Thursday, August 30, 2012

What Exactly Is A Cult?

As I mentioned yesterday in my post about Scientology, for some strange reason I'm in a cult-documentary phase at the moment, and by now I think I've seen every single one of them that I can find on youtube (except the ancient aliens one from the history channel, I refuse). What struck me was that, despite my searching "cult documentary", I never really knew what to expect when I watched one of the videos, mostly because of the extremely diverse views as to what constitutes a cult.

Sometimes the documentaries would be strictly about extremely violent and sociopathic cults, like the Manson family or Aum Shinrikyo. These were the kind of documentaries that I liked the least, dealing mostly with the shock value of these heinous crimes in the oh-my-god-how-did-he-convince-these-people-my-lordy sense. Incidentally I would have found them far more interesting if they were presented in the context of the psychology of sociopaths, Stokholm Syndrome etc, rather than pure awe at how good people can go so terribly wrong given a charasmatic enough leader (as if it were that simple). Either way, in this case it was evident that the writers were considering the word "cult" in the strictest sense, a small brain-washed group of puppets controlled by an evil Satan-like leader. In other cases I would get the documentaries about an organizations that are recognized officially as religions in many countries. Others yet considered cults to be people who believe in things that are just far too silly and out there to be taken seriously (as if a parthenogenic teenager that popps out a guy that can walk on water is somehow more probably than space aliens coming for our bodies when we die). I saw some instances where the people proudly announced that they were in fact part of a cult, and others (none more so than the Scientologists) that could not find a single more offensive word to describe themselves. Suddenly I'm very confused.

What exactly is a cult? What is a religion? Can we come to a consensus as to what the two words mean and how exactly they differ? 

Now my favorite snarky response to this question is one I heard a while ago from my father, who in turn saw it on a t-shirt: The only difference between a religion and a cult is numbers. I can definitely agree with that assessment (especially when referring to people who think that cults are simply people who believe "crazy" things), but let's take a closer look for a second.

This is the part when we go back to the dictionaries, and let's see if we can get a little consistency.

cult: a system of religious veneration and devotion directed towards a particular figure or object:
       1. a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or as imposing excessive control over members

religion: the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods
            1. a particular system of faith and worship
            2. a pursuit or interest followed with great devotion

Merriam-Webster: eek, this is a long list

cult: 1. formal religious veneration
         2. a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also : its body of adherents 
         3. a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also : its body of adherents
         4. a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator
         5. great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book); especially : such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad 

religion: 1. the state of a religious <a nun in her 20th year of religion>    
            2. (1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
            3. a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices 
            4. archaic : scrupulous conformity
            5. a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith 

cult: 1. a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies.
         2. an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers
         3. the object of such devotion
         4. a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc
         5. Sociology . a group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols  

religion: 1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs
               2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects
               3. the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices
               4. the life or state of a monk, nun, etc
               5. the practice of religious  beliefs; ritual observance of faith

Crap, my head hurts just looking at all that. Doesn't seem that anyone can really agree can they?

Well, for starters, there is obviously a lot of overlap between what constitutes a religion and what constitutes a cult, which of course is quite obvious. If we take away all of the overlap, what do we really have left?

1. a relatively small group of people
2. practices regarded by others as strange or regarded as unorthodox
3. imposing excessive control over members

As I said before, the second one is quite subjective and based on nothing particularly concrete- should we call creationists a cult? AIDS-denialists? 9/11 truthers? perhaps, but as I said earlier, I don't see anything in the core beliefs of the main monotheistic religions that makes them more reasonable than these other logic-defying beliefs, so unless we want to abandon the distiction between the two words entirely I would be wary of this point here.

The first one is interesting in that it falls into the snarky comment that I made earlier. I suppose those that believe that this is the main distinction are the ones that find absolutely nothing wrong with being referred to as a cult and even adopt the label with pride: they are the few people who actually got it right and so be it. 

It is the third that I find the most telling, and the one that I think the one factor that tied all of those documentaries that I saw together: the excessive control. The splitting up of families, of not allowing members to speak to or interact with anyone outside the faith. The strict rules with which they control every aspect of their followers' lives, eliminating the chance that they think for themselves. 

This aspect is unfortunately found, in a diluted form, in pretty much every religion there is: you can talk to outsiders, just not marry them. You can marry them, but only if you convince them to convert. You can marry someone who does not convert, but the children you have must be raised in the faith. You can talk to your child who decides to leave the faith, but you must be deeply ashamed of them and worried for the fate of their soul. You have to fast for a month. You don't have to fast for a month, just no meat on Fridays. You can eat meat on Fridays, just not on Fridays during Lent. On and on and on it goes. 

When these rules and restrictions become less and less reasonable and cause the people following them to be less able to integrate into their society, we begin to call that religion a cult. There are also many religions that follow all three of these criteria but that are simply referred to as "fundementalist religions", but is there really a difference? Either way, does it really matter?

What do you think when you hear the word "cult"? Is there anything that these dictionaries have left out, but that you would have included in the definition?


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Scientology, What A Joke

Recently for some reason I've been watching a load of documentaries on cults. Call it a bizarre and fleeting fascination with the crazy crap of the world, or that my store of wacky information needed some adding to for when I am talking to people that know less about these things than I do, either way I came across this episode of Panorama that I had seen a couple of years ago while living in Ireland. Of all the documentaries that I have seen so far on cults, this one is definitely the most aggravating and difficult to watch thanks to the yippy little mutt known as Tommy Davis.

Sweeney keeps apologizing for the way he reacted at the end to Tommy goading him, but I honestly don't think that he had anything to apologize for. I am amazed at how calm he had managed to remain for so long, when if it were me in his situation, I would have gotten very snarky with that asshole far, far earlier.

At the end of the day, Tommy Davis should realize that Sweeney did not need to present a biased view of Scientology or lie about anything. All he would have had to do was show back-to-back clips of Tommy Davis getting in his face, he did a bang up job of making Scientology look awful all on his own. I hope his bosses give him a raise, because if there is anyone that was on the fence about the way Scientology to begin with, all they had to do was look at the appalling way that jerk-off behaved himself and the way they were constantly keeping tabs on the BBC, spying on them and harrassing them.

Sweeney does one better instead, and came out with this follow-up which I had not seen

When you have time watch both of them. Sweeney refused to be intimidated by their ridiculous scare tactics and schooled them in this second documentary in the best possible way. OK I concede your ways are better than mine, I would have just snarked my way under Tommy Davis' skin and would have had to leave it at that. Bravo.

Oh and one more thing, where are the pro-life right wingers when it comes to calling out an institution that actually pressures many of its female members into getting an abortion?! Is it because they will never dare touch a religion that isn't Islam, or because they don't go after people with money? 

Or maybe, unlike Sweeney, they're just too chickenshit

Dude's Got A Dick On His Chin

How do some of these scientists present their findings without giggling like schoolchildren?

Ladies and gents, meet Phallostethus cuulong, a little Vietnamese fish that for some bizarre unexplained reason has its genitals underneath its head instead of, well, the usual places. 

 I got nothing but respect for these people that have to present these data, and more for all the people in the audience stifling the giggle. Perhaps they realize that they can't possibly expect such maturity from a group of scientists, and present the entire thing with a humorous spin to begin with. 

Either way, the article is extremely mature in its detailed techincality, but for a much simpler and straightforward article you can read what National Geographic has to say about it.

The more interesting question that comes out of all this is, how and why would these fish evolve in this way? One theory put forth:

head-to-head mating is apparently "a very efficient way to do it," Parenti added. While examining preserved female priapiumfish, she has found oviducts filled with sperm, meaning almost all the eggs had been fertilized.

So, did you chuckle? I did. If you didn't, well, must be boring being that mature.

Source: Shibukawa, K. et. al. (2012). Phallostethus cuulong, a new species of priapiumfish (Actinopterygii: Atheriniformes: Phallostethidae) from the Vietnamese Mekong. Zootaxa 3363: 45-51

Non C'è Due Senza Tre...

I'd like to close this boss trifecta with a common Italian saying, literally translated as there is no two without three, and a big thanks to Why Evolution Is True for posting this video of Bill Nye the Science Guy. I adored Bill Nye as a kid, along with Kratts Creatures he was my main source of science growing up, ironically educating me even more in many areas than my science teachers in elementary and middle school. 

Sometimes, you find out that the people on TV that you loved as a kid turn out to be not so great in real life (I almost cried when I heard about the racial slurs thrown out there by Kramer, or how Frasier is actually a right-wing nut) but not this time! Bill Nye turns out to be just as cool in real life as he was on TV, as illustrated by his willingness and sincerity in coming out publicly against creationism.

Coincidence that three days later a rumor on twitter spread that he was dead? Probably not, but who cares. Bill Nye, you rock.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Speaking Of Bosses...

It's boss week up in here. Thanks once again to Pharyngula for letting me know that I missed out on the best of Irish politics. Shortly after I left Ireland ditched that melty-faced twat and elected this awesome man, I belatedly give my congrats.

I read up a little bit on the guy, looks like he asked his pay as Prime Minister be reduced (so now the Prime Minister of a 4.5 million people country is not paid more than the President of a 300 million people country! whoop!) and other little things which lead me to think crap, a little bit of progress. Well fucking done Ireland. Along with France, you're taking steps in the right direction. Rest of Europe, follow suit!

Repost: Charles Negy Is A Boss

Thank you TYTUniversity for bringing this highly amusing and inspiring story to my attention

For too long I've been reading stories about the rapid decline of the quality of higher education in the United States, so I was very grateful that for once I got to see a story that doesn't make me lose hope in colleges in the US.

I tracked down the full letter from reddit, and if you also can only see a truncated version of it posted there, here it is:

Hello, Cross-Cultural students, I am writing to express my views on how some of you have conducted yourself in this university course you are taking with me. It is not uncommon for some-to-many American students, who typically, are first-generation college students, to not fully understand, and maybe not even appreciate the purpose of a university. Some students erroneously believe a university is just an extension of high school, where students are spoon-fed “soft” topics and dilemmas to confront, regurgitate the “right” answers on exams (right answers as deemed by the instructor or a textbook), and then move on to the next course.
Not only is this not the purpose of a university (although it may feel like it is in some of your other courses), it clearly is not the purpose of my upper-division course on Cross-Cultural Psychology. The purpose of a university, and my course in particular, is to struggle intellectually with some of life's most difficult topics that may not have one right answer, and try to come to some conclusion about what may be “the better answer” (It typically is not the case that all views are equally valid; some views are more defensible than others). Another purpose of a university, and my course in particular, is to engage in open discussion in order to critically examine beliefs, behaviors, and customs. Finally, another purpose of a university education is to help students who typically are not accustomed to thinking independently or applying a critical analysis to views or beliefs, to start learning how to do so. We are not in class to learn “facts” and simply regurgitate the facts in a mindless way to items on a test. Critical thinking is a skill that develops over time. Independent thinking does not occur overnight. Critical thinkers are open to having their cherished beliefs challenged, and must learn how to “defend” their views based on evidence or logic, rather than simply “pounding their chest” and merely proclaiming that their views are “valid.” One characteristic of the critical, independent thinker is being able to recognize fantasy versus reality; to recognize the difference between personal beliefs which are nothing more than personal beliefs, versus views that are grounded in evidence, or which have no evidence.
Last class meeting and for 15 minutes today, we addressed “religious bigotry.” Several points are worth contemplating:
  1. Religion and culture go “hand in hand.” For some cultures, they are so intertwined that it is difficult to know with certainty if a specific belief or custom is “cultural” or “religious” in origin. The student in class tonight who proclaimed that my class was supposed to be about different cultures (and not religion) lacks an understanding about what constitutes “culture.” (of course, I think her real agenda was to stop my comments about religion).
  2. Students in my class who openly proclaimed that Christianity is the most valid religion, as some of you did last class, portrayed precisely what religious bigotry is. Bigots—racial bigot or religious bigots—never question their prejudices and bigotry. They are convinced their beliefs are correct. For the Christians in my class who argued the validity of Christianity last week, I suppose I should thank you for demonstrating to the rest of the class what religious arrogance and bigotry looks like. It seems to have not even occurred to you (I'm directing this comment to those students who manifested such bigotry), as I tried to point out in class tonight, how such bigotry is perceived and experienced by the Muslims, the Hindus, the Buddhists, the non-believers, and so on, in class, to have to sit and endure the tyranny of the masses (the dominant group, that is, which in this case, are Christians).
  3. The male student who stood up in class and directed the rest of the class to “not participate” by not responding to my challenge, represented the worst of education. For starters, the idea that a person—student or instructor—would instruct other students on how to behave, is pretty arrogant and grossly disrespects the rights of other students who can and want to think for themselves and decide for themselves whether they want to engage in the exchange of ideas or not. Moreover, this “let's just put our fingers in our ears so we will not hear what we disagree with” is appallingly childish and exemplifies “anti-intellectualism.” The purpose of a university is to engage in dialogue, debate, and exchange ideas in order to try and come to some meaningful conclusion about an issue at hand. Not to shut ourselves off from ideas we find threatening.
Universities hold a special place in society where scholarly-minded folks can come together and discuss controversial, polemic, and often uncomfortable topics. Universities, including UCF, have special policies in place to protect our (both professors’ and students’) freedom to express ourselves. Neither students nor professors have a right to censor speech that makes us uncomfortable. We're adults. We're at a university. There is no topic that is “off-limits” for us to address in class, if even only remotely related to the course topic. I hope you will digest this message, and just as important, will take it to heart as it may apply to you.
Charles Negy

Charles Negy, you are a Boss. Keep fighting the good fight!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Journal Club: Toxoplasma gondii and Schizophrenia

So I touched on something in yesterday's post that reminded me of a fascinating story I heard while still in college in Dublin during my parasitology course. It's time for another one of those sciency posts! Today I'm going to give a brief introduction to Toxoplasma gondii, some various misconceptions regarding it, and it's possible link to schizophrenia - a relatively new hypothesis that many people I have encountered even in the research community have not heard of yet. Let's start with the basics shall we? What is Toxoplasma gondii?

There it is, the little bastard
Toxoplasma gondii is one of, if not the most common parasite known to man, infecting anywhere from 50 to up to 80% of the world's population. Until recently it was believed that this little critter was largely asymptomatic in humans unless a woman is infected during her first trimester, which can lead to devastating consequences to the child once it is born. Ever heard of pregnant women having to stay away from cats? Well this little bugger is why, although it is actually far more common for people to become infected with T. gondii due to infected meat rather than cats, thanks to its ability to infect just about every mammal. Why do cats get the bad rep though? Because cats are the ones that T. gondii really need in order to stick around.

Like many parasites, T. gondii's life is a two-step process, in that it needs two different species to complete it's life cycle. Mice (or other rodents) eat the oocysts, which are basically the "fertilized eggs" that mom and pop T. gondii have made. Once inside the mouse, it busts and out come the babies, ready to grow and multiply inside the mouse. When a cat eats the infected mouse, T. gondii can sexually mature and produce oocysts, which are pooped out by the cat and ready to infect other unsuspecting mice. The problem at this point is that, in order to increase its chances of infecting it's final host, T. gondii has gotten really good at infecting and surviving in a variety of animals, including sheep, pigs, birds and humans. This means that unless a pregnant woman starts getting a mad craving for kitty litter (or is not in the mood to wash her hands after handling cat turds) she's most likely not going to get infected from a cat, but if she eats lamb or pork chops from animals that are infected with T. gondii, she's in trouble.

This is where it gets interesting

I ees controlling your miiiind

Also like many parasties, T. gondii dabbles in a little mind control when it comes to its intermediate host, in order to further increase its chances of infecting its final host (perhaps a review on mind-controlling parasites in the future, if you're interested!). T. gondii can alter mouse behaviour, making it less afraid of open spaces and more likely to come out during the day, greatly increasing its chances of being caught and eaten by a cat.

Here's the thing, if T. gondii can affect behaviour in mice, does it stand to reason that it can also affect certain aspects of human behaviour, even if it is otherwise asymptomatic?

In 1996 a study conducted in Prague showed that humans that are infected with Toxoplasma gondii had significantly different personality profiles than controls when questioned with Cattell's questionnaire. Since then, there have been numerous studies indicating a link between Toxoplasma gondii infection and behavioural changes in humans.

But how does this link to schizophrenia?

Here's the evidence so far:

1. Anti-psychotic drugs used to treat schizophrenia have anti-Toxoplasma gondii properties in vitro (meaning in a petri dish, not inside an organism).

2. Drugs used in the treatment of schizophrenia are actually better at reducing the T. gondii-induced behavioural changes in rats than drugs used to treat T. gondii infection.

3. People infected with T. gondii seem to have a higher incidence of schizophrenia

Of course Toxoplasma gondii is not solely responsible for the development of schizophrenia (if it was, we'd be in trouble). However, being a very complex and multi-factorial disease, it seems possible that T. gondii infection can exacerbate the situation, tipping the scale in favor of the development of the disease. 

So, what do you think? Am I the only one who finds this shit fascinating?

Or is it a no-go on the review of mind-controlling parasites?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

I'm Back To Eviscerate

Well I’m back, my computer is fixed (for the time being) and I’m ready to dig right back in with another wrong, wrong I’m-not-sure-if-you’re-trolling-but-let’s-address-this-anyway person clogging up the comments section of my video of Penn and Teller on the Boy Scouts who identifies himself as LordSignur.
Now I don’t usually comment much on my own videos, even though I do read the vast majority of the comments that are left on them. Usually I only get involved if someone is asking me a direct question, but once in a while a comment is so glaringly wrong and I have just enough time to butt in, I will say something. This was one such case, in talking about the Boy Scout’s officially unofficial policy of excluding gay men from working there or gay scouts from participating.

they aren't born with anything.
sexuality is decided by your environment and the decision you make. There is actually a gene that make you more likely to have sex with anybody but it doesn't make you gay.

Would you look at that! The old being gay is a choice argument! Oh how annoying you be, and how very very wrong. I responded in kind.

you dont choose who you are sexually attracted to. you may choose to actually sleep with them, but the basis of the sexual attraction remains innate and perfectly natural. Can you suddenly decide to be sexually aroused by the sight of a naked man? Dont know about you, but I cant decide to be aroused by anything that doesnt arouse me, because its not a choice

He gets insistent, and intelligible English becomes harder and harder to come by

It isn't completely conscious. but you do choose who you sleep with.

About the attraction, again, if you had experience where you come up with the idea that men a beautiful then you might be gay.

You even have gay that pretend to be straight now and get aroused by women. Are they lying?
the simple idea that there is a good way is stupid.

And you do choose everything, consciously or not. You don't realize it, that's all

What?! I gave it one last shot

If they are sexually aroused by women they are probably “bi”. Sexuality and gender are not as binary as you think they are. And the idea that you "choose" everything is ridiculous. Do you "choose" to be depressed or anxious? Do you "choose" to be schizophrenic? Do you "choose" what you dream and who you dream of? Christians love to say that people "choose" to be attracted to the same sex because it lets them off the hook for hating people for being born that way, but it doesnt make it true

 And now, for the very last comment, that prompted to make me turn this exchange into a post, since there is no way that 500 characters could ever be enough to address this sheer amount of wrong


You choose everything even if you don't know about it. It come from unconscious part of you but still it's you. Sexuality isn't binary. Because you do whatever you want. the fact that you don't know yourself enough to see it doesn't change that it is.

schizophrenia is caused by genetic issue. this have nothing to compare to love.

Depression is a choice you made Saying that "it's someone else fault" is the best way to never overcome it.

Wooow, OK, where do I start?

So I’m not going to shit on the guy for obviously not being a native English speaker, but that does not give him the right to make up definitions of words. Let’s start with this very fuzzy idea of what choosing something actually entails. To the dictionary!

Choose: To take by preference out of all that are available; to select; to take as that which one prefers, or in accordance with one's free will and preference.

Choose: to select freely and after consideration <choose a career> b : to decide on especially by vote : elect <chose her as captain>
2a : to have a preference for <choose one car over another> b : decide <chose to go by train>

By definition, you can’t unconsciously choose something. There can be things that unconsciously influence your choice, like the color of two people’s shirt can influence which one you choose to think is more trustworthy without you realizing it, but you are still making a conscious choice, a selection, between two people which is influenced by a variety of variables.

If you define a choice as anything your body does whether you have conscious control over it or not then you choose to be blond, because you know your body is the one making the pigment, even if you don’t realize it, so hair color is a choice.

The second word this guy seems to want to redefine is sexuality, Sexuality is not defined as “the people that I choose to sleep with”. There are many definitions, but let’s stick to the ones that are relevant to humans. Back to the dicitionary!

Sexuality: Sexual nature, instinct, or feelings; the possession or expression of these

                   A person's sexual identity in relation to the gender to which he or she is typically attracted; the fact of being heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual; sexual orientation.

A person who someone is attracted to, who they are aroused by, is not a conscious decision. Ask any teenage boy how many erections they consciously decided to have in the middle of class, and how much anyone not having sex would love to be able to say “tonight I’m going to have a wet dream! Woop!” Arousal is not something that we can choose, it is a physiological response that we can sometimes try to influence (oh crap it’s happening… think of dead kittens…. Think of grandma in her underwear; or, alternatively; oh crap this isn’t working… think of that awesome porn I watched last night… Jessica Alba taking her bra off… Licking honey off of that blond dude from Sex and the City’s abs… mmm…) but effectively have very little control over.

Then we get into where LordSingur actually does draw the line between a choice and not a choice, and this is where it gets unbelievably ridiculous. Let me refresh your memory

schizophrenia is caused by genetic issue. this have nothing to compare to love.
Depression is a choice you made Saying that "it's someone else fault" is the best way to never overcome it.

Let’s forget what the hell love has to do with anything at this point in time, but WHOA the stench of condescension with that last part. Depression is caused by shifting blame? And that is your expert medical opinion yes?

So the only thing here that is not a choice in his mind is schizophrenia, because it is “caused by a genetic issue”. Well, I have news for you, it’s not as simple as that. There is certainly a genetic component to schizophrenia, a friend of mine wrote an entire thesis on it, but it is definitely not as simple as whether or not you have “the schizophrenia gene”, and there are a variety of other factors that influence it. One fascinating hypothesis circulating at the moment is about the possible contribution of Toxoplasmagondii infection to the incidence of schizophrenia, but that’s a story for a later date.

Interestingly enough, depression also has a studied genetic component as well, would you look at that! Looks like depression is actually very similar to schizophrenia in that regard, unless our friend would like to redefine the word “depression” too while we’re at it.

In summary, the only thing that LordSingur seems to acknowledge is not a choice is something that is caused by genetics, or at least has a genetic component to it. Therefore, even by his own, wrong definition of the word choice, homosexuality is a choice because it is not genetic, correct?

Of course the genetics behind sexuality is still complex and needs to be explored, and there is no one “gay gene” that will “make you gay” if you have it. However, the fact that sexuality does have a significant genetic component to it is a virtual certainty.

One final note, I don’t give a shit what religion you ascribe to, or lack thereof. If you’re wrong you’re wrong, and not believing in an omniscient deity does not automatically make you right about anything else, nor does it eliminate the possibility that you have your own motives for wanting to believe in nonsense.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Book Review: God Is Not Great

My laptop is still on the fritz, but I have a little time at work today to squeeze this one in...

A while ago, when ordering my bulk book package from Amazon, I realized that I have never actually read any of Christopher Hitchens' work. He was certainly not as likeable as other atheist contemporaries of his like Stephen Fry, but nevertheless I recognized in him a monstrous intellect that could only be admired, even if not fully agreed with. Why not then, I thought, get a couple of his most famous books and see for myself? Well the first one I read was God Is Not Great, and holy hell he makes a devastating case.

The first chapters of the book justify one of his most famous positions: "religion poisons everything". He goes over some terrifying things that have been and are still done in the name of religion, and brings up a very good point about how religion facilitates these atrocities. I have explained in a previous post that I am fully aware that bad people in the world will do bad things and that in many cases it is not their religion that "made them" do it, it just gave them a good way to get away with it. What I missed in that post however is this other aspect that Hitchens touches on in this chapter: Religion causes people to accept terrible things, things they would normally cry out against in disgust and horror had they not been done by a religious figure, and this attitude is something that greatly stunts our ability to evolve and move forward as a society.

Case in point: if you found out that Hitchens went about sucking on injured baby penises, spreading herpes as he did so, you would cry out in outrage for his arrest and many for his lynching, and I would be right there alongside you. How disgusting, vile and cruel! Well, it's actually not illegal in New York City to do so thanks to mayor Bloomberg, if you're a rabbi that is. That's right, in a passage of the book that made my skin crawl and I had trouble believing was true, there is a practice amongst a faction of Jews whereby the rabbi, after cutting the foreskin off of a little baby, puts that bleeding injured penis in his mouth and sucks the foreskin off. Babies started getting venereal diseases this way, at least one of them died, but Bloomberg did not make the practice illegal, lest he offend the Jews. Are you fucking kidding me? Does anyone think that this would not be headline, national news with the perpetrator in isolation in prison for his 0wn safety, if he was hacking away and sucking on and infecting baby penises for any reason other than a religious one?

While the God Delusion is more of a philosophical reasoning behind atheism, this book focuses on organized religion, how it was invented by men, how it has done far more harm than good and in the world and how it is silly to believe in such a fabrication. It does not address mysticism or deism, so its a book that many more people are going to agree with. The style he adopts in his writing is so similar to his style of speaking that I could almost hear his voice in my head, a-mile-a-minute touching all the right points though never in profound detail, which means that this one book has added a dozen others to my reading list. The vastness of his knowledge is astounding and his personal experiences remarkable, he truly led a full, if too short a life.

He is obviously not a scientist, so do not expect a book about how evolution and cosmology makes the belief in a creator irrelevant (although I applaud his attempt at understanding the science and alluding to it, albeit superficially). Do also expect that cocky arrogance that Hitchens was so famous for, and you probably wont agree with him on every point. It is not perfect, for one thing he did trip over himself in the brief section he dedicated to abortion, but the best part of this book is that it is an excellent stimulant for debate. It touches on pretty much everything that he could think of, just enough to give you a taste, and almost every sentence can be used as a jump-off point for an hour-long discussion. I would have loved to have the opportunity to sit and chat with him, and be awed at how I could never keep up with his mind.