An Open Letter to the King of Saudi Arabia

His Majesty Abdullah Ibin Abdul Aziz Al Saud
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques
King of Saudi Arabia


This morning I’ve been reading news reports of your call (made this Monday at the Saudi seminar “Culture and the Respect of Religions”) for a dialogue among Muslims, Christians, and Jews. From a variety of sources (including the official Saudi Press Agency), you’ve been quoted as saying:
The idea is to ask representatives of all monotheistic religions to sit together with their brothers in faith and sincerity to all religions, as we all believe in the same God… I have noticed that the family system has weakened and that atheism has increased. That is an unacceptable behavior to all religions, to the Quran, the Torah and the Bible… We ask God to save humanity. There is a lack of ethics, loyalty, and sincerity for our religions and humanity…
The Associated Press reports that you’d like to meet “with our brothers in all religions… so we can agree on something that guarantees the preservation of humanity against those who tamper with ethics, family systems, and honesty.” The Kuwait News Agency states that “[King Abdullah] asserted the importance that the three faiths confront [the phenomena] of family breakups and atheism in the world as well as working to maintain moral values.” Times Online reports:
“I want to call for conferences between the religions to protect humanity from folly,” [King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia] told a forum in Riyadh… “If God wills it, we will then meet with our brothers from other religions, including those of the Torah and the Gospel to come up with ways to safeguard humanity,” he added. The king, who is the guardian of the holy sites of Mecca and Medina, said the major faiths shared a desire to combat “the disintegration of the family and the rise of atheism in the world.”
In this open letter to you, I want to address the four issues that you’ve raised: 1) ethics and morality, including honesty, 2) atheism, 3) faith, belief, and sincerity, and 4) weakening family systems and other concerns about the “preservation” (or maybe better, the “future”) of humanity, in hopes to “save” humanity from “folly”. I’ll start with the concepts of ‘morality’ and ‘honesty’, without pedantically discussing differences between ‘morality’ and ‘ethics’ (since I take ‘ethics’ to mean, as given in my dictionary, “a set of moral principles”).

To begin, I’d ask you to consider identifying the fundamental moral principle promoted in all three of the “holy books” of the religions that you identify, namely, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. If you’re honest with yourself, I expect that you’ll agree that the fundamental moral principle is “Obey” [the god as described in respective “holy books”]. If you disagree, please let me know. Some Christians might disagree with me, claiming that the fundamental moral principle promoted by Jesus is “love” (both God and one another), but if so, they’d be ignoring the fact that both his first and second commandment are, in fact, commandments – to be obeyed.

Subsequently in each of the identified “holy books”, sets of moral principles are defined, leading to prescribed personal and interpersonal ethical behaviors. In general, most atheists don’t have too many objections to some of the resulting moral codes promoted in the identified “holy books” – although we certainly make exceptions for the cases of truly horrible policies promoted in these books, e.g., dealing with slavery, misogyny, and brutality such as torture (e.g., in Hell). In general, we reject any philosophy that promotes fear and hate.

By being aware of our identifications of inadequacies in the “holy books”, you can see that “atheists" (and “agnostics”, “free thinkers”, “scientific humanists”, et al.) thereby reject the clerics’ fundamental moral principle of “obey”; instead, we replace it with the fundamental moral principle: “evaluate”. This fundamental moral principle then leads us (each in his or her own way) to other personal and interpersonal moral principles, such as “everyone has an equal right to claim one’s own existence”, “be kind but with keenness”, “love within limits”, and so on – as I detail in my on-line book and which have been recognized by humanists since the time of the Buddha, Confucius, Socrates, and many others.

Please be aware that when it comes to applying our fundamental moral principle (viz., “evaluate”), we are very sincere. Thus, we always do our best to hold our beliefs only as strongly as relevant evidence warrants. Consistently, we have faith in the “practical method” or the “scientific method” (guess, test, and reassess), with which humans tamed fire, developed better hunting tools, domesticated animals, built irrigation systems, and which subsequently has provided humanity with progressively more improved ways to be productive, to tame and control nature, to help humanity survive (with developments from the wheel and sailing boats to genetically improved crops and the internet). In all cases, we try to be as honest as possible with ourselves, with other people, and with nature.

In contrast, theists (such as those whom you would assemble for dialogue) claim that there is a god controlling the universe, whom all must obey; we respond: “Show us the data.” Theists claim that their god can work miracles; we respond: “Show us even just a single example of your god’s miracles.” Theists claim that all creation contains millions of their god’s miracles, including the universe and life itself. But since the total of all electrical charge, momentum, and energy in the universe almost certainly still sum to exactly zero, evidence suggests that the universe created itself via a quantum-like, symmetry-breaking fluctuation in a total void, leading to the Big Bang; further, a huge body of evidence suggests that life on earth ‘simply’ evolved once an autocatalytic molecule first replicated itself.

In spite of such evidence, theists maintain that their god certainly exists; in contrast, as best we can we evaluate the probability that total nothingness could pop a god into existence and find it to be astoundingly smaller than the probability that total nothingness could have popped this universe into existence. Theists insist that their god dictated moral principles for humanity; meanwhile, we evaluate the evidence and conclude that the foundations for morality were established during evolution of cooperative species (such as dolphins, elephants, monkeys, and humans), foundations that are now programmed in our genes for their survival benefit, and that human extensions to those innate moral principles have been constructed by humans to provide frameworks for smooth operations of societies.

Thus, we evaluate the theists’ claim that their god exists – and conclude that it’s supported by zero data, it’s devoid of any theoretical support (or even common sense), and in short, it’s simply a silly speculation concocted by savages and promoted by scientifically clueless but politically conniving clerics, saving them the need to work for a living. As Voltaire said: “A cleric is one who feels himself called upon to live without working at the expense of the rascals who work to live.”

In view of such differences, what then of humanity’s future, including the future of families? I appreciate your concern about the future of all families and I hope that you’ll dig deeply into relevant data to evaluate the root cause of the current deterioration of especially Muslim families. If you do, when you get past the totally unnecessary and truly terrible, sexual frustrations of Muslim youths, the hope-shattering unemployment rates (with even the ~30 percent unemployment in your country enviable compared with the more than ~70 percent rate among Moroccan youths), and the many other dysfunctional features of the patriarchal nature of most Muslim families and societies, I trust that you’ll determine that the root cause is the stupidity of Islamic clerics, with their self-serving fundamental moral principle that people are to obey (rather than evaluate). According to Islamic clerics, what people are to obey (under threat of eternal torture in an imagined hell) are rules that may have been appropriate in 7th Century Arabia but that are now terribly inappropriate for the 21st Century; it’s like trying to drive forward in an automobile, through heavy traffic, while looking only in the rear-view mirror.

One consequence of such clerical stupidity (both Muslim and Christian) is the unsupportable rate of population growth in most Muslim, African, and South American countries. Please realize that, in centuries past, the prime purpose of matrimony was to provide community approval and support for conceiving and rearing children, but now, there’s roughly an order of magnitude more people in this poor old world than it can sustainably support at levels that people obviously desire. Consequently, fewer children would be highly desirable. On the other hand, though, all mature humans have very strong sexual desires, as all clerics obviously realize – and then try to control, to gain power over the people. I therefore would be glad if, in your own position of power, you’d do what you can to weaken your clerics’ control on the sexual activities of people in your country. In sum, what’s obviously desirable is more loving and sexually fulfilling relations between consenting adults – and fewer unwanted, unloved children.

Another consequence of such clerical stupidity is the deplorable unemployment rates in Muslim countries, resulting not only in frustration and emigration but also terrorism. One way for Muslim societies to dig themselves out of the pit of unemployment despair is, as you know, to build knowledge-based societies. In recent decades, China and India have made major progress in that regard, and I applaud your attempt to improve education in Saudi Arabia. But I’m sorry to feel the need to alert you to the likelihood that you’ll be unable to achieve your goal – so long as education is controlled by the clerics. For you to achieve your goal, children must learn critical- (or evaluative-) thinking skills, but that will be impossible until you make major progress constraining the clerics’ promotion of their stupid dogma. As Lemuel Washburn said: “A dogma is the hand of the dead on the throat of the living.”

I’m therefore very concerned about the future, even if humanity is able to achieve a population level at which sustainable and fulfilling development of all people becomes possible. What threatens us most is the “folly” in forming “beliefs” unsupported by evidence, which is the hallmark of all organized religions. To counteract such folly, to pry the clerics’ “hand of the dead [off] the throat of the living”, somehow we must stop the damnable clerics of the world from promoting their stupidity; somehow we must help humanity exit the clerics’ horrible vicious circle, in which they capitalize on children's necessary trust in their parents to indoctrinate children into believing religious balderdash; somehow we must get the children of the world to learn and to apply critical-thinking skills in their daily lives; somehow we must get people to learn that the clueless clerics of the world are running the world’s longest running and most evil con-game ever conceived – and doing so primarily for their own benefits, so power-mongers and parasites that they are, they can continue to control and to leach off the bounties generated by the producers of the world.

Consequently, I’d be very pleased if in your position of power, you could drain the power of Saudi clerics. As a single and simple example, I hope that you’ll immediately oversee the release of Fouad Alfarhan from prison and dismiss those administrators responsible for his incarceration. I don’t know him except from some of his blogs, but even though he does appear to be a theist, this young man (commonly called “the king of Saudi bloggers”) seems to have developed some critical-thinking skills and obviously he’s trying to help Saudi society, as best he sees how. In addition, obviously he’s a devoted husband and father. If you would see to his immediate release (indeed, you might profit from meeting with him and learning from him), I’m sure that his family will be very pleased – and I will take some pleasure in entertaining the possibility that, through your actions, humanity’s future will brighten.

Longer term, I hope that you, too, will make the “leap of faith” to trust your own mind to reach sound decisions based on evidence rather than on childhood indoctrination, folklore, emotions, etc. To help yourself in that regard, I encourage you to look at the list of “4,862 gods, goddesses, deities, avatars, incarnations, angels, demons, and various spirits…” over which so much human blood has been senselessly spilled and whose clerics have polluted the minds of innocent, helpless, trusting children. From that list, you’ll see that already you reject the vast majority of gods that silly humans have concocted and that their clerics have promoted (for their own profit) – with the exception of the “one true god” (Allah, Jesus, or Yahweh) that unfortunately you have not yet been able to see is just another clerical hoax. Meanwhile, we billion-or-so atheists, free thinkers, secular and scientific humanists, etc. make no exception for the one remaining god: we’ve consigned all 4,862 of them to the dustbin of human mistakes. We hope that someday, soon, you’ll do similar.

In conclusion, Sir, let me put it this way. Both of us being old, we’ll soon die, and all evidence points to the obvious: when we die, while our elements recycle in this earthly environment, nothing of us will remain but our modified DNA molecules (living for the past billion-or-so years and now hosted by our children) plus memories of us that are carried by the living. For humanity’s sake, I hope that memories of you will be of a great reformer who saw through the hideousness of all clerical con-games and who strove to help all children of the world develop and maintain faith in themselves and in the scientific method, thereby helping intelligent life to continue. After all, when all is said and done, that’s the most worthwhile purpose for each and every one of us to pursue.


“Another Seed of the Stars”

A. Zoroaster, B.Sc., M.Sc., Ph.D.



Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda… Did!

I suppose that some translation is again in order: “woulda, coulda, shoulda” is “American speak” for “I wish I would have… I could have… I should have…” In particular, the “woulda-coulda-shoulda moment” that I have in mind was one of the many times when I later reprimanded myself: “Why didn’t I say…?!”

In my own defense, I’ll quickly point out that, normally when I find another proselytizer at my door, I just abruptly say “No thanks” and shut the door. This time, however, I was too startled to respond as usual: when I opened the door I found (standing in front of her mother) a pretty little girl about six years old in a pink dress. In her crystalline voice she said (as nearly as I can remember): “We were in the neighborhood and wondered if you wanted to ask any questions of God.”

Disarmed by her innocence, I blurted out “Oh, you poor little girl”, added “No thank you”, and began shutting the door. Through the closing crack in the doorway, the mother shouted out: “What do you mean ‘poor’?” Would that, before I shut the door, my mind had been open enough to say something similar to: “To have such a mother as you!”

Think of it. That mother could have been teaching her child critical-thinking skills, by showing her how to apply the scientific method in her daily life (“guess, test, and reassess”), in activities from finding a lost toy to determining how to get the neighbor’s dog to stop barking at her and from how to fix a broken toy to how to make friends. She could have been teaching her child some basic physics (how all matter is composed of atoms, the composition of atoms and some examples of nuclear reactions, how carbon atoms are formed in the Sun and how heavier atoms are formed in dying stars – which now reside in her), some basic chemistry (how atoms interact with each other in solids, liquids, and gases, how atoms form molecules, how molecules interact in chemical reactions from cleaning to cooking, how our bodies use chemical reactions – so she can live and play and think), some basic biology (how some molecules can serve as catalysts, the nature of autocatalytic reactions, replicating molecules, DNA – which contains the information to make her what she is), and so on.

Thereby, that mother could have been teaching her child that she was a part – a thinking part – of the entire universe, leading her to understand the Swedish author Rolf Edberg's beautiful summary:
On a little speck in the universe, there is a species in which billions of years of evolution have led up to a mind through which the cosmos can experience itself, and nature can investigate her own nature.
Instead, that stupid woman was teaching her child the science of savages: that some giant Jabberwock in the sky made the world, was watching her every move, and would punish her fictitious “immortal soul” for “eternity” unless she obeyed her mother and the mother’s damnable, stupid clerics.

But in contrast to the woulda-coulda-shoulda moment with that stupid mother at the door, one of the few cases when I did look back and tell myself “Good job!” recently occurred while I was in the dentist’s chair having my teeth cleaned with some ultrasonic blaster – guaranteed not to hurt – except, of course, when the blast gets near two of my sensitive teeth, in which case it rockets me out of the chair.

This particular “dental hygienist” (as they like to call themselves) seems to be a nice-enough Mormon lady (though maybe with slight sadistic tendency, for she seems to take pleasure in going over my sensitive teeth, still another time). She also seems to take pleasure in babbling away (e.g., about her son, studying to be a chemical engineer). But every few minutes she does have the courtesy to take that blasted thing out of my mouth, to permit me to respond to her latest half-dozen-or-so questions (which thereby, apparently seem to be mostly rhetorical): Isn’t it a nice day? What did you think of that storm? Do YOU understand why our taxes are so high?

Anyway, in one of those rare instances that she apparently thought it polite to remove the apparatus from my mouth after asking only a single question, she asked (I don’t remember why, but it must have fit in with the monologue she had been delivering): “Are you a Catholic?”

In a daze, having returned only an instant earlier from a painful orbit from that launching pad called a dentist chair, with my sensitive tooth still smarting, with my mind still reeling from the noise of the blaster, and just before I dutifully re-opened my mouth for another of her assaults on my stamina, I responded: “No… I’m free.”

“Oh,” she responded, seemingly startled, but she quickly regained her composure and went back into my mouth with her ultrasonic blaster. But for the rest of the session she was uncharacteristically silent, with no more questions, rhetorical or otherwise.

Well, okay, maybe it doesn’t seem like much to you, but when driving home, I thought to myself: “Yah, good job! For a change, I said what I meant and meant what I said.”

Now, whereas I’m a registered Bright, perhaps fellow Brights are disappointed. Probably they would prefer if I had said: “No, I’m a Bright.” But come on, Brights, be honest: not only would that have been ineffective, it wouldn’t have seemed right.

It wouldn’t have worked, because after saying I was a Bright, I’d need to explain that a Bright is someone with a naturalistic worldview – and then, no doubt I’d need to explain to that particular dental hygienist what “naturalistic worldview” meant, while she continued to wave her ultrasonic blaster around, trying to get back to her torture routine.

And it wouldn’t have seemed right to say I was a Bright, because although it’s great if someone identifies you as a Bright, it doesn’t sound good if you identify yourself as such: it can leave the impression that you consider yourself bright, in contrast to all the dimwit theists.

So, you see, I liked my response: “I’m free.” She knew (she knows) what ‘freedom’ means – and I suspect that my response made her think.

Think about what? Well, I don’t know about her, but I know what it made me think about. After I returned home (my safe house – no ultrasonic blasters!), I checked again to see how Robert Ingersoll (1833–1899) said it.

And I’ll end this communication with his – because I don’t want any more of my dribble polluting his magnificent statement: when “Ingersoll the Magnificent” speaks, the rest of us mere mortals should sit quietly in awe and maybe even reverence that once, such a one walked amongst us.
When I became convinced that the Universe is natural – that all the ghosts and gods are myths – there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood, the sense, the feeling, the joy of freedom. The walls of my prison crumbled and fell, the dungeon was flooded with light, and all the bolts, and bars, and manacles became dust. I was no longer a servant, a serf, or a slave. There was for me no master in all the wide world – not even in infinite space.

I was free: free to think, to express my thoughts – free to live to my own ideal – free to live for myself and those I loved – free to use all my faculties, all my senses – free to spread imagination’s wings – free to investigate, to guess and dream and hope – free to judge and determine for myself – free to reject all ignorant and cruel creeds, all the “inspired” books that savages have produced, and all the barbarous legends of the past – free from popes and priests – free from all the “called” and “set apart” – free from sanctified mistakes and holy lies – free from the fear of eternal pain – free from the winged monsters of night – free from devils, ghosts, and gods.

For the first time I was free. There were no prohibited places in all the realms of my thought – no air, no space, where fancy could not spread her painted wings – no chains for my limbs – no lashes for my back – no fires for my flesh – no master’s frown or threat – no following another’s steps – no need to bow, or cringe, or crawl, or utter lying words.

I was free. I stood erect and fearlessly, joyously, faced all worlds. And then my heart was filled with gratitude, with thankfulness, and went out in love to all the heroes, the thinkers who gave their lives for the liberty of hand and brain, for the freedom of labor and thought – to those who fell on the fierce fields of war – to those who died in dungeons bound with chains – to those who proudly mounted scaffold’s stairs – to those whose bones were crushed, whose flesh was scarred and torn – to those by fire consumed – to all the wise, the good, the brave of every land, whose thoughts and deeds have given freedom to the sons of men. And I vowed to grasp the torch that they had held, and hold it high, that light might conquer darkness still.


"The secret of freedom... a brave heart."

In The History of the Peloponnesian War (431–413 BCE), recounting the Athenian leader Pericles’ Funeral Oration (delivered after the first year of the war with Sparta), the historian Thucydides (c.460–400 BCE) wrote the following passage, which I hope youngsters still study:
Fix your eyes on the greatness of Athens, as you have it before you day by day, fall in love with her, and when you feel her great, remember that this greatness was won by men with courage, with knowledge of their duty, and with a sense of honor in action… For the whole earth is the sepulcher of famous men; and their story is not graven only on stone over their native earth, but lives on far away, without visible symbol, woven into the stuff of other men’s lives. For you, now, it remains to rival what they have done and knowing the secret of happiness to be freedom and the secret of freedom, a brave heart, not idly to stand aside from the enemy’s onset.
But I’m sorry to say, it appears that many Westerners have not taken that message to heart. Yet, some have – and so have some brave ex-Muslims.

An example of a “brave heart” is the Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders. In last week’s post I suggested why he shouldn’t release his promised film (entitled Fitna, Arabic for ‘chaos’ or maybe ‘ordeal’), which he said would show that the Koran (or Quran or Qur’an) was “a fascist book inciting hatred and killing.” In that blog, I didn’t question Wilders’ bravery but argued that, rather than release his film, he could help Holland and humanity more by hiring some comedians to try to rid the world of all religions using ridicule.

This week, Wilders announced that he wouldn’t proceed with a March 28 press conference where he intended to show his film (although it’s expected that the film will become available on the internet). As reported by Thomas Landen in the Brussels Journal:
The Nieuwspoort Press Center in The Hague, which is run by a board of journalists, publishers and government press officers, demanded that Wilders pay 400,000 euros for extra safety measures. “Apparently, you have to be a millionaire to organize such an event,” Mr. Wilders said. “Even if I had the money I am not going to spend it on a press conference.”
Viewed from essentially any angle, the entire episode seems sad – and bad – save for Wilders’ courage.

Of course Wilders’ freedom of speech to criticize some “holy book” shouldn’t be constrained, and the Dutch Foreign Minister’s statement that “…freedom of expression doesn’t mean the right to offend” is about as despicable as they come. But as described in the above-referenced article by Landen, for Islamic extremists to threaten Wilders’ life (and this week, even threaten the lives of children whose last name is Wilders, even though they’re unrelated to the politician) and for Wilders to be living in Army barracks for his protection are absolutely horrible. We must defeat the terrorists.

Further, for a member of the board of directors of the Anglo-Dutch multinational Unilever Corporation (no doubt most concerned about Unilever’s sales in Muslim countries) to state to the Dutch media that “Geert Wilders is evil, and evil has to be stopped” plus call upon the Dutch people to “rise in order to stop Wilders from preaching his evil message” are enough for me to boycott Unilever products. Even few prostitutes, I suspect, adopt profit as their prime motive.

And if that’s not enough, consider the following paragraph from Landen’s article (referenced above):
Last week Henk Hofland, the nestor of Dutch journalism, proposed on Dutch television that the Dutch authorities lift Geert Wilders’ police protection. “Let him feel what it is like for those whose lives he endangers,” Hofland, the former editor of NRC Handelsblad, the leading newspaper in the Netherlands, opined. Mr. Hofland, who was given the title “Dutch journalist of the century” by his colleagues in 1999, asserted that, if Dutch citizens get murdered in retaliation for Wilders’ opinions on Islam, not the assassins are to be blamed, but the politician. Apparently, to Hofland and his ilk being critical of Islam is worse than slaughtering innocent people in the name of Islam.
Both the courage of some people and the cowardice of others are astounding.

Last week in this blog I gave another illustration – an astounding illustration – of courage. I quoted what the brave Syrian-American Wafa Sultan said on Al-Jazeera TV. She deserves America’s Medal of Freedom. This week, the “Saudi intellectual” Turki Al-Hamad provided the world with another astounding example of courage. On Al-Arabiya TV, he stated the following:
The taboos in Saudi Arabia are different from the taboos in Lebanon, and from the taboos in Egypt, and so on, even though I believe that in all these countries, they tend to view the taboo itself as fundamental. This was not the case in the past. I believe that we've reached the point where everything is ruled by prohibitions. Everything is prohibited unless it is proven to be permitted. This is the problem of Arab society and culture. Instead of making progress, we are regressing – and if only we were regressing in a reasonable manner. Unfortunately, we are regressing in a superstitious and unreasonable manner.

We… have forsaken this future for the sake of myth. We live in the world of the supernatural, not in the real world, which we have completely neglected…

In the past, our society was more open, more accepting of other opinions and different behavior. But [in] the so-called 'religious awakening' – and I regard it as a religious 'slumber,' not as an awakening … everything has turned upside down. The dead have taken control over the living.

I blame the political regime. I blame the Arab intellectual. I blame the prevalent culture. It is a mixture of many things. Let me give you an example. The prevalent culture is backward, yet the political regime uses this culture to glorify itself, without realizing that it is destroying the future. That's one reason. Another example is when intellectuals turn everything into ideology, riding a wave of populism and flirting with the peoples, instead of enlightening them. They flirt with the peoples and follow them, rather than leading them. I place the blame to some extent on these intellectuals. The prevalent culture is stagnant. It does not recognize the ‘other’, and does not want to recognize that it is one of many cultures in the world. It considers itself to be the ‘number one’ culture – the world itself. Therefore, as said by a poet from the age of pre-Islamic ignorance – and I believe that we are still living in that age – “We are a people of worthy of world leadership – or the grave.” We cannot live in the middle ground between these two extremes, and that is the problem…

From the early 20th Century to this day, we constantly hear people say: “We should adopt the good things [from the West] and ignore the bad.” You cannot do such a thing. When you consider the products of modern civilization – the car, the computer, and so on – these are all products of a certain philosophy, a certain way of thinking. If you adopt the product, but ignore the producer – you have a problem. You cannot do such a thing. [For us,] the product is new, but the thought is not. We move forward with our eyes looking backward.

After this period of my life, I am very pessimistic about the possibility of making real changes in our culture and society. I hope I am wrong. In any case, this does not mean we should not try. Future generations will ask what we did about this. At least we tried; at least we made our voice heard. Time will tell whether we were successful in achieving any result…
Perhaps some people might be unimpressed with Turki Al-Hamad’s courage (and I expect that there are brave producers of this TV show who also should be congratulated, especially given the recent rulings by the Arab Propaganda ministers, mentioned in an earlier post). But if people are unimpressed, they should realize that in 2006, the cowardly fool Osama bin Laden included Al-Hamad in his list of those who should be killed:
The freethinkers and heretics who defame Islam, and mock and scorn our noble Prophet – their case and the law concerning them have been clearly expounded by Imam Ibn Qayyim [Al-Jawziyya]. He made it clear that the crime committed by a freethinker is the worst of crimes, that the damage caused by his staying alive among the Muslims is of the worst kind of damage, that he is to be killed, and that his repentance is not to be accepted...

Among these heretics is Ahmad Al-Baghdadi in Kuwait, and Turki Al-Hamad in the Land of the Two Holy Shrines – a fatwa concerning the latter was issued by Sheikh Hamud Al-'Uqala – and many others like them.

It is intolerable and outrageous that the heretics are among us, scorning our religion and our Prophet… Therefore, you must fear Allah and do His will. Do not consult anyone about the killing of these heretics. Be secretive in carrying out that which is required of you.
I describe bin Laden as a coward (as are all Islamic terrorists), because it takes zero courage to die believing that you’ll be instantly transported to paradise for eternity, and I describe him as a fool (as are all Islamic terrorists) for staking his life on an idea that doesn’t have a shred of evidence to support it.

But I must leave it to competent, future historians to identify all the brave and intelligent people who were raised as Muslims and tried to transform and/or eliminate still another of the past’s silly superstitions. Nonetheless, I would call their (and the reader’s) attention to those Muslims, “secular Muslims”, and ex-Muslims who endorsed the St. Petersburg Declaration, namely,
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Magdi Allam, Mithal Al-Alusi, Shaker Al-Nabulsi, Nonie Darwish, Afshin Ellian, Tawfik Hamid, Shahriar Kabir, Hasan Mahmud, Wafa Sultan, Amir Taheri, Ibn Warraq, Manda Zand Ervin, and Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi.
I encourage readers to study what they wrote. It starts with:
We are secular Muslims and secular persons of Muslim societies. We are believers, doubters, and unbelievers, brought together by a great struggle, not between the West and Islam, but between the free and the unfree.

We affirm the inviolable freedom of the individual conscience. We believe in the equality of all human persons.

We insist upon the separation of religion from state and the observance of universal human rights.

We find traditions of liberty, rationality, and tolerance in the rich histories of pre-Islamic and Islamic societies. These values do not belong to the West or the East; they are the common moral heritage of humankind.

We see no colonialism, racism, or so-called “Islamaphobia” in submitting Islamic practices to criticism or condemnation when they violate human reason or rights…
As more examples, there are the brave and intelligent ex-Muslims (all of whom have received death threats by Muslim maniacs) who produced and signed the Manifesto: Together facing the new totalitarianism, namely:
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Chahla Chafiq, Caroline Fourest, Bernard-Henri Lévy, Irshad Manji, Mehdi Mozaffari, Maryam Namazie, Taslima Nasreen, Salman Rushdie, Antoine Sfeir, Philippe Val, and Ibn Warraq.
I again encourage readers to study what they wrote; it starts with:
After having overcome fascism, Nazism, and Stalinism, the world now faces a new totalitarian global threat: Islamism.

We, writers, journalists, intellectuals, call for resistance to religious totalitarianism and for the promotion of freedom, equal opportunity, and secular values for all.
The recent events, which occurred after the publication of drawings of Muhammad in European newspapers, have revealed the necessity of the struggle for these universal values. This struggle will not be won by arms, but in the ideological field. It is not a clash of civilizations or an antagonism of West and East that we are witnessing, but a global struggle that confronts democrats and theocrats.

Like all totalitarianisms, Islamism is nurtured by fears and frustrations. The hate preachers bet on these feelings in order to form battalions destined to impose a liberticidal and unegalitarian world. But we clearly and firmly state: nothing, not even despair, justifies the choice of obscurantism, totalitarianism, and hatred. Islamism is a reactionary ideology which kills equality, freedom, and secularism wherever it is present. Its success can only lead to a world of domination: man’s domination of woman, the Islamists’ domination of all the others. To counter this, we must assure universal rights to oppressed or discriminated people…
In addition, Ali Sina deserves special recognition, for the many contributions at his website, such as the Letter to Mankind. This letter from “the ex-Muslim Movement” includes the following:
Today humanity is being challenged. Unthinkable atrocities take place on daily basis. There is an evil force at work that aims to destroy us. The agents of this evil respect nothing; not even the lives of children. Every day there are bombings, every day innocent people are targeted and murdered. It seems as if we are helpless. But we are not!

The ancient Chinese sage Sun Zi said, “Know your enemy and you won’t be defeated”. Do we know our enemy? If we don’t, then we are doomed.

Terrorism is not an ideology, it is a tool; but the terrorists kill for an ideology. They call that ideology Islam…

We are a group of ex-Muslims who have seen the face of the evil and have risen to warn the world. No matter how painful the truth may be, only truth can set us free. Why this much denial? Why so much obstinacy? How many more innocent lives should be lost before YOU open your eyes? A nuclear disaster is upon us. This will happen. It is not a question of “if” but “when”. Oblivious of that, the world is digging its head deeper in the sand.

We urge the Muslims to leave Islam. Stop with excuses, justifications, and rationalizations. Stop dividing mankind in “us” vs. “them” and Muslims vs. Kafirs. We are One people, One mankind! Muhammad was not a messenger of God. It is time that we end this insanity and face the truth. The terrorists take their moral support and the validation for their actions from you. Your very adherence to their cult of death is a nod of approval for their crimes against humanity.

We also urge the non-Muslims to stop being politically correct lest they hurt the Muslims’ sensitivity. To Hell with their sensibilities! Let us save their lives, and the lives of millions of innocent people.

Millions, if not billions of lives will be lost if we do nothing. Time is running out! “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” Do something! Send this message to everyone in your address book and ask them to do the same. Defeat Islam and stop terrorism. This is your world, save it.
Although my opinion is incidental, I would like to humbly express my gratitude to each and every one of those people (and I’m sure, many others should be mentioned, but in my ignorance, I have failed to identify them), for so bravely trying to help humanity.

Meanwhile, in contrast to my praise, the following illustrates a little of the stupid, maniacal responses from Muslim extremists:
Now we have drawn out a hit list of a “Who’s Who” guide to slam into. Take your time but make sure their (sic) gone soon – oh, and don’t hold out for a fatwa it isn’t really required here… Has anyone got that Christian kaffir “Ibn Warraq’s” real name yet…?

Well them [sic)] disbelievers [the signatories] have in effect signed a death wish via this statement so to hell with them, we’ll just provide the help that they so dearly crave.
Still, though, the question continues: What actions should we take to stop the cowardly, stupid, Muslim supremacists? Certainly I’m in favor of bombing their terrorist training camps (wherever they are, including Pakistan), exposing their hate-filled handbooks (such as the Koran), and ridiculing their stupid supernaturalism. But none of that is enough. Just as a single murderer can terrorize a community, it takes only a tiny number of fanatics to terrorize a nation: it’s astoundingly simpler to destroy than to create; any fool can throw a monkey wrench into a machine; any idiot can be wrapped with explosives that are wired to blow up within a crowd; a small group of trained Islamists can find a way to detonate a weapon of mass destruction in the West.

To stop them, I must admit that threatening to retaliate for any further attacks by eliminating Mecca seems increasingly appealing: given that the terrorists are living in a fantasy land in which they and their “holy shrine” are protected by an invisible f[r]iend in the sky, then as H.L. Mencken suggested, heaving a dead cat in their sanctuary could be the most sensible approach to get them to smarten up. To those who say that it's unwise to fight hornets by striking at their nest, that it’ll cause an even bigger swarm of hornets to attack, I’d point out that there’s already a huge swarm of them; so, a good start toward eradicating them is to put on protective gear and fire-bomb their nest. Therefore, as a first step, I’d encourage the U.S. Congress to withdraw our agreement to the Article of the Geneva Convention that prohibits destroying “cultural and historical sites” and to promulgate: if Muslim maniacs conduct another large-scale attack on the West, then the President is to request Congressional approval for obliterating Mecca – of course with suitable warnings, so that those who desire could abandon it and those who desire could "protect it" with their "martyrdom" . If consequences would include the needs for a regime change in Saudi Arabia and incarcerating all Wahhabi clerics, then so be it.

Yet, for the longer term, I’d suggest an additional approach. Since the long-term solution to Muslim madness is to educate Muslim children to learn how to think critically (i.e., to learn how to hold beliefs only as strongly as relevant evidence warrants), then I’d encourage all western nations to establish their own, new type of Peace Corps. Maybe call them IPSO FACTOs: International Peace Squadrons for Objective, Factual and Appropriate, Critical Thinking and Operations. I’d like to see at least a million European and American Muslims per year (committed to freedom and to human rights and who have been tested to demonstrate that they understand and can instruct others in critical-thinking skills) fan out across the Muslim world and, fluent in the language and sensitive to the culture in the country of their destination (maybe for a two-year assignment), teach Muslim children how to apply the scientific method in their daily lives. For that matter, we could help humanity if suitably trained and suited IPSO FACTO members (Muslims, Christians, Free-thinkers, whatever) were deployed also to much of Africa and South America.

But even that wouldn’t be enough: it’s not enough that a few intellectuals are brave; it’s not enough to be protected by brave men and women in uniform; it would not be enough to threaten to bomb Mecca or to send out IPSO FACTO members to teach children critical-thinking skills. As an illustration of why it’s not enough, consider the final few paragraph of Landen’s report (referenced above):
The Dutch showed what stuff they were made of two years ago, when they made life impossible for Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an elected member of their parliament, just like Mr. Wilders. Her neighbors sued to get her removed from the apartment where she was living under police protection. The court of appeal ordered Ms. Hirsi Ali to leave her house within four months, invoking… the European treaty for Human Rights. As the judges said:

The court considers in its ruling that the neighbors have been put into a situation that has contributed to them feeling less safe in their own house. That feeling is extended to the communal living spaces of the apartment complex, but also to their own apartments. The court argues that this is a severe violation of one’s private life (as per Article 8 of the European Treaty for Human Rights).

Ms. Hirsi Ali [now living in the U.S.] was booted out of her own house by virtue of the European Treaty for Human Rights because Muslim fanatics threatened her, thereby causing her neighbors to “feel less safe in their own house.” Soon, Mr. Wilders, whatever one thinks about his opinions, his motives or the wisdom of his decisions, will be booted out – also in the name of grand principles such as human rights – because he makes others feel less safe. That is his crime: While the majority of the Dutch are willing to submit, he is not.
Thucydides said, “The secret of freedom [is a] brave heart”, but it doesn’t follow that, if you’re brave, then you’ll feel free: the brave fight so that their loved ones, who in a civilized society should include their neighbors, will be free.

For my part, I have checked that I can rapidly assemble the gun in my bedroom and I’ve decided to apply for a permit to carry it while I go for my daily walk: I don’t feel so free as I did when I was a youngster, but I hope that, eventually, my grandchildren and other youngsters will feel freer.



From Walden to Wilders to Wisecracks

Thank Science for the Internet!

With it, for example, a stimulating virtual tour of Walden Pond is just a click away.

In my experiences, the virtual tour of Walden Pond is as stimulating as being there – and if you have fond memories of your own special part of nature, then maybe the virtual tour is even better than reality.

For Henry David Thoreau (1817–62), Walden Pond was his own special part of nature – and of reality. In 1845 he borrowed an ax, bought $28.12½ worth of building materials, and built himself a cabin adjacent to Walden Pond, near Concord, Massachusetts (on land owned by his friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson). For the next two years and two months, the cabin was Thoreau’s home.

While at Walden Pond, Thoreau refused to pay taxes, because he was opposed to slavery, the poll tax, the Mexican war, and the Massachusetts’ religious tax, as he explained in his 1849 essay “Civil Disobedience”. Below is a little from his famous essay, in which I’ve taken the liberty to try to modernize some spelling and punctuation.
I did not see why the schoolmaster should be taxed to support the priest, and not the priest the schoolmaster…

It costs me less in every sense to incur the penalty of disobedience to the State than it would to obey. I should feel as if I were worth less in that case…

I perceive that, when an acorn and a chestnut fall side by side, the one does not remain inert to make way for the other, but both obey their own laws, and spring and grow and flourish as best they can, till one, perchance, overshadows and destroys the other. If a plant cannot live according to its nature, it dies. And so a man…

I think sometimes, “Why, this people mean well; they are only ignorant; they would do better if they knew how. Why give your neighbors this pain to treat you as they are not inclined to?” But I think, again, “This is no reason why I should do as they do, or permit others to suffer much greater pain of a different kind.”

Again, I sometimes say to myself, “When many millions of men, without heat, without ill-will, without personal feeling of any kind, demand of you a few shillings only, without the possibility (such is their constitution) of retracting or altering their present demand and without the possibility (on your side) of appeal to any other millions, why expose yourself to this overwhelming brute force? You do not resist cold and hunger, the winds and the waves, thus obstinately; you quietly submit to a thousand similar necessities; you do not put your head into the fire.”

But just in proportion as I regard this as not wholly a brute force, but partly a human force, and consider that I have relations to those millions as to so many millions of men, and not of mere brute or inanimate things, I see that appeal is possible… But if I put my head deliberately into the fire, there is no appeal… and I have only myself to blame. If I could convince myself that I have any right to be satisfied with men as they are, and to treat them accordingly, and not according (in some respects) to my requisitions and expectations of what they and I ought to be, then (like a good Muslim and fatalist) I should endeavor to be satisfied with things as they are, and say it is the will of God.

And above all, there is this difference between resisting this and a purely brute or natural force: that I can resist this with some effect. But I cannot expect, like Orpheus, to change the nature of the rocks and trees and beasts.
As for why, in the first place, Thoreau chose to leave Concord and live in a cabin, in his 1854 book Walden, or Life in the Woods, he explained:
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, [to] see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
In his 1854 review of Walden, A.P. Peabody wrote:
The economical details and calculations in this book are more curious than useful; for the author’s life in the woods was on too narrow a scale to find imitators. But… [Thoreau] says so many pithy and brilliant things, and offers so many piquant, and, we may add, so many just, comments on society as it is, that this book is well worth the reading, both for its actual contents and its suggestive capacity.
For example, there’s Thoreau’s:
There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.
Some of those who were influenced by Thoreau to “strike… at the root [of evil]” included leaders of the anti-slavery, women’s suffrage, and trade unionist movements, as well as Tolstoy, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. In contrast, the Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders (leader of his “Freedom Party”, which won nine of 150 seats of the lower house in the 2006 elections) has recently been busy “hacking at the branches of evil.”

The particular branch of the evil tree of religion on which Wilders has been hacking away is Islam. In multiple ways he’s let it be known that soon he’ll release a 10-minute film he has produced in which he promises to promote his quoted ideas that the Koran is a “frightful and fascist” book, a “fascist book inciting hatred and killing”, and that “it should be banned, just like [Hitler’s] Mein Kampf”, which is the only book whose distribution is banned in the Netherlands. As you probably know, Muslims worldwide have begun to react violently to Wilders’ plan.

This week, in a letter to the Dutch newspaper De Volkskant, Wilders wrote:
If I had announced that I was going to make a film about the fascist character of the Bible would there have been a crisis meeting of Holland’s security forces? Would I have received as many death threats as I have done since announcing I was making a film about the Koran? Of course not. The fact that a 10-minute film not yet shown could, according to some, lead to economic boycotts, riots and other horrible things says everything about the nature of Islam. Nothing about me…
Well, actually, I disagree: it says (or at least suggests) quite a bit about Wilders.

• It suggests that he’s hacking away at only one branch on the tree of religious evil, while standing on another branch of the same tree; thus, even though it has been stated that “he considers himself an atheist”, notice that every webpage behind the homepage at his site ends with the phrase “God bless [the] PVV [Partij Voor de Vrijheid, i.e., Wilders’ Party for Freedom].”

• It suggests that he’s a hypocrite, because if he has read the Bible (and he might be expected to have read it, given that he was raised a Roman Catholic and he “received his secondary education at the… R.K. St. Thomas College”), then he would know that the Bible is also a “fascist book inciting hatred and killing”; therefore, he could equally well advocate banning the Bible.

• And most importantly, if his prime goal is to gain more political power to prevent the Islamization of the Netherlands, then it suggests that he’s chosen to hack at the branches of the tree of religious evil rather than chop at the trunk or dig at the roots.

Nonetheless, I agree with Wilders that the Koran is a “fascist book inciting hatred and killing” and that “Islam is not a religion; it’s an ideology” – as is Christianity (but not Judaism or Hinduism), in the sense that the word ‘ideology’ (but not ‘religion’) has come to mean promoting the widespread adoption of a set of ideas.

Also, I certainly agree with Wilders and disagree with the Dutch Foreign Minister, Maxime Verhagen, who tried to criticize Wilders with the foolish remark: “…freedom of expression doesn’t mean the right to offend.” As Salman Rushdie wrote:
At Cambridge University I was taught a laudable method of argument: you never personalize, but you have absolutely no respect for people’s opinions. You are never rude to the person, but you can be savagely rude about what the person thinks. That seems to me a crucial distinction: people must be protected from discrimination by virtue of their race, but you cannot ring-fence their ideas. The moment you say that any idea system is sacred, whether it’s a religious belief system or a secular ideology, the moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible…

It does matter. People have the fundamental right to take an argument to the point where somebody is offended by what they say. It’s no trick to support the free speech of somebody you agree with or to whose opinion you are indifferent. The defense of free speech begins at the point when people say something you can’t stand. If you can’t defend their right to say it, then you don’t believe in free speech. You only believe in free speech as long as it doesn’t get up your nose. But free speech does get up people’s noses.
Earlier, H.L. Mencken (1880–1956) said similar:
The most curious social convention of the great age in which we live is the one to the effect that religious opinions should be respected… We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.
Yet, although I support Wilders’ goal, I don’t support his plan to hack at only one branch of the evil religious tree: not only is it futile, it’s probably worse than useless.

Further and unfortunately, it’s been found to be essentially pointless to try to chop at the trunk of the tree: the wood is hard and our axes blunt – and the damnable clerics of the world have erected a huge barrier around the tree to protect their own parasitic existence. Capable con artists that they are, they’ve capitalized on the people’s ignorance, grief, fear, herd instinct, etc., they’ve offered their faithful flocks fanciful solace and fictitious rewards, and the obedient fools then indoctrinate their children in the clerics’ balderdash. So, the vicious cycle of ignorance continues for still another impenetrable generation.

Many brave axmen have attacked the trunk of the tree, from the Buddha, Confucius, and Socrates, to Epicurus and Seneca the Younger, and from Robert Ingersoll, Bertrand Russell, and many more, to Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. Karl Marx made some progress, but the cost in sweat and blood was incalculable. He wrote:
Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.
Substantial quantities of data (historical and current) support his subsequent claim that improving economic conditions would and will weaken religions, but other data show that it’s not enough. For example, most of the 9/11 and other terrorists were not economically deprived – nor was bin Laden.

But Marx also saw that alleviating economic hardships would be insufficient to eliminate religion:
Criticism [of religion] has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower. The criticism of religion disillusions man, so that he will think, act, and fashion his reality like a man who has discarded his illusions and regained his senses…

It is, therefore, the task of history, once the other-world of truth has vanished, to establish the truth of this world. It is the immediate task of philosophy, which is in the service of history, to unmask self-estrangement in its unholy forms once the holy form of human self-estrangement has been unmasked. Thus, the criticism of Heaven turns into the criticism of Earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law, and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics.
But it’s not enough to criticize religion: to describe all religions as infected legalism, polluted and putrefying politics, and discredited, defunct science is just hacking at the branches and ineffectually chopping at the trunk. In reality it’s been found, in most cases, that such criticism is worse than useless, since it just stimulates the bunker mentality of the religious – as illustrated by the reactions to the Danish cartoons and the recent reactions even to suggestions about Wilders’ film. Thus, rather than examine their beliefs, religious fanatics explode bombs wrapped around their waists and fly hijacked airliners into skyscrapers – so they can continue to waste their lives within their religious fantasies and worse, by far, maim and kill others in the process.

Yet, in addition to hacking at the branches and chopping at the trunk of the evil religious tree, many people have, in fact, made substantial efforts digging out its roots – again including the Buddha, Confucius, and Socrates and so on, and including Freud, who wrote:
While the different religions wrangle with one another as to which of them is in possession of the truth, in our view the truth of religion may be altogether disregarded. Religion is an attempt to get control over the sensory world, in which we are placed, by means of the wish-world, which we have developed inside us as a result of biological and psychological necessities. But it cannot achieve its end. Its doctrines carry with them the stamp of the times in which they originated, the ignorant childhood days of the human race. Its consolations deserve no trust. Experience teaches us that the world is not a nursery… If one attempts to assign to religion its place in man’s evolution, it seems not so much to be a lasting acquisition, as a parallel to the neurosis which the civilized individual must pass through on his way from childhood to maturity.
Digging still deeper, the huge problem encountered is the enormous number of roots that feed the evil religious tree, including (as I’ve mentioned in an earlier blog) power mongering of clerical leaders, pandering by politicians, male chauvinism, misogyny, and worst of all, child abuse. Further, beneath it all – indeed, not just in the root system but within the very moisture of the soil that nourish the roots – is the root cause of all religions, namely, ignorance.

One of the brave souls digging at the ignorant source of religion – one of the bravest of the brave (whom the FBI should be protecting) – is the American-psychiatrist Wafa Sultan, born and educated in Syria. Here’s some of what she said on Al-Jazeera TV on 21 Feb. 2006:
Why does a young Muslim man, in the prime of life, with a full life ahead, go and blow himself up? In our countries, religion is the sole source of education and is the only spring from which that terrorist drank until his thirst was quenched.
More than 2400 years ago, Socrates succinctly summarized similar ideas:
There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.
Further, at his bogus trial, after he was convicted of the trumped-up charge, “Socrates is guilty of not believing in the gods in which the state believes, but brings in other new divinities; he also wrongs by corrupting the youth”, Socrates reportedly said:
To fear death, gentlemen, is nothing else than to think one is wise when one is not; for it is thinking one knows what one does not know. For no one knows whether death be not even the greatest of all blessings to man, but they fear it as if they knew that is the greatest of evils. And is not this the most reprehensible form of ignorance, that of thinking one knows what one does not know?
And yet, just as in Socrates’ day and before, the clerics of the world continue to be guilty of “the most reprehensible form of ignorance”, claiming that they know what they don’t. In fact, they provide little evidence that they even know what ‘knowledge’ means.

Therefore, if Wilders (or anyone) would seek to banish religious ignorance from their nation (or preferably, from the world), the best way to dig out the roots of the evil religious tree is to ensure that all children are taught how to develop their own “critical-thinking” (or “evaluative-thinking” or "scientific-thinking”) skills, which is a topic that I recently addressed elsewhere. In a nutshell, the skill is to apply the scientific method in one’s daily life, and thereby, to hold beliefs only as strongly as relevant evidence warrants. If everyone did that, the evil tree of organized religions would soon wither away.

Unfortunately, however, the clerics have hatched a hideous Catch-22. For obvious reasons, they oppose “their” children learning critical-thinking skills. You can’t keep a con game running for more than 5,000 years by permitting people to think for themselves! Therefore, to break free from the clerics’ Catch 22, to exit their vicious circle, to strike at the roots of their evil, more must be done: the acidic soil on which religion and the clerics feed must be buffered.

To buffer that acidic soil, it’s critical to recognize that religion isn’t rational; it feeds on emotions. As C.W. Dalton wrote in his 1990 book The Right Brain and Religion:
Believers are interested in fulfilling emotional and spiritual needs, not intellectual needs. In some cases, one might as well try to use reason on a dog. For many people God is primarily a warm feeling. How can one argue with a warm feeling? Arguing with someone who places reason below faith and biblical authority is blowing against the wind.
Actually, though, there is an effective way to “argue with a warm feeling”. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to Francis Adrian Van der Kemp on 30 July 1816:
Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them…
Stated differently: the most effective way to “argue with a warm feeling” is with another feeling; in particular, the cold feeling generated in religious people when they are ridiculed for having been so foolish as to buy into a con game perpetrated by a bunch of clueless clerics. As H.L. Mencken (the most famous of the reporters at the Scopes trial) wrote:
The way to deal with superstition is not to be polite to it, but to tackle it with all arms, and so rout it, cripple it, and make it forever infamous and ridiculous. Is it, perchance, cherished by persons who should know better? Then their folly should be brought out into the light of day, and exhibited there in all its hideousness until they flee from it, hiding their heads in shame.
In her appearance this week on Al-Jazeera TV, in remarks for which Al-Jazeera has subsequently and unfortunately (but understandably) issued its “deepest apologies” for comments that “offended Islam”, Wafa Sultan saw some of it:
The Muslim is an irrational creature ruled by instincts. Those teachings have deprived him of his mind, incited his emotions, and reduced him to the level of an inferior creature that cannot control himself or react to events rationally…

If you want to change the course of events, you must reexamine your terrorist teachings, you must recognize and respect the right of the other to live, you must teach your children love, peace, coexistence, and productive work. When you do that, the world will respect you, will consider you in a better light, and will draw you in a better light.
But I think that H.L. Mencken saw it and said it more clearly:
The liberation of the human mind has never been furthered by dunderheads; it has been furthered by gay fellows who heaved dead cats into sanctuaries and then went roistering down the highways of the world, proving to all men that doubt, after all, was safe – that the god in the sanctuary was finite in his power and hence a fraud. One horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms. It is not only more effective; it is also vastly more intelligent.
Therefore, my recommendation to Wilders would be that, if he wants to help both his homeland and humanity, then he shouldn’t release his film criticizing the Koran. Not that the criticism isn’t correct, but it’ll just harden the Muslims’ bunker mentality. Instead, he should (for example) hire some competent comedians whose wisecracks would ridicule all religions, excoriate all clerics, and most importantly, get all who bought into their clerics' con games rolling in the aisles -- not in some religious trance but laughing at themselves for paying fortunes, forfeiting their freedoms, for permission to live within fairy tales!

Similarly for all of us: rather than argue with religious people, it’s better to poke fun at them – as best seems fit. Maybe I’ll provide some illustrations in another blog, but meanwhile, some fun suggestions can be found at some of the great comics on the internet, such as at the homepages of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Russell’s Teapot, and the links provided there.



Good News & Bad News

As per usual, this week there was some good news and some bad news.

Some good news was contained in a Pew Forum survey of the “religious landscape” in the U.S. Here’s how Bob Parks summarized the results in his weekly newsletter:
Based on interviews with more than 35,000 Americans age 18 and older, the Pew survey finds a changing landscape. More than a quarter of Americans have left the faith they were born in. Americans who are unaffiliated with any religion have seen the greatest growth in numbers as a result. Catholicism has experienced the greatest net losses. Is there any indication that Americans are becoming more rational? Perhaps. About a fourth of those who are unaffiliated describe themselves as atheist or agnostic.
In more detail, the results show that (16.1±2)% of us were “unaffiliated” with any religion, including 1.6% atheists, 2.4% agnostic, and 12.1% “nothing in particular”. That contrasts with results I’ve summarized elsewhere: by 1999, one careful survey of Americans showed that 11.4% and another showed that 11.2% chose a “no religion" preference – “the second-largest single belief group in America, second only to Roman Catholics.” The new results suggest that since 9/11 and the subsequent publication of some great, conscious-raising books (e.g., Sam Harris’ The End of Faith and Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion), our numbers have climbed from about 30 million Americans to maybe 50 million.

"Maybe", because the bad news is that, as per usual, the survey had serious flaws in methodology. One was in the form of the question asked by the (probably religious) pollsters employed by the Princeton Survey Research Associates International (PSRAI): rather than inquire about people’s “religious affiliations” (a loaded question, containing “the fallacy of interrogation” or “the fallacy of presupposition” – similar to asking if you’ve stopped beating your wife yet), the pollsters should have first asked a more general and more neutral question, such as:
Do you have a natural or a supernatural worldview; that is, is it your opinion that everything that exists is natural or do you believe in the existence of supernatural things, such as ghosts and gods and similar?
And another serious flaw in the Pew survey is the potentially huge bias caused by its sampling methodology. Only 35% of those contacted (by telephone) consented to an interview (by telephone), and of those, only 86% completed the survey. Thus, the response rate was 24%.

What’s the matter, people, don’t you want to let the religious fundies know where you live? Welcome to the club! I’ll bet that the results are about as reliable as 1940s' surveys by Nazis asking people how many Jews were in their household.

If people in the Pew Forum (or any organization) really wanted to know what a significant percentage of all Americans think about the stupid god idea, then they’d ask appropriate questions and guarantee anonymity, for example, by conducting their survey by mail, paying all expenses, and legally committing themselves to a million dollar liability for each respondent ever identified.

But meanwhile, there was some good news. Reporting on a Gallup poll, an AFP news report by Karin Zeitvogel states:
About 93 percent of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims are moderates and only seven percent are politically radical, according to the poll, based on more than 50,000 interviews.
The bad news is that the result means: there’s “only” ~90 million Muslims who won’t need much convincing to become terrorists. And reality may be much worse – if one abandons the dubious assumption that Arabs, in particular, told the pollsters what they really thought, rather than (as is customary) to say what they thought the visitors wanted to hear (i.e., that they were peaceful).

But then, there was the good news in a report by Robert Pigott of the BBC that included the following:
Turkey is preparing to publish a document that represents a revolutionary reinterpretation of Islam – and a controversial and radical modernization of the religion. The country’s powerful Department of Religious Affairs has commissioned a team of theologians at Ankara University to carry out a fundamental revision of the Hadith, the second most sacred text in Islam after the Koran.

The Hadith is a collection of thousands of sayings reputed to come from the Prophet Muhammad. As such, it is the principal guide for Muslims in interpreting the Koran and the source of the vast majority of Islamic law, or Sharia.

But the Turkish state has come to see the Hadith as having an often negative influence on a society it is in a hurry to modernize, 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.

Commentators say the very theology of Islam is being reinterpreted in order to effect a radical renewal of the religion.

Its supporters say the spirit of logic and reason inherent in Islam at its foundation 1,400 years ago are being rediscovered. Some believe it could represent the beginning of a reformation in the religion…

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.

“Unfortunately you can even justify through alleged hadiths, the Muslim – or pseudo-Muslim – practice of female genital mutilation,” he says.

“You can find messages which say ‘that is what the Prophet ordered us to do’. But you can show historically how they came into being, as influences from other cultures, that were then projected onto Islamic tradition”…

As part of its aggressive program 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 honor 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.”

‘New Islam’
According to Fadi Hakura, an expert on Turkey from Chatham House in London, Turkey is doing nothing less than recreating Islam – changing it from a religion whose rules must be obeyed, to one designed to serve the needs of people in a modern secular democracy. He says that to achieve it, the state is fashioning a new Islam.

“This is kind of akin to the Christian Reformation,” he says. “Not exactly the same, but if you think, it’s changing the theological foundations of [the] religion. “

Fadi Hakura believes that until now secularist Turkey has been intent on creating a new politics for Islam. Now, he says, “they are trying to fashion a new Islam.”

Significantly, the “Ankara School” of theologians working on the new Hadith has been using Western critical techniques and philosophy. They have also taken an even bolder step – rejecting a long-established rule of Muslim scholars that later (and often more conservative) texts override earlier ones.

“You have to see them as a whole,” says Fadi Hakura. “You can’t say, for example, that the verses of violence override the verses of peace. This is used a lot in the Middle East, this kind of ideology. I cannot impress enough how fundamental [this change] is.” 

Great news! Right? Reformation!! Enlightenment, finally reaching the Muslim world!!!

Oh, sure, they’d have troubles. Recall the troubles in Europe that came with the reformation of Christianity. It’s easy to imagine the troubles when the ideas of the Ankara school of theologians clashed, for example, with those of the "mentally challenged" theologians at the Cairo “university” Al-Azhar. But at least the news provided some hope that “light might conquer darkness still”.

But then the bad news hit two days later. At IslamOnline, Ahmad Maher debunks the BBC report with his report, entitled “Turkey Classifying Not Revising Hadith”. For example:
“Make no mistake, we are not after modifying or revising the Hadith,” Mehmet Gormez, deputy director of the religious affairs authority Diyanet and supervisor of the project, told IslamOnline.net in a phone interview. “What we are actually doing is re-classifying, re-categorizing the Hadith and translating it into Turkish, no more no less.”

He shrugged off media suggestions that Turkey was re-writing the Hadith and creating a new Islam. “They made too much fuss and took the project out of its real context. We are neither fashioning a new Islam nor dare to alter the fixtures maxims of Islam,” Gormez said emphatically.

“The Western media have read what are doing from a Christian perspective and understood it in line with their Christian and Western cultures.” When it comes to Islam, Gormez said, the Western media is used to focusing on women’s status and jihad.
In comments on these events at Jihad Watch, “Matamoros” summarized them succinctly:
Religious Reformations in History
The Protestant Reformation: 1517–1648
The English (Anglican) Reformation: c.1520–1566
The Islamic Reformation: Feb 27th – Feb 29th, 2008 (both dates inclusive)
Ah but, meanwhile, there was some really great new – and I’m not being facetious: Al-Jazeera (Qatar) stood firm!

Two weeks ago in this blog, in a note entitled “Islam’s Dark Ages Grow Dimmer”, I commented on the muzzling of Arab TV stations by Arab Propaganda ministers. The referenced AP report by Maggie Michael contained the following:
The new rules allow countries to suspend, terminate or refuse to renew the licenses of TV network offices that violate them. Qatar, whose government funds the popular station Al-Jazeera, was the only nation of the 21 Arab states not to sign the charter.
At the great website established by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), there’s news not only that Al-Jazeera (Qatar) didn’t fold, they stood firm – and with style!

What follows is some of the transcript of the video clip. If you, also, don't do Windows (and if all you "do" is English and if the clip isn't in English), then ya gotta read what follows!!
Moroccan Satirist Bziz Bound and Gagged on Al-Jazeera TV in Mockery of Arab League Resolution to Limit Freedom of Speech on TV

[Following are excerpts from an interview with Ahmad Al-Sanousi “Bziz”, a Moroccan political satirist, which aired on Al-Jazeera TV (Qatar) on February 20, 2008]

Host: Political satires that make fun of presidents of Western countries, using comedians or puppets, have become the most famous TV shows, and they are very popular in France, the U.S., Britain, and most European countries. None of these presidents has ever banned or prohibited any political satire, or places any artist on trial, even though they make a mockery of these presidents. [TV shows] join other forms of satire – first and foremost, theater and caricatures. In our Arab world, however, the Arab information ministers have convened, and issued revolutionary edicts and resolutions, threatening with fire and brimstone and with an iron fist anyone who gets it into his head to insult, whether explicitly or implicitly, a ruler, a minister, or even a guard working for an Arab government. In keeping with these edicts, our guest today is the artist Al-Sanousi, one of the most prominent political satirists in the Arab world… The viewers should know that for the past 18 years, Ahmad Al-Sanousi has been forbidden to perform, or even to appear in the state-run media in Morocco…

[Following is a short satirical sequence featuring the host and Al-Sanousi. Al-Sanousi is sitting at his seat, bound and gagged.]

Host: We’ve had you bound and gagged, because we cannot trust you to watch your tongue. From now on, we intend to implement the resolutions on all our guests. We will not allow anyone to insult any leader, or his wife, his children, his grandchildren, or his great-grandchildren – down to the 100th generation. We will not allow this.

[Al-Sanousi tries to argue, but he is gagged so his words cannot be heard.]

Host: We will not allow any guest to insult any minister or even a guard working for the government. The only ones you are allowed to criticize as much as you like are the downtrodden peoples.

Ahmad Al-Sanousi: Mmmm...

Host: Enough! We will keep you tied up. What do you say? Do you accept the terms? Will you be polite and refrain from insulting anyone?

Ahmad Al-Sanousi: Mmmmm...

Host: Look... if you try to make fun of me – are you familiar with this rod? You’ve been beaten with it in the past, right?

Ahmad Al-Sanousi: Mmmmmm...

Host: In 1996.

Ahmad Al-Sanousi: Along with the unemployed.

Host: This rod is ready. If you deviate to the left or to the right – the rod is here. Have you ever experienced this whip? We will be using these instruments on some of our guests. We will use the rod and whip on our guests. If this is enough to keep him polite and make him adhere to the rules – okay. Otherwise, we will cut off his tongue with these shears, and serve it as an offering to the rulers and governments. All the insolent guests – we will chop off their tongues. We adhere to the resolutions.

Ahmad Al-Sanousi: The resolutions of the minister?

Host: Of the Arab information ministers. Are you going to abide by the rules, or shall we keep you tied up? Do you see the men I have brought here, the ones who tied you up? Each of them has a rod. If you don’t abide by the rules, I will unleash them on you. So are you going to abide by the rules? Guys, release him.

[The men untie Al-Sanousi and remove his gag.]

Ahmad Al-Sanousi: Are these...

Host: Enough!

Ahmad Al-Sanousi: Are these the Arab information ministers? Is this an Arab information minister?

Host: No, I got them from the Ministry of the Interior. They specialize in torture. If you deviate, I’m keeping the instruments right here.

[Here begins the actual interview]

Host: What do you think of the monumental resolutions made by the Arab information ministers?

Ahmad Al-Sanousi: First of all, these are Arab “execution” ministers.

Host: What, you are being [insolent] already?

Ahmad Al-Sanousi: No, it was just a pun. I did not break the rules. This is the first time that the ministers have made a resolution, Allah be praised. They convened and made a resolution, and that’s great… Our state-run TV channels have become an instrument of torture.

Host: In what way?

Ahmad Al-Sanousi: For instance, they arrest somebody, place him in a solitary cell with no windows, and make him watch the state-run TV channel 24 hours a day. You know that on state-run channels, they air news bulletins and other programs which are dedicated to glorifying the ruler – but no news or information. After a few hours of watching, the detainee collapses.

Host: He collapses?

Ahmad Al-Sanousi: Yes, because he has been watching Arab state-run TV for 12 years. Then he confesses to things he has done and things he has not done. Another guy was watching...

Host: In other words, state-run TV has become an instrument of torture?

Ahmad Al-Sanousi: It has become an instrument of psychological and physical torture. If I put you in front of a state-run TV channel for 24 years... 24 hours will seem like 24 years, and you will confess to things you did and things you didn’t do.

Host: What should they do to improve these channels?

Ahmad Al-Sanousi: I think one of the ministers who convened in the “League of Arab Censorship” should have suggested making the news bulletins musical.

Host: In what way?…

Ahmad Al-Sanousi: I think, for instance, that when the anchor reads the news, he should make it interesting.

Host: Give us an example.

[Al-Sanousi takes out a lute and begins to play.]

Ahmad Al-Sanousi: For instance [sings]: “Now on the news, on the news, on the news... His presidential highness has received several ministers…”

Host: You must be obedient and loyal, and glorify the president or the ruler every day, so they will be pleased with you.
I say: a rousing cheer for Al-Jazeera! Good job fellas!! In fact, brilliant!!!

But then, there’s more bad news out of Egypt. Last week in this blog, I suggested that child abuse can lead to adult hate (which can lead to child abuse, in a never-ending cycle of violence). This week, a mentally challenged lawyer by the name of Ibrahim Elias was on Egyptian TV promoting child abuse. Again courtesy MEMRI, here’s a portion of the transcript of the video clip:
Ibrahim Elias: Yes. Instilling discipline is carried out in stages: First, you may deny things from the child, and at the end, you may beat him. Beating was permitted as a means of instilling discipline. Not every child should be beaten, and not on every occasion. How and when to beat is determined according to necessity, and the necessity should be evaluated. Who knows better, Allah or us? Our Lord knows best. The Prophet Muhammad said: “Order your children to pray, until the age of seven, and beat them so they pray, until the age of ten.” The Prophet Muhammad talked about beating. Allah said in the Koran in Surat Al-Nisa – and I don’t want to get the women mad at me: “As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them, refuse to share their beds, and beat them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them.” This is verse 34 in Surat Al-Nisa. Disobedience by a wife or a child means violation of orders. In other words, it is a transgression. When a child commits a transgression that merits a beating – he should be beaten… Weren’t [the great Egyptian authors] Al-’Aqqad and Taha Hussein beaten? Weren’t they beaten on the soles of their feet so that they would memorize the Koran and thousands of poems?

Interviewer: Is that what made Al-’Aqqad who he was?

Ibrahim Elias: Yes, they became great scholars.

Interviewer: Thanks to beatings, whole institutions were created…

Ibrahim Elias: Our society will fall apart. We have our own education. These ideas are imported from all kinds of conferences about female circumcision, child-beating, wife-beating, and polygamy. These imported ideas don’t work for us, and they will not be implemented in Egypt as long as Al-Azhar exists.
Let’s hope that this lawyer Ibrahim Elias never becomes a judge. He relies not only on hearsay evidence, but hearsay of hearsay. I’m thinking about what Thomas Paine wrote in 1794 book The Age of Reason [quoted below, with liberty taken to update some punctuation and spelling and to add a few notes in square brackets].
Every… [organized, revealed] religion has established itself by pretending some special mission from God, communicated to certain individuals: the Jews have their Moses; the Christians [have] their Jesus Christ…, the [Muslims] have their Muhammad [and, after Paine wrote this, the Mormons had the Rigdon-Smith conspiracy]… Each of those [religions rely on]… certain books, which they call revelation, or the word of God: the Jews say that their word of God was given by God to Moses, face to face; the Christians say that their word of God came by divine inspiration; and the [Muslims] say that their word of God was brought by an angel from Heaven [just as the Mormons claim, for their Book of Mormon]. Each of those [religions] accuse the other of unbelief; and for my own part, I disbelieve them all.

As it is necessary to affix right ideas to words, I will, before I proceed further into the subject, offer some other observations on the word ‘revelation’. Revelation, when applied to religion, means something communicated immediately from God to man. No one will deny or dispute the power of the Almighty to make such a communication, if He pleases [if he were to exist!]. But admitting, for the sake of [argument], that something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, it is revelation to that [first] person only. When he tells it to a second person, a second to a third, a third to a fourth, and so on, it ceases to be a revelation to all those persons. It is revelation to the first person only, and hearsay to every other, and consequently they are not obliged to believe it.

It is a contradiction in terms and ideas to call anything a revelation that comes to us at second-hand, either verbally or in writing. Revelation is necessarily limited to the first communication – after this, it is only an account of something which that person says was a revelation made to him; and though he may find himself obliged to believe it, it cannot be incumbent on me to believe it in the same manner; for it was not a revelation made to me, and I have only his word for it that it was made to him.

When Moses told the children of Israel that he received the two tables of the Commandments from the hands of God, they were not obliged to believe him, because they had no other authority for it than his telling them so; and I have no other authority for it than some “historian” telling me so. The commandments carry no internal evidence of divinity with them; they contain some good moral precepts, such as any man qualified to be a lawgiver, or a legislator, could produce himself, without having recourse to supernatural intervention. [Paine adds the footnote: “It is, however, necessary to except the declaration which says that God visits the sins of the fathers upon the children; it is contrary to every principle of moral justice.”]

When I am told that the Quran was written in Heaven and brought to Muhammad by an angel, the account comes too near the same kind of hearsay evidence and second-hand authority as the former [and similarly for the Book of Mormon]. I did not see the angel myself, and, therefore, I have a right not to believe it.

When also I am told that a woman called the Virgin Mary, said, or gave out, that she was with child without any cohabitation with a man, and that her betrothed husband, Joseph, said that an angel told him so, I have a right to believe them or not. Such a circumstance requires much stronger evidence than their bare word for it. But we have not even this – for neither Joseph nor Mary wrote any such matter themselves; it is only reported by others that they said so. It is hearsay upon hearsay, and I do not choose to rest my belief upon such evidence.
And so, when Ibrahim Elias asks, “Who knows better, Allah or us?”, I answer, unequivocally: "We do!" And when he claims, “The Prophet Muhammad said: ‘Order your children to pray, until the age of seven, and beat them so they pray, until the age of ten’,” I say – with all respect that’s due: “Blow it out your ear, ya stupid nut!”

And finally for this list is the good/bad news that the brave “dean of Saudi bloggers”, Fouad al-Farhan has finally been heard from. After being kept in solitary confinement and held for 82 days, he was permitted to phone his family. His “crime” appears to be derived from his blog's theme:
Searching for freedom, dignity, justice, equality, public participation, and all the rest of lost Islamic values…
In the column at the right, I’ve added a link to the Free Fouad Campaign. And suggestions to the contrary notwithstanding, I’d bet that behind Fouad’s incarceration are the Saudi “thugs” dedicated to the Promotion of Vice and the Prevention of Virtue.

And yes, I meant to write it that way – although it’s opposite from the way they write it. But as is common with dumb thugs and conniving clerics, they don’t yet see that Abraham, Moses, Ezra, Jesus, all the popes, Muhammad, and Hitler were all wrong:

The worst vice is to blindly obey; the greatest virtue is to figure things out for yourself.