Call The Attorney General Department Right Now

I’m publishing this off of a group on Facebook titled Buddhists Questioning BBS. I think it’s a worthy cause.

Campaign to call the Attorney General’s office and ask: “Why hasn’t the AG’s department still not ordered the Police to arrest the monk Galagodaatte Gnanasara?”
Once you call them, post their response below.
Phone: +94 (11) 2147888
DSG(Administration) Tel : +94 11 242 4894
SSC(Administration) Tel : +94 11 243 3964
Email: administration@attorneygeneral.gov.lk

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As you all know, the rogue “monk” Gnanasara is still at large despite heading the terrorist group “Bodhu Bala Sena (Buddhist Power Force)” and inciting violence through hate speech. Let’s get the authorities to critically examine the situation at hand and bring him to justice.

Prayer – Does It Do Any Good?

After yesterday’s horrific events I found it highly ironic that Buddhists have been calling for religious observances, Muslims and Islamists have been urging everyone to pray for the victims, and people in general have been urging you and I to pray pray and pray some more. This got me thinking. What is prayer? what does it do? is it any good?

While almost all of you have an intuitive understanding of what prayer is and have seen people pray or perhaps have prayed to some god or the other at some point in your life I wanted to examine the claims made by various religious groups and examine how these claims hold up to scrutiny.

Let’s start with a rather popular definition of prayer:

  • A solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or another deity
  • A religious service, especially a regular one, at which people gather in order to pray together
  • An earnest hope or wish

Thanking Google for this definition I recalled a bunch of other definitions I got by interacting with many an evangelical or Islamic friend. Prayers are basically (solemn) conversations we have with God. The conversation is a bit one sided of course as God doesn’t really call you back. Urban Dictionary had a few more interesting things to say about prayer:

  • Although not promoted by public schools, it is the most popular study technique of high school students, typically used minutes before a test.
    “Please, please let me pass this test…”
  • A form of birth control, though highly ineffective.
    “Prayer: Please, please God, don’t let me get pregnant. Oh Jesus, please let my period show up on time”

Love the use cases as always. As far as my experience goes a prayer is sort of a pimped out wish. There’s some sincerity, begging and groveling involved but it basically goes along the lines of “please please make x happen/or do not make y happen”

So how effective is a prayer? to answer this question we would need to examine the scientific evidence for the efficacy of prayer. One of the more interesting papers I came across was “Retroactive prayer: lots of history, not much mystery, and no science” by Jeffrey Bishop and Victor J Stenger which was published in the British Medical Journal in 2004. Stenger and Bishop were critically examining claims made by the religious community, notable that of Olshansky and Dossey. Riveting read, predictable conclusion. Prayer doesn’t work.

To quote Bishop and Stenger,

They [Olshansky and Dossey] argue that prayer might be used instrumentally to bring about desired effects in the
world at a distance of space and time…  Firstly,the findings from human studies which Olshansky and Dossey cite are hardly robust; in places, they are clinically insignificant in terms of effect size and not uncommonly steeped in controversy. Secondly, they call on theoretical mechanisms that have, at best, a questionable connection to medicine. Without plausible mechanism, abundant data with strong significance is necessary. That evidence does not exist.

Let’s examine another rather extensive and robust study by Harvard Medical School together with a group of partner research institutes.  The Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) was a massive study to study the effects of prayer that is designed to intercede on events. Unsurprisingly, this is what they found,

Intercessory prayer itself had no effect on complication free recovery from CABG [cardiac artery bypass graft], but certainty of intercessory prayer was associated with a higher incidence of complications

Intercessory prayer was associated with a higher incidence of complications as opposed to lower,which is a fascinating result in itself. If prayer doesn’t really work then why do people continue to pray and surprisingly, urge others to pray as well?

I leave you with some Hitchens

 

Putting The BBS In Its Place

“‘Religion is based . . . mainly upon fear . . . fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand in hand . . . . My own view on religion is that of Lucretius. I regard it as a disease born of fear and as a source of untold misery to the human race.'”

– Bertrand Russell

So here I am, writing something again after a hiatus of a few years. I’ve been busy but all the recent events surrounding the BBS has forced me to start writing again about these issues with a renewed sense of vigour. I’ve written about the problem of Sri Lankan Buddhism before. It’s intimate link to nationalist politics is undeniable. I’ve talked about the inherent problems of the Buddhist philosophy from a purely academic standpoint. I have talked about Islam and it’s inherent problems. However I do think that this is the time that the non religious of our country and secularists turn an academic exercise into political action.

The BBS has all the dimensions and attributes of a religious nationalist force capable of militant action against the Muslims/followers of Islam. As such we need to ensure that they are put in their rightful place. If there are any sensible people left in this country I urge you to consider the following steps:

1. The hate speech of the BBS and their leadership must be swiftly dealt with. I fear that much damage has already been done. Explore legal provisions to prosecute the BBS to the full extent of the law. The government must take action in this regard. It is also unclear if the government supports the BBS tacitly, although from the vitriol the BBS is spewing these days I highly doubt it:

2. The so called silent majority of religious moderates on both sides must condemn the actions of the BBS vehemently and take practical steps within their respective congregations to curb the activities of the BBS. This is no easy task as a mjority of Sri Lankan temples have been hijacked by the BBS.

3. Secular groups of the country must step up and engage the BBS at every turn, destroying every vitriolic argument with a renewed sense of vigour using the power of logic and reason.

4. Members of civil society must turn to their brothers and sisters, examine the beliefs of their neighbours and stem the hatred and vitriol at the point of origin. Engage, engage, engage at every turn and do not give up.

5. Protest the public display of religious symbolism. The Buddhisification of the country is in full swing. Every Poya day is used as an excuse to demonstrate the militant power of the BBS. Secularists and non believers, however small a community they be, should voice their disapproval. Symbolism is a powerful thing. The Buddhist flag has turned into a rallying call for militant nationalists. Take their precious symbols away from them.

6. The BBS is not a religious organization. They are a nationalist political group that uses notions of  religious and racial identity for their political gain. Do not respect a monk who supports the BBS. Do not offer alms to monks from the BBS. Do not invite them to events.

7. Do not use violence to attack the BBS. Use logic and reason. I know that this is tough, but fight them effectively, not on their terms but on yours and endure you shall.

8. Put aside whatever differences you may have, your personal opinions on the Halal issue, Qazi courts, Sharia law, whatever. Address the issue at hand, namely the militant force hell bent on pushing their nationalist agenda. Defeat this first and then we can discuss the broader issues related to secularization. Unite against the common enemy.

That sums up my first proper post for this year. What have you done personally to put the BBS in their place? scroll down and let me know, tweet at me when you can and together let’s make sure that the BBS is put in it’s rightful place – six feet under the ground.

The Roman Atheist

“Do not pass by my epitaph, traveler.
But having stopped, listen and learn, then go your way.
There is no boat in Hades, no ferryman Charon,
No caretaker Aiakos, no dog Cerberus.
All we who are dead below
Have become bones and ashes, but nothing else.
I have spoken to you honestly, go on, traveler,
Lest even while dead I seem talkative to you.”

– Ancient Roman Tombstone (roughly 2000 years old)

The Roman Gods are no more, we’ve replaced them with other religions. Makes you wonder what kind of religious relics will remain, how modern day atheists will be perceived and the kind of religions that would be around 2000 years from now.

Most religious people fail to see that religion, the God(s) they worship are but man made constructs and are at the whim and mercy of what is considered fashionable or sensible (if only!) during a particular period in human history. What is clear though is that there have been those enlightened enough to reject superstition, pointless ritual and mysticism during every period of the evolution of human civilization, often having to bear the difficult task of swimming against an overwhelming tide. We salute them.

 

Found this in a rather enlightening book on the (historical not biblical) Paul and the early history of the Christian church. It’s on page 109 if anyone is interested. http://www.amazon.com/Corinthian-Body-Professor-Dale-Martin/dp/0300081723

Buddhist monks have a little too much leeway

I’ve said this a number of times and I’ll say it again, I think we’ve given Buddhist monks too much leeway. The sheer gall, condescension and arrogance they employ when preaching on matters not under their purview is shocking. How dare they presume to tell us what to do and what not to do? we are but free agents capable of critical thought. We are not sheep, nor infants to be preached to. How dare they presume that ipso facto being born into a Sinhala family, that I subscribe to their superstitious myths concerning suffering, rebirth, karma and a plethora of dogmatic principles concerning how I should conduct my life. The same is true of your lives. Your lives are your own and do not let another human being who has access to the same critical faculties as you do and is very much like yourself in many respects, convince you that they are somehow “special” and are keepers of so called “sacred wisdom and knowledge”. Do not be sheep like and allow these robed men to control your lives according to a set of irrational dogmatic principles. Let me also be clear that given such free reign the leaders of any denomination or religion would do the very same. Given such a situation you and I must be prepared to stand up against any and all infringements of our freedoms, basic human rights, our right to follow any religion we so ever chose – and if you are like myself – our right to be exempt from following a superstitious set of ideas.

On the broader implications of the Islamic protests…

We have this notion that it is in the application of an idea or concept that the concept itself failed us. Stalinism for example is often quoted as a failed application of the ideas of the time – Communism. The recent Islamic protests against a video on YouTube are also explained away by the “true believers” by claiming that the protesters are not practicing their religion appropriately and that the notions, ideas and concepts of Islam are true etc (“these extremist idiots don’t know the true meaning of Islam…” etc).

Should we not criticize the propensity of an idea or a concept to fail so miserably in practice? I think if we can do that, if we can truly understand that often the idea or concept that may be lauded by many inherently contains enough leeway (or the seeds thereof) to be practiced to a disastrous end then perhaps we can get somewhere and spot the dangerous and disastrous ideas early on.

A Judicious Hitchslap!

Christopher Hitchens - A judicious Hitchslap

A Judicious Hitchslap