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Unfit to stand trial

A short story by JACK HASTIE

IALDABAOTH, the presiding demiurge, was in the chair. The accused, Yahweh, in the dock. The clerk of the court read out the indictment: you are charged firstly with GENOCIDE; Namely that (1) in 1556 anno mundi you wilfully destroyed the entire human race, with the exception of one family, by drowning. And that (2) after the exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt you did incite Joshua to carry out a systematic holocaust of the Canaanites.

Secondly, with sundry other incitements to MURDER viz that of Agag King of the Amalekites by Samuel; Michael Servetus by John Calvin; bishops Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley by Mary Tudor; Thomas Aikenhead by the Church of Scotland, to mention only a representative few.

Thirdly, with malicious HOMOPHOBIA in that you destroyed the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis XIX, 24-5) and that you commanded your followers to treat homosexuality as a capital offence, as reported in your autobiography (Leviticus XX, 13).killer competitionPH

The clerk sat down.

Council for the defence rose.

The chair recognised him: “Mr Freud.”

“My lord, I submit that the accused is not fit to stand trial.”

“On what grounds?”

“The accused has a demonstrably unstable personality. I will submit medical evidence of four conditions that render him incapable of rational, moral behaviour.

“Firstly my client is BI-POLAR. In addition to the charges listed in the indictment, which he does not deny, he wishes to be considered also his murderous intentions as described in his autobiography (Leviticus XXVI 14–39), in which he threatens his own followers with a series of tortures which the Court will be appalled to hear.”

Ialdabaoth intervened: “I hardly see this as an argument for the defence, Mr Freud.”

“Can I presume upon the Court’s patience?” Freud continued. “On other occasions he has healed the sick, encouraged little children to come to him, exhorted his followers to ‘do unto others as you would be done by’, love your enemies and love your neighbours as yourself.

“He has offered himself to torture by crucifixion in order to underline his principles.

“These are documented fully in the second volume of his autobiography. However, even in this phase there are traces of an underlying streak of intolerance and arrogance. I quote, ‘no man cometh to the Father but by me’ (John 14,6) and ‘there is no home to believers but the church’ (as quoted by Cyprian of Carthage). There is also a worrying indication of an urge to self- harm by courting martyrdom.

“In a more recent mood swing he seeks to re-invent himself as ‘the ground of our being’, to re-interpret his autobiography as allegory, never intended to be taken literally and to distance himself from his previous atrocities.

“May I now move to the second evidence of clinical malfunction? My client suffers from PARANOIA. He admits as much himself in his autobiography in which he states, categorically, ‘I am a Jealous god’ and then goes on to list a series of collective punishments he proposes to inflict on the children of those he thinks are opposed to him (Exodus XX, 5).

“My third contention is that my client suffers from OBSESSIVE/COMPULSIVE DISORDER. If the court will be patient enough to read this lengthy and repetitive document” – he passed the book of Leviticus to the clerk – “it will realise that his insistence on the minutiae of rites and ceremonies, burnt offerings, ritual purity – clean and unclean foods, purification of women, ritual bathing – Sabbath observance, redemption of slaves et cetera, et cetera, et cetera renders him incapable of making rational judgements.

“My fourth clinical submission is that my client suffers from SCHIZOPHRENIA. There are two symptoms which support this diagnosis: firstly he has developed the illusion that he is three persons simultaneously.”

Freud passed on copies of the minutes of the Council of Nicaea of 325 and of Constantinople of 381. “He has even given a name to one of his alter egos and a title to another. This a classic case of split personality of the Jekyll-and-Hyde variety, since the original personality is almost exclusively evil and the more prominent alter usually, though not exclusively benign. It is difficult to know to which of the personas his more recent atrocities are to be attributed.

“Secondly in his third personality phase he inspires his devotees to talk unintelligible nonsense, as reported in Volume II of his autobiography (Acts II – Pentecost). There is some evidence that the cause of these mental conditions may be genetic, since his younger brother, Allah, has recently been exposed as a murderous psychopath and sadist.”

The council concluded his argument: “On the basis of these well-documented accounts of the mental history of my client I submit that he is not fit to stand trial.”

The presiding demiurge turned to the Council for the prosecution: “In view of what the court has heard do you intend to continue with the prosecution, Mr Nietzsche?”

“My learned colleague has put the case more comprehensively than I could myself. I would withdraw my case if a formal verdict of guilty but insane can be recorded,” Nietzsche replied.

• The illustration above was provided by US artist Shell Fisher. You can see examples of his other work here.

Cake and Equality

Human rights campaigner PETER TATCHELL explains why he supports Christian bakers

IN MAY 2014 Gareth Lee enters Ashers Bakery in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He wants a cake depicting Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie below the motto “Support Gay Marriage” for an event to mark International Day Against Homophobia. Ashers, run by a fundamentalist Christian family, the McArthurs, initially accept the order, but contact Lee a few days later to say they cannot fulfil it because it goes against their religious beliefs.

Backed by the Equality Commission, Lee sues the bakery. The NI Equality Commission then announces that it is beginning legal proceedings against the business. In March 2015 a 17-hour, three-day courtroom battle commences. Lee tells the court that he was left to feel like a “lesser person” when the firm refused his order.

The McArthurs, who own Ashers, tell the court they could not “stand before God” and produce a cake supporting gay marriage. Then in May 2015 District Judge Isobel Brownlie delivers her judgment, finding that Ashers discriminated against customer Lee on grounds of sexual orientation and political beliefs. The firm is ordered to pay him £500 in damages.

The case of clashing religious and equality rights attracts interest from across the world, and also ignites a political row, and the Democratic Unionist Party attempts to introduce a conscience clause Bill which would give business owners the right to refuse service if it impinges on their sincerely held religious views.

In October 2015 the McArthur family announce their intention to appeal against the judgment, and their challenge to the ruling begins in February 2016, but is adjourned until May 9.

At the start of the appeal, human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell entered the fray, siding with the Christian Institute, which is supporting the McArthur family.

Under the headline “I’ve changed my mind on gay cake row. Here’s why” he wrote: “Like most gay and equality campaigners, I initially condemned the Christian-run Ashers Bakery in Belfast over its refusal to produce a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan for a gay customer, Gareth Lee.

“I supported his legal claim against Ashers and the subsequent verdict. My reasons for supporting Gareth’s claim were:

“1. Ashers had falsely advertised their services, saying they were willing decorate their cakes with any message that a customer wanted. They did not say there were any limits on the designs or wording.

“2. I feared that Ashers actions could open the flood gates to allow sectarian loyalist-republican discrimination and discrimination against women, LGBTs and minorities – and their points of view.

“Now, two days before the Asher’s case is being considered by the Appeal Court, I have changed my mind. Much as I wish to defend the gay community, I also want to defend freedom of conscience, expression and religion.

“While Christian bed and breakfast owners and civil partnership registrars were clearly wrong to deny service to gay people, this case is different. It is about the refusal to facilitate an idea – namely, support for same-sex marriage.

“I will continue to oppose the proposed ‘conscience clause’ in Northern Ireland. It is intended to allow discrimination against LGBT people. I do not accept that people of faith should be permitted by law to deny service to LGBTs – or anyone else. Discrimination against people is never acceptable.”

Tatchell added that the bakery’s refusal to create the cake “struck many of us as discrimination based on religious-inspired homophobic prejudice. Ashers believe that the relationships of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are wrong and should not be eligible for the status of marriage. They translated these beliefs into action and declined to make the cake. Ashers would have decorated a cake with a message celebrating traditional heterosexual marriage and promoting a Christian organisation. Surely this was an example of clear-cut anti-gay discrimination? . . . I profoundly disagree with Ashers’ opposition to same-sex love and marriage, and support protests against them. They claim to be Christians and followers of Jesus. Yet he never once condemned homosexuality. Moreover, discrimination is not a Christian value. Ashers’ religious justifications are, to my mind, theologically unsound.

“Nevertheless, on reflection, the court was wrong to penalise Ashers and I was wrong to endorse its decision. For sure, the lawsuit against the bakery was well intended. It sought to challenge homophobia. But it was a step too far. It pains me to say this, as a long-time supporter of the struggle for LGBT equality in Northern Ireland, where same-sex marriage and gay blood donors remain banned.

“The equality laws are intended to protect people against discrimination. A business providing a public service has a legal duty to do so without discrimination based on race, gender, faith, sexuality and so on.

“However, the court erred by ruling that Gareth was discriminated against because of his sexual orientation and political opinions.

“His cake request was not refused because he was gay but because of the message he wanted on the cake. There is no evidence that his sexuality was the reason Ashers declined his order.

“Despite this, Judge Isobel Brownlie said refusing the pro-gay marriage slogan was unlawful indirect sexual orientation discrimination because same-sex marriage is a union between persons of the same-sex and therefore refusing to provide a service in support of same-sex marriage was de facto sexual orientation discrimination.

“I disagree. Refusing to facilitate a message in support of same-sex marriage is not sexuality discrimination. It is discrimination against an idea, not against a person.

“On the question of political discrimination, the judge said Ashers had denied Gareth service based on his request for a message supporting same-sex marriage. She noted: ‘If the plaintiff had ordered a cake with the words “support marriage” or “support heterosexual marriage” I have no doubt that such a cake would have been provided.’ Brownlie therefore concluded that by refusing to provide a cake with a pro-gay marriage wording Ashers had treated him less favourably, contrary to the law.

“This may be a case of differential treatment. However, it was not discrimination against views held or expressed by Gareth but against words he wanted on a cake. Moreover, the law against political discrimination was meant to protect people with differing political views, not to force others to further political views to which they conscientiously object.

“The finding of political discrimination against Gareth sets a worrying precedent. Northern Ireland’s laws against discrimination on the grounds of political opinion were framed in the context of decades of conflict. They were designed to heal the sectarian divide by preventing the denial of jobs, housing and services to people because of their politics. There was never an intention that this law should compel people to promote political ideas, such as same-sex marriage, with which they disagreed – let alone on a cake.

“The judge concluded that service providers are required by law to facilitate any ‘lawful’ message, even if they have a conscientious objection to it.

“This begs the question: Should a Muslim printer be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed or a Jewish one the words of a Holocaust denier? Will gay bakers have to accept orders for cakes with homophobic slurs? If the current Ashers verdict stands it could, for example, encourage far right extremists to demand that bakeries and other service providers facilitate the promotion of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim opinions.

“It would leave businesses unable to refuse to decorate cakes, print posters and emblazon mugs with bigoted messages.

“In my view, it is an infringement of freedom to require private businesses to aid the promotion of ideas to which they conscientiously object. Discrimination against people should be unlawful but not discrimination against ideas and opinions.”

All is well that ends well

Cash that would have gone to LGBT History Month helps instead to build a Humanist classroom in Uganda, writes BARRY DUKE, editor of The Pink Humanist.

UGANDAN tabloids are notorious for their lurid anti-gay headlines, such as the one above, but, so far, I have not seen one declaring “Godless Homos Have Classroom Named After Them”. This, most likely, is because Ugandan gutter press hacks haven’t yet cottoned onto the fact that in Uganda’s northern Gulu region, an organisation called Humanist Empowerment of Livelihoods Uganda (HELU) is quietly beavering away to create a religion-free community in which children are given a secular education while their mothers learn valuable, life-changing trade skills.

Among HELU’s supporters is the UK’s only gay humanist charity, the Pink Triangle Trust, publishers of The Pink Humanist, and, by way of thanking the trust, HELU recently named one of its classrooms after veteran gay activists George Broadhead and his spouse, Roy Saich, a couple based in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, who have been together for 51 years. Broadhead is the PTT's secretary.

According to its website, HELU is a Humanist community-based organisation established to promote Humanism as life stance, and where people are encouraged to shape their lives without depending on religion.

Agnes Ojera, HELU’s Programme Manager, is quoted as saying: “It requires a lot of resilience and courage to be a Humanist in Uganda.” Non-believers, she says, are up against “extreme religious and traditional practices accompanied by unfavourable Government policies.”

In the past, the Pink Triangle Trust has helped fund the UK LGBT History Month, launched in 2005 in the wake of the abolition of Section 28 in 2003, and intended to raise awareness of, and combat prejudice against sexual minorities. The event takes place during February each year. All was going well for the event organisers until some bright sparks hit on the idea of giving this year’s History Month a religious theme. What on earth were they thinking?

On Stonewall’s website I was horrified to read this message: “At Stonewall we’re proud to work with lots of inspirational LGBT people of faith in our work to challenge homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. We’ll profile role models and their stories throughout the month.”

Equally horrified was the Pink Triangle Trust, and it withdrew funding from the 2016 event. When I ran a piece on the Freethinker website about History Month’s religious theme and the angry reaction to it by Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, Pink Triangle Trust trustee Diesel Balaam commented:

The Pink Triangle Trust normally helps to fund LGBT History Month, but pulled the plug this year in protest at the depressingly pro-religionist direction the organisation has taken. Instead, we donated the funds to an a Ugandan Humanist charity, which, among other humanitarian work, supports LGBT people who are being persecuted by religionists in that country. Unfortunately, the leftists who control LGBT History Month are the usual contemptible Corbynistas who want to suck up to religionists of every stripe. I’m sure Terry Sanderson would endorse the PTT’s decision not to fund LGBT History Month this year and would also urge all freethinkers to support and donate to the PTT charity via its website and online magazine, The Pink Humanist.

Stonewall even produced an online booklet entitled Christian Role Models for LGBT Equality, with a foreword by Ruth Hunt, Chief Executive of Stonewall, who said:

It will come as no surprise to some, and as a huge surprise to others, that lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people exist in every community, in every workplace, in every region, from every ethnic background, and in every religion.

Religion is often the most sticky of these to reconcile. Some will say that LGBT people cannot possibly exist in faith communities; that faith communities do not accept same-sex relationships or those who transition; that LGBT people can be ‘cured’. And of course these beliefs can, and do, exist.

As a result, there are many LGBT people who reject their faith or feel an ever widening chasm between two parts of their core identity. However, there are also many religious communities, groups and places of worship where these beliefs do not exist. This book focuses on the experiences of Christians from across the world. Their backgrounds and religious traditions are all different: some are priests, some are in relationships, some have been imprisoned. Some of the people in this book identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans, and others are the staunchest of allies. But what they all share is a belief that God is love and acceptance.

Sanderson said:

I thought LGBT History Month was supposed to be a celebration of our past struggles and achievements. I imagined it was there to honour those heroes who had paved the way for our present freedoms.

What is there to celebrate about religion’s part in our history? It is one continuous catalogue of persecution, discrimination and hatred leading sometimes to lethal consequences.

gay historyThe design for the badges and posters for the 2016 event was created by Gareth Marshall, of the University of Bedfordshire, who claims on the LGBT History Month resources page to have been inspired by the phrase “leap of faith”.

I chose this phrase because I believe It is a very powerful, and personal message. It is about believing and having faith both in one’s religion, and in oneself. It represents a risk we take for a better outcome and future, a push forward in acceptance and tolerance within and towards to LGBT community, and the strength it can take to come out as a homosexual, bisexual or trans person.

But Sanderson said:

Religious bodies have been the enemy of gay progress since the beginning of time. They have been cruel and vindictive on an individual level and relentlessly opposed to any general progress that might have freed us from a cage of fear and loneliness. It was Christianity that kept us in the closet, not just for centuries but for millennia. And it isn’t much better now.

It used to glory in burning us at the stake, but the Catholic Church has gradually, over the centuries, had its overweening power stripped away. Now it has to be more constrained. That doesn’t stop it continuing to oppose any legislation that might make equality a reality in nations where it still holds sway. At present, it is fighting hard to stop Italy from legalising gay civil unions . . . Even the supposedly benign and friendly Church of England recently threw in its lot with the Anglican bishops from Africa who mercilessly incite hatred against gay people. They demand punitive laws from their governments and often get them.

Islam, too, is intensely hostile to gay people and their relationships. Recent polling by the Pew Research organization in the USA showed that in 33 of the 36 countries surveyed, 75 percent of Muslims think that homosexual acts are immoral.

And in some of them that translates into death sentences or long imprisonments for those having the audacity to love each other. We have seen the horrible pictures of young gay men being thrown from high buildings by Islamic State fanatics – if that doesn’t kill them, the mob below is waiting with their stones to finish the job.”
He concluded: “I get annoyed with gay Christians who continue to put money into the collection plates of an institution that is actively trying to take away their human rights. It is depressing that so many gay people remain under the malignant spell of religion.

What self-respecting gay person supports an institution that hates him or her? And why have we allowed our History Month to be hijacked by the apologists for this endless persecution?

Then gay Scottish secularist Garry Otten, in a Gay Star News feature pointing out the dangers posed by religiously motivated censorship and its effect on gay communities in particular wrote:

As the UK celebrates LGBT History Month with a theme of religion this year, we should remember the people who are still being sentenced or murdered in the name of religion, merely for sharing their views.

A dark legacy of religious censorship blights us all, particularly LGBTI people. Novels, poems, art, music, film and sexual expression remain what they should never have become – battlegrounds.

The challenge of atheism in contemporary Zimbabwe, by Leo Igwe

THE saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes” is frequently used to argue against atheism. The line of reasoning is that in situations of fear, danger or stress, people profess some belief in God or in some higher being. So this expression is employed to discredit the atheistic position and to question the authenticity and integrity of the godless life stance. But let’s face it: uncertainty, despair and hopelessness can drive people to seek help from imaginary beings.

However this is not always the case. Many godless people maintain their disbelief in God no matter what dire situations they may find themselves in; they stand their ground and refuse to budge even in the face of extreme fear and stress. In situations of war or conflict, many atheists do not see the need to convert, to hanker after the supernatural or to profess belief in a higher power as a way of coping with difficult or dangerous life situations.

Given the prevailing economic conditions, Zimbabwe can be compared to a foxhole. According to a BBC report, the country’s economy is in deep crisis. Poverty and unemployment are pervasive. The country has witnessed rampant inflation and severe food and fuel shortages. The collapse of the economy has been attributed to the forced seizure of white-owned commercial farms by the Mugabe regime. Everyday life is literally a battle.

But the question is: are there atheists in this country? The answer is yes. Atheists do exist in Zimbabwe and they have started organising, mobilising and connecting with each other, thanks to the Internet. The growing network of atheists in the country is a clear testimony that atheism has a place in the lives of people whether they live under comfortable or stressful conditions; whether they live in a conflict situation or lead peaceful and secure lives.

Recently, I was in contact with two Zimbabwean atheist activists whom I shall call Dan and Jane. They explained the challenge of being an atheist in contemporary Zimbabwe. Dan lives in the capital city, Harare. He had a religious upbringing but has been identifying as an atheist for the past three years. He says: “I was raised religious but I was always the curious type, always willing to question and as I grew up and learnt more, it became increasingly difficult for me to take religion seriously. It was only after I encountered online sceptic and rationalist communities that I started to fully self-identify as an atheist.”

The advent of the Internet has indeed been empowering to non-theists particularly in expediting their leaving the closet. The flow of information and knowledge has been liberating for atheists in Africa because it has furnished them with ideas to nurture their doubts. The Internet has provided atheists in the region with a platform to meet and interact with people of like mind. Though the virtual community has been helpful, atheists still face challenges because they have to relate with real people – friends and family members – in their immediate physical environments.

Dan explains the social cost of identifying openly as an atheist in Zimbabwe:

“The main challenge is that identifying openly as an atheist complicates all manner of relationships. It’s not exactly fun to have to take a measured approach to every conversation you participate in. There is definitely a lack of understanding of what atheism is. For most people not being religious has never occurred to them as an option. Yes there are other atheists in Zimbabwe, I’ve only ever physically met two but I know over ten others from the web. I actually co-run the Zimbabwean Atheist Facebook page which had 95 likes the last time I checked. A significant number of them are atheists from countries other than Zimbabwe, but it still helps to have some space to meet up even if it is virtual.

“As far as I can tell, most of them are in the closet, as am I. I doubt that it is physically dangerous to publicly identify as an atheist in Zimbabwe. I certainly haven’t heard or seen anything to lead me to believe this. However there are bound to be serious social costs attached to that sort of thing. Zimbabweans are very religious and with the economy performing as badly as it is they have become even more religious.

“It’s certainly not hard to imagine a person losing friends and family because they admitted to being an atheist. It is problematic enough being a young person without adding your rejection of the religion to the mix. I am privileged to have a number of friends who understand even when they are mostly Christian themselves, but at the present moment I don’t even dream about disclosing this to family members.

“The future of atheism in Zimbabwe is particularly not easy to predict. I suspect there is a long difficult road ahead of us. The best we can probably hope for in the short term is increased knowledge of what atheism is in the broader society. There would be less shock and fear if it were known that there is an alternative to religion.”

But spreading the knowledge that there is an alternative to religion is difficult because faith groups refuse to acknowledge that such an alternative exists. It’s a case of believing in God or being damned.

Jane, who also lives in Harare, was brought up as a Christian but became an atheist when she was 17. She became an atheist through reading the Bible. “The Bible itself deconverted me,” she stated. This “painful” process of deconversion and abandoning of the Christian faith happened because, while reading the Bible, she noticed “many things which were contradictory and utter nonsense”.

Also she loves science and found scientific claims more persuasive than religious or biblical doctrines. Like Dan, she notes the social cost of “coming out” with her atheism in contemporary Zimbabwe

“Well, being an atheist here is quite a rare thing. I’m open about it to everyone but my family members just to avoid the drama. I think it’s more a matter of the judgement you’ll get rather than being in danger. Atheism is perceived as a bad thing.”

She maintains that atheism is not a topic that is openly talked about in the country and she thinks the muted discourse of atheism is due to the prevailing economic situation.

“The economic crisis definitely gets the churches full. Zimbabweans love ‘miracles’. As an atheist in this country I feel like my opinion is unwanted and unimportant but in all honesty I have bigger things to focus on. So I barely care much. I live and let live”.

Throughout the region, atheists often feel quite helpless in the face of the overwhelming influence of religious faiths. particularly the dominant effects of Christianity and Islam. Religion and politics are so intertwined that atheists are socially and politically squeezed out.

Many believe that there is no future for atheism in the region and that going open and public with one’s disbelief in God or Allah is a needless risk. So, many atheists in Africa remain in the closet or continue to pay lip service to religion. But religious posturing is delaying the emergence of vibrant atheism in the region. It is doing huge damage to the cause of atheist awakening in Africa.

It is important to state that many countries in the West once faced economic challenges similar to the ones experienced by Zimbabweans and other Africans, whose reaction is to seek answers to their problems in places of worship.
But Western atheists refused to submit to religious pressure. They openly expressed their doubts and demonstrated that there were indeed atheists in foxholes. History tells us that their campaigns paid off and contributed to the cause of the Renaissance and Enlightenment in the Western world.

So atheists in Zimbabwe should not despair or relent in their drive for an open, secular and freethinking society. They should not think that their views are of no significance to their country and its future. Instead they should strive to keep the flame of atheism, scepticism and secularism burning despite the odds against them.

And as atheists in Zimbabwe try to make their voices heard; as they try to organise and mobilise in furtherance of secular values, atheist groups and activists in other parts of the world should reach out to them and show support and solidarity.