Politics Religion Skepticism/critical thinking

The Center For Inquiry on the “Ground Zero mosque”: Incompetent satire or abandonment of principles?

I hadn’t planned on blogging at all today, much about on this particular topic. As some of you may have noticed, I’m trying to cut back on the blog habit, particularly on the weekends. Gone are the days when I’d foolishly try to emulate P.Z. Myers and have several posts up in a day; lately most days there is only one post up. Moreover, over the years, I’ve drifted away from writing about religion, except when it explicitly intersects with science, in particular medical science. In fact, the whole creationism/evolution kerfuffle, which I used to write about quite frequently, has become an increasingly less frequent topic. And, of course, I’ve never been a political blogger, except only on rare occasions. However, sometimes something happens that irritates me to the point where I throw out those good intentions because it pisses me off so much.

This is one of those times.

I never thought I’d ever be aiming a heapin’ helpin’ of not-so-Respectful Insolence at the Center For Inquiry (CFI), one of the premier secularist organizations in existence, but yesterday I found in my e-mail a mind-meltingly moronic press release that came from an organization that should never, ever produce anything this mind-meltingly moronic. On Friday, the CFI released a press release entitled The Center for Inquiry Urges That Ground Zero Be Kept Religion-Free. In it, CFI tries to go one up on the protestors trying to prevent the construction of an center named Cordoba House at a location two blocks from Ground Zero, a project that its opponents have dubbed the “Ground Zero mosque,” even though it’s not primarily a mosque, nor is it at Ground Zero, by proposing not just that no new mosques be built near Ground Zero, but that no new religious buildings or facilities of any kind be built near Ground Zero. Seriously. It’s that silly and stupid.

On the one hand, CFI states:

The Center for Inquiry is troubled by the rhetoric of some of those protesting the proposed Islamic religious center and mosque near Ground Zero, and it especially deplores the growing politicization of the dispute. CFI also holds that the focus of the protests is too narrow; it would be inappropriate to build any new house of worship in the area immediately around Ground Zero, not just mosques. “The 9/11 attacks were an example of faith-based terrorism, and any institution that privileges faith above reason is an affront to those who were killed and injured in those attacks,” observes Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of CFI.

At first, I thought that this might be some sort of attempt at satire, a way of tweaking the opponents of the Cordoba House by taking their complaint and kicking it up a notch, a form of reductio ad absurdum, if you will. Done by a talented satirist, such a satire could have been a highly effective ploy. I don’t think that’s what’s going on here, though. If the CFI press release is satire, it’s the most incompetently executed satire I’ve seen in a long time. There are no winks or nods that let the audience know it’s satire. It’s all dead serious, and I conclude that Ronald Lindsay is dead serious. So did pretty much everyone with whom I’ve communicated who read it. If satire the CFI press release was, it is an utter failure.

Satire or not, though, the rest of the press release uses “reasoning” (if you can call it that) that brings eternal shame on CFI. For example, later in the press release, CFI asserts that Muslims should have the same religious rights as any other people in this country, be they believers or religious. Then, instead of using that statement as a spearhead to drive home the argument that the First Amendment protects the rights of the Muslims building the Islamic center to build it on property they own, particularly given that the project meets all local zoning ordinances, the local zoning board has approved it, and the mayor backs it, CFI apparently thinks that the way to equalize the field is not to let the Muslims build their center, but rather to advocate preventing all religions from building houses of worship near Ground Zero. Nice.

Perhaps the most offensive part of the CFI press release comes near the end, but I have to set it up first with this passage:

Further, CFI laments the effort by some to turn the proposed Islamic religious center into a political issue. Government officials and candidates for office should not intervene in disputes over the alleged offensiveness of a place of worship. Such conduct violates the spirit, if not the letter, of the Establishment Clause. Government officials should not be deciding who is a “moderate” Muslim any more than they should be deciding who is a “moderate” Christian or Jew.

A number of private individuals have protested the proposed Islamic religious center. The tone and substance of these protests covers a wide range. Some protesting the Islamic center have raised legitimate questions, but to the extent the objections to the Islamic center mistakenly equate all Muslims with Muslim extremists, CFI condemns them.

So what does CFI do after condemning the opponents of Cordoba House who either explicitly or implicitly “mistakenly equate all Muslims with Muslim extremists”? It mistakenly equates all religious people with religious extremists:

The Bible and the Koran have been used to justify almost everything, from mass slaughter of those with other beliefs, to slavery, to oppression of women and gays and lesbians, to the throttling of scientific research–as evidenced by the recent halt to stem-cell research. Faith will continue to harm and kill, whether it is in Oklahoma City or New York City, until people stop basing their conduct on imaginary divine commands and accept their responsibility to reason together. To honor those killed by faith fanatics, Ground Zero and its immediate vicinity should be kept free of any newly constructed house of worship — of any religion.


Again, unless this is satire (hell, even if it is satire, given how incompetent a satire it would be), I find it incomprehensible that CFI doesn’t realize that what it’s done is no different than what it condemned earlier in its press release and is, in essence, no different than the demagoguery served up by the likes of Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and Newt Gingrich. Also, even though the press release unequivocally states that government should not interfere with the building of Cordoba House (perhaps the only good thing about this press release), it’s still also of the same cloth as the disappointing and contorted argument by the ADL that, although noting that the government should not stop the “Ground Zero mosque” because to do so would be unconstitutional, argues that the Muslims building it should be “sensitive” and build it somewhere else, jettisoning its support for religious freedom in the process and provoking the opposition of many Jews.

I realize that Cordoba House stirs up strong emotions among some New Yorkers who lost relatives. At the time it happened, I lived and worked in New Jersey, less than 35 miles away from the Twin Towers. There were a couple of people at my place of work who lost friends and relatives, and many of the physicians in our department traveled at their own expense to Ground Zero to help out in the immediate aftermath of the attack. At our hospital itself, the entire medical staff was asked to stay on duty on 9/11 after the attacks in anticipation of mass casualties being flown from the site by helicopter and brought by ambulance, given that we were less than 35 miles away. Late that night, when it became clear that we would be receiving no casualties, we were finally allowed to go home, dejected that we would not have the opportunity to help. Even despite all that, in my mind objecting to the construction of an Islamic center “too close” to Ground Zero (whatever that means) can only be viewed as offensive to the survivors and those killed if you equate all Muslims with the terrorists who hijacked planes and flew them into the Twin Towers nine years ago, killing nearly 3,000 people. The anger, as understandable and legitimate as it is, is misdirected when turned towards the Muslims building Cordoba House because the Muslims who are building Cordoba House are not the Muslims who flew those planes into the Twin Towers. To demonize them as such requires accepting a frame in which all Muslims are viewed as al Qaeda supporters and therefore complicit in the attacks. In its press release, by going one up on the opponents of the mosque, CFI has not only accepted that very frame, the one being promoted by the likes of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, but it has “kicked it up a notch,” extending the frame to all religious people.

Yes, CFI has equated all religious people with religious fanatic terrorists.

All I can say now is that I am very, very disappointed in CFI, which, for all its protestations of supporting religious freedom and condemning forces of hatred like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich, has now jumped in bed with them, as much as it might wish to deny it. In fact, thinking about it a bit more overnight, I consider this this ill thought out, misguided, and offensive press release a transparent attempt by CFI to attach itself to the whole controversy and gain some publicity for itself. I suppose I should have seen this coming, given that CFI President Ronald Lindsay expressed a similar view to that in this press release a couple of weeks ago on his CFI blog.

This press release is bad enough to make me seriously reconsider whether I still wish to continue my membership in CFI or be affiliated with the national organization in any way. (I like the local organization and am sorry to see it tarred with this nonsense from the mothership.) I will wait until my anger resolves before making a decision. It may take some time, though, because this press release really did infuriate me, all the more so because it is a betrayal of the commitment to reason and critical thinking that CFI stands for. I joined CFI because I respected its commitment to critical thinking and promoting reason and secular values, admired its work, and wanted to be a part of it, even if only with financial support. I did not join CFI to attack religion, and I most certainly did not join it to be associated with folly such as this. I can only hope that CFI comes to see reason and admits its mistake.

The sooner the better.

ADDENDUM: DuWayne Brayton agrees with me, but is not yet ready to cut his ties with CFI. Neither am I. Yet. But I’m close.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

87 replies on “The Center For Inquiry on the “Ground Zero mosque”: Incompetent satire or abandonment of principles?”

This is really disappointing. I joined the CFI not too long ago after some friends and I re-started the Freethought club at my university. We’ve got quite close ties with our local group.

I should check and see if CFI Canada’s joined in with this nonsense. I hope not. I have noticed a pretty rightward trend in CFI leadership, even if it’s not reflected in most of the local types.

Indeed. Even though I agree that religion and faith in unsupported beliefs is mistaken, that does not mean that we should prescribe people what they can build and where they can build it.

Good post, Orac. I did a post on this on my own blog a couple of weeks ago.

While I am not an official CFI member, I do like to listen to the Point of Inquiry podcasts and subscribe to Free Inquiry magazine.

If CFI were to address this matter according to the principles on which they purport to espouse, they would objectively study the claims made by both sides on the issue and see who’s telling the truth and who is spouting b.s.

As someone who was on the way to work in Manhattan on 9/11 and who had a friend from high school who died in the Twin Towers, I can understand the feelings of the family members of those who died, or the the NYPD and NYFD who saw so many members of their brothers perish when the towers collapsed. However, I also recognize that some of the workers who died in the Twin Towers were themselves Muslims and I highlighted a number of them in my blog post.

But when people start spouting crap like “it’s a symbol of Muslim conquest” or “they all want TO KILL US!” to justify their opposition to the Muslim equivalent of a YMCA, then they have clearly crossed the line into black helicopter territory.

Well said, Orac. CFI’s press release was absolutely moronic, and, as you said, all-too-close to the public declarations of hate and intolerance coming from the likes of Palin. Between this and Glenn Beck’s sickening co-option of Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy today, I feel like my brain is going to melt.

Well, they did say “no new” houses of worship. Not that that makes the CFI press release any less misguided and poorly reasoned.

Im glad I’m not the only one…I only recently joined, overcoming a decades long distrust in atheist organizations after meeting some people in the local chapter…

I was quite literally shocked speechless by the press release when it showed up in my mailbox. I couldn’t begin to describe all that was wrong with it. When I get home, I am going to send an email outlining my dismay and disappointment. I’m not quite ready to cancel, the Vancouver chapter members are still enough to weigh heavily on favor of staying, but I will be eager to discuss this at skeptics in the pub on Monday!

This press release was just more confirmation of my prior experience that CFI is, in large part, a church for atheists. Christian churches don’t want Muslims to build one of their religious structures, and atheist church doesn’t want any religion to build their religious structures there.

If you disagree with the label “church for atheists,” perhaps “church for humanists” would be more apt.

Here in Illinois, DuPage county has already started looking at the “No new places of worship” as a way of stopping some Islamic facilities from being built without looking like they are bigots. They sit there and say they are being fair since the rule will apply equally to everyone while ignoring that there are already Christian churches every three blocks.

For DuPage officials it’s just a way to hide their bigotry.


First off, I would like to say that CFI is doing so much good in the world. I believe it is the most important and effective organization of its kind. That said, this press release is painful, disappointing, and an embarrassment. I am a CFI employee and disagree with the position that has been made. I hope that others will voice their complaints to those who drafted the letter and not just vent on blogs (Not that venting on blogs isn’t therapeutic). Perhaps a retraction will made if they hear from enough of us. Thank you.

There’s nothing wrong with pointing out that Islam’s precepts are vile. The Imam does not seem blameless, either.

Hitchens, via Ophelia Benson @ Butterflies and Wheels: Hitchens and Manji

Sam Harris in the Daily Beast

I object to the abusiveness, destructive “us vs them” mentality, death for apostasy, sexism, homophobia, and any number of problems with the texts and precepts of Islam (which are daily practice in many places throughout the world). Fox, Palin, Gingrich and those other loons can go jump; but I also won’t take a stance just to oppose their shoutiness.

Do we have constitutional rights and freedom of religion in this country? Yes we do. But I also retain my right to say that this religion scares me just as much as HuffPo’s anti-science stance and the creationists’ takeover of US science education.

I object to the abusiveness, destructive “us vs them” mentality, death for apostasy, sexism, homophobia, and any number of problems with the texts and precepts of Islam
So what you are saying is that you are paranoid and delusional over one religion but are completely silent about any other religion which for all intents and purposes has the same mentality.

I think the CFI has the right idea, but used inappropriate logic to support their point. This issue of building a mosque is socially divisive; the answer is not allow the construction of any house of worship at the site. It’s not needed for worship, as there are others, of various religious denominations, not very far away.

Build a green spot, a quiet place in a business area, for contemplation and remembrance. I don’t see the site as being sacred in any way, but it’s of historical importance.

Unfortunately, the city is fanning the fires of public dissent, by acknowledging that the mosque is eligible for public financing.

Interestingly, the primary response of Muslim religious leaders in the Middle East was that Mr Obama appears to have miscalculated in backing plans to build this mosque. They see it as worsening rather than promoting Islamic worship tolerance in the US.

I’m paraphrasing’s writer “Gladstone”:

To call the center a “mosque” is just like calling St. Mary’s Hospital a “church” because there’s a chapel in there somewhere.

Do we have constitutional rights and freedom of religion in this country? Yes we do. But I also retain my right to say that this religion scares me just as much as HuffPo’s anti-science stance and the creationists’ takeover of US science education.

Whoever said that you don’t have that right? No one here, certainly not me. Nor has anyone said that CFI can’t say what it said. What I have said is that I find CFI’s position to be poorly reasoned, counterproductive, and downright dumb.

Which is my right.

Thanks for writing about this, Orac. I hadn’t been aware of it. I recently received a solicitation in the mail from CFI, and I’ve been considering making a donation, since I enjoy reading Skeptical Inquirer, but after reading this, I may reconsider. I’ve never subscribed to Free Inquiry, since the promotional materials have always struck me as slightly on the conspiracy-mongering side.

If anyone is going to argue that the center should not be built, then they should, to uphold equality of religions, argue that not only no new religious buildings should be built, but also that existing religious centers within whatever “close” proximity should be torn down, as well as humanist buildings. And since it’s a “sacred” spot, we should get rid of the financial buildings and strip clubs. Heck. Let’s just clear all buildings from around the area and not allow anyone to build anything.

Yes, that’s a bit of a reductio ad absurdum, but seriously! Heck, I didn’t even realize that it was mainly a cultural center akin to a YMCA until this post. All the news reports call it a mosque. And, while I thought the protests against it were utterly stupid, I didn’t take time to look more closely at the issue.

CFI, you should be ashamed. And, though it may affect my enjoyment of SI, this move may have cost you money.

There are many things to legitimately criticize about islam and this criticism should not be labeled intolerance or islamophobia. The tacit or outright encouragement of sexism, violence against woman, fatwas or intolerance at even cartooning prophets should be criticized openly although is considered mainstream Islam and most religions. For all of us that would like to see an increasingly secular and rational world the theme of no more huts of worship is very appealing.

My suggestion was that a cultural center did not have to be religious. It could include an exposition of all positive contributions by middle-eastern culture to the arts and sciences. I find it telling that when a cultural center is planned it is immediately assumed by everyone, including the planners, that it will be religious.

And yes, moderate religious feeds and allows extremism.

An excellent post, Orac, and I agree wholeheartedly. I may not approve of or support the proliferation of religious institutions, but this is not the way to stop them, and the ends do not justify the means. In reality, this issue comes down to a simple question of rights. Does Soho Properties own the space? Yes. Do they have the right to build whatever they see fit there, subject to zoning guidelines and building codes? Yes. Do we have the right to not be offended about it? No.

And yes, moderate religious feeds and allows extremism.

I agree. That doesn’t mean I give a damn where religious people build their buildings so long as it doesn’t infringe upon my own rights.

I also think churches shouldn’t be tax-exempt. And yet I still think this is a stupid statement by the CFI for all the reasons Orac named above.

“that does not mean that we should prescribe people what they can build and where they can build it.”

Are you sure about that? That would involve a major change in the way we do things. Would you support the repeal of all zoning laws and regulations, municipal and neighborhood based process of deciding where to build the schools, liquor stores, residential areas, mixed use developments, and places of worship? Or do you propose only that religious organizations can do whatever they wan while everyone else enjoys the wonderful process of including all relevant stakeholders in these decisions.

The truth is that this community center-containing-a-mosque has been approved for construction, as I understand it, by the usual process and probably with good reason. So be it.

That does not require that those of use who question the validity of myriad widespread abuses of tax law by religious organizations of all stripes shut up, and it still leaves open the important social and political question, which is rather nuanced and complex, of the possible growth of so called “ground zero” as a scar on the Manhattan landscape … a scar littered with chapels and mosques and crosses and angry people … rather than just making the neighborhood back into what it was to erase the event, and thus not be utterly defeated by the assholes who did this.

Aside from a tasteful, humble, well placed memorial, of course.

I’m not against building this rec-center/mosque, but I am supportive of the CFI’s stand on this. But then again, I’m not a religious person so I find it hard to be offended by it.

I hope that others will voice their complaints to those who drafted the letter and not just vent on blogs (Not that venting on blogs isn’t therapeutic). Perhaps a retraction will made if they hear from enough of us. Thank you.

Oh, I did more than just vent here. I wrote an e-mail to Ronald Lindsay, making my displeasure clear, as well as pointing out that I’ve been fairly generous contributing to CFI but now question whether I should continue to be.

Believe it or not, Orac, I actually agree with you here.

From my reading of it, CFI is essentially opposed to the building of this “mosque” (which isn’t really a mosque) because it was members of the Islamic church who attacked the WTC. In other words, they are generalizing and saying that all Muslims are like the ones who attacked the WTC.

Isn’t that like saying that all christians are like the morons who infest the Westboro Baptist Church?

hat does not require that those of use who question the validity of myriad widespread abuses of tax law by religious organizations of all stripes shut up, and it still leaves open the important social and political question, which is rather nuanced and complex, of the possible growth of so called “ground zero” as a scar on the Manhattan landscape … a scar littered with chapels and mosques and crosses and angry people … rather than just making the neighborhood back into what it was to erase the event, and thus not be utterly defeated by the assholes who did this.

Except that lower Manhattan was already home to a number of churches and other religious buildings before 9/11, for example Trinity Wall Street/St. Paul’s Chapel:

This church (amazingly) survived the fall of the Twin Towers, despite its proximity just across the street from the towers, and was used as a staging area for rescue workers in the immediate aftermath of the attack.

So are you seriously arguing that there can’t be any more such buildings than the number that existed before 9/11? If you are, I submit to you that that’s a ridiculous argument. If you’re not, then just what the hell is it that you’re arguing?

Wouldn’t this fail even as a ploy to stop this Islamic center? I mean, there is already worship happening in the building right now: it’s the expansion into a full-blown community center that seems to have everyone up in arms. I could be wrong, though.

Either way, I am full agreement with nearly everyone here about how absurd this CFI release is, except:

And yes, moderate religious feeds and allows extremism.

I have never yet seen a reasonable argument for this position. I think it is possible for moderate religious adherents to give the extremists a pass, but I don’t see how that can be extrapolated to all religious moderates. But that does not in fact matter to the argument at hand, anyway.

The Imam of the proposed cultural center is a Sufi, which is not even one of the Islamic sects that has been associated with terrorism, so objecting to the cultural center is a bit like insisting that a Methodist church shouldn’t be built near a school because Catholic priests have been caught abusing boys. Not merely bigoted, but stupid bigoted.

But the EFI proposal is merely even-handed bigotry. It is certainly true that many religions have been used to justify reprehensible behavior, but many religious people and churches have been blameless and have even contributed valuable services to the community. One may not feel the benefits of religion justify its costs to society–that is a personal judgement. But to penalize individuals based upon generalizations about their ethnicity or religious beliefs–whether those generalizations are accurate, or (as in the case of Cordoba House) foolish–is fundamentally bigoted.

One of my favorite political analysts, Fareed Zakaria, posted an insightful commentary on this topic. Worth a read.

Build the Ground Zero Mosque. Aug 6, 2010

In 2005 and 2006, I began to post public suggestions to Washington on support of move in the US and overseas, to strengthen and network the public voice of Moderate Muslims. The idea, itself, came from moderate Imams in the Middle East after 9/11, and it was relatively straight forward to show why such an approach was important for correcting the popular US view, widely portrayed by vociferous anti-Islam factions, of 1.2 billion Muslims as fundamentalist and reactionary.

Washington did not handle this very well. Had the White House teamed up with Bush Administration advisors, who prudently sought out and provided support funding to Moderate Muslim scholars and writers, in the mid-2000s, to clearly demonstrate to Democrats and Republicans a wisely nonpartisan rationale for supporting the construction of an Islamic Center, located a few blocks away from ‘Ground Zero’, to promote and broaden religious tolerance in the US.

It is not too late for Washington to carefully clarify it’s reasons – and to establish nonpartisan support for this important project.

It is, as Fareed opines, the worst nightmare of Islamic extremists.

I also believe that religion of any kind is the problem, that moderates feed the extremists, and that no one should associate themselves with the mainline religions like Christianity or Islam, if one believes in tolerance, peace, and reason. People, extremists or moderates, who believe as the core of their philosophy that “god is on my side” are dangerous as hell.

However, should is a far cry from ban. I support the building of mosques and churches, as much as I don’t like them. CI is wrong in this instance, but I’m not really feeling the outrage.

Orac, I’m arguing that the reaction of people to this whole event, from the day Bush grounded the airlines an the medium and long term effect on that industry which we are still feeling, to the screaming and yelling at what would be rebuilt on this site, to the current argument about the community center that includes a mosque, is all quite a nice result if you are Osama bin Laden and wanted to have an impact.

Huh? “CFI fully supports the free exercise of religion,” and yet thinks “it would be inappropriate to build any new house of worship in the area immediately around Ground Zero…” That’s incoherent.

And don’t you love the word “inappropriate”? What does it mean, exactly? It’s vague enough that something can be called inappropriate, apparently without the need to explain why. And what would be an appropriate place to build it? Two blocks is obviously too close. So how about three? Or Four? No? Ten? 20? What exactly would be the “appropriate” distance? And why? Very poorly reasoned piece from CFI.

Orac, I’m arguing that the reaction of people to this whole event, from the day Bush grounded the airlines an the medium and long term effect on that industry which we are still feeling, to the screaming and yelling at what would be rebuilt on this site, to the current argument about the community center that includes a mosque, is all quite a nice result if you are Osama bin Laden and wanted to have an impact.

Actually, I would imagine its got more to do with the Europe than anything. Apparently, the amount of insane rhetoric that goes on there makes this issue seem sane in comparison.

“I should check and see if CFI Canada’s joined in with this nonsense.”

It should be pointed out that CFI Canada is a legally separate organization, with an entirely different leadership. I don’t think that they agree with CFI Transnational’s position. However, for the sake of unity I don’t think that they will publically criticize them.

CFI are in effect declaring Ground Zero a secular sacred space, which is a novel if not an oxymoronic concept, or so it seems to me.

I’m tired of this Mosque debate. Fox News just discussed whether the media is going too far about it. One person said the media should talk about it because nobody on the streets is. Oh gee, why aren’t the people talking about it? How about because it’s not a big deal? The media has helped make such a small issue into a major one.

To those who think there shouldn’t be any new places of worship: should we stop building more schools, post offices, banks, Wal-Marts, police stations or gas stations? There’s already plenty of them, why build more? The only reason you would deny building more is because you believe the religious buildings pose a threat to humanity. I don’t care what you think is a threat. This recreational center that happens to have a room of worship has the right and allowance to be built.

Oh, and CFI’s claim is ridiculous. Thanks for pointing it out, Orac.

an atheist

Ground Zero be KEPT religion free? Do these people know anything about the neighborhood they’re discussing? There are at least 2 large churches within one block of the WTC site, several mosques in Tribeca, and who knows what all else. Furthermore, the proposed Cordoba community center isn’t on the WTC site, it’s 2-3 blocks and a neighborhood border away. Describing it as at or near Ground Zero is completely misleading propaganda. It’s better described as next door to a grocery store and a mid-scale clothing store, a block from a strip joint, and within two blocks of several bars (gay and otherwise.) In short, just a typical piece of Manhattan real estate.

I’m certainly not going to switch from castigating people for blaming all Muslims for 9/11 to blaming all religious believers for it, thanks just the same CFI.

Curiously, christians have been finding out that the “if we can’t just ban the one we don’t like, we’ll just ban them all” response really doesn’t work all that well. “What do you mean there can’t be any religious groups in school?” “Well, a group of Jewish kids wanted to form a group of their own, and we couldn’t have that. But we weren’t allowed to single them out, so we just banned it all.” “But you banned christian groups, too?” “We had to, in order to be fair.”

No you didn’t. You could be just as fair by allowing them all.

But hey, the issue of zoning is indeed a contentious one. Always is. And it is always fought out.

I do find it funny when they want to declare a religion free area, despite the fact there are already churches and mosques around.

“Support” is another vague word; it could mean support the right or support the act. For example, I support the right of the KKK to march in the streets if they get a parade license, but I do not support that act. Similar problem with “for” and “against.”

The CFI and the ADL have to my mind clearly differentiated between the two meanings and come down on the right side by supporting the right but not the act (admittedly for different reasons). Such a thing is partisan definitely, but not censorship. To claim otherwise is concern trolling.

Other organizations *cough, Fox News* have called for legal obstructionism, and that is censorship. Go after those people Orac and Greg, but leave the CFI and the ADL alone. One more time, censorship is silencing by threat of legal or violent retribution for expression. Threatening with “moral outrage” does not meet the threshold for censorship.

My … how strident.

Poor M**ney must be getting palpitations.

On the plus side that might make him leave the Point of Inquiry podcast and allow me to check if it’s worth listening to anymore.

>Is it actually a mosque, or is it a cultural center?

The project’s organizers have said that the center would be modeled on Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y, a community center open to all New Yorkers. The center would house meeting rooms, a fitness center, a swimming pool, a basketball court, a restaurant and culinary school, a library, a 500-seat auditorium, a mosque and a Sept. 11 memorial and reflection space.

The cost is estimated at $100 million and could create as many as 150 full-time and 500 part-time jobs.

>What would the center be called?

The founders originally decided to name the project Cordoba House, after the medieval Spanish town where Muslims, Jews and Christians joined in a lively interfaith community. In response to criticism that the name instead recalled an era of Islamic hegemony, the planners changed the name to “Park51,” after the address of one of the buildings.

Cordoba Initiative: a nonprofit organization founded by Rauf in 2004 to “cultivate multi-cultural and multi-faith understanding across minds and borders.”

>Who is behind the project?

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is behind project. According to his official bio, Rauf was born in Kuwait and educated in England, Egypt and Malaysia. As a teen-ager, he immigrated to the United States from Egypt with his father, an Egyptian imam.

Rauf received his bachelor’s degree in physics from Columbia University and has a master’s degree in plasma physics from Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey.

In 1997, he and his wife founded the American Society for Muslim Advancement, which is billed in Rauf’s bio as “the first Muslim organization committed to bringing American Muslims and non-Muslims together through programs in academia, policy, current affairs, and culture.”

>Are there any mosques already near Ground Zero, and, if so, how near?

There are at least mosques in the neighborhood. The Masjid al Farah, where Rauf served as prayer leader until 2009, sits 12 blocks from Ground Zero. The Masjid Manhattan, founded in 1970, is four blocks from Ground Zero, on Warren Street.

(excerpted from the Washington Post)

There may or may not be need for another mosque, but there is a most definite need, near Ground Zero, to create a place that pulls down barriers of cultural mistrust and ignorance, religious misunderstanding and intolerance.

In case you didn’t catch it, there already IS a mosque at the proposed Center location, housed in the old Burlington Coat Factory – been there since 2009. So this isn’t about building a mosque, it’s about adding an international cultural and multi-faith center to the existing mosque.

As an agnostic and a secularist, I feel sick when I read about this. This press release is even more stupid than that Dawkins award to Bill Maher.

If the press release is a good example of CFI’s efforts then I won’t be joining or otherwise supporting CFI any time in the foreseeable future.

Of course there are plenty of grounds to attack the CFI release on. It is laughably undermined by the presence of several mosques and large churches in the area as well as the hypocrisy of distinguishing between militant* and non-militant Muslims and then reversing itself. I’m fairly sure it was merely a political cheap shot to score points, which does the CFI no credit in my eyes. Then again, maybe it was meant to raise the public’s consciousness about the evils of faith. For with faith, all things are permitted.

*Militant has a meaning. I’m fine with people calling Dawkins and Hitchens passionate, shrill, or even foolishly uncompromising (though I’d argue that being idealistic is not foolish), but militant? L2Engrish, IDiots. And that is the only level of response such a label demands.

I still don’t feel the outrage against the CFI whose goal is after all to promote secularism. Why is it wrong to suggest that more worshipping huts to spread the mental virus of religion is a bad idea? Specially when it can associated with a tragedy due to religious extremism.

Everyone should be allowed to build whatever they want but must we be so irate at people that point out that more religious emphasis of any kind is probably not beneficial.

Why is it wrong to suggest that more worshipping huts to spread the mental virus of religion is a bad idea?

I think the belief that animal testing for medical reasons is abhorrent is irrational and harmful. Does that mean that if a member of the Animal Liberation Front who holds that belief attacks a laboratory and kills a bunch of people, I should advocate that no animal rights organization should be able to establish itself in the area? How about opposing any psychic parlours from being built two blocks away from where a palm-reader shot someone?

Maybe the relationship between irrationality, violence, and geography just isn’t that important, and claiming that it is makes a person sound, like Paul said, as if you can create a secular sacred space. Which you not only can’t do, but shouldn’t try. If what you want is a secular society, then Ground Zero is not special in any way toward achieving that goal. Insisting that it is makes CFI look like they think being religious is equivalent to killing 3,000 people, which no sane or moral person would claim, even if they think religion is a “mental virus.”

They should of course be allowed to build there. In the interest of sensitivity (their choice, of course, but it would go a long way toward educating people about Islam), they should tell everyone who walks through their doors, “Remember what happened two blocks away? That is not us. That is not Islam. That is a perversion, and I will feel shame for the rest of my life that some would commit such an atrocity for the faith I hold so dear.”

As students of history, we can certainly feel proud of our ancestors’ triumphs, but we should always feel shame for their mistakes and atrocities. Pedophiles, the Inquisition, Auschwitz, Nanjing, Tiananmen, Jallianwala Bagh, the Armenians, the Trail of Tears, apartheid, and now 9/11 to the Muslims. I could go on forever. Whatever our glory now or in the past, it is our responsibility to shoulder the shameful moments again and teach them to others to avoid repeating them.

It also happens to be something Glenn Beck, the Texas BoE, and Fox News have forgotten.

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!! When I read that E-mail, I first thought it must be coming from someone else trying to look like it came from CFI. Then I was appalled!!! I was so surprised that none of the other skeptical bloggers or protesters pointed it out. Thank you Orac for pointing this out. I hope we get some sort of explanation/apology from CFI for this.

Passerby @ #16:

This issue of building a mosque is socially divisive; the answer is not allow the construction of any house of worship at the site. It’s not needed for worship, as there are others, of various religious denominations, not very far away.

Build a green spot, a quiet place in a business area, for contemplation and remembrance. I don’t see the site as being sacred in any way, but it’s of historical importance.

It’s this lack of skepticism and basic research that bugs me most about the whole debate, and about CFI’s statement. It would take no time at all to find out the actual facts of this case, and yet everyone from Ron Lindsay to Harry Reid seems to have looked no deeper into the issue than the Fox News headlines.

1. If this is a “mosque,” then every YMCA is a “cathedral.”

2. It’s not “at the site.” It’s not even visible from the site.

3. What exactly is the historical importance of a Burlington Coat Factory?

4. Obama didn’t back plans to build the “mosque” in either statement he made on the subject, he only reaffirmed his presidential oath to uphold the Constitution.

I appreciate that you’ve since gone out and found the appropriate facts, Passerby, but I wish you’d done that before the first comment. And I wish more people would do that before commenting period.


My family’s church was where Dr. George Tiller was murdered last year. By a Christian, because he believed God wanted him to do so. Do you think that their church, which accepted the Tiller family after they were ejected from their previous church, should likewise offer disclaimers and apologies to everyone who comes in to assure them that that isn’t the Christianity they know and they absolutely do not condone Roeder’s decision to shoot Tiller in the head?

Or do you think that people should be smart and non-bigoted enough to figure that out for themselves?

I don’t really care about the mosque, I am a little pissed that its been so long and nothing really has been built actually at ground zero. There should be two towers standing there at least as tall as the ones as those people destroyed, preferably much taller.

I do think building a mosque there is a mistake by those building it, from a PR perspective. But its none of my business.

Great post. I agree with you wholeheartedly. What is CFI trying to say? that all religious people are fanatical terrorist extremists? Does that mean Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi (all of whom were deeply religious) were fanatical terrorist extremists? That’s a little like claiming all men are rapists because some of them are.

Tarring billions of people with the same brush is a pretty stupid ugly argument, and it won’t win CFI any supporters. If you want to promote rationalism, open-mindedness and free inquiry, this ain’t the way to go about it.

No Tom, my first comment was explicit, with respect
*Ground Zero*, that there should be no religious shrine. It’s a historical site, not a sacred site. A quiet, contemplative green space is, indeed, being erected at present. Some 400 swamp sycamores are being planted around 2 large pools and a memorial.

Other post points out that the mosque in question, is in fact, in place and operating, several blocks away from Ground Zero. Controversy is diminished, if we point out that the proposed center to be added has the aim of promoting tolerance, respect, understanding and peaceful relations between moderate Islam and other religions. The Shalom Center and many Jewish rabbis have come out in vocal support of the Cordoba Institute initiative.

I also point out that proposed Cordoba Center is in-line with policy established and promoting Moderate Muslim beliefs and funding, initiated not by the present administration, but under President Bush, a conservative Republican.

Speaking of not checking your facts, President Obama, quoted directly from his speech on August 13,

“As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country,” Obama said in remarks at a White House dinner celebrating the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

“That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances,” he said. “This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.”

There has been much to-do about building a mosque at ‘Ground Zero’, but there is no mosque being built at Ground Zero. A mosque is quietly conducting prayers several blocks away in a commercial building that is the site of a proposed multi-cultural, multi-religious center. The objective of the Cordorba Initiative mirrors what President Bush supported and endorsed: wider recognition and voice for Moderate Muslims everywhere, as a potent and effective deterrent against (1) the spread of Islamic extremism abroad, and (2) improved tolerance and understanding of Moderate Muslims, who comprise the majority of the 1+ billion devotees, including a large number of Muslims here in the US.

The White House fumbled an rare opportunity in recognizing and expanding upon previous administration’s effort at fostering a voice for Moderate Muslims abroad (who have no central representation), and then made matters worse by retraction issued on August 15th, which satisfied neither Democrats nor Republicans.

Were I Mr Obama, I would have my advisor minions talking to their counterparts in the former administration, to identify similarity in philosophy on this key point, and then promote a unified call for respect and tolerance of *moderate Muslim* beliefs and right to worship freely.

I would take pains to point out what is being done to honor those who died AT Ground Zero, and to correct the mis-impression that a new mosque is being built, to show that an existing mosque, moved from 11 blocks away, is being augmented with a much-needed Center to promote improved understanding and appreciation of what the vast majority of Muslims, the Moderate Center, believe and practice.

I have no problem with the mosque, but I do have a problem with calling most muslims moderates. If you believe an apostate should be killed your not a moderate, your an extremist.

I don’t know if there is a world wide poll on this but there have been studies in some of the larger muslim countries, and a wide majority favors death for apostates. If I’m mistaken in this please correct me i’m willing to adjust my view.

NO MOSQUE! NO WAY! Everyone knows what they stand for….Everyone needs to wake up and condemn this complete joke of a building. Also, Obama is a clown with a college degree to his credit, He has no clue how to run a lawnmower, let alone the USA.

Sufis don’t execute apostates. They’re more into poetry, food, and ecstatic worship with spinning and chanting.

Sufis are pretty cool, actually.

A lot of religious people are shruggies when it comes to theology. So it’s a “wrong target” as LRH would say, to go after them for their “beliefs.”

Great comment Tim. Really adds to the discussion.

I agree with Orac, and I didn’t feel at all guilty throwing away their fund raising paperwork they just sent me. Poor timing on their part. I don’t really want to donate to the new atheist version of the Catholic League.

@57: Yes, there has been a global survey, conducted in 2007 and reported in early 2008 by the Gallup consulting group:

Major survey challenges Western perceptions of Islam.

Do Muslims Want Democracy and Theocracy?
March 6, 2008

>Ironically, we don’t have to look far from home to find a significant number of people who want religion as a source of law. In the United States, a 2006 Gallup Poll indicates that a majority of Americans want the Bible as a source of legislation.

* Forty-six percent of Americans say that the Bible should be “a” source, and 9% believe it should be the “only” source of legislation.

* Perhaps even more surprising, 42% of Americans want religious leaders to have a direct role in writing a constitution, while 55% want them to play no role at all.

These numbers are almost identical to those in Iran.

I echo Mayor Bloomberg on this issue.
How close is too close ?
How about the porno shop in the same neighborhood?
how about the fast food joints ?
Should we just evacuate a 10 block diameter around ground zero ?
Come on. This is not about “respect” or “hallowed ground”.
It’s about fearmongering.
I’m no fan of religion, but I respect your right to hold to any religious beliefs that don’t infringe upon my rights or the rights of others. Even if I do consider that you’re indulging in magical thinking and self-delusion, I still agree with your right to do so.

This sort of superstitious essentialism is unbecoming a supposedly skeptical, humanist organization. Especially in relation to an obvious manufactroversy. There is nothing sacred, or really even that historical, about “ground zero”. It really is just a hole in the ground.

This is somewhat off topic, but I also think it should be pointed out that Orac’s post shows that the humanist movement is vastly different from religion. I don’t hear any well known Catholic leaders publicly slamming the Vatican with the sort of unequivocal language that Orac has used to criticize CFI.

The position adopted by the American CFI is reminiscent of the towns which closed their public swimming pools rather than integrate them. The message conveyed in both cases is, we hate the idea of letting you exercise the same rights as anyone else so much that we’d rather deprive ourselves than treat you equally.

As the free-thinkers of the Muslim world, the Sufis have it hard around the globe.

For the last several hundred years Sufis have been persecuted in both Shia and Sunni Islamic countries like Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, Bangladesh, Pakistan, as well as in India when large parts of it were under Islamic rule for over a thousand years.
Sufism has been practically wiped out, as both Shias and Sunnis have attacked them for their “un-Islamic” conduct like emphasis on devotional music and dance as the way to reach God.

To the Sufis, Lady Liberty says:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Thanks for putting it so well, Orac. Gretchen, too.

I support the CFI’s goals in general, and have no love for much of Islam (the Sufis, though, either have interesting things to say or at least say them interestingly).

But considering who is bashing this Islamic center, jumping on the bandwagon is shameful. Just like kicking anyone when they’re down, when their right even to exist in this country is being questioned. My own e-mail to the CFI included those words attributed to Niemöller:

  They came first for the Communists,
  and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

  Then they came for the trade unionists,
  and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

  Then they came for the Jews,
  and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

  Then they came for me
  and by that time no one was left to speak up.

It’s not like Palin and her Teabagger goons would even finish getting rid of Muslims before coming after the skeptics!

@ Greg Laden…

Having arguments and making decisions (good and bad) about what to do on or around the site in a typically American democratic manner is somehow pleasing to bin Laden? Interesting.

Orac: Thanks so much for the links to Trinity Church (@26),it was my late (agnostic) father’s favorite spot in NYC so I’ve known about it most of my life. BTW, I view the so-called “mosque” “debate” as another attempt by the conservative media to distract potential voters from the real financial and social issues that currently grip our nation.I (of course)agree with Dianne,titmouse, Bloomberg, etc.

Greg Laden –

Orac, I’m arguing that the reaction of people to this whole event, from the day Bush grounded the airlines an the medium and long term effect on that industry which we are still feeling, to the screaming and yelling at what would be rebuilt on this site, to the current argument about the community center that includes a mosque, is all quite a nice result if you are Osama bin Laden and wanted to have an impact.

If you honestly believe that, then why are you making an argument that feeds those flames? How can you sit there and say on the one hand, we shouldn’t have any new religious buildings around ground zero because religion was responsible and then argue this?


the humanist movement is vastly different from religion.

Apparently not as vastly different as you might think, given their proclivity toward essentialism and creating sacred spaces, as well as their proclivity to talk out both sides of their mouth and display unthinking intolerance of those of other viewpoints. It’s especially bad coming from a so-called “humanist” organization, because it flies directly in the face of the values they espouse. Another similarity to many organized religions.

And let’s not forget, CFI is the organization that ordains “secular celebrants” to stand in during religious ceremonies for the non-religious. Like baptism.

mk: Having arguments and making decisions (good and bad) about what to do on or around the site in a typically American democratic manner is somehow pleasing to bin Laden? Interesting.

Do you actually think that is the point I was making? Remarkable.

@64 “Yes, there has been a global survey, conducted in 2007 and reported in early 2008 by the Gallup consulting group”

Did you actually read those articles. They don’t support what you think they do even though they talked around the issue a bit.

93% want democracy as in the majority rules on everything democracy or the “one vote once” democracy. They love freedom of speech too on science, politics, and economics NOT on religion.

They also only want democracy under sharia law. Thats not democracy.

There’s a mosque down the street from my friends house in the quiet California town of Petaluma. It’s in a humble stucco building on a residential block not far from the towering Lutheran and Catholic franchises in town. Often, when I drive by, I see the Imam sweeping the sidewalk. He’s older, impeccably turned out and always has a warm smile and a wave for passersby. The things that go through my mind when I see him shock me sometimes.

I am a humanist and a (Dawkins 6) atheist. I am ambivalent about the New Atheists vs. Accommodationists (don’t be a dick) kerfuffle that waxes and wanes here on When faced with some raging hatemonger, I’ll be a dick. When listening to my mother-in-law go on about her very nice, loving, accepting version of Jesus, I’ll accommodate. When an acquaintance offers me Airborne out of concern for my health, I’ll just pass, but when someone yells at a young mother in my presence for vaccinating her children . . . well, it’s dick time then, isn’t it? I like to think I am rational and compassionate, but am I?

I want to talk with this Imam, but I am filled with such prejudgement that the prospect of a face to face encounter fills me with dread. I want to not be suspicious of him. I want to be able to respect him. I’d like to turn off my superior attitude when I drive past him. I’d like to think that we could be friends; this gay, science-minded atheist and this Imam, but I don’t believe it’s possible. That makes me sad.

I continue to discover pockets of rage and ugliness towards the religious in me that I constantly battle with. I try to reason with myself, and remember when I was a magical-thinker and why I believed as I did. At least I start to, then the Taliban beheads someone for dancing, or the religious police in Tehran stones a woman for having sex (or showing ankle) or some fuckwit christian kicks their child out of their lives for being gay (I could go on all day with this list).

I’m old enough to know there’s no silver bullet for most problems, be they internal or external. I don’t want to be righteously angry all the time since that’s the very quality that pisses me off about the religious (and the non-religious come to think of it). In the wake of the Ground Zero Cordoba bullshit I keep thinking about stopping by that mosque to open a dialogue with the Imam. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know what’s more threatening to me, his possible fiery rejection and judgment or his love and acceptance.

Pareidolius, I’m supposed to be somewhere else right now so forgive my hurried response to your very thoughtful and moving remarks.

I’m a feminist. I sometimes feel about men (especially after reading the news) the way a lot of atheist commenters and bloggers feel about religious people. And I can go on all day and well into next week with a list of horrific things men do to women. But I still have to live in a world with men, unless I want to start some kind of separatist community, right? I agree there is no silver bullet. And obviously men are complex and one shouldn’t generalize about them, though sometimes I find myself doing just that, in spite of the good men I know.

So, fwiw, your comments resonated for me.

Second, the Imam might really appreciate a thoughtful dialogue. I’m sure he is sharply aware of the prejudices against him, but how many people outside of his tradition are reaching out to him with good will? I wonder about that; in my town, after 9-11, a Muslim woman was driven out of business (she had a little corner store) because of anti-Muslim prejudice. All religion/nonreligion aside, you could simply decide to show him kindness as a fellow human being. I think any time anyone decides to live a life of love and acceptance the world is better for it, regardless of the responses from others.

I suspect if you follow your impulse to speak with the Imam, you will be glad you did, whatever his ultimate response — because opening dialogue and showing kindness to a fellow human being is a good thing to do.

And yikes — now I really am late. Thanks again for your thoughtful and thought-provoking comments.

By inspiring an insipid fear all things “un-American,” some conservatives paint a mistaken picture of all Muslims attacking America from within and from without. Lacking facts or actual ideas to help promote American progress, they resort to frightening us into voting for their right-leaning candidates.

Only one indigenous American Muslim perpetrated a terrorist attack upon our society (and he was a US soldier). 9/11 was accomplished by foreign-born Islamic terrorists. Unfortunately, far too many Americans fall into the trap set by conservatives. They fail to discern between our foreign enemy and native Muslim citizens who love America.

The best place to turn for an answer is the United States Constitution. Ironically, it appears that our 224-year-old founding fathers knew more about tolerance than contemporary conservatives. They created a constitution that gave every American citizen EQUAL opportunity under the law. Today’s conservatives would make American Muslims second-class citizens. This is frighteningly similar to the initial treatment of Jews by Nazi Germany.

The Ground Zero mosque is a perfect example. Conservatives tell us that it should not occur because it would hurt the feelings of the families of our lost comrades. Yet, those innocent Americans murdered on 9/11 included Muslim Americans. The meaning of being an American is T-O-L-E-R-A-N-C-E, according to our founding fathers. That means freedom of and from religion. And, it means that Americans tolerate ALL religions – EVERYWHERE in America (especially at Ground Zero). America is not a Christian nation. We are a nation of ALL religions. At least, that’s what our founding fathers said. And, if the Tea Party stands for anything, it is for our foundational American values and the Constitution.

At Ground Zero, America has an opportunity to live up to the meaning of our Constitution and the wishes of our founding fathers. We are a nation of all races, all religions and all ethnic predispositions. To deny Muslims access to a site a few blocks away from the World Trade Center would deny the values that serve us as a foundation for our Republic. We must not be a nation of all religions except Islam.

Another view of this argument is the terrorism that resulted in the destruction of the federal building in Oklahoma City. That terrorist professed Christianity as his call for action. Would we ask Americans to prevent a Christian church near that site? No? Well, Ground Zero is no different.

The Muslims who wish to build near Ground Zero are led by an Imam who professes to respect all things American. Our government has sent this man to the Middle East in order to persuade militants and Islamic terrorists that America is not the enemy of Islam. Now, conservatives try to muzzle this man within his own country. That seems un-American.

America was, is and must always be an inclusive nation of all races, religions, genders and ethnic origins. If we cannot stand for tolerance, then we must not stand at all.

Charles Weinblatt
Author, Jacob’s Courage

Very well said, Pareidolius. You summed up my opinions and position on these matters beautifully, as far as when to be dickish, etc.and, more to the point the internal conflict that I have re: ‘building bridges’ (to borrow from the godfather of accommodationism) with the faithful. At the end of the day I have a really hard time accepting the ‘moderate’ position within a particular religious faith.

While I appreciate the benefits to society conferred by the fact that every Christian, or Muslim, or Jew isn’t a hard-line fundamentalist, the ‘cafeteria’ approach to faith isn’t much consolation when the proprietors of cafeteria in question is guilty of such extreme cruelty, bigotry, and attacks on reason. If the only thing that keeps you going back for more is that tasty crab dip, can you really justify giving your business to such a wretched organization? Why not just cook at home?

The apparent ease with which people can wall their generally innocuous beliefs off from the atrocities of the parent belief system is frankly disturbing to me, and there’s a limit to how much I can pretend not to be bothered by it in my personal interactions.

@75 You didn’t read the poll synopsis very well, did you?

>They also only want democracy under sharia law. Thats not democracy.

US democracy under Christian law – is that really democracy?

>In our data, the emphasis that those in substantially Muslim countries give to a new model of government — one that is democratic yet embraces religious values — helps to explain why majorities in most countries, with the exception of a handful of nations, want Sharia as at least “a” source of legislation.

Why should Muslim governments want to adopt *Western* style democracy, based on Christian values? A minority of Muslim-majority nations want Sharia law as major source of legislation.

That’s why I posted the final quote from the Gallup poll article, to show parallels between the conservative religious minority in a nation viewed by the West as conservative Muslim, Iran, and the US.

Pareidolius wrote:

>I’d like to think that we could be friends; this gay, science-minded atheist and this Imam, but I don’t believe it’s possible. That makes me sad.

You would rage at those who are homophobic, but you are no better – you are Islamophobic. You define yourself by gender preference and anti-theist belief, but where you are tolerant of a religion of which you are familiar!

You shut the door on opportunity without even asking if there are values in common or lessons that can be learned from Islam. You do not seek to understand the rich history and cultural philosophy that shaped this religion, even though such effort does not require you to become a practicing Muslim.

All you have to do is to take off that membership badge on your chest that loudly proclaims you as gay and atheist, put it in the drawer, get in your car, drive by at a time when you expect to see the old man, and stop.

Respectfully, tell the Immam the truth: that you have a biased view of his religion, but you realize that this is based on ignorance. You want to know Islam better, so that you can examine it with clear eyes, heart and mind.

He will understand.

@Passerby, Why do religionists always assume that atheists have a biased view of religion? I’ve always thought of myself as an impartial observer.

I appreciate the connection you draw between attitudes in Iran and attitudes in America concerning democracy and theocracy. We humans are always more alike than we wish to admit. Just one difference of note though: America is not Christian, it is secular. The question is not Christian law vs. Muslim law, it is secular law vs. religious law.

@Passerby, Also, why do you say “Islamophobic” like it’s a bad thing? 😛


I’m sorry I didn’t explain myself clearly its not democracy because sharia law specifically excludes more than half the population from having a choice. You can not have a democracy that excludes women. Well I suppose you can, but not one I want to live in.

As for “Christian values” well they can piss off too. I don’t want or need em.

“Forty-six percent of Americans say that the Bible should be “a” source, and 9% believe it should be the “only” source of legislation.”

To my mind that 46% either hasn’t read or doesn’t understand what they have read while that 9% are just insane.

Passerby @ 81

In the first place, if you’re basing your charge of “islamophobia” on comment #76, I think you’re mistaken. The Imam is an example of ‘a religious person’, not specifically ‘a muslim person’. Further, Pareidolius uses a Christian act of cruelty in his short list of examples that make him hesitant to pursue these conversations with the faithful.

In the second place, “All you have to do is to take off that membership badge on your chest that loudly proclaims you as gay and atheist”?????? WTF?
what ‘badge’? Comments relating an internal conflict posted on the internet are not reliable barometers of what people say and do in real life. Your unflattering parsing of Pareidolius’s self-description says a lot more about you than it does about him.

For the sake of argument, though, let’s assume there is a badge. Why, then, are we atheists always the ones who are asked to suspend our disbelief and really get to know the thing that we’re reacting to? This is assuming, of course, that we don’t *already know* the history and culture of any given religion, which is a mighty big assumption, by the way.

But you’re not the first one to suggest this, and I’m sure you won’t be the last. I’ve done my share of polite listening to various forms of woo, including, but not limited to, religion. I have made my best efforts to understand both the message and the motivation behind it, and have refrained from posing any of the analytical questions that pop into my head that might be interpreted as disrespectful or incredulous. But I’m quickly branded as a dick if I even suggest that the faithful might try the same approach and look critically at why I lack belief, or even examine their own supernatural views more objectively. Yeah, that’s fair.

Basically, Passerby, your comment sums up everything that sticks in my craw about the Accommodationist strategy. It doesn’t work for everyone, and vilifying those for whom it doesn’t play well is, well, kinda dickish.


Here are my much edited comments on your comment (never send out a first draft). First off, mine was a comment on my own grief and sadness in realizing how prejudiced my “progressive” ass really is. Secondly, I’m doing my best to be forthcoming about realizing said prejudices. That’s what being a skeptic means to me, being willing to take a good look at myself and accept reality. When I say I don’t believe that the Imam will be accepting of me exactly as I am, I mean exactly that: believe. I won’t really know anything about him until we speak.

A mindless Islamophobe? Hardly. I’ve read the Q’uran, I’ve studied history with a passion and consider context when dealing with the very messy history between the “west” and Islam and its subsequent radicalization.

Religiophobic? Guilty. That’s what I was posting about. It’s not reasonable. It’s not fair, and I’m not proud of it, but it’s there. I believe I made my own internal battle quite clear in my post.

As for my big ol’ GAYTHEIST™ badge, I really don’t need you to lecture me on what to do with it. I’m hardly going to go mincing into the mosque wearing a rainbow flag and a jockstrap and get all “I’m here, I’m queer” on him. I’m just not going to lie to him. Are you different in any way? Are you black, or middle eastern or queer . . . or a woman? I’m a white man, so I “pass” (unless I’m wearing my jockstrap/flag combo), but I know what it’s like to hide who I am, and I’ve seen firsthand what happens to those who don’t even have that option. That Imam knows all too well what it’s like to be different, and have the courage not to hide it. That’s exactly what I want to talk with him about; that we probably have more in common in that respect than either of us can imagine.

I’ll let you know.

Thought for those who argue that associating oneself with a mainline religion is tantamount to condoning its worst offenses, consider this:

Do you call yourself an American? Or a Canadian? Or an Englishman? Or . . . well, fill in the blank. For every nationality, there is a horrific crime (or, more likely, many horrific crimes) which has been committed in the name of your country, and quite probably by the government itself. Have you renounced your citizenship? No? Why not? Do you feel no shame for what your nation did?

It is ridiculous to say that because you see good in something multi-faceted that you must be held accountable for some horror committed in that thing’s name. I love America — but we were very late to ban slavery, and had to kill one another to make it happen. We were shockingly late in allowing women to vote. Then there’s what we did to the Native Americans, and then to the Japanese in World War II. One can argue about whether the civilian casualties of Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan were justified in any way; I’m sticking to the uncontrovertibly vile things America has done. I could give up my citizenship. I could move to Canada. That I do not should not be taken to mean I approve of all that America has done, or that I am sort of traitor to humanity for continuing to call myself an American and to sing the national anthem with pride, and display the Stars and Stripes outside of my house. America has done evil, but it has also done great good, and I want to *foster* that good. That’s why I stay.

And what’s the greatest good this country has? I’d have to say it’s the First Amendment. Here, the state is not permitted to judge you based on what you believe to be true. You can publish whatever you like, within certain fairly obvious limits. (Telling somebody to kill someone else, for instance, is not protected speech. But saying you think someone ought to die *is* actually protected speech, no matter how rude it might be.)

One of the great things about skepticism, the thing I love the most, and also the thing I love the most about SCIENCE is that it has something like the First Amendment. You can believe whatever you like. The only catch is that other people get to call you on it if they think you’re wrong. The awesome thing about this is that ideas really get seriously tested. The other awesome thing is that it is inclusive. I know the woo-meisters don’t think it is, because they don’t like having awkward questions asked. But it is inclusive. It doesn’t matter what you believe. All that matters is what you are claiming and whether you have any support for it.

Religions aren’t like that. The greatest sin of religion (and I have never met a religion completely free of this) is exclusivity. You are allowed in their club only if you believe certain things. They seldom care if you have supporting arguments; in fact, trying to support your claims may make things worse, because then they know that you’re serious and that you may present a threat. So they throw you out. Many are not content to simply expel you. They may even bar you from the grounds if you do not conduct yourself appropriately. (And this goes beyond simple decency, according to the local social mores, and to things like not asking inconvenient questions during prayer time.)

In essence, this is what CFI is doing with this press release. They are saying that if you believe in any religion, you are not welcome at a site they care about: Ground Zero. It is hallowed to them, because many died there, and it would be a terrible affront to allow a building to be adapted to allow activities intended for those of a religious persuasion. Religious people can go if they behave themselves properly, and don’t try worshiping there. Religion is disgraceful; those ideas can be tolerated if we just don’t have to look at them.

Free speech, freedom of religion, freedom of thought…. Champion them. They are the best chance we have for critical thinking to prevail, because if we start proscribing what others are allowed to think, then odds are someone will wonder why they have to put up with what *we* are saying, and then it’s all over.

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