10 February 2006

Maybe I was wrong

There's a corner shop two doors away from where I live. It's run by a couple who I would count as friends.

I have defended them against racist comments made in the shop when I was present. I see them as English as they aren't immigrants (and being Welsh I count myself as an immigrant).

They sell alcohol, and newspapers that carry the sort of images of women that most Muslims reject. Both wear what is being termed 'western' dress (in fact she tends to expose her ample cleavage to a slightly distracting extent).

I assumed that, if anything, they were Hindu.

I was wrong.

I raised the issue of the cartoons when I went in this evening (I was taking a very concilatory tone (she wasn't there) so I accepted that 'that one' cartoon was probably offensive) assuming that we'd at least agree over the issue of this whole thing being blown out of all proportion.

Again I was wrong.

Turns out they're Muslim. Given the above, how was I supposed to know?

Turns out that depicting Mohammed is indeed an insult, regardless of whether or not he was depicted as wearing an Indian-style turban with a bomb on it.

Turns out that homosexuals are evil and unnnatural. Turns out that 'all religions' (apparently) condemn homosexuality. Turns out that evolution doesn't apply to humans. Turns out that we're not just another species of animal.

I am now left depressed, despondent, and feeling pretty hopeless.

I cannot count as a friend someone who condemns other friends of mine as being evil and unnatural.

One of the reasons my ex and I ended up splitting up is because I could no longer take this sort of bigotry from her father and she wouldn't stand up to him on this, or at least persuade him to keep quiet whilst I was staying there (and sod knows that was often enough) - but that's just my side of the story.

Anyone who thinks that humans are anything other than an explainable result of a verifiable theory (be it evolution or anything else, but we've not come up with anything better yet) is deluded and irrational. But hey, at least on this one we're arguing over something that is verifiable, and I may be wrong for thinking that, and I'm probably ok unless I'm an atheist (I had to add that, yes, I'm an atheist, but I was effectively brought up as a child of Christian parents) but given enough time we can prove that one way or the other.

Equality of all human rights is a philosophy. It is the only philosophy that mandates us to act against discrimination regardless of gender, race, religion, sexuality, nationality, ethnicity, and yes, even religion. It is the only hope we have of not returning to our tribal origins and spending all our time trying to wipe each other out.

I was under the impression that so-called 'moderates', or those we would take to be 'moderates' by virtue of my initial description, would at least agree with this.

Again I was wrong.

Dawkins was right. Religion IS the root of all evil. For due to religion there are now two people I can no longer count as friends, and for that I am truly sad, depressed, and yes, angry.

Elsewhere I have written articles and comments in defence of both Mohammed and Jesus (if he existed) as being great leaders, whether or not I agree with their views, methods, lifestyles and legacies.

Saying that, the same has been said of Hitler by many who could never be accused of ever being even remotely sympathetic to the Nazi regime.

I have also defended Mohammed as writing the Qu'ran as a document to promote peace and equality, regardless of the substantial evidence and opinion to the contrary. I have never said the same about Jesus and the Bible, at least after I'd read it.

I now truly appreciate the meaning of freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech means I can say from the heart what I really feel about those who condemn other people as 'evil'. People I who know personally to be liberal, egalitarian and peaceful. People who just want to live happy and fulfilled lives.

This includes Mohammed.

Right now I think he's a complete f***ing c***.

Keith, I just edited the last line of your post to Leicester Secularist, by putting in asterisks. Hope you don't mind.

I can understand your getting pretty upset after this experience.
Perhaps the woman in the shop may not take so hard a line?

Having read parts of the Koran, in the translation given on the
website that has the Skeptic's annotated bible, I can assure you
that its attitude to "infidels" is far from peaceful!


As regards evolution (see my First Person column in tomorrow's Mercury):

I'm currently reading a biography of Fred Hoyle, trying to
understand why a scientist of his standing could have made that
notorious "tornado in a junk yard" quip. I still don't fully
understand why. It seems he must have thought that "natural
selection" didn't work the way Darwin and Dawkins, and all modern biologists, say. Perhaps he
just liked to be an obstinate yorkshireman. He wasn't a young-Earth creationist. He had his own "panspermia" theory.

I mention this only to illustrate that other theories are possible,
so long as they are rational theories capable of being tested and disproved (as young-Earth creationism has been).

I'm prepared to accept that christians and muslims are likely to have to retain their belief that humans have been in some way specially doctored by the creator (given consciousness or soul), so long as they accept the strong
evidence of millions of years of evolution leading up to the appearance of humans, and
don't go for the literal interpretation of "Genesis".

This in the belief that eventually they must come to accept the full
consequences of the logic behind evolution.
I find it very disheartening and somewhat ironic that a post all about free speech ends with asterisked swear words.

The story illustrates nicely the condundrum of how you tolerate the intolerant. By definition, a liberal and secular society must support equality and freedom, including freedom of religion, but how can this be reconciled with people who's religion is not liberal or tolerant? Liberalism, including a secular state, seems to depend on a decline in religion or those that only focus on the personal and individual; it is not well equipped to survive in the face of evangelical religions that cannot tolerate non-believers and whose understanding of religion and politics are not distinct but interdependent.
What is liberalism? Is it only a passive state?
Hi Jess! Thanks for the support! I completely agree with you, I'm just sad that those of us who try to raise these issues get branded as racists or bigots by people who either haven't thought through the complexities or are simply so scared to address them.

George consulted me about the asterisks and I have no problem with them, in fact I've used them myself in previous posts. More of an issue of not getting the page flagged up by nutters looking for 'other' stuff than freedom of speech.

The real freedom of speech issue here is that if I was to say what I've written in public I'd be lynched. As it is I'm more than a little concerned that I can be identified, but you can't very well post anonymously if you're writing on this subject.


I can well see why you're angry at your erstwhile friend's attitude. But I'd like you to pause and think about things for a little more than a moment. A shopkeeper I know opens his shop daily from early morning to late evening - his waking life is spent in the little slot behind the counter, and in over ten years he's had ten holidays in the literal sense - ten xmas days off. Imagine how that stunts one's mind! And I daresay a substantial part of the little time he has off during the week is spent in his religious community.

Isn't he a little like your friend? Although neither of you realises it, you might be his lifeline - one of very few people prepared to spend the time and take the risk to have a challenging discussion with him. If you desert him, how else will he get to know about - let alone come to understand your rational and secular ideas?

I'm sure you've read Dawkins's essay Viruses of the Mind or other stuff on his meme theory. Your friend, like most of us, is infected by some bad memes which need challenging by your good ones!

Good Luck!
I am sorry you had such a bad experience - but unfortunately not an uncommon one. The problem at the root here is one I am trying to address at the moment on my own blog, the attitude of (the bulk of) religionists to learning as opposed to dogma. If you want you can read and comment at
my blog

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