Thursday, November 25, 2010

Evoking tolerance to excuse intolerance at the international level

As it has every year since 1999, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, a group of 56 Islamic states, has proposed a ban on the defamation of religion at the United Nations.  Last year the vote was 81 to 55 in favor, while this year the vote was a less favorable 76 to 64.  The resolution has changed over years in search of a workable formulation:
The resolution was amended from versions passed in previous years in an attempt to secure support from Western nations. Instead of defamation of religion, it speaks of "vilification." It also condemned acts of violence and intimidation due to "Islamophobia, Judeophobia and Christianophobia."
Last year's resolution, as in previous years, focused on Islam and did not mention Judaism and Christianity.
The United States and the other non-Muslim states have generally opposed these resolutions as a limit on freedom of speech.  As the US envoy to the UN committee noted
"The resolution still seeks to curtail and penalize speech," he said. "The changes ... unfortunately do not get to the heart of our concerns -- the text's negative implications for both freedom of religion and freedom of expression."
Within some of the 56 Islamic states, themselves hardly exemplars of freedom and tolerance, any statement that the beliefs of Islam are not true is vilification and unacceptable.  The argument reduces to one of worldview.  On one side, religious law supersedes secular rights, while the other side reverses the order.  A Humanist would look to secular reasoning above revealed law.  So from a Humanist perspective these seemingly tolerant, accommodating and pacific resolutions are not advisable.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Don't take religious proclamations too seriously

The Catholic Church has proscribed the use of any birth control devices since the beginning, and has reaffirmed this doctrine in modern times.  According the Papal encyclical "Castii Connubii" of 1930:
...any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.
The 1966 Papal Commission on Birth Control voted 30 to 5 to allows some use, but Pope Paul VI vetoed this result.  His reasoning including, among others, that such a ruling would allow forced sterilization by governments, and would encourage the abuse and exploitation of women.   But the overriding reasons were simply moral. 

Now Pope Benedict XVI has stated  in an interview that, in some cases, condom use may not be prohibited.  A Church spokesperson is downplaying the significance of the change:
Lombardi noted that the pope emphasized the church's main advice in the fight against AIDS -- sexual abstinence and fidelity among married couples. He cited Benedict's words that the church "of course does not regard it (condom use) as a real or moral solution."
As for the idea that this use is not a "real" solution, this is an example of changing the facts to fit the conclusions.  Of course condom use is a real solution to lower the spread of AIDS and to reap the benefits, economic and otherwise, of limited family sizes.  The bottom line is to live your life as you see fit by rational principles.  Following rules that make little sense simple because someone says he had a vision can lead to regret.  As society changes, those visions tend to update as well.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Doubt in the pulpit

From a non-Faith-based perspective of life, doubt about religion is inevitable.  Holy Books describe frequent and undeniable interventions from Higher Powers over often small matters.  Yet supernatural events that are reliable and repeatable do not occur.  There are no booming voices speaking to us from the sky.  These pages have earlier described the doubt this caused in Mother Theresa, who found some comfort in the idea that the apparent absence is a test.   Others who have devoted their lives are also feeling doubt, although like Mother Theresa, they have strong motivations for not publicly sharing these uncertainties.

Now a project led by philosopher Daniel Dennet is seeking out and interviewing professional clergy that have lost faith.  As explained in the video below, the motivation is to learn more about faith by studying when it breaks down.  And someone who has devoted his life to his faith, and then loses that faith is a clear case of that breakdown.  Why does it happen?  In the example given in this article, the path to faithlessness went through a close study of the Bible:
Jack said that 10 years ago, he started to feel his faith slipping away. He grew bothered by inconsistencies regarding the last days of Jesus' life, what he described as the improbability of stories like "Noah's Ark" and by attitudes expressed in the Bible regarding women and their place in the world.
After learning the history of the Bible, how it was assembled, its origins in various mythological stories floating around in the ancient world, and the different versions, one does not have to be a hardened cynic to conclude it is the work of Man, not of the Divine.  As Dennett explains in the talk, the people he found in the project tended to be bookish and were largely swayed by these types of written arguments.  But the study is still small, as of the talk (from last year) there were only six subjects.  Perhaps more practical, Mother Theresa-style doubters will also appear.  But the results are already interesting to those interested in religion as a psychological and social phenomenon.  This video is recommended for the description of the lives of doubting clergy, including how they maintain their positions while also keeping some measure of self-respect:

Monday, November 8, 2010

Cartoon disproves Darwin?

"Megamind" is an animated movie about superheroes and supervillains that apparently has more meaning than most of us realize.  Part of the story involves a character brought up in a prison and destined to be a villain, yet he overcomes this conditioning.  A Christian movie reviewer finds this to be of particular interest:

And truthfully, this is a moral worth praising, for it reflects the biblical premise that each man and woman is an autonomous moral agent, responsible to God for his or her actions (Romans 14:12; Revelation 2:23b), regardless of upbringing, economic station or even genetics.
It counters secular socialism's sociological garbage that makes victims of us all and would squash the American dream, which contends anyone in a free society through hard work and diligence can improve his station.
Apparently, in the mind of this reviewer, those who believe in a mechanically-functioning world without supernatural influences are against the idea of free will.  Only the true believers who think that Higher Powers have created us (and everything about us), are watching and are influencing, are the ones who believe in freedom.  Needless to say, a Humanist would disagree.  The reviewer is assuming a link between secularism and Marxism, which is apparently the source of confusion.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Positions from revelation against positions from rationality

This past week the Pope had a few unkind words concerning the non-religious, specifically in Spain:
“The renaissance of modern Catholicism comes mostly thanks to Spain. But it is also true that laicism, a strong and aggressive secularism was born in Spain, as we saw in the 1930s,” the Pope said on board his plane just before arriving in the northwestern coastal city of Santiago de Compostela.
Catholicism is still the official religion of Spain, yet there have been considerable steps away from a religious basis for government policy.  To have a convincing counter-argument, the Pope must draw upon more reasons to oppose gay marriage, available abortion, birth control, etc., than revelations and Natural Law.  But those are the domains within which religions operate, so the Pope is stuck calling for people to do what he tells him because that's how things should be.  A Humanist, however, sees the churches as places that can give inspiration to some, and help to others, but should not be given the power to impose their self-created morality on others.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Kerfuffle involving our Holy Men

In 2006, the Ethiopian army took the Islamic Courts Union out of power in Somalia.  That was a group trying to exert strict Sharia law in Somalia (and into neighboring countries).  An remnant called Al Shabaab (The Youth) survived and now has control of parts of Somalia, imposing a Taliban-like society.   They have declared war on the UN, relief workers, other African governments and anybody not sufficiently Islamic to their standard, and are not above using Al-Qaeda-like tactics.  The US State Department designates Al Shabaab as a terrorist organization and therefore illegal to support.  A seemingly distant situation from America's Finest City, but there is a connection.
This week, the redundantly named Mohamed Mohamed Mohamud appeared in court to face charges of collecting and sending $9,000 to Al Shabaab.  Imam of a local Masjid (near El Cajon Blvd a little east of the 15), Mohamud is a leading figure in the local Somali community.  Two other local Somali immigrants were also charged.  They pleaded not guilty, and what happens with the case remains to be seen.  But Al Shabaab does offer an interesting example of the conflagration that religious fervor can inspire.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Our local church releases records

The erosion of the separation between church and state goes both ways.  A San Diego judge has ruled that the 10,000 documents from the Catholic Diocese of San Diego's case can now be available to the public.  In September of 2007, the Diocese agreed to pay $198.1 million to abuse victims, but sought to have the records kept from the public.  After three years, the church lawyers could not delay the release any longer, and they are all out for perusal.   As expected, most of the documents are routine,
But the pages that do involve allegations show a pattern that has become common to clerical sexual abuse cases in other dioceses: Victims and their families were often ignored or called liars; diocese officials transferred priests when allegations were made but never contacted the police; and the San Diego Diocese found parishes for priests being transferred from elsewhere in the country to avoid allegations.
Meanwhile, the Diocese of Los Angeles, which reached a $660 million settlement, also in 2007, is still holding up the release of their documents.  The Humanist position is not to necessarily denigrate one religion over another, but to point out that while religions can help some people, they should not receive special legal dispensations due to their supposedly holy missions.