Category Archives: Religion

Freedom of speech and burning holy books

What is missing in the protests against Terry Jones’s plans to burn a Quran, as well as Mohammed Vawda’s plan to burn a Bible, is why anyone else should care about your beliefs, or desist from offending those beliefs. We can agree that doing so is rude, offensive, insensitive and all the rest, but these are all issues of personal and social morality. They are not issues for the law. Or at least they shouldn’t be. Read more at Synapses.

Respecting people versus respecting beliefs

Respect is due to people, rather than to ideas. While it may be politically incorrect to say so, there is no contradiction between saying that someone has a misguided, uninformed or laughable point of view, and at the same time recognising that person’s worth or dignity in general. But our sensitivity to being challenged, and to having the intrinsic merit of our ideas questioned, often leads us to conflate these two different sorts of respect.

Read more at Synapses.

The defense of reason

On hearing that Christopher Hitchens had been diagnosed with oesophageal cancer, one response from a self-proclaimed man of god was the following post on Twitter: “God 1, Hitchens 0”. The motivation for such a callous response to a usually fatal disease (fewer than 5% of sufferers are alive after 5 years) is easy enough to trace: Hitchens, along with Dennett, Dawkins and Sam Harris, is one of the “4 Horsemen” of a groundswell of resistance to the unreason that is exemplified by religious faith, and he is thus a direct threat to the mysterious legitimacy that faith-based claims enjoy.

What our divine scorekeeper does not (of course) dwell on is the fact that according to his beliefs, all deaths are attributable to god, and that he could therefore just as well add another notch to this metaphysical bedpost if his mother, for example, were to die an equally unpleasant death. God’s victory is inevitable, as either she takes a believer “home”, or she smites down an unbeliever. Either way, a civilised response to human trauma is sympathy, rather than gloating.

Read more at Synapses.

Thought police impede liberty

The South African Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, Malusi Gigaba, has introduced the “Internet and Cell Phone Pornography Bill” to the National Assembly, in which he proposes that all pornography accessible through the Internet and mobile phones – not only the already illegal forms such as child pornography – be made illegal. The bill does not provide any clarity on how he expects to be able to track and block (if necessary) the 136 000 new internet domains registered in the last twenty-four hours, nor all the ones that could get registered before he figures out how to shut down the internet.

Besides the mysterious desire to introduce bills that can’t possibly be enforced, what is notable about this bill is Section 4, titled “Consultation”. In this section, it is revealed that four organisations were consulted, of which three are explicitly Christian, and one apparently so. What’s more, the three Christian groups are already on record as being in opposition to all forms of pornography – which, as indicated earlier, means that the nature of their input towards this bill would have contained no surprises.

Read more here.

Comment on DStv’s plan to introduce a porn channel

DStv’s plans to introduce a pay-view porn channel continue to attract protest from groups such as the Christian Action Network, and now Errol Naidoo has also weighed in against the proposed channel. I’ve previously written about this on Synapses, but a fuller explication of some of the issues can be found in my second column for The Daily Maverick.

Religion education in SA schools

The topic of religion education in South African public schools has recently been quite a hot issue – mostly in the Afrikaans papers – following Prof. George Claassen’s article about the topic on his blog and follow-up radio interviews and the like. To put it quite plainly, certain schools are clearly in violation of the policy – and we have to date heard nothing from the Department of Basic Education which indicates that they give a hoot. Despite initially suggesting that legal action may be called for against the offending schools, Prof. Claassen has now decided to withdraw from the debate following numerous abusive and threatening calls and emails – but this issue should not be allowed to quietly go away. If you have a child enrolled at a public school in South Africa, and are concerned about them being taught in an explicitly ideological fashion – or being placed under any sort of pressure to conform to a particular world-view – you should familiarise yourself with the National religion policy, salient details of which are presented below. Continue reading Religion education in SA schools

The National Interfaith Leadership Council

A FSI response to this story from the Mail and Guardian (11 September 2009):

Morally complex issues deserve careful consideration, rather than resolutions by appeal to tradition, prejudice or superstition. This is why we find professional ethicists on bioethics committees, and why insights from disciplines such as evolutionary psychology and moral philosophy need to be considered when debating topics such as abortion and gay marriage.

We have no evidence that being a member of a religious community confers this moral expertise, nor even that being a leader of a religious grouping makes one especially qualified to pronounce on such matters – except in cases where one is addressing one’s own flock.

The South African population is, however, not comprised exclusively of people requesting shepherding, and even those South Africans who do belong to a religious community may object to being told that they speak in a unified voice. Many of us want policy to be derived from sound reasoning, applied to available evidence, towards fostering the sorts of norms and standards that can be agreed to further the flourishing of all our citizens – not merely the ones who belong to a particular club or federation of like-minded associations, such as a Council of Churches or an Interfaith Leadership Council.

It is therefore of great concern to observe the increasing influence Ray McCauley and the National Interfaith Leadership Council seem to be exerting on Government, as well as to observe that some members of the ruling party are making no attempt to disguise their willingness to collapse Church and State, as evidenced by NILC press statements being released from ANC communication facilities. While this may not constitute a formal link between Government and the NILC, it also provides very little reassurance for those of us who want to believe that the ANC remains committed to the Constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion – including the freedom to not have religion interfere in matters that affect all, religious or not.

The SA Council of Churches or the NILC could certainly have a contribution to make in resolving moral dilemmas or in mediation, but this contribution should not be sought because, but rather in spite of, their religious affiliations. If Government is looking for expert assistance on moral issues they should feel compelled to invite those of us who reject metaphysics, as well as religious believers, to constitute any relevant advisory body, and always bear in mind that these are specialist issues, rather than matters that can be resolved by appeals to mythology.

Fundamentalist Christian Legal Challenge to Canadian Secular Education Fails

Quebec, Canada
As was reported in the National Post, the Canadian policy of secular education in schools – which requires that children are taught facts about all the major religions of the world – was taken to court by some parents in Drummondville on the basis that the new curriculum “was undermining their efforts to instill Christian faith in their children”.

Unlike South African policy (which also requires education on all major religions to be provided in public schools), the Canadian secular religion education policy applies to their private schools, in addition to their public institutions.

For once this week, at least, a Canadian judge has made a sound decision, finding that learning about multiple religions fostered “equality, respect and tolerance”. Your thoughts on religion education in schools?