Matilda Joslyn Gage

Matilda Joslyn GageOn this day in 1826, the writer, activist, and so much more, Matilda Joslyn Gage was born. There tends to be a problem for me when I write about the suffragist of the 19th century: they are so Christian. But Gage was a harsh critic of Christianity, which (if you haven’t noticed) is an extremely sexist religion as portrayed in the canon. She was more of a religious eclectic and mystic. In religion and politics, she was far more radical in her thinking than other more well known suffragists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan Brownell Anthony.

That in itself is typical of our sexist society. Sensing this, historian Margaret Rossiter coined the term “Matilda Effect.” This is the effect that is entirely still with us where female scientists are not given proper credit. A fantastic example of this is Rosalind Franklin. She died before her work was recognized by the Nobel committee, but her name was not even mentioned when Crick, Watson, and Wilkins were given theirs. What’s more, in his memoir, Watson made repeated attacks on her as a scientist and generally minimized her contributions to the science.

I think a different thing has gone on with Gage’s reputation. We always choose to celebrate the political activists who in hindsight seem less threatening. For all his greatness, we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday because Malcolm X still scares white folk. Similarly, Matilda Joslyn Gage is exactly the kind of women who today we call “bossy” or “bitchy” or the word my female friends insist I not us: a c-word. A great example of this was that Gage didn’t think, like most suffragists of the time, that women should be given the vote because of their feminine moral superiority; she believed in the essential equality of the sexes.

She was also against abortion, but for the most radical of reasons. She argued that men wanted to maintain their fortunes by having few children to dilute their inheritance. Although this theory is very clearly wedded to her social class, it is essentially a socialistic argument. Indeed, she argued that it was a “self-evident fact of nature which needs no other inspiration, to show the world that the mother, and not the father, is the true head of the family.” This was in reference to allowing women to divorce unfaithful men. It’s interesting that both of these conclusions would appeal to modern social conservatives. But her arguments are in the service of freeing women—the exact opposite of what the social conservatives are attempting to do.

She was also an outspoken advocate for Native American independence. She seemed particularly concerned about the floating commitments to the native populations. Whatever was in the interest of the United States at any time, that was the policy. Even today I occasionally hear people arguing that Native Americans should not be able to have casinos. So 150 years ago, she was still ahead of many Americans today. I couldn’t find any statues of her. We need to make some.

Happy birthday Matilda Joslyn Gage!

Why You Can’t Argue With Christian Apologists

Bill MaherOn the 14 March 2014 Real Time, Bill Maher had a few choice words about the biblical flood story. He said, “It’s about a psychotic mass murderer who gets away with it, and his name is God. Genesis says God was so angry with himself for screwing up when he made mankind so flawed that he sent the flood to kill everyone. Men, women, children, babies. What kind of tyrant punishes everyone just to get back at the few he’s mad at…” Needless to say, the Christian community went more crazy than usual. It’s kind of strange, because what Maher said was not only typical of him but of most people in the atheist community.

In the details, however, Maher is wrong. I think that objectively, the Old Testament God is not a psychotic; he’s a psychopath. But most gods of that period were! The people didn’t conceive of entirely good gods, because they saw very clearly what their lives were. While they weren’t necessarily “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short,” they did see large numbers of their children die for no reason. God brought good things but he also brought bad things. He was very much like an alcoholic father.

Christian Jerry Newcombe shot back at Maher, claiming that God was mad at everyone except for Noah’s family and that’s why he drown them all. He then goes on to make an argument that leans heavily on a bit of apologetics that I associate with William Lane Craig. Jerry NewcombeIt is never stated this way, but it goes like this: we define God as perfectly good; therefore, anything God does is perfectly good. Thus, God was correct to judge those people and kill them. “He is not accountable to us,” Newcombe wrote, “We are accountable to Him.” And then Newcombe flits off to talk about the movie and how the flood story is symbolic of Jesus: you are either saved or you ain’t.

The problem with this article is that it proves Maher’s point. If God’s idea of good is what we would call evil, why is anyone worshiping him? And the answers always come down to the same thing, “Because I want to be let into the after-party.” That, of course, brings up the issue of intention. Is it really okay to believe in Jesus just to get the reward? Isn’t that kind of, well, pathetic? Ken HamAnd what about God? He tricks humans by giving them brains which are designed to be skeptical. He puts all kinds of evidence out that indicates that he doesn’t exist. And then he punishes them for doing what he created them to do. Like I said: psychopath. But people like Jerry Newcombe have just decided that when God is a psychopath, it is by definition good.

A more explosive reaction to Maher was from young earth creationist Ken Ham. After noting that “God is a God of grace and mercy,” Ham goes on to say that Christians must pray for Maher. Because if he doesn’t see the light he will suffer the fate foretold in Revelation 21:8:

But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.

Now many people, like Tony Ortega at The Raw Story think this is ironic. But to the Christian apologist, it isn’t. God is a God of grace and mercy by definition. When he tortures, with fire and brimstone, those who didn’t crack his code, he is being merciful because he can’t be anything but.

Even though I’m an atheist, I rather admire religion in as much as people get meaning from it. But there are really only two kinds of Christians. The first kind are like your grandmother: they pick and choose and believe the nice bits. That’s sweet: God bless them all! But the rigorous ones—the ones who publish articles in The Christian Post, they have a different approach that does not deserve any respect at all. In their efforts to make all the parts work, they develop a god that is not in the least worthy of worship. And intellectually it is a crutch. People like Maher can point out really big moral problems in what is supposedly the Good Book. And their response is that no argument is acceptable; you just have to love God and you will see that everything he does is good, regardless of how pathological it is.

Bill Maher 1; Christian Apologists 0.

Afterword

Note that I often disagree with Maher. He can be a total idiot:

Bill Maher and False Equivalence (I win!)
Bill Maher Bashes Disability
Wrong Again, Bill!
Bill Maher Spouts Anti-Muslim Racism
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For Some MA370 Will Always Be Mystery

Conspiracy TheoryAccording to the Malaysian government, MA370 went down in the Southern Indian Ocean with no hope of survivors. This doesn’t come as a surprise, but it’s sad. I had rather hoped that the plane had be hijacked so that the people had a chance. But it is not to be it would seem. Still many question remain and I wanted to address that: questions will always remain—at least for some.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve heard all kind of ridiculous speculation. There was the contention that the plane had been hijacked by terrorists who were fitting it with explosives. They were then going to crash it into a building in the United States. Or Israel. It seems that to many conservatives in this country, Israel is the most patriotic state in the union. Another theory was really a classic in the “government is so secretive except they left clues” genre: the plane was taken hostage and the American government was negotiating with the terrorists, but just wasn’t telling anyone. And, of course, there were actually people claiming it was abducted by aliens. My colleague at The Reaction tweet out this brilliant response:

But let’s assume the best: the wreckage is found and we have the black box and everything is figured out. In that case, people will still think there is some kind of conspiracy. As it is, I still hear people say that Flight 93 didn’t really go down. And one of their reasons: because there was no wreckage. Except that there was wreckage and it has been widely reported.

The problem is that for over two weeks, people have been able to speculate. And it was the best kind of speculation: based upon an almost complete absence of evidence! So a lot of people are vested in a particular theory. And if not that then at least the idea that there was something nefarious going on. And even if it turns out that the captain went crazy or something similar, that won’t be nearly as compelling as terrorists (Or governments!) conspiring to do their evil secret deeds.

So be prepared for being pulled into silly conversations about “what really happened” to Malaysia Airlines flight 370 long after you thought that everyone already knew.

Our Stingy Social Security Benefits

Fiscal CliffOver the weekend, Isaiah Poole over at Truthout wrote, This Statistic Should Shut Down Any Talk of Cutting Social Security. The statistic: “36 percent of workers, according to one poll, have less than $1,000 saved for their retirement.” He’s right that it should shut down any talk of cutting social security, but it certainly won’t.

I’ve been pleased to see a lot more talk about raising Social Security benefits. What we’ve had until recently is a typically American “two sided” debate: on the one side is that we should cut or even eliminate Social Security; the other other side is that we shouldn’t do that. Yes, that’s our beloved Democratic Party: always taking a strong stand for not making things even worse. Even with the recent movement among some liberals, the current Democratic position is just to resist cuts.

Let’s compare our Social Security benefits to similar (but poorer) countries. The minimum benefit for an individual retiring in France is roughly $13,000 per year. The minimum benefit in the United Kingdom is $12,000 per year. Even poor Spain is $10,000 per year. Compare this to the minimum benefit in the United States: zero. Of course, the government will provide a base according to need. And for an individual that base is a maximum of $8,000.

If you look at the maximum benefit, you will find that the United States looks about the same. We are extremely stingy to our elderly population. And note, we don’t pay in much less. In fact, employees directly pay in a lot less in Spain. And the other countries generally allow a lot more flexibility. And the retirement age is younger. And they live longer in those countries. It really sucks to be poor and old in America. And we should be ashamed, except the power elite in this country don’t seem to be capable of shame.

So what are we going to do? Frankly, I have very little hope. The forty year push in the Democratic Party to meet with the Republicans (only to have them move to the edge of the extreme right) has brought us here. And the people are on the verge of rewarding amazingly bad behavior on the part of the Republicans by giving them the Senate. At this point, the official desire of the Democratic Party to simply hold ground on Social Security may be the best we can do. But that’s a self-fulfilling thing: it is our only option because for forty years, it was our only desire.

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