Questionable Motives

January 15, 2010

Is there a bias against atheists?

A majority of Americans consider belief in God essential to morality, the Pew Forum confirmed in 2007; and Pew recently found that most Americans do not want their family members marrying atheists.  (Note to Brit Hume: I doubt that most Americans would exhibit comparable hostility toward Christians.) The new Pew Research Center report on increased optimism among African Americans notes that while “interracial marriage is now widely accepted by Americans of all racial groups … there is one new spouse that most Americans would have trouble accepting into their families: someone who does not believe in God.”  Resistance among people affiliated with a religion to intermarriage with atheists may be stronger than their resistance to gay marriage: seven in ten religious people surveyed by Pew would oppose or resist intermarriage with an atheist.  And while comparably high percentages of the most regular churchgoers oppose gay marriage, opposition declines significantly among the less devout.

So I’m not ignoring the beginnings of what some consider an atheist liberation movement (although American atheists are not exactly oppressed).  And I’m not complaining:  I don’t care if religious people consider me amoral because I lack their beliefs in God.  I do, however, care deeply about efforts to turn religious beliefs into law, and those efforts benefit greatly from the conviction that individually and collectively, we cannot be good without God.

Persistent hostility toward atheism may not be a source of educational or employment discrimination for individual atheists (although it does engender significant discrimination in the military), but hostility toward atheism is a threat to freedoms of conscience and religion that all of us share.  It’s an often overlooked irony that atheists who regard all religions with equal disrespect, favoring no one faith over another, are sometimes the most reliable defenders of equal religious rights.  But you shouldn’t have to be irreligious to consider religious liberty transcendent.

From Wendy Kaminer’s article No Atheist Need Apply at The Atlantic

January 10, 2010

What should freedom of religion sound like?

Filed under: belief,civil rights,Fatwa,Islam,Media,Society — tildeb @ 12:49 am

A group of Canadian and U.S. Islamic leaders on Friday issued a fatwa, or religious edict, declaring that an attack by extremists on the two countries would constitute an attack on the 10 million Muslims living in North America.

The 20 imams associated with the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada said this marked the first fatwa by the Muslim clergy declaring attacks on Canada and the U.S. to be attacks on Muslims.

“In our view, these attacks are evil, and Islam requires Muslims to stand up against this evil,” the imams said in their fatwa.

Calgary Imam Syed Soharwardy, founder of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, said attacks on Canadian or U.S. soil are essentially attacks on Muslims.

We are part of this society,” he said. “This is my home, and if anybody attacks on Canada, in fact, attacks on my home.”

The imams said it is a duty of every Muslim in Canada and the U.S. to safeguard the two countries.

“They must expose any person, Muslim or non-Muslim, who would cause harm to fellow Canadians or Americans,” they said.

“It is religious obligation upon Muslims, based upon the Qur’anic teachings, that we have to be loyal to the country where we live,” said Soharwardy. “We have no problems in Canada; we can practise our religion freely.”

From CBC News here.

January 9, 2010

How scary is it when Jesus makes the news?

Filed under: Christianity,Entertainment,Jesus,Media — tildeb @ 9:50 pm

Mark Morford is one of my favourite columnists because his writing is so refreshing no matter what the topic. In this piece, he comments about some of the topics we’ve covered on Questionable Motives, and does so as only Mark can do. Check this piece out at the San Fransisco Chronicle’s SFGate, called When  Scary Jesus Makes the News.


January 8, 2010

What’s in a name?

There were angry protests at mosques in Malaysia after four arson attacks on Christian churches, apparently provoked by a controversy over the use by Christians of the word Allah.

Police were increasing their patrols of areas around churches and Christian communities were hiring security guards, after petrol bombs were thrown at four churches in and around the capital Kuala Lumpur, partially destroying one of them. Hours later, Muslim preachers used Friday prayers to object to a court decision that would allow use of “Allah” as the Malaysian language term for the Christian God.

“We will not allow the word Allah to be inscribed in your churches,” said one speaker at the Kampung Bahru mosque in central Kuala Lumpur. Protesters carried posters reading “Heresy arises from words wrongly used” and “Allah is only for us”.

The word has been used for centuries in Malaysia, as well as by Christians in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Indonesia as the equivalent of the English word God. But many Malaysian Muslims, who make up 60 per cent of the population, say that Allah should be reserved to refer exclusively to the Muslim deity and that use of it in a Biblical context encourages conversion to Christianity, a crime under the country’s Islamic laws.

“We will not allow the word Allah to be inscribed in your churches,” said one speaker at the Kampung Bahru mosque in central Kuala Lumpur. Protesters carried posters reading “Heresy arises from words wrongly used” and “Allah is only for us”.

The Herald, a Catholic newspaper published in Malaysian, won an appeal nine days ago against a ruling that banned use of the word by non-Muslims. The judgment has been suspended in anticipation of an appeal by the Government, but it has already stirred up Muslim anger in a country with a particular dread of ethnic and racial confrontation. Read the rest of report from The Times Online here.

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This must not be the god that is god behind the god that Karen Armstrong refers to but maybe the one more in front… you know, the one most religious believers believe in.

January 3, 2010

Top Ten Scientific Breakthroughs in 2009

Filed under: Media,Photography,Science — tildeb @ 2:27 pm

Check out Wired’s top ten list, dubbed food for your neurons, here.

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?

Did you know… Augsburg, FRG, has an official hunter?

Filed under: Entertainment,Media — tildeb @ 2:27 pm


Check out some more animal stories from two thousand and swine (groan) at Spiegel Online.

December 29, 2009

Is this good news?

Filed under: belief,Critical Reasoning,Media,Religion,Skepticim,Society — tildeb @ 3:04 pm

A Gallup poll of Americans’ attitudes towards religion released on Christmas Eve found significant recent increases in those responding either that they have no religious preference, that religion is not very important in their lives, or that they believe religion “is largely old-fashioned or out of date.”

Only 78% of Americans now identify as Christian, while 22% describe their religious preference as either “other” or “none.”

Most of these changes have occurred since 2000 and represent the first significant shift since a sharp decline in religious adherence during the 1970s. Over the last nine years, the number with no religious preference has grown from a level of around 8% to 13%. The number for whom religion is not very important has climbed from just over 10% to 19%. And the number who believe religion is out of date and has no answers for today’s problems has jumped from slightly more than 20% to 29%.

These changes do not appear to have affected the majority of Americans who still consider religion “very important” in their own lives. That figure remains at 56% — roughly the same as for the last 35 years — while 57% still say religion has answers to most of the world’s problems.

The biggest difference is that in the late 1990s, up to 68% of Americans thought religion had answers to the world’s problems — even though only about 60% said religion was personally very important to them. It seems as though over the last ten years a significant number may have gone from believing that religion is a positive factor in the world, even if they’re not particularly religious themselves, to seeing religion in a far more skeptical or even negative light.

So is this good news? Yes it is. That 78% are still living in the dark ages is sobering, but the trend at least is in the right direction.

Re-posted from The Raw Story.

December 25, 2009

Why continue to post about unjustified beliefs and criticize them?

I have often been asked why I bother to post every day, why I take the time and effort to expose unjustified beliefs as stories and articles about them hit the media. Why cannot I leave them and their unjustified beliefs well enough alone?

The short answer is that I can’t because it is wrong to do nothing. Because I can do something, I feel that I must do my small part at the very least… hence my posting. Ignorance must be challenged and brought into the light of critical thinking to expose it for what is usually is: an expression of cancerous fear that is not worthy to be held respectable but owed our justified and published contempt.

The longer version of the answer I will borrow from a poster with whom I have the greatest respect: Calilasseia, who writes here

To those like myself who have followed a scientific academic career, such are the things of beauty that fill our intellectual realms; such are the fragrant blossoms of our requisite enchanted gardens. They speak of the way the world works, they allow us not only to marvel at that world, but to work within it and build upon it. From the world of biology, the butterfly that forms my avatar, Morpho rhetenor from Peru, is another scintillating marvel about which I can wax lyrical – did you know that its wing scales, when viewed under the electron microscope, possess structural features allowing them to act as light amplifiers for specific regions of the visible spectrum via constructive interference? Breathtaking as the butterfly is in life, and one day I hope to see it for myself in its natural habitat and experience the wonder of its flashes of blue iridescence as it flies upon those jewelled wings, the thought that its scintillating beauty has an explanation that can be deduced by the mind of Man should also be something we pause for a moment to gasp at.

But there are those whose eyes and whose minds are closed to such things. Not for them the joys of inquiry, of discovery, of learning: rather, they seek their sustenance not in the bright sunshine of free thought, but in the perennial darkness of doctrine. Worse still, these persons are not content with inhabiting those catacombs themselves – they seek to cage others within the darkness, shut them out from the light, deny them forever the fragrant blossoms of the enchanted gardens I have just described. To do so, they will resort to subterfuge and intrigue, eating away at the wonderful edifice of learning that, if they paused for a moment to consider, gives them too gifts in their lives for which they appear to show not one atom of gratitude.

They must be stopped.

It is indeed an imperative that they are, for if that magnificent, hard-won product of the Enlightenment is lost to us, the consequences will be disastrous. From an era in which we can sit at home, and at the touch of a button be connected with manned spaceflight in real time, or with thousands upon thousands of other people on different continents in media such as this forum, living lives free from the perils of famine and pestilence, we shall descend into a new Dark Age, in which those vanquished spectres will emerge wraith-like to claim more, and those who are left will be subject to arbitrary, Inquisitional terror.

If some, like myself, are inclined to be polemical about this, it because we know precisely what is at stake if the purveyors of ignorance and bigotry win – we know how much of a calamity it will be for our very species. We know intimately how precious those gifts of the Enlightenment are, and what will befall us if they are wrested from our hands. We know also that to perpetuate those gifts is something we cannot leave to chance, it must be worked for, the price that the rational man must pay for the wonders of free thought is eternal vigilance in the face of those forces that would destroy it. That is why I, for one, am not only prepared to launch polemically into the fray, but consider it my moral duty so to do, because the consequences of indolence, were they to result in the victory of the forces of ignorance and bigotry, would be worse than calamitous, they would be truly apocalyptic. And make no mistake, those who would replace the glories of free thought with the concentration camp of mysticism seek not only to destroy those glories, but from their own words have given a chilling insight into the pleasure they would derive from that destruction, and the pleasure they would derive from having people like us at their mercy.

What we have is far more beautiful, inspiring, and worthy of defending than any doctrine. Let the hordes come – my sword is at the ready.

December 21, 2009

What are the tell-tale signs of someone promoting a conspiracy theory?

Many of us, of course, are not believers but simply find ourselves confronted at a dinner party by the man who just knows the “real story,” and has arrived armed with his killer facts and certainty. You on the other hand, have nothing but your instinct for nonsense. So, for everyone who has been, or will be, in that woeful position, I offer this short guide to how conspiracy theories work, the better to rebut them. (From the article here, I summarize the following)

These are the characteristics that help conspiracy theorists convince otherwise intelligent people of deeply unintelligent things.

1) Appeal to precedence… it’s happened before so it can happen again!

2) Self-heroization… part of a brave insurgency against a corrupt elite or a stifling orthodoxy

3) Contempt for the foolish masses… unlike the majority who are ‘robots’ and ‘sheep’, the conspiracy buff is individually in possession of an unusual and perceptive way of looking at things.

4) A willingness to ask questions… in which the theorist is “only asking questions” about the official version of the truth.

5) Respecting the experts… notably inflating the status and expertise of anyone who agrees with the conspiratorialists.

6) Death by footnote… the use of apparently scholarly ways of laying out arguments while cross-citing other conspiracy advocates.

7) techno-jargon… liberal use of strange words that give the appearance of recent contact of spies, generals or scientists in the know.

8) circularity in logic… embarrassing and obvious problems in the theory may be ascribed to deliberate disinformation originating with the imagined plotters designed to throw activists off the scent.

9) the hydra factor… if one tackles one particular claim, it simply doesn’t count: another claim is immediately brought to the fore in an endless chain of ‘mounting’ evidence.

10) the danger of telling the ‘truth’… shadowy powers threaten the bold conspiracy supporters without ever actually harming them.

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