Immaculate Contraception

Apparently I simply missed out on the whole Sandra Fluke deal and am astounded that this is even up for debate. Rush Limbaugh’s insults are just an endemic problem with right wingers and their inability to understand basic human decency. And the internets have responded with both MRAs and conservatives coming out of their way to attack her.

Firstly? She is a private figure asked to testify about the value of contraception in her life. The assault on her by Rush are slander.

Secondly? Just quoting republican talking points doesn’t make it true.

The issue is that the woman’s boss can decide what healthcare she receives as part of her insurance based on his belief in an imaginary being. The issue is that catholic providers don’t want to give women contraception because apparently in Catholic Land contraception doesn’t work (because a bunch of celibate men whose only qualifications are celibacy and belief in an imaginary entity should be in charge of women’s healthcare).

The idea is that insurance companies should ATLEAST follow a basic standard of healthcare. This isn’t socialism so much as basic fucking sense. The inability to provide a basic standard of healthcare is what is the problem. The four pillars of being a doctor are “Medicine”, “Surgery”, “Social/Preventative Medicine” and “Obstetrics and Gynaecology”. Note how this is about how an insurance company doesn’t have to cover obstetrics and gynaecology not based on the customer’s choice but based on the employer’s belief in what effectively is an imaginary friend.

It’s simple. This is a culturally acceptable belief. If your boss was a Christian Science worshipper and believed in prayer would you accept prayer over medical aid as your health plan? If your boss was a scientologist, would you accept one of their sessions over time with a psychiatrist for your depression? If your boss was a Jehovah’s Witness would they be allowed to not cover any surgical procedure involving a blood transfusion or organ transplant?

Then why is it acceptable that Catholics insurers are allowed to simply not adhere to a pillar of medical care?

It Gets Better – Dear Cardinal Keith O’Brien


A Copy of the following Letter has been sent to Archdioscean office and Cardinal’s Residence as a voice of complaint against the letter written and published in the Sunday Telegraph by Cardinal O’Brien.

If you wish to voice your complaints as well, please take the time to do so and I urge that there are no active threats. Let us not sink to the depths of the homophobes but hold ourselves to a better standard. The addresses are [email protected] and [email protected]



Dear Cardinal Keith O’Brien 


I don’t see why you guys are complaining about the
economy when there are gays to complain about!

I think we have different issues that we worry about most. For me it’s the economy, the state of our education system, the rising cost of student loans and the fact the people I helped get into power either stabbed me and the rest of their voter base in the back or have no spines. 


While you seem to be more interested in what gay people get up to in the privacy of their own homes. But this has raised a more apt question. We need to ask is why should the Catholic Church have any say in the functioning of our fair nation. What qualifies the cardinal to comment on social policy despite his only visible qualification being the belief in a god and the fact he hasn’t had sex since 1965. Are we seriously suggesting that we should listen to his ideas on why gay marriage should not be called as such? Are these honestly the arguments that you wish to support? 


The Coalition for Marriage parrots the same idiotic diatribes that homophobes have for decades. It’s not even hard knocking down their views. Free speech dictates that we allow you to voice the views you have (Bear in mind the history of the Church with regards to free speech is less than stellar. If Cardinals actually dictated law, we can be damned sure there would be a lot less free speech around.). 


Separate! But equal!

Gay people do not want a variety of legal protections, they want the same protections. In much the same way that black and asian people didn’t want “A variety of equal protection” but EQUAL protection under the same rules. We want an equal society. and it’s impossible to have an equal society if we are drawing up more divisions. The arrangements we put into place were gay people settling for the only thing they could get. It’s not equality. It’s nothing even close to it. 


The problem is now you have to have two sets of laws that need to be constantly updated to match each other. Well? Why have these laws when we can simply just lump the two together and have the same bloody law for everyone? Every time you talk about tax breaks for married couples you need to talk about a tax break for couples in “civil partnerships”. It’s just a ridiculous solution because you assume that marriage means the same thing in every culture.


Historically speaking, marriage has meant a variety of things. The bible alone allows you to

  • Marry your dead brother’s wife
  • Marry your prisoner of war (female)
  • Mate slaves like they were livestock
  • Marry multiple women
  • Marry a woman and her slaves
  • Keep Concubines (also female)
Marriage! It’s not so fun if you are a woman!

Notice how women don’t have any say in any of this. If you as a catholic can honestly accept that women have equal r
ights to men then it’s not a big jump to accept that gay people also deserve equal rights.



So can we just call a spade a spade and call O’Brien out for the homophobe that he is? It’s hatred and bias and bigotry that’s endemic in our society that is being purveyed and encouraged here by the Cardinal. Faith in god doesn’t make you  good. Your actions, your behaviour and your achievements make you good. Do you really need examples of Catholics doing naughty things when the church is well aware of the value of action over faith? 


The physical well being of gay people is fine, The Cardinal merely is referring to old “homosexual HIV outbreaks” as a major problem. The problem being that for a long while gay men had no reason to utilise condoms which halt the spread of HIV. In addition men who have sex with men (a distinction that is important as not all gay men enjoy penetrative anal sex. In fact there are probably just as many straight men who enjoy anal sex and a lot more straight women who enjoy it than gay men. The HIV deaths in the homosexual population may be out of proportion to their population, but their numbers are falling. Remember the AIDS patient who dies today is representative of the statistics about condom usage in the 90s. In addition the men who have sex with men community is a small one and each individual represents a greater proportion of society than the average straight man. So you are more likely to sleep with someone with HIV, resulting in a faster spread of the disease just by dint of having a smaller population and having a reduced choice of sexual partners. 


Mentally? The mental issues of homosexuals is a problem. They are more prone to suicide and depression and mental illness. Mainly because of people like Cardinal O’Brien who create a culture of acceptable bigotry against homosexuals which creates a culture of harassment.


Don’t know what you two are smiling about!
No Jesus means no spiritual well being!
Can’t you see how sick you are!!!

Spiritually? The spiritual well being of people seems to work out just fine even if they don’t believe in your chosen version of a god. I don’t see the Cardinal coming out and stating that he is worried about the spiritual well being of Muslims or Hindus mainly because those two groups are a lot more vocal than homosexuals. I assume this is because the ensuing backlash would be a catastrophic blow to the church but homosexuals are acceptable targets for this kind of cultural imperialism because they aren’t universally liked in society. The Cardinal is appealing to the lowest common denominator of British Society to give weight to his words. 

And you are still scaremongering. 

The redefinition of marriage doesn’t impact anyone except homosexuals. Society will not fall because we include them in marriage. There are more important things taught in school than what a marriage is like science, mathematics, languages, history, geography, economics, PE… This is scaremongering at it’s finest as it paints a picture where the legalisation of marriage will somehow break our schools and destroy society as we know it and we will be reduced to the fragmentation of the UK into feuding neighbourhoods. The implication that marriage is vital to the functioning of society is ridiculous. Society will function without it. Many Scandinavian countries don’t have high rates of marriage and function just fine without it. The repercussions of such a change will be negligible.


If we don’t ban gay marriage, Tina Turner
will kill you with a crossbow.

Yes, words can be redefined at a whim. We changed what we meant when we meant the equality of man when we let people of colour (like myself) into that definition. Lest the good Cardinal forget, the creators of apartheid and segregation was the United Kingdom. We changed the laws when women went to work. And likewise we can change what the law means when it comes down to the definition of marriage. Throughout history? Polygamy, Polyandry, Forced Marriages have all been used to define marriage. The idea that we marry for love is a relatively recent one.

Gay’s Getting Married!
Must be due to Miscegny 


If same sex marriage is a law then the teacher who wants to tell pupils that marriage that marriage means the single union of a man and woman will have to join the teacher who wants to tell pupils that human beings all came from Adam and Eve who lived in a garden 6000 years ago. Their choices are either teach reality or don’t teach at all. It’s not rocket science. What about the teacher who wanted to teach children that black people are not as developed as white people? Should we have kept the law so that he could keep teaching his bigotry?

The teacher’s right to hold stupid views should not be respected. The teacher can hold whatever viewpoint he feels l
ike in his house but is not entitled to those viewpoints in the administration of his job which is the education of children. There are more important things to teach than the vagaries of marriage. You are allowed to show dissent, and we are allowed to dismantle your view points.

The Universal Declaration on Human Rights is obviously insufficient for the task. The Universal Declaration is a humanist document and is subject to change. For goodness sake, it’s not gospel. The definition is just becoming a bit more universal than it used to be. It’s not a grotesque subversion of a right, it is the expansion of that right to include more people. If anything the right to get married got a bit more human and a bit more universal.

The Cardinal thinks marriage is trying to imply that marriage is a divinely inspired institution created by his particular god, and not that it was a series of rules created to stop fights breaking out and a method of controlling breeding rights in the same way that apes control breeding rights by simply just beating the living daylights out of other males when they try to mate with females. This began as a refined method of ensuring all males in a group (Yes. I realise I sound horrifically sexist but at this point we were probably not recognisably human as a species) got a chance to breed creating a more harmonious society. Marriage was created by people and by extension a government. Many tribal groups have an idea similar to marriage, even people living at hunter-gatherer level. They have a form of government and while it isn’t similar to ours it is still a government. The laws pertaining to marriage are defined by the government and by expectation and not by the  church. Otherwise I as an atheist cannot get married since any eventual marriage I have will not be under the eyes of any god. So far all O’Brien has managed to do is convince me that we shouldn’t give government breaks to people who get married. Why should a religious institution be protected by government when it blatantly discriminates against people? 

For a man who isn’t going to get married the Cardinal seems to be awfully interested in a institution he knows nothing about. We aren’t blasé about marriage so much as realising that as a human being marriage can be extended to other people without cheapening the ideas on which humanists have built marriage. I fail to understand how letting gay people get married will reduce the alleged stabilising influence it has on our society. Gay people make up less than 5% of our society and are we honestly suggesting that letting this 5% marry each other will somehow cause our society to fall apart? Do you realise how utterly moronic this sounds to any sane human being? 


Bad things happen when the Catholic Church
thinks about children.

And the assumption that a child’s parents need to be married in order to have a “mother and a father” is grossly insulting to the umpteen amounts of children who are born out of wedlock. I understand the church is behind the times but it’s 2012. Bastards aren’t indicative of a massive failure in morality so much as an indication that the parents didn’t feel it was necessary to sign a form and drop a couple of thousand quid on a ceremony before they got married. You may think this is a massive moral failing but I think that just makes you a ridiculous dinosaur holding onto the prejudices of the past as if they mean anything in a society which has grown from strength to strength as a whole and that believes that we should not discriminate against the GLBT community over something as simple and as meaningful to some as a marriage. 



I speak with experience on this matter.

I am not sure about what they are teaching in sex education in the Vatican these days but I know you guys are incredibly bad at it. The Gay and Lesbian communities cannot have children “normally”. I thought all of us knew that. Gay men have to use surrogates and lesbians have to use a male sperm donor. The argument that “all children deserve to begin life with a mother and father” is not an argument against gay marriage but against gay adoption and artificial fertilisation. Those are entirely different topics and the Cardinal is just trying to confuse the issue while clouding the fact that biologically speaking two gay men and two lesbians cannot have children any more than I can get a chair pregnant. 



You may think that all children deserve to begin their life with a mother and father but I know that all children deserve to be loved. Not all children are blessed with a happy life, many lose their biological parents to death and disease. Many cannot be cared for by their biological parents and are put up for adoption. Whatever the case may be, the world and indeed the UK is filled with children who are not loved. Now I don’t know what makes a good father but I damn well know that what children need is love. And if two gay men or two lesbian women are capable of loving a child then the child will grow up happier and can achieve things in it’s life in a far happier environment than in a series of foster homes which aren’t permanent. Now these GLBT couples are not taking away children from “straights” but they are taking children in who don’t have loving families and giving them one.

The idea of gender roles is no longer widely accepted. By the Catholic Church’s definition of mother and father I have none because both my parents were doctors. I was raised by babysitters until I could fend for myself. My mother is a surgeon and her job is a traditionally male one. She broke gender boundaries as dictated by society thus making her a terrible mother since she didn’t sit at home teaching girls to be homemakers and follow female role models. She instead IS A role model for young girls everywhere. Children can grow up without conventional mother and father figures, and so can be brought up by two men or two women. If the bloody president of
the USA can be brought up by a single mother then I am damn sure a kid adopted by a gay couple can be brought up in a similar way. 


And then the Cardinal moves on to poly-amorous relationships. Well for starters, poly-amorous people genuinely love each other. It’s not all fun and orgies but genuine work stemming from the belief that love is not a finite thing and that a person can love more than one person. And that a honest relationship like this can work, with the operative word being “honest”. 


Even if a poly couple sought to get married, it would be with their “main partner” or the person whom the share the greatest bond with. It would not be similar to this hypothetical case of multiple men and women since it usually is a chain of partners rather than a web. And again, I don’t see what the problem is in creating a social contract that accepts it. And this is an assumption that poly couples believe that fidelity is the mark of a marriage when by nature poly people do not believe in the version of fidelity we do. Their fidelity is more based on a honest open relationship and the fact that they can love more than one human being at a time. Ours is that we cannot comprehend a relationship where sex is not the major determinant of fidelity.


While Catholic Sex Education is a muttered
warning about Father Johnson

The final strawman of this travesty of bigotry comes from the argument that somehow school libraries will have to carry stories containing homosexual themes. It’s a mad world where we consider homosexual themes of something like King & King (a mild book about a Prince’s search for a Princess culminating in him falling in love with another Prince). Older high school students in the Boston region were given a pamphlet that wasn’t so much about homosexual advocacy as much as it was about helping boys (it’s aimed at men) realise a bunch of resources about their homosexuality while treating it as patently normal and providing sex education in a colloquial fashion. I had a similar class to this when I was 15 and 16 in Grammar School. Education should deal with these themes. What’s the point of education if we fail to educate people about the reality of the situation. 


MTV Cribs is destroying what it means
to own a house!

Same sex marriage is not compulsory. If you don’t want to get gay married, don’t get gay married. It’s that simple. I am sure that gay men aren’t going up to Abu Hamza wanting his blessing for their marriage and I am sure gay men won’t be visiting Cardinal O’Brien for his benediction. Gay people don’t want to get married in a ceremony around a homophobe in much the same way that I don’t want Nick Griffin officiating at mine.

The slavery analogy is faulty and illogical but then again what’s new? You are an institution that believes in magic, logic isn’t your strong point. The argument is more akin to saying that there are two laws. The first being that only people may own property while there is a second law stating that coloureds are not people. The good Cardinal in this case would be against the removal of the second law for fears that it would destroy the first law as black and asian people bought houses and this would denigrate the spirit of house ownership.

 You can compare slavery to marriage all you like but this isn’t a Rodney Dangerfield or a Bernard Manning joke. This is serious business. Slavery is NOTHING like this and you are not only insulting the GLBT community with this analogy but insulting the memories of those who were kept as slaves. And it insults marriage.

I want to get married some day. I really do, I am single now, but one day I hope I will find a nice lady who likes my angry rants, giant lists and sexy tan who agrees to marry me. And I don’t think marriage is weakened or crippled or damaged in any way by sharing it with the GLBT community. I don’t think my marriage to this fantasy woman will somehow become cheaper if more people can have the same sort of meaning from the event that I do. I consider myself a fairly staunch defender of marriage but accept that what I believe a marriage is about is different from what someone else may see in it.

With that in mind? I think the greatest damage to marriage done in this argument is not by the GLBT community but by people like Cardinal O’Brien. Good grief! The man thinks the sole reason for a marriage is to have and support babies.

Marriage has existed for countless reasons.

  • To have babies while treating women as nothing more than a traded uterus. 
  • For political gain and intrigue
  • For peace in times of war 
  • For money
  • For power
  • For love
  • Because of an accident
  • For fear of loneliness
  • Because of a pregnancy
  • Because of what society says
  • To hide a secret
Of all those, love is the only one we in the first world really marry for. That is the ideal that we want as people even though we know that people marry for other reasons. I think of the normal idea of an arranged marriage as a horrid insult, a coercive situation
where two people are married because of what their parents think and often for money, power and what society says. Many marriages in rural parts of India and Pakistan treat women as nothing more than a burden where the boy has to be paid to take a uterus of their hands. And suddenly we think that gay marriage is going to destroy the institution of marriage?


Marriage is fine as it is. If your marriage is the eggshell thin marriage of Cardinal O’Brien then you should fear for marriage as we know it. If the antics of the latest celebrity marriage being flogged for money to newspapers won’t destroy marriage then do you really think a bunch of gays getting married will? If the latest celeb couple du jour break up, do you think it will affect marriage?


That’s the difference between your paltry idea of marriage and mine. Mine would be based on love, respect, humour, sensibility and a shared idea of what we wanted in life. And that kind of marriage is universal and not just for us straights. That kind of marriage will make the United Kingdom a beacon of tolerance and better for the small but significant community of us who call themselves GLBT.




In Disgust,


Avicenna 

Witchhunter

We often joke about witchcraft. Whether it be us laughing at the sheer silliness of modern witchcraft in wicca or satanists or laughing at the ideas a lot of people have about Harry Potter. To us witches are a joke. But in vast parts of Africa where traditional belief in witches is mixed with the fears of Christianity and Islam which promotes an irrational fear in magic and sorcery.

The following account is compiled from a variety of news sources and is disturbing and contains graphic details of a horrific crime. It is NSFW, unsuitable for children and may be a trigger. So I carry this disclaimer warning potential readers.

With this in mind?

Kristian Bamu

This is Kristian Bamu, a 15 year old boy from Paris. He was looking forward to spending Christmas with his sister and her boyfriend (Magalie Bamu and Eric Bikubi) along with his brothers and sisters. What occurred between the 16th of December and Christmas in 2010 can only be described as madness.

Kristian Bamu was discovered by paramedics in a bathtub and was declared dead. He was missing teeth, his body was covered in a variety of injuries ranging from bruises to deep cuts and stab wounds. His two sisters aged 11 and 20 were also subjected to some of these. His brothers aged 13 and 22 joined him in being tortured. Tortured by Eric and Magalie for the crime of being witches.

Kristin Bamu’s cause of death was drowning as he was either held under water or slipped under the water of a bath he was placed in. Over the four day ordeal he was attacked by a variety of implements ranging from a knife, pliers, a wooden beam, a weight lifting bar and a hammer. His teeth were knocked out. His ears were torn with pliers. He was struck repeatedly by different objects and was cut. He was not allowed to eat or use the bathroom. His other brothers and sisters were forced to torture him or face the same punishment. Kristin Bamu’s older sister was forced to tear his ears with pliers while the youngest aged just 11 was forced to watch.

Why? Erik and Magalie claimed that they were witches and were bringing witchcraft into their house. For an understanding of that we need to go deeper.

Erik and Magalie and indeed Kristian and his siblings were from the Democratic Republic of Congo and were firm believers in one of the many sects of baptist and charismatic Christianity that settled there as part of the mission movement. This kind of christianity believes in witchcraft as a real and tangible force and that this witchcraft or Kindoki is a genuine threat. Kindoki is said to manifest itself in children hence a series of these brutal assaults. Erik in particular was subject to the same type of treatment as a child. He too was one of the children who was “corrected” by such methods. Erik showed a history of abuse, with Magalie having to seek intervention with a women’s shelter at least once with a black eye after she was beaten after she refused to eat food off the floor. Whether Magalie was a willing participant or a further victim is not for us to decide, the evidence from her sister is certainly damning. Erik’s mother’s death was blamed on him and he showed the signs of mental disease and brain damage from a childhood fall. As his condition manifest in the UK, rather than seek medical help he sought Nigerian pastors and researched Kindoki online resulting in a paranoid delusion about the existence of witches.

Kindoke is the Lingala word for witchcraft and is one of the hundreds of words denoting a spiritual evil in various African languages and dialects. It’s western equivalent would be witchcraft or demonic possession. These beliefs have made their way across Europe with immigration as a method of explaining good and bad fortune.

To many Africans particularly those of the protestant faiths, this evil power is seen as witchcraft. In areas where society has broken down such as the Congo and southern Nigeria these accusations are epidemic. Many are taken seriously with some children taken to pastors for exorcism and others subject to home made remedies such as the ones attempted by Erik.

These are not traditional beliefs, these changes are obvious in the history of these peoples. Witchcraft was part of the traditional faith of Africa. Modern Christian belief sees the power of witchcraft as something evil and belief of possession by demons and witches is a common theme in all Christian faith in particular the fundamentalist Baptist and Pentecostal faiths. Thus many Africans maintain their former belief in witches with the approval and support of their new faith. Many newer churches spring up with the self proclaimed divine mission to hunt and destroy witches and profit from these services actively. Many pastors offer detection and exorcism services. Most of these are violent with beatings, cold baths and starvation used to purify the child.

The most recent trend is the accusation of children by parents and guardians. These are children who may have bad dreams, bed wetting, children who are stupider or cleverer, who have different likes and dislikes… the list practically covers every type of child out there. The accused are often outsiders, step-children, refugees, orphans, trafficked children and witches. Many are those who are mentally ill or are survivors of debilitating diseases.

A suspected child MUST confess. To this child the only choice is to say that there are five lights. Denials are not acceptable but ensures further exorcism attempts are made. Much of the violence is believed to be due to pastors trying to force confessions. Obviously children under such a horrific ordeal would admit to anything under torture. Children agreeing to being witches may face further violence after their admission. These children are not treated like children but an empty shell. It is believed that if the shell is made uncomfortable, the evil spirit will be made to leave.

Many people believe in this and it’s hard to find a politician who thinks this is a major problem. Any attempts to legislate this have been met with little to no success. Many politicians actively utilise this issue to paint a fear of a scourge of witchcraft with which to further their campaigns. Even in places like the UK it is believed that an unknown number of children are treated like this in impromptu and makeshift churches. And if anything the numbers of these type of churches is growing and being treated as an underground movement where we persecute them for their beliefs. The official guidelines maintained note around eight cases a year of witchcraft related abuse a year and this is what we find. The numbers are probably much higher as families involved don’t see this as torture but as saving the child’s life. The blame lays almost entirely with the beliefs of the various pentecostal and evangelical baptist churches. The various African pentecostal churches in Africa have a well witnessed history of witch hunts. In the Democratic Republic of Congo alone it is estimated that nearly 50,000 children have been forced out of their homes because of fears of Kindoki in just Kinshasa.

It’s a faith that isn’t un
ique to Africa and Africans, as many people in the west are educated and still consider witchcraft as a threat. How is this different from the exorcism of the Catholic Church? How is this different from the exorcisms that take place in the USA whose literal interpretation has turned into a genuine witch hunt on a scale unheard of in human history. How many of us thought the fears over music and the fears over D&D were stupid? How many atheists have watched Jesus Camp and snickered over their denouncement of Harry Potter as an agent of Satan? How many of us laughed when we hear that people genuinely believe in the Chick Tracts? I certainly laughed.

I don’t feel like laughing any more. 

Neo-Atheism is filled with crazy people

I recently read Bryan Appleyard’s critique of the new atheist backlash against the more moderate atheists who wish to not be seen as a rabidly anti-theistic.

I don’t know… I am torn between both camps, it’s a pretty ridiculous issue being made by both sides. Atheists are not immune to stupidity, I have mentioned that I know anti-vaccine atheists and many animal liberation fanatics are atheists too. Doesn’t make their stupidity free from criticism, nor should it ever be.

But at this point? I don’t think either of these two extremes is right. Not if actual death threats were made.

On the one hand we have a group of passionate individuals who don’t want to appease religion. Which is all fine and dandy and great! New Atheism is something I identify closely with, but I also am a lot more moderate. My faith was not personally ruined and I was lucky enough to be educated in more than one faith (I am aware of Islamic, Hindu and Christian philosophy and to some extent about Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism alongside the Animist faith of my ancestors). Lucky because faith and religion has so little a hold of me because I am aware of all the differences.

I don’t feel the urge to go rub it in the average religious person’s face. I feel that one can be completely civil about atheism as such. By all means fight against religious intolerance but don’t become intolerant yourself. I see no issue in insulting the crazies while being as civil as possible.

However on the other side we see a more accommodating group. These atheists think we need some spirituality in our lives and that we should have a “temple of atheism” and maybe outreach programs to present a more likeable face. It’s not for me, but as long as it’s not spreading woo and nonsense I have no qualms about them.

And there we have it. The problem in our argument is that we as a group of people do not have a structure like faith. We have huge differences as atheists even in what we believe in. Despite all accusations, there is no arch-atheist. At our core we simply do not believe in any gods. With that in mind let’s deconstruct the arguments in a more sensible way.



De Botton is the most recent and, consequently, the most shocked victim. He has just produced a book, Religion for Atheists: a Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion, mildly suggesting that atheists like himself have much to learn from religion and that, in fact, religion is too important to be left to believers. He has also proposed an atheists’ temple, a place where non-believers can partake of the consolations of silence and meditation.

We do have a lot to learn from religion! It’s just that me and De Botton have different ideas on what we can learn from it.

I have no issues with the different ways religion inspires people. It does do that, the question remains is, how can we do the same thing. My opinion?

Religion is basically a story, not one like Harry Potter but one with a rich heritage and history. There is not many things similar to it because of the age of the material. So let’s just take science as an example.

ArtArchitecture? Music? It’s all there. The thing is religion may have inspired these things, but so can many other things. One doesn’t have to believe in Zeus to like the Parthenon. Atheism doesn’t inspire these things because there isn’t anything in atheism to inspire. We don’t have biblical imagery. We don’t revere anyone in particular in the same way that people revere Shiva. We don’t have “atheism only buildings” so we don’t have an architectural style that we like beyond personal taste.

So let’s say a sense of society. Can we as atheists learn something about this? Well we can, and we should learn! Many religious groups have a strong sense of community, can we not match that? Can we improve on their model and make it even more inclusive as we have seen recent. We don’t have to have a temple, but we can make our meetings a bit more friendly to everyone involved.

It’s not stupid to realise that there are some things (like charity) that religion does better than us. It’s not stupid to try and improve ourselves to match or exceed them.

However we can improve these in a way that makes sense. Catholic Charity would be very good if they sent more doctors and less priests, more condoms and less communion wafers. Why not be that? Why should their sermons not be matched with our classes on science, our better women’s health, or teaching modern farm theory. Why not start secular missionary work? 

There have been threats of violence. De Botton has been told he will be beaten up and his guts taken out of him. One email simply said, “You have betrayed Atheism. Go over to the other side and die.”

This is probably true. If there is one thing that we know about the internet is that it’s easy to say things like this. This isn’t indicative of new atheists, this is the problem of the internet where people post without thinking. De Botton has merely portrayed a version of religion where he ignores all the bad and just looks at all the good. Rose tinted atheism if you will.

De Botton finds it bewildering, the unexpected appearance in the culture of a tyrannical sect, content to whip up a mob mentality. “To say something along the lines of ‘I’m an atheist; I think religions are not all bad’ has become a dramatically peculiar thing to say and if you do say it on the internet you will get savage messages calling you a fascist, an idiot or a fool. This is a very odd moment in our culture. Why has this happened?”

For the same reason that writing “I am an Atheist” will get “Repent or Die Messages” or “I work on vaccines” would get you “Child killing torturer and Mengele fan” on your wall.

First, a definition. By “neo-atheism”, I mean a tripartite belief system founded on the conviction that science provides the only road to truth and that all religions are deluded, irrational and destructive.

See this is where we begin to disagree. Science is a system where we test and retest hypothesis to form theories of how the universe functions based on observation, experiment and inference. Religion is merely the confused writings of people from ages ago about how they perceived the world and is very often wrong. They are deluded to a phenomenal level. The entire point is we can simply ignore that and look at how they function and learn a few lessons. Of things to avoid and of things to do.

Atheism is just one-third of this exotic ideological cocktail. Secularism, the political wing of the movement, is another third. Neo-atheists often assume that the two are the same thing; in fact, atheism is a metaphysical position and secularism is a view of how society should be organised. So a Chris
tian can easily be a secularist – indeed, even Christ was being one when he said, “Render unto Caesar” – and an atheist can be anti-secularist if he happens to believe that religious views should be taken into account. But, in some muddled way, the two ideas have been combined by the cultists.

Secularism is the idea that in the work place and in government there should not be any arguments based on the belief in an imaginary friend. That no religion should be given a leg up by the government. Atheism is an entirely physical metaphysical position and leads onto secularism as a political position. Caesar’s position was unchangeable by lay christians. Render unto Caesar merely states the opinion that christians should go along with Caesar. In a democracy the vote affects the people and “Render Unto Caesar” means “Tough No Abortion” or “Tough, you are now being taught stupid sex education” or “Tough, Earth now 6000 years ago, Jesus rode a Stegosaurus”. Religious views should not be taken into account because the arguments are not based on logic but on frankly insane beliefs.

Do you seriously think we should discuss banning women from public places because muslims, LDS and some Jews think so? Some religious views are fine and dandy, some are just backwards and nonsensical and should be treated as such. Not everyone’s opinion is good. I don’t see why I should have to listen to the Pope’s opinion on women’s healthcare and sex education since he clearly has no fucking clue what’s going on. Secularism is just the stance that we shouldn’t let religious officials have a say in the functioning of our government, nor should we do things solely because of our faith in a god.

To put it in a simple way, if you don’t believe women should have abortions, then you don’t have an abortion. Don’t force other women to follow your religion’s rules.

The third leg of neo-atheism is Darwinism, the AK-47 of neo-atheist shock troops. Alone among scientists, and perhaps because of the enormous influence of Richard Dawkins, Darwin has been embraced as the final conclusive proof not only that God does not exist but also that religion as a whole is a uniquely dangerous threat to scientific rationality.

No. Darwinism is merely the insult used by religious people to describe modern evolution theory by comparing it to a belief system rather than a fact like gravity which is also explained by a theory (like gravity). It’s used to denigrate an actual science in the USA (the term has no negative connotations in the UK) by making it seem like evolution is without facts, evidence and logic and is more akin to a religious belief.

It’s not an AK-47, it’s more like a battleground where Christian, Jewish and now Muslim faithful have suddenly realised that they aren’t the divine spark of magic within a clay shell like their book says but the product of evolution and they are “just” a very intelligent ape. It’s not a bad thing, but when we say ape, these individuals assume that this is carte blanche to behave like a chimpanzee.

Religion is a uniquely dangerous threat since despite evolution being fact, it is still under threat by religious fanatics who try and shovel their Jesus into science at the cost of evolutionary theory or co-opting it to give credence to their arguments. 45% of the USA do not believe in Evolution which is like saying that 45% of a nation believe that gravity is caused by the gravity fairy.

“There is this strange supposition,” says the American philosopher Jerry Fodor, “that if you’re a Darwinian you have to be an atheist. In my case, I’m an anti-Darwinian and I’m an atheist. But people are so incoherent on these issues that it’s hard for me to figure out what is driving them.”

Well it’s a good think Jerry Fodor is a philosopher! Because it certainly is the only field where you can happily say that you don’t believe in evolution and not be considered a moron.

The neo-atheist cause has been gathering strength for roughly two decades and recently exploded into very public view. Sayeeda Warsi, co-chairman of the Conservative Party, was in the headlines for making a speech at the Vatican warning of the dangers of secular fundamentalism, which aims to prevent religions from having a public voice or role. Warsi, a Muslim, subdivides propagators of this anti-religious impulse into two categories. First, there are the well-meaning liberal elite, who want to suppress religion in order not to cause offence to anybody. Second, there is the “perverse kind of secular” believer, who wants to “wipe religion from the public sphere” on principle.

Let’s see, because all religions have to live under a single set of rules and we cannot have Sharia law for Muslims, Catholic law for Catholics and so on. We live under one law and the law that works the best is secular law. The gripe of these people is that they are being made more and more unnecessary in a modern world and they can no longer get handouts to their faith based on who they know.

And yes, it shouldn’t be in the public sphere. Because nearly every religion is either equal to a secular government where decisions are made sensibly, or worse. I don’t think any Abrahamic faith has anything to give modern society that cannot be gained from a non religious source.

As Warsi was on her way to catch her flight to Rome she heard Dawkins, the supreme prophet of neo-atheism, on Radio 4′s Today programme. He was attempting to celebrate a survey that proved, at least to his satisfaction, that supposedly Christian Britain was a fraud. People who said they were Christians did not go to church and knew little of the faith. Giles Fraser, a priest of the Church of England, then challenged Dawkins to give the full title of Darwin’s Origin of Species. Falling into confusion, he failed. Fraser’s point was that Dawkins was therefore, by his own criterion, not a Darwinian. Becoming even more confused, Dawkins exclaimed in his response: “Oh, God!”

We don’t follow Darwin anymore in biology. The idea of evolution that Darwin proposed and what we have are entirely different beasts. Darwin’s books are actually for all intents and purposes “Wrong”. Accusing someone of being a Darwinist is like accusing someone of being an Aristotlean. We don’t actually study Darwin’s work because it’s now part of literature.

“Immediately he was out of control, he said, ‘Oh, God!’” Warsi recalls, “so even the most self-confessed secular fundamentalist at this moment of need needed to turn to the Almighty. It kind of defeats his own argument that only people who go to church have a faith.”

“Oh God!” is a stock standard phrase derived from blasphemy in the same way that I say “Jesus Christ” when I swear. It doesn’t mean I am turning to Jesus who to me is about as fictional as Asterix the Gaul, it means I am swearing.

It’s a statement of exasperation. No one who says “Oh My God!” is invoking a god but is expressing disbelief with a stock phrase.

“He has taken a very strange position. He’s unusual, in that he came from an elite British Anglican family with all its privileges and then he had this extraordinary career, and now he stands at the head of what can really be called a cult . . . I think what happened was that he has been frightened by the militancy of religious people he has met on his travels and it has driven him to the other side. 

“It smacks of a sort of psychological collapse in him, a collapse in those resources of maturity that would keep someone on an even keel. There is what psychoanalysts would call a deep rigidity in him.”

Hardly. Dawkins has been subjected to criticism from within the new atheist movement. Like every celebrity, he has fans but he doesn’t speak for most atheists.

I ask Fraser what he thinks are the roots of this ideological rigidity among the neo-atheists. “It coincides with post-9/11,” he says. “The enemy is Islam for them. That was true about [Christopher] Hitchens in an obvious way and Dawkins said something like ‘it was the most evil religion in the world’. 

“With Hitchens, it was bound up with liberal interventionism. It is also clearly an Americanisation. It has come over from their culture wars . . . People are pissed off with Dawkins because there is a feeling that we don’t do that over here.”

Actually, most New Atheists live in the USA. There is a massive USA centred movement about them (and indeed this is seen by the demographic) and they are mainly anti-christian. Those who are in the UK however are mainly anti-islamic in their mindset since in the USA the big threat to secular values is Christianity while in the UK the rise of islamic fundementalism represents a threat to secular values particularly in the fact that there are only two opinions in the UK which range from “Islam isn’t so bad” to “Muslims should be put on a plane to wherever it is they came from!”. There is no middle ground between Sharia Court and BNP. It’s frankly irritating that the people who shout “Yeah!” over your shoulder when you criticise Islam are people who want to throw me out with the Muslims!

Islam has MASSIVE problems. It’s a violently reactionary religion. It’s a religion with a terrible history of the treatment of women. It’s a religion which is incredibly anti-education. It’s a religion that doesn’t encourage scientific thought and discourse. It cannot handle criticism rationally. In short? It’s a massive elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about.

When we do talk about it we have charges of islamophobia or racism levelled at us, leaving atheists incredibly puzzled as to why in the UK we have things like Sharia Courts and tolerate the thuggish behaviour of some islamic groups.

For me, the events of 9/11 were certainly a catalyst, the new ingredient that turned the already bubbling mix of anti-religious feeling into an explosive concoction. Coming from a scientific family, I had accepted the common-sense orthodoxy that religion and science were two separate but complementary and non-conflicting entities, or what the great evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould called “non-overlapping magisteria” (NOMA). I first became aware of my own complacency in this regard when I interviewed Stephen Hawking just before the publication of A Brief History of Time (1988). He had become – it was his then wife who told me this – vehemently anti-religious. And in my presence he was contemptuously anti-philosophical.

Hardly. September 11th just made Islamic Terrorism a bit more personal and less about distant people dying in third world nations. It was basically a taste of what people have to go through across the world to a group of people who didn’t have to experience that kind of fear. Atheists came out in force because it was a perfect demonstration of the ills of evil. But remember so did Christianity which nearly turned the war into a bloody crusade.

There had always been an anti-religious strain in science, a strain that had been present since Galileo and which, indeed, had grown stronger after Darwin. In the postwar period, both Francis Crick and James Watson conceded that one of their main motivations in unravelling the molecular structure of DNA was to undermine religion. It was strengthened even further in the popular imagination when Dawkins expounded the outlines of the neo-Darwinian synthesis in his fine book The Selfish Gene (1976). In the 1990s it became routine to hear scientists – notably in this country Peter Atkins and Lewis Wolpert – pouring scorn on the claims of philosophy and religion. They were, for entirely non-scientific reasons, in a triumph­ant mood. The sales of A Brief History of Time had sent publishing advances for popular science books soaring, and the more astounding the claims, the better the money.

Watson and Crick were atheists from a young age and the structure of DNA was a race between Oxford and Cambridge. There were three people who should be credited with the discovery of the structure of DNA. Rosalind Franklin was one of the discoverers of the structure. And yes, why shouldn’t we laugh at religion and indeed philosophy? It’s a group of people who don’t do experiments about the observed while discussing the unobservable while making claims about their conclusions that are not based on an ounce of empirical data.

While observing this, I became aware that the ground had shifted beneath my own cosy orthodoxy. Scientistic thinkers were no longer prepared to accept NOMA, the separate, complementary, non-conflicting realms. In the early 1990s I was engaged in a debate with Dawkins at the World Economic Forum in Davos. He said, to much applause, that the existence of God was a scientific issue. If, in effect, God could not live up to the standards of scientific proof, then He must be declared dead. There were no longer two magisteria, but just one, before which we must all bow.

Are we to simply declare the giant elephant in the room as taboo for discussion. Religion claims  to have an entity that is not only external to the universe but also fully capable of breaking the laws of physics through magic and we are to blindly accept this and carry on with our science and not even take a single measurement? Are we to simply ignore the man behind the curtain?

It was in the midst of this that Fodor and the cognitive scientist Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini published What Darwin Got Wrong, a highly sophisticated analysis of Darwinian thought which concluded that the theory of natural selection could not be stated coherently. All hell broke loose. Such was the abuse that Fodor vowed never to read a blog again. Myers the provocateur announced that he had no intention of reading the book but spent 3,000 words trashing it anyway, a remarkably frank statement of intellectual tyranny.

It was not highly sophisticated. It was a book written by a philosopher with a poor understanding about evolutionary biology, writing about a theory that was nearly 100 years old by that point and had grown based on newer proof.

The argument was a philosophical one and one that simply doesn’t hold true in nature. It wasn’t all hell breaking lose so much as people calling them out for their inherent mistakes when they
tried to play scientist. Basically? Real Scientists in the field simply tore their arguments to shreds because these two individuals failed to realise that science has progressed a lot since the days of Darwin.

Ultimately, the problem with militant neo-atheism is that it represents a profound category error. Explaining religion – or, indeed, the human experience – in scientific terms is futile. “It would be as bizarre as to launch a scientific investigation into the truth of Anna Karenina or love,” de Botton says. “It’s a symptom of the misplaced confidence of science . . . It’s a kind of category error. It’s a fatally wrong question and the more you ask it, the more you come up with bizarre and odd answers.”

No it wouldn’t. The truth about Anna Karenina would be fascinating. Are we to suggest that archeology and paleontology isn’t fascinating because they deal with the past? Love as a study into neurology would be intensely fascinating while not altering it’s meaning one bit. So what if it’s just chemistry? Knowing how it works doesn’t make it less special. The entire point of science is you can ask any question and get an answer through empirical thought. Simply stating that you shouldn’t answer some questions is a ludicrous idea.

The answer demonstrates the futility of the neo-atheist project. Religion is not going to go away. It is a natural and legitimate response to the human condition, to human consciousness and to human ignorance. One of the most striking things revealed by the progress of science has been the revelation of how little we know and how easily what we do know can be overthrown. Furthermore, as Hitchens in effect acknowledged and as the neo-atheists demonstrate by their ideological rigidity and savagery, absence of religion does not guarantee that the demonic side of our natures will be eliminated. People should have learned this from the catastrophic failed atheist project of communism, but too many didn’t.

However we can oppose it’s grasp on our children and indeed on our daily lives which are being influenced by people who lived 2000 years ago and had no idea about the world. Really? Do we honestly think that “Gay Marriage Is Anti Christian” is a logical and sane answer to the modern issue? No! You would have to be a madman to say that you refuse to accept two people’s marriage solely because you believe in the same things as people did 2000 years ago!

It is better to know that we know nothing than claim that we know everything. That’s the difference between science and religion. Science may be truly small but it will get bigger and bigger as we understand more of how the universe works. Religion assumes it knows everything which is why it stagnates and why it’s god is so small, petty and insignificant.

The ideological savagery exists in atheism, but should we point out the actual savagery of faith? The savage verbal assaults on the four gentlemen mentioned earlier are no different from ones we have all faced. This is a problem of humanity irrespective of faith. The problem with faith is that it can encourage a lot of people to assault a single concept. The problem with faith is that it can drive people to actual savagery.

Happily, the backlash against neo-atheism has begun, inspired by the cult’s own intolerance. In the Christmas issue of this magazine, Dawkins interviewed Hitchens. Halfway through, Dawkins asked: “Do you ever worry that if we win and, so to speak, destroy Christianity, that vacuum would be filled by Islam?” At dinner at the restaurant in Bayswater we all laughed at this, but our laughter was uneasy. The history of attempts to destroy religion is littered with the corpses of believers and unbelievers alike. There are many roads to truth, but cultish intolerance is not one of them.

So far this article has been one of strawman after strawman. If it was about learning from religion and genuine criticism about the atheist movement and how to improve ourselves then it would be fine. Instead it’s a ridiculous assault on evolution, mixed in with complaints that people called other people out for making the ridiculous assault on evolution finally culminating in the idea that religion will always exist because people are too stupid and if we get rid of one we would have to deal with a crazier one.

There are many roads to the truth but the truth is singular. The truth of religion and of science are entirely different and science is based on proof and evidence while religion is not. Science does not accept anything as true until proven, while religion accepts things as true before finding proof.