Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.


1 shut up. 2 shut up. 3 shut up.

Jan 17th, 2012 10:35 am | By

Damn. Things have gone crazy – so crazy that it’s hard to keep up. Just to give you the bare list -

Salman Rushdie

will miss the opening day of the Jaipur literary festival, organisers say, after protests by influential Muslim clerics in India.

A talk on sharia and human rights

organised by the Atheism, Secularism and Humanism Society at Queen Mary, University London, had to be cancelled after threats of violence. The talk was due to be given by Anne Marie Waters of the One Law For All campaign, which campaigns against the use of Sharia in the UK.

Rhys Morgan was

called into a meeting with his head of year at his sixth form college, about the Jesus and Mo cartoon. He reports being harassed at school and being ostracized for posting the cartoon. He was later called in again to be told that they were considering expelling him if he didn’t take the cartoon down.

According to Rhys on Twitter a few minutes ago, they weren’t considering it; it was a certainty: take it down or you’re out.

Details to follow.

 

 

 

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



They will take more consideration

Jan 16th, 2012 4:35 pm | By

The UCL Union has a statement on its attempt to meddle with the UCLU Atheist, Secularist & Humanist Society’s Facebook page.

UCLU (the representative body of UCL students) has a duty to foster and encourage freedom of expression among our members, ensure diversity of our membership is recognised[,] and pursue equal opportunities for our members.

Following a number of complaints from UCL students, UCLU requested that the UCLU Atheist, Secularist & Humanist Society (UCLU ASH) take down a cartoon from a Facebook event page advertising one of the society’s regular social events.

The society was asked to remove the image because UCLU aims to foster good relations between different groups of students and create a safe environment where all students can benefit from societies regardless of their religious or other beliefs. UCLU has a duty to ensure students are not harassed because of a characteristic which may make them appear different to others, including but not limited to race, gender, religion, nationality or sexual orientation.

Society Presidents take responsibility for their own publicity, and it is not vetted by UCLU prior to distribution. They are provided with equality training prior to running a society, to help them understand the balance between freedom of expression and cultural sensitivity.

The event in question has now passed and the society has agreed that they will take more consideration when drawing up publicity for future events.

That’s a horrible document. Nobody was being harassed because of the existence of that cartoon on that page. If harassment is defined that broadly then nobody can say anything.

The sentence about “equality training” that helps society presidents “understand the balance between freedom of expression and cultural sensitivity” makes me want to lose my lunch.

The smug satisfaction of “they will take more consideration” makes me want to shout at least three rude words.

 

 

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Developments

Jan 16th, 2012 3:11 pm | By

I hadn’t kept up with developments in the UCL/Jesus and Mo fuss until I got that email. There were developments.

The New Humanist reported that the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society at UCL reported that progress had been made.

While debate raged online, however, both the UCL union and the atheist society have been working to resolve the matter, and the ASHS have this morning announced that progress has been made, with the union agreeing that they can not ask the society to take down the image. This is explained by the society’s president, Robbie Yellon, in a statement on their Facebook page:

Good, good. Except…wait. What’s that in the third paragraph of that statement?

Unfortunately, the Union has considered the possibility that posting the image might have constituted an act of bullying, prejudice, harassment or discrimination. We firmly believe in the protection of our fellow students through University and Union policy; however we cannot accept such a suggestion. They have also considered the force of our actions and unwillingness to concede. As such, the society may be risking a disciplinary hearing which could lead to the forced resignation of committee members, or disaffiliation from the Union. In light of our now constructive relationship with the Union, such an event seems unlikely, though we would ask for your support should it ever occur.

What?

The union agreed “they can no longer call on us to withdraw the image” but they might decide posting it was an act of bullying, prejudice, harassment or discrimination so they might punish ASHS anyway? Especially because of their unwillingness to concede? Their unwillingness to concede something that should never have been asked in the first place?

If that’s progress, what would regress look like?

David Shariatmadari reported the story for the Guardian, complete with picture of Richard Dawkins smiling in his usual strident way.

And the Pod Delusion talked to Dave of Jesus and Mo. Dave points out, as I like to do, that the sketchy “image” of Mo in J and M can’t really be said to be even an attempt at an actual picture of Mohammed, because who knows what he looked like? Also he explains about the barmaid but he doesn’t say about the rumor that she’s your humble servant.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Never anything more than an informal request

Jan 16th, 2012 12:01 pm | By

This morning I received an email from the Secretary for the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies (in the UK), Michael Paynter, saying he’d seen that I’ve commented on the “take the image of Mo from Jesus and Mo off your Facebook page please” fuss at UCL (the wording is mine) and that he wanted to provide some context because the media coverage has been distorted. I’ve heard from other people who received much the same email (or possibly exactly the same), so I feel free to quote from it.

UCL Union (UCLU) did make a request for the University College London’s Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society (UCLUASHS) to remove an image of the prophet Muhammed after a complaint was filed, but this was never anything more than an informal request.  Before the President had contacted the students’ union to discuss the issue further, an individual blogger, neither a member of UCL nor UCLUASHS, decided to exaggerate the story, making accusations of “Muslim-led censorship”, in order to garner attention for himself.  This subsequent coverage has unnecessarily strained relations between UCLUASHS and UCLU.

I don’t like that “but this was never anything more than an informal request.” I don’t see what difference the fact that it was “informal” makes. An informal request can always lead to a formal one, you know, kind of like with protection rackets. “I’m just passin’ the time of day here, but you might want to think about what this nice little store would look like if something should happen to it.” In any case the request is not of a kind that should be made, formally or not.

I don’t like the fact that the secretary of a student atheist humanist and secular organization is trying to minimize and make excuses for a theocratic attempt to get rid of a cartoon.

I don’t like the secretary of a student atheist humanist and secular organization backing up this attempt by claiming that a blogger posted about the issue “in order to garner attention for himself.”

It doesn’t matter what I like or don’t like, of course, but in this case it appears that the secretary of a student atheist humanist and secular organization is making excuses for unreasonable requests that would interfere with free debate, and that does matter.

Michael Paynter went on to say that “the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies fully support UCLASHS right to freedom of speech” and linked to a statement he wrote. That’s good, but the statement isn’t exactly robust, and it’s a week old. The tenor of his email message is even less robust. Its conclusion is downright…accommodationist:

The AHS would like to point out that we support both UCL Union and UCLUASHS in discussing how to move forward, what to do next and how to build understanding between the religious and non-religious communities, though we appreciate that it could be more difficult considering the way some bloggers and now the wider media have reported it.

It’s not the job of a student atheist humanist and secular organization to “build understanding between the religious and non-religious communities.” It’s not even its job to think of themselves and others as either religious or non-religious “communities.” It’s the job of a student atheist humanist and secular organization to be just that, not to try to build understanding with its own opposites. Do student socialists societies spend their time trying to build understanding between the socialist and capitalist communities? Do gamers spend their time trying to build understanding between gamers and jocks? For that matter, do student religious organizations spend their time trying to build understanding between themselves and atheists? No; it’s only the non-theist groups who are always apologizing for existing.

The day after the only semi-robust statement, Michael Paynter wrote a note to “Ahmadiyya Muslims” in which he threw the naughty blogger mentioned above very firmly under the bus:

Dear Ahmadiyya Muslims,

I would like to start by saying that the organisation I represent, the AHS, supports entirely the right of UCLUASHS to use the picture they used and we have written a statement to that effect:

http://www.ahsstudents.org.uk/news/2012/1/10/uclash-and-blasphemy/

However, we have also noticed that Alex Gabriel has been writing particularly inflammatory articles about the situation, exaggerating it beyond its actual scope.  Alex Gabriel is neither a member of UCLUASHS and is not even a student at UCL and we do not support his distorted view of the situation.  The publicity that has been manufactured in the blogosphere is entirely down to him and not members of UCLUASHS.

We know that you have had a good relationship with UCLUASHS in the past and hope that this may continue after this episode.  Please get in touch if you have any questions!

This is not what the secretary of a student atheist humanist and secular organization should be doing.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



On her own she will not be able to get her rights

Jan 16th, 2012 9:54 am | By

There’s a woman in the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Apparently she’s there to spread the word to women. She does that.

Speaking to the London based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper Saturday, Abul Hassan argued that “When a woman marches to defend her rights, this affronts her dignity.”

She added that “Does she not have a husband, a brother or a son to defend her?”

Because, to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, “dignity” for a woman means being passive and hidden and dependent on male relatives. That’s interesting, because to me that means degradation, not dignity at all. It means subordination, which implies inferiority. It’s hard to see how that can be “dignity.”

“This march was a sectarian one, because all the groups of Egyptian society should defend women. She should not defend herself on her own. The man should stand beside the woman because on her own she will not be able to get her rights,” said Abul Hassan.

Because the Muslim Brotherhood won’t let her.

H/t Małgorzata Koraszewska.

 

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Who’s an evil little thing then?

Jan 16th, 2012 9:40 am | By

Jessica Ahlquist answered some questions yesterday.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nc-ROXgCuxE

 

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



This will feel a little cold

Jan 15th, 2012 5:37 pm | By

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, the move to erase women wanders even deeper into Bizarroland.

The controversial exclusion of women from various settings in Israel because of pressure from ultra-Orthodox Jewish leaders reached a new level this week with a major conference on gynecological advances that is permitting only males to address the audience.

Yes you read that right. A major conference on advances in medical management of women’s plumbing excluded women. Well what’s it got to do with them, after all? If they don’t want a man’s arm up them, they shouldn’t have been born with female plumbing. If they don’t want men and only men telling them what’s what about their plumbing, they should…um…well they should sit down and shut up.

Women are allowed in the audience, in a section separate from men.

Ah, that’s nice. That’s very generous.

As far as Puah is concerned, it operates on a strictly kosher basis, as required by the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate. While there are women on its board of directors, its public face is strictly male, and the two sexes are not allowed to mix at its events.

Because the rabbinate is strictly male, because it always was strictly male, so it’s not about to change now, is it, so it says the public face has to be strictly male too, because it always has been, because let’s face it, women are dirty and weak and whoreish and stupid and treacherous, so obviously they can’t be part of the public face and they can’t mix with men and get dirty weak whoreishness all over them.

 

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



I see a T shirt

Jan 15th, 2012 4:49 pm | By

We need a “We are all evil little things” T shirt.

And a banner, and a coffee mug, and a letterhead. And a pony.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Peter Palumbo

Jan 15th, 2012 4:33 pm | By

I saw this on Jessica Ahlquist’s twitter feed a few hours ago:

State representative Palumbo called me an “evil little thing.”

Just now I was about to google for details preparatory to doing a post, but JT Eberhard got there first.

Peter G. Palumbo, the Democrat in the RI House from the Cranston district, has no rebukes for the Jesus-loving liars, bullies, or thugs.  He has nothing negative to say about the people who felt they were above the Constitution and lied to subvert it.  He did, however, have something to say about Jessica.  According to Palumbo she is “An evil little thing.”  That may have bee said sarcastically, but the line “I think she’s being coerced by evil people” was most assuredly not.

I urge you to listen to him say that. It’s the first soundbite on the page, and it’s just a few seconds. Don’t listen if you have high blood pressure or a stomach ache. It’s disgusting – two grown men sneering at a high school girl who had the audacity to uphold the Constitution.

JT says it more better:

Palumbo’s email address is rep-palumbo@rilin.state.ri.us.   His office phone number is  (401) 785-2882.  Spread the word and inundate him.  Our leaders should respect the constitution, not snipe at those who have been been confirmed to have fought in its defense.  Palumbo has just sided with dishonesty and bullies.

Drop him a line.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Où sont les neiges

Jan 15th, 2012 3:56 pm | By

So it made up its mind and snowed at last. Then it stopped and I went out to walk around and look at it. It was pretty. Melting fast, but pretty. It doesn’t snow much here.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



The crime of Moska

Jan 15th, 2012 12:55 pm | By

So that’s how it’s possible to treat rape victims as perps.

Just 21, Gulnaz had been released that week from prison, where she had given birth to her daughter Moska. Gulnaz seemed younger than her years, but she held my gaze almost defiantly as she told her story.

She had been imprisoned in a Kabul women’s jail after her cousin’s husband raped her.

The crime came to light when the unmarried Gulnaz became pregnant.

The police came and arrested both Gulnaz and her attacker. Under Afghan law she too was found guilty of a crime known as “adultery by force”, with her sentence increased on appeal to 12 years.

Oh, I see! Afghan law doesn’t have a crime of rape, apparently, it has “adultery by force” and both parties are the perps as opposed to one party being the perp and the other being the victim.

That’s interesting. Usually we* think of serious crime as being a crime because there are victims; that’s why laws against actions that can be considered “victimless” are contested.

Imagine everything rearranged in a way comparable to “adultery by force.” You would get…”Suicide by force.” “Redistribution of wealth by force.” “Cosmetic surgery by force.” “Home visits by force.” “Account transfer by force.”

In what we would call murder, it’s not one person doing a bad thing to another person, it’s two people teaming up to do a bad thing to…….to whom? The owner of one of them? The owner of both of them, “god”? “The community”?

Never mind. I’m just playing silly buggers. I know that’s not how it works with other crimes. It’s just rape that works that way, because rape involves a woman (except when it doesn’t – there are those dancing boys in Afghanistan), and women always belong to men, so whatever is done to a woman is actually done not to the woman but to the man she belongs to. It’s not an assault on the woman, it’s adultery which is a bad thing done to the woman’s husband (certainly not to the rapist’s wife – don’t go getting that idea).

I suppose Gulnaz’s daughter – the one conceived as a result of the “adultery by force” – is guilty of “birth by force” and will be sentenced to 12 years in prison as soon as she’s old enough to use the potty by herself.

*By “we” I mean people who try to think about things, not “we in the West” or the like.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Amartya Sen on identity

Jan 14th, 2012 5:40 pm | By

From Identity and Violence:

My disturbing memories of Hindu-Muslim riots in India in the 1940s…include seeing – with the bewildered eyes of a child – the massive identity shifts that followed divisive politics. A great many persons’ identities as Indians, as subcontinentals, as Asians, or as members of the human race, seemed to give way – quite suddenly – to sectarian identification with Hindu, Muslim, or Sikh communities. The carnage that followed had much to do with elementary herd behavior by which people were made to “discover” their newly detected belligerent identities, without subjecting the process to critical examination. The same people were suddenly different.

So were their identities really “Hindu” or “Muslim” or were they not? If Sen is right, their religious identities suddenly expanded in size and overpowered all their other identities, which means that they were mutable as opposed to fixed. Identities that can swell can also deflate. This is worth remembering.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Dainty boxing

Jan 14th, 2012 12:42 pm | By

A couple of months old, but too stupid and bad to overlook.

Women will be boxing at the Olympics for the first time this year. And…can you guess what follows?

Geniuses in the International Amateur Boxing Association think maybe they should wear skirts.

Skirts.

For boxing.

Really? Really? It’s so important that everyone should have easy access to women’s Little Special Place that they have to wear skirts even for boxing? So that when they fall down everyone can check for visible pubic hair?

What’s next? Rules requiring women to wear high heels, a plunging neckline, lipstick, earrings, long hair?

Adults and Tiaras.

 

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Mary Raftery

Jan 14th, 2012 11:27 am | By

RTÉ remembers Mary Raftery.

Ms Raftery was best known for her ‘States of Fear’ documentary series, which revealed the extent of physical and sexual abuse suffered by children in Irish industrial schools and residential institutions.

It led to the creation of the Commission of Inquiry into Child Abuse.

In 2002, her ‘Cardinal Secrets’ programme for RTÉ’s Prime Time led to the setting up of the Murphy Commission of Investigation into clerical abuse in the Dublin Archdiocese.

So did survivors of abuse.

Andrew Madden, the former altar boy abused by a senior Dublin cleric, said Ms Raftery had understood that the Church’s concealment of child sexual abuse was systemic, but that it could best be exposed by helping survivors to share personal experiences.

He said that her work had provided a way for some survivors to do that.

The organisation Survivors of Child Abuse said all survivors will forever remember her enormous contribution to revealing historical abuse in the country’s enclosed institutions.

Its spokesman, John Kelly, said each survivor owed a great deal to her steadfast courage that brought hope where there was despair and vindication when it was sorely needed. He said their hearts and prayers were with her family.

So did politicians.

Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín O Caoláin said she had given a voice to the voiceless, including victims of abuse and, more recently, to those who suffered in psychiatric institutions. He said she had forced governments to act.

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald said Ms Raftery had played an essential role in the alerting the country to its child protection duties.

She said her ground-breaking documentaries such as “Cardinal Secrets” brought home to viewers the squalid prevalence of child sexual abuse while emphasizing the life-long damage it could inflict on those abused.

So did journalists.

Seamus Dooley, Irish Secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said Ms Raftery ”will be mourned by all who knew and respected her as a fearless journalist”.

He said she was someone “who was always willing to ask awkward questions, to seek out uncomfortable facts and to shine a light in the darkest corners of Irish society”.

The Irish Times Editor Kevin O’Sullivan said Ms Raftery’s journalism ”fearlessly exposed the gross failures of Church and State in looking after some of the most vulnerable and damaged of people in Irish society”.

He said her work lifted ”so many layers of institutional secrecy”.

Ireland needed her.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Frolicking in the gentle breeze

Jan 13th, 2012 4:02 pm | By

Nidhi Dutt experienced a little “Eve teasing,” or as you might call it, assault, in Bombay one afternoon.

My colleague and I were piling into a rickshaw, heading back to the bureau. And that’s when it happened. We were suddenly surrounded by a group of boys, barely teenagers.

At first the whole thing seemed harmless, if a little predictable – the cheery interest of a group of bright eyed, smiling boys.

Their approach was not unusual, foreigners and cameras make for an unmissable attraction in India.

But it was only a matter of minutes, possibly seconds, before the smiles turned into a blur of pawing, grabbing hands. Their indecent behaviour was punctuated by cheers, laughter and explicit comments in Hindi.

And that was it. I had been Eve-teased. Or as we describe it in the West, sexually harassed. In broad daylight, on a street in a busy business district of Mumbai.

“Teasing” they call it – a group of boys physically attacking two women. That’s not “teasing” and I don’t think we call that harassment, either, not when it’s unwanted resisted physical contact – I think we call that assault.

This kind of harassment, often described in India as innocent play, is commonplace. Yet this is a country in which the predominant Hindu religion worships female deities and claims to respect women.

Described as “innocent play” is it – being treated as a commodity as public as a toilet? That’s not any kind of play. It’s an assault on women’s autonomy and ability to be in the world without fear.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Christian love

Jan 13th, 2012 11:59 am | By

What Jessica Ahlquist has to put up with.

A small sample (all spellings theirs):

  • May that little, evil teenage girl and that judge BURN IN HELL.
  • U little brainless idiot, hope u will be punished, u have not win sh..t! Stupid little brainless skunk!
  • How does it feel to be the most hated person in RI right now? Your a puke and a disgrace to the human race.
  • shes not human shes garbage
  • Fuck Jessica alquist I’ll drop anchor on her face
  • Jessica Ahlquist may have won her case, but she’s going straight to hell.
  • literally that bitch is insane. and the best part is she already transferred schools because she knows someone will jump her
  • I hope there’s lots of banners in hell when your rotting in there you atheist fuck #TeamJesus
  • your home address posted online i cant wait to hear about you getting curb stomped you fucking worthless cunt
  • gods going to fuck your ass with that banner you scumbag

And that’s all I can stand. It’s only a sample from only about 10% down the page.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Christian love

Jan 13th, 2012 11:59 am | By

What Jessica Ahlquist has to put up with.

A small sample (all spellings theirs):

  • May that little, evil teenage girl and that judge BURN IN HELL.
  • U little brainless idiot, hope u will be punished, u have not win sh..t! Stupid little brainless skunk!
  • How does it feel to be the most hated person in RI right now? Your a puke and a disgrace to the human race.
  • shes not human shes garbage
  • Fuck Jessica alquist I’ll drop anchor on her face
  • Jessica Ahlquist may have won her case, but she’s going straight to hell.
  • literally that bitch is insane. and the best part is she already transferred schools because she knows someone will jump her
  • I hope there’s lots of banners in hell when your rotting in there you atheist fuck #TeamJesus
  • your home address posted online i cant wait to hear about you getting curb stomped you fucking worthless cunt
  • gods going to fuck your ass with that banner you scumbag

And that’s all I can stand. It’s only a sample from only about 10% down the page.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Dr Gingrich sneers at the crime of speaking French

Jan 13th, 2012 11:20 am | By

I hate my country sometimes. Really hate it. Visceral stomach-heaving loathing.

One such time is when candidates for high office tell us that ignorance is good and knowledge is bad. It makes me murderous. Yes, ignorance is good, poverty is good, starvation is good, disease is good, pain is good – and that’s what we have to offer, the candidates imply. Vote for us and pride yourself on not knowing any pesky foreign languages.

Quelle horreur! Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney has been skewered in a new political attack ad – for speaking French.

The ad, released by rival Newt Gingrich, seeks to draw unflattering parallels between Mr Romney and another Massachusetts politician, John Kerry.

Entitled The French Connection, it features a clip of Mr Romney talking in French when he ran the Winter Olympics.

Newt Gingrich has a PhD in history - European history. He has to have had minimal competence in at least two European languages for that.

His 1971 dissertation, Belgian Education Policy in the Congo 1945-1960, contains a number of sources in French in its bibliography.

Miserable lying bastard.

 

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



A few minutes of quiet reflection

Jan 13th, 2012 9:54 am | By

Another installment of Heathen’s Progress. It starts with prayer and then generalizes to religious ritual compared to secular ritual.

I’ve recently started praying. Well, not exactly praying, but doing something that fulfils what I think are its main functions. Prayer provides an opportunity to remind oneself of how one should be living, our responsibilities to others, our own failings, and our relative good fortune, should we have it. This is, I think, a pretty worthwhile practice and it is not something you can only do if you believe you are talking to an unseen creator. Many stoics did something similar and some forms of meditation serve the same kind of purpose. My version is simply a few minutes of quiet reflection on such matters each morning.

I don’t see why that should be called prayer at all. It looks to me like thinking, which is not the same thing. Reflection is more like thinking than it’s like prayer, and adding “quiet” doesn’t make it more like prayer. Thinking generally is quiet.

Prayer, after all, is a form of asking. “I pray you” is an archaic way of saying I ask you, I beg you, I beseech you. It’s not a way of saying I quiet-reflect you.

Maybe Julian thinks it’s like prayer because he does it each morning, so that makes it prayer-like. But it could also make it brushing the teeth-like or putting on the trousers-like. But those are comparatively noisy; maybe it’s the combination of quiet and each morning. But then pausing to figure out where you left your keys/homework/bus pass would be prayer-like.

I’m being mean. Ok, I am being mean, but that’s because I don’t much like this solemn attempt to sanctify (as it were) an entirely secular activity.

I do think that prayer, like many rituals, is something that the religious get some real benefits from that are just lost to us heathens. One reason is that many of these rituals are performed communally, as part of a regular meeting or worship. This means there is social reinforcement. But the main one is that the religious context transforms them from something optional and arbitrary into something necessary and grounded. Because the rituals are a duty to our absolute sovereign, there is strong reason to keep them up. You pray every day because you sense you really ought to, and it will be noticed if you don’t. In contrast, the belief that daily meditation is beneficial motivates in much the same way as the thought that eating more vegetables or exercising is. Inclination comes and goes and needs to be constantly renewed.

Yes but that idea is also one of the most dangerous and oppressive ideas that humans have come up with. Yes it can be good for good people, in helping them stay motivated, but it’s a nightmare in the hands of ungood people. Julian knows this of course, but he fails to mention it.

He goes on to say that it’s difficult to replace religious rituals with secular ones because they don’t have the same kind of automatic justification, so it all feels a bit forced and fake. I agree with that, and once wrote a Comment is Free piece (answering CiF Belief’s question of the week) saying much the same thing:

There are several candidates for least-possible-to-replace aspect of religion. For most varieties the obvious one is the object of worship – the god or gods. If you subtract god or gods and leave the ceremonies and meetings and rules, you seem to be left with something very arbitrary and random. “Why are we doing this when we don’t think God is participating?” Secular pseudo-religion strikes me as not just hopeless but also faintly nauseating. I’m not about to sit in a circle holding hands, or worship The Principle of Humanity, or put a list of Affirmations on the wall.

The sad thing about this is that church is, among other things, a way to get together with other people and focus the mind on being good. The religious version of being good is not always on the mark, to put it mildly, but even the opportunity to contemplate goodness seems valuable. This is something it’s truly hard to reproduce with secular institutions. Politics seems like the closest thing to a substitute, and it’s not a very close match.

This could in theory be something humanist groups could attempt, but in reality the idea seems hopeless. Why? I suppose because it’s like the proverbial herding of cats. Who would deliver the sermon? I don’t want to go sit in a pew and listen to some secular sermon, and I doubt many other people do either. We’re used to the idea of a cleric standing up and lecturing people about some facet of being good; we’re not used to the idea of anyone else doing that. Habituation explains a lot. I don’t think clerics have any special expertise in moral matters; on the contrary; but I do realise that they at least have practice in talking about them. How useful this is depends very heavily on the quality of their moral views: lectures on the duty of women to be obedient and the duty of men to enforce obedience are not helpful, for instance; but the habit of focusing on morality, at least, seems in some ways enviable.

I can get quite melancholy, sometimes, thinking about this. But then – there is no obvious easy replacement for a weekly sermon on being good, but there is also no obvious easy replacement for the belief in eternal torment. Swings and roundabouts.

I think Julian neglected the roundabouts.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Prayer is totes secular!!

Jan 12th, 2012 5:09 pm | By

Ohhhhhhh the Daily Mail. It’s a sin to tell whoppers.

Headline on story about Jessica Ahlquist and the judge’s decision:

School ordered to remove ‘religious’ banner which tells pupils to be kind

Scare quotes on “religious” when the banner starts with “HEAVENLY FATHER” – does the Mail think that’s a secular greeting?

A school has been ordered to tear down a banner encouraging its pupils to be kind to one another after a judge decided it violated the First Amendment.

The banner at Cranston High School West in Rhode Island was judged to promote religion because it takes the form of a prayer addressed to ‘Our Heavenly Father’ and concluding ‘Amen’.

Yes…….a prayer that begins with “our heavenly father” and ends with “amen” is in fact religious. What else would it be?

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)