Crommunist exclusive: I interview Ashu Solo

This morning I briefed you on a fight going on in Saskatoon between the city’s mayor and one of its citizens over a led prayer at a volunteer appreciation dinner. Worse, perhaps, than the mayor’s recalcitrance, was the racist and anti-immigrant backlash Mr. Ashu Solo faced as a result of speaking out, despite the fact that he was born in Canada (brown people are easy to demonize). Perhaps even worse than that was the uninformed and lazy reaction from other atheists who decided that, despite not having been there or knowing anything about the situation, they knew the correct way to handle things.

I spoke to Mr. Solo via Facebook and e-mail, and asked him a few questions about the situation. Here is an edited version of his responses*. [Read more…]

Taking them on Solo

I have, in the past, erroneously made the point that Canada’s Charter does not explicitly separate church and state. I thought it was cute and curious that a country like Canada, with a very secular population (particularly compared to the United States), has no need to enshrine and codify the explicit segregation between religious matters and governmental ones. Of course, as with so many things that I just make up off the top of my head, it turns out that I am wrong. Section twenty-seven of the Charter, guaranteeing a right to multiculturalism, has been interpreted by the courts as expressly forbidding government recognition of one religious tradition over others.

Someone should probably tell the mayor of Saskatoon that: [Read more…]

We’ll tread that fine line…

I hope nobody mistakes my approach to racism and cultural tolerance as ‘the right way’. People a lot more well-versed than I am in the vagaries of anthropology, history, sociology, and psychology (just to name a few relevant fields that I am utterly clueless in) have time and again failed to find the surefire path forward to diplomacy and harmony. I can barely sweet-talk women at the bar. If there is a ‘right way’, and I don’t believe that there is one, I’m an unlikely candidate to be the one who comes across it.

That being said, I know that some methods are better than others. There may be few things that we know to be surefire correct, but there are a hell of a lot that we know to be just plain wrong. There are, like logical fallacies or lousy apologetics arguments or privileged whines, arguments that are uttered pre-refuted. We know colour blindness doesn’t work, we know that ‘reverse discrimination’ isn’t what people say it is, we know that dividing the world into ‘racists’ and ‘non-racists’ is a house built on the sand of bad psychology. We can dispose of these arguments just like we can the “well then why are there still monkeys” ‘proof’ that evolution is a liberal conspiracy from the Muslim atheist devil.

Some situations, however, are quite a bit more tricky: [Read more…]

Manufacturing a martyr

One of the valuable lessons that the atheist community has learned in the last little while is that it is possible to provoke a controversy where one didn’t exist before. The formula is pretty simple – make some largely innocuous public statement about atheism, wait for the predictable overreaction from a group of religious folks who just can’t seem to help themselves, and then enjoy as people fall all over themselves to try to shut the atheists up without violating the law. Every time an atheist bus campaign or billboard goes up, we see the same cycle of provocation, backlash, and blowup. It is an extremely useful method of sparking conversation in circles that weren’t talking before.

Now, to be sure, there are often completely non-exploitative motives behind these campaigns as well. Considering the number of atheists out there in the wold who feel completely alone – as though they are a solitary island of sanity in a sea of faith. Letting them know that they more closely resemble an archipelago with other atheists is both comforting and liberating. There is value in bucking the status quo and forcing the majority to contend with the fact that not everyone shares their myths, and that not everyone thinks of their delusion as worthy of praise and deep, abiding respect. That being said, nobody is so strategy-blind as to think that there is no ulterior motive behind the pronouncement that belief is silly (despite occasional protestations to the contrary).

Well it turns out that we are not the only people capable of exploiting such human frailty: [Read more…]

Edwina Rogers: the unanswered questions

Like many of you, I was a bit stunned to learn that the Secular Coalition for America had hired a former Republican operative as their new executive director. Considering the extent to which the Republican party is and has been decidedly anti-secular, the appointment of a party insider to this position struck me as strange. However, I decided to keep an open mind and extend the benefit of the doubt. After all, her political savvy and connections could be useful, and an unorthodox choice like Ms. Rogers would certainly shake things up. So she used to work for the wrong people, so what? People change, right?

Yeah… then I read this:

People are going to do a double-take when they hear a Republican strategist is now the leader of an organization working on behalf of atheists… what do you hope the public reaction will be?

I hope it will be a positive reaction and one that gets everyone thinking about the right direction for the secular movement. Often times, problems are arising from the conservative side and that’s one reason why it’s important to include both sides. The majority of the gubernatorial positions and state legislatures are controlled by Republicans. The Religious Right is a segment of the Republican Party — but it’s not a majority within the party and it certainly does not represent a majority of Americans. It’s a very active, vocal part of the Republican base, but it’s a minority.

I do think that for the vast majority of conservatives and Republicans, they are true believers of secularism — the majority of Republicans believe in the separation of church and state. Many of them are simply laissez faire about the issues, which gives us an opening to recruit them to the movement. Just within the last few months, talking to all my Republican conservative friends, the majority of them are in line with our thinking. They can be recruited, they just haven’t been active.

Hoooo boy. [Read more…]

Learned helplessness

I got hit by a ‘double whammy’ this weekend. First, I watched The Trotsky on the plane to Kelowna (well, part of it – it’s a 30-minute flight). The premise of the movie seems a bit silly – a teenager who believes that he is the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky stages a coup in his high school in an attempt to organize the students into a union. It’s ostensibly a comedy, and is definitely a really funny film – the scenes where he woos a lawyer 10 years older than he are absolutely priceless. At the same time, the climactic scene (where the students charge up to the school with protest signs and righteous fury) fucks me every time I watch it, and my eyes start welling up like I’m a 6 year-old with a skinned knee.

Add to that a long conversation I had with Edwin Hodge about the heights of ridiculousness of post-modern thought (I more or less took Natalie Reed’s position – that post-modern thought can function alongside skepticism to help us critique the ways in which our own experiences and perspective affect truth claims), and whether or not political movements were undermined by the way in which postmodern perspectives can splinter populations that, from the outside, should share a single goal. The point I made to Edwin was that one doesn’t blame a CT scan for discovering problems we weren’t looking for. Postmodern ‘splintering’ is oftentimes simply the exposition of real divisions that exist, and provides a method by which groups who are not commonly represented in the majority group’s interests can keep their needs from being overlooked.

The problem of course is that the infighting that seems to happen – feminist atheists against anti-feminist; anti-racists against those who wish to ignore racism; trans skeptics against gender essentialists – all stem from a common route: the idea that the issues of the minority are not the real problem. Again, this is certainly an idea with easy appeal. After all, if we are a movement of atheists (for example), then our fight is with religion, not an esoteric crusade against systemic misogyny. The problem of course is that one cannot examine problems in isolation, and some issues cannot be extricated from larger, more diffuse problems. What ends up happening is that once the movement solves the “real” problem, the minority goes back to being ignored, having lost those who were allies of convenience. [Read more…]

Islam is dangerous

The extent to which I object to any religious belief is more or less commensurate with the level to which it informs one’s daily life. If you privately believe that the universe is 20 minutes away from being devoured in a ball of flame, but you still do a good job filing my tax returns, it’s really not my place to get all hot and bothered by your delusion. This isn’t to say that, if given the opportunity, I won’t say something about how ridiculous your beliefs are. After all, the truth is important. However, it simply doesn’t interest me to put my shoulders into exposing the irrationality of your particular faith. After all, provided you make no (or comparatively few) life decisions based on it, it’s a bit arch of me to go after it.

Islam, at least insofar as I understand it (and have seen it practiced) is one of those faiths wherein daily observance and connection to day-to-day life is much more persistent. Christianity, by comparison, has fewer daily rituals and practices that mark someone as “a Christian”. There is no dress code, there are no dietary restrictions, few necessary public observances. It is far easier to be a “stealth Christian” than it is to be a “stealth Muslim”. Couple that with daily prayers and the phrase “inshallah” (which one of the guys I work with uses – to be sure, one branch of my family doesn’t talk about the future without saying “God willing”, so that kind of obeisance is not exclusively Muslim), and you get a religion that is very much a ‘live in’ one.

Perhaps the most visible signifier of Muslim belief is the head covering that many Muslim women wear (either by choice or by coercion). I’ve known sisters, both who would describe themselves as ‘observant’ – one wore the head scarf, the other did not. It was very much a choice for them, and I have no quarrel with that. The only thing that weirds me out about the whole practice is the fact that it is an open, visible sign to everyone around you that you subscribe to the belief that women ought to cover their hair for ‘modesty’ purposes. I would be, I imagine, similarly put off by a Catholic woman who wore a wimple or a Hindu woman displaying a bindi (although the bindi is often cosmetic rather than religious).

But one cannot escape the fact that, at least here in North America, there is a lot of danger associated with women who wear hijabs. Danger to the women themselves, at least: [Read more…]

Warm fuzzy religious tolerance

The great religious traditions of the world do not agree on much. They certainly don’t agree on the name, number, type, or behaviour of their various gods. They don’t agree on what happens after you die, what you’re supposed to do while you’re alive, and when life even starts. They disagree about how, what, and when you should eat, pray, and fuck. Even groups that are titularly similar – i.e., different sects of the same religion – have disagreements over how to properly interpret the same passages in their holy books. Basically, there’s a notable absence of convergence when it comes to religion as a method of learning about the supernatural.

One thing they can agree on, however, is the fact that the rising tide of secularism is the greatest threat to mankind. We are repeatedly exhorted to stand up for religious traditions in the face of the threat of atheist extremists pushing religious life to the margins of society. Of course it’s a secret agenda – they wouldn’t dare come for our bibles with guns drawn – the backlash would be unbelievable. No instead they do it by the trickiest mechanism possible – forcing everyone to play by the same rules: [Read more…]

God is dead, from natural causes

It will surprise nobody, I’m sure, to learn that I see myself as an anti-theist. Not content to merely disbelieve, I feel strongly that humans would be better off if nobody believed. Now usually when someone like me makes a statement like that, fingers begin a-waggin’, warning of the various dangers of forcing atheism on people. Folks begin sagely intoning the lessons learned from atheofascist regimes like Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, and the anti-theist zeal of the French revolution. They say that we must ‘live and let live’, since waging a crusade against religion makes me just as bad as those who would wage one for religion.

The point would be a valid one if I had any designs on snatching religion out of people’s lives by force. The fact is, however, that while I think religion is unbelievably harmful, that does not give me the right to demand that people give it up. Freedom of conscience must remain absolutely inviolable if we are to have any kind of progressive, equitable, and just society. Even had I the means to lock up every Bible in existence and ban publication of the Bhagavad Gita, I would never use it. First, because it is wildly unethical to punish people for thought-crime; and second, because I don’t think it would work.

No, the war against religion must be a campaign of the mind, not of military might. The fact is that the strongest case that could ever be made against faith is simply an honest look at what faith is. When stripped of its undeservedly exalted position in public life, religion reveals itself to be its own worst enemy. In the “Rumble in the Jungle” of ideas, religion is George Forman: punch-drunk and completely gassed, seemingly inviting the champ, truth, to push it over and administer a crisp 10-count.

At least, it seems that way up here: [Read more…]

Oh frabjous day!

Two kinda cool things happened recently.

First, remember that sex show in Abbottsford that got canceled a while back?

I mean really, I almost feel lazy writing about this story because it requires so little effort on my part. What could I possibly add to this story? Abbotsford was going to actually have some fun, until the religious folks caught wind of it, and like the proverbial dog in the manger, decided to uphold their reputation as the town from Footloose. Because, you know, drinking leads to touching, and touching leads to those funny feelings that the priest told me was the influence of Satan, possessing your wee-wee. And won’t somebody think of the children?

Yeah, I had a good time with that one. Well guess what – the show is back on! [Read more…]