News: Separating Christ from Christian Charity

In US and Australia governments fund Christian charities to help the disadvantaged. The question is whether or not government-funded activities should be free of Christian proselytising. This area has always been problematic for supporters of a secular society: is it state-sponsored religion through the back door?

The Washington Post, drawing from a New York Civil Liberties Union article, has an interesting article outlining the problem for US legislators. US government agencies will monitor the charitable activities of the Salvation Army to ensure that the recipients are not subjected to Christian proselytising, perhaps a welcome change under President Obama.

According to the Post article though discriminatory recruitment practices are still acceptable – Christians to work for Christian organisations, syphoning off social tax dollars for religious conversions are not.

Alex McCullie

News: Religious Intolerance – Too much faith

Religious leaders often criticise secular societies as being anti-religious or irreligious, not showing religions enough respect and deference, often for the speaker’s religion, of course. The same speakers conveniently forget about the government funding for religious-based schools plus tax-free incentives. In fact secular societies are truly their best friends, offering equal tolerance for all religions. Last year a Pew report showed what happens when religious faith dominates the public space - religious intolerance survey around the world. I have listed the worst offenders, in alphabetical order, below followed by some well-known countries as a comparison. The Pew survey considered government restrictions and social hostilities of the dominant or state-sponsored religion over lesser religions. ‘Very high’ represents the worst 5% with ‘high’ – the next 15% of countries surveyed. I took the dominant religion figures from the World Factbook with most numbers estimated since 2000.

Do religious leaders in secular countries really want faith-dominant societies when they may represent a minority religion?

Alex McCullie

Country Govt Restrictions Social Hostilities Dominant Religion
Very high rating – alphabetical order
Afghanistan High Very high Muslim (Sunni 80%)
Bangladesh Moderate Very high Muslim (83%)
Brunei Very high Moderate Muslim (67%)
Burma Very high High Buddhist (89%)
China Very high Low None (95%)
Egypt Very high High Muslim (90%)
Eritrea Very high Low Muslim, Christian
India Low Very high Hindu (80%)
Indonesia High Very high Muslim (86%)
Iran Very high High Muslim (98%)
Iraq High Very high Mulsim (97%)
Israel High Very high Jewish (76%)
Malaysia Very high Low Muslim (60%), Buddhist (19%)
Maldives Very high Moderate Muslim (Sunni)
Pakistan High Very high Muslim (95%)
Saudi Arabia Very high Very high Muslim (100%)
Somalia High Very high Muslim (Sunni)
Sri Lanka Moderate Very high Buddhist (69%), Muslim (7.6%)
Sudan High Very high Muslim (70%)
Uzbekistan Very high Moderate Muslim (88%)
Other countries
US Low Moderate Protestant (51%), Catholic (24%)
Russia High High Orthodox (20%), Muslim (15%)
Vietnam High Moderate None (81%)
Australia Low Moderate Catholic (26%), Anglican (19%), None (19%)
UK Low Moderate Christian (72%), None (23%)
Canada Low Low Catholic (43%), Protestant (23%), None (16%)
New Zealand Low Low Anglican (15%), Catholic (12%), None (26%)
France Moderate Moderate Catholic (88%)
Italy Low Moderate Catholic (90%)

Comment: Government Conspiring with Religious Extremism

A secular society offers our best hope of better treatment for all – religious believers and non-believers. However freedom of speech is a fundamental part of that. Our ability to criticise (as in examine and comment) beliefs and practices and how they affect people should also be protected.

Religious, political, cultural, educational and legal practices should all equally be open to examination and comment. Harmful Islamic, Christian, Hindu behaviours or bad school teachings or hateful political speechs should equally be condemned.

Many secular supporters are increasingly worried that Western governments are conspiring to protect religions from this sort of accountability. That is plain wrong. Even though people can feel strongly about their religions and religious beliefs, that should not in some way protect them from scrutiny. I include the scrutiny of anti-religious diatribes as well.

Here is the beginning of a newspaper article expressing similar sentiments from Brisbane, Australia.

For years, the Western world has listened aghast to stories from Iran, Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern nations of citizens jailed or executed for questioning or offending Islam.
Even the most seemingly minor infractions elicit draconian punishments. Late last year, two Afghan journalists were sentenced to prison for blasphemy because they translated the Koran into a Farsi dialect that Afghans can read. In Jordan, a poet was arrested for incorporating Koranic verses into his work. And last week, an Egyptian court banned a magazine for running a similar poem.

But now an equally troubling trend is developing in the West. … (full article)

Now for a short, sharp line from that wonderfully talented Stephen Fry:

“The cruel, hypocritical and loveless hand of religion and absolutism has fallen on the world once more.”
(Stephen Fry, GT) (quoted from a recent newsletter of the National Secular Society (UK))

Here is a related article from Terry Eagleton in the Guardian on the threats to liberalism:

One side-effect of the so-called war on terror has been a crisis of liberalism. This is not only a question of alarmingly illiberal legislation, but a more general problem of how the liberal state deals with its anti-liberal enemies. This, surely, is the acid test of any liberal creed. Anyone can be tolerant of those who are tolerant. A community of the broad-minded is a pleasant place, but requires no great moral effort. The key issue is how the liberal state copes with those who reject its ideological framework. It is fashionable today to speak of being open to the “Other”. But what if the Other detests your openness as much as it does your lapdancing clubs?


Alex McCullie