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The Idiocy of ‘Defamation of Religion’

Feb 16th, 2009 | By Russell Blackford

Anti-liberal actors in the international arena, such as the Muslim states of the Middle East, are pursuing a path of attempting to suppress what they call “defamation of religion”. Their campaign is achieving some success, and I believe we must take it very seriously.

The whole idea of defamation of religion is nonsense. Taken literally, it would mean that I could not utter any falsehood that is damaging to the reputation of a religion (so, it might lead people to leave the religion or doubt its doctrines, or fail to be convinced to convert to it). But a religion has no right to flourish, be believed, retain adherents, gain converts, or anything of the sort. On the contrary, it is … Read the rest

A Critical Examination of the Qur’an

Feb 6th, 2009 | By Edmund Standing

The Qur’an, Muslims believe, is the final revelation of the creator of
the universe, a book dictated by an angel to the final in a long line
of prophets sent by Allah to guide human affairs and to make known the
will of the creator for how we should order our lives. Indeed, time and
again, it makes this bold claim, so this really seems a non-negotiable
article of faith and statement of reality. As such, it is said to be
a book whose message is universal in scope, and whose message is not
historically or geographically specific or conditioned, but which speaks
with equal relevance to us all, in all places and at all times. Islam,
the … Read the rest

A Critical Examination of the Qur’an

Feb 6th, 2009 | By Edmund Standing

The Qur’an and the ‘Abrahamic religions’

In modern discussions of religion and its place in a pluralistic
society, much is often made of three ‘great monotheisms’ – Judaism,
Christianity, and Islam – and their apparent similarities. Liberal apologists
for Islam in particular like to refer to the shared backgrounds of these
‘Abrahamic faiths’ and to claim that the Qur’an shows respect for Jews
and Christians as fellow ‘people of the Book’. As it turns out, when
looking at what the Qur’an actually says, it is by no means clear that
Muhammad had a lot of respect for Jews and Christians, and there is little
consistency in his message regarding them and their respective religions.

According to the Qur’an, it contains … Read the rest

A Critical Examination of the Qur’an

Feb 6th, 2009 | By Edmund Standing

Warfare in the Qur’an: Defensive and Offensive

In the Qur’an there are a number of passages dealing with how warfare
should be conducted, and it is worth quoting from some of these at length:

And fight in the way of Allah with those who fight with you,
and do not exceed the limits, surely Allah does not love those who exceed
the limits.
And kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from whence
they drove you out, and persecution is severer than slaughter, and do
not fight with them at the Sacred Mosque until they fight with you in
it, but if they do fight you, then slay them; such is the recompense of
the unbelievers.

Read the rest

A Critical Examination of the Qur’an

Feb 6th, 2009 | By Edmund Standing

The ethical and legal rulings of the Qur’an

Islam is a religion founded on the principle of unquestioning submission
to the supposed will of God; indeed, the word Islam means submission. On
the topic of how human beings should conduct their lives, the Qur’an explicitly
demands an unthinking, uncritical acceptance of its rulings. As such, it
presents a totalitarian vision of the ordering of human affairs. Of Allah,
the Qur’an states that ‘He cannot be questioned concerning what He does’
(21.23) and that ‘the command of Allah is a decree that is made absolute’
(33.38). Likewise, Muhammad appears to be beyond criticism and beyond question:

The Prophet has a greater claim on the faithful than they have
on themselves (33.6).

Read the rest

The BBC and PBS: A Contrast in Complaints Procedures

Feb 4th, 2009 | By Allen Esterson

What procedural process does the BBC have in place to deal with serious complaints about one of its programmes? I recently have had the opportunity to discover this from the point of view of a complainant. The background is as follows.

In April 2008 I posted an article concerning a BBC World Service radio programme that gave a completely one-sided account of the reception in Britain of a lecture by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, in which he floated the notion of some recognition within the British legal system of certain civil applications of Sharia law that are currently practised under the auspices of the Islamic Sharia Council. (Given the characteristically convoluted expression of his views, what … Read the rest

On Rights and Sexuality

Feb 3rd, 2009 | By Alexander Park

The combination of the passage of proposition 8 in California and Barack Obama’s decision to have Rick Warren give the invocation at his inauguration caused an outcry on the left concerning the issue of gay rights. Among the various arguments that arose during this time, one ideological split struck me as particularly noteworthy, and potentially troublesome. On the one hand there seemed to be a certainty on the left that homosexuality is rooted in biology. On the other hand the right seemed just as certain that homosexuality is not rooted in biology but is instead freely chosen as a “lifestyle.”

My specific concern with this split pertains to the short-sightedness on the part of the left when advancing the argument … Read the rest

AIDS Denialism’s House of Cards

Feb 1st, 2009 | By Seth Kalichman

AIDS was first reported by US physicians in New York and California in 1981 when young men and women were falling ill of diseases that are usually kept in check by a healthy immune response. It was soon apparent that these individuals’ immune systems were failing. Within just a few years the causal agent of the mysterious disease was discovered; a human retrovirus that would come to be named HIV. Soon after the discovery of the virus that causes AIDS, an antibody test became available and over the past 25 years more than two dozen drugs have been approved for treating HIV infection. HIV treatments improve the health and extend the lives of millions of people worldwide. Despite the thousands … Read the rest

A Nation of Believers And Nonbelievers? – A Letter to President Obama

Jan 28th, 2009 | By Ronald Aronson

Mr. President, Your stirring inauguration speech
was a great moment for all Americans. When you
said, “We are a nation of Christians and
Muslims, Jews and Hindus ­ and nonbelievers.” it
was an especially heartening moment for atheists,
agnostics, secularists, and humanists. Treated
as invisible throughout the 2008 election
campaign, we were enormously cheered to hear you
including us as you took office. This should
remind every American how important it will be to
have a president genuinely devoted to reaching
out to people of different backgrounds and beliefs.

But, as you begin your term, we nonbelievers are
still troubled by much that has gone on during
the last year. You know how offensive to gays was
your choice of … Read the rest

The Choice of Hercules

Jan 26th, 2009 | By Max Dunbar

Two attractive women approach you. Introducing themselves, one tells you that she is the personification of Duty, and invites you to follow her down the road of virtue, piety, sacrifice and hard slog. The second beauty represents Pleasure: she wants to guide you down a path of indolence, vice and hedonism. Which do you choose?

This was the famous ‘choice of Hercules’, put to him while he was a farm labourer in exile: appropriated by various religions and mythologies, it can be argued that millions of people who have never read the classics still think of life in these terms of virtue versus pleasure: the good life versus the Good Life. A C Grayling’s achievement is to expose this dichotomy … Read the rest

Against Mythicism: A Case for the Plausibility of a Historical Jesus

Jan 22nd, 2009 | By Edmund Standing

A position that appears to be growing in popularity in atheist and rationalist
circles is known as ‘mythicism’. According to this position we have no adequate
reason to believe that the gospels refer to a historical figure called Jesus at
all. This position of strong scepticism holds that the gospels are entirely
mythological texts and that we are mistaken in reading them as embellished
accounts of a man who lived and preached in the Middle East around 2000 years
ago. I disagree with this position for a number of reasons. In particular, I
contend that the apocalyptic material found on Jesus’ lips and the hopes for a
very real earthly historical transformation strongly suggest that there is an
underlying historical … Read the rest

Rocks, Hard Places and Jesus Fatigue

Jan 18th, 2009 | By R. Joseph Hoffmann

The following comments are not a direct response to Bruce Chilton’s very helpful article on the Jesus Project but in many ways anticipate and respond to some of his observations. I offer it as further commentary on the pros and cons of undertaking yet another “quest,” at a time when New Testament scholarship, in the eyes of some, is a mission without a guiding purpose. JH

Crouching somewhere between aesthetic sound byte and historical detail is Michelangelo’s famous statement about sculpture. “The job of the sculptor,” Vasari attributes to il Divino, “is to set free the forms that are within the stone.” It’s a lovely thought—poetic, in fact. If you accept the theory of Renaissance Platonism, as Michelangelo embodies … Read the rest

Taking Relativism Seriously

Jan 12th, 2009 | By Andrew Taggart

Why is there wavering in my voice when I say that something is ‘wrong, period’? It may be that in the back of my mind I hear someone retort, “But that’s just your opinion” or “Who are you to say?”, skeptical charges to which I have no immediate reply. Or it may be that I expect my interlocutor to go to great lengths to point out to me that somebody who can make that sort of proposition has to be smug, overconfident, and immodest, none of which, he will assuredly imply, are very becoming.

It is common today to hear people speak about wanting to get other people’s perspectives. By definition, perspectives are ways of seeing the world from different … Read the rest

Fighting Straw Men: Mary Midgley and Scientific Discourse

Dec 27th, 2008 | By Tauriq Moosa

Mary Midgley’s publisher Routledge calls her a fighter of “scientific pretension” – but what remains with the reader is her passion for science’s defamation.

Observe two of her statements: “Genes cannot be selfish or unselfish, any more than atoms can be jealous”[1] and “Reason’s just another faith”[2]. In many of her writings, she refers to scientists as “prophets”, science as an inclusive institution, or evolution as religion[3].

Many will know the typical antiscience mantras – cropping up like weeds in what should be a growth of knowledge and not its stifling. Creationists or anti-Darwinists play the victim-card, stating the scientific community ostracizes anyone who “dares” speak out against the “doctrine” of Darwinism. Of course, if they simply went to any … Read the rest

Medical Mistletoe Myths

Dec 26th, 2008 | By Colin Brewer

The season of consumerist indoctrination, dietary excess and Panglossian sentimentality is approaching its peak, so here is a heart-warming little Christmas story. Actually, its roots – literal and metaphorical – go back well before the intrauterine innovations that traditionally attended the conception and birth of Christianity’s founder and it will warm principally and selectively the hearts of cheerful cynics and pessimists like myself (and, I assume, like many readers of B and W) in whom any habits of optimism have long been replaced by a null hypothesis as the default mode. One of the favourite hobbies of People Like Us is saying ‘I told you so’ and we derive additional schadenfreude from noting that even in the current financial crisis, … Read the rest

Scheisshaus Luck: Surviving the Unspeakable in Auschwitz and Dora

Dec 24th, 2008 | By Max Dunbar

If you’re seeking a Holocaust survivor’s memoir with a profound philosophical or poetic statement on the reasons six million Jews and many millions of other unlucky souls were slaughtered, and why a person like myself survived the Nazi camps, you’ve opened the wrong book. I’d be lying if I said I knew the reason, or if I even believed there is a reason, I’m still alive. As far as I’m concerned it was all shithouse luck, which is to say – inelegantly – that I kept landing on the right side of the randomness of life.

Pierre Berg, from his Foreword, Scheisshaus Luck: Surviving the Unspeakable in Auschwitz and Dora

Scheisshaus Luck is the memoir of Pierre Berg, a teenage … Read the rest

Women’s Right Activist Beheaded in Iraqi Kurdistan

Dec 21st, 2008 | By Azar Majedi

Nahla Hussain, a women’s rights activist and the leader of the women’s league of the Kurdish Communist Party and mother of two children, was beheaded at her house in Kirkuk, in north of Iraq. She was alone in the house at the time of her death. According to the police some unidentified men entered her house on Thursday night, but the circumstances that led to the attack are unknown.

However, violence against women who do not observe Islamic laws and dress code has become a common phenomenon in Iraq. Women’s rights activists, secularists and communists are under constant threats by different reactionary factions, including the Islamists.

In the context of Iraqi society, “the circumstances that led to her death” are … Read the rest

Call for End to Sharia Courts

Dec 16th, 2008 | By Maryam Namazie

A new report showing that Muslim women are discriminated against and
encounter gross bias when they subject themselves to Sharia adjudications
was welcomed today by The One Law for
All Campaign, which is supported by a variety of organisations and

The campaign’s spokesperson Maryam Namazie said: ‘This research reinforces
our own findings that Sharia Councils and Muslim Arbitration Tribunals are
discriminatory and unfair. However, the solution to the miscarriages of
justice is not the vetting of Imams coming to the UK as the report has
recommended but an end to the use and implementation of Sharia law and
religious-based tribunals.’ She added: ‘At present these Sharia-based bodies
are growing and appear to have some sort of official backing. But … Read the rest

Quest for the Historical Jesus Begins Anew

Dec 15th, 2008 | By Center for Inquiry

Amherst, New York (December 08, 2008)-Scholars gathered this past weekend, December 5-7, in Amherst, New York, for the inaugural meeting of The Jesus Project in a renewed quest for the historical Jesus. The project, sponsored by the secular think tank Center for Inquiry and its Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion (CSER), is an effort by historians, biblical scholars, and theologians to determine what can be reliably recovered about the historical figure of Jesus, his life, his teachings, and his activities, utilizing the highest standards of scientific and scholarly objectivity.

An earlier inquiry, “The Jesus Seminar,” founded by Professor Robert Funk in 1985, concerned itself primarily with the sayings attributed to Jesus in the Gospels and related sources. Dr. … Read the rest

Jihadism and the ‘Dreamers of the Day’

Dec 11th, 2008 | By Edmund Standing

Since the 9/11 attacks, the world has become all too aware of the growth of a fanatical ideology grounded in an extreme interpretation of Islam and centred on totalitarian fantasies. In recent years, we have seen the emergence of a far more politicised brand of Islam often referred to as Islamism. This loosely connected movement seeks to bring about global Islamic rule by creating a series of Islamic States which are to be ruled according to strict adherence to Shari’ah law. At the same time, we have seen the emergence of an even more extreme ideology, which in this article I have termed ‘Jihadism’. While there are considerable similarities between Islamism and Jihadism, there are significant differences that mark Jihadism … Read the rest