Saturday thumbs

Thumbs down: To Comedy Central for censoring South Park’s episode on Islam and Muhamed out of sheer cowardice.  South Park has satirized many faiths, and even went after Dawkins, but only the Muslim episode was censored.   We all know why: the “religion of peace” threatens to kill people who make fun of Islam, or even name a teddy bear “Muhamed.” Many thumbs down to the Revolution Muslim organization, who showed a dead body on their webpage that criticized South Park, and whose spokesman, Abu Talha Al-Amrikee, said this:

“We have to warn Matt and Trey [the producers of South Park] that what they are doing is stupid, and they will probably wind up like Theo van Gogh for airing this show. This is not a threat, but a warning of the reality of what will likely happen to them.”

Not a threat? What a contemptible lie!  And thumbs down to the “moderate and peace-loving Muslims” who refuse to speak up against this call for murder.  A bit of Googling has failed to reveal one Islamic organization that decries the murderous irrationality of Revolution Muslim.

Thumbs down at a 30-degree angle to Michael Ruse, who continues to mystify with his bizarre mixture of faitheism and atheism.  Over at BioLogos, he’s mercifully concluded his six-part intellectual autobiography, “Accommodationist and Proud of It.”  He admits that religion is a “delusion”, and is not a way of knowing, but then plays favorites among the faiths.  He doesn’t for instance, have much truck with Mormonism:

I really find it very difficult to respect the Mormons. The whole thing seems to me to absolutely ludicrous, from wearing silly underwear to not drinking tea and coffee, to all of that stuff about golden plates, not to mention the already-mentioned lost tribes of Israel, now supposedly alive and well and living on reservations out West. Why do I not feel the same way about Christianity? Is turning water into wine any more stupid than thinking Joseph Smith got special insights in upstate New York? Is it simply that one is older and I grew up with it? Is wearing a fancy pair of knickers anything different from wearing your collar backwards?

The answer to all three questions, Dr. Ruse, is “yes.”  So why does he favor Christianity?  Because it has a theology!:

I think the reason I can legitimately separate your basic Anglican or Roman Catholic from a Mormon rests on the fact that traditional Christianity (this may also be true of Judaism and other religions) has worked hard at what I will call philosophical theology. I came to appreciate this while working on Science and Spirituality, a book that goes much more deeply into theological questions than my earlier writings. Such Christianity has labored to give philosophical meaning to the claims, say, about the nature of a necessary God and so forth. I think this also holds in areas like ethics, where (to name one branch of Christianity) Catholics have tried to give some meaning to natural law and so forth. (Protestants have done similar things, as I know full well from my own background.) So as a philosopher I can appreciate the efforts to try to answer the basic metaphysical questions.

Never mind Ruse’s admission that religion is not “a valid way of knowing” (and kudos for that admission).  All that matters to Ruse, apparently, is that they have tried to answer the metaphysical questions, even though, as Ruse believes, their answers are likely wrong.

Both thumbs completely down for Skye Jethani at HuffPo, who wrote a whole column showing the similarities between atheists and fundamentalist Christians without once addressing atheists’ arguments about the lack of evidence for God and the palpable dangers of faith.  Jethani’s piece, as you might expect, is all about tone.  As we all recognize, the emphasis on atheists’ shrill and militant “tone” is merely a way to avoid engaging our substantive arguments:

But the new breed of atheists and evangelicals may have more in common than they’d like to admit.

For example, some within New Atheism are proselytizing their beliefs with the fervor, and in come cases anger, more often associated with evangelicals. From an international ad campaign on buses dismissing belief in God, to rallies at universities inviting students to exchange their Bibles for pornography, atheists are no longer content with a live-and-let-live approach to those adhering to religion. Instead, they are actively trying to convert (or is the word un-convert?) the masses. . .

But I believe both the New Atheists (advocating life over God) and the Constitutional Evangelicals (advocating life under God) are far closer in their values and worldview than either would like to acknowledge. They are two sides of the same coin. But there is a third dimension; a third way between “live over God” or “live under God.” There is also “life with God” — the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Thumbs mildly down for The New Yorker,  which continues to show an emphasis on style over substance.  Its articles on books, culture, and literature are increasingly dominated by writers who don’t have much to say but try to say it in lovely prose.  This often falls flat.  For example, a recent article by Peter Schjeldahl on one of my favorite photographers, Henri Cartier-Bresson, contains this sentence:

Cartier-Bresson has the weakness of his strength: an Apollonian elevation that subjugates life to an order of things already known, if never so well seen.

Sounds nice, but what the bloody hell does it mean?  What’s worse, Schjeldahl manages to write a whole piece on Cartier-Bresson, including giving a potted biography, without even once mentioning the man’s nationality (Cartier-Bresson was French).  Oh, and in the latest issue Jill Lepore strains to produce New-Yorker quality prose in a review of a book about the publisher Henry Luce:

“Magazines are ephemeral, timely at the expense of timelessness. They evanesce.  Each new issue displaces the last; a magazine molts.”

Why not say it five times, just to make sure that the reader gets the point?  Lepore reminds me of this:

‘E’s passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed ‘im to the perch ‘e’d be pushing up the daisies! ‘Is metabolic processes are now ‘istory! ‘E’s off the twig! ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisibile!! THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!!

Finally, two enthusiastic thumbs up for Pedro Almodóvar, director of the new movie Los Abrazos Rotos (Broken Embraces).  This is a wonderful, complex and layered film about uncontrollable passion, duplicity, moviemaking, and blindness.  Almodóvar pulls another great performance from Penelope Cruz (they’ve made some great films together) and from Lluis Homar as the blind director.

Fig. 1. One of my favorite photos by Henri Cartier-Bresson.  The kid is just so proud of toting home wine for the family dinner!

37 Comments

  1. wice
    Posted April 24, 2010 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    *sigh* The ‘censorship’ of South Park was obviously a joke and publicity stunt. Please watch the two episodes, and tell me how it would make any sense without the big CENSORED rectangle over Muhammad. I won’t go into details, but at one part the rectangle plays a very important role in the story. The bleeping is also there for a comedic effect.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted April 24, 2010 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      Perhaps (I didn’t see it), but I did read that Comedy Central would not put that episode on its website, in contrast to every other episode.

      • wice
        Posted April 24, 2010 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

        You should definitely watch it, it’s brilliant.

        As for Comedy Central not putting it on its website:

        Think about it: they make a self-censored episode about self-censorship, then claim, that it was Comedy Central, who censored it. Meanwhile, Comedy Central acts as if they censored it. Put two and two together.

      • Posted April 25, 2010 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

        Jerry, you are correct actually, and wice is mistaken. Matt and Trey released a statement confirming that they were indeed censored.

        But maybe their statement is part of the prank or something? I strongly doubt it.

    • Blue
      Posted April 24, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      Your irony meter is broken. Not a joke, It is real, despicable, corporate censorship.

      • wice
        Posted April 24, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

        No, it’s not.

        SPOILER
        The whole point of the double episode was self-censorship, and Muhammad’s ‘unmockability’. And the best joke in it was that when Muhammad’s ‘goo’ (the ability of being ‘unmockable’) was transferred into Tom Cruise, suddenly the big CENSORED rectangle appeared on him as well, then later, when someone says ‘Tom Curise has Sea Man (semen) on him’, the rectangle disappears. The rectangles were obviously not added to it later by Comedy Central, but were the part of the story.

        • bueller007
          Posted April 24, 2010 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

          I don’t think anyone has ever claimed that the rectangles were not part of the story.

          • wice
            Posted April 25, 2010 at 1:30 am | Permalink

            Sorry, my bad, the linked article didn’t say that the rectangles were put there by Comedy Central, only the beeps. But I have seen many articles that claimed that the rectangles were added by Comedy Central as well.

            • Posted April 25, 2010 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

              Oh no, it’s not the bleeps or the squares. Comedy central streams the full episodes on their website, and they removed it after the death threats I believe. (http://www.southparkstudios.com/episodes/267116/)

              They could just be trying to be ironic as you said, but then again, maybe the threads did scare them.

    • Posted April 25, 2010 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

      wice, you are incorrect. This was not a publicity stunt, and they were indeed censored by Comedy Central. Creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker released a statement on this:

      In the 14 years we’ve been doing South Park we have never done a show that we couldn’t stand behind. We delivered our version of the show to Comedy Central and they made a determination to alter the episode. It wasn’t some meta-joke on our part. Comedy Central added the bleeps. In fact, Kyle’s customary final speech was about intimidation and fear. It didn’t mention Muhammad at all but it got bleeped too. We’ll be back next week with a whole new show about something completely different and we’ll see what happens to it.

    • SeanK
      Posted April 26, 2010 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      The bleeping is not there for comedic effect; it’s American censorship. If you watch South Park episodes on other networks in other countries, there are absolutely no bleeps. I agree though, that the bleeping can make it funnier sometimes, but that’s not how the episodes are created.

  2. bric
    Posted April 24, 2010 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Jill Lepore’s quadruple riff on the ephemerality of magazines is rather ironic considering the New Yorker itself has published an eight DVD retrospect of it’s complete run. Well almost, they stopped producing updates a couple of years ago, perhaps realising how pale the current, dare I say ephemeral, product looks compared with it’s distinguished past.

    • MadScientist
      Posted April 24, 2010 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I gave up on the New Yorker over 10 years ago; very disappointed. For a few years after that I’d pick up a copy in the newsstands and flick through – they never got any better.

  3. Chet
    Posted April 24, 2010 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    You know, it used to be when someone said “that’s not a threat, it’s a warming” we all understood that to mean that it was a super-duper double-dog threat, not that it was actually no threat at all. It’s like the Mafiosos in the Simpsons who greasily warn “accidents do happen, such as the killing of you, by us.”

  4. justsearching
    Posted April 24, 2010 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    The Revolution Muslim want to make sure that some religious nut job gets the idea to try to assassinate these guys. Fox News and other conservative websites are doing the same thing with their mentions of the death/assassination of Obama. For example, on today’s http://www.wnd.com‘s home page, immediately after a headline condemning Obama’s health care bill is an article entitled “Facebook page ‘prays’ for Obama’s death.” It’s freedom of expression and the press, wildly misused.

    • MadScientist
      Posted April 24, 2010 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, we still have a huge problem with bigots. You know the sort: “I’m not racist but …” and “I have black friends you know”. Speaking of which I am very ashamed of my home state of Az. If the news is to be believed, we will arrest and deport all non-citizen permanent and temporary residents. I can see why McCain is supporting this; it’s the “I’m tough on illegals, elect me as the first septaguenarian president”. Really – what would constitute proof of citizenship? It can’t be the Social Security number because we’ve been handing them out to permanent residents for decades and, more recently, even temporary residents. On top of that, criminal organizations make big bucks off stealing SSN’s. Birth certificates? Hell, you’d need to be some expert – they can be faked and how do you know that the Ecuadorian certificate they present showing the birth of an American abroad isn’t fake? Besides, who the hell carries a birth certificate around. Drivers licence? Once again, no – even with recent legislation denying licences to people suspected of not being legal residents, a driver’s licence is not good enough; besides lots of folks don’t have such a license. Passport? Yeah, sure – how many of us actually have a valid passport and how many of us carry our passport around when we’re at home?

      McCain: “And you thought Palin was the dumb one.”

  5. Posted April 24, 2010 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    True, the writer from Huffington is clearly a bliss ninny.

    That having been said, Hitchens’s comment — “I think religion should be treated with… hatred” — is wronghearted. To be sure, there’s no doubt that he means that he hates certain institutions and behaviors, and not people. But hate is something profoundly unimpressed by nuanced boundaries of that kind, which is why in the sober hour it cannot be sincerely endorsed by persons aiming towards a good life.

  6. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted April 24, 2010 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    the episode “outright insulted” the prophet

    [“which means they insulted us”].

    As a dead man can’t experience insults, they have to lay out why they believe differently. Which puts the ball in their court where it belongs, it is they who take insult where satire, irony or even non-humorous criticism is intended.

    Well, it doesn’t matter. No one has the right not to be insulted, man or no man.

  7. Posted April 24, 2010 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    I have a fundamental questions about this buffoon named “Ruse.”

    If someone decided to tackle a subject such as this and then brazely (and I’m sure, unconsciously) uses phrases such as, “(this may also be true of Judaism and other religions),” what does that tell you about that person’s real grasp of the subject matter.

    How is it possible for any person claiming any authority whatsovere on the subject matter to use a phrase that clearly indicates his lack of knowledge of the subject matter?

    Dare I say that his grasp of what he’s dribbling on and on about is pretty much equal to the grasp that, for example, O’Lielly, Morris or Goldberg have on anything that they choose to dribble on about?

    Phrases like that are clear existential red flags. The people who freely and uncritically use these idiotic phrases when claiming authority to speak on matters germaine to an issue deserve the kind of respect and attention that we would normally afford a Belleview patient; and I’m sure they relish the attetion they’re given. In their eyes, the attention legitimizes their buffoonery.
    ~Rev. El

    • MadScientist
      Posted April 24, 2010 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

      On the other hand, the absolutist language used by the likes of Fred Phelps do not convey any signs of knowledge of the subject matter either – I see no reason not to doubt simply because one sounds sure of himself and the other is not so assertive of the absolute correctness (or is that righteousness) of his position.

  8. J.
    Posted April 24, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    I think you meant that the answer to Ruse’s third question is ‘no’.

  9. Alex
    Posted April 24, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    This statement gives it all away:

    “But I believe both the New Atheists (advocating life over God) and the Constitutional Evangelicals (advocating life under God) are far closer in their values and worldview than either would like to acknowledge.”

    Anyone who even attempted to do a cursory study of what atheists actually think would know that they reject the whole notion of supernatural beings. We don’t talk about life over god; we talk about life with no reference to ghosts, faeries, and invisible unicorns.

    This is what kills me — the folks who argue against atheism in popular fora do not care to learn about their enemies because they feel that would taint them in some way, or challenge their faith. Well, if your faith is so fragile that you cannot even investigate an issue before prattling about it, then perhaps you should just shut up!

    • Posted April 24, 2010 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

      “But I believe both the New Atheists (advocating life over God) and the Constitutional Evangelicals (advocating life under God) are far closer in their values and worldview than either would like to acknowledge.”
      As an evangelical, I have to agree with this statement. As for your other statements, supernatural beings are not required for religious belief or action. Even if that were the case, the adherent could qualify the object of their belief anyway they chose. I can’t speak for every evangelical, but I can say that I have had wonderful, enlightening dialogues with atheists, including the local representative of the Coalition of Reason who is also the founder of the local freethought society. Is my faith challenged? Absolutely. But how does that saying go, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”?

      • Alex
        Posted April 27, 2010 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

        I’m not sure why you replied to me, since you’re not really interested in engaging with my argument. In fact, you pretty much ignored the main point about atheists and reference to the supernatural by arguing about religious folks and the supernatural. The two cases are incommensurable.

  10. Jackie
    Posted April 24, 2010 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    The kid in Cartier-Bresson’s photo could just as readily be so proud of having his picture taken. From Wikipedia’s entry on Susan Sontag’s essay “On Photography”: “…photographs are a way of recycling the real. When a moment is captured it is assigned a new meaning as people interpret the image in their own manner.” Read her essay; you’ll never look at photographs the same way again.

  11. MadScientist
    Posted April 24, 2010 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    “A bit of Googling has failed to reveal one Islamic organization that decries the murderous irrationality of Revolution Muslim.”

    They are playing infantile games, as religions do (see pope on child rape games). For example, one mosque in Sydney, Australia, had a high-ranking terrorist leader featured via internet video and preaching to the congregation. Since they were caught there has been condemnation from the mufti’s about the message of violence and how it is oh so un-islamic. But like most things “Unamerican” and “Unaustralian”, “unislamic” is probably very much islamic.

    I see Ruse still has problems disntinguishing between people and their beliefs; it’s not mormonism which he has no respect for, it is the mormons themselves he finds very difficult to respect. Except for the mormons doing their evangelical stint (who annoy the hell out of me), most of the mormons I’ve known are good people and there is no question that they deserve respect.

  12. Posted April 24, 2010 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    If there’s any similarity between the “new atheists” and fundamentalists, it’s that both groups actually believe* in something. Fundamentalists believe the bible is the literal and inerrant word of God, new atheists believe in the power of empiricism and reason to understand reality.

    *Just to head off an inevitable conversation, belief does not mean faith. “Belief is the psychological state in which an individual holds a proposition or premise to be true.” is the context I am using it in.

    • Posted April 24, 2010 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

      So, to be clear, what I understand you to be saying is this: The person who believes that the Earth rotates around the sun (thus explaining its “rising” and “setting”) and the person who believes that the sun will “rise” only if a virgin is sacrificed while the sun has “disappeared” share a lot in common.

      Is my understanding correct?

      ~Rev. El

      • Posted April 24, 2010 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

        They share the ability to publicly decry the other belief as false. There’s no “that’s your opinion”, no leaving the so-called big questions to a matter of personal or cultural expression. The new atheists are “militant” in the sense that they are willing to say that particular beliefs are incompatible with reality, and that is something they share in common with fundamentalists.

        Now I’m not suggesting that the beliefs that the earth orbits the sun and that it takes virginal sacrifice to come up in the morning are equivalent beliefs. I’m talking about the expression of each belief by the individual – it’s putting up “This is the way to look at the world” and saying that other ways of looking at the world are wrong. And so they should, computers don’t work on magic, goats aren’t sacrificed to remove tumours, and houses aren’t heated by incorporeal dragons.

        The similarity is superficial. What I think is more important is the difference. I don’t hold my current beliefs as dogmatically true. Take the Big Bang Theory, if it was shown tomorrow that the Big Bang Theory irreconcilability contradicts observation then I’m more than willing to stop believing. I won’t look for an argument to keep believing in something that’s empirically disproved, I’ll move on. Fundamentalists don’t do that, they believe in their position a priori. The difference is one’s a faith position, and the other is not.

  13. Frank
    Posted April 24, 2010 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

    “A bit of Googling has failed to reveal one Islamic organization that decries the murderous irrationality of Revolution Muslim.”

    I can’t believe that you had to resort to Googling; ie that you didn’t already know about Abdul Hadi Palazzi and his Italian Muslim Assembly. Here’s an example of them decrying murderous irrationality:
    http://www.amislam.com/gaza.htm

    Oh well, I guess they are so much in the minority that you could’ve easily missed them.

    Oh, and I just Googled on “Muslims against Terror” and found this motherlode of articles of Muslims condemning terror:
    http://www.muhajabah.com/otherscondemn.php

    Does this mean I have faith that their peaceful message will win out over the radicals? Ugh, I’m afraid not.

    • Posted April 25, 2010 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      Yeah, I thought I remembered reading about a few Muslim groups actually coming out against this, and was wondering if Jerry got that right. As you say, the central point he was making remains… but it’s unfair to say there have been NO appropriate reactions from the moderates on this. There’s been a little.

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted April 25, 2010 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

        I said that I did a bit of Googling and did not find any critiques by Muslim groups. I didn’t say there weren’t any. “Unfair”??? SHEESH!

        • Miranda
          Posted April 28, 2010 at 1:10 am | Permalink

          Well, let’s find out which of the following claims are unfair:
          “I did a bit of Googling and did not find any accomplishments of Obama.”
          or
          “I did a bit of Googling and did not find any solid evidence of evolution.”

  14. Microraptor
    Posted April 24, 2010 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

    Since we’ve got a push to use “fatheist” as a substitute for accommodationalist doormat, perhaps we should also start pushing “rationalist” instead of “new atheist,” since that’s really what’s meant?

  15. Posted April 25, 2010 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Um. BYU has a whole department devoted to Mormon theology and apologetics. It’s called FARMS.

    There are some ways in which Mormonism is worse than your run-of-the-mill Xian church (having been raised Mormon, I have firsthand experience) but it’s not anything to do with the stupidity of their respective beliefs. It’s just that the central LD$ church happens to have lots of money and be very good at shady political manipulations. (In this regard, they are kind of like Vatican Jr.) Also, some of the day-to-day practices turn out to be highly effective for brainwashing and encouraging conformity, which in the rest of Xianity is only rivaled by some of the more extreme fundie groups.

    But Ruse hasn’t bothered to educate himself on any of this bullshit. Aggravating..

  16. Ian
    Posted April 25, 2010 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    But it’s OK to call your Teddy Bear Mohammed.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7115821.stm

  17. Bryan
    Posted April 25, 2010 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    Surely “no” is the answer to only two of those three questions.


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