African Christian Action apologises for debate debacle

I intended to simply post this as a comment to one of my posts dealing with the debate that was meant to take place last year between Peter Hammond, Tauriq Moosa and myself. But seeing as there are a fair number of posts on the topic, and that this is significant, it’s perhaps best to note in a public and fully searchable way that the UCT Atheist and Agnostic Society and I have received an apology from Taryn Hodgson for the way in which we were treated in the lead-up to the cancelled debate, and also for their misrepresentations of how events unfolded (misrepresentations repeated as recently as January this year, in Peter Hammond’s newsletter to the flock). Ms. Hodgson has also pledged to correct the inaccuracies in their report on the debate – let’s hope that news of the corrections is also broadcasted to all those who were told untruths about us heathens at the time.

While it may have been somewhat slow in arriving, the apology is welcome, and appreciated.

As mentioned earlier, there are a number of posts on the topic on Synapses, and you can search for “debate” at the top-right of your screen. For a summary of the essential details, this post would be helpful.
The text of the apology is pasted below:

Dear Mr Rousseau and the UCT Atheist and Agnostic Society

Jordan Pickering (who I understand you are acquainted with), contacted us giving us the background as to your withdrawal from the “blasphemy debate” last year.
I was not aware of the full details that he mentioned.

We apologise for the inaccuracies in our report of the event and for misrepresenting you. We will gladly correct the report.

I will urge Pastor Michael to send you an apology. I do agree with Jordan that Michael’s communication and conduct towards you was often deceptive, rude and unchristian.

However, please bear in mind that he is Congolese and English is probably his third language. He also has probably never had training in good communication skills. He did not communicate any of the points Jordan mentioned to us.

We were only informed of the withdrawal of Jacques Rousseau and Tariq Moosa by Michael from the debate an hour before.

We are open to rescheduling the debate on blasphemy and we are prepared to debate any other relevant issues in a fair and balanced way.

Yours Sincerely,

Taryn Hodgson
National Co-ordinator

Africa Christian Action

Forgive him if you like, but Jacob Zuma should resign

South Africa’s President, Jacob Zuma, has recently provided an effective negative proof of the value added by a competent press office. In an embarrassing attempt to manage an embarrassing situation, the South African public have received:

  1. A statement dated February 3, in which JZ confirms his “love-child”, while berating us for caring about his private affairs.

  2. The leaking of some “evidence” on the same day which suggests that JZ and Sonono Khoza are in fact married, and that the existence of the most recent child does therefore not suggest JZ was cheating on his 37 other wives.

  3. A further statement/apology dated February 6, in which someone finally cottons on to the fact that the man in question was elected without the moral currency or credibility which might otherwise allow us to respect his wishes in this matter, and that an apology might therefore be necessary.

  4. Communication from god, reminding us that “faith dictated that he [JZ] be absolved“, and suggesting that we should “leave this episode behind us, regrettable as it is, and move on as a nation”.

God spoke through Ray McCauley’s National Interfaith Leadership Council (NILC), as she has tended to do since they beat out her previous spokespersons, the South African Council of Churches, in what must have been a rather difficult contest to arbitrate. I’ve discussed the NILC previously, and argued against the popular notion that religious groups like the NILC have any special claim to moral knowledge.

But this incident, and this President, is about more than simple moral issues. It’s also not simply about the convoluted definitions of “culture” we can come up with in order to justify doing whatever the hell we want. Normally, I’m a strong supporter of the idea that I don’t want or need my political leaders to be exemplars of moral virtue – their job is to offer political leadership, and I don’t really care what they do in their private lives.

However, cases like these do intrude into the public consciousness, and – when placed alongside rape trials, dodgy arms-deal allegations, shady friends, financial mismanagement, reckless sexual behaviour in a country blighted by HIV/AIDS and so forth – they do provide a fair amount of evidence of a lack of sound judgement, and a poor awareness of voter interests.

As mentioned earlier, I don’t care who JZ sleeps with, or what drugs he takes, or anything else to do with his real or imagined private life. I do care that political leaders think carefully about what they do, and that they have the intellectual capacity to realise the implications that their choices might have. JZ clearly lacks one or both of these abilities.

So, forgive him if you like. Pray about it if you think that will help, or eat a crystal (I think that’s how it’s supposed to work?). But forgiveness does not mean we should forget about competence – and in this case, have we not already forgiven enough incompetence?

Sax Appeal 2010: on causing offense

Following the controversy caused by last year’s edition of Sax Appeal (see here and here, if you don’t know about this), the editor asked if I’d be willing to contribute a column. I was, and here it is, for those of you not in Cape Town (or those who simply ignored the pleas of those desperate students at the traffic lights).*

As of January 1 2010, blasphemy is a crime in Ireland, with offenders liable for a €25000 fine. Later in January, Kurt Westergaard – one of those responsible for the infamous “Danish cartoons” – was attacked in his home by a knife-wielding fanatic. Closer to home, some readers of Sax Appeal may still harbour memories of the outrage provoked by the “blasphemous” content of Sax Appeal 2009, and some others (well, the same ones, probably) may currently be choking on their morning tea while trying to process the harms they believe themselves to be enduring as a result of the edition you are currently reading. Continue reading “Sax Appeal 2010: on causing offense”

Cape Times and Argus – holocaust denialists?

Taryn Hodgson – who you’ve read about previously, when she impersonated the typical student by a) writing a letter to the UCT student newspaper, and b) making little sense, is at it again. This time she focuses on (b) exclusively, and swaps her fake student hat out for the one worn in her capacity as the international co-ordinator of the Christian Action Network (CAN). Her current concern relates to the evil tolerated by the South African press:

In what appears to be a case of censorship by the press, The Cape Times and Argus have again refused to place an obituary notice (for aborted babies),” said Christian Action Network (CAN) international co-ordinator Taryn Hodgson in a statement.

The newspapers had refused to publish the advertisement in their classified “Deaths” and “Personal” sections, Hodgson said.

“Freedom of speech seems to be undermined when newspaper editors censor obituary notices and refuse to give appropriate media coverage to the hidden holocaust of 900 000 South African babies killed by abortion,” she said.

Without wanting to get into anything pesky like “science” – which would involve Taryn accommodating irritating details like EEG’s only showing brain activity around 30 weeks, therefore making the claim that “babies” are being killed rather unsustainable – Taryn’s arguments are again rather peculiar. The quite reasonable explanation provided by Independent Newspapers editor-in-chief Chris Whitfield (who said that it would be “inappropriate to publish the anti-abortion obituary in the “Deaths” section”, as “such advertisements would violate the ‘sensibilities for people who use the columns to commemorate loved ones'”) was dismissed as “hypocritical” by Taryn on the grounds that the newspapers’ classified sections “often contain legitimately offensive material such as strip joint advertisements”.

So, as our arbiter of what is “legitimately” offensive, Taryn wants us to believe that a) it’s morally incontrovertible that strip joints are offensive, and that b) it’s perfectly acceptable for my obituary for a dead mother, brother, wife, etc., who I didn’t want to die, and who I probably miss, should appear alongside an obituary (or obituaries) for 900 000 zygotes, blastocysts and foetuses, who may at some point have developed into babies that the parents presumably did not want to live? That seems rather offensive to me – or at least it would if my spouse’s obituary were published on the same day. And the lack of sensitivity displayed by CAN is amplified by the fact that their freedom to have their viewpoint heard is undeniable: they were welcome to publish their ode to lost (and fictional) souls in other sections of the newspaper, and they live in a country where their mystic mumbo-jumbo is fully tolerated, and even encouraged by our political leaders.

And even on her own standards, there’s a final peculiarity: Taryn will be leading a march to Parliament on February 1 in protest against the “thousands of babies, killed by abortion, who have never had a funeral”. Is she not aware that there are plenty of other babies (real and fake) killed by TB and AIDS (etc.) who die without funerals? Can we take her seriously until she insists on publishing obituaries for them, too – or are they less important for the purposes of this tasteless PR stunt in the service of Jesus?

Killing gays may not be helpful

As reported in a previous post, Uganda is currently considering a bill that would impose the death penalty or life sentences on homosexuals. Furthermore, the proposed bill criminalises those who do not report a suspected gay person within 24 hours, and will most likely also have the effect of dissuading health care professionals in Uganda from assisting anyone who is gay – as well as dissuading gay people from seeking treatment, seeing as outing yourself as gay could land you in jail.  It’s worth reading this story on NPR to see the extent to which American Evangelical Christians are prepared to foment hatred and prejudice in order to buttress their support bases in the 3rd World – after all, surely all those folk in Africa will one day be able to afford to buy their sermons on DVD? Continue reading “Killing gays may not be helpful”

Beware the evangelicals

While church attendance seems to be declining across (most of) the globe, and religious adherence generally falling (except for Islam, which is growing), we’re far from being out of the woods. Evangelical threats to liberty continue to haunt us, despite the fact that – judging from American Christians – most of the faithful are doing their utmost to undermine the faith, mostly by being moronic:

Only 40 percent of Americans can name more than four of the Ten Commandments, and a scant half can cite any of the four authors of the Gospels. Twelve percent believe Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. This failure to recall the specifics of our Christian heritage may be further evidence of our nation’s educational decline, but it probably doesn’t matter all that much in spiritual or political terms. Here is a statistic that does matter: Three quarters of Americans believe the Bible teaches that “God helps those who help themselves.” That is, three out of four Americans believe that this uber-American idea, a notion at the core of our current individualist politics and culture, which was in fact uttered by Ben Franklin, actually appears in Holy Scripture. The thing is, not only is Franklin’s wisdom not biblical; it’s counter-biblical. Few ideas could be further from the gospel message, with its radical summons to love of neighbor. On this essential matter, most Americans—most American Christians—are simply wrong, as if 75 percent of American scientists believed that Newton proved gravity causes apples to fly up.

The problem is that once people lose the capacity to generate reasoned conclusions for themselves, and once their base of evidence from which they make their inferences is so detached from reality, the opportunity increases for charlatans to step forth, selling them various package holidays in the hereafter. And the more marginal a faith becomes, perhaps the more strident its adherents become through their fear of becoming redundant. So, whereas Christians used to be all about peace, love and forgiveness (at least according to my childhood memories), they increasingly seem to be about intolerance and hate (with increasingly rare exceptions).

Yesterday, The Guardian reported that Uganda looks likely to pass a law making homosexuality a capital offence, “joining 37 other countries in the continent where American evangelical Christian groups are increasingly spreading bigotry”. Now, of course it’s true that many Christians would not condone this. I would like to be able to say “most”, rather than “many”, but the two trends described above make “most” sound far too optimistic. If the gradual decline of religion is making the religious more strident, and if this is combined with an increasing trend of the religious no longer knowing what their religion is about, the extremists tend to set the agenda, and the more civilised believers sit on/wring their hands, despairing of what has become of the church.

We should not complacently think that this sort of thing is impossible in South Africa – we have the growing influence of the National Interfaith Leadership Council to worry about, along with more the regular cast of god-botherers such as Errol Naidoo, who has not shown himself to be averse to supporting prejudicial stereotypes with regard to homosexuality. It’s far too infrequent that we see the more tolerant sort of Christian protesting the manner in which people like Naidoo and Immelman express themselves on these topics, yet us atheists are frequently accused of caricaturing or misunderstanding religion.

How can we not caricature, when the only religious pronouncements that reach the public media sound like bad attempts at satire?

Blasphemy day

September 30 (the anniversary of the original publication of the (in)famous Danish Cartoons) was International Blasphemy Day, whose website unambiguously reminds us exists “because your god is a joke“. While I of course agree that your god doesn’t exist, her non-existence gives rise to a plethora of choice in terms of responses – some of which are critical, some offensive, and most of which are somewhere in between. Continue reading “Blasphemy day”

You deserve what you get

While waiting for our dinner guests to  arrive last night, the Doctor remarked on the (apparently) sad state of some of our friends’ lives, where they appear to be involved in relationships that aren’t bringing them much joy. Of one in particular, the Doctor remarked that “he doesn’t deserve that”, and it was clear what she meant – that the friend in question is a lovely man, dedicated to doing as little harm to others as possible, and that we’d therefore prefer a world in which he was as happy as possible.

Hearing “he doesn’t deserve that”, though, immediately brought to mind the thought that – for most of us – you deserve what you get, because of the choices you made. Continue reading “You deserve what you get”

Faith kills another child

In what god must clearly imagine to be a lesson of some sort, an American couple in Wisconsin have been given jail terms for allowing their child to die. Instead of seeking medical care for her, they prayed while the child became to ill to speak or walk.

The girl, known as Kara, died on the floor of the family’s rural Weston home as people surrounded her and prayed. Someone finally called the emergency services after she stopped breathing.

The judge ordered the couple to serve one month in jail each year for six years so the parents can “think about Kara and what God wants you to learn from this”. One parent would serve the term in March and the other in September.

One month per year? For six years? That’s 6 months in total, which seems a pitifully weak sentence for killing your daughter through believing in ceiling cats. Of course, they will suffer pain and guilt. But many murderers suffer that too, and have to spend 20 years in jail. If I believed that my wife was having an affair, and killed her “lover”, I’d get more than 6 months, even if I was wrong about the affair, as these parents were wrong about god swooping down (or whatever she’s meant to do) and saving Kara. And if there was never any evidence that I was right about the affair, you’d understand if the judge sent me for psychiatric observation after I fabricated or imagined the relevant evidence. In any sort of context, this is a ridiculous sentence, which (in its relative leniency) serves only to condone the actions of the parents. Judicial systems should be ideology-neutral as far as is possible, and a case like this treated like any other manslaughter case, where you’d expect to see a far more punitive sentence handed down.

The parents say that “they never expected their daughter to die”. What the hell did they expect? Even within their belief system, do they have any sort of regular experience of prayer saving dying people? I thought not. But then, they wouldn’t count those (non)experiences, because they are too busy switching off any thought processes which get in the way of their relationships with their imaginary friend.