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Alain De Botton has decided that the current state of atheism is no good and has instead proposed what he decides to call "Atheism 2.0". But is Atheism 2.0 really any different from Atheism 1.0? Who does Alain De Botton think he is arguing against? Why promote this now?

I think we need a bit of background first of all....

Why Have An "Atheism 2.0"?

Read more... )

Religion For Atheists?

Alain De Botton is a popularist philosophy writer. There was a point where his book "The Consolations of Philosophy" was on shelves everywhere, though he wasn't really so interested in exploring the ins and outs of classical philosophy as giving a massively simplified and trivial version. Still, as was noted before, sometimes you can't show the entire depth of the argument if you want to appeal to the wider market.

His latest ideas in his book "Religion For Atheists" are explored in a lecture viewable here:

He also gives an impassioned speech about the ideas of "Religion For Atheists" in the audio form and you can listen to that here.

He says that the most boring question about religion is whether or not it is "true" and says that the issue has become a matter obsession for "fanatical atheists". I think what he ignores here is that while it might be "boring", the matter of truth is actually rather important. There are number of reasons to say this because there are plenty of cases where the unquestionable truth and authority of doctrine and/or scripture is used to justify what are sometimes quite influential political positions. Proposals for limiting access to abortion, limiting rights of certain groups in society, insisting on old traditional stances on gender roles, promoting abstinence education and, yes, even ID Theory are all often (though admittedly not every single time for every single one of these examples) tied to the believed doctrinal truth and authority of particular religions.

Essentially De Botton takes the old line that while you might not believe in religions you should still respect them. The question arises once again: What is it about religions which makes them worthy of respect? I don't think De Botton actually has an answer to this though (or at least not a convincing one).

De Botton claims that religion serves two central needs "which continue to this day and which secular society has not been able to solve with any particular skill":
1) "The need to live together in communities in hamony, despite our deeply rooted, selfish, violent impulses."
2) "The need to cope with terrifying degrees of pain which arise from our vulnerability to professional failure, to troubled relationships, to the death of loved ones and to our own decay and demise."

Or to put it another way:
1) Secularism heralds the breakdown of society.
2) There are no atheists in foxholes.

To be quite frank, the need for secularism would appear to me to arise precisely from the fact that, when people all belong to different faiths, religion doesn't help to promote harmony. Religion is often divisive and sectarian. As such, the idea that setting up non-religious communities must involve learning from the actions of the religious seems like nonsense. Far more often than not, the lessons are more likely to be cautionary tales; examples of what NOT to do when trying to foster a spirit of unity in diversity. Yes, there have already been figures like Martin Luther King and Haille Selassie who have been religious and attacked social injustices in ways that might be inspiring to the non-religious, but these figures can often be seen to be actively subverting the religious ideas they were brought up with. Dr. King, for example, takes the example of "the promised land" but does not imagine it as a contested strip of land or as some kind of post-apocalyptic paradise, but rather as the hope of a united humanity.

On the second point, I'll firstly note that atheists are found in all walks of life and don't appear to see their disbelief in God as a disadvantage. However, I think it's also worth asking, if atheistic modes of tackling these issues are so unskilful, why are there religious groups pretending to offer therapy without the professional background in the subject? Surely if religious methods were superior to secular ones on this front, Churches and places of worship would already be pioneers in the field, with absolutely no need to use fraudulent behaviour like this in order to promote themselves?

Rallying Points For The Failings Of Secularism...

Alain De Botton makes a number of points at this stage on the failings of secularism. But these points about modern society are either patently the result of good common sense or quite clearly false:

Read more... )

Useful and Effective?

Read more... )

Yeah sure we can learn a few things from studying religion, but that doesn't mean religion deserves respect or politeness automatically. Religion used to be a much more central part of society than it is today and inevitably a great deal of what is good in society today will be based on the more religion-centered form that came before. But most often, the better way to tackle these kinds of issues is to cut out the religion. In fact even some religions are retreating from the term "religion", themselves recognising that certain religious ideas are simply no good. Some of these figures will want to retreat to some more primordial and "pure" version of their religion, insisting that their shift away from religion makes their ideas even more traditional, while others will be more progressive noting that old religious ideas have also been tied to old political and cultural ideas (noting, for example, that a morality based on honour and shame is clearly present in the Bible, but is rightly alien to our modern sensibility). Even the religious can tell that religion isn't all great and it would be extremely stupid of us not to share the fruits of this important lesson.
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At a Therion concert in London. YAY!

And I decided to try out my camera occasionally. Even in spite of the darkness, my extreme unfamiliarity with the camera's controls and the odd lack of battery, I still managed to get a few decent pics. First of all (since they look better shrunk down a bit) here are some photos where I was zooming right into the action:

Most of my best pics seem to be after the band came back for an encore. The two female singers changed into bizarrely colourful outfits for the final section of the concert:

More pictures and info under the cut...

Read more... )

Anyway, it seems someone has put the entire concert on youtube, starting with this video here.
Also, here's an embedded vid of the best version of their song "Siren Of The Woods" I've seen so far. (And I was there! YAY!):
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Well the big news is that Stephen Hawking has finally refuted all those religious apologists who were fond of quoting his final line from "A Brief History of Time": "For then we would know the mind of God".

"It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going," added the wheelchair-bound expert.
"Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist," he writes in "The Grand Design", which is being serialised by The Times newspaper.
In response to this The Times decided it was a good idea to invite Richard Dawkins to debate this. They decided to put Dawkins up against their religion correspondent Ruth Gledhill. Richard Dawkins can feel like a bit of a broken record at the best of times, but putting him against Ruth Gledhill was particularly pointless.

I have posted about Ruth Gledhill before when I noted a couple of previous articles of hers:

1 - "Catholic Church No Longer Swears By Truth Of The Bible" - In the older of the two, she reports on a reminder by the Vatican that they have no problem with the theory of evolution and are able to accept certain passages in the Bible as symbolic. Her response? The Vatican is now clarifying which bits of the Bible are right and which bits are wrong.

I feel the need to place the important bits of this article under the cut because, what with The Times now making the public pay for access to their site, there may come a time when you cannot use the link to the article anymore:
THE hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church has published a teaching document instructing the faithful that some parts of the Bible are not actually true.

Read more... )
2 - Children Who Front Richard Dawkins' Atheist Ads Are Evangelicals Rather handily, in this case pretty much all the problems can be seen in the title. The advert under discussion is the following one from the BHA:

"Please Don't Label Me. Let Me Grow Up And Choose For Myself."

Just to confuse things there are two major atheist/agnostic lobbying groups in the UK. There's "The Secular Society" and "The British Humanist Society". The former is only intested in atheism, whereas the latter is concerned with the wider issues of "secularism" (e.g. issues like ensuring fair hiring practices for people of all faiths and none). No, I did not just get those mixed up.

So perhaps unsurprisingly, the BHA organised a campaign noting that children should not be used for the promotion of a particular belief system because they are too young to make such decisions. Gledhill's response? Well you've already seen it. She claims that these children are being used to promote atheism (um, no they aren't), but actually they are "Christian Evangelical children" (oh my goodness, you couldn't have missed the point more if you tried).

Their father, Brad Mason, is something of a celebrity within evangelical circles as the drummer for the popular Christian musician Noel Richards. ... He said that the children’s Christianity had shone through. “Obviously there is something in their faces which is different. So they judged that they were happy and free without knowing that they are Christians. That is quite a compliment. I reckon it shows we have brought up our children in a good way and that they are happy.”
The British Humanist Association said that it did not matter whether the children were Christians. “That’s one of the points of our campaign,” said Andrew Copson, the association’s education director. “People who criticise us for saying that children raised in religious families won’t be happy, or that no child should have any contact with religion, should take the time to read the adverts.

Perhaps before choosing your article heading, Ms. Gledhill!
“The message is that the labelling of children by their parents’ religion fails to respect the rights of the child and their autonomy. We are saying that religions and philosophies — and ‘humanist’ is one of the labels we use on our poster — should not be foisted on or assumed of young children.”
So yeah, Gledhill isn't really someone you should expect a high level of debate from. In fact Hannah Devlin, who chairs the discussion, seems to do a better job of getting some clear answers out of Dawkins than Ruth Gledhill manages later:
14:34 Hannah Devlin:
To kick things off, I'd like to ask Richard what he makes of Hawking's thesis. Is this the new Darwinism?
14:35 Richard Dawkins:
Only the new Darwinism in the sense that it finishes off God. Darwin kicked him out of biology, but physics remained more uncertain. Hawking is now administering the coup de grace
14:36 Richard Dawkins:
It is not like Darwinism in any other very strong sense.
Read more... )I get the impression that Devlin was deciding what comments would be displayed, so Tim H was being specifically put forward as a question from the floor. Sure, not much that's terribly challenging here and Devlin clearly (and mistakenly I feel) expects more interesting ideas to be raised by Gledhill later on.

Anyway, this is where Gledhill arrives and makes the statement which Pharyngula quotes and ridicules. These statements actually originate from an interview with David Wilkinson. Thanks to "Rupert Murdoch's Greed" (TM) you will need to subscribe to The Times if you want to read that. Fortunately, there is a site with some videos where David Wilkinson sets out his view on the "fine-tuning argument", not as an argument, but as a "pointer" to the truth of Jesus and Christianity (I'm not fantastic with google searches, so it took me a while to find that link btw) The basic gist of his position is that the set of events which took place in order for life to come about make us want to make shit up to explain it and making shit up is a sensible decision. Anyway, moving on...:
14:43 Ruth Gledhill:
Tim, I just interviewed David Wilkinson, principal of St John's Durham and astrophysicist, and this is what he said (full interview at my Times blog Articles of Faith):
The science Stephen Hawking uses raises a number of questions which for many opens the door to the possibility of an existence of a creator and for many points to the existence of a creator.

'One would be the the purpose of the universe. Although science might discover the mechanism, we are still left with the question of what is the purpose.

'Second is where the laws of physics come from. Science subsumes the laws but we are still left with the question of where the laws come from.

'Third is the intelligibility of the universe. It strikes me as interesting that Stephen Hawking can make it intelligible. Albert Einstein once said that the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible. For many of us who are struck by the intelligibility of the physical laws, the explanation is that the creator is the force of rationality both for the universe and for our minds.

Dawkins' Response To Statement One:
Why on Earth should anyone assume that there IS a purpose?

Read more... )

Dawkins' Response To Statement Two:
Even if we are left with that question, it is not going to be answered by a God, who raises more questions than he answers.

Read more... )

Dawkins' Response To Statement Three:
What would an unintelligible universe even look like? Why SHOULDN't the universe be intelligible?

Hannah Devlin taking questions she's selected from the floor: Ruth, Richard, I'd be interested in your views on philc's point - is religious belief irrational? If not, why?

Read more... )

The debate goes on longer than this, but then again this re-organising thing is a bit too much of a time-waster, so I'm going to stop there. I kinda feel sorry for Gledhill on this point. It's irritating for me seeing Dawkins pulling "my belief that I am Napoleon" out of his old bag of tricks again, so it must be even worse for someone who disagrees with the point behind it. That said, her response is quite vacuous to the point where I'd actually have been more impressed with "oh don't be so daft Richard" as a response. If the only thing you know about God is that you are not it, you aren't really in a good position to be a religion correspondent (not that this comes as any surprise).

Still, one last thing that could do with a quotation is the following point where Dawkins' decides to betray Islamophobic sentiment (and annoyingly Gledhill isn't interested in responding to it, never mind tackling it).

Comment From Jerry Coyne: Question to Ruth: If faith helps you, then does it make any difference to you whether what you believe about God, Jesus, the Resurrection, and the like is true? Devout Muslims, for example, are also consoled by their faith, but their beliefs about Jesus, Mohamed, etc. are completely contradictory to those of Christianity. Both can't be true.

Richard Dawkins: Quite right, Jerry. And even if there is some similarity between the Abrahamic religions, the Greeks believed just as sincerely in their pantheon. I agree with Dan Dennett that universal education in comparative religion would be a hammer blow to religious faith.

Ruth Gledhill: Jerry, in some liberal theological circles, it is not regarded as impossible that there is truth in both Islam and Christianity.

Richard Dawkins:The Islamic penalty for converting to Christianity is what, Ruth, perhaps you know?

And the Jewish penalty for having anal sex with another man is? I mean seriously, what was he trying to prove?
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That Danish Cartoons Thing - A Reminder...
Hey, remember when we were making all that fuss about how Muslims shouldn't be starting violent riots in order to protest being accused of having a violent religion?

A few facts:
- The violent protests didn't take place straight after the cartoons were published. They took place several months later.
- The protests took place "spontaneously" in countries where spontaneous protest is not allowed.
- Did the cartoons appear in publications available in the countries where these protests took place? No, the protesters were instead shown fake versions of the cartoons which were even more inflammatory.
- Many of the more violent protests were actually organised as a political tool by which to refocus frustrations towards the west rather than towards their own leaders.

Recent Attacks In The US
Now, we all know that there's been a general anti-Muslim feeling being promoted by certain far-right groups in the US (particularly those with an obession with tea bags). However, there's a similar absurdity in the recent decision to accuse Muslims of being terrorists and to then terrorise them.

First of all we had the knife incident, but now we have arsonists in Murfreesboro burning down an Islamic Centre:
Islamic Center officials have contacted the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, according to Ayash, and sheriff’s department investigators “told us they will be investigating this as a hate crime.” Ayash later said sheriff’s officials “asked her to correct her statement,” adding they plan to explore several different motives while investigating the arson.

Ayash said the most recent vandalism to the site “takes it to a whole new level.” The site has already been the target of two other vandalisms, both aimed at a sign marking the future site.

“Everyone in our community no longer feels safe,” she said. “To set a fire that could have blown up equipment and, God forbid, spread and caused damage to the neighbors there ... we really feel like this is something that we and the neighbors don’t deserve. When they (ICM officials) called me this morning I started crying.”
It's a bit odd how the authorities seem unkeen on referring to attacks on Muslims as hate crimes. The police said the same thing when dealing with the chemical attack on the Dayton Mosque. My best guess is that they are concerned about possible copycat attacks, so they are best off suggesting that the attack was the work of a random idiot rather than a premeditated act of hatred.

Right-Wing Groups In The UK

Of course, in the UK we've had our fair share of attacks on Muslims. I gave the example of BNP members responding violently to Muslims making use of a local community centre for Friday prayers. (The BNP denied it was them on the grounds that they would have used a brick, not a firebomb. *facepalm*) More recently there was a protest from the EDL (English Defence League) who appear to be made up of pretty much the same people. (I posted it to ONTD_P.)

Violence By Muslims Against Muslims

I have pointed out in the past that Christians weren't the only one's protesting against the building of mosques. There was a large Muslim protest against the building of a mosque for Ahmadis. I also mentioned the discrimination faced by Ismaelis and even Shia Muslims. However, I never got around to mentioning the massacre of Ahmadis which took place in Pakistan. Here's a response from a Pakistani: our own heartland Lahore 100 Ahmedis were slaughtered by the barbaric Taliban. They were not there on any political gathering or any political point scoring. They were not going to war zone. They were just offering their ‘Jumma Prayer’ to their Lord which they think is as farz (obligatory) on them as on any other Muslim. They were in their mosque, peacefully standing in straight lines bowing in front of the same lord as of the Muslims, Jews and Christians. There is no different version of this story. The enemy didn’t say that they (Taliban) acted in ’self defence’. Their enemy clearly mentioned their intention that they came to kill them indiscriminately irrespective they were men, women, children, young and old. Its pointless to mention that the barbaric didnt regretted the loss of human life because that’s what they wanted and came for. They took pleasure from the blood of the Ahmedis. In a short time span of few minutes they killed 100 Ahmedis.
It's pretty clear that Muslims cannot be dismissed in one single sweeping gesture. They are made up of a variety of different groups with different positions. Just as we should not believe fundamentalist stances about Christianity ("you cannot support Darwinism as a Christian donchaknow?"), we also should not believe certain claims by Muslims regarding Islam. For example, "there are no divisions in Islam" is quite clearly false.

And Another Thing...
Meanwhile Richard Dawkins has referred to Roman Catholicism as "the world’s second most evil religion" because obviously there's a clear hierarchy in this regard. (And presumably the top religion in that hierarchy is simply "Islam" while Christianity gets to be separated into distinct groups.) *facepalm*

I think we probably need to remember that Dawkins has never been the most diplomatic of people, but his recent decision to support Pat Condell's BS against a victimised minority should be called out.
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Pat Condell's latest vid points out a situation whereby someone was given compensation because someone told him a joke about the Irish and he found it offensive.

So... what's Pat Condell not taken into account?

Here's the really telling line:
"I couldn't believe my ears - we were in the midst of a racial discrimination hearing."

The guy who made the joke was a councillor at a racial discrimination hearing. The union leader received compensation because he was subjected to hugely unprofessional and offensive behaviour during a meeting in which Mr. Bamber was representing the local council.

Apparently Cllr. Bamber wrote down on a bit of paper that he was sorry, but refused to sign it or write what he was sorry for. The court case went on for the most part without the plaintiffs involved. It was a matter of what the response should be to unprofessional behaviour in the workplace by a councillor.

Naturally all articles on this feature the joke concerned. If this was all about ordinary people being offended by jokes ripping into the Irish, that would be quite ludicrous. Naturally it's the context that matters here. Something Pat Condell isn't keen to spend much time on.

(Actually it was quite funny when the whole Danish cartoons fiasco started up, that while the controversy was over whether the cartoons should be printed, gaining a personal opinion on the matter seemed to require that the cartoons be printed. Bit of a Catch22.)

(Source one) (Source two)

Now this REALLY pisses off the Irish!

The article Pat Condell actually points out comes from a guy called Douglas Murray, who appears to be a hideous racist. I couldn't actually believe the video he posted in this entry on his blog where the host of The Politics Show starts grilling a Labour politician on her statement that "West Indian mums will go to the wall for their kids". Now naturally grilling politicians is a fine tradition, but when it takes the form of 'If West Indian mums are so great why are there so many dysfunctional West Indian families?' I find myself rather under-impressed. I'm sure the original comment wasn't intended to become a pissing contest of "which race features the best mums" and the interviewer's question seems to helpfully ignore the huge numbers of dysfunctional white families in Britain who make up the vast majority of our chav population.

Unsurprisingly, the comments on youtube for that video are utterly disgusting.

Richard Dawkins has pissed me off too... )
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When searching in vain for the actual interview from the Radio Times, I found this very sensible comment. Saves me the bother of writing it myself. Needless to say, not all claims of Islamophobia are correct and sensible. It's important to consider each case properly.

Don’t let the burka stifle free speech

Tuesday 10 August 2010
I’ve been arguing for ages that the burka is a ridiculous garment, but that it shouldn’t be banned. Now Richard Dawkins is saying pretty much the same: in an interview with Radio Times he says he feels ‘visceral revulsion’ when he sees the ‘full bin-liner thing’.

Fair enough. He’s entitled to his opinion and he’s not calling for it to be outlawed, as several European countries are proposing. Inevitably, though, he’s been accused of ignorance – a curious charge when I have Muslim friends who are just as scathing about the burka; they call women who wear it ‘ninjas’ – and Islamophobia.

I’m not surprised. Dawkins describes the burka as ‘a symbol of the oppression of women’ but I’d go further than that. It’s a symbol of an authoritarian ideology which seeks not just to hide women but to silence critics of religion. Like me, Dawkins is an atheist, a rationalist and a supporter of human rights. One of the most important is free speech, and that includes our right to say what we like about absurd forms of religious dress.
(Article from "Political Blonde")
Richard Dawkins website oddly links to the Daily Fail, so I've picked another, slightly more reliable, news website:

Richard Dawkins causes outcry after likening the burka to a bin liner

The 69-year-old author and Oxford academic said he is filled with “visceral revulsion” when he sees women wearing the traditional Islamic covering.

But he held back from advocating a ban on the all-enveloping cloak, insisting that such legislation would fly in the face of Britain’s liberal tradition.
Read more... )

(Richard Dawkins Website)
(Telegraph Article) 

Like Richard Dawkins, I am not in favour of a ban and his description of the burkha is not Islamophobic. From his description it seems that he not referring to the nikab (which is more ninja-like) so the style of dress he refers to is the one from Afghanistan in particular which has a history of being used to oppress women. I think Political Blonde hits the nail on the head when they point out that we should be free to mock all religious clothing regardless of the religion. I've never been Dawkins' biggest fan, but his comments here are clearly not bigoted.

(cross-posted to atheism)
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Just looked at an interesting post where someone was claiming not to be a liberal. (I'm not interested in going into that since it's quite irrelevant to this post.) I've always had a problem with the term 'liberal' myself, especially in online conversations with more politically right-wing Americans who seem to use it as a term equivalent to 'scum'. The kinds of things they claim to be 'liberal' are often things which all three political parties in the UK would accept as common sense. Anyway, the point is that you need to know what you a term like 'liberal' means before you can affirm or deny holding to it.

This made me think about the whole atheism/agnosticism thingy.

Yes, this is where you click to read the rest of my pointless rant. )


Nov. 1st, 2008 03:19 pm
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Okay, I've just randomly run into this article by Giles Fraser, a vicar who writes for The Guardian and he has just revealed something which I had suspected but hadn't been sure on until now.

Several months ago, I was working in a Register Office. There I discovered that there is a strict ban, not only within civil marriages but the building as a whole, on anything religious. The whole area is strictly secular. I found myself wondering what the point of this was, since surely the British Humanist Association hadn't campaigned for this and why would anyone want to limit the freedom of expression within non-religious marriages?

The actual rule is as follows:
"The law will not permit the use of any wording, readings or music which may have religious connotations at a civil marriage."

Read more... )
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A Guardian article decides to make a note of Atheistic Theology. Only problem is he think dropping a single name is enough to make a big point. Unfortunately he just ends up sounding a bit under-read.,,2146483,00.html

1. From what I can see (and I may well be looking in the wrong places) Ernst Bloch only wrote "only an atheist can be a good Christian". It was Jurgen Moltmann who added "but only a Christian can be a good atheist".

2. He also makes the mistake of assuming that Dawkins sees religion as 'nothing but' a delusion. Of course, Dawkins notes in his book that there were alternatives to the word Delusion, but he would have had to used odd technical terms. Unfortunately, I'm not sure Dawkins is theologically literate enough to express what he actually did mean. He is always confused on the way the philosophical and theological positions are laid out (unsurprisingly, as they are fraught with complex if not outright obscurantist terminology), so he tends to wish to just be blunt in the hope of cutting the gordian knot (much to the irritation of those of us who've been trying to carefully untie it).

In any case characterising Dawkins as someone who dismisses religion as nothing but a delusion, is a bad start....

3. "The resurrection of God presents a challenge to those such as Dawkins and Hitchens because they continue to perceive religion as an opiate which is handed out by states and their tame priests and mullahs in order to keep people quiet, rather than as a home-grown product consumed by people in order to dull the pain not only of global economic disadvantage but also of a deep, yet unidentifiable sense of loss."

False dichotomy. It is both. The preachers exist because they answer a demand on the part of the populace.

Surely it is not a problem for Dawkins to admit that religion is a cry of despair? The preachers become a problem because rather than healing that despair, they encourage it and rub salt into the wound. The religious groups thrive on this despair and that is what is most frightening about the whole system.

4. He ends up on a note not dissimilar to Thomas J.J. Altizer's 'Christian Atheism'. The idea that the problem with religion is that it seeks an 'eternal return' (not to be confused with Nietzsche's Eternal Recurrence). This 'eternal return' seeks to return us finally to some kind of 'primordial beginning' (the 'garden of Eden' so to speak). For Altizer the 'Death of God' and the 'Eternal Recurrence' are both Christian confessions of faith, where God sacrifices his transcendence in order to give absolute value to the 'here and now'.

I hope this doesn't sound too weird.

Anyway, I thought the writer had their hearts in the right place, but they need to read a bit more widely. Firstly, they could do with reading Dawkins' book, rather than just the title. Secondly, they could do with reading a few more Atheist Theologians rather than pretending that Ernst Bloch was the only guy to think of this kind of stuff....
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Considering a number of articles here.

First an article by Khaled Diab entitled "The Muslim Faithless" considers Salman Rushdie's novel 'The Satanic Verses' 18 years later than its original release. It also considers the outrages over the Danish cartoons which puts it about 2 years overdue for that too. Nevertheless Diab makes a good point about the kind of mentality behind the protests by Muslims against both Rushdie's book and the Danish cartoons:

"But, like other examples of book burnings - and cartoon rage - throughout history, the fury had little to do with Rushdie or his book, since none of the angry mobs have ever actually read it. It is a reaction to western hegemony, socio-economic stagnation, poverty, dictatorship and the slow death of the modern Muslim secular dream."
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Much as I would love to say that Secular Humanism didn't have its problems, this simply isn't true. This isn't really surprising as no organisation is without its flaws. 'Humanist' is meant to be easier to accept as a label than 'atheist' because, while 'atheist' has a history of stigma and taboo linking it with immoralism and nihilism, 'Humanist' is a term specifically highlighting a non-religious acceptance of values. (If such a combination were impossible the accusation would be that humanism was impossible, not that humanism was nihilistic.) Nevertheless, for some reason many people who perfectly fit the bill as 'Secular Humanists' seem reluctant to be labelled as such, even if they accept the labels 'atheist' or 'agnostic' without any trouble at all.

Update:  I posted this to Sluts4Choice a while back and I've realised I probably ought to re-post it here so I have a record of it:

Looking back at the response I got from my MP, I've discovered that that wasn't terribly comforting either. (I actually remember feeling a lot happier about it at the time and I think it's a sign of how my understanding of this issue has moved on that I now recognise how dodgy this reply is):

Dear ---------,

Many thanks for your email. I'd like to hear the debate on the issue before making up my mind on this, but will keep the points that you make in mind - I've also heard from a constituent who was directly affected herself and is against any significant reduction (as well as other constituents who want quite drastic reductions all the way down to 14 weeks).

I have two amendments myself - one is a technical one to help a constituent who is seeking to have frozen embryos kept for longer than the current 5 years (this isn't controversial) and the other is to make it mandatory to offer current, neutral, scientific guidance to anyone who is advised that the foetus is suffering from a disease or abnormality which would allow a late aboriton - the advice would give informaiton on life expectancy, chance of treatment, availability of help, etc. The idea is not to influence the choice but to help ensure that it's based on the best available information.

Yours sincerely,

Oh how wonderful. He wants to give women mandatory counselling regarding abortions. That's not remotely condescending. And what kind of advice does he think the two doctors who are already required in order to sign off on any abortion are going to give? Out of date, biased or unscientific guidance?
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Radical Theology and Atheism


Introduction: The New Atheists


Recently some popularist atheist writers have been producing work which, to be honest, has an apologetic quality similar to writings of Christian evangelists. The main writers have been labelled ‘The New Atheists’, all having written similar works in a very short space of time. The three works are “End Of Faith”, “Breaking The Spell” and “The God Delusion” by Sam Harris, Dan Dennett, and Richard Dawkins respectively.

The main problem most people have with these works is that they are quite hostile towards religious belief. Surprisingly enough, the harshest words come not from Dawkins, but from Harris. Here is one example:

“Moderates do not want to kill anyone in the name of God, but they want us to keep using the word “God” as though we knew what we were talking about. And they do not want anything too critical said about people who really believe in the God of their fathers, because tolerance, perhaps above all else, is sacred. To speak plainly and truthfully about the state of our world – to say, for instance, that the Bible and the Koran both contain mountains of life-destroying gibberish – is antithetical to tolerance as moderates currently conceive it. But we can no longer afford the luxury of such political correctness. We must finally recognize the price we are paying to maintain the iconography of our ignorance.”

The problem I find with this is not that it is too harsh towards religion, but rather that a great deal of religion does not seem to be relevant to Harris’ criticism.

As well as the view that those who do not belong to a religion ought to take scripture as ‘gibberish’ (which is rather confusing to those of us fascinated by Greek myths and works such as Homer’s Illiad), Harris also presumes that those who take a literalist view of scripture must be the ones who ‘really believe’.

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