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    Women and Authority
    By Robert H Olley | July 15th 2014 05:41 PM | 46 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Robert H

    Until recently, I worked in the Polymer Physics Group of the Physics Department at the University of Reading.

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    A recent article by Nury Vittachi, Scientists discover that atheists might not exist, and that’s not a joke, received rather a lot of comments.  Among these were a few about the place of women in the world: however these tended to be lost among the welter of other comments.  Indeed, the article seemed to attract a large number of orcs.  Now in some ways I am a highly discriminatory sort of person, and here I am discriminating between trolls, who simply like to post on threads to wind people up, giving vent to their mischievous nature, and orcs, who attack in force against those whom they perceive to be the enemy.

    In the present instance, most of the orcs were professing atheists, very much riled by the suggestion that they might not really exist.  However, in this category I also include those posting from a “creation science” standpoint, and presumably objecting to the idea that we humans are all naturally religious as part of our evolutionary heritage.

    Were I Kinky Friedman, I might try to settle the issue by composing a song “Why did God make man so like a monkey?”, but (a) I lack his talent, and (b) I want to clear this matter out of the way and get on to the matter of women in a world (apparently) ruled by men.

    In Britain, we have had two major changes in the position of women.  Firstly, the General Synod of the Church of England has voted to allow the election of women bishops.  Now this may be right or it may be wrong, but the arguments put forward for it I have found far from convincing.  These days, so much of this legislation seems to be forced through by an appeal to an axiom of equality.  And since even mathematical axioms these days are found to rest on shaky foundations (see for example Mathematics: The Loss of Certainty by Morris Kline), I do not find this at all satisfactory.

    The second change is that our Prime Minister, David Cameron, has had a massive cabinet reshuffle and replaced a lot of “middle-aged white males” by somewhat younger women.  

    Now my own reaction to these two items is rather different.  I do feel quite “iffy” over the matter of the bishops, but I am not uncomfortable with the idea that it might be better if the majority of senior positions in government were occupied by women.  Whether that is true or not, it does seem that women are being shoe-horned into a system of government by men.  In A Miscellany of Men (1912), G.K.Chesterton wrote:
    Female suffrage may be just. But if it is just, it is just because women are women, not because women are sweated workers and white slaves and all sorts of things that they ought never to have been.

    Let us ask ourselves first what we really do want, not what recent legal decisions have told us to want, or recent logical philosophies proved that we must want, or recent social prophecies predicted that we shall some day want. . . . If there ought to be female suffrage, let it be female, and not a mere imitation as coarse as the male blackguard or as dull as the male clerk.
    I have just had a look at a Wikipedia list of Women who are heads of government.  Rather more than I thought, but is this a sign of movement in the right direction?  In Asia at least, many of these are what I have heard referred to as “Begums”, being there because they are daughter of this man or wife of that man, “that man” generally having died, often having been assassinated.

    And is the only way forward for a woman still to say, as did Lady Macbeth, “unsex me now”?
     

    Comments

    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Firstly, the General Synod of the Church of England has voted to allow the election of women bishops.  Now this may be right or it may be wrong, but the arguments put forward for it I have found far from convincing.  These days, so much of this legislation seems to be forced through by an appeal to an axiom of equality.  And since even mathematical axioms these days are found to rest on shaky foundations (see for example Mathematics: The Loss of Certainty by Morris Kline), I do not find this at all satisfactory.
    Why do you not find this at all satisfactory Robert? You don't explain the reason for not being convinced that women should be allowed to be elected as bishops other than that you seem to object to them being seen as equal based on an axiom of equality? Not all people have equal abilities so why should men and women have equal abilities? Some women will be better than some men and vice versa but preventing all women from being allowed to be elected as bishops regardless of their abilities has to be unfair unless you are saying that not one single woman has the ability to be a good woman bishop?
    The second change is that our Prime Minister, David Cameron, has had a massive cabinet reshuffle and replaced a lot of “middle-aged white males” by somewhat younger women.  
    Now my own reaction to these two items is rather different.  I do feel quite “iffy” over the matter of the bishops, but I am not uncomfortable with the idea that it might be better if the majority of senior positions in government were occupied by women.  Whether that is true or not, it does seem that women are being shoe-horned into a system of government by men.
    Why would you feel 'iffy' about women being allowed to be elected as bishops but not at all uncomfortable with women being shoe-horned into senior positions of government? I personally am very uncomfortable with the idea of the wrong people being either shoe horned or simply occupying any positions of power primarily because of their sex, unless the role can only be performed by one sex or the other, like a sperm or egg donor for example.

    I prefer people to be placed in these positions of power that you mentioned above either as bishops or as senior government officials simply because they are the best person for the job, regardless of which sex they are. Surely that is also the most logical and mathematically justifiable solution, based on the mathematical axiom of equal opportunity as provided by a well balanced coin or dice used in mathematical probability experiments? 

    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    rholley
    Hello again Helen!

    I’m afraid it will take a little while to reply to the points you have made here.  The ideas are already nucleated in my mind, but I find it quite difficult and slow to turn ideas in my head into written text.

    However, this was in part an opportunistic article, taking advantage of those two news items.  What really roused me from my torpor was your reference to the matters of FGM and demographics.

    A few days ago, we heard of the death of Nadine Gordimer, a South African writer who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991.  In an interview she said something to the effect that to be a writer one had to have the ability to get inside the other person’s skin, or to see through the other person’s eyes (I forget the exact words.)

    In the last half-century (almost) I have mixed extensively with people from Asia and other continents.  Perhaps through my extensive mixings, I have acquired something of that ability, and so I am instantly aware of why so many efforts to communicate with people in those cultures are likely to backfire.

    But perhaps she was too modest to mention one other qualification — the ability to write!  “My tongue is the pen of a ready writer” it says near the beginning of Psalm 45.  Alas, that does not apply to me.
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    If you take a look at Nury's blog now, you'll see the religious orcs out in force, damning all unbelievers to eternity in hell and generally demonstrating their more forgiving nature. However, I won't dwell on their ineptitude, nor their shallowness.

    I'm trying to figure out why the issue of gender should be framed within the context of "right" or "wrong". It would see that the issue should be one of qualification. Similarly with all the other categories of individuals that we like to classify so much. While Linnaeus may be useful to improve our biological knowledge, the tendency for humans to classify everything has a decidedly negative effect since it seems to only focus on the notion of exclusion.

    It seems that people professing various beliefs need to stop being so judgemental and examine themselves before they make pronouncements about others and their choices. It seems there is something in the teachings of Jesus making such a reference. Of course, it would be nice if only qualified individuals were placed in positions of responsibility, but that seems to go against the belief systems governing politics. However, I don't see gender superiority occurring on either side, so hopefully by allowing greater equality amongst the individuals that wish to perform such jobs, we might get lucky and find actual qualified people, and they might even be of the opposite gender.

    rholley
    So far, I have only found one referring directly to hell, plus the thread that followed from their comment.
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    That's true. Usually it's the tone that conveys the message, rather than the explicit words.

    Until you come to repentant faith in the One True God, until you admit that you have sinned against the ultimate authority of life, you will continue to be the judge of Him...but I warn you, He is the Judge of all, and I hope and pray that you find that out before you take your last breath.

    However, I won't distract from your blog by pushing this any farther.

    Hank
    Well spoken. People will have a hard time reconciling why something that might be completely agreeable, but done for the wrong motivations, is not good for anyone.

    We get that a lot about American Supreme Court decisions. No matter how badly written a law was, if it matches the agenda of people in culture, they insist it must be allowed.

    My concern with Greg Clark replacing Willetts as UK minister for universities&science is solely that he has voted to fund homeopathy. Critics will contend that he is a conservative, so conservatives are now anti-science about homeopathy just like liberals, but he replaces a conservative that even Richard Dawkins liked.

    When I mentioned the 'hey look, conservatives are anti-science also' part on Twitter, I got a reply from Jeremy Lott of Real Clear Religion:

    John Hasenkam
    Now this may be right or it may be wrong, but the arguments put forward for it I have found far from convincing.  


    From a biblical perspective I don't see how it can be justified. I haven't read the Bible in a long time and my understanding is that the Bible is clear on the issue that women should not hold such positions(same for homosexuality). This isn't about biblical teaching, it is about the Church caving in to cultural pressures. 


    As for the rest of society, it is not subject to the demands of the Bible. 
     

    I don't think the bible is much of an authority on this subject, because there was no church, most certainly not protestant churches, on which to base such a claim. As a result, most everything represented by the church is based on human interpretation and quite limited regarding anything more "official".

    John Hasenkam
    For evangelical christians the Bible is the ultimate reference source. Paul makes it clear in Corinthians that women, in the church at least, must remain subject to men. Otherwise the Church has been wrong for 2,000 years. 
    What do you mean "no churches". Was St. Paul writing to imaginary churches with his epistles?
    Technically the only "official" church at that time was the Catholic church founded by Peter. All the subsequent protestant churches are based on variations in human interpretation and clearly were not addressed in the bible. As a result, since there is clearly enough latitude to allow for such variations, then it is reasonable to say that the edict against females is equally flexible.

    After all, some of the differences are quite significant, such as the issue of transubstantiation and the controversies surrounding baptism. So, if these can be interpreted away, then so can gender.

    John Hasenkam
    "official church". By whose definition? The apostle Paul referred to Corinth, Phillipia, Ephesians, Galatians, as "Churches". These churches probably existed before the Roman church was established in any clear way, its dominance arising with Constantine some 200 years latter. There was no over arching management of Church doctrine way back when he wrote the epistles, that probably begins with the Councils of Nicea and Chalcedon. You can't arbitrarily define what constitutes the "official church". Protestantism isn't relevant, it emerges at least 1,000 years later. 
    If the Church feels free to change its tune to accommodate the cultural milieu then it soon no longer becomes  a christian church but a social club. It is very much heading that way. In Denmark a study claimed 1 in 4 priests didn't believe in God! What's the friggin point of making hay about the bible as the Word of God if you change your interpretation to please the greater mob? 




    Truthfully I don't have a dog in this fight, so it doesn't really matter to me. Since I don't believe in any such church anyway, it's irrelevant what they believe and what they think is "official". I was only raising the point that most of what constitutes today's "religions" (or denominations, if you prefer) were formed much later, as you indicated, and consequently the bible cannot be the source in describing their rules. This certainly applies to the Church of England, so while it may not be relevant from a purely historical perspective, it certainly is from the perspective of choices made in modern day churches.

    John Hasenkam
    I have no dog either Bear. I am using your points about how the Church changes its interpretation to reveal that the further the Church goes down that road how pointless Faith becomes. When the church was more unified dogmatically there was much less wiggle room but since the emergence of people like Hume and the development of Science the Church has essentially been on the back foot and keeps sliding away, forever doomed to miss the mark and become increasingly irrelevant. The data certainly paints that picture in advanced countries: less and less christian affiliation with each decade. Even in the USA there is now a trend away from religion. 
    Strictly speaking the church has never had a consistent understanding of the bible. They counter this by arguing that them thar people over there are heretics, we are beholders of the True Word of God and if you don't believe us we'll make you believe us or you'll die trying to avoid believing ... . 
    UvaE
    Indeed, the article seemed to attract a large number of orcs.  Now in some ways I am a highly discriminatory sort of person, and here I am discriminating between trolls, who simply like to post on threads to wind people up, giving vent to their mischievous nature, and orcs, who attack in force against those whom they perceive to be the enemy.
    Part of the reason that it attracted "orcs" is because of the title. I commended the author for how well he handled the avalanche of negative comments, and I hope my own criticism was directed at his weak thesis and not at him personally because he seems sincere.


    A law professor I once met referred to the practice of attacking the ideas and not people as "principled negotiation". I and many others on this site have been guilty of abandoning that approach. It's not healthy for democracy. 
    rholley
    Hello Enrico!

    First, I hope you like this recent Telegraph cartoon following our PM’s cabinet reshuffle.

    Seriously, though, when dealing with issues like the ones that Helen has raised, one simply cannot manage if everything is being drowned out by the noise of the orc-estra.

    However, I am not totally in agreement with the validity of “principled negotiation”, especially when (a) dealing with unprincipled people (b) dealing with matters of ethics, morality or religion.  One does need to take into account the perspective ad hominem, or in some cases ad pithecum.

    Take for example Erwin Schrödinger, of whom it is written:
    On the personal side Schrödinger had two further daughters while in Dublin, to two different Irish women. He remained in Dublin until he retired in 1956 when he returned to Vienna and wrote his last book Meine Weltansicht (1961) expressing his own metaphysical outlook.
    During his life he behaved like a tomcat, and insofar as his World Outlook may have dealt with sexual morality, that outlook would be from his undone trouser flies.
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Not to be pedantic, but I've noticed an increased usage of the phrase "ad hominem" as a rebuke against some commenters. This is incorrect.

    Verbal abuse or insults are not "ad hominem" attacks, since the use of "ad hominem" is a fallacy that is used in an argument by attacking something about an individual as a means of negating their argument. For example, to say that someone is an alcoholic and therefore a particular argument about politics is invalid would be "ad hominem". To simply call someone an idiot is just verbal abuse and is not a logical fallacy.

    rholley
    A good point.

    Alas, this thread has just about gone dead, while Nury’s has almost collapsed under its own weight.  And it’s starting to get late, so soon it will be a case of

    Ein, Zwei, Polizei,
    Drei, Vier, Grenadier,
    Fünf, Sechs, Posh und Becks,
    Sieben, Acht, Gute nacht,
    Neun, Zehn, Schlafen gehen.


     
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    HedgehogFive
    Although in law rather than philosophy, how's this for an ad hominem?

    While giving evidence at the trial of Stephen Ward, charged with living off the immoral earnings of Keeler and Rice-Davies, the latter made a famous riposte. When the prosecuting counsel pointed out that Lord Astor denied an affair or having even met her, she replied, "He would, wouldn't he?"
    While I don't doubt Nury's sincerity, much of the difficulty was of his own making. He intended to be provocative and he was. However, he never "owned" it. Instead of engaging in debate, he perpetually deflected criticisms and twisted comments back to suit his own agenda.

    I'm not suggesting that any of this was mean-spirited, but instead of engaging in a discussion or even debate, it simply exacerbated the situation by continuing to ignore opposing views, while politely dismissing those same opposing opinions. This is also in evidence when looking at how many requests he had for supporting documentation, where he tended to list general nonspecific references, but still offered no link or inclination to engage with anyone except those that already agreed with him.

    If he had even slightly acknowledged his own culpability in creating such a firestorm I suspect that most comments would have been more moderate.

    UvaE
    If he had even slightly acknowledged his own culpability in creating such a firestorm
    He did that in at least one response, but that wasn't enough.
    rholley
    Enrico,

    Yourself and the Bear really seem to be going for Nury.  But “firestorm” makes me think of WW2 bombings, and blaming him for it seems to be heading in the direction of

    „Anglio!Twoje dzieło”




    With this poster — “England, this is your doing!” — Dr Josef Goebbels (no less) is telling the Poles that the invasion by Germany is all the fault of Britain.
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    UvaE
    Ah yes,  Goebbels, the master of propaganda. I don't think we're guilty of that! I'm not even an atheist; I'm agnostic.
    rholley
    Propaganda?  Certainly not yourself, Enrico.  I don’t have any internal “personality profile” for The Bear, so I can’t comment in his/her case.

    I am, rather, referring to a trap into which one can find oneself falling.  One case where my own foot almost slipped is too contentious to talk about on Science 2.0.

    Regarding Dr Goebbels, though, please enjoy this cartoon from 1945: http://www.cartoons.ac.uk/record/GA0032






    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    UvaE
    I read a little more about Goebbels. What a spooky character he was!
    Does a writer bear no responsibility for what he writes? Is a philosopher not culpable for his logic? Nury was not merely a messenger. He specifically wrote about a topic that everyone knows is controversial and then proceeded to ignore the views of half his readers.

    Instead of the Goebbel's poster, I'd be more inclined to think in terms of the old adage "If you can't take the heat, then get out of the kitchen".

    Opinions are trivially easy to encounter today, but when someone can't even be bothered to articulately argue in defense of theirs, then I have little sympathy for their self-inflicted difficulties.

    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    A recent article by Nury Vittachi, Scientists discover that atheists might not exist, and that’s not a joke, received rather a lot of comments.  Among these were a few about the place of women in the world: however these tended to be lost among the welter of other comments. 
    As Robert pointed out, he wrote this article about women and authority and the place of women in the world and in particular we were discussing the place of women in religion and as Robert has also pointed out :- 
    'Alas, this thread has just about gone dead, while Nury’s has almost collapsed under its own weight. '
    In my humble opinion all humans should have  the basic right of equal opportunities to occupy all prestigious positions in society and they should be promoted into these positions based upon their ability to do the job. If ultimately more men make better politicians, priests, vicars, immams, mullahs or even ayatollahs then so be it but at least allow those women who may be equally good or even better at doing the job to at least be allowed to apply and be judged according to their abilities not according to their sex.

    The interpretation of all religious scriptures has to evolve along with modern societies or alternatively condemn its believers to perpetually living in the dark ages. In Nury's article I posted two links to two muslim women describing how they are still being barbarically intimidated into living in the dark ages as second class, oppressed and traumatised citizens by sexist, religious men, not by any God that they believe in. 

    As I understand it my comments and in particular these Youtube videos about religious female oppression and inequality are partly what prompted Robert to write this article about women and authority, so it seems only appropriate that I should again post those Youtube links to those heart breaking soul destroying videos here. 

    The first one is called 'MUSLIM WOMAN TELLS THE TRUTH ABOUT ISLAM' the second one is called 'The Inconvenient Truth About Islam From an Ex-Muslim Woman'. Would anyone here like to defend the way that these women have been oppressed and treated so appallingly by religious muslim men in the name of religion? Please don't reply to this comment unless you have watched these videos, I am not interested in subjective opinions from people who have not seen the empirical evidence being discussed, this is after all basically a science article on a science outreach website!
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    rholley
    Hello Helen,

    Have received and read this, but for the next day or two I am busy.  But in the meantime I hope you will appreciate this cartoon from today’s Telegraph.
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    UvaE
    The interpretation of all religious scriptures has to evolve along with modern societies or alternatively condemn its believers to perpetually living in the dark ages.
    But they haven't, Helen. And they show little intention of changing. Presently, all organized religions are sexist. Moreover, if there is a god, no religion is in tune with it nor with the people it supposedly serves. 

    French Quebecois have gone secular in one generation and have not become less caring people. Up until the 1950s they were kept rural and uneducated by a corrupt Church and government. Now most don't attend mass; many don't even rely on religious services before living together. (In 2006, 29% of Quebec families had common-law couples--not married). Yet, the province has generous social services for the disadvantaged (the programs are not always managed in an optimum way, but the intent is in the right spirit) and when a recent government tried to cater to the xenophobia of a minority, the party was voted out swiftly. 
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Then the problem seems to be modern day religions that refuse to be modernised. I just watched this Youtube video called '11 Year Old Child Bride Speaks Out Before Being Killed' and I am terribly saddened, how can such archaic behavior towards any child by 'religious' men be justified by any modern religion? Its difficult to believe that this child is not telling the truth or is acting, hopefully it is not true that she has been killed since making this Youtube. Even if this Youtube above is a fake these child brides and marriages do exist.
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Well the 11 year old child bride that escaped that marriage was still alive in this subsequent Youtube video called 'Yemeni Child Nada (who Fled Forced Marriage)&Egyptian Cleric DEBATE CHILD MARRIAGE'. Hopefully that is still the case.
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Nury Vittachi

    Robert, you are very brave to take such a controversial point of view regarding women. My wife would eat you!

    My two cents:

    From an evolutionary point of view, the great religions are far and away the most successful organizations in the history of humanity.  To dismiss them as silly or evil (as some do) makes no sense.

    The secret of their success is evolution—they change constantly, so first century Buddhism is vastly different from 6th century Buddhism or 17th century Buddhism. Same for Islam and Christianity.

    They develop in the most healthy way possible, by swings between conservatives and the progressives. One side says: “Not sure about having women imams” and the second says: “But let’s try” and change happens at “Goldilocks speed” — ie, the right evolutionary speed.

    Robert is playing his part by being healthily skeptical about accepting change, and Helen is also doing the right thing by pushing for positive changes.

    I just think we are all part of the great evolution-driven machine — which is what I tried to say in my previous piece—but said so badly, I must admit!

    THE_BEAR: You say I left many comments unanswered. This is a fair criticism, and I do apologize. I started off trying to answer all the non-abusive ones, but a family problem intervened. I had to arrange a funeral in two cities while chairing a conference in a third. This meant I was online only for a few minutes a day. Sorry. 

    After logging back on yesterday, I noticed that much of the discussion was far more learned than I could be, so my absence seemed to be an enormous benefit!

    Nury

    My sympathies for your loss. I know how difficult that can be.

    Regarding your comment about the world's religions.

    From an evolutionary point of view, the great religions are far and away the most successful organizations in the history of humanity. To dismiss them as silly or evil (as some do) makes no sense.

    The secret of their success is evolution—they change constantly, so first century Buddhism is vastly different from 6th century Buddhism or 17th century Buddhism. Same for Islam and Christianity.

    This presumes too much. As human population growth increased, obvious social changes had to occur, ranging from agriculture to the rise of the city-state. From this we see humans organizing themselves as nations, etc. Religion is simply another political force, which uses the guise of "spiritualism" as an organizing principle. However, this isn't how it actually plays out.

    Most religions focus on a deity, whose primary purpose was to support and assist his "chosen" people (i.e. the faithful) as protection against other groups. This is precisely why we see many wars escalated as conflicts between beliefs, as well as the role of such beliefs in assuring individuals of the "rightness" of their cause. This is exemplified by people like General Boykin, who upon entering a battle against a somalian warlord claimed:

    "I know my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his God was an idol."

    This is further illustrated by the role of religious belief in those that perpetrated the 9/11 attacks in the U.S.

    That such organizations evolve is hardly unique to religions, and they obviously can only evolve at "Goldilocks speed", because there is no other speed. However, all such change occurs because of dominant forces and not because it's the "right thing to do". There's even a kind of selection that occurs because the opposition is quite often simply killed off.

    It is also an illusion that somehow modern day change is any less violent. Instead, as with most organizations, violence is invariably employed to advance an agenda. So in that respect religion is a political force, just as the secular belief of patriotism performs comparable functions in advancing the agenda of a particular people.

    While some individuals may certainly take these beliefs to heart and actually try to live according to their stated principles, they are just as readily ignored when they prove to be inconvenient. Despite the professed claim about no killing, there has never been any shortage of members in any religion that have refrained. Of course, this is to be expected, because it is precisely what is taught by these religions when dealing with "unbelievers".

    To many, religion may seem silly, but religion is also one of the most dangerous social developments that has occurred among humans. Even today, it does a tremendous amount of harm and becomes entrenched in ways that make true social evolution more difficult and dangerous. So while society may look to evolve to accommodate changes in people's behaviors, religion is the anchor that holds them in place, allowing the continued abuses of individuals in the name of a higher power.

    I cannot and will never support any claims of a higher deity that "manages" the world by standards lower than my own. The suffering of people should not be put off by suggesting that they will obtain justice in an afterlife. Unless and until religious people actually stand up and act on their professed beliefs in non-destructive ways, they are simply an obstacle to achieving a useful human society.

    Religion simply provides no benefit. Many people claim that religion gives them comfort and hope. I would disagree, and argue that this comes from a personal belief and has little or nothing to do with actual "religion". In fact, the majority of people that claim allegiance to a particular religion, often know very little about it's actual tenets, which is precisely why they can believe all manner of absurdities, ranging from their sense of angels to the notion that one can petition God for favors.

    Humans are far from perfect creatures, but by acknowledging their deficiencies, they can take steps to ultimately correct them. Religion allows them to maintain that their imperfections are sanctioned by a higher power, and therein lies its true harm.

    UvaE
    The secret of their success is evolution—they change constantly, so first century Buddhism is vastly different from 6th century Buddhism or 17th century Buddhism. Same for Islam and Christianity.
    Most forms of Buddhism seem less organized and dogmatic than the other major religions, so it's been less prone to the pitfalls of the others. The evolution that major religions have experienced has been superficial. They have never formally declared their respective and contradictory creation scriptures as mere myth, leaving the door open for literal interpretation by people of every religion.


    But far more importantly, other than paying a bit of lip service, with all the power, influence and wealth they have had, have they ever taken major action to stop discrimination, genocides, wars, overpopulation and environmental degradation? 


    If you have evidence to the contrary, present it to me, and I will take them more seriously.

    Nury Vittachi

    Enrico, my late mother and her side are all Buddhists, and they have all the same quirks, good and bad, as the rest of us!


    To try to answer your question:


    There are so many books by historians which place religion in historical context. Religion underpins the world legal system, world literature, the scientific method, the democratic process, philosophy, medicine, and so on — but I’m sure you know all that. 


    You can't be asking me to list those books.

    So instead, perhaps it will be more meaningful to give you two examples from my personal experience.

    The media says Westerners pushing their religion are said to be causing huge hardship to gay people in Uganda. 

    I went to Uganda to see for myself.

    It was nothing like I had read.

    The locals described homosexuality as “the white man’s disease”, said it didn't exist before whites arrived, and it was clear the government had a monstrous attitude to gay people.

    The only groups I found actively helping gay people were Christian, and had a “no conversion” policy (ie, everyone got the same help). 

    The thousands of media articles about Uganda seemed to have been written from thousands of miles away, literally and metaphorically.

    Second, FGM (female genital mutilation) is said by the media to be a “religious” problem. Most of us accept this, without question.

    Until we talk to FGM campaigners, such as the Orchid Project. They say it is an unhealthy social convention with no connection to any religion (they likened it to foot binding in my part of the world). 

    And who are two of the biggest groups doing incredible work fighting FGM? Save the Children and Oxfam — yes, two religious charities.


    I'm involved with lots of NGOs and the difference between what the media tells us and what happens on the ground boggles the mind.

    Also, I live in Hong Kong, where almost all the hospitals and schools are built by Buddhist and Christian charities. 

    The negative feelings towards religion that are so strong in the West are rare in Asia and Africa, where religions are seen primarily as extremely welcome dispensers of no-strings charitable, medical and educational help. 

    Religion underpins the world legal system, world literature, the scientific method, the democratic process, philosophy, medicine, and so on — but I’m sure you know all that.

    While this is a frequent claim, the reality is a bit less so. First, it is incorrect to conflate the fact that a particular individual was religious with the claim that religion is responsible for what they achieved. That simply isn't true.

    I would also question what the basis is for claiming religion as the basis for the world's legal system. There is little to nothing in religious code that hasn't been addressed by countless societies, because there's nothing particularly important being said that hasn't been said before. It would be preposterous to suggest that it was religion that was responsible for opposition to murder or theft.

    As for many of the other claims, I would like to see actual documentation rather than merely assertions.

    The media says Westerners pushing their religion are said to be causing huge hardship to gay people in Uganda.

    You're somewhat mistaken here. There is no media error, since it is quite clear that there are a huge number of Christian supporters in the U.S. for Ugandan policy. That's the point. That doesn't mean that Uganda's issue is directly related or instigated by religion, but for all the good works that religion may be doing, there are also a significant number of religious groups that are fighting against it. So, the media is correct in their assertion and it's another example of the inconsistency when referring to religions and their beliefs.

    It's also a bit problematic that you seem to present charity organizations as being the sole province of religious groups. There are also atheist charities and those that have no religious affiliation. I'm sure no one has a problem with any organization doing charity work, but let's be clear that this isn't the only thing that religions do. Bear in mind that Westerners don't live in a religious vacuum. We are quite intimately familiar with religion and it's political influences as well as the impacts it has on everything ranging from gay rights to abortion. So, to argue that Asia doesn't have the same negative feeling is a bit strange, since we aren't comparing the same things. I suspect it would be different if religious organizations were also attempting to make the political decisions there.

    My intent isn't to denigrate the good works that people of all stripes do, but too often, it is presented as a religious-only effort and that simply isn't true. Charity does not require religious beliefs. However, let's not overlook the fact that the church [especially in the U.S.] has earned a fortune by their tax-exempt status, so that they can exploit their wealth even more. Even then, much of the good work is sometimes undone by the bad things done in other areas. Again, these aren't simply made-up allegations.

    Of course the problem is exacerbated by the fact that most religious activity simply isn't as innocuous as you present and it is this singular failure to acknowledge these failings that disturbs many people. One thing that is annoying is that many of the same individuals in the states that complain so vehemently about government taxation have no problem with being taxed by the churches themselves in the form of a tithe. So, while they applaud the charities of the church, the denigrate the efforts of government to try and increase the equality of its citizens. As a result, we have the view that when the government takes taxes it is thievery, and when the church takes it it's charity. Go figure.

    UvaE
    my late mother and her side are all Buddhists, and they have all the same quirks, good and bad, as the rest of us!
    I'm referring to the institutions, and I am not ranking followers by any stretch of the imagination.



     
    rholley
    Enrico,

    That is rather glib and superficial thinking.  At the moment I am trying to write something on polymer crystallization, and I have never been a fluent writer.  The only time I ever managed to dash off a paper in one go was after a Greek party, and that was long ago.  These days my constitution does not allow such consumption of beer or wine.

    Trying to sort out my thoughts resembles this picture of polymer solidification (photographed recently from a textbook).  They are all there, but constrained by being parts of polymer molecules, all entangled in a viscous melt, and from which they can only sort themselves out by a process known as reptation (from the same root as ‘reptile’, i.e. creeping along like a snake).

    The same applies to answering your remarks there.  I might drop in something or other as it occurs to me, although I am more concerned to deal with points raised by Helen.


    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    UvaE
    That is rather glib and superficial thinking.
    "Glib" implies insincerity, Robert. I mean everything I have said, and I'm judging institutions, not individuals.  As I've mentioned, during their Quiet revolution Quebec freed itself from the Church, which I assure you had done more harm than good to them----read the history. And they have not become a less moral society, as I referred to in a previous comment.

     
    Meanwhile in town, there is an Italian church which, to this day, still has Mussolini's painting hanging above the altar! Why? Because he gave them money to build the place! 


    When I was in daycare, I  saw a nun  clobber a kid with a ladle for speaking out of turn. I was locked in a closet for having a slight fever. Of course priests of the Catholic church have done far worse things to children, and their superiors just covered things up. 
    I can go on with what I've seen in Catholic schools...but this is a science site. Why are we wasting time talking about religion?  
    rholley
    Why are we wasting time talking about religion? 
    In a nutshell (I’m replying to Helen) why am I taking time?  Because in Britain, there is a sceptic tank of media personalities, comedians etc, who take every opportunity to swipe at religion, and affect an interest in science.


    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    UvaE
    In a nutshell (I’m replying to Helen) why am I taking time?  Because in Britain, there is a sceptic tank of media personalities, comedians etc, who take every opportunity to swipe at religion, and affect an interest in science.
    Sure whatever.....I'll spare you the pain of further comments, forever and ever, Amen.

    rholley
    Enrico,

    I feel also that I owe you an apology over the use of the word “glib”.  I did NOT mean to imply that you are insincere.

    I have looked up its many definitions in the Oxford English Dictionary.  It appears that I was using it in a more old-fashioned sense, such as
    Easy, meeting no obstruction; off-hand.  ‘Well-oiled’, ready and fluent in utterance.
    and:
    Easily ‘swallowed’, plausible. Obsolete.
    Regarding the whole dictionary entry, there is a warning notice: This entry has not yet been fully updated (first published 1900).

    Perhaps that applies to my brain also!

    P.S. and I do take your point about Fascism.
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    rholley
    Helen,

    (It’s your turn — other commenters will have to wait)

    I have looked at your videos featuring the Middle Eastern ladies, and it is not so easy for me to comment.  This is because most of my understanding of the worlds of Asia and Africa does not come from our Western media, but from talking to the people themselves.

    I came to Reading in 1972, and met lots of Arab students, and made diligent efforts to learn the language.  From about 1980, things got more difficult.  Sudan, ruled by Gaafar Muhammad an-Nimeiry, was becoming increasingly hard line, and was sending no more students to the UK.  And Iraq was becoming a more tightly controlled place, so it was more difficult to interact with the students.

    That was the time that China was starting to open up, and from then more and more Chinese were coming to Reading, and I started to learn that language instead.

    So perhaps, when my brain is refreshed, I might be able to suggest why the West has lost what “street cred” it might have had in cultural dialogue.  But I am not good at the broad sweep of things — focussing on details is more my style.

    The Arab lady in the video from Saudi Arabia talked about the system of education — memorize and don’t ask questions.  Unfortunately, we in the West do not know how to ask questions.  On the contrary, what we have is expressed by G.K.Chesterton in The Ethics of Elfland:
    For this reason (we may call it the fairy godmother philosophy) I never could join the young men of my time in feeling what they called the general sentiment of revolt. I should have resisted, let us hope, any rules that were evil, and with these and their definition I shall deal in another chapter. But I did not feel disposed to resist any rule merely because it was mysterious.
    (It might be worth your reading the whole chapter.  Perhaps it will begin to shed some light on why I am still “iffy” about women bishops, while in most things I might call myself a post-feminist.  Recently on Classic FM they were interviewing the trumpeter Alison Balsom, and to my mind concentrating far too much on her being a woman in music, when I was much more interested in what she had to say about the Baroque Trumpet, of which she is an advocate and I am a fan.)

    The Chinese author Lu Xun wrote:
    The statesman hates the writer because the writer sows the seeds of dissent.  What the statesman dreams of is to be able to prevent people from thinking, and thus he always accuses the writers and artists of upsetting his orderly state.
    Maybe so, but on the other hand mindlessly sporting Che Guevara shirts is hardly thinking.  Have you seen on Aussie TV our lovable duo the Hairy Bikers?  One of them, on a culinary trip to Argentina, even acquired a tattoo of that famous image.  More recently, they did a trip to Asia.  Engaging they certainly were, but from my acquired Asian perspective I could not help but be embarrassed for Britain by some of their cultural clumsiness.  But it would require a digression on multiculturalism to explain the deficit in their thinking.)

    But mostly, they’re good clean fun.  However, when I was in the sixth form, a comedy stage review called Beyond the Fringe and its offshoots in the broadcast media were all the rage among the “bright young things”.  Since I was, at the school level, a bit stage-struck, I was asked to perform in a school revue based on it.  But looking at the title reminds me of the Irish island Inis Mór.  I don’t know if this picture is it, but at the coast there is a large stone semicircle.  Now why would anyone build a half-moon shaped enclosed right against the sea?  They didn’t — it was originally a whole circle, but the Atlantic has eaten away the cliff so now half of the original enclosure (possibly for cattle) has now been washed away.



    And I was thinking, push the boundaries one way, and you find green grass, push them the other, and you’re over the cliff.


    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Thank you for replying to me in such detail Robert, I will try to do the same by dissecting your comment and responding to each part accordingly :-
    I have looked at your videos featuring the Middle Eastern ladies, and it is not so easy for me to comment.  This is because most of my understanding of the worlds of Asia and Africa does not come from our Western media, but from talking to the people themselves.
    I came to Reading in 1972, and met lots of Arab students, and made diligent efforts to learn the language.  From about 1980, things got more difficult.  Sudan, ruled by Gaafar Muhammad an-Nimeiry, was becoming increasingly hard line, and was sending no more students to the UK.  And Iraq was becoming a more tightly controlled place, so it was more difficult to interact with the students.That was the time that China was starting to open up, and from then more and more Chinese were coming to Reading, and I started to learn that language instead.
    So perhaps, when my brain is refreshed, I might be able to suggest why the West has lost what “street cred” it might have had in cultural dialogue.  But I am not good at the broad sweep of things — focussing on details is more my style.
    So am I right in thinking that you feel that you must have in depth knowledge of the cultures of Asia and Africa from talking to the people themselves and not from just reading, watching or listening to Western media before you can comment on the subject of female oppression by religious men in these videos and the vocal pleas for help and understanding from these oppressed women and girls? 

    If I am correct, you are reflecting here on interactions you have had with Arabic and Asian students in the past at Reading University in England, where you started learning both arabic and asian languages and you feel that those interactions may have also given you some insight into why people in the West may have lost credibility in contributing to this dialogue about Arab and Asian cultures? You then say that this insight you have developed covers a broad perspective but that you are concerned that you might have difficulty with making broad generalisations because you prefer to focus on details.
    The Arab lady in the video from Saudi Arabia talked about the system of education — memorize and don’t ask questions.  Unfortunately, we in the West do not know how to ask questions.  On the contrary, what we have is expressed by G.K.Chesterton in The Ethics of Elfland(It might be worth your reading the whole chapter.  
    Not sure what you are saying here Robert? I certainly know how to ask questions because freedom of speech and asking questions is a basic human right for men and women alike in most western cultures and I have been lucky to have enjoyed that basic human right.
    The Arab lady in the Youtube video that I linked to above is a news broadcaster who is primarily complaining that the religious cleric who is also being interviewed and the muslim religious council that he claims to represent, wants her face to be completely covered in future, except for her eyes which must not be wearing any makeup. The religious cleric says that this is because seeing her face and even her eyes wearing cosmetics might lead some religious men to feel temptation. The Arab lady is objecting to this covering of her face on TV, she feels it would obliterate her identity. I agree with her!

    I feel perfectly confident in saying that looking at a woman whose face is completely covered, except for her eyes, obliterates most of her identity for me and for anyone else. For example, it would be impossible to legally identify her in a police identity parade after she had read the news, as someone else with similar eyes could put on her clothes and hijab, which BTW appropriately means 'partition' and could then appear to be the same news broadcaster, so her identity could hypothetically be legally and scientifically obliterated. I also wouldn't recognise her if I later saw her without her hijab. I don't have to understand Arabic or Asian culture to make that broad observation about this cultural practice in a comment here and I don't see why you need to either Robert? Imagine this woman reading you the news, would you feel comfortable? Lip reading is also an important aid for many people when they hear a person speaking and a veil in front of the mouth could muffle the sound of her voice. This is after all a science site, so let's keep it as scientific as possible shall we?

    Its true that later on the Arab lady questions whether the intensive schooling in Arabic schools that apparently concentrates almost entirely upon mass rote learning of the Koran scriptures may detract from the same people developing the ability to intellectually ask questions and develop a better understanding of Islam. She proposes that understanding and questioning should be encouraged more than intensive rote learning alone and surely most of us in the west would agree with her on that too? There is also psychological scientific evidence to support her view, regardless of whether we have personal insight into Arabic and Asian cultures. But that is a secondary topic and not what I am questioning here. We are talking about women and authority and the right of religious men all over the world to use their authority to oppress women by preventing them from having equal opportunities in society.
    Perhaps it will begin to shed some light on why I am still “iffy” about women bishops, while in most things I might call myself a post-feminist.  Recently on Classic FM they were interviewing the trumpeter Alison Balsom, and to my mind concentrating far too much on her being a woman in music, when I was much more interested in what she had to say about the Baroque Trumpet, of which she is an advocate and I am a fan.)
    Robert, these religious clerics are asking for this news readers face to be covered simply because she is a woman! If she was a man they would not be asking him to cover his face even though his face might be a temptation to women and gay men. That is why we are talking about women reading the news, I agree that whether it is a woman who is playing the trumpet is probably not important unless she is playing it with her vagina or being forced to cover her face while she is playing it.
    For this reason (we may call it the fairy godmother philosophy) I never could join the young men of my time in feeling what they called the general sentiment of revolt. I should have resisted, let us hope, any rules that were evil, and with these and their definition I shall deal in another chapter. But I did not feel disposed to resist any rule merely because it was mysterious.
    I don't think that making a woman cover her face while playing the trumpet or reading the news are mysterious rules. I think they are ridiculously ludicrous rules and that if they are being proposed by religious men and as a result women are being cruelly oppressed simply because they are women then it is everyone's responsibility in the West and elsewhere who is not oppressed in this way, to speak out, support and if necessary revolt against what are basically inhumane and oppressive rules. 

    Look what happened to the young muslim woman university student in the Youtube video that I posted above, who simply said she didn't want to wear a long veil. She was imprisoned for 3 years, then after 2 years in prison she was beaten and then raped five times and during this horrendous crime by religious men in authority, she had her leg broken and was denied medical treatment for days while the wound festered, consequently she is permanently disfigured and maimed as well as psychologically traumatised but still she dares to speak out. What amazing bravery that is on her part! Why wouldn't you feel qualified to support her cry for help and support just because you are not an expert in her culture and religion? How can forcing a child of 11 to marry and to have sex with a grown man against her will as was the case in the other Youtube I posted above be justified or authorised by these religious men in authority or anyone from any modern culture or religion?

    When I was a university student in England we regularly marched and protested about Nelson Mandela for example being unfairly imprisoned in South Africa. Some of the people on those protests probably wore Che Guevara t shirts, so what? Pictures of inspirational people from the past often inspire other people to emulate them and their actions. Why else would there be so many pictures and statues of Jesus Christ on the cross? Why do so many people wear crucifixes?
    The Chinese author Lu Xun wrote: Maybe so, but on the other hand mindlessly sporting Che Guevara shirts is hardly thinking.  Have you seen on Aussie TV our lovable duo the Hairy Bikers?  One of them, on a culinary trip to Argentina, even acquired a tattoo of that famous image.  More recently, they did a trip to Asia.  Engaging they certainly were, but from my acquired Asian perspective I could not help but be embarrassed for Britain by some of their cultural clumsiness.  But it would require a digression on multiculturalism to explain the deficit in their thinking.)
    The statesman hates the writer because the writer sows the seeds of dissent.  What the statesman dreams of is to be able to prevent people from thinking, and thus he always accuses the writers and artists of upsetting his orderly state.
    Just because we didn't personally live in South Africa under an Apartheid regime did not mean that we could not see that the apartheid regime and culture of racial oppression was wrong. That unfairly discriminating against a person simply because of their race or colour was and is terribly wrong, just as unfairly discriminating against women because of their sex is also terribly wrong.The culture being discussed is irrelevant, equal opportunities and freedom from unfair discimination are basic human rights and people all over the world who have any sense of justice should protest and if necessary revolt against evil oppression by people in authority whether they are religious or not because without people acting in this way in the past many of us would not be enjoying the democracy and basic human rights that we have now.
    And I was thinking, push the boundaries one way, and you find green grass, push them the other, and you’re over the cliff.
    I'm afraid that I disagree with you Robert. We all have a responsibilty to keep questioning unfair oppression and trying to build better boundaries for the future which are based on science and reasoned humanitarian thinking and are not based on religious claptrap or fascist oppression!

    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Nury Vittachi
    Love the images (verbal and visual) in the comments above.

    On the subject of women and authority (and bringing in Helen’s Muslim angle) may I share a joke from Asia, which may be relevant?

    ***

    Mo’s marriage is famously happy.

    Abe asks: “What’s the secret?”

    Mo (short for Mohammed) says: “She deals with the small questions, I deal with the big ones.”

    Abe (short for Abdulkarim) goes home and suggests this to his wife. She throws him out of the house.

    Abe returns to Mo. “Tell me again, what’s the secret of a happy marriage?”

    Mo says: “She deals with the small questions, I deal with the big ones.”

    Abe is puzzled. “Can you give me an example?”

    Mo says, “Sure. She decides where we live, what we spend, how many children we have, etc. I decide on ‘Big Bang’ or ‘steady state’, dualism or monism, ’Multiverse’ or ‘Fine-tuned universe’, etc.” 

    ***

    This describes my household perfectly. 

    Is it different in the West?


    rholley



    Nury,

    In regard to your story, I love the Nasr-ed-Din stories from Iran.



    In regard to why the West has such difficulty making the case against maltreatment of women in Africa and Asia, rather than the long-winded stuff I came out with two or three days ago, this came to me this afternoon.  Do you remember the furore surrounding the film Submission (2004)?  It is a strange idea we have in the West, that somehow we will convince the wrongdoers of their error by presenting them with what they will immediately regard as an item of soft porn.

    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    While I don't want to be argumentative, doesn't this entire premise represent extreme irony?

    Isn't this supposed to be the function of their religion? Why kind of religion promotes abusing others? What kind of interpretations permit such abuses?

    If the religion is that vague regarding it's philosophy regarding how one should behave, then it seems that there isn't anything anyone will be able to do to change anyone's mind. Personally I'm always put off by how quickly someone is willing to kill over their religion, but somehow can never find it within them to actually live by its creed of love and forgiveness. It is telling that the director of Submission was murdered by someone that disagreed with his views in the movie. Calling for jihad, and including virtually everyone that they conceived of as infidels.

    It seems that these religions have a lot of explaining to do and much to be accountable for. If they can't evolve to behave in a civilized fashion, then perhaps they should go extinct.

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