Background Probability

The Agnostic Popular Front has moved to its new home at Skeptic Ink, and will henceforth be known as Background Probability. Despite the relocation and rebranding, we will continue to spew the same low-fidelity high-quality bullshit that you've come to expect.

Monday, November 30, 2009

A brief meditation on human rights

Francis Abbot to Elizabeth Stanton, on women's rights and faith:

In my previous post I wrote about the suppression of political freedoms and all the various forms of free expression represented at the Peace Festival which will inevitably ensue if the organizers of that event get their way and bring about the premature withdrawal of NATO forces. In this post, I'd like to quickly point out that Islamists are not the only ones with a long history of subordinating civil liberty to religious piety.

F.E. Abbot wrote an excellent letter to some years ago, on the subject of the interaction between human rights and religion. Towards the end, he summarizes his thesis thusly, "You may search the Bible from Genesis to Revelations, and not find one clear, strong, bold affirmation of human rights as such." I encourage everyone to read all of Abbot's letter and seriously consider whether he is far off the mark.

I would argue that Abbot is spot-on and moreover that his argument may be readily extended to other groups in other times, such as the LGBT communities even now struggling for recognition and equality all across America. Until they are willing to boldly criticize the numerous and various faiths which have historically justified intolerance, fear, and loathing of them, they cannot hope to be truly free. So long as they are willing to pay even the smallest bit of deference to religious faith as a means to understand morality and establish law, they will inevitably be held captive to the blind bigotry of our ignorant forebears.

Indeed, it seems clear that Abbot's argument may be made even forcefully in our own time and place than as originally written. Women of faith could argue, contra Abbot, that the Christian Bible has a reserved a place for them (however humble) as devout believers and even missionaries, so long as they never went too far and attempted to wield authority over a man. This option is unavailable to the LGBT community without deliberately misconstruing significantly passages (such as Romans 1) or else pretending that those particular bits of holy writ are somehow inapplicable to the modern Christian life. I've always had a soft spot for those who value right morality over intellectual consistency in such cases, but it should be obvious that outright skepticism is the preferable path.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Are civil rights worth fighting for?

The answer from those organizing and supporting the 2009 Peace Festival must be, unequivocally, in the negative.  As they continue working to overthrow the alleged American occupation of Afghanistan (an act which would clearly favor the resurgent Taliban) one must ask whether they’ve really thought things out very far.


It should be obvious to the various feminist and reproductive rights groups present at the festival that their agenda will be the very first to go when Afghanistan gives up on democracy in favor of theocracy.  Women will once again be objects of submission in every possible sense, including especially the giving over of all sexual and reproductive rights to their husbands.


PFLAG and other LGBT rights groups were also present in force at the event, openly signing petitions which would have the ultimate effect of allowing the reinstatement of a regime in which the ruling clerics have mandated burying homosexuals alive for the crime of sodomy.  These clerics are alive and well, and looking forward to a time when the NATO forces no longer stand between them and the reimposition of Sharia.


Members of the Bahá'í, Buddhist, Urantian and Unitarian faiths (among others) were also on hand, along with various freethinkers, any of whom would be unmercifully and unflinchingly killed (along with any converts they might make) on account of furthering apostasy from the one true faith mandated under Taliban rule.


Various to the environmentalist groups were also on hand, and it should be enough to point out that the Taliban went so far as to ban the use of any recycled materials on religious grounds, because they might well have little sacred bits embedded therein. 


Finally, as to the various dancers, artists, and musicians, do not think for a moment that your heretical and sinful arts will be allowed under the new (old) regime.  The Talibs famously banned nearly every artistic expression that you can name as contrary to piety.


This is an open challenge to everyone who worked at the Peace Festival.    Ask yourself the following fairly simple question: Will my political or religious causes be furthered or even tolerated under a resurgent Taliban regime?  If the answer is no, you should ask yourself why you have been asked to support a precipitous withdrawal of the international forces now standing between that nation and an utter collapse back into totalitarian theocracy.  Think about it.  Perhaps civil rights are worth fighting for, and not merely in the metaphorical sense.  Sometimes a sternly worded letter just isn’t enough.