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Review of C S Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion

Oct 16th, 2008 | By Ophelia Benson

James Parker comments bluntly in the November Atlantic that ‘The average Christian—as if we needed reminding—makes a piss-poor apologist for his own faith. One might expect a doctrine as insolently extraordinary in its claims as Christianity to have produced some tip-top debaters, but oh dear…’ This teasing remark seems apt for the best-known Anglophone Christian apologist, C S Lewis, at least to anyone who has been unimpressed by the ‘lunatic, liar or Lord’ trilemma. In this engrossing book John Beversluis takes the trouble to analyze Lewis’s arguments in detail.

Beversluis gives an account of Lewis’s Christian apologetics over a wide range of books, especially Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, Surprised by Joy, and A Grief Observed. … Read the rest

Reiki “cannot do harm” – or can it?

Oct 11th, 2008 | By Christopher A. Moyer

What would it be like to have world-class athletic ability, and to spend years of intensive training honing that ability, only to suddenly lose it all in the instant it takes your physician to utter a few words?

Hayden Roulston, a professional cyclist from New Zealand, has experienced this. After several seasons competing for the top-flight professional teams Cofidis and United States Postal Service, Roulston was diagnosed with arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVD), a rare and incurable heart disease known to cause sudden death in athletes. Notably, the prognosis is good for ARVD patients who refrain from exercise early in the course of the disease, which is why medical experts advise ARVD patients that they “should not do vigorous exercise.”[1] … Read the rest

Conversions, Caste and Communalism

Sep 30th, 2008 | By Yogesh Snehi

In the past two years the debates on religious conversions, caste and communalism have gripped India in a serious imbroglio which is fallout of the present nature of state politics in the country. The years 2007-08 have been the most volatile ever since the anti-Godhra riots in the state of Gujarat in 2002, which exposed the role that the governments in India have played in arousing communal passions through state machinery. These are difficult times, and the time that would follow poses more complex challenges for state-politics in India. We can trace the beginnings of these events in the year 2007, though hypothetically, to a controversy in Punjab: the chief of Dera Sacha Sauda (a religious sect founded 1948, which … Read the rest

Gender Division Based on Mahram and Non-Mahram

Sep 29th, 2008 | By Jahanshah Rashidian

In general, where religious values are dominant, gender discriminations remain influential at all levels in society. The monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – not differently from the primitive or undeveloped cultures, adamantly conserve their gender biases. In this article, I argue that gender inequalities in Islam go beyond the gender biases of other monotheistic religions.

The main reason for gender inequalities in Islam has roots in a traditional division of society into the two groups of “mahrams” and “non-mahrams.”: the mahram group contains the non-marriageable adult people who are close members of family, whereas the non-mahram group refers to the rest of people.

Asserting of non-mahram dogma in Islam is not initially unrelated to the Prophet’s concerns about … Read the rest

Islam and Human Rights

Sep 22nd, 2008 | By Austin Dacey and Colin Koproske

This article is excerpted (with permission) from the Center for Inquiry report Islam and human rights: Defending Universality at the United Nations by Austin Dacey and Colin Koproske (pp. 5-6, 9, 16, 17, 21-2, 23). Read the whole report.

As this paper is being written, sixty years after the issuance of the world’s first and greatest
statement in favor of universal human rights, both the document and the institution put in
place to protect its ideals (what has, since 2006, been called the UN Human Rights Council)
are threatened more than ever. There is now an alternative human rights system, infused with
religious language and layered with exceptions, omissions and caveats. The movement toward
“Islamic human rights” (IHR) has … Read the rest

Fighting Fashionable Nonsense: Beyond the Hoax

Sep 19th, 2008 | By Max Dunbar

‘Though it may wound the amour proper of some postmodernist humanities scholars to discover that a mere physicist could learn their jargon well enough, in a few months’ library research, to write a half-convincing simalcrum of it, that is, alas, exactly what happened.’

A lot has been written on this site about postmodernism, and especially its stylistic hallmarks: ambiguity over clarity, irony over actual humour, the buzzwords and red flags of management-speak. Deconstructionist writers portrayed themselves as radicals, often purporting to argue against capitalism or to support oppressed peoples. But as Nick Cohen pointed out, all they really offered was a dull satire of the ‘hegemon’. He quotes an American philosopher, Martha Nussbaum:

[R]esistance is always offered as personal, more

Read the rest

The Free Speech Deniers

Sep 15th, 2008 | By Edmund Standing

The Holocaust denying author and publisher Ernst Zündel is currently serving a prison term in his native Germany, having received a five year sentence in 2007 for denying the Holocaust.[1] The books, pamphlets, and websites in which Zündel’s Holocaust denying and far-Right views are expressed were neither written nor published in Germany, but rather in Canada, where Zündel had lived for four decades.

Having failed to secure Canadian citizenship, Zündel spent a couple of years in the United States, but was sent back to Canada after he violated the terms of his stay by missing a meeting with an immigration official. Canadian officials then handed Zündel over to the German authorities, deporting him on the bizarre grounds that he, a … Read the rest

God’s Messenger

Sep 14th, 2008 | By Tauriq Moosa

In the Cape Argus for July 24, 2008, I was drawn to an article about a “cult”. The article was your typical shocking piece of journalism, where the accused are a “deranged” lot. Their beliefs most would scoff at: “How could they have done that?” “Anyone can see they were crazy to belief that nonsense!”.

It says:

Durban (in the province of Kwa-Zulu Natal, in my country South Africa) brother and sister Hardus and Nicolette Lotter [who are] charged with murder of their parents, had apparently belonged to a cult. They had been influenced by Nicolette’s boyfriend, Mathew Naidoo, who claimed he was “God’s messenger”.

After being called to the house, 20-year old Hardus told police he was accosted in … Read the rest

The Barbarians’ Raw Deal

Sep 1st, 2008 | By Christopher Orlet

For the past 1,500 years the assortment of Germanic, Slavic and Asian tribes known collectively as the barbarians have gotten a raw deal. Blamed largely for initiating the collapse of the Roman Empire, extinguishing the lamp of learning and precipitating the Dark Ages, they have been unable to defend themselves in a court of inquiry. Here is one case where the victors did not write the history (perhaps because most of them couldn’t write). But while the barbarians (literally “babbler” or one who does not speak Greek) did wreak a great deal of havoc, an impartial look at the facts will show that their role in abolishing Greco-Roman culture was almost nil.

In fact, most barbarian kings and warlords greatly … Read the rest

The MCB and the Muslim Marriage Contract

Aug 24th, 2008 | By Allen Esterson

On 21st August 2008 Reefat Drabu of the Muslim Council of Britain posted an article on the Guardian’s Comment is Free website in which she defended the decision of the MCB to withdraw support from the proposed
Muslim Marriage Contract as follows:

The marriage contract produced by the Muslim Institute is simply one interpretation of shariah. It is not the shariah that needs to be re-invented, but a change in behaviour among some sections of our diverse Muslim communities. This is an onerous task that cannot be achieved through blustering demands and emphatic slogans that will only resonate in the salons of Islington and Notting Hill…

MCB represents and serves diverse Muslim communities…The MCB is a broad-based inclusive organisation of

Read the rest

On Intellectual Ethics

Aug 17th, 2008 | By Stephen Law, R Joseph Hoffmann, Daphne Patai, Nick Cohen

The story

From ‘You Still Can’t Write
About Muhammad’
by Asra Nomani in The Wall Street Journal.

A journalist named Sherry Jones wrote a historical novel about Aisha, who was married to Mohammed when she was 6, though he waited until she was 9 before having sex with her. The novel was due to be published this August; last April Random House sent it to several people for comment, including Denise Spellberg, an associate professor of Islamic history at the University of Texas in Austin. Jones has put Spellberg on the list because she had read Spellberg’s book, Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past: The Legacy of ‘A’isha Bint Abi Bakr. Spellberg thought the book was terrible; on … Read the rest

The State of the Nayshun

Aug 9th, 2008 | By R. Joseph Hoffmann

As we wait for the inevitable decline in Barack Obama’s fortunes and lament the fact that the political campaign being waged in the world’s greatest democracy has become a battle between a feisty old man in a baseball cap and a young Cicero increasingly prone to leaden rather than silver tongued oration, it’s appropriate to take stock of the intellectual condition of the nation.

My friends, as the feisty old man likes to say, Things are Not Good. Nearly half a century ago the mini-genre of “Why Is America So Fucking Stupid” was born with the publication of Richard Hofstadter’s 1963 book Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, though some would argue (I would) that the genre can be dated from … Read the rest

Investment in the Placebo Effect

Aug 3rd, 2008 | By Stewart Justman

Advised Daniel Cathell in a much-consulted manual for physicians published in 1922, “It is often very satisfying to the sick to be allowed to tell, in their own way, whatever they deem important for you to know. Give to all a fair, courteous hearing, and, even though Mrs. Chatterbox, Mr. Borum, and Mrs. Lengthy’s statements are tedious, do not abruptly cut them short, but endure and listen with respectful attention, even though you are ready to drop exhausted.”[1] The physician doomed to such recitations would have been that much more exhausted if instead of sitting in the comfort of his own quarters he made house calls one after another. In its own way, even medicine was a laborious trade. “It … Read the rest

David Littman’s Statement to UN HRC June 16 2008

Aug 2nd, 2008 | By AWE and IHEU

UNHR Council: 8th Session (2-18 June 2008): President: Ambassador Doru Romulus Costea Speaker: AWE Representative David G. LITTMAN. Monday (4:40-6:05p.m.) 16 June 2008

Follow-up to and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action:Integrating the human rights of women throughout the United Nations system (item 8)

Mr President
[Words in red not pronounced on President’s advice, after the meeting was suspended 30 minutes]
In the context of integrating the human rights of women throughout the United Nations System, we wish to draw attention to four examples of widespread violence against women that we believe merit far greater attention from the Council.

1. Regarding FGM, our detailed written statement [The 1st interruption by Egypt’s delegate occurred here; about 15 others … Read the rest

Calls to Kill in the name of God or Religion

Jul 30th, 2008 | By IHEU and AWE

Joint written statement submitted at the Sixty-second session of the UN Commission on Human Rights by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), and the Association for World Education, and the Association of World Citizens, February 28, 2006.

1. The legitimacy of the use of violence and acts of terrorism in the name of Islam is
the subject of continuing debate within the Islamic world. The debate, which is clearly
divisive, turns on interpretations of the concept of Jihad when carried out as “Holy War.”

2. It is significant that persons close to those who carried out the London bombings on
7 July 2005 and the earlier attacks in Madrid, as well as other terror attacks, claimed that
they did … Read the rest

To be a moderate

Jul 27th, 2008 | By Carl Anders

There are only so many areas in life where it is possible to be moderate. In fact, the term “moderate” has the feeling of an insult implying a less than desirable condition. Even Dante seemed more annoyed with the Agnostics than with homosexual clerics and corrupt politicians. However, in socio-political circles it is possible to be moderate and get away with it.

If you don’t subscribe to any political party it gets even easier. You can believe in free trade, feel that there are significant benefits to globalisation, and that this can be achieved without compromising fundamental worker rights. The two are not mutually exclusive.

You can feel that there has to be a system to retain and encourage entrepreneurs … Read the rest

This Is An Annoyance-Free Zone (but tacky souvenirs welcome)

Jul 17th, 2008 | By Josh Slocum

It’s probably too much to hope the Parliament of New South Wales is hanging its head after a righteous scolding by the Federal Court of Australia[1]. After all, the government was bold enough to outlaw “annoying” the Catholic throngs descending on Sydney for a five-day Pope-a-Rama. Attempting to shame the Catholic Church is likewise futile; given its irony-free staging of the world’s biggest adolescent/clergy mixer, we must presume it innocent of that emotion.

But let’s try anyway.

Previously, on “World Youth Day. . .”

The Vatican picked Sydney for its latest “pilgrimage of faith, where young people from diverse backgrounds meet and experience the love of God.” Events from July 15-20, 2008, will include spiritual favorites: multiple catechisms, on-site confession, … Read the rest

The Animal Liberation Front and Intimidation

Jul 12th, 2008 | By Ophelia Benson

On Tuesday October 18 2005, a member of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) rang a hotel in Anaheim, California. A pharmaceuticals conference was taking place at the hotel. One of the delegates was Steve Ruckman of Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), a company which uses animals in research and testing. A communiqué from the ALF dated October 25, which includes the warning “Associate with HLS and we will ruin your life,” reports the conversation this way:

“ALF: Hello, I stayed in Room xxx recently and think I left something behind.

Concierge: What is that?

ALF: A bomb. You’ve allowed HLS to come into your hotel, now you will pay the price.

Concierge: What was that?

ALF: If Steven Ruckman from HLS takes

Read the rest

Dogs in Islam, According to the Hadith

Jul 11th, 2008 | By Edmund Standing

Recently, two stories have appeared in the British Press which confirm
some of the worst stereotypes of Muslims as backward, irrational, and superstitious.
The first
involves alleged ‘upset’ caused by a Police recruitment poster featuring
an image of a dog:

The advert has upset Muslims because dogs are considered ritually
unclean and has sparked such anger that some shopkeepers in Dundee have
refused to display the advert.
Dundee councillor Mohammed Asif said: ‘My concern was that it’s not welcomed
by all communities, with the dog on the cards.

‘It was probably a waste of resources going to these communities. They
(the police) should have understood. Since then, the police have explained
that it was an oversight on their part, and

Read the rest

Identity is That Which is Given

Jul 9th, 2008 | By Kenan Malik

The anthropologist Margaret Mead once observed that in the 1930s, when she was busy remaking the idea of culture, the notion of cultural diversity was to be found only in the ‘vocabulary of a small and technical group of professional anthropologists’. Today, everyone and everything seems to have its own culture. From anorexia to zydeco, the American philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah has observed, there is little that we don’t talk about as the product of some group’s culture. In this age of globalisation many people fret about Western culture taking over the world. But the greatest Western export is not Disney or McDonalds or Tom Cruise. It is the very idea of culture. Every island in the Pacific, every tribe … Read the rest