Category Archives: Religion

A Short Note On Lying To Children

Michael Adebolajo, one of the Woolwich terrorists (the one filmed with his hands bloodied whilst holding a meat cleaver, having just beheaded and disembowelled Lee Rigby, a British soldier, in the middle of a crowded street), was brought up in a devoutly religious family.  Every week his parents took him to religious buildings to praise almighty God.  His mother took particular pride in the strength of her faith and would ensure that she and her children were well presented for their regular trips to the house of God and made a great show of such occasions in the hope it would inspire others.  His nurture has been summarised as “a strict religious upbringing”.

Michael Adebolajos’ family were Christians.

His mother has been universally praised in the press for bringing up Michael in the Christian way, but I wonder whether preparing his mind to submit to the will of God, indeed indoctrinating him into thinking that there is a God at all, really was a good thing.  If someone is raised to rely on a strict religious structure to their life, to have little regard for evidence based thinking and to believe that having faith is the very highest of virtues, then how surprised should we be that he swapped the Bible for the Quran?  They are not that different, though one would think otherwise from the way that the media represents them in the so-called Christian west.  In reality, the only significant difference is that most Christians in the western world ignore the Bible.  And of course the Quran actually borrows very heavily from the Bible – 7th century labourers can only be so inspired it turns out.

So I want to ask this; how likely is it that Michael Adebolajo would have been convinced of the righteousness of his actions when attacking Lee Rigby had he been raised to think critically?  Just how good is it to indoctrinate children with the faith of their parents before their critical faculties have fully developed?


How We Should Not Respond To The Woolwich Terrorist Attack

It seems today that two Muslims have beheaded, or at least attempted to behead, a British soldier in broad daylight on a busy south London road, only a few yards from his army barracks.  As the perpetrators clearly wanted to die as part of their awful act, an effective security response is difficult to imagine – perhaps scrutiny of their digital life will unveil some worthwhile follow ups.  For now, I’m a little more concerned with what we shouldn’t do.

Firstly, condemning all Muslims is phenomenally misguided.  There are quite clearly many good Muslims who feel unable to escape the faith because of family pressures (I know some people who fall into this category), or who are simply unable to face the world without the structure a religious life provides – but who genuinely and wholeheartedly condemn this attack and are kind people in every aspect of their life.  Doubtless there are even some Muslims who may appear devout but actually this only relates to the spiritual element of Islam.  One of the biggest problems security experts face around the world is trying to spot the suicide attacker against this backdrop.  Whilst this observation does provide the foundation for an argument against the harmlessness of moderate religion, what it certainly doesn’t do is provide reasons to express hatred of all 1.6 billion Muslims in the world or to go out onto the streets and begin randomly attacking mosques (as appears to already be happening around the country).

Secondly, we mustn’t allow the enthusiasm of Muslim spokesmen, and misguided liberals, to hijack these events.  Let’s be clear; this attack was inspired by religious hatred and it can be justified by Islamic doctrine.  Here are a few verses from the Quran to get us started:

(2:190-93) Slay them wherever you find them…idolatry is worse than carnage….fight against them until idolatry is no more and God’s religion reigns supreme.

(3:156) If you die in the cause of God, his mercy would surely be greater than all the riches they (the infidel) amass

(3:195-96) Those who suffered for My sake and were slain – I shall admit them to gardens watered by running streams as reward

All the while that Muslim spokesmen and theologians fail to acknowledge the awful moral messages (to say nothing of the terrible science) contained within the Quran and the Hadiths, and so fail to implore Muslims to read the Quran critically as a book that may contain errors, then they are neglecting their responsibilities and they are letting down this and the next generation of Muslims.  Sitting in front of a camera and saying that this type of incident does not represent Islam and that Islam is a religion of peace is nowhere near enough – in fact, as it fails to address the main issues, it doesn’t even count as a start.

On a related point, it is not true to say that the problem is with only a tiny minority – unless you think that a problem only exists at the moment a successful attack takes place.  Study after study shows that almost every Muslim believes that a woman must obey her husband at all times and that homosexual behaviour is immoral.  Meanwhile, well over 100 million globally appear to support suicide bombing, as was most recently reported by Pew and highlighted in another recent post of my own.  These attitudes are well below the curve with regards to what is morally acceptable in the developed world in the 21st century.  And they are at the heart of this conflict.  Muslim spokesmen must start telling the truth about this.  They must say that Islamic teachings have been wrong on these issues.  Only then will we begin to see progress.  Continuing to deny any connection between terrorist attacks and Islamic doctrine and failing to acknowledge that the Quran is not the unalterable word of Allah, will have the same effect it has always had over the past 1400 years.  No effect whatsoever.

Finally we must not allow this event to weaken our resolve.  It is not a further reason to get out of Afghanistan, Iraq and so on.  It is another reason to stay.  Whatever your views on, say drone strikes for example, we should be very clear about the intentions of these compared to what happened today or recently in Boston, USA, when considering the relative moral implications.  A perfect drone strike takes out a military target and kills no one.  A perfect suicide attack intentionally kills innocent non-combatants, often in large numbers and usually including women and children.  Intentions matter.  Western liberals should be confident enough to believe our way of life is not just different, but better.  We should care enough to want to actively encourage it elsewhere.  And we should be ambitious enough to believe we can.


Pew Study: The World’s Muslims – Religion, Politics & Society

Pew have just released (April, 2013) the results of a study conducted over four years (2008 – 2012), aimed at detailing the attitudes and beliefs of Muslims across the globe.  It is a thought provoking read – the full report is available here:

http://www.pewforum.org/Muslim/the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society.aspx

Pew are a global leader in research.  Their mission statement reads:

“Pew is a global research organisation, operated as an independent, non-partisan, non-governmental organisation dedicated to serving the public.  Pew applies a rigorous analytical approach to inform the public.”

With respect to this research, here are the top line details:

The study included a sample size of 50,000 people, spread across 39 countries.  The interviews were conducted in the participants’ homes.

This is Pew’s description of the methods they used to ensure random samples:

“Interview teams were assigned to designated random routes at the block or street level and followed predetermined skip patterns when contacting households. Within households, adult respondents were randomly selected by enumerating all adults in the household using a Kish grid or selecting the adult with the most recent birthday.”

Before I get to some of the points I wish to highlight, it should be noted that the figures below represent the percentage of Muslims in any given country, not the percentage of the total populations, although of course in many countries in this study, this is tantamount to the same thing.  It is worth keeping in mind that the combined populations of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt and Indonesia alone equal 700 million people, with approximately 95% in total identifying themselves as Muslims.

To begin what I’m afraid is a most depressing tale, I will include Pew’s own explanation as to why not all results are available for every country:

“In some countries, pre-test results indicated the need to suppress certain questions to avoid offending respondents and/or risking the security of the interviewers. In other countries, interviewers considered some questions too sensitive to pre-test. Thus, not all questions were asked in all countries.

For example, interviewers in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Morocco indicated that certain questions about sexual preference and sexual behaviour were too sensitive to be asked. Questions on these topics were either eliminated or modified in these countries.”

Finding out that your interviewers lives may be at risk simply for asking questions must have been an ominous beginning.

The research dealt with attitudes towards issues including suicide bombing, Shari’a, honour killings, wearing of the veil, sexuality, sexual equality, abortion, western culture and many more.  Below I’m only highlighting four charts, but I would implore you all to view the entire study.

 

For this first chart, the results represent the ‘no’ responses.  So 70% of Muslims in Afghanistan believe men should decide what women wear.  I’ve chosen to include only those countries who came in at under 50% in relation to the question.

 

In this second chart, the results represent the ‘yes’ answers.  I have included only those over 50%.

No selection was necessary to highlight the problem for this third set of results

 

All available responses are also included for my fourth example – the results represent those who answered ‘yes’ or ‘often justified’

 

It’s impossible to exaggerate the alarm bells these results should set off in our minds.  With regards to the question on suicide bombing, the answers for Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Egypt alone represent 100 million people.  It also seems fair to conclude that over a billion Muslims think that homosexuality is immoral.  To say that at least 80% of Muslims believe a wife must always obey her husband, appears on this evidence to be a generous, conservative estimate.

As a snapshot of the levels of tolerance and commitment to sexual equality in Muslim majority communities, this study deals a tragically disheartening blow.  The response from liberal Muslims and non-Muslims alike must be an urgent call for reform.  This can only be initiated by a commitment to honest conversation and a preparedness to critique Islamic doctrine (ideas, not people).  An over willingness to obfuscate the truth or cry ‘Islamophobia’ (a disingenuous term that conflates the criticism of a book with racism ) can only hope to hinder progress.

None of this is a denial of the existence of anti-Muslim bigotry, which is abhorrent, unjustified and must be resisted with every sinew.

Finally, please remember that those who suffer most at the hands of religious fascists are Muslims themselves, especially Muslim women, homosexuals and free thinkers.  I choose to stand with them.  Please join me.

 


Fabrice Muamba: Ego Masquerading As Humility

On the 17th March 2012, Fabrice Muamba, the now ex-Bolton Wanderers footballer, suffered a cardiac arrest on the pitch during an F.A. Cup quarter final fixture against Tottenham Hotspurs at White Hart Lane, Tottenham’s home ground.  It was a truly shocking incident, played out live in front of 35,000 supporters at the game and millions of viewers watching on TV at home.  We all sat there pale faced, hoping that a combination of the strength and fitness of Muamba, and the remarkable skills and knowledge of the medics at hand, would be enough to save the life of this talented individual and seemingly all round nice guy.

At least that is what I assumed was happening at the time.  Sadly however, this is not the story that has since been detailed in the media – nor even more sadly, by Fabrice Muamba himself, after indeed being saved by the brilliant actions of the many people of science at the ground, in the ambulance, and at the London Chest hospital in the days and weeks that followed.  The first hints of an alternative narrative came from the all too often non-thinking world of professional football itself.  The campaign ‘Pray for Muamba’ was launched whilst the player’s life still hung in the balance.  I had initially hoped the wording was just representative of the poverty of our language, but very quickly it became clear this awful event was being hijacked by religious people in order to forward their own agendas.

The snide swipes at those of us who have not been convinced by the non-existent evidence for anything supernatural began, predictably, over Twitter with the Tottenham player Kyle Walker writing; “…Doesn’t matter if you are not religious.  Pray for Muamba.”  I concede that it is possible that Kyle Walker just doesn’t quite understand that to someone who is not religious, praying is as pointless as an ashtray on a motorbike – or in other words, precisely as effective as not praying at all.  However, I think he was really implying that it would be mean if we atheists failed to pray for Muamba.  I think he was suggesting that whilst it’s ok to offer philosophical alternatives to scripture in a debating hall, now that someone’s life is at stake, atheists should stop the nonsense and implore God to help.  Wrapped up in this is the rather conceited claim that believers somehow have access to knowledge or a ‘gift of faith’ that non-believers do not, and so as such praying is definitely necessary and righteous – atheists just cannot see it.  Due to this presumably god given handicap, atheists need to be educated and guided by those who are blessed (in this case Kyle Walker) and thereafter any atheist still stubborn enough to refrain from praying is guilty of not caring by failing to help in this mass call to arms to the almighty.

Despite the media’s apparent new found love affair with proselytising sportsmen in the wake of this awful event, one still assumed that once Muamba was out of harm’s way, the true heroes of the day would be honoured accordingly.  But then Fabrice Muamba began to talk.  The important fact that we learnt was that this man is a devout Christian.  The rest of his irrelevant thoughts on the matter can be garnered from a recent interview published in The Times newspaper.  The article contains hardly a single sentence that anyone with a critical mind can take seriously, but the highlights are as follows; Muamba is welcoming, even encouraging the title ‘The Miracle Man’.  He is quoted as saying, “Science played a part but God played the main part” and “He (God) decided I should live.”  He also lies to enhance his boasts of supernatural intervention and selection by claiming that he went “without oxygen for 78 minutes.”

Let’s start with the latter.  My first thought was to wonder where I had seen this sort of behaviour before.  Then it came to me – it was here:  http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/this-must-be-heaven.  In short, a Christian neurosurgeon, Eben Alexander, contracted meningitis and fell into a coma, during which he claims he visited heaven.  If you don’t have the time to read the whole article, here is the key summary, as provided by Mark Cohen, a neurologist and pioneer in the field of neuroimaging.  He wrote:

“…coma does not equate to ‘inactivation of the cerebral cortex’ or ‘higher-order brain functions totally offline’ or ‘neurons of my cortex stunned into complete inactivity’. These describe brain death, a one hundred percent lethal condition.”

Likewise, the human body cannot survive without oxygen for more than a few minutes.  What Fabrice Muamba really means is that his heart did not work on its own for 78 minutes.  He was of course having oxygen pumped into his lungs and having his heart helped along by a variety of procedures I won’t pretend to understand.  This is not even close to what Muamba is claiming and it is impossible to imagine he doesn’t know it.  But he also knows that such lies may convince some people of the power of Jesus Christ.  It is easy at first to be shocked and surprised at the thought of someone in a privileged position lying to people who may not know any better, but then one realises that this is what many religious people do every single day when they label and indoctrinate children.  It is quite literally their life’s work.  In what other context would such a job description or character trait not be considered outrageous by everyone?

However, in terms of my own disgust, I rank this third of Muamba’s crimes.  The runner-up is his apathy and lack of appreciation towards those who really did save his life.  He does begrudgingly acknowledge that science played a role – but what he really wants you to get moist around the eyes over is the part that God played, according to him.  The truth is that there are very few places that this could have happened where there would have been any hope of survival.  If this had occurred, for example, at his home or during training, Fabrice Muamba would almost certainly have died.  Yet he gives the impression of being completely unaware of just how fortunate he was that his cardiac arrest took place in an environment where he was surrounded by medical people (including a heart specialist in the crowd who came onto the pitch to assist) and where an ambulance was already present.  With this latter point in mind, Muamba ought to have saved at least some of his gratitude for Jose Mourinho, whose actions 5 years ago resulted in an ambulance being placed on standby at every game.  Mourinho reacted angrily, and subsequently made an official complaint to the FA, after one of his players had to wait 30 minutes for an ambulance after suffering a head injury.  “This is much more important than football” he famously said.  Those seven words, unfashionable in the world of football which still loves to swoon over the irresponsible ramblings of Bill Shankly (Shankly once claimed that football was much more important than life and death), were the true catalyst to saving Fabrice Muamba’s life – not God tinkering with the laws of nature.  What would Muamba’s fate have been had Mourinho simply put his own player’s survival down to God’s will?

By far and away the most disgraceful element of this sorry tale though, is Fabrice Muamba’s utter lack of humility and its accompanying sinister implications.  He claims that God chose him.  I’d be happy even to set aside the astounding arrogance of this conclusion.  What one simply cannot ignore however, is the corollary to this; that those who suffer death from similar experiences (or any experience) are not special enough to be saved.  Are all the babies who are dying of starvation or dehydration around the world at the very moment you are reading this sentence simply unworthy of God’s love?  How could any truly moral person say such a thing?  What would one have to believe about themselves or the nature of reality to even entertain those thoughts?  Therein lies the horror show that is organised religion, for there is no way out of this moral catastrophe other than to say that the lord works in mysterious ways.  For some of us, this falls way short of adequate.

(The title for this essay ‘Ego Masquerading As Humility’ is taken from a quote by the comedian and outspoken atheist Bill Maher)


Reign Of Evil – The Life & Work Of Joseph Ratzinger

Timeline:

1927 – Joseph Ratzinger is born in Bavaria, Germany

1941 – Joins the Hitler Youth aged 14 (as was compulsory)

1945 – Fights for the regular German Infantry against the Americans on the Western front and is taken prisoner

1951 – Ordained as a Priest

1977 – Becomes Archbishop of Munich & Freising

1981 – Appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) – formerly known as the inquisition

2002 – Named Dean of the College of Cardinals

2005 – Begins reign as 265th Pope

2013 – Resigns as Pope aged 85

 

On Contraception

Joseph Ratzinger condemned condom use as a sin, even to stop the spread of HIV.  He even went as far as propagating the Catholic dogma that condom usage increases the rate of HIV infection because latex is porous to the virus.  He said:

If there is no human dimension, if Africans do not help, the problem cannot be overcome by the distribution of prophylactics: on the contrary, they increase it.”

Ratzinger insisted that the only solutions were abstinence and prayer.

It’s impossible to quantify just how many lives have been and will continue to be lost because of Ratzinger’s insistence during a trip to Africa that condoms are worse than AIDS, but as this is the only advice available on sexual health in many places, one must presume his input to be a significant factor in the early, painful deaths of millions.

On Women & Abortion

He is against the idea of women being allowed to become Priests, supporting the churches stance that women do not have the moral capacity for spiritual leadership.

He is also against all abortions, even in cases of rape, and so supports depriving women of control over their own bodies, to say nothing of condemning hundreds of millions to poverty and starvation.

On Medicine

He is against IVF treatment because it interferes with God’s plan.

He is opposed to life-saving embryonic stem cell research because he thinks 1 day old embryos have a soul.

On Homosexuals

Joseph Ratzinger denounced homosexuality in the following ways:

“A deviant trend”, “Without any social value”, “An intrinsic moral evil”, “Contrary to human love”, “An expression of an anarchic freedom that wrongly passes for true freedom.”

As a consequence he actively encouraged discrimination, stating:

“Sexual orientation is not equivalent to race or ethnicity…it is not unjust discrimination.”

He clearly enjoyed mocking same-sex marriages, referring to them often as ‘pseudo-matrimonies’.  He also claimed same-sex marriage was a threat to world peace and threatened to excommunicate anyone within the church who supported gay rights.

On Catholic History

In 2007, whilst in Brazil, Ratzinger remarked:

“…native populations had been silently longing for the Christian faith brought to South America by colonizers.  The proclamation of Jesus and of his Gospel did not at any point involve an alienation of the pre-Columbus cultures, nor was it the imposition of a foreign culture.”

As the colonisation of South America involved one of the worst genocides known to humanity, this hardly surprisingly gave rise to calls for an apology for a blatant attempt to re-write history.  The apology has yet to come.

On Judaism

It was often argued that Ratzinger’s eye-witness experiences of Nazi Germany would make him more sensitive towards Jewish people.  However, a couple of events raised some eyebrows.  Firstly, he re-introduced a prayer containing the words “lift the veil so that Jews may be delivered from their darkness,” implying that darkness is where they currently are.   Previous Popes had stopped using this out of respect for Jewish people.

He also lifted the excommunications of four bishops who are members of the notoriously anti-Semitic Society of St Pius X.  At least one of these is an outspoken holocaust denier.

On Atheism

Upon his arrival in the UK in 2010, presumably in response to calls for his arrest for complicity in crimes of child abuse from prominent British atheists Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, Ratzinger gave a speech in which he blamed the crimes of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union on atheism.

On Sexual Abuse Crimes within the Catholic Church

Joseph Ratzinger’s career in the Catholic Church could have been known as the one which sharpened its resolve to fight the evil of homosexuality as they see it.  However, his 34 year long (that we know of) commitment to the concealment of sex crimes against children and the protection of paedophiles will surely usurp anything he did or said against gay people.  What follows are just a few examples of his approach toward such matters:

In 2001, Pope John Paul II placed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in charge of the investigation of child rape and torture by Catholic priests. Ratzinger was head of this department and immediately issued a letter to every bishop reminding them of the extreme gravity of the crime of reporting rape and torture to the police. Ratzinger said in the letter that the problem of child abuse was only treatable within the church’s jurisdiction. Any sharing of the evidence with legal authorities was utterly forbidden. He said that it was to be handled…

“…in the most secretive way … restrained by a perpetual silence … and everyone … is to observe the strictest secret which is commonly regarded as a secret of the Holy Office … under the penalty of excommunication.”

In 1980, an 11-year-old German boy was taken on a vacation to the mountains by Father Peter Hullermann. The boy was locked in a room, given alcohol and forced to perform fellatio on the priest. The offending cleric was transferred to another district by then-Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger, rather than being reported to the police. In no time at all, the priest resumed his career of sexual assault on young boys in the new district.

In 1982 Bishop John Cummins of Oakland, California wrote to Cardinal Ratzinger to request the defrocking of Priest Stephen Kiesle under his jurisdiction because he had admitted to and been prosecuted for the molestation of two young boys aged 11 and 12.  Ratzinger replied that he needed time to think about it, saying:

“…the good of the universal Church needed to be considered.”

In the two years that passed before Ratzinger was eventually pressured into authorising the defrocking, Kiesle was put out to volunteer at another Parish where it was later found that he committed multiple acts of abuse against children.

In 1996 Ratzinger over-ruled a request from US Bishops to defrock Priest Lawrence Murphy from Wisconsin.  Murphy had admitted to abusing 200 deaf boys throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s.  Ratzinger however accepted Murphy’s pleas in a letter that he was old and simply wanted to die with dignity.

Summary

Joseph Ratzinger’s whole career appears to have been dedicated to the proliferation of the very worst evils.  He hates women, he makes no secret of his pathological disgust of homosexuals, he knowingly assisted the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa and throughout the world with his preaching’s against condom use, and he wrote and signed a letter that makes it clear that he believed the church’s reputation comes before the protection of young children from rapists.  He was also, along with his brother Georg who was eventually forced to apologise for his habit of slapping around young boys at the choir school he ran, a capricious bully and a compulsive liar.

It’s a blessing he has gone – and hopefully now that he is no longer protected by the preposterous Vatican status of head of state, he can be brought to justice in criminal courts (or at a minimum personally sued) for the failure to report sexual abuse crimes of which he knew, for ordering and assisting in the cover up of those crimes, and for enabling their continuity.