Required to study Islam: Religious Freedom?

Is forced Muslim religious education compatible with freedom of religion? We don’t tend to have court news quite this interesting (as far as religion goes) here in New Zealand.

I’m not commenting on this case because of the details that brought the parties to court, so let me quickly summarise what I think are the facts and then move on to what interests me.

  • The tenant is a Muslim woman. The landlord is a 73-year-old ordained pastor from Nigeria.
  • The tenant has had between 12 and 15 people staying in the rented apartment, which the landlord does not permit (or at least does not want, I don’t know if it’s contrary to the lease).
  • The tenant claims that the landlord has a history of shouting anti-Islamic abuse at her and that she pushed her, making her fall down some stairs.
  • The landlord denies treating the tenant this way, saying that the tenant had a vendetta against her because she wouldn’t let more people live in the apartment and because of her religion.
  • The judge found against the landlord, also noting that previous tenants have taken out prevention orders against her.

That brings us up to the part that I’m interested in. Here’s what the judge did:

He sentenced her to two years in jail on the assault and battery charge for pushing Suliman but required her to serve only six months, with the remaining 18 months suspended if she complied with certain probation conditions.

“I want you to learn about the Muslim faith,” he said. “I want you to enroll and attend an introductory course on Islam. I do want you to understand people of the Muslim faith, and they need to be respected. They may worship Allah … but they need to be respected.”

Continue reading “Required to study Islam: Religious Freedom?”

Mean religious kids?

A few people have asked me what I think of the numerous news articles about a recent study purporting to show that religious children are less altruistic than non-religious children.

The Daily Beast sums up the findings with the headline “Study: Religious kids are jerks.” An article over at Groopspeak makes the audacious claim that “Major study shows that religious children are less moral than non-religious kids” Rhetoric like this is pretty difficult to justify in light of a closer look at the study (see below), but we live in a world where we automatically share the link to that story that says “Beer is good for you,” “Bacon isn’t so bad after all” or “Coffee wards off cancer.” We latch onto claims that the world is the way we would prefer it to be without so much as looking twice to see if it’s true. Continue reading “Mean religious kids?”

Religion, Hard Times and Causation

What comes first: religion or adverse social conditions?

I’ve heard it said a few times that there’s a correlation between religious societies in the modern West and social ills like crime and poverty. If we wanted to be really picky, the study that purported to show this (a study that has seen its fair share of criticism) actually showed that where the religious exist alongside the non-religious and where religion is construed in a particular way (a type of conservative religious outlook that included the rejection of evolutionary science), social ills were more prevalent. I’ve commented briefly on this before (See “Does Religious Faith make People More Moral?”).

When the alleged correlation was first brought to my attention in a radio discussion in 2010, I didn’t think much of it. There were probably a few ways the analysis could go. One possibility, I suggested, was that social ills like poverty could actually contribute to the religiosity of the people affected. But for some reason, every time I have heard the study referred to, it has only been in a context where somebody was trying to show that religion is bad for you.

As it turns out, while the ideologues were at it, so were researchers. “People living in hardship are more likely to believe in moralising, high gods, according to a major new study co-authored by New Zealand researchers.” Continue reading “Religion, Hard Times and Causation”

Religion and Mental Health

Are religious people on the whole more likely to be mentally ill?

We live in a world where people form strong opinions (or rather, are happy to see their already strong opinions/biases reinforced) by browsing headlines. So when people see the (still fairly recent) headline, “Spiritual people are more likely to be mentally ill,” you can guess what prejudices will be reinforced. “Religion is a symptom of an unwell mind!” Or maybe “Religion is so crazy that it makes those who believe in it go mad!” Whatever the specifics, the point is, religion equals nutso.

Here, as with many misunderstandings, the solution is simply taking a few minutes to read and digest the information before leaping to conclusions. Continue reading “Religion and Mental Health”

The BSA, the ASA and “good taste”

Here in New Zealand we have a thing called the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA).

Their mission statement is that they will “Support fairness and freedom in broadcasting through impartial complaints determination, effective research and informing stakeholders.” I don’t know why they call it supporting freedom – perhaps it sounds nice – but basically what they do is hear complaints about things that have been broadcast on television and radio and decide whether or not to uphold the complaint. Their functions are:

(a) To receive and determine complaints…

(c) To publicise its procedures in relation to complaints; and
(d) To issue to any or all broadcasters, advisory opinions relating to broadcasting standards and ethical conduct in broadcasting; and
(e) To encourage the development and observance by broadcasters of codes of broadcasting practice appropriate to the type of broadcasting undertaken by such broadcasters in relation to –
(i) The protection of children:
(ii) The portrayal of violence:
(iii) Fair and accurate programmes and procedures for correcting factual errors and redressing unfairness:
(iv) Safeguards against the portrayal of persons in programmes in a manner that encourages the denigration of, or the discrimination against, sections of the community on account of sex, race, age, disability or occupational status or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs:
(v) Restrictions on the promotion of liquor:
(vi) Presentation of appropriate warnings in respect of programmes that have been classified as suitable only for particular audiences:
(vii) The privacy of the individual

(h) To conduct research and publish findings on matters relating to standards in broadcasting.

Recently the BSA upheld a complaint about a TV show called 7 days, a show with a reputation for being a bit on the crass side. In short, there’s a show segment called “my kid could draw that,” where children (in a pre-recorded clip) present a drawing they have made of a recent news item, and show guests have to figure out what the news item is. I think that’s how it works, but the detail of that don’t matter now. A girl showed a picture of some men in a bunk, and it was then explained (after the guests failed to guess the news item) that the picture referred to a proposal – one that had gained some publicity – to double bunk inmates in prisons to save money. The girl explained that the picture read, “No money, plus a lot of prisoners, equals a lot of grossness up ahead.” You can guess the kind of humour that this might prompt, and sure enough a few wise cracks were then made by those taking part in the game about sexual antics between men in prisons.

The TV show was broadcast at 10pm and was preceded by a verbal warning that some content may offend. However, the Authority upheld part of the complaint on the grounds that this was sexually lewd material that was shown to be connected in some way to a drawing made by a specific child. Accordingly the show segment was deemed to have violated standards of decency and good taste. Read the decision here. Continue reading “The BSA, the ASA and “good taste””

Episode 030: Religion in the Public Square: Is it Justified?

When I was at the University of Canterbury in July I gave two talks. Episode 29 was one of those talks, on abortion. This talk was actually based on the same material that served as the basis for episode 3, so there will be obvious similarities.

Think of this as a consolation prize while I (very slowly) finish the next episode in the series In Search of the Soul. Hey, if you want me to get these things done faster, then hire me. 🙂

Glenn Peoples

Episode 003: Religion in the Public Square, Part 2

parliament-godPart 2 of a 2 part series on Religion in the Public Square.

For those interested, here’s the transcript for this episode, and here‘s the transcript for episode 2. Comments are welcome, and remember, if you’d like to email questions/comments/feedback for me to address in the show, feel free to use the contact button over on the right.

Episode 002: Religion in the Public Square, Part 1

parliament-godDo our religious beliefs have any place in our political and public life?

This is the first of 2 episodes on religion in the public square, a subject that will probably come up from time to time at the podcast.

Dennett. Yawn, says Jack Miles.

Apparently, people other than conservative Christian scholars have noticed that Daniel Dennett’s analysis of the divide between religion and skepticism is shallow. See Jack Miles’ Review here.

Dennett sets out to tell us all that we need to break the spell of religion, and break it now. But so much of what he says ends up being more sauce than meat. For example, says Miles:

[I]ntellectual outbursts emotionally akin to “Let’s step outside and settle this, shall we?” keep intruding. Thus we read: “If theists would be so kind as to make a short list of all the concepts of God they renounce as balderdash before proceeding further, we atheists would know just which topics were still on the table, but, out of a mixture of caution, loyalty, and unwillingness to offend anyone ‘on their side,’ theists typically decline to do this.” Perhaps so, but then is Dennett prepared to perform a comparable triage for the favorite topics of his fellow atheists? Where do “we atheists” stand, for example, with regard to fellow atheist Howard Stern? We theists would like to know, if Dennett would be so kind, though we fear that out of a mixture of caution, loyalty and unwillingness to offend, he may pass over America’s most influential single atheist in silence.Truth to tell, this kind of game is depressingly easy to play, and it’s a rare student of religion who really wants to be drawn into it.

What’s got Dennett so riled up? Miles suggests that it’s because while skepticism has better arguments, it’s dying out anyway. That may well be how Dennett would choose to describe the state of philosophical affairs, but in light of the recent upsurge in religious belief rather than skepticism in philosophers of religion, this charge is more than a little difficult to maintain without serious misgivings. One sociological fact, however, is much harder to deny:

Fertility rates in the relatively secular blue states are 12 percent lower than in the relatively religious red states, according to Philip Longman in the March/April issue of Foreign Policy. In Europe, a similar correlation holds. As Longman writes: “Do you seldom, if ever, attend church? For whatever reason, people answering affirmatively . . . are far more likely to live alone, or in childless, cohabitating unions, than those who answer negatively.” For the most secular cultures in the world, Longman predicts a temporary drop in absolute population as secular liberals die out and a concomitant cultural transformation as, “by a process similar to survival of the fittest,” they are demographically replaced by religious conservatives.

It’s almost enough to make you believe in Dominion Theology!