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There's an interesting piece in Der Spiegel about the rise of secularism and the psychological differences between religious and secular people. According to the article, non-religious people (atheists, agnostics and the nonreligious) make up about 15% of the world's population, placing them third behind Christians and Muslims in number. Meanwhile, secularism is on the rise, with the often discussed religious revivals, in Europe, the US and elsewhere, being, more often than not, illusory. (In the US, a country associated with almost mediaeval levels of religiosity in public life, churches are losing up to 1 million members a year.)turned out to be and also an increasing number of people who identify as religious on surveys admitting that they don't actually believe in a deity.
According to Boston University psychologist Catherine Caldwell-Harris, the differences between the religious and secular minds may emerge from different thinking styles, with religious people being more likely to attribute sentient agency than secular people:
Caldwell-Harris is currently testing her hypothesis through simple experiments. Test subjects watch a film in which triangles move about. One group experiences the film as a humanized drama, in which the larger triangles are attacking the smaller ones. The other group describes the scene mechanically, simply stating the manner in which the geometric shapes are moving. Those who do not anthropomorphize the triangles, she suspects, are unlikely to ascribe much importance to beliefs. "There have always been two cognitive comfort zones," she says, "but skeptics used to keep quiet in order to stay out of trouble."The rise of secularism has led to more study of what secularists do actually believe. And, it seems, there are a few outlooks they tend to share:
Sociologist Phil Zuckerman, who hopes to start a secular studies major at California's Pitzer College, says that secularists tend to be more ethical than religious people. On average, they are more commonly opposed to the death penalty, war and discrimination. And they also have fewer objections to foreigners, homosexuals, oral sex and hashish.
The most surprising insight revealed by the new wave of secular research so far is that atheists know more about the God they don't believe in than the believers themselves. This is the conclusion suggested by a 2010 Pew Research Center survey of US citizens. Even when the higher education levels of the unreligious were factored out, they proved to be better informed in matters of faith, followed by Jewish and Mormon believers.The article also looks at the case of religiosity in Germany, where the East was ruled by an officially atheistic totalitarian dictatorship while the West retained strong links to Christianity. After reunification, the East remained considerably poorer than the West. Perhaps surprisingly, these conditions did not result in a new religious revival spreading through the East, but rather the opposite:
When the GDR ended its period of religious repression, no process of re-Christianization occurred. "After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the withdrawal of a church presence in the east actually sped up," says Detlef Pollack, a professor in the sociology of religion at the University of Münster. Ironically, the link between church and state contributed to secularization in the East, he says. Publicly funded theological professorships, military chaplaincies, and the presence of church representatives on broadcasting councils were common. As a result, public perception came to closely link authority with religion, which was seen as coming from the West.As rapidly as secularism is rising, though, we might not see a powerful secular lobby any time soon. For one, secularists remain mistrusted in many places (in the US, according to a 2010 Pew Research survey, atheists are the most disliked group, behind Muslims and homosexuals). And secondly, given the broad differences in a movement by definition not bound by any dogma, the emergence of any sort of consensus is unlikely:
Then he tells of a meeting of secular groups last year in Washington. They were planning a big demonstration. "But they couldn't even agree on a motto," he says. "It was like herding cats, straight out of a Monty Python sketch." In the end, the march was called off.
Whether or not there are any atheists in foxholes, there don't seem to be any in positions of political power who are willing to stand by their principles. Firstly Australia's outspokenly atheistic Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, proclaimed her wholehearted conviction in supporting an unaccountably authoritarian internet censorship system demanded by a Christian Fundamentalist fringe party, and now, Britain's deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, rules out eliminating the bishops from the House of Lords, instead planning to add unelected ministers of other religions for equality's sake. This token sliver of theocracy, these bishops, rabbis and imams will get to vote on legislation which affects all Britons, from waiving anti-discrimination legislation when the discrimination is guided by religious beliefs to blocking equal marriage rights for non-heterosexuals to keeping it a crime for the terminally ill to end their lives with dignity, going against the majority opinion of what is a largely secular society:
Here's a Trivial Pursuit question with an answer that isn't at all trivial. Which two nations still reserve places in their parliaments for unelected religious clerics, who then get an automatic say in writing the laws the country's citizens must obey? The answer is Iran... and Britain.
And here's the strangest kicker in this strange story: it looks like the plans being drawn up by Nick Clegg to "modernise" the House of Lords will not listen to the overwhelming majority of us and end these religious privileges. No – they are poised to do the opposite. Sources close to the reform team say they are going to add even more unelected religious figures to parliament. These plans are being drawn up as you read this and will be published soon. The time to fight is today, while we can still sway the agenda.
The atheists and secularists who are campaigning for democracy are consistently branded "arrogant" by the bishops and their noisy cheerleaders. But who is arrogant here? Is it atheists who say that since we have no evidence about how the universe came into being, we should be humble, admit we don't know, and keep investigating? Or is it the bishops, who claim that they not only "know" how everything was created, but they know exactly what that Creator thinks, how he wants us to have sex, and which pills we can take when we are dying? What could be more arrogant than claiming you have a right to an unelected seat in parliament to impose beliefs for which there is no evidence on an unbelieving population?Fortunately, there are organisations in Britain fighting against such unaccountable religious privilege: the National Secular Society and the British Humanist Association are both active in campaigns on issues such as this, and when the plans are published, they're certain to be at the front of the campaign against them. Whether the government will pay any heed to them depends on how many people are in the campaign.
Recently, in the Middle East: Saudi Arabia has blocked Facebook, on the grounds that it doesn't conform with the kingdom's conservative Wahhabi Islamist values. (The big surprise: Facebook was apparently not blocked earlier. Given that even the relatively liberal Dubai blocks sites like Flickr, it's surprising that the Saudis have let their subjects wilfully poke each other online for so long.) The ban is said to be temporary; presumably Facebook doesn't usually contravene Wahhabi values.
Meanwhile, in the West Bank, Palestinian Authority police have arrested an atheist blogger after intelligence officers traced him to an internet café; 26-year-old Walid Husayin could get life in prison for heresy, though the Palestinian equivalent of the Daily Mail readership are calling for him to be put to death:
Husayin used a fake name on his English and Arabic-language blogs and Facebook pages. After his mother discovered articles on atheism on his computer, she canceled his Internet connection in hopes that he would change his mind.
Instead, he began going to an Internet cafe — a move that turned out to be a costly mistake. The owner, Ahmed Abu-Asal, said the blogger aroused suspicion by spending up to seven hours a day in a corner booth. After several months, a cafe worker supplied captured snapshots of his Facebook pages to Palestinian intelligence officials.
Officials monitored him for several weeks and then arrested him on Oct. 31 as he sat in the cafe, said Abu-Asal.Apparently such intense surveillance of heretics is not unusual in the region; intelligence officers in both the relatively liberal West Bank and the hard-line Islamist-dominated Gaza work hard to hunt down dissidents, and even in Egypt, a blogger was charged with atheism in 2007 after intelligence officials monitored his posts.
What's the difference between the BNP and atheists? The BBC doesn't feel the need to give atheists a forum.
A bus company in Yorkshire is facing accusations of discrimination against alternative lifestyles after a Goth leading his girlfriend on a leash was stopped from boarding a bus:
"Our primary concern is passenger safety and while the couple are very welcome to travel on our buses, we are asking that Miss Maltby remove her dog lead before boarding the bus.
"It could be dangerous for the couple and other passengers if a driver had to brake sharply while Miss Maltby was wearing the lead."Which raises the issue of when does something becomes discrimination. Is there a difference between Goths (who, in this case, are presumably BDSM fetishists or Goreans or something as well; AFAIK, this sort of thing is not a fundamental part of the Goth subculture) leading each other on leashes and, say, some Muslim women covering their faces? Both behaviours are at odds with the accepted social norms. If there is a difference, is it because religious justficiations automatically bear more weight than non-religious ones?
While we're on the subject of multiculturalism in the UK: a childrens' educational CD-ROM based on the story of the Three Little Pigs has been rejected from a government agency's annual awards because it may offend Muslims.
The New York Times has an excellent piece by Steven Pinker on the human instinct for moral reasoning:
At the same time, many behaviors have been amoralized, switched from moral failings to lifestyle choices. They include divorce, illegitimacy, being a working mother, marijuana use and homosexuality. Many afflictions have been reassigned from payback for bad choices to unlucky misfortunes. There used to be people called “bums” and “tramps”; today they are “homeless.” Drug addiction is a “disease”; syphilis was rebranded from the price of wanton behavior to a “sexually transmitted disease” and more recently a “sexually transmitted infection.”
This wave of amoralization has led the cultural right to lament that morality itself is under assault, as we see in the group that anointed itself the Moral Majority. In fact there seems to be a Law of Conservation of Moralization, so that as old behaviors are taken out of the moralized column, new ones are added to it. Dozens of things that past generations treated as practical matters are now ethical battlegrounds, including disposable diapers, I.Q. tests, poultry farms, Barbie dolls and research on breast cancer. Food alone has become a minefield, with critics sermonizing about the size of sodas, the chemistry of fat, the freedom of chickens, the price of coffee beans, the species of fish and now the distance the food has traveled from farm to plate.While what is considered a moral issue differs between cultures and societies (and, to an extent, periods of time), there appear to be five categories for moral judgment hardwired into the human psychology: harm, fairness, community (or group loyalty), authority and purity.
The five spheres are good candidates for a periodic table of the moral sense not only because they are ubiquitous but also because they appear to have deep evolutionary roots. The impulse to avoid harm, which gives trolley ponderers the willies when they consider throwing a man off a bridge, can also be found in rhesus monkeys, who go hungry rather than pull a chain that delivers food to them and a shock to another monkey. Respect for authority is clearly related to the pecking orders of dominance and appeasement that are widespread in the animal kingdom. The purity-defilement contrast taps the emotion of disgust that is triggered by potential disease vectors like bodily effluvia, decaying flesh and unconventional forms of meat, and by risky sexual practices like incest.
The ranking and placement of moral spheres also divides the cultures of liberals and conservatives in the United States. Many bones of contention, like homosexuality, atheism and one-parent families from the right, or racial imbalances, sweatshops and executive pay from the left, reflect different weightings of the spheres. In a large Web survey, Haidt found that liberals put a lopsided moral weight on harm and fairness while playing down group loyalty, authority and purity. Conservatives instead place a moderately high weight on all five. It’s not surprising that each side thinks it is driven by lofty ethical values and that the other side is base and unprincipled.And, further down:
Though wise people have long reflected on how we can be blinded by our own sanctimony, our public discourse still fails to discount it appropriately. In the worst cases, the thoughtlessness of our brute intuitions can be celebrated as a virtue. In his influential essay “The Wisdom of Repugnance,” Leon Kass, former chair of the President’s Council on Bioethics, argued that we should disregard reason when it comes to cloning and other biomedical technologies and go with our gut: “We are repelled by the prospect of cloning human beings . . . because we intuit and feel, immediately and without argument, the violation of things that we rightfully hold dear. . . . In this age in which everything is held to be permissible so long as it is freely done . . . repugnance may be the only voice left that speaks up to defend the central core of our humanity. Shallow are the souls that have forgotten how to shudder.”
There are, of course, good reasons to regulate human cloning, but the shudder test is not one of them. People have shuddered at all kinds of morally irrelevant violations of purity in their culture: touching an untouchable, drinking from the same water fountain as a Negro, allowing Jewish blood to mix with Aryan blood, tolerating sodomy between consenting men. And if our ancestors’ repugnance had carried the day, we never would have had autopsies, vaccinations, blood transfusions, artificial insemination, organ transplants and in vitro fertilization, all of which were denounced as immoral when they were new.
The Church of England is delighted that this year's Royal Mail Christmas stamps will contain explicitly religious imagery, rather than, say, snowmen or what have you (Or, as the tabloids would say, "it's political correctness gone mad, I tell you!"). Royal Mail says that it has a policy of alternating between religious and secular themes, though the Church doesn't consider this to be good enough, and has called for explicitly Christian imagery to be used every year:
The Church has argued that Christian-themed designs "remind people of the true meaning of Christmas".There should absolutely be more recognition of the true meaning of Christmas; I look forward to the stamps depicting Thor, Sol Invictus and a bit of old-time public nudity.
A physics professor and university chair from Pakistan writes about the position of science in today's Islamic world:
Science finds every soil barren in which miracles are taken literally and seriously and revelation is considered to provide authentic knowledge of the physical world. If the scientific method is trashed, no amount of resources or loud declarations of intent to develop science can compensate. In those circumstances, scientific research becomes, at best, a kind of cataloging or "butterfly-collecting" activity. It cannot be a creative process of genuine inquiry in which bold hypotheses are made and checked.
In the 1980s an imagined "Islamic science" was posed as an alternative to "Western science." The notion was widely propagated and received support from governments in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and elsewhere. Muslim ideologues in the US, such as Ismail Faruqi and Syed Hossein Nasr, announced that a new science was about to be built on lofty moral principles such as tawheed (unity of God), ibadah (worship), khilafah (trusteeship), and rejection of zulm (tyranny), and that revelation rather than reason would be the ultimate guide to valid knowledge. Others took as literal statements of scientific fact verses from the Qur'an that related to descriptions of the physical world. Those attempts led to many elaborate and expensive Islamic science conferences around the world. Some scholars calculated the temperature of Hell, others the chemical composition of heavenly djinnis. None produced a new machine or instrument, conducted an experiment, or even formulated a single testable hypothesis.
Secularist philosopher A.C. Grayling weighs in on the curious case of why the recent publication of half a dozen anti-religious books has caused so much alarm, while the constant flood of religious books attracts no attention:
Half a dozen anti-religious books; what is amazing is how little, if anything, is said about the many thousands of pro-religious books published every year all round the world. The magazine Publishers Weekly reported earlier this year that the member publishing houses of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association between them produced 13,400 new titles in the two years 2005-6 alone. This is just one segment of the religious publishing industry in just one wing of one of the world religions; the mind boggles at the extent of forests being felled for purveyance of religious doctrine, opinion, exhortation and polemic in every shade, nuance and type.I had the good fortune to see Grayling speak at the Hay-on-Wye festival recently, and while he is in a similar philosophical camp to the likes of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, he certainly couldn't be classified as a "militant atheist". Then again, according to this blog post (also via Peter), the very phrase "militant atheist" is one of those weasel words, so thoroughly assimilated into the vernacular that people use it to describe people of quite moderate views, which just happen to be anti-religious:
From the meaning of "militant", you might expect that Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens are burning down churches, or at least leading protests, stirring up crowds with their fiery rhetoric. You would be disappointed, of course. What Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens have done is write books. Hitchens is more of a curmudgeon than a militant, and Dawkins and Harris are both rather mild-mannered. Nobody is leaving their public events carrying torches and singing the atheist analogue of the Horst Wessel song.I'm not sure I'd agree about Harris; his The End Of Faith seemed to echo a lot of rather ugly neoconservative warblogger polemic.
Though the blogger seems to have a point that a lot of people are willing to cut people a lot more slack if their behaviour or demeanour has a religious justification.
When Jerry Falwell died recently, newspaper obituaries rarely described him as "militant", even though the adjective fit him much better than mild-mannered atheists like Harris. Ironically, however, the Associated Press obituary by Sue Lindsey, referred to Falwell's father and grandfather as "militant atheists".
As the Blair government vaciliates on the issue of faith schools, this article, from an academic, argues that religion is of little benefit to education:
There is no additional educational value that derives from having teachers who share a moral outlook. If anything, universities expect and encourage a diversity of views and approaches among teachers and researchers. There may be unspoken norms, but broadly, doctrinal thought is frowned upon and is considered insufficient to a proper education.
Against all this, the ideal of the university as a place of free thought is not a bad model for understanding how people might learn things. I understand that we live in a society that regards the young as bestial creatures who must be civilised before education is possible - and that this is the job that is handed to religion, with a rolling of eyes at the alleged failures of liberal teaching and child-centred approaches.
The catch is that all must learn to hear and consider unfamiliar and, perhaps, unpalatable views and beliefs, not because becoming educated demands adherence to any particular view, but because becoming equipped to contemplate all views is what makes you educated.
More news on the state of scientific thought in the World's Leading Nation: An exhibition celebrating the life of Charles Darwin has failed to find a corporate sponsor in the United States as no company wants to be associated with something as reviled as the theory of evolution.
In contrast, the Creationist Museum in Ohio has recently raised US$7m in donations.
A new study has shown that, far from being essential to a healthy society, widespread religious belief is socially corrosive, and correlates strongly with a range of social ills, from violent crime to sexually-transmitted diseases:
Published in the Journal of Religion and Society, a US academic journal, it says: "Many Americans agree that their churchgoing nation is an exceptional, God-blessed, shining city on the hill that stands as an impressive example for an increasingly sceptical world.
"In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies. The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so."In contrast, the relatively secular UK has fewer social ills, and Scandinavia (which has national churches which most people see the insides of about twice in their lives), Japan and the Godless cheese-eating surrender monkeys have been the most successful in reducing murder and early mortality rates, sexually-transmitted diseases and abortion.
The report seems to be mainly about religiosity in the US, where evolution is seen as a litmus test of theological correctness, which causes it to read somewhat strangely elsewhere. (The phrase "pro-evolution democracy" sounds a bit like "heliocentric-astronomy democracy" or something.)
"The non-religious, pro-evolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator," he says.Advocates of strong religious values are unlikely to be convinced by this report, especially if they reject the scientific method as Godless.
The latest salvo has been fired in the Australian culture war: Treasurer and cultural conservative Peter Costello has denounced the influence of left-wing schoolteachers in creating a "dangerous" anti-American bias which could leave Australia vulnerable to terrorism.
Perhaps it's time for purges of known or suspected leftists from teaching positions and an ABC-style culture of self-censorship in the schools? They could have anonymous phone lines where students can dob in teachers making left-wing statements. Alternatively, the government could set up a quota system to stack the schools with Assembly Of God/Hillsong fundamentalist types; that would have the additional benefit of making it easier for Brendan Nelson to introduce his proposed Intelligent
Falling Design programmes into science classes.
In other news, Pope
Sidious I Benedict XVI has singled out Australia as a "faithless" country, claiming that mainstream Christianity is dying out there more quickly than anywhere else. I shudder to think how many millions of Australian taxpayers' funds will be redirected to faith-based programmes or even tax incentive schemes to remedy this (and help build up a reliable US-style religious power base for the Tories).
I'm not a huge fan of the This Modern World comic. Perhaps it comes from not living in the U.S., and thus being able to tune out the domestic issues it often covers, or perhaps it's that, more often than not, it tends to smugly preach to the choir and its message can be boiled down to something like "Republicans/neocons/right-wingers are insane, evil doodyheads and they smell, so there". However, the most recent one is a rather keen satire of recent Creationist tactics.
John Scalzi claims that the great political divide of our time is not between liberals and conservatives, but between rationalists and irrationalists:
There's a more common name for irrationalists in politics: "wingnuts." But I think that particular word is both inaccurate and falsely comforting, since it suggests that irrationalists are marginalized on the edge of political discourse. A hint for you: When an irrational politician sleeps in the White House, irrationalism is not exactly marginalized. Irrationalists aren't wingnuts; they're not even the wings. They're the damned fuselage of political discourse at the moment, and I think that's pretty damn scary.
Bush's irrationalist tendencies have fundamentally little to do with his conservative tendencies, which is to say that the former are not spawned from the latter. God knows irrationalism lies on both sides of the conventional political spectrum; the irrationalists of the left who tried to expunge "dead white guys" from curricula back when I was still in school to my mind walk arm and arm with the irrationalists on the right who are now busily trying to expunge evolution. An irrationalist liberal in the White House would be no better than Bush, that's for sure.
Though was there ever a time when rationalism held sway over politics, as opposed to public discourse being buffeted by impulses, fashions, superstitions, waves of mass hysteria and the effects of human cognitive biases which probably made excellent sense on the hunter-gatherer savannah? This has been the case in Plato's day and Shakespeare's, and will probably be so throughout the future of humanity. When the post-singularity nanobot hives populated by the uploaded personalities of our distant descendants launch for outer space in 500 years' time, chances are their politics and public discourse will be just as dominated by prejudices, phobias, omens, superstitions and kneejerk reactions as they are now.
Nonetheless, while rationalism is, to some extent, a lost cause, it is one worth taking up. Sure, if you take up the rationalist banner, the multitudes may laugh at you, call you a crank and sometimes throw things at you, but with patience and perseverance, you can persuade a few people and make the heavily-armed madhouse that is the world slightly less psychotic. At least until the next wave of mass excitement sweeps through it, anyway.
On a tangent, Australian lefty cultural commentator Phillip Adams on politicians and other leaders embracing irrational beliefs, from Reagan's Apocalyptic Christianity and Blair's taste for new-age mumbo-jumbo to the Australian founding fathers' fondness for the Victorian spiritualist fad and Gandhi's reliance on soothsayers before nuclear tests.
It's certainly a recurring theme in politics. One wonders, though, whether it's a case of (a) everybody being a bit kooky, and the media amplifying this in public figures, (b) politicians being (for some reason) more irrational than the man on the street, or (c) successful politicians realising that it pays to pander to irrational beliefs, and that rationality is punished. (Look, for example, at Al Gore, and his image of being a heartless, calculating robot-like being. Never mind that he had embraced the whacko anti-technology mystical-primitivist side of the environmental movement some years before that; perhaps he just wasn't fluffy enough.)
What do Saudi Arabia, the Bush Whitehouse, the Mormons, the Vatican and former Malaysian strongman Mahathir Mohamad have in common? They are all part of an international alliance against liberal secularism:
The Doha conference, and the resulting UN resolution, provided a striking example of growing cooperation between the Christian right (especially in the United States) and conservative Muslims - groups who, according to the clash-of-civilisations theory, ought to be sworn enemies.The coalition succeeded in introducing a resolution in the United Nations asserting "traditional" definitions of the family and attacking progressive social policies including promotion of contraception, tolerance of homosexuality, nontraditional views of the status of women and sex education. The resolution, proposed by Qatar, was backed by the United States, though, unusually, Australia (with its socially conservative and vehemently pro-US administration) sided with Godless Europe. Chances are that was the result of a miscommunication and, the next time such a resolution comes up, Australia's UN ambassador will vote with the Coalition of Willing.
The family debate certainly divides the world, but the divisions are not between east and west, nor do they follow the usual dividing lines of international politics. The battle is between liberal secularists - predominantly in Europe - and conservatives elsewhere who think religion has a role in government.
On this issue, with a president who sounds increasingly like an old-fashioned imam, the United States now sits in the religious camp alongside the Islamic regimes: not so much a clash of civilisations, more an alliance of fundamentalisms.
And in another unholy alliance, US Christian Fundamentalist groups are holding their noses and jumping into the hot tub with Hollywood on the issue of file-sharing, in the interest of instituting centralised control over the lawless internet, mechanisms control which could just as easily be used for enforcing religious morality and stamping out sin as for making sure that every byte of copyrighted content is paid for.
This Christmas Day, Britain's Channel 4 is continuing its annual tradition of courting controversy by broadcasting a documentary questioning the authorship of the Bible and suggesting a link between Christian theology and the troubles in the Middle East.
He declares the New Testament a 'masterwork of spin written by people who were nowhere near the events they describe, all gathered by powerful editors who kept out ideas they did not like'.
One of the most revealing moments comes when Beckford visits the US state of Georgia to talk to President Bush's spiritual adviser, baptist minister Richard Land. Land dismisses as 'rubbish' suggestions that the Bible is inaccurate and cannot be the basis for political decisions. 'When you stand in judgment of scripture, that is a theology of death,' says Land, who has called for Iraq to be 'flooded' with US troops.
Again, it's probably nothing most educated people in the secular world haven't heard of; nonetheless, evangelical groups are up in arms about the timing.
You've probably read about the scientific studies proving that praying or being prayed for is beneficial to one's health. According to skeptic Michael Shermer, these studies are deeply flawed, suffering from faults such as failure to eliminate other factors (such as socioeconomic status, lifestyle differences, and people in poor health being less likely to attend church). There's also the small matter of one of the authors of one study being a fraudster. (via FmH)
An article from Helen Irving, associate professor of law at the University of Sydney, on why Australia's tradition is secular, not Christian, and all the Bushite culture-war bullshit coming out of the Liberal Party about Australia's religious foundations (including the "National Day of Thanksgiving" that has just been declared) and Australian law being based on the Ten Commandments) is just that. (via bizza)
I was deliberately avoiding blogging about the war (you can find all manner of kibbitzing, pontification, play-by-play commentary and ill-informed speculation in too many other places, or just bypass the armchair pundits and tune into the BBC or someone), but this piece is too good to pass up: Richard Dawkins on Bush and the system that elected him.
Osama bin Laden, in his wildest dreams, could hardly have hoped for this...
Bush seems sincerely to see the world as a battleground between Good and Evil, St Michael's angels against the forces of Lucifer. We're gonna smoke out the Amalekites, send a posse after the Midianites, smite them all and let God deal with their souls. Minds doped up on this kind of cod theology have a hard time distinguishing between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Some of Bush's faithful supporters even welcome war as the necessary prelude to the final showdown between Good and Evil: Armageddon followed by the Rapture. We must presume, or at least hope, that Bush himself is not quite of that bonkers persuasion. But he really does seem to believe he is wrestling, on God's behalf, against some sort of spirit of Evil.
A Canadian court has ruled that parts of the bible are hate literature; specifically, the parts of Leviticus that mandate the putting to death of homosexuals and adulterers. The court upheld a ruling by a human rights tribunal which fined a man for putting an ad in a newspaper quoting Bible verses denouncing homosexuality. It's refreshing to see authorities who aren't blinded from such things by a belief that religion is the basis of all morality, civilisation and common human decency, and a spot of xenophobic hatred here and there is a small price to pay for fending off the chaos, nihilism and lawlessness that would follow mass godlessness. (via rotten.com)
Europe is divided over the question over whether a future EU constitution should mention "God". The Catholic Church has pushed for a constitution that establishes Europe's heritage as based in Christianity, which has been watered down to "God as the source of truth", to appease other monotheists (atheists and pantheists be damned). There is strong support for this in Italy and former Communist countries (such as vehemently Catholic Poland). Meanwhile, other nations are wary of violating the separation between church and state: (via 1.0)
In Poland, where the government installed a crucifix in its Parliament after the fall of communism, a reference to God in the constitution would serve as a tribute to the church's role in resisting the government during the country's years as a Soviet satellite.
In Spain, a reference to God evokes the years under General Francisco Franco, where coins were stamped with the dictator's profile, ringed by the words "Leader of Spain by the grace of God." "Religion is a private matter," said Ana Palacio, Spain's foreign minister who is also a member of the presidium. "Our identity is the fight for democracy, for human rights, for the separation between church and state," she said in an interview. "The only banner that we have is secularism."
I'd be inclined to agree with the Spanish. Organised religion lends itself to being a tool of repression and control; and supporting any one religious view (such as monotheism) implicitly disenfranchises those who don't share that belief; stating that values and morality come exclusively from religion equates secularism with amorality, atheism with nihilism.
Meanwhile, Poland's entry to the EU in 2004 is threatened by fears that the EU may challenge the country's ban on abortion. The left-wing and pro-european government fears that conservative Catholic groups may boost the "no" vote in the June referendum on joining the EU. The mainstream Catholic church, however, supports the "yes" case. Unlike Ireland and Malta, Poland does not have a clause in its EU treaty exempting its abortion ban from EU laws. (via Reenhead)
Healing the rift between Church and State: A Slate article on how America, a nation founded by secularistic Freemasons during the Enlightenment, became One Nation Under God, with monotheism of a particularly Protestantoid stripe its official core value. (Well, either that or fast-food franchises.) Not surprisingly, it had a lot to do with the McCarthy Era, and the fight against Godless Communism. (Even now, atheism is seen as un-American, and surveys show that many if not most Americans wouldn't trust an atheist with public office. What would Jefferson have said?)
I wonder what effects a War Without End against bomb-wielding religious fanatics would have. Perhaps the only good to come of it will be that people will come out of it not trusting those religion-spouting sonsofbitches. (via Reenhead)
15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense, which does a good job of shooting down the obfuscations and misquotings of the creationists, not to mention their numerous attempts to dress religious dogma up as science (i.e., the so-called "intelligent design theory"). (via Pagan Prattle)
Undoubtedly after late-night phone calls to his handlers in the Vatican, Victoria's Carnifex and Psychopomp Jeff Bracks has ruled out lifting the ban on screening The Exorcist on Good Friday, despite widespread criticism from various lefty ratbag types and (of all people) the Liberal Party. A wise Christian ruler, that Bracks; a true latter-day Prester John.
[Premier Bracks] said it was reasonable to ban the showing of a film like The Exorcist, which is R-rated, on such a holy day for Christians. "This is one day in the year. One day. I think people would be patient enough to realise one film on a very important day is not such a big issue," he said.
A very important day for whom? Not for me, nor for any of the many atheists, agnostics, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and other Victorian citizens and taxpayers who do not hold with the Cult of the Wooden Cross. I myself had no plans to see The Exorcist on Friday the 13th of April. Though I resent being coerced by the (notionally secular) laws of the land to observe holidays of a religion I do not belong to. This isn't Iran, folks.
IMHO, the cinemas should define the ban and challenge the government, seeing whether it has the will to prosecute them on religious grounds and enforce a law written when the Church of England was the state religion.
Bush's faith-based action plan postponed. Out of all things, it's concern from the religious right that they won't be able to make converts with government money, and that some of the money will go to un-Christian groups like the Scientologists and -- shock, horror -- Islamic groups.
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