Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Do pedophile priests really believe?

Christopher Hitchens, at the Council for Secular Humanism, asked an interesting question in his article, "Belief in Belief."

Hitch wondered if those who argue for religious belief really believe what they claim to believe. He had a hard time imagining that the priests convicted of child-rape sincerely believed in divine judgment. How could they endanger their supposedly immortal souls in that way if they really believed? And what about those in the church hierarchy who helped protect them from punishment in this world?
Does not the Bible suggest these guys are in serious trouble? In Matthew 18:6 it says: "...but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea."

I suspect a lot (but not all) of those pedophile priests, and those who protect them, do believe and still think they are going to heaven. However, before I explain how that's possible I should note that I still ask similar questions about the faith healers that James Randi exposed in his decades old book, "The Faith Healers."

James Randi exposed Peter Popoff, Oral Roberts, Rod Sherrill, Pat Robertson and other ministers who claimed to be God's anointed and then used magician's tricks to perpetrate frauds. Randi showed how some of their tricks were done, like Popoff using a radio to get information from his wife about which diseases a person wanted to be cured of. He exposed their lies and plain old trickery. These guys actually hurt people and seeing human beings getting fleeced unmercifully by these frauds should bother everyone, and yet Peter Popoff is still out there, still showing up on TV, and still scamming people. If more people were aware of these methods, fewer people might be hurt and their abuses of trust and their harmful dishonesty might not go unpunished.

Surely, one would first think, this racketeering and exploitative side of fundy Christianity has to be done by people who are secretly sociopath atheists and who know they are exploiting gullible fools. Often it turns out not to be the case and the fraud will feel religiously justified in using lies and tricks to "increase people's faith."

I think Hitchens is wrong, for somewhat different reasons, in suspecting that pedophile priests can not believe in their religion and still commit their crimes. Remember, in Christianity people are saved by faith, by believing, not by how they act in this world. Jesus forgives sins, as long as you believe in Jesus.

Also, many forms of Christianity define "sin" very broadly. It's not just the things we do that might harm others (or ourselves), it's every primitive emotion, from jealousy to anger to lust (even merely "lusting in your heart" as Jimmy Carter would say) to pride to being selfish, that is also a "sin." Since we can't control how we feel, we are all sinners. You are also supposed to "love your neighbor as yourself" which is almost an impossible dictate if you take it literally. Obviously my Christian neighbors don't love me as much as much as they love themselves else they'd buy me one of those high definition TVs too or, if not me, at least go off to India or Africa and help all those poor people who really need it. Very few Christians do this even if the religion does produce a few who go that far.

Every bit of selfish self interest in your thoughts and actions, such as taking any pleasure or pride in having done something good rather than an egoless pleasure in the fact that good was done, is sin. Some forms of Christianity create as much guilt as possible because it intends to exploit feelings of guilt and thus people with more genuine guilt to feel are going to be more attracted to the religion.

I can brush off that kind of extreme guilt tripping and not feel guilty about my pride, anger or jealousy. Those emotions are just human and they usually serve a useful function. For me, a more or less normal heterosexual male, there's not much sexual guilt to exploit (I'm more inclined to feel guilty about not feeling sexually attracted towards nice people who are attracted to me which is something Christianity doesn't even acknowledge) but if you're out of the normal loop, such as a homosexual or worse, a pedophile who can't help but possibly damage kids should they give in to the desire, then there is more real guilt to exploit.

If you're a pedophile it's a lot harder to brush off the guilt tripping when your desires give you something to really feel guilty about. Thus you'll be more attracted to the cure Christianity promises. The New Testament explicitly promises to change you once you accept Christ and that's something we atheists can't honestly promise yet with all our scientific knowledge.

"That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness."
-- Ephesians 4:22-24

We don't understand enough, yet, how sexual orientation happens or how it can be changed. However, lack of real results doesn't stop religions from promising things they can't deliver. Thus what is demonstrated by the pedophilia scandal is that the promised changes are a fraud.

What's interesting about the pedophilia scandals that made national headlines over the last few decades is the large amount of homosexuality rather than just pedophilia. The scandals had some people speculating that there was more pedophilia in the priesthood than in the general population. However, according to Wikipedia, a report commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops found accusations against priests was about equal to such abuse in similar institutions such as education. I suspect that's only because we haven't caught them all yet. However, you will, of course, find pedophiles seeking access to children in the same way you'll find more necrophilia in funeral parlors and forensic labs than in high school education or computer programming. While the Church's own findings may or may not be honest we can still see that the church's scandals don't fit the usual pattern of pedophile crimes that get reported in other institutions. Outside of the church pedophilia is far more varied. It's still usually adult males, but they're usually victimizing young girls and there will be some adult females victimizing young boys and fewer instances of homosexual pedophilia. With the church, however, it was mostly homosexual pedophilia and the perpetrators were 100 percent male, a male-only Roman Catholic priesthood, and in 90 percent of these cases, the victims were boys, either prepubescent or teenage.

Just judging by the priests caught (who knows how many haven't been caught since no other institution worked so hard to hide it) it seems abundantly clear that the number of homosexual pedophiles is much higher in the Catholic Church than in the general population. Even higher than the percentage of school teachers, music teachers, athletic teachers who also have a lot of contact with children of both sexes.

And it's not just Catholics who have a problem with homosexuality. Remember Ted Haggard and Sen. Larry Craig.

There are many more Bible passages condemning homosexuality than there are passages condemning pedophilia. In fact, except for the first passage I quoted above, (the one about the "heavy millstone hung around his neck") which isn't really about sex, I don't think there are any passages condemning pedophilia. It may seem no worse than any other sexual activity. These priests were an officially celibate clergy of a Church that claimed not homosexuality, even between consenting adults, was a sin, but any sex out of wedlock.

And in Christianity, since all sins result in the same punishment, they are all equal in that regard. Thus, judging by its claimed punishment, in some forms of Christianity stealing a loaf of bread or telling a white lie is as bad as raping a child. The only real sin is not believing in its insane doctrines.

Newly released records from a California lawsuit settlement show the extent of the Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese's efforts to conceal priest's sex abuse.

The article in question is also posted on Richard Dawkins site and one of the comments there seems to successfully contradict my speculations here. Aposter calling himself dryope says that pedophilia can not be characterized by sexual orientation. It's more as if children, both male and female, are a third category of sexual orientation.

Articles are quoted:
...many child molesters don't really have an adult sexual orientation. They have never developed the capacity for mature sexual relationships with other adults, either men or women. Instead, their sexual attractions focus on children -- boys, girls, or children of both sexes.

Another article here.

This view is supported by cases of individuals who have suddenly developed pedophilia due to a brain tumor. It suggests that the higher number of boys may simply be a question of access. Girls can't be choir boys after all.

Another comment there, by Laurie Fraser, suggests that it might have been common for catholic families to send their "suspect" sons into the ministry. It shielded the families from having to deal with a homosexual (or pedophile) son, and provided him with an "outlet" for his frustrations.

Monday, January 14, 2008

I've recently had a short story published

How many of you readers out there know about "the pulps"? They were the old fiction magazines, printed on cheap pulp paper, that used to be popular in the early half of the twentieth century. It wasn't just science fiction. There were pulps for Mystery stories, romances and every other genre.

One such pulp was called "Man's Story."

The Man's Story magazine would sometimes have stories with titles like "Chained Women: Sex Slaves Beg to be Tortured!" It was a kind of weird James Bond style pulp magazine with nude chicks and blazing guns on the cover.

It was successful enough in its time to spawn imitations like this 45 year old Pulp Fiction Magazine, Man's Action:

Now, some fans of the old fashioned pulp stories are trying to breath new life into that old style of writing and illustrating fiction. "Man's Story 2" was thus born.

And Man's Story 2 Publishing Company has published one of my stories in HELL ON EARTH (AND OTHER TALES OF SUSPENSE AND TERROR). It's filled with illustrated stories and Pulp-Fiction Art similar to the original Man's Story magazine published from the 1960s to late 1970s.

Here's the cover:

Here is the Carlos Dunn illustration for my story, which is called "The Android Giantess":

The book can also be found at their ebay store. Here they have some older pulps on sale.

I just got my money and my copy of the book. They changed the title of my story, it's no longer called "The Giantess Android," it's called "ATHENA." The only title in all caps in the index.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The fundamentalist psyche

Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee reveals a bit more of his fundamentalist psyche in this Washington Post article, "Huckabee Steps Back Into the Pulpit at Evangelical Church in N.H."

Huckabee, a Baptist minister, delivered a sermon on how to be part of "God's Army" to a small evangelical congregation in New Hampshire. Huckabee's campaign did not allow cameras into the church and there was no appeal for votes in the sermon. But a church official invited members to attend a Huckabee rally where free clam chowder was served and they couldsee actor Chuck Norris. Some quotes from the article:

"When you give yourself to Christ, some relationships have to go," he said. "It's no longer your life; you've signed it over."
"When we become believers, it's as if we have signed up to be part of God's Army, to be soldiers for Christ," Huckabee told the enthusiastic audience.
Likening service to God to service in the military, Huckabee said "there is suffering in the conditioning for battle" and "you obey the orders."

There, in just these few words, is the authoritarian mentality that tells believers they've joined an army, "soldiers for Christ," and having given yourself to Christ, it's no longer your life, "you've signed it over," and you should "obey orders."

And don't forget the company Huckabee keeps.

PZ has another Huckabee quote:
"I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution," Huckabee told a Michigan audience on Monday. "But I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living god. And that's what we need to do -- to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards so it lines up with some contemporary view."

Is a comment necessary?

I'll have to try that quote on some Christians.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

What is morality?

There was recently a stupid and offensive little blog exchange inspired by an old post, Zoophilia, written by PZ's seventeen year old daughter, Skatje.

The hathetic Salvador Cordova quote-mined the post and started drawing flames from PZ's loyal readers. Here's the mined quote:
"Sexual relationships between humans and animals come as such a shock to people, but it doesn’t to me. There can be very deep, meaningful relationships between humans and their pets." -- Skatje Myers (daughter of Darwinist PZ Myers)

Salvador didn’t link Skatje's post knowing that his readers wouldn’t bother to check out the integrity of his quote. Skatje was not expressing any desire to engage in bestiality. She came to this conclusion:

That said, I remind you that my position isn’t based on my own personal wants. I just don’t see any reason to ban it other than the same reason things like homosexuality and sodomy were banned: it’s icky. I think it’s bad practice to put social taboos into legislature when no actual logical argument can be made against it.

Is spite of Skatje Myers' well thought out blogpost I think one of her statements is wrong and it points to one of the dangers we atheists are walking into when we try to reason through morality. When Skatje says "no actual logical argument can be made against it" she's wrong. I've got one for her, a very important one that she missed, and I'll get to it soon. However, I first want to note that Vox Day, who apparently reads PZ's blog religiously, jumped into the shit hole with Sal and wrote this post, Atheist Dad of the Year, which he starts off with his typical vile provocations:

If I were ever to have attacked atheism by arguing that on the rare occasions when atheists manage to successfully reproduce, their children would likely grow up possessing beliefs that are utterly immoral by Western moral norms and abhorrent to the average individual, many people would howl that I was unfairly engaging in baseless conjecture, regardless of the logic presented.

Vox Day then makes the same mistake that Skatje makes and compounds on it with even bigger philosophical errors, like this:

The ironic truth is that Miss Myers is absolutely correct; once the basic concept of Natural Law is abandoned, there is no rational basis for banning anything from necrophilia to cannibalism other than a vague sense of "ickiness" inherited from preceding generations possessed of a more conventional morality.

The errors in that one short paragraph are almost too numerous to elaborate on. However, here too is Skatje's error: "...there is no rational basis for banning anything from necrophilia to cannibalism other than a vague sense of 'ickiness'..."

That is simply not true. There are logical reasons for discouraging bestiality, necrophilia and cannibalism and we can now see what our ancestors couldn't. Here is one logical reason to avoid sexual relations with animals: It could introduce new sexually transmitted diseases into human populations. There are probably other reasons I can't see. However, it's believed by many that AIDS originally came from monkeys and that syphilis was originally spread by shepherds after having sex with their sheep before any alleged Christ was ever born.

One of the things you need to think about when pondering what is and isn't morally wrong is how we got our moral inclinations and icky feelings in the first place. They are, by these two different viewpoints with the same error, either a product of evolution or god-design. They make much more sense as evolutionary in origin and if you try to read God's mind to figure them out you wind up with a really fucked-up God.

Our ancient ancestors didn't know about bacteria and virii and all they could do was make a general observation that populations that engaged in behaviors like bestiality, necrophilia and cannibalism suffered, perhaps, they might easily imagine, punished by some god for such behavior. [UPDATE: As the Barefoot one notes in the comments, this explanation isn't necessarily certain, it's just a possibility that I think likely.]

Douglas Adams, as I already noted in my post, Atheist vs. Atheist, pointed out this phenomena long before this debate erupted in his 1998 speech called 'Is there an Artificial God?':

"So, my argument is that as we become more and more scientifically literate, it's worth remembering that the fictions with which we previously populated our world may have some function that it's worth trying to understand and preserve the essential components of, rather than throwing out the baby with the bath water; because even though we may not accept the reasons given for them being here in the first place, it may well be that there are good practical reasons for them, or something like them, to be there. I suspect that as we move further and further into the field of digital or artificial life we will find more and more unexpected properties begin to emerge out of what we see happening and that this is a precise parallel to the entities we create around ourselves to inform and shape our lives and enable us to work and live together. Therefore, I would argue that though there isn't an actual god there is an artificial god and we should probably bear that in mind. That is my debating point and you are now free to start hurling the chairs around!"

Vox Day sees morality as actually coming from that fucked-up God and not merely the human imagination's creation of an artificial God to explain what our ancient ancestors did not understand. He explains his accusation this way:

What many of her critics and defenders alike fail to realize is that the pedagogical failings of the Atheist Dad of the Year are not revealed by Miss Myers's argument that she does not believe dog-bothering should be illegal, but rather by the fact that she does not believe it is morally wrong.

How does Vox know what she thinks is or isn't morally wrong based on her post? And what makes anything morally wrong? As I said in my previous post, Claiming the moral high ground, morality is about the group, and more, it's about society and even the whole of humanity. It's about how we treat others, how we live together and work together.

Sex really isn't the victimless crime we like to think it is because of sexually transmitted diseases. Things that seem private and inconsequential can still have effects on the group you live with. And that's probably one of the reasons that monogamy became a moral virtue and another reason, besides assuring we invested in our own genes, why we evolved sexual jealousy. If my wife gives me a sexually transmitted disease it's another reason to feel my trust in her was betrayed.

Laws against such things are usually futile, that I agree with, but not every moral inclination and behavior has to be backed by laws. Morality only partly comes in the form of sympathy, empathy, moral philosophy and adopting laws and traditions. It is a wider collection of feelings and rules that regulate our behavior than that, but there is always some idea of negative consequences for doing the "immoral."

In modern times the issue of "sexual morality" is more confusing than it ever has been in the history of the planet because technology has changed the way we live. In general, with condoms and birth control, we can eliminate many of the negative effects going against our "sexual morality" that has probably evolved to protect us. However, sometimes we only think we can and we find there are other, unforseen, reasons for our moral traditions. Thus, none of us should really speak about it with as much confidence as Vox Day does except when we're saying, in general, nobody should judge anybody too quickly.

To Vox, morality is a set of rules given by a higher authority; God. And if God told Vox to start killing young children, Vox admits he would do that. But I don't think that Vox could come up with any clear list of moral rules or come up with any clear source, like the Bible, that would have all the rules we actually use.

Salvador Cordova and then later, Vox Day, misrepresented Skatje because they wanted to infuriate PZ. The difference is honesty and their desire not to enlighten or educate, but to do a kind of harm. The defenders of "Christian morality" here do not seem to care about telling the truth. From my point of view they were acting immorally. So, how can I judge them?

What is this morality I use? It's like art, we know it when we see it but can't quite define it. It's what, in movies, makes the good guys, "good" and the bad guys, "bad." It is learned from movies and from people around us. It's the way everyone else thinks we should be and the way we think everyone else should be. It's what a prude uses to rationalize being a prude and a way for some people to feel superior to others. It's "Jealousy with a halo," as H. G. Wells once said. [Note to the Barefoot one: This is my way of saying you can't know all this for certain.] And Pig-fucking ignorant preachers will wave the Bible around and tell us to obey the Ten Commandments and get right with God, but the Ten Commandments are an inadequate guide to modern morality - yet still, even by Ten Commandment standards, Sal and Vox have borne false witness.

As Christopher Hitches, and many others before him, have pointed out we had laws against murder and other crimes since the dawn of civilization, long before Moses allegedly came down from Mount Sinai with the Commandments. In ancient cultures like China, India and Egypt (where Moses came from) there were already many systems of laws in existence. There have been laws against murder since tribal times because most people object to being murdered, not because God said so. Similarly, there are laws against stealing because we object to having our hard-earned property stolen.

There is "progress" is physics, chemistry and science in general, but is there such a thing as moral progress? I think there is when we bother to think these things through and do it correctly. In theory there could be such a thing as a "science" of morality, by that I mean a "discipline" or school of thought, based not just on trial and error, but on a systematic and methodological experimentation with the testing and validation of theories. But in practice, the subject is just to wide and variable for the human mind to get around it all. So, it's our novelists, and to a lesser extent our screenplay writers, who do the thought experiments that guide a lot of us.

Take some small example of social behavior as a model, traffic laws and driving behavior, and we can see there is a balance between safety and getting where you want to go with as fast and as conveniently as possible. We probably don't have perfect traffic laws, but we might evolve something close eventually and we do seem to get better with them over time. Whatever scientific and mathematical system of probabilities that might improve your probability, increase your chances, of safely getting where you're going by car could, in theory, be applied to every other area of life and increase your chances of having a long, happy, life well-lived that is a benefit not to merely yourself but others around you. Imagine a kind of cosmic economic model.

But even if our attempts are less than perfect just by honestly trying to figure it out we become less unconscious and ignorant than we presently are. We find some balance between treating others well and treating ourselves well. After all, you don't want to be too moral because you'll cheat yourself out of much life.

In practice we all have to stumble and guess our way through life without the traffic signals and clear rules of the road we get on the highway. All human beings are going to be partly ignorant regarding all the moral rules you live by, and therefore we have no right to make any kind absolute judgment upon the process for others in the kind of cases where Sal and Vox passed their judgments.