Questionable Motives

May 7, 2014

Are ‘honestly held beliefs’ reason enough to justify legal discrimination?

can of wormsWell, let’s look at the principle upon which all of us expect to be treated fairly and impartially before and by the law, namely, that

“All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” (Article 26, UN covenant on political and civil rights)

To support legal discrimination in a particular case means you must provide a reasonable justification to the benefit of all for that particular exemption against the general principle. This can be (and is) done when that justification can be shown to enhance the public good. For example, we can legally discriminate against all of us who have not achieved the age of majority or all of us who have been shown to be incapable of being responsible for our actions. Legal discrimination is permissible without breaking the principle of the covenant… but the justification must be the same FOR ALL.

Now let’s consider the idea of ‘honestly held beliefs’ to be the metric for varying what equality rights mean. The question can be formulated this way: does an ‘honestly held belief’ by another person constitute a reasonable justification to the benefit of all in your mind for the loss of your own equality before the law and the loss of its protection to guarantee them? Are you willing to have your legal rights be subject and hostage to the variability of another person’s honestly held beliefs?

There are a couple ways to come at answering this.

The straightforward answer here is either Yes or No. There is no middle ground. You are either willing to allow others (based on their ‘honestly held beliefs’) to determine the quality of your legal rights or you are not. The metric at work here is belief, and rests in the willingness to have your legal equality rights rights rest not with you, not empowered in and by the law, but in the belief-based opinion of others.  This breaks the principle that currently supports legal equality for all of us… not just against those whose legal rights and protection you wish to limit for whatever beliefs you may deem important enough but your own. Supporting the notion that ‘honestly held beliefs’ is sufficient to devalue equality rights to personal preference of beliefs means that you do not support the principle that upholds your own.

The extent of privilege our societies grant to religious belief and the institutions and speakers who represent them is truly astounding. For example, returning to the UN covenant on political and civil rights, we find the following:

“Discrimination is allowed if it is based on genuine religious beliefs or principles. This includes the actions of religious bodies or schools.”

Take a moment and think about that. What does it really mean?

Well, it means that the previous principle for all has been replaced in practice by the beliefs of some. It means all people are not equal before the law; our shared equality rights are in fact subject to the religious beliefs (and principles contained within them) of others, others who would deny them first for ‘honestly held beliefs… before any other grounds of justification are introduced! Where is the universal justification for this discrimination that demonstrates its fairness and impartiality to the good of all? It’s absent; what we have are lot of assumptions and attributions and arguments and conclusions unsupported by compelling evidence. This is faith-based belief in action… simply presumed to be justified because it is religious.  And that’s religious privilege in action and it undermines the very principle of YOUR legal rights, YOUR legal equality, YOUR legal protections. This religious privilege buolt on faith-based beliefs is incompatible with the very principle of equality law.

Another way to understand and appreciate the scope of craziness needed to sustain the argument of privileging ‘honestly held beliefs’ over and above and preceding equality rights for all is to apply the same reasoning, the same privilege, the same lack of independent justification to some other area of public interest. We have a host to choose from but let’s take a public water supply for our analogy and see how well the justification works.

The management of that public water supply is based on the principle of providing clean water for all… and we are all in agreement that this water should be safe for all to drink because all of us drink from it! But let’s say some people in the management team decide that certain privileged exemptions to that principle are justified by the ‘honestly held beliefs’ of those involved with providing this service, making the water supply safe for some but not for others. When people complain that their water supply is, in fact, contaminated – because some people honestly believe that the addition of industrial waste products containing toxins and carcinogenics to this part of the water supply but not that part at the request of certain industries to eliminate their waste is a net benefit to all, while reassuring the rest of us that we will continue to receive only a clean water supply – how is it a justification that doesn’t directly undermine the principle of clean water for all? Would the same exemption be allowed, for example, if the quality of everyone’s water supply – including the captains of these polluting industries and the management team themselves – were to be subject to the same vagaries of who received what quality of water when? Or would we as a municipality stand united and insist that the water supply be kept clean for all? Sure, the industrialists might complain that they have a real problem with their toxic wastes, but why should the quality of our water supply be their solution… any more than threatening our shared legal rights of equality be the solution to the demands of these religious for privilege to exercise their bias and discrimination in the name of the public good?

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March 12, 2013

A sign of the times?

Filed under: Enlightenment,Equality,Homosexuality,rights and freedoms — tildeb @ 3:18 pm

gay rightsMaclean’s magazine in its March 18 edition reports that the Pump Nightclub in St. John, New Brunswick – a long time gay and lesbian club – will close its doors for the last time at the end of March. The reason for the drop in patrons the owners say is because younger gays and their non gay peers feel comfortable enough in each other’s company to go to mainstream clubs together. Although this is bad news for the club, its disuse by the next generation bodes well for establishing equality rights in the hearts and minds of a growing number of Canadians.

October 11, 2012

Should we just dream of civil rights… for gender equality?

Filed under: civil rights,Equality,misogyny,sexism — tildeb @ 11:36 am

The video of Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard  tearing a new one for the Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott’s blatant sexism and hypocrisy has gone viral. In Pakistan, we have the shooting of a 14 year old girl who dared criticize the Taliban’s condemnation of education for people with vaginas. In atheist circles, we have the ongoing debate about SkepChick telling guys not to accost women in elevators late at night. We have Jessica Ahlquist threatened with rape and murder for advocating the removal of the Lord’s Prayer from her school. And the list of those daring to point out sexism grows daily in the face of anger and resentment, threats and hatred. Courage, as we can see, is a quality of character. We need more of it.

Martin Luther King gave a speech about civil rights where he eloquently explained to those of us who assumed race to be an important and defining aspect of our identity to dare to dream… dream that his four children would one day live in a nation where they would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. Powerful words…. words just as true for race as they are for gender.

What this means in action is that we are responsible for keeping racism alive when we empower it. That means we are the ones responsible for practicing racism when we allow ourselves to use it as a meaningful part of an individual’s identity rather than allow that identity to be based on the content of the individual’s character. Likewise, we are individually responsible for empowering sexism when we assume gender defines the content of an individual’s character. We become sexist when we do this. When a child advocates for education, and gets a bullet in the head for doing so, no other excuse than ignorant sexism of the shooter can account for delivering this blow to a girl rather than a boy. But the shooter doesn’t target boys and in comparison boys are not assassinated for seeking education. Girls are. Globally. And that kind of misogyny practiced by so many is just as obscene to King’s central point as is assuming leadership in matters theological is dependent on possessing a penis. Sexism – like racism – reduces both the character of the practitioner as well as the rights of the target to be treated fairly.

We know we have arrived in the promised land of civil rights when we don’t see skin colour as meaningful, when we don’t treat people differently based on knowing their sexual orientation, when we do not even consider gender to play a part in defining abilities and character. When we treat people fairly – as we ourselves wish to be treated by others – then we do our individual part to eliminate these artificial impediments others must face… at least in our personal dealings.  And what a world this would be if more of us would set out to do our small part in elevating the content of our own characters by having even a modicum of courage exhibited by so many women of removing these stupid and damaging -isms we impose on others and thus directly improve in some small way the lives of those with whom we interact.

Each of us can do this. And the time to start is now.

December 31, 2011

Why is the call for democracy the wrong call?

We hear it all the time, calls for democracy to somehow fix political problems, calls to support pro-democracy groups, to aid pro-democracy movements, to accept democratic decisions, as if democracy alone is the essential foundation for legitimate policies.

I beg to differ, summed up by the typically accurate phrase: Meet the new boss… same as the old one.

This is what we see happening again and again: some democratic change followed by a continuation of the same problems that led to calls for democracy in the first place:

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta conveyed his “deep concern” to Egypt’s military ruler over police raids on pro-democracy groups, the Pentagon said, after a major clampdown this week drew a torrent of criticism. Some of the organisations targeted in Thursday’s swoops on 17 offices of local and international NGOs charged that the security force action ordered by Egypt’s military rulers was worse than that under the veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak whom they replaced in February. (source)

And in Russia,

Medvedev said in his state of the nation address that Russia “needs democracy, not chaos” and that the government would strongly resist foreign pressure. (source)

In Pakistan, president  Asif Ali Zardari,

told tens of thousands of people gathered at the Bhutto family shrine at Garhi Khuda Baksh in the southern Sindh province that the best way to pay tribute to his late wife, killed while campaigning in elections in 2007, was “to defend and protect democracy and democratic institutions in the country and foil all conspiracies against it. (source)

The call is ubiquitous when it comes to trying to end conflicts and to fix political problems, from Serbia to China-Taiwan relations, to Syria’s ongoing revolt, as if holding presidential elections in Haiti, Afghanistan, and Iraq will help magically establish functioning and stable democratic countries. This is a pipe dream, doomed to failure.

Democracy is not the cure and neither is the lack of it the problem. Democracy – full, participatory, one person one vote democracy – is but a symptom of a healthy political structure built upon something else, something necessary, something that works, something that is practical and consistent, something enlightened, namely, the principle of reciprocity writ large: equal human rights recognized as the basis of law.

Without this cornerstone, democracy is nothing but mob rule susceptible to control by a strongman, ineffective and inefficient to create and sustain political and economic peace and prosperity. But with this cornerstone, democracy is the inevitable result, the final if temporary arbiter in political differences and directions for a set amount of time.

Without equal human rights recognized as the basis for authority of law, democracy and the rule that comes from it becomes nothing more than a tool to justify the tyranny of the majority, allowing abuses to be inflicted on minorities without care, redress,  or recourse. And this is exactly what we see happening where democracy is inserted on a population undeveloped in law respecting equal human rights. This is what we see in Tunisia and Libya as the leadership begins to  undermine equal human rights  with the imposition on all of Sharia. This is why the Arab Spring – to bring freedom and democracy to all – will fail to take root, fail to flourish, fail to address the real problems of inequality: their largely illiterate populations will democratically try to remain tyrannically democratic until a leader comes along who can reduce the accompanying violence from oppressed minorities and impose order, pockets of peace, and some small measure of prosperity for the favoured.

As long as the basis OF law is represented by something other than the willingness of those who are ruled to be treated fairly, honestly, and reciprocally IN law, democracy alone is an inadequate substitute FOR law.  Calling for it under this inadequacy is not a political solution or even an improvement but the wrong call altogether. It is a temporary diversion at best, a way to galvanize people to come together under a popular banner until old power is replaced. It is a false clarion, an empty promise, a tyrant in waiting. Pretending that democracy not built on the legal foundation of equal human rights is somehow a solution is like believing  a weather vane directs the wind; it is just another backwards belief.

November 1, 2011

Of what value is atheism?

If you happen to respect what’s true in reality and how we can know anything about it, then the value of atheism is pronounced.

How so? Well, reader Joshua has asked me the following questions:

Where’s your positive case for atheism? Why is it a superior worldview? What explanatory power does it have for anything? What has atheism contributed to the advancement of the human species? Those are questions I want you to address. Not here, but on your blog.

Okay. Let’s take a look at these one at a time.

1) Where’s your positive case for atheism?

My answer to this is two-fold.

In the first case, atheism in regards to religious claims means non belief. The question is the wrong one in this regard to establish good reasons for not believing. This becomes apparent if we test the same question against, let’s say, non belief in the Easter Bunny. Where’s your positive case for non belief in the Easter Bunny? It’s a silly approach to understanding the role atheism plays in finding out what’s true in reality. Non belief is a negative claim, meaning that because there is no positive evidence for the positive religious claim that it is true, non belief is reasonable alternative. We do this all the time in the face of every absurd claim that has no reasonable case in its favour. Because there are no good reasons to believe in the religious claim based on evidence available to all, there is no reasonable case to be made in its favour. The default, therefore, is non belief in exactly the same way the questioner does not demand of himself a positive case to be made for not believing in faeries, not believing in wood sprites, not believing in Zeus, and so on.

In the second case, my answer is that non belief in the absence of good reasons to believe something is true provides us a tangible benefit, namely, a healthy dose of scepticism to protect one’s self from being foolish and gullible. The shell game, played by religious supporters who cannot provide coherently good reasons independent of their favoured beliefs to make a positive case for their positive religious claim, becomes in this light rather obvious: they believe the religious claim because they have had to elevate belief itself to be a good enough reason in the absence of good reasons based on independent supporting evidence. And here’s the problem: once you accept belief itself as the benchmark for establishing the validity of a truth claim about reality, you have fallen into a rabbit hole of foolish gullibility. There are no longer any belief claims that can be ruled out as false because one has already capitulated any means to establish and inform what’s actually true in order to maintain the validity of holding the religious belief.

2) Why is it a superior worldview?

Atheism itself is not a worldview. It is non belief in religious truth claims. How is one’s worldview altered, for example, by not believing in the literal truth of the Tooth Fairy? The absence of the Tooth Fairy doesn’t alter anything; again, it’s the wrong question. Believing in the Tooth Fairy, however, most assuredly does alter one’s worldview. Accepting the belief itself as valid means one has accepted the reality of the supernatural, and has accepted this double blueprint of a singular reality. That’s why religious believers have to compartmentalize religious beliefs in reality over here and reality as it is over there. We get evidence of this intellectual duplicity all the time with phrase like, “I’m a great fan of science, but…”, and “Religious belief is compatible with science because science doesn’t know everything…” This belief in belief stands in stark contrast to the lack of positive evidence for this positive claim. But the believer has already isolated the religious belief from legitimate critical review not vbecause it isn’t deserving but because what’s true in reality doesn’t matter; the only thing that matters in faith-based beliefs is the application of faith itself, which is why only in religion is faith considered a virtue. This worldview is a distorted worldview because it accepts belief without evidence as the arbiter of what’s true in reality.

Compare the products of belief in the supernatural with the products of methodological naturalism. Belief in the supernatural produces easy pseudo-answers to whatever questions about reality one has; when in doubt, pretend that the supernatural is just as likely a cause and look at what is produced: superstition and ignorance and all the negative effects these produce. Why is the sky blue? Because god made it that way. Where do we come from? We come from god because he created the heavens and the earth and everything in it. These aren’t answers; these are childish pseudo-answers that cannot withstand critical scrutiny. This is why no useful and practical applications have ever been produced by elevating belief to be ‘another way of knowing’. It doesn’t produce knowledge. That’s the brute fact believers don’t care to face. It doesn’t produce consistent explanations of cause and effect that are in any way useful, practical, or reliable because it cannot reveal an understandable mechanism by how it works to cause effects. It’s magic, you see, done by critters that leave no evidence of their time spent among us. It’s intellectual hand waving, a rationalized sleight-of-mind that produces nebulous terminology to infuse the beliefs with the appearance of meaning. But let’s be honest: behind such an appearance we find that belief produces no new knowledge. As ‘another way of knowing’ about anything other than the imagined, belief is an abject failure. Atheism, if understood to be a worldview that simply respects what’s true by allowing reality and not belief to arbitrate our claims to knowledge, is superior because it does produce the intellectual ground for knowledge to be honestly extracted from the universe we inhabit…knowledge that translates into reliable and consistent applications that work for everyone everywhere all the time. That’s not a trivial achievement.

3) What explanatory power does it have for anything?

Atheism as non belief doesn’t try to explain anything because it makes no positive claim. But the mindset to respect reality’s role in arbitrating what’s true about it has the benefit of clearing the table of our preconceived notions and biases and prejudices and allows us to respect a method of inquiry  that we know produces consistently reliable and practical results for everyone everywhere all the time that works… regardless of our beliefs. When one starts with an open mind that doesn’t have to filter incoming information through a belief screen first and judged to be friendly or hostile to the belief, one can allow an epistemology to prove itself, to yield to its own judgement of real value in this universe. This has the immediate benefit of keeping one’s mind sceptical about all claims until the preponderance of evidence from reality lends its weight. Claims about stuff outside of reality with no way to test them have no business being presented as if true in this one without this preponderance of evidence. Those dishonest enough to pretend this drawback to the veracity of  supernatural claims isn’t really much of problem to being compatible with the scientific method are absolutely wrong. Truth claims of supernatural causal effect are a priori statements of belief only, equivalent to making shit up. To consider these supernatural belief claims are in any way compatible with claims derived post facto  from our scientific method are without merit… regardless of how sophisticated and nuanced the belief claim may sound to the uncritical mind, the willingly deceived, the defenders of the faith, the pretenders of respecting what’s true in reality. These religious claims remain solely a belief only… equivalent to and indistinguishable from a delusion.

4) What has atheism contributed to the advancement of the human species?

Non belief – and not respecting the beliefs of others as equivalent to knowledge – has freed our minds to pursue what’s true in reality. The advancements in our collective knowledge over the past two hundred years are directly attributed to developing applications that have greatly enhanced every aspect of human life in every appreciable way. From healthcare to technology this increase in knowledge has yielded tangible and practical benefits. In addition, the reasoned-based approach to political expression and governance derived from Enlightenment values has come unprecedented advances in recognizing human rights as the foundation for our freedoms from the indifference and mindless cruelty of a brutal world. Although we still have much to achieve in respecting equal rights and freedoms of all the world’s citizens, we are on the right path. The evidence for this is overwhelming.

But like anyone trying to reach the age of maturity, we have to face the difficult task of letting go of our childish need for parents as well as letting go of our adult children from our desire to over-nurture so that they can find their own way. Faith-based religious beliefs stand opposed to this letting go, insisting that we need to rely on some authority other than our own because we just can’t be trusted. One of the most common comments from theists who have become atheists is facing this fear of independence and finding liberty as well as responsibility. Autonomy and responsibility go hand in hand and it can yield many results both good and bad. But at least both outcomes are personally owned rather than attributed to some oogity boogity. It is a recognition that the world’s problems are our problems to be solved by us who must live with the consequences of our collective actions. Maturity in this context is recognizing the need for each of us to find that balance between human needs and wants and what the world is willing to tolerate. Atheism means the opportunity for intellectual maturity and intellectual honesty, to grow up and leave the belief-feathered bed of wishful thinking and childish dreams behind, to realize the truth in reality that irresponsible actions will not taken care of by some concerned sky daddy, to become fully human in the here and now with all its personal foibles and take ownership of how we live our lives as well as we can under whatever circumstances in we may find ourselves, all the while working towards helping others achieve their own birthright of intellectual independence from the ancient ignorances and false idols of that are the foundation for all faith-based beliefs.

It’s time to let go of faith-based beliefs and grow up. Reality beckons and we have one shot at it. Let’s grab it, respect what it offers, and live a life worth living.

April 19, 2011

Why are the Abrahamic religions blots on the dignity of humankind?

Because they they are misogynistic. Paula Kirby from the Washington Post explains why, from which I have extracted  the following but I know you’ll head on over to read the whole piece for yourself:

“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”

Here, in Ephesians 5, attributed to St Paul, we have in a nutshell the church’s attitude to the respective positions of man and woman. The man’s role is to be the head, the woman’s to submit to him. The meaning is crystal clear, unmistakable; and yet, despite the fundamentalists who firmly believe such Iron Age prejudices still apply today, there are many liberal Christians who have the decency to cringe at the primitiveness of such instructions and who therefore bend over backwards to pretend they’re not as bad as they quite patently are. “Ah yes,” they say, “but Paul goes on to say that husbands must love their wives. And not just love them, but love them as they love themselves. So clearly this is a reciprocal arrangement, equal in value, imposing constraints of equal weight on both man and wife. All is well with the world and we can continue to pretend that Christianity is the friend of women.” But no. All is not well with the world, and only the deluded or the disingenuous could claim to see equality where there is only subservience.

It is interesting to note the context in which this infamous passage occurs: immediately following the commandment to women to submit to their husbands we find the commandment to children to obey their parents, and to slaves to obey their owners. No amount of instruction to the husbands, parents and owners in question not to ruthlessly exploit their positions of power can alter the fact that women are classed with children and slaves when it comes to their social standing, freedom and self-determination and, like them, are called on to embrace their inferior status with cheerfulness and enthusiasm. In this same sequence of instructions slave-owners are exhorted not to threaten their slaves. Does this make slavery acceptable? Of course not. Only religion could attempt to present such a loathsome idea as though it were not a blot on the dignity of humankind, and the requirement for women always to submit to their menfolk is no less repugnant.

So isn’t this always the case even without these religious influences?

Show me a non-religious society that feels so threatened by the thought of female sexuality that it will slice off the clitoris of a young girl to ensure she can never experience sexual pleasure. Show me a non-religious society that feels the need to cloak women from head to toe and force them to experience the outside world through a slit of a few square inches. All three Abrahamic religions share the myth of Adam and Eve, the myth that it was through woman that evil was let loose in the world. They share the heritage of Leviticus, which declared a menstruating woman unclean, to be set aside, untouched, a revulsion that remains even today among some orthodox Jews, who will refuse to shake a woman’s hand for fear she may be menstruating. What kind of lunacy is this? It is the lunacy of a Bronze Age mindset fossilized by the reactionary forces of religion.

But of course the lunacies derived from religious beliefs neither begins nor ends here; it’s a fount for lunacy that keeps on giving.

Religion is one lie after another: the lie of original sin, the lie of eternal life, the lie of hell, the lie of answered prayer, the lie that life can have no meaning without religion, the lie that religion is the source of morality, the lie of creationism, the lie of a spy-in-the-sky who hears your every word and reads your every thought. And to this list we must add the lie that it views men and women as equal. It has got away for so long with the kind of lunatic word-games that allow death-by-torture to be presented as an act of love, and eternal torment in the flames of hell to be seen as a necessary act of justice, that we should perhaps not be surprised that it has also managed to dupe its followers into seeing the systematic suppression and silencing of women as an act of liberation and equality. Nevertheless, it is a lie, like all the others: a cynical and wicked lie. It is time women everywhere woke up to it.

That would be a good start.

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.

March 4, 2010

How do religious leaders inspire bigotry?

Two ways in particular: promoting fear and loathing to be directed at a select group of individuals based on some unalterable trait, and by not taking a stand against fear and loathing directed at that select group of individuals. In Uganda, religious leaders aided and abetted by American evangelicals and the Vatican, we have both (See my previous posts about this exercise of religious bigotry here, here, and here).

From the BBC, Religion, Politics, and Africa’s Homophobia, comes this latest religious embarrassment:

Since a Ugandan MP proposed the death penalty for some gay people, homophobia has been on the rise in other parts of Africa. Earlier this month, US President Barack Obama’s criticism of the Ugandan proposals led to huge anti-gay rallies in neighbouring Kenya.

Monica Mbaru, from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, describes these crackdowns as a ripple effect from the Uganda situation. She says many African leaders and communities remain hostile to gay people because of pressure from religious leaders.

Our politicians have great respect for religious leaders and are careful not to disagree with them, especially not on homosexuality,” she says.

The Malawian authorities say gay activists should be more open – but say if they do come out into the open they will be arrested because homosexuality is illegal.

There are small pockets of resistance within the religious community – but theirs is a hard fight.

Reverend Michael Kimundu served the Anglican Church in Mtwapa, Kenya, for 30 years. But recently the Church expelled him because leaders found out that he headed a religious organisation called The Other Sheep, which preaches tolerance towards gay people.

“I am a preacher I should be spreading love, not hate – that is why I don’t believe in treating the homosexual community with disdain,” he says. “My Church didn’t want to be associated with such beliefs. Because of my stance I have had many people accuse me and many of the pastors I work with of being gay because we refuse to let this injustice continue.”

So although a few brave people who happen to be religious are willing to stand up to the religious leaders who support the bullying tactics of bigotry, the battle is far from over.

February 13, 2010

What do we owe to secularism?

In my discussions with many who hold some allegiance to religious beliefs, I am often presented with statements that assure me that human rights, freedoms, and respect of personhood derive from religious holy texts. That’s a rather optimistic interpretation usually assumed to be true by those who wish to present their religion as a force for good in the world. But a significant problem arises when the same texts are used by many men in religious authority as a bullying tool to justify the intent to reduce human rights, freedoms, and the dignity of personhood. The standard reply to my criticism is to assure me that only ‘extremists’ and those who misinterpret god’s will abuse the holy text in such a way and so should not count against the more favorable interpretations and assumptions.

Then along comes another example of religious belief being used to justify some reduction in human rights, freedoms, and dignity of personhood not by some fringe extremist but some central authority like the the pope or the archbishiop of Canterbury or some typical local clergy and I am left wondering how so many religious people can tolerate the constant undermining of hard won secular enlightenment values by people who think believing in some favored invisible sky father adds authority to their opinions about how treat others.

This latest (bold face in mine) come to us from an English vicar concerned about the divorce rate. His solution? Wives, obey your husbands and close your mouth. Such is the quality of so much ‘moral teaching’ from holy texts:

In a leaflet issued to parishoners, the Rev Angus MacLeay used passages in the Bible to justify women playing a submissive role in local church life. He urged women to “submit to their husbands in everything”.

Mr MacLeay, a member of the General Synod (that just voted 241-2 that the conflictual truth claims made by science and religion are compatible because, well, just because they say they are), is opposed to the appointment of women bishops. He has campaigned vociferously for Reform, an Evangelical group that seeks to reform the Church of England “according to the Holy Scriptures”.

The leaflet he issued It says at one point: “Wives are to submit to their husbands in everything in recognition of the fact that husbands are head of the family as Christ is head of the church.

“This is the way God has ordered their relationships with each other and Christian marriage cannot function well without it.”

In a section called `More difficult passages to consider’, it continues:

“It would seem that women should remain silent….if their questions could legitimately be answered by their husbands at home.”

In a sermon days later, his curate, the Rev Mark Oden, a married father-of-three, built on the argument, sparking further controversy.

He told his congregation at St Nicholas Church, Sevenoaks, Kent, that the behaviour of modern women was to blame for Britain’s high divorce rate.

He said: “We know marriage is not working. We only need to look at figures – one in four children have divorced parents.

“Wives, submit to your own husbands.”

Thankfully, at least a few of the parishioners have the sense to withdraw their active support from this religious organization that champions with religiously sanctioned authority such twits as this. If the parishioners don’t like it, they can leave. And that’s usually where the critical thinking about the truth claims uttered on behalf of religious denominations  stops. It shouldn’t.

Why can people walk away from religious edicts without public penalty or censure?

Does that right, freedom, and dignity to walk away from ignorant and bigoted faithist social positions come to us from the religious teachings?

Hardly. If we have the courage to deny the edicts of the holy texts to respect their clergy’s teachings, we are assured within those texts of all the awful consequences that awaits us – if not in this life by our faithful neighbours then in the next by a veritable host of supernatural malignant creatures out to punish us for our temerity.

Why we have the right, the freedom, the dignity of our personhood to choose to walk away from such religious drivel is not a small or trivial matter to consider. We can do so because our secular laws protect individual rights, freedoms, and dignity of personhood and can call upon the power of the State to enforce these laws. Part and parcel of these laws is the right of individuals to believe what they wish, known as freedom of religion, so the ally of the individual that empowers our choices with respect whether religious or not is secularism.

And that is a point more people need to spend some time pondering: it is secularism that grants us the rights, freedoms, and dignity of personhood that empowers each of us to be able to make meaningful choices and lends us its authority to force others to respect our legal ability to do so. It is secularism that deserves our primary allegiance as citizens, whether religious or not.

February 1, 2010

How can the United States become a loser in a competitive world?

It’s easy: just follow and implement the Texas State Republican Platform!

With its clearly laid out plan that says one thing that seems a step in the right direction only to advocate guidelines that will achieve its opposite, this is a timely and important document to turn a great state into a laughing stock, a proud state into a righteously pious theocracy, an able state to alter intelligent and capable children into idiots.

Well done,  Texas!

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