Category Archives: interfaith

Ayaan Hirsi Ali on the Viability of Hope

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is one  of my heroes. (Or should that be heroines? I don’t know what the terminology is these days). I recommend everyone to read her book Infidel. And certainly watch any videos where she is lecturing or being interviewed.

I watched Ayaan Hirsi Ali on the Viability of  Hope recently. It’s excellent. She gives a brief description of her life experiences, her movement from Islam to atheism and her thoughts on the current problems presented by radical Islam and how to counter them.

The video is of an on-stage interview at American Jewish Council Conference (a situation interesting in itself).

I particularly liked her analysis of left/right politics.

And something to look forward to. She is currently working on a new book – a fictional discussion between Mohammed and several great western thinkers. The book should be out at the end of this year, or next year. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for that.


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“Interfaith” blindness

There is a strange attitude towards religion in New Zealand. US President Obama can acknowledge that the pluralistic society includes people of various faiths and people with no faith (the non-religious). However our main political parties (National and Labour) seem unwilling to face that reality. At least, that’s how it appears in their interaction with the country’s “interfaith” movement.

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Secularism is good for religion

I mean “good” in two ways:

  • It helps reduce the tendency of religions to become cults with teachings and ideology more and more divorced from reality;
  • It helps reduce the tendency to define “outsiders” as dangerous, maybe even deserving of death for their “sins.”

Sam Fleischaker makes these points in an article Religion v. Secularism? Let’s Skip This Fight recently posted on the South Jerusalem blog. As a religious Jew, Sam is in favour of religious people of different “faiths” uniting on common issues. However, he deplores the current calls for unity emanating from the Madrid Interfaith Conference and Saudi King Abdullah. “Religious people should unite with one another, but will only continue to wreak havoc if they take secular people as their enemy. They will also harm themselves: the secular world is good for religion.”

[I question the very basis of “interfaith” activity as it is exclusive, limited to only religious people, and therefore has the danger of ignoring basic human rights. But clearly “interfaith” unity aimed at opposing or eliminating atheism (as in King Abdullah’s appeal) is downright dangerous. But that’s an aside].

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Does religion threaten human rights?

It worries me that as we approach the 60th anniversary of the the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the world seems to be facing a new threat to freedom of expression. This freedom is basic in democratic societies. It’s also vital to exposing, and overcoming, violations of human rights throughout the world.

I have commented before about attempts by some international Islamic organisations to restrict freedom of expression when it comes to issues involving violation of human rights in Islamic countries. This has extended to preventing criticism of religion in UN organisations. Other religions have extended a degree of support for this position internationally, and within some European countries.

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Prayer refusal leads to discipline

This news item from the UK, Prayer refusal pupils ‘disciplined’, clicked with me.

Parents are up in arms because pupils who refused to participate in a Muslim prayer have been disciplined by the school. The pupils “were given detention for being ‘disrespectful’ to the prophet.”

One parent said: “Making them pray to Allah, who isn’t who they worship, is wrong.” Another: “I am absolutely furious my daughter was made to take part in it and I don’t find it acceptable.” And: “My child has been forced to pray to Allah in a school lesson.”

Shocking isn’t it. But just a minute. Doesn’t this go on in our society every day? Many children are obliged to participate in Christian prayers and ceremonies, or at least require parental permission to be excused from them.

And what about adults? Don’t we sometimes have Christian prayers and ceremonies imposed on us in public situations.

I find all these acts offensive. It doesn’t matter whose religious ceremony it is – Muslim, Christan or Jewish. People with different beliefs should never be subjected, unasked, to such ceremonies.

Not only does it show a lack of respect for those with other beliefs. The act of imposition surely degrades the religious significance of the ceremony. People who impose their beliefs in this way are surely demonstrating a lack of respect for their own beliefs.

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Remarriage not an option

The recent murder of South Auckland liquor store owner Navtej Singh shocked New Zealand. Unfortunately this murder was only the last of a number of similar events. New Zealanders were also concerned about the time taken by ambulance workers to get to Mr Singh.

But I think many of us were also shocked to hear of the full plight of Mr Singh’s widow, Harjinder Kaur. She has now been left with the responsibly of caring for three young children and elderly parents. And, according to her brother, “in our culture, remarriage is not an option.”

Most of us in New Zealand just have no comprehension of the limits some cultures place on the human rights of people – usually the women. In her blog Stargazer, Anjum Rahman discusses (see widow) the problems widows face in India and the activity of Women’s groups on these issues.

The comment made by Harjinder Kaur’s brother highlight a problem we face in today’s world of massive global movement of peoples. Imposition of customs, usually enforced by religion, which are inappropriate for people living in a modern liberal and pluralistic society.

These are the sort of problems which our National Statement on Religious Diversity ignores.

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Karen ArmstrongI have aways liked the description of a humanist outlook as one based on evidence, reason and compassion. The compassion is particularly important because, as humans, we need more than just to know the world. We also need a way of relating to each other and to other species. I think that compassion is an inherent quality of humanity – and probably of many other species.

Compassion is not dependent on specific political, religious or philosophical beliefs. In fact, a world view that argued otherwise would, by definition, not be compassionate. How could you be compassionate if you deny this attitude to other humans?

Yet this exclusive approach seems to underly a recent appeal for assistance in developing a charter for compassion.

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Teaching science in faith schools

teaching classIt’s easy to think that the current attack on science in the USA is a peculiarly American phenomenon – that it doesn’t, or wouldn’t, occur here in New Zealand. After all, a poll (UMR Research Survey: Morality, Religion and Evolution) last year showed 75% of New Zealanders support evolution.

So one expects that we shouldn’t have the same problem teaching evolution in our schools as occurs in the USA. But what about the faith schools? The data in the UMR research Poll indicates that between 40 and 50% of New Zealand’s Christians actually reject evolutionary science. So how does this influence the teaching of evolution, and science in general, in New Zealand’s faith schools?

This issue has come up in Australia. Maralyn Parker, a journalist for the Sydney Daily Telegraph raises this issue in her blog article Teaching Science at Pacific Hills Christian School. This includes a letter to the NSW Board of Studies expressing concern at the way evolutionary science is taught in at least one Christian school. The letter arose from the depiction of a science lesson at this school in a documentary “In Good Faith” shown on SBS television on Tuesday May 19.

The writer, Chris Bonner, says in part:

‘In the video clip the teacher is referring to a chart “Origins – a spectrum of belief”. This spectrum includes:

Young Earth Creationist

Old earth Creationist

Theistic Evolutionist

Intelligent Design

And Atheistic Evolutionist

In the video clip the science teacher variously refers to evolution as “this view” and that we have “a whole range of positions” on where we come from. The “atheistic evolutionists” exist on the spectrum as just another belief. The teacher throws in Richard Dawkins as one of these types of “believers”.

“But”, the teacher goes on, “there is a whole range of other ways of considering the evidence”, going on to cite the bible, intelligent design and so on.

The teacher then throws to the students the idea that they can decide between these “beliefs”.

We want to “allow you to ask the right questions”, he says, to “allow you to think about what the world is showing you” and (more pointedly) “what God’s revelation through his scripture shows you, so that you can come to some clear understanding about your view”.

The viewer of this clip is left wondering what credence, in the classroom and in formal assessment, would be given to the views of students who do not take “God’s revelation” into account when developing their “clear understanding”.’

This sort of teaching is completely inappropriate for a science class. It presents an incorrect interpretation of evolutionary science and the scientific method in general. I can’t imagine that it conforms to the educational curriculum and it certainly denies students a proper preparation for further science education and a possible science-related career.

I wonder if this sort of teaching is occurring in New Zealand’s faith schools?

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See also:
I am a Christian who Believes in Theistic Evolution

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Secular twins

secular trends Aus & NZOccasionally we get religious leaders here claiming that New Zealand is a “Christian nation.” Some even want to enshrine this claim in law and will organise demonstrations demanding this (see Destiny of Christian privilege?). These people blithely ignore the fact that only 50% of New Zealanders describe themselves as Christian, and 32% claim no religion at all (2006 Census).

Even the claim that the country is culturally or historically “Christian” purposely ignores the largely secular input into our history and culture.

However, the “Christian nation” demand does appeal to some people. It’s necessary to oppose it because the political consequences of such a demand is theocracy – with a loss of human rights and social gains since the enlightenment.

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Non religious in Australia and New Zealand

Australian-New Zealand CensusHere’s an interesting question?

New Zealanders and Australians have a lot in common. We think of ourselves as sibling nations. We often tell jokes about each other (I must say, however, that Australian jokes about Kiwis usually involve sheep and don’t seem funny to me).

But look at the figures for religious affiliation taken from census data. Why are the “no relgion” results lower in Australia than New Zealand? And the “Christian results correspondingly higher?

NZ Religion question

(OK, we may have jokes about this – but seriously).

Well, have a look at the actual census questions about religion asked in the two countries.

Notice that the “no religion” choice is at the top of the list in New Zealand question (number 18 – grey) but buried at the bottom in the Australian question (number 19 – orange).

Do Australians opt for a religion in their census answers because they don’t , at first glance, notice the “no religion” option?

Does the Australian census overestimate religiosity?
See also:
Christianity – a declining population.

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Trends in religious belief in New Zealand
New Zealand supports evolution
God’s not as popular as we thought