As more information comes out on Anders Behring Breivik, the reactions are all over the map.
Sam Harris, for example, complains that Breivik is making his side look bad:
What cannot be doubted, however, is that Breivik’s explicit goal was to punish European liberals for their timidity in the face of Islam.
I have written a fair amount about the threat that Islam poses to open societies, but I am happy to say that Breivik appears never to have heard of me. He has, however, digested the opinions of many writers who share my general concerns—Theodore Dalrymple, Robert D. Kaplan, Lee Harris, Ibn Warraq, Bernard Lewis, Andrew Bostom, Robert Spencer, Walid Shoebat, Daniel Pipes, Bat Ye’or, Mark Steyn, Samuel Huntington, et al. He even singles out my friend and colleague Ayaan Hirsi Ali for special praise, repeatedly quoting a blogger who thinks she deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. With a friend like Breivik, one will never want for enemies.
He then goes on to pout over crossed arms that now no one will want to talk about the awfulness of Islam anymore. While I am unimpressed with his attitude, at least he acknowledges that Breivik’s actions cannot be laid at Islam’s door.
Tim Ross reports on the Johns case in Derby, in which a couple was denied the right to care for foster children due to their homophobic views.
Lord Justice Munby and Mr Justice Beatson made the remarks when ruling on the case of a Christian couple who were told that they could not be foster carers because of their view that homosexuality is wrong.
The judges underlined that, in the case of fostering arrangements at least, the right of homosexuals to equality “should take precedence” over the right of Christians to manifest their beliefs and moral values.
I don’t have too much to say about the case or the judgment itself; that would be a lot of, “yeah, what he said!” and that would be rather dull. I mostly want to comment on this little snippet in the article:
It was a “paradox” that society has become simultaneously both increasingly secular and increasingly diverse in religious affiliation, they said.
Here’s the thing: I don’t think that’s a paradox at all. I think that increasing secularism is a very sensible response to increasing diversity. When a society becomes increasingly divided between several competing belief systems, there will be problems due to that competition, and the way to keep those problems down to a dull roar is to make religion a more private, individual matter and make the larger culture a more neutral ground. Secularism is a way to say, “You worship your way, they’ll worship in theirs, and some of us will just sleep in on the weekends, and as long as we keep that in mind, we’ll get along pretty well.” Not that it’s a perfect system, or that it works exactly like that on the first try. Just that it’s an admirable goal.
And with that in mind:
Speaking personally, Canon Dr Chris Sugden, the executive secretary of Anglican Mainstream, said the judges were wrong to say religion was a matter of private individuals’ beliefs.
“They are treating religion like Richard Dawkins does, as if Christian faith was on a parallel with Melanesian frog worship,” he said.
“The judgment asserts that there is no hierarchy of rights, but itself implies there is one in which the right to practise one’s religion is subordinated to the secular assumptions about equality.”
And here we have the key to the relationship between religious diversity and encroaching secularism. Fine, Dr. Sugden, there is indeed a hierarchy of rights, and that hierarchy places the right of children (who themselves may possibly be of minority sexuality) to live free of homophobia well above the right of homophobic Christians to shape the minds of impressionable, vulnerable children. Mr. and Mrs. Johns can believe whatever they want about Jesus and whatever he may have taught about homosexuality (especially if it’s not even in the Bible), but they are not entitled to pass their bigotry onto children entrusted to their care by the state. On the one hand we have “minds of impressionable children” and on the other we have “Mr. and Mrs. Johns’s homophobic religious beliefs” and amazingly enough, they do not weigh the same. Now, Dr. Sugden, as you live in a country in which the people are free to worship whatever they want—including Melanesian frogs—or nothing at all, do tell us why the state should place Christianity (whose adherents, it should be noted, are far from monolithic on questions of gay rights) on a higher level than any other religion. Anyone can go to Melanesia and verify that their frogs actually exist. Your Christ isn’t nearly so transparent. Do tell us, please, why the courts should place believers’ right to use Christ to justify their bigoted beliefs (regardless of whatever evidence is available) over the protection of children who are already living difficult lives?
Jerry Coyne continues to suggest that President Obama is actually an atheist. He points to text from Obama’s book, Dreams From My Father, which demonstrates that Obama had reasons other than spiritual to join a church and start behaving like a Christian. That’s fair enough, but as Coyne admits,
Of course, there’s no way to adjudicate the issue—how can you look into his heart?
That is a very good question: how does one determine whether the President really believes in God? This is not a matter that can be measured or observed from the outside. Only Barack Obama knows what he believes. Further evidence for Prof. Coyne’s claim is:
Face it: none of us really knows what the man believes. Consider this, though: what if he really was an atheist, as his earlier history suggests, but also had a burning desire to be President? What would he do? Pretend that he was religious, of course! Nobody who refuses to pander to the faithful could ever be elected President in this era. This fact immediately makes all the evidence for Obama’s “faith” suspect, like Michael Corleone assuring a Congressional committee that he’s just a simple importer of olive oil.
Well, that much is true: anyone who wants to be POTUS pretty much has no choice but to pass as a Christian. By that logic, how many of the previous 43 POTUSes were also covert atheists? Are we now going to sift through FDR’s early writings to seek evidence of godlessness? And if Obama really does believe in the Holy Trinity, how should he go about proving to Prof. Coyne that he’s not just going through the motions for political reasons? Do all presidential candidates have to pass an audition to demonstrate their Christian credentials to the electorate? How does a politician prove a negative?
If you want people to read your article about religion, atheism and/or science, you know what you need to do? Start it with a nice picture of Richard Dawkins’s face. Love him or hate him, the man sells papers.
Seriously, though, I’m having a hard time grasping how Christianity’s appeal to the “intellectually and educationally excluded” should be a point of pride. Sticking up for the little guys, great. Choosing the side of “little children” in opposition to the “learned and wise”? Really? That’s where you want to plant your flag? If you expect the rest of us to join you in equating anti-intellectualism with moral integrity, don’t hold your breath.
PZ Myers posts this gem of a “news” item about atheists and their evil War on Christmas:
“Wasn’t exactly happy about the Christmas Parade this year, I spent many years teaching my children to love and respect other people and to love the fact that they were children of God and I don’t feel that they should be influenced in any other way especially not at a Christmas parade,” said Tina Corgey, who is a lifelong Bryan resident.
Corgey brings her three kids to the B/CS Christmas Parade every year.
She said she was disgusted by what she saw on Sunday.
“If you have younger children they weren’t going to understand but I have older children, a teenager, 8-year-old and they were curious and they asked questions and it was hard for them to believe and understand that there are actually people out there that don’t believe in God,” Corgey said.
It must be so difficult to be a good Christian parent in a society in which atheists are allowed to exist. Your kids might become curious about people who aren’t like them. They might ask questions. You spend all those years teaching your kids to love and respect other people (except those dirty nonbelievers), and then along come a pack of non-Christians who start influencing your kids in other ways by playing Jingle Bells on vuvuzelas.
This is who the anti-atheist backlash is trying to protect, when they complain about how those horrible “New” Atheists are so intolerant, strident, militant, closed-minded towards people of faith. They want us to be like Harry Potter at the Dursleys’ dinner party: we’re allowed to stay in the house without the threat of violence, but we have to go to our room, make no noise and pretend we don’t exist. Otherwise, the people who weren’t previously aware of folks like us might start asking awkward questions and have to be Obliviated.
Odd, how we can tolerate being regularly told our lives are without meaning and morals and that we’re setting ourselves up for eternal damnation, but they can’t even tolerate our presence in their public spaces.
I have finally read the study by Dan Dennett and Linda LaScola on Protestant clergy who don’t believe in God. If you have an e-reader, I recommend downloading the PDF, as it’s a fascinating read. Also: yay for a PDF that actually displays on my Kindle! I’m sure it’s fine to read on a computer, too, just bring the eye drops.
Now, far more qualified writers than I am have already done their commentary on the predicament of pastors who don’t believe what they’re retained to preach, and I won’t pretend to have anything original to add to that body of opinion. (In case you’re wondering: my heart goes out to these guys. I don’t blame them for staying in the heathen closet while keeping their jobs.)