Vaccines and Faith

1 06 2011

Pharmaceutical companies need to hurry up and develop a vaccination against stupidity.  Alternatively, laws need to be put in place to protect children against the moronic superstitions of their parents.  A West Virginian woman refuses to vaccinate her 8 year-old daughter and believes that this is a commandment from God.

To Jennifer Workman, God Himself commands her to protect her 8 year-old daughter Madison.

“I am a steward of the Lord for this child, “she said as she walked outside her single level home in Lenore West Virginia on Monday. “And I am not going to let anyone tell me what’s best for my child.”

In 1999, Madison’s older sister developed autism just months after receiving her state-required immunizations for measles, mumps and rubella.

Stop me right here, if you’ve heard this story before.  Child gets vaccine.  Child develops autism shortly thereafter.  Credulous parent that does not possess any scientific education blames the vaccine.  Only now we have the added bonus of a parent who believes she is subservient to a higher power.  Of course, it’s the child that will pay for the parent’s choice to take marching orders from a non-existent entity.

Workman argues that it should be her right and choice when it comes to vaccinating the child.  But what about the rights of the child?  Does her daughter not have a right to be immunized?  Workman’s attempts to please her god should not involve an effective sacrifice of her child.  What about other children?  As Dr. Anita Chandra points out:

“They’re also risking spreading the infection to children who are not immunized because of age, [or are] only partially immunized because they haven’t received their booster vaccines.”

Chandra is a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, a group that pushes the importance of childhood vaccines. Chandra says we as a society have an obligation to ensure all children are immunized.

“It’s important to vaccinate all children so you prevent illness from spreading within that population,” she said.

Chandra is exactly right.  The health of many children is far more important than respecting a woman’s unsubstantiated superstitions.  Workman’s response to Chandra’s statement demonstrates a complete ignorance on vaccinations and should lay to rest any doubts over whether or not her position is based on reason and evidence.

“If my child is unvaccinated and all these other children are vaccinated, How does my child pose any threat?” responded Workman. “This is my child and it’s a right I should have.”.

Herd immunity?  Workman clearly hasn’t heard of it.  My only hope is that as her daughter grows older she will shake off her upbringing in a household of superstition.  That is, if illnesses that could be prevented by vaccinations don’t get to her first.





Hitchens vs God (god loses by the way)

31 05 2011

A man by the name of Christopher Hitchens – perhaps you’ve heard of him – will be debating at UW this Saturday*

*He’ll actually be appearing via video conferencing due to health reasons.  Tickets are sold out but a couple of us are planning on note taking so we’ll be sure to share what we hear at the talk.  I haven’t heard word about whether or not it’s being recorded.

Church Sanctioned Slave Labour

31 05 2011

Another day, another story that makes the Catholic Church look more and more like an international crime syndicate than an institution of worship.  From the New York Times:

An estimated 30,000 women were sent to church-run laundries, where they were abused and worked for years with no pay.

What did the these women do to deserve such horrendous treatment?  So terrible that it likely violates human rights laws?  Did they commit crimes that even the most liberal-hearted of people could never forgive?  No.

Their offense, in the eyes of society, was to break the strict sexual rules of Catholic Ireland, having children outside wedlock.

Once again, the supposedly moral Catholic Church flouts any sense of morality in order to keep a tight control over all things sex.  From the sheltering of child rapists to punishing women who do not adhere to the Church’s rules of sex, this institution has, time and time again, proven itself to be fundamentally backwards when it comes to such matters.  So backwards in fact that the strict rules created a climate of mistrust in rejection towards women who did not adhere to the Church’s rules.

In this climate, the shame of giving birth to an illegitimate child was so great that many unmarried mothers were rejected by their families. They were taken out of “decent society” and put into Magdalene laundries by members of the clergy, government institutions and their own families.

Even women who were raped were forced into these laundries.

Add all of that to the fact that some women were sexually abused in these laundries and this becomes less about morality on sex and more about typical patriarchal dominion over life.

What’s just as troubling is the fact that this is not a new story.  This matter came to light 10 years ago but the women are still awaiting an apology.  Why does this sound all too familiar?   The Catholic Church is not held to any responsibility except that for which it determines for itself.

The government of Ireland deserves to join in the shame for it’s complicity in these events.  Not surprising given this is the country that made blasphemy illegal.  Perhaps this should be a lesson to those who believe the mix of government and religion to be a good thing.  It seems accountability would go down the drain in such a scenario.

Let’s review; Sexual relations with children: Good.  Sexual acts – being raped included – committed out of wedlock that lead to the birth of a child : Bad.  Punishment?  Slave labour.

And here I thought the Church wanted its followers to go forth and multiply.  Obviously, this is only the case in Ireland if you meet their strict and unrealistic standards first.  Or maybe they just want to control.


Entertaining Atheists

30 05 2011

There are no good atheists in entertainment media.  What do I mean by that?  All movie and television characters who are either implied to be atheists or are explicitly atheist are portrayed in an unfavourable light.  Whenever discussions of religion come up, the religious character asks “questions that have been refuted a thousand times” of the “atheist”.

The other day I was watching King Arthur (2004) and there were a few points on the religious question that irked me.  Now granted, I enjoyed the portrayal of the Catholic Church as a power-mongering institution, aiming to assert its authority over all things in the name of “God”.  In other words, exactly what the Catholic Church is.

King Arthur’s god, on the other hand, is a nice loving god who believes in your freedom and will help you kill a few Saxons along the way to that path.  This god may be more appealing than the Catholic god, but it doesn’t legitimize its existence and isn’t this something we hear all too often?  “Well those religious fundamentalists don’t represent my god, my god is a loving god.”  Your point?  Unless you actually show me evidence for this god, I still have no reason to believe.  It also comes off as an attempt to dodge the issue of whether or not your religion is actually open for abuse.

Another scene from the film brought up a question in which any atheist should respond with, “You did not just ask that?  Are you serious?  Leave now.”  In a conversation between Lancelot and Guinevere, Lancelot discusses his doubts over the existence of a god.  He also mentions having no family.  To which Guinevere asks, “You don’t believe in family or religion, do you believe in anything?”  Cue Lancelot’s “wtf face” followed by telling Guinevere she can leave the camp and go fight the Saxons by herself and meet a horrible end.  Wait.  That’s my wishful thinking, not the actual plot.  The, “do you believe in anything” question is one of the many annoying misconceptions about atheists and to see it be perpetuated in popular media is annoying and not helpful.  I’m not going to refute here as I hope that the readers of this blog already know what is wrong with it.

Finally, we get to our explicitly atheist character, House.  House, the lovable, asshole doctor who would’ve been fired from any credible hospital years ago.   The show doesn’t dance around his atheism but it’s always portrayed in that, “I’m going to tell you that praying on your deathbed is stupid” dick-kind of way.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy a character that calls out the religious when their silly beliefs are on hand, but is it too much to ask for an atheist that is kind, loving, charitable?

The problem here is, demographics.  You have to make movies and tv shows for your audience and in a region of the world where the majority are religious, a show in which a lead character is both explicitly atheist and good won’t fly.  I can imagine a strong backlash against a hero character who succeeds without appeals to god.  It becomes a vicious circle.  People develop a stereotype about atheists.  They expect to see it reinforced in their entertainment.  The entertainment industry complies and thus the viewer’s stereotype grows.  Now I know, there are much more important issues for us to be dealing with, but this is just one of those little pet peeves I had to vent on.  Furthermore, it would be unwise of us to deny the impact that entertainment has on thinking and perceptions of groups in popular culture.  Aside from getting a wealthy, atheist director to make a good atheist character – to say nothing of the willingness to likely lose a lot of money and face a backlash from religious groups -, all we can do is get out there everyday and show why these stereotypes are nonsense.

Dara O’Briain: Science doesn’t know everything

29 05 2011

A dull-gray, humid day out here.  Plus, I don’t have anything to write about this morning.  I’ll just leave this video here in the hopes that if your window is providing the same ‘you can stay inside cause the weather is going to suck today” view, that this will brighten things up.


What’s Wrong With The Anti-Choice Movement

28 05 2011

I wish this actually surprised me.  A Wisconsin man was charged with attempting to kill an abortion doctor.   Why am I not surprised?  Because the “pro-life” movement has never been about life.  Its aim is to force woman into a Christian-dominated patriarchy that seeks to wrap its claws around everything it means to be a woman in what is supposedly a free society.

Now, of course not all in the anti-choice movement hold onto such dangerous aspirations.  I have conversed with those who do feel this is a life issue.  However, the most vocal and well-funded are those that belong to the group described above.

The story out of Wisconsin is one we’ve heard all too often.  A strange, lone man, holding anti-abortion signs outside an abortion clinic.  The 2006 film Lake of Fire shows a common trend among those who kill abortion doctors and the description above fits that trend.

I do not believe that those preaching anti-choice rhetoric are ignorant of the impact their words have on men like Lang.  They’ve made a living out of using language to manipulate people into believing this is a battle for life when their true intent is social engineering.  They can condemn the actions of the Lang’s of the world all they want but until they admit that their words may play a role in the actions those statements of condemnation are hollow.

I want to take this space to reaffirm my allegiance to those in the pro-choice movement here at UW.  I’m not intending to name anyone but if you are reading this then you know who you are when I say that you have someone on your side that will speak out against the deplorable efforts of the anti-choice movement that frequents our campus.


Why Atheist Groups Are Important. Plus: An Invitation

27 05 2011

If you actively follow the news in the atheist community, then you’ve undoubtedly heard about the story of Damon Fowler  .  No, this isn’t going to be another rant about the appalling regressiveness of the small-town, American South where the pious have no hesitation to flout the Constitution and ostracize a young man for standing up for the law.  No, that rant will be reserved for when I have a steady supply of scotch sitting next to me, but alas, the supply has currently run dry.

Instead, I’m going share my thoughts on the positive aspects that have emerged out of this story and how it demonstrates the need for atheist groups such as this one.

Now the first thing that may come to your mind is, “why are you, a Canadian, talking about an American story?”  Sure, the Canadian atheist community isn’t normally subjected to the absurdity our American counterparts are.  As far as I can tell – and please share any stories to the contrary if you have them – we don’t have communities that shun children over these issues.  Of course, Canada doesn’t have the Church and State separation issues that America does, at least not on such a large scale. (Catholic schools aside.)  So Canadian atheists may not face the challenges faced by people like Fowler, but atheist groups are still needed.  Why?  One word: Community.

Community.  It was demonstrated when the news about Fowler’s story spread across the internet.  Thousands have been raised for a college fund, he has received a scholarship, and I’ve even read adoption offers on Facebook.  It demonstrates that we are not selfish individuals, only looking out for our self-interest. (I find that stereotype to be amusing as most atheists I know tend to reject that neoclassical economics view of the world.)

Sure, atheist groups do play a role in providing a counter to the many religious groups we see on campus.  AAFW members have frequently attended events held by the religious groups and have actively debated with them.  In doing so, we are trying to prevent those groups from having full control of the stage, so to speak.  But, community, for me, remains reason number 1 for the existence of groups such as ours.

As the atheist club on campus we are saying to our fellow atheists, agnostics, and freethinkers, “We are here.  Come join us.  You’ll be welcome with open arms”.  Here is a place where you can come to express your views on religion and other related topics without worry that it could lead to rejection.  You may, as I did, find some of your best friends are waiting in this group.  So to those atheists in the Waterloo region who have yet to come out to one of our meetings I say, “Come on out”.