Thursday, 2 October 2014

Religiously Bigotted

Amir-Aslani, 37.
Hanged for making "innovations in the religion", "spreading corruption on earth" and "insulting prophet Jonah"
Three news items in the last few days neatly illustrate the bigoted and disingenuous nature of religion, and it doesn't even need to be a particularly fundamentalist form of religion either, though that undoubtedly helps.

The first is from the Guardian and concerns the execution of an Iranian Muslim psychotherapist for heracy. In addition to his psychotherapy sessions, Amir-Aslani also held Qur'an-reading sessions in his own home during which he suggested there may be other ways to interpret the Qur'an other than the official one (i.e the one authorised by the Iranian Muslim clergy).

His crime was to suggest that the Quranic version of the Old Testament tale of Jonah was symbolic and not a description of a real event. The case was heard by the notorious judge Abolghassem Salavati, who has a reputation for leading numerous unfair trials resulting in execution. There had been hopes that the conviction would be overturned by Iran's High Court.

As an aside, how on Earth anyone can insult a 'prophet' who claimed he had lived for three days in a fish and then went into a big sulk when God didn't destroy a city and everyone in it like he has 'prophesied', is quite beyond me. The entire Jonah tale is so ludicrous as to be beyond parody. I would suggest that any book which contains the Jonah tale and presents it as factual, forfeits any claim to be taken seriously, let alone as the inerrant word of an omniscient god.

The men were mostly detained in September 2011, during a wave of arrests of Gonabadi dervishes. They were all held in prolonged solitary confinement, without access to their lawyers and families, and were sentenced, after two years and following grossly unfair trials, to jail on various trumped-up charges. The men are prisoners of conscience, imprisoned solely for practising their faith and defending the human rights of dervishes through their legitimate activities as journalists and lawyers.

Amnesty
The Iranian authorities are now claiming Amir-Aslani was not executed for his religious views at all, but because he allegedly had illicit, extra-marital sexual relations with his psychotherapy clients, although, according to his wife, Leila, no evidence to support that allegation was presented to the court.

Amnesty regards his execution as that of a prisoner of conscience. They claim that Iran is repressing religious minorities, including minority sects of Islam such as the Gonabadi dervishes, four of whom are in prison along with five of their defence lawyers.

There is clearly something fundamentally wrong with a religion which is so obviously afraid of even the slightest challenge to the supremacy of its senior clerics who, of course, work closely with (and are often one and the same as) the ruling politicians. It doesn't take a genius to work out that the religion is the instrument of control of choice and that any lessening of their grip on power is seen as a direct threat. They don't even seem to mind insulting both their prophet and their god with the implicit claim that the Qur'an is open to misunderstanding and misinterpretation and needs their intervention to ensure their god's message is related correctly.

What a sad commentary on their holy book, the god they claim dictated it and the prophet they claim it dictated it to, none of which are as capable as they are of determining exactly what this god meant. A religion which seriously and sincerely held the Qur'an to be the inerrant, perfect word of an inerrant, perfect god, perfectly related to a perfect prophet would welcome discussion, analysis, and critical scrutiny, secure in the knowledge that there could not possibly be a wrong interpretation and any analysis of it could only result in a more perfect understanding of it.

But compare the reaction if Islamic clerics in respect of critical examination of the Qur'an to that of scientists, art experts, historians or teachers of literature where scrutiny, criticism and interpretation are not only welcome but considered necessary to ensure a deeper understanding of the subject. No one would be expected to study for a degree in science, art, history or literature by simply learning the orthodox official views of a handful of 'experts' and faithfully reproducing them in an examination.

Quite obviously, the deeply insecure cowards in Iran who need to suppress even the slightest dissent and discourage any critical thinking, don't believe a word of it themselves and see their religion as a fragile and vulnerable little thing that can be harmed by even a whiff of doubt - and who am I to disagree?

But let's not forget that, until we gained control of them just a few hundred years ago and put an end to their grotesque abuses of power, the Christian Churches, especially the Catholic one, just as enthusiastically persecuted and executed heretics. The evident doubt, insecurity and fear of questioning and independent thought now informing Iranian and Saudi internal politics also pervaded the Christian kingdoms of medieval Europe. Many Christian clerics and extremists from the conservative wing would dearly love to get back into the driving seat to continue where they were forced to leave off by the forces of liberal Humanism and enlightened democracy.

The second story, related by New Humanist, concerns an extraordinary ruling by an Indian court that 'Atheism' can legally be given as an answer on official forms which ask yoUr religion. The extraordinary thing is that, in secular India, where all religions have equal legal status, at least officially, it was not legal, apparently, to not have any religion.

To me this illustrates how religions and the underpinning assumption of the existence of gods, despite there being not the slightest bit of definitive evidence ever having been produced to support the notion, has penetrated society and is inculcated into children while they are still vulnerable. It was only about 40 years ago that I was asked by a hospital A&E receptionist what my religion was and when I relied "Atheist" she said, "I can't put that down. Shall I just put CofE?".

When I said, "No. I'm an atheist! I don't have a religion!", she looked down, left the boxes unticked and never made eye-contact again.

Even on enlistment forms for soldiers in WWI in the UK just 100 years ago, there was an assumption that the recruit would be both religious and Christian, with even the first or given name referred to as a 'Christian name'. As can be seen from this random sample, recruits were required to take a religious oath before a witness. (I have access to lots of these as I'm also an amateur genealogist).

So, although it seems surprising now that there was still until recently an assumption of a religion in secular India, it's not very long ago that this was also the case in the UK. I'd be surprised if it were not the same elsewhere. It's almost as though the political powers were too afraid to even contemplate the possibility of someone not subscribing to the official superstitions.

But this surprise marks how far we have moved towards secularism and even a basic assumption now that someone might not have a religion. This move of course coincides with the huge rise in Atheism, especially in Europe, from being so much a minority as to be irrelevant to now being a majority in many countries. This, of course, is what you get when you allow people to think for themselves and no longer repress them through fear and persecution, so, in a way, the hysteria of the Iranian clerics is understandable. Not moral or ethical; just understandable.

It also suggest, I think, that, as with completing a census form where the evidence is that many people give their 'religion' as some sort of cultural identity rather than a statement of belief or self-identification with a religious creed or membership of a church congregation. It's a bit like the apocryphal tale of the Irish Atheist being asked, "Would that be the Protestant or the Catholic god you don't believe in?", or the Jew being asked if he's a Protestant Jew or Catholic Jew. In Ireland, the terms 'Catholic' and 'Protestant' have connotations far wider than mere superstition and imply a whole range of cultural and political affiliations. In this context, the idea of a Protestant, Catholic or Jewish Atheist makes a kind of sense.

The third story is perhaps shocking but perhaps not really surprising. It seems that, in 'The Land of The Free', freedom of speech is not what many people assume. This one comes to me from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (Dan Barker's people) via The Freethinker. Apparently, CBS have refused to broadcast an advertisement for the Freedom From Religion Foundation by none other than Ron Reagan, the Atheist son of former President Ronald Reagan and Nancy.

In this video, Ron Reagan, who has been an Atheist since the age of about 12, says:

Hi, I'm Ron Reagan, an unabashed atheist, and I'm alarmed by the intrusion of religion into our secular government. That’s why I'm asking you to support the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the nation’s largest and most effective association of atheists and agnostics, working to keep state and church separate, just like our Founding Fathers intended.

Please support the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Ron Reagan, lifelong atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.

This was deemed by CBS to be unacceptable on the grounds of its "words and tone". How that differs from being unacceptable on the ground of what he said is lost on me. And what he said, is let's keep the USA the way our founding fathers created it. Defending the US Constitution is unacceptable to CBS!

It seems that excess gas, erectile dysfunction and other intimate bodily functions, not to mention ads wherein political candidates viciously attack each other, are acceptable. But the plain-spoken, witty and slightly irreverent remarks of a well-known figure identifying as atheist are too much for the delicate sensibilities of CBS’ censors.

Dan Barker, FFRF
So, although many Americans believe they live in a land which guarantees them freedom of speech, a precious freedom which sets the USA apart from most of the rest of us, in fact what they can and can't say to a mass audience is controlled by unaccountable big businesses. These control the communications media and run them to maximise profits, not freedom, and give more attention to the loss of income from advertising that 'unacceptable' opinions would provoke than to US patriotic ideas like freedom of speech. That, like so much else, is up for sale in the search for ever-greater profits.

And in secular, freedom-loving America, whose founders carefully constructed a wall between church and state, not having a religion and saying so is unacceptable. And this is decided not by elected representatives or learned judges in the Supreme Court, but by unaccountable corporate self-interest with the power to enforce their bigotry on the people.

As with hysterically fearful Iran when the powers that run the country are scared stiff that their power-base will shatter and disappear if people so much as question even the smallest of its assumptions, so the powers that run the USA are becoming increasingly concerned that they too might find their power-base undermined if too many people start to think for themselves and reject the bigotry and cultural assumptions they were inculcated with from birth.

What do these people know about their religions that they are so afraid of us ordinary folk finding out?

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2 comments :

  1. What do they know that they are afraid of of us finding out? Very simple. Without indoctrination followed by blind obedience, the emperor has no clothes.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Bigotry and hypocrisy usually go hand in hand. Sometimes they use a cane, called falsehood and/or cowardice, to move forward. A good advice is: Never trust a religious fundamentalist.

    ReplyDelete

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