Gods Deconstructed

Beliefs and their objects, dismantled.

Archive for the month “June, 2012”

On Harassment and Policies: A reply to a letter written by Todd Stiefel.

Thoughts on reading a guest post on Friendly Atheist by Todd Stiefel, President and founder of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation.

Once again I have read an absorbing and intelligent post by a member of the freethought community on the problems associated with harassment, especially sexual harassment. Of one thing I am sure, atheists, freethinkers and humanists will attract more than their fare share of perverts who think they can get away with their criminal acts without punishment because atheists, freethinkers and humanists ‘don’t believe in that stuff’. To a certain extent they are correct; members of the community do not believe in supernatural punishment. However, punishment in this world and in this life is a very different matter and can and should be meted out with the maximum force an organisation or criminal and civil law has available. The community must not be seen as a soft touch.

Trouble is, developing policies and procedures, as Todd points out in his post, is a complex and time consuming business. Start condemning ‘offensive language or behaviour’, for instance and you defeat one of the community’s greatest weapons when confronting religious extremists. Who defines what is or what is not offence? For behaviour in one situation may be considered normal and in another unwanted attention. Offence is a phrase that is almost impossible to define, attracts argument and counter argument and will result in policies and procedures taking an unacceptably long time to develop. Regrettably, I am becoming convinced that some members of the community think policies must be extraordinarily simple to draw up. They would not last 2 minutes in the hurly-burly of politics.

And that brings me to my main point: those attending conferences cannot rely on policies and procedures coming into force speedily, and when they do eventually arrive they will be contested, argued, counter-argued and refuted for months, maybe years to come. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, unless delegates take personal precautions, like attending in small groups of like-minded individuals and, without embarrassment, being willing to disrupt proceedings and talks immediately something as potentially criminal like being groped under the table or inappropriately photographed occurs sexual harassment will continue and, regrettably, get worse. It is all very well saying: ‘They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it!’ but without actually doing something about it the line sounds as if it could have been delivered by an actor in the film Life of Brian.

Some brief observations on policies I have already seen.

  1. We do not and never will live in a perfect world. If anyone thinks that by being atheists, freethinkers or humanists we can create a perfect world they are sadly mistaken. Nor will drawing up policies and procedures bring kudos and congratulations to your particular organisation. Policies are always a result of compromise and negotiation if they are to be effective.
  2. Organisations combining together to present talks, discussions or conferences must thrash out policies that can be applied to every event they organise together. Having separate policies and procedures for each organisation will only result in a legal minefield.
  3. I have seen little mention of attitudes and behaviour towards the person. Harassment and abuse must be considered a personal attack and not related to criticism of a belief or idea. However, criticism of a belief or idea could constitute harassment if it is deemed to be more than could be described as fair. This must be addressed (see 5).
  4. At least one policy* fails to mention religion. That could in itself attract civil action from someone complaining that they were abused because of their religion.
  5. There must be a clear and definite delineation between harassment and criticism. A delegate must be aware that ideas and beliefs can be criticised as long as no personal injury or offence is implied or given. There is nothing wrong with fair criticism of attitudes and beliefs as long as the delegate expressing the attitude or belief being criticised is given fair right of reply. This must be included if religion – and it is required by law in many countries or states – is included in the harassment policy of an organisation.

My advice, get professional advice from a lawyer before blundering on and threatening the finances and security of your organisations.

* A list of policies can be found on the article referred to this post:

On Harassment and Policies: An Open Letter to Skeptic and Freethought Leaders.

Ruben Rosario: Where’s the Catholic Church I used to know? – TwinCities.com

A Catholic pleads for a return to sanity in America.

‘ At least that wacky North Carolina pastor, the one who endorses putting gays and lesbians into electrified pens to kill them off, put his mouth and his church tax-exempt status on the line when he publicly urged his congregation not to vote for Obama, whom he assailed as a “baby killer and homosexual lover.” ‘


Ruben Rosario: Where’s the Catholic Church I used to know? – TwinCities.com.

Thoughts on a blog post by Taslima Nasreen

Is science a stupid-girl thing, European Commission?

My comment on Taslima’s post:

When I consider the situation regarding women in science I always come back to the same example: Rosalind Franklin. Here was a woman whose work was instrumental in enabling Watson and Crick to claim they had discovered the double helix of DNA yet they received the Nobel Prize and Rosalind Franklin was ignored. Why on earth should women want to enter a career where they will work hard but be usurped by men?

The greatest fallacy is that women are less intelligent than men. Because they have smaller heads than some men? Rubbish! It is impossible to generalise. Any apparent physical differences between the brains of some men and some women cannot be considered absolute because physical differences cannot account for the social conditions that inevitably exist and help shape brain formation and personality.

The pathetic and utterly stupid argument that either nature or nurture has the dominant role in shaping personality did immense damage. It is, of course, a mixture of both. The genes are not a blueprint, they are a recipe. Examples: bring up a female child in an environment of mathematics and science and you will probably get a mathematician and scientist, providing the genes allow. Take a boy who has genes producing hormones that cause his brain to freeze easily when in a stressful situation and he will never make a soldier, no matter how much he may want to because he wants to be like his father and his father was a soldier.

It is the social environment, particularly, but not wholly, environments fashioned by religious dogma, that have given women their 2nd class status. Thank goodness secularism is beginning to change that. It is to be hoped that it can also change political and cultural norms. There is however, still a long, long way to go. Attitudes and beliefs are deeply entrenched and those who profit by them will not let them go without a fight.

The most important thing is that men and women are individuals with individual talents and desires. If a man wants a career as a housekeeper and is good at the job, let him. If a woman wants to become a welder in a shipyard and shows potential, she should be allowed to. No woman should ever feel that the only way she can be financially independent is by being a prostitute, for being a prostitute rarely involves true independence.

It is also important to remember that someone, of no matter what sex or inclination, who is trapped in a job or role they hate will ever achieve their full potential. That includes looking after children and doing the housework at home; it should be shared between partners equally so neither ends up feeling they are trapped.

In support of Adam Lee’s post in Daylight Atheism

On Getting Through the Dry Spells

Adam Lee, http://bigthink.com/daylight-atheism/on-getting-through-the-dry-spells

Never had I started to read what seemed a more soporific and self-sorry blog. Oh, woe is me, I am undone, seemed to be the message Adam Lee was trying to convey. Let me go through his post item by item:

‘No matter where I physically go, mentally I feel like I’m somewhere in the middle of the desert. And I don’t think I’m alone in this: it seems to me that a similar dark cloud is hanging over the secular community.’

My reaction: don’t lay on the secular community reasons for our own bouts of depression. The secular community is having a tremendous and positive influence on the rest of the world.

1. At least one religious community is running scared, imploring their members not to converse with atheists on Twitter.

2. The Pope is feeling the effect of secularists arguments; he’s thrashing about wildly trying to identify the person or persons responsible for leaks about the internal workings of the disgraceful Vatican. While his poor butler languishes in a Vatican cell, the leaks keep coming. Cardinals are running around like headless chickens as secularists pile on the pressure regarding the hiding of paedophiles within the Catholic community.

3. Creationists have tried arguing on television and video with highly-regarded atheists, skeptics and secularists like Richard Dawkins, James Randi, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris – and are being shot down in flames!

4. In Britain, Humanists have succeeded in having evolution introduced into the curriculum for primary school children. An organisation called Republic is openly calling for the abolition of a monarch who is also Head of the Church of England. Secularists are challenging the British Government to abolish the present set up of the second chamber of Parliament, also known as the House of Lords. Sections of the media are openly calling for bishops to be removed from their privileged positions in the House of Laws.

5. In America, more and more young people, rather crudely known as ‘millenials‘, are openly declaring that they do not believe in a god. More entertainers feel confident in declaring themselves atheists. Only the election can prove it but the Catholic community in America seems more and more restricted to false bluster and bravado as Americans begin to realise what religious freedom really means. And Secular Students’ groups are making huge inroads in ensuring that non-believing students have a voice in colleges and universities.

6. In Muslim countries like Indonesia and Pakistan brave men and women are declaring that they are secularists and do not believe in Allah. Sure, they still risk death or imprisonment but, gradually, they are being heard.

These are just a few examples of the successes secularism is having. There are many more.

‘Most prominent, I think, is the rampant sexism and misogyny that’s shown its face within our community, where many of us had harbored hope that people would know better.’

Sexism and misogyny are rampant everywhere. But how many secularists and atheists call for women to be made second class citizens? Of course there will be sexism and misogyny at conferences and meetings, like everywhere else, but because women like Rebecca Watson and Emily Dietle are free to declare that they will not tolerate it something can and will be done. Some men, like Martin Pribble, are trying to encourage women to carry on their fight, encouraging them to demand that procedures are put in place that will ensure that, at secularist, atheist and humanist meetings, at least, women have someone to complain to who will ensure that perpetrators are brought to account and thrown out. There is no place for sexism and misogyny in the 21st century and secularists are uniquely positioned to do something about it.

The democratic revolution in Egypt is fading; Syria is being torn apart by civil war’

The possibility of installing democracies in Islamic states was always a pipe-dream. There is no freedom in Islam but the freedom to submit to Allah and once a convert has been swallowed up by the Ummah, there is no going back. Apostasy is usually punishable by death.

The basic flaw in the ‘Arab Spring’ was not the revolutions themselves, it was the lack of understanding of Western pundits that there could ever be anything but reversal. Without reversal, Muslim extremists call for the imposition of their barbaric practises, inequality for women, death to homosexuals and the destruction of Israel. And which country is most vocal in calling for secular governments to be overthrown: Iran, the strongest of the Shi’ite states. Most Shia societies are theocracies, unlike Sunni societies which allow non-clerics to organise their governments, and therefore the most open to secularization. The only hope for peace in Islamic countries is for strong secular government, something only China and Russia seem to have grasped. The most obvious example of reversal is in Egypt, where the army is showing signs of taking back control. To anyone vaguely familiar with Middle East politics it was obvious that the majority of people would vote for the Muslim Brotherhood, a party that, no matter what its public statements, is hell bent on introducing Sharia law and pressing for the destruction of Israel. And once Israel is destroyed Islam will turn on the immoral West.

‘But what you can damn well do is fight as hard as you can, and never be daunted, never give up’

Now we get to the reason why I support Adam’s apparently doom-laden blog. We must never, ever become despondent. Winston Churchill suffered from depressions he called his ‘black dog‘. But he always did something about it. He painted, built walls, wrote histories, anything but give in to the seemingly dark and dismal mood in which he found himself. I may not have agreed with Churchill’s peacetime policies but I cannot but admire his determination to combat his black dog.

There is always something secularists can do. The Vatican is trying to force their control of sexuality and morality onto everyone else. Do not allow it. The Vatican does not have to be destroyed but its power can be minimized by argument and demonstration to the stage where it is politically castrated. Argue with Catholics wherever you find them; demonstrate how destructive their beliefs are by giving examples of the effect of their policies on contraception, abortion and equality. Tell them at every opportunity that they are wrong and why they are wrong. Contact politicians and the media and explain why contraception is so vitally important if we are not to cause a sudden catastrophic reduction in the worlds’ human population, of why technology may only be able go so far in providing food for the hungry millions. Encourage secularists in Islamic states; give them support, show them they are not alone. Support the families of those who fall foul of oppressive Sharia law.

‘How much longer this dry spell will last, I don’t know’

This is my main argument with Adam Lee’s blog post. I do not believe we are in a dry spell. So many secularists are standing up against religions’ insistence that they are right and everyone else is wrong. So many new secularists are ready to be counted. Secularists, atheists and humanists are making inroads into politics, where real power lies, and governments’ policies. I think that the dry spell was pre-21st century and that it is well and truly over. Stand up, be proud, be counted and join the march into a secular future.

Evolution of Belief: Animism

Gods are a recent phenomena on the human stage. Before the neolithic revolution, there were only spirits. But what are spirits and how did they begin?

Before we can answer that, we need to look at human development and, more importantly, the development of the human brain. Like it or not, humans are animals and like all animals they are subject to evolution. Many people think evolution is a random effect exerted on genes with no direction or guidance. Sure, there are constant random genetic and epigenetic variations and mutations, some beneficial, some detrimental – but without a guiding force, without direction, they are potentially useless. The guiding force directing evolution is the environment. Without changes in the environment evolution as we know it would not have happened.

Sometimes there are changes within the environment itself and sometimes it is a subject organism moving from one environment to another that causes change.  As we are talking about humans, we can consider humans as a subject organism. Changes in environment that can affect human evolution, as with all other animals, include, though far from exclusively, changes in weather and changes in predation. Changes in weather may include substantive changes in ocean currents, for instance, and even though the human population may reside many hundreds of miles from the ocean they can be affected. Perhaps a change results in drier or wetter weather. Either may mean a change in food supply. Those humans who have a particular mutation may find they can digest a different type of meat or vegetation and they will live and pass their adaptation or mutation onto their offspring while those without the mutation will die. Changes in predation may be caused by a carnivore newly entering the environment in which humans live. Humans with a particular mutation that allows them to run faster will survive and pass on their genes, those without will die and their mutations and adaptations are lost with them.

Much the same happens when humans move into new environments. When humans split from the other great apes they came down from the trees and started walking on two legs. Those who adapted quickly and were able to run had a greater chance of survival than those who did not, and those who were able to use tools stood a greater chance of survival than those who could not. Tool use was an incredibly important stage in human evolution, for greater abilities in the use tools required a larger brain. It is debatable if tool use came first and drove an increase in brain size or if a larger brain enabled greater tool use. Later came what is said to be the most important development in all of human history – cooking. In fact, cooking wasn’t, strictly speaking, the most important development; it was the ability to realise that meat and vegetables heated for some time in or over a fire was more digestible than raw meat and vegetables. This ability to cook meant that more nutritious food was now digestible and with it came the the ingredients needed if brain size was to increase further.

Modern humans are generally sociable animals and can live in populations of hundreds of thousands, even millions, in large towns and cities. But this wasn’t always so. For most of human history, populations consisted of nomadic family groups. There was no social structure, as such, perhaps a more assertive father and mother taking the roles of alpha male and female, lesser brothers and sisters fulfilling roles with less standing within the group, and then the children at first fighting amongst themselves for supremacy, eventually growing into roles commensurate with their parents.

Life was short and often brutal as family groups hunted and were in their turn hunted by other animals. Taming their environment was an impossibility in such small groups but their brains were becoming as large as our own, and with their large brains came curiosity and invention, sympathy and empathy. They had the same hopes and fears as we do and the same feelings of loss and grief. But how were they to show their sadness at the death of loved ones? The way they chose was to imagine that the dead did not die but became spirits that inhabited the world around them. Rocks and pools, trees and large plants, all, they believed, could hold the spirits of the dead.

Once the idea had taken hold other spirits were identified, some benign and helpful, like hills and caves that brought shelter from winds, rain and cold, and some terrifying and harmful, like thunderstorms and volcanoes. Although we cannot be sure, it is likely that those early humans thought of the spirits, both of their dead and more generalised spirits, as being part of their natural world, as solid as the ground on which they walked.

These, then. were the first stages of belief. Today we call those beliefs Animism, although the Animism we know today has developed far beyond those original beliefs and has often been incorporated into more advanced forms of belief, including religions. We shall look further at the development of belief in the coming weeks.

One word of caution. Searching for early beliefs on the World Wide Web used to be a dream, consisting as it did of academic papers and learned documents. Today, the Web has been corrupted by religious groups and individuals and is full of the most ridiculous assertions and daft ideas imaginable. Luckily, it is possible to download search engines designed to strip out the garbage and highlight only academic research. Downloading academic search engines is highly recommended.

Religious Freedom

What is religious freedom and what does it mean?

Religious freedom is sometimes called religious liberty or freedom of religion. It is the claimed right of the religious to live by the values imposed by their religious texts. The term is often used by Catholics in America, especially the leaders of the Catholic Church, to reject the use of contraceptives and abortion, and limit the rights of homosexuals and lesbians. They claim the use of contraceptives and abortion is forbidden because it is restricting the reproduction of human beings demanded by God. They often quote Leviticus as being the source of their condemnation of homosexuality, conveniently forgetting that there are many other things banned in Leviticus that they disregard. So in the case of Catholics in America, religious freedom means the right to discriminate against those who do not follow Catholic codes of behaviour.

Is Christianity the only religion to claim religious freedom as a right?

Well, no. Muslims claim the right to abide by their own religious texts, which not only include the Qur’an but also the Hadith, the texts which purport to show how Mohammed lived his life and therefore the way all Muslims must live.

Other religions also claim the right of their religious texts to be imposed on society in general but for this exercise I will restrict myself to Christianity and Islam.

It is often said that the Qur’an is Islam’s equivalent of the Bible. Is it true?

There is a distinct difference between the way the Bible is perceived and the way the Qur’an is perceived. The Bible consists of two testaments, the Old and the New. Strictly speaking, the Old Testament is a history of the Jews up to the birth of Jesus. The teachings of Jesus, although based on the Old Testament, abrogated the verses. The Old Testament, therefore, is largely historical and the New Testament is a guide as to how Christians should live their lives. Jesus claimed that it is the choice of the individual to accept his teachings or not. Only those who abide by his teaching, however, would be accepted into heaven.

The Qur’an on the other hand instructs Muslims how they must live.

So the difference is that the Bible is effectively historical and a guide whereas the Qur’an is prescriptive.

What does the difference mean in practise?

Jesus is claimed to have said: give unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s. The Bible also says that Jesus left the decision on whether to follow him or not to the individual. Christianity seems, therefore, to be the ideal religion to fit comfortably with secularism. Demands that society bend to the requirements demanded by Catholics do, on the face of it, seem distinctly anti-Jesus. Do the demands come from any other texts, then. Well, yes. There are the letters and epistles of Paul, who in many of them seems to contradict the teachings of Jesus and treats the texts of the Old Testament as more authoritative than did Jesus. If Jesus is the Christ, from which comes Christianity, the Catholic Church could be considered anti-Christ. Certainly, arguments for religious freedom by Catholics on behalf of all Christians look argumentative at best and, more accurately, spurious.

Islam makes no concessions whatsoever and demands absolute adherence to the teachings of the prophet Mohammed and to the teachers who have come after him. However, in practise this usually does not happen. The majority of Muslims want to live their life in peace, care for their families, improve their lives and get on with their neighbours.

This, of course, is the same for most human beings, whether religious or not. They want to live their lives in comfort and security. There is one thing that that religious people want that is different from non-believers: they want to believe that they will live on after their physical bodies die, to be with their loved ones, those already dead and those who will come after them, for the rest of eternity. They do not want to know what eternity means, they just want to live forever, whatever it is. And most continue to believe what they were taught as children and what their parents believed to get there.

But there arises a problem. What if someone changes their minds and decides to change their religion at any time? Different religions have different attitudes to what is known as apostasy. Today’s Christians, because they have been brought up in secular societies, usually believe they have the right to be free to change religions. Muslims, especially extremist Muslims, are taught something quite different. If one of their number attempts to leave Islam, they believe they have the right to kill that person. He or she will then go to hell and be tormented for eternity. Catholics had similar beliefs before the rise of secularism. Those who dared admit to non-belief in Catholicism were killed, often by being burned at the stake. So, extreme Islam and extreme Catholicism have something in common – they are extreme in their demands for extreme sanctions against dissenters and disbelievers.

What does that mean?

Most Christians, even in secular societies, are required to undergo religious education of some sort or another and therefore most of those brought up as Christians have some knowledge of their Bible. And we have already mentioned burning at the stake. The same cannot be said of Christians’ knowledge of even the Qur’an, let alone the Hadith.

If we accept that the most extreme forms of Islam abide absolutely by the Qur’an we need to know which English translation is most often accepted by the extremists. In that way we can gauge the dictats as accurately as possible. Watching videos made by those Muslims who believe they will go to straight to heaven if they die during attacks against non-Muslims, we can identify the translation most often used is that by M. K. Shakir. We shall therefore use that translation to study some of their extreme beliefs regarding Christians and non-believers in general. we can consider also the verses most often quoted; they are taken from Chapter 9. In Arabic, a chapter is called a sura, sometimes spelt Surah. OK, so let us consider a few verses from the Qur’an, Sura 9 most often quoted.

The following verses show that Muslims are given immunity from crimes against non-Muslims – as long as the non-Muslims are first given the opportunity to learn about Islam and choose it as their religion.

[ 9: 1 ] ( This is a declaration of ) immunity by Allah and His Messenger towards those of the idolaters with whom you made an agreement.
[ 9: 2 ] So go about in the land for four months and know that you cannot weaken Allah and that Allah will bring disgrace to the unbelievers.
[ 9: 3 ] And an announcement from Allah and His Messenger to the people on the day of the greater pilgrimage that Allah and His Messenger are free from liability to the idolaters; therefore if you repent, it will be better for you, and if you turn back, then know that you will not weaken Allah; and announce painful punishment to those who disbelieve.

Muslims can live amongst non-Muslims as long as they continue their duties as required by Allah and Mohammed and try to convert non-Muslims.

The following verse shows that even though non-Muslims choose not to become Muslims they can be allowed to continue their beliefs as long as they swear not to attack Muslims and pay the taxes required of them.

[ 9: 11 ] But if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, they are your brethren in faith; and We make the communications clear for a people who know.

The next verses show how non-Muslims are to be treated if they break their agreements, either by attacking or defaming Muslims or if they fail to pay their taxes.

[ 9: 12 ] And if they break their oaths after their agreement and ( openly ) revile your religion, then fight the leaders of unbelief– surely their oaths are nothing– so that they may desist.
[ 9: 13 ] What! will you not fight a people who broke their oaths and aimed at the expulsion of the Messenger, and they attacked you first; do you fear them? But Allah is most deserving that you should fear Him, if you are believers.
[ 9: 14 ] Fight them, Allah will punish them by your hands and bring them to disgrace, and assist you against them and heal the hearts of a believing people.
[ 9: 29 ] Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Messenger have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection.

The next verses include Christians and Jews among non-Muslims, and why.

[ 9: 30 ] And the Jews say: Uzair (Ezra) is the son of Allah; and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah; these are the words of their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before; may Allah destroy them; how they are turned away!
[ 9: 31 ] They have taken their doctors of law and their monks for lords besides Allah, and ( also ) the Messiah son of Marium (Mary) and they were enjoined that they should serve one Allah only, there is no god but He; far from His glory be what they set up ( with Him ).
[ 9: 32 ] They desire to put out the light of Allah with their mouths, and Allah will not consent save to perfect His light, though the unbelievers are averse.

So, Christians are to be destroyed because they dare to believe that Jesus (The Messiah) is the son of God.

What can we learn from this?

If Catholics get their way and Religious Freedom is granted, Catholics can enforce their beliefs on others. But Muslims have the right to claim that to kill Christians, and to kill Muslims who live in non-Muslim countries and abide by their laws, is legal. If religious freedom is granted to one religion to enforce their bigotry and intolerance, Muslims claim, then all religions must be free in the same way. Had that situation been applicable in the past then the horrific 9/11 attacks could not have been condemned. Muslims could claim it would to be legally acceptable, that Muslims have as much right as Catholics to enforce their religious beliefs on the world.


The right of of religions to be free to enforce their beliefs is nonsensical. The only way to ensure that religions are free is to ensure that they exist within secular societies and abide by secular laws. Without those restrictions, there can only be a descent into chaos.

Death penalty for Muslims in Kuwait who curse God, Quran or Prophet

For those who know little about Islam the effect of the Bill referred to in this article can seem extreme and barbaric. But Islam has been mired in such extreme behaviour since its inception.

Read the Koran and Hadith (the stories of how Muhammad lived); neither should be read in isolation. They are full of examples where Muhammad ordered that Muslims should be killed for breaking Islamic law.

Not just Muslims, of course. In Hadith, Book 041, Number 6985: The last hour will not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: Muslim, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him. And in the Koran, Sura 9, Aya 30: And the Jews say: Uzair (Ezra) is the son of Allah; and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah; these are the words of their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before; may Allah destroy them; how they are turned away!

There was a time, however, when some Muslims treated non-Muslims with more respect than Muslims themselves. The Mu’tazilah (8th-12th centuries) was a school within Islam that taught that God is spirit and can therefore have no influence on the material universe. It was during this period that science and mathematics in Islam flourished. The universe, the Mu’tazilah believed, should be studied and understood as it informed Muslims how God constructed the universe. The school learned from non-Muslims and incorporated much of what they learned into their version of Islam.

The Mu’tazilah were, though, extremely strict on the observance of Islam by Muslims. Punishment was severe for those who cursed God, the Koran or Muhammad. If you have already read the article, it may be seen that there are distinct similarities with what is happening in Kuwait today.

The Mu’tazilah were all but wiped out by the emergence of the more primitive form of Islam we have become accustomed to today. Interest in science and mathematics all but disappeared. In the 20th century, however, there occurred the beginnings of a resurgence in Mu’tazilah philosophy. It is possible that the Kuwaiti Bill is indicative of this resurgence. If so, it may not be so very bad for non-Muslims.

Perhaps the most pertinent question we must ask ourselves is: do we accept that Islam is so very different from Western philosophy that our secular understanding of human rights can never be universally applied. It is a question that may keep philosophers and human rights lawyers busy for decades.


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