I was Muslim: The reason I became an active atheist is now why I’m not one

Disclaimer: I didn’t want to write this. I am no one. An insignificant blogger, with no hard financial security, no listing on a best-seller list. I am about as much a threat to rich, older, white men as a mosquito is to a rock. I don’t do this for “hits” (the small amount I make from Freethought Blogs goes to charity. I don’t tell people that since that’s no one’s business, really, but feel it necessary to convey exactly what I’m setting up). There’s so little to be gained from doing this. But perhaps I should. (People who claim I’m doing this for clickbait are to be taken as seriously as those claiming men supporting gender equality do so solely for sexual favours.)

For the few who have followed my writing (hi, mom), you know how much I hate being biographical. When I do write biographical material, it is to add to the largely low volume of ex-Muslim people willing to speak out. They don’t speak out because of legitimate fears, because the culture of Islam, even in Western societies, still carries heavy burdens hard to convey, because unlike a white atheist, a brown one with a “Muslim” name is uncommon. To this day, I’m still being told I “look” Muslim, when I’m wearing jeans and a normal jacket. I can’t escape the weird identity I have and it’s this identity which makes me so angry at the leading figures – i.e. white men – of a movement that changed my life. But I’m more fucking angry at the sycophantic nature of a movement that was supposed to have abandoned sanctity for reason and evidence. [Read more...]

So apparently Christians are the world’s most persecuted people

Paul Vallely writes:

Most people in the West would be surprised by the answer to the question: who are the most persecuted people in the world? According to the International Society for Human Rights, a secular group with members in 38 states worldwide, 80 per cent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians.

The Centre for the Study of Global Christianity in the United States estimates that 100,000 Christians now die every year, targeted because of their faith – that is 11 every hour. The Pew Research Center says that hostility to religion reached a new high in 2012, when Christians faced some form of discrimination in 139 countries, almost three-quarters of the world’s nations.

People suffering, regardless of how much, is terrible. Numbers and facts matter. Resources are determined according to need and requirement. And reality doesn’t always align with our political perspectives.

Vallely doesn’t cite “insulting Jesus”, for example, as discrimination, but rather instances like “Christians… languishing in jail for blasphemy in Pakistan, and churches are burned and worshippers regularly slaughtered in Nigeria and Egypt, which has recently seen its worst anti-Christian violence in seven centuries.”

He continues

The most violent anti-Christian pogrom of the early 21st century saw as many as 500 Christians hacked to death by machete-wielding Hindu radicals in Orissa, India, with thousands more injured and 50,000 made homeless. In Burma, Chin and Karen Christians are routinely subjected to imprisonment, torture, forced labour and murder.

Persecution is increasing in China; and in North Korea a quarter of the country’s Christians live in forced labour camps after refusing to join the national cult of the state’s founder, Kim Il-Sung. Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the Maldives all feature in the 10 worst places to be a Christian.

This is horrible.

UPDATE

Smart commenters are smart. Thanks, folks!

On leaving the “online atheism” community

My friend from “down under”, Martin Pribble, wrote a short post – that has been reworked for Slate – on why he’s “quitting the online atheism community”. Quoting from the Slate piece:

For the last five years I have considered myself an “activist atheist.” I trolled Facebook and Twitter for theists and told them why they are wrong. I made fun of them for their unreasonable beliefs. I would analyze and nitpick their statements, show examples of just where they went wrong and why, and even at times ridicule them when there seemed to be no option left, all in the vain hope that I might be able to sway them to a more rational way of viewing the world and the universe. This could be extremely satisfying, and sometimes I found I could even come to a level of agreement with a believer about the realities of life. I even have friends among my Twitter following who are priests and strong Christians.

But I’m through with it, and I no longer want to be part of the online atheist “community.” What I was once a proud member of, a group who fought against the evils of deliberate misinformation coming from religious groups and people, has become, at least on the surface, a parade of contradiction and caterwauling against theists who have no clue that there could be an alternate viewpoint or understanding of the universe than their own. The times of satisfaction are outweighed by feelings of frustration and hopelessness.

Through the piece, Martin details his frustrations with “debates with theists who make a ludicrous claim, then base their evidence on the very book from which their ludicrous claim originates.” This is because, says Martin, “Faith overrides knowledge and truth in any situation, so arguing with a theist is akin to banging your head against a brick wall: You will injure yourself and achieve little.”

I don’t dispute that and it’s one reason I stopped doing “it” some time ago, at least on this level. I don’t consider what I do entirely comprised of “atheist activism” or “online atheism” – I am part of a blog network comprised of nonbelievers but almost no one here is devoted solely to Bible criticism or undermining religious claims wherever they may sprout. Indeed, for my part, most of what I write on isn’t premised on whether it’s religious madness but just general immoral actions or thoughts.

Martin seems to take this course, too:

“This will not change an awful lot in what I do online. But I think I’ve come to a point where I am only injuring myself if I were to continue engaging in theistic debating about things like the efficacy of the Noah’s Ark story. If someone is espousing beliefs that are actively harmful—i.e., promoting intolerance based on belief systems—expect me to be the first to stand up and say something. I can’t allow this kind of thinking, and if I can help it, I will move to sway the believer into rethinking their position. But this will be done with reason and rational discourse, not with contradicting the finer points of the religious texts.”

However, I’m struggling to understand Martin’s point: Who says online atheism is about debating or “contradicting finer points of religious texts”? Who says it has to be about knowing religious doctrine and theology and focusing on inconsistencies that even most believers wouldn’t know or care about? As I say, I don’t consider what I do atheist activism, but it makes no sense to say that the whole enterprise is not worth engaging because of what appears to be a small – and frustrating – part of it.

Martin also equates atheist activism with online atheism, which is probably unhelpful, since activism exists in multiple formats including online blogging and “real life” protests. Indeed, speaking only of “online atheism”, it can be comprised of engaging in science, morality, politics, history; about argument and evidence. To shrink it down to the worst elements and claim you’re abandoning the whole project is not only fallacious but untrue: Martin himself is not giving up writing about harmful beliefs and articulating bad ideas. He’s just reasonably giving up the part that appears most pointless. And who would disagree?

Martin is an excellent writer and a generally thoughtful blogger. However, I don’t quite understand the point of this piece, who it is aimed at, or what he was trying to achieve by writing it. No one would dispute the frustrations he’s experienced and that his continued efforts are more important in those areas actually harmful (not boring Bible studies and theology); his declaration itself highlights even the importance of the parts he finds frustrating, despite himself giving them up; and it seems unnecessary and fallacious to dismiss the entire enterprise, when online atheism or atheist activism is compromised of a variety of enterprises and disciplines – each of different levels of interest, successes, frustration, etc.

 

Mandela and atheist deathbed conversions

I’m still recovering from (minor) surgery, but I saw some mention of Mandela and atheism being floated around (my limited access to Internet is an additional hindrance to accessing information, along with my limited consciousness). However, thankfully, Jacques Rousseau has done a great job in tackling this subject.

In asserting that Mr Mandela’s “atheism” is another reason to celebrate his life, The Freethinker magazine (and, presumably, those who, like Richard Dawkins, retweeted the story in question) seem to be exploiting… “borrowed interest”, but which you might know better as simple opportunistic exploitation of largely irrelevant details about someone’s life.

I say largely irrelevant, because Mandela’s role involved highlighting what we have in common, rather than our differences and antagonisms. If any of the labels we use to describe religion and related issues could fit, the one that would have the best chance would be humanism, because his relationship to the citizens of the world seemed to transcend the quite limited boundaries offered by religion and its explicit opponent, atheism. The focus in religion vs. atheism is on difference, rather than commonality, and hardly seems either a good fit or a fitting thing to bring up while people are still mourning Mandela’s death. It’s crass, and opportunistic.

Furthermore, it also seems largely a fabrication, or at least a fantasy, that he was an atheist at all. The “evidence” offered in The Freethinker consists solely of a birthday wish to Mandela from a South African atheist, urging Mandela to “come out” as an atheist. In another piece, it’s asserted that “the other [after Andrei Sakharov] great moral atheist leader of the 20th century was Nelson Mandela”, but we’re given no reason to believe this assertion to be true.

Jacques’ final paragraph in the post is also important, concerning double-standards when it comes to nonbelievers claiming great people as “their own”.

Oprah Winfrey and misusing entertainment (and large) platforms

In my latest for Big Think, I use the whole “Oprah denies atheism” affair as a jump off point to examine her larger and damaging approach to thinking.

I don’t view all celebrity as bad. What I worry about is the uncritical or unthinking engagement so many have toward things they adore: From people to video games, nothing is sacred. That doesn’t mean we can’t be sensitive in how we criticise, of course, but neither does it mean our silence for fear of offence.

Celebrities can do good, of course. But we shouldn’t be afraid of calling them out just because their platform is larger than ours or just because they’ve, perhaps, done good in the world. As I indicate, doing good in one area doesn’t absolve you of wrong done elsewhere.

(PS: Please try refer to her as Oprah Winfrey or Winfrey. I have a small annoyance at referring to strangers by first name, who actually have a surname. [Hence, Madonna is fine and is after all her stage name])

Yeah, but what does he mean by “good”? UPDATE

Reuters reports:

The leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics made his comments in the homily of his morning Mass in his residence, a daily event where he speaks without prepared comments.

He told the story of a Catholic who asked a priest if even atheists had been redeemed by Jesus.

“Even them, everyone,” the pope answered, according to Vatican Radio. “We all have the duty to do good,” he said.

“Just do good and we’ll find a meeting point,” the pope said in a hypothetical conversation in which someone told a priest: “But I don’t believe. I’m an atheist.”

Francis’s reaching out to atheists and people who belong to no religion is a marked contrast to the attitude of former Pope Benedict, who sometimes left non-Catholics feeling that he saw them as second-class believers.

The problem is what the Pope means by “good”. [Read more...]