Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Being An Atheist

In this impassioned second post from the contributor, 21 year  old Chanchal Krishna, an engineering student from India, offers his view about the difficulty of becoming an atheist. 
Contrary to what believers may think, being an atheist isn’t easy. It’s not as if one day you wake up and say “God; you’re a fraud and I’ve had enough!” There has to be a seed of doubt inside you. Nurture it with knowledge and common sense, build and fence around it with curiosity. One day the seed will grow to be a tree, with roots running deep, not in soil, but science and truth. And the fruit that the tree bears is the realization that there is no superman to save you. That means no one to grant you special favours, no one to offer cheap bribes. My professors would definitely not grant me extra marks if I went and told them “Sir! I screwed up my studies, but if you’ll let me pass I’ll pray to you. Let’s avoid the middle-man God.” We liked gods, but in my mind, they’re too good to be true, like my imaginary sea of beer.
Believers should know that it isn’t easy. The crutch you depended on for so long has vanished.  No one wants to unsubscribe to that reward game. But what if the reward game is a hoax? That’s what we atheists realized during our painstaking search. Yes it is painstaking; knowledge and truth don’t come easy and atheists have done their homework. Don’t treat us like some ignorant toddler. When we say we don’t believe, we simply choose to walk on our legs instead of on imaginary crutches. To those morons that preach that I’ll go to hell: I’ll take my chances but why don’t you worry about your problems? When you’ve got enough to keep you occupied for a life time, how can you say that God is there for you? Those who go a bit further by claiming that God in fact did come and talk to you, can you ask him to come and talk to me in person so that I can be a believer? If I have enough proof I don’t see anything wrong in subscribing back as a devout follower. Yes, I said it; we atheists are open minded and would admit it if proven wrong. But only if proven wrong, which is impossible given the amount of evidence science has bought about.
I’m a free man who owes no allegiance to any masters, and as the cartoon says, I’m old enough to stop imagining things. Atheism is a terrible responsibility, like freedom. I’m responsible for myself and I don’t think that makes me a bad person. I don’t need a reward programme to do good. For an atheist the biggest reward is their happiness in helping fellow human beings. Being an atheist doesn’t make me devoid of morals nor does it mean I am a moral person. Atheism doesn’t pin any badges, it just makes you what you are; a curious human being with at least a few less reasons to hate your fellow brothers and sisters.

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Thursday, 3 March 2011

Wear Your Ashes, Convert An Infidel

An odd little story here courtesy of the Independent Catholic News. Catholics are being encouraged to wear their lent ashes with pride on March 9th. That is, to walk around with a cross on their forehead. A cross made of ash. Apparently here’s what Bishop Kieran Conry, Chair of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis (I wonder what his CV looks like...) said:

"Ash Wednesday is the start of Lent when we are invited for forty days to set aside more time for prayer and fasting in preparation for Easter. The Ashes, made in the sign of the cross on our foreheads on this day, are an outward sign of our inward sorrow for our sins and of our commitment to Jesus as Our Lord and Saviour.

"The wearing of the ashes provides us with a wonderful opportunity to share with people how important our faith is to us and to point them to the cross of Christ. I invite you where possible to attend a morning or lunchtime Mass. Please try not to rub off your ashes as soon as you leave church, but take the sign of the cross to all those that you meet - in your school, office, factory, wherever you may be. This might just make people curious and wonder why you would do this. If you explain about Lent and Easter it might just make them think and may even awaken in them the questions that might lead to faith. Many people have a dim awareness of Lent and even ashes. It would be good to make this clear rather than dim.

"Don't underestimate the power of this simple action and wear your ashes as not only a sign of the beginning of your Lenten journey, but also to witness to your greatest treasure in life. This small step could awaken faith in the hearts of many that you meet in a way that words could never do so."

It’s odd enough that the faithful feel that have to resort to fashion statements to promote their faith. What’s more it’s even stranger to think that someone’s metaphysical views about the nature of the universe, valuation of the scientific method and moral standing can be changed by seeing some silly looking ashes on a person’s forehead. I'd like to think I'm not that gullible thank you very much. I've written once before on the strangeness of religion (regarding magical saintly saliva powers) and it’s great fun finding and pointing out these peculiarly harmless examples. If you find any and are under 21 why not write about it for us?

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

The Murder of Shahbaz Bhatti - Pakistan's Second Crime

It deeply saddens me to be writing, for the second time this year, of another Pakistani politician and decent man who was today shot dead by the Taliban for speaking out against the country’s arcane and dangerous blasphemy laws. Shahbaz Bhatti was leaving his mother’s house in his car when a flood of bullets fired down onto the vehicle. His death follows that of Salman Taseer, former governor of Punjab, who was murdered in broad daylight by his own bodyguard for opposing the same laws.

Shahbaz Bhatti  1968-2011
In my article about Taseer’s death, I said that his murder was not simply done in the name of religion, but that it was a direct result of religion; the religion of Islam and its practise of Sharia Law, which recommends death to any blasphemer who insults the prophet. After today, I stand by that conclusion. You just have to notice the glee and pride with which the Taliban claimed they committed the murder or the rose petals which Salman Taseer’s murderer found lining his way to the courthouse to know that this crime was motivated and carried out with unfazed and menacing Islam at its cold core. This is the black heart of a wicked idea. Any believer can, with divine warrant, proclaim themselves judge, jury and executioner, performing each one of these deeds with immunity. The two militants who sprayed Bhatti’s car with bullets left leaflets afterwards that ended “With the blessing of Allah, the mujahideen will send each of you to hell." Those wicked men who killed Bhatti today only did so because of their wicked religion. This is evil. Religion is evil. Islam is evil.

There is one shred of hope to emerge from this story. Shahbaz Bhatti provides us with a real life example of extreme courage. In January Batti filmed this video and asked it to be sent to the BBC in the event of his assassination. This is some of what he said in it:

“The forces of violence, militant organisations, the Taliban and al-Qaeda; they want to impose their radical philosophy in Pakistan. And whoever stands against their radical philosophy, they threaten them. When I’m leading this campaign against the Sharia Laws, for the abolishment of blasphemy laws, I’m speaking for the oppressed...” He continued “...I’m ready to die for a cause, I’m living for my community and suffering people and I will die to defend their rights. So these threats and these warnings cannot change my opinion and principles. I would prefer to die and follow my principles and for the justice of my community rather than to compromise on these threats.”

These are the words of a very brave human being. That there are people like him should provide us with the solace of at least a glimmer of hope.

Bhatti was the only Christian in the Pakistani cabinet. To some extent his actions were probably motivated by his Christian beliefs. It is a shame that it took one fallacy to attack another greater one, but nonetheless the actions of Bhatti are to be highly commended.

The British Foreign Secretary William Hague called the actions of the murderers “cowardly” but he is grossly mistaken. The men who have killed Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti are afraid of nothing. When they die, they believe they will receive an eternal reward. They will kill anyone because of their faith and they will die trying. Whilst these disgusting creatures are protected by the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, a nation that still refuses to amend the blasphemy laws, there will be no freedom of speech, conscience, or expression in that part of the world. We need more brave men and women to make a stand. The Taliban have their numbers, let’s hope we do too.

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Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Homophobic Foster Parents - What To Do?

Listening to the radio this morning I heard an interesting little story that raises big questions about homosexuality, Christian belief and public service. On BBC4’s flagship news broadcast, the Today programme, a pleasant enough sounding couple called Eunice and Owen Johns appeared to defend their wish to continue being foster carers, as they had been doing for a number of years and apparently very well by all accounts. The snag is this: the couple are Pentecostalist Christians who believe that homosexuality is a moral evil. The UK High Court ruled that, because their beliefs do not accord with the Orientation Act, (which states that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is illegal) they can no longer foster children. So what are we to make of all this?

Today programme presenter Justin Webb put forward the case the council and judges did. It is the Johns’ right to believe whatever they wish to believe about whomever or whatever they chose to believe it. It is not, however, ok to perform a public service and espouse views that are contrary to the rights of other human beings, rights that are enshrined in law. I can’t help but say I completely agree. Believe whatever nasty things you want to believe but don’t push those beliefs onto the children you are meant to be raising on behalf of the state.

Of course, this is all hypothetical because there is no evidence to suggest that the Johns’ did, in fact, raise any of the fifteen or so children they have fostered in the past to be anti-homosexual. The point is that the principle is at stake here. What’s more, it is by no means a situation that could never present itself to the Johns’. I’m proud that the High Court have got this one spot on.

On the radio, the Johns’ defended their right to foster a child in all manner of ways. They told us that “all we as Christians are asking [for] is a level playing field in society” and that “if the child has come to us and said they were homosexual [...] we could’ve worked through it” as if homosexuality were some kind of unwelcome mental illness (which probably isn’t too far from what they do believe). It was one particular platitude uttered by Eunice Johns that really got to me because you hear this line of thought so often. Continuing onwards with her crusade she said “I don’t hate homosexuals, I hate the act”. Now, all freethinkers should be able to recognise the problem with a bit of effort: homosexuality is not an act. Homosexuality is a form of love like any other and should be treated as such. Every time you hear this mistake made please correct it.

If you feel like reading some reactionary Christian bile about this story try this article from the appallingly pious Charisma magazine. Hopefully you’ll find like me that its persistent references to ‘freedom of conscience’ being denied in favour of ‘homosexual rights’ unconvincing (nobody’s freedom of conscience is being denied here – except those who want to espouse medieval claptrap whilst performing a public duty). On the other hand if you want a good and more detailed account of the whole story try New Humanist.

There’s one final thought I’ll end on. This whole issue has been fought on principle but what’s at stake really are the potentially happy childhoods of many children. The Johns’ are ostensibly good parents and in all likelihood, since they foster children from the ages of 5-10, homosexuality may never arise. Who knows? It’s not exactly like being brought up by al-Qaeda. Foster caring is a tough job and not many are willing to do it. What should take precedence here? Principle or Practicality? If we need more foster carers in this country should we just accept that in an imperfect society, just for now, we have to accept imperfect public servants? I don’t know the answer, but the question is an important one. 

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