Letter to the Editor: Government of the Corporations, by the Corporations, for the Corporations

While accepting “donations” for tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars from lobbyists, corporations, and special interests may technically be legal for Governor DeSantis, there is no question that is unethical. These are “bribes by another name.” And what they suggest is that our Governor is not the Governor of the people of Florida, but rather the Governor of Corporations based in Florida. Donald Trump has metaphorically set up a summer home in the “swamp” of corporate interests to personally enrich himself as President. Governor DeSantis is following his idol and has set up a metaphorical golf club in the swamp. Or, perhaps, by “draining the swamp” he really meant he was draining it right into his re-election coffers.

Letter to Stacy White, County Commissioner

Stacy White, Hillsborough County Commissioner, filed a lawsuit that is preventing Hillsborough County from improving its transportation infrastructure based on a ballot measure that was approved by 57% of voters in November 2018 (more about this here). Here’s the email I recently sent him:

Commissioner White,

I want to let you know that I’m really disappointed in you for filing the lawsuit that has held up improvements to our transportation system in Hillsborough County. I travel regularly for my work to conferences both in the US and around the world. In most major cities, when I arrive at the airport, I can easily hop on a train or subway and get to where I need to go.

I love Tampa’s airport. It’s my favorite airport perhaps in the world (though Zurich’s airport is pretty impressive as well). But I am appalled that we don’t have easy public transit from the airport to downtown Tampa. The transportation tax would have fixed that. And now, because of you, the entire process has been held up in stupid lawsuits.

I sit on the board of a professional organization that chooses where to hold conferences. One of the major factors in our decision-making process is public transit from the airport to the hotel. By not improving our transportation infrastructure, we are losing out on millions of dollars from such conferences every year. I hold you personally responsible for that.

I will be donating money to your opponent in the upcoming election to ensure you don’t have another term in office.

Sincerely,

Ryan Cragun
Hillsborough County Resident

(NOTE: You can submit your own letter here.)

Letter to the Editor: Ashley Moody’s mixed up priorities

I find it more than a little concerning that Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody wants to kill a petition drive to ban assault weapons (Ban Assault Weapons Now) but hasn’t said anything about the secretive effort to restrict constitutional amendments that is possibly being funded by utility companies in Florida. If Moody cared about Floridians and the law more than she did conservative politics and big donors, her actions would be exactly the opposite of what she is doing. She would be calling for the donors of the Keep Our Constitution Clean initiative to be revealed and would be encouraging reform to gun laws. Based on her actions, our chief law enforcement official in Florida is nothing more than a Republican team member defending corporate and Republican interests.

(NOTE: This is another letter I sent to the editor of the Tampa Bay Times that was not published.)

Letter to the Editor – Gun Control Laws

Attorney General Ashley Moody filed a brief with the Florida Supreme Court opposing a state constitutional amendment banning assault weapons on Friday, July 26th. That was two days before a young man opened fire at a festival in California, killing three people and injuring a dozen more with an assault rifle he purchased legally.

AG Moody’s opposition appears to be rooted in the definition of an assault weapon based on the magazine capacity. Why a hunter would need more than 10 rounds in a rifle or shotgun to take down a deer or turkey is beyond me. Perhaps there are some really terrible hunters out there. My neighbor is a hunter and he would mock anyone who required 10 rounds to kill a deer. Forcing gun owners to have to reload after 10 shots doesn’t seem to be particularly onerous… except when they are shooting people. Which is precisely the point.

The latest polling data suggest that more than 60% of Americans want stricter gun control laws. People are dying because politicians are unwilling to act (or stand up to the gun lobby). Ashley Moody, the Florida Attorney General, is refusing to let the people of Florida express their views on assault weapons.

I’m so frustrated with politicians and gun laws that I have taken to replacing what they say with what they really mean. President Trump said on July 29th about the Gilroy shooting, “We grieve for their families.” What he really means is, “We don’t care about these families.” And that’s what AG Ashley Moody is saying about the people killed at Stoneman Douglas High School and the people killed at the Pulse night club and the people killed at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Politicians who oppose stricter gun laws don’t care about people dying. If they did, they would do what the American people want.

Disingenuous Christian Proselytizing

I get a lot of emails. I try to answer all of my emails but am increasingly realizing that some of it may not be worthy of a response. For instance, a few days ago I received an email from someone claiming to have listened to a podcast I did. Here’s what he wrote:

Hi Ryan

I hope I’m not taking too much of a liberty by contacting you on this address.

I just watched your excellent four years old interview with TheThinkingAtheist which explains why a lot of people (including me) hate religion.

However, it prompts me to ask you whether or not you believe that Jesus lived two thousand years ago as described in the New Testament scriptures?

Best regards

Chris Needs

I’m not above a little praise. This individual said that my interview was excellent. Since the question seemed reasonable, I responded:

Hi Chris,

Glad you enjoyed the interview.

I tend to rely on experts whenever and wherever I can. On this issue, I side with Bart Ehrman, a Biblical Studies scholar, who has far more knowledge than I do on the topic. He suggests that there was a Jewish reformer named Jesus who lived during the 1st century C.E. who had a following. He didn’t do most of what is claimed in the New Testament and died a failed messiah. But there is sufficient extra-biblical evidence to suggest he lived; it is likely true that he did. The book I would recommend on this topic is: Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth by Bart D. Ehrman. Ehrman presents the evidence and arguments for this topic in a clear and readable way. So, the short answer is, yes, I believe there was a Jewish reformer named Jesus roughly 2,000 years ago. Was he a savior god or messiah? No. Just a failed revolutionary who was killed by the Romans.

Best,

Ryan

I was trying to be helpful and sincere. Then I got this email:

Hi Ryan

I so appreciated your quick response that I’m feeling guilty about taking so long with mine.

I’ve been carrying such a burden for you and I’ve been asking for ways to reconnect you spiritually.

Please watch this video [NOTE: I’m not providing the link, but it’s to a Christian evangelism video] and the second one in the series; let me know if you need the link.

Blessings Ryan

I look forward to meeting you one day

Chris Needs

I didn’t respond. This same individual sent another email with a link to the second video the next day.

I’m sure, at some level, Chris Needs believes he is doing the right thing. He thinks he is helping a “lost soul” come back to Jesus. But he used deception to begin the conversation. This is dishonest and disingenuous. Chris is not winning me back to Jesus by deceiving me. What he’s doing is showing me that he believes it is okay to be deceptive and dishonest in the pursuit of what he believes is a higher purpose – winning souls for Jesus. What he has actually accomplished is illustrated that he, like many other religious people, is willing to sacrifice morality for ideology.

(NOTE: His email is: chrisjneeds@gmail.com. If he emails you, be prepared for evangelism.)

National Youth Leadership Forum (Envision Experience and Envision EMI) – Pricey Summer Camps of Questionable Quality?

My son was “nominated” by his 3rd-grade science teacher for what both the teacher and we thought might be a nice opportunity – a week-long summer camp that focused on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). The camp is put on by the “National Youth Leadership Forum” (or NYLF) and was called “Pathways to Stem.” The teacher let us know that they had “nominated” our son – and only our son because of his interest in the natural sciences – and then, a few weeks later, we received this really opulent package of information about the program (see scan below).

When we opened the package, we were simultaneously impressed and disturbed by the contents. There were lots of gold seals and what looked like official language and endorsements.

shiny gold seal
Shiny gold seal!

But then we saw the price for the camp and balked!

summer camp price scan
The price… and a payment plan? Why would a summer camp need a payment plan?

Yep, you’re reading that correctly: $2,195!

For a week-long camp?!?

Our son has been doing summer camps for a long time since both of us work. The most expensive summer camp he has done has cost just over $200 – for a full week (most are around ~$150 per week). Granted, that didn’t include room and board, but the tuition only option for this summer camp was still almost $1,700, which is over 8 times as much as we had ever paid for another camp.

I hate to admit that we actually spent a little time considering this as a possibility for our son as we should have immediately been more skeptical. As we thought about it, we considered that college admissions are competitive and wondered if this might be beneficial. But we both quickly realized that, as college professors, we wouldn’t care if a student had spent a week at some summer camp unless that camp had led them to do original research and publish a paper or create some world-altering invention. That… That would be an impressive camp. But what was being proposed for this camp wasn’t all that compelling (see the sample schedule in the PDF below).

Even so, as busy professionals, we didn’t really have time to look into this right away, so we kind of just sat on it for about two months until I had a free day one weekend to look into a little more. I’m glad I did.

As it turns out, the National Youth Leadership Forum (NYLF) is part of a collection of camps and programs run by a for-profit company called Envision, EMI. The link we’d been giving in all of our paperwork (see the scans below) was to NYLFpathways.com, but that redirects straight to the main Envision website: envisionexperience.com. That was a little weird.

As I googled around, I found more and more information. Yelp actually provided some good starting places based on the reviews. From there, I ended up reading this very good (and amazingly balanced yet subtly critical) article in the New York Times. That article notes that there is no empirical evidence that such summer camps do anything for: (1) improving leadership or other skills in young people (they are too short and no one has tested their efficacy), or (2) improve the odds of young people getting into competitive colleges.

The Yelp reviews also pointed me to the Wikipedia article on the company, which has a very helpful section on “criticisms” of Envision, EMI. Not surprisingly, one of the main criticisms is that the company employs slick, high-pressure marketing techniques, like requesting that parents respond within 24 hours to reserve their child’s spot. Why do I have to respond in 24 hours?

card insert that suggests a need for urgency
This included card makes it seem like there is a reason to make a quick decision on this camp. There isn’t.

The other Wikipedia criticisms focus on how the company doesn’t deliver on its promises of an amazing educational experience.

The Yelp reviews had largely convinced me that this wasn’t the opportunity it claimed to be. The New York Times article sealed the deal. The Wikipedia section was just icing on the cake. Our son won’t be attending the National Youth Leadership Forum: Pathways to Stem summer camp. I’d much rather take the $2,195 and buy him a 3D printer (~$1,000 and $1,000 worth of supplies) and let him design and print 3D objects all summer long. That is a much better use of our funds.

Below is a scan of all the materials sent, from the various letters to the teacher, to us, and to our son, along with the promotional and informational materials and even some scans of the envelope (the seal on which is shown above):

NOTE: Throughout this blog post, I have not used the words “scam” or “fraud” or anything like that to describe the company or the camp. That is intentional. Technically, the company is delivering “a camp experience.” That the experience is less impressive than what the company seems to suggest does not mean this is a “scam” or a “fraud.” I have been very careful with my word choices here so as to avoid a lawsuit or libel claims. I think it is safe to say that this company offers summer camps that are WAY, WAY, WAY more expensive than almost every other summer camp we have considered for our son (the one exception is astronaut camp in Birmingham, Alabama, which involves some pretty hands-on training and is still just $1,000). For instance, here is a list of available summer camps (for summer 2017) in our area. None of them come anywhere close to the cost of Envision, EMI’s camps. Again, that does not mean Envision Experience, Envision, EMI, or the National Youth Leadership Forum are a “scam.” I think it would be more accurate to describe what Envision Experience offers as very expensive, possibly under-delivering camp experiences for people who really want their kids to succeed but may not realize that there is no scientific evidence these camp experiences will help their kids succeed.

 

I hate pets!

You know why I hate pets?!?  Because the “owners” of said pets are so often negligent of the animals.

Why am I suddenly ranting about pets?  Yesterday a cat climbed up on the window sill of our neighbor’s front window just as a torrential rainfall hit and began having kittens.   Yep, kittens, on a windowsill, outside, during a torrential Florida thunderstorm.  Luckily our neighbor’s kids saw the cat and were concerned enough about its welfare that they got a box and some towels and made a nice little place for the cat to have its kittens.  But they didn’t know anything about cats giving birth, so they came over to our place and asked Debi if she did.  This happened around 6:00 pm.  I was shopping for food.

Debi spent from 6:00 until almost 10:00 pm last night delivering kittens (granted, the cat does most of the work).  She read up on what the mother needs and will do (clean, large box inside in a warm location; eat the placenta and lick the kittens clean, respectively), how many kittens will typically be born (3 to 6), and what best cat-birth practices are.  Debi cut and tied off umbilical cords, ensured the cat had clean towels to lie on, and provided the cat with food (I took care of Toren).  The cat ended up having 5 kittens before Debi called it a night and went to bed.  The neighbors put the cat in the washroom at the end of their carport for the night.

Okay, what does this have to do with me hating pets?  It kind of sounds beautiful in its own way, right?  Yes, it is beautiful and amazing.  But it’s also infuriating!

The cat has a collar (studded leather with spikes, of course).  That means the cat “belongs” (or belonged) to someone.  Where the hell is the “owner?”  Why isn’t the owner taking care of the cat that it allowed to become pregnant?  Why is this pregnant cat roaming our neighborhood and trying to give birth on a windowsill in a rain storm?

You see, I don’t hate the actual pets… I hate two related things: (1) the idea of owning another animal, and (2) said “owners” of animals who do not treat their animals well.

Raising an animal to eat it?  I can live with that.  Your intentions are clear from the start.

Buying a pet that you neglect because you thought, on a whim, that it would be fun.  Yeah, not a fan!

3-4 million cats and dogs are euthanized in the US every year. While lots of people have mixed feelings about government intrusion into personal lives, I don’t think people should be allowed to adopt a pet without a “pet license” (same goes for having kids, but that’s an even more controversial argument).  And, in addition to taking an extensive training course on taking care of a pet, I think people should also have to pass a “means” test to illustrate they have the financial resources to care for a pet.  And then they should have to wait a month to be able to get one.

Now do you understand why I hate pets?

ticket!!!

I got a fracking ticket!  It actually happened on December 21st on my way to do volunteer consulting work for the Tampa Child Abuse Council.  According to the officer, I was doing 50 mph in a 35 mph zone (I was coming down a bridge on North Boulevard over the Hillsborough River and he was parked illegally on a one-way road to clock me).  I drive that road every day to and from school and during rush hour everyone speeds.  I just happened to be on the road during a time other than rush hour and I think that’s why I got ticketed.  Arghh!  He said he’d be nice and drop it to 45 mph.  (Ahem, nice would have been a warning!)

Anyway, whether or not I deserve the ticket, Florida has an interesting policy in place.  You can either: (1) pay the ticket, eat the points against your license (too many and you lose it), and see your insurance go up; (2) fight it in court; or (3) take a defensive driving course and avoid the points against your license and having your insurance go up.  When I first heard about option 3, I thought, “Hey, that’s not a bad idea.”  Now, I’m not so sure.

There are some limitations.  You can’t have a commercial license.  If you have a commercial license, your SOL on this one.  You also can only do that once every 12 months and a total of 5 times during your lifetime.  Since I don’t have a commercial license and haven’t had a ticket in over 10 years, I qualified.  So, I decided I’d go this route.

But, of course, we left for Utah for two weeks right after I got the ticket, so I put it off until we got back.  You have 30 days from the date of the ticket to inform the Clerk of Courts what you’re going to do.  Once we got back, I started looking into this and found out that you have to sign an affidavit if you want to take the defensive driving course.  That seemed annoyingly cumbersome; I was going to have to fill out an affidavit just to take the driving course?  Turns out, one is automatically created for you on the Clerk’s website if you know where to look (hint: here).  The ticket doesn’t tell you that, nor does the Clerk’s website nor their rather uninformative phone message.  But I eventually figured it out.  So, I printed out the affidavit, signed it, and sent it with a check to the Clerk’s Office.  Theaddress was also not provided on the ticket; here it is:

Clerk of Circuit Courts
419 Pierce St.
Room #140
Tampa, FL 33602

Now for the class… We put our mail on hold while we were gone.  In the resulting stack I found six advertisements from various companies advertising their defensive driving courses.  It turns out that the defensive driving courses are all run by private companies that are approved by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.  The price of the course varies from about $25.00 to $40.00.  Each of the companies has a selling point: cheapest, longest in business, etc.  Two caught my eye as they claimed to be “funny” or “humorous” courses.  Oh, and the course can be done entirely online, though they set a timer so you have to spend 4 hours on the fracking course.

I tried one of the cheaper ones first, but their website hung when I tried to register, so I went with www.funnyinflorida.com.  The account set up was fine, then I started the course (Monday).  The timer at the bottom is pre-set for each section and you have to wait for it to count down to zero before you can move on (which means I did a lot of multi-tasking while waiting for it to count down to zero).  The course, while full of information, didn’t really include any information I didn’t already know (e.g., a red octagon is the shape of a stop sign; drinking and driving is bad, etc.).  It’s probably not a bad idea to refresh yourself with this information every so often, but I didn’t really learn anything new.  I just spent four hours skimming the information, answering the questions, and then taking the test to avoid points and an insurance increase.

Oh, and I know the question everyone is wondering: Was it actually funny?  The answer: No.  After every few paragraphs of text they would just insert a joke, including sometimes inappropriate jokes about drinking and driving or hitting pedestrians, on the very pages where those things were strongly condemned.  Hilarious!    😐

And while the price isn’t that steep (they all advertise $8.00 or so on their flyers with an “*” leading to disclaimers), the actual price includes various fees, liking printing up a certificate and a mandatory state fee.  At the end, they also try to upsell you by offering to email your certificate directly to the Clerk or fax it to you or various other things, each option costing another $10.00 to $20.00.

So, I’m torn about this.  I think I’m benefiting from a program that prevents points from going on my record and keeping my insurance company from raising my rates.  But this is highly commercialized and seems like it is just a money making scheme for these companies.  If the State of Florida made this driving course “in-house,” not only could they more closely screen the content (removing the inappropriate, undermining jokes), but they could make more money.  And since pretty much every state is having budget crises, that seems like a no-brainer.

What do you think?  Is this a worthwhile service that should be provided be third-party, for-profit corporations or should it be handled in-house?  And should it even be an option?

RE: Joys of Muslim Women – more debunking

Another relative (not my uncle this time), sent me the email below, but (I think smartly) asked me if it was accurate.  My response follows the email:

This was written by a woman born in Egypt as a Muslim.

This is not heresay, and it will scare the life out of you. Make sure you read the paragraph (in red) towards the end.

Joys of Muslim Women
by Nonie Darwish

In the Muslim faith a Muslim man can marry a child as young as 1 year old and have sexual intimacy with this child. Consummating the marriage by 9. The dowry is given to the family in exchange for the woman (who becomes his slave) and for the purchase of the private parts of the woman, to use her as a toy.

Even though a woman is abused she can not obtain a divorce. To prove rape, the woman must have (4) male witnesses. Often after a woman has been raped, she is returned to her family and the family must return the dowry. The family has the right to execute her (an honor killing) to restore the honor of the family. Husbands can beat their wives ‘at will’ and he does not have to say why he has beaten her.

The husband is permitted to have (4 wives) and a temporary wife for an hour (prostitute) at his discretion.

The Shariah Muslim law controls the private as well as the public life of the woman.

In the West World ( America ) Muslim men are starting to demand Shariah Law so the wife can not obtain a divorce and he can have full and complete control of her. It is amazing and alarming how many of our sisters and daughters attending American Universities are now marrying Muslim men and submitting themselves and their children unsuspectingly to the Shariah law.

By passing this on, enlightened American women may avoid becoming a slave under Shariah Law.

Ripping the West in Two.
Author and lecturer Nonie Darwish says the goal of radical Islamists is to impose Shariah law on the world, ripping Western law and liberty in two.

She recently authored the book, Cruel and Usual Punishment: The Terrifying Global Implications of Islamic Law.

Darwish was born in Cairo and spent her childhood in Egypt and Gaza before immigrating to America in 1978, when she was eight years old. Her father died while leading covert attacks on Israel . He was a high-ranking Egyptian military officer stationed with his family in Gaza .

When he died, he was considered a “shahid,” a martyr for jihad. His posthumous status earned Nonie and her family an elevated position in Muslim society.

But Darwish developed a skeptical eye at an early age. She questioned her own Muslim culture and upbringing.. She converted to Christianity after hearing a Christian preacher on television.

In her latest book, Darwish warns about creeping sharia law – what it is, what it means, and how it is manifested in Islamic countries.

For the West, she says radical Islamists are working to impose sharia on the world. If that happens, Western civilization will be destroyed. Westerners generally assume all religions encourage a respect for the dignity of each individual. Islamic law (Sharia) teaches that non-Muslims should be subjugated or killed in this world.

Peace and prosperity for one’s children is not as important as assuring that Islamic law rules everywhere in the Middle East and eventually in the world.

While Westerners tend to think that all religions encourage some form of the golden rule, Sharia teaches two systems of ethics – one for Muslims and another for non-Muslims. Building on tribal practices of the seventh century, Sharia encourages the side of humanity that wants to take from and subjugate others.

While Westerners tend to think in terms of religious people developing a personal understanding of and relationship with God, Sharia advocates executing people who ask difficult questions that could be interpreted as criticism.

It’s hard to imagine, that in this day and age, Islamic scholars agree that those who criticize Islam or choose to stop being Muslim should be executed. Sadly, while talk of an Islamic reformation is common and even assumed by many in the West, such murmurings in the Middle East are silenced through intimidation.

While Westerners are accustomed to an increase in religious tolerance over time, Darwish explains how petro dollars are being used to grow an extremely intolerant form of political Islam in her native Egypt and elsewhere.

(In twenty years there will be enough Muslim voters in the U.S. to elect the President by themselves! Rest assured they will do so… You can look at how they have taken over several towns in the USA .. Dearborn Mich. is one… and there are others…)

I think everyone in the U.S. should be required to read this, but with the ACLU, there is no way this will be widely publicized, unless each of us sends it on!

It is too bad that so many are disillusioned with life and Christianity to accept Muslims as peaceful.. some may be but they have an army that is willing to shed blood in the name of Islam.. the peaceful support the warriors with their finances and own kind of patriotism to their religion. While America is getting rid of Christianity from all public sites and erasing God from the lives of children the Muslims are planning a great jihad on America ..

This is your chance to make a difference…! Pass it on to your email list or at least those you think will listen..

Some of those I’m sending it to WILL NOT! Put your head back under the covers so you can’t see the boogie man!

My response:

Thanks for contacting me.  You’re right that I have some insight into these types of things as I study religion as my job.  So, I’ll do my best to address the claims in the email.
Oh, and keep in mind where I’m coming from as I address the points in the email…  I’m not sure how much you know about my current religious views, but the short version is I’m not religious.  I only mention that so you know that I’m not trying to defend Islam, but rather be as fair as possible.  Because I am not religious, I don’t feel like I have to defend any religion and can be equally critical of all religions.  So, that’s the approach I’ll take here.
First off, a number of websites are claiming that Nonie Darwish is not the author of the email (see here and here).  Despite not having written the email, Darwish has suggested that she thinks a lot of what it says is accurate (according to one of the previously mentioned websites).  I’m going to take issue with her on that.  But I think it is worth noting that Darwish is a former Muslim turned Christian who appears to make her living criticizing Islam (per her Wikipedia page).  She has also embraced (and been embraced by) the far right in the political sphere in the U.S.  The above suggests to me that she may not be the most reliable source of information on Islam.

So, let’s examine the claims one by one.

This was written by a woman born in Egypt as a Muslim.

Well, this seems to be referring to Nonie Darwish.  But Nonie denies it.  So, the email is off to a bad start as it begins with an outright lie.

This is not heresay, and it will scare the life out of you.

If someone has to tell you that what they are saying is not “heresay” (which is misspelled, another bad sign; it should read “hearsay”), I’m inclined to believe that it is precisely hearsay.  People with accurate information provide sources for their readers, so they can verify their information.  This email does not.  So, we’re starting out with an outright lie and someone trying to set people up to believe what the email says.

In the Muslim faith a Muslim man can marry a child as young as 1 year old and  have sexual intimacy with this child. Consummating the marriage by 9. The dowry is given to the family in exchange for the woman (who becomes his  slave) and for the purchase of the private parts of the woman, to use her as a  toy.

This is really the first “fact claim” made in the email and it’s not really accurate.  First off, if you take the Quran as the foundation of Islam, which most Muslims would, the Quran says virtually nothing about age at first marriage.  Critics of Islam would be certain to jump on any verse in the Quran that says girls can be married as young as 1 and men can have sexual intimacy with that child.  Such a statement in the Quran would be condemned by, well, everyone except the most extreme pedophiles.  So, doing some quick searching, I found some articles online written by critics who have found what the Quran says about age at first marriage (see here).  Basically, one verse (4:6) suggests that the youngest age for a girl to be married is at puberty, which, of course, is not a specific age as girls go through puberty at different ages (from about 9-15, for most girls, give or take a few years).  So, the initial claim that Islam says men can marry a child as young as 1 and be sexually intimate with that child is simply untrue.

I can, however, imagine one slight variation of this idea having some truth.  In cultures where arranged marriages are common, it is possible that a young girl, as young as 1 or even younger, could be promised to an older man.  But I have never seen any evidence to suggest that girls promised to older men are married to them until they are substantially older, and certainly it is not common or even accepted practice for older men to have sex with 1 year old children in Islam or in any predominantly Muslim country.

This statement then confounds the original claim (marriage and sex at 1) with the next claim, saying that the marriage can be “consummated” by age 9.  Basically, the second phrase (it’s not a complete sentence) contradicts the first (the email is poorly written).  What’s interesting about this second claim is that there is some evidence that Mohammad, the founder of Islam, married a girl at age 6 and consummated the marriage at age 9 (see here).  If this is true (and it seems likely that it is), then Mohammad may have acted in contradiction to the very scripture he claimed to reveal by marrying a pre-pubescent girl.  The morality of that, especially given the time period and culture, is certainly open to debate.  But as far as the email goes, there is no mention of the connection to Mohammad.  So, basically, what you have is the author of the email making an almost completely unfounded claim (marriage and sex at 1) that is then coupled with the alleged age of consummation of marriage by Mohammad with one of his wives, Aisha.  Whoever wrote this is either very ignorant or intentionally confusing.

The next part of the above quote claims that the woman is “purchased,” specifically her “private parts,” and that she is to be used as a toy by men.  This, too, is simply far too misleading to be of merit.  Islam has no monopoly on mistreating women and, in fact, was arguably well ahead of its time in giving women legal status, which was far more progressive than medieval Europe (deeply entrenched in Christianity at that time).  Even so, women in many religious traditions have been seen as little more than property.  In fact, this idea is enshrined in the 10 Commandments: Exodus 20:17 “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.”  The last part of this verse makes it quite clear that women are seen as being the property of their husband.  In short, treating women as property – originally as her father’s, then as her husband’s (which is why she adopts his name in the Western World, because men put their name on their property) – was a widespread cultural practice prior to the 1600s (you can see the status of women in the Bible here and here).  As I noted, Islam was actually progressive on this issue, as is outlined here.   Are women depicted as “toys” or “playthings” for their husbands in the Quran?  Not really.  And, trust me, I’m no fan of the treatment of women in the Quran, where they are clearly illustrated to be less than a man (seehere).  So, if I could find a verse that said that women were “toys” for men, I’d certainly point it out.  The Quran does say that men can have sex with their wives pretty much whenever they want (see here), but it doesn’t go so far as to say that women are “toys” or “playthings” or sex slaves (though some might consider that implied).  Overall, then, are women in Islam sold as property to their husbands to be toys?  No.  That’s simply not true, generally.  Are women sometimes and in some places treated as “property” in predominantly Muslim societies?  Yes.  But this also happens in Buddhist, Christian, and even Mormon societies.  That doesn’t justify it – it’s wrong wherever it occurs.  But it does suggest that this is not something unique to Islam.

Next claim:

Even though a woman is abused she can not obtain a divorce.

This is not true.  Not only does the Quran not say that women cannot divorce, it actually says they can.  Yes, it is harder for a woman to get a divorce than for a man to get a divorce, and this varies by culture/nation, but women in Islam can divorce.  See here and here.

To prove rape, the woman must have (4) male witnesses.

Wrong again, see here.  While there are instances when women have been punished for having been raped (though, in all fairness, in the case I’m thinking about from Saudi Arabia, the punishment was supposedly from her being alone in a car with a male, not for being raped), mostly Muslims oppose this.  The author of this email is confusing adultery with rape; see here.

Often after a woman has been raped, she is returned to her family and the family  must return the dowry.  The family has the right to execute her (an honor  killing) to restore the honor of the family. Husbands can beat their wives ‘at  will’ and he does not have to say why he has beaten her.

Once again, the author is confusing different elements of Islam and Arabic culture.  Rarely after a woman is raped is she killed by her family over family honor, but it has happened (see here).  However, as the example I just cited makes clear, the family members involved in that honor killing were sentenced to life in prison for killing their raped daughter.  Honor killings do occur (see here).  Of course I don’t think they are ever justified, but rarely do they occur over rape.  Usually they occur when a woman has “shamed” the family by leaving an arranged marriage or had sex outside of marriage (again, I’m not justifying honor killings, just clarifying; in my opinion they are always wrong).  So, the above claim is again misleading, even in how it is worded.  If you look at it carefully, it basically suggests that a woman is (1) married, thus the dowry, then (2) is raped, then (3) is returned to her family, and (4) her family has the right to murder her.  Unless the intent of the author of the email was to suggest that married women in Islam are just raped by their husbands (some, I’m sure, are, but most are not), then this doesn’t make sense.  If a married woman in Islam was raped (and it was not in conjunction with her breaking any other customs or laws), there would be no punishment for the woman at all (in almost all cases; again, I can’t say in all cases as that isn’t known).  So, the claim makes no sense.

As for husbands being allowed to beat their wives… Well, yes, this is suggested in at least one verse in the Quran (4:34), as a last resort to getting women to submit to their husbands.  It’s abhorrent and immoral.  Of course, submission of women to men is also demanded in the Bible (Ephesians 5:22-24), but it does not explicitly say that beating is allowed.  Either way, wives submitting to husbands and abuse are terrible.  This is probably the closest to accurate statement in the email so far.

The husband is permitted to have (4 wives) and a temporary wife for an hour  (prostitute) at his discretion.

The Quran allows polygamy – up to 4 wives.  This is accurate.  Prostitution is not prohibited in Islam and “enjoyment marriages” (basically prostitution) have and do take place in predominantly Muslim cultures and are justified by Shariah Law (seehere).  I’m not going to debate the morality of prostitution in this response, but I will note that both polygamy and prostitution are pretty common in the Bible as well and their positions in the Bible, morally, are quite ambiguous.

The Shariah Muslim law controls the private as well as the public life of the woman.

Shariah is very complicated in Islam, as not all Muslims agree what is included as part of Shariah (see here). Some include just the Quran, others include additional teachings and interpretations.  If you include just the Quran, the above statement is probably not true.  The Quran does not explicitly detail things like Muslim veiling practices.  If you take a broader interpretation of Shariah and include the other teachings, this statement may be true.  So, again, this is a misleading and confusing statement.

In the West World ( America ) Muslim men are starting to demand Shariah Law so  the wife can not obtain a divorce and he can have full and complete control of  her.  It is amazing and alarming how many of our sisters and daughters attending  American Universities are now marrying Muslim men and submitting themselves and their children unsuspectingly to the Shariah law.

“West World”?  Ughh!  Whoever wrote this doesn’t know how to write!  Anyway, this claim is much looser and therefore much more difficult to address.  Basically, you can find one or two instances of people trying to advocate Sharia in the West and say this claim is true (and such examples exist; see here).  But how widespread is it?  My sense, and I don’t have hard numbers on this, is that this represents a minority of Muslims in the West.  As far as the motivations for instituting Shariah, which are implied in this (primarily female submission and oppression), my sense is that advocacy of Shariah is not strictly to control women and children but for many because they believe it is required to live their religion.

By passing this on, enlightened American women may avoid becoming a slave under  Shariah Law.

This interjection breaks the flow of the rant, but is also erroneous.  Women are not slaves in Islam.  Are they required to submit to their husbands?  Yes, technically.  But for many Muslim women, that “requirement” is not closely followed, just as many Christian women don’t “submit” to their husbands.  Some might consider submission to be the equivalent of slavery, but I wouldn’t go quite that far.  I don’t like the idea of “submission” and think it is immoral, but it is not slavery (not far removed from it, but not, technically, the same thing).

Author and lecturer Nonie Darwish says the goal of radical Islamists is to  impose Shariah law on the world, ripping Western law and liberty in two.

Nonie Darwish may or may not have said this.  I don’t know.  I haven’t read her books.  But it sounds like a reasonable statement – radical Muslims do want to make the entire world Muslim.  That is true.  But they also make up a very small percentage of Muslims – maybe 5% to 10% of Muslims are truly radical in their views.

The next parts of the email are basically taken from Nonie Darwish’s wikipedia page, so I’m going to skip them.  I’ll start again here:

For the West, she says radical Islamists are working to impose sharia on the  world. If that happens, Western civilization will be destroyed. Westerners  generally assume all religions encourage a respect for the dignity of each  individual.  Islamic law (Sharia) teaches that non-Muslims should be subjugated  or killed in this world.

I already addressed the first sentence.  Yes, some radical Muslims want that.  And, yes, if that occurred the world would be radically different – by definition.  But it isn’t going to happen.  Radical Muslims are a minority of Muslims and they aren’t growing in any dramatic way.

The second part of the above quote is actually more interesting to me.  The claim is made that Westerners advocate dignity of the individual.  That’s certainly true of secular humanists, but much less of most religions.  The Old Testament (and parts of the New Testament) is full of god telling his chosen people to kill others; genocide is pretty common in the Old Testament.  That runs counter to autonomy.  Yes, Western culture does generally advocate individualism, that’s true.  But that is largely through secular development, not because of religion.

Does the Quran advocate killing or subjugating non-Muslims?  Technically, only if they attack Muslims (though the Quran goes a bit further with the non-religious, suggesting that maybe it’s okay to kill them).  Shariah may go further than that and suggest that all non-Muslims must die, but that is certainly not the view of most Muslims.

Peace and prosperity for one’s children is not as important as assuring that Islamic law rules everywhere in the Middle East and eventually in the world.

This may be true for the radicals, but it is not true for most Muslims.  Of course, radical Christians want a theocracy as well (see here), but most Christians don’t.  This is basically just the worldview of radical religionists everywhere.

While Westerners tend to think that all religions encourage some form of the  golden rule, Sharia teaches two systems of ethics – one for Muslims and another  for non-Muslims. Building on tribal practices of the seventh century, Sharia  encourages the side of humanity that wants to take from and subjugate others.

Despite my criticisms of Islam, I don’t find the above compelling.  Does the Quran talk about different systems of ethics for Muslims and non-Muslims?  Yes.  But like many religions, it holds Muslims to a higher standard of charity and goodwill to others than it holds non-Muslims.  Claiming that the goal of Islam is to subjugate others I believe is simply untrue.  Would Muslims say that they want to convert everyone to Islam?  Sure.  But so do most Christians (i.e., Catholics, Mormons, etc.) and many other religionists and even most secularists.  That’s very different from subjugating others.

While Westerners tend to think in terms of religious people developing a  personal understanding of and relationship with God, Sharia advocates executing  people who ask difficult questions that could be interpreted as criticism. It’s hard to imagine, that in this day and age, Islamic scholars agree that  those who criticize Islam or choose to stop being Muslim should be executed.  Sadly, while talk of an Islamic reformation is common and even assumed by many  in the West, such murmurings in the Middle East are silenced through  intimidation.

We finally get to the section where the author’s biases are made clear.  The author of this email is a Christian, and likely an evangelical Christian (given the emphasis on a personal relationship with god).  The Quran does not say execute people who ask questions and, in fact, it does not say to execute people who leave Islam.  Sharia law does call for executing people who leave Islam, but many Muslims don’t agree with Sharia law on that point.  And it’s not like the status of Christian apostates is much better.  Many apostates from Christianity have been killed over the years.  That’s unlikely to happen today, particularly in the U.S., but they are still demonized and not treated very well.  So, I’d say the author is being duplicitous here – claiming Christianity is better than Islam and kinder to its apostates.  Neither claim rings true to me.

While Westerners are accustomed to an increase in religious tolerance over time,  Darwish explains how petro dollars are being used to grow an extremely  intolerant form of political Islam in her native Egypt and elsewhere.

Darwish may claim this.  Again, I don’t know.  But whether the goal of petroleum dollars is to grow extremist Islam or not I think is highly questionable.  My sense is that in some countries oil money is used to enrich the leaders of the countries.  In others, some of the money may be funneled to religious extremists.  But this makes it seem as though oil money is channeled directly to fundamentalists.  I don’t think that is accurate.

(In twenty years there will be enough Muslim voters in the  U.S. to elect the  President by themselves! Rest assured they will do so… You can look at how  they have taken over several towns in the USA .. Dearborn Mich. is one… and  there are others…)

As a sociologist who studies trends in religious affiliation for his job and has published on this, I can pretty confidently say that this claim is complete and utter garbage.  Most of my commentary on the previous content of the email is really that of a fairly well-educated expert on religion, but not on Islam.  But this particular claim is literally what I study – religious growth and decline.  Islam is barely growing in the U.S., and it is doing so primarily through immigration, not conversion.  Also, most of the Muslims who move to the U.S. pretty quickly assimilate and are much less extreme in their views than are the radicals in other parts of the world.  While a few religions in the U.S. are growing in absolute numbers (e.g., Catholicism), most are shrinking as a percentage of the population as the non-religious continue to grow.  I have argued in my research that the growth of the non-religious is likely to continue.  If any group will be in a position to elect a president in 20 years in the U.S., it will be the non-religious, not Muslims.

I think everyone in the U.S. should be required to read this, but with the ACLU,  there is no way this will be widely publicized, unless each of us sends it on!

This is a tell-tale sign of a poorly written, crappy chain email.  Not only does it baselessly rail against the ACLU, which would actually protect the author’s right to write this, but it asks that you send it on.  That’s a good indication that the author of this email is a right-wing conservative Christian who hates the ACLU and feels threatened by immigration and people not like him/her.

It is too bad that so many are disillusioned with life and Christianity to  accept Muslims as peaceful.. some may be but they have an army that is willing  to shed blood in the name of Islam.. the peaceful support the warriors with  their finances and own kind of patriotism to their religion. While America is  getting rid of Christianity from all public sites and erasing God from the lives  of children the Muslims are planning a great jihad on America ..

Most Muslims are peaceful.  If that were not the case, we would have far more wars than we currently do as Muslims make up 1/6 of the world’s population.  So, the author has his/her numbers wrong.  As for their being “an army” willing to shed blood… Sure, there are some willing to do that (e.g., Al Qaeda, Hamas, etc.).  But there are also Christians willing to do that, as the terrorist actions of Christians in the U.S. and abroad illustrate (most recently with the killing of Dr. Tiller in Kansas, which was a terrorist act on American soil perpetrated by a Christian on a Christian).  This doesn’t make me say that most Christians are violent or part of an army out to kill Muslims or the non-religious.  Likewise, most Muslims are peace loving and are not supportive of terrorism.

This is your chance to make a difference…! Pass it on to your email list or at  least those you think will listen..  Some of those I’m sending it to WILL NOT!  Put your head back under the covers so you can’t see the boogie man!

Once again, this is a tell-tale sign of a poorly written, unreferenced, unsourced chain letter.  Passing these along makes people more prejudiced by encouraging them to believe things that are simply not true.  Maybe 20% of the content of this email is kind of accurate.  The rest is either completely untrue, half-truths, or misleading.  The real boogie man is the person who wrote this.

Do keep in mind as I said at the outset, I’m no fan of religion, including Islam.  If you want to criticize religion, there is plenty to criticize without telling lies.  Islam, like most other religions, has a number of problems, including the mistreatment of women, scientific inaccuracies, and a reliance on outdated moral teachings from the 7th Century.  Those are all points worthy of criticism.  This email falls very flat in trying to criticize Islam and reveals more about the ignorance and biases of the author than it does about Islam.

I hope this helps.  And feel free to contact me about things like this in the future.

Best,

Ryan

compensating

someone is compensating for something

I saw this driving around town and snapped a picture.  Why would someone put something like that on their vehicle?  What are they trying to say?