This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: An example of how Christian morality inhibits freedom and destroys lives.

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There’s a particular verse in the Bible that I’ve always appreciated. It’s found in the Book of Proverbs 22:6 and says “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.” Now of course, someone like me would have a very different view than a Christian in how a child should be raised up. I believe that children should be raised with love, compassion, learning, open-mindedness, and opportunity. A Christian believes that it’s a parent’s duty to raise their children as little soldiers for Christ (boys) or domestic baby-makers (girls). I’m not saying that Christians don’t love their children, just that our priorities are different. What I like about this verse, however, is that it places the responsibility for raising a child directly where it belongs; in the hands of the parents or guardians. Not the schools, the government, or the church, not teachers or psychologists or priests. It’s a parent’s responsibility to instill a sense of morality and learning in their child. And if they do their job properly, there’s less of a chance that their child will end up in prison – even though ultimate responsibility for a path chosen lies with the individual.

Raylan Alleman from the Catholic organisation Fix the Family doesn’t believe in the validity of this verse. Like all Christians, he ignores Biblical texts that contradict his worldview. Instead, Alleman knows that when a child, particularly a girl, strays from the path her father has laid out for her, the responsibility lies with the evil, liberal university system and all the horny men it contains. In an effort to save America’s daughters from the wickedness that comes from receiving higher education from intelligent and accomplished individuals, Alleman published an article entitled “Six Reasons (+2) to NOT Send Your Daughter to College”

The internet promptly exploded.

If you haven’t read the article yet, read it now. Here’s the link. I’ll wait patiently until you’re done so we can go on and discuss it.

I know you haven’t finished it yet. I had a hard time myself, but go back and get to the end before you come back.

Now that you’ve finished, we can talk about that burning sensation behind your temples. Yes, it’s anger and shock, and it’s a perfectly reasonable reaction. I had to constantly remind myself that I had sworn to treat my intellectual opponents with respect in my previous article entitled “Syria: An Atheist’s Prayer.” When that didn’t work, I resorted to reciting the Jedi Code over and over again.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise when I say that Alleman’s article, and by extension attitudes like his, are extremely dangerous. The fear that Alleman has for educated women is so palpable it radiates off the screen like a heat screen. Despite his protestations to the contrary, that he does believe that women are equal (equal here meaning ‘destined to be their husband’s subordinate) and that he isn’t against education for women (so long as she’s being educated in what the men deem appropriate for her), it’s obvious that Rayman Alleman has an extraordinary disrespect for the dignity, value, and ability of the entire female gender.

It’s not only sickening and repulsive, it’s a devastating commentary on what Christianity wants for society.

It shouldn’t be surprising, however. The worldwide university system is the greatest monument of education and enlightenment. It is humanity’s life blood, the sanctuary of culture and learning, of innovation, entrepreneurship, and invention. It is the very antithesis of the Dark Ages, of the period when the Catholic Church had iron control over Western Europe. So it shouldn’t come as a shock that Alleman, a devout Catholic, treats the greatest accomplishment of humankind with such disrespect and derision.

It does no good to ignore such work as the ramblings of a Christian extremist, however. The only way to fight extremism is to face it head on. Which is why, despite my increasing desire to take a long, hot shower and wash myself repeatedly, we’re going to dive into this together and address all eight points Alleman makes against letting women shape their own lives.

6 Reasons (+2) to NOT Send Your Daughter to College

You know what, we’re actually going to start with the title. The fact of the matter is, most women are legally adults when it’s time to head off to university or vocational school. So there shouldn’t even be a question of a parent deciding when to send their children off to college. It’s not their choice. Once she’s eighteen a woman has every right to make her own educational decisions. And with the enormous amount of financial aid and scholarships available, the vast majority of women still have opportunies at their fingertips even if they don’t have any financial support. There’s only one way that a parent could prevent an adult child from not attending university, and that is by shaming them by withholding love or approval. It’s bad enough when Christians shame their children for marrying outside their religion or race, or for their sexual orientation. But to shame your daughter for seeking learning and knowledge? That is just despicable.

She will attract the wrong types of men

And with this statement, Alleman claims that a woman who is organised, educated, and successful will be a magnet for lazy loafers who only want to use her as a sugar mama. Never mind the fact that when she attends university, a woman is surrounded by hundreds of men who are studying to be doctors, lawyers, businessmen, artists, servicemen, or skilled labourers. There is not a chance that she may find a wonderful, ambitious, successful, and loving man at university. No, if she makes the most of her talents and abilities, it is inevitable that she will end up with a lazy, good-for-nothing moocher. Never mind that women can be as different as night is from day and that millions of educated women are in wonderful households and marriages. It’s obvious that they can’t be trusted to make marriage choices for themselves. Alleman clearly believes that when it comes marriage, the Biblical standard is the best. Namely:

          The woman’s parents select the husband, based mainly on who can pay them the most.

          The man goes to a foreign country and steals a wife, preferably one whom he is closely related to (looking at you, Jacob).

          The man exterminates a woman’s family, including parents, brothers and non-virgin sisters, takes the woman back to his home, and rapes her (see the Israelite war against the Midianites in Numbers 31).

She will be in a near occasion of sin.

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This woman is reading a book. That’s how you know she’s a slut.

Alleman next goes on to claim that universities – all universities, even Catholic ones – are hedonistic debauched orgies. I suppose if you’re referring to UW Madison, you’d have a point, but there are plenty of conservative Christian colleges with extremely repressive moral codes their students have to sign. Never mind that. Alleman says, “How can one expect that anyone would be able to avoid these temptations, even on a Catholic college campus much less a secular one?”

If I were one of Alleman’s daughters, I would be extremely offended at the complete lack of confidence their father seems to have in their self-control, their sense of morality, and their strength of will.

And if colleges are bastions of unbridled sexual sin, why isn’t Alleman preaching against sending men to university? Are sexual temptations less for them? Or is it just less of a sin when a man engages in premarital sex? The slut-shaming that Alleman is advocating is just unreal. Basically he is saying that women can’t be trusted to make sexual and moral decisions for themselves, but boys will be boys.  Or perhaps he is saying that boys can’t be trusted not to seduce women, and therefore women need to forego all chance at a successful and happy life so that the boys can concentrate on their studies.

If anyone still doubts that Christianity blatantly supports the outright subjugation of women, go knock your head against the wall and read Alleman’s article again.

She will not learn to be a wife and mother.

Well…no, she won’t. That’s not the point of higher education. Despite Alleman’s completely uneducated and degrading claim that the purpose of college is to find a job, university teaches skills that are essential no matter where you end up in life. Skills like critical thinking, the scientific method, and logic. Skills like organisation, how to meet a deadline, how to motivate yourself when you’re surrounded by distractions. How to work closely with people you disagree with, teamwork, how to make educated opinions and learn to defend them. Many women learn skills that they find essential when they become wives and mothers, such as how to balance a budget. Child psychology. Many women who want to homeschool become certified teachers to give their children the best education they can, and certification requires a university degree. Music. Language skills. The list is endless.

But Alleman dismisses all of these because they don’t fall under the category of ‘homemaking:’ i.e. giving birth, cleaning, laundry services, cooking, and doing whatever your husband requires of you. Never mind that university provides women with invaluable tools when it comes to raising children and keeping a household. The danger that she might meet people of other worldviews and lose her virginity is just too much to risk.

But he’s right, a woman won’t learn the essential tools of motherhood and wifehood in a university. Unconditional love and good parenting can’t be learned from a book or a class. Those skills should have been taught to her starting from a young age. By her mother. Or her grandmother. Or her guardian, or another role model that her parents exposed her too. Speaking directly to Mrs. Alleman here, it is your responsibility to teach your daughters motherhood skills. If they’re reached adulthood and they don’t have them, that’s not the universities’ fault. It’s your failure as a mother, and for that I pity your daughters.

The cost of a degree is becoming more difficult to recoup.

That’s why only one spouse should have a college degree. And of course it should be the man. Because a woman’s talents don’t matter.

And of course, there are no such things as scholarships or financial aid, and even if there were, it’s apparent that you have no confidence that your daughters have the potential to earn them.

And gods forbid that a woman earn a degree, become successful, pay off her loans, and then marry. If she’s not married during her prime childbearing years, she’s failed in her God-given duties and is going to hell.

You don’t have to prove anything to the world

But you owe it to yourself to find happiness in whatever way you believe is right. It’s not your parents or your husband’s decision what you do with your own mind and education. This is your journey, your life. Whether you choose to go to college, or join the military, or become a mother, or run off to a far off culture to learn about this wonderful, terrible, exquisite experience we call the human life cycle, no one has the right to shame you for your successes and accomplishments. Especially not a religious extremist like Mr. Alleman.

It could be a near occasion of sin for the parents.

In the most bizarre argument of the article, Alleman argues that the cost of sending kids to college might prompt parents to use birth control. Which would mean that the very act of having a daughter and sending her to university is a sin, because they might use a condom at a later date.

I don’t even have the words for this one. I don’t. The Catholic restrictions against birth control are ridiculous and dangerous in the best of times (not the least because it’s responsible for much of the spread of HIV in Africa) but this is just obscene. My whole job on this blog is to craft words and arguments, but I seriously can’t get past my open-mouthed, slack-jawed shock that this man actually is preventing his daughters from learning because he’s afraid other people use condoms.

I’ll leave this one to you, reader.  In the comments below, complete this sentence.

The existence of birth control is not a legitimate reason to prevent women from going to college because                                                                                                                                                                            .

She will regret it.

Because no one finds happiness from their achievements.

Because Mr. Alleman has the necessary wisdom to label every educated woman as unhappy.

Because Mrs. Alleman’s life choices are right for three billion human individuals.

Because there is no joy in learning. Because there is no happiness in exploration and discovery. Because there is no excitement and wonder from exposure to other people and cultures. Because the world has nothing but darkness, and the Alleman Catholic bubble is the only safe place for a woman.

It could interfere with a religious vocation.

Good.

The world needs more doctors and teachers and less nuns.

And so we finish. Now that we’ve been blindsided by the extents that religious bigotry and extremism can take us, we can take heart in the knowledge that we’ve progressed so far beyond Mr. Alleman’s barbaric sense of morality. Against his extremism, we can set people like Marie Curie and Sally Ride, Condoleeza Rice and J.K. Rowling. Extraordinary educated women who have given so much to our world. Even Malala Yousifzai, the Pakistani girl who was shot in the head for seeking an education, is a beacon against the darkness that is mean like Mr. Alleman.

The only worthwhile aspect of the article was the more than 2,000 comments below it. Comments from Christians and Muslims, agnostics and atheists. Men and women, mothers and fathers. Teachers and students. Conservatives and liberals. All united for one moment, one beautiful moment, in mutual contempt and disgust over this Christian man’s war against education for women.

In response to his critics, Mr. Alleman wrote, “The rejection we receive is always emotionally charged and ends up insulting, since once explained logically, the opposition runs out of substance and is only left to hurl insults and presume and misconstrue this practical wisdom into some chauvinistic evil.”

Mr. Alleman is apparently blind to the resigned humour in this statement. If you have to proclaim that what you say is wisdom, it isn’t.

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Women, be submissive to your husbands. And don’t go to college, because you might end up knowing better.

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Syria: An Atheist’s Prayer

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My heart is breaking as I sit in my flat, watching the news coverage of Syria. It’s the current ‘hot topic.’ All cameras from CNN, Fox News, the BBC, MSNBC, are pointed at that tiny chunk of land half a world away. Hundreds of millions of people from around the world are catching a glimpse of the suffering of the Syrian people, of the war that has torn their homes apart. Across the media, the debate rages. War, or no war? Interference or non-interference? I have friends on both sides of the political spectrum, so I sit here in sweatpants and watch my Facebook wall practically debate itself.

It’s during times like these that I understand the urge to pray. I’m thousands of kilometres from Syria, sitting safely in America with a cup of tea. There is nothing, nothing I can do that will make the situation in Syria better. And it stings. Bombs going off, children being shredded, blood running in the gutters, religious extremists tearing a nation apart leaving devastation in their wake. I know what that’s like. I know that all too well. And I feel just as angry and helpless as I did fifteen years ago in the town centre of Omagh. I understand the need to pray, believe me I do. I understand the desperate hope that something out there will swoop down and make things better. I understand the itch underneath the skin that demands you do something, and I understand how prayer alleviates that itch.

The problem is, I know better. I don’t hold stock in the power of wishful thinking anymore. Ireland achieved peace through action, not prayer. The same must happen for Syria. That’s why the atheist’s prayer isn’t a call for help to a deity. It’s a call to action. A vow to make a difference. A trust in the power of my fellow brothers and sisters of all colours and all creeds to lift our hands and voices, not in hymns or prayers, but in words and deeds.

This is the Atheist’s Prayer:

I will not advocate war, because I will not support killing others to bring peace.

I will respect the government I helped elect, even when I do not agree with their decisions. I will always remember that I speak with both my voice and my vote.

I will take the time to educate myself on what is happening in the world around me. I will remember that if I’m going to speak on a subject, it’s my duty to speak intelligently.

I will sincerely thank a veteran for his or her service.

I will do something today that makes me uncomfortable. I will light a candle in a cathedral, hold hands with a Muslim as they pray. I will step into a synagogue and listen. And I will savour the knowledge that I did so because it was my choice and my freedom to, not because it was required.

I will debate my intellectual opponents with respect, without personal attacks, because the freedom to engage in the exchange of ideas deserves the highest respect.

I will buy a book on a subject I know nothing about.

I will treat strangers with kindness. I will take the time to dig out 75 cents so that beggar can buy a train ticket or a sandwich. I will hand twenty dollars to the cashier at the grocery store and tell her to use it for the hassled mother with two crying children standing behind me. I’ll tell the librarian that she looks very pretty today.  I’ll bring a cup of coffee out to the policeman sitting in his squad car at five in the morning.  I’ll help my coworker with that project. I’ll run errands for my friend who is behind in everything. Every act of kindness will be my prayer.

I will tell someone that I love them, not just assume they know. I will tell them today. No, I will tell them now.

And when Syria is no longer the media hot topic, when the cameras point somewhere else, I will not forget. I will continue to pray the Atheist’s Prayer, the prayer of action and deeds.

And if, by some twist of chance, I encounter the opportunity to help someone from Syria, or Afghanistan, or Libya, or Somali, or any other war-torn nation, I will take it.

Amen.

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For the Night is Dark and Full of Terrors: A violent god for a violent people.

Michal was trying not to cry. She didn’t want Tomlen to see her lose control. She needed to be brave, not only for her baby brother, but for the rest of her family as well. Her mother sat in the corner, eyes frozen like the ice on the summit of Mount Carmel. No doubt she was thinking about the husband and three sons who had taken up spears and marched out onto the fields this morning. Grandmother was muttering to herself, grasping the household gods in her withered hands, praying for protection for her sons and grandsons as they marched to defend their homes against the Israelite invaders. Michal’s sisters were at their looms, putting on braver faces than Michal could manage.

Shouts rang out from across the square. Screams. The clang of bronze swords and the ringing of boots. Smoke wafted into the windows, from where, Michal couldn’t say.

“Gods, no,” whispered, her mother. “Please, no.” The gods didn’t hear her prayer. But Michal did.

The door fell with a crash and men in boiled leather and bronze helms rushed in. Grandmother had only time for a wail as a spear thrust forward and took her between her breasts. She fell forward, still clutching at her gods. Mother leapt up, her beautiful dark hair flying, and flung her wooden stool at one of the men. He snarled, an unearthly sound, and grabbed her by the hair. He held her down as his comrades ripped open her robes and raped her there again and again in front of her daughters.

Michal lay on the floor, holding Tomlen down, praying that she wouldn’t be seen amidst the dark and the smoke. She closed her eyes to her sisters’ screams as they met the same fate as their mother, shuddering as their throats were slashed when the men had finished. She thought for a moment that they would go unseen, but then Mother fell before them, her eyes wide and sightless, and Tomlen gave a squeal that Michal couldn’t cover in time.

It was the work of a few seconds for one of the nightmares to scoop her brother up by the ankle and dash his head against the stone wall, splattering Michal’s face with blood and brains. A hand reached out towards her and something shot through her, a whisper, and she leapt up and ran for her life, out the door and into the city.

Ai was burning. Her people fled the fires like maddened geese, here and there until more monsters in bronze cut them down as easily as her father cut the grain at harvests a lifetime ago. A chorus of wails rang out above the smoke as the roof of the temple caved in. Michal didn’t even have time for a prayer for those trapped inside. She was running, running, leaping over the bodies of old men, toddlers with toys still clutched in her hands, mothers with their children strewn around them. She ran towards the gates, knowing, just knowing that if she made it to her father and brothers that she would be safe. Her father’s arms had always meant safety.

The smoke cleared as Michal dashed through the burning cedar gates. She had loved the smell of them once. And the smoke cleared, and Michal looked out at the strewn bodies of her people, the army that had marched to defend their city and their families, and at the wall of Israelites swarming their way towards her, screaming the praises of their god and their warlord Joshua.

The Israelite god was merciful. When the bronze sword came down, Michal didn’t feel a thing.

There’s nothing that works a devout Christian into a lather quite so much as being confronted by the reality of the god he or she worships. The common tropes of Christianity are oft repeated in an attempt to show why their god is superior to others, or to none. Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Books and dissertations by the thousands have been written on the compassion and unconditional love of the Christian deity. Unfortunately for Christendom, it flies in the face of the description of god provided in much of the only book that matters to Christians – their own Bible. The above scene could have been copied and pasted from Game of Thrones (or not, because I’m not  George R.R. Martin. Yet). It was, however, my own artistic interpretation of an event that happened in the Bible. An event that was commanded explicitly by the Christian god. The complete and utter destruction of the city of Ai, down to the last infant, as described in Joshua 8: 1-29.

Keep telling us that God’s love is unconditional and eternal. We may eventually stop laughing long enough to answer.

Anyone who has actually read the Bible is aware of the atrocities that the Christian god commanded his people to commit in his name. The Old Testament especially is a parade of ritual murder, rapes, massacres, genocide, and instructions on how to own slaves. Watching Christians attempt to rationalise, minimise, or justify the actions that they believe their god commanded is like watching Nastia Liukin complete a beam routine at the Olympics and end it by falling on her face, as her fans cheer enthusiastically and the rest of us sit with mouths slightly agape in shock. Fortunately, most of the mental gymnastics performed have clear and easy rebuttals, even if the arguments are made with all the thunderous weight of God’s judgement behind them. A few of the more common ones are:

1. Just because it’s recorded in the Bible doesn’t mean that God condoned it.

Rest assured that when a Christian makes this argument, he’s praying desperately that you haven’t actually read your Bible and won’t be able to refute him. Now, to be fair, there are some examples found in the Bible where this is true. For example, there’s nothing about the story of Lot getting boozed up and banging his virgin daughters that suggests that this was God-approved incest (the creation story is a different matter). Nor is the story of the Levite letting his concubine get gang raped a clear condoning of gang rape. However, Christians will look at these examples and apply it to the whole text, crowing that you can’t mistake a historical record of an event as something commanded by god.

Fortunately, there are still plenty of examples of terrible crimes in the Bible that were commanded by the Christian god. The sack of Ai. God commanded. The slaughter at Jericho. God commanded. The rape of the Midianite virgins who had seen their families butchered in front of them. God commanded. The genocide of the Amalekites. God commanded. The rape of the Benjaminite virgins. God commanded.

Recording the bad and the ugly is all well and good, but when the Biblical authors wrote a text and prefaced it with ‘The Lord commanded,’ it’s pretty clear that your god was pretty gung-ho for it.

2. Not everything in the Bible can be taken as literal events.

This is usually just a way of saying ‘I believe that some parts of the Bible are symbolic and didn’t really happen, mainly the parts that make me uncomfortable or have been refuted by science. But the parts I believe in are absolutely true!” Now, we all cherrypick the Bible. Fundamentalist Christians do it, progressive Christians do it, even I do it. No one follows every verse in the Bible, and no one treats each part of the Bible as having equal weight as the others. This is why it’s easy for a Christian to point to the nastier aspects of God’s Good Word and say that an atheist or agnostic can’t see the symbolism behind it. Usually, the genocide of the Canaanites is portraying as depicting the dark world that Christ saved us from, or something along those lines.

This is, however, one of the arguments I have the least respect for, because it is the height of intellectual dishonesty. If you’re going to defend the Bible as the source of all goodness and morality, defend all of it. Don’t brush the distasteful parts under the rug, don’t tell me I don’t get the ‘symbolism,’ don’t use a different standard of biblical interpretation for the stories you like as opposed to those you don’t. Because you can bet that I won’t return the favour, The actions of your god in the Old Testament will affect my perception of your Christ in the New Testament, and don’t look at me in shock when I find him vile, hypocritical, and egotistical.

Fortunately, when a Christian uses this argument, he all but hands the debate to his opponent. Because if you deny that some parts of the Bible are true, why are you sneering at me for denying the rest of it?

3. The Canaanites were so evil that God had to wipe them out using his people.

Christians who use this argument try to paint the nations that god wiped out using the Israelites as some sort of Bronze Aged Nazis, the baddest of the bad. One of the most cited examples are references in the Bible to Moloch, a god who demanded that children be burned alive as sacrifices. This ritual child sacrifice, in the eyes of a Christian, clearly justifies the butchery of hundreds of thousands of people.

The only problem with this is that the account of the Canaanites worshiping Moloch is found only in the records of the invaders who wiped them out. Any historian worth his degree can cite hundreds of examples where invaders, conquerors, or warlords justified their atrocities by demonising the people they killed. The Nazis did it to the Jews and the Romani for nearly a decade, and when the Holocaust happened the Germans went about it gleefully. The Americans did it to the native tribes, those savage, heathen monsters who terrorised the good white people whom God gave America to. The British did it to the Irish, claiming that we were wicked Papists who ate our babies and strangled Englishwomen with their own innards. What would possibly possess someone to take seriously the account of a genocide written by the butchers? That isn’t faith or wisdom, it’s outright madness.

The fact of the matter is, archaeology and historical research has provided virtually no evidence that the Canaanites performed mass child sacrifice to a god named Moloch any more than it has proved that medieval Jews used the blood of Christian children in their Passover bread or that druids burned people in a gigantic wicker man. Anyone who claims that murder, rape and slaughter is deserved because of the ancient accounts written by those who did the slaughtering cannot possibly be taken seriously on an intellectual level.

And then comes the final blow to this argument. How is a nation that killed babies, raped young girls, kept slaves, murdered gays wherever they were found, and killed their own people for breaking the smallest of the rules passed by the priestly nobility (like picking up sticks on the wrong day) any better than the societies they wiped out? The argument amounts to thus: The Canaanites killed babies, so the Lord in his mercy killed all of their babies for them. That makes them righteous

4. The preservation of the Gospel is more important than anything else.

And this is the argument that frightens me the most, because it is the basis of a hundred genocides, a hundred million murders throughout history. People who use this argument believe that since the Messiah was prophesied to come from the Israelite people, anything and everything had to be done to preserve the Hebrew nation. No matter who got in the way.

This is why the Canaanite genocide is so effective when Christians argue that god is the source of absolute morality and absolute truth. Because this account only proves that they don’t even believe in absolute morality themselves, not when their god is concerned.

It scares me so much because it’s a dread reminder of what happened in my own homeland. By the people who believed the defeat of the Protestants or Catholics was the most important thing in life. No matter who got in the way. It’s not a pleasant thing, living on the wrong side of the walls of Jericho.

If you really believe that anything is permissible for the preservation of the your religion, what is stopping you from going to the same lengths that the Israelites did in the Bible?

5. Who are you to judge the mind and wisdom of god?

Once this argument comes up, you know you’ve won. Once a Christian stops using rational arguments and tries to browbeat their opponent for questioning the wisdom of their deity, it’s the equivalent of throwing the chessboard against the wall and claiming victory. It’s an excuse for ignorance, it’s an attempt to halt criticism or intelligent conversation, and it is absolutely inexcusable.

But the answer is thus. I judge your god for his ‘commands’ for the same reason you judge the men who flew planes into the World Trade Center in the name of Allah. Because to me, it doesn’t matter what god you serve, what Gospel you preach. Murder is wrong. Rape is wrong. And defending either in any way is beyond abhorrent.

And that, my Christian friends, is what morality is.