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

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Religion Starting to Understand Climate Change... But It's Still Frustrating


I'm in a cranky mood today, so expect some kvetching over minor things. Take for example this piece by Bill McKibben, who is a excellent activist. I him support in his effort to get universities to divest from fossil fuel companies. This effort is so worthwhile, as it hits these companies where it hurts - the wallet and public image.

My nitpicking starts with the mere title of the piece: What religion can teach climate scientists.

More on this later. Take a look at the first two paragraphs.
Pope Francis’s remarkable encyclical, Laudato Si’, has been rightly hailed as a watershed moment in the climate debate, the moment when religion finally took note of what science had been saying for a couple of decades. As with all watersheds, though, the river at the bottom draws its power from all the creeks that feed in along the way — it’s worth remembering just how many people (a large number of them in Massachusetts) have worked over the years to build a true faith-based environmental movement. How they’ve managed to do it holds lessons for all of us trying to spread the word about climate change.

Twenty-five years ago, when this work was just getting started, there was nothing easy about it: In liberal churches and synagogues, environmentalism was considered slightly elitist, a task to be gotten to once the serious business of war and hunger had been dealt with. In conservative congregations, anything green was considered a depot on the track to paganism.
Can we all stop and ask why the Roman Catholic Church - the leader of which is apparently an infallible conduit for the word of God himself - is now finally tuning in to what scientists have been screaming, ever louder each year, for decades?

Then you have evangelicals who are still in denial against all evidence and reason. How many more decades can we afford to waste trying to drag them kicking and screaming into reality?

And after all of this... they will mark it proudly on flags and wave them about for everyone: we've always known that climate change is legit! In fact, it was the Christians and Christianity which was instrumental in the environmental movement. Praise Jesus.

It has been this way with slavery in the South and it will be so for same-sex marriage and LGBT rights. It's good they are catching up, finally, but it's bloody aggravating.
In the end, it may be less the political power of faith communities that matters and more their ability to transform the bleak message of scientists into something that more people can hear. Faith-based environmentalists, after all, are allowed to have some hope that if they work hard, the world might meet them halfway.
Such is the problem with basing your environmentalism on faith rather than evidence and science - you'll remain obstinately behind the times - perhaps with fatal results for our species and thousands of others on this planet.

(Image source)

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Damon Linker Thinks Progressives Should Fight For Church Tax Exemption, Because: "Freedom" of Religion


So Damon Linker is back. He just wrote something about how taxing churches is a form of religious persecution.

Are Christians being thrown into prison or having their heads chopped off in the United States? No. Churches may be forced to pay taxes like everyone else! Persecution!
Maybe such moves wouldn't be made against churches themselves. But it would be foolish to presume it couldn't or won't happen. Once the Supreme Court's Obergefell decision declaring a constitutional right to same-sex marriage is combined with laws banning discrimination against homosexuals — which already exist in well over a dozen states and are coming soon at the federal level — the case for eliminating religious tax exemptions could be powerful. And of course all of this will take place against a cultural backdrop of rapid secularization that could well produce a demographically driven sea change in the nation's attitudes toward churches and other religious institutions. Just because the United States has a long history of deference to religion doesn't mean it will continue indefinitely.
Deference to religion means religious privilege. Linker, who's argued in the past that atheism cannot explain self-sacrifice and offered us atheists advice on how to be honest, is now advising us - and progressives - to defend this tax exemption -- for our own well-being, of course.

He first drags out the argument that churches get this exemption because these organizations do so much for the community. I would concede that this is certainly true for some churches, but with it comes the promotion of religion - and the government is ultimately left to decide what qualifies as religion. Furthermore, as I've seen with a nearby church and Mark Oppenheimer writes, a church's lack of property taxes will be made up by other businesses and private individuals footing their bill.
Indeed, many clergy have mid-six-figure salaries — many university presidents, seven-figure salaries — and the IRS doesn’t trouble their tax-exempt status. And many churches and synagogues sit on exceedingly valuable tracts of land (walk up and down Fifth Avenue to see what I mean). The property taxes they aren’t paying have to be drawn from business owners and private citizens — in a real sense, you and I are subsidizing Mormon temples, Muslims mosques, Methodist churches.
It's really this next line of reasoning from Linker that gets me though.
But of course the First Amendment doesn't just preclude a religious establishment. It also protects religious "free exercise," and it is on those grounds that the elimination of tax exemptions for churches should be opposed by all Americans, liberal and conservative alike.
You know, free exercise as in FREE. Linker goes on to develop the idea that churches are operating on such tight margins, they would be destroyed if they had to pay taxes, with or without tithes, so I'm not 100% sure where he was going with these ironic quotation marks. It does suggest to me, though, that this could have been a little clever wordplay.

He then ends the whole thing on a completely bizarre note.
To which some liberals may be inclined to respond: "You bet it is — and rightly so! Why on Earth should the government be making special provisions to protect institutions that openly advocate discrimination against a category of American citizens?"
Why on earth, indeed? Furthermore, it matters not whether the church is full of bigots or not, if they are on a property they should be paying their property taxes.

Linker tells us that if churches are taxed - presumably because they wish to discriminate against LGBT people - then they will lose their freedom. Organizations that cannot afford to pay their taxes are not free. Presumably, they will not be able to spew forth their disdain for marriage equality for free. Then, apparently, religious freedom is over because churches cannot behave like bigots and then our entire liberal society is dead.
If we forbid religions to discriminate — or empower the government to regulate how and against which behaviors a church is permitted to discriminate — we will have effectively ended religious freedom.

Are liberals really prepared to begin treating such bedrock religious tendencies — tendencies that go back to the beginnings of human culture and lie at the foundation of every civilization ever known — as beyond the bounds of acceptable thought and behavior? And to use state power to stamp them out?
We don't want churches who condemn same-sex marriage to not be able to afford their buildings! That would be terrible! I wonder if there were arguments like this from racist white churches after abolition of slavery?

(Image source)

Sunday, 12 July 2015

South African Congregation Stripping, Eating Frogs & Hair Weaves

A girl eats another congregant's hair weave. 
So there's this church in South Africa which appears to be full of people suffering from pica - or at least suffering from an extreme religion-induced disconnection from reality.

Penuel Mnguni, self-described prophet, ministers to End Times Disciples Ministries and appears to get thrills from convincing his flock to do all kinds of crazy things -- and he's apparently young and charismatic enough to pull this off.

Back in May, he convinced everyone to pray... and strip.
Penuel said people condemn him because only the wicked see the naked part of a person. He said there is no shame in nakedness if one really believes in the living God.

“At first it seemed as if the people could handle it,” said a member of the church.

“But as the preacher spoke the heat increased until it was burning hot and they took off their clothes.”

The source said as men and women were stripping down, the church prophet kept telling them: “God is with us, and to God be the glory!”
More recently, he convinced his followers to cut a hair weave right off one woman's head and chow down on it -- without any seasoning at all!
In the pictures we obtained from the church's Facebook page, you can see the pastor Prophet Penuel Mnguni of the End Times Disciples Ministries laying his hands on the woman and some women holding the hair in their hands and shoving some in their mouths.

The pictures carry the caption "Man of God held the head of woman of God Thapelo from Mabopane and her hair turned into food for the sons and daughters of God to eat. Everything depends on what we say because we carry life in our tongue."
You can see them eating what appear to be small pieces of cloth, small frogs and what appear to be lizards (and perhaps a snake too) over at their Facebook album.

If this reminds you of another African pastor (Pastor Daniel), who convinced his flock to eat grass, gasolineand then flowers, it's because Mnguni considers that man his spiritual father. So if this ministry spreads across the region, expect even more bizarre stuff.

This is all quite sickening. If you view the images, it really does seem like there is some element of sick fascination the pastor has with eating bizarre things. However, this unique shtick of his could also be a result of a fascination with something else as well.
(source)

Turkish TV Interviewer LOLs When Theologian Forbids 'Oral Sex In Advanced Dimensions'


In Turkey, when secular bloggers need a good laugh, they turn on their televisions to hear the latest sex advice from theologians - who are all very keen to share tips on what will get you off without sending you to Hell. A few weeks ago, we heard about the theologian who warned us all that masturbation would make your hands full of babies.

Well, just today, some more fine sex advice came from renowned Turkish theologian  Ali Riza Demircan, who kindly reminded us all that butt sex and BDSM would get you thrown into the everlasting fires of hell. Thanks, Ali, we already knew that.

Demircan wasn't done with just that though. He wanted to make it very clear that licking and sucking your beloved's naughty bits was also expressly forbidden! In fact, he felt the need to tell everyone that no matter how much of a cunninglingus god you are, you're still damned for eternity.

This caused his interviewer, seasoned television personality Pelin Cift to completely lose it.
But already trying not to laugh, she could no longer restrain herself when Demircan went on to declare in the same monotone that “oral sex in advanced dimensions” between couples was also “haram.”

Cift collapsed into laughter with her hand pressed to her face, much to the astonishment of Demircan who said: “Pelin, sister, you had been talking so comfortably. But now you can’t even ask a question!”
You probably don't understand Turkish, but I recommend watching it just because Cift tries valiantly to keep it together but ultimately loses it.


What's sort of shocking is that these old theologians don't seem to think twice about how ridiculous it is to sit there are tell people what they can do in bed together. For a group that has a problem with sadism, they all seem to have no problem whatsoever with using the theology of their religion to be tops with everyone else being bottoms.
The baffled Islam expert asked the presenter: “What’s your problem with me?”

By now almost unable to speak for laughing, Cift, one of Turkey’s best known presenters, asked the theologian: “What’s your problem, my dear hoca!” using an Islamic term of respect for a teacher.

The incident from the show called the “Other Agenda” went viral on social media, with one Twitter user posting a picture of himself in a locked iron mask to protect himself, he said, from “advanced oral sex.”
Beware of advanced oral sex.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Bangladeshi Politician Jailed For Hurting Religious Sentiment, Branded 'Atheist' & Life Threatened

Abdul Latif Siddiqui
Atheist bloggers aren't the only ones in Bangladesh who need to be very careful about what they say. Politicians also risk being murdered for expressing any opinion which could inflame the rage of Islamic terrorists.
“He will be killed wherever he is found. No atheist has been spared since the independence of Bangladesh,” the Dhaka Tribune quoted Maulana Junayed Al Habib as saying at an Iftar gathering at Jamia Madania Madrassa in Dhaka.
Apparently, Al Habib is a representative of an organization which represents some 70,000 religious schools - Islamic madrassas. The fact that he has the gall to speak this threat in public and that he's not immediately hauled off to jail for it, says a lot about the current state of human rights in Bangladesh.

In fact, Bangladesh is an excellent study case of what happens to a so-called secular nation in which religion has assumed such primacy that it has now effectively become a terrifying theocracy.
Slandering religion and “hurting religious sentiment” are illegal in Bangladesh. Vigilantes have also taken the law into their own hands. This year alone, suspected fundamentalists have killed three secular bloggers in separate machete attacks.
Murdering politicians who happened to say something impious is perfectly okay, though.

Siddiqui was fired by the Prime Minister while he was abroad in New York. He made the fatal mistake of pointing out that perhaps the Muslim Pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, the Hajj, might be a bit of a waste of money.
“It is sheer waste of manpower. Some 20 lakh [two million] people have gone to Saudi Arabia. They have no work to do. It is deduction, rather than production. They are spending and consuming. They are taking the country’s money to Saudi Arabia,” he said in alleged footage of the event posted on YouTube. 
They are taking the money of a rather poor country and transferring it en masse to Saudi Arabia - a mind-numbingly rich human rights abuser.

For this comment, he got seven months in prison. He is now on bail. Apparently, he lives in a secular country. His lawyer had this to say.
“Atheism is not illegal in our country and we do not have Sharia Law to demand [the] death sentence [for] atheists. The government should take stern action against all irrespective of their political or other identities in such cases,” Barua told the Dhaka Tribune. 
Keep repeating this and perhaps someone might believe you. It's been clearly demonstrated that atheism will get you murdered in Bangladesh by mouth frothing, machete wielding religious lunatics. The government appears to be taking stern action by apparently being scared shitless of the terrorists and making mealy mouthed excuses.
They say “it is a sensitive matter” and that they plan to persuade the groups not to stage confrontations during the holy month.

“The government is monitoring the situation carefully and nobody would be allowed to create any law and order situation during Ramadan,” a minister told BenarNews, requesting anonymity.
Sounds like they're handling this situation like a boss! Laying down the law in Bangladesh!

Meanwhile, protesters appear to still be in need of some delicate persuasion not to slice this politician - who is not even necessarily an atheist - to ribbons.
Members of Islami Oikyo Jote – also a part of Hefazat – marched in Dhaka’s Lalbagh area on Tuesday to protest his release.

“The atrocious atheists and murtads (infidel) are being patronized by granting Latif Siddiqui bail. They will not be allowed to live in this country,” Mufti Faizullah, secretary general of the Jote, said, according to the Dhaka Tribune.
Why are the authorities not throwing this man into jail? I guess jail time might further offend his delicate religious sensitivities. 

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

CFI Canada Represented on New External Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom to Advise the ORF

Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (source)
Today, I ran across this story in the National Post by Raymond J. de Souza, which mentioned the new External Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom to Advise Office of Religious Freedom I posted about yesterday ... en passant.

Here's the part which matters.
The inaugural meeting of the advisory committee for the Office of Religious Freedom was held on Monday, bringing together some two dozen religious leaders — and one agnostic — from across the country to provide advice to the office on religious liberty around the world.
Yesterday, I tweeted Andrew Bennett, head of the Office of Religious Freedom to ask him if anyone would stand up for secular people being oppressed by religious regimes and majorities across the world. Actually, I just wanted to know who the 23 religious leaders on the committee were. It all seemed to be a bit of a mystery because neither the press release nor the scant media coverage so far actually mentioned its members.

Well, I found the list on the Office's website, which was put up just today. It lists all 23 religious representatives and the mystery agnostic leader, who happens to be none other than CFI Canada's National Executive Director, Eric Adriaans.
Eric Adriaans is national executive director of Centre for Inquiry Canada, a national charity providing education on secular humanism, reason, science and critical thinking. Mr. Adriaans has been a charitable sector professional since 1991, working with Canada’s most respected organizations. At CFI Canada, Mr. Adriaans has led an organization renewal program, with a focus on human rights, education and health sciences. These programs are aimed at supporting new Canadians and helping them access international events and opposing blasphemy laws throughout the world through the founding of the International Coalition Against Blasphemy Laws.

Well, I'm not sure why de Souza called Adriaans an agnostic. Unless I'm mistaken, I think he's an atheist. Is it really so bad to use the A-word?

Anyway, this is actually great news. At least the CFI is on their committee to advise the Office -- something they've been trying to do for a long ... long time.

I've emailed Eric and asked for some comments on how the inaugural meeting went and his hopes and ideas for the future. Hopefully, with the CFI's input, the Office will become better at advocating for those whose freedom from religion -- who are being persecuted because of their lack of religion or questioning of dogma. Because, frankly, their record is not fantastic and they're still not doing a stellar job.

Hope to hear back from him soon and I'll update you all.

5 Greatest Threats to Traditional Religions: According to Omani Mufti

Them!
Listen, the world's got big problems and Sheikh Dr Kahlan Nabhan Al Kharusi, Oman's assistant grand mufti addressed a meeting of world traditional religions in Kazakhstan.
Al Kharusi was speaking at the 5th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, last week when he voiced his concerns about five issues he sees as threats to religious societies and implored religious leaders to join him in combating them.
World hunger? Grotesque economic inequality? Preventable disease? Lack of education -- particularly for girls and women? Horrendous working conditions? Global climate change? Suppression of freedom of expression? Controlled and muzzled press? Actual persecution of religious minorities?

No, I hadn't read correctly. This is about threats to traditional religious societies. So atheism leads the list!
In an interview with Times of Oman he spoke in depth about these issues which include a rise in militant atheism, the erosion of traditional family structures as more countries allow same-sex marriage, youth who lack spiritual fulfillment, wars that are not religiously sanctioned, and bioethics, where some scientific developments harm human dignity.
By militant atheism he means books and speeches by Richard Dawkins and he says he's concerned that atheists are no longer peaceful (read: silent) and are now aggressive (read: vocal). Yes, these atheists are a real threat and so it's a relief that Kazakhstan, the very country in which the mufti was uttering these words, has dealt with one of their militant atheists by potentially throwing him into jail for seven years.
Reporters Without Borders is appalled by journalist and human rights activist Alexander Kharlamov’s detention on trumped up charges for the past four months for writing articles critical of the local authorities and judicial system in his hometown, the eastern city of Ridder.

Aged in his 60s, he is facing a possible seven-year jail sentence on a charge of inciting hatred under article 164 of the criminal code. The prosecutor said he “spread atheist ideas” and “displayed a negative attitude towards religion.”
I suppose that's what happens when you live in a country rated 160 out of 179 on the Press Freedom Index -- yet still, according to the mufti, the atheists are the big threat.

Two experts failed to find any indication that Kharlmov's blog was inciting any sort of hatred at all but the judges in this country know better than experts because their religious sensitivities were offended by his atheist blog.
Two official expert evaluations of Kharlamov failed to find evidence of inciting hatred but judges nonetheless ruled that “these actions could provoke religious hatred and the formation of a negative attitude towards religion, which will contribute to conflicts between persons.”
Oh, they also threw him into a psychiatric ward for a month as well and he's just now gotten out. All this after spending six months behind bars previously. Seems to me like it's the entire judiciary that's a threat in this country. I wonder if the new External Advisory Committee to the Office of Religious Freedom will have anything to say in his defense?

Jailed atheist journalist and blogger Aleksandr Kharlamov and a cat.
Well, I suppose I'm a militant atheist. I also support same-sex marriage.

I'm also no fan of religiously sanctioned wars. I believe the Crusades were generally an awful idea, as were the Islamic wars of conquest. I also recall George W. Bush raving about how God told  him going to Iraq was a good idea. Nope, I'm not a fan of this at all.

When it comes to the youth, the problem appears to be consumer culture and gangster hip-hop lifestyles.
The third issue Al Kharusi raised was the culture of consumerism which is eroding traditional values and causing youth to be lacking spiritually and intellectually void. He was worried that people from poorer backgrounds, such as young Africans, may be influenced by African-American gangster and hip-hop lifestyles and try to imitate them, thinking they are well-cultured and fashionable. He said that when the youth realise how empty this consumer culture is, they may become susceptible to people with extremist agendas as they seek to fill their spiritual needs.
Gangster hip-hop extremist groups? Gangs perhaps. I can see some negative role models across all musical genres, across all time, forever.

When it comes to bioethics, I think it's generally a good thing. Just taking a look at stem cell research issues leads me to realize that I disagree with the good mufti here too.

So, on the whole, it would seem that I am part of the challenge to this group of traditional religious leaders. I'll remember this the next time I'm offered a free ticket to Kazakhstan or Oman.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Office of Religious Freedom Adds New External Advisory Committee

(source)
This morning, Office of Religious Freedom's Andrew Bennett's Twitter account was all aflutter with news about a new Advisory Committee freshly sprung up from the department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada. Since I follow the office on Twitter, my phone was abuzz.
I was at work though, so didn't have much more time to see what Bennett was getting so excited about. It wasn't until Canadian Atheist blogger Veronica Abbass sent me this official press release from the office that it started to sort of make some sense to me.
Canada Establishes External Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom to Advise Office of Religious Freedom
June 22, 2015 - Ottawa, Ontario - Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada

The Honourable Rob Nicholson, P.C., Q.C., M.P. for Niagara Falls, Minister of Foreign Affairs, today announced the establishment of an External Advisory Committee (EAC) on religious freedom.

The Committee comprises 23 prominent leaders from a wide variety of Canadian faith and belief communities representative of Canada’s diversity. It will advise the Office of Religious Freedom on the exercise of its mandate to promote and defend religious freedom internationally as a central element of Canada’s principled foreign policy.
The inaugural meeting of the EAC was hosted today at Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada in Ottawa by Minister Nicholson, and Andrew Bennett, Canada’s Ambassador for Religious Freedom.

The EAC will meet semi-annually. It is chaired by Father Raymond J. de Souza, a Roman Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Kingston and Chaplain at the Newman Centre, Queen’s University. Corinne Box of the Bahá’í Community of Canada and Malik Talib, President of the Aga Khan Council for Canada, serve as vice chairs of the EAC.

Quick Facts
The Government of Canada officially opened its Office of Religious Freedom within Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada.

The mandate of the Office is to protect, and advocate on behalf of, religious minorities under threat; oppose religious hatred and intolerance; and promote Canadian values of pluralism and tolerance abroad.

Quotes
“Since the creation of the Office of Religious Freedom, Canada has established itself as a global leader in advocating for and defending persecuted religious communities around the world. In the context of global threats to religious freedom, EAC members will provide valuable insight from the perspectives of their communities and their depth of experience, which will enrich and enhance the monitoring and advocacy work conducted by the Office of Religious Freedom.”
- The Honourable Rob Nicholson, Minister of Foreign Affairs
I searched high and low and couldn't find an actual list of all 23 religious leaders who will be influencing the office. So, I sent a couple of tweets off to Bennett.
Maybe I'll get an answer. It does seem rather mysterious that they didn't bother to name these 23 individuals.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

London Film Festival Stops Screening of Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Film

(source)
Rechy Elias is one of very few women ultra-Orthodox Jewish film directors, as you can probably imagine. Her latest film, Gift of Fire, was to be screened at Seret, a London-Israeli film festival. Just one problem -- it got canceled because a man complained he wasn't allowed to watch it.
Festivalgoer David Lass, who made the original complaint to the equalities and human rights commission, told the Jewish Chronicle he “very much regretted the outcome”, adding: “I would have welcomed a compromise solution allowing two screenings, one for women and one for men, but the organisers would not allow it.”
Oh wait, that's not the problem! It was because the film festival was only allowing women to watch the film -- even gender segregated viewings were not allowed.
Seret organisers, who at one point threatened to stand outside the Odeon to prevent men from seeing the film, have not yet made any public comment on the cancellation of Gift of Fire’s single remaining screening.
So Lass did the reasonable thing when gender discrimination happens and filed a complaint with the human rights commission.

Why would men not be allowed to watch the film? Because the director decided she only wanted women to watch it. I'm pretty sure there's something a little rich about this -- coming from a member of a community which hasn't exactly been known to respect gender equality.
“It’s regrettable that we will no longer be able to screen the film by Rechy Elias, a female film director from the Haredi community,” the statement reads. “Elias made Gift of Fire with the explicit intention of it only being shown to female audiences; without that condition, she would never have made the film.”
No word yet if men will be allowed to purchase the DVD or if they'll be required to fake their identities to get it online.

The motivation here was to create a safe space for women to experience the film. I don't question the intent but wonder how feasible it actually is.
JW3 CEO Raymond Simonson said the centre “had hoped to be able to provide [a] rare platform for a Haredi female film-maker to express herself artistically, as well as a ‘safe’ environment for Jewish women from across the entire spectrum of the community to see this unique film”. He added: “However, following the one and only complaint we received from a gentleman who also contacted the equalities and human rights commission, we took legal advice. Unfortunately, it seems that showing this film only to female-only audiences would indeed be in breach of UK equality laws, which we would of course never intentionally do.”
Based on what I've read about the Haredi community, it seems to me like even many of the men never watch television or film. So I'm uncertain what the odds would be of women being allowed to attend the screenings alone -- especially when it's banned to their husbands.

What about feminist men like me?

Anyway, perhaps another motivation for this is mentioned by another news site.
The film includes scenes of women singing and dancing, which large parts of the ultra-Orthodox community believe should not be shown to men out of fear it would "trigger them to commit sin".
So would orthodox women be scared of men in the theater getting over aroused?

I'm used to this sort of idea coming from cloistered religious groups. What gets me are statements like this coming from the event organizers.
 “However, following the one and only complaint we received from a gentleman who also contacted the equalities and human rights commission, we took legal advice. Unfortunately, it seems that showing this film only to female-only audiences would indeed be in breach of UK equality laws, which we would of course never intentionally do.”
Where have I heard this only one complaint business before? Right, city councils dealing with atheist groups who do not want to see state-church separation mangled. Furthermore, is the idea of equal access to media for both sexes really that foreign in the UK now? I'm shocked they didn't see this as a problem and actually threatened to put guards out front to enforce it.

Then there's the very title of the article with the ironic quotes around illegal: "Centre cancels 'illegal' women-only screening of film by Jewish director"

No listen, it's not a good thing to forbid entire genders from watching a film, driving, voting, etc. When did this become such a controversial topic?

Look, I personally do not have a problem with having all-women and all-men screenings of this film -- even though this is likely against the spirit of equality laws. This could be done at private venues as well. However, this wasn't enough for the director.

It makes me wonder if this action is some sort of statement against female oppression in the community? If so, then the message is lost on me.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Russian Religious Groups Band Together For Gender-Segregated Beaches

Bikini clad woman glances at burka wearing woman squatting at mixed beach in pre-revolution Iran. (1971)
I've just never understood people here in North America who have intense problems with women feeding their babies in the most natural way possible -- by nursing them! -- in public. I cannot think of anything more natural than mother feeding child. I mean, WWJD? What the hell's happened to people?

So when I read about religious groups in Russia requesting more segregated beaches -- so they can feel comfortable -- this once naked-jumping-over-bonfires Wiccan turned atheist must conclude that there must be something profoundly wrong with these people.
The request to the Moscow City Hall has been prepared and filed by Albir Krganov who is a deputy chairman of the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Russia and also a member of the Public Chamber’s Commission for Harmonization of Relations between Ethnic and Religious Groups.

He claimed that “hundreds of thousands” of religious residents of Moscow did not wish to swim in a mixed beach “As not everyone can afford a trip abroad, and we consider it necessary to open additional recreation zones for the residents of the capital city who cannot stay on common beaches for religious or moral reasons,” Krganov wrote in a letter.
Finally, something Muslims, Buddhists, Jews and Russian Orthodox followers can agree on! There would be world peace so long as you hide your revolting bodies -- especially the women.
Vice President of the Russian Union of Tourist Industry, Yuri Barzykin also threw support behind the plan, saying that separate beaches could help members of all confessions find a comfortable place for themselves.
Does religion do this to people or do certain people flock to the most fundamentalist and orthodox forms of religion?

Sunday, 31 May 2015

If Muslim Boys Soccer Team Cannot Handle A Couple of Girls On the Field, They Should Leave the League

Carla Briscoe (source).
I realize I'm late to the game on this one, but I'd like to weigh in on the story about Carla Briscoe and Alissa Condontta. They are the only two women players in the Robert F. Hall Catholic School boys soccer team. They were allowed to play in this team because the school has no equivalent girls team.

Anyway, they recently had to sit out half a soccer game because the opposing Mississauga-based Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) Islamic School team refused to continue playing the game with  women on the field.
A boys soccer team from ISNA Private Islamic High School refused to finish a game on Tuesday because two females were on the opposing team during a Brampton tournament.

Robert F. Hall Catholic School, in Caledon, does not have a girls team so the two females played on the senior boys team, which was approved by the Region of Peel Secondary School Athletic Association (ROPSSAA).

During halftime, the ISNA Private Islamic High School team brought the concern to the referee. Robert F. Hall Catholic School school was winning the game 3–1 at that point.
Naturally, it was because the very possibility of any sort of physical contact between the Muslim boys and these girls is completely against their religion.
“We were a little bit caught off guard because we assumed it was a senior boys league and exclusively for boys,” Essa Abdool-Karim. the coach of the ISNA High School soccer team, said.

“Free mixing is generally something we do not do, more so out of respect than anything,” he said.
There's no way we could be talking about groping or fondling here. We're talking about maybe the occasional brush or perhaps collision(?) which may occur on a soccer field. Still, this is not acceptable.

Apparently, the ISNA team offered to forfeit the game after learning of the girls on the opposing team. However, the Catholic school coach decided it would be more advantageous for all the players if the two girls sat out the rest of the game. Is is because they were already winning by a decent margin (3-1) and they needed to win by the widest margin possible to guarantee advancement in the competition.

Briscoe explains in a later interview:
“We were only two goals ahead. I didn’t want to ruin the game for the rest of the guys. We just couldn’t let them forfeit the game because we needed the extra goals to advance,” the 18-year-old said.
Now that's teamwork, sacrificing for the team! In fact, both girls volunteered to sit the game out so that they and their teammates could advance. Meanwhile, we have the coach of the ISNA school talking about sacrifice.
“We want them to understand this balance between religion and having to sacrifice the sport you love is a difficult situation,” Abdool-Karim said.
Yeah, right.

Just imagine the feeling of being those two girls. Knowing that your very presence causes the other team to not even wish to be on the same field as you - out of respect of course. Imagine being the ones who must have your own chance to place squashed so that your very teammates might be able to score enough goals to advance. I mean really.

It all boils down to our friend, religious freedom.
“I respect their culture and religion, and I don’t want to say anything bad about their religion just like I don’t want others to say anything bad about the Catholics. But I have my right to play as much as their right to religious freedom,” she said
Now what about a team that refuses to play against teams which include lesbians? How about black women? Do people have religious freedom to discriminate against them? Yes, people have and continue to believe that. I would suggest that the ISNA school has the freedom to play in some other league with compatible views about strict gender segregation.

This team should probably not be a part of a league which welcomes female players. As we have seen, merely forfeiting the game can penalize the opposing team and threaten their chances of advancing. Furthermore, you are discriminating and singling out people based on their gender! You are putting girls in the difficult spot of having to choose between ending a game or sitting the game out.

ISNA school should form their completely gender segregated Muslim leagues. It's being done with women's football in Australia. I mean this sincerely with no ill will. Otherwise, better deal with the ladies on the field or pick up your ball and go home.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

'Charlie Challenge' in Barbados: Classes Suspended, Clergy Called In to Pray With Children

Apparently, one must wear protective gloves while handling the Charlie Charlie Challenge!
I'm sure by now you've all heard about the Charlie Charlie Challenge. It seems to be a sort of very rudimentary Ouija board game that took social media by storm recently. You can see a funny take down of this insanity over at Jaclyn Glenn's Youtube page.

Some of you may recall that one side of my wife's family comes from Barbados and I have a strong affinity to the island. One thing I noticed right away is how incredibly intelligent and resourceful they are and how progressive they are in many ways. Their education system resembles the UK's and produces fine students. Unfortunately, islanders are still hoodwinked by religion and superstition in a bad way.

David Ince is a Barbadian and a Canadian now living in Calgary, Alberta. He blogs at No Religion Know Reason and has also guest blogged here. I first found out about the extreme reaction in Barbados to the Charlie Challenge on his Facebook.

I'm reprinting his description of the situation on the island here in full with his permission.
This has me speechless. Been shaking my head all day. The LEAD story on the nightly news in Barbados was about a so called demonic possession at a number of local schools, related to this 'Charlie challenge' that has seemingly now got the whole world going crazy.

Pastors from at least three different churches were called in to try to get rid of the demons after the students were supposedly exhibiting 'strange behavior'. Desks floating above the ground and paper tearing up itself were apparently among some of the phenomena observed, as reported by a teacher (a year head no less) who was there on the scene.

Many laughed at the story, I did too, but the story shows us something much more serious. It shows how shockingly low the level of skepticism and critical thinking is in Barbados and I know the situation is not that different in many other Caribbean islands.

It all stems from our strong national belief in religion, mainly Christianity, which is so often lauded as a virtue by those that have influence in our countries. But our strong religious beliefs and traditions are where all the superstitious thinking starts, leading to the kind of mania we had today. I mean classes were actually SUSPENDED in some schools in Barbados for this. A friend of mine in the island also told me some students have been threatened with suspension from school altogether if they are caught playing the game again. That's just how strong the fear is.

The worst part of this is that it's in the main the TEACHERS in the school that were helping to propagate these unfounded superstitious ideas today. Calling pastors in to check for demons and warning children to be wary of dabbling with the 'spirit' world.

How can we expect students to develop their rational minds if that is the example they are getting from those out there to guide and instruct them?

I have said it before and will say it here again. Superstitious beliefs are NOT harmless. They can distract our attention from what we really should be addressing and take away resources from where they would best be used.

Often people ask me why I spend so much time speaking out against the dangers associated with religion. Today reminded me just why it is so important for us atheists, agnostics, skeptics and others out here who value critical thinking and skepticism to let our voices be heard even louder. Things may be getting better as we work towards a Caribbean region of reason and a more rational world in general, but we still have a LOT of work to do..
David informs me that the majority of Bajans are pretty relaxed about religion in general. It's mainly a vocal minority of fundamentalist religious folk who make enough noise to get themselves higher than proportional influence in the country. Sounds familiar to me.

All this mayhem over a piece of paper and a couple of pencils. It's at least a relief to see so many Bajans ridiculing this insanity on social media.

Here's the headline report for CBC (Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation) News on May 28th:

A NEW CONTROVERSIAL GAME REPORTEDLY BEING PLAYED AT SCHOOLS ACROSS THE ISLAND HAS STIRRED UP SOME SERIOUS CONCERNS. IT'S CALLED "THE CHARLIE CHALLENGE GAME" AND SOME SAY IT'S INVOKING EVIL SPIRITS AMONG STUDENTS.
Posted by CBC News Barbados on Thursday, 28 May 2015

Monday, 25 May 2015

Canadian Editor of Bangladeshi Freethought Blog Concerned After Murder of Bloggers

Farid Ahmed is justifiably concerned for the safety of fellow bloggers and his family.
On February 26th, Bangladeshi blogger Avijit Roy was hacked to death. On May 12th, blogger Ananta Bijoy Das was butchered. Both were freethinkers, atheists. Both blogged at the Bangladeshi English language freethought blog Mukto-Mona

The Globe and Mail has an stark story on Toronto editor of the blog, Fahrid Ahmed, who is justifiably concerned for friends, himself and family.
From his home, Mr. Ahmed is steering the Bengali- and English-language blog Mukto Mona – which translates as “free thinking” – through a difficult chapter as its writers are struck down.

The blog’s founder and a friend of Mr. Ahmed’s, Bangladeshi-American Avijit Roy, was hacked to death while leaving a book fair in the capital Dhaka in February. Dr. Roy’s wife, Rafida Ahmed, sustained serious head injuries and the loss of her thumb in the machete attack carried out by suspected religious militants.
The blog Ahmed runs from the relative safety of Canada is the largest of its kind in Bangladesh and acts as an umbrella -- a major meeting place of people in that country's freethought, secular and atheist community. This blog seems to be target number one for murderous militant Islamic groups who seem hellbent to continue slaughtering bloggers until it is silenced.
For Mr. Ahmed, the blog that he helped build has become a matter of life and death – as its writers inside Bangladesh fear for their lives and look to him for answers. From the safety of Canada, he realizes there are no easy solutions.

“I don’t know what to do,” he said.
I wish I knew what to do. I've seen positive outcomes, like Bangladeshi blogger Sharif Ahmed (no relation to Farid) who successfully got refuge in Canada after suffering torture for his atheism in his own country.

However, I also see Raif Badawi rotting still in his jail cell in Saudi Arabia for doing essentially the same thing. Our federal government doing precious little to help his cause. So what can we do?
Speaking at his Toronto home, Mr. Ahmed is pensive. He is getting messages from Mukto Mona writers in hiding. “Somebody will get killed within a short time,” he said with certainty.
The site itself has some 300 contributors and 35 core writers. The threats pour in.

Ahmed himself recognizes he can never set foot in his home country again. Although he has concentrated on subjects not directly related with religion or atheism, Like Avijit Roy, in Bangladesh, he would be a marked man.

I believe every effort should be made to get as many of these bloggers out of the country. I wish I knew exactly what that is though. If anyone reading these words knows what that is -- please let me know.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Ultra-Orthodox News Site Censorship Goof Leaves Woman's Legs Exposed For All to See!

'Mona Lisa!'
There's a funny and sad story over at Haaretz about Ultra-Orthodox Jewish news site B’Hadrei Haredim blurring out all the women ministers of Bibi Netanyahu's new government in Israel.

The website took this picture of Israel's 34th government:


And they turned it into this:


Then Allison K Sommer at Haaretz noticed that:
There was one interesting oversight, however. While the women weren’t shown -  presumably to protect their modesty and to assist male readers from restraining unwanted animal urges, the editors of the web site seem to have neglected at least one of the minister’s other body parts. While Minister Miri Regev’s face has been completely distorted, her completely bare - and not unattractive legs appear unmarred, and in direct proximity to the hand of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 
For shame!

It's not over yet though. I went back to the original story and her legs are now blurred!




Now she's just a blurry mess of nothing. I hope the sensitive young readers -- I'm sure many teen boys must read this site, fer sure! -- got a chance to check out her legs before they got scrambled.

It reminds me of the scrambled cable channels of my youth. If you waited long enough you might just catch the occasional moan or flickering inverted human face for a second before it broke up again into video distortion. I guess it's a little like this here too. Maybe next month they'll goof up and we'll get to see a little Angela Merkel leg!

Sommer also points out the irony that Miri Regev is the Minister for Senior Citizens, Equality, and Gender Equality!

The story also includes some funny pictures their art department came up with of famous women in paintings and posters... well... censored, of course. Go check out the pictures.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Man Shoots Bartender For Serving Non-Kosher Drink

Caesar cocktail (source).
I'm not quite sure how to approach this story, so I'll just hit it head on. Fifty nine year old Montana man Monte Leon Hanson went to a bar and ordered a red eye, which is beer mixed with tomato juice. Anyone who's had a bloody caesar knows that this drink is not too far off the Clamato and vodka drink. In Japan, Mott's Clamato actually sells a red eye drink.

Well, Hanson, a Jew and potentially highly mentally disturbed individual, got pretty unhinged when he found out his red eye contained non kosher clam juice.
Monte Leon Hanson, 59, shot his neighbor and bartender Joe Lewis because his “red eye” — a beer and tomato juice cocktail — was made with Clamato instead of tomato juice, according to court records.

Hanson, who is also charged with animal cruelty, said drinking Clamato, which is tomato juice flavored with clam broth, is against his Jewish religion.
Wait a minute, I'm pretty sure killing people might also be against one of those commandments, perhaps?

Oh and this seems pretty pre-meditated too.
Early the next morning, on May 9, Hanson reportedly followed Lewis when he left their apartment building to take out his dog. Another neighbor then heard four to six gunshots. He found Lewis holding his dog, dead from a gunshot wound to his head. Lewis also was injured from the gunshots.
Lewis was, in effect, saved by his dog, which blocked the first bullet. He was carrying the animal because it was still in a cast after having an operation.

Obviously this isn't a problem with the religion itself, per se. It does demonstrate how unhinged people can use religion to claim they've experienced harm or hurt and use it as an excuse to retaliate. A variant of this sort of personal hurt thing forms the basis of much blasphemy related violence and human rights violations, actually.

This case is fertile for so much discussion: gun laws and availability of firearms and perhaps lack of a socialized system to deal with mental health issues would be a good start.

'I Support Free Speech... BUT' : Great Interview on David Pakman Show

(source)
Recently blogger Jerry Coyne wrote about that ...but that always seems to creep into talk about freedom of speech. Specifically, well-meaning progressives when then talk about the Charlie Hebdo case or the more recent Garland, Texas terrorists.
Here’s a melange of media commentary on the Texas cartoon shootings. The first part of the video shows the dutiful nods to free speech, the second the inevitable “buts”. There seems to be much more passion in the second bit!
I grow weary of progressives who will go to their deaths defending speech offensive to some groups -- like, say, Catholics -- while simultaneously working against anyone who would criticize Islam -- who would punch down. It seems like concern for Muslims -- who are indeed marginalized in the West -- overrides their concern for basic principles like being able to speak openly and candidly about oppressive traits within the religion of Islam.

Freedom of speech is no longer free if fettered with caveats about whom is being offended.

That's why I found this interview on the David Pakman Show with Dave Rubin so refreshing. This sums up the problem of 'I Support Free Speech... EXCEPT'


I know we're not talking about scholarly works here, but could you imagine what would have happened to Thomas Paine or Thomas Jefferson in this day and age? How do you think The Age of Reason or Jefferson Bible would have been handled if they were written as critiques of Islam and the Quran? Would they have been disowned by progressives?

Monday, 18 May 2015

More Signs of Increasing Atheism In Egypt

Donia Massoud showing off her atheist tattoo at the beach. (source)
Secularism and atheism really seems to be picking up in Egypt -- I've even added an Egypt tag to the top of this blog. I first thought the government was being downright melodramatic by declaring that the country's 866 atheists were a key challenge to society and then them setting up these little re-education brigades to combat atheism. Now, though, I'll admit that there could really be something to this.

I've already posted about a new Atheist television station, free-mind.tv, recorded secretly in Egypt and produced in the US. Recently, Al Monitor did a nice piece on them, so they're getting traction.
According to Ghanimi, at least 2,000 viewers watch Free Mind broadcasts daily, and the numbers are steadily growing. “We started the channel with modest capabilities, but our impact is expanding,” said Ghanimi, noting that the goal is to have a satellite broadcast within a year.
Then you've got a recent piece in the Cairo Post with Salafist Muslim leader Yasser Borhami.
“Nowadays there are cafes for atheist, streets for atheists, political parties for atheists, TV channels for atheist… That’s strange,” Borhami said in a recorded statement uploaded on “Me the Salafi” webpage.
He's referring to a cafe in Cairo frequented by atheists that was raided by police in December, because of satanic rituals. Apparently, Borhami visited the street this cafe is on -- the street of atheists -- and quipped that it ought to be called the street of the astray.

Apparently, in December, Egypt was named the most atheist country in the Middle East. You would think this would be great news for freethinkers everywhere. However, this upset the president of the country -- probably because atheists and freethinkers are much harder to control than a faithful flock.
In March, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told the Holy Quran radio station he was not worried about a “trend” of atheism in Egypt, adding that “the shock was too much; our shock to see people who say there is not God but Allah and Mohamed is His Messenger, or who claims they raise this slogan, and [at the same time] doing this; killing, destroying and sabotaging.”
Speaking of killing, destroying and sabotaging! Just take a look at the picture at the top of this post! That's Egyptian singer and actress Donia Massoud. Egyptian media are in a tizzy because she got a (beautiful!) tattoo on her back saying "My heart's feud is with God".
The controversial ink work arguably implies that Dunia is an atheist or at least doesn't believe in any of the three holy books. Atheism is prohibited by law in Egypt and is certainly not considered a "freedom of choice."
Reader of this blog, Mariam, translates it as "My heart is enemy with god." Bold words, indeed.


I'll also admit that my wife has tattoos, so I cannot help but love women with ink. There really seems to be something strongly individualistic about it.

There really does seem to be some level of open defiance of religion in Egypt -- it does seem to be growing, slowly.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Egyptian Teens Make Video Mocking ISIS: Arrests, Incarceration and Riots Ensue


Four teens have been detained for two weeks awaiting trial. They must have done something pretty grave. No! They're just in Egypt!
In the harmless clip showing boys being boys, a group of teens ranging in age between 15 and 16, appear to be mocking ISIS kneeling on the ground hysterically praying and imitating a beheading. The video was taken during a faith-based excursion in February, and supervising the trip was Gad Younan, a 42-year old teacher who allowed the boys to a shoot a video using a mobile phone. Accidentally, the teacher misplaced his phone’s memory card, which ended up in the hands of his Muslim neighbour in Al-Nasriyah village in Upper Egypt. Upon watching the video, a group of Muslims filled a complaint with Police under Article 98(f) of the Egyptian Penal code which criminalises 'insulting a heavenly religion or a sect following it.' 
This is what happens when  your country has a blasphemy law and you've got nosy and probably vindictive neighbours. You might think: 'this is totally insane. There's no way it could ever get more insane than this.' You're wrong!
Not satisfied with just an arrest, allegedly more than 2,000 Muslims decided to march through Al-Nasriya area attacking Christian homes and business. Citing the Copt-owned Watani newspaper, The Daily Mail claims that Ashraf Salah, a computer repair shop owner, said: "They were chanting slogans against Christians and Christianity. They were chanting: 'With our souls and blood, we will defend you, oh Islam! We will not leave you; we will take revenge for you!' They were pelting Christian homes with stones, pounding threateningly on doors and windows, attacking shops owned by Coptic Christians. They destroyed the door of my shop and they destroyed a photo studio owned by the father of one of the boys. For three days we were living in terror and panic. We stayed in our homes and our children didn't go to their schools.”
Yes, this is three days of violence. Naturally, there must be a great deal of deep seated religious hatred between the local Muslim population and the Christians. Although I'm not finding any clear mention that these boys are Christian, I guess the assumption is that only Christians would make a silly video, lose the memory card and have a rotten neighbour snitch them out?

They were at a religious outing, so presumably they were religious of some persuasion.

During the riots three of the four boys' parents turned the children in to the police. The fourth family wisely decided to flee the area. The boys face up to five years in a youth detention centre and the teacher up to seven years in jail!

However, there seems to be some skepticism even in Egyptian sources that the story is actually true. This may be some sort of hoax -- although by whom, I have no idea.
There is a lot of reason to be skeptical of the story, as it failed to make national headlines, and seemingly has only been covered by biased outlets. However, if all of details prove to be true then there is a lot of unrest in the Al Nasrayah village that needs to be addressed before all members of the community will feel safe. In either case this should come as a concern to all Egyptians.
I would say that based on what I've seen regarding human rights vs religion in Egypt lately, citizens should be concerned regardless of whether this is a hoax. For what it's worth, I've found the story over at Fox NewsDaily Mail and Breitbart. I don't see these as fantastic sources and until a source like Reuter or BBC picks it up, it's possible it's just not true.

Here's the 30 second video:


Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Iran Cracks Down On Satan-Worshipper & Gay Haircuts and Much More!


Finally! Someone is doing something about the Satan-worshipping and homosexual haircut problem in Iran!
Mostafa Govahi, the head of Iran’s barbers’ union, told the semi-official Isna news agency on Monday that fancifully spiked hairstyles were banned and those who styled them risked having their shops closed.

He said: “Devil-worshipping hairstyles are forbidden. Any shop that cuts hair in the devil worshipping style will be harshly dealt with and their licence revoked. Tattoos, solarium treatments and plucking eyebrows [for men] are also forbidden.”
Well, thank goodness for that, right? That should stop the youths from engaging in all that Satan worship and gay sex.
“Haircuts that show symbols or signs of devil worshippers or those adopted by homosexuals are banned,” he said. “I won’t allow such wrongful western styles as long as I’m in this position.” He said the policy was in line with the cultural norms outlined by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Thankfully, plucked eyebrows for men is also completely forbidden now! Long live the holy Islamic unibrow!

As for lady-parts in Iran. Absolutely no Western pornostyle waxing of your crotch area, women! It's distinctly unholy and whether you sport a landing strip or a full Brazilian, the state has declared that all females should be going au naturel! Doesn't sound crazy totalitarian theo-fascist to me at all.
Recently, a group of hardliners in the city of Qazvin wrote to the authorities asking them to ban full-body waxing for women in beauty salons. Women receiving hair removal treatments to their private parts was of particular concern.
In case some of you were thinking the authorities have missed it, mannequins are also not exempt from this. Presumably female mannequins will either have to have their crotch regions covered or else fake muff muff will need to be affixed to said mannequins.

I kid, there was no specification of this. However, you are now required to measure the hips and breasts of your female mannequins to ensure they're not too sexy.
Shop mannequins have not been immune from such measures either, with those displaying sizeable breasts or hips not tolerated.
Happy to see they're taking care of important matters in Iran!

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Being an Atheist in India

Chandra, The Moon God. (source)
One thing I enjoy reading is coming out or childhood stories of atheists in other countries and cultures. There's a really nice piece by writer Sachi Mohanty in the Hindustan Times about growing up in what is undoubtedly the most religious country in the world as a freethinking skeptic and then an atheist.
I was not an atheist always. I remember childhood visits to the Shiva temple with my mother and trying to ring the temple bell by jumping up to reach it. But before the age of 10, I was skeptical enough to stop participating in rituals at home.

My mother followed the rituals she must have learned from her mother - carrying flowers, a coconut and bananas to the temple on Mondays and worshipping the moon on specified days. To my scientific mind, the worship of the moon, the sun, and the Ganga are absurd.
To some -- mainly products of secular families, I think -- such rituals seem fascinating and the mythology charming. This view is similar to my own experience with Greek and Roman myths -- I have a degree in classics. However, things are quite different when you're actually in it every day. They do actually believe this stuff.
But about atheism. People will perform any ritual - while wearing funny headgear - if it's prescribed as part of their parent's religion. Many old men (and women too) in my family spend hours every day worshipping their dear gods. Cumulatively, they spend perhaps more than a 1,000 of their waking hours every year in doing flower arrangements and other rituals and perhaps reading a book. Of course, when it comes to reading books, religions prescribe the reading of the same book, again and again, endlessly and mindlessly.
Imagine how much learning could be acquired if one bothered to read real books (or even Wikipedia) that talked about astronomy or evolution or why religions are evil. But for most people, acquiring new information - especially knowledge that challenges their long-held beliefs - is anathema. They would rather watch television soaps featuring feuding saas-bahus or the IPL.
But Sachi has broken free of the deep religious bonds of his culture. He is one of very few.
For now, it seems like the majority of Indians are destined to spend their lives singing songs in praise of various gods. I'm happy to be in the tiny minority of those who call themselves atheists. It doesn't bother me that I am in disagreement with about 200 family relations. Einstein, Feynman, Hawking and Weinberg are some of the physicists who share my lack of belief while most prisoners in America believe in god.
Go read his entire story over at Hindustan Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @sachi_bbsr.

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