Conversational cruelty

The United Kingdom attempts to enter the 19th century:

The Government recently indicated it is willing to amend the Criminal Justice Bill to abolish the offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel.
And the Archbishop of Canterbury is comfortable enough defending his religion not oppose such a move:

Dr Rowan Williams… said the current blasphemy law was “unworkable” and he had no objection to its repeal.
Or is he? Dr Williams?
The legal provision should keep before our eyes the general risks of debasing public controversy by thoughtless and, even if unintentionally, cruel styles of speaking and acting.
Obviously cruel acts should be outlawed but ‘cruel styles of speaking’? What does that even mean? FM breakfast radio?

Why are so many religious people so insecure that they need the law to protect them from arguments against their belief systems?

You never hear atheists lobbying for laws to prevent criticism of, or cruelty towards, non-belief. Perhaps we have enough confidence in our position. It is the most logical after all.

(Via Butterflies and Wheels.)

Does the decline in religiosity lead to a decline in civic values?

The good news:

Nearly a third of Australian teenagers have no religious beliefs, new research has shown.
The bad news according to The Age: it’s because they are all narcissistic, tight-arse, loners or they soon will be due to their lack of religious faith:
God on the nose with the 'Me' generation.
The research on which said newspaper article is based was carried out by Dr. Michael Mason and Assoc. Prof. Ruth Webber (both from the Australian Catholic University), Dr. Andrew Singleton (from Monash University).

They argue, according to The Age, that:

those with serious spiritual and religious beliefs were likely to be more involved in their communities and donate money … and be more concerned about their society than their non-religious counterparts.
Webber claims that the apparent disparity between secular and religious teenagers is worrying:
If you are secular and there is no other way that you can get an entry into those values, then that's some kind of concern to society as a whole.
I quote the newspaper report because the conference paper and/or journal article is not yet available. I have emailed the authors requesting it.

What is available online, however, is the survey questionnaire (pdf) used in the research. The questions asked cast doubt on the validity of the findings as presented by The Age and the concerns of Webber.

The two questions on volunteer work specifically exclude gaining information on the “organisation or cause” to which teenagers donate their time. Similarly the three questions on donating money ask nothing of the charity, cause or organisation which is benefiting from the respondents’ generosity.

These two omissions are disappointing and somewhat surprising. It may be that much of the time and money religious teenagers are donating is going towards their own church. If this is the case there is little correlation between religious faith and generosity as such. Rather these donations can be better classed as a hobby.

If, in fact, as the researchers and the newspaper article seem to imply, religious faith is correlated to generous actions which benefit wider society then there is cause for concern. As religiosity declines, such a correlation would mean that donations of time and money will also decline.

Yet is religious faith really the important variable here? It’s much more likely that participation in church life gives teenagers more opportunities to donate time and money. It forces them, as such, into situations where collective action is more likely.

If this research proves trustworthy, and the inevitable decline in religiosity leads to a decrease in teenagers donating time and money, it may be up to the secular community (if there is such a thing), among others, to foster spaces in which young people can come together and become more involved in the wider community.

Rape victims require additional punishment

Should a rape victim who takes the morning-after pill be punished for murder?

In an illustrative and disturbing example of how religious belief can lead to immorality, some Christians say yes.

Craig S and Tony J believe that rape victims who conceive must be forced through 9 months of pregnancy and forced to give birth to their attacker's child.

The reasons for such an immoral position: Chris and Tony believe in the existence of souls.

According to most Christians, at the moment conception takes place, god inserts the zygote with a unique soul. And it is the soul that has the real value.

As a result, preventing the fertilised egg from implanting in the wall of uterus, which emergency contraception sometimes does, is the moral equivalent of killing a young child, or a human of any age for that matter.

Instead of basing our moral reasoning on the facts, for example the pain and suffering caused by forcing a rape victim to give birth, the completely unfounded belief in souls forces Christians to place great value on a zygote.

The "interests" of a couple of cells, impossible to see with the human eye, devoid of the ability to think, dream, suffer or experience happiness wins out over a rape victim.

And should said victim try to prevent the implantation? Chris:
I (and some of the other commentators) actually think a fetus is an actual person, and killing it is an actual murder... If 15+ years is what you would get for killing a 1 day old baby (I'm not sure it is), then yes - 15+ years would be appropriate for perpetrating an abortion.

Divine misogyny

Some people, when speaking of god, will refer to him/her rather than just him. The idea seems to be that god doesn’t have a gender or that god may be a women or perhaps that god is both man and women.

Such wishful thinking will never take place on this blog. If god exists and has a gender he is most definitely a man. And he hates women:

If you claim to be a religious person, you are not a feminist, nor if you believe men and women are inherently equals can you claim to believe in the fundamental beliefs of any religion.
From the Quran:
4:34 Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other... So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them.
From the Bible:
Leviticus 12:2 If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days... 12:5 But if she bear a maid child, then she shall be unclean two weeks.
From the Laws of Manu (part of Hindu scripture):
Law 148, Chapter V In childhood a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead to her sons; A woman must never be independent.
In Buddhism, the Tibetan kind, we are yet to see a female Dalai Lama.

Despite all this, 72% of women in Australia belong to an organsied religion while the same can be said for only 67% of Australian men.

What's with the lowercase g, g?

John Halton appears bemused (also mentioned here) by the lowercase beginning to the word “god” on this blog and among atheists generally:

Oh, and what is it with atheists these days saying "god" in lower-case all the time? It wasn't like that back in my day. I'm not a Buddhist, but I can still bring myself to use a capital "B" for the word "Buddha". Ditto "Allah", "Krishna" and "Flying Spaghetti Monster".
The distinction between Jesus (or Buddha, Krishna etc.) and god is useful. Jesus is a person, real or otherwise, while god is an idea, like liberalism or justice. When god is written with a capital g the writer is saying that the idea of god is more grounded in reality that it actually is.

Some will argue that god is not an idea but a name. When a Christian says I believe in god, she is referring to a specific entity. Yet, if you accept that god is a name, in the same way Kevin Rudd is a name, strictly speaking both “God” and “god” correct. You could call our Prime Minister a “father” or you could call him “Kevin”. In the same way you could call the Christian god “God”, his name, or a “god”, what he is.

Seeing as god is more of an idea that an actual entity, the lowercase “g” is more suitable.

"Our own religious lunatics are in a better position to understand that people really believe these things"

Sam Harris, in the above, often simplistic, interview, makes the argument that those on the political left are unable to properly comprehend religious fundamentalism:

They don’t know what it’s like to really believe in god… To be sure the book they keep by their bedside is the literal work of the creator of the universe and that death is a merely a passage to an eternity of happiness…
The inability to imagine or relate to such religious fervour, leads “liberals” to discount the motivational aspects of religious belief. When confronted with a Muslim suicide bomber, Harris argues, they are likely to discount the expressed motive and instead look for economic or political reasons to explain the act of violence.

Most of the people I know are religious moderates and secularists, to use Harris’s terms. As such, I do find it very difficult to comprehend a religious faith so strong that death is embraced.

But is Harris, because of his focus on religion, downplaying other causes?

Humans are complex and when a person takes the radical step of murdering strangers, while simultaneously killing themselves, multiple factors are likely at play.

His general point stands however. Those with little experience of religion, or religious fundamentalism, must be careful when dismissing the religious beliefs of violent extremists.

Pandemic that kills 2.9 million per year a blessing

The late psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross opined:

I’m sure that, 25 years from now, we’ll see AIDS as an incredible blessing because it forces you - it literally forces you - to take a stand and make a choice based on either love or fear.
How could a trained doctor, "who worked tirelessly with AIDS victims", characterise a such horrible disease in such positive terms?

Kubler-Ross was:

a firm believer in a god and the life hereafter
She held that there is:
no such thing as death
Her belief in heaven caused her to devalue life on earth - the only one we have - and allowed her to see a fatal disease as a blessing.

Bryan Patterson, Faithworks columnist for News Ltd, quotes Kubler-Ross approving, to prove what I'm not sure, even claiming the psychiatrist:

did much to prove the existence of an afterlife
Patterson doesn't bother with anymore detail but Kubler-Ross' proof appears to rest on anecdotes from patients who believe they saw:
a shining light and familiar faces, before being brought back from the brink. Many doctors believe these are hallucinations connected to the physical process of death and not afterlife previews.

Proof of dangerous megalomaniac's divinity irrelevant

Bryan Patterson nails it:

There is no room in this story for regarding this Jesus as merely a good spiritual teacher. He was either a dangerous megalomaniac, a liar or what he said he was.
As Bertrand Russell points out, Jesus:
certainly thought that His second coming would occur in clouds of glory before the death of all the people who were living at that time… The early Christians did really believe it, and they did abstain from such things as planting trees in their gardens, because they did accept from Christ the belief that the second coming was imminent.
He also believed he could cast devils into a herd of pigs (Mark 5:13) and spent 40 days hallucinating in a desert ‘talking’ to Satan (Luke 4:2).

On this small collection of evidence, "liar" or “dangerous megalomaniac” look more likely. But Patterson being a Christian, believes Jesus is who he said he was. On what basis?
Jesus is a living and loving being involved in the rebirth of those who want it. In that sense, there is no need for historical proof.
Just as well there is no need for evidence. None exists.