April 7, 2010

Talks and debates

According to Sam Harris' bio on TED.com:
Adored by secularists, feared by the pious, Sam Harris' best-selling books argue that religion is ruinous and, worse, stupid -- and that questioning religious faith might just save civilization.
Here's a new talk by Harris, the author of the best-selling The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation.

A bonus:
Sam Harris and Michael Shermer recently debated Deepak Chopra and Jean Houston on the subject of "Does God have a future?"

The Nightline Debate

Faith-based hatred

Science writer Clay Farris Naff wrote a marvelous essay in the Huffington Post, in which he makes a case for his belief that "at this historical moment it is in religion that hatred finds its most powerful and all-consuming expression."

Naff cites these examples of faith-based hatred:
  • The notorious Westboro Baptist Church, whose members picket funerals of U.S. soldiers because "God hates fags." And God also apparently hates Jews.

  • Rabbis Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur have published a new exegesis of the Torah in which the prohibition "Thou Shalt Not Murder" applies only "to a Jew who kills a Jew."

  • One Muhammad Hussein Yaaqub went on Egyptian TV to assure viewers that "The Jews are our enemies. Allah will annihilate them at our hands."

  • Apparently, God also hates President Obama, according to preacher Steven Anderson of the Faithful Word Baptist Church.
(By the way, Obama is not the antiChrist. Pat Robertson says so. He says the antiChrist is probably a Jew who lives in Israel today.)

Naff says:
If you suspect, as I do, that religion evolved as a human trait that conferred advantage on groups by increasing solidarity in the competition against other groups, then it's all too easy to see how hatred would become an enduring feature of religion.
The vast majority of conflicts have at its root some kind of religious reason. People have been cherry-picking their respective holy books for reasons to hate, and reasons why our in-group supposedly is superior to all other out-groups.

Think of how peaceful the world would be if, in a triumphant moment of rationalism, we got rid of organized religion. Instead of all kinds of "us-versus-them" reasons to hate, we just follow the universal ethical rule to be kind to all people. Will that day come?

April 1, 2010

"God hates fags"

Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, as some of you may know, is the name of the Westboro Baptist Church, the ragtag group of idiots and loons who "protest" at U.S. soldiers funerals. They claim that U.S. soldiers die in Iraq and Afghanistan because the U.S. military tolerates gays and lesbians. So, God is punishing them by killing them.
Michael Smerconish, columnist of the Philadelphia Daily News, sums up one such case: Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder died in combat in Iraq on March 3, 2006. At his funeral, his family had to endure the demented rantings of the Westboro Baptist Church, their placards that said "God Hates the USA," "Fag Troops" and "You're Going to Hell."
Al Snyder, the father of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, sued Phelps and Westboro Baptist. He won a $10.9 million award from a jury that was later reduced by the court to $5 million. Westboro Baptist, of Topeka, Kansas, appealed. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed the trial court's verdict. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.
In the meantime, Snyder (the father), as the losing party in the federal appellate case, is responsible for $16,510 in legal costs of his opponents. Smerconish has written a column urging his readers to donate money and help Snyder pay these costs.
I am not a lawyer, and I don't know if an exemption to the First Amendment can be made for offensive speech at military funerals. That's a question for the U.S. Supreme Court.
I'm only interested in the tired old saw that religious people are more moral. I came across a video by the BBC about the Phelps family who heads this group. Granted, this is an extreme example. But anyone who believes anything religion tells him, on little or no evidence, is guilty of the same thing. It's only a question of degree. Some people who are religious are upstanding citizens. Some use their religion to justify killing others. People have been cherry-picking their respective holy books to justify anything, good or bad. Why not discard the holy books and just be good to everyone?

This is the video.

By the way, "Reverend" Phelps' estranged son Nate tells his story in an article called "Dad, the hateful preacher." He has a blog. And, "for those of you who suffer or who have suffered the effects of being raised in a fundamentalist environment, please join myself and Brother Richard at our Support group, "Life After Christian Fundamentalism."