Weekend Coffee: January 14
• Here's the top story for this week: After Jessica Ahlquist's court victory over illegal state-sponsored prayer in her high school, she's been receiving a torrent of vicious hate mail and threats of violence, presumably from good and pious Christians who support prayer. Here are some of the most appalling; some of the threats were sufficiently serious that police are investigating them.
This isn't a surprise, unfortunately - it almost always happens to atheists who speak up. As disgusting as this is, it just goes to show why it's so important for us to be activists. Religion isn't a benign force for good in the world: it divides people into artificial groups and reinforces feelings of tribalism and hostility toward outsiders.
• Earlier this week, a Muslim student association at the University College London demanded that the college atheist society remove a cartoon from the "Jesus & Mo" strip from their Facebook page, on the grounds that no one has the right to say anything that offends religious sensibilities. After a strong response from the atheist community pushing back against censorship, the demand has been dropped.
• On a similar note, a leading Islamic seminary has demanded that the Indian government ban Salman Rushdie from a literary festival in Jaipur by denying him a visa. (Rushdie was born in India, for the record, and doesn't need a visa to attend.)
• An astonishing story I want to return to later: In 1993, a San Francisco priest who was a personal friend of Mother Teresa's was removed from ministry for sexually abusing a boy. Teresa wrote to his superiors saying that she had "confidence and trust" in the priest, Donald McGuire, and urged them to return him to duty, which they did. He proceeded to molest more boys, resulting in his eventual arrest and conviction on sex-abuse charges. (HT: Violet Blue - site very NSFW).
• The Italian government's subsidies to the Catholic church cost the recession-strapped country 6 billion euros per year, according to the International Humanist and Ethical Union. (HT: Butterflies & Wheels)
• An 11th-century monk explains why the Catholic church doesn't permit priests to marry:
The priest's wife was an obvious danger. Her wanton desire, suggested the 11th-century monk Peter Damian, threatened the efficacy of consecration. He chastised priests' wives as "furious vipers who out of ardor of impatient lust decapitate Christ, the head of clerics..."
...priests' wives should beware a religious tradition that views them, in the words of Damian, as "the clerics' charmers, devil's choice tidbits, expellers from paradise, virus of minds, sword of soul, wolfbane to drinkers, poison to companions, material of sinning, occasion of death..."
• Slacktivist writes about the churches who are sending a loud and clear message that supporters of GLBT equality aren't welcome. I, for one, couldn't be happier that they've made this their hill to die on.
• Peter Singer on euthanasia: "mainstream politicians fear religious institutions that oppose voluntary euthanasia, even though individual believers often do not follow their religious leaders' views".
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A completely unexpected discovery beneath the ice.
- Scientists find remains of a tardigrade and crustaceans in a deep, frozen Antarctic lake.
- The creatures' origin is unknown, and further study is ongoing.
- Biology speaks up about Antarctica's history.
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com, explains his plan for success.
- Jeff Bezos had a clear vision for Amazon.com from the start.
- He was inspired by a statistic he learned while working at a hedge fund: In the '90s, web usage was growing at 2,300% a year.
- Bezos explains why books, in particular, make for a perfect item to sell on the internet.
It's one factor that can help explain the religiosity gap.
- Sociologists have long observed a gap between the religiosity of men and women.
- A recent study used data from several national surveys to compare religiosity, risk-taking preferences and demographic information among more than 20,000 American adolescents.
- The results suggest that risk-taking preferences might partly explain the gender differences in religiosity.
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