Education – What Matters Most

I saw The Washington Post posted the article in my Twitter feed and I read through it and the linked sources it offered. It was an interesting read.

Here is the original article in The Washington Post Does it pay to obsess on where your kid goes to school? and here are the linked sources in the article:

The Little Sisters

NPR: When The Right To Religion Conflicts With A Changing Society

Do The Little Sisters of the Poor have a conflict of religious belief?

No, they don’t. Well, if they did it ended a long time ago. The Little Sisters (TLS) do not offer contraceptives to themselves, the poor they help or their employees. Fine. No problem there. Google offers free food to its employees but few other employers do. Some employees get perks, others don’t. You work where you want to work for what they are offering. There are no laws specifying that Google must offer free food or that TLS must offer contraceptives.

The issue is what must a qualified health insurance plan offer in order to receive federal benefits (tax-deductible payments of premiums)? The federal government has been in the business of specifying what elements must be included in employer-based health insurance for nearly 50 years. With the passage of The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act otherwise known as the ACA or Obamacare, the law requires that all employer-based health plans include coverage and availability of contraceptives.

However, an exclusion was granted for religious non-profit organizations, like TLS, so that they don’t have to include coverage for contraceptives in their employer-based health plan. This requires someone at TLS to sign a paper verifying to the federal government that they qualify as a religious non-profit employer. TLS says that violates their religious beliefs. To sign the paper acknowledges that their employees will still have access to contraceptives just through the direct provision from the insurance company (likely offered through a separately enrolled program) instead of the group health plan. This particular exclusionary offer is quite stupid as it doesn’t change a damn thing except remove the appearance that TLS is paying for it. It’s a shell game. What happens is that the insurance companies will charge slightly higher base rates for all group health plans to accommodate offering (otherwise) free contraceptives to the employees of religious non-profit organizations.

Now, this particular exemption offers TLS (and other organizations like them) the appearance and actuality of not paying money to let employees have contraceptives, even though it pushes that small financial burden onto the rest of society. One could argue that TLS will have to pay a slightly higher base rate for group health insurance just like other employers will do just to satisfy this exemption and, therefore, it is not really an exemption. This is a bogus argument beyond belief.

If TLS pays money to employees (hence the employer-employee relationship), the employees can do whatever they want with their payroll checks. If employees want to donate all of their earned funds to The Church of Satan they have every legal right to do so. I doubt they will. However, it’s quite likely that these employees are already paying for their own contraceptive products with the money TLS pays them. Exactly what justification does TLS have for claiming a religious objection to an insurance company offering a group of people a benefit for free that they can already purchase on their own if they like? TLS has no justification whatsoever.

The next argument is that formalizing such a benefit in a plan inherently imputes acceptance upon TLS even if TLS is not paying for it. That’s bullshit of the highest order. The group health plan already pays for abortions, and employees have likely already paid for themselves to have an abortion. Ah, you say no, no, no, TLS obviously has an exclusion on abortions in its group health plan, so that cannot be! Yes, it can be, and is. An abortion is the colloquial term applied to a procedure known as dilatation and curettage, and in the medical community it’s called a D&C. A D&C is in fact an abortion. A D&C is what happens when a female is pregnant and doesn’t want the baby (elective D&C) or has her health threatened by the existence of the baby (medical D&C). Group health insurance pays for medical D&Cs, ergo, group health insurance pays for medical abortions. TLS cannot avoid this inherent contradiction.

Now, if you want to argue the esoteric differences in elective abortions and medical abortions, all you are doing is rearranging the furniture in a room you don’t like. It happens. It goes against TLS beliefs. They have to live with that and have been living with it for decades. So what gives? Why the sudden outcry against contraceptives that their employees have already been buying with the money TLS provides in payroll?

This is pure politics of the highest order. Claiming that the federal government has written a law that establishes a religion is poppycock and I am surprised Sotomayor bothered to provide a temporary injunction. In Griswold vs Connecticut 1965, SCOTUS made it clear that there can be no laws prohibiting the purchase of contraceptive products. This confirms that federal law already established that the citizens of the United States cannot be legally prevented from buying contraceptive products. TLS cannot justify its position with regard to its perceived violation of religious beliefs because those perceived violations began happening in 1965. I am sure that one employee of TLS purchased contraceptives in the 1960s — condoms, BCP, IUD, whatever. Will TLS now claim that it can employee slaves and not pay them any money on the grounds that such slaves may violate the religious beliefs of TLS by purchasing contraceptives? TLS already pays these people money to do with as they please. Codifying it formally does not change this situation one iota.

There is a very easy way out for TLS — become a true non-profit organization and only employee volunteers to whom you don’t have to pay anything at all. TLS will then not have to provide group health insurance and thereby escape the ACA and its objectionable provisions. But here we are. An injunction. TLS claims that it is somehow in such a special predicament that is causing it unjustified grief in its pursuit of religious liberty.

TLS wants its religious views to be forced upon others. To codify that at any level is to actually establish a religion. None of the employees are required to go out and buy or otherwise accept free contraceptives that may or may not be against the employee’s religious beliefs. The ACA says that they must merely be made available to them, like the law has required since 1965. TLS says they don’t want to pay for it, but they already are.

In your estimation, how can TLS claim a valid exemption from the law?

Why distrust atheists?

Some people distrust atheists. So sayeth the survey by the American Psychological Assocation. The public doesn’t consider our body odor, our clothing or our choice in music — they are concerned with our lack of morals. People without religion lack morals (so sayeth John Q Public).

Not so long ago, a black man couldn’t be a trusted witness in court. He was not just black and a typical liar, but he was likely considered mentally inferior. He was considered amoral for a number of reasons. There was no basis for this viewpoint, and yet blacks were and still are the predominant churchgoers in America. Yet 50 years ago a black man couldn’t serve on a jury. How absurd!

But, here we are. The general public thinks that atheists are as immoral as a rapist. User davoos15 over at CNN doesn’t want to call a Christian stupid. Really? So, it is not stupid to think that atheists are as immoral as rapists? Most Christians have no idea that they are dealing with an atheist every day, and yet somehow they must trust them. Trust is only lost upon revealing the lack of theology? That is equally absurd!

If this is not stupidity, what is it?

Doubting hell

Over at Christian Forums, a visitor in Ask a Chaplain states his hate for the concept of hell and asks why god cannot simply love all for eternity. The response is pathetic.

The scary stories that adults tell children, whether they are believed fictional or real, are still scary. If a moral to the scary story exists, then perhaps the children will equate the scary thing or places to the actions of immoral characters while identifying the good thing or places with those of moral characters. In teaching children about life, these stories can assist the children with behavior patterns to provide for their own safety. An example would be the scary story of what may happen to children who talk to strangers or accept offers to get into their cars.

However, what are we protecting an adult from when we tell the adult that hell exists and that anyone who doesn’t believe in god is going to burn in damnation for eternity? What exact behavior are we modeling? What concrete examples do we have of the afterlife or what that afterlife may be like? The answer is that we aren’t protecting adults with this line of thinking. The only behavior we are modeling for adults is to not leave the herd of believers, and worse, to require them to get others to believe in the same scary stories. In fact, we have no evidence for the afterlife, and consequently, no examples of what an afterlife might be like should it actually exist.

The chaplain who answered points the victim visitor to Psalm 73 which simply addresses morality and identifies it with wealth, power, beauty and fitness. The irony is rich. If those attributes are ones that demonstrate a lack of belief in god, or attributes that certainly will send somebody to hell, why do so many Christians identify positively with those attributes? Tim Tebow certainly has those attributes, but is held as a Christian savior among the sporting world supposedly filled with damnation for all sorts of ungodly activities (drugs, sex, money, animal cruelty, physical abuse, etc). The response to the visitor is pathetic because it doesn’t address at all the simplest question the visitor asks: Why doesn’t god love all?

For Christians, of course, god loves you if you love him. Therefore, if you love god, he will make room for you in heaven. I’ve heard 3rd graders provide more concrete, detailed responses to questions than simply telling someone: Believe.

What are your thoughts?

Lack of creativity

Another cud chewer has visited and blessed us with his version of eye-opening information. The cud chewer then gives us a link to a web page that apparently will tell us how we can be saved.

As a non-believer (rational-thinker, agnostic, atheist, et al), I speak to Christians who always want to tell us that god loves us and they don’t want us to go to hell. I do not doubt that they have good intentions, but they need to get more creative. My mother loves me and she doesn’t want me to go to hell, either, but if my mother can’t provide a compelling argument for me to believe in a god then Christians nagging me with the same information isn’t going to work, either. Think about it: when spectators get in front of a television camera at the SuperBowl, the first thing they say is “Hi, Mom!” not “Thanks to all the anonymous Christians in the world who told me that god loves me and saved me from the cauldrons of hell”. It’s not even a follow-up tag after giving their mothers 5 seconds of fame. The spectators don’t even thank Pastor Bob for all he did after they suffered a house fire. But for some reason known only to their god, Christians think that simply telling people that god loves them is effective at winning converts.

Christians, you need to get more creative. At least give us something more entertaining. You need to get Don Draper involved.

What kind of Christian are you?

What kind of Christian are you? I am not implying that you are good or bad because, as a Christian, you are always good, right? Instead, what I am asking is, are you a Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Catholic, Pentecostal or Jehovah’s Witness? Or, are you something else, like some kind of generic Christian?

In asking what kind of Christian you are, do not consider yourself left out in case you are Jewish or Muslim. As a Jew, I could easily ask if you are Orthodox, Conservative, Reformed or Reconstructionist, but I could also ask if you are Hassidic, Heredi or a Jew for Jesus. As a Muslim, I could ask if you are Sunni, Shiite, Wahhabi or Sufi. If you do not participate in any of the above religions, not only are you a special case, you are also the best example of the issue of the kind of Christian someone may be. More to the point, if you aren’t a Christian, why not?

According to a an email received at WWGHA, the author states “too many Christians compromise from their original beliefs to make room to fit God inside other thought patterns, but that was never His original intention, so don’t base your view of Christianity off of those guys” yet the author of the email doesn’t elaborate on what he means, and worse, he ventures into a few other ideas while failing to flesh out his first statement. Based on my years of being an atheist on the internet and dealing with Christians visiting an atheist forum, I am going to make a small assumption — whatever brand of Christianity he follows, it’s the original version. What kind of Christian is he? It doesn’t matter. Whatever kind of Christian you are, that is the kind of Christian that everyone should be. How can this be?

Many years ago a member of the WWGHA forum who went by the handle “DTE” wrote about a syndrome that believers have which he coined SPAG for “self-projection as god”, and you can read about it Rational Wiki. The crux of SPAG is that the believer conforms his religious beliefs to his ideas of how he thinks things should be, thereby projecting himself onto his religion and sculpting the religion to his liking. SPAGging, to turn the acronym into a gerund, has occurred in every religion in history. Each time you branch off from a religion, you are engaging in SPAGging. Whatever issue of ideology or theology caused you to leave one branch of a religion and enter another, you have just SPAGged your god. You have molded him into your image of him rather than molding yourself into his image for you.

The author of that same email tell us to check out a quote in the bible, but he doesn’t tell us which version of the bible he is using. He references Matthew 12:39. To see a simple example of SPAGging in action, just check out the different versions of this passage:

King James: “But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas”

New International Version: “He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah”

New American Standard Bible: “But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet”

New Revised Standard Edition: “But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah”

Amplified Bible: “But He replied to them, An evil and adulterous generation (a generation morally unfaithful to God) seeks and demands a sign; but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah”

If you read the above passages closely you will notice differences in how the original meanings are being conveyed. While I applaud some translators for trying to update words that more closely match modern usage, I think there is a difference between the words seeketh, ask, crave, and seek and demand. Imagine that a translation of the bible includes a demand for god to provide a sign. Since when do followers, who are supposed to fear their gods, demand things from these gods? Are gods in a position to acquiesce to demands?

Beware of the text on which you base your religious beliefs. You likely SPAGged that text when you shopped for a church.

The Stories of Healed Amputees

Christians are famous for believing a lot of things — they have faith, of course.

A famous issue of faith is that god will do all things in his own time. It’s a very convenient way to allow god the ultimate flexibility in delivering miracles. Sometimes you get what you want, sometimes not — mostly not. If we drop a letter in the mail, we wouldn’t tolerate a 50% chance of delivery. Even an 80% chance of delivery is unacceptable. The US Postal Service offers a chance of delivery so close to 100% that the amount of missing mail is barely measurable. But Christians allow god to have a far, far lower rate of delivery for his miracles. So low, in fact, that the actual delivery of miracles is not measurable.

What Christians do about these miracles is that they redefine, on the fly, what constitutes a miracle. Not being able to bear the idea that their god has forsaken them, repeatedly, Christians will find any small way to justify that a miracle has occurred. Maybe a loved one was in a serious auto accident — but, thankfully, god spared their loved one who is recovering in the hospital with the power of his Helping HandTM. They never wonder why god didn’t help their loved one avoid being in the accident but allowed their loved one to become seriously injured — god gets a bye on that match between superstition and rationality. God is only associated with good things, never bad things.

Amputees give us an obvious example of unfulfilled miracles. I am sure that every amputee has prayed to be healed and have his missing limb returned, but none has ever had that prayer answered. No limb has ever been regenerated, not even slowly over time. The logic is simple, the rationality is overwhelming. If a god existed, and if that god answers prayers and fulfills miracles, wouldn’t that god have regenerated a missing limb on at least one amputee? It is a very simple test, but god fails the test in every case. The prayers are forever unanswered.

Christians, undeterred by their faith, engage in all sorts of mental gymnastics in order to justify their beliefs. The most common way that Christians apologize for the absence of regenerated limbs is to declare that god has provided prosthetic devices for amputees to use in place of their missing limbs. The next most common apology is not actually an apology at all but a concoction of stories of healed victims of amputations — the miraculous regeneration of missing limbs! Christians will tell you stories of so-and-so in 1485 who experienced a miraculous reappearance of a limb, or their friend who was on a mission to Africa in 1985 met the man who witnessed a miraculous reappearance of a limb in a hut of a tribe way out in the middle of nowhere. Much like visits and abductions by aliens from other planets, these tales of miracles always occur far too distant in the past or in far too distant places to provide any sort of verification. I thought “god blessed the USA” but apparently not in the subject of regenerated limbs.

Faith is nothing more than hope with a gambling addiction. There are always a pile of excuses for why one didn’t win.