Halal Schmalal

In Australia the Boycott Halal movement is making some waves. They demand that the Corporations Act 2001 be changed so that only Muslims bear the cost of halal certification on everyday products.

As with the Pegida movement in Germany, a potentially dangerous extremist group is picking up a real issue that is ignored by the mainstream and is generating political hay from it.

Indeed, the amount of food produce that is certified Halal is staggering. People who don’t know what ‘Halal’ certification means for a particular product will substitute their own idea of what it may mean. Since more and more products are certified, pretty soon it looks as if your traditional food is replaced by foreign, religiously tainted stuff. Which is usually not the case. More than 95% of all Halal-certified products haven’t been changed at all to meet the criteria.

So should we boycott Halal-certified food? Well, if becoming Halal means that some ingredients are changed, it’s perhaps a valid concern. Boycott the food if you feel that it has worsened, and the producers may change it back. If becoming Halal only means putting another sticker on the same tin, boycotting it is stupid. It’s the same product, it’s merely certified to comply with yet another silly superstition.

So what about forcing Muslims to cough up the cost for certification? That’s good old discrimination of a religious minority, and plain stupid. First, how could that work? If I’m a muslim but don’t buy Halal pecan nuts, do I still have to pay for their certification? Will there be a Mulsim tax like there was a Jew Tax in Europe? Let me give you a different example: would you agree to a bill that levies taxes on environmentalists to pay for ‘eco-friendly‘ certification in clothing? It’s that stupid an idea.

The food companies certify a product in order to sell more of it, and price it accordingly. It’s the producer’s decision to certify, and they pay the certification bill. That bill gets passed on to the consumer. You can choose to buy the finished product, or buy something different. But don’t blame a certain market segment (muslims) for a company’s decision. Here, the Boycott Halal movement simply peddles the formerly antisemitic Kosher Tax urban legend with a fresh coat of anti-muslim paint.

Jackasses. Well, at least they’re Halal.

George Stinney

Last Wednesday was a good day for George Stinney: after a long, protracted battle in court, he was finally cleared of all charges. The charges were serious: first degree murder of two pre-teen girls. But it was now established that Stinney could not have committed the crime. So all is well that ends well, right? Not quite. Stinney already has been executed. He was 14 years old when the state of South Carolina put him on the electric chair.

When people ask me why I’m against capital punishment, this is the second most important point: we can be wrong, but death is permanent. We can never be 100% sure. It is estimated that between 5-8 percent of all US death row inmates are not guilty of the crime they have been sentenced for. In 2012 the USA executed 43 prisoners, thereby killing at least 3 people that are innocent. Whoopsies? I think not.

That point alone should convince us to never execute a prisoner. So what’s the number one reason to abolish capital punishment?

Because we no longer are savages.

Merry Christmas to all

I’m off to celebrate Christmas. Yup – the believers don’t get it, my godson doesn’t care as long as his loot quota is filled – but everyone agrees that it’s Christmas, so that’s what we celebrate.

So Merry Christmas! to everyone – to my heathen, pagan, unbelieving and believing friends.

And especially Merry Christmas! to my jewish friends! I can see you grinning from here!


Atheist Xmas

It’s the time of the year again. The time where an important question comes up. A question that – so it would seem – has the deeply devout deeply confused (note: I didn’t write ‘deeply devout, deeply confused confused’):

Why are Atheists celebrating Christmas? 

Good point. Better point: what are believers celebrating?

If you are a Christian and think Christmas Day is the birthday of Jesus, remember

  • he wasn’t born on December 25th (well, there’s a 1/365 chance he was born on that day if he existed)
  • December 25th is winter solstice, a day pagans have been celebrating for at least 4000 years, much longer than Christianity existed  
  • Santa Claus’ origins are the Norse God Odin, the old blue-hooded, cloaked, white-bearded Giftbringer of the north, who rode the midwinter sky on his eight-footed steed Sleipnir, visiting his people with gifts. The midwinter sky-riding itself is a reference to aurora borealis (Northern Lights), also known as the mythical ‘wild hunt’.
  • the Christmas Tree is a north-european pagan tree-worshipping tradition that survived christianization 
  • so’s the Advent Wreath

So before you ask me why I’m celebrating Christmas, ask yourself why your celebration is defined by symbols of religions that you do not believe in. Because I celebrate for exactly the same reasons:

I don’t celebrate Christmas because of some superstition.

I celebrate Christmas because I’m happy that you exist.

Known Unknowns

One thing surely is funny. When you meet a believer, they always profess to know exactly what their god wants. They not only are absolutely sure that god exists, they also know what and how he or she thinks. By strange coincidence, what god wants is also always exactly what the believer wants. The believer can tell you this on good authority because, having a personal relationship with god, they have gained insight into how god thinks.

But when you ask a reasonable, perhaps even obvious, question, the narrative changes dramatically. Ask, for example, why so many children starve today, and god suddenly becomes mysterious. At that point, the believer doesn’t know what god wants or why he does it, and flatly states that no-one could ever know.

Yet that changes nothing.

You still should do what the believer wants you to do

Commie Constitution

Everyone’s favorite right-wingnut Rick Santorum, on his way to establish a christian theocracy in the USA, went on record in a conference call with this:

The word ‘separation of church and state’ is not in the U.S. Constitution, but it was in the constitution of the former Soviet Union.

Oh, those godless commie bastards! First, separation of church and state is not one, but five words. But that’s immaterial. In truly Monty Pythonesque manner Rick has proven before that he can’t be trusted to be able to count to three, much less above that exalted number. Five is right out.

Surprisingly, Rick, you are right – to a point: the US Constitution uses the words ‘wall of separation between church and state’ instead – in the First Amendment. For someone who allegedly wants to protect the Constitution, Santorum shows a remarkable lack of knowledge about what’s actually in it.

Well, in that he’s on par with most of his fellow devout Christians who profess to live by the Bible, yet have no idea of what it contains.

Right vs. Law

Professor Eric Posner of the University of Chicago Law School makes the case against Human Rights. In short, he claims that the Human Rights have failed, and that the world needs a more humble approach to replace our current effort.

It is, in essence, a lawyer’s view of a philosophical issue. His interesting, but in my opinion completely wrong argument was summarized almost ten years ago by George Carlin:

These are not rights; they are Privileges. Privileges!

Posner makes the same comment, but – as someone who implements law – draws the wrong conclusions. He argues that Human Rights aren’t – nor can ever be – universally enforced, and hence must be abolished in favor of a better, new (yet unspecified) construct. He may be right from view point of someone who considers case law a viable method of jurisprudence. He may even be right if you are primarily concerned with implementation versus ideals.

From an ethical standpoint, however, he’s completely off the mark. Yes, Human Rights, unlike Physical Laws, can be broken. They are rights, not laws, and it requires an effort to have them enforced. Most countries, including the USA, UK and most European countries don’t enforce them enough, or legislate around them (e.g. the USA allowed torture in the wake of 9/11 – as Posner points out).

Carlin was spot-on: Human Rights are privileges, and a country must be in a position of relative wealth to ensure them. No country is there yet; many are far, far away from the day where all human rights are universally enforced.

But abolishing human rights is throwing out the baby with the bathwater. As Rousseau once remarked, Good laws lead to the making of better ones; bad ones bring about worse. Human Rights are a good first step, and they have improved over time – proving Rousseau’s quote. We are where we are today after more than one hundred years of limited progress.

Human Rights, given enough ethical reasoning, become obvious once you start pondering the questions of what defines humanity. So the question shouldn’t be ‘what new construct should we use to replace Human Rights’, but ‘what must we change how to better implement Human Rights’ – even if we suspect that this may be a fool’s errant.

To give up and re-set would be phenomenally unwise. We can talk about replacing our current human rights with new constructs as soon as we have something that is objectively better. Until that day Posner is merely pointing out the obvious: our current implementation of Human Rights is lacking. Unless we have something better, we should stick with what we have and try to improve.

Christian Love

Muslims will tell you that their’s is the religion of peace. And Christians state that Christianity is the religion of love. In both cases, we’ll have to take their claims with a few rather large grains of salt.

Since it’s currently no challenge to disprove the ‘peace’ thing, let’s look at Christian ‘love’:

Many devout christians tell me that I have to let Jesus into my heart – by which they mean that I have to believe their preposterous claptrap and behave in their homophobic, misogynic ways. If I believe in Jesus, so they say, I’ll be saved and go to heaven when I die. If I don’t, I’ll go to hell.

Now, let’s look at the endgame. Let’s say you accept Jesus, I don’t. You are now in heaven, I’m in hell. You’ll experience bliss and happiness, I’ll be eternally tortured. Now what does that tell us about your moral standard if you can be happy in heaven, fully knowing that I’m suffering in hell?

Pretty much the same that it tells us about Christianity.

Stone-age dumb?

Every once in a while, I hear someone off-handedly making a disparaging comment, referring to someone who seems to behave stupidly as a ‘cave man’. It regularly comes up in a heated debate between believers and non-believers, when the non-believer, losing their cool, tells the religious person she is a ‘bronze age person’.

In this context, the intention is clear: the atheist believes the other person to be stupid, hence the bronze age epithet. However, I think that is phenomenally unjust – to the bronze age people. People at that time were as intelligent and smart as we were today. They lacked knowledge, so some of the things they did may seem stupid to us, but were actually results of brilliant reasoning. If you somehow could time-travel a toddler from 12’000 years ago into present day, and she then grew up with modern kids, you wouldn’t be able to a difference between the teen- and the stone-ager.

What infuriates the atheist to the point they resort to ad-hominems is that in stark contrast to the people who lived twelve thousand years ago, modern people have access to knowledge. Religious people choose to be ignorant; some of their actions are willfully stupid. Calling them cave-men is a complete uncalled-for insult to the memory of those brave hunter-gatherers.

Christian Taliban

After praying for the death of President Obama, faithful Christian Pastor Steven Anderson is openly calling for the death of all gay people. In his tiny, hate-filled mind, and supported by the Old Testament (Levicitus 20:18), which, according to Christians all around the world has been superseded by Jesus, Anderson thinks that murdering all gays cures AIDS. In his sermon titled AIDS: the Judgement of God, Anderson pontificates:

And that, my friends, is the cure for AIDS. It was right there in the Bible all along — and they’re out spending billions of dollars in research and testing. It’s curable — right there. Because if you executed the homos like God recommends, you wouldn’t have all this AIDS running rampant.

Well, except of course for the heteros who also suffer from AIDS and who outnumber gays 10:1. But don’t mind them. Because – reasons! And God! Anyway, Anderson’s messages of love are legend. Besides praying for President Obama’s death, Anderson has also railed against women speaking in churches (Anderson is leaving money on the table – the New Testament forbids women to teach), lectured his parish on the lying ways of Jews (he may have channeled Martin Luther’s On the jew and his lies here), and stated that all LGBT people are pedophiles.

I’ve encountered this amount of raging, rampant homophobia only in repressed, closet gays. Let’s hope Anderson recognizes the wrong in his ways and comes out of the closet before he kills himself.