The Emerald Isle: Boldly Moving Forward into the 12th Century…

January 6, 2010

Let me preface these remarks by saying that if we were Irish nationals, both Kevvy and I would be criminals. Kevvy for his most recent post, and me for what I am about to write. Once more unto the breach, dear readers!

On January 1st, 2010, a new law came into effect in Ireland – the law is, according to legislators, primarily designed to modernise laws regarding defamation. Goodness knows, given the state of defamation laws in England, that area could use a bit of cleaning up in the Isles, so to speak. This, however, is not what is most troubling about this legislation. Contained within the law are provisions making blasphemy, the disparaging of religious beliefs which might offend practitioners of a given religion, illegal.  Of course, as one would expect, some, like Richard Dawkins, are speaking out against what is perceived to be a return to medieval thinking.

The Irish Constitution already contains provisions against blasphemy, however, Ireland and other countries which have similar laws or edicts have chosen largely to ignore them, given that they are impossible to define or enforce, and constitute an unreasonable restriction on free speech. Modern societies have largely recognized the importance of free speech and the benefits of the unrestricted flow of ideas. What is puzzling is that some commentators cannot even identify whose idea this was, or whether religious leaders of any denomination have pushed to have this law enacted.

Some will recall my post on the efforts of the Organization of the Islamic Conference to pass a United Nations resolution making disparagement of religion an offense around the world – even as a non-binding resolution, it is a terrifying prospect that such resolutions can even be seriously entertained in a global context.  This new law is an unreasonable and unwarranted attack on free speech and should not be tolerated. While we are turning our gaze toward Africa and threatening dire consequences if homosexuality is outlawed in Uganda, this type of petty, superstitious nonsense is actually happening in what is presumed to be the ‘civilized’ West. There are people around the world who are suffering unnecessary misery due to the efforts of supposedly well-meaning christians, and direct conflict between religious ideologies is killing hundreds, if not thousands of people a day in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Recently, a court in Malaysia decided it was acceptable for non-muslims to use the word ‘allah’, as long as it is not misused. Thousands are up in arms at what is seen as an insult to islam – never mind that the word ‘allah’ means ‘god’ in Arabic, and could conceivably come up in conversation in a respectful way – and this is just one of many instances where the rule of law has come up against the forces who encourage the growth of superstition and the suppression of competing ideas. The suppression of ideas, even ridiculous ones, is dangerous because it is a slippery slope from protecting one set of ideas from another to defining one idea, or ideology, as better or more worthy of promotion by a government.

Unless there are instances of demonstrable harm (such as are inherent in militant religions of any stripe), people should be permitted to share ideas and let the minds of others accept, debate or deny them as they see fit. It is the only way societies can grow and evolve – technology is great, but without ideas to determine its use, technology is just a tool. Moral ideas, divorced from the burden of religious dogma and developed to provide the greatest benefit for the greatest number, are the force that propels us forward as a race.

A restriction on speech is a restriction on thought, and any infringement on the right to think and speak freely is a violation of human rights, and should be regarded as a crime against humanity.


Evangelicals: Growing Pains (In the Ass)

September 22, 2009

Former Growing Pains ‘star’ and current delusional paranoid evangelical xtian Kirk Cameron, has indicated that he plans to distribute to U.S. universities 100,000 copies of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, with a new 50-page foreword, to subvert the 150th anniversary of the publishing of the iconic science text on November 22nd, 2009 – “Darwin Day”.

The following from The Huffington Post:

Cameron explains that this “very special” edition of the “Origin of Species” will include an introduction explaining “Adolf Hitler’s undeniable connection” to the theory of evolution, and highlighting “Darwin’s racism” and “his disdain for women.” Cameron’s edition also exposes the “many hoaxes” of evolutionary theory, while presenting a “balanced view of Creationism.”

From the untalented hack’s own mouth:

A clever response from another YouTube user:

There are no limit to the ways I can object to this, and to how offended this makes me. To suggest that someone has the right to potentially alter the text of a seminal work (as suggested here)  is offensive. There is no requirement to be fair in the discussion of established scientific fact – there are no alternate explanations. What discussion happens in the field of evolutionary science concerns the processes within the general theory, not whether the basic theory is true. There is no internal conflict as to the truth of the statement “Organisms evolve and adapt to their environments”, the question of how it happens in specific instances are the subjects of discussion. There is, nor will there ever be, a requirement for ‘fairness’ or for providing time for alternate explanations, unless these explanations are derived from the same methodology. Otherwise, you are comparing scientific apples to schizophrenic oranges.

I propose to give away, for free, 100,000 copies of the Revised Edition of the Bible, which includes extensive references to historical, archaeological and physical scientific records to disprove the assertions of that book phrase-by-phrase. Hey, it’s only fair, right?

Science has no comment on religion (other than in behavioral terms), and religion should not try to usurp the expertise of science. To rehash the tired cliches about Hitler and evolution (let’s have a chat with the American originator of Eugenics, Charles Davenport, before drawing conclusions – Hitler couldn’t have enacted the idea without an American’s help – nice going), and Darwin’s supposed racism (he was, by all accounts, fairly tolerant – as least as much as an Englishman of his time could be) and misogyny (same notation) are idiotic, and will not convince anyone that evolution is not a scientific fact. You are, if you’ll excuse the phrase, preaching to the choir – the only purpose of this farce is to reinforce the religious views of those who already believe.

The evidence – ALL the evidence: physical, archaeological, biological, geological, etc., etc., adds up to ‘proven’, no matter how uncomfortable an untalented former teen idol is with the concept.

429px-Charles_Darwin_seatedWay to go, Mr. D.

Fuck you, Kirk Cameron.

No matter what you do, Kirk, Charles Darwin will always be more famous than you. Deal with it.


A More Palatable Alternative?

June 25, 2009

Manhattan’s version of the Atheist bus ads:

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Even the rep from the Archdiocese of New York doesn’t find this offensive. You could expect, however, that the broad and harsh thumb of political correctness would be turned down at the very idea of such a sign here.  Metro Transit has a few things to learn about being an actual, functioning, modern transit system – this is but one of them.


Close Your Eyes, Honey. Reality Will Pass Us By Soon…

June 2, 2009

In the interests of “getting parents involved in schooling”, Alberta has passed a law requiring schools to notify parents when ‘controversial’ topics such as sex, sexual orientation or religion will be discussed.

Or, to put it another way, intolerant lobby groups have successfully enabled intolerant  parents of innocent children to discourage intelligent debate and ignore facts that can influence their socialization, their health and their well-being. The “ignore it and it will go away” philosophy of education hasn’t really been a huge success in the past, and I wouldn’t necessarily expect it to work to anyone’s benefit this time, either. The law places limits on free speech that would be unacceptable outside a fascist dictatorship – having studied education, the free flow of ideas and the pursuit of knowledge through unlimited questioning of assumptions seems to me to be the most effective way of creating a citizen that is informed and willing to engage in their communities and the political process, not to mention increasing the odds that they can and will learn from other cultural traditions through a fair-minded and inquisitive approach to social interaction.

What Alberta is creating, by allowing reactionary parents to deny exposure to knowledge and controversy to their children, is another generation of reactionary parents. Ignorance breeds fear, which leads to hatred. That fundamental fact of human nature seems to have escaped the legislators out there. Take away the right of children to be educated through free inquiry, and you are robbing them of experiences that, while sometimes uncomfortable, can be life-affirming and character building. The parents in question obviously lack confidence that educators can protect children from the evils of sexuality and other religious views – I lack that confidence too, but that to me is a positive, not a negative. If I were a parent who were worth anything (as I consider Kevvy to be, for example), I would be there for my children to discuss anything they were disturbed by, to help give them context and the benefit of my experiences, not take away the opportunity for them to ask the questions out of a sense of parental laziness: “I’m too busy to set them straight on these liberal ideas, so it will save time if they are not exposed to them.” If parents were doing the job they are supposed to do, socialization into the family unit with all of its benefits and flaws, the law would not be necessary, and children would be free to form their own opinions.

You have done teachers, and especially children, an injustice. For the sake of political capital among the conservative ‘grassroots’, you have created the means to perpetuate ignorance and hatred, to place children’s health at risk, and to leave the impression to other Canadians that Albertans are ignorant hicks.

Not all of them are, I understand, but certainly the politicians are looking more and more like it.


U.N.: Unbelievably Naive

March 27, 2009

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The United Nations Human Rights Council, in an act of political correctness and moral weakness run amok, has passed a resolution decrying the “defamation of religion”, which could be used to effectively criminalize criticism of religion. A few choice excerpts (emphasis in text from UN Watch):

The Human Rights Council,

Reaffirming the pledge made by all States, under the Charter of the United Nations, to promote and encourage universal respect for and observance of all human rights and fundamental freedoms without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion,

Reaffirming also that all human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated,

Recognizing the valuable contribution of all religions to modern civilization and the contribution that dialogue among civilizations can make towards improved awareness and understanding of the common values shared by all humankind,

Noting with deep concern the instances of intolerance, discrimination and acts of violence against followers of certain faiths, occurring in many parts of the world, in addition to the negative projection of certain religions in the media and the introduction and enforcement of laws and administrative measures that specifically discriminate against and target persons with certain ethnic and religious backgrounds, particularly Muslim minorities following the events of 11 September 2001, and that threaten to impede their full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Stressing that defamation of religions is a serious affront to human dignity leading to restriction on the freedom of religion of their adherents and incitement to religious hatred and violence,

Noting with concern that defamation of religions, and incitement to religious hatred in general, could lead to social disharmony and violations of human rights, and alarmed at the inaction of some States to combat this burgeoning trend and the resulting discriminatory practices against adherents of certain religions and in this context stressing the need to effectively combat defamation of all religions and incitement to religious hatred in general and against Islam and Muslims in particular,

Expresses deep concern at the continued serious instances of deliberate stereotyping of religions, their adherents and sacred persons in the media, as well as programmes and agendas pursued by extremist organizations and groups aimed at creating and perpetuating stereotypes about certain religions, in particular when condoned by Governments;

Recognizes that, in the context of the fight against terrorism, defamation of religions, and incitement to religious hatred in general have, become aggravating factors that contribute to the denial of fundamental rights and freedoms of members of target groups, as well as to their economic and social exclusion;

Expresses deep concern in this respect that Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism and in this regard regrets the laws or administrative measures specifically designed to control and monitor Muslim minorities, thereby stigmatizing them and legitimizing the discrimination they experience;

Deplores the use of the print, audio-visual and electronic media, including the Internet, and any other means to incite acts of violence, xenophobia or related intolerance and discrimination towards any religion, as well as targeting of religious symbols and venerated persons;

Well, you get the idea by now. Given that, in particular, a ‘negative depiction’ of a religion is entirely subjective, the UN has officially declared religion as immune from criticism – although the text refers specifically to muslims, the principles are effectively broad enough to include all religions: scientology, satanism, you name it. While I am against violence, and even stereotyping, giving blanket protection to a particular class of people, insulating them from criticism under an undefined concept of ‘defamation’ is dangerous.I need not tell regular readers just how dangerous. The fact that islamic countries regularly violate the basic rights of life and liberty to women is, apparently, no longer a topic of discussion, because such barbaric practices, including genital mutilation and outright murder of rape victims, is done in a religious context.

Worse, the UN has now, in writing, acknowledged the existence of ‘sacred persons’, which again creates another class of untouchable individuals who are free to do as they choose without fear of criticism.

If I may, I’d like to point out something to the UN:

Article 18.

  • Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19.

  • Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

See those? Those are Articles from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In effect, the UN has seen fit to violate the most important precepts of humanity in fear of offending religious fanatics. The creeping doom of Western civilization continues – the international body charged with ensuring the protection of human rights has sacrificed the rights of millions who have every right to disagree with their family members’ disappearances, coerced marriages, honor killings, the molestation of children and the forced pregnancies and passage of preventable disease to satisfy some outmoded, prudish notion of morality. Not to mention taking away the right to dissent, to cry out for justice in the name of all the people who suffer injustices done in the name of some invisible man in the sky.

To throw up an unassailable wall around the collection of superstitions that constitutes religion is to create an elite class of holy men who will suffer no complaint, and who will brook no opposition. We are, all of us, even those of religious faith, endangered by myths run amok, subject to the whims of a religious minority who are untouchable and, thanks to the UN, unstoppable.

We used to be encouraged to join hands in brotherhood – now we are not allowed to let go as the first fanatic leaps off the cliff the UN has made. Needless to say, I am less than proud of an organization that is prepared to boldly lead us into the 12th century.


I Suppose Apathy is a Reaction, Too…

March 26, 2009

The G&M reports that Canadians are by and large indifferent to the Atheist bus ads:

The poll found 32 per cent of respondents opposed the ads, 20 per cent supported them and 43 per cent didn’t care one way or the other.

Support for the ads was strongest among respondents in British Columbia and Ontario, with the highest opposition in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Support also varied by age and income, with younger respondents and those making more than $60,000 a year more likely to favour running the ads.

bus-whatever

As usual, the comments section has become a rich vein of idiocy and name-calling. Another argument for I.Q. tests being required before you can purchase one of them computing boxes.

In any case, I think the VP of Harris-Decima has it right: we are generally a more secular society, but that doesn’t mean we can relax and let religious groups place conditions on freedom of speech.  As one rare intelligent commenter wrote in response to some religious reactionary post (paraphrasing, of course), “You have the right to your belief, but that does not insulate you from being criticized on the basis of that belief”.

At least the younger generation is waking up from the long wishful dream of imaginary men in the sky – or at least are more willing to debate about it. If that’s not a hopeful message, I don’t know what is.


Vigilance and Knowledge

February 23, 2009

Welcome, my friends, to Freedom to Read Week.

I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on what it means to be able to read what I want, when I want, and just how critical it is to be able to read at all. I enjoy reading, I read for about an hour a day on average – mostly non-fiction in the last few years, just out of a personal preference and an insatiable curiosity more than anything else. I have, as I always do, a stack of books next to my bed, with bookmarks in each of them, awaiting my return. I’m either unfocused or too curious for my own good. Just as an example of the subjects that interest me, the stack consists of the biography of Charles Schulz (from the library – surprisingly I’m not impressed so far), a history of modern Japan, a short history of the world, the diaries of Michael Palin, a book of the 50 worst films of all time, a behind the scenes look at 60 classic films, and one or two others. You get the idea from this that my reading choices are eclectic, to say the least – next week’s stack may be quite different. What I love more than anything, however, is the freedom to create my stack of beloved friends without interference from anyone.

The true measure of the maturity of a culture is the breadth of its tolerance and the degree of freedom an individual had to explore ideas, good or bad. We must always be on guard for ideological pettiness, for censorship based on a narrow view of the world, for suppression of ideas by those who feel they know better. I thought it would be interesting to create a link to the list of challenged books in Canada, which provides a snapshot of intolerance and narrow-minded paranoia, in most cases.

But of course, that’s just my opinion. Isn’t it great that I have the freedom to write it, and that you have the freedom (and impeccable good taste) to read it?

Happy reading!


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