Category Archives: Christian

The Institute of Ideas think-tank has accused fellow secularists of engaging in a “New Atheist witch-hunt” over the Pope’s upcoming British visit

The Institute of Ideas think-tank has accused fellow secularists of engaging in a “New Atheist witch-hunt” over the Pope’s upcoming British visit. They say that the tenor of the criticism of the pontiff and the Catholic Church “is in stark contrast to their own professed views on tolerance.”

http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/13091

Holocaust Memorial Day – The exploitation of religion

Armaments Minster Albert Speer describes how Hitler considered the church as something “that could be useful to him” and “indispensable to political life”. (Speer 1970: p148 ) It appears he did not want the church replaced by any “party religion” and he was opposed to the alternative mysticism (that was popular amongst some Nazis) that might take its place. However the Christianity that Hitler wanted to preserve, was one that leant to adapt to the political goals of National Socialism” (p149).

Instead the Church tried to oppose his plans and the Nazi party and SS instructed his followers to leave the Church. But even then Hitler appeared to want to maintain some ties by ordering Goering and Goebels to remain, as he did himself until his death. Continue reading

Holocaust Memorial Day – the religious context

In 1933, when the Nazis came to power in Germany, the Jewish population of Europe stood over nine million. The Nazi campaign to exclude and persecute Jews, and others, as “life unworthy of life” began. By war’s end, close to two out of every three Jews in Europe had been murdered in the Holocaust.

Although Jews were the primary victims of Nazi racism, others targeted for death included tens of thousands of Roma (Gypsies) and at least 200,000 mentally or physically disabled people (source:www.ushmm.org). As Nazi tyranny spread across Europe, millions of people were persecuted and murdered. More than three million Soviet prisoners of war were murdered or died of starvation, disease or maltreatment. The Nazis killed tens of thousands of Polish intellectual and religious leaders; deported millions of Polish and persecuted and incarcerated homosexuals.

It is also important to acknowledge the experience of atheism and atheists under the Nazis, although we should be careful not to let this become our primary motive for remembering the Holocaust –  the terrible events were a travesty for humanity in its entirety. Continue reading

Obama, religion and civil society

Madeline Bunting discusses Obama’s religious faith in today’s Guardian in particular his understanding of religiously-motivated civic activism:

Obama’s faith cannot be explained away as political opportunism to meet the conventions of American politics. The conversion was well before a political career seemed possible; besides, his faith has dragged him into plenty of controversy during his campaign. Recently, liberal secular allies have been shocked by his decision not to dismantle, but to take over and expand, Bush’s controversial flagship policy of funding faith-based organisations to provide social services. Even worse, he has chosen the evangelical preacher Rick Warren (opposes gay marriage, anti-abortion but passionate on social justice and climate change) to deliver the prayer at the inauguration. The point is that Obama has not wavered in his passionate faith in the progressive potential of religious belief since he first encountered it in south Chicago in community organising. He was in his 20s, and for three years he was trained in a politics based on a set of principles developed by a Jewish criminologist and an ex-Jesuit with borrowings from German Protestant theologians.

Obama described these three years of community organising as the “best education I ever had”. Michelle says of her husband that “he is not first and foremost a politician. He’s a community activist exploring the viability of politics to make change.” Continue reading

Appointment of equalities commissioner criticised

The appointment of Joel Edwards – general director of the Evangelical Alliance- to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has attracted criticism because of his public anti-gay views, highlighting the tensions between the religion and belief and sexual orientation ‘equality strands’.

Atheist and gay rights groups have questioned his committment to the EHRC’s aims to “work to eliminate discrimination, reduce inequality, protect human rights and to build good relations, ensuring that everyone has a fair chance to participate in society.” Continue reading

Raising children in a religion – abuse or stability?

Next up to take on Richard Dawkins is the Guardian’s Anne Karpf. She begins:

If Richard Dawkins had his way, a fair number of you and, as it happens, me, would be had up for child abuse. According to him, that’s what religious indoctrination of children by their parents is. And if you can sue for the long-term mental damage caused by physical abuse, he argues, why shouldn’t you sue for the damage caused by mental child abuse?

If you accept Dawkins’s characterisation of religion, you’d probably agree. Religious parents, to him, are Mr Dogma and Mrs Bigot: they terrify their kids with tales of eternal hell, fire and damnation, when – that is – they’re not carrying out female circumcision or coercing them into forced marriages. Flat-earthers the lot, they’re brainwashers, fanatically opposed to science and rationality.

Isn’t it curious that we tolerate the stereotyping of religion in a way we’d never abide with race, religion [sic] or gender? I certainly don’t recognise myself in this caricature.

Hmmm in fact Karpf is the one doing the misprepresenation here. Continue reading

So what is secularism then?

A subject close to the O Project’s heart– can religious and non-religious people work together on the secularist project? Giles Fraser accuses the National Secular Society (NSS) in the Church Times of “trickery…with respect to the word ‘secular'”:

I contend that the core meaning of secularism is the belief in the separation of Church and state. Religion, the secularist contends, ought not to have a place in shaping the laws or political realities by which we live.

…The NSS often employs this meaning of secular, especially when it is trying to look grown-up in making representations to government. Thus it says it wants “a society in which all are free to practise their faith, change it or not have one, according to their conscience”. It goes on about the importance of public space being open to all, irrespective of faith.

Yet, not far below the surface, another meaning of secular breaks out. Continue reading

Virtues linked to faith?

Canada’s National Post reports on new survey findings that religious believers are more likely than atheists to place a higher value on love, patience and friendship.

The researcher is reportedly claiming that the results could be a warning that Canadians need a religious basis to retain civility in society since those who are involved with religious groups are being exposed to a whole range of values that are not being propagated well by any other major source.

Although “he acknowledged that many non-believers still place a high value on morality and ethics” he attributes this partly to “a legacy from previous generations who held deeper religious views.

The smallest difference was in relation to the value of honesty (94% theists vs 89% atheists valued honesty) which the report notes is the least “emotional” virtue.

But as Justin Trottier, executive director of the Centre for Inquiry Ontario, points out the categories are not culturally neutral and are framed around Christian values ignoring other qualities such as “scientific thinking”, “Critical thinking” or [my own suggestions] equality, and respect for human rights.

Furthermore both Trottier and the study’s author acknowledge that claiming virtues is not the same as enacting them and so it rather than (or as well as) exposing people to the values themselves, religious organisations might merely be exposing people to the language and rhetoric of virtue.  And as Trottier says “Religion tends to be very polarizing, so religious people always feel very passionately about those values. They always feel ‘very strongly.’ Religion always does this black-and-white thing. An atheist is a lot more temperate, a bit more hesitant. An atheist might be more nuanced in his or her thinking.”

We should instead look to people’s deeds.  Of course we humanists should not be so defensive that we can never accept an unpleasant portrait of ourself (just as we would hope religious people can be accepting of their faults). These virtues are not things that we will ever have too much of but it does appear that this survey only tells part of the story.

Social virtues graph

Bishop implies UK gun crime is a result of secularism

Rhys JonesThe Church of England website Religious Intelligence reports that the Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Rev Graham Dow, (yes he who blamed Britain’s floods this year on pro-gay legislation) is now suggesting that the tragic murder of Liverpool schoolboy Rhys Jones is the direct result of the country’s low religiosity.

In an open letter to his diocese he wrote that

“the Government has highlighted respect as a key issue which our society faces in the hope that this will bring about change. But respect will not come just by talking about it….I was in discussion recently about these issues with someone who declared herself to be an atheist. Her answer to the problem was education. Proper education, she insisted, will direct people in right paths.

Note that he specifies that she was an atheist

When I said to her that she was ignoring the Christian history from which our values have come, I could see her anger was beginning to rise. Many people think like her – that better education will solve the problems.

But that ignored the fundamental Christian truth that we are by nature sinful and need to be changed – on the inside, says Bishop Dow.

And to ignore the Christian faith is to ignore the way to inner change….People do not like to hear that so much of what we cherish in our society has come with our Christian history and that by ignoring Christian faith we are undermining the very values we want to keep.

Not only does this opportunism make the Bishop sound like he’s playing the worst political games with a terrible event but it’s untrue – religious belief actually correlates with high murder rates (not to mention abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research published in the Journal of Religion and Society in 2005).

Hindu leader urges British Christians to end ‘intolerance and division’

Anil BhanotEkklesia reports that Anil Bhanot, the general secretary of the Hindu Council UK, has written to some of the main Christian leaders in Britain to express his ‘growing concern’ at divisive elements between religions, urging them to root out and stand against intolerance and religious dogma.

He also calls for an end to what he calls “predatory” missionary activity where followers of one faith seek to convert those of another. He has written separately to The Secretary of State for Community and Local Government, Hazel Blears MP, asking her to consider introducing legislation against “underhand conversion techniques.”

Creationism in the UK – do you want the good news or the bad news?

The good news as reported by Ekklesia is that in England “after a number of requests from teaching unions and civic bodies, including the Christian think-tank Ekklesia and the British Humanist Association, the UK Department of Children, Schools, and Families has issued guidance for teachers uncertain whether and how to discuss creationism – which is rejected by both scientists and theologians as lacking factual and theoretical value.

A statement on Teachernet, a government website, states that “Creationism and intelligent design are not part of the National Curriculum for science” and describes “intelligent design” as “a creationist belief” that “is sometimes erroneously advanced as scientific theory but has no underpinning scientific principles or explanations supporting it and it is not accepted by the international scientific community.”

Not only is it good news that creationism is being clearly put in its place but it is also a demonstation of how religious and non-religious bodies can work together on common causes. Archbishop of canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has also described creationism as “a category mistake” in religious thought.

The bad news is that in Northern Ireland the Department of Education has said the teaching of alternative theories was a matter for schools. Continue reading

Different beliefs are united but unheard in calling for fair and equal education

Simon BarrowEkklesia’s Simon Barrow writes in Comment is Free that Gordon Brown was right to use biblical language at the Labour Part conference against those employing religious rhetoric to oppose diversity and equality in family policy.

He goes on to argue thast “a similar pluralist case now needs to be made in relation to faith schools – where the government’s desire to ease its finance problems and promote social cohesion is misguidedly colluding with the wishes of some leaders of faith communities (not least the Anglican and Catholic churches) who are looking for a new role and new credibility in their battle against long-term decline and public indifference.

At the moment, the case against the selection, segregation, employment restrictions and discrimination wrapped up within the pro-faith schools agenda is being heard as an essentially “anti-religious” one. The exclusive tenor of some secular groups is not helping with this, given the sensitivities involved. Continue reading

Is fundamentalism a revolt against secularism?

Interviewed  in the current edition of Islamica, famed theologian Karen Armstrong is asked “What has made Fundamentalism, seemingly, so predominant today?” She answers 

“The militant piety that we call “fundamentalism” erupted in every single major world faith in the course of the twentieth century. There is fundamentalist Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Sikhism, Hinduism and Confucianism, as well as fundamentalist Islam. Of the three monotheistic religions-Judaism, Christianity and Islam-Islam was the last to develop a fundamentalist strain during the 1960s. Fundamentalism represents a revolt against secular modern society, which separates religion and politics. Wherever a Western secularist government is established, a religious counterculturalist protest movement rises up alongside it in conscious rejection. Continue reading

Religion and politics don’t mix says Muslim

Firas Ahmad, deputy editor of Islamica Magazine warns of the dangers of mixing religion and politics. He recounts how  the evangelical political lobbying group Moral Majority were so concerned with the perceived immorality and secularisation of liberal America that they aligned themselves with right-wing politics and in the process founder Jerry Falwell “did more to diminish the dignity of belief than he achieved in limiting the sinfulness of modern life.”

Jerry Fallwell and Ronald ReaganWhen the previously unreligious Ronald Reagan stood against, believing evangelical Christian, Jimmy Carter in the presidential electionsm it was only when “Reagan guaranteed Falwell his full support against abortion, the future president rediscovered his religious roots and Falwell tasted the spoils of his first major political victory.”

The damage that this does to the moral voice of religion is “apparent in a poignant scene from the recent documentary, “Jesus Camp.” In it, an enthusiastic 12-year-old boy, steeped in evangelical ideology, rejects global warming as liberal nonsense. There is no reason for Christianity to take an ideological stand against protecting the environment. However, there is every reason for politicized Christianity, allied with Republican interests, to reject global warming on behalf of large oil companies. Religion is never more meaningless than when it becomes the pawn of political or economic ambition.” Continue reading

Ramadan for humanists?

MosqueRamadan Mubarak!

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar in which Muslims fast from dawn until dusk. This month is considered important by Muslims for a number of reasons. They believe:

1) The Qur’an was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad during this month

Because of this, and Muslims attempt to recite as much of the Qur’an as they can during the month. Most mosques will recite one thirtieth of the Qur’an each night during the Taraweeh prayers.

2) The gates of Heaven are open
3) The gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained up in Hell

Muslims believe that their good actions bring a greater reward during this month than at any other time of year, because this month has been blessed by Allah. They also believe that it is easier to do good in this month because the devils have been chained in Hell, and so can’t tempt believers. This doesn’t mean that Muslims will not behave badly, but that any evil that they do comes from within themselves, without additional encouragement from Satan.

But even without the religious elements Ramadan are still inspiring occasions that non-religious people could learn from. Continue reading

Why Christians should take Richard Dawkins seriously

“It’s easy to get annoyed, but Christians really ought to listen to and take seriously what Richard Dawkins has to say” suggests Richard Skinner, writing for the ever-thoughtful Ekklesia.

That’s not to say he agrees with Dawkins for he thinks the critics of Richard Dawkins are largely right (although he concedes that Dawkins “make a number of valid points, particularly relating to the role of religion, and Christianity in particular, in the life of this country”). 

But he does state that “the straw God that Dawkins sets up and then demolishes is often uncomfortably close to the notion of God that we Christians all too frequently seem to talk about, pray to and worship. Continue reading

German Cardinal uses Nazi term to describe atheist art

Cardinal Joachim Meisner Hot on the heels of yesterday’s post about about art and the non-religious, Deutche Welle reports that Germany’s Cardinal Joachim Meisner has triggered a storm of criticism by describing atheist art as “degenerate” when speaking at the blessing of his archdiocese’s new art museum, the Kolumba, in the heart of Cologne, on Friday.

“Wherever culture is separated from the worship of God, the cult atrophies in ritualism and culture becomes degenerate,” he said.

Deutche Welle reports that “the word “degenerate” is hardly ever used in Germany today because of its known association with the Third Reich.

The National Socialists’ aggressive persecution of artists whose works did not conform to their ideology culminated in 1937 with the infamous Munich-exhibition called “Degenerate Art” in which a collection of modernist artworks was displayed, accompanied by texts deriding the works. Continue reading

Complaints about comedienne who made a point of not thanking God

Kathy GriffinOn the O Project’s list of ways to support the Project’s aims is the suggestion to “be less modest about doing things because you are a humanist, for example, if you are ever interviewed by your local radio or newspaper about charity or community work you are invovled in, don’t be afraid to mention that a motivation was your non-religious ethics (if true!)”

In perhaps a similar vein (although not exactly what I had in mind), when American comedienne Kathy Griffin won a creative arts Emmy last weekend for her hit program “My Life on the D-List”, Commondreams.org reports that she remarked that “a lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus… This award is my god now.”

The website adds that the Roman Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights called her remarks “vulgar, in-your-face-brand of hate speech” and the Academy of Television Arts& Sciences (which oversees the Emmy awards) decided that they would cut the “offensive” elements before broadcast.

Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists responded that “Celebrities can go on national television to ‘thank’ Jesus, or Allah, or Scientology for their success, but an Atheist cannot make an honest and forthright statement that their success came from developing their talents and working hard.”

American Atheists are now urging people to contact the Awards to complain about the decision.

You can now see the offending speech on Youtube

28% Britons believe in God but only 17% Britons think religion is beneficial

The Sunday Times reports that 42% of 2,200 people taking part in a poll carried out by YouGov considered religion had a harmful effect. 17% thought the influence of religion was beneficial.

16% of those polled called themselves atheists; 28% believed in God; 26% believed in “something” but were not sure what; and 9% regarded themselves as agnostics.

43% said they never prayed, 31% hardly prayed, and 10% prayed every night.

When we asked which of the main religions was ‘most effective’ in getting its message across, 32% said Christianity and 10% cited Islam.

You can’t just be the President of the Christians

Bishop Thomas Dexter (T.D.) JakesBishop Thomas Dexter (T.D.) Jakes has written to Time magazine with an encouraging attitude towards the interest in the faith of presidential candidates:

“As you pointed out in your cover story on the Democrats and religion [July 23], God has become pivotal in presidential campaigns—something I could not be more heartened to see. We are a country composed of atheists, agnostics and all brands of faith. In order to be an effective leader, you can’t just be the President of the Christians. It insults our intelligence to assume that we would let difference separate us. While faith is important, it does not negate our ability to make intelligent decisions about our leaders.”