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.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Ontario Public Catholic School Board May Have to Start Following The Rules

Oh Ontario, I would like like to make a confession and ask for your forgiveness.

Years of living in Québec have perhaps given me a bit of a superiority complex. You see, I've been guilty lately of thinking that only my cinq-à-sept wine- and beer-soaked, cigarette-smoking, pothole-filled Belle Province could truly have colourful and heated debates about secularism and education. Well, things appear to be on the change and heating up in Ontario now. And after the recent PQ implosion I'm happy to watch from the outside.

(I'm not too upset about Quebec playing second fiddle for now. At least we're still king of martial lawprotests and riots here in Canada - except the Vancouver thing. Things are never boring around here.)

So, enough about my province, what's going on in Ontario?

A judge just ruled that a child didn't have to attend religious courses, go on religious retreats or attend Catholic Mass at an Ontario Catholic school. We're talking about the victory of Oliver Erazo who's had a hell of a time trying to get the Catholic school in his area to obey earthly laws.

Catholic mass exemption for students may 'become an issue'

Wait, this might sound a little silly. Let me clear things up.

The Catholic School Board in Ontario is publicly funded. I hope that makes things a little more clear, because it seems like during the first few audio clips on this page I found myself screaming this out loud.

It's interesting that the CBC interviewer was basically saying "isn't it ridiculous that this father wanted to opt his son out of Catholic courses at a Catholic school?" The crucial source of funding for the school seemed absent from the discussion until Oliver Erazo's lawyer brought it up in the interview. It's like the fact that Catholic schools are public schools - plus Catholic indoctrination - is some sort of dirty little secret that is kept somewhat under wraps in this province.

Even the language betrays the truth. The reporter was keen to draw a distinction between Catholic schools and Public Schools. This is not unlike the deceptive language here in Quebec of "private" Catholic schools (which still receive per student subsidies of up to 70%) vs the secular public school system.

We're all funding Catholic schools! Shhh... it's a secret!

Now here's what I find most interesting about this whole thing. Apparently the big issue now has to do with parents who are suddenly aware that they can opt their children out of religious indoctrination and ritual at Catholic public schools; it's been the law since the eighties. So the fear seems to be that people may begin realizing that Catholic schools with complete religious opt-out options are really not much different than the existing secular public school system.

I suppose the most reasonable thing to do then would be to abolish such a redundant system and make the whole thing a single secular Public system. Because a public Catholic system is simply not representative of the Ontario public. The only public school system that can ever hope to properly serve the public is a secular one.

Meanwhile, the Catholic school system can become a private one - which, other than the money, is really what the would prefer, anyway. This would align reality with the untrue narrative that seems to be promoted in the media of Catholic vs. Public. They'd be able to teach Catholicism too and anyone who would prefer to opt out could go to the nearest real public school.

The interviewer also asks about parents who may be Catholic themselves who wish to take their kids out of Catholic courses and activities at Catholic schools. This, of course, is the Catholic Church's problem - and it is hilarious.

In the end, the Catholic Church has had its free lunch for many decades in Ontario. It cannot have its cracker and eat it too.

(Why does the page feature a picture of the crucifix in the Québec Assemblée nationale?)

About the FL Atheist who attacked his roommate with a butter knife...

Gustav Potthoff, 51, has had a history erratic behaviour which suggests mental illness (image source)
So it's impossible to avoid. All over the Internet we have reports of a man, Gustav Potthoff, who clearly has some serious mental health problems - perhaps schizophrenia? - and they've all latched on to one detail: he's an atheist.

Atheist Attacks Roommate He Thinks Is Jesus: Cops
Gustav Potthoff has a cross to bear: He's a self-proclaimed atheist accused of attacking his roommate whom he thought was Jesus.  
As such, he believes that only an atheist attorney can defend him properly.
Oh come on. Does anyone actually believe this has anything to do with religion?

Let's back up. Can anyone spot the ridiculous contradictions in this very headline? I know many atheists who believe that a guy called Jesus existed a couple of thousand years ago around the Palestine area. Sure, it's possible, but none of them I know believe he's the son of God because there is no God. So he was just this guy - a human like any other. Potthoff's belief places him squarely into woo territory.

Furthermore, Potthoff would need to believe that the Jesus exists still in present day - supernaturally? Aliens dropped Jesus off in a UFO maybe? A Jesus Tardis? This poor man is clearly not well. Some stories also fail to report that he's behaved erratically in the past as well.
Last May, he was arrested for calling the Secret Service with a fake bomb threat, according to a police report dated May 2, 2013. 
He told police he made that threat because he felt people, mainly family and attorneys, would not leave him alone. 
I don't think he requires an atheist defense attorney - although it certainly wouldn't hurt either. He most urgently requires a psychological evaluation.

I haven't read much about this story in the atheist blogosphere yet. It's possible, I suppose, that some people may try to distance themselves and atheism from Potthoff - claiming that his apparent thin grip on reality along with his apparently belief in a guy called Jesus possessing magical time travel abilities render his claims to being an atheist invalid.

Well, if he says he doesn't believe in a god, then he's an atheist. I'll own this fact the same way Muslims and Christians need to own those dangerous people who share their faith - most often in purer more fundamentalist ways. Yes, it's odd that he believes in Jesus but, in his current apparent state, I'll forgive this apparently compartmentalization with the son of God existing and God not existing - assuming his idea of Jesus is an orthodox one that actually has something to do with God. Who knows? and it doesn't have to make sense either.

So, this man appears to be one sick and paranoid person who happens also to be an atheist. It wasn't his lack of belief in a god that triggered his violence. If I were a betting man, I would say it's a serious condition that causes paranoia and fear inducing delusions. I hope he gets the help he needs and not just a jail cell.

Can we move on now please?

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

South African Government Official: Booers of Speech Must Be Working For Satan

I'm so happy the election is over with here in Quebec. The mudslinging and constant yabbering on about whether people could wear veils to government jobs was starting to get on my nerves. But I shouldn't complain too much. At least the mudslinging didn't include charges of Satanism and witchcraft and then lead to people getting killed.

Well, not so in South Africa, where their general election is still a month away and charges of witchcraft (malignant witches rather than Wiccans) and Satanism (classical Satanism not LaVeyan) are being propagated by a certain lower level government official and it's leading to people getting hurt.

Satanism and witchcraft in politics: a call for decency

Fikile Mbalula, Minister of Sport & Recration most recently accused any detractors of his party's speeches of being in league with the Prince of Darkness himself.
At the beginning of March 2014, Mbalula suggested that those who booed the party and state president were somehow working in the service of Satan or had been influenced by Satanists.  Given the moral panic around Satanism at the time – it was linked to several killings in townships, and was proposed by many to be ‘on the rise’, spreading from its usual association with lower middle class and traditionally white South African suburbs into townships of South Africa’s Black majority – it seemed a particularly craven gesture.  It seemed opportunistic and callously disregarded the pain of those who had been affected by the tragedies of the violent crimes purported to have been perpetrated as Satanic acts.
That's what happens when superstition mixes with politics. People get hurt.

Apparently no more than a month earlier he was accusing opposition of being witches.
Barely a month later, Mbalula went a step further, deploying a far more provocative trope to discredit political opponents.  Speaking at a memorial event for Solomon Mahlangu in Cape Town, the minister accused the Democratic Alliance of ‘witchcraft’.  Even a cursory familiarity with southern Africa’s indigenous belief systems allow one to realise that this is a particularly dangerous accusation to make.  In a deeply misogynistic society, women who are seen to have too much power are often accused of being witches in order to ‘tame’ them.  The extirpation of witchcraft from communities is often violent and murderous.  To accuse a party led by a woman of practicing witchcraft seems even more repellent than calling one’s opponents Satan worshippers in a deeply Christian country.
Well anything for power and money, right? While this sort of thing would be considered goofy and ridiculous here in Canada, it's serious business in many parts of Africa. People who make accusations like that -- with real repercussions -- ought to be disciplined by his political party.

Remember just north of South Africa is Zimbabwe, at least one politician has been implicated in kidnapping of children for ritual abuse so he could magically secure wealth and power.

Edit 2014-04-09 10:34pm : I had written 'when superstition mixes with religion' which I meant to say 'superstition mixes with politics'. Feel free to also substitute in 'religion mixes with politics' as well.