Nearly two weeks ago, tens of thousands of people participated in the Everybody Draw Muhammad Day event in defense of free speech. As you can imagine, most Muslims found this offensive. Several Muslim countries responded to the controversy by boycotting or banning Facebook. Other Muslims used Facebook as the medium through which to express their disagreement with Everybody Draw Muhammad Day. One popular Muslim response is the event Everybody Draw Holocaust Day set for June 30, 2010. The event has nearly 1,400 Facebook “fans”—many of them Muslims from the United States and Western Europe.
If god exists, he/she/it (I’ll use ‘he’) has gone to great lengths to conceal that fact. In Biblical times, the evidence for god’s existence seemed ubiquitous and undeniable. God helped the Israelites in their exodus from Egypt—sending plagues, parting the Red Sea, and so on. Miracles were also replete in the New Testament. According to the gospels, Jesus cured the deaf and blind, raised the dead, walked on water, and performed countless other miracles.
So what miracles are there today? Celestial cameos on burnt toast and coffee stains don’t compare to the attestations of god in the Bible. From a Mormon perspective, too, there is a relative dearth of miracles. In the early church, reports of angelic visitations, demonic encounters, faith healings and speaking in tongues were commonplace. And whereas Joseph Smith regularly received revelations, god seems to have put today’s church leaders on hold.
Father Raphael Trytek of Krakow, Poland told reporters at a gay rights rally that homosexuality is unnatural and a choice, and that “faggots” should be burned at the stake as they were during the Inquisition. And by faggot, I do not mean a bundle of sticks (which would be quite appropriate to burn, coincidentally).
Penn Jillette, D.J. Grothe, James Randi—three prominent atheists, three accomplished magicians. (Anyone care to volunteer some thoughts as to why many atheists are attracted to magic? Or is there something about studying and performing magic that lends itself to atheism?)
My favorite atheist magician at the moment is the UK’s Derren Brown. You really ought to search YouTube for his work—some of his tricks put the gospels’ miracles to shame. Converting wine into water? Pfft! Try converting a room of atheists into believers. Brown did it.
“Instant Conversion” Part I
A recent study from the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor may frustrate those New Atheists who think that science is the best antidote to religion. The key finding of the study:
College students who major in the social sciences and humanities are likely to become less religious, while those majoring in education are likely to become more religious.
But students majoring in biology and physical sciences remain just about as religious as they were when they started college.
A couple of months ago, SHAFT attended a lecture by atheist philosopher Dr. Austin Dacey that was hosted by our sister group SHIFT at the University of Utah. Dacey’s talk was entitled “Blasphemy: Hate Speech or Human Right?” Video of his presentation has not yet been made available, but Dacey published an article last week that I think effectively summarizes the thesis of his lecture. I’ve produced much of the article below, because of its relevance to our recent discussions about blasphemy. That, and it’s just a great read.
Forget the South Park dust up; forget Everybody Draw Muhammad Day. If you want to see truly shocking anti-religious cartoons, you have to go back to the sixteenth century. Near the end of [Martin] Luther’s life, his propaganda campaign against Rome grew increasingly vitriolic and his language grotesquely pungent. He took to calling his ecclesiastical enemies ‘asses,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘pigs,’ ‘blockheads,’ ‘basilisks,’ and ‘pupils of Satan,’ and the Pope himself ‘Her Sodomitical Hellishness’ and ‘fart-ass’ (no, it doesn’t sound much more dignified in German—fartz-Esel). Eric Cartman would be in awe.
The debate over cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad is often framed as a clash between free speech and religious attitudes. But it is just as much a clash between conflicting religious attitudes, and the freedom at stake is not only freedom of expression but freedom of religion. For while Luther was surely engaging in offensive speech, he was also exercising a right of freedom of conscience, which included the right to dissent from Catholic orthodoxy. Debased though Luther’s rhetoric may have been, there was no way to be a reformer without offending the hegemon. It’s a story as old as religion.