Jan 172015
 

In the wake of the murders of the Charlie Hebdo journalists there is a continuation of the debate over free speech (and expression). Amongst those making a contribution are those who say things like “I believe in free speech, but …”.

As soon as someone sticks a “but” into a sentence like that, you begin to wonder if they are really in favour or not. Usually it turns out they are not.

And one of the points raised after the stereotypical “but” is the issue of offence. Which is a tricky area because who likes being offended? Or to be more precise, who likes their personal sacred cows to be offended? And perhaps that is the tipping point – if your intention is to offend someone or a group of people, perhaps you should re-consider.

But if you are intending to criticise someone’s beliefs – religious or otherwise – it is perfectly justifiable. And yes using humour to make fun of someone’s beliefs is just as much criticism as a long, tedious, and boring blog posting. Any offence caused is a byproduct of the criticism, so perhaps this blog posting should be “The right to criticise includes the right to offend.”.

And in most cases the criticism comes in response to offence caused – if you create a religion that requires human sacrifice, you can expect a Charlie Hebdo cartoon mocking your religion.

And all religions include ridiculous and offensive aspects. After all the depiction of a mythical sky-daddy and impugning the godless nature of the universe causes offence to atheists.

So if you want free expression like the cartoons of Charlie Hebdo banned because they are offensive, I’ll be asking for all those religious tomes like the bible and the koran to be banned because they are offensive – to me. Your rights as a believer in fairies, angels, and other imaginary and infectious friends do not trump my rights as an atheist. Just as my rights as a godless and amoral unbeliever do not trump your rights as a believer.

 

Jan 102015
 

(Stolen from a Facebook posting)

Sounds daft doesn’t it? Because the killers themselves would have claimed they were doing it for islam. And of course there are plenty of feeble-minded bigots who are now attacking muslims and islamic places of worship.

Now don’t get me wrong: I have no patience with organised religion and think anyone who believes in an imaginary infectious friend in the sky needs their head examining. But they have a right to believe anything they want.

They just don’t have the right to inflict it on the rest of us.

Within any community (religious or otherwise), there are two sorts of people, and yes I’m being overly simplistic here. There are the majority who go along with the community and obey the dictates if they are not too inconvenient. And there are the zealots who take it to the extremes. And amongst the zealots there is a deranged minority who want to inflict the standards of their community on everyone. Some of them use violence to do so.

Now there was some idiot on the news today who claimed that despite Charlie Hebdo publishing a cartoon insulting to christians, that it wasn’t christians shooting journalists. True enough, but it there are christians murdering abortion doctors and harassing those entering abortion clinics, so it is not as if there are no christian terrorists.

Now comes a bit of a leap of faith: These terrorists whatever their faith, have more in common with each other than their co-religionists. They all espouse an extreme form of their faith, are compelled to inflict it on everyone, and resort to violence to pursue their goals.

Their most significant attribute is terrorism and not their religion. Their crimes overwhelm their faith and make their religion irrelevant.

An alternative way of looking at it is a quantitative approach. There were 3 killers involved in the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket. The number of muslims in France is not known precisely, but a figure of about 3 million seems a reasonable approximation for this sort of calculation, which if you work it out makes the number of killers in this incident just 0.0001% of the muslim population of France.

So why were there only three killers? Because muslims as a whole are not terrorists.

Besides which, there is nothing we could do to annoy the killers more than to deny their islamic nature.

Jun 092014
 

The issue of certain faith-based schools is in the media today. Specifically whether certain schools in Birmingham were targeted for take-over by islamic extremists. Lots of allegations floating around with lots of denials.

Determining the truth of the matter is not likely to be easy – do I believe Tory ministers or religious nutters? By nature, I’m inclined to ignore both.

But there is a simple answer to this problem. Take any sort of faith out of all schools; schools are supposed to be about education and not about fairy stories. Any kind of faith activity should be classified as an extra-curricular activity that takes place outside school and has no interference with the normal school curriculum.

It is probable that most faith based schools are relatively harmless, although even the best will lead to a sense of exclusion for those in attendance whose faith does not match that of the school. And of course teenagers are probably the most likely group to change religion or reject religion altogether.

But whenever faith-based schools are permitted, there is always the chance that some form of extremism may creep into the curriculum. And that includes all religions – there are extremist christians who want to block the teaching of evolution as well as extremist muslims, hindus, etc.

Ban ’em all.

Mar 302013
 

In something I first heard about in the Daily Mail, so there was an instant credibility gap, it seems that Lord Carey has been blathering on about how Christians feel like a persecuted minority, and that the government is discriminating  against them.

Which is of course complete rancid rhino bile.

And any christian who feels persecuted against needs to take a good hard look at things.

According to the 2011 census, 59% of the UK population claimed to be christian. Given that 59% is more than 41%, I’d say that any christian who feels that they are a minority probably needs to take their socks off to count above 10. It is the rest of us – humanists, secularists, muslims, buddists, hindus, atheists, agnostics – who have the right to claim to be a minority. Given that 2001 (72% christian) was the first time the question was asked, it is hard to make historical observations regarding levels of christianity in the UK. Christians would of course say that we have been historically a christian society where everyone was a christian; others would say those who weren’t christian were under a great deal of pressure to pretend.

There are occasions when we get forced to sit through some sort of christian ceremony, although it was more common in the past than today. And it can be quite creepy listening to you guys speaking to your imaginary friend (or is it friends?).

Nothing to do with what goes on inside your churches of course, but christian ceremonies in public life can be excluding to those who are not christian. Take for example, the infamous council meetings where pre-meeting prayers are no longer permitted. Or rather praying out loud as part of the meeting is no longer permitted. If such prayers are part of a council meeting, they are effectively an unconscious expression of the kind of people who should take part in the meetings – that is practising christians. Or in other words, you are saying that the real minorities – atheists, muslims, etc. are not welcome.

Not that a period of silent contemplation at the start of a council meeting is a bad idea – indeed, it is probably a very good idea. And nobody is saying that you cannot talk with your imaginary friend(s) in the silence of your mind.

Carey specifically mentions the legalisation of gay marriage as one of the symptoms of “aggressive secularisation” within the government. Actually legalising gay marriage is simply doing the right thing; there is nothing in the legislation that forces anyone to get married to someone not of their choice! So it is merely allowing those who choose to, to get married to the person of their choice.

What christians who oppose gay marriage are complaining about, is that they are no longer allowed to impose their views of what marriage should be onto those who believe differently.

In other words christians are complaining about not being allowed to persecute others.

If christians still feel they are being persecuted in the UK, perhaps they should look at some of the real examples of christians being persecuted around the world (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persecution_of_Christians). Any kind of inspection of what happens around the world will make any decent person claiming that UK christians are being persecuted thoroughly ashamed. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the case (and frankly in the case of the BA employee, both sides could do with being told to just grow up), being unable to wear a cross in jewellery form at work hardly compares to being stoned to death.

Sep 082010
 

Will he; won’t he ? That dumb American pastor who has promised to burn the Koran. I’m guessing he probably will after all it’s not every day that a piece of white trash like Terry Jones attracts this much attention. He’s the pastor of a third-rate church with at most 50 in his congregation showing that he isn’t even a particularly good frothing extremist like others in the US. In other words, he needs the publicity to keep going – why else would he announce this foolish escapade this year and not in previous years after 2001?

Of course it is probably offensive to Muslims everywhere; hell it’s even offensive to me, and I don’t like any organised religion – to me this is the burning of one of the great works of literature. It is also offensive that a knuckle-dragging white trash pastor cannot distinguish between the overwhelming majority of peaceful Muslims and the fanatical fringe.  Perhaps he can’t count over 10 without taking his socks off – after all there are in excess of 1.7 billion Muslims in the world today and if they were all inclined to violence, we would have a lot more terrorist attacks than we do.

Perhaps people are fooled by the rhetoric; the wild protests and threats of violence that we sometimes see take place in the Islamic world. Well, there is a big difference between what you say you will do, and what you are actually prepared to carry out. Who hasn’t said “I’ll kill him” in a moment of stress and anger ? And yet the overwhelming majority of us will never conceive of actually carrying out a killing such as that – the outburst is a way of releasing stress. Perhaps not quite the same, but bear in mind that what we say is not the same as what we do.

According to this article on terrorist attacks in the US, no more than 6% of all terrorist incidents in the US since 1980. 6% ? Unbelievable isn’t it ? Well the figures came from a report by the FBI which is available here (although you will have to do your own number crunching). It seems that Jewish terrorists are (just) more likely to commit terrorist acts in the US as Islamic terrorists. To bring in another source, the Europol report on the terrorist situation in 2009 (published in 2010) shows that of 294 terrorist incidents (including foiled attacks), just 1 was committed by an Islamic terrorist – an even lower percentage of 0.3%

Strikes me that those 1.7 billion Muslims are either exceptionally lazy, or are just not that interested in being terrorists. Undoubtedly people will point to Israel, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan as examples of just how active Islamic terrorists can be – fair point, but in all cases those are exceptional circumstances. And besides the overwhelming majority of the victims are Muslims themselves – if anything one might say that the “Islamic” terrorists are actually enemies of Islam as they seem to prefer killing their co-religionists to non-Muslims.

Back to our white trash pastor. Despite showing every intention of burning the Koran, it would have been nice if the world could have ignored him – that is what he deserves. Perhaps understandably, the Islamic world doesn’t feel this way and is undoubtedly working up to widespread protests on September 11th, and undoubtedly the tiny minority of Muslims who are actually terrorists will be planning their own form of reaction against this.

It is worth pointing out (no matter how little good it will do) that the reaction to our white trash pastor is almost universally negative in the western world.

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