In Defense of Blasphemy

This is a transcript of a talk I gave on the 17 March 2009, at the University of Cape Town.

This is a two part discussion – as a welcome to members and an outline of the society; followed by the focus of the major topic: The defense of blasphemy amidst the smoke of recent religious obfuscation, pertaining to the latest issue of Sax Appeal, UCT’s RAG magazine.

1. The Flight from Reason

Firstly, there is currently no other society – within UCT and its surrounding sphere – that represents a naturalistic world-view, defends reason as opposed to the proliferation of “faith”, and stands up for secularism, freedom of speech and thought amidst the clamouring of clerical bullies. Indeed, last year when religious lobbies at UCT demanded the exam time-table be changed to cater for their holidays, mostly religious students were given a voice, since they had one in the solidarity of a society. For the first time, the unification of those who stand for reason must coagulate their disproportionate views into a coherent stream of civilised, open criticism of a surrounding environment, filled with a plethora of faith-based initiatives. Francis Goya’s eminent painting, in 1799, encapsulates our drive, entitled “the sleep of reason brings forth monsters.”

Secondly, the society will dispel myths surrounding nonbelief: such as atheists are drunkards who have sexually immoral lives. That is not true. That is only me. Not everyone is like me, however. Other myths that we will dispel are: atheists are unhappy, atheists can not be good, atheists are arrogant, atheism is another religion, atheism requires more faith. All these – and more – is as a result of ignorance on the part of the faithful, who would certainly find us to be happy, fulfilled and loving life. We find beauty in this wonderful life – and it really is full of wonder – because it is all we have. The society will debunk the myths by raising consciousness and visibility of nonbelievers, in UCT, South Africa and internationally. Our extensive links to top societies, such as CFI, Skeptic and the International Ethical and Humanist Union, as well as to top intellectuals, such as Daniel Dennett (who spoke at UCT), Johann Hari, Richard Dawkins, Simon Blackburn and Julian Baggini, allows us to be in a position to do just that.

We have done our homework, people.

We will also achieve this by having various events: from talks and lectures, to screenings and debates, and even social drunken orgies where we praise Satan and slaughter a few babies. We only ask that you provide your own towels. But in all seriousness, these social gatherings allow non-believers to connect via reason as opposed to faith. This solidarity, from a rejection of superstition, supernaturalism and a heightened awareness of recent backlashes of religious fundamentalists, is a recent solidarity but one that is ultimately fulfilling. Many people find this to be the best aspect of societies like ours, since it allows them to be more free than before. They no longer are in an environment where they have to believe in celestial dictatorships, a god that cares about your diet, and an illiterate businessman in Arabia who rode on flying horses.

We also want to foster inter-group dialogues, between religious groups. Some of you last year may have attended a small debate between myself and the theologian Jordan Pickering. We hope to hold more events of a similar nature, such as panel-discussions with religious leaders. Clerics are given a high-standing on our society, to comment on critical developments in the political, public and private spheres. We think that secularists and those who defend reason should also have a say, when it comes to such matters. Instead of denigrating these cultural leaders, we simply wish that those who do not belief be allowed to have the same platform.

We believe that this life is filled with – as I said – wonder, beauty and endless places for personal growth. I believe we are suspended between two poles, existing on a trajectory from a high pole of “birth”, which glides down to join the lower one of “death”. We are a tiny droplet of water snaking down from the first pole to the last, reflecting the images surrounding us from the environment, yet distorting it with the refraction of subjectivity.

What a waste it would be to slide down that suspension, from one pole to the other, as a blinkered drop. How distasteful to clamour for despair because there is no celestial hand holding the string to cater for your every snaking move. It would be better to never have been if you take no comfort in being a reflecting drop, in celebrating your movement and your awareness and the “kingdom of infinite space” – as Raymond Tallis calls it – in between your ears. We do not know everything, nor will we. Our knowledge is various lit lanterns placed on the precipice of the external world, which show the extent where the border into ignorance rests. Crossing into that land is exhilarating, since it requires that only place we know which is endless: Our imaginations.

Imagine can be traced to the Greek phainesthai, which means “to appear”, which itself is related to phaos and phos meaning “light.” Thus, our imaginations light the way for knowledge, which is made tentatively and by incremental snaking – though from a pole of ignorance to one of further ignorance. I have always thought it is better to proclaim the extent of ones ignorance over the extent of ones knowledge, since we can change our ignorance but there is nothing much we can do to our knowledge. This might be translated into Confucius’s better phrasing: “Real knowledge is to know the extent of ones ignorance.”

And reason as I said, is the light which shows our ignorance. The AAS believes we must defend reason, as it is fragile and often silenced in the name of religious sentimentality. Reason is under constant threat from extremes: the absolutist dogmatic religious zealots on the right; and the torrid relativists who eschew universal human rights to cater for subjective feelings on the left. And flitting like a mosquito on these open wounds of reason, are those who forgo science in the name of private, personal experience to exonerate psychics, mediums and other monsters from Goya’s painting. The society defends science and public verifiable claims, as always, when these are ignored, suffering is caused. Suffering that could be alleviated if people take in evidence as opposed to basing their lives on that vice called faith.

We also are a base for those who are struggling with very real problems dealing with faith: that is, being expelled from a family or community, or facing threats of a similar nature. We hope to arm them intellectually, to be able to hold discussions with family and friends in a non-argumentative way. Also, many will find support from others who they will meet through our social events and functions. The incredible healing power of human solidarity can not be lost – even by people like me who see nothing spiritual or “sacred” in the world.

Finally, the society defends human rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) – not absolutely, but as an excellent outline of a collaboration of many minds, after much thought and open debate.

I urge you all to at least have a copy of the UDHR printed, somewhere in your homes. It is these goals every thinking person should aim for in his and her society. A society of equality, justice, compassion, respect for persons over ideas, and one that is blind to social distinctions based on anything other than a person’s intellectual and moral character. These are the liberties we have, in a liberal democracy – but one that is becoming less liberal and less democratic. We will solve all social ills not through feelings and an appeal to gods or bronze-aged myths, but through critical thought, analysis, scepticism and its sister reason. As Bertrand Russell said, and I will quote extensively from him:

Our dealings with those whom we love may be safely left to instinct; it is our dealings with those whom we hate that ought to be brought under the dominion of reason. … [W]e could begin to build a new morality, not based on envy and restriction, but on the wish for a full life and the realization that other human beings are a help and not a hindrance when once the madness of envy has been cured. This is not a Utopian hope; it was partially realized in Elizabethan England. It could be realized tomorrow if men would learn to pursue their own happiness rather than the misery of others. This is no impossibly austere morality, yet its adoption would turn our earth into a paradise.

Thus, I hope you have noticed there is nothing to do with attacking religious people- but much to do with religious ideas, mocking religious fundies like someone called Taryn Hodgson – Ill get to her in the second part -, we are not arrogantly forcing our views into and above those who disagree with us. We have our own formulated view of the world, based on reason and compassion without any divine ordinances or permission. We require no permission to be good, no celestial dictatorship to govern our morals, no propitiation to imaginary beings, no regurgitated myths to find beauty – anyone who thinks that a talking burning bush is more beautiful than the horse-head Nebula needs a lesson in aesthetics – and we, finally, require no magic book to seek meaning, beauty, love, life, and fulfilment within this life as it stands.

We say keep your views if you believe in a god, but we only ask that you do not force it and its tributaries of thought to seep into the society we live in. Since that is not possible given the very definition of religion, we who stand for reason feel it high time to usurp the gnarled hands of religious bullies, steering the reins of our societal future. We have begun to realise too late that reason is fragile, but now we must protect it. Myths, legends, feelings are not going to help. If I offend anyone by saying any of these things, so be it. But if the society manages to better one life, recalibrate one mind, and offer help to even one person – your feelings will be lost as someone is able to take greater steps into a life fully realised, without the blinkers of religion and myths and the death-wish longing for the better world that “awaits” them after.

Though you may get angel wings in heaven, there is no reason why you can’t use this life to soar.

That is our society, that is what we stand for.

Members vary in the supposed “degree of militancy”. I am erroneously known as the “militant wing” of the society. I do not know why. Yet, though I do not call myself an atheist – I find that term unhelpful – nor a humanist – I find that term superfluous – I am not averse to proclaiming myself an antitheist. Other members on the committee call themselves “agnostics” or simply “atheists”. Whatever you want to call yourself, this is a society where all views pertaining to the good life, reason and solidarity of our world comes before wishful-thinking, emotions and belief without evidence. We will not oust you if you believe in a deity, but we certainly will – in the spirit of reason – demand evidence, proof or logic. The only people we currently do not accept are those who think Elvis Presley is still alive: not just because there is no evidence to back you up, but because most of us hate Elvis.

The nature of open dialogue and discourse is enscribed in the nature of freedom of speech. The AAS, as I said, will not silence those who mock atheists or defame science and draw cartoons of philosophers (if anyone has seen what most philosophers look like, there is a lot to make fun of). Freedom of speech means that I can say what I want about your ideas and you can say what you want about mine. That is why we would defend deniers of all kinds to write and speak of their views: from those who deny evolution, the Holocaust and the, latest, germ-theory. Because the ideas of science are so firm and strong, they can stand up to criticism. Afterall, this is the basis for Karl Popper’s notion of falsification: We do not believe in things that are True, but things which have faced an onslaught of counter-ideas and theories. We accept an idea only after it has been “boldly put forward on trial”. We may say that we accept ideas only after they have gone through a Gauntlet of Criticism. The ideas we hold are all bloody and injured from an onslaught of attacks, but they have survived nonetheless due to their inner-strength and logical appeal. But it does not make them true – it simply means they have survived where others have failed.

Thus, we could be wrong and we accept that. But the self-correcting method of reason, the overarching principle of science, will show our faults. Thus astrology became astronomy, alchemy became chemistry. Now religion will become, I suppose, common sense and decency. Whilst I do not believe in absolute truth, I certainly believe that which has not yet been disproven, for example: cosmology, evolution, and a universe without a celestial dietician worried over whether women are wearing a piece of cloth (isn’t he omnipotent anyway?). The same can not be said for the deniers of evolution and cosmology. Though we see no evidence to support their views, that does not mean we want to shut them up.

But to the faithful it does not work both ways. For the faithful, freedom of speech is a two way-street where they have closed off the oncoming lane, with deliberate obfuscation and vitriol. They have shattered the street-lights, cordoned off the pavement and dragged tolerance to one side, biting and screaming.

This leads us into the second part of my talk, namely The Defense of Blasphemy

2. In Defense of Blasphemy

Blasphemy, it has been said, is a victimless crime. Blasphemy however is neutrally defined as:

1. impious utterance or action concerning the God of the theists or sacred things.
2. Judaism.
a. an act of cursing or reviling God.
b. pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton (YHVH) in the original, now forbidden manner instead of using a substitute pronunciation such as Adonai.

The Catholic Encyclopaedia, however, defines blasphemy as an “etymologically gross irreverence towards any person or thing worthy of exalted esteem”. Now, how are we to contemplate these various definitions, all churning within a pot of miasmatic confusion. Since, the very absurdity of a talking ape offending an omniscient, omnipotent being should immediately calm the joke that offense has become.

Does anyone feel hurt when I say: “Zeus is a bastard?”. Well, if there are any classics lecturers I imagine I have – but aside from them, most of us do not believe in Zeus. “Odin is a bully, a mysogynist, a bounder and poltroon that deserves nothing but scorn for his treatment of people.” Or how about: “Fidi Mikullu is an abhorrent, horrble and unpleasant character.” Or “I know what Thor can do with his hammer.” Shocking, I know (excuse the pun). “Tezcatlipoca is a pestilential, arrogant and malevolant idiot.”

In all these cases, I – a talking ape – have taking a deity’s name in vane. But… what happens if we had to replace all those insults, and denigrations with the the name Yahweh, capital G god, or Jesus. These separate or the same being – the microdiscipline of theology has yet to figure this out – is somehow, by today’s standard, not allowed to receive such treatment.

But why? Why can’t I say the following, “I think the god of the theists is an unpleasant, mysogynistic, pestilential bully filled with hubris enough to ignite the fires of a dictators mind”.

I am not taking the theistic god out for special scorn. It is not like we have lined up all the gods and said this god is more likely to exist than that, or that this god is worse than that (though, I do think that Venus is much better than Yahweh). To those of us who do not believe, the theists must address this question: Why is it when we blaspheme against Tezcatlipoca – who is a deity – there is no reprise to be silent; but when it comes to their deity, cages are opened and freedom forced inside. What is so special about the theist’s deity above others that have existed? In and of himself, he is not special – it is only that large proportions of the world’s population (claim to) believe in him.

Even before they get on to his existence – for which there is not a single good philosophical reason – they must ask themselves why we can all scorn Fidi Mikullu but not Yahweh. Offense is taken in and of itself as an argument. You have hurt my feelings, it states, therefore you must be silenced or censored. But, as I highlighted above, we who are offended by the idiocy if creationist and Holocaust deniers’ claims, do not ask them for silence – even if it “offends” us. Open dialogue, the nature of a stable society, means that we have an agora – or market place of ideas – to which all are allowed to contribute. Naturally, being an open environment there are things we will not like. But whether we like something or not does not tell us whether it is true or helpful. It must be subjected to criticism from both sides, for and against. It if it hurts your feelings, well, that is really just too bad.

We can not simply dismiss an idea because one side is “hurt”. Defenders of reason do not use offense in and of itself as an argument. That is simply bad reasoning and terrible logic. To quote JM Coetzee:

Convictions that are not backed by reason … are not strong but weak; it is the mark of a weak position, not a strong position, that its holder, when challenged, takes offense. All viewpoints deserve a hearing; debate, according to the rules of reason, will decide which deserves to triumph.

Note again: All ideas, even those of the religious, are given voice. We must hear all viewpoints since they all are worthy of being heard or audi alteram partem. Otherwise, one side is given preferential treatment whilst bullying the other into silence. That is neither mature, grown-up nor the sign of civilized discourse. Such treatment of opposing ideas should be left in the infancy of the school-yard and those who take offense can go bully some child for their lunch-money. It is simply unhelpful in the grown-up, adult sphere in which we all must live.

But why do so many people take offense so easily? It is enshrined in John Stuart Mill’s notion of the “tyranny of majority opinion”. Most people in the world do perhaps believe in a god. The reasons are not intellectual or philosophical, but purely based on the heritage of ideas, passed down by blood like eye-colour or myopia. And like myopia, the ancestoral conveyance of belief prevents the descendant from seeing the world clearly. I was 7 years old when I realised that I could not see properly with my left eye. I thought everyone was short-sighted in their left eye: It was obvious to me, since I was the only template or litmus-paper to test by. But when my idea of “everyone is short sighted in their left eye” was tested with the same procedures as given everyone else – a kind of Gauntlet of Criticism as I mentioned before – my idea was shown to be wrong. Thus, when I finally acquired spectacles, to cure me of my bad idea, the world opened up its glory and its wings unfurled, allowing my previously cloistered imagination, of this blurry world, to be enraptured purely based on the beauty of clear vision.

And the myopic ideas of religion are much the same. Many people believe it to be true since most people are unfortunately not very self-reflective people. When their ideas, which have been passed down via heritage, are subjected to the same criticism as any other ideas, they immediately retreat under the guise of offense. This is a personal thing, you are not allowed to talk about it. If it was not the fact that so many people believe in a god and so many people responded to open criticism of religious ideas in this way, we would all agree it is absurd. It really is absurd to say that one’s feelings are hurt because of someone else’s mockery of one’s metaphysical beliefs. But society, fuelled by the emotions and responses of the majority, has deemed it acceptable to respond as such. Most people do it, so it must be OK. Thus, when we atheists criticise we are told we are being offensive, arrogant and disrespectful. The faithful could afford this response in the past, given the powerful position of the Church and clergy in all spheres in society. With the ideas of science and humanism hailing from the Enlightenment challenging religious ideas, all the faithful had was strong emotion. They could afford to use it then; they can afford to wield it now. That is one part of why offense is used.

Yet, as one of modern Catholicism’s tough-minded zealots, Arnold Lunn, has said: “The theory that you should always treat the religious convictions of other people with respect finds no support in the Gospels.” I will highlight later what the Old Testament says, though.

In many cases, the fence of “offense” is why religious dialogue has simply ceased continuing. The dialogue is closed off by the brackets of emotions. Thomas Paine highlighted this in 1776 – an important year when the incredible US Declaration of Independence was written – when he wrote in the appropriately titled “Common Sense”:

A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom.

No doubt many here who are religious have been offended by my portayal of your god. I do not apologise since I am not mocking you, I am mocking your ideas. I am mocking your deity that you believe in. If this was a more public sphere, in most societies, I would not be allowed to be so fruitful with my scorn. This was brought home recently in relation to Sax Appeal.

Sax appeal has been around for 76 years. It was banned and burnt by Christians, during the apartheid era. It is also the largest student magazine in the world, in terms of distribution.

The article in question is entitled “Top Ten Atheist Retorts to Fundamentalist Christians”. This is no high-brow stuff, simply student toilet humour. Black and white pictures, with blurbs above them saying things like “Jesus died for our sins” and a response “I bet he feels like a tool now.” But it was discovered by Christian watchdog, Errol Naidoo, from the Family Policy Institute. Naidoo had the gall to say: “If UCT attempted this dispicable act against any other faith group there would have been a major outcry by now and perhaps even violence.”

Who could he possibly mean?

Perhaps he means the followers of the Greek gods: one can almost picture those vitriolic followers of the god Ares, donning their armour and marching down our streets. Maybe Naidoo meant the Druids, who would no doubt fetch their robes and run to the forest to send an army of rabid, red-eyed squirrels against UCT. The absurdity was not lost on the brilliant Hayibo.com, whose satire of the Sax Appeal debacle had an Amnish protest, using horse-drawn carrages and 12 barrels of women, to protest against the magazine Popular Mechanics. For those of you who do not know, the Amnist are small highly orthodox sect of Christianity in America, that forgo any modern technology and still dress in 17th century clothes.

Yet, I find it hard, as should you, to worry about the Amnish at night. I do not lose sleep over offending Ares. Is he refering to orthodox Jews? Maybe. But I think we all know he is talking about many Muslim responses. Many of you will remember in 2005, the publication of some cartoons by the conservative Danish newspaper, Jyllends-Posten. 139 people will killed as a result of this “offense”. But because Naidoo was speaking for Christian groups, he attempted to compound his own response by saying: “look we are not marching or killing anyone. We are so much better than those crazy Islamists.” To a certain degree this is true, but just because one group reacts to offense less violently than another, does not make the former group’s ideas any better. Naidoo still has no good reasons for being so angry and making his demands of curbing freedom of expression.

Naidoo however was not prescient, as soon, members from UCT’s staff were receiving death-threats. Not very Christian, you might think. I, however, think why not: Why do we not consult what their god says about blasphemy (see Leviticus 24:16). It seems pretty in line with their Bible to issue death-threats, does it not? Their Bible does advise them to kill a woman on her wedding night if she is not a virgin; their Bible, in a verse just below the previous in Deuteronomy, does says we should stone a child to death (Deut. 21:18-19), if he is disobedient to his children.

The Bible has told Christians how to deal with offense – whilst it also says something completely different later. This shows how unhelpful it is to derive ones morality from one of these magic books.

As Isaac Asimov once said: “Read correctly, the Bible is most potent force for atheism ever conceived.” The morality that we read from the Bible should be offensive to all thinking people: But are we asking for the Bible to be burned, not read? On the contrary, more people should read the Bible to understand that it is not as amazing as Christians believe it to be (the same goes for the Quran and the Book of Mormon).

How did other Christian’s respond? Well, here is one reply from a Christian, called Taryn Hodgson. After going through rehashed theistic arguments, Taryn Hodgon, in the last VARSITY, says: “[atheists] continue in their blasphemy, SEXUAL IMMORALITY AND DRUNKENNESS.” She then, helpfully, informs us that we must abandon sin. That is very offensive to atheists. I know many atheists who don’t care about religion, aren’t “getting any”, and hate alcohol. This generalisation is unhelpful since by “immoral” she means “goes against her particular brand of Christianity”. Presumably she eats pork or drinks wine – which, by Islam’s model, is immoral. But would this make her change her stance to make another group feel happy? HL Mencken correctly defined puritanism as “The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” Such is the case here.

Someone called Lugisani Nefale from the Student Christian Fellowship says: the following (read entire letter). Excuse me? “Those loose Atheist believers” (which translates as “those loose non-believing believers” – an oxymoron) “are running wild on campus”? What on earth does this mean? Nefale also says “atheism is a form of faith”. Presumably this is meant to be an insult, but that means he is insulting himself twice:

1. “Faith” used as an insult shows he views it just as we do. Namely as something silly.
2. He means that those of us who do not believe in his god have a faith. Fine, but that means that his nonbelief in Tezcatlipoca, Quetzquoatl, and Thor are 3 faiths. But this is madness. If the very disbelief in faith is a faith, the dialogue stops.

Responses like these two, out of a collection of even more dispicable affronts to human sensibility, highlight the pernicious right that the faithful have to claim such knowledge of a great being. They claim to know that he feels offended by this and that, to know that nonbelief leads to corruption of the person, to generalise that those who do not agree with my particular brand of faith are deluded. They give no evidence and are simply asserting their right that such affronts to their ideas must not be published.

This was taken even further down the rabbit-role of madness. The Christian Democratic Alliance took the matter to none other than the SA Human Rights’ Commission. This is a commission premised on the foundations I highlighted before: regarding people blindly, without recourse to creeds, races and so on. And the name says it all: human rights. Human beings have rights not their ideas. Have a look at the article and try to consider the admirable men and women at the Human Rights’ Commission staring at it and wondering where the violence or exclusion is coming from. A student magazine?

Ideas are there, in the market place of an open democracy to be viewed and scorned as we deem fit. They are not immune to criticism and it certainly exhibits no property dispicable enough to warrant attention from the human rights’ commission. If you bring religious ideas into a secular society, you must expected to be scorned.

Jesus himself says, in Matthew, that his followers must expect to be mocked for their faith. Saint Augustine said: “We must be on our guard against giving interpretations that are hazardous or opposed to science, and so exposing the Word of God to ridicule of unbelievers.” Yet because of reactions by Naidoo and his cronies, we have people like RAG’s Cameron Arendse forced to grovel at the feet of the faithful. Our vice-chancellor, Max Price, had to issue an apology – something I do not agree with. (Though perhaps, if I was in his position, I might’ve done the same.)

Christian Democratic Alliance spokesman, Colin Fibiger, said:

We consider the content of the UCT magazine to be a deliberate and planned, discriminatory attack on Christianity and will seek full restitutional measures.

This includes the immediate removal of the Executive Director of Student Affairs, as well as the Project manager and all editorial staff.

Now here is the bottom line. There was no instigation for violence or discrimination against Christian people; therefore it does not warrant a violation of human rights. It was mocking religious belief in general and as Professor Benatar highlighted, only two of the pictures target Christians. The other 8 pictures are aimed at religious belief in general.

Why should Christians not be treated this way, as other religious beliefs are? We so-called sceptics should not have to adjust our lives, which includes looking at ideas critically and unemotionally, just because one group says their ideas are beyond criticism. As I highlighted before about Taryn Hodgson, if Muslims came out saying they are offended by all the non-halal places, people drinking alcohol, and women wearing short skirts, would the Christians adjust to suit them? It seems unlikely – though perhaps some guys would like some of the female drivers off the road, but for different reasons.

Why then should we nonbelievers adjust for Christians?

Naidoo, seeing his views further mocked because we hurt his feelings by highlighting his errors, wrote a strongly-worded letter to Cape Times. Naidoo once again tried to place two target groups together, to highlight why his was better: This time he highlighted that the so-called liberal media elite (whatever that is) has no time for views against homosexuality but plenty that mocks his faith.

To quote him:

I can almost guarantee that if the object of Sax Appeal’s mockery and ‘satire’ were directed at homosexuals and homosexuality, the liberal media would be singing a very different tune. Predictably, the liberal media elite have taken it upon themselves to determine the limitations of free speech – if any – for the rest of us.  In other words, they decide who can be mocked, derided, ridiculed and humiliated. And according to their warped definition, Jesus Christ and Christianity are fair game. However, homosexuals and any expression of homosexuality are strictly off-limits …

This is a sneaky but fallacious move. Does not freedom of speech mean we can say what we want about ideas, yet we refrane from mocking homosexuals. Surely this is a double-standard as Naidoo highlights?

No. It is not. Firstly, if Naidoo is so oppressed and downtrodden by the liberal media, why does he write letters to them, and get published? Why is he getting his 15 minutes on Carte Blanche and Special Assignment? That does not seem very “limiting” from the media’s point of view. In fact, it seems rather in keeping in line with the principle: audi alteram parte. That is, remember: all views deserve a hearing.

And, secondly, freedom of speech does not mean we can say and express whatever we want. This is common mistake from those who bash secularism, liberalism and freedom of speech and thought.

My co-contributor to Butterflies and Wheels, Nigel Warburton, highlights:

Defenders of free speech almost without exception recognize the need for some limits to the freedom they advocate. In other words, liberty should not be confused with licence. Complete freedom of speech would permit freedom to slander, freedom to engage in false and highly misleading advertising, freedom to publish sexual material about children, freedom to reveal state secrets, and so on … The kind of freedom of speech worth wanting is freedom to express your views at appropriate times in appropriate places, not freedom to speak at any time that suits you. Nor should it be freedom to express any view whatsoever: there are limits.

Those limits are then premised on what constitutes encitment to violence and intolerance, hence, homosexuality and so on.

Homosexuality, unlike religion, is not a set of ideas, which are designed to cater for explaining, exculpating, and excluding based on the word of a deity – himself designed as arbiter of the weather, the creation of the world and the dealer of death.

Religion then, which admits no doubt and treats scepticism, derision and apostasy with the loving care of a sociopath with a poisoned knife, can not be equated with homosexuality. Homosexuality, firstly, is not a set of ideas. It is either “erotic activity with another of the same sex” or engaging in being a homosexual.

It is simply focused on relations with the same sex: there are no ideas here, it simply is a group of people – it is who they are. Religion, however, deals with what you believe.

Homosexuality makes no pretensions toward supernatural and untested claims. It is simply a position – ignore the pun – one takes in and of sex. What is there to say about it? It is a personal choice that, for the most part, harms no one – unlike religious beliefs. However, religion to those of us who studied literature, is a fertile ground for humour. It is so ludicirous in so many areas, it is begging for mockery. Homosexuality on the other hand, is not that funny by any standards. What is their to mock and deride, in any case? Perhaps it is not as deep – ignore the pun – as Naidoo thinks: Maybe, those seeking to make humour are just leaping on the most popular source of silly ideas. “The religion of one age,” RW Emerson said, “is the literary entertainment of the next.”

Naidoo spoke out against homosexuality based on nothing but assertion: It offended him as a Christian that SA tourism’s Cheryl Ozinsky attempted to make Cape Town Pink. To most of you, that would not matter, since there were no homosexuals knocking at your door wondering if you had accepted Elton John as your lord and saviour. Why should Ozinsky not try to make Cape Town Pink? Naidoo could give no good reasons for his views and that was why he was ousted and chided by the liberal media – not because we do not want to offend homosexuals. We want good, strong reasons for saying something – not simply assertion or because your “magic” book says so. Naidoo is propping up his faith as some sort of justification for his assertions, because society does not fiti into his narrow view of Christianity. This reminds me of a famous quotation of the great Heinrich Heine: “Christ rode on an ass, but now asses ride on Christ.”

Finally, we can focus on one last point – a question that we as a society were asked by VARSITY Newspaper: Should the editors have published the article? Yes. Though most of us found it distasteful, we support the editors’ right to publish whatever they like (within the bounds of non-violence and decency). They could’ve mocked atheists and nonbelievers. They could’ve mocked physicists and so on – I mean, if you think philosophers dress badly, just look at physcists. You all saw what Gareth looks like. I’m joking, love – you’re gorgeous.

From many angry Christian groups writing strongly-worded letters, to appealing to the human right’s commission, to death-threats and irrational reactions, the Sax Appeal Debacle highlights an important aspect of the current standing of freedom. As Noam Chomsky said: “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” So Naidoo can not claim derision toward mockery on the one hand, whilst invoking freedom of speech on the other hand. These two hands can not come together in a handshake of tolerance, they are split apart by opposing notions.

The Sax Appeal Debacle highlights an important movement, tenured toward respecting religious sentiments in the broader sphere. Some of you may know that the UN is slowly transmuting the defense of freedom of speech, into limiting it against religion. The incitement to religious hatred is slowly becoming recognised as a crime worthy of prosecution in the upper echelons of our only universal peace-keeping body.

But, blasphemy, as I have defended it here, is a right for everyone because everyone will be offended by some view, in this open market place of ideas. This is the deal we sign up for when entering a secular society, premised on freedom of speech and equal human rights. If a view upsets you, you must be able to give good reasons aside from simply assertion. If it crosses over into simply poor taste, at the least, or incitement to violence against persons, at worst, then we would also be defending freedom of speech – since freedom, remember, does not mean free-reign. Freedom, like reason, has limits. But that does not mean they are restricted. Even the limits are made with the same tools of reason and freedom. It is when the limits are constructed out of dogmatic assertion and emotion that we have a problem.

So, yes, I believe in limiting freedom of speech and focusing on the limits of reason – but using reason to discover those borders. I do not believe in setting up arbitrary boundaries based on emotion and magic books. We must eliminate the arbitrary boundaries which made life so difficult in our history. As Denis Diderot once said: “With the bowels of the last priest, let us strangle the last king.”

Reason will decide the victor, as ideas emerge bloody and bleeding from the Gauntlet of Criticism. Raising their fingers, they mark the next point in our trajectory of thought, as we glide slowly down the path of ignorance. Faith is unhelpful and deserves the same treatment as astrology, alchemy and phlogiston theory. As this Sax Appeal debacle has highlighed, we need to be clearer in our defense of reason. We must highlight the idiocy of any idea – all ideas are open to criticism. We can maintain respect for each other as human beings, yet have absolutely no respect for our beliefs and ideas. I do not want anyone, no matter how heretical you are, to think my ideas are sacred or beyond criticism.

Even my ideas on equality of the genders, human rights, compassion are not beyond criticism. I do not hold them absolutely, nor would I die for them. Because, as reason states, I could be wrong.

The tiny light of reason in this path of darkness, marked with the blanket of superstition, is our guiding light in this world. We progress through joined hands, not through raised fists. I believe we can all unite in our efforts to better the world, because our ideas about god, Jesus and Thor are not important to protecting our freedom. I, personally, think, along with AC Grayling, that “if the world is to have a future, it rests in the hands of women.” Yet, what major religion has not been oppressive to the rights of women, and, therefore, against the progress of our modern world?

So let us shake of these shackles of offense and being hurt by someones mockery and derision. There is work to be done: It wil start with being united in our thoughts of the good life sans gods. It will continue by emancipating reason from the shrouds of religion. And, finally, it will lie within the hands of the better sex, the freedom of women.

Let’s ignore petty student magazines that offend us and focus on the real world. The question of god’s existence is one of the stupidest, yet people trouble themselves with this more than helping promote reason and freedom to all peoples. Let us not fight over the shadows in the corner when an actual darkness looms ahead.

The darkness will be banished with the light of truth ignited by the fires of reason, raising the torch of knowledge to this cave of ignorance, with our backs to supersition. Which way are you facing?

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“If I had money I would have taken him to Red Cross – maybe he would still be alive today.”

First, do no harm. Lying underfoot, trodden by the feet of my province’s medical establishment, the Hippocratic Oath stands as a mythological document to many it seems. Though of course it was updated by Louis Lasagna in 1964 the essential remains to “never do harm” and to constantly remember one is dealing with a human being. But the fingers of compassion were prised loose in a spree of irrationality, as sick children and their families were turned away from hospitals to die.

The first story that was transmuted into bold black-and-white letters concerned one-year old Ubantu Mali. Ubantu had been discharged from the Red Cross Children’s Hospital, after being treated for gastroenteritis.

Gastroenteritisis an inflammation of the lining of the intestines caused by a virus, bacteria or parasites.” It is one of the top 5 causes for deaths worldwide, and is especially a common death-dealer for infants in non-industrialised communities. Poor water and hygiene are, as usual, the primary reasons for this. It seems no fault that most hygiene specialists, when asked, “What is the best way to prevent sickness?”, usually reply: “Soap and water”.

Coming from an underprivileged community as Ubantu did, this does not make him a dirty child, or his parents filthy. What this means is that their surroundings are not catered for health or hygiene. It is only a stark reminder that whilst many of us have purified water, many of these people are forced through desperation to re-use water or partake of water that is completely unpurified. Sympathies should strike hard and for this reason I can not fathom the developement of this horrific story.

After being discharged, the family was told that if his symptoms arise again to take him to a local medical facility. The symptoms of course did arise again. Ubantu’s grandmother, Ntombizodwa Mali, then took him in an effort to save his life. Vomiting and diarrhea plagued Ubantu from the beginning to the, quite literal, end.

Ntombizodwa went to three different hospitals and was rejected three different times.

At the first, Nyanga clinic, they were told that the facility had reached its child quota for the day. This is utter nonsense, since the primary focus of the city’s policy is that no child is turned away if it is in severe distress. They were treated rudely by nurses and clerks, as they were shifted from section to section. Doors closed in their faces as soon as they approached, even when they pleaded and pointed to the dying child. Staff were simply dismissive, focusing instead on protocol and highlighting other patients.

Ntombizodwa said: ““There were so many people in front of us. They told us that their folders were with the doctor already and they were now queuing to see him. We sat there for a while and realised that we didn’t have a folder and therefore might not get help after all.”

Thus the retention of slips of cardboard became more important to the staff than the blatant suffering of a child. The human heart struggles to find fruition amidst the machine of bureaucracy. With Ubantu’s symptoms getting worse by the hour, Ntombizodwa decided to try KTC Hospital.

However, when they arrived they were rudely told that the facility did not cater for children. They decided to try anyway, given the desperate situation as sweat and fever rose in the tiny mangled form of the child. Entering, they were told by the receptionist that she was not there to answer stupid questions. In a Kafkaesque turn-around, she indicated she was only there to deal with people who had folders.

Finally they walked all the way to Gugulethu CHC. The rudeness abated somewhat but they still waited for two hours, being ignored by staff. Finally, they were told by staff to return home as the nurses had seen enough children for that day.

From all the travelling and personal attempts to keep Ubantu alive, Ntombizodwa had slowly depleted whatever small supply of money she had. She now found herself stranded, without any way to return home. The only way was to put one foot in front of the other, a trip that would be daunting for an old woman – one with no less than her dying grandchild on her back. Even Faulkner’s Bundren family, who carry the corpse of the dead matriarch in As I Lay Dying, were prepared for their necromarch.

When Ntombizodwa arrived home, she found her grandchild dead.

Cape Town was in uproar when this story was first reported. It shows that the inherent human need to help, care and convey compassion remains strong. I have never doubted this – the only problem is that human solidarity is replaced by atomised functioning, as machines based on paperwork trudge forward in an effort to work. But, as usual, lost amidst the cogs of that which we create – like economics for example – is the normal human drive to help.

And as the exemplar of reason is science and philosophy, so the pinnacle of compassion is medicine. Some might say that the medicine I am referring to is a purely “Western” one. Leaving aside the reason why we consider Western, or European, medicine the “medicine of the world” as Roy Porter calls it, is that it works. Praying and homeopathy, laying on hands and other quackery, simply are gateways for placebos. They work in the sense they make one feel better, but the evidence rests with medicine as taught in hospitals and medical schools, to actually “fight off” disease.

Leaving aside this asinine “debate”, we must reconsider what this means.

Head of City Health, Dr Ivan Bromfield, has reiterated the point, following this disgusting affront to human sensibilities, that the city’s policy didn’t allow staff to turn very sick patients away. A full investigation has been launched into why these sorts of incidents are occurring.

Why were the Mali family turned away, with the obvious lie that the staff had fulfilled its quota of children for the day? Or perhaps the nurses had seen enough children? It is not very obviously a lie but it certainly is an excuse to waylay those who suffer. As Sissela Bok has highlighted, telling the truth does not appear in the Hippocratic Oath. It underpins the debate in bioethics whether one should or should not lie to patients, in order to help them. Nonetheless, it is not required, then, to tell patients the truth according the oath.

Yet, one could also make the case that that only matters when the patient is actually being treated. As government officials, they are trusted with caring for the citizens. Quite literally, our lives are in their hands. Truth, compassion and respect should be primary – but of course, as we see here, it is not.

We are not slaves to the systems we create. We are its masters and we are the subject of its intentions to restore the lives we want to lead. These very real and so-called practical establishments, from medicine to engineering, all help us to maintain a straight path of least suffering. No one would be glad to have their lives filled with surgery but no one doubts its awesome power to save. The paradox then is whilst we should venerate things like medicine and its disciplines, no one actually wants to be anywhere near it. That indicates that ones straight path in life has veered and is in need of restoration. Ideally, we would want to live in a world without police, doctors, governments and farmers – because we would hope people would not commit crimes, get sick, require laws or get hungry. Since we are human, we do require machines of our own making to watch us. It seems no fault that we created idols in our past and then prayed to them. It reminds one of Montaigne’s line that “Man is certainly stark mad: he cannot make a worm, yet he will make gods by the dozen.”

We have long stripped ourselves of gods and idols (by definition, in a secular democracy). We have learnt where we stand. Now, if we are to recalibrate our source of compassion and direct it in ways which will benefit our fellow man, we must take harsh steps to do that. This story highlights the ultimate failing that can occur with the two-pronged sword of medicine: great ways to save, and horrid ways to die. A child’s life was lost because of maltreatment and disregard by talking apes who were more excited by folders then by human forms; this is a mistake.

Never, in all our creations of machines and gods, should we lose sight of the fact that what matters is human solidarity, compassion and respect. With medicine, this should be the overarching principle. When this fails, medicine, health, surgery, becomes nothing but brow-beating nomenclature toward compassion’s own destruction. Let us start again and focus on the foundation of it all: helping others. But first, do no harm.

The Place of Reason

That fast artificer of reason, David Hume, said “reason is perfectly inert”. By this, he was focusing on the nature of action, given to morality:

Morals excite passion, and produce or prevent actions. Reason of itself is utterly impotent in this particular. The rules of morality, therefore, are not conclusions of our reason.

His argument stems from his overarching inquiry which states the obvious but important claim that “reason is the discovery of truth of falsehood”. Many who defend reason pronounce some sort of dominion on its extensions, proclaiming that no one with a sense of reason could say that condoms are the cause and not the cure for the proliferation of AIDS in Africa. No “reasonable” person would say that we should arrest 25 year old bloggers for insulting religious leaders.

The world in my opinion is filled with many assaults on coherent rationality: one which has raised itself up on its feet of evidence and stands strong with its wall of sensibility. But when we defend reason, we must be careful about what we mean.

By reason we do not mean some high-standard of maintenance with regards to autonomous liberty and propitious actions toward others. This is the desirable life of liberty I would want for all people’s, but it is not the sole dominion or elaboration of reason. Reason is perfectly inert in that it is nothing but a distinction of truth from falsity, a sifting of lies to uncoil strands of conglomerate reality to a fine, woven tapestry we can call the present.

There are many definitions of “reason” but I am mainly focused on the notion of it as sifter of truth. We should be weary of saying reasonable people are not religious; or reasonable people would not endorse blasphemy as a crime. There is no reason other than pure arrogance to suggest that there can be no coherent, logical reasoning for people to believe and for people to endorse blasphemy. This is not the same as highlighting the fact that there is not a single good reason to proclaim the existence of a deity, or that offense occurs constantly and it is simply society pre-judging the hypersensitivity of the faithful.

But what is this distinction?

One rests in our actions and physical wantings; the other rests in the purely abstract, intellectual side. This does not mean the one does not infer the other. Indeed, Julian Baggini, in his excellent Making Sense, highlights that many people would have a knee-jerk reaction to so-called “Frankenstein” foods – many regard “not natural” as “wrong”. This is a very physical response and one that elucidates many of their reactions.

However, once one carefully sifts through ones reasoning behind the reactions, we can highlight that these reactions are unfounded in terms of evidence and logic. We can, through extensive layering of reason, see that natural does not necessarily mean good, nor its corollary, that “not natural” means bad. For the former, Jared Diamond highlights, in his Pulitzer prize-winning Guns, Germs & Steel that plants are not there to be eaten by animals; they have various defenses, like poisons and thorns, to prevent such rabid self-destruction. Yet, no one would claim that poisons or thorns are “not natural”. That does not make ones poisoned bloodstream or a child’s bleeding arm “good” because it happened naturally. (Similarly, it is unnatural to wear clothes, glasses, take asthma inhalers, injections, and use every form of medical technology which saves countless lives everyday. Taken to its logical conclusion, people would not allow their soon-to-be-child to be saved in the very likely event that the birth process would be complicated – given that parturition is poorly designed in women’s bodies. Of course many Jehovah’s Witnesses allow a similar horror to occur when they refuse blood transfusions which could easily save their child’s life. At least, we can say for them they are staying true to their illogical philosophy).

Thus, when we lay out and carefully look at the things which are “natural” and “not-natural” we can come to the conclusion that our emotions are unfounded. This informs many things: the status of non-whites and their contact in the world, the place of women, nudity, violence and other such abstentions of expression from the previous century. Many, from past eras (and some still today) would react quite physically – not in pleasurable way, like myself – to seeing beautiful women displayed in their wonderful glory on billboards and magazines. Yet, our informed opinion on the human form, post-Enlightenment, has helped to change that. Of course, things like religion maintain a fixed, unhealthy obsession with this mortal coil and its springing into action with the joy of sex.

What I am attempting to stress is that the two dominions, of action, physicality and the phenomenal world along with the internal, intellectual and abstract domain inform one another. They cross like beams of sunlight through a broken ceiling and our thoughts are the tiny dust-particles flitting in-between each, finally landing on the floor and stabilising. I am stressing this warning that when we mention reason, that precious tiny fragile thing, it does not mean we have dominion over it. We who uphold reason – or like to think we do – would be those who tear the wings off fairies and claim that this tiny creature loves us.

Yet it is not the complete dismissal of rationality either when it enters the domains of morality. Hume’s quotation might misinform, since by definition ethics is in the shadow of the archway of rationality. It borders it and groans beneath the weight of constant usage. Reason, as with freedom of speech, has limits but one that is created with the same tools. The basis for Hume’s portrayal, or rather the extension of it, is to inform us on what is and what ought to be. How do we judge whether abortion should be legal or illegal? We would use arguments based on reason, evidence and logic. But does that make abortion right or wrong? This would be something reason can not inform on, it seems, since reason only attempts, by Hume’s definition, to “discover truth from falsehood”. Hume also stressed that good and evil are simply matters of feeling and run down a different tributary to reason.

But, down the patchwork of human thought, with rationality informing us on truth and lies then feelings telling us what is good and evil, there is no reason why they would not cross. As I highlighted above, reason can inform the passions and thus dissolve them into platitudinous patchworks from which to raise the feet of evidence one step further toward truth. When we defend reason we must be careful of its peremptory arrogation beneath the wings of our dominion. It must be allowed to be free or it will cease to tell us truth from lies, and tell us instead what we want to hear.

We who are not believers, defend science and maintain the highest defense of reason we can, must not be arrogant to think we have sole usage of this precious commodity. Let all partake and claim usage of reason – it is the conclusions which we will judge according to the same rules.

I’ve Been Asked to Debate

Due to my recent activities defending freedom of speech against the hypersensitive theists, I have faced an absence of writing. The responses I have received have been of a cordial nature, in keeping with open discussion and civil debate. The first to contact me was someone from a church close to UCT, asking to hold open discussions in the central plaza. Coordinating such an event given the infamous lax nature of UCT humanities’ admin is something I am, I suppose, sceptical about. I would go as far as to say I am a nonbeliever in the effectiveness of the administrations. I have to be shown proof of its efficacy.

Nonetheless, I then had an extended piece published in VARISTY, UCT’s official newspaper. It was read by one of the pastors by the Campus for Christ, who has since asked if I would have discussions in the main hall, Jameson Hall, on campus. He is attempting to gather around him such people as Errol Naidoo and Lugisane Nefale, both of whom I have severely critiqued. It will be interesting then – if this does occur – to see their real-time responses to my objections.

What will Nefale say when I point out his flaw that atheism requires faith, if our disbelief in his god is a faith, then his disbelief in Thor is a faith, too. What will Naidoo say to the false juxtaposition between homosexuality and Christianity? It will be interesting to discover their responses, since there is no time to pull bad reasoning out the air. Instead, we can watch it subsume into an amalgam of chaos, ripped from the veins of unreason, and threaded into some form of an English sentence. Thus, we will not have the final product before us in black-and-white, but watch the growth of this poisoned beast from its gestational phases.

What is the point of debate? Surely I see no hope in changing Naidoo’s mind? Of course not. But the point of debate is to allow for many opposing views to be aired. The many ears that will hopefully be quenched of their thirst for a flux of voices will be exponentionally larger than ears prepped for choir-preaching (of the theist and nontheist side). It will mean those who would never listen to someone like me – who will be godbashing as I always do, and not just capital “g” god – will be forced to. They will be forced to listen to me blaspheme against gods long since forgotten except to archeologists and small tribes.

This can only be a good thing since it raises awareness. Even if those who do not agree are still forced to lay out logically the points we raise. Since theistic arguments – by definition – do not fit logically or reasonably into any scheme, those who do believe can see why we find theistic arguments unappealing and rather mundance, if not completely flawed. I hopefully will be debating with my “partner in crime”, Jacques Rousseau, who has just written an extended piece I urge you all to read.

However, what could be their reasoning for wanting to debate me? Any thoughts? I do not exactly come across as very friendly in my writings, though in person I am gentle and fairly placid. At least, um, I think so.

Lashing Old Women – The Hubris of the Islamic Bullies

“Respect for your elders” has never been something that I have accepted for the sake of it: We should accept people based on their merit as people and their treatment toward us. This multi-layered confusion results in many children being forced into a frustrating disposition, where they endure the brunt of intolerant adults simply because “they are your elders!” No, I believe first we must earn each others respect, regardless of age. But my reaction to this certainly does not extend as far as that great bastion of unreason, that spoke in the faculty of knowledge, known as the mutaween of Saudi Arabia – or The Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

The commission has become the Elvis of stupid ideas, the Led Zeppelin of clerical bullying, and the siren to all those sexually-repressed men who just can’t find a meek-enough, mild-enough Muslim sheep (i.e. a woman) to copulate with. Instead, they must vent their repression on 75-year old women.

As CNN reports

A Saudi Arabian court has sentenced a 75-year-old Syrian woman to 40 lashes, four months imprisonment and deportation from the kingdom for having two unrelated men in her house.

The men were delivering bread to the elderly Khamisa Mohammed Sawadi, since her age made it inconvenient to procure such items. Even Thomas Kinneally, author of Schindler’s Ark, could not conjure up a more enduring scene of human dignity, created to be usurped by the hands of unreason. Yet, here we have an example of just such a scenario.

Of course, when you say Saudi Arabia, women and “what the hell” in one sentence, in the next breath you should be contemplating the mutaween. Where the death knells of reason sound, there the mutaween will be bouncing up and down, pulling hard on the rope. The mutaween have  more than 3,500 officers, and additional thousands of volunteers.

As the BBC reports: “They patrol the streets to enforce the country’s deeply conservative Islamic codes of dress and morality. [They] instruct shops to shut during prayer time and keeps a lookout for any slips in strict dress codes”. They also have the power:

to arrest anyone engaged in homosexual acts, prostitution, fornication, or proselytizing of non-Muslim religions, they can also arrest unrelated males and females caught socializing, enforce Islamic dress-codes, Muslim dietary laws (such as the prohibition from eating pork) and store closures during the prayer time. They prohibit the consumption or sale of alcoholic beverages and seize banned consumer products and media regarded as un-Islamic (such as CDs/DVDs of various Western musical groups, television shows and film). They also actively prevent the religious practices of other religions within Saudi Arabia

They have struck many false chords in the past: Consider their banning of the letter “X” because it looks too much like the Cross from Christian lore. This is a country that is proudly anti-Semitic, in the core sense of the word, even scorning Catholics to the point where they are ousted from the country – even when they are practising religion privately in their own apartments. I am anti-theistic, but this is simply ridiculous – this is not a thorough dismissal of Catholic ideas, it is dismissal of Catholic persons. Even if a non-religious party did this, I would still defend his right to practice his belief in the privacy of his home.

Famously, in 2002, 15 girls were burnt to death in an outbreak of fire because the mutaween did not allow fire-fighters to help them. Why, you may ask? Because the girls were not wearing their abayyas, or head-scarfs. Do these clerics – note, clerics, people who have hotline to god – not think it strange that this being they worship and, quite literally, think is so “great”, would be hurt by little girls wearing a piece of cloth on their heads? How on earth, at such a moment where human lives are so blatantly in danger, can theology honestly come into play?

If anyone does not believe that religion allows for madness to become doctrine, for the insane to become powerful, one need not look further than these mullah-minded horrors of humanity.

The renunciation of one faith for another is already dubious but when it is underpinned by the scornful wrath of the intolerant, it takes on sickening level. Especially, when someone from this same mutaween feels they have the right to cut out their daughter’s tongue and burn her alive for her act.

Amidst these clamours of discord, the one resounding chime will be Sheik Abdul Aziz Ben Baz’s fatwa of 1974, which stated that the earth is flat. In a brilliant piece of illogic that would have Russell spinning, the blind cleric stated:

If the earth is rotating, as they claim, the countries, the mountains, the trees, the rivers, and the oceans will have no bottom.

With the wallowing in the mire of mumbo-jumbo, it is perhaps no wonder that such flowers of idiocy arise. All the ideas and the sheer anger that drives them toward actualisation in brutality, leave a horrid taste in ones mouth. In this climate, it is no wonder that 75 year-old women can be sentenced to lashing. It almost seems as though it ought to happen, given the backward nature of this country. Once a soil is fertilized with such horror and decay of human sensibility, what can bloom but poisoned flowers?

If you are as horrified as I am, please alert people to the plight of women within Saudi Arabia. Ignoring whether you agree me on a god, I hope, at least, you can agree with me in my defence of our fellow humans.

Naidoo Strikes Again, With no Sax Appeal Whatsoever

The personal battle of Errol Naidoo, to say the strongest words in as few sentences, continues in a recent Cape Times’ letter. Whilst casting a thin veneer on his homophobia and other anti-Christian sentiments, he alludes to something called the “liberal media elite”. I strongly recommending reading my co-thinker Jacques Rousseau’s latest blog post on this letter, for a thorough understanding of the fallacies involved.

Let us summarise his main point and one that is particularly important to me: The notion that whilst we can mock Christians, Jews and Muslims (though I think we do too little of the latter) and get liberal points for this, we lose favour when we chastise homosexuals. Notice that Naidoo is again pulling the “lesser than evil” card to thrust his view in. He did it before by saying the Christian responses have at least not been as bad as that of offended Muslims.

But this means nothing. Instigating because Group X does not cause violence when disagreeing with an opinion, unlike Group Y, does not make Group X’s point any more valid. Both groups have no foundation in demanding respect for their petty ideas about a growing irrelevant distributor of unhelpful, ancient wisdom. AC Grayling defines religions as the technology of humanity’s impotence – and it shows.

Does Naidoo, however, not have a point in his juxtaposition between dealing with homosexuals and dealing with Christians? At first, it may impress many people – as I have seen firsthand from friends – but when looking at it critically, we can see the faults.

Naidoo says:

I can almost guarantee that if the object of Sax Appeal’s mockery and ‘satire’ were directed at homosexuals and homosexuality, the liberal media would be singing a very different tune. Predictably, the liberal media elite have taken it upon themselves to determine the limitations of free speech – if any – for the rest of us.  In other words, they decide who can be mocked, derided, ridiculed and humiliated. And according to their warped definition, Jesus Christ and Christianity are fair game. However, homosexuals and any expression of homosexuality are strictly off-limits …

The sanctimonious drivel currently published in our nation’s newspapers is nothing but a sad reflection of the liberal media’s hypocrisy and double standards when it comes to Christianity.

Rousseau responds in a paragraph worth quoting in full:

What [Naidoo] doesn’t seem to get is that nobody sane has any incentive to mock or ridicule homosexuals. Homosexuality is neither a belief system nor an ideology – in fact, the only thing that homosexuals have in common is a sexual preference, which is hardly mock-worthy. Nor, in my experience, are “homosexuals” particularly funny as a group of people – in fact, they’re just like Mr. Naidoo (well, perhaps slightly less funny). In fact, the only ridicule directed at homosexuals that I can recall reading usually emerges from organisations such as his.

This is what is important: homosexuality is not a set of ideas, which are designed (i.e. technology) to cater for explaining, exculpating, and excluding based on the word of a deity – himself designed as arbiter of the weather, the creation of the world and the dealer of death. These are a set of ideas, set down in a “holy” book, then embellished upon in massive theatrical orchestrations playing the tune of unreason – to a degree, where if you did not worship the same way, ignoring that we are worshiping the same god, I could kill you. This happens frequently between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims, who differ only on a matter long due for prehistory and mythology. It makes as much sense as fighting over the length of Hercules’ hands.

Religion, which admits no doubt and treats scepticism, derision and apostasy with the loving care of a sociopath – as we can read from their own words – can not be equated with homosexuality. Homosexuality, firstly, is not a set of ideas. It is either “erotic activity with another of the same sex” or engaging in being a homosexual, which is itself defined as:

1 : of, relating to, or characterized by a tendency to direct sexual desire toward another of the same sex
2 : of, relating to, or involving sexual intercourse between persons of the same sex (both as defined by Webster)
It is simply focused on relations with the same sex: there are no ideas here, it simply is a group of people – it is who they are. We can mock things we believe in, but we must be careful of mocking things we know. I know my father, I do not believe in him – so, if you mock him, I have a right to my feelings of being offended, in and of themselves. However, I do not know equality, liberty and justice – I believe in them. You can mock them all you like, and, perhaps I will be offended but that does not make my feelings correct as an argument in and of themselves. They are a set of ideas to which I hope this world adjusts itself. Hence, why everyone is an agnostic – if you claim to “know” god, that is worrying, since no one can know for certain that god does or does not exist (for this reason, agnosticism in my opinion is a silly and superfluous position to have).
Homosexuality does not dictate what you must do, in situation x, y, z. It makes no pretensions toward supernatural and untested claims. It is simply a position – ignore the pun – one takes in and of sex. What is there to say about it? It is a personal choice that, for the most part, harms no one – unlike religious beliefs. The reason why Naidoo even raises this erroneous comparison is the tendency for the faithful to be so concerned with activities in people’s private lives: adultery, homosexuality, marriage, etc. It is a despicable habit and it is only encouraged by the media, in forms of “gossip columns” and the obsession with celebrities.
Unfortunately, we are indeed interested in other people’s lives. This is central to being human. However, the religious take on an extra dimension on judging whether those private actions and lives – which are pleasurable and are performed by consenting adults – are “morally right”, with recourse to their scripture. Is it not strange that it is the religious lobby against homosexuality, invoking a repression of “civil unions” since it offends them? Is it not strange that is the religious throwing rocks and beating up young women, already deeply scarred by the thought of abortion?
Look what Naidoo says about Cape Town’s Tourism’s Sheryl Ozinsky – and the closest he comes to making a point:
In 2001 I wrote a letter to the Cape Argus challenging Cape Town Tourism’s Sheryl Ozinsky’s right to use tax payer funds to promote Cape Town as the “gay capital” of Africa .

Ms Ozinsky, a prominent member of Cape Town ’s homosexual community, used her position to unilaterally promote and advance the homosexual agenda in the city.

My letter and the articles it subsequently generated elicited howls of outrage from the liberal media elite who promptly accused me of bigotry, homophobia and Nazism.

I was immediately booted off the Cape Town Press Club Committee – that bastion of free speech – for daring to question Ms Ozinsky’s right to tag Cape Town as Africa ’s “gay” utopia.

What the media conveniently ignored was the fact that Ms Ozinsky had no authority or mandate whatsoever to promote the city under the banner of her sexual preference.

Significantly, however, I cannot recall the media writing reams about Errol Naidoo’s right to free speech or in fact, lamenting the dire threat to our Bill of Rights.

Yet raising awareness for homosexuality, to backhand conservative mindsets, is the reason for making Cape Town “pink”. With so-called “Pink” tours available to those of the homosexual community, it is a niche for a group of people who have long been oppressed by people like Naidoo who are voracious in their opinions on private lives. These people are homosexual, they do not believe in an idea of homosexuality. It is simple. It is about loving or preferring someone of the same sex and being able to express that. That’s it. Whether you are then Christian or Jew or a Scientologist, is entirely another point – and surely Naidoo recognises many instances of gays who are Christian.
I think supporting groups which have faced scorn from religious bullies is always a good thing – it is no fault that we nonbelievers often think of our consciousness-raising initiatives in juxtaposition to the Gay Rights movements (See, for example, the OUT Campaign).
As I have stated before, freedom of speech is based on reciprocity. Hence, why we should not repress the ideas of creationists, Holocaust deniers, astrologers, and so on. They must write about their views in the same way we would write about biology, history and astronomy – with available evidence and critical analysis. Naidoo, I do not believe, was ousted because of his views on homosexuality. I think he was ousted for merely asserting his views on homosexuality and justifying it as immoral according to scripture. This is unhelpful for freedom of speech, since we have many people, all contradicting each, absolutely certain that theirs is the word of god. As Bertrand Russell said, in a summation of beautiful words that encapsulates Naidoo’s main problem: “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”
This we can be almost sure is why Naidoo is not finding favour and being forced to whine in the letters page, when, once again – someone does not conform to his view. And, once again, when he and his ilk are offended.
Shame, Mr Naidoo. You don’t like the gays or the heretics? Their lives offend you? You will have a case when homosexuality prevails in suicide bombing, plane crashes and the oppression of women; you will have a case when nonbelief instigates evil behaviour. Until then, you may keep whining about the downfall of the press – since you only have whines and not evidence to back up your statements.