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 remember 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 the current struggle in Turkish society between secularists and Islamists. Currently, the Hagia Sophia is a museum and a major tourist attraction in Istanbul. 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. The Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923 as a secular, parliamentary democracy with a president as head of state. It was opened to the public as a museum in 1935 by the Turkish government led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938). It was turned into a museum in 1935, presumably in an effort to reconcile the troubled history between Christianity and Islam with the realities of the modern, secular state of Turkey. In the present there is a drive to restore the Hagia Sophia as a mosque. Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), in expressing this desire while speaking to reporters 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) 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