Atheist Climber Prominent People Project

September 24, 2010 § 7 Comments

Atheist Climber Blog is turning One year old on October 10! Yay! And I remember like yesterday thinking “Do I have anything to write about? Will anyone care? Will anyone read it?” I just wish I had taken more baby photos!

Well you have all spoken to me by visiting and commenting on my blog. My measure of success has been reflected in the blog stats with over 60,000 page hits, over 100 subscribers, and more than 1500 comments for the 100+ articles and videos I have posted. This far surpasses my expectations and for that I thank you all.

To celebrate, I am in the process of interviewing a selection of prominent figures in humanism, atheism, science and critical thinking. Most of these will be in the form of written interviews, but who knows? I might, down the track, do some video or audio interviews too. This will be dependent on how these interviews are received by my readers.

I don’t want to say too much at this stage, but suffice to say, I already have confirmation from a few very prominent and important people who I’m sure you’d recognise. More information to come. So stay tuned!

The first interview will be published on Atheist Climber Blog’s first birthday, October 10, 2010. So come celebrate with me, and feed your brain with the words of some great thinkers.

Thanks again,
Atheist Climber

We’re All Doomed, Time To Get Positive! (part 1)

September 22, 2010 § 2 Comments

The world is in some real strife at the moment. We are approaching a point where experts believe that we will live in an unsustainable way within the next few years, and the population of Earth will reach 9 billion by the middle of this century. While it is true that, for the majority of people living on Earth today, our lives have improved in health and longevity, many of the poorest people are poorer than ever. Some countries like the USA are using on average up to 5 times the amount of resources than is viably sustainable on this planet, and in countries like India, population growth is out of control. The earth is unwell, and we are the cause of this illness.

I recently posted the RSA Animate video “Smile Or Die” on my blog, in which Barbara Ehrenreich talks about the darker side of positive thinking. She talks about “The Secret” and how it is misleading people into thinking that if you think positively enough about something, it will happen. If it doesn’t happen it’s because you weren’t thinking positively enough, or you were never meant to have it.

I totally agree with her in this sense, that positive thinking by itself is useless, except in that it may make you have a better outlook in general. But if you never act on these positive thoughts, all you are doing is effectively throwing your money into a wishing well and hoping for things to get better. I see the idea of The Secret and the idea of prayer in the same light. So many people put their hopes into the “hands of the divine” rather than actively doing something about their situation. Be it Oprah or The Bible, hoping for good things passively is not very helpful for anyone.

I can understand that when people are in times of extreme distress, where a bad situation is out of their hands, like after a natural disaster, in wartime, during times of illness and death, that one might feel less helpless if they at least hope or pray for better times, or to be delivered from a bad situation. This action alone, however, is as useless as masturbation. It might make you feel good for a while, but it won’t achieve much.

What has all this got to do with the state of the world? Well, with  the world being in such a state as it is, and with dire warnings from the likes of Stephen Hawking, telling us we “abandon Earth or face extinction”, it’s easy to fall back into an attitude that everything is hopeless. And I see increasingly an attitude among people who know of the plight of the planet which is “We are all doomed, nothing we do matters, why bother trying?” And this is further exacerbated by the media and its constant portrayal of all the bad things which are happening on and to the Earth. Apart from the aforementioned population and climate problems, we constantly see terrorist warnings, financial warnings, product recall warnings, disease outbreak scares, apparent increases of violence on our streets and the like. These constant warnings compound people’s tendency to fall back on the negativity that we all feel at times. It all seems hopeless.

These two ideas, the hoping helplessly for betterment and negativity toward the future are linked, and sometimes one can lead to the other. If one fails, why not try the other? People in hopeless situations can feel a bit better if they feel like things are out of their hands, and there is nothing easier than just giving up responsibility.

But is it actually hopeless?

Ozone Hole over Antarctica via NASA Earth Observatory

Ozone Hole over Antarctica via NASA Earth Observatory

Recently I read an article on Discovery Blogs entitled “Ozone Layer No Longer Thinning” which explains that after 20 years of concerted effort by the world’s populations to stop pouring CFCs into the atmosphere, we have actually halted the depletion of the ozone layer. This is great news! and the implications go far further than just making sure New Zealanders don’t get sunburnt all the time. What this means is twofold; that we can effect change in the atmosphere; and that we have effected change in the atmosphere (take that climate change deniers). What I mean by this is, it is accepted as fact that the emission of CFCs into the atmosphere cause ozone depletion, and that we by our actions as a global community have taken positive steps to rectify this situation.So why is it different these days? Why do people still claim that there is no link between climate change and human activity?

I propose there are a couple of reasons. Part of it to do with the apparently hopelessness of the situation, and partly because people are unwilling to change the way they live, especially in the USA, Europe and Australia (yes we are very bad too). We love our stuff, and we love it so much that it seems we would rather watch the world around us destroy itself and have a flat screen TV than try to employ more environmentally sustainable practices. Sad, really, but this really seems to be the case.

Let me, at this point say this about negativity. Negativity is worse than false positivity, because not only does it not achieve anything, but it also makes the person thinking negatively feel bad too. The likelihood of being antisocial is increased and may lead to a depressed state. At least people who think positively, whether well-founded positivity or not can be seen as positive people.

I’d like to propose something different.

Firstly, rather than being negative about the future, why not find some thing that are positive in the world. Technology is making leaps and bounds toward the betterment of society. People like Michio Kaku, Carl Sagan and even Ray Kurzweil to a certain extent talks of things that are worthwhile us striving for. The idea that we can strive for all people to be fed, to live longer, to reduce human population, save the rainforests, using the planets resources for ourselves instead of squandering them, all of these ideas are real and if not achievable now, will be soon. Space travel, solar and geothermal energy, green cities and the end to fossil fuels are all within our grasp, or just outside it, a few small steps away.

The key here is education. We need to be educated about our current situation, the way it’s headed now, the possible futures and the futures we want. It is not hard to learn, all of the basic information is on the internet, or in books. Learn what must be done, and learn what can be done.Start with the simple things and then make decisions based on ecology, economy and society.

There is one major hurdle here, and it comes in the form of global mega-corporations, who seem from the outset, to be against everything that we need to do as a planet. Remember however that these corporations are at the mercy of every human who uses their products. If we stop buying products from a company, they go broke. Humans are the ones who drive the market, regardless of what people may tell you. I’m not saying we need to boycott products by all corporations, but we do need to choose wisely what we buy, and what we see as necessary in our lives. Pressure on governments and corporations does work, but it is a slow process.

And don’t just hope for it. We need to actively participate in this discussion.

I do not have all the answers here. How could I? I’m not a scientist, philosopher, or an economist, but a person with a layman’s understanding of what’s going on here. And one thing is very clear to me; with a negative or even a passive positive attitude we are treading water and will soon lose steam.

See part 2

Burning Religious Texts

September 11, 2010 § 10 Comments

There has been a lot of stink over Pastor Terry Jones and his proposed 9/11 Qur’an burning party, so I thought I’d throw my opinion into the ring and see what comes of it. I’d be interested to see what you think too.

Pastor Terry Jones is a religious nutjob, part of a cult which is not only openly anti Islam, but also openly homophobic. As he is a Charismatic Christian leader, I hold his opinions as extremist anyhow, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that someone like him would be proposing such a stunt.

I don’t have a problem with burning the Qur’an, just as I have no problem with PZ Myers and his treatment of the Christian sacrament. The book is just a book, and that’s that. It’s a physical object, nothing more. While he’s at it he can throw in all his copies of the Bible also. Makes no difference to the world. The media have brought so much attention to his proposed bonfire, and all over a little book-burning. This is not a Fahrenheit 451 situation. He owns the books, and if he needs something to cook his hamburgers over, so be it. Who am I to say what a whackjob like him can do in his own backyard?

As a symbolic act though it is quite sickening to see this man using the tragedies of September 11 to justify his hatred of other people. The tragedies of 9/11 were perpetrated by people who were Muslim, true. But the broad brush of “they are all terrorists” is just not acceptable in today’s society, just as it would be remiss of me to say that all Christians are waiting for the Rapture to come so they can sit with God in heaven while the heathens like myself burn below.

All  this hype about 9/11 and the Muslim community is a little unsettling. I am by no means defending Islam as a good thing, in fact I’d say it’s more than a little backward in this day and age. However all the Muslims I know, apart from following Islam, are decent and kind folk, and I can forgive them for their faith as they were indoctrinated into it at a young age, as is done in their communities. It’s the “eye-for-an-eye” attitude of this pastor that gets my goat. He thinks that by burning the Muslim holy book (like I said, whatever) he will somehow prove that he and his faith, and America for that matter, is better than the Muslim community? And this is about MUCH more than the Islamic community center proposed for a couple of blocks away from Ground Zero.

Ground Zero is not a holy Christian site. It’s the site of one of the most heinous acts to be perpetrated on humanity in living history. The fact that, so some people, it has become synonymous with their Christian God is a little more than unsettling. Not every one of the people who perished in 9/11 were Christians, in fact there were people from all faiths in the buildings when they came tumbling to the ground. Every life lost on that day was a tragedy. Every one, regardless of their faith.

So the argument that Islam is somehow provoking a backlash by proposing this centre is moot. Sure the hijackers were Muslim, but does that speak for every Muslim? There was an Islamic prayer room on the 17th floor of the Twin Towers, and there is a pre-existing Islamic prayer space much closer to Ground Zero than the proposed Islamic community centre that’s been there for years. It makes no difference in the long run to have a community centre there, in fact it may be helpful in healing some of the bad blood that 9/11 has brought to the surface.

The proposed Qur’an burning is supposedly a reaction against this Islamic community center to try to teach Islam the lesson that “You cannot mess with America!” But the only thing it will achieve is that extremist Muslims will see this act of stupidity as a provocation, and because of all the attention this has received from the media, they may well act upon it in Afghanistan or elsewhere.

This is not about “Freedom of speech”. This is about “Should this idiot be allowed to possibly provoke the people of Islam into a mindset of revenge upon Americans?” He can say anything he likes, because he is an American, but he is throwing stones for the hell of it. And the Islamic faith is much more easy to agitate than that of most Christians.

And one last thing. Religion in this form is dangerous. Hatespeak is dangerous. People who breed this hatespeak are dangerous. This is because these things are not done in their own names, but in the name of their God. No responsibility will be taken, because this is the way they interpret the “wants of God”. Surely it’s not that Pastor Terry Jones is a narrow-minded, bigoted, nationalistic, bible-thumping reactionary himself, is it? Seems all too convenient, don’t you think?

EDIT: See what Olbermann and Obama have to say about this outrage.

RSA Animate – 21st century enlightenment

September 6, 2010 § Leave a comment

This is another in the series of lectures from the Royal Society of the Arts, in the same vein as the one I posted yesterday, thius one covering off the idea of The Re-Enlightenment. From the page:

“Matthew Taylor explores the meaning of 21st century enlightenment, how the idea might help us meet the challenges we face today, and the role that can be played by organisations such as the RSA.”

RSA Animate – The Empathic Civilisation

September 5, 2010 § 2 Comments

This is a very intersting animation about Empathy and the way it is soft-wired into our brains. Very interesting indeed. Definititely worth watching!

The Atheist Re-Enlightenment

August 18, 2010 § 12 Comments

I have often wondered why it is that we are seeing an uprising of voices in the world of skeptical inquiry and atheism in the mainstreams of the world. And I wonder why it is that I am so heavily entrenched in this to feel it is important in my life to put so much effort into this blog at this point in time. Maybe I’m a little slow on the uptake, but it seems to me that now, more than ever in my lifetime, is the appropriate time to stand up for reason and rationality in the face of bad information and outdated dogma.

There is now, in any bookstore, a religion section which not only contains some bibles and stories about Mary MacKillop and her ilk, but a large array of books which question the very fabric of religion itself. Authors like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, A.C. Grayling et al. are touted as attacking the thinking of the religious, or criticising the religions and their dogma. In addition to this there are many authors whose books may be found outside of the “Religion” section who tackle other pertinent topics which have ramifications for religious people and their beliefs,  (Steven Pinker, Peter Singer and Micheal Shermer just to name a few).

Scientific discoveries in cosmology, neuroscience, medicine, physics and biology are speeding forward at an unprecedented rate, and the advent of very powerful social-media tools like Twitter and FaceBook have allowed for the propagation of information in a way never seen before. We can watch things as they happen! Earlier this year I watched as a space shuttle took-off from the USA in real-time (with some delay, my internet connection is not great at home). And millions in Australia are now Tweeting about the current election campaign as the debates take place on our TVs.

So there is an upsurge, and the information can spread fast, but why is this movement happening now?

On August 14 The Australian Online published this article titled “Reason on the offensive” written by Luke Slattery. He compares the changes happening in mainstream society to The Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe and America, where academics of the time fought against dogma and doctrine in favour of reason, rationality and free-inquiry. The article uses this quote from Ayaan Hirsi Ali, author of the book and film Nomad:

“The intellectual tradition of the European enlightenment, which began in the 17th century and produced its greatest works in the 18th, is based on critical reasoning,” she writes.

“It employs facts instead of faith, evidence instead of tradition. Morality in this world view is determined by human beings, not by an outside force.”

Indeed, and this is what I strive for now. But the article goes on to suggest that we are now in a similar situation to those that led up to the 17th and 18th century Enlightenment. It suggests that one of the reasons that this “re-enlightenment” is occurring now is because of the Post-Modernist movement of the 1980’s, which was a rejection of  the Modernist ideals of globalisation and objective truths among humans. Other reasons for it to be occurring now, according to the article, is the lack of people challenging the ideals of faith, and the  political agendas which are at the forefront of western societies interactions with the rest of the world.

The article states that the current push, I’ll call it the “Re-Enlightenment” push, comes in part from:

“… fear that the enlightenment’s contemporary enemies have grown more powerful, in part because they have gone unchallenged, and that the virtues of rationality, liberty, free inquiry and free speech — of democracy itself — need to be re-invigorated. But the challenge is multifold. Grayling, for example, believes that the gravest threat to civil liberties in the West stems from the policy responses of British and American governments to the threat of terrorism.”

Now that is an interesting thought indeed. I’m not a political expert by any means, nor have I ever pretended to be one, but it definitely does seem that somewhere in the political agendas of the American, Australian and some European governmental policies is an intentional leveraging on the fear of possible terrorism from Islam. And by leveraging on this fear, we see suspicions rise, fingers pointed and people becoming more insular in their communities and their beliefs, and more vocal about how they need their rights protected. People are more fanatical about their special-interests in the west than I have ever seen. And it seems in reaction to the terrorist attacks on “friendly soil” that people have become more fundamental in their beliefs. And very vocal.

Yes, we need to protect the rights of the individual, but not at the expense of the masses. Much of the rhetoric we see screamed out by these people who claim they are discriminated against is actually coming from a fundamentalist viewpoint. Be it Christian or Islam, the loudest words are possibly some of the scariest ideas, ones which aim to impose religious dogma on all. Some even cry for death to the non-believer, a positively bronze-age idea at best.

But I’m not writing to decry the fundamentalist ravings of the minority of religious believers, as most people who call themselves “believers” are good people, and who moderate their ideas with some empathy of others. But what I am saying is that these loud voices from those who see their religious ideals as being threatened by spurious interpretations of their holy books, and those who claim that their “way of life” is threatened by what people do in their bedrooms or in their homes, it is these loud voices that have been a catalyst to the uprising of the atheist voice and the voice of reason, rationality and free inquiry.

From the article, with regards to the obstacles faced by reason and rational thought:

“The traditional adversaries of the enlightenment — obscurantism, arbitrary authority and fanaticism — are like the heads of the Hydra that keep growing back as they are cut,” Todorov writes. “This is because they draw their strength from characteristics of human beings and societies that are as ineradicable as the desire for autonomy and dialogue. People need security and comfort no less than freedom and truth: they would rather defend the members of their group than subscribe to universal values; and the desire for power, which leads to the use of violence, is no less characteristic of the human species than rational argumentation.”

Todorov in this quote suggests that the desire for power over others, including violence, is as natural in the human being as the quest for rationality and reason. So is it hopeless?

I don’t think so. Every day I am greeted with a friend request on FaceBook from yet another atheist or skeptic, every day I get pro-choice activists following me on Twitter. Every other day I read a news piece, like this one in The Australian, which lightens my spirits a bit and makes me realise that I am not alone in this quest for rationality and reason to prevail. And in fact, I have some of the smartest people on the planet in my corner.

So I welcome, with open arms, a New Re-Enlightened human society, a place where every man and woman is equal, where religious dogma is the exception to the rule, where politics don’t play on the baseless fears of the masses. The Re-Enlightened society knows there’s no “Reds” in the closet, no bogeyman under the bed, and no terrorist on the train. Or at least, we don’t go into a panic the possible threat of other threats.

And while there are real threats to our safety and happiness in this world, the important issues should lie in how we as a whole species will overcome these challenges, not whether my god is the true god, not whether I’m in “your” land, not whether I have more rights than you do to be here, or to be alive, or to be happy. We need to look to the culture and how it affects our expectations as human beings. We need to look at humanity to see how to fix it, not to look skyward and pray for intervention, or worse, the end of days. And I really do think we can do this; we have the knowledge, we have the means, let’s make this thing work for all of us.

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Further Reading
The Enlightenment and Post-Enlightenment Agenda of Contemporary Atheism

Crimes Against Women and Children in the Name of Islam

June 12, 2010 § 9 Comments

Mohammed, the prophet of the Islamic world, married his last bride Aisha when she was just six years old, and the consummated the marriage with her when she was just nine years old. In Islamic states, partly because of this precedent, this practice still happens in fundamentalist countries like Afghanistan.  Muslims will say that a child of six or seven is almost certain to be a virgin. Mohammed was at least 50 when he married Aisha.

The practice of forced marriages (as opposed to arranged marriages) in some Muslim states such as Afghanistan is very common. Some reports claim that somewhere between 60-80 percent of marriages in Afghanistan are forced upon the girls involved or without the consent of the girls. These marriages are seen as a way to resolve conflicts between families, or as a way to absolve someone of a wrongdoing. The girls are treated as they would treat cattle, and are given to these men as offerings.

Some reports also estimate that 57 percent of Afghani girls are married before the age of 16, and it is unusual to find an unmarried girl older than 18 years of age. The practice is justified twofold; that the girls are helping to keep the peace between families, and that the Islamic prophet Mohammed had set this precedent.

In Afghanistan the legal age to be married is 16, but many people ignore this law or claim they were unaware of it. The children in this situation are robbed of childhood, and as you will see, many are robbed of their life. This practice is abhorrent, and any civilised culture will see it as such.

In Nigeria, a 49-year-old Muslim Senator has reportedly married a 13-year-old girl, and has allegedly previously married a 15-year-old in 2006, citing that he paid a dowry of $100,000 to the parents for her. Although looked down upon by other ministers in Nigeria it is still happening.

Women in Islam have no rights, especially if they are non-Muslim, and these men get away with their evils because people are too afraid to stand up against the barbarity of the culture which the religion they follow has instilled in them. Threats of death are imposed upon those who would stand up against this. In Lahore, a man and his entourage of Muslim lawyers has threatened to “burn alive” anyone who will come to the defence of a 12-year-old servant of his, whom he raped and murdered.

Many girls will find themselves in a marriage with a man much older than they are, and will be given the sole duties of looking after the household and giving offspring to the man. Some men have multiple wives, and the women become a harem for that man. The men are often abusive to these girls, sometimes to the point where the girl should be hospitalised, but often is not. The beating of wives is seen as the “honourable thing to do”, for the wife must be kept in line with the wishings of the man and of Allah.

Often these girls will find themselves in these abusive relationships, and will seek a way out.  But the way out is a problem in itself; if the girl were to leave she would bring shame upon her own family and her husband’s, and would be hunted down and possibly stoned to death or just beaten withing an inch of her life; if she stays, she may be beaten thus anyhow. Sometimes out of pure desperation, a girl seeking to be free from the bonds of this abusive relationship will choose self-harm rather than bringing shame upon her people.

In Afghanistan, it is believe that more than 10 women and girls choose self-immolation (warning very graphic content) as the escape from their bondage. Around the web there are numerous stories of women who, feeling there was no better way, have chosen to set themselves on fire rather than continue living in such conditions. Some girls die from their injuries. Some do not but are so badly scarred so as to lose their legs, or are severely disfigured by these burns. Those that live may wind up on the streets, homeless.

The culture in Afghanistan is such that women are treated as slaves, and in some cases, worse than dogs. Not only do they wear the burqa in public at all times, they are not allowed to leave the home alone, not allowed to speak to anyone they don’t know, and not allowed to make their identity known nor engage with any of their husband’s friends they may meet in the street. They are not treated as second-class citizens, rather as livestock that can produce more sons for the family.

People blame Islam for these practices. And yet, there are many more Islamic people who don’t practice this than do. Islam itself is not to blame wholly for these atrocities, rather the culture that bases itself upon Islam, then justifies these stone-aged practices based on the words of the Koran or the Hadeeth, saying it is God’s will that this be done. When a culture is poor and has little or no access to education, these kinds of barbaric practices continue to happen.

The culture in Afghanistan is sick. The barbarism and sheer disrespect for human rights that occurs there is all so often backed up by the perverse and outmoded words of their holy books. This illness in the Afghan culture continues, even after the ousting of the Taliban, who were ultra conservative and would set upon women with batons for showing ANY skin, but it is not much better now.

While this culture is deeply ingrained in their societies, these practices in the name of Islam  shows it toi be, in its extreme, nothing more than an ultra-conservative ultra-violent “boy’s club” where it members all look after each other. And as sickening as all this is, nothing seems to be getting better.

These girls stories are the same story I have heard again and again of extreme desperation, of girls who see their only escape from forced marriage as being self harm. It is gut-wrenchingly sad to see such lives destroyed by the greed and stupidity of men. Here is an example of one girl’s account of the horrors she has faced at the brutal hands of an extreme Islamic patriarchy.

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