Atheism and religion in the news XXI

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Hello all, time for another blog and more news.

Good people doing evil things

An African look at the current troubles in Kenya and what it has to do with religion.

I FIND THE GOD DELUSION BY RICHARD Dawkins particularly relevant to Kenya’s current political impasse: Why has it been felt necessary to call in religious leaders to broker peace? Have their pleas to the gangs of the discontented and dispossessed to put down their machetes helped? Of course not. Even the great Archbishop Desmond Tutu failed to achieve anything.

Dawkins asks of just such initiatives that involve the clergy: “But why the chaplain? Why not the gardener or the chef? Why are scientists so cravenly respectful towards the ambitions of theologians over questions that theologians are certainly no more qualified to answer than scientists themselves?”

Could it be that religion is part of the problem and not the solution? Has a blind faith in God and religious leaders led to a kind of fatalism and willingness which leads people to hand over responsibility for important decisions in their lives to others, in this case men who are clearly not cut out for the job? Dawkins even doubts that theology is a subject at all.

What Dawkins objects to most, he says, is the way religion curtails thought. Curiosity is considered a disease and anything that cannot be explained is shoved aside into a drawer labeled “God’s miracles.” This is lazy science, he says. When it comes to the age-old argument about creation and God, the ultimate maker of all, there is a problem of infinite regress. If God is the great designer, then who designed God?

He replies to the “creationists” and the intelligent design school by explaining that natural selection is a cumulative process that breaks the problem of improbability into small pieces. Those who wish to believe in “irreducible complexity” consider it a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding. Quoting American geneticist Jerry Coyne, Dawkins says, “If the history of science shows us anything it is that we get nowhere by labelling our ignorance ‘God.’


Richard Dawkins: Why Darwin matters

Dawkins writes about Darwin, very cool. J

Charles Darwin had a big idea, arguably the most powerful idea ever. And like all the best ideas it is beguilingly simple. In fact, it is so staggeringly elementary, so blindingly obvious that although others before him tinkered nearby, nobody thought to look for it in the right place.

Darwin had plenty of other good ideas - for example his ingenious and largely correct theory of how coral reefs form - but it is his big idea of natural selection, published in On the Origin of Species, that gave biology its guiding principle, a governing law that helps the rest make sense. Understanding its cold, beautiful logic is a must.

Natural selection’s explanatory power is not just about life on this planet: it is the only theory so far suggested that could, even in principle, explain life on any planet. If life exists elsewhere in the universe - and my tentative bet is that it does - some version of evolution by natural selection will almost certainly turn out to underlie its existence. Darwin’s theory works equally well no matter how strange and alien and weird that extraterrestrial life may be - and my tentative bet is that it will be weird beyond imagining.


The Illustrated Christopher Hitchens.

Two short videos of Hitchens giving a speech with graphic images added in.

Part 1


Part 2

Stop praying, start reading

In America, where faith exists without knowledge.

While it seems to be a growing trend for religious enthusiasts to claim that secular, and even atheist, ideologies are hugging the public square, evangelicalism seems to have more than just outlived the late Rev. Jerry Falwell. To date, Christianity has been the self-proclaimed founder of American morality. More recently however, Jesus and the divinely inspired have found competition at the book store by atheist authors such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins on the subject of morality and divinity. This dichotomy of ideals has fostered the public war between the religious and secular State, much to the amusement of European onlookers.

For many elementary schools in Europe, students are taught compulsory religious education. By middle school, students are well aware of the holy books of Christianity, Islam, Judaism and have some understanding of Buddhism and Hinduism. In spite of this knowledge, most European students are far less likely to regularly attending church, a mosque or synagogue. Americans seem to be just the opposite. As Stephen Prothero, the head chair of the Department of Religion at Boston University regards religion in the United States, "here faith without understanding is the norm, and religious ignorance is bliss."

Most Americans understand the central tenet of a separation of church and state, but a University of North Carolina study revealed few undergraduates can name the clauses that determine the extent of this separation (the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses), or even where it is found in the constitution (the First Amendment). The secularization of American public education has bred a nation of devout religious illiterates. The First Amendment clause of freedom of religion has been whittled down to an easier stance of freedom from religion.


Saudi preachers blame sinners for lack of rain

I’m sure this makes perfect sense if you are a wahabi.

RIYADH- Saudi preachers on Saturday conducted prayers for rain in their desert kingdom and blamed the empty skies on sinfulness, the official Spa news agency reported.

“Misfortune does not befall (a country) unless sins have been committed there,” said the imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Sheikh Abderrahman bin Abdel Aziz al-Sudeiss.

The sheikh, a critic of what he calls the “goodly number of people who chase after forbidden pleasures,” singled out as particularly responsible for the lack of rain “corruption, bribery and the search for ill-gotten gain.”

In the capital, Riyadh, prayers were conducted by the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdelaziz al-Sheikh, who heads the highest religious authority in the kingdom.

He also exhorted the faithful to “avoid the forbidden and the illicit,” before calling on God to “shower the country with beneficial rains, for the good of the land and of men.”

In a ritual practised since the time of mohammed , the prayers for rain consist of a procession in which the faithful seek the generosity of heaven.

Saudi Arabia is one of the most arid countries in the world and must routinely resort to desalination plants to provide enough drinking water.


War on Tolerance.

A look at three born again chrisitans who preach about islam.

Walid Shoebat, Kamal Saleem and Zachariah Anani are the three stooges of the Christian right. These self-described former Muslim terrorists are regularly trotted out at Christian colleges—a few days ago they were at the Air Force Academy—to spew racist filth about Islam on behalf of groups such as Focus on the Family. It is a clever tactic. Curly, Larry and Mo, who all say they are born-again Christians, engage in hate speech and assure us it comes from personal experience. They tell their audiences that the only way to deal with one-fifth of the world’s population is by converting or eradicating all Muslims. Their cant is broadcast regularly on Fox News, including the Bill O’Reilly and Neil Cavuto shows, as well as on numerous Christian radio and television programs. Shoebat, who has written a book called “Why We Want to Kill You,” promises in his lectures to explain the numerous similarities between radical Muslims and the Nazis, how “Muslim terrorists” invaded America 30 years ago and how “perseverance, recruitment and hate” have fueled attacks by Muslims.

These men are frauds, but this is not the point. They are part of a dark and frightening war by the Christian right against tolerance that, in the moment of another catastrophic terrorist attack on American soil, would make it acceptable to target and persecute all Muslims, including the some 6 million Muslims who live in the United States. These men stoke these irrational fears. They defend the perpetual war unleashed by the Bush administration and championed by Sen. John McCain. McCain frequently reminds listeners that “the greatest danger facing the world is Islamic terrorism,” as does Mike Huckabee, who says that “Islamofascism” is “the greatest threat this country [has] ever faced.” George W. Bush has, in the same vein, assured Americans that terrorists hate us for our freedoms, not, of course, for anything we have done. Bush described the “war on terror” as a war against totalitarian Islamofascism while the Israeli air force was dropping tens of thousands of pounds of iron fragmentation bombs up and down Lebanon, an air campaign that killed 1,300 Lebanese civilians.

The three men tell lurid tales of being recruited as children into Palestinian terrorist organizations, murdering hundreds of civilians and blowing up a bank in Israel. Saleem says that as a child he infiltrated Israel to plant bombs via a network of tunnels underneath the Golan Heights, although no incident of this type was ever reported in Israel. He claims he is descended from the “grand wazir” of Islam, a title and a position that do not exist in the Arab world. They assure audiences that the Palestinians are interested not in a peaceful two-state solution but rather the destruction of Israel, the murder of all Jews and the death of America. Shoebat claims he first came to the United States as part of an extremist “sleeper cell.”



A nice article on secularism.

He was a worshiper of liberty, a friend of the oppressed. A thousand times I have heard him quote these words: "For Justice all place a temple, and all season, summer." He believed that happiness is the only good, reason the only torch, justice the only worship, humanity the only religion, and love the only priest.

The above passage is an excerpt from a eulogy given by the famous American freethinker Robert Ingersoll for his brother, Ebon. It's one of my favorite passages from Ingersoll, showing the sublime depth and beauty of his humanist views, even in times of sorrow. But behind the poetic language, there's an important truth.

The commonly accepted etymology of the word "religion" derives from the Latin ligare, meaning "bind" or "connect". Religion, then, is the system of obligations that connect human beings to the gods. Sensible enough - except, I have to ask, how exactly are you supposed to form a meaningful connection with an invisible, unseen, unknown, and very likely non-existent supernatural power?

No god has ever offered even the simplest tangible comforts one human being can give another: the contact of a hand, a thoughtful favor or a gift. No god comes to us, speaks to us or reassures us in the ways we all do for each other. No god answers our questions or responds to our petitions. Believers send their prayers into the void, and maybe - maybe - if they're lucky, they'll get a vague warm feeling in their hearts as answer, or a random event that works out in their favor which they take to be a sign. This is not the stuff of a deep and meaningful bond, not in the way we bond with our friends and loved ones. With our fellow human beings we exchange secrets, we share laughter and old jokes, we form memories together, we challenge each other and learn about each other. None of those things ever happen between humans and gods.

Rather than trying vainly to form connections with the uncaring blue sky, we can find a better kind of religion down here on earth. What we need is a religion of humanity - a secular belief system that does unite us in meaningful ways, by teaching the astounding truth that we are all part of the same biological and mental tribe.


Chick video.

No its not porn or pornish.

Its a music video rendition of a particularly repugnant Jack Chick tract by the outstanding Alice Donut. I also think it is remarkable, but not for the same reasons Amanda does. For me it raises questions of identity and exclusion. The short of the story is this. A 5 year old girl named Lisa lives with her father and mother. Her mother is an alcoholic, and her father a child rapist. Soon their neighbor finds out, and successfully blackmails his way into the father’s crimes. Upon a visit to the doctor, the mother finds out the daughter has contracted stds, and rushes home to confront the father. He then makes a rush for a bridge, is confronted by a fundamentalist who demands “just pray!”. He does, and shortly (15 minutes later) returns to his home to convert his wife. The two of them then promise to “never hurt Lisa again”. (In the video, at least, Lisa responds with skepticism.)


Exorcism makes a comeback in Europe.

Demons and wiccans beware.

POCZERNIN, Poland - This wind-swept village is bracing for an invasion of demons, thanks to a priest who believes he can defeat Satan.

The Rev. Andrzej Trojanowski, a soft-spoken Pole, plans to build a "spiritual oasis" that will serve as Europe's only center dedicated to performing exorcisms. With the blessing of the local Catholic archbishop and theological support from the Vatican, the center will aid a growing number of Poles possessed by evil forces or the devil himself, he said.

"This is my task, this is my purpose -- I want to help these people," said Trojanowski, who has worked as an exorcist for four years. "There is a group of people who cannot get relief through any other practices and who need peace."


Morte alla tyrannus et dei