52 victim cards per deck

Sep 6th, 2010 12:59 pm | By

The Catholic church is pitching another fit, this time complaining that the BBC is anti-Christian and liberal and secular when it should be pro-Catholic and reactionary and theocratic like – well like the Catholic church.

Cardinal Keith O’Brien said the BBC’s news coverage is contaminated by “a radically secular and socially liberal mindset”…

“Senior news managers have admitted to the Catholic church that a radically secular and socially liberal mindset pervades their newsrooms. This sadly taints BBC news and current affairs coverage of religious issues, particularly matters of Christian beliefs.”

They certainly do think they’re owed a great deal of deference and air time, don’t they, especially for people who are mired in an institutional scandal about pervasive child-rape and obstruction of justice. Perhaps they would like the BBC to spend more time on that subject?

From the other direction

Sep 5th, 2010 3:34 pm | By

Here’s something a good deal better than the BBC and its revolting pandering to the mullahs in Iran and their friends – here is Network against honour related violence. I met a splendid woman who works with it – perhaps she founded it and runs it, I’m not sure – at the book launch in Stockholm. The launch took place starting at 7 pm the day I arrived, so my memory had gone to bed by that time – I don’t remember most of the launch very clearly. This means I don’t remember what she told me, or if she told me her name, or what I told her, apart from something about wanting to be sure to retain some grip on all of this when I woke up the next day; fortunately she gave me a card, which has the name and the URL on it.

Anyway there it is, and it is indeed a network, so it’s an excellent place to find all the related links and names in one place.


Addendum: she was very nice to me, I do remember that – very warm and enthusiastic. She gave me a hug along with the card. I remember her face – and her kind smile – I just don’t remember what we said! Jet lag, eh.

The BBC defends the mullahs, silences their critics

Sep 5th, 2010 11:40 am | By

Update: RDF provides the video for non-UK viewers, so I’ve seen it now, and so can you.

The BBC has outdone itself this time. BBC1’s Sunday Live did a programme on whether it is right to condemn the Iranian regime for the stoning of Ashtiani. Maryam Namazie was supposed to take part (and it is not difficult to guess what she would have said, and how firmly she would have said it), but somehow the programme never got around to her. It did get around to two people who said the other thing, but it did not get around to Maryam. Yes that’s right. It found the time to talk to two apologists for the fascist reactionary mullahs’ regime in Iran but it could not find the time to talk to a secular feminist who thinks women shouldn’t be buried up to their necks and stoned to death for anything and especially not for “adultery.”

The BBC gives a voice to fascist reactionary mullahs and denies a voice to secular feminists who defend human rights.


In the live debate, they managed to interview Suhaib Hassan from the Islamic Sharia Council defending stoning and someone from Tehran saying she faces execution for murdering her husband but somehow there was no time in the debate for me.

Even the presenter, Susanna Reid, said stonings were rare and that none had taken place since the 2002 moratorium! In fact 17 people have been stoned since the moratorium; also there are court documents provided by her lawyer specifying her stoning sentence for adultery. BBC had all this information. Without providing evidence to the contrary, BBC Sunday Live took as fact the regime’s pronouncements on her case. They failed to mention that the man charged with her husband’s murder is not being executed and that the trumped up murder charges are an attempt by the regime to silence the public outcry and kill Sakineh. As Sakineh herself has said: “they think they can do anything to women.”

It beggars belief.

Hooray for sharia

Sep 4th, 2010 4:31 pm | By

The Huffington Post (who else?) gives a woman named Sumbul Ali-Karamali a space in which to say “what is all this fuss about sharia, sharia is perfectly fine, and besides it’s not the law anywhere, and besides everything is culture, and besides islamophobia, and besides you have to interpret.”

There are six principles of shariah. They are derived from the Qur’an, which Muslims believe is the word of God. All Islamic religious rules must be in line with these six principles of shariah…The Qur’an is old. The fiqh books of jurisprudence are old. To modern eyes, they can look just as outdated as other ancient texts, including the Bible and Torah. That’s why, just like the Bible and the Torah, the Islamic texts must be read in their historical context.

In other words, it’s the same old have-it-both-ways bullshit. On the one hand it’s the word of god, but on the other hand we can’t help noticing that some of it is disgustingly savage so we sagely observe that it’s old and therefore has to be read “in its historical context,” which being interpreted means altered so that the disgusting savagery gets ignored or turned into a metaphor or otherwise sidelined. But then why not just admit that what you’re doing is trying to shape laws to what is best for human beings (and perhaps animals and the planet) rather than obeying rules handed out many centuries ago by a god? Because we want to have it both ways, that’s why.

Shari’a is a set of religious principles and is not the law of the land anywhere in the world. The 50-some Muslim-majority countries are all constitutional states and nearly all of them have civil codes (many of these based on the French system).

…And? She doesn’t say. The implication seems to be that all those constitutions bar sharia as law, but in fact, that’s far from the truth. Some majority-Muslim countries already make their laws “sharia-compliant” and others are working on it.

The Qur’an contains many verses advocating religious tolerance, too, though the anti-Islam protesters won’t believe it.

Yes we’ll believe it, but we’ll also point out that it contains many other verses advocating much nastier things and that those verses are not a dead letter.

I wonder – in all seriousness – if Sumbul Ali-Karamali herself would actually like to live in Swat or Afghanistan or Somalia or Sudan or Algeria or Saudi Arabia or northern Nigeria. If she wouldn’t, she should think hard about why. If she would, she and I inhabit different universes, and I don’t know how to address her.

Presumed dead in the water

Sep 4th, 2010 1:17 pm | By

Julian Baggini points out “an inconvenient truth about science that religion would prefer to ignore”:

[A]lthough it is true that science doesn’t rule out a role for religion in providing meaning, or a God who kick-started the whole universe off in the first place, it does leave presumed dead in the water anything like the God most people over history have believed in: one who is closely involved in his creation, who intervenes in our lives, and with whom we can have a personal relationship.

Most people over history, and to this day. People who believe in the attenuated hand-wavy god of Karen Armstrong and Terry Eagleton are a tiny minority of believers.

Your fury is proof of my virtue

Sep 4th, 2010 1:01 pm | By

Update: comments were closed by accident; there’s nothing special about this post that made comments undesirable. Beg pardon.

Norman Birnbaum said in a review of two books on Norman Podhoretz

In the end, the indignation of the critics reinforced Podhoretz’s tendency to think of himself as isolated, his antipathy to other intellectuals. He saw arguments with others as proof of his own virtue.

Yes indeed; there is always that risk, in having opinions that are in some way unpopular or unorthodox or otherwise combative. One can come to think that the more indignant one’s opponents are, the more virtuous One is Oneself.

This is an excellent reason for the Haters of Gnu Atheists to stfu. They don’t want to make us even more smug and conceited and intolerable than we already are, do they? Hmmmmmmmmmmm?

This is not polling

Sep 4th, 2010 11:17 am | By

The Republicans must be spending money like water (thanks to the Citizens United decision). I got a phone call last night from someone who claimed to be doing a “poll” but it transparently wasn’t a poll at all, it was a ridiculous stealth advertisement.

The guy asked a few neutralish questions at first, then asked if, if I were voting today, I would vote for the Democrat candidate for the US senate or the Republican candidate ditto. “You mean Democratic?” I said. He repeated the question. I repeated my question. “Ma’am, I have to read the question exactly as it is.” Right; well only Republicans use “Democrat” as an adjective that way, and they do it to annoy, so we knew where we were. I simply gave him the straight party answer to every question, snickering when they got really obvious (“Do you think Patty Murray is a pork barrel candidate etc etc etc”).

We finished a long batch of questions, and he took a deep breath and said “Now I will ask you some questions about – ” and I interrupted to say this is taking too long, I don’t have all night, how many more questions do you have? He said it depends on how you answer.

Oh does it! So if I don’t give the answer you want, you’ll keep badgering me with loaded questions until I do? So that’s your game – you obnoxious time-wasting dishonest bastards. “How many more questions?” I said coldly. He repeated his schtick. “But you can tell me how many questions there are,” I said. “No Ma’am I can’t,” he said, so I said in an elevated tone, “Well than I can hang up,” and did so.

What an irritating intrusive bullying lying way to carry on. It’s something called The Torrance Company that does the “polling”; they “can’t” say who is funding it. No, I bet they “can’t.”

La la la la la

Sep 2nd, 2010 1:20 pm | By

If you haven’t seen the merengue dog…well it’s a life-altering thing.

Don’t miss it.


Three cheers for “the geopolitical epicentre of the culture of death”

Sep 2nd, 2010 12:58 pm | By

Joan Smith is very happy to live in the “geopolitical epicentre of the culture of death” that is contemporary London. Of course she damn well is. She’s allowed to go out in public with without a chaperone there; she won’t be stoned to death there; she won’t be whipped for not wearing hijab there. She can ignore the pope there.

Frankly, I’m tired of hearing religious bigots running down this country….Britain is still one of the most civilised places in the world to live. It’s not Iran, where prisoners are subjected to rape and mock executions; it isn’t Saudi Arabia either…The Catholic Church has picked up this habit of dissing secular culture from hardline Muslims, who dislike pretty much the same things: gay relationships, equal rights for women and the freedom to mock religion.

All good things, you see. Hooray for London – except the reactionary Catholic and Islamist bits of it.

Pankaj Mishra

Sep 1st, 2010 11:33 am | By

Ugly stuff from Pankaj Mishra.

Bestselling authors like Ayaan Hirsi Ali may be the “new heroes”, as the writer Peter Beinart puts it, of the Republican party’s crusade against Muslims. But “professional” former Muslims have long provided respectable cover for the bigotry and, more often, plain ignorance of mainstream western commentators on Islam…Most of these ex-Muslim “dissidents” lucratively raging against Islam in the west wouldn’t be able to flourish without the imprimatur of influential institutions and individuals in the US and Europe.

Most of what “professional” ex-Muslim “dissidents” lucratively raging against Islam? It’s not lucrative for all ex-Muslim dissidents, after all – in fact it’s not lucrative for any of them except possibly Hirsi Ali, and she has heavy expenses because of the death threats. And for most of them it’s unpaid work, and thankless besides. Sara Mohammed doesn’t find it very “lucrative,” I can tell you. Few ex-Muslim dissidents find it all that lucrative to defend women’s rights and gay rights and human rights, and they find it not all that easy or popular, either, in a world where Pankaj Mishras are always ready to sneer and throw mud.

Certainly, the story of Hirsi Ali’s life attests powerfully to the degradations suffered by many women in patriarchal cultures. There is no question that she should feel free to say that Muslims are programmed to kill infidels and mutilate female bodies, however much these opinions may offend some people. There is little reason, however, for most of her opinions to claim serious intellectual attention.

Oh really? Why not? (Because they “offend some people,” of course. Stupid question.)

Yet the mildest criticism of Hirsi Ali’s naivety triggers a tsunami of vitriol from her army of prominent supporters. In recent months Clive James as well as Melanie Phillips have rebuked Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash for not joining the chorus of praise for Hirsi Ali, a defender of the western Enlightenment, and for being “soft” on apparently closeted jihadists like the Muslim academic Tariq Ramadan.

No. Not for not joining the chorus of praise for Hirsi Ali; not at all; for calling her “an Enlightenment fundamentalist” and other patronizing clueless nonsense.

Thus the writer Paul Berman, a self-described “laptop general” who first stalked Ramadan and hounded Buruma and Garton Ash in the New Republic – once the principal periodical of liberal America – and then expanded his 28,000-word indictment into a much-reviewed book…

And so on and so on, as if there were something deeply sinister about Paul Berman’s analysis – not “stalking” – of Ramadan, or as if it were obviously illiberal of the New Republic to publish it, or as if he had no business writing a book on the subject, or as if it should have gone unreviewed. It’s ugly, nasty, bullying, innuendo-laden stuff.

Free will

Aug 31st, 2010 4:35 pm | By

Jerry has a post on free will (the latest of a series) and it has set off an interesting discussion; see especially the comments by Tom Clark and Russell Blackford, and several by Eric MacDonald.

This subject doesn’t fret me the way it does some people, and I suspect that’s because I’m lazy about it. I’m lazy about a lot of things. It doesn’t fret me because I always end up thinking “but it feels as if I choose and in a way that feeling amounts to the same thing as really choosing.” That’s probably lazy because of the “in a way” or the “amounts to” or both. It’s woolly. And yet –

And yet if we all do live that way, feeling all the time as if we choose various things, then for the purposes of living that way, it does amount to the same thing. Or at least it seems to. It’s like the self, and other such illusions. We can agree that they’re illusions, and yet in everyday life, we go on living and thinking as if they’re not, and we can’t really do anything else.

It’s like vision, too – we don’t really see what we see; what we see is a confabulation – we fill in all kinds of missing bits with our brains to make a seamless whole that our eyes don’t in fact see. I’m aware of that, but I certainly can’t refrain from doing it.

It’s perhaps a little like reading novels or hearing stories, which rely on the convention that the narrator – whoever that is – knows what every character, or some characters, or one character is thinking. Some novelists point out or play with that convention in the novel, but lots don’t; the convention is just there, and we’re entirely accustomed to it so that it seems natural, but in fact it’s radically different from life, in which no one knows what anyone else is thinking.

The fact is human life is full of illusions of this kind; narrative combinations that knit things together that are actually fragmented and all over the place. Most of them are really difficult to set aside for more than a few minutes; some of them are impossible.

And yet…quite often I will suddenly notice how unconsciously I have just done something quite complicated, while thinking about something else, and then I will have a little jolt of awareness of the illusion of free will.

A Saturday afternoon

Aug 31st, 2010 4:30 pm | By
A Saturday afternoon

Ulrika (who did most of the steering me from place to place in Stockholm) told me on the Saturday that she had uploaded audio from the seminar to the Humanisterna site. I looked for it but couldn’t find it, possibly because it’s hiding behind some Swedish words.

But in looking for it I found something else, which is one of the pictures Ulrika took of me while we were walking to her mother’s apartment where the atheist gender group met. That stuff in the background? That’s Stockholm.

They look perplexed, or irritated

Aug 30th, 2010 6:06 pm | By

You know how pundits and armchair “theologians” like Karen Armstrong and Terry Eagleton like to pour scorn on the idea that anybody except dopy militant clueless atheists thinks God is an omnipotent supernatural being who answers prayers. Well Paul Cliteur points out in The Secular Outlook (p 176) that there is such a thing as the Apostle’s Creed, and also such a thing as the catechism. That’s an obvious enough point, but it’s fun to see people remind us of it, or to remind us of it oneself.

Cliteur goes on to quote Armstrong in The Case for God:

Surely everybody knows what God is: the Supreme Being, a divine Personality, who created the world and everything in it. They look perplexed if you point out that it is inaccurate to call God the Supreme Being because God is not a being at all…

He comments

Apparently Armstrong is opposed to clear definitions of the words she uses so profusely in her books. That results in a situation where “God,” “religion,” “Christianity,” and other key concepts are used interchangeably. This is done with an air of superiority and those who ask for more precision are censured as narrow-minded (if not “fundamentalist”) and asking for the impossible.

That made me laugh. He’s quite right – that “they look perplexed” is very much done with an air of superiority, as of an enlightened nuanced subtle theologian looking down on the poor bewildered literalists at her feet. But it’s Armstrong who is just bullshitting (in the technical sense) and her perplexed auditors who are at least reading the script as it was written.

What goes where

Aug 29th, 2010 6:05 pm | By

I had one long-standing mistake corrected on the trip to Stockholm. I had been thinking, ever since first hearing from Christer (in January I think), that Fri Tanke was a magazine as well as a publishing company, and that it had published that article by Julian saying “The New Atheist movement is destructive.” I was wrong. I found this out when we were all out for dinner in Östermalm and talking about the hostility to overt atheism, which they talked about before I did, much to my surprise – I thought Sweden would be better that way than the Anglophone countries, but it’s not. So we were talking about this so I said very cautiously, “…And yet you published that article…” and Christer looked blank and said no we didn’t. Eh?! I said golly, you would know of course, but I could have sworn…And then he realized what I was thinking of: there is a magazine called Fri Tanke, but it’s Norwegian, and it’s nothing to do with them.

Giant shifting of gears in head. They didn’t publish that article. Ah! That’s good…because I never liked it.

Amusingly, it took me until the next day to get it into my head that Swedish Fri Tanke doesn’t publish a magazine at all, though some of the people at Swedish Fri Tanke do publish a magazine for Humanisterna, called Sans. They interviewed me for it.

So. Got that? There’s a Norwegian magazine called Fri Tanke and a Swedish publisher called the same thing and a Swedish magazine – quite like the US Free Inquiry – called Sans. It’s good to get such things sorted out.

Lightning movie reviews

Aug 29th, 2010 5:40 pm | By

I saw a bunch of terrible movies, or bits of them, on this recent trip, what with two long flights and a few spare moments in a hotel room. I found it vaguely interesting how horrible they all were. I thought I’d say which ones they were and why I thought they were horrible in case anyone else has seen any of them too and thought so too, or thought the opposite.

The first one was on the Seattle to Amsterdam flight, and it’s the only one I saw the beginning and end of along with much in between. Spoiler alert – I’m going to say how it ends, so if you care, don’t keep reading – but you shouldn’t care. It was The Joneses. It was about four people who pretended to be a couple with teenage children in order to do lifestyle marketing – look at me, look at my stuff, don’t you wish you had my stuff. The premise was interesting for maybe about ten minutes, but then it just got stupider and stupider – Demi Moore saunters past a bunch of women out walking, so all of them rush off to buy the shoes she was wearing. Right. It ends with the two people playing the couple getting together, and that was supposed to be a happy ending – but what the hell was happy about it? She was a horrible person, and he was turned off by what they’d been doing, so why would it be nice for them to get together? It wouldn’t. It was idiotic.

There was that one with Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker – [looks it up] – Did You Hear About the Morgans? I’d seen the trailer on tv more times than I wanted to, and it looked stupid, but I thought for a few minutes before going to sleep it would be ok. It wasn’t. It was excruciating. Not merely boring, but actively repellent. Trying to be funny and failing, and SJP being just…the way she is. Nervy, bratty, demanding, shallow as a fingernail, stupid…a vision of the American Woman.

Then there was Julie and Julia. That’s another I’d seen the trailer for more times than wanted, and I was pretty sure I would hate the Julie parts, but I thought maybe Meryl Streep would make up for it a little. But no. Again, I found it simply excruciating – actively irritating and bad and unpleasant. Why? I don’t know…the horrible patronizing, I think; the relentless stupidification. I’m a woman, so this loathsome saccharine perky cutesy version of women just turns my stomach, and makes me feel like a being from another (and better) planet.

Those two were at the hotel, and I could just watch BBC news instead, so it didn’t matter, it was just a little bit interesting. Who makes these things? And why?

On the Amsterdam to Seattle flight I saw Date Night. That was the least terrible; it was endurable at times; but it was far from brilliant. There was also something unspeakable called Valentine’s Day – which was exactly what it sounds like, and unwatchable.

And speaking of badness, and so bad it’s good-ness, Jerry has introduced a marveling readership to the “pake” – which is a supermarket pie baked into a cake-mix cake then frosted with cream cheese icing. I can’t look at it without feeling faintly sick. I find it hilarious – far funnier than all those movies put together.

What elite credentials can do

Aug 29th, 2010 1:04 pm | By

I like to see professionals using their professonalism to be professional and serious and rule-following and everything.

“I can remember, 30 years ago, if a person wanted to learn about reincarnation, they would go into a bookstore and go into a very back corner, to a section called ‘Occult,’ ” said Janet Cunningham, president of the International Board for Regression Therapy, a professional standards group for past-life therapists and researchers.

See? Like that. It’s good that regression thereapists have an International Board which is a professional standards group so that they will do their regression therapy according to standards as opposed to just any old how. It makes me feel safe, and looked after, and protected, and reincarnated.

The popular purveyors of reincarnation belief these days are not monks or theologians, but therapists — intermediaries between science and religion who authenticate irrational belief.

Who…what? Authenticate irrational belief? What, because they belong to the International Board which is a professional standards group? That means they can just authenticate irrational belief and make it rational, just like that?

Perhaps what Lisa Miller means is that they give an appearance of authentication to irrational belief, which is doubtless true, which is the whole point of the professionalism and the International Board and the standards. But an appearance of authentication is really quite different from an authentication, in a way that matters. You don’t want a surgeon who appears to be authentic, you want a surgeon who is authentic. Granted irrational belief may be a little less likely to nick an important artery and not know how to fix it, but there are other ways to bleed to death.

Critics of hypnotic regression dismiss such visions as scientifically dubious. “The mind fills in the blanks, basically,” said Dr. Jim Tucker, a child psychiatrist at the University of Virginia who studies accounts of past lives…Nonetheless, Dr. Weiss’s elite credentials, and his initial skepticism, open the door to belief for people who might otherwise stay away.

Exactly. Just what I’m saying. He’s another John Mack.

Let them work it out for themselves

Aug 28th, 2010 1:50 pm | By

Here’s a bit of free advice: if you have any children in school, don’t send them to the one where Erfana Bora teaches.

I have taught secondary-level science to pupils in both state and faith schools. I am careful to teach my kids all the science they are required to know for their age group…

In my current teaching post at an Islamic faith school, pupils are concurrently taught in Islamic theology lessons that the universe and its contents originate from an omnipotent creator – and the mechanisms for this creative feat are described in some detail in the Qur’an…

Pupils with a faith background will learn the lesson content in a state school while holding their own viewpoints – and will then attempt to integrate two worldviews – inevitably reaching differing points of “belief equilibrium”, as it were. Pupils in faith schools do exactly the same.

All pupils will attempt to “integrate” what they have learned in science classes with the creation myths they have heard in school or church or mosque, inevitably doing it differently so that all pupils have some unknowable jumble of Stuff in their heads, thus demonstrating that Dawkins is quite wrong to think that “faith” does any harm to their cognitive faculties. And this arrangement is a good thing because

it is important that children are made aware of the limitations of scientific endeavour lest they be corralled into a realm wherein nothing is worth knowing unless it has been determined by empirical scientific discovery.

If they were encouraged towards that worldview alone, I believe they would be receiving an education devoid of further enrichment from a faith-based narrative…

As a teacher, I’d be doing my pupils a grave disservice if I insisted that the answers that science can give us should be the limit of our understanding of the world. Kids are bright and don’t need liberating from religion, especially if the alternative is limited to giving credence to atheistic secularism alone.

All kids “are bright” so it’s perfectly fine to teach them two incompatible sets of truth claims about the world and then leave them to figure out how to reconcile them. Let a thousand Venus flytraps bloom.

Hitchens and Manji

Aug 27th, 2010 12:57 pm | By

Hitchens explains what’s really worrying about Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf (it’s not the location of the planned Islamic cultural center):

For example, here is Rauf’s editorial on the upheaval that followed the brutal hijacking of the Iranian elections in 2009. Regarding President Obama, he advised that:

He should say his administration respects many of the guiding principles of the 1979 revolution—to establish a government that expresses the will of the people; a just government, based on the idea of Vilayet-i-faquih, that establishes the rule of law.

Roughly translated, Vilayet-i-faquih is the special term promulgated by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to describe the idea that all of Iranian society is under the permanent stewardship (sometimes rendered as guardianship) of the mullahs.

In other words, totalitarian theocracy. Imam Rauf was saying Obama should say his administration respects the guiding principle of totalitarian theocracy. No he shouldn’t. No, he really really should not say that, anywhere, ever.

Emboldened by the crass nature of the opposition to the center, its defenders have started to talk as if it represented no problem at all and as if the question were solely one of religious tolerance. It would be nice if this were true. But tolerance is one of the first and most awkward questions raised by any examination of Islamism. We are wrong to talk as if the only subject were that of terrorism. As Western Europe has already found to its cost, local Muslim leaders have a habit, once they feel strong enough, of making demands of the most intolerant kind. Sometimes it will be calls for censorship of anything “offensive” to Islam. Sometimes it will be demands for sexual segregation in schools and swimming pools. The script is becoming a very familiar one. And those who make such demands are of course usually quite careful to avoid any association with violence. They merely hint that, if their demands are not taken seriously, there just might be a teeny smidgeon of violence from some other unnamed quarter …

And no, this kind of thing is not part of the glorious patchwork of benign multiculturalism, it’s the entry point for communal theocracy.

Irshad Manji also has useful things to say.

 If Park51 gets built, thanks to its provocative location the nation will scrutinize what takes place inside. Americans have the opportunity right now to be clear about the civic values expected from any Islam practiced at the site.That means setting aside bombast and asking the imam questions born of the highest American ideals: individual dignity and pluralism of ideas.

• Will the swimming pool at Park51 be segregated between men and women at any time of the day or night?

• May women lead congregational prayers any day of the week?

Of course, people who make a fetish of “tolerance” without really thinking about what it should mean tend to think questions of that kind are none of their business. That’s why they need, as Manji points out, to think about all this, not just emote about it.

Our cherished um er ah

Aug 26th, 2010 1:29 pm | By

Russell makes a good point about Quinn O’Neill’s 3 quarks post:

He quotes O’Neill

Success will be most likely if atheists and religioius moderates unite for a common goal; not the eradication of religion, but a securely secular society that optimizes well-being and respects our most cherished freedoms. 

And notes

Yes, that’s what we should aim at – a secular, free society. I agree. But O’Neill doesn’t even understand what our cherished freedoms are. One of them is the freedom to criticise ideas that we disagree with, including religious ideas, and to criticise individuals and organisations that wield social power, including religious organisations and their leaders.

Indeed; well spotted. It’s quite funny when you notice it – sentimentalizing over our most cherished freedoms while betraying a remarkable cluelessness about exactly what they are. One of them really decidedly unambiguously is the freedom to say critical things about particular ideas and beliefs. If you’re going to cherish it, then cherish it.

The freeedom not to respect

Aug 25th, 2010 10:44 am | By

Quinn O’Neill, in her much-discussed piece on religion and reason and “tolerance” offers a familiar confusion:

Ensuring individuals’ freedom of religion is undoubtedly important in securing secularism.  As Michael Shermer eloquently put it: “As long as religion does not threaten science and freedom, we should be respectful and tolerant because our freedom to disbelieve is inextricably bound to the freedom of others to believe.”

Ensuring individuals’ freedom of religion is important for a lot of reasons, but ensuring individuals’ freedom of religion does not depend on being “respectful and tolerant” of the content of individuals’ beliefs. It does not, and it cannot, because that would in fact interfere with everyone else’s freedom of religion (which, of course, includes freedom of non-religion). That is a very coercive, illiberal line of thought that has been entrenching itself lately, and it must be resisted. You are free to believe what you like, and I am free to pour scorn on any belief, and vice versa. Freedom cannot require the automatic “respect” for beliefs of the rest of the world, because such a requirement would itself be insanely coercive. Demanding “respect” for any belief is itself thoroughly anti-freedom.

O’Neill continues with the confusion.

Personal and vitriolic attacks on religious individuals are also inconsistent with religious freedom.  If we value religious freedom, respect for people’s right to hold irrational beliefs is in order (so long as the beliefs don’t infringe on the rights of others). 

Personal attacks on any individuals, if they are literal attacks, are inconsistent with freedom in general and with the rule of law. But of course she’s probably not talking about physical attacks…she’s probably talking about verbal disagreement. Well, that is not inconsistent with religious freedom. Respect for people’s right to hold irrational beliefs is not the same thing as respect for the irrational beliefs themselves. O’Neill simply conflates the two, either sloppily or dishonestly; I don’t know which. The result, at any rate, is sheer bullshit. Yes, of course we have to respect everyone’s right to hold irrational beliefs, but no of course we do not have to respect the irrational beliefs themselves. There’s a difference, and the difference matters.