill intended to please his base constituency, the religious right, a powerful force in the state of Indiana. Recently, the state had been told that denying marriage rights to homosexual couples was unconstitutional, and Indiana joined the growing number of states in which marriage equality became the law of the land.

For many Christians (I will be the first to say, not all), this was a slap in the face. A small subset of these upset Christians decided to make sure that the slap to the cheek they received would not go unanswered.

Let’s talk about, for example, Curt Smith. He is in the picture of Pence signing SB101 into law, standing in the far back. In one photo, he is looking over the heads of the two men in front of him.

He’s the president of the Indiana Family Institute. He equates homosexuality with bestiality and adultery:

The Judeo-Christian worldview at the heart of Western culture and so our legal and governmental systems (Ten Commandments, an “eye for an eye,” the very concepts of mercy, justice and rehabilitation) promotes marriage and family while decrying other modes of sexuality — homosexuality, bestiality, adultery, etc.

He helped write the bill. This is the kind of person Pence was working with to pass the bill. Here’s a closer look.

The point is that Pence was working with and for these supporters, and believed he was working in the interest of the religious of the state of Indiana. It is clear he was not expecting the backlash he has received, nor did he foresee the financial implications of the decision to pass the bill into law.

What’s a governor to do?

Well, he cannot just let it ride, that’s for sure. Indiana has worked hard to not be the butt of jokes like the ones made in the era of Cheers. Thankfully, the work we have done has not been completely destroyed by this. Many of the jokes have been made about Pence and discriminatory businesses (Kudos to Saturday Night Live for not attacking the entire state!). The financial damage could range up into the billions, unless quick and effective damage control is done.

I’m sure he would like to stick by his guns, believing himself to be a martyr for the fight against homosexuality; he will find himself very quickly abandoned by everyone but the hardliners when businesses begin to suffer from bad press and boycotts. When the power of civil rights law stood behind gay couples, discrimination was rare. Now that Indiana businesses think they have a license to discriminate, a lot more people are going to come out of the woodwork on both sides.

So, what are his options?

  • Try to “fix” the law. Do a good job, one that actually does protect everyone, and piss off those select few who wrote the bill, but calm the people down. Do a bad job, and end up no better than having done nothing.
  • Work to repeal the law. Probably the best solution, and the one he is least likely to choose. It would take admitting he was wrong, which would be throwing himself under the bus. It might even save his political career. Heck, he could even move further ahead. Is it likely? Probably not. His current power brokers would abandon him. But the people might rally behind him.
  • Punt to the next governor. He might be run out of the state on a rail, with some of the residents of Indiana chasing behind with a bucket of tar and a bag of feathers, but it would be one for the history books.
  • Do nothing. Possible be recalled, possibly lose the next election, who knows what else could happen? This could be the start of a very dark chapter in Indiana history. This is most likely what he will do. He strikes me as coming from the George W. Bush School of Not Changing Horses.

It is unfortunate that we may have to wait until the next election cycle to fix this mess.


March 29

When is the RFRA not the RFRA?

Giving bigotry an RFRA paint job.
Giving bigotry an RFRA paint job. Image source: Morgefile

Answer: When it is the Indiana version of the RFRA.

I just finished watching our governor, Mike Pence, speaking with George Stephanopoulos.

To be honest, I am not sure if he was intentionally lying or just really didn’t know the truth. I will leave that determination up to people with more information on the issue than I have. However, I will dissect some of the misinformation he decided to state.

The Indiana RFRA is not the same law as the federal RFRA. As a matter of fact, even though, on the surface, they appear similar, the Indiana RFRA was carefully crafted to not only be different, but to be much easier to use as a bludgeon against those deemed to be undesirable. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

Item Federal Law
(42 U.S.C. § 2000bb)
Indiana Law Difference
Section 5 the term “exercise of religion means the exercise of religion under the First Amendment to the Constitution. As used in this chapter, ‘exercise of religion’ includes any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief. The federal law is limited by the Constitution. In addition, the Indiana version uses the word “includes” instead of “means” which does not limit, but gives a single example. This is not a limit at all, but an example. Even if something is at the extreme edge of a religion, it will be protected by the Indiana law where it would not be by the federal version.
 Section 7 Person is not defined. The law was written before the SCOTUS ruled the term “person” could be applied to more than just a human being. As used in this chapter, “person” includes the following: (1) An individual. (2) An organization, a religious society, a church, a body of communicants, or a group organized and operated primarily for religious purposes. (3) A partnership, a limited liability company, a corporation, a company, a firm, a society, a joint-stock company, an unincorporated association, or another entity that: (A) may sue and be sued; and (B) exercises practices that are compelled or limited by a system of religious belief held by: (i) an individual; or (ii) the individuals; who have control and substantial ownership of the entity, regardless of whether the entity is organized and operated for profit or nonprofit purposes.  This puts into law that companies are people, and can have religious rights. No such protection was afforded at all under the federal law.Also, don’t forget Section 5, which means that “exercise of religion” can mean just about anything, whether or not it is protected (or limited) by the Constitution.
 Section 9  There is no Section 9 in the federal version; the closest to this passage is from Section 3: A person whose religious exercise has been burdened in violation of this section may assert that violation as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding and obtain appropriate relief against a government. Standing to assert a claim or defense under this section shall be governed by the general rules of standing under article III of the Constitution. A person whose exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened, by a violation of this chapter may assert the violation or impending violation as a claim or defense in a judicial or administrative proceeding, regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding. If the relevant governmental entity is not a party to the proceeding, the governmental entity has an unconditional right to intervene in order to respond to the person’s invocation of this chapter.  As the intent of the original RFRA was to protect individuals from government intrusion on constitutional rights, this section would have made absolutely no sense in the original law. What this clause means, and this is the big problem with the IRFRA, is that religion is now a usable defense for discrimination in civil and criminal court cases. The case does not even have to involve the government. It can be between individuals (which, as you remember, this law also defines as companies)

So, no, Mr. Governor, this is NOT the same law. Claiming that it is, combined with your shameful acts leading up to and surrounding how you signed this, make it clear that the truth and the people of Indiana are two things you are not interested in.

March 28

Gearing up for a Kickstart

Getting ready for the kick.
Getting ready for the kick. Source: Morguefile.

In a few short days, I will be launching my first Kickstarter campaign to fund Nova Astrum, a game that has been rumbling around inside my brain for nearly fifteen years and sat its first early alpha about two years ago for my capstone project. Since then, I admit, I have not done much with it; having Multiple Sclerosis has taken a bite out of my life. The deep depression that it has caused took me a while to dig out of. I won’t go into the grisly details. Best leave the wreckage behind me and move on to the brighter tomorrow. Unfortunately, there are some who will not be joining me. That was their choice.

Meanwhile, Nova Astrum is gearing up to be the beginning. Of what, well, we’ll see. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect Exploding Kittens, but Kickstarter has become the premiere crowdsourcing source for projects like this.

Consider this to be a last call for volunteers to get in on the ground floor with Nova Astrum. You can contact me on the contact form.

I will try to blog as this develops, so this blog may become the inside view on how a Kickstart project works. Stay tuned!

March 27


Why the Indiana RFRA is not the same as the Federal RFRA

State of Distress
State of Distress. Source: Original Work

PLEASE NOTE: A much more in depth and educated analysis can be found here. Mine is cursory and from a layman’s perspective.

Recently, there has been quite a bit of hullabaloo in Indiana and nationwide about the passing into law of SB101, Indiana’s version of the RFRA, or Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Governor Mike Pence’s defense of the bill and now law is that it is not different than the now twenty year old federal law of the same name, passed nearly unanimously and signed by then president Bill Clinton. The problem is, that is not true. Although similar on the surface, there are some important differences. Differences that I think that a lot of people in the media are not really explaining, and I hope to do so here. I myself was guilty of hopping on the bandwagon of criticism of the bill without understanding why I was doing so, and, because of that, I nearly stopped when I considered what Governor Pence was offering as defense. However, I have a feeling he was not expecting people to actually do the research he was encouraging, or they would realize what was really going on.

So, we will discuss some of the larger points, then get into the finer points after the jump.

The Federal RFRA was designed, primarily, to help Native American tribes who had come under legal attack from the federal government in projects that were threatening sacred land, as well as protecting the use of peyote in Native American religious ritual. Although it was not specifically written for Native Americans, that was the original driving factor.

Originally, it applied to the federal as well as state government, although that changed when it was ruled that it was not constitutional to cover state law in such a way, which led to the increase in states passing their own versions of the law.

Continue reading

March 23

Passive Censorship, Religion, and Facebook

Not everyone you meet online is going to like what you have to say.

Recently, I was the target of what I call passive censorship on Facebook. I belonged to an MS support group. Although the rules specifically state no posts about religion, there were allowances for prayer requests, and several posts a day talking about God. However, anyone talking about atheism was warned, their posts deleted, and if they did not take the hint that secularism was not allowed, like me, they would be banned, even if they followed the other rules. One admin claimed the group owner was an atheist, although nothing was heard from them about the whole thing. So, what the heck is going on here? The same kind of thing that happens in a lot of groups, and many people accuse Facebook of doing; passive censorship.

For more than five years, I was an admin on a very successful debate group on Facebook. It was eventually destroyed when a Muslim posted an image of someone being beheaded that was not caught by the admins and he later reported it for graphic violence. That was more active censorship; he very clearly intended to censor our speech. Passive censorship is more subtle, to the point where the person censoring may not even notice it themselves. It usually takes the form of rule manipulation to try and silence speech that is disagreeable. In some cases, this can be admirable; a few years ago, a group of pastors here in Indianapolis limited a Klu Klux Klan rally to the statehouse by registering events at all of the other public spaces in the downtown area. There have been cases where people have blocked access to the WBC without breaking the law. In a way, these are, in themselves, acts of free speech and defiance. The difference is that they do not prevent the speech of another; they are not full censorship. They do not eliminate the speech, only limit its scope.

Additionally, they do not show preferential treatment to one group over another. Granted, if I were to go into a Presbyterian church service on a Sunday morning and proclaim Allah as God, I would be met with, at least, a rightful request to leave. I would be on private property. directly violating rules and upsetting the reason people are there. However, if there was to be a computer trade show, and only Christians were invited, that would be passive censorship.

People have accused Facebook of doing this kind of thing, usually for political purposes. Recently, there was a case of a twelve year old whose account was removed. Allegedly, it was because of a post critical of Obama, but anyone who has read the Facebook TOS knows that the cutoff age is 13.

The thing is that passive censorship requires vague rules to begin with. Without vagaries, there can be no errors of interpretation, and no “benefits of the doubt”. That’s why legal contracts are so specific, long, and carefully worded. Such as a Terms of Service contract.

So, in the case of the MS group that bounced me out, well, so be it. You’ve proven to me that your adherence to your religion is more important than your compassion for your fellow man… which is, ironically, what your religion is supposed to be about.

March 22

Fighting MS without God

Orange Swirl
Orange Swirl. Source: Morguefile

One thing that has cropped up during my search for a wider realm of support during my battle with MS is the number of people who turn to religion as a support structure to help them through their own personal battles. While I have no problem with whatever one needs to help them through fighting a chronic disease like MS. A problem arises when there is an expectation that everyone else has to offer up support only in that way, and no other.

My treatment by others set aside as a needless digression, how do I fight a disease so far outside of my control when I have no belief in the supernatural?

I look to those things in my life worth living for, worth fighting the MonSter for. My wife and children are at the top of the list, with my parents and friends close behind. All very real, all very here. I place myself third, along with my writing and programming goals. These are enough to keep me breathing, keep me fighting, keep me pushing myself to my feet when I am on the floor and struggling, keep me taking my meds and doing my injections.

My pain may be great, but it is just pain. My tired and sore muscles are still mine, even if they don’t listen well.

I don’t need to look up to the sky for inspiration. I don’t need a god to take my burden; I can carry it with the help from those I love. I don’t need hollow platitudes or the empty promises of prayer to get me through the day.

Do not pity me for making it through without relying on a god. Realize I am making it through, and wonder how a simple human could do something like that.

March 16

Science Fiction – An effective treatment for Religion

Dammit, Jim, I'm a blogger, not a prophet!
Captain’s Chair. Source: Morguefile

There has been discussion after discussion on atheist message boards about the nature of religion, whether it is a mem-viru (Or mirus, as I like to call it), a con game, a method of control, a delusion, or simply wishful thinking.

There has also been discussion about what, if anything, should be done about religion due to the damage it has inflicted upon the world.

Some have suggested an active campaign to eliminate religion, and some well known atheists actually do act towards that end. The lunatic fringe have suggested the same kind of violence that religion has prompted through the ages, but, thankfully, they do not get much traction. Some, on the other end, urge just waiting it out as the world wakes up from the thousands of years of superstition that have led us here.

In my journey, I have realized that, like alcoholism, all that one can do is treat religion and help people from getting involved in it in the first place. One such treatment is science fiction.

“Science fiction?” you say, incredulous. Hear me out.

One of the primary roles of religion is to try and take the uncertainty out of the future. The future is a scary place, full of unknowns, and that is what religions deals in, providing easy answers for unknowns. The future is a favorite subject of religion, usually taking the form of a deity coming and enacting vengeance/justice on those that were bad to the followers of the religion, or broke the rules in some way. Sometimes, the future of everything is not a focus, but the future of the self. Either way, the future is assured by religion. Or, at least, if one does or believes specific things.

Then there is science fiction. It offers up possible futures, some good, some bad, but all without demanding belief. The reader enters the illusion knowing it’s an illusion. Even so, the futures are still possible. Religious futures used to be compelling and possible, but as time goes on, the amount of mental hoops one has to jump through to keep it believable increases. Yes, the same is true of outdated science fiction, but there is always new science fiction. New religions are few and far between, and are usually based on previous religions. When they are not, there tenets are usually hard for the majority to swallow, and have to rely on hiding what their tenets actually are behind cargo cult science and trying desperately to keep their beliefs under wraps, such as Scientology.

But science fiction doesn’t have to hide. Bony heads, tentacles, warp drives, and light sabers galore; science fiction has it all. And we’re not ashamed.

So, if you want a certain future that is increasingly silly and mostly bleak, stick with religion. If you want a future of hope and promise that can change based on what we know, and that no one takes seriously enough to kill over, turn to science fiction. We have conventions. Many of us are into DIY. We are geeks. And, we let you sleep in.

And we fill the same mental place as religion. You can be as serious or as relaxed as you want. You can argue about it online, or even in person. But, the likelihood that someone will kill you for your opinion is nearly nonexistent. Star Wars fans do not kill Star Trek fans. Babylon 5 fans don’t blow themselves up on buses full of Firefly fans.

Chill the fuck out. Relax, have a Pangalactic Gargleblaster, pick up some Niven, and stop fighting over whose Supreme Being is the most peaceful.

March 11

How to Disengage from Antiapologetics, Part III

Not the right way.
Not the right way. Source: Morgefile

So far, we’ve covered why you should stop debating, and how to stop. Now, we will cover how to stay away from the debate.

First things first. I am not saying you should not have an opinion. I’m not even saying you should not publicly state your opinion. What I am saying is that you should not get embroiled in lengthy debates where the only result is that everyone is stressed out an no one gets their point across.

What are some things you should do instead?

The best thing to do, of course, is to channel your feelings into something constructive. Instead of fighting about who is right online, how about you state your case in a non-combative way? Remember when I mentioned that the fence sitters were not watching? Do you know where they are?

Reading blogs and opinion pieces. Doing research.

Rather than try in vain to change the mind of a thoroughly entrenched fundamentalist, present your case without having to battle the opposing view. Start a blog, write a book, draw a comic, whatever method you prefer. You will reach more people and be more convincing if you are not going toe to toe with your opposition. the debates serve only to legitimize the other position. Why don’t people normally debate those that believe in Big Foot? Because there is no point.

Don’t legitimize the position of those you disagree with! Besides, getting into debates means you are more likely to respond in anger, and out of emotion rather than logic and thought. Isn’t rationality what we are going for? Why fight in the arena of emotion?

Or, better still, act rather than speak. how often have you seen theists attack atheists saying there are no atheist hospitals or orphanages? Be the change you want to see! Do good for the sake of good!

Finally, you could spend your life doing something completely unrelated. There is no mandate to save anyone.

To sum up, channel your energy into more productive, more successful ways of getting your message across. Or do something different. Just get away from the self defeating meme propagation.

March 10

How to Disengage from Antiapologetics, Part II

Adding a stop sign.
Adding a stop sign. Source: Morguefile

Now that you have admitted that your antiapologetic behavior is really nothing more than ego stroking, it is time to discuss ways to stop doing it. It is a waste of your time. It is playing chess with a pigeon, it is teaching a pig to sing.

Colorful metaphors aside, you need to stop.

You need to realize that it is an addiction. That’s the first thing. Don’t worry, we’re not going to advocate a twelve step program. It’s much simpler than that.

Five Dos:

  1. Tell the next person you want to respond to, “You know, I never really thought of it that way. I need to think about this.” or something else along those lines.
    Why this is a good idea: Although you are not telling them they are right, you are handing them a victory of sorts, one they were not expecting. This means they are less likely to want to continue the discussion, which will help you disengage.
  2. Do whatever you need to in order to not be reminded of the conversation. Facebook has a way to turn off notifications for many posts (although I am still trying to figure out how to do it with the newer hierarchical comment system). If you cannot turn off notifications, you will need to have the willpower to not click and read any other comments in the thread.
    Why this is a good idea: Out of sight, out of mind. Constant reminders of the fun you had debating will suck you back in.
  3. Take a break from whatever media source you were arguing on. Some will be easy, like if the source was a website you do not frequent. Facebook and Youtube may be more difficult. Even if it is only a few hours, breaking the mental cycle is a good thing. However, I recommend doing something engaging that does not just “make time pass”. If you are merely waiting to get back on Facebook, you are defeating yourself.
    Why this is a good idea: You are breaking a pattern. The more broken it is, the harder it will be to slip back into it.
  4. If you really want to kick the habit, unjoin debate groups and block any debaters you have had issues with in the past. Clean the slate.
    Why this is a good idea: You don’t hold weight loss meetings in the middle of a supermarket, do you?
  5. Finally, tell your debating palls that you are either taking a break or not doing it anymore, whichever you are comfortable with.
    Why this is a good idea: If they respect you, they should respect that. If not, screw up. Unfriend them and move on.

Five Don’ts:

  1. Don’t leave on a flounce. No grand exit, no potshots on the way out. You are not a dying swan. No one is going to give you an academy award for your performance. Say goodbye and leave, at the most.
  2. Don’t return. Don’t go back to a group you have left. Stick to what you said, stick by your word. By saying goodbye, you said you were leaving. Stay gone. Don’t be one of those people.
  3. Don’t replace one argument with another. Don’t push away from the computer and get into a fight with your spouse or your roommate.
  4. Don’t think ill of the people you are arguing with. They are as devoted to their position as you are to yours. Whether or not it is based in facts and reality or emotion and the Bible, it means something to them. It comforts them.
  5. Finally, don’t debate in absentia. If your debating buddies want to chat you up about their debates, let them, but don’t fan their flames.

In Part III, I will discuss how to keep from returning to the debate.

March 10

How to Disengage from Antiapologetics, Part I

Broken Way
Broken Way. Source: Morguefile

Sometimes, you find that the lure of antiapologetics is too great, and you find yourself in a long, protracted, and pointless battle with young earth creationists, anti-gay marriage bigots, anti-choicers, or some other equally entrenched group.

The first thing you have to realize is that you are not going to ‘win’ this battle. Neither are they, admittedly, but there is no ‘win’ state.

People rarely change their mind, and, when they do so, it is from one position to a position close to where they were. It is exceedingly rare that someone will radically shift position, going from young earth creationism to old earth supporter of science. It’s one of the things to be highly suspect of in politics, and why “flip flop” is a bad thing, usually.

In other words, you are not getting through to them.

“But I am doing it for the fence sitters who are watching!” you say, indignantly.

They aren’t. Stop saying it. Unless you are Matt Dillahunty or some other well known Internet personality, they aren’t. You are most likely in a back alley battle of wits and links, which means only your side and theirs is watching.

So, you now know there is a problem. I’ll bet you have stayed up until all hours of the night in debate, links from the NCSE, Rationalwiki, and a variety of sources flying from your comments. Hopefully, you have refrained from too many insults. If not, well, then it really is time to quit. You’re trying to catch flies with vinegar.

But, how did a find upstanding skeptic like you get sucked in to this? You want to be right. It really is that simple. You think you are “fighting the good fight”, doing what you think is right.

Let me guess. You used to be a theist, didn’t you?

You got rid of the beliefs, but the underlying behaviors and desires are still there. No shame, my friend, no shame. It’s okay, we’re not going to ostrich size you or anything (yes, that was a pun).

But you have realized that something is wrong, and that is a good first step. In Part II, we talk about the actual moment of disengagement.

Buy, why should we disengage? Watch this.