Category Archives: Atheism

Art is permitted to survive only if it renounces the right to be different, and integrates itself into the omnipotent realm of the profane. — Theodor Adorno

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The religious and the secular came to a head at the offices of the newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris when Saïd Kouachi and Chérif Kouachi, French citizens of North African ancestry, armed with Kalashnikov rifles opened fire, killing 12 people and wounding 11 in an Islamist terror attack. The attackers were heard shouting “Allahu akbar,” and “the Prophet has been avenged.” Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper published weekly, produces satire in the form of caricatures, scrappy opinion pieces and jokes from a left-wing perspective. Among the targets of its brand of satire are the three Abrahamic faiths: Roman Catholicism (Christianity), Islam and Judaism. The caricatures published in Charlie Hebdo quite often consist of crude representations of religious figures such as Pope Benedict and Mohammed. Not surprisingly, this offends many people and generates controversy. The publishers of Charlie Hebdo were prepared to die to defend their right to freedom of expression; whereas, the Islamist attackers were prepared to kill to defend their faith. In the aftermath of the terror attack, differences of opinion concerning the right of freedom of expression and of religious liberty came to the fore. What was it that motivated the publishers of Charlie Hebdo and the Islamist attackers that resulted in this atrocity? Continue reading

Piety is not a goal but a means to attain through the purest peace of mind the highest culture. — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

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Years ago I remembered while having a discussion of theology with a group of friends, one in the group referred to himself as a pious atheist. I was taken aback by his comment as piety and atheism were not terms I associated with one another. Piety is most commonly associated with religious belief and practice. Since then I gave this notion a great deal of thought: is secular piety a possibility? This question is worth considering in light of the reality that how one expresses their piety in an increasingly secular society such as Canada has become a contentious issue of late as is evidenced by the controversy surrounding the proposed Quebec Charter of Values (Charte de la laïcité or Charte des valeurs québécoises). The stated aim of the charter is to ensure there is a clear separation of religion and state and that public employees have religious neutrality. What this means is the wearing of ostentatious religious symbols or garb on the job will be prohibited. Continue reading

Turks were a great nation even before they adopted Islam. This religion did not help the Arabs, Iranians, Egyptians and others to unite with Turks to form a nation. Conversely, it weakened the Turks’ national relations; it numbed Turkish national feelings and enthusiasm. This was natural, because Mohammedanism was based on Arab nationalism above all nationalities. — Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881–1938)

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The Hagia Sophia has become the focal point in Turkish society’s current struggle between secularists and Islamists. The Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923 as a secular, parliamentary democracy with a president as head of state. In 1935, the Hagia Sophia was converted into a museum and opened to the public by the Turkish government led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938). It became a major tourist attraction in Istanbul. It was turned into a museum, presumably, to reconcile the troubled history between Christianity and Islam with the realities of Turkey’s modern, secular state. The Hagia Sophia was the seat of Orthodox Christianity, the Patriarch of Constantinople, for several centuries (537–1204), a Roman Catholic cathedral from (1204–1261) and back to the Orthodox Church (1261–1453) until the conquest of the city by the Turks. It served as the first of several Imperial Mosques for the Ottoman Empire from 1453-1931. In the present, the drive to restore the Hagia Sophia as a mosque gained momentum. In 2013, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, expressing this desire, said: “We currently stand next to the Hagia Sophia Mosque… we are looking at a sad Hagia Sophia, but hopefully we will see it smiling again soon.” (as cited in Ansa med) On July 10, 2020, President Erdogan signed a decree, ordering the restoration of the Hagia Sophia as a mosque. Continue reading

Let justice be done, though the world perish. (Fiat justitia et pereat mundus.) — Ferdinand I (1503–1564), Hungarian King of Bohemia and Hungary, Holy Roman Emperor 1558-1564

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I took the time to comment on a Facebook thread, the premise of which was, that Western nations should discontinue immigration from the Islamic world. I do not think this course of action is warranted and doubt any government in the Western world would take up such a policy, but what got me thinking was a comment from an individual who believes the difficulties of integrating newcomers in Canadian society, with its official policy of multiculturalism, is divine punishment for what he sees as our having abandoned Christian principles as a society. This belief in divine punishment or retribution or justice is very old and not found solely in Christianity. Though I am no longer a practicing Christian, I admit such thoughts have crossed my mind when I experienced hard times and personal tragedy in my own life. When my four year old Brittany, Juno, succumbed to cancer in 2012, I remember talking to the breeder who sold her to me, asking if there had ever been any incidence of cancer in her dogs at such a young age. She told me no and she was just as shocked and horrified as me by the news. I then asked her “is it something I have done?” “What have I done to deserve this?” The questions were essentially rhetorical, but she answered, saying no, it was not anything I had done and assured me that “God does not hand us a burden He knows we cannot bear.” Continue reading

In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (December 1948) in most solemn form, the dignity of a person is acknowledged to all human beings; and as a consequence there is proclaimed, as a fundamental right, the right of free movement in search for truth and in the attainment of moral good and of justice, and also the right to a dignified life. — Pope John XXIII, 1881-1963 Pacem in Terris, 1963

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In essays published earlier on this blog the topic of religion in society, particularly the direction the Western world took in gradually establishing a clear separation of religion and state, relegating religion to the sphere of private conscience is discussed. The last remnants of Papal authority in temporal affairs ended with the signing of the Lateran Treaty between the Vatican and the Italian government in 1929. In the present, in the Western world, religious liberty is guaranteed in law and members of religious institutions are free to comment on moral and political issues just as anyone else. In the Islamic world, this distinction between religion and state never emerged, save for the Republic of Turkey which was founded as a secular state in 1923. The Ottoman Caliphate was abolished in 1924. The constitutional, civil and common law legal systems in effect across the Western world are rooted in the theory of natural rights, primarily as espoused by the men of the Enlightenment, such as John Locke and Thomas Paine. By contrast, across the Islamic world, the system of law, sharia, a religiously based moral and legal code applies. The differences in the legal systems and the place of religion in society between the Western world and the Islamic world are quite noticeable in comparing responses to the the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. Continue reading

We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done. — Alan Turing (1912-1954)

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While Mika and I were enjoying our two weeks holiday in England last month among the sites we toured was Bletchley Park. This was especially of interest to Mika as he has a degree in computer science and mathematics from Queen’s University. Bletchley Park was the seat of British Intelligence, Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS or GCCS, later renamed Government Communications Head Quarters GCHQ), during the Second World War where Axis radio transmissions were intercepted and decrypted. Those who worked there in the strictest secrecy and security made an invaluable contribution to the Allied war effort. Of those who worked at Bletchley Park during the Second World War was a mathematician and pioneering computer scientist named Alan Turing. It is held that “Turing’s brilliant ideas in solving codes, and developing computers to assist break them, may have saved more lives of military personnel in the course of the war than any other.” (Turing Biography) He is commemorated at Bletchley Park for his service to his King and country with a sculpture and a copy of the Letter of Apology from the British Government for the injustice he suffered following the war for having been identified as a “known homosexual,” an injustice that ruined his career, reputation, health and led to his suicide. Continue reading

If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity. — C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)

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Christianity continues to appeal to me despite the fact I no longer practice the faith. My family was nominally Roman Catholic when I was growing up. I remember attending Sunday mass regularly as a small boy and being enrolled in classes to prepare me for my First Communion when I was in first grade. I never completed these classes as they were interrupted when my father was sent to work in England for two years and my mother, myself and my siblings went along also. I remember learning about Jesus in those early years of my life, that He is the Son of God, that as a child He never talked back to his parents or fought with other children, that He accepted crucifixion for our sins and our redemption. At the time I really had no reason not to believe. I trusted that what my parents and teachers were telling me was true. The two years we resided in England my siblings and I attended a private Christian school, Berkhampstead, in Cheltenham. On the whole I remember this as a positive experience. We had regular religious instruction given in a way that was pleasant and seemed quite reasonable. The best part of school for me at that age was when the teacher read to  us and Bible stories were as engaging as any other collection of tales. Continue reading

Tell the Devil to go to Hell

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Tell the devil to go to hell,” good advice given to me by a priest who heard my confession at St. Mary’s Cathedral. I was a student at Queen’s University and practicing Roman Catholic in the 1980s. My confessor was speaking figuratively, of course. Neither he nor I believed to “tell the devil to go to hell” involves addressing the creature sporting horns, a tail and cloven hooves. The devil in the context of our discussion was a metaphor for humanity’s evils. What my confessor told me is that I should heed the dictates of my conscience in choosing to good and avoid doing evil. What made me think of this was thoughts shared by Pope Francis in a sermon, in which he intimated that atheists are redeemed. That is, they do not face damnation when they choose to do good and avoid doing evil. This sermon raises an interesting point. I understood that in practicing Roman Catholicism, redemption and sanctification is granted via the grace of God through faith in Christ. I am no longer a practicing Roman Catholic, though not an atheist. I am a Deist. I listen to the dictates of my conscience in trying to do good and avoid doing evil, in effect telling the devil to go to hell, and until hearing the news of Pope Francis’ homily, understood, from the perspective of Catholic teaching, I am putting my soul at risk of damnation. Continue reading

I desire not to keep my place in this government an hour longer than I may preserve England in its just rights, and may protect the people of God in such a just liberty of their consciences… –Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658)

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How often have I heard it said that it is the precepts of Christianity that are the foundation of Western civilization? My typical response when confronted with this claim is to roll my eyes and think “that old chestnut.” This is particularly the case when the claim is framed so egregiously by the likes of Glenn Beck who stated, in referring to origins of the United States, “it is God’s finger that wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. This is God’s country; these are God’s rights. I have no idea what he wants us to do with them, other than protect them, and stand with Him.” (As cited in Tony’s Curricublog) While it is easy to dismiss such claims as stuff and nonsense, it is worth considering the role of religious belief in the growth and development of Western civilization, its transition from the primacy of Christian doctrine in public life to the rise of liberal democracy and the rule of law in the secular nation state, though not in the way many religious folk, such as Glenn Beck, imagine it to be. Continue reading

Why I am not an atheist

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I was for a time a very pious Roman Catholic. I attended mass every day, I said my prayers, I studied theology and accepted the authority of the Sacred Scriptures and the Apostolic Tradition. Throughout it all, however, doubt always nagged at me. I remember following the Easter Sunday mass at the Mother House of Sisters of Providence of Saint Vincent DePaul (my great aunt Olive was a member of the order), joining in with a priest who was reciting Revelation 11:15 “And He shall reign for ever and ever.” The priest added emphatically that “yes, forever and ever.” “Oh wow, you really believe that” was the first thought that crossed my mind. Doubt was ever present while I tried to practice Roman Catholicism. Some years later at a suburban parish at the Easter Vigil, a woman behind me was pouring candies from a bag into her children’s hands while the priest was busy reciting the words for the lighting of the Sacred Fire. The sound of the candies pouring out of the bag was an annoying distraction and it was following this that seemingly out of nowhere, doubt struck and I found myself wondering “what on Earth am I doing here, do I really believe any of this?” I left the Vigil as I felt it was hypocritical  of me to stay. Continue reading