Questionable Motives

June 13, 2012

Why are blasphemy laws an abortion of reason?

Because you have to abort any reason to be concerned about what is true in favour of showing greater concern for what is believed to be true.  Therein lies the definition of legal blasphemy: the offence of speaking sacrilegiously about god or sacred things; sacrilege meaning the violation or misuse of what is regarded as sacred; sacred meaning anything regarded with great respect and reverence; reverence meaning to regard or treat with deep respect. Blasphemy laws enforce (with the misuse of secular law) only what is regarded to be worthy of respect, namely, some belief claim. Whether or not the claim is true doesn’t matter, you see, so whatever reasons are brought forward also don’t matter. This is the rejection of reason, raising the question How do we know if some belief claim is worth respecting? Blasphemy laws circumvent the answer to this question as irrelevant.

But surely I jest! People are far too reasonable to go along with this absurdity, you must be thinking; the laws are intended to promote toleration and mutual respect for the belief of others, right?

Wrong.

The catholic church is a fairly large religious organization claiming over  a billion members globally. Surely it wouldn’t stoop to standing idly by while some bishop undertook this kind of legal abuse. But, right on cue, the mass producer and protector of pedophiles has shown that it too doesn’t care about what’s true (is anyone surprised… anyone?); it doesn’t mind that its agents use these laws to attack reason that stands contrary to whatever earns them cash and uses the secular branch of the judiciary to do this dirty work for it… to bludgeon what’s true into irrelevancy if it interferes with catholic aims and catholic beliefs and gaining money.

From the Friendly Atheist:

 

Indian TV channel (TV-9)asked the President of the Indian Rationalist Society to visit the Church of Our Lady of Velankanni in Vile Parle, Mumbai to offer his opinion on a supposed miracle. The President, Sanal Edamaruku, is like the Indian version of James Randi or Penn Jillette. He is well known in the country and has been debunking miracles for over 30 years.

The miracle in question involved the dripping of water from the feet of a statue of the crucifixion, a miracle that that seems to crop up all around the world… at least when pieces of toast with Jesus on them are in short supply.

Edamuruku was quickly able to pin the cause on a leaking drainage system, with water being drawn up through the nail holes in the statue’s feet by capillary action. Needless to say, the locals and the church were not happy.

Edamaruku accused the church of exploiting people for money, a tactic that did not go down well. Edamaruku later participated in a heated debate with the pastor of the church, Father Augustine Palett, on national TV. Father Palett had little time for actual debate and instead spent his time threatening action, by way of a blasphemy complaint, if Edamaruku refused to apologize. Edamaruku welcomed this, as it would be a chance to present his evidence in court with the priests and bishops on the witness stand. Of course, no apology was forthcoming and Palett has since made good on his threat.

Following the TV appearance, a group called The Association of Concerned Catholics (Think Bill Donohue, but Indian) lodged a complaint against him with the Mumbai police. They have now arrested him, charging him with “hurting the religious sentiments of a particular community.” This is a section in India’s penal code intended to prevent hate speech and should be used against deeply sectarian groups or individuals. The complaints against Edamaruku, however, are a grave misuse of these laws.

Edamaruku had applied for “anticipatory bail,” which would have meant he could have avoided jail during any trial. Bizarrely, this was rejected on the grounds that the judge thought jail would be the safest place for him.

Any democratic country with secular law cannot justify this poisonous intrusion of theocracy into its legal system. It’s an embarrassment to anyone who can think straight. Blasphemy laws must be removed if that country’s government doesn’t wish to advocate for the aborting of reason from its judicial system.

December 5, 2010

How do the religious undermine the Golden Rule?

I read many comments and articles by ‘moderate’ theists who suggest that, at their core, religious beliefs are really all the same, that what people are responding to with various kinds of religious faiths is recognizing the transcendent, honouring the spiritual, paying homage to a felt but never seen creative and loving force. It all sounds so… well, kumba ya-ish. And heart-warmingly lovely, mitigating the trivial differences that so easily separate us and acts like a special kind of blessed force (unseen by athiets, of course) that promotes the common good.

And then I read something like this and have to remind myself that the metaphorical holding of religious hands argued by different theists about life-enhancing nature of religious compatibility is nothing more than soothing lies we find in the daily practice of religious beliefs that inform how we behave towards others.

A 17 year old girl lived a hellish life and died a horrible death because of people acting on their religious convictions. More religion will never solve this ongoing and familiar tragedy played out in the lives of us little people who grant their religious convictions and the convictions of others a legitimate role in determining how to behave in ways that supposedly honour a god.

This is insane. And it’s insane because doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result – some divine enhancement in the lives of humans – is not a rational nor reasonable expectation. Such a belief that a different result will occur is maintained in spite of contrary yet consistent evidence of harm caused by acting on religious convictions. When we choose to empower such beliefs with an assumption that they are legitimate because they involve some homage to a deity, then we have left the arena of what is rational, what is reasonable, what is probable, what is likely true, and entered the arena of what is is merely hoped for, what is wished, what is improbable, what is likely false. And this legitimizing of what is hoped for in spite of evidence to the contrary is not compatible with empowering respect and audience for what is true. Expecting more religious belief to magically find some way to stop the kind of human abuse people commit in the name of some god is crazy talk. It’s delusional. It’s dangerous and, in the case of Nurta Mohamed Farah, deadly.

Anyone who thinks that religious belief has a legitimate and compatible role to play in helping anyone determine how to treat other human beings with dignity and respect is guilty of helping to legitimize the actions of people to do terrible things to other people for exactly the same reasons. By legitimizing the intentions of those who act to honour some god, we legitimize the basis of such assumptions that they are true, that they are accurate, that they are correct. Such assumptions help to legitimize delusion and insanity rather than what’s rational and reasonable and backed by consistent evidence. Those who assume that religious belief is equivalent to rational thinking have no evidence to insist the two are compatible methods of inquiry, compatible voices that need to be heard, compatible means to inform morality and ethical behaviour, compatible avenues to establishing respect not only for the rights and freedoms and dignity of other people but how to act in ways that achieve these results. The evidence does not support this assumption. What evidence there is shows that by legitimizing delusional thinking, we legitimize its failure to respect other people’s claim to equal rights, legitimize its failure to establish equal freedoms, legitimize its failure to support equal respect between people, and we see this failure played out in religious inspired tragedy after religious inspired tragedy.

Isn’t it high time in the 21st century to stop tolerating and legitimizing this failed voice offered up as a compatible way of achieving noble goals and Enlightenment values by the religiously deluded? The religious perspective has nothing to offer any of us but more failure to be reasonable and rational and consistent with the evidence in every area of human endeavor in which it is granted a fair hearing. Isn’t it time we recognized its failure? Isn’t it time that we gave full credence to the rational and reasonable voice  of a basic equality and dignity for all in shared rights and freedoms and reject the anti-rational voice of delusion? Is that not the least we can do on an individual basis if for no other reason than in memory of this one girl whose sad life was warped and twisted and ended by the deluded in the name of their religious beliefs? Isn’t a human life more important in and of itself to be treated as we ourselves wish to be treated – with the same level of dignity and respect – than simply as a piece of property of some god to be used and abused by the faithful who claim to be fulfilling god’s wishes?

We really do have to choose eventually because these different perspectives and antithetical methods of achieving our goals are not compatible. Agreeing at the very least to empower the Golden Rule seems to be a good starting point for everybody… unless you are deluded, in which case your opinions should not be invited to the grown-up’s table.

October 29, 2010

Why are blasphemy laws so dangerous?

Filed under: abuse,blasphemy,civil rights,Criticism,Enlightenment,Human Rights — tildeb @ 10:11 am

The United Nations Human Rights Council and General Assembly regularly adopt resolutions condemning ‘defamation of religions’ as a violation of international human rights and Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) member states are attempting to create and adopt a new binding international law prohibiting ‘defamation of religions.’ However, there is growing recognition that such a concept has no place in international law as fewer states have voted for the resolutions each year.

Policing Belief: The Impact of Blasphemy on Human Rights examines how governments use these laws to legitimize crackdowns on minority groups, dissidents and other divergent views under the pretext of maintaining ‘social harmony.’ While Policing Belief uses cases studies of seven countries—Algeria, Egypt, Greece, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and Poland—the findings are indicative of the danger blasphemy laws pose more broadly, particularly in countries lacking strong democratic safeguards.

 

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?

March 23, 2010

Creeping religious accommodation: why should we enforce respect?

We shouldn’t.

Excerpts from John Hari’s article in The Independent:

In 2005, 12 men in a small secular European democracy decided to draw a quasi-mythical figure who has been dead for 1400 years. They were trying to make a point. They knew that in many Muslim cultures, it is considered offensive to draw Mohamed. But they have a culture too – a European culture that believes it is important to be allowed to mock and tease and ridicule religion. Some of the cartoons were witty. Some were stupid. One seemed to suggest Muslims are inherently violent – an obnoxious and false idea. If you disagree with the drawings, you should write a letter, or draw a better cartoon, this time mocking the cartoonists. But some people did not react this way. Instead, Islamist plots to hunt the artists down and slaughter them began. Earlier this year, a man with an axe smashed into one of their houses, and very nearly killed the cartoonist in front of his small grand-daughter.

This week, another plot to murder the cartoonists who drew caricatures of Mohammad seems to have been exposed, this time allegedly spanning Ireland and the United States, and many people who consider themselves humanitarians or liberals have rushed forward to offer condemnation – of the cartoonists. One otherwise liberal newspaper ran an article saying that since the cartoonists had engaged in an “aggressive act” and shown “prejudice… against religion per se”, so it stated menacingly that no doubt “someone else is out there waiting for an opportunity to strike again”.

Let’s state some principles that – if religion wasn’t involved – would be so obvious it would seem ludicrous to have to say them out loud. Drawing a cartoon is not an act of aggression. Trying to kill somebody with an axe is. There is no moral equivalence between peacefully expressing your disagreement with an idea – any idea – and trying to kill somebody for it. Yet we have to say this because we have allowed religious people to claim their ideas belong to a different, exalted category, and it is abusive or violent merely to verbally question them. Nobody says I should “respect” conservatism or communism and keep my opposition to them to myself – but that’s exactly what is routinely said about Islam or Christianity or Buddhism. What’s the difference?

This enforced “respect” is a creeping vine. It soon extends beyond religious ideas to religious institutions – even when they commit the worst crimes imaginable. It is now an indisputable fact that the Catholic Church systematically covered up the rape of children across the globe, and knowingly, consciously put paedophiles in charge of more kids. Joseph Ratzinger – who claims to be “infallible” – was at the heart of this policy for decades.

And the ever perceptive Jesus and Mo:

January 5, 2010

Why bother attacking religious beliefs?

One small part from a wonderful essay by Russell Blackford over at The Philos0pher’s Magazine:

For a start, a revived Christian philosophy is well entrenched within Anglo-American philosophy of religion. More importantly, perhaps, religious organisations and leaders continue to exert social power. All too often, they seek to control how we plan and run our lives, including choices about how we die. At various times, religious lobbies have opposed a vast range of beneficial, or at least essentially harmless, activities and innovations. Even now, one religion or another opposes abortion rights; most contraceptive technologies; stem-cell and therapeutic cloning research; physician-assisted suicide; and a wide range of sexual conduct involving consenting adults. We still see intense activism from the religious lobbies of all Western democracies, and even in relatively secular countries, such as the UK and Australia, governments pander blatantly to Christian moral concerns.

The situation is far worse in the US, where religious conservatives regrouped with dramatic success during the 1970s and 1980s, establishing well-financed networks, think tanks, and even their own so-called universities. Slick attempts are made to undermine public trust in science where it contradicts the literal Genesis narrative; a rampant dominionist movement wants to establish an American theocracy; the recent Bush administration took the country some considerable way down that path; and the election of a relatively liberal president has produced hysteria on the religious right (polling shows that many American conservatives now believe that Barack Obama is the Antichrist). American religiosity is real, and there is nothing subtle or liberal-minded about its most popular forms.

Meanwhile, we are confronted every day by the horrors of political Islam, with its ambitions to extend sharia law universally and its ugly violations of human rights wherever it actually has power. Many critics of religion were radicalised by the traumatic events of 9/11 when thousands of people were murdered by terrorists. Islam doubtless has moderate and even liberal manifestations, but prominent, politicised forms of Islam take a hard line against secularism, modernity, and all forms of liberal thought.

In a different world, we might be content to argue that the church (and the mosque, and all the other religious architecture that sprouts across the landscape) should be separate from the state, and that discussions about public policy should rely on secular principles such as the Millian harm principle. More radical attacks on religion’s truth-claims and moral authority would be less urgent if the various sects agreed, without equivocation, to a wall of separation between themselves and the state. Unfortunately, however, they often have good reasons (by their own lights) to oppose such strict secularism. Many religious sects, including many mainstream Christian denominations, do not distinguish sharply between guidance on individual salvation and the exercise of political power. They may be sceptical about the independence of secular goals from religious ones, or about the distinction between personal goals and those of the state. Some groups do not accept the reality of continuing social pluralism. Instead, they look to a time when their (allegedly) righteous views will prevail.

When religion claims authority in the political sphere, it is unsurprising – and totally justifiable – that atheists and sceptics question the source of this authority. If religious organisations or their leaders claim to speak on behalf of a god, it is fair to ask whether the god concerned really makes the claims that are communicated on its behalf. Does this god even exist? Where is the evidence? And even if this being does exist, why, exactly, should its wishes be translated into socially-accepted moral norms, let alone into laws enforced by the state’s coercive power? When these questions are asked publicly, even with a degree of aggression, that’s an entirely healthy thing.

Atheists and sceptics should, no doubt, defend secularism. But if we are realistic, we will understand that the idea of secularism has little traction in societies where the authority of religion is considered legitimate and taken for granted. For many religious groups, moreover, secularism is not an attractive ideal. Advocating secularism and directly challenging the authority of religion should not be viewed as two alternative strategies for atheists and sceptics who wish to resist the political influence of religion. Rather, these strategies are mutually supportive and ought to be pursued in tandem. That is the lesson that we need to learn.

January 2, 2010

Why can’t we be honest about religiously inspired violence?

Filed under: belief,blasphemy,Faith,God,Intolerance,Islam,Media,Religion — tildeb @ 3:08 pm

From the NYT article:

Attempt to Kill Cartoonist Fails

The police foiled an attempt to kill an artist who drew a cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad that sparked outrage in the Muslim world, the head of Denmark’s intelligence service said Saturday.

Jakob Scharf, who heads PET, the Danish intelligence service, said a 28-year-old Somalia man was armed with an ax and a knife when he tried to enter the home of the artist, Kurt Westergaard, in Aarhus on Friday evening.

The attack on Mr. Westergaard, whose rendering was among 12 that led to the burning of Danish diplomatic offices in predominantly Muslim countries in 2006, was “terror related,” Mr. Scharf said in a statement.

Terror related? Perhaps. But definitely religiously related. And not just any religion, either; the specific religion is Islam.

So why can’t we admit this link? Why must public officials bend over backwards to describe religiously inspired violence on behalf of showing piousness to Islam as something else and why do the press go along with this intentional deceit?

Mr. Westergaard, 75, who had his 5-year-old granddaughter on a sleepover, called the police and sought shelter in a specially made safe room in the house, the police said.

Does one build a safe room in one’s home against some ubiquitous ‘terror-related’ intrusion? No. One builds such a room to find sanctuary from religiously inspired nutbars of Islam who want to kill you for drawing a cartoon of their favourite prophet promoting violence.

The irony is almost palpable.

And why do agents of this religion want to kill the cartoonist? Because Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favorable, for fear it could lead to idolatry.

Idolatry is by far the worse crime in Islam than the targeted murder of an individual expressing an opinion. That kind of religiously tolerated morality is at best obscene, and acts based upon its religious assumptions are too often described as belonging to some other motivation. Let’s just be honest. Do we have the moral courage to be even that?

January 1, 2010

Is criminalizing blasphemy a good way to start the new year?

Micheal Martin, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, opposing attempts by Islamic States to make defamation of religion a crime at UN level, 2009 said:

We believe that the concept of defamation of religion is not consistent with the promotion and protection of human rights. It can be used to justify arbitrary limitations on, or the denial of, freedom of expression. Indeed, Ireland considers that freedom of expression is a key and inherent element in the manifestation of freedom of thought and conscience and as such is complementary to freedom of religion or belief.”

Just months after Minister Martin made this comment, his colleague Dermot Ahern introduced Ireland’s new blasphemy law, which defines blasphemy as publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion, with some defences permitted. (From blasphemy.ie here)

The OIC-sanctioned defamation of religion non-binding resolution at the UN quoted this Irish definition of blasphemy, and presented the then proposed Irish blasphemy law  as evidence that defamation of religion was not just an Islamic issue but one that should protect all religions.

Do religions really need legal protection from criticism? Consider what Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor said in 2009: ““Whether a person is atheist or any other, there is in fact in my view something not totally human if they leave out the transcendent… we call it God… I think that if you leave that out you are not fully human.”

Isn’t that a lovely thought? There are humans – those that believe in god – and then there are those other things not quite human, like atheists and agnostics (are you listening out there , all you agnostics?). Does this kind of statement made by the cardinal reveal a religious sentiment that honestly needs legal protection from blasphemous criticism? It seems to me that the current legal direction to protect religious beliefs from criticism, if anything, is exactly backwards. Perhaps we need a law that protects the rights of individuals from this kind of religiously inspired dogmatic terrorism against basic human rights, freedoms, and dignity. Wait a sec… oh, that’s right… we already do. From various secular national constitutions and charters of rights and freedoms to the UN declaration of Human Rights, we already have enunciated the legal precedence for the welfare of individual to be held in higher regard by the secular law than respect and legal protection for various competing ideas, be they religious, cultural, or political. Why, then, has this current crop of pious law makers circumvented this most fundamental national and international legal principle? Because they are too myopic and self-interested to see their actions as the travesty to individual human rights and dignity that they are. That, and many of these same pious people don’t actually care about the welfare of real individuals who disagree with them in comparison to showing piousness through some discriminatory religious belief set that supposedly honours their religious faith. (Hence the notion somewhat popular in the Islamic world these days that we find fueling so much mass murder: I can prove my love and respect for god by killing you. The good Cardinal’s understanding of what makes a person fully human is not that far behind acting as at least a partial excuse for these kind of religiously inspired crimes against individuals. )

The blasphemy law and the UN defamation resolution are intellectual obscenities. They are of a kind – legal bludgeons to be used for one purpose only: to protect acts inspired by religious beliefs from legitimate criticism that directly undermine the secular enlightenment value of freedom of expression.

Let’s hope that this year will allow more reasonable and sane people to replace the ones currently occupying the majority of the Irish parliament and UN General Assembly so that they may successfully repeal these examples of religious pornography. Let’s make a resolution to support those who criticize the intrusion of religious beliefs into the public domain, those who criticize the abuse of national and international law to wreak havoc on individual rights and freedoms. Let’s give them our support. The advancement of such religiously inspired and regressive measures must be challenged and stopped or all of us – for each one of us IS an individual – will lose more than our freedom of expression. The battle starts with each of us and each of us needs to take a side.

December 31, 2009

Year end thoughts: Why is agnosticism so dangerous?

It seems to me that there are two distinctions related but separate about religious belief that concerns those of us who take the default position of skeptical non belief: the first is looking but finding no good reasons to believe in god as a supposed entity involved in human life, and the second is looking and finding no good reasons to believe in specific religious claims that attempt to define this god or that god and describe its wishes for humanity (in their own ways). Too often I read criticisms that fail to make this distinction, as if by arguing specifically against a particular set of religious beliefs from its source authority (like criticizing the various interpretations of the Old Testament, for example) one can disprove the existence of  the god of, say, the Episcopalians. Granted, proving that god doesn’t exist would undermine any religious belief based on the existence of such a deity, but as every first year philosophy student learns (or should learn), setting out to prove a negative is not a good starting position to take; the burden of proof lies with the person advancing a claim, and religious belief sets are already full to the brim with unsubstantiated claims. Disproving the claims set out by different religious beliefs sets is an approach much like playing whack-a-mole: as soon as one religious belief set is revealed to be rationally incoherent, another interpretation of that set pops up to take its place and it’s a fool’s game that never ends. It is foolish, then, to take that mantle of responsibility off those who make a claim and shoulder the burden to prove the counter claim, that god doesn’t exist. Let’s leave that burden with the theists.

Arguments for the existence of god can be dealt with using the standard criticisms that so clearly reveal the inherent problems: First Cause challenged by infinite regress; an all-powerful always-present deity but one that conveniently has to hide from us; a loving creative critter that still designs carnivores and prey to ensure constant and sadistic suffering without any moral payback except to some unimaginable greater good; an omniscient spook that knows the future but pretends our free will to believe in the unbelievable is the determining factor that presents us with the juicy reward of eternal heaven for making the right choice and eternal hell for the wrong; Pascal’s wager that presents its case as why not believe and be ‘safe’ but fails to account for which of the thousands of previous gods that have been around since the dawn of time to be the right one; the ‘if one can imagine something like a god then such a god must be real’ argument; that god to be god must have certain characteristics we deem essential like being omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, loving, but deem specific characteristics like green hair and a unibrow to be too absurd to ponder; and so on.

Usually, when all is said and done and all the evidence for god lies in a discredited heap by means of our rational and reasonable skeptical shredder, the final retreat for the devout is to claim that faith requires only belief, that sum total of our reasoning is the wrong tool to investigate theological truth claims… as if there were any others we have.

Many who delve into the theological maelstrom grow weary and frustrated that the truth claims offered up as evidence or proofs of such a critter, for both god and the religious belief sets that are reliant on the existence of such a critter, are significantly lacking excellent reasons and solid, testable, repeatable, predictive, explanatory, and falsifiable evidence to back those reasons up. What’s a nice and tolerant person who wishes to offend no one – believer and non-believer alike – to do?  The answer at first blush seems to be to assume a middle position, one that seems safe enough from the harsh criticism from both ends of the belief spectrum, namely, agnosticism. The agnostic is usually a person who cannot accept the truth claims of any one particular religious belief set because of a lack of reasonable proofs and evidence nor accept the lack of evidence for god as definitive enough to settle for the default position of non-belief, which also happens to carry with it all kinds of negative endorsements like a lack of morality or the veneer of just another militant sect but with a different kind of faith. But is this position of agnosticism honest?

I think agnosticism is as much a significant problem for its lack of a conclusion and thus inaction in its name as any unjustified belief set that fuels action and behaviour in its name. Thought of another way, I criticize agnosticism because it is really nothing more than just a failure to draw a reasonable conclusion; it is, instead, an intellectual cop out, an avoidance technique, an enabling maneuver to allow the battle between unjustified beliefs and their adverse effects to continue to wreak unnecessary suffering and further entrench intolerance against human rights and human dignity in the name of piousness. More on that point later in the post.

In a slightly different approach about criticizing agnosticism, we simply do not claim agnosticism in any other arena of life even when we accept the possibility – even the likelihood – that our conclusions will change if we have better reasons to do so rather than maintaining a prior conclusion with poorer ones. Only in a theistic context do we retract our ability to come to reasonable and timely conclusions and, instead,  substitute this cognitive holding pattern, which to me is the equivalent of good people choosing to do nothing because they do not wish to make public the decision that a conclusion has been formed and accept the consequences to either support or reject unjustified beliefs; instead, agnostics choose not to come to a conclusion at all. This is a form of intellectual cowardice.

Why is the innocuous agnosticism a matter of criticism and concern? Isn’t it acceptable, even responsible, to take no position on a matter like theology that seems to have no definitive answers one way or the other? Isn’t it right and proper to honestly admit that because one does not know something with certainty, that one admits to take the non-judgmental position of I-don’t-know-and-you-don’t-either we call agnosticism?

Earlier this month I posted an article here about a recent non-binding UN resolution put forth by the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) aimed to combat defamation of their religion, to excuse and allow states to curtail freedom of expression under the banner of enforcing a ‘respect’ for religious beliefs without appearing to act counter to the rights and freedoms established for individuals expressed in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Most states in the Western world, we should remember, are secular liberal democracies where rule of law based on constitutional representative government and evolving secular jurisprudence has been well established (arguable in parts but true in general). The rights and freedoms of their citizens come first from a founding document like a constitution based on enlightenment values, which is then expressed by one set of laws for all to respect, enforced equally and impartially by the state, and thus maintained and protected by the state for the benefit of all. The ideal being sought under such a system is that it is in every citizen’s best self-interest to maintain the state and its shared laws in order to maintain one’s own constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms.

This is the very system now under attack by a form of insidiousness called stealth jihadism. This soft approach is meant to slowly dismember the foundations of our secular democracies and replace them with the pillars of Islam (read more about this here). What cannot be accomplished by force is being sought and to an extent achieved by staffing certain offices of the United Nations like the third session of the Human Rights Council with those in favour of the OIC’s agenda, which is to extend and expand the influence of Islam by means of obtaining domestic support for the generic idea of protecting all religions from defamation in these powerful countries. The purpose of such resolutions as the defamation of religion ruling is not to enhance human rights, dignity, and equality, but subvert them for the benefit of promoting Islam alone.

The “defamation of religions” resolution is premised on an expansive right of citizens not to be insulted in their religious feelings, and a right to respect for religious beliefs, that have no grounding in international human rights law. International human rights law guarantees freedom of religious exercise, not freedom from insult; it guarantees nondiscrimination for individual believers, not shelter from criticism for belief systems. Existing legal instruments, such as Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), already protect religious believers against expression that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence. To go further would mean protecting the contents of religious belief systems. (Excerpt from Center for Inquiry’s presentation at the UN here.)

And here we get to the crux of the matter: freedom of religion can only be accomplished if the state keeps its nose out of the private beliefs of its citizens so that all are equally free to believe what they will. As soon as the state begins to favour one religion over another, one belief set above another, then to an equal measure the freedom of religious in that state is reduced. The temptation is that if a sizable number of citizens already favour one religious set of beliefs, and the state through its elected governments also favours that set by suggesting that if elected they will legislatively act on behalf of that support, then there is a political payoff in popularity if the state abuses its constitutional power of guaranteeing, enforcing, and supporting freedom of religion and moves that favourtism into law.

The more a religious belief set is criticized, the greater is the pressure on legislators by the religious voters to use the state rather than proof and evidence to protect the favoured belief set from legitimate rational criticism. The cost, of course, is a direct loss of religious freedom unfelt and unappreciated by those whose belief set is being supported by the national state. Any other avenue of support, like the protection from religious defamation resolution that internationally keeps criticism away from targeting the belief sets of the religious, is just as welcomed by those too biased and narrow-minded to understand that their actions and support for the national state to help protect and promote their religious beliefs attack one of the founding principles of the secular constitution that already protects exactly that right to religious freedom. But nowhere in the founding documents is the state to be used as a tool to protect or defend belief from criticism; that, the belief set must do by merit rather than coercion.

For those who have no religious biases but, rather, a firm conclusion of non-belief, the defamation resolution can be seen for what it is: a transparent means to shut down the freedom of expression that expresses criticism of any kind against religious beliefs in general and Islam in particular. Because muslim sharia law is religious law, the defamation resolution can be used to thwart any criticism of its inclusion as a part of civil law clothed to be a reasonable accommodation for this religious group, an oft repeated but confused mantra that such an inclusion is a sign of a secular democracy’s tolerance and willingness to respect cultural differences. And once sharia law is enacted, the supremacy of constitutional law for all its citizens is effectively hobbled. Sharia law itself is an expression at the very least of gender inequality enshrined in law. Secular nations run the very real risk of becoming quasi-theocracies one tolerant step at a time, all supported by other religious supporters who will lose piece by piece the freedom of religion and the freedom of expression by their own pious hands in the name of cultural tolerance and religious respect.

Agnostics choose not to choose. But this battle against religious intolerance, this struggle to maintain our constitutional enlightenment values, this fight to protect our secular freedoms and rights based on defending our constitutions from enemies foreign and domestic, requires the taking of sides not between different religious beliefs but between the secular state and the encroachment of religious law, of coming to conclusion based on the evidence currently available rather than some false sense of certainty. The only thing that is certain is that our secular values of various freedoms and rights are being undermined one effective step at a time at the international level all in the name of defending and protecting religion – and all the actions done in its name – without criticism… under the penalty of committing blasphemy. And this proposal is obscene. Concluding nothing, about whether or not religious truth claims have truth value, is at its heart a tacit approval by well-intentioned and tolerant people to allow the unquestionable erosion of the principles on which their freedoms and rights are based. It’s time for good people to stop waffling, stop tolerating the advancement of religion into the public domain,  stop coddling harmful religious sensibilities, and step up to the ideals set forth in our secular constitutions by our forefathers. We owe them a debt for the freedoms we enjoy, and it’s time for payback.

It’s high time agnostics stop being such dangerous enablers and get down from the fence. Now is the time to make a reasonable conclusion and join the growing ranks of those who demand more for their allegiance than obedience to some set of archaic and biased rules to honour some imaginary sky father.

December 23, 2009

Why should we be against the UN resolution against the defamation of religion?

The United Nations General Assembly has handed yet another victory to Islamic states in their push to curtail freedom of expression out of “respect” for religious beliefs. On Friday (December 18, 2009) the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution combating the so-called “defamation of religions.”

The “defamation of religions” resolution is both unnecessary and misguided.  It subverts longstanding principles of human rights law by empowering governments and clerics who seek to silence or intimidate religious dissidents, religious minorities and nonbelievers.  Existing international law already protects individuals from discrimination and from expression constituting incitement to violence.  UN experts agree that the concept of “defamation of religions” is an improper legal instrument for addressing the problem of discrimination based on religion. Asma Jahangir, the United Nation’s outgoing special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, has cautioned that resolutions targeting “defamation of religions” can be used to legitimize anti-blasphemy laws that “punish members of religious minorities, dissenting believers and nontheists or atheists.”

Fortunately, the General Assembly resolution is non-binding against U.N. member states.  Yet defenders of religious liberty and freedom of expression should not dismiss the resolution as meaningless.  A movement is afoot at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva to incorporate the “defamation of religions” concept in binding international treaties. In addition, the General Assembly’s resolution gives cover and comfort to governments that stifle freedom of expression.  Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, for instance, carry mandatory sentences of death or life imprisonment, and are frequently used against members of the Ahmaddiya community, a peaceful minority Muslim sect. Ireland passed a law earlier this year imposing a €25,000 fine for “blasphemy” and empowering authorities to raid publishers suspected of harboring copies of “blasphemous statements.”  Earlier this year the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), the group backing the “defamation of religions” resolution before the General Assembly, incorporated the language of Ireland’s anti-blasphemy statute verbatim in a UN ad hoc committee resolution that would add the “defamation of religions” concept to binding international treaties.  The UN General Assembly’s non-binding resolution lends a patina of respectability to these and other anti-blasphemy measures.

From the CFI article here.

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