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Required to study Islam: Religious Freedom?

in Political Philosophy, religion, Social Issues

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Is forced Muslim religious education compatible with freedom of religion? We don’t tend to have court news quite this interesting (as far as religion goes) here in New Zealand.

I’m not commenting on this case because of the details that brought the parties to court, so let me quickly summarise what I think are the facts and then move on to what interests me.

  • The tenant is a Muslim woman. The landlord is a 73-year-old ordained pastor from Nigeria.
  • The tenant has had between 12 and 15 people staying in the rented apartment, which the landlord does not permit (or at least does not want, I don’t know if it’s contrary to the lease).
  • The tenant claims that the landlord has a history of shouting anti-Islamic abuse at her and that she pushed her, making her fall down some stairs.
  • The landlord denies treating the tenant this way, saying that the tenant had a vendetta against her because she wouldn’t let more people live in the apartment and because of her religion.
  • The judge found against the landlord, also noting that previous tenants have taken out prevention orders against her.

That brings us up to the part that I’m interested in. Here’s what the judge did:

He sentenced her to two years in jail on the assault and battery charge for pushing Suliman but required her to serve only six months, with the remaining 18 months suspended if she complied with certain probation conditions.

“I want you to learn about the Muslim faith,” he said. “I want you to enroll and attend an introductory course on Islam. I do want you to understand people of the Muslim faith, and they need to be respected. They may worship Allah … but they need to be respected.”

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in religion, Social Issues

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Research suggests that many New Zealanders are ignorant in ways that support left-wing and secular ideologies. Don’t blame me, I didn’t carry out the survey!

A common theme in my thinking lately is about the way that we humans come to hold many beliefs for non-rational reasons. We imagine the world to be a certain way, not because it is that way but (whether we realise it or not) because it would suit us in some way for the world to be that way. If we’re prejudiced against foreigners, it’ll suit us to say that we’ve got a major problem with migrants coming here, whether such a problem exists or not, and we’ll – unconsciously, perhaps – look for ways to interpret any available data in a way that supports this belief. If we are hardcore left-wing feminist social justice warriors (you know who you are), it would suit our interests if there was a real massive pay gap between men and women in our country, or if a lot of pro-lifers were violent terrorists, and as a result we may well form those beliefs with little or no assistance from the facts, quite apart from whether or not the world really is this way. In bipartisan fashion I’ve picked a “left wing” and a “right wing” example.

Because of my interest in the subject of why we believe as we do, I was intrigued to look at the findings of recent survey called “Perils of Perception 2015: A 33 Country Study.” The subtitle is “Perceptions are not reality: What the world gets wrong.” The summary reads: “Ipsos MORI’s latest version of the Perils of Perception survey highlights how wrong the public across 33 countries are about some key issues and features of the population in their country.”

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in Ethics, Social Issues

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UPDATE: A couple of days later, this dishonest post by “Exposing Men’s Rights Activism” has been shared 470 times by people who did not check the facts.  No doubt this number will continue to rise. After I pointed out the errors, they have removed the word “mass,” to their credit. This leaves them making the claim that there were three shootings on that day. Of course there were far more than three. There are more than eighty shooting deaths per day in the US. Indeed the only reason for saying that there were three mass shootings was to claim (falsely) that the high profile case in San Bernadino was not the only one. The respectable thing would clearly be to remove the false post altogether. Moreover, they have not acknowledged their initial factual error, they have deleted my comment where I point this out, and they continue to claim that the attack happened at a women’s health clinic, perpetuating a false version of events. Truth is the real casualty in all this.

Some abortion rights advocates have started fabricating mass shootings at abortion clinics.

Anyone who actually looks into the phenomenon of violence against abortion clinic staff, carried out by those who think abortion is wrong, knows that the reality is much smaller than the perception. Such incidents are rare and in severe decline, the facts show. Obviously whether or not abortion is morally permissible is quite independent of incidents like this, but still, some proponents of abortion rights do try to silence the vocal critics of abortion because of such incidents, as I mentioned recently. Unfortunately, however, whether or not the allegations about these incidents are even true is starting to matter less, it seems.

Perhaps noticing the lack of actual widespread violence against people who work at abortion clinics and trying to boost the numbers, or perhaps just trying to link the opponents of abortion to the recent terrible mass shooting in San Bernadino California, or heck, more likely just using somebody else’s tragedy to further your own social and political cause (no, not a crass thing to do at all….), the Facebook group “Exposing Men’s Rights Activism” today shared a tweet from Jamie Kilstein, reading “F**k. Not seeing this on the news cause they are covering another mass shooting. #america.” If I read this correctly, it means “Oh no. The news isn’t covering this mass shooting because they are covering a different one.” Kilstein in turn was sharing a tweet from Houston Feminist: “There has been a shooting in #houston at Clinica Hispana, a women’s health clinic. #hounews.”

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in Ethics, Social Issues

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By now many or most readers will know about the shooting in Colorado Springs at a Planned Parenthood Clinic.

Capitalising on the violence (say I), proponents of abortion rights are using the incident to maintain that abortion opponents must stop publicly making strong claims against abortion. Some of the complaint is simple misinformation (denying that Planned Parenthood traded in any sense in the parts of unborn babies). But there is also the claim, echoed by many, that strongly condemning the killing of unborn children has consequences. It inspires shooters like this guy, so it has to stop. We can think abortion is wrong (if we must be so benighted, but we mustn’t call it a horrendous evil.

This is wrong. You may not tell people to keep this opinion to themselves because of the actions of this or any other shooter.

We understand this principle most of the time. Here are a couple of examples that help us to see this.

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Mean religious kids?

in atheism, religion, science

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A few people have asked me what I think of the numerous news articles about a recent study purporting to show that religious children are less altruistic than non-religious children.

The Daily Beast sums up the findings with the headline “Study: Religious kids are jerks.” An article over at Groopspeak makes the audacious claim that “Major study shows that religious children are less moral than non-religious kids” Rhetoric like this is pretty difficult to justify in light of a closer look at the study (see below), but we live in a world where we automatically share the link to that story that says “Beer is good for you,” “Bacon isn’t so bad after all” or “Coffee wards off cancer.” We latch onto claims that the world is the way we would prefer it to be without so much as looking twice to see if it’s true. [click to continue…]

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All Scripture is… just handy?

in Theology / Biblical Studies

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In a shocking and unexpected move, overtly progressive Christian bloggers have been making bad arguments against unpopular conservative forms of Christianity and their whacky view of the Bible.  If I were not so busy pummeling homeless people with my fists and stockpiling guns, I would be outraged.

It started like this: Someone shared a link to an article by Fred Clark, summarising an article on 2 Timothy 3:16, telling us that his “fundamentalist” friends (he elsewhere in the article refers to them as “fundies”) like to use this verse to address any question about “the infallibility or inerrancy or “literal” interpretation of the Bible.” Surely there’s a bit of rhetorical overstatement here – I’m yet to encounter people using this passage to show that a “literal” interpretation of the whole Bible is correct. But Clark’s point – or at least the one that caught my eye and prompted me to comment on Facebook when somebody shared the article, was about authority.

Fred says that Paul doesn’t claim that Scripture is authoritative or inerrant. He only claims that Scripture is “useful”:1

This verse doesn’t claim that scripture is authoritative, or infallible, or inerrant. It claims that scripture is “useful.” As McGrath puts it: “The focus is entirely on behavior. Scriptures are not said to impart right doctrine, but to be useful in training people in living a particular way.” [Emphasis added]

On the face of it, this is not true. Sure, Paul is, in this context, talking about behaviour. But this verse doesn’t only say that Scripture is useful, it says that Scripture is god-breathed and useful. The writer of the blog was simply omitting the first part of what Paul says, and as a result his claim was false. When “fundies” cite this verse to show that Paul thought Scripture had authority, they are not referring to the fact that he called Scripture “useful” (although of course they don’t deny that). They are talking about the fact that Paul considered the Scripture to be breathed by God. So to deny that Paul calls Scripture authoritative on the grounds that he actually called it useful is simply not a true thing to say. [click to continue…]

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  1. I understand that some people think Paul didn’t write the pastoral Epistles, including 1 and 2 Timothy. In recent years I’ve become impressed by the flimsiness of the arguments against Pauline authorship of these letters. I will not comment on that issue here, but I will refer here to the author as Paul. []

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Abortion is so hot right now

in Ethics

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I don’t know the cause, perhaps it’s the current political climate in the US with political hopefuls vying to be their party’s candidate for President. But just now it seems the issue of abortion has exploded in my social media feeds, replete with (rather unwelcome) grizzly images of dismembered unborn babies. For what it’s worth, please be considerate of people who might not actually want to see such horrible things when they log in to catch up with friends or discuss other things. Do you want to be bombarded with unexpected and very graphic images of beheading victims, stabbing victims, crash victims and so on? But abortion is so hot right now, it seems.

Abortion is one of those issues where people just seem entrenched (the related issue of stem cell therapy is somewhat similar in this regard). No amount of pleading seems to get people to move – usually, at least. There are people who assume (quite wrongly, I say) that it’s simply a religious issue. You would never oppose abortion unless you were religious, they think. There are those (like presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders) who think (again, very wrongly, I say) opposition to abortion is an attack on women and their reproductive rights. I don’t think any comments like this have any merit, and I think they are evidence that many defenders of abortion rights are not seriously listening, or they don’t really want to know why people oppose abortion (or they do, but they are willing to misrepresent the opponents of abortion, which is a hallmark of partisanship).

In spite of my fear that very few people are really open to listening to the evil “other side” of the abortion issue, I know that some people do, and some people even change their mind about it once they’ve listened. It’s hard to predict what might give someone that little nudge across the line, but if it’s possible that something I say might help do the job then I don’t want to miss the opportunity. There is nothing new here. [click to continue…]

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