January 7 - 13, 2007

This column will provide links to, plus quotes and summaries of, on-line articles that might be of interest to the Infidel community. Because theinfidels.org is concerned with educational issues, the articles selected will help to inform and enlighten readers as well as entertain them. In order to conform to "fair use practices," only small segments of the articles will be quoted. One caveat: to read the entire linked article, readers may have to subscribe to on-line versions of newspapers or magazines.

Happy New Year, and here's a fresh round up of Infidel news for the first week of 2007. Let's start with a column that appeared on January 6th in the British press, specifically The Guardian, written by Tobias Jones who sees "secular fundamentalists" (particularly Richard Dawkins) as new "totalitarians":

There's an aspiring totalitarianism in Britain which is brilliantly disguised. It's disguised because the would-be dictators - and there are many of them - all pretend to be more tolerant than thou. They hide alongside the anti-racists, the anti-homophobes and anti-sexists. But what they are really against is something very different. They - call them secular fundamentalists - are anti-God, and what they really want is the eradication of religion, and all believers, from the face of the earth.
In recent years these unpleasant people have had a strategy of exploiting Britain's innate politeness. They realized that for a decade overly sensitive souls (normally called the PC brigade) had bent over backwards to avoid giving offence. Trying not to give offence was, despite the excesses, a noble courtesy.

But the fundamentalists saw an opening. Because we live in a multiconfessional society, they fostered the falsehood that wearing a crucifix or a veil or a turban was deeply offensive to other faiths. They pretended to be protecting religious sensibilities as a pretext to strip us of all religious expressions. In 2006 Jack Straw and BA fell into the fundamentalists' trap.

But Britons are actually laissez-faire about such things. And so the fundamentalists deployed an opposite tactic. Instead of pretending to protect religious sensibilities, they went on the offensive and sought to give offence. The subsequent reactions to the play Behzti in Birmingham, to Jerry Springer the Opera and to the Danish cartoons were wheeled out as examples of why religious groups are unable to live with our cherished freedom and tolerance.

Read the complete article here...

On a much happier note, here's a review of a new comic opera, a send-up of all things zealous, which is playing at the Steve Allen Theater in Los Angeles, a theater that is an outgrowth of the Center For Inquiry:

THE Beastly Bombing (or a Terrible Tale of Terrorists Tamed by Tangles of True Love)” is not your ordinary operetta. It is a buddy comedy about white supremacists and members of Al Qaeda who meet while attempting to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge, all set to jaunty melodies evocative of Gilbert and Sullivan. The skinheads and terrorists gambol about the stage, engaging with pill-popping first daughters, a Saudi-loving president, a pedophilic priest, the New York City Police Department and Jesus. In a rollicking dance number, the neo-Nazis, terrorists and a Hasidic extremist bond over what they have in common: “I hate Jews.” (The Hasidic extremist hates secular Jews.)

Certainly it wasn’t the sort of thing anyone had pegged for a hit — not even its creators. After a year of rejections from theaters from London to Los Angeles, the composer, Roger Neill, and the librettist, Julien Nitzberg, had almost lost hope. But then their fortunes changed. “We were lucky — no, amazed — to find a venue with the same ethos that we had,” Mr. Nitzberg said.
If that sounds unlikely, well, the Steve Allen Theater is not just any theater. Part of the Center for Inquiry-West, a nonprofit group founded by Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov to promote science and secular humanism, it is known for its willingness to embrace controversy. (In June — 6/6/06 to be exact — it held a Satanic High Mass for leather and tuxedo-clad devil-worshippers.) Amit Itelman, the theater’s artistic director, said the show was a natural fit. “It may contain material offensive to some Muslims, Christians and Jews, but one can’t stop the creative process because of fear of offending someone.”

To read the full Times article, cjlck here...

This is a very *hot* site for comment on atheism, provided by the Washington Post. The posted opinions now have filled nine on-line "pages."

Why Is Atheism Enjoying A Certain Vogue?

Atheism is enjoying a certain vogue right now. Why do you think that is? Can there be a productive conversation between believers and atheists, and if so over what kinds of issues?

Click here for the full article...

Also in the Washington Post, a column on remarks made by Pope Benedict regarding the need for a renewal of humanism, no doubt Christian humanism. At least it's better than a call for increased mysticism:

VATICAN CITY -- Religious leaders of all faiths must play a role in ensuring that the spiritual and cultural aspects of life are not forgotten as mankind tackles the challenges of globalization, Pope Benedict XVI said Saturday.

In his homily during Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, the pope said recent decades have seen a "challenge to global civilization, where the center can no longer be Europe and not even that which we call the West or the North of the world."

"The need emerged to elaborate a new world political and economic order, but at the same time and above all, a spiritual and cultural one--that is, renewed humanism," he said.

For the full article, click here...

Back to the New York Times and to gloom; I guess it's a sign of a roller-coaster year ahead. The federal budget for science funding has been and continues to remain stalled, leaving some projects on the brink of being abandoned:

For 2007, Congress and the Bush administration agreed that the federal budget for the physical sciences should get a major increase. A year ago, in his American Competitiveness Initiative, President Bush called for doubling the money for science over a decade. That prompted schools and federal laboratories to prepare for long-deferred repairs and expansions, plans that appear now to be in jeopardy.

Among the projects at risk is the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York, on Long Island. The $600 million machine — 2.4 miles in circumference — slams together subatomic particles to recreate conditions at the beginning of time, some 14 billion years ago, so scientists can study the Big Bang theory. It was already operating partly on charitable contributions, officials say, and now could shut down entirely, throwing its 1,069 specialists into limbo.

“For us, it’s quite serious,” said Sam Aronson, the Brookhaven director. For the nation, Dr. Aronson added, the timing is especially bad because the collider has given the United States a head start on European rivals, who hope to build a more powerful machine.

“Things are pretty miserable for a year in which people talked a lot about regaining our competitive edge,” Dr. Aronson said. “I think all that’s stalled.”

Click here to read the full article...

Finally, what seems to be good news. Many of us who are Unitarian Universalists wonder why there is a push for incorporating more and more Christian and spiritual rituals within our Sunday services and other events. Well, many Jews are moving away from typical rituals, and instead designing services that are natural and open to multiple desires for serenity, learning, or interaction. From the Dallas Morning News:

When Jews went to synagogue at Congregation Shearith Israel in North Dallas on a recent morning, most of them didn't sit through the typical three-hour prayer service, conducted mostly in Hebrew.

Instead, they went for a bike ride, talked about Kabbalah or took a yoga class.

Congregation Shearith Israel is one of many synagogues around the country to adopt a new program called Synaplex Shabbat. Just as a cineplex theater shows multiple movies, the synagogues offer a variety of programs catering to individuals' diverse needs.

"It's about creating different points of access to meet people where they're at on the spiritual ladder," said Rabbi William Gershon, senior rabbi at the Conservative temple.

Click here for the full article...

Web www.theinfidels.org
The Talk of Lawrence