Creationism has been running rampant in America for decades, with its literal interpretation of the Bible, insistence that the earth is no more than 6,000 years old and insistence that science is somehow on their side. Now it’s being exported to Scotland:
A new creationist group that preaches the “scientific” theory of intelligent design has set up in Glasgow with the stated aim of promoting its beliefs to schools and colleges.
The Centre for Intelligent Design, headed by a Northern Irish professor of genetics, a vice-president of the Royal College of Physicians and a former school inspector, has already prepared the ground for a clash with authorities.
The group’s director, Dr Alastair Noble, told the Sunday Herald it was “inevitable” the debate would make its way into schools – even though the Scottish Government says teachers should not regard intelligent design as science.
“We are definitely not targeting schools, but that doesn’t mean to say we may not produce resources that go to schools,” Dr Noble said, adding that he had already been asked to speak in Scottish schools, and agreed to do so.
The C4ID, as it calls itself online, insists its views are purely scientific, but critics have pointed to the leaders’ fundamentalist Christian backgrounds and the leaps of faith inherent in their logic.
Now Noble is basically implying that he intends to target schools, and considering creationism and ‘intelligent’ design represent wilful renunciations of reason and an evidence based approach, I think the philosophy behind his centre needs to be exposed. So…
The terms used in design theory are not defined. “Design”, in design theory, has nothing to do with “design” as it is normally understood. Design is defined in terms of an agent purposely arranging something, but such a concept appears nowhere in the process of distinguishing design in the sense of “intelligent design.” Dembski defined design in terms of what it is not (known regularity and chance), making intelligent design an argument from incredulity; he never said what design is.
A solution to a problem must address the parameters of the problem, or it is just irrelevant hand waving. Any theory about design must somehow address the agent and purpose, or it is not really about design. No intelligent design theorist has ever included agent or purpose in any attempt at a scientific theory of design, and some explicitly say they cannot be included (Dembski 2002, 313). Thus, even if intelligent design theory were able to prove design, it would mean practically nothing; it would certainly say nothing whatsoever about design in the usual sense.
‘Critics’ have mountains of 100% conclusive evidence on their side to disprove creationism & ‘intelligent’ design in a heartbeat. No more than 6,000 years old? Erm radiometric dating proves that’s bogus. Adam and Eve were real? Erm we have an entire fossil record that proves that bogus and demonstrates evolution beyond any doubt whatsoever. Humanity was designed by an intelligent hand? We know that’s a complete load of garbage too:
Richard Dawkins, never a man inclined to say nice things about creationism or ‘intelligent’ design, doesn’t just break creationism apart with hard science, he does so by framing the way in which creationists approach the very idea of evidence (also in the cartoon below):
Its [president, Professor Norman Nevin OBE – a geneticist at Queen’s University in Belfast – told a meeting in the city earlier this year he believed Adam was “a real historical person”. He also said: “Genesis chapter 1-11, which indeed many Darwinists and evolutionists say is myth or legend, I believe is historical, and it is cited 107 times in the New Testament, and Jesus refers himself to the early chapters of Genesis at least 25 times.” In these books of the Bible, the universe is created in six days, God makes Eve out of Adam’s rib, and Noah saves the Earth by building an ark.
Folks this is a geneticist saying God makes a woman out of a man's rib. Cloning? In Bronze Age times? By a supernatural 'creator' for whose existence there has never been one iota's evidence? It's utterly appalling, but look at his MO:
Professor Norman Nevin, [who was part of our panel on last week's Sunday Sequence,] is one of twelve academics to have written to the Prime Minister and Education Secretary in support of Truth in Science’s controversial schools initiative. Truth in Science believe that children and youth people should be exposed to alternatives to Darwinism and evolutionary theory, and, particularly, to Intelligent Design Theory, and have sent teaching packs to every school in the country.
Take a look at Nevin’s hinted ‘evidence’ – circular logic, insisting that one event referred to in the Bible did happen because it was prophesied elsewhere in the same book. It’s kind of telling that he says he’s not ‘targeting’ schools, yet his history has been to target schools. But he’s not the only scientist coming out with this:
Dr Alastair Noble is a Glasgow University graduate who became a teacher and later HM inspector of schools. He is currently education officer for CARE, a Christian charity which campaigns for more faith teaching in schools.
Dr David Galloway, C4ID’s vice- president, is also vice-president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, and a member of the Lennox Evangelical Church in Dumbarton.
C4ID has now set up a base in Glasgow and runs a website. The group is financially based in Guernsey, and apparently funded solely by backers in Scotland, England and Northern Ireland.
Dr Noble denied the theory of intelligent design – that a universal engineer, or god, created the initial spark of life then used physical laws and natural selection to develop it – was religious.
How can a front for creationism not be religious? Preposterous nonsense – these people are the vanguard of those who try to recast science to prove anything they like, when that’s not what science (in this reality at least) does. Talk Origins goes further in proving creationists’ religious agenda, by letting the words of ‘intelligent’ design’s founders and leaders speak for themselves:
The ID movement is motivated by and inseparable from a narrow religious viewpoint. In the words of its founders and leaders:
There’s a difference of opinion about how important this debate [advocating intelligent design] is. What I always say is that it’s not just scientific theory. The question is best understood as: Is God real or imaginary? (Phillip Johnson, “The Search for Intelligent Design in the Universe”,
“We are taking an intuition most people have [the belief in God] and making it a scientific and academic enterprise. We are removing the most important cultural roadblock to accepting the role of God as creator. (Phillip Johnson, “Enlisting Science to Find the Fingerprints of a Creator”,
Our strategy has been to change the subject a bit so that we can get the issue of intelligent design, which really means the reality of God, before the academic world and into the schools (P. Johnson 2003).
If Noble is right and ID/creationism does make it into schools then we have a problem. It would be teaching superstition as science, legitimising the misrepresentation of all sorts of fields such as geology and biology and championing ignorance over knowledge. And it’s another example of creationists using ‘established’ scientists to legitimise their fundamentalist nonsense.
“I think people are afraid of this debate because they sense it’s religion from the back door. They see it as an invasion of science with religion, but it most certainly is not that,” he said.
However, critics dismissed intelligent design as “a front for creationism”.
Paul Braterman, an emeritus professor of chemistry, now at Glasgow University, and a founder of the British Centre for Science Education, a campaign to keep religion out of science classes, said intelligent design was simply using God to plug the gaps that science has yet to answer.
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, called on the Government to “keep a close eye on this organisation to ensure it doesn’t manage to wheedle its way into schools”.
James Gray, of the British Humanist Association, said the C4ID had a right to say what it liked, but guidelines were needed to “ensure this pseudoscience never finds its way into science classes”.
They should indeed be allowed to say what they like. But observe the resulting problem of what happens when literalist nonsense makes it into schools:
[Teacher] Erfana Bora [disagrees]. In her view, after learning both science and religion “Pupils then do, literally, make their own minds up as to what they believe”. She says pupils in her science class ask her all kinds of questions, such as “Do humans really share a common ancestor with apes?”. But, interestingly, she doesn’t say how she answers such questions. Does she tell them that, yes, humans almost certainly share a common ancestor with apes, or does she say that while scientists argue that this is so, the Qur’an says that it is not? This is important, because if it’s the latter then it’s a classic case of “teach the controversy”, even where there isn’t one. The implication that education is about allowing children to make their own minds up may sound honourable, but it is misleading.
Sure it is, and it’s an extension of the literalist crap littering the American public sphere too. FOX News for example will transmit the most outrageous lies under the auspices of ‘being fair and balanced’, yet what they do is act in a ‘fair and balanced’ way with arguments with no merit (often with no truth). As I’ve said on this blog many times, just because there are two sides to an argument, it doesn’t make them of equal validity. The same is very much true with Biblical literalism – teaching the controversy legitimises superstitious nonsense by equating it with scientific fact.
In 2007 the BHA successfully lobbied the UK Government to publish guidance on how teachers should deal with creationism south of the Border, but no such policy exists in Scotland.
Ann Ballinger, of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, urged ministers here to clarify the situation, while the EIS union said authorities should ensure teachers knew their position regarding intelligent design in the classroom.
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said ministers would be against any moves to teach intelligent design in science classes, stating “we do not recognise the teaching of intelligent design in a scientific context”.
However, teaching unions and councils said they were aware of no formal guidance on the subject.
It should indeed be prevented, but considering it’s already de-facto taking place in schools which are quite happily afforded the freedom to do so, I don’t exactly know how. It seems unlikely that a creationist centre will find itself hindered in any way when successive governments are so keen to promote the idea of faith schools. We’re on a slippery slope here, kids. Faith is being given weight in society disproportionate to its weight. By all means we should be concerned by C4ID, but we should see it in context too.
Now I’ve seen absurd commentary like this before by far-right evangelicals before, but never really had the chance to refute it in blog form. So here goes (I’ll comment on his abuse of statistics as I go):
Homosexual/bi-sexual individuals are seven times more likely to contemplate or commit suicide. Oooh, that doesn’t sound very healthy.
It isn’t, and if true would be a serious reflection on self-esteem issues directly resulting from the homophobia of people like…Barton himself. So he takes great delight in setting up homophobic hatred, finding people actually respond to others’ hatred in physical, not just internalised ways, and them blaming them for it. Not only is that not Christian, it’s the textbook definition of abuse. If gay and bi- people really are that much more likely to kill themselves than straight people (I’d love to see where that’s definitively cited), surely as a society we should be asking the question why, rather than condemning people for the self-hatred they feel.
Homosexuals die decades earlier than heterosexuals. That doesn’t sound healthy.
Decades eh? Well that’s probably true in countries like Iran or Saudi Arabia where there’s a legal penalty for loving and having sexual relations with members of the same sex, but I’ll bet Barton would be hard pressed to prove it’s ‘decades’ throughout the developed West. Matthew Shepard of course died decades earlier but he was murdered for being gay. It may have been true in the 80′s/90′s as well, given the HIV/AIDS-related death rate, but with the improvements in combination therapies, and the massive increase in heterosexuals living with the disease, I’ll be shocked if that statement can be backed up by referring to HIV/AIDS. How do we die decades earlier, Barton? Oh maybe like with other evangelicals you’re lying.
Nearly one-half of practicing homosexuals admit to five hundred or more sex partners and nearly one-third admit to a thousand or more sex partners in a lifetime.
Nearly a half of which practising homosexuals? I don’t know anyone who’s anywhere near that number and a) I know a lot of gay men (why isn’t he talking about women, or is he?) and b) I know a few promiscuous gay men. I don’t believe the numbers for a start, but even if either of them is true, I’m confused: what would the essential problem be? I’ve tried throughout the period I’ve been sexually active, to be as considerate and honest to my sexual partners as humanly possible. I’ve never passed on an STI and have had around 100 sexual partners in my life. I don’t know many gay people who’ve had experience anywhere near that amount, nor many who want to. Pretty much all are looking for love at the end of the day.
Homosexuals have an HIV prevalence sixty times higher than the general population.
Homosexuals have Hepatitis B virus five to six times more often and Hepatitis C virus infections about two times more often than the regular population.
Sixty eh? We’ll have to have a look at that number a little later on, but I suspect the number’s more like ten at the most.
Homosexuals are less than three percent of the population but they account for sixty-four percent of the syphilis cases.
I mean, you go through all this stuff, sounds to me like that’s not very healthy. Why don’t we regulate homosexuality?
This is the clearest demonstration of the games these monsters play with statistics. Less than three percent of the population according to extremely flawed polls, for a start, but he then willfully conflates that number with 64%, but 64% of whom? Of the entire population? How could a small proportion of less than 3% of the population then account for 64% of the syphilis cases of the entire population? Answer: they can’t, but Barton’s reaching out to a tabloid mentality, whose participants are unable or unwilling to see through these lies. Having repeatedly cited the Center for Disease Control, in a vain attempt to justify his bigotry, what he really doesn’t want you to read is this:
Stigma and homophobia may have a profound impact on the lives of MSM, especially their mental and sexual health. Internalized homophobia may impact men’s ability to make healthy choices, including decisions around sex and substance use. Stigma and homophobia may limit the willingness of MSM to access HIV prevention and care, isolate them from family and community support, and create cultural barriers that inhibit integration into social networks.
Racism, poverty, and lack of access to health care are barriers to HIV prevention services, particularly for MSM from racial or ethnic minority communities. A recent CDC study found a strong link between socioeconomic status and HIV among MSM: prevalence increased as education and income decreased, and awareness of HIV status was higher among MSM with greater education and income.
And it’s clear why not. The HIV and other STI infection rates for gay people remain depressingly high, but they remain steadfastly that way for clear reasons, and chief amongst those reasons are the hateful views of people like Barton. He wants to blame gay people for the homophobia that they react to, but the truth couldn’t be more compelling: he and his filth are the problem, and one which needs to be addressed urgently. Let me show you how easy it is to play their game of abuse. Just say (because who’s going to check?) 95% of murderers are white men who believe in God. Almost all child abuse is conducted by white heterosexual men with a vehement belief in God. Every war in recent human history has been started by a white man who attended Church on a regular basis. Why don’t we ban religion and keep white men who are prone to belief in superstition under indefinite house arrest? Noone would seek to regulate religion because of such a ridiculous argument against it, and Barton and friends should be universally condemned for theirs against gay people.
Tens of millions of Americans, lumped into a diffuse and fractious movement known as the Christian right, have begun to dismantle the intellectual and scientific rigor of the Enlightenment. They are creating a theocratic state based on “biblical law,” and shutting out all those they define as the enemy. This movement, veering closer and closer to traditional fascism, seeks to force a recalcitrant world to submit before an imperial America. It champions the eradication of social deviants, beginning with homosexuals, and moving on to immigrants, secular humanists, feminists, Jews, Muslims and those they dismiss as “nominal Christians”—meaning Christians who do not embrace their perverted and heretical interpretation of the Bible. Those who defy the mass movement are condemned as posing a threat to the health and hygiene of the country and the family. All will be purged.
The followers of deviant faiths, from Judaism to Islam, must be converted or repressed. The deviant media, the deviant public schools, the deviant entertainment industry, the deviant secular humanist government and judiciary and the deviant churches will be reformed or closed. There will be a relentless promotion of Christian “values,” already under way on Christian radio and television and in Christian schools, as information and facts are replaced with overt forms of indoctrination. The march toward this terrifying dystopia has begun. It is taking place on the streets of Arizona, on cable news channels, at tea party rallies, in the Texas public schools, among militia members and within a Republican Party that is being hijacked by this lunatic fringe.
Elizabeth Dilling, who wrote “The Red Network” and was a Nazi sympathizer, is touted as required reading by trash-talk television hosts like Glenn Beck. Thomas Jefferson, who favored separation of church and state, is ignored in Christian schools and soon will be ignored in Texas public school textbooks. The Christian right hails the “significant contributions” of the Confederacy. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who led the anti-communist witch hunts of the 1950s, has been rehabilitated, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is defined as part of the worldwide battle against Islamic terror. Legislation like the new Jim Crow laws of Arizona is being considered by 17 other states.
The rise of this Christian fascism, a rise we ignore at our peril, is being fueled by an ineffectual and bankrupt liberal class that has proved to be unable to roll back surging unemployment, protect us from speculators on Wall Street, or save our dispossessed working class from foreclosures, bankruptcies and misery. The liberal class has proved useless in combating the largest environmental disaster in our history, ending costly and futile imperial wars or stopping the corporate plundering of the nation. And the gutlessness of the liberal class has left it, and the values it represents, reviled and hated.
The Democrats have refused to repeal the gross violations of international and domestic law codified by the Bush administration. This means that Christian fascists who achieve power will have the “legal” tools to spy on, arrest, deny habeas corpus to, and torture or assassinate American citizens—as does the Obama administration.
Those who remain in a reality-based world often dismiss these malcontents as buffoons and simpletons. They do not take seriously those, like Beck, who pander to the primitive yearnings for vengeance, new glory and moral renewal. Critics of the movement continue to employ the tools of reason, research and fact to challenge the absurdities propagated by creationists who think they will float naked into the heavens when Jesus returns to Earth. The magical thinking, the flagrant distortion in interpreting the Bible, the contradictions that abound within the movement’s belief system and the laughable pseudoscience, however, are impervious to reason. We cannot convince those in the movement to wake up. It is we who are asleep.
Those who embrace this movement see life as an epic battle against forces of evil and Satanism. The world is black and white. They need to feel, even if they are not, that they are victims surrounded by dark and sinister groups bent on their destruction. They need to believe they know the will of God and can fulfill it, especially through violence. They need to sanctify their rage, a rage that lies at the core of the ideology. They seek total cultural and political domination. They are using the space within the open society to destroy it. These movements work within the confining rules of the secular state because they have no choice. The intolerance they promote is muted in the public assurances of their slickest operators. Given enough power, and they are working hard to get it, any such cooperation will vanish. The demand for total control and for a Christian nation and the refusal to permit any dissent are on display within their inner sanctums. These pastors have established within their churches tiny, despotic fiefdoms, and they seek to replicate these little tyrannies on a larger scale.
Many of the tens of millions within the Christian right live on the edge of poverty. The Bible, interpreted for them by pastors whose connection with God means they cannot be questioned, is their handbook for daily life. The rigidity and simplicity of their belief are potent weapons in the fight against their own demons and the struggle to keep their lives on track. The reality-based world, one where Satan, miracles, destiny, angels and magic did not exist, battered them like driftwood. It took their jobs and destroyed their future. It rotted their communities. It flooded their lives with alcohol, drugs, physical violence, deprivation and despair. And then they discovered that God has a plan for them. God will save them. God intervenes in their lives to promote and protect them. The emotional distance they have traveled from the real world to the world of Christian fantasy is immense. And the rational, secular forces, those that speak in the language of fact and evidence, are hated and ultimately feared, for they seek to pull believers back into “the culture of death” that nearly destroyed them.
There are wild contradictions within this belief system. Personal independence is celebrated alongside an abject subservience to leaders who claim to speak for God. The movement says it defends the sanctity of life and advocates the death penalty, militarism, war and righteous genocide. It speaks of love and promotes fear of damnation and hate. There is a terrifying cognitive dissonance in every word they utter.
The movement is, for many, an emotional life raft. It is all that holds them together. But the ideology, while it regiments and orders lives, is merciless. Those who deviate from the ideology, including “backsliders” who leave these church organizations, are branded as heretics and subjected to little inquisitions, which are the natural outgrowth of messianic movements. If the Christian right seizes the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government, these little inquisitions will become big inquisitions.
The cult of masculinity pervades the movement. Feminism and homosexuality, believers are told, have rendered the American male physically and spiritually impotent. Jesus, for the Christian right, is a muscular man of action, casting out demons, battling the Antichrist, attacking hypocrites and castigating the corrupt. This cult of masculinity, with its glorification of violence, is deeply appealing to those who feel disempowered and humiliated. It vents the rage that drove many people into the arms of the movement. It encourages them to lash back at those who, they are told, seek to destroy them. The paranoia about the outside world is stoked through bizarre conspiracy theories, many championed in books such as Pat Robertson’s “The New World Order,”a xenophobic rant that includes attacks on liberals and democratic institutions.
The obsession with violence pervades the popular novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. In their apocalyptic novel, “Glorious Appearing,”based on LaHaye’s interpretation of biblical prophecies about the Second Coming, Christ returns and eviscerates the flesh of millions of nonbelievers with the sound of his voice. There are long descriptions of horror and blood, of how “the very words of the Lord had superheated their blood, causing it to burst through their veins and skin.” Eyes disintegrate. Tongues melt. Flesh dissolves. The Left Behind series, of which this novel is a part, contains the best-selling adult novels in the country.
Violence must be used to cleanse the world. These Christian fascists are called to a perpetual state of war. “Any teaching of peace prior to [Christ’s] return is heresy…” says televangelist James Robinson.
Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, instability in Israel and even the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are seen as glorious signposts. The war in Iraq is predicted, believers insist, in the ninth chapter of the Book of Revelations, where four angels “which are bound in the great river Euphrates will be released to slay the third part of men.” The march is inevitable and irreversible and requires everyone to be ready to fight, kill and perhaps die. Global war, even nuclear war, is not to be feared, but welcomed as the harbinger of the Second Coming. And leading the avenging armies is an angry, violent Messiah who dooms hundreds of millions of apostates to a horrible and gruesome death.
The Christian right, while embracing a form of primitivism, seeks the imprint of law and science to legitimate its absurd mythologies. Its members seek this imprint because, despite their protestations to the contrary, they are a distinctly modern, totalitarian movement. They seek to co-opt the pillars of the Enlightenment in order to abolish the Enlightenment. Creationism, or “intelligent design,” like eugenics for the Nazis or “Soviet” science for Stalin, must be introduced into the mainstream as a valid scientific discipline—hence the rewriting of textbooks. The Christian right defends itself in the legal and scientific jargon of modernity. Facts and opinions, once they are used “scientifically” to support the irrational, become interchangeable. Reality is no longer based on the gathering of facts and evidence. It is based on ideology. Facts are altered. Lies become true. Hannah Arendtcalled it “nihilistic relativism,” although a better phrase might be collective insanity.
The Christian right has, for this reason, its own creationist “scientists” who use the language of science to promote anti-science. It has fought successfully to have creationist books sold in national park bookstores at the Grand Canyon and taught in public schools in states such as Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas. Creationism shapes the worldview of hundreds of thousands of students in Christian schools and colleges. This pseudoscience claims to have proved that all animal species, or at least their progenitors, fit on Noah’s ark. It challenges research in AIDS and pregnancy prevention. It corrupts and discredits the disciplines of biology, astronomy, geology, paleontology and physics.
Once creationists can argue on the same platform as geologists, asserting that the Grand Canyon was not created 6 billion years ago but 6,000 years ago by the great flood that lifted up Noah’s ark, we have lost. The acceptance of mythology as a legitimate alternative to reality is a body blow to the rational, secular state. The destruction of rational and empirically based belief systems is fundamental to the creation of all totalitarian ideologies. Certitude, for those who could not cope with the uncertainty of life, is one of the most powerful appeals of the movement. Dispassionate intellectual inquiry, with its constant readjustments and demand for evidence, threatens certitude. For this reason incertitude must be abolished.
“What convinces masses are not facts,” Arendt wrote in “Origins of Totalitarianism,” “and not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system which they are presumably part. Repetition, somewhat overrated in importance because of the common belief in the masses’ inferior capacity to grasp and remember, is important because it convinces them of consistency in time.”
Augustine defined the grace of love as Volo ut sis—I want you to be. There is, he wrote, an affirmation of the mystery of the other in relationships based on love, an affirmation of unexplained and unfathomable differences. Relationships based on love recognize that others have a right to be. These relationships accept the sacredness of difference. This acceptance means that no one individual or belief system captures or espouses an absolute truth. All struggle, in their own way, some outside of religious systems and some within them, to interpret mystery and transcendence.
The sacredness of the other is anathema for the Christian right, which cannot acknowledge the legitimacy of other ways of being and believing. If other belief systems, including atheism, have moral validity, the infallibility of the movement’s doctrine, which constitutes its chief appeal, is shattered. There can be no alternative ways to think or to be. All alternatives must be crushed.
Ideological, theological and political debates are useless with the Christian right. It does not respond to a dialogue. It is impervious to rational thought and discussion. The naive attempts to placate a movement bent on our destruction, to prove to it that we too have “values,” only strengthens its legitimacy and weakness our own. If we do not have a right to be, if our very existence is not legitimate in the eyes of God, there can be no dialogue. At this point it is a fight for survival.
Those gathered into the arms of this Christian fascist movement are desperately struggling to survive in an increasingly hostile environment. We failed them; we owe them more: This is their response. The financial dislocations, the struggles with domestic and sexual abuse, the battle against addictions, the poverty and the despair that many in the movement endure are tragic, painful and real. They have a right to their rage and alienation. But they are also being used and manipulated by forces that seek to dismantle what is left of our democracy and abolish the pluralism that was once the hallmark of our society.
The spark that could set this conflagration ablaze could be lying in the hands of a small Islamic terrorist cell. It could be in the hands of greedy Wall Street speculators who gamble with taxpayer money in the elaborate global system of casino capitalism. The next catastrophic attack, or the next economic meltdown, could be our Reichstag fire. It could be the excuse used by these totalitarian forces, this Christian fascism, to extinguish what remains of our open society.
Let us not stand meekly at the open gates of the city waiting passively for the barbarians. They are coming. They are slouching toward Bethlehem. Let us shake off our complacency and cynicism. Let us openly defy the liberal establishment, which will not save us, to demand and fight for economic reparations for our working class. Let us reincorporate these dispossessed into our economy. Let us give them a reality-based hope for the future. Time is running out. If we do not act, American fascists, clutching Christian crosses, waving American flags and orchestrating mass recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance, will use this rage to snuff us out.
Chris Hedges, who writes a column every Monday for Truthdig and who graduated from Harvard Divinity School, is the author of “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.” He was a reporter for many years with The New York Times. His latest book is “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.”
This is an urgent message to anyone planning to take part in ‘Protest the Pope’ events over the next couple of days.
I have been thinking about those extraordinary remarks suggesting that atheism was the key factor in Nazism. It was no random insult, nor was it simply a sign of rambling insanity. The pope is an intellectual, a politician, a man who knows exactly what he is doing with the words he uses.
My conclusion is that the Nazi remarks were a deliberate attempt to deflect the anticipated protests about the scandal of the child sex abuse cover-ups in the RCC.
We know from comments made before the visit that both the Vatican and the UK govt were deeply concerned that the visit might be overshadowed by the sex abuse issue; so what could be more natural than that they would have put their heads together to try to find a way to prevent that happening? And what better method could they possibly find than to launch an attack on the likely protestors – an attack of such grotesque obscenity that we would be immediately deflected into protesting about that rather than the realissue?
It is inconceivable to me that the UK government didn’t know exactly what was going to be in the pope’s speech at Holyroodhouse this morning. Not only that, but had that Nazi comparison been made about ANY other group in British society, government officials would have been falling over one another in their rush to distance themselves from it. The fact this hasn’t happened suggests very strongly to me that this was a put-up job, an indicator of their determination to prevent the visit turning into an embarrassment to the pope (and therefore the government), as well as of the depth of their fear that it might.
And it further seems to me that the attempt has been largely successful – so far. The Nazi slur has dominated the news coverage as well as this website, Facebook, etc. I, too, have been seething about it all day and thinking about little else. The danger now, I fear, is that people planning to take part in the Protest the Pope events in London and Birmingham might also be deflected and might, as we speak, be replacing their child abuse posters with new ones complaining about the deeply insulting comments he made today.Nothing could delight Ratzinger more.
So if you’re planning to be present at one of the protests, PLEASE don’t play into his hands. Of course we are all outraged and disgusted at what Ratzinger said today, but if I am right, that was exactly what he intended us to be. If the protests during the rest of his tour focus on his comments about Nazis and valueless secularists, rather than the issue he fears most, then he will be chortling all the way back to the Vatican on Sunday. The Vatican and the UK government are desperate to stop people protesting about child abuse during this visit. It would be a terrible shame if their ruse worked.
Michael White, oddly enough, seems to be at it too:
Not that Dawkins, attention-seeking Stephen Fry or even my revered colleague Polly Toynbee, do much better on the heroism front. It is far safer to attack reactionary abuses and intolerance by Rome than the far worse excesses of Islamic fundamentalism, torture, rape, car bombing, systemic corruption, the oppression of women, the murder of dissent.
Mainstream Islamic states are not beacons of progress either, but are too often allowed to get away it because the left accords them third world victim status, their version of Cardinal Kasper’s racist myopia. The lack of interest in Turkey’s important constitutional referendum among progressives in the west says it all.
This attempt at relativism is quite bizarre. It’s entirely consistent to attack Catholicism and the Pope in particular for their abuses, without having to attack Islam in the same breath. I don’t even know what point White is trying to make here – so Dawkins is infuriated by Ratzinger’s historical protection of paedophile priests, so what? Why should being offended by and wanting to hold accountable a man who is guilty of serious criminal offences be wrong just because he’s the spiritual head of the Catholic Church? I just don’t get it. He goes on:
Where I part company with Polly Toynbee – see last weekend’s column – and the rest of what Rome calls secular fundamentalism is in its reluctance to concede that, by and large, irreligious societies – think Hitler, Stalin and Mao for starters, then cast a flick back to Robespierre – have been even beastlier than religious tyrannies in the scale of their ambition and bloodshed.
Sorry, but I do not think the abolition of religion will solve the eternal problems of human imperfection or – as Polly put it – of sex and death.
Well he’s wrong about Hitler for a start – he had all sorts of crazy, Christian-creationist ideas. Amazing the number of people who think Hitler had an atheistic thing going on – he didn’t. According to Wikipedia:
Historian Joachim Fest wrote, “Hitler knew, through the constant invocation of the God the Lord (German: Herrgott) or of providence (German: Vorsehung), to make the impression of a godly way of thought.” He used his “ability to simulate, even to potentially critical Church leaders, an image of a leader keen to uphold and protect Christianity,” according to biographerIan Kershaw. Kershaw adds that Hitler’s ability also succeeded in appeasing possible Church resistance to anti-Christian Nazi Party radicals. For example, on March 23, 1933, he addressed the Reichstag: “The National Government regards the two Christian confessions (i.e. Catholicism and Protestantism) as factors essential to the soul of the German people. … We hold the spiritual forces of Christianity to be indispensable elements in the moral uplift of most of the German people.”
According to Hitler’s chief architect Albert Speer, Hitler remained a formal member of the Catholic Church until his death, although it was Speer’s opinion that “he had no real attachment to it.” According to biographer John Toland, Hitler was still “a member in good standing of the Church of Rome despite detestation of its hierarchy, he carried within him its teaching that the Jew was the killer of God. The extermination, therefore, could be done without a twinge of conscience since he was merely acting as the avenging hand of God—so long as it was done impersonally, without cruelty.” However Hitler’s own words from Mein Kampf seem to conflict with the idea that his antisemitism was religiously motivated.
And while we’re all berating one another for attacking the man who said ordaining women was as bad as paedophilia, and who is resolutely opposed to gay equality, he has the unmitigated gall to get reactionary in his initial speech:
I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a “reductive vision of the person and his destiny” (Caritas in Veritate, 29).
the notion that in free countries atheism promotes intolerance and immorality is demonstrably false. Last year, Californian sociologist Phil Zuckerman responded with facts rather than witless abuse to claims from Christian psychologists and theologians that atheists were “selfish and pusillanimous curmudgeons”, “unnatural” or “just damn angry”. He pulled together the available evidence and found that the more atheists or agnostics a free society has the more moral it becomes.
Predictably, atheists were far more likely to be tolerant supporters of women’s rights and gay rights than believers. The pope, like militant Islamists, orthodox Jews and the ultras in every faith cannot see that struggles for female and homosexual emancipation are among the most moral causes of our age. But as believers in a sternly misogynist and homophobic god, they must want to be tough on crime.
If so, they should welcome the contribution that atheists make to promoting law and order. A study in the 1990s found that a meagre 0.2% of the US prison population were atheists. In America, the states with the highest murder rates tend to be highly religious, such as Louisiana and Alabama, but the states with the lowest murder rates are among the least religious in the country, such as Vermont and Oregon.
Yet Ratzinger continued:
Today, the United Kingdom strives to be a modern and multicultural society. In this challenging enterprise, may it always maintain its respect for those traditional values and cultural expressions that more aggressive forms of secularism no longer value or even tolerate. Let it not obscure the Christian foundation that underpins its freedoms; and may that patrimony, which has always served the nation well, constantly inform the example your Government and people set before the two billion members of the Commonwealth and the great family of English-speaking nations throughout the world.
Tim Minchin replied on twitter to the Pope’s arrogant opening salvo, putting it perhaps better than anyone else so far:
You can check out Tim’s ‘The Pope Song’ here.
Johann Hari has had enough of Ratzinger ahead of his State Visit:
Some people think Ratzinger’s critics are holding him responsible for acts that were carried out before he became Pope, simply because he is the head of the institution involved. This is an error. For over 25 years, Ratzinger was personally in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the part of the Vatican responsible for enforcing Catholic canonical law across the world, including on sexual abuse. He is a notorious micro-manager who, it is said, insisted every salient document cross his desk. Hans Küng, a former friend of Ratzinger’s, says: “No one in the whole of the Catholic Church knew as much about abuse cases as this Pope.”
We know what the methods of the church were during this period. When it was discovered that a child had been raped by a priest, the church swore everybody involved to secrecy, and moved the priest on to another parish. When he raped more children, they too were sworn to secrecy, and he was moved on to another parish. And on, and on. Over 10,000 people have come forward to say they were raped as part of this misery-go-round. The church insisted all cases be kept from the police and dealt with by their own “canon” law – which can only “punish” child rapists to prayer or penitence or, on rare occasions, defrocking.
Ratzinger was at the heart of this. He refuses to let any police officer see the Vatican’s documentation, even now, but honourable Catholics have leaked some of them anyway. We know what he did. We have the paper trail.
There are people who will tell you that these criticisms of Ratzinger are “anti-Catholic”. What could be more anti-Catholic than to cheer the man who facilitated the rape of your children? What could be more pro-Catholic than to try to bring him to justice? This is only one of Ratzinger’s crimes. When he visited Africa in March 2009, he said that condoms “increase the problem” of HIV/Aids. His defenders say he is simply preaching abstinence outside marriage and monogamy within it, so if people are following his advice they can’t contract HIV – but in order to reinforce the first part of his message, he spreads overt lies claiming condoms don’t work. In a church in Congo, I watched as a Catholic priest said condoms contain “tiny holes” that “help” the HIV virus – not an unusual event. Meanwhile, Ratzinger calls consensual gay sex “evil”, and has been at the forefront of trying to prevent laws that establish basic rights for gay people, especially in Latin America.
the visit has subjected Pope Benedict’s conservatism to intensely unfavourable scrutiny. On Friday he meets the Archbishop of Canterbury, who ought to send him off with a flea in his ear for trying to seduce over to Rome Church of England clergy opposed to women bishops. His beatification of Cardinal Newman for converting to Catholicism is an affront, along with his claim that Britain’s Equalities Act “violates natural law” for banning discrimination against women and gays.
“Pope Benedict XVI does not deserve the honour of a State Visit. He says women are unfit to be priests, childless couples should be denied fertility treatment and potentially life-saving embryonic stem cell research ought to be banned. The Pope insists that rape victims should be denied an abortion, using condoms to stop the spread of HIV is immoral and gay people are not entitled to equal human rights. On all these issues, Benedict is out of step with the majority of British people, including many Catholics.
“Most shockingly, the Pope is accused of covering up child sex abuse by clergy. In 2001, he wrote to every Catholic bishop in the world, ordering them to report all child sex abuse cases to him in Rome. They did. He therefore cannot claim that he was unaware of sex abuse. Moreover, his letter to the bishops demanded that they observe ‘Papal secrecy.’ It did not advise them to report abusers to the police.
“Even today, the Pope refuses to open the Vatican’s sex abuse files and hand them to the relevant police forces worldwide. Many people see his inaction as collusion with sex crimes against children. Such a person should not be feted by our government,” said Mr Tatchell.
They’re all entirely right. Ratzinger has covered up serious criminal offences. He has lobbied to disadvantage minorities he disagrees with on dogmatic grounds. He has argued against means of protecting the health and lives of millions on dogmatic grounds. It’s indeed outrageous that this man should be allowed into the UK at all, given his shameless homophobic preaching, when multiple equally homophobic rappers aren’t. There have been many on TV who have argued that he should be left well enough alone on this unprecedented State Visit, to spare the feelings of the numerous Catholics who unconditionally support him as the spiritual head of their Church. I couldn’t agree less. Noone should be immune from either the rule of law or the consequences of their actions. So Tatchell has acknowledged that he’s not going to be able to pull of a citizen’s arrest – it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) mean that Ratzinger’s life shouldn’t be made as uncomfortable as possible whilst he’s here, nor that he shouldn’t know just what we think of him and why.
I’ll be attending the demonstration on Saturday. You should too.
Not remotely safe for work…All hail Tim Minchin…
Alom Shaha thinks we should:
I’m not suggesting that atheists don’t talk about religion or that they don’t continue to argue with believers. I think there are all sorts of things that would be better if religion were not such a powerful force in so many people’s lives. I’m often asked “why do you care what other people believe?” My answer is that I care because I care about the things that make our world tick. I care because our beliefs are defining qualities that play a huge part in our relationships with other people and the world at large. I care because what people believe determines how people act.
So I’ll carry on talking about my beliefs and challenging people about theirs and I’ll look forward to the continued work of Dawkins and others like him. However, I would encourage “campaigning” atheists and skeptics to think about the tone they use to deliver their messages. It should be obvious that how we say things is often as important, if not more so, than what we say.
Well yes that’s true of course, but it’s important to keep a divide between the two issues in play when arguing with believers and the irrational. I may privately think that believing in God is a little stupid, but I’m a little stupid too in a whole mess of ways peculiar to me – as long as our stupidities and inconsistencies don’t harm anyone else, who cares? And for that matter facts aren’t the only important things in all spheres – it doesn’t fundamentally matter who believes in homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic, reiki or any other ‘new age’ practice for example. If voodoo medicine makes people feel better (but not make them better) that’s their affair, surely? On the whole I tend to leave private belief alone.
But I don’t think that’s the defining issue with Dawkins and ‘campaigning’/'militant’/'new’ atheists (why is noone noticing that the ‘new’ atheism is in direct response to the increasing expansion of unquestioning, militant political belief, infecting civil society throughout most of the world this century?). When Christianists and others label me ‘perverse’ or ‘wrong’ though merely for being gay I sure as hell won’t watch my tone, and why should I? The difficult centre of the argument is where these issues touch everyone in civil society. It may be frustrating that so many people ‘don’t get it’, but I’ve come to realise Enlightenment values in society as a whole have to be continually justified. And using the right tone to argue against faith schools, teaching creationism on a par with evolution in schools, or against NHS funding of homeopathy is indeed vital if we want to continue to prevail.
I love Doonesbury so much:
Professor Stephen Hawking has dismissed entirely the notion that a God had any hand whatsoever in the creation of the universe:
In the new work, The Grand Design, Professor Stephen Hawking argues that the Big Bang, rather than occurring following the intervention of a divine being, was inevitable due to the law of gravity.
In his 1988 book, A Brief History of Time, Hawking had seemed to accept the role of God in the creation of the universe. But in the new text, co-written with American physicist Leonard Mlodinow, he said new theories showed a creator is “not necessary”.
The Grand Design, an extract of which appears in the Times today, sets out to contest Sir Isaac Newton’s belief that the universe must have been designed by God as it could not have been created out of chaos.
“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing,” he writes. “Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.
“It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”
Poor poor creationists. They spend all their time bitching, moaning and whinging about the impossibility of the universe creating itself without a sentient, guiding hand (whilst ignoring where that came from), but Prof Hawking has undermined them quite comprehensively. There’s just no need for a God to explain anything in existence at all. I wonder how many imaginative ways the creationist lobby can a) dismiss his argument without addressing it b) invoke a theist, straw man argument to try to shift the burden of proof away from them yet again and c) lie about science until they’re blue in the face in the hope most people will believe them and not Hawking.
The Thinking Atheist offers a damning indictment of the way in which we indoctrinate our children with religion. Think about it.
As with much of the stupidity coming out of America these days, I don’t necessarily have the words to capture how I feel about the right-wing furore over the proposed ‘Ground Zero mosque’. I’ll give you a few from Charlie Brooker instead:
Millions are hopping mad over the news that a bunch of triumphalist Muslim extremists are about to build a “victory mosque” slap bang in the middle of Ground Zero.
The planned “ultra-mosque” will be a staggering 5,600ft tall – more than five times higher than the tallest building on Earth – and will be capped with an immense dome of highly-polished solid gold, carefully positioned to bounce sunlight directly toward the pavement, where it will blind pedestrians and fry small dogs. The main structure will be delimited by 600 minarets, each shaped like an upraised middle finger, and housing a powerful amplifier: when synchronised, their combined sonic might will be capable of relaying the muezzin’s call to prayer at such deafening volume, it will be clearly audible in the Afghan mountains, where thousands of terrorists are poised to celebrate by running around with scarves over their faces, firing AK-47s into the sky and yelling whatever the foreign word for “victory” is.
It seems as though freedom of religion in America for right wingers is contingent on being…well…Christian and right-wing. Brooker quite rightly points out the absurdity of this controversy, especially given that
Cordoba House, as it’s known, is a proposed Islamic cultural centre, which, in addition to a prayer room, will include a basketball court, restaurant, and swimming pool. Its aim is to improve inter-faith relations. It’ll probably also have comfy chairs and people who smile at you when you walk in, the monsters.
To get to the Cordoba Centre from Ground Zero, you’d have to walk in the opposite direction for two blocks, before turning a corner and walking a bit more. The journey should take roughly two minutes, or possibly slightly longer if you’re heading an angry mob who can’t hear your directions over the sound of their own enraged bellowing.
New York being a densely populated city, there are lots of other buildings and businesses within two blocks of Ground Zero, including a McDonald’s and a Burger King, neither of which has yet been accused of serving milkshakes and fries on hallowed ground. Regardless, for the opponents of Cordoba House, two blocks is too close, period. Frustratingly, they haven’t produced a map pinpointing precisely how close is OK.
Seriously what is this ‘hallowed ground’ garbage? Guess what Americans, we had four suicide bombings but we just got to grips with it and got on with our lives. You however are still doing this:
Yes it IS scary that there are people out there who are prepared to commit mass murder, and take themselves out doing so. But resorting to intolerance, lynch mobs and turning your backs on every principle on which your country is based is an act of incalculable stupidity. Nearly 3,000 people died nearly ten years ago, many at the site of the former World Trade Center, but to call that site ‘hallowed ground’ (which by extension covers the entire neighbourhood or any other radius taking people’s fancy really) is extraordinarily dangerous, not to mention specious, for the reasons Brooker gives earlier. Bush may be gone, but the people who gave him license to do what he did haven’t gone away. They’re not PNAC, nor any other special interest group – they’re just average, ‘God-fearing’ Americans.
And they need to get a grip.
Dawkins’ documentary last night was damned entertaining, and occasionally painfully revealing. And the science teacher at the Islamic faith school who so totally dropped herself in it has responded:
Science is essentially mankind’s best effort at understanding the workings of the known universe, given our limited resources and intelligence. Learning about science is fun, fantastic and thought-provoking, especially discussions arising around ethical grey areas. However, it is important that children are made aware of the limitations of scientific endeavour lest they be corralled into a realm wherein nothing is worth knowing unless it has been determined by empirical scientific discovery.
If they were encouraged towards that worldview alone, I believe they would be receiving an education devoid of further enrichment from a faith-based narrative. I’m not in the business of wanting young people bereft of the entire canon of human belief systems. That religions have stood the test of time is testament to the human need for something other than that which we can prove or disprove.
As a teacher, I’d be doing my pupils a grave disservice if I insisted that the answers that science can give us should be the limit of our understanding of the world. Kids are bright and don’t need liberating from religion, especially if the alternative is limited to giving credence to atheistic secularism alone. Rather, equip them with all the alternatives and let them work it out for themselves.
I’m aghast at this. She’s debating her confrontation with Dawkins about evolution, which she as a science teacher disputed. I’ll accept (to a point) that history has shown at the very least a predilection for something other than what we can prove or disprove, but that has almost entirely been due to historical ignorance – we haven’t been able to figure out the answers about who we are and how we came to be. Now we can, and for her to say that metaphysics should or could in any way answer how humanity, the earth or the universe came to be is objectively wrong. By all means discuss the issues and run through the debates in a religious education class, but science alone does have the answers to these questions – to suggest there are religious/metaphysical/transcendental alternatives is in small or large measure an attempt to indoctrinate children (as Dawkins says) into believing ‘God’ has answers science doesn’t, thereby contributing to robbing them of the freedom to engage with the world critically.
I personally agree with Dawkins that children do need liberating from religion, at least from their parents’. But my bottom line from Erfana Bora’s argument is this: she is doing her pupils a horrible disservice by suggesting as a science teacher that science doesn’t provide all the answers to our understanding of the world – it does. If she disagrees with the theory of evolution, and suggests for a heartbeat that a religious text has any role in any way in explaining how life on earth has come to be, she shouldn’t be teaching science in a school funded by the British taxpayer. Very simple.
Well of course this is what creationist nutcases seem to think. Watch this video, which proves just how wrong their position on the science is. The world is not 6,000 years old.
The House of Lords has voted to allow civil partnerships on religious premises:
The amendment to the Equality Bill, which was tabled as a free vote by gay Muslim peer Waheed Alli, received overwhelming backing in the Lords, including from a number of prominent Anglican bishops.
Under current UK law religious venues are forbidden from holding civil partnerships, although some liberal denominations within Christianity and Judaism have been willing to bless gay unions once a partnership ceremony has taken place elsewhere.
The lifting of the ban, which still needs to be approved by the House of Commons, will now give religious venues the option of conducting civil partnerships – but it will not compel them to do so, as some traditionalists had feared.
Lord Alli denied the suggestion that religious communities would be forced to accept gay marriages.
“Religious freedom cannot begin and end with what one religion wants,” he said. “This amendment does not place an obligation on any religious organisation to host civil partnerships in their buildings. But there are many gay and lesbian couples who want to share their civil partnership with the congregations that they worship with. And there are a number of religious organisations that want to allow gay and lesbian couples to do exactly that.”
No doubt the religious fundamentalist set will denounce this as an anti-religious move, but as Alli points out this, if approved by the Commons (and how appalling would it be if the Commons struck this down?), would allow civil partnerships on religious premises, not demand them. It’s amazing how often the devoutly religious wilfully mix the the two up, but the distinction is pretty important because it’s about religious freedom for all. As Stonewall Chief Executive Ben Summerskill says:
‘We’ve argued throughout that this is an important matter of religious freedom. Ministers have known for some months that we intended to table this measure and we regret that the Government didn’t stand up to the bullying it faced from some churches on this issue. We’ll now work closely with ministers to ensure that we secure implementation of this further step towards equality. This vote is hugely important to those gay people of faith (and, as Lady Neuberger pointed out, to their Jewish mothers too!) who wish to celebrate their civil partnerships in their own place of worship.’
It should have been unthinkable to have had a ban in the first place. Why any religion should have the freedom to discriminate based purely on the grounds of the bigoted beliefs of some, is beyond me. But this government has kowtowed incessantly towards the religious lobby, and in the run-up to the general election will no doubt continue to do so. Remember civil partnerships are still only for gay people, and marriage is only for straight people. In a European Union where even Catholic Spain has marriage equality I fail to comprehend why Britain’s inequality is allowed to continue.