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Mid-West Humanist Table on street in Limerick

The Mid-West Humanists held their first table on Thomas Street in Limerick on Saturday 24 October 2015.

The table is like atheist and humanist tables already held in other cities.

Front of MW Humanist Table

Front of MW Humanist Table

The table is for people who might be leaning away from religion, and who could be happier if they understood that not having a religion and not believing in a god is a good state; and that a person who feels settled in not having religion or god can live a good life and be happy.

Several people received the Mid-West Humanists leaflet about humanism. A small number took some of our leaflets about education, blasphemy, and the Constitution.

We will be there again on some Saturdays. Next time we will put the date in advance on Facebook. The more people volunteer to staff the table, the easier it will be to keep the table going.

Atheist Ireland Publishes 25 Blasphemous Quotes

Below is a repost from blasphemy.ie

From today, 1 January 2010, the new Irish blasphemy law becomes operational, and we begin our campaign to have it repealed. Blasphemy is now a crime punishable by a €25,000 fine. The new law defines blasphemy as publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion, with some defences permitted.

This new law is both silly and dangerous. It is silly because medieval religious laws have no place in a modern secular republic, where the criminal law should protect people and not ideas. And it is dangerous because it incentives religious outrage, and because Islamic States led by Pakistan are already using the wording of this Irish law to promote new blasphemy laws at UN level.

We believe in the golden rule: that we have a right to be treated justly, and that we have a responsibility to treat other people justly. Blasphemy laws are unjust: they silence people in order to protect ideas. In a civilised society, people have a right to to express and to hear ideas about religion even if other people find those ideas to be outrageous.

Publication of 25 blasphemous quotes

In this context we now publish a list of 25 blasphemous quotes, which have previously been published by or uttered by or attributed to Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Mark Twain, Tom Lehrer, Randy Newman, James Kirkup, Monty Python, Rev Ian Paisley, Conor Cruise O’Brien, Frank Zappa, Salman Rushdie, Bjork, Amanda Donohoe, George Carlin, Paul Woodfull, Jerry Springer the Opera, Tim Minchin, Richard Dawkins, Pope Benedict XVI, Christopher Hitchens, PZ Myers, Ian O’Doherty, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor and Dermot Ahern.

Despite these quotes being abusive and insulting in relation to matters held sacred by various religions, we unreservedly support the right of these people to have published or uttered them, and we unreservedly support the right of any Irish citizen to make comparable statements about matters held sacred by any religion without fear of being criminalised, and without having to prove to a court that a reasonable person would find any particular value in the statement.

Campaign begins to repeal the Irish blasphemy law

We ask Fianna Fail and the Green Party to repeal their anachronistic blasphemy law, as part of the revision of the Defamation Act that is included within the Act. We ask them to hold a referendum to remove the reference to blasphemy from the Irish Constitution.

We also ask all TDs and Senators to support a referendum to remove references to God from the Irish Constitution, including the clauses that prevent atheists from being appointed as President of Ireland or as a Judge without swearing a religious oath asking God to direct them in their work.

If you run a website, blog or other media publication, please feel free to republish this statement and the list of quotes yourself, in order to show your support for the campaign to repeal the Irish blasphemy law and to promote a rational, ethical, secular Ireland.

List of 25 Blasphemous Quotes Published by Atheist Ireland

1. Jesus Christ, when asked if he was the son of God, in Matthew 26:64: “Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” According to the Christian Bible, the Jewish chief priests and elders and council deemed this statement by Jesus to be blasphemous, and they sentenced Jesus to death for saying it.

2. Jesus Christ, talking to Jews about their God, in John 8:44: “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him.” This is one of several chapters in the Christian Bible that can give a scriptural foundation to Christian anti-Semitism. The first part of John 8, the story of “whoever is without sin cast the first stone”, was not in the original version, but was added centuries later. The original John 8 is a debate between Jesus and some Jews. In brief, Jesus calls the Jews who disbelieve him sons of the Devil, the Jews try to stone him, and Jesus runs away and hides.

3. Muhammad, quoted in Hadith of Bukhari, Vol 1 Book 8 Hadith 427: “May Allah curse the Jews and Christians for they built the places of worship at the graves of their prophets.” This quote is attributed to Muhammad on his death-bed as a warning to Muslims not to copy this practice of the Jews and Christians. It is one of several passages in the Koran and in Hadith that can give a scriptural foundation to Islamic anti-Semitism, including the assertion in Sura 5:60 that Allah cursed Jews and turned some of them into apes and swine.

4. Mark Twain, describing the Christian Bible in Letters from the Earth, 1909: “Also it has another name – The Word of God. For the Christian thinks every word of it was dictated by God. It is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies… But you notice that when the Lord God of Heaven and Earth, adored Father of Man, goes to war, there is no limit. He is totally without mercy – he, who is called the Fountain of Mercy. He slays, slays, slays! All the men, all the beasts, all the boys, all the babies; also all the women and all the girls, except those that have not been deflowered. He makes no distinction between innocent and guilty… What the insane Father required was blood and misery; he was indifferent as to who furnished it.” Twain’s book was published posthumously in 1939. His daughter, Clara Clemens, at first objected to it being published, but later changed her mind in 1960 when she believed that public opinion had grown more tolerant of the expression of such ideas. That was half a century before Fianna Fail and the Green Party imposed a new blasphemy law on the people of Ireland.

5. Tom Lehrer, The Vatican Rag, 1963: “Get in line in that processional, step into that small confessional. There, the guy who’s got religion’ll tell you if your sin’s original. If it is, try playing it safer, drink the wine and chew the wafer. Two, four, six, eight, time to transubstantiate!”

6. Randy Newman, God’s Song, 1972: “And the Lord said: I burn down your cities – how blind you must be. I take from you your children, and you say how blessed are we. You all must be crazy to put your faith in me. That’s why I love mankind.”

7. James Kirkup, The Love That Dares to Speak its Name, 1976: “While they prepared the tomb I kept guard over him. His mother and the Magdalen had gone to fetch clean linen to shroud his nakedness. I was alone with him… I laid my lips around the tip of that great cock, the instrument of our salvation, our eternal joy. The shaft, still throbbed, anointed with death’s final ejaculation.” This extract is from a poem that led to the last successful blasphemy prosecution in Britain, when Denis Lemon was given a suspended prison sentence after he published it in the now-defunct magazine Gay News. In 2002, a public reading of the poem, on the steps of St. Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square, failed to lead to any prosecution. In 2008, the British Parliament abolished the common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel.

8. Matthias, son of Deuteronomy of Gath, in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, 1979: “Look, I had a lovely supper, and all I said to my wife was that piece of halibut was good enough for Jehovah.”

9. Rev Ian Paisley MEP to the Pope in the European Parliament, 1988: “I denounce you as the Antichrist.” Paisley’s website describes the Antichrist as being “a liar, the true son of the father of lies, the original liar from the beginning… he will imitate Christ, a diabolical imitation, Satan transformed into an angel of light, which will deceive the world.”

10. Conor Cruise O’Brien, 1989: “In the last century the Arab thinker Jamal al-Afghani wrote: ‘Every Muslim is sick and his only remedy is in the Koran.’ Unfortunately the sickness gets worse the more the remedy is taken.”

11. Frank Zappa, 1989: “If you want to get together in any exclusive situation and have people love you, fine – but to hang all this desperate sociology on the idea of The Cloud-Guy who has The Big Book, who knows if you’ve been bad or good – and cares about any of it – to hang it all on that, folks, is the chimpanzee part of the brain working.”

12. Salman Rushdie, 1990: “The idea of the sacred is quite simply one of the most conservative notions in any culture, because it seeks to turn other ideas – uncertainty, progress, change – into crimes.” In 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa ordering Muslims to kill Rushdie because of blasphemous passages in Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses.

13. Bjork, 1995: “I do not believe in religion, but if I had to choose one it would be Buddhism. It seems more livable, closer to men… I’ve been reading about reincarnation, and the Buddhists say we come back as animals and they refer to them as lesser beings. Well, animals aren’t lesser beings, they’re just like us. So I say fuck the Buddhists.”

14. Amanda Donohoe on her role in the Ken Russell movie Lair of the White Worm, 1995: “Spitting on Christ was a great deal of fun. I can’t embrace a male god who has persecuted female sexuality throughout the ages, and that persecution still goes on today all over the world.”

15. George Carlin, 1999: “Religion easily has the greatest bullshit story ever told. Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time! But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can’t handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little more. Now, talk about a good bullshit story. Holy Shit!”

16. Paul Woodfull as Ding Dong Denny O’Reilly, The Ballad of Jaysus Christ, 2000: “He said me ma’s a virgin and sure no one disagreed, Cause they knew a lad who walks on water’s handy with his feet… Jaysus oh Jaysus, as cool as bleedin’ ice, With all the scrubbers in Israel he could not be enticed, Jaysus oh Jaysus, it’s funny you never rode, Cause it’s you I do be shoutin’ for each time I shoot me load.”

17. Jesus Christ, in Jerry Springer The Opera, 2003: “Actually, I’m a bit gay.” In 2005, the Christian Institute tried to bring a prosecution against the BBC for screening Jerry Springer the Opera, but the UK courts refused to issue a summons.

18. Tim Minchin, Ten-foot Cock and a Few Hundred Virgins, 2005: “So you’re gonna live in paradise, With a ten-foot cock and a few hundred virgins, So you’re gonna sacrifice your life, For a shot at the greener grass, And when the Lord comes down with his shiny rod of judgment, He’s gonna kick my heathen ass.”

19. Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion, 2006: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” In 2007 Turkish publisher Erol Karaaslan was charged with the crime of insulting believers for publishing a Turkish translation of The God Delusion. He was acquitted in 2008, but another charge was brought in 2009. Karaaslan told the court that “it is a right to criticise religions and beliefs as part of the freedom of thought and expression.”

20. Pope Benedict XVI quoting a 14th century Byzantine emperor, 2006: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” This statement has already led to both outrage and condemnation of the outrage. The Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the world’s largest Muslim body, said it was a “character assassination of the prophet Muhammad”. The Malaysian Prime Minister said that “the Pope must not take lightly the spread of outrage that has been created.” Pakistan’s foreign Ministry spokesperson said that “anyone who describes Islam as a religion as intolerant encourages violence”. The European Commission said that “reactions which are disproportionate and which are tantamount to rejecting freedom of speech are unacceptable.”

21. Christopher Hitchens in God is not Great, 2007: “There is some question as to whether Islam is a separate religion at all… Islam when examined is not much more than a rather obvious and ill-arranged set of plagiarisms, helping itself from earlier books and traditions as occasion appeared to require… It makes immense claims for itself, invokes prostrate submission or ‘surrender’ as a maxim to its adherents, and demands deference and respect from nonbelievers into the bargain. There is nothing-absolutely nothing-in its teachings that can even begin to justify such arrogance and presumption.”

22. PZ Myers, on the Roman Catholic communion host, 2008: “You would not believe how many people are writing to me, insisting that these horrible little crackers (they look like flattened bits of styrofoam) are literally pieces of their god, and that this omnipotent being who created the universe can actually be seriously harmed by some third-rate liberal intellectual at a third-rate university… However, inspired by an old woodcut of Jews stabbing the host, I thought of a simple, quick thing to do: I pierced it with a rusty nail (I hope Jesus’s tetanus shots are up to date). And then I simply threw it in the trash, followed by the classic, decorative items of trash cans everywhere, old coffeegrounds and a banana peel.”

23. Ian O’Doherty, 2009: “(If defamation of religion was illegal) it would be a crime for me to say that the notion of transubstantiation is so ridiculous that even a small child should be able to see the insanity and utter physical impossibility of a piece of bread and some wine somehow taking on corporeal form. It would be a crime for me to say that Islam is a backward desert superstition that has no place in modern, enlightened Europe and it would be a crime to point out that Jewish settlers in Israel who believe they have a God given right to take the land are, frankly, mad. All the above assertions will, no doubt, offend someone or other.”

24. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, 2009: “Whether a person is atheist or any other, there is in fact in my view something not totally human if they leave out the transcendent… we call it God… I think that if you leave that out you are not fully human.” Because atheism is not a religion, the Irish blasphemy law does not protect atheists from abusive and insulting statements about their fundamental beliefs. While atheists are not seeking such protection, we include the statement here to point out that it is discriminatory that this law does not hold all citizens equal.

25. Dermot Ahern, Irish Minister for Justice, introducing his blasphemy law at an Oireachtas Justice Committee meeting, 2009, and referring to comments made about him personally: “They are blasphemous.” Deputy Pat Rabbitte replied: “Given the Minister’s self-image, it could very well be that we are blaspheming,” and Minister Ahern replied: “Deputy Rabbitte says that I am close to the baby Jesus, I am so pure.” So here we have an Irish Justice Minister joking about himself being blasphemed, at a parliamentary Justice Committee discussing his own blasphemy law, that could make his own jokes illegal.

Finally, as a bonus, Micheal Martin, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, opposing attempts by Islamic States to make defamation of religion a crime at UN level, 2009: “We believe that the concept of defamation of religion is not consistent with the promotion and protection of human rights. It can be used to justify arbitrary limitations on, or the denial of, freedom of expression. Indeed, Ireland considers that freedom of expression is a key and inherent element in the manifestation of freedom of thought and conscience and as such is complementary to freedom of religion or belief.” Just months after Minister Martin made this comment, his colleague Dermot Ahern introduced Ireland’s new blasphemy law.

Atheist Ireland – Reaction to Italian Crucifix Ruling

This is me on Today FM yesterday. Thanks to Adam for putting this up on Youtube.

Differences between Morals and Ethics

On the issue of the difference between Morals and Ethics, Louis also suggested this from asktheatheists.com via  http://boards.ie (both recommended sources).

Morals Ethics
top-down bottom-up
fixed in time evolving
“thou shalt (not)” “first do no harm”
perfect can be improved
do not question, just obey you can argue and contribute
religious teachings and scripture laws and codes of conduct

Religulous Review

As a fan of Bill Maher’s Real Time series on HBO, I’ve been eagerly anticipating Religulous since I first caught wind of its existence well over a year ago. While Maher’s paranoid delusions about western medicine hardly make him the ideal poster-child for atheism, it’s always nice to see a witty and outspoken non-theist in a position to reach the (North American) masses.

After a series of tortuous delays made all the more painful by Maher’s continuing plugs on his weekly political chat show, I finally got to watch Religulous last week – here’s my review of the film, for those that are interested.

Maher has said before that so much footage was shot they could have made a 10-part television show, and after watching the film, I wish that this were the avenue they explored, given how it feels like a 100 minute teaser-reel for an upcoming miniseries.

Maher takes viewers around the world, highlighting various peculiarities of world religions, and while the journey is always fun with Maher’s wisecracks, the exhaustive pace at which topics and countries are jumped between obfuscates what exactly is the point of this fantastic voyage.

The film seems to tackle every aspect of religion it can manage – the plagiarism of Christianity from ancient religions, the violent overtones of Islam, the ludicrousness of Scientology, and the blatant racism of Mormonism stand out in particular. As well as this, Maher spends considerable time on the hypocrisies of all religions, the nefarious double-standards of ‘free-speech’, the outright lies perpetrated by creationists, the malleability of sacred texts by various cults, and the disgusting interweaving of the Judeo-Christian god with American politics and patriotism.

The style of the film is quite loose, possibly to imbue it with a sense of being more raw and honest, but it is quite distracting when the boom mic slips into view, or the director and crew are visible in a shot. Compounding this sloppy feel is the ADHD style of editing, in which interviews are interrupted by sudden non-sequitur clips, facetious subtitles are overlaid to lazily ridicule interviewees in post-production, and sound effects are dubbed in to add drama – as a result of these I found myself not trusting the editor, and trying to establish if clips were deliberately manipulated for cheap laughs.

After a while, it seems apparent that the reason the film doesn’t have a narrow focus because there is no overarching theme other than ‘look at how ridiculous you all look!’. For this reason, Maher can be forgiven for talking to the volume of lay-people that he does, as they are ill-equipped to deal with his rhetoric and only serve as comedic fodder.

Just as soon as you’ve let your guard down, ready to dismiss the film entirely, you’re sucker-punched, as all of a sudden the epic music swells, the low angle shots of Maher begin, and the stirring monologue about how “Religion must die for mankind to live” cut to a rapid-fire montage of scenes of pollution, terrorism, mass supplication and sheer corruption starts up. Maher, standing next to the rather-subtle sight gag of a burning bush, lambastes all religions for their focus on end-times, draining motivation to improve life on Earth, and impoverishing the species as a result.

I’m not sure if I’m bothered by the fact that this thesis hasn’t really been established and bolstered over the course of the film – on the one hand, the sudden tirade lends a certain gravitas to the final ten minutes tacked onto the first ninety of light hearted jokes and cheap shots – on the other hand, it arguably renders those first ninety minutes obsolete, which might explain why Atheist Media Blog posted just the last ten minutes of the film before putting up the whole thing.

Despite the dichotomy of thought on this one, I’m inclined to recommend Religulous – if you’re like me and you’ve watched similar documentaries before, it won’t offer any new information, and the production may grate, but it’s enough fun to make it a worthwhile investment of your time.

Social Revolution, anyone?

Hey all,

I recently watched Zeitgeist II (a.k.a. Addendum) and I thought I would share my thoughts with all.

Aside from the rage-inducing piece on the Monetary system (money is created out of thin air!?!? WTF?!?!) the invention of which I’ve always held to be our second mistake after being stupid enough to come down out of the trees, the section on a Resource-Based economy really held my attention, and I’m convinced it may be the way forward for our wayward social structure.

One of the comments that really spoke to me was the fact that the monetary system is based on scarcity, e.g. diamonds are kept scarce to keep their price up, and yet if something is abundant no-one in their right mind would ever accept having to pay for it, something like air or water (yeah, i know about water charges).

The other things that had my jaw dropping in awe (and a twinge of anger) was the 4,000mph mag-train technology (making a trip from L.A. to Beijing a matter of an hour or two) and the fact that there is enough clean, free and, most importantly, self-renewing energy in the earth’s core that we could easily begin to harvest within the next 10years that would power the ENTIRE GLOBE’s energy needs for 4,000 years, eliminating the need to have to pay for an electricity bill ever again.

If you haven’t seen it, or its predecessor, I highly recommend it!! I also recommend checking out The Venus Project, which is a plan for a viable, sustainable resource-based economy. It is featured in the documentary and the people behind give interviews about the current state of society and their hopes for the project.

Now, I know I sound like one of those crazy 9/11 theorist wackos talking about a “New World Order” etc… but I’m not. While I realise the makers of the documentary do believe some of this crap, I don’t. I don’t buy that all our problems are caused by the “elite 1% of the population”. They, and the problems they cause, such as blocking global-scale Electric Car development, are merely a symptom of the Monetary system and I do believe that this Monetary-based system we’ve applied to our societies is crippling ourselves, our planet and our growth.

If you haven’t realised, we now have (and have had for quite some time) the technology, the resources and the manpower to house every single family on the planet. And yet we sit around watching people die of AIDS in Africa while the U.S. wastes tens of billions of dollars on “defense”, pharmaceutical companies charge 1500% the actual cost of their medicines and idiots like Edward Current‘s satirical Christian blame Satan for plane crashes.

So, anyone else believe that a social revolution is in order before we destroy ourselves and our planet?

What makes a person a person?

This might seem like a strange question but I think it may be at the heart of some of the most contentious issues society faces currently and the near future.

It seems to me that many religious people would answer that the possession of a soul makes a person a person. For Christians the soul enters the body at the moment of conception and leaves the body at physical death, therefore all humans (including embryos) are people. This also means only humans can be people. There are (at least) two problems with this definition. Firstly, what is a soul? Secondly where do they enter from and where do they go after death.

The answer many Humanists/Atheists/Naturalists and the nominally religious would give is that personhood is linked to consciousness. This answer is implicit for many people. They don’t articulate it but from their attitudes to certain ethical issues it can be inferred. There are problems with this definition too. How to we define consciousness? How do we assess it’s presence? Perhaps most contentiously, how do we deal with pre-conscious entities?

So we have two definitions of personhood* but why does any of this matter? Lets look at two current and one possible future issue.

  • Abortion – If we accept the first definition of personhood abortion is murder. There really isn’t any wiggle room. If we accept the second definition then abortion is the destruction of a non-person and therefore not comparable to murder. It isn’t that simple though, barring a medical problem an embryo will develop into a person so it seems wrong to not accord it some special status.
  • Right to die – If we accept the first definition then even if someone is in a persistent vegetative state a doctor who helped them to die (at the request of family) would be guilty of murder.^ If we accept the second definition then once consciousness is absent the person is also absent.
  • Non-human persons – This last issue is (to say the least) not a pressing concern, I may be contemned for even including it. If at some future date we were to come into contact with non-human entities (I’m thinking mainly of AI but it could also apply to life on other worlds) with the mental traits we normally think of as human the second definition would allow (require?) us to treat them as persons. The first definition would cause the usual problems for the religious.

I think both definitions have problems but the problems with the first are far greater. Without any evidence to show the existence of a soul it is based on pure conjecture. The main problem with second is that it fails to account for how we deal with what might be called proto-persons.

My thoughts on this subject are unfinished so I’d be interested to here your opinions.

*There are other definitions we might propose. A person could be defined in biological terms, in terms of their genetic make up. A person could be defined as simply whomever society/the State/the law says a person is. Both of these offer interesting discussion topics but I have deliberately ignored them here.

^The position of someone in great pain and facing inevitable death is different, the Christian position here would be that suicide is not permitted as only their god has the right to take life. This position is inconsistent to the point of being laughable, but that’s another topic.