Newt Gingrich and the War on Freedom

28 11 2006

Newt Gingrich, who may or may not decide to make a run for president in 2008, said in a speech recently that we need to re-evaluate freedom of speech in order to meet the challenges posed by terrorism.  Story.

Gingrich, speaking at a Manchester awards banquet, said a “different set of rules” may be needed to reduce terrorists’ ability to use the Internet and free speech to recruit and get out their message.

“We need to get ahead of the curve before we actually lose a city, which I think could happen in the next decade,” said Gingrich, a Republican who helped engineer the GOP’s takeover of Congress in 1994.

This may simultaneously be the most terrifying and the most idiotic thing I’ve ever heard suggested.  Freedom of speech is a concept that Mr. Gingrich evidently can’t wrap his feeble little mind around.  I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be insulting, it’s just that he’s an idiot.

If he did understand it, he would understand that it is not something that can be tweaked – it either exists or it doesn’t.  There is no grey area here. 

But what about the terrorists? he asks.  He is afraid that the terrorists may be allowed to spread their message of hate.  (This is something that he believes christians and republicans should hold the monopoly on.)

It seems as of late that republicans have forgotten what the word ‘freedom’ means.  With warrentless wire taping, the department of homeland harassment, and the patriot act – how can we dare as a country try to instill ‘freedom’ in middle eastern countries when it is obviously a concept we have yet to grasp?


Immorality and Religiosity

28 11 2006

From Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion (in which he is quoting Sam Harris):

Sam Harris in Letter to a Christian Nation writes:

While political party affiliation in the United States is not a perfect indicator of religiosity, it is no secret that the ‘red states’ are primarily red due to the overwhelming political influence of conservative Christians.  If there were a strong correlation between Christian conservatism and societal health, we might expect to see some sign of it in red-state America.  We don’t.  Of the twenty-five cities with the lowest rates of violent crime, 62 percent are in ‘blue’ states, and 38 percent are in ‘red’ states.  Of the twenty-five most dangerous cities, 76 percent are in red states, and 24 percent are in blue states.  In fact, three of the five most dangerous cities in the U.S. are in the pious state of Texas.  The twelve states with the highest rates of burglary are red.  Twenty-four of the twenty-nine states with the highest rates of theft are red.  Of the twenty-two states with the highest rates of murder, seventeen are red.

Dawkins notes that in the U.S. red is conservative and blue is liberal, which is the opposite of how it is in most of the world.  I understand that this data may be anecdotal at best, but you can not deny at least some correlation. 

This serves as yet another example of how morality does not come from religion.  Examples such as the problems in the middle east and elsewhere can even serve to show that perhaps it is immorality that stems from religion.

Obviously not all religious people are immoral, and not all non-religious people are moral, but trends are trends.  Why do people feel such a need for religion, even with evidence such as this?

Peace for Satan

27 11 2006

In local news,

A homeowners association in southwestern Colorado has threatened to fine a resident $25 a day until she removes a Christmas wreath with a peace sign that some say is an anti-Iraq war protest or a symbol of Satan.

But if all else fails,

Kearns[the home owner’s association president] ordered the committee to require Jensen to remove the wreath, but members refused after concluding that it was merely a seasonal symbol that didn’t say anything. Kearns fired all five committee members.

Prejudice Au Jour

22 11 2006

From the Dilbert Blog:

 Ask a deeply religious Christian if he’d rather live next to a bearded Muslim that may or may not be plotting a terror attack, or an atheist that may or may not show him how to set up a wireless network in his house.

Moral Arrogance

21 11 2006

Last week on the radio program This American Life they had a story about Carlton Pearson, a fundamentalist Christian preacher who, one day, stopped believing in hell.  He lost his congregation of thousands and was ostracized from the evangelical community.  Everyone turned their backs on him – but he was convinced that the only hell was what we created for ourselves here on earth.  And since there was no hell, everyone was going to heaven.  And since everyone is going to heaven, there is no need to obey the bible or even believe in god.  It is a fascinating story, and you can listen to it for free on their website. 

It made me think about hell – and what it means to most religions.  There are plenty of religions that don’t have hell (Unitarianism, Judaism, et al.).  That being said, most mainstream Christians do believe in its existence.  Many claim it is why they act morally – to avoid roasting forever in the fiery pits. 

The idea that there is a place that you go as punishment for behaving badly means that for Christians, morality is objective.  This means that there are right and wrong actions, that there are no grey areas.  Nothing is ‘rightish’ or ‘wrongish’.  Your deeds either count for you or against you. 

Ted Haggard (yes, that Ted Haggard) accused Richard Dawkins of being intellectually arrogant.  But is there anyone more arrogant than religious people?  Moral arrogance is one of the most fundamental concepts of the fundamentalist movement in America.  We’re right, you’re wrong (unless you become like us). 

And what is most frustrating is that this is the very thing that makes it impossible to have an intellectual argument with a person of extreme religious conviction.  You can argue all you want why it is illogical to believe in god – and it won’t matter because the religious mind has decided that god exists, independently of reason.  A moral absolutist is unlikely to change their opinions about the morality of certain acts (I doubt Ted Haggard is going to become a gay rights activist anytime soon) for the same reason, their mind is already made. 

It takes the kind of revelation that compelled Carlton Pearson to change his mind about Hell to alter the mind set of devout Christians – no amount of argument will do it.  The trouble is, I am not sure if there is any way the reasonable among us can inspire this kind of transformation. 

Moral absolutists think that without right and wrong absolutes the world would descend into chaos.  As Shakespeare once wrote, ‘nothing is either good nor bad but thinking makes it so.”  Good and Evil are simply a short hand way of describing how we feel about things. 

I suppose this upsets me so because as an outspoken atheistic individual, I’ve often been accused of this so called ‘intellectual arrogance‘.  And I also think that moral arrogance – moral absolutism – is one of the most dangerous parts of religion.  This is why politicians and judges and juries – none of them – should be religious.  I also think that this is primarily why some religious people find me offensive – their moral absolutes are not up for debate in their minds. 

 Nothing is sacred – neither good nor bad.

Children Use The Google!

16 11 2006

Reading about ACLU v. Gonzales, got me thinking about protecting our children from the internets.  This case is about COPA – the Child Online Protection Act which prosecutes those that put material on the internet that the government considers harmful to children. 

Just as the government should have no say in how I raise my children (provided it is within the law) they should have no authority to censor things from them.  Unless the government is willing to take over all the responsibilities of raising my children – they should stay out of it completely.

If some adults don’t think that their children should see certain materials they should start doing their job as parents and either not allowing them access to them or teaching them why they are inappropriate. 

It is not the government’s job to be the parents for our children.  The idea that the tubes we know as the internets were created for the free exchange of information is a noble one.  But it is not without its responsibilities.  It is for the exchange of information, any information.  We need to be mature enough as a society to deal with this – for as we’ve seen time and time again censorship usually does more harm than good.

Now the government wants to censor information from our children, how much longer until like China, they deem some sites inappropriate for people of any age? 

If I’m okay with my children watching movies of men doing naughty things with horses, so be it.  It’s my constitutional right.  I am perfectly capable of deciding on what is or is not appropriate for me and mine – and, quite frankly, don’t appreciate the government trying to decide for me.

Trent Lott: Racist Whip

15 11 2006

Accordingto the NYT, Trent Lott has won the position of Minority Whip in the Senate. 

Unfortunately this does not mean that we get to whip him.  What it does mean is that the Republican party has willingly put a racist in a powerful position.  Lott, if you’ll remember, stepped down as the leader of the Republican majority in the senate after a scandal in which he made some comments that were taken to be racist.  From Lott’s Wiki:

 Since Thurmond had explicitly supported racial segregation in the presidential campaign to which Lott referred, this statement was widely interpreted to mean that Lott also supported racial segregation. Lott had attracted controversy before in issues relating to civil rights. As a Congressman, he voted against renewal of the Voting Rights Act and opposed the Martin Luther King Holiday. Lott also maintained an affiliation with the Council of Conservative Citizens, which is described as a hate groupby the ADL, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Southern Poverty Law Center.

It seems to me that if I were the republican party I would consider the current political and social atmosphere and select someone for this position who hasn’t already resigned from a position once because of a scandal.