Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Lawsuit seeks to take 'so help me God' out of inaugural


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A number of atheists and non-religious organizations want Barack Obama's inauguration ceremony to leave out all references to God and religion.

(full article)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Young Jordanians rebel, embracing conservative Islam - Be careful what you wish for

From the International Hearald Tribune:

AMMAN, Jordan: Muhammad Fawaz is a very serious college junior with a stern gaze and a reluctant smile that barely cloaks suppressed anger. He never wanted to attend Jordan University. He hates spending hours each day commuting.

As a high school student, Fawaz, 20, had dreamed of earning a scholarship to study abroad. But that was impossible, he said, because he did not have a "wasta," or connection. In Jordan, connections are seen as essential for advancement and the wasta system is routinely cited by young people as their primary grievance with their country.

So Fawaz decided to rebel. He adopted the serene, disciplined demeanor of an Islamic activist. In his sophomore year he was accepted into the student group affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, Jordan's largest, most influential religious, social and political movement, one that would ultimately like to see the state governed by Islamic law, or Shariah. Now he works to recruit other students to the cause.

(Full Article)

To our young friends in the region: be careful what you wish for, and be sure to study what has happened to those who've gone before you in places like Iran. By all means stand up, rebel, shake up the status quo, change the government, but make positive changes. When religion becomes the government and the government becomes religion, corruption doesn't abate. If anything, it tends to become even more entrenched.

Secular government may seem anathema to Islam, but when a religious establishment must coexist with a secular government, each helps to keep the other from being hijacked by a corrupt few. When the two become one, there is no such balance. Each benefits from the existence of the other.

Under the George W. Bush presidency, the US (and the world) got a taste of what can happen when religion and government start to become entangled in a context where this is explicitly prohibited. The global reverberations will likely continue for a generation.

Also worth considering is the utter vacuum of evidentiary support for the foundational beliefs underlying religion. As university students, you are young and intelligent, and curious. Never let anything suppress your mind or misdirect your thinking.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Barack Obama, Rick Warren, and Invocations at Presidential Inaugurations

We've all been bombarded by the controversy over Barack Obama's unfortunate choice of pastor Rick Warren to give "the invocation" as part of the presidential inauguration ceremony. We needn't review the details of that controversy here.

A question the so-called mainstream media has utterly failed to raise is why in a secular government, constitutionally separated from religion, an "invocation" is allowed to be part of the inaugural festivities at all. While that same constitution guarantees freedom of religion for individual citizens
(and by inference, freedom from religion for those who do not subscribe to ancient myth), whether or not serving in public office, conflating personal religous beliefs with official governmental functions, be it the inauguration of a new president, the opening and/or closing of governmental proceedings such as congress, or whatever, stands as an abject violation of the principle of separation of church and state; an endorsement of religion in general, and an at least tacit endorsement of the specific religious denomination of the participants, by official sanction.

By focusing on the controversial nature of the particular selection of the pastor, the mainstream press has once again missed the point and failed in its duty to keep the politicians in line. Even the chatter on much of the atheist blogosphere seems to miss the point but for a few of the comments.

Wake up, people. Notwithstanding protestations to the contrary by the christian "right", the United States of America is not a christian nation; it is a pluralistic society, populated with believers of every major religion and many minor ones, and with believers in reality as well. The atheist community's apparent willingness to accept the notion that some sort of religious invocation is a regular part of a presidential inauguration is disturbing. Granted, not every battle can be fought at once, but if we're going to concern ourselves with this issue at all, we should take it on as the affront it is to the separation of church and state, regardless of the particular pastor involved and his archaic social positions.