Why secularism is good for the religious.

April 12, 2014

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“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their “legislature” should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and State.”
- Thomas Jefferson.

A wall of Separation between Church and State” was a phrase first coined by Thomas Jefferson in his famous letter penned to the Danbury Baptists in 1802. The significance of Jefferson’s letter was that the phrase was not coined as an attack on religion in the United States, but protection for the freedom to be religious according to one’s own conscience. The Danbury Baptists in Connecticut were concerned that the powerful Congregationalist Church in the state may acquire a position of privilege and power and that their right to practice their faith freely, would be under threat. The same worry almost two centuries earlier had prompted the pilgrims to flee England, for a land in which they could worship according to their own conscience and without fear of state oppression. Jefferson wrote to the Baptists to reassure them that the constitution of the United States protected their right to believe and to worship, and would not empower another sect with state privilege above any other. Secularism protects and enhances the rights of the believers, to believer without fear.

Jefferson’s point in his letter to the Baptists was that secularism protects the right of individual interpretation of faith for the individual believer. Secularism concludes that belief is between the individual and their God, and has nothing to do with any Earthly power. If the individual wishes to dedicate their entire existence to their belief – including their choice of clothing, France banning the veil is the opposite of secularism – the secular state protects that right. Conversely, the Earthly power must not empower or permit privilege to a particular choice of belief, to the detriment of all others. A line of equality is maintained by state neutrality. We are equal regardless of ethnicity, sexuality, belief, and gender. From that position, we are free to test and elevate the boundaries of our own abilities and to seek happiness, without harming the same liberty for others.

If we imagine a small group of twenty believers of a particular faith, it is quite likely that each will have differences pertaining to interpretation of articles of faith, given that religious literature is so vast in scope even for one religion. They may be small differences or large important differences. In that situation, it would be absurd to say “Number 12 in the group has the inherent authority to punish those of us who don’t abandon our interpretation, and follow his interpretation“. It is obvious that no single individual in the group has that privilege of authority, simply because a faith is not an absolute science. We must start from the premise that all 20 have the equal right to belief. It is also obvious that if number 12 did institute a policy by which those who disagreed with him were punished, the differences do not suddenly go away. The individual beliefs will still differ, opinions don’t change, it is fear of punishment that will prevent those differences from being expressed, and so not only is the individual oppressed, but the right of all of us to hear dissenting views and not be told what we – as grown adults – should be allowed to hear, is similarly oppressed. Humanity is blessed with curiosity, and uniformity of thought is impossible, and attempts to argue otherwise are inevitably bloody and oppressive. Shia and Sunni, Catholic and Protestant; history teaches us that granting privilege to one interpretation, does not end well. If your faith relies on fear to survive, it not only has no right to privilege, it absolutely doesn’t deserve privilege.

An individual’s interpretation is anchored to their own experiences throughout life. As Jefferson noted; it is a matter that lies solely between an individual and his or her God. Only secularism protects the right of each individual within the group to disagree, to question, and to value each individual’s right to interpret their faith according to their conscience and without fear of oppression by any other member. If the personal belief of each member is strong, it will withstand the freedom of others to differ. Indeed, whilst secularism may diminish the privilege and supremacy of a single interpretation, it is the only mechanism by which religious liberty for the whole group is preserved and protected.

The great Thomas Paine expressed beautifully a concept in one sentence, that religious texts have failed to express through thousands of pages:

“Whatever is my right as a man is also the right of another; and it becomes my duty to guarantee as well as to possess.”

- Secularism guarantees equal rights as citizens under the law. If a Christian wishes the right to build a private temple of worship, the same right must be extended to Hindu’s, to Muslims, to Sikhs and so on. If, as an atheist, I wish the right to “offend” the beliefs of others, I must accept the right for others to hold views that “offend” my beliefs. You are free to believe that homosexuality is a sin, you are not free to restrict the liberty and equal civil rights of gay people according to your belief. Your belief plays no part in the liberty of others. You are free to believe that those who abandon their faith are evil. You are not free to restrict the liberty of those who abandon their faith based on your belief. Because again, your belief plays no part in the liberty of others. Similarly, if someone believes those who subscribe to your religion are a great evil and should be restricted and punished, they’re free to believe that, they’re just not free to enforce it through the state. We are all to be considered equal regardless of belief, or ethnicity, or sexuality, and of gender. This further enhances our security when questioning, criticising, and inquiring. The mark of a civilised society.

It isn’t just a single religion controlling the apparatus of state that leads almost inevitably to human rights violations. It is the tyranny of a single sect, of a single religion that tends to cause problems for smaller sects of the same faith. When Catholics held state power, Protestants were brutally slaughtered. When Protestants held state power, predictably, Catholics were brutally slaughtered. To end this ceaseless war between sects vying for power, required secularism and declarations of inalienable rights that no religion had a right to violate.

Indeed, the fight isn’t between secularism and religion – religion is protected and freed by secularism and anyone wishing to oppress rights based on someone’s belief, is by definition not secular – the fight is between secularism and a particular individual’s interpretation of their religion to the often violent exclusion of all others. If, in the group of 20, 19 of the members all believe one interpretation to be correct, but you don’t, those 19 still have no inherent right to force you to live by their beliefs. You have the right to criticise the beliefs of the 19, to believe differently to all of them, and to worship freely according to your conscience only without fear. You have a criticism of the Bible or Qur’an? Then say it, or keep it to yourself, or write it, or express it in anyway you wish. No one has a right to prevent you from that. Your expression of your faith – as long as it doesn’t interfere with the liberty of anyone else – is yours only. Secularism is therefore the only mechanism by which the smaller sects, and the individual believers are protected. A real world example, would see the natural rights of the Shia minority in Saudi Arabia currently facing oppression, completely protected. The barriers to freedom and equal rights for Shia Muslims in Saudi Arabia are the necessary result of one sect opposed to Shia beliefs presuming a place of privilege that they do not deserve. Shia Muslims in Saudi are prevented from obtaining high office. Shia parents are banned from using certain names for their children. Saudi schools teach children that Shiites are a Jewish conspiracy, and need to be destroyed. I struggle to describe this hideous manipulation of the young minds of children, as anything other than abuse. The Shia minority in Saudi Arabia face oppression, for no other reason than the Salafi leadership doesn’t believe what they believe. The presumption on the part of the leadership, is that their belief is inherently privileged. It is a position maintained by force, and if a privilege must be maintained by force, it is wholly illegitimate.

If a religious authority in a non-secular country suddenly decries an aspect of your daily life, or something you consider sacred to you, as a violation of the state’s religious principles, you are in danger of the state punishing you. Your human rights are in the hands of the religious authority. In a secular state, if the same religious authority were to decry an aspect of your daily life as a violation of their religious belief, they’d be free to say so, they wouldn’t be free to punish you for it. Your liberty and right to believe differently is preserved and protected. No single religious person or group has a right to punish you for not accepting and living according to their beliefs. Secularism recognises this and trusts you as an individual to come to your own conclusions and beliefs freely and without fear.

It is clear to me that a faith loses its integrity the moment an individual is forced to accept it at gun point. When I hear the claim that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the World, I choose to discount not only those children considered ‘Muslim’ by way of being born to Muslim parents, but also those who live in countries in which it is illegal to leave the faith, or to openly question or criticise the faith. At it stands, apostasy is illegal in Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, UAE, Somalia, Afghanistan, Saudi, Sudan, Qatar, Yemen, Malaysia, Mauritania, Morocco, Jordan, and Oman. Apostasy in Jehovah’s Witness families is enough for a child to be disowned. It is supremacy by way of threat. If we were to hold a gun to someone’s head, and instructed them to say that they are in fact a giraffe or I’ll fire the gun, we wouldn’t then suggest the giraffe population was clearly growing. The integrity of an individual’s faith is diminished entirely when it is actively forced upon others. Similarly, a child isn’t to be considered of a particular faith. They have not reached an age by which they can rationalise, critique, and accept or reject religious precepts. Their minds are a sponge, and if a particular religion is indeed correct, teaching a child to be critical and curious will lead that child to the religious truth of that faith anyway. It should be obvious to all that a faith enhances its integrity if those who find it, find it through their own free inquiry and will, rather than indoctrination and threat. Secularism is an idea based on free inquiry, expression and will. The opposite, is indoctrination and threat.

Secularism begins and ends with the idea that the beliefs of an individual are sacred to that individual, and have no inherent right to trespass upon the liberty of others. A Sunni majority has no inherent right to force Shia to live by the dictates of their interpretation of Islam, Congregationalists have no inherent right to force Baptists by threat of state punishment, to live according to the dictates of their interpretation of Christianity. As a non-believer, no religious faith or sect has the right to threaten me with state punishment, if I do not adhere to, or if I criticise or satirise their religious guidelines. Similarly, I have no right to prevent or restrict your liberty in believing anything you choose to belief and worshiping where ever you choose to worship, as long as it isn’t forced through the mechanism of state. We are equal citizens deserving of equal protections. Progress – both individual and societal – is the product of free inquiry, debate, expression and compromise, and not forced adherence. If you believe a slightly different interpretation of your faith, than what is demanded of you by the authorities, then feel free! Express it! Secularism encourages that discussion. Indeed, as secularists, we believe only you have the right to decide what it is you believe, and how you express that belief. The chains between you and those wishing to regulate your thoughts, are completely smashed. To paraphrase Jefferson, the state should not be in the business of regulating your opinion and your expression; to do so is by its nature oppression. For that reason alone, secularism is good for those who are religious.


Behold! Cameron Jesus.

April 10, 2014

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There is a worrying trend among high ranking members of the Tory Party recently, to insist upon all of us, that the UK is a Christian country. Baroness Warsi doesn’t seem to understand secularism, whilst Eric Pickles thinks non-Christians should be quiet and accept we’re inferior. The Prime Minister today reiterated Pickles’ comments , and so by extension of this anti-secular, Christian-privilege position, it further implies that those of us who aren’t Christian, are not to be considered as valuable or as ‘British’ as Christians. Perhaps we should be thanking Christians for allowing us to live on land that they themselves have decided that they own. Or perhaps they should try to grasp the concept that in an Enlightened world, it should be quite obvious to all that a piece of land does not belong to any religion, instead belonging to the great melting pot of all who live in it and contribute to it.

Today, the Prime Minister took their new found obsession with Christianity a step further, by claiming his flagship ‘Big Society’ (a creative code for ‘cutting the state in order to fund tax cuts for the wealthiest, and hoping everyone else will have time to run libraries and care for the sick and disabled, whilst working longer for less pay’) was invented by Jesus, and that he is merely carrying on the work of Christ. The absurdity of such a statement lends itself wonderfully to social media parodies. And so:

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When religion and politics cross paths, the result is usually disastrous for all the wrong reasons. This time, was one of those rare occasions when the mixing of religion and politics produced a disastrous response for all the right reasons. Well played Twitter, well played.


The Oppression of Brunei.

April 9, 2014

Secretary Kerry meets Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei.  Secretary Kerry insists the US has a "robust relationship" with one of the most oppressive states on the planet. Source: By U.S. Department of State from United States [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Secretary Kerry meets Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei.
Secretary Kerry insists the US has a “robust relationship” with one of the most oppressive states on the planet.
Source: By U.S. Department of State from United States [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei is an autocratic ruler with honours from across the Globe. One of the richest men in the World – not least due to Brunei’s oil wealth, which accounts for almost two thirds of its export revenue, and is set to run out within 30 years – Bolkiah has been awarded the British Honorary Companion of The Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George, Honorary Knight Grand Cross of The Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George, and Honorary Knight Grand Cross of The Most Honourable Order of the Bath. In Sweden he was the recipient of the Knight of the Royal Order of the Seraphim award. In France, the Grand Croix of the National Order of the Legion of Honour. In Germany, the Grand Cross Special Class of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. And US Secretary of State John Kerry referred to the “excellent cooperation” and “robust relationship” between the US and Brunei recently. So, on the World stage, a pretty respected leader it seems (I’m sure it has absolutely nothing to do with the oil and gas reserves). And yet, by the end of April this year, Brunei is set to become one of the most oppressive nations on Earth.

This isn’t the start of the oppressive nature of the state in Brunei. The country tries to maintain the image of respect for the freedom of other faiths, and other Islamic sects, by signing agreements like the ASEAN Kuala Lumpur Declaration on Human Rights. Similarly, economic strength and popular welfare provisions mask its vicious prevention of the most basic rights. Since the 1990s Brunei has been in the process of de-secularisation and enforcing an ideology that mixes Shafi’i Islamist thought and a Monarchical system of oppression to form a new political ideology they call ‘Melayu Islam Beraja‘. Basically, a weak attempt at a faith-based justification for the Sultan’s right to control and oppress whomever he pleases.

Through institutionalising ‘Melayu Islam Beraja‘, the Islamic Al-Arqam sect was banned by authorities in the mid-90s with the adherents made to undergo a sort of Orwellian reprogramming class. Their leader – Ustaz Ashaari Muhammad – spent 10 years in prison. The pretense for the ban was “theological deviation” from what is considered an acceptable interpretation of Islam (that which the Sultanate decides is acceptable) though the state only took notice of the movement as the sect grew in size, suggesting the true reason for the crackdown was political paranoia. Senior Christian Church leaders believe they’re under surveillance and are careful what they say at Church for fear of repression. The Bahá’í Faith is banned. Bibles are not permitted to be imported, all schools are banned from teaching Christianity, and temples dedicated to others faiths are no longer permitted to be built. Proselytizing for other faiths is already banned. It is illegal for a Muslim to convert to another faith; if someone does convert, they are immediately required to undergo Islamic schooling again until they revert. Public celebration of Christmas is banned. Additionally, all post-secondary school students must take lessons on the incredibly anti-secular, anti-democratic ideology of Melayu Islam Beraja. And as of this month, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah’s hideously oppressive new Syariah penal code based on the most cruel aspects of Shari’a is set to come into force. April 2014 marks the final stage of the de-secularisation process, transforming Brunei into a fully fledged Theocratic dictatorship.

Despite the International Commission of Jurists ruling that the new Syariah penal code violated practically every possible human right, in its quest to anchor concepts of justice to the 7th Century, Brunei decided to push ahead regardless. The ICJ said:

“If implemented, the code would lead to serious human rights violations by reintroducing the death penalty and imposing other cruel and inhuman punishment including stoning, even for conduct that should not even be considered criminal.”

- According to the new penal code, the death penalty for both Muslims and non-Muslims will now be utilised for those convicted of robbery, adultery, and ‘sodomy’. Amputation is the punishment for theft. For sexual ‘crimes’ the method of death will be stoning. Homosexuality carries the penalty of flogging. Despite Brunei’s apparent commitment to women’s rights, the ICJ notes that the new death penalty law will disproportionately apply to women. This is because it is difficult proving rape, and if the woman fell pregnant due to being raped, she will be prosecuted and stoned for ‘adultery’ whilst the rapist is statistically likely to walk free.

Ex-Muslims face death for apostasy. Public gatherings of those adhering to other faiths will now be restricted and those wishing to gather will need to register. Anyone caught selling anything during Friday prayers will lose their licence to conduct business. Also under the new code, if a non-Muslim adopts a Muslim child, the biological Muslim parent will now face 5 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

The new penal code will also crack down on the fundamental right to free expression. For Muslims who publicly insult the Prophet, or to mock and deny certain teachings of the Qur’an and Hadith carries a penalty of up to 30 years in prison, and 40 lashes. But it isn’t just mocking faith that will carry punishment. Opposition to the implementation of harsh Shari’a codes has been popping up on social media sites from all different sects of Brunei life; including from Muslims. The grotesquely oppressive regime that runs the country responded by threatening anyone caught mocking or insulting the new penal code itself:

“They can no longer be given the liberty to continue with their mockery and if there is a basis for them to be brought to court, then therefore, the first phase of the Syariah law this coming April will be relevant to them.”

- Criticising and mocking the law itself – the very fundamental of a free and progressive society – is now to be considered a crime. It is a curious threat that highlights the narcissism of the Sultan. Human beings are not “given the liberty” by anyone else to speak freely. Free expression is a natural condition, restricted by those who assume positions of privilege for themselves to erect barriers to that freedom. Usually when it threatens the prevailing power structure.

Quite ridiculously, non-Muslims will be banned from using certain words. 19 words in all. The state will now punish non-Muslims for uttering baitullah; Al Quran; Allah; fatwa; Firman Allah; hadith; Haji; hukum syara’; ilahi; Ka’bah; kalimah al syahadah; kiblat; masjid; imam; mufti; mu’min; solat; and wali. This is impossible to define as anything other than oppression. A clear attempt to prevent non-Muslims freely critiquing, inquiring, and investigating a religion and its history, because that religion and that history is intrinsically ties to the perceived legitimacy of the Sultans authority. Having read the Qur’an several times, and familiarised myself with a collection of Hadith, I am struggling to figure out where a ban on Islamic words is found.

Brunei’s Minister for Religious Affairs, Muhammad Abdulrahman met with the chairman of the Saudi Consultative Council, Abdullah ibn Muhammad Al ash-Sheikh in February this year to take advice on how to implement Shari’a. One has to question the mentality of a leadership that sees the Saudi system – a system that has just designated all atheists as terrorists and is hated even by the majority of Muslims – as one to be emulated. Again, it is one of narcissism. This is echoed in the Sultan’s own words on the new penal code, which he claims:

“…should be regarded as a form of special guidance from God and would be part of the great history of Borneo island.”

- The Sultan seems to be under the bizarre impression that his personal beliefs have the inherent and legitimate authority to inform others how they should view a code based on his personal beliefs and values. One suspects faith is the excuse for the creeping paranoia at the knowledge that political instability in the country is inevitable, as crude oil and natural gas reserves deplete without a viable economic alternative – that ensures the high standard of public services many in Brunei now expect – short of political and economic liberalisation; a threat to the autocratic Sultanate itself. And so increasingly one paranoid sect of one faith burns its dictates into the fabric of society and refuses to allow any form of criticism. It is an ideology invented by the state, and which coincidentally, permits the state the privilege of being the sole authority on the whole of Islam. The Sultan is essentially casting himself as a Medieval Pope. It is no surprise that under those conditions, oppression is aimed at potential political – as well as religious – dissent and free expression. Indeed, if the Sultan genuinely believed his position to be self evidently legitimate, the people would come to the same conclusion freely, rather than at the point of a gun. I would suggest he probably knows he has no more right to rule and to use his beliefs to infringe upon the liberty of others, than has any other citizen of Brunei.

The new penal code is one long grotesque licence to abuse others, that quite obviously exists for no other reason than to further cement the power of the ruling family. It is an extension of the crackdown on Al-Arqam. It is political. It is the product of an oppressive and sociopathic regime with a delusional sense of its own importance and supremacy, controlled by a paranoid and narcissistic man that the British, French, Germans, Swedes and Americans among others have pathetically bestowed honours upon for decades.


Lady Gaga, the veil, and the charge of ‘cultural appropriation’.

April 7, 2014

The Ghunghat - Traditional Hindu face veil used in parts of India. Source: By Mohsyn Clicked by Zainab Zaidi (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons.

The Ghunghat – Traditional Hindu face veil used in parts of India.
Source: By Mohsyn Clicked by Zainab Zaidi (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons.

There’s a certain irony in conservative members of a faith that has a long history of invading three continents, countless cultures, institutionalised slavery, building a Mosque on Temple Mount, building a Mosque over the church in Istanbul, destroying the Gods worshiped by others in the Ka’bah, appropriating the centuries old veil as its own, and borrowing Pagan and Gnostic Christian myths for its own holy book, to then claim others are “culturally appropriating” its symbols. None of them were the symbols of Islam in the first place, including the veil. The charge of offensive “cultural appropriation” is thrown at the pop star from the conservative sect of Islam. I find this to be a particularly dishonest explanation for the claim of ‘offence’ on this subject.

It is a similar tone – based entirely on western colonialism and a disingenuous ‘victim’ mentality – to that made by several conservative Muslims – including Mo Ansar – when they speak of western ‘imperialism’ of the past. Ansar once mentioned the French invading Muslim Tunisia in the 19th Century as an act of western imperialism. He neglected to mention that Tunisia was only “Muslim” by the 19th Century, because imperialist Arab Muslims had invaded it and established the Arab Aghlabids dynasty in the first place.

When we analyse where the problem actually lies, it isn’t long before we find the predictable occidentalist, anti-western undertones that drive the ‘offence’ this time (as with most other times). The problem doesn’t seem to be based on cultural ideas or garments making their way across cultural boundaries, or a desire to keep a symbol of faith particular to Islam, nor on Lady Gaga’s intentions, but simply, that white people from the west have done it. A sort of “it’s not fair! They’re copying us! And we don’t like them!” child-like attitude.

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- It’s a curious charge to make. It suddenly became a ‘race’ thing. Let me be clear, it is quite obvious that privilege based on gender, sexuality, and ethnicity persists and oppresses. This is true in Islamic countries, as it is in Western countries. The struggle for equality is ongoing, and I am quite sure that only secular democracy provides the mechanism for correction and progress. It is also true that the suggestion of privilege, sometimes – like this time – doesn’t stand to even the most basic of scrutiny, and is quite obviously used as a tool to deflect from a weak argument or a complete inability to address the content of the argument presented. That is the case here. The last half of the above tweet is the suggestion that all white people – including Lady Gaga – are actively trying to destroy another culture. All of us. We plot against Arab muslims; the eternal victims of colonial white devils. One suspects this line of reasoning isn’t extended to white, western muslims. In which case, what she means is, white non-muslims should not be allowed to wear the clothing of their choice, if a particular religion – one that appropriated it in the first place – has decided they now completely own it.

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- To claim ‘cultural appropriation’ and ‘not your costume’ of the veil from conservative Muslims, is to suggest Muslims have completely monopolised the use of the veil from every other culture that’s ever used it and continues to use it. The very same ‘colonial’ attitude that Lady Gaga is charged with. Religious hypocrisy at its finest.

Islam appropriated the veil from Pre-Islamic Arab culture, which in turn, probably inherited it from earlier semitic cultures in the north. The veil is first mentioned in Assyria, centuries prior to Islam. Millions of non-Arab Muslims wear a veil, appropriated from those pre-Islamic cultures. To suggest Lady Gaga wearing the face veil is an insult to Islam, further suggests that non-Islamic cultures that have always had the veil, and long before Islam are not to be considered, and that it is an Arab Islamic garment only, with anyone else wearing it to be compared to the Arab Islamic standard only. Ironically, this is an Arab Islamic imperial attitude. Check your privilege!

The veil existed long before Islam, and across cultures. It isn’t just Arabic, nor Islamic. About 20 centuries before Islam appropriated cultural symbols of lands that it invaded, Assyrian kings introduced a ban on slave women wearing the veil, whilst high ranking women wore them as a symbol of honour. For the Assyrians, the veil was a symbol of the class system. Later, according to the 6th book of Herodotus, the deposed King of Sparta – Demaratus – left Sparta for exile, with his face veiled to show he felt insulted by the tone of the new King Leotychidas. Tradition tells us that Sikh Guru Ji refused to meet a Hindu Queen unless she removed her veil. According to The Lalitavistara – a biography of the Buddha – describes how Yasodharā, the wife of Prince Siddhattha was constantly insulted for not veiling her face. She replied:

“Those who are restrained in body and behavior, measured in speech, with senses controlled, calm and at peace, why should they veil their faces? Even if covered with a thousand veils, if they are shameless and immodest, dishonest and devoid of virtue, they live in this world uncovered and exposed. Even without being veiled if their senses and their minds are well-guarded, they are faithful to one husband, never thinking of another, they shine like the sun and the moon. So why should they veil their faces? The sage reading the minds of others knows my intentions as do the gods know my conduct and virtue, my discipline and my modesty. Therefore why should I veil my face?”

- Tertullian writing in the 3rd century speaks of Arab women veiling their faces, as well as Greeks and Africans. Strabo in the 1st century speaks of Persian women veiling their faces. According to the Jewish apocrypha, and the story of Susanna:

“31: Now Susanna was a very delicate woman and beauteous to behold. 32: And these wicked men commanded to uncover her face (for she was covered) that they might be filled with her beauty.”

- Indeed, today there exists a denomination of Christian nuns who completely cover their faces with a veil. In Rome, they ascend the Scala Sancta steps on their knees, with their faces covered by the veil. As a part of the Nishimonai Bon Dancing in Japan, female dancers wear the Hikosa zukin face veil. The Hindi word ‘ghunghat’ is a that describes a face veil worn by some sects of traditional Hindus in regions of Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Gujarat among other places in India. The veil has never been, and never will be a garment specific to Islam, with a meaning controlled by whatever conservative Muslims decide it means.

One would have to travel far, far back in the history of mankind to find an era when all cultural groups kept to themselves, and did not benefit and grow from constant exchange of ideas and symbols. Britain is a melting pot of beautiful cultures. Indeed, as an Atheist I celebrate Christmas on December 25th, despite it being Christian and Pagan in origin (Christianity appropriating that particular festival for itself). I get the “you shouldn’t be allowed to celebrate Christmas!” nonsense from angry Christians claiming it an insult to their faith, but that isn’t the point. I enjoy that time of the year, the family traditions, the happiness. I also enjoy the evening out on Diwali. In the UK, you will find Muslims celebrating Christmas, giving cards and gifts and love on St Valentine’s day. We are a melting pot, and it’s a good, progressive thing.

There is no reason to suggest that Lady Gaga’s use of the face cover, was in any way malicious. In fact, in 2012, she explained she wears it as a symbol of “mourning” for problems in the World. Clearly she’s a very expressive person, and clothing is a wonderful form of self expression, whether you like or agree with the sentiment behind the expression or not. Other forms may include making a comedy movie, like The Life of Brian, or a piece of art, like ‘Christ in Piss’. It is self expression; a way to convey how one feels. That is absolutely everyone’s right. Her skin tone, the country she was born, or her religious beliefs are not relevant, the expression in this case was not based on anything like that. To suggest it, is a weak counter-argument that is only used to perpetuate an east vs west, Muslim vs Everyone else false narrative and it is incredibly destructive and intellectually bankrupt. Lady Gaga is not setting out to intentionally mock or insult anyone else. Crucially, Lady Gaga wearing the veil, does not intrude upon the freedom of Muslim women to wear the veil as an expression of faith or cultural heritage. The basic freedom and right should always be protected.

For Muslim women the veil may indeed be a symbol of modesty, it may be a symbol of faith or culture. It may symbolise whatever that particular Muslim woman decides it symbolises to her alone. But that in no way impacts on how non-Muslims have worn the veil throughout history, or how anyone else chooses to wear it today. The veil is a garment like any other, and all should be free to wear whatever they choose, to express however they choose, for it to mean whatever it is the individual decides it means to them, without harming the liberty of others, and free from state or religious coercion. In this case, the charge of ‘cultural appropriation’ does not stand up to scrutiny, and is quite obviously used as a way to express anti-western sentiment, a perpetual fantasy conflict, hidden behind wrongly appropriated language that denotes oppression. It isn’t.


The blood-stained banners of Ashura

April 6, 2014

Shia Muslims at Hussain Mosque in Karbala  during Arba'een. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Shia Muslims at Hussain Mosque in Karbala during Arba’een.
Source: Wikimedia Commons.

January 1979 and Iran was on the verge of a major revolution set to shape its nature for the next forty years. The Shah had fled to exile, and change was imminent. From exile in France, Khomeini had found a way to craft a revolutionary narrative that would sweep him to power. On exact day of the Shi’a religious observance of Arba’een – forty days after the day of mourning on the Day of Ashura – Khomeini referred to those revolutionaries dead at the hands of the Shah, as a continuation of the martyrs who died with Hussein at Karbala. He had written:

“Let the bloodstained banners of Ashura be raised where ever possible as a sign of the coming day when the oppressed shall avenge themselves on the oppressors.”

Thirty years later, December 2009, the Day of Ashura, protestors lined the streets to protest the suspect outcome of the Iranian Presidential election. The authorities opened fire, police vans ran down protestors, and arrests of the dissenters followed. It was this day, that Khamenei may have regretted his predecessor’s use of the Ashura metaphor thirty years prior, because reporters noted:

“They compared Ayatollah Khamenei to Yazid, the Sunni caliph who killed Imam Hossein. Film clips showed demonstrators trying to tear down Ayatollah Khamenei’s portrait and trampling on a street sign bearing his name.”

- The metaphor from Karbala in 680ad is a powerful one. It helped topple the Shah in 1979, it was also used to stir up Shia rebellion in south Lebanon after the Israeli invasion in 1982, and it came close to toppling Khamenei in 2009.

The traditional story of the battle of Karbala is a detailed one. It began on the death of the first Umayyad Caliph, Muawiya in 680ad. For a brief time, Ali and Muawiya shared a claim to the caliphate. On Ali’s death, Muawiya was the sole caliph. Ali’s older son Hassan had given up his claim to the Caliphate after a series of battles between muslims in Kufa in Iraq, and Muawiya’s forces. One of the conditions of Hasan giving up his claim, was that Muawiya would not name a successor. On the death of Hasan, Muawiya went back on his word and soon transformed the Caliphate into a dynasty, by appointing his son Yazid heir to the Caliphate. Ali’s younger son Hussain – and the Arabian elite in general – took offence at this, and refused to pledge allegiance to the new Caliph. Whilst in Medina, Hussein began to receive letters from the people of Kufa in Iraq, who were equally horrified that they’d fallen under the control of another Umayyad. They believed the caliphate would fall back into the line of Ali, at the death of Muawiya. The people of Kufa promised their support – in the name of his father Ali – to Hussain’s claim to the Caliphate, and ensured they would rise up, should he ride into Kufa to overthrow Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad, the pro-Yazid governor in Kufa. These were the first Shi’at Ali. The followers of Ali. They had no particular doctrine, just a leader and his progeny. Hussein sent his cousin, Muslim ibn Aqeel to Kufa to measure public opinion. Upon reaching Kufa, the Shi’a welcomed Muslim and had him stay with one of their leaders; Mukhtar ibn Abi ‘Ubayd. However, things soon turned sour and Muslim never left Kufa alive, executed at the command of Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad, the pro-Umayyad governor.

After the execution of his cousin, Hussein left Medina upon hearing of a threat on his own life for refusing to swear allegiance, and decided to ride to Kufa and confront the governor. Despite supporters telling him it was a suicide mission, that there was going to be no uprising on his behalf, and that he’d almost certainly be cut down – including the women and children that he took with him – he pushed on anyway. Two days from Kufa, Hussain and his 72 supporters reached Karbala. They were met by tens of thousands of Yazid’s soldiers. After weeks of dead end negotiations, and Hussain’s refusal to acknowledge Yazid as Caliph, a battle ensued. The Caliph’s soldiers cut off water supply to Hussain’s camp, and held siege for days. On Muharram 10th (The Day of Ashura), all of Hussain’s men – starved and thirsty – went out of the encampment to fight and die. Hussain rode out last, and was eventually cut down with an arrow, and stabbed to death thirty-three times. His body was then trampled on by horses. The women and children placed in chains and marched to Kufa.

The Shi’a narrative then takes on a more colourful tone, to add substance to the idea that Hussain was indeed chosen by God, and killed by the enemies of Islam. Upon Hussain’s death, it is said that his horse – Lahik – dipped his head in Hussain’s blood, and according to Imam Abu Ja’far al-Baqir, the horse said:

“What an injustice was done to the grandson of the Prophet by his own umma.”

- The commander of the forces tasked with defeating Hussain, Shimr ibn Dhi ‘l-Jawshan, beheaded Hussein and the head placed on a spike, and carried back to Ubayd Allah, who menacingly laughed as he kicked it around. Other’s claim it was Yazid who poked and kicked the head of Hussein. And so with that, the brutal murder of the a beloved member of the Ahl al-Bayt – Hussein – created a martyr that inspires great sadness and devotion to this day.

So detailed and colourful a story, but what do we know for sure, or at least, what can we deduce from the recorded history?

The earliest source for the battle of Karbala comes from Abu Mikhnaf. He was a founder of the Akhbari school of Islamic history. Mikhnaf died around 95 years after the battle of Karbala took place. Tradition holds that his grandfather died fighting for Ali at the battle of Siffin against the Umayyad’s. He wrote specifically on the life and death of Hussain in ‘Kitab Maqtal Al-Husayn’. His works no longer exist, and so the earliest mention of the battle of Karbala is Volume 19, of al-Tabari’s ‘History of the Prophets and Kings’. As well as relying on Mikhnaf, al-Tabari uses Hisham Ibn Al-Kalbi. Al-Kalbi was born 57 years after Karbala, a student of Mikhnaf and relies heavily on oral traditions for his works as well as referencing Mikhnaf’s work. As for the reliability of Mikhnaf, 14th century Muslim historian Ismail ibn Kathir writes:

“And the Shia and Rafidah had devised many false and fabricated long narrations regarding Hussain [ra]‘s murder; and what we have quoted (here) is enough, in which few are those that are questionable (not reliable), had Ibn Jarir or other scholars etc not mentioned it (in their works) then I too haven’t had mentioned it; and its maximum portion is narrated from Abu Mikhnaf Lut bin Yahya who was a Shia and according to Scholars of Hadith was Da’eef (weak) in Hadith (reports), but he was a learned Akhbari.”

- Incidentally, ibn Kathir presents his own history of the battle of Karbala, a history that anti-semitic Dean of Academic Affairs at the Al-Maghrib Institutem, Yasir Qadhi prefers (along with other medieval Sunni histories) to rely on, despite being written 700+ years after the event. You can Yasir Qadhi’s discussionhere.

Similarly, according to N.K Singh’s “Encyclopedia of the Muslim World”:

“Abu Mikhnaf is not very particular about and scrupulous in authority chains. He has abundantly incorporated in his narratives, especially in the narration of Siffin episode, the tribal stories and the local gossips.”

- This becomes clear when we notice the conversations Mikhnaf records, in detail and in full, despite them being decades old and not recorded:

‘Hussein said: “We are from God and to God shall we return. As for the oath of allegiance that you have demanded of me, it would not be appropriate for a person of my stature to do so in private. Further, you would not consider it sufficient unless I was to do so in a public forum.” Walid agreed and Hussein continued: “When you come out to the people to announce and obtain their oath of allegiance, then at that time summon us as well such that it will be a single affair.”
Walid desired to choose an easy option and said: “Go then in the name of God and return to us when we assembled the people”.
Marwan exclaimed: “By God! If he departs here without pledging allegiance you will never get a similar opportunity without much bloodshed between you and he. Seize him and do not allow him to leave without pledging allegiance or execute him!”
At this, Hussein jumped up and said: “Son of a blue-eyed woman, you or he wish to kill me? By God you are a liar and a sinner!” ‘

- This is an unusually in depth dialogue for an historian writing decades after the events he speaks of. Later, we find the apparent exact words Hussain spoke as he saw the cavalry approach on that fateful day:

“O God, it is You in Whom I trust amid all grief. You are my hope amid all violence. You are my trust and provision in everything that happens to me, (no matter) how much the heart may seem to weaken in it, trickery may seem to diminish (my hope) in it, the friend may seem to desert (me) in it, and the enemy may seem to rejoice in it. It comes upon me through You and when I complain to You of it, it is because of my desire for You, You alone. You have comforted me in (everything) and have revealed its (significance to me). You are the Master of all grace, the Possessor of all goodness and the Ultimate Resort of all desire.”

- The tone is one of absolute devotion to God rather than power. It is a show of the power of faith in the God of Islam, and yet it seems a little bit too long to have been remembered perfectly, word for word, and then recited decades later for Mikhnaf to write down, rewritten by his student, and eventually rewritten again by al-Tabari. In fact, practically everything Hassain supposedly said that day, appears in al-Tabari.

We also find the antagonist (Ubayd Allah) sounding like a villain in a bad movie. After Hussain writes to Ubayd Allah insisting that he will turn back now if the people of Kufa no longer want his support, Ubayd writes back:

“Now when our claws cling to him, he hopes for escape but he will be prevented now from getting any refuge!”

- This is the tone of Mikhnaf’s works as described by later historians like al-Tabari, throughout. The tone is perhaps directly related to the context of the period in which it was composed. Mikhnaf was from Kufa, presenting clear Shia bias. His information and dialogue is predictably anti-Yazid. The conversations he records have Hussain saying profound words of wisdom. “We are from God, and to God we shall return”. We must rely on Mikhnaf’s word for the earliest mentions of the battle of Karbala, and the words and language of Hussain and others, because there are no earlier sources, or sources directly related to the battle itself. The tone of the historical narrative presented by Mikhnaf is one of Shia bias. He was writing at a time of the political ascent of the Umayyad’s and it is clear that Mikhnaf is presenting anti-Umayyad tradition. The opposition was fierce especially in Kufa and Mikhnaf plays his part in that, undoubtedly relying on – as Singh suggests – tribal stories and local gossips in and around Kufa and dedicated to preserving and enhancing the memory of their fallen martyr. We see this particular bias again, when Mikhnaf recites a poem supposedly by Ali ibn al-Hussain, the son of Hussain:

“I am ‘Ali son of Hussein son of Ali;
We and the household of God are closer to the Prophet
Than Shabath and Shmir the vile.
I strike you with the sword until it bends,
The blows of a Hashimite youth, an ‘Alid,
And today I will not stop defending my father.
By God, son of the bastard shall not rule over us.”

- It was supposedly recited by Ali ibn al-Hussein as he rode into battle that day. But as suggested earlier, Mikhnaf is not particular about the chain of authority. Indeed, al-Tabari begins his history (Tarikh al-Rusul wa al-Muluk), with a warning to readers about presuming authenticity of sources he uses:

“Let him who examines this book of mine know that I have relied, as regards everything I mention therein which I stipulate to be described by me, solely upon what has been transmitted to me by way of reports which I cite therein and traditions which I ascribe to their narrators, to the exclusion of what may be apprehended by rational argument or deduced by the human mind, except in very few cases. This is because knowledge of the reports of men of the past and of contemporaneous views of men of the present do not reach the one who has not witnessed them nor lived in their times except through the accounts of reporters and the transmission of transmitters, to the exclusion of rational deduction and mental inference. Hence, if I mention in this book a report about some men of the past, which the reader or listener finds objectionable or worthy of censure because he can see no aspect of truth nor any factual substance therein, let him know that this is not to be attributed to us but to those who transmitted it to us and we have merely passed this on as it has been passed on to us.”

- Al-Tabari invites us to investigate for ourselves the claims made by those he cites. He does not claim to be reporting historical fact, only tradition.

Mikhnaf – through al-Tabari – tells us that just after the death of Muawiya, Hussain had a vision of his grandfather the Prophet. In the dream, Muhammad said:

“My beloved Hussain, I foresee you when you will be, in the very near future, covered with blood, slain at the land of Karbala, whilse thirsty, being deprived of water. This will be done to you by people who claim that they are from my followers.”

“My beloved Hussain, there are degrees which you will not acquire except through martydom.”

- This sets up Hussain as a sort of quasi-Prophet, the chosen hero of Muhammad, and a necessary sacrifice for the sake the righteous few, at the hands of those who a dreamland Muhammad considers enemies. All ‘monotheisms’ seem to have their secondary Gods.

Mikhnaf and later, al-Tabari do not mention Hussein’s horse dipping its head in the blood of Hussein. Nor do they mention later myths, like a dove dragging its wing in the blood of Hussein and flying back to Mecca to deliver the bad news. These supernatural elements are later additions far removed from the events itself, and strengthening the martyr narrative.

It is perhaps also worth noting that al-Tabari was writing during the Abbasid Caliphate, 250 years after the battle of Karbala. The Abbasid’s were Arabian rulers who took over from the Syrian Umayyad’s and reasserted the ‘right’ of Arabs to the leadership of the faithful. Indeed, the Umayyad regime had been overthrown by members of the Hashimiyya movement led by the Abbasid’s. The movement was named after the grandson of Ali; Abu Hashim. Hashim was said to have died in the home of Muhammad ibn Ali, the head of the Abbasid family at that time, in 717 (about 33 years prior to their ascension to the caliphate). Muhammad was the father of the first two Abbasid Caliphs; As-Saffah and al-Mansur. The Abbasid caliphs were no friend of the Shia that spawned them, but it is notable that al-Tabari focuses his account of Yazid’s caliphate, entirely on the opposition to him, rather than offering conflicting versions from different sources. He also focuses a large amount of time on the opposition lead by Hussain in a relatively small and unimpressive battle. And so the history of Yazid and the Umayyad’s at that time, is forever seen through the eyes of the early Abbasid opposition to Yazid. One study found that of al-Tabari’s 790 sources used for his history, 440 were Abbasid period texts.

There would be no real reason to doubt the fundamental basis of the story, that something happened at Karbala and a man called Hussain was killed. But the exact truth of just what happened at Karbala in 680ad may never be known. There is no known contemporary source or first hand account, or any completely reliable early mention free from obvious bias. We don’t know what was said and by whom. We don’t know if Hussain was driven by a desire to overthrow an oppressive regime, by his devotion to his God, or by his own obsessive grab for power at all costs (including the lives of those who followed him to Karbala) We don’t know if Hussain actually died at the hands of soldiers at all. If he did die at their hands, we don’t know if Hussain’s decapitated head was placed on a spike, and poked with a stick by the caliph’s governor back in Kufa or not. The language attributed to Hussain and to his enemies, shows clear bias in the retelling. The supernatural elements were propaganda techniques. For the history itself, we just don’t know. But that perhaps doesn’t matter. As is often the case – we really know nothing of the life of Muhammad either – the legend takes on a life larger than the historical truth itself for those who believe it. Hussain was immortalised a martyr, much like the Jesus figure of Christianity. The Karbala story – whether fact, fiction, or as I suspect a mixture of both – is a story that commands great devotion from Shia groups. It unites them all. The story has proven to be a powerful weapon in mobilising the people against a perceived tyranny, especially in Iran. One wrong move can bring an entire government to its knees, at the cry of the ‘bloodstained banners of Ashura’.


Atheist discrimination in the United States.

April 5, 2014

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When Thomas Jefferson was establishing the University of Virginia, he fought hard to ensure that no religious books were included in its library. According to Professor Leonard Levy of Southern Oregon State University:

“No part of the regular school day was set aside for religious worship….Jefferson did not permit the room belonging to the university to be used for religious purposes.”

- Similarly, according to Dr. Daryl Cornett of Mid-America Theological Seminary:

“Jefferson also founded the first intentionally secularized university in America. His vision for the University of Virginia was for education finally free from traditional Christian dogma. He had a disdain for the influence that institutional Christianity had on education. At the University of Virginia there was no Christian curriculum and the school had no chaplain.”

- It is with this in mind, that one must note the anti-secular, anti-American treatment by which Damon Fowler, an atheist student at Bastrop High School in Louisiana, was subjected to when he objected to Christian prayer at graduation. He was threatened, thrown out of his own home by his parents, and his own teacher told a news outlet that he wasn’t respecting the ‘majority’ of students, and felt the need to demean him by saying he’d not contributed much to class. Essentially, the constitution doesn’t matter, if the majority of students are Christian. The very reason schools get away with promoting Christianity in an obvious abuse of the constitution, is because speaking out leads to the hideous treatment that Fowler faced; public abuse, and the loss of his family. On the night of the graduation at Bastrop High, students gleefully prayed anyway, as if abusing a kid standing up for the constitution of the United States, was some sort of great victory. The video of their sickening joy can be viewed here. I wonder how they would have reacted, had the speaker pulled out a prayer mat to lead an Islamic prayer. Or a massive banner above the stage with “There is no God. Jesus didn’t die for your sins” written across it. I’m almost certain it’d make national news, with parents and students registering their disgust and claiming a war on Christianity. And yet, for consistency’s sake, If they don’t support this, they’re simply advocating a public institution recognise an inherent privilege of one faith. Unjustifiable and completely un-American.

A graduation is not a Christian ceremony any more than it is a Poseidon ceremony. It is a secular event. There is no excuse for imposing Christian ritual upon it.

Those kids are not born with discriminatory attitudes. It is enshrined through years of being taught that their faith, is true and that those who question or criticise, are agents of the devil. This is ideology, taught as truth and it is the foundation of discrimination. The poison grows more potent and the sense of religious privilege those kids are imbued with, necessarily transfers from public school, to public office.

Three weeks ago, Uganda enacted its anti-gay law entirely motivated by religion (the exact same grotesque reasons for Governor Bryant signing off on Mississippi’s anti-gay bill, though I’m guessing Bryant is still perfectly happy to have part of his pay packet funded by the LGBT community in his state). This week, Saudi Arabia – home to 18 of the 19 suicide bombers from September 11th – declared all atheists to be terrorists. In fact, Atheists face death execution in thirteen countries across the World – all Islamic. The challenges to religious supremacy and privilege almost always result in oppressive outbursts. A sense of supremacy and privilege – whether based on religion, sexuality, gender, or ethnicity – is a learned behaviour, and completely illegitimate. Indeed, there is no such thing as a ‘Christian country’ or a ‘Muslim country’, only a country whose leaders violently impose a single ideology and privilege, upon a diverse group of curious, and critical human beings. They are exclusive barriers, they are not defining features of an entire population.

The exclusive religious barriers that necessarily leads to discrimination, including atheist discrimination isn’t unique to the Theocratic world. Indeed, as seen with the treatment of Damon Fowler, the US have a recent history of abandoning secularism, for the sake of atheist discrimination. Whilst atheist discrimination does not reach the same horrific heights of racial discrimination, nor homophobic discrimination, it is still prevalent and still causes a lot of difficulty and harm for those not professing deep religious sentiment in the US. Often non-believers will not speak out, through fear that questioning Christian privilege, leads to social exclusion, and family trouble. This is not to be taken lightly.

One has to wonder how Thomas Jefferson and James Madison would have reacted – having worked so hard to ensure a secular birth for the new nation – had they been around to hear President Bush Sr allegedly say:

“No, I don’t know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation under God.”

- Apparently the atheists (of which there would have been a few) sent to the Persian Gulf to put their lives on the line and fight for a President whose own son had dodged the draft years earlier, can not be regarded as citizens, or patriotic. Such is the absurd and insulting nature of the mix of religion and state. No single belief system has a fundamental right to claim the privilege of the standard by which everyone else is measured. A country belongs to those who live in it, regardless of sexuality, gender, belief, or ethnicity. It does not belong to a single religion or ideology.

When Asheville City Councilman Cecil Bothwell declared that he does not believe in a God, the Christian Right of North Carolina took great offence. H.K. Edgerton, a board member for the Southern Legal Resource Center – an organisation that apparently stands to protect the rights of all, threatened to file a law suit against Bothwell, claiming he is unfit to serve, and that his appointment violates North Carolina’s anti-Atheist Constitutional provision. Indeed, the provision in the constitution of North Carolina reads:

“No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution.”

- This provision is overruled by Paragraph 3, of Article VI of the Constitution which insists that no religious test shall be required for public office. And so whilst barring an Atheist from public office would certainly be struck down by the Supreme Court as a violation of the Federal Constitution; it didn’t stop the Christian Right from trying to impose their beliefs only, which often leads to long battles for an Atheist to serve publicly. For example, Herb Silverman ran for the post of Governor of South Carolina in 1992, but was discarded from the race for refusing to swear an oath to God. A whole five years later, the courts ruled in his favour.

In 2001, Carletta Sims – the Tennessee director of American Atheists Inc – worked for Associates Commerce Solutions. Two of her colleagues discovered she was atheist, and requested to be moved away from her desk. After the company obliged, the two colleagues left a sketched picture of Jesus stuck to Sims’ computer. Sims complained of the incident, and was fired for disruption. So, when the Christians complained they were moved desk. When the atheist complained, she was fired. She sued ACS and Citigroup for discrimination, and eventually settled for an undisclosed sum. The judge said:

“The court has reconsidered the facts and does believe that an inference of discriminatory intent could be drawn from the facts now before it.”

In 1991, Professor William Zelner was the victim of discrimination after a student wrote to her local newspaper, and said:

“I don’t take Dr. Zellner’s classes because he is an atheist.”

- What followed, were threatening phone calls to Zellner’s home, his car was keyed on an almost nightly basis, a fellow lecturer wrote that he was in league with Satan, a local church group created buttons for people to wear reading:

“I am praying for Dr. Zellner.”

- His two children – aged 6 and 9 – were shunned, and beaten up. Zellner said:

“He [his son] couldn’t understand why they wanted to hurt him. Explaining bigotry to children is difficult.”

- This is what happens when you teach a single ideology – with its moral anchor somewhere in 1st century Palestine – as truth to children, excluding those who don’t fit its narrow confines. These children are not ‘Christian’ children. They are impressionable minds that absorb the prejudices of parents. It is abuse. The Boy Scouts of America, which exists through a Congressional Charter, currently does not allow Atheists to be a part of it and abuses the naivety and curiosity of children through its institutional Christian dogma. It states:

“The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God. In the first part of the Scout Oath or Promise the member declares, ‘On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law.’ The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe and the grateful acknowledgment of His favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing members.”

- This dangerously theocratic passage doesn’t go on to provide a reason as to why a belief in a ‘ruling and leading power’ and ‘grateful acknowledgement of his favours and blessings’ are required for good citizenship. The implication being that non-religious folk, are not good citizens. There is of course no analysis to back up this implication, just words, by Christians, who consider themselves the best kind of citizenship. Such is the nature of unjustifiable discrimination, and it is this that leads to the hideous bullying by fellow students, of those who don’t share the exact beliefs of the parents and teachers. It is institutional discrimination aimed at dehumanising those who don’t fit a specific set of criteria set by those privileged few in a position of power, and according to their beliefs only. It is also vastly anti-American, and anti-secular and it is this that eventually leads to situations like that at Bastrop High; where anti-secular bullying and discrimination was so loudly celebrated as a victory.

A recent study found that those surveyed favoured medical treatment for Christians, over atheists. Most placing ‘atheist’ down the list of priorities for a Kidney transplant, simply for professing a lack of belief in a God.

Similarly, according to a Gallup poll from 2007, 48% of those surveyed would not vote for an Atheist running for President.

According to a a poll by the University of Minnesota, parents would not be happy for their child to marry an atheist. A parent would look at me as unworthy of marrying their daughter, simply because I don’t believe the Bible to be the ultimate truth.

State judges for some odd reason, give lectures on how to be good parents, through religious teaching. When challenged on the constitutionality of that lecture, they then try to defend it in the most ridiculous way, as was the case with Anita McLemore v. Carl McLemore. Originally, the chancellor had insisted that both parents should take their children to church on Sunday. This was challenged, and so this bizarre response was penned:

“Anita misinterprets the court’s order. She was not ordered to attend church. The court’s order pertained
only to the children, stating that “[b]oth parties shall assume responsibility for the attendance of the
children in church each Sunday while in their respective custody.” (emphasis added). Anita asserts that this
court order violates the First Amendment establishment and free exercise clauses of the U.S. Constitution
as well as the Fourteenth Amendment, arguing that the court order constitutes government establishment of
the Christian religion. She alleges that the word “church” used in conjunction with a specific day, Sunday,
implicates a particular religion, Christianity. THE AMERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARY OF THE
ENGLISH LANGUAGE (1981) defines “church” as “place of worship, a congregation”. It is not a
foregone conclusion that such could only refer to a particular religion, sect, or denomination. The chancellor
did not specify a particular faith. There was no discrimination or preference shown. The chancellor’s order
that the children attend church inherently provided for choice. One need only glance through the yellow
pages for the vicinity in which Anita and Carl live to appreciate the diverse meaning of the word “church”.
This is simply a succinct term employed by the chancellor to describe a benefit that he determined to be in
the best interest of the children.”

Anita asserts that the court order violates her constitutional right not to practice organized religion. While the order for the children to attend “church” might somehow inhibit her ability to be completely free from
any effect that “church” might have on her, the order was reasonably based upon serving the best interests
of the children. The chancellor, familiar with the churches in the community, was doubtless aware of the
myriad of programs offered for enrichment of children’s lives. The range is great. Churches are traditionally
places of calm and concern. At virtually no expense to parents, churches offer children the opportunity for
interaction with groups of other children as well as adults, in an environment conducive to character-building.

- They have answered the criticism, with the reason they were criticised in the first place, and added a ridiculous clause; that by “church” and “on Sunday” they didn’t actually mean specifically Christianity. Does anyone buy that? And even if they genuinely had Taoism or Buddhism in mind as well as Christianity when suggesting “church” on “Sunday”, it is irrelevant. The court has ordered someone to force their child to receive a religious education every Sunday. Christians have decided they know what’s best for children. And whether Christians believe this to be true or not, the courts should not be endorsing – let alone forcing – any religious practice or teaching.

In 2006, Judge James Punch of Orleans County stripped Rachel Bevilacqua of custody of her son, because of her involvement in the ‘Church of Subgenius’; a parody religion. The Judge called her a “pervert” and “mentally ill”. After the case, she finally regained custody in 2007 (after spending $140,000 in legal costs; the cost of overturning the discriminatory attitudes of Christian supremacist Judges), but was told by Judge Adams that she must keep all ‘Subgenius’ literature away from where her child might see and become corrupted by it. Obviously, the child is allowed to see and become corrupted by Christian literature, that leads to homophobia, and bullying those who object to schools promoting Christian prayer at graduation.

In 2012, the San Antonio Independent School District firewall provider, Fortinet blocked school access to atheist websites, categorising them as ‘occult’, whilst allowing access to Christian and creationist websites. It took a threat of court action on the basis of 1st Amendment discrimination, for the District’s Chief Information Officer provider to back down.

According to “The Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism” conducted by WIN-Gallup International, 5% of the US population now identify as Atheist. There are no Atheists in the US Senate. By contrast, Lutherans account for 4.6% of the population, and are represented by 5% of the Senate. Episcopalians make up 1.8% of the population, and enjoy 4% representation in the Senate. Most astonishingly, Presbyterians make up just 2.8% of the population, whilst enjoying 13% of the US Senate. The Senate is dominated by religion.

One must conclude that there is no ‘war on Christianity’ but a war on Christian supremacy. The courts offer preferential treatment to the religious, public schools constantly preach Christianity. For years, religious privilege and supremacy ensured vital stem cell research was withheld. The US political system is loaded with Christian supremacists. It is all but impossible for an Atheist to become President. An ongoing battle since the dawn of the enlightenment – the cause of Jefferson and Madison – to slowly roll back the illegitimate power and privilege of religion over the lives of others and the misery it inflicts on those that don’t adhere to its dictates; this is secular goal the US was founded upon and it is a war that must be won.


Ted Cruz’s ‘Obamacare’ Poll: The results are in!

March 31, 2014

I’ve spent a lot of time recently writing on religion, and not much on politics. And so today I thought I’d check in with how the Republican war on affordable care is going over in the States. Leading the Koch-funded attack on affordable healthcare, Senator Cruz took to his Facebook page last week to conduct a quick poll:

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- The results – after 5 years of a clearly designed Tea Party policy of misinformation – were seemingly not quite what he was hoping for:

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And then there’s more:

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And then there’s a few more:

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And not forgetting these:

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Followed swiftly by these:

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Oh and these:

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And a few more:

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Last one I’ll post, because there’s about 40,000 more YES comments, and that’s particularly difficult to fit on a single blog:

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- The ‘YES’ votes are endless. See for yourself. The result of Senator Cruz’s poll were not what he was hoping to read. Two things are clear: Firstly, Senator Cruz really needs to rethink his social media strategy. Secondly, and most importantly, the Affordable Care Act has withstood five years of Republican misinformation and the most absurd end of World predictions (including the reintroduction of Feudalism, systematic genocide, and the US becoming an Islamic Caliphate outpost), and is beginning to change lives for the better. It is a legacy that the light of history will undoubtedly judge the President positively for.

Today is deadline day for sign ups. If you still haven’t signed up, you can do so easily on healthcare.gov, or call a toll free number: 1-800-318-2596 for advice and support. Don’t believe the misinformation, sign up, enjoy affordable healthcare for you and your family.


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