Sunday, 15 July 2012

We are not meant to know! Let superstition and ignorance prevail!

Sent to The Star, Johannesburg, Sun 15/07/2012 12:34, published Tuesday July 17 (minus the parts in blue) as “Archaic logic makes little sense”.  Dr Levin’s original letter is below.

Amazing how even a breakthrough like the discovery of the Higgs Boson can be spun in favour of superstition by proponents like Dr A. M Levin (“Accept what we are meant to know”, in The Star, Thursday July 12).

Contrary to what Dr Levin may think, we know a considerable amount about the “how” of the universe: Much more than was known by the authors of the bible.

As to “why” the universe exits, it is a meaningless question, based on an assumption that there must be a reason for everything.  This sort of thinking caused men to invent gods in the first place.

If we had meekly believed that we were “not meant to know” things not “revealed” in scripture, we would still accept plagues and natural disasters as punishments from the gods.  Instead, vaccination and weather forecasts save lives uncounted; billions live longer, healthier and happier lives than ever before in history.
It is sad when educated people like Dr Levin (who seems to be a medical practitioner), in professions based on science, nevertheless try to retard progress with outdated and discredited texts like the bible.

If Dr Levin wants to quote Deuteronomy, would he also like us to not eat rabbit, pork or calamari (Deuteronomy 14:7-10), or stone to death non-virgin brides (Deuteronomy 22:20-21), or make rape victims marry rapists (Deuteronomy 22:28-29), or prevent banks charging interest (Deuteronomy 23:19)?

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Promoting Religion is Reprehensible

Sent to The Star, Johannesburg, Sun 17/06/2012 16:19, not published.


An acquaintance sent me an e-mailed PowerPoint presentation, “Center of the Bible”. Here is my reply, which deserves a wider audience: 

Dear Neil 

I am sure you meant no harm in sending me your chain-letter e-mail promoting religion, the bible, and prayer. No doubt you believed it was a Good Thing to do. Let me explain why I find it reprehensible. 

Imagine that you got an e-mail from me inviting you to a festival of the Sun God, based on ancient Egyptian writings. We will offer prayers and, to ensure good rains and a bountiful crop, will be sacrificing some first-born: Yours might be lucky enough to be included. You should command your wife and slaves to attend as well. 

I’d expect a sharp reply from you castigating me for my barbarism and superstition, pointing out that the Sun is a common star with no supernatural powers, that praying and sacrificing to it will not influence the weather or crops, that your wife is an adult who makes her own decisions, and that no decent person today owns slaves. 

Now, make two changes to my hypothetical invitation: Replace “Egyptian writings” with “Bible”, and “Sun God” with your name for God. 

Human sacrifice is a theme running through the Bible from Isaac to Exodus to Jesus: Indeed, it is a central tenet of Christianity that it is a good thing to torture an innocent man to death in the place of the guilty. Civilised? I don’t think so. 

The Old Testament gives detailed commandments for the keeping of slaves, including the requirements for selling your daughter into slavery. The New Testament supports it. The “Good Book’s” attitude towards women is that they are possessions: Witness Lot’s willingness to give his daughters to a mob to be raped. Good? I don’t think so. 

As with many other books, the Bible contains its share of wisdom, but there is a lot of bad stuff there too. If you take the Bible as the word of a God that must be obeyed, you would murder me for speaking against Him, and kill everyone you know for working on the Sabbath. 

I am worried when an educated 21st-Century person advocates the Bible as anything more than a myth from the infancy of our species. Today anybody with matric knows more about the universe than the authors of the Bible did. Yet your opinion of me is so low that you think I follow it. 

The god depicted in the bible is a nasty piece of work: Rigid, jealous, angry, sectarian, misogynist and genocidal. Fortunately it is obviously also fictitious.

Prayer is at best a waste of time, and may well be counter-productive, as shown by scientific studies (for example, the 2006 "Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP)" led by Harvard Professor Herbert Benson). You’re entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts. 

In an age when religious fanatics who welcome Armageddon can get hold of nuclear weapons, you are doing our planet a grave disservice by spreading superstition. Please reconsider. 

Thanks and RICKgards

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Gay Marriage: Human Morality is not stuck in Biblical Times

Sent Sun 13/05/2012 15:00 to The Star Johannesburg, not published, and The Times, who published it.


President Barak Obama recently bravely endorsed gay marriage.  This was followed by a chorus of opposition, most of it claiming to be Bible-based, specifically on Leviticus 18:22.

Apart from homosexuality, the Old Testament forbids many things that we do today: Working on the Sabbath (Exodus 31:14-15) (penalty: death), eating pork (Leviticus 11:7-8) and seafood (Leviticus 11:9-12), pre-marital sex (at least for women!) (Deuteronomy 22:20-21) (Penalty: death), wearing mixed materials, to name a few.
On the other hand, the Bible allows selling one’s children as slaves, and lays out a complex set of rules governing slavery (Leviticus 25:44-52, Exodus 21:1-11 and 20-21).
The bible also condones rape under certain conditions (Deuteronomy 22:28-29) and moreover forces the victim to marry the rapist:  In March Amina Filali committed suicide rather than marry her rapist under Morocco’s barbaric "rape-and-marry" law. 

Apart from occasionally wishing we could sell our troublesome brats, in the civilized world we have moved on from the morality of 3000 BC.  We no longer condone slavery, nor regard women as commodities whose virginity is more valuable than the person.  We do not stone to death people who gather sticks on the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36).
To our credit, modern morality is not based on the Bible, but rather on a consensus of fairness and tolerance developed gradually over centuries.  This applies across most countries, irrespective of religion –or freedom from religion.
“Ah, but,” the religious apologist may contend, “we now follow the New Testament and Christ’s teaching that we treat others the way we want them to treat us” (Luke 6:31).
Fine.  Then how about applying this principle to gay marriage too?

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Islam not only Accepts, it Promotes, Violence

Sent to The Star, Johannesburg, Sunday 18/03/2012 22:14, not published as predicted.


I doubt that the Editor will publish this, since the Star shows remarkable reluctance to publish letters critical of Islam. Or perhaps it is not so surprising when one considers how readily the proponents of the "Religion of Peace" use violence when their religion is criticised.

I must take issue with the statement of Dr Heldar Ali Balouji of the so-called "Islamic Republic" (a serious contradiction in terms) of Iran, in the Star of Tuesday March 13, "Islam does not accept harmful acts against mankind".

A few quotes from the Quran should dispel this misinformation.

[8.39] fight with them until ...religion should be only for Allah
[9.12] ..fight the leaders of unbelief..
[9.123] O you who believe! fight those of the unbelievers who are near to you...
and Muhammad’s Ultimatum to Foreign Kings: (9:29) “Fight with those from among the people of the Book, who do not believe in Allah nor in the Last Day; who do not make unlawful that which Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful, and do not adopt the Right way as their way. Fight with them until they pay Jizyah with their own hands and are humbled.”  (Jizyah is a tax levied only on non-Muslims)

Finally: (4:34) "Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. ... As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and BEAT THEM." [my emphasis]

Here I assume that Dr Balouji includes "womankind" within "mankind":  Perhaps, like many Islamacists, he doesn't.  Or maybe beating is not, in his opinion, a "harmful act".

Islam not only accepts, it promotes, harmful acts against humanity.

What other belief actively promotes martyrdom and mass murder?

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

A New Concept: The Bible as a Model for Religious Tolerance

In The Star, Monday January 9 ("No need to politicise a biblical debate") Denzil Jones says, without a hint of irony, "Let's practice religious tolerance and adhere to true biblical prescripts".

What a lovely double oxymoron!  Firstly, the Bible (along with the Qur'an) is one of the most religiously intolerant of documents!

Consider: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me", death for adultery or even collecting firewood on the Sabbath.

The New Testament is not much better, what with "no man comes to the father but through me", and exhortations to convert all nations.

Jesus had no objection to slavery and the suppression of women, which decent people consider abhorrent today.

The second oxymoron, of course, is "true biblical prescripts".  The Bible is largely myth, so what does Jones mean by "true"?
Perhaps he means that we should only follow the biblical prescripts that we regard as morally true?

In that case it is not the bible that sets the standard, but the enlightened human conscience.

Which means we don't need the bible anyway.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

An Atheist Against Religious Intolerance

Sent to The Star, Johannesburg Sat 07/01/2012 21:13, not published, and Sun 08/01/2012 17:55 to The Times, Johannesburg (who published most of it the next day).

As an atheist, I would like to record my strongest condemnation of the Christmas bombings of churches in Nigeria, now followed by a fatal attack on a northern Nigerian church.

While I don't think religion is a good idea, I –alongside most atheists– believe in religious freedom: People have the right to practice whatever creed they wish, as long as they obey reasonable laws (including that they don't coerce others).

Religion should be allowed to wither and die under the spotlight of reason and science: Never by intimidation.

The use of force by people like Boko Haram who believe their religion supports violence, should be opposed by all decent atheists, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and even followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Monday, 2 January 2012

The "Word of God" is fiction about an imaginary being.

Sent to the Sunday Times, Johannesburg, Mon 02/01/2012 10:15; not published.

In the Saturday Times of 31 December 2011 (masquerading as the Sunday Times of 1 January 2012), Readers' Views, "No Apology Required",  James Mentor has a lot to say about the Editor quoting what he calls the "Word of God".

There is nothing wrong with quoting the bible as we would quote any other international literature.

The problem is with people who think the bible is special, even divine, or has some sort of authority.

The bible approves of slavery and genocide and the suppression of women.  It may have been useful at a time when people were ignorant about the structure of the universe and the causes of disease, or could only be moral if they believed in heaven and hell.  We have moved on from this.

If a god had written the bible, would we not be impressed by the foresight, the wisdom, the compassion, the grace, the poetry of this being?  Instead, the god of the bible is a caricature of the worst in humanity: Stupid, jealous, angry, vindictive, and capricious.

No: The bible is largely a work of fiction, and the god it portrays is, thankfully, imaginary.