Thursday, February 12, 2015

No True Atheist

Yesteday Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha were murdered in Chapel Hill, North Carolina by one Craig Stephen Hicks, who later turned himself in.

Like me, Hicks is a vocal anti-religion atheist.  Unlike me, he murdered three people. Unlike me, the victims were good people. At least one worked for a charity dedicated to the dental care of people such care is not ordinarily available to.

So what are we to learn from this horror?

At least one Islamist group is saying the incident shows that terrorist attacks have nothing to do with religion, presumably even if the perps shout “Allahu Akbar” as they pull the trigger.  Several prominent atheists are saying that since (they say) it wasn’t Hicks’ atheism that led him to these murders, the fact that he’s atheist is irrelevant. 

I hope the first assertion doesn’t need debunking. It’s clear that one attack apparently not motivated by religion doesn’t absolve other attackers from religious intent. The second assertion seems equally wrong to me, but lots of people seem to disagree, so I’ll try to explain.

I’ll begin by saying that I don’t believe Hicks’ atheism was a motivation for his acts of murder.  That doesn’t make much sense.  He doesn’t seem to have murdered those people in the name of atheism nor to have used his atheism to justify his acts after the fact (as far as we know at this point).

But I can’t, in good conscience, distance myself from Hicks’ acts, as a fellow atheist. I can’t pretend that his atheism is not relevant to this discussion. Here’s why.

We atheists propose that you can be good without god.  We tend to say that religious dogma is neither necessary nor sufficient to provide a moral compass. We pride ourselves on fleeing or disregarding religious dogma and trusting our human values of what is right and wrong to guide us.  We all tend for the most part – naked and alone - to agree about the broad strokes of human values. Religion rather than atheism so often seems to go against those human values. 

I agree with all of this.

But I also disagree with Muslims who say that attacks obviously motivated by Islam are nothing to do with Islam.  I disagree with Christians who say that the murder of abortion providers has nothing to do with Christianity. The particular fallacy employed here is called “No True Scotsman”.  I don’t think Muslims can argue that those Islamists who do terrible things are not true Muslims. I don’t think that Christians can make the same excuse about their own. And I don’t think we atheists can do that either.

I think we have to admit that Movement Atheism has largely failed in how it has treated the story of these murders . We can’t dismiss Hicks as Not A True Atheist without negating our own criticisms of theological types in similar situations.  I think we have to admit that atheism fucking well should respond to the familiar ‘criticism’ of theists: 

From where, exactly, do we get our moral compass?

Because my moral compass is sure as absolute motherfucking shit nothing at all like Craig Stephen Hicks’.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Saudi historian says Western women drive because they don’t care if they’re raped

Sexual violence “is no big deal to them”, he says.

Saleh al-Saadoon claimed in a recent TV interview that women can be raped when a car breaks down, but unlike other countries, Saudi Arabia protects its women from that risk by not allowing them to drive in the first place, according to a translation posted online by the Middle East Media Research Institute.

An attitude that is not unrevealing.

"They don't care if they are raped on the roadside, but we do," al-Saadoon said on Saudi Rotana Khalijiyya TV.

So it’s men who get hurt when women are raped?  Sounds familiar.

“It’s no big deal for them beyond the damage to their morale,” al-Saadoon replied. “In our case, however, the problem is of a social and religious nature.”

“Morale” is a nasty, dismissive way of putting it, but then dismissal is what al-Saadoon is doing.  His social standing is more important than any mere pain, terror or social standing of his wife and daughters because – after all – they’re his property.  His daughter being raped would be like someone slashing his tyres.

al-Saadoon went on to call the show’s other guests, who appeared shocked, “out of touch”, sending the irony meter into orbit.

"They should listen to me and get used to what society thinks,”

Then he changed tack because this message didn’t seem to be going down very well.  Women in Saudi Arabia are treated like queens, he said, being driven around by male chauffeurs.  He was ask whether he was worried that the chauffeurs might rape their passengers.  His solution was to bring in foreign female chauffeurs.

I don’t think I have the strength to pull that one apart.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Kate Smurthwaite is good at upsetting fools, a great quality to have

Kate Smurthwaite is a brilliant stand-up comedian and advocate for feminism, secularism and all that is good.  I don’t agree with everything she says but I know why she’s saying it. I know where she’s coming from. I know that she has good reasons for saying what she says. Because she explains it in public at every opportunity and rightly so; Kate says things that need saying to people who ought to hear it. She’s clearly worked hard to become something of a go-to atheist on some UK goddy TV shows for which the normal criteria for entry are the mystifying authority of wearing a piece of white cardboard on your shirt or having an impressive beard or a magical hat.

I admire her a lot. Here are a couple of reasons why:

I don’t need to comment on those Internet-winning performances. There she is having fun upsetting people because they can’t defend their horrible views without anger, bluster or manufactured offense.

Kate recently planned a show at Goldsmiths College in London. It was cancelled at the last minute for reasons that aren’t clear but apparently relate in part to the suspicion that there’d be a picket line (what a quaint term, come to think of it) and the university couldn’t allow that on safety grounds.

What the whatnow? When I was a student, protests were practically compulsory. If they’ve somehow become dangerous now, that’s all the more reason to protest. Students should be protesting about the dangers of protests. They should be protesting that protests aren’t dangerous enough. They should be protesting about whatever the fuck they like. Or what they don’t like, it doesn’t matter, the protesting is the important bit. Universities shouldn’t be cancelling gigs because some people might not enjoy them. They should take care about what acts to book in the first place, but they probably shouldn’t cancel acts they’ve booked without a really, really good reason. We don’t need to mollycoddle students; they’re adults.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Sodomite semen coffee pastor says other crazy things

Last year, New York Pastor James Manning claimed that Starbucks flavour their coffee with ‘sodomite semen’.

Starbucks is a place where these types [‘sodomites’] frequent and a lot of body fluids are exchanged there. The thing that I was not aware of is that … what Starbucks was doing, is they were taking specimens of male semen, and they were putting it in the blends of their lattes.

It’s the absolute truth. They’re using male semen, and putting it into the blends of coffees that they sell. Semen flavours up the coffee, and makes you thinks you’re having a good time.

His source and the reason he knows with certainty that his claims are absolute truth is the one you’d expect. God told him.  Gay rights activists were on form, handing out free Starbucks coffee outside his church.  He didn’t like that.

It turns out that Manning was in prison in the 70s for – among other things – burglary, robbery, larceny and criminal possession of a weapon.  He says of that time:

I saw a lot of that activity [homosexual sex] going on in prison. It was par for the course. I was tempted, but I didn’t yield to temptation, by the way.

I’m not sure why he said this.  Perhaps it was to suggest homosexuals are degenerate for acting on their desires; that homosexual desires are evil things that should and can be fought.  Whatever, that doesn’t put him very far from much mainstream religion.  I’m more interested in other things he’s said.

For example, he still thinks Starbucks sells semen-flavoured coffee and he knows why:

A number of people think that semen tastes good. A number of people think that drinking semen is a good idea.

Starbucks has deduced, in an ingenious way, that since so many people like semen, while they’re drinking it from one another, why not put it in our coffees?

This doesn’t explain why Starbucks uses only the finest sodomite semen though.  And it doesn’t explain why they don’t put it on the menu.

But he hasn’t finished yet. He’s also decided that Justin Beiber is transgender:

These young girls, if we don’t stand, can be led to cut off their breasts once they get into puberty. They can be led to have operations like Justin Bieber. They can think the best choice in life is to cut off their breasts.

By the time they reach the age of 20 years old, they look and say “I wish I had never cut off my breasts, I wish I had never mutilated my flesh, I wish I had never cut off my penis, I wish I had never done that, I was just young”.

He makes it difficult for us to avoid applying armchair psychology, doesn’t he?

I will not as a pastor allow that to be said by any child that’s under my leadership.

He won’t let them say it (whatever he means by “it”). The choice of words seems telling.

I will chase every sodomite, I will chase every lesbo, I will chase every political leader with the power of God, with the chariots of fire, that these children be not misled by people in congregations and people in business or politics like Obama.

He doesn’t like Obama. He thinks Obama is gay and – for some reason – that Putin will out him.

They’re influencing these children to throw their lives away the way Justin Bieber threw his life away, and then 20 years old, can’t grow their breasts back. We need to wake the hell up.

Compassion just drips from every word, doesn’t it?  I’ll end with one more quote, which speaks very much for itself:

God Almighty has given me the revelation threof that soon, after the court announces that they are to be protected by the Constitution to be sodomites, they’re gonna also start cannibalism. Every sodomite, every lesbo, every homo, every fag, every transvestite, every LBGT person by the year 2016 will have participated in some sort of cannibalism because they are demon-possessed. And they will do it with a smile on their faces. In fact, they will be scourging through and rummaging through the hospital medical waste looking for human waste.

People still go to his church.

Circular reasoning is circular

It turns out that there’s such a thing as the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education.  Ed Pawson is the Chairman of that thing and according to The Freethinker he thinks that the government must take urgent action to address the shortage of RE teachers. 

Why?  Because without good RE teachers, there won’t be enough kids who go on to…..qualify as RE teachers.