A large female Javan rhino, estimated to be between 15 and 25 years old, was shot and killed in late April 2010, and had its horn removed by a poacher. Turns out it was the country’s last, as reported by Rachel Nuwer at Take Part, a digital media and advocacy company.
What did the poacher want it for?
Throughout Southeast Asia, animals are vanishing from forests largely due to a renewed demand for their parts in traditional medicine, Nuwer reports. In the rhino’s case, its horn likely ended up in a tonic to cure cancer, treat hangovers or tame fevers, according to Nuwer, who has studied wildlife poaching in Vietnam. But studies have shown that the rhino horn has no medicinal value, and consists mostly of keratin, a major component in human fingernails and hair.
Traditional medicine has its adherents in Western countries, too, but the practitioners don’t seem very concerned about the global effects of the junk they’re selling. I searched in vain for anything on the Australian Traditional Medicine Society website (link to Google) about not using rhino horn, tiger penis, or anything else that would hasten the extinction treadmill.
This is just another reason why people shouldn’t use traditional/Chinese medicine. It doesn’t work, and it’s responsible for wiping out entire species. Let’s get the word out, humans.
There’s an amazingly clueless blog post on the Millennial Star about Mormon proxy baptism, in which author Geoff B. helpfully instructs people on
How to respond when a church says it is baptizing your dead
His response is: What’s the harm? If we think that it’s just a silly ceremony, then no harm done. Why, we should be glad that they took the time to do something nice for our ancestors. What a thoughtful gesture! We should send flowers and a nice note.
The whole post (and subsequent comments) show the signs of having been written by someone who thinks their church is wonderful, that eveything they do in the service of their church is an unalloyed good, and that they are therefore incapable of overreach.
Let’s back up a bit. What’s the deal with Mormon proxy ordinances? If you haven’t heard about it from Bill Maher or Stephen Colbert, read on.
There’s a tough problem in Christianity: Everybody who has ever lived needs to accept Jeebus through baptism, but what about people who lived before him? Do they go to hell? Does god give them a pass if they were nice? Or what? Mormons have resolved this problem in a very creative and time-consuming way: they collect names from genealogical records, dunk each other while thinking of a person’s name, and then pretend that the person gets to choose to accept the ordinance in the afterlife. I think this is a terribly creative solution to a knotty problem in Christianity, and the fact that it’s such an elaborate work-around to a problem that god should have really thought of before is a testament to
a) the theological difficulty of the problem
b) the creative genius of Joseph Smith, and
c) the lengths people will go to in the service of their silly religions.
Mormons think this work is incredibly important, even quoting Malachi:
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD:
And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
Ponder for a second. The earth has existed for 4.5 billion years, serving as the habitat for trillions of creatures who have lived and died on it. And Mormons think that if they don’t sit in the dark and extract names from squeaky microfilm readers and then necrodunk each other, it’s all for naught, and Jeebus will smite us all with a curse. What a horrible lack of perspective.
One nice effect of proxy work (from the point of view of head office in Salt Lake City) is that it keeps Mormons coming back to the temples (and paying tithing) as often as possible. Perhaps this is why there doesn’t seem to be much attention paid to dunking everyone only once. Anne Frank, for instance, has been baptised at least nine times.
One thing that hasn’t been mentioned enough in connection with all of this is that it isn’t just baptism. Mormons perform the full range of church ordinances on the deceased, including the ‘washing and anointing’, temple sealings, and something called the ‘endowment’, in which Mormons wear clothes that look like this:
All right, so what’s the harm in all this? As mundane as this sounds, I think it’s a boundary issue. Yes, Mormons make the audacious claim that everyone needs to be a Mormon, and yes, it’s annoying, but if people want to make the choice to be Mormons themselves, so be it. But to many people, monkeying around with someone else’s religious status post mortem seems just a mite invasive.
Some people like their faith tradition. They’ve had it for years. They might identify as X even though they never do anything X. These things seem to matter. So for a non-believer, the idea that unrelated peopole could hijack your ancestors, and aid them in becoming a part of some completely different faith tradition (and there’s not a thing you can do about it) is deeply unsettling. It rubs people the wrong way, and because it involves performing a symbolic act upon a deceased member of someone else’s family, it’s a particularly egregious way to rub someone the wrong way. That Mormons don’t seem to comprehend why anyone would object to this is indictive of their insularity and cluelessness, and perhaps they would benefit from pondering how they’d feel if someone tried to make their deceased relatives gay or something.
Back to Anne Frank. Mormons have copped flak for baptising Jews killed in the Holocaust. For Jews, there’s an extra layer of ouchiness. See, Mormons think that Israel is a chosen people, and by believing in Jesus (as they think the Jews should have done), they become a part of Israel — the Israel that god always intended. They take Paul at his word when he said that they would become “grafted in” to the olive tree. To show how seriously they take this, Mormons even assign themselves to one of the tribes of Israel. In a ritual called a “patriarchal blessing”, an older Mormon gentleman lays his hands on your head, does some free associating and cold reading, and makes predictions about the rest of your life. Mormons think it’s personal scripture, straight from god. And during the blessing, the partriarch names which specific tribe of Israel you’re from. I was from Ephraim, like every white guy, but I’ve known people allegedly from Dan, Manasseh, and even Levi. It’s all BS, but it shows just how much Mormons want to co-opt the whole Israelite thing, and claim it for their own. And therein lies the ouchiness. Mormons think they’re Israel in ways that Jews are not, not fully. And the only way Jews can be Israel-for-reals is to go through the Mormon Church. So converting Jews to make them Mormons — Israel in the latter days — seems like, if not ethnic cleansing, ethnic supplanting.
So if Mormons reading this could get one thing out of it, it would be that symbolism matters, and the posthumous Mormonising could be seen not as a nice gesture, but as a gesture of hostility and of religious and cultural imperialism. Does it do anything metaphysical? No. Is it an antagonising gesture? Yes.
UPDATE: Seriously, check out the unapologetic comments on the post. The commenters are unapologetic about carrying out what is, after all, one of the main aims of the church. To do otherwise would be disobedient to their god. It shows how people under the influence of religion don’t play well with others. And it explains why the Mormon Church can’t be honest when it gets caught at this kind of thing, and “promises” to knock it off.
This rant from Matt Dillahunty is getting a lot of exposure this week, and justly so. He hits on a lot of great points, and I only wish I could say so much in one coherent stream. I had to hit ‘pause’ several times and let things sink in. It’s that good.
It’s all worth watching, but I’ve highlighted this part near the end. Jeff and Matt talk about the cost that Christianity (in particular) imposes on non-believers and ex-believers in the form of broken relationships.
Jeff: But there is, this is my personal hobby horse today; there is a cost in deciding that you’re going to take (in particular) Christianity on faith and that is that when you run into folks like us who don’t believe it, you are compelled because you’ve decided to believe in Christianity; you are compelled to think all kinds of horrific things about us. And tell us, or come at us with these threats of eternal torment which just draws an insurmountable line between us. And we cannot be friends because of what you have decided to take on faith. That’s the cost.
Matt: Yeah and I’ll tell you, that divisive cost plays out not only in the previous caller who had to give up his job because of “good intentioned Christians”, but I have a fiancée sitting in the room who is essentially estranged from a good portion of her family who consider me to be the devil. Now, I may not be a perfect person, far from it, but I’m generally a good person and a caring person, and I do the best I can to live the best life I can.
I certainly am not – well, I guess if I was the devil, this is exactly what he would say, so who knows? – but the absurdity of the divisive nature of Christianity in particular (and by the way, I am an atheist in regard to all gods, but since you’re kind of representing Christianity), it breaks my heart. People who actually understand what love is; people who actually understand what morality is; people who actually understand reality; it is almost unbearable to watch the people that you love be so absolutely duped into a divisive, hateful religion that they think is not divisive; they think it’s inclusive, and they think it’s positive.
It kills me, and it’s one of the reasons that I do this. Because I, for 25+ years, believed this stuff. I am so happy – so happy – that I no longer think that my former roommate is destined for hell. I am so happy that despite the fact that my relationship with my parents, the nature of it is changed, I don’t have to worry about them. The division is entirely one-sided. I didn’t end relationships when I became an atheist. Christians ended those relationships, and it was because their particular religion cannot tolerate – I have letters from people who said ‘We can no longer associate with you. You are of the devil.’
This is true for me, too, and I think it’s true for anyone who’s deconverted. The ostracism, the disownings, the mysterious unfriendings — we’ve all paid a cost in the form of broken relationships, and it’s not us that is doing the breaking. It’s not us that can’t tolerate other points of view. It’s the folks in the fragile bubble. Bubbles don’t last long without complete and unconditional unanimity, and we just don’t offer it, nor should we.
I’m still on good terms with many of my family, but certain other members have told me that by (for example) having this blog and writing against religion and Mormonism as I do, there would be “consequences” to our relationships. And I don’t hear from them now. Other ‘best friends’ from my younger and more churchy years have disappeared or rejected me entirely.
It’s a cost I’m prepared to pay, by the way. The loss of friends and family members is insignificant when compared to what I gain — the ability to tell the truth. (I realise that makes me sound like them, but I’m not the one making it an either/or issue.)
I don’t always say everything I think; I’m pretty good about choosing when and where to put my opinion in, and it’s just about always right here or elsewhere on the net. But even that’s apparently too much for them — I shouldn’t be saying or writing anything. The way they phrase it, I’m attacking them. I’m not; I’m attacking a religion, and if they think I’m attacking them, then that tells me that they’ve mistaken their own identity and their own goals for those of the religion. (A distinction that the religion is not keen to draw, for obvious reasons.)
I’m putting this out there because I seem to be running into a lot of people lately who think that religion is somehow this benign thing that doesn’t harm anyone. “What’s wrong with people having faith in their religion?” they say. “It gives people hope and a sense of community.” Blah blah blah. It’s not benign. It’s poisonous, and it ruins relationships. Ask any deconvert about the treatment they’ve had at the hands of believers who couldn’t let the presence of an unbelieving friend or family member sully their fantasy world.
Lately it’s been out-of-stater Meryl Dorey grabbing the attention with AltMed woo-woo in Perth, but let’s not forget that we’ve got a lot of woo-sters of our own.
Peter Dingle is not a medical doctor, but he gives medical advice on his blog. He’s come out against cholesterol-treating drugs. He finds the time to spread uncertainty about vaccines. The stuff he writes isn’t always wrong, but it’s a worry that he tends to cherry-pick scientific reports that confirm his views about natural health, all presented in an authoritative-sounding package. People think he knows something.
Sadly, his wife Penelope Dingle died of rectal cancer, which is treatable if caught early enough. What did the Dingles use to treat it? Homeopathy.
The State Coroner is investigating the death of a Perth woman who died of cancer after refusing traditional medical treatment in favour of alternative therapies.
Penelope Dingle died of bowel cancer in 2005.
In 2007, her family approached the coroner’s court to investigate her death.
The inquest has been told Mrs Dingle was being treated by a homeopath when she developed symptoms from bowel cancer.
Counsel assisting the coroner told the court her condition was not diagnosed until two years later at which point her homeopath told Mrs Dingle her cancer could be cured with alternative therapies.
Mrs Dingle then refused treatment from doctors who told her she had a reasonable chance of recovery if she underwent chemotherapy and an operation.
And Peter Dingle’s role in this? He wanted to write a book.
Ms Brown told the inquest that Jennifer Kornberger, a friend of Penelope’s, told her that Ms Scrayen, Penelope and Peter had made “a pact” that if treatment with homeopathy together with his regimen of anti-oxidants, vitamins and protein drinks was successful, he would write a book.
If I’d been through what Peter Dingle has been through, there’s no way in hell I’d be blithely offering up medical advice, especially with no medical qualifications. Why does he think he has any credibility?
There’s a bright side to this sad story. This time, they didn’t kill a child like usual. Penelope Dingle’s death was terrible, but at least she was an adult who made her own choices. She could have had access to good information if she had wanted it, especially with a supposedly scientifically-minded husband.
The other good thing: One less book about alternative medicine.
Dowsing doesn’t work. Lots of people think they can find water by the use of sticks or wires, but it always falls apart under experimental conditions. It’s the thing people try most often when going for the JREF Million-Dollar Challenge, and the money is still safe.
But why would you go for a million dollars, when you could net a cool couple of million by selling phony bomb dowsers in Iraq?
The small hand-held wand, with a telescopic antenna on a swivel, is being used at hundreds of checkpoints in Iraq. But the device works “on the same principle as a Ouija board” — the power of suggestion — said a retired United States Air Force officer, Lt. Col. Hal Bidlack, who described the wand as nothing more than an explosives divining rod.
Still, the Iraqi government has purchased more than 1,500 of the devices, known as the ADE 651, at costs from $16,500 to $60,000 each. Nearly every police checkpoint, and many Iraqi military checkpoints, have one of the devices, which are now normally used in place of physical inspections of vehicles.
Would you feel happy knowing that someone had given the area a placebo check for explosives?
The US military doesn’t go for the devices, but the Iraqi authorities are sold.
“Whether it’s magic or scientific, what I care about is it detects bombs,” said Maj. Gen. Jehad al-Jabiri, head of the Ministry of the Interior’s General Directorate for Combating Explosives.
Oh, does it? How well does it detect bombs?
The suicide bombers who managed to get two tons of explosives into downtown Baghdad on Oct. 25, killing 155 people and destroying three ministries, had to pass at least one checkpoint where the ADE 651 is typically deployed, judging from surveillance videos released by Baghdad’s provincial governor.
But the True Believers will tell you that the blame lies with the operators, not the device. You have to be
rested, with a steady pulse and body temperature, before using the device.
Water dowsing is a waste of money, but at least it doesn’t kill anyone. This is a dangerous form of insanity.
The correct answer is, of course, to congratulate them on their clear-headed reasoning skills, and offer support for the sometimes tough deconversion process that follows. And thank Zeus that they’ll no longer be trying to evangelise you, with that hopeful but concerned expression that loved ones often wear when they consider the state of your hypothetical soul.
But that’s not Billy’s answer.
Q: Our college-age son says he doesn’t believe in God anymore. We talk about it some (mainly when we’re trying to get him to go to church), but we always end up arguing. How can we convince him that he’s wrong? – Mrs. A. McC.
Gotta love those assumptions. I suppose a bit of evidence is out of the question.
A: In all honesty, you probably can’t convince your son that he’s wrong right now – because he’s probably not willing to admit that he might be. Hopefully, some day, he will be open to changing his beliefs – but right now, he isn’t.
Well, not willing to admit you might be wrong isn’t a good thing, that’s true. This ad appeared on the same web page, which gives you some idea as to how eager these folks are to allow that their beliefs could be mistaken.
I’d like to pose the question from the opposite perspective: what to do when a loved one accepts God, but won’t leave you alone about it? In which case, my answer would match Mr Graham’s answer to the letter.
I don’t mind if my family stays religious. I’m certainly not trying to deconvert anyone — I’m happy for them to do as they please. (If someone finds themselves not believing any more, but they don’t know what to do about it, that’s another story.) I don’t even mind if people in my family (or anyone else) want to talk about religion to me; it’s actually one of my favourite topics. I wish they’d bring it up more! Just as long as they know that when they do, they know they can expect a factual and straightforward response.
I’ve just received a message from a loved one who I’ve known for years, who’s still in the LDS Church. Here’s an excerpt, emphasis in original:
I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true church.
No, you’re merely certain.
I also know that you and Miss Perfect love one another and would want to be married and sealed for all eternity.
That would be lovely, if eternity were on offer. I wonder if anyone else can offer eternity on slightly better terms, perhaps without threatening me with eternal consequences if I don’t obey commandments involving (say) giving them lots of time and money.
In order to do this you need to come back into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Sounds simple. So what’s the problem? Equally simple. The LDS Church is untrue — a fact which every non-Mormon already knows. Like all religions, it teaches untrue things. All I ask is that a religion live up to its own hype, and this one doesn’t.
To put a finer point on it, the doctrines of the LDS Church (and every religion I’ve ever run across, which are myriad) fall into exactly three categories:
Teachings that are unconfirmed by evidence, like the existence of supernatural beings, an afterlife, and so on
Teachings that have been refuted by evidence, e.g. ancient Americans are Hebrews who spoke a form of Egyptian, rode horses, and smelted steel
Teachings that are more or less true, but which were already known by people without any revelation being necessary. For example, Mormons are fond of claiming that the Word of Wisdom is revolutionary, especially about smoking. But the anti-tobacco movement was getting started around the 1830’s, about the same time as the temperance movement, and could have been familiar to people in that area.
(Naturally, if anyone thinks I’m wrong, and knows of a religion with doctrines that do not fit into these three categories, please mention them in comments.)
It’s especially hard for family members to deal with your deconversion. Spouses, parents, siblings — they all want you to be happy, and they’ve been told you can’t be if you’re outside the religion. My old religion pretended to be able to keep families together after death, dependent on you staying in the system. Which basically means that you’re threatened with eternal isolation if you leave. This is a despicable tactic for religions to use. If I were feeling nasty, I might call it emotional hostage-taking. It makes it impossible for family members to have emotional boundaries — they think your choices will affect them for eternity.
So it’s hard for me to feel upset with caring people who try to evangelise me. I’m just glad that, as someone who accepts rationality, I’m no longer prone to the kind of worry that they feel.
Here’s another guy who really believes in his religion. In this case, that means someone ended up dead.
A US jury has found a man guilty of killing his sick 11-year-old daughter by praying for her recovery rather than seeking medical care.
The man, Dale Neumann, told a court in the state of Wisconsin he believed God could heal his daughter.
She died of a treatable disease – undiagnosed diabetes – at home in rural Wisconsin in March last year, as people surrounded her and prayed.
Neumann’s wife, Leilani Neumann, was convicted earlier this year.
The couple, who were both convicted of second-degree reckless homicide, face up to 25 years in prison when they are sentenced in October.
Reckless homicide is a good way of putting it. Having a child means you have to take care of them. They can’t do it themselves; they count on you. When you instead subject that child to a horrible and unnecessary death, there ought to be legal consequences.
And that goes for people who use alternative medicine instead of giving their child real medicine. If that child is harmed through a parent’s inaction, there should be consequences.
Mexicans may have been hit by a different, deadlier strain, or the flu may have infected more people who had other health problems, researchers speculate.
But one important factor may be the eclectic approach to health care in Mexico, where large numbers of people self-prescribe antibiotics, take only homeopathic medicine, or seek out mysterious vitamin injections. For many, only when all else fails do they go to a doctor, who may or may not be well prepared.
By now, the message should be out there: homeopathy doesn’t work. It’s had two hundred years to make its case, but we still have no reproducible studies that show that it works any better than a placebo.
In most circumstances, the consequences of using homeopathy (and indeed, any so-called alternative medicine) are not very serious, except for the waste of money. You take the pills, they do nothing, and you eventually get better on your own. But world-wide pandemics are not to be messed with, and relying on junk medicine can kill you.
Natural selection is great and all, but I’d rather not see it work this way.
The Chestermere man charged with attempted murder in Minnesota says it was God that made him stab another truck driver.
According to documents filed in the Clay County Court, Harmit Singh Bhangu, 32 of Chestermere, told an officer who was interviewing him that God orders him to do things.
How the mighty have fallen. God used to have henchmen like Moses and Joshua, and now he’s reduced to working with crazy people.
I don’t want to pick on the poor guy, even though he’s a very very scary poor guy who’s just about killed another poor guy. Mr Bhangu has got some serious problems, and maybe some medication might have helped him.
But the Brain Teaser of the Day is: On what basis would a religious believer claim that God didn’t really order him to kill a man?
Is it because God would never tell someone to kill someone else? That’s a hard view to defend from the Bible. Try reading Joshua 13, where Yahweh appears as some kind of evil familiar, impelling the aged Joshua to yet more slaughter.
Is it because Mr Bhangu is doing obviously crazy things? Ezekiel lay on his side for over a year. He also ate bread cooked over a cow pat. All perfectly biblical, and extremely loopy.
As a Mormon, the question of how to evaluate other people’s revelations used to be a tough one. Now as an atheist, it’s easy. Anyone who says that a god is speaking to them is wrong. But I don’t care so much as long as they’re keeping their delusion to themselves, keeping it away from children, not harming anyone with it, and not trying to legislate on the basis of it. When they overstep these bounds, they move from deluded to dangerous, like Mr Bhangu.
Now here’s a part from the article that caught my attention:
“(The) defendant stated that he knew it was wrong to kill people in this country but that God had ordered him to do it,” say the documents filed by police.
And if God orders you to do something, you don’t worry about a trifling thing like law. All my life, I heard people in church telling me that God came first. God’s law was higher than man’s law. Little did I realise that they were implanting a meme that would justify my breaking any law that the church considered wrong.
And I see that it’s not just Mormons that are getting the treatment. Here’s a Christian columnist asking kids the musical question:
What Would You Do If Arrested For Talking About God?
“If they threatened to hurt me if I didn’t stop talking about God, I wouldn’t listen to them because I know that I am pleasing God,” says Megan, 9.
Megan would be following the example of the Apostles Peter and John upon their release from jail.
Ask this question: If police were told to arrest all Christians in your area, would they come to your house?
Hurt them? Arrest them? Who’s advocating this? Or is this a bit of galvanisation through paranoia?
This article delivers two memes at once: ‘Religious Dogma Over Secular Law’, and ‘They’re Coming to Get Us’. But fancy putting either one before a child. At best, you make them fearful for the safety of their family, and at worst you raise a generation of Law-Breakers for Jesus.
We already knew that abstinence doesn’t work, and virginity pledges are particularly ineffective. There’s a new study that bears out this result, but it highlights a new problem: kids who take virginity pledges are even less likely to use birth control and condoms. So abstinence education is not just useless, it’s worse than useless.
Why might this be? One idea going around:
Virginity pledgers may be less likely to use condoms and contraception because many abstinence programs cause participants to develop negative attitudes about their effectiveness.
Maybe program leaders are saying this, but I don’t think we need to resort to this idea to explain what’s going on. My experience as a horny teen in the Mormon Church has provided me with a hypothesis.
When you do something wrong, you need to pray for forgiveness from your sin, right? And Mormons regard sexual sin as particularly grievous. Consider:
Oh, wait. I knew there was something I forgot to do today.
I deny the Holy Ghost.
• An LDS General Authority (can’t find which one — someone help me here) told a story of his father seeing him off at the train station for a mission, and telling him that he’d rather the boy come back in a coffin than having had sex. And get this — my own father told me that story approvingly when I went off to BYU. He’d have preferred me dead than to have made a mistake. Then again, maybe I could have come home at the end of the year on a Greyhound Bus — alive — but in an actual coffin. It’d be a fun way to break the news.
But seriously, folks: this is a fact worth repeating. As with all authoritarian movements, Mormons hate sex. No, they don’t. They are willing to put up with sex, as long as it makes more little Mormons. Let’s just say that Mormons love sex, but they don’t like anyone else having any. Which makes perfect evolutionary sense. If you have sex, but repress everyone else from having any, there’s less competition for your genes.
Anyway, the main point here: Mormons regard unhallowed bonking as Very Serious. It involves prayer and contrition, as well as confession to The Bishop, which is very embarrassing because he’s just another guy in the community.
So Mormon youth, when faced with temptation, are unlikely to buy condoms or use birth control. That’s premeditated! That’s like planning to sin! How are you going to be forgiven from a sin you’ve been planning to do? What they do, since they’re Good Kids, is try to Be Good and abstain. But hormones being what they are, it frequently fails, and then you get pregnant teenagers.
(I don’t know if this line of thinking holds outside of Mormondom, but I bet it does. Non-Mormons: does this match your experience?)
The take-away here is that having stupid starting assumptions (a god wants you to abstain) leads to unwanted outcomes (riskier sex than normal). A better starting assumption would be: some kids are going to do it, and you can’t watch your kids 24 hours a day. Parents can encourage them to have sexual relations responsibly, if they must. Better to be immoral than to be immoral and pregnant.