Tag Archives: secularism

Child Abuse and The Jehovah’s Witnesses

Embedded image permalink

How child abuse happens within the Jehovah’s Witnesses, as the Royal Commission in Australia goes public with what too many growing up in the Society experienced. They will continue to, until the public outcry causes Government to change the law.

From the age of nine to 14, once a week I had an hour bible study with an Elder, or a ministerial servant (one down from an Elder) from the local Jehovah’s Witnesses. We discussed bible stories, and as I neared my teens masturbation, sex before marriage, homosexuality, abortion, wet dreams, morning glories. These discussions happened on a one to one basis.

What should shock you, is that no background checks of the sexual offenders register were carried out by the organisation on people giving such bible studies to children. Nor are they required by law in the UK (I am happy to be proven wrong if it has changed), because they have been “invited” into the family home. As to training, this amounts to theological ministry – that is the art of recruiting, retaining and indoctrinating people in the faith.

The bit that should be making you shout far and wide. Child abuse is only recognised at the congregation level if there are at least two people to witness when the crime takes place. This is based on Deuteronomy 19:15

15 “One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.

Further, they might be prepared to hold their own investigation as a spiritual matter, and feel no obligation to report concerns or allegations to the appropriate authorities. For the supreme authority is God, and the number one concern is the spiritual welfare of everyone while maintaining the word of God in this world.

The Royal Commission in Australia into sex abuse highlighted these particular concerns about the Jehovah’s Witnesses:

  • The two-witness rule. A rule within the religion that states officials cannot accept an accusation of child abuse unless there was a second person who also witnessed the abuse – something that rarely happens.

  • Women’s role (or lack of) in the congregation and judicial committee process. As a patriarchal religion, women are to view men as their head. They cannot be part of a judicial committee. In practise this means a young female victim must go into graphic details of her abuse alone in front of three older men.

  • The expectation that the victim confront the perpetrator as part of the process.

  • Not making it mandatory for elders to report accusation of abuse. While not being obliged to report accusations may be legally acceptable in some states, the Royal Commission identified that the judicial committee process meant that often elders would uncover actual proof of a crime, even a confession, but still not report it. At this stage, where it had moved from an allegation to proof of a crime, there was a legal obligation to report.

  • Not reporting allegations to the police. This practise was to protect Jehovah’s name, and was due to a general mistrust of people in “the world”. According to Watchtower: “While some contact with worldly people is unavoidable – at work, at school, and otherwise – we must be vigilant so as to keep from being sucked back into the death-dealing atmosphere of this world.”

  • Fear of psychologists, based on the belief that they may give advice that is not in line with Watchtower principles.

I have written a number of times about my childhood in the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Mercifully, that does not include being abused. But it so easily could have done. Too many have written about their abuse, and the trauma they went through within the organisation.

They are a cult, one that destroys childhoods and families through abuse of all kinds. My hope, is when reading about our experiences, the cycle can be broken and no one else has to go through what we have.

Cartoon from this tweet.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Filed under Jehovah's Witnesses

Accomodate Or Oppose The Islamic Right? Choose Wisely

The hope is by reaching out to the Islamic Right, their participation in society will reduce the threat of extremism. It misses two key points. One, most on the Islamic right are not violent or going to be as it is their personal view, the other that this accommodating undermines the very muslims that are countering this view of Islam both in their community and by how they live their own lives. We should be standing for the liberal principles that fundamentalists oppose, instead of promoting groupthink over individual rights.

The fear that your house will be burnt down, because you have publicly left a faith. A return phone call from a company to ensure you do not break Islamic tenets, because of your name, having placed an order. Gender segregated events at a political rally, with parliamentary candidates.

Secularism supports citizens being free in their opinions regarding religion. Universal human rights promote that no authority may impose religious opinions on others by law or coercion. That should be easy enough – no one should be threatened with violence, no one should have a stranger phoning up to reprimand them on religious dietary requirements they do not follow. It is not though. As The Observer article mentions having cited those two examples:

There has been a great deal of public debate in recent years about what drives young Muslims towards radicalisation. It’s an urgent subject of study in various disciplines of academia, has spawned a library of books, and is the focus of well-funded government programmes.

What is much less known about, and far less discussed, is the plight of young Muslims going in the opposite direction – those who not only turn away from radicalisation but from Islam itself.

Although it is fraught with human drama – existential crisis, philosophical doubt, family rupture, violent threats, communal expulsion, depression, and all manner of other problems – the apostate’s journey elicits remarkably little media interest or civic concern. According to Cottee, there is not “a single sociological study… on the issue of apostasy from Islam”.

I have written about how some will argue that they oppose sharia councils, gender segregation, the veil as a face mask etc on principle but see such things as needing accommodating as a means to prevent fundamentalism having a grievance and to try and draw the muslim right into civic politics. In short, this is about preventing extremism to keep themselves safer.

[Read – The Betrayal Of Believers to Theocracy]

The problem we have, in this rush to bend over backwards out of selfish self-interest, we have suggested that the Islamic right is islam. We have compromised to suggest that Islam requires fasting and face veiling even for children, gender segregation increases participation, that children can be denied music lessons at faith schools. When there is no theological consensus on this, but a sub-cultural and subjective view in play. Most importantly everyone is free to express their opinion in matters of religion regardless of their heritage, skin colour or name. I would like to add even if they are children, and you can read my own apostasy story for more on that here.

As Alom Shaha says: “If your concern about bigotry Muslims face means you’re unwilling to admit problems ex-Muslims face, you’re doing whole liberal thing wrong.” We must be appalled by a woman being verbally abused at wearing a hijab as we are at a woman wearing a hijab fearing what her family will do if she did not. Being liberal is being concerned about individual rights, and not allowing them to be subject to communal whims of religious figures that promote group think for their own platform.

‘Why do you not ask the women at gender segregated events?’, has been the remark to me on twitter. Well I have, when I was standing as a councillor for the Liberal Democrats. I had to have conversations through letter boxes with women, who told me that their husband would make the decision how they would both vote, though they would pass on my remarks. Where people feared putting a poster up for me would result in a brick being thrown through their window. Where a Labour activist told me not to offer my hand to women as against their culture, and when some women did shake my hand I replied, will you tell them it is against their culture to have done that?

Harriet Harman, deputy leader of the Labour Party, has said she hated the idea of a gender segregated public meeting, but she hated the idea of men only meetings even more. My reply would be not to attend either, just as I would not a racial segregated meeting or one where only white men were invited to attend. Would we promote women wearing a face mask, because the alternative is them being locked up indoors for the same reason – or would we say such ideas need to be challenged for they are designed to control the movement and appearance of women? We accommodate while ignoring muslims stating these things have nothing to do with Islam. We expect ex muslims and muslims to think like the muslim right – using the logic of the very racists and anti-muslim bigots that they all must be the same because of their skin and names. That should be enough to shame anyone, but the irony is ignored as they claim to be championing a suppressed minority by promoting the Islamic Right.

I really do not want to mention cartoons again on this blog. People still seem determined to kill others for putting ink to paper, as the Texas attempted massacre showed where security shot dead two armed wannabe killers at a cartoon of Mohammed event. It would be easy to go, but they are right wing bigots, accept it should not matter whether it is Pam Geller or anyone saying:

“This is a war. This is war on free speech. What are we going to do? Are we going to surrender to these monsters? Two men with rifles and backpacks attacked police outside our event. A cop was shot; his injuries are not life-threatening, thank Gd. Please keep him in your prayers,” she posted.

“The bomb squad has been called to the event site to investigate a backpack left at the event site. The war is here.” [Source]

Even hate group leaders organising events do not deserve to be executed at them, nor those that attend. Former President Morsi should not be executed in Egypt, and secularists should be speaking out against military juntas that decide to wear civilian clothing while subverting democracy as they should Islamists that deny human rights. Words or opinions should not mark out anyone for death – nor should we respond they were asking for it by expressing them. Unless the victim is the guilty party, not the man with the gun, or the man with his dick in his hand as he is about to rape a protester. Were the women asking for it as they demanded their human rights? Enough with blaming the victim.

Of course the gun is not always the weapon of choice. With the machete, a third secular blogger in Bangladesh is killed this year. Chased down the street as he went to work, Ananta Bijoy Das was hacked to death in what is increasingly seen as a “culture of impunity” for religiously motivated killings.

His murder comes a week after al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent claimed responsibility for Roy’s killing on 26 February in which his wife was badly injured. An Islamist has been arrested over his murder. Another atheist blogger, Washiqur Rahman, was hacked to death in Dhaka in March. Two madrassa students have been arrested over that attack. [Source]

Religion does not deserve a culture of impunity in a free society. Yet, that is exactly what we are in danger of doing, not out of principle but expediency. I have met too many people who have been threatened and shot at, read about too many who I will never get to meet because they have been killed. Like Sabeen Mahmud, shot dead in April:

In Karachi, Sabeen established a not-for-profit organization “to promote democratic discourse and conflict resolution through intellectual and cultural engagement,” called The Second Floor (T2F). T2F worked to keep its doors open for artists, performers and marginalized voices, with Sabeen’s fearless and welcoming attitude creating a home and a safe space for conversations, discourse and peace in Pakistan. [Source]

If we want intellectual and cultural engagement, we cannot accommodate the very reactionary ideology that stands against it. The religious right have to be challenged for the sake of a free and open society for everyone. The islamic right should be no exception. Just as we should condemn the words of the French Mayor that said “The Muslim religion must be banned in France”, who has been suspended by his party for this tweeted remark to former President Sarkozy.

Do not kid yourself that you can appease the fundamentalists with gestures. It never does. Death or surrender is the choice they offer. We should want neither, as we promote liberty and freedom for all, while tackling bigotry against muslims and ex muslims.

Free speech for everyone, whether they are Anjem Choudary or Pamela Geller, is the way to allow this to happen.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Filed under British Politics, British Society

The Betrayal Of Believers To Theocracy

Too often I hear that the vast majority of atheists have no issues with religion. Clearly they have enough of an issue not to be religious themselves. Worryingly, the use of anti-theism to denote hatred of religious people by atheists themselves, is up there with using islamophobia rather than anti-muslim hate.

It is as if theism was just another idea in the market place, just another product. One that desperately needs a health warning. It poisons everything. Including secular liberal principles.

Not least when an unholy alliance is being offered with theocrats by some atheists. I am dismayed by British Humanist Association (BHA) stance: 

In a debate with me a few years ago, the then Head of Public Affairs Naomi Phillips (now a BHA trustee) called Sharia courts “people’s right to religion”. Andrew Copson, its Chief Executive, has stated on Facebook on 8 December 2014 that he had visited a Beth Din and the Islamic Sharia Council with three of his fellow commissioners on the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life and was “left without a single secularist reason to say that they should not be allowed to operate as they do”. [Maryam Namazie]

It is fine for a woman to go to arbitration for a faith where men say prayers thanking God they were not born a woman or where a woman has less standing in civil matters than a man. The tradition of patriarchy and demeaning women given sanction as religious freedom.

Thus do we betray feminism and the equality of citizens by bending over backwards to say we are not anti-religion by putting theocracy before these values. Religion having a role in civil law is a base camp for extremists to exploit. The radicals do not need the legislature when they can rule on family life in the community.

So we help to oppress the very people we claim have a choice. That is how people wash their hands of it.

In the Law Society debacle where the Society had endorsed discriminatory practices by issuing Sharia-compliant guidance on wills, the current BHA Head of Public Affairs, Pavan Dhaliwal, wrote: “The issue has been totally blown out of proportion… It’s just advice so that solicitors can provide a service to (Sunni) Muslim clients who want a will that fits with their beliefs. It does not claim to do any more than that.” 

Many women’s rights groups, including Southall Black Sisters, Centre for Secular Space, Nari Diganta, Iranian Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation and One Law for All disagreed and campaigned against the guidance, which was eventually withdrawn. The Law Society made a very public apology for endorsing discrimination. [Ibid]

It misses how religion impacts on society – how as Hitchens mentions religion poisons everything. In a race to say it is not religion, but people who are at fault, we forget religion is a creation of the human mind. As such it is subject to fault, to being a product of its time and the machinations of a believer or cleric. Where even good people can do terrible things because they think the unimaginable.

Religious freedom is about protecting people in their opinion on religion and in their practise. That cannot come from diminishing the equality of citizens before the law. That is the argument against religious councils ruling on civil matters. Why legal advice that promoted discrimination based on extreme interpretation of religious doctrine was inexcusable.

In the name of avoiding appearing anti-religious, I cannot betray the secularist principles that uphold the equality of citizens. We must not help religious hardliners in their community obtain power. The supposed tyranny of equality nazis is about ending discrimination in society and the use of the law to do so. For some reason, many want to abandon it where it does not directly affect them as non believers. Handing some keys over in the hope that it will prevent radicalization penetrating deeper. Neglecting that theocracy in the modern age only needs the run of civil matters, rather than the legislature, to influence the everyday life of citizens. The attitude of some atheists seems to be: the fringes are the front line let us appear to on the moral high ground.

When you see that wall of separation between church and state laid siege too, then once more unto the breach dear friends. Let us seal it with our arguments, for too many have done so with their bodies in the world. Under theocratic law and fundamentalist hands they died. Under one law for all we stand.

In this, to rally when many a leader has already called the retreat as they flee to the supposed high ground to keep themselves safe, do watch the video above which is a few minutes long. It is a highlight of Christopher Hitchens debate with Tony Blair. It is the reason why theism needs countering. Why secularism is important.

Watch, stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, and by argument shall we not let the wall fall. For we shall make it bigger.

Freedom needs to be defended. Both against fundamentalists and those cultural relativists that will willingly betray the human rights of others as long as they are ok.

I am against theism because I value humanity too much to see its freedoms and lives sacrificed to false gods. Universal human rights are for everyone – which is why theocracy must be opposed.

Update 25 March 2015

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association has written a full reply to Maryam Namazie’s article, from which I quote three paragraphs above.

It is republished with Andrew’s permission:

The BHA, on grounds of equality and human rights, opposes any legal recognition of norms which contradict these principles. We do not consider sharia to be ‘law’ and we do not consider the bodies advising on it to be ‘courts’. The secular civil and criminal law binds everyone and there should be no exemptions from it for any alternative jurisdictions within the UK. We have promoted this view to successive governments and to a wide variety of other public bodies over the years and today.

I have responded to some of the points in the blog you quote below. (The quotes from the blog are the bits in italics.)

In a debate with me a few years ago, the then Head of Public Affairs Naomi Phillips (now a BHA trustee) called Sharia courts “people’s right to religion”.

What Naomi said was that, in situations where parties were free from coercion and no laws were being broken, access to religion-based dispute resolution was a right for religious people in a liberal society that respects freedom of association. She also said that there should never be any implication that this sort of arbitration was law. Speaking shortly afterwards she said, ‘‘Many religious “laws” are inherently gender unequal, and as such are antithetical to the principles of democracy and the rule of law which we uphold in a liberal democracy. We welcome any clarification that religious laws, judges and tribunals should have no de facto or legal recognition in English law and have no standing in our domestic courts, as this new Bill may seek to do. Just as important is that government and others should undertake serious and wide-ranging work to ensure that women and men from every part of society, right from school age, understand their civil rights as citizens.’ You can see this statement at https://humanism.org.uk/2011/06/09/news-822/

Andrew Copson, its Chief Executive, has stated on Facebook on 8 December 2014 that he had visited a Beth Din and the Islamic Sharia Council with three of his fellow commissioners on the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life and was “left without a single secularist reason to say that they should not be allowed to operate as they do”.

This is a misleading and selective quote as it gives the impression that I support sharia “courts” and that the BHA does. Both impressions would be untrue but in fact, this is a quote from a post on my personal Facebook wall made in a private capacity. As such, I consider it to be firmly in the realm of my private life. However, since it has been selectively quoted in this way and made public, I am willing to reproduce it in full for you, although with strong reservations about this conflation between my private life and my employment:

Visited the London Beth Din of the Chief Rabbi of the United (Orthodox) Synagogues and the Islamic Shari’a Council today as part of a fact-finding trip with three of my fellow commissioners on the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life.

Having heard how they operate, examined their cases, and spoken to the men and women who run them, I’m left without a single secularist reason to say that they should not be allowed to operate as they do. In civil matters, the Beth Din make arbitrations just as any other private organisation may do under law if the parties consent. The Shari’a Council was founded in 1982 to give religious divorces to women who were unable to get them and now makes judgments on religious matters alone which are quite outside of the law. They both seem to me to operate entirely within the private sphere and – where their activities intersect with anything that falls under English law – they do not act unlawfully.

I’m still left with a lot of humanist reasons why I wish people didn’t want to use them though. It’s a shame that religious people – like those I spoke to today – feel that they should comply with scriptural injunctions which treat men and women unequally and impose what I think of as unreasonable, unfair, and irrelevant restrictions on behaviour. And that they do this even though they agree that these principles are unfair – as some today did – amazes me!

If you want to do something about that, though, it has to be through culture rather than the law, right? Or *are* there ways in which public agencies should intervene to influence people not to use these voluntary services?

And here’s another question. One of the women who runs the Shari’a Council said how worried she was about growing literalism and conservatism (an imam I was speaking to last week said the same) of some Muslims and panels set up to make judgments under shari’a in the UK. What is a good response by wider society to that? Would encouraging the liberal shari’a councils, which interpret scriptural injunctions in light of moral contexts and social reality, risk legitimising them? And might it have the opposite effect anyway? Would giving approval to them risk undermining the liberal councils in the eyes of disaffected and defensive Muslims who would feel that those councils were (because sanctioned) less authentic than the more conservative and literal-minded councils to which they might then flock?

Lots to think about on this Commission!

I’m sure you will agree this is not an endorsement of sharia based decision making.


In the Law Society debacle where the Society had endorsed discriminatory practices by issuing Sharia-compliant guidance on wills, the current BHA Head of Public Affairs, Pavan Dhaliwal, wrote: “The issue has been totally blown out of proportion… It’s just advice so that solicitors can provide a service to (Sunni) Muslim clients who want a will that fits with their beliefs. It does not claim to do any more than that.”

Many women’s rights groups, including Southall Black Sisters, Centre for Secular Space, Nari Diganta, Iranian Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation and One Law for All disagreed and campaigned against the guidance, which was eventually withdrawn. The Law Society made a very public apology for endorsing discrimination.

This quote is taken from an email sent by Pavan to a private email group run by ‘End Violence Against Women’ in which she was arguing that the issue of the practice note had been blown out of proportion in the media and elsewhere. I think she was right – there was widespread public misapprehension that the law had somehow been changed, which was untrue.

Nonetheless, you can believe that something has been blown out of proportion but still not think it is good, and the BHA was against the practice note and not in favour of it as is wrongly claimed here. We met with the Chief Executive of the Law Society and other Law Society staff to voice our opposition to it. (As far as I know, none of the other groups listed here did so.) And we welcomed its withdrawal when it came (at which point we received the same letter from the Law Society that all other groups that had voiced their opposition received. You can see the story at https://humanism.org.uk/2014/11/24/bha-statement-withdrawal-law-society-practice-note-sharia-wills/)

Those who defend Sharia courts or Sharia-compliant wills as people’s “right to religion” don’t see or don’t want to see that Sharia law is one of the pillars of Islamist rule as is terrorism. It is in fact a form of terrorism against the population at large. This point of view will rightly condemn the hacking to death of Avijit Roy or Raif Badawi’s flogging but will tell those wearing Jesus and Mo cartoons or loudly proclaiming their apostasy that they are “out to offend”, implying that it is the way we criticise or mock Islam that brings on the threats. They also often conflate a criticism with Islam with an attack on Muslims, thereby implying that our the manner of our criticism feeds into racism and “Islamophobia”.

In relation to Jesus and Mo cartoons, we have never done anything other than actively championed the right of our student affiliates to free expression and worked hard to support them both with legal support and media assistance (e.g. https://humanism.org.uk/2013/10/04/lsesu-atheist-secularist-humanist-society-incident-freshers-fair/ and https://humanism.org.uk/2012/10/05/news-1124/ and many more) . We haven’t said any of the other things here either – in fact, we’ve frequently said the opposite.

Alom Shaha, a trustee of the BHA, said in a debate on Islam at the 2014 World Humanist Congress: “You can express whatever views you like but as people have pointed out the expression of your views has consequences, and if one of the consequences of your views, the expression of your views, is that there is hatred and intolerance of other human beings, I’m just simply suggesting that you consider how you express your views. I think the term Islamophobia is indeed problematic; perhaps I should have used the term anti-Muslim bigotry…”

At this event (at which we also invited Maryam to speak), Alom was of course not speaking on behalf of the BHA but as a prominent ex-Muslim and writer and thinker on these issues. Nonetheless, I can’t see anything wrong with what he is saying; he seems to me to be making a reasonable point.

Whilst groups like the BHA rightly condemn the Sharia court sentence of stoning to death for Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani in Iran, they cannot find “a single secularist reason to say that they should not be allowed to operate as they do” when it comes to Britain.

As stated above, this is not the position of the BHA.

I do not know why these claims have been made on this blog but I hope the responses above address your concerns.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Filed under atheism, British Politics, British Society, Hitchens, secular

Tristram Hunt And Nuns On Question Time


Tristram Hunt, the shadow Education Secretary, has been accused of making derogatory remarks about nuns and faith, when remarking about the education of another panelist on BBC Question Time.

If you watch the video, you can see that Tristram Hunt was making the point that qualified teachers in the state system were preferable to non qualified teachers. He however agrees that nuns, and faith schools, may have an ethos that can coexist with state system. His suggestion, “they were nuns”, is suggesting being a nun they were better than most unqualified teachers.

This however has become for some a discussion about Labour being anti-faith rather than promoting qualified people who know how to teach children in the state classroom. Context is everything – Labour have recently announced making LGBT inclusive in sex education for state schools. Also, Tristram Hunt has said Ofsted should be able to scrutinise and review faith schools just as they do in the state system. For religious school supporters, fearful of what the aftermath to the Trojan horse affair may mean when British values go against religious claims, the axe was already sharpened to swing at a whiff of provocation.

Tristram has a belief in faith schools. It is shocking that nuns are automatically assumed to be better than most non qualified teachers. Any more than Mother Teresa being held up as a model of palliative “spiritual suffering” care over medicine and health care. This due reverence for clerics I was shocked out of at an early age. Reading Hitchens meticulously researched book should break the spell for others.

I have mentioned before about nuns providing respite for my disabled brother when we were kids. To give some details of their care, his fingertips were bloodied when cutting his finger nails. He was allowed to get into a scalding hot bath that terrified him for about ten years getting into another. He was chastised when displaying his mannerisms of uncontrollable movement.

As the only respite centre in the vicinity, there was no where else for my sleep deprived mother to use.

The change in my brother when social services kicked the Sisters out and placed professional carers in was immense. Not having untrained inexperienced amateurs, always out of their depth with the most challenging of children, made a difference.

Watch the video again. Tristram, like myself, is stressing the point that trained qualified staff are key for children – I would go further and say nuns need it too. Perhaps a supposed sneering manner detracts from what should be a universal point. I only wish a party would stand on a platform of secular education for all children. That will be a generational change. It is not for a close run election this year. Another reason for hyping this story.

My anecdote is not an end of the discussion anymore than someone having a great education at a faith school. (Read here for essay on secular versus faith schooling).

The people looking after your children and educating them should be trained, professional, and know what they are doing. It is no use just relying on a wing and a prayer. A child’s education takes precedence over religious instruction. The difference in grades are more to do with socio economic backgrounds, which faith schools can select for.

Whether teachers should be supplemented by experts, or educational motivators (imagine Stephen Fry talking about Shakespeare for a class) in their field who lack teacher training is a different point. For that, head teachers should be able to make a call based on what improves the educational experience of their students.

Here is a snap shot of how Tristram’s remarks have played out on twitter.

For once I am sparing you the tweet puns – breaking the habit of a lifetime.

However, this outspoken secular blogger suggests Tristram was not attacking religious faith schools. Labour policy may be reducing the exemptions religious schools have enjoyed. That is enough to blow this all out of proportion.

Ninety days to polling day. For God’s sake publish your manifestos quickly so we can talk about something substantive.


Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Filed under British Politics, British Society, Culture, politics, Religion, secular

Sam Harris Writes About Debating Ben Affleck on Real Time


Sam Harris has just written a blog post about the debate on Bill Maher’s show with Ben Affleck. He addresses when he mentioned that most Muslims do not take their faith seriously:

[The Video and full analysis can be read here]

Although I clearly stated that I wasn’t claiming that all Muslims adhere to the dogmas I was criticizing; distinguished between jihadists, Islamists, conservatives, and the rest of the Muslim community; and explicitly exempted hundreds of millions of Muslims who don’t take the doctrines about blasphemy, apostasy, jihad, and martyrdom seriously, Affleck and Kristof both insisted that I was disparaging all Muslims as a group. Unfortunately, I misspoke slightly at this point, saying that hundreds of millions of Muslims don’t take their “faith” seriously. This led many people to think that I was referring to Muslim atheists (who surely don’t exist in those numbers) and suggesting that the only people who could reform the faith are those who have lost it. I don’t know how many times one must deny that one is referring to an entire group, or cite specific poll results to justify the percentages one is talking about, but no amount of clarification appears sufficient to forestall charges of bigotry and lack of “nuance.” [my emphasis]

Misspoke? In an earlier post (September 10 2014) Sam Harris had this to say about the 1.5 billion Muslims attitudes to Islam:

No doubt many enlightened concerns will come flooding into the reader’s mind at this point. I would not want to create the impression that most Muslims support ISIS, nor would I want to give any shelter or inspiration to the hatred of Muslims as people. In drawing a connection between the doctrine of Islam and jihadist violence, I am talking about ideas and their consequences, not about 1.5 billion nominal Muslims, many of whom do not take their religion very seriously. [my emphasis]

Harris still appears to be saying that Muslims who do not believe in blasphemy, apostasy, jihad, and martyrdom, are not taking their religion seriously.

Maybe Sam is just articulating himself badly in two blog posts, and a TV appearance. His writings however, suggest that a serious Muslim believes these things. Ergo you are not a serious Muslim if you do not.

As I pointed out in my previous post, this does not help the pluralist secular minded muslims to challenge the theocratic societies they live in if we call them not serious muslims ourselves. Just like the people who use that as a criminal charge against them. (For more on that read here)

Sam has put himself into a bind by suggesting that Muslims who do not believe these things are either ignorant of scripture, or not serious believers.

This makes his support rather problematic for Muslims fighting extremists when Sam’s view of Islam is in line with those very extremists.

Extremists that want to kill them for not being serious Muslims.

The reason this matters is the very concerns and critiques we have on Islam will be ignored if we continue to suggest that the extremist position is the serious one for muslims to follow. When most of them do not already.

But then Sam once said the far right were the only ones talking sense about immigration. Hitchens replied “not while I’m alive they’re not.”

I hope Sam starts talking sense soon about how Muslims can be serious about their faith and promote secularism. Otherwise, theocracy will remain much longer than it should.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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