26 February 2008

An Islamic "Reformation?"

"All religions evolve." This idea was the crux of Karen Armstrong's thesis in her seminal book "A History of God: The 4,000-year quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam."

Well, it looks like Islam, which has perhaps the broadest opposition among adherents to the idea of any kind of evolution whatsoever, is undergoing its own little bit of adaptation.

Theologians at Ankara University are finally putting some of Islam's founding texts under the microscope, submitting them to rigorous textual criticism. Their focus is on the Hadith, however, and not the Koran itself, which I don't think they can realistically touch without getting lynched. I'd be surprised if they didn't get death threats by the bushel just for messing with the Hadith, which is supposed to be a collection of Muhammad's sayings and is used as an authority in interpreting the Koran.

It's about time, too, because things seem to be getting crazier than usual, what with women being punished in Saudi Arabia for suspected witchcraft or for allowing themselves to be gang-raped, not to mention the divine ordinances concerning Iran's nuclear ambitions. Finally, some Muslims are taking responsibility for their religion and the actions it is used to justify, like murder, rape, and the general subjugation of women in Islamic societies.

A few choice parts from the BBC article.
...the Turkish state has come to see the Hadith as having an often negative influence on a society it is in a hurry to modernise, and believes it responsible for obscuring the original values of Islam. It says that a significant number of the sayings were never uttered by Muhammad, and even some that were need now to be reinterpreted.

Indeed, not just reinterpreted, some parts need to be thrown out all together, and that's part of what they're doing, thankfully:
An adviser to the project, Felix Koerner, says some of the sayings - also known individually as "hadiths" - can be shown to have been invented hundreds of years after the Prophet Muhammad died, to serve the purposes of contemporary society.

Now if only we could get some of those hard-core Bible-thumpers to realize the same thing about the New Testament....but one thing at a time, I suppose

Perhaps the most encouraging part about this "reformation" is the fact that not only are they including women in this endeavour, but they're also sending them out to communicate the new revisions to the masses:
As part of its aggressive programme of renewal, Turkey has given theological training to 450 women, and appointed them as senior imams called "vaizes".

They have been given the task of explaining the original spirit of Islam to remote communities in Turkey's vast interior.

One of the women, Hulya Koc, looked out over a sea of headscarves at a town meeting in central Turkey and told the women of the equality, justice and human rights guaranteed by an accurate interpretation of the Koran - one guided and confirmed by the revised Hadith.

She says that, at the moment, Islam is being widely used to justify the violent suppression of women.

"There are honour killings," she explains.

"We hear that some women are being killed when they marry the wrong person or run away with someone they love.

"There's also violence against women within families, including sexual harassment by uncles and others. This does not exist in Islam... we have to explain that to them."

Of course, I'd rather that they do away with the whole thing altogether, and be done with it, but I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth: this is good news! It's progressive, and women are finally being allowed to join the discussion, instead of being beaten, mutilated, and raped into submission for having the temerity to assert their own humanity as thinking individuals.

While we still have a long way to go, it's encouraging that at least one significant portion of the Islamic world is taking bold steps to bring their people out of the 14th century. Keep in mind though , it really couldn't have happened anywhere else but Turkey, with it's unique brand of secularism, and it likely will face determined resistance both within Turkey's own borders but especially in other nations abroad, and a good chunk of that resistance is likely to be violent. Because of this, I think the secular world at large should be encouraging and supportive of this endeavour in the hopes that it will spawn a new rationalism within Islam itself. Of course, let's just hope that this new reformation of Islam doesn't produce any new antisemitism, like Martin Luther's did almost 500 years before, but at least they're taking a progressive step forward, and I'll take that any day.

[Via Charlayne at AANR]

24 February 2008

The Muslim "Index"

The Catholic Church is famous for its proscription against certain books it deems offensive, known as the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (List of Prohibited Books). Over the years, the list has included many, many important books and authors that Catholics weren't allowed to read, like all of Galileo's books on astronomy, the satire of Erasmus, the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, the history of Edward Gibbon, and pretty much anything else that didn't completely gibe with Catholic dogma (guess how many Protestant authors have been on it).

But at least the Catholics pretty much limited themselves to books, unlike most Muslims. So now we have an unofficial compilation of the Islamic version of the infamous Index: let's call it the Index Panton Prohibitorum (List of Prohibited EVERYTHING).

Yep, someone actually took the time to compile a list of everything that has pissed off Muslims over the past few years. And it's growing.

Have a look at the categories:

  • Flags
  • Buildings
  • Christians
  • Jews
  • Hindus/Buddhists/other religions
  • Movies/TV/Theatre/Radio
  • Food
  • Music
  • Humor/Satire
  • Public Figures
  • Women (no surprise that this is one of the longer lists)
  • Books, Publications, and Writers
  • Art/Artists
  • Grooming
  • And finally, a miscellaneous category for everything else Muslims don't like.
Now ask yourself as you look over the list: are you really that surprised?

[via The Friendly Atheist]

23 February 2008

Another reason to avoid beachfront property..

Some important glaciers in Antarctica are accelerating at an alarming rate.

So what?

We've heard about glaciers accelerating in Greenland, likely as a result of global climate change, but there's something else interesting in the works on the other side of the world, and what makes it somewhat scarier is two things.

The first is this part, which is just a set up really, for the knockdown which is to follow:

The reason does not seem to be warming in the surrounding air.

One possible culprit could be a deep ocean current that is channeled onto the continental shelf close to the mouth of the glacier. There is not much sea ice to protect it from the warm water, which seems to be undercutting the ice and lubricating its flow.

If you're like me, you knotted your forehead in confusion: surely the warm water can't be doing it all alone, even if that in itself is a factor from global climate change. So what else is there?

Julian Scott, however, thinks there may be other forces at work as well.

Much higher up the course of the glacier there is evidence of a volcano that erupted through the ice about 2,000 years ago and the whole region could be volcanically active, releasing geothermal heat to melt the base of the ice and help its slide towards the sea.

Oh snap! You mean we don't even need global warming to be true for this to be a problem?

Yep. Volcanism is a bitch.

You may already know about the appropriately named Mt. Erebus. (A volcano at the end of the world? It just has to be named after the realm of the dead in Hades in Greek mythology! Is there another Antarctic volcano we can name for the other half of Hades, where the Titans were imprisoned? Yes, we need a Mt. Tartarus!) Did I mention it has its own literal lake of LAVA? How cool it that!

Yeah, well it's not alone.

The entire western coast is literally peppered with volcanoes, and Erebus is only one of them. Check it out, the red triangles are identified volcanoes (from Global Volcanism Program):

Keep in mind that this only represents those volcanoes we've been able to identify. There may be more entombed beneath the ice like the one under the Pine Island Glacier. But so far that one is the only one we know of which might cause a catastrophic infusion of ice into the ocean.

How catastrophic? Well...

If the glacier does continue to surge and discharge most of it ice into the sea, say the researchers, the Pine Island Glacier alone could raise global sea level by 25cm.

That might take decades or a century, but neighbouring glaciers are accelerating too and if the entire region were to lose its ice, the sea would rise by 1.5m worldwide.

It's true that, in the last paragraph, he's only saying how bad it would be if, theoretically, it all were to melt at once, but the loss of just the Pine Island Glacier would be bad enough, That's almost ONE FOOT of water in increase.

To put that in perspective, look at this article about the Marshall Islands, an archipelago in the Pacific.

The scientists on the advisory panel said that, depending on several assumptions, ocean levels are likely to rise by a little over a foot during the next century, or perhaps by as much as three feet.

Taking the lower assumption, the study says, the population of the 29 atolls and 5 islands of the Marshall Islands would need to be rehoused in high-rise buildings near the highest points on the archipelago by 2022.

If ocean levels rise by the upper estimate of three feet a century, the study concludes, the entire population would be forced to abandon the islands, "the only realistic option.

OK, so if just the glacier goes, it'll make the Islanders head for high ground. Remember, the glacier is moving fast enough to already be a problem, but if the volcano that is suspected of being behind it actually erupts like it did 2,000 years ago, then who knows how quickly things could flood? Of courses I'm not suggesting a tsunami-like inundation, nothing that quick, but how long does it take a volcano to melt a glacier? (According to the team, in a separate news article, the volcano's last eruption was only slightly less powerful than that of Mt. St. Helens in 1980.)

And then there's the rest of the ice sheet, which is more than enough to make the Marshall Islands non-existent. And of course the Marshalls aren't alone. There are lots of islands around the world that are under similar threat. And let's not forget some prime coastline on the Gulf Coast...

Like I said, maybe that beach house wouldn't be the best place to live after all.

See? SEE?

God wants Iran to have nuclear capabilities.

How do I know?

Because the Ayatollah says so:

""The Iranian people openly announce that they will defend their rights [to nuclear power]... God will reprimand them if they do not do so," state radio quoted Khamenei as saying.

Naturally, he makes it clear after saying this that, of course Iran isn't going for nuclear weapons.

Yeah, I'll believe that one.

After all, God also wants Israel "wiped off the map," and we all know what God expects of his children in carrying out that divine ordinance:
Would she herself become a suicide bomber? "If God wills it," she says in a low, serious voice. "If I had the means, I would have done it yesterday."

So forgive me if I see this as being only one step away from "God wants Iran to have nuclear weapons," and an even shorter step to "God wants Iran to use the weapons to destroy the Zionists and the Great Satan (i.e. the West)."

Just add it to the list of reasons why religion is dangerous and should be relegated to the historical scrap heap of failed human ideas.

22 February 2008

A very reassuring price of news

Whaddya know? Apparently the guys who run Wikipedia decided to take a stand for free speech and expression by rejecting over 180,000 emails from Muslims to remove images of the prophet Muhammad.

Keep in mind, these aren't the iconoclastic images of the Danish cartoonists, but rather they are images of miniatures from the 14th century that feature the painted face of Muhammad. I should also mention that these were made by Muslims.

Apparently, these idiots are so dogmatic that they'll deny even their own cultural heritage! The only word I can think to describe such behaviour is "tragic."

[Via Charlayne over at AANR. Thanks again girlfriend!]

21 February 2008

How about "NO?" Does "NO" work for you?

The UN's new secretary general, Ban Ki-moon is following his predecessor's lead in asking that religion should be respected.

This is in reference to the latest developments in the row over the Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad. Last month, a concrete plot was discovered to murder one of the cartoonists, and five people, all Muslims, were arrested on terrorism charges. The cartoonist in question, Kurt Westergaard, who drew the cartoon of Muhammad with a lit bomb in his turban, is now homeless because the hotel where he had been placed under police protection has evicted him because he is too much of a security risk.

But this brings the issue of the cartoons back, and Secretary General Ki-moon is, like Kofi Annan before him, trying to assuage the Muslim world by insisting that religious beliefs must be respected.

Well, fuck that.

Excuse me, but if you believe that you have a divine warrant to commit murder, then I will not respect that. It's time we stop pussy-footing around. Religion in general, not just Islam, promotes violence and oppression with an authority that cannot be appealed to, much less questioned. It's dangerous, nay, DEADLY, and those beliefs that encourage or justify this kind of malicious behaviour should be denounced and condemned from all sides.

Free speech isn't free if you have to worry about being lynched just for voicing a criticism. If Muslims don't like having the mirror held up to their faces so they can see the ugliness and depravity that is allowed under the tenets of the Koran, well...that's just too fucking bad!

Christians, Jews, Hindus, and other theists should take note too: if there's something unseemly or offensive about your religious beliefs (and rest assured, there is), don't go crying about disrespect or intolerance when people call a spade a spade.

Religion is too rooted in the dark ages of our primitive past to provide us with a way forward, because no matter how "moderate" or "peaceful" a majority of believers in a particular faith may be, there will ALWAYS be a violent and despotic fringe that will violently promote a narrow and fundamentalist view of the faith. And when the faithful number into the billions, that translates into several hundred thousand, if not millions of those "fringe" kooks who think that murder and discrimination are a divine mandate. And actually, "kooks" is not the right word; these people are not insane, delusional maybe, but they are deadly serious when it comes to their religious beliefs. And that's what makes them so terrifyingly dangerous.

We cannot ignore this problem. It MUST be confronted with the same vehemence with which we confront apologists for Nazism or Stalinism. Put simply, how can we possibly respect something which is the PRIMARY impetus to violence for so many terrorists and murderers throughout the world, both today and in the past?

The answer is we shouldn't. We can't. And, at least for my part, we won't. If a belief promotes violence, it MUST be repudiated and condemned, not respected.

[Thanks to Charlayne Bozak over at AANR on Facebook for posting these two news stories.]

19 February 2008

These people are redefinig "warped"

So there's this article about how a youth pastor in Texas has confessed to a murder he committed 14 years ago in California, in which he stabbed a 64 year old convenience store clerk with a kitchen knife.

And how is his congregation taking the horrifying news that their children were being tutored by a murderer? By praising him of course.
"The debt he's paying to our society is teaching our young people to do the right thing," said Cheryl Ellis, a member of the church's youth staff. "To lock him away someplace and say he owes it to society is robbing the next generation of a mentor."

Robin Thac said her 17-year-old son was active in the youth group that Inman led.

"I am thrilled my son has a role model to accept responsibility the way Calvin has," Thac said. "There are way too many men who don't accept responsibility."

Seriously...how messed up is that? They'd prefer that he not be locked away for killing another human being? They want him to continue teaching their kids? They think he's a role model just because he confessed...TO MURDER??? I can understand pointing to him as an example of taking responsibility for your actions, but if I were a parent, I wouldn't want my kids anywhere NEAR this guy.

Maybe they don't think too much of the man he killed. After all, his name sounds possibly Islamic, so they probably don't think too much about it since he's a non-Christian.

But perhaps that's a bit unfair, they're most likely nice people, it's just that this is completely and totally FUBAR. But then, that's religion.

18 February 2008

Voter idiocy leads to idiots in public office

I would think that's a pretty simple-to-understand truism, but apparently some people still haven't been paying attention.

Watch this quick video. It's of three women from Lynchburg, Tennessee commenting on election year politics...

Aside from the obvious stupidity of voting for a candidate based solely on their stated religious beliefs, did you also notice how the old woman never thought to question something she heard at church about Barack Obama? As if it had been God himself spewing that old lie about Obama being a Muslim--she never questioned it!

Ugh, then there's the old "we are a Christian nation" bullshit. I'm starting to get really sick of hearing it. But then, that's what usually happens in home-schooling.

But the irony of ironies is that young girl. Did you catch what she said about Bush? Watch it again.

Apparently, she realizes that voting for someone just because they say they'll "foilow the word" is bad because Bush is the penultimate example of that error...but her family has no problem giving Mike Huckabee the same free religious pass that gave us EIGHT FUCKING YEARS OF SHIT under Dubya.

Thanks ladies. You are living examples of why stupidity should be physically painful. Like shock collars or something.

12 February 2008

An Open Letter to Rabbi Schmuley Boteach

Before I get to the letter, the video of the debate between Christopher Hitchens and Rabbi Schmuley Boteach is below the fold, if you wish to watch it. I would advise you to watch it on an empty stomach, as fits of nausea and revulsion will most likely accompany the portions in which the good rabbi speaks his turn. My letter also begins below the fold, with the video at the end. Comments and constructive criticisms are welcome.