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.

I’m talking about doubt in a few places at the moment. The feeds of my comments don’t cover stuff outside LJ (I was using CoComment, but decided that was too risky), so here’s where the action is:

Over at Hermant the Friendly Atheist‘s place, top Christian evangelist Lee Strobel turns the tables on us, and invites other Christian authors to ask atheists hard questions about atheism. You can see my responses over there. Greta Christina has some good thoughts on the questions.

The most interesting questions were Plantinga‘s stuff on whether having brains which evolved means we can’t trust them, and Mike Licona‘s question: what would make you doubt your atheism?

Lily the Peaceful Atheist (by the way, what’s with all these atheists being nice and fluffy? I want to be a fundamentalist atheist rationalist neo-humanistic secular militant like my hero, Richard Dawkins) talks about doubting atheism in a two part posting (part 1, part 2). She’s not impressed with Strobel and friends, but rather, talks about the “emotional doubts” of the ex-Christian: the fear of death, and the feelings evoked by Christian music. I understand those sorts of feelings, having had them myself. Still, I’m enough of a scientist (and enough of an evangelical) to want facts rather than emotion.

I said that I ought to be able to doubt atheism, and also other long held beliefs. The problem with saying “I want to doubt” is that it’s a noble statement, but if that’s all it is, it’s useless. As gjm11 says, half the problem is knowing what to doubt. With that in mind, I thought I’d ask you lot:

What should I doubt?

This doesn’t have to be religion/atheism, of course, although you’re welcome to suggest that if you like (<evil grin>).

Here’s a list of stuff I think about religion, philosophy, science and politics, so you can tell me where you think I could be wrong. Anonymous comments are allowed edited: but please sign yourself with some kind of nickname so I can tell you apart from other anonymous commenters.

<lj-cut text=”Stuff I think. Prepare to be alienated.”>Religion/philosophy: The sort of god that I used to believe in almost certainly doesn’t exist. Jesus probably existed, but God’s not saying much these days, so who cares? Non-evangelical sorts of god are too vague to bother with. Philosophically, I am a tentative materialist, and an interventionist moral relativist.

Science: global warming is real and caused by humans, but I don’t know what I personally should do about it. I don’t fly much because it’s dull and the security theatre is frustrating (“Time to spare, go by air” © my Dad), but I do drive to work. David Mackay’s book made me think we should build more nuclear power stations. Homeopathy works by the placebo effect. The MMR vaccine doesn’t cause autism. Ben Goldacre is god.

Politically, I’m left wing in that I’m in favour of a social safety net, the NHS, and so on. That said, New Labour have become high-handed and irrational wrt ID cards and other civil liberties issues, and on that basis I won’t shed too many tears when they lose the next election. Capitalism seems to be the least bad way of organising stuff. The Communists and whatnot I see in blogland seem to relish the moment when they’ll take power and hang the oppressors: like Christians talking about hell, the fact that this will never happen doesn’t make it any more morally acceptable. I am not a cultural relativist in the usual sense of that phrase.

I think the US-influenced identity politics that seems so popular here on LiveJournal is often bulshytt, and more interested in piety than achieving its stated goals (see also). As a white, male etc. etc., getting into discussions about it is like stepping on the third rail: unless I’m talking to someone I already know to be rational, it’s not worth the trouble. That said, I think certain classes of people have systematic advantages over others, but sometimes the concept of privilege is misused in the same way that the opposition misuses evolutionary psychology. Men and women are different at the biological level and this influences brains, but popular reporting of this stuff never talks about standard deviations and whatnot.

So, fire away 🙂

Christians in the Hand of an Angry God is a great 5 part article by bradhicks (the link is to the last part, which itself links to the previous parts). The title of the article is a reference to the famous sermon of Jonathan Edwards.

There’s some interesting historical analysis in it. bradhicks argues that Bible-believing Christianity in the USA sold its soul to the Republican party in exchange for protection from Communism, in a literal Faustian bargain. He says that, taking what the Bible says, the majority of these Christians are following a false gospel and are probably damned for it.

As usual, “what the Bible says” means “what it says when you it the way evangelicals are supposed to”, but then, in this case, that’s the whole point. While bradhicks is an ex-Christian, he studied at an evangelical college and has a good knowledge of what the Bible does say. As he writes:

I’ll still debate Christian theology at the drop of a hat, I still love it, even though (as I’ve said in part elsewhere) I consider monotheism itself to be toxic to human freedom and many of the the distinctive doctrines that separate Christianity from other religions to be potentially toxic to decency and sanity. To me, it’s a game. And when I’m playing a game, it really pisses me off to see other people cheat. And it pisses me off even more to lose to a cheater, let alone an army of cheaters.

He’s not the only one to have realised that Jesus doesn’t necessary vote Republican, some Christians have realised it too.

I don’t recall seeing anything like the political distortion of Christianity which bradhicks describes during my time as an evangelical, in fact, I assumed that as a group of middle-class young professional types, a lot of us voted for Tony, though we didn’t really discuss it much. I’d be interested to know whether that’s changed since I left.

The Pain is a web-comic which I keep losing and finding again, so I’m mentioning it here so I’ll know where to find it, and also because I like it.

The Top Ten on the archives page links to many of my own favourites, like Jesus vs. Jeezus and Scientists Riot!.

The later comics themselves seem less funny than the earlier ones, but the written “Artist’s Statement” beneath them is often good stuff. There are reflections on certainty and doubt in What Else They’re Calling “Mohammed”, lost love and breakups in How to Win Her Back, Christianity and Islam in Contributions of the World’s Religions, Part I, and the similarities between the political clout of liberals and evangelicals in Part V.

While I’m here, if you like Roy Zimmerman, you might enjoy the Agnostic Gospel Song.

A friend’s Facebook status says they’re depressed by how good David Cameron’s speech was. Presumably they’re not a natural Conservative voter. I’m not either, but I thought it was interesting for the places where Cameron managed to put some clear water between Tory libertarianism and Labour centralisation. Particular points which impressed me were the promise to abolish ID cards, the idea of elected police commissioners (promising to reduce police paperwork seems obligatory for politicians at the moment, but I’ve not seen any Labour plans on how to go about that), and a Liberal Democrat style policy on devolving power to local authorities. The nod to Melanie Phillips’s book was neat, too (you don’t have to agree with her “OMG! Londonistan!” stuff to agree with her on education, after all).

What’s bad? I still don’t really trust them on the NHS, where their history isn’t exactly great. Dave’s plans seem a bit vague there: “We won’t have targets, except we will, but they’ll be the right sort of targets”. They also appear to care far more about Europe and about the armed forces than I do: both those sections of the speech were there for the traditional Tories, I suppose. And what is so terrible about the Human Rights Act, anyway?

It’ll be interesting to see whether Gordon Brown does decide on an Autumn election after this.

The site of the book of the sites, The Internet, now in handy book form, is good fun. Crackbook and Poormatch are particularly well observed. It reminded me of TV Go Home, but a little less bitter and scatological (only a little, mind you).

Quotable quotes of the week:

“… any time anyone’s said anything comprehensible about the Trinity the Church has declared it a heresy.” – gjm11 on a Rilstone post created specifically for him.

“The universe tends toward maximum irony. Don’t push it.” – jwz on taking reliable backups (which is much harder on a Mac than it ought to be).

“All those fine words about the rule of law safeguarding our liberties, the arbitrary exercise of power and Bunker Hill, Lexington and Normandy went right out the window on 9/11. That was when Henry and the rest of his stalwart defenders of the rule of law promptly wet their pants and then let their president use the constitution to clean up the puddle.” – Digby, via a friend of a friend.

There’s an option that I might have considered instead of apostasy. Unfortunately, in those conservative days, you couldn’t really do that sort of thing. These days, if LiveJournal is anything to go by, it’s all the rage. A woman tells us how she’s in an open relationship with Jesus.

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.

Roy Zimmerman, the Tom Lehrer for the Noughties, has some new videos out. Squeee!, as I believe the saying goes.

Ted Haggard is Completely Heterosexual covers the rise and fall of the American evangelical preacher.

For guitarists out there, there are also videos on how to play Jerry Falwell’s God and Creation Science 101. For the non-guitarists, Zimmerman intersperses his guitar lesson with some choice words on Falwell (though not quite as choice as those of Hitchens, who you might think was promoting a book at the moment, or something).

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.