It will surprise nobody, I’m sure, to learn that I see myself as an anti-theist. Not content to merely disbelieve, I feel strongly that humans would be better off if nobody believed. Now usually when someone like me makes a statement like that, fingers begin a-waggin’, warning of the various dangers of forcing atheism on people. Folks begin sagely intoning the lessons learned from atheofascist regimes like Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, and the anti-theist zeal of the French revolution. They say that we must ‘live and let live’, since waging a crusade against religion makes me just as bad as those who would wage one for religion.
The point would be a valid one if I had any designs on snatching religion out of people’s lives by force. The fact is, however, that while I think religion is unbelievably harmful, that does not give me the right to demand that people give it up. Freedom of conscience must remain absolutely inviolable if we are to have any kind of progressive, equitable, and just society. Even had I the means to lock up every Bible in existence and ban publication of the Bhagavad Gita, I would never use it. First, because it is wildly unethical to punish people for thought-crime; and second, because I don’t think it would work.
No, the war against religion must be a campaign of the mind, not of military might. The fact is that the strongest case that could ever be made against faith is simply an honest look at what faith is. When stripped of its undeservedly exalted position in public life, religion reveals itself to be its own worst enemy. In the “Rumble in the Jungle” of ideas, religion is George Forman: punch-drunk and completely gassed, seemingly inviting the champ, truth, to push it over and administer a crisp 10-count.
At least, it seems that way up here: … Continue Reading
Two kinda cool things happened recently.
First, remember that sex show in Abbottsford that got canceled a while back?
I mean really, I almost feel lazy writing about this story because it requires so little effort on my part. What could I possibly add to this story? Abbotsford was going to actually have some fun, until the religious folks caught wind of it, and like the proverbial dog in the manger, decided to uphold their reputation as the town from Footloose. Because, you know, drinking leads to touching, and touching leads to those funny feelings that the priest told me was the influence of Satan, possessing your wee-wee. And won’t somebody think of the children?
Yeah, I had a good time with that one. Well guess what – the show is back on! … Continue Reading
A thought occurred to me as I was mulling over Natalie’s vivisection of the odious Be Scofield. On my third or fourth time through Be’s interminable swipe at Natalie for having the temerity to point out the harms that religious thinking has on trans people, I managed to ferret out his point. Side note: why do people feel the need to secret their theses in a labyrinthine construction of verbose passages? Why can’t you just say what you mean? Anyway – Be’s inability to write clearly isn’t relevant to this post, I just thought I would express my beef.
Scofield, and those in his camp, think that religious edifices can be cannibalized to appropriate the things that it does well (social organization, community building, humanitarian aid) from the dangerous nonsense that props it up (i.e., everything else it does). One step beyond that argument is to state that those religions that do the good stuff with a minimum of the other stuff are a net positive and should be exempted from the blanket criticisms of religion that Gnus should rightfully be directing only at the worst offenders. After all, how can we make the assertion that all religion is bad if we haven’t seen them all? Shouldn’t we save our ire for groups that have demonstrated their harmful tendencies and let the ‘nicer’ religions skate?
As long as we ignore the fact that their argument is stupid, we can see the superficial appeal of using the scaffolding of religion for a secular purpose. Indeed, I myself have taken a very similar stance before – there’s no sense in throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and church seems to address a need that secular institutions have not found a way to replace. Why not use religious institutions as a model? Are we rejecting it simply because religious faith is destructive, or is it out of spite and a vainglorious insistence that ‘we don’t need no steenking churches’? I have yet to receive a coherent answer to that question. … Continue Reading
I like Hemant Mehta. I really do. He’s a passionate advocate and organizer who regularly makes significant and positive contributions to the secular/atheist community (far more than, say, someone like me does). His blog is a regular read for me, which is saying a lot because these days I barely have time to read this one. He’s actually been gracious enough to offer me a guest post in response to what I thought was a particularly terrible contribution by an ISSA member. Gallingly, however, Hemant posted something today that was so uncharacteristically incurious as to drive me to take out my ass-kickin’ boots again. I don’t like ragging on people who I (otherwise) respect and like, but this piece was beyond the pale:
If you read the blog posts and Twitter comments about Chris [Stedman], though, you’d think he was a religious man in atheist clothing. Or that he’s delegitimizing our work. Or that he’s undermining our goals. He’s not. He’s as much of an atheist activist as the rest of us. He just practices it by focusing on cooperation and conversation with people of faith instead of beating his chest with both fists and proclaiming his superiority.
Some day, and I hope it’s soon, we will finally be able to take this straw atheist who beats its chest and bellows defiance (instead of providing reasoned argument in opposition to a thoroughly-debunked meme) out behind the woodshed and put it out of its misery. Then maybe, just maybe, folks like Hemant will be able to muster up the restraint to stop attacking it.
I don’t know Chris Stedman, I’ve never had any interactions with him, and I don’t really care if I ever do. The same goes for Alain de Botton. I say this to forestall any accusations that I am getting personal – this argument could be about anybody. The problem with the approach that guys like Stedman and de Botton take has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that they want to co-operate with believers. This has been pointed out so many times it’s hard to pick just one example to link to, so I will let you pick your favourite. Sure, were I in a particularly uncharitable mood I’d suggest that collaboration with an oppressive force like religion is a good way of preserving privilege in exchange for token concessions, but I recognize the willingness of many believers to counteract bigotry even when it comes from within their own ‘camp’. … Continue Reading
So this might be a first, but I am hoping to crowdsource some resolution on this topic. Last week I posted about the clear evil that I saw in abortion for sex selection. I thought for sure that the readership would join me in condemning such a barbaric and nakedly misogynistic practice.
What I got instead was a surprising amount of tacit “aww shucks” support for the right of someone to choose to abort a pregnancy because the child is female. Nobody thought it was a good idea, but there were very few people who gave it the kind of blanket condemnation that I had initially approached it with.
This wouldn’t ordinarily be a problem for me. After all, any given post might yield a few or a lot of dissenting opinions. I consider it a mark of honour that I have engaged, intelligent and thoughtful readers who may disagree with me on any number of topics. It forces me to become better at defending my ideas, or to learn to change my ideas in places where it is clear that I am wrong. … Continue Reading
Sometimes the stuff I blog about gets me pretty down. There’s a lot of ugliness in humanity, and a lot of things to despair about. The ever-persistent stain of racism, rampant and unabashed misogyny, the easy lies of conservatism… it’s enough to wring a tear from even my stony gaze, and I have to reach for my supply of otter pictures.
Then again, sometimes a story comes along and completely cheers me up:
Poland’s first transsexual member of parliament has been sworn in, in what has traditionally been a socially conservative country. Fifty-seven-year-old Anna Grodzka was previously a man, known as Krzysztof, before having surgery in Thailand.
Okay, that’s pretty cool. Poland has made a progressive milestone by electing someone who, no matter how qualified, would not have been able to serve in office a generation ago. That’s pretty cheering. But wait, there’s more… … Continue Reading
I’m not married. I have no idea if I ever will get married. But if I do, it won’t be to anyone who’s read this book:
Malaysian officials have banned a controversial book that offers sex tips to Muslim women, reports say. The book, entitled Islamic Sex, is believed to have been read by a few hundred people. It was published by a group known as the Obedient Wives’ Club, which has been widely criticised for promoting polygamy and denigrating women.
The Obedient Wives’ Club told journalists last month that the book was intended as a spiritual guide to be read only by club members to help them comprehend sex. The club has previously said women should act like “first-class prostitutes” to prevent their husbands from having affairs or resorting to violence.
Funnily enough, there’s no advice to the husbands on how to make sex a life- and relationship-affirming experience for their wives. It’s almost as if the publishers of this book think that sex is a woman’s duty, and that the husband’s role is to simply enjoy it. Almost as if, despite constant propaganda from Muslim apologists (and other theists, to be sure), following the Qur’an doesn’t establish women and men as equals, but rather as a dominant and submissive relationship (but not the good kind). … Continue Reading
I hope nobody can confuse me with someone who approves of religion, my recent posts supporting the idea of humanist ‘churches’ notwithstanding. I don’t. Religion is built on a foundation of unwarranted belief in claims that are nonsensical at best, and horribly destructive at worst. It concentrates unchecked and unimpeachable power in the hands of people who have done nothing to warrant it, and propagates abusive practices through threats and bribery:
Britain’s madrassas have faced more than 400 allegations of physical abuse in the past three years, a BBC investigation has discovered. But only a tiny number have led to successful prosecutions. The revelation has led to calls for formal regulation of the schools, attended by more than 250,000 Muslim children every day for Koran lessons.
The chairman of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board said he would treat the issue as a matter of urgency. Leading Muslim figures said families often faced pressure not to go to court or even to make a formal complaint. A senior prosecutor told the BBC its figures were likely to represent the tip of an iceberg.
But hey, so does the Boy Scouts, apparently:
CBC News has learned that Scouts Canada has signed out-of-court confidentiality agreements with more than a dozen child sex-abuse victims in recent years, shielding the incidents from further media attention. In many of the agreements, a confidentiality clause prevents victims from revealing the amount paid or even the fact that there was a settlement. At least one bars a former boy scout from publicly divulging that the abuse took place. Scouts Canada has refused to disclose details about any of the settlements. Sources tell CBC News that some settlements were around $200,000. … Continue Reading
So last week I posted a Monday “think piece” in which I examined the arguments against and for a community for humanists, and explained why I thought it was not a bad idea. I followed it up with a spitballed example of what I thought one could look like. My basic position, boiled down to a couple of sentences is that I think there is a positive role that a humanist organization modeled after a church can play, particularly for those who find home and community in the church environment (but may not agree with all the positions stated there). I don’t think that all components of church, including ritual, are necessarily harmful, and that we should try to take as much good as we could, while leaving behind the bad.
This issue got more responses than just about anything I’ve ever blogged about, and I’m taking this opportunity to go over them and summarize. … Continue Reading
So unlike others at Freethought Blogs, I am not a writer of fiction. I used to be, once upon a time, but gradually migrated toward polemic. The nature of what I want to talk about today lends itself well to fiction though, so I am going to give it a go. This is my offering for what an “atheist church service” could look like.
My day at atheist church
I’ll confess to you that I was a bit nervous going to the new atheist church in Phoenix. Circumstances had forced me to uproot my job and relocate to Arizona – not exactly my idea of ideal living conditions. Luckily, my freemam from back in Vancouver called ahead to Leslie, the freemam of the parish closest to my new apartment to let her know I was coming. While I hadn’t gone to church much in Vancouver, Jacob (my old freemam) suggested to me that it would be a good chance for me to get my foot in the door, maybe make some friends. Shortly after I arrived, Leslie had stopped by after work to welcome me to the area.
So, it was with mixed feelings that I showed up at the library that morning, and headed into the back room where the service was happening. Unlike how we ran things in Vancouver, there was a greeter at the door offering me a nametag – I thought it was a nice touch. “You don’t have to take one,” he said “but it helps people know who’s new. If you’re not a fan of being hugged, I’d suggest writing your name in red pen – yeah it seems like a weird rule but we’ve had problems in the past. Curtis has boundary issues and some people were uncomfortable so we figured this system was easiest.”
I chuckled. My old parish had a “Curtis” too – an overbearing French woman named Amelie who reeked of cigarettes and decided that everyone was her best friend. I opted for the blue pen anyway – what are the odds, right? … Continue Reading