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So I thought I’d write up a little piece about my experiences as an unashamedly open atheist in Indonesia to give anyone who reads this stuff an idea of what religion was like there. Here’s the first instalment.

Indonesia: A Moderate Islamic Country?

I jumped off the plane in Java expecting the worst. I’d heard something like 90% of Indonesians were muslim, and the rest were some other form of religion. I’d read and blogged about the treatment of an Indonesian atheist who posted a few Facebook statuses that upset his town and he was subsequently bashed and had his business place smashed up. So right from the start as I walked into the international terminal I was getting ready to shut my mouth for the coming month.

As I lined up at immigration I suddenly became aware of, and somewhat surprised at, the number of middle eastern muslims in the queue with us. Young men in their 20s and 30s were all hanging out chatting loudly whilst next to each of them stood their lesser half, donning the dark black burka from head to toe with barely a 2cm slit for their eyes.

I was with two others, Jane and Bill, who were from the museum and scientists like myself out here for fieldwork. Jane bumped into one of the younger men waiting in line as the queue moved forward. He turned and looked her up and down, and left his gaze on her chest as he grinned salaciously. Creeped the hell out of her, as it did Bill and I. As this happened another middle eastern man walked up to where we were standing in line and bent down under all the ropes as one of the immigration officers became vacant. Several Italian men at the front of the line became enraged, and one of them started shouting at him in english asking why he did that. The middle eastern man pretty much just brushed it off and said “It’s ok, I’ve been here before”. Man these guys were just oozing with self-entitlement and chauvinism!

Eventually we made our way through immigration and into the baggage collection area. I got my first real glimpse at a room full of Indonesian people. There were many women in the head veils, and men wearing their islamic caps, however there were also quite a few men and women not wearing any religious garment. We picked up our luggage and left the airport whilst getting quite a few stares from people, as ‘bules’ (pronounced ‘buley’, meaning Westerner or white person) weren’t that common in this country I quickly found out.

We were picked up by an Indonesian man who worked at the museum in Bogor, with which we were collaborating on this project (all research has to be done in collaboration with Indonesian scientists nowadays or it’s impossible to do fieldwork there). We crammed into his car and some of the first things I noticed were the arabic writing on islamic decorations in the car. I prepared myself for a long, awkward, silent trip to the hotel, but was incredibly surprised, and had to stop myself from giggling, as the man turned the radio on and out came blasting the latest album from the Indonesian Idol winner. Not the sort of music I picked for an islamic man (turns out Indonesians are obsessed with the worst kind of pop-music, and especially love Karaoke). This guy seemed already, and my first impressions of him were that he was a really nice, boisterous, eccentric, kung-fu Panda in appearance (seriously he had this look down pat), and happy man. Not the sort of adjectives I had expected to be throwing his way, but it was a nice surprise. The call to prayer sounded as we were driving, and kept getting softer then louder as we passed by the numerous mosques along the highway. I asked the man what does he do with regards to praying if he’s driving. He told me he never really bothered with it. I was shocked yet again…!

My first few weeks had me meeting some of the nicest people I’ve ever met, at least as a tourist in a foreign country. Everyone in the street wanted to say hello to you, wanted to speak to you, wanted to know your name and where you were going (never worked out why that was such an important question for them? “Hello Mister! Where you going?”). Within the first day I was approached by two groups of Indonesian girls, all wearing hijabs, who wanted photos with me and/or wanted to practice english with me. I was so surprised these girls were even acknowledging my presence, from previous experiences with islamic girls in Melbourne, Australia, let alone them looking me in the eye, smiling, laughing, wanting to speak to me. And pretty quickly it became obvious that this would be a repeated pattern all throughout our travels in Java and Sulawesi. No matter where you went, everyone smiled, everyone acknowledged you and pretty much treated you like a close mate, although sometimes too close…

Looking awkward during the first of 100s of photos I was asked to be in with locals

It had me questioning my previously staunch anti-islam beliefs. How could such nice, friendly, open people, despite being islamic, be so bad? They seemed like any other average person from Australia, just often wearing an islamic cap or hijab. I’d expected it to be like walking off the plane into Yemen or Iran when I’d gotten to Indonesia, after learning it was the country with the most muslims in it in the world. Maybe I was wrong, maybe these guys weren’t that bad…?

For the first week or so I felt somewhat ashamed that I had had such a negative preconceived idea of these people, solely based on religious grounds, prior to coming to this country. I had wanted to dislike anyone, thing or idea even remotely related to the religion of islam prior to coming here, but it felt like perhaps these guys weren’t as bad as the muslims of the middle east. I had always thought there was no such thing as a moderate muslim. That to be islamic meant you wanted death to all unbelievers, and for islam to spread and take over the world. But could I have been wrong? Could there be ‘moderate islamic’ country after all? Could it be Indonesia?

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The following article is a repost from the Alternet blog written by B. E. Wilson.

What does Invisible Children share in common with the Discovery Institute, the leading organization promoting “Intelligent Design”, a pseudo-scientific theory created to insinuate creationist ideas into public schools — or with The Call, whose leader Lou Engle claims homosexuals are possessed by demons, calls God an “avenger of blood” and a “terrorist”, and in May 2010 staged a rally in Kampala, Uganda, at which Engle warned of a gay menace to society and shared a stage with one of the authors of Uganda’s notorious Anti Homosexuality Bill ?

990 IRS tax forms and yearly reports from Invisible Children, and 990s from its major donors, tell a story that’s jarringly at odds with the secular, airbrushed, feelgood image the nonprofit has cultivated.

Among the tens of millions of people who have watched Invisible Children’sKONY 2012 viral video, including Oprah Winfrey – a dedicated supporter of LGBT rights who also has given $2 million dollars to Invisible Children, how many were aware of IC’s extensive financial ties to far-right fundamentalism, including major funders of the mounting global war on gay rights ? IC doesn’t go out of its way to advertise these things.

But Invisible Children’s first yearly report, from 2006, gives “special thanks” to the “Caster Family Foundation” and IC’s 2007 report is more specific, thanking Terry and Barbara Caster. In the lead up to the 2008 election, the California-based Caster family was identified as one of the biggest financial backers of the push for California’s anti-same sex marriage Proposition 8.

Capping the pro-Prop 8 push was a November 1, 2008 San Diego stadium rally held by The Call, whose leader Lou Engle warned that same sex marriage couldunleash a “sexual insanity” that would be “more demonic than Islam” and suggested believers should carry out acts of martyrdom to stop gay marriage and legal abortion, which Engle predicts will lead to a second American civil war.

One of The Call’s major donors in 2008 also gave, that same year, over 400,000 dollars to Invisible Children. These links weren’t anomalies. They were part of a pattern.

What does Invisible Children share in common with James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council (pegged by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “hate group”), or the Fellowship Foundation — one of the nonprofit entities of the Washington-based evangelical organization also known as “The Family” (covered in two books by journalist Jeff Sharlet) whose leader Doug Coe has been captured on video celebrating the dedication inspired by Hitler, Lenin, and Mao ?

What does IC have in common with the ministry of California evangelist Ed Silvoso, who works directly with leading Ugandan author and promoter of the Anti Homosexuality Bill (also called the “kill the gays bill”) Julius Oyet — who claimsthat “even animals are wiser than homosexuals”?

The answer? — all of these ministries – the Discovery Institute, Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, The Fellowship Foundation, The Call, Ed Silvoso’s Harvest Evangelism, and Invisible Children – received at least $100,000 in 2008 from what has emerged in the last decade as the biggest funder of the hard, antigay, creationist Christian right: the National Christian Foundation.

2008 grants from National Christian Foundation, and subsidiaries

Focus on The Family: $4,268,000
Family Research Council: $2,387,000
The Fellowship Foundation (AKA “The Family” or the “International Foundation”): $515,000
Lou Engle’s The Call: $166,000
Ed Silvoso’s Harvest Evangelism: $817,000
The Discovery Institute: $702,000*
Invisible Children: $414,000*

*NCF’s 2008 990 lists $139,000 to IC; NCF subsidiary ProVision Foundation’s 2008 990 lists a $150,000 grant to IC; NCF subsidiary ProVision Trust’s 2008 990 lists a $125,000 grant to IC.
*Answers in Genesis, which directly promotes “Young Earth” creationism,received over $35,000 from the NCF in 2008.

Since it came into existence in 1982, cooked up by canny tax lawyers, the National Christian Foundation–covered in a story by journalist Michael Reynolds published in the December 2005 issue of Mother Jones (extended version of story available here)– has swollen into a financial behemoth that disperses over 1/2 a billion dollars a year to Christian charities. But not just any Christian charities.

The NCF, which counts billionaire, controversial Rick Santorum-backer Foster Friess among its donors, funds nonprofits that advance its agenda which, as stated on the NCF website, is to “enable followers of Christ to give wisely to advance His Kingdom”.

(Joining with Foster Friess, as one of the top 2 donors to Rick Santorum’s Red, White, and Blue Fund Super-PAC, was Templeton Foundation head Dr. John Templeton, Jr. – who donated $35,000 to Invisible Children in 2007 according to the group’s 2007 990.)

The National Christian Foundation’s statement of belief is solidly fundamentalist: “We believe that the entire Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God; the only infallible rule of faith and practice.” Also stated on NCF’s website:

“Our board members know they are charged with a great responsibility. Their goal is to make certain every dollar that comes to us is ultimately distributed according to our Christian mission”

2008 wasn’t the first year Invisible Children benefited from National Christian Foundation largesse – IC’s 2007 990 tax form lists three grants, totaling $350,000, from NCF subsidiary the ProVision Foundation (which is also specifically thanked in IC’s 2007 and 2008 annual reports).

Invisible Children’s first filed 990 tax form, for the calender year running from mid 2005 to mid 2006, listed a $30,000 cash donation, IC’s biggest cash gift that year, from another fundamentalist granting organization, based in Colorado Springs, called the Christian Community Foundation, Inc. (also known as “Waterstone”)

In 2009, CCF assets surpassed $138,000,000 and the foundation made over $20,000,000 in grants, including $365,000 to the Family Research Council and $297,000 to Focus on The Family, as well as small grants to Answers in Genesis and the Fellowship Foundation.

The membership of the Christian Community Foundation, Inc.’s board of directors overlaps with board membership of National Christian Foundation subsidiaries; what this suggests is that, from its first calendar year, Invisible Children had appeared on the radar screen of some of the world’s largest Christian fundamentalist grant-making organizations–which apparently deemed Invisible Children to be a worthy investment that would help advance particular visions for establishing God’s kingdom on Earth.

IC was also on the radar screen, judging by his $5,218 donation listed on the Invisible Children 2006 990 tax form, of Philip Anschutz – the reclusive, Colorado-based devout Christian billionaire, dubbed the “stealth media mogul”, who was in 2007 worth an estimated $6.7 billion dollars.

According to journalist Bill Berkowitz, Anschutz has helped fund the Discovery Institute and supported Colorado’s 1992 anti-gay marriage Amendment 2. In 2005 Anschutz co-produced, in conjunction with Walt Disney Pictures, the Christian-themed fantasy film “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.”

Along with the pro-Proposition 8 Caster Family, another backer specifically thanked in Invisible Children’s first yearly report was the Circle Family Foundation, also known as “Malachi 3″, a small foundation which funds a stable of ministries including Campus Crusade For Christ, whose founder the late Bill Bright patterned his ministry along the lines of revolutionary communist cell groups.

Bright, who once declared himself to be “involved in a conspiracy with thousands of others to ‘overthrow the world’ “, also helped birth the dominionist “Seven Mountains” mandate, which instructs believers to take control of significant sectors of society and culture including: media, arts and entertainment, government, business and finance, the family, religion, and education.

[note: this story explores almost wholly overlooked ties between the Invisible Children nonprofit and the politicized fundamentalist right. It is not intended to be a critique of Invisible Children’s effort to publicize Joseph Kony and the LRA, or the nonprofit’s conduct generally. Subsequent installments will address those issues. For a very different profile of American evangelical involvement in Uganda, see my 20-minute documentary video Transforming Uganda, cited in 2010 testimony before Congress.]

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I’m so sick of hearing about these stories!

A two-week old infant died last year in late September, at Maimonides Hospital, after he was circumcised in a Jewish ritual called metzizah b’ peh. The cause of death was recorded as “disseminated herpes simplex virus Type 1, complicating ritual circumcision with oral suction”.

City official refuse to comment, and according to the article I read in NYDailyNews.com “it’s unclear who performed the circumcision”.

Although it may be impossible to now find the specific person involved in the circumcision who transmitted the disease to the baby, in my opinion that is not the main concern. The issue at hand is that this ritual is still legal and continues today whilst young children are dying from STIs these mohels are transmitting to them. We need to stop the rituals, more than focus on those specific mohels who could be traced to specific STI transmission events.

This practice is beyond disgusting, and more to the point is incredibly dangerous for infants involved. I think both the families who allow their children to be exposed to this ritual, and the religious leaders carry the ritual out itself, should be held accountable, as anyone else would be in similar circumstances without the protective banner of ‘religion’.

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