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Do you celebrate Christmas?

Apologies for my extended absence.  Life has a nasty habit of keeping me very busy – and 2009 has been an ordeal.

In the interests of easing myself back into things?  How do those of us who have taken the time to understand the realities of the pagan celebration co-opted by the christians – celebrate it?  Personally, I have three young children and enjoy every minute of it whilst making a point of spelling about the actual origins of the season.

Do my fellow freethinkers celebrate – do any of us go to mass on Christmas day?  In previous years i have gone to mass Christmas morning – purely as a cultural compromise, but we will not be going this year.  I don’t need to document the disgust we all feel for the catholic church this year – but one good thing to come from all the revelations is my wife is finally breaking free of her childhood indoctrination.   Rage can be useful.

Any suggestions for reality-based presents?



Just listen to this disgusting defender of child-raping priests. While I always considered Bill Donohue and his persecution complex vile, I am honestly stunned by how far he will take his delusion.


Just came across this

It seems that our government intends to give special privilege to religious sensibilities.  What the fuck is going on here?  And i quote…

Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern proposes to insert a new section into the Defamation Bill, stating: “A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €100,000.”

“Blasphemous matter” is defined as matter “that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion; and he or she intends, by the publication of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.”

Where a person is convicted of an offence under this section, the court may issue a warrant authorising the Garda Síochána to enter, if necessary using reasonable force, a premises where the member of the force has reasonable grounds for believing there are copies of the blasphemous statements in order to seize them. 

Is this idiot serious?  What happened to freedom of expression in this country?  Why should we be prevented from asserting that religion is manifestly-obvious bullshit and an intellectual insult.  The corner-stone of freedom of speech is the freedom to offend and I fail to see what right you have not to be offended just because your bar of enquiry is set substantially lower than mine.  I find myself offended every time i look at the outrages of organised religion and its well documented excesses – who defends my offense?

This law will be used to censor blogs like this, it is wide open to abuse and is a slippery slope to oppression – or the tyranny of the majority.–  To some religious types, the very existence of Atheists is offensive and we would be forced into self-censorship.  Not for the first time this year I find my self disgusted by our government.  

Surely the HAI will be fighting this?

The Irish Times, and editorial balance.

Three stories in today’s (on-line) edition of the Irish Times caught my attention.  The first is an informational story from Patsy McGarry, Religious Affairs Correspondent on the new campaign by the IHA for much-needed changes to the religion-drenched Irish Constitution .  For example, to become President of our fair nation – you need only conform to the following…

 The President shall enter upon his office by taking and subscribing publicly, in the presence of members of both Houses of the Oireachtas, of Judges of the Supreme Court and of the High Court, and other public personages, the following declaration:

“In the presence of Almighty God I    ,do solemnly and sincerely promise and declare that I will maintain the Constitution of Ireland and uphold its laws, that I will fulfil my duties faithfully and conscientiously in accordance with the Constitution and the law, and that I will dedicate my abilities to the service and welfare of the people of Ireland. May God direct and sustain me.”

 Similarly, to join the ranks for the Irish Council of State, we are again required to invoke the (Catholic please) sky-daddy.

“In the presence of Almighty God I,          , do solemnly and sincerely promise and declare that I will faithfully and conscientiously fulfil my duties as a member of the Council of State.”

Or a judge, because there can be no doubt that all authority from the religious cannot be seen to be derived from a mere human.

“In the presence of Almighty God I,      , do solemnly and sincerely promise and declare that I will duly and faithfully and to the best of my knowledge and power execute the office of Chief Justice (or as the case may be) without fear or favour, affection or ill-will towards any man, and that I will uphold the Constitution and the laws. May God direct and sustain me.”

Most of Article 44 could have been written by Pope Pius XI himself, and with the state of Irish belief at the time, potentially it was.  Just for entertainment purposes, if you could kneel in reverence and contemplate it in all it’s pious glory.


Article 44

1.    The State acknowledges that the homage of public worship is due to Almighty God. It shall hold His Name in reverence, and shall respect and honour religion.

2.    1° Freedom of conscience and the free profession and practice of religion are, subject to public order and morality, guaranteed to every citizen.

2° The State guarantees not to endow any religion.

3° The State shall not impose any disabilities or make any discrimination on the ground of religious profession, belief or status.

4° Legislation providing State aid for schools shall not discriminate between schools under the management of different religious denominations, nor be such as to affect prejudicially the right of any child to attend a school receiving public money without attending religious instruction at that school. 5° Every religious denomination shall have the right to manage its own affairs, own, acquire and administer property, movable and immovable, and maintain institutions for religious or charitable purposes.

6° The property of any religious denomination or any educational institution shall not be diverted save for necessary works of public utility and on payment of compensation.

It is clear that the drafters the above article did not take the time to read the American Constitution when drafting this article – if only they had.  For an Ireland largely controlled by the church, as it was at the times of the drafting, article 44 can be seen as a historical accident.  I think the HAI is correct to get work to change this and we should support them in their endevours, perhaps this may even be an opportune moment for change.

But I digress.  The story in the Irish Times.  

In fairness, the IHA should be happy enough, the salient points they will want to get into the public arena were, superficially at least, represented.   Strangly there is no mention of this campaign on the HAI website (that i could find).  Time for the HAI to join learn how lots of people get their information about organisations and their activities.

To balance this dangerously secular story.  The IT has the following piece by the disgusting pro-life and Pope Benedict apologist Breda O’Brien.   The story assures us the problems of modern society can be remedied by… yes you guessed it, a return to good, honest religous values.  She argues that we need to embrace the postives that religion offers (she is less clear on precisely what postives in particular we are all missing in our lives).  I can accept that religious practice does have positives, at its best, religion does good charity work, offers comfort to the superstitious and offers some atmospheric music at christmas.   O’Brien then allows the Ionia Institute (a Catholic mouth-piece of which she admits to being a patron) to spew its propaganda as if it was conventional academic wisdom.  She parrots a speech from a ‘lecture’ at the institute – one of the more bizzare quotes being…

According to the paper, religious practice decreases the risk of suicide and of depression, helps people to cope with bereavement, reduces involvement in premature sexual activity and drink and drug-taking among teenagers, adds to life expectancy and increases the chances of being happily married.

WTF – just where do you begin with this?  It is clearly just your typical ‘make it up as you go along’,  bullshit from the religious.  Of course if you believe in virgin-birth and body and blood cannibalism, your bar of credulity is set pretty low to begin with.  O’Brien then assures us that the report she quotes from, (from her own religious institute), ‘is a valuable counter balance to voices such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens who believe religion is a malign force’.  The difference of course is that unlike O’Brien and her ilk, Dawkins and Hitchens can defend their position with a ready-supply of disturbing evidence.

Just to be sure that the IT is ‘balanced’ it also gives a piece in defence of  Dr Patricia Casey, who defended her public endorsement, as a medical professional, of religious practice.   The Irish Times should rename itself to the Catholic Times, move to Rome and publish pamphlets for the deluded in the Vatican.

HAI alive after all.

I know it’s April-fools day but i came across a story in the Irish Times nice to see a little action from the HAI.  It’s something to keep our eyes on anyway,

Catholic Music it is…

God gets quite irate…

“The answer to the problems of free speech is always more free speech”

Oh look, the Muslims-extremists are vociferously offended, again…

Is the world going mad?  Johann Hari, the British human-rights campaigner and columnist, wrote a passionate defence of enlightenment principles in an opinion-piece for the UK Independent which was subsequently re-printed by the liberal Indian-daily, the Statesman.  The article was titled “Why should I respect oppressive religions?”  As usual with Hari’s writing, it pulled no punches and was both accurate and thought-provoking, and alarming  for those of us that respect universal human-rights and freedom of speech.

The Statesman’s editor Ravindra Kumar and publisher Anand Sinha were detained in Calcutta after complaints and a week of rioting.  The Statesman wrote the following in defence of publishing the article.

The Statesman had reprinted Hari’s article because “it mourned the marginalisation of the middle, liberal path in modern society”. It added: “The Statesman has always upheld secular values and has a record of providing space to all viewpoints, even contentious ones. If we were unable to fulfil this role, we would rather cease publication with honour than compromise our basic values.

 Just how far are the ideals of the enlightenment being eroded by militant religion?  Perceived offence, and our inability to fight for what we believe in, is being used against us to become the modus operandi of the ignorant and the reactionary.  We should be outraged by the dissemination of our freedom of expression.   As Hari wrote.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated 60 years ago that “a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief is the highest aspiration of the common people”. It was a Magna Carta for mankind – and loathed by every human rights abuser on earth. Today, the Chinese dictatorship calls it “Western”, Robert Mugabe calls it “colonialist”, and Dick Cheney calls it “outdated”. The countries of the world have chronically failed to meet it – but the document has been held up by the United Nations as the ultimate standard against which to check ourselves. Until now.

Starting in 1999, a coalition of Islamist tyrants, led by Saudi Arabia, demanded the rules be rewritten. The demand for everyone to be able to think and speak freely failed to “respect” the “unique sensitivities” of the religious, they decided – so they issued an alternative Islamic Declaration of Human Rights. It insisted that you can only speak within “the limits set by the shariah [law]. It is not permitted to spread falsehood or disseminate that which involves encouraging abomination or forsaking the Islamic community”.

In other words, you can say anything you like, as long as it precisely what the reactionary mullahs tell you to say. The declaration makes it clear there is no equality for women, gays, non-Muslims, or apostates. It has been backed by the Vatican and a bevy of Christian fundamentalists.


Clearly they are succeeding – we are inexorably giving up our freedoms in the name of unwarranted respect for stone-age myths and intolerance and we should all be disgusted and angry.  It seems clear to me that respect for Muslims only applies to the oppressors, respect will certainly not be afforded a female Muslim, or a gay Muslim, or a Muslim who has the temerity to disagree.  Hari has defended his position and I salute and respect the man for taking a stand for us all.

Is Italy a theocracy?

A theocracy can loosely be defined as ‘A government ruled by or subject to religious authority.’  It seems clear that Italy is, in fact a theocracy by proxy.  

Eluana Englaro has been in a vegetative-state since a car crash in 1992 and Italy’s top court ruled last year that she should be allowed to die.  Eluana has severe brain-damage and last Friday her doctors began the process of allowing her to die with dignity at the behest of her suffering family.  Her father has fought for 10 years based on his assertion that Eluana made it clear prior to the injury that she would prefer death, as opposed to the living-death she has endured for the past 17 years.  This tragedy shares the same sordid and appalling link between religious interference and secular government as the Terri Schiavo case in the 2005.   In a bid to keep Englaro alive, Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s (who is so confused about Eluana’s medical condition that it his contention that she should be kept alive as she is still able able to have children!) center-right government passed an emergency decree Friday saying that feeding and hydration cannot be suspended for patients who depend on it.  There are even stories in the Italian press that Berlusconi embarked on a frantic phone call with the Vatican prior to the decision.  President Napolitano, showing both empathy for family, and respect for secular law, informally expressed perplexity regarding the decree, stating that he would not sign it.  There is now a race for Berlusconi to race the bill through the Italian Parliament so that the wishes of Eluana, and her family can be sacrificed on the alter of religious-inspired righteousness.

So here again we have religious dogma distorting secular government.  It is true that euthanasia is illegal in Italy, but after a long battle Eluana’s father has managed to persuade the Italian court system that she should be allowed to stop keeping her alive via hydration and food.  Clearly then, the legality of euthanasia in Italian law is now a moot-point.  Eluana should be allowed to die with dignity, and not to linger with no hope of recovery – against her, and her family’s wishes.  

Enter religion.  The Catholic church, exercising all the skills of hyperbole at it’s disposal ensures us that Eluana has been ‘condemned to die of hunger of thirst’,  Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, the pope’s health minister, told La Repubblica that removing Englaro’s feeding tube “is tantamount to an abominable assassination”.  Cardinal Antonelli said, “Eluana is in a ‘vegetative state,’ but she is not a vegetable. She is a person who is sleeping,” he said. “The person, also when she is sleeping or disabled, retains all of her dignity. The person is valuable in herself, not for what she produces or consumes, or for the pleasure or satisfaction she gives to others.”  So this poor woman is only sleeping?  I have been unable to find any neurological credentials in the good cardinal’s education resume, so it seems that he is not talking from an informed position – as an expert on cognitive function, and neurological damage, but from an ignorant position of religious dogma, a dogma that deals in absolutes.  I would also invite the good Cardinel to sit besides a patient who cannot communicate and is only waiting for death, so he can enjoy for himself the dignity and mystery of the suffering.  He might also ask Eluana’s family to describe to him the ‘pleasure and satisfaction’, they have enjoyed over the past 17 years before making such offensive comments.

But let us look for a moment at contemporary position of the RC  ‘sanctity of life’ – which, when you consider that Christianity is nothing more than a death-cult is laughable.  The head of the Catholic Church in Mozambique told the BBC  in 2007 that he believes some European-made condoms are infected with HIV deliberately.  Maputo Archbishop Francisco Chimoio claimed some anti-retro-viral drugs were also infected “in order to finish quickly the African people”.  How many have died,  (in a country where about one in six of the 19 million citizens are HIV-positive and about 500 people are infected each day) – how many children have been orphaned as a result of the Vatican’s position on contraception in sub-Saharan Africa?   The sanctity of life was not a position to be concerned with when the RC church had control over Europe and routinely tortured and murdered for – well whatever the current superstition was. 

Religious dogma should not still be infecting liberal, secular politics – just as I believe everybody has a human right to life, everyone also has a right to a dignified death.  Euthanasia is an emotive subject.  I would accept that people can have a reasonable,secular position on euthanasia both for and against – and we should engage in the discourse.  But whatever moral authority religion deems itself to have is a well-documented myth, and religion has no right to dictate to a suffering family or a secular state – there can be no legitimate argument who’s central thesis comes from the bible and dogma.  I think it clear that the ‘pro-life’ (when is suits) lobby is religious in nature and dogmatic in doctrine.  It is not amenable to rational discourse or a change in position (except when it suits) – and the Italian government would be well-advised to keep their sanctimonious posturing closer to home.  Berlusconi’s moral authority is at the very least, questionable, and I would have thought that the Italian government would have far more pressing things to worry about than intruding into the private misery of an already devastated family.

An excellent article on this subject can be found here.

Friday Music – a classic

I am currently learning to play the piano – inspired largely by this man, and the music of the great German Beethoven.  Enjoy

Separating fact from agenda.

I have found myself lately with time on my hands, stuck in a room with nothing to do except read.  I have spent some of this time trying to become informed about what drives the Palestine/Israel conflict (it is topical).  This has proved to be more complicated than i originally foresaw.  Everyone, it seems clear to me now, has a bias.

I realise that this post is not directly on topic for this blog but i think the problems encountered in informing ourselves are reflected in our secular struggle.  The first book i read on the subject was Ilan Pappe‘s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.  The title of the book captures the attention, and also sets off my internal alarm bells – there can be no doubt on which side of the fence this author sits, but can he defend his position, and how can i arm myself to know if he successfully has?   Ethnic Cleansing is an emotive term with a very clear definition.  The author is Jewish, raised by German Jewish parents in Israel, and served in the IDF, so i thought i would give it a try – with the hope of intellectual integrity from the author.  but with a skeptical mindset.  I found the book both disturbing and compelling – but how can we separate fact from agenda and bias?

I struggled, and continue to struggle,  to find an account of the genesis of the conflict that aims only to inform, and not to promote a political viewpoint.  It is critical to find the relevant facts, and facts can be ignored as required in order to promote and enforce already entrenched views, and a political, or ideological bias.  This is a constant problem and we should be wary of it if we wish to be able to engage in an informed debate.  As an atheist it is all too easy to only follow one side of the story, taking scant regard for potential bias in the sources – we all do it, i listen to lots of atheist/secular/sceptical pod-casts and probably visit the sites and read books that enforce my existing worldview – without checking for available sources.  The danger, of course is that we do not inform ourselves of why the other side believes what they do – and why they do so, just as enthusiastically as ourselves.

Ideally of course, original sources should be scrutinised – and with care.  It is both difficult to know what to look for and how to find it when we know.  A quick trawl of the net will find all kinds of viewpoints, from a measured response, to lunatics on both sides of any debate, and Wikipedia is often less than infallible.  It is an intellectual mine field out there.  I think it’s a journey of discovery that must be taken if we want to seriously defend our positions on issues that matter to us.  Is there a way to navigate this mine-field?