The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘satire’

The Dangers of NOT Offending Religious Sensibilities

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 18, 2015

**This post will also appear as a guest post at the Wrest In Peace blog. Go check it out :) **

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, there has been much soul searching regarding free speech, religion, what is and isn’t offensive, and public safety. In my first blog post here at Wrest In Peace, in the spirit of battling with words and not weapons, I wanted to take this topic head-on and without apology. So here goes…

First, I think that there has been a fundamental error in how much of this discussion has been framed. Too many people, mostly those who wish to not have their “religious sensibilities” offended and their weak-kneed allies, are asking the question of what are limits to free speech and should “offensive” speech which attacks and/or ridicules religion be allowed? This viewpoint isn’t to be dismissed as trivial in light of the fact that almost 20% of Americans think religion shouldn’t be satirized.

I think this is entirely the wrong question to be asking, for the simple reason that it appears to place the onus for responsibility of religious violence in the wrong place: on people whose only crime is to speak their mind openly and freely. There is an implicit and dangerous naivety behind such framing: it makes the assumption that if only people wouldn’t be critical of religion or poke fun at religious figures then murderous violence such as that on display recently in Paris would be curbed.

Really?! Not mocking religion means that there’s going to be a reduction of religiously-motivated violence? Try telling that to the thousands upon thousands of Muslims (and others) who are, even now, being enslaved, victimized, and barbarically killed by the extremists in ISIS. I’ll wager that the vast majority, if not all, of those being brutally oppressed and killed by ISIS never said or wrote one offensive word about Islam or Muhammad. Yet they are being slaughtered in the name of radical Islam none-the-less.

In my mind, a much more proper question to ask is this: What is it that it can so easily generate such a murderous certainty among the most ardent, fundamentalist believers of religion? The right way to respond to the Charlie Hebdo attacks and atrocities committed by ISIS isn’t to demand less scrutiny of religion but quite the opposite; we must demand more scrutiny of religion, especially radical, fundamentalist variations.

Second, in order to have any reasonable discussion of these topics, we must ask ourselves who defines what is offensive? Something which offends one person may be little more than humor to someone else. For example, much attention has been paid to the depiction of Muhammad in pictures and how this offends many Muslims; some even go so far as to argue that such depictions should be regarded as “hate speech”!

Would some consider the following depiction of Muhammad as a suicide-bombing terrorist to be offensive?

Undoubtedly, the answer to that question would be “Yes!” But consider this fact: there is a long, rich history of images of Muhammad being displayed within Islamic culture. For instance, this website shows numerous examples, most of them many centuries old, of Muslim artists showing Muhammad in their work. In 1999, Islamic art expert Wijdan Ali wrote a scholarly overview of the Muslim tradition of depicting Muhammad, which can be downloaded here in pdf format. In that essay, Ali demonstrates that the prohibition against depicting Muhammad did not arise until as late as the 16th or 17th century, despite the media’s recent false claims that it has always been forbidden for Muslims to draw Muhammad. Until comparatively recently in Islamic history, it was perfectly common to show Muhammad, either in full, or with his face hidden. Even after the 17th century, up to modern times, Islamic depictions of Muhammad (especially in Shi’ite areas) continued to be produced.

And even the U.S. government has incorporated an image of Muhammad as one of the traditional law-givers on the frieze of the Supreme Court building in Washington, DC…

And there are plenty of other examples available.  My whole point here is that it seems the modern-day Islamic radicals are on a crusade to crush dissent, free expression, and free inquiry not only among the secular critics of Islam in the West, but also those whom would dissent within Islam itself.

And that brings me to my third point: if we allow “offensive” speech to be curbed or outlawed, we run the risk of letting these vague notions of what is offensive to be defined by the most extreme members of religion. Take, for example, the case of Saudi Arabian blogger and dissenter Raif Badawi, who is undergoing a brutal punishment involving receiving 50 lashes a week for 20 weeks, followed by years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. His crime, according to the Saudi Arabian authorities, was “insulting Islam”; Raif had the audacity to run a website called Free Saudi Liberals (now closed down) where he advocated for a secular government in Saudi Arabia. Yes, political dissent is viewed as an insult to religion, justifying – in the minds of the extremists – the most brutal of tortures and disproportionate punishment. Raif Badawi’s torture makes the case that, if anything, religious sensibilities need to be questioned, and if that makes some people uncomfortable or offends them, so much the better!

Now, lest you think this discussion is exclusively about Islam, think again. It has become clear of late that many more than just some Muslims are jumping aboard the “curb offensive speech” bandwagon. Consider, for example, the reaction from various branches of Christianity to the Charlie Hebdo attacks:

Famous religious right and fundamentalist Christian broadcaster Bryan Fisher suggested that God allowed Islamic terrorists to carry out their attack in Paris as punishment for blasphemy. Further, in his radio broadcast he stated “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain… They [Charlie Hebdo] made a career out of taking the name of God, the God of the Bible, the father of the Lord Jesus [in vain].” So, according to Fisher, it wasn’t the satire of Islam that led to the attacks, it was the satire of Christianity and Jesus that is to blame! It should also be no surprise that Fisher is among those who would impose so-called anti-blasphemy laws in the United States.

Not to be outdone, prominent radical Catholic and head of the Catholic League Bill Donohue stated that the victims of the Paris attacks only had themselves to blame for insulting religion and angering people. “Killing in response to insult, no matter how gross, must be unequivocally condemned. That is why what happened in Paris cannot be tolerated,” he explained in a press release. “But neither should we tolerate the kind of intolerance that provoked this violent reaction.”

Now one would expect such nutty rhetoric from commonly-known Christian fundamentalists such as Fisher and Donohue, but what is more disturbing is that the most widely known religious figure on the planet, Pope Francis, who is regarded by many as a “progressive Pope” appears to agree with these sentiments! “One cannot provoke; one cannot insult other people’s faith; one cannot make fun of faith,” the Pope stated on a recent trip to the Philippines. “If my good friend Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others,” he continued. Wow, so much for that “turn the other cheek” nonsense that Jesus espoused.

What I see now is an emerging unholy alliance between right-wing extremists and naïve left-wing multiculturalists against secular critics of religion. The former want little more than power and control, and they view silencing criticism of religion and its related power structures as a way of attaining these goals. The latter are often well-meaning but clueless and unrealistic idealists who believe that sitting in a circle and singing “Kumbaya” will result in less religiously-motivated power grabs and violence. Both groups view secular critics of religion as either an enemy of the faith or callous and disrespectful loud-mouths who are somehow a threat to a healthy society. And this is not simply an academic debate; political correctness, introduced by the naïve among the multicultural left, has now been co-opted by right-wing fundamentalists to justify everything from the denial of contraception to women to the inclusion of pseudo-scientific notions of creationism in public schools. Under the guise of “religious liberty”, these fundamentalists insist that not allowing them to impose their religious beliefs upon the rest of society is offensive.

What needs to happen is that it needs to be shown that an increased secularization of society, as Raif Badawi advocates, is needed to make it more free and prosperous for everyone, believer and non-believer alike. But in order to show the importance of secularism, it is necessary to simultaneously question religion; and as Voltaire famously wrote, “We must have laughter on our side,” because there is often no more powerful force to tear down the high and mighty than laughter. And laughter is the chief weapon of the satirist.

So you see, even if it is considered offensive or blasphemous, the satirical lampooning of religion and religious belief is necessary for a healthy and free society. If we accept a situation where there really are sacred cows that cannot be questioned or made fun of, then that leads to the collection of unquestioned and absolute authority (it’s hard to get much more authoritative than claiming you speak for God). And, as the saying goes, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Posted in free inquiry, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

“Teach Alternate Views” Humor from Non Sequitur

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 19, 2012

In some of my recent blog posts, I wondered about the utility of calling the bluff of creationists and going with their argument of “teaching all views” regarding evolution, creationism, etc.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, this June 18th cartoon from Non Sequitur just nails it :)

Image Source

Posted in creationism, education, humor | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Stephen Colbert PWNs Don McLeroy, Creationist Crank from Texas

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 26, 2012

If you know who Don McLeroy is (and if you don’t, read up on him here), then you know he is quite notorious for being reality-challenged.  In what I can only describe as a stroke of comedic genius, Stephen Colbert interviews McLeroy on the Colbert Report.  Enjoy :)

Posted in creationism, education, humor, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Science Debate 2012: Submit Questions for the Candidates

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 3, 2012

I am happy to announce that Science Debate 2012 is now accepting your submissions for questions to ask the candidates in the 2012 U.S. presidential elections.  Recall the list of questions from Science Debate in the 2008 election cycle, and you’ll get a pretty good idea of how this entire thing works.  Basically, it is to put questions of scientific, engineering, and technological importance into the political debate; considering as how important these issues are and will be in the 21st-century, I think it is more than appropriate to hold our political candidates accountable on such matters.  I also like how Shawn Otto and the Science Debate team put it:

Why is this important?

In 2008, the ScienceDebate initiative successfully elevated science and engineering topics in the public dialogue that simply would not have been priorities without our efforts.

To give you an example, when we started, of the 2,975 questions asked the then-candidates for president, just six mentioned “climate change” or “global warming” which, no matter your opinion, is among the top science policy debates.  None of the candidates wanted to talk about science at all.  The topic wasn’t even on Barack Obama’s radar.

By the time we were done, the candidates for president had answered the top 14 science questions facing America.  Those answers made more than 850 million media impressions, reframing science as a national priority.  President Obama’s answers formed the early basis of his science policy.  For the first time, a president went into office with a science policy and a clear idea of how science fit into a larger strategic agenda.  He drew his top science appointments from among our most visible early supporters – including John Holdren, Jane Lubchenco, Steven Chu, Harold Varmus, and Marcia McNutt – and mentioned our mission statement – restoring science to its rightful place – in his inaugural address.

In many ways, the ScienceDebate effort helped bring focus and voice to the value of science in America, and made it a more common topic in the general public’s dialogue.  With this step-by-step, incremental advance, the ScienceDebate initiative had large influence and produced benefits for all Americans.

Today, anti-science forces are more vocal than ever, and ScienceDebate is even more important than it was in 2008.  Our efforts present critical science policy questions in the way American adults are used to taking in complex information: the context of the national policy dialogue.  With so many national issues revolving around science and engineering, your support of ScienceDebate is more important than ever.

If you value public policy based on knowledge instead of ideology, we need your financial support.  Please give now, and join our conversation.


-Shawn Otto and the team at ScienceDebate.Org

Posted in politics, science funding, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Jesus Toast: Pareidolia You Can Believe In!

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 3, 2011

As a fun way of sharing some skepticism of “miraculous vision” claims, I wanted to share with you a really funny YouTube a friend sent me.  It pokes fun at the phenomenon of pareidolia, wherein people claim to see all manner of wild things – Jesus, the Virgin Mary, aliens, Michael Jackson, etc – in everything from the clouds to their shower curtain.  Of course, we know from modern science that these are illusions of perception, because our brains are marvelous pattern recognition machines, causing us to sometimes see things that are not really there.

Okay, enough seriousness.  Time for some fun… check out the “Jesus Toast” video, and share it with a friend.  Enjoy! :)


Posted in humor, psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Support Science Debate 2012!

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 30, 2011

You may recall a new effort in 2008 by the scientific community and backers of science to become more active in the United States’ political process, and I am happy to (re)announce that Science Debate is back for the 2012 election cycle!

Is America ceding its capacity to lead?

Science Debate 2012 is a grassroots initiative spearheaded by a growing number of scientists and other concerned citizens. The signatories to our “Call for Presidential and Congressional Debates on Science & Technology” include the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Council on Competitiveness, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, over 150 leading universities and associations, Nobel laureates and other leading scientists, major business leaders, presidents of universities and major associations, congresspersons of both major political parties, religious leaders, former presidential science advisors, the editors of America’s major science journals, writers, and many others.

We have noticed that science and technology lie at the center of a very large number of the policy issues facing our nation and the world – issues that profoundly affect our national and economic security as science and technology continue to transform our lives. No matter one’s political stripe, these issues pose important pragmatic policy challenges – challenges that are too important and too impactful on people’s lives to be left unaddressed.

We believe these scientific and technological policy challenges can bring out the best in the entrepreneurial American spirit. America can be a leader in finding cures for our worst diseases, inventing the best alternative energy sources, enjoying the most pristine and biologically wealthy environment, and graduating the most scientifically literate children in the world – or we can cede these economic and humanitarian benefits to other countries.

Leadership is about articulating a vision for the future and making it happen.  Will America lead, or will it step aside and be swept along as others take the reins?

We believe a debate on these issues would be the ideal opportunity for America and the candidates to explore our national priorities, and it is hard to imagine any candidate not wishing to be involved in such an occasion.

Please join us and work to make Science Debate 2012 a reality nationally, and in your congressional district.

Sign the Science Debate Petition!

Support Science Debate 2012!

And, last but not least, if you harbor any doubts that now, more than ever, is the time for a serious national political discussion of science, science education, and its implications, then just take a few minutes to watch this video clip from the Daily Show…

Posted in politics, science funding, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Laughing at Birther Conspiracy Theorists: Stephen Colbert Combines Humor & Skepticism

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 30, 2011

In a hilarious example of calling the bluff of the conspiracy-mongering, reality-challenged, walking hairpiece that is Donald Trump (along with all of his “birther” buddies), President Obama produced his long-form birth certificate.  Of course, Obama’s U.S. citizenship was solidly established long, long ago (as clearly outlined at this link), but the birthers kept on moving the goalposts and making ever-more crazy demands for evidence.

Now that President Obama has provided his long-form birth certificate, you can expect the birthers to move the goalposts once again and go even further down the rabbit-hole (in true conspiracy theorist fashion).  In fact, to give you a sense of what is likely to come, satirist Stephen Colbert quite effectively skewers Donald Trump & the entire birther movement – enjoy! :)

**Follow-up: In an astonishing example of moving the goalposts & special pleading, like I mentioned above, take a look at what the “Queen of the Birthers” – Orly Taitz – has to say to journalist Lawrence O’Donnell when he directly challenges her on the fact that President Obama produced the very birth certificate she has for so long demanded.  This is utterly amazing, and it gives a clear view into the twisted mind of a dedicated, true-believing conspiracy theorist.  Wow…

Posted in conspiracy theories, humor, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment » A Wonderful Combintation of Humor and Skepticism

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 8, 2010

Do you remember a rag of a magazine way back in the day (well, way back in my day) called Cracked?  It was kind of like the unpopular wanna-be version of the more well-known and liked Mad Magazine.  Well, Cracked has come back with a vengeance, because now they have a really well-written & hilarious online presence over at – if biting satire & rough language is your thing, check them out :)

So why am I going on and on about  Well, every now and then they come out with a really good skeptical article – and I mean really good.  I wanted to share with you one of my favorites which I ran across awhile back, called 5 Ways “Common Sense” Lies To You Everyday…

Albert Einstein said common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by the age of 18. It is also a result of some pervasive and extremely stupid logical fallacies that have become embedded in the human brain over generations, for one reason or another. These malfunctioning thoughts–several of which you’ve had already today–are a major cause of everything that’s wrong with the world. …

I highly recommend this article as required reading for anyone who wants a quick primer on sloppy, uncritical thinking & how we fool ourselves.  Not to mention, it’s funny!  Read more:

Posted in humor, internet, psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »


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