Questionable Motives

January 4, 2012

How do Islamic nations abuse the United Nations?

I have written many times about this push by Islamic states at the United Nations to outlaw blasphemy through the UN Human Rights Council, to make it a ‘human rights’ violation to dare to criticize this odious religion. They have now succeeded. Resolution 16/18 is all about combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against, persons based on religion or belief.

The problem here is that some religious beliefs like Islam are themselves intolerant and discriminating against universal human rights and are in desperate need of sustained reasonable and rational criticism. The irony of fooling western secular democratic representatives at the UN into supporting this obscene piece of tripe by those whose sole intention is to undermine human rights and put all of us under the yoke of their assumed religious authority is rank and shows just how colossal is our collective stupidity in thinking that tolerating intolerance under the guise of respecting religion magically enhances human rights. It doesn’t. It enslaves us by undermining our human rights and replacing them with religious authority.

All those who voted in favour of this Resolution are a menace to all people everywhere and every single western secular democracy should denounce this Resolution in the strongest possible terms. Our governments need to fire those who dared to use their democratic vote representing us at the UN to undermine our basic democratic right to freedom of speech. Such decisions as this Resolution are incompatible with showing support and respect for human rights. This Resolution is a travesty, an abuse of democracy at the UN to reduce human rights in order to protect vile religious sensibilities from criticism.

But perhaps the most disturbing part of this disgusting Resolution is the notion of resorting to use  ‘combat’ against those who dare to criticize anti-human, anti-life authoritarian religious belief.  This open door to combat justified intolerance, justified discrimination, justified condemnation of religious authority, now needs to be closed firmly in the face of these religious stormtroopers who have a Resolution from the UN Human  Rights Council to intrude into your home, your head, your thoughts, your opinions and cartoons and editorials and blogs and commentary, and subject you by threat of force to paying homage to their religious beliefs that reduce your human rights.

For shame, people. For shame.

February 10, 2010

Did you know that the solution to poverty is found in uncontrolled population growth?

Neither did I. Nor am I criminally insane.

But according to Archbishop Celestino Migliore, apostolic nuncio and permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, population growth, rather than population control, can help societies overcome poverty. Archbishop Migliore made his remarks on February 8 at a meeting of the Commission for Social Development of the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

This is what happens within the Catholic Church when one is divorced from reality and rewarded for delusional thinking.I think the archbishop is actually serious and honestly represents the Vatican on this.

Uncontrolled population growth has consequences that are dire. The state of a general poverty level is actually moot when the most pressing concern becomes basic survival. Some simple math will reveal the most glaring problem: population sustainability.

Assuming that the world’s population under the wise guidance of the men from Rome doubles according to reasonable parameters – let’s err on the side of caution and assume a doubling every 14 years (compared with various higher estimates here) – how long will it take until the population outstrips the earth’s ability to sustain all of us with the necessities of food and fresh water and brings about a population collapse? (By the way, the term ‘population collapse’ is a really nice way of saying mass death through starvation.)

I wonder what Archbishop Celestino Migliore’s estimation would be if most people actually followed this advice? Would it take a score of years to reach a tipping point of 9 billion? Half a century to reach 15 billion people? Might that be enough to overwhelm nature’s bounty? A century to reach 100 billion? Regardless of the actual number, it is there. It is real. At what point does uncontrolled population growth reach a tipping point and bring about immeasurable suffering and death? And the Archbishop is fine with this notion (probably having never thought about it)… as long as people don’t interfere in any way with having babies as most of us in the developed world do now. God, the catholic church assures us, wants us to bring about a population crash with mass suffering and widespread death of billions. Honest. It’s just phrased with nicer sounding words using the idea of ‘fighting poverty’ as the reason. I have no doubt that behind the suggestion that poverty can be beaten by uncontrolled population growth, any natural consequences easily foreseen by anyone with even a modicum of sense will be solved by the intervention of god. Nothing else will mitigate such a predictable disaster championed by the Vatican. And we’re supposed to sit idly by, keep quiet, and show respect to this organization?

I don’t think so.

This delusion must end by facing up to one of two possibilities:

So you tell me, dear Reader, is catholic doctrine of uncontrolled population growth insane or merely criminally irresponsible?

January 1, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 31, 2009

Year end thoughts: Why is agnosticism so dangerous?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 23, 2009

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

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

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

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

From the CFI article here.

December 4, 2009

How worried should we be: the leaked ‘Climategate’ emails and what they mean

AGW means anthropogenic global warming as the theory that best describes how human activity drives climate change. But is the theory sound? There seems to be scientific consensus that it is sound, and this the central platform from the United Nation’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that will be presented to the heads of states in Copenhagen.

So how do these ‘leaked’ emails affect the IPCC position?

The emails suggest the authors co-operated covertly to ensure that only papers favorable to CO2-forced AGW were published, and that editors and journals publishing contrary papers were punished. They also attempted to “discipline” scientists and journalists who published skeptical information.

The emails suggest that the authors manipulated and “massaged” the data to strengthen the case in favor of unprecedented CO2-forced AGW, and to suppress their own data if it called AGW into question.

The emails suggest that the authors co-operated (perhaps the word is “conspired”) to prevent data from being made available to other researchers through either data archiving requests or through the Freedom of Information Acts of both the U.S. and the UK.

A good summary here.

I don’t think the high risk to affecting climate by greenhouse gas emissions has been undermined; I think these emails draws into question whether the AGW theory is sound enough science to conclude that human activity drives climate change. Dissenting evidence may have been purposefully ignored and buried, which has changed the data upon which the IPCC depends for its conclusions. Check out what the fudged numbers look like on the right side of the graph. That kind of misrepresentation is serious.



November 21, 2009

God needs protection from human language! Enter the UN…

Four years after cartoons of the prophet Muhammad set off violent protests across the Muslim world, Islamic nations are mounting a campaign for an international treaty to protect religious symbols and beliefs from mockery — essentially a ban on blasphemy that would put them on a collision course with free speech laws in the West.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press show that Algeria and Pakistan have taken the lead in lobbying to eventually bring the proposal to a vote in the U.N. General Assembly.

If ratified in countries that enshrine freedom of expression as a fundamental right, such a treaty would require them to limit free speech if it risks seriously offending religious believers. The process, though, will take years and no showdown is imminent.

The countries that form the 56-member Organization of the Islamic Conference are now lobbying a little-known Geneva-based U.N. committee to agree that a treaty protecting religions is necessary.

Read the rest of the article here.

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