The Intellectual Prison of Ultra-Orthodox Judaism

I've often written about Ultra-Orthodox Judaism, which is, in my opinion, one of the worst religious cults in existence. Whether in the U.S., in Israel, or any of the other countries where they put down roots, the Ultra-Orthodox live in closed-off enclaves, trying to keep their members isolated and ignorant of the world all around them. Daily life in these communities is a maze of rules and prohibitions, the result of centuries of elaboration by rabbis who only ever grow stricter, never more … [Read more...]

Atlas Shrugged: The Ideological Event Horizon

Atlas Shrugged, Closing ThoughtsIn life and in death, Ayn Rand stands alone as the supreme advocate of individualism. No one was fiercer in defending the romantic idea that you should follow your conscience above all else, chase your dreams whatever the price, and ignore the taunts and scorn of the masses along the way.At least, that's the popular conception. It's certainly how Rand thought of herself. But Atlas Shrugged offers surprising evidence to the contrary.The last third of … [Read more...]

Changing Minds Takes Empathy (and Civility)

I used to follow the liberal writer Matt Bruenig's columns on politics and economics, but I stopped reading a while ago. Although I agreed with him more often than not, he radiated an attitude of aggressive contempt for anyone who disagreed with him that I found insufferable. That's why I wasn't surprised to hear about this:After multiple conversations, Matt Bruenig and Demos have agreed to disagree on the value of the attack mode on Twitter. We part ways on the effectiveness of these … [Read more...]

How the Right-Wing Scam Economy Created Donald Trump

The rise of Donald Trump has bewildered and dismayed pundits, especially conservative pundits. Many of them are treating it as a freakish fluke, a black-swan event that nobody could have predicted. But the clues were always there, for anyone who knew how to spot them.In his last, doomed line of attack, Marco Rubio accused Trump of being a "con artist" who peddles hazy fantasies and handwaves as a solution to our most pressing problems. He wasn't wrong about that, but Trump is hardly the … [Read more...]

How Donald Trump Won Over the Religious Right

So, it's time we talked about Donald Trump.The improbable presidential candidate has been flying high since his speech at Liberty University, where he was warmly welcomed by president Jerry Falwell Jr. The speech itself was underwhelming: he flubbed a biblical reference, cracked off-color jokes and made his pandering laughably obvious. Yet none of it seems to matter. The Liberty audience cheered and praised him. Among evangelicals, he's beating his closest rival, Ted Cruz, by 42% to … [Read more...]

Weekend Coffee: July 5

• Iceland repeals its blasphemy law, which they apparently had until now?• Three cheers for California! The state legislature ends all non-medical exemptions for mandatory vaccination, despite vociferous protests from die-hard anti-vaxers.• In the wake of the Obergefell decision legalizing same-sex marriage, some Christians are writing optimistically about the last-ditch option of retreating into their own closed enclaves. One homeschooling parent explains that "relative … [Read more...]

Erasing the Past, Denying the Future

In the eyes of the religious conservative movement, America's best days are always in the past. They bemoan the modern era of activist government, heightened sensitivity, and moral complexity, and look back fondly to an imaginary golden age where the wealthy could do as they pleased, the state bowed down to the church, and men were real men and women and minorities were subservient. And when inconvenient reality threatens to show that the United States was never the shining city on the hill that … [Read more...]

Is Terrorism Courageous?

The religious fanatics who murdered twelve people at Charlie Hebdo's offices last week were tracked down by the French police after a two-day manhunt, ending in a shootout at a print shop in the town of Dammartin-en-Goële where both of them were killed. One of their accomplices was also killed by police after taking hostages at a kosher supermarket.Despite my earlier fears, Charlie Hebdo doesn't plan to shut its doors, and in fact their next issue (featuring Mohammed on the cover) will have … [Read more...]

“Choose Faith in Spite of the Facts”

I usually don't think it's worth beating up on the purveyors of popular evangelical feel-goodism, for the same reason I don't get in boxing matches with life-size Jell-O sculptures. But I had to make an exception for this tweet from human tooth-whitening strip Joel Osteen:The facts may tell you one thing. But, God is not limited by the facts. Choose faith in spite of the facts.— Joel Osteen (@JoelOsteen) November 26, 2014Osteen is most famous for his surgically implanted smile … [Read more...]

Book Review: Recovering Agency

(Note: This review was solicited and is written in accordance with this site's policy for such reviews.)At the American Atheists convention in Salt Lake City this year, I toured the grounds of the Mormon temple with some other attendees. At the time, I thought of it as an exercise in appreciating wacky religious camp. But the goofy theology of the LDS church is a cover for something darker and more troubling, as I found out from author (and ex-Mormon) Luna Lindsey's book Recovering Agency: … [Read more...]


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