Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Why Gay Marriage is Made an Issue

In a country as socially progressive as Australia, I find it bewildering that the prospect of extending martial rights to the homosexual population - a simple legislative move that robs no one of their own rights and has little to no economic implications - should even be the most minor of issues. In amongst debate on industrial relations, climate change, domestic violence and the influence of billionaires, there should not be a Bob Katter stirring up such wowserish hatred against a group simply asking for the same rights he has. But watching Q&A last week we can see that opposition to gay marriage does not just stem from bigots like Katter, but also from passive opposition from a considerable mass of the Australian population.

Everyone on this Q&A panel seemed disgusted over the advertisement put out by Katter's Australian Party which attacked Queensland LNP leader Campbell Newman for his support of gay marriage. Malcolm Turnbull seemed just as outraged as anyone else, saying "I am not troubled, I would not be troubled, if gay couples were able to have their relationships, their unions, termed marriage. But we in the Liberal Party will make a collective decision on this".

In other words, Turnbull supports gay marriage but is willing to tow the party line and vote against it. Unfortunately, the Liberal Party leadership lost Turnbull to the mad monk Tony Abbott and has grounded itself in the 1950s, again putting homosexuals on its hit-list. But it is this very passive attitude from someone like Turnbull which allows the bigots to call the shots and continue to deny homosexuals basic rights.

Turnbull also stated that opponents of gay marriage are not necessarily bigots or homophobic. I will surely grant him this point, as I know people with gay friends who still oppose marriage equality. But the point he misses is that the continued denial of marriage equality helps maintain homophobia as the bigots are not consistently challenged. In fact, many of the passive opponents will use the same arguments as the bigots, citing matters such as "definition" and "tradition". So long as these arguments are swallowed and not actively challenged, the bigots will have their way and maintain the level of homophobia that we have.

Gay marriage is made an issue because of its malicious opposition, not it's support. But it's continued absence in Australia is in part maintained by a passive population that is simply uncomfortable with change. Even though citizens like Turnbull "would not be troubled" with gay marriage, they will not put their foot down on the issue and fight passionately for it. There are some issues the fence-sitters should consider.

The first was raised by a questioner in the above video: suicide. The continued denial of rights to homosexuals makes them feel like second-class citizens; they feel unwanted, outcast and sometimes sub-human. It is no wonder their suicide rates are much higher. In fact, a 2009 study found that suicides and psychiatric disorders increased in states that denied gay marriage.

Marriage is also an institution that can bring stability and happiness to relationships. This seems to be recognised most by conservatives, yet they cite promiscuity in the gay community as a reason to deny them the institution. As Douglas Murray (a gay conservative) notes, marriage would be a great tool against an aspect of gay culture that so many conservatives are uncomfortable with:

Those who fear or dislike perceived aspects of gay life should particularly welcome gay acceptance into the marital fold. An aspect of male ‘gay life’ some heterosexuals claim to have a problem with is the perceived promiscuity. Whether this is in reality any more distinctive than among straight people, gay marriage offers a remedy, giving gays, like straights, a public and private path towards commitment. At a time when many heterosexuals are spurning the idea of marriage, here is a section of society positively lobbying for the right to respect and continue the institution. Perhaps gay marriage will encourage more straight people back on to the marital path?

Finally, the fence-sitters should recognise that arguments from "definition" and "tradition" are completely bogus. The "traditional definition" of marriage almost always takes a religious tone, and what a surprise that those who tout this argument are always religious fundamentalists. The "traditional definition" of marriage has not only been defined as between a man and a woman, but also as being for life. Ireland's constitution defined marriage as between a man and a woman for life as recently as 1995 when the country voted for change in a referendum. Would the fence-sitters argue for Ireland returning to the prohibition of divorce simply for matters of tradition? I doubt it.

I often hear Christian moderates say that while they have nothing against homosexuals and do not even necessarily see their lifestyles as sinful, they still oppose marriage equality for matters concerning tradition and respect for religious institutions. But tradition once dictated that homosexuals should be put to death, and religious institutions helped create that tradition. It is time to put these silly arguments aside, and religious moderates and fence-sitters should recognise that while gay marriage may not be something that everyone is entirely comfortable with, it is not worth opposing simply because they see any amount of change as undesirable.

And that really is the issue here: change. Humans are inherently resistant to change, and this helps explain why passive opponents of gay marriage, while not being prejudiced themselves, cannot actively support a move that would relieve so much harm from the gay community. It is time to recognise that the petty arguments from tradition just do not stack up against devastating issues such as gay suicide. It is time for the fence-sitters to join active supporters of marriage equality and shut the bigots up once and for all.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Cheers to Hitch

The towering polemicist who has meant so much to atheists, anti-theists and opponents of totalitarianism in all its forms has finally left us after being taken by oesophageal cancer. 

Like many, I first discovered Hitchens' work by coming across his 2007 best seller, God Is Not Great. This was shortly after I began reading Dawkins and hopping on the "new atheists" bandwagon. Although I had never appreciated what I saw to be a loaded and pretentious writing style, Hitchens quickly made me appreciate the finer art of writing with his beautiful prose. He may have forced me to frequently consult the dictionary, but I am all the better for it and now have a far better understanding and appreciation for fine writing.

Since that first read, I have become somewhat of a Hitchens addict, reading most of his major work and forever exhausting search engines and Youtube searching for new articles and video footage. His unmistakeable wit and charm have made him just as entertaining to watch and hear as he is to read. His answer on his favourite whiskey and what he cannot live without while travelling never fails to make me laugh. 

He was of course also a polarising figure, and I always found his admirers to not just disagree with him on some issues, but fervently so. His staunch support for the Iraq war alienated much of his leftist audience, with former friends such as Noam Chomsky and Gore Vidal publicly distancing themselves from the rhetorician. 

But few could ever doubt his sincerity, or that he indeed gave them pause for thought even on positions on which they felt strongly. Although I still feel it was wrong to intervene in Iraq, Hitchens removed my support from the fringe anti-war left, convincing me of the childishness and arrogance in the notion of "we are to blame" that stretches across the minds of the bleeding-hearts. If anything is fitting about the death of Hitch, it is that the Iraq war officially ended on the same day. Two historic chapters have come to a close.

There are very few public figures with such multidimensional views and polarising positions who have gained such admiration. Even his harshest critics have acknowledged his sincerity and brilliant mind. He will be missed by many, and I surely hope his work will not pass into obscurity. So, cheers to Hitch and may his legacy and life's work live on forever.

As an additional tribute, here is the "To Hitch" video and a sample of my favourite Hitchens quotes.

On Jerry Falwell: "If you gave Falwell an enema, he could be buried in a matchbox."

Responding to critics of his Essay "Why Women Aren't Funny": "So, what has been the achievement of my Essay? It's been to make sexier women try harder to amuse me. Well, that was my whole plan to start off with."

"What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence."

"Mockery of religion is one of the most essential things... one of the beginnings of human emancipation is the ability to laugh at authority."

On Michael Moore: "Europeans think Americans are fat, vulgar, greedy, stupid, ambitious and ignorant and so on. And they've taken as their own, as their representative American, someone who actually embodies all of those qualities."

"A theory that seems to explain everything is just as good at explaining nothing."

After being asked what his favourite whiskey is and what he cannot travel without: "Well, I don't see what the difference between the two questions is."

On sexual abuse by the Catholic Church: "It is interesting to find that people of faith now seek defensively to say that they are no worse than Nazis or Stalinists."

"All of this could be part of a plan, there is no way an atheist can prove it's not. But it's some plan, isn't it? With mass destruction, pitiless extermination, annihilation going on all the time; and all of this set in motion on a scale that's absolutely beyond our imagination, in order that the Pope can tell people not to jerk off."

"Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it."

"Not scorning the three delightful children who are everything to me and who are my only chance of even a glimpse of a second life let alone an immortal one - and I'll tell you something - if I was asked to sacrifice them to prove my devotion to God, if I were told to do what all monotheists are told to do, and admire the man who said 'yes I'll gut my kid to show my love of God,' I'd say 'no, fuck you.'"

"Faith is the surrender of the mind; it's the surrender of reason, it's the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other mammals. It's our need to believe, and to surrender our skepticism and our reason, our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something, that is the sinister thing to me. Of all the supposed virtues, faith must be the most overrated."

"The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species. It may be a long farewell, but it has begun and, like all farewells, should not be protracted."

"Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience."

"Atheists have always argued that this world is all that we have, and that our duty is to one another to make the very most and best of it."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Please Adopt Me!

The Catlick turd Bill Donohue never fails to make me laugh. The President of the Catholic League (the same man who has linked homosexuality to paedophilia) has launched the "Adopt An Atheist" campaign, which encourages believers to get in contact with atheists so they can help them "uncover their inner self". The Catholic League website also provides contact details for various leadings atheists.

It really is difficult to decipher just what the goal is here, but it seems very clear now that Donohue did not know what he was up against. Atheists have taken to the campaign with glee, gladly offering up their soulless selves for adoption. The response has been so overwhelming that the Catholic League has even had to take down their "Contact Us" page from their website.

Just like the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses who knock on our doors, the Catholics who wish to "adopt" us are more than welcome to engage us. But just like those door-knockers who come in for a friendly chat, the Catholics are likely to see their new adopted atheist as the problem child who starts fires and smears shit on the walls.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Jesus is a Republican

If we are to take the apparent religious zeal of the Republican candidates for President seriously, then it would be fair to assume that Jesus is a Republican. If we are to believe what Rick Perry says in his latest campaign video, Jesus would surely be against gays serving in the military and enforcing the First Amendment (in fact, what Perry says about students not being able to celebrate Christmas and pray in school in completely untrue).

In what seems to be a contest in making statements that fall just below the threshold of religious extremism in order to win over the Bible belt but not alienate too many moderates, the candidates love throwing out spiteful statements against perceived enemies of Christianity. These include Herman Cain (who has thankfully dropped out) declaring homosexuality to be "a choice", Michele Bachmann branding it as "bondage", and Newt Gingrich stating religion (of whatever stripe) to be essential in making political judgements.

As an atheist, I of course find these statements to be ridiculous and dangerous (although they often make me laugh). But as someone who also has a libertarian leaning, I am pleased to see Ron Paul doing so well. This is despite the fact I am in two minds about him.

There is no doubt that Ron Paul is a man of faith, and some of his remarks on the matter I simply find to be ridiculous. I am fresh from reading his latest book Liberty Defined, and although I agree with about 90% of what he has to say, some of his arguments concerning religion and science are just laughable. For example, on the current battle between evolution and creationism, he says "There is one argument against evolution that deserves consideration. If man is evolving and progressing, why is man’s involvement in mass killings of one another getting worse and the struggle for peace more difficult? Government wars and exterminations in the twentieth century reached 262 million people killed by their own governments and 44 million people killed in wars. I fear that doesn't say much for the evolutionary process."

This statement is more than likely related to his opposition to pre-emptive war and would also be suggesting a hidden militancy in the current secular movement, but I also think he sees it as a genuine argument against the scientific consensus of evolution being nothing short of a fact. This is because Ron Paul has actually denied evolution, saying it is merely a theory with no scientific confirmation. Unfortunately, the libertarian movement in America that owes much to the atheistic Ayn Rand has been tainted by the rise of Fundamentalist Christianity.

Nevertheless, I still believe Ron Paul is a breath of fresh air for American politics. Putting aside his irrational views, Dr Paul is is a man who believes in keeping religion private. In Liberty Defined, his views on the issue of marriage demonstrate how ones personal views do not have to dictate ones stance on public policy. This is because a stance defined by ones personal values will more often than not impinge on the individual rights of others. His personal values lead him to believe that marriage is “The social institution under which a man and woman establish their decision to live together as husband and wife by legal commitments or religious ceremony”, but he also believes others have the right to define marriage as they see it, so long as they "do not impose their standards on anyone else".

This is the key difference between Ron Paul and the other candidates. Although Dr Paul may be just as religious as the others, he recognises that religious freedom does not mean government imposition of religious values; it means the right to practice religion privately. This seems to be a message that too many Americans have forgotten; but who could blame them given the current crop of theocrats?  Hopefully the resent surge in popularity for the libertarian crusader can remind Americans that they can be as religious as they like but they should not push their dogma on others and they certainly should not expect the government to remove the wall separating church and state.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Ireland Closes Embassy in the Vatican

Being of Irish heritage and bearing an awkward Gaelic name, I am very pleased to see that the Irish government has taken the bold step of closing its embassy in the Vatican. The diplomatic venture to the theocratic state is seen as too costly and  unproductive, but of course Priests raping Irish children could not have helped the Roman cause.

I previously suggested that the fall out from the Cloyne report may act as the catalyst for Ireland shaking off its ancient Catholic identity and heading towards true secularism. Considering that Ireland is the first major Catholic country to close its Vatican embassy, this may be just what is happening, and that can only bring more good news to the Emerald Isle.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Refuting William Lane Craig

There has been much talk lately about William Lane Craig and the invitations he has given to Richard Dawkins to debate him. Apparently, Dawkins has refused every invitation. Perhaps it is true that he has turned down every personal invitation, but it is certainly not true that the two have never debated. They have in fact debated in Mexico.

Richard Dawkins is refusing to debate the "philosopher" in Oxford, and Craig is planning to do a lecture on The God Delusion in the presence of an empty chair in order to symbolise Dawkins' absence. Dawkins has laid out his reasons here, citing Craig's support for Biblical genocide among other things.

Perhaps Dawkins' reasons are sincere, but in all fairness, it must be said that Craig is the only theist (perhaps with the exception of Dinesh D'Souza) who has given atheists a run for their money. He has even reduced some to the level of embarrassment. However, this does not mean that his arguments carry any intellectual weight. Rather, his success in debates can be put down to clever tricks and manipulation of the audience. For example, he always says something along the lines of "they must prove that atheism is true", which falsely reverses the onus of proof and gives the audience the idea that an atheist must disprove God.

Craig uses five "proofs" to make his case for God's existence: cosmological explanations, fine tuning, objective moral values, the historicity of Jesus Christ and the personal experience of God. There is nothing original here, but Craig has been much more successful than others in hammering these points due to his unprincipled debating style. Lawrence Krauss has dealt with these arguments here and there is a great demolition by the Arizona Atheist here. But for those of you who prefer a colourful screen and colourful language, here are some videos (if somewhat amateurish) that take down each of Craig's arguments one by one.

Steve Jobs and Alternative Medicine

He may have been a lover of science and technology, but in many ways Steve Jobs was an unreasonable man. A new book claims that the Apple co-founder and practicing Buddhist decided to put off surgery in favour of fruit juices, acupuncture, herbal remedies and other such quackery. It just goes to show that people are more than capable of being completely rational in some areas of their life and nothing but in others. Just as Isaac Newton was both a great scientist and an Alchemist, Steve Jobs was also a great inventor and a sucker for new-age fads.