Friday 30 October 2009

Islamic countries push a global 'blasphemy' law

A recent article in  the Christian Science Monitor gives a concise description of the latest activities of the Organization of the Islamic Council (OIC) on the UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR)

Under the leadership of Pakistan, the 57-nation OIC wants to give resolutions against "blasphemy" legal teeth by making them part of an international convention. It proposes "legal prohibition of publication of material that negatively stereotypes, insults or uses offensive language" on matters regarded by religious followers as "sacred or inherent to their dignity as human beings."

If enacted such legislation would be extraordinarily wide-sweeping. We all know that the religious can manifest offence for reasons that, through the eyes of a sceptic, appear quite trivial. The use of the words "negatively", "insult", "offensive", "sacred" and "dignity" would all be subject to whatever interpretation a Government, advised by its "religious followers", would choose to put on them.   How can a religion be criticised even mildly and politely without drawing the charge of negativity? How negative would it have to be before a religious follower felt his dignity was impugned?  The answer is, of course, whatever the religious followers decide. Moreover how would "religious follower" be defined? Would it include scientologists, pagans, pink unicornists and pastafarians and if not why not? Who is to define what is and is not a religion?

As the CSM points out it would effectively be the criminalisation of the expression of ideas as opposed to the defence of human rights and such suppression of speech in the name of religion can come with a negative effect – the suppression of people and theological fault lines that at some point will erupt.  It could also end the freedom to disagree over faith which is precisely the freedom that allows for the free practice of religion.

The US, after years of boycott, has now joined the UNHCR and Hilary Clinton, reported here, encouragingly, has come out strongly against these proposals, stating that, "a person's ability to practice their religion was entirely unrelated to another person's right to free speech" . She went on to argue that "the best antidote to religious intolerance is enforcement of antidiscrimination laws, government "outreach" to minority religious groups, and "the vigorous defense of both freedom of religion and expression."

To an atheist it simply looks as if the Islamic countries are fighting a desperate rearguard action and what they really fear is the exposure of their religion to the searchlight of science, reason & rationality: that this, together with globalisation and rising levels of education and prosperity, will cause their religion to whither and die as have other religions in the prosperous countries of Europe.

Wednesday 28 October 2009

On Faith Panelists Blog: Give us your misogynists and bigots - Richard Dawkins

Give us your misogynists and bigots

What major institution most deserves the title of greatest force for evil in the world? In a field of stiff competition, the Roman Catholic Church is surely up there among the leaders. The Anglican church has at least a few shreds of decency, traces of kindness and humanity with which Jesus himself might have connected, however tenuously: a generosity of spirit, of respect for women, and of Christ-like compassion for the less fortunate. The Anglican church does not cleave to the dotty idea that a priest, by blessing bread and wine, can transform it literally into a cannibal feast; nor to the nastier idea that possession of testicles is an essential qualification to perform the rite. It does not send its missionaries out to tell deliberate lies to AIDS-weakened Africans, about the alleged ineffectiveness of condoms in protecting against HIV. Whether one agrees with him or not, there is a saintly quality in the Archbishop of Canterbury, a benignity of countenance, a well-meaning sincerity. How does Pope Ratzinger measure up? The comparison is almost embarrassing.

Poaching? Of course it is poaching. What else could you call it? Maybe it will succeed. If estimates are right that 1,000 Anglican clergymen will take the bait (no women, of course: they will swiftly be shown the door), what could be their motive? For some it will be a deep-seated misogyny (although they'll re-label it with a mendacious euphemism of some kind, which they'll call 'an important point of theological principle'). They just can't stomach the idea of women priests. One wonders how their wives can stomach a husband whose contempt for women is so visceral that he considers them incapable even of the humble and unexacting duties of a priest.
For some, the motive will be homophobic bigotry, and a consequent dislike of the efforts of decent church leaders such as the Archbishop of Canterbury to accept those whose sexual orientation happens to deviate from majority taste. Never mind that they will be joining an institution where buggering altar boys pervades the culture.
Turning to the motives of the poachers, here we find cause for real encouragement. The Roman Catholic Church is fast running out of priests. In Ireland in 2007, 160 Catholic priests died, while only nine new recruits were ordained. To say the least, those figures don't point towards sustainability. No wonder that disgusting institution, the Roman Catholic Church, is dragging its flowing skirts in the dirt and touting for business like a common pimp: "Give me your homophobes, misogynists and pederasts. Send me your bigots yearning to be free of the shackles of humanity."
Archbishop Rowan Williams is too nice for his own good. Instead of meekly sharing that ignominious platform with the poachers, he should have issued a counter-challenge: "Send us your women, yearning to be priests, who could make a strong case for being the better-qualified fifty percent of humanity; send us your decent priests, sick of trying to defend the indefensible; send them all, in exchange for our woman-haters and gay-bashers." Sounds like a good trade to me.
By Richard Dawkins  |  October 23, 2009; 12:54 AM ET

Monday 26 October 2009

All you need to know about Scientology in 2 minutes.

In an interview with Martin Bashir on ABC's Nightline, Scientologist spokesman Tommy Davis, is questioned about Scientology's "secret" core beliefs. He decides to classify the question as offensive rather than defend, or even admit to these beliefs. Just a two minute video, but doesn't it say it all about Scientology?

Saturday 24 October 2009

"You can be good without God"

A debate, reported here, featuring Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, discussed the merits of the atheist ad campaign with Dan Waugh, pastor of Adult Ministries at the Evangelical Community Church in Bloomington. It contained the following exchange:-

“I’m not against the campaign at all, I welcome it,” Waugh said. “It allows for this debate, it is not a threat.”

The mood changed when Barker asked Waugh a question.

“If God told you to, would you kill me?” Barker asked.

The question drew laughter from the audience and a pause from Waugh.

“If there was a specific verse saying Dan Waugh should kill Dan Barker, then I would have to consider it,” Waugh responded, drawing more laughter and applause from the filled auditorium.

quedula says: One would have liked to know where the debate went after this. Maybe it was just a jokey retort to deflect a difficult question. If serious why would Waugh have even needed to consider for the merest instance whether or not to follow God's command. Perhaps he realises his inbuilt decentness and morality would give him pause. Pause to consider perhaps whether a God that issued such commands really could exist? Yet there is no difference between that God and the God of the Bible which Waugh presumably accepts as God's word.

John McCain vs the Internet

Atheists, comprised as they are of a diverse, widely-scattered group of individuals, rely more on free, unlimited access to the internet for getting their message across and building their movement than any other group I can think of. McCain's so-called "Freedom of the Web" bill has the potential to seriously limit internet freedom and his motives are suspect.

Sunday 18 October 2009

Rethinking Thought for the Day

As reported earlier on this blog the BBC Trust's decision on the future format of "Thought for the Day" is expected on November 5th. In this article the Telegraph reviews recent debates and comments.

Secularists seem to have unearthed a new weapon to wield in the ongoing argument with the BBC and religious lobbyists. The Corporation could be in breach of equality laws if it refuses to make the slot more inclusive. Lawyers have been asked by senior management at the BBC to investigate the claim so that they can advise the trust on whether they would be at risk of facing the fight going to court.

I am sure that secularists feel they are nearing a crucial period in a long-running struggle against what they see as unwarranted bias. They will want to take the struggle as far as they can.

Tuesday 13 October 2009

When is a secret not a secret?

When it's on Twitter.

Last night's injunction served on the Guardian and at least one other national newspaper was meant to stop the papers reporting that the MP Paul Farrelly had tabled a Parliamentary question about the oil traders Trafigura and its solicitors Carter-Ruck. And it succeeded - up to a point . . . read more

Monday 12 October 2009

Index on Censorship - US hypocrisy on free speech at United Nations

08 Oct 2009


The UN Human Rights Council has passed a resolution condemning “stereotyping of religion”. It’s a move that flouts freedom of expression – and it was sponsored by the United States. Roy W Brown reports

The United States has backed a new UN resolution on free expression which would be considered unconstitutional under its First Amendment — which protects freedom of expression and bans sanctioning of religions.

The UN Human Rights Council on 2 October adopted the resolution, which the US had co-sponsored with Egypt. The US had finally joined the Human Rights Council in June, and its support for the measure reflected the Obama administration’s stated aim to “re-engage” with the UN.

While the new resolution focuses on freedom of expression, it also condemns “negative stereotyping of religion”. Billed as a historic compromise between Western and Muslim nations, in the wake of controversies such the Danish Muhammed cartoons, the resolution caused concern among European members.

“The language of stereotyping only applies to stereotyping of individuals, I stress individuals, and must not protect ideologies, religions or abstract values,” said France’s representative, Jean-Baptiste Mattéi, speaking for the EU. “The EU rejects the concept of defamation of religion.”

France emphasised that international human rights law protects individual believers, not systems of belief. But European members, eager not be seen as compromise wreckers, reluctantly supported the measure.

On the other side of the fault line stood the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which lobbied for a measure against “religious defamation”.

“We firmly believe that the exercise of freedom of expression carries with it special responsibilities,” said Pakistan’s delegate, speaking for the OIC. The “defamation” of religion, he said, “results in negative stereotyping of the followers of this religion and belief and leads to incitement, discrimination, hatred and violence against them, therefore directly affecting their human rights.”

Following the OIC’s logic, one could equally apply the language of the resolution to Islamism, a political form which is arguably a “contemporary manifestation of religious hatred, discrimination and xenophobia. It results in negative stereotyping of the followers of other religions and beliefs and leads to incitement, discrimination, hatred and violence against them, therefore directly affecting their human rights.”

The EU also had other worries. European members felt that the provision in the resolution on “the moral and social responsibility of the press” was objectionable in that it went beyond the limited restrictions set out in article 19, the provision on free expression in the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.

Finally, the EU encouraged the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, Frank LaRue, to continue his work. This was an indirect reference to the attacks made against LaRue by several OIC members at the June session of the Human Rights Council. (Read more here)

The Council stopped short of repeating the OIC’s criticisms of the Special Rapporteur but encouraged him to stick to his mandate. That indicates that he should continue to focus on violations of free expression, rather than purported “abuses” of that right.

While this new resolution reflects new efforts by the US to broker compromises between Western and Muslim nations, it also represents an ominous crack in the defences of free expression.

Posted via web from quedula's posterous

Saturday 10 October 2009

Something for the Creationists . . .

The notion of God as the Creator is wrong, claims a top academic, who believes the Bible has been wrongly translated for thousands of years.

Professor Ellen van Wolde, a respected Old Testament scholar and author, claims the first sentence of Genesis "in the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth" is not a true translation of the Hebrew.

She claims she has carried out fresh textual analysis that suggests the writers of the great book never intended to suggest that God created the world -- and in fact the Earth was already there when he created humans and animals.

She said she eventually concluded the Hebrew verb "bara", which is used in the first sentence of the book of Genesis, does not mean "to create" but to "spatially separate".
The first sentence should now read "in the beginning God separated the Heaven and the Earth"

Thursday 8 October 2009

'Thought for the Day' Appeal

A bulging ring-binder arrived by special delivery from the BBC Trust today together with a letter confirming that my (and others') appeal about lack of balance in' Thought for the Day' will be heard on 5th November by both the Editorial Standard's Committee and the General Appeals Panel.

The binder contains all the paperwork that will be provided to these two committees and, as one of the appellants, I am invited to comment on the factual accuracy and completeness of the material. Judging by its weight they intend this to be a very thorough job. I feel we are approaching a watershed moment in this long-running dispute.

At this stage the paperwork is confidential but my final letter, which is included, has already been published here.

Sunday 4 October 2009

Cash cuts hit space science - Times Online

BRITAIN could be forced to pull out of the world’s highest-profile physics project, Cern’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), because of financial failures by a government research council.

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) has already had to slash university grants, prompting warnings that physics departments may face closure.

Now managers are warning that Britain’s membership of Cern, based in Geneva, is also threatened, along with its involvement in global astronomy projects.

Richard Wade, chief operating officer at the STFC, said: “We may now have to reconsider our memberships of international partnerships including Cern.”

The warning comes as scientists prepare the £2 billion LHC to start next month on its first investigations into the constituents of matter.

Further cuts being considered by Wade could see British astronomers pulled out of the Alma radio telescope in northern Chile and the twin Gemini telescopes, in Hawaii and Chile. Gemini is designed to look 14 billion years back into the past, close to when the first light was emitted.

The STFC has already announced 25% cuts for universities and has failed to post grant cheques.

Andy Parker, head of the high-energy physics group at Cambridge University’s Cavendish Laboratory, said: “The people who pushed through the creation of STFC and those who have led it are turning a thriving area of UK science into a basket case.”

Are there any government agencies that succeed? The Learning & Skills Council went bottom-up a few months ago.

Posted via web from quedula's posterous

Thursday 1 October 2009

The Holy Spirit is SO real!

All us unfortunate atheists should watch this 2 minute video to be able to fully appreciate what we are missing by our
stubborn rejection of Invisible Magic Friends.