Monday, 29 October 2007
Thursday, 25 October 2007
An interesting quote by Chesterton, taking up the "passive voice" in which events are reported. I don't think he is quite right; I don;t think it is a specially atheistical style, but a more common degredation of language (as Orwell noted in his Politics and the English Language). It is notable, however, that - as Mary Midgeley points out - Richard Dawkins in particular seems to avoid all talk of motivation. But Dawkins is not alone, all kinds of psychological explanations of people's actions have long tried to remove talk of motivation, and replace it with passive voice metaphorical constructs; these are slipped in as "scientific" because of the borrowing of the kind of terminology found in science.
The mark of the atheistic style is that it instinctively chooses the word which suggests that things are dead things; that things have no souls. Thus they will not speak of waging war, which means willing it; they speak of the "outbreak of war," as if all the guns blew up without the men touching them. Instead of saying that employers pay less wages, which might pin the employers to some moral responsibility, they insist on talking about the "rise and fall" of wages. They will not speak of reform, but of development. The atheist style in letters always avoids talking of love or lust, which are things alive, and calls marriage or concubinage "the relations of the sexes"; as if a man and a woman were two wooden objects standing in a certain angle and attitude to each other, like a table and a chair.("The Flying Authority" Eugenics and Other Evils)
Then again, the estimated 100 million people murdered in the name of atheism in the 20th Century alone so far surpass the collective abuses and persecutions launched in the name of Christianity over the past two millennia that the two are entirely incomparable not really a record of the joys of secularism that Dawkins or Weinberg are really interested in revisiting.
Wednesday, 24 October 2007
Richard Dawkins' Jewish Question by David Berreby
Posted October 16, 2007 12:58 PM (EST)
"A scientist looking at nonscientific problems,'' said the great physicist Richard Feynman, "is just as dumb as the next guy.'' That's not necessarily anyone else's concern -- unless the scientist in question is claiming to speak, with scientific authority, for the rest of us.
A fresh case in point is this analysis by Oxford's Richard Dawkins, from an interview published earlier this month in Britain's Guardian (see the sixth paragraph). As part of his ongoing campaign to get "downtrodden,'' apologetic atheists stand up for themselves, Dawkins suggests that we secular humanists emulate other minorities. For instance, the Jews:
"When you think about how fantastically successful the Jewish lobby has been, though, in fact, they are less numerous I am told -- religious Jews anyway -- than atheists and [yet they] more or less monopolize American foreign policy as far as many people can see. So if atheists could achieve a small fraction of that influence, the world would be a better place."
The historian David H. Fischer identified this kind of rhetoric as "the fallacy of equivocation.'' That's where, he wrote, "a term is used in two or more senses within a single argument, so that a conclusion appears to follow when in fact it does not.'' Dawkins starts with the "Jewish lobby'' (by which one presumes he means the pro-Israel lobby, from his later reference to foreign policy). Then he says "they'' are less numerous than atheists (so now the referent is not an office-full of people, but rather, American Jews). Then he qualifies the term to mean "religious Jews.'' We've gone from (1) AIPAC to (2) "the Jews'' to (3) Jews who believe in God and (4) Jews who follow traditional practice. (The term "religious Jews'' could describe both types of person, and there is no reason to think that everyone in category 4 is also in category 3.)
In short, quite a muddle. I cannot tell who we secularists should be trying to copy -- lobbyists, ethnically Jewish Americans, believers in a deity or people who hold to traditional practice without reflecting on ultimate questions. Only one thing is clear: By casually echoing the rhetoric of anti-Semites, Dawkins has made a fool of himself and, by extension, those of us for whom he claims to speak.
The interesting question is: Why? How could Dawkins, the holder of Oxford's Charles Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science, miss the differences among the kinds of people he lumps together, both in the Guardian interview and on the website? Those distinctions are well-documented. Pro-Israel lobbyists get plenty of support in the US from non-Jews (importantly including conservative evangelical Christians). Meanwhile, plenty of Jews, in Israel and throughout the world, do not support the goals of this lobby. Take a look here for an example. Then too, there are religious Jews who most emphatically do not support the State of Israel or its goals. Have a look here (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-berreby/www.nkusa.org/activities/), for instance.
As it happens, the potency of pro-Israel lobbyists has been much in the news lately, since John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt just published a long-germinating book that analyzes the effect of the lobby in the U.S. (You can read a shorter version of their arguments here. Briefly, they say lobbyists for Israel have been highly successful in influencing government policy -- as have the National Rifle Association or the AARP. Perhaps the controversy over their book inspired Dawkins' remark.
But they don't say what Dawkins is saying. In fact, Mearsheimer, offered a chance to say precisely what Dawkins claimed, instead explained that this picture is not supported by his and Walt's study. You can see him saying it here (http://www.milkandcookies.com/link/).
Anyone can get his facts wrong and later correct himself. But Dawkins' confusion suggests a deeper problem -- a conceptual misunderstanding about identity. That mistake may stem from his casting himself as a leader of downtrodden atheists. In any event, it explains why his movement is doomed.
The problem, briefly, is just this: Identity-based behavior is not a unitary phenomenon. It comes in many forms. And what people do in one mode does not predict what they will do in another. The forms overlap (you can be at the same time a Dawkinsian secular humanist and a Jewish person and an activist for Palestinian rights). We often use the same language for the different types. All that makes the fallacy of equivocation easy to commit. But it's still an error.
Dawkins' statement, for example, invokes at least three different modes of identity. First, there is identity based on a consciously chosen belief. (You've thought about U.S. policy in the Middle East and come to a conclusion about what you want the Government to do.) Second, there is identity based on habit and upbringing. Maybe you don't believe in God or approve of West Bank settlements, but you go to seder at your grandparents (it's family, it's childhood, it's what "we'' do). Third is identity based on a trait that is perceived to be involuntary, and often thought to be inherited. You can decide to support Palestinian rights or choose to go to the movies on Yom Kippur, but somehow, you feel, you can't change where you come from.
Identities of the second type, like knowing yourself to be Irish or Catholic or a Yankees fan or a hunter, come to you through early experiences, where you're taken through the rites and patterns of life that teach you "what we do'' and "who we are.'' Such identities are learned by the body, in sights, smells, sounds and movements that arrive before reason. The mode was well described by the philosopher Michael Oakeshott, when he wrote:
We acquire habits of conduct, not by constructing a way of living upon rules or precepts learned by heart and subsequently practiced, but by living with people who habitually behave in a certain manner: we acquire habits of conduct in the same way as we acquire our native language.
This sort of identity is rather impervious to rational thought and official declarations, and a good thing too. I, for one, am glad that my sense of being American -- my sense that home is home -- does not depend on the policies of the federal government.
Identities of the third type are imposed. They arise out of the encounters you have with the rest of the world; encounters you cannot refuse to see and cannot wish away. You can decide how to deal with such an identity -- whether, for example, you want to be an out and proud member of the GLBT community or a total closet case. But you cannot decide to leave such an identity behind you. The rest of the world won't allow it.
Now, atheism is an identity of the first type, the conscious, thought- out sort. That is the point Dawkins makes when he says we should not refer to a "Catholic child'' or a "Muslim child,'' because a child can't decide what s/he thinks about the existence of God.
The problem, though, is that identities based on opinions feel ephemeral, because opinions change all the time. With an identity based only on opinion, you have two unattractive choices: (1) Admit that tomorrow you could no longer belong to the tribe, because you might change your mind; or (2) admit that in order to preserve tribal feeling, you will have to behave as if your opinion is much more certain and consistent than a normal thought.
This second choice is what Dawkins advocated, I think, when he wrote this on his web site:
I admit, I sympathize with those skeptics on this site who fear that we are engendering a quasi-religious conformity of our own. Whether we like it or not, I'm afraid we have to swallow this small amount of pride if we are to have an influence on the real world, otherwise we'll never overcome the 'herding cats' problem.
But the problem with atheist solidarity (and the reason atheist groups are comically riven by orthodoxies, inquisitions, purges and schisms) is not that all members are nuanced, independent thinkers. It is that atheism, unlike sexual orientation or religious upbringing or beloved cultural tradition, is an easily-changed conviction, and everyone knows it. Dawkins can't admit this because he wants to lead his people into the Promised Land, and to do that he needs to have a people. He thinks atheists just need to go slumming, and pretend for a bit to believe the same thing. But identities that matter are not based on belief at all.
Most everyone knows this, and so very few people can take atheism seriously as a basis for understanding "what kind of person I am.'' Instead, the identities that make people glad, mad, and weepy are those about which people feel they have no choice: The identities they learn at their parents' knees, the experiences imposed on them by the beliefs of the neighbors. Not coincidentally, it is those identities that make people cough up money to support effective lobbyists in Washington. Identities like "hunter'' (National Rifle Association) and "gay person'' (Human Rights Campaign) and "old person'' (American Association of Retired Persons).
Could atheism be made then into such an identity? For example, by atheist parents who raise atheist children with explicitly atheist annual rituals and beloved cultural icons? (The standard American Christmas is fairly secular but it pretends not to be, so it wouldn't count.) Well, sure. You can make a convincing identity out of anything, if you put generations of effort into it. And perhaps, with his t-shirts, buttons, instructions for holding meetings, this is what Richard Dawkins is aiming at. In the meantime, though, he is fooling himself and making the rest of us secularists look like idiots.
Wednesday, 17 October 2007
Anglo-Romani is thus more a vocabulary, than a 'language' in the strict sense. It is used within the framework of English conversation, English sentences, and English grammar and pronunciation, thus: The mush was jalling down the drom with his gry. means 'The man was walking down the road with his horse.
- All distinctions of gender and case have been lost in Angloromani
- Inflected Romani has both prepositions and postpositions. The former e.g, əprey "up", təley "down", pâwdəl "across", &c.), have been retained in Angloromani, while the latter have been replaced by English prepositions, with the possible exception of -sa "with", which may, according to Smart & Crofton (1875:133) and Borrow (1874:58) function prenominally.
- As well as losing postpositions, Angloromani has also lost the reflexive possessive third person singular and plural pronouns which in inflected British (i.e. Welsh) Romani are pesk- "his/her own' and peŋ- "their own", as opposed to lesk- "his", lak- "her", leŋ- "their". Romani verbs belong to four classes, and are inflected for person, tense and number. In Angloromani the morphology is English, the native stem often corresponding to the third person singular present indicative in the inflected language. There is historically no infinitive in Romani, but in the Central and Northern dialects the third person singular has come to assume this function, cf. Czech Romani kamav te džal "I want to go", kamav jov te džal "I want him to go."
"Nowadays no English Romany that I know of can still speak or even understand the old Romany language that I described earlier in the book. The last three Welsh Romanies to speak the language perfectly without mixing any English or Welsh into it were Manfri, Howell and Jim Wood of Bala, Merioneth. They are all dead now. There are still a number of quite good Welsh Romany speakers around even today, but they all mix a certain amount of English and Welsh into their Romany, and their grammar is not as pure any more as that of the three people I have mentioned. To get an idea of what Romany was like at the time when it was still a language in its own right in this country, one has to study John Sampson's book, The Dialect of the Gypsies of Wales; and to get an idea of the right intonation of the language on can listen to a recording of a Welsh Romany conversation between Manfri and Howell Wood at Bala - recorded by Peter Kennedy, and available for students at the Sound Library, Cecil Sharp House, Regent's Park Road, London NW1. "
Wednesday, 10 October 2007
"You say you are a Muslim - so why aren't you wearing a veil?"
Wait a minute, I thought, I am the one who is supposed to be asking the questions.
My interrogator was Judge Isah, a compelling, wiry, figure at the centre of a hive of activity.
He works in the New Market Upper Sharia Court - a grand name for a somewhat careworn, faded avocado municipal building in Gusau, the capital of northern Nigeria's Zamfara province.
Sharia law - which is an Islamic system of law based on the ancient verses of the Koran - was introduced to the mainly Muslim state of Zamfara by Governor Ahmed Sani, after the defeat of the military dictatorship in 1999.
It was the first state in Nigeria to introduce Sharia. Ferocious fighting broke out and previously integrated communities were split along religious lines, leaving many dead and thousands displaced.
Initially hundreds of clerics had to be fast-tracked into presiding over these new Sharia courts as judges. However Isah Hamza Ismaillah Moriki is one of a new breed of judges in northern Nigeria who have completed a university law degree in both the Common law and Sharia law.
A devout Muslim, Judge Isah explains that Sharia is "a path which leads to Almighty Allah, so you cannot separate Sharia from Islam and Islam from Sharia".
Over the weeks I spent at his court, I witnessed the man's passion, his conviction, his wry humour, and the speed with which he administered his justice. And I was astonished by the extraordinary variety of cases he sees each week.
Land and matrimonial disputes
In one case, Sa'adiyya Ibrahim claimed that since her separation from her husband, he had refused to perform his Islamic duty of providing for her. He insisted he had.
In the end, the judge decided in her favour because she swore it was true on a copy of the Koran. Judge Isah - which literally means Jesus - was convinced the plaintiff would not risk divine condemnation by making a false oath. He ordered the husband to pay up, which he did without protest.
Westerners often assume that Islamic justice always discriminates against women. But many women in Nigeria turn to Sharia courts for help.
Judge Isah seems to be respected by all who visit the court.
His court works more like a community centre, where every morning he sees people in his chambers. His aim is to mediate and avoid unnecessary expensive court cases that clog up the system.
This plays an important role in more way than one. Sharia is attractive to local people because anyone can bring a case to court and represent themselves.
"In our Sharia law, we can summon anyone to appear provided there is an allegation to defend. No exceptions," explained Judge Isah.
Sharia is often perceived as oppressive and brutal by Westerners, because of punishments like stoning to death for adultery and amputations for theft.
One hot, dusty afternoon, I followed three young men being taken from the courtroom to the market square. They were convicted of alcoholism - strictly frowned upon in Muslim society - and received 80 lashes in front of a gathered crowd.
Judge Isah explained that public humiliation was part of the punishment. It also served to deter others who were tempted to indulge in vice.
"By stopping people from drinking alcohol, society will be in harmony and sanity," he said. "More over the sentence of 80 lashes is in the Koran so no one can question it".
Floggings may still be fairly common in Sharia law, but amputations are rare. According to the governor of Zamfara, they are meant to act as a deterrent.
"The objective of the law was clearly stated, the objective is not to punish but to deter people from committing offences," he said.
I found one amputee, Lawalli Isah, still languishing in the local prison, but when questioned about the severity of the punishment, he simply said: "It is in my religion, I accept it".
Today a thief in Judge Isah's court is more likely to be punished by imprisonment or lashings.
One defendant, Kabiru Bello, was accused of stealing a bag of biscuits. He insisted that it had fallen off the back of a lorry. He says he was attacked by a mob for stealing and taken to the police station who arrested him and allegedly beat him until he admitted guilt.
When it came to court, the prosecution failed to provide evidence, witnesses or a complainant to the crime. But what was most surprising was that Judge Isah didn't question what Kabiru said was a forced statement or the alleged physical beatings by the police. He took the statement as fact and was not perturbed by the possible mishandling of the case by the police.
The judge found the defendant only guilty of keeping the property for his own needs. The punishment for theft is amputation, but because there was no break and entry, Judge Isah gave Kabiru the lesser sentence of 10 lashes or a year in jail. Not surprisingly he chose the 10 lashes, which were immediately carried out in the court's courtyard.
Treatment of women
It is Sharia's treatment of sexual offences that has caused the greatest international controversy. In Islamic law, both adultery and rape require four witnesses to be present at the "act". A woman's evidence is still only worth half of a man's, and in adultery cases she cannot be a witness at all.
Soon after the introduction of Sharia to the northern states of Nigeria, two women were condemned to death by stoning for adultery. But, with the help of human rights activists their convictions were overturned on appeal to the federal Nigerian courts.
Most of the people that I met in Zamfara said they welcomed Sharia. It has cut down drinking and violence, and the court is no longer an intimidating place of wigs and gowns, doing business in a language that they do not understand.
After six weeks in Zamfara, I can see how Judge Isah's court functions well as a small claims court for this rural Islamic society. But my reservations about Sharia remain the same. For me, the sticking points are still the floggings and the amputations, and the undeniably unfair treatment of women in rape and adultery cases.
This World: Inside a Sharia Court was broadcast on Monday 1 October 2007 at 2100 BST on BBC Two.
Friday, 5 October 2007
I think this is one of the times that the solution will not come from within. The cup has been emptied of all but those who like the tea bag.
The tea bag needs to be thrown out by a bigger hand...
Wednesday, 3 October 2007
As formulated at the World Conference of the Re-evaluation Counseling Communities, November l989, Orlando, Florida USA.
- Attacks on any member, leader, or policy are not attempts at correcting mistakes, but rather dramatizations of distress. These are not acceptable behaviors within the RC Community.
These are dramatizations of distress patterns, and while an underlying motivation may be to attract attention and ask for counseling help with the distress, this is not a workable procedure and is not acceptable behavior.
- It is the job of all members of the RC Community to interrupt such attacks: this includes the interruption of gossip. In preparation, it is every member's job to counsel on whatever fears obstruct his or her ability to do so.
- Counseling resource should be offered to those participating in such attacks only on the condition of first ceasing the attacks and apologizing for having participated in the attacks.
Monday, 1 October 2007
Vernal Equinox: Easter, Passover, Eoestre (Saxon)
Summer Solstice: Midsummer (viz. A Midsummer Night's Dream), St. John's Eve
Autumnal Equinox: Mabon (Celtic/Welsh), Michaelmas (Feast of St. Michael the Archangel
What can we conclude from this?
First, the idea that the Christians "stole" Halloween (often quoted by newspapers again!) is historically incorrect. The different feast days (13th May, 20th April) demonstrate that.
Second, the idea that the move to November was to do with appropriating halloween from the Celtic calendar is also incorrect. The move to change came from Germany and England. In Ireland, where the Celtic influence would have been in place, and there would have been a feast day, it was 20th April.
So why did the Germans have November as the days for All Saints and All Souls? The move to November 1st took place under pressure from the Church in Germany, to create a festival for the gloomy days of autumn and early winter. The autumn Christian festival was invented and popularised by Einhard, Charlemagne's archbishop. Whether the new date coincided at the time with an established Pagan feast, later known to the Vikings as Winter Nights, is unclear. But the new German date shows, I think, the very human need for some kind of "light into darkness" celebration as the days draw in, get colder and bleaker, to remind us that darkness is not, after all, the final word.