June 22, 2007
The good news: according to the (subscription-only) Wall Street Journal, Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything is one of this summer’s surprise bestsellers. Seven weeks after being launched with an initial run of 40,000 copies, the book now has 296,000 hardcover copies in print, and Hitchens is set to earn at least $1 million for debunking America’s One True Deity™©.
The bad news: apparently the religious crazies are snapping up copies. It’s not clear whether that’s because they care about knowing thine enemy, or plan mass book burnings.
Whatever: the past year has probably seen the strongest sales of atheist books in history. Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion has 500,000 hardcover copies in print, Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation has 185,000, while anti-religious books by Daniel Dennett and Victor Stenger account for another 120,000 or so between them.
Hitchens, meanwhile, is winning friends and influencing people during a marathon U.S. publicity tour:
An estimated 1,000 turned out in Miami to listen to Mr. Hitchens challenge a panel that included an Orthodox Jew and a Buddhist nun. “I now wish I hadn’t participated,” says Nathan Katz, a professor of religious studies at Florida International University. “He was utterly abusive. It had the intellectual level of the Jerry Springer Show.”
Mr. Hitchens says he purposely focused his tour on what he describes as “the states of the Old Confederacy,” in part because he says that people in the South are more generous-spirited and less religious than generally thought. He also knew that religion was of particular interest. “Everywhere we had to turn hundreds away,” he says. “I wouldn’t say that I won or lost those the debates, but the audience was much more on my side than people predicted.”
… Mr. Hitchens says he has received surprisingly little hate mail since his book was published. What does he think readers have learned from “God is Not Great?” “That your life is probably better led after you’ve outgrown the idea that the universe has a plan for you,” he says. “The cosmos isn’t designed with you in mind. You might as well just consult an astrological chart.”
June 20, 2007
Euro-creationism and human rights
The Council of Europe—which oversees human rights in the European Union’s member countries—will vote next week on a proposal to defend the teaching of evolution, and keep creationism and intelligent design out of science classes in EU state schools. A report for the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly notes that the campaign against evolution has its roots “in forms of religious extremism,” and that “Today, creationists of all faiths are trying to get their ideas accepted in Europe. If we are not careful, creationism could become a threat to human rights.”
This isn’t trivial: the Council of Europe governs human rights for more than 800 million people in 47 countries, and has the European Court of Human Rights at its disposal. And although it isn’t binding, the proposed resolution—which says member states should “firmly oppose the teaching of creationism as a scientific discipline on an equal footing with the theory of evolution by natural selection”—could effectively pull the rug from under Europe’s religious crazies.
Of course, the resolution first has to pass. Stay tuned.
February 1, 2007
Welcome to the neighborhood
Religious and racial tolerance, Quebec-style:
Immigrants wishing to live in a small Quebec town must be aware they cannot stone women to death, burn them alive or circumcise them, according to rules drawn up by the local council.
A “publication of standards” agreed by the mayor and councillors of Hérouxville, warns “new arrivals” that they cannot recreate “the way of life which they abandoned when they left their countries”.
It says: “We consider that men and women are of the same value” and stipulates that a woman should be allowed to drive a car, vote, sign cheques, dance, dress as she wants, walk alone in public, study, have a job and do anything else that a man can do.
The guidelines continue: Hérouxville’s standards also include girls and boys being able to exercise together, people only covering their faces at Halloween and children not taking weapons to school—the last stipulation possibly a challenge to a recent Canadian court ruling that upheld the right of Sikh boys to carry ceremonial daggers.
Under “our festivities”, Hérouxville bluntly advises immigrants that “we listen to music, we drink alcoholic beverages in public or private places, we dance and at the end of every year we decorate a tree with balls and tinsel and some lights.”
… Andre Drouin, the councillor who devised the declaration, told the National Post newspaper that the town was not racist.
“We invite people from all nationalities, all languages, all sexual orientations, whatever, to come live with us, but we want them to know ahead of time how we live,” he said.
Salam Elmenyawi, president of the Muslim Council of Montreal, said the declaration had “set the clock back for decades” as far as race relations were concerned.
“I was shocked and insulted to see these kinds of false stereotypes and ignorance about Islam and our religion... in a public document written by people in authority who discriminate openly,” he said.
… A recent poll of Quebecers revealed that 59 percent admitted to harbouring some kind of racist feelings.
Montreal police are investigating one of its officers after he posted an anti-immigrant song called “That’s Enough Already” on the Internet.
“We want to accept ethnics, but not at any price... if you’re not happy with your fate, there’s a place called the airport,” the officer sings.
This from the province where a popular way to describe “having bad intentions” is “avoir des plans de negres.” (Use Google Translate if you really have to.)
December 5, 2006
La malédiction du Québec
French-Canadians seem to be putting religion to good use:
“Oh, tabernacle!” The man swore in French as a car splashed through a puddle, sending water onto his pants. He could never be quoted in the papers here. It is too profane.
So are other angry oaths that sound innocuous in English: chalice, host, baptism. In French-speaking Quebec, swearing sounds like an inventory being taken at a church.
English-speaking Canadians use profan-
ities that would be well understood in the United States, many of them scatological or sexual terms. But the Quebecois prefer to turn to religion when they are mad.
… “When you get mad, you look for words that attack what represses you,” said Louise Lamarre, a Montreal cinematographer who must tread lightly around the language, depending on whether her films are in French or English. “In America, you are so Puritan that the swearing is mostly about sex. Here, since we were repressed so long by the church, people use religious terms.”
… “You swear about things that are taboo,” said André Lapierre, a professor of linguistics at the University of Ottawa. In the United States, “it is not appropriate to talk about sex or scatological subjects, so that is what you use in your curse words. The f-word is a perfect example.”
“In Canadian French, you have none of the sexual aspects. So what do you replace it with? You replace it with religion. If you are going to use a taboo word, it would be anything related to the cult, to Christ, the Communion wafer, Jesus Christ, vestments, and elements of the altar like tabernacle. There’s quite a few of them.”
Visitors from France are dumbfounded at that use of French, said Lamarre. “But that’s because they got away from domination of the church a long time ago. They cut off the head of the king really early. We didn’t do that.”
… The swearwords have persisted even though church attendance has plummeted in the past 40 years. Because of that drop, “when the young kids on the street are swearing, they don’t even know what they are swearing about,” mused Monsignor Francis Coyle, pastor of St. Patrick’s Basilica in Montreal. “They’re baptized in church, and that’s about it.”
… The oaths are so ingrained that one cannot converse fluently without them, said Lapierre. “I teach them in my class.”
Is Quebec’s children learning yet? Ils sûrs sont.
December 1, 2006
Goodwill to all
Except for ungodly AIDS victims, naturally:
Some leading Christian conservatives, angry over the Global Fund to Fight AIDS’s promotion of condoms and its perceived lack of support for faith-based programs, are pushing Congress to cut US support for the AIDS initiative, which was initiated by President Bush in a Rose Garden ceremony five years ago with a $200 million commitment.
The fund—whose full name is the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria—has become one of the pillars of the international effort to fight infectious diseases, growing into a $6.6 billion organization that supports programs in 136 countries.
It is a primary vehicle for the AIDS-fighting efforts of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The only larger HIV and AIDS program in the world is the president’s $15 billion, five-year plan.
But the Global Fund, which works closely with foreign governments, is not nearly as popular among conservative Christians in the United States. Some take issue with the Global Fund’s policies, which include buying clean needles for drug users, and many are furious that just 6 percent of its program dollars goes to faith-based groups.
“There’s cancer in the fund,” said Peter L. Brandt, senior director of government and public policy at the Christian group Focus on the Family. “It does such an unbelievable job in discriminating against faith-based organizations.”
Fund officials, worried about the religious right’s influence in Congress, are pledging to try to give more money to religious charities. The executive director of the fund, Richard G.A. Feachem , yesterday told 2,000 people at an AIDS conference organized by the influential Saddleback Church in Lake Forest that the battle against the virus “will only succeed if the great faiths of the world become totally mobilized.”
Really? Given that the “great faith” here in the US seems to believe that abstinence is the answer, exactly how will that help the battle against AIDS? Still, maybe if I’d been surrounded by 2,000 Christian crazies, I’d have given the same answer.
Nonetheless, Brandt said he wants the government to eliminate all spending on the Global Fund’s HIV programs because it is not providing sufficient money to faith groups and has given little support to abstinence messages. Brandt said the government could continue to support the fund’s tuberculosis and malaria programs.
How compassionately Christian. Puts Ray Ruddy to shame:
Some other Christian activists, such as Raymond Ruddy , president of the Gerard Health Foundation in South Natick, which gives $2 million annually to anti-abortion and abstinence programs worldwide, want all US money cut from the fund.
… Christoph Benn , director of external relations for the Global Fund, said 6% of the fund’s principal recipients are religious groups, but money also flows to faith-
based subcontractors, although the organization does not track the spending.
… Benn objected to several other allegations US Christians made , saying that many programs support abstinence-only messages for young people and also emphasize marital fidelity.
… Some Christians’ objections also are personal. A letter written earlier this year to members of Congress and signed by Ruddy and Focus on the Family decried the election of Asia Russell , a longtime AIDS activist, to the fund’s board.
“She served as spokeswoman for the group who tried to strip naked at the [2004 Republican National] Convention as a protest against Bush administration policies,” the letter said, adding, “The fact that the fund would elect a woman with zero qualifications to its board sends a clear message that this is not a serious healthcare organization but, rather, a group dedicated to pursuing a social agenda opposed to US policy.”
Bernard Rivers , editor of the Global Fund Observer , an independent newsletter that reports on the fund, defended Russell’s election, calling her “phenomenally talented and hard - working.”
Russell said in an interview that “my qualifications are not the issue. The issue is the extreme, radical religious right attacking the Global Fund and its supporters because the fund is driven by what countries actually want and doesn’t fund unscientifically and technically unsound approaches.” She was referring to abstinence-only programs.
Bush, of course, is already on the abstinence/fidelity bandwagon.