Tag Archives: religion

2014 – Another Year In Denial

ISIS

So it’s been another big year for religion.  As such, it’s almost impossible to list all of its ‘achievements’ but below are some ‘highlights’:

In terms of wars, we’ve seen the growth of ISIS as they conquered large areas of Syria and Iraq, murdering, enslaving and raping tens of thousands of people in the process, and beheading four western journalists and an aid worker. We’ve witnessed yet another outbreak of violence between Israel and Palestine, resulting in the deaths of approximately 2,200 people, many of whom were innocent non-combatants. There has been a continuation of the bloodletting in the Central African Republic between Christians and Muslims, causing an unknown number of civilian casualties – but 5,000 is considered a very conservative estimate. Boko Haram, the Nigerian Islamic group, have moved on from hit and run attacks to holding territory in the North East of the country, displacing over half a million people while doing so, and murdering at least 2,000 just between January and June of this year (a total number for the whole year is unknown), to say nothing of their habit of kidnapping and raping pre-pubescent girls by the truckload. Finally, the fight against the Taliban in both Pakistan and Afghanistan continues to rage, with atrocities a regular occurrence, the worst of which we learned about only 2 weeks ago when 132 school children were shot and killed with automatic weapons at a school in Peshawar (9 teachers were also killed). Of course, though I will not make the case here, one could also argue that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is in part religiously motivated. Certainly much of Putin’s disdain for the West is linked to our increasingly secular, humanist and moral outlook that flies in the face of his professed and apparently sincere Orthodoxy.

With regards to religiously inspired terrorist attacks on Western soil, in the last few weeks alone there have been deadly strikes in Ottawa, Canada, in Nantes, France and in Sydney, Australia.

One thing that should instantly leap out at you from the above information is that this is truly a global struggle, with every continent regularly falling victim to attacks by individuals or armies high on religion. Last year of course, we had to endure the assault on the oilfield in In Amenas, Algeria, the Boston Marathon bombing in the US and the vicious murder of Lee Rigby on the streets of London, England, to name but three corners of the globe forced to mourn the loss of innocents.

In a sane universe, something like the following would make sense:

In response to the threat of religiously motivated violence, the world’s 2 billion atheists, along with the moderate faithful and the many leaders across the West in particular, are decrying these outrages against humanity in no uncertain terms. They are highlighting the obvious link between some religious texts and the actions of certain groups and individuals and demanding that these scriptural passages are universally rejected as simply wrong and pronounced as incompatible with a desire for a peaceful, moral and tolerant world. They are not only insisting that all religious leaders drive through reform from within their communities but furthermore are doing all that they can to intercept the passing on of terrible ideas to the next generation by attempting to ensure that every child receives a modern, secular education, free from religious dogma. Finally and more generally, the separation of church and state is being steadfastly defended and reinforced.

Unfortunately however, we appear not to live in this sane universe, but one parallel to it, where truth and logic are strangers. Here is David Cameron’s response to the massacre of 132 children in Peshawar:

“There is not a belief system in the world that can justify this sort of appalling act. I think what this shows is the worldwide threat that is posed by this poisonous ideology of extremist Islamist terrorism. It is nothing to do with one of the world’s great religions – Islam, which is a religion of peace.”

Here is US president, Barack Obama, on ISIS:

“ISIS is not Islamic because Islam is a religion of peace.”

After the self-appointed Iranian Muslim cleric Man Haron Monis, a man previously known for his habit of writing crude letters to the families of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan, walked into the Lindt Café in Sydney (incidentally, an establishment I have visited myself) with a shotgun and a black flag with the Shahada (the Islamic declaration of faith) written on it, and murdered two innocent people and shot a policeman in the face, Tony Abbott, the Australian Prime Minister, spoke these words:

“(Man Haron Monis) is a deeply unstable person with a long history of violence and mental illness… I guess one of the encouraging things is there are less and less of people trying to explain and justify terrorism in the name of religion.”

This mindless currying of favour with the public, rather than making nuanced arguments, is not only popular with politicians; some celebrities are also big fans, as was demonstrated recently by ‘Affleck-gate’. In the video below, mediocre American actor Ben Affleck loses both his marbles and his manners when he calls comedian Bill Maher, and author and neuroscientist Sam Harris “gross” and “racist” merely for articulating some of the undeniable intolerance and inequality that exists in parts of the Muslim world toward women, free-thinkers and homosexuals:

Video Link

At this moment in time, there appears to be no discernible plan at all by Western politicians to find a way out of the circle of violence.  I’m sorry to have to sign off the year on such a low.

 

“Islamophobia; a word created by fascists, and used by cowards, to manipulate morons.”

– Someone on Twitter


A True Expression Of Faith

Gaza

Fantasy, by comparison, is the drunken bore to reality’s life and soul of the party.  It’s Lennon’s sugar-coated ‘Imagine’ to Dylan’s biting ‘Masters of War’.  Fantasy is merely the representation of the limits of our imaginations.  Reality doesn’t require imaginations though, and it certainly doesn’t acknowledge man’s limitations in this regard.  The briefest of excursions into the worlds of biology, physics, & cosmology in particular, will reward you with information about this life that will leave you breathless.  Fairy tales are a poor substitute, trailing behind, clinging to the coat tails of truth.  Facts inform and inspire fiction, but the reverse is impossible.  How fascinating it is then that so many seem to have so much disdain for evidence based decisions.

It may sound as if I have something against ‘make believe’.  I really don’t.  I love a good story.  This truth about me gives rise to just another item on the list of reasons why I hate religion.  Religion survives on the myth that we all need to pretend sometimes.  Of course we don’t – but occasionally it’s fun.  The godly tarnish, dare I say poison, even this.

For sure being hostage to our imaginations is the least of fantasy’s crimes – it’s when it becomes a tool of fascism, used to justify genocide, murder, rape, torture, cruelty to animals and all the rest of it that we have to worry.  When grown-ups with access to guns and rockets start to believe, and I mean really believe that their wishes will come true, predicated only on certain behaviours, it really matters what these behaviours are and where the reasoning for them comes from.

And so it is that there are now only two clocks running in Israel and the Palestinian territories; one is what we might depressingly call the annihilation clock.  That is to say the moment when one side decides to go all in and commit the very worst of crimes.  The other is the atheism clock.  The moment of clarity when everyone in the region (and elsewhere) realises that even a two state solution is one more than is actually necessary.  It’s not clear yet which one of these clocks will rundown fastest.  Either way, what is clear is that while we wait for the ticking to stop, we will have to witness thousands of children being blown to pieces, interspersed with periods of calm where we’re all hoping that one side doesn’t look at the other the wrong way again.

Alas, fear not, I’m not about to write yet another analysis of this latest human catastrophe in the Middle East.  I simply wish for us all to admit what the real problem is, if only because that always seems like a good place to start when trying to resolve an issue.  It can be summarised with this graphic:

IsraelPalestine

These pronouncements, which are taken seriously by far too many, leave very little room for compromise or reason to hope that a permanent agreement is achievable.  They’re also why the war has a majority of public support on both sides of the conflict.

I think I must say one more thing.  None of us have done enough to prevent this.  None of us.  We all make concessions to untruth every day.  We all normalise it.  Scientology seems crazy to everyone, but that’s only because it’s new.  It’s no crazier than Judaism, Christianity or Islam.  We should be much more outraged at the miss-education of children, the ritual slaughter of animals, the unashamed resistance to equality for homosexuals, the misogyny and so on, in our own countries.  That’d be a start at least.

As Bill Maher said in his 2008 film ‘Religulous’: “Wherever there is mass delusion, bad things will follow.”

Trojan Horse Is Just The Tip Of The Iceberg

Faith Schools

The more that I read about the situation in some, who knows how many, of the schools around the UK with regards to the influence of religious teachings, the more I become convinced that the relevant authorities have not and will not get a grip of the situation.  And how can they, for not only do the inspectors themselves seem unable to navigate the ground between calling out the teaching of intolerant behaviour and insulting minority groups unnecessarily, but more pertinently, they are working in an environment that makes effective action almost impossible in any case.

The appropriate fear has of course been brought to the forefront of our minds by the so-called ‘Trojan Horse’ scheme by hard line Muslims, who are allegedly attempting to infiltrate UK schools, specifically in Birmingham and Bradford that we know about, so that they can indoctrinate children with ‘extremist’ Islamic ideas.

But the real issue here is the very concept of faith schools.  It matters not whether there actually is an organised plot to takeover schools because we do know for sure that children have been repeatedly segregated by gender.  We know that the teaching of evolution is often ignored, instead replaced by a grab bag of creation myths.  We know that sex education is likewise regularly completely omitted.  We also know that some children have been taught that homosexuals should be killed and that women cannot refuse to have sex with their husbands.

Yet for weeks, months, years, successive Governments have been acting as if this is a difficult issue to resolve.  In fact, it’s a little worse than that – the numbers of faith schools have increased year on year.

I will tell you what we can do.  We can demand that every child has a fair chance in life.  We can truly treat all cultures equally by insisting upon the same level of education for all, rather than the slightly insulting notion that learning by rote is ok for some people, but not others.  Religion must be entirely removed from all schools and replaced with classes based on a modern understanding of morals & ethics.  Sex education could easily be a part of this.  As I’ve argued before our societies must teach children kindness, empathy, altruism and so on, with as much vigour as it teaches them mathematics.  But alas, we are still in a world where most seem to believe that morals should be taught by the religious, whose institutions are doctrinally homophobic, misogynistic, anti-scientific and cruel to animals.  What hope can be found there?

Last week Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, sought to move the conversation away from religion and the issue of faith schools by suggesting that the problem was a lack of “British values” being taught in schools.  As if being nice is ‘British’.  And of course, slyly insinuating that people behave badly because they are not British enough is just piling on more divisive rhetoric.  I despair!


Wear The Poppy With Pride

Poppy

On the 4th August, 1914, Britain declared war on Germany to defend Belgium, and by proxy France, after Germany had set its ‘Schlieffen Plan’ in motion (a military operation intended to defeat Belgium, France & Russia in six weeks).

On the 3rd September, 1939, Britain declared war on Germany again, this time to defend Poland from Hitler’s search for ‘Lebensraum’ (living space) for the German people in the east.

In June 1992, a UN force, including British soldiers, entered the Bosnian war to protect Bosnian Muslims from the unfolding massacres being perpetrated upon them by Serb & Croat forces (with the encouragement of at least some Catholic Priests).

Currently, our soldiers are in Afghanistan and Iraq attempting to help re-build those societies and protect their people, having freed them from the suffocating, violent and all too often deadly consequences of living under religio-fascist dictatorships.  Whether you think this is a good thing or not, this is what they are doing.  They are risking their lives to protect the rights of women, to defend freedom of speech and to advocate the necessity of democratic, secular governance for a peaceful world.  As it’s a particular passion of my own, I think it’s worth mentioning that they are also saving animals from cruel practises such as bear baiting and dog fighting.

Of course one should never forget the vital contributions made from across the commonwealth, in the first and second world wars in particular, to assist the propagation of our most deeply held principles.  People from India, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada for example selflessly gave their lives alongside British troops.

And so it goes on.  Our shores have not been seriously threatened since 1588 and have not been breached since 1066.  The proudest moments in the recent history of our armed forces are represented by its defence of others, whoever they maybe, against nationalistic or religiously inspired aggression.   Whenever we have let ourselves down on the international stage, as for example we’ve undoubtedly done so on occasion in Northern Ireland, it has largely been due to us forgetting the core values for which we are generally, sometimes begrudgingly known for across the globe.

How distressing it must be then for those who’ve sacrificed so much for such noble, liberal, humanist causes, to see their legacy distorted by a section of the remembrance fraternity.  Some members of certain organisations (you know who they are), often whose essential business it is to ask for respect and support for our soldiers, far too often stain their reputations with racist, xenophobic and Christian rhetoric that are precisely not the values our soldiers fight and die for.  They are in fact the very evils being resisted.

So please wear the red poppy with pride this Remembrance Sunday.  But be sure to take a moment to consider what it truly stands for.  Let’s take back this fitting occasion from those who are perpetually angry and fearful of a changing world.


Veil Of Confusion

The Home Office Minister, Jeremy Browne, has said today (17th September, 2013) that we should have an open debate about whether the niqab, which is the face covering portion of the Burqa (the all encompassing garment often seen covering Muslim women from head to toe), can be worn in public places.

Absolutely!  By all means let’s have a debate.  But what are those in favour of allowing the niqab to be worn in public likely to say?  They will reliably argue that it is a matter of religious freedom, freedom of expression, and tolerance.  They will tell us that Muslim women who wear the veil do so out of choice.  And they will say that it does more harm to ban it because doing so will be a hindrance to cross cultural relations (in fact the ever feeble Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has already offered this defence of the niqab).

So is this just about freedom and civil rights?  We must first un-muddy some waters.  Liberty and tolerance do not require one to turn a blind eye to everything.  If they did, we wouldn’t require a police force.  Freedom of speech is a wonderful and precious cornerstone of our culture, worthy of vigorous defence, but we do not allow people to say literally anything, and for good reason.  One cannot incite or threaten violence.  One cannot even incite hate without some constraint.  Would we, for example, allow a media campaign recommending the boycott of all Jewish stores, as was done by the Nazis in the early 1930’s?  Of course not.  We do however allow campaigns for the boycott of certain stores if, for example, it is discovered that their suppliers use child labour abroad or test their products on animals.  The distinction should be clear; the latter is aimed at a faceless corporation that can immediately adapt its ethical behaviour (i.e. switch suppliers), whereas the former targets human beings distinguished only by that which they cannot change and did not choose, such as race, ethnicity or sexuality.

Further to this, we can easily see that we do not allow religion ‘carte blanche’ either.  Liberal societies are all broadly in agreement on the need to resist the imposition of Shari’a – Islamic religious law that often condemns criminals to brutal, medieval punishments and prejudices against woman, putting them at a distinct disadvantage in legal matters, particularly where sex crimes, divorce, domestic violence, child custody or inheritance are concerned.  We do not allow apostates to be murdered, as is demanded by most interpretations of Islamic doctrine.  We certainly do not allow people to be killed for working on Sundays, as the Bible recommends.  Both Yahweh and Allah are clearly for slavery and against homosexuality, but thankfully our laws reflect the opposite view.  So we must do some more thinking – to simply cry (religious) freedom doesn’t cut it.

Is this a feminist issue?  Yes it certainly is, but the other way about to how the argument is often formed.  Make no mistake, the niqab is a garment promoted by men, in the name of Islam, to protect their honour:

“Tell your wives and your daughters, and believing women, to draw their veils over their bodies. It will be better that they should be known as respectable woman.” (Quran 33:59)

Many Muslim men (not all) feel their honour is dependent on how submissive the women in their lives are because they believe, on the basis of religious scripture, that women are essentially their property – objects that can be bought and sold (think dowry – selling their daughters to other men in arranged, forced marriages), objects that must represent and serve the men who own them before themselves, and of course objects used for breeding.  To protect such misogyny beneath a cloak of feminism is an obnoxious insult to the extremely vital cause of real sexual equality.  It is also a form of cultural snobbery, as it suggests that western feminists believe freedom and equality to be indispensable for themselves but not necessarily for Muslim women – the soft bigotry of low expectations.

It is true that some Muslim women defend their right to wear the niqab, but then sadly it is also true that some Muslim women also defend and participate in the forced marriages, honour killings and genital mutilations of their own daughters.  No one of sound moral judgement argues that these are feminist issues.  It’s therefore impossible not to conclude that these women are just scared.  Scared of the men in their lives or scared of Allah – a fictional character whose lines were written by men, all too often with the express purpose of subjugating women.  In this regard, we may also wish to ask ourselves whether our real responsibilities lie with women who yearn for freedom or with those who are glad of their chains.

We also often hear western feminists explain to us that not every woman wants to present the image of herself that the more revealing end of western style clothing can generate.  This is perfectly reasonable of course, but it is remarkably easy not to conform to western ideals, or to otherwise remain inconspicuous, without wearing a cloth bag, with only a thin slit for seeing through, for the whole of your adult life.  Millions of women manage it every day.  However, only Muslim women dress as shown in the photo at the start of this article.  It is the urgent responsibility of all of us to wake up and realise why.  Quite frankly, I find it remarkable that the fact that no one else, anywhere in the world, with a genuine free choice dresses in this manner doesn’t raise more alarm bells.

Is banning the niqab worth the consequence of creating more tension in our relationship with Muslims here in the West?  We need only ask if it was worth upsetting slave masters by releasing slaves from their chains.  It is difficult to think of a more selfish and lethargic approach to social reform than to effectively say “scenario A is really bad for them, but scenario B isn’t great for me, so let’s keep scenario A.”  The journey we must actually embark upon is a far grander and more ambitious one than that.  With freedom comes great responsibility.

It should be clear to all moral, thinking people that the effacing of women via the niqab (as opposed to the covering of their hair and bodies in the form of the hijab) is a form of violence and oppression against women, and as such has no place in any society, anywhere.

 

“Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity.  The grave will supply plenty of time for silence”

Christopher Hitchens


Another Letter To A Believer

Dear Friend,

You told me that you read my previous letter, in which I challenged the logic of your beliefs.  Allow me now to anticipate the only other way to defend religion that I have ever encountered; that we need religion to be moral.

Before I deconstruct the arguments for this line of defence, it is necessary to make some broader observations with regards to this approach.  Firstly, as with the provision of consolation, arguing that religion makes us moral says nothing with regards to its truth.  Every religious person who is genuinely good may simply have been duped.  Indeed I would say that they certainly have been.  Further to this, I will argue in this letter that they are good in spite of religion, not because of it.  Secondly, it always pains me to have to point out what a dreadful world it would be if people were only good because they feared God’s wrath or hoped for his generous rewards.  Albert Einstein summed it up;

“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.”

So does a belief in God make us behave better?  Are we less likely to be violent if we have faith?  Do religious people treat their fellow human beings with greater tolerance and compassion?  Who is more charitable – believers or atheists?

All we have to answer these questions are the facts.  Facts are everything because they tell us what is really happening, as opposed to what some people may wish to be true or what members of in-groups simply tell each other.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first of all.  Almost every war that has been fought in the past 1,000 years has been a religious war, from The Crusades (1095-1291) to the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), through to the Catholic on Muslim genocide in The Balkans (1992-1995).  The Second World War, whilst not explicitly religious, certainly had its worst crimes inspired by religion.  Germany was overwhelmingly Catholic or Lutheran, and both of these are steeped in anti-Semitic traditions.  It is without question that this eased the path to implementing the Final Solution.  Hitler himself was a catholic, and invoked his faith in many of his speeches.

Today, the greatest risk to the destruction of large areas of our living space (and of course the instant death of millions of people) comes from three main threats; a dirty bomb (essentially a small, crude, nuclear device, perhaps as small as a briefcase) delivered by Jihadists, a full scale thermo-nuclear exchange over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or similar between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, both of whom are armed to the teeth with primed nukes, that are pointing almost exclusively at each other.  We should have no doubts in our minds that these are overtly religious conflicts, contrary to the insistence of many misguided liberals and much of the religious lobby.  How can we be sure of this?  Well, because this is what those involved in these disputes tell us.  To provide just one of many available examples, here is an excerpt from the Hamas charter:

“It is necessary to in steal in the minds of the Muslim generations that the Palestinian problem is a religious problem, and should be dealt with on this basis. Palestine contains Islamic holy sites. In it there is al-Aqsa Mosque which is bound to the great Mosque in Mecca in an inseparable bond…I swear by the holder of Mohammed’s soul that I would like to invade and be killed for the sake of Allah…”

If we can be sure of anything it’s that if we manage to destroy ourselves, it will be for the sake of an imaginary God.

When moving away from the theatre of war and its causes, it can likewise be shown that violence occurs most commonly (though of course not exclusively) among the religious on our streets and in our homes.  In America, where various polls inform us that four out of five people believe in God, only 0.2% of prison inmates profess to be atheist.  When ranking the US States by murder rate, almost all of the traditionally Christian bible belt States appear in the top half of the list.  In France, over 70% of prison inmates identify as Muslim.  Trends such as these are reflected unwaveringly across the entire world, by country and within their own demographic spread.

Surely though, the religious are more charitable?  Unfortunately, every non-bias study that has ever been conducted shows there is a perfect negative correlation between religiosity and the money donated per capita on an annual basis.  As Daniel Dennett noted:

“Needless to say, these results strike so hard at the standard claims of greater moral virtue among the religious that there has been a considerable surge of research initiated by religious organisations attempting to refute them.  One thing we can be sure of is that if there is a positive relationship between moral behaviour and religious affiliation it will soon be discovered, since so many are eager to confirm their traditional beliefs about this scientifically.  Every month that passes without such a demonstration underlines that it just isn’t so.”

And what of compassion and tolerance?  What does religious scripture demand relating to these noble traits, and is it reflected in how religious people act toward their fellow humans?

Let’s start with slavery.  Religious people are often credited with being at the forefront of the abolitionist movement in America.  Whilst on the surface this may appear to be the case, we should pause to question what really motivated them – was it an adherence to scripture?  What does the Bible have to say about slavery?

“As for your male and female slaves whom you may have, you may buy slaves from the nations that are round about you.  You may also buy from strangers and their families who have been born in your land, and they may be your property.” (Leviticus 25:44)

Was the New Testament, often (mis)credited with righting the wrongs of the brutal Old Testament, any better on the subject of slavery?

“Slaves, be obedient to those who are your earthly masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as to Christ.” (Ephesians 6:5)

“The slave who knew his master’s will and did not act will receive many lashes” (Luke 12:47)

Jesus clearly expected us to keep slaves and to beat them.  Oh merciful Lord!

Abolitionists did not have scripture on their side.  As with other social reforms, it was in fact the pressure of modern secular values and ethics that drove change, in spite of religion, not because of it.  The doors have only ever opened from the outside.

Two of the greatest struggles of the twentieth century with regards to social reform – those of equality for women and homosexuals have been, and are still being fought, almost entirely against religious groups. When we examine religious doctrines, it’s easy to see why.

Things start pretty badly for women in the Bible.  They are at first an afterthought, born from the spare parts of man, and not even given a name.  Eve, as we know her, is then the instigator of the original sin, and so responsible for the burdens of mankind until the end of days.  The subordination of women to men in the eyes of God is clear and their only purpose and chance of saviour comes as a wife and a mother.  There is nothing else in this life for a woman in the good book except to serve men.

The Koran makes great play of the impurity of women, especially during menstruation, so much so that men must not come into contact with them.  The Koran also informs us that the word of two women is required to equal that of one man.

“To the male goes the equivalent of the portion of two females (of inheritance).” Koran 4:11

“Men are in charge of women because Allah hath made one of them to excel over the other…so good women are obedient.  As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart and scourge them.” (Koran 4:34)

The first prayer a Jewish man must recite every day includes the giving of thanks to God for not making him a woman.  These attitudes, combined with the dogma of the virgin birth (an event we now know was not even in the original transcripts that eventually made up the Gospels, but rather was added later via what appears to be a deliberate mistranslation to enhance the case of Jesus’s messiah status), its illusions of purity and incitement of fear of female genitalia, have had terrible consequences for women through the ages, up to and including our own.

In Western societies, whilst it is bad enough that some countries did not give women the vote until after the Second World War (France, 1945, Belgium, 1946, Switzerland, 1971), there has been the constant need for women to fight for control over their own bodies, and to remain vigilant in the face of the ever present threat from the Godly.  In Ireland, where the Catholic church still calls the shots, abortion is illegal, and a tide of archaic reforms are creeping their way across the Bible belt in America, cynically obstructing women from access to sexual health information, birth control, even preventing rape crisis centres from advising on abortions.  In Ohio for example, laws have just passed that effectively cut off state funding to planned parenthood clinics and women are now obliged to undergo medically unnecessary ultrasounds before they can have an abortion – ultrasounds they must pay for themselves.

In societies that have been, or still are influenced by the teachings of Mohammed in particular, female genital mutilation (FGM), honour killings, dowry payments, gang rapes, acid attacks, niqabs, forced arranged marriages, lashings or even stonings due to a suspected lack of virginity (even after being raped) are things that we have become all too familiar with.  The honour of man before Allah is more important than the life or freedom of the lowly, lesser, impure woman as depicted in the Koran.

Homosexuals have fared little better under the gaze of the religious.  Once more, scripture is the source of their on-going misery:

“If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”  (Leviticus 20:13)

Study after study (see: http://www.pewforum.org/Muslim/the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society.aspx) shows us that well over 90% of Muslims the world over believe homosexuality to be morally wrong on the basis of doctrinal instruction.  The Talmud informs us that a man without a wife is only half a man.

As a result, religious lobbies in Western societies have continually campaigned against the legal rights of homosexuals, against their equal treatment in the public sphere and against their admittance into armed forces.  Unconscionably, it took until 2011 for America to allow openly gay people to join their military.  Only this year (2013) have France and England legalised gay marriage, much to the dismay of almost every key religious figure, including the new, supposedly liberal, Archbishop of Canterbury.

Elsewhere, homosexuals are actually in danger of arrest or worse.  Russia has just made public displays of homosexuality illegal after a despicable campaign by their Orthodox Church and there are currently nine countries, all deeply religious societies, where the ‘crime’ of homosexuality is punishable by death (Iran, Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Somaliland, Mauritania, & The Maldives).  Uganda is on the brink of becoming the tenth, due in no small part to the efforts and the funding of evangelical Christians in America. (see: http://www.godlovesuganda.com/film/story/)

There are many other areas of public life where religion also imposes its dubious morals at the expense of the suffering of others.  The great Catholic cover-up of crimes of sexual abuse against children within their midst I have written of previously, and the religious obstruction of embryonic stem cell research, currently one of the most promising areas of medical research because it has the potential to produce cures for so many chronic conditions, is breath-taking for its arrogance and callousness.  It is essentially saying that a small cluster of cells in a petri dish should be of greater concern to us than a living person who is in pain or dying.

Approximately 100,000 children die each year from cancer, and many of them without access to painkillers.  A belief in God means believing that this is his will and that it is the best thing that could happen.  Furthermore, you must also believe it is righteous for many of these children to go on to suffer for all eternity in the fires of hell for being born to parents who worshipped the wrong God (or no God at all).  If it is not obvious to people that such interpretations of these tragedies are repugnant, then there may be no helping them.

It is time we came to our senses and ceased trying to make this awful outlook on life compatible with our innate desires to minimise suffering and maximise happiness.  It is time we are all honest enough to accept that some belief systems are simply ill-equipped to promote the sort of universal kindness we must surely aspire to.

Sam


FILM: God Loves Uganda

Director:  Roger Ross Williams

Running Time:  83 Minutes

Website:  http://www.godlovesuganda.com/

 

Review

God Loves Uganda explores the role of the American evangelical movement in Uganda.

The film follows evangelical leaders in America and Uganda along with politicians and missionaries as they attempt the task of eliminating “sexual sin” and converting Ugandans to fundamentalist Christianity.

As an American-influenced bill to make homosexuality punishable by death wins widespread support, tension in Uganda mounts and an atmosphere of murderous hatred takes hold. The film reveals the conflicting motives of faith and greed, ecstasy and egotism, among Ugandan ministers, American evangelical leaders and the foot soldiers of a theology that sees Uganda as ground zero in a battle for billions of souls.

Through interviews and hidden camera footage – and with unprecedented access – God Loves Uganda takes viewers inside the evangelical movement in both the US and Uganda.

It offers a portrait of Lou Engle, creator of The Call, a public event that brings tens of thousands of believers together to pray against sexual sin. It provides a rare view of the most powerful evangelical minister in Uganda, who lives in a mansion where he’s served by a white-coated chef. It goes into a Ugandan church where a preacher whips a congregation into mass hysteria with anti-gay rhetoric.

God Loves Uganda records the culture clash between enthusiastic Midwestern missionaries and world weary Ugandans. It features a heart-breaking interview with gay activist David Kato shortly before he was murdered. It tells the moving story of Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, a minister excommunicated, ostracized and literally spat on for being tolerant – and chronicles his remarkable campaign for peace and healing in Uganda.

Shocking, horrifying, touching and enlightening, God Loves Uganda will make you question everything you thought you knew about religion.

Trailer (video link)

http://youtu.be/_x3PTLQRQbA

Global Screenings

UK Screening Information

Venue:  The DocHouse (ICA), The Mall, London, SW1Y 5AH.

Website: http://www.dochouse.org/film-screening/God-Loves-Uganda/332

Date:  01/08/2013

Time:  6:30 pm

Price:  £10

 


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.


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)