Category Archives: religion

Beating Intelligent Design at its own game

At a time I much liked to discuss “Intelligent Design” until I learned that the people supporting it are just not interested in discourse but rather, much like Fox Mulder, want to believe no matter what anybody else might say. You can read all of that here. Be sure to follow the link in the first comment, though, to read some of the actual discussion.

Now, a good friend who knows all about that pointed me to a web site I had not been aware of before, though it is not actually new. It is the web site of the “Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster“, a parody of “Intelligent Design”. By claiming the right of the church’s doctrine to be taught at school, those folks are exposing how weak the same claim made by the supporters of “Intelligent Design” is, too (unless the Constituion be changed).

This approach is probably far more promising than philosophical discourse alone. As must be expected, the only official responses the original open letter to a Kansas School Board in the process of deciding whether or not to include “Intelligent Design” in the curriculum were sent by members of the board already opposing the inclusion. But there are other notable successes. And the approach is also very entertaining at that. The theory is altogether hilarious, though of course Bobby Henderson is experiencing the same kind of reactions from conservative Christians I have received. But if some people feel threatened by this kind of openess of mind, by this kind of open-ended discourse, then that has nothing to do with the kind of freedom the land of the free is advertising. And if the same people refuse to understand, that it is an even bigger threat to people of different opinions if the former make religion more than a private life matter and try to impose their understanding of what will make one go to Heaven or Hell on the latter, that also reminds me of other countries and/or times, not the land of the free and the 21st century.

I wonder whether I can officially become a pastafarian and send my church taxes over there.

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Ustinov on Prejudice

One of my simpler joys while on vacation is reading a good book and reading more than just a few pages in a row. This time I brought along a book I had originally started because it does not require to be read in one go but is split in a large number of separate episodes. Now that I have come to spend more time with it, I am falling in love with it. The book is “Achtung! Vorurteile” written by Sir Peter Ustinov in 2003.

Achtung! Vorurteile

The title translates fairly enough as “Beware! Prejudice” and is very well chosen. In a large number of episodes Ustinov holds a mirror up to us and unmasks the mechanisms of prejudice in mankind in the most disarmingly casual and charming way ever. Where it criticizes, the book is not quite as sharp as it could be. I am beginning to think that this could be part of Ustinov’s wisdom which to comprehend I may be yet too young or impatient. Ustinov watched mankind with a keen but mostly friendly eye.

Let us look at two examples taken from the rororo paperback edition. The translations are mine. The first example is from page 89f.:


It is very amusing to busy oneself with the religions of the world for they all have their quaint dogmata. However, it is less amusing when those religions force forms of life altogether not funny on people. Religions produce prejudice because they are based on dogmas, because they are closed systems. In politics, dogmas have always led towards bankruptcy. The Soviet Union broke down because it was based on dogmas. The ideology was not flexible enough to make a compromise with life.

I like to watch the Admiral’s Cup. Among sailors it is a well known fact that a mast too taut will snap. But if it adapts to conditions of weather and wind every day, yields, stays flexible, it remains unscathed. Dogmas are too taut, under certain conditions of wind they must burst. The city arms of Paris are among the most philosophical ones I know. It depicts a ship at sea and a motto: “Fluctuat nec mergitur.” — “It sways and does not sink.” Or, in other words: Because it sways, it does not sink. All rigid societies are doomed, and even the Pope has realized that. He has recently been more flexible and responsive to changing winds. In South America, for example, the Church faces completely different circumstances. One cannot assume Polish conditions. Basically, believers have taken the issue into their own hands. They are much less dogmatic, at least in Christian Europe, where the idea of ecumenism is very strong.

And women in the Catholic Church? I have never understood why women can only become a matron. Why should they not be an archbishop? I believe the Church would benefit from women, if we do need a Church. But even more firmly do I believe you can behave like an ideal Christian without believing in any specific Church at all.

(Note that the Pope here is still John Paul II.)

Or, from page 109f.:

Headscarves, or: I am a feminist

Today, when we look at countries of the Orient shaped by Islam, a certain kind of malaise creeps on us, especially considering the role women play. Also, our notion of democracy and human rights appear to find only few friends among the potentates in some places. There are numerous signs indicating that this is not just our prejudice. After all, it is to this that some supporters of military intervention in Iraq referred and refer, who under a banner moral and democracy feel as liberators in a just war. One could respond with the words of the French moralist La Rochefoucauld according to which nobody has yet been taught virtue by force. Some think many countries have not progressed as far as the nations of the West. There may occasionally be a grain of truth in that. But what is progress? The U.S. certainly is a very advanced, modern country with immense technological means. They have, this the war in Iraq teaches us, a machinery for propaganda which has at its disposal twenty times as many means of disinformation and manipulation as had been available in the times of the dreadful Mr. Goebbels. Only, this machinery is sometimes operated in a very amateurish fashion, and thus Mr. Bush and his friend Mr. Blair now stand there like liars caught red-handed. And another comment on the question of progress in the West: There are Americans, and the first to be named would be George W. Bush, who live in another century. They are completely under the influence of the ancient Romans or rather movies that used to be made about the Romans. At times I feel somewhat complicitous, for in my sleepless nights I sometimes have the impression, fifty years ago, I have not played Nero but George Doubleyou. The two have stunning similarities.

Now, I have always loved Ustinov as an actor but I had never realized how skilled a practical philosopher he actually was — all the more tragic he is no longer with us. Just a little research, however, proved I could have known this all along. Not only was he chancellor of the Durham University and researched the history of prejudice, he also established the Ustinov foundation with one of its primary goals being the fight against prejudice today. The book I would like to recommend here is a remarkable weapon in this fight through its humourous way. If only it were available to the people not speaking German, too.

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Brandenburg rejects Opus Dei’s plans for new school

Took a while but I finally got some feedback. Turns out the federal state of Brandenburg has rejected the application Opus Dei has made for the foundation of a privately run school.

The official reason provided is not quite as clear a statement as I might have hoped for, but I won’t start nitpicking here. This is how it goes:

Article 7 of the [German] Constitution establishes that private schools, as an alternative to public schools, are subject to governmental supervision and thus to the laws of the federal state in question. The federal states independently govern educational objectives in their own state constitutions and school laws.

According to § 120 of the Brandenburg school law private schools serve as an alternative to public schools present or intended in the state. The application of the society for the support of schools of free agencies, however, is no full-featured alternative because it exclusively relates to the education of boys. Public schools in the state of Brandenburg, however, are coeducational in accordance with § 4 of the Brandenburg school law.

This regulation for coeducation implements the requirement of § 3 of the Brandenburg school law, according to which schools in the state are to be arranged in a way to “ensure equal access independent of economical or social condition, national origin, political or religious conviction, or gender.”

This is based on the sexual equality laid down in the state’s constitution. There § 12 establishes that nobody may be favoured or disadvantaged because of his gender, and that the state is obliged to ensure the equality of man and woman in education “through effective means.” This includes the equal right of access to educational facilities.

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