Atheism and religion in the News XXVI

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Once again, more news.   Fall of the House of Bush--A Book Review  

A new books looks at the role of christian fundamentalism in the Bush white house.


Although most Americans regard September 11 as the single event that changed the world, Craig Unger would argue that the 2000 presidential election served as a convergence point of certain groups of people who helped create what he calls “the greatest foreign policy disaster in American history—one that could result in the end of American global supremacy.” 

In an eloquent and fascinating study of the Neoconservatives, the Christian Fundamentalists and their presidential candidate, George W. Bush, Unger reveals their policymaking role in the Middle East. 

Today’s Neoconservatives were originally New Left intellectuals who came out of the sixties’ antiwar and counterculture movement as angry individuals who either felt rebuffed socially or professionally and/or were attracted to the hawkish anti-communist dogma of Democratic Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson. 

In order to start something new, they imitated the influential left-wing Brookings Institution by organizing think tanks and lobbying groups, developing a fundraising apparatus and recruiting “scholars” and “experts” for the purpose of “overturn[ing] the present power structure of the country,” as Paul Weyrich, founder of the neoconservative Heritage Foundation, asserted.

Meanwhile, both Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld racked up White House experience beginning with the Nixon administration where they learned how to navigate government bureaucracy and position themselves for leadership. 

In the early nineties at the conclusion of the Cold War, the United States found itself the only remaining superpower.  The Neocons formulated a vision of a new American empire that would assert U.S. domination in the Middle East in order to control energy resources (like oil and gas), open up corporate-friendly markets, set up strategic military bases and protect Israel.


Flogging the Bishop.

A softer, gentler kind of religious fanatic.

Five years ago this week (Feb. 27), Rowan Williams, 57, was enthroned as the 104th archbishop of Canterbury, heading Britain's official church, enjoying the privilege of being perceived as the moral authority of the government. When the queen is called the defender of the faith, that faith is the Church of England, and Williams is its CEO, with the church having the right to sit in Parliament. He is also the first among equals of the larger Anglican faith, with millions of adherents around the world.

And yet, if celebrations of the anniversary are subdued, he should hardly be surprised. In an address at the royal courts of justice, and in a radio interview, Williams suggested it was inevitable that Britain would have to accommodate aspects of the sharia law to help "maintain social cohesion," perplexing, dismaying, puzzling, upsetting and angering many in Britain and beyond. Williams said he wanted Britain to avoid the "inflexible or over-restrictive application of traditional law," and be wary of a "universalist Enlightenment system," which could ghettoize minorities.

This caused an immediate uproar: The government called his remarks "unhelpful"; his predecessor as the archbishop, George Carey, felt Williams' position as the church's head was now untenable; feminists condemned him for supporting faith-based traditions that undermine women's rights; tabloids asked for his removal. Ironically, among his enthusiastic backers was the fundamentalist Islamic group, Hizb ut-Tahrir, which seeks the revival of the Caliphate, and which is banned in much of Europe but is legal in Britain.

And so we have come to this. With his penchant for colorful robes, his majestic, graying beard, twirled eyebrows and occasional funny hats, Williams could be mistaken for Gandalf, if you ignore the crucifixes surrounding him. But make no mistake: While his tone may be gentler than that of an ayatollah, in the end, like all imams, he is cut from the same cloth. 

Link One persons path to atheism.  Hey, I find these stories interesting. 

Ricky´s article made my think of my own path to atheism as it to was cemented at a young age of what I felt was a logical fallacy in the bible. That said my road to declaring my atheism was shorter as I grew up in a family where religion never played any major role and my fathers side of the family having been atheist for many a generation. Yet I remember when we where thought the ten commandments in school I started wondering about how, if those where the direct words of God, they by their wording seemed to clearly indicate that women where the property of men since it said you should not covet your neighbors wife, and putting women on the same level as oxes and donkeys in that regard. While I guess some would conclude that God is sexist and that women truly are the property of men, I instead came to the conclusion that it was probably a sign that these so called word of ‘God’ where actually the words of men of their time. And with that conclusion and further pondering I realized that if the only words in the whole bible claiming to be the direct words of God where false, then it was quite likely that if there was a God the people who had written these books and stories had most likely not the faintest idea about the will of such a being. of course only later did I also realize the Norwegian ten commandments I read was edited as they didn’t include the implicit endorsement of human slavery that I find the the English version.

Of course such conclusions only put me on a clear path to deism not atheism, but I guess I never found a compelling reason to believe in the supernatural. I love the quote ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ which I think is from Arthur C. Clarke. It reminds me that a lot of the things we understand today was perceived as magical and mystical to those who went before us.

Link What kind of people become suicide bombers?  Read on. 

MOHAMMED HAMID, 50, ringleader of the group who called himself Osama bin London. Born in 1957 in Tanzania, to Indian Muslim parents, Hamid moved to Britain when he was 5 and lived in the West Yorkshire mill town of Heckmondwike. Moved to London in his teens and fell into a life of petty crime, acquiring convictions for robbery, burglary and cannabis possession on his way to becoming a crack cocaine addict. Married twice with three children, he used a trip to India to cure his drug habit and discovered fundamentalist Islam. Returned to Britain to open an Islamic bookshop and set up a bookstall on Oxford Street, Central London, on his return. Hundreds of men and boys attended Friday night Koran study meetings where he distributed extremist videos and preached jihad.

Hamid was found guilty of three counts of soliciting murder and three counts of providing terrorist training. He was found not guilty of two counts of soliciting murder, one count of providing weapons training and possessing a record containing information likely to be useful to a terrorist.  

Link  The next wave of terror?  An analyst talks about the future of Al-Qaeda 

Al Qaeda is not the central planning, recruiting and organizing force for global terrorism it once was, but has become more of a brand name that leaderless terrorist groups around the world assume to gain recognition and notoriety, according to a leading terrorist expert.

The third wave of terrorists comprises mostly "terrorist wannabes," said Marc Sageman, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, who was a CIA case officer in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

They are a post-Iraq terrorist generation made up predominately of Muslims in Europe who feel shut out of the labor market, said Sageman, speaking in Washington on Feb. 20 at an event sponsored by the New America Foundation. They become increasingly radicalized by shared group discontent and join the terrorist jihad in a quest for glory and heroism, he added.

These dissidents typically don't associate face to face, rather their interaction has shifted to Internet chat rooms and online forums, which act as "echo chambers" where anger intensifies and participants become more radicalized, Sageman said. The virtual world enables the natural dynamic of "in-group love and out-group hate," in which jihadists become more withdrawn from society and associate only with radical and like-minded thinkers.

Link   A place for god?  The atlantic magazine talks about the future of religion. 

In the Atlantic’s March issue, theologian Alan Wolfe takes up the question of religion’s future. Is the world becoming more religious—or less? And will there be an increase—or a decrease—in religious violence in the years to come? Wolfe suggests that in fact we are likely heading toward a less religious future, because, as he explains, fast as religion may appear to be spreading these days, “both secularism and secularly inspired ways of being religious are spreading just as rapidly—maybe even more so.” 

Historians may one day look back on the next few decades, not as yet another era when religious conflicts enveloped countries and blew apart established societies, but as the era when secularization took over the world.

Of course, this is not the first time that the imminent arrival of a secular age has been predicted. Indeed, over the course of The Atlantic’s history, numerous writers have debated whether we are heading toward a more secular or a more religious future, and whether one development or the other would be for the best.

As early as 1912, a churchgoer named Meredith Nicholson took up the question of religion’s relevance to modern life. In “Should Smith Go to Church?,” the author explored the dilemma of “Smith,” an average American living in an age ruled by science and industry. Over the course of his own lifetime, Nicholson pointed out, churchgoing had gone from the norm to the exception:

I remember distinctly that in my boyhood people who were not affiliated with some church were looked upon as pariahs and outcasts … Yet in the same community no reproach attaches to-day to the non-church-going citizen. A majority of the men I know best, in cities large and small, do not go to church. Most of them are in no-wise antagonistic to religion; they are merely indifferent.


CBS News Calls Secular America Immoral.


This is one of the reasons I hate major media.


In a single sentence in one story on religion in the United States, CBS Evening News managed to insult the vast majority of the American people.  Describing a major new study on Americans' religious faith from the Pew Forum, CBS' Wyatt Andrews suggested that atheism in particular and Americans' widely shared belief in a secular society in general is immoral:

"The unprecedented survey of religion answers many concerns about a secular, morally void America."

For beginners, the term "secular" in the context of American society and politics does mean what CBS seems to think it means.  "Secular" does not mean "atheist."  Far from it.  As historian Wilfred McClay argues elsewhere on the Pew web site, secularism has a distinctly political sense in the United States:

"That is, secularism as recognizing politics as an autonomous sphere, one that's not subject to ecclesiastical governance, to the governance of a church or religion or the church's expression of that religion. A secular political order may be one in which religious practice or religious exercise, as we say, can flourish."

This broader view of secular as "not controlled by a religious body" is shared by an overwhelming majority of Americans of all faiths.  While Americans may disagree about prayer in schools or the display of nativity scenes on public land, the separation of church and state is seen by most as an essential guarantee of religious liberty, freedom and diversity.  (For example, while Pew reported 84% of people affiliated with a religion in the U.S., 70% of Americans believe church leaders should not endorse political candidates.)  Surely, CBS News did not actually intend to term most Americans "morally void."

Link  Whos smarter? The Religious or the Non-religious?

If you are reading this blog, the answer probally won`t surprise you, but the amount of studies might.

Is it more logical to be a Christian? Is religion the natural choice of a smart person familiar with more of the evidence? Not according to a broad consensus of studies on IQ and religiosity. These studies have consistently found that the lower the IQ score, the more likely a person is to be religious.

To place these studies in perspective, it is helpful to know the general religious attitudes of Americans today. According to a February 1995 Gallup poll, 96 percent of all Americans believe in God, and 88 percent affirm the importance of religion. However, the degree of religiosity within this group varies considerably. Only 35 percent can be classified as "religious," using a definition that requires them to consider religion important and attend religious services at least once a week. And a March 1994 Gallup poll found that only 20 percent of all Americans belong to that politically active group known as "Christian conservatives."

The following is a review of several studies of IQ and religiosity, paraphrased and summarized from Burnham Beckwith's article, "The Effect of Intelligence on Religious Faith," Free Inquiry, Spring 1986: (1)

Link Wow, no god?

The comedian Ricky Gervais talks about his path to atheism, which took about a day when he started to think.


Morte alla tyrannus et dei