Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Becoming Progressive about Religion?

In a piece called Beyond Progressive Religion, Ivan Petrella (associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida) makes a bold suggestion. He recommends we take the best parts of progressive Christianity and of Atheism, and discard the unpalatable parts, in order to formulate a new spiritual outlook.

So, what does Petrella consider the good and the bad of progressive Christianity?

He says:

From progressive Christians, I’d rescue the commitment to progressive understandings of faith and politics. But I’d reject their reliance on the Bible and Jesus. Here they are no different from the religious right, picking and choosing what suits them while ignoring what doesn’t.

Okay, that's not too bad, although it's a bit vague on the particulars of what exactly a progressive understanding of faith and politics is.

Patrella's ideal goal is for people to pick and choose from various religious traditions, smorgasbord fashion.

He makes this claim:

But religions need not be viewed as mutually exclusive and monolithic structures. Instead, they can be resources to tinker with and borrow from. We’re usually born into a religion, but as human beings all of them are our inheritance. To embrace this view is to become a multi-religious individual, someone who draws from more than one religious tradition to forge a spiritual path.

Perhaps Petrella hasn't noticed, but we already have such a thing, and it's called New Age religion, with its pickings and choosings from Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Celtic pre-Christian religions, and a bunch of novel ideas seemingly made up on the spot.

None of this bothers me too much, but what irks me is Petrella's ideas about what we should take and leave from Atheism.

He says:

From atheists, I’d rescue the commitment to reason. Like them, I’m unwilling to abdicate the use of my rational capacity in the name of faith. Unlike atheists, however, I don’t believe religions are false. Billions of people practice religions; in that sense they’re true. Billions of people believe in God; in that sense God does exist. Religions are true, but they’re not sacred. We need to be as self-reflective and critical of religion as we are of any other part of life.

The last sentence is intelligible (and I agree with it), and the bit about being unwilling to give up reason for faith makes sense to me too, but the rest is unintelligible.

So, let's get this straight: What does it mean to say that, "Billions of people practice religions; in that sense they’re true. Billions of people believe in God; in that sense God does exist"?

The problem is that believing something doesn't make it true, regardless of how many billions of people believe it. I'm baffled at how Petrella can champion rational thinking in one sentence, but then immediately after say something so utterly irrational.

At one time the majority of people believed that the sun revolved around the earth, but that didn't make it true that the sun revolved around the earth. And in the same way, just because the majority of people believe in God and religion does not make those beliefs true.

It would indeed be a strange universe if truth was simply a matter of what the majority believed. In fact, this would make science and rational thinking impossible, because if you wanted to know whether some claim is true or false you wouldn't have to actually do any experiments, make observations, gather evidence, check for logical inconsistencies, and so forth. All you'd have to do is have a vote, and whatever the majority voted for would be true.

And this bit from Petrella just seems wrongheaded (although at least it's intelligible):

In a world that’s becoming more religious rather than less, atheism can’t be the answer. Advocates of atheism remain tied to the discredited secularization thesis, making them a minority condemned to insignificance except within circles ever more out of touch with global reality. In addition, their strident tone feeds the culture wars and strengthens the right’s belief that Christianity is under siege.

I'd like to see some empirical evidence that the world is becoming more religious rather than less. Even if it's true, that's no reason to give up in the culture wars struggle. We fight these battles because we don't want to live in a society whose institutions are controlled by the religious right and their antiquated views.

And what makes the "secularization thesis" discredited? The ideas of secularism come out of the Enlightenment, and they go a long way to informing how governments are designed to work in the United States and Europe. I wouldn't want to give up that "thesis" at all.

This all sounds like wishy-washy muddle-headed thinking.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Iraqi Militias Target Gay Men

Yesterday I blogged about a pro-gay marriage Muslim politician in Maryland, but it seems that he certainly is an anomaly. It would appear that some Muslims find gays so debased that they deserve to be killed.

Referring to a Human Rights Watch report, the Washington Post says:

Gay activists said militiamen loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr had target lists containing the names of men suspected of being gay. Some were killed and some were tortured, they said. Human Rights Watch said a commonly reported form of torture involved injecting super glue into men's rectums.

These militiamen are not the kind of people you want as neighbors, and I feel for these victims of this barbaric brutality.

According to The Post:

The attacks on gay men appear to have coincided with a call by religious leaders in Sadr City and other Shiite communities to curb behavior that clerics called unnatural and unhealthy.

It comes as no surprise to me to discover that religious attitudes are behind this.

Read more here.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Pro Gay-Marriage Muslim Politician

As uncommon as it is hear the words "pro gay-marriage" and "Muslim" side-by-side, this is indeed a true story. Maryland state representative (delegate) Saqib Ali has publicly stated that he is in favor of gay marriage. The democrat, representing the 39th district in the lower house in the state of Maryland, does not put his religious beliefs before his political views, even though Islam clearly forbids homosexuality. Ali says:

"If I tried to enforce religion by law — as in a theocracy — I would be doing a disservice to both my constituents and to my religion."

I'm sure plenty of his co-religionists will condemn him for taking this stand (as will many Christians), but it is refreshing. One can only hope that other Muslims will publicly come to his defense, although I'm rather pessimistic on that front.

And he gets right to the heart of the matter when he says: "[Gay marriage] doesn't affect my marriage; it doesn't affect anybody else's marriage. It doesn't harm us in any way."

You can read a bit more here.

This makes me think of John F. Kennedy's speech where he said:

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute--where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote--where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference--and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

I won't be expecting invitations to any Muslim gay weddings in the near future, but who knows.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Proof that Humans and Dinos lived Together

It's none other than atheist, biologist, and blogging maniac P. Z. Myers astride a Triceratops. P. Z. and nearly 300 people from the Secular Student Alliance visited the Creation "Museum" in Kentucky, and had a good laugh.

A few postings on P. Z.'s Pharyngula blog here, here, here, and here.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Public Prayers in Jesus' Name

It seems that Gordon Klingenschmitt is on a crusade in Lodi, California demanding that public prayers "in Jesus' name" be permitted at Lodi City Council meetings.

Klingenschmitt, who runs "The Pray in Jesus' Name Project," was court-martialed from his job as a chaplain in the US Navy in 2006 for appearing at a religious-right protest in his military uniform, which is against military regulations. But Klingenschmitt says he was court-martialed for praying in Jesus' name.

But now Klingenschmitt is determined to have prayers in Jesus' name at Lodi City Council meetings. What is it with these loony Christians who want to foist their prayers on us at government institutions? Don't they read their own Bible?

Jesus said "But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret..." (Mathew 6:6, KJV).

The Lodi city bylaws only permit non-denominational prayers at their city council meetings. Apparently, this allows for a wide swath of the gullible superstitious hordes to be content. But if you allow prayers in Jesus' name at these meetings, then you open up a big old can of worms. Because, to be fair, you'd have to allow people of all religious stripes to have their denominational prayers as well, whether they be Muslims, Hindus, Satanists, Scientologists, Raelians, Rastafaris, Wiccans, Flying Spaghetti Monsterists, and so forth.

One can't but help wonder what Klingenschmitt and other Christian fundamentalist nutjobs would make of that. I doubt they'd be pleased, and I don't doubt they'd fight against these other prayers because America is a "Christian nation."

But the truth is that America is a pluralistic nation, so, as far as government sponsored prayers go, it's either all or nothing: all manner of prayers or no prayers at all. I'd prefer the latter.

Klingenschmitt is so far off the deep end that he offered up a prayer for the deaths of Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Praying for someone's death is called an "imprecatory prayer," and guess what? It's in the Bible, so it must be okay.

Here's Klingenschmitt's imprecatory prayer:
Let us pray. Almighty God, today we pray imprecatory prayers from Psalm 109 against the enemies of religious liberty, including Barry Lynn and Mikey Weinstein, who issued press releases this week attacking me personally. God, do not remain silent, for wicked men surround us and tell lies about us. We bless them, but they curse us. Therefore find them guilty, not me. Let their days be few, and replace them with Godly people. Plunder their fields, and seize their assets. Cut off their descendants, and remember their sins, in Jesus' name. Amen.

What a fine upstanding Christian this Klingenschmitt fellow is.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Anti-Witchcraft conference attacked in Nigeria

Nigerian Humanist Leo Igwe was attacked by Christians at a conference in Nigeria, a conference which was critical of children being labeled as witches.

The torturing and killing of "child witches" has become a serious problem in parts of Nigeria.

One of the main villains is Helen Ukpabio, head of the Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries in southeastern Nigeria.

Ms. Ukpabio, in her book Unveiling the Mysteries of Witchcraft, claims that "a child under two years of age that cries at night and deteriorates in health is an agent of Satan."

Read more about the attack from the British Humanist Association.