Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Rallying Cry From Atheists

Written by my atheist friends from a local Singapore Atheist Group, Atheisthaven:

Atheism is an abject failure.

As atheists we are in a unique situation. While we are ostracized,
marginalized, persecuted, prosecuted, abused and generally deprived of
our rights by unsympathetic regimes and autocratic systems in the real
world, it is in cyberspace where we can express ourselves freely to
some substantial degree. It is in this virtual realm that we dare
challenge theists and other proponents of illogicality and come away
truly victorious.

However, these victories, impressive as they are, cannot but feel
hollow. For all the reasoning and logic which made us, dare I say it,
ubermensch, we are unable to demonstrate our superiority where it
really matters. Dawkins and Hitchens might have made the world stand
up in recognition of the fallacies of religion, but is this
proliferation of truth and rationality changing the way people really

Sadly, the answer is no. Superstition still holds sway. To many,
atheism is a passing fad. People remain attached to their cherished
beliefs. After all, knowing the truth does not equate its acceptance.
Not only do people want to believe in something, they need to feel
wanted. Religion provides a very strong support in satisfying this
emotional need, as evident by the number of support groups, cell
groups, social and community structures the religious have put
together to bind its adherents.

It must be intoxicating knowing that `Someone' will always love you.
That `Someone' will look after you in every situation and never falter
in His efforts. To have this preposterous notion `validated' by your
fellow humans who actually help you in times of difficulties while the
`Someone' never makes an appearance must seem an affirmation to the
desperate. What religion does so effectively is to make each and
everyone of its followers feel special. Logic goes out of the window
in the face of this compelling emotional assault. It is an irony,
considering that rationality is painted over by a very real human need
which in turn is satisfied by an illusion instead.

This is where atheism fails so miserably. Atheists do not help each
other just because they believe in the same creed. The theists,
however, do so because their doctrine specifically wills it. For all
our arguments and justifications we do not deign to help one another
because we take the point of `not giving a damn about God' one step
further to include ourselves. I see friends who are Christians support
each other within their own church and cell groups. What do I see when
I look upon my fellow atheists?

Theist : 1 Atheist : 0.

Our endless debates with theists achieve little. We are wasting
precious time trying to convince people who do not want to be
convinced. People would rather live a happier life believing in a lie
than accept things as they really are and being less happy as a
result. Reading about the articles atheists post on the Internet makes
me think that all these well-meaning writers want are to amass as many
hits for their sites and to comment favorably on each other's writings
in the hope that the praised party, overjoyed at being appreciated,
would return the favor. We hide behind monikers like `infidel' and
`heretic', perhaps to impart some perceived quality in our cause, but
we do not back our words with concrete action. I have more respect for
the religious folk (the non-violent ones) who preach their gospel and
live their life accordingly than for self-proclaimed atheists who
cannot even be bothered to scrap their addled brains off the computer
screen to think: I am an atheist. What does this mean? What do I do?

Atheism is on precarious ground in this respect. And it is time to
stop the rot.

We must acknowledge that we are on our own. We have no god(s), no
temples, no institutions and nothing to rely upon. Social structure
and cultural norms, influenced to some extent by religion does not
give the atheist credence. In many parts of the world, atheism is
punishable by stoning. In more civilized climates, a priest who
incites violence against non-believers is at the most given a slap on
the wrist – he might even be lauded for his sense of justice. But an
atheist who gives credible reasons for his rejection of religion, and
quotes from reliable sources – he is making `seditious' remarks and
persecuted for being `anti-religion' . It is obscene. You can say that
people are treated equally in these modern times, but you cannot deny
that some are more equal than others.

In view of the many difficulties atheists face, I propose we take care
of our own. And we can do this through support groups.

A support group need not have a club-house or a fixed physical
location where members can convene. We can host a bulletin board
(forum) in cyberspace, much like what Atheisthaven is doing. However,
instead of `ghost members' and people who pack only rhetoric and
little else, such a group must consist of dedicated individuals who
genuinely want to make a difference. While we do not restrict the
membership to atheists (the non-religious, freethinkers, agnostics,
even Buddhists - especially those leaning towards a philosophical
bent may join), members must be committed. As this commitment takes
the form of certain obligations, we want positive individuals who
truly believe in improving themselves and others. Atheism by its own
nature, promotes self-reliance and an internal locus of control. All
efforts should have an egalitarian spirit in its core, mutual aid as
its strength, and self-actualization its ultimate goal.

This is strictly an informal group. No membership fee is required. We
only ask that members make an effort to know each other and to
interact, preferably face-to-face. This fosters cohesiveness which is
very important because people tend to help their own friends than
relative strangers.

What form should this aid take? At the most basic level, information
exchange. People who have questions can post them on the group site,
and those with the answers can promptly reply. Questions can range
from anything – potential job openings, which university to choose,
even where to get the best bargains! At a deeper level, members can
work on some task together or maybe enjoy a little soiree.

While we encourage members to look after each other's interests, we do
not look kindly to people who join for ulterior motives. This is not a
MLM (multi-level- marketing) scam, nor is it a dating agency. Promoting
any political agenda is also a no-no. In a nutshell, the group is
similar to a normal theist cell group, minus the praying and speaking
in tongues. Think of it as a secular social network, where normal
people (without a faith) make friends and chill out.

We must succeed in this endeavor. If sodden theists can organize
themselves, it would be a crying shame if intelligent atheists cannot
even produce a similar response. The time has passed for talking. Let
us show people that we are capable of doing great things, even without
divine edicts… because In Humanity We Trust.

Liu Weixian and Liang Xianghong
- 14/03/2008


Thursday, March 13, 2008

School Principal Bans Non-Halal Food In School Canteen; Students to Eat Halal Pork Instead?

Food, Glorious Food: Unfortunately, Religion Loves To Bastardize It

More often than not, Religion loves to enforce its culinary rules upon the secular masses: Hindus, for example, don't eat beef (Sacred cows, according to Mark Twain, do make the best burger), Muslims and Jews frown upon pork as if it is some form of a horror freak show (Quite frankly, I think pork is divine!), and Buddhists just about avoid all forms of meat altogether, preferring to adhere to a strict, miserable diet of leaves and shoots (yes, kind of like a panda bear, minus the dark rings around the eyes).

As far as living things go, the need to feed is a definite given: We need food for sustenance, and some of us, including myself, are food connoisseurs who are not exactly biased about the food we eat, as long as it is edible, succulent and delectable. Nonetheless, I, as well as most secular people, understand that some facets of society love to apply their religious prejudices against certain food sources, and no, we are not usually inclined to debunk their myths and prejudices (Other than a snide remark here and there), unless, of course, some insipid moron decides to apply his religiously-slanted palates upon the common masses, as this addle-brained principal of a government school in Singapore surely did.

School's 'halal zone' ruling causes stir
Parents upset; MOE says school's decision wrong; principal reverses his position By Sandra Davie, Education Correspondent
Feb 5, 2008

A PRIMARY school in Jurong West that upset non-Muslim parents by insisting that only halal food could be eaten or taken into its canteen will now overturn its policy.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) told The Straits Times yesterday that Boon Lay Garden Primary had made a mistake, and would let its pupils' parents know.

In a letter to all parents last Friday, principal Wan Imran Woojdy said that since the school canteen had been certified halal, children would not be allowed to bring non-halal food onto the premises.

The school security guard and discipline master had also been checking lunch boxes since last week to ensure pupils complied.

About 20 per cent of the school's 1,700 pupils are Muslims.

Halal refers to what is permissible for consumption by Muslims. A product is not halal if it contains, for example, pork or alcohol, both forbidden to Muslims. Boon Lay Garden Primary's move to declare its canteen a halal zone left some non-Muslim parents unhappy.

Three who spoke to The Straits Times said they did not mind that the school canteen sold only halal food, but they felt the ban on taking in non-halal food amounted to discrimination.

Madam Esther Chia, 36, who has two daughters in the school, said one of them resorted to hiding a pork floss bun in her pocket last week to avoid being caught for flouting the new rule.

Another parent, Mr Edward Ang, said: 'I have nothing against the school stalls selling only halal food, but they shouldn't restrict kids from eating non-halal food.'

When contacted earlier yesterday, principal Imran said the rule forbidding non-halal food in the canteen had been in place since 2002, when all eight food stalls were certified halal by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis).

He said that the school decided to enforce the rule as it had a new canteen contractor and had to get recertified by Muis.

'We decided to make the whole canteen halal to provide a common eating space for all our children, whatever their race,' he said.

Enforcing Bigotry In The School Canteen

When religious people keep whining about why us secular folks often complain and scoff against their religions, such an incident are stark reminders that if ordinary folks don't wake up and smell the coffee, all too often, religious zealots (And sadly, this time round, it is a school principal) will sneak through just about every tiny crook and cranny to impose their religious laws upon the secularity of government institutions.

In this case, virtually every stall in this particular government school has pandered to the demands of a distinct, Muslim minority by getting their food certified as "halal". While I doubt this has anything to do with political or religious pressuring from school authorities (This, I suspect, is one of the ways stall vendors can earn more money by catering to Muslim children), the principal has nonetheless made use of this paradigm shift to enforce his Syariah-inspired diet upon all and sundry.

And yes, like our good old parochial government, he has the temerity to enforce a ban on non-halal food, a-la "banning the chewing gum" style that has made us the butt of all American jokes: Open your bag kiddo.....holy shit, what the hell is this? Barbecued pork? Be prepared to roast in Allah's hell, kiddo! God hates pork!

By insisting on halal-only food in a school canteen, what kind of a message is the school board sending to the kids? That we are a bigoted Islamic country, where women cannot even be seen in the public eye without a head-to-toe burkha, and crimes are punishable by stoning and amputation? Or is this yet another sinister campaign to sneak more Islamic "values" into our secular system?

Thank goodness, then, that the parents of these kids were disgruntled enough to complain to the Ministry of Education about this errant, bigoted principal. Goodness knows what would happen if they didn't complain: The principal might insist on applying the customary "stoning the disobedient children" on disobedient students.

Halal Pork?

If school authorities in Singapore persist on applying Syariah laws in school canteens, perhaps I might offer a brilliant suggestion for these beleaguered kids who, like me, have a penchant for good ole bacon:

Goodness Me! Its Halal Pork!!!

Remove those stickers from the halal food shelves that sell halal food, and stick them to their pork-filled food packages. That might just elude the nosy school disciple master, or that zanny fundie school principal, from denying the right to eat pork (As if these authorities even have the right to pry into the lunch boxes of kids in the first place!).

-“Pork - no animal is more used for nourishment and none more indispensable in the kitchen; employed either fresh or salt, all is useful, even to its bristles and its blood; it is the superfluous riches of the farmer, and helps to pay the rent of the cottager.”

Alexis Soyer 19th century French chef.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Dreadfulness of Death & The Unhealthy Expectation of An Afterlife

Like any other species on this planet, human beings are ardent survivors in a challenging environment. Evolution has bestowed upon us the gift of a more exceptional brain than our primate counterparts, allowing us to break away from most of the trials and tribulations which almost every species on Earth has to contend with: Without our superior technology, Man will most likely be at the mercy of ferocious beasts (and they still do: occasionally, and sometimes quite often, stories of humans being bitten and eaten by animals remind us that without our fancy blink-blinks and weaponry, we are as vulnerable as suckling babies) in the natural environment.

Because of our inane sophistry, most of us live in relative safety and comfort: Our homes protect us from the savage elements of Mother Nature. City dwellers purchase their food from the supermarkets, much of it derived from agriculture and farming, hence negating the need to hunt for food. We are insulated from pretty much the worst whims of Mother Nature, and in that respect Man has more or less detached himself from Nature and her food chain.

This detachment, it seems, has become etched into our human consciousness over the sands of time: As an almost separate entity (At least we like to think of it along this superior train of thought), human beings have become obsessed with achieving a higher form of consciousness, or truth, if you will. We start to question and reason within and without, something which lower orders of animals, preoccupied with the more mundane affairs pertaining to life and death, couldn't have done. Our technologies and advancements derived from our ingenuity and civilized way of life began to give way to human ego: Since we are so god-damned special and high-strung, couldn't it be possible, that perhaps, we can completely escape the ignominous fate that hangs upon every living creature and organism, the very ominous clouds of impending doom which we call Death?

Religion, Death & The Afterlife

Death's Advocate: The Grim Reaper

Death is defined as the cessation of life: Quite clearly, death is comparable to a full-stop in a single sentence. A single sentence will still resume after a comma, which represents a single pause, but a full stop spells the inevitable end. Death works the same way: When life ceases to continue, death becomes the inevitable end to life. From the tiniest of microbes to living human beings, death is an inescapable fate of living things.

And it is this end that as a species, humans seem to have trouble grasping, perhaps out of an understandable fear of death, or the implication of the human ego. As superior creatures on this Earthly domain, we like to think that we can somehow transcend death, even if it means believing in a more superior deity who shows an affable affinity and love for us. In order to vindicate this incredulous idea, we devise religions crisscrossing every culture on this planet, with their elaborate rituals and dogma, so as to give a legitimate front to the absurd idea that death is not the omega of life.

It is with this unhealthy obsession and fear of death that religion exploits to the fullest: Heaven becomes an utopia of eternal enjoyment, as contrasted by the dichotomy of hell's searing inferno.

An Unhealthy Fear of Death & The Obsession of the Afterlife

To be brutally honest, every sane person & sane creature harbors some form of fear towards the spectra of death. An animal which is dead can no longer propagate its genes, much less enjoy the fruits of it's labor. In short, a healthy fear of death is a good sign: It simply translates into some form of awareness or defense against external threats, & it is with this in mind that fear becomes an extremely viable tool for survival.

Yet, like almost every other genetic traits or memes, there is a downside to an overdose: The idea that death renders life finite becomes so preposterous to a mind that is closed to the possibility of death, that we begin to let our imaginations take root, instead of searching for new frontiers such as medicine to prolong life and eradicate disease instead.

Cue religion. With its army of charlatans, soothsayers and doom sayers, Religion feasts upon Gullibility, which in turn is a bastard child of Fear, the pantheons of deities begin to manifest itself, dominating our psyches with fairy tales and searing our consciousness with unhappy delusions and trepidations of an afterlife in eternal abyss, all of which are undue punishments pandered out by the respective religions to buy allegiance into their expanding flock.

If a person becomes unduly besotted with the afterlife, then the person ceases to regard this life with due reverence: After all, why be caught up with the mundane affairs of mere mortals, when I shall be able to inherit an eternal body (or soul) which will allow me to live for an eternity? If one is to believe in the rewards of eternal bliss, the tawdriness of a mortal life seems to pale in comparison with such a wondrous utopia of eternal, heavenly bliss.

The Dangers of Believing In An Afterlife

It is with this notion and unfounded triviality towards the only life we are supposed to expect, that terrorists and crooks who don the sacred beliefs of their respective Gods have been able to kill with almost wild abandon, with no regards to the lives they take (infidels, are, after all, unworthy of any redemption) as well as theirs.

Ask any hardcore terrorist who is about to blow himself up with a self-attached bomb in a civilian-crowded bus, albeit a Jewish one, and the expected answer will be the sight of 72, glistening hymens belonging to the God-bestowed virgins in paradise. The most abhorrent and horrendous of ideas, martyrdom is nonetheless a powerful tool for people to willingly blow themselves up, along with their enemies, into smithereens, and one can hardly be expected to carry out such acts of self-immolation without invoking some form of reward in the afterlife.

Accepting The Inevitable & Striving For Emancipation

If anything else, history has shown us that most, if not all ideas borne out of fear are usually poor concepts which are detrimental to society in general.

While death is an unpleasant fact of life, we should not expect to live beyond this ultimate threshold, anymore than a person should expect to survive a fall off the edge of the cliff and still emerge unscathed.

Rather than become transfixed with the prospect of an eternal life, medical science and technology should be harnessed to prolong life as well as enhancing the quality of life.

With this rational realization in mind, we will be better equipped to live this life to the fullest: There is but one life, live it, and live it well. Be nice to your loved ones, and they will be nice to you. There is nothing intrinsically difficult about such ideals that we need to invoke some deity to teach us to learn such social behavior. We are, after all superior creatures, and that itself should give us the impetus to live a emancipated life without any unnecessary delusions and unfounded fears about the supernatural.

"Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear."

-Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), in 1787 letter to his nephew

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