Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Article by me on Independent website

I wrote a piece about women in the UK asylum system.  Already the nasty comments have started. Do the trolls never sleep?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

My appearance on BBC Radio 4, Four Thought

Was broadcast today.  You can hear it in full here, please give it a listen!

Independent blog fail on religion

Well I must say this piece on the Independent blog really made my blood boil. It's called "Islam and Christianity must renovate religion: Atheists have to stop trashing it." Ugh. So here's my line-by-line:

"In Religion for Atheists, published earlier this year, Alain de Botton suggests that religion has a lot to teach atheists. It is far too important to be regarded as completely redundant, he argues, because it promotes “morality” and “teaches us to become polite, honour one another, to be faithful and sober”. This is all true. Denying the wealth of knowledge and benefit that can be found in religion is hubristic."

"Morality"? How thoughtful of you to put the word in quotation marks. Is that what you call two millennia of rampant misogyny? I agree. Strange choice.

"But religion is also the cause of many of the world’s problems: it’s dangerous. Religious people often accept exoteric, literal interpretations of religious texts, without using their rational faculties. Religion without reason is blind, ruthless and leads to discrimination."

Religion is also the sworn enemy of reason, teaching as a basic tenet from day one in even the most moderate forms that blind faith is a virtue.

"But 21st Century secularists are also guilty; they have dismissed and lost the ethics taught by religion. Contemporary media focus is too heavily weighed on the out-of-date issues which religion appears to have a regressive and pejorative understanding of." 

Yeah you fuck a few thousand children and suddenly everyone forgets how much fun your special ceremony in which wine ACTUALLY changes into human blood can be. Also Hitler was a vegetarian, but the media refuses to focus on it and just goes on and on about the holocaust, eh?

"In an article he wrote in February for the New Statesman, Journalist Bryan Appleyard described how a “neo-atheism” – by which he means “the conviction that science provides the only road to truth and that all religions are deluded, irrational and destructive” – has emerged over the past two decades." 

Science does provide the only road to truth. It also provides the definition of truth. Doh.

"de Botton echoes this view when he writes that when an atheist says ‘I think religions are not all bad’, he or she is subjected to “savage messages” calling them a “fascist, an idiot or a fool”."

I got a lot more hassle from atheists when I implied religious people were idiots than I do if I say something concilatory. But either way, yes, this is the internet, there be trolls.

"One religion, however, is widely understood for its moral benefits. Buddhism – which, by its nature is a much less proselytising faith than the Abrahamic religions – stresses disengagement from worldly affairs and meditation, while it insists on maintaining a healthy relationship with the world."

It's also not really a religion, it doesn't claim a deity.

"It is this kind of emphasis on moral and spiritual benefits that the other faiths need to tap into; dogma, perfunctory rituals and overzealously propagating one’s religion are often a hindrance to their progression. There is nothing wrong with propagating faith, but how about doing it through acts of kindness, smiling and helping one’s neighbours, not through shouting on a pedestal or condemning others."

Well if your faith is one of those "moral" ones that doesn't approve of telling lies then we'd have to agree there is something wrong with propagating faith.

"Two things are clear: many religious teachings are beneficial to humans – and there are a great many atheists who deny this truth. While religion has been in steady decline since the early 20th century, particularly in the West, it still plays a prominent part in many countries and will do so for a long time. So instead of completely rejecting it, we need to work with it and, more importantly, redefine it."

Could you define "clear" and "truth" here? I'm not getting it. Seems you're saying instead of admitting there is no magic sky fairy we should pretend there is one but insist he's mostly interested in peace and love (but not sexual love which is still icky) and no longer wants you to cut girls clitorises off. Good plan.

"The Bible is still interpreted literally by many Christians and, consequently, we have seen the “issue” of homosexuality – which is condemned in the Old Testament – creep back into the headlines in the past few months. Religious leaders, basing their opinions on pre-modern scriptures, often speak insensitively about homosexuality. Why some Christians – even intelligent ones – still hold the Bible as a text that should be interpreted literally is a mystery, and potentially perilous. According to leading New Testament scholar Bart Ehram in his New York Times bestseller Misquoting Jesus, The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, the Bible is far from a divine revelation and has been altered, intentionally and unintentionally, on numerous occasions." 

Yes your magic sky fairy made people and then told them to write a book and told the, what to put in the book and created every single person ever involved in the translation and transcription process, but it does contain a number of trivial typographic errors. Like the bit where it tells you to throw your daughters to marauding rapists to protect your male lodgers. Oops!

"What is needed, however, is the quintessential message of love which suffuses much of the New Testament to override all other hostile attitudes to other people. There also need to be more progressives like Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, who although firm in their faith, are not afraid to challenge scripture."

So progressive he supports sexist Sharia Law?

"Islam, like Christianity, is also failing in the field of hermeneutics; modern exegetes are unable or unwilling to interpret the texts to conform with our current world. This is partly because sects like the strictly orthodox Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia, who are intent on not allowing innovation (which is a grave sin in Islam) into the religion, have a huge say on the Islamic literature disseminated throughout the world."

Yeah the problem with religion is it needs to re-invent itself so it agrees with our modern secular values. And us modern secularists should listen to it more. Once it agrees with us. How I love to sit back and hear my own opinions quoted back at me as if your magic sky fairy invented them.

"Then again, there are Muslims calling for change; in a blog called Contemporary Muslims are in need of spirituality, the Oxford academic Tariq Ramadan claims “Sufi movements have re-emerged” within Islam. Sufism is the inner, mystical version of Islam which places greater importance on asceticism and God’s love; the adherents, Sufis, are generally more liberal. The Sufi movements, Ramadan says, contrast with the “ritualistic traditionalism [and] Islamist activism”."

The mystical version of Islam? Of course, that'd be more in line with the modern world.

"Muslims, according to Ramadan, have lost the essence of their religion which is the quest for meaning and the peace of heart. “The time has come,” Ramdan argues, “for a spiritual and religious emancipation.”"

Remember innovation is a grave sin. Still good luck with the quest for meaning and peace.

"Many Muslims have neglected the inward dimensions of faith and have placed more importance on the outward. In a time when many Muslims’ faith has been shaken to the core, particularly since the bombardment of anti-Islamic sentiment following 9/11, the spiritual teachings of Islam are needed to restore a sense of equanimity more than ever. And none more so than for many intellectuals who see little import in “mainstream Islam”, an anthropomorphised God and other metaphysical concepts which seem farfetched." 

Yes I will always remember 9/11 as being about the bombardment of anti-Islamic sentiment. Not about the bombardment of two buildings full of innocent people with large fuel-laden aircraft. Hijack a plane, then hijack the reaction to it? I felt the reaction to 9/11 was wrong, but wrong because it involved attacking more innocent people, not wrong because it led to questioning of the religion driving the ideology behind it.

"The Muslim discourse on what traditionalism really is has been hijacked by literalists and has been exacerbated by 9/11: instead of Muslims saying what they are, they have become too preoccupied in saying what they are not."

So the way to combat extremist religion is through moderate religion which should not waste it's time criticising extremist religion but should focus on extolling the virtues of religion in general?

"A Facebook page dedicated to the 13th century Sufi poet Rumi who, according to Time Magazine, is one of the all-time best selling poets in the USA – reached 300,000 ‘likes’ last week. Rumi’s vision for Islam is one that is refreshingly inclusive compared to the doctrinal fundamentalist forms which are so often the focus of news media."

 I thought not enough people were talking about moderate Islam, now there are 300,000? Why that's nearly 1% as many as have watched Shakira singing "Waka Waka" on YouTube... Oh hang on, no it's not, it's more like half a percent! "

“Come, come again, whoever you are, come! Heathen, fire worshipper or idolatrous, come! Come even if you broke your penitence a hundred times, ours is the portal of hope, come as you are,” he writes, encouraging people to the positive messages of the faith. While his writings may not conform with everyone’s particular interpretation of Islam, his candid understanding represents the depth and openness with which religion can understood and practised."

What positive message of faith? That even nasty heathens are welcome to believe for no reason in your imaginary friend? That's the best "positive" message of faith you could find? I think the Flying Spaghetti Monster (all hail his noodly appendage) may have said "don't worry, be happy". 

"It is not just inclusivity that is needed but rather a more open and discerning mind that Muslims need to embrace. Debates around homosexuality and evolution as well as the effect that our increasingly sexualised world is having on young Muslims is, to a large extent, brushed under the carpet . It’s as if scholars and exegetes hope that by brushing these issues aside they will not resurface in the minds and daily lives of the Muslim community who are in need of answers."

The idea of a debate around homosexuality is offensive.  It pre-supposes a legitimacy to the "anti-gay" viewpoint. There is none. A debate about evolution has been had, in the 1800s, it's over. And how is our modern world "increasingly sexualised"? The ancient Greeks (and Japanese) built giant phalluses for public display and probably worship.

"But conversely, we cannot underestimate what the four horsemen of New Atheism – Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens – have done to widen the divide between religious believers and non-religious believers. Their articulate presentation of their views and deeply convincing writings shouldn’t blind us to the essence of religion and our need to reinterpret and redefine religious texts. If these leading atheists are really in search for cosmic or absolute truth, instead of incessantly thumping religion, they should encourage religious erudition, contextualisation and reasoning, as some of the answers they may be looking for may be buried deep in these ancient texts."

The essence of religion is that there's a mystic being who created us (in about a week) and now watches and judges us for every minutiae of our behaviour and punishes us if we don't stick to his (always seems to be his) stupid, self-serving and contradictory rules. This is not what Dawkins and co are looking for.  They're looking for the opposite of this, the truth.

"We often condemn religion as something simple and backward but we treat philosophy and science as pursuits of rigorous and profound study. Perhaps the reason why Dawkins et al. fail to see the profundity in religion is because, as Plato said, an individual can only master one art. The four horsemen are all leading experts in their respective fields, and indeed know more about religion than the masses – but, ultimately, they are pseudo-experts on religious texts. Sam Harris, for example, loves to talk about Jihad as if the term is linguistically synonymous with fighting and war; it’s not: Jihad means ‘struggle’, and the highest form is to struggle against one’s innate, evil tendencies. What’s so wrong with that?"

Yes that's the real problem, Sam Harris's understanding of linguistics.  I remember the victims of the twin towers tragedy screaming "use a dictionary!". There's nothing wrong with struggle, so if you mean struggle, say "struggle". End of.

"Islam, according to American convert and intellectual Hamza Yusuf, is suffering from a crisis of authority, as he elucidated in a debate at Oxford University with Tariq Ramadan, entitled “Rethinking Islamic reform”, in 2010. Christian Catholics have a leader, the Pope, Tibetan Buddhists have the Dalai Lama, but many Muslims are demanding a leadership of their own, the caliphate."

The Pope, yes, the world needs more people like him, out announcing that condoms don't work and that their use is immoral, and Jihadding (it means "struggling", right?) to keep women from clerical office and bodily autonomy and gay people from marriage and child adoption.  And how very handy that suddenly Buddhism gets mentioned again in an article about Christianity and Islam. Buddhism is a bad example and actually the Dalai Lama is not the super-hero he's sometimes made out to be.

"So who are the right people to lead their respective religious communities? Many of the religious leaders and old establishments that are in place today clearly aren’t fit for the purpose: child abuse has been found to be widespread among Christian leaders and too many Muslim leaders in this country can’t connect with the young – indeed, 97% of Imams in Britain are foreign, mainly Urdu-speaking Pakistanis."

Love religion, hate foreigners? Grrr... I feel your pain. And before we find new, appropriate leaders shouldn't we get rid of the child abusers and their defenders? Cos the Pope is still there and he thinks its a job for life.

"Christianity, Islam and the other world faiths shouldn’t be completely disregarded. Many of the ethics they teach – and the faith, and in turn, the security which they offer believers – are far too valuable to ignore; what needs to change is our understanding. It is up to the intellectual religious leaders, who have the ability to engage with the intelligent as well as the uneducated, to renovate religion."

The benefits of having blind faith are a nonsense. And if people need security, we should provide it through adequate housing, healthcare, welfare and peace.  In fact you know this because you're calling for people to pick and choose which bits of religion we keep "many of the ethics". Sadly blind faith would keep ALL of the ethics including stoning adultresses and throwing your daughters to marauding rapists.  If intelligent religious people can pick and choose the good ethics of religion, intelligent atheists can do better. All we need is for Islam and Christianity to give up and get out of the way.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Daily Mega-Fail

Yesterday's Daily Mail: Brave woman speaks out about child sex abuse.

Today's Daily Mail: Wa-hey, look at this sexy fifteen-year-old!

Seriously.  How do they sleep at night?