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Posts Tagged ‘Karen armstrong’

Dawkins
I arrived at this debate whilst it was still going on, the new atheist movement had already started going through the motions before I picked up my copy of the God delusion and the debate about lack of evidence of God has been going for hundreds of years. My life prior to the God Delusion, the book that is not my belief in God, had never really involved anything to do with religion to much extent or so I thought. However, after reading just half of the book I started to notice the things what were going on with a new kind of light such as suicide bombers, the conflict in the middle east, the conflict in Northern Ireland, the horrible & nasty things Muslims were doing to other Muslims in Iraq, these things really started to worry me even though they felt distant. This anxiety and worry did not stop there as I carried on reading; in fact I read almost everything I could get my hands on including news paper articles and watching recorded lectures on the subject. To my horror the threat of religion to me started to become so much clearer not just to me either, to all of us the role and place of religion is so intertwined with social norms, our laws and methods of daily living that if religion has anything other than the divine to do with it then we should all be very apprehensive.

So that left me the question; is there anything other than the divine about religion? So I came up with this, Christianity and Islam are very different, they have different laws and boundaries, so if I assume that one of these is right and one is wrong, how do I tell which is the correct religion. Both of these religions pretty much state that nonbelievers should be killed, this is taken from God’s word of either the Bible or the Koran, although conversion is also an option. If one is that of the divine and other a pack of lies, how would God direct me to make the right and noble choice? I feel a general level of distaste towards both of them really and this brings me to the most fundamental point I have ever considered – why do people never seem to really benefit from praying to the correct God and suffer from worshiping the one that happens to be wrong? I am of course, not a God, though I think that I would just at some point say that is enough I am going to give my true followers some weapon, ‘cause I don’t really want to get my hands dirty, which will help them kill off all the nonbelievers, that will be an end to all the fighting and everyone will know where they stand. The response to that by catholics at least is that God needs us to suffer and return that information in order to add towards the knowledge of God, still unless God has some serious special needs that information has already been served and what else can we take from that other than God wants us all to suffer in the most horrible manner possible.

I personally cannot tell the difference between a religion of the divine and the others that are just a pack of lies and no one has ever offered to take me on the journey of demonstrating the divine. There is no evidence of divine, other than some emotional reaction to the world and if all the things I mentioned at the start such as conflicts and attacks did not come from the divine then we need to attack the systems that allow these things to happen. This is the first justification to attack religion. The next justification is taken from Steven Pinker’s study on violent crime, I have used Pinker’s work before, this time it is about the things that we feel compassion towards and how we started to care for others. He used it in terms of why violent crime has been reduced, part of this is due to the circle of expanding empathy, first we only care about our family and others are seen as non-human. It expands over time to include clans, nations, races, both sexes, animals and so on. Each time the circle expands it includes greater numbers of people to whom we then consider the realm of their potential pain and suffering (Peter Singer). In essence we consider the possibility that we could be outside the circle and as a result probably suffer in this event and this changes how we approach & deal with others that are not like us. I carry this on to include people that happen to be born into religious families or societies; I can understand and empathise with them about the possible suffering they might have to endure. If religion causes harm then it is right to attack religion for this.

It is both very easy for me to state religion causes harm and also very difficult, the difficulty comes because often people will disagree with the statement choosing rather the idea that they only benefit. Part of the problem is that once people have purchased into a religion they don’t want to feel that their personal effort, time and suffering is simply the result of their own wrongness and large parts of their life has been wasted. Much like when Marxists argue that the capitalist revolution won’t happen as most people have already brought into the capitalists game, such as owning a house or having money, so they are unwilling to lose that even though they would ultimately benefit in the long run. I will not insult your intelligence here at least half, for a safe bet that is, of all religious activity can be seen as causing harm. The fact that stem cell research might be disallowed in America as the result of a religious debate would harm millions of people in the future who suffer from presently incurable diseases, it is perfectly acceptable to have the stem cell debate based on science and morality not that of religious morality since the law in America forbids this. If governments make decisions based upon their religious convictions this is wrong, it should be decided on by rational thinking and acceptable standards that society as a whole confirm with in an honest presentation of the information. The suffering that religious people could cause to others is great. In Pakistan a blind girl was sentenced to be stoned to death for being a victim of rape, in the end after much suffering and public humiliation she was acquitted, this suffering was the result of women being considered second class and thus outside the circle of compassion in Islam. Religion causes suffering, the humanists try to stop it and this is why attacks upon religion are justified. I care about others suffering and I want to see an end to it.

There are of course religious people that are kind and also humanists this leads me to the next justification, which is the power that is handed over to officers of religion, be it priests or whatever. I have already written about how a Muslim cleric, in my post about Karen Armstrong’s case for compassion gone wrong, that claimed that the polio vaccine was a plot against Islam and this resulted in 2005 in another outbreak and the deaths of children. Why did this happen and for that matter why did the rape of children occur within the Catholic Church by priests? Why are the only people in the UK that are allowed to make public hate speeches about Jewish people and gay people Muslim clerics? Why is the choice of contraception taken away from women who would have under the concept of equal rights be would allowed to choose for themselves? It is at some point that people have handed over their freedom and allowed the officers of religion to have it. You could counter my argument that these officers reflect God’s word; it is however, a false statement to make since God’s word is never all that clear in the first place. It is God’s word to stone children if they talk back to their parents, this as far as I know does not happen in Christian societies which leads me to believe that either the officers made the choice this is unacceptable in which case morality of nonbelievers is greater than that of God or they have made the decision that other matters are more important and that if they try to convince parents of this they are likely to lose them for their other causes. If this is the case why do we allow these officers to tell us what to do in any situation? If you see it like I see it, these officers are not from God but from their own greed for power or money or both. This is why it is justifiable to attack religion.

I fear that this is the point where most will start to strongly disagree with me, let me explain the last point but perhaps in a somewhat clearer way. I have often come across the situation where people claim that God will save them. What I think is happening here is either the event they are going through is either at no point controlled by them, which makes it somewhat understandable or the situation appears to be too difficult for people to deal with. Relying on God to save me, how disempowering is this notion? To accept that God is the only force in the world that could change the events in your life leaves people powerless. I have written about this in one of my earlier posts, the empowerment of people is one of the most important things anyone can do whether this means women taking their power back from men or everyone taking back power from God. As soon as people do this the world becomes a better place and a place were more good things happen than bad things. I remember a Fr. Benedict Groeschel telling this story, it is not word for word but the general direction is the same. There was going to be a great flood and this old couple said to each other, ‘don’t worry God will save us’, so they stayed in their home. The police asked them to go with them to get them out of danger; still the couple ignored the police because they thought God was going to save them. The flood waters started to rise; the fire people came along in their boat and tried to get the couple in the boat and away from danger. Still they refused to leave because they thought that God was going to save them. The flood waters got higher and the couple had to climb onto the roof, then a rescue helicopter came along and the crew tried to get the couple off the roof, still they refused because they thought that God would save them. The flood waters got higher and the couple died! When the couple got to heaven they asked God why he let them die and God replied, ‘you fools, I sent the police to take you to a safe place but you refused. Then I sent the fire service to get you out of the flood waters, still you refused. Last of all I sent the rescue helicopter in my last attempt to save your lives but again you refused. What fools you are!” I could not help thinking the moral of the story was wrong; God took credit for the people’s actions. It was not God rather the police officers, the fire service and the crew of the rescue helicopter who all took part because they were compassionate people that wanted to make the world a better place. How dare God take that away from people? I will vote on the side of empowerment and this is the justification for my attack on religion. It’s proven that people can make the world a better place.

 

To start off with I did talk about the idea of truth, as in there is no evidence to suggest that there is a correct religion, this issue could be explored for pages, I won’t though. A lot of religious speakers point to a lack of intellectual honesty on behalf of those that speak against there being a God, this situation is the wrong way around. An example of this is when Rabbi Shmuley Boteach said in a debate with Christopher Hitchens that circumcision is good since many HIV infected countries are considering it in order to prevent the disease spreading. The argument was ha ha you see circumcision of babies is a good thing; this lacks intellectual honesty, since the reason behind religious circumcision is not the prevention of being infected with HIV it is for other reasons. If circumcision is argued for other reasons then it must be for those arguments which are dealt with when talking about this issue, to side line into other arguments is wrong. It is like me trying to make a bomb to destroy an entire country and in the process creating a free source of energy, no one can deny the benefit of my discovery of free energy but to claim that it was always my intention to do so is not from intellectual honesty, it is a lie, I was trying to create a massive bomb that would kill millions in one go. This is the type of dishonesty that goes around and is presented by religious speakers, dinosaurs on the Noah’s ark is an example of post hoc quick thinking that religious people try to teach as fact. Let me say when I was young and I learnt about Noah I certainly never made any paintings with dinosaurs on his ark. For this reason it is justifiable for me to attack religion.

These are my base reasons for why I attack religion and I have found that most in the atheist movement have similar concepts or combinations of these reasons. Dawkins is very much based on the idea of truth whereas Hitchens is very much based on the idea of religion doing harm. The motive for the attacks on religion is not based on the notion that we should simply attack religion, there are reasons and at the heart of those reasons is a deep caring for others.

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http://news-service.stanford.edu   Karen ArmstrongKaren Armstrong discusses in her Ted presentation the three Abrahamic religions, she is a well educated woman and although she is referring mostly to fundamental extremists I can’t help but apply it to the whole which means that I only agree in part with Armstrong’s points. She comments that compassion is the golden rule of all religions and that only once this is accepted and put into practice does someone truly understand God & the divine. However, there has been an abuse; those terrorists that use the Koran to commit murder and those that ignore the word of Jesus to judge others and commit uncompassionate acts. The conflict is where ego becomes more important than the golden rule of compassion and religion simply becomes a fault line. I agree with this point that people tend to use the surface differences to create a them and us, whether this is religion, colour or football teams there will always be these created divisions. I should not attack religion for the result of some people creating hate or lack of concern for others because of these insignificant differences, if I believe that those fundamental believers (not extremists, just fundamentalists) do show compassion in their everyday lives. Fundamental believers are those that believe in their religion and act in accordance.

So do I believe that fundamental believers show compassion in their everyday lives? Well, no. The evidence suggests that this is not true. Religion does not always live within evidence; I do however happen to live there. I could list a lot of examples here but let me start with just a few. Stem cell research in America could not be possible because religious groups consider 150 cells that could possibly, with no certainty, become a human more important, worth more protection than killing an alive house fly with 100,000 cells (Sam Harris). In Pakistani a sister can be sentenced by law to gang rape for a brother’s crime (Christopher Hitchens). There is a current attack on science that will see many children not taught about evolution because it steps on the grounds of the church (Richard Dawkins). These three examples are not the result of compassion, the first would deny people help from disease, the second is just wrong and the third lacks the rules that compassion allows us to understand others knowledge. I am not saying that some religious people are not governed by compassionate acts, still you cannot pick and choose what examples you’d like to keep hidden and others you would like to demonstrate. If “Religion is compassionate” is a true statement, where all evidence suggests that it is then it goes without saying that if one piece of evidence suggests that it is not, the whole statement becomes untrue. And these examples are not fundamental extremists, they are the norm.

Armstrong commented on her idea for a charter for compassion, where she would get popular religious leaders to sign up and it would help promote compassion within religious settings. As an atheist and God damm proud of it, I find it particularly disgusting that we have to remind religious people to be compassionate and stop causing trouble for the rest of us. I understand the point that is being made, the extremists that have taken over religion are seen as the enemy but that is not true anymore. People do all sorts of crazy stuff in the name of religion and it should never be accepted. As if people need to be taught how to read scripture correctly, as Armstrong suggests, presents a great worry – either they are simply using it for their own ends in which case they will ignore anything a rational person says or they have spent all this time missing the whole point of their own religion. I find this approach a little naive still there is always one choice that people have, people have a choice not to believe in religion at all. If you don’t like what people of the same faith are doing, then you can always leave it no one should ever force you to stay with a faith. If they do, it’s not about faith anymore it’s just about people trying to control other people. Armstrong talks with passion and I do respect her approach, even if I don’t always agree.

Another newspaper article has the same effect on me, where Armstrong comments on the pope’s ill timed statements directed towards Islam, it divides my opinion on her. To start with describing current anti-Islamic feelings in the west based on a historical perspective being that of the last thousand years is a wrong approach to make. I’m not involved in many conversations where such a detailed history is ever discussed and to be fair although there has been a media dominated frenzy in recent years it is not why people can come to dislike Islam. I dislike Islam, Christianity and Judaism, just to be fair I will say that now so this is not seen as an attack just on Islam, they are all equally distasteful. I do agree with Armstrong when she says that the Catholic Church should not judge the position of the Jihad since they are the ones that have caused countless murders of their own, at a much larger scale than Islam. Let’s not forget the role they took of condoms in Africa, they are committing genocide. Still getting back to Armstrong, there are two quotes that I found most interesting in her article, they are:

“But the old myth of Islam as a chronically violent faith persists, and surfaces at the most inappropriate moments.” & “They will convince more Muslims that the west is incurably Islamophobic and engaged in a new crusade.”

Of course, Armstrong here is maintaining her perspective that we should not go back to anti-Islamic thoughts and we should not blame violence on Islam. Let me say that this is a fantastic view on what Islam should be like but it’s not like that, the Islam of the world does not only exist in the Koran. The notion of a violent faith does persists, I could just talk about terrorists but that would mean your thoughts are moved away from Islam in its everyday sense, I don’t want to do that, I want examples you can’t dismiss as the acts of a few. A Muslim cleric claimed that the polio vaccine was a plot against them and this resulted in 2005 in another outbreak and the deaths of children. This is not violent but it still it’s important that children are being affected, there is also abuse of children going on in madrassas and mosques within the EU because they are seen as sensitive areas for police and social workers to enter. Ok so this leads me to the Dutch cartoons, these cartoons 3 of which were never made by the Dutch artists rather an Islamic propaganda organization caused a man in London to dress as a suicide bombing during the protests (the cartoons were never published in the UK), Was this an acceptance of a young Muslim man that violence and Islamic protest went hand in hand? How about the 139 people that died in Danish embassies? Is this a result of a peaceful religion? Sam Harris wrote that most of the crime committed in France was done by Muslim immigrants. These are the things that I hear about and there are lots more examples too, so why does Islam to me seem like a violent religion? Well for these reasons because the arguments are presented to me like so. In this sense I don’t need to understand a historical perspective or even the Koran in order to understand Islam. Still these are real perceptions of what is going on. While there is argument that it is inappropriate for the pope to make these comments, it’s never inappropriate to demand these issues be dealt with before any further discussion.

As I said I reject all religion so this is not me picking out one religion. Armstrong comments that since the 9/11 attacks on New York there has been an increase in unconscious prejudice towards Islam, this is true but at the end of the day every Muslim has to be blamed for this. I will tell you why, it’s because there is a sense that fundamentalist are the ones to blame, this is not the case. It is the moderate believers that are the origins for fundamentalists, if there were not moderates then there would be no fundamentalists. Most holy books are bases of violence that is how they have survived all this time, it’s the moderate approach that allows for the immoderate to use the process. Let’s go back to the idea of religion being used for political means and the case of the cleric stopping the polio vaccine. If we assume that this was just a political move, how did the cleric get support and power to perform these political acts? The answer can only be that religion, even those that of moderate religion supported this cleric because they thought the cleric being closer to God & performing his will and the respect that religion teaches about its own religious teachers. If those two things were not in place the power of one man would have been significantly reduced. Moderate religious people cause more harm than fundamentalists do, that is true across all Abrahamic religions. Look at priests and there abuse of children within the Catholic Church, they were able to do this because people gave priests the power and in turn disempowered themselves & their children. So while I accept that most religious people can be kind and the situation is far more complex than I’m presenting here, my perceptions are valid.

The west has always been Islamophobic, still at least in the UK people have been religion’o’phobic for a long while. Consider the difference between George Bush and Tony Blair, George Bush has tried to move away from religious wars against people to just wars against evil regimes. Religious statements have tip toed into Bush’s comments quite often. Tony Blair had to wait until he left office until he came out about his conversion to Catholicism, the British are suspect of religion and so they should be. Still for the average person on the street in the UK after the recent London suicide bombings they are more phobic than perhaps they were before because all they see is the death Islam can cause. This might be a natural reaction, even if it is not a correct one and it will repair itself with time. If you were to ask me I am more scared if Islamic countries or the USA on the bases of its religious intent directing its action, I would have to be honest and say I am more scared of the Christian USA than any Islamic countries. Both however, are justifiable as violent religions. I don’t agree with Armstrong on many things.

Newspaper article : http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2006/sep/18/religion.catholicism

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