Good Reason

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Category: Islam (page 2 of 3)

Monson fondly remembers 9/11

Religions are in the business of providing emotional comfort (among other things), and after 11/9/1, Americans’ sense of stability was rocked. I think this played out in a predictable way for Mormons.

I visited my US home ward in late 2001, and it was the strangest thing: I’d never heard so many references to Satan before. Naturally, when people feel like events are out of their hands (what’s known as an ‘external locus of control’), they develop superstitions, and here it was unseen malevolent agents. I saw something else on that visit that I’d never seen before: In Priesthood Meeting, they’d developed the habit of reciting their ‘group values’ in unison, chanting a sort of ‘we believe’ mantra. Even as a believer, it struck me that here was a group of people too frightened to think.

From a look at this WaPo column, Mormon president Thomas Monson sure misses that time.

There was, as many have noted, a remarkable surge of faith following the tragedy. People across the United States rediscovered the need for God and turned to Him for solace and understanding. Comfortable times were shattered. We felt the great unsteadiness of life and reached for the great steadiness of our Father in Heaven. And, as ever, we found it. Americans of all faiths came together in a remarkable way.

And the bottom line couldn’t have been better.

Side note: what’s with the capital H on ‘Him’? I haven’t seen that in Church publications since the 1920s.

Sadly, it seems that much of that renewal of faith has waned in the years that have followed. Healing has come with time, but so has indifference.

Isn’t it too bad that we don’t have more horrible tragedies to turn our hearts to god? Darned if Monson doesn’t feel some nostalgia for that time of national agony. What a ghoul.

Whether it is the best of times or the worst, He is with us. He has promised us that this will never change.

But we are less faithful than He is. By nature we are vain, frail, and foolish. We sometimes neglect God.

Then we’re even, because God was more than a little neglectful on that day. He failed to save the lives of 3,000 people, but left instead a steel cross. You know, just to let us know he’s there, thinking about us.

If you object to this, saying that ‘super-hero’ isn’t part of god’s job description, consider: What would you have done if you’d had the knowledge of what was about to happen that day, and the ability to do anything? Well, god had all that, and still failed to do what you — a normal human, with all your goods and bads — would have done. Why do people say that god is good?

Mormons talk interminably about what they call the ‘pride cycle’: People get prosperous and prideful, they forget god, then god (that sicko) burns them up in fires, buries their cities in earthquakes, or sinks them into the sea (and that was gentle Jesus, BTW). Then the people remember to grovel sufficiently before him, and he prospers them. Because it’s all about him.

One could rewrite the narrative thus: Tragedies happen, and the feeling of vulnerability drives people into authoritarian religions. But life goes on, and people stop feeling frightened, at which point they abandon superstition, becoming secular or at least joining liberal churches. Until the next tragedy. Rinse, repeat.

Small wonder, then, that Monson is banging the drum for a more godly society. The vacuum cleaner salesman wants everyone to buy vacuum cleaners, and the god salesman… you get the picture. It’s just business.

I didn’t draw Mohammed — this time.

May 20th was ‘Everybody Draw Mohammed Day’, part 2. It went nearly unnoticed, what with all the excitement over God’s latest mistake.

I didn’t draw Mohammed this year. For one thing, I did it last year, and I didn’t think I could improve on it. But the main reason is that the conditions are a little different this year.

I don’t have a problem with blasphemy, mockery, or confrontation. I think these tools can be valid and justifiable responses in cases where believers are making threats of violence or unreasonable demands for complicity or respect. But I do make decisions as to when I’m going to use such tools.

Last year, Muslims were making unreasonable demands that non-Muslims obey the rules of their religion, and some individuals were making specific threats of violence against Molly Norris (originator of ‘Everybody Draw Mohammed Day’) and against the creators of South Park. Under these circumstances, I decided that it was appropriate to join a concerted effort in direct confrontation to these demands.

This year, though, the issue hasn’t been on my radar. If there have been any credible threats made, I haven’t heard of them. Good. That’s how I like it.

Maybe not much has changed since last year. Many Muslims are still hypersensitive to criticism — witness their attempts to influence the UN to outlaw criticism of Islam — and this needs to be addressed until they learn that their religious views are no more entitled to respect than anyone else’s. However, I’m content to let the cartoon issue rest until such time as believers — Muslim or otherwise — try to use coercion or threats to curtail freedom of expression. When they do, it will once again be time to protest with pen or keyboard.

Burqa ban

I’ve been ignoring the European burqa ban. It’s fraught. Nonetheless, the issue marches on. Recent attention has focused on France.

French burka ban: police arrest two veiled women

French police arrested two veiled women this morning just hours after the country’s new ban on wearing the burka in public came into force.

The women were arrested along with several other people protesting in front of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris against the new law.

Jourrnalists at the scene said the arrests came after police moved in to break up the protest which had not been authorised.

On Saturday police arrested 59 people, including 19 veiled women, who turned up for a banned protest in Paris against the draconian new law, the first of its kind to be enforced in Europe.

Earlier, French police said they will be enforcing the country’s new burka ban “extremely cautiously” because of fears of provoking violence.

To start off, I think the covering is a repressive religious tactic to keep women under wraps and under control.

On the other hand, if I wanted to flaunt my stuff rocking a burqa (or anything else that covers my bits), why should the government stop me? Good on those protesters for their civil disobedience. (Something one hasn’t always seen from certain quarters.) We don’t want the law to be just another form of coercion, unless some better good is served, like the liberation of women from religious tyranny.

Which brings up a point: Burqa bans do not automatically lead to female emancipation. When the Shah of Iran banned it (I am told), many women were accustomed to it, and would never have appeared outside without it. So they just didn’t go outside. But that just shows that religious tyranny, when entrenched, creates unfortunate situations of moral conflict for believers.

If there is a principle behind the burqa ban, it could be worded like this: People should be allowed to wear what they want, free of coercion. Unfortunately, it’s not simple to tell what someone ‘wants’, or when someone is being coerced. People can report that they want things that they have been coerced into wanting. The fact that the burqa is associated with religion tells me that, ipso facto, there’s some coercion going on. I have no doubt that women who wear burqas will tell you they ‘want’ to wear it, just as Mormon women will happily tell you they don’t ‘want’ the priesthood.

So, let’s give both sides their due. I think forced burqa wearing is coercive, and I’ll even allow that government prohibition of the burqa is also coercive. Which leaves Muslim women caught in the unenviable middle.

(Notice that I’m not touching the ‘security risk’ side of the argument. I think it’s bullshit, like all security theatre.)

But even though I can’t stand ostentatiously religious and/or oppressive clothing, I’m reluctantly coming down against the burqa ban. Two things are pushing me. One: Legislating against the rights of minorities is a Very Bad Thing, and I can only think of a few things that would justify it. Harming bystanders or children would be two. These women are adults. Maybe they are in a coercive environment. Yes, that is messed up. I wish it weren’t so. But we can fight this in better ways than controlling how people dress. If they can be told what not to wear, I can be told what not to wear. Will I be told not to wear my patently offensive ‘Gay Jesus’ t-shirt? Come on.

Two: The law also gives right-wing jerks the ability to push minorities around. Forget that.

What do you think? I’m still convincible.

UPDATE: A good bit, this.

One of these things

The Ottawa Citizen asks some religious folk: What should we tell our children about people who don’t believe in God?

Most of the responses are okay.

A Rabbi:

They can, and should be strong in their faith, strong in welcoming diverse faith affirmations, and welcoming to all people. That is a great message to tell.

Much the same from a Catholic priest:

Of course, tolerance, respectful investigation and openness to dialogue applies to peoples of all faiths and those who have no faith. True toleration means holding our own beliefs with conviction while acknowledging different beliefs with respect.

What is it that’s bugging me about the word ‘tolerance’ here? Wait, it’s a Buddhist to explain:

We should here contrast an appreciation of diversity and mere tolerance. Tolerance is usually a bland and biased acknowledgment extended from a presumed position of superiority and truth.


Hinduism: What’s the problem?

Hinduism has never been uncomfortable with atheism and one may be a declared atheist, like the late prime minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, and yet remain Hindu.

There’s even a humanist:

Despite the differences of what we think is above and beyond, the human web is sewn with the same thread — the needs of love, compassion, security and respect. Regardless of what some people are told to believe, atheists are an important part of this social fabric. We challenge others, and ourselves, to look outside the box. We empower people to self-reason, making choices based on their own path of truth and understanding.

Very nice. Wait, he’s still going.

As darkness casts its shadow across our life journey, we remain connected — trapped within the human condition, embracing what we love and have loved, appreciating with some regrets our life well lived, alone with our fears of the eternal abyss, facing them with the finite knowledge we possess.

Geez, that was kind of bleak. Couldn’t you have been a bit more upbeat? Or get an editor?

But at least it was better than the Muslim response, which I found extremely odd:

The best way to talk to our children on this subject is not just by words but, more important, through our own behaviour. I would rather talk “about God” and His benevolence and His many gifts rather than about people who do not believe in Him.

In other words, we affirm our own belief in God through positive activity. This would obviate the need to talk in negative terms “about people who don’t believe God.”

In other words, don’t talk about atheists at all. Just talk more about Allah so the atheism doesn’t distract them.

Warring religious tribes

I’ve always been fascinated by the story of Hypatia of Alexandria, the ancient Greek mathematician. So I finally got a chance to see the film ‘Agora‘, which treats her life, her death at the hands of a Christian mob, and the destruction of the library of Alexandria (again, at the hands of a Christian mob) — one of the great crimes against humanity, but considered by Christians to be a victory over paganism.

A theme in the film is the continual warring of religious tribes — what Richard Jeni described as “killing each other to see who’s got the better imaginary friend”. Back and forth it goes, as pagans attack Christans attack Jews attack Christians attack pagans… on and on, in return for perceived insults against their gods. (The gods seem less inclined to deal with such slights directly.)

And I thought: Religion hasn’t changed. Some religions which are considered nice and moderate now had murderous beginnings, and could easily return. The Taliban of today partakes in the same spirit as the Christians of Hypatia’s time. Christian pastors in Africa are calling for the execution of gay people. Meanwhile, Pakistan is considering getting rid of the death penalty for blasphemy, and it’s driving Muslims to violence.

Violence flared Friday as police and protesters clashed during a mass protest strike that closed businesses across Pakistan over a bid to end the death penalty for blasphemy.

Police said protesters near the home of unpopular President Asif Ali Zardari in the financial hub of Karachi pelted stones as they shouted slogans including “We’ll sacrifice our lives — we’ll save the sanctity of the Prophet”.

Teargas shells were fired to disperse them, while normally busy town centres turned quiet across the Muslim country, AFP reporters said, following a move to amend a law which permits death sentences for those found to have blasphemed.

Religion isn’t just believing what you believe and leaving it there. It’s this kind of thing that turns me from ordinary non-believer to raging anti-theist.

I could have said ‘Human nature hasn’t changed’, and that would be true, too. But without religion, what would we fight over instead? Resources like food, water, and oil? We fight about that now. No change there. Sports teams? Well, regionalistic fervour is a worry. But these incidents are a direct result of pious people taking on the presumed injured feelings of their deity, and their willingness to kill in order to silence others. As it was in the beginning.

UPDATE: I’ve just remembered this recent story about the bombing of a Christian church — in Alexandria, of all places.

Egyptian investigators say they may have uncovered a number of people with possible links to Saturday’s church bombing in Alexandria. Meanwhile, Egyptian religious leaders are working to maintain a precarious calm between Christians and Muslims after several days of angry demonstrations.

Eyewitnesses say a fragile calm prevails after overnight clashes between Coptic Christians and police in front of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo, which is the headquarters of Coptic Pope Shenouda III. Dozens of police and protesters were reportedly wounded in the clashes.

Pope Shenouda is urging the government to take steps to prevent further violence.

He says everyone should reflect on what to do now in order to come to terms and prevent such events from repeating themselves. He stresses that such violence is new to Egypt.

In the light of history, this claim is cruelly and ironically absurd.

The Grand Mufti of Egypt speaks out.

There is no religion worthy of the name that does not regard as one of its highest values the sanctity of human life. Islam is no exception to this rule. Indeed, God has made this unequivocal in the Quran by emphasizing the gravity of the universal prohibition against murder, saying of the one who takes even one life that “it is as if he has killed all mankind.” Islam views murder as both a crime punishable by law in this world and as major sin punishable in the Afterlife as well. Prophet Mohammad said, “The first cases to be decided among the people on the Day of Judgment will be those of blood-shed”

Terrorism, therefore, cannot be the outcome of any proper understanding of religion. It is rather a manifestation of the immorality of people with cruel hearts, arrogant souls, and warped logic.

While it’s encouraging that he’s condemning violence, he’s picking an orchard-worth of cherries here. The verses he’s picked out about murder contradict others in the Koran that command the killing of unbelievers. On what basis does he think his peaceful interpretation of his religion is more correct than an equally scriptural violent interpretation?

If terrorism were really incompatible with ‘proper’ religious understanding, then we should expect such incidents to be fairly rare. Unfortunately, they’re not. Such acts form a part of religious understanding for a good many people.

And atheists blaspheme everyone, no touchbacks.

From the news:

Christian woman sentenced to death in Pakistan ‘for blasphemy’

A Christian woman has been sentenced to hang in Pakistan after being convicted of defaming the Prophet Mohammed.

Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old mother-of-five, denies blasphemy and told investigators that she was being persecuted for her faith in a country where Christians face routine harassment and discrimination.

Christian groups and human rights campaigners condemned the verdict and called for the blasphemy laws to be repealed.

I don’t know if this is for real or not (it’s the Telegraph, after all), but it makes no sense. Of course Christians blaspheme against Muslims. And Muslims against Christians. And everybody against everybody.

Every religion that makes exclusivist claims automatically and constantly blasphemes every other religion, by implying that those other religions are untrue.

I just hope it doesn’t get this person killed. Just another reason why blasphemy laws have no place in a world where ideas can be exchanged freely and openly.

How to draw Mohammed — and why

UPDATE: More on Mohammed.

Here’s the pictorial Mohammed archive: Mohammed as depicted by Muslims

And an interesting article by Marlon Mohammed: Why I Will Draw Mohammed.

In the UK, each capitulation has been followed by another demand for yet another capitulation. By giving in to Muslim “sensitivity” demands, even at the expense of their own ancient culture, the Brits (and the other European nations) have only encouraged more demands.

At fault here is not Islamic extremism per se. It’s human nature. It is a basic element of our species to take when we see the opportunity to take, to demand more if we think we can get more. As children, we learn to test our parents and relatives. “Who lets me have the most cake? Daddy or mommy? Grandma or grandpa? Who will give in if I ask for one more piece?”

That’s why all good parents know the value of saying “no.”

Today I said “no”.

They can’t kill us all!

You know I’m all over this, and I can’t even draw.

After Comedy Central cut a portion of a South Park episode following a death threat from a radical Muslim group, Seattle cartoonist Molly Norris wanted to counter the fear. She has declared May 20th “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.”

I’m sure my portrait of Mohammed will be… just like the flat drawings of me in my cartoons, but with a turban. I think the turban will take the most work.

But wait — shouldn’t we refrain from drawing Mohammed, since Muslims don’t like it? Sure, we have the right to draw what we wish, but wouldn’t it be better to exercise restraint? To have some respect for other people’s traditions, even the ones we don’t agree with?

Well, that might be true, if this issue were about respect. This isn’t about respect.

Here’s the question: Do members of a religion get to force non-members to obey the rules of that religion? Under threat of violence? Because that is exactly what is happening here. Some Muslims are trying to set the terms of what non-Muslims are allowed to say, write, or draw, and they’re backing it up with threats of violence and death. This is not the social contract I signed up for.

I think drawing is a simple way to counter this trend. So I’m getting my mouse ready. Someone else will have to care for the tender feelings of the believers.

UPDATE: Inevitable Facebook group.

Sex causes earthquakes

As humans, we naturally want to find the reasons for things. It’s what makes us such inquisitive critters, and it’s done us a lot of good so far.

Except that it also makes us superstitious. Why aren’t the rains coming? We should do something, but what? Pray to a god and starve ourselves? Believe in Allah? How about getting our daughters to plow fields naked? And so on.

If superstition is a normal human tendency, it’s one that can be overcome with a bit of practice. On the other hand, some people like to wallow in it.

Extramarital sex ’causes more earthquakes’, Iranian cleric claims

Attractive women who snub traditional Islamic clothing to instead wear fashionable clothes and apply heavy make-up, caused youths in the country to “go astray” and have affairs, Ayatollah Kazem Sedighi said.

The hard-line cleric said as a result the country, bounded by several fault lines, experienced more “calamities” such as earthquakes, the reformist Aftab-e Yazd newspaper reported him saying.

Iran is prone to frequent quakes, many of which have been devastating for the country.

Many women who dress inappropriately … cause youths to go astray, taint their chastity and incite extramarital sex in society, which increases earthquakes,” he told worshippers at a Tehran prayer service late last week.

Heh. He said ‘taint’.

“Calamities are the result of people’s deeds.

“We have no way but conform to Islam to ward off dangers.

Except perhaps to find out what really causes earthquakes, and how to make buildings that don’t fall down. You know, all that sciency stuff.

No word yet if the Iranian government is planning on putting more funding into morality-based tectonics. Perhaps they could also throw a little money toward political volcano research.

Things that make atheists go ‘hmm’.

Two recent stories.

An alleged Muslim tries to kill a Danish cartoonist for depicting Mohammed.

The Irish government enacts a blasphemy law. Why? Because religious beliefs need protection.

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