Archive for the ‘atheism’ Tag

Why I am a Spanish speaking Muslim who supports Brazil   Leave a comment

You might know I am a football fan.  The national team I support is England.  My football following siblings also support England as do almost all my friends.  I do have a colleague who looks firstly for the Scotland result and a bare handful of friends with allegiance to other nations.  For example I play football with two who support Italy.

I think it is an amazing coincidence that all of my family and practically all of my friends follow the same team as me.  It must be a statistically anomaly.

Now I wouldn’t claim England are the best team in the world.  They are consistently in the top ten nations and usually make the knock-out stages of the global competitions.  However if I were to make a logical choice I perhaps currently ought to support Spain whose results are better and who certainly play a much more attractive style of play.  If I was looking throughout my lifetime then Brazil with three World Cup wins would be my best choice to follow.

Why then do I support England?  Basically it is an accident of birth, the same reason as everyone I know.  I was born and brought up bang in the middle of England; this means I support England in every sport.  Had I been born in Spain I would support the current World Cup holders.  If my place of birth had been Rio de Janeiro then I would be following the most successful international team.   My friends who follow different teams were either born in those countries or have a family heritage linked to them.

Of course had I been born in Spain my first language would be Spanish and in Brazil, Portuguese.  This would have been another factor determined by my birthplace and culture.  It would have no basis in logic.  I am probably best sticking to English as the international language of commerce and of the internet.  However a case might be made for Spanish or Mandarin as useful additions

All of my family and most of my friends were brought up Christian.  All of those I know that came from that tradition that worship do so in the Christian Church.  I don’t think I know any practising Jews but all those I know who are Muslim or follow the South Asian religions are first or second generation immigrants to the United Kingdom.  They are rather like my “Italian” friends in that respect..

With a true statistical spread a quarter of my family would follow Islam; none of my family is a Muslim.  However had my birth been in Pakistan or parts of the Middle-East there is every chance that every one of my family would be Muslim.  There is no logic to it at all,  While a small number of the religious start to follow a faith other than the one they were born into it is rare.  Almost every religious person follows the faith of the culture they wre born into.  No god selects them as special people, their faith is as much an accident of birth as their language or national football team!

So logically we should all support Spain.  We should speak and write in English with a smattering of Spanish and Mandarin.  And of course if we are being totally rational we should worship no gods at all.

Atheist+ gets a D minus from me   Leave a comment

I am an atheist just because I don’t believe in any supernatural beings.  I also believe that organised religion is often inherently evil.  On top of that I abhor bigotry and discrimination in any form.   I think any move towards a campaign termed Atheist+ is stupid.

My political views are more libertarian than liberal and in British political terms I am probably right-wing but see myself as having significant social-democrat leanings in that I think the state safety-net is fundamental.  In US terms I might be considered virtually a communist by the GOP or the Tea Party.

I might term myself atheist, humanist, an advocate for the disabled, a feminist, an anti-racist and a campaigner for LGBT rights.  I also am involved in community participation and empowering those who are missed by conventional means.  I am not part of some “magic” grouping that incorporates all of these issues.

It seems that to be an atheist I just have to realise there are no gods.  To earn the label of Atheist+ I have to take a fifty question survey and write an essay explaining why a white, straight, middle-aged, comfortably-off, male with no disabilities dare to be considered worthy.

Those that are public and campaign about atheism, secularism and humanism tend to the liberal wing.  I expect there are few racist atheists, few sexist humanists and there is no secular agenda for oppressing LGBT people.  There might however be issues with inclusion, not always because there are problems with discrimination but because existing members don’t understand how intimidating any grouping can be.  I am not sure that this feeling of exclusion is necessarily linked to gender, sexuality, race or disability.

In terms of political parties it is those to the left that seem the natural home of the ungodly.  However I am not sure the division is as strong in the UK as over the pond. There are openly atheist GOP activists but they are rare, probably because the natural electorate rules out such views.  In the UK it is rare for a candidate to make their religious views a factor in an election.  Even Prime Minister Tony Blair waited until he stood down until he “came out” as a Catholic wing-nut.

I think in Britain you can comfortably be a Conservative atheist.  This might mean that you are not a social progressive in terms of social policy but you still don’t recognise any mythical being.  In fact it could be claimed that the libertarians can claim to support self-determination away from any bigotry and external influences while rejecting social support from the state.   This is true on both sides of the Atlantic.

I was involved in the organisation of a youth football tournament recently.  The guest of honour pointed out the lack of minority ethnic players among the hundreds competing.  I pointed out the ethnic make-up of our demographic catchment to explain this.  In fact there were a couple of black children  but I realised that number was less than might be expected.  I will not tear my hair out declare I am part of a racist organisation; I will check with partners and practitioners to see whether there is a problem or any factors that adversely influence ethnic participation.

I feel the move towards Atheist+ is  closely linked to the supposed misogyny at atheist events.  I am not sure that this is a real factor but again concede the need for inclusion.  It seems that rather than investigating whether this is an issue within the “atheist community” some have concluded it is and over-reacted.

Whether there is a real community that can be migrated from labelling itself as atheist to “super-dooper, socially progressive, all-inclusive, politically aware with a very big plus-sign ATHEIST” is doubtful.  I am aware that Margaret Thatcher was about as right-wing as British politics gets but I agree with her assertion, “If your only opportunity is to be equal then it is not opportunity.”

But in terms of Atheist+ can I cite Groucho Marx?

“Please accept my resignation. I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”

What the Thunderf00t are sceptics playing at?   Leave a comment

One of the first sceptics I followed on YouTube was Thunderf00t.  His work introduced me to many other free-thinkers, atheists and questioners.  Of course the friendly references to each other’s works and the personal testimonials suggested a clique of atheist/sceptics meeting and debating somewhere in the otherwise fundamental US of A.

That clique didn’t indicate any sort of exclusivity as we are the rational people and it is the reasoning not the reasoner that matters.  Our remit is the exploration of knowledge, facts and beliefs.  If not one happy family, we are fair and inclusive.  As most prejudices are irrational we also tend to be more “liberal”  and less bigoted.

For that reason it is odd to see our “close family” beset by discord.  Thunderf00t has been invited to enter the inner sanctum of sceptical thinking and contribute to Freethought Blogs only to be shown the door and cast out among the lesser sceptics as a result of his first post.

As a long-time reader of the blogs this left me with three questions:

1)      What the hell was Thunderf00t playing at opening his portfolio on this subject and why is he still obsessed with it?

2)      What is the point of FtB if it doesn’t allow the reasoned argument of issues around the sceptic community?

3)      Is there any weight to the views Thunderf00t is espousing?

On the first point, I don’t know whether Thunderf00t as a long time blogger and video blogger felt he needed to make a statement on his debut to FtB but it was unnecessary.  His work is multi-dimensional with the span of fighting religion, pseudo-science and then highlighting his own  projects.  He doesn’t need to prove himself.  Start with a great idea rather than a difficult argument.  That is not to say that difficult arguments don’t need exploring but find the place to do this.  If called out do you call a truce or start a battle of the type that is the norm with the fundies and scientific illiterates?  It is a place to push arguments but not always to air the dirty laundry.

There seemed to be some that saw Thunderf00t’s invitation to FtBs as a little odd.  He is an abrasive video-blogger who has made this sceptical name highlighting creationist nonsense.  However there is a range of bloggers within that collective not all of them dull and worthy.

Having started on a difficult argument did Thunderf00t deserve the response whether he was right or wrong? I am not sure he did- actually I am certain he didn’t.  His arguments were not accompanied by abuse or personal insults.  Yes he was forthright and did cite others arguments but this is what thesis and antithesis is about.  I expected argument and possibly a very strong negative response to Thunderf00t’s view.  In terms of Freethought, doesn’t it do what it says on the tin?  Yes you can censor bigotry and abuse but if there is a case to be made then it needs addressing.  However did either side advance the argument in a constructive way?  It is sad, that with the decision to exclude Thunderf00t having been made, no one is moving on.  PZ Myers against Thunderf00t feels like squabbling schoolchildren- “He said this!” “No I didn’t!” “it’s not fair…”  Even if Myers portrays the head prefect to Thunderf00t’s excitable first former.

Beyond the tiff is there a case in what Thunderf00t said?  If I understand him the argument is that the continued highlighting of sexism in the sceptic community and at the various conferences undermines the message.  If the issue isn’t a major problem at the events and within “our community” and if we cannot address it in practical terms then why make it central to our message?

Years ago I went to various conferences and usually saw them as a means to “cop off”.  Because I made this my aim the chance of actually finding any action was negligible.  If I went to gain from the event and have a good time then the chances of enjoying myself, in all ways, was increased.   Like I was in my youth, there will always be low-life losers at any event.  It is right that any event addresses the issues make those attending uncomfortable but is highlighting policies to deal with this potential for friction counter-productive?

As a white, middle-class, male I cannot claim to have been the subject of major discrimination.  As I live in the UK, even as an atheist I have no sense of discrimination.  I cannot particularly empathise with Rebecca Watson and the Elevatorgate incident that seemed to have started the whole misogyny debate.  I have to confess I am closer to the Dawkin’s view that there was an over-reaction to the initial event.  That doesn’t mean I agree with any sort of discrimination, harassment or anti-social behaviour.

We sceptics are the reasonable ones, the good guys (and gals).  We don’t discriminate based on the grounds of sex, sexual orientation or race because there is no evidence to support it.  It is possible that “free thought” gives social freedoms that question accepted norms.  However I am not certain that any atheist or sceptical conference of event will pose more issues for women than an equivalent student, political or business gathering.

That the starting point for any sceptic event or the message coming out of those events is sexism is wrong.  There might be issues at these events and it is correct to have an understanding of what is to be expected.  To make the supposed sexist nature of scepticism the message does a disservice to any free thinker.

If we are a community, which is very doubtful, and we have faults then address them.  Address them proportionally and at a reasonable level.  There are fundamentalist Christians wanting to deny basic reproductive rights to women.  There are Catholic officials abusing children and covering up the crimes. There are Muslims denying girls a basic education and forcing them to marry in childhood.  Can we pick our fights better?

There are plenty of better targets out there before we decide it time for a civil war!

Ahomeopathy is not a religion!   Leave a comment

I find it terrible when just because I don’t believe in homeopathy some think this is akin to a new religion. My ahomeopathy doesn’t define me and cannot be compared to those who believe in unsubstantiated medical miracles, mythical creatures or invented deities.

Basically I don’t believe in any of that non-scientific crap. However as well as a skeptic, I am a rationalist and realise that there is always the possibility that science will find evidence that I might have to consider. That is the raison d’etre of intelligent scientific principle- rational adaptation, thesis and antithesis. Unfortunately for the medical fundamentalists you have to start from a vaguely sensible position.

If your theory depends on a ridiculous medical proposition, an unsupported indication of alien abduction or an unproven bloke in the sky making a mess of running the universe then you start from a more than unsound position. If you define your life on that theory rather than just getting on and living then more fool you.

My life is not defined by the fact that I think all homeopaths are either fools or frauds. I will go on twitter (as @face_of_weevil) and gently take the piss out of the advocates of alternative medicine but exposing that crap is such a small part of who I am. Despite the fact that I will also ridicule other sorcery such as religion that apposition to superstition does not define me. Freedom from unfounded faith, dogma, ignorance and superstition might better indicate who I am.

There are those so set in their irrational ways that they feel it is right to insult me by comparing my opposition to their faith to a position equivalent to that superstition. Yes I know that homeopathy is false so call me an ahomeopathic but don’t ever call it my religion!

King James Bible- Gove’s folly   Leave a comment

The first of the signed copies of the King James Bible are now arriving in schools.  I am a little puzzled about who signed them!  Was it Yahweh, James I or Michael Gove?

Actually I don’t think the books are actually signed- not in any earthly way at least.  However a few individuals have paid several hundred thousand pounds to send a premium copy of the 400-year-old translation to about 25000 schools.  There is no doubt that this version of the Bible is a classic piece of literature, the prose and language has defined our culture.  So is Shakespeare, Austen and Conan-Doyle.

I am not sure that those supporting the supply of the Bibles appreciate the literary merit of the translation.  Fifty-odd scholars looked at the Greek and Hebrew transcripts of the Old and New Testaments but seemed to have relied on the “politically correct” existing versions.  Had they gone back to basics or looked at different books then the new version might have been theologically interesting.  Rather than addressing the message the KJV clouds it in wonderful language.  I understand that those backing the Bible issue are in the main Christian and those supporting the initiative are people of faith.

So what good does sending a wonderfully bound bible to every school do?  Well this version is out of copyright so I think rather than one big book to each school, each pupil could have had a personal budget copy.  Better still the money could have improved education sooner than reinforcing religious prejudice with an untouchable relic.  Plenty of useful books could have been purchased for the millions spent on this project.  The KJV can be read on a computer if someone needs it as a reference book.  If they need to read it as a moral indicator then it proves education isn’t working.

In my youth the Gideons came into my secondary (high) school and handed out New Testaments.  When I doubted the Christian faith based on history and an awareness of multitheism, I looked at the reference section in my bible.  The suggested verses were cryptic and the links contrived.  That small red bible helped to reinforce the idea that any message from that work was manufactured.

I am all for recognising mine and my country’s culture but to suggest that this sending of Bibles to schools is other than a religious gesture is inane.  Better still let students really appreciate the vile drivel of the “Christian user’s manual” that way we might have many more realists.

Half-hearted and meaningless- religion in schools   4 comments

At school Physical Education was compulsory.  I forged notes from my parents, feigned injury and forgot my games kit to avoid it.  As soon as there was a relaxation, as I reached sixth form (High School senior years) I opted for table-tennis which was unsupervised and so was actually cover for a card school.

Outside of the official games periods I played football (soccer) in the playgrounds and cricket and football away from school.  I still play league cricket as I reach my fiftieth year and social football games twice a week.  I am also a walk leader as part of a community project.

At school I tried to avoid sports because they were official, the PE teachers that led classes as a supplement to their other academic duties also did so without any conviction and so allowed a little latitude.

My view of religion at school was very similar to that of games; the statutory nature destroyed any merit for the subject.  In the main, I feel most schoolmasters felt a similar lack of enthusiasm.  The difference for me was that I didn’t run off and engage in religion away from school.

This is why I find the battles in the American education system and the extent of religious indoctrination so alien.  Religious tradition is so much a part of the English education system but has a marginal effect; over the pond it seems that the malignancy is very deep.

Unlike the US, the church in the United Kingdom is not separated from the state but integral to it.  Our Head of State is the Head of the Church of England.  Our second legislative chamber has protestant church leaders in it as of right.  Our state (public) schools have daily collective worship that “shall be wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character”.  For all this religion is weak in our collective society.

Like in my day I get the impression that religion is essentially ignored in the state school system.  Even some voluntary aided faith schools insist on as few as ten per cent of admissions being regular participants in the established faith.  My local Roman Catholic secondary (High) school gives preference to Catholics who attend church, then any Catholics, then active Christians, then any active participants in any World Faith.  There is a move away from parents pretending to go to church just to guarantee a better school place for their heathen children.

I clearly remember at primary school that the school dinners were preceded by a Christian grace.  All my assemblies included prayer and most were akin to a church service.  For all that there was a feeling that this religious input just diluted the faith message.  All of the religion seemed closer to tradition than any real theism.

There was Religious Education at school but I have no real recollection of the subject I always got the impression that any masters or mistresses involved were a figure of fun.  I don’t remember any other faiths other than the very basic biblical Christianity.  The official government line on the school subject  now is “Religious education provokes challenging questions about the ultimate meaning and purpose of life, beliefs about God, the self and the nature of reality, issues of right and wrong and what it means to be human. It develops pupils’ knowledge and understanding of Christianity, other principal religions, other religious traditions, and other world views that offer answers to these challenging questions”  What I found odd over my kids’ school life was that every exploration of “alternative” religions involved Diwali; it was an easy call to go for a festival with lots of lights before Christmas.

As an atheist for my last five years at school I never had an issue with any religious elements.  My later secondary school had been founded in 1594 so had traditions linked to religion going back centuries.  I never remember anyone asking my religion.  Perhaps it was that as multi-culturalism had not really reached middle England then and so we were all “Christians”   However I do not remember any Catholic teachings.  This was in a town where there were a significant number of Roman Catholics although that town claimed a place in Protestant history.  I did note that the “visiting” priest at my daughters’ school was Catholic.

A generation on and at that establishment, another 400 year-old school, my children found their religious studies to be very similar.  Lay teachers going through the motions and specialists who were figures of fun.  Because I took more of an interest I knew who the religious teachers were.  One of the most devout was also one the best teachers I have come across.

The early secondary stages were all about comparative religions with a drift thereafter into general morality.  I got the impression that those who kept the study up into external exam levels were either the properly religious or those looking for easy grades.  My youngest daughter sought exemption from the collective worship as soon as she was of an age to decide and no one made an issue.

I have to say that for me and my children a lack of faith was no issue whatsoever even from those teachers who were devout.  It certainly didn’t stop my eldest representing her school and many events and winning a whole host of prizes.

For as much as religion is enshrined in the compulsory curriculum and levered into daily assemblies by law it seemed meaningless in reality and regarded with the same apathy as compulsory sports.  Like with those sports if you were really interested you got on with it outside of the education system.

Kids, eh?   Leave a comment

My parents encouraged me to be a free thinker despite my mother being active in the church.  I was an atheist from my teenage years.

I never deliberately influenced my daughters I feel but I too encouraged free thinking.  They didn’t take to football, or my politics but did become sceptics.  They did gain an understanding of science-fiction however.  I am not sure that their lack of religion ever affected them at school although my youngest did make a stand against attending the collective worship.  Both finished with very good results and continuing support from the school.

A few months ago my parents celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary.  They chose to do this with a blessing in the church where my mother is a Worship Leader followed by a Barn dance in the church hall.  Of course I had to help arrange the function and was most concerned about the Methodist restriction on alcohol on their premises!

As part of the service that preceded the dry festivities my parents wanted all their grand-children to take part.  As my kids were grown up teenagers a full reading was expected.  I had mixed emotions when my daughters refused!

Neither daughter wanted to go the church and they certainly didn’t seem to want to read any religious passage particularly one from the bible.  Of course I was happy with their anti-theist stand but thought respect for their grand-parents might override those feelings.

This left me in the strange position of negotiating with my offspring to convince them to take part in a religious service.  They agreed to read Corinthians 13 as they thought it was akin to poetry and didn’t mention god.

Unfortunately when the Order of Service was issued it contained a more modern version of the biblical passage- one littered with deifications.  My children went equipped with the KJV of the text and read this generating tears appropriate for the occasion.

The rest of the day also went well and although I am proud of my parents and the support and upbringing they afforded me my kids do all right too.

Posted February 25, 2012 by dalekpete in atheism

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