Monday, January 18, 2010

Help for Haiti

It's so strange -- I was working on a post about the problem of evil and right before I finished, the devastating earth quake hit Haiti. I don't feel like it's appropriate or necessary to complete that particular post at this point. The most pressing issue is for everyone to come together, regardless of differences of colour, beliefs or geography, to give help the people who are desperately need it.

Here in Canada, a great place to donate money is the Red Cross. However, no matter where you are there are many charities and foundations working towards the relief effort.

Please do what you can to help out. I've heard a lot of people say that one of the benefits of religion is that it promotes charity. Let's prove that generosity and empathy are universal human values, not just religious ones.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

History lessons

Google is afraid of offending Islam?

Check out the link to the YouTube video above. I have always been a huge fan of Google (who isn't, really?) but this really put me off.

When you start typing anything into Google, automatic search suggestions come up based on popular searches that others have made. If you type in "Christianity is," you get a lot of automatic suggestions like "a religion," "bullshit," "a cult," etc. In fact, you get very similar results if you type in "Judaism is", "Hinduism is," "Scientology is" -- hell, any religion you can think of.

BUT if you type "Islam is" you get... wait for it... NOTHING. Nothing comes up!

In my mind, there are a couple of things at work here. First off, Google needs to grow a pair and treat Islam the way it treats every other religion. But beneath the surface, there is a larger issue at work. Why are people so afraid of offending Islam? Why do we tiptoe around behind the shield of political correctness, terrified that Muslims might get their feelings hurt. I think there are two reasons for this:

Reason 1: I might be wrong, but I think that a lot of people in the west have a little bit of a guilty conscience when it comes to Muslims. Maybe people feel like it counterbalances the automatic association with terrorism, racial profiling at the airports, and the majority of people's inability to discern between the average Muslim and a fundamentalist suicide bomber.

Reason 2: Religions are criticized constantly, and rightly so. But no other religion reacts to criticism the way that Islam does. You have the threats, the violence, and the lives lost over incidents that are often so trivial. You have "anti-blasphemy" resolutions passing through the UN that aim to put an end to the "defamation of religion" so that Muslims won't ever be offended, but really amount to the end of free speech. You have the non-fundamentalist Muslims claiming to object to all this, yet remaining silent time and time again when they should be shouting from the rooftops that they are not represented by these violent extremists. People of other faiths don't enjoy being criticized, I imagine; yet, I've never seen a Christian kill people because she didn't like the way that Jesus was depicted in a cartoon and I've never seen a Jew blow himself up because he felt his religion had been insulted.

Don't get me wrong here -- I am not a particular fan of any religion, and I do not have an inherent prejudice against Islam. But if even something as big as Google is afraid of pissing you off, you know you've got to be pretty scary. This obsession with being politically correct all the time is hurting our society by legitimizing the threats that already have too much power. Come on, Google! Do what's right! Next time I search "Islam is," I want to see the right words come up on my screen.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The bible and gay rights

The lovely and talented Ellen DeGeneres has been quoted as saying, "I believe that someday we'll look back on this and not allowing gays to marry will seem as absurd as not allowing women to vote."

Of course, to most people same-sex marriage should seem like a no-brainer, akin to racial equality and women's suffrage, as Ellen's quote suggests. However, while it seems to make sense on the surface, there is one essential element that unfortunately renders it impossible: religion.

As far as I know, there is nothing in the bible that specifically prohibits women from having the vote (although religion certainly does its part to prevent women from enjoying the same status as their male counterparts - but I digress). People who were opposed to the female vote didn't necessarily have direct biblical passages to quote, and no one can really prove that female suffrage goes against the will of god. But homosexuality is another story.

One of the scarier sections of the bible, Leviticus, does make mention not of same-sex marriage, but of homosexual acts.

Leviticus 20:13 states: "If a man lies with a male, as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them."

All those who oppose gay marriage can invoke these words and claim to have god on their side. An even bigger problem is how much political sway is given to these religious bigots. Same-sex marriage is legal now in Canada, but I don't see how America will ever get there at the rate they're going. Politicians in the US who even want to be considered for candidacy have to make loud, public proclamations of their (Christian) faith and end every speech with "god bless America". Evangelical nutjobs have massive voting power, and they know it. They are constantly being catered to, either because the politicians are religious themselves (a la George Bush), or because the politicians know whose ass they have to kiss if they ever want to see Washington.

So, with all due respect to Ellen DeGeneres, it is wishful thinking to hope that same-sex marriage will one day go the route of the woman's vote. So long as the words of the bible have influence on the public political sphere, there are people who will feel justified in their hateful, prejudiced, discriminatory ignorance. Yet another way that the beliefs of one group can infringe on the rights of everybody else.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Famously skeptical

Ever wondered which celebrities are atheists? Check out to see if your favourite star is still worthy of your respect. Just kidding. Sort of.

Because life without labels would be too confusing...

Wow, how did someone find a picture from my own childhood??

When children are labeled from birth with the religion of their parents, they don't stand much of a chance to develop their own religious and world views. I wonder what would have happened if this same kid was born in Iran... Still Jewish? Doubtful.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Just in case you haven't heard

If you don't already know about Pat Condell, please go straight to YouTube and spend some time getting to know him. His totally no-nonsense and unapologetic rants are both hilarious and frighteningly poignant.

One of the best things about religion (yes, you have to think positively!) is that it provides perfect material for comedy. Condell started in comedy clubs and then realized that the internet is a far more efficient way of getting his voice heard. He doesn't care about political correctness, which is refreshing.

Here's a link to one of my favourite videos; go to his YouTube channel to see the rest. Enjoy!