Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Duplicity of WBC

In a recent news story on CNN (http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/05/30/arlington.cemetery.protesters/index.html) my youngest sister Abigail made this comment regarding KKK members counter protesting their presence at Arlington National Cemetary: "People like them say it's white power...white supremacy. The Bible doesn't say anywhere that it's an abomination to be born of a certain gender or race."

From my perspective this is a study in deceit and duplicity.

First of all, my father taught us from infancy that the black race was cursed by god. This passage from Genesis 9 was his justification:

And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father's nakedness.

And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be hisservant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.

This passage was used by my father to demonstrate that the black race was cursed of god and justifiably enslaved.

Much is made of the fact that my father was a civil rights attorney in the late 60's and 70's. Surely someone who worked for the equality of blacks can't be so bad. Again, from an insiders point of view, this argument doesn't wash. While my father did a tremendous amount of good in defense of equality for blacks, this was not evidence of his real attitude toward them. In addition to his Bible based prejudice, he made no bones about how he really felt toward them when he was around his family. It was not uncommon at all for my father, as well as his children, to refer to black clients in his office as "DN"s (dumb niggers), even in their presences. His southern upbringing surely informed his practiced disdain for the black race, but no doubt it was bolstered and entrenched by his interpretation of the bible as well.

Abby also references gender in her comment. As I've often mentioned, my father made it crystal clear that women were second class citizens in the eyes of god. Women were to keep silent, they were to cover their heads in church and they were to keep their hair uncut. Women were to be in subjection to their husbands and husbands were entitled to, no, required to use whatever means necessary to bring them back into subjection if they strayed. My father demonstrated his eager willingness to obey that commandment over the years by physically beating his wife and, at one point, coarsely chopping off her hair when he found her submission lacking. Eve had been deceived by a snake and was therefore lower in the eyes of god and my father.

Lest someone inject here that they are not practicing true Christianity, I would point out that the Old Testament is replete with admonishments about the status of women and Paul gleefully reinforces the idea throughout his letters to the early church.

Let's take a moment to consider Abigail's words a little closer. Note that she doesn't come right out and say that blacks and women aren't inferior to white men. She asserts that the Bible stops short of calling them an abomination. It's subtle if you aren't paying attention, but makes a powerful difference in understanding the real teachings of Fred Phelps and the WBC. Homosexuality is an abomination, god is REALLY pissed at them. But there is a kinder, gentler prejudice that they reserve for colored brethren and the fairer sex. Fred's god will accept them, at least in theory, so long as they don't get to uppity and know their place in the divine hierarchy.

One final thought that is only tangentially relevant in that the topic came up in the article. A counter protester was quoted as saying "It's the soldier that fought and died and gave them that right to free speech". Perhaps someone can correct me if my logic is flawed, but this argument has always bothered me as a justification for outrage at their protests of military funerals. If we're arguing that the right to free speech is intact because of the sacrifices of these soldiers, then are we not obliged to step aside and let such protests happen unchallenged? Don't get me wrong, I'm certainly not arguing in favor of protests at ANY funeral. I'm simply suggesting that this particular argument is not well conceived and should be dropped from the arsenal of counter protesters. Protesting at funerals is wrong for many reasons. I'm not sure that this is one of them.

Yes, my family hates homosexuals. In spite of Abby's words, they also hold women and blacks in similar low esteem. If they are going to insult the world with their hateful theology, I believe they have a duty to minimize the deceit and let the world see the unvarnished truth of just how profound and insidious that hate is.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Super, Natural Kamloops, British Columbia

I was reminded of the current marketing slogan for British Columbia as our plane descended into the Kamloops airport. As the Thompson River passed beneath, "Super, Natural British Columbia" seemed just about right.

The Kamloops Centre for Rational Thought held their first ever major conference this past weekend, entitled "Imagine No Religion". I was invited to speak at the conference and it was a remarkable experience. Bill Ligertwood and his wonderful group of volunteers went out of their way to make the event a great success.

I was honored to meet and spend time with fellow presenters PZ Myers, Brian (Mr. Deity) Dalton, Jen "Boobquake" McCreight, Christopher DiCarlo, Stuart Bechman, and Justin Trottier.

There were some great highlights, but to try to list them here would leave the wrong impression that I didn't learn something important from every one of the presentations. PZ opened and closed the conference with timid presentations on evolution and dead gods. Justin discussed the growth and direction of organized freethought, Jen challenged the movement to consider the benefits of including the wealth of information available from women and minorities, Chris offered tremendous insight into why we think and act the way we do, Stuart discussed the history and roots of modern scientific inquiry and Mr. Deity gave us much needed insight into the mind of Him whose ways are past finding out.

The crowd was, in short, amazing. One guest presented me with a beautiful, hand crafted, silver book marker. Another one gave me a provocative T-shirt from the Saskatoon Freethinkers and near the end of the conference Bill presented all the speakers with a bottle of "Blasted Church, Big Bang" wine from a nearby Okanagan winery. Don't think that didn't take some explaining at airport security.

As the director of the Centre for Inquiry in Calgary, I make much of the importance of creating social systems within our growing community...providing regular opportunities for those in the atheist/freethinker/skeptic community to connect and interact. As West Jet climbed homeward I reflected on how grateful I am to be involved in such a community. The immoral, deviant atheist that my father imagined is as much a figment of fevered mythology as the gods and demons of his blind faith. The people of Kamloops Centre for Rational Thought are as thoughtful, kind, caring and giving a people as you will find, and I am better for having met and interacted with them.