Category Archives: Religion

What’s your jihad?

Back in October, Conservative American blogger, activist and executive director of the American Freedom Defence Initiative, Pamela Geller courted controversy by announcing plans to expand a pro-Israeli, ‘anti-jihad’ advertising campaign from its initial position on three subway platforms to include all of the buses in Manhattan.


In response, the public education campaign MyJihad has brought its campaign (to share the proper meaning of jihad as believed and practiced by the majority of Muslims) to the buses of New York as well.

Jihad means “struggling in the way of God”. The way of God being goodness, justice, passion, compassion, etc. It is ‘putting up the good fight’ as it were, against whatever odds or barriers one faces in life.

Jihad is a central tenet of the Islamic creed that has been widely misrepresented due, first and foremost, to the actions of Muslim extremists, with the knock-on effect that Islamophobes use these actions to further convince the public that such actions are the true face of Islam. Finally, a selective media understandably focuses on the sensational.

The campaign’s focus is on reclaiming Islam for the majority of Muslims, especially in relation to the public’s wider perception of what this means.

I enjoyed the campaign for its ability to combat such a negative attack so airily.






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Dan Savage’s struggles with the Catholic faith reflect those of the Irish youth

This week, the Catholic Church once again made headlines for its antediluvian rhetoric when it publicly reprimanded America’s largest and most influential group of Catholic nuns for promoting what it called: “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

Putting aside the eyebrow-raising assertion here that the Church sees itself as incompatible with the equality of women, let us take a look at what exactly the group (the Leadership Conference of Women Religious) was promoting. This from Reuters: “the Vatican reprimanded [the LCWR] for spending too much time on poverty and social justice concerns and not enough on abortion and gay marriage.”  Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby founded by sisters, said that she was stunned. “I would imagine that it was our health care letter that made them mad,” Sister Campbell said. “We haven’t violated any teaching, we have just been raising questions and interpreting politics.” To remind any readers who are a little rusty on their Gospel, Jesus spent his life talking about poverty, social justice and our duty to the poor, as exemplified in this passage:

“21Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. 22And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.” – Mark 10:21-22.

Meanwhile, regarding the issues of abortion and gay marriage, so much more fascinating to the Vatican than boring old poor people, Jesus said: nothing.

The Church has announced that it is appointing Archbishop J. Peter Sartain as delegate to ‘oversee reform initiatives’ in the LCWR. In other words, a man is being sent to rein the crazy women in.

This incident, on the greater scheme of things, is unimportant. There have and will continue to be many like it and nobody is too surprised that the Catholic Church appears to be out of touch. However, it is an exemplary portrayal of a Church which most Irish people (especially younger generations) feel no longer represents their beliefs. Indeed, a Church which, they feel, has abandoned them completely.

Concurrently, statistics are telling us that Irish people are moving further and further towards a secular consensus. More than eight in every ten Irish people want the church and state to be totally separate, 65% strongly agree that this should happen, and less than three in ten have quite a lot or a great deal of confidence in religious groups.

Nevertheless, this is not to say that Irish Christians have stopped believing. The results of Ireland’s 2011 census showed that 90.5% percent of people still identify as Christian, the vast majority being Catholic. While observers and pundits in other parts of the Western World proclaim a kind of Great Atheist Arrival, where atheism has become almost completely ordinary in the mainstream, I do not believe this is the case in Ireland. I think many young Irish people want to be Christian, they want to believe in God, in a higher power and in system of life based on faith in a divine creator.

Whether this desire is instinctive or socialised, it is nonetheless there. I know very few Irish people of my generation, or any other generation, who describe themselves as atheist. In some cases, they will call themselves agnostic. The vast majority will describe themselves jokingly as ‘lapsed Catholics’ or as ‘dirty Prods’. That is still an identification with a system of belief. My contemporaries still believe in God.

The long-running weekly hour-long radio program This American Life, produced by WBEZ in Chicago and hosted by Ira Glass, is broadcast across America by Public Radio International.  Primarily a journalistic non-fiction program, it has also featured essays, memoirs, field recordings, short fiction, and found footage. Basically, for an hour every week, it gives America a compressed version of BBC Radio 4.

Last year, it invited the author and columnist Dan Savage (founder of the It Gets Better campaign) to speak about his relationship with Catholicism, one which had lain dormant for years until it was resurrected by the death of his mother from cancer. It is both hilarious and upsetting. It is as close a description of my generation’s feelings towards religion as I could think of. A deep, strong desire to be part of a greater, familiar community of belief. An inability to reconcile that desire with a Church that says condoms spread AIDS and protects rapist priests.

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Filed under America, Current Affairs, Ireland, Laughs, Life, Religion

St Matthew in the City, Auckland

My friend Zeno was telling me this weekend about the New Zealand police recruitment ad campaign, designed by M&C Saatchi. They were pretty cool pieces of work, but I then explored a little further to discover what other work the ad agency had done in that part of the world, which was when I found the legends at St Matthew in the City, Auckland. The progressive Anglican church has hit the headlines several times with its tongue-in-cheek ads. I don’t know about you, but I reckon I would go to church next Sunday if I saw these. Take a look:


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First arrests made in France under the ‘Burka Ban’

Earlier today, a Muslim woman named Kenza Drider attended an unauthorised protest in front of Notre Dame de Paris cathedral wearing a niqab. She was promptly arrested along with another woman for taking part in an unauthorised protest and refusing to disperse.

These are the first arrests made in connection to France’s new ban on face coverings under the Bill Prohibiting Facial Dissimulation in Public Places, which came into effect today.  Under the law, women found wearing either the burka or the niqab in public will be subject to a €150 fine. The bill was controversial from the get-go, when it was first debate in early 2010.  The law has been condemned internationally, especially by the Muslim community – one French businessman has publicly urged Muslim women to commit acts of ‘civil disobedience’, saying that he will sell his €2 million house to pay the fines.

President Sarkozy says the veils are an affront to the values of equality and secularism and that they imprison women.  Critics of the ban say it is proof of the levels of xenophobia and racism which France has reached and that the ban is a breach of a person’s fundamental humans rights to practice whatever religion they choose. Those against also claim that the French law is based on a general fear and lack of understanding of Islam.

These dissidents seem blissfully ignorant of French culture. Their moronic over-simplification of the situation to portray the French as nothing other than a bunch of mean racists is telling.

The French Republic was founded on the idea of ‘laïcité‘, the concept of a secular society, denoting the absence of religious involvement in government affairs as well as absence of government involvement in religious affairs. This deep belief in separation of church and state is one which French people are especially proud of. Far from persecuting any particular religion, the 1905 law famously states: “The Republic neither recognises, nor salaries, nor subsidises any religion.” The law also states: “No one may be disturbed on account of his opinions, even religious ones, as long as the manifestation of such opinions does not interfere with the established Law and Order.”

As I was educated in a French lycée, the above was part of my primary education. French children are taught the value of secularism early on and tend not to forget the lesson. As far as most French are concerned, the key to social cohesion is the elimination of religion from all aspects of life but the most private. This is why religious symbols were banned in schools across France in 2004.

One would be forgiven, reading the hysterical coverage by many media outlets outside of France, for thinking that the French government ignorantly swept in and decided out of the blue to make life difficult for a tiny fraction of the French population (only 1,300 women in France are thought to wear the burka). Not so. French, and indeed Western, culture does not have any place for what it sees as the imposition of male will over the female on grounds of religion. Critics may say that the state should try to be more understanding of the Islamic culture – why should it? Religion is not the business of the French state. Other religions don’t receive special attention and neither will this one.

Dalil Boubakeur, the grand mufti of the Paris Mosque, the largest and most influential in France, testified to parliament during the bill’s preparation. He commented that the niqab was not prescribed in Islam, that in the French and contemporary context its spread was associated with radicalisation and criminal behaviour, and that its wearing was inconsistent with France’s concept of the secular state.

Other European nations have tip-toed uncomfortably around this issue for fear of (God forbid) offending someone. France, on the other hand, has met the problem at every opportunity with a consistent line of thought and reasoning: that for every religious problem the nation has had over the past three centuries, secularism has been the answer and it’s not going to change now.

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Dawkins, Hitchens and Paglia

Camille Paglia is an atheist.

The American author, teacher and social critic has been known to take strong stances on many issues, most notably within the territory of feminist academia, often causing controversy. Unlike other famous atheist academics such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, who take the anti-theist view that religion and belief generally in a Higher Power should be eradicated, Paglia is pro-religious education. Paglia, argues that the presence of religion in education systems is essential if children are to have a well-rounded learning experience.

I suppose it’s no surprise, since I do believe in God, that I agree wholeheartedly with Paglia on this matter. More than that, I rather detest the condescending way in which Dawkins and others like him have such a dim view of people who believe there is a God.

In his 2006 book ‘The God Delusion’, Dawkins writes: “Natural selection builds child brains with a tendency to believe whatever their parents and tribal elders tell them. Such trusting obedience is valuable for survival: the analogue of steering by the moon for a moth. But the flip side of trusting obedience is slavish gullibility. The inevitable by-product is vulnerability to infection by mind viruses.” This portrayal of religious belief is deeply misleading and gives the reader no opportunity to consider the positive effect that religion has had in the world. I often fear that the seemingly endless barrage of scandals involving the Catholic Church’s attempts to protect paedophile priests and pervert the course of justice both in Ireland and across the world, have made it acceptable to tar all of Christianity with the same brush.

Paglia’s stance is somewhat refreshing in comparison to Dawkins: “As an atheist who respects and studies religion, I believe it is fair to ask what drives obsessive denigrators of religion. Neither extreme rationalism nor elite cynicism are adequate substitutes for faith, which fulfills a basic human need — which is why religion will continue to thrive in our war-torn world.”

Here, Paglia speaks at length of her beliefs and the place that religion has in modern philosophy, education and everyday life:

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