Marlise Muñoz

Marlise Muñoz is a pregnant woman who is being kept on life support against her and her family’s wishes because of the Texas Advanced Directives Act which states, in part,

A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient.

Her doctors have already declared her brain dead, and their reports claim that the fetus (14 weeks gestation at the time of Marlise’s death) is already so deformed that sex cannot be determined.

Today, I’d like to try to figure out who benefits from the law. It isn’t Marlise herself. She was an EMT, and her husband claims that her wishes were clear: she didn’t want to be kept on life support. It isn’t her family. Her parents and her husband want to honor her wishes, and her parents even expressed an interest in overturning the current law. It isn’t the hospital. Though there is some profit to be made on keeping her in her current state, the reason given by the hospital sounds like it’s based on the fear of legal repercussions if they don’t.

I think that covers all of the parties who are directly involved. Does it benefit society? It’s hard to see how a law that overrides a woman’s wishes for end of life decisions can be generally positive. In this case, it isn’t even clear that the child’s best interests are being served, since a brain-dead body cannot properly regulate hormone levels (or other factors necessary for the normal development of a fetus). A society in which we are forced to use legally dead women to incubate fetuses sounds less than ideal — I think we can all agree to that.

Who does benefit then? Why is this law in place? Apparently, laws of this type were a response to advance directives (living wills) — an attempt to appease the Roman Catholic Church. Now it begins to make sense. Rather, it becomes clear that it shouldn’t be a law. Laws apply to everyone, regardless of religion, so they should be formulated on principles that are not based on religious beliefs.

When I talk to people from western Europe, they think it’s quaint that being an atheist is something worthy of discussion. The way that I think it’s quaint when someone from Kansas thinks that being gay is a big deal. This is an example of why the discourse on religion still matters here. American atheists have to live with religiously motivated laws that benefit no one!

More info on this topic:

Pregnant, and forced to stay on life support (NYT) 

Marlise Munoz On Life Support Sparks Controversy And Lawsuit (Huffington Post)

Brain-Dead Marlise Munoz’s Fetus Is “Distinctly Abnormal.” (Slate)

Save people (from religion)

I have been told that the most effective way to convert believers to atheism is to plant a seed of doubt and let that destroy their religious beliefs from within. In two easy steps!

1. Ask why they believe what they believe.

2. Ask whether they think people of other religions feel the same way about their religion and/or have had similar experiences. Alternately, ask why (1) indicates the existence of the god of their chosen religion (excluding all other gods).

I have tried this only once, but it was the only thing that got the other person to even consider my point of view.

Religion for comfort

The only argument that I have heard in favor of religion that I accept secular life doesn’t provide is comfort. Similarly, the only good argument for homeopathy is that it exploits the placebo effect for conditions that are vague or possibly psychosomatic.

But if we accept that the only worthwhile point of religion is to be comforting, why do people flock to a handful of common ones? Do things have to be true to be comforting? I guess lies seem more true if more people believe the same ones. Wouldn’t it be better if every person just made up their own mythology? I’m sure there are things about the Christian god that most find unpleasant. Any notions of hell, sin, jealousy, vengeance, pestilience, commandments, judging etc. don’t seem at all comforting.

The beauty of making someone up is that you can make them to your exact specifications. Don’t like jealousy? Your god doesn’t have to be jealous. Want to be accepted and loved unconditionally? Declare it as true. Want your god to have stunning ice blue eyes and a heart-melting smile? Then he* does. Want to attribute your misplaced keys to your god lovingly playing a prank on  you? Will it make you smile? If you ask him, maybe he’ll tell you where they are! I’m sure that anyone reading this can make up a genesis story and a deity far more interesting, pleasant and comforting than the god of any common religion.

If it’s just the comfort you seek, make up your own god. Then you don’t have to be beholden to anyone else’s interpretation of your holy books. You don’t have to follow any dogma you don’t want to. Your god won’t have a single flaw or a contradiction if you create him just so. Just engineer him to be whatever makes you happiest.

* As always, gendered pronouns for convenience.

Worst place to be gay

This documentary on attitudes and policies towards gays in Uganda came out last year, but I just saw it a few days ago. I noted with interest that in every interview, when people were asked why they wanted homosexuals to be locked up or put to death, they responded with some variant of “because the bible says it’s wrong.”

Here’s the thing: throughout the world, gay people are contributing positively to society. They are parents who never have children by accident, they are (on average in the US) more highly educated and earn larger salaries, they’ve been pioneers in fields from cryptography to play writing. Rather than persecuting homosexuals because the bible says we should*, why not ignore the bible instead? Treat it as another book. Take to heart only the lessons that are worth learning. Give it no more respect or reverence than any other work of fiction.

All of this reminds me of something Steven Weinberg asserts:

Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things it takes religion.

* Is there even consensus that it says this?

Re: Against Drift

The email from the listserve today was from a woman who had drifted away from her Catholic upbriging. That email can be accessed here.

She says:

“If I’m going to be a lapsed Catholic, I want it to be a product of reading and honest questioning, investigating the philosophical arguments for Catholicism, really narrowing down what I agree with.”

But when you became a Catholic, presumably at birth, was your faith a result of reading, questioning and investigation? You were just told things as if they were facts, and because you were young and you trusted your parents, you believed them.

Reading, questioning and investigating should be done before taking up a belief, certainly. But before embracing non-religious life? Why? It’s reasonable to have lack of belief and ritual as a default until you are convinced that a set of ideas has merit. By all means, investigate the religion you were brought up with. But never think that you owe any religion a thorough consideration of its holy texts and apologetic arguments before you decide you don’t believe. You didn’t read the entirety of gnome mythology before concluding that there probably aren’t gnomes in your garden. Remember that the burden of proof is on them.

In other words, come to the dark side: we have cookies. And we sleep in on Sundays.

Worship-worthy test

When I hear about a god, in particular, a god that wishes for worship, I ask one question to figure out if he’s worthwhile. Given everything I know about the god, is he at least as good as the best possible human (hence abbreviated bph) I can imagine?

If the answer is no, then he’s clearly not worth worshipping. So, I have eliminated all “jealous” gods right off. The bph would not be jealous. I can also eliminate any god that wants people to worship him, since even an average schmuck of a human wouldn’t want that. I can eliminate with prejudice any god that has committed murder of any kind, especially annihilation of entire populations. Even worse are gods who sacrafice their own children — for any reason. The god of Christianity isn’t looking so good by my standards…

Of course, apologists will say that I can’t judge their god on the same level as humans. I agree. A god should be at least as good as someone I would consider a decent human. If a god can’t meet that minimum standard, there’s no way for me to summon any genuine worshipful feelings.

Edit: How could I possibly forget to include the exception of my darling Loki. Of course, my choice to forgive him all his faults and adore him anyway is my own and I would never recommend that to anyone who hasn’t been similarly charmed by the trickster god.

Is Tom Hiddleston an Atheist?

Before you get excited, the short answer is I don’t know for sure I would be suprised if he wasn’t. Everything you read here is speculation based on publicly available information.

That being said, I suspect the answer is “yes”. The quote that gave me this impression comes from an interview (emphasis mine):

The thing about playing gods, whether you’re playing Thor and Loki or Greco Roman gods or Indian gods or characters in any mythology, the reason that gods were invented was because they were basically larger versions of ourselves.

Another indication is that while he constantly talks about how much of a privilege it was to work with great actors, and how glad he is that he got the opportunity to do movies like The Avengers, he never mentions or thanks god. Perhaps these practices are only common in America? Though, he has responded “bless you for saying that” in response to compliments.

In this interview, he went out of his way to affirm that he is fine with homosexuality — something most religious people probably wouldn’t do. The interviewer asks if he is metrosexual and he responds:

Um..  m-  m-  I.. maybe hetero? I d-definitely hetero, I would say. Yeah. Em. <giggles> But that’s just my particular preference. I have nothing against metro, or anything else, for that matter.

So, why would he have never mentioned being an atheist? My guess that it’s still early enough in his superstardom that he is concerned about alienating his fanbase. Especially in the super-religious US.

He read classics at Cambridge University. That environment would have exposed him to ideas and peers that make it hard to continue believing in a god — if he ever did. Atheism has been reliably shown to be correlated with intelligence. He’s seems to be an intelligent, thoughtful person. Given that and the quotes above, I think he’s likely an atheist.

This last quote from Tom doesn’t indicate much, but it is a lovely secular humanist sentiment:

 I think if I had anything that I would like to leave behind as sort of a message, I’d want people to understand the primacy of kindness. The power of it to change the world. [source]

Do you have any evidence one way or another? I’d love to hear it.

Edit (9.18.2012) – Found two quotes possibly showing Tom believes in god:

I try not to make plans. God always laughs at your plans.

The other, from his twitter account, dated 25 Oct 11, is him quoting Chariots of Fire:

I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me FAST, and when I run, I feel his pleasure.

Though, this last may just be an expression of how he feels about running. Loon.

Edit(2.6.2013) – Thanks to reader Sophie mentioning the “Manifesto for Atheists” — Tom has apparently posted a link to this recently. This is sufficient evidence for me!

Convicts for Christ

Tonight, we were out in Waikiki and passed a group of men handing out pamphlets. One was shouting as loud as his voice would permit about JESUS and SIN. I had this conversation with a man who had a cross of red duct tape on his t-shirt:

man: [Something about Jesus. He died for my sins or loves me, or something.]
me: Jesus isn’t real.
man: What do you believe in then?
me: Have you seen the Avengers? I believe in Loki.
man: *snickers* But that’s fiction.
me: You’re telling me my god is fiction? Your god is fiction.
man: Well, is there written record of him?
me: YES! Loki is well documented in Norse mythology and there are writings about him which date back to pre-christian times.
man: …

The conversation went on far longer than this, but the rest was textbook and circular. He had nothing to offer me but Pascal’s Wager (repeated at least 8 times), the 2nd law of thermodynamics, “matter can’t arise from nothing”, “0 does not equal 1”, an appeal to authority, an appeal to large numbers, and something about “look at these wonderful things like love and babies”. Basically, arguments that Richard Dawkins rips to shreds in The God Delusion. I’ll leave you with a quote that I think got him to at least consider why he believes in his particular god and no other.

When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.

— Stephen F Roberts

Faith Healing

I’m not sure how to feel about religious parents who deny health care to their children.

If we ignore for a minute the suffering of these children, the majority of whom have treatable illnesses with good prognoses, we see that these actions are bad for the survival of the meme. Fewer surviving children => fewer people who can be indoctrinated => fewer people to spread the faith healing religion.

Maybe it would cause less suffering overall to ignore them and let time take its course? How many people do you suppose will have to lose a young family member before no one practices the religion anymore?

I briefly considered the possibility that they may be gaining some evolutionary advantage by refusing medical care. Now I’m not so sure, since many of the deaths I’ve read about were caused by one-offs (e.g., tumors) rather than strongly heritable diseases.