Monday, November 23, 2009

Just say no to sharia law

Let us support the courageous Muslims who, often at great personal risk, are campaigning against religious extremism
Comments (564)

Peter Tatchell, Thursday 19 November 2009 21.00 GMT
Article history
This Saturday's London rally against sharia law and all religious tyrannies should be huge. Millions of people are suffering at the hands of clerical regimes, especially our Muslim brothers and sisters in countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Sadly, the turn out in Hyde Park will probably be quite small. This is odd. Most liberals and leftwingers would protest loud and strong if these persecutions were perpetrated by a western regime or by Christian fundamentalists. But they get squeamish when it comes to challenging human rights abuses committed in the name of Islam. They fear being denouned as Islamophobic. They confuse protests against fundamentalist, political Islam, which seeks to establish a religious dictatorship, with an attack on Muslim people and the Muslim faith. These are two very different things. Saturday's protest is in defence of Muslim people – and all people everywhere – who are victims of any form of religious tyranny.

While other faiths are also often oppressive, sharia law is especially oppressive. Its interpretations stipulate the execution of Muslims who commit adultery, renounce their faith (apostates) or have same-sex relationships. Sharia methods of execution, such as stoning, are particularly brutal and cruel – witness the stoning to death this week in Somalia of a 20-year-old woman divorcee who was accused of adultery. This is the fourth stoning of an adulterer in Somalia in the last year.

Somalia is an extreme example of the sharia oppression that exists in large parts of the Muslim world. As ever, Muslim women are often the main victims. Our rally is in support of Muslim women who are campaigning for equality.

We cannot accept the way many Islamic states, including western allies like Saudi Arabia, restrict women's freedom of movement, make women subject to the control of male guardians, deny women access to certain jobs and positions in government and enforce the compulsory veiling of women (the hijab, niqab, jilbab or burqa).

Speakers at Saturday's One Law For All rally include philosopher AC Grayling, columnist Johann Hari, Bangladeshi feminist writer Taslima Nasrin, Rahila Gupta of Women Against Fundamentalism, Pragna Patel from Southall Black Sisters, Houzan Mahmoud of the Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq and Muslim refugees from sharia law in Iran. The organisers have made it clear that supporters of the English Defence League and the British National party are not welcome. We reject their racist and anti-Muslim agenda.

This the key point of the protest is to show support for the many courageous, inspiring Muslims who are campaigning against the inequalities and inhumanities of ssharia law, often at great risk to their liberty and life. Contrary to the way our critics are trying to misrepresent our campaign, this is not an attack on Muslims or Islam. Nor are we uniquely condemning sharia law. We reject all religious laws and courts, including those inspired by Judaist and Christian fundamentalism.

In a democracy, everyone should be subject to the same laws, with the same rights and responsibilties. Religious rulings should not influence the laws or courts in any way.

Britain cannot claim the moral high ground: it is not a secular democracy. The Church of England is the established church, the official state religion. Some of its bishops are granted automatic places in the House of Lords, by virtue of their religious office, and they are able to speak and vote on legislation. No other faith in Britain has such privileged law-making status and power.

When I speak at Saturday's rally, I will defend Muslims and people of all faiths against hatred and discrimination. The victimisation of people because of their religious beliefs is just as wrong as victimising people because of their race, gender or sexuality.

However, it is important to acknowledge that the religious right, which exists in all faiths, is a serious threat to human freedom wherever it manifests itself – whether in the US, Iran, Russia, Italy, Uganda, Israel or the UK. This is why our protest supports secular democracy. We believe there should be a separation of religion from the state. No faith should dominate any government and seek to impose its creed on the rest of society. When this happens, freedom of expression is diminished and minority faiths are victimised. We saw this happen when Protestantism became the state religion in England and Catholics suffered great persecution from the late 1500s. We also see it today in Iran where the Shia-dominated state persecutes the Sunni Muslim minority (especially the Arabs and Baluchs). The reverse happens in Sunni-ascendant Saudi Arabia, where Salafi and Wahhabi interpretations of Islam are enforced and Shia Muslims, and dissident Sunni Muslims, are the victims.

For these reasons, secularism is not only an important element of freedom of expression. It is also the best guarantee of religious freedom, as it prevents any one faith becoming politically dominant and abusing its powers to oppress people of other faiths.

The organisers of Saturday's rally believe that Muslims and all peoples worldwide should have rights, freedoms and choices, in accordance with the principles of equality and non-discrimination that are enshrined in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These are not "western values". They are international humanitarian values, agreed by the global consensus of the member states of the UN.

It is wrong to tolerate the denial of human rights to non-white Muslims in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, when most of us would never tolerate the denial of these rights to white (and non-white) people in Britain. There should be no double standards. No cultural and moral relativism. Defend universal human rights. One law for all.

Friday, November 20, 2009

'Please don't label me - let me grow up and choose for myself' campaign sparks charges of 'arrogance' in Belfast

source: via facebook comments

The 'Please don't label me - let me grow up and choose for myself' campaign has sparked off some rigourous comments from Christians and Muslims:

Reverend David McIlveen from the Free Presbyterian Church said: “It is none of their business how people bring up their children. It is the height of arrogance that the BHA would even assume to tell people not to instruct their children in the religion.

“I would totally reject the advertisement. It is reprehensible and so typical of the hypocrisy of the British Humanist Association today. They have a defeatist attitude and are just trying to draw attention to themselves. I think it is totally arrogant, presumptuous and sparks of total hypocrisy. I believe this doesn’t deserve a counter campaign. I will be expressing my public position on it in my own church on Sunday. I will be saying that this advert is another attack on the Biblical position of the family and will be totally rejecting it.

“It is a wasted campaign that will have no impact on family life in Northern Ireland.”

Father-of-four Sheikh Anwar Mady from the Belfast Islamic Centre added: “We believe that every child is born as a Muslim. Religion is not given by the family, but it is a natural religion given by our God at birth. The role of the family is to teach the traditions of the faith. But that faith is implanted at birth.”

The BHA said the billboards were being unveiled to coincide with Universal Children's Day on Friday.

Atheist campaigner Richard Dawkins, BHA vice president, said: “Nobody would seriously describe a tiny child as a “Marxist child”, an “anarchist child” or a “post-modernist child”.

“Yet children are routinely labelled with the religion of their parents. We need to encourage people to think carefully before labelling any child too young to know their own opinions and our adverts will help to do that.”

Read more at Belfast Telegraph

What Is So Bad About Religion?

my comments in green
What's So Bad About Religion? AtheistRevolution says
  • Religion is Inherently Divisive
    • labeling children as belonging to various faith traditions about which they may know little
    • segregating schools
    • taboos about marrying out of the in-group
    • [sometimes] dehumanize members of the out-group
    • [sometimes] makes the wholesale slaughter of out-group members permissible
  • Some Elements of Religious Doctrine are Directly Harmful
    • "end times" theology (has this spread to the UK?)
      • little motivation to improve one's world if one is convinced that the end is coming during one's lifetime. c.f. Humanists believe that this is the only life we have and that their is no other world after we die
        • If a politician is convinced that the end of the world is right around the corner, we cannot expect him or her to pursue policies in the long-term interest of our nation and the future generations which will inhabit it.
        • We may even be forced to imagine the same politician attempting to hasten the end through deliberately provoking wars, foreign occupations, and the like. I don't know of any politicians that really think this way - but then I don't live in the USA!
      • how many other institutions or belief systems could lead one to bring about mass destruction to hasten an afterlife? 
        • How many other institutions or belief systems could so effectively motivate the sort of suicide bombings that have become so common in Iraq?  Indeed, what is the psyche of suicide bombers?
      • the stubborn insistence that we cling to such antiquated ethical systems hinders progress in a number of important domains (e.g., human rights, gender equality, reproductive rights, slavery, stem cell research, etc.).
    • Summary
      • What is so bad about religion is that
        • it divides people and demonizes the out-group to the point where virtually any fate inflicted on them can be justified as divinely sanctioned. 
      • What is so bad about religion is that 
        • it fosters a primitive form of morality that hinders progress in virtually any domain beneficial to our modern world. 
      • What is so bad about religion is that 
        • it facilitates the commission of atrocities by good people who are merely pursuing "the divine."
    Read further arguments at Atheist Revolution

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009

    From buses to billboards: the next stage of the Atheist Bus Campaign is unveiled for Universal Children’s Day

    Billboard adverts have gone up today in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, as the internationally renowned poster campaign which began this year on London buses launches its second phase. So much money was donated towards the campaign after the bus posters had been launched that the campaign organisers announced that any further money raised would be put towards new adverts later in the year.

    ‘One of the issues raised again and again by donors to the campaign was the issue of children having the freedom to grow up and decide for themselves what they believe, and that we should not label children with any ideology,’ said Ariane Sherine, original creator of the Atheist Bus Campaign. ‘I hope this poster campaign will encourage the government, media and general public to see children as individuals, free to make their own choices, and accord them the liberty and respect they deserve.’

    The posters display some of the labels routinely applied to children that imply beliefs such as ‘Catholic’, ‘Protestant’, ‘Muslim’, ‘Hindu’ or ‘Sikh’ mixed up together with labels that people would never apply to young children such as ‘Marxist’, ‘Anarchist’, ‘Socialist’, ‘Libertarian’ or ‘Humanist’. In front of the shadowy labels are happy children, with the slogan, ‘Please don’t label me. Let me grow up and choose for myself’ in the now world-famous font of the Atheist Bus Campaign. The billboards are being unveiled to coincide with 20 November, Universal Children’s Day, which is the United Nations ‘day of worldwide fraternity and understanding between children’.

    ‘We urgently need to raise consciousnesses on this issue,’ said Richard Dawkins, Vice President of the BHA, President of RDFRS, and co-sponsor of the campaign. ‘Nobody would seriously describe a tiny child as a “Marxist child” or an “Anarchist child” or a “Post-modernist child”. Yet children are routinely labelled with the religion of their parents. We need to encourage people to think carefully before labelling any child too young to know their own opinions and our adverts will help to do that.’

    Andrew Copson, BHA Director of Education, said, ‘The labelling of children becomes even worse when it is implemented as a matter of public policy. One of the issues we hope to highlight with these adverts is the continuing and increasing segregation of children according to parental religion in state-funded “faith schools.” Social cohesion and preparation for life in a diverse society is best achieved in inclusive community schools, where children from different backgrounds learn with and from each other without being divided by labels that they are not old enough to have chosen for themselves.’

    The billboards will remain up for two weeks. The BHA has launched a fundraising campaign to coincide with the unveiling of the billboards which will raise money for campaigns to phase out state funded 'faith schools’.


    Images of the billboards and FAQs

    Billboard locations:

    London: Old Street roundabout

    Cardiff: 42 Merthyr Road

    Edinburgh: Portobello Road, Piershill

    Belfast: 74-76 Great Victoria Street / Bruce Street

    The Atheist Bus Campaign’s appeal for donations to fund the bus adverts was launched in October 2008, aiming to raise just £5,500. Within four days it had raised £100,000 in individual donations from the general public and went on to raise over £153,523, smashing its original target by 2791%

    Spin-offs from the campaign have included bus and other advertising campaigns organised by humanist organisations all over the world and a book edited by Ariane Sherine, ‘The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas’, the proceeds of which are being donated to Terrence Higgins Trust.

    In 2009 Universal Children’s Day marks the twentieth anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the sixtieth anniversary of the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child.

    Articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child include: 

    • Article 2, where the child is ‘protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child's parents, legal guardians, or family members’; 
    • Article 13 which provides that the child should ‘have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds’; 
    • Article 14 which guarantees that states will ‘respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.’

    children should have the freedom to grow up and decide for themselves what they believe.

    Atheist groups unveil latest advertising campaign

    LONDON - The consortium of atheist groups behind January's London bus campaign with the tagline "There's probably No God," unveiled today a billboard campaign to coincide with the UN's Universal Children's Day
    Atheist groups unveil latest advertising campaign

    Billboard adverts have gone up in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.
    The ad campaign coincides with the launch of a fundraising campaign to lobby for the phasing out of state-funded 'faith schools'.
    Ariane Sherine, original creator of the Atheist Bus Campaign, said children should have the freedom to grow up and decide for themselves what they believe.
    ‘I hope this poster campaign will encourage the government, media and general public to see children as individuals, free to make their own choices, and accord them the liberty and respect they deserve.'
    The posters display some of the labels routinely applied to children that imply beliefs such as ‘Catholic', ‘Protestant', ‘Muslim', ‘Hindu' or ‘Sikh' mixed up together with labels that people would never apply to young children such as ‘Marxist', ‘Anarchist', ‘Socialist', ‘Libertarian' or ‘Humanist'.
    In front of the shadowy labels are happy children, with the slogan, ‘Please don't label me. Let me grow up and choose for myself'.
    Richard Dawkins, vice president of the British Humanist Association HA and co-sponsor of the campaign, said.: ‘Nobody would seriously describe a tiny child as a "Marxist child" or an "Anarchist child" or a "Post-modernist child". Yet children are routinely labelled with the religion of their parents. We need to encourage people to think carefully before labelling any child too young to know their own opinions and our adverts will help to do that.'

    Tuesday, November 17, 2009

    'Faith is no reason' - Best Blasphemy Awards from Council of Secular Humanism

    source: email from Council of Secular Humanism
    Best Blasphemy Awards Announced
    Center for Inquiry declares 'Faith is no reason' the winner.

    The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is pleased to announce that Ken Peters of California is the Grand Prize winner of its Blasphemy Contest, which asked contestants to submit statements of no more than twenty words critical of religious beliefs. The entry Mr. Peters submitted was: “Faith is no reason.”

    In announcing the award, CFI president and CEO Ronald A. Lindsay said “This entry, using only four words, summarizes nicely one of the key principles of post-Enlightenment thought. Beliefs should be based on evidence and reason. Faith is not a basis for logically sound belief.”

    When CFI decided in September to hold a contest in conjunction with its commemoration of International Blasphemy Day, it generated a firestorm of controversy. Some observers claimed that CFI was soliciting hate speech, and they likened CFI to Nazis publishing anti-Semitic attacks.

    CFI rejected those mischaracterizations then and continues to reject them now. “In holding a blasphemy contest, we wished to underscore our position that religious beliefs are subject to examination and criticism, just like other beliefs,” said Lindsay. “Sometimes that criticism may take the form of a scholarly essay; sometimes the criticism may take the form of a pithy, pointed remark. Both are appropriate forms of free expression.”

    CFI emphasized it wanted clever, concise statements that might capture some of the flaws of religious beliefs. CFI was not interested in crude attacks on believers. CFI was not disappointed in the entries—either in their quality overall or their quantity. Approximately 650 contestants submitted over a thousand entries (contestants could submit two entries).

    In addition to the Grand Prize winner, there were four other winners. Their entries were:
    • “There’s no religion like no religion,” submitted by Daniel Boles of Thailand
    • “I wouldn’t even follow your god on Twitter,” submitted by Michael Hein of South Carolina
    • “The reason religious beliefs need protection from ridicule is that they are ridiculous,” submitted by Michael Nugent of Ireland
    • “I survived the God virus,” submitted by Perry Bulwer of British Columbia, Canada.
    All top five winners will receive a CFI T-shirt with their submission imprinted on the shirt. Ken Peters, the Grand Prize winner, will also receive a coffee mug with his slogan and he will be officially recognized in a forthcoming issue of Free Inquiry, the magazine published by CFI’s affiliate, the Council for Secular Humanism.

    The contest judges also decided that ten other entries, including a couple of limericks, would receive “honorable mention.” Those entries, and further information about the contest, can be found at the official announcement on CFI’s Web site.

    The Blasphemy Contest was one component of CFI’s continuing
    Campaign for Free Expression. Another ongoing contest that is also part of the Campaign is the Free Expression essay contest ($2,000 Grand Prize).

    CFI thanks everyone who took the time to submit an entry. Your participation helped make the contest a success.

    Saturday, November 14, 2009

    Michael Green: On the shoulders of Newton and Hawking

    The physicist follows Isaac Newton and Stephen Hawking into the Lucasian chair of mathematics at the University of Cambridge.
    Congratulations. How did it feel when you heard the news?
    I was very pleasantly surprised - but also overawed. This is a position that has had some extraordinary incumbents. It is loaded with a history that means I have an awful lot to live up to.
    What plans do you have for the role?
    For a long time I've been involved in the interface of elementary particle physics and general relativity, string theory in particular. Some very exciting things have been happening in string theory that I wish to pursue. Although string theory has not fulfilled or even come close to its original aims - to unify our ideas about the fundamental forces - it is now providing surprising insights in other areas of fundamental physics. These are problems that nobody has had any way of understanding and now we have a chance of solving.

    Complete World of Human Evolution

    Complete World of Human Evolution by Chris Stringer and Peter Andrews.

    Buy the book at the Natural History Museum bookshop or Amazon.

    Sunday, November 08, 2009

    No Religion: Overall 15%, Chinese 53%, mixed ethnic 23%

    Overall, 15 per cent of the British population reported having no religion although variation by ethnicity was marked. Just over half of all Chinese people (53 per cent), and just under one quarter of people from Mixed ethnic backgrounds (23 per cent), stated they had no religion. Asian, Black African and White Irish people were least likely to have no religious affiliation. Around 1 in 200 Pakistanis and Bangladeshis reported having no religion.

    Social Trends 2006 ( Social Trends No. 36)

    Monday, November 02, 2009

    What is the probability that the idea of God or gods are just the product of the human imagination?

    source: British Humanist Association (BHA) private Forum

    see Poll right.

    Charter for Compassion

    source: highlights comments

    Robert Wright is the Secular & Scientific voice of compassion - 'The Evolution of Compassion'.

    Its not as warm and fuzzy as the average compassion talk! Compassion and the Golden Rule is built into human nature. Even before Homo Sapiens, feelings of love, compassion and sympathy were in the gene pool. The biological explanation of the origin of these feelings is Kin Selection (wiki). 

    At 2'06" Robert Wright defines Kin Selection:- 
    'the basic idea of kin selection is that if an animal feels compassion towards a close relative and this compassion leads to help the relative, then in the end the compassion actually ends up in helping the genes underlying the compassion itself. So from a biologists point of view, compassion is actually the genes way of helping itself.'
    Kin Selection only operates on relatives. Reciprocal Altruism is the idea (3'15") that:- 

    'compassion leads you to do good things for people who will then return the favour.'
    You end up extending compassion to friends and allies; but giving less compassion to people you don't know or who are in the news. Reciprocal Altruism gives an appreciation of The Golden Rule.

    Hunter gatherer societies, that have not been exposed to any religion or ethical philosophies, still believe that 'one good turn deserves another' and that 'bad deeds should be punished'.

    Prisoners get excluded from The Golden Rule. Exclusions to Golden Rule eg Palestinian conflict (economic blockades and missiles) (7'11") cause some of the worlds problems. The fact that The Golden Rule is somehow built into us does not mean that this will bring us Universal Love or save the world from our problems.

    Game Theory (7'52"), zero sum and non zero sum games. Zero sum are games such as tennis where the points of the winners and losses add up to zero. In doubles tennis you and your partner are playing a non zero sum game so when you win or lose points the sum of points does NOT add up to zero. Other examples of non zero sum games: trading between buyers and sellers, fighting a war with allies. With non zero sum games, the Golden Rule and compassion work best and this has been the case since the Stone Age.

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    Sunday, November 01, 2009

    What are HASSNERS doing to spread information about the real origins of Xmas?

    source: London Atheist Meetup email 1 November 2009 highlights
    Sue M at London Atheist Meetup group said today ' 
    Only 54 days to Xmas - now is the time for a massive effort to spread information about the real origins of Xmas to people we meet, adults and children, on forums and message boards, letters in the press, calls to radio chat lines and internet networks etc.

    better alternatives to 'The birth of baby Jesus' - the hackneyed religious promotional myth put on every year in schools instead of the more interesting and revealing reality of its origins in human history - pre-Christian star stories based on the astrological myths and legends and ancient sun-god's born of virgins.

    Now is the time to ensure that atheists and others are clued-up to spread information now showing on 'Atheist Nation' about
    the real origins of the Christian 'Christmas' mythology

    Barbara Smoker's Foreword to 'Our Pagan Christmas' by R.J. Condon that brings the rituals from ancient civilisations up to modern times. (?NSS publication)

    'Did Christians Steal Christmas?' by John Stovold

    'The Atheist's Guide to Christmas ' by Ariane Sherine

    This message was sent by Sue M  from
    The London Atheists Meetup Group.
    To learn more about Sue M, visit his/her
    member profile

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    Daniel Dennett - Atheist Clergy, parody of theologians, reverse engineering religion, evolution of god meme

    source: highlights comments

    Pathology of Religion: Dennett interviews closet non-believing clergy (6 between ages 35-72). At seminaries young clergy learn critical analysis of the bible, introduces deepities (31 mins), belief in concept of god v belief in god,

    5 minutes with Jonathan Miller

    source: highlights comments

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