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?

April 3, 2013

Is New Atheism a cover for racist hatred of Muslims?

wahhabi libertyI’ve come across this trope so many times that I realize people are actually falling for it… people (I presumed) who have great difficulty comprehending the written word. After all, I know that even in my country of Canada with its high standing in comparative public education achievements, nearly a third of the population is functionally illiterate. So it’s no surprise to find those who suffer from this unnecessary problem may have difficulty grasping the well written explanations describing why it’s a good thing to criticize ideas and doctrines that have profoundly negative effects in the public domain. And it requires a similar kind of illiteracy to fall for this lie that islamaphobia – an irrational fear of islam – is driven by racist motives rather than good reasons based on compelling evidence.

As if this willful blindness to the very real danger to our secular principles islam contains isn’t bad enough, these people who criticize us – those who have the bad manners to point out why islam requires robust and public critcism – fail to see the obvious: what is truly disturbing is how easily this blindness, this abject stupidity to blame the messenger for the message,  morphs into support for the trope that any and all criticism of the doctrine that empowers islam to be so dangerous in reality is really racism in action.

What is remarkable is that this blatant lie is so easily embraced by those who can read, who can comprehend the written word, who can understand why this misrepresentation and misapplication of what the criticism is all about matters. And to add insult to injury, those who promote and extend this dangerous trope seem to suffer no qualms to attribute the real danger to be those of us who have the moral fortitude and intellectual integrity to point out why the doctrine of islam in particular is so dangerous to us all by standing contrary to the foundational principles that support the liberal secular democracies we have inherited, namely, the New Atheists.

The doctrine of islam is the teachings of koran. If you ask any muslim a specific, straight forward question like this, “Do you believe the koran is the perfect word of god?” be prepared for the fundamentalist answer: “Yes.” This answer does not come only from some fringe element, some extreme radical group of the religion, but the mainstream, from the average muslim. If pressed about what constitutes the difference between a good muslim and a poor one, you will find out from the muslim that how closely the koran is followed determines this status. Why we delude ourselves to think that there will be some maturation of this mainstream fundamentalist thinking with exposure to western secular values is simply as mystifying as it is foolish and dangerous. (The latest evidence is from a trio of high school graduates – who classmates describe as normal and nice and typical – from London, ON who converted to islam, and then participated in mass murder in an attack on gas workers in Algeria.) The motivating factor for this travesty of misdirected young lives was islam. It was not New Atheists!

Those muslims who speak publicly about the evolution of the religion from its violent origins to become what it is not, namely, a tolerant, moderate, living doctrine that respects the rights and freedoms of its members similar to liberalized christianity and judaism, are not speaking on behalf of the religion as good muslims and they know it. The listener – eager to show common cause in the name of secular values like tolerance and respect for the beliefs of others – is ripe for the picking. Such muslims who speak publicly about islam, as if it were an equivalently tolerant religion to those who wish it were, are not moderate muslims at all and do not represent the majority: they are poor muslims by definition… unless they are lying to your face in order to promote by stealth the advancement of islam and shari’a into the public domain. This technique is called taqiyya (for anyone unaware of its religious approval) and it describes why and on what koranic authority this intentional deceit (that fools well meaning but gullible people in secular democracies) is the right thing to do for a good muslim!

At the end of the day, the point of the doctrine of islam is to live a godly life, and by faith this means living under god’s law, which is not compatible with either the secular principles of tolerance and respect showered on its adherents in the West. This law is shari’a and it is incompatible in authority with your individual rights of autonomy, your individual freedoms for legal equality, your secular principles of tolerating and accommodating religious differences, your allegiance to your nation. Shari’a is incompatible with the foundational principles of western liberal secular democracies. These are the facts and not some imaginary racist assertions meant to to slander.

But don’t take my word for. Find out for yourself (first by reading and then by asking real muslims) why claims about the peacefulness of the religion of islam are not true in practice by good muslims. Ask about their interpretation about the  verse of the sword, the one used to overturn all the previous koranic claims about promoting peace and love, when defending the faith (or watch a short video about it here). Find out for yourself why islam and shari’a are not like the doctrines of any other liberalized religion but stand firmly against any social advancement past the seventh century morality that has been encoded in the koran. Check out ongoing violence done in the name of islam and ask yourself how and why this is any different from other religions. In other words, stop pretending that tolerating and respecting freedom of religion means that it is only right and proper for you to respect islam. By doing so, you are threatening the very values of tolerance and respect you are self-righteously exercising!

Now that we have compelling evidence from reality that the doctrine of islam is incompatible with western secular values, how much sense does it make – and who does it serve – to vilify New Atheists for talking about this compelling evidence in the public domain?

You guessed it: it serves only to grant more cover for stealth jihad. How can any literate person who supports western secular values be so stupid as to be intolerant of much needed criticism towards the doctrine of islam? Well, I think there are four possibilities: illiterate, ignorant, delusional, complacent, or complicit.

For those who are illiterate, get help.

For those who are ignorant, open your mind and eyes and ears and learn.

For those who are delusional, respect reality. Recognize that your beliefs – especially religious beliefs – do not create reality but require adjudication by it if you wish to have them respected.

For those who are complacent, who wish that these inherent conflicts between faith-based beliefs and our valued principles would just go away, wake up. Recognize the danger and join in the criticism or get out the way.

For those who are complicit, who try to lay the blame for islamic intolerance on some fringe element of it rather than the doctrine that empowers the whole, who will not think for themselves but go along with the charade that islam is a religion of peace and tolerance in spite of compelling evidence to the contrary, who will not see the danger to themselves –  to their own legal welfare and that of their neighbours – or others, who allow their complicity to enable the advancement of islam and shari’a unimpeded by legitimate criticism, know that you are exposed for the ethical hypocrites and moral cowards you are.

As a shining example of what it is we face as New Atheists in this battle to get more of us to respect reality rather than faith-based beliefs about it, consider this exchange between one the Four Horsemen of New Atheism, Sam Harris, and the usually reasonable columnist Glenn Greenwald. I have extracted Sam’s final reply and added the bold for emphasis:

The idea that “new atheism” is a cover for a racist hatred of Muslims is ridiculous (and, again, crudely defamatory). I have written an entire book attacking Christianity. And do you know what happens when I or any of my “new atheist” colleagues criticize Christians for their irrational beliefs? They say, “Of course, you feel free to attack us, but you would never have the courage to criticize Islam.” As you can see, our Christian critics follow our work about as well as you do.

Needless to say, there are people who hate Arabs, Somalis, and other immigrants from predominantly Muslim societies for racist reasons. But if you can’t distinguish that sort of blind bigotry from a hatred and concern for dangerous, divisive, and irrational ideas—like a belief in martyrdom, or a notion of male “honor” that entails the virtual enslavement of women and girls—you are doing real harm to our public conversation. Everything I have ever said about Islam refers to the content and consequences of its doctrine. And, again, I have always emphasized that its primary victims are innocent Muslims—especially women and girls.

And for the money quote:

There is no such thing as “Islamophobia.” This is a term of propaganda designed to protect Islam from the forces of secularism by conflating all criticism of it with racism and xenophobia. And it is doing its job, because people like you have been taken in by it.

Exactly:, propaganda.

Are you falling for it?

November 11, 2012

Lest we Forget… Why is Remembrance Day a purely secular event undermined by religious inclusion?

Filed under: public domain,Religion,Remembrance Day,Secularism — tildeb @ 11:52 pm

As a trumpet playing member of various community music groups, I play at a lot of Remembrance Day ceremonies.

Yeah, so?

Wikipedia reminds us that Remembrance Day (also known as Poppy Day or Armistice Day) is a memorial day observed in Commonwealth countries since the end of World War I to remember the members of their armed forces who have died in the line of duty. This day, or alternative dates, are also recognized as special days for war remembrances in many non-Commonwealth countries.) In my experience, all of the ceremonies I have attended (and I always attend because I do not forget) are thoroughly soaked with the christian message of Jesus and god and a heavenly afterlife (hellfire and damnation are for another day, I guess). Having performed at two such ceremonies today, for example, I watched several hindu and muslim veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces have to endure the christian hymns and the christian prayers and the repeated calls to the christian faith by a christian minister in uniform, as if service to these christian goals was the central feature of why all people – even those who do not share any version of the christian faith – served and sacrificed in the various wars, police actions, conflicts, and United Nations peace keeping missions Canada had asked these folk to undertake on its behalf.

Was I mostly alone in seeing the gross unfairness of imposing this particular religious ownership of the Remembrance Day tribute? Apparently so. Was I mostly alone in having visited several of the war cemeteries of fallen Canadian soldiers overseas and noted the small but significant number of headstones marked with the Star of David and the Crescent? Apparently so. Was I mostly alone in knowing service men and women who held no commitment or allegiance to any religious beliefs? Apparently so. But then, we Canadians are a very tolerant bunch. It’s difficult to imagine that this forgetfulness could be the case… in spite of the presence of non christian uniformed people, but if not so forgetful then why is there a general amnesia about properly honouring and respecting these non christians who had equally served and sacrificed?

Can a christian Remembrance Day ceremony pay proper respect to all those who deserve equal and fair treatment?

I don’t think so. I think the insertion of religious overtones undermines exactly what Remembrance Day represents and acts contrary to intention that brought about the need for it: to remember why what was won is so important, lest we forget the cost of this forgetfulness.

I think Remembrance Day is purely a secular event allowed by the faitheists and religious apologists of all stripes among us to be hijacked and abused to serve a different purpose, a very specific religious master, namely, christianity. (Is there a public tradition and/or ceremony not stolen by the christians and claimed for its own? None come to mind.) This hijacking, this theft of the meaning behind this event to remember, is a travesty, a way to disrespect and dishonour what these men and women have done in defense of the very values they held to be worth fighting and dying for:

Secular values.

Let’s take just a moment and understand what this term properly means unencumbered by what the religious have warped it to mean:

From Wikipedia we get a pretty good idea:  namely, from Latin saecularis meaning “worldly” or “temporal” that describes the state of being separate from religion, or not being exclusively allied to any particular religion.

The religious attempt to have this term mean something quite different, that anything that applies to anti-religious sentiment defines secularism, but this isn’t true. It’s another hijacking, another theft in the service of a religious goal.  Secular values refer to values that are independent of any religious authority. This is why the Wikipedia entry clearly shows that modern usage means exactly this (go check it yourself and then wonder why the religious are so motivated and determined for it to be considered a pejorative rather than unifying term).

A secular value means its authority is a bottom-up one, a value that is owned first by each and every individual, which is then considered common to all, and commonly upheld in the public domain, meaning those areas of governance and administration that serve the entire public and not simply some privileged part of it, public institutions such as defence, foreign policy, education, law, etc.. Think of the value of ‘equality’, for example; its authority does not come from somewhere else, is not bestowed upon us by a sovereign or granted by some social oligarch; the authority for this value comes from each of us based on the desire for justice, equity, and fairness in public dealings. This creates a demonstrable social benefit. The value is not granted power by nor dependent on some other authority; it is a value upheld by all of us and implemented by all of us in our daily lives. We expect to be treated fairly, with reasonable consideration shown for our equivalent status with other citizens. The principle (although not always in practice) is for all have equal access to legal representation, equal access to education, equal access to health care, equal consideration of merit, and so on. It is a value we hold in common to each other and not based on some other authority granting equality here but not there, for these folk but not those, to privilege this group but not that. So is the value, for example, of religious freedom, one owned by each and every individual which is common to all. Its authority does not rest with some court, nor is it defined only by some legislation; it rests within each of us and we reasonably expect to exercise this right in our private lives. As strange as this will sound to the ears of the religiously confused, religious freedom – like equality – is a SECULAR values independent of any other authority that attempts to co-opt it in its name.

So when I talk about a secular values, what I’m referring to is a set of values held in common and possessed by each individual… an authority over and above any other value system in the public domain that attempts to makes these values subservient to its authority. Secular values are not a top-down affair; their authority comes from the bottom up and belongs to each and every citizen. Canadian values are secular values because they are not granted by some authority figure like a king or a pope or judge to empower them; our political system itself is legitimate only because it is based on authority resting with each of us… each of us who then gives consent (through voting) by this inherent authority we individually own to be governed, to understand that legislation is passed by representation in OUR name, that laws are made in OUR name, internal governance made in OUR name, fund public education, implement foreign policy, maintain defence, upgrade health care, invest in research and development  in OUR name. The authority for all of this comes from each of us, the citizen who owns the very political authority that legitimizes governance and administration of the public domain.

To be absolutely clear, all western liberal democracies are secular not because they are anti-religious per se but because they draws their authority for legitimacy to act in the public domain only from the sum of authority from each citizen they represent. This is why we call it representative government. Government IS us. That is its only legitimate authority: the consent of the governed.

I hope it’s clear that secular means individual authority, and it’s a fundamental pillar to our way of liberal democracy. It is based on the very reasonable rule of reciprocity – what the religious like to co-opt and pretend to own under such a name as the Golden Rule, for example – that the rights and freedoms I want to enjoy places on me the burden that you, too, can enjoy the same rights and freedoms I am willing to grant to myself. Where my rights and freedoms end is where they infringe on the same rights and freedoms held by you. This method of legitimate governance by the consent of the governed – the source of its authority resting in each individual – works to produce peaceful, prosperous, and civil societies based on rights and freedoms owned by all, expressed by all, and maintained by all. And when an infringement does occur, (I can only speak of my Canadian perspective) at home or abroad, many of us who voluntarily join the military and police ranks do so because we wish to uphold this secular value of fairness and equality based on individual authority.

Don’t take my word for it, of course; go talk to those in these uniforms and ask them why they serve. This prime motivator of an important secular value – of standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves – becomes very clear very quickly. Most of us do not aspire to become bullies not agents of a bullying authority (although this danger is always present with power).

But I claim that secular value of protecting and sacrificing for this way of life, when individual authority is endangered by bullies, is what we intend to respect when it comes to the reason to participate in Remembrance Day ceremonies; we just forget to honour this prime motivator, this prime secular value, during all the praying and singing of hymns foisted on us by those who assume values worth having must come from some god.

For those not familiar with the spontaneity of Canadians in regard to honouring their military, a quick word to the wise: because our founding peoples were a triad of warring and shifting allegiances between French, English, and First Nations, we’ve had a difficult time coming to the modern era of tolerance and respect for all within a single national framework, with relatively cohesive national policies and practices that do not intend to make victims out of one of these three groups. It’s always a work in progress, combined with a long history of terrible injustices, bumbling governance, and brutal arrogance, yet through it all we have come a very long way to achieve to various degrees a remarkable and vibrant multi-cultural country that is peaceful, prosperous, and dedicated in practice to secular values.( Oh, and we play a lot of hockey, too.)

Why is this important to understand? Well, it’s important because most Canadians hyphenate our identities to a similarly remarkable degree. (Homogenous we aren’t.) This matters when we consider the following:

A Canadian soldier is killed in, let’s say, Afghanistan. At the main airbase, all the troops are assembled for what’s called a ramp ceremony where there is an official recognition of a fallen comrade being sent home by plane. Upon arrival, the plane’s ramp is lowered to an official reception by the family, and usually in some combination the highest ranking officer available i s present, sometimes like the Chief of Defence Staff, the Minister or Deputy Minister of Defense, the Prime Minister, the Governor General and of course the Base Commander and the highest ranking unit officer of the branch of the service of the killed soldier. Each soldier matters, you see, and this shows the family on hand that their son’s or daughter’s sacrifice is recognized on behalf of the public. The public is kept away during this private ramp ceremony while the soldier’s flag-draped coffin is moved from the plane into a waiting hearse for transportation to the country’s chief coroner in a city two hours away by car. The family accompanies the coffin’s journey by limousine as does the military guard in a convoy of black unmarked vehicles.

Something really interesting happens at this point. All along the route, the convoy begins to encounter Canadians who are aware a soldier is coming home for one last time, who take a moment to stand along the multi-lane highway waiting for this string of black vehicles to pass by. They come out of schools and businesses, stop their cars, get off buses, stand on overpasses, raise some personal flag or drape this national symbol over the side of an overpass. Officers of other serving branches come to the highway, turn on their emergency lights: national, provincial, municipal police cars, ambulances, fire trucks, silent flashing sentinels. Sometimes small signs with heartfelt messages will displayed, and all done spontaneously for the members of the grieving family to see and perhaps understand that their grief is recognized and perhaps shared in some small but meaningful way while on their terrible journey. We care, and we want to show our respect for their loss, honour the sacrifice of a real person, one of us,  made in OUR name.

In the nation’s capital at the end of the official Remembrance Day ceremony, and in symbolic sympathy throughout this huge and diverse land at local cenotaphs and small monuments to the war dead, Canadians do another peculiar thing: we take off the poppies we have been wearing to show that we remember their sacrifice in the weeks prior to the official day of remembrance, and lay them on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier… individually… amounting one by one until by their tens of thousands they make a blanket of tiny little flowers blood red with black centers.

None of this is organized. None of these symbols is religious. The intention is purely secular, purely individual, meant to show by each participant that this soldier is one of us, one of OURS. The poppy of remembrance belongs to each and every one of us, a common remembrance owned not by the state, not bestowed on us from some divinity, not sanctified by anything other than the value we hold in trust for the next generation, purchased individually by donation to a veteran, to demonstrate an individual debt owed to those individuals who came before and who protected our individual authority it from being usurped by force of arms. Remembrance Day represents OUR sacrifice in defence of OUR authority that empowers OUR secular rights and freedoms.

All people, religious and non religious alike, need to be reminded why their secular values are worth dying for. A good start would be to get religion out of Remembrance Day altogether…. lest we forget.

April 5, 2012

What do you think about this ten point secular plan?

Although American in detail, I think the plan is a really good starting point for all secular liberal democracies. Get religion out of the public domain where it has no business being imposed on all. Here’s a recent list:

1. Respect Our Troops – Our military shall serve and include all Americans, religious or nonreligious with no hint of bias and with no hint of fundamentalist extremism coloring our military decisions at home or abroad.

2. Reproductive Information Based on Science – Any federal or state funded program, whether offering services domestic or foreign, that relates to reproductive decisions shall be based on science and public health; not on religious bias or the denigration or women or secular minorities.

3. Healthcare Professionals Fulfill Professional Duties – Healthcare professionals shall fulfill their professional duties and they must do so without a hint of religious bias or they must find another job. That includes fundamentalist pharmacists that turn away rape victims from Plan-B (Morning After Pill Emergency Contraception).

4. No Religious Bias in Land Use or Employment – There shall be no bias in land use planning or environmental law or employment law based on religion or lack thereof.

5. No Bias in Marriage Law – Marriage can be defined by religious congregations howsoever they choose within their own services but marriage under American law shall have no bias whatsoever.

6. Autonomy for End-of-life Choices – When facing end-of-life decisions, all Americans shall be guaranteed control over their own bodies without being thwarted by religious bias.

7. No Religious Bias in School – America’s youth shall never be subjected to bias in education. If there is one penny of government funds there can’t be one iota of religious bias.

8. Congress Shall Include Secular Americans – The composition of Congress and legislature shall include secular Americans and there shall be no bias against secular candidates.

9. Children Protected from Religious Abuse –  There should be one consistent standard pertaining to the health and welfare of children regardless of a child’s parents, school, or child care center. They are all human beings that deserve human rights and protection.

10. Medical & Scientific Innovation Shall be Dedicated to Health & Advancement – Medical, technical, and science innovations shall be dedicated to the health and advancement of our fellow citizens and must never be impeded by religious bias.

Sean Faircloth is the new Richard Dawkins Foundation Director of Strategy and Policy and the author of this plan. His explanation can be viewed here (all ten points come up towards the end):

 

 

(h/t Russell metamagician and the hellfire club)

 

March 30, 2012

Why hold a Reason Rally?

Filed under: New Atheists,Reason Rally,Secularism — tildeb @ 10:17 am

Although there has been criticism about using the term ‘reason’ to describe an atheist rally in Washington, I think it is an important coming out party.

The numbers show that more people than ever are growing wary of religion in politics and part of this is due to the rise in public criticism spearheaded by gnu atheists determined to push secular values into predominance in the public domain. A rally to show that there is political capital to be gained by doing this is simply part of this social evolution. As Russell Blackford writes, the purpose of the Reason Rally is to demonstrate that

It’s about secular government, a secular state – and that’s not a great secret. Secularism isn’t something that only non-believers can support. Generally speaking, it is good for believers as well – not all of them, always, in all circumstances, but very many of them, perhaps the majority in Western countries, in current circumstances. Secularism has a lot going for it apart from its appeal to those of us who reject religion.

So why wasn’t the rally called the Secular Rally? Why co-opt the term ‘reason? To address these critics, here’s Russell again:

Yes, the people who are organising the rally think of themselves as “people of reason” – so sue them. But the material makes clear that what they are organising is a rally to defend and promote secular government. There is nothing misleading about any of this, and of course they think they are the party of reason.

Mind you, for those who went to the Rally, it was also an emotional experience to be a part of a large similar-minded group of diverse people that rarely if ever congregate. For that reason alone the rally seems to have paid dividends. Even PZ Myers – the curmudgeon’s curmudgeon – says that he is happy to have been a part of it and when he watched The Friendly Atheist’s video provided below, he ‘teared up a little’. Maybe that’s because his image is a bit fuzzy when it finally appears.

Anyway, I think TFA accurately captures much of the sentiment about why it was important to hold a Reason Rally from the atheist’s perspective. Enjoy.

October 29, 2011

Can you solve for the value of religion in this equation?

Biologist Jerry Coyne (author of Why Evolution is True and the associated website of the same name) asked his new friend and former evangelical preacher Dan Barker (author of Godless and  co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation) what he thought of the acccommodationist argument about comporting science and religion to be of any value in moving the faithful toward science. Barker’s response was pretty clear: that in his opinion the opposite was true… that “there is no fruitful overlap between religion and science.”

Furthermore, Barker’s response explains why the advertised ‘good’ teachings to which religions lay claim are really human values that infuse the commonalities found in religions:

During my debates on morality I point out that all of the good teachings in the world religions (which show up in all of them) are really HUMAN values: peace, love, cooperation, and so on. Those values transcend religion, and are in fact the values we use when we are judging from the outside whether we think a particular religion is good or not. (So they must not originate from within religion.) When you factor out the common teachings shared by all religions (the good stuff, the humanistic stuff), what you are left with are NOT good teachings. The so-called “religious values” that Christians, Jew, Muslims and other groups hold are divisive, idiosyncratic, and unproductive to moral discourse: what day of the week you should worship, how women should dress, what foods are permitted, whose beards can be shaved, who is allowed to be married, and so on. Thinking of it like that, there is actually no overlap between “human values” (informed by science) and “religious values” (derived from holy scripture).

He then drives the point home by presenting us with clear algebraic equation:

Religion + Good Works = Good Works

Solve for Religion.

October 12, 2011

Are the religious more socially responsive through charity and volunteering than the non religious?

It is not unusual for me to be presented with this notion by supporters of various religions in full agreement with each other on this issue… as if it were unquestionably true. After all, there really are many religious charities and organizations doing socially responsive work. I even see some advertised on the local public transit. Fortunately, we have some census data out of Great Britain that may surprise these supporters (I have added some bold):

In terms of civic engagement and formal volunteering, the figures show no significant difference between those with a religion and those with no religion (57% and 56% respectively). There is scarcely any difference in participation between those with no religion and self-described Christians (56% and 58%). At 44%, the proportion of Hindus and Muslims participating in civic engagement and formal volunteering is actually lower than the proportion of non-religious people doing so, and the lowest of all groups. This is no flash in the pan – it is a continuing feature of the figures over a number of years.

The figures supplement other data that makes the same point, not only from previous years’ citizenship surveys. In 2007, Faith and Voluntary Action, from the National Council of Voluntary Organisations found that “religious affiliation makes little difference in terms of volunteering”, and as a matter of simple numbers, the overwhelming majority of the voluntary, community and charity sector in the UK are secular.

I think the Guardian article helps explain further:

Non-religious people are volunteering all the time, but don’t feel the need to do it in the name of being non-religious. They may even do it for charities that have a nominally religious origin. Being therefore less visible than specifically religious contributions to society, this can support the myth that non-religious people do less community work. This anecdotal misconception can only be corrected by data, which is not something to which most people have access.

So I’m just doing my bit to spread the data to a wider audience (and even I have donated through religious organizations for specific charity work and I wouldn’t consider myself much of a religious supporter). Yes, Virginia, you really can be good without god  Now… where’s a bus to carry that message? Oh right… this atheist campaign to adorn buses with reassuring messages that morality is not dependent on religious affiliations was refused access to advertise on public transit in my hometown. Too… militant and strident and divisive for the public transit commission officers making the decision to reject it. That the message happens to be true in fact doesn’t seem to carry much weight in such decisions made on the public’s behalf. No surprise there.

September 10, 2011

What are the boundaries of religion?

Religions recognize no boundaries. There exists no issue in human affairs about which the religious think their faith should have no determining say.

This is the problem the evangelical faith-is-a-gift always brings to us all: a willingness to insert some tyrannical element of their faith into any and all human affairs regardless of the topic. This is why faith – built on the foundation of its own colossal arrogance that what is true in reality is arbitrated by faith rather than reality  – attempts to determine pious science, determine pious justice, determine pious rights and pious freedoms, determine pious morality, determine the very nature of the universe and everything within it. Not even satisfied by this boundary of the natural universe, the religious think themselves justified to define what lies beyond the natural – from ghosts and goblins and spirits to angels and devils and demons… right up to the Big Oogity Boogity Himself (BOBH): god. Suspending physical laws and inserting miracles galore as if they were true into the natural world is child’s play to the mind that has suspended all boundaries under which all of us do live – in the name of promoting this faith over that one –  for even reality itself is no boundary worthy of recognition by the faithful.

The gift that is faith is taken to be an open invitation to impose these beliefs by hook or by crook wherever and whenever possible – and any inconvenience to the rest of us busy dealing with reality by these enthusiastic and earnest and nice faith-heads is excused (by the faithful, of course) as simply a necessary burden (and the root cause of persecution should the response be anything less than nice… meaning having their offered tyranny denied). It’s hard work being the messenger, you see, self-aggrandized as having been selected – called into service! – by no less than the Big Oogity Boogity Himself (BOBH) to deliver the important Good News.

And this mission (and here) would be so much more effective if only the state would help impose this tyranny.

That’s why this warped thinking – that religion has a place in the public domain supported by the state – is a problem that will never, ever, fade away as long as there is a public domain that needs to be conquered, no matter how accommodating and forgiving and tolerant the average citizen may be of this arrogant and militant faith-inspired attack against our secular public domain. Always, and forever, the religious – armed by pious faith that their gift is necessary to the welfare of all, owned as we all are by BOBH who ‘gave’ us our lives – will push and push and push and push… never to take ‘NO!’ as an answer without disappointing the boss man himself, BOBH. It is for this reason, this recognition that faith drives this everlasting, never-ending, eternal conflict between the secular and the religious – sought out and initiated by jack-booted faitheists bent on dominion over the public domain through the abuse of state power – that the only rational response from those willing to support the separation of church and state in defense of freedom from this particular religion as well as that one requires a dedicated and determined push-back by those citizens – religious or not – who understand the need for a boundary between the two in law.

Whether we like it or not, all of us are involved – and are participants even if we do nothing and care even less  – in this battle. The choice is clear: we must either protect ourselves by supporting secular law to set the boundary that religions will never set for themselves or we fail to do our duty to the nation.  We lose, we capitulate, to religious faith gaining control of the public domain. There is no middle ground. The sooner the majority of us appreciate this fundamental truth and protect and support the role of secular law to separate our rights and freedoms and dignities from the authoritarian and dictatorial rule of the religious overlords, the sooner religious belief can be defeated from conquering this, our public domain, our public institutions, our public offices and public policies. Government of the public domain by those who insist we all bow down to their particular god’s authority is not governance of the people, by the people, for the people. It is tyranny in a clerical collar, dressed in an imam’s robes, topped by a turban, surrounded by the submission of the burka, and the defeat of its authority is a defeat that is worthy of our efforts, worthy of defending against all enemies, foreign and domestic who try to undermine our secular liberal democracies.

Our secular law is all that stands between us as free citizens and as subjects to what god’s secret-ballot representatives believe is what god wants… these arrogant pious self-appointed agents who just so happen to have privileged access – revealed to them because they were called to witness – to the wishes and desires and intentions of the Big Oogity Boogity Himself. Furthermore, we are told in so many ways that we really should obey the BOBH’s agent and alter our secular law to further his/her/its wishes in some human affair. It’s so palpably ludicrous a basis for political action that such charlatans and rogues and hucksters should be laughed out of the business of influencing governance. But we the public don’t do that because too often those villains are us, our neighbours and our friends, our families, and it would be disrespectful to the BOGH and those who believe in him/her/it… so let’s add insult to injury to the Enlightenment’s values that have led to the greatest emancipation from tyranny in world history and the primacy of reason in the public domain on which is has been founded and sacrifice these value and principles altogether to prove the depth of our gullibility faith to our various imaginary sky-fathers. In the meantime, we grant this faitheist insanity legitimacy by allowing the vatican statehood  and its child raping apologist agents as if they were diplomats, donate time and money to the campaigns of religious kow-towing anti-science Republican leadership hopefuls, re-direct public funds away from public educational boards to favour the parents’ religious biases to be indoctrinated into their children’s lives without their informed consent, assign parliamentary seats and parliamentary committee chairs to church officials who never have to face any electorate over which they exercise power, grant to ‘community’ spokesmen places on advisory councils, give platforms to religious representatives on international to local committees to examine and make recommendations on public policies. Ludicrous exemptions and special privileges for the self-deluded to feel special through faith rather than merit.

The latest effrontery, and the main reason for this post,  is to allow a faith-based directive to be give a place as  a proposition vote on the upcoming Mississippi ballot to change the law and constitute personhood  to begin at the point of conception. This vote – if the anti-choice religious fanatics are successful in fooling the majority of the voting population to go along with their lexicographical fraud (for by no stretch of the imagination is a zygote a person) – will have a profound and dramatic impact on the legal status of any woman as a fully franchised citizen under the law; she will become co-owners of her body with the introduction of a zygote – an incubator by law – and many will support this notion, believing as they do that the BOBH wants the law to be this way for everybody to align with their standard christian misogyny rather than support access to abortion as the medical service it is in reality that puts a boundary directly between that imposed faith-based  misogyny and the rights and freedoms and dignity of each fully adult, fully developed, fully human woman. Don’t believe me? Look to countries that have failed to maintain that boundary and see what such tyranny looks like in action.

All of us need to step up to the secular plate and get loud, get strident, get insistent that the boundary no religion will respect will be imposed out of necessity by secular law and enforced by the secular state, and that our active political support to  maintain that boundary will translate into making those who wish to insert religion into the public domain a burden and fatal liability for politicians to get elected. It is high time that citizens – believers, agnostics, and non believers alike –  grew up. It time they grew a pair and insisted that religion in the public domain – regardless how favourable to one’s own beliefs it may be – is out of bounds now, tomorrow, and forever. There is no longer any excuse under the sun except a willingness to support religious tyranny for anyone except an enemy of the secular state, an enemy of personal rights, personal freedoms, and personal dignity, to fight the establishment of that firm secular boundary.

This far, but no farther.

Now get loud about it.

August 5, 2011

Why must god’s law be secondary to secular law?

Filed under: honour killing,Religion,Secularism — tildeb @ 3:34 pm

Until we get this order right in the minds of believers, this is the inevitable cost to respecting the lunacy of god’s law:

Shaher Bano Shahdady was just 21, a young mother who wanted to live her Canadian life as a free Canadian woman. And for that, she was strangled to death in front of her toddler.

Between 1 and 2 a.m. on July 22, neighbours in the building at 3131 Eglinton Ave. E. (Toronto, Ontario) heard the shrill screaming of a child that went on for 15 minutes. And then silence. More than 15 hours later, Shahdady’s distraught father discovered his 2-year-old grandson alone in the apartment with his daughter’s dead body. She had been strangled on her bed.

Her estranged husband Abdul Malik Rustam, 27, turned himself in to police the next morning. He’s been charged with first-degree murder.

“Absolutely, it was an honour killing,” contends Fatah. “This is the fundamental issue here that no one wants to address. Nobody wants to tell Muslim men that women are not their possessions. It’s about women’s sexuality and men who say they own the franchise to it.”

Read the entire article here and weep at the stupidity and waste of yet another young woman’s life on the despicable alter of religious honour and think of her orphaned son who pays the price.

 

October 9, 2010

Religion in the public domain: Confrontation or accommodation?

Filed under: New Atheists,PZ Myers,Secularism,theology — tildeb @ 12:44 pm

Which side of the fence are you on? For those who know about P.Z. Myers’s reputation as a fiercely strident Gnu Atheist, the answer is pretty evident. But why does he take such a position? Are his reasons good ones? And why that take-no-prisoners approach for which he is famous?

He was on a panel this week and addressed these questions under the heading of Confrontation or Accommodation. I think his words from his presentation are well worth our consideration, so I have re-posted them here in their entirety:

I’m going to begin with where I entered this conflict — and make no mistake, it’s a real battle — with my experience in science education, and specifically with the teaching of evolution. Biology has been a lifelong passion for me, and when I first began teaching way back in the 1980s, it was a shock to discover students who had nothing but contempt for the great unifying principle of my discipline, who were happily wallowing in self-inflicted ignorance and who outright denied plain and simple facts about science. And when I discovered that there were ministers who came onto our campus and lied to our students, presented half-truths and weird fantasies to substitute for evidence, i was outraged. We Gnu Atheists have a reputation for being militant, but make no mistake: we didn’t start this war. If you want to place blame, put it on the backs of religious zealots who have been poisoning the minds of the young for a long, long time.

This is another theme in this conflict: Gnu Atheists are so dang angry. Damned right we are. The real question is why everyone else isn’t. If you aren’t angry about what’s being done to undermine education in this country, you haven’t been following along.

But we also respond rationally. My early incredulity about the nonsense being promoted by creationists was followed by a lot of fact-finding. You can do it too — look up the history of creationism, and you find that we’ve been fighting this same battle for at least half a century, and dealing with the same inane arguments over and over again. Where once Duane Gish was the creationist dinosaur roaming the earth, he was replaced by Kent Hovind, and he is now superseded by Ken Ham and Ray Comfort and Eric Hovind. Nothing has changed but the names. We have had a succession of court cases: Epperson v Arkansas in 68, McLean v Arkansas in 82, Edwards v. Aguillard in 87, Kitzmiller v Dover in 2005 — are they coming to an end? Did any of these trials diminish the influence of creationists? One flareup will be squelched, and next year there will be another. Similarly, we see a succession of politicians come and go, and nothing changes. Ronald Reagan becomes Santorum becomes Bush becomes another dreary chain of Republican know-nothings at every election cycle. It’s 2010, and guess what: Christine O’Donnell is running for the senate, and I’ve still got a local fundamentalist pastor coming on to my campus every week to instruct my students in the video fables of Brother Kent Hovind.

We have been treading water for 50 years. In one sense, that’s a very good thing: better to stay afloat in one place than to sink, and I am deeply appreciative of organizations like the NCSE that have kept us bobbing at the surface all this time, and please don’t ever stop. But isn’t it also about time we learned a new stroke and actually made some progress towards the shore? Shouldn’t we move beyond just reacting to every assault by Idiot America on science education, and honestly look at the root causes of this chronic malignancy and do something about it?

The sea our country is drowning in is a raging religiosity, wave after wave of ignorant arguments and ideological absurdities pushed by tired dogma and fervent and frustrated fanatics. We keep hearing that the answer is to find the still waters of a more moderate faith, but I’m sorry, I don’t feel like drowning there either.

There is an answer, and it’s on display right here in this room. The solution, the only longterm solution, is the sanity of secularism. The lesser struggles to keep silly stickers off our textbooks or to keep pseudoscientific BS like intelligent design out of our classrooms are important, but they are endless chores — at some point we just have to stop pandering to the ideological noise that spawns these unending tasks and cut right to the source: religion.

That’s where the Gnu Atheists get their confrontational reputation. We’re fed up with fighting off the symptoms. We need to address the disease. And if you’re one of those people trying to defend superstition and quivering in fear at the idea of taking on a majority that believes in foolishness, urging us to continue slapping bandages on the blight of faith, well then, you’re part of the problem and we’ll probably do something utterly dreadful, like be rude to you or write some cutting sarcastic essay to mock your position. That is our métier, after all.

There is another motive for our confrontational ways, and it has to do with values. We talk a lot about values in this country, so I kind of hate to use the word — it’s been tainted by the religious right, which howls about “Christian values” every time the subject of civil rights for gays or equal rights for women or universal health care or improving the plight of the poor come up — True Christian values are agin’ those things, after all. But the Gnu Atheists have values, too, and premiere among them is truth. And that makes us uncivil and rude, because we challenge the truth of religion.

Religion provides solace to millions, we are told, it makes them happy, and it’s mostly harmless.

“But is it true?”, we ask, as if it matters.

The religious are the majority, we hear over and over again, and we need to be pragmatic and diplomatic in dealing with them.

“But is what they believe true?”, we ask, and “What do we gain by compromising on reality?”

Religion isn’t the problem, they claim, it’s only the extremists and zealots and weirdos. The majority of believers are moderates and even share some values with us.

“But is a moderate superstition true?”, we repeat, and “How can a myth be made more true if its proponents are simply calmer in stating it?”

I mean, it’s nice and all that most Christians aren’t out chanting “God Hates Fags” and are a little embarrassed when some yokel whines that he didn’t come from no monkey, but they still go out and quietly vote against gay and lesbian rights, and they still sit at home while their school boards set fire to good science.

It’s all about the truth, people. And all the evidence is crystal clear right now: the earth is far older than 6,000 years. Evolution is a real, and it is a process built on raw chance driven by the brutal engines of selection, and there is no sign of a loving, personal god, but only billions of years of pitiless winnowing without any direction other than short-term survival and reproduction. It’s not pretty, it’s not consoling, it doesn’t sanctify virginity, or tell you that god really loves your foreskin, but it’s got one soaring virtue that trumps all the others: it’s true.

You won’t understand what the Gnu Atheists are up to until you understand that core value. I have been told that my position won’t win the creationist court cases; do you think I care? I did not become a scientist because I want to impress lawyers. I have been told that I must think promoting atheism is more important than promoting good science education; tell me how closing my eyes to claims of an imaginary deity using quantum indeterminacy to shape human evolution helps students better understand reality. I’ve been told to hush, there are good Christians who support science, and a vocal atheism will scare them away…and I have to ask, you question my support for science education, when you pander to people who you admit will put their superstitions above science if someone says a harsh word about Jesus?

I have to follow the advice of Tom Paine:

A thing moderately good is not so good as it ought to be. Moderation in temper is always a virtue; but moderation in principle is always a vice.

And I will insist that a principle worth holding is worth fighting for. We must confront untruths; letting them lie unquestioned is simply a way to allow them to fester and grow.

I have to quote something I recently read by Ed Yong, the science journalist who blogs at Not Exactly Rocket Science. He has an excellent post up asking, “Should Science Journalists Take Sides?“, and while it’s specifically addressed to journalists, it applies equally well to scientists, or humanists, or just plain citizens. To summarize it all, the answer is yes: journalists should take sides, and I’m going to generalize it and suggest that we should all take sides. Here’s what Ed wrote:

A veteran science journalist recently wrote: “Reporters are messengers – their job is to tell, as accurately as they can, what has been said, with the benefit of such insight as their experience allows them to bring, not to second guess whether what is said is right”. That’s rubbish. If you are not actually providing any analysis, if you’re not effectively “taking a side”, then you are just a messenger, a middleman, a megaphone with ears. If that’s your idea of journalism, then my RSS reader is a journalist.

Too many of the godless believe in something even more: to avoid rocking the boat, to refrain from challenging dogma, to deftly avoid the issue when someone raises some religious folly. If you think you’re helping the cause with your cautious silence, then a brick wall is a public intellectual.Then Ed has this bit, which could have been written by a Gnu Atheist:

As I said earlier, this is about taking sides with truth. It’s about being knowledgeable enough to make a decent stab at uncovering the truth and presenting the outcomes of that quest to one’s readers, even if that outcome lies firmly on one side of a “debate”.

It’s about doing the actual job of a journalist, by analysing, critiquing, placing into context and so on, as opposed to merely reporting. It’s about acknowledging one’s own biases and making them plain to see for a reader.

In the end, this is about transparency and truth, concepts that are far more important than neutrality or objectivity. After all, the word for people who are neutral about truth is ‘liars’. It shouldn’t be ‘journalists’.

I have to repeat that. The word for people who are neutral about truth is “liars”. It shouldn’t be “scientists”. It shouldn’t be “humanists”.

Earlier today we heard Paul Kurtz speak, and while I have great respect for his contributions to this secular movement, he did mischaracterize atheists, and I have to call him on it. One of the most common canards applied to us, and especially to the Gnu Atheists, is that we’re negative, that we lack a positive center that we stand for. This is completely false. When you look at the body of work that the prominent leaders of this movement have put together, when you look at the books of people like Dawkins and Harris and Dennett and Coyne and Stenger, you do not find them nattering on for hundreds of pages about how much they hate religion. Quite the contrary. What you find are authors who write about reason and evidence and science, where front and center you find an appreciation for a universe rich with natural phenomena that, with a little honest effort, we can reach out and comprehend. We atheists live a purpose-driven life, to steal a phrase, and that life is dedicated to deepening our understanding and learning about this world. Call us merely negative, or merely angry, or merely anti-religious, and you haven’t been paying attention. You haven’t been reading our books or articles for comprehension.

What may have confused some people, though, is that we also believe you can’t love the truth without detesting lies. That an honest way of dealing with those lies is to confront them openly, head on, and unapologetically, and while some might rationalize accommodating unjustifiable distortions of the truth as a strategic option, there are a number of us who consider that principle to be one on which we will not compromise.

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