Monday, August 29, 2011

Pastor Wants Atheist Registry

Those who do not think that atheists are a persecuted minority in America should really take a look at the recent stunt pulled by an American pastor. Florida pastor Michael Stahl has proposed that a registry be set up to name known atheists and name their place of work or business. The purpose, he says, is to let Christians know where they can preach to them and also to boycott their businesses. Interestingly, it would not include their addresses; more than likely a move to avoid being held responsible for any violence committed against them.

This Christian bigot has compared atheists to the Ku Klux Klan and radical Islamists - groups which more often than not have a religious element to their abhorrent actions. He probably doesn't mean any serious action here, and just wants to cause a stir to feed his narcissistic desires. But it is clear that he sees atheists as the scum of America, and wishes to whip up hatred against them.

Many support this kind of nonsense in America because of the general attitudes towards atheists. While tolerance for minority religious and ethnic groups has generally increased, atheists are still regarded as being separate from what is generally seen as the ideal America. Ironically, Christian America's increased tolerance of other religious groups and an increased solidarity between these groups has strengthened opposition to those who do not believe.

Fundamentalists such as the attention seeking Stahl of course also fiercely oppose competing religions, so it is not the likes of his intolerance that is mainly to blame for the increased discrimination against atheists. Funnily enough, it is the religious moderates and their preaching of tolerance that is mainly to blame. In their rainbow view of the world, it does not matter what you believe, just so long as you do believe. As Sam Harris has pointed out, it is religious moderates who promote faith as a virtue and unquestioned tolerance of it. For those who believe in the supernatural, no matter how ridiculous their claims, they are to be respected and are not to be questioned. It is this poisonous political correctness that binds religious groups of all stripes together and unites them in their opposition to those who see the concept of faith (believing in something for which there is no evidence) as ridiculous.

Faith is not a virtue, and tolerance should only extend to the point where we accept practices that are not harmful. Of course we should not tolerate the bigoted views of Stahl, but it is also about time we stopped tolerating the idiotic and damaging concept of faith. Where evidence is lacking, we should demand it, and not simply let a person off the hook because he or she believes in an imaginary friend whom you need faith in to understand.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Lesbian Couple Forced Apart in Indonesia

Apologists for Islam often point to Indonesia as an example of Islam being compatible with democracy. Granted, Indonesia has a representative parliamentary system, but it is seldom pointed out that the country never had a direct presidential election until 2004, and that two of the 20th century's most ruthless dictators - Surkano and Suharto - ruled over the country collectively for 53 years. The country has also acted as a breeding ground for terrorist groups (such as Jemaah Islamiah) and has an Islamic police force in Acheh.

This very police force has recently separated a lesbian couple and placed them under close surveillance. Although homosexuality is legal in the country, the province of Acheh has been granted a degree of autonomy that has allowed for the passing of brutal Islamic laws and the establishment of a religious police force. The police have warned the couple that they may face beheading.

The apologists will certainly have a hard time in explaining how this is not an example of Islam eroding democratic politics, but they will still point to Indonesia as a beacon of light for the Muslim world. Indonesia is of course much more moderate than a country like Saudi Arabia that adheres strictly to Sharia, but this level of democracy has nothing at all to do with Islam. Without condoning colonialism, it should be recognised that Indonesia inherited secular and liberal institutions from the Dutch. The Netherlands were of course often exploitative of the indigenous peoples, but their rule did bring open commerce as well as a legal system that rejected Sharia. I am not for a second saying that the forceful rule was justified, but it must be noted that Dutch secularism played a big role in quelling the potential dangers of political Islam.

Much of the same can be said of Malaysia; another country often touted as an example of Islamic democracy. It is still a country of corruption and religious thuggery, and its wealth and degrees of individual freedom are much to do with its geo-political position and its history of open trade and secularism which were facilitated by the British.

That leaves us with just one more country to pick on: Turkey. Again, the level of democracy and freedom in the majority-Muslim nation has next to nothing to do with Islam. The Ottoman empire was a formidable opposition to European powers in the 1600s, and much of this was to do with their acceptance of science over religion as the best way of discovering knowledge. But how did they come to that conclusion? It was certainly not from consulting the Koran; it was from observing the amazing progress of European nations that had allowed their scientists to freely advance their ideas and findings. Islamic forces were eventually defeated, but Turkey chose to embrace science and reason as a way to compete with the rest of Europe. I recommend this documentary for a greater account of Ottoman history.

Islam is not democratic, and any majority-Muslim country which is democratic is simply not exercising political Islam. It is yet another reason to keep religion private and to prevent religious thugs from taking office.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Red Hot Catholic Hypocrisy

The Pope has just wrapped up his visit to Spain, and what an event it was. Millions flocked to see him (to both praise and protest his extravagant tour), including nearly 2 million participants in World Youth Day. During his four day tour of the country, he has told Spain's youth to reject secularism and establish themselves as moral citizens. It ties in nicely with his messages in the UK last year, where he urged secularists to be tolerant of people of faith and for people to resist "aggressive secularism".

Perhaps the Pope does have a point; maybe secularists should be more tolerant. Like the Vatican, perhaps we should tolerate child molestation, Holocaust denial, homophobia, prevention of condom use and the spread of STDs, misogyny, cover-ups, holy wars, forced conversions, slavery and torture.

If this is tolerance, then I am proud to be a bigot. The sheer hypocrisy of the Pope is breathtaking, but of course it is not surprising. The Pontiff, who claims infallibility and to be the Vicar of Christ on earth, has also blamed the horrors of Nazism on secularism (despite the connection between the Vatican and Nazi Germany) and has himself been involved in the cover-up of the sexual enslavement of children, all while claiming the moral high ground. And to be promoting morality whilst gorging millions of Euros from a country on the verge of economic collapse is just a slap in the collective face of Spain.

Everywhere he goes, the Pope seems to single out secularism for special attention. He blames it for the totalitarianisms of the 20th century, and warns of its modern "aggression" leading to a repeat of the past. But why pick on the secularists so much? What has the Pope got to fear?

Secularism has no overarching ideology (in fact, it is not an ideology at all), but it does have one core principle: the separation of Church and State. This does not mean restriction on the private practice of religion, or banning politicians from letting their faith guide them in public office. It is about removing the levers of government from religious institutions. This principle is captured beautifully in The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which the United States is lucky enough to have. Archbishop Charles Chaput chooses to see this as "a kind of unofficial state atheism", even though it is simply about keeping religion out of politics.

As Sam Harris has pointed out, secular countries tend to be the most successful. Countries like Norway, Iceland and Australia are among the least religious nations, and are shown by the United Nations' Health Report (2005) to lead the world in life expectancy, adult literacy, education and gender equality. They also allow their citizens to practice their religion freely.

Going by this information, some may wonder why the Pope continues to pick on secularism. Well, it is certainly not because of its benefits, but rather, the core principle of secularism - the separation of Church and State - is directly at odds with the bureaucratic make up of the Vatican.

The Vatican has established itself as a sovereign State (recognised by the United Nations), has an estimated wealth to be between $US10 billion and $US15 billion, and has established diplomatic relations with 179 countries (a figure higher than the United States). Its head of State is the Pope, who exercises political power along with his subordinates. It is, by any definition, a theocracy, and is completely at odds with the notion of secular democracy.

The Pope knows all too well that secularism is no threat to the well-being of society. Rather, it is a threat to the influence of Catholicism and the political organs of the Vatican. Secularism is not aggressive, but it is certainly not tolerant of theocratic bullying from a bronze age institution that acts as a factory for paedophiles. If anything is aggressive, it is exploiting an obscene amount of money and power to force countries to adopt the damaging and barbaric doctrines of the Catholic Church. Perhaps secularists should exercise a bit of aggression against the world's most destructive bureaucracy.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Having a Wank is Sinful

Republican and Tea Part favourite Christine O'Donnell has just taken part in a rather awkward and fiery interview with CCN's Piers Morgan. In her new book,  Troublemaker: Let's do what it takes to make America great again, she gives her views, among other things, on just what constitutes sexual misconduct. Masturbation and fornication make the list.

O'Donnell, who chose to live a chaste life, views masturbation as committing adultery within one's heart and promotes sexual abstinence. She is now open to the idea of marriage and children, although Morgan could not get her to say whether or not she has given into lust whilst alone.

She is the perfect example of a person who will let religion completely cloud his or her reason. Despite what the science tells us, people of this religious stripe will cling onto their views on sexuality simply because they believe God might get angry with them, and will ignore all of the potential consequences here on Earth.

Teenagers who take the abstinence pledge in high school are less likely to engage in vaginal intercourse, but are more likely to engage in oral and anal sex. They are also less likely to use protection and are therefore at an increased risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases. Masturbation has been found to relieve sexual tension and aggression, relax muscles, assist sleeping patterns, enhance physical and mental well-being, reduce stress, enhance self-esteem and reduce the chance of prostate cancer in men.

Although she addresses sexuality in her book, O'Donnell ended up getting so frustrated with Morgan's questions that she prematurely ended the interview. She probably just needs a good shag, or at least some intimate alone-time.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Psychics Exposed

American television has just aired part one in a series about psychics and the paranormal. It features professional cold readers such as James Van Praagh, and skeptics such as Banachek who expose "mediums" for the crooked frauds that they are. It is well worth watching and can be seen here.

High Court Challenge to School Chaplaincy Program is a Noble Cause

Recently, a Queensland father named Ronald Williams has made a High Court challenge to the Commonwealth government's school chaplaincy program. Many have dismissed Williams as a grumbling atheist who is simply fighting religious influence (but what's wrong with that?!) and believe that parents will not appreciate the move. Perhaps many parents (and even atheists) see the challenge as going too far, but there are some things that they should consider.

It is indeed true that many parents have praised the program and the number of supportive messages have far outweighed the complaints. This isn't too surprising, considering the chaplains are sure to provide some degree of comfort to the students. But this does not mean that they could not be provided with better care or that an alternative system could not be a marked improvement. Right now, chaplains are all they have got.

Secularists such as Williams are not for a second suggesting that students should not be given support. They are simply saying that there should not be a religious test for giving such support, which is exactly what the program bases itself on. As I have pointed out, 75% of school chaplains are employed by the Queensland Scripture Union, a Christian training institution. Although they are not permitted to proselytise, the purpose of the program is to provide "pastoral care" and "spiritual guidance". Forgive me if I am mistaken to be seeing religious undertones there.

This religious test may very well be a violation of the constitution, hence the High Court challenge. I am certainly not going to point to the likelihood of the Court seeing it this way, but it is true that many have pointed to section 116 of the constitution potentially being violated, as the section forbids the government from establishing religious testing. Perhaps there is not a clear violation, but at least it would clarify exactly where church groups currently stand in regards to government funding, as they currently receive millions of tax-payer dollars each year.

As religious groups have become increasingly frustrated with their efforts to push their way back into the public sphere and indoctrinate children, the school chaplaincy program appears to be a desperate and devious attempt at infiltration of public schools. Theologian Scott Stephens has pointed out that as religious influence has declined, religious lobbying has risen dramatically and has resulted in an increase in government funding. Also, he describes the role of a promoter of Christianity as someone who presents themselves as an example of a follower of Jesus. This is not overt proselytising, but it is a very manipulative and covert way of preaching the doctrines of the bible. By presenting themselves as disciples of Christ, they may very well provide a level of comfort to students, and this helps explain the messages of support from parents. But parents should see past this short-term comfort as a devious attempt at conversion.

Anyway, chaplains are not always so covert. There have been a number of complaints about outright religious preaching, and just recently a Queensland chaplain organised a lecture by the Australian creationist John Mackay. The lecture was a "scientific" look at the biblical account of creation. Perhaps the chaplain and the fanatical scum bag Mackay saw this as a clever and stealth-like way of preaching to students, but our secular education leaves us to be smarter than that.

The religious influence of the school chaplaincy program is abundantly clear, and I for one hope the High Court deems it unconstitutional. I do not, however, wish for students to have no one to turn to in times of trouble. The government should therefore establish an alternative program that has no religious test and will not take the risk of preaching to students. It should also provide better training that goes beyond "pastoral care" and "spiritual guidance", so that students receive practical assistance for their problems.  

Thursday, August 11, 2011

God Cures Cancer...Again

We again have a touching and inspirational healing story that could have been taken from Touched by an Angel. Jacob Boger of Indiana claims that God told him to give up his medical treatment as his battle would soon be over. He is now cancer free.

How uplifting and heart-warming, many would say. His prayers were answered and God spared a loving and kind soul. This seems to be the sentiment echoed from just about every network which has covered the story, as they have presented it as such and have let Boger go virtually unchallenged in every interview. Why isn't anyone seeing the problem here?

Despite Boger stating that he does not recommend others stopping their treatment, it would be quite hard for people to ignore the core of his story - that it was God who healed him, and not the medicine. By his own example, and by the senseless promotion by the media, he is promoting the idea to others that they too can give up earthly remedies and rely on a higher power. Perhaps by giving up medicine, some may think, they can show God just how much faith they have in his heavenly powers.

In any case, there is no good reason to believe that Boger was healed by means of divine intervention. Until someone grows back an amputated limb, we can almost be certain that such recoveries can be credited to medicine, natural workings of the body and efforts from the patient. Boger was told that he had about a 10% chance of survival, so it isn't really an enormous surprise that he pulled through. He underwent chemo- and radiotherapy which shrunk his tumour considerably, as well as other treatments. Sure, his chances were low, but there are plenty of others who survive similar conditions without any faith in God and plenty who die despite persistent praying. The media never reports on those stories though, of course.

It always seems that when someone beats the odds for the better, it is the work of a good God. But when bad things happen, it is God working in mysterious ways. Boger's parents and younger sister were all lost to cancer. This must be the work of a mysterious God. But now, armed with his survival story, Boger has become a preacher and businessman who earns a healthy income. This, surely, must be the work of a good God...right?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Mixed Feelings on Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Mixed Messages

Ayaan Hirsi Ali has caused a bit of a stir with her recent interview on converting Western Muslims to Christianity. Although what she had to say is nothing new (she outlined these views in her 2010 book Nomad) she has attracted criticism from secularists such as Maryam Namazie, who in a recent blog accuses Ayaan of pandering to neo-conservatives. The interview can be seen below.

I am both sympathetic and critical of both Ayaan and her detractors. I see Christianity as a preferable alternative to Islam, but am equally skeptical about promoting it to the already devout. I also understand the frustration many secularists feel about this message, but I see much of it to be unreasonable and unfair towards Ayaan.

It is very important to understand Ayaan's perspective and what is guiding it. This is a woman who has lived with body guards for years and has received countless death threats. Just recently, she has been forced to cancel her appearance at Melbourne's Think Inc conference. This is obviously very disappointing to all those who will be attending (I myself will be taking the trip from Perth to see it) but the safety of Ayaan and the audience is of course paramount.

This security situation is not the result of Christian thuggery. The man who butchered Theo van Gogh on the streets of Amsterdam and pinned a note with a knife to his dead body which threatened the life of Ayaan was not a Christian. It is fanatical Muslims who have taken much of Ayaan's liberty away, not Christians.

She has spoken of an evolved Western Christianity, one which has been tamed by the enlightenment and open inquiry. The average Western Christian does not make death threats or advocate holy war. Putting it simply, if the fanatical Muslims who threaten Ayaan's life were to become like the average Western Christian, she would not have to live with bodyguards.

It is for these reason that I understand and sympathise with Ayaan's view. Not many of us can compare our lives to hers, so perhaps many of her critics should look closely at just what she has been through.

In saying that, I do see her model as too simplistic. Granted, seeing radical Islamists becoming moderate Christians would be pleasing. But is this really what would happen if devout Muslims converted to Christianity? Is this the best course to take?

Many Muslims have expressed to Ayaan that they do not wish to remain Muslims, but also that they cannot imagine their lives without some sort of spiritual anchor. This is where Christianity comes in, as it enables Muslims to hold onto God while embracing a more moderate faith.

I am very skeptical as to just how "moderate" these former Muslims would be. If they cannot embrace secularism and God is something they have a true passion for, then I cannot imagine that their new found Christian beliefs would be considered tame by Western liberal standards. Ayaan speaks of how Christianity has evolved in the West, but this is not necessarily the brand of Christianity they will accept.

When faith and superstition dominate a mindset, much of the taming that secularism has brought is eliminated. When Christianity is taken to countries that have failed to follow or have not yet discovered the virtues of secularism, we find a very primitive interpretation of scripture. Taking the example of Uganda, there is a strong move for homosexuality to be punishable by death, and violence against homosexuals has increased dramatically. This is a direct result of Christian preaching.

Unfortunately, many Western Muslims retain and pass on a superstitious mentality which was implanted by a theocratic State. It is for this reason that I fear many former Muslims would not embrace a moderate Christianity, but more of a literal Christianity like what is currently popular in Uganda.

America's Christianity is also not entirely moderate. We all know about the fanaticism of the Christian Right - gay bashing, intelligent design, censorship etc - and increasing their base, to me, is a frightening thought. I worry that these former Muslims would join their ranks, fuelling the "cultural war" that Pat Buchanan spoke of.

As I discussed in my post on the Norway massacre, a binary religious dynamic in one country is a dangerous thing. The fight against religious tyranny should not be a fight taken up by opposing religious forces, as the opposing sides are then just as bad as each other. When both sides believe that God is on their side and that he is commanding them to action, the results are too often devastating.  This, I fear, may be the sort of dynamic created by converting devout Muslims.

Muslims generally do not take apostasy lightly. In fact, the Hadith sanctions death for the sin. A documentary by Channel 4's Dispatches shows the violence that Muslims often experience for their conversions to Christianity. Such hostility could only make the problem worse.

I simply see the only alternative as promoting secularism. I fear that promoting Christianity will further the religious divide and fuel ethnic tension. Perhaps Ayaan is not seeing the broader picture here, and is perhaps advocating this position as a result of the overwhelming presence of Islamic barbarism in her life.

I also find it disappointing to see Ayaan drifting off message. The recent criticism from secularists seems to be derived from a disappointment in a figure who is such a champion of secular democracy. While she promotes the virtues of the enlightenment and skeptical inquiry, she at the same time promotes Christianity as a moderating force. The message is very mixed and confusing, and may be interpreted by many as lacking conviction. It may give undue credit to Christianity, while also undermining the secular movement.

Many Muslims may be passionate about the need for God in their lives, but this does not mean that only another religion can be offered as an alternative. It would be much better to promote secularism even to those who require spirituality in their lives, as they may in turn become more secularised and moderate. The goal should be to moderate Muslims, rather than try to turn them into moderate Christians.

I still greatly admire Ayaan but I respectfully disagree with her position. Her secular critics should perhaps not be so scathing of her stance, and not lump her in with the neo-conservative hawks. She may be to the right-of-centre on the political spectrum, but she proudly calls herself a classical liberal and has done so for many years. Her stance is not based on parroting the views of the radical right, and if it was, then she surely would not be calling herself an Atheist. Let's just agree to disagree.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Fred Nile Compares Ethics Classes to Nazism and Communism

He may have failed in his bid to have ethics classes scrapped from New South Wales public schools, but this has not stopped Fred Nile from launching a laughable and utterly ridiculous attack on the course. Although the government has vowed to support the classes, debate has taken place in parliament due to a private member's bill introduced by Nile in May. Debate has now been adjourned until September.

Nile has said the course "does not teach children right from wrong but promotes the secular, humanist relativist philosophy" and that it "is the philosophy that we saw during World War Two with the Nazis and the communists".

As I have previously mentioned, ethics classes have students apply critical thinking to debatable issues in order for them to arrive at their own conclusions. Just how much critical thinking does Nile think students were able to exercise in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union? Or perhaps Nile thinks NSW students are being brainwashed about conspiratorial international Jewry and the evils of Kulaks?

The absurdity of Nile's comments are clear, but also should not be surprising considering he also believes homosexuality is a "lifestyle choice". Nile should recognise that the education systems of the Nazis and the Soviets actually provides argument to why ethics classes are important.

Totalitarian systems always give its people a black and white view about morality. Whatever the state says is right, is right, and vice versa. This is entrenched in the education system, and the students are to accept a particular moral code and are not to consider it for themselves. This, also, is a model that Nile wants adopted.

Nile is nothing more than a Christian fascist and I truly pity the people of NSW for having to put up with his pious and obnoxious behaviour for so long. If anything were to be morally absolute, it would be the swift removal of Nile from the NSW parliament.   

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Race And Religion Matches In Online Dating

A very interesting article spells out how likely different racial and religious groups are to get along in the world of online dating. Among other things, the research shows that Jews and non-believers are easy to get along with, while Muslims generally are not. Perhaps surprising to some, the research also finds that Jewish men are more likely to match Muslim women than Muslim men are. To me this is actually not very surprising, especially when considering another finding of the research.

Although people can be quick to lump themselves into a particular religious group, they are often not very religious at all. These people, according to this study, are far more likely to get along with other people, even with those who take their faith very seriously. Jews make up a very broad ethnic and cultural group, and are often quite secular. Muslims in the West, on the other hand, are much more fervent in their religious beliefs.

In a nutshell, the more religious you are, the less likely you are to get along with other people. This helps explain why Western Muslims are often segregated and often demand a parallel legal system.

Catholic Church "Child Protection Chief" Caught With Over 4,000 Child Porn Pictures

Just as I thought the Catholic Church might be cleaning up its act, I read this story. Following countless amounts of sex scandals within the church, 49-year-old Christopher Jarvis was employed to stop pederasts from gaining access to children within congregations (or more accurately, I suspect, to repair the church's reputation).

But the man whose job it was to protect children has himself been found to be supporting an industry of sexual enslavement. Jarvis was found with over 4,000 child pornography images on his home computer and work laptop. He has since been removed from his position by the Diocese of Plymouth and charged by police.

How can the church ever hope to combat the scourge of child molestation when the very people supposedly fighting the battle are themselves supporters of abusing children? Perhaps it is about time that the church acknowledged the link between celibacy and pederasty and abandon the sickening requirement.  

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Good News On Ethics Classes

It has been reported that ethics classes will stay in New South Wales public schools. This is very pleasing, as it seemed likely to me that the government would cave in to pressure from Fred Nile.

Nile has backed away from his threat to block the government's industrial relations legislation after a recent meeting. Perhaps this means that some sort of deal was done, but at least for now we know that the valuable classes will stay.

Monday, August 1, 2011

11-Year-Old Makes More Sense Than Fred Nile

An 11-year-old New South Wales student has written a brilliant piece on why the State should keep ethics classes in public schools. Charlie Fine has described the benefits of the classes and why the National President of the Christian Democratic Party, Fred Nile, should keep his dogma out of the classroom.

The classes are currently run as an alternative to scripture classes, and Nile is demanding that the two classes do not coincide. Unfortunately, Nile seems likely to succeed, as the government is bowing to pressure in order to secure the Christian Democratic vote to pass its controversial industrial relations legislation. This is despite the mass support from parents' groups for the classes and the government's election promise to keep them.

It is of course no surprise that the man who wants the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras banned would also want the classes scrapped. The classes present a wide range of issues to students and encourages them to apply critical thinking in order to come to their own conclusions. Debate, discussion, reasoning and open-mindedness are all part of getting students to think for themselves and establish themselves as ethical and moral citizens.

Some may dismiss the classes as an exercise in moral relativism, but this is not the case. Students are not told that the truth does not exist, but rather, that individuals and societies often disagree on many issues. The application of critical thinking is merely a tool to move us closer to the truth.

Critical thinking is responsible for moving societies away from grotesque biblical practices such as stoning, as even the "absolute truths" of the bible are open for debate. The average Christian of course does not condone stoning, but this is not because of religious instruction. It is because of secular reasoning.

Fred Nile does not want students to learn the virtues of critical thinking because it leaves the teachings of Christianity open for debate. Nile would prefer that students be merely instructed on moral issues, and taught that the bible is the only true word from the one true God. Not only would this leave students with a warped moral compass, but it would also encourage a blind submission to authority.

I cannot help but wonder the following: if the bible is indeed a book of absolute moral truth and the one true word of God, then would not a rigorous application of critical analysis prove this? And, why would Nile be opposed to this?