Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Irish blasphemy law proposal

There is a proposed amendment to Irish defemation legislation including an updated blasphemy Libel law. Go here.

As TheObserver and Gary C point out. The article says:

"Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern proposes to insert a new section into the Defamation Bill, stating: “A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €100,000.”

“Blasphemous matter” is defined as matter “that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion; and he or she intends, by the publication of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.”

Where a person is convicted of an offence under this section, the court may issue a warrant authorising the Garda Síochána to enter, if necessary using reasonable force, a premises.

The Big Questions

I will briefly be on TV this Sunday morning - BBC 1's "The Big Question". I am a "front row" audience member, which means I will be asked a couple of questions. The "big question" for that bit of the show is something along the lines of "Would Britain be a better place if it was a Christian society?" On the panel will be: Lord Carey (former Arch-bishop of Canterbury), Anne Atkins, a druid lady (called Emma, I think), and Prof. Peter Atkins.

So, would it...?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bohemian Rhapsody

Also from Greg's website and many others is this, which had me snorting my cornflakes. It's also weirdly touching. Stick with it...

Athiest cartoon


Sticking with atheist theme, thought you might enjoy this. From this excellent blog. Incidentally, I am on Dave Mabus's spam email list too. But I can't get cross as the guy is clearly genuinely mentally ill.

Free hugs from your friendly neighbourhood atheists

Thanks to Josh Kutchinsky for link.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/27/us/27atheist.html?_r=1

More Atheists Shout It From the Rooftops
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
Published: April 26, 2009, New York Times.

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Two months after the local atheist organization here put up a billboard saying "Don't Believe in God? You Are Not Alone," the group's 13 board members met in Laura and Alex Kasman's living room to grapple with the fallout.

The problem was not that the group, the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry , had attracted an outpouring of hostility. It was the opposite. An overflow audience of more than 100 had showed up for their most recent public symposium, and the board members discussed whether it was time to find a larger place.

And now parents were coming out of the woodwork asking for family-oriented programs where they could meet like-minded nonbelievers.

"Is everyone in favor of sponsoring a picnic for humanists with families?" asked the board president, Jonathan Lamb, a 27-year-old meteorologist, eliciting a chorus of "ayes."

More than ever, America's atheists are linking up and speaking out — even here in South Carolina, home to Bob Jones University , blue laws and a legislature that last year unanimously approved a Christian license plate embossed with a cross, a stained glass window and the words "I Believe" (a move blocked by a judge and now headed for trial).

They are connecting on the Internet, holding meet-ups in bars, advertising on billboards and buses, volunteering at food pantries and picking up roadside trash, earning atheist groups recognition on adopt-a-highway signs.

They liken their strategy to that of the gay-rights movement, which lifted off when closeted members of a scorned minority decided to go public.

"It's not about carrying banners or protesting," said Herb Silverman, a math professor at the College of Charleston who founded the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, which has about 150 members on the coast of the Carolinas. "The most important thing is coming out of the closet."

Polls show that the ranks of atheists are growing. The American Religious Identification Survey , a major study released last month, found that those who claimed "no religion" were the only demographic group that grew in all 50 states in the last 18 years.

Nationally, the "nones" in the population nearly doubled, to 15 percent in 2008 from 8 percent in 1990. In South Carolina, they more than tripled, to 10 percent from 3 percent. Not all the "nones" are necessarily committed atheists or agnostics, but they make up a pool of potential supporters.

Local and national atheist organizations have flourished in recent years, fed by outrage over the Bush administration's embrace of the religious right. A spate of best-selling books on atheism also popularized the notion that nonbelief is not just an argument but a cause, like environmentalism or muscular dystrophy.

Ten national organizations that variously identify themselves as atheists, humanists, freethinkers and others who go without God have recently united to form the Secular Coalition for America , of which Mr. Silverman is president. These groups, once rivals, are now pooling resources to lobby in Washington for separation of church and state.

A wave of donations, some in the millions of dollars, has enabled the hiring of more paid professional organizers, said Fred Edwords , a longtime atheist leader who just started his own umbrella group, the United Coalition of Reason , which plans to spawn 20 local groups around the country in the next year.

Despite changing attitudes, polls continue to show that atheists are ranked lower than any other minority or religious group when Americans are asked whether they would vote for or approve of their child marrying a member of that group.

Over lunch with some new atheist joiners at a downtown Charleston restaurant serving shrimp and grits, one young mother said that her husband was afraid to allow her to go public as an atheist because employers would refuse to hire him.

But another member, Beverly Long, a retired school administrator who now teaches education at the Citadel , said that when she first moved to Charleston from Toronto in 2001, "the first question people asked me was, What church do you belong to?" Ms. Long attended Wednesday dinners at a Methodist church, for the social interaction, but never felt at home. Since her youth, she had doubted the existence of God but did not discuss her views with others.

Ms. Long found the secular humanists through a newspaper advertisement and attended a meeting. Now, she is ready to go public, she said, especially after doing some genealogical research recently. "I had ancestors who fought in the American Revolution so I could speak my mind," she said.

Until recent years, the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry were local pariahs. Mr. Silverman — whose specialty license plate , one of many offered by the state, says "In Reason We Trust" — was invited to give the invocation at the Charleston City Council once, but half the council members walked out. The local chapter of Habitat for Humanity would not let the Secular Humanists volunteer to build houses wearing T-shirts that said "Non Prophet Organization," he said.

When their billboard went up in January, with their Web site address displayed prominently, they expected hate mail.

"But most of the e-mails were grateful," said Laura Kasman, an assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina.

The board members meeting in the Kasmans' living room were an unlikely mix that included a gift store owner, a builder, a grandmother, a retired nursing professor, a retired Navy officer, an administrator at a primate sanctuary and a church musician. They are also diverse in their attitudes toward religion.

Loretta Haskell, the church musician, said: "I did struggle at one point as to whether or not I should be making music in churches, given my position on things. But at the same time I like using my music to move people, to give them comfort. And what I've found is, I am not one of the humanists who feels that religion is a bad thing."

The group has had mixed reactions to President Obama , who acknowledged nonbelievers in his inauguration speech. "I sent him a thank-you note," Ms. Kasman said. But Sharon Fratepietro, who is married to Mr. Silverman, said, "It seemed like one long religious ceremony, with a moment of lip service."

Part of what is giving the movement momentum is the proliferation of groups on college campuses. The Secular Student Allianc e now has 146 chapters, up from 42 in 2003.

At the University of South Carolina , in Columbia, 19 students showed up for a recent evening meeting of the "Pastafarians," named for the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster — a popular spoof on religion dreamed up by an opponent of intelligent design, the idea that living organisms are so complex that the best explanation is that a higher intelligence designed them.

Andrew Cederdahl, the group's co-founder, asked for volunteers for the local food bank and for a coming debate with a nearby Christian college. Then Mr. Cederdahl opened the floor to members to tell their "coming out stories."

Andrew Morency, who attended a Christian high school, said that when he got to college and studied evolutionary biology he decided that "creationists lie."

Josh Streetman, who once attended the very Christian college that the Pastafarians were about to debate, said he knew the Bible too well to be sure that Scripture is true. Like Mr. Streetman, many of the other students at the meeting were highly literate in the Bible and religious history.

In keeping with the new generation of atheist evangelists, the Pastafarian leaders say that their goal is not confrontation, or even winning converts, but changing the public's stereotype of atheists. A favorite Pastafarian activity is to gather at a busy crossroads on campus with a sign offering "Free Hugs" from "Your Friendly Neighborhood Atheist."

A version of this article appeared in print on April 27, 2009, on page A1 of the New York edition.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Standing Stone, Arran


Shot up to Isle of Arran (Scotland) for 4 nights with family after US trip. It's a fantastic place. Just don't go in the midge season. My photos at flickr.

CFI UK - Science and Reason


The Science and Reason event attracted over 100 and was very successful. Mary Warnock could not come, and so I replaced her with Dr Raj Persaud, who was excellent (many commented afterwards on how good he was).

Simon Singh's and Jack Cohen's talks were fascinating. If you have not joined yet I would encourage you to join the "For Simon Singh and Freedom of Speech" facebook page.

And of course the Centre for Inquiry UK facebook page for email notice of our events.

Monsters from the Deep is on 7th November. There will be another event in meantime as well.

Friday, April 24, 2009

What's the point of a family if it all ends in death?

I found this very interesting. This chap thinks there is no point in having a family if we all die. An after life is required.

Actually, going off on a slight tangent, I do sometimes wonder whether it is morally acceptable to have children. Life can be great, but there is also a great deal about it which is absolutely horrific and terrifying, including the prospect of disease, and inevitable decay and death. What right have we to introduce beings who are then faced with that horror (which is crippling for many)?

When I was doing the B.Phil, a fellow student - very able - wrote her thesis defending the claim that it is morally wrong to bring children into the world without their permission (which they obviously can't give). I did not get to read her thesis or look at her arguments, but once you start to think about it, certain arguments do suggest themselves.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

CFI World Congress links

CFI World Congress report here.

Swift said some nice things about me on the James Randi website.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Condoms, Catholics and HIV - more

On a previous post on the RC position on using condoms, some have objected that it would be unreasonable for the RC Church to agree to say "You ought not have gay sex, but if you are going to, use a condom."

The suggestion is there is something inconsistent about saying such a thing. After all, we would not say "You should not rob houses, but if you do, don't cause more damage than you need to" or "You should not rape, but if you do, use a condom".

It's true that these are not things we would say. But why not?

There is a subtle distinction we need to make here.

Sometimes it is perfectly reasonable to say: You ought not to X, but if you are going to X, do Y. Other times less reasonable.

Doctor: You ought not to drink, but if you are going to, avoid spirits.

Nothing unreasonable about that. Jolly good advice for certain medical conditions! In fact, if the doctor thought you were likely to drink, it would be irresponsible of him not to add the caveat "but if you are going to....".

If you want a moral example:

Animal rights activist: You ought not to keep pets, but if you are going to, treat them humanely.

That's a reasonable position, and certainly consistent.

This seems odd though:

You ought not to rape, but if you are going to, use a condom.

But why? It is not inconsistent, I think. But it seems a silly thing to say because:

(i) anyone who rapes doesn't give a stuff about their victim, and so won't bother protecting them with a condom. So it's a pointless request (hence rather ridiculous, if safeguarding the victim is the aim). Ditto the remark to potential burglars (if they do have some concern for victims, they'll keep damage to a minimum anyway; if they don't, the advice is pointless). And

(ii) in the animal rights case, the activist recognizes you may not share their fairly unusual moral position, and so it is reasonable for them to add that even if you don't agree with them about keeping pets, you should still treat your pets humanely. But it is odd to add something similar about rape/burglary, as presumably the rapist/burglar knows what he does is wrong.

Note that for the RC Church to say "You ought not to have homosexual sex, but if you are going to, use a condom" would involve (i) no inconsistency, and, indeed, (ii) not even any of oddness of the sort that attaches to the parallel remarks about rape and burglary.

There may be other reasons why the RC feel they should not say such a thing, but to suggest that it's never reasonable to say "Don't do X, but if you are going to, do Y" is just a mistake.

Indeed, "Don't do X, but if you are going to, do Y" is often a reasonable thing to say, and in these above cases where it isn't, what makes it unreasonable does not make it unreasonable for the RC to say "Don't have gay sex, but if you do, use a condom."

POSTSCRIPT 21ST APRIL. A further thought: Note that the RC Church itself issues such qualified moral pronouncements:

You should not sin, but if you are going to sin, make sure you go to confession afterwards!

Note this applies no matter how serious the sin! (WZ: Also note that it is directed specifically at Catholics, just as you suppose the sexual prohibition is).

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The myth of a "scientific controversy" about ID


Here in Washington at the CFI World Congress. The next one, in two years time, might well be in London.

Many interesting talks, particularly from a panel of Muslims. Here's one set of statistics I took from scientist Lawrence Krauss. He searched the 10 million peer reviewed science papers published over last 12 years. 115 were on "intelligent design"; however most were on engineering. Only 11 actually on ID. Of those, 8 were critical of the science behind ID and the other 3 were conference proceedings. In other words, there was not one peer reviewed article supporting ID. There is, in short, no "scientific controversy" about ID. The idea that we should be "fair" and "open-minded" by "teaching the scientific controversy" in classrooms is just bullshit.

Of course, Krauss knows the ID brigade say that the journals are biased against them. So he looked at books. There were 150 books on amazon on ID. But there were 165 on alien abduction. As Krauss says, if we are going to teach ID to kids in science class on this basis, then there's as much reason to teach them the "scientific controversy" about about alien abduction.

I stopped over in NY on the way here and stayed at the Olde Carlton Arms Hotel on E 25th (photo), which I thought was great - thanks Wholeflaffer for recommendation. Walked over 20 miles going round Manhattan on Thursday, taking photos. When I got back to Hotel Friday afternoon the building across the street had caught fire and the FDNY were out in force.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Off to States

Off to States till Monday...

Monday, April 6, 2009

Review of de Botton's The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

I found de Botton’s new book The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work in the bookshop at the Oxford Literary Festival on Saturday, so I bought it, and have now read it.

It’s a series of essays on the theme of work, each chapter focussing on a different profession. The book is filled with black and white photos taken by a photographer who accompanied Alain on his travels around the world. I loved the photos.

The essays are largely descriptive, peppered with lots of references demonstrating the vast range of de Botton’s literary, historical and philosophical knowledge. Chapter one describes the arrival of a ship down the Thames, which then unloads at Tilbury container docks. We get details of the ship’s course, some reflections on how little most of us know about how the goods we use daily actually get to our local shop from far away lands, and impressions of the vast scale of the facilities and their grandeur. De Botton ponders on the question: why people don’t come down and look at these amazing structures? He concludes it is “an unwarranted prejudice which deems it peculiar to express overly powerful feelings of admiration towards a gas tanker or a paper mill – or indeed towards almost any aspect of the labouring world.”

After we hear about the ship spotters who record the great vessel’s comings and goings, the chapter ends. The next looks at work in a logistics park. Other chapters look at biscuit manufacture, careers counselling, accountancy, entrepreneurship, and so on.

De Botton is fully aware that his style will strike many as rather pretentious, and even has an occasional joke at his own expense – explaining how, after waxing lyrical on some work-related theme, a guard had told him to “fuck off”. It’s admirable that he doesn’t take himself too seriously.

Is it a good book? Actually, yes it is (see below).

But I will explain first why this sort of thing doesn’t do much for me. I guess what I find unsatisfying about this sort of writing (and I am not singling out just de Botton - I think it's a whole genre that I'm talking about) is that, while saying so much, it says so little.

Read the book, and then ask yourself: what is the central argument of this book? What are its conclusions?

Above all ask yourself: what has been clearly and unambiguously stated here with which someone might conceivably disagree?

The answers are – there isn’t really any argument, there are few conclusions, and those conclusions that are drawn, once shorn of the impressive filigree of historical references and literary flourishes, turn out to be fairly obvious and uncontroversial.

There’s a clear contrast here with a thinker like e.g. Peter Singer. While de Botton is terribly posh and TV-friendly, Singer is Australian-accented and rather unglamorous in appearance (sorry Peter).

Singer too writes beautifully, but his is the style of someone who doesn’t want his style noticed. It’s deliberately transparent: you look right through it, at first noticing just the ideas, only later registering the beautifully precise and clear way they have been articulated (Dawkins too has this gift).

Like de Botton, Singer is a deeply passionate thinker. But Singer also dares to expresses a controversial point of view. Read Singer and you have little choice but to engage your brain. He pokes you in the ribs with his arguments, challenging you to find the flaws. We know exactly what he thinks and exactly why he thinks it. He stings like a Socratic gad-fly – pricking our consciences, making us feel uncomfortable.

I have little idea, after reading this book, what de Botton actually thinks about anything, beyond mundane stuff with which we can all agree.

The book is like a very agreeable soufflé. It looks philosophically formidable and impressive, but when we put our fork into it we find it makes few if any claims with which we can critically engage. This suits the appetites of many middle class readers of course. It’s light and fluffy to read, requiring little effort on our part. We can enjoy this wonderfully crafted intellectual creation, and can then congratulate ourselves on finding it so effortless to digest.

I just prefer something a bit more substantial to get my teeth into. I'm not sure there’s a single meaty, controversial idea in the book.

Now, that’s to convey something of my irritation with the book, and with this genre generally. But let me be clear that by no means does that make it a bad book.

The thing is, I have just been judging the book by standards that are really not appropriate.

Point is, it’s just not intended as that sort of book. De Botton is no Singer, but then he doesn’t pretend to be. This text should perhaps be approached more like a book of poems. Getting us to look at the world around us in a slightly different way. Reminding us of the miraculous in the everyday, of the genuinely fascinating stuff that’s right under our noses. There can be genuine value in that. And de Botton is very good at it.

So – it is a good book! Just not the sort of book I enjoy (I don’t like poetry much either).

Of course, de Botton must have many interesting opinions with which we can disagree – opinions about religion, say, or about politics. I wonder what they are. Personally, I’d much rather hear about those opinions, and about why de Botton holds them. But (in this book at least) de Botton seems guarded about airing his views on such substantive issues. Whether this is because he wants to remain on good terms with all his readers, or because he considers such talk vulgar, or because he is just a very private person, or some other reason, I don’t know. Personally, I just wish he would.

The End of Christian America

The End of Christian America is the title of this Newsweek article.

The percentage of self-identified Christians has fallen 10 points in the past two decades. How that statistic explains who we are now—and what, as a nation, we are about to become.

Thanks to "Ace".

The headmistress's story

Interesting article in the Independent about how a headmistress lost her job - the local council failing to stand up to misguided religious extremism appears to be the culprit. Here.

Faith and unreason: The headteacher hounded from her job

Erica Connor took a failing school and turned it into a beacon of academic achievement and racial harmony. So why was she driven from her job by religious extremists and misguided officials? Tim Walker hears her story

Thanks to anticant for this...

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Should the Cardinal get a peerage?


Theos article concludes:

It almost goes without saying that having a legislative chamber that is made up by appointment is problematic, though not without some advantages. In this strange but not ineffective system, Cormac Murphy O’Connor could make a valuable contribution. The aggressive reaction of secularists towards such a development not only exposes the illiberal nature of their position but, worse than that, bears the hallmarks of an old but unattractive British habit: anti-Catholicism.

Topical given my debate with Prof Trigg yesterday...

Friday, April 3, 2009

Notes for my debate with Trigg today...

Here are my notes from my 10 minute talk on secualrism today in the Great Hall at Chrsitchurch. I was debating with Prof Roger Trigg. Thanks to all who came - was very well attended!

What is a secular society?

NEUTRALITY. By a secular society I mean a society in which the state takes a neutral view on religion. A secular society aligns itself with no particular religious, or anti-religious, point of view.

FREEDOMS. A secular society also protects freedoms: the freedom to believe, or not believe, to worship, or not worship.

Note that an atheist state, such as Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China, is not a secular state. A secular state does not privilege atheist beliefs. It is neutral on the issue of which, if any, religion is true.

AGREED NEUTRAL PRINCIPLES. Most importantly, a secular society is founded on principles framed independently of any particular religious, or atheist, commitment: principles to which we can sign up whether we are religious or not.

Very many religious people are secularists. They value the kind of religious freedoms that such a society guarantees.

Secularism, as most secularists understand the term, is not the view that we should gag religious voices in public sphere – prevent religious opinions being heard. That would be a caricature of what I, and I think most people in this room, mean by “secular”.

Secularism protects our freedom to express religious views in the public sphere. It just refuses to give religious voices a privileged position.

Why have a secular society?

PRAGMATIC. One reason is pragmatic. Secular societies developed in large measure because people recognized the dangers in allying states with particular religions. History has been plagued by horrors caused by competing religious groups trying to wrestle control of states from each other: Catholic and Protestant, Sunni and Shia, Hindu and Muslim. The secular, liberal state was seen as a way of finally bringing that kind of conflict to an end, by all parties agreeing to live under a religiously neutral body that protects all their freedoms equally.

FAIRNESS. Another reason might be fairness. Notice that religious beliefs are also often highly political, potentially having a major impact on society:

Take religious views on:

Homosexuality
The role of women
The state of Israel
Our duties to those less fortunate than ourselves
Medical research

These are all intensely political points of view. Now why should the addition of a religious dimension to certain political beliefs mean that they should be given a privileged role, or deserve special institutionalized forms of power and respect?

• We should not permit plays that mock, or might in some way deeply offend, those with certain religious beliefs.

• Airlines and schools should have no power to ban flight attendants or school pupils from wearing religious symbols, if the individual’s religion, or conscience, requires it.

• Taxpayer’s money should be used to fund religious schools that are then permitted to discriminate against both teachers and pupils on the basis of religious belief.

All of the above claims for special privileges are regularly made. I shall raise a challenge for those who make these claims.

A SIMPLE TEST: If you agree with some of these claims that religion deserves special institutionalized forms of privilege or respect, cross out the word “religious” and write in “political” instead. Then see if you still agree.

So the challenge I am putting to anti-secularists is this:

If you reject the political versions of these claims, why do you suppose the religious versions should be considered differently?

Why does sprinkling a little religious fairy dust on a set of political beliefs mean they should now be given more respect, or even more weight, than other people’s political beliefs?

Unless the anti-secularists can come up with a good answer to this question: they will rightly stand accused of unfairness.

“HELL IN A HAND BASKET” THESIS

One of the most popular answers to this challenge is this: religious belief is important for maintaining the social fabric.

Religion, religion provides our moral compass. Lose that compass. We’re heading for hell in a hand basket.

Prof. Roger Trigg, my opponent today, actually defends a very strong version of this “hell in a hand basket” thesis.

According to Roger, the Christian religion provides the moral foundation of our modern liberal values. Without it, those values may well collapse. Indeed, the Christian faith must actually be woven into the fabric of our State if we are not to risk losing our freedoms and sliding into totalitarianism.

THAT WE NEED CHRISTIAN STATE TO PROTECT US FROM TOTALITARIANISM – THAT IT’S OUR BEST PROTECTION AGAINST TOTALITARIANISM - is a very strong claim. But why should we think it true?

Let’s actually look at the history of totalitarianism is Europe…

Just over one of my lifetimes ago, much of Europe was indeed overrun by Nazi totalitarianism. How did the Christian Churches respond to the growing Nazi menace?

The first German Chancellor after the war, himself a Catholic, said:

I believe that if the bishops had publicly taken a stance from the pulpit a lot could have been avoided. That didn’t happen and there is no excuse for it.

Not very effective in Germany.

What about staunchly Catholic Poland? Surely opposition from the pulpit would have been clear there? In1936, the Catholic Primate of Poland did indeed issued a letter to be read from every pulpit in the country. In it he said:

It is a fact that the Jews are fighting against the Catholic Church, persisting in free-thinking, and are the vanguard of godlessness, Bolshevism and subversion. It is a fact that the Jewish influence on morality is pernicious and that their publishing houses disseminate pornography. It is a fact that Jews deceive, levy interest, and are pimps. It is a fact that the religious and ethical influence of the Jewish young people on Polish young people is a negative one.

The Catholic Church was hardly a staunch opponent in Poland either. Rather sympathetic, in fact.

Indeed, it was the Vatican, we now know, that arranged for thousands of Nazis to flee justice after the war. It was the Vatican that provided Adolf Eichmann, chief architect of the Final Solution, with his fake passport.

What of Fascist Italy? How did the Church resist totalitarianism there? By doing a deal with Mussolini in which Catholicism was recognised as the sole religion of state.

What of the rise of fascism in Spain? How did the Catholic Church fight the totalitarianism of General Franco? By supporting Franco’s overthrow of the democratically elected Government.

Let’s look a little further back in European history. Just four of my lifetimes ago the Catholic Church was itself arranging for the garrotting by the Spanish State of European citizens who failed to believe what the Pope told them. Last victim a school teacher in 1824. The Holy Inquisition worked hand-in-hand with the State to stifle freedom, and used the State as its executioner. As I say, just four of my lifetimes ago.

SOME RESISTANCE…On those occasions when they have resisted totalitarianism, they have resisted atheist totalitarian states, i.e. communist states. Otherwise, the Churches have put up very little, if any, resistance, often supporting the totalitarians.

So if anything, the warning from history is: don’t rely on the Church to protect you from totalitarianism. More often than not, the Church is actually part of the problem.

Is CHRISTIANITY THE ONLY JUSTIFICATION AVAILABLE? Do we need it to underpin and justify our basic freedoms? No.

Ask most political theorists and they will tell you that there are many justifications that have been developed, and that would religious justifications are actually some of the least credible on offer!

THERE IS A REAL DANGER IN ROGER’S VIEW, I THINK. THE DANGER OF MARGINALIZING… A significant and growing number of our citizens – about a third - are not even Christian. If you make the justification of our freedoms and laws explicitly Christian, you then leave a third of our population with no reason to agree to them. For our growing non-Christian population of youngsters, these freedoms and laws will seem increasingly irrelevant. Surely, if we want everyone to sign up to certain core values, wouldn’t it better if a religiously-neutral justification were offered instead?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Are the "new atheists" attacking a "straw god"?

There's a post at Debunking Christianity that is worth a look. It's "The Straw God: Understanding The New Atheism" by Douglas Groothuis. On Monday I am debating the God Delusion with Marianne Talbot at a Fringe event at the Ox Lit Festival. Rewley House, 1 wellington Square. 7pm. Late bar. Entrance free.

The pleasures of not having to do a day's work in your life

Alain De Botton's new book is out. The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work is a another philosophical self-help treatise, or so it's been described in the Metro this morning (I am reading the free Metro on the bus). I have not read the book.

It's kind of a bad time, I guess, for someone who does not need to work, at a time when many are being put out of work, to write about the pleasures of a 9-5 grind in the office.

I am sure I read a columnist in the Times or Mail on Tuesday who also had a go at DB because DB has never had to work - the claim made was that DB inherited 200 million from his father. The Metro, on the other hand, says that while his father was eye-wateringly rich, DB's "money is his own". Hmmm, confusing messages. Especially for me, as I really want to revel in being pissed off and envious, and the latter report rather stands in my way.

Anyway at least I can gloat over some reviews:

Naomi Wolf wanted to hurl it across the room.
The merciless Daily Mail review here.

PSOTSCRIPT Sat 4th April:

To be fair (and to qualify my admittedly rather petty comments above), I have since found these reviews which are much kinder:
Telegraph.

Todays' Guardian.

I should of course read Alain's book before commenting myself, so will do and put up a review later. I have also promised a short review of Singer's latest book.