Category Archives: Jewish

Do atheists need religion?

I was in no hurry to read this book – Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion. It got such bad reviews. And I really wasn’t impressed by Alain de Botton’s contribution to public debate – on TV and in the media. However, an atheist friend recommended the book and, although I don’t think she had finished reading it, she was impressed with the book’s arguments. Or at least the problems the author identified for atheists living in a secular society.

So, out of a sense of responsibility I purchased and read it.

My conclusion – a waste of money and time!

I don’t intend this to be a review of the book. For that I recommend reading Martin S Pribble’s thoughtful review (Religion For Atheists). As an aside, I followed Martin’s reading of this book via his Twitter comments. First time I have come across a Twitter book review! I think it sort of works – at least when the reader gets emotional about what he or she is reading.

Sufficient to say that de Botton sets up straw men – an idealised, perfect religion (mostly Christianity) and a deficient, sterile, secular society. His only objection to religion appears to be their supernatural stories. So his answer to the worlds’ problems is to ditch supernaturalism but adopt the remaining institutions, buildings, funding structures, social relationships, moral messages, music and art of religion (particularly Christianity). As is! Artificially.

My atheist friend often comments on the need in our secular society to develop institutions which provide for the social needs of people. Their desire for community and charity. So I can see why she was, at least initially, attracted to this book. It’s just that I can’t see how de Botton’s utopia (religion with all its trappings except its gods) provides this, or is even possible.

Personally I agree that modern society needs to provide more in the way of institutions, ceremony and even buildings which appeal to our desire for community and significance. But that is not unique to modern society – it has always been the case – especially as the old institutions often did not fulfil these promises, or were even quite evil.

The point is that the most appropriate ceremonies, institutions and culture for these purposes are the ones that are built by the existing society, not artificially transplanted into it. And we are building such institutions, ceremonies, etc., in our modern, pluralist, secular society.

Religion needs secularism – and can learn from it

Why should we artificially transplant something from a religion (after removing its supernatural content) when we can do better? Consider modern ceremonies like weddings and funerals in this country. They have become a lot more secular – even where they are performed in a Church. We seem to have welcomed with open arms the secular concept of remembering and celebrating the life of a deceased person in our funerals. Friends and family give their stories and feelings. New Zealand funerals today are far more satisfying than those in the old days which simply had the religious purpose of sending the person of into the “afterlife.”

The church has noticed and adopted many of the features of secular funerals and other ceremonies. Incorporated them into their own ceremonies.

There are many other examples. The point is that – yes, we do need more and better institutions and ceremonies which contribute to our human need for community and friendship. We do need more buildings, art and ethical commentary appealing to those needs. It’s a matter of more of what we are doing well, not artificially transplanting from old and moribund institutions and ideologies. And its a matter of creating these new institutions and culture in a way that is inclusive – not the exclusiveness “them vs us” of the religious approaches.

So, my recommendation is that you should give this book a miss, unless you feel a responsibility to read it like I did. At least I will now be able to discuss the book and my reactions intelligently when I next see my atheist friend.

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Slaughtering some sacred seasonal cows

It’s about time for a bit of seasonal humour. And who better than Tim Minchin, who staunchly defends science and reason, to administer it. Here is a video which ITV cut from the Jonathan Ross show – apparently by direct orders from ITV’s director of television, Peter Fincham.

It’s called WoodyAllenJesus – and watch it while you can (or download a copy. Tim thinks he may be asked to take the video off line

Thanks to Tim Minchin: I’m NOT on the Jonathan Ross Show

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Approaching a Middle East peace

Came across this song of Tim Minchen’s Peace Anthem For Palestine.

Actually think he might be on to something

Acceptance of science – dangerous for some

In the UK The Independent is reporting that a Muslim scientist is being threatened for his acceptance of evolutionary science (see Scientist Imam threatened over Darwinist views). The scientist is Dr Usama Hasan, a physics lecturer at Middlesex University and a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. His “crime” – he delivered a a lecture on “Islam and the theory of evolution” at his East London mosque, Masjid al-Tawhid.

Dr Usama Hasan, a physics lecturer, has received death threats from extremists - Credit The Independent

His lecture was disrupted by fanatics who distributed leaflets claiming that “Darwin is blasphemy”. Dr Hasan told The Independent: “One man came up to me during the lecture and said ‘You are an apostate and should be killed’” .

Hasan has now been forced to retract his claim that evolutionary science is compatible with Islam. His father has also issued a statement to the mosque saying: “”I seek Allah’s forgiveness for my mistakes and apologise for any offence caused.” And his family has urged him not to return to the mosque, where he is a prominent imam, because of their concern for his safety.

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Logical atheism

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Book Review: The Six Ways of Atheism: New Logical Disproofs of the Existence of God by Geoffrey Berg.
US$14.50
ISBN-10: 0954395662
Published May 29, 2009
Temple DPS Ltd

Website:http://www.thesixwaysofatheism.com/

Like many non-theists my attitude to the god hypothesis is the same as to any question of fact. It’s based on evidence and experience, as well as logic. There is no doubt that arguments based on logic alone are susceptible to subjective distortions. And we should be aware there are limits of common sense logic when confronted with the most basic questions about reality (see Different ways of knowing? ). So, it’s unavoidable that I see limits to an approach based purely on logic – as the arguments in this book are (obvious with a subtitle New Logical Disproofs of the Existence of God).

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Another chance to ignore our true religious diversity

nz-religious-diversity-bookI have written about New Zealand’s National Statement on Religious Diversity before. In fact, the problem of the discussion and formulation of this document was one of my initial incentives to start this blog (see Religious diversity includes “non-believers”).

This statement was prepared under the sponsorship of the NZ Human Rights Commission. The working group was composed of only representatives of religions and submissions from the non-religious (about one third of our population) were ignored. The final document almost completely ignores the existence of the non-religious. (For example artice 3: “THE RIGHT TO SAFETY. Faith communities and their members have a right to safety and security”).

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Middle east conflict in the NZ blogosphere?

oracism_p1Well, it seems that Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has sparked a local war in New Zealand’s blogosphere! It all started with his speech at the UN Conference on Racism in Geneva. This attacked Zionism as a form of racism and precipitated a walkout by many delegates.

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Police ignore non-religious

police-diversityWhenever I read about religious diversity these days my automatic reaction is that real diversity is going to be ignored. A big part of our true religious diversity is the fact that one third of New Zealanders declare themselves as non-religious. When these are ignored then our true diversity is ignored.

This happened with the National Statement of Religious Diversity which only gave lip service to this fact. It, for example, declared that:  “Faith communities and their members have a right to safety and security.” What does this imply about the safety of the non-religious?

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Babies and bathwater

When society rejects a practice considered repugnant sometimes we throw out the baby with the bathwater. This was brought home to me recently while watching the BBC Documentary “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.”

It’s hard hitting – dealing with the way terms like  “social Darwinism”, “natural selection” and “survival of the fittest” have been used to advocate inhumane social policies. Of course the justifications have been purely opportunist and erroneous. One such social policy the documentary discusses (in Part 2: Body and Soul) was eugenics.

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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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