Bill Maher, American hero: Laughing at religion is exactly what the world needs

From Salon:  http://www.salon.com/2015/04/26/bill_maher_american_hero_laughing_at_religion_is_exactly_what_the_world_needs/

Maher’s stances get him called a bigot. We should thank him instead, for taking a necessary battle to the faithful


Sunday, Apr 26, 2015

Bill Maher, the host of HBO’s “Real Time,” is a shining beacon of the New American Enlightenment, radiant with goodness and hope.

But first, a bit of background.

No matter what anyone says, religion is a deeply, if darkly, hilarious topic, and the sundry tomes of the sacred canon read more like joke books than anything else, albeit sick joke books.  How can we, in the 21st century, having mapped (and even edited) the human genome, engineered pluripotent stem cells, and discovered the Higgs Boson, be expected to revere the dusty old Bible, for example, with its quarreling goatherds and idolatrous tribesmen, and its golden calves and talking snakes, to say nothing of its revenge-porn (against unbelievers) finale?  How can we not laugh aloud when Genesis declares that Almighty God made the world in six days and rested on the seventh, yet had to pilfer a rib from Adam to produce Eve?  What are we to make of Numbers 22:28-30, wherein the Lord intervenes, not to part the sea or still the sun, but to set Balaam’s donkey a-jabbering?  How are we supposed to accept Jesus as an up-to-snuff savior when, in Matthew 21:19 and Mark 11:13-14, he loses his temper and cusses out a fig tree, condemning it to death, for not bearing fruit out of season?  Any second-grade science-class student would have known better, and possibly even exercised more self-control.

“Properly read,” declared the science-fiction author and biochemistry professor Isaac Asimov, “the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.”  He was right.  The same may be said of the Quran, the holy book of Islam, which the late, dearly missed Christopher Hitchens called “not much more than a rather obvious and ill-arranged set of plagiarisms, helping itself from earlier books and traditions as occasion appeared to require.”

The proper response to religion, riddled as it is with absurdities, is, thus, laughter, either of the belly-slapping, table-pounding kind or the pitying, head-shaking sort.  Laughter, but also outrage.  After all, those who take such absurdities as manifestations of the Godhead have, especially since the Reagan years, hogged the moral high ground and commandeered American politics, polluting public discourse with their reactionary cant and halting progress in reproductive rights, science (think the Bush-era ban on stem cell research) and education (to wit: stubborn attempts to have oxymoronic “Intelligent Design” rubbish taught in schools).  Look abroad, and the panorama of savagery religion must answer for curdles the blood.  No rationalist could contemplate all this entirely unnecessary faith-driven regress and backsliding with anything but anger, tempered with despair.  If we want to do true and lasting good in this world, we are morally obligated to fight faith in the open, and root it out from every nook and cranny in which it hides.

Facing such a task, a desire for comic relief is only natural.  Bill Maher is where anger, outrage and religion meet – in humor.  (This essay will address only his stance on religion.)  There is nothing un-American about his faith-bashing – far from it.  Thomas Jefferson, who denied the divinity of Jesus, wrote that, “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions” – and what is religion but a jumble of unintelligible propositions about our cosmos and its origins?  Yet Maher has incited no small amount of ire among both the faith-addled masses (fully two-thirds of Americans believe Jesus actually rose from the dead, and almost half expect him to return in the coming decades) and their muddleheaded sympathizers for his brutal broadsides against religion, and Islam in particular.  Bigot! Racist! Islamophobe! they cry, at times bemoaning the “offense” they purport to have suffered from his words, and illustrating how far the cognitive capacities of so many of us have deteriorated since Jerry Falwell and his Moral Majority began meddling in politics.  (This can be no coincidence.)  Their real message to Maher: Shut up!

Name-calling is the last resort of losers — in this case, losers waging an unwinnable war against the spread of godlessness.  And “shut up!” is the last command of which the Greats of the Enlightenment and their heirs would have approved.  The 19th-century British philosopher John Stuart Mill, in On Liberty, put it best, referring to suppressed speech: “If the opinion is right, [the shutter-uppers] are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”  If Maher is really so wrong, why not let him hoist himself by his own petard?

Continue reading at:  http://www.salon.com/2015/04/26/bill_maher_american_hero_laughing_at_religion_is_exactly_what_the_world_needs/

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Galileo’s Middle Finger Reflected Back at the Defenders of the Anti-trans Pseudoscience of J. Michael Bailey

From Huffington Post:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dana-beyer/galileos-middle-finger-re_b_7119420.html


04/22/2015

Alice Dreger’s new book, Galileo’s Middle Finger, is a curious addition to the literature of the anti-trans movement from a woman who has done some very good work on those who are genitally intersex. Unfortunately, her claim about searching for the truth as an activist, anti-activist, and historian falls apart on several very important points.

To review, Professor Dreger is a friend of Professor Michael Bailey, whose exploits with the trans community in the early aughts was described in his infamous The Man Who Would Be Queen. I reviewed the current attempt to rehabilitate Dr. Bailey by several of his friends, including Dr. Dreger, in a recent Huffington Post column. I’ve recently read her book as well as two reviews which just appeared in The New York Times and The Washington Post.

The best description of the book is that it’s a rant, and an extremely tedious one at times, delving into a level of detail which bored even me, (and I’m familiar with most of the characters), by a woman I would call a neoconservative sexologist. Having performed the grueling work of an activist in helping protect newborns with ambiguous genitalia from mutilating surgeries without informed consent, she turned, grudgingly by her description, to protecting Professor Bailey from his trans critics. Her analysis of the behavior of the trans activists left her in such despair that she became a self-described “anti-activist.” This shift in thinking is reminiscent of the political neocons who were once proud leftists but turned towards the hard right during the Reagan years out of a sense of betrayal by their former colleagues.

As an historian, and one who is deeply concerned with her reputation as a truth seeker, she candidly admits the object of her concern is not without flaws. After admitting that she is not a scientist, she almost immediately claims that there is little evidence to back up the consensus position on human sexual development. Either she’s lying, or hasn’t done her homework. As I’ve presented, the developing consensus was already publicly available back in 2005 in a publication co-authored by many of the luminaries in the field, called “Atypical Gender Development.” In the ensuing decade the evidence has continued to pile up, but it has had no impact on her search for the truth. She still considers the consensus as ideologically biased and intent on a witch hunt, led by a number of well-known and highly successful trans activists. That one of these women is a well-respected economist (Deirdre McCloskey) and another is one of the most important inventors in American history (Lynn Conway) has no effect on her critique. Poor Professor Bailey has been attacked and must be defended by her, her actions enabling others to rise to his defense as well.

This non-scientist then admits that Bailey’s work on the trans community is not based on his own research, but is just his contribution to promoting the work of a Dr. Ray Blanchard. Dr. Blanchard is on staff at the notorious gender clinic associated with the University of Toronto (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) known as “Jurassic Clarke.” Dr. Blanchard’s typology of transsexualism, based on nothing more than his personal mode of classification, divides trans women (and note, there is never any talk of trans men, which in itself condemns this research, begun in the ’80s, as utter nonsense) into two categories — extremely feminine gay men and perversely erotically-driven cross-dressing men. There is no science to this analysis. There are no randomized and blinded studies, and no research into non-trans women who exhibit similar behavior. These Freudian constructs of Dr. Blanchard and his close friends and colleagues, including Drs. Bailey and Ken Zucker, are not based on objective criteria, but are rooted in the assumption that gender identity doesn’t exist and the trans phenomenon is composed of two different forms of sexual orientation. Unfortunately for them, the existence of gender identity (in the context of an intersex condition called cloacal exstrophy) was proven in 2004 by Dr. William Reiner, then at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and today the number of people who believe that transsexualism is a type of sexual orientation is similar to the number of climate change deniers. This small number is evidence for Dreger that they are actually a small remnant that is struggling to tell the truth to a politically correct, brainwashed mainstream of medical doctors and psychologists, who’ve been intimidated by trans women who happen to make up an overwhelming 0.15% of the population.

Continue reading at:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dana-beyer/galileos-middle-finger-re_b_7119420.html

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