I am proud to be a European. Our culture has many faults, yet at the same time it has given the world so much. Science and democracy, equality under law and social inclusion simply would not exist without it. And across culture, art, science, engineering and technology, our culture remains a brilliant star, without which light, we would still be in the Dark Ages. I am very proud and lucky to be a part of that.
Despite this, I believed, for many years, that other cultures were equal.
But I was wrong. Culture is not a level playing field. The very qualities that define Western culture represent a system of morality, which allow us to judge other cultures. And we definitely should judge them.
The New Atheists, like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, the late Christopher Hitchens and many others, purported to offer a sane, secular attempt to roll back religiosity for the betterment of society. Instead, their efforts have begat the mother of all calamities.
How did this come to pass?
Scientific atheism, as promoted by the New Atheists, lacks any unifying central structure or code. Essentially it is based on a negative — not believing in God. So it can’t have a defining structure. Richard Dawkins, one of the most prominent New Atheists, tried to answer this with his ‘brights’ — which was an embarrassment. (Since at least 2014, Dawkins has self-identified as a ‘secular Christian’ anyway.)
After the Enlightenment and especially the French Revolution, European secularism based itself around Reason as the core methodology that would replace, in the minds of those who were atheist, religious belief. This reflected a rejection of hierarchical religious authority, which had begun in the Reformation. The works of philosophers like Descartes, Voltaire, Rousseau, Kant and Paine promoted the idea of the free-thinking individual whose intellectual scalpel was Reason.
The god proposition is supported not by fact, but by faith. At the end of the day, the final word that the religiously-disposed have is to say that “It is so because I believe it to be so,” before covering their ears. For them, this trumps everything.
This is the hook that caught Descartes when he confronted the issue, and then backed off very quickly. “I think,” he said, “Therefore I am.” This is fine. He is self-aware therefore he is sure he exists. He cannot be entirely sure that he exists as he perceives himself or that anything that is around him is as he perceives it, but he does make a very convincing argument, based on the progression of rational logic, that it is so (and thus takes several hundred pages to confirm what any pragmatist already knows. But that’s an aside.) However, when confronted by the idea of God, God must exist, he says “Because he cannot imagine a world in which he does not.” Oops.
Merry Christmas, Christmas, Yule, Saturnalia, Holidays…it doesn’t really matter what it’s called, because the meaning is the same: this is the time of renewal, when we slough off the old year and the wearisome encrustations that have built up and look forward to the new. It is the time when our sun, Sol, which has been slipping lower and lower in the sky, at least here in the Northern Hemisphere, stops, and begins to rise again, bringing with it the promise of warmth.
The only way for the Muslim community to resolve the problems caused by the rise of Islamic extremism and the predictable reaction to it, is to accept secularism and to reject shari’aa and the primacy of Islam over other cults.
The issue is not between a Christian majority and a Muslim minority, it is between a society founded on democratic principles and reason, an arch crowned by the keystone that we can change the laws that govern us by electoral mandate, and a religious minority that refuses to accept this, and instead insists that no part of the law, as expressed through shari’aa — because it is ‘God’s’ law — can ever be altered, even in one word. Only secularism can resolve this.
Today marks the first day in one of our greatest annual cultural events: the winter solstice. From now until the 25th, the sun will appear to hesitate before it once again begins to climb into the sky. That of course, is the reason so many solar deities have their birthday on the 25th—Mithras, Dionysus and Jesus Christ being but three.
But what you may not know is that while these three ‘dying and rising’ gods, every one of them an agricultural deity, are clearly men, the very first was not; she was a woman.
The earliest version I have found is in the Sumerian tale of the goddess Sul or Sud. This is not a Sumerian name and it’s unclear where she came from, but that doesn’t matter. As befits a goddess, Sul was staggeringly beautiful and at the peak of her fertility; she knew it was time for her to choose a partner.
The Hadith constitute the third pillar of Islam. They are ‘commentaries on the life of the Prophet.’ They are second in authority only to the Qur’an itself. The other pillars are the Qur’an and the Sirah . Together with the Sharia these form the ideological basis for the ‘religion of peace’.
Muslims believe that the Qur’an is the literal word of Allah. The Angel Gabriel transmitted it, exactly as spoken, to Mohammed. He memorised it because he couldn’t write. You make your own judgements as to how accurate his recall was likely to have been. (The Qur’an was not actually written down until some 80 years after Mohammed’s death, which is also worth considering.)
I am part of something greater, in a very real and immediate sense. It’s not so much a question of believing but of accepting the evidence in front of me. I am part of the Earth. The Earth is not just a core of molten iron covered in a crust of rock and water, with an outer gaseous atmosphere, though it is these things. It is a living system, an entity. And I am—we are all—part of that entity.
Consider what you are: you are composed of billions of individual living things called cells.
The Qur’an is the base text of Islam, which is today followed by approximately 1.2 billion people.
Most people know about the activities of so-called Islamic extremists, operating in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and, most prominently and gaining the most attention, in the Levant conflict zone, principally Syria and Iraq. But how extreme are they? Do they have justification for their behaviour from the Qur’an, as they repeatedly claim to?