Month: March 2016

Actually, Abortion Rights IS a “Real” Issue

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(Image: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

I will never, ever vote for any candidate who is not pro-choice.  No matter what else a candidate may have going, if he or she opposes a woman’s right to choose a safe, legal abortion, I’m outta there.

This came up recently in a discussion with a “Bernie or Bust” guy who was saying he sees no difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  Setting aside the fact that such a remark is either absurdly disingenuous or appallingly ignorant, I pointed out that even if on every other issue Clinton and Trump were identical (which of course they aren’t), Clinton is pro-choice, and that should be sufficient to tip the scales in Clinton’s favor.

This man then proceeded to lecture me – one might even say to mansplain – how abortion rights is an important issue, but income inequality is really the greatest challenge faced by Americans today and why it is narrow-minded and “selfish” (his word) for me to assign a higher priority to reproductive freedom.  Eventually and perhaps inevitably he played the “you’re just voting with your vagina” card, at which point the conversation was over.

I quietly seethed over this exchange for a while and had almost forgotten about it until yesterday, when Donald Trump declared that as president he would seek to ban abortion and punish the women who had them.  This seemed par for the course for Trump and for the GOP candidates in general, all of whom are rabidly anti-choice and who unquestionably delight in the idea of retribution against women who have abortions, but are politically savvy enough to express those intentions in code.  What truly sparked my outrage was not the comment from Trump but the response from the messiah himself, Senator Bernie Sanders.

In an interview with Rachel Maddow, Sanders agreed that what Trump said was “shameful” and reiterated his position that “women have the right to control their own bodies.”  But he then launched into a diatribe explaining why we shouldn’t be distracted by the proposals of a major presidential candidate about the limits of women’s authority over their bodies so that we can focus on the real issues.

“But what is Donald Trump’s position on raising the minimum wage?  Well, he doesn’t think so.  What is Donald Trump’s position on wages in America?  Well, he said at a Republican debate he thinks wages are too high. What’s Donald Trump’s position on taxes?  Well, he wants to give billionaire families like himself billions of dollars in tax breaks . . . Any stupid, absurd remark made by Donald Trump becomes the story of the week.  Maybe, just maybe we might want to have a serious discussion about the serious issues facing America.”

Um, say what now?

Let’s get something straight here.  I am a woman who has past her reproductive usefulness.  The likelihood of my getting pregnant, even if I wanted to, without extensive and very costly medical intervention is effectively zero, and even with such intervention would still be remote.  Abortion services are just not something I am ever going to need for the remainder of my days.  But whether I personally would be inconvenienced by the inaccessibility of abortion is not the issue.

The proposition to restrict or deny women access to abortion is only partly about the actual act of abortion.  The more insidious and more relevant implication of anti-abortion policies is this: They declare women to be less than fully human.  A policy that says decisions regarding whether to proceed with a pregnancy are better made by distant bureaucrats with ideological axes to grind and political agendas to advance, rather than by the woman whose body, health, and future are at stake is a policy that relegates all women, no matter their reproductive status, to a lower class standing.  It is a philosophy founded on and inextricable from the idea that women are inherently incapable of making sound moral decisions and are not entitled to the fundamental human right of bodily autonomy.  It is an unambiguous declaration that women are neither capable nor deserving of self-agency.  In other words, it’s not really about abortion so much as it is about what value our society assigns to the life of a woman.

I agree with Sanders that we do indeed need to have “a serious discussion about the serious issues facing America.”  I for one can think of no more serious issue than whether my government will continue to view my person – and that of my daughter – as entitled to equal treatment under the law as a full citizen of the United States and as a human being.  Because a discussion about income inequality is moot if women are forced out of the workplace to have babies and raise children they can’t afford, or into prison or an early grave for opting for an illegal abortion.

Your Theology Isn’t Sophisticated So Just Stop It

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Image: Royalty-Free/Corbis

According to my own experience and an informal survey of every single other atheist that I know, the number one most frequent response to criticism of religion (especially Christianity) by believers is, “You just don’t know what you’re talking about.”  To wit:

  • “You cannot legitimately attack The Bible without a solid understanding of it. What I mean is that when you make claims ABOUT The Bible that are contrary to what it actually says it aptly demonstrates your own ignorance and illiteracy of it.”
  • “The problem with you atheists is that you don’t understand the will of The Most High.”
  • “My objection is not with what you do or do not believe, but rather that your post . . . appears to be written by a sophomoric liberal arts student with a chip on their shoulder.”
  • “This . . . illuminates the problem with majority of the article: a lack of understanding of what classical theists actually believe.”

And so on.  There’s no chance that maybe your religion is writing checks it can’t cash – if it stings or makes religion look bad, the only possible explanation is ignorance and a view of theology that is not sufficiently sophisticated.

This is complete and utter bullshit.

For one thing, this accusation is leveled even when the critique comes from a former pastor or priest, a lifelong believer who recently came to atheism, a seminary graduate, or someone with an advanced degree in comparative religion. Disagreement with any given theist’s understanding of scripture is tantamount to ignorance of scripture, no matter how much better the opponent actually knows it.  It is interesting to note that many theists take this tack not just with atheists, but with their fellow religionists as well, such as those “liberal” Christians who decry the behavior of the Westboro Baptist Church or Muslims who disavow child marriage.  Rarely if ever do we see an admission that those less palatable interpretations are legitimate, if unfortunate. Oh no, we are told – they’re just wrong.

For another thing, the vast majority of believers possess nothing resembling a “sophisticated” theology.  Let’s take Christianity in the United States as an example.

  • Three in four Americans believe that the bible is either the literal or inspired word of god. For Christians these numbers rise to a staggering 9 out of 10, with more than half (58%) believing that the bible is the literal word of god.
  • More than 40% of Americans believe that god created humans in their present form in the last 10,000 years. Another 31% believe that humans evolved but that their evolution was directed by god.  (Not surprisingly, these percentages correlate strongly with education.)
  • Among white evangelicals in the US, nearly 6 in 10 believe that natural disasters are a sign from god; more than half (53%) believe that god punishes whole nations for their citizens’ sins; and two-thirds believe natural disasters are signs we are living in the end times.
  • Nearly 3 in 10 Americans think god determines the outcomes of sporting events; among evangelicals this number rises to 4 in 10 who believe that god determines the winner outright, while about two-thirds say god influences the outcome by rewarding players of faith.
  • More than half of Americans say god is in control of everything that happens in the world.
  • The internet is replete with laments from Christian leaders (such as this article, or this one, or this one) that American Christians are increasingly biblically illiterate.

I don’t know about you, but belief in a god who sends earthquakes to punish people for having butt sex, chooses the winner of this weekend’s NASCAR race, and personally dictated the bible that you’ve never bothered to read does not strike me as especially sophisticated.

Here’s the real issue, though.  Ultimately, the claims of religion – the very story it’s selling – are wholly, unambiguously, ludicrously unsophisticated.  Christianity teaches that an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibenevolent supernatural being created the entire universe for the express purpose of being worshipped by humans; but he wanted their worship to be voluntary, so he gave them the gift of free will; but he subsequently and for generations punished them severely for not using their free will the way he wanted them to (but already knew they would); so in order to forgive humans for using their free will freely he created himself in human form, executed himself in a bloody spectacle, then came back from the dead and ascended bodily into the sky where he now presides over all human affairs and passes judgment; and that those whom he deems worthy will spend eternity in heaven with him upon their deaths, and those he deems unworthy are condemned to hell to be tortured for all eternity.  The rest of the details are window dressing – regardless of whether you take communion, speak in tongues, handle snakes, work on the sabbatth, forbid dancing, or allow women to be clergy, if you are a Christian in any meaningful sense of the word you believe in the divinity and resurrection of Christ and in the crucifixion as atonement for sin.  In other words, you believe nonsense.

The amateur apologists who wag their fingers at us unsophisticated atheists have to compensate for the fact that the proposition of religion is absurd on its face.  The resulting theology, alas, all boils down to a single argument: We don’t have to understand because god.  Of course this does not prevent them from claiming to understand a great many things – indeed, claiming to know them – as they are forever making unequivocal proclamations about god’s desires, intentions, and emotional state.  But when push comes to shove, the argument invariably comes down to nothing more than good, old fashioned rationalization:

  • “That doesn’t apply because it’s the Old Testament.”
  • “God cannot be judged by human standards.”
  • “That has to be read in the context of history.”
  • “That’s meant to be metaphorical.”
  • “That’s caused by humans.”
  • “You are thinking in terms of the material world instead of in terms of eternity.”
  • “You must feel the holy spirit to truly understand.”

William Lane Craig himself trumpets the need for apologetics in a post-enlightenment world where “emotion will only get you so far,” declaring his dark arts necessary to counter the corrosive impacts of science and secularism on religious belief.  Said another way, the truth claims of religion are so manifestly preposterous in light of what humanity now knows about the universe that linguistic sleight of hand is required to ensnare the innocent and hold onto the indoctrinated.

No doubt this column will be met with a chorus of smug accusations of, “She doesn’t get it!  See how unsophisticated she is?!”  And those folks will simply be proving my point: If people won’t buy what you’re selling unless it’s wrapped in layers of double-talk and obfuscation, you’re selling a lemon.  That’s intellectual dishonesty, and there’s nothing sophisticated about that.