atheism

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In reponse to the latest crawling from a Student Union over the recent Jesus and Mo fracas, and indeed the recent example of intimidation at an event featuring a dicussion of sharia law and women’s rights:

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Christopher Hitchens has recently been diagnosed with cancer, as has been widely reported.  I hope he makes a good recovery.  And what seems to be the typical response by catholic commentators?

Christina Odone (The Telegraph) is apparently praying for him. Pointless, and mildly irritating.  But Francis Phillips (Catholic Herald – Perhaps throat cancer will move Christopher Hitchens to a change of heart) takes it just a bit too far.  Aside from this (I wonder how effective prayer really is!):

[...] if my own doctor had broken similar news to me I would have been shocked, so he has my sympathy; prayers as well – a more practical remedy.

He suggests Hitchins will have some kind of last minute conversion:

Perhaps visiting his doctor will be a wake-up call for Hitchens?

The brief article is patronising and offensive.  And check out the comments that follow the article at the Catholic Herald.  Over at The Independent, however, Tom Sutcliffe reckons Hitchens might be finding the opinions of the christian axis amusing (Tom Sutcliffe: Hitchens baffles the godly – again).

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The London Evening Standard (Catholics ‘forced film chiefs to scrap Dark Materials trilogy’ | News) reports that US catholic “spokesperson” Bill Donohue successfully led a campaign to prevent film makewrs from completing the Dark Materials trilogy (these thing do always seem to be trilogies).  The article quotes Donohue as saying:

“I am
delighted the boycott worked. Just as the producers have a right to
make the movie, I have a right to protest.

“The reason I
protested was the deceitful attempt to introduce Christian children to
the wonders of atheism in a backdoor fashion at Christmas time.
Everyone agrees the film version was not anti-Catholic, but that hardly
resolves the issue. The fact is that each volume in the trilogy becomes
increasingly anti-Catholic.”

He added: “I knew if we could hurt the box office receipts here, it might put the brakes on the next movie.

“I
also knew this boycott would work because once the word got out that
the movie was bait for the books, Christian parents would take their
kids to see Alvin And The Chipmunks. Which they did, in far greater
number.”

Bill Donohue crosses my radar rather more than is strictly palatable due to the frequency with which he crosses swords with PZ Myers (Pharyngula blog). While I’m not particularly a Pullman fan, I do find it rather pathetic that a major institution like the Catholic Church feels threatened by cinema.

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A new poster campaign from the British Humanist Campaign that suggests people should try to avoid indoctrinating children into religious (and other) beliefs seems to have riled certain sectors of society.  The posters feature a couple of happy kids (of which more later) on a backdrop of ideologies and religions, with a slogan in the font and colour scheme familiar from the atheist bus campaign.

Please dont label me

The billboards seem to antagonise religious people (though notice the grey captions in the background aren’t restricted to religions).  For example in Befast, that hotbed of religious tolerance, we see in the Belfast Telegraph (Humanist poster stirs up religious storm) that

Reverend David McIlveen from the Free Presbyterian Church said: “It is none of their business how people bring up their children. It is the height of arrogance that the BHA would even assume to tell people not to instruct their children in the religion. I would totally reject the advertisement. It is reprehensible and so typical of the hypocrisy of the British Humanist Association today. They have a defeatist attitude and are just trying to draw attention to themselves. I think it is totally arrogant, presumptuous and sparks of total hypocrisy. I believe this doesn’t deserve a counter campaign. I will be expressing my public position on it in my own church on Sunday. I will be saying that this advert is another attack on the Biblical position of the family and will be totally rejecting it.”

I call this sad and pathetic.  It’s not telling people how to bring up their kids, it suggesting we might leave kids to make their own minds up in their own time.  How is it an attack on the Biblical position of the family?  Has the Rev McIlveen read the poster?  Elsewhere the press seems equally exercised.  Ruth Gledhill over at The Times (Children who front Richard Dawkins’ atheist ads are evangelicals) gleefully reports that:

The two children chosen to front Richard Dawkins’s latest assault on God could not look more free of the misery he associates with religious baggage. With the slogan “Please don’t label me. Let me grow up and choose for myself”, the youngsters with broad grins seem to be the perfect advertisement for the new atheism being promoted by Professor Dawkins and the British Humanist Association.

Except that they are about as far from atheism as it is possible to be. The Times can reveal that Charlotte, 8, and Ollie, 7, are from one of the country’s most devout Christian families.

Her satisfaction at this news is shared by a variety of evangelicals.  However the backers of the poster campaign point out that

“That’s one of the points of our campaign,” said Andrew Copson, the association’s education director. “People who criticise us for saying that children raised in religious families won’t be happy, or that no child should have any contact with religion, should take the time to read the adverts.

“The message is that the labelling of children by their parents’ religion fails to respect the rights of the child and their autonomy. We are saying that religions and philosophies — and ‘humanist’ is one of the labels we use on our poster — should not be foisted on or assumed of young children.”

Well, exactly.  And it’s really quite telling that the religious axis seem to be so thoroughly paranoid that they regard any questioning of the indoctrination of children into any belief system – political and religious to be an attack on their superstitious claptrap.

It’s not just christians that take umbrage.  Also from the Belfast Telegraph is this gem:

Father-of-four Sheikh Anwar Mady from the Belfast Islamic Centre added: “We believe that every child is born as a Muslim. Religion is not given by the family, but it is a natural religion given by our God at birth. The role of the family is to teach the traditions of the faith. But that faith is implanted at birth.”

This chap is claiming every child as a muslim.  How does that square with his fellow-travellers in mystic mumbo-jumbo?

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The link to this rather wonderful video clip was forwarded to me by Grumpy Art Vanderlay, my erstwhile cycling team-mate.  It features astonishingly dumb phone-ins from dimwits trying to outclass Austin atheists.  I think this is the perfect alternative to the Skeptic’s rather serious guide to debating creationists (previous blog articles).  It even features Ray Comfort’s ludicrous banana story…

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It transpires (see for example the Not-So-Friendly-Humanist, Freethinker, and Pharyngula blogs) that a student christian union has started an attempt to have bibles placed in each student room at the Edinburgh University Pollock Halls of Residence.

Apart from the sheer arrogance of this approach, this does fill me with amusement.  Back in the late 70s and early 80s, when I was a student at Edinburgh, Pollock Halls appeared to double its occupancy on Friday and Saturday nights following the dread discos (usually closing with the rousing sing-along anthem Hi Ho Silver Lining).  Indeed such frequently carnal activity was reflected in amused comments from University accommodation officers concerning the single beds provided at Pollock Halls.

So, I suppose if passed, the distribution of bibles will be followed with a multitude of other holy books.  Will it extend to the works of L. Ron Hubbard, who’s flights of fancy came a cropper in French courts recently?  After all, Hubbard’s bonkers beliefs aren’t especially unusual in comparison to the tosh found in the bible.

I particularly liked Barry Duke’s (Freethinker blog) suggestion of a warning label that should be affixed to each copy:

I have an upcoming trip to the US – I imagine there will be Gideon bibles in each hotel room I will stay in.  The temptation to affix such labels would be severe…

On the other hand, perhaps the kindly souls at the christian union would consider Robert Crumb’s illustrated version of Genesis.  At least that would amusingly illustrate (probably in a nice earthy sort of way) several elements of the warning label.

Good luck to those who seek to prevent this absurdity.  Students don’t need extra doorstops in their tiny Pollock Halls bedrooms.

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There’s been an admirable atheist bus advert campaign in DesMoines, Iowa.  Firstly, the advert is a bit more “atheist” than the British bus adverts that kicked off the international trend for atheist publicity (the text reads “Don’t believe in God? Your not alone”.  Of course the initial response of the Transit Authority responsible for the buses was to refuse to carry the ads – this decision was quite rightly overturned.

Now, however, and in a parallel to the events in the UK, a bus driver has refused to drive a bus on the grounds that it offends their religious beliefs.  Or something.  Back in January, a Hampshire bus driver was suspended for refusing to drive a bus with the original atheist advert:

A Christian bus driver has refused to drive a bus with an atheist slogan proclaiming “There’s probably no God”.

Ron Heather, from Southampton, Hampshire, responded with “shock” and “horror” at the message and walked out of his shift on Saturday in protest. (BBC – Man refuses to drive ‘No God’ bus)

Exactly the same thing has happened in Iowa.  According to a report in a local news service (DART Bus Driver Suspended Over Atheist Ad),

The Des Moines Regional Transit Authority has suspended a driver who refused to drive a bus bearing an ad for an atheist group.  Angela Shiel was suspended on Monday after she refused to drive a bus with an Iowa Atheists & Freethinkers ad on its side. The ad reads “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.”

Oh, and amusingly there’s an online poll (Vote: DART Driver’s Suspension)!  At the moment, the results are in favour of the driver’s suspension.  Perhaps the poll’s been Pharyngulated…

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There’s a nice article at the BBC News site (Camp offers ‘godless alternative’) about the Camp Quest being held in the UK. Of course summer camps here in the UK are somewhat less established than is the case in the USA, where it would seem from news reports that they often have a broadly christian attitude.

You can find out more about Camp Quest at their website. I’ve been seeing quite a lot of negative comment about Camp Quest in the UK press, much of it rather viciously and inaccurately labelling it as some devious brainchild of Richard Dawkins and aimed at indoctrinating children away from christianity. In reality, Dawkins’ involvement was limited to a donation of less than £500 from the Richard Dawkins Foundation.

The BBC News report makes rather refreshing reading – the kids don’t seem to be suffering indoctrination and appear to be enjoying the experience, despite the poor weather. Indeed several families aren’t particularly opposed to attendance at more christian camps!

The whole focus seems to be on a rational approach to evidence. For example, the camp’s director is quoted:

“If the children were to come up with a question about creationism for example, we would discuss the evidence. We wouldn’t say, ‘Creationism is rubbish’… if they weigh the evidence and think there’s a good case for it.”

One neat touch is the “unicorn task” – the children are told that in the camp lives a pair of unicorns. Unfortunately, these beasts are invisible, can’t be heard, tasted, smelt or touched – furthermore the only evidence to support the assertion of their existence is an ancient dusty tome. The task is to devise a way to disprove their existence.

It’s this amusing task that’s aroused the ire of a churchman, who’s the lone protestor waving placards at the gates, who clearly understands the implications of the task…

I’m not particularly convinced that I’d have enjoyed going to a camp as a child – I’ve never been one for being organised, but perhaps this might have been the one…

Update:  I see a commentator at The Independent also labels Camp Quest as “Richard Dawkins’ five-day atheist summer camp” (Ellie Levenson: An atheist camp is a terrible idea)

Update 2: Note the blinkered nonsense in many of the comments here.  The comments get progressively more stupid, it seems to me (hat-tip – PZ Myers)

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The BBC’s Radio 4 morning broadcast includes a daily slot entitled Thought for the Day, in which religious figures are allowed to pontificate away to their hearts’ content for a few minutes.  In classic religious style, they generally begin with reference to some current news story or topic, then gradually veer off to indulge themselves in a bit of religious posturing.

As a habitually early riser, I catch this slot each morning as part of Radio 4′s flagship news show, Today.  You can see the usual contents of the slot, and indeed listen to some at the Thought for the Day web page.  However, I advise reading the excellent Platitude of the Day website, which offers an atheist’s transcript of each Thought for the Day broadcast.

For quite a long time now, there have been rumblings that Thought for the Day is somewhat outdated, and indeed my view is that excluding a secular voice is rather discriminatory, and suggests that atheists and agnostics don’t have a worthwhile opinion on ethical issues (though I believe Richard Dawkins was given a brief slot immediately following Thought for the Day a few years ago).  Now, according the The Times Online (BBC ponders Thought for the Day: should secularists be allowed?).  So, should the “God slot” be preserved as it is, or should secularists be given a voice?

The three-minute section of the Today programme on Radio 4, which has been derided by one former editor as a “reservoir of pointlessness and boredom”, would be opened up to humanists and secularists under plans being considered by the BBC Trust, the corporation’s governing body.

Amusingly, Mark Damazer (Controller of Radio 4) refers to the issue as a “finely balanced argument”.  Of course the mere suggestion that the various religious groups might have to give way upsets the respective groups, used to getting preferential treatment:

A Church of England spokesman said: “We would strongly resist moves to add non-religious voices to one of the few protected spots in the schedule where religious views on issues of the day can be expressed openly. Thought for the Day is highly valued by people of all faiths and none.”

I suppose that’s true in a way – I value it as a regular comedy slot, fuelled by my reading of Platitude of the Day.  Hanne Stinson of the British Humanist Association, said:

“If it’s right to have a slot within the programme for people to have an ethical perspective on issues, then it should be open to all kinds of people.”

Quite.  But on the other hand, I’d quite miss the daily idiocy offered by a multitude of mutually imcompatible faiths – I wonder whether a rational speaker could really match the absurdity that’s usually served up as a “spiritual view”!

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Platitude of the Day, which always presents an entertaining take on Radio 4′s religious twaddle spot “Thought for the Day”, has excelled itself with its take on the current news story that medical staff want the right to push whatever brand of mumb-jumbo they believe in on the sick and vulnerable (NHS extras).

See also coverage by the BBC and The Freethinker

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