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Nov/15

30

Isaiah Berlin: Half Right

Riga, Aug 09 (AS)

Isaiah Berlin:

As for the meaning of life, I do not believe that it has any: I do not at all ask what it is, for I suspect it has none, and this is a source of great comfort to me — we make of it what we can, and that is all there is about it. Those who seek for some deep, cosmic, all-embracing, teleologically arguable libretto or god are, believe me pathetically deluded.

So far as I’m concerned, Berlin is right about that meaning of life thing. It’s nothing but a relief to me that there is none, and for the reasons he gives.  On the other hand, to describe those who have found some sort of god as ‘pathetically deluded’ is too smug and so far as that ‘pathetically’ is concerned, often inaccurate. As a species we seem to be hardwired for faith. Upbringing and culture will generally dictate the form that the faith takes, sometimes disastrously so, frequently not.

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Nov/15

20

Multiculturalism, Free Speech: Choose One?

blasphemyNational Secular Society:

Labour MP Keith Vaz has expressed his support for the reintroduction of UK blasphemy laws – provided they “apply equally to everybody.”
His comments were reportedly made at an event organised by the Muslim Council of Britain to explore responses to terrorism and extremism, held in London on 12 November. During discussions on how to respond to ‘slurs’ and “grossly irresponsible” coverage of Muslim issues in the media, attendees called for Britain’s Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) to use its powers to pursue complaints of discrimination against groups of people, such as those of Muslim faith, even if no individual is specified in an offending article.

Miqdaad Versi, Assistant Secretary General of the MCB, said “Muslim communities need to be able to respond to accusations [against] Muslims, or against the Prophet, in a more effective way.”

He added: “Whether there should be legislation is something that really is a more complicated question.”

But in response to discussion on new blasphemy legislation, Vaz, who is the chairman of the influential Home Affairs Select Committee, told Al Arabiya that under certain conditions he would have “no problem” with the reintroduction of blasphemy laws in the UK.

“Religions are very special to people. And therefore I have no objection to [a blasphemy law] … but it must apply equally to everybody,” the longstanding Labour MP added.

Free speech, it seems, is not so “very special”.

Jul/15

4

Happy Independence Day!

May/15

9

From Carthage (Tennessee) to Rome

al-gorePosted earlier this week on the Corner:

Al Gore, speaking recently at Berkeley:

I think Pope Francis is quite an inspiring figure really. A phenomena. I’ve been startled with the clarity of the moral force that he embodies…

Well I’ve said publicly in the last year, I was raised in the Southern Baptist tradition, I could become a Catholic because of this Pope. He is that inspiring to me. And I know the vast majority of my Catholic friends are just thrilled to the marrow of their bones that he is inspiring this kind of spiritual leadership.

I would like to give credit to his immediate three predecessors, as Holy Father, who also had very powerful statements on Global Warming. But Pope Francis is going beyond them with this encyclical which, evidently, is expected around the middle of June, and of course there was a preliminary document which just came out yesterday, is likely to have a very powerful impact.

There are, I hear, wicked folk who like to argue that, for some, a belief in CAGW is akin to a religious faith. I cannot think where they get such ideas.

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Dec/14

24

Christmas

ChristmastruceCaptain A. D. Chater, 2nd Batallion, Gordon Highlanders, Dec 25, 1914:

I think I have seen today one of the most extraordinary sights that anyone has ever seen. About 10 o’clock this morning I was peeping over the parapet when I saw a German, waving his arms, and presently two of them got out of their trench and came towards ours.

We were just going to fire on them when we saw they had no rifles, so one of our men went to meet them and in about two minutes the ground between the two lines of trenches was swarming with men and officers of both sides, shaking hands and wishing each other a happy Christmas…

We exchanged cigarettes and autographs, and some more people took photos…I don’t know how long it will go on for – I believe it was supposed to stop yesterday, but we can hear no firing going on along the front today except a little distant shelling.

Sergeant A. Lovell, 3rd Rifle Brigade.

Then suddenly lights began to appear along the German parapet, which were evidently make-shift Christmas trees, adorned with lighted candles, which burnt steadily in the frosty air!

First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up O Come, All Ye Faithful, the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is a most extraordinary thing — two nations singing the same carol in the middle of a war.

And these were by no means isolated incidents.

When the high commands (on both sides) heard about these ‘Christmas truces’, they did everything they could to bring them to an end and avoid their repetition, but just for a moment…

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Mar/14

17

The trinity is incoherent

I quite like BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time. But the most recent episode was on the Trinity. You can listen to online. Most of the time the host has scholars who are there to illuminate the educated public on some fascinating topic. But in this case it seems clear that  no one has any idea what they are talking about. The problem here is not the scholars, it is that after nearly 2,000 years no one understands the Trinity well enough to speak about it coherently. This brings to mind Wittgenstein’s phrase, Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

MoscowMarch15Two of the formerly-jailed Pussy Rioters have been in Moscow today, bravely speaking at a demonstration to oppose what Putin is doing in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Right Wing Watch (I know, I know) reports that Concerned Women of America will no longer be attending a ‘World Congress of Families’ summit scheduled to be held in the Kremlin later this year. The group’s CEO Penny Nance has said, “I don’t want to appear to be giving aid and comfort to Vladimir Putin.” Well, it’s taken a while for the penny to drop, Penny, but good.

On the other hand:

CWA’s choice is especially surprising because its senior fellow, Janice Shaw Crouse, is amember of the board of the World Congress of Families and has been a vocal defender of Putin’s social policies. Last month, Crouse even appeared at a press conference promoting the Moscow summit.

Now the question becomes whether other American groups will follow Nance’s lead. An organizing meeting for the event in October included Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family, Benjamin Bull of Alliance Defending Freedom, Justin Murff of the Christian Broadcasting Network and Austin Ruse of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute.

A draft program for the event that was obtained by Buzzfeed includes speeches by ADF president Allan Sears, Focus president Jim Daly, Mike Farris of the Home School Legal Defense Association, Brown, Ruse and Murff, among others.

In addition, the World Congress of Families receives funding from “partner organizations” including the Family Research Council, the American Family Association, and Americans United for Life.

The World Congress of Families’ Larry Jacobs said at last month’s press conference that members of the U.S. Congress would also attend the event, though he would not specify which ones since he said their confirmations were not yet finalized. The draft program also accounts for speeches from unidentified members of Congress. to speak.

As we’ve noted, the planned summit is more than just a trip to Moscow. It’s being held at the Kremlin with funding from key Putin allies and will include a joint forum with Russia’s parliament. In addition, the World Congress of Families itself has been working to support Putin’s crackdown on LGBT rights in Russia…

Ruse articulated the apparent attitude of many American groups when he told Buzzfeed that although the Ukraine invasion “muddied the water,” he had not been concerned about working so closely with the Putin regime until now, “because the Russian government has been quite good on our issues.”

Useful idiots, redux.

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Jan/14

26

Red in Tooth and Claw

Dove on the runThere’s a lesson lying somewhere in this Haaretz story:

Two white doves that were released by children standing alongside Pope Francis as a peace gesture have been attacked by other birds.

As tens of thousands of people watched in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, a seagull and a large black crow swept down on the doves right after they were set free from an open window of the Apostolic Palace.

One dove lost some feathers as it broke free from the gull. But the crow pecked repeatedly at the other dove.

It was not clear what happened to the doves as they flew off.

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Jan/14

12

Schism!

churchI have, to put it mildly, my doubts about atheist “churches”, but not about the real need for many of those who struggle with the idea of a god for some sort of ritualized community. The “Sunday Assembly” was designed to fill this gap, but now appears to have evolved in a manner that can satisfy another persistent urge: the need to differentiate true believers (so to speak) from those who have got it wrong.

CNN has the details:

The world’s most voguish – though not its only – atheist church opened last year in London, to global attention and abundant acclaim. So popular was the premise, so bright the promise, that soon the Sunday Assembly was ready to franchise, branching out into cities such as New York, Dublin and Melbourne.

“It’s a way to scale goodness,” declared Sanderson Jones, a standup comic and co-founder of The Sunday Assembly, which calls itself a “godless congregation.”

But nearly as quickly as the Assembly spread, it split, with New York City emerging as organized atheism’s Avignon. In October, three former members of Sunday Assembly NYC announced the formation of a breakaway group called Godless Revival.

“The Sunday Assembly,” wrote Godless Revival founder Lee Moore in a scathing blog post, “has a problem with atheism.”

Moore alleges that, among other things, Jones advised the NYC group to “boycott the word atheism” and “not to have speakers from the atheist community.” It also wanted the New York branch to host Assembly services in a churchlike setting, instead of the Manhattan dive bar where it was launched.

Jones denies ordering the NYC chapter to do away with the word “atheism,” but acknowledges telling the group “not to cater solely to atheists.” He also said he advised them to leave the dive bar “where women wore bikinis,” in favor of a more family-friendly venue. The squabbles led to a tiff and finally a schism between two factions within Sunday Assembly NYC. Jones reportedly told Moore that his faction was no longer welcome in the Sunday Assembly movement.

Moore promises that his group, Godless Revival, will be more firmly atheistic than the Sunday Assembly, which he now dismisses as “a humanistic cult….”

Well, however structured, such sort of assemblies are unlikely to appeal to the likes of me, but I must say, if I had to choose, Godless Revival seems—based on this account—like the way to go. Grumbles about a “humanistic cult” are all too believable, and opting for a dive bar “where women wore bikinis” clinches it.

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Sep/13

29

Own Goal

The PillWhatever you think about the rights or wrongs of this move, its politics will do the GOP no favors:

Washington (CNN) – House Republicans have added a measure aimed at limiting contraceptive coverage to the spending bill coming up for a vote Saturday night, a spokesman for Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas, told CNN.

A senior House leadership aide confirmed that development.

The so-called “conscience clause” would allow employers and insurers to opt out of preventative care for women which they find objectionable on moral or religious grounds. That prominently includes birth control, which most insurers are required to provide for free under current Obamacare rules.

With this move, House Republican leaders would give any employer or group health plan the ability to opt out of contraception coverage for the next year. That time frame syncs up with the larger measure in which this is included: a one-year delay of Obamacare provisions not yet in effect.

“This is a big deal for the congressman,” Huelskamp’s spokesman, Paul Nelson, told CNN. “He has been pushing for (the conscience clause) since he entered Congress.”

Democrats say the measure is unnecessary because the administration has granted exemptions to contraceptive coverage to religious nonprofit institutions. But advocates, such as Huelskamp, insist that all institutions should be able to opt out of any preventative coverage for women that they find objectionable.

The addition of the “conscience clause” ties a heated social issue to the already sharp shutdown debate.

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