Thursday, April 26, 2012

Minnesota Marriage Minute video, a response to Episode 17

Minnesota for Marriage has released Episode 17 of their Minnesota Marriage Minute video series, this time addressing the question:
Shouldn't marriage be redefined to accommodate the growing number of children of gay and lesbian couples?

Obviously, their answer is going to be "No." The interesting part is what reasons they give for saying "no," through the voice of Kalley Yanta. Yanta starts by saying that there are actually very few same-sex couples raising children, only 22% of same-sex couples in fact, using numbers from the Williams Institute at UCLA. It appears that Yanta's numbers may be out of date, actually, as the number is actually closer to 17%. The US Census Bureau (which the Williams Institute based some of it's numbers on) found some errors and revised their numbers in Sept, '11. The Williams Institute prepared a new snapshot using the revised numbers. Yanta does also use some numbers pulled from the Census data.

So, basically, when I checked the numbers and did the math, I came up with 0.21 percent of households in the US are same-sex households, and 0.04 percent of the total population is a same-sex couple raising their "own" child (which the Census defines as "never-married children under 18 who are sons or daughters of one partner or spouse (Person 1) by birth, marriage (stepchild), or adoption."). These numbers are lower than the ones Yanta uses, which of course she would undoubtedly believe strengthens her argument, which goes like this:
Why should the definition of marriage, which has served us so well, be redefined for the 99.88 percent of households, in order to accommodate the desires of the 0.12 percent? 
That's her entire argument. Well, let's consider an analogous situation. Prior to Loving v. Virginia in 1967, multiple states had laws on the books that banned interracial marriages. Just as today, we have laws banning same-sex marriage. Loving v. Virginia overturned the laws banning interracial marriage, and three years later the US Census Bureau conducted the census of the US. In 1970, the total population was 203,392,031, and the number of interracial marriages was approximately 65,000. That's a percentage of 0.031. That's less than the current percentage of same-sex couples (since same sex marriage is only legal in a handful of states, compared to interracial marriage being legal in all states in 1970, I'm using the figures for total same-sex households, not just those legally married; it's certain that many of those unmarried same-sex couples would like to be married, but cannot be legally). I don't have numbers for how many of those 65,000 interracial couples had children, but obviously the percentage of the total population would have been less than the percentage of same-sex couples with children in 2010.

So, why was it ok to redefine marriage in 1967 to accommodate the desires of 0.03 percent of the population (or less, if you just look at whatever number had children)? Equality, of course.

No matter how small a particular sub-population is, we do not have a right to deny that population equal rights with the majority. Ever. One of the strengths of a republic like America is that the minority is protected from an absolute tyranny of the majority. Or at least, that's how it's supposed to be. That's what the 14th Amendment, the 1st Amendment, and the "balance of powers" is supposed to help ensure. This is part of what the Supreme Court recognized in 1967, and why they overturned the miscegenation bans that were in place at the time.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Some thoughts on marriage

This is sort of a thinking out loud post, so I'm not sure you should expect any attempts at tight arguments. Looking into this question of same-sex marriage has me pondering: what exactly does marriage mean to me?

There was a time when I wasn't sure that I would ever get married. I'm polyamorous, but marriage is illegal between more than two people in any state, never mind what gender they are. Marriage says something pretty powerful about your commitment, and since I don't accept the idea that in a poly relationship there is such a thing as First or Second (for me-- if you're in such a relationship, and the arrangement is known by all involved and is satisfactory to all involved, I've nothing to say against it), I wasn't sure that I would get married until and unless it became possible to marry more than one person at a time legally. Yet, I am legally married.

I got married because I loved and love my wife. At the time, I wasn't involved with anyone else (nor am I currently, sadly), so perhaps that made the decision easier. But I also came to a conclusion that there was no reason to deny myself and her legal benefits and rights (like next-of-kin rights, if either of us is ever unable to make medical decisions for ourselves) that are granted to married couples. If either of us ever gets in a relationship with another that develops to a point wherein we would like to marry that person as well, then we will likely have to simply have the ceremony and accept that we don't have the full benefits of legal recognition.

So anyway, I married out of love. I married because I had this wonderful partner who brought a joy to my life I'd never really known, and I wanted to express and demonstrate that commitment to friends, family, and society at large. I wanted to share in the seriousness that people treat a marriage. When you refer to someone as "my girlfriend" or "my boyfriend," people tend to not see that relationship as being on the same level of seriousness and commitment as "my wife" or "my husband," regardless of how serious the couple sees the relationship, and regardless of how serious and committed the couple is in reality. In a similar way, I don't think people take non-legal status marriage as being of the same level as a legal marriage, which is very frustrating and hurtful to those who have no choice in the matter. If you're married (or even if you're single), how would you feel if you were hearing "well, your marriage isn't a real marriage"? Just imagine that for a while. Don't just imagine that someone is saying it to you directly, because many people aren't so rude as to say that to your face, but also imagine that it's simply something that seems a subtle, yet pervasive part of the culture (like . . . pink is for girls, blue for boys, or something). Your marriage isn't real, despite all the love and commitment you've put into it. What feelings come to you?

So, love. Commitment. Sharing with society, and sharing in society's acceptance of that relationship. There is, of course, something to the idea that if the love is there, the rest of the world simply shouldn't matter. That's true, to a point. I would still be with my wife even if society didn't accept our relationship, and I would still be committed to her. But we are social creatures, we humans. We evolved as such, and we build our society and social mores around that social nature. We're so damn social that introverts like myself often have a hard time dealing with a society that doesn't understand why we need time alone. And we're so damn social that introverts like myself still want to be a part of the social world that is society. As such, most of us who get involved in long-term, romantic, loving, and committed relationships are going to want to make that relationship a part of society by publicly and legally declaring our love in the form of marriage. I am no exception.

So that's it. That's the whole and entirety of why I got married. I found someone (who happened to be a woman) that I loved deeply and romantically, someone I was committed to, and wanted to be with for the long haul, even for the rest of my life, and she shared those feelings. She and I already recognized and knew this, but wanted to have our relationship recognized and acknowledged by society. We wanted society to know that we loved each other, and had committed to being with each other, and we wanted society to take that seriously. In our society, the way to do that is by getting married.

Our ceremony was brief, but it meant the world to us. We wrote it ourselves (with a few adaptations from a marriage ceremony book, and tradition), and wrote our own vows. We invited her eldest brother to be the officiant, and he accepted. My favorite colors are black, red, and silver, while hers are black and orange. Black, red, and silver work together a bit better than black and orange, so we chose those as our colors. I wore a black suit, with a red shirt and silver tie, and she . . . she was absolutely gorgeous in a scarlet dress that she designed herself, and that was brought to life with help from a local costume designer. We chose the music, and got a musical acquaintance who had done other work for weddings to turn our choices into "wedding sounding" music ("Paint It Black" was played in a "wedding style" as she walked up the aisle; it was great :)). She choked up during our vows, and I smiled far more than usual all day long. My best friend stood as my best man (I was best man for his both of his weddings, so he owed me one; I don't think he minded though, as he couldn't stop grinning it seemed), and another good friend stood with him. She had her sister (we forgot to tell her she was expected to give a toast at the reception; whoops) and brother standing on her side. The musician gave us a discount because she mentioned Dungeons and Dragons in her vows (it's how we first bonded). For my vows, I admitted that she was right "most of the time." At the reception, we "danced" to "Little Red Riding Hood," by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs. I got tipsy on white wine (but was sober by the "wedding night"). And I smile now, with something in my eye, to remember it all.

Then my smile fades, because I remember why I'm thinking about marriage, and what it means to me. I've been looking into arguments against same-sex marriage, and they mostly seem to come down to tradition (which is a piss-poor argument for denying rights), religion (but not every religion agrees on the issue, and America is supposed to have a separation of church and state), and procreation. And this last is the only one that ever gave me pause, because clearly a same-sex couple cannot have children in the biological sense. But when I look at what my marriage means to me, children simply don't enter that picture. Yes, my wife and I are planning to have children. However, children are not the meaning of my marriage. My marriage will mean the same to me even if we never have children.

Why then, do we deny marriage to same-sex couples? Am I unique in my feelings on marriage? I doubt it. When's the last time a romance movie had a couple get married because they really wanted to have kids? I can't think of one; the premise of the romance movies is always love and commitment and love some more. It looks to me like this culture has accepted that marriage has a meaning built on love, and not procreation. So, why?


A song, for your listening and viewing pleasure.

I came across some music that I decided needed sharing. It's from a band I've never heard of before, called Colony 5, and the song is "Future." The video is done by dogmaticCURE, and is meant as a tribute to all those battling for a secular view of the world. Enjoy.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Minnesota Marriage Minute video response

For those of you not aware, this November in Minnesota there will be a question on the ballot for voters to answer:
"Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota?"
If approved, the Minnesota Constitution would be amended to include the following in Article XIII:
Only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota.
Leaving the question blank counts as a "No."

Now, it's already illegal in Minnesota to marry a same-sex partner. Supporters of the amendment have pushed this Constitutional amendment to prevent lawsuits from overturning the current law, and to prevent the legislature from changing the law, as happened in New York last year. It's a preemptive strike. The group Minnesota for Marriage has been campaigning to see the amendment passed, and one of the things they do is post YouTube videos called "Minnesota Marriage Minute" videos that lay their case out in short little segments. I'm going to address some of those videos in this and future posts. I won't address them all, because some are simply informative, like the first video that lays out basically what I just said. I'm also not going to necessarily address them in the order they were given.

First up, let's look at Episode 5. 

In this video, they ask "What is the common good of marriage?" The answer they give is:
"Well, marriage serves a vital and universal societal purpose to channel biological drive and sexual passion that might otherwise become socially destructive into enduring family units that have the best opportunity to ensure the care and education of any children produced by that drive and passion."
Kalley Yanta, the host, follows that up with a quote that she says is from the Supreme Court,
"marriage is '. . . fundamental to the very existence and survival of the [human] race'"
but doesn't cite which case. My own search indicates it may have come from the decision in Loving v. Virginia (1967), in which the court overturned a conviction of miscegenation (interracial marriage), and with it, declared all anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional. The part that Yanta seems to be quoting says:

The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.
Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man," fundamental to our very existence and survival. Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535, 541 (1942). See also Maynard v. Hill, 125 U.S. 190 (1888). To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual, and cannot be infringed by the State.
So, yes, the Supreme Court has said that marriage is fundamental to humanity's existence. It also said that it's essential to the pursuit of happiness by free men, and that the freedom to marry or not cannot be infringed by the State. They were speaking of race, of course, but I don't find it much of a stretch to apply to same statements to same-sex attraction. But I guess that's what we're arguing about, isn't it?

Let's look more at what Yanta says. A little later on, she gets into defending the idea that children do best in a marriage between their biological parents.
"The overwhelming body of social science evidence establishes that children do best when raised by their married [biological] mother and father"
Except, that's wrong. The consensus of the scientific community is that there is no evidence to suggest that being raised by a homosexual parent, or two same-sex parents,  is detrimental to children's well-being (yes, that link is from Wikipedia; follow the citations). It's true that the data is not as good as one might like, but every study to date, despite the problems they have with sample size and other things, points to children doing just fine when raised by same-sex parents, even when compared to children of heterosexual parents. It is true that children of divorced parents tend to have more issues, and possibly children of single parents, but that is not an argument against same-sex parents. A couple other links for you to peruse: Children of Lesbian and Gay Parents: A Review of the Literature, and a Google Scholar search for "children of gay parents."

Yanta then goes on to say:
"No matter ones view of homosexual marriage, it is undeniable that every child born into a same-sex relationship is intentionally denied the love and affection of one of her biological parents."
But that alone is not enough to deny parents the right to marry the person they love. Interestingly, that same argument could be applied to arguing against giving unwanted children up for adoption, or sperm banks for couples in which the father is infertile, or surrogacy in cases where the woman in a hetero relationship is infertile. In each case, a child is intentionally denied the love and affection of at least on biological parent. Is Minnesota for Marriage going to argue that these are bad things?

Look again at the what they call the common good of marriage:
"Well, marriage serves a vital and universal societal purpose to channel biological drive and sexual passion that might otherwise become socially destructive into enduring family units that have the best opportunity to ensure the care and education of any children produced by that drive and passion."
Other than sexual passion, it's unclear what other biological drive Yanta and the Minnesota for [Straight] Marriage group is referring to here, but I'm going to guess 'procreation' based on the context of the whole video. Certainly that's a position I've seen before when looking at arguments against same-sex marriage. It's definitely true that many gay people have desires for children, and raising a family. Same-sex attraction doesn't change that aspect of human nature. But given that there's no evidence that being raised by same-sex parents is detrimental to children, how is it that same-sex parents could not do this equally well when compared to heterosexual parents? Indeed, it would appear they're already doing it well.

And yes, for now I'm ignoring whether that's actually a good definition of the common good of marriage, or not.

So, what are your thoughts on this video?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Professor vs a Student, via Facebook.

I recently spotted a photo on Facebook that was accompanied by what appears to be a transcript of a conversation between a Student, and a Professor. In it, the Student and Professor debate the existence of God. I thought I would share this important debate with you. My thoughts are in read, for your viewing pleasure.
Professor : You are a Christian, aren’t you, son ? 
Student : Yes, sir.  
Professor: So, you believe in GOD ? 
Student : Absolutely, sir. 
Professor : Is GOD good ? 
Student : Sure. 
Professor: Is GOD all powerful ? 
Student : Yes. 
Professor: My brother died of cancer even though he prayed to GOD to heal him. Most of us would attempt to help others who are ill. But GOD didn’t. How is this GOD good then? Hmm? 
(Student was silent.) 
Professor: You can’t answer, can you ? Let’s start again, young fella. Is GOD good? 
Student : Yes. 
Professor: Is satan good ? 
Student : No. 
Professor: Where does satan come from ? 
Student : From … GOD … 
Professor: That’s right. Tell me son, is there evil in this world? 
Student : Yes. 
Professor: Evil is everywhere, isn’t it? And GOD did make everything. Correct? 
Student : Yes. 
Professor: So who created evil? 
(Student did not answer.) 
Professor: Is there sickness? Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness? All these terrible things exist in the world, don’t they? 
Student : Yes, sir. 
Professor: So, who created them ? 
(Student had no answer.) 
Professor: Science says you have 5 Senses you use to identify and observe the world around you. Tell me, son, have you ever seen GOD? 
Student : No, sir. 
Professor: Tell us if you have ever heard your GOD? 
Student : No , sir. 
Professor: Have you ever felt your GOD, tasted your GOD, smelt your GOD? Have you ever had any sensory perception of GOD for that matter? 
Student : No, sir. I’m afraid I haven’t. 
Professor: Yet you still believe in Him? 
Student : Yes. 
Professor : According to Empirical, Testable, Demonstrable Protocol, Science says your GOD doesn’t exist. What do you say to that, son? 
Student : Nothing. I only have my faith. 
Professor: Yes, faith. And that is the problem Science has. 
Student : Professor, is there such a thing as heat? 
Professor: Yes. 
Student : And is there such a thing as cold? 
Professor: Yes. 
Student : No, sir. There isn’t. 
(The lecture theater became very quiet with this turn of events.) 
Student : Sir, you can have lots of heat, even more heat, superheat, mega heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat. But we don’t have anything called cold. We can hit 458 degrees below zero which is no heat, but we can’t go any further after that. There is no such thing as cold. Cold is only a word we use to describe the absence of heat. We cannot measure cold. Heat is energy. Cold is not the opposite of heat, sir, just the absence of it.
[“Cold” is a relative concept, like so many other concepts that we have (bald, tall, short, skinny, fat, long, wide, etc), meaning that it’s use and definition are relative to something else. In this case, when we speak of “cold,” we are referring to a level of heat that is relative to what we normally experience in our normal, everyday lives; we’re also referring to the sensation that is “cold,” which is also relative to individual experience. Think about how someone from Hawaii might find 50 degree Fahrenheit weather to be cold, but someone from Minnesota just after winter has passed might find 50 degree weather pleasantly warm. “Cold” then, is the term we use to describe a certain level of energy, not just its absence, as well as a particular sensation.] 
(There was pin-drop silence in the lecture theater.) 
Student : What about darkness, Professor? Is there such a thing as darkness? 
Professor: Yes. What is night if there isn’t darkness? 
Student : You’re wrong again, sir. Darkness is the absence of something. You can have low light, normal light, bright light, flashing light. But if you have no light constantly, you have nothing and its called darkness, isn’t it? In reality, darkness isn’t. If it is, well you would be able to make darkness darker, wouldn’t you?
[Since “darkness” is also a relative concept, referring to the amount of light present in a particular area as compared to a level of light that lets us see normally, “darkness” does, in fact, exist as a relative concept. And when my room is dark at night, I can actually make it darker, simply by taking steps to block the various sources of light that allow me to see, however slightly.] 
Professor: So what is the point you are making, young man ? 
Student : Sir, my point is your philosophical premise is flawed. 
Professor: Flawed ? Can you explain how? 
Student : Sir, you are working on the premise of duality. You argue there is life and then there is death, a good GOD and a bad GOD. [As were you, Student, when you called God “good.”] You are viewing the concept of GOD as something finite, something we can measure. [Whether or not God is a finite thing doesn’t matter, so much as whether the effects of an existing God can be measured, and determined to most likely be caused by God, and not some completely natural force. So far, no such effects have been identified.] Sir, Science can’t even explain a thought. [And once upon a time, science couldn’t explain gravity, sound, where babies come from, or why some people have blue eyes instead of brown. Now it can. The only appropriate response to a lack of understanding is “I don’t know” or “I’m not able to explain that.” Saying “I don’t know, therefore the answer is God” is intellectually dishonest at the very least.] It uses electricity and magnetism, but has never seen, much less fully understood either one. To view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorant of the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive thing.
Death is not the opposite of life: just the absence of it. [“Death” is certainly the absence of life, but it's a term that is used to refer to the absence of life where life previously existed. We do not call rocks “dead,” because they were never alive. In other words, it’s one of those relative terms again.] Now tell me, Professor, do you teach your students that they evolved from a monkey? 
Professor: If you are referring to the natural evolutionary process, yes, of course, I do. 
Student : Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, sir? 
(The Professor shook his head with a smile, beginning to realize where the argument was going.) 
Student : Since no one has ever observed the process of evolution at work and cannot even prove that this process is an on-going endeavor. [Wrong. Evolution has been observed at work, both in the lab and out of it. Scientists are, in fact, able to demonstrate very conclusively that evolution is an on-going endeavor. Check that link for a few examples, or just google "observed evolution."] Are you not teaching your opinion, sir? Are you not a scientist but a preacher? 
(The class was in uproar.) 
Student : Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the Professor’s brain? 
(The class broke out into laughter.) 
Student : Is there anyone here who has ever heard the Professor’s brain, felt it, touched or smelt it? No one appears to have done so. So, according to the established Rules of Empirical, Stable, Demonstrable Protocol, Science says that you have no brain, sir. With all due respect, sir, how do we then trust your lectures, sir?
[Evidence. To be fair, the Professor sort of set himself up for this, by not being clear that science relies on evidence, sometimes indirect evidence, and not just the five senses. For example, we can say that every time a human skull has ever been opened up for examination, there’s been a brain in there. We can also say that every time we’ve used advanced technology to peer inside a human body, there’s been a brain in there. The Professor, presumably, is human, and therefore we can say, with a very, very, very high degree of probability, that he has a brain. Other things that we use indirect evidence to be aware of include radio waves, microwave energy, odorless and tasteless poisons, and the love of a parent for their child.] 
(The room was silent. The Professor stared at the student, his face unfathomable.) 
Professor: I guess you’ll have to take them on faith, son. [It’s not faith, it’s confidence based on a high degree of evidence. And the disbelief in God is based on a severe lack of evidence. The disbelief in an all-powerful, all-good God is based on the evidence that there is no all-powerful, all-good entity interfering in the world in any way that an all-powerful, all-good entity would be expected to: preventing cancer, natural disasters, random birth defects, and all other forms of suffering that humans may be unable to prevent, but an all-powerful being could do something about. If an all-powerful being exists, it is clearly NOT an all-good being.] 
Student : That is it sir … Exactly ! The link between man & GOD is FAITH. That is all that keeps things alive and moving. 
[Faith tells us nothing, it demonstrates nothing, and is never a good reason to believe. It does not keep “things alive and moving,” and if faith is the only link between man and God, then there is no link between man and God.] 
I believe you have enjoyed the conversation. And if so, you’ll probably want your friends / colleagues to enjoy the same, won’t you?
Forward this to increase their knowledge … or FAITH.
By the way, that student was EINSTEIN. [Citation seriously needed. Maybe it really was Einstein, or maybe this entire conversation was made up. Regardless, the Student is wrong, and the Professor didn’t do a very good job of calling him out on it. For example, the Student never did address the problem of evil that the Professor brought up.]
So, what do y'all think?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Does religion do more harm than good?

So, earlier I wrote a response to an article called "Myth 2: Religion Does More Harm Than Good," sparked by an exchange on Facebook. In that response, I simply went through the article and pointed out the good and bad parts. I didn't actually address the question "Does religion do more harm than good?" That's what I aim to do now. Of course, there have been entire books written on this subject ("God is Not Great," by Christopher Hitchens, for example), so it's unlikely that I would be able to properly address this question in a single blog post. It should also be noted that it's unlikely I can do this without treading ground already walked by others, but I'll do what I can in giving a (relatively) brief answer.

Before I begin, it would be helpful if I define how I'm using religion. This may seem an obvious thing, but the definition has been debated before. So, the definition I'm using is as follows: religion is  a belief in supernatural forces and/or entities that have an effect on the natural world. It's a belief in entities or forces that are undetectable by any natural means (invisible, inaudible, etc). And yes, I'm blatantly stealing that definition from the one Greta Christina uses in her talk "Why Are You Atheists So Angry?" It's useful, and tends to be how we see religion playing out in the real world, rather than in sociological circles (not that sociological definitions are necessarily bad, but the ones I've seen are so broad you could toss in love of a sports team and have it match).

So let's start with a look back at a few things in the "Myth 2" article. Father Williams had this to say:
Hitchens and company claim to follow the Gospel principle of judging a tree by its fruits, but as for the tree of religion, they consider only the rotten fruits, never the good ones. The innumerable saints, geniuses and benefactors nourished by the Christian faith simply count for nothing. 
In making their case, Hitchens and company refrain from considering the almost countless ways that Christianity has benefited the world as we know it today. 
What of the hospitals? What of the orders of nuns established to care for the dying or educate young girls? What of the soup kitchens and orphanages? What of the preservation of classical culture? What of the artistic and literary treasures?
Let's start with hospitals. I really don't need to enumerate the good that hospitals have done, but I'll list a few points anyway: setting broken bones, treating cancer, helping heart attack victims, and oh yea, saving lives. Lots and lots of lives. This is the case for secular as well as religious hospitals. This is unequivocally a good thing. However, in December of 2010, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix stripped a hospital, St. Joseph's, of it's Catholic affiliation because the hospital performed an abortion for the purpose of saving a woman's life. From the letter the Bishop sent to the hospital administration:
I now ask that CHW agree to the following requirements by Friday, December 17, 2010. Only if all of these items are agreed to, will I postpone any action against CHW and St. Joseph’s Hospital. Specifically, I require the following in order for me to postpone any further canonical action directed against St. Joseph’s Hospital: 
1. CHW must acknowledge in writing that the medical procedure that resulted in the abortion at St. Josephs’ hospital was a violation of ERD 47, and so will never occur again at St. Joseph’s Hospital.
The abortion in question was performed to save a woman's life when she developed severe symptoms of pulmonary hypertension. She was dying, and without the abortion, she would die. Plain, and simple. There was no saving both. Yet, the "good" Bishop is requiring a promise that it would never happen again, even if it was the only way to save the woman's life. (I recall seeing an article written by a woman who went through a circumstance that sounded just like this, including the five kids, Catholic hospital, life threatening pregnancy, and reluctance on the hospital's part to have the abortion performed, but have been unable to find it. It might have been the same woman, but have been unable to find it. Anyone have a link to it?)

That Bishop uses his religious views to claim authority to let a woman die. He apparently wants all the Catholic hospitals to follow his authority in this matter (his letter is full of his claims to authority). That's a whole lot of harm, right there.

But there are other goods that religion does. For example, orders of nuns who take care of the dying and educate young girls. Mother Teresa is perhaps the most famous for taking care of the dying. She founded the Missionaries of Charity to care for the poor and sick, believing that she was following a calling placed on her by God. Here's a quote from Mother Teresa, which was given in response to a question at a 1981 press conference:
"I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people."
That passion for suffering was on display in her 'hospices.' She did not provide painkiller, even in the worst cases. She felt that suffering was a way to be closer to Jesus. In other words, her religious views provided a very direct harm to people.

Moving on. In 2004, The Salvation Army threatened to close all of their soup kitchens in New York City if the city enacted legislation that would've required them and other businesses that deal with the government to provide benefits to the partners of gay employees. That's thousands of homeless who would've been affected. According to one Army official, "You cannot change theological views. Those are so deeply embedded, they form the root of the faith itself." The Salvation Army thinks gay sex is wrong, and was willing to cause harm to the homeless as a result.

I have very little to say about the preservation of classical treasures, or of the artistic value of religiously inspired pieces. Those things are important, although it's an open question if they're more important than the other, very real harms I've mentioned. I would however note that for the longest time, the patrons of artists were religious (and truthfully, probably the artists themselves), so it's hardly surprising.
But all I've really done so far is list some examples of harm caused by religion, using Father Thomas Williams's questions as a jumping off point. I have not yet shown clear reason to think religion does more harm than good, on balance. So, let me do that now. For this next part, I'm indebted to Greta Christina and JT Eberhard, as well as William K. Clifford's "The Ethics of Belief" (1877), specifically for making arguments that inform my views on this.

There is one thing that religions everywhere have in common: Faith. Now, before I go further, let me define how I'm using that word in this argument:
the belief in something without sufficient evidence to warrant belief, or the belief in something when the evidence contradicts the belief
Keep that definition in mind when you read my argument. "Faith" is often used in normal discourse to refer to things unrelated to religious belief, spiritual beliefs, or anything else that definition might refer to. For example, a husband might say to his wife "I have faith in your abilities" when she's worried about a job interview, or a college test, or some such. His "faith" in such a case could be better described as confidence, a confidence based on past experience with her, in which he's seen that she's talented, skilled, and good at what she does. Or, in another case, he might say "I have faith you haven't cheated on me," and in such a case "trust" is what he's actually talking about, based on the evidence of his experience with her, in which she's demonstrated integrity, and that she loves him enough to maintain the monogamy they've agreed to. I'm sure you can think of other examples. The point is that to avoid confusion and the fallacy of equivocation, I need to define how I'm using the word.

Anyway. Religion of all sorts have as a base faith. This faith underpins not just the factual claims of a religion ("God created the Universe, and us," "There's an afterlife," "We are judged upon death to determine if we belong in heaven or hell"), but also the moral claims that are supposed to follow from the factual claims. When you believe that God exists, and believe that God has moral authority, and dictates how we spend eternity, then you have good reason to follow the rules that you believe God has laid down, no matter if they conflict with your own thinking and reason.

Faith inspires people to do many things. It inspires people to be honest, to give to charity, to be generous, avoid violence, and to have hope. It also inspires people to engage in bigotry, oppression of women (see "Does God Hate Women?" by Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom for an excellent showing of exactly how religion oppresses women, even today), oppression of homosexuals, child abuse ("spare the rod, spoil the child"), and ignorance of science:
When asked what they would do if scientists were to disprove a particular religious belief, nearly two-thirds (64%) of people say they would continue to hold to what their religion teaches rather than accept the contrary scientific finding, according to the results of an October 2006 Time magazine poll. Indeed, in a May 2007 Gallup poll, only 14% of those who say they do not believe in evolution cite lack of evidence as the main reason underpinning their views; more people cite their belief in Jesus (19%), God (16%) or religion generally (16%) as their reason for rejecting Darwin's theory.

It may seem that the balance is coming out in favor of calling it equal in the question "Does religion do more harm than good," but I don't think it is. Faith provides a cop-out of any question. It let's you claim "It just feels right," "It makes me happy," or "I had a dream" as valid reasons for believing basically anything. Even when this leads to a positive, agreeable conclusion, such as "Don't rape women," it's still dangerous. If the reason that you agree with "Don't rape women" is because you think women are, in all but name, the property of their fathers first, and then husbands after marriage, rape becomes a matter of property vandalism, rather than a violation of a woman's right to control her body and sexuality. And if your reason for believing that is "God declared it so" and your reason for believing in God is faith, then faith has become a serious problem. Arguing against the premise that women are property is going to be very difficult, maybe impossible, if your faith tells you that God is the dictator of morality.

It's not just the extreme views in which faith can become a problem. If you have faith in karma, and that everything will work out all right in the end, then there's a strong chance that you won't do everything you need to do to help everything work out in the end. You're more likely to do all that's necessary if you consider that not everyone has a happy ending, and good people do have bad things happen to them, and that bad things sometimes never go away before death.

Of course, it's possible that if religion didn't so very often treat faith as a virtue, and advocate for it, that the dangers of faith could be minimized. I don't know, but I would certainly like to see a world where we tried that out for once, a world in which this quote by William Lane Craig didn't make sense to apparently 64% of the American public:
Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter, not vice versa.
 Yet, that is the world we're in. A world in which faith, and therefore religion, harms far more than it helps.