Tuesday, April 10, 2012
The Passion of the New Atheists
This Easter, some atheists would have us believe that, like the early Christians, they are hated and persecuted by the mob. Don’t buy it
I know Easter is traditionally a time when Christians give praise for the rising again of Jesus after his flagellation and crucifixion by the Romans. But this year, in the midst of your Easter egg-eating and possible Mass-attending, try to spare a thought for the modern-day equivalent of whipped, weeping Jesuses – that is, the New Atheists, the non-believers, who would have us believe that it is they who face persecution in the twenty-first century. Playing what we might call the Crucifixion Card, the atheist lobby now argues that its members suffer the slings and arrows and jibes of the heartless hordes in a similar way that Christians did 2,000 years ago.
Perhaps keen to shake off the tag of ‘Darwin’s pitbulls’, atheist campaigners now play the role of put-upon pups. They’re all about the victimology. Over the past two weeks, there have been public gatherings of atheists in which they have, self-consciously and shamelessly, plundered from the language of old oppressed groups to try to describe their alleged plight. So at the Rally for Reason in Washington DC on 24 March, a gathering of 10,000 atheists modelled on the famous black civil-rights march of 1963, campaigners used the gay-liberation term ‘coming out’ to describe what allegedly cowed atheists must now do. Like homosexuals who kicked against repression and moralism, atheists must ‘come out of the closet’, said Mark D Hatcher, founder of America’s Secular Student Alliance, even though they risk being ‘labelled pariahs’.
Others took this ostentatious oppression-mongering even further, comparing themselves to one-time repressed blacks and downtrodden women. The journalist Jamila Bey said of modern atheists’ fight for respect that ‘these are battles that homosexuals have won, people of colour have won, women have won’. ‘We can’t stay silent anymore’, she cried. Yes, atheists might not be denied the right to vote or attacked with water cannons whenever they gather in public, they might not be forced to sit at the back of the bus or to eat in Atheists Only restaurants, but they feel oppressed, okay? ‘We’re here, we’re godless, get used to it!’ cried the crowd, echoing the old rallying cry of gay liberationists.
Something about this atheist victimology doesn’t add up. Actually, a lot about it doesn’t add up, not least the fact that, although there is certainly cultural hostility towards atheists in parts of America, elsewhere, particularly in academia, publishing and throughout the political and media worlds of Western Europe, they enjoy untouchable ‘darling’ status these days, being fawned over like never before. There are no legislative restrictions on atheists’ rights or apartheid systems that separate them from the God-fearing, which means their claims to be following in the footsteps of protesting blacks are not only unfounded, but also pretty depraved. But one thing in particular about these atheist shindigs is weird: if these gatherings really are about challenging persecution, then why do they promote persecution – of Christians?
At the Rally for Reason, British atheist Richard Dawkins, the Mel Gibson of the New Atheist movement, got the crowd going not with demands for freedom or ‘I Have A Dream’ speeches, but by appealing to them to ridicule religious people. ‘Mock them, ridicule them in public’, he said. Their beliefs are insane and therefore they should be ‘ridiculed with contempt’, said Dawkins. Meanwhile, messy-haired pianist Tim Minchin thrilled the audience by singing a song with the line ‘fuck the motherfucking pope’. Attendees carried placards saying ‘Only sheep need a shepherd’ and ‘So many Christians, so few lions’. In short, the religious are brainwashed, and wasn’t it a hoot back in the day when we used them as feed for wild beasts?
Now, of course, atheists, like everyone else, must be free to say whatever they please, wherever they want to say it – whether it’s in million-selling books (for an oppressed ideology, atheism is mighty popular) or on The Mall in Washington. The right to defile God and mock his followers was fought for long and hard by secularists over the centuries. But their jeering and laughing at stupid religious folk rather takes the gloss off all their libertarian claims, off the idea that modern atheists are struggling against repression and for liberty and decency. Instead, what is happening here, in a meta development that would give even the most postmodern academic a headache, is that New Atheists are dressing up their own urge to heap contempt on the religious as a rally against the alleged contempt heaped on atheists by the mob. The reason they have raided the linguistic larders of old struggles for equality is because they desperately need some progressive-sounding garb with which to doll up their regressive and intolerant outlook.
The central problem with the New Atheist movement is that it is based entirely on a lack of belief rather than on a belief. It is built on an absence, on a negative, on the fact that these people share a non-belief in God, rather than on any shared vision of the future. Some atheists now even wear t-shirts branded with what they call, in another nod to history, the ‘scarlet letter’ – that is, a big red ‘A’ for Atheist.
This is a very new development. Of course, there have been non-believers for centuries, particularly following the Enlightenment. But they did not club together on the basis of their non-belief; they clubbed together on the basis of what they did believe in, whether it was liberalism, communism, fascism or whatever. Today’s cultivation of a movement that is merely atheistic, whose members are tied together only by what they lack, is pretty unprecedented. And it speaks profoundly to the emptying out of the big ideas and shared ideologies that once galvanised the intellectual classes – particularly liberalism and socialism – so that now all that these people can rally around is what they don’t have (faith in God) rather than what they do have (faith in man or the future).
It is their creation of a movement based on negatives rather than positives which explains why the New Atheists are so screechy. Because bereft of anything substantial or ideological to cohere themselves around, they instead spend the whole time attacking their opposite number – those who do believe in what New Atheists do not: religious people, the thick, the unenlightened. Like electrons in an atom, the ‘negatives’ of the New Atheist clique are forever whizzing around the ‘positives’ of the God lobby. The hole at the heart of modern atheism was best summed up in what Time magazine last month described as ‘The Rise of the Nones’ – that is, the speedily growing group of Americans who now list their religious affiliation as ‘none’. That is fine, of course, but then to cultivate an entire identity, a whole life’s outlook, on the basis of that ‘none’? That is sad. Who wants to be a ‘none’? I’d rather be a nun. At least they still believe in something.
U.S. Army sponsors atheist event
March was a big month for atheists in America. Last weekend, the Reason Rally — the largest gathering of secularists in world history — unfolded on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Then, this past Saturday, also in a historical first, the U.S. military hosted an event expressly for soldiers and others who don’t believe in God, with a county fair-like gathering on the main parade ground at one of the world’s largest Army posts.
The Rock Beyond Belief event at Fort Bragg, organized by soldiers here two years after an evangelical Christian event at the eastern North Carolina post, is the most visible sign so far of a growing desire by military personnel with atheist or other secular beliefs to get the same recognition as their religious counterparts.
The purpose was not to make the Army look bad, organizers said, but to show that atheists and other secular believers have a place in institutions like the military. As The Blaze reported last year, the Army agreed to give $50,000 toward the event following atheists’ protests over military sponsorship of a Christian concert put on by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
“I love the military,” said Sgt. Justin Griffith, main organizer of the event and the military director of American Atheists. He added, “This is not meant to be a black eye.”
Griffith said he and other non-religious soldiers are not permitted to hold atheist meetings at the post and have so far been rebuffed in their efforts to change that. They feel their beliefs marginalize them.
Organizers were hoping for a crowd of about 5,000. At least several hundred people gathered on the parade ground by midday Saturday. Rainy weather for most of the morning may have affected the turnout. Fort Bragg officials said they would provide a crowd estimate later.
The atmosphere was festive, with carnival treats like ribbon fries and ice cream, games for children and a demonstration jump by the Army’s Golden Knights parachute team. Speakers and bands performed on the main stage. In many ways it was indistinguishable from a county fair except for the information booths ringing the parade ground and the content of the performances.
Back in January, we also reported about the intense controversy surrounding one of the bands — Aiden — whose members have used images of a burning church and a bloody cross, among other elements, in a past music video. With the event pledging to be family-friendly, these inclusions did seem a bit odd. This was compounded by the fact that Justin Griffith, an organizer for Rock Beyond Belief, defended the video on the festival’s web site.
This same issues surrounding questionable content unfolded at the Reason Rally last week, where songwriter Tim Minchin unleashed more than 75 expletives as children and families stood watching his performance
“We got any Darwin fans in the house?” asked a performer named Baba Brinkman at yesterday’s Rock Beyond Belief, before launching into a rap song about evolutionary biology that culminated in a call-and-response chant of “Creationism is dead wrong!”
Organizers said the goal was not to disparage soldiers with religious beliefs. In the weeks leading up to the event, some bloggers and others expressed concerns. A chaplain currently deployed in Afghanistan posted an open letter on Fort Bragg’s Facebook page, saying he feared the event would be devoted to mocking religious soldiers.
“We’re never antagonistic toward religious believers, we’re antagonistic toward religious belief,” said Richard Dawkins, the British biologist and best-selling atheist author who was the event’s headline speaker.
Dawkins, who frequently makes pointed criticism of religious adherents, delivered some relatively restrained remarks, asserting that none of the common arguments for religious belief stand up to scrutiny. “There is no good, honest reason to believe in a god or gods of any kind, or indeed in anything supernatural,” he said. “The only reason to believe something is that you have evidence for it.”
The event marked a coming-out of sorts for atheist and secularist soldiers at Fort Bragg, who have been trying for more than a year to be recognized as a “distinctive faith group,” a designation that would allow them to hold their meetings at Bragg facilities. Curious soldiers in uniform mixed with people in civilian clothes as bands played and children began to race around the huge field when the rain let up.
“I’ve been an atheist pretty much my whole life, and where I was growing up in Texas, I didn’t know another atheist,” said Pfc. Lance Reed. “It’s important to meet people who have some of the same beliefs and interests as you do, and that’s what this is about.”
Reed also said he hoped Christians at Bragg and other believers would attend, to dispel some misconceptions about atheists. “A lot of people think it’s all about God-bashing or something like that,” he said. “You can see we’re not evil people who want to burn down churches. We’re just here to have fun.”
Sgt. Lance Hollander, who said he’s been looking forward to the event ever since he first heard about it last year, agreed that in some ways the concert could serve as a calling card for soldiers who aren’t religious. “Atheists are the least trusted group in America, and we want to change that,” he said.
A concert that was planned last year fell apart after a dispute between organizers and the base leadership over questions such as location. Saturday’s gathering was made possible in part by $70,000 in donations from the Raleigh-based Stiefel Freethought Foundation, whose founder, Todd Stiefel, said he hopes the Army ultimately decides that its role doesn’t include events like Rock Beyond Belief and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association-sponsored concert that prompted it.
“I would like this to be the last one of these events,” Stiefel said, arguing that the government shouldn’t have any role in hosting events geared towards religious belief or lack of it.
Fort Bragg is willing to work with organizers of any event that fits its guidelines, said Garrison Commander Col. Stephen Sicinski, who estimated that the BGEA evangelical concert generated twice as much controversy as the atheist event. As far as the Army is concerned, Siciniski said, the event isn’t a bellwether of changing beliefs – it’s simply another one of the community events that Bragg often hosts.
“We don’t treat soldiers who are atheists as atheists, we treat them as soldiers,” he said. “They’re soldiers first.”
Britain's Multicultural Nightmare
More than 400 children were subjected to forced marriage in Britain during the past year, including a five-year-old girl who is believed to be the country's youngest victim of the practice.
The statistics were provided by the British government's Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) as part of an ongoing effort to create a law that would criminalize forced marriage in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The custom is already illegal in Scotland.
Overall, the FMU said it gave advice or support related to nearly 1,500 cases of forced marriage during 2011, although experts say the vast majority of forced marriages in Britain go unreported.
Most of the instances of forced marriage in Britain involve Muslim families from South Asia, particularly Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. Many of the cases involve Muslim children who are taken abroad by their parents and forced to marry against their will. Forced marriages often involve kidnapping, beatings and rape.
Prime Minister David Cameron has compared the practice of forced marriage to modern day slavery and has said people should not "shy away" from addressing the issue because of "cultural concerns." A new law outlawing the practice is currently being drafted and could be in place by the end of 2012.
Separately, more than 65,000 women and girls in England and Wales have been the victims of female genital mutilation, and another 24,000 girls under the age of 15 are believed to be at a high risk, according to a London-based non-profit group called Foundation for Women's Health Research and Development.
Speaking in the House of Commons on February 6, British Home Secretary Theresa May said "Sadly, what we see are too many examples of this terrible crime continuing to take place. I think most people would be shocked to know how many young girls within the United Kingdom are subjected to female genital mutilation."
Female genital mutilation is most common among Muslim immigrants from Africa and the Middle East. Although the practice is illegal under the 2003 Female Genital Mutilation Act, and carries a jail term of up to 14 years, no one has yet been successfully prosecuted.
In many cases, Muslim families often pool resources to fly professional "cutters" to Britain from Africa to perform mutilations on pre-pubescent girls for as little as £40 ($65), often without anesthetics, using blunt knives, razor blades or scalpels. In other cases, girls are flown abroad to their family's native country to help minimize the risk of detection.
On March 31, an anti-female genital mutilation activist group named Daughters of Eve began hosting workshops in London to encourage men to stop this practice. The workshops, which will run for five weeks, include topics such as an introduction to female genital mutilation, its consequences and the laws surrounding it.
Meanwhile, it has been reported that more than 2,800 so-called honor attacks -- punishments for bringing shame on the family -- were recorded by British police during 2011. That data was compiled by the London-based Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organization (IKWRO), a registered charity that provides advice to Muslim women and girls living in the United Kingdom, who are often facing forced marriage, honor-based violence, female genital mutilation and domestic abuse.
Although the statistics provide the best national estimate so far, IKWRO believes the real figure could be five times as high. The highest number of honor crimes -- which include murder, mutilation, beatings, abductions and acid attacks -- was recorded in London, where the problem has doubled to more than five times the national average.
Elsewhere in Britain, the government says that effective in 2013, it will end the practice of paying multiple social welfare benefits to Muslim immigrants practicing bigamy or polygamy.
In September 2011, a British newspaper exposé revealed that tens of thousands of Muslim immigrants in Britain are practicing bigamy or polygamy to collect bigger social welfare payments from the British state.
Although bigamy is a crime in Britain punishable by up to seven years in prison, the rapid growth in multiple marriages has been fueled by multicultural policies that grant special rights to Muslim immigrants who demand that Islamic Sharia law be reflected in British law and the social welfare benefits system.
The United Kingdom also recognizes polygamous marriages where both parties were resident in a country in which the practice is legal before they moved to Britain.
The report shows how Muslim men can take a second, third or fourth wife (or in some cases five or more) from anywhere in the world, father any number of children with her, and have British taxpayers assume responsibility for this family's upkeep and care.
By having a string of wives living in separate homes, Muslim immigrants are squeezing tens of millions of British pounds from the state by claiming benefits intended for single mothers and their children.
Those women are currently eligible for full housing benefits -- reaching £106,000 ($250,000) a year in some parts of London -- and child benefits paid at £1,000 ($1,500) a year for a first child, and nearly £700 ($1,000) for each subsequent one.
The British government is also working on a new law that would ensure that meat slaughtered in accordance with Islamic Sharia law cannot be sold to unwitting members of the public. The new measure would prevent schools, hospitals, pubs and sporting venues from serving so-called halal [permitted in Islam] meat secretly to customers.
The move will be welcomed by animal rights activists and many others, who argue that the traditional Islamic way of preparing meat -- which involves killing animals by drawing a knife across their throats without stunning them first -- is cruel and causes unnecessary pain.
In September 2010, an investigation by London's Daily Mail found that major supermarket chains, fast-food restaurants, even some hospitals and schools in Britain are serving halal food without telling those who are eating it.
Meanwhile, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) -- a key promoter of multiculturalism in Britain -- has refused to broadcast a screenplay about the threat that Islam poses to freedom of speech.
The BBC's director general, Mark Thompson, says he will not air a play the National Theatre's controversial play called "Can We Talk About This?," which examines multiculturalism and how it has resulted in Britain being more divided than ever.
According to Thompson, there is "a growing nervousness about discussion about Islam." He also claims that because Muslims are a religious minority in Britain, their faith should be given different coverage than that of more established groups.
In 2005, Thompson famously ordered BBC Two to air an anti-Christian musical called "Jerry Springer: The Opera," which mocked God and presented Jesus Christ as a homosexual. At least 45,000 people contacted the BBC to complain about the show, which contained an estimated 8,000 obscenities. According to one observer: "If this show portrayed Mohammed or Vishnu as homosexual, ridiculous and ineffectual, it would never have seen the light of day."
Australia: Jailbird survey shock as inmates quizzed on quality of life
JAIL chiefs have surveyed many of Victoria's vilest criminals to see whether they are happy with life on the inside.
Almost 1700 prisoners were asked to rate food, activities and other services behind bars, and quizzed on whether they felt safe, listened to, and respected.
Asked to describe "What I like about this prison is ... ", a fifth replied "nothing", "nothing at all", "not much, it's jail", "stupid question", or gave a similar response.
A team of five staff from the Office of Correctional Services review took 26 days to visit 15 jails, surveying about 40 per cent of inmates.
The Herald Sun obtained the results of the survey - completed last financial year - under Freedom of Information laws after months of wrangling.
Jailbirds used the survey to moan about boredom, bad food, thin mattresses, low pay, and delays in waiting for medical treatment.
Other gripes included the cost of computer games, broken gym equipment, expensive phone calls, drug dealing and poor ventilation.
But many praised life on the inside, complimenting their cells, the meals, the gardens, the relaxed environment, access to phones and the recreation on offer.
The statement "I am safe" got the third-highest score overall.
Comments from satisfied inmates included "the cells are spacious and easy to keep clean", "it is peaceful", "it is a very relaxed prison," and "I find this (jail) like paradise".
Others praised the gym equipment, the education opportunities and the proximity to family.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.