Hitchens on Salman Rushdie, and the pipe bomb that didn’t go off

As protests continue against “Innocence of Muslims” (which I wrote about in an earlier post, “On Blasphemy”), it’s worthwhile to remember an earlier Muslim attempt to stifle free speech through the threat of violence. Open Culture recently wrote about (and linked to) a 2010 BBC radio interview with Christopher Hitchens in which he talks about the 1989 Iranian fatwa against his friend Salman Rushdie, who offended the delicate sensibilities of Muslims with his novel The Satanic Verses. Hitchens said: Continue reading

Pay the church tax… or else!

Boulogne, "Christ Driving the Money Changers out of the Temple"

Valentin De Boulogne, “Christ Driving the Money Changers out of the Temple” (circa 1618), Web Gallery of Art [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Today the Associated Press provides a fascinating look at how churches are financed in Europe:

BERLIN (AP) – The road to heaven is paved with more than good intentions for Germany’s 24 million Catholics. If they don’t pay their religious taxes, they will be denied sacraments, including weddings, baptisms and funerals.

A decree issued last week by the country’s bishops cast a spotlight on the longstanding practice in Germany and a handful of other European countries in which governments tax registered believers and then hand over the money to the religious institutions. Continue reading

Why do believers make such a big deal of faith?

Mark Twain on faithLet me state a few obvious things, and then I’ll explain why I bothered spelling them out: Continue reading

Catnip: the cure for cat video ennui… or is it?

Earlier this month, Henri 2: Paw de Deux won the Golden Kitty at the Internet Cat Film Festival in Minneapolis. It’s a parody of a French film, complete with subtitles and existential ennui.

So what would cheer a sad cat up? Catnip!

But wait! Not so fast! Watch this video… Continue reading

Mitt Romney, test pilots, and the politics of “It couldn’t happen to me”

By now there’s probably nothing new to say about Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” comment, so I won’t bother. Instead I want to look at the attitude behind it, which is one of the big dividing lines in American culture. And so naturally this leads me to The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe’s 1979 bestselling book about military test pilots and the Mercury space program.

No, really. There’s a connection here. Or an illustration at least. Continue reading

Glenn Greenwald on free speech hypocrisy

As a follow up to Saturday’s post on blasphemy, I had hoped to say something about people who are calling for censorship of the recent anti-Islam video–and it’s not just Muslims. Glenn Greenwald at The Guardian wrote an excellent post yesterday, “Conservatives, Democrats, and the convenience of denouncing free speech.” He writes, in part:

It is exceedingly easy to invoke free speech values in defense of political views you like. It is exceedingly difficult to invoke them in defense of views you loathe. But the true test for determining the authenticity of one’s belief in free speech is whether one does the latter, not the former.

He criticizes both US political parties, starting with the Democrats: Continue reading

On blasphemy

It’s the twenty-first century and our planet still hasn’t outgrown the ancient concept of blasphemy, as demonstrated by the recent Mideast violence. The more I think about it, the bigger the topic seems, so I’ll restrict myself to a few observations:seven to be precise, a holy number. Therefore, if you disagree with any of them you are hereby damned to hell.

A blood-soaked Muhammad from “Innocence of Muslims.” For all the attention the video has gotten, it’s unwatchably bad.

1)      Blasphemy is personal. I’m thinking specifically about strong blasphemy in the sense of insult and contempt. When you disrespect a devout person’s religion, you’re disrespecting their very identity, and they’ll react accordingly. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to blaspheme, but if you’re openly mocking or condemning someone’s religion to make a point, don’t expect to have a rational conversation with them afterwards. Strong blasphemy makes sense if your goal is to expose an ideology to ridicule by everyone who isn’t already a committed follower. But it isn’t a good conversation starter with the faithful. Continue reading

The biggest, grandest, most important mental patient ever

Amazing Stories, 1927

By English: Frank R. Paul Русский: Фрэнк Р. Пауль. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

So you meet a guy in a mental hospital (never mind what you’re doing there). You get to talking with him and he tells you—quite seriously—that he communicates with the aliens who control the universe and who designed this planet specially for him. He knows that the aliens have set out a purpose for his life, and it’s his job to discover what what they want him to do. This is important business—people’s lives are stake, lots of people—but he’s not afraid, because they’ve told him he is immortal and can never truly be killed.

So he’s pretty delusional. But let’s say you bring him back to sanity (oh, so that’s what you’re doing in the mental hospital!). What does he do then? Does he thank you?

No. He’s all depressed.

“My life has no meaning,” he complains. Continue reading

US coverup of a Soviet massacre

The Associated Press reported today that that newly released documents show that the US hushed up a  Soviet massacre of Polish prisoners of war during World War II. Some 22,000 Polish prisoners were murdered in the Katyn Forest in 1940. For many years, the Soviet Union said they were killed by the Germans. But US POWs told Washington of the coverup in 1943.

Mass grave, Katyn Forest

By unknown, probably Polish Red Cross delegation [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

  Continue reading

Bill Nye, and why creationism will not go away

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/fb/Bill_Nye_BSC_crop.jpg/203px-Bill_Nye_BSC_crop.jpg

Bill Nye, via Wikimedia Commons

Last week the Creation Museum responded to Bill Nye’s recent video, “Creationism Is Not Appropriate for Children,” with one of their own, and yesterday the Huffington Post reported Nye’s response. (Short version: Creationism is not science.) I wrote favorably about Nye’s video and received a long comment from a fellow blogger known as “The Janitor,” who argues that Nye’s remarks are a “jumbling mess of assertions that are ambiguous and don’t make much sense.”

Arguments in a blog’s comments section usually aren’t post-worthy in themselves, but I want to look at one part of this comment because it’s a good example of some things I’ve noticed when Christians argue about science.

Janitor complains that Nye is hopelessly vague in his terms:

But Mr. Nye never actually tells us what he means by “evolution.” In these sorts of debates the “creationist” side has been careful to specify exactly what they are denying and what they are not denying with “evolution.” Continue reading