I’m an atheist and the screenshot of a Facebook discussion thread below is what some people would like to do to me and other atheists. Is it representative of all Christians? No, of course not. The point is though that there are tenets of the Christian religion that do call upon this type of bile and venom towards non-believers. It’s like how ISIS and Islamic countries respond to some other Muslims, infidels and those who have committed apostasy. The point is that apologists of Islam, will excuse similar sentiments below by saying, “Oh that isn’t representative of Islam”. Well let’s just ask those who express such sentiments towards non-believers and ask if they are representing Islam. They would say, “Yes.” Let us ask the people below in this screenshot and ask if they are representing Christianity, and without a shadow of a doubt, they would say in resounding unison, “Yes!”
Archive for Religion
This week, the publicly funded radio station, National Public Radio fired prominent news analyst Juan Williams for airing comments he made on Fox News. His “offense” was that he did not tow the liberal line of NPR while commenting on NPR’s conservative opponent Fox News. Williams made the comment to Bill O’Reilly how, “When I get on a plane and see people in Muslim garb, and I think they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get nervous…” NPR CEO, Vivian Schiller described in an email to other NPR stations how Williams had crossed a line between being an Analyst and a Columnist and not in compliance with NPR’s editorial style. The firing of Juan Williams’ raises the debate of the impact of political correctness upon free speech.
Political correctness has stopped debate of delicate or controversial issues in its tracks. In the wake of the September 11 attacks of the World Trade Center, comments like Williams’ would probably have been perfectly admissible in the media. The media would have been sympathetic to such a sentiment because they would have been aware that it would have resonated well with a fearful public that watched, read or listened. The media fed off of the “Islamaphobia.” During the time since September 11, Western media and governments entered a new era of placating to and appeasing to, in the name of political correctness to Islam. So much so, that legally binding Sharia courts now operate in the UK to settle civil disputes since 2008. The naive view of cultural relativism has facilitated a system of double standards.
There was nothing wrong with Williams’ statement. He was absolutely right in that “political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don’t address reality.” NPR played into the hand of the right wing media by firing Williams. Fox News immediately snapped up Williams with a $2m per year contract. It is disappointing to see the very things that progressives fought for, such as pluralism, and then watch them slowly dismantle such ideas by making delicate subjects taboo. In an attempt to foster tolerance, we’ve tolerated the intolerable; censorship and appeasement of an oppressive faith-based ideology.
“Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society… then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them… We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.” ~ Karl Popper
When the emergency technician is about to apply CPR, nobody says: “Wait! Let’s pray first.” exclaims a quote from the Skeptic Dictionary
Well it turns out this may actually be the case in some instances. Biologist and science blogger PZ Myers reports on his blog post how the US government is funding metaphysical methods for promoting health and well being. It is hard to believe that a state department is advocating metaphysical baloney, but the evidence is loudly and clearly displayed on the US Department of Health and Human Services’ website.
The Healthfinder.gov website content includes an article, Can Hands-on Prayer Help Heal? The article cites a bogus peer-reviewed study published in the September issue of the Southern Medical Journal. The peer reviewed study on “proximal intercessory prayer (PIP)” is the epitome of bad science at its worse. Proximal Intercessory Prayer is a euphemism for “abracadabra” and is a made-up term to describe incantations to the almighty for favors. The study on hearing and sight impaired subjects in Mozambique is bogus because it violated at least three basic scientific method protocols rendering it scientifically flawed. Miraculously, the study passed the peer-review process.
A scientific experiment requires subjects to be randomized groups that include a control group and measurable variables. The study was suppose to test the power of prayer on 23 non-randomized sight and, or hearing impaired subjects. The so called improvements that resulted in prayer were anecdotal rather than empirically based. Anecdotal is testimonial and therefore subjective.
The article on healthfinder.gov states, “And while they don’t discount that much of the results may stem from a placebo effect, benefits did seem to occur in some individuals.” The placebo effect is what clinical trials of treatments test for and compares it with the real drug for true effectiveness. Just because the placebo effect may work in some cases, does not make it effective treatment for all or anywhere near most individuals.
In the words of Richard Dawkins, “There are all sorts of things that would be comforting. I expect an injection of morphine would be comforting… But to say that something is comforting is not to say that it’s true.”
While the controversy surrounding the construction of a Community center/Mosque three blocks from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan, New York continues, the more fundamental issue of a President of a supposedly secular nation taking a positive stand on the issue goes largely ignored. To add insult to injury, President Obama had the audacity to announce his support for the Mosque and community center from a dinner at the White House celebrating the start of the holy month of Ramadan. By taking a far from neutral stance on the issue, Obama is clearly endorsing religion. Obama could have chosen to remain neutral stating that the issue of the mosque is a local issue to be resolved locally and not a matter for the administration to pass judgment. Diplomatically, this would have been the correct response. Instead, he used the issue as a platform not to give a speech on the right to religious freedom and non-belief of which neither is in dispute, but to covertly promote religion. This recent appeasement to the Muslim community is not a display of religious tolerance, but is testimony to the President’s stand on faith generally.
Let us take a look back to 2008 and review the most grandiose inauguration ceremony in history where Obama chose the Southern California Pastor of the well to do Saddleback mega church, Rick Warren to say the inaugural prayer. And let us be reminded that Rick Warren backed California’s Proposition 8 which was to prevent the right for gays to marry. Obama’s choice of Rick Warren to read a prayer should have set off early alarm bells ringing loud and clear to the media, but instead they fell on deaf ears.
In February, 2009, less than a month in office, Obama rekindled George Bush’s Office of Faith-Based Activities and Neighborhood Partnerships by executive order and appointed then 26 year old Pentecostal Minister, Joshua DuBois to head the federally funded department.
Close inspection of Christianity, particularly fundamentalist forms of the faith, Islam or any other religion are far from democratic because they marginalize women and suppress thought outside the realms of the said religion. Either the President is incredibly naive as to what these belief systems represent or he subscribes to them and views them as an integral part of a secular democratic nation.
It is one thing to promote the virtues of the right to practice faith, but to endorse it with speeches, government offices and appointing ministers to run them is quite another. The question has to be asked is that was this really just a glaring political gaff or is there another hidden agenda to promote rather than restate the country’s neutrality on religion?
Breakthroughs in science and technology make the world a better place for a large part of humanity. We are within an information and scientific age that provides us with information and sophisticated technology that only an elite educated few had access to twenty years ago. Better quality of life and life expectancy are a result of improvements in medicine, sanitation, air quality, public health and safety. Sixty years of medical history has witnessed the eradication of smallpox. The discovery of DNA allows us to map genomes that help us diagnose and treat disease. The relatively new sciences of molecular and cell biology led to the creation of the biotech industry that continues to develop drugs and vaccinations that fight and control disease. The reduction in infant mortality and morbidity rates are due in part to the development of vaccines that protect children from childhood diseases that once maimed and, or killed. Despite an endless list of scientific progress, there is another endless list of pseudoscience, junk science and superstitions that extend beyond the boundaries of mainstream religion and in turn discredit science leading to harmful ramifications.
The likes of TV shows such as The Oprah Winfrey Show have served as platforms to help, albeit perhaps unwittingly, to propagate quack remedies and other types of misinformation. According to a recent article in Newsweek, in 2007, Playboy model and actress Jenny McCarthy appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s show to tell of her experience with autism. Jenny went on to explain how she was convinced that the MMR (Measles Mumps and Rubella) vaccine caused her son’s autism. This is one example in a long line of unfounded claims regarding the link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Pediatrician Paul A. Offit, author of Autism’s False Prophets that featured in a January article, in the New York Times discusses the scientific evidence in favor of the vaccines. The vaccine provides protection against these diseases to millions of children. However, Measles is now endemic within the population and it is increasing. The June issue of Skeptic magazine features an article by Harriet Hall, MD who discusses the history of how the “manufactroversy”, evolved. Despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that shows no link between autism and the MMR vaccine, the “manufactroversy” continues highlighting a general distrust in medical science. As a result, measles is now endemic and we’re losing the herd immunity we once achieved through mass vaccination.
More recently, the UK Guardian reported that British Scientists called upon the World Health Organization to condemn homeopathic remedies for treating serious diseases such as HIV, malaria and influenza in poor developing countries. Homeopathic remedies have served as cheaper ineffective substitutes for effective medicines. The promotion of homeopathic alternatives to conventional medicine compromises the health of others, undermines science-based medicines and propagates misinformation and ultimately results in more untimely deaths.
Despite huge advances in scientific progress, why are the vast majority of people in the richest nations of the world walking around with their minds in the 12th or 13th century? People reject the boundaries of religious doctrine in exchange for not reason and science, but a different kind of faith such as psychic powers, astrology, faith healing, alternative medicine and other new age nonsense. Michael Shermer, the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine and author illustrates the extent of these beliefs and attempts to answer in his book, “Why People Believe Weird Things.” Shermer cites a 1990 Gallup poll that shows a staggering two-thirds of the 1,236 adults surveyed believe that they have, “Actually had a psychic experience.” 42% believe in “communication with the dead.” A similar 2001 Gallop poll shows significant increases in belief in every category of the paranormal over a decade. So, shroud some scientific terms in mysticism and you have a perfect recipe for nonsense that fits most people’s psyche like a glove. Quack medicine uses the language of science lending it more credence to the claims that its proponents make.
Shermer speculates that belief in weird things stems from a need for instant gratification. For example, seeing a psychic offers instant comfort in the face of grief or other life stressors such as faulty relationships or jobs. People seeking psychic guidance hear things that make them feel good and they return for more reassurance. The reassurance is the reinforcement which prompts them to return for more readings. It’s a similar effect of playing slot machines. Slot machines are designed to reward enough times to keep people playing. This psychological process is a form of learning called operant conditioning. The behavioral psychologist BF Skinner’s Skinner box experiments with rats demonstrated the behavior of reward and punishment with positive and negative reinforcement. Reinforcement is the reward that keeps people coming back for more of what provides them with comfort. It is why people continue to seek quack medicine, psychics and astrologers. Skinner demonstrated that “organisms tend to repeat those responses that are followed by favorable consequences.” All this may be an over simplified answer to a complex question. What does seem clear is how simple explanations to complex problems are more comforting to people because they’re easier to understand and offer definitive answers. Science offers no definitive answers. The complexity of the science behind natural phenomena requires more effort to understand and requires people to think.
The vast majority of peoples’ beliefs stem from their place of birth and the religious doctrines of their parents. Unfortunately, it appears that loss of mainstream religious faith is not synonymous with more reasoned thinking but replaced with a new age of comfort found within pseudoscience, astrology, psychics and probably the most dangerous of all, quack medicine.
What is more troubling with the new age of comfort is the concept that all ideas are equal and that science is just another alternative. Science is not an alternative and alternative medicine is not science. Science is based on empirical evidence and is apt to change based on new evidence. Pseudoscientific “evidence” is generally testimonial evidence and does not change. Testimonies do not constitute evidence because they are not the result of the scientific method of experimentation.
It is hard to imagine a solution to combat the proliferation of medieval remedies and other superstitious nonsense when the power base lies in a whole industry geared to play on people’s desires and needs. It is self-evident to see what sells. Go to any bookstore and look at the books that sell, self-help, astrology, special diets, peoples’ testimonies to their battle with [insert name of disease here]. The list is endless and unfortunately so is the road leading to reason, healthy skepticism and science. We should not be content with a new age that promotes comfort without reason.
In light of President Sarkozy’s proposed burka ban, Agnès Poirier in the UK TimesOnLine discusses the reason why Britain will not follow in France’s footsteps on debates concerning the burka and other religious symbols.
In the UK, the left embraces multiculturalism while neglecting the fact that many religions marginalize women. Britain has compromised individual freedoms in order to appease other cultures on the basis that they are of equal value. Multiculturalism and cultural relativism ensures the marginalization of women through its tolerance towards the cultures that discriminate on the basis of gender. The fact that Sharia courts operate in the UK to settle civil disputes demonstrates where values of cultural relativism ultimately lead to inequality.
Poirier makes these points, but misses the crucial element of religion when she argues that, “The burka is not a religious problem.” The burka would not exist without the religious dogma associated with it. This is precisely the argument of the politically correct left in the UK that she is opposing.
She points out how such debates concerning religious symbols cross the political spectrum in France. Discussion and criticism of these issues stems from a secular society. France established a ban on religious symbols in state workplaces and in state run schools in 2004.
Unlike France, Britain has an established religion and has members of its church in the House of Lords. Religious education with a distinctly Christian bias forms part of the national curriculum in its public education system. If Britain even began to question other religions, it would have to question its own established religion, the Church of England.