Category Archives: Religion

The Art of the Compromise

The Book

I haven’t read “The Art of the Deal,” but I suspect that part of it has to do with the give and take that is necessary in order to achieve a deal. My understanding of the word “deal” implies that I get some things I want, and you get some things you want. I don’t get everything I want, and you don’t get everything you want. But presumably each gets enough to be satisified. In other words, a compromise.

Compromise is a lost art nowadays in our political discourse. There is no middle ground, only absolutes. There are no deals. Either I get everything and you get nothing, or vice-versa. Take the issue of gun control for example (brought to mind by the shooting yesterday at the Republican congressional baseball practice). Certainly there are some on the left who would want to ban all weapons more powerful than a cap gun and there are some on the right who see nothing wrong with tactical nuclear weapons in the hands of the mentally ill. But I suspect most people are somewhere in the middle. They don’t want to ban guns outright, but wouldn’t mind at least a smidge of regulation in their sales. However there is never any compromise on this issue in Congress. The NRA raises the “slippery slope” argument, namely that any regulation at all only leads to more and more regulation, until guns are outlawed completely, and only outlaws have guns. The slippery slope argument can be applied to any position one takes and immediately shuts down any attempts to compromise.

Why is compromise a dirty word today?  The word “compromise” as a verb as oppose the the noun has always had negative conotations. A person who has been compromised is open to criticism or even blackmail. Compromise, like the word “sanction”, is a bit of a contronym, that is, a word with meanings that are at odds with each other. How much of the conflation of the good and bad meanings of compromise is the result of politics and how much the result of imprecision of language is difficult to gauge. Whatever the reason, compromise is a bad word in Washington, and possibly in the minds of many people. The constant demonization of the other side, fueled by talk radio and biased news sources, makes any attempt at compromise a “deal with the devil.” Moreover, many people approach debatable topics from an immutable position and with religious fervor, which is understandable because their position is based on religion. Religion and compromise are not words that belong in the same sentence. Religious positions, such as views on abortion and contraception, are simply not open to debate. Thus attempts to limit abortion indirectly by increasing availability of contraceptives and sex education, though logical, fall on deaf ears to the religiously indoctrinated. The increased influence of the religious right in the Republican party has certainly contributed to squelching the spirit of compromise that once existed in Congress.

The left is guilty as well. They demonize any who criticize the tenants of Islam (tenants that are anti-gay, anti-woman’s rights, that include death for apostasy and blasphemy, and so on) as “Islamophobes” and racists. While there is, no doubt, some vicious anti-Muslim sentiment on the right, the attitude that any criticism whatsoever of a religion is forbidden only serves to shut down debate and increasingly polarizes people. It is impossible to advance the debate under these circumstances, and thus we are all paralyzed into inaction while terror attack after terror attack occurs. The mandatory “thoughts and prayers” don’t seem to be cutting it in preventing these attacks.  We need a rational debate on the ideologies that lead to terror attacks, but this isn’t happening.

Returning to the baseball shooting, it was depressing to read the social media posts on Twitter afterwards. References to Kathy Griffin’s decapitated Trump stunt and the Julius Caesar play with Trump as Caesar as instigating factors were common. I do think it is likely that such anti-Trump, anti-Republican imagery and similar violent talk on the left played into the attacker’s rationale for taking matters into his own hand. After all, the attacker was an angry man who supported Bernie Sanders. On other hand there has been no dearth of similar violent talk from the right, and if anything, attacks inspired by the right, such as the knife attack in Oregon on three men defending two Muslim teens, seem to be more common. The point that both sides must now realize is that extreme, violent rhetoric can inspire a nut from either end of the political spectrum, with tragic results.

Let’s face it. In a more and more polarized country, no one is going to get his way, at least for long. Sure one party can come into power and effect its agenda. But then the pendulum will swing, as the other other side gets angry and comes out to vote. Then the other side will come into power and undo everything. This is an incredible waste of resources and a failure of leadership. The only sane course is that of compromise, taking a middle course, and realizing that neither side has all the answers. Of course that only works if the people themselves can move towards the center, away from their protective bubbles on the right and left. I’m not sure this can happen, due to the constant propaganda from non-objective media outlets and the coarsening of discourse via social media.

In an alternative universe there may be a Donald J. Trump who authored “The Art of the Deal” and came to Washington to actually make deals across party lines. Someone who forced Republicans and Democrats to find common ground and to work out legislation that would appeal to both sides. Each side would get some things they liked and some things they didn’t like. Each side could think that perhaps next election the balance of power would shift and they could get a few more things they liked into law. No side would ever be completely happy, but neither they would be completely unhappy either. But each would be respectful of the other side, would use courteous language, and would not accuse each other of being unpatriotic or un-American.

What am I thinking? I sound like a typical libtard snowflake.

Reacting to Terrorism in Nice

Promenade des Anglais, Nice, France
Promenade des Anglais, Nice, France

Every other year Cardiostim, a major international convention for cardiac electrophysiologists, is held in Nice, France. Starting in 2000, and up until I retired, I made it a point to attend this meeting. The sessions were fun, but more fun was the chance to get away from it all and enjoy the sunny ambiance of the French Riviera. Knowing Nice quite well, it was especially horrifying to see the images on television last night of murder and mayhem. A man drove a large truck through a crowd along the Promenade des Anglais, mowing down dozens of people who had just finished watching a fireworks display celebrating Bastille Day, France’s equivalent of our Independence Day. All the details aren’t in yet, but sadly we have all become so familiar with this type of atrocity that there’s little doubt what investigators will find. A Muslim, heeding the exhortations of ISIS or al-Qaeda or some other jihadist group, decided to martyr himself in the cause of killing the “unbelievers” in as gruesome and dramatic way as possible. Perhaps the worst part of this is the palpable sense of frustration that most people (I included) feel. Since September 11, 2001, when the “War on Terror” was declared, things only seem to have gotten worse, with more and more terrorist attacks happening closer and closer to home. How can our leaders have so bungled things? What can be done to stop the insanity?

I grew up in the industrial Northeast of the United States, so predictably I am a progressive on most issues. I don’t like the evangelical social agenda and trickle-down economics of the right wing in this country. But I am exasperated with our left wing’s political correctness that refuses to acknowledge that religious doctrine is the main problem here. I’m sure if you asked the truck driver why he did it, he would answer it was his religious beliefs. For Hilary Clinton or President Obama to say that this is not the “true” Islam begs the question: who defines what is the “true” Islam? Presumably neither one of them is a Muslim, so neither one actually believes that any strain of Islam is true. If it’s all imaginary, what makes one imaginary belief more true than another? The main problem is the tendency to magical thinking in the first place, the innate gullibility of humans to accept outrageous ideas without adequate proof (a good definition of “faith”), in other words, religion. We underestimate religion as a destructive force. It has brought down the world before. The classical world of Greece and Roman was brought to its knees by Christianity. The subsequent period of religious dominance is aptly named “The Dark Ages.” And now, in the Age of Technology, with our smart phones and space probes orbiting the planet Jupiter, we again face a return to barbarism inflicted on us by the latest iteration of belief in that miserable vindictive God of Abraham.

The human race needs to grow up fast and shed its irrational religious crutches, or we are just going to continue to have our hearts broken again and again.

Stranger in a Strange Land

Inside Noah's Ark (photo from AP)
Inside Noah’s Ark (photo from AP)

Reading about the opening of the Noah’s Ark Theme Park in Kentucky brings to mind the days when I worked as a physician in that state. I had moved from an academic position in Colorado and joined a large group of private practice cardiologists in Louisville. I found that people in Kentucky were different from those in Colorado. They were much more overtly religious.

As an interventional electrophysiologist I would meet with each patient’s family before and after every procedure. Not infrequently one of the group sitting in the waiting room was introduced as “this is our pastor.” Usually at some point the pastor would suggest a round of prayer, and I was expected to participate, at least by bowing my head and maintaining a respectful silence. If the prayer was before the procedure the main focus was usually to make sure God guided my hand and the outcome would be good. Prayers after the procedure usually focused on thanking God for safely getting the patient through the procedure and asking for a speedy recovery.

It was not a good time to bring up the fact that I was an atheist. So I just went along with it, only briefly and mildly discomforted. Religion gives strength and comfort to people in the life and death situations that doctors often deal with. I rationalized that my silent participation was helping my patient and the family psychologically. Besides, how would they feel about my performing complicated heart procedures on their loved one if they thought I was an unbelieving heathen incapable of accepting God’s guiding hand?

It’s uncomfortable to be an atheist and a doctor, just as it uncomfortable in America to be an atheist in general. Polls show that the public distrust atheists to about the same degree they distrust Muslims. Being an atheist is practically taboo for someone running for public office. George H. W. Bush famously said “… I don’t think that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation under God.”   Atheists are considered immoral by religious people. They point to the atrocities committed by Stalin, Mao, or Hitler. Atheists in turn point out the Crusades, the Inquisition, the burning of witches, or, more recently, the atrocities of al-Qaeda and ISIS. Neither the religious or non-religious have a monopoly on morality.

As social consciousness is raised about oppressed groups such as the LGBT community, there has been little progress in the acceptance of atheists in American society (I mention America because the situation is quite different in Europe). And yet the non-religious are a fast growing group. In 2014, 22.8% of Americans did not identify with a religion.  Although a relatively small percentage of these people call themselves as atheists, probably because of the negative connotations of that term, this overall percentage is larger than the percentage of Catholics, Mormons, Jews, or Muslims.  It is amazing how unrepresented this large group is in our government! If one looks at scientists, (2009 Pew poll ), only 33% profess belief in God, vs 83% in the general public.  There is some evidence that the top, elite scientists are even less likely to believe in God (only 7%).  But do doctors hold beliefs similar to scientists? An older poll from 2005 showed that 77% believe in God, slightly fewer than the general population, but far more than scientists.  Nevertheless there are undoubtedly many doctors who do not share the religious faith of their patients.

To the religious patients who read this and feel they wouldn’t want a non-religious doctor:  I can assure you that I am a good person, with a sense of morals rooted in our common humanity. Not believing in an afterlife just makes me want to focus more on improving the quality of this earthly life, the only life I believe we have. I would only ask you not to assume that your doctor holds the same religious beliefs as you or that your doctor wants to participate in group prayer with you and your family.

To the non-religious doctors who read this I ask: how do you deal with your atheism in your practice? Are you, like I was, basically mum about it? Would your patients distrust you if they knew? Would they find another doctor? Is it better to pretend to be religious, just as pretending that a placebo is a real drug can be beneficial? In many parts of the country this question comes up rarely or not at all (I never faced it in Colorado), but in Kentucky, the state of Ken Hamm and Kim Davis, as well as throughout the Baptist South, I assure you that this is an issue you will face.

Back when the Creation Museum opened in Petersburg, Kentucky in 2007, I was one of the protesters who stood by the entrance and waved signs touting science and reason over belief that the Earth is only 6000 years old and that dinosaurs and humans lived together at the same time. I watched as families with small children and church buses filled with impressionable kids drove past. There were a number of obscene gestures pointed our way, but most people just seemed puzzled that anyone would question their beliefs.

Standing next to the hospital bed, I only wanted to help my patient and if that meant concurring with their religious beliefs, so be it. But I also think non-religious doctors, and non-religious people in general, are afraid to “come out of the closet” and assert their own beliefs — belief in the beauty of nature and science, and in our own innate morality. After the attacks in Paris, San Bernardino, Brussels, Orlando, Istanbul, and Baghdad — just to mention some of the latest — the destructive force of extreme religious ideology is evident to all. Given what is at stake it isn’t helpful for non-religious doctors or for that matter for any non-religious people to hide their beliefs.

Which is why I wrote this.

Paris, Je t’aime

Café in Paris
Café in Paris

It is said that one shouldn’t write an email when angry. That also probably applies to blog posts. But I am too angry to heed my own advice.

Since 2014 my wife and I have spent 6 or 7 months out of each year in Paris. We intend to go back again this January. There is no happier or better place on Earth than Paris on a Friday night. The restaurants and bars are full of people, mostly young, college-age. Besides the French there are visitors from everywhere: other Europeans, Americans, Asians, Africans, and Middle Easterners. The spirit of conviviality engendered by good food, good wine and good conversation is contagious. People go to the cinema, to plays, to opera, to concerts. The scene is a reflection of the best that Western Civilization has to offer.

So, like others, I was horrified by the events in Paris last night. It is a stab in the heart of all that is good in our culture. Like the attacks of 9/11/2001, this attack on the City of Lights brings into sharp focus the evil of the enemy, and the high stakes of this conflict. The world for an all-too-brief moment will unite in condemnation of this attack. But unfortunately prayers, kind thoughts, and lighting up buildings will not prevent future atrocities.  I am not willing to throw up my hands and accept a world where attacks like this are commonplace. Nor am I willing to live in a nanny security state, where my every move is monitored and Parisian cafés are guarded by metal detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs. I believe the enemy must be confronted head-on and eliminated.

A first step is to accept that Islamic religious fundamentalism is a major, if not the ultimate, cause of yesterday’s terrorism. Certainly one can argue that there are also economic and other factors.  Nevertheless people are not recruited into this movement without religious enticement, and no one would strap bombs to their bodies without the faith that they are doing Allah’s work and their efforts will be rewarded in the afterlife. I feel that Middle-Eastern religions have long been a pernicious influence on our culture.  Our Western Civilization is based on Graeco-Roman values, not religions originating in the Middle East. Only when religion has been tamed (as during the Enlightenment) have we been able to make social progress. We went through similar troubles with Christianity during the Middle Ages, and, if Islam has its way, we will end up with Middle Ages version 2.0.

Certainly there are many good people who are religious, including Muslims. But religion is a little like alcohol. Most people can handle it fine, but some can’t. Some become alcoholics, and alcohol controls their lives. Similarly religion can control people’s lives, and since it is “faith-based” as opposed to “reality-based,” it doesn’t matter to them if their religion tells them to do things that are inhuman and monstrous. I can only wonder if those Muslim men who aimed their rifles at innocent men and women their own age and one by one shot them in that Paris theater had any second-thoughts, any thoughts that maybe, just maybe, what they were doing was wrong. If one’s morality is faith-based and not reality-based, then probably not.

liberty
The Eiffel Tower and the French Statue of Liberty

I am angry that in America, on the left, there are those who are so invested in diversity at any cost, who are so intent on the pursuit of political correctness, who are so unwilling to offend those who profess primitive religious beliefs like stoning for adulterers and female genital mutilation that they refuse to identify Islam as a root cause of terrorism. I am also angry with those on the right who kowtow to our own (admittedly more benign) religious fundamentalists to the point of being anti-science and behind the times on social issues.   We need a clear, objective discussion of the fundamental religious problem that is the root of terrorism, regardless of its potential to offend Muslims, and without adding in religious overtones suggestive of another Crusade.

To those who say an ideology can’t be defeated by military force, I wonder if they would have used the same arguments in World War II. Should we have just let Nazism spread through the world, because killing Nazis would just create more Nazis? The Islamic State (we shouldn’t call them ISIS or ISIL, it is a way to make us forget they are trying to impose Islam on us) has leaders who are living, breathing, vulnerable human beings. Their propaganda is spread though the Internet and via their madrasas, just as Nazi propaganda was spread via the radio, print media, and the Hitler Youth by Dr. Goebbels. Like the Nazis, they can be defeated.

It would take a world effort. America, Europe, Russia, China, and other countries all have a common interest in eliminating this threat. Half a million troops from each country could impose martial law in Syria and Iraq. Just like de-nazification was performed after World War II in Germany, de-jihadization of the Middle East would be necessary. Eliminate the madrasas and set up secular schools. Nazism is no longer a threat and Islam could be defanged as well. We spend tons of money on our military. We have over 2 million active duty and reserve troops. We need an all-out military effort, not a self-hampered, limited engagement. World War II was a good cause. Fixing the Middle East once and for all would be too.

There is nothing we can do to make the world completely safe from crazy people. But I think we can defeat this crazy religion that turns young men and women into walking bombs. At some point we will have to. What more is it going to take beyond what happened in Paris last night? How many more innocent people must die? How many planes need to be bombed out of the sky? How many journalists beheaded or pilots burned alive? How many ancient monuments destroyed? Do we need another attack in the US? The pyramids blown up? For me, I’ve already reached the point where enough is enough. Let’s roll.

Futurama Revisited

GM Futurama exhibit 1964 New York World's Fair
GM Futurama exhibit 1964 New York World’s Fair

Fifty years ago my parents took me to the World’s Fair in New York. The year was 1964. I was twelve years old. It was a turbulent time in American history. The prior fall John F. Kennedy had been assassinated, initiating a long period of turmoil for the United States.  But it was still the era of America’s post-war technological greatness. The country was gearing up to fulfill Kennedy’s vision of a manned flight to the moon before the end of the decade. Products were still made in America, and we used the phrase “made in Japan” as a joke to mean something cheap and junky. People had savings accounts, and there were no credit cards. At the same time, racial discrimination and segregation were widespread. There was cringe-worthy sexism present, as anyone can tell by watching movies or TV shows from that era. There was no Medicare. US poverty levels were at an all time high. Lyndon Johnson and Congress went on to address some of these issues with the Civil Rights Act and the Social Security Act of 1965 which created Medicare and Medicaid. Johnson declared the War on Poverty in 1964 and poverty levels did fall. At the same time an undeclared war in southeast Asia was to cast a large shadow over his legacy and over the lives of boys turning 18 through the next decade.

Nevertheless it was a beautiful warm summer day when we visited the Fair. I remember the day well. Having devoured the Tom Swift, Jr. books and then science fiction of the 3 grandmasters, Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein, I was filled with boundless optimism about the future of technology. The Fair was crowded with Americans that didn’t look much like Americans of today.  Neatly dressed.  Thin.  I was old enough to notice the pretty teenage girls who were just a few years older than I, working summer jobs at the fair. I remember riding up the elevator in one of the saucer-like observation towers (you know them, they play a prominent role in the movie “Men in Black”) and shyly eying the cute girl seated on a stool operating the elevator controls. Yes, for you younger readers, elevators used to be manually operated. The fair made a lot of predictions, but I don’t think automatic elevators was one of them.

The General Motors pavilion was aptly named Futurama. There is a YouTube video showing what it was like. I waited expectantly in the heat in a long line that stretched around the rectangular concrete windowless building. Inside we sat on cushioned chairs that automatically moved through the exhibit. There were vistas of a technologically rich future. Spacecraft exploring the moon. Scientists controlling the weather from a station in Antarctica. And in the environmentally naive outlook of that era, large machines cutting down rain forests to build roads to deliver “goods and prosperity.”

This exhibit was a highlight of the fair. Afterwards we went to the General Electric pavilion where we witnessed a demonstration of nuclear fusion (was it real? I honestly don’t know, and the Internet is vague about it). There was a loud bang and a bright light.  All very impressive, especially at my young age.

There have been a number of recent articles (e.g.  here, here, and here)  about the Fair and about which predictions it got right and which were wrong. Curiously there weren’t any predictions about medical science that I remember. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention. I think I wanted to be an astronaut back then. Pacemakers were brand new and digitalis and quinidine were staples for treatment of abnormal heart rhythms. The huge advances in medicine that were to come between now and then could not even be imagined.

I remember there was some stuff about computers, but at the time a single computer with less memory and processing power than that in my cell phone filled a large room. And yet it’s amazing that level of computing power was able to get us to the moon. The thought that everyone would carry their own personal computer/communicator in their pocket was pretty far-fetched. A few years later in Star Trek Captain Kirk would use something that looked like a flip-phone, but gosh, no capacitive touch screen! It did have a neat ring tone however.

The networking together of the world’s computers (aka the Internet) was certainly not predicted. Having the knowledge of the world a few mouse clicks away is probably the most significant advance of the last 20 years or so. It has altered our lives, I believe mostly for the good (except when I read YouTube comments), in a fashion unimaginable 50 years ago. I’m disappointed that the exploration of space didn’t turn out as predicted. Where are our moon colonies, or our base on Mars? But I’m happy with the way the Information Age has turned out, and I wouldn’t trade my ability to spend an evening browsing Gigliola Cinquetti videos on YouTube for anything.

The social changes that have occurred since then have been significant and generally for the good. Communism has been marginalized and the threat of nuclear war diminished. Religious fundamentalism remains a thorn in the side of humanity, as it has always been. Certainly there is still sexism and racism and we have further to go in correcting social injustice. But if I had told my dad back in the 60s that the United States would elect a black president, I’m sure he would have said something like “That’ll be the day!”

University of Louisville Hospital Merger with Catholic Health Initiatives Rejected

After much anticipation, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear rejected the proposed merger between the University of Louisville Hospital, Jewish Hospital, Sts. Mary and Elizabeth Hospital with the Denver-based Catholic Health Initiatives.  Even though this will probably hurt all institutions involved financially, I feel this was the right thing to do.  Although some other factors were cited in the decision, the overwhelming problem with the merger was the imposition of Catholic beliefs on the practice of reproductive medicine at University Hospital.  Like most university hospitals, there is a large indigent patient population that is served by the hospital, and, like it or not, reproductive services are an important offering.  We are not just talking about abortion here.  The merger would have banned procedures like tubal ligations and prescribing of oral contraceptives.  Yes, in the sacrosanct illogical world-view of mainstream Catholicism (not to mention many Protestants), contraception is verboten even though it is probably the best way to cut down on abortions.  Anyway, the compromise position that the hospitals proposed was that patients needing reproductive services would be bused (hmm…) to Baptist Hospital East, the hospital for the wealthy Louisvillians who live on the east side of town (Louisville is still quite segregated, with marked contrasts between its east and west sides).  Among other things, the arrival of a busload of poor black folk at the predominantly wealthy white Baptist Hospital would be a sure tip-off of what these people were there for, which is a clear-cut HIPAA violation.

Recent years have seen a encroachment of the 1st amendment separation of church and state.  Government funding of religious charities, the so-called “Faith-based Initiatives” started by President George W. Bush and maintained by President Obama, are an obvious example.  Elections have become much more religious in nature, with candidates defending their religious faith, or raising their hands at a debate to say that no, they don’t believe in evolution.   We’ve gone quite a way backwards since the day that John F. Kennedy had to defend himself by saying that his religious views (he was a Catholic) would not influence his policy making in the White House.  Any candidate who said that  would get nowhere in politics in the America of 2012.  There are real doubts that a Mormon could be elected president, because, well, he’s a Mormon.

Despite the professions by the uninformed that “we are a Christian Country” (or the slightly more expansive “Judeo-Christian Country”), the founding fathers were mostly Deists, who went out of their way to set up a Constitution that would avoid the religious persecution that existed in Europe at the time.  There is no mention of God in the Constitution.  Even the presidential oath of office does not mention “so help me God.”  Despite the myth that it was added by George Washington, the first recorded use of the phrase in the presidential oath was by Chester Arthur in 1881.  “In God We Trust” was not made a motto of the United States until 1956.  It was added to paper money in 1957.  “Under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954.  This all happened at the height of the Cold War, when the United States was pitted against the “Godless Communists.”   Here is a recital of the Pledge from the 1940s or 50s without the “under God” phrase.  The point is that the increasing entanglement of politics and religion in the United States is a relatively recent phenomenon, and I applaud any attempt to resist this, in the true spirit of our founding fathers.  So kudos to Gov. Beshear!

Shame On Us

It is difficult to imagine a human being who would not be deeply saddened by the story of Tyler Clementi. The young college student, a promising musician, was gay and was “outed” in the most malicious and humiliating manner. As a result he ended his life, jumping from the George Washington Bridge. I wonder what the members of the Westboro Baptist Church, who hold up signs saying “God Hates Fags” at military funerals, think about this. Have they so lost their humanity that they don’t care or, worse, are happy that something like this still happens in the 21st century? Or do some of them still have enough residual humanity to feel a pang of guilt when reading about Tyler’s story?

Gay people have made major contributions to the arts, music and literature. I wonder how many fundamentalist Christians who take their children at Christmas time to The Nutcracker realize that its composer Tchaikovsky was gay and struggled with keeping it a secret his whole life. Gays serve our country in the military, even though they live under the constant threat of expulsion if their sexual orientation is exposed. Other industrialized countries have no problem with gays in the military. Only the United States and the middle eastern countries have such prohibitions against gay people — isn’t it nice that we have so much in common with Iran and Saudi Arabia on social issues? Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a basic human rights violation. President Obama should have ended it by executive order on day 1 of his administration.

One of the most disquieting examples of anti-gay prejudice is the story of Alan Turing. Turing was a mathematical genius, one of the fathers of the computer age. In World War II he decoded the Enigma Code of the Germans. The Germans never realized that their sophisticated code had been broken by the Allies, and this information was used by the Allies to save thousands of soldiers’ lives and was instrumental in winning the war. Alan Turing was one of the truly genuine heroes of our time. Alan Turing was also gay. He kept it a secret, but, like Tyler Clementi, was outed, and, since homosexuality was a crime in Britain at that time, was criminally tried and convicted. He was forced to undergo chemical sterilization with estrogen injections. He committed suicide by taking cyanide in 1954. I can’t think of anything more shameful than the way this great man was treated just because of his sexual preferences.

I hope some day we can look back at our era and wonder why we would discriminate based on sexual orientation in the same way we look back at the pre-Civil Rights era and wonder how we could have had separate restrooms for “Whites” and “Coloreds.” Until that day arrives, shame on us.

No Religious Test

“…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States…” US Constitution Article VI Section 3.

So what was the Rick Warren thing last night with Obama and McCain?

How far have we fallen. Not only is belief in imaginary beings a prerequisite to becoming President of the United States, but you must in addition kowtow to the warped, sadistic, specific belief that the Omnipresent, Omnipotent, Omniwhatever Ruler of the Universe tortured and killed his own Son because he somehow screwed up despite being Omnieverything and didn’t forsee that Eve would eat some apple proferred by a Talking Snake in some Garden. How do we ever expect to get a rational leader if his mind embraces the psychotic idea that good and evil spirits are running around controlling the world?

No more religious testing of the candidates, PLEASE!!!!

Rally For Reason

     Well, the Creationist “Museum” opened in Florence, KY last month.  It’s a disgrace for our state and a disgrace for our country since “Dr.” Ham, an Australian, found this to be the most receptive site on our planet for his assault on science.  The ridiculous notion that the universe is 6000 years old reveals the desperation of the biblical literalists – it requires a significant degree of desperation, after all, to fly in the face of reality and refuse to acknowledge evidence that is contrary to revelation.  What fuels this desperation?  Well, if the creation myth is false, perhaps the whole Bible and its Middle Eastern mythology is false.  What’ll they do then?

    I’d like to say a few words about Ham’s Folly from my atheist’s point of view.  First, a little of my background – I’ve been a physician for over 30 years and I work for the military.  Of the many places I’ve lived, and the many things I’ve done, the military is an institution which – at first glance – seems to be imbued with religiosity – mainly literal Biblical Christianity.  Many meetings and ceremonies at work have organized prayers, thanks to God, and other accoutrements of the faithful.  New recruits are held to mandatory informative sessions where they’re given information about shipping out to basic training or boot camp.  During these mandatory sessions, they’re visited by members of the Gideons who pass out New Testaments in camouflage covers and told, in many instances, that these are their military bibles.
 

     I’ve tolerated this – I think toleration is something that we all need to do in a pluralistic society – but, until now, I’ve remained silent. For the silence alone, I reproach myself.  My only excuse was that I feared I would be disliked, pre-judged, and harmed both professionally and financially – and possibly even physically.  Then, in a relatively short period of time, several events occurred which were of great concern. The family of Pat Tillman – a true patriot/soldier – was vilified for not being Christian.  The Smalkowski family in Oklahoma was cruelly harassed for their atheism.  Our president openly abuses scientific facts and replaces them with supernatural platitudes. Then, 3 of the candidates for President of the United States of America declared on national TV that they did not believe in evolution by natural selection.   Belief!  Since when was any scientific theory a belief rather than a conclusion based on verifiable and reproducible facts?   Now this museum will open its doors to countless young minds and misinformed adults who cling to dark-ages superstition.  That’s it.  Enough is enough!  To be silent any longer would be an unethical complicity in the ruination of our country, our culture, our civilization and, quite possibly, our world.
 

     This is not hyperbole.  Studies show that US students’ math and science competence lags far behind that of other industrialized countries in Europe and Asia.  How can we compete in a technological world, how can we be an admirable example for our culture, our way of life, and even for democracy abroad if we cling to narrow, fearful superstition at the expense of scientific knowledge?  Most importantly, how can we ever achieve lasting peace when people are not educationally enlightened?
 

     I feel most passionately about this last point.  I have great respect for the military and for the very brave individuals who lay their lives on the line to protect us in a world which can sometimes be very unsafe.  I’m proud of my work for the military.  But if we, as a country, adopt the Leo Straussian tactic of fighting for a country which is blessed by God, then we are doomed to fighting other peoples who are blessed by their own special God or Gods.  No lasting understanding can be achieved between countries and cultures which have diametrically opposed and dogmatic supernatural beliefs intertwined with their nationalism.
 

     So what’s the solution??????  Education is the solution.  It’s the key to peace and stability in our world – not mindless fanaticism.  Any entity – such as this creationist museum – that endeavors to promote ignorance is a pernicious influence that must be vigorously protested and exposed for what it is – a deliberate attempt to bolster delusional and magical thinking.  As stated above, this behavior smacks of desperation among those people of faith who fear that disproving creationism may cascade into a challenge of the entire Middle Eastern mythology which is the prevalent religion in our culture.   
 

     So, my hope is that we all promote evidence based knowledge and education in our own fashions.  I suggest – if you haven’t yet – read Darwin’s Origin of the Species – an elegant book which is remarkable in its clarity.  Discuss it with friends and colleagues.  Tell people about supernova 1987 – a supernova seen in the 1980’s which was so close it could be seen with the naked eye, but still almost 170,000 light years away – an event which in itself clearly disproves the biblical account of creation.  Tell people about molestus – the newly developing species of mosquito which has evolved in the London subway tunnels over the past 100 years – and fits that ecological niche.  This is evolution by natural selection seen in action.  Read Richard Dawkins’ book – The Blind Watchmaker.  In it, he beautifully describes the evolution of the eye in humans and other species.  Read about ring species such as varieties of gulls ringed about the Arctic Sea who vary just a bit from area to area, but by the time the variations get back to the starting point, they’re so different that they cannot interbreed any longer and are therefore different species…………..for me, all of this is more awe-inspiring than any religion.  

      Just don’t be silent.  But most of all,  continue to promote science education.  To tolerate ignorance in ourselves or in others would not be decent, reflective, ethical or responsible.  The Rally For Reason – a peaceful protest against ignorance – was a remarkable event which was an example of what can be done to make it clear that Bronze Age thinking will not be accepted by all Americans.  On the day before and the day of the “museum” opening, those in attendance (including myself and my family) were present to hear speeches, organize our demonstration, and rally one another in front of TV and print journalists from all over the world.  Interestingly, the foreign journalists were not there because the evolution/creationism “debate” is so controversial – it’s not.  They were there because it’s astounding to the rest of the world that the US is so medievally superstitious and ill-informed.  I don’t believe anyone in attendance at the Rally For Reason was so delusional as the creationists.  For example, we don’t think we’re going to convince someone brainwashed since birth to despise reality that Charles Darwin was anything but evil incarnate.  However, on viewing those poor little faces of the school children being bussed into the “museum”, I can say that if even one of those children (victims of abuse in my opinion) pauses to think that there just might be a small chance that there’s another way to look at the world, then some significant good has been done.  Here’s the website for the Rally:  www.rallyforreason.com

-Gretchen 

 

 

 

The Crusades

An interesting event occurred at the MEPS (Military Entrance and Processing Station) earlier this week.  I’m the Chief Medical Officer there and that’s where I perform accession physicals for people who are interested in joining the military. First, here’s a little background:

Prior to shipping to basic training, I perform a quick exam called an “inspect”.  During this exam, I am required to check for new tattoos.  These need to be recorded in their medical charts as identifying marks.  If I see a tattooing which suggests an anti-social personality, a gang relationship, or any variety of psychiatric problems; I would assess and possibly refer to a psychiatrist for an evaluation.  For instance, I’ve seen a large abdominal tattoo saying “White Power”.  I’ve seen “Cop Killer” tattooed on the chest.  Tattooed tears coming down the cheek are often gang-related and may relate to the number of killings the person has committed.  I would consider all of these to be medically pertinent since they are likely to be associated with psychiatric problems.

Additionally, the different branches of service have rules and regulations about tattoos.  They decide if the tattooing appears unprofessional due to location, size, number or content.  For instance, tattooing visible in dress uniform might be administratively (not medically) disqualifying.  The services routinely demand that a naked female figure tattoo have remedial bra and panties tattoo overlays because it is considered offensive.  Bible verses, crosses, bleeding Jesus heads, and praying hands are all extremely common and are almost never a problem with the services. (Interestingly, Satanic symbol tattoos are a problem – but that’s a different story.)

A shipper came to the MEPS with a “sleeve” tattoo covering his entire left upper arm and shoulder.  It was new since the time of his initial physical at the MEPS.  I recorded and inspected it.  It was a graphic design of The Crusades!  It was complete with knights wearing uniforms with crosses and carrying shields with crosses.  They were slaying the infidels with their swords.  The tattoo montage showed the infidels’ bleeding stab wounds as they fell to the ground.  All in all, it was a horrific scene.  I interviewed the shipper.  He was a 19 year old Army recruit.  He thought the tattoo was “awesome” and “intense” and “cool”.  In my interview, I detected no evidence of a psychiatric disorder – I concluded that this was simply the not-very-surprising poor judgment of a teenager who did not recognize the implications of his new artwork.  In short, I did not think that he needed a medical disqualification or a medical waiver.  I did, however, ask for an administrative waiver so that he could be shipped to basic training with his new tattoo.  My reasoning was that this was a tattoo which was racially, ethnically, and religiously offensive; and that it would put the applicant at risk in a battle situation such as Iraq.  It would also put his company at risk since it was such a slur about a hot political issue.  Just imagine if “Al Jazeera” took a photo of that tattoo and put it on their website.  When I related this incident to my 20 year old daughter, she gasped and said, “Why didn’t he just tattoo a bull’s eye target on his forehead?”

The really interesting part of this event, however, was the complete and utter bewilderment by nearly everyone at the MEPS when I asked for a simple administrative waiver.  From the officers to the enlisted recruiters, almost no one could see “what the big deal was”.  No one thought it was offensive.  No one thought it was inflammatory.  No one saw the irony in OK’ing this Crusades tattoo while demanding the removal or revision of Satanic symbols, naked women and salty language ( “69”, “Love Machine”, etc.).  Well, the fuss continued for a while because the Army Liaison Office down the hall didn’t feel it was necessary to do the ½ hour of paperwork in order to obtain an administrative waiver.  They finally requested the waiver from their commanding officers.  This was all I wanted.  Not only did I want this tattoo reviewed, but I did not want to be personally responsible for clearing it.  The commanding officer left me a message, however.  He said to, “Tell the doctor that I don’t see any problems with it.”

What a strange world we live in!