Month: November 2011

The Salt Shakers & home-grown extremism

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At first I was going to focus on yet another man-of-the-cloth being persecuted by his own for having the courage of his convictions.

This article in the Age talks of the plight of Matt Glover, in Lilydale, an outer suburb of Melbourne. It seems that Matt as raised the ire of the powers that be by voicing support for his same-sex marriage, and revealing that he had been ministering to gays and lesbians for 15 years (oh, the horror!). To his credit, he has spoken out at some of the more hysterical opposition to same-sex marriage, and is quoted as saying:

Salt Shakers and the Australian Christian Lobby were saying gay marriage would open the door to paedophilia. I couldn’t sit back and let Christian leaders say things like that, that are untrue.

Happily, the pressure from his congregation has forestalled any action by these pressure groups to remove him. Clearly, they see the value in his long-standing pastoral work for the community, as well as the community-based enterprises such as financial services, counselling, food bank, cafe and welfare assistance.

I’ve written about this syndrome before – no matter that an individual does good work for his flock – if they don’t toe the official party line, then get rid of them.

Anyway, well done Matt on your stance, and carry on the good work.

As I said, that was the original focus. But I decided I should find out who or what the ‘Salt Shakers’ are. And that’s the more interesting story.

A visit to their website reveals not a religious organisation, but a political action group of the type I would expect to see in the US (sorry guys, but you’re the epicenter of the whole right-wing religion thing, aren’t you?). It turns out that the SS (no Nazi slur intended here, but now that I mention it…) is a husband and wife team (executive director and research officer) who are supported by donations from the suckers  faithful.

Their mission is to impose their form of biblical values on the world, and it seems they are trying to do this by supporting every right-wing nut-job out there. For example, their primary sources are Piers Akerman, Andrew Bolt, the HeraldSun, the Courier Mail etc. For those in other parts of the world, these are a selection of the shrill self-righteous right-wing denialists who all believe that their values are the final word. Unfortunately those values don’t include compassion for other people or anything that vaguely resembles socialsism. I’m sure you know the type.

Just look at their Home page. It’s just a summary of anti-government sentiment. This includes the factually incorrect statement that “….and is now pursuing the ‘Mining Tax’ under which the small miners will suffer“. This is just incorrect – small miners are exempt, but of course this inconvenient fact doesn’t suit their political agenda. This simply shows that SS is parroting the falsehoods being pedalled by those opposed to the government’s agenda – they have not done any analysis of their own.

They have a clearly anti-tax stance – not something jesus would have been too fussed about I’m sure. And exactly where in the bible does it say that tax is a bad thing? What about tithing? Oh, that’s not a tax, right? And why do religions accept tax-deductible status if the whole tax thing is so abhorrent – they should just refuse to be involved in anything so nasty.

In their About Us page, they remind us of their Resistance Thinking website which is supposedly intended to “help young people understand their Biblical worldview and engage effectively in discussion about the issues of our day‘. Based on that description, it should be called “Resistance To Thinking”.

But it’s in the Issues page where the rubber hits the road. Here you can see a list of their main marks – and of course their position on each is predictable – right-wing politics, fundamentalist religion and moral arbiter.

In fact what is striking about this Issues page is the number of issues on which they are advocating activism. Does is not occur to these people that since they have to prosecute their beliefs on so many fronts, that maybe their world view is a little, well, let’s say, flaky?

In the ‘Latest News’ section, they even pontificate on Climate Change – and you know what a potent mix religion and climate change is to rationalbrain. Here, they actually quote Piers Akerman as their source, and tell us that “on this issue the science really isn’t settled.” Really SS? On what do you base this? Have you any idea at all on this, or are you once again just parroting those famous non-climatologists Akerman and Bolt, and the two or three non-climate scientists swimming against the tide?  And yet on this page, when Andrew Bolt interviews three well-known climate science deniers, all of a sudden “the scientists tell us the real story“. Clearly these people have no idea.

It’s strange really, because on this page, is a story about how it’s now a fact that homosexuals can change (presumably into heterosexuals), and that there is a peer-reviewed study supporting this. I haven’t looked for the study yet – suffice to say, that  these people are monumentally inconsistent. In this case, when it suits their agenda, peer-reviewed studies are to be believed, while with climate change the thousands of peer-reviewed papers by leaders in the relevant field are to be dismissed based on a News Corporation article. Actually, I’m sure these people are not stupid. They’re just desperate to support their ridiculous world-view at any cost.

To be honest, I haven’t scratched the surface of this insidious little site, full of the language of intolerance and extremism, and party political rhetoric.  I’ll close with the final line of a paper on climate change by one of the authors of the site, and leave you judge their motivations:

We cannot ‘save’ the planet. Only God can. This world will not be wiped out until Christ returns.

Well, that will be a happy day, won’t it!

Actually I feel a little nauseous so I’d better move onto something else.

From the archives: SCENAR Challenge

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Way back in March, I did a couple of pieces on the magical therapy known as SCENAR. You know, another of those amazing things which the Europeans/Ancients/Russians/Easterners invented, but about which we are blissfully ignorant . After my rant in this piece, I featured and excited response by someone going by the well-thought out pseudonym of ‘person’, who, in defending the treatment and attacking me, made every logical fallacy in the book.

In the end I concluded it was just SCENAR marketing types wanting to get even, but just in case, challenged my learned correspondent to contribute some real learnin’ to rationalbrain. I suggested he/she:

  1. Show me the ‘real research’ which demonstrates efficacy. I mean real studies, not ‘I’ve treated 47 people and they’re all happy’. Preferably the studies should have been published in a relevant and reputable peer-reviewed journal.
  2. Explain to me why the Therapeutic Goods Administration has censured purveyors of scenar for misleading claims, which sound not unlike yours. And I don’t want to hear about how ‘big Pharma’ is trying to suppress this magical treatment.
  3. Explain to me and the readers your understanding of the way scenar works. What is the mechanism of action, in terms of what we know about physiology, and without reference to mysticism, energy fields or quantum babble.
  4. Please provide your qualifications, the institution from which you received them, what (if any) your specialties are, and what (if anything) you’ve published by way of research.

Well, I’m sure you’ll be surprised to hear that I didn’t receive a response. And after all that outrage.

So, I’m putting the challenge out to all SCENAR practitioners. I’m sure there must be at least one of you willing to enlighten us all by answering some or all of the above.

I sure hope the WordPress servers don’t melt down as the responses come in on this one.

Crystals of bullshit

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While sitting in the waiting room for a physio appointment a couple of weeks ago, I absent-mindedly picked up some of the reading material which happened to be on a nearby table. Usually it’s years-old ‘women’s weekly’, or ‘yachting digest’, or whatever the practitioner’s hobby may be, enabling him/her to write off their favourite golfing magazine as a tax deduction I guess.

However on this occasion I picked up wonderful little rag called Nova, which apparently is ‘Australia’s Holstic Journal’ since 1994. But you knew that, right? It’s sub-title is ‘keeping mind and body together’. Of course my interest was piqued, after all, it had been days since I last had a good giggle.

Well, I don’t need to tell you what a hoot this magazine is, with every new page just dripping with a delicate blend of pseudoscience and marketing spin and designed specifically to part suckers from their hard-earned cash.

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TGA to get its act together – and it’s about time

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Over the past year I’ve managed to take a couple of swipes at our Therapeutic Goods Administration, notably here and here.

The main complaint has been that the TGA seems to have become simply a register of products with some loose connection to the word ‘health’. Their emphasis appears to have been to avoid harm – at least physical harm. But there has been little attempt to assess efficacy of the products, and so the register is full of alternative medicine (or, as commonly known, medicine that has not been shown to work, or worse, been shown to not work.)

In this article, we see a glimmer of hope that the TGA will start providing some real value to the community which it serves – broadening its role to include the evaluation of efficacy of products. The TGA’s national manager has admitted that the sector faced a ‘fragility of trust’, because of the perceived promotion of remedies with supporting evidence. Fragility? Try ‘already broken’.

Predictably, as spokesman for the hilariously-named ‘Australian Self-Medication Industry (who needs a medical education anyway?) thinks any change unnecessary, believing there has been an ‘over-emphasis on risk’ and that there needed to be ‘a focus on benefits, such as helping consumers remain active’. I think he means ‘active and poor’.

Let’s see what happens.

Religious injustice, #19443

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I’d like to pass on this short news item, which featured as part of the ‘Shit List’ in the latest Religious Doubts podcast.

Some time ago in Michigan US, a severe case of anti-gay bullying and assault at school, resulted a 14 year old boy taking his own life in 2002. As a result of the outcry, the state legislature drafted the ‘Matt’s Safe School’ bill, named after the poor kid. The bill in essence made it a criminal offence to engage in bullying of any kind.

At the last minute before the legislation was passed, they added the following language:

“..this section does not prohibit a statement of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of  a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil and parent or guardian”.

Sometimes you just want to scream.

In essence, what the law now does is provide explicit direction on how to bully and get away with it.

I’m afraid it’s just another example of the privileged position of religion in our society. Now it’s ok to cause psychological harm to someone if you do it in the name of religion.

It’s also another example of the monumental selfishness of religious zealots.

This amendment, no doubt forced by a religious lobby group, has to be the least christian action I’ve seen for a long time.

Religion and the desperation for relevance

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Here we go again.  In this article another religious apologist desperately defends religion. And in time-honoured tradition, a good way to defend a questionable idea is to attack the perceived opposition.

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