Category Archives: religion

Why should we subsidise religious leaders and their silly statements?

tamaki

Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki gives a geology lesson. Blames sinners for earthquakes. Image Credit: YouTube.

Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki’s statement blaming the Kaikoura earthquake on “gays, sinners, and murderers” highlights the stupidity of our charity laws which define the advancement of religion a charitable activity and give tax exempt status to religions purely because they advance religion.

Public revulsion at Tamaki’s statement resulted in an on-line petition calling for the removal of Tamaki’s tax exempt status. Currently, that petition has over 120,000 signatures.

I guess many of these signatories, and others objecting to Tamaki’s statements, are really restricting their criticism to this specific example. But, let’s be clear. Tamaki’s statement was a religious statement. It is part of his particular advancement of his particular religion. He gets tax exempt status for saying such things.

Any argument for treating him differently to others advancing religion would be discriminatory – and could be seen as illegal itself.

Tamaki was advancing religion

Sure, some people might object to my calling Tamaki’s statement advancing religion – but we can’t pick and choose. Many religious leaders have made equally silly claims – in fact, such claims are only to be expected from religious leaders given the non-evidential nature of religion.

Of course, Tamaki and other religious leaders have the freedom to make ridiculous statements like this – just as we have the freedom to ridicule them – or ignore them. But what many people object to is that such ridiculous statements are being made by people we subsidise through their tax-exempt status. They are making these statements as part of their advancement of religion. And we are effectively paying them for making those statements.

There is no logic in this day and age, and in this secular society, for a religion or belief (including atheism) to be subsidised by the public purely for advancing their beliefs. In fact, it seems to me undemocratic for people with different beliefs to be forced to subsidise the advancement of a religion or belief.

We subsidise the Destiny Church – and Tamaki

The Destiny Church is just one example but the Charities Register certainly shows they have taken full advantage of this subsidy. Here is a list of Destiny Church organisations  registered for tax exemption. You can check out their reasons (advancement of religion) and the financial statements via the links.

Charity Name Registration
Number
Registration
Status
Registered
Date
CC29039 Registered 30/06/2008
CC31639 Registered 30/06/2008
CC31176 Deregistered 30/06/2008
CC31170 Deregistered 30/06/2008
CC29070 Registered 30/06/2008
CC31465 Deregistered 30/06/2008
CC29107 Registered 30/06/2008
CC31406 Deregistered 30/06/2008
CC29108 Deregistered 30/06/2008
CC31434 Registered 30/06/2008
CC31446 Deregistered 30/06/2008
CC27986 Registered 30/06/2008
CC31454 Deregistered 30/06/2008
CC31461 Deregistered 30/06/2008
CC31439 Deregistered 30/06/2008
CC31401 Registered 30/06/2008
CC30992 Registered 30/06/2008
CC31001 Registered 30/06/2008
CC27985 Registered 30/06/2008
CC50592 Registered 23/05/2014
CC30131 Registered 30/06/2008
CC31078 Deregistered 30/06/2008
CC28102 Deregistered 30/06/2008
CC25962 Registered 17/06/2008
CC11272 Registered 5/10/2007

Yes, I know, some people are going to react by telling me that religious organisations do good work – charitable work. And, I do not disagree with that in many cases.

But the point is that truly charitable work, helping the poor and disadvantaged, providing social and educational facilities, helping during disasters, etc., is provided for  by the criteria defined as charitable. The advancement of religion is different – is related only to the advancement of a belief (in this case legally requiring belief in a supernatural entity). It has nothing to do with helping people.

True  charity not harmed by removal of religious tax exemption

Those religions actually doing real charitable work would not be disadvantaged by removal of the advancement of religion criteria. They could continue to provide the real charitable services – and receive tax-exempt status for doing so.

Removal of the advancement of religion clause would not reduce real charitable work one bit. Nor would it prevent silly people like Tamaki saying ridiculous things.

But at least we would not have to face the fact that we financially support such silly people and  their ridiculous statements.

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Syria & the fog of war

any-answers

BBC’s Radio 4 has talkback on Syria – the mainstream media message doesn’t fool everyone.

I believe our media is currently feeding us biased propaganda – formulated to tweak our emotions – on the war in Syria. One would think that the Syrian government and the Russian aerospace forces were fighting only civilians, hospitals and, especially, children. There is hardly any mention of jihadist terrorists.

If that scenario were true the war would have been over in days. Instead, Syria and its allies are fighting extremist Islamist jihadists, armed to the teeth and funded by external countries, and using foreign fighters. The emotions raised by videos showing children being pulled out of the rubble (notice how this only happens in areas controlled by terrorists according to our media) is diverting attention away from the real causes of the conflict. And hence we have a “fog of war” which blinds us to the political actions necessary to bring an end to this conflict.

So – I was pleased to hear this discussion on  BBCs Radio 4 programme Any Answers. If only our talkback programmes could be this sane.

Clearly, the contributors were chosen to provide balance – but most of them are rational, thoughtful people. This suggests that many people in the UK are not fooled by this “fog of war” promoted by the media.

It’s worth listening to – for the whole 28 minutes. It’s also worth listening to soon as it is available for only 28 days.

Source: BBC Radio 4 – Any Answers?, Syria

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The insult of low expectations

Th above Today’s Jesus and Mo strip underlines a problem we have the “politically correct” charges of “Islamophobia.” it’s just a way to prevent rational discussion and it is insulting to Muslims because it demands lower expectations than for the rest of the community. Shouldn’t we be labeling those demanding lower expectations prejudiced or racist?

Ali A. Rizvi describes the problem well in the above video. Here is some of what he says:

“As a brown-skinned person with a Muslim name, I can get away with a lot more than you’d think. I can publicly parade my wife or daughters around in head-to-toe burqas and be excused out of “respect” for my culture and/or religion, thanks to the racism of lowered expectations. I can re-define “racism” as something non-whites can never harbor against whites, and cite colonialism and imperialism as justification for my prejudice.

And in an increasingly effective move that’s fast become something of an epidemic, I can shame you into silence for criticizing my ideas simply by calling you bigoted or Islamophobic.

For decades, Muslims around the world have rightly complained about the Israeli government labeling even legitimate criticism of its policies “anti-Semitic,” effectively shielding itself from accountability. Today, Muslim organizations like CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) have borrowed a page from their playbook with the “Islamophobia” label — and taken it even further.

In addition to calling out prejudice against Muslims (a people), the term “Islamophobia” seeks to shield Islam itself (an ideology) from criticism. It’s as if every time you said smoking was a filthy habit, you were perceived to be calling all smokers filthy people. Human beings have rights and are entitled to respect. But when did we start extending those rights to ideas, books, and beliefs? You’d think the difference would be clear, but it isn’t. The ploy has worked over and over again, and now everyone seems petrified of being tagged with this label.

The phobia of being called “Islamophobic” is on the rise — and it’s becoming much more rampant, powerful, and dangerous than Islamophobia itself.”

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Why don’t feminists fight for Muslim women?

I will probably get some negative feedback for posting this video (as I did with Richard Dawkins and the Skeptics Conference controversy). But Ayaan Hirsi Ali makes some important points worth a proper discussion.

I think she is too simplistic about some things. Such as attributing modern values to our Judeo-Christian heritage – if that was the over-riding factor our values system would be far more backwards.

But often groups fighting for improvements in the values systems of our society can be hypocritical in their attitudes towards the problems in other societies. This appears to be the case with at least some feminist groups – but is also true of some other groups which consider themselves “progressive.”

Silence

Thanks to Why Evolution is True: Ayaan Hirsi Ali on the failure of feminists to fight for Muslim women.

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Permission to have that conversation

In May, Maajid Nawaz presented this important talk at the 2016 Oslo Freedom Forum. It’s important because he attacks the concept that religion, and especially Islam, should be protected from criticism. And especially he attacks the concept that we should not talk about the problem of Jihadism, or Islamic terrorism. We should not avoid calling a spade a spade.

Maajid says the West, and particularly the USA, has it all wrong. The policies of intervention, imposing “democracy” and the killing of terrorist leaders and civilians via bombing and drones, will never solve the basic problem – that extremist jihadism appeals to many Muslims, even western born Muslims.

He is advancing the need to counter jihadist ideologies with alternative moderate policies – but points out this is hardly happening. And how can it happen if people are too “politically correct” to discuss and condemn actions like the stoning of women, female genital mutilation, imposed marriages, etc.

Maajid has the right credentials to back up his message. He is a former member of the radical Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir and used to advocate jihadism.  He was imprisoned in Egypt from 2001 and 2006. His experience led him to change his thinking and he left Hizb-ut-Tahrir in 2007, renounced his Islamist past and called for a “Secular Islam“.

Now he is a co-founder and chairman of Quilliam, a counter-extremism think tank that seeks to challenge the narratives of Islamist extremists.

Maajid wrote about his experiences and changes of thinking in his book Radical: My Journey Out Of Islamist Extremism.


More recently he discussed these problems with the atheist Sam Harris. Their discussion is published in the book Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue.

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Richard Dawkins – speech to Reason Rally, 2016

This was Richard Dawkins’ speech to the 20116 Reason Rally in Washington DC last week.

Richard suffered a mild stroke earlier this year and this video shows he is still not fully well. Anyway, too unwell to travel so he presented the speech as a video.

There is nothing new here – he has made all these points before. But these points are well worth repeating, and he makes them so well.

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Victory Day celebration of defeat of terrorism in Palmyra

Victory over terrorism in Syria is still a long way off. But the liberation of Palmyra was an important and symbolic step towards that. This concert on Thursday, in the historic amphitheatre of the ancient city of Palmyra, was dedicated to the 71st anniversary of the defeat of fascism in Europe as well as an expression of gratitude to all those who fight terrorism today and memorial to the victims of terrorism.

During their occupation of Palmyra, Daesh committed public executions by beheading in this amphitheatre. One of the most prominent people beheaded in the city at this time was Khaled al-Asaad, a Syrian archaeologist and the head of antiquities for the ancient city. The New York Time reported the murder (see Syrian Expert Who Shielded Palmyra Antiquities Meets a Grisly Death at ISIS’ Hands):

“After detaining him for weeks, the jihadists dragged him on Tuesday to a public square where a masked swordsman cut off his head in front of a crowd, Mr. Asaad’s relatives said. His blood-soaked body was then suspended with red twine by its wrists from a traffic light, his head resting on the ground between his feet, his glasses still on, according to a photo distributed on social media by Islamic State supporters.”

According to Wikipedia:

“A placard hanging from the waist of his dead body listed al-Asaad’s alleged crimes: being an “apostate”, representing Syria at “infidel conferences”, serving as “the director of idolatry” in Palmyra, visiting “Heretic Iran” and communicating with a brother in the Syrian security services. His body was reportedly displayed in the new section of Palmyra (Tadmur) and then in the ancient section, whose treasures ISIS had already demolished.

In addition to al-Asaad, Qassem Abdullah Yehya, the Deputy Director of the DGAM Laboratories, also protected the Palmyra site. He also was killed by ISIL while on duty on 12 August 2015. He was 37 years old.”

Archeologist

Portrait of murdered Khaled al-Asaad at concert in Palmyra ampitheatre.

Given the religious basis of terrorism in Palmyra, and Syria as a whole, I am a little put off by the title of this concert “Pray for Palmyra. Music Revives Ancient Ruins.” Sure, “prayer” can have a secular meaning – but to me it brings up pictures of terrorists chanting “Allah Akbar” – “God is great.” This chant seems to accompany the launching of all mortars, rockets and almost every bullet fired by jihadists.

Maybe the chant “Allah Akbar” also accompanied each beheading in Palmyra.

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Nadine gives a necessary message to her fellow Muslims

TV host Nadine Al-Budair made this statement on the Saudi Rotana Khalijiyah TV on April 3. I hope she survives to say more.

We need more, much more, voices like this among Muslims.

Here are some extracts from a recent article of hers.

“Imagine a Western youth coming here and carrying out a suicide mission in one of our public squares in the name of the Cross. Imagine that two skyscrapers had collapsed in some Arab capital, and that an extremist Christian group, donning millennium-old garb, had emerged to take responsibility for the event, while stressing its determination to revive Christian teachings or some Christian rulings, according to its understanding, to live like in the time [of Jesus] and his disciples, and to implement certain edicts of Christian scholars…

“Imagine hearing the voices of monks and priests from churches and prayer houses in and out of the Arab world, screaming on loudspeakers and levelling accusations against Muslims, calling them infidels, and chanting: ‘God, eliminate the Muslims and defeat them all.’

“Imagine that we had provided an endless number of foreign groups with visas, ID cards, citizenships, proper jobs, free education, free modern healthcare, social security, and so on, and later a member of one of these groups came out, consumed by hatred and bloodlust, and killed our sons on our streets, in our buildings, in our newspaper [offices], in our mosques and in our schools.

“Imagine a Frenchmen or a German in Paris or Berlin leading his Muslim neighbor [somewhere] in order to slaughter him and then freeze his head in an ice box, in a cold and calculating manner… as one terrorist did with the head of an American in Riyadh years ago.

“Imagine that we visited their country as tourists and they shot at us, blew up car bombs near us, and announced their opposition to our presence [there] by chanting: ‘Remove the Muslims from the land of culture.’

“These images are far from the mind of the Arab or Muslim terrorist because he is certain, or used to be certain, that the West is humanitarian and that the Western citizen would refuse to respond [in this manner] to the barbaric crimes [of the Muslim terrorists]. Despite the terrorist acts of Al-Qaeda and ISIS, we [Muslims] have been on [Western] soil for years without any fear or worry. Millions of Muslim tourists, immigrants, students, and job seekers [travel to the West] with the doors open [to them], and the streets safe [for them].”

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The “interfaith” trap – particularly for atheists

The video above shows some of the hassling of Maryam Namazie by members of the Goldsmiths Islamic Society when she gave a talk to the London’s Goldsmiths College on the topic “Apostasy, blasphemy and free expression in the age of ISIS.” The talk was sponsored by the Goldsmiths Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society but was opposed by the Goldsmiths Islamic Society and the Goldsmiths Feminist Society who attempted to get her invitation withdrawn. Warwick University Students Union and Trinity College Dublin had also originally withdrawn invitations to Maryam Namazie, citing fears of incitement to hatred of Muslims.

The video is long and the sound quality is not good. However I persisted and found interesting the fact that female Muslims in the audience were not able to ask their questions until  near the end – after the male disruptors had left!

Now University of Sheffield

The other day I saw a similar example of this attempted censorship at the University of Sheffield. But this time, the Sheffield Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society (SASH) itself was the censor – they “turned down a suggestion by a student to invite Maryam Namazie to speak at the university. The reason? Her ‘hard anti-Islamist approach’ is not ‘conducive’ to the direction that the society wishes to go in” (see Atheist students are losing their faith in free speech).

So this is yet another example of the way group thinking and irrational arguments are being used to prevent open discussion of important issues like human and women’s right? (I discussed this in my articles Richard Dawkins and the Skeptics Conference controversy and Misrepresentation, misogyny and misandry – these should concern sceptics). But it is also an example of how “interfaith” activity, and indeed finding common cause with groups holding different beliefs, can result in the suppression of such vital discussion.

The author of the article is Hallam Roffey who is a writer and a student at the University of Sheffield. He writes:

“This isn’t a wind-up. Not only is the suggestion that you can be ‘too hard’ on Islamism baffling, but the fact that this statement came from an atheist, secularist and humanist society is almost beyond parody. To clarify, this is a society which aims to defend human rights and promote secularism declining to invite a renowned and influential ex-Muslim, secularist and human-rights campaigner. (Namazie has done extensive work supporting refugees, and has tackled both religious fundamentalism and far-right bigotry.)

“In its response to the inquiring student, SASH said that it would like to concentrate on ‘interfaith’ activities instead, stating that ‘interfaith between faith societies is vital’. Apparently, inviting Namazie, which may not be welcomed by some members of Sheffield’s Islamic Society (ISoc), would be antithetical to their objectives.”

So, in effect, this student society has thrown away some of its basic aims simply to further its “interfaith” activities.

freedom-of-speech-demo-AP-640x480

Photo credit: AP/Valentina Petrova

I find that incredible. While I accept that cooperation between groups of different beliefs is important and laudable what is this worth if it involves giving up such important principles. Would the Christian societies at Sheffield give up their bible studies and prayer meetings in order to further “interfaith ” cooperation with the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society? Would the Islamic Society give up their involvement in Ramadan activities for such vague “interfaith” reasons?

I think not.

I think that this example shows how the involvement of atheists and humanists or “interfaith” organisational activities can be a trap. After all, many of these sorts of activities already assume ideas and customs which exclude atheists (eg religious observations and collective ‘interfaith” prayers). Atheists should limit cooperation to issues where there is common ground – and they should not limit their own activity on issues like human rights because one or other of the theist groups do not support them.

Or is this just   a fashionable “political correctness?”

Mind you, I wonder if this “interfaith” issue is just a handy excuse for those who rejected the request that Maryam speak. I wonder if the bogeys of “anti-feminism” and Islamophobia” are not the real reasons, at least for some, in the way these arguments have been used in attempts to suppress the voices of others – like Richard Dawkins.

Hallam Roffey says:

“SASH was particularly concerned that there would be a repeat of ‘what happened at Goldsmiths’, when Islamist students disrupted a talk being given by Namazie. But this only projects a pretty dim view of Sheffield ISoc. As a Sheffield student myself, I’d like to think that ISoc members would be up for the debate, and would not act at all like those thugs at Goldsmiths. Not all Muslims resent apostates.

“What’s more, the subtext here is that Namazie was in some way to blame for the Goldsmiths incident. Though SASH insists it does not condone Goldsmiths ISoc’s actions, it is nevertheless siding with Islamists at Namazie’s expense. This is cowardly and pathetic.”

I agree – this sort of suppression of discussion on topic human rights issues is cowardly and pathetic.

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Scientific self-deception

quote-the-first-principle-is-that-you-must-not-fool-yourself-and-you-are-the-easiest-person-to-fool-richard-feynman-61477

There is a lot of scientific self-deception about – and not only among ideologically motivated activists who wish to opportunistically use science in their campaigns. Scientists themselves are also prone to self-deception – as Richard Feynman sums it up in this meme.

I like this cartoon Eureka! with Regina Nuzzo from Cara Gormally as it indicates why we are so prone to self-deception and some things we can do it overcome it.

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eureka-page-2-dec-131

eureka-page-3-dec-13-1

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