March 4, 2016

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

When a future civilization -- maybe of this planet, maybe not -- asks, "Where did it all go wrong for the humans of the 21st century? How did they destroy themselves so suddenly," the scholars will, as one, point to the Republican debate last night as the harbinger of the End of All Things. I'm guessing, anyway.

In case you haven't overdosed on Trump yet, allow me. I have a whole slew of Trump stuff here:

Ben Radford examines how Trump makes use of conspiracy theories to win attention and misdirected trust, and the health and science news outlet STAT explores Trump's role in hawking vitamin products based on bad science.

Giles Fraser in The Guardian says whatever "religion" it is that Trump represents, it ain't what we usually think of:

America became its own church and eventually its own god. Which is why the only real atheism in America is to call into question the American dream – a dream often indistinguishable from capitalism and the celebration of winners. This is the god Trump worships. 

The Christian Post (which I should say has been pretty good and fair to us) pulls a Romney and makes an un-endorsement of Donald Trump (an "undorsement"?):

This is a critical time in American history and we call on all Christians to pray for personal repentance, divine forgiveness and spiritual awakening for our nation. It is not the time for Donald Trump.

Oh! Oh! Guess who is supporting Donald Trump! Like, publicly! Michael Shermer. Ron Lindsay said on Twitter, "So The Moral Arc apparently leads us to Trump. Who knew?" (And to which I responded: "Everyone, STEP AWAY FROM THE ARC.")

Okay that's enough Trump. On the other side of things, Michelle Boorstein looks at the yet-unrealized political influence of the Nones on the Democratic Party, and George Mason University's Mark Rozell says that Nones will push the party further left:

It will make a profound change in American politics in the long run. Put up a candidate who challenges people’s right to love who they want and make decisions about their own lifestyles, and see what happens among the unaffiliated. A lot of other issues go to the back burner. 

Ophelia Benson has a new piece in the upcoming Free Inquiry where she really bores into the insanity of the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. and its allies:

Saudi Arabia’s standing as a valued ally of the United States and the United Kingdom seems indefensible. When the Saudi king paid a state visit to Britain in 2007, Queen Elizabeth II gave a welcoming speech at the state banquet in which she said, “We have shared values that stem from two great religious traditions based on Abrahamic faiths.” Shared values—like what, for instance? Treating women like prisoners? Stoning women to death for nonmarital sex? Sentencing liberals to a thousand lashes?

I say shared values are exactly what we don’t have, and I think we should stop pretending that we do.

Our new boss Robyn Blumner also pens an op-ed on the impact campaigns like Openly Secular can have on demolishing stereotypes and discrimination against nonbelievers. 

You know what else is important? Having a functioning Supreme Court. We have an action alert for you to contact your senators and tell them to do their damned jobs. 

At the Course of Reason blog, Oliverio Covarrubias of the University of Iowa discusses how his group's Darwin Week has changed its focus:

We have shied away from the atheistic militancy of the old ... Our campus events and discussions have also seemingly moved away from straight secularism and atheism and moved into more general topics such as politics, bioethics and other still pertinent issues that aren’t as directly connected with secularism. 

Good on Reps. Nadler, Conyers, Scott, and Cohen for asking the DOJ to rescind the 2007 Bush memo that allowed religious organizations that get public funds to discriminate in hiring. 

Researchers studying chimps in West Africa say they are seeing evidence of a kind of religious belief and religious rituals from the chimps. My immediate reaction: ಠ_ಠ 

NYT profiles Craig Ellis, a Christian who is working in Manhattan explicitly to preach to "nones." 

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom says India is not providing visas for religious freedom monitors

Bangladesh's High Court has now heard arguments against the insertion into its constitution of Islam as the official state religion.

I have never heard of The Blab, some kind of video-interview-podcast thing, and CFI–Los Angeles's Jim Underdown talks about skepticism.   

Cardinal Pell hasn't come home yet, but he is meeting with victims of Catholic Church sexual assault. 

In New Zealand, you can now be officially married by a "ministeroni" from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. 

The Tennessean reports on the coming "NaNoCon," the Nashville Nones Convention

An assisted-suicide bill in Maryland is pulled due to a lack of support. 

Indiana's House will be voting on a bill that would disallow abortions done due to the disability or gender of the fetus

In a letter to the editor of the Toronto Star about problems with Canada's religious freedom office, Michael Brunet rebuts the concept of "aggressive secularism," and gives CFI a shout-out:

I don’t understand the phrase “aggressive secularism” and I definitely don’t understand how it is contextualized with “religious extremism” (politicized or not) as a form of “religious persecution.” This is an Alice in Wonderland conflation that cannot be passed off.

Secularist organizations from the International Humanist and Ethical Union to our Canadian Secular Alliance and the Center for Inquiry (CFI) have repeatedly come out in favour of the individual’s right of freedom of religion (while arguing appropriately for the equal right to freedom from religion). 

Quote of the Day: 

Never expected to see this. Catholic priest Alexander Lucie-Smith writes in the UK's Catholic Herald says that the prosecution of a man is Russia for expressing his atheism means that Pussy Riot had a good point:

If someone offends the sentiments of Orthodox believers, does it matter? Frankly, no. We simply cannot prosecute everyone who may offend us. We ought to grow thicker skins. ... Indeed this prosecution reminds us just what it was that Pussy Riot were protesting about. 

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Original image by Shutterstock

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The Morning Heresy: "I actually read it." - Hemant Mehta


#1 Stacey C. on Friday March 04, 2016 at 9:19am

That study on chimpanzees does *not* suggest that they have developed religious belief.  A ritual or sacred quality is one of several suggestions as to what the behavior signifies. More research will be needed to determine the significance of the rock throwing behavior. It may simply be a new form of dominant display or it could be any number of other things. The idea of ritual is intriguing and reminds us that the line between human and non-human animals is less bright than we once thought but it may not be borne out in future research.

#2 Bruce Van Dieten (Guest) on Friday March 04, 2016 at 3:20pm

Michael Brunet rebuts the concept of “aggressive secularism”...
Sorry, but it was actually me who wrote that and I am absolutely thrilled to see it here!
Bruce Van Dieten
CFI member, Toronto

#3 Randy (Guest) on Saturday March 05, 2016 at 12:59am


In the lab, we’ve (well, not me, but scientists) already found that birds can exhibit behavior that appears religious, based on their attempts to cause things to happen.

I guess it depends what “religion” means, in a chimp context.  What models are their brains capable of?

At its core, isn’t religion, no matter how complex, just a failed attempt to get things to happen?

#4 Randy (Guest) on Saturday March 05, 2016 at 1:05am

“moved away from straight secularism and atheism and moved into more general topics such as politics, bioethics”

These are not mutually exclusive.  So what, exactly, are they saying?

#5 Randy (Guest) on Saturday March 05, 2016 at 1:19am

“people’s right to love who they want”

As a gay person, I notice that “people’s right to love who they want”, while typically meant as “people’s right to love a person of the same sex” is not actually limited by sex.  There are people who today are prohibited from loving who they want, e.g. due to consanguinity.

It frustrates me how gay organizations try to name things as general as possible, to hide what they’re really talking about, as if gay people are shameful.  “Human Rights Campaign”?  Could be it any more vague?  But it raises the question… do human rights end with gay people? 

If we’re going to say “people’s right to love who they want”, then we need to mean it.  I do.  Most people, including most gay people, and most lefties, do not.

#6 1e3ld on Saturday March 05, 2016 at 8:49am

Concerning the chimps, not sure where the religion part is.  There is religious ritual, which exists without belief, but then can only be called religious if people who do have belief practice the ritual (humans have many non-religious rituals). There is religious belief, which exists without ritual and seems difficult to detect in an observational setting of organisms that we cannot communicate with verbally.  There is also magic, which does not require supernatural agent(s) and includes rituals.
The religion conclusion seems pretty flimsy.

#7 Lee Mark on Monday March 14, 2016 at 3:17am

Nice Words : “If someone offends the sentiments of Orthodox believers, does it matter? Frankly, no. We simply cannot prosecute everyone who may offend us. We ought to grow thicker skins. ... Indeed this prosecution reminds us just what it was that Pussy Riot were protesting about.”
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