Showing posts with label religion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label religion. Show all posts

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Rising Atheism Identified as 'a Key Challenge' facing Egypt

Egypt has had many challenges recently, like the Arab Spring or that whole military coup back in January.

For mercy sake, the country is still reeling over that televised belly dancing competition, which surely shook society to its very limit! With all these belly dancers on television, is there any hope? Does anyone have any time to consider the political situation in Egypt when pelvises continue to oscillate on national television?

Keep calm, though. Even with belly dancing not completely resolved, the Egyptian government and senior clerics have bravely identified the rise of atheists as truly the largest, most dire threat to their entire civilization.
 In a sign of unprecedented concern, Egypt’s top Islamic official recently warned against the spread of atheism in the traditionally religious country.

“Atheism is no longer a marginal issue,” Shaikh of Al Azhar, Ahmad Al Tayeb, said on Egyptian state TV. “It has become one of the many challenges facing the country. There are agencies and institutions in the country concerned about this issue.”
And because education, employment, healthcare, poverty, secularism and democracy are 'just fine thanks', the Ministry of Religious Endowments and Ministry of Youth have teamed up to ensure young people are 'thinking right' and 'believing the right.'
The ministries of Waqfs (Religious Endowments) and Youth have said they will launch a nationwide campaign to tackle atheism in the predominantly Muslim country. The planned drive will recruit the efforts of moderate clergymen, psychologists, sociologists and political specialists to address the youth, according to local media.
I guess there are two positive  points here. It's obvious that atheism is making some progress in Egypt and it appears to be at least moving the discussion towards a more moderate point. They've even taken to banning fundamentalist Islamic clerics from giving sermons, which seems rather overbearing and unconstitutional to me, frankly.

Like lots of religious people who do not understand atheists, a Christian representative thinks this whole atheism business is some sort of rebellion against tradition.
“After revolting against the political regime, attention is turned to rebellion against the family’s authority and then the religious authorities represented by clergymen. Some people believe that as long as the ruler of the country is deposed, why not depose the chief of the world too.”
Also according to him, high unemployment and materialism is also a cause. Shouldn't the government be concentrating on the unemployment situation? Maybe a little materialism might help in coming up with concrete solutions to jobless rates rather than these pie in the sky witch hunts against belly dancers and atheists.

Apparently, there is an estimated 2 million atheists in the country out of nearly 90 million which is hardly a sizable minority.

If you're caught, you get up to five years in prison as well. That should be the real story here. Maybe Egypt should also concentrate a bit on their human rights and freedom of conscious problems as well.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Baptisms In Pointe-Claire Public Pool

Pointe-Claire Aquatic Centre, Pointe-Claire, Quebec. (source)
Are you tired of all those people crowding you at your local public pool? Are you nervous taking a shower when you've inevitably forgotten your flip-flops? Is the chlorine or salt water too aggressive? Do you resent having to wear those tight head condoms? Are you suspicious of strangely coloured underwater clouds lingering around young children?

Well, things were even more distressing this past weekend over at the Pointe-Claire Aquatic Centre. It seems like churches are bringing their members to the pool and baptizing them!
Pointe-Claire resident Ninon Choquette said she was at the Pointe-Claire Aquatic Centre on Saturday afternoon at about 2:30 p.m. for “open-swim” when a group of bathers, including several dressed entirely in white, entered the pool area.
Well, at least they were fully clothed.
“The pool is in no way a place of worship,” said Choquette. “We go there to relax, to play with our children and to get in shape, not to undergo religious exercises.
Apparently, this is a pretty common thing.
Bill Gate is the manager of the Pointe-Claire Aquatic Centre.

Over the years, Gate said, he has seen baptisms take place in the pool, “one or two people … it’s over in 30 seconds.”
Choquette also asks the question of what's the limit, here. Indeed, what's next, funerals? In response, she made the very reasonable suggestion that religious groups rent the pool outside of regular swim hours for their religious ceremonies.

Meanwhile, the complaint has made it all the way up to the mayor of the city who responded by stating that religious events in city facilities are forbidden without prior city council approval.

This is apparently what happens when churches do not have the resources to baptise within their own premises and the Canadian winter is setting in -- and they're not into BieberBaptisms.

One commenter to the article could see no reason why anyone should have any problem with churches performing religious rituals at the public pool:
Why has this offended anyone? It is a public place. How you enter the water or why should be of no concern to anyone else. No one is hurt by someone choosing baptism and if it makes someone uncomfortable, don't watch. Why should it not be allowed? How about a mother breast feeding her child in the pool area? That makes some people uncomfortable, should that not be allowed? What happened to living in a place of freedom? What is it about God that offends some people so greatly that they would take precious time out of their day to complain? There are so many more productive things to fill your time with.
I wonder if there are any Satanist groups nearby who would be interested in doing some of their rituals there? If Christians get to have their ritual there then everyone from the Satanists to the Pastafarians should jump right on in.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Saudi Grand Mufti discovers Source of all Evil and Devastation!

Finally, someone has figured out what's wrong with the world! It's been Twitter all this time.

The Saudi Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh -- voted 12th most influential Muslim in the world -- revealed this important news on his Monday television programme Fatwa. What a great name for a television show!
... according to Saudi Arabia's top Muslim cleric, Twitter is "the source of all evil and devastation".

Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, made the comments on his Fatwa television show earlier this week.

"If it were used correctly, it could be of real benefit, but unfortunately it's exploited for trivial matters," he said about the social networking site.

"People are rushing to it thinking, 'It's a source of credible information' but it's a source of lies and falsehood."
According to the Mufti, people are using the site for trivial things -- like posting how they are feeling!  Not acceptable! Well, Twitter is enormously popular in Saudi Arabia, there was a mini revolt against the cleric's declaration.
One user tweeted: "People need an outlet to express themselves, to start to disclose what's hidden and drop the masks, without fear or commands, or censorship from anyone."
Of course Twitter can be used for good. I use it myself to promote things I'd like others to see. However, after reading some of the inanity on social media, I can almost sympathize with the Mufti.
 "These are not the high morals that Muslims should have and I call upon all people to contemplate seriously what they write before they post their tweets."
Think about your tweets, people!

Just kidding. Twitter isn't the source of all evil afterall! He's just wrong, that's all.

 Perhaps the Mufti could focus on all those people getting their heads hacked off for trivial things or all the slave labor and human rights abuses? Instead, the country has been monitoring Twitter to combat witchcraft and gay people. What a waste of resources.

Tragically, I was unable to find a Twitter feed for him or his programme.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Survey: 'Evangelicals, Americans Are Just Not That Into Your Church.'

William Hogarth. British Artist and Engraver. The Sleeping Congregation (1736)
Today seems to be a really good news day over at the Christian Post. A report came out about a study that shows unchurched (read: Nones) Americans are the least likely to fall anything Christian evangelicals have in their proselytizing toolbox in 20 years. They just don't want to go to church -- who can blame them?

Unchurched Americans Most Resistant to Evangelism Outreach in 20 Years, Survey Finds

Apparently, this is no wimpy survey. Some 40,000 interviews were done.
A new study from Christian Research company Barna Group reveals that unchurched Americans are the most resistant to outreach efforts by the church and friends than they've been in 20 years.

Data collected from 42,855 interviews show that 47 percent of U.S. adults who do not attend church said they were open to being invited to church by a friend – down from 65 percent in 1993.
That's almost 20 points in 20 years -- not trivial at all, but surely all part of God's plan.

President of the survey group, David Kinnaman, echoed in the article that the gap between churches and society at large is an ever widening chasm.
While the research does not reveal the cause of the rift between churches and their communities, he believes "monumental cultural changes" have made Christians seem "increasingly alien and difficult to understand."
Now there's an understatement.

The article seems to be saying that newer generations are less interested in Christianity partially because of monumental changes.  Changes like accepting LGBT people as not sinful, broken, corrupt, dangerous people but rather normal people who are naturally attracted to people of the same gender. I also blame the Internet.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Images of Women Censored By Ultra-Orthodox Vandalism In Israel

Concept art of proposed Egged bus ad which I believe says, 'We are women of Jerusalem, nice to meet you.' (source)
There's been controversy brewing in Jerusalem for the past six years, at least. It's about bus adverts featuring women -- any women at all. These aren't the half-naked sort you are likely to find on placards here in Montreal -- these women are fully-clothed, and yet this is even too scandalous to Orthodox Jews.

Thirty-six year old Sarit Zussman, who self-identifies as religious, wanted to have her picture put on the side of a bus as part of the Yerushalmi movement. This is a political organization with the goal of promoting secularism and curbing religious extremism in Jerusalem.
But even as Zussman tried, the odds were stocked against her. The sign with her photo never made it to an Egged bus. Egged, along with the Cnaan advertising firm, which is the exclusive franchisee for advertising on Egged and Dan city buses, refused to mount them.
The Yerushalmim movement and City Councilwoman Rachel Azaria refused to back down, and submitted a petition to the High Court of Justice, which was accepted. Transportation Ministry officials said they were absolutely opposed to barring women's images on their buses, which set off a debate between Cnaan and Egged over the length of the women's sleeves. The end result of that debate? No images – either of men or women – will appear on Egged's advertisements from this point forward. Egged says the decision was prompted over fear of bus vandalism. Zussman, however, came away feeling more motivated to fight than ever.
This is all in a story on October 3rd over at Haaretz. The signs were to feature women from the chest up with necks, faces and arms exposed. Apparently too much exposure for ultra orthodox Haredi Jews.
The signs from Yerushalmim's campaign were to feature photographs of female residents of Jerusalem with the caption, “Women of Jerusalem, nice to meet you,” and were set to be plastered along the sides of the city's iconic green Egged buses.
The above motto speaks to how images of women have been censored out of Jerusalem society in recent years. Many women, like Sarit, want to reintroduce themselves to society and show that there is nothing shameful about being a woman out in the public square.

It's also significant that a city councilwoman would oppose to censorship like this. Imagine how difficult it would be for her to get necessary exposure to be elected if her image was not allowed to be put up in public! Well, that was the case six years ago on Egged buses. I wonder how women real estate agents would do their jobs?
As much as Egged officials try to deny it, their business decisions bear great cultural significance. Knowingly or not, innocently or not, Egged and Cnaan have become active participants in a bitter culture war from which they have little chance of coming out clean.

Despite the fact that the people running the show at each firm are, themselves, not Haredim, and several pledges of avoiding politics notwithstanding, these firms are actually aiding the Haredi victory in the battle over Jerusalem's character.
Furthermore, it seems that Haredi Jews, who have the biggest problem with images of women in public places, also are the most numerous clientele.
But vandalism seems to be only part of the story here. The decision not to show images of women, even at the price of not advertising in Jerusalem at all, must be seen in the context of a business eager to hold on to its most important clientele – the Haredi riders who take up more seats than any other sector of the population.
Well, just a couple of days after the publication of the article, Egged decided to allow the advertisements afterall.
The campaign to reinstate the images was spearheaded by Yerushalmiot head Shira Katz-Vinkler, and Deputy Mayor Rachel Azaria (Yerushalmim), who holds the education and women’s rights portfolio, and whose own picture was once barred from buses during a political campaign six years ago.

At the time of her campaign, Egged refused to include her image, fearing a violent backlash from extreme haredi sectors, which routinely tore down such advertisements and threw rocks at the buses carrying them.
Noting the prevalence of hardei vandalism against buses with women’s images affixed to them, the government agreed to compensate Egged for any damage caused by the reinstituted practice.
This was good news. Except, wait... I'm hoping that any vandals would be fined appropriately if they were caught!

Well, it turns out that not long after the images actually made it onto buses, they were vandalized.
A few days ago, according to the group, the ads were vandalized.

“These images of everyday women of all faiths send a powerful message to anyone who seeks to limit the participation of Israeli women in public life,” NCJW CEO Nancy K. Kaufman said Tuesday in a statement. “In a healthy democratic society, it is crucial that the voices of 50 % of Israel’s population be welcomed. I expect the police to thoroughly investigate this vandalism and bring the perpetrator to justice.”
Here's one of these offensive adverts.

I find anyone who is offended by this advert deeply offensive.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

What Ugandan Religious Leaders Really Think About LGBT

In case you missed it, CNN has an interesting story about where several of Uganda's religious leaders stand on homosexuality.

On homosexuality: Uganda's religious leaders

Some of the comments are just as bad as you would think they would be after watching the news or films like God Loves Uganda.
"Homosexuality is abnormal, and we have to do anything we can to stop it. These people need to repent, need to feel guilty, need to feel that they have sinned." 
"Spiritually, it is against God's will. God created a man and a woman for reproduction. That is how we sustain humanity. If homosexuality continues, the human race will be wiped out." 
Pretty much what you'd expect.  While others were comparatively progressive.
"Today you say you hate gay people, tomorrow God will give you a gay son. And what will you do then? Hate him? You have to work with people who have different beliefs."
The project was undertaken by award-winning photojournalist Daniella Zalcman.
Zalcman interviewed imams, rabbis, pastors -- leaders in every denomination represented in the country -- to ask them what their views on subject really were.

"I went to American-style mega churches in central Kampala and a Pentecostal church in a tin shack in the middle of a slum," she recalls.

"Whenever there's a news item on this issue, we quote a few evangelical leaders who say truly horrific things, wishing death and injury and a fiery hell on gay people. But they're not representative."

Zalcman encountered an array of voices, some stringently anti-gay, others tolerant, and many expressing uncertainty due to a lack of information and limited contact with homosexuals.
It seems that the more thoughtful among them realize that they hadn't enough true knowledge or contact with LGBT people. The less enlightened appear to use their religion to justify their fear and dislike of the unknown.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

South African Pastor Now Tells Congregation to Eat Floral Arrangements

Maxwell Klinger eats a jeep on the television program M*A*S*H: "See? I'm crazy. I'm eating a jeep and I think it's tasty. What could be more crazy than that?" Nom! Nom! Nom!
Remember Maxwell Klinger on M*A*S*H? He would try any stunt to prove to his superiors he was insane so he could be discharged from service in the Korean War? One episode, he decided to eat a jeep to prove he was clearly insane and who wouldn't agree that there are some sort of psychological issues there? Well, this sort of thing doesn't appear to be mental illness to the congregation of one Lesego Daniel, who previously had his congregation eat grass, then ostensibly drink 'pineapple flavoured' gasoline -- he's got religion, so he's a prophet.

This time the pastor is advising his flock to graze on the floral displays around the church.

Pastor Daniel’s flock eats flowers

People started munching on daisies at his command.
“Eat this one,” said Daniel to one of his ushers. The woman ran to the flowers her pastor was pointing to and started chewing off the heads of the daisies and the leaves.

Others started running to the stage to get a taste of the flowers. At first the woman refused to share but Daniel told her to welcome others to also take part in “what the Holy Spirit was doing”.

Soon the whole stage was filled with people chewing away at the flowers.
Well, that must have been a sight. I am relieved, though, that Mr. Daniel chose flowers this time, as some of them are actually edible as far as science is concerned. So there is no miracle there if people didn't get sick -- assuming they are edible flowers. European daisies are at least are edible.
This daisy may be used as a potherb. Young leaves can be eaten raw in salads or cooked, noting that the leaves become increasingly astringent with age. Flower buds and petals can be eaten raw in sandwiches, soups and salads. It is also used as a tea and as a vitamin supplement.
It's pretty apparent he's now simply trolling for attention.
“I’m making news,” Daniel said standing over his congregation as they fought over the flowers.

Maybe it's not a scam though. Perhaps this is just the way South African mega church pastors lose it completely.
On Sunday, he told his congregation that media reports claiming that his private life was falling apart and that he owned luxury cars and huge piece of land where not true and are only attempts to discredit him.
If so, then I suppose this is not really that distinguishable from Maxwell Klinger's situation. Well, on the outside, at least, both cases look insane to us. It's interesting that when religion is involved, stunts like this seem to increase faith and devotion in the congregation, while without religion, in Klinger's case, it was all part of an intentional ploy to draw on as much discredit as possible.

Has anyone seen Pastor Daniel eat the flowers?

Monday, 6 October 2014

Thriving "Surrogate Devil-Stoner" Industry Found at the Hajj In Mina

By Al Jazeera English (Small Jamarah up first) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Given its grotesque record of human rights violations, I like to keep a Google alert on pretty much all Saudi Arabian religion news. Well, this story fell into my filter today and I found it oddly amusing.

Paying money for stoning the devil by proxy illegal: Scholar

Compelling headline. It would seem that there is a burgeoning industry of surrogate stoners who, for a fee, will agree to go through all the burden of throwing pebbles at the devil (a cement wall?) for you. Look, people are busy these days. They'll also do the entire walk around the Holy Kabaa for you if you've got better things to do.
Several brokers are exploiting the ignorance of some pilgrims on the correct methods of performing the Haj pilgrimage to make money. These brokers, mostly expatriates working individually or for some Haj campaigns, convince some domestic pilgrims wanting to complete their Haj rites quickly, that they could do the rite of throwing pebbles at the Satan for a fee.

They also have them agree to do the Tawaf Al-Ifadha (circumambulation of the Holy Kaaba) on their behalf against a certain amount of money.
It seems to be mainly folks who live within Saudi Arabia or surrounding region. For them the whole pilgrimage is seems to be so "been there, done that..."  They would much rather spend the holidays at home with their families than attend this religious service -- just like me!
“Some domestic and GCC pilgrims are willing to pay between SR800 and SR1,000 for throwing the pebbles at the Satan on their behalf. They are rushing to go back to their homes to spend the rest of the Haj holidays with their families,” he said.
They said the money they make out from this job is enough to sustain them for a whole year.
That's between $240 and $300 CDN that people pay these religious ritual mercenaries, presumably at the gates, to go in and take care of this for them. I have no idea how involved this ritual is, but it seems a tad high. Like, is it worth all this not to just go in and do it?

What does it say about the societal pressures in these Islamic countries? It seems that people, who obviously do not wish to participate in these rituals, feel compelled to travel all the way to this site, navigate the throngs of people and then pay off some people to go through the motions.  I guess that's what happens when you apparently don't have any option to just say you're not that much into this.

A Muslim scholar and professor of criminal justice(!) comments that this is obviously incorrect -- the headline says illegal. Like any good forced religious observance, you must get an acceptable exemption: 1) In a great hurry to leave Mina (emergency only?); 2) unconscious due to illness; 3) hospitalized due to accident; 4) too old or weak; or 5) pregnant.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Jessa Duggar Writes Something Else On Her Instagram

It was only one day and already Jessa Duggar -- from the Nineteen Kids & Counting quiverfull-type-evangelical-homeschool-Christian-unreal-reality-television-family fame... Well... Listen... She's gone done written something else on her Instagram!

It's not so much the image, which is a haunting picture of children in a Nazi concentration camp. Nope, it's Jessa's description of the image that made people upset. (Emphasis mine.)
I walked through the Holocaust Museum again today... very sobering. Millions of innocents denied the most basic and fundamental of all rights--their right to life. One human destroying the life of another deemed "less than human." Racism, stemming from the evolutionary idea that man came from something less than human; that some people groups are "more evolved" and others "less evolved." A denying that our Creator--GOD--made us human from the beginning, all of ONE BLOOD and ONE RACE, descendants of Adam. The belief that some human beings are "not fit to live." So they're murdered. Slaughtered. Kids with Down syndrome or other disabilities. The sickly. The elderly. The sanctity of human life varies not in sickness or health, poverty or wealth, elderly or pre-born, little or lots of melanin [making you darker or lighter skinned], or any other factor. "If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small. If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain; If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not He that pondereth the heart consider it? and He that keepeth thy soul, doth not He know it? and shall not He render to every man according to his works?" (Proverbs 24:10-12) May we never sit idly by and allow such an atrocity to happen again. Not this generation. We must be a voice for those who cannot speak up for themselves. Because EVERY LIFE IS PRECIOUS. #ProLife
First off, she has a pretty horrendous picture of what evolution is all about. I've heard it before from the evangelical crowd. Regardless of what the Nazis used to justify their atrocities, evolution is as close to proven fact as any theory in science can ever get. It's right up there with the theory of gravity and the theory of relativity.

However, it was her apparent equation of the murder of millions of self-conscious human beings during the holocaust with the termination of pregnancies -- not self-conscious fully-formed human beings... often not even close -- has offended many of her followers, some of whom were already getting over her anti-atheist comments the day before.
I love you and you are a sweet girl. But I am Jewish and I can't even understand why you would compare the Holocaust to abortion. Women have abortions because their life style or body is not fit for a child. Do you think women feel good after killing an innocent child? It was what they had to do to save a baby from a miserable life. The Holocaust was when 9 million innocent and defenseless people who were deemed 'less than human' were slaughtered. Please don't ever compare those two again. Again I say, you are a lovely girl, just don't compare slaughter to selflessness. -- _mya_butoryak_
Abortion is not murder if you look at science. A fetus isn't viable or alive within the time abortion is allowed. Comparing that to the Holocaust is horrendous. Those people were alive and slaughtered. They were put through hell. To say something that isn't alive is going through the same thing is unjustified. I hope your child does not grow up with the same prejudice and narrow-minded approach to life. Shame on you, @jessaseewald. God forbid you're raped. Would you want that reminder of the attack? And putting a child up for adoption? Well, there are 109,000 children in the foster care system in the United States alone. And millions of ALIVE children around the world waiting for a loving family to adopt them today. I pity you and your lack of compassion. -- mayniacmeg
Ironically, comparing the holocaust with abortion -- many of which are performed when pregnancy is under 12 weeks -- is sort of extra dehumanizing, I think, for the victims of the holocaust. As the last commenter pointed out, these people -- who were completely aware of their situation -- were made to suffer in the vilest and cruelest ways over extended periods. The suffering was totally unthinkably gruesome and horrifying. To say that's the same as abortion belittles the event.

Look, I'm no big fan of abortion. Who is? However, in many situation it's the lesser of several evils and, in the end, it must remain a woman's choice over her own bodily autonomy.

Some of you may wonder why I'm even covering this story. Well, Jessa is the product of her upbringing. It is a cloistered, sheltered evangelical Christian homeschooled upbringing that is anti-evolution, anti-climate change, (anti-science), anti-choice etc. So, this is apparently what you get. It's not Jessa's fault -- by all indications she appears to be an intelligent woman who's simply working with what she's got.

Another reason is that, apparently, half a million people follow this Instagram. It's sad, but these people are looked up to by thousands if not millions of young people. Her words may have more effect on some than all the teachers and public speakers out there.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

South African "Eat Grass" Pastor Now Urging Congregation To Drink Gasoline

Lead warning on a gas pump at Keeler's Korner, Lynnwood, Washington (built 1927). (source)
Remember Pastor Lesego Daniel of Rabboni Center Ministries? He's the South African preacher who urged his congregation to eat grass. That was pretty bad and, as far as I can remember, resulted in people vomiting copiously. Well, now things are worse and I think the police probably ought to be called. He's telling people to drink gasoline! This is no longer funny -- it's sick.
A video showing a controversial South African Christian pastor making members of his congregation drink petrol – which he said would turn into pineapple juice – has sparked a public outcry.
Is he just toying with people now to see how far they'll go? This is like some cruel test to see to what degree people can become completely deluded by blind faith.

Skip ahead to the seven minute mark. Things get completely messed up.

Read on, this man should be locked up.
Pastor Lesego Daniel of Rabboni Center Ministries, located north of capital Pretoria, can be seen in the video holding a bottle of petrol, which, he says, he had prayed for to turn into pineapple juice.

The video, which has gone viral online in recent days, shows Pastor Daniel first giving the petrol to one of his fellow preachers to test.

A female congregant then comes from the audience shaking and dancing, reaching out for the bottle in the pastor's hands.

"You want to drink pineapple juice?" Daniel asks her before giving her a sip of the petrol.

Then several other congregants come forward and drink from the same bottle.
So far, though, it seems that the authorities aren't doing anything at all to control this insanity. The above article quotes a dean of Theology who's pretty sure this isn't Biblical and that although the country's constitution guarantees freedom of religion, this freedom ends when people get harmed. Well, at least someone said that.

Two other people were quoted expressing their outraged, but unlike the dean, they remained anonymous.

Seems like nobody is challenging this pastor who is now clearly a danger to human life.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Robert Ingersoll On Blasphemy Laws

Based on what I've read by Robert Ingersoll, I doubt he would have been too impressed by that photo of the teen apparently simulating a sexual act with a kneeling Jesus statue in Pennsylvania.

But I'm absolutely certain he would have been utterly revolted by the thought of this kid potentially getting two years in juvie -- a criminal offense! -- for this ridiculous act with a statue.
The criminal charge, which will be heard in family court, consists of “Desecration of a Venerated Object.”

Pennsylvania law defines desecration as “Defacing, damaging, polluting or otherwise, physically mistreating in a way that the actor knows will outrage the sensibilities of persons likely to observe or discover the action.”
I'm sorry, is Pennsylvania stuck back in the colonial days?

Now that is far far more disgusting than any lewd -- generally immature because he's a minor! -- acts this kid did. Apparently you can end up in the slammer for long long time for blasphemy in some US states here, now in the 21st century! Imagine that for a moment.

Well, back in the nineteenth century Ingersoll had already done just that. He had this to say:
[...] All laws defining and punishing blasphemy -- making it a crime to give your honest ideas about the Bible, or to laugh at the ignorance of the ancient Jews, or to enjoy yourself on the Sabbath, or to give your opinion of Jehovah, were passed by impudent bigots, and should be at once repealed by honest men. An infinite God ought to be able to protect himself, without going in partnership with State Legislatures. Certainly he ought not so to act that laws become necessary to keep him from being laughed at. No one thinks of protecting Shakespeare from ridicule, by the threat of fine and imprisonment. It strikes me that God might write a book that would not necessarily excite the laughter of his children. In fact, I think it would be safe to say that a real God could produce a work that would excite the admiration of mankind.
Oh, and how is this any different than Saudi Arabia? It's merely a matter of degree, not kind.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Family Facing Deportation & Risk Of Female Circumcision Answers Reader's Questions

Fuh-Cham family do not wish to return to Cameroon where the women and girls will be forced to undergo female circumcision. (source)
A few days ago I posted about Hilary and Yvette Fu-Cham and their family, who fled their native Cameroon in 2007 to seek asylum here in Montreal, Canada. Hilary is next in line to become a tribal sub-chief in the small village of his youth and part of his royal obligations are that all of the women in his family undergo required circumcision (female genital mutilation).

Now it seems like the Canadian government is not granting them any form of stay and they will be deported in a month back to Cameroon. According to the Hilary and Yvette, they risk being hunted down by those who wish to violate Yvette and their two daughters to satisfy local religious traditions.

They are both Catholic and their church, Saint Jean Brebeuf Catholic, has signed a petition to the federal government and has called on their local MP to speak out against the deportation but there has been no positive response to this. You can keep track of the situation over at this website which contains other social media links.

This interests me not only at a general human rights level. It is also because it is local traditions rooted in superstition and tribal religion which seems to be motivating the circumcision. The ridiculous idea is that this cutting will remove any risk of infidelity in the women and it's apparently common practice in parts of Cameroon.

Hemant Mehta covered this as well over at the Friendly Atheist blog. While reading the comments thread, I came across reader Armin Tamzarian's excellent questions:
I don't completely understand. Who is forcing these girls to get circumcised? Is it the local community? Why not move to another part of Cameroon then? Is it the government? For what reason? Do they force people to become sub-chief and have their women circumcised?

So many questions, so little answers...
I forwarded these questions to Wendy de Souza over at Saint Jean Brebeuf Catholic in Lasalle and she got back to me with this response.
Hi Sean,

Thank you for the questions, they were put to our team and here are the answers (approved by Hilary):

Who is forcing these girls to get circumcised?
It is a small group of tribal elders, made up of both men and women. They are called “the king makers”, but the members are actually only known amongst themselves. This secrecy makes them even more powerful.

Why not move to another part of Cameroon then?
This group of elders believes completely in ancestral powers and they can be ruthless in getting their way. The majority of the people believe in their evil ancestral power and are afraid of them. People will do anything to please them, as they know that they can be harmed if they do not cooperate with them. Moving to a different part of the country will not stop them from searching for you and, if they so choose, killing you.

Do they force people to become sub-chief and have their women circumcised?
In this small village of Weh, home of the Wanageh tribe, the first son of the sub chief automatically takes the throne of his father. It has been this way from generation to generation and this cannot be negotiated. It is also a tradition to circumcise any female girl of the royal family because they believe that if they are circumcised, they will not have unwanted sexual desires and will not bring in children from unwanted relationships. This would be a big disgrace for the tribe.

Hope this helps, and again, thank you Sean for getting the word out there! We hope to meet you at one of our two rallies - Sunday at church 12 noon or Tuesday Phillip's square 5:30 p.m.

Best regards,
-Wendy .
I'm just passing this on from Hilary and his parish. I'm not certain, of course, how much of it is accurate but it does seem to fit some of what I've read elsewhere. Perhaps someone from Cameroon could comment here and let us know if this is indeed the case.

I'm not sure if I can make it Sunday or not. If so, maybe I'll share some pictures on the blog.

Monday, 8 September 2014

13% Of Students At Egyptian University Are Atheists & Grand Mufti Knows Why

I've recently covered how the Egyptian government is grappling with the sheer world-collapsing horror that is atheism. They've even launched hip new programs to investigate why young people are finding Islam so uncool and turning away from religion in general. Furthermore, clerics are showing how serious they are about confronting this existential threat of atheism by demanding a belly dancing competition television programme be canceled. So maybe not that hip after all, right?

Well now the historic Al-Azhar University (I think) has conducted a survey of some 6,000 young people and have found that 12.3% of them are atheists. That's a pretty high number considering how the government is actively trying to combat atheism. I'd be rather timid to answer yes to such a survey so I imagine the number might really be a bit higher.

Former mufti blames al-Azhar negligence for youth atheism
At a meeting with university graduates at the Helwan Leadership Institute on Monday, former Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa said a survey conducted by Al-Azhar on a sample of 6,000 young people showed that 12.3 percent of them were atheists.

The study attributed this to 56 reasons, the most important of which was because they were angry with God.
Yeah, I don't think the survey writers quite understand what atheism means. I mean, I'm still angry about how unlikeable Colin Baker's Doctor Who was and really didn't much like his character, but he doesn't really exist. So they could be atheists who are disgusted by the fictional character of God -- and he's really not a very likeable character, now is he? Why don't they see this?

Well, Ali Gomaa thinks he knows the reason: They don't know that God is merciful.

Bingo! Well, that solves that then. These people who do not believe that God exists are just angry at him. OR they don't know that this non-existent being would actually be merciful (note: if it actually existed, which it doesn't.)

Curiously, much like a common evangelical trope in the United States, the evil secular university seems to be to blame. You know, education and free inquiry in a university setting may have something to do with it.
Gomma blamed the negligence of Al-Azhar for that phenomenon although he said it has succeeded in persuading 10 percent of them to go back to religion. “Still there is a long way to go,” he said.
Well, there you have it. It looks like Egypt is well on their way to understanding and fixing their atheism problem.

I'd love to see what the question actually was and what those 55 other reasons were for all these youth becoming atheist. I'm sure many are just as ridiculous as them being angry with god.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Catholic School Disciplines Teacher For Informing Students of Their Rights & A Poll!

Another week, more news about Catholic schools in Ontario.

This time, a teacher at a Peterborough Catholic school got rapped on his hand with the ruler for simply informing his students about a recent court ruling allowing them to skip religious courses and ceremonies.
An Ontario Catholic high school teacher was disciplined for informing his students they can’t be forced to study religion, underscoring the determination of Catholic school boards to get students to take religious studies.

The teacher, Paul Blake, had a disciplinary note attached to his file in May, after he told a group of Grade 12 students of a recent court case that affirmed their right to an exemption from religious courses and ceremonies.
Grant Lafleche wrote an excellent article about this and the general path to extinction the Catholic school system is taking in Ontario: Catholic schools on slow march to extinction. In it he amusingly compares to the Catholic School Board to a sort of Wily Coyote.
You have to give Catholic school boards in Ontario props for being consistent. You know, in the same way that Wile E. Coyote is consistent, no matter how many times he falls off that cliff or runs headlong into a stone wall, he still gets up and tries to eat that bird.
Lafleche's piece does a magnificent job of explaining how the Catholic church has reacted to the court ruling.
In April, the courts told the schools students can be exempt if their parents wish it.

The Catholic boards reacted by jumping into bed, pulling their blankets over their heads and pretended the court ruling doesn’t exist.
Along with what, one school at least, has instructed their teachers to do.
[ ... ] Given the court ruling and the number of news stories about it, he thought it prudent to discuss the issue with his students. When he asked his principal how he ought to approach it, he was told never to discuss it.

Because, you know, the best and most responsible way to handle things is to pretend they aren’t happening.
Because knowledge is bad and apparently a student body and parents who are aware of their rights is also bad. All in all, it seems like the Board is in denial about the trajectory Ontario is on and... perhaps... on its way to extinction.

Go read the article, and vote in the poll!

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Egyptian Clerics: Belly Dancing Dangerous, Like Homosexuality And Atheism

(Scroll towards bottom for video.)

As we know, Egyptian religious police, the Ministry of Endowments and Culture , in an apparent competition with Saudi Arabia, has already declared war on atheists. Well now Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah, an Egyptian educational institute that appears to exist just to tell people and governments what's right or wrong, is tackling the existential threat that is a belly dancing program on television.

Egypt religious body: Suspend belly-dancing show

Belly dancing is by no means a new thing in Egypt, but American-style belly dance competition programs are.
The call by Dar al-Ifta, the top body that advises Muslims on religious and life issues, follows others criticizing the show called "Dancer." But the debate over it isn't all about it being too racy for television — it's part of a concerted effort by Egypt's government to show its both challenging Islamists as a political forces while still respecting the country's more-conservative values.
This is a little confusing, but I think it means they want to throw their fundamentalist conservative types a little meat by banning some dancing shows or jailing some atheists while all the same fighting dangerous groups like ISIS. I get it, but I think it's really the wrong way to go about it. It's sort of like taking away people's freedoms to improve national security or something -- sort of like what happened in many Western countries just after 9/11.
In its statement, Dar al-Ifta said the show "serves extremists who take such matters as a justification to promote the idea that society is fighting religion."
It seems like this is a move to prove to extremists that Egypt is fighting immoral acts -- like belly dancing... which has been going on in Egypt for centuries, but oh well.

Truth be said, I find these dance competition programs mind-numbingly dull. It also has a RealityTV feel to it which sounds awful, but I still think that banning it for reasons like this is pretty silly.
In an advertisement, the network said the winner would receive the title "the best belly dancer in the world." The contestants also shouted at each other and fought in the advertisement in the tradition of Western-style reality shows.
Still, the competition is international. So it might bring aspects of other cultures to the forefront that conservative critics may not like. It might be a force for good, showing the humanity of those in all sorts of different cultures. It may unify where unity is not wanted.

Apparently critics of the show are clerics and they've even filed a lawsuit! One such cleric has compared belly dancing to homosexuality and atheism... yeah...
Anti-Muslim Brotherhood cleric Muzhir Shahine and a group of professors Al-Azhar, a Cairo university prestigious in the Muslim world, issued a statement criticizing the belly-dancing show as part of "attacks on society's values," while also trying to compare it to atheism and homosexuality — which a large number of conservative Egyptians perceive as taboos.
Right... sure... I totally see the connection... Belly dancing: An attack on society's values since at least the 18th or 19th century -- maybe longer.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

God Photobombs Someone During "God's Not Dead" At Oklahoma Drive-In!

Divine photobomb! Circle added by news station so we can actually try to see him -- it's that obvious.  (source)
Take this, atheists! The Christian God, Yahweh, decided to prove to the entire human race -- well, actually some folks over at the Airline Drive-In movie theatre in Ponca City, Oklahoma -- that he is not dead at all! Hark, the divinity hath photobombeth a photograph Mandy Moehlman took of her daughter! Proof! How could you deny this evidence now?

People Claim to See God at Drive-In Movie Theater in Oklahoma

A Christian radio channel, KLVV (My Praise FM), spent thousands to refurbish the drive-in just to show God's Not Dead before it was to be demolished. Holy crap. Maybe God was pissed off they didn't use the money for food for kids or something? Do they not have this problem in Oklahoma?

Anyway, Moehlman shared a thought she had which I need to conclude with. It's about how convenient it was that God so undeniably chose to show up in the corner of a photograph of her daughter in the form of a nebulous vision exactly while they were all watching a film all about God's existence!
"He is very much alive," added Moehlman. "I just thought it was neat and ironic that we were at a movie called 'God's Not Dead,' and there is a picture of God's face in the clouds."
Curious, eh? Who would ever expect some Christians to perhaps see God-shaped clouds after watching God's Not Dead?

You know, during my misguided youth, I would occasionally lie on my back and see all sorts of things in clouds -- like boats, fish, elephants, penises... It's really amazing what people see in clouds. I wonder if this sort of thing is common?

Oklahoma, I love you!


Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Religious Freedom Should Have Nothing To Do With BC Polygamy Laws

Still shot from 16x9 -- Inside Bountiful: Polygamy Investigation (source)
As far as I am concerned, people should be allowed to date, sleep with and marry one or more people so long is everyone is consenting uncoerced adults. I've been in a couple of polyamorous relationships over the years and believe people should be let be when it comes to how they wish to arrange themselves relationship-wise.

Unfortunately, religion sort of has a bad track record honouring those three important criteria (consent, non-coercion, legal age --- e.g. no statutory rape allowed). It seems that religion is often used to break one or more of those three rules. Underage girls are forced to marry pervy old men with the younger men ousted out of the community, for example. It's resulted in horrendously abusive situations where childrens' lives have been mangled.

I won't even pretend to be an expert when it comes to the polygamy case going on in Bountiful, British Columbia. I plan to inform myself better! What's peaked my interest right now about this situation is all this talk about how religious freedom may be able to bend the rules in favour of the polygamists. Because, God... or something.

Religious freedom seems to be a special incantation used to get extra rights and privileges others cannot obtain.
The criminal trial against two men from a polygamous sect in British Columbia is likely to re-examine whether the ban on multiple marriages violates the right to religious freedom, experts say, despite a court decision three years ago that declared the law constitutional.

Winston Blackmore and James Oler were each charged this week with practising polygamy in a religious commune in southeastern B.C. known as Bountiful.
This Blackmore fellow is accused of being married to 24 different women. I have a hard enough time being present for one woman so I cannot imagine. What really bugs me though is that his sincerely held Mormon beliefs may give him a free Get out of Jail Card. Their criminal court case, beginning in October, is likely to re-open discussions about whether multiple marriages in general should be illegal in British Columbia. There's already talk about his Charter rights and how his religious freedom may make him untouchable.

Anyway, it seems like he lost his cast in 2011, when the judge decided that the harms of polygamy posed to society outweighed claims to religious freedom. How about having one law for everyone? Then, if we wish to make multiple marriages legal -- which is a valid enough question -- we can do so without having to trip all over each others' dogmata.

Really though, you see how complicated these notions of religious freedom make things? We need to all of a sudden have two different laws: one for regular people and another special one full of exceptions and exemptions for those who claim their strongly held religious beliefs give them more rights than the rest of us. The state is also forced to evaluate how serious or how strongly held these religious beliefs are. How the hell is it supposed to do that in a fair and objective manner?

Let's drop the religious discussion and talk about whether polygamy or polyandry or polyamorous marriage laws are even required. Let's examine it outside of the religious context. Beverley Baines, a Queen's University law professor puts it well.
Baines said there are other laws that already criminalize the harms often associated with polygamy, such as sexual abuse or child trafficking, and she argued the law could actually hurt women and children in polygamous communities.
This is a valid and interesting point.

I don't mean to trivialize the very real harm some have endured within some of these cloistered religious cults that have polygamous marriage, but this special consideration for people's religions needs to stop and everyone needs to be treated equally under one secular law.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Salon Writer "Horrified" By Atheist TV

Some art by yours truly. (source)
Well, it looks like American Atheists must be doing something right with their new television channel because Salon, the juggernaut of anti-(New)-Atheist drivel has come up with a real stinker.

It is so terrible and random that I don't even know where to begin, so I'll just throw a couple of comments out there.

I spent a day watching AtheistTV — and it was horrifying

Daniel D'Addario's -- who assures us all he is a bonafide atheist -- appears to have a problem with anything that mocks religion.
AtheistTV adheres to nasty stereotypes about atheism — smugness, gleeful disregard for others’ beliefs — to a degree that’s close to unwatchable.
When I first tuned in at 2 p.m. on Thursday, the closing credits for a show were scrolling, set to a parody hymn that rhymed “Don’t be offended by a word to the wise” with “There’s no real estate in the skies.”
After the second broadcast of a single “Atheist Experience” episode, the channel showed a 2012 rally in Washington, D.C.; speakers consistently described a future in which all Americans would join the movement, a future that they’d get to by mocking and hassling the beliefs of others.
Is D'Addario an atheist who does not at all see any utterly absurd and even potentially harmful beliefs within religion? Does he revere and honour the sincerely held beliefs of millions that he is a harmful person who is destined to Hell because of his atheism? How can anyone honestly do this?
Then, after several seconds of dead air, came a prerecorded call-in show called ”The Atheist Experience,” whose co-host Matt Dillahunty, wearing a black Hawaiian-style shirt decorated with flames and infinity symbols, needed no prompting to begin his show with the Biblical story of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. “This is just absolutely horrible,” said Dillahunty. “And it’s the type of thing we get when we begin with the idea that the Bible is true and good, and you run into absurdities.”
Listen, AtheistTV is in its infancy. Most of the programmes on there are simply existing shows and there just isn't a wide enough selection of shows yet. Chill out, this will get better. And would it be better for D'Addario if Dillahunty were wearing a suit with nice hair and fake teeth?

Anyway, has he even considered the story of Abraham and Isaac? It is absolutely terrible and the Bible is quite full of absurdities -- D'Addario apparently doesn't know of any at all. He also either has no clue about the story itself or doesn't see any problem at all with dragging your son to the top of a mountain and traumatizing him for life.
What absurdities these were the viewer would have to fill in for himself; there was no extrapolation from this story in terms of what social ills have happened in the name of God, no sense that Dillahunty was bothered by people following the Bible for any reason other than that he thinks it’s nuts to rely on a book for wisdom and guidance. “I don’t worship any being,” he said, “though I respect a lot of people and a lot of fictional characters.”

Then there's this part.
AtheistTV frames atheism as a perpetual reaction against a conquering force. And that reaction isn’t reasoned debate. It’s unattractive nihilism.
You know, atheism is sort of a perpetual reaction against a conquering force -- perhaps even an occupying force. The name kind of gives it away: a-theism. If the theism stopped trying to control everyone's lives and brainwashing children into believing fairy stories atheism would pretty much no longer be a thing.

It makes me wonder if D'Addario simply grew up with his atheism and has never had to really consider religion at all -- perhaps it's just that pretty incense laden ritual that those folks do every week before crowding into buffets to eat their Sunday lunches. Maybe belief in one thing is just as valid and true as belief in anything else and for him beliefs have no consequences whatsoever.

And it's not meant to be attractive. It just needs to be true.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Another Article About What To Do About All These Churches Everywhere

There must be something in the air these days because only a week or so after I posted about some fantastic new uses for empty crumbly cathedrals here in Montreal, the New Republic has reprinted a really interesting article by Oliver Farry, Church Attendance Is Falling. Let the Buildings Fall, Too.
It is, of course, sacrilegious (from a conservationist point of view) to say this but I would sooner let them turn into elegant ruins or, as the French, those great connoisseurs of church architecture, have done so many times throughout history, knock them down and build something new in their stead.
I don't feel this way at all, that would be a terrible waste -- save the really ugly Catholic churches built during the 60s and 70s which looked more like Raƫlian alien craft than churches to me. Go check out your favourite Quebec churches, perhaps you might get a good deal on one.

Even then though, why would we want to waste funds to knock down a building and replace it with cheap metal and plastic modern structure -- sometimes at the cost of the state -- when the building could simply be repurposed? In fact, in the case of public funds, we would be throwing new money at a problem to be solved in addition to all of that lost tax revenue. We still don't tax churches, so why not get some form of savings which could be used to pay down our debt? Although true for all churches still in reasonable condition, it is particularly the case for the older stone or brick churches which can be very sturdy making demolition costly
For this reason I am not a big fan of churches being converted for more practical uses when abandoned by the religious. The resultant effect is invariably kitsch or one of petit-bourgeois propriety.
Believe me, a lot of the later churches are horribly tacky. However, as my last post revealed, it is the bishop who is preventing churches from being converted to daycares and senior homes. Surely, these uses are not to kitsch for Farry?

All this said, I did enjoy the article and I too enjoy the majestic architecture of a beautiful Cathedral, so long as it's not all cluttered up with too many ghoulish statues of people being nailed to crosses.

I especially like the reference to Quebec and to Denys Arcand's set in Montreal film Les Invasions Des Barbares.
There is a scene in Denys Arcand’s 2003 film The Barbarian Invasions, in which a young French antiques appraiser visits a Quebec Catholic church to size up some long unused religious artifacts the local priest is trying to offload. The priest shows her around a dusty lock-up and tells her: “Quebec used to be as Catholic as Spain or Ireland. Everyone believed. At a precise moment, during the year 1966 in fact, the churches suddenly emptied in a matter of months. A strange phenomenon that no one has ever been able to explain.” The irony of course is that churches would in time also empty, or at least become emptier, in Ireland and Spain. This scene however sums up eloquently the material legacy a societal decline in religious faith leaves. Stripped of their function in a thriving congregation, surplus ciboria, chalices, and tabernacles of modest craftsmanship become items of largely worthless bric-a-brac. (It is interesting though that all three of those items endure as living, breathing examples of Quebec French’s wonderfully colorful profanity.)
The article ends rather weak, but starts out strong by giving insight about what different European countries are doing to cope with the ever emptying church situation.

This is sure to upset a few, forgive me but I cannot resist. I wonder when the first abortion clinic or clinic offering end of life care that includes assisted death will show up in an old church building?

On a more serious note, think of all the Humanist Centres and Secular Humanist schools that could move into these empty buildings?

Monday, 4 August 2014

Child Bride Situation In Nigeria

Not much time today but here's a dreadful story to start your week off wrong.

Nigeria girl faces murder trial over forced marriage
A Nigerian court on Monday postponed the murder trial of a 14-year-old girl accused of poisoning the 35-year-old man she was forced to marry, a case that has thrown the spotlight on the influence of Islamic law in region.
I'll distill it the quickest way I can. We have a 14 year old girl who's forced to marry a 35 year old man. She behaves in a criminal way -- however she is just a child! She should have never been thrown into this mess.

These short soundbites sums things up rather well, as does the infographic above.
"All we are saying is do justice to her. Treat the case as it is. Treat her as a child," Aliyu said.
"A girl of 14 cannot stand trial under the criminal code. This case is just adding to our country's negative reputation in the eyes of the international community," he told AFP.
She supported Ogunye's argument that regardless of religion or region, a child cannot face criminal charges in a high court and the case must be moved to the juvenile system.
If you have a child who's not old enough to be tried as an adult but must be moved to the juvenile system then why the hell should she be even allowed to be married to a 35 year old pervert? Oh, and why should human beings be sold off to older perverts like chattel? This is so very wrong on so many levels and yet it seems to be pretty cool as far as the religious are concerned in the region. Funny how these things so often conveniently work out.
The marriage of teenage girls to much older men is rampant in deeply conservative, mainly Muslim northern Nigeria, especially in poorer rural areas.

The region has since 2000 been under sharia Islamic law which some say does not prohibit the marriage of underage girls.

Under Nigeria's marriage act, which applies nationwide, a woman under the age of 21 who wants to marry must have the consent of her parents.
There is pressure within the country to remove the awkward and confusing sharia law and secular criminal code hybrid that's so common in the North and apply just the secular code. If people are indeed compassionate enough to see she should not be tried as an adult than I can only hope they can see that she shouldn't have been forcefully married off in the first place.