Sunday, 23 November 2014

US Hindu Group Upset With Art Featuring Indian Gods In Modern Settings

Image of modern-day Lakshmi by photographer Dina Goldstein in her new installation Gods of Suburbia.
In December 2013, it was the 'Lord Ganesh socks'. Then, in July 2014, it was the 'Lord Ganesh duvet cover'. Now it's an art installation in Vancouver called Gods of Suburbia that's got American Hindu statesman Rajad Zed and his Universal Society of Hinduism rather upset.
Rajan Zed, who often makes the news as president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, objects to the way Ganesh is shown sitting on a bench in Fairview Elementary school in Vancouver, being bullied. Lakshmi is seen in a modern kitchen with a snake slithering towards her.
Here is the meat from his official press release. Emphasis my own.
Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada (USA), was highly critical of Dina Goldstein’s photo project for trivializing the highly revered deities of Hinduism, Ganesh and Lakshmi.

In this photo project, Ganesh is shown sitting on a bench in Fairview Elementary and apparently being bullied by kids. Lakshmi is seen struggling in the kitchen with a snake slithering towards her.

Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, stressed that reimagining Hindu scriptures and deities for commercial or other agenda was not okay as it hurt the devotees. Ganesh and Lakshmi and other Hindu deities were meant to be worshipped in temples and home shrines and it was not appropriate to unnecessarily drag them around to push your personal interests.

Rajan Zed pointed out that Hindus were for free speech as much as anybody else if not more. But faith was something sacred and attempts at belittling it were painful for the devotees. Artists should be more sensitive while handling faith related subjects, Zed added.

Zed further said that Hindus welcomed art world to immerse in Hinduism but taking it seriously and respectfully and not for refashioning Hinduism concepts and symbols for personal agendas. Distorting of Ganesh and Lakshmi was highly slighting of ancient Hindu traditions.
Hinduism was the oldest and third largest religion of the world with about one billion adherents and a rich philosophical thought and it should not be taken lightly. No faith, larger or smaller, should be plundered, Rajan Zed noted.
Well, Boo hoo!

How is this any different than Muslims demanding we not draw the prophet? Zed is quite welcome to revere his gods as much as he likes, but that's where his rights end. Goldstein can paint whatever she pleases and it's obviously nothing personal. This is simply what she does with all topics, sacred or otherwise, and she's rather good at it.

These images are all rather good and thought-provoking as well. My favourite is Lord Xenu auditing someone! You can also see Charles Darwin as well.

More Info on Education in the Hasidic Jewish Community

“Mod Squad”, by Gerald Rich (2012). CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.
Just yesterday, I posted about a former Hasidic Jew who was suing government agencies and the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools he attended as child because they ill-prepared him for life in secular society. He and his friend from the same schools cannot even properly speak either of the national official languages nor write them. They blame the schools for just teaching them to pray and nothing more.
Yonanan Lowen claims that the two schools he attended growing up in the Tash community in Boisbriand, north of Montreal, ill-equipped him for modern society, let alone making a living.

The father of several children, he said he cannot find work outside the chassidic community. He left the Tash community in 2010 before moving to Montreal.
After writing the post, I had second thoughts. I suppose the very notion seemed so unthinkable to me, that my mind rejected it. I see Hasidic Jews all over Montreal and they do not seem unable to function. However, I wondered if it was their community that supported them and whether they would go to pieces in a similar fashion the plaintiff, Yonanan Lowen, did when faced with the secular world outside of the group. So I asked for some feedback and started doing a little research.

Well, Lynn Davidman, author of fascinating looking book Becoming Un-Orthodox: Stories of Ex-Hasidic Jews, did a Q&A over at Oxford University Press blog. Her explanation of the challenges to Hasidic Jews leaving the group mirrors Lowen's situation almost perfectly.
In contrast, the Hasidic defectors did not know much about the secular world. They grew up speaking Yiddish, and newspapers, television, and other forms of secular media were banned from their homes. They grew up in a community in which they were encapsulated physically, socially, and ideologically. They were taught that non-Jews are threatening and that many of them were like animals. So they were terrified of leaving: they did not have the education needed to find jobs to support themselves in the secular world; they had no idea how to find an apartment, or how to finance it; the men spoke Yiddish and poor English. So they had a lot more cultural learning to do in order to leave than I had. Also they had to “disinscribe” the Haredi markers from their bodies—learn to dress differently (putting on pants was a big deal for the women) and comport themselves in a more open way.
So it would seem that Lowen's charges here do seem to be perfectly possible, afterall. It really does sound like a cult.

Men Dressed as Buddhist Monks Running Money Scam In Vancouver Streets!

By Ryan McFarland ( [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Although Buddhist societies forbid monks from begging and panhandling outside of Asia, it seems as if some monks, or people dressed up like monks, have taken to the streets to terrorize Vancouverites for their money. One such victim was Kent Spencer.
“One guy shoves a small bead bracelet in my hand and some literature and then he opens this notebook and starts making ‘ugh, ugh’ noises that he wants me to do something,” Spencer said. “The notebook had a column marked for donations and a couple dozen people’s names who apparently had given funds. He gave no indication that he could speak English and just started gesturing with his arms and saying ‘money.’ ”
Australia is also experiencing a similar situation, so has New York and Toronto.
“They walk up to individuals in the street, they are dressed in saffron robes and they are offering a token that looks like a gold coin,” Consumer Protection Scamnet director Dave Hillyard told ABC Perth, in January. “They open up a list to show that people have donated $20, $30 or $50 ... they have very poor English skills.”
In Asia, monks generally need not accost people on the street because Buddhism is prevalent enough there for people to make larger and more frequent donations. Katsuya Aoki, priest at the Vancouver Buddhist Temple, reiterated that soliciting donations outside of Asia is not considered kosher at all.

Nobody's really sure who these people are and whether they are authentic Buddhist monks or not.

We Could All Learn From 'Street Epistemology'

Atheist 'Tyler' shakes hands with street epistemologist Anthony Magnabosco after a couple of respectful discussions about
her own unsupported belief in reincarnation. (source
Awhile back, I told you I found Canadian youtuber, Armoured Skeptic, rather entertaining. Well, I stand by that to this day. This is great stuff for those of us who are already skeptics, but what about talking to theists or people who believe in all manner of woo?

Well, the first thing, probably, is to not refer to it as woo when conversing with them. That's likely to be seen as disrespectful. In fact, it's all about respect and Anthony Magnabosco's Street Epistemology series on Youtube displays just how effective respective dialog with others can be.

The video series appears to be an implementation of Peter Boghossian's website Street Epistemology where they are looking for 10,000 mobile epistemologists to help people have more reliable ways to come to knowledge. At the end of at least one video, I saw a graphic of Peter's new book A Manual For Creating Atheists which is apparently an immensely useful tool for talking to people who believe in things without proper evidence.

Take a look at this excellent discussion with a young Muslim believer. No hostility, nobody being offended. I think we can all learn from this series how to come off as decent humans while still helping people to think about their own positions.

I know atheists who are anti-vax, or don't believe in medicine, or believe in reincarnation or that everything happens for a reason. Well, this video may help me discuss these things with them. It's nice to see everyone's unexamined beliefs questioned and not just the theists. In the end, pretty much all of us -- myself likely included! -- have regions of belief which require serious examination. Afterall, this is about helping people have more reliable ways to come to knowledge -- all knowledge.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish School Graduate Suing For Substandard Education

By Benqish at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
(Please see edit at bottom of article)

Remember the Hasidic Jewish school that came to a compromise with the Quebec government? Because the school was unlicensed to teach approved curriculum, the parents now need to enrol the children into homeschooling for their secular education. The school would continue teaching a predominantly religious education (Torah-based) -- only teaching English and Math components of the provincial program.

At the time, I thought this was probably a fairly decent solution to the problem of an unlicensed religious school teaching children pretty much nothing but religion -- illegally. The province originally tried to force these parents to put their children into licensed schools where they could be reasonably sure the children were receiving a balanced curriculum of required subjects. However, there was the real possibility it would be tied up paying for a lengthy court battle with public funds. So, there was this compromise.

Well, this compromise was just the catalyst needed for former Hasidic Jew Yonanan Lowen, who is now suing Youth Protection, the Seigneurie des Mille-Iles public school board, and two Hasidic schools he attended -- Yeshiva Beth Yehuda school and Oir Hachaim d'Tash college -- for $1.2 million because he was allowed to receive a substandard education as a child.
Yonanan Lowen claims that the two schools he attended growing up in the Tash community in Boisbriand, north of Montreal, ill-equipped him for modern society, let alone making a living.

The father of several children, he said he cannot find work outside the chassidic community. He left the Tash community in 2010 before moving to Montreal.
Lowen says that thanks to his poor education in real-world subjects, he's now an illiterate 36 year old. He has a poor grasp of English, none of French and he can write neither. He has no knowledge core subjects like Math, History or Geography.
He claims the ministry and these bodies knew for years that these schools were not following the mandatory provincial curriculum, but did nothing.

He blames them for depriving him of the basic secular education guaranteed to all Quebec children between ages six and 16 under the law. Both schools have been under investigation for the past half-dozen years by the government for not respecting the law.
Furthermore, a Huffington Post article provides an extract from the notice to sue from his lawyers from the non-profit legal team Juripop.
« Le gouvernement, le directeur de la protection de la jeunesse, la commission scolaire, l'école et le collège, par leur tolérance face à cette situation, leur omission ou leur négligence à s'assurer que notre client fréquente une institution qui dispense le programme d'éducation reconnu par le ministère de l'Éducation [...] fait en sorte que notre client ne peut aujourd'hui évoluer normalement dans la société. » 
The government, the director of Youth Protection, the public school board, the school and the college, by their tolerance of this situation; their omission or negligence of ensuring that our client attend an institution that provides the educational program recognized by the Ministry of Education ... (they) did such that our client is today unable to function normally in society.
In 2010, he and his friend Hersy Moskovitz, 35, escaped from the Hasidic community after having been forced to attend an school they regard as 'illegal where we learned nothing but how to pray.' 

Readers of this blog may be reminded of Mende Pape's story or of the Lev Tahor cult, where children also learned prayer and Yiddish at the expense of being able to even speak English or French.

Moskovitz explained in broken English (translated to French for this Droit-Inc article):
« Le fait de fréquenter une école illégale a bouleversé ma vie. Je vois une psychologue, car j’ai peur d’être en public. On a souffert en silence, alors que le gouvernement connaissait la situation. Il n’a pourtant rien fait », a critiqué M. Moskovitz.
"The reality of attending an illegal school turned my life upside down. I'm seeing a psychologist because I'm scared to be in public. We suffered in silence while the government knew the situation. Still, it did nothing." criticized Mr. Moskovitz.
All the same, their beef seems to be with the ministry and the schools, not with the parents. According to them it is the schools which duped the parents -- possibly over generations? -- into believing they were receiving adequate educations -- all the while, provincial authorities turned a blind eye to the fact that these schools were operating openly without licenses... religious privilege.

When I originally wrote about this, I had my doubts whether these parents were at all qualified to teach secular subjects to their children, since they themselves may have been taught in similar schools. That, along with time constraints made be seriously doubt the feasibility of this plan.
First off, are these parents really the most qualified people to teach secular subjects? Observe their choice of school for their children! Then take a look at homeschooled Jessa Duggar. Still, so long as the provincial requirements are met, I can't do much more than complain.
Well Lowen, himself a victim of poor education, does not share my optimism concerning the above compromise.
Lowen told Ici Radio-Canada this is a “farce” because these parents also never received an adequate secular education.
I now begin to wonder if this compromise was just a way for the province to sort of excuse themselves from having to shoulder the legal burdens to enforce the law and ensure these children do get proper secular educations. It's possible that Lowen also could see this as a sort of punt which again allows the government to turn its head and look the other way. How plausible is it for children to receive nearly 100% religious instruction all through the day and the get their secular education somehow crammed into the evenings by parents who are perhaps themselves products of the very same schools?

I'm not saying it's impossible, but Lowen seems to believe it is and he's prepared to go to court.

As mentioned above, Lowen says he is now completely unable to obtain a job outside of the Hasidic community. He now helps to support his family as a Jewish religious instructor in a legal school, the only place he's found himself qualified to work.

Meanwhile, Lowen's lawyer Marc-Antoine Cloutier is now on the lookout for more plaintiffs.
« Nous sommes à la recherche d’autres témoignages. Le ministère de l’Éducation, en fermant les yeux, s’est rendu complice de ces parents qui n’ont pas donné à leurs enfants l’éducation à laquelle ils étaient en droit de s’attendre. C’est un énorme préjudice.»

We are searching for more plaintiffs. The Ministry of Education, by shutting their eyes, has made itself complicit of these parents who did not give their children the education that was their right. It's an enormous injustice (damage).
I hope more come out to support this cause. I have no problem with children learning about religion but I do have a problem if real-world secular curriculum is cut out to the point where they cannot even function outside their cloistered religious community.

Edit 2014-11-23: Check out this followup post about the situation for Hasidic Jews leaving their communities.

Edit 2014-11-22: Just after publishing this I had this second thought. I see a lot of Hasidic Jews in Montreal and they do seem to be functioning in society. However, I'm not sure if this is because they are supported by their community or not. In other words, I'm not sure if Lowen's situation is one that is typical of people within the Hasidic community or not. Perhaps some could give me some feedback on this?

That said, it is patently wrong for any school to teach without a license and to not teach basic essential skills and material found in the province's secular curriculum.