Friday, 19 September 2014

CFI Speaking Out And Challenging Saudi Arabia On Their Lousy Human Rights Record

CFI's Michael De Dora delivering statement calling on Saudi Arabia to release prisoners of conscience. (source)
The CFI totally rocked back in June when they called out Saudi Arabia on their crap human rights record right to their faces at the UN Human Rights Council back in June. The world needs more of this -- what with world leaders getting all shy and sheepish and mute whenever Saudi Arabia seems to waive their money and oil all over the place. Mouths too busy salivating perhaps?

Unsurprisingly, the Office for Religious Freedom here in Canada said sweet nothing back then.

Well, the ORF is not breaking with tradition now that we know that Raif Badawi is going to start enduring the torture of 1,000 public lashings -- 50 each week -- right in front of a mosque, after evening prayers for all to see. They're keeping mum and so is the government that appears to control them. Shhhhhh... we just sold the biggest contract of armoured vehicles to Saudi ever -- and they're just great for suppressing protesting Saudi citizens as well. Don't want to blow that contract over human rights, now do we?

Well, the CFI has done good again! They are once again calling for the unconditional release of Raif Badawi and also Waleed Abulkhair. They are once again questioning just why Saudi Arabia is a member of this Council -- given their abysmal record. Great job reading by Michael De Dora!

The meat of the statement. You can read the full text at the CFI website.
This is unconscionable. Every modern human rights accord recognizes the central importance of the individual right to freedom of thought. It is unfortunately true that Saudi Arabia is not a signatory to many of these accords. However, as an elected member of this Council, Saudi Arabia is obliged to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.”

Accordingly, we once again call on Saudi Arabia to release Badawi and Al-Khair immediately and unconditionally, and drop any pending charges against them.

We also urge the country to reform its laws to protect the rights to freedom of religion, belief, and expression, and cease the brutal use of lashing, which violates the Convention on Torture. No human being should be imprisoned, let alone physically beaten, for their beliefs, or for their criticisms of religious or political ideas.
Bravo to the CFI on getting the word out.

Egyptian Government "Putting Youth On Right Path" By Stamping Out Atheism

So, the Egyptian government is doing its duty to stamp out the existential threat of poverty class inequality gender inequality homophobia disease poor public education ranking censorship religious intolerance human rights violations television belly dancing contests. No wait, belly dancing and atheism too. Yes atheism is a big threat to Egypt. Well, at least the government seems to have that one covered. Now you must all believe in the government!

The Guardian has some interesting news about how Egypt is implementing its hip new Just Say No To No God campaign. It's tucked away in this story about post Morsi Egypt -- which seems to be increasingly resembling during- and before-Morsi Egypt, or so I've been told.

Religion still leads the way in post-Morsi Egypt
President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi is not afraid to use faith to push the state's narrative – but the climate and the rhetoric have cooled

The article has a nice picture of a beach which could symbolize a cooler more refreshing -- less stuffy -- Egypt. They are apparently ramping up the offensive against atheists but other than that... chill. It talks about how interwoven (meddlesome) religion remains in Egyptian government: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Here's the first bit about atheism.
The work of Neamat Saty, a civil servant at Egypt's youth ministry, shows how. She is setting up a taskforce to combat atheism among the young. Under her plans, hundreds of lecturers, religious leaders and psychologists will go to the 27 provinces next year to discourage the young from turning to what she says are the two faces of extremism: jihadism and atheism.

"Atheists say there is no resurrection, no heaven or hell – so they think they're free to do whatever they want," said Saty. "If you don't believe in life after death, you won't have limits in your life – and that causes problems in society."
It's so neat to see the same tired canards about how us atheists just run about like madmen killing, raping, and pillaging with wanton abandon because we're free to do what we want. I mean, just look at Sweden and other Scandinavian countries! When they're not trying to sell us that furniture that comes in plain cardboard boxes that we need to put together with pictograph manuals and little L-keys -- which I have about 1,000 of now! Obviously Satanic! -- they're all out discretely running people down with their Saabs! Neamat Saty knows. She's a politician.

I wonder if she realizes how frightening I find statements like hers. Does she secretly wish to do these things herself? Is she craving to do some bigtime harm to herself and others deep down in her heart? It sounds that way to me. I must be a dysfunctional atheist as I have neglected to do such things. I don't like hurting people or being reckless. I don't even drink. I even have five year old I haven't cooked yet. Shame on me. What kind of atheist am I?
Weeks before Saty's scheme was announced, the police chief in Egypt's second city, Alexandria, promised to arrest a group of atheists who had publicised their beliefs on social media. In the past month, Dar el-Ifta, the wing of the justice ministry that issues religious edicts, may have condemned the extremism of Isis – but it has also condemned both belly-dancing and online communication between men and women. Elsewhere, convictions on blasphemy charges have continued, and the oppression of Egypt's gay community has intensified.
Sounds a tiny bit like zero regard for human rights whatsoever. In fact it's all sounding a little bit like a steady march to complete theocracy like what happened in Iran.
Decisions over the content of Friday sermons have been centralised, while Sisi has often used religious rhetoric to rally both soldiers and the public. "We are God-fearing people," he said in a televised speech just weeks after deposing Morsi. "If anyone thinks they can defeat those who fear God, they are delusional." 
The government comes right out and says this is a campaign of censorship and the use of religion to solidify government power -- straight up theocracy.
A project such as Neamat Saty's – which aims to tackle both jihadist and atheist thought – exemplifies the state's approach: a silencing of extremist rhetoric that nevertheless goes hand in hand with the use of religion to solidify government control. "It's not interfering in people's lives," she said. "It's correcting wrong concepts. We are just putting the youth on the right path."
Not interfering with people's lives... oh I meant most people's lives.

The government is also doing its citizenry a typically fascist/theocratic favour. They are very nicely telling them how they must think and what they must believe. How nice of them.

The article ends with a quote from Alber Saber, so kudos for that:
"The problem is not from the government – it's from society. The government is taking its lead from society. Society needs to be secularised first."
Although, a functioning judicial that honors basic human rights can go a long way to change hearts and minds. Oh well.

Pastor From Anti-LGBT Church Becomes Alberta's Minister of Education

Christian Pastor and Alberta Minister of Education Gordon Dirks. (source)
So Gordon Dirks is changing jobs but he'll still be Minister Dirks. Up until a few days ago he was a pastor over at the Centre Street Church in Calgary but then he got appointed -- not elected -- to become the Minister of Education in Alberta.

The Centre Street Church published their Statement of Theological Principles and Ministry Practices from 2011 online. Here's what the church officially believes.

p. 18
We believe that God in His love for humanity intends marriage as a life-long covenant
between a man and a woman for their own well-being and the well-being of children, and for the benefit of the whole human race.

God instituted marriage as a sacred and honourable institution (Heb. 13:4), for the
blessing of companionship (Gen. 2:18), and as a continuation of the divine work of
creation in the history of the human race (Gen. 4:1). Marriage is a physical union
(1 Cor. 6:16). God intends marriage to be a monogamous, life-long union (Gen. 2:24;
Ex. 20:14) between a male and a female who are each living in the physical gender in which they were born (Gen. 1:27; Gen. 2:18, 20-25; Ps. 139:13-16; Mark 10:7-9). Marriage is constituted first in mutual covenant and is a solemn, binding agreement entered into before God and others (Mal. 2:14). The marriage covenant is intended only to be broken by the death of either the husband or the wife. God views the breaking of this earthly covenant very seriously (2 Sam. 12; Mal. 2:16). While divorce is always contrary to God’s intentions, divorce and remarriage are permitted where the marriage covenant has been violated by adultery (Matt. 5:31) or desertion (1 Cor. 7:15). Separation is permitted where necessary for the safety and wellbeing of the members of the family.

God calls His followers to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21) and to “ a life of love, just as Christ loves us.” (Eph. 5:2) It is in this context of mutual submission and love that God calls wives to submit to their husbands and
husbands to love their wives (Eph. 5:22-33).

You know, submit is not really the same as love. 

Anyway, people have been getting a little concerned about that. If we read into this then perhaps Dirks is against marriage equality. Who knows? There's more, though. LGBT activist Olav Rokne points out, the church also has an all too sad and predictable view sexuality.

p. 19
We believe that God created men and women in His own image and pronounced them good. “...male and female He created them...And God saw all that He had made and it was very good.” (Gen. 1:27-31) Human sexuality is therefore a beautiful part of God’s creation. All human activity, including the expression of sexuality, should honour God (Eph. 5:2; 1 Cor. 6:13b, 18-20). Followers of Jesus Christ are to live lives of purity, including sexuality purity. “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality...For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” (1 Thess. 4:3-7)

We affirm that God is honoured by the mutually intimate physical expression of sexuality when this expression occurs between a man and a woman within a monogamous marriage. However, because of sin, all human nature, including human sexuality, is subject to abuse and misuse. God is dishonoured by: sexual obsession, intimate physical expression of sexuality outside of marriage and sexual activity between persons of the same sex, between an adult and child, between close relatives, or between a person and an animal (Phil. 4:8; Eph. 5:3-5; Rom. 1:25-27; Lev. 18:6, 20, 22-23; 1 Cor. 6:9-10).

God’s desire is to bring healing and wholeness to all aspects of our broken lives, including dishonourable human sexuality. Sexual sins, like all other sins, can be forgiven by God through Jesus Christ upon confession and repentance (1 Cor. 6:11; Eph. 5:8-10; Rom. 6:23; Rom. 6:11-14).
So much for transgender and transexual people. Gays and lesbians are lumped right in with pedophiles, incestuous relatives and those who indulge in bestiality. This church apparently sees LGBT people as being very perverse and broken like just like these other groups. Not exactly the sort of view I would like to see the Minister of Education to have.

No doubt this -- along with being in the opposition party -- lead the NDP education critic Deron Bilous to question why Gordon Dirks was appointed to the office in the first place.
NDP education critic Deron Bilous said it speaks volumes that Prentice appointed Dirks to the post when he could have chosen one of more than four million other Albertans.

“I think Mr. Prentice has made a very foolish mistake on his first day on the job, and we’re calling for Mr. Prentice to rescind his appointment of Gordon Dirks as education minister,” Bilous said. “If he was serious on action, on ensuring human rights are protected and that we continue to fight for equality in our schools and in our society, then why did he appoint Gordon Dirks as the minister of education?
Look, maybe Dirks doesn't believe all this stuff. Perhaps he just worked at the church for a gig, you know? I went digging for his own views and found a few utterances in this Leader Post article where they did the same.
Most sermons are full of anecdotes, discussions of biblical texts and typically end with a prayer of commitment. The sermons occasionally mention “sexual immorality,” but rarely go into specifics.

“Listen up, he said, I take sexual immorality seriously,” Dirks paraphrases Jesus in a Nov. 2012 sermon on the book of Revelation.

In an August 2013 sermon entitled “people of the way,” Dirks urges followers to imitate the early Christians who “began protecting the weak and vulnerable.” They built an “amazing culture of compassion” that erased cultural, racial and social boundaries and “practised sexual purity.”
Right, it's pretty unclear. Unlike school board trustee candidate Candace Maxymowich, who unabashedly let everyone know her Creationist, anti-choice, pro-abstinence-only sex education views, Dirks has played it pretty close to the vest.

Dirks is well aware that people are nervous about his church's strict and retrograde views. He's already met with LGBT activist Kris Wells.
Kris Wells, the director for the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies at the University of Alberta, got a call around supper time Monday night inviting him to a meeting in the premier’s office Tuesday morning.

Wells met for an hour with Education Minister Gordon Dirks, Premier Jim Prentice, newly appointed Health Minister Stephen Mandel and their staff to discuss a range of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) issues.
The Leader Post tried to contact Dirks for more information on his views. They hadn't gotten any response at the time of the article's writing. Perhaps in response to the concern, Mr Dirks tweeted the following.
In fact, unlike his church, Dirks says his record is clear on LGBT issues.
“My record in this province and in this country is quite clear,” Prentice said. “In that respect, I was one of the very first people in this country to support same-sex marriage. That happened over 10 years ago. And I intend to carry on my personal views about protecting and standing up for the rights of all Albertans, and as premier of Alberta that includes the LGBT community.”
Wells is willing to give him a chance but he expects action.

Columnist Licia Corbella, who has written before about how she wished atheists would stop ramming their minority religion down the throats of the majority, has pointed out in a recent opinion piece that the concern about Dirks' Christian point of view is sheer anti-Christian bigotry. I'll admit it, it's possible there could be some of this going on. However, on the other hand, it is not at all bigoted to be concerned about someone who's church -- at which he pastors! -- holds very bigoted views about LGBT people. There are many churches to choose from and Dirks chose this one.

Speaking of which, Corbella says that Dirks only held executive administrative roles with both the Canadian Bible College and Rocky Mountain College, private Christian universities. Yes, and he was a pastor at a church which held some pretty interesting views on LGBT issues!

She goes on to describe how happy we should all be with Christianity for having founded Public education. Yeah, anyway.

Something perhaps more useful she points out is Dirks' extensive experience within the school board.
Dirks, 67, is perhaps best known in Calgary for being a trustee with the Calgary Board of Education from 1999 to 2010, and being the CBE’s chair four times during those years. He is widely considered the best and most competent board chair in memory and came in at a time of great turbulence, which he helped smooth over with his diplomacy, competency and calmness.
This sounds like someone who may well be qualified for the job.

I would be curious to see what sorts of views Dirks has about evolution and sex education as well. Who knows?

Well, until someone knows, I guess I'm fine with letting Dirks demonstrate himself. I would wager that the vast majority of Canadian politicians are moderate to devout Christian. Many of them are likely fine secularists. Then of course, some of them are dangerously fundamentalist -- take a look at the Conservative party.

I'm highly suspicious but until he does something sucky, I will give him the benefit of the doubt.

So, Gordon Dirks, don't let what your church tells influence your politics. We'll be watching you.

And then there's this...