Showing posts with label atheism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label atheism. Show all posts

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Egyptian Government Launches Initiative Against Atheist Youth

Take a look at the tragic looking picture above an article over at Al Monitor. It looks like something's on fire and things are just too dire for that poor person to cope. Is the city being attacked? Asteroid collision? Oh no, it's just Egypt campaigning against atheism! Scariest... thing... evah.

Egypt campaigns against atheism

The summary for this article, originally written by Ahmed Fouad in Arabic, goes like this.
The Egyptian government begins a new program to combat the rise of atheism; however, activists question whether this increase is even real.
Nevermind for now why the government sees atheism as something to be campaigned against. It's the usual destruction of civilization(!) stuff you hear from theocratic regimes. I was interested in the perceived causes of this supposed increase in atheism. I say supposed because one of the primary criticisms of this article is whether there are millions or thousands of atheists in the country. It seems like nobody knows -- for the obvious reason that who but the bravest of soul come out in a government that's constitutionally Islamic and out to fight atheism.
Pastor Abdul Massih Bassit, who is concerned about atheism, told Al-Monitor: “There are no statistics and each part of society randomly estimates the size of the phenomenon. Atheists estimate their own number on their Facebook pages at between 2 [million] and 4 million Egyptians, while certain pastors say that their number is not more than 1,000-2,000.” 
According to Nuamat Sati, who is in charge of the campaign at the Ministry of Youth, estimates are based on a single TV show! No, really!
Sati said, “Both the ministries of awqaf and youth have based their estimations on a TV show in which atheists have a significant representation, in addition to Facebook and Twitter accounts where the number of followers have largely increased, which means that they are now publicly announcing their atheism.” Yet, her statement is not necessarily accurate evidence of the spread of atheism, but it could simply mean that atheists are more courageous or outspoken today.
Although some blame the January 25th revolution in Egypt for disillusioning the youth, Sati thinks it's that nasty Internet exposing youth to ideas 'they are not ready for.'
Sati said that she does not directly connect the spread of atheism with the January 25 Revolution. Yet, she linked it to the use of social media networks and the Internet after the revolution, which allowed the youth to connect with new cultures they were not yet ready to deal with. “This is in addition to the fact that the January 25 Revolution broke the fear barrier for youth, which led atheists to publicly announce themselves on television and social media networks,” she said.
Thank goodness for the nanny state telling everyone how they ought to think.

Naturally, people emboldened enough to publicly share their atheism -- you know, human rights(!) -- simply will not do in Egypt. I cannot help but add: where's the Canadian Office of Religious Freedom to stand up for these people now? -- I keep asking... I keep asking...
“The campaign has two goals,” Sati told Al-Monitor, “The first is to spread awareness concerning the dangers of atheism and how it creates a threat to society, as well as the controversial issues that might push the youth to atheism. The second is to treat this phenomenon by having a dialogue with atheists and giving them a chance to reconsider their decisions and go back to their religion.”
I would be interested to know what they believe these dangers of atheism are and how it creates a threat to society. Unfortunately, this is assumed to be known by all readers of the story.
Clergy, psychologists and social experts will train the youth and try to find answers to questions raised by youth which might push them to atheism.
Meaning they do not have answers to these questions already? After all this time? Should they not be constantly asking these questions? I wonder how many of these experts, in all their searching, might themselves discover they no longer belief it themselves.

Like the situation in the US and Canada, it's not certain how many people are atheists due to the fear of being oppressed by government and society. I'm pretty sure things are much rougher in Egypt. Just take a look at Alber Saber's plight.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Charles Moore: 'Atheists Are So So Sad'

I've been sitting on this review of Nick Spencer's new book, Atheists: The Origin of the Species, by Charles Moore over at the Telegraph for awhile now and figured now's as good a time as any to unload it onto my beloved readers. I did, however, write a little about Michael Collins' review of the same book where I was actually more fascinated by a strange Christian admiration of Nietzsche and Camus.

The sad business of trying to disprove God

Well, let us now examine this new textbook quality screed against the New atheists together, shall we? Please feel free to take out any common tired chestnut bingo cards you may have -- I really ought to make some.

First off, the title, The sad business of trying to disprove God. Nobody is trying to disprove God in the general sense -- well, not people like Dawkins anyway. Although, it is possible to find internal inconsistencies with God theories when they are defined properly -- or at all -- which can disprove those Gods.

The really tough gods to disprove are the vast majority, which are so ill-defined as to be utterly meaningless. The cannot be addressed in any logical fashion and hence cannot be proven to exist in any substantial way. You can squint your eyes and make believe, but that is not basis of proof.

The burden of proof lies squarely on the shoulders of the theist. Dawkins, like many New Atheists have merely examined what proof he has found or has been given and is unconvinced.  It would be nice if Charles Moore would provide proof for God in this article, but instead we're left with the same chestnuts.

Chestnut: They're all emotionless, robotic, science, man nerds.

Moore starts out with a light stereotyping of the average teenage atheist, who is a male, nerdy science type with no knowledge of the arts whatsoever.
You often meet them for the first time at secondary school. The typical teenage atheist is more likely a boy than a girl, stronger on science than the arts, and at the high-ish end of the academic spectrum. He tells you that he has studied the nature of matter, the universe etc, and can prove that God does not exist.
The problem with this teenager and Moore's argument is he's failing to say which God is being shown not to exist. This archetypal teenager is making the same critical error as many theists who claim to be able to prove their god -- prove 'what' exactly? Who knows, not my job. How this teenager is an example of New Atheists is a mystery to me.

Chestnut: Religion cannot be studied by science.

Moore predictably pulls in non-overlapping magisteria and with a sort of smug omniscience, puts a boundary on the scientific enterprise. Apparently, science can have nothing to say about God -- it's verboten. This tool which has proven so useful in examining the evidence for any other truth claim out there is ill-equipped to deal with religion and I would have to agree. It's because any concrete claims religions out there have are so ill-defined or completely unfalsefiable that they seem to reduce to utter gibberish when examined under the critical eye of the scientific method -- that is, if they do not disintegrate utterly under the weight of their own internal logical inconsistencies first.

Like art, religion can be comforting, beautiful, inspiring and utterly nonsensical. Unlike art, religion does make truth claims which affect our physical world. Wherever it interfaces with the physical world it can be assessed by science.

Chestnut: Atheists are just rebelling against god/state/society.

Then we get that old idea that atheism is born from rebellion against authority. While in reality, it is nothing more than a non-belief in god. I would add that it is a rejection of a mostly nonsensical and ill-defined theory with about as many flavours as religionists.

Chestnut: Atheists are all smarty pants intellectuals elites.

We also find the canard that atheists are all smarty pant know-it-alls who believe theists are all dumb dumbs. I'll concede that some do and this is unfortunate. Still, the whole point of the Brights was to be a positive term for atheists, not to imply anything derogatory of believers.
In the current era of Richard Dawkins and the New Atheism, many atheists call themselves the “Brights”, pleased to make the rest of us out as dullards.
This is not the case and I would point out that there are quite a few theists out there who claim to know all the important answers, including what science is capable or not capable of doing.

Chestnut: Dawkins believes he's proved religion is hogwash and he's anti-woman and anti-poor(?) Moore's proof is? I suppose it's nothing more than an analogy.
Some atheists – Dawkins, Sigmund Freud, AJ Ayer – resemble, in essence, that clever young schoolboy. They believe they have brilliantly proved religion to be a load of hogwash. In their minds, it seems an advantage that their creed does not appeal as much to women or the poor and ignorant. 
Chestnut: Once again, the curious Theist Cult of Nietzsche:
Indeed, Friedrich Nietzsche saw more deeply how European society’s moral order would collapse with the destruction of faith – but welcomed it.
Chestnut: Required reference to Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Hitler, Lenin, etc.
People such as Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Hitler took up such thoughts with deadly enthusiasm.
Chestnut: New Atheism is an expression of anger.
Spencer believes that the New Atheism is an expression of anger at the curious phenomenon that all over the world, except among white Westerners, God is back.
Of course it's a reaction to theism! New atheism is just atheism that is not afraid to make itself heard. Point finale. Although atheists do have plenty to be angry about and there is nothing whatsoever wrong with this anger.

But here's a particularly new charge that I've yet to see until now.
This leads to the question: “Is atheism parasitic on religion?” There is something unsatisfactory about building your thought around an anti-faith. Some atheists – amusingly catalogued here – have noticed this, and set up Cults of Reason, secular societies and atheist chapels, trying, rather unsuccessfully, to reproduce the communal creativity of faith. Hamlet says: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Any imaginative atheist must sometimes be troubled by this thought, and worry that his ideas are so dependent on the very thing he opposes.
What the hell?

No, actually there is something wholly satisfactory about not building my thought around faith! I was fundamentally unhappy and dissatisfied during my religious days when I would examine the tenets and have them all fall apart utterly under with the slightest inspection. It was sad days wandering about from religion to religion looking for one that made the slightest bit of sense and could stand up to even a modicum of examination. I would find a new one and it would unravel into absurdity the longer I would test it.
... Cults of Reason, secular societies and atheist chapels, trying, rather unsuccessfully, to reproduce the communal creativity of faith.
No, actually there is something to be said for not throwing out the baby with the bathwater. This is a reflection of the human need for community as well as the recognition that the only way atheists can ever hope to be heard in the public sphere is by banding together into groups.
Hamlet says: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Any imaginative atheist must sometimes be troubled by this thought, and worry that his ideas are so dependent on the very thing he opposes.
How utterly ironic of Moore to tell atheists that they ought to be troubled by there being more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy! Set the Bible, a Bronze Age book with talking bushes next to either Cosmos series to start. If these things are beyond this book, then perhaps someone could share the details so they can be properly studies. I'm willing to learn.

Because I'm wholly unimpressed with what I've read in the Bible or Quran.

Chestnut: Atheists cannot possibly understand Love, because only love can believe the Resurrection. Whatever the hell that means, it certainly sounds rather dehumanizing, doesn't it? This one hurts the most.

Toronto Book Launch: Carolyn Hyppolite's "Still Small Voices"

Last week, Canadian author Carolyn Hyppolite was nice enough to send me a copy of her new book Still Small Voices: The Testimony of a Born Again Atheist. I'm just on page 50 but I'm already fascinated by her story. It recounts the story of a black woman grappling with faith -- coming to grips with her own irrational and ultimately unsatisfying reliance on religion. It's very much about a struggle between what's comforting and what's real. You can read more on the book's website.
Still Small Voices is a frank, personal account of a young woman’s struggle to have a personal relationship with Jesus and the freedom she discovered when she gave up on God. This book is a mixture of personal testimony, analysis and arguments. In her reflection, she recounts stories of particular moments during her eight year experience as a Christian when she found herself hearing another “still small voice,” the voice of reason, which constantly whispered that something about the Biblical worldview does not add up. Throughout the book, she records her efforts to ignore and suppress that voice and how ultimately, she had to relent. 
A full review is on its way as soon as I finish the book but until then, if you're in the Toronto area, why not drop by the book launch, tomorrow? It's being hosted by the CFI.

Date: Friday 25 July 2014
Time: 7-9pm
Location: At the new CFI Canada Office
55 Eglinton Avenue East
Suite #307
By Yonge and Eglinton
Free admission.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

#FBBCON14: David Smalley

Dogma Debate host and former Christian musician, David Smalley. (source)
It must be all that time as a songwriter and in radio, because David Smalley really knows how to cut through clutter, get to the point and then nail it down with elegant succinctness.

His talk at the Humanism at Work conference last weekend was all about keeping it simple (aka KISS). This is the most effective way of using media to communicate a need and to successfully show them what they can do to help.

The presentation was just 30 minutes long, but in a flash of inspiration, it opened my eyes about what I was doing wrong in my own fundraising efforts up to this point. Keep it simple. It's the idea of having an...
"... aligned non-threatening dollar amount with a specific goal..."
Large, vague dollar amounts shown in progress meters are daunting to the average giver. Imagine yourself going to a website that has a $35,000 goal with just $15 contributed so far.  The project goal is lofty -- Build a School In Uganda! -- and the quip on the page 'Every little bit helps' does little to dissuade your concerns that your little piddly donation is not even close to being significant at all. That was my last fundraiser.
"Every little bit helps... What does he mean by 'a little bit?'"
David gave one of his own stories. He did all the complex research to figure out how to best help seniors at a long-term care facility who were cut off from two meals a day due to the Republican-caused government shutdown last year. After days of research, he boiled the details down to a simple message for his potential donors: $2.50 feeds a senior citizen for seven days. That's the message. Now how much can you help? One of his co-hosts put it brilliantly.
"That's crazy. None of this know this. And so, if more people knew it. I'd be like 'Ah, I guess I'll not buy that Starbucks today and feed six people."
With simplicity, Dogma Debate raised enough to feed the seniors for the whole year and even had enough money left over to purchase a freezer for the seniors facility.

It might seem obvious, but this was a bit of a revelation for me. Yes, you need to communicate the need in the simplest way possible, but many people are already painfully aware of so much need everywhere. The true key here is give people easy to understand opportunities to make a tangible difference.

Thanks to David's presentation, I will change my strategy. My new goal is to build a sort of web-based marketplace where people can go and actually buy individual chickens for the coop, feed bags, bricks for the new classroom construction, new uniforms, tuition for a year for a child, etc. Large projects are achieved by breaking them up into small achievable goals that help to build people's enthusiasm and momentum. I'll likely start with a WordPress theme but if anyone has any suggestions about how to do this, please chip in!

A big thank you to David Smalley for what he does and his inspirational talk at Humanism at Work!

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

'Atheist Group' Flies Swastika Banner Over Coney Island

Model of a proposed embassy the Raëlians wish to build in Cambodia. (source)
I am of mixed opinions about articles like this one that appeared on the Gant Daily website: Atheist group flies swastika banner over Coney Island. In addition to the headline, it starts off by burning a strong association between a swastika-promoting UFO cult and the phrase 'atheist group.'
An atheist group flew a swastika banner over beaches in Coney Island and parts of Long Island on Saturday angering some residents and politicians.
I suppose this group doesn't believe in any gods -- especially the Christian one, but wouldn't UFO Cult be a little more apt here?
The Movement believes that extraterrestrials created humans and other forms of life on Earth. It also believes that the swastika is a peace sign and was an ancient symbol of well-being to Hindus and Buddhists, among others.
This would be the Raelian movement, not the atheist movement. Yes, yes, I know that technically you can be an atheist and believe in any amount of woo, but this seems a little gratuitous... right? I mean, 'atheist group' should imply more towards American Atheists or CFI.

Or is my annoyance at this not warranted? Am I being hypocritical here? How many times have I seen charges from 'our side' laid against Christianity by pointing at David Koresh or Jonestown?

So, I guess I have to admit the Raelians into the atheist tent but I still believe there was something a little sneaky and underhanded going on over at the Gant Daily when they distilled 'atheist group' from the fertile bed of woo that is the Rael religion. Atheism is only a minor quirk with this  human-cloning- and UFO-believing group.

The Christian Science Monitor also picked this story up but didn't sum up a UFO cult as a mere 'atheist group.' They did make the atheist connection, but kept this inside a quote from the Raelians themselves.
Raelians believe in an “atheist intelligent design theory” in which cosmic scientists cloned life on earth and now return in UFOs to visit. For them, the swastika embedded in a Star of David represents the infinity of time and space.
Both stories mention the long history -- the symbol is still in wide use by religions unrelated to Nazism -- but mention that the symbol still obviously hits too close to home for most Americans. Images of the Holocaust and even modern-day Neo Nazism are the most clear associations.

Still, as America becomes more multicultural, people may need to pay heed to the Raelians more -- as goofy as that sounds -- and try to recognize the context in which the symbol is presented before being offended. I'm not downplaying how painful it will be for many to see this symbol of so much hatred and death in Europe used to symbolize peace and good luck, but presumably members of these ancient religions also have a right to use this symbol.

Edit 2014-07-16: I changed 'sensual-massage, poly-amorous, human-cloning, UFO-believing group' to 'human-cloning- and UFO-believing group'. I did this because not only do I know poly people but I am in a poly relationship myself. Also, on second thought, there's nothing wrong with 'sensual-massage' if it's between two or more consenting adults. Either way, you can surely see how there are plenty more succulent morsels here than mere atheism for a news outlet to latch onto.

Swastika on Korean temple. (source)

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Things I Like: Wonkette's Coverage of Atheist News

I may be an atheist blogger, but I have a dirty little secret to share. My favourite blog is not an atheist blog because I'm a big Wonk. Specifically, I'm a Canadian who finds US politics highly entertaining, amusing, terrifying, etc. I would love to work for them for actual money but I have so much to learn.

Here are a couple of atheist-related posts on this satirical(!) politics blog. Remember, this is often a parody of how politics looks through the lens of right-wing conservative types. Often so much insight can be gained from satire.

Here are the links along with some quotes so it looks like this is a real blog post.

Nice Time! Canadian Teen Makes Sure Students Can Learn About Slut Pills
Oh, well that must have been some sort of Canadian abstinence organization because any good American organization knows not to lie about this stuff when oh christ we can’t even finish that sentence without lolsobbing.
Federal Judges Ramming Atheist Wedding Officiants Down Indiana's Throat
It’s been a rough couple years for good old traditional Jesus marriage. You had the Supreme Court make DOMA go away last year, and then pretty much every state, even the super-conservative ones, have been all like “sure, get gay married, whatevs.” Weirdly, the Republic has not yet collapsed, but the final straw probably just got laid atop America’s coffin, or some equally overheated metaphor, because the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals just ruled that godless atheists can perform wedding ceremonies in Indiana. America, you had a good run.
Thank me (or not) later!

Monday, 14 July 2014

Atheist TV & My Fear Of Yet Another Television Box

Some art by yours truly. (source)
Over the past few years, I've noticed that I've been more and more out of the loop when it comes to new technology. Now, most of my kidless co-workers are much more informed about watching television than me.

So when I heard about this new Atheist TV channel coming out at the end of this month, I was pretty enthusiastic, and pretty intimidated by this whole Roku thing. You see, I spent seven years compiling my own Linux kernels with not a single Microsoft box in the house. Then, after a particularly vile fight with a printer driver I threw my hands up in the air and decided that -- with a kid -- I no longer had time to deal with Linux and so I bought a Mac.

Actually, I had an Ipod Shuffle already. That's how Apple infected me. So, it seemed only natural, after my wife got an Ipad and my son got an Ipad for me to purchase an Apple TV.

I like the little hockey puck, but I notice that, other than Netflix, which works just fine, Apple has me in a sort of stranglehold. Apparently Roku brings me more freedom, but do I want YET ANOTHER BOX?

Such as First World Problems. We just recently got rid of our VHS player and we still have a non HD cable box going into the television set. The overlapping functionality between a Roku and an Apple TV bothers me at some deep geeky level! Can I stand this functional redundancy?!?

Luckily, American Atheists says I'll be able to watch the station online for free. I'll give that a go first.

I've got an idea for a television show too -- related to the School in Uganda. It would involved getting an HD camera and maybe a mic out there. I wonder if anyone would watch?

Michael Robbins & The Theist Cult of Nietzsche

By now I'm certain that many of you would have had the chance to encounter Michael Robbins review of this new book by Nick Spencer, Atheists: The Origin of the Species over at Slate. Robbins deserves a medal for the title of the article, Know Nothing: The true history of atheismIf you scroll down, a header appears at the top reading: 'Atheists used to take the idea of God seriously . That's why they mattered.'  If it's meant to be click bait, it worked with over 6,500 comments after a mere four days. Although I find these articles frustrating, something else is beginning to bother me even more. I just don't get where these articles are coming from.

The trouble starts as early as the first two paragraphs. This is where Robbins bemoans the popular idea that religion once touted the answers to life the universe and everything but then reason and science came along and gradually took it away from the clergymen one fact at a time. He points out that even the church fathers would have been confused by those who see Science and Faith in constant opposition.
... setting up an opposition between reason and faith that the church fathers would have found rather puzzling.
Yes, the church fathers would have likely found this rather puzzling. They thought having faith in that which there was not sufficient evidence was perfectly reasonable. Science has achieved an impressive body of knowledge that requires no Spanish Inquisition to buttress it.

As atheists, we have access to a bottomless ocean of Christian faith trying to pass itself off as proof for God. But it's evidence we require in our modern world where mere strongly held religious belief and mere faith is not adequate evidence for a proposition to be true. This is what the scientific method has brought us -- this is what gives it its power over battling feelings and emotions.

Now religion pretends to know more than simple natural phenomena. It pretentiously boasts knowledge of all time and space through its books of Genesis and Revelation. It claims to know both the natural and the supernatural in its entirety. It sets up a being who it claims knows the thoughts and hearts of all men and women for all times past and future. Surely, this bolder claim attempts to annex even the natural phenomena relegated to science. If this is not Robbins' Christian views, then I submit that it is the case for the ignorant multitude, the οἱ πολλοί, whether he likes it or not.
To be sure, several scriptures offer, for instance, their own accounts of creation. But Christians have recognized the allegorical nature of these accounts since the very beginnings of Christianity. 
Allegory is a natural escape for anyone who wishes to gloss over logical contradictions in their holy books. Though it comes with a price. Each time one of these escape hatches is cut into a wall, the more weakened its supporting function. How many escape hatches does Robbins have cut through the walls supporting his faith edifice? Are there any walls left? Is the structure still standing? Is his scripture merely a collection of feel good Aesop's fables?

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Republican Candidate & Former Chaplain: Exorcise The Atheists!

Gordon Klingenschmitt. Future member of Colorado State House? (source)
I usually let other blogs cover the American news and try to keep this one more focused on Canadian or international stories. Sometimes, though, the cray is so intense from down there, I just cannot ignore it. Take, for example, the recent comments by Colorado state house Republican Candidate and former military chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt.

Klingenschmitt was reacting to the US Supreme Court's refusal to hear an appeal brought forward by a Wisconsin school district. The district was successfully sued by Americans United for Separation of Church and State for holding its graduation ceremony in a church.

Anyway, Klingenschmitt thinks that what whiny atheists need is a good old fashioned exorcism to chase out the demons with which they are obviously possessed -- why else would they be atheists? Then they'd stop complaining about having to sit in churches.
"If the atheist complainer is so uncomfortable when they walk into a church that there's something inside of them squirming and making them feel these feelings of hatred toward the cross of Jesus Christ, don't you think it's something inside of the atheist complainer that's wrong?"

"I have a solution," he continued. "Let's do an exorcism and cast the Devil out of them and then they'll feel comfortable when they walk into church..."
Although some atheists may feel uncomfortable in churches -- due, perhaps to real trauma -- many have no problems with this. I think churches are magnificent buildings. I just have problems with public schools endorsing a particular religion, that's all.

Also, some atheists may not be keen on Jesus, while others have no problem whatsoever with him. Being an atheist doesn't mean you hate Jesus, or God. It means you don't believe in gods.

Isn't it also nice the way he suggests that there is something flawed or wrong with 'the atheist?'

Then there's the brilliant solution of forced exorcism. Half joking? Suggesting? Planting the idea of gross human rights violations?

I'm pretty sure he's not really serious. Although this could be a good case study for why atheist chaplains are required in the US military.

Hypothetically though, dragging people to get excommunicated reminds me a little of some countries that will throw you in jail if you don't observe Ramadan. Just sayin'.

Atheists In Muslim Countries: Fake Ramadan Or Go To Jail

Want to know what it's like to live in an oppressive theocracy? Just move one of the hardcore Islam observant countries -- or read this article over at v[]cative: The Fast & The Furious: Atheists Fake Ramadan Hunger to Avoid Jail.
Threats of arrest or punishment for blasphemy force non-believers to give the impression that they’re fasting just as hard as all those around them, or in some cases, to totally adopt the Ramadan fast for fear of being found out and persecuted. The situation is nearly impossible to bear, argue a growing number of atheists in the Muslim world.
It's not just peer pressure or social stigmatization of atheists. In several countries it's the very definition of theocratic oppression. This is being felt increasingly as the number of covert atheists increase in countries such as Saudi Arabia -- perhaps due to the severe government enforcement of dogma.
“The constant threat of being caught not fasting, which carries severe punishment of lashings and up to a year in prison, makes one vigilant and worried. Ramadan is like Christmas but you are forced to go to Mass and say your prayers, by law”. 
Imagine that! A religion completely in control of a country's government, forbidding everyone from eating, drinking, having sex! What could possibly be more authoritarian?
“I stay at work without food but every now and then I go to the bathroom to drink water, and when I’m going in the morning to work I go to a hidden place in the car and take a small sandwich.”

Should he ever be found out, the consequences would likely be harsh.

I will lose my job and maybe they will arrest me and put me in jail or they will throw me out of the country. I’m originally from Syria”, says Silver.
It's not just a Middle Eastern thing. Remember Bala Mubarak, who was thrown into a mental hospital in Nigeria for being an atheist.

You know, this is sort of similar to primarily religious anti-choice groups and some Canadian physicians who scream about their religious freedom while attempting to deny birth control coverage to women who do not share their religious belief.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Ariane Sherine Shares Her Brave Struggles With Depression

Ariane Sherine and Richard Dawkins at the Atheist Bus Campaign launch - 2009. (source)
There's a long but fascinating piece over at the Guardian by activist Ariane Sherine about her own dark struggles with mental breakdown and depression. The story intersects with the big splash she made in the atheist and Humanist community back in 2009 when she and Richard Dawkins launched the very first atheist bus sign campaign in the UK. It's well written, full of emotion and well worth the read.
A former boyfriend attacked me nine years ago, destroying my mental health – but I am no longer ashamed. I want people to know life can get better
It's incredibly brave and strong of her to be telling this story which might help others see that mental health problems can happen to absolutely anybody and there are ways to deal with them and come back out into the light. The stigma against mental illness is truly disgusting and it only makes things all the more unbearable for people who are trying to deal with depression.

At the start, she recounts that her troubles began with a boyfriend who physically abused her. She was pregnant with his child at the time.
Nine years ago I was newly pregnant when I was violently attacked by my boyfriend at the time. We were having an argument; he hit me in the face causing my ear to bleed, then clamped his hand over my mouth, suffocating me, and told me repeatedly that he would kill me. He said afterwards that the incident only lasted 20 seconds, but those 20 seconds were to change my whole life irrevocably.
She later had an abortion -- over which she agonized because of religion-induced guilt.
I left him and had a termination, which I agonised over for weeks because I had been so happy to be pregnant, and had already named the baby. It was very early on so I could take the abortion pill, RU-486, but when I searched for information on abortion online, thousands of pro-life Christian websites came up with enlarged pictures of foetuses sucking their thumbs, and threats that if I had an abortion, I would be sure to die of breast cancer and go to hell. A Catholic friend gave me the number of a Catholic "helpline" where they tried to dissuade me from going through with the abortion. I was so vulnerable after the termination I was scared to fall asleep in case I died and went to hell.
After a year of utter pain and suffering -- with much failed therapy and counseling -- she no longer believed in God and was pro-choice and anti-religion. A year after this, she started the atheist bus campaign. Here, she gives a fascinating behind the scenes story of the circus that was to become.
Later that year, I started the atheist bus campaign. The campaign was hellish for two reasons: firstly, I had to appear on TV and radio in studios with the doors and windows shut. I had a panic attack nearly every time – one time live on BBC Breakfast in front of six million viewers, though thankfully the segment ended before anyone realised; one time on the Jeremy Vine show, clutching the producer's hand. Any kind of broadcast media opportunities I might have had were curtailed by my claustrophobia.

Secondly, I started to get threats. Not just one or two, but dozens and dozens filling up my inbox. "If you come to America I will shoot you in the head", "I hope you die", "I hope Jesus kills you" etc. I didn't report them because I thought the police would say "What the hell do you expect, running this kind of incendiary campaign?", and besides, none of them were direct enough to warrant police attention – but I received several each day, providing an unpleasantly menacing kind of soundtrack to my life. I thought of taking my email address off my site, but reasoned that I would rather people express their anger in written form than in person, and that I would rather know if people were angry with me. I tried to shrug off the threats by making light of them in public.
I don't know what it's like to be in the limelight. I just run this little blog. I could never imagine the sheer amount of pressure this must have brought her.

She didn't break though. When she fell back into depression and anxiety -- after all this pressure and becoming pregnant with a new boyfriend -- she did the responsible thing. She got psychiatric help and worked her way out all the time realizing that depression is not something to be ashamed of -- that it's okay to rely on the help of others.
I wish there were a more cohesive narrative to this story, and that it were less of a muddle, but life is rarely neat. We are all messy and just muddling through the best way we know how. Lots of people have told me never to tell this story, and for years I refused to tell it, but I am no longer ashamed. What is shameful is not being a victim of violence, or having a termination as a result, or receiving threats, or falling apart, but instead being a complicit part of a society that says that victims should remain silent and hide the crimes of others, as well as their own frailties. It is not a society I want my daughter to grow up in, and if I want to change the way it works, speaking out myself is the first step.
I found this very inspiring. Really, I must stop quoting the whole thing and just send you there to read it yourself. It's worth it.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Nigerian Atheist Released From Psych Ward Now Faces Death Threats

Bala Mubarak has been released from a mental hospital and is now attempting to leave Nigeria.  (source)
Nigerian Bala Mubarak was forcefully committed into a psychiatric hospital by his own family after he came out to them as atheist last month. When I wrote about this a few days ago, I had my concerns that perhaps a mental hospital could be the safest place in Nigeria for an out atheist. There is a very hostile fundamentalist Muslim climate in the northern regions. He was, however being sedated and, with all this press coverage, everyone knew where he was, so he was also an extremely vulnerable sitting duck. He had to get out of there.

So one improvement to his situation is he's been just released from this hospital. The bad news is that people who do not value human rights and freedoms one iota want to kill him.
"Most of my friends condemn me and tell me I am bound for hell and that in an Islamic state, I would be killed. Blasphemy is a serious thing here," said Bala, who describes himself on his Twitter page as an ex-Muslim.
He's now trying to get out of Nigeria but would first like to try to reconcile with his family. This is noble, but if they put you into the hospital to begin with, perhaps a phone call would be the wisest course of action.
"Currently Mubarak has said he wants to reconcile with the family before he leaves and we have had some family meetings, that is ongoing right now, and they appear apologetic, to a certain extent," Shehu said.
Even Bamidele Adeneye, who is according to Leo Igwe a member of the Lagos State Humanists, is now getting death threats as well. No word yet whether he'll be attempting an escape as well.

Let's hope that, like Bangladeshi blogger Sharif Ahmed, a progressive country offers refugee status should it come to that.

Canadians! Tweet to @FreedomReligion and @HonJohnBaird #FreeMubarak

Monday, 30 June 2014

Saudi Arabia: Big Brother Needs Power To Shutdown Foreign Power Atheist Pedophilia Twitter Attacks

Here's a quick Monday link to the Saudi Gazette. It's a short piece about how only their government -- the religious police -- are the only ones who can save them from Twitter accounts that promote atheism and decadence.
Dr. Fayez Al-Shehri, an expert on social media websites and a member of the security committee of the Shoura Council, said there are around 25,000 Twitter accounts that promote child pornography and sexual exploitation and 4,500 accounts encouraging atheism. All of these accounts target Saudis, according to the report Dr. Al-Shehri sent to the Council.
No, no, I'm pretty sure most of these accounts do not target Saudis. It's also deeply offensive to be lumped in with child pornography. It really goes to show what atheists are up against in this country.

The dangerous sounding paranoia runs pretty deep in this article when you have confusing statements like: 'Only countries can run such a large number of accounts.'

Does Al-Shehri actually believe foreign nations are enlisting online militias of tweeters to target Saudi computer users with atheist and pedophilia messages? Tin foil hat wearin' conspiracy theories like this are the sort of thing I would expect to hear coming out of North Korea.
Some accounts promote questions seeking to create doubt about the existence of Allah, the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), major Islamic events that took place in the past, the Holy Qur’an, the companions of the Prophet and the wives of the Prophet. What is really shocking and disgusting is that many of these accounts focus on incest. They want Saudis and Arabs to follow the West in engaging in such heinous activities. Those responsible for these accounts want others to think that they have a lot of people following them.
Because for the religious fundamentalist, the worst thing in the world is doubt and questioning of dogma. Questioning and free inquiry is not good. As for the incest... I am totally at a loss.

What does he mean by this and why does he keep mixing these two completely unrelated things together? I know the Bible has incest -- after the flood, Lot... etc. but I'm unsure how the Quran addresses this.

His solution to this problem is for the Ministry of Interior to hack into atheist account and destory them. If possible they should find out who is running them, lest national unity and solidarity be weak and fragile in the future. It all sounds rather fascist to me.

Atheism does not mean child pornography and sexual exploitation. It means no belief in God.

If anything, the Saudi government has a lot to answer for when it comes to human rights of women, children and migrant workers.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Leo Igwe Gives His Support For Mubarak Bala

Leo Igwe (source)
Earlier today, Leo Igwe shared a blog post with me on Facebook he made in support of Mubarak Bala, who's being held in a northern Nigerian psychiatric hospital against his will because he doesn't believe in God.
A member of the Lagos State Humanists, Bamidele, who follows Mubarak on twitter saw this message and forwarded it to me. When I read it I thought, what if this was one those fake '419' emails from unscrupulous persons wanting to defraud unsuspecting sympathizer?. I never heard about an atheist in Kano called Mubarak. I was told he was active on twitter. And I am not.
Leo is talking about an 'SOS' email Mubarak sent out to the atheist community from the hospital via a borrowed mobile phone. I've seen the tweets before but haven't seen this email before Igwe's post.

Leo continues with an excellent point: how can we help Mubarak when he's being held in a region that is drenched with fundamentalist Islamic sharia law?

I had my own thoughts on this before reading Leo's post. Is drawing attention to Mubarak on social media wise or does it compromise his situation? Is it crazy to think that a mental hospital might actually be the safest place for an out atheist in Nigeria? I certainly still don't know the answer to this question or if it's even a reasonable question in the first place.

Leo believes we must all rally and show our support and this is also exactly what Mubarak is calling us all to do. He's called out for help.
But the main question is: if this were to be true, how do we really help Mubarak? Kano is a risky and dangerous terrain to navigate when it comes to matters like this. The state is not just a stronghold of Islam but a hot bed of muslim fundamentalism. Kano is a sharia state and the sharia police are active. So, how do we support Mubarak without compromising his safety?
At this time, I believe we must rally behind Mubarak and draw as much attention to his situation as possible. The alternatives are him rotting in this hospital for days or months or perhaps his situation becoming even more dangerous because his location is already so well known. Leo Igwe agrees with this.
This campaign is about showing support and solidarity to atheists, 'blashpemers' or 'apostates' who are in danger anywhere in the world.

Bamidele is well known to me. He is a committed humanist activist in Lagos. Bamidele is passionate about supporting atheists who are being persecuted. He and other friends in Lagos are doing whatever they can to show support and solidarity to Mubarak under very difficult and challenging circumstances. Let us all rally behind them.

An online petition, Free Mubarak Bala, has been set up and has attracted over 6,000 signatures and still counting. I urge you to append your signature to the petition.
So, for a good start, go sign the petition here.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Quebec Unions Send Open Letter To Saudi King In Support Of Raif Badawi

Saudi blogger Raif Badawi has been sentence to 1,000 lashes and 270,000 fine for writing things on the Internet.
So, other than this story I found in the CBC awhile back, the English Canadian media sure is being quiet about Raif Badawi. Meanwhile, things are humming along in the French media here in Quebec. You know, it's like two solitudes. It becomes really apparent if you consume news in both languages. You begin to wonder if you're even in the same country sometimes. It's like two parallel overlapping universes or something.

Anyway, Denis Beaudin, President of the Conseil central des syndicats nationaux de l'Estrie, a union group in the Eastern Townships, has published this open letter to the king of Saudi Arabia and the prince requesting the immediate freeing of Badawi.
Son excellence, le roi Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud
Le prince Mohammed bin Naif bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud
Ministre de l'Intérieur
Riyadh, Arabie saoudite

Objet : Demande de libération de Raif Badawi

Votre Majesté, Monsieur le ministre,

Nous vous contactons aujourd'hui concernant le sort réservé à Raif Badawi, condamné le 7 mai dernier par le tribunal pénal de Djedda à 10 ans d'emprisonnement, 1000 coups de fouet et une amende d'un million de riyals saoudiens (soit presque 200 000 euros) pour avoir créé et géré le site Internet Libérez les libéraux saoudiens, et insulté l'islam. Il a été inculpé d'apostasie, crime passible de la peine de mort en Arabie saoudite.

La Confédération des syndicats nationaux est une organisation syndicale composée de près de 2000 syndicats regroupant plus de 325 000 travailleuses et travailleurs, principalement sur le territoire du Québec, au Canada. Pour la CSN, la liberté d'expression est une condition essentielle à l'émergence et au maintien de sociétés démocratiques. Il s'agit d'un droit humain fondamental reconnu dans la Déclaration universelle des droits de l'homme de l'ONU.

Nous vous prions donc de libérer Raif Badawi immédiatement et sans condition, car il s'agit d'un prisonnier d'opinion détenu seulement pour avoir exercé pacifiquement son droit à la liberté d'expression. Nous vous demandons également de ne pas appliquer la peine de flagellation, car elle bafoue l'interdiction de la torture et d'autres traitements cruels, inhumains ou dégradants prévue par le droit international.

Nous vous remercions de l'attention que vous porterez à cette demande.

Denis Beaudin, président du Conseil central des syndicats nationaux de l'Estrie

c. c. Sheikh Dr Mohammed bin Abdul Kareem Al-Issa, ministre de la Justice d'Arabie saoudite

Yousuf Rashad A. Abuaish, ministre et Chargé d'affaires

Ambassade du Royaume d'Arabie saoudite à Ottawa

John Baird, Ministre des Affaires étrangères du Canada

Lynne Yelich, Ministre d'État du Canada

Pierre-Luc Dusseault, Député de Sherbrooke
Roughly translates to:
We are contacting you today concerning the fate awaiting Raif Badawi, who was condemned the 7th of last May by a Jeddah penal tribunal to 10 years in prison, 1000 lashes and a fine of one million Saudi riyals (being almost 200,000 Euros) for having created and managed the website Free Saudi Liberals and insulting Islam. He was charged with apostasy, a crime punishable with the death penalty in Saudi Arabia.

The Confédération des syndicats nationaux is a union organization comprised of close to 2,000 unions numbering more than 325,000 workers, principally located inside Quebec, Canada.  For the CSN, freedom of expression is an essential condition for the flourishing and maintenance of democratic societies. It is a fundamental human right recognized in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We therefore urge you to free Raif Badawi immediately and without condition, for he is a prisoner of conscience being detained solely for having peacefully exercised his right to freedom of expression. We equally ask you to withhold the punishment of lashes, for it violates the ban on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading by international law.
Of course, I doubt that the king would ever read this -- or have it translated for him to read. I'm a little more certain that this letter is meant to be read by those on the CC list at the bottom. Among them we have Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird.

I'm sure he's well aware of the situation and monitoring it closely as we say -- code word for doing nothing. If these sorts of letters keep coming in from large organizations, I wonder if he could be coaxed into doing something -- anything! Time will tell.

Charisma Finds An Atheist Who Opposes Gender Neutral Pronouns

I was waiting for online Christian news sites to weigh in on the recent Vancouver School Board decision to, among other things, let transgender students use the bathroom which corresponds to their own gender identity and the introduction of gender neutral pronouns.

For full disclosure, I'm personally fine with using these pronouns should someone ask me. In the past, I've written the gender neutral they to refer to someone who was moving away from their assigned gender identification. I don't mind if someone addresses me by gender neutral pronouns.

Anyway, I have a few problems with this Charisma story and I suppose they don't so much have to do with their position on gender politics at all. I have a pretty good idea where they stand on this and I'm happy letting them believe what they want to believe.

Even Atheists Oppose School Labeling Transexual Kids 'Xe,' 'Xem and 'Xyr'

First off, there is a difference between transgender and transsexual. It's my understanding that transgender is a sort of umbrella term in which transsexual is a category. Transsexual is when someone is so uncomfortable with their sex not matching their gender identity that they will opt for operations to correct their body and bring it properly in line. I'm not expert though.

Furthermore, the folks at Charisma do not seem to understand that atheism means a-theism, belief in no gods. That's it! You can have Republican atheists, Libertarian atheists, Communist atheists, gay atheists and homophobic atheists. What does this have to do with gender identity? Nothing!

Now, it's possible that many atheists may lean somewhat towards more liberal or progressive ideas when it comes to sex and gender issues because they do not have dogmatic baggage weighing them down with irrational fear and discomfort around these topics, but atheists can be skeeved by transgender people using regular restrooms just the same.

Then there's this language: "Even Atheists..." What's the deal with that, anyway? It's implying that honouring any requests by these kids to be referred to with gender neutral pronouns is so indecent that even horrendous godless atheists are against it. I mean, it must be really bad, right?

Look, I bet a quite a few Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Rastafarians and any other group has members who are completely against a few harmless pronouns. I'm sure you can find God fearing Christians who are convinced that uttering xyr to a seven year old will kill fourteen puppies and make Jesus cry. So what?

For the sake of curiosity, how many atheists did Charisma find to oppose these pronouns? Surely they didn't just find one atheist, right? Yes, they found one atheist.
Brendan O'Neill, who is an atheist, said that just because Austria's winning contestant Conchita Wurst wants to be referred to as "she" when performing in a dress, "does that mean we all have to comply with this rather strange demand, no questions asked?"

"Does objective reality—the fact that there are biological differences between men and women, and that the vast majority of humankind decides whether someone is a man or woman by those biological attributes—count for nothing in the face of one person's wish to be known as something he is not?" he asked.
Wow. Charisma, you have outdone yourself this time. This atheist accused the British Humanist Association of being 'intolerant to religious schools.'  This atheist wrote a long screechy rant about how annoying (other) atheists are and how he dreads meeting one at a party.

Unless logic recoils from him and creeps under his desk to huddle in the fetal position whenever he puts finger to keyboard, one can only assume that, by extension, he could very well be one of the worlds most self-loathing atheists. Read the comments section. Even his own atheist readers cannot stand his position on atheists.

Anyway, good for Charisma. They found an atheist who agrees with them on the transgender thing. They can keep him.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Nigerian Man Sent To Mental Hospital For Being An Atheist

Nigerian Bala Mubarak is being confined against his will in a mental hospital for being atheist. (source)
Cases of persecution of atheists in highly religious countries are piling up faster than I can keep track of. Yesterday I was reporting about the effort to free jailed Saudi blogger Raif Balawi. I've got more to say about that situation later.

But today let's talk about Nigeria. I'll dump this out quickly now and wax elegant and flowery later.

Atheist declared mentally ill in Nigeria

This would be in Muslim controlled northern Nigeria, where the Boko Haram is claiming Islam gives them an excuse to murder and kidnap and you can be stoned for being gay.
A Nigerian man has been sent to a mental institute in Kano state after he declared that he did not believe in God, according to a humanist charity.

Mubarak Bala, 29, is said to have been forcibly medicated by his Muslim relatives, despite being given a clean bill of health by a doctor.
Upon discovering he didn't believe in God, his family brought him to see a doctor who declared that his atheism was a side effect of his "personality change."

The IHEU page on his situation gives Mubarak's account of how his family became convinced he's suffering from mental illness and must be treated at a hospital.
He wrote: “And the biggest evidence of my mental illness was large blasphemies and denial of ‘history’ of Adam, and apostacy [sic], to which the doctor said was a personality change, that everyone needs a God, that even in Japan they have a God. And my brother added that all the atheists I see have had mental illness at some point in their life.”
Right, I suppose there are no atheists in Japan now.

Apparently he smuggled a smartphone into the hospital and has been borrowing peoples' Blackberries to contact activists and describe his situation on Twitter.

This is surreal, like something from a horrible movie. He's been there for at least a week now and I can only guess that the hospital will find the phone after someone finds all this on the Internet. His lifeline with the outside world can only last for so long.

You can find out more by visiting the IHEU page on Mubarak.

Canadians! Tweet to @FreedomReligion and @HonJohnBaird #FreeMubarak

Blogger GodlessMom has further information and a press kit. petition at:

Monday, 23 June 2014

Saudi Arabia Attempts to Silence CFI At UN Human Rights Council

Guess what happened when Center for Inquiry representative Josephine Macintosh tried to read a short statement condemning human rights violations in Saudi Arabia at the UN Human Rights Council?

They interrupted three times with lamer and lamer objections.

She was demanding the repeal of their draconian blasphemy laws and the immediate and unconditional release of blogger Raif Badawi. More on recent developments with Badawi here in Canada here, here and here.

They interrupted with sort of ironic objections -- something about the CFI's statement didn't relate to the topic at hand... or something. Which is odd because it was a Meeting on Human Rights Violations! It was apparent to the US, Canada and France -- along with most in the room, that the irony was thick when Saudi Arabia wouldn't even give Macintosh her freedom of speech. Class act. Real class act.

I guess that's what you'd expect from a country that still has witch hunts on Twitter and has made the colour red illegal on Valentines Day.

Kudos for the CFI for standing up for Raif Badawi, religious expression, atheist expression -- freedom of expression! And kudos to the Canadian representative for supporting the CFI's right to point out Saudi Arabia's human rights violations and demand freedom of conscience for atheists in that country.

Sherbrooke MP Urges Foreign Affairs to Speak On Behalf Of Jailed Atheist

In my first post today about Ensaf Haider, wife of jailed Saudi atheist blogger Raif Badawi, I made a point of encouraging people to put pressure on Quebec news outlets because of its very secular environment.
Also, make noise. Write into media outlets -- especially in Quebec. I say this because within secular Quebec higher level officials may take up the mantle for Badawi. They might also see it as an opportunity to beat the Federal government over the head as well -- often a popular sport here in Quebec.
Well, it turns out that this very sort of thing is already happening. House of Commons MP Pierre-Luc Dusseault (NDP/Sherbrooke) has publicly come out in support of Amnesty International's efforts to free Badawi and his office has even contacted Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird's office to express these views.
«Au stade où on en est dans ce dossier, on vient plus en aide du côté diplomatique puisque c'est là que ça se joue. Notre porte-parole aux affaires consulaires a déjà informé le ministre responsable [NDLR : le ministre des Affaires étrangères John Baird] de notre position, que cet homme-là a été inculpé pour des raisons qui ne sont pas acceptables à nos yeux. On demande au gouvernement d'Arabie saoudite de le libérer. Ensuite, on va aussi lui venir en aide pour les démarches avec son dossier d'immigration pour qu'il puisse venir au Canada», explique M. Dussault.

«Clairement, ses droits fondamentaux ont été bafoués. Il est en prison pour des raisons politiques, ça mérite une certaine pression au niveau international, pas juste des groupes de défense des droits, mais aussi des pays.»
Roughly translated to:
"At the stage where we are in this case, the most is to be gained diplomatically -- this is where it plays out. Our critic of Consular Affairs has informed the Minister responsible [note: the Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird] of our position, that this man is being charged for reasons that are not acceptable in our eyes. We ask the Saudi Arabian government to free him. Then, we will also help help through all (required) steps to file for immigration so that he might come to Canada." explained Dusseault.

"Clearly, his fundamental rights have been violated. He is in prison for political reasons, it deserves some international pressure, not just human rights groups, but also countries. "
You can send your immediate support to Pierre-Luc Dusseault over at his Twitter account. Although it's in French, he's a member of the House of Commons, so he ought to understand English just fine.

More On Ensaf Haider's Efforts In Quebec to Free Raif Badawi

Raif Badawi's three children Tirad, Miryiam and Najwa sit with their mother Ensaf Haidar. (source)
More on Raif Badawi's wife Ensaf Haider and her effort to bring attention to the persecution and human rights violations in Saudi Arabia against her husband -- for simply blogging stuff. Here's an article that appeared in the Sherbrooke Tribune last Thursday.

«Je veux simplement qu'il sorte de prison»

"I just want him out of prison"

I'll admit, I haven't had a chance to read it yet and likely won't until lunch. Here's a link to the Google Translate English version.

You can keep up to date on Ensaf's story over at this Facebook page which includes pictures. Share to the world.