My Favourite Graph

2018-11-15

Why were there so many miracles in the distant past (but few in the modern era, except very recently)? This graph explains.
Sommaire en français Pourquoi y a-t-il eu tant de miracles dans le passé lointain (mais peu à l’époque moderne, sauf très récemment)? Voici une explication graphique.
A little humour today. I love graphs. Here is my favourite:

Frequency of Miracles over Time
Frequency of Miracles over Time
Source: Imgur


Next blog: Canada’s Anti-Blasphemy Law Repealed, But M-103 Remains

Rules for a Discussion about Religion

2017-03-12

In this blog I present four simple guidelines (but which may not be simple to follow) which, in my opinion, must be respected if a discussion on a religious topic is to be productive.

Sommaire en français Je présente quatre préceptes simples (mais dont la mise en application n’est pas nécessairement simple) qui, à mon avis, doivent être respectés pour qu’une discussion sur un sujet religieux puisse être fructueuse. Ces règles sont :

  • La critique des idéologies, y compris des religions, est nécessaire.
  • Il faut distinguer les croyances des croyants.
  • Il faut distinguer la religion de la race.
  • L’extrémisme religieux est une réalité.

In order to have a productive discussion or debate on a subject concerning religion, the following guidelines must necessarily be respected by all parties to the discussion:

  1. Criticism of ideologies, including religions, is not only legitimate but imperatively necessary. Many religious beliefs and practices are incompatible with principles of human rights as set out in various charters and declarations. For example, the so-called “sacred” scriptures of Judaism, Christianity and Islam all contain misogynistic elements. All three religions have homophobic elements which deny rights—and sometimes even life—to some sexual minorities. In particular, mainstream Islam considers apostasy, i.e. leaving Islam, to be a crime for which the punishment may even be death, and many Muslim-majority countries apply this rule in their legislation. Thus, if one cares about human rights, then criticism of these aspects of religion is imperative.
  2. It is critically important that a distinction be drawn between beliefs and believers. To criticize the beliefs of a particular religion is not an attack on all believers associated with that religion. There are many variants of all major religions. Two different Christians may hold completely different views concerning, say, sexuality, or reproductive rights, or other issues of religious doctrine. Often we cannot know what a person’s motivation or thoughts are. For example, a niqab-wearing woman may be obligated by family or community to wear that flag of radical Islam; on the other hand, she may choose to wear it of her own free will; or the reality may be a combination of the two. To criticize the niqab does not imply that we are criticizing all women—or even most—who wear it, because the majority are forced to do so. (However, in some special cases, we do know; for example Zunera Ishaq is clearly an agent of radical Islam considering her extensive legal action to win the “right” to wear the niqab practically anywhere.) This distinction between beliefs and believers is especially important in the case of Islam, because of the ban on apostasy in Islam. It is very important to be prudent when using the label “Muslim” as there may be many ex-Muslims who continue to pretend to be believers because of fear of reprisals. Our respect for the right of apostasy—which is an essential part of freedom of conscience—requires that the label “Muslim” be used with caution.
  3. Religion has nothing to do with race and it is unacceptable to confuse the two. To confuse religion and race is a deliberate strategy of some radical religionists, because they use this confusion to make false accusations of racism against their critics, in an effort to silence them. We must not fall into their trap. For example, in the case of Jews and Judaism, the target of any criticism must be clear: i.e. is the criticism directed at the religion Judaism, or at the Jewish people? The former is not racist, but the latter may very well be racist. This is a major example of why rule (2) is so important.
  4. Extremism in the name of religion is a reality. There exist, within many religions, currents of practice or belief which are fundamentalist, sometimes radical, often highly politicized and even extremist. These currents are the most dangerous and deserve particular attention as targets of criticism. This is particularly true for Islam currently: radical, extremist, political Islam does exist and must be dealt with. It is particularly important to distinguish between believers who subscribe to these radical currents as opposed to those who do not.

If the parties to a debate or discussion do not recognize and agree to the above four principles, then there is little hope of a useful conversation. Furthermore, in my opinion, anyone who does not accept these principles must be considered incompetent in religious matters.


Next blog: “Islamophobia”: a weapon against reforming Islam

Charles Taylor est-il compromis avec le Prix Templeton ?

2017-02-15

Étant donné la sortie très médiatisée de Charles Taylor tout récemment—pour répudier une des recommandations-clé de la Commission Bouchard-Taylor (interdiction des signes religieux pour les fonctionnaires en position d’autorité)—, je republie ici un vieux texte de 2007 qui nous en apprend des choses sur ce soi-disant philosophe.

Ce texte est aussi disponible sur mon site Vivre sans religion. Je ne l’ai pas mis à jour à part le format et la suppression de deux liens périmés.

Summary in English

Charles Taylor recently made a big splash in the Quebec media by renouncing, very publicly, one of the key recommendations of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission (ban on religious symbols for public servants in positions of authority). For that reason, I am republishing here an old article from 2007 in which I reveal some very disturbing details about this so-called philosopher.

The English version of this blog is still available on my site Living Without Religion.

Les médias ont salué l’obtention du prix Templeton par le philosophe Charles Taylor. Mais qui est derrière ce prix ? Que signifie-t-il et pourquoi a-t-il été décerné à Charles Taylor? Voici les réponses troublantes que j’ai trouvées.

Qui est Charles Taylor ?

Charles Taylor, philosophe canadien à la Northwestern University en Illinois, USA, et anciennement à l’Université McGill à Montréal, est récipiendaire du Prix Templeton 2007. Il est le premier canadien à recevoir ce très généreux prix, dont la valeur monétaire cette année s’élève à 800 000 livres sterling (presque 1 900 000 $ canadiens). Le Prix est accordé annuellement à un individu ayant contribué au « progrès de la recherche et de la découverte dans le domaine des réalités spirituelles. »

Les médias québécois et canadiens ont très chaleureusement accueilli cette nouvelle, donnant l’impression que ce Prix Templeton serait un prix d’excellence académique, comme le Prix Nobel, avec l’ajout d’une dimension « spirituelle ». Dans Le Devoir du 15 mars 2007, Guy Laforest écrit: « La nouvelle nous arrive comme ce soleil du printemps qui réchauffe nos coeurs: le philosophe Charles Taylor vient de recevoir le prix Templeton pour les hautes qualités morales et spirituelles de l’ensemble de son oeuvre. » Selon l’animateur de radio Michael Enright (The Sunday Edition, CBC, 8 avril 2007), Taylor a gagné le « gros lot académique ».

Charles Taylor, Prix Templeton 2007Cliquer pour agrandir Charles Taylor, Prix Templeton 2007

Cet événement fut d’autant plus remarquable qu’il est survenu quelques semaines seulement après la nomination du même Charles Taylor à la coprésidence d’une commission parlementaire québécoise – la Commission de consultation sur les pratiques d’accommodements reliées aux différences culturelles — ayant le mandat d’étudier le dossier des accommodements dits « raisonnables » (religieux pour la plupart) et de faire des recommendations. La Commission devra rendre son rapport en 2008.

Que vaut un prix? On ne parle pas ici de sa valeur monétaire, mais plutôt de sa valeur « morale », pour ainsi dire, un indicateur du mérite de l’individu qui le reçoit. Une façon de mesurer cette valeur serait de considérer le but déclaré du prix, la nature de l’instance qui l’octroie, et l’ensemble des individus qui se sont vus octroyer le prix dans le passé, et pourquoi ils ont été choisis.

Le but du Prix Templeton

Selon son site web, le Prix Templeton favorise le progrès en matière de religion. Tout comme, dans les derniers siècles, des progrès majeurs ont été réalisés en production alimentaire, dans les transports, en médecine, en électronique et en cosmologie, Templeton préconise la recherche et le progrès en « réalités spirituelles » et en « information spirituelle ».

L’objectif serait d’accroître la « perception humaine de la divinité », d’accélérer la « créativité divine » et d’utiliser divers moyens, en particulier la recherche scientifique, afin d’aider les gens à voir « l’infinité de l’Esprit Universel qui crée toujours et actuellement les galaxies et tout être vivant » et à voir « les diverses façons dont le Créateur se révèle ». Le Prix serait accordé sans distinction de race, de croyance, de sexe ou de situation géographique.

La Fondation John Templeton

Cette fondation a été établie en 1987 par John Templeton, homme d’affaires et citoyen britannique d’origine américaine, né en 1912, qui s’est enrichi grâce à la gestion de fonds mutuels internationaux. La Fondation attribue de nombreux prix et bourses – surtout pour des projets qui brouillent la ligne entre science et religion –, dont le Prix Templeton n’est que le plus important. Quelques exemples, pigés dans les thèmes principaux de la Fondation, sont signalés dans l’appendice I.

À la question « La Fondation est-elle un organisme religieux? », la FAQ du site web répond ainsi: « Non, nous ne faisons pas la promotion de la religion. Nous appuyons la recherche scientifique… » La Fondation se défend d’avoir des liens étroits avec le mouvement « intelligent design » (ID), qu’elle considère un mouvement politique, tandis que la Fondation est une « entité apolitique. » Mais l’attitude de la Fondation à l’égard de cette pseudoscience demeure ambigüe. Bien que rejetant toute hypothèse qui nierait des faits solidement établis par la science, comme l’évolution des espèces, la Fondation favorise le débat autour de l’ID, prône avec enthousiasme le rapprochement entre science et religion, et suggère que l’étude de l’histoire de la vie sur terre pourrait révéler une finalité et un dessein cosmiques, voire divins. Selon la Fondation, la science soutenant l’ID n’est pas solide (« sound »), tandis que le consensus scientifique est que l’ID n’a même pas le mérite d’être faux, car il n’est pas une hypothèse scientifique mais plutôt une assertion religieuse déguisée en science.

Cette ambivalence ressemble beaucoup à la position pseudo-évolutionniste du Vatican, qui, d’un côté, reconnaît la validité de l’évolution des espèces, solidement appuyée par la science, mais qui maintient tout de même qu’un créateur aurait mis en branle et guidé ce processus. C’est ce qu’on appelle le « créationnisme évolutionniste ».

La Fondation est actuellement gérée par le fils John M. Templeton, chrétien évangélique et chef de Let Freedom Ring, un organisme de la droite américaine.

Les anciens récipiendaires

La première récipiendaire du Prix Templeton, en 1973, fut la très controversée Mère Teresa, véritable icône de la charité chrétienne. Selon certains, y compris le pape Jean-Paul II qui l’a béatifiée en 2003, elle mériterait la qualification de sainte. Selon le journaliste Christopher Hitchens, auteur du Mythe de Mère Teresa, elle était une intégriste catholique dont la plus haute priorité était la propagation de sa foi et de son image, et qui, en les propageant, faisait plus de mal que de bien. La lecture de la liste des autres récipiendaires du Prix Templeton est aussi révélatrice (voir l’appendice II). La plupart de ces récipiendaires sont soit des scientifiques prônant un rapprochement entre science et religion, soit des prédicateurs, chrétiens surtout.

Charles Taylor, récipiendaire 2007

Charles Taylor est philosophe catholique renommé, né à Montréal en 1931, auteur de plusieurs ouvrages dont Hegel, Sources of the Self et Varieties of Religion Today: William James Revisited. Il est récipiendaire de plusieurs distinctions dont la célèbre bourse Rhodes de l’Université Oxford (1952), conférencier marianiste (1997) à l’University of Dayton, une des plus importantes universités catholiques américaines, et le titre de Grand Officier de l’Ordre national du Québec (2000). Il a été quatre fois candidat néo-démocrate (sans gagner) aux élections fédérales dans les années 1960. Il a aussi conseillé le pape Jean-Paul II au sein du Club de Castel Gandolfo, là où le pape a sa résidence d’été.

Taylor compte utiliser l’argent du Prix dans la poursuite de ses études du rapport entre le langage et le sens linguistique d’un côté, et l’art et la théologie de l’autre, et dans le développement de liens entre sciences humaines et biologiques.

En tant que chrétien modéré, Taylor désapprouve bien sûr les intégrismes religieux. Mais il critique encore davantage le sécularisme qui exclurait la religion de la sphère publique, et la spiritualité de la science. Pour lui, la modernité doit englober la « dimension spirituelle » et le fait d’ignorer cette dimension serait dommageable pour la société. Selon Taylor, le rationalisme des Lumières voulait évacuer la morale et la spiritualité comme vétustes et anachroniques. On lui reconnaît donc ce préjugé classique du croyant incapable de concevoir la moralité sans croyance surnaturelle.

Dans une entrevue accordée en novembre 2006 au quotidien italien La Repubblica, Taylor explique comment il est possible, selon lui, de transcender les conflits tribaux: « c’est une vision religieuse, […] parce que nous sommes tous des enfants de Dieu, et […] il y a cette vision universaliste qui a, en l’occurrence, des bases profondément chrétiennes ». Voilà une interprétation bien curieuse de l’histoire. Le christianisme, comme les autres religions, n’a-t-il pas été bien davantage cause de conflits que solution? La recherche de valeurs universelles – de droits humains, d’égalité, de libertés –, ne s’est-elle pas faite à chaque époque contre la résistance assidue des autorités religieuses? Si chaque humain était, selon Taylor, un « enfant de Dieu », que dirait-il des incroyants qui ne reconnaissent pas l’existence de son dieu hypothétique? Sont-il exclus de cette belle famille?

Dans des entrevues récentes, Taylor est particulièrement contrarié par les propos de Richard Dawkins, auteur de The God Delusion. Dawkins constate que la religiosité des croyants modérés sert à légitimer la foi des intégristes, étant donné qu’ils partagent la même idéologie théiste, même si les deux camps ne l’interprètent pas nécessairement de la même manière. Dans une entrevue transcrite sur le site de la Fondation, pour contrer cette observation fort raisonnable, Taylor sort le vieux canard associant l’athéisme avec le totalitarisme communiste, comme si les totalitaires et Dawkins s’inspiraient d’une idéologie commune.

Le bilan

Le thème prédominant que l’on constate dans l’ensemble de ces considérations est la pseudoscience théologique bien plus que la science. La fondation Templeton se réclame d’être apolitique et de ne pas faire de prosélitisme religieux. Pourtant, il est évident que cette Fondation promeut la théologie, et ce, en particulier chez les scientifiques.

Dans le discours de la Fondation et du Prix, il y a de multiples références à des qualités morales comme l’amour et le pardon et aussi de nombreuses mentions de la divinité, de la création, de « l’Esprit Universel » et ainsi de suite, qui seraient apparemment derrière ces qualités morales. On reconnaît ici — tout comme chez Taylor — ce qu’on peut appeler le créationnisme déiste ou créationnisme de la morale, le principe anti-scientifique au coeur du théisme et du déisme, selon lequel la morale serait d’origine divine, c’est-à-dire que c’est le « Créateur » qui aurait créé les principes moraux. L’approche scientifique serait de chercher les origines de la morale humaine là où elle se manifeste, chez l’humain, dans l’évolution de ses comportements et de ses sociétés. Mais la Fondation ne s’y intéresse apparemment pas.

Pour résumer, on peut dire que la Fondation Templeton finance la recherche orientée par la propagande religieuse. Dans les activités financées par la Fondation, on constate de nombreux exemples d’embrouillement de la démarcation entre science et théologie. On voit mal comment un individu comme Mère Teresa, qui expliquait la douleur du cancer en phase terminale par des baisers de Jésus, ou Charles W. Colson et les autres prédicateurs récipiendaires du Prix, auraient pu contribuer à la science que le Prix Templeton prétend promouvoir. De toute évidence, l’excellence académique n’est pas sa première préoccupation.

Dans la mesure où le Prix peut être assimilé à un prix académique, le philosophe Charles Taylor est mieux qualifié que bon nombre des anciens récipiendaires. Mais chez Taylor aussi, l’aspect théologique est très fort, et même rehaussé d’une athéophobie marquée. C’est un ami des religions, mais pas un ami de la laïcité.

La prétention d’attribuer le Prix Templeton sans distinction de croyance paraît incompatible avec son but déclaré, cette déclaration étant fortement imbue de théisme, ou du moins de déisme. La Fondation pourrait facilement faire un pas important vers la résolution de cette contradiction en suivant le très pertinent conseil de Harold Kroto, lauréat Nobel en chimie en 1996, que le prochain Prix soit accordé à Richard Dawkins.

Implications pour la laïcité

Ces deux événements presque simultanés – la nomination de Charles Taylor à la commission parlementaire chargée d’étudier les accommodements religieux, et l’octroi du Prix Templeton au même individu – ne peuvent qu’être inquiétants pour ceux et celles qui reconnaissent l’importance de la laïcité.

En effet, cette commission aura le mandat de bien définir la question des accommodements religieux, sonder les opinions de la population québécoise, et finalement de formuler « des recommandations au gouvernement afin que les pratiques d’accommodements soient respectueuses des valeurs communes des Québécois ». Cette commission dira donc au gouvernement si les accommodements religieux sont recevables ou non, et dans quelle mesure. Les enjeux sont majeurs.

Dans le décret de création de la commission, on lit au tout début qu’une des valeurs fondamentales de la société québécoise est « la séparation de l’Église et de l’État ». La laïcité est donc parmi les plus hautes priorités du mandat de cette commission. Taylor a une vision plutôt multiculturaliste, ce qui laisse présager une approche plus communautariste que laïque. Bien plus qu’un simple croyant, il a acquis, de par ses travaux et activités, le statut de porte-parole catholique. Ses opinions concernant la place de la religion dans la société moderne implique une position antilaïque. Et il vient de recevoir une immense bourse d’une Fondation notoire pour sa promotion de la théologie en milieu scientifique. Les implications pour la laïcité au Québec ne sont pas reluisantes.

Conclusion

Où est le problème? diront certains. Il ne s’agit pas de fonds publics. Que John Templeton donne son argent à qui il veut! Mais lorsque la somme est considérable, que le bénéficiaire de cette somme joue un rôle important d’intérêt public et influent au niveau des lois et de la laïcité, et, qu’en plus, le donateur et le bénéficiaire sont reconnus pour leurs orientations proreligieuses et implicitement antilaïques, il y a effectivement lieu de s’inquiéter.

Il y a lieu aussi de demander si Taylor n’est pas dans une position de conflit d’intérêts. À mon avis, Charles Taylor a le devoir éthique de démissionner de la Commission de consultation sur les pratiques d’accommodements reliées aux différences culturelles, et le premier ministre Jean Charest a le devoir de lui demander cette démission.

Appendice I : Quelques bourses et prix offerts par la Fondation John Templeton

  • Sous le thème Evolution, une bourse de US $ 2 millions pour étudier « l’évolution et la théologie de la coopération » dans le but de transcender « la disjonction entre darwinisme séculier et le fondamentalisme religieux ».
  • Sous le thème Forgiveness, US $ 4.5 millions pour « la recherche sur la nature et l’efficacité du pardon ».
  • Sous le thème Freedom & Free Will, une bourse de 10 000 US $ accordée à une école de théologie pour « miner le réductionnisme neurobiologique » dans la science du cerveau et l’étude du libre arbitre.
  • Sous le thème Humility, une bourse de 126 000 $US, accordé à un collège baptiste, pour l’étude de la psychologie de l’humilité.
  • Sous le thème New Concepts of God, 5.8 M $US pour une programme sur l’impact de la religion et la spiritualité sur les sciences.
  • Sous le thème Prayer & Meditation, plusieurs bourses, totalisant quelques millions de $US, pour des travaux sur l’efficacité de la prière.
  • Sous le thème Science and Religion, un programme de 7,2 M $US pour l’institut Metanexus; une bourse de US $ 5 millions pour étudier le cheminement spirituel de scientifiques; une bourse de 2 M $US pour la science et le christianisme orthodoxe en Roumanie; un programme de 4 M $US pour les « perspectives globales en sciences et spiritualité »; ainsi que plusieurs autres bourses de valeur importante.
  • Sous le thème Self-Control, des bourses totalisant 2,2 M $US pour étudier l’efficacité de la modification de comportement dans la prévention du sida en Ouganda.
  • Sous le thème Spirituality and Health, des bourses totalisant 5,8 M $US pour étudier la guérison par la spiritualité et sujets connexes.
  • Sous le thème Ultimate Reality, des bourses totalisant 8,8 M $US pour étudier les fondements de la physique et de la cosmologie, y compris les implications philosophiques et théologiques.

Appendice II : Quelques anciens récipiendaires du Prix Templeton

  • Mère Teresa (1973).
  • Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1975), philosophe et ancien président de l’Inde.
  • Billy Graham (1982), prédicateur évangélique américain.
  • Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1983), auteur russe qui préconise la thèse que l’athéisme mène nécessairement à la dégénérescence morale.
  • Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker (1989), Paul Davies (1995), Ian Graeme Barbour (1999), John C. Polkinghorne (2002) et George F. R. Ellis (2004) pour leurs oeuvres mariant physique et théologie.
  • Charles Birch (1990), généticien australien qui voit dans la biologie le dessein de Dieu.
  • Kyung-Chik Han (1992), prédicateur évangélique presbytérien coréen.
  • Charles W. Colson (1993), ancien conseiller auprès du président américain Richard Nixon, incarcéré pour son rôle dans l’affaire Watergate et fondateur de Prison Fellowship, un mouvement évangélique oeuvrant en milieu carcéral.
  • Michael Novak (1994), « pionnier dans le domaine de la theologie économique ».
  • William R. Bright (1996), fondateur de Campus Crusade for Christ, un mouvement évangélique oeuvrant en milieu académique.
  • Sigmund Sternberg (1998), facilitateur de rapprochement entre le Vatican et l’état d’Israël.
  • Holmes Rolston III (2003), écologiste et prédicateur presbytérien.
  • Charles H. Townes (2005), lauréat Nobel en physique (1964) qui prône le rapprochement entre science et religion.
  • John D. Barrow (2006), astrophysicien et coauteur (avec Frank J. Tipler) de The Anthropic Cosmological Principle. Le principe anthropique se rapproche des thèses téléologiques comme l’ID.

Références

  1. John Templeton Foundation
  2. The Templeton Prize
  3. Let Freedom Ring
  4. Christopher Hitchens, Le Mythe de Mère Teresa, version française de The Missionary Position, Verso, 1997
  5. La modestie de provincialiser l’Europe, entrevue avec Charles Taylor dans le quotidien italien La Repubblica

Prochain blogue : Exploiting Mass Murder for Political Gain

The Acquired-Innate Spectrum

Religious and political affiliations are acquired attributes while sexual orientation and “race” are more innate.

2016-07-23

A tabular presentation of various personal attributes, distinguishing the more acquired characteristics from those which are more innate.

Sommaire en français Une présentation, sous form de grille, de différents attributs d’une personne, dans le but de distinguer les caractéristiques acquises (comme l’appartenance religieuse ou politique) de celles qui sont plutôt innées (comme l’orientation sexuelle ou la « race »).

Position on Spectrum Characteristics
Totally Acquired
  • Opinions about religion (atheism, agnosticism, monotheism, polytheism, animism, various metabeliefs, etc.)
  • Specific religious beliefs if any (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, etc.)
  • Political orientations (libertarianism, capitalism, socialism, marxism, anarchism, etc.)
Mainly Acquired
from a very young age
  • Maternal language
  • Ethnicity
Mainly Innate
  • Sexual Orientation
Totally Innate
  • Genetic inheritance
  • “Race”

See also:


Next blog: Challenges for Canadian Secularists

The Extended Weinberg Principle

2016-05-31

Otherwise intelligent people sometimes say the most absurd things once their thinking is infected with religious belief or meta-belief. In this blog I present and analyze several antisecular assertions (some made by so-called secularists) which are outrageously irrational. These declarations are representative of the antisecular socio-political climate which currently reigns in Canada.

Sommaire en français Des personnes normalement intelligentes sont capables de faire des déclarations d’une absurdité alarmante, une fois leur pensée infectée par des croyances ou des méta-croyances religieuses. Dans ce blogue je présente et analyse plusieurs assertions anti-laïques (faites parfois par des individus se disant « secularist ») qui sont hautement irrationnelles. Ces quatre assertions sont:

  1. Fournir un uniforme adapté spécifiquement aux agents de la GRC de religion sikhe ne constitue pas du favoritisme.
  2. Le port du niqab lors des cérémonies de citoyenneté est un « droit ».
  3. S’opposer au port du niqab lors des cérémonies de citoyenneté est raciste.
  4. Les partisans de la Charte de la laïcité du gouvernement PQ pratiquaient une politique de la haine tout comme Donald Trump aujourd’hui.

Ces déclarations témoignent du climat socio-politique antilaïque qui sévit actuellement au Canada.

There is a famous quotation, popular among atheists, from the American physicist Steven Weinberg:

With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil—that takes religion.

I call this the Weinberg Principle. In a 2015 AFT Blog (Turban: The Real Issue Remains Unresolved) I defined what I call the Extended Weinberg Principle as follows:

With or without religion, intelligent people will say and do intelligent things and stupid people will say and do stupid things; but for intelligent people to say or do stupid things—that takes religion.

I also call this phenomenon “voluntary selective stupidity” in which otherwise intelligent people choose to be foolish about a particular subject, usually religion. Indeed, there is nothing like religion to turn intelligent people into fools. This applies even to non-believers, who—although they may reject all religious beliefs—may nevertheless persist in holding and transmitting religious metabeliefs, i.e beliefs about belief. In this blog I give several examples.

Assertion #1

Firstly, consider the following statement:

Allowing RCMP officers to wear the Sikh turban while on duty does not constitute favouritism.

This assertion was made by a self-proclaimed secularist, who was clearly adept at the Orwellian language “Newspeak.” Recall that George Orwell, in his celebrated novel 1984, introduced Newspeak, a language so dishonest that it regularly asserted the exact opposite of a simple truth, oxymorons such as “Black is white” or “War is peace.” Indeed, allowing Sikh Mounties to wear the turban of their religion is precisely and obviously an example of favouritism towards a particular religion, i.e. religious privilege. The only way that it could not be a privilege would be if special uniforms were also made available for every other possible religion and indeed for every possible ideology: special dress for Christians, Pastafarians, Muslims, atheists, Marxists, anarcho-syndicalists, Friedmanite capitalists, etc. The list is endless. Such a chaotic collection of ununiform uniforms would be unmanageable. Fortunately the RCMP does not do this. But it continues to offer this one privilege to Sikh men.

Assertion #2

Secondly, let us consider another example of Orwellian contradiction, this time on the subject of face-coverings:

Wearing the niqab during citizenship ceremonies is a “right.”

Face-coverings are a serious impediment to communication and security and thus may legitmately be forbidden in many situations for reasons having nothing to do with either religion or secularism. But then along comes an adept of a particular religion who declares that she is “obligated” by her beliefs to wear a face-covering, called the niqab, at all times, even during a brief citizenship ceremony. The secular response would be, “The ban applies to everyone equally. No exceptions for religious reasons.”

But the current Canadian government of Justin Trudeau does precisely the opposite: it not only allows this religious accommodation, it says that it is the believer’s “right” which must be guaranteed! To make matters worse, the religion favoured here happens to be a particularly malignant, fundamentalist and extremist version of monotheism. By allowing it this privilege, the government is objectively enabling an extreme right-wing ideology.

Assertion #3

Thirdly, it gets worse. In a Feb. 16, 2016 article in the Globe & Mail, Gerald Caplan declared that:

To oppose wearing the niqab during citizenship ceremonies is racist.

To be accurate, Caplan applied the word racist to describe “the demagogic racist campaign against the niqab by Mr. Harper and associates” but I suspect that the word “associates” means he is extending the accusation to all who favoured a ban on the niqab in that context. For one thing, the niqab is an emblem of an extreme variant of the religion Islam and has nothing to do with race. Islam is not a race. Islamism is not a race. Religion is not race. Criticizing a religion is not racist. The accusation is nonsense.

[…] some so-called secularists were so carried away by their hatred of Harper that they approved the niqab, apparently out of spite! This is like opposing the breathing of oxygen because Harper breathes oxygen.

We can probably assume that attempts by Harper and his Conservative gorvernment to ban the niqab at citizenship ceremonies were partially motivated by religious bigotry (i.e. Christians expressing anti-Muslim sentiment). Yet even by this worst possible interpretation, those attempts were objectively MORE secular than the shamefully antisecular position adopted by both the Liberals and the NDP—and by Caplan. In Canada outside Quebec, some so-called secularists were so carried away by their hatred of Harper that they approved the niqab, apparently out of spite! This is like opposing the breathing of oxygen because Harper breathes oxygen. Fortunately this did not occur in Quebec, where secularists resolutely and simultaneously opposed both Harper and the niqab.

The unscrupulous broadcasting of gratuitous accusations of racism, intolerance, xenophobia or “Islamophobia” is the hallmark of the regressive left (or centre). Caplan has chosen his camp. Not only is Caplan’s assertion irrational and unacceptable, if he were to direct such an accusation against an individual it would arguably be illegal because it could constitute personal libel, in which case I would suggest suing Mr. Caplan before the courts.

Assertion #4

Finally, two months after his election, our new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a statement in which he opined that:

The Quebec Charter of Secularism (proposed by the previous Quebec government) was comparable to Donald Trump in promoting “the politics of division, the politics of fear, the politics of intolerance or hateful rhetoric.”

While Caplan slandered supporters of a niqab ban in citizenship ceremonies, Trudeau here manages to slander the majority of Quebeckers who supported the Charter of Secularism. (Remember, the PQ government was defeated mainly because of its sovereignist program, not its Charter.) Working towards a secular state in which the public service is free of religious advertising is not “hateful.” Rather it is a plan for progress and freedom. Of course we have heard such nonsense before from many Charter opponents, but that does not make Trudeau’s statement any less unacceptable or any less defamatory. What is new is his addition of even further insult by comparing Charter supporters to that bigoted reality-TV clown Trump. It is Trudeau who is indulging in hateful rhetoric—against secularists.

Confusion and Intimidation

In describing the above examples of voluntary selective stupidity, I wish to emphasize that I am not labelling anyone as lacking intelligence. The accusation I am making is far more serious than that. I am saying that otherwise intelligent people are deliberately choosing to adopt a very unintelligent and dangerous position with respect to a religious issue. This is inexcusable. If they did lack intelligence, that would at least constitute some excuse.

I have listed the above examples in order of increasing seriousness, ranking Caplan’s and Trudeau’s slanderous accusations as worse than the unreasonable religious accommodations in assertions 1 and 2. However, in the final analysis, they are simply two sides of the same coin. I have heard many people make statements equivalent or similar to the first two assertions, but I have never heard any of them denounce—or even distance themselves from—the defamatory rhetoric of the last two assertions. While the first two lead to confusion about secularism, assertions 3 and 4 accuse those of us who remain committed secularists of all sorts of horrible sins (racism, xenophobia, intolerance, etc.), thus intimidating the confused so much that they are afraid to even consider what we have to say.

I recently saw a particularly onerous example of this on Facebook: a person claiming to be a secularist declared, “I am not a dress code bigot.” As if it were possible to have a secular state with NO dress codes at all! We can debate whether secular dress codes should apply to all public servants on duty, or only to certain categories, but it is inevitable that such codes must apply at least to state agents with coercive authority—or do you want your police and judges to wear collanders, g-strings, hijabs and large crucifixes while on duty? Even without secularism, implicit and explicit dress codes are ubiquitous, including many workplaces and professions. Clearly this person has been bullied into submission by the incessant and virulent antisecular propaganda which has inundated the media in the last few years and poisoned the debate.

a climate of antisecular intimidation, where multiculturalist ideologues echo the discourse of Islamists, throwing around outrageous insults whose purpose is to silence anyone who dares to question the dominant ideology of religious privilege […]

If the four assertions listed above are not explained by a lack of intelligence, then what on earth could have motivated anyone to say such inanities? We do not need to know each individual’s personal reasons. It is enough to understand the socio-political climate which facilitates and encourages the expression of such nonsense: a climate of antisecular intimidation, where multiculturalist ideologues echo the discourse of Islamists, throwing around outrageous insults whose purpose is to silence anyone who dares to question the dominant ideology of religious privilege, i.e. the meta-belief that religion must have priority over other considerations, the meta-belief that religious beliefs are so overwhelmingly essential to personal identity that their blatant expression must never be curtailed— not even among public servants on the job, nor even for the few minutes duration of an official ceremony.

Where are the Secularist Voices?

Unfortunately the assertions stated above may be representative of majority opinion among so-called secularists in Canada. If so, then we have a serious problem. Even if this is not the case, we still have a serious problem, because of the near-total silence. Why have we not heard dozens, or hundreds, or thousands of pro-secular voices raised in protest against the misrepresentation of secularism and the denigration of secularists?

Clearly, if Canadian pseudo-secularists aspire to become secularists, they must abandon their political and intellectual cowardice as well as their reactionary attachment to ethno-religious determinism, which they sugar-coat with the label “multiculturalism.” They must stop worshipping at the altar of Saint Justin. In particular, they must stop opposing pro-secular measures simply because the government proposing such measures may happen to be unpopular.


Next blog: Of Pigs and Prayer

Freedom of Religion is Not Fundamental

Rather, it is freedom of conscience which is a fundamental freedom.

2016-04-05

The repeated use of the term “freedom of religion”—while omitting “freedom from religion”—is an expression of, and indeed a cause of, religious privilege and discrimination against atheists and other non-believers.

Sommaire en français L’usage fréquent et répété du terme « liberté de religion » — sans l’inclusion de la « liberté de s’affranchir de la religion » — est une manifestation, et au fond une cause, du privilège religieux et de la discrimination contre les athées et les autres incroyants.

Freedom of religion—the freedom to believe in and practise the religion of one’s choice—is incomplete, even meaningless, unless it is accompanied by freedom FROM religion—the freedom to disbelief, to have no religious belief or practise at all, to be atheist. These two freedoms complete each other and both are subsumed by freedom of conscience (or of thought). Thus, it is freedom of conscience which is fundamental, whereas the others are consequences of it.

And yet, despite this obvious symmetry, freedom of religion is explicitly declared far more often than freedom FROM religion. This situation must change, and it is up to us atheists to initiate this change, and to insist that others follow our lead. In an era when it has become common practise to write “he/she” or “she/he” instead of simply “he”—when failing to include females in a conversation about human beings is considered discriminatory—it is unacceptable that “freedom of religion” be repeatedly mentioned without simultaneously including “freedom from religion” in the discussion. And if brevity is required, a simple mention of “freedom of conscience” suffices to imply both.

A June 2015 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada (Mouvement laïque québécois v. Saguenay (City) ) points out, in paragaph [70], that:

[…] freedom of religion includes the freedom to have no religious beliefs whatsoever. For the purposes of the protections afforded by the charters, the concepts of “belief” and “religion” encompass non-belief, atheism and agnosticism.

This is indeed good news as far as it goes, because it indicates that the Court interprets freedom of religion to include freedom from religion as well, and we can expect that future decisions from the Court will, in all likelihood, tend to respect that inclusion. However, it is not enough. In order to assure adequate legal protection for non-belief and for atheists, freedom FROM religion must be explicitly mentioned, not merely implicitly understood, wherever necessary.

Indeed, the same Supreme Court decision also stipulated in paragraph [149] that the infamous reference to “the supremacy of God” in the preamble to the Canadian Constitution

does not limit the scope of freedom of conscience and religion and does not have the effect of granting a privileged status to theistic religious practices.

This completely undercuts the argument used by religious apologists that the reference justifies religious privileges such as prayers at municipal council meetings, rendering the mention of “the supremacy of God” practically null and void. However, I do not think that any secularist would be satisfied with leaving that reference where it is, no matter how weak it has become. There is always the danger that a future interpretation will give some renewed weight to the religious argument; basing a constitution on the unknowable dictates of a hypothetical (i.e. fictional) entity is a recipe for irrationality and arbitrary injustice. Getting rid of it is now perhaps less urgent, but no less essential.

The frequent use of the unbalanced and unaccompanied expression “freedom of religion” in many contexts and over many years has had and continues to have the psychological effect of habituating us to religious privileges as normal and inevitable. We need to unlearn this very bad habit.

Similarly, we cannot rely on future judges continuing to interpret “freedom of religion” to include “freedom from religion.” To consolidate this gain, we need to make the latter freedom explicit.

We must therefore be suspicious of every declaration—especially if it occurs in legislation—of “freedom of religion” alone. Either it needs to be completed by explicitly adding “freedom from religion” or, in some cases, it should simply be eliminated. One example of the latter case is line 17.1.b of the Citizenship Regulations which stipulates that the citizenship judge shall allow:

the greatest possible freedom in the religious solemnization or the solemn affirmation thereof;

I fail to see why religion or freedom of religion should even be mentioned in this context. It is completely inappropriate. This provision should be repealed.

Another example of the unbalanced approach, where religion is promoted to the detriment of the freedom to be a non-believer, would be the Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC) program which since 2008 has been obligatory in Quebec public schools. This program presents a very sugar-coated image of several religious traditions—disturbingly slanted towards the more pious and strict forms of religiosity—while almost completely ignoring the possibility of atheism.

Yet another example, but worse, far worse in fact, is the self-serving and utterly false “freedom” promoted by Muslim fundamentalists and Islamists for whom apostasy (i.e. leaving one’s religion) is a crime. It is a very chilling fact that, according to a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center, millions of Muslims are of the opinion that apostasy should be punishable by death. This is an instance where so-called “freedom of religion” is absolutely worthless because the concomitant freedom to have no religion is completely denied.

We thus see the overwhelming importance of defending apostasy—i.e. the freedom to abandon a religion if one so desires—as a human right.

The frequent use of the unbalanced and unaccompanied expression “freedom of religion” in many contexts and over many years has had and continues to have the psychological effect of habituating us to religious privileges as normal and inevitable. We need to unlearn this very bad habit. Depending on the particular context, the expression needs to be balanced by adding “freedom from religion” to accompany it, or replaced by “freedom of conscience,” or simply removed entirely.


Next blog: Apostasy is a Human Right

The Myth of Religious Obligations

2015-07-03

There is no such thing as a religious “obligation” because religious belief is not an innate characteristic.

Sommaire en français Les soi-disant « obligations » religieuses n’existent pas, sauf dans le cas où la personne est la cible de coercition, c’est-à-dire victime d’abus. Mais en l’absence de coercition, le comportement religieux d’une personne (comme le port d’un signe par exemple) relève toujours de son choix personnel. Plusieurs croyants, dans le but d’obtenir un privilège ou un accommodement, veulent nous faire croire que leur pratique religieuse serait une « obligation », c’est-à-dire quelque chose d’inné, d’intime et d’immuable. Mais c’est un leurre, car c’est toujours un choix, le résultat d’avoir choisi d’adhérer à une tendance religieuse qui impose ce comportement. Cette prétention est une tentative d’élever la croyance au niveau d’un attribut inné comme la race ou l’orientation sexuelle. Nous ne devons pas, comme les multiculturalistes, nous laisser duper. Par une stratégie inverse, les homophobes religieux essaient de délégitimer les droits des gais en rabaissant l’homosexualité au niveau d’un simple choix. Comble de l’ironie, c’est la croyance qui n’est qu’un choix, tandis que l’orientation sexuelle est plutôt innée. Donc, le port d’un symbole religieux — qui a généralement une signification politique aussi — comme le voile islamiste (un symbole de misogynie et d’islamofascisme), ou le crucifix chrétien (aussi un symbole de fascisme), ou le turban sikh ne mérite pas davantage de déférence que tout autre choix vestimentaire ou toute question de mode. À lire aussi : Blogue LPA 015 : Obligations et choix

As explained in a previous article (AFT Blog #15: Obligations and Choices), there is no such thing as a religious “obligation,” except, of course, an obligation resulting from external coercion. To be precise, a person who participates in religious activities, or who has specific behaviours based on religious belief, or who wears religious symbols, is in one of two possible situations:

  1. the person freely chooses his or her religious behaviour; or
  2. the person is coerced into that behaviour.

In the second case, the person is a victim of abuse, and it is the secular state’s duty to help end that abuse, especially if the person involved is a minor. In the first case, where there is no coercion, the person always has a choice, because they can choose whether or not to respect the “obligations” of the religious tradition which they have chosen to adopt.

There are Muslims who drink alcohol, just as there are Catholics who have sexual relations whose goal is not procreation, even though they are thus disobeying core “obligations” of their respective religion. Countless other examples could be given. Among Muslims, the “obligation” for women to wear the veil is not even a core tenet, being promoted only by fundamentalist and Islamist tendencies. So a woman who freely chooses to wear the veil has chosen to follow a particular form of Islam, whether or not she is fully aware of the significance of her choice.

Accommodation

Sometimes, in order to get special treatment or privileges — or, in more familiar language, in order to obtain a “reasonable” accommodation — the religious believer will insist on the so-called “obligatory” nature of their religious practice or dress, as if they had no choice, as if their religious belief were something immutable, non-negotiable, as if their religion were like race or sexual orientation or some other innate characteristic. Some people — in particular, multiculturalists — will foolishly acquiesce without further reflection, saying “Oh, of course, you have an obligation to do that, no further questions asked.” That is why I say that multiculturalism should really be called ethnoreligious determinism because it treats religion as innate and unquestionable.

But secularists will say something like, “No, that is your personal choice, you may do it on your own time, but please refrain during working hours, especially if you work in the public service.” If the person in question is a Muslim, Islamists will then scream “Racists! How dare you impede their religious ‘freedom’!” where the word ‘freedom’ really means privilege (and no-one knows what ‘race’ they are referring to, but, no need, slander need not be precise). And the multiculturalists will cheer the Islamists along, enabling them, and working against secularism just as they did during the debate over the Quebec Charter of Secularism.

Innateness

Consider for example the strategy of Christian fundamentalist homophobes in their efforts to de-legitimize gay rights. They oppose gay rights for religious reasons of course, because their bible and their entire worldview has a distorted view of gender and sexuality. The book of Leviticus in particular condemns homosexual behaviour. But in the arguments which Christian homophobes present to others who may not care what the bible says, they insist on the idea that homosexuality is just a personal choice and not an innate characteristic. Of course this is contradicted by both research and by the personal experience of countless people which indicate that sexual orientation must be largely innate and, among men at least, practically immutable. Given the intensity of social disapproval of homosexuality, especially in many more traditional societies (including our own not so long ago), it seems absurd that anyone would “choose” to be gay.

The irony is that even if these Christian fundamentalists were right and sexual orientation could be readily changed, it would not justify legal repression or discrimination against gays and lesbians based on Christian dogma because the bible would still be irrelevant. Nevertheless, if sexual orientation really were a matter of choice, that would tend to weaken the case for gay rights because it would move gayness from the status of an innate or static characteristic such as race or physical attributes or other hereditary factors into the realm of more fluid matters of choice such as fashion or tradition.

Now, returning to the issue of religious choices and obligations, we can readily understand what the religious are trying to do when they insist on the “obligatory” nature of their behaviour or dress. By pretending that such choices are not choices but rather compulsory, they are attempting to augment the legitimacy of those choices by elevating them to the status of something innate and immutable such as race. And if anyone dares to question that strategy, they will quite likely be met with accusations of “racism” as a further attempt to assert the innateness of religious behaviour.

We must not be duped. Religious belief is not innate. It may be difficult to change — after all, childhood indoctrination, which is the main vector for spreading belief, is very effective and tenacious — but it is not immutable. It can and does change.

It is indeed ironic, and rather amusing I think, that religious bigots attempt to deny gay rights by claiming that homosexuality is low on the innateness scale, when in reality it is religious belief which is “inferior” to sexual orientation on that scale!

So we must not be duped, and we must learn to say, “NO! Your religion is not some innate, intimate part of you that must be accommodated by others!” Religious practices are NOT on a par with, for example, the health needs of a handicapped person. They need not be accommodated. We must not fall into the multiculturalist trap of acquiescing to every whim (a.k.a. “obligation”) of the religious.

Bad Fashion Choices

The above considerations are very important when deciding how to deal with the wearing of religious symbols by public servants in state institutions. Religious symbols generally have a political meaning. The crucifix, for example, is usually a symbol of loyalty to some Christian church, often (but not necessarily) the Roman Catholic, or of fidelity to Christian values. Even if the crucifix has little meaning in the mind of the person wearing it, it will be perceived by others as significant.

The Islamist veil is considerably larger than most crucifixes worn as adornments, and its political significance is more obvious, especially if the veil covers the face completely as do the niqab and the burqa. So what does the Islamist veil mean? At least two things:

  • It is a symbol of female purity. It reflects the mentality that women are responsible for men’s sexuality. It indicates that women, especially Muslim women, who do NOT wear the veil are impure, and impure women, if sexually assaulted or raped, probably deserve what they get.
  • The veil is a flag of Islamofascism. Although not the only flag, it is the flag of choice for proselytizing non-Muslim societies because the women wearing the veil are themselves primary victims of the Islamist ideology whose symbol they wear. (In this context I am using the word “proselytizing” to refer not to the conversion of individuals, but rather to the gradual conversion of spaces and societies.) In that way, criticism of the veil can often be neutralized by playing on sympathy for the victims and hypocritically accusing critics of oppressing the wearers of the veil, when in reality it is the Islamists who are oppressing them. This is a rather clever strategy on their part.

The Islamist veil is loaded with very negative meaning — especially if worn by teachers or child-care workers who spend extended periods of time with children. It transmits a set of values incompatible with modern human rights and freedoms. Again, the woman wearing the veil may or may not herself be fully aware of the message she is transmitting.

To summarize, the Islamist veil is a symbol of misogyny and fascism. The Christian crucifix is also a symbol of fascism; after all, the Roman Catholic Church has generally been a faithful ally of fascist regimes in Europe and Latin America. That is why the crucifix must be removed from the wall of the National Assembly in Quebec City.

Thus I repeat: We must not fall into the trap of accepting the myth that wearing a crucifix, veil or turban, etc., is somehow “obligatory” because it is supposedly the reflection of some innate characteristic of the bearer. On the contrary, it deserves no more deference than any other fashion choice. It can be removed.


Next blog: “Secularism Versus the Multicultis

Introduction

2015-06-10

Welcome to my personal blog. This is my first, introductory post, setting forth the main themes which I wish to explore and why I have chosen them.
Sommaire en français Je présente non nouveau blogue personnel qui sera dédié à l’athéisme et la lutte contre l’obscurantisme religieux et contre les croyances surnaturelles. Je m’intéresse particulièrement aux façons dont les incroyants eux-mêmes se laissent malheureusement distraire par des idées reçues et des préjugés populaires et agissent parfois contre leurs propres intérêts. Ces distractions sont souvent le résultat d’une mentalité religieuse — surtout l’athéophobie — mais ce n’est bien sûr pas la seule source des erreurs. Vous pouvez aussi lire de mes écrits sur les sites web LPA et AFT, mais dans ce blogue personnel je sortirai parfois du cadre des questions pertinentes pour une association athée.
The principal — but not necessarily exclusive — theme of my personal blog will be atheism and the struggle against religious obscurantism, because these are the issues that interest me the most, as well as concerns directly related to these issues such as secularism, freethought, critical thinking, rationalism, scepticism, humanism, etc. In particular, I expect to devote much of my attention to exposing and criticizing atheophobia in its myriad forms. My intent is to explore ways in which non-believers often act or speak in ways which are contrary to their own self-interests, because they have let themselves be influenced and distracted by prejudices and pre-conceived notions which are prevalent in society and have distorted their perceptions of the world. Of course, when we are dealing with atheism, the greatest distraction is the unavoidable and all-encompassing religious mentality — the idea that religious beliefs and practices are somehow essentially good and normal, indeed even necessary for morals and ethics, and that harm is done by religion only when it has somehow been debased or misused — a mentality which is ubiquitous in our society and in which we are all awash. In particular, the prejudice against atheism and against atheists — which I call atheophobia — is the most serious of these distractions, causes the greatest damage and therefore must be the first target of criticism. But it is not the only widespread prejudice which compromises the fight against religious obscurantism. You may be familiar with my writings which often appear on the web sites of the organization Atheist Freethinkers (or Libres penseurs athées) of which I am currently president. Why have I decided to start a personal blog when I can express my opinions through the web sites of that organization? There are several reasons. I expect to express myself here on a wider range of issues, possibly diverging from the field of topics which would be relevant for an atheist organization. I may wish to touch occasionally on more personal concerns. Furthermore, I have a lot to say and I do not want to monopolize the AFT and LPA sites, because other members need to express themselves too. Many of these personal blogs will be in English. Some will be in French. I will in general not attempt to be thoroughly bilingual. (This is another reason for this personal blog: the AFT and LPA blogs are bilingual, at least always have been so far, which makes them more laborious to prepare.) I do however plan to include a brief summary of each personal blog in the other language.
  1. Atheism is a scientific certainty, beyond all reasonable doubt.
  2. Religion and science are utterly incompatible.
  3. Religiously based morality is in general corrupt …
  4. There is no symmetry between atheism and theism.
The general, mainstream attitude towards religion is that it is basically a good thing, or at worst neutral, and that it becomes truly harmful only when distorted or misused by fundamentalists or extremists. I consider this approach to be completely wrong-headed and dangerously complacent for the obvious reason that any worldview based on a falsehood must have harmful consequences sooner or later. In other words, religion is basically harmful but can be rendered approximately anodyne and inoffensive by diluting it with generous doses of reality. But supernaturalism always remains there in the interstices, waiting to rear its ugly head and make religious belief pernicious once again. Thus, when writing about atheism and religious obscurantism, I will inevitably engage in much criticism of religion and my approach will of course be anti-religious. However, I do not expect to direct my attentions principally to religious fundamentalism, extremism or radicalism, although those topics are certainly not excluded. Others have already dealt effectively with them and have exposed the intellectual vacuity of such ideologies. My focus will be rather more on how religious attitudes, or perhaps more accurately meta-religious attitudes, are internalized and expressed by those who are ostensibly more moderate — such as so-called liberal Christians for example — and even by those who claim to be our allies in freethought and rationalism but who sometimes betray their own, and our, principles. Acting against one’s own best interests is an extremely widespread phenomenon, so common as to be banal, and it is especially common when dealing with religion and irreligion. There are women who embrace misogynistic ideologies — for example any woman who willingly wears an Islamist veil. There are gays who willingly support homophobic religions, or who support currents such as some variants of “moderate” Christianity which have in recent years toned down their homophobia but maintain the life-denying worldview which gave rise to that prejudice in the first place. There are non-believers who foolishly participate in the denigration of atheists or atheism as intolerant or dangerous, thus implicitly denigrating themselves. There are those who claim to support secularism but oppose it in the very place where it has a serious chance of being formally adopted. As widespread and banal as these behaviours may be, they nevertheless remain irrational and must be criticized. I define “religion” as supernatural religion, i.e. always including a belief in supernatural agents or phenomena which inhabit or emanate from some hypothetical — indeed, fictitious — domain beyond our real, material world. There are other definitions of religion but they only serve to confuse the issue. The issue is supernaturalism. Finally, since my principal topic of discussion will be atheism from an anti-theistic perspective, I conclude by summing up some of the basic underpinnings of my point of view. These are NOT assumptions. Rather they are conclusions which are already well established in numerous books and articles which are widely available. If you have not yet grasped any one of the following points, then you will not understand my blog because you have not done your homework.
  1. Atheism is a scientific certainty, beyond all reasonable doubt. I am not talking about absolute certainty here, as religions often do. I am referring to a very solidly based conclusion which is falsifiable but has never been falsified. All theisms and supernatural hypotheses have been found to be completely baseless.
  2. Religion (i.e. supernatural religion) and science are utterly incompatible. This can be seen as a consequence of the first principle. Or it can be derived from examining the concepts of faith on the one hand and philosophy of science on the other.
  3. Religiously based morality is in general corrupt because it is based on false supernatural beliefs. Morality is a product of our biological and cultural evolution as human animals. Theistic morality is a corruption and perversion of that natural morality. It is thus a gross understatement to say that religion is not necessary for morality; indeed, it would be more accurate to assert that the abandonment of supernatural beliefs is a prerequisite for moral maturity. Religious believers are capable of acting ethically in spite of their supernatural beliefs, to the extent that they set those beliefs aside and do not allow them to interfere unduly with their behaviour.
  4. There is no symmetry between atheism and theism. Anyone who claims that atheism is a kind of religion or faith is either ignorant or intellectually dishonest, and probably both. Any attempt to put atheism and theism on an equal footing is as ridiculous and unethical as putting the victim and the perpetrator of a crime on an equal footing by claiming that both are equally guilty. Theism is an insult to human intelligence. Atheism is a refusal to accept the nonsense which is theism. (There is however one and only one context in which equality is appropriate: when dealing with human beings; i.e. in order to respect freedom of conscience of all persons, atheists and theists deserve equal treatment before the law. But there is no equality or symmetry between the ideas of atheism and theism.)

Next blog: “Secularism Betrayed, Part I