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Good things don’t require religion

November 29, 2010 Comments off

If you’ve been reading this blog since about this time last year, you’ll know that one of my personal heroes is Tim Minchin and that I love his Christmas song, White Wine in the Sun. It is my favourite Christmas song, bar none.

This year it’s been freely given to an Australian Christmas compilation CD, with proceeds due to go to the Salvation Army. Whatever your opinion of the homophobic proselytising paramilitary religious organisation, they have stunned most observers by complaining publicly that the song does not meet with their ideals. Apparently they’ve chosen to put their proselytising above their charity work. It beggars belief, if you’ll excuse the pun.

Here’s an excerpt from an interview that Tim gave recently on the matter that I thought worth sharing:

Your song “White Wine in the Sun”, which includes lyrics critical of Christianity, caused controversy last week in Australia when it was used on an album of Christmas songs sold to raise money for the Salvation Army. What’s your take on the fuss?

I think the Salvos are idiots. I didn’t know they would benefit from the CD, but by the time I found out I didn’t want to make too much of a fuss. So I gave my song free, then they turn around and say that they don’t agree with the sentiment of the song. Obviously, they are talking about how I think Jesus is not magic. Part of me is hugely outraged by what imbeciles they are, to bite the hand that feeds them and put their proselytising above charity.

It’s a terrible paradox that most charities are driven by religious belief. I believe very strongly in giving only to secular charities, because I don’t think there should be a back end to altruism. I won’t make this mistake again. I tweeted that if people want to buy my version of the song independently, I’ll give the proceeds away, as I did last year, to the Autism Trust, a non-proselytising charity.

Christmas means much to billions of people who don’t believe in Jesus, and if you think that Christmas without Jesus is not Christmas, then you’re out of touch, and if you think altruism without Jesus is not altruism, then you’re a dick.

Full article: Tim Minchin: ‘I’m hugely outraged by proselytising charities’

This is the version that will be on the CD, sung by Kate Miller-Heidke:

A beautiful version, isn’t it?

Here is the tweet that Tim talks about in the interview above. From 21-Nov to 1-Jan you can buy the song from iTunes for the princely sum of 79p (or equivalent) and proceeds will go to the National Autistic Society, following this recent update.

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Excellent essay series on Stoicism

November 2, 2010 Comments off

Flickr CC-BY euthman

For many years I’ve internally identified with many of the central tenets of the ancient Stoic philosophy, mostly after reading Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations (Amazon|UK), but it’s not something I’ve seen much about so haven’t really considered it beyond the “Yes, I identify with that” concept that many of us do whenever we encounter a whole or partial philosophy.

I’ve written previously about my exploration of some philosophies and religions, but Stoicism is something I’ve not really spoken about with anyone. It, along with my examination of Buddhism have, largely unconsciously, informed much of my mental wiring with regards to topics such as reactions, drives, ambitions and wants. It affects and informs my interactions with family and friends, my view on possessions and consumerism, many aspects of my personal and working life, and even how I behave in the inevitable British traffic queues.

Imagine my surprise to discover recently on BoingBoing, one of my daily reads, an excellent series of essays on the subject of Stoicism by William B. Irvine, Professor of Philosophy at Wright State University, entitled Twenty-First Century Stoic:

  1. From Zen to Zeno: How I Became a Stoic
  2. Insult Pacifism
  3. Stoic Transformation

They are an excellent introduction to the philosophy, and the comparison to certain aspects of Buddhism resonates with my own experiences. I can’t pretend to agree with everything in these essays, nor do I think the philosophy is without its faults, but by the same measure I don’t completely agree with everything written by atheists or humanists — also worldviews with which I strongly identify.

Even if you are not particularly interested in adopting such a philosophy on life, I recommend looking into what Stoicism is really about. It may surprise you to learn that it’s not really all about emotional passivity and the stiff upper lip. You could read a modern work on the topic, such as Irvine’s own A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy (Amazon|UK) — or you could go directly to the ancient writings of Marcus Aurelius (Meditations), Seneca (Letters from a Stoic / Epistulae morales ad Lucilium),  Epictetus, and the logician Chrysippus. Their works aren’t covered by copyright, so are available in many places online, including Project Gutenberg.

Countdown to TAM London

October 15, 2010 Comments off

In about twenty minutes my taxi will arrive to take me to the train station, which with then whisk me into London for the start of TAM London 2010, taking place at the London Metropole Hotel.

To say I’m excited is a bit of an understatement. Last year saw the inaugural TAM London, the first ever Amaz!ng Meeting event to take place outside of the US. It was a resounding success and was attended by people from all around Europe from all walks of life — some of whom were household names. During that weekend I made a number of friends, most of whom I have been in regular contact with ever since. Many of us have subsequently joined or started skeptic groups in our own communities and have become more active in our fields of interest.

This year the event is taking place in a bigger venue, as there are far more people attending, and I’m looking forward to seeing those same friends again this weekend, making new ones, enjoying the talks and performances — particularly the world première of Tim Minchin‘s Storm movie — as well as the chance to chat with and get to know people during the breaks.

If you’re a skeptic, atheist, humanist, secularist, or scientist, then the opportunity to commune meaningfully with like-minded people is not to be underestimated.

After all, who said only the religious get to have a social life and sense of community?

Pope Godwins himself

September 16, 2010 Comments off

Today marks the start of the Pope’s bullet-proofed whistle-stop tour of the UK paid, without consent, by the British taxpayer. In an amusing turn of profiteering, the large open masses to be conducted will be charged an entrance fee (£25 or so per ticket). This has, as you might expect, disgusted many of the faithful who are now refusing to attend. Which, in turn, has prompted a sudden decision to truck busloads of Catholic school children to the masses to boost attendance.

Can’t have a Pay The Pope extravanganza with mostly empty seats, can we?

In the Pope’s opening speech at the Palace of Holyroodhouse today — in a predictable example of skewed logic, cherry-picking and outright falsehoods — he has managed to Godwin himself with little effort. It occurred during the part of his speech where he needs to show how the Vatican and Britain are age-old allies, having stood together against the madness of the war in Europe during World War 2, rather than as the fervent opponent of the laws, rights and customs of this country that he really is (emphasis mine):

Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews… As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society…

Full speech: Papal Visit 2010: Pope’s Holyroodhouse speech (Catholic Herald)

Yes, he actually said the Nazis were atheists, and believes that their ‘atheist extremism’ was responsible for some of the worst horrors of the previous century.

Many people unburdened with the inconvenient weight of knowledge use the Nazis, Pol Pot and other awful regimes and events as examples of the ‘dangers of atheism’. Their argument is usually that such things were done in the name of atheism or that the absence of belief in a god let them do such horrible things — the unspoken implication being that faith would have naturally prevented them from doing such things.

Rubbish. Utter rubbish. More than that — it’s outright falsehood. As I have written previously, as have many others, all-but-one of the senior members of the Nazi Party were committed Christians, believing that what they were doing was for God’s glory. Removing God from society was the furthest thing from their minds. What’s more: they were Catholics. It has been documented and proven beyond refute, and the Vatican knows this. That the Pope would spew such demonstrable drivel is an indication of how little he respects the people he is addressing. If you are one of his faithful, that includes you.

That a despot may have been atheist does not mean his actions were done in the name of atheism any more than, say, Tony Blair decided to participate in the invasion and destruction of Iraq in the name of being British. It’s an artificial connection based upon preconceived biases: the Non-Sequitur logical fallacy.

I’m pleased that the British Humanist Association has taken the time to publish a response to the Pope’s speech:

The notion that it was the atheism of Nazis that led to their extremist and hateful views or that somehow fuels intolerance in Britain today is a terrible libel against those who do not believe in god. The notion that it is non-religious people in the UK today who want to force their views on others, coming from a man whose organisation exerts itself internationally to impose its narrow and exclusive form of morality and undermine the human rights of women, children, gay people and many others, is surreal.

Full text: BHA Reacts to Pope’s first remarks on state visit (BHA)

As I have mentioned before, Ratzinger has form as a reality bender, fixer and enforcer in his former role as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. That department used to be called the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition. Note that last word. That’s right: the Inquisition. The Pope used to run the very department that rained terror and torture down upon Europe for over 500 years, though now it seems to focus mainly on relocating paedophile priests to new hunting grounds to prevent prosecutions that would reflect badly on the Vatican.

With that background and proven willingness to do and say whatever is required to advance the Vatican, I expect the Pope’s further public utterances in this tour to be equally… interesting.

Unintended consequences on holy days

August 30, 2010 Comments off

Flickr CC-BY mikecattell

Today is a holiday in England and Wales called the Summer Bank Holiday, not a religious one, best known here for being the last holiday before Christmas, the weekend of the Reading Music Festival, and is, in a way, the start of the end of summer.

With the religious origin of many holidays in mind, it was with interest that I read today’s article in Center For Inquiry by Reba Boyd Wooden, where she talks about how holy days meant to bring communities together often seem to have the exact opposite effect, driving a wedge between sects of the same faith. Some points from the article are the differences in subjects and tone fired from the pulpit by different Christian ‘denominations’, and that good people in religion can and would be good even in the absence of their religion.

After all, religion does not make you a good person any more than standing in a garage makes you a car. Surely being good for its own sake is its own reward?

Here’s a partial quote from Reba’s article:

The… minister preached a lot about heaven and hell and said that death is “precious.” … [Was] death “precious” for my nephew and my niece’s husband who died recently in their forties — one leaving two teenage sons?

Here’s the rest of the article: Theology and Ritual Divide Neighbors on Holy Days

Categories: atheism Tags: , ,

Phil Plait says: Don’t Be a Dick

August 18, 2010 Comments off

There is a certain irony to this post, considering my previous post, but it’s worth my vaguely embarrassed shuffling feet.

As you may be aware, Dr Phil Plait is an astronomer, science blogger, author (most notably Bad Astronomy [Amazon|UK] and Death From The Skies! [Amazon|UK]), public speaker with magnificent on-screen/-stage presence, educator, and also skeptical activist and the former President of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). He’s also recently announced that he has a TV show called Bad Universe — the pilot airs on Sunday, 29 August 2010. Enough of the plugs…

During the recent The Amazing Meeting (TAM) 8 conference in Las Vegas, Phil gave a talk that generated quite a bit of controversy in the blogging world — including from a number of fellow skeptical activists. That itself is becoming increasingly more common, but what is entirely uncommon was the messages of Phil’s talk. You should watch it.

Phil Plait – Don’t Be A Dick (JREF)

You’d need to have been asleep to not have seen how deeply important that message was to Phil. I’d be hard-pressed to recall any speech I’ve seen or heard that is so deeply impassioned, compassionate and humanistic. Everything he says is correct.

It truly is far too easy to mock the viewpoints of those with whom we disagree, to score cheap points, to shout the doctrines or proofs of our own position over others, to be abusive and insulting, to treat others as sub-human or idiots. You may say (as some of the talk’s detractors do) that this is justified in light of what they or those they identify with have done, but the fact remains that if you’re not behaving like a grown-up when discussing these topics, you’re deliberately expending time and effort showing others how smart you are while confirming both that skeptics are dicks and closing that mind to further discussion. I have better things to do with my time.

It’s impressed me deeply enough to see about how I can re-think my approach to the topics I write about. Stay tuned, sports fans.

Top 10 Signs You’re a Fundamentalist Christian

August 11, 2010 Comments off

Normally I’m reluctant (believe it or not) to post blatantly antagonistic anti-theistic posts, but I do make the occasional exception, as I am both qualified to and normally only do so to make a point. This is one such example.

Top Ten Signs You’re a Fundamentalist Christian

10. You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.

9. You feel insulted and “dehumanised” when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.

8. You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.

7. Your face turns purple when you hear of the “atrocities” attributed to Allah, but you don’t even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in Exodus and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in Joshua including women, children, and trees!

6. You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.

5. You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.

4. You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs — though excluding those in all rival sects — will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering.  And yet consider your religion the most “tolerant” and “loving.”

3. While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor speaking in “tongues” may be all the evidence you need to “prove” Christianity.

2. You define 0.01% as a “high success rate” when it comes to answered prayers.  You consider that to be evidence that prayer works.  And you think that the remaining 99.99% failure was simply the will of God.

1. You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history — but still call yourself a Christian.

/ Hat tip to EvilBible.com.