On Wed 16th Nov one of us, aka Dr Kevin Saldanha, was cordially invited to participate at the Interfaith Symposium entitled 'Religion: A Source of Terror or Peace', organised by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Milton. There were 3 representatives of the major monotheistic religions and Kevin as a Secular Humanist. Once again we would like to thank our hosts for their wonderful hospitality and their awesome Samosas. Kevin had an interesting presentation with worldwide statistics trying to make a connection between Religiocity, Poverty and Violence Levels, Welfare and Happiness. His presentation can be found here: Dr K. Saldanha's Presentation at the Interfaith Symposium 2011 [4.7 mb].
For the rest of this entry I'd like to concentrate somewhat on what the other 3 representatives had to say, or rather fail to say. They tried to convince us through the use of Holy Book Verses and pitiful stories that religion is not only a wonderful thing but it's the best thing that has happened to humanity and, of course, a source of Peace. I personally get upset when religious people try to insult my intelligence and convince me that their religions are peaceful. Let's look at a few verses taken from their Holy Books:
"I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth - men and animals and creatures that move along the ground and birds of the air - for I am grieved that I have made them" (Genesis 6:7 NIV)
What an intelligent designer indeed ! Not only God screwed up His Creation but He's a genocidal maniac on top. Let's continue:
"On the same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn - both men and animals - and I will bring judgement on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord - a lasting ordinance." (Exodus 12:12-15 NIV)
So the all powerful God not only kills innocents but He doesn't know which houses need to be saved and requires a signpost too!
"Brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death." (Matthew 10:21)
"There will be sent, against you both, heat of fire and flash of brass, and ye will not escape." (Koran 55:35)
"And as there began to be wars among all the nations which belonged to the mother of abominations, the angel spake unto me, saying: Behold, the wrath of God is upon the mother of harlots; and behold, thou seest all these things--" (Book of Mormon - Nephi 14:16)
Talk about self-fulfilling prophecies allright !
Of course the list goes on and on and on and a great source of verses condoning Cruelty and Violence in all Holy Books can be found here. Therefore, it is insulting that any representative of the monotheistic religions try to convince us that their books written many years ago by men are peaceful and most importantly are the word of their God; unless their God is a really nasty entity. As Professor Dawkins quoted in his book The God Delusion:
"The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully."
I strongly suggest reading 'God Hates you - Hate him Back.' It has Biblical facts, stories and even an estimated God's death toll !
Need I need to add anything else on the subject? Of course, I wish that the list of mass-murder stopped with their Un-Holy Books. Unfortunately, we all know that those Books have been a real source of inspiration for people across the centuries to cause pain and suffering. Who can forget the Crusades, the Holy Inquisition, the Conquistadors, 9-11, or 7-7? I wonder, how many people know what the Christians did to the Hellenes (the proper name for Greeks). Perhaps our friendly Pastor can find out here, and since I am on the subject, I strongly suggest watching the movie Agora. It is an eye-opening for the 'peaceful' religion of Christianity.
Luckily, the representatives of the monotheistic religions had to accept that 'some' mistakes were done (talk about an understatement) by people in the name of God. Allegedly those people were not religious and had political agendas. I wonder, though, when was the last time that politics and religion did not go hand-in-hand? How is it possible to remove politics from religion and vice-versa when they have served each other for millennia? The truth is that the monotheistic religions and politics are the two sides of the same coin. After all, it is easy to demand people to obey you if you are God's representative and have several thousands soldiers to back your crazy claim.
However, the list does not stop here. It keeps going. Let us continue this journey with some recent examples of pain and suffering in the name of God.
Does anybody remember what happened in Nigeria? It seems that hundreds of Christians, including many women and children, were killed in ethnic violence near the city of Jos in Nigeria. The attacks by Muslims were said to have been reprisals for the January killings by Christians. The circle of violence continues. Perhaps the on-going violence in Egypt between Coptic Christians and Muslims will be a sad reminder of sectarian violence through the centuries to our religious representatives.
We all know that many Islamic countries are not known for their respect to individual freedoms. They always provide us with sad and crazy stories. Take, for instance, the Pakistani Christian couple which was sentenced to 25 years in jail because they allegedly touched the Qu’ran with dirty hands. Apparently, their sentence is based on the blasphemy law which is the hardest tool for religious oppression in Pakistan. Who can forget the murder of Salmann Taseer by his own bodyguard because the former dared to question the blasphemy law. Needless to say that those people are so short-sighted that they cannot see that such laws actually damage the already bad image of religion.
What about the controversy in Malaysia between the Christians and the Muslims over usage of Allah for God’s name. Apparently, there were riots by some Muslims and attacks on Christian churches over a recent court ruling allowing Christians to call their God ‘Allah.’ It seems that Muslims believe only Muslims have the exclusive right to call God 'Allah.' If God exists, do you actually think that he cares about what people call Him?
Of course, any references to Islamic religious bigotry would not be complete without mentioning Saudi Arabia, which is known for the 'freedoms' it provides to women! Indeed, where else on a planet, can a woman enjoy the freedom of being sentenced to 300 lashes and one and a half years in prison because she filed harassment complaints without being accompanied by a male guardian? Obviously, women in Saudi Arabia have fewer rights than dogs. At least, now, after the Arab Spring, women may or may not be flogged for driving.
But don’t worry, because you are not alone, Saudi Arabia. Your best-est friend in the whole world is always willing to follow suit. Not only are you exporting your oil to them but, it seems, that you have managed to export your religious bigotry and hatred towards women; or perhaps religious fanaticism is truly a universal trait which transcends borders. I am sure that, by now, you know the friend to whom I refer: None other than the ol’ US of A, the land of the free and the home of the brave. Home of the brave, indeed, especially after Utah proposed a law that would potentially subject women who suffer a miscarriage to possible criminal prosecution and life imprisonment. Did you have a miscarriage because of slipping on ice or skiing? Then you can be found guilty of an ‘intentional, knowing or reckless act’ if you suffer a miscarriage.
I would not expect anything else from the land of the Mormons. After all, not only they believe that Jesus existed but he moved to N. America for several years to teach the natives. I really wonder what they are on. Unfortunately, though, religious bigotry against women in the US is not isolated to a single State. It has no boundaries.
Last year, in Bristol, Virginia, some hard-core woman handed a leaflet to a girl working at a drive-through regarding her clothing. Apparently, she thought the girl was dressed in an ‘ungodly manner.’ The leaflet explained how by wearing such clothing, specifically tightly fitted clothing, if she were to be raped, it is her fault if men commit adultery or even rape. After all, the sins of men are blamed on the women who tempt them. Exactly, blame the victim for making a monster commit rape. How is this different from Saudi Arabia?
It seems that Virginia is definitely going down the path of allowing discrimination and hatred crimes. Apparently, Virginia wants to eliminate special protection against homosexuals in the state, and, of course, in schools. Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell had signed an executive order barring discrimination in the state workforce on grounds that include race, sex, religion and age, but not sexual orientation. However, the Attorney General urged the state’s public colleges and universities to rescind policies that ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. So, are you gay, lesbian, or any other 'thing' that God hates? Then, you are done. No job for you. If you want to earn money, legally, then you should sleep with the opposite sex because same sex relationships are no longer legal; and consider yourself lucky, FOR NOW AT LEAST, because if you were in Uganda (whose new anti-gay bill is inspired by the US) or Iran they’d just execute you. As I have said before, religious bigotry is indeed a universal trait.
There is something really sinister going on in the USA these days. Is it me or is the country heading towards a theocracy? Everyday there are new stories of religious bigotry and total stupidity. Take for example, the American Family Association, a religious right group which was urging that Tillikum, the killer whale that killed a trainer at Sea World, Orlando, be put down, preferably by stoning because this is written in the Scriptures.
By the way, do you know that there are groups in the US which can favourably compare to the Taliban? Have you ever heard of the Christian Hate Group 'Repent Amarillo' which terrorizes the Texas town by harassing gays, liberals, and other 'sinners'? Apparently, it is being led by a security guard at a nuclear-bomb facility and targets a wide range of community members they deem offensive to their theology such as gays, liberal Christians, Muslims, environmentalists, breast cancer events that do not highlight abortion, Halloween, 'spring break events,' and pornography shops. They even have a warfare map. Check their site and quiver from disgust. How long until they literally start shooting people? It is not that we don't have any examples already. In yet another fine example of how religion gives people a reason to kill, let us not forget Dr George Tiller who was assassinated in a church by Scott Roeder because the former was performing abortions. Obviously, an adult life is less important than a handful of cells if you are a religious psycho.
Unfortunately, though, the Taliban evangelicals have already infiltrated education, because we all know that indoctrination starts from a young age. Is it a coincidence that Mr. Freshwater, an 8th-grade public school science teacher in Ohio, was accused of burning a cross onto the arms of at least two students and teaching creationism? Indeed, wherever you look, science is under attack by the Talibangelists. Teaching that we have a common ancestor with other primates is considered to be evil and wrong by those religio-wackos. Now they put global warming into the mix, in Kentucky. I guess if students realise that chickens and all birds share a common ancestry with dinosaurs, KFC will probably go bust. Yaks, who wants to eat little dinosaurs, especially when they were domesticated and lived side-by-side with humans, according to the Kentucky Museum of Creationism?
At the same time, trying to give a scientific home-schooling turns out to be almost impossible, as a home-school mom Susan Mule found out in Kentucky. Not this state again! It seems that Christian-based materials dominate a growing home-school education market that encompasses more than 1.5 million students in the U.S. And for most home-school parents, a Bible-based version of the Earth's creation is exactly what they want. Federal statistics from 2007 show 83% of home-schooling parents want to give their children "religious or moral instruction." So, the publishers cater to that demand. If you are not religious, then tough. Stop home-schooling your kid and send him/her to a public school hoping that evolution is still being taught.
Honestly, people, sometimes I really wonder if the southern states are trying to 'out-smart' each other in religious fanaticism and bigotry. The morons of the Texas state board of education clearly want to re-write American history. More elementally, they hold that the United States was founded by devout Christians and according to biblical precepts. This belief provides what they consider not only a theological but also, ultimately, a judicial grounding to their positions on social questions. When they proclaim that the United States is a 'Christian Nation,' they are not referring to the percentage of the population that ticks a certain box in a survey or census but to the country’s roots and the intent of the founders. Luckily, though, some Christian fundamentalists of the board were booted out, so the 'war' just got more interesting. Only time will tell but don’t hold your breath. Stupidity is very strong in the 'Bible Belt.' No wonder why those States appear at the top of the scariest States to be an atheist.
Unfortunately, though, Talibangelists are not only in charge of school boards. They are in charge of the Republican Party. Of course, as we all know, the GOP has been in bed with the religious right since the Reagan era. However, these days, there is something more sinister in the air, perhaps a continuation of this relationship. Take Tim Pawlenty, for example, Governor of Minnesota and a Presidential hopeful for 2012. He said that God’s in charge and he doesn’t mean when he’s in bed with his wife. He means the US government. Or what about former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney who defended his Mormon religion and called for tolerance only among believers, explicitly omitting non-believers? What about the Virginia delegate, Bob Marshall who quoting scriptures said that if a woman has a child with some kind of disability, then she must have aborted her first pregnancy based on ‘dramatic evidence’?
I don’t know about you, but I have a strong feeling that that the US is heading towards a theocracy and the GOP candidates for 2012 are happily riding the bigot-wagon. But if you think that these people are the hard-core then brace yourself because you have seen nothing yet. Pawlenty, Romney and Marshall are probably liberals compare to Sarah Palin. I am sure you all know who she is by now and her affiliation to TEA Party is well known. Sarah and her tea baggers will have absolutely no problem in creating a theocratic country. Sarah is well known for being a religious zealot who thinks that "our national leaders, are sending [our military] out on a task that is from God" or writes e-mails to friends pretending to be God. What about her well-known connection to Prayer Warriors who are organising spiritual warfare to take over America? Apparently, The New Apostolic Reformation, the largest religious movement you've never heard of, aims to take control of communities through 'prayer warriors.' Are you scared or not yet? I don’t know about you but I have the feeling that the Talibangelists together with some tea baggers and hard-core Republicans are getting ready to establish a Christian theocratic Palinistan, especially if Sarah becomes the new President in 2012.
Even if Sarah fails to bring the end of the world in 2012, the countdown to civil unrest may have already begun. It seems that the US is facing a surge in anti-government extremist groups and armed militias driven by deepening hostility on the right to Obama, anger over the economy (apparently the Americans have a very short memory so they forgot whose fault it is) and the increasing propagation of conspiracy theories by people like G. Beck. Needless to say that they tend to be all white. I guess the racists are out and about yet again trying to take their country back. Back from whom? From the majority who voted for Obama?
It seems that the Republicans propose a theocracy of believers. It is an assault not just on anyone who isn’t one of them, but on the American ideals and on liberal democracies everywhere. I wonder if this is the reason why the Germans decided to get rid of their evangelicals. It seems that a couple of German hard-cores was granted political asylum in the US after having fled to Tennessee because they did not comply with repeated orders to send their children to school in Germany where parents are obliged to send their kids to school. Perhaps it’s time for an exchange. Europe will send all their Talibangelists to the US, and the US will send their scientists, engineers, and intellectuals to Europe. European evangelicals can choose between Texas, Alabama, Kentucky or Tennessee. American scientists can chose between Denmark, Sweden, Norway, or Finland. You know, those evil Nordic Socialist and secular countries that are top of the prosperity rankings? You know, those countries which have public healthcare without death squads? So, what do you think America? Care for an exchange?
I wish it was that simple though. It seems that many European Talibangelists decided not only to stay but to fight back using the same techniques perfected in the US; and where else would they start than the 51st State? Where else but the USA’s European satellite; none other than the United Kingdom? But it seems that two groups who have long held sway in the party now have a firmer hold on providing the Tories with funding; and you know what that means since Tories won the election, don’t you mate?
The first group is, surprise-surprise, the financial services industry – the people who crashed the global economy – are donating huge amounts of money to the Conservative Party since they are currently fighting re-regulation. The second group are the evangelical Christian fundamentalists whose relative weight within the party is swelling so rapidly than one panicked Tory MP told the Financial Times that they are taking over the party. So, the head of the Tories, aka David Cameron (and no he did not direct AVATAR) promised state funding to parents who want to set up a school and can attract students; and we all know who is going to take advantage of that, don’t we? It is obvious that this will cause an explosion in fundamentalist schools in Britain from all main factions of monotheistic religions. Do I need to tell you what would come next?
Kiss proper sex education goodbye. Oh wait, this is already happening in the UK. Apparently, an amendment has been added so religious schools are allowed to teach their own unique biblical version of sex education. Perhaps they’d teach that masturbation causes earthquakes. Needless to say that this is a dangerous precedent since religious people will most probably try this trick to other lessons. Guess which one is next? Darwinism anybody? The UK is the home of Newton, Darwin and the industrial revolution. It is an old parliamentary democracy. It is one of the most irreligious countries on Earth. Only 38% of the population believes in God. Secularism is strong, and people are free to express their lack of belief in imaginary friends. It seems that unless the UK is more vigilant, it’ll go down the American path of religious bigotry. Clearly, R. Dawkins was not exaggerating when he was saying:
Eighteen percent of the British people think it takes one month for the earth to orbit the sun … And twenty-eight percent of the British people think humans walked with the dinosaurs. Twenty-eight percent of the British people get their science from “The Flintstones.”
However it is not only Christians who claim a place in this blog entry. What happened in Denmark over the Muhammad’s cartoons several years ago is simply disgusting. Denmark is a great and prosperous country, where personal freedoms and individualities are greatly respected. All of a sudden a bunch of thugs causes trouble because they got offended by the cartoons. Last year another Muslim thug tried to kill the Danish cartoonist, and Ireland has just arrested another bunch of wackos planning to murder a Swedish cartoonist. Soon enough Disney might also be a target, since the South Park creators were. What a tolerant religion indeed!
The charade continues and freedom of speech is under threat. Islamic countries won United Nations backing for an anti-blasphemy measure not so long ago. The backer of such a measure was the Organisation of the Islamic Conference whose members include Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Yemen, etc. Is this some kind of sick joke or something? Let’s outlaw any criticism on Islam, after all we have outlawed so many other rights for our citizens; it’s time to do the same to other countries’ citizens too. Wake up people! Islam is not a race. It's a belief system although some claim to be a political one. Either way, it should be subjected to criticism, especially when it is been used to commit atrocities and affects peoples' lives. We don't live in Nazist Germany or Soviet Union any longer. We don't want to substitute one totalitarian system with another.
Don’t worry, though, because anti-blasphemy laws are not only endemic to Islam. Would you really think, that Christianity would lag behind in that? Silly you! Ireland has passed a law under which a person can be found guilty of blasphemy if "he or she publishes or utters matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion." The penalty is a fine of up to about $35,000. Some observers have suggested that those behind the Irish law were seeking to placate Muslims and thereby avoid a situation such as the violent reactions seen in Denmark. What I find really bizarre is the timing of the law; after publishing the report regarding Catholic abuses over many years against innocent kids.
Perhaps the blasphemy law in Ireland is a coincidence, perhaps not. In any case it does not matter. What matters is that religion establishments seem to have a blank cheque to do whatever they want and supersede the importance of individual rights and freedom of speech. How dare they seek 'protection' against our freedom to talk against them? Those who have caused pain and suffering have no right to seek protection. How many millions have died in the name of a God? Now they want us to keep our mouth shut about their atrocities and their imaginary friends. Instead, you do that and leave us alone to live our lives in peace and harmony. If you want to believe in supernatural entities, it’s your choice. Stay out of my life, my school and my government.
Look at this F. Phelps who yet again won the 'right' to protest at funerals or memoriam services of dead soldiers. You know, he's the one who believes that American war casualties are a result of homosexuality. So, let me get this straight: this person thinks he’s entitled to freedom of speech in order to protest against someone else’s freedom of sexual orientation? Or what about some Michigan Republicans who think that bulling is legal if it's done on religious reasons? Hypocritical and typical of some religious people.
Oops, I almost forgot. When you thought that religion cannot get more ridiculous, they strike back. Apparently, texting words such as 'Athlete's Foot' or 'Back Door' is illegal in Pakistan. I would not believe it myself either if it was not for BBC.
Maybe the atheist group at the University of Texas in San Antonio is actually doing good for humanity. Apparently, it is offering students free pornography in exchange for Bibles. I’d definitely go for it. At least I would be watching two (or more) consenting adults having wild sex instead of reading Bible verses which justify rape and killing:
"Every one that is found shall be thrust through; and every one that is joined unto them shall fall by the sword. Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled, and their wives ravished." (Isaiah 13:15-16).
I wonder if that was what Catholic priests had in mind when they were raping innocent children. Of course, this blog entry would not be complete without the issue of paedophilia in religion.
Do you know of the horrifying story of 13-year old Ilham Mahdi al Assi, a Yemeni child bride who died from literally being raped to death. She died as a result of severe haemorrhaging during consummation of the marriage she was forced into at the highly inappropriate and illegal (in civilized places anyway) of 13. Her mother claims her daughter was tied up and raped after she refused to submit to her 23-year old husband's advances. The husband even allegedly gave her tranquilizers in the hopes they'd make her more submissive to his inappropriate desires. The girl's family is demanding a punishment of death for the husband they label a rapist.
While an appropriate label, we can't help but put blame on her family for agreeing to give their child to an adult man. The mother was trying to talk the unwilling child into having sex with her new husband as not to shame the family. What's more shameful than pushing your child into an adult relationship against her will? What would make a mother go against her natural maternal instincts to protect her child - even it meant putting her own life at risk? What could possibly make a mother's head into thinking it was ok to let an adult man rape her little girl? Oh, that's right: religion! It'd be nice to see this rapist charged with the girl's murder but that probably won't happen.
We are not living in the Dark Ages. It is 2011. Why is this tolerated? Let me assure you: she's not the first child to be murdered in this way. Her story just happened to make it to the press. What about the 12 year old Yemeni girl died while giving birth- another child bride who was only 11 when her father married her off to a 24 year old. If you think eleven's young for marriage, how about the story in which an 8 year old Saudi Arabian girl filed for divorce from her 50-something husband?
This issue of child brides is hotly contested in these parts of the world with strong Islamic tribal mentality that not only condones but encourages this warped tradition. Women in Yemen and Saudi Arabia are fighting and often risking their lives to lobby for a law to prohibit marriage of girls under the age of 17 or 18. Seems like common sense to us, but then again, we're atheists. We operate via reason not some twisted tribal tradition that entitles men to the right to marry little girls so they can legally sleep with them.
Sadly, such laws are necessary not only to protect these children not only from their future rapists (ie husbands) but also from their families who think it's perfectly ok to give their little girls to older men as a commodity of trade. It's really sick when a society is so screwed up, you must provision to protect kids from their own parents but that's the power of religion for you. That's also why it's allowed to continue. We can't do anything because who are we to question someone's religious beliefs even if it's clearly hurting the kids born into it?
You see, the main problem lies not in what a particular religious institution does although we can all agree - at least those of us who operate based on reason and decency - that what these organizations do is problematic - very problematic. However, the bigger problem is that we apply different sets of rules to different sets of people even on human rights matters that should be universally protected and administered. Certain humane standards should be as universally acceptable as the notion that all humans have particular basic needs to sustain life. Just as we can agree that we all need food, water, shelter, and clothing to sustain life, we should be able to universally agree that paedophilia is not acceptable for ANY reason. Those who violate this universally applied law should face the full force of the enforceable law - no excuses for anyone will be accepted. We don't care that you're the Pope. You screwed up, you maliciously covered it up, and it's time to face punishment.
Until we insist upon enforcing a universal human bill of rights, these horrors will continue because those who commit these crimes have no reason to stop. We can plainly see they lack a conscience and the common decency to realise what they're doing is wrong. Even if they do, they don't care because they're getting their jollies from molesting little boys in the church pew or raping a little girl to death. Call it what you will - mental illness or criminal behaviour or a combination of both. The bottom line is: it's unacceptable in a civilized global society where particular rights do not dissolve just because you've crossed a national boundary or because you adhere to a particular belief system called a religion.
That is the danger with religion. It's allowed to do as it pleases. When left to do as it pleases, often, religion kills. I don't care if there are a few examples of religion doing good in the world. Over the millennia, religion has been a source of terrible suffering for humanity. I know what some religious people think right now. They think that atheists are also capable of atrocities, like Stalin and Pol Pot; of course they are. Those people have committed crimes against humanity and there is no excuse for what they have done. However, I do have a question for my religious friends: "How many crazy leaders and people in general do you know of throughout the history of mankind that have killed in the name of atheism? How many do you know that have killed in the name of God?"
As S. Weinberg once said:
"With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."
Bottom line is that religion has always been a source of terror; denying it, is not only historically wrong but out right dangerous. Perhaps this is why we are where we are as human kind. A quote attributed to Theodore Dreiser goes like this:
"If I were personally to define religion, I would say that it is a bandage that man has invented to protect a soul made bloody by circumstance."
Frankly I think it is an understatement. Religion is probably the root of all evil and a license to kill. After all Evil, itself, was created by God Himself.
Disclaimer: This is a personal weblog. Some of the opinions expressed here represent my own and not necessarily those of the rest of the Halton-Peel Humanist Community.