No Need to Believe: Indonesia's Atheists

This article was originally published in The Jakarta Globe

At first glance, Karl Karnadi may look like any other 20-something trying to find his place in the world. It doesn’t take long, however, to realize there is something positively different about him. 

Consciously argumentative, eagerly opinionated and thoroughly knowledgeable, Karl stands for something many Indonesians still find utterly unfathomable: He is an outspoken atheist, and the founder of the rapidly growing Indonesian Atheists community. 

Karl, 29, does not keep his beliefs private, something many other Indonesian atheists have chosen to do in the face of frequent hostility. He makes no bones about his rejection of what he refers to as supernaturally infused beliefs, and he is passionate about fostering a fundamental change in Indonesia while remaining realistic about the challenges. 

Furthermore, Karl promotes tolerance, and is far less hostile toward religion than some of the world’s most recognized scholars of nonbelief such as Sam Harris, Daniel C. Dennett and Richard Dawkins. 

Established in 2008, Karl’s IA has 677 active members on its Facebook page who discuss the profusion of religiously related topics around the country. 

The IA community has also taken part in a variety of scientific and philosophical seminars and gatherings, and has expanded its ties with similar groups outside Indonesia. 

“We’ve built a network with other nonbelievers and humanist organizations in Southeast Asia,” Karl says. 

With other atheist associations in Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore, IA has established a joint Web site called Southeast Asian Atheists, or sea-atheists.org, which hopes to broaden the discussion among atheists from different backgrounds. 

“Starting last year, we have also affiliated ourselves with a global network called Atheist Alliance International, through which we build close contacts with similar communities around the world,” Karl said. “From Pakistan, Brazil, Ireland and Afghanistan, there are atheists and agnostics everywhere.” 

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Blasphemy laws protect religion from legitimate scrutiny

 Yesterday we shared a great article about Indonesian Atheists and its work to stand up for rational thought in Indonesia.  Today we heard that an Indonesian man has been bashed and may be charged with blasphemy after he posted "God does not exist" on his Facebook page.  Blasphemy laws restrict free speech in an effort to protect religion from legitimate scrutiny and criticism.  If religion could actually withstand rational appraisal it wouldn't need such protection.

‘God Does Not Exist’ Comment Ends Badly for Indonesia Man

Original published in The Jakarta Globe

An Indonesian civil servant who posted “God does not exist” on his Facebook page has been taken into police custody for his own protection after he was badly beaten.

The man, identified as Alexander, 31, now faces the prospect of losing his job, or even being jailed, if he fails to repent and accept one of six official state religions.

Blasphemy carries a maximum sentence of five years in jail.

Local media reported that when Alexander arrived at work at the Dharmasraya Development Planning Board (Bappeda) on Wednesday, a group of men, also understood to comprise government officials, attacked and beat him before police arrived and took him into protective custody.

Dharmasraya Police Chief Sr. Comr. Chairul Aziz told the Jakarta Globe that Alexander moderated a Facebook account titled “Ateis Minang” (Minang Atheists) and had written an update that “God does not exist.”

Chairul said he could not confirm the reports that Alexander was attacked but say that he had taken into protective custody to “anticipate anarchy.”

“Besides, he is also afraid of being intimidated or hurt.”

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Catholic Church Claims De-Baptism 'Impossible'

An official from the Roman Catholic Church claims that it is "impossible" to undergo "de-baptism" as a growing number of people in Western Europe and the United States request such a process. (See the related story: 100,000 Atheist Britons Seek 'De-Baptism' from Christianity)

Jeannine Marino, program specialist for evangelization & catechesis at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CP that atheists who seek to be "de-baptized" or "un-baptized" cannot technically do so. "From the Church's perspective, it is impossible to 'un-baptize' or 'de-baptize' someone because we believe that baptism permanently seals the person to Christ and the Church," said Marino. "People can stop participating in the Church, but we believe the grace of the sacrament has marked them forever."

One wonders how well the Church knows its own doctrinal scripture? Jesus is quoted in Matthew 12:31-32 that "blaspheming the Holy Ghost" is the one sin that can never be forgiven. An internet Youtube campaign to violate Matthew 12:31-32 by denying the existence of the Christian "Holy Ghost" went viral in the US in the 2000s, leading to tens of thousands of videos being posted on-line. In any case, the Church seems loathe to give up any of the numbers of followers they claim they have in support of the Church worldwide, even if it goes against Jesus' own mandates.

First national meeting of atheists in Brazil

On February 12th, next Sunday (the anniversary of Charles Darwin's birthday), Brazil will have its first national atheist meeting in several State Capitals.  So far, Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, Paraná, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Espírito Santo, Minas Gerais, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Goiás, Pará, Amazonas, Rondônia, Acre, Amapá, Maranhão, Ceará, Rio Grande do Norte, Pernambuco, Sergipe e Bahia and the country capital Brasilia have confirmed the event.

The event was planned by Sociedade Racionalista (official website of the event) and it has support  from several atheist/humanist/agnostic organizations such as LiHS (an Affiliate Member of AAI), ATEA, Ateus do Brasil,  Ateísmo pelo mundo (NGO) and the blog from Paulo Lopes, a well known atheist journalist.

"Mobilization to arrange the meeting -  despite of results it may have - shows that Brazilian atheists, specially the young, are starting to organize all over the country using the internet. The idea of the meeting was conceived on Facebook." says Paulo Lopes in his blog.

Sources: Paulo Lopes Blog and Ateus do Brasil.

Indonesian Muslims Call for Atheist Beheading

Alexandar Aan, a 30-year-old father and civil servant who was beaten, fired from his government job, and then arrested by local authorities for daring to declare "God doesn't exist" on his personal Facebook page, is now facing calls for his beheading by local Muslims.

The trouble began several weeks ago when civil servant Alexander Aan posted a message on the Facebook page of Atheist Minang, a group of Indonesians with godless beliefs. It read: “God doesn’t exist.”  The post so enraged residents in Aan’s hometown of Pulau Punjung in West Sumatra province that an angry mob of dozens stormed his office and beat up the 30-year-old. He was then summarily fired and later picked up by Indonesian authorities as part of an investigation of whether he violated the law by 'Insulting Islam'.  If convicted of blasphemy, he could face a five-year jail sentence.

But none of this has been enough for some Muslim extremists, who have now called for his beheading. “He has hurt the feelings of the people in Minang society and damaged the religious structure by his posting,” said the local head of the Indonesian Council of Ulama (MUI) Syamsul Bahri Khatib. The Indonesian Council of Ulama is the country's recognized authority on Islamic matters, and the secular government often follows the MUI's recommendations in matters of Islamic law.

Atheist Alliance International has called on the Indonesian authorities to end their persecution of Mr. Aan, as well as contacted several international human rights bodies and governments to put pressure on the Indonesian government. It has also started a legal relief fund for Mr. Aan's assistance. Supporters are encouraged to contribute to allow Mr. Aan the ability to defend himself and his human rights.

 

 

How Orthodox Judaism Treats Women as "Filthy Little Things"

The recent violent behavior of Ultra-Orthodox Jews in the Israeli city of Beit-Shemesh against women (in an earlier reported case an 8 year old girl who was spat on and called "whore") has escalated.

The woman attacked happens to be the sister of a friend of mine. This link in a recent series of anti-female attacks in Ultra-Orthodox neighborhood is especially grotesque when considering that as she sought cover from the mob in a nearby apartment complex, the inhabitants shouted and insulted her, causing her to flee and wait outside for the police to arrive. Although several suspects were arrested, all were released after questioning and the incident is no longer being pursued. 

The Ultra-Orthodox spokespeople have, predictably, come out to semi-condemn the violence while making sure to reiterate the inherent value of the Jewish perception of women. They say that Judaism, unlike secular culture, defends the honor of the woman by not letting her become a mere "sex object". None have condemned the background story which provoked this violence - the forced separation of women and men on public transportation by Orthodox authorities, relegating women to the back, of course.

For a brief representation of the Orthodox perception of women as "filthy little things", here is an op-ed by Yossi Sarid, ex-Knesset Member of the Meretz Party (which fights for secular rights and for the separation of Synagogue and State).

A recent poll has caused much public discussion regarding the religousity of the Israeli public and how it will effect the future of the country's identity. This poll is nothing but an indicator that fellow atheists and humanists in Israel need to start organizing themselves to become the voice of reason, if they want to prevent the submerging of Israel into the dark ages of the rabbinic authorities. 

ynet.com is the internet version of the Israeli Newspaper - Yedioth Achronoth, one of the leading, most widely read newspapers in Israel.
 
Haaretz is an Israeli newspaper, affiliated with the International Herald Tribune (owned by the New York Times), and recognized as one of the only official outlets of the Israeli left and secular population.

How religion poisons Brazilian politics

Originally published on the Secular Humanist League of Brazil's blog here.

In Brazil we’ve witnessed a growth in the number of national representatives elected in 2010 who only work to try and limit individual rights of women, gays and other minorities hated by biblical text. They are known as the “evangelical bench“. I would rather call them “theocratic bench”, since I know not all evangelical Christians think their beliefs should be forced down everyone’s throats, let alone by the power of a purportedly secular government.

Since we’ve got constitutional separation of church and state, we should at least hope their actions were halted. But often government is very dubious. In 2011, Marco Feliciano, a representative who is also a preacher, tried to pass a bill to make religious teaching mandatory for students in public schools. Fortunately, his bill was rejected at once.

On the other hand, public schools have been forced to offer religious teaching for decades, with no orientation whatsoever of what kind of teaching this would be, rendering a not so unexpected result of public tuition hijacked by religious proselytising, as has been proved by human rights scholar Debora Diniz. The law says students can choose not to attend religious teaching, but the truth is that most of them are not even informed of this right.

Another example of religious intrusion is that last July the governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro has approved a law that forces public libraries to have bibles in their collections. No such thing has been done in relation to the Quran or the Baghavad Gita, of course.

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Religion and Government, Gambian Context

As it is the concern of many atheist and free-thought organizations in other parts of the world, Gambia Secular Assembly concerns itself with the separation of religion from government.

In The Gambia, religion is so juxtaposed with government that one finds it hard to distinguish one form the other. This is manifested in the serious promotion and propagation of particularly of Islam, the dominant religion.

The Gambian State, largely supposed and believed by the population to be secular, has condoned the involvement of the State with religion. This is an unchecked involvement that extends to the State’s investment in the construction of a mosque on the grounds of a State residence – State House has an Imam (Islamic religious leader) paid from the government coffers to head prayers and conduct other religious services, such as the annual celebration of the birth of the 'prophet' of Islam, Muhammad named Maw lud al nabi in Arabic.

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Vatican continues to try to limit access to IVF, promotes a “natural alternative”

VATICAN CITY- 23-25 February 2012. The 18thGeneral Assembly of The Pontifical Academy for Life, a three day conference attended by 200 medical (alleged) professionals and Church representatives. The theme for this year was the Diagnosis and Treatment of Infertility.

On the agenda; NaProTECHNOLOGY (Natural Procreative Technology), a system proposed by Dr. Thomas Hilgers, which is supposed to assist women with infertility issues to achieve pregnancy more successfully than in-vitro fertilization (IVF).  IVF (involving the fertilization of ova outside the woman’s body and the transfer of the resultant zygote to the uterus) assists women with blocked, severely damaged or no fallopian tubes, facilitates the use of a donated ova and can also overcome infertility caused by endometriosis or issues with sperm.

The (alleged) research behind NaPro was done at The Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction, in Omaha, Nebraska, USA. This institute, which provides a service within the “moral framework” of the Catholic Church, was founded in 1985 by Dr. Thomas Hilgers, who is also its Director.

Dr. Thomas Hilgers claims that NaPro’s success rate is two to three times higher than for IVF. If this claim is true NaPro would be a major breakthrough in reproductive health technology and welcomed by doctors and many couples who are unable to conceive naturally.  Yet the NaPro website admits there is no peer reviewed medical or academic literature that supports its approach (in the text under a heading misleadingly titled Peer-Reviewed and Academic Literature That Supports NaProTECHNOLOGY). 

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Boko Haram and the threat of political Islam

Originally published in the Daily Times

Nigeria’s most deadly Islamist sect, Boko Haram, has just detonated mutiple bombs in the city of Kano. Curfew has been imposed and the city, the state and the entire nation is engulfed in tension, fear and uncertainty. Several lives have reportedly been lost. This group appears unrelenting in its murderous campaign.

Kano has joined the ranks  of northern states -Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Plateau, Niger where the terror of Boko Haram holds sway. Religious crisis orchestrated by Muslim fundamentalists is not new to this northern city but these attacks have brought a frightening dimension to Islamic militancy in the region.

The Spokesperson of Boko Haram, Abdul Qaqa, told journalists that they carried out the attacks on the city because the authorities had refused to release their members arrested and detained by the police. So with these attacks, Boko Haram has sent very clear signals to the authorities in Kano and beyond- “Capitulate”, “Surrender”, “Do our Bidding”, “Join forces with us”, “Embrace our cause” or “Be destroyed”.  Since last year, Boko Haram has carried out bomb attacks on several institutions including the UN building and police headquarters in Abuja. This militant group has targeted churches and southerners or anyone they percieved to be opposed to their cause of implementing sharia and enthroning  political islam. It has declared a war on anybody, muslims as well as non muslims, opposed to or critical of its cause. This is characteristic of the totalitarian nature of political Islam- a social political and economic order based on Sharia.

A fringe movement that started with a group of Islamic preachers on the streets of Maiduguri a few years ago, has turned to a real threat to Nigeria’s corporate existence and a terror to the world.

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Thank you AAI supporters!

Thanks to generous donations from many AAI members and supporters renovations at the Kasese Humanist Primary School in Uganda are going very well!

AAI received a report from the school today noting that the kitchen and new toilets have been finished, and renovations are underway on a school dormitory so that children can board at the school - beds have been ordered and fencing of the area is in progress.  Also, 20 class desks have been purchased for the new P.7 class.

Ply-woods being fixed as partitions of the rooms. Bwambale Robert, the school Project Director is seen in the photo above supervising the renovations exercise.  

You can see more photos through the school's Flickr account: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ kasesehumanistprimaryschool.

All donations to support the Kasese Humanist Primary School are greatly appreciated!  You can donate through AAI's Directed Donations option here.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

www.thecultofmargaret.org

11 February 2012: A day to defend free expression

The One Law for All 11 February rally for Free Expression is being held in London from 14:00-16:00 hours at the Old Palace Yard opposite the House of Lords. The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain fully supports the action. Speakers are: Richard Dawkins (Scientist); A C Grayling (Philosopher); Alex Gabriel (Blogger); Anne Marie Waters (One Law for All); Caroline Cox (Peer); Derek Lennard (Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association); Faisal Gazi (Spittoon.org); Gita Sahgal, (Centre for Secular Space); Hasan Afzal (Stand for Peace); Jennifer Hardy (Queen Mary Atheism Humanism and Secularism Society); Jenny Bartle (National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies); Jim Fitzpatrick (MP); Kate Smurthwaite (Comedian); Kenan Malik (Writer); Lilith (Poet, Anti-Injustice Movement) ; Marco Tranchino (Central London Humanist Group); Mark Embleton (Atheism UK); Maryam Namazie (One Law for All and Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain); Nick Cohen (Writer); Nick Doody (Comedian); Pragna Patel (Southall Black Sisters); Rashid Ali (Centri); Rhys Morgan (Student activist); Roy Brown (International Humanist and Ethical Union); Rupert Sutton (Student Rights); Sohaila Sharifi (Equal Rights Now); Sue Cox (Survivors Voice Europe); Sundas Hoorain (London School of Economics Atheist, Secularist, and Humanist Society); Susan Zhuang (University College London Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society); Terry Sanderson/Keith Porteous Wood (National Secular Society); and Yasmin Rehman (Campaigner). There will also be messages from Jesus and Mo creator and Richard Dawkins. Iranian Secular Society’s Fariborz Pooya will be the Master of Ceremonies.

Taslima Nasrin attacks 'cancer' of censorship in Indian society

 Taslima Nasrin - writer, feminist, atheist and a speaker at the upcoming 2012 European Atheist Convention - has attacked the "growing cancer" of censorship in Indian society.

"Writers and artists have become the soft targets of religious extremists," she said. "The authority tries to appease either Hindu fanatics or Muslim fanatics in India. All the political parties have different agendas, but they have no agenda or intention to value freedom of expression. It's a dangerous race, who can violate free speech more."

The relevant article in the The Guardian is here.

First National Atheist Meeting in Brazil

Recently Brazil has experienced how organization through social networks is resulting in protest and events in the real world. The first big event that comes to mind is the “March for the laic Government” that took place in August 2011. Since then, we have had public events against corruption, for feminism, and the latest - to gather atheists.

The idea of the event, according to Stiphanie Silva, is to meet each other and organize. “We need to get out of the closet, show we are good sons and daughters, parents, that morality is independent of faith” says Silva, who is a member of Sociedade Racionalista, the association responsible for the event organization.

 

On February 12th (Charles Darwin’s birthday) several States held atheist meetings, each one organized by local atheists. The places were usually public parks, and in most of the cases the activities were decided during the meeting. Among them, speeches from participants and debates were the most common.  Atheist meetings have happened before, however, this was the first time coordinated meetings occurred all over the nation on the same date - and it was mentioned in the press.

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Teachers, Be Not Afraid

Across the US, representatives in state Senates and Houses of Representatives are attempting to legislate curriculum that would substitute mythology for science in biology classes by teaching creation instead of evolution.  By mandating curriculum in this way, Christian representatives could circumvent state boards of education, comprised of experts who set scholastic standards in our public schools.  The Christian base, preaching to their representatives, chant, “Teach the controversy,” demanding our schools be forced to teach creationism alongside evolution because they believe that their disagreement with experts is equivalent to a disagreement among experts.  It isn’t, of course.  No more than a high school classroom is the place to discuss scientific controversies (assuming, for the sake of the argument, a controversy existed).  It should be obvious—though it isn’t to everyone—that the place for that kind of discussion is in the field, or a dissertation, or a peer-reviewed journal, where cases are judged by experts on the quality of the evidence, not by laypeople on the circuity of the reasoning.

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