Monday, 3 October 2016

Mea Culpa Rursus ... and Exorcisms vs Epilepsy

Rarely do I find myself banned from places where the banning has not been part of my plan.  Nevertheless, I have found myself banned from Craig-Land (temporarily so I was told, but at time of writing I am now heading towards the 40th day of a one-month suspension, so who knows).

I have to admit that it was my fault.  The moderator who suspended me was nice enough to list my infractions:

needlessly insinuating that another community member is an idiot (not guilty, your honour, I implied that the guy doesn't think things through – but I will plead guilty to a lesser charge, "insinuating that another community member is intellectually lazy" … and "needlessly" is a bit of a stretch, it was quite necessary for my argument that I point out that the other community member doesn't think things through)

calling a community member crazy, christians a little bit crazy, and implying that you don’t have to be nice to someone if their views seem insane to you (you do) (oh, that extraneous comma is an offence to human-kind, more on the meat of this later)

saying “bullocks” a lot (um, no, I specifically wrote "bollocks", but yeah, I wrote it four times in that post, for effect)

either being unintentionally obnoxious or trolling (they don't know me well enough if they think I was being unintentionally obnoxious – and trolling seems to be a term bandied around far too easily on this forum, I wasn't trolling, I was just having a light-hearted exchange with a fellow non-theist in enemy territory.  These theists get far too hot under the collar when we point out that their priests have been abusing children for centuries.  Or maybe it was the reference to the inquisition that they object to?)

So, yes, I did err.  I should have been more careful in my wording.  But worst of all, I fell into a little trap regarding the use of the term "crazy".  It was a sort of honey-trap, I was lured in and then smashed.

I was discussing how theists use certain types of arguments in support of their god hypothesis because they lack proper evidence (which I call "the argument from lack of evidence").  As an example of a hypothesis that has actual evidence, I used the Theory of Relativity.  This attracted the attention of a person called Trinity who made a comment that there is no such thing as "time dilation", that time cannot expand and contract.  I commented that the term "time dilation" might be a little vexed, but the phenomenon it describes certainly exists.  Trinity then replied he does not believe in "spacetime".

That got my interest.

We tic-tacked for a while and then something he wrote made me stop and think.  He was a geocentrist, the one who had started a thread recently calling for people to provide him with evidence that the Earth is moving, specifically some way of measuring the Earth's motion (see Gyroscopes on the Moon, Gyroscopes on Earth and Gyroscopes and Relativity? What's that all about?).

So I called him that "crazy person who thinks that geocentricity is actually correct".  Soon after, he set his honey-trap, asking:

I don't think this is irenic, neopolitan. What if I think that geocentricity is actually correct? Why does that make me crazy? More than two billion people on Earth think that Jesus walked on water. Are they crazy as well?

Well of course I think that people who believe that Jesus walked on water are at least a little bit crazy.  They believe something that is patently false and their belief is impervious to evidence, logic and reason.  They almost certainly think the same of me.  I tried to be diplomatic though and wrote:

Anyone who believes that Jesus (existed AND) literally walked on water is probably a little bit crazy, but not necessarily as crazy as someone who denies reality enough to believe that the Earth is the centre of the universe.

See, I wrote "a little bit crazy"!  That's a concession, isn't it?

But I'd already fallen into the honey-trap.  Once I'd overtly accused Trinity of being crazy for his geocentricity, I could not equivocate on my position that theists in general are (at least a little bit) crazy.  And making this position clear was already something that I was tempted to do – a temptation that I have to consciously and continually resist.


I didn't get banned, but I have since left Craig-Land of my own accord.  Maybe I'll visit again in the future, who knows?


I wrote this piece more than half a year ago and, like a few other articles that I've not yet posted, it has just been sitting in a directory collecting dust.  There's no real reason for me to not have published most of them, other than I got busy with other things … so I plan to trickle release from this treasure trove over the next month or so.

This article, however, is serendipitously relevant because of something I saw the other night.  I initially closed with the comment to the effect that I am consciously and continually resisting the urge to call theists "a little bit crazy".  Now, it would be inaccurate to say that all theists are as crazy as the ones interviewed in the short SBS documentary, however … these beliefs are there in the major three monotheistic religions (judaism [yep, written by that David Wolpe], christianity and islam).

I have no issue with adults choosing to rid themselves of the spirit of masturbation, although the level of fixation seems a little odd when we're talking about something (self-reverence) that is over and done within a few minutes  and surely doesn’t happen more than half a dozen or so times a day …

However, I do have considerable issues with what is effectively child abuse when toddlers going through their "terrible twos" are deemed to be possessed by demons, especially when this abuse is thought to be protected as "freedom of religion".  Parents have the right to believe all sorts of crazy things, I suppose, but this does not justify putting their children through anything like an "exorcism", or denying their children proper medical care, or preventing them from getting proper education.  (Which are more likely to put their kids through an exorcism - publicly educated parents or parents who as children were home-schooled by an earlier generation of religious nut-jobs?)

It's this sort of thing that has me biting my lip and struggling to not call religious people "a little bit crazy", because standing not too far behind them are religious people with a whole ship-load of crazy.


I am aware that Linda Chaniotis has epilepsy, but her unapologetic father tells of how she was a placid child up until she was two.  Babies can have epilepsy-like convulsions, although these are usually related to fevers (febrile convulsions) which only become a risk factor for epilepsy if they are prolonged and recurrent, and even then this only increases the risk by about 10% above that of the general population (so from about 60 in 10,000 to 66 in 10,000).  The onset of epilepsy in children is usually from about age four, rather than age two, but even if she did have an earlier onset, the complaint expressed by her father was not in regard to convulsions but rather about her behaviour.

There are some inconsistencies in the reporting, for example:

"She was a very good baby, placid," her father Damien told The Feed. "At about the age of two she just changed overnight."

(The fact that her father has the name Damien would be endless amusing, if it weren't all so horrible.  You can hear Damien making this statement in the video which can be accessed from the Guardian link above and from the SBS link below.)

Linda herself reports having had screaming fits from three months to about three years, but then also writes that her "parents decided that when (she) was about two, (she) had been cursed by a witch, and that (she) was demon possessed".  This is a little awkward wording, making it unclear as to whether the parents came to the conclusion, at the time when she was two, that she had earlier been cursed by a witch, or whether the curse, according to her parents, had been laid upon her when she was two.  Elsewhere it seems more clear that her parents told her when she was two that she had (apparently earlier) been cursed by a witch.  However, this seems inconsistent with her being a lovely, placid child until two and then changing overnight into a demon-possessed nightmare.

In any event, no matter whether it is convulsions or behavioural issues (perhaps due to episodes of petit mal epilepsy, or absence seizures, which can be mistaken for "misbehaviour" - although Linda does describe auras which are associated with grand mal seizures, which lead to convulsions), a child should be given appropriate medical care in the first instance - religious parents should be encouraged to place exorcism as an activity of last resort, so far down the track away from rational behaviour that it is never actually resorted to. 

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