Event: Is religion heading for a clash with the Godless?


by Sunny
7th December, 2010 at 9:44 am    

A group of us from the Progressive Generation Network are organising this discussion next week. All welcome (it’s free, though RSVP here please)

Speakers
Alom Shaha, a Bangladeshi-born science teacher and writer, will talk about the experiences that led him to reject religion and embrace atheism.

Riaz Patel, Educationalist, Government advisor, ex-journalist will also discuss his personal journey from sceptic to a believer in the power of faith.

Nabila Pathan is a writer and broadcaster. She blogs as Word Play, commenting on socio-political issues.

Bob Churchill is Head of Membership at the British Humanist Association, the national charity supporting and representing people who seek to live good lives without religious or superstitious beliefs. http://www.humanism.org.uk/

Monday, 13 December 2010 at 18:30;
The Cafe, Rich Mix Centre, London


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  1. damon — on 7th December, 2010 at 8:31 pm  

    As no one has commented all day, I’d just say that no – it doesn’t have to be a clash.

    I just went and watched a George Clooney film called The American.

    He’s an assassin and it’s set in an Apennine mountain village in Italy.
    It has female nudity. Quite a prolonged scene of that infact.

    I watched it in a cinema in conservative Northern Ireland, where it was uncut, but if I’d watched the same film (if they’d ever show it) in Dubai or Qatar or Bangkok … where they prefer children’s films and no-brain action movies.. then I guess they’d have had a problem with the nipples.

  2. Don — on 7th December, 2010 at 11:19 pm  

    Damon,

    At times you are quite odd. How did you get from A to wierd B?

    As to the OP,yeah. C’mon, let’s have a clash.

  3. Kismet Hardy — on 8th December, 2010 at 12:51 am  

    Religious person: I’m right. You must see the light. Here, read this. It’s not too late. You can be saved. If you don’t, you’re going to hell.

    Godless: I don’t care.

    The end

  4. damon — on 8th December, 2010 at 4:21 am  

    Don, maybe I’m just too deep and even I don’t understand me.

    The OP is about the religious verses the non religious.
    In Britain that also comes often with a cultural/racial difference as most Brits aren’t religious more than regarding themselves as vaguely christian when it comes to births and deaths.

    Is it for religious reasons that in the Arab countries I have visited, I have observed that people cannot watch western films which have an intelligent narrative or where women play a leading role?

    It seems that there is no market for western films that you’d want to watch – which maybe isn’t so different from when you walk into your local Blockbuster Video and see only dross, but I was reminded of this the other day by a piece in the Guardian about Qatar winning the World Cup bid, when the guy writing the article said this:

    Qatar is actually quite a nice place to visit: it’s clean with lots of modern buildings, including a faked-ancient souk. It’s also rather boring. Don’t go and live there unless you happen to be a workaholic and/or a golfaholic.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/dec/03/qatar-myths-world-cup-2022

    One of the commentators under the article said this …. and forgive me for quoting it in full, but I thought it got to the heart of this issue of what it’s like to live in a religious society.

    I was working there for a few months earlier in the year and it is tremendously dull. The people were, for the most part, very nice, though.

    There’s IM Pei’s Museum of Islamic Culture, which is great, and the fake soukh (which you can see both of in considerably less than a day) and that’s it.

    The only live music I could find was lounge bar jazz. Comedy once a month. Beer was £8 a pint and OK wine unbelievably expensive in the hotels.

    You can’t walk around – there’s no contiguous pavements of any length other than the seafront south of the Diplomatic Area, and no network of off-road paths.

    The main cultural activity seems to be shopping, but the shops in the smart shopping centres are mostly the ones you can see in any provincial UK town, with a smattering of Bond Street style ones.

    The cinemas only show childrens’ films and action movies, which are censored.

    And it’s not just gay sex that’s illegal. There was a case during the summer of a Syrian ex-pat man being flogged for having consensual sex with a woman to whom he was unmarried.

    When I asked some of the ex-pats what they liked about it, they all told me it was great for kids. So’s DisneyLand, but you wouldn’t want to live there.

    And that’s what the religious can bring us.
    So it can be a bit of a clash, because I don’t want that kind of society encroaching on ours.

    I remember watching the film Something’s Gotta Give (with Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton) at the cinema several years ago, and having been in Tunisia just a short time before, when I came out I remember thinking how they just wouldn’t get that film in Tunisia, even if it was dubbed into Arabic.

    Because their religious and male chauvinist tendencies would be too challenged by the plot; the relationships and having such leading women characters.

    That is a part of the clash between the religious and non religious I think.

  5. cjcjc — on 8th December, 2010 at 8:32 am  

    Well I will probably go to this discussion.

    I like the choice of the old-fashioned word “Godless”.

  6. Sofia — on 8th December, 2010 at 9:36 am  

    Damon you’re quite funny and not in a good way.
    If you damn the entire middle east with male chauvanism then what about your cultural chauvanism. Your last comment on the film ‘something’s gotta give’ is ridiculous.
    What does ‘religious’ mean anyway? does it mean attending church or following a god? maybe the question should not be about religious or non religious but about what it the word religion means and how people think about religion.

  7. Ravi Naik — on 8th December, 2010 at 11:35 am  

    Religious person: I’m right. You must see the light. Here, read this. It’s not too late. You can be saved. If you don’t, you’re going to hell.

    Godless: I don’t care.

    The “I don’t care” attitude does not seem to me the attitude of atheist evangelist Richard Dawkins, who despite his intellect and contributions to science, he now prefers to debate with creationists as if they epitomised religious belief – when the majority of Christians and other religious people do not compromise their beliefs for the sake of science.

    I also do not understand why humanism is associated exclusively with atheism – I understand the part about excluding organized religion, but religion and deism are more than that.

    The only clash that exists is between people that do not respect other people’s beliefs and those who get offended by what other people think and say, most of us do not give a damn.

  8. damon — on 8th December, 2010 at 12:59 pm  

    Sofia, I agree that my criticism of the culture in Arab societies does seem overly harsh, and deserves to be slapped down maybe. I was just trying to make the point though that perhaps overly religious societies have a tendency to stymie the develpment of the open and modern culture and arts and equality between men and women.
    It is my opinion that Arab countries are overly religious. Just like Ireland was in the past, and still is to some degree. Abortion is still illegal in both parts of Ireland for example.

    My favourite Muslim country is Malaysia, as there at least I saw a form of Islam where young people could mix socially with the opposite sex in places like the shopping malls of Kuala Lumpur, and you see teenage sweethearts holding hands, which is always nice to see. She dutifully wearing her hijab, but otherwise wearing modern teenage fashions. I haven’t seen any such behavior in Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan or Dubai. I don’t think it’s unfair to describe the culture of the Arabian peninsula as extremely conservative. Backward even. Dubai is a semi-slave hell-hole with no modern culture worth talking about.
    That was my opinion of spending a week there anyway.
    At least the other countries I mentioned have the excuse of being very poor. Men and women don’t mix.
    Men go to cafes and sit with men. The only place you see women at such places will be in some upscale wealthy neighbourhood. There you will see attractive young women sitting at outside tables drinking coffee, with their brand name sunglasses perched up on their heads.

    Maybe it’s not religion that’s to blame, but with the call to prayer ringing out every few hours (it seems) and people going too and from mosque all day, what else is it that keeps these societies so divided (gender wise) and conservative then?

    Having said that, I’m not a fan of Richard Dawkins, and am much more in agreement with this analysis of him.

    ‘Catholic atheist’ Michael Fitzpatrick finds himself repelled by Richard Dawkins’ crass and prejudiced polemic against religion.

    http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php?/site/article/2503/

  9. Sofia — on 8th December, 2010 at 2:11 pm  

    Damon, this is what I mean by defining what it means to be ‘religious’ and what is cultural. These countries you mention may have a religion they follow and an interpretation of a text but how does that mean they are religious? You mix cultural aspects and religious interpretations together without defining what influence each has. In relation to the muslim countries you mention, the control they have over people is the version of islam they espouse and which unfortunately they do not seem to want to debate. However, some of the issues that women face are not simply down to religious teachings, but cultural practices that often hold more weight even though the person may label themselves ‘religious’..i would ask them what makes them religious and what makes them cultural?

  10. cjcjc — on 8th December, 2010 at 2:16 pm  

    “The only clash that exists is between people that do not respect other people’s beliefs”

    You mean religious beliefs of course.
    I assume you don’t respect, say, David Cameron’s political beliefs.
    Part of Dawkins’s point – and it is worth giving a damn about – is that religious belief should not be privileged above any other kind of belief.
    He is right to be aggressive in response to the religious who demand (and often get) such privilege.

  11. damon — on 8th December, 2010 at 3:08 pm  

    Sofia, but religion is cultural in many cases. It’s almost impossible to untwine them. I can’t do it so easily. In the Indian Subcontinent, being religious is the norm, and people identifying as atheist is almost unheard of (I’m guessing).
    It doesn’t matter what religion particularly, but everyone is religious. Cities like Varanasi are defined by religion. You can’t escape it. See someone dying in the street and wonder why they’re not being rushed off to hospital, and the answer I think is it’s a mixture of religion and culture that will lead people to almost step over some poor unfortunate lying there covered in flies.
    When I asked this question of some people in India, I was told that if a person is in that state, then they must have bad karma or be a bad person, otherwise they would be cared for by their family.

    Again, I know I’m being overly simplistic – but there surely is some truth in that.

    Btw, anyone who didn’t see this Newsnight clip the other night should give it a watch. It’s about the attempt to amalgamate two segregated schools in Oldham. Where religion as well as racism has to be part of the reason the schools became segregated in the first place.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/9261859.stm

    I’m sure the new academy will be a success, as there is no reason why Asian and white children can’t mix at school, which is the norm everywhere else.

  12. Don — on 8th December, 2010 at 5:25 pm  

    Ravi,

    he now prefers to debate with creationists as if they epitomised religious belief…

    A minor point, but Dawkins refuses to debate with creationists. When invited to debate by one noted creationist he commented, ‘That would look great on his cv, not so good on mine.’ He does, however excoriate them. And in the US, at which much of his polemic is aimed, creationism and a general hostility to science is very much driven by religion.

    the majority of Christians and other religious people do not compromise their beliefs for the sake of science.

    I’m not sure how that ties in with the first part of your paragraph. Are you saying that the majority of religious people would reject scientific knowledge which conflicted with their beliefs?

    I agree that humanism is associated with atheism, but in reality, as you say, there is no reason why one could not be a deistic humanist. I doubt if one could comfortably be a theist and a humanist, though.

  13. Don — on 8th December, 2010 at 5:32 pm  

    Damon,

    In the Indian Subcontinent, being religious is the norm, and people identifying as atheist is almost unheard of (I’m guessing).

    In general terms you may be right, but there are certainly very active Indian atheists.
    The site linked to below spends much of its time attacking quackery and charlatans.

    http://nirmukta.com/

    And India produced what, as far as I know, was the first developed atheist philosophy.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carvaka

  14. Ravi Naik — on 8th December, 2010 at 10:30 pm  

    A minor point, but Dawkins refuses to debate with creationists.

    But his arguments are certainly centred around creationism and framing his arguments as “God vs Science”. This is a fallacy, as science hasn’t disproved the existence of God.

    I’m not sure how that ties in with the first part of your paragraph. Are you saying that the majority of religious people would reject scientific knowledge which conflicted with their beliefs?

    You are right, I messed it up. I meant to say the opposite of that.

    I agree that humanism is associated with atheism, but in reality, as you say, there is no reason why one could not be a deistic humanist. I doubt if one could comfortably be a theist and a humanist, though.

    I don’t see why, unless your definition of humanist explicitly says it is not theism. I believe that humanist ideals are unconnected to whether one believes in God.

  15. damon — on 9th December, 2010 at 3:29 am  

    A way of avoiding these so called clashes I think, is knowing how to deal with these reactionary but popular preachers that Harry’s Place is always highlighting.
    And trying to figure why do they draw the crowds out to their evenings at places like the East London Mosque, Lakemba in Sydney, and Minnesota.
    Is it that otherwise well integrated people like to just go along to some ”madcap revivalist” type event now and again, as even though they don’t plan to lead the astere life according to the code of sharia that the speaker is talking about… that for a couple of hours it’s fun and feels good?

    The same with catholics who might go to mass on a sunday, but then put religion to the back of their minds for the rest of the time … and might even think that the Pope is a jerk too.

    I’m guessing that some people will say that this guy Shiraz Maher is just making a name for himself by writing alarming articles like this.

    Why is the American ambassador visiting the East London Mosque?

    http://www.standpointmag.co.uk/node/3628

    Two of the three comments under that article seem to suggest that he is stiring things up needlessly.
    If this is the case, and the ”Islamist” scare is just the new version of Reds under the bed, then you have to be pretty switched on not to fall for it. I have difficulty with this quite often I have to admit.

    Btw, a guy on Liberal Conspiracy says that I’m just a ”concern troll” – so that’s what I might be doing. I don’t feel that I am, but he says otherwise.

  16. Don — on 9th December, 2010 at 8:26 am  

    I don’t think you are a concern troll, Damon. But I can see how other people might.

  17. damon — on 9th December, 2010 at 4:05 pm  

    Well Don, I might sound like that because I often really am torn in my opinions. I don’t welcome a growth of religious identity for example. Not to the point where people see themselves first and foremost as being of that religion.
    But then there’s the problem of how do I feel about people who do. So I backtrack a bit and say I actually like aspects of all religions, but it becomes a problem when it becomes a badge and divisiveness sets in.

    So I went along to the Dublin mosques like I said, and heard the Imam prattling on about a ”Zionist entity” plot to destroy Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, in front of an ‘impressionable’ congregation. (That word impressionable could be seen as hugely patronising – but there were lots of young men new to Ireland in attendence – even children in school uniform and I think it’s justified).

    So then along will come a couple of people on here saying I was spying and want to stir up religious hatred etc, when actually the opposite is the case and I want everyone to get on.
    And btw, I was in a catholic church for part of a mass on sunday evening. I walked past and could see there was a mass on. It was cold outside, dark and snow on the ground, and inside it was warm, light, and people were queuing up silently to recieve communion.
    It was a really nice scene actually, in a lovely old church.
    This one in fact.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/8687396.stm

    I come from a catholic background, so I can’t help feeling something for the religion, even though I think it’s mostly nonsense.
    And also, in that area of Belfast, the people there were under the thumb of the IRA for so many years, and many of them will have supported them to one degree or another. Primarily because they identified with the ”catholic” view of things. Which isn’t really a good reason to base your politics on.

    The reason I was annoyed with the Dublin Imams (two of them on consecutive weeks), is that it could lead the new muslim community in Ireland being Israel obsessed and becoming like some of the paranoid sections of muslim society elsewhere in Europe, who see a world-wide crusade against Islam.

    Although there are very few Jews in Ireland, you wouldn’t want this kind of thing to start happening.

    In this episode, Wendy Robbins visits the Swedish city of Malmo where Jews are the victims of 30% of hate crimes, and Jewish families – fearful for their children – are leaving.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00c3449

    That’s a BBC radio programme and is worth a listen.
    The important thing is, how true is it? And how much of an exageration (if any) is it?

    It’s for not coming out strongly for one side or the other on questions like that, that I guess the concern troll insult was directed … and I know it’s to be expected from certain kinds of lefties who like things more black and white.

  18. Sofia — on 9th December, 2010 at 4:11 pm  

    Why don’t you go up to them and say what they’re talking about should be evidence based instead of rhetoric. That’s what I did when I heard Omar Bakri speak about 15 years ago at a university.

    I find the word ‘religious’ one with little meaning. You can wear a burka and still not pray or be charitable yet appear to be ‘religious’ according to what most society defines it as.

    This is why I have a problem with the term. It’s too narrow a definition of what is a complex set of beliefs, issues, personal character and human nature that we just want to box and categorise for our own lazy reasons

  19. Don — on 9th December, 2010 at 7:21 pm  

    Ravi,

    I don’t see why, unless your definition of humanist explicitly says it is not theism.

    Pretty much. I don’t think that is a contentious definition of contempoary mainstream humanism, which at its core rejects the idea that morality and behaviour should be guided by the supernatural or religious dogma.

    While a deist could most certainly entertain the idea of a ‘god’ (however defined) who was irrelevant to morality and conduct surely a theist ‘conceives of God as personal, present and active in the governance and organization of the world and the universe.’ (wiki)

  20. damon — on 9th December, 2010 at 8:50 pm  

    Why don’t you go up to them and say what they’re talking about should be evidence based instead of rhetoric. That’s what I did when I heard Omar Bakri speak about 15 years ago at a university.

    I thought I was already doing well enough just to be there. People are friendly, but the question ”are you a muslim?” can come very quickly. And it’s a fair enough question. When I give the answer ”No” then they might wonder what I’m doing there.
    So, from there I didn’t think I was in a position to say anything against the Imam’s sermons.

    Can I also say that I can’t stand that creep Douglas Murray, who pretends to be concerned about cultural cohesion, but is really just a few steps behind Geert Wilders.

    And also, that there is something really nice about turning up to the mosque for friday prayers. I’ve seen it first hand at several places, and this was one place I remember particularly from last year. It’s in the middle of Mayfair in London. Right on the corner of Curzon Street and Chesterfield Gardens. It’s some Eqyptian Embassy building, and as it was a good place to park my van in between jobs, trying to avoid the attention of traffic wardens for an hour, I noticed that people were turning up for friday prayers – and I even looked inside, as so many men were just turning up and walking straight in. As soon as I opened the door though I was immediately asked what I wanted. Was I doing a delivery? So I felt it wasn’t a place that I could really go inside. My ethnicity marked me out as being someone who didn’t really belong there unless I had announced that I actually was a muslim.

    My point is though that I saw the guys turning up.
    The arab guys working at the nearby five star hotels. The doormen and security guards and all the little people, the chauffeurs and kitchen porters at nearby resturants. As well as wealthy individuals of course.
    But I got a feeling of what it meant to them to get there, even just for half an hour before rushing back to work. It’s like taking a lunchtime swim or shower, but even better than that. Sometimes I wish I could submit also. I think it would be a great comfort.

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