Archive for the ‘ Religious Freedom ’ Category

Social Justice Challenge: ACTION! for Religious Freedom

For this month’s Activist level participation I undertook the following Action Steps:

  1. Joined my country’s chapter of Amnesty International and donated $20.00. I believe there’s also a group at my university that I may join.
  2. Sent in three emails in support of various causes.
  3. Signed up for regular updates from Forum 18.
  4. Read and reviewed Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje.
  5. Watched and reviewed Religulous.

I am also posting this update in my blog to remind others who are involved in this challenge or want to contribute in support of Religious Freedom that there are some great suggestions for action on the Social Justice blog: here. In addition, there are some other organizations which share similar ideals – e.g. the Freedom From Religion Foundation; the International Red Cross; Doctors Without Borders and Lawyers Without Borders that probably should be on that list as well, so it might pay to do some digging of your own.

I was going to make a comment about how issues of religious freedom are frequently framed as one religion oppressing another and the way few seem to remember that freedom from belief is just as worthy of protection, but on greater reflection, that seems of little real significance. It seems to me that there are two different levels of religious freedom here. Atheists have been subject to discrimination because of their lack of religious beliefs, have lost jobs, been ostracised, criticised and demonised, and there are places where apostasy is still regarded as punishable by death. However, I think we have very little specific claim to religious persecution in general because, let’s face it, as far as I know there are no regimes dedicated to rounding up non-believers and eradicating them from the country. I’m not saying that freedom from discrimination is necessarily unimportant, but it seems to me to be a lesser religious freedom in the grand scheme of things. The freedom to openly not believe in God or gods can only come about when everyone is free to believe according to his or her own conscience without violence. Once we are all able to do that, then it will be time to redress the social balance.


REVIEW: “Anil’s Ghost” by Michael Ondaatje

Anil’s Ghost

Michael Ondaatje
Bloomsbury UK, 2000

CHALLENGE(S): Social Justice Challenge

Finished 27 Jan 2010

I read this book primarily for the Social Justice challenge, although I think ultimately it was less about religious freedom and more about politics and fascist oppression. The reason I chose this one from the list, though, was that I read The English Patient last year and fell completely in love with it, so I was eager to read more by Ondaatje. From the cover:

Anil’s Ghost transports us to Sri Lanka, a country steeped in centuries of tradition, now forced into the late twentieth century by the ravages of civil war. Into this maelstrom steps Anil Tissera, a young woman born in Sri Lanka, educated in England and America, who returns to her homeland as a forensic anthropologist sent by an international human rights group to discover the source of the organized campaigns of murder engulfing the island. What follows is a story about love, about family, about identity, about the unknown enemy, about the quest to unlock the hidden past–a story propelled by a riveting mystery.”

In spite of what the synopsis promises, this is less a mystery or novel with a straightforward plot than it is a lyrical exploration of Sri Lanka and the characters we encounter. As with The English Patient, I loved the prose; elegant and precise, it draws you right in and paints a vivid picture of the landscape and people he describes. I will say that I found it a bit harder to follow than I’d expected – Ondaatje has a peculiar style that often seems to involve jumping back into the past without much warning, so you have to really concentrate to follow what’s going on. This is the sort of book you either read in one sitting, or read in small doses (that was how I read The English Patient, and it made it much more satisfying).

As I said before, the reason for the “Dirty War” was never quite explained, and since this was for Religious Freedom month it kept bugging me that nobody ever mentioned the reason they were fighting (or maybe they did and I didn’t pay enough attention, it’s hard to tell!). Perhaps one needs to know more about Sri Lankan politics and history to understand when the story is set and the events it describes.

In any case, I read most of it in a single sitting and was completely immersed. I loved the characters, and the ending saddened me a great deal, much to my surprise – I wasn’t aware that I’d grown so attached! Altogether a wonderful book, and while difficult in places it is definitely a worthwhile read.


REVIEW: “Religulous” (film) with Bill Maher


Directed by Larry Charles, starring Bill Maher

CHALLENGE(S): Social Justice Challenge

In the absence of any clear direction re: this challenge, I thought I’d watch Religulous as part of my Activist participation this month. I remember when this came out in America a lot of the atheist online communities that I frequent were really excited about it. I also remember that much of that excitement turned to disappointment once they actually saw the film, and quite apart from Religious Freedom month, I was eager to see for myself whether it lived up to the hype.

I have to say, I wasn’t all that impressed. My father watched it before I did and said it was hilarious, but I didn’t really get the humour. Basically, Bill Maher tours the world poking his nose into religious sites and asking people various questions, apparently in an attempt to press home two points about religion. The first point is that people believe all sorts of really weird stuff. He spoke to a man who believes he’s the second coming of Christ; he visited the Creation Museum. He even used That Video (briefly, thankfully) of Kirk Cameron and NZ’s very own Ray Comfort discussing bananas. If you don’t know which video I’m talking about, look it up on YouTube. I can pretty much guarantee you’ll laugh.

Unfortunately, Maher fails to try to understand why people believe the things they do; in fact, he’s more about mocking them for believing in anything. Throughout the film he came across as smug and arrogant which made it pretty difficult to watch with anything other than a pained grimace on my face.

I’m hardly averse to pointing out the flaws of religion. I do it all the time. However, there’s a difference between mocking religion and mocking religious people which I don’t really think Maher understands. There were several times through the film where I really felt he was sniggering behind their backs, which made me annoyed on their behalf. In particular, I remember one instance when he was talking to a group of truckers who worshipped in a small church by the road, saying, “You’re smart people, how can you believe in angels etc.?” when it was quite clear he was thinking “You guys are idiots.”

The second point of the film was that religion is dangerous and needs to be curtailed before it causes mankind to destroy the world. I agree that having government officials who think that nuclear war is not a bad thing and who are living more for the afterlife than for this world is not a good idea; I wholeheartedly believe that religion should keep the hell away from politics and that when people start blowing each other up in the name of their god(s) they lose the right to call theirs a religion of peace. In fact, I agreed with a lot of Maher’s points. But the attitude, once again, had me grinding my teeth. Was it really necessary to be so very condescending? Really? It was frustratingly lacking in objectivity and any real coherent argument; instead it seemed to be trying to convince through shock tactics and/or emotional appeals. Oh, and music. Lots of music. I have to say, I now have “Walk Like an Egyptian” stuck in my head, which I don’t altogether appreciate…

Ultimately, I think this film was aimed mostly at preaching to the choir. It didn’t provide me with any arguments that I hadn’t already heard before, nor did it make a serious attempt to convince or educate – it was mostly inviting me to chuckle at the stupid Christians and the crazy Muslims and the weirdo Jews, while feeling smugly superior because I don’t believe in any of the same bizarre things. I felt that the underlying message was that Religious People are Stupid and/or Crazy, which was something I objected to. I also didn’t appreciate the crudeness of the humour at points and the attitude towards women that seemed to undercut the film. Honestly, all it really did for me was convince me that Maher is kind of a jerk. Hm. Not the effect he was going for, I think.


Social Justice Challenge, Month 1: Religious Freedom Book Choices

Looking at the list of resources, I’ve chosen Anil’s Ghost by Michael Odaantje and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak as my books for January.

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Social Justice Challenge, Month 1: Religious Freedom

This month, among other things, I joined the Social Justice Challenge. I’m not sure I’m entirely the sort of person who usually joins these challenges; this is mostly a private journal, and not at all a literary-review blog or anything which generates even the slightest bit of internet traffic – a blip on the world wide radar, that’s me. In spite of this, though, I felt moved to join up largely because it sounds like a wonderful, mind-expanding challenge, and god knows I can never resist one of those.

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