Friday, 30 August 2013

A Few Photos From Kasese Humanist Primary School in Uganda

So today was my son's very first day at school!  They grow up so fast!

And speaking of school, a few days ago, Kasese Humanist Primary School Director, Bwambale Robert, sent me some photos of the parent-teacher meeting held last Sunday for the closing of the second term, which ended last Friday.

Since I'm still getting over the plague that's ailed me for the past few days, I am not well at words right now. But they say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I thought I would share some of these photos.

So here they are. They'll be familiar to parents who read this blog.

Also take note of the structure of the current rented buildings on railroad property. The hope is to build new, more sturdy structures on the school's newly purchased land. Scroll down to the bottom for information on that.

Meeting agenda.
Setting up the meeting agenda.
A parent makes a point.
A parent makes a point.
Clearing up debts at the bursar's table.
Clearing up debts (tuition etc.) at the bursar's table.
Picking up children's report cards.
Heading home after the meeting.
Heading home after the meeting.
The next semester will begin September 16th.

Children at Kasese Humanist School
I've started a fundraiser to help build classrooms on newly purchased land for the Kasese Humanist Primary School.

Please consider donating!

Thursday, 29 August 2013

A Tale Of Two Charities

I do believe that someone has given me the plague and I'm willing to bet that someone likely lives with me and is around four years old. Ah well, it's not his fault. But everyone should expect very little in the way of brain power in the next few posts. Everything hurts.

Anyway, sometimes I like to draw out some sharp contrasts between two things that, on surface, ought to resemble each other. Like yesterday I got two emails from charities. The first was from Gospel for Asia, an organization I reviewed along with a book they give away in a multi-part series awhile back.

Well, suffice it to say, you can see the primary concerns they have for hungry and desperate people and their kids. It seems to be mostly spiritual, which is probably very cost effective as far as overhead goes.

But it's not all curses, Gospel tracks and goat slaughtering. No, this isn't just an episode of Scooby Doo. They also give you the option to help fund children's school supplies. So that must be good, right?

... oh, and a future in Jesus, whatever that means.

On the same day, I got an email from Doctors Without Borders, to whom I have donated before. What a contrast.

Do you see what I mean? Rather than peddling superstition they are talking about Drug-Resistant TB, Access to Medicines and Maternal Health.  You know, things that actually make a difference. I guess since this organization is a secular one, they have to do something to help people other than share the Gospel, you know like help them.

Anyway, just struck me as sort of interesting seeing these both next to each other in my mailbox.

Children at Kasese Humanist School
I've started a fundraiser to help build classrooms on newly purchased land for the Kasese Humanist Primary School.

Please consider donating!

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

The Climate Name Change

Now here's something I can get behind! Naming dangerous hurricanes after climate change deniers! The movie is produced by

Take a look at the Salon article about it here.

Bangladeshi Atheist Blogger: "They liked me, but they have to kill me some day."

Asif's back after a January attack that nearly left him dead.
Note the stitches. (image: IHEU)
There was an excellent article in Religion Dispatches yesterday that provided a gripping and somber interview with Bangladeshi atheist blogger Asif Mohiuddin. He was nearly killed by a mob of religious zealots and then thrown into jail.

It was written by Austin Dacey, a representative to the United Nations for the International Humanist and Ethical Union.

Bangladesh's Atheist Blogger Still Wants to Talk

What I found particularly fascinating was that Asif was actually put into a cell next to one of the assailants who nearly murdered him! It turns out they have carried out several chats and get along quite well - other than the fact the youth feels the religious obligation to murder him any chance he gets!
What Asif learned is that his would-be murderer, ten years his junior, did not want anything from him in particular, declining even a neighborly offer of food between the bars. Kamal and the other young incarcerated members of Bangladesh Islami Chhatra Shibir—or Shibir, the youth wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, the Islamist political party in the country—seemed genuinely to enjoy their captive colloquies, seemed to like Asif “as a human being.” 
It was nothing personal. But as an atheist, he would have to be killed.
Later in the article he mentions more about his would be killer. About how the assailants have nothing personal against him - it's just that their religion tells them they must kill.
“He thinks that Allah will love him if he can kill an atheist, that this is the shortest way to heaven. He told me he will try again if he gets out of there because that is their religious duty. They liked me, but they have to kill me some day.” 
I know they don't have any idea about me or my thoughts. They have no personal problem with me. They just have been told to do so, in the name of religion or Allah. I just have to criticize the root, not them—they will understand later. They are just following their duties. And I have to go to their roots.”
The story also goes on to explain how the prosecution twisted his own words against him and misrepresented what he had written to trump up false evidence against him.

Go check it out! It's a fascinating and sad read. Truly shows the worst possible face of religion.

Children at Kasese Humanist School
I've started a fundraiser to help build classrooms on newly purchased land for the Kasese Humanist Primary School.

Please consider donating!

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Here's one example why an evidence-based education founded on science, skepticism and rational thinking is so very important in places like Uganda.

No time today for a long post. Life's left me a bit frazzled lately. Mostly house related.

So here's something short. On my fundraiser to build new classrooms for the Kasese Humanist Primary School in Uganda, someone left this delightful comment:
Please get out of my country. We do not need your atheism. We do not need you to come and bring your Western ideas. We are now independent from Westerners we do not need you meddling anymore, leave us in peace with our God. If you do not believe than woe to you. My people are Christian and religious and they aren't complaining. Please, leave us alone.
I guess she never read that the school was actually started by a Ugandan and is being run entirely by Ugandans! By a Ugandan Humanist organization actually. Oh, and last time I checked, Christianity was most definitely an outside import religion to Uganda.

School Director Bwambale Robert left a good response to this. Go check it out on the fundraiser page.

Also, everyone cheer because we've made it past $3,700!  So we're past the 10% mark!

Children at Kasese Humanist School
I've started a fundraiser to help build classrooms on newly purchased land for the Kasese Humanist Primary School.

Please consider donating!

Monday, 26 August 2013

March for Jesus Organizers "Disappointed" Christian Flag Was Not Raised At City Hall

A float from the March for Jesus parade.
Pastor Shirley Walsh and the March for Jesus folks in Windsor, Ontario are disappointed. That was the news on the television last Friday.

March of Jesus organizers disappointed flag not raised at city hall

Go watch the video there. I can't figure out how to embed the thing.

This is, of course, good news for secularism and a healthy separation of church and state, but the story made Walsh and the March for Jesus folks out to be the real victims here.
"We don't mention religion, churches, pastors, we just talk about Jesus and we have a good time," says Walsh.
Oh no.... right... marches for Jesus have nothing at all to do with religions or churches (wink wink). You may think that this might be the case with 22 Christian churches getting together to do a march, but not so at all! (nudge,nudge)

It turns out the city found the March to be part of a larger Christian evangelical movement. And under the city's flag raising protocol there is a rule against this.
Under the city's flag raising policy, any flag that supports discrimination, a political or religious movement, cannot be flown.
Movement? Pah! No movement here and nothing to do with religion. It's just a friendly get together where people who happen to be members of 22 Christian churches just happen to talk about their god made man god together and then raise a flag in his honour at city hall. No religious movement here!
“On the 19th of Aug, Our Christian flag will be raise over city hall once again in Windsor, On…”The city of Windsor has a blanket of darkness over it and When we raise the Christian flag, Jesus will command the angels to lift the four corners of that blanket over our city. So the SON can shine through and eyes of understanding will be open. They will know  that Jesus is the answer.Amen!!Praise the Lord for answered prayers!! 
Nope, they just want to be part of the fabric. 

I don't think I buy that and neither did the City of Windsor.

Most notably lacking from the news story was any sort of representation of why the private citizens opposed the flag raising so much - such as forbidding government endorsement of a religion. They seemed to only focus on how the March for Jesus group is the victim here (for no well specified reason), and they draw parallels between the raising of the Christian flag with the raising of the LGBTQ Rainbow Flag. I'm not sure how I feel about that.

One comment to the story from Jim McDowell sums up an emotion I got.
Pastor Walsh played the "Granny" bit nicely during her on camera bits, not once did she bring up that fact that the main group behind the march is a Evangelical group which has in their mandate to make all non-Christians Christians, and the whole bit about how they say there is a dark blanket over our fair city and that they are going to pray to their god and Jesus to send his angles down to remove it. No mention either in the news piece about All Saints Church did not allow them to fly their flag there either. There is lots more to this story then just the City of Windsor not allowing them to fly the flag at City hall.

Children at Kasese Humanist School
I've started a fundraiser to help build classrooms on newly purchased land for the Kasese Humanist Primary School.

Please consider donating!

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Some Christians Pay Company To Monitor The Porn Sites They Visit: Fear of Hell Apparently Not Good Enough

When I was a boy, I took religion very seriously. I was a very Catholic child.

During confession, the priest was very interested in how many times I touched myself and where I touched myself. He must have just needed all the details to be able to properly calculate how many Hail Marys I had to recite. Yeah, that must be it.

I can remember feeling terribly shameful about masturbation right up to high school. Then, I stopped caring and I didn't go blind and my world didn't collapse. It was around this time I got my first 1200 baud modem that connected me to what came before the Internet - the magical world of online bulletin board systems.

And with that came my first exposure to online porn. Ever since then, I've looked at porn and I don't think it's had a negative affect. My friends know, my wife knows, it's not a big deal.

But apparently, it's a big deal to many Christians. You see, I was reading an article on a Catholic website when I came across an advert for the e-book Your Brain On Porn: 5 proven ways pornography warps your mind and 3 biblical ways to renew it. I couldn't resist. This deadly online temptation was too much for me to handle.

The book explains how detrimental exposure to pornography is and then offers the solution to this problem: get with God. In other words, pornography is very bad and dangerous and the only cure that can prevent us from falling prey to it is Jesus Christ... oh, and some software the site is pushing.

It turns out the book is being given away by Covenant Eyes, which is software that does Internet Accountability and Filtering.

The company logo is this creepy looking eyeball, that will watch your every click.

Being a father, I can understand installing internet filters and monitoring software to protect my four year old son from downloading objectionable material. In fact, Internet is disabled on his IPad and altering that feature requires a password.

What makes this software so odd is its accountability feature that's meant to dissuade adults (mostly men) from watching pornography.

Essentially, this software will log every site you visit and send a report to your Accountability Partner, who will then be able to discuss these sites with you. Sounds awkward, doesn't it? Here's a snippet from a comment on a Covenant Eyes information page:
Covenant Eyes is perfect for the college/highschool student. Web filtering software poses difficult problems when you need to do research, because many of your searches get blocked. I have used covenant eyes for over a year and LOVE it because I can do my research for school, and there are no restrictions. Instead, covenant eyes simply sends a detailed report of every website I look at to my wife's email each week. She can see where I've been and what I've been doing. It adds a huge level of accountablility to my life in a non-restrictive way. I highly recomend covenant eyes.

My first reactions are: How old is this guy, twelve? and Does your wife have all her browsing reports sent to you as well? What's she looking at?

It's amazing how sharing erotic material between two consenting adults is often seen as a fairly healthy practice to spice things up a little in mainstream culture but how darn creepy it can become within Christian culture.

Although I cannot think of any site I visit that my wife would disapprove of, I still cannot get enthusiastic about the idea of having all my searches and site visits sent to her in a weekly report. Honestly, it seems sort of pathetic to me.

Well, the Covenant Eyes website gives us the story of pastor Josh and his wife Serena.

Here's a summary. One day Serena discovers that Josh has been having an affair. So rather than leave him or seek marriage counselling, they both pick up and leave town. Then Josh goes to a church-funded retreat with a bunch of men to a cabin, where they all play a game of association using some picture cards (party on).

Josh picks a picture of a busted up bike and then breaks down in tears. When asked why he spills the beans to his newfound band of brothers all about the porn, the cheating, the lying.

Because you know, first comes porn, then comes cheating, then comes lying. Or not. Actually, most of the time first comes porn, then comes masturbation, then comes orgasm and then comes the rest of your day. But I could be out of touch.
After the mountain retreat, a small group of men began meeting weekly to encourage each other. Like Josh, these men had also divulged their dirty and sordid pasts during the retreat. He knew, meeting with them, they were men who had experienced great changes in their lives. They were men who knew the allure of sin, but they also knew how to fight it. 
Every man in Josh’s group had Covenant Eyes Accountability Software on their computers. Each week they would get one another’s Internet reports, giving a detailed list of all the websites they had visited. As they met weekly to encourage one another, they weren’t afraid to call Josh out if they saw something questionable in his life—online or offline.
Holy crap would I ever find that awkward. Sitting around talking about all the nasty sites we all visited over the week. Awkward or hilarious maybe.

Seriously though. I never knew this was a thing in Christian culture. You see, when your pastor (rumour has it that 40% of pastors are themselves addicted to porn) tells you lust is a bad thing, it's pretty freaking tragic.  And that masturbation is a bad thing, which is also pretty freaking tragic.  And that pornography is evil and damaging - well you ned to avoid these things at all cost. The godless heathen that I am, I find all this most depressing.

Anyway, it seems like a whole industry has grown up in Christian culture all about avoiding porn. And it's in this culture that companies like Covenant Eyes have became a thing and are offering digital chastity belts to discourage people from visiting pornographic websites.  (And I mean bad chastity belts, not the kind some kinky folk out there seem to use. And by bad I mean really lousy, not bad like naughty bad.)

Okay! Anyway.

This is pretty big business. Covenant Eyes with just the accountability component costs $8.99 per month and $2.00 per month for each additional user. If you want filtering on top of this, it'll cost a bit more.

They'll even disconnect your internet service on your PC completely until you get the courage to give their online support a call to have it reinstated. You need only press the panic button!
When someone is struggling with temptation online, they can click our Panic Button to cut off their Internet access until they feel stronger. To reinstate the connection, call our Customer Support team for free assistance.
The idea being promoted is that all forms of lust and temptation must be stoically suppressed to guarantee purity. Here's an extract from a guest post on Andy Naselli's blog. The guest poster is actually one of Andy's accountability partners.
Fighting lust is an all-out war. Even though it’s not the only front on which the battle is fought, one crucial strategy for fighting lust is accountability. And even though the Internet is not the only place where a guy struggles with temptation, Internet accountability is one of the most crucial aspects of accountability today.
You see, I think lust is absolutely awesome and that it often leads to wonderful things. Oh well, I am after all one of the lost ones. I really don't get it anymore.
The dawn of the Internet Age hasn’t created my problem; it’s just provided one more way for me to be tempted. I’ve struggled with lust as long as I can remember (even before the Internet). My deliberate warfare against my lustful heart began as I was a young Christian in junior high (when Google didn’t exist). Since high school I’ve used a biblical meditation plan to help me fight. But this meditation plan, helpful as it is, isn’t enough. For the last ten years, I’ve used Internet accountability. But this strategy isn’t the “end all” method for fighting sin, either.
Well, it could be because your a human being. It's very difficult to change this I'm afraid. But I can give you one piece of useful advice. Why not just masturbate?

I'm watching you! Wait, not good enough to keep you off YouPorn? Okay, your wife and best friend Jed will see
the report at the end of the week.
But here's my biggest area of confusion about this whole thing. I cannot count the number of times I've heard Christians say that without a belief in God nobody would have any reason to be moral. Indeed, if there is no god then humanity is left - gasp! - to police itself. And we all know that's impossible, right?

If Christians truly believe in a God that will potentially throw them into an eternal hell fire for having impure thoughts, watching pornography or masturbating, then what is the disconnect here? Isn't the fear of their almighty, just an vengeful god enough to keep them from clicking that mouse button? Isn't it enough to get them to turn off their monitors? Apparently not.

Apparently, it's social consequences that are more effective. Like their unbelieving brothers and sisters, the threat of humiliation, shaming and punishment from fellow humans really does the trick better than some imaginary friend in the sky.

As such, I'm not sure they truly believe everything they say they do, but we both have one thing in common, there is no deterrent more powerful than the possibility of hurting a best friend or spouse - no matter how messed up the reasons for the hurt are.  This is the principle of minimizing harm and avoiding social judgement. You know, the working parts of a humanistic ethical system.

That said, I recognize that porn addiction is a real thing. Perhaps systems like this are useful to people who suffer a debilitating addiction to it.

Edit 2013-08-26: Based on a comment from Lothar Lorraine, I changed the title of the post from 'Christians Pay Company..." to "Some Christians Pay Company".

Edit 2013-08-30: Corrected word 'addition' to read 'addiction'. Thanks to reader Calix for pointing this out!

Children at Kasese Humanist School
I've started a fundraiser to help build classrooms on newly purchased land for the Kasese Humanist Primary School.

Please consider donating!

Friday, 23 August 2013

Quebec Secular Movement to Ask Canada Supreme Court to Deny Prayer Before Saguenay City Council Meetings

Mayor Jean Tremblay. (source)
Some of my Canadian readers may remember Saguenay Mayor Jean Tremblay. Perhaps this will jog your memory:
“What shocks me, is to see us, the gentle French-Canadians, being told how to behave by someone from Algeria whose name we can’t even pronounce,” ... 
“They are quietly, and with nice language, eating away (at our traditions),”  ... “They quietly start by removing the prayer in city hall, then they’ll remove our religious objects, then they’ll take away the crosses in cities and after that they’ll go into the schools ...   
“They’ll do away with our religion and culture everywhere, and you won’t notice.”
Tremblay is a devout Catholic who sees the place of religion (read: Christianity) in Quebec being threatened by secularists and other religions.

Well, back in May, he won a Quebec Court of Appeal case that would allow prayer before city council meetings. This was seen as a setback by secularists like me, but many saw it as a mere blip on the radar for a province that is moving quickly ever more secular by the day.

Thankfully the Mouvement laïque québécois (MLQ), or Quebec Secular Movement, has stepped up to the plate and will ask the Canadian Supreme Court to hear the case.
Lucie Jobin, president of Quebec's Secular Movement, said municipalities should not have any religious dealings, and that the principle of absolute neutrality on religious matters should govern municipalities.
This is great news! Or maybe not... It's hard for me to predict how the Canadian Supreme Court will rule on these things. I mean, it's nearly a given that they're more socially conservative than Quebec, right? I have no idea if their concept of secularism is anywhere near the same as Quebec laïcisme.

Speaking of which, I will be weighing in on the whole Secular Charter, which has been renamed the Charter of Quebec Values hopefully soon. It has one very tragic flaw though, which Jobin points out.
Quebec's Secular Movement has also been instrumental in working on the proposed Charter of Quebec Values, although earlier this week Jobin said she was disappointed that the PQ government wanted to keep the crucifix in the National Assembly.
I too am disappointed by this double standard.

Meanwhile, Mayor Jean Tremblay has no comment as he just learnt of the action this morning and wants to study up on the MLQ's decision first.

Children at Kasese Humanist School
I've started a fundraiser to help build classrooms on newly purchased land for the Kasese Humanist Primary School.

Please consider donating!

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Update from KHPS: Electricity Coming Soon to New School Site!

UMEME technician installs power polls for future site of Kasese Humanist Primary School.
(photo: Bwambale Robert)
Well, things are abuzz in Kasese these days. After several months of waiting, it looks like electricity is coming to the future school site, Kasese Humanist Primary School's new permanent home!

Editor's Note 2013-08-22: Just a reminder that this electrification of the new land was made possible by generous donors to a past successful fundraiser!

August 20th:

Kasese School Directory, Robert Bwambale, has informed me that the power line company (UMEME) brought in two power poles, the holes have been dug, and they have been erected. Wires are being installed as well to support the poles.
'I am so glad seeing the fundraiser moving on gradually and this is some  thing good and promising.'
Bwambale also sent me a personal story of one of the students, Thembo Kamanzi, which I will post about in the coming weeks, I promise!

There was some bad news in this update. The Poultry Project suffered a small setback. There was recently an outbreak of chicken disease in the region and many birds of the local breed died.

However, losses were minimized. After the school lost two local breed chickens to the disease, the sold off the rest of the chickens that were local breed and the money has been put into reserve for restocking later with healthy local breeds once the disease has passed in the region.

The coop is still producing eggs though because there was always a mix between local breeds and an egg-laying breed that was not affected by the disease because they had proper immunization and have been fed a good regime of vitamins. So, these chickens are still in perfect health and the coop is still in business!

The Humanist travellers in the Pathfinders Project are expected to arrive at the school on September 11th!
'The second school term closes this Friday and parents have been called to the school this coming Sunday to collect the report cards of their children. The school will reopen in 16th of September this year.  I am also expecting the Pathfinders Project crew to be in Kasese on the 11th of September, some weeks before the school reopens.'

On the following day, August 21st, Bwambale sent me more images from the project. He had this update.
Sean, I am passing over to you more images about the electrification of the KHPS site. The UMEME guys have turned up this morning and added the conductors and most likely they will bring the meter this evening and instal it thereafter the chapter will be closed and we shall finally be connected to the power grid. I will keep you posted.
Electrical pole standing near the existing building on the new Kasese Humanist Primary School site.
(photo: Bwambale Robert)
Just in case I am not the only one that was confused by the word conductors. It is another term for wires. I know the purpose of wires is to conduct, but I have never heard that word before.

More news to come! I'll post all the photos to the fundraiser campaign page!

Do please consider chipping in a little for this project.

Children at Kasese Humanist School
I've started a fundraiser to help build classrooms on newly purchased land for the Kasese Humanist Primary School.

Please consider donating!

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Canadian Secular Alliance Praises City of Windsor: City Hall Did Not Fly Christian Flag

Logo for Canadian Secular Alliance.
Remember that church group that wanted to raise the Christian flag at Windsor City Hall?
“On the 19th of Aug, Our Christian flag will be raise over city hall once again in Windsor, On…”The city of Windsor has a blanket of darkness over it and When we raise the Christian flag, Jesus will command the angels to lift the four corners of that blanket over our city. So the SON can shine through and eyes of understanding will be open. They will know  that Jesus is the answer.Amen!!Praise the Lord for answered prayers!! 
(I have preserved the erratic capitalization from the original for dramatic effect.)

Well, it turns out that not only are blankets cozy but that this church group, which is also putting on the March for Jesus, simply didn't have a prayer!

Local resident, Susan, contacted the city and put a stop to it. The city revoked permission to put up the flag on public property. The March for Jesus Facebook page canceled the event the night before and it never happened.

The Canadian Secular Alliance (CSA) released this statement, praising the city of Windsor:
August 20, 2013 13:36 ET
Media Advisory: Secularists Praise City of Windsor's Decision to Stop Raising Christian Flag 
TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - Aug. 20, 2013) - The Canadian Secular Alliance (CSA), a public policy non-profit organization advancing church-state separation and the neutrality of government in matters of religion, congratulates the City of Windsor in ending its practice of raising the Christian flag over Windsor City Hall. 
"Allowing 'March for Jesus' to raise the Christian flag over Windsor City Hall breaches the city's own praiseworthy secularism policy of prohibiting endorsements of one religious group over others," said CSA Spokesperson Justin Trottier. 
While prohibiting the Christian flag raising, the City of Windsor is still allowing 'March for Jesus' banners and other Christian symbols on city space, which the CSA does not oppose."The display of religion in public is fine, provided government not be seen as endorsing particular belief systems," said Trottier. "We trust the City will provide equal promotional opportunity when similar requests start coming from other religions, or atheist organizations."
Congratulations to Susan and the city of Windsor for doing the right thing!

Children at Kasese Humanist School
I've started a fundraiser to help build classrooms on newly purchased land for the Kasese Humanist Primary School.

Please consider donating!

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Rene Chouinard Wins Human Rights Tribunal Case! No Religious Material Distribution Allowed at Niagara Public Schools!

Rene Chouinard
Last week, I contacted Rene Chouinard, the Grimsby Ontario father of two children who had finally appeared in front of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, three years after vowing to fight the Niagara Public School Board's decision to allow the distribution of Gideon Bibles and other religious material on school grounds.

For those who haven't heard of the case they can read all about it here on my blog.

On Friday, we had a good 45 minute talk on Skype. Rene cleared up a misconception I had about his case relying on atheism being a creed - it turns out it was the Board that was arguing that Chouinard would only be capable of arguing discrimination if he had a creed to be discriminated against and since he didn't, he wasn't a victim.

There was some discussion in the hearing about different meanings of the word creed and that it need not be a statement of religious belief, but rather a statement of belief about religion - a metaphysical position if you will.

Well, Rene also told me my timing was really good. Rumour had it that the person who was presiding over the case was looking to change jobs and the only way to clear themselves from their current position was to finish their case load. The inside chatter was that a ruling was imminent - as in within days or weeks.

Well, I never could have guessed it would be today!

I got a happy e-mail from Rene about an hour ago along with a link to the ruling.

In short, he won!

The full ruling is here and judging by my first glances at it, it's very reasonable.  I cannot wait to see the media response.

R.C. v. District School Board of Niagara, 2013 HRTO 1382 (CanLII)

Let's cut to the chase now, shall we?
[77]        The Tribunal orders as follows:
1.  Both Applications are allowed. 
2.  Board policy G-22 as it now reads cannot be relied upon by the Board. 
3.  Unless it develops a new policy consistent with the Code principles set out in this Decision, the Board shall not permit the distribution of religious publications in its schools. 
4.  If the Board intends to develop a new policy permitting distribution of creed and religious publications in its schools, it shall finalize the policy within six months, and provide a copy of the new policy to the applicants and intervenors. 
5.  If any party to this case believes that the new policy or practices under it are inconsistent with the Code, it may write to the Registrar no later than one year from the date of this Decision and request that I decide the issue. 
6.  I shall remain seized of these Applications for the purpose of dealing with disputes about any new Board policy raised with the Registrar within one year of today’s date.
Or in more (beautiful) detail:
[74]        For these reasons, I find that the Board’s 2010 policy is also contrary to the Code, and will order a remedy to promote compliance with the Code. The decision about whether and how to redesign the policy should be that of the Board, the elected body that decides upon educational policy in Niagara. It is the Board’s choice whether to end the practice of distributing religious literature or to design a new policy that complies with this Decision and to decide upon the details of the policy. 
[75]        In view of the discrimination found in this Decision, policy G-22 will be declared invalid. The Tribunal’s Order will provide that no distribution of religious materials shall take place in the Board’s schools unless the Board designs a new policy consistent with the Code principles set out in this Decision. In order to ensure that any new policy complies with the Code, the Order will provide the Board with six months to develop any new policy and provide it to the applicants and intervenors. I will remain seized for one year to deal with any disputes about whether any new policy complies with the Code. This will facilitate and promote the primary place of local democratically elected representatives while ensuring that a remedy at the Tribunal is available in an expeditious manner if any party believes there continues to be discrimination.
The adjudicator, David A. Wright has a few brilliant statements in his judgement. I'll just paste a few here.
I understand that some parents and students may not agree with some of the content of atheist literature like “Just Pretend”. However, the applicant and others do not agree with some of the content of the Gideon Bible. If the Board decides to have a policy permitting distribution of religious literature, it must be prepared to accept that some parents and students might object to materials that others, with parental permission, are receiving. If it is prepared to distribute permission forms proposing the distribution of Christian texts to committed atheists, it must also be prepared to distribute permission forms proposing the distribution of atheist texts to religious Christians. 
Further it was judged that although the Board said it wanted to be inclusive of all religions, it actually made no effort at all to encourage any religion save the Gideons:
The Council of Imams asked, during the school year, to send religious material to be distributed in the schools. The Board responded two months later, in the summer, with a link to the policy, which is itself vague, and no information as to how to actually provide the materials as requested. Whether intentional or not, a reasonable reading of the e-mail would lead a reader to believe that the Board was not interested in encouraging or even facilitating the distribution of materials other than the Gideon Bible and the Board did not take the opportunity to ensure that there was more than one creed’s materials distributed in the schools.
As for whether or not Chouinard has a creed that can be discriminated against, the adjudicator wisely determined that it didn't actually matter whether or not atheism was a creed. It was still discrimination, plain and simple. This is the best possible outcome we could ever ask for because it means atheists do not need to be reduce their philosophical positions down to the level of just another religion to acquire the same basic human rights protections as religious people.
The respondent submits that atheism is a not a creed, and that the Application should be dismissed on the basis that the Code does not protect against discrimination because a person is atheist. The applicant and the CCLA take the position that atheism is a creed. The Commission takes the position that the issue need not be decided, because even if atheism is not a creed, discrimination against a person who does not have a creed is included in the protection against discrimination because of creed. The Commission notes that it is revising its policy on creed and does not ask that the Tribunal adopt the definition of creed in its 1996 Policy on creed and the accommodation of religious observances.
I'll no doubt read this ruling again and again because, as far as I can tell based on my first quick read-through, it's absolutely brilliant. It appears, at first glance at least, to be a clear and decisive victory for everyone who's interested in keeping religion out of our public schools.

You need to read it yourself!

Children at Kasese Humanist School
I've started a fundraiser to help build classrooms on newly purchased land for the Kasese Humanist Primary School.

Please consider donating!

Monday, 19 August 2013

Darwin's Great Great Great Granddaughter Becomes Catholic Theologian: Checkmate, Atheists!

Charles Darwin
So back in June the Catholic news and blogosphere was rocked to its core again by a story about a highly educated smart person who was raised non-religious who became Catholic.

Yes, I know, it sounds improbable - and many Catholics apparently agree because they made quite a fuss about it! - but it did happen.

The last time I heard about this sort of thing happening was way back when the atheist blogger, Leah Libresco announced she was turning Catholic.

This was big news! She ended up getting interviews on major news networks for her conversion to Catholicism!

Now, if Catholicism makes so much sense, what with over 2,000 years of theology backing it up, then why is this such earth-shattering news? Okay, never mind that obvious question - look the other way! - isn't it amazing? Let's get back to this last story, the one in June.

Well, it turns out that Darwin's great-great-great granddaughter converted to Catholicism and is now an independent Catholic scholar and theologian. Earth shattering isn't it? I mean, she's related to Darwin!


Descendant of Charles Darwin becomes a Catholic apologist

So says the Catholic Herald back in June 2013. The descendant shall be here afterwards referred to as Laura Keynes.

In the interview, she pointed out some of the motivating factors that led to her conversion to Catholicism. None of these make much sense to me. Anyway, when she was working on her doctorate at Oxford, she began to re-assess her values and was influenced by Dawkins and the New Atheists.
The debate sparked by Richard Dawkins’s book The God Delusion inspired her to read more about the subject, and she concluded that “New Atheism seemed to harbour a germ of intolerance and contempt for people that could only undermine secular Humanist claims to liberalism”. 
She writes: “If atheism’s claim to the intellectual high ground is bolstered by my ancestor’s characteristic ability to explore and analyse inconsistencies in the evidence, that same family characteristic led me towards a sceptical assessment of what can and can’t be known absolutely.”
I have about as much difficulty parsing the first paragraph above as I did trying to understand some of Libresco's reasons for converting to Catholicism. All I can interpret here is that some atheists came off as intolerant to her. And this very intolerance will inevitably lead to a total undermining to any claims to liberalism secular Humanism may have.

Come again?

A. I have no idea how some vocal atheists rub off on her could possibly lend credibility to Catholicism or reflect badly on atheism as a whole or how tenable it is philosophically.

B. I have no idea how what a few atheists say could ever undermine Secular Humanism as a positive movement.

C. I haven't the foggiest what claims to liberalism really means.

Look, I get it. She was put off by some atheists out there and decided she felt better as a Catholic. Why not just come out and say it?

As for Darwin's ability to explore an analyse. Nobody doubts that. And there are very smart people who are Catholic out there. I don't doubt that either. What makes Darwin different is he used the scientific method to actually demonstrate his ideas. He was so self critical and skeptical, that he worked for years gathering actual scientific evidence to back up his theory. Christian philosophers and theologians have been at it for hundreds of years. I can't say they've come up with anything that even compares to what Darwin achieved.

As for those things that are absolutely true, I would assume she can only be talking about logical or mathematical absolutes. Because when it comes to things in the physical world - how can we ever hope to know anything with absolute confidence?

Anyway, back in June, I sort of pushed this story aside and forgot about it. But it seems like evolution also occurs in the Catholic and Christian online media as well. You see, I kept seeing this story pop up again and again. It's like some kind of strange recessive gene that's being selected by the Catholic blogosphere.

The National Catholic Register re-ran the story on August 14th.

If Only Charles Darwin Could See His Descendant Now

Either they don't have windows in heaven or hell or else the Register agrees with me that there is no afterlife! Gotcha, Catholic Register! Yes, I know, it's a figure of speech. But I find it an amusing thought nonetheless.
But in mid-June, the Catholic Herald reported the startling news that this highly educated Darwinian descendant had evolved into a Catholic apologist, joining Britain’s Catholic Voices.
No, actually it's not very startling at all. Unless they believe that views on religion are genetically inherited and this is a shocking disproof of evolution?  No, they couldn't think that. They must be startled that a highly educated person would become Catholic? Yes, that seems to be what they're saying.
“Atheists prefer certainty and use Darwin’s theory of evolution to state categorically that God does not exist, overegging Darwin in their argument in a way that Darwin himself would be uncomfortable with. He thought agnosticism the more coherent position, saying, ‘I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect.’ Resting in doubt, he allowed others their conscience. He set out to follow the evidence where it led, not bring down Christianity. The evidence did not have to lead inevitably to materialism, but, for various cultural reasons, this is where it led: to materialism and the culture of death. This is the real battle: the culture of life, supported by Christianity, vs. the culture of death, supported by materialism.”
I'm sure some atheists will use evolution as some kind of proof that God doesn't exist. It could be used to argue against some definitions of gods. But, of course, all the theist must do is slide into some different register of God and the atheist is left once again at square one. It's like philosophical whac-a-mole. A more appealing means is forcing the theist to define their god and then point out the contradictions there. I'll wait for Keynes to do this to lay out the functional diagram of her god so we may all peer review it together. I suggest she comes up with something original, since the eons of work by the theologians of yore just didn't produce anything useful.

As for the culture of life being Christianity, I remain completely confused. I would say that all life is supported solely by materialism. By this I mean all matter, what is real, what is in this world and not in the fanciful myths and mountains of unprovable and nonsensical words written by armies of theologians.  Oh, if those books would only rot away in the basements of empty churches - useless corpses of once majestic forests reduced to material vessels containing nothing but stale immaterial ideas from dark and tragic times.

Like secularism, materialism is an overloaded word these days. This is a shame. Ever since the days of Plotinus, the Church has simply never been a big fan of matter - that is to say, reality.
"... I would then ask the claimant to consider whether it might not, paradoxically, be anti-intellectual, and therefore undermining reason as a value, to dismiss belief in God as irrational and beyond reason, because this claim represents a threat to the practice of philosophy and theology as academic disciplines. The question of whether the existence of God is demonstrable by rational argument has kept philosophers and theologians busy for centuries. I’d ask the claimant to explain how closing this discussion furthers the cause of reason. So I’d respond gently, but if I really lost my patience, I’d tell them: 'Just go and read Aquinas!'”
What? ...

Okay, I don't think Aquinas will make it any easier for me to understand.

Yes, we've been wrong for a very long time. Thank goodness for the scientific method.

But here's what really spurned me on to write this post.

Catholic Church 1, New Atheists 0

A woman with some of Charles Darwin's DNA converted to Catholicism and is having a go at being a theologian! Well then!


I think, like the whole Leah Libresco affair, the very zeal and rabid enthusiasm the Catholic online press has gobbled this all up with betrays some sort of underlying lack of confidence.

It seems like nothing warms the hearts of Catholic readers more than a story of atheist turned Catholic. It's like a rare and colourful bird who's scarcity brings about feelings of wonder. I suppose it helps to confirm their faith somehow.

You can find an article written by Laura herself at Strange Notions with the equally shocking title:

I’m a Direct Descendant of Darwin…and a Catholic

Children at Kasese Humanist School
I've started a fundraiser to help build classrooms on newly purchased land for the Kasese Humanist Primary School.

Please consider donating!

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Guest Post In The Friendly Atheist Blog!

Kasese student Wyclif, 7, is exceptional at English.  Everyone
calls him grandfather because he looks quite old for his age.
As most of you probably know, I've been busy lately promoting a new fundraiser to build classrooms on Kasese Humanist Primary School in Uganda.

Hemant Mehta (Friendly Atheist) was kind enough to let me post a guest post on his blog!  Go check it out if you haven't yet!

Help Build a Humanist School In Uganda!

Thanks to Hemant for allowing me to guest post in his awesome blog! And if you don't regularly read his blog, then why not?

Friday, 16 August 2013

Chief Rabbi Says The Sky Is Falling And New Atheism Is The Cause

Chief Rabbi's got the answer.
Oh no! The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Everyone is turning all atheisty and Civilization is dooooooooooomed!

Oh, I'm sorry I have just read that I'm part of a problem that could cause the Occidental Downfall.

I always suspected that I was a bit of a klutz and now it turns out that my disbelief in something has gone and pooched the destiny of an entire hemisphere. So, let me catch my breath while the barbarian hoards are sill at the gates sharpening their man-skewers.

It turns out that Atheism - or what is being termed the New Atheism -  has completely and totally failed and we all need to get religious again to fight the barbarians.  Or so said Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in the Spectator magazine.

Chief Rabbi: atheism has failed. Only religion can defeat the new barbarians

The subtitle the article states that the West is suffering for its loss of faith. Unless we rediscover religion, our civilisation is in peril.  Wow, this is grave news indeed!

It seems that while I wasn't looking, Atheism, has had pretty much complete control over the West and has now done broke the thing. And here I was thinking that atheism in the West is just now beginning to get its voice. How wrong I was.

And move over Climate Change and Global Warming. This planet has bigger problems - lack of belief in God!  And the only thing that can solve its woes is more religion. After all this new atheism has just been spilled all over the place, who doesn't want a little more civilization-cleansing God now and then?

Stacks starts out by calling New Atheists superficial. They just don't get the whole life thing as religious folk like him do.
I love the remark made by one Oxford don about another: ‘On the surface, he’s profound, but deep down, he’s superficial.’ That sentence has more than once come to mind when reading the new atheists.
Let's just start out by stating that the New Atheists usually refers to just four guys, one of which has passed away. (And his body was hardly cool before religious writers hopped out of the woodwork to discredit him - really kicking him when he was down.) I consider myself a modern atheist and I do get a little annoyed when the entire modern atheist movement is reduced down to four men when it really is much broader than that.

That said, yes these are four intelligent men who dared to write books calling the clergy out on their bullshit rather than living quiet lives in academia and reserving their godless views for other initiates in their exclusive club - which no doubt also includes some of the cream of the clergy.

Supposedly, there was a time when those classic atheists of yore stood silent ant let falsehoods be worshipped in holy places. No sense in disturbing the naive religious fantasies of the hoi polloi. Atheism would only upset minds that require a delusion to provide moral codes and reasons to live. But the four horsemen refused to play this game and began courting the clergy clientele all in the name of seeking the truth and living in reality.

The popular appeal of the New Atheists and the rise of the Nones in the West is no doubt bad for business for those who make their business from religious belief.

In his piece Sacks looks forward to the day when intellectual historians will look back at these four men and wonder how they could ever think their books, which attempt to elevate the minds of millions of religious believers from the intellectual doldrums of religious fundamentalism to some more evidence-based state.

As for me, I believe this enterprise in enlightenment had to be undertaken by someone - for the sake of not only the truth but also the very future of the planet itself. And it certainly isn't something that very few religious intellectuals seem to have the time to do.

He then makes New Atheists out to be simpletons who believe that with the expunging of God belief would come a new utopian world of problem free bliss and happiness.  Of course this is not the case, but it would be a world where the beliefs of men are not based on fairytales and good feelings; a world where the thoughts of people are closer to the truth.

Straw man? Yes, I think so.

In another article Alexander Lucie-Smith over at the Catholic Herald agrees completely with Sacks, Lord Sacks is right: 21st-century atheism is descending into nihilism : Many of today’s God-haters have nothing of significance to say about life.
By contrast, many of the God-haters of today have nothing of significance to say about life. Indeed, many of them claim philosophy itself is unimportant.
I'm not sure about that. Dennett himself is a philosopher. I think the message that Lucie-Smith could be missing here is that philosophy has very little grounding in the material reality we know as humans if it cannot be somehow tested by science. Philosophy and science can work hand in hand - otherwise, it is nothing more than vapid religion. Meaning with nothing to back it up is nothing more than a fantasy.

He then pulls out the same chestnut about a foundation being required for morals in our society. I really don't get why they obsess about this so. Is it anything other than it being a kind of cache they can fit their God into?

He moves on to meaning. Because without God and religion, he is apparently unable to conceive of any meaning to his lives whatsoever. Well, any meaning worth talking about. These ghosts must be real independent beings for him, I think, or else he would need to take credit for creating his own meaning and values and worths in this Universe - a task I suppose he doesn't feel he is up to?
But this last simply cannot be true. There is meaning in the universe which we discover, and which we do not create. Well, how did that meaning get there? 
Of course, atheists could argue that these are stupid questions, a tale of sound and fury told by an idiot and signifying nothing. This nihilist position seems to me to be the position towards which most contemporary atheism is tending. Instead of answering the question, the tendency is to mock, ridicule and belittle the question. But the question – What does it all mean? – presupposes that there is meaning of some sort, and it is this surely that should form the basis for discussion amongst all people, whatever their beliefs about God: there should be a common search for meaning and for truth.
I'm sorry if this makes you feel sad or scared but, no. There are scientific facts and phenomena we discover in the universe. We then put our own interpretations and values onto them. We build our own meaning of life around things that we care about.  It's as simple as that. I don't know why this is such an enormous problem.

How did the meaning get there? We put it there.

And I don't mean to mock anyone here. Really, honestly, there is no grand meaning behind the universe. Please try to deal with this reality. Please insert your own meaning - it's easy, humans are wired for it. Everyone searches for their own meaning.

There is a common search for truth. It's the enterprise of science. Philosophy also fits the bill in measure with how much it grounds itself in reality (using science to underpin it). Philosophy and ethics must be grounded in science and not religious mumbo jumbo.

The truth is, it's mainly the religious clergy who are suffering from the West's loss of faith. As the numbers of those who would consider the post of priest or rabbi anything special or worthy of praise dwindle, less meat remains for those who stand solely on their priestly credentials.

"And every meat offering, mingled with oil, and dry, shall all the sons of Aaron have, one as much as another" - No more. Religious institutions are at risk.

In his own country, Sacks can now see precious little support for religion and even less support for religious leaders like himself.
Asked which figures had influence in their lives, religious leaders came bottom, with only 12% saying they were influenced by them.
Sacks opened his piece with this lament.
Whatever happened to the intellectual depth of the serious atheists, the forcefulness of Hobbes, the passion of Spinoza, the wit of Voltaire, the world-shattering profundity of Nietzsche?
Perhaps I missed the show, and I could ask where are all today's great Christian philosophers? Let me sink my teeth into some of their work. Let them convert the masses if they can. But instead I'll close with some words from one of the great atheists according to Sacks at least, Friedrich Nietzsche.
“As is well known, the priests are the most evil enemies—but why? Because they are the most impotent. It is because of their impotence that in them hatred grows to monstrous and uncanny proportions, to the most spiritual and poisonous kind of hatred. The truly great haters in world history have always been priests; likewise the most ingenious haters: other kinds of spirit hardly come into consideration when compared with the spirit of priestly vengefulness.”
I'm not sure if I would agree with Nietzsche, mostly when it comes to the level of hatred clergy have. Here's something Voltaire, who was more likely a Deist,  said about clergy.
"The first priest was the first rogue who met the first fool."
I wonder if Sacks would really like to see the New Atheist movement produce more minds and hearts like Nietzsche and Voltaire.

Children at Kasese Humanist School
I've started a fundraiser to help build classrooms on newly purchased land for the Kasese Humanist Primary School.

Please consider donating!

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Follow the Pathfinders' Blogs & Help Conserve More Water With Your Coffee

The intrepid travellers in the Pathfinders Project have begun this year's Humanist humanitarian voyage and you can read all about it on their blogs!

Conor's Blog

Wendy's Blog

Ben's Blog

Michelle's Blog

These blogs are showing Humanism in action. It's a great read! Go check them out!

The Pathfinders Project is also looking into a monthly subscription based fundraising program with a caffeinated twist.
GROUNDS FOR HUMANITY is a hand-crafted Pathfinder-selected blend of the finest coffees from the finest artists. The teaching artist-activist owners of Picacho Coffee Roasters offer this exclusive blend with a commitment to seek higher sustainable water standards in the production of the coffee in your cup. Few know that it takes 36 gallons of water to make one cup of coffee. Grounds For Humanity uses dry processed coffee which cuts that water footprint to 11 gallons. Make that coffee fine. Make that coffee count.
You help reduce water consumption. They send you coffee? What a deal!

You can let them know you are interested in this program at the Grounds For Humanity information page on the Pathfinders website.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Atheist Columnist Writes Ranty Rant About How Annoying Atheists Are

Picture of a gathering of atheists with a giant Flying Spaghetti Monster in the background.
Some of those smug atheists.
So there's this op-ed that has appeared in the Telegraph Website written by Brendan O'Neill.

Go read it and I think you'll see. I can only imagine he's trying to one up Rex Murphy's latest anti-atheist screed. Perhaps he's going for honourary title of anti-atheist or mis-atheist-ist.

How atheists became the most colossally smug and annoying people on the planet

You know, the atheists, all of them a bunch of smug and annoying people. Let's write them all off.

He starts out by pinning for that long-past day when saying you were an atheist didn't make people think you were a self-righteous loather of dumb hicks given to making pseudo-clever statements like, "Well, Leviticus also frowns upon having unkempt hair, did you know that?"

Oh yes, what a dismal situation, indeed. Never mind, people losing their jobs or being shunned and disowned by their relatives.  These are pretty minor things in the grand scheme of things now aren't they? Buck up people! Bear witness to the true persecution! Apparently, Brendan can not attend a party anymore without having to pretend his a theist so people won't think he's a smart-ass or a Dawkins drone. Jesus wept!

As for these Bible statements I presumably spew ad nausea. I get plenty of Biblical references from my presumably non-smug non-atheist Christian relatives. They bring them up nearly constantly. So what is Brendan's point precisely?  I think he's rather he's lucky to have these problems, because I have no clue what my pious relatives will do to me if I brought up my atheism. I suspect it wouldn't be the same reaction he's getting.

You may not think it, but apparently Brendan has quite a few atheist friends and they apparently annoy the hell out of him.
Atheists online are forever sharing memes about how stupid religious people are. I know this because some of my best Facebook friends are atheists.
Hey! "I'm not prejudiced! Some of my best friends are atheist!" But I doubt he would be any fun at the next Skeptics in the Pub.
To that end if you ever have the misfortune, as I once did, to step foot into an atheistic get-together, which are now common occurrences in the Western world, patronised by people afflicted with repetitive strain injury from so furiously patting themselves on the back for being clever, you will witness unprecedented levels of intellectual smugness and hostility towards hoi polloi.
I don't think there is any problem there, Brendan. You do your own thing now and give the meetings a miss then.

If we all lived in presumably highly secularized Britain there would be less need for the safe havens that North American atheist clubs and groups provide.  I'm not certain, but I think that something is getting lost in translation here and Brendan doesn't seem to recognize how embattled and marginalized non-believers are in North America and possibly also rural UK and Europe.

I think that there is a need for these communities and as such an atheist identity is inevitable. As for positive outcomes of atheism, we do have Secular Humanism and, for some, Atheism+ for others and just being a decent human being counts for a lot.

Children at Kasese Humanist School
I've started a fundraiser to help build classrooms on newly purchased land for the Kasese Humanist Primary School.

Please consider donating!

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