Atheist bigotry

Can anyone explain how and when Sam Harris became an atheist spokesman? I missed the email.
Which is lucky, because I find many of his views (eg he thinks torture is ok) as repellent and unrepresentative of mine as, say, the average muslim would find the views of the latest islamic wingnut hate figure.
There’s a superb – if unfashionably long – piece by Glenn Greenwald in the Guardian about his response to Murtah Hussein’s article on Al Jazeera. and Nathan Lean in Salon – both of whom pointed out the bigotry expressed by the atheist media stars.

Contrary to the assumptions under which some Harris defenders are laboring, the fact that someone is a scientist, an intellectual, and a convincing and valuable exponent of atheism by no means precludes irrational bigotry as a driving force in their worldview. Glenn Greenwald in the Guardian

I’m talking about Greenwald’s, rather than the other, articles because:

  • I wouldn’t have seen the other posts except for his article;
  • His arguments seem self-evidently true to me; and
  • because his article attracted a flurry of comments. (4913 at the moment of writing this.) I find many of those comments, at the least, disturbing, even allowing for the fact that the Guardian’s comment pages have basically become a vanity publishing platform for trolls.

Commenters referred to Greenwald’s being a gay jew:

“As a gay Jew, you must realise that in most Middle Eastern countries you would be persecuted. The exception being Israel.”

” If Glen expected to be an open and practicing gay man in Qatar he would be imprisoned.”

I presume that these rational beings have not come across the concept of a non-sequitur. The only way to read this is that these people genuinely believe that Islam is a huge monolithic block, that every person born a muslim is responsible for every injustice committed by every other muslim and any other majority islamic state, and so on.

In one comment, a Harris defender complained that his words had been taken out of context, then provided the “context” which turned out to be at least as disturbing as the paraphrase.
I am particularly offended that the pro-Harris writers seek to present themselves as the defenders of a rational scientific worldview. And then take their political and social opinions straight from the “Holy Book of Neocon Ideas about Global Politics.”
“Bugger rationality in that case, then, fellow rational people. Don’t bother trying to understand global politics and religion, because they’re really really hard to follow and you might find your simplistic world views too hard to maintain. Just keep your minds closed and go along with the war and torture stuff. It’s not as if non-atheists are human beings or anything.”
That is the Sam Harris message and it seems to have had at least a greater than zero influence on fools.

Told you so..

Today’s Guardian has a piece looking at the effects of the French burqa ban. In a nutshell:

France’s burqa ban: women are ‘effectively under house arrest’
Since France introduced its burqa ban in April there have been violent attacks on women wearing the niqab and, this week, the first fines could be handed down. But a legal challenge to this hard line may yet expose the French state as a laughing stock.

I have to show off about my predictive skills here, although anyone with at a week’s experience of living on this planet could have predicted the outcome.

But still, in June 2009, I said…

Some members of the public will demand police action against women wearing burqas. At the very least, insulting women as they go about their daily lives will become more, not less, common. Burqa-wearers will be afraid to appear in the street.

…Exactly the consequences that today’s Guardian report talks about…

There’s some shame for atheists in this story

Secular France has a complicated relationship with the veil. In 2004, all religious symbols including the headscarf were banned in schools. Even among Sarkozy’s opponents there are very few feminists or socialist politicians who would defend the right to wear niqab in a country where secularism is one of the few issues that still unites a fragmented left. Barely a handful of people came to Notre Dame cathedral to protest against the law in April. (from the Guardian)

I refuse to see how interfering with women’s chosen modes of dress “for their own good” can be in any way feminist.

It makes me really uncomfortable to see secularism used as a smokescreen for racism.

I thought I was at least in favour of the French banning all religious symbols in schools but I’ve started to even reconsider that, when I look at it logically. I hardly think it’s a battle worth fighting. It’s basically unenforceable without causing religious believers to become even more entrenched in their sense of having a beleaguered cultural identity.

How do you define a religious symbol in order to ban it? What are the boundaries of religion?

What about an innocent wearing a piece of jewelry with a Chinese Buddhist symbol? The English youths tattooed with Maori warrior symbols for gods they’ve never heard of and couldn’t pronounce even for real money?

Does it only count if you know what the symbols mean? In that case, most wearers of religious insignia would be OK.

What if you know what the symbols mean but just don’t believe in them? (I’m looking at you, all you people with silver rings carrying Egyptian ankhs.) You might have bought a tourist T-shirt printed with a scene from the Sistine Chapel. You might be wearing a reversed cross as a fashion item. You might even be wearing a religious item ironically (like the plastic rosaries incomprehensibly fashionable a couple of years ago)

More seriously, what about dreadlocks? They can be read in dozens of different ways. Locks have religious significance for some rastas. They also have several forms of cultural resonance for many people wearing them who wouldn’t subscribe to the religion – from people who see them as symbols of African heritage to eco-warriors. Some people wear them for purely aesthetic and fashion reasons. Are they banned in French schools? Would they be acceptable for people who could prove they didn’t follow the religion?

However you follow through these ideas, they become nonsense.

If secularist are to subscribe to the idea of banning religious artefacts worn on the body, how can we be sure that any given object doesn’t have religious significance?

By the way, this might be the time to mention that I have recently joined a religion which venerates the holy lounge suit. We are a small religion but utterly fanatical. All men in our faith are required to wear a lounge suit, with the tie of the Eternal Cosmos wrapped around the neck in a complicated knot that represents the interconnectedness of all life.

I sincerely trust that this doesn’t cause more than minor inconvenience in the French parliament.

Sunday morning tv

Only a person who forgot to do anything appropriately debauched on a Saturday night would be awake and watching tv at 10 o’clock on a Sunday morning. Bah, that would be me then.

Lo and behold, a show that cost about 50p to make, focussing on the topics that are guaranteed to bring froth to the mouth of a Daily mail reader. Is Sunday Morning Live the future of public service religious broadcasting under financial heavy manners?

The format: A studio discussion of ethical/religious issues. Webcam contributions from the public. A bottom of the screen rolling feed of quotes from viewers’ emails. Meaningless text message yes/no polls. Etc.

The wisdom of crowds. On the cheap.

As it says on the show’s page, today’s issues were:

This Sunday we’re back on air and we’ll be asking:
Should prostitution be socially acceptable?
Are we soft on Islam?
Should we allow gay marriage in church?
You can debate live with Susanna, our studio guests, and other callers

Are we soft on Islam” turned out to be a photo-opportunity for Stephen Green of “Christian Voice.” A chance to reel out a load of untruths about how Christians are persecuted in the UK – sacked for waeraing crosses) and Muslims get all manner of advantages. (I think he mentioned providing a few women-only swimming sessions at some public baths as the evidence for this.)

Yes, it’s that Stephen Green unwilling star of a Channel 4 Dispatches exposé that I can’t find on tinterwebs or there’d be a link here.

His organisation is wonderful at getting the media to misrepresent its extremist views as a mainstream Christian viewpoint, despite the fact that he represents a tiny minority of Christians. He was described as a “disgrace” by the moderator of the United Reform Church.

He complained to the Advertising Standards Authority about the atheist bus ads. He failed to make this complaint stick but, by the grace of the all-powerful god Irony, the ASA banned his advert that claimed that the cervical cancer vaccine caused infertility.

He’s a chap with an appetite for the law but a distinct unwillingness to pay the costs involved in using it. He prosecuted the BBC for showing Gerry Springer the Opera, then demanded that the BBC pay his costs when he lost :-D.

And now, here he is popping up on the BBC – even getting an appearance fee, I fear – presenting his noxious views. Truly the man is an Irony bishop.

Viz comic gave him a well deserved award in 2006.

Melanie Philips hate-speech

Flattering to the UK population as it might be to see the UK described as “gentle civilised Britain”, I suspect the evidence doesn’t exactly stack up. (You could ask the populations of Majorca or Falaraki or Ibiza if they recognise this as description of a British tourist, for a start.)

This was in the headline of a piece by Melanie Phillips in the Mail Even by the reliably rabid standards of Melanie Phillips, this must represent a new departure. The heading is:

Violent Gaza protests reveal how gentle civilised Britain has changed into something very ugly indeed

I have to assume that Melanie Phillips doesn’t have a history GCSE, so she may never have heard of the many centuries of political violence that constitute British history. I also assume that she is 12 years old so never heard of the political violence of the 1980s. Kudos to the Mail for not being ageist and recruiting children as its columnists.

Hmm, wikipedia confuses me. It turns out she was born in 1951. She studied English at Oxford. (I guess it must have been difficult to get in without History O level…) I have to let her wikipedia give aflavour of her.

The BBC has said that Phillips “is regarded as one of the [U.K.] media’s leading right-wing voices”, although she defines herself as a progressive and a defender of liberal democracy. She began her career on the liberal left with the Guardian newspaper, and her gradual drift to the right of the political spectrum has been mirrored by her journalistic career: she now writes for the right-wing Daily Mail. She has used her Daily Mail columns and her blog to criticise, amongst other issues, progressive teaching methods, scientism, militant Islam, and what she sees as anti-semitism as a means of defending Israeli policy; to oppose equal partnership rights for homosexuals; and to support strict anti-drug policies. She has described President-elect Obama of the USA a “revolutionary Marxist.”

Also, in case you couldn’t have guessed-

Phillips argues that evolution is “merely a theory

Bear in mind that this is a woman who sees Obama as a “revolutionary Marxist” At least this gives some consistency to her characterisation of the UK as in thrall to fundamentalist Islam, backed by a fifth column of revolutionary lefties. A conspiracy into which she pulls the Liberal Democrat’s leader (ffs).

For silence is complicity, as once gentle, decent, civilised Britain changes before our horrified eyes into something very ugly indeed.

The Mail has talked up the demonstrations against Israel’s actions in Gaza to the point that it claimed that 100,000 people attended and that police were knocked unconscious.

Violent clashes occurred between police and around 20,000 protesters outside the Israeli Embassy in London (from the Daily Mail)

In notable numeric contrast, he BBC news site (NB the BBC is itself a minor Daily Mail hate target) says:

The Metropolitan Police says 20,000 people marched but the BBC estimates the figure could be as high as 50,000……
It is estimated there were several hundred police officers dealing with around 200 protesters outside the embassy…
BBC correspondent Robert Hall said given the number of people involved, the protest had been peaceful.
“But as darkness fell a small number of people, several hundred, have begun confronting police and missiles have been thrown,” he said.
“Although these are ugly and unwelcome scenes, they do not represent what has happened for most of the afternoon.”

Note that the BBC’s estimate of fighting protesters is one-hundredth of the Mail’s. Yes that’s one hundredth. How impressive is that for a margin of error. (Hmm, which estimate comes from an internationally respected organisation and which from a right-wing rag?)
The Daily Mail’s implication is that political violence is on a huge scale and is some alien (probably Islamic) import. It must not even have access to its own back catalogue – or else it mistrusts its own words as alarmist propaganda 🙂 – which would pull out hundreds of examples of demonstrations in which an irate minority kicked off.

But no chance. If there’s ever an opportunity to make middle England even more bigoted and scared, you can always rely on the Mail to take it.

“Political correctness gone mad” goes mad

It is rare to read the free bus paper – the Metro – without seeing at least one letter with a rant about “political correctness gone mad.”

Experiment: Counting the number of readers’ letters containing the phrase and working out a daily average, maybe comparing the result to the occurrence of some other nonsense phrase like “air conditioning walnuts.”

However, that would be a bit too much of a time and consciousness commitment, so I took the easy way out and googled.

Amazingly, google could only find 681 occurrences. Impossible. Doh, I misspelled the word and missed the first “i” out. Which makes the 681 occurrences quite impressive. (A truly dedicated social researcher would try every possible misspelling. Sorry.)

The correct tally is actually “about 61,000.” Even this seems a little on the low side, given the existence of the Daily Mail and the BBC’s Have your Say. I suspect I have been too specific to get a true picture of how often “Ranting Bigot” reaches for the conceptual green ink.

I put the phrase “political correctness gone mad” in quotes. This is an English usage. I’m not sure how thinking-constricted Americans say it. How do I make a direct translation of “gone mad” into US English, in which mad means “angry” rather than insane?

“political correctness run amok” gets 21,400. Quite a respectable tally but I don’t think I’m still getting the full flavour of it.
“political correctness run amuck” garners a further 4,230.
“political correctness gone insane” gets a modest 3,090.
“political correctness gone berserk” gets only 510, (plus one result for “political correctness gone bersek”, my misspelling again.)

Ok, I’m going for the big ones: The bald phrase “political correctness” gets about 5,060,000.
The phrase “politically correct” brings up 6,150,000 entries. There is some duplication here, though. Is anyone adding these up?

Oh Buggar. “air conditioning walnuts” – the control phrase in my experiment – brings up “about 1,240,000” google hits. I kid you not.

Undaunted, I have to conclude that this might just show that there is no nonsense phrase too ridiculous to bring up millions of google hits. (And, at least, “air conditioning walnuts” doesn’t have me snarling when it appears on a web page.)

Another “Christian” (head)case

A registrar who claimed she was discriminated against for her Christian beliefs because she wouldn’t officiate in civil partnerships has won an employment tribunal case.

The ruling appears to place the religious “conscience” of registrars above their legal duty to carry out parliament’s legislation. If it is not overturned on appeal, and it sets a precedent, where could it lead? (Terry Sanderson in the Guardian)

Indeed. The implications are disturbing. Could a Jain vegetarian doctor refuse to deal with your food poisoning case because you’d eaten meat? Might an orthodox Jewish nurse’s aide refuse to make beds if the sheets are made of mixed fibres? Could a barista who believes in Russell’s flying teapot refuse to collude in the serving of coffee?

The idea that playing the “religious conscience” card can somehow get you out of doing work you are paid to do – and even get you compensation at the same time – is so enticing. I am sorely tempted to form a religion that directly proscribes any unenjoyable part of my daily work. That’s my work day sorted out. And a sweet little compensation claim on the way, without the usual trouble of having to fake a whiplash injury

I am bit confused here, anyway. I have only a cursory knowledge of the bible, but I would be truly amazed to find that the New Testament mentioned civil partnerships, let alone forbade believers from officiating at them.

Naturally, the Christian Institute, which bankrolled this case, is cock-a-hoop. This is a result that they and other Christian activists have been trying to achieve for some time now. It will provide the platform they’ve needed to build their dream of a theocratic Britain. (from the Guardian)

Well, blow me down with a feather. How surprised am I to find that the good old Christian Institute is behind this? They put up the money. Again. (It’s not as if there were anything better they could so with their seemingly bottomless resource pit. I dunno, like feed the hungry and that sort of unchristian stuff. I think it’s called “charity” or something.)

The Christian Institute have a gloating list of references to the media coverage. For example the Daily Mail called it “A victory for Britain’s quiet majority”

I could only assume this is a new and counter-intuitive use of the words “quiet” and “majority.” I think it’s pretty clear that the Christian fundamentalists and the Daily Mail are neither humbly self-effacing nor a majority. I would probably have a lot of trouble sleeping at night if I thought these extremist bigots people had become a majority.

The Mail editorial managed to express its trademark depths of hypocrisy by phrasing the article in such a way as to imply “She’s black and she’s a bigot just like us. Did we mention she’s black? Well here’s a picture. This proves we aren’t bigots ourselves here at the Mail because we are agreeing with the multicultural society. See. We like black people when they hate gays.”

Two small points:

  • If not performing civil partnerships is really a crucial part of Christian belief, why haven’t the mainstream Christians made it into some sort of sin? In fact, why haven’t they made wearing a crucifix and/or or a promise bracelet an obligation?These are the topics of the pro-Christian court cases that these zealots are happy to fund. So where are the Christian rules about them? I’m all for thinking for yourself and challenging authority and that, but I thought these fundy sects were all against it.

    And now, here they are, redefining Christianity, not just in the face of those tiresome old sermon-on-the-mount beliefs, but in the face of pretty well all the established church hierarchies.

    I can be a moralistic bitch. Can I get some association of non-believers to fund my own personal morality campaigns?

    Lots of things offend me. I would quite appreciate being compensated for a whole range of things – from newspapers promoting being a footballer’s famous wife as the only reasonable life goal to young girls, to the increasing acceptance of torture. (Passing through almost any major social evil or minor irritation you can think of)

  • The guy who sued the BBC for Jerry Springer the Opera and lost then whined that the BBC should pay his costs for suing them (!!!) may have set a precedent for the litigation-hungry Christians. Surely – in a spirit of fairness and decency similar to that demanded from the BBC by Green – Lilian Adele can just offer to let Islington council off with the compensation they are going to have to pay her…… Now how likely isn’t that?

Misplaced ads

There is a tradition of posting weird searches that bring people to a blog- even using a poetry format. So, what about the GoogleAd links that take people away from skeptics’ blogs?

I am an atheist has links to the-end.com:

2008: God’s Final Witness
Unprecedented destruction will come in 2008, leading to America’s fall

(Oh shit, I blogged about this very site’s endtimes nonsense a few weeks a go. For free. :-()

Called to be a monk, nun, priest? Take Free Online test Now To see if God is calling you.

From vocationsplacement.org. Well, OK, but I think I know the answer already so I’ll skip the online test and check out the free holiday destinations. Lose interest when I see that the destinations are generally states that I don’t recognise by their initials. I can’t find Hawaii. Look, I’m not prepared to pretend to be Catholic and pray for a couple of weeks for Wisconsin. But thanks for the offer.

Sexed-up Atheism- Dawkins Pantheism adds reverence for Nature, Universe, Life

(Pantheism.net) Well, no great argument with these people, except that I have a fastidious revulsion at the use of the term “sexed-up” to mean “slightly more interesting”.

The Enlightenment of the Healy (me neither) has an advert for hidden-advent.org:

Desiring Lord appearing? Expecting Lord’s return? A pleasant surprise is awaiting you

Hidden advent? Is that a really obscure pre-Christmas calendar? No. It’s one of the most eye-burningly ugly sites you’ll ever see. It deals with The Work of the Lord’s Hidden Advent In China However, the site is even less comprehensible than the title. I click on a link that says

Typical Cases of Leaders in Catholicism and Christianity in Mainland China who Resist Almighty God Being Punished

Not understanding the English, I have to click the link. I now understand even less than I did before.
It has a series of bizarre tables by province. Eg Henan.(65 Cases Selected) I pick a randomly numbered case:

Liu X from Dengzhou City, female, 48 years old, a believer from the Born Again denomination. In February 1999, someone preached God’s end-time work to her, but she didn’t accept it. In March, another person preached it to her again, but she said: “What you believe in is a false way and a cult. I just believe in Jesus. If I were to die, I would die under Jesus’ name.” Two months later, Liu X got uterus cancer, and she lost all her hair after chemotherapy.
In the autumn of 1999, the brothers and sisters preached God’s end-time salvation to her again, but she still resisted and condemned it. Right after that, her innards began to rot. She suffered unbearable pain and failed to respond to any medical treatment. ….. Her oath “rather die than believe” was fulfilled eventually.

They list “Two hundred cases selected from among tens of thousands of cases”. They all involve people dying a painful untimely death for not accepting the end-times idea. Who’d have thought there could be a religious group that compared unfavourably with the Phelps family?

Back in the real world, the advert still says “A pleasant surprise is awaiting you “. Loki forbid that they ever try to give a site visitor an unpleasant message….