Questionable Motives

January 9, 2013

Why is acting on the presumption of Original Sin moral hypocrisy in action?

This is just too good not to pass it on.

To all of those people who are so humble in their faith-based arrogance that they presume all humans are born with a fallen nature in need of salvation, that all are sinners unworthy of god’s love except by grace, who have the meekness and mildness to presume this opinion causes no harm but brings a moral benefit to all, have a listen to how strident, militant, shrill atheists, who make no such assumptions and who hold no patience to such unadulterated bullshit, dismantle its pious overtones to expose it for what it is: moral hypocrisy in action.

(h/t to Tracy Harris and Matt Dillahunty at Atheist Experience #795)

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March 6, 2011

What’s the problem with science/religious compatability?

I have been described as a bitter individual who thinks that there is only one way to view this world. You scream, verify, prove, facts, figures. Wow. You (sic) view is coloured by extremists who think their religions are right and you try just as hard to scream that your way is the only logical way. Well, I suspect it would not be wise to ask this person for a character reference any time soon.

Of course, I don’t see my views this way. I try to explain that it’s important that we – not just I – respect what’s true, what’s knowable, and hold great esteem for the method of inquiry that allows us to find these answers, that provides us with a foundation upon which to build not only practical technologies that work but a way of inquiring into every nook and cranny of the universe… including ourselves… on an equal footing independent of our perspectives and world views. I’m sorry if I screamed that too loudly, but let me reiterate: I respect what’s true and I don’t think that is an extremist position at all.

What never fails to amaze me is how people who hold their faith-based preferences to be equivalent with what’s probably true, probably accurate, probably correct see themselves and their attitude somehow removed from the ongoing problems resulting from this widespread generous allowance to respect faith-based beliefs, and assume that anyone who disagrees (and provides good evidence for that disagreement) is some kind of fundamentalist or extremist. I take issue with that absurd caricature and I do point out the effects such allowances have in the public domain of the real world and at the expense of real people. That – apparently – makes me not only strident but militantly so. How is it that respecting what is true and holding others to that same standard is so often considered unreasonable if it interferes with the preference for equivalency of faith-based beliefs to what is actually true? Well, I think the answer goes back to the assumption that faith-based beliefs are magically superior to human knowledge as long as it places god at the top of some knowledge hierarchy. In a nutshell, this is the heart of the probelm of asserting compatibility between science and religion.

An excellent example is how someone with knowledge is held in contempt for enunciating that knowledge and whose life is actually threatened by those who assume a faith-based belief is not just equivalent but superior to what the method of science reveals. God’s truth – whatever the hell that means – is superior in this belief system to what the human mind can understand is true based on honest inquiry, verification, and its practical validity. Surely this cannot be the case here at home in technologically advanced society that relies on this science for its functioning infrastructure, can it?

It can. And does.

What does this respect for faith-based beliefs look like in a secular western democracy? The examples are many – legion, in fact – but I shall select merely one.

From The Independent with bold added:

A prominent British imam has been forced to retract his claims that Islam is compatible with Darwin’s theory of evolution after receiving death threats from fundamentalists.

Dr Usama Hasan, a physics lecturer at Middlesex University and a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, was intending yesterday to return to Masjid al-Tawhid, a mosque in Leyton, East London, for the first time since he delivered a lecture there entitled “Islam and the theory of evolution”.

But according to his sister, police advised him not to attend after becoming concerned for his safety. Instead his father, Suhaib, head of the mosque’s committee of trustees, posted a notice on his behalf expressing regret over his comments. “I seek Allah’s forgiveness for my mistakes and apologise for any offence caused,” the statement read.

And what offence did Dr Hasan commit? What exactly was this mistake?

Masjid Tawhid is a prominent mosque which also runs one of the country’s largest sharia courts, the Islamic Sharia Council. In January, Dr Hasan delivered a lecture there detailing why he felt the theory of evolution and Islam were compatible – a position that is not unusual among many Islamic scholars with scientific backgrounds.

Really? This was the offense, the mistake, reiterating this knowledge. But the good news is that this statement of knowledge is not unusual with Islamic scholars who apparently are qualified to judge science, we are assured. Phew. What a relief that this scientific knowledge meets with religious approval. Compatibilists everywhere must be breathing easier, right? Not so fast…

Most Islamic scholars have little problem with evolution as long as Muslims accept the supremacy of God in the process. But in recent years a small number of orthodox scholars, mainly from Saudi Arabia – where many clerics still preach that the Sun revolves around the Earth – have ruled against evolution, declaring that belief in the concept goes against the Koran’s statement that Adam and Eve were the first humans.

These are folk qualified to judge, eh? And compatiblists are seemingly okay with this.

Ah yes, we can’t have knowledge – the ‘good’ kind, that is – without getting the order right: god-approved knowledge first, meaning whatever knowledge doesn’t compete with faith-based beliefs about that god, and all scientific knowledge second. And therein lies the explanation why science and religion are incompatible methods of inquiry:

What’s true, accurate, and correct is a secondary consideration in this compatiblist mind set. And that’s what makes faith-based beliefs that science and religion are compatible a bald-faced lie: we either respect what’s true and knowable first, or we respect what we believe must be true for our faith-based beliefs and preferences to remain unchallenged and supreme. Faith in the latter is a virtue but a failure in the former. These two positions are simply not compatible because of this and those who would like to pretend that they are are not only deluded but continue to grant intellectual respectability to those whose faith-based beliefs contrast honest knowledge. These are the people who need to be taken to task for this capitulation of intellectual integrity to respect that which deserves none: faith-based beliefs.

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.

September 13, 2010

What is the root of religious intolerance?

Scripture. Holy scripture. And we need to be courageous to face this most unpleasant fact. The only way for religion and Enlightenment values like freedom of expression to live together in peace and tolerance is if religion becomes domesticated. And that means that the scriptures need a good editing to annul the intolerance and bigotry it promotes by order of god and for the scripture’s literalistic adherents to be marginalized by main religious body of followers. And this needs to be clearly stated by our political leaders who, so far, have done a piss poor job enunciating this necessity; instead, they have kowtowed to the religious sense that all is fine and dandy in their religion… except for a few dingbats, wingnuts, and deluded folk who actually dare to believe that the scriptures say what god means. I know… crazy talk!

As Dan Gardiner clearly explains in this article:

Of course religions can evolve. It is true, for example, that most Christians do not support the immediate execution of all homosexuals and very, very few would think it appropriate to kill a man who had carnal relations with a sheep. Or kill the sheep. That’s progress.

But, even if religions evolve, religious texts don’t. The language of brutality and bigotry is still there, in books said to be holy. Surely it is not surprising that it can still inspire suspicion, hostility, and division, or that, every now and then, some strange little man will read it and decide to burn a Koran or picket a gay man’s funeral or fly a jet into a skyscraper. It’s true that religion can inspire the best in us. But it can also inspire hate and madness. This is a fact of enormous importance, if only our leaders had the courage to say it.

The fact of the matter is that biblical and qu’ranic scriptures are filled with god’s sanctified intolerance for the Other and various admonishments and punishments that seem to suit his rather barbaric taste in allowable retribution. People who honestly believe that these scriptures really are the word of god cannot understand how others who claim to be of a similar religious persuasion can cherry-pick which are to be understood to be benign metaphors and which are to be taken literally. Arguments for moderate and tolerant religious beliefs are usually based on theological interpretations that rely on a rather sophisticated reading that elevate the good bits over and above the bad bits. But many adherents feel uncomfortable agreeing to go along with these man-made interpretations rather than stick closer to the source. And I do not think we can fault these folk for relying on the source material… a practice hammered into my head by the repeated mantra of many a professor: when in doubt, go the source.

Our leadership – like most religious folk – would have us believe that these believers who rely on the source scripture for and are willing to act on their religious beliefs are some fringe group that has been radicalized into fundamental extremism. I think that is unfair and is an avoidance technique to have to deal with the truth of the matter: it is the religious and tolerant moderate who has moved away from the word of god as revealed in scripture. Unless and until we recognize scripture itself as a never-changing central impediment to achieving tolerance and legal respect for the rights and freedoms and dignity of the Other, we shall continue to pretend that this intellectual cowardice to face reality is a synonym for tolerance. It isn’t. It is an enabling attitude. And that enabling cowardice shall continue to exact a heavy price in human suffering in the name of god.

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May 12, 2010

How much is freedom of expression worth?

Filed under: censorship,Islam,religiously inspired violence — tildeb @ 10:04 am
Tags:

Apparently, the most recent islamic bounty to kill those who dare exercise such rights is about $100,000 for a cartoonist and another $50,000 of an editor willing to publish the cartoon… at least in Sweden. Of course, there will be those who say that such bounties don’t really reflect any true values of the religion of peace, but it’s a head-scratching mystery why (some, many) those who take offense to a religious caricature in cartoon form are then willing to resort to real life violence as if such action were religiously justified.

Oh, wait…

Might that actually be the case? Might the religious justification for violence in its name accurately reflect the inherit disrespect for freedom of expression within that religion? In other words, as long as everyone respects the religion and its claims over and above respect for basic human freedoms, then it really is a religion of peace… except when (some, many) believers face dissent, in which case it’s just as much a religion of violence.

The sooner the moderates of islam recognize this discrepancy as part and parcel of their faith, the sooner its evolution into a civilized expression of peaceful religious faith can occur. In the meantime, this is what freedom of expression and islam look like when they meet in a lecture hall.

March 27, 2010

What is wrong with liberal apologists?

Nick Cohen brings us an answer from Standpoint magazine about how the far left has joined the far right:

The Conservatives’ main complaint about the borderless Left used to be that it allowed huge double standards. Polite society embraced ex- or actual communists and Trotskyists and treated them with a consideration they would have never extended to ex- or actual Nazis. The refusal of 21st-century left-wing and liberal opinion to separate itself from radical Islam is, however, a living disgrace with disastrous consequences for Europe.

You can see them everywhere if you are willing to look. In January, for instance, Harriet Harman and Ed Miliband attended a “Progressive London” conference packed with the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, which believes in the establishment of a totalitarian theocracy. George Galloway, who saluted the courage of Saddam Hussein, was there too, inevitably, as was Tariq Ramadan, the shifty academic who thinks there should only be a “moratorium” on the stoning to death of adulterous women rather than an outright ban. Imagine the fuss if, say, William Hague and Michael Gove had gone to a conference on the future of right-wing politics in London and joined members of the BNP, a far-right politician who had saluted the courage of Augusto Pinochet and an academic who argued for a “moratorium” on black immigration to Britain. The BBC would have exploded. It, along with everyone else, kept quiet, of course, about Harman and Miliband because they were from the Left and therefore could never be beyond the pale.

Nominally left-wing politicians’ appeasement of religious reactionaries is so routine that it takes a convulsive event to reveal the extent of liberal perfidy. The reaction of University College London to the news that its alumnus Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had tried to blow up a plane over Detroit on Christmas Day should have provided the shock therapy. The connection between British-bred extremism and mass murder was there for all to see, except that the authorities did not want to look.

I can see no more important task at present than working out how European liberalism has gone so badly wrong. Why does a culture that prides itself on its opposition to bigotry become so feeble when it confronts bigots dressed in the black robes of clerical reaction? Until we understand, we cannot cure, and there is an emerging understanding among those who worry about the dark turn liberals have taken that Western guilt lies at the root of their moral failure.

Ever since the Rushdie affair, the fear of religious violence has buzzed in the heads of liberal Europeans. The Islamists bombed London and Madrid, murdered Theo van Gogh, drove Ayaan Hirsi Ali into exile and forced politicians, most notably Muslim women politicians, to accept armed guards. On the scale of suffering in the world, Islamist violence in Europe is nothing remarkable. But a little fear goes a long way in rich and comfortable societies and sometimes the trouble with the liberals is not their guilt but that they do not begin to feel guilty enough about their cowardice and complicity.

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.

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.

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