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Religious Intolerance

guest post by Brian Schmied

Nobody is quite as good at intolerance toward religions as other religions. It makes sense when you think about it. Secular people aren’t worried about becoming the collateral damage in a violent fit of divine jealousy, and they don’t worry about their children turning away from the light and burning in eternal hellfire.

Religions don’t like to mix, and they do a great job of worming their way into public policy to either violently suppress diversity or keep it out entirely. The obvious modern day examples are traditionally Muslim nations, which either punish formerly Islamic apostates with the death penalty, or do a terrible job of preventing vigilantes from carrying it out, depending on how progressive their legal system is.

It’s deeply unfair to limit this discussion to Islam, however. If you’re looking to be persecuted for your religious convictions, you don’t need to board an airplane. Radical and genocidal American strains of Christianity are surprisingly comparable.

Imagine you are a Muslim American officer attending a military school and ending up in this class. American military officers have been taught to believe that nuclear genocide of Muslims is not only an option, but necessary for American security. That is not an exaggeration.

The U.S military headquarters, the Pentagon, hosts a Christian Embassy, to better help America’s top military personnel defer their decisions to deeply unqualified, glorified shamans. Given such evidence, Mickey Weinstein’s assertion, “…that a Christian Taliban is running the military.” doesn’t seem so absurd anymore.

As much as these big religions hate each other, nothing gives them the heebie-jeebies quite so much as new religions. Small and strange religions evoke an interesting reaction among the adherents to culturally mainstream superstitions.

In our Christian society, it is very interesting how black and white some things are to the culture. To them, David Miscavige could just as easily be a Wiccan or a Satanist. It’s all boils down to the same Satan worship to them. Never mind that the official Church of Satan is atheistic and doesn’t believe in the existence of Satan, or a god, or any other supernatural things, and certainly doesn’t worship anything.

It’s a very strong Sith versus Jedi mentality that completely shuts down thought and examination. Earlier this year, conservative writer gave voice to the general bafflement among Christians. Raymond Ibrahim wondered aloud about the world’s complete lack of reaction to some anti-Christian mobs in Egypt, which he interprets as an official declaration of war by 1.4 billion Muslims against all of Christendom.

Never mind the 120,000 corpses in Iraq. Never mind that Afghani death tolls are not reported. Of course the U.S military, which has long struggled with the inordinate influence of fundamentalist Christians, couldn’t possibly be motivated to commit war crimes by Christian anti-Islamic sentiment.

On the one hand we have an angry religious mob attacking “non-believers” in their community, and on the other we have a global military network full of religious zealots with a budget nearly the size of Russia’s GDP conquering and occupying entire nations with blatantly made up excuses about WMD’s.

It’s hard to tell if the religious people are using the government to kill their enemies or if the politicians are wielding religion to motivate people to kill in their political interest.

 

Brian Schmied studied political science. He enjoys learning and writing about religions, politics, and the mayhem that ensues wherever they intersect.

General News

Young Skeptic Networks Hangout

The audio will also be available for download soon as a special edition of YAS podcast The Pseudoscientists.

Thanks to  Jack Scanlan and Belinda Nicholson, from The Young Australian Skeptics and Ellen Lundgren and Astrid Lydia Johannsen, from Skeptic Freethought.

Please let us know what you think, or ask questions we might answer another time!

Hopefully The Heresy Club can join us next time!

General News

Live Broadcast Starting Now!

YoungBloggerNetworks

Our International Student Network hangout is beginning shortly! Our live broadcast will begin here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9tM6AqVO_w

News

I love this city

Columbus, Ohio is not only home to the wonderful people who head the Secular Student Alliance, it’s also probably the most tolerant city in the Midwest when it comes to the LGBT population.

latenightsliceOf course, we have our share of not-so-tolerant individuals as well. A guy standing in line at Mikey’s Late Night Slice this past weekend didn’t take kindly to the sight of two men holding hands in line, and he decided it was his place to harass them whilst waiting for street pizza:

It was really cold so Ethan and I were holding hands and standing close together to keep warm, we were laughing and joking about all the fun we’d had that night, when all of the sudden the guy in front of us turns around and tells us to cut our “gay shit” out.

He might have got his way in another time or another place, but this sort of thing doesn’t fly here, particularly in the Short North.

I was a bit startled by his words but I didn’t expect what happened next. Almost every single person in that line made it known to him it was not OK for him to speak to us like that.

He wasn’t discouraged, and continued to rant about how disgusting it was for two men to hold hands in public.  This attracted the attention of the pizza truck’s proprietors:

The best part though was as he grew more irate and vocal the guys who work the truck stopped what they were doing and leaned towards the window and told him they would not serve him because he was spewing hate. They said they support everyone in our community and that he should get out of line because they would not be serving him.

I don’t doubt that this guy feels like he was being discriminated against for his beliefs, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing comments to that effect from the religious right (though I have resolved to stop reading the comments section on news articles). That’s bollocks. He was refused service for harassing other customers who were minding their own business. Any shopkeeper has the right to do what Late Night Slice did, and I applaud them for doing so.

General News

International Meeting of the Networks

YoungBloggerNetworks

Stephanie Zvan of Almost Diamonds at Freethought Blogs has caused an inadvertent hurricane with her recent post featuring student blog networks including your very own Skeptic Freethought, The Heresy Club based in the UK, and The Young Australian Skeptics. This got us talking on twitter (@SkepticThought, @HeresyClub, @youngausskeptic) and eventually to each other on facebook since I have previously been acquainted with Alex from HC and he introduced me to Jack of YAS.

This brings us to the main event, the perfect storm, if you will. This Sunday, 4pm EST we will be live streaming a broadcast on our YouTube Channel to chat on a myriad of topics regarding young skeptics today. The participants are below:

Sundas Hoorain and Alex Gabriel, from HC;
Jack Scanlan and Belinda Nicholson, from YAS, and
Ellen Lundgren and Astrid Lydia Johannsen, from SF.

The time and specific topics are yet to be announced, but be sure to tune in and see what young skeptics are concerned with today! I’m very excited to be a part of this, and I definitely hope this this will start a great relationship for future collaboration among our generation.

If you can’t make it, the audio will also go out as a special edition of YAS podcast The Pseudoscientists. The video and podcast will be linked as another announcement after the weekend.

UPDATE: The live broadcast is scheduled for Sunday 4pm EST. See you there!

Activism Current Events Link News

Tell Obama to Pressure Indonesia to free Alexander Aan!

If you are an atheist and have ever expressed your offensive views online, you would be a criminal in Indonesia.

Such is the case for Alexander Aan, an Indonesian atheist currently serving a 2 1/2 year prison sentence for posting blasphemous statements in an atheist group on Facebook.  He also has to pay a fine amounting to about $10,000 US, and has received numerous death threats from Islamic fundamentalists calling for his head on a platter.

This outrageous case has received a fair amount of attention within the atheist community, prompting a protest outside the Indonesian embassy by the Center for Inquiry earlier this month.

Not all of Aan’s supporters here in the US could make it to New York City for the protest, but now there’s something that all of us can do: sign this petition to the White House urging President Obama to take a stand for religious freedom and tell the Indonesian government to let Aan go.

Like all “We the People” petitions on the White House website, it needs 25,000 digital signatures in order to end up on the President’s desk.  Go sign it now!  Atheism should not be a crime anywhere.

Activism Current Events Ethics History News Religion

9/11 Changed the Face of Atheism

It has become almost cliché to say that the attacks on September 11, 2001 were the Pearl Harbor or Kennedy assassination of our generation.  Ten years later, nearly all of us remember what we were doing the moment we heard the news.  The day is seared into our collective memory not simply due to the emotional impact of the moment, but because of the startling realization that our lives would never again be the same.

The events of that day profoundly affected our way of life. Not just foreign policy or airline safety standards, but also our sense of security and our relationship to fellow human beings. For many people, it even changed their relationship with their god and religion.

The American Humanist Association’s most recent newsletter features one woman’s story of how 9/11 influenced her journey from Catholicism to Atheism. Diqui LaPenta, a biology professor in northern California, tells of losing her boyfriend, Rich Guadagno, on Flight 93, the flight that crashed in Stonycreek Township, Pennsylvania.

…My parents arrived two days later, having driven all the way from San Antonio, Texas, and we flew to New Jersey for a memorial service for Rich. Some very religious relatives planned to meet us in New Jersey. I asked my parents to ensure that those relatives refrain from religious platitudes. I didn’t want to hear that Rich was in a better place or with God or that it was all part of some plan that God had for us. From the moment I heard that Rich and thousands of others had been killed, I knew that the all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God of childhood stories absolutely could not exist. Rich was not in a better place. There was no place he would rather be than with his dog Raven, me, his family, and his friends. I would never see Rich again, as there is no afterlife. Pretending that I would see him again would make it impossible to heal.

Before 9/11, I’d never considered myself an atheist. After that day I was, and I let people know it. When asked what church I attend, I reply that I don’t. If prompted to explain why, I say that I’m an atheist. Some people say, “But you have to believe in something!” I do. I believe in the power of rational thought and critical thinking. I believe that we should live thoughtful, peaceful, moral lives because it’s the right thing to do and not because we’re afraid of punishment or hopeful for a reward beyond the grave. We have this one life, and we should make the best of it for the short time we are here.

Diqui isn’t the only one that felt compelled to be more forthright about her atheism after 9/11. As the CNN Belief Blog points out, the religious nature of the attacks provided the impetus for many atheists to come out of the closet and openly criticize previously unassailable religious beliefs.

Atheists were driven to become more vocal because of the 9/11 attacks and America’s reaction, says David Silverman, president of American Atheists. He says many atheists were disgusted when President George W. Bush and leaders in the religious right reacted to the attack by invoking “God is on our side” rhetoric while launching a “war on terror.”

They adopted one form of religious extremism while condemning another, he says.

“It really showed atheists why religion should not be in power. Religion is dangerous, even our own religion,” Silverman says.

Atheists are still the most disparaged group in America, but there’s less stigma attached to being one, he says.

“The more noise that we make, the easier it us to accept us,” Silverman says. “Most people know atheists now. They knew them before, but didn’t know they were atheists.”

In fact, atheists have gained so much public acceptance that David Silverman gave a public address this morning on the main steps of the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg, in an event hosted by the PA Nonbelievers.

While some atheists began speaking out, others began writing. As Newsweek reports, Sam Harris began writing his bestselling The End of Faith on September 12th, 2001 – directly in response to the attacks.  Harris’s recent blog post on the 10 year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks succinctly summarizes his perspective on the distance we have left to travel:

Ten years have now passed since many of us first felt the jolt of history—when the second plane crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. We knew from that moment that things can go terribly wrong in our world—not because life is unfair, or moral progress impossible, but because we have failed, generation after generation, to abolish the delusions of our ignorant ancestors. The worst of these ideas continue to thrive—and are still imparted, in their purest form, to children.

On the other hand, while some atheists began speaking out in public and openly critiquing religious ideas, others saw the attacks as a call for greater unity and love.  Chris Stedman, a Fellow for the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy, will be honoring those lost by spending today packaging 9,110 meals to be distributed to hungry children in Massachusetts.  As he stated recently in Washingtion Post’s On Faith:

9/11 will live on forever in our nation’s memory. We suffered an incomprehensible loss at the hands of extremists who believed that religious diversity must end in violence. But as people of diverse religious and secular identities, we can counter them with our unity. By building bridges of understanding, we can act on our shared values and learn-from and with one another-how to be our best selves.

No matter the reaction, the attacks on September 11th caused the public face of atheism to drastically change.  The 10 years since that day has seen many changes in way the world community approaches religion, but no one can say that religious beliefs are as protected from criticism as they were a decade ago.

Many non-believers have very strong opinions about the best way to prevent similar attacks in the future. Despite the ongoing debates, it seems clear to me that the courage to work with religious community groups in areas where our interests overlap, paired with the freedom to directly and openly criticize bad ideas wherever they occur in the public sphere, will be the tools that we must use to build a safer, healthier, and happier future.

News Opinion

The problem faced by Conspiracy Theory

As there are different types of philosophies so too are there different types of Conspiracy Theory. These range from simple one off events such as the assassination of JFK and 911 to historically entrenched conspiracy theories that encompass esoteric ideals with real world implications. The latter tend to be associated with secret societies or Meta intergalactic conspiracy theories involving alien control.

Today the biggest problem facing Conspiracies Theory is its lack of articulation and analysis of systematic processes. However, simply dismissing conspiracy theories as being illogical, wildly imaginative or staggeringly absurd will no longer work as an analytical benchmark. In terms of pure logic and reasoning some conspiracy theories are more plausible than others. For instance take the assassination of JFK. It is plausible that a network of men other than Lee Harvey Oswald had him assassinated. This is more plausible than the premise that the world’s political and financial systems were deigned to be as they are in order to serve the purpose of a smoke screen designed by a secret society in the ancient world that envisioned world domination – whatever that is.

Apart from the art of linguistics, Conspiracy Theory fails to address the phenomena it seeks to explicate in a concise or sophisticated manner. As a further hindrance to the cause, the semantics encompassing Conspiracy Theory have reached bursting point – a concept ablaze with theoretical amalgamation producing ideological saturation. As a consequence both the descriptive and conceptual terms of Conspiracy Theory have become meaningless. Take the conspiracy theory of JFK as a single point conspiracy. By this I mean a preplanned arrangement between two or more individuals at a single point in time. These individuals would have conspired collectively to corrupt the political process when disposing of Kennedy.

It is precisely here where the misdiagnosis of conspiracy theories emerge, they must therefore reframe their theoretical ideas of the process they seek to analyze. Single point conspiracy theories can be equally analyzed as single point corruption, both occurring at designated points in time within social, economic and political systems. Immediately this sense of analyses and the semantic use of single points of corruption bring credence to the attempted argument. Political Scientists and Sociologists study corruption, particularly at discrete points in time regarding illegal operations and processes in a system. However not too many study Conspiracy Theory as a serious framework for consideration or as a viable ontological alternative. Predominantly when studied in a serious format, it is the the work of psychologists attempting to discredit conspiracy theories by merely labeling them under the banner of erratic belief systems.

In order to provide analytical and insightful robustness to a theory, conspiracy theorists must first stipulate what phenomena they are trying to explain and what type of conspiracy they are advocating. If proponents of conspiracy theories want to build a persuasive argument they must first elucidate what they mean by a type of conspiracy in a particular context. To explain something like JFK they must illustrate how single point conspiracy theories are equivocal to single points of corruption – one off events in political systems and not the byproduct of an overarching conspiracy with a superior teleological goal enacted by the New World Order. This is because pre planned Meta conspiracy theories of secret world rule in which every observable phenomenon is linked to a larger Meta Conspiracy Theory is rendered inept by Social Chaos Theory because no room is allocated for randomness and error.

By positioning the argument in the Social Science domain of single point conspiracy or corruption lends itself to readily defensible claims. Systematic corruption and single point conspiracies are rife in the world and this is why rules and regulations are formulated to prevent the abuse of power. What cannot be logically argued is the convergence and transition from the micro to the macro that results in Meta Conspiracy Theory. For example that corruption in small parts of a social system is somehow related to a pre planned conspiracy on a larger scale such as the global financial crisis, 911 and the Iraq war. For this reason when seeking to explicate a corrupt occurrence; the conceptual and contextual use of Conspiracy and Conspiracy Theory is of the most importance when analyzing social and political phenomena.

__________

Tony Sobrado is a Social Scientist and Research Analyst based in London. He writes for www.atthegrapevine.com and is a member of Project Reason and JREF.  He is currently working on Who rules the world? An analysis of Conspiracy Theory which addresses the phenomena of Conspiracy Theory from the perspective of the social sciences. He holds a BSc in Political Science from The London School of Economics and a Masters degree in Social and Political Theory.

You can find him on twitter @TonySobrado.