Burning Closets – Why we must defend my LGBTI comrades at UCT

NOTE (31/10/11): Looking back on this post, I see numerous grammar and typos. I apologise for that, but considering how many there are, I’m not going to try change it. I also find it too flowery and it overuses the metaphor of flames and ash. It’s also too naive in its defence of human rights and individual freedom.

My alma mater, the University of Cape Town, has recently been the centre for an act of barbarism, against its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons (LGBT) community. UCT was recently (and deservedly) patting itself on the back for its107th place, in the Times Higher Education World University Ranking. But as soon as the patting hand was down, it is now putting out fires – literally.

The Pink Week Campaign, to celebrate a week of openness and solidarity with – you know – the rest of humanity,  has turned to ash. The irony should strike hot and hard: a pink closet, a symbol the Rainbow Society at UCT set up to promote Pink Week, was found a smoldering wreck on Monday night. Some individual or, more likely, persons had decided that a way to show our views catching up with the twenty-first century – and indeed our constitution – was to burn the symbol preaching integration. A poster on campus put it eloquently: ‘This closet was supposed to highlight the homoprejudice that still burns through the fabric of our society. Apparently, it also burns through our own campus.’

I remember, even in 2007, the closet was defaced with graffiti. Of course, some used the opportunity to write back to the poets of piety, pointing out the flaws in their aggravated ‘reasoning’. We can still do this, but not through flames.  This kind of barbaric act is not to worth a response, except with handcuffs, a slap of reality, and a dosage of being adult. However, what it speaks to, indeed, what it ignited is worth pursuing, defending and promoting: that is, my gay and lesbian comrades, in their defence of autonomy to live peaceably, are persons worthy of dignity, respect; they are not ‘unnatural’ ‘ungodly’ or ‘unworthy’ of anyone’s compassion, love, or attention. Consider which group in this country these terms applied to before 1994. It is obvious why racism and homophobia are exhaled in the same last gasp of reason, as rationality dies on the homophobe’s lips, as it withers into ash in the racist’s hands – it is unreasonable, bigoted, stupid and unfounded.

The authorities will look into the matter of vandalism, but we have to protect something even more scarred: our rights as free individuals. South Africa may have one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, but it mainly serves to highlight the distance between what we should be doing and what we are doing: we may be the first in the world to not discriminate legally against gays, we may be the first in Africa to legalise same-sex marriage, but the chasm between many of us accepting these things as normal, as banal, is so wide the echoes of Bronze Aged morality can be heard.

There are two fronts to be concerned about: the first is the oldest homophobe of all – the Christian god. More importantly, his self-proclaimed mindreaders who know his desires, his wishes and his utter contempt for two consensual adults engaging in sexual or romantic affairs. Fanatics are all too quick to claim to know god’s will in the most convenient areas that back up their own prejudice: what about a deity that loves all his creatures, equally? What about peace, love, solidarity? This gives the lie to the belief that god makes you moral, as evidenced by the volume of relidiocy sprouted in the comments section in the IOL link above. As one commentator claimed: ‘Who says Gays are accepted, it will never be accepted, if GOD won’t accept GAYS why should we! Stop the Filth STOP the GAYS!.’

Er, our constitution says they’re accepted. More specifically Section 9 (3) of the constitution, gives my gay and lesbian comrades the freedom to marry – surprisingly without the sky shattering. Christian groups that have a problem with it – of course they will – must lobby that. They have, they will. Also, stop the gays doing what? Homophobes in these instances can never tell us what exactly the gays are going to do? Infect them? Make them uncomfortable?

The point being, to answer the most important claims, we thankfully have the actual law of the land on our side. Christians are welcome to go to another country that does legalise hatred toward gays, like Saudi Arabia. Of course, that’s also if you are not interested in being discriminated against yourself, and not living in a democracy. Instead of asserting that gays are bad, let’s see evidence, let’s see some reasoning instead of shouting the same nonsense that was said against non-whites for centuries.

The second are those who have some vague understanding of free expression, claiming that gays should ‘be gay in silence’ (as one commentator put it), should stop thrusting their views on to us straights. Commentators appear to say, we straights don’t put out displays of our straightness. It’s not like we have thousands upon thousands of displays of cars, weights and other ‘straight’ things (read straight as butch or macho) with scantily-clad women, dancing provocatively on millions of television-screens around the world – we don’t do that!

Um, yes we do. When was the last time we saw an ad for, say, coffee or kitchen appliances that showed a gay or lesbian couple, happily raising their children? Our entire world is filled to the nauseating brim with images of straightness: its ubiquity is its camouflage. People who think we don’t thrust straight-life into the lives of gay and lesbians have simply become numb to the sheer volume of products that automatically think a family has a mom and dad and two kids. (The irony being that gay andlesbian parents are often slightly better parents, in some regards, than the supposed ‘normal’ or ‘natural’ counterparts. Does that mean straight people should not be parents? Of course not, but it deflates the arrogance of assuming they’re by definition better.)

Another commentator said: ‘Helloooo, To all LGBTI’s, Muslims, Jews, Palestinians, Gjihadists and every other minority group we know you are different from US. We don’t need your symbols thrust in our faces in the public domain. Please be different on your own and amongst your own and leave everyone that is “different” from you in peace. If you don’t, don’t be surprised if people dislike you and your “ornaments”.’

And another: ‘When last did you see a heterosexual group say “Look at me, look at me. I’m hetro”? If gay people want to be treated with the same dignity and respect as heterosexual people, why not just get on with life and not draw so much attention to your differences? It is the constant “Look at me” attitude that is forced on the rest of us, that makes you so controversial. It just makes everyone who is normal just want to mock and make fun of you.’

Over and over again: ‘I agree with [commentator above]. Sure gay people should have the same rights as everyone else. But gay activist groups are such a bunch of prima donnas. Just get over yourselves already. Your making spectacles of yourselves in public, such as gay pride marches etc, would also want to make me burn down your stupid pink closet.’

Why the tacky approach? Why the half-lie caked in the mud-slinging of dogma: sure gays should have same rights but they must stop whining when those rights are rescinded. Utter nonsense. The very reactions we see above is exactly why our comrades need to keep pushing for Pink Week, why they even need a society for LGBT – the fact that people either deem my comrades ungodly for wanting to just be equal as persons, or as whining, indicates most of us still don’t get it. Until such time as homosexuality is as ubiquitous as heterosexuality, we need to keep defending and promoting their equality. (I would also ask what a heterosexual group is?)

Consider: the fact that most women did not vote is now something almost forgotten. Now that women in democratic countries can vote, there is no need for suffragette movements. Similarly, if you want gays to ‘stop shoving their gayness’ into your face, then stop treating them as lesser people. They are doing nothing except celebrating their own security within themselves; by these stupid, bigoted reactions, their supposedly straight males are showing us that what our gay comrades have in abundance, they themselves lack completely: security, adulthood and a sense of solidarity.

And by the way: burning someone’s property is no more an exercise of free-speech than slapping someone’s child. Both will land you in jail because someone can be physically harmed – unlike a stationery closet, which is not going to attack anybody.


Why Liberty means Blasphemy

The great Russian writer, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, defined an arrest as: “a blinding flash and a blow which shifts the present instantly into the past and the impossible into omnipotent actuality.” To be cordoned off as though one is oneself a crime-scene, demarcated and defined as that which needs to be investigated, probed and prodded. Orwell once described himself as hated by very many people only once in his life: as a police officer in Moulmein, Lower Burma. He goes on to describe this as concurrently the only time he was important enough for this to actually happen. Hatred here does not repudiate importance and vice versa. This all coagulates into a set view of a hatred for authority which disperses with human frailty, with a single vision of their place – You may not set foot here, you may not say that here, you may not do x to anyone. It is with this notion that we must ask the following: Should people be arrested for saying certain things? If so, what should people be arrested for saying in our present civil society?

The “classic defence” of free speech is widely regarded as John Stuart’s Mill’s beautiful On Liberty – more specifically the second chapter. Free speech is said to be a right, yet we must first ask ourselves what is this rubric called “rights” and how does “free speech” fit into it.

Mill describes a right as follows:

When we call anything a person’s right, we mean that he has a valid claim on society to protect him in the possession of it, either by the force of law, or by that of education and opinion. If he has what we consider a sufficient claim, on whatever account, to have something guaranteed to him by society, we say that he has a right to it.

It seems however that this does not at all clear up what a right is. What I mean is that at some point in our history it was an axiom to consider woman as not having the right to vote, as people of darker hues to have lesser or fewer rights than those of pinker. Thus, our definition of rights goes nowhere nearer to clarifying the matter of whether x, y, or z should be or are rights at all.

However, rights are contested and projected. Now it is common for modern (dare I put in “Western”) people to consider equal treatment of the sexes and to dismiss racism as unhelpful in our classifications of people (we might as well use eye-colour or length of lips for such banal distinctions). The reason why – even if, like me, you are doubtful of notions of “progress” – is that the terms of rights are contested. This fits in with another beautiful phrasing of Mill’s, in which he states that unless an idea or opinion is “fully, frequently and fearlessly discussed, it will be held as a dead dogma, not a living truth.”

So, whilst we have a vagary of what a right is, we must be sure to note that this does not tell us that x, y, or z ought to be rights. For now let us say that rights are things to which we are allotted by society and which society ought to protect us in their consumption, diffusion and utility.

The right to “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” is a famous line (from the amazing United States Declaration of Independence). One can have a right to free speech. Yet one can also have a right to consume toxic substances which serve almost no other purpose but self-debilitation (alcohol for example). One has a right to ones own time, freedom of movement, etc. But wait! Certain governmental areas are off-limits to citizens, offices are protected from invasion due to the valuable information they contain, homes are not to be walked into by anyone. It does not look as though rights really stand for anything, since there are always exceptions to them. But this would be to have a pessimistic, unhelpful and incorrect view of rights.

Are we truly free? It seems to me that we are not. But that is a good thing since I think here “absolute freedom” is not a good thing to have. “Absolute freedom” would amount to a repudiation of rights, since it would entail no restrictions or limitations on our actions – one could consider it as the hypothetical “state of nature” that Hobbes considers in Leviathan. We need restrictions to allow for ordered movements to allow societal flow. “Absolute freedom”, as I define it here, would mean that law, government and formalised institutions would be unnecessary since these exist to serve, protect and further our rights. At times, true, it does not feel like it. But at present, these are goals and aims of these institutions.

Similarly, we do not have – nor should we want – absolute freedom of speech. Freedom of speech, remember is itself a right, but one that is also hard to define. In a recent spate of “blasphemy” in Cape Town, Errol Naidoo has brought into sharp contrast the contesting criticisms between homosexuals and Christians (in the same link, I show why this reasoning is flawed on his part). In the past, sure, we can see that blaspheming was considered very unPC – very much an encroachment on people’s rights to their practising of religion. Since the gates of dogma have slowly been removed of their steadfast watchmen, we have seen that the gates actually protect nothing but insecurities and irrationality. That however does not stop people from continuing to believe and practise their faith in private. What it has introduced is the now accepted proposition that ideas may be contested openly, whilst people can be respected.

Freedom of speech does not mean we should mock, deride, and make snide remarks about people at every available opportunity. Not only is it exhausting and inconvenient, it also does not help to further the causes of liberty, respect and equality. The difficulty does not lie in which, for example, faiths or political movements we are allowed to mock, but how mockery and satire contributes to overall flourishing of a society, when by their very definitions they are negative aspects toward certain people. To put it another way: How can freedom of speech – which is only contested when those who are critical and therefore negative toward a set of ideas or opinions are silenced – at all help society when it allows for mockery and satire as its hallmarks? Mocking one’s leaders can’t make their lives easier to help lead our societies, so why should we allow it?

This is a fair question, but one that misses the overarching point: The feelings of one person or one group should not prevent the overarching methodology of critical thinking to be repudiated for the whole society. When we mock a leader, say Jacob Zuma, is his job easier? No – but who said anything about making our leaders’ lives easier? The main point is that it indicates a society that is able to mock its leaders when they make ridiculous statements like having a shower will get rid of AIDS, or only Afrikaners are true white South Africans. Being able to mock indicates that one is not governing sheep who accept where their leader points his staff. It indicates that freedom and critical thinking are walking hand-in-hand, ready to point out where along their path the leader is not directing us.

In this instance, this derision fits in with the rubric of a right because it indicates liberty. It indicates that the personal autonomy of the individual citizen is no more reprised from him for allowing his critical faculties to engage with satire or mockery, because the target of his mockery is failing in his or her own critical faculties. This is the instance in which freedom of speech must be defended.

It may seem arrogant to suggest that if Mary is not living up to Bob’s standard of “critical thinking”, Bob is allowed to mock Mary and defend himself by invoking freedom of speech. Of course, the beauty of liberty and personal autonomy raises itself on its two legs to justify this: Mary is allowed to clarify, defend and present her own case for her decision or opinion which “offends” Bob’s critical faculties. It is the beginning of a dialogue and not the invocation of silence which is so important. Mary, in this instance, can not say that Bob is not allowed to criticise her ideas. Freedom of speech basically means allowing a dialogue between two opposing forces to take place; whereas no freedom or arbitrary limitations on freedom of speech give the lie to despotism, arrogance and egotistical bullying.

For this reason, so-called “blasphemy” is a human right. Blasphemy may be defined as mammalian utterances of divine denigration. By breaking down this definition – with the ribald fanatical Muslims and Christians serving as the broadside to this investigation – we can see why we are all partisans to it. Not just “atheists” but even the faithful commit blasphemy every day.

Mammalian utterances of divine denigration (all following definitions are from Webster)

Mammalian adj for the root word mammal n. : any of a class of warm-blooded higher vertebrates.

Utterance(s) n. 1: something uttered ; especially : an oral or written statement : a stated or published expression; 2: vocal expression : speech

Divine adj:  of, relating to, or proceeding directly from God or a god <divine love> b: being a deity <the divine Savior> c: directed to a deity <divine worship>

Denigration n. 1: to attack the reputation of : defame <denigrate one’s opponents> ;   2  : to deny the importance or validity of

Notice the inherent absurdity of blasphemy. We must recognise that it is not some deity’s feelings being hurt, but those who proclaim a belief in him. We are, thanks to the fact that most of their believers are dead, allowed to mock the Roman, Aztec and Norse gods. Indeed, when was the last time someone was struck with ill-luck and was told it was because they had not praised Odin lately? And, the corollary, how many times has some good fortune favoured the life of some “soul” and thanks was given to the war god Ares?

Blasphemy is a victimless crime in the extent that the target of mockery does not exist. I do not deny the feelings being hurt by the faithful, but they must understand that they can not invoke god’s feelings to justify their own. They are committing a religious crime of a serious nature by not praying 5 times a day – or if they are praying 5 times a day, they are not accepting Jesus as lord and saviour. In each case, according to Islam or Christianity, they will be punished.

Let us ask a question relating to this: Should a Christian cease from eating pork or drinking wine, if a Muslim expresses that she is “offended” by this behaviour? Notice this: Group A is asking for Group B – which does not believe Group A’s tenets – to cease certain actions because of Group A’s tenets (which Group B, remember, does not believe in). It does not seem a remarkable conclusion to say it is quite arrogant, childish and bullying to suggest that Group A is right to simply assert their offence as a justification for certain actions of Group B to stop.

Let us return to the example I gave. Should the Christian stop drinking wine to cease offending the Muslim? If one considers the blanket consideration – where we looked at Group A and Group B – one would be correct to say the Muslim here is being ridiculous. By definition, the Christian does not believe the tenets of Islam and therefore can behave according to his (and the society’s – this is my next point, so hang on) standards. He is not harming anyone by drinking wine (provided he does not do it in excess, is driving after, etc.).

Similarly, those who are accused of blaspheming – so called “godless” – do not believe in any religious tenets. Like the Christian in this example, it is simply arrogant and chauvinistic to assert that one’s tenets and beliefs be respected – even though those who offend do not believe them. There is no good reason to silence those who do not believe from criticising or mocking religious ideas. Christians mock Muslims and Muslims return the favour; non-believers do it to everyone (the worst you could say is that they are not targeting one group!). Remember this about freedom of speech: those we criticise are allowed to invoke the same fundamental rights to respond. Thus, they can mock non-believers in return. They can also inform non-believers why their religion is actually true, with evidence, logic and reason. It is not asking a lot. It raises an eyebrow of suspicion when we criticise someone and they simply tell us to not criticise.

“Why not?”

“Because it hurts my feelings.”

“But what you are doing is illogical/wrong because of x, y, z.”

“You must be silent.”

The dialogue is closed off. The worst part is not so much that those who – like myself – criticise religion are not allowed to partake in a dialogue, but those who silence us are themselves victims to the silence they have imposed. When we build a wall to prevent others entering, we can also prevent ourselves from leaving.

Some may have a detected a rat, recently. The example I gave about the Muslim and Christian is missing a central point: context. Even in context however it is the secularists that are triumphant. Here are a few contexts for our example:

The Christian’s House

If the Muslim demanded that the Christian, whilst they were in his house, cease to drink wine, we would have every reason to support his decision to do as he pleases. This means he can, depending how much he likes/loves her, cease or continue. If it is a random acquaintance he may just cock an eyebrow and down his bottle. It is his house and therefore his own place of freedom. (It is why I am sceptical of most non-smocking ventures, as it seems to be an imposition of one group over another, with no basis in evidence. I hate smoking and being around people who smoke, but I do not support any of the recent bans. I will simply not go to areas where people smoke. It is like going to a rock concert so you can complain about the loud guitars).

The Muslim’s House

Now, here is where the Christians’ choice is limited. In the example we saw in the Christian’s house, there were certain freedoms because it was his. Now, if it is a Muslim’s house, we should respect the people we are attending enough to condone to their rules. Similarly, when I enter a mosque, I remove my shoes, wear a kuffiya; when asked to hold hands to say grace at friends’ houses, I comply. It is a matter of respecting the people we love, not their ideas. Indeed, it means nothing to me to bow my head, to remove my shoes. I lose nothing, whilst others are satisfied. Whereas, I would not gain anything by trampling around a beautiful mosque with my shoes or refusing to bow my head and, furthermore, my friends would be saddened by my arrogant behaviour. So, if the scenario previously conveyed is within the context of the religious person, it does take a different turn.

Within a Secular Society

However, we live in a secular society (well, those of us who live in South Africa and many parts of the world). This means it is not religious. One might consider it a massive household of someone who does not adhere to religious creeds. This means that, just as the Muslim had little or no right to impose her beliefs on the Christian in his household, no religious group can impose their beliefs on people who do not believe in any religious creeds. Blasphemy, remember, is only wrong to those who are religious. It is only considered blasphemy by those who are themselves believers in sacred things (I do not believe that anything is “sacred”). It is only blasphemy to those who are believers.

We who do not believe can not be expected to adhere to random mythologies – in the sense that it is only a crime or immoral if one is already within that framework.

It is our right, by living in a secular society, to partake in criticising ideas, opinions, institutions and people we deems worthy of criticising. It is their right, by living in the same society, to respond accordingly. It is not their right – however – to demand silence, restriction and limitations simply on the basis of their feelings being hurt. As creationist fiction offends my sensibilities with regards to science, I do not demand that they be silenced. Indeed, we want evidence. That is a dialogue and why they are allowed to write and publish. It is their right.

Thus, blasphemy is only a problem – like the “Problem of Evil” – for the religious. I can explain evil by concluding we live in an uncaring, ignorant universe, which is culminating in its own destruction; I can get over blasphemy because I do not believe in sanctity, or the tenets of religions. I am not asking the religious to stop practising their beliefs, forcing them to blaspheme, and so on. Therefore, they should not ask me to do the corollary.

Blasphemy is part of free speech because free speech allows for criticism, back and forth. It is the beginning of a dialogue – since the only way we can “progress” as a species, is to talk to one another, clearly and without fear of being murdered for it. In fact, we must stop calling it blasphemy and call it open criticism. It is only blasphemy according to the religious. I am not – therefore, it is an open criticism.

Open criticism is part of free speech, as free speech is a right. Thus open criticism must serve as a beginner of conversation. It is not there to be closed off by the hand of the faithful, if they are partaking in a secular society. When they enter our extended household of secular considerations, by all means, practise your religions. But, even as Jesus said, you must be prepared to be mocked for your beliefs. One can not believe in free speech and retain an essence of blasphemy for the entire society. It is a right we are all allowed to partake in: silencing one group is to give in to Dark Age politics and to forgo the piercing light of reason.

So apparently I am a PHD student…

According to this random the Christian Action website, I am a PhD student. I have no idea where they got this information from, but I just want to assure readers that I am certainly not a PhD student. I am not even a student (at the moment).

Once again this lack of communication from the part of the Christians has resulted in my sudden, free ascension in academia. How lovely. But wishing does not make it so – even if it is from Christians (they could learn a thing or too about ‘thinking does not make it so’).

While certainly I aim to get a PhD, at the moment I am simply a concerned citizen of the universe.

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?

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.

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.