Posted by on June 25th, 2009

I havent posted anything at all recently and have deluged by all sorts of other work, so much so that even my reading list is suffering. Anyway decided to a jumbled and ad hoc post on various news snippets that have caught my attention.

Sarkozy vs the Burqa

In a speech to both chambers of the French Parliament recently President Sarkozy declared that the Burqa was not welcome in France.

“The burka is not a sign of religion, it is a sign of subservience… It will not be welcome on the territory of the French republic.”

At first glance this appears to be an opinion rather than a policy, but this comment was based upon a demand from 65 MP’s that a commission examine whether wearing the Burqa contravened Women’s rights and France’s secular tradition. Interestingly this request has wide political support from across the political spectrum, Communists to Conservatives (though the Socialist opposition were not supportive).

This follows on from the secular law of a few years back that banned the display of religious symbols in public schools and government buildings.

I have mixed views about this matter.

a) With regard the seperation of religion and state – which is essential in order to avoid theocracy or state-controlled religion – I reluctantly sympathise with various measures to restrict conspicous religious symbols. Reluctantly because I think in many western liberal societies – such as France – the presence of a Crucifix on a wall or a Hijab veil on the head of a woman is not likely to lead to a theocratic state. Although I agree it may lack inclusivity I think most western european diktats on religious imagery are being motivated by a secular-humanist agenda which is not of itself “wrong” but which smacks of an ideological intolerance that skilfully ignores the observation that atheism, agnosticism and every other belief position whether organised or not is but one of many, which though may not factually be equal should in principle be implied to be equal.

(I add this caveat as a compromise to those who would suggest that atheism/agnosticism is fact based – or to put it better non-metaphysical, in that respect a materialist atheism and transcendental theism are not equal epistemologically).

However in conclusion I do agree that where the state policy is secular (so as to mean anti-sectarian rather than anti-religious) then state owned institutions probably should operate an equally secular policy.

b) I also sympathise with the view that the Burqa is not a religious symbol but one of gender oppression. But I do not belong to the same culture that defends such codes of dress, nor do I wish to, therefore I cannot fully comprehend why women would choose (and yes there is ample evidence that the Burqa is an item of clothing of choice in many societies rather than of coercion) to wear such an outfit. As I am not of this culture, nor interested in being a part of it, surely in reflection all I can say is my values are not the same as your values – which is somewhat different from saying my values are superior to your values (which is implied in Sarkozy’s comments).

Theologically I think the Burqa is misguided (note however my philosophical tradition is Christian and not Muslim so my judgements are probably incomensurable). The Burqa is supposed to be a symbol of a woman’s purity. And a veil to protect her modesty – which some Islamic scholars identify as a key command from the Quran and the Hadith. But who is the woman’s modesty being protected from? If the woman needs protecting from the lusts of men then surely it is men who are posing the problem? I could carry on in this vein but the argument is fairly circular. Suffice to say my personal opposition to the Burqa is that if purity and modesty are virtues, then surely they are virtues that are manifested by “what is inside” a persons heart (i.e. their motives) rather than what is external to them.

c) And so to my final point. I can sympathise with the ideals of a secular state – indeed even champion such an idea so long as it is matched with freedom of conscience and religious liberty. Similarly I can agree that the Burqa is not compatible with my views. Yet I am loathe to even countenance Sarkozy’s objective which is to ban the burqa from France altogether. This I think is a direct contravention of liberte, egalite, fraternite etc… the ideals of the French state founded after the revolution. It is not enough to suggest that it is detrimental to women’s rights when many volunteer to wear the Burqa. To ban something is I believe to take choice away from the individual and consequently is to impose an abstract state authority that is the antithesis of liberty.

(Subnote: Someone suggested to me, following a similar rant on this matter, that if women chose to wear the Burqa then they should be allowed to do so in the privacy of their own homes, but not in public… this is quite funny actually. The Burqa is meant for outdoors wear and is traditionally taken off indoors, after all if you are married you have no need to protect your modesty from your spouse!)

Teenage Beliefs in the UK

According to a recent survey:

2/3 teenagers aged 13-18 (from a sample of 1000) dont believe in God.

50% never pray.

16% have never been to a church.

59% believe religion to be a negative influence on the world.

60% only attend church for Weddings and Christenings.

30% believe in an afterlife.

10% believe in reincarnation.

47% believe organised religion has no place in the world.

60% believed religious studies should not be compulsory in school.

91% believed in the maxim “do unto others as you woudl have done unto yourself”.

Most teenagers stated that family, friends, money and reality TV (!) rated more highly in their life’s priorities than religion and God.

A Church of England spokesman said that we could disregard the results as teenagers have not yet fully formed their opinions. Whereas a spokesman for the British Humanist Association (containing their glee) said they were not suprised by the results.

I am mostly neutral on the matter, I have a belief system, others dont, it really doesn’t bother me if you share my beliefs or are radically opposed to them. What I do cherish is the freedom to hold my beliefs and to practise them openly without fear of persecution – the payoff that I make is that I likewise respect the values and beliefs of others and seek not to impose those of mine on others whereever they may differ.

But I do have some thoughts.

1) The survey seems very inadequate… what I mean is it puts God under a simple yes/no box. Why so simple? Obviously this is more of a social research project than a philosophical one, but I find it hard to believe (irony) that 1/3 say Yes I Believe! and 2/3 say No I Dont Believe! … what about the “I’m not sure”, “I dont care”, “I dont think we can know”, “Why just one God”, “Depends what you mean by God”, etc.

I agree with Wittgenstein when he says that the question do you believe in God is a non-question because the very meaning of the word and the concept changes person to person and in whatever context it is found. I personally dislike the simplified use of the binary opposite theist/atheist in this case because I think it oversimplifies and obscures the complex.

Theist, Deist, Pantheist, belong in a similar category. As do: Atheist, Hard Agnostic etc. But what about the overlaps?

Soft Agnosticism: I’m not sure. (Implies I am yet to be convinced).

Apatheist: It’s not a relevant issue in my life right now. (Implies i’ve never been to church, my family is not religious, i’ve never thought about it etc.)

Misotheist (God-Hater): I can’t believe in a God that allows such bad things to happen, (or) such a God that allows evil doesnt deserve my worship. (Implies I am dissillusioned with an idea of God ((my idea))).

There is a subtle overlap on these non-belief positions with belief positions, as they are not necessarily fixed or well considered. Actually the movement is two-way, many religious people fall into a soft agnosticism, apatheism or misotheism when various life events challenge their ‘faith’.

In my social conversations with friends and family and for that matter complete strangers, I think these 3 overlap positions are by far the most populous. Many people are not sure what constitutes the God-hypothesis (how can they be when believers aren’t either). I think the absence of any real scholarship both philosophically and sociologically on these “overlap” positions is scandalous and allows a very narrow academic “Faith War” to develop between the loony fundamentalists on both sides.

Personally as a philosopher I find these three positions the most interesting to talk about.

2) That half never pray means little to me, please define prayer? Dear God give me an x-box for christmas… Om Mane Padme Hum (famous Buddhist Mantra of compassion) and the lone isolated inner voice in a moment of need or despair addressed to nobody in particular that cries out “help”… which of these is validly open to description as prayer? (Or which ones are not?)

I can think of two Christian (Catholic) quotes that mean a lot to me on this matter, Meister Eckhart is attributed as once saying “if the only prayer we say was thankyou that would suffice” and the Fourth Eucharistic prayer asks God to remember those who have died “whose faith is known to you alone”.

3) A suprisingly large number of teens have been to church, even if it is only for “rites de passage” like marriage or christenings. This contrasts with the 50-60% who believe religion to be a negative influence on the world and specifically organised religion. Is this attitude born of their “Church-experience” or does it pre-date it, or is it reflective of the pop-media trends of this time where every Catholic priest is a paedophile, every protestant is obsessed with homosexuality and every muslim is a terrorist?

Significantly for those who belong or run organised religious groups… is this a reflection of your practises? If so many are going to church for “rites de passage” yet declare to have so little belief in the metaphysics of the religion, surely your message is being obscured. Is it relevant?

My buzz-words in philosophy of language at the mo (and part of my dissertation) is “Convenience” and “Comprehension”. People seem to only whole-heartedly believe in that which they comprehend (it makes sense to them) and that which is convenient to them to believe (enriches their lives).

I think these stats have important considerations for religious people to consider, is your message understandable, could it be rendered more so?

and short final thoughts…

4) Belief in the after-life has little or no religious importance. Buddhists are non-theists but believe in an afterlife, the Sadducees were a Jewish faction that rejected the soul, angels and the after-life but believed in Yahweh.

5) Should religious studies be compulsory in school? Should any subject be compulsory? How about school itself? In terms of human and cultural geography I think religous studies is important.

6) Wow over 90% value the “Golden Rule”. It is not exclusively Christian, Buddha said much the same, and Kant trying to develop a perennial philosophy without recourse to religious metaphysics devised the same maxim. The spokesperson for the BHA said that people should take heart from the fact that the non-religious could still hold “positive values”.

I could ask what came first, the chicken or the egg? A religious value system that included the golden rule, or good old-fashioned decent “positive values” that simply got co-opted and tacked on to religion… but it would cease to amusing very quickly.

7) Final thought: x amount believe religion to be a negative force, y amount thinks religious studies should not be compulsory… in a propaganda war (which this essentially is) surely the assertion made by x amount that religion is a negative force should be open to a challenge by the not-x amount who believe religion to be a positive force. But instead of propaganda, and proselytism perhaps simple discussion should take its place, and considered reflection.


In response to alleged falling standards in schools, and a loss of a moral compass in society as a whole so, many people argue, parents should have the right to homeschool their child.

Aggressive secularists dont like this, as many homeschoolers are religious families, who perhaps have been upset by the ideological eradication of all religious ‘objectivism’ from the school system. Home schooling, where the non-qualified parent can teach the child pretty much anything they like is… a form of child abuse (or at least open to it) … according to Dawkins etc.

Anyway I picked up on this story from another blog. And I only refer to it as I think it is another case of an all too powerful state system undermining the most basic forms of autonomy and as a libertarian I find that most disturbing. I will reproduce an extract of the article here that interested me the most:

“The review’s proposals include a national registration scheme for home educators, to be renewed annually. There will be national guidance issued which will include a

clear statement of the statutory basis of elective home education and the rights and responsibilities of parents

Homeschooling is therefore no longer to be considered something that parents have a natural right to do, but something that has to have a “statutory basis.”

Parents will have to:

provide a clear statement of their educational approach, intent and desired/planned outcomes for the child over the following twelve months.

Designated Local Authority officers will have the right of access to the home and the right to speak with each child alone “if deemed appropriate.”

The Badman-Balls approach is a fundamental contradiction of the true relationship between state education and the family. The school should be considered as acting “in loco parentis” (in the place of the parent) because the parents are the first educators and carers for their own children. This latest review and its recommendations assume that the state is the primordial educator and carer and that if parents “elect” to educate their children without the help of the state, they are effectively acting “in loco rei publicae” (in the place of the state) and must therefore be registered, monitored, reviewed…

… pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, de-briefed and numbered?”

Before the Law

Posted by Anti Citizen One on June 18th, 2009

A man from the country seeks the law and wishes to gain entry to the law through a doorway. The doorkeeper tells the man that he cannot go through at the present time. The man asks if he can ever go through, and the doorkeeper says that is possible. The man waits by the door for years, bribing the doorkeeper with everything he has. The doorkeeper accepts the bribes, but tells the man that he accepts them “so you won’t think you’ve neglected something.” The man waits at the door until he is about to die. Right before his death, he asks the doorkeeper why even though everyone seeks the law, no one else has come in all the years. The doorkeeper answers “No one else could gain admittance here, because this entrance was meant solely for you. I am now going to shut it.”

This is a condensed version of Kafka’s “Before the Law“, taken from Wikipedia.

A quote

Posted by on June 3rd, 2009

I read this qoute on another blog. It both interested and in a way inspired me to a deep reflection. I offer no comment on it for I feel it may be interpreted and appreciated in many ways by different people so I therefore reproduce it as it is.

“Tradition means giving a vote to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.”

G.K.Chesterton Orthodoxy