Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Terry Sanderson: When Diversity Becomes Divisiveness

"The story about Sainsbury’s allowing their Muslim staff to refuse to sell alcohol – or even stack it on shelves if they don’t want to – was widely reported last week. Most people thought it just another minor example of the “political correctness gone mad” tabloid tale. [...] The woman who was refused the morning after pill by a Muslim pharmacist joins the growing number of people who have found themselves confronted with religious objections to perfectly legal activities. We have lived for a long time with the refusal of some Catholic doctors to provide abortion services, and the resistance of religious bodies to the introduction of a law that would permit assisted dying. [...] But now that idea of being exempted from service provision on grounds of religion is expanding. We have had cases of taxi drivers refusing to carry guide dogs in their cabs because of Koranic objections, we have had doctors refusing to prescribe contraception, and a Muslim policeman refusing to guard the Israeli embassy and Jewish policemen demanding to be excused duties on Saturday. Now we have shop workers in supermarkets wanting to pick and choose what goods they will sell."

Terry Sanderson, National Secular Society, 5. October 2007
Seems to me it's a perfectly good reason to avoid hiring religious people. Is it discrimination to avoid hiring a person that is going to discriminate? I don't think so.
It also has to be said that in Islam, it's not even haram to drink alcohol. It's just that they expect it to lead to haram if you have a couple of drinks. But that shouldn't affect selling it. And also, transporting dogs is not haram either.
These Muslims are trying hard to be holier than Muhammed, and they should get no respect.

See also:
The Herald: Sainsbury’s does Islam no favours
Daily Mail: Muslim medical students refuse to learn about alcohol or sexual diseases

Monday, October 8, 2007

Survey: More Americans Familiar with Big Mac Ingredients than 10 Commandments

"A study done in conjunction with the release of a film reports that more Americans know the ingredients of the Big Mac than what the Ten Commandments are.


In a new study conducted by Kelton research in conjunction with the upcoming release of the animated feature film, The Ten Commandments, 80 percent of respondents knew "two all beef patties" were among the ingredients of the Big Mac but only six out of ten could identify "Thou shalt not kill” as one of the Ten Commandments. Also, while 43 percent of respondents – including those who regularly attend worship – could recall Bobby and Peter, two of the least-recalled names from the Brady Bunch, they were less familiar with two of the least recalled commandments – "Remember the Sabbath" (34 percent) and "Do not make any false idols" (29 percent).

Christian Post, Oct. 03 2007
You get the picture...

Religion and Social Issues

"The survey finds a strong relationship between a country's religiosity and its economic status. In poorer nations, religion remains central to the lives of individuals, while secular perspectives are more common in richer nations.1 This relationship generally is consistent across regions and countries, although there are some exceptions, including most notably the United States, which is a much more religious country than its level of prosperity would indicate. Other nations deviate from the pattern as well, including the oil-rich, predominantly Muslim -- and very religious -- kingdom of Kuwait."

Pew Research Center, October 4, 2007
Lot's more numbers in the report.
See also this, which taken from the same survey:
"Pakistanis who believe that religion and government should remain separate were only 33 per cent of the population in 2002. Five years later their size grew to 48 per cent, a 15 per cent increase. In Turkey, support for secularism declined by 18 per cent over the same period. In 2002, 73 per cent Turks said they believed religion and politics did not mix. Although secularists are still a majority in Turkey, their size declined to 55 per cent in 2007."

Pakistan Dawn, October 08, 2007

The New Atheism (and the left)

"If someone tells you that Islamic extremists are part of a “liberating” multitude because they are against imperialism, remind them that some folks in an earlier generation of leftists were quite able to be anti-imperialist and also to be against the Stalin-Hitler pact. They didn’t need hundreds of pages of theoretical delirium to figure it out. And remember that there were leftists whose theoretical hallucinations led them to imagine that the Second World War was little more than a reprise of conflicts among imperialists.[...]

Nonetheless, I am struck at how parts of the extreme left apologize for Islamic extremism in ways reminiscent of how an earlier generation found ways to apologize for Stalinism. The objects excused are different but the patterns of apologetics are sadly similar. It shows that there really is something I once called ‘the left that doesn’t learn.’"

Mitchell Cohen (professor of political science), Dissent Magazine, Fall 2007
An interesting article that has insights both on religion in USA as well as the Left.
It is no doubt a problem today that parts of the left do not follow up on their ideals when it comes to Islam. That is sad, because some good old idealism and activism for human rights is a lot better now than a relativistic fight for "the right to conform to your culture". I'm not sure it's the stalinist types that are currently defending Islam though. It seems to me it's the all too liberal left that does so. I hope the left can get more active, because a lot of the debate is hampered by the fact that Christians are more eager to fight for universal feminism and whatnot than the left itself.
It's going to be another black spot on leftist history unless they pull themselves together.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Ellen Johnson Responds to "The End of Atheism"

"Mr. Harris cannot see why we need a name for a group of people who are "against" something, or who don't believe in something. Take racism he says. There isn't any term for people who are against racism. We give ourselves a name because we are proud of who we are. A group needs to be identified in some way. And we want to be a "group." We aren't just against something. We are something.
Is the American Cancer Society just "against" something because they fight against cancer? Are they a "negative" organization? Is Greenpeace a negative organization because they are against pollution? Sounds silly doesn't it? Yet we buy into this nonsense when it is said about us.


From my experience, Christian fundamentalists are more concerned about our "activism" than what we call ourselves. They will attack anyone, Atheist or Theist, who challenges their privileged position in society. Remember Lisa Herdahl in Mississippi? She challenged organized school prayers there and she was a Christian. She was viciously attacked by the religious community for her efforts. Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong has received sixteen death threats in the last 30 years because of his liberal religious views. Trying to distance ourselves from our Atheism is not the answer."

Ellen Johnson, (president of American Atheists), HumanistNetworkNews.org, Oct. 3, 2007

There was another article posted at Sam Harris' site (Caspar Melville, Guardian, October 5, 2007):
"Among the distinguished audience listening to Harris’ speech were all the A-list A-thiests including Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens and Dawkins himself. Asked afterwards what he thought of the speech Dawkins replied: “I think he was making a very interesting point, and I’m still thinking about my reaction to it.” Perhaps he thinking it’s not too late to rebrand the Out project. He could say that the “A” doesn’t stand for “atheist” after all, but for something else entirely. Any suggestions?"
It would have to stand for Anonymous.

Fundies are so nasty... but moderates? They're great!

"3....2....1.... Done. No more fundies anywhere in the world. Not a single person who believes the scripture so much that they are willing to kill for it. The only people left are atheists and moderately religious people. There will be wars and hatred and other evils but due to crime, politics, racism... The religious wars would stop. People wouldn't get hurt because of their religion. Although there is still plenty of things going wrong, the world is now a better place. [...]

How long does the peace last? Could be for a LONG time but there are major problems. Theoretically, the first problem could start a few years after the fundies vanished. All it takes, is for a child to be born. [...] This child doesn't have fundie thoughts forced on him, because his parents were moderates. He isn't told to hurt other people of other religions because they are moderates. He is even told scientific truths about the world that the religious may not like simply because they are nice moderates. But the kid reads the bible. If he didn't read the bible, all might have been well. "Here you go son, we are nice normal moderates who are fair to everyone. This is the bible and it contains the words of god, have a read if you want to". All it takes is for a child to read the damn thing and think it is the word of god. One child reads it, believes it and then doesn't take it seriously. But another can read it, the words from his own creator... and why not take it seriously? It's stupid and dumb to make it up as you go along. If this book is the word of god, we should be following to every word! One fundie is born. Not through training but simply because he read the book too literally and his moderate parents believe it."

Peter Harrison, forum post at Richarddawkins.net, Wed Oct 03, 2007
Just saw this and thought it was right on. As long as the Bible or any other holy book is considered holy, there will be young inquisitive minds asking why the book is not taken more seriously, considering it's holy.
On the other hand, if no-one believes the books to be holy, then interpretation is a "disinterested" scholarly question only, not a question of life and death.

Some good tools for Bible studies

I've been reading a little bible lately and also discussed it with believers. This, of course, can be straeneous, but you learn a lot as you go.

The most obvious, and probably the most well-known tool among Atheists is Skeptic's Annotated Bible. It takes you right to the goodies. It has to be said, that sometimes it tends to take a worst case interpretation of verses, so whatever you do, you need to read it in context. But as for showing you the good stuff, and the subjects you need, it is pretty perfect.
Notice that SAB also provides you with links to articles about the subjects at hand, even including apologist rebuttals. You get both sides then, so you can prepare for counterarguments.

Skeptic's Annotated Bible is the King James version, and it is not always the most reliable translation. Therefore, Biblegateway is good because it allows you to easily compare different translations, also non-English. For generally searching the KJV bible, Blue Letter Bible is the most easy to use.

A tool I found today however is a real goodie: Scripturetext.com. You look up a passage at the upper left and you can see different translations below, including Greek and Hebrew if you push those tabs. The real nice part is to hit the Lex tab because you get dictionary definitions of each word in Hebrew/Greek so you can easier see if the translations into English (etc.) could have had different meanings. And you can probably counter the more blunt attempts by apologists to explain away about what the words "really" says.
I now also noticed that Blue Letter Bible has a similar function to Scripturext. When you have a list of bibleverses, you can hit the C tab for Concordance on the left. Then you'll see al the words of a verse, and their Hebrew/Greek counterparts as well as Strong's numbers. Click a number, and you'll get a list of all the places that the same Greek/Hebrew word has been used in the bible.

Here are also two informative sites:
The Rejection of Pascal's Wager. Don't let you scare away by the title, because there's much more than Pascal-bashing. If you read up on the texts on Paul and Jesus and scriptures, you get introduced to a lot of good research, complete with references and all. I'd wish the site had a better structure, but there's a lot to be learned.

Religious Tolerance is also good. It's not an Atheist site, but gives you information about beliefs and theology from a critical and liberal view in addition to providing the conservative view. This can often be illuminating.

Last year I read Who Wrote The Bible by Richard E. Friedman. It's about the Documentary Hypothesis, which says that the five first books in the Bible were not written about Moses, and gives some pretty interesting insights into higher Bible criticism. I don't think anything compares to get the introduction from this book, but even so, here are some OK links on the subject of the Documentary Hypothesis:
Article at University of Pennsylvania website and example using the flood story.
Article at Religious Tolerance.

Well, that's enough research for now!

Friday, October 5, 2007

European lawmakers condemn efforts to teach creationism

"The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe condemned efforts to teach creationism in schools Thursday in a vote that underlined concern about the rise of a new socially conservative agenda in several countries.
Members of the assembly, which monitors human rights, approved 48 to 25 a report that attacked advocates of creationism for seeking "to impose religious dogma" and to promote "a radical return to the past" at the expense of children's education."

International Herald Tribune, October 4, 2007
What they voted for.

Anyway, this is great news!

Norway flourishes as secular nation

"Rev. Rick Mason notes that atheism is on the rise. He blames Christian fundamentalism. Certainly the ineptness, dishonesty and lack of ethics of the overtly God-fearing Bush administration may be turning people off on God.
A case study shows what this could mean for America. Norway has embraced secularism at the expense of its Christian roots. A 2005 survey conducted by Gallup International rated Norway the least religious country in Western Europe.
In Norway, 82.9 percent of the population are members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (they are automatically registered at birth and few bother to be unregistered). However, only approximately 10 percent regularly attend church services and identify themselves as being personally Christian.
A 2006 survey found: 29 percent believe in a god or deity; 23 percent believe in a higher power without being certain of what; 26 percent don't believe in God or higher powers; 22 percent have doubts.
Depending on the definition of atheism, Norway thus has between 26 percent and 71 percent atheists. The Norwegian Humanist Association is the world's largest humanist association per capita.
And what has secularism done to Norway? The Global Peace Index rates Norway the most peaceful country in the world. The Human Development Index, a comparative measure of life expectancy, literacy, education and standard of living, has ranked Norway No. 1 every year for the last five years.
Norway has the second highest GDP per capita in the world, an unemployment rate below 2 percent, and average hourly wages among the world's highest.

David N. Miles, Montgomery Advertiser (letters), October 5, 2007 (also at Dawkins.)
While I knew this already, this pleased me no end to read! And I have to say that in the early 90s I never thought I'd sit here 15 years later and cheer that religion is on the retreat here.
Of course, the case of Norway doesn't say that secularisation leads to prosperity(there's the oil and everything), but it says firmly that secularisation does not lead to immoral chaos, which is what many Christians want you to believe.
And just so there's no jealousy, it has to be said that Norways neighbours fare no worse. ;)

See also: Norway: 68 percent skeptical to religious organisations

Logical Path from Religious Beliefs to Evil Deeds

"It is easy for religious faith, even if it is irrational in itself, to lead a sane and decent person, by rational, logical steps, to do terrible things [because of religious texts]. There is a logical path from religious faith to evil deeds. There is no logical path from atheism to evil deeds. Of course, many evil deeds are done by individuals who happen to be atheists. But it can never be rational to say that, because of my nonbelief in religion, it would be good to be cruel, to murder, to oppress women, or to perpetrate any of the evils on the Hitchens list."
Richard Dawkins, On Faith, October 2, 2007

Revisiting the Danish Cartoon Crisis (interview with editor of Jyllandsposten)

"I think many people betrayed their own ideals. The history of the left, for instance, is a history of confronting authority—be it religious or political authority—and always challenging religious symbols and figures. In this case, they failed miserably. I think the left is in a deep crisis in Europe because of their lack of willingness to confront the racist ideology of Islamism. They somehow view the Koran as a new version of Das Kapital and are willing to ignore everything else, as long of they continue to see the Muslims of Europe as a new proletariat.
But what really bothers me today—and this hasn't been reported very widely—is that right after the cartoon crisis, the Organization of the Islamic Conference at the United Nations sponsored a resolution condemning the "ridiculing of religion." It didn't pass, but in March of this year the United Nations Human Rights Consul, which is the highest international body in the world for the protection of human rights, passed a resolution condoning state punishment of people criticizing religion. I think this is a big scandal. This was a direct result of the "cartoon crisis." Fortunately the European Union voted against it. But countries like Russia, Mexico and China supported the resolution. And in this resolution, they call on governments to pass laws or write provisions into their constitutions forbidding criticism of religion. This would give a free hand to authoritarian regimes around the world to clamp down on dissidents."
Flemming Rose, Reason.com, October 1, 2007
Regarding the last part, see these posts:
NGOs gagged again at UN Human Rights Council
A Catastrophe for Human Rights
Islamists Turn UN Human Rights Body into a Laughing Stock

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Sam Harris The Problem with Atheism

"The problem is that the concept of atheism imposes upon us a false burden of remaining fixated on people’s beliefs about God and remaining even-handed in our treatment of religion. But we shouldn’t be fixated, and we shouldn’t be even-handed.


The second reason to be attentive to the differences among the world’s religions is that these differences are actually a matter of life and death. There are very few of us who lie awake at night worrying about the Amish. This is not an accident. While I have no doubt that the Amish are mistreating their children, by not educating them adequately, they are not likely to hijack aircraft and fly them into buildings. But consider how we, as atheists, tend to talk about Islam. Christians often complain that atheists, and the secular world generally, balance every criticism of Muslim extremism with a mention of Christian extremism. The usual approach is to say that they have their jihadists, and we have people who kill abortion doctors. Our Christian neighbors, even the craziest of them, are right to be outraged by this pretense of even-handedness, because the truth is that Islam is quite a bit scarier and more culpable for needless human misery, than Christianity has been for a very, very long time. And the world must wake up to this fact. Muslims themselves must wake up to this fact. And they can."

Sam Harris On Faith/Atheist Alliance September 28th, 2007
Let me at once say that I disagree with avoiding calling ourselves Atheists. However, he makes some good points in the article. The quote above in particular. I for one am sick and tired of hearing the stupid relativistic mantra that "There are extremists on both sides". There are a couple of billion believers in the world, and we can't take on them all, so we need to set our priorities right and if we are to be understood we can not say that some evangelical fundie is as bad as a suicide bomber. That's simply not the case. Now naturally, we must target Christianity, but we shouldn't tell Christians that they're all as bad as Muslim fundamentalists. This kind of comparison is even used about Atheists vs fundies, so I think you know how it feels. It's unfair.

Now to the qeustion of labels. How can you be a political force/lobby group unless you can show hard cash in the shape of a large (and larger) number of people who call themselves Atheists? You can't. I think we've all heard about "the powerful Jewish lobby" in USA. Well, there are only five million Jews in USA, and lots more Atheists. (And it's not like they weren't stigmatized at a time.)
Sam Harris also forgot, regarding racism, that there are actually a lot of people who refer to themselves as Anti-Racists. (Imho, some of them often do come across as a tad fanatic and at least here around think that beating up nazis is OK, but it's in part because nazis by definition are also fanatic. Well, different problem altogether.) However, the thing is: if there is something in society that you object to, then it's not meaningless to label yourself as being opposed to it.

It's when the idea that you object to has disappeared that you should ask yourself what the point is in using a term for being against it. However, Atheism is a perfectly meaningful term because there is rampant theism everywhere.

As for meditation, I think what he argues is that since lots of religious feelings are based upon argument from personal experience, then we should try this experience so that we know what we're talking about. That's a fair point, although I will meditate over my own dead body! I also don't think it's practical to spend half a day doing nothing.I always liked the term Protestant work morals, so I'd rather be a Protestant Atheist rather than some half-buddhist.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Atheists still hated in USA

PEW has released a new survey that shows how Americans view Muslims. I won't bother with that, but take a look at this stat.
43% of Americans have favourable opinions on Muslims, while only 35% have favourable opinions of Atheists. Further, while 35% have unfavourable views of Muslims, 53% have unfavourable views of Atheists.

So I just have to ask: who crashed two planes into the fucking WTC? Who are the terrorists in the Middle East? Who used bombs in Madrid & London? Who are behind most of the terrorist attackes the last ten years if you check out this list?
Atheists? No, I don't think so. There are a couple of really mean writers, but I doubt anyone of them even has a gun (well apart from Hitchens perhaps).

America. Get real.