Questionable Motives

April 25, 2010

How can we get rid of the New Atheists’ reason for being?

From the Nigerian Tribune:
Citizen Oluwatoyin Oluseesin was killed recently by irate students of the Government Day Secondary School, Gandu, Gombe State, where, until her gruesome murder, she was a contract staff member.

The deceased was reportedly assigned to invigilate the SS1 students who were writing their Islamic Religious Knowledge paper when she observed that one of the students was attempting to smuggle some books into the examination hall. Sensing that a foul play was about to take place, she allegedly collected the books and threw them outside.

Unfortunately, that simple act of preventing the occurrence of fraud was to prove fatal for Mrs. Oluseesin. Unknown to her, a copy of the Holy Qur’an was among the books she allegedly collected from the aberrant student and threw outside. Newspaper reports claimed that she was attacked outside the school premises after the examination and beaten to death by the students for allegedly desecrating the holy book. Efforts made by the principal of the school, Mr. Mohammed Sadiq, to control the rampaging students, the reports further claimed, proved abortive. His attempt to protect the victim by hiding her in his office also failed. He was reportedly beaten up by the riotous students who also burnt down his car as well as three classrooms, the school’s clinic, library and the administrative block.

Acting on religious belief is unjustified. The sooner we accept this concept for judging any behaviour in the public domain that attempts to use religious belief as an excuse, the sooner religious apologists will have to stop pretending that religious belief’s intrusion into areas of public policy, law, education and governance is somehow acceptable. It isn’t. Religious belief has no business in the public domain because it is informed by nothing but assertion and assumption.

Want to get rid of the New Atheists’ reason for being and protect people like Oluwatoyin Oluseesin from the hatred of the religious mob? What better way than making public expressions of religious faith tantamount to an attack on religious freedom and supporting the return of religious belief to the private domain where each of us has the freedom to believe whatever delusion that comforts us the most and leaves our neighbours free from us attempting to reduce their rights and freedoms and dignity of personhood in the name of some unjustified religious belief?

April 24, 2010

Is belief innocuous?

A common criticism of atheism is that it promotes a militant version of liberal conventional wisdom as the all-purpose solution for human ills, another kind of belief (like religious belief) that the solution to the world’s problems can be found by the withering away of religion through the continuing advancement of science and knowledge. The old and flawed canard to argue against this wisdom relies on pulling in Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot to represent this other-kind of belief identified as atheism in action, as if religious belief is not only a reasonable alternative to this cold and barbaric totalitarianism diametrically opposed to liberalism but one that is necessary to protect us from the inevitable ravages of atheism in action.

I have already explained why atheism is by definition is not another kind of belief (hence the importance of precursor word ‘non’) but simply a label that refutes the acceptance of any kind of supernatural mechanism to explain cause with effect. When any kind of supernatural mechanism is suggested as this link between cause and effect, I think we have a duty (at least to intellectual honesty) to dismiss the claim as unjustified. No matter what the claim may be – be it about homeopathy and the claim that water retain a ‘memory’ to demonic possession, from a tripartite god who cures leprosy to one who causes geological vengeance because of the attire of women – we need to reject that belief on the merit that it is an unjustified belief. Belief in a specific yet unknown supernatural mechanism between cause and effect simply is not justified because it is an incoherent assumption masquerading as something real and knowable. But under consideration is the question whether or not holding such beliefs is innocuous?

Consider this excerpt from this article Akwa-Ibom Child Witches:

From Nigeria to Congo, Kenya to Tanzania, The Gambia to Cameroon, there are reported cases of teens been hacked to death, toddlers being drowned in rivers, adolescent being macheted by frustrated men and women all because someone CONFIRMED spiritually that THEY ARE WITCHES! As an African, belief in witchcraft is not alien to me neither is the news of stoning to death of many confirmed by native spiritualists to be a witch.

If we move away from the specific and horrific actions justified by this specific belief – in this case the veracity of witchcraft – and look at any kind of belief as a stand-alone means to legitimately know anything whatsoever about linking cause with effect, then it becomes apparent that belief is an ending point to any gaining of knowledge. Believing something to be true and being satisfied with this assumption cannot be the beginning of an honest inquiry but its ending. It is a substitute answer – and one empty of knowledge. Belief is not an equivalent kind of knowledge whatsoever for any truth claim, as is suggested by those who wish to protect us from the ravages of atheistic belief that leads to totalitarianism and who support and apologize for the absurdity of non-overlapping magisteria for knowledge (those who support the notion that science answers one kind of question – the ‘how’ questions – while religion answers another kind of question – the ‘why’ questions) . Belief is a shortcut that attempts to persuade us to accept ignorance as another kind of knowledge, a different way to know, pretending to answer ‘why’ questions with anything other that pure speculation and assumption. This is false because at its root, belief in a supernatural intervention between cause and effect is simply a hypothesis – a truth claim unsubstantiated and unverified presented as some kind of informed answer when it clearly is not. It remains an assumption that is held to be true. Non belief, then,  is the opposite of this assertion – an insistence that any truth claims about the natural universe and anything within it must be substantiated and verified by some natural means other than more assumption to count as knowledge, to be considered informed.

Any time anyone acts on the conclusion that some belief is justified by merit of it being based on a belief, then that action  is unjustified. When we allow belief to be any kind of legitimate engine that drives actions rather than knowledge, then we are arguing that acting out of ignorance is synonymous to acting out of knowledge and both as legitimate as the other. This is patently false and people – believers and non believers – do not act this way: we don’t rush a injured or sick loved one to a brick layer because we honestly think that medical ignorance is the equivalent of medical expertise; we recognize that having knowledge is opposite to not having knowledge. Yet when it comes to belief and non belief, many seem to struggle with the notion of opposites.

Belief removed from any action in its name may seem to be innocuous but when ignorant beliefs informs ignorant actions, then belief is not innocuous. The children accused of witchcraft and treated accordingly by believers of witchcraft stand in testimony of the very real cost of belief in action.

February 14, 2010

What is the foundation of religious belief?

Filed under: Africa,Homosexuality,Human Rights,hypocrisy,Law,Religion — tildeb @ 4:25 pm

I commented earlier on the disgusting abuse of the proposed law to penalize and criminalize gays in Kenya in my post Spreading the good news: Isn’t religion a private affair. Now police there have arrested five men at a private villa in Mombasa, two in the process of getting married, accused of being homosexuals. From the article at the BBC:

District officer George Matandura said two of the men had been found with wedding rings, attempting to get married, in Kikambala beach resort. The other three men were handed to the police by members of the public; two of them had reportedly been beaten.

“We are grateful to the public for alerting the police. They should continue co-operating with the police to arrest more,” Mr Matundura said. “It is an offence, an unnatural offence, and also their behaviour is repugnant to the morality of the people.”

One person’s repugnance is another person’s basic human rights, freedom, and dignity of personhood.

The district officer said the five, aged between 20 and 35, would “undergo a medical examination before we charge them with homosexuality,” the AFP news agency reported. “We will move swiftly and close down bars which condone gays, lesbians, prostitution and drug abuse in their premises,” Mr Matundura added. A member of a Kenyan gay rights organisation condemned the arrests and said it had appealed to the Human Rights Commission to step in. But the marriage allegedly planned was condemned by Muslim and Christian clerics.

Really? But this was the perfect opportunity for the representatives of these religions that supposedly brim with morality upon which our human rights have been built to intervene and show to the world why religious belief is not a safehouse for bigotry and prejudice to live unimpeded.

“We cannot allow these young boys to ruin their future through homosexuality,” Sheikh Ali Hussein of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya told AFP. “We shall use all means to curb this vice.” Bishop Lawrence Chai, of the National Council of Churches of Kenya, said: “This is immoral and we shall not allow it, especially here in Mtwapa.”

Are you surprised? The religious are always first up to use secular law to further their goals and the last to respect it when it conflicts with their religious agenda, leading us to conclude that hypocrisy, not truth, is the foundation of religious belief.

January 4, 2010

Spreading the Good News: Isn’t religion a private affair?

It should be, but it isn’t. Behind much hate and suffering in the world lies the responsible agency: those who act on unjustified religious belief.

From an article in the New York Times:

KAMPALA, Uganda — Last March, three American evangelical Christians, whose teachings about “curing” homosexuals have been widely discredited in the United States, arrived here in Uganda’s capital to give a series of talks. The theme of the event, according to Stephen Langa, its Ugandan organizer, was “the gay agenda — that whole hidden and dark agenda” — and the threat homosexuals posed to Bible-based values and the traditional African family.

For three days, according to participants and audio recordings, thousands of Ugandans, including police officers, teachers and national politicians, listened raptly to the Americans, who were presented as experts on homosexuality. The visitors discussed how to make gay people straight, how gay men often sodomized teenage boys and how “the gay movement is an evil institution” whose goal is “to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity.”

Now the three Americans are finding themselves on the defensive, saying they had no intention of helping stoke the kind of anger that could lead to what came next: a bill to impose a death sentence for homosexual behavior.

One month after the conference, a previously unknown Ugandan politician, who boasts of having evangelical friends in the American government, introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009, which threatens to hang homosexuals, and, as a result, has put Uganda on a collision course with Western nations.

Donor countries, including the United States, are demanding that Uganda’s government drop the proposed law, saying it violates human rights, though Uganda’s minister of ethics and integrity (who previously tried to ban miniskirts) recently said, “Homosexuals can forget about human rights.”

The Ugandan government, facing the prospect of losing millions in foreign aid, is now indicating that it will back down, slightly, and change the death penalty provision to life in prison for some homosexuals. But the battle is far from over.

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December 26, 2009

Isn’t religion all about love?

I come across this description all the time, usually by well-pampered middle-class white folk who think their various innocuous religious interpretations of caring, compassion, and love represent the ‘mature’ version of modern religious belief. Any religiously-inspired action that defies this caring and compassionate version of god-inspired love is almost always dismissed as nothing more than an ignorant fringe element that does not represent the true meaning of faith in god… no matter how prevalent or abhorrent the religiously-inspired actions are. In this way, the religious believer can erect a false barrier between actions that are not about showing the love and actions that are, claiming the former is not caused by faith in god – in spite of religious faith being the direct and admitted root cause of the latest atrocity – while the latter is ONLY caused by faith in god. It is a neat trick. God gets only good press, so belief in god must therefore be only about the love.

It is the same story when believers attribute the miraculous survival of one person in the midst of a disaster to god’s benevolence while conveniently attribute the mass death and widespread destruction of a disaster to either natural forces or as god’s justified punishment – usually as a response to something about homosexuality. So here’s a fun little activity to try.

Try singing out a loud ‘Praise God!’ in response to news of  a mounting death toll from the latest mudslide, avalanche, flood, famine, tsunami, hurricane, tornado, cyclone, volcanic eruption, earthquake, or fire, and see what kind of response you get: people will think you’re rather sadistic, and understandably so. But sing out a loud ‘Praise God’ when one person survives this onslaught of the indifferent forces of nature and believers will not criticize your sadism because they don’t see the flip side of the beliefs. They only see what gives their god good press. This kind of belief has nothing whatsoever to do with love and everything to do with maintaining duplicity, which is dishonest. Religion is all about being dishonest in one’s attributions about god.

So it is without surprise that the forces of ‘love’ once again do battle in the name of honouring god…

In Nigeria, religious fundamentalism holds sway. Both Christian and Islamic fanatics are holding the nation hostage. They seek to foist their dark, retrogressive vision on the country. They show total disregard for human rights and basic freedoms including the right to life, freedom of thought, association and expression.

In July, religious fanatics once again unleashed mayhem in Nigeria. On the 29th, a Wednesday, a mob of about 200 people from the Liberty Gospel Church invaded the Cultural Centre in Calabar Cross River State. The Cultural Centre was the venue of a public symposium on witchcraft and child rights organised by the Nigerian Humanist Movement and Stepping Stones Nigeria.

Incidentally, the attack by the Liberty Gospel Church happened at the same time as the Nigerian police and the army were doing a battle with an Islamic sect called Boko Haram in Bornu State in Northern Nigeria. This fanatical group had declared a war against the state. They attacked and beheaded police officers and civilians in a violent campaign to foist their own version of sharia law on the country.

The picture is about Jane (left) and Mary, in Eket, Nigeria, who had been accused of being witches. Jane’s mother tried to saw off the top of her skull after a pastor denounced her and Mary’s mother doused her in caustic soda. There are THOUSANDS of such abused children and we have religion to thank for it.

You can feel and see more of the love by reading the report here.

So what, right? These religious nutbars are somewhere in Africa and the whole place is nuts.

Well. Guess again. Sarah Palin thinks the world of these religious nutbars.

An African evangelist, Pastor Muthee has given guest sermons at the Wasilla Assembly of God on at least 10 occasions in his role as the founder of the Word of Faith Church, also known as the Prayer Cave.

What has this to do with Palin?

She said, As I was mayor and Pastor Muthee was here and he was praying over me, and you know how he speaks and he’s so bold. And he was praying “Lord make a way, Lord make a way.”

“And I’m thinking, this guy’s really bold, he doesn’t even know what I’m going to do, he doesn’t know what my plans are. And he’s praying not “oh Lord if it be your will may she become governor,” no, he just prayed for it. He said “Lord make a way and let her do this next step. And that’s exactly what happened.”

Yup. The lord works in mysterious ways, mysterious being code for sadistic.

The pastor speaks of his offensive against a demonic presence in the town in a trailer for the evangelical video “Transformations”, made by Sentinel Group, a Christian research and information agency.

“We prayed, we fasted, the Lord showed us a spirit of witchcraft resting over the place,” Pastor Muthee says.

After the spirit was broken, the crime rate dropped to almost zero and there was “explosive church growth” while almost every bar in the town closed down, the video says.

The full Transformations video featuring Pastor Muthee’s story has recently been removed from YouTube but the rest of the story is detailed in a 1999 article in the Christian Science Monitor, as well as on numerous evangelical websites.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, six months of fervent prayer and research identified the source of the witchcraft as a local woman called Mama Jane, who ran a “divination” centre called the Emmanuel Clinic.

Her alleged involvement in fortune-telling and the fact that she lived near the site of a number of fatal car accidents led Pastor Muthee to publicly declare her a witch responsible for the town’s ills, and order her to offer her up her soul for salvation or leave Kiambu.

Says the Monitor, “Muthee held a crusade that “brought about 200 people to Christ”.” They set up round-the-clock prayer intercession in the basement of a grocery store and eventually, says the pastor “the demonic influence – the ‘principality’ over Kiambu –was broken”, and Mama Jane fled the town.

According to accounts of the witchhunt circulated on evangelical websites such as Prayer Links Ministries, after Pastor Muthee declared Mama Jane a witch, the townspeople became suspicious and began to turn on her, demanding that she be stoned. Public outrage eventually led the police to raid her home, where they fired gunshots, killing a pet python which they believed to be a demon.

It is this kind of religious nonsense, this is the kind of attributed thinking that powers the faith of people like Palin, and it ain’t about love. Religion is just as much about superstition, fear, and intolerance.

Read more of this travesty here.

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December 9, 2009

Is there any difference between religion and superstition?

Witch hunter Helen Ukpabio, head of the Liberty Gospel Church in Nigeria, has filed a lawsuit in Nigerian federal court against Leo Igwe, CFI’s (Center For Inquiry) representative in Nigeria.

The suit, scheduled for a hearing on Dec.17, is seeking an injunction preventing Igwe and other humanist groups from holding seminars or workshops aimed at raising consciousness about the dangers associated with the religious belief in witchcraft. The suit aims to erect a legal barrier against rationalist or humanist groups who might criticize, denounce or otherwise interfere with their practice of Christianity and their “deliverance” of people supposedly suffering from possession of an “evil or witchcraft spirit.” The suit also seeks to prevent law enforcement from arresting or detaining any member of the Liberty Gospel Church for performing or engaging in what they say are constitutionally protected religious activities. These activities include the burning of three children, ages 3 through 6, with fire and hot water, as reported by James Ibor of the Basic Rights Counsel in Nigeria on August 24, 2009. The parents believed their children were witches.

Ukpabio is seeking damages of 200 billion Nigerian Naira, more than $1.3 billion, for supposedly unlawful and unconstitutional infringement on her rights to belief in “God, Satan, witchcraft, Heaven and Hell fire” and for the alleged unlawful and unconstitutional detention of two members of her church.

Read the entire article here.

Ah yes, the old Let’s-pretend-to-be-reasonable-and-use-the-evil-secular-law-to-enforce-my-superstitious-nonsense ploy, and then, after you lose in court, you can then use that legal decision to support the insane notion that it is your right-to-practice-your-religion-over-and-above-respecting-the-human-rights-of-others or your freedom of religion is under attack by secularist forces that refuse to RESPECT RELIGIOUS BELIEFS!

In the meantime, more children will be killed and mutilated on the alter of practicing superstitious nonsense…err… I mean the ugly side of the face that is just as much religious belief in action as is the more attractive face of helping the poor.

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