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.)

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?

news interviews

Here are the other two interviews I did that landed me on local TV.

The first is from the day of the raid – May 20th.  I happened to have students coming over for dinner that night (from a small May class I taught).  A reporter from Fox 13 stopped by before my students did and asked me if I’d walk down the street around 9:00 and do an interview that would air at 10:00.  Since my students were still around, they walked down with me and got to watch to the interview from the Fox 13 news van:

This second video is from a few days later (May 24th). A different news program, NewsChannel 8, contacted me for an interview. I did this one in our backyard:

I mention something in this video only briefly that I didn’t mention in the others – an assault I witnessed. This was also mentioned in the St. Petersburg Times article. Here’s the long version of that encounter:

The day before the raid (May 19th), Leonora LaPeter Anton, the reporter from The St. Petersburg Times, and Stephen J. Coddington, a photographer for The St. Petersburg Times, came over.  I’d already spoken with Leonora at length about the clinic, but she wanted to talk some more and check the place out.  She and Stephen arrived around 4:00.  We chatted for a bit, then walked around my neighbor’s house and into the alley behind my house where I showed them the rear door to the Tampa Bay Wellness Centre, when it was behind my house.  I walked them around the front so they could see the front as well.  We then walked down the street about a block to the new location, 2137 W Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.  It was about 4:45 or so at this point, and the clinic was still humming with activity.  There were probably 75 to 100 people waiting around in the parking lot for their prescriptions.  Leonora, Stephen, and I stood out front on the sidewalk, talking, taking notes, and taking pictures.  Leonora approached one person who looked like he worked there, but he basically wouldn’t say anything.  Several people stared at us, including one young guy who was probably in his early to mid-twenties.  He was standing directly in front of the building (we were a little to the west of it at this point).  He was wearing a baggy yellow outfit and looked like a gang banger.  He had a solid gold grill.  I’ve generally tried to be nice to the people at the clinic, but this guy looked and acted like a thug.  Ergo, he is the “yellow-shirt thug.”

One of the things we were doing while standing there was noticing license plates.  At least 70% of the cars were from out of state, and we were wondering just how far out of state they were.  So, when we saw one from far away (e.g., Nebraska), we’d mention it.  Stephen thought he saw a unique license place, so he stepped off the sidewalk toward the fence surrounding the parking area to get a better look.  As soon as he did, yellow-shirt thug came running at him/us.  He started cursing and yelling at us, “Get the f*ck out of here!  What are you trying to do?  Ruin people’s lives by putting them on the news?”  (etc. etc.).  He got right up into our faces and feinted several times as though he was going to attack us.  I noted for him that we had no obligation to leave that spot as we were on a sidewalk, which is public property.  He said he didn’t care.  He then threatened Stephen by saying, “If you take another f*cking picture I’ll smash your camera.”  I told him he’d go to jail for that.  He said a few more choice words, postured a bit more, then walked away.

After we calmed down a bit, we decided we’d cross the street to see if we could talk to the owners of the pharmacy and daycare that were directly across MLK from the pain clinic.  We crossed over to the pharmacy, David’s Pharmacy, and eventually got the owner’s wife to talk to us.  The people at the pharmacy were very nice and we ended up talking to them at length (they were mentioned in the St. Petersburg Times article).

Just as we were finishing up the interview with the pharmacy owners, we started to notice something weird was going on.  Yellow-shirt thug, and a similarly dressed green-shirted thug, were slinking around the west side of the daycare headed north, toward the pain clinic.  You can see everything in this map:

Leonora, Stephen and I were standing were you see the blue smiley face.  We were looking east (to the right of the photo) and watched yellow- and green-shirt thugs slink along the red line, from behind the daycare (past the fenced in play area), along the side of the daycare on the daycare’s property, across MLK and into the pain clinic parking lot.  I saw them slink past and thought it was weird, but didn’t really pay much attention to it as we were still talking to the owner of the pharmacy.  It was about 5:30 at this point and the daycare’s parking lot was full of parents picking up their children.  The traffic along MLK was also crazy busy.

A couple minutes after the two thugs headed north across MLK, we then saw yellow- and green-shirt thugs come running with an elderly guy chasing them right back along the red path.  The elderly guy was carrying four large pieces of concrete in his hands and had blood dripping from his mouth and down his chin.  The two thugs ran right along the red path and disappeared behind the daycare.  At this point, chaos was breaking out at the daycare.  A parent, holding his young daughter, saw a marked police car in the traffic on MLK and flagged it down.  It pulled into the parking lot and two non-uniformed police officers jumped out and chased down the elderly guy, forcing him to drop the rocks and pinning his arms behind his back.  The owner of the daycare was out of the daycare at this point trying to figure out what was going on.

Eventually a woman dressed in scrubs crossed the street from the pain clinic to see how the elderly guy was doing and explained what happened.  Here’s the story as she told it to us.  Yellow- and green-shirt thugs were “patients” at the clinic, not employees.  The elderly guy was the janitor at the clinic.  Yellow-shirt thug parked his vehicle in such a fashion that other “patients” weren’t able to get out of the clinic.  So, the people inside the clinic told the elderly guy to tell yellow-shirt thug to move his vehicle.  The elderly guy approached yellow-shirt thug, who quickly escalated the request into a shouting match.  He was clearly looking for a fight.  While yellow-shirt thug and the elderly guy were yelling at each other, green-shirt thug snuck up behind the elderly guy and suckered punched him, breaking his jaw!  The two thugs then jumped into their vehicle and drove off. However, the didn’t really leave; they just pulled up behind the daycare.  They were clearly itching for more fighting.  When we saw them slink past the daycare, they were headed back to the clinic to finish off the job they started.  When they got there, the elderly guy’s nephew was with him, so they started in on him.  That’s when the elderly guy picked up the concrete chunks and started chasing them.  We saw what happened after that.

Once all this came out, the police called an ambulance for the elderly guy, who left in it to have his jaw repaired.  Unfortunately, the thugs got away.  Argh!

Anyway, that’s the long version of the story.  Great place to have in your neighborhood, huh?!?  This is precisely why I’ve been saying I’m ecstatic to see the place gone.  Most of the “patients” at the clinic weren’t really in need of pain medication.  They were addicts or dealers getting drugs.   Good riddance!

Back in the News

Over the last few weeks I’ve been talking with Leonora LaPeter Anton at the St. Petersburg Times about the pill mill/pain management center that was behind my house.  Her story hit the paper today: Pill mill’s demise brings relief to neighbors.  Here’s the picture from that story:

me in the St. Petersburg Times

Apparently my picture is in the print edition as well.

Oh, and Channel 8 here locally interviewed me for a brief story as well that aired on the 24th.

I’ve had several people jokingly tell me I’m famous from all the attention this has been getting.  I blew it off as I highly doubted anyone would really think of me as famous.  Friday kind of drove home how widespread the attention has been.  I was walking Toren over to a nearby Chinese restaurant to pick up some take out food for dinner.  As I was leaving the restaurant, a car pulled up to a stop sign as we were crossing the street.  The driver was probably in his late 60s.  He rolled down his window and said, “Hey, are you the guy from TV?”  Stunned, I sputtered out, “Yeah, I guess.”  He then said, “That is so awesome!  I’m so happy you did what you did.  I live around here and hated that place.  I’m so glad to see they’re gone.  Thank you!  Oh, and your son is really adorable.”  He then drove off.

I’ve had a number of people from work mention they saw the news coverage and even had a nurse at the ENT place where I get my allergy shots thank me for standing up to this place.  Apparently people do watch the news!

Despite the attention, I’m reminded of a line from one of my favorite documentaries, The UP Series, which is a multi-part documentary that tracks the lives of 10 or so British kids, starting when they were 7 in 1964, all the way through today.  In that series, one of the people who is tracked becomes a college professor.  And in one of the later episodes, he says, “My goal in life is to be more famous for my research than for being in this film.”  That’s exactly how I feel about this pain management clinic.  Yes, I’m glad it was shut down, but I never wanted that to be my claim to fame.  Hopefully my research will eventually get more press than this.

Boo-yah!

So, my regular readers may have forgotten, but I posted about the pain management clinic behind my house, along with the pharmacy, a few months ago.  Yesterday they were raided by the DEA and Tampa Police.  This has been all over the news the last day or so and is front page news everywhere here in Tampa.  Here are some sample links, in case you’re interested:

  • Tampa police, DEA searching 3 Tampa businesses
  • 24 hours of Tampa Bay’s prescription drug epidemic
  • Tampa enacts emergency pain clinic ordinance
  • No new pain clinics in Hillsborough County
  • Families push for pain clinic crackdown
  • Who runs these pain clinics?
  • Crackdown on pain clinics
  • Clinic’s problems painfully obvious, neighbors say

I’ve been contacted by reporters from multiple outlets and was on TV again last night being interviewed about this.  I haven’t been able to find that video online, but I Tivo’d it and will post it when I get a chance.

Anyway, I just wanted to say “boo-yah” to the scumbags running this thing.  I knew they were running a pill mill all along; now everyone else does too.  I wonder how much help my little blog was in all of this… 😉

Oh, and I’ve been doing a little more digging on this…  Look for a follow-up post later today (even though I have real work I should be doing).

pain management clinics in the news again

The St. Petersburg Times has a good story on the pain management clinic epidemic in Hillsborough County today.  Obviously Tampa Bay Wellness Center is not alone in doling out prescription drugs (in all likelihood to addicts and dealers, though I don’t know that for certain).  The story says the police are finally starting to do something about this – though it takes a drug overdose death every 35 hours in Hillsborough County to make this happen.  Apparently the problem has to do with prescription drug oversight – there is no electronic tracking system in place, so there is no way to know how many drugs are being prescribed by doctors.  Ergo, doctors in Hillsborough County can prescribe thousands and thousands of pills a week and no one will stop by to say anything about it.   Tampa needs a new slogan: Come Visit Tampa, Where Narcotics Are an MRI Away!