Je suis Charlie

13 01 2015

What are the limits of freedom of speech? This was the major topic of discussion tonight at AAFW in the context of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. There were at least some who suggested all speech should be free, but the discussion of incitement of groups to violence categorically defined as hate speech is generally agreed upon to be restrictable. However, offensive or malicious speech not intended to incite violence? This is where I at least draw the line.

Charlie Hebdo’s pictures were racist, and rather insulting. Boko Haram Welfare Queens was especially despicable. However, in particular, this was not the issue at hand as defined by the attackers; it was explicitly the depiction of the Prophet Mohammed . The idea that the dead deserved this is infuriating. This might be an expected reaction, but deserving? No.

This however, is a very specific issue instead of a general free speech issue. The issue is that of criminalization of blasphemy, explicitly under most interpretations of Sharia. I know that a large portion of the worldwide Muslim population disagrees with this, but a large portion do. In Saudi Arabia, Raif Badawi was recentlly publicly lashed for having a liberal website that was supposedly against Islam. In Egypt, a young man has been turned in by his own father to be imprisoned for posting atheistic comments on facebook. I am explicitly annoyed at the tenet of the faith that human images should not be made, especially images of Mohammed. This extreme iconoclastic belief has robbed humanity from our collective culture, the art and history that has been destroyed in the name of it.

This is not inherent to all adherents of Islam. Malala and her father work against such extremism in Pakistan in the name of their faith. The mayor of Rotterdam, himself a Muslim, recently said, “And if you do not like it here because humorists you do not like make a newspaper, may I then say you can fuck off.”

Blasphemy and religious defamation laws are not unique to Islam however. We in Canada still have blasphemous libel as part of the Canadian Criminal Code Section 296. Ireland has a professor of Trinity College threatening to use libel laws to prevent people from re-posting the Charlie Hebdo images.

I do not condone attacks against people, especially in the recent climate of the anti-semitic attacks in France, the Pegida march in Germany, the Boko Haram massacre in Nigeria. I do not condone the works of Charlie Hebdo. They were crass and in very poor taste. I wish to see more pluralism, and understanding between people. However, certain concepts such as blasphemy, extreme iconoclasm, and defamation of religion must be rejected, even if the others claim it is an integral part of their religion that must be tolerated. Donc pour aujourd’hui, je suis Charlie.

Harrison Gross


Hello from a new Atheists, Agnostics, and Freethinkers of Waterloo blogger!

19 05 2014

Hello there! I know this blog has been rather inactive as of late, but since I’m the secretary of AAFW for Spring 2014, I figured it would be a good idea for me to do a bit of blogging for the club.

I’m Harrison Gross, an upper year undergraduate student in math at the University of Waterloo. Kitchener is my home. I grew up in (and still live with) a catholic family. As many former christian atheists, I took my faith rather seriously for a while as a child. I was an altar server at a local parish for about four years, and my mother was a co-president of the parish Catholic Women’s League. I distinctly remember when my grandmother on my mom’s side was dying of liver failure that I prayed rather energetically to god one night after playing a board game with the family. She died that same night that I was praying for her to live. That incident shook my nascent faith.

It was always rather strange though. I went to catholic schools growing up, but we went to a different parish from the one that was right there, instead we went to one that was a tad farther away. It turns out that the politics of the CWL of the school parish drove away my piano teacher, one of the first friends that my mother had after moving to the region, and the association led to some sort of unfortunate confrontation. This was my first inclination that churches were more of human institutions rather than divine.

Because of that internal confrontation, I was confirmed as an adult in a church without a school attached, so all of those with me were either students in public schools or other outcasts from the regular system. During confirmation class in religion in Grade 8 the next year, the teacher resigned me to reading the bible. I was extremely bored.

I eventually became an altar server for my parish, St. Louis in Waterloo. This is where I first drank alcohol. I found the church wine disgusting at first, though relaxed into it later. From the start though, I knew it wasn’t blood. I had tasted blood, from my own cuts as a kid. The Eucharistic Mystery was not much of a mystery to me: it was patently false.

I slowly gained knowledge of other christian denominations, and never really found them inspiring. I first ran into an atheist while in Cub Scouts, he was a fellow scout, and he lived down the street from me. He said he didn’t believe in anything. I was surprised, I hadn’t known anyone else who hadn’t believed. This would change a lot in time to come. These days, hearing of how the Boy Scouts of America is run in regard to non-believing scouts makes me rather glad I did it here in Canada.

High school was where I really stopped believing. First off, I was tired of wasting time sitting on the sides of an altar performing an elaborate act that I didn’t believe. My siblings (I was the youngest of five) had mostly all stopped going to church themselves, for their own various reasons. Some have gone back, some have gone to other churches. In high school, I became friends with a bunch of nerds. Being one myself, it worked out well. But as I learned about math and science, religion just faded in the background in importance, and when I looked back at religion after, I wondered why I had ever been involved. There was little gain, and few people that I could identify with.

When I got to university, I became friends with Chuck, a former AAFW blogger, now alumni. He invited me out, and I’ve been attending off and on ever since. My goals for blogging this term are to review a couple of atheist books I’ve picked up, as well as cover some local/Canadian news.

Till next time,

Harrison Gross

2012 in review

31 12 2012

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 6,300 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 11 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

A Law-ve Like No Other

13 02 2012

(This post was originally posted at Disjointed Thinking.)

Law vs. grace

The orthodox Christian position on the Old Testament is complicated at best. The standard narrative is that Jesus’ death on the cross freed us from a life under “the Law” and ushered in an era of grace. As Paul states, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). And again, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God–not the result of works, so that no one may boast…. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups [Jews and Gentiles] to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it” (Ephesians 2:8-9,15-16).

As a result of verses like these and the teachings of various denominations, most Christians today do not believe that they are obligated to obey the laws as laid out in the Old Testament. However, this causes some problems, which I would like to explore briefly. In short, I think that this view is inherently inconsistent. Read the rest of this entry »

Errors, Evolution, and Ethics

11 10 2011

(This post was originally posted at Disjointed Thinking.)

BullyingEvery week during the school year, I get a newsletter from my former high school. It’s a Christian school, with a conservative Baptist principal, so the content is almost always something with which I now disagree. I generally skim through it to see what diatribe he’s on this week (it’s virtually always about the importance of Christian education…how unexpected!). But the newsletter from a couple weeks ago (Sept. 30) was about bullying in particular. The topic was sparked as a result of the recent tragic news of the suicide of an 11-year-old boy. But instead of pointing the blame at the bullies themselves, possible neglectful attitudes of school teachers and staff, or the social stigma surrounding persons with disabilities (the boy had muscular dystrophy), my former principal decided to pinpoint a different cause. I’ll let him explain: Read the rest of this entry »

Qu’ranic Weirdness 6

10 09 2011

This post originally appeared as a Facebook note written by Chuck Lucy Finale.

6:5 And they denied the truth when it came unto them. But there will come unto them the tidings of that which they used to deride.

The Qu’ran can’t go very far without threatening non Muslims with punishment.

6:34 There is none to alter the decisions of Allah.

I guess Mo forgot that he wrote down this lil birdie:

2:106 Nothing of our revelation (even a single verse) do we abrogate or cause be forgotten, but we bring (in place) one better or the like thereof.

6:38 There is not an animal in the earth, nor a flying creature flying on two wings, but they are peoples like unto you.

Wait, animals are people?  Does this mean meat is Soilent Green?

6:39 Those who deny Our revelations are deaf and dumb in darkness. Whom Allah will sendeth astray, and whom He will He placeth on a straight path.

Ah, no wonder this book seems like such horseshit to me.

6:74 (Remember) when Abraham said unto his father Azar: Takest thou idols for gods ? Lo! I see thee and thy folk in error manifest.

Genesis 11:26 says Terah is Abraham’s father.  Maybe Mo should have had a copy of the Torah on hand?

6:100 Yet they ascribe as partners unto Him the jinn, although He did create them, and impute falsely, without knowledge, sons and daughters unto Him. Glorified be He and High Exalted above (all) that they ascribe (unto Him).

He made the Jinn, and they are not his partners.  Allah does NOT date Jinn.  Seriously.

6:104 Proofs have come unto you from your Lord, so whoso seeth, it is for his own good, and whoso is blind is blind to his own hurt. And I am not a keeper over you.

And now the Qu’ran falls immediately to pieces.  The First Surrah is explicitly a prayer TO Allah.  He didn’t write 6:128 In the day when He will gather them together (He will say): O ye assembly of the jinn! Many of humankind did ye seduce. And their adherents among humankind will say: Our Lord! We enjoyed one another, but now we have arrived at the appointed term which Thou appointedst for us. He will say: Fire is your home. Abide therein for ever, save him whom Allah willeth (to deliver). Lo! thy Lord is Wise, Thanks for LYING TO ME, MO.

6:128 In the day when He will gather them together (He will say): O ye assembly of the jinn! Many of humankind did ye seduce. And their adherents among humankind will say: Our Lord! We enjoyed one another, but now we have arrived at the appointed term which Thou appointedst for us. He will say: Fire is your home. Abide therein for ever, save him whom Allah willeth (to deliver). Lo! thy Lord is Wise, Aware.

Is it Allah’s fault that I find this shit really funny, or is it the Jinns’ fault?  I blame the author, since Allah and the Jinns don’t exist.

6:142 And of the cattle (He produceth) some for burdens, some for food. Eat of that which Allah hath bestowed upon you, and follow not the footsteps of the devil, for lo! he is an open foe to you.

I guess this is why the call him ArmLegLegArmHead.  He’s very pro eating body parts.

6:151 Say: Come, I will recite unto you that which your Lord hath made a sacred duty for you: That ye ascribe no thing as partner unto Him and that ye do good to parents, and that ye slay not your children because of penury – We provide for you and for them – and that ye draw not nigh to lewd things whether open or concealed. And that ye slay not the life which Allah hath made sacred, save in the course of justice. This He hath command you, in order that ye may discern.

Oh great Allah!  I had thought that killing your own children was a great idea, nevermind.

6:159 Lo! As for those who sunder their religion and become schismatics, no concern at all hast thou with them. Their case will go to Allah, Who then will tell them what they used to do.

Like Islam?

hehe fun.

The Origins of Life

7 06 2011

(This post was originally posted at Disjointed Thinking.)

Primordial Soup

When someone states that they do not believe in God, often one of the first questions in response is, “Then how did life get here?” Of course, “God did it” is not a good explanation for, well, much of anything, because it does not actually provide any details about the process it claims to explain.1 Regardless of this, however, it is still a valid question to ask: Without invoking a God, is there a reasonable explanation for how life arose from non-life? This is where the field of abiogenesis comes in.

My goal with this article is to provide a general overview, in simple terms, of the theories and models that scientists have created to explain the development of life from non-life.2 I will try to use a minimum of jargon and technical terminology, although some, of course, cannot be avoided. First, the current  biological system will be briefly described, and then two major competing models in the field will be presented. Read the rest of this entry »

Vaccines and Faith

1 06 2011

Pharmaceutical companies need to hurry up and develop a vaccination against stupidity.  Alternatively, laws need to be put in place to protect children against the moronic superstitions of their parents.  A West Virginian woman refuses to vaccinate her 8 year-old daughter and believes that this is a commandment from God.

To Jennifer Workman, God Himself commands her to protect her 8 year-old daughter Madison.

“I am a steward of the Lord for this child, “she said as she walked outside her single level home in Lenore West Virginia on Monday. “And I am not going to let anyone tell me what’s best for my child.”

In 1999, Madison’s older sister developed autism just months after receiving her state-required immunizations for measles, mumps and rubella.

Stop me right here, if you’ve heard this story before.  Child gets vaccine.  Child develops autism shortly thereafter.  Credulous parent that does not possess any scientific education blames the vaccine.  Only now we have the added bonus of a parent who believes she is subservient to a higher power.  Of course, it’s the child that will pay for the parent’s choice to take marching orders from a non-existent entity.

Workman argues that it should be her right and choice when it comes to vaccinating the child.  But what about the rights of the child?  Does her daughter not have a right to be immunized?  Workman’s attempts to please her god should not involve an effective sacrifice of her child.  What about other children?  As Dr. Anita Chandra points out:

“They’re also risking spreading the infection to children who are not immunized because of age, [or are] only partially immunized because they haven’t received their booster vaccines.”

Chandra is a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, a group that pushes the importance of childhood vaccines. Chandra says we as a society have an obligation to ensure all children are immunized.

“It’s important to vaccinate all children so you prevent illness from spreading within that population,” she said.

Chandra is exactly right.  The health of many children is far more important than respecting a woman’s unsubstantiated superstitions.  Workman’s response to Chandra’s statement demonstrates a complete ignorance on vaccinations and should lay to rest any doubts over whether or not her position is based on reason and evidence.

“If my child is unvaccinated and all these other children are vaccinated, How does my child pose any threat?” responded Workman. “This is my child and it’s a right I should have.”.

Herd immunity?  Workman clearly hasn’t heard of it.  My only hope is that as her daughter grows older she will shake off her upbringing in a household of superstition.  That is, if illnesses that could be prevented by vaccinations don’t get to her first.




Hitchens vs God (god loses by the way)

31 05 2011

A man by the name of Christopher Hitchens – perhaps you’ve heard of him – will be debating at UW this Saturday*

*He’ll actually be appearing via video conferencing due to health reasons.  Tickets are sold out but a couple of us are planning on note taking so we’ll be sure to share what we hear at the talk.  I haven’t heard word about whether or not it’s being recorded.

Church Sanctioned Slave Labour

31 05 2011

Another day, another story that makes the Catholic Church look more and more like an international crime syndicate than an institution of worship.  From the New York Times:

An estimated 30,000 women were sent to church-run laundries, where they were abused and worked for years with no pay.

What did the these women do to deserve such horrendous treatment?  So terrible that it likely violates human rights laws?  Did they commit crimes that even the most liberal-hearted of people could never forgive?  No.

Their offense, in the eyes of society, was to break the strict sexual rules of Catholic Ireland, having children outside wedlock.

Once again, the supposedly moral Catholic Church flouts any sense of morality in order to keep a tight control over all things sex.  From the sheltering of child rapists to punishing women who do not adhere to the Church’s rules of sex, this institution has, time and time again, proven itself to be fundamentally backwards when it comes to such matters.  So backwards in fact that the strict rules created a climate of mistrust in rejection towards women who did not adhere to the Church’s rules.

In this climate, the shame of giving birth to an illegitimate child was so great that many unmarried mothers were rejected by their families. They were taken out of “decent society” and put into Magdalene laundries by members of the clergy, government institutions and their own families.

Even women who were raped were forced into these laundries.

Add all of that to the fact that some women were sexually abused in these laundries and this becomes less about morality on sex and more about typical patriarchal dominion over life.

What’s just as troubling is the fact that this is not a new story.  This matter came to light 10 years ago but the women are still awaiting an apology.  Why does this sound all too familiar?   The Catholic Church is not held to any responsibility except that for which it determines for itself.

The government of Ireland deserves to join in the shame for it’s complicity in these events.  Not surprising given this is the country that made blasphemy illegal.  Perhaps this should be a lesson to those who believe the mix of government and religion to be a good thing.  It seems accountability would go down the drain in such a scenario.

Let’s review; Sexual relations with children: Good.  Sexual acts – being raped included – committed out of wedlock that lead to the birth of a child : Bad.  Punishment?  Slave labour.

And here I thought the Church wanted its followers to go forth and multiply.  Obviously, this is only the case in Ireland if you meet their strict and unrealistic standards first.  Or maybe they just want to control.