Inasmuch as there’s an atheist movement (Dawkins for Pope!), it seems pretty male dominated, both online and off. So, what about the atheist women? They’re out there, and this is a post to link to some of them.

  • Greta Christina is gay and atheist, and draws some parallels between the two. Atheism seems to be a lot harder in the USA than it is here. Greta writes about how to be an ally to atheists in the same way that you might speak of being an ally to any other disadvantaged class of people.

  • Mathurine (not her real name, for obvious reasons) is an ex-Muslim woman. She wrote a three guest posts over at Tree Dreamer: one the hijab, another on making atheist communities friendly to ex-Muslims, and another answering atheists’ questions on Islam.

  • Lily originally blogged at Leaving Eden, writing about her experiences as a closet atheist at Wheaton College, a Christian college in the USA. Since graduating, she’s been blogging as Peaceful Atheist (I’ve mentioned her before in my posting on doubt). There’s an article over there specifically on women in atheism.

  • No Longer Quivering is the blog of two women who were once part of the Quiverfull movement. As Salon explains in an article about them, that means that as well as accepting the standard evangelical stuff on male leadership, they also rejected birth control and sought to have as many kids as possible. They got out, and are blogging about how they feel about it.

    I traditionally googlebomb the word complementarian with a link to Houseplants of Gor. Of course, there are differences between the Gor series and the Bible: one is a historically-based fantasy which, although some people have found it rich enough to base their lives on, undoubtedly advocates a patriarchy based on the “natural roles” of men and women; and the other is a set of books by John Norman.

  • Deborah Drapper isn’t an atheist. She’s the Christian girl who was the subject of Deborah 13: Servant of God, a BBC documentary about her and her family (the link goes to a post on the Dawkins site where you can watch it on Youtube). She’s something unusual in this country: she’s part of a large family (there are hints that they subscribe to the Quiverfull idea) and home-schooled. I was reminded of her after No Longer Quivering because of the point in the documentary where she explains that she belongs to her father until she marries someone.

    Deborah comes across as bright, articulate and a firm believer in evangelical Christianity. Her blog has been inundated after the screening of the documentary, but I hope she’ll continue to write. Her father also has a blog where you can find out about how the EU is part of the coming world government of the Antichrist, and that the King James Version of the Bible was inspired by God.

I talk a lot about religion on here, but mostly about generic theism or Christianity. I don’t tend to talk about Islam, partly because I don’t know as much about it as I do about Christianity, and partly because I like my extremities the way they are.

Still, I was interested in the reaction to Johann Hari’s article in the Independent, Why should I respect these oppressive religions?. The Independent uses LiveJournal as a blogging platform, so you can comment there using your LJ account.

Hari says those who want to prevent criticism of religion (notably Islam) on the grounds of “respect” are gaining influence in politics, especially in the UN. He rightly says that this is a bad thing.

The article was published at the end of January, but the comment threads on it are still busy. simon_gardner has been working hard for the cause of secularist neo-atheist militant secularism (he doesn’t seem to get the point about induction, alas, but expat2009 doesn’t really explain it very well either).

The Statesman of India published Hari’s article and ended up with a small riot on their hands. The editor and publisher were arrested for “hurting the religious feelings” of Muslims. As jwz once observed, the Universe tends to maximum irony.

Back here on LJ, the Muslim commentators on the Hari’s post seem very interested in whether people are allowed to deny the Holocaust (and also in something called “Zionists”: from what I can gather these are the equivalent of evil spirits in the Muslim belief system). I can’t think why that’d be, but I’ve been trying to pin some of them down on the matter.

Poor old Rowan. In an interview and speech characterised, in a very real sense, by his habitual turgid sesquipedalianism, someone managed to find the statement that Sharia law “is unavoidable” in the UK. If you think my ability to provoke religious flamewars is impressive, you should see the BBC’s Have Your Say forums (or, you know, don’t), or the Graun‘s Comment is Free, right now.

Unexpectedly, the same bunch who voted in favour of the religious hatred legislation a few years ago suddenly found something wonderful, and opined that they weren’t sure public beheadings were such a good idea (though I’m not sure that position is a vote winner: Daily Mail readers would probably be in favour, as long as it wasn’t the Muslims doing the chopping).

All of which is beside the point, really, because ++Rowan (that’s “1 more than your current Rowan”, geeks) wasn’t advocating any of that stuff. After struggling through all 8 pages of his grey prose, I can tell you that Rowan’s a sci-fi libertarian of the sort you sometimes get in Ken Macleod’s books, or maybe Heinlein’s, or Neal Stephenson‘s. What he wants is for people to be able to voluntarily affiliate with a court system for the resolution of some disputes. In an attempt to preserve his right-on lefty image, Rowan claims he’s a little nervous about the unpleasant whiff of the free market about this, but I think we all know he’s secretly itching to set up ++Rowan’s Greater Anglican Communion franchulates all over the world (er, hang on a minute…), strap on a katana and set out on his motorbike for a showdown with Dawkins.

What’s less clear is what he wants for Muslims which isn’t already available. In an article about Jewish courts in the UK, the BBC says that “English law states that any third party can be agreed by two sides to arbitrate in a dispute”. Does anyone know whether there’s anything stopping Muslim courts doing something similar to the Jewish ones?

Rt Rev Graham Dow, Bishop of Carlisle, has let us know that the real reason for the floods in the north. It’s the gays.

“We are in serious moral trouble because every type of lifestyle is now regarded as legitimate,” he said.

“In the Bible, institutional power is referred to as ‘the beast’, which sets itself up to control people and their morals. Our government has been playing the role of God in saying that people are free to act as they want,” he said, adding that the introduction of recent pro-gay laws highlighted its determination to undermine marriage.

“The sexual orientation regulations [which give greater rights to gays] are part of a general scene of permissiveness. We are in a situation where we are liable for God’s judgment, which is intended to call us to repentance.”

The non-sequitur in that second paragraph is breathtaking, isn’t it? The reference is to Revelation, chapter 13. Revelation has been favoured by loons since it was written (I particularly like this version, myself). The beast is usually thought to be the power of ancient Rome, possibly Emperor Nero himself, whose burnings of Christians and insistence on worship of deified emperors are clearly just like a secular democracy which is trying to give its citizens equality under the law.

Dow is quoted alongside a couple of other evangelical Bishops saying less insane stuff about global warming, with the vague hint that God is telling us off for being nasty to the planet. They’re probably wishing they had chosen to speak out at a time when their episcopal colleague wasn’t hell-bent on emptying churches throughout the north. Good luck to Dow in his quest, anyhow.

Hassan Butt appears to be one of those people you don’t hear about often enough: a Muslim speaking out publicly against terrorism and calling on Muslims in the UK to reform. His article in The Observer is worth a read, as is the one giving Tony Blair’s thoughts on British Islam. Both links come from those Drink Soaked Trots, who I commend to you for sensible commentary if, like me, you’re a bit of a leftie.

The original drink-soaked trot, Christopher Hitchens, points out in Slate that God also hates women, or at least, those who are slags.

Christopher Hitchens has a new book out. It’s called God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. I’m not sure what it’s about.

Hitchens also wrote an Londonistan Calling, an article in Vanity Fair, in which he mentions the Undercover Mosque programme I discussed a while ago.

An illuminating aside from the Q&A which followed the article: “I’ve heard a lot of secular Pakistanis complain that the cops, when they think we better go talk to the community, walk straight past them and head for the imam at the mosque, assuming that he’s the one they want to talk to.” It’s the sort of thing that Dawkins bangs on about in The God Delusion (“Why the chaplain? Why not the cook or the gardener?”) combined with a naive multi-culturalism which assumes that people can be divided into faith blocs based on their ancestors’ country of origin.

I don’t know whether Hitchens is right that the government is weak when it comes to sticking up for secular democracy. You might think that last year’s veil controversy represented some sort of stirring in that direction, but that seemed more like veering to the right in search of votes than any sort of coherent policy. As Hitchens points out, faith schools and the government’s choice of so-called community leaders are far more interesting than what Jack Straw’s constituents choose to wear.

I can never quite work out whether the Grauniad is trolling for advertising clicks, a bit like those people who publish those “Linux sux, Microsoft rulez” articles in the hope of being picked up by Slashdot. The Dawkins blog linked to this piece on religion and secularism recently. One particularly choice quote:

“We are witnessing a social phenomenon that is about fundamentalism,” says Colin Slee, the Dean of Southwark. “Atheists like the Richard Dawkins of this world are just as fundamentalist as the people setting off bombs on the tube, the hardline settlers on the West Bank and the anti-gay bigots of the Church of England.”

I mean, what? Writing a book or being rude about religion is apparently in some way equivalent to blowing up commuters. One of the Drink-soaked Trots has already delivered an excellent rebuttal (don’t miss the discussion of what HL Mencken really said about religion). Dawkins also addresses the question of whether he deserves to be called a fundamentalist in The God Delusion. Unsurprisingly, he concludes that he doesn’t, but his reasoning is that a fundamentalist is not merely someone who’s a passionate advocate of a particular idea, but rather, someone who clings to that idea come what may. I’m not a fundamentalist, says Dawkins, because I’m very clear about what would change my mind (fossil rabbits in the precambrian, presumably). A fundamentalist is someone who will not change their mind and cannot change the subject.

But wait, there’s more, this time from Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London:

“If you exile religious communities to the margins, then they will start to speak the words of fire among consenting adults, and the threat to public order and the public arena, I think, will grow and grow.”

Stuart Jeffries’s article says that the goal of secularists is the exclusion of religion and religious people from the public sphere. That’s not the feeling I get from reading the latest slew of books cheering for atheism. Rather, I think secularists are tired of seeing the statements of the religious taken with more weight simply because they are religious. Or, as Bishop Chartres (and Azzim Tamimi, also quoted) remind us, because of what the religious might do if they don’t get their way.

Another way of spotting the true fundamentalists is that they really don’t like humour, as one particular privilege that fundamentalist religion likes to claim for itself is the right never to be offended. If any of you happen to be alumni of Clare College, and, having had a nice phone call from a current student, you are donating to the college via a standing order or similar, I urge you to cancel the order, and tell them why.

Edited: added the link to the rebuttal.

The recent Dispatches, Undercover Mosque (see Youtube or Google Video), has stirred up a lot of debate. Channel 4’s reporter went into what was considered a moderate mosque and discovered it not so moderate after all. I know you can do a lot with selective editing, but it’s hard to see how context would make some of the statements in the programme sound any better. Indeed, the video response from Abu Usamah where he explains what he actually meant doesn’t really help his case.

Channel 4 has given both evangelical Christians and atheists a hard time in the not too distant past, so it doesn’t seem likely they’ve singled Muslims out for special treatment. What’s more interesting was whether these preachers are representative of “moderate” Islam. The forum of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (whoever they may be) has some interesting discussion on the topic, with many Muslims chiming in.


The cartoons were part of a debate on artistic self-censorship in the face of fears of violence from Muslims. They were designed to provoke a reaction. Imagining it from a Muslim point of view, we might say they were trolling Muslims. A troll wants you to respond. Some Muslims have done so in spades, proving exactly the point that the original Danish newspaper article was making.

Just as with the Jerry Springer the Opera uproar, the test of the tolerance practised by a group of believers is how they respond to someone attempting to troll them. The right way to deal with trolls is to ignore them: they hate that. The wrong thing to do is respond with cries of “help! help! I’m being oppressed!”, or with threats of violence. I’m glad to see some British Muslims have realised that such threats are counter-productive, and that a moderate Muslim group has formed in Denmark to try to calm things down.

As for the rest, we must not have a society where people (or at least, people above the age of 5) who think they have an invisible friend are able to stop certain kinds of speech merely by saying that they’re offended on that friend’s behalf. We do not extend such protection to any other opinion a person might hold. We should not extend it to religion, whether the religion is Christianity or Islam or anything else. Jack Straw’s weasel words are frankly vile (although perhaps not surprising from the government which attempted to quash freedom of speech itself with the Religious Hatred bill).

A few links: The Times has a sensible editorial on the whole business. jnala, commenting on ladysiyphus‘s LJ, writes against self-censorship. Wikipedia has an excellent article on the controversy.