Archive for the “Religion” Category

Posts concerned specifically with religion

By now we’re all used to the raging immature intolerance of the Islamic world when it comes to their own religion. They will not permit any “insult to Islam,” whether perceived or real — and are more than willing to resort to violence over it. They issued fatwas and death sentences against Salman Rushdie in the late 1980s over his novel The Satanic Verses. They rioted and destroyed property over the Mohammed cartoons in 2005. A year later Pope Benedict XVI dared quote the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus, inciting more riots, death threats, and the usual vitriol.

But the latest example of this irrationality and immaturity took place in Morocco recently — and for no apparent reason:

The Moroccan government has banned the most recent issue of the French magazine L’Express International for insulting Islam.

Information Minister Khalid Naciri said Sunday that he had no choice but to ban the issue because of the offensive nature of the articles it contained. The minister said that Article 29 of the kingdom’s press code allows the government to shut down or ban any publication deemed to offend Islam or the king.

Note that the Moroccan government took this action without even bothering to explain the exact nature of the “offense” — making this particular example of Islamic intolerance even more incomprehensible than the usual example of furious intolerance (in which a reason for the outrage is cited, even though it usually makes no sense).

About the only good thing about this episode is that L’Express International hasn’t been firebombed or threatened (but it’s a little too soon yet to rule out that possibility). Someday the Islamic world is going to grow up and get over itself … but probably not in my lifetime, and not even in the next few centuries.

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The North Carolina Senate race reached perhaps the height of absurdity this week when incumbent Republican Elizabeth Dole claimed that her opponent, Kay Hagan, is an atheist supported by an atheist PAC. Liddy Dole’s ad includes snippets from the Bill O’Reilly TV show in which atheists deny Jesus lived and even state that they want to remove “In God We Trust” from the nation’s currency.

As an added touch, the Dole ad ends with a soundalike audio piece of Hagan saying “There is no God!” Have a look at this piece of tripe:

The problem here is fourfold, the first two points being the simplest and most obvious: First, Hagan is not an atheist. She’s a lifelong Christian (a Presbyterian if I recall correctly) who even taught Sunday school. Second, she never actually uttered the words “There is no God!” — that was a soundalike recording.

The third point is that nothing any atheist said on the O’Reilly show has the slightest thing to do with Kay Hagan. There are PACs all over the place who raise money, then give it to candidates. That a person or group gives money to one, does not mean that the candidate agrees with them.

Fourth — and this is the point which is the most fundamental consideration here, but which is glossed over here — is that, even if Hagan is an atheist, so the hell what? Atheists are people too and can be Senators! (For those who disagree, may I direct your attention to Article VI of the US Constitution, which contains what is known as the No-religious-test clause. Thank you.)

One last remark about what the atheists on the O’Reilly show said … in fact, Jesus’ existence is not known with any certainty, and I can’t see that it ever will be.

Elizabeth Dole ought to be ashamed of herself … going so far as to record a soundalike of her opponent saying something she never said. And she dares call herself a good Christian woman … !

I suggest that people donate to Ms Hagan’s campaign as a way to protest what Liddy Dole has done.

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In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a lot of dissent among conservatives in the US. Blogs and journalists have started covering this, as did the New York Times recently:

In recent weeks some prominent conservative intellectuals seem to have discovered they have two hands after all. In column after column, these writers have alternately praised the virtues of John McCain and Sarah Palin and lamented their shortcomings. …

The Times’s Op-Ed columnist David Brooks, who recently described Governor Palin as a “cancer on the Republican Party,” explained in an interview that the movement is now embroiled in a debate: “Should it go back to the core principles of Ronald Reagan or should it go on to something else? That’s the core issue.”

One would think this growing disaffection within conservatism is something new, but it’s not. It has, rather, been building over the last couple of years.

The conservative discontent manifested mostly in the form of dissatisfaction with the GOP presidential candidates, none of whom were able to appeal broadly to conservatives or Republicans. Some of them had some advantages (Mitt Romney was a successful businessman, Mike Huckabee a loveable Baptist minister, etc.), but they also had drawbacks (Huckabee is too much of a populist, Romney is a Mormon) … and that left John McCain to pick up the pieces, even though he had some liabilities of his own (e.g. his campaign-finance bill passed in 2002 — which made him the friend of the mass media, but made him many enemies from his erstwhile allies on the right).

Excuse me, but I can tell anyone who cares exactly what’s wrong with conservatism in the US in general, and the Republican party specifically. You might guess what I’d say based on the content of the rest of this blog, but I’ll just come out with it anyway: The problem is religion. Specifically the hyperreligion of the overwhelmingly Protestant evangelical Christians. Since they seized control of the GOP in the ’90s, they’ve become an increasingly demanding and volatile element of the party. The religious wing of conservatism were “stay-at-homes” during the 1992 and 1996 elections, due to their displeasure with the GOP candidates (Bush Senior and Bob Dole respectively). Neither was sufficiently religious for their tastes — so they withdrew their support. Having learned this lesson, and fueled by Religious Right™ gains in Congress in the 1994 midterms, in 2000 Bush Jr appealed heavily to the Religious Right™ and was rewarded by being elected.

Since 2000 the entire party has become a puppet of the US evangelicals, hewing strictly to religiosity at every step. They won in 2004 but lost big (much bigger than they would admit) in the 2006 midterms, and are on track to lose even more in 2008.

So long as Republicans keep obeying the hyperreligious will of evangelical Christians, they will continue to lose. They managed, through an understated campaign of anti-Mormon whispering, to undermine Romney, who at one time had almost sewn up the nomination. They then forced McCain to swing into religiosity, cozying up to televangelists and other religious opportunists, which contradicted his erstwhile “maverick” status, and caused the mass media to turn on him in spectacular fashion.

If the Republican party wishes to move into the 21st century, its leaders are going to have to break the chains that have enslaved them to the evangelicals. It really is just that simple.

David Brooks’s question of whether to go back to Reagan conservatism or move on to something else, implies that the Reagan route is most attractive … but it would be a mistake. It was Reagan who opened the door to religiosity in the GOP; while his appeal was not solely religious — he was also popular among “free market” conservatives who were decidedly secular — his alliances with guys like Falwell gave evangelicals a foot in the door, that they were able to exploit later. No, a more definite and explicitly non-religious tactic is called for, if the GOP wishes to succeed after 2008.

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A little over a month ago I blogged about the UK Royal Society’s director of education, Michael Reiss, demanding creationism teaching in science classrooms. I wondered, then, what might have been going through the guy’s head. It turns out that in addition to his scientific degrees, Reiss is an Anglican priest — so my question was answered!

He resigned within a few days, claiming that he was misunderstood, and that he was talking about how to address creationism if a student brought it up in class. While he did discuss such a scenario in his remarks, and he later claimed to believe that creationism is not appropriate in a science classroom, his initial remarks included the following sentence:

I feel that creationism is best seen by science teachers not as a misconception but as a world view.

Reiss’s problem, of course, is that — scientifically speaking — creationism is most assuredly a “misconception.” Whether or not it’s a worldview, is irrelevant, in light of that.

Reiss’s remarks and his subsequent resignation are controversial in Britain’s science world. There are some who think his position reasonable and that he should not have been fired for it. He also has vehement critics. A sampling of the matter:

A defender of Professor Reiss’ position on the BBC radio I heard argued that the creation myth was a metaphor, not to be taken literally. Hence scientists should not be so touchy. A critic could argue, however that if that were the case then that is exactly why the teacher should indeed to refer the pupil to poetry, drama or religious studies where parables as metaphor are appropriate. The problem is that as soon as you bring it into a science lesson you risk confusing science and parable. This is not helped by creationists who insist that the creation myth is not a parable but true and should at the very least be taught as a valid theory alongside evolution. This then makes a mockery of science.

That, of course, is the real problem here. If we were talking about a kid who — say — denies the reality of gravity, that’s easily addressed in science class, by explaining the workings of gravity and devising an experiment to show that it works.

But if a kid says, “Mah preacherman dun tol’ me we ain’t no apes, ’cause the Bobble dun says so,” there is really no way for a science teacher to address and debunk this … because nothing the teacher says or does can do so! The kid’s preacherman has pre-empted any possible scientific response, by convincing the child to take the literal word of the Bible over anything and everything else — including valid, time-tested science. It is, in short, a game that the science teacher cannot win.

What’s more, the science teacher’s failure would only become further “evidence” of creationism’s truth, in the eyes of the child. (There are, in fact, already apocryphal stories of believers demolishing atheist teachers, which are — in spite of their known apocryphal nature — used among other believers as “evidence” of the intellectual bankruptcy of atheism. So don’t think this cannot happen.)

Yes, creationism teaching is an insidious force in the lives of the world’s youngsters. Its goal is not only to indoctrinate them in certain metaphysical beliefs, but also to cheat them of the possibility of ever learning the truth. In short … it’s evil.

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My home state of Connecticut just became the third US state to permit gay marriage, and it came about in the same way as in Massachusetts (the first) and California (the second) — via a state Supreme Court decision (locally-cached version):

The [CT] state Supreme Court’s 4-3 decision Friday that same-sex couples have the right to marry swept through the state with the force of a cultural tidal wave.

While lead plaintiff Beth Kerrigan and her partner — soon to be wife — embraced and sobbed after learning of the ruling, opponents vowed to pursue a long and complicated route to change the constitution to ban gay marriage.

The Supreme Court released its historic ruling at 11:30 a.m. Citing the equal protection clause of the state constitution, the justices ruled that civil unions were discriminatory and that the state’s “understanding of marriage must yield to a more contemporary appreciation of the rights entitled to constitutional protection.”

“Interpreting our state constitutional provisions in accordance with firmly established equal protection principles leads inevitably to the conclusion that gay persons are entitled to marry the otherwise qualified same sex partner of their choice,” the majority wrote. “To decide otherwise would require us to apply one set of constitutional principles to gay persons and another to all others.”

There has been a storm of outrage, of course, as one would expect from among the immature tip of the Right wing:

The Family Institute of Connecticut, a political action group that opposes gay marriage, called the ruling outrageous.

“Even the legislature, as liberal as ours, decided that marriage is between a man and a woman,” said executive director Peter Wolfgang. “This is about our right to govern ourselves. It is bigger than gay marriage.”

Wah wah wah. Too bad you cannot point to anyone on the planet who has ever been harmed because a gay couple got married (instead of just living together or getting a “civil union,” whatever the hell those are). Also his comment about self-governing is a non sequitur, since no one is forcing anyone to enter into a gay marriage — so calm yourself, Petey!

Looks like he also forgot that there is no single definition of marriage, it has changed through history, even within Judeo-Christian tradition. Note to the Religious Right™: Grow up and stop imposing your version of religion on other people.

Finally, a note to any who might be interested: As an ordained bishop in the Apathetic Agnostic Church, I am legally able to marry couples residing in Connecticut, and am more than willing to do so for gay couples who are committed to marriage. Use this Contact Form to get in touch with me about this (note, this is not a Comment box, use the Comments link for that).

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Not far away from me, in Springfield, MA, there is a magical window, at Mercy Medical Center there. It bears an image of the Virgin Mary, it is said. People have flocked from all over to see it:

Hundreds of devout Catholics and curious onlookers have gathered to pray, weep and chant outside a Catholic Springfield hospital window where an image that some say looks like the Virgin Mary has appeared.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, with which this medical center is affiliated, is making hay out of it:

Mark Dupont, spokesman for the Springfield Diocese, said that when he saw the image yesterday it was a “clearly, well-defined outline.” …

He said about 100 people had gathered this morning to see the image – and that is what has moved him.

“You may debate the image, but you can’t debate the faces of the people who are gathered there,” he said. “That’s what is inspiring right now.”

The spokesman’s reference to faces is, of course, a form of the “democratic fallacy” by which things are claimed to have veracity merely because there are people who believe they do. Nice. Lots of logic there, Dupont.

Fortunately, some minds more rational than his have been called in to have a look — specifically some engineers, and they have determined there is actually nothing supernatural about the window:

Engineers say an analysis of a hospital window that hundreds claim displays an apparition of the Virgin Mary indicates the image may be due to a mineral deposit. …

Their report indicated the image may be a mineral deposit that built up in the sealed area between the window’s two panes of glass.

Like most windows in New England, this one is double-paned, meaning it’s two sheets of glass sealed with a vacuum between. Unforunately it’s all too easy for the seal to be breached and for air to get inside, letting who-knows-what seep in and stay behind. It’s much more common than most people are aware.

But it’s not magic.

And I defy anyone to show me where, exactly, the Virgin Mary is in these pictures (see links in this article for photos). Sorry but I don’t see anything recognizable — not even if diocesan spokesman Dupont says I must, just because some are convinced of it.

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That Saudi Arabia is stuck in the Middle Ages is not news. What is news is that a prominent Saudi cleric is taking on what has become a major cultural trend in the Arab world, as reported by Reuters:

A senior Saudi cleric has said purveyors of horoscopes on Arab television should face the death penalty, a paper said on Sunday, days after another cleric argued death for TV owners.

“Sorcerers who appear on satellite channels who are proven to be sorcerers have committed a great crime … and the Muslim consensus is that the apostate’s punishment is death by the sword,” Sheikh Saleh al-Fozan told al-Madina daily. …

Many of the hundreds of Arab satellite channels have sprung up in recent years specialise in horoscopes and other advice to callers on solving problems that is seen as “sorcery.”

In their capacity as judges, clerics of Saudi Arabia’s austere form of Islam often sentence “sorcerers” to death.

Fozan, a member of the Higher Council of Clerics, was responding to a controversy ignited by a Council colleague, Sheikh Saleh al-Lohaidan, who said last week that owners of Arab TV shows should be tried and face death over some shows. …

Lohaidan, who is the head of Saudi Arabia’s Islamic sharia courts, told Saudi radio: “I want to advise the owners of these channels that broadcast programmes with indecency and vulgarity and warn them of the consequences … They can be put to death through the judicial process.”

He was referring to comedy shows and soap operas airing in Ramadan, a month of fasting when Muslims are supposed to focus on God. Critics say Ramadan has become an orgy of food and television consumption once the fast ends at sunset. …

The Reuters article concludes by explaining the tension between state and religion in Saudi Arabia that drove these clerics to lash out:

The owners of Arab entertainment channels, including MBC, ART, Orbit, Rotana and LBC, are mostly Saudi royals and businessmen closely allied to them.

Concerned about the country’s international image, some key members of the Saudi royal family have promoted liberal reforms. The clerics fear plans to limit their extensive influence in what is the world’s largest oil exporter.

Like little children, when faced with opposition, the Saudi clerics react in typical immature fashion — by stamping and fuming and making threats. Nice, huh?

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