How to be a Steve Stockman (R-TX) Patriot…

January 29, 2014

Wikimedia Commons. Author - Gage Skidmore.

Wikimedia Commons.
Author – Gage Skidmore.

President Obama played a tactful game at the State of the Union last night. There were subtle digs at the most unproductive Congress in history, but far less than we may have expected given how difficult 2013 had been for the President. The mention of climate change and minimum wage, was a clear message to the Democratic base ahead of the Congressional elections in November. Other that that, there were no surprises from either the President nor the opposition Party. This lack of surprise includes one particular publicity-seeking-prone, disrespectful Republican storming out of the chamber in typically over dramatic Tea Party fashion.

It was halfway through the President’s State of the Union address that Texas’s Steve Stockman left the chamber in a fit of outrage. After his tantrum subsided, Stockman told reporters that he’d stormed out because:

“I could not bear to watch as he continued to cross the clearly-defined boundaries of the Constitutional separation of powers.”

– Stockman often plays fast and loose with his understanding of the Constitution and of the framework of the United States in general. It was Stockman that was so excited to announce that he had invited Ted Nugent to the State of the Union Address, and noted:

“I am excited to have a Patriot like Ted Nugent joining me in the House Chamber to hear from President Obama.”

– Stockman called Nugent a “Patriot”. So then, perhaps you’re wondering what it will take for Steve Stockman to recognise you as a Patriot? Well, let’s investigate what he might mean:

In a 1995 interview, the great ‘Patriot’ Ted Nugent said:

“I’m on top of a real America with working hard, playing hard, white motherfucking shit kickers, who are independent and get up in the morning.”

– When told that African Americans were just as hard working as white Americans, Nugent said:

“Show me one”

– So that’s the “racist” box checked. In 2012, the ‘Patriot’ Ted Nugent offered his thoughts on the US civil war, and stopped vastly short of expressing his undying love for the United States in a way you might expect of a Patriot:

“I’m beginning to wonder if it would have been best had the South won the Civil War.”

So, that’s racism, with the nostalgia for the slave owning Confederacy box checked. In 2012, the ‘Patriot’ Ted Nugent said of Democrats:

“Pimps whores & welfare brats & their soulless supporters have a president to destroy America.”

– So far, to be a ‘Patriot’ in Steve Stockman’s World, you must be racist, still bitter that the states fighting to uphold the institution of slavery didn’t win the war, and to dismiss anyone struggling in life as “Pimps, whores and welfare brats”.

Steve Stockman was one of the Congressional Republicans to oppose the reauthorisation of the enormously popular and effective Violence Against Women Act. In explaining his opposition to the reauthorisation, Stockman ridiculously said:

“This is a truly bad bill. This is helping the liberals, this is horrible. Unbelievable. What really bothers—it’s called a women’s act, but then they have men dressed up as women, they count that. Change-gender, or whatever. How is that—how is that a woman?”

– It “helps the liberals” to protect minorities from abuse apparently. So Stockman opposed it. He was willing to put all women at risk, just to make sure we’re all aware that he doesn’t like the transgender community. So, that’s racists, those still bitter that the states fighting to uphold the institution of slavery didn’t win the Civil war, those who dismiss anyone struggling in life as “Pimps, whores and welfare brats”, and those who don’t understand biology and wish to continue to manifest that ignorance through bigotry and physical abuse.

In 2013, Stockman tweeted this little gem of wisdom:

– Apart from the threatening and insensitive absurdity of this hideous slogan, we should perhaps note that ‘National Association for Gun Rights’ and ‘Gun Owners of America’ are two of Stockman’s key campaign contributors, so this shouldn’t surprise us. This is a clear message to women everywhere that Stockman believes a woman’s body is not her own, and that Stockman is willing to use the most vicious language possible to make that point.

So, that’s racists, those still bitter that the states fighting to uphold the institution of slavery didn’t win the Civil war, those who dismiss anyone struggling in life as “Pimps, whores and welfare brats”, those who don’t understand biology and wish to continue to use their ignorance to abuse anyone that doesn’t match their own very narrow World view, and those who wish to restrict women’s health rights by using threatening language.

The First Lady’s guests at the State of the Union last night included Carlos Arredondo and Jeff Bauman; two survivors of the Boston bombs. By contrast, only four days after the the bombing, Stockman tweeted:

– An indescribably insensitive tweet, especially by a member of the United States Congress, at a time when citizens were being treated for the most horrific injuries, families had lost loved ones, and neighbourhoods in the region had undergone such an awful event. But he’s not new to such an insensitive publicity stunt….

Just a short few months after the Sandy Hook tragedy, Stockman tweeted this:

– You read that correctly. He raffled off the same make gun as the one used by Adam Lanza to murder children, if you signed up to his website. The obscenity of Stockman’s publicity stunt here is incomprehensible.

So, that’s racists, those still bitter that the states fighting to uphold the institution of slavery didn’t win the Civil war, those who dismiss anyone struggling in life as “Pimps, whores and welfare brats”, those who don’t understand biology and wish to continue to use their ignorance to abuse anyone that doesn’t match their own very narrow World view, those who wish to restrict women’s health rights by using threatening language, and those who believe it appropriate for a United States member of Congress to publicly joke about a terrorist attack four days after it took place, and raffling off the same type of gun used in the murder of children, for publicity.

Next to the gun lobby, Stockman is well funded by the oil industry, with Exxon a particular favourite contributor. So it’s no surprise that Stockman – member of the House Energy subcommittee and the House Environment subcommittee – would say this:

– He could have chosen the mountains of the Himalayas, or the Shenandoah Valley, or the misty and beautiful Vietnamese coastline, or the Scottish highlands, or the stunning rainforests of Brazil, or the diverse wildlife of the Serengeti. Instead, Stockman’s favourite thing about the beautiful planet that we inhabit, is finding oil. And when we do find oil, and it results in a massive leak near Santa Barbara of almost three million gallons, which in turn kills wildlife for miles around and threatens local habitats even further a field, Stockman then gets annoyed that regulations are introduced in an attempt to stop such abuses by oil companies in the future:

– Stockman appears to be confused between the reality of climate change, and his duties as a representative for the oil industry. Pesky scientific fact (there’s around a 97% consensus on the anthropogenic causes of climate change) is naturally a liberal conspiracy, whilst the oil industry…… I suppose must be “Patriots”.

I think we have the definitive guide on how to be a Patriot by Steve Stockman. You must be racist; experiencing great sadness that the slave states didn’t win the civil war; willing to dismiss anyone struggling in life as “Pimps, whores and welfare brats”; you must lack a basic understanding of biology and wish to continue to use that ignorance to abuse anyone that doesn’t match your own very narrow World view; you must wish to restrict women’s health rights by using threatening language; you must believe it appropriate for a United States member of Congress to publicly joke about a terrorist attack four days after it took place, and raffling off the same type of gun used in the murder of children, for publicity; you must see the planet as nothing more than one big playground for Exxon to dig wherever it likes. This is how to be a Patriot by the man who stormed out of the State of the Union last night. If I were the President, I’d be more offended if Stockman had stayed.

Futiledemocracy & The Shorty Awards

January 25, 2014

It’s rare that I write anything even slightly personal on here. But I figure once in a while isn’t too bad a thing. I’ve been blogging for quite some time now, and I’ve accumulated a wonderful and diverse readership across social media platforms, from over the World. From those who share most of my ideas and opinions, to those who thoroughly disagree with much of what I write, I appreciate every reader that has taken the time out of their lives to read any of my thoughts that end up on my blog. To know my ideas and thoughts are being read and shared, keeps me wanting to write, which in turn keeps me needing to learn, to trying to improve my understanding of the World, and the institutions that govern us. Most importantly for me, it is a creative outlet too. It works as a wonderful way to arrange my thoughts coherently and creatively in the only real way that I know how. I absolutely need that.

As a result of blogging, my thoughts on a lot of subjects have evolved but stayed relatively similar throughout the years though much more considered and rounded. Other times I have completely changed position. Sometimes I read over old articles on old blog pages, and I cringe. But it’s great to see how far I have progressed in my thought processes. This is almost entirely down to my desire to keep learning and writing, to which I owe my enjoyment of both – an enjoyment I never had at school – largely to this blog. An archive of articles over the years is a wonderful indication of one’s intellectual growth, and a perfect incentive to progress further. It’s difficult to describe how much I value this space, and those who have subscribed and/or read my thoughts regularly over the years. I appreciate it hugely. Thank you.

I have recently been nominated a few times for a ‘Shorty Award’ for blogging. This humbles me. Every retweet, every facebook post that includes my article, and every nomination for an award like a Shorty are all far more than I expect when I write a blog. I am not a journalist, nor a professional writer. I make terrible grammatical errors, and I can spend hours reading over the same paragraph not happy with how it reads, before editing the entire thing and eventually publishing. And still, people read! It got me thinking about those of you who I don’t know, who are complete strangers, who have your own lives, your own loves, your own passions, your own memories, and yet somehow in your daily life, you found this blog, you perhaps read it, took the time to comment on it, or you maybe even shared it with others. This is a connection I value hugely.

The Shorty Awards are now in their sixth year and honour the best of social media across a range of subjects. If you appreciate my articles, and believe I deserve your nomination for a blogging award, clicking the graphic below will take you to the nomination page! Thank you! And I hope I can keep you coming back and reading in the future!

Nominate Futile Democracy for a social media award in the Shorty Awards! Nominate Futile Democracy for a social media award in the Shorty Awards

The Secular States of America.

January 24, 2014


The United States is not a Christian nation, any more than the United States is an Atheist nation, or a Hindu nation, or a Poseidon nation. The United States is a secular nation.

Whenever a debate is raised over the issue of whether or not the United States was a found a Christian nation, we are entertained with quotes from the founding fathers either professing their belief in a God or their secular credentials, both sets of quotes used to justify both positions. What we rarely see, are the lengths the founders went to in order to ensure a secular framework for the new nation, and the context in which they fought for it. Their personal beliefs in a God or an organised religion are irrelevant. The meticulous work and reasoned writings – of framers like Jefferson and Pinckney – to ensure the constitution was based upon secular principles, is what ultimately matters.

A year before the Bill of Rights was attached, the Constitution – a document that doesn’t mention the word ‘God’ once – made a very brief mention of religion. Brief, but extremely important for that moment in time.

Paragraph 3, of Article VI of the Constitution states:

“The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

– It is clear from this, that the civil duty of all public office holders, is to the constitution only. Religion is to play no part in the suitability of a candidate for office. The oath or affirmation for public service is to the constitution only. The idea of insisting on no religious test for public office was as much a fundamental part of the history of the United States as the idea of independence itself, though it had recently been lost to history by the time the constitution was under consideration. Indeed, the original colonists had fled in order to worship by the dictates of their own conscience rather than the dictates of the oppressive state. But the tyranny which they fled, they soon enshrined themselves. In Virginia in the 17th Century, certain laws penalised parents who did not baptise their children. The 1776 Constitution of Pennsylvania demands of all legislators:

“And each member, before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration, viz : I do believe in one God, the creator and governor of the universe, the rewarder of the good and the punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine inspiration.”

– Similarly, the Constitution of Massachusetts at the same time stated:

“As the happiness of a people and the good order and preservation of civil government essentially depend upon piety, religion, and morality, and as these cannot be generally diffused through a community but by the institution of the public worship of God and of public instructions in piety, religion, and morality: Therefore, To promote their happiness and to secure the good order and preservation of their government, the people of this commonwealth have a right to invest their legislature with power to authorize and require, and the legislature shall, from time to time, authorize and require, the several towns, parishes, precincts, and other bodies-politic or religious societies to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the institution of the public worship of God and for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion, and morality in all cases where such provision shall not be made voluntarily.”

– The Constitution of South Carolina:

“That all persons and religious societies who acknowledge that there is one God, and a future state of rewards and punishments, and that God is publicly to be worshipped, shall be freely tolerated. The Christian Protestant religion shall be deemed, and is hereby constituted and declared to be, the established religion of this State.”

– Had the national Constitution included language like that of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts’ or South Carolina’s state constitutions, we may have had to conclude that the United States is indeed a Christian nation. But the framers didn’t choose any state constitution that included overtly religious tones, language, and intention. Instead they looked to Virginia, and specifically Jefferson’s “Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom” which noted:

“Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”

– Almost all State constitutions in the 18th Century (and many still today) demanded a religious test – most requiring a belief in Protestant ideals – for public office. The very fact that the national Constitution seeked to completely overturn those state constitutional religious tests, and refusing to acknowledge even the word “God” let alone Christian-Protestant beliefs, and instead specifically looking to Virginia’s declaration enshrining secular principles, was a revolutionary act in itself, and speaks volumes of the motives of the framers.

It was in the 1770s that Jefferson originally penned the ‘Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom’. It was Governor Pinckney out of South Carolina – a state that had established Protestantism of the state religion – that penned the no religious test clause for the national Constitution. This clause angered Christians of the time (less so the evangelicals, who, as a minority sect, generally supported a separation of church and state for their own protection), with one objection being raised in the ratifying convention in North Carolina:

“…those gentlemen who formed this Constitution should not have given this invitation to Jews and heathens.”

– Leading Protestants – mainly in the north, The south was the beacon of enlightenment thought in that period of the 18th century – feared that prohibition on religious tests for high office – in other words, the lack of Protestant privilege – would give Jews, Pagans, non-believers, Hindus, and Muslims the same right to seek public office as Protestant Christians and ultimately diminish their role and power over state affairs. Protestants were aware that the Constitution represented a complete break with the state constitutions that gave them a privilege not afforded to other faiths and sects until then. This was unprecedented in history. A gigantic step in secular governance. For Jefferson, Pinckney and Madison among others, this was a battle they had fought long and hard for. The realisation of enlightenment ideals.

Leaving the confines of the 18th Century for a brief moment, The Christian Post recently published an article by Eric Metaxxas, in which he says:

“So while the Constitution cannot be considered a religious document, many of our founders’ religious views deeply informed their thinking about the kind of government America should embrace. To suggest otherwise is intellectually dishonest.”

– This simply isn’t true. The remainder of Metaxxas’ article seems to be some sort of rescue attempt for subtly held theocratic views attempting to enshrine itself into the fabric of America. He seems to be arguing that the Constitution is not overtly Christian, but the Founders were (which they weren’t) and so it is REALLY Christian… if you think about it…. maybe? It is of course, nonsense. Given that the religious aspects of the United States Constitution use the Virginia Statute penned by Thomas Jefferson as its inspiration, we must seek Jefferson’s views primarily. In his autobiography of 1821, Thomas Jefferson wrote:

“The bill for establishing religious freedom [in Virginia], the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason and right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read, “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.”

– There was a specific debate over including the words “Jesus Christ” and this was absolutely rejected. Jefferson’s “religious views” were not given any sort of privilege. In fact, by rejecting the words “Jesus Christ”, Christianity itself was consciously stripped of its attempted privilege. For Jefferson, matters of religion were to be open and free to all, and not in any way linked to the state. A line of equality of belief.

Further, George Washington – in a letter penned to the Jewish congregation of Rhode Island – gives us his thoughts on the equality of conscience, and civil rights:

“The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

– Washington notes that ‘tolerance’ is no longer spoken of. What he means by this is that the old world privileges of one religion to grant tolerance to another, are finished.

The Christian Post article goes on:

“They also considered freedom of religion so important that they enshrined it in First Amendment to the Constitution. This includes the right to bring our beliefs into the public square to influence our fellow citizens on issues like slavery, as antebellum believers did, and abortion, as Christians in Texas recently did, and as many are trying to do with marriage.”

– This in true, to a degree. As noted in my previous article on Madison, the ‘father of the constitution’ noted in his 1822 letter to Edward Livingstone, the limits of religious privilege in state affairs:

“I observe with particular pleasure the view that you have taken of the immunity of Religion from civil jurisdiction in every case where it does not trespass on private rights or public peace.”

– So, when it pertains to – for example – marriage, as noted by the Christian Post article, Madison would have considered this a time in which religion oversteps its power and trespasses on private rights. A heterosexual Christian legislator with the right to marry does not have an inherent right to limit that same right for others. You have no more right to insist that children learn creationism in science class, that I do to ensure children learn about the baby-bringing-stalk in biology class.

Jefferson elaborates on religious interference in state affairs – which Metaxxas seems to try desperately to justify – in his ‘Notes on the State of Virginia’:

“Statutory oppressions in religion being thus wiped away, we remain at present under those only imposed by the common law, or by our own acts of assembly. At the common law, heresy was a capital offence, punishable by burning. Its definition was left to the ecclesiastical judges, before whom the conviction was, till the statute of the 1 El. c. 1. circumscribed it, by declaring, that nothing should be deemed heresy, but what had been so determined by authority of the canonical scriptures, or by one of the four first general councils, or by some other council having for the grounds of their declaration the express and plain words of the scriptures. Heresy, thus circumscribed, being an offence at the common law, our act of assembly of October 1777, c. 17. gives cognizance of it to the general court, by declaring, that the jurisdiction of that court shall be general in all matters at the common law. The execution is by the writ De haeretico comburendo. By our own act of assembly of 1705, c. 30, if a person brought up in the Christian religion denies the being of a God, or the Trinity, or asserts there are more Gods than one, or denies the Christian religion to be true, or the scriptures to be of divine authority, he is punishable on the first offence by incapacity to hold any office or employment ecclesiastical, civil, or military; on the second by disability to sue, to take any gift or legacy, to be guardian, executor, or administrator, and by three years imprisonment, without bail. A father’s right to the custody of his own children being founded in law on his right of guardianship, this being taken away, they may of course be severed from him, and put, by the authority of a court, into more orthodox hands. This is a summary view of that religious slavery, under which a people have been willing to remain, who have lavished their lives and fortunes for the establishment of their civil freedom.”

– Here, Jefferson notes the problem of the religious using the legislative process to force their faith upon the population. He specifically calls it religious slavery. For Jefferson, this is where faith becomes overbearing. Your faith is yours personally, it is not to be used to infringe upon the liberty of others. Madison fought for this principle his entire life. Jefferson enshrined it in the Virginia Declaration. Pinckney made certain that it would outshine theocratic attempts to distort the secular nature of the Constitution.

It must be said that the genius of the founders was their ability to recognise that their own personal beliefs were not supreme, and did not have an inherent privilege above any other belief. For the founders, the United States was not founded a Christian nation, any more than the United States was founded an Atheist nation, or a Hindu nation, or a Poseidon nation. The men charged with constructing the new national Constitution worked tirelessly to ensure it was absolutely not a Christian nation. It is quite sad that in the 21st Century, there are numerous commentators, as well state and national representatives that haven’t quite grasped this principle yet.

James Madison: The Father of Secularism.

January 22, 2014

“During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.”
– James Madison

The year was 1785 when Patrick Henry of Virginia worked tirelessly to push for the state to pass a law diverting tax dollars to directly funding “Teachers of the Christian Religion“. The oppressive nature of state sponsored religion so attached to the governing principles of the old world seemed to be one step closer to infecting the new world also. The genius of the American experiment in self government was put at risk in 1785. Had laws binding the state to a religion passed in Virginia, the Constitutional Congress may well have produced a document far different to the one that we all know today. The principles of the Enlightenment may not have been so beautifully enshrined, and the American experiment may have turned out very differently.

As it turns out, Patrick Henry had one very formidable foe in his attempts to directly establish a church-state binding link. James Madison – Father of the Constitution – existed at the moment in history, and in the exact place he was most needed, to argue so eloquently for the establishment and enshrining of secular ideals. Madison had astutely recognised the difference between tolerance, and liberty. Tolerance, in matters of state, he was certain, was the opposite of liberty. His words and brilliance worked to define secular ideals that permeate to this very day.

In the same year, Madison penned “Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments”. A beautifully articulate and concise declaration of religious freedoms, in response to the Bill forwarded by Patrick Henry. In it, Madison states his reasons for opposing the Bill:

“Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, “that religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence.” The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men.”

“…If “all men are by nature equally free and independent,” all men are to be considered as entering into Society on equal conditions; as relinquishing no more, and therefore retaining no less, one than another, of their natural rights. Above all are they to be considered as retaining an “equal title to the free exercise of Religion according to the dictates of Conscience.” Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and to observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us.”

– In two short paragraphs, Madison sets out the secular ideal. He makes clear the point that no single religious doctrine should be considered superior to any other, that the state should not promote dogma over reason, and that an individuals’ right to believe according to his or her own conscience is negated the moment the individual restricts the same right for another. For Madison, religious power over state had had its opportunity, and it was abused. For centuries religious power had fostered nothing but religious tyranny. With the minds of Jefferson, Adams, and Madison, the new World was not going to reflect the mistakes of the past when it came to religious power over state.

Further, Madison’s belief that no single religious doctrine be recognised as ‘official’ by the state, nor restricted therein is reflected in his support of Thomas Jefferson when establishing the University of Virginia. Both Jefferson and Madison believed religious theology had no place at the university, and Madison worked hard to ensure that the library books at the university contained moral philosophy, but no specific doctrinal teachings, so as to ensure a level playing field. The argument was simple, either the state has the right to invade and attempt to restrict the conscience of the individual, or it doesn’t. Madison’s response to Henry was a key factor is Henry losing the battle to divert tax dollars to the establishment of a religious order.

After the defeat of Henry’s Bill, Madison worked to ensure Jefferson’s ‘Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom’ passed through the Virginia Assembly, completely breaking the ties between the state government, and the Church of England. Indeed, Jefferson was so proud of penning the Statute, that he insisted on having it remembered on his tombstone. A tombstone that doesn’t even mention that he was President. Jefferson was in Paris on diplomatic orders as the Statute was up for discussion back home in Virginia, and it was James Madison who worked tirelessly to ensure its passage through the Assembly. The Statute states:

“Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”

– Not only does this ensure freedom of religion, it enshrines freedom from religion. No individual shall be compelled to support any ministry whatsoever. This is what was important to freethinkers and deists alike. Further, the statute makes clear that the beliefs of individuals should not affect their civil capacities. A line of equality drawn unequivocally. Virginians were to be considered equal in conscience, with no single faith or sect preferred in matters of state. This is reflected in a statement found earlier in the Statute:

“That our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry”

– During the debate in the Assembly, a motion to include the name of Jesus Christ in the wording of the Bill was easily defeated. Once passed, the Bill was translated into several European languages and became a beacon for secularists across the old continent. The revolutionary importance of the Virginia statute is difficult to overstate. Indeed, in the US it took another 30 years before Catholics were permitted to hold public office in the state of New York. For Madison – as for Jefferson – liberties such as that of the freedom of conscience, fought so hard for during the revolutionary years, with a basis in reason rather than Christianity, were essential for the experiment in republican ideals and civil rights to succeed.

In 1776, Madison had amended George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights, and specifically, article 16. The vision of liberty as opposed to tolerance became a reality in the words that Madison had so beautifully penned:

“All men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion according to the dictates of conscience.”

– At this time, Madison – still in his mid-20s – was now the voice of secularism and freedom of conscience in the Virginia House of Delegates.

In the Federalist Papers, Madison argued that by levelling the playing field, and equalising belief whereby one faith or one sect of one faith is not permitted to rise above another, nor recognised by the state, fosters an environment for open debate, free thought and discourages oppression. We must note how revolutionary this concept was. The preceding centuries were centuries of religious war. Indeed, Christians spent an awful amount of time killing other Christians, for being the wrong type of Christian. In England alone, the Tudor monarchs were at odds with each other, murdering religious supporters of their rivals, simply for not adhering to the correct ‘sect’ of the same faith. By 1850, new Christian sects – such as Mormonism – with their own interpretations, were springing up everywhere, without fear of oppression. Separation of church and state is absolutely beneficial to the religious. Far more so, than when one sect controlled the reigns of power.

Madison had also argued that attempts to compromise between religious sects whilst still holding onto the state-church connection – the Elizabethan settlement was simply a compromise – failed, and that only complete liberty of conscience under a state framework neutral in matters of personal belief, could ensure the protection of all. This isn’t to say that religious tension was forever banished from society, far from it, simply that it created an atmosphere preferable to the religious tyranny and the climate of fear that leads to such vicious oppression, and the stifling of progress of the preceding centuries.

In 1822, Madison expressed another key secular concept, in a letter he wrote to the Jurist, Edward Livingston. In it, Madison expresses his belief that whilst religion should ordinarily be free from state interference, the state should interfere to limit religious power if that power attempts to infringe upon civil rights:

“I observe with particular pleasure the view that you have taken of the immunity of Religion from civil jurisdiction in every case where it does not trespass on private rights or public peace.”

– Practically, this thought process can be seen in 21st century America. After the decision in 2013 of the Supreme Court to deem the Defence of Marriage Act unconstitutional, President Obama made this statement:

“This was discrimination enshrined in law. It treated loving, committed gay and lesbian couples as a separate and lesser class of people. The Supreme Court has righted that wrong, and our country is better off for it.”

– The President is right. He was politically wise not to mention that the only reason same-sex couples are so viciously discriminated against, their rights trampled, treated as second class, is because of the supremacy of religion over the state. To paraphrase Madison, the court was absolutely right to step in and limit the power of the religious, when that power attempts to infringe upon the rights of individuals. The decision to overturn the Defence of Marriage Act represented the very essence of secularism.

Madison was convinced that the only way to ensure the freedom of inquiry, the freedom of expression, and the freedom of conscience for all, was to break the chains of church and state and enshrine reason and liberty into the founding framework of a nation. His vision for America – predicated largely on secular ideals – was the vision that won out. It is no surprise that Madison’s chose the first Amendment to the Bill of Rights to ensure this principle, enshrining religious freedom, and forever inhibiting the state from establishing a religion in the United States. The secular ideals that I base much of my political beliefs upon, derive from the works of James Madison. I reflect on his writings often, and they work to solidify my conviction that secular freedoms for all upon a democratic framework, are the only possible way to ensure the civil rights of all. To this day, Madison’s clear, concise, and rational arguments are far more persuasive than any other system of governance thus conceived. We owe many of freedoms and protections to James Madison: The Father of Secularism.

Meet Joshua Black.

January 21, 2014

Time ago, calling for the murder of the democratically elected head of state was entirely the realm of those on the watch list of intelligence services. The extreme fringes that plagued Kennedy on his trip to Dallas. Apparently that time has passed, and now includes those running for State legislatures.

We are all fully aware that Republicans have been getting progressively violent and irrational with their rhetoric since the President was first elected. From subtle hints at secession, to happily and effortlessly shutting down the government and protesting the shutdown alongside people waving Confederate flags. But yesterday – Martin Luther King Day in the States – Republican candidate for Florida’s 68th district of Florida’s State House, Joshua Black took the violent rhetoric to its natural conclusion when he tweeted this:


– When questioned on Twitter about the implications of what he was actually suggestion, Black responded with a plain as day clarification:


– Joshua Black – when he isn’t spending his time at church, as his website tells us – is calling for the hanging of the President of the United States. Let that sink in for a second. A candidate for public office in the US, and a member of one of the two major political parties, has just called for the execution via hanging of the President of the United States.

Once the shock of that utterly crazy situation sinks in, examining the rest of his I’m not sure what the reference to Benedict Arnold was. Arnold wasn’t executed after the revolutionary war, and after his defection to the British. Gout ended his life in England years later. So not only is Black calling for the execution of the President, he’s justifying it with completely invented history.

Of course, Black isn’t new to over-the-top statements:

– This, he posted the same day as his desire to see the President of the United States hanged. In one day, a Republican candidate for office had compared Bill Clinton to Mussolini, and called for the execution of President Obama. But that’s not all:

– That’s right. Joshua Black compared women who value the right to their own body, as Nazis. Joshua Black – a Republican candidate for public office – has just compared the systematic slaughter of 6,000,000 Jewish people, to a woman’s right to her own body. This is insulting on so many levels, it’s difficult to know where to start. And he’s not finished with the extreme statements yet:

– Here, it seems that Joshua Black would also abolish the minimum wage, striking a major blow to the most vulnerable people in the country already struggling. But that’s not all!

– Joshua Black openly insists that those of us who do not believe in a ‘creator’ have no place in public office. He is vehemently anti-secular, a religious supremacist who believes that he has an inherent right to decide who does and doesn’t qualify as ‘fit’ for public office. He therefore does not accept that atheists share the exact same citizenship and legal rights as himself. He echoes numerous state constitutions that seek to prohibit public office for those who do not affirm a belief in some sort of divine dictator. This horrendous tendency toward Theocratic rule and thus, anti-constitutional religious supremacy is prevalent on the Republican and Christian-right. It seeks to completely override the founding enlightenment principle of secular governance. And the picture that he posts to highlight this, is predictably from Freedomworks.

To summarise, Republican candidate for Florida’s 68th District in Florida’s State House, compared Bill Clinton to Mussolini, those who believe in a woman’s right to regulate her own body as Nazis, insists non-believers should not be allowed to run for public office, and called for the execution via hanging of the President of the United States.

If ever one candidate embodied everything that has gone horribly wrong with the Republicans in the 21st century… it’s Joshua Black.

Provocative and extreme anti-Obama statements, and comparisons to dictators of old, made by those like Joshua Black have been growing horrifically for the past several years. When given credit by candidates to public office, they add fuel to the fire of violent far-right sentiment that sweeps the US. It is viciously dangerous rhetoric. Joshua Black – considered and endorsed by the Republican Party – as a serious candidate for public office, is the natural product of the past five years of the Republican Party moving further to the right with increased vitriol and the fact that the Republican Party has not ended its association with Black speaks volumes about the sinister and dangerous direction that particular Party has taken.

With Florida’s 68th incumbent Dwight Dudley (D) narrowly winning the seat in 2012, it must be said that for the safety of the President, and many many other people, I would hope residents of Florida’s 68th do not elect extremists like Joshua Black to any position of public power.

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Support the Mosque in Bendigo.

January 20, 2014

Sacred Heart Cathedral. One of many Christian temples in Bendigo.  Source: Wikimedia Commons.  Author: Xxplosiv.

Sacred Heart Cathedral. One of many Christian temples in Bendigo.
Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Author: Xxplosiv.

Secularism is a concept that some tend to struggle with, especially if it appears to conflict with their own prejudices or fears. There is often a consistency issue. Secularism is of course a system that has no equal yet conceived, in the guarantee of fundamental rights. It ensures that no belief has a place of privilege above any others, nor violates the liberty of others. It is a line of equality, separating the framework of state from the individual’s right to believe, worship, and express unharmed. It is my right to congregate, express and to worship (if I suddenly decided to convert) according to my conscience, as it is yours. It is my right to build a private place of worship, as it is yours.

The city of Bendigo in Australia – a city I spent some time in a couple of years back – is about to begin building its first Mosque. Until now, Muslims in Bendigo have worshipped in small rooms at La Trobe University, that are becoming too crowded. The planned Mosque is privately funded by the Australian Islamic Mission, and will have prayer rooms, a sports hall, will include community relations meetings, and conduct weddings and funerals. I see no reason why anyone would oppose this. But predictably, a lot do.

The council and planners approved planning, because there is absolutely no reasonable grounds not to. It was approved along with a new Church built and funded by “Catch the Fire Ministries” a ministry run by young earth creationist Daniel Nalliah. Nalliah is an interesting chap. He insisted he felt “sick to the stomach” watching former Prime Minister Julia Gillard shake hands with former Greens Leader Bob Brown, because Gillard was “living in sin” for not being married and yet living with her partner, and because Brown was a “practising homosexual”. Those two shaking hands, made Nalliah “sick to the stomach”. In similar bouts of crazy, Nalliah once claimed that the Black Saturday bushfires were God’s wrath for Australia decriminalising abortion. Nalliah also once called on his followers to pull down Mosques, Temples, Brothels and Gambling spots because they were “Satan’s stronghold”. He has also stated that children should be protected from gay people, and he opposes gay marriage (another right that he wishes for himself, yet not for others). There seems to be very little opposition to a mad, offensive, creationist cult leader building a religious centre in Bendigo.

A ‘Stop the Mosque in Bendigo’ page sprung up on Facebook recently, with over 3,500 supporters. I was expecting a reasoned argument, perhaps evidence that Muslims in Bendigo were hoping to use the mosque for radicalisation purposes. That would have been rational grounds to oppose it. Indeed, I would have opposed it. But as it turns out, much of the opposition to the mosque is based solely people’s objections to Islam itself. They don’t like the faith, and so they believe the Mosque should be stopped. This strikes me as wholly anti-secular in itself. By this logic, Australians who happen to be Muslims may dislike Atheists meeting up, and so seek to stop it by appealing to the council. They have as much right to do that, as those hoping to stop the Mosque from being built. I can imagine the outcry would be tremendous if that were to occur.

Those against it, seem rather ironically to be offended by the idea of a mosque in Bendigo. Ironic, because using ‘offense’ as a weapon to oppress, is very much out of the religious – and very recently, the Islamic – playbook itself. Instead of engaging critically, and working to ensure transparency within religious buildings – with education, and content, for example – they instead choose to aim their opposition at the right to worship freely in a private setting itself.

For what it’s worth, I take issue with most faiths – including Islam, as regular readers of my blog will perhaps note – but I recognise the incredibly important right for all private citizens to believe whatever they choose to believe, and their secular right to choose where to worship, as long as they abide by the rule of law and do not harm the freedom of others. The state should not prevent that right. Secularism guarantees freedoms and protection for all under the law. Like every other organisation, if they do not abide by the rule of law, they may be shut down. It their members do not abide by the rule of law, they may be imprisoned. And rightfully so. But we must – if we are to call ourselves secular, and if we are to abhor supremacy – recognise that religious folk have the right to set up a private place of worship. I recognise those rights, because I hold sacred those very same rights for myself. If I were to begin an Atheist Group, or a Secularist Group, and if I wished to privately fund and build a Hall where we met up, I cannot imagine too many religious folk would object nor try to prevent my Atheist or Secularist Hall from being built. The ones that did, would rightfully be condemned for attempting to infringe upon my liberty. The same is true when applied the opposite way.

Muslims already live in Bendigo, they already worship in Bendigo. They are as much a part of Bendigo as Christians. A Mosque is simply a more comfortable place for them to worship, than a cramped university space. There is no faith-based reason reason for a council to not accommodate this. It shouldn’t even need to be said, but it’s also true that muslims work in Bendigo, they contribute, they save lives in hospitals, and educate children in schools, they are citizens with the same rights as every other person. Those rights are not negated by their choice of God. This is equally true for Christians in Bendigo. Whilst Muslims currently have no temple of worship in Bendigo, Christians have twenty Christian temples and centres in and around Bendigo, as far as I can tell. Anglican churches, Greek orthodox churches, Assembly of God, Catholic churches, and the massive Sacred Heart Cathedral, the beautifully constructed building in the photo above. And now with one more on its way run by a creationist dedicated to restricting the rights of anyone he doesn’t particularly like. Close to Bendigo, is the Atisha Centre, a Buddhist centre. If you support the right for Christians and Buddhists to build places of worship, but you would happily restrict the building of places of worship for other faiths simply because you don’t like what it is they believe, you are severely anti-secular. You advocate oppression.

The Facebook group dedicated to opposing the Mosque (but not the Catch the Fire Ministry) says:

“We live in a democracy and we are exercising OUR right to say NO to what happens in OUR country.”

– They’re quite right, they live in a democracy and they have the right to oppose. That’s absolutely correct. But I take issue with the phrase “OUR country”. This subtly hints that their right to oppose should be considered more important – as non-Muslim citizens of Australia – than the secular right of Muslim citizens of Australia – whose country it also is – to worship where they choose. This group therefore, are attempting to place themselves above the line of secular equality mentioned earlier, without anyone’s approval. Perhaps all planning permissions should be sent to this group, before any private building is erected in Bendigo. Pushing for the council – the state – to prevent Mosques being built, is forcefully restricting a particular belief. Again, this is oppression.

According to the Bendigo Islamic Association, one of the aims of the Mosque in Bendigo is to:

“Play a central role in encouraging dialogue and harmony amongst the multicultural and multi-faith
society of Bendigo.”

– This must be welcomed, and it certainly isn’t on offer from anything Daniel Nalliah has ever produced.

To deny others the right to worship freely where they choose, and to develop property that they are as entitled as you to develop, denying them purely on the basis of what they choose to believe is an act of supremacy. If we apply it to other fundamental rights, we see the sinister nature of it. Indeed, if you were to wish the right to speak freely and to criticise a faith, whilst at the same time petitioning to prevent those with faith from speaking freely about their faith or from criticising your beliefs, you would be condemned, and rightly so. If, as a white person, you were to permit yourself the right to go to certain colleges and universities that you would not permit non-white people the right to attend – as in pre-civil rights America – you are a supremacist. This is no different. Denying a right for others, that you yourself have always had, and to couple this with believing you have the inherent privileged right to block the right of others to worship in their own privately run and funded temple, according to their own conscience, despite the absolute fact that you are equal to those people according to the law and citizenship, is the very essence of anti-secularism. However, If you wish to preserve rights that you enjoy, you must defend those rights for others, whether you like their beliefs or not.

If you wish your particular gender, or sexuality, or race, or religion to deviate from that line of equality, or to push others below it, you are going to have to work particularly hard to convince the rest of us to bow down in unquestioning subordination to your new found desire for supremacy. You must provide a reasonable argument as to why you think your dislike of a certain faith puts you in a unique and privileged position in which you’re willing to permit Christians – including creationists with incredibly offensive views – the right to build 20+ temples and centres, but not others. If your argument stands up to scrutiny, it will be accepted, otherwise, it fails.

As someone who values secularism, and respect for fundamental rights, I fully support the establishment of a Mosque in Bendigo.

Mo Ansar ‘offends’ me.

January 18, 2014

Quilliam Founder Maajid Nawaz took an unfathomably brave step yesterday when, as a Muslim, he posted a cartoon on Twitter of the Prophet Muhammad (The fact that this can be described as a brave step, is deeply troubling in itself). Predictably, the cartoon sparked a storm of feigned outrage (self-pity, as the rest of us call it) across social media. Immediately threats were sent, and anger registered. The sort of anger that Christians registered at the opening of “The Life of Brian” for much the same reasons; they don’t like what they consider to be “blasphemy” and that we should all play by their rules (whilst they themselves wish the freedom to criticise and mock ‘the West’, democracy, homosexuality, and anything else they relentlessly disapprove of).

It is important to note that it is not my place to tell you what is and isn’t offensive to you. If you find a cartoon of Muhammad offensive, then I have no place to tell you that you shouldn’t. You are entitled to be offended by anything that, well, offends you. It would be wrong of me to claim otherwise. You’re also entitled to complain. No one wishes to take that right away from you (except, perhaps, Islamists and a few Nationalists… both of whom have a lot more in common than they realise) However, this is just as true for you, as it is for me. For example, I am offended by almost every chapter of the Qur’an opening with a vivid description of how as a non-believer, I deserve eternal torture, for simply not believing. For example, chapter 3 gives us this lovely little tale:

“As to those who reject faith, I will punish them with terrible agony in this world and in the Hereafter, nor will they have anyone to help.”

– It offends me that billions of people believe this violent horror story, and consider me therefore inferior, deserving only punishment for the terrible crime of saying “I’m not sure I believe this“. This offends me. But I don’t call up the BBC every time they drag Mo Ansar on as a ‘moderate’ face of Islam in Britain, to complain that he’s showing support for a book that openly offends billions of people with threats of severe punishment. I have the right to complain and hope for him to be disciplined for that. But I don’t. Because I’m a grown up.

Equally, I am offended by ‘moderate’ Muslims like Mehdi Hasan insisting that we non-Muslims are unthinking, and that we live like animals:

“The kuffar, the disbelievers, the atheists who remain deaf and stubborn to the teachings of Islam, the rational message of the Quran; they are described in the Quran as, quote, “a people of no intelligence”, Allah describes them as; not of no morality, not as people of no belief – people of “no intelligence” – because they’re incapable of the intellectual effort it requires to shake off those blind prejudices, to shake off those easy assumptions about this world, about the existence of God.”

“We know that keeping the moral high-ground is key. Once we lose the moral high-ground we are no different from the rest of the non-Muslims; from the rest of those human beings who live their lives as animals, bending any rule to fulfil any desire.”

– This offends me. Hasan doesn’t know me. He’s never spoken to me. And here he is summarising an entire group of people (not our beliefs or ideas… but we as people, as human beings) as living like animals. But I do not then write to the New Statesman to complain in the hope that Mehdi Hasan will be sacked, or disciplined. I don’t do this, because I’m a grown up.

Mo Ansar – a grown up – had such a tantrum over the posting of a cartoon by Maajid Nawaz yesterday (as did Mohammed Shafiq), that he tweeted the Lib Dem complaint form (Nawaz is a Lib Dem candidate) for others to fill out and complain… about a cartoon. This is a very passive aggressive way to silence people, and I find it offensive. A very sort of Daily Mail reader response to something they dislike. A lot of Islamists took to twitter to outright threaten Nawaz. Ansar’s method was similar though far more passive aggressive; threaten to report people to their superiors, in the hope they’ll be disciplined and shut up in future, by threatening their career simply because Mo doesn’t like blasphemy:


It is therefore easy to play Mo at his own game, and to turn this around and aim his own hideous anti-secular logic back at him. For example, I am offended by Mo’s underhanded suggestion that we non-believers are uncharitable. Why post this? For what purpose was he serving? This seems nothing more than a “get one up on the Atheists” game he’s playing. It’s offensive. But I didn’t report him… because again, I’m a grown up.

– Mo Ansar, who I consider to be a religious supremacist, doesn’t take kindly to those challenging religious supremacy. With that in mind, I am offended by Mo Ansar showing his support for the protests in Bangladesh that called for the hanging of Atheist bloggers:

– ‘Protesting blasphemy’. No, they were calling for blasphemy laws, and the punishment of those who “offend” Islam. The bloggers; Asif Mohiuddin, Subrata Adhikary Shuvo, and Russell Parvez, had their lives threatened, with chants of “Hang the atheists”. I cannot imagine Mo would be so quick to defend EDL supporters if the chants were “Hang the Muslims!” and those same protesters demanding all those who happen to be Muslim, be punished by new anti-Muslim laws. It is often the case with religious supremacists – as with all supremacists – that they tend to be very hypocritical. Indeed, supremacy is hypocrisy.

Atheists bloggers in Bangladesh had already been murdered for blaspheming. This is the reality of religious fascism and what Mo chooses to ignore – or in this case, gloss over – in his war on secularism. Hefazat-e-Islami is the group that took a large role in the Bangladesh protests. Their demands included:

  • “…abolishment of all laws which are in conflict with the values of the Quran and Sunnah.”
  • “…death penalty as the highest form of punishment to prevent defamation of Allah, Muhammad (S.A.W).”
  • “…Immediate end to the negative propaganda by all atheist bloggers.”

  • – For Mo Ansar, the media referring to – what he calls “Orthodox Muslims” – as “Islamists” is nothing more than media propaganda. It’s a predictable response from Mo. In the same way that the EDL claim the media always pick on them, when they’re smashing up shops. The protest in Bangladesh was not a peaceful protest, nor did it have any peaceful motives. It was a violent fascist movement demanding the establishment of an Islamic state full of oppression for those who don’t fit its narrow spectrum of what is decent and correct. Mo Ansar defending these people and completely ignoring their totalitarian demands, offends me. But I haven’t clicked the “report” button on twitter. Because I’m a grown-up.

    I am offended that Mo Ansar see’s fit to not only defend ritualistic genital mutilation, but summarises anyone who might take issue with the chopping up of a child’s genitalia, as a “militant secularist”:


    I am offended that one cannot post a cartoon on a social media channel without receiving death threats from self-pitying, religious supremacist thugs, desirous of a World run according to their dictates, in a secular country. This offends me.

    It offends me to know that both Mo Ansar and Mohammed Shafiq are intelligent enough to understand that their feigned-public outrage would both fuel and lend credibility to a threatening and violent backlash, and yet they did it anyway. This is utterly grotesque of two grown men.

    I am offended that Mo Ansar openly supported gender segregation in secular institutions:

    ansar (1)
    – Contrary to what Ansar seems to be suggesting, UCL did not tell Muslim women that they MUST sit next to men. There was no “dictating” to Muslims at all. It was Muslims attempting to dictate to everyone else, and then complaining when people weren’t going to stand for that nonsense. UCL simply have a free seating policy. Sit where ever you wish. They do not base seating, or any other policy, on religious demands. There is no infringement of any right going on here. if UCL were forcibly telling Muslim women that they must sit next to a man, that they have no choice, then yes, rights would be abused. That wasn’t the case. Ansar is manipulating the situation, to appeal to the victim mentality espoused by the faithful when they don’t get to force their principles upon the rest of us, and that offends me.

    I am offended that my gay friends are called ‘unnatural’ and ‘haraam’ by Muslims who know nothing of nature, and seem to believe that if bigotry is cloaked in the word ‘faith’, it is acceptable and must be respected. Mohammed Shafiq – a Lib Dem – was another yesterday who had a tantrum over the cartoon and announced his intention to complain to the Lib Dems. The same Shafiq who would withhold the right for two people in love to marry, based entirely on his own personal belief:

    – “Protect religions”… as if religions have been the victims of persecution by the gay community over the centuries. I think Shafiq is a little confused here. Shafiq is not a liberal by any stretch of the imagination. Shafiq and Ansar have far more in common with the right wing, than they’d ever care to admit.

    In fact, I am offended that Shafiq calls himself liberal. It is insulting to the traditions, the ideals and the great philosophical minds that have defined liberalism, that a homophobic religious supremacist has the nerve to place himself in the liberal camp. This offends me.

    Nothing happens when you’re offended. You’re just offended. That’s it. It makes you say “I’m offended”. You might argue your case, and you have a right to do that, and that is in most cases, a sensible reaction (you may also wish to just ignore it and walk away, also a sensible option). It provokes debate and it encourages others to understand and perhaps challenge their own thought processes or ideas. Encouraging discussion is good. That is how grown-ups deal with being offended. Mo on the other hand, has decided that if you say something he doesn’t like, about his own beliefs, he will try to have you punished for it. So stay quiet. Or else.

    Secondly, much of what we deem to be a feeling of “offense” tends not to last very long. Whilst yesterday Mo was outraged and offended by a cartoon being posted, it seemed to have passed by this morning:

    – To put this into perspective, Mo posted a link to the Lib Dem complaint page, in order to have Maajid Nawaz disciplined for blasphemy; an ‘offence’ so terrible, that it hurt Mo’s feelings for about an hour. Islamic superiority complex hidden behind the very typical victim mentality, nothing more.

    To reiterate; Mo Ansar suggested others complain to the Liberal Democrats, about blasphemy. He wants a political party in the UK – with the name ‘Liberal’ in their title – to punish what he considers to be blasphemy. In the 21st Century. It isn’t the right to challenge or the right to complain that I have an issue with. Both of those are essential in a secular democracy. It is the vacuous mentality that drives people like Mo Ansar to complain like a child, in the hope of silencing others, disempowering others, for the sake of the perpetuation of the supremacy of their belief that both irritates me as someone who values secularism, and, as it turns out, offends me.

    It offends me that Mo Ansar then retweeted this ridiculous comment by George Galloway:

    – Predictable child-like Galloway response “we’re not going to love you again ever ever ever ner ner!” It is perhaps prudent at this point to remember that in 2009, Galloway delivered this address in Gaza:

    “I, now, here, on behalf of myself, my sister Yvonne Ridley, and the two Respect councillors – Muhammad Ishtiaq and Naim Khan – are giving three cars and 25,000 pounds in cash to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Here is the money. This is not charity. This is politics.”

    – £25,000 in cash to Ismail Haniyah. The same Ismail Haniyah who referred to Osama Bin Laden as a ‘Muslim warrior’ whose soul ‘rests in peace’. Haniyah is also imperialistic, believing the entire region Islamic by divine right. He believes that peace with Israel can only come about, if they agree to give up Jerusalem, for no other reason, than being under the delusion that his particular fairy-sky man divinely ordained it for Muslims. Another key member of Hamas, Dr. Mahmoud Zahar described gay people as being:

    “…a minority of perverts and the mentally and morally sick.”

    I am offended that Mo Ansar would show his solidarity with anyone who openly supported and funded such a hideously fascist and oppressive regime.

    Ansar then complained that secular progressives are focusing too much on trying to ‘reform’ Islam. Here, Mo is very wrong again. Secularists – like myself – believe all beliefs and ideas should be treated equally. This is healthy. To deviate from this, is to advocate supremacy. This is unhealthy. Mo’s very anti-secular attempts to silence Nawaz by encouraging reporting him, proves the point Nawaz was originally making; that reform is necessary. And secondly, if you do not wish to see your faith reach a point where it is considered universally unacceptable to demand punishment for blasphemy (aggressively or passive aggressively… and including all ideas, such as holding negative opinions about ‘the west’), nor to reach a point that your faith is not considered supreme and inherently deserving of a special dispensation from the rules that allow us to criticise and mock all other concepts and ideas – be they religious or political – and indeed, you help to perpetuate that state of affairs with feigned outrage over cartoons, then you’re going to have to deal with the rest of us challenging that regressive and sinister position, by posting cartoons perhaps. We disagree with just how important you think your religious beliefs are for the rest of us. You will have to cope with that. Because you’re a grown-up.

    I am quite certain that it isn’t those of us who happily critique, satirise, or mock Islam that fuel anti-muslim hate and anger. We treat Islam no differently than we treat all authoritarian ideas. We advocate a line of equality by which no concept is permitted to rise above. We believe it is so incredibly vital and necessary that all ideas – especially authoritarian ideas – be open to all forms of criticism and that the critic be free from threat. This is how you combat extremism that arises when ideas – like Islam – become so far removed from the treatment all other ideas are open to. It is therefore those like Ansar, who wish to form a protective layer around Islam as a concept, free from mocking, free from blasphemy, free from critique or attempts at reform, free from satire, whose actions and words work only to make a taboo out of Islam, which in turn creates an atmosphere of suspicion and disunity across the country. To shut off criticism perverts the idea, it makes it appear superior to its adherents who react sensitively whenever that superiority is challenged, and it creates an air of suspicion, with those overly defensive and suspicious few – with groups like the EDL – tending to react with putrid anti-muslim rhetoric and violence. It is therefore essential for the health of humanity, that all authoritarian ideas be as open as possible to mocking, criticism, and satire – this includes my own ideas. This is the goal we must progress. To react passive aggressively when just one idea is challenged, – and yet remain silent when satire or mockery or criticism of other ideas (say, ‘The Book of Mormon’ musical or ‘The Life of Brian’) are challenged – and to attempt to silence the challenges to that one idea, is vastly sinister, and dangerous, and offensive. It is this that perpetuates the idea that Islam is somehow different, and that is so incredibly dangerous for so many reasons. This is what Ansar is perpetuating. For that alone, Mo Ansar ‘offends’ me. But I’m not going to encourage complaining about him to the BBC in the hope that they might discipline him… because I’m a grown-up.

    The Frackers of Downing Street.

    January 17, 2014

    There are very few more pressing issues on the planet right now than climate change, and sustainable energy. For that reason alone, throwing dangerous chemicals down a well and splitting rocks to extract gas, leading to complaints of contaminated water supplies in Texas, and earthquakes in Blackpool, was always going to be a controversial topic. Without getting into the pros and cons of the industry and the practice, I thought I’d focus on the names and faces attached to fracking in the UK, who seem to be extraordinarily close to a government that is now suddenly fully embracing fracking.

    Lord Browne is the Managing Director of Riverstone – a private equity firm that backs Cuadrilla Resources (of which Lord Browne in the Chairman). Cuadrilla is a Shale Gas operator that was found to be the likely cause of two minor earthquakes in 2011 through its drilling in Lancashire. Lord Browne is lead non-executive director – a Coalition advisor – at the Cabinet Office and a crossbench member of the House of Lords.

    Also at Riverstone was Ben Moxham. Moxham was a vice President at Riverstone – the equity firm that backs a company responsible for a small earthquake – until 2011. Moxham was then a lead advisor for the Coalition on climate change issues, and a senior policy advisor for energy issues, to the Prime Minister. Moxham, like Lord Browne, was also at BP for a time.

    The Senior Independent Director of of BG Group PLC is Baroness Hogg. BG Group is a British oil and gas company with interests across the planet, including shale gas in the US, where it claimed to be wishing to produce 80,000 barrels a day by 2015, growing up 190,000 barrels a day by 2020 through its shale production. Baroness Hogg was appointed Lead Non-Executive Board Member to the Treasury.

    Sam Laidlaw is the CEO of Centrica. He was also Lead non-executive director on the board of the Department for Transport, and a member of the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Group . Also at Centrica for a time, was Tara Singh. In May 2013, Number 10 announced that Ms Singh would be the Prime Minister’s personal advisor on energy and climate change. This is the same Tara Singh whose previous role was Public Affairs Manager at Centrica – owner of British Gas. A few weeks after Singh was appointed to a government advisory role, Centrica – her former employer – bought a stake in Lord Browne’s Cuadrilla for its shale gas production. Singh has also worked for PR firm Hill & Knowlton, a firm that represents the Norwegian energy giant Statoil, a company with investment in fracking in North America.

    Lord Green, the Minister of State for Trade and Investment, was also non-executive director of chemical giant BASF. BASF supply gas-based chemicals for the fracking industry.

    The Windsor Energy Group in March 2013 discussed, according to its own documents:

    “…the energy revolution from shale gas and tight oil and other game-changers so far looking east, west and south…”

    – This excitement was echoed by the Chairman of the Windsor Energy Group – Lord Howell – who told Parliament that the former colonies were ripe for picking:

    “…wake up and realise where our future and our destiny lie…the new range of Commonwealth countries coming into the prosperity league either side of Africa, as they find through the shale gas revolution that they have fantastic raw energy resources and prospects.”

    – Lord Howell – the Chairman of the W.E.G – also happens to be the father-in-law of Chancellor George Osborne. The Windsor Energy Group takes time on its website to thank Shell and BP for its support. It is unsurprising that two of the biggest players in the oil industry might choose to be close friends with an organisation whose chairman is the father-in-law of the Chancellor. Lord Howell was also former energy advisor to William Hague.

    Lord Howell – the Chairman of the W.E.G and father-in-law of the Chancellor – is also the President of the British Institute of Energy Economics. The BIEE is sponsored by Shell and BP. In 2013, Howell was appointed President of the Energy Industries Council.

    It comes as no surprise then, that in July 2013, Howell’s son-in-law Chancellor George Osborne announced a massive tax break for the fracking industry, setting the rate at 30% for onshore shale gas production, as opposed to 62% for new production of North Sea Oil. Echoing the wording by his father-in-law, and the Windsor Energy Group that his father-in-law Chairs, Osborne referred to fracking as a revolution:

    “This new tax regime, which I want to make the most generous for shale in the world, will contribute to that. I want Britain to be a leader of the shale gas revolution”

    – But it isn’t just Osborne. Vince Cable, whose Party spent the best part of the last decade insisting it was the party of green energy, took to TV news to defend the tax breaks. The fact that Cable here suggests that fracking would have to be heavily regulated and watched, must raise eyebrows as to its potential dangers. It is worth noting that Vince Cable was the former Chief Economist at Shell (supporters of the W.E.G, and financial backers of the BIEE, both run by George Osborne’s father-in-law) and that Malcolm Brinded – the former Chief Executive of Shell Upstream International – referred to Cable in a letter to the Secretary of State as the “Contact Minister for Shell”. Here:

    – Shell is positioning itself to be a major player in the UK Fracking industry. It’s also worth noting that William Hague worked for Shell UK before entering Parliament.

    The tax breaks must have felt like a wonderful victory, not just for Shell and Osborne’s father-in-law, but for everyone’s favourite soulless lobbyist Lynton Crosby. The Prime Minister’s election advisor and strategist founded the lobbying firm Crosby Textor, which lobbies on behalf of The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, and fracking is one of its main objectives. One of the members of The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association is Dart Energy, whose UK subsidiary holds a fracking licence in the UK.

    So to summarise, Lord Browne from Cuadrilla is a coalition advisor, and Tara Singh from Centrica who own a stake in Cuadrilla is a coalition advisor, and Sam Laidlaw – the CEO of Centrica – was a coalition advisor. Baroness Hogg – a lead non-exec. board member to the Treasure – is Senior Independent Director at a company with huge interests in fracking in the US Ben Moxham – an advisor to the Prime Minister on climate change and energy – was at an equity firm that backed Lord Browne’s Cuadrilla. Lynton Crosby whose firm lobbies on behalf of the fracking industry is a key strategist to the Conservative Party. George Osborne’s father-in-law is the President of a group financially backed by BP & Chairs another organisation supported by Shell among others that pushes for the fracking industry at the same time that his son-in-law announces incredibly generous tax rates for the fracking industry. And the Business Secretary is referred to as the “Contact Minister for Shell” by a former Shell CEO. It is an incredible state of affairs.

    Those who are in a position to be making a very large amount of money from fracking, also appear to be at the centre of a government that will make the key decisions on the future of the industry including its regulations and safety procedures. By contrast, there don’t appear to be any members of local communities close to proposed fracking sites, at the centre of government. For a Tory Party needing to shed its image as the Party of big business, this isn’t helping. The fracking industry hasn’t even taken off in the UK to any great extent, and yet it would appear its representatives are well placed right at the very heart of government.

    Dr Naik and the muddled Islamic story of creation.

    January 13, 2014

    Wikimedia Commons. Author: Ashfaq403

    Wikimedia Commons.
    Author: Ashfaq403

    It is often the case that believers of Islam go to great lengths to thoroughly manipulate the words of their text to fit a modern narrative. Words are suddenly interpreted entirely differently to however they were interpreted for centuries previously, the moment a new scientific discovery is made, in order to make the Qur’an fit that new understanding. The historical context is abandoned. It is the religious equivalent of painting a 21st outfit onto Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, and then claiming it was like that all along. Dr Zakir Naik is an expert in this most curious and disingenuous form of manipulating the words of the Qur’an to mean something that they clearly don’t. In this article, I will look at Dr Naik’s claim that the Qur’an’s description of the creation of the universe perfectly corresponds to modern scientific understanding.

    The softly spoken, suited Dr Naik is loved by many Muslim apologists. For the rest of us, he’s a bit of a mad Televangelist who thinks 9/11 was orchestrated by President Bush, believes apostates who ‘speak out’ against Islam should be put to death, and that evolution was originally a conspiracy against the Church, and is now “only a hypothesis”. Ridiculous. He is essentially the Jerry Falwell of Islam. Nevertheless, he is taken seriously by a large number of Muslims, and so I thought I’d focus on him today.

    For reference, I am using the English translation of the Qur’an by M.A.S Abdel Haleem. Haleem was born in Egypt, he learnt the Qur’an off by heart at a young age, and he is now Professor of Islamic Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies. His translation, according to ‘Muslim News’ is:

    “One of the best to have appeared in recent times.”

    Similarly, calls the translation:

    “…one of the most genuine and refreshing translations in contemporary times.”

    – I trust this translation. It sits on my shelf, and I use it for most articles I write on Islam.

    Onto the topic. Here is Dr Naik trying so very hard to suggest that the Qur’an mentions the theory of the big bang.

    Let’s examine the verses of the Qur’an mentioned here by Dr Zaik:
    Chapter 21 Verse 30:

    “Are disbelievers not aware that the heavens and the earth used to be joined together and that We ripped them apart…

    – No. Disbelievers are not aware of this, because this isn’t reality. The verse is quite clear. The heavens and the Earth – not the raw material that eventually forms planets, but the Earth itself – were joined. This creation idea is not unique to Islam. It is worth noting that the idea of the pulling apart of the Earth and the sky at the moment of creation, is known itself as the ‘World parent’ myth of creation. It is a common myth. The sky is usually depicted as the male, and the Earth as the female in these myths, with both existing tightly packed together before splitting apart in primordial state of being. The Egyptian deity Shu split the Earth from the skies, for example. The Qur’an mixes elements of the World parent myth, with elements of an ex nihilo variety of myth creation, with Allah bringing the Earth and sky into existence with speech, by forcing them apart. This also, is common. It is important therefore to note that the Qur’an follows earlier creation myth building perfectly, and offers nothing new or impressive. This does not in any way relate to modern cosmology, because it is entirely related to earlier myth creation, which itself was a way to try to explain our origins at a time in our magnificent history, when our species had absolutely no idea what was going on.

    The Qur’anic verse above implies that space and the Earth were ripped apart at the same moment. We of course know that the big bang happened around 13.7 billion years ago. The Earth formed around 4.5 billion years ago. The atoms that eventually became the Earth spent 9 billion years as other forms of matter. For most of the history of the universe, the matter that formed the Earth, was not, and will not be the Earth. The explosion of a star around 5 billion years ago, its remnants colliding with a gas cloud, that eventually formed our solar system. The heat from the supernova helped to form clusters of matter that eventually created enough gravitational pull to form the sun, which naturally became inconceivably dense and violently hot that it pulled surrounding objects into its orbit. Those surrounding objects eventually lumped together to form the Earth and other planets and moons. The matter that makes the Earth, will eventually create another form of matter, when the planet and the sun and solar system die out. The Earth formed 4.5 billion years ago. It was not once joined to the ‘heavens’ in the way the Qur’an implies.

    A plethora of Islamic apologists – including Adnan Oktar – seem to suggest that the Qur’an actually means “matter” and not “the Earth” with verses like that of the one above. But that’s not what the words actually say. This represents one of those moments where Muslims insist every word of the Qur’an is exactly as it was revealed to Muhammad… until they decide it needs changing.

    It is also worth pointing out that the materials required to create the Earth were created long after the big bang. For example, stable hydrogen atoms required the cooling of the universe over hundreds of thousands of years before it began to form. This of course, isn’t present in the Qur’an. Just “We ripped them apart”.

    Also not present in the Qur’an; the infinitesimal singularity, there is no mention of matter, of atoms, of how planets form, of how gravity warps spacetime, no mention of the cooling period of the early universe and the creation of stable hydrogen atoms, no densely packed inconceivably hot energy in the early state of the universe, no quantum physics, no mention of the importance of the core of a star, no mention of how galaxies form, or of energy. There is no mention of these key aspects of the beginning of the universe because those who wrote the Qur’an were unaware of it all, relying instead on earlier myths. Had this been a ‘revelation’ from the divine, and given that the Qur’an goes out of its way to care enough to mention creation, I would have expected far more information, and a leap forward for scientific endeavour, rather than regurgitating legends of old. Instead we’re treated to cryptic nothingness that wouldn’t have been considered ‘advanced’ scientific knowledge, had it been ‘revealed’ 500 years earlier.

    Further, the verse suggests that the Earth is now separate from the sky, and that separation occurred at the moment they were “ripped apart”. Whilst this is in keeping with World parent myth creation, in reality it doesn’t resemble truth at all. There is no separate “sky” and “Earth”, they are both part of the same system, with the Earth forming around 9 billion years after the initial expansion at the big bang. There was simply an expansion. There was no ‘before’ the big bang in which the Earth and the sky were in a different state of being, unless you accept the primitive creation myths in which a primordial state of being existed whereby the Earth and sky were joined. None of this is mentioned in the Qur’an, just a simplistic “We ripped them apart”. Let’s stop pretending this is credible, or scientific, or representing some sort of advanced knowledge. It isn’t. It is a simple, and primitive creation myth.

    Chapter 41, Verse 11 (a chapter that tenderly takes a brief time out – a couple of sentences – from describing the painful eternal torture awaiting us non-believers, to discuss ‘creation’, before launching into more violent descriptions of our imminent punishment):

    “Then He turned to the sky, which was smoke – He said to it and the Earth, ‘come into being, willingly or not,’ and they said, ‘we come willingly…”

    – Again it is worth noting that the use of God’s voice to bring into being everything, is not new. Everything springs from a creator after a thought, or words, or breath. Secondly, the mention of ‘smoke’ is not a new idea, having been propagated by the Greeks centuries earlier, as a potential state prior to the creation of the Earth. Aristotle, for example says To rest the entire idea of the Qur’an mentioning the state of the early universe on ‘which was smoke’ shows just how incredibly weak the claim is. There was no smoke at the conception of the universe. In fact, the early state of the universe cannot be said to resemble smoke – defined as ‘a visible suspension of carbon or other particles in air, typically one emitted from a burning substance’ – in any form. Carbon itself would not exist for a few million years. Stable hydrogen atoms also took a very long time to form. The early universe was a very dense, incredibly hot, lightless mass of energy. Not smoke. Nothing like smoke. Again, it takes very creative language manipulation to try to claim the word ‘smoke’ can be used to describe the early universe. It just can’t.

    Much like the previous quoted verse, this verse suggests that the Earth and sky came into being at the same time, at the moment in which they were “ripped apart”, and again, this is wrong. Indeed, not only does Chapter 41, Verse 11 of the Qur’an absolutely contradict our understanding of the cosmos and the formation of the universe and Earth, but also, lazily, contradicts itself over the previous two verses. The preceding verses of Chapter 41, from verse 9-10 state:

    “[9]Say ‘how can you disregard the One who created the Earth in two days? How can you set up other gods as His equals? He is the Lord of all Worlds! [10]He places solid mountains on it, blessed it, measured out its varied provisions for all who seek them – all in four days.[11]Then He turned to the sky, which was smoke – He said to it and the Earth, ‘come into being, willingly or not,’ and they said, ‘we come willingly…”

    – So, from verse 9 and 10 we get creation of the Earth. The inclusion of the word ‘then’ at the beginning of verse 11, implies that God turned His attention to the sky, after already forming the Earth. By verse 11 the Earth has been created with mountains and ‘provisions’. There is no sky at this point, despite the fact that the earlier chapter 21 implies they were created at the exact same moment in which they were “ripped apart”. Provisions and mountains exist, but the sky is just smoke. But then, oddly, God turns to both and demands they come into existence together. Which they do, confirming the earlier chapter, but contradicting the previous verse.

    An earlier myth from Memphis in Egypt tells us that the God Ptah simply thought the World into existence, and gave everything its essence, through his words. As noted earlier, the use of divine speech – important to this Quranic verse – to bring everything into existence is not new. As well as appearing in countless creation myths, it appears in the Torah too: “And God said; ‘let there be light!'”

    So, if we take Chapter 21, Verse 30, along with Chapter 41, Verse 11, as Dr Naik does, we come to the conclusion that the Earth – complete with mountains and ‘provisions’ – was created first, the sky was then created. They were joined. They were then ripped apart. It is very similar to Genesis, with a few tweaks here and there. It corresponds wonderfully to earlier primitive creation myths that speak of the sky and Earth pulled apart at the moment of creation. But it doesn’t correspond in any conceivable way to reality, without a thorough rewording, and creative reinterpretation of what the text actually says. Dr Naik is attempting – unsuccessfully – to rescue a dying and failed ‘science’ from its inevitable demise, by recreating what it actually says. It is a very defensive form of apologetics. I am yet to find any scientific peer reviewed thesis in relation to the origins of the universe and planet formation that references the Qur’anic story. It isn’t difficult to see why.

    The Beautiful Everything.

    January 11, 2014

    It is most difficult to conceive of a more humbling experience in life than to lay and stare at the stars on a clear night. Our place within the grand everything seems in equal parts so small and wonderful. Each of our lives are permitted to take up just a split second within the vastness of time before those atoms that make you – and that have always existed – move on to form something new and equally as unique. But for a brief moment those atoms from every corner of space and time, from the explosion of stars billions of year back, became self aware, they became rational, they became the universe trying to comprehend itself, they became you. You are unique. The atoms have always existed. It is only since your birth, that those atoms became self aware. This is life. The collection of atoms that – after billions of years flying aimlessly through the cosmos – became the people that you love and are unique and will continue to exist until the moment time itself comes to an end. It is therefore true that the connection between you is so thoroughly unique and wonderful that it becomes simply impossible to describe. So cherish it. Let it devour you.

    I am quite certain that this is the most awe inspiring and beautiful image mankind has ever taken or witnessed. It is one of very few objects in my life that make my heart race just by looking at it for a brief moment.

    – This is the Hubble Extreme Deep Field. Every object you see is a galaxy. It shows one section of the night sky. tells us that this image is just one piece in a jigsaw of 30,000,000 more images like it. As if zooming in on one pixel in a grand image. This one piece of the jigsaw shows around 5,500 galaxies. The redder galaxies are the most distant ever recorded. The image shows galaxies from as far back as 13.2 billion years ago. This means that the light collected by Hubble that you now see on that image above, began its journey before the Earth itself existed. What a phenomenal human achievement. A testament to the brilliant curiosity of our species.

    Further, our home galaxy, the Milky Way contains around 200 billion stars, with perhaps as many planets, if not billions more. Many of which will exist in the habitable zone of their system. In one galaxy alone. Andromeda has perhaps one trillion stars. Those are just two galaxies. Imagine, as you look at the picture above, how many planets you must be looking at. How many potential lives, events and species you are witnessing. How many beautiful sceneries you are not even aware exist. How many traditions and philosophies that have never been seen on Earth. The potential is almost too incomprehensible to consider.

    The brilliant Carl Sagan once reminded us that every name of every great sports person, military general, singer, religious prophet, politician, and scientist, every species, every book, every ocean, every period of history, every discovery, every Rosa Parks, every Isaac Newton, every Socrates, every explorer and every artist that has ever existed is known only to us on our one tiny planet. Our knowledge is inconceivably vast, and yet inconceivably limited to our little ball in a tiny obscure region of the universe. Indeed, the history of our species alone is perhaps less than a quarter of a million years. Imagine the scale and varieties of ideologies, of species, of creativity, of discovery, of tribes, of literature, of war, of festivals, of Paris’ and Beijing’s, of love, of heroes and rulers, of Hemingway’s and Brontë’s, of conversation and music, that you could potentially be looking directly at when you look at that image. At that one single, seemingly limitless image.

    Quite amazingly – and even more likely to melt your brain – if we assume a very conservative estimate of 100 billion stars per galaxy, on the scale used to estimate the size of the Hubble Extreme Deep Field, the observable universe would contain 123,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars. That’s 123 billion billion stars. Consider that for a second. Try to rationalise that number in your mind. And then perhaps marvel at the beauty of the simple fact that your mind – an assortment of atoms no different to those that make up the stars you look upon, nor those that make up the clothes that you wear – even has the wonderful ability to try to rationalise that number.

    In 2018, the James Webb Space Telescope is set to launch. It is the successor to Hubble. It is expected to go far beyond the capability of Hubble, around 100x more powerful, producing images of galaxies forming and formed just a couple of hundred million years after the big bang. The farthest we have ever glimpsed into our past. It will achieve this in hours. How incredible it is to be human, and to be able to try to comprehend our origins. So when you next have five minutes to spare one evening, lay and stare at the stars. Really consider what it is you are staring in to. It is an overwhelmingly emotional connection, and experience. It is so humbling. The beautiful everything.

    The magnificent science of 2013.

    January 7, 2014

    Two extremely bright stars illuminate a greenish mist in this and other images from the new GLIMPSE360 survey.

    2013 was a wonderful year for science. Thousands of breakthroughs in medical science, in space science, in technology, and genetics changed human understanding of ourselves and the universe that we inhabit, forever. We are now far closer to treating disease, to understanding our evolutionary journey, and to exploring the cosmos on a scale far greater than we were just twelve months ago. Each breakthrough deserves articles for themselves, but I thought I’d present a few here in snippets, with links to articles that describe the astonishing scientific breakthroughs of 2013 in greater detail. Here is a brief year in science:

    After a severe gout infection in his hand, Mark Cahill became the first man in the UK to undergo a successful hand transplant. Here.

    In early January a study from Caltech in Pasadena estimated that each star in the Milky Way galaxy alone, contains at least one planet. This further estimates that our galaxy is home to at least 100 billion planets. In just one galaxy. In 1999 the Hubble Space Telescope estimated that there exists 125 billion galaxies. Here.

    Also in the UK, a team of experts cured blindness in mice. The treatment – which includes injecting light sensitive cells into the eye and rebuilding light sensitivity – could in future be the launching pad for treating retinitis pigmentosa in humans. Here.

    In Bolivia, a team of researchers discovered that injecting certain engineered stem cells in the minutes immediately following a stroke, could significantly aid recovery. The discovery was made after rats suffering a stroke were found to regain completely normal brain function within two weeks, after stem cell treatment. Here.

    In early February, researchers made a significant breakthrough in the development of potential treatments for both Parkinson’s and Alzheimers, by finding a way to overcome the problem caused by the blood-brain barrier – a barrier between the blood and the brain that blocks drugs from entering blood tissue. This is a remarkable step forward for the treatment of neurological disorders in humans. Here.

    Scientists from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh have managed to engineer 3D printing techniques to create stem cells. The researchers believe it could be the first step in creating brand new organs, without the need for organ donation. Here.

    Nasa’s Curiosity Mars rover became the first human machine to drill a hole into the Martian surface, and recover samples for analysis in order to discover whether the planet ever held conditions for supporting life. In March, results showed that the rocks contain oxygen, carbon dioxide and water. A clear indication that life may have once existed on the Martian surface. Here.

    Researchers at Barcelona’s Universitat Autonoma successfully cured type 1 diabetes in dogs using a method of gene therapy. To achieve this, a new gene is coded and used to replace a damaged gene. Here.

    My particular favourite – red wine makes you live longer. So if any of my readers appreciate me continuing to exist, you should send me red wine. Here.

    In March, stem cells taken from mice and humans were successfully used to create new teeth to replace damaged teeth in mice, leading to the possibility of stem cells being used to create new teeth for humans in the future. Here.

    In Leipzig, for the first time the full genome of Neanderthal was published, using a toe bone found in Siberia. By understanding Neanderthal’s genome, we get a clearer picture of the genetic divergence between modern humans, and our cousins. Neanderthal’s genome is a window into the history of humanity. Here.

    The genetics of oesophageal cancer were more thoroughly understood, in March. Mutations in a number of genes were located that directly match those required for the development of the cancer. This is key to developing treatments to target the horrific disease that kills 400,000 World wide, every year. Here.

    Researchers discovered in April, the genetic mutation that can lead to the build up of certain proteins responsible for Alzheimer’s Disease. This discovery significantly aids researchers in developing treatments that target those areas of the brain with a view to understanding, treating and preventing Alzheimer’s on a far more targeted manner. Here.

    Kidneys are the organ most in demand across the planet, for transplants. Scientists in April successfully created a lab grown kidney and transplanted it into animals, using stem cell technology. Whilst still in its early stages, this is a major breakthrough in stem cell research. Here.

    A safer and easier technique of transforming bone marrow stem cells into healthy, functioning brain cells was produced by the Scripps Research Institute in April. This leads to far better treatment for stroke, and spinal injuries. Here.

    Energy efficiency in low grade silicon was improved greatly in 2013. UNSW in Australia developed a technique to better control hydrogen atoms, improving electrical efficiency from 19% to 23%. By October of 2013, the team was aiming at silicon solar cells with 29% targeted efficiency. This also helps to lower costs. Here.

    Scientists at UC San Francisco successfully cured epilepsy in mice, opening the way for treatment for the prevention of the causes of epilepsy in humans. Here.

    Fossils found in south west Tanzania seem to confirm earlier DNA analysis showing that monkeys and apes diverged 25 to 30 million years ago. By 25 million years ago, the fossils suggest old World monkeys and apes had separated. Here.

    Neuroscientists at Lund University successfully prevented early symptoms of Huntington’s Disease in mice, by switching off a mutated protein in the brain. Treatments for Huntington’s is currently lacking, but this research provides the basis for future experiments and eventually treatments for Huntington’s in humans, by showing that symptoms can be controlled by dealing with the mutated protein. Here.

    In June the US Supreme Court ruled that a company could not patent genes. It sounds obvious. But that’s exactly what Myriad Genetics in Utah attempted to do. The company attempted to patent isolated DNA connected to ovarian and breast cancer, which in turn meant other groups had vital research frustrated and threatened. The Supreme Court rightfully ruled against Myriad, and research and treatment costs are now expected to fall. Here.

    Researchers in London pioneered hologram technology to be used to lecture theatres across the World designed to make is easier for students to understand – through visuals – the huge amount of information they study. The effect is one in which a study subject – such as the kidney – appears to be floating in mid-air and can be manipulated for teaching purposes. Here.

    The Israeli company NeuroDerm – a company supported by the Michael J.Fox Foundation – has developed a skin-administered treatment for Parkinson’s Disease, and initial reports are very promising. Here.

    In June this year, Bristol-Myers Squibb working on therapies for metastatic melanoma and with a new drug, found that a third of patients were still alive three years later. This is a major breakthrough, because almost 100% of those suffering from the advanced disease in the past, do not survive. The therapy was said to lead to rapid regression of the tumour. Treatments are currently undergoing greater research into why it only seems to help around a third of patients. But the advancement in cancer immunotherapy was named the breakthrough of the year, in December this year. Here.

    The London Array. The World’s largest offshore wind farm – with 175 turbines – opens in the Thames estuary in London. It is set to reduce annual Co2 emissions by 900,000 tons; equivalent of 300,000 passenger cars. Here.

    New research can now be opened for Down’s Syndrome, after US scientists managed to isolate and silence the chromosome that causes Down’s Syndrome, raising the possibility of future treatment for common symptoms. Here.

    One in ten suffer from cat allergies. In July, researchers discovered a protein from cat dandruff that causes cat allergies in humans, and hope to develop a cure within five years. Here.

    Perhaps one of the biggest breakthroughs in 2013, came with the clearance of a simple skin patch that works to slowly feed a drug into the bloodstream and regulate blood pressure stability on a level never seen before. The patch has the potential to save millions of lives a year. Here.

    Researchers have finally discovered certain processes that lead to mutational factors prevalent in most types of cancer, previously unknown. By understanding the genetic development of particular cancers, researchers in 2013 have opened the doors into future research for treatments. Here.

    Using 3D printing technology for stem cells, researchers in Australia have developed lab-grown cartilage, leading to hopes that by 2025, brand new functioning, patient-specific organs will be produced in much the same way. Here.

    Scientists announced that a universal vaccine for flu could be available within five years. The flu virus mutates constantly and so is particularly difficult to immunise, but scientists have discovered what they term a ‘blue print’ that could eradicate all forms of the virus. Here.

    The World’s first mind controlled prosthetic leg was developed in September. Here.

    In New York, cotton-top Tamarins were observed and recorded making whisper-like behaviour The evidence suggests the Tamarins were investigating the threat level from the zoo supervisor, and communicating that information with other Tamarins via whisper. Here.

    Researchers at the Stem Cell Institute at the University of Cambridge, and the University of Copenhagen discovered gut stem cells that repair the damage caused by inflammatory bowel disease when transplanted into mice. Here.

    A 17 year old girl in China with serious facial disfiguration due to terrible burns had a new face using pioneering technology that used tissue from her chest to craft a new face. She told reporters that the best part of this whole process, was that she could smile again. Here.

    A huge leap in harnessing fusion for the benefit of unlimited energy was taken by US scientists in October. The amount of energy created by the reaction exceeded the amount used to cause the reaction. This is a World first. Here.

    A brand new way of scanning the heart for early signs of the causes of heart attacks was developed passed early tests. It highlights dangerous areas of the heart most at risk, in far greater detail than ever before. Here.

    Researchers at Sheffield University discovered a method to reduce nuclear waste by up to 90%, and safely. Here.

    In Montreal, a team of researchers discovered a certain protein responsible for anxiety and emotional memory disorders in humans. They then tested drugs on mice and noted a significant improvement in those suffering with certain anxiety issues. Here.

    New research using gut microbes taken from the human gut was found to help reverse behavioural issues associated with autism-like symptoms and reduce gastrointestinal issues that usually accompany autism, when tested on mice. The implication being a greater understanding of autism, and potential future treatment in humans. Here.

    Researchers have found the most convincing evidence so far, that Neanderthal buried their dead in Europe, 50,000 years before modern humans came to the continent. Here.

    New research found that a drug not yet approved for availability on the NHS is far more effective at preventing breast cancer than any others. The drug is said to halve the likelihood of those considered most at risk, from ever developing breast cancer. Here.

    ——- In truth, this is all really a very small sample of a few incredible scientific advancements and additions to the library of human knowledge provided by some of the World’s most wonderful minds over the past year. The magnificent science of 2013.

    The immoral teachings of Christ.

    January 5, 2014


    It is often the case that the Biblical version of Jesus is portrayed as the peaceful replacement for the out of date and largely anti-social and antiquated Leviticus or Kings. Countless nonbelievers are of the opinion that Jesus was a sort of hippy of his time. A preacher of non-violence, of loving thy neighbour, of blessed are the meek. This is the picture we have of the Christian Jesus, and yet when we read the teachings of Jesus, a slightly different picture emerges.

    It is true, that in comparison to the Biblical heroes that enjoyed God’s grace before him – King Saul’s brutal God-ordained genocide of Amalekite children comes to mind – Jesus was a little less maniacal according to scripture. But he isn’t completely without a tendency to cruel reaction, contradiction and wholly immoral sentiment.

    It is prudent to point out that Jesus himself insists that the Mosaic laws of the Old Testament are not defunct by his arrival. The cruelties of those laws and commands, and the irrational and heartless judgements from the God of the Old Testament, Jesus insists he has come to confirm. For Jesus, the moral teachings of the Old Testaments are perfectly reasonable. In Matthew 5:17 Jesus says:

    “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.”

    – This alone, is enough for fundamentalists to use for the sake of anchoring what they see as the legitimacy of heterosexual-supremacy and Old Testament ordained Patriarchy, regardless of any scientific and social advancement and a more informed understanding of historical processes. The same-sex marriage debate was laden with references to Leviticus. It appears to be the only Leviticus verse that the Christian-right have decided to take seriously.

    The New Testament gives the impression that Jesus has two different personalities, as if two different characters. The Gospel accounts present a more peaceful – to a degree – version than the Jesus of, for example, Revelation. In the Gospels, Jesus’s message at times is no less harmful, just less violent. In Luke, we find a teaching of Jesus directly reflected in the policies of the horrendous church of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In Luke 14:26 Jesus says:

    “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.”

    – Control is the key to this verse, much like control is the key to countless verses from all religious texts. For Christ, you must be willing to break off natural family bonds – an evolved social structure that is hardwired into the fabric of humanity on so many levels – for the sake of the ‘faith’. This is control at its most repugnant. If you’re willing to place faith above your natural family ties, if you’re willing to ‘hate’ everything you are naturally disposed to love, the faith has you in the palm of its hand.

    Jesus continues his anti-family demands through the Gospels, including Matthew 19:29:

    “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.”

    – Here, Jesus provides an incentive to leave your family. It is beneficial for you to leave your family. Again, this is control. I noted in a previous article the destructive anti-family policies of the cult of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The horrific way those who choose to leave the cult are treated, and shunned, and whose family members are encouraged to disown them. In January 2013, The Watchtower said this on family members no longer wishing to be a part of the cult:

    “Really, what your beloved family member needs to see is your resolute stance to put Jehovah above everything else – including the family bond. … Do not look for excuses to associate with a disfellowshipped family member, for example, through e-mail.”

    – Given the profitability of Kingdom Hall, it strikes me as a business model. The ability to scare people into staying within a faith because they fear losing their family, is extremely profitable for the governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The lack of compassion or recognition of the importance of family ties completely eludes those in charge of Jehovah’s Witnesses because it is profitable that way. But its justification can absolutely be pointed directly to in the New Testament, through the words of Jesus. The ability to play nature – that which has endowed us with reason – against itself, is key to the perpetuation of faith.

    The immoral teachings continue. One of which is immortalised in the painting at the top of this article. It is a work by Caravaggio. Caravaggio was an astonishingly wonderful artist. His training and his tutor in Milan did not seem to have any recognisable effect on the genius of the artist that he would flourish into. His works always seemed to me to be a sort of lightning bolt lighting up the scene for a split second, captured on canvas. One of my favourite Caravaggio works is ‘The Incredulity of Saint Thomas’. It is the moment when Jesus seems to acknowledge that perhaps extraordinary evidence is required for extraordinary claims. John 20:24-29 relates the story of Thomas doubting that the other disciples had seen a risen Jesus. Thomas demands to see evidence. Jesus appears to Thomas and shows him his hand and side wounds. The side wound is the subject of Caravaggio’s work. Upon seeing the evidence, Thomas is convinced. Jesus says:

    “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”

    – This seems to me to be a condemnation of doubt. As if Jesus is forgiving Thomas for doubting that a dead man was now walking around town as if seemingly alive and well, rather than accepting that it’s understandable that Thomas may doubt such a claim. This is another prime example – the first being the focus on slowly unravelling family ties – of religions fundamentally abusing the natural condition of humanity, for its own purposes. As human beings, we are creatures of doubt and of curiosity. It is natural to our condition, and entertaining our doubt and curiosity is how we progress.

    A worthwhile teacher does not teach children to believe exactly as they’re told without evidence. A worthwhile teacher inspires curiosity and a yearning for knowledge, to engage their natural desire to understand without bias or dogma. On this basis, Jesus was not a worthwhile teacher.

    Thomas was right to question such an extraordinary claim offered with no evidence. Thomas was essentially told by the disciples that the laws of the known universe had been dismissed by the coming back to life of a dead human being. For Thomas to have accepted without evidence, a claim that so wildly undermines nature, would be to suspend all human reasoning and logical faculties. Observation, experiment and measuring reality has been the route to all understanding of the World we inhabit. Jesus appears to suggest this form – the only form – of gaining and applying knowledge, is less respectable than belief without evidence. This is a wholly dangerous teaching. Those who believe without evidence, sit in the House of Lords as permanent members. They rule countries and devise laws. They demand blasphemy laws to prevent natural curiosity from reaching into the realm of belief. And it would seem that Jesus would fully approve of that vast and dangerous ignorance.

    Moving from the Gospels to Revelation, Jesus drops the subtle cruelty that he uses in the Gospels, and goes straight for the violence. In Revelation 2:22-23, for a woman whose crime it was to have eaten food that was meant as a sacrifice, and to believe in something other than Jesus, Christ says:

    “22 Indeed I will cast her (Jezebel) into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds.
    23 I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.”

    – Here Jesus seems to have channelled the violent God of the Old Testament. A quick read up on Theological interpretations of these verses tells us that Theologians believe that Jezebel represents ‘false Prophets’ and that ‘committing adultery with her’ is ‘idol worship’, much like those destroyed by God in the Old Testament. This is simply Jesus confirming that if you follow someone who isn’t him, you will be slaughtered. Like a jealous partner resorting to violence to keep you in check. It seems a disproportionate punishment, for the apparent ‘crime’. It gives further ammo to those ‘shunning’ family members who leave their cult, for they are now considered evil.
    I would further argue that it is the mark of an evil God to bestow upon mankind the ability to think freely and to evaluate evidence, but to punish those who do not accept that which has no evidence. Not only does Jesus mistreat Thomas for the ‘crime’ of doubt, but now it is punishable. It seems the only evidence Jesus is willing to offer for the truth of his word, is a threat that if you don’t accept his word, you’ll be physically abused for eternity. This is violent punishment for thoughts alone. This cannot be construed as anything but a wholly immoral sentiment.

    It is important to recognise that the teachings of Jesus – whilst certainly a step up from the cruelty of the Old Testament – are not entirely without fault in the 21st Century. The peaceful message of Christ and the focus on the most vulnerable – Luke 6:20 for example; a message that should trouble the conscience of the wealthiest of Christians – is a message that eludes or is woefully manipulated by many on the Christian right. But it is also true that one is to accept the peaceful and loving passages as the infallible words of the son of God, there must also be no reason to deny the more immoral passages as being the infallible words of the son of God also, and recognise the problems they may cause today. Anchoring morality and knowledge to one period of time, is a dangerous idea. It is hard to get away from the fact that the Bible tells us that Jesus taught to believe without evidence, to abandon family for the sake of his church, and that if you believe otherwise, you are destined for eternal and violent punishment. We must not be led to believe that the Biblical Jesus and Christianity itself represent the epitome of a peaceful, and loving religious system of belief to be adhered to at a political level. This is when faith becomes dangerous.