Culture Morality Politics

The United Nations: perhaps irrelevant, but now also offensive

Foreign minister KutesaAlthough some of you might always have considered the United Nations an irrelevance, it would be an unfair critic who claimed that they do no good at all – their World Food Programme, for example, claims to provide food to 90 million people per year.

But they have their critics, ranging from those upset by the UN’s failure to endorse the 2003 invasion of Iraq, to claims that the arrival of UN peacekeeping troops tends to reliably correlate with an increase in child prostitution. As with any large political organisation, criticism can be partisan and ideologically-motivated, often forgetting that realpolitik comes with compromise.

Morality Politics

Ugandan homophobia and those “mercenary” gays

Three years ago, Uganda’s Ethics and Integrity Minister Nsaba Buturo observed that “killing them [gay people] might not be helpful“. The death sentence was indeed dropped from the bill that now awaits President Yoweri Museveni’s signature, after having been passed by their lawmakers in December.

hangthemprotectedBut that’s cold comfort to those persecuted for their sexuality – a sentence of life imprisonment can be imposed not only for gay sex, but also for “all behaviour, including touching, that might lead to or show an intention to have homosexual sex”. It gets worse, though – at least in terms of how much prejudice the Ugandan Members of Parliament are willing to flaunt: the ministerial task team advising the President on the bill “falsified the information contained in the report given by medical and psychological experts, twisting it to show that homosexuality should indeed be further criminalised“.

A concern for truth has never been a hallmark of this sort of bigotry, as you no doubt know. From claiming that homosexuality isn’t “African” (even though there’s plenty of evidence for pre-colonial same-sex sex) to Museveni’s own recent statements that people might become gay for “‘mercenary reasons’ or, in the case of lesbians, a lack of sex with men.”

In part, the blame for these fabrications and the attendant persecution can be laid at the door of American evangelical Christians, in particular Scott Lively, president of “Defend The Family International”, who thinks that homosexuality caused the Holocaust. But he’s also tapping into a rich wellspring of hatred and confusion – from David Bahati’s contempt for homosexuality (he’s the first-term MP who drafted the death-penalty version of the bill), to the current “Ethics and Integrity” Minister, who talks about “the right kind of child rape” (the heterosexual kind, of course – watch the interview starting at 35m40s in the video embedded below).

It’s laws and lawmakers like these that remind one of how far we still have to go as a species, before being remotely respectable.

Morality Politics Religion

Killing gays may not be helpful

As reported in a previous post, Uganda is currently considering a bill that would impose the death penalty or life sentences on homosexuals. Furthermore, the proposed bill criminalises those who do not report a suspected gay person within 24 hours, and will most likely also have the effect of dissuading health care professionals in Uganda from assisting anyone who is gay – as well as dissuading gay people from seeking treatment, seeing as outing yourself as gay could land you in jail.  It’s worth reading this story on NPR to see the extent to which American Evangelical Christians are prepared to foment hatred and prejudice in order to buttress their support bases in the 3rd World – after all, surely all those folk in Africa will one day be able to afford to buy their sermons on DVD?

Morality Religion

Beware the evangelicals

While church attendance seems to be declining across (most of) the globe, and religious adherence generally falling (except for Islam, which is growing), we’re far from being out of the woods. Evangelical threats to liberty continue to haunt us, despite the fact that – judging from American Christians – most of the faithful are doing their utmost to undermine the faith, mostly by being moronic:

Only 40 percent of Americans can name more than four of the Ten Commandments, and a scant half can cite any of the four authors of the Gospels. Twelve percent believe Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. This failure to recall the specifics of our Christian heritage may be further evidence of our nation’s educational decline, but it probably doesn’t matter all that much in spiritual or political terms. Here is a statistic that does matter: Three quarters of Americans believe the Bible teaches that “God helps those who help themselves.” That is, three out of four Americans believe that this uber-American idea, a notion at the core of our current individualist politics and culture, which was in fact uttered by Ben Franklin, actually appears in Holy Scripture. The thing is, not only is Franklin’s wisdom not biblical; it’s counter-biblical. Few ideas could be further from the gospel message, with its radical summons to love of neighbor. On this essential matter, most Americans—most American Christians—are simply wrong, as if 75 percent of American scientists believed that Newton proved gravity causes apples to fly up.

The problem is that once people lose the capacity to generate reasoned conclusions for themselves, and once their base of evidence from which they make their inferences is so detached from reality, the opportunity increases for charlatans to step forth, selling them various package holidays in the hereafter. And the more marginal a faith becomes, perhaps the more strident its adherents become through their fear of becoming redundant. So, whereas Christians used to be all about peace, love and forgiveness (at least according to my childhood memories), they increasingly seem to be about intolerance and hate (with increasingly rare exceptions).

Yesterday, The Guardian reported that Uganda looks likely to pass a law making homosexuality a capital offence, “joining 37 other countries in the continent where American evangelical Christian groups are increasingly spreading bigotry”. Now, of course it’s true that many Christians would not condone this. I would like to be able to say “most”, rather than “many”, but the two trends described above make “most” sound far too optimistic. If the gradual decline of religion is making the religious more strident, and if this is combined with an increasing trend of the religious no longer knowing what their religion is about, the extremists tend to set the agenda, and the more civilised believers sit on/wring their hands, despairing of what has become of the church.

We should not complacently think that this sort of thing is impossible in South Africa – we have the growing influence of the National Interfaith Leadership Council to worry about, along with more the regular cast of god-botherers such as Errol Naidoo, who has not shown himself to be averse to supporting prejudicial stereotypes with regard to homosexuality. It’s far too infrequent that we see the more tolerant sort of Christian protesting the manner in which people like Naidoo and Immelman express themselves on these topics, yet us atheists are frequently accused of caricaturing or misunderstanding religion.

How can we not caricature, when the only religious pronouncements that reach the public media sound like bad attempts at satire?