Archive for June, 2010

An Atheist Meets God

June 30, 2010
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Curious Correlations in the Vote on U.N. Human Rights Council’s Resolution 10/22: Combating Defamation of Religions

June 29, 2010

On March 26, 2009, the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted Resolution 10/22, Combating Defamation of Religions.

Resolution 10/22 would at first appear to be supportive of human rights and freedom of religion. It deplores “negative stereotyping of religion” and “manifestations of intolerance and discrimination in matters of religion or belief.” All well and good, right? No one should have to suffer intolerance, discrimination, or violence because of their beliefs, religious or otherwise.

The problem with this resolution is that it makes no distinction between beliefs and the people who hold them. Its intent is not only to protect the adherents of certain beliefs but also to protect those beliefs themselves from ridicule, defamation, or even critical scrutiny. An important principle of open societies has been violated in this resolution: “People deserve respect. Ideas do not.”

At what point does critical scrutiny become blasphemy? The answer depends on the sensitivities of the believer. In many countries, any criticism of the reigning ideology can lead to imprisonment or even death. In recent years, depictions of the prophet Mohammad have provoked rioting, violent assaults, and fatwas. (See my story on Kurt Westergaard.)

Resolution 10/22 specifically cites defamation of Islam seven times, but never mentions Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, or any other religion. It expresses “deep concern” that Islam is frequently associated with human rights violations and terrorism, and it deplores the targeting of religious symbols and venerated persons (e.g., Mohammad) in the print, audio-visual, and electronic media.

Though Resolution 10/22 is non-binding (at least for now), it still casts a heavy shadow on countries that are dependent on United Nations aid programs.  

This post is the first in a series where I will explore the implications of this resolution. For starters, I’ve gathered some data on the human rights records of countries that voted on the resolution (The vote was 23 to 11, with 13 abstentions.)

I consulted Freedom House to find 2009 human rights scores for all the countries that voted. (2009 was the year of the vote.)  I then color-coded these countries (blue = “against,” and pink = “in favor”) and sorted them three times—for political rights, civil liberties, and freedom of expression.

The results show that those countries supporting the resolution have low scores in political rights, civil liberties, or freedom of expression. (Note a source of possible confusion in these scores: Freedom House assigns highest numerical scores for best records in some categories and for worst records in others.) The results show that countries with the best human rights records were opposed to the resolution. The groupings are amazingly well-defined, with only Ukraine straying slightly outside its color block in the tables.

The Roman Centurion at Holy Communion

June 28, 2010

Centurion Beseeching Jesus on Behalf of his Servant, by William Brassey Hole

In Matthew 8:5-13, we read of a Roman centurion who came to Jesus asking for healing for his male servant. Many Biblical scholars find evidence pointing to a homosexual relationship between the centurion and the servant. If this is so, then Jesus, in healing the servant and blessing the centurion, blessed a gay relationship. (Read the arguments here and here.)

The following comment from the second of these linked articles caught my attention:

One final irony remains. In the Roman Catholic Communion rite, the last words said by every communicant before receiving Holy Communion are: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” Those words may sound familiar now. They paraphrase the centurion’s words as recorded in Matthew. How surprised many of those who condemn homosexuals in Christ’s name would be if they realized that every time they take Holy Communion, the words on their lips are those of a gay man.

Feedback Loops in Arctic Warming

June 28, 2010

Last week, NASA’s Earth Observatory website posted the following map showing global temperature anomalies in May, 2010:

Earth Observatory notes:

Temperature anomalies in May continued a much longer trend. GISS compared the January–May mean surface temperature anomalies for 2010 to those of 2005 and 1998 (the two warmest years on record). January–May anomalies show 2010 to be the warmest out of 131 years (2005 is the fourth warmest and 1998 is the fifth warmest). Moreover, Arctic temperature anomalies are especially pronounced, and have been since the turn of the twenty-first century.

“Ongoing temperature anomalies like these are strong evidence of the Arctic amplification of global climate change,” says Ted Scambos, lead scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center. The Arctic environment is very vulnerable to warming because of feedbacks that amplify the initial change. Sea ice retreat and snow melt reduce Earth’s albedo,which can lead to increased warmth and further melting. Scambos explains that, although the Northern Hemisphere experienced significant snowfall in early 2010, spring melt was rapid, exposing land surfaces to sunlight sooner than usual.