The video of this event is available at
There is also some follow up discussion on Richard Carrier’s blog here
The video of this event is available at
There is also some follow up discussion on Richard Carrier’s blog here
It is a well-known trope, at least in the circles I travel in, that one of the most frequent questions or accusations faced by atheists is one of morality.
“Where do atheists get their morality?”
“Without God, what’s to stop you from raping and killing?”
There are many people who have written brilliant responses to this question. There is a lot to say on the subject of morality, empathy, the fact that most religious people do not get their morality from the Bible as they claim to since they pick and choose. Many of these things have already been said by very talented people.
When I first came to terms with, and was honest with myself, that I was an atheist I spent a lot of time thinking about morality. I did this before coming out, but this time there was a major difference.
In the past, thoughts surrounding morality were tinged with fear of hell. Whenever I would examine a teaching of the church for its validity and morality, I would always have some worry about what would happen if it turned out I was wrong. After all, although reason and evidence would tell me that something wasn’t actually unethical, maybe God would disagree and everlasting burning seemed like a very tough way for someone to say “I disagree”.
When I accept the fact that I didn’t actually believe in any god there was a dramatic shift in the way I started thinking about morality. While evidence and empathy always played a huge role, all of a sudden I had to deal with the absence of heaven in the scale.
This may not seem like a big deal. After all, heaven is supposed to be a reward for living a life of good, and a life of good is its own reward right?
And yet the absence of heaven serves to underscore the immorality or horror of certain actions/situations.
Take war for example.
In the last several years, Canada and the US have been involved in several ongoing conflicts. Throughout the war, several lives were lost. Although people were upset about the deaths, there was always some comfort gained from the fact that since they fought so bravely for their country that they would be in heaven. They are, as the cliché goes, “in a better place”. However, if you take heaven out of the equation, then there is no compensation for the loss of life. This makes the sacrifice so much more severe. Men and women, as young as 18, are giving up their entire lives for a conflict that is deemed important enough by their governments to be worthy of the sacrifice. But are they? Consider the failure to find any WMDs in Iraq. Consider the overall lack of success in that conflict. Was the death or one corrupt dictator worth several thousand young people completely ceasing to exist? If there is no heaven, then the last experience, the last feeling of each of those individuals was fear and pain. There is no reward. Their sacrifice means so much more. If governments, if politicians and leaders, were faced with the reality that there was no afterlife, no reward for that sacrifice, would perhaps the decision to send people into battle be more difficult to face? Would we as a people expect more from our governments, before we let them send our mothers, fathers, children, brothers, sisters, cousins, friends to a conflict that could potentially end their ability to grow older or experience the myriad of joys that life has to offer?
When religious leaders and religiously motivated politicians say that there are no atheists in foxholes, do they really believe that, or are they unable to face the extreme courage that it must take for someone who knows that there is no afterlife to come, no reward awaiting them, to give up this one life that they have for the glory of their country. To acknowledge that there are atheists in foxholes, is to come to terms with the fact that there are men and women out there who hold you accountable for their decisions because they are making the ultimate sacrifice.
Or take another example. What about children who die because their parents’ fundamentalist beliefs say there is something sinful about medical intervention?
While liberals and moderate religious people are reasonably upset about it, most religions have a concept that the innocent go straight to heaven. There is permission in that concept not to have to do anything. In many ways, the concept of heaven is the ultimate bystander effect: You don’t have to do anything, because the poor children are clasped to the bosom of the lord.
But if there is no heaven, if there is no god, then it is even more of a pointless needless death.
We talk about the child abuse inherent in teaching children about hell and taking away their will, however, we rarely stop and consider the damage done by the concept of heaven. It lets us as a species take the sting out of tragedies and injustices. It allows us not to care. But tragedy, injustice, sacrifice, all of that should sting. Because when it stings it drives us as a species to improve, to do better, and to stop those things from happening again. It encourages progress rather than complacency.
Read more of Alex and Ania at Scribbles and Rants.
Women in Secularism 2 was an amazing event, and one whose various liveblogs I encourage people to read. Short review: would do again. And not just because fellow attendees and bloggers Kate Donovan, Jason Thibeault, Miri Mogilevsky, PZ Myers, and Ashley Miller kept the atmosphere awesome throughout.
Some things that were said, in particular by CFI-Transnational Director for Outreach Debbie Goddard, got me thinking. It’s no secret these days that organized atheism’s roots in predominantly white, male, well-educated circles has often made it tone-deaf to the different experiences, priorities, and demands of people outside those groups. It’s also no secret that some of these “outsiders” have far more to gain from abandoning religion than Western atheism’s white, male, well-educated old guard ever did or hopefully ever will.
Which brings me to the Sarlaac pit of contradictions that is being a Hispanic-American atheist.
The short answer is, all of those words matter. As if I hadn’t already made that excruciatingly clear.
Hispanic-Americans are, by and large, a Catholic culture. Even in the parts of the Hispanic cultural landscape where religion has shrunk in importance or been replaced with growing Mormon and evangelical groups, the imagery surrounding Hispanic-ness is unmistakably Catholic. It’s a cliché that we wear gaudy cross necklaces, have rosaries hanging from our rear-view mirrors next to labeled flags, and keep tiny shrines to various usually-Hispanic saints in our homes, cars, and workplaces. None of this is compatible with the practices that make Protestantism distinct from Catholicism, and a great deal of it (such as Mexican Día de los muertos skulls) is arguably not even Christian. And then there’s Santería.
But Hispanic America is an ENORMOUS and long-standing community, even if we confine our examination to Hispanic people inside the United States. A hint of just how much of the world Hispanic people cover: our extended homeland is from Oregon to Antarctica. A hint of how long we’ve been here: the Mexican vaqueros who became Americans when the US annexed more than half of Mexico’s territory in 1848 are the reason why cowboys call people “hombre” and wield lassos (lazos in Spanish). For all that Catholicism is second only to the Spanish language itself as the most obvious signifier of Hispanic culture, and for all that the recent spate of conversions from Catholicism to smaller churches is worth a conversation all its own, there is a massive diversity in practice throughout Catholic Hispanic culture. For some, it is an intense, community-defining devotion, involving frequent Mass attendance and the use of one’s local church as the focus of all social functions. The church bulletin board becomes where people advertise English lessons and each other’s business ventures. Baptism, First Communion, and Confirmation are not just family events, but bring in an extended network of friends known primarily through the Church. The significance of Christmas is largely replaced with the Epiphany, known here as Día de los Reyes and celebrated in the first week of January. Presents are delivered by the three Magi or by the baby Jesus, with the Germanic pagan tradition of Santa Claus merely tolerated. Even the otherwise secular celebration of a 15-year-old girl’s quinceañera becomes a religious event, with an obligatory Mass and often use of Church real estate for the celebration itself.
But that’s not the only way to do Catholicism, however Pope Fascist Toady who Looks Just Like Ania’s Dad might feel about it. Just like Methodists and Muslims vary in the degree to which their religion defines their culture, Hispanic people are not all the devout Papists that made us the object of fear for so long in Protestant America. For every Latino community that builds its entire self-concept around their expression of Catholicism, there are thousands of “Christmas and Easter Catholics” who enter churches only for formal occasions and find even fellow Hispanics who are more churchgoing than they are to be a little weird. Family barbecues, often featuring egregious quantities of pork, become a primary social event, featuring every relative within a few dozen miles and held to commemorate New Year’s Day, birthdays, and assorted milestones like graduations and job promotions. But even this subset keeps Catholic symbolism omnipresent. They still send their children to Sunday school and make large events out of Catholic sacraments, doing so out of a cultural rather than wholly religious imperative. Wooden plaques depicting religious messages, Church-like glass paintings, and filigreed decorative crosses are often considered symbols as much of Hispanic identity itself as of Catholicism, regardless of one’s family’s church attendance. And Hispanics of any religion are likely to keep around one or two of our famous jarred candles with the image of a preferred saint (usually the patron of our ancestral country), as a reminder of our roots, even if one is part of a sect that takes the “no graven images” commandment more seriously than Catholicism does.
And with that emphasis on religion as a cultural identifier come the mores. One could be forgiven for not noticing them, since the image of Hispanic people is loud, aggressive, and flirtatious, with an affectation for miniskirts and one too many open shirt buttons. But Hispanic culture is immersed in the same miasma of Catholic guilt that permeates Italian and other Catholic groups, and includes the same injunctions against premarital sex, the same confusion about a woman’s right to her own body, and the same hideous heteronormative bigotry. We are, by and large, not kind to gay people, trans people, rape victims, sex workers, or anyone else who doesn’t fit into the neat Catholic narrative of losing one’s virginity to the other biological parent of one’s clutch of offspring. Hispanic Catholicism is also hilariously, hypocritically patriarchal, all but encouraging men to have all the pre- and extramarital sex we can manage, including with prostitutes while traveling, while regarding the women we have it with as nearly subhuman, and quietly prodding its pregnant teenagers toward secret abortions to preserve “appearances.”
All of this might add together into a story not terribly different from that of other immigrant communities whose faith sets them apart from the majority in their adoptive homes. But it’s not quite that simple. As noted above, “immigrant” is often a tricky word for Hispanics. Many of us are as removed from the immigrant experience as the average non-Hispanic white person in the United States, with only the continued influx of new Hispanic-Americans keeping us clearly identifiable as a distinct cultural entity. Many of us easily pass as “white,” which may never be true for many other ethnic minorities with or without a religious distinction. This is doubly so for those of us from parts of the Hispanic world where French, Italian, or Russian surnames are common, such as Argentina, Colombia, and Cuba. In this sense, Hispanic-Americans have more in common with the older waves of immigrants, such as Ukrainian- and German-Americans, who maintain a smattering of traditions while melding into the broader American culture and notion of “whiteness,” despite the legions of us who came directly from, or have parents who fled, the Spanish-speaking world.
It’s that exposure to American norms that makes the Hispanic-American atheist experience as paradoxical as it can be. Hispanic-Americans are a massive and well-defined community with a long history and truly incredible penetration into the American mainstream. Not only do we have Spanish-language radio and television all over the country (not just in our major population centers like New York and Miami), but our cultural concepts, motifs, and creations populate English-speaking media as well. Who among us hasn’t heard of Dora the Explorer? Ricky Martin? Spy Kids? Ugly Betty? Salsa, bachata, merengue, tango, chacha, vallenato, and cumbia are no longer just our signature ballroom dances—they are a part of the world’s cultural heritage, featured alongside the waltz in international competitions. Fast-food restaurants sell pale imitations of Mexican specialties in China. The stark, hardworking practicality of the Mexican laborer populates the whole spectrum from honest and respectful depiction to insulting caricature. The devious, “screw the system, I’ve got mine” attitude that Communism inculcated in the Cuban psyche now finds a proud home in American right-wing politics without any of its white racist members recognizing its origin. For all that Catholicism is often perceived as the guardian of the thousand and one versions of Hispanic culture, it is eminently possible to keep in touch with one’s Hispanic identity without it. And that is HUGE.
That means that the people who identify aggressive, heterosexual masculinity as core to the Hispanic identity…are wrong. That means that the people who claim that coercing women into sex and shaming them for it afterward is core to the Hispanic identity…are wrong. That means that the zealots who shout that watching women and fetuses die together instead of deigning to terminate a pregnancy is core to the Hispanic identity…are wrong.
That means that there is a space in the Hispanic community for progressive, feminist, liberated thinkers who don’t see the morality in encouraging teenage girls to keep their sex lives secret from their parents and opening them up to abuse in the process. That means there is a space in the Hispanic community for people whose notions of masculinity and femininity are broad enough not to BSOD at the thought of someone with a penis who is a girl. That means there is a space in the Hispanic community for people who don’t see gay people as overdone stereotypes, abominations unto the Lord, or even as a modern-day aberration that we just have to tolerate, but as actual people.
Some people who flee the evils of the religion that claims their entire culture have to rebuild a semblance of ethnic identity out of the tatters that their escape left behind. But me? I get to keep medianoche sandwiches and salsa music and Gilberto Santa Rosa and Fernando Botero and Frida Kahlo and Gabriel García Márquez and guayaberas and Belanova and eating twelve grapes on New Year’s Day. I get to keep the thought that I might someday preside over a quinceañera and share all of that with a someday daughter who deserves far better than the hateful, ignorant misogyny and rank superstition my culture will regard me as deviant and “Westernized” for not giving her.
There’s a space in Hispanic-ness for people like me. But that space might not be with my family. That space might not be with my Catholic-turned-evangelical grandmother, my silent agnostic(?) grandfather, and my increasingly zealous parents with their assorted bigotries against gay people, black people, Arabs, atheists, and anyone to the left of Dick Cheney. They’ve already driven one of us off in their sickeningly well-meaning quest to do right by their god; why should I be any different?
I might not be the one who brings them around to accepting what their religion tells them to mistrust, fear, and refuse to learn anything about. And that scares me.
Read more of Alex and Ania at Scribbles and Rants.
Why not? After all, the Roman Catholic Church already runs a large portion of the public school system in the country’s most populous province. And perhaps as a logical next step, on Sept. 19, 2011, Conservative MP Wladyslaw Lizon has moved for leave to introduce Bill C-266, an act to establish April 2 as Pope John Paul II Day.
According to Lizon, Pope John Paul II, “visited Canada in 1984, 1987 and in 2002 … was a people’s pope and this bill recognizes this and his contribution to Canadians and all people in the world”
But according to Abbass, “…most Canadians will never forget the abuses committed and covered up by Catholic clergy under the leadership of John Paul II.”
The fact that such a proposal has any traction at all demonstrates just how far Canada is from being a secular country.
[Portions of this article originally appeared on Canadian Atheist on April 20: http://canadian
The collapse of the garment factory has overshadowed the country’s enforcement of blasphemy laws against innocent bloggers who happened to say something mildly critical of Islam.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-22030388 The irony is that according to an interview on CBC’s “As it happens” the building code laws are actually quite reasonable in Bangladesh, but it’s the authorities non-enforcement that is the problem.
Here we have a case when hundreds of young people died because someone actually did something wrong, and the authorities ignored the wrong doing, but if several bloggers do something completely harmless they are threatened with death.
‘They have threatened to unleash anarchy if “atheist bloggers are not hanged”.’
Something is very wrong with this country.
Our government has set up an office of “Religious freedom” which has the job of defending the rights of the religious, and lets be clear, this includes the right to not have a religion, yet they are doing nothing to defend these bloggers. Please note, people have been persecuted throughout the ages for having the “wrong religion”, these bloggers could well have been Christian for all
the difference it makes. This is exactly what CFI Canda has been trying to bring to our governments attention but failing miserably as far as I can see.
Yes we marched. Did it make a difference? I doubt it very much. But at least we are trying to make a difference, which is better than doing nothing.
Q: Why are we so concerned about a few blasphemers in Bangladesh when hundreds are dead from the building collapse?
A: Why is the Bangladesh government so concerned about blasphemy against imaginary beings when real people are dying due to their inaction?
On April 25, an international coalition of atheist and humanist organizations led by CFI Canada, the Center for Inquiry, the International Humanist and Ethical Union, and American Atheists will protest the arrest and persecution of atheist bloggers in Bangladesh with demonstrations scheduled in London, New York, Washington, Ottawa and Calgary.
Bangladesh has recently been at the centre of a human rights crisis as authorities have detained several prominent bloggers for “hurting religious sentiments” and have arrested two more young people for making “derogatory remarks” about Islam on Facebook. Tens of thousands of protestors, led by the Islamist group Islami Andolan Bangladesh, have rallied in Dhaka, the country’s capital, to demand more arrests.
CFI Canada is leading protests in Canada and has made appeals to the newly founded Office of Religious Freedom to urge the government to issue a public statement condemning the arrests and reaffirming its commitment to freedom of expression.
Come and show your support for these bloggers and other vocal freethinkers whose lives are at stake.
We need our voices to be heard!
(In Ottawa, we are gathering across the street from the DFAIT building (home of the Office of Religious Freedom), and marching 2.5km to the Bangladesh High Commission (340 Albert St). See http://events.cfiottawa.com/events/115050942/ for more details.
Public funds for public education should be restricted to public institutions which respect Canadian values, human rights and our Charter of Rights. Institutions which promote discrimination or advocate for discrimination of any individual or group should not be supported with public funds. The United Nations declared this funding discriminatory in 1999. Ontario is the only province to subsidize Catholic schools and discrimination in this manner. Public money must not support teachings that are contrary to both the ideals of human rights, and our Charter rights.
Sign the petition at change.org to tell the Ontario government that we have had enough of paying taxes to fund an education system that is controlled by a foreign power.
Read more at Canadian Atheist
One would think this would be obvious, especially to someone with a PhD in Political Science from the University of Edinburgh.
Let’s inform the newly appointed ambassador of religious freedom that atheists and other non-religious people face discrimination, persecution, unjust imprisonment, and even execution for their beliefs, just like religious people do.
For example, here are some who are being prosecuted by their governments:
Sanal Edamaruku – currently facing arrest in India for scientifically explaining a Catholic “miracle”
Alexander Aan – in prison in Indonesia (for 30 months) for confessing his atheism on Facebook
Hamad Al-Naqi – in prison (for 10 years) in Kuwait for insulting the prophet Mohammed
Albert Saber – sentenced to 3 years in prison in Egypt for running an atheist Facebook group
And here are some who are being persecuted, beaten, and murdered by their fellow citizens:
Rajib Haider Shuvo – killed by Islamists (in Bangladesh) for blogging about atheism
Asif Mohiuddin – fighting for his life after being stabbed in response to his (self-styled) “militant atheist” blog in which he said that God was “Almighty only in name but impotent in reality”.
[And by the way, CFI's "Campaign for Free Expression" also includes religious people who are being unjustly targeted based on their beliefs (or lack thereof).]
What can we do? We can start by telling Ambassador Bennett, Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and our local MPs that we expect the Office of Religious Freedom to protect all people persecuted on the basis of religion, whether for having too much, too little, or the wrong kind. We can send them emails, paper letters, tweets, phone calls, etc, to let them know we who are non religious, atheists, secular humanists, agnostics, etc have a voice, and that we are speaking out for those whose voices have been silenced.
We’ve appended an example of a letter to send. Feel free to use it verbatim, change it as you wish, or write your own from scratch. Then, you can send it to:
John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs – email@example.com
Religious Freedom Fund* RFF-FLR@international.gc.ca
Please share this information on Twitter (you can use the hashtag #freedomfromreligion), Facebook, and anywhere else you can think of.
* We have been unable to find any direct contact information for Andrew Bennett, or the Office of Religious Freedom – the “Religious Freedom Fund” is the best we have been able to come up with so far. (If anyone has a better address, please send it to cfiottawa [at] gmail [dot] com.)
The Office of Religious Freedom mandate does not include mention of the non-religious or those with no religious belief. Yet there are many non-believers around the world who are subject to persecution and serious violations of their human rights, including unjust imprisonment, beatings, and even execution. I would like to see the Office’s mandate extended to include protection and equal treatment for non-religious people and groups in Canada and around the world. The Office should begin by giving a voice to Canadian secular, humanist and atheist groups by inviting them to advise the Government of Canada “on advocacy, analysis, policy development and programming relating to protecting and advocating on behalf of non-religious minorities under threat.”
There are knowledgeable people in numerous national and provincial secular, humanist, and atheist organizations who would be willing and competent to advise and assist Ambassador Bennett and other Office officials on “countries or situations where there is evidence of egregious violations of the right to freedom” for the non-religious, “violations that could include violence, hatred and systemic discrimination.” These advisors will give the Government of Canada and the Office ample evidence to show that agnostics and atheists need protection in the same way persecuted religious minorities do.
Please ensure that the non-religious will be treated with the same concern and attention as the religious and will benefit from the fundamental Canadian values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. To achieve these goals, secular, humanist and atheist groups need to be consulted as part of the ongoing policy development for the Office of Religious Freedom.