Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Moral sleight of hand

Magicians excel at misdirection and sleight of hand.  They can seemingly do the impossible, when in fact their shtick is simply a combination of manual dexterity and the ability to get you to look somewhere else besides the place where the actual trickery is happening.  No criticism intended; to be an excellent magician takes years of practice.  But the whole thing boils down to drawing your attention away from where you should be looking.

There are a lot of religious leaders who excel at the same thing.

We're seeing it in bucket loads at the moment, due to the Ashley Madison hack, wherein a site dedicated to finding married people partners to cheat with was broken into, and thousands of names and addresses made public.  The ones who hit the news were, of course, the public figures, but the hypocrisy factor made the religious ones stand out even more.  To no one's particular surprise, alleged pedophile and general lowlife Josh Duggar had an Ashley Madison account, and he and his family are now scrambling to do damage control despite his having a reputation by this point that is probably past salvaging.  

But no sidestepping was quite as comical as the dance done by British Islamist leader Hamza Tzortzis, whose name was also released in the leak.  Confronted by his having a paid subscription to the infidelity site despite his constantly preaching about the evils of sexual immorality, Tzortzis had what may be the weakest defense I've ever seen.

Tzortzis was lambasted by a follower on his Facebook page who wrote, "So Hamza, you are claiming that some guy knew all of your private information and wanted to screw with you so he created a fake account on Ashley Madison.  This guy then paid hundreds of dollars to maintain the account for 9 months.  This account was then used to make transactions at locations where you were also present at the time.  Then the ultimate plan was to hack the Ashley Madison database and release 40 million users so you could be exposed.  Am I getting this right?"

And Tzortzis replied, in toto, "You’re an idiot. Read the post before you write.  The amount was 15 pounds a month, not hundreds."

So okay, maybe not all of 'em are skilled at misdirection.

But not all of the sleight of hand has to do with infidelity.  Recently Mehmet Görmez, the head of the Diyanet (the Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs), called on Islamic religious authorities throughout the Middle East to unite to fight ISIS.

Such a move, of course, would be deeply controversial in a region where sect loyalty and arguments about the interpretation of religious texts routinely lead to violence.  So in response to Görmez's statement, Bilal Yorulmaz, professor of religion at Marmara University, said that what the Islamic world really needs to be worried about is...

... the Jedi.

"Jediism … is spreading today in Christian societies," Yorulmaz said.  "Around 70,000 people in Australia and 390,000 people in England currently define themselves as Jedis."

He then went on to describe how Hollywood is the real problem, presumably because the movie industry so frequently blows up priceless archeological sites and beheads researchers who are trying to protect them.

Okay, I know confronting your personal failings isn't easy, and it must be even more devastating to own up to the evils committed in the name of your deeply-held ideology.  But setting up straw men as a way of deflecting blame only makes your own culpability in things that much clearer.

You have to wonder, however, how long people will go on defending a position that is, at its basis, indefensible.  Are they hoping that sooner or later, the short attention span of their followers will kick in, and all will be forgiven and/or forgotten?  Hell, it worked for Jimmy Swaggart and Ted Haggard --  both of whom were caught in ongoing infidelity despite their continual harping on sexual purity.  Haggard, in fact, was not only caught cheating, but caught cheating with a male prostitute.  And both are now back to preaching the gospel to standing-room-only crowds, and making money hand over fist doing it.

Funny what time and pious misdirection can do.

I've always felt that honesty and integrity were about the most important character traits out there, so the whole thing is pretty repulsive.  To be able to stand up in front of a crowd and make utterances that are deliberately designed to steer people away from your own failings, indiscretions, and immorality is as dishonest as simply lying about it.

The sad thing is that for some reason, it works.  Just like with stage magic, people get fooled, again and again.  But far from entertaining, this sleight of hand just leaves me feeling a little sick.


  1. It's often seemed to me that those who rail most against immorality are those who have trouble behaving morally themselves. But these guys are redeemed by the grace of God, put through the Holy Wash and Rinse Cycle. If God forgives them, who are we to hold their past transgressions against them? Come on, that was TWO YEARS ago. Are you still harping on that? We've moved on, dude.

  2. The thing is, all magicians know there's no such thing as magic.