Friday, 18 April 2014

Yes, I Get "Good" Friday Off

Something rather strange dawned on my today. Around noon, I checked my phone only to find several urgent emails from some of my business associated in the United States. It seems like they had forgotten that Good Friday -- the Christians call getting nailed to a tree Good, apparently -- is a holiday up here in Canada. My Australian associates remembered of course, they get Friday and Monday off too.

And so, it's true. I checked it. Americans -- the most religious people in the developed world -- don't get today off. Yet I, living in this bastion of secularity, Montréal, Québec of all places, do. As I mentioned above, extremely secular Australia seems to get both today and Monday off.

Actually last week one business contact informed me he would be attending mass and would pray for me. I've run into this flaunting business before and I've written about the extremely religious e-mail signatures I occasion upon in business emails. It all seems rather odd and shocking to this secular Canadian. Up here, one simply does not mix religion with business -- it might prove to be an unwanted obstacle to getting the contract signed.

Honestly, sometimes I'm baffled at how Americans could even have a godless constitution and an Establishment Clause. When one looks at the way things are down there, how could this have ever happened? Did it ever happen? Well, they have the documents to prove it, I suppose. Looking at the culture itself versus the documents of their Founding Fathers, I wonder if it wasn't some freak accident.

Well, I know I'm not expressing my thoughts clearly. Sue me, it's a holiday.

Keep Nigerian Child Witch Hunter Out: Human Rights Groups Petition UK Home Office

For Helen Ukpabio Spiritual Attacks can come from innocent little babies or mermaids.

I've written about her before and now I'll write about her again. The fact that witch hunter Helen Ukpabio is a menace to her fellow Nigerians is well-known, but now she's travelled to London to spread her vile and harmful superstitions into the United Kingdom.

Nigerian 'witch-hunter' who claims any child who cries is a 'servant of Satan' could be banned from the UK over fears she is a risk to youngsters

Britain has every right to keep out dangerous criminals who incite fear of children which undeniably leads to child abuse.
She uses her sermons to incite hatred, intolerance and persecution of alleged witches and wizards. 
Her supporters, of which there are many in West Africa, believe she is a servant of God who has helped eradicate spiritual ailments from humankind. 
Her beliefs – promoted through her publications (Unveiling the Mysteries of Witchcraft), films (End of the Wicked) and sermons - fuel witchcraft accusations against children in the region.
Leo Igwe has written about her dreadful shenanigans.  She has literally convinced parents that the cause of their earthly misfortunes are their own children - who are witches and working for the devil. This has lead to the horrendous abuse and abandonment portrayed in Channel 4's Saving Africa's Witch Children.
The documentary will feature shocking stories of torture inflicted on children, including a 13-year-old who was tied up with chicken wire and starved and beaten for two weeks, and a 14-year-old girl who was burned with acid before her mother attempted to bury her alive. 
One 17-year-old was left brain-damaged after having a three-inch nail driven into her skull.
Don't think Ukpabio is part of the problem? Here's what Wikipedia has to say.
Ukpabio has published her views in several books. An example is 'Unveiling The Mysteries of Witchcraft', in which she states that: 
'If a child under the age of two screams in the night, cries and is always feverish with deteriorating health he or she is a servant of Satan.' 
A fact not mentioned in the book is that these symptoms are common in young children, especially in areas like Nigeria with poor health and high levels of malaria. 
She also produces a number of films to spread the view that children can become possessed by evil spirits through her film production company, Liberty Films, part of the Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries franchise. The most famous of these is End of The Wicked in which child actors are shown to eat human flesh and murder their parents.
Oh, and she also believes mermaids are a real problem as well!

The Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network (WHRIN), which I have written about in the past, is one of the groups demanding that she be banned from ever reentering the country - which I wholeheartedly support. They are petitioning Home Secretary Theresa May to deny entry into the UK based on the very sensible argument that it is not conductive for the common good. You know, because she makes films demonizing little children and claims Satan infects babies with fevers.

They mentioned something rather interesting as well:
In a letter to Ms May, the campaigners warn: ‘Whilst the Government has moved swiftly to block entry to the UK for Islamic preachers whose presence is considered as harmful to the public good, there have been no cases of Christian pastors facing such measures.’
That's interesting, too.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Easter Time: Time to DYE!

So, it's almost egg-laying-chocolate-rabbit-fertility Day. I know my household is celebrating by plastering a Happy Easter sign on our back window and buying various rabbit/egg/chicken paraphernalia from our local Dollarama store. My son is totally into this holiday.

Oh, did I say holyday? Right, there is the whole Jesus thing too, I guess. We don't really go much into that at our house. No need to, really.

This year we plan to make some Easter eggs out of real eggs. When I was a kid, we used to buy these dye kits and dip our hard boiled eggs into that. It was... well.. sort of lame. We then progressed to using these plastic decal things which were better. This year, I think we'll just hand my kid a pack of markers and tell him to go nuts.

So... there's this video. Even though I've had my fair share of dye-based Easter egg colouring, nothing could prepare me for this.

Remember, it's dye not blood, okay? This information might make the video less unsettling and more funny.

Okay, I laughed. Well, I suppose it doesn't make any less sense than Easter itself.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Staff of Kasese Humanist Primary School: Masereka Solomon

KHPS staff member Masereka Solomon
Here's another letter sent to me by Kasese Humanist Primary School Director Bwambale Robert. This time it's not a student but a staff member, Masereka Solomon. He is a graduate of an Information Technology program and is helping to educate students and staff at the school to prepare them for the very real 21st century need of computer literacy.

You might remember Solomon from a previous post on this blog about the awesome KidsHeartKids penpals program last December. I quoted some comments from volunteers at the school about the program and his was one of them. KidsHeartKids are an awesome supporter of Kasese and other Humanist schools in Uganda.

Here's Solomon's letter.

My name is Masereka Solomon a graduate of Information Technology giving a helping hand to Kasese humanist Primary School. I love the company of the teachers and pupils at Humanist. It is a school with a great difference. Freethought culture is what I feel when am at school. 
A lot can be noted about Kasese Humanist School by both teachers, pupils, visitors and well wishers internationally. At Humanist I see women empowerment as most of the staff are women. 
Personally I have a lot to note, since I joined the school I have more humanism ideas and knowledge. The global rational world principles are my principles. I share my technology skills with the pupils and the teaching staff. What a great school Kasese Humanist School is! 
The school has projects that expose the students to the modern world like penpals to the pupils are writing back to our pupils, sounds of electric bells for time management, unique football and sports wear uniform and material for learning are all at this school. 
A charity organisation in the USA called kidsheartkids is giving a warm hand to the school and progress can be noted, what a rational world. We appreciate the support everyone has given to our school and welcome you all to the humanism movement. 
It's better (I) am at Humanist Kasese! 
 Why not support the school's new project to build a permanent home?

Moderation: Heavy

Hello dear readers.

Ever since I made a post about preachers peddling prayer as an AIDS cure in Africa last year, I've been bombarded with spam comments on a daily basis. These are comments talking about wizards and shamans and all manner of charlatan who has cured the comment posters of everything from cancer and AIDS to a bad marriage.

Unlike the comments by anonymous posters, these guys have real-looking email accounts and profile pictures associated to them so Disqus is having a hard time filtering them out. My wife recently let me know that sometimes the Comments ticker on the right of the blog is absolutely full of them.

So I can't stand it anymore. I've switched commenting to Moderated to deal with this. Don't worry, it's not you!  Whether you agree with me completely or be convinced that I'm a complete moron, I'll let your comment through. Since I get them on my phone, it should be pretty instant.

Maybe these robots or people or whoever they are will leave me in peace eventually and I can remove the restriction.

So please, bring on the discussion!  And perhaps I'll have a little time these days to respond to the real comments! I promise I read them all! I really do!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Did the Office of Religious Freedom Stand Up For Another "Mysterious Atheist?"

Well... maayyyyyybeeee.... Okay, I seriously doubt it.

So I just gave a listen to the CBC Sunday Edition panel discuss The Public God. You can find a good review of the discussion by Spencer Lucas, who attended the taping of the discussion over at the Canadian Atheist. I think everyone might be a little too hard on Gretta Vosper - she was outnumbered, but maybe I'm just a softy. I hold organizer Michael Enright responsible.

The Public God: Hour One & Two (MP3)

Well, I have many things to say about the discussion. Perhaps my biggest problem with it was not ever really being sure who was saying what. Such is radio.

Then there was this, which really got stuck in my craw. The discussion went to the Canadian Office of Religious Freedom - a cause strongly supported by panelist Janet Buckingham Epp but widely criticized by non-religious everywhere.

Sole atheist panelist Gretta Vosper brought up a point that I've been making for months now about the Office. Why are they not speaking out in support of atheists and agnostics who are being persecuted in the name of religion? They promised they would, well, sort of.

So, Vosper asked the question and I was surprised to hear this answer from Fr. de Souza (I think it was him).
Vosper: Did they say anything about Fazil Say, an atheist, world-renowned pianist who was imprisoned for ten months in Turkey for blogging something about anti-religion? Did they say anything about that? 
de Souza: They did. our office, the Canadian office, they did, yeah.
Now here's what I hear: 'Oh yeah. Sure. Of course they did. Could you stop slagging my beloved Office of Religious Freedom and can we move on to something else?'

This would be the second microscopic trace of support from the Office for atheists. This one follows another one; a second tiny ethereal wisp of something apparently just as immaterial as de Souza's god. It sort of got thrown in during similar circumstances, as a sort of dismissal in an awkward moment.

Andrew Bennett made it back in February.
Bennett maintains that freedom from religion is also a human right to be defended, and he has spoken out for an atheist blogger in Kazakhstan.
In my post about this, I theorised it may have been Aleksandr Kharlamov. 

That, like this, would be huge for our community if it were actually proven to be true.  If there was any public statement on by the Office or anywhere at all for that matter to back it up.

More quiet noncommittal rumours, but it's not like this Office sits idle doing nothing at all. It seems to release official statements defending religious clergy and communities in peril nearly weekly.

I'm not suggesting they stop doing this, but it would be nice to get a mention - a mention, a single mention.  They alway seem to keep these covert murmurings defending atheists behind closed doors. Is de Souza privy to top secret international affairs information?

Perhaps the Office really is playing for their (political) base; the conservative Christian right. That too was a charge leveled in the course of this panel discussion.

So I'm asking Fr. Raymond de Souza to please provide the references for his statement so I, the CFI and fellow atheists and secularists can begin to celebrate this good work of the Office of Religious Freedom. 

Monday, 14 April 2014

Things I Like: The David Pakman Show

David Pakman talking to member of the Westboro Baptist Church in 2012 (source)
For the next while, I'll be posting things I like which at least have some kind of indirect tie in to atheism, secularism or other ungodliness.

So this week, I bring you my favourite progressive political and current affairs show, which I listen to religiously.  I promise to myself daily that I will become a member soon. It's The David Pakman Show

I listen to the audio podcast version, but the video program actually airs on several television stations.

The tie in with atheism - or at least the secular community - has been pretty clear over the past couple of years I've been listening to the show. All you need to do is take a look at some of the guests.

American Atheists president David Silverman has been on the show several times. On the February 7th 2011 show, he even suggested that Pakman may be a fellow atheist. Pakman denied this, although he has always been very secular. It was a thoughtful discussion about atheism vs. agnosticism.

Silverman returned to the show in March of this year to discuss his experience at the Republican CPAC convention.

You'll also find a nice interview with Lawrence Krauss and Matt Dillahunty.

And finally, the pièce de résistance, Ray Comfort.

I'll stress that the Pakman Show isn't giving me anything for this. It's just the first of a few Things I Like that have a tie-in with atheism/agnosticism which I've decided to share on this blog.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Saudi Arabia Facing Increase In Witchcraft!

It's tough times in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). An Arab News report just came out reporting that
KSA facing increased cases of witchcraft
It's hard to know exactly what caused this sorcerer infestation. I would guess it was something to do with rampant state-encouraged superstition and opportunists who wish to con gullible people out of money. It also so happens to work out that the majority of these evil witches are foreigners.
More than 85 percent of witchcraft-related cases registered in Makkah’s courts involve expats, according to statistics issued by the Ministry of Justice.
The Orwellian Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice started a special training program for would be witch fighters. They have brought online certain procedures and systems to deal with cases pertaining to sorcery. Dowsing rods? Spinning pendulums? Being on the lookout for candles, incense... 20-sided dice?

Well it turns out this creepy state body has gone to the Internets to fight spiritual war with witches and devils. Which just goes to show how people can embrace 21st century technology but have ideas from the middle ages.
The increase in the number of witchcraft-related cases has prompted authorities at the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (known in Arabic as the “Haia“) to use social networking sites to spread awareness and close in on sorcerers. In fact, the Haia has an exclusive section on its web site that addresses cases related to witchcraft.
They recently caught someone on Twitter trying to sell a magical stone. Now, I'm all for fraudsters being brought to justice but it's a tad creepy when the authorities wholeheartedly believe this is all true. Is this what happens when religion so completely permeates the state that it becomes a monarchical theocracy?

The story goes to on mention haunted houses and how small children seem to see the jinn (demons).

One child apparently didn't want to leave his room and would be talking and laughing to himself. The parents consulted a sheikh (meaning an always male elder) who advised them to move house rather than consult a childhood psychologist.

Speaking of sheikhs, like witches and their crazy spells, these wise men also charge hefty fees for their supernatural services.
Ahlam Hafez from Riyadh said she paid a sheikh more than SR10,000 to get rid of jinn in a neighboring flat. 
“There are believers and non-believers among jinn,” said Mohammed Mukhtar, a sheikh. “Preachers who earn their living by exorcizing spirits should charge affordable fees.”
How are we to distinguish the witches who charge people for their spells from sheikhs who run around charging SR10,000 (~$3,000) to expulse demons from people's houses? Religion, I suppose? And yes, preachers should charge affordable fees. As should the witches, I suppose.

My favourite part is the statement there are believers and non-believers among the jinn. I wonder if the believers give the non-believers a hard time and try to convert them.

In Saudi Arabia it must be Halloween everyday.

What could be causing this? I'm sure we all know the answer to that question.