Respecting atheists… for now…

May 9, 2008 at 7:50 am | Posted in The God Delusion | Leave a comment
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It’s pretty hard to keep up with the clergy; one day we’re doomed to eternal damnation, the next they’re singing kum ba ya.

Here’s what Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor told his flock about us unwashed heathens atheists:

The Archbishop of Westminster has urged Christians to treat atheists and agnostics with “deep esteem”. Believers may be partly responsible for the decline in faith by losing sense of the mystery and treating God as a “fact in the world”, he said in a lecture.  Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor called for more understanding and appreciation between believers and non-believers.

Well it’s nice to know he doesn’t think we’re all baby-burning satanists bent on turning Cathedrals into casinos. Bravo, Cormac, for that very Christian act of understanding…

…Except, when writing about ‘atheistic secularism’ just 6 weeks ago, he was singing a rather different, less concilliatory tune:

It is not its attacks on religion that gives me pause for thought, but its vision of what is human. It says that this is all we are, this is it! We have no significant purpose; we’re merely chance products of material processes.

I believe we do have a purpose; that we are made for greater things. Atheistic secularism ultimately diminishes us; it kills the human spirit under the pretence of liberating it. Our democracy is too precious and costly a gift to be narrated by this version of the secular alone. I want to keep alive the church’s vision of humanity which is part of the truth it carries. It belongs not just to Catholics or to Christians but to us all. (emphasis mine)

Now, it’s still early in the morning and I’m low on caffeine, so just run this by me again: ‘Atheistic secularism kills the human spirit’, but Christians should still treat atheists with ‘great esteem’?

Well, it’s a novel way of loving thy neighbour.

Men of peace

April 11, 2008 at 12:34 pm | Posted in The God Delusion | Leave a comment
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A week after Tony Blair called for faith to be given a central role in tackling the world’s problems, Foreign Policy magazine lists five men whose faith plays a central role in creating some of the world’s problems. Here’s just one member of this infamous five:

Joseph Kony

Religion: Christianity/personality cult

Who is he?: Commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)

Country: Uganda

Quote: “[The spirits] speak to me. They load through me. They will tell us what is going to happen. They say ‘You, Mr. Joseph, tell your people that the enemy is planning to come and attack.’ They will come like dreaming; they will tell us everything.”

Why he matters: During two decades of civil war, Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army has killed more people than al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah combined. Kony, a former altar boy, aims to overthrow the Ugandan government and establish a regime based on the Ten Commandments. In pursuit of this goal, the LRA has abducted over 20,000 children to serve as soldiers and sex slaves, often forcing them to kill their own parents. Although Kony frequently uses biblical passages to justify his actions and has his child soldiers make the sign of the cross before battle, he mixes Christianity with mysticism and claims to be advised by a “spirit council” from beyond the grave. The LRA is currently in the process of negotiating a peace deal with the Ugandan government, but Kony is reluctant to leave his hide-out while under International Criminal Court indictment.

Quite the Love Thy Neighbour type. I assume Blair wasn’t talking about giving these guys‘ faiths a central role in problem-solving. Otherwise, we’d all have to start buying canned goods.

(Hat Tip)

‘Indecent dressing’

April 2, 2008 at 9:46 am | Posted in Feminisms, The God Delusion | Leave a comment
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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on Nigeria’s very sinister fashion police:

My friend Funmi Iyanda hosts a talk show on Nigerian TV in which she interviews state governors, actors and pastors. Her social consciousness is crusading without being self-righteous, her journalism intelligent and honest, her mind deeply kind. One day last December, on her way back from Lagos, she was stopped by policemen. They pointed at her knee-length dress and called her a prostitute, a harlot, a useless woman. They told her she was immoral, that women like her were the reason Nigeria was in such a bad state. Other women have no doubt experienced similar harassment, but things will become worse, horrendously so, if the senate passes a bill that would criminalise “indecent” dressing: necklines must be two inches or less from the shoulders, and the waist of a female over 14 must not be visible. It would be hilarious if it weren’t so dangerous.

All so that women don’t ‘tempt’ men into ‘misbehaviour’. In a country ravaged by rape & HIV, it’s a violent hypocrisy. You should read the whole thing and then buy her books; they’re terrific.

“My Subtle Variant of the Fairy Tale Is Truer Than Yours”

March 31, 2008 at 9:01 pm | Posted in The God Delusion | 1 Comment
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Gentlemen, start your engines: it turns out there are now more Muslims in the world than Roman Catholics.

I’m sure there’s some Code of Ethical Blogging constructed by a committee of the finest bloglords on the planet that instructs against quoting other people’s blog entries in full, but when the snark is this good, I feel compelled to act otherwise.

Via Reuters: The global population of misogynist cultists labeled “Muslim” have, at 19.2%, edged out longtime frontrunners the Roman Catholics (now just 17.4%) in the perennial struggle for world domination in the high-stakes My Subtle Variant of the Fairy Tale Is Truer Than Yours competition. What’s the secret of their success? Let’s ask Monsignor Vittorio Formenti, pointy-headed Vatican spokesbag:

“It is true that while Muslim families, as is well known, continue to make a lot of children, Christian ones on the contrary tend to have fewer and fewer.” [Source]

Clearly Catholic women are choosing to make the Virgin Mary cry in ever-increasing numbers. If the Catholics are to regain the pennant, they’re going to have to tighten up control of their uteruses.

But don’t go booking your victory dinner at Jean Georges just yet, Muslims! At a whopping 33%, Generic Christians — a loosely-connected super-sect comprised of all cults that advocate women’s oppression while employing the personal concierge services of the ghost of a dead Nazarene on a stick — still appease their vengeful male God in the greatest numbers overall, thus retaining the title on a technicality.

To atone for my sins, I insist you visit here and click on everything.

Update: This should be a parody but isn’t. John Gibson on the explosion of non-white children: White Ladies, Make More Babies

Seamus Milne’s Lord’s Prayer

March 27, 2008 at 10:06 pm | Posted in The God Delusion, What's left? | 1 Comment
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Now, this puts me in something of a predicament: either I’m too young, naive & drunk on the self-serving service of capitalism to know any better, or Seumas Milne is a paranoid left-wing dilettante who clumsily casts all those with whom he disagrees as badge-wearing advocates of corporatism, neo-conservatism and… well, general degeneracy.

Oh Neil, show some restraint,’ a voice pleads. ‘Aren’t you being a bit rash to judge such a faithful comrade? Does he really deserve such wordy condemnation?‘ Perhaps/perhaps not, but I’m working on the theory that if all educated people find at least five minutes in their days to ridicule those who, without irony, use the absurd formulation of ‘militant atheists/secularists’, perhaps they’ll only ever use it in those obscure journals that never make it further north than Cambridge (sorry Southerners – you’re on your own).

With their cordouroy jackets and open-necked shirts, their esteemed teaching positions and speeches to lecture halls filled with grad students – speeches that advocate evolution, scientific inquiry, democracy, free speech and the rights of women and gays – there is absolutely no way an unprejudiced, straight-thinking person could class Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens’ atheism as ‘militant’. Forthright and uncompromising? Certainly. Groaning under an internal self-logic that hasn’t won over as many people as their sales figures suggest? Without doubt. But ‘militant’? Abu Hamza militant? Jerry Falwell militant? Louis Farrakhan militant? No. You can only peg these people as spite-spewing venomistas if your intellectual allergies are so strong that you can only digest things you already find agreeable.

Anyway, I should get on to the substance of the matter, for Milne is nothing without substance:

Panicked by the rise of radical Islamism and the newly assertive religious identity of migrant communities in a secular Europe, the anti-religious evangelists are increasingly using atheism as a banner for the defence of the global liberal capitalist order and the wars fought since 2001 to assert its dominance. At the same time, they are unable to recognise the ethnic dimension of their Islamophobia, let alone the deeper reasons why people continue to search for spiritual meaning in a grossly destructive economic environment where social alternatives have been pronounced dead and narcissistic consumption is king.

Welcome to today’s straw men: the anti-religious evangelists whose Islamophobia is not just based on religion but on ethnicity, and who are willing to piggy-back on every one of Dick Cheney’s cruise missiles until those backwards, Qu’ran-bashing bastards either reads some John Stuart Mill or does some internet shopping. Is this an accurate characterisation of any real person? Erm, probably not.

But enough with the straw men. Did you know that religion is now totally left-wing?

Religion cannot but now find itself in conflict with the unfettered rule of money – a capitalism that seeks to dominate exactly the social and personal arena which religion has always regarded as its own preserve. And as it becomes less useful as an ideological prop for power, religion’s more radical and anti-establishment strains have become stronger. 

[...]

No wonder the medieval church tried so hard to prevent people reading such incendiary stuff in their own language. But similar demands for equality and social justice can of course also be found in Judaism (“you shall not oppress a stranger”), Islam (“a white has no superiority over a black nor a black over a white”), and other religions.

Yes, terrific. But you can find that stuff in Marx, too. And in Star Trek, for that matter.

Just as the French republican tradition of liberation came to be used as a stick to beat Muslims in a completely different social context from which it emerged, so the militant secularists who fetishise metaphysics and cosmology as a reason to declare the religious beyond the liberal pale are now ending up as apologists for western supremacism and violence. Like nationalism, religion can play a reactionary or a progressive role, and the struggle is now within it, not against it. For the future, it can be an ally of radical change.

And so the balkinisation of the left continues: the atheists in the anti-war left should align with the religious in the anti-war left to do battle against the atheists in the pro-war left, the religious in the pro-war left and everyone on the pro-war right. You’d better not have any plans for the weekend. I understand that factionalism is rife on the left & forever will be, but I look at the columnists and bloggers writing today and think not only are they re-fighting the battles of 2003; they’re re-fighting the battles of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s as well.

I opposed the liberation of Iraq but always hoped I would be proved wrong. I know the threat posed by Islamic extremism but remain vigilant against racist Islamophobia, and reject the idea that multiculturalism is a failure that should be abandoned. Lastly, I am an ex-Church of England alter boy turned atheist who hates any political intervention made by religious groups but will never tell my mother that my late brother probably didn’t go to heaven when he died.

In the current climate, there doesn’t appear to be any Left for me, so I’ll just have to make my own…

Update: Norm wrote far fewer words about this article, but wrote them far better:

What is the instruction that is to be had from this? It’s something indirect. Milne here sets himself up as a spokesman for putatively progressive strands within religion. Liberals and leftists who spend their time badmouthing religion and the religious in general should take note. His ‘progressivism’ is of the spurious Guardianista type that finds itself able to ‘understand’ the most reactionary movements and the most murderous methods as being merely symptoms of justified grievance and legitimate aspiration. Atheists and humanists of the liberal-left who try to defend its more authentic values should not concede this terrain – the terrain of working and talking together with people of all faiths who share similar values – to the Seumas Milnes of this world. It is a mistake that has been made too often before, conceding concepts, values and practical initiatives which are important to the representatives of political reaction.

Straw man of the day

March 25, 2008 at 12:07 pm | Posted in Idiot Hall of Fame, The God Delusion | 1 Comment
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Remember last year when the anti-Dawkins brigade wailed about ‘militant atheists‘ on a witchhunt against poor, defenseless religious people? Remember how they pleaded with secularists to show the same tolerance and respect to men and women of faith they themselves are shown?

Well, keep that in mind when reading Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor’s hatchet job on ‘atheistic secularism‘:

It is not its attacks on religion that gives me pause for thought, but its vision of what is human. It says that this is all we are, this is it! We have no significant purpose; we’re merely chance products of material processes.

I believe we do have a purpose; that we are made for greater things. Atheistic secularism ultimately diminishes us; it kills the human spirit under the pretence of liberating it. Our democracy is too precious and costly a gift to be narrated by this version of the secular alone. I want to keep alive the church’s vision of humanity which is part of the truth it carries. It belongs not just to Catholics or to Christians but to us all. (emphasis mine)

So according to this grasping little bigot, Catholicism is the language of love, secularism is the language of death, democracy is God’s gift to the unwashed and we should show some bloody gratitude by banning scientific methods which might one day save lives.

Remind me again why we’re meant to be nice to these people?

Lancing a boil: thoughts on disestablishment

February 12, 2008 at 8:54 pm | Posted in British Politics, The God Delusion | 1 Comment
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From the moment the Archbishop dropped that Sharia clanger with all the deftness of throwing a hard-bound King James bible fall on your toes, it was inevitable that there would be calls in some quarters (particularly from secularists) for the disestablishment of the Church of England. Whilst it’s been mentioned elsewhere, I hadn’t seen it advocated by a mainstream commentator until today. In the case of Andrew Anthony, the word ‘mainstream’ is used grudgingly, as this third-rate, Fisher Price immitation of Nick Cohen has neither the style nor substance to be considered especially influential (his bafflingly over-discussed book The Fallout is basically a cover version of What’s Left, but without the devastating prose). Still, let’s put past greivances aside, for on this issue we can wholeheartedly agree:

If Dr Williams was seriously concerned about constitutional law and religious justice, he would look at the dwindling number of his followers in this country and call for the disestablishment of the Church of England.

Much of the grievance members of other religions and denominations currently feel stems from the privilege – state endorsement, parliamentary representation – that Dr Williams’s church conspicuously enjoys. Who can deny that the church’s special treatment looks increasingly absurd in our multicultural society? Even Dr Williams himself has acknowledged that Britain is not a Christian country in terms of “active churchgoers”. Therefore the choice on offer is either to downgrade the Church of England, or upgrade other religions. Dr Williams has made his preference obvious.

I said in an earlier post that I thought disestablishment of the Church of England was one of several reforms which could be made or policies introduced that would have far greater potential to promote greater cross-cultural cohesion (or at least prevent from further erosion) than promoting Sharia as a way of solving inter-Muslim disputes, and still keep our tradition as a country of democratically-enacted laws.

That said, if we are to advocate disestablishment, we should also be honest with each other about how this might alter the regious landscape in a way we might not find entirely to our liking. Even in the unlikely impossible event that it were to happen, disestablishment would not kill the C of E, and nor, for that matter, should any secularist seek to see it killed. On the contrary, such a change could revitalise the church to levels not seen in years.

Barring the occasional PR blunder like Shariagate or the occasional tutting statement about foreign policy or public morals, the leadership of the C of E has remained fairly benign & apolitical, and has also been far more successful at slowly modifying its values and attitudes to reflect those of the country than an autonomous body like the Catholic Church. The extent to which its intertwining with the state has caused these conditions is up for debate, but what is not debatable is that disestablishment would give the Church freedom to begin exerting overt political pressure in the form of statements & campaigns against abortion, gay marriage or gay adoption.

But the Church has a negative view of these anyway, right? Correct, but it does so from a moral/theological standpoint, not as a political issue. My point is that without the prestige, comfort and legitimacy endowed on the Church of England through its relationship with the state, the Church would need to find new ways of surviving, and what’s to say those survival methods won’t be strikingly similar to the Evangelical practices seen in the United States? You certainly won’t find many secularists over there who would argue that the Jerry Falwells of the world have made enriched the American conversation.

This isn’t an argument for not going through with it; I’ve said before that a truly democratic state is not one where an unelected monarch appoints his/her own religious leaders. It should just be a recognition that organised religion isn’t going anywhere, and though we abhor some the words that came out of the Archbishop’s mouth (and words that will come in the future), my guess is we’d have that situation whether the Church were attached to the state or not.

Lancing this boil might well change the complexion of Britain, but we should be prepared that something even more ugly could grown in its place

Prisoners of faith

February 10, 2008 at 8:47 pm | Posted in The God Delusion | 2 Comments

So here’s a no-brainer for you. You’ve got two contentious characters: one is a slobbering superstition-spewer currently serving seven years in prison (and many more once extradited to the U.S.) for inciting murder and racial hatred at the behest of his imagined God; the other is a cerebral and mild-mannered Archbishop with no criminal record, but a similar tendency to make the heathens among us roll our eyes in derision. But who, the Daily Mail asks, “poses the bigger threat to Britain’s way of life?” Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury? Or Abu Hamza, the fanatic from Finsbury Park? If your answer was the latter, you would not only be wrong, but should also be considered a candidate for 90-day detention. Here’s how the Mail’s more enlightened online readership voted, as of this afternoon:

Which of these men poses the bigger threat to Britain’s way of life?

1 Abu Hamza

37%

2 Archbishop of Canterbury

63%

So what offense did the Archbishop commit to become the Mail’s new poster boy for Britain’s irreversible decline? Well, he kinda suggested that Sharia law is unavoidable and that if we want to save ourselves from being incinerated on buses, trains or other crowded public places, we should hurry up and make nice with those who would stone homosexuals, smother their womenfolk with veils and kill apostates using whichever medieval torture implement is closest to hand.

Of course, that’s not actually what he said. His argument was far more thoughtful and nuanced and was interested solely in preventing practicing Muslims of all shades from being further alienated from British society. Trouble is, of those British citizens who actually read newspapers, many of them only read those that fuel the most reactionary, divisive and toxic rhetoric in British society, and even then most people only manage the first few paragraphs before being distracted by something about Diana or house prices or which inebriated celebrity has stopped wearing underwear. Even if these rags were to temporarily practice journalism and point out that the Archbishop wasn’t calling for the complete Islamisation of Britain and our courts are already happy to accept some form of Sharia arbitration, when voluntarily sought, in the case of divorce proceedings, would there be much chance that these facts would reach anyone when buried under a headline such as this?

But it wasn’t just an inflammatory thing to say. It was also dead wrong, and proof of why religious figures should never be allowed anywhere near public policy making. If I could make a shopping list of proposals that would never be implemented (for that is all Mr Williams’ spiel will ever amount to), but could effect a genuine improvement on the apparent isolation of British Muslims from the rest of society, here’s what I’d suggest:

  1. A massive investment in social housing that aims to be genuinely multi-racial, multi-ethnic and (oh, if only there was a God to forgive me) multicultural.
  2. Having a Press Complaints Commission with actual teeth, slapping down any right-wing tribune that seeks to portray British Muslims as fanatical would-be terrorists who want the name of every town and city to end in ‘istan’.
  3. Achieve as quick and bloodless an exit from Iraq and Afghanistan as is possible without handing over the reigns to the would-be religious authoritarians who pray that our exit will allow them to seize control and make the Taliban look like the government of Sweden.
  4. Ban the disastrous apartheid that is religious schooling
  5. Abolish blasphemy laws.
  6. Remove any links between the Church of England and the state. A truly secular country cannot have a monarch as both head of state and symbolic head of a church.

It is, without question, a shopping list for the strengthening of secularism, but that’s because I’m a secularist. Of the proposals on this list, Rowan Williams doesn’t have any kind of power to achieve the first three, and it’s directly against his interest to campaign for the latter three. Absent of any other ideas for how this supposed gulf between British Muslims and the rest of us can be mended, he opted for more religious input into our legal proceedings, because as a religious man, that’s all he really understands. A prisoner of faith if ever there was one.

 By the way, the words ‘prisoner of faith’ were coined by Abu Hamza’s lawyer when speaking for his client in the aftermath of his conviction. Even the fanatics amongst us can speak truth every once in a while.

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