A Touch of Alyricism

Dedicated to the equally fascinating topics of autistic advocacy and the 'sisterly sophistries' of radical gender feminism. Other topics may occasionally crop up. Contactable at alyric@gmail.com


Polemicist since Grade 8

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Diagnosing Whitened Sepulchres

"Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup and of the platter, and the outside also shall become clean. Ye make yourselves like unto whitened sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but within are full of dead men's bones and of all uncleanness Matt. 23:26-27"

Christianity, in this brand new millennium, is beset from all sides. The atheist sits smugly basking in a sense of superiority, as if intellectual brownie points can be earned through paucity of imagination. The ultra liberals opine knowingly, blissfully unaware that they’ve thrown the basics out with the bathwater through slavish adherence to the prevailing fashions in academic theology, which have little or no meaningful interface with Christian practice. Factions of the ultra-conservative, hell bent (literally) on preserving the purity of the faith from a multitude of sinners, employ the ancient fallacy – the end justifies the means.

Look at any right of centre religious website and they will tell you that the real enemies of religion are atheism and the sheep-like fashionistas of liberal theology and other trendy persuasions. Their sense of direction is faulty. It is the nature of conservatism to hold on to tradition as the ‘tried and true’ method of avoiding doing the wrong thing. But, it’s worth noting that if Christ had adhered to this regimen, there would be no such thing as Christianity and the same argument could be put for other religions if Abraham, Mohammed and Buddha, among others, had been so afflicted. Adherence to tradition has the unfortunate side affect of reducing the capacity to adapt the tenets of the religion to the times in which we live. No one and certainly no conservative spouting family values would dream of selling their children into slavery or offering their virgin daughters as potential rape victims to protect the guests in their home. If these admonitions from the Old Testament, however allegorical, were today taken quite literally, I would think it entirely plausible to surmise that these ultra traditionalists had completely lost the plot and confused the rule of scripture with the spirit or the intent of scripture. It’s this substitution of the rules of Christian living for the spirit of Christian living that is so characteristic of the classic ‘whitened sepulchre’ and I contend that this phenomenon is to be found most frequently lurking among the denizens of the rabid right rather than the lunatic left.

Of all the candidates for ‘whitened sepulchres’ masquerading as Christianity in cyberspace, none fit the description better than the Endeavour Forum, brainchild of Ms Babette Francis, founder, editor in chief and sole representative globe-trotter. The hallmark of the whitened sepulchre is that everything looks beautiful on the outside. The inside, however is another matter entirely. True to the imagery of internal corruption, the resources on the Endeavour Forum are a mixture of bloated statement, half-truth, innuendo, misrepresentation and outright falsehood.
It is said that Satan is the father of all liars, so it behoves all Christians to be very careful with data. Christians by the nature of the beliefs they hold can and should be held to much stricter standards than other people. Consequently, when I see the calibre of the resources that the Endeavour Forum uses as part of its program to combat abortion and protect the family, I reflect on a supposedly Christian forum using the tools of the father of all liars in pursuit of its aims.
Prominent on the Endeavour Forum website is the work of Joel Brind devoted to warning the wayward that having an elective abortion as opposed to a spontaneous miscarriage incurs an increased risk of acquiring breast cancer – the ABC link. That this link is dubious in the extreme is well illustrated by Dr Brind’s own articles. According to Brind’s meta-analysis of 38 epidemiological studies, the increased relative risk of breast cancer associated with abortion is 30%. To put that figure in perspective, the actual real risk increases from 0.13% (the average risk for any woman) to 0.17% for those who have had an abortion. But even this meagre figure is misleading since no figure is an absolute. It is always + or – something and the 95% confidence intervals suggest that there is no real increased risk at all, a conclusion well supported by the graphical data Dr Brind presents and is also the conclusion of conventional science. Note the unreliability of the vast majority of these studies as evidenced by the breadth of their 95% confidence intervals. Also note that to improve the appearance of validity, the graphical scale is logarithmic, not linear.

It’s practically diagnostic of whitened sepulchres to declaim ‘love the sinner and hate the sin’ and be quite unable to put that into practice. Surely, loving the sinner, but not the sin, does not include scaring them to death based on questionable data.

If moralising from shonky data is one thing; calumny is quite another. Quoting Ms Francis:
“The brief warns “Any attempts to legalise gay marriage should be aware of the link between homosexuality and pedophilia, it is of great concern that that there is a disproportionately greater number of homosexuals among pedophiles and an overlap between the gay movement and the movement to make pedophilia acceptable”.

This notion along with quite a few unsavoury notions emanates from an article penned by a group of doctors (medical variety). Whatever their qualifications, their conclusion is extreme and unwarranted by the data. The argument in favour of homosexuality promoting pedophilia runs like this. Around twenty five percent of sexually molested children are boys and 90% of pedophiles are men. With the prevalence of homosexuality at 3% total, it stands to reason that pedophilia in homosexuals runs at 5 – 6 times the average – mathematical perfection but otherwise nonsense and an indictment on members of the medical profession prostituting their professional standing for an ideology. There is nothing in anyone’s literature that molestation of boys automatically translates as a homosexual orientation. It has been widely acknowledged that the true pedophile has no sexual orientation of any maturity and that is the fundamental problem.

A secondary argument sometimes used to bolster the idea that making pedophilia more acceptable is a goal of the gay movement is that homosexuals prey on teenage boys who are below the age consent. While relationships of this nature no doubt occur, the question has to be asked – how many 17 year old male virgins are there anyway? Conveniently, no mention is made of the sexual precocity and curiosity of adolescent boys and more importantly why this sin is sheeted home to homosexuality alone. If sex is reprehensible in this age group, then share the guilt fairly among people of all sexual orientations.

A similar line of reasoning, namely that the sin is somehow more reprehensible in the homosexual population than in any other is used by our learned medicos in describing the disease profiles of the homosexual population. Ms Francis was impressed by this line:

“anal sex as practiced by most gay men , has a large number of diseases associated with it, “many of which are rare or even unknown in the heterosexual population” such as: anal cancer, Chalmydia trachomatis, Cryptosporidium, Giardia Lamblia, Herpes Simplex virus, HIV, Human papilloma virus, Isospora belli, Microsporidia, Gonorrhoea, Syphilis, Hepatitis B and C and others”.

The qualifications around such a statement, that an honest person would make are notably absent. Contending that this mix of diseases is somehow uniquely associated with the gay community is laughable. Take AIDS. Contrary to the emphasis of these medicos, AIDS is not necessarily the ‘gay’ disease. In sub-Saharan Africa, the birthplace of AIDS and home to the overwhelming majority of sufferers, AIDS is a heterosexual problem and always has been. More women than men are affected and the rates of mother to child transmission are horrific. Should we follow the favoured blueprint of these medicos and condemn these mothers out of hand?

Chlamydia trachomatis is on the rise but no one is terrifically concerned about the prevalence among gays. The real problem is the high prevalence among young adult women. Celebrating the freedom to be as sexually active as one pleases has the down side of increased risk of Chlamydia infection now leading to the heartbreaking risk of infertility in the future. Should we corral these young women into some kind of moral purdah, or not permit them to marry?

Similarly, when the US government introduced the controversial Hepatitis B vaccine into the infant vaccine schedule, they were not concerned with future sexual orientation (a whopping 3%) so much as future experimentation with IV drug usage, which is where the truly high prevalence of these diseases resides. It is doubtful that anyone would go to the time and expense of developing a vaccine against the human papilloma virus for the sake of the gay community. But they would (and have) to prevent cervical cancer in women and penile cancer in men.

Each and every one of the diseases cited is a significant problem for the population at large. In fact, the practice of anal sex is hardly confined to the homosexual community. According to the CDC Report, Sexual Behavior and Selected Health Measures: Men and Women 15-44 Years of Age, United States, 2002, 40% of men reported having anal sex with a woman. Therein lies the raison d’ệtre of the whitened sepulchre. In some fashion, the selected group must be seen as more sinful than the rest of the human herd. It is then argued that based on the extra, perceived sinfulness of this group, that special sanctions should be applied, such as a ban on same sex marriage. Based on the arguments the Endeavour Forum chooses to use, only lesbians should marry since theirs is the lowest rate of STDs and far and away the lowest level of sexual molestation.

The impetus for their ideology, or so they say, is to protect the sanctity of marriage. I am all in favour of strengthening marriage but gay marriage can have nothing to say of influence with respect to non-gay marriage. How can it? If the moribund state of modern marriage is to be tackled, then the factors affecting such relationships need addressing such as loyalty and commitment to taking the rough with the smooth, not casting about for a suitable scapegoat. This is the reason why the Bible has so much to say about whitened sepulchres and, by comparison, so little about sexual orientation. Whitened sepulchres are fundamentally anti-Christian, seeking as they do to deny that every person is culpable and in need of redemption. In using such dubious references as those cited here in order to prop up the idea that some groups are especially sinful, these supposed upholders of the moral high ground betray this most basic of Christian beliefs. As the Bible says in a variety of ways – ‘He who is without sin, cast the first stone’.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Peddling Prejudice

Letter to the Editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education concerning their article : The Nutty Professor: http://chronicle.com/free/v52/i04/04b00701.htm

Dear Editor

I read with dismay the opinion of Dr Mikita Brottman concerning the unseemly presence of eccentrics in academia. She refers specifically to Asperger's Syndrome. While the intolerant will always be among us, I find it disturbing that a journal such as the Chronicle of Higher Education would lend editorial space to an article with such basic flaws as errors of inductive reasoning, research quality for which a freshman would be roundly condemned and pronouncements that the author is totally unqualified to render.

Taking the research quality first, Brottman seems to think that Asperger's Syndrome is a character disorder and then goes on to perpetuate that misrepresentation by talking as if those with Asperger's Syndrome have definable personality traits. Dr Brottman is categorically wrong. Asperger's Syndrome has nothing to say about the personality at all, which should be obvious in the most cursory examination of the literature. I refer you to Dr Tony Attwood for the expert's view: http://www.tonyattwood.com.au/.

Prima Donnas and the miserly, two variants in the human landscape are around to be sure, but there is nothing in the literature that says that these are more common in the Asperger's population than in the general run of humanity. It is quite amazing that Brottman should make such a logically fallacious argument. Just because two former colleagues had what she interprets as personality problems, and it should be noted that we have only Brottman's version of events here, does not mean that those same foibles belong to Asperger's as a class, a classic error of inductive reasoning. That the Chronicles failed to edit that out is indeed 'peddling prejudice'.

That leads to the third flaw in Brottman's article - her assumption that the two colleagues who made such an impression on her for their lack of collegiality could have been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. Dr Brottman is entirely unqualified to make such pronouncements, and given her limitations should not have been allowed to do so.

Finally, the only positive that I can find in Dr Brottman's article is perhaps the partial answer to a puzzle. For some time now, there has been growing concern about declining standards in the university, particularly in the Humanities. Where this miasma of mediocrity is coming from, no one could say with any certainty. I think it would be reasonable to say that one of the vectors is Dr Brottman and other assorted like minds. Brottman acknowledges that the gifted can be eccentric and also concedes that they may be wonderful 'on paper and in the classroom'. One would think that this is precisely the best job description for an academic. Yet for Brottman, the subjective 'collegiality' must be elevated to a position of pre-eminence, given that the average can never compete with genius on any other variable. And academe is the correct abode for the best minds in the business. To aim for anything less is to encourage a creeping conformity to social norms that are actually antithetical to the aims of higher education, namely inspiration of the finest minds, by the finest minds. Brottman confesses that if she were in a position to hire someone who from her perspective is an oddball, she would not. Let us hope for the sake of the academy, that she never is put in such a position.