Saturday, 19 September 2015

CFI UK Debate - Does God Exist?

God and the Bible was the title of an all day event held by CFI UK at the Conway Hall in London.

A morning talk was given by Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou on what she called The Real Religions of the Bible, or The Uncensored Bible. The theme of this talk was those bits of the Bible that are rarely mentioned. Most likely because they are rather priapic, or, at least, that is how it seemed, as the 'penis' references moved into double figures. The God of the Old Testament used to put it about a bit, it seems, and it's not at all clear how immaterial he was. Stavrakopoulou was very articulate and, to every issue raised, thoughtful and nuanced.

In the afternoon Professor Stephen Law and Professor Keith Ward debated whether God exists. This being the CFI, it was clear where the sympathy of the audience lay, and it wasn't with Professor Ward. His presentation was familiar to many of us who have read liberal theologians; his God is a mutable, vague beast that seems to be specially designed to reify the art of goal-posting moving, so that wherever one shoots, one is bound to miss. A couple of things, at least, defined this concept: first, that his God could not do anything he felt was immoral; and second, that his God concept could not run counter to scientific facts. In this way he inoculates his belief from attack, I suppose, because his God is bound to conform to his (Ward's) moral beliefs, so no awkward silences when the Canaanite genocide is mentioned, and if science shows some aspect of his belief to be factually wrong, he will simply change his belief, so no awkward silences when talking snakes are mentioned.

The panel, with some minor celebrity spotting thrown in.

Obviously this means that as Ward's moral sensibilities change during his life, so does his God, and as science changes our view of the universe, so does his God change. I got the impression Ward is distinctly relaxed about this, seeing it as an enlightened approach. I think it is to be encouraged amongst believers, because it seems to be almost the opposite of dogmatic, and comes close to the Humean ideal of proportioning one's belief to the evidence. But I suspect that few Christians would find this Will 'o the Wisp deity satisfying, and, as Stavrakopoulou pointed out, it lacks magic.

Later, in response to the problem of evil, Ward renounced omnipotence as a feature of his God, which puzzled many in the crowd who assumed Ward was a Christian. Someone asked him outright if he were, and his reply was that he was a priest in the Anglican Church. 'Not enough information!', I shouted.

In the end it seems there is something about Ward's experience of the world that renders him a believer; a sense of the noumenal, morals and beauty were mentioned.

Stephen Law did not specifically address Ward's talk, but presented his excellent Evil God challenge, which, briefly, points out the empirical fact that no-one (? Satanists?) believes in an evil god, although practically all (if not all) the arguments for God do not give us any clue to His goodness. If a theist can see that belief in an evil god is ludicrous (and they seem to), they should likewise agree with atheists that belief in God is too, since the arguments for both are effectively the same (although often mirrored).

I think here Ward falls back on his subjective experience; in a discussion of HADD, for example, which Law was citing as a defeater for Ward's belief in a hidden agent, Ward said he thought he had HADD, but it was given to him by God so he could sense Him! How could one argue anyone out of these sorts of beliefs?

An interesting debate, but I think I would have liked to have heard more from Ward about why he doesn't give up his God's benevolence, as well as His omnipotence, given Law's Evil God Challenge (or, indeed, His existence!). Presumably he just has an undeniable intuition that this thing he senses the existence of is good. That may be, but it seems a wholly unsatisfactory response to anyone who does not have that feeling.

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Monday, 7 September 2015

Craig describes SSM as 'a sort of legal fiction'

William Lane Craig has revealed some homophobia in the latest Q&A on his Reasonable Faith site, as well as recommending some seditious behaviour. In answer to someone questioning the Supreme Court's decision on SSM, and what Christians should do about it, he says:
[Same sex] marriages are a sort of legal fiction which we must respect.
He thinks there is an essence to marriage that resists legal re-definitions, just as horses and chairs could not be re-defined. This shows a curious blindness to the complexity of social institutions, which, by their very nature (one may say 'essence'), are defined by their social milieu. Simply perusing the Wikipedia article on marriage presents a bewildering variety of types, many of which do not feature just one man and one woman (WLC's preferred flavour). Of course, to describe the marriage of two people in love as any sort of fiction is deeply offensive to those involved.

Craig says:
The Supreme Court did not legalize, nor is anyone advocating for, gay marriage. What it legalized was same-sex marriage, regardless of sexual orientation.
...and he is right, strictly speaking. But let's not pretend that Craig is railing against two heterosexual men getting married; it is the homosexuality he is prejudiced against, and his language shows his prejudice:
Suppose you are a baker who is approached to make a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding or that you are a wedding photographer who is hired to photograph a same-sex ceremony. It’s hard to see how you can justifiably resist legal authority here and refuse to comply, regardless of how distasteful it may be to you, since your activity is not sin on your part.
Craig supposes it may be 'distasteful' to provide a service for a same-sex marriage; why 'distasteful'? Sin is not a matter of taste, after all. Plainly it's the homosexuality that is not to Craig's taste, rather than some contravention of his definition of marriage. If somebody redefined a horse as a chair, no-one would find that 'distasteful'; simply incorrect.

As for government authority, he says:
...we should and must resist authority if it requires us to act contrary to God’s will. 
So, he thinks it's necessary for Christians to impose God's will over and above the law of the land. As at least one study suggests, what God wants tends to be the same as what the individual believer wants. This is a recipe for insurrection, or at least civil disobedience à la Kim Davis, even if one has some sympathy for conscientious objectors in general.

It's nice to see that Craig can see the way the wind is blowing, though:
As our secular culture becomes more and more accommodating to same-sex marriage, the pressure upon Christians to compromise and conform will be heavy and unrelenting.
Yes, the repeal of anti-miscegenation laws delivered legal justice and, as a consequence, generated social pressure on racists to drop their prejudices; so too, now, will the pressure build upon the homophobic to drop their prejudices now that equality before the law has been granted to those of every sexual orientation.

Craig's response reveals the problem with a morality embedded in the aspic of ancient mores; they give the prejudiced ammunition in their fight against overwhelming reason and evidence. Just as many sensible practices and beliefs have arisen through our genetic and cultural history, so too has prejudice. We need the freedom to challenge our practices and beliefs to sort the sensible from the insensible, and religion, amongst other things, hinders that process.

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Sunday, 19 July 2015

Tim Farron's Illiberal Beliefs

As a LibDem supporter I voted for Norman Lamb, but did not have too many qualms over Tim Farron's election as LibDem leader. Farron made these statements in his leadership election blog and supporting document:
I love this party because in my heart and in my soul I am a liberal.
I believe in a society in which we are all free to make our own choices and live the lives we want. But freedom means very little when the only choices we have to make are whether to feed our children or heat our homes.
Now we must be the voice for the poor and the disadvantaged, the underdog and the despised. We must defend fundamental human rights and freedoms from Tory attack; it falls to us to make the unequivocal economic and moral case for immigration; and I will proudly make the case for Europe in the forthcoming referendum.
Liberalism is about championing the individual against the powerful, that means standing firm for our Human Rights Act, against internet surveillance and illiberal extremism orders. But it’s also about protecting individuals from those giant evils that rob people of their freedom: poverty, poor housing, inequality. 
A free society that glories in diversity is a stronger society.
We believe that everyone is entitled to equal respect, whatever their income, personal characteristics, way of life, beliefs or sexuality.

This is all excellent liberal stuff, and pretty much in line with my left of centre thinking, so there seems little reason to question his position as leader of a national political party.

I was vaguely aware that Farron was a Christian, but that did not worry me; we live in a culturally Christian country where many people adopt some kind of religious belief from their family or community, so it's not front page news that the leader of a political party is a Christian. Even though many Christian beliefs strike me as odd and groundless, it's illiberal to insist on a certain way of thinking, or a certain set of beliefs.

A corollary of that, then, is that it's liberal to maintain a certain level of epistemic humility, and illiberal to display certainty in one's beliefs.

It's disturbing then to read these sorts of comments from Farron:
He thinks God knows everything. ‘Every hair on your head is numbered,’ he says, without blinking. God knows every hair on his head? ‘Yeah.’
He scoffs at the idea of a ‘half-baked distant God – either he created every bloomin’ atom in the entire universe or he didn’t’. He derides those who believe in ‘some kind of part-time, low-wattage God’.Similarly, he believes Heaven and Hell really exist. Heaven is ‘a place where there’s no more tears, no more crying, no more pain, no more suffering, no more death’.
It exists as a physical entity? ‘Yeah. It’s what the Bible tells me.’
Such certainty strikes me as illiberal. His conversion to Christianity sounds ill-considered:
He became a Christian at 18, when marooned in a house in rainy Singapore on a trip with his mum. ‘There was nothing to blinkin’ read and I read this weird-looking book on God. It was life-changing,’ he explains.
For something so 'life-changing' you would hope that a deep thinker would need more than one book.

As John Sergeant writes, these things suggest a fundamentalism to Farron's Christianity that should disturb any liberal:
There are past statements of his...which strongly suggest he holds fundamentalist views regarding the Christian faith...
Such peculiar but (too?) strongly held views can lead to bizarre political actions. He signed a letter to the ASA saying:
...unless you can persuade us that you have reached your ruling [that the Healing On The Streets ministry in Bath are no longer able to claim, in their advertising, that God can heal people from medical conditions] on the basis of indisputable scientific evidence, we intend to raise this matter in Parliament.
He subsequently conceded that this was silly, but still maintained the ASA 'really aren’t appointed to be the arbiter of theological matters, I think they’ve overstepped their remit.' and admitted:
As a Christian I believe that prayer helps – although my belief is that God mostly heals through medicine, surgery and human compassion and ingenuity.
So he does believe in prayer-healing, which is pretty daft on evidentiary grounds, and completely daft on scientific grounds.

He said 'the ASA decision offends my Liberalism far more than it bothers me from a Christian perspective'. This appears to be based on his appeal to freedom - 'an organisation that makes a faith based claim that is clearly subjective (in the same way that a political party makes subjective claims) should be able to make those claims within reason.' But prayer-healing is not a subjective claim; it is that prayers heal people ('God can heal people from medical conditions'), not that they make them feel better. It is a statement about reality, not a value judgement.

Farron's religious beliefs have here led him to a confused position. CAP code 12.1 clearly sees medical claims as objective, so there is no sense in which the ASA have overstepped its bounds; instead Farron would have to campaign for a rewrite of the CAP code. Any such rewrite would leave us all open to advertising claims that could not be objectively adjudicated.

Perhaps Farron is appealing to my principle of epistemic humility, arguing that we should never discount the possibility of prayer-healing? Perhaps, but the ASA is not saying that prayer-healing does not work; just asking for justification of any advertising claims to protect consumers in an environment where snake-oil salesmen will exaggerate the efficacy of their products. And would Farron like us to take his statements about the world with a similar pinch of salt? Like this one?
Christianity, I am convinced, is not ‘a bit’ true. It is either not true, or it is so compellingly utterly true, that almost nothing else matters … There is no middle way.
...which he apparently made at a National Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast in 2013.

One would hope that Farron's liberalism would lead him to a more liberal view of  touchstone issues, but fundamental religious beliefs like these, not held lightly or humbly, naturally cause Farron difficulties on the question of SSM and abortion, on which he said:
Abortion is wrong. Society has to climb down from the position that says there is nothing morally objectionable about abortion before a certain time. If abortion is wrong, it is wrong at any time.
The worry from his response to the prayer-healing debacle is that he will mould his liberalism in the light of his religious beliefs, not mould his religious beliefs in the light of his liberalism. As Catherine Bennett writes:
It seems only fair to ask that, when ethics are debated, [MPs] disclose which supernatural affiliation has dictated their response, along with any penalties for disobedience.
(Photo "Tim Farron 2014" by West Berkshire Liberal Democrats from Newbury, England - IMG_1781. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

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Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Greenwald on Charlie Hebdo

As a follow up to The Disgusting 'Buts', a quote from Glenn Greenwald. Greenwald is wrong on the Charlie Hebdo affair; he is another who thinks the Western hegemony narrative is the lens through which these murderous events should be viewed. His comments in Salon are rather more guarded than one might expect; perhaps he's mellowing slightly. Nevertheless, this extract clearly betrays his sympathies:
So you have a magazine that became known in the Western world, regardless of what the reality is, for publishing images that are very offensive and upsetting to the Muslim minorities in the West, and whose cartoonists were turned into heroes and martyrs … who were victims of Muslim violence. I think the reason why people are so eager to turn them into martyrs and heap all sorts of praise and awards on them is because it does make us Westerners feel good about ourselves; it tells us that we’re the victims and the people who we’ve been bombing and invading and torturing and pillaging for the last 15 years are actually the evil ones.
It fuels this whole war narrative that has been sustaining a lot of really bad policies in ways that are quite propagandistic and manipulative, because of the heavy emotions involved.
That 'regardless of what the reality is' is telling; Greenwald is talking about his and his confreres' perception of CH as Islamophobic, not the reality of CH, which, as I wrote before (and GG acknowledges), is somewhat different. I agree a lot with his concerns about the war narrative, and it's obvious that Western intervention has been toxic in the Middle East. I certainly don't feel good about it; I presume he means that it feeds some kind of dehumanisation, an othering, of Eastern culture, and I don't doubt there is still a lot of that going on.

But that issue is being clumsily crow-barred into the CH affair. CH have become victims of the chilling effects of totalitarian religion on public discourse - that is the primary lens through which these events should be viewed. They line up alongside other victims of that narrative, such as Avijit Roy, Washiqur Rahman and Raif Badawi.

Is it too much to hope that Greenwald might recognise that these threats to free speech override his bete noire? After Snowden, you would think he could see that.


Report from the Washington Post on the Award ceremony:

(Photo "Avijit Roy" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia -

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Sunday, 3 May 2015

The Disgusting 'Buts'

“It is quite right that PEN should honour [Charlie Hebdo’s] sacrifice and condemn their murder without these disgusting ‘buts’"

So said Salman Rushdie, referring to the boycott of the PEN award to Charlie Hebdo, and I agree with him. But, and I hope that this is not a disgusting 'but', I want to suggest one reason why the 'shameful six' (and more) see things differently. In short, I see Charlie Hebdo as more a latter day Freethinker whereas they see it as more a latter day Der Stürmer.

The Freethinker magazine was prosecuted in the UK in 1883 for blasphemy, eventually found guilty and its writers and publishers sent to prison. Der Stürmer was published from the 1920s to the end of World War II with no threat from the blasphemy laws, as far as I can tell. George Foote, Freethinker's founder, wrote in Prisoner for Blasphemy:
IN the merry month of May, 1881, I started a paper called the Freethinker, with the avowed object of waging "relentless war against Superstition in general and the Christian Superstition in particular." I stated in the first paragraph of the first number that this new journal would have a new policy; that it would "do its best to employ the resources of Science, Scholarship, Philosophy and Ethics against the claims of the Bible as a Divine Revelation," and that it would "not scruple to employ for the same purpose any weapons of ridicule or sarcasm that might be borrowed from the armoury of Common Sense."
Julius Streicher expressed no such aim for his Nazi rag.

Here I have a confession: my A-level and poor conversational French is inadequate to judge the contents of Charlie Hebdo. There are resources springing up to help the anglophone and French culture illiterati - see Understanding Charlie Hebdo Cartoons. If it was just down to my viewing of its cartoons, I might think they were racist. In fact, I think it's possible they have published racist cartoons. Nonetheless, from the views of its principals it's clear to me there are significant disanalogies between the Nazi tabloids and this French magazine which means we can celebrate it.

To be fair to the dissenters, let's be clear to what they object: they are happy to defend Charlie Hebdo's freedom of speech. Francine Prose writes:
I believe in the indivisibility of the right to free speech, regardless of what – however racist, blasphemous, or in any way disagreeable – is being said.
Prose admires their courage too:
...I admire the courage with which Charlie Hebdo has insisted on its right to provoke and challenge the doctrinaire...
Here's her disgusting 'but':
I don’t feel that their work has the importance – the necessity – that would deserve such an honor. 
And later she says:
Our job, in presenting an award, is to honor writers and journalists who are saying things that need to be said, who are working actively to tell us the truth about the world in which we live. That is important work that requires perseverance and courage. And this is not quite the same as drawing crude caricatures and mocking religion.
A Freethinker cartoon
This last comment is reminiscent of The Spectator's comment on the Freethinker blasphemers compared to more illustrious blasphemers, such as Matthew Arnold and W.K. Clifford:
So far as we can judge, the only difference between the language and caricature-pictures of Mr. Foote and the language of se[v]eral of our recent Freethinkers, is that Mr. Foote used the bludgeon, while they used the rapier.
The Speccie was actually defending Foote on the grounds that he was low-born and therefore inveterately crude! But the same patronising attitude to the output of Freethinker and CH is displayed by the Victorian magazine and Prose.

Prose cites 'saying things that need to be said' and 'working actively to tell us the truth' as the things that PEN should be supporting. In fact, of course, it's clear to those of us who support PEN that CH are saying things that need to be said, and it's hard to understand Prose's view that they are not (and perhaps the truth of what they say could be defended too).

Peter Carey said:
All this is complicated by PEN’s seeming blindness to the cultural arrogance of the French nation, which does not recognise its moral obligation to a large and disempowered segment of their population.
And Teju Cole wrote: recent years the magazine has gone specifically for racist and Islamophobic provocations, and its numerous anti-Islam images have been inventively perverse, featuring hook-nosed Arabs, bullet-ridden Korans, variations on the theme of sodomy, and mockery of the victims of a massacre. It is not always easy to see the difference between a certain witty dissent from religion and a bullyingly racist agenda, but it is necessary to try. Even Voltaire, a hero to many who extol free speech, got it wrong. His sparkling and courageous anti-clericalism can be a joy to read, but he was also a committed anti-Semite, whose criticisms of Judaism were accompanied by calumnies about the innate character of Jews.
Cole is clearly wrong to say that 'the magazine has gone specifically for racist and Islamophobic provocations', as the graphic here indicates. In the last 10 years the vast majority of CH output is political; of the religious satire, ridiculing Christianity and other religions outnumbers attacks on Islam by more than 5 to 1. (It would be interesting to see a similar analysis of the last three years, say, to see if Cole's accusation carries any more bite more recently.) Of course, that CH is racist is not a given either. But the evidence suggests that Cole, and Carey, see CH more as a race hate organ like Der Stürmer than a bastion of free speech pushing against blasphemy, like the Freethinker.

In fact, in the face of violent threats to their free expression CH refused to be cowed; that courage is what PEN should celebrate, regardless of the content. Well, not completely regardless; in my view it is their challenge to blasphemy that specifically qualifies them for this award. Blasphemy is a victimless crime established to defend orthodoxy. Katha Pollitt in an excellent piece in The Nation:
These attacks had nothing to do with supposedly racist insults from privileged white people, and everything to do with perceived deviations from orthodoxy.
Orthodoxy is anathema to free thought, and free expression is a vital tool in the spread of free thought. Without free expression, free thought withers; a sort of Millian heterodoxy is the goal of the Freethinker and CH alike, and they want to challenge anything that threatens our ability to express what we think, regardless of orthodoxy. Religious extremism, powered by blasphemy, is therefore a prime target. And note that Islamists more often attack Muslims they consider heretics than they do satirists. The CH murders were not a result of any putative racism on the cartoonists part, but a result of their blasphemy.

One CH journalist said:
We want to laugh at the extremists — every extremist. They can be Muslim, Jewish, Catholic. Everyone can be religious, but extremist thoughts and acts we cannot accept,
And Charb told the LA Times:
It's not exactly our drawings that have power, it's our stubbornness — a stubbornness to continue doing what we feel like doing, through drawing.... It comes from the fact that I have nothing else. The only thing we have is our freedom of speech. If we give up on that, we'd need to change fields. Do other things.
Is that not worth celebrating, especially in the light of the price they have paid? CH's work is necessary, contra Prose, especially given how pusillanimous the mainstream press is when it comes to blasphemy. Deference is given to religious sensibilities which is never given to political sensibilities. Another CH contributor, Robert McLiam Wilson, wrote:
Yes, Charlie is tasteless and discomfiting. Have I somehow missed all the gentle, polite satire? That amiable, convenient satire that everybody likes.
That's the point of it, it will offend. And if offendees have established a bogus offence to protect their beliefs, that offence must be exposed as bogus, often, to reduce its power of taboo.

Der Stürmer, on the other hand, was prosecuting a crude anti-semitism descended from centuries of Christian hate crimes. True, it attacked other faiths too, but its primary target were the Jews, including individual Jews. This was not pushing against extremism of all types, nor was it pushing back against blasphemy.

Perhaps the dissenters see the analogy with hate speech in the crude cartoons that CH and Der Stürmer both employ? I think CH's cartoons have been defended successfully, but what if they couldn't be?

In that case, I think their courage in standing up to those who want to impose an orthodoxy by enforcing their blasphemy laws on the rest of us is still worth celebrating (although it might be more muted), especially by an organisation that is set up to defend free speech. Incidentally, Leonard Levy writes in Blasphemy: Verbal Offense Against the Sacred, from Moses to Salman Rushdie, of Freethinker's G.W. Foote:
Foote relished being vulgar and vicious, and he was every bit as bigoted as the worst of those whom he savaged. (p.480)
Levy's otherwise excellently footnoted book gives no support for this claim, but I bow to his scholarship. Even if Foote was a bigot, he should still be celebrated for his courage in standing up to the blasphemy laws of the time, in defence of the principles of free speech. No such courage could be attributed to the publishers of Nazi tabloids. They had no interest in free thought; they were looking to impose their own orthodoxy.

For standing up, largely alone, against the traducers of free speech, Charlie Hebdo deserves celebration.

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Thursday, 15 January 2015

A Compendium of Charlie Hebdo Posts

An index to some good pieces on Charlie Hebdo...

Pieces previously discussed, by Stephen Law and Kenan Malik.

Daniel Fincke's excellent analysis of the worst responses to CH:
Charlie Hebdo assumed disproportionate risk because they kept their head up where it was a target when the rest of the media ducked. That made it so that the extremists could say, “We can finish the job and make it so no one satirically depicts Muhammad if we can just pluck off those few heads remaining!”
Jason Rosenhouse, 1, 2 and 3:
Claiming that publishing satirical cartoons constitutes openly begging for violence is awfully close to claiming that violence is an appropriate response to blasphemy.
Jerry Coyne, Charlie Hebdo's cartoons weren't racist:
But of course even if CH was racist, sexist, and homophobic, that doesn’t excuse what happened.
Taslima Nasreen, Cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo and me:
The murder of so many talented people by a few insane and barbaric men to please their God and their prophet, in order to get into paradise, is an offense to human decency.
Accusations of racism are generally beside the point when discussing Charlie Hebdo and their attackers; the cartoonists were murdered for blaspheming the prophet, not for racism (or sexism or anything else).

Nabila Ramdani made this error on PM last night (@15mins), when she complained that the cover depicted above was stigmatising but when challenged simply said this was because it depicted the prophet, and that offended her. How could a mere depiction of a supposed Mohammed (no-one knows what he looked like), which does not denigrate the prophet, stigmatise? Remember, it's the mere depiction that is blasphemy. She describes images like the one above as 'a vicious stereotype', and I fail to see how it is. If the cartoonist depicted the prophet as a Frenchman, would that avoid the charge of stereotyping, and therefore be acceptable to Ramdani? I doubt it. She constantly slides between her subjective offense at the image and the objective racism of the image. This is unacceptable behaviour. The religious frequently claim offence at some arbitrary sleight whilst denouncing non-believers as less than human and destined for some unpleasant eternal punishment. That should be considered more hateful than any blasphemy, but in the skewed worldview of the religiously sympathetic it is considered de rigueur.

Ramdani said that because people would respond negatively to blasphemy, this is a good reason not to publish; but if blasphemy is a tool, or is used as a tool, to prevent examination of some ideology's core beliefs and to buttress its authority, that is the very reason why such images must be published.

Therefore, a discussion needs to be had about the role of blasphemy in western societies. My view is that blasphemy itself needs to become as taboo to proclaim as the contents of blasphemous views currently are to the religious; just as we now wince at the n-word and frown on anyone who drinks and drives, so we should come to find bizarre anyone taking blasphemy seriously. Ramdani should be embarrassed to suggest that blasphemy is a good reason to curtail publication in a free press. Sadly this is far from being the case at the moment, when many countries still have blasphemy on the statute books.

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Thursday, 8 January 2015

Blasphemy must be Normalised

Below is a good discussion between Douglas Murray and Maajid Nawaz. Murray says:
...the gunmen went in to assert Islamic blasphemy laws in a European city on twelve people in the office of Charlie Hebdo... to enforce a particular idea of blasphemy law.
If nothing else is clear, that surely is. This is not to say that global politics has not played its part in fomenting disaffection amongst Muslims in the world, but it is to make clear the proximate cause of the atrocity; if Charlie Hebdo had never committed blasphemy against the prophet, they would not have been targeted.

I have often puzzled at theists, and not a few atheists, who complain about those who ridicule religion. Theists consider their gods sacred, and, finding them empirically indistinguishable from imaginary friends, resort to high dudgeon in defence of their beliefs. An excellent tactic for the ambitious authoritarian belief system is to invoke horrendous punishment for any questioning of what they can't prove empirically.

But ridicule is a perfectly normal part of social interaction. It can go too far, that much is true, but its power is in its debunking of authority. Bogus authority needs something to raise its balloon, so it can climb in the basket and look down on us, and hot air and pomposity do just the job. Ridicule punctures that balloon of pomposity to release the hot air, and since religions are amongst the most pompous institutions in the world, it is often an appropriate response to their teachings. Rather than grounds for ring-fencing religion, I see grounds for exposing it to more ridicule than other institutions.

I'm glad to see this sentiment in some responses to Charlie Hebdo. Here is Kenan Malik:
To ridicule religion and to defend free expression is not to attack minority communities. On the contrary: without doing both it is impossible to defend the freedoms of Muslims or of any one else. So, yes, let us challenge the Islamists and the reactionaries within Muslim communities. Let us also challenge the anti-Muslim reactionaries. But equally let us call the fake liberals to account.
And another excellent article by Stephen Law, who articulates my own feelings well:
Laughter may not be the only way of getting people to recognise the truth, but it’s sometimes the quickest and most effective way. Satire and mockery are tools that can be employed entirely appropriately, particularly if we’re criticising figures and institutions that maintain a faithful following in part by fostering attitudes of immense reverence and deference. What the pompous and self-aggrandizing fear most is that small boy who points and laughs - and whose name, in this case, is Charlie Hebdo.
Sadly the little boys and one girl who pointed with their pencils at the Muslim emperor were murdered for their ridicule.

It's good to hear Muslim Maajid Nawaz, from the moderate Quilliam Foundation, saying this:
...the editors need to get together ... to share the risk, enough is enough, satire plays an important role in democratic societies, and freedom of speech an even more important role...
Quite right; the appropriate response to Charlie Hebdo is for everyone to blaspheme, to normalise it, to debunk it and to own it; blasphemy is no reason to harm someone, anyone, and ridicule does not need to tread carefully around religion, any more than it has to around any subject.

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