Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

Interview with author and activist, Tariq Ali

Posted in activism, atheism, Barack Obama, BTR, Citizen Radio, politics, religion by allisonkilkenny on April 8, 2009

tariq_061229102525399_wideweb__300x375Citizen Radio interviews Tariq Ali, celebrated intellectual and the man who famously debated Henry Kissinger. A world-renowned activist, who the Rolling Stones named the song “Street Fighting Man” after, Tariq Ali spends the hour talking with Citizen Radio.

Tariq Ali talks with Citizen Radio about a range of subjects from the true definition of Socialism to his discussions with Malcolm X, and how he thinks atheists and religious people can work together to make the world a better place.

Listen here. Transcript is posted below. Please feel free to repost both the interview and transcript, but please credit Citizen Radio.

Tariq Ali is the author of the new book, The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power.

Citizen Radio airs every Wednesday on BTR. Episodes available 24/7 in our archives.

Jamie Kilstein: Recently, on FOX News – and actually all news stations – we’ve kind of been hearing Obama denounced as a Socialist. They’ll be like, “No one wants socialized healthcare,” or “socialized banks,” and I think, for the first time, there are some people who are like, “Yeah, we do. We kind of do. That sounds really nice.” But Obama didn’t have anyone who represents single-payer healthcare at his health conference, and the banks are getting our money, and we’re not getting anything in return. So first, I wanted you to give the actual definition of Socialism because I think it’s mischaracterized a lot here, and second, why you think decrying Socialism has been such a successful scare tactic in a country where rich-poor divide is so large.

Tariq Ali: There are many definitions of Socialism. The simplest way to define it, I guess, would be: the ownership of public utilities and things important to the economy and the land by the state in the interests of the common people. I would go beyond that and say where public utilities are owned by the state, my definition of Socialism would also include the people, who work in these utilities, playing a part in determining how they are run, and not allowing the state to nominate bureaucrats to them. That has never really happened anywhere, but given the crisis into which Socialism fell in the ‘90s, I think you need more and more democracy at every level of functioning.

Read the rest of the interview behind the cut.


Shameless Democratic-Socialist Propaganda

Posted in atheism, Democrats, media, politics by allisonkilkenny on April 8, 2009

YM001405Typical. The Times is at it again. The liberal rag published another thinly-veiled, socialist rant in Tuesday’s edition. Though, this time, the diatribe came from an unlikely source: David Brooks, the Canadian-American columnist, who has served as senior editor to the Weekly Standard, contributes his thoughtful analyses to the Atlantic Monthly, and identifies himself as a “moderate conservative.”

Of course, David is completely unaware that he makes a perfect plea of his readers to join the Democratic-Socialist cause. His column explores the roots of morality, and rattles off scientific theories about where our morality comes from, and how it benefits us as a society to have “morals.” It’s actually pretty interesting, though the best part comes when David steps back and analyzes “morality” i.e. communal spirit:

Like bees, humans have long lived or died based on their ability to divide labor, help each other and stand together in the face of common threats. Many of our moral emotions and intuitions reflect that history. We don’t just care about our individual rights, or even the rights of other individuals. We also care about loyalty, respect, traditions, religions. We are all the descendents of successful cooperators. 

But David, what of that “rugged individualism” that Conservatives so cherish and praise? Are you saying that gallivanting around a dude ranch, refusing to pay taxes and/or care for our fellow humans, is not only the behavior of a selfish, childish asshole, but also detrimental to society itself?

The first nice thing about this evolutionary approach to morality is that it emphasizes the social nature of moral intuition. People are not discrete units coolly formulating moral arguments. They link themselves together into communities and networks of mutual influence.

Like unions, perhaps? But those are the things your Conservative brethren are fighting tooth and nail to suffocate! They’ll be the reason the Employee Free Choice Act fails in Congress. You should really share with them your revelations about all of this “help thy neighbor” stuff, and how it’s so great for our society.

And don’t let Rush hear you talk like that. On the other hand, you may be safe. He’s too busy packing (thank you, Jesus) his things, and moving out of New York. 

The second nice thing is that it entails a warmer view of human nature. Evolution is always about competition, but for humans, as Darwin speculated, competition among groups has turned us into pretty cooperative, empathetic and altruistic creatures — at least within our families, groups and sometimes nations.

Tell your Wall Street buddies that, David. Drop some knowledge onto their finally coifed ‘dos, and let them know competition isn’t everything, that human beings are more than stocks, portfolios, credit default swaps, and speculative mortgages. Ask those financial firm CEOs if jumping out of the burning building with $23 million in severance is an altruistic act, or the act of a pirate.

I’m sorry. That’s not fair. Pirates were actually very democratic creatures that allowed voting and egalitarian debate. They also didn’t profit from suckering poor people into bad loans. Of course, they raped a lot, which is definitely a tick in the “Bad” column.

But I digress. As if he knew I would be reading him today, David throws this curveball at the last possible moment:

[The rise and now dominance of this emotional approach to morality] challenges the new atheists, who see themselves involved in a war of reason against faith and who have an unwarranted faith in the power of pure reason and in the purity of their own reasoning.

…What? Did David Brooks just cite a scientific theory at length, and then in the last paragraph of his column, thumb his nose at atheists who believe in — wait for it — science and reason?

On behalf of the human species, I apologize to the trees that gave their lives for David Brooks’ pointless musings to be published in otherwise highly usable column space.

What an embarrassment.

Atheism, New Orleans, and Hip Hop

Posted in atheism, BTR, Citizen Radio, comedy, politics, religion by allisonkilkenny on March 25, 2009

crlogo300x300This week on Citizen Radio

Allison and Jamie discuss Atheism, Desmond Tutu, and play the second half of their interview with Princeton professor and author, Melissa Harris-Lacewell.

Listen here.

There are Atheism groups popping up all over the country, but they have yet to rival the church with social welfare projects. Jamie proposes a solution for this.

In part two of her interview, Melissa Harris-Lacewell discusses New Orleans, James Perry, America being post-racial (it’s not,) hip-hop and the notion of “Ride or Die,” and what makes her happy.

Citizen Radio airs every Wednesday (and replays throughout the week) over on BTR.

Does Your State Forbid Atheists From Holding Public Office?

Posted in atheism, politics, religion, Texas by allisonkilkenny on February 18, 2009


the-atheist-eIt’s an ugly little open secret that Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas have constitutions that explicitly forbid atheists from holding state office. These laws are archaic and unenforceable in principle — they were all ruled unconstitutional in 1961 — but of course they’re still in effect across all 50 states in practice, since public opinion makes it almost impossible for an atheist to get elected to high office.

Now, though, a representative in Arkansas has submitted a bill to amend the Arkansas constitution and remove the prohibition of atheists. This could get very interesting, or it might not. If the Arkansas legislature does the sensible thing and simply and efficiently removes an old law that can’t be enforced anyway, I will be pleased, but there won’t be much drama.

Since when are legislatures sensible, however? I can imagine indignant Christians defending an unconstitutional law and insisting that it be kept on the books as a token of their contempt. It is an awkward situation for the Christianist yahoos, because their constituencies might get inflamed, but on other hand, do they really want to go on record defending the indefensible?

I’m looking forward to it, and kudos to Rep. Richard Carroll of North Little Rock for poking a stick into this nest of snakes and stirring it up.

Dissing God

Posted in atheism, Barack Obama, religion by allisonkilkenny on April 16, 2008

Allison Kilkenny: Dissing God

Outside his audacity of hope, it could be Barack Obama’s audacious scrutiny of religion that becomes his undoing.

Did I mention it’s 2008? And yet we’re still talking about God. Despite being so advanced and clever in all aspects of our existence, human beings are still talking about a bearded dude, who supposedly walked on water, and could cure people with one touch, but couldn’t navigate his way off a cross.

Perhaps recognizing the benefits of leading a population fearful of an invisible daddy figure in the clouds, moderate politicians have always approached the issue of religion cautiously. After all, terrified people are easily led and fed all kinds of crazy bullshit. Why educate them and screw it all up?

But when politicians do dare to break past the restrains of religion, they become Obama post-Gunsn’God faux pas in Pennsylvania. For a presidential nominee, mentioning secularism as part of their ideology is the political equivalent of self-castration.

After Obama’s slip, Clinton tripped over her feet rushing for the podium to capitalize on what whiny traitor, Joe Lieberman, and the conniving jackal, Bill Kristol, have termed Obama’s “Marxist rhetoric.”

Talking over the jeers of the room with that creepy, plastic smile stuck to her face, Hillary Clinton was cautious to harp on her “faith,” and not “religion,” which is a politician’s way of nodding to the religious right without admitting to being one of those loons, who believes Jesus is a cracker, or that the all-powerful creator of the universe cares if humans eat shellfish or engage in sodomy.

But the issue of faith (see: religion) is still very much a part of the modern political debate, despite the discover of the Human Genome, humankind’s ability to create vast networks of infrastructure, and the scientific strides made in the exploration of the universes of microorganisms and outer space.

We know so much, and yet some of us just can’t shake the God fantasy.

Even when a popular “Progressive” candidate like Barack Obama runs for presidential office, he has to be cautious not to dis’ God, lest Pennsylvania yokels chase him from their great land, shouting and waving pitchforks from the backs of their pickup trucks.

Of course, that’s if you believe the God issue was a big deal to Pennsylvania voters until Hillary Clinton furrowed her brow and acted concerned about the issue of “her faith” for a five minute stump speech.

In a Op-ed for The New York Times, Roger Cohen wrote:

I’m troubled by Hillary Clinton’s recent innuendo-dripping remark that her Christian faith “is the faith of my parents and my grandparents.” As opposed, of course, to Obama, who came to Christianity from a mother whose “secular humanism” held that “rational, thoughtful people could shape their own destiny,” and a Kenyan father born into a Muslim family, and a Muslim stepfather.

Religion is such a taboo subject in American politics that even Obama’s most valued trait, his diverse upbringing, brands him as religiously impure. The fact that he dares to talk about secularism and his father’s Muslim roots would have spelled out “doom” for any other candidate.

However, until Pennsylvania, Obama had somehow managed to dodge all the bullets that fell his secular predecessors. That may be due to the fact that Obama threw the media wolves enough meat scraps about attending church with his girls and praying to keep them at bay.

It’s sad that the media has seized upon this moment to harp on issues of rhetoric, like if Bill Clinton made an equally offensive faux pas in 1991instead of how we can transcend the issue of religious fantasy.

After the Reverend Wright scandal, Barack Obama delivered an ambitious speech about race, and as Jon Stewart put it, he talked to Americans like they were adults. It’s a waste that no speech about religion followed Clinton’s unfair and petty assault on his “guns and faith” remark. Though, Obama can hardly be blamed for skirting the issue entirely. No one – not even the golden Man of the Hour, Barack Obama, can dare to dis’ God.

And yet religion is a timely issue, as timely as the economy or the Iraq War. In fact, Iraq’s rapidly deteriorating state can be credited to American-caused chaos and a subsequent increase in religious sectarian violence.

If only Obama could operate without the threat of religion slowing him down and censoring him. It would have been a welcome change after the Bush administration, which declared an all-out War on Science, and famously destroyed the wall between religion and state.

At home and abroad, religion slows the progress of science and prevents humanity from evolving. Religion is a destructive force in our world. It encourages tribalism and results in sectarian violence. Religion curtails scientific curiosity with the most nauseating of all child-like excuses: “God did it.”

It will take more than one man dipping into the secular pool and then furiously backpedaling for this evolution to occur. It will take an enlightened population, unafraid of a fantastical God – a population that values science, truth, and wisdom above sectarian lies.

What Barack Obama Could Not (and Should Not) Say

Posted in atheism, Barack Obama by allisonkilkenny on March 22, 2008

Sam Harris at Huffington Post

Barack Obama delivered a truly brilliant and inspiring speech this week. There were a few things, however, that he did not and could not (and, indeed, should not) say:

He did not say that the mess he is in has as much to do with religion as with racism–and, indeed, religion is the reason why our political discourse in this country is so scandalously stupid. As Christopher Hitchens observed in Slate months ago, one glance at the website of the Trinity United Church of Christ should have convinced anyone that Obama’s connection to Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. would be a problem at some point in this campaign. Why couldn’t Obama just cut his ties to his church and move on?

Well, among other inexpediencies, this might have put his faith in Jesus in question. After all, Reverend Wright was the man who brought him to the “foot of the cross.” Might the Senator from Illinois be unsure whether the Creator of the universe brought forth his only Son from the womb of a Galilean virgin, taught him the carpenter’s trade, and then had him crucified for our benefit? Few suspicions could be more damaging in American politics today.

The stultifying effect of religion is everywhere to be seen in the 2008 Presidential campaign. The faith of the candidates has been a constant concern in the Republican contest, of course–where John McCain, lacking the expected aura of born-again bamboozlement, has been struggling to entice some proper religious maniacs to his cause. He now finds himself in the compassionate embrace of Pastor John Hagee, a man who claims to know that a global war will soon precipitate the Rapture and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (problem solved). Prior to McCain’s ascendancy, we saw Governor Mitt Romney driven from the field by a Creationist yokel and his sectarian hordes. And this, despite the fact that the governor had been wearing consecrated Mormon underpants all the while, whose powers of protection are as yet unrecognized by Evangelicals.

Like every candidate, Obama must appeal to millions of voters who believe that without religion, most of us would spend our days raping and killing our neighbors and stealing their pornography. Examples of well-behaved and comparatively atheistic societies like Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Denmark–which surpass us in terrestrial virtues like education, health, public generosity, per capita aid to the developing world, and low rates of violent crime and infant mortality–are of no interest to our electorate whatsoever. It is, of course, good to know that people like Reverend Wright occasionally do help the poor, feed the hungry, and care for the sick. But wouldn’t it be better to do these things for reasons that are not manifestly delusional? Can we care for one another without believing that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and is now listening to our thoughts?

Yes we can.

Happily, Obama did a fine job of distancing himself from Reverend Wright’s divisive views on racism in America, along with his fatuous “chickens come home to roost” assessment of our war against Islamic terrorism. But he did not (and should not) acknowledge that the worst parts of Reverend Wright’s sermons, as with most sermons, are his appeals to the empty hopes and baseless fears of his parishioners–people who could surely find better ways of advancing their interests in this world, if only they could banish the fiction of a world to come.

Obama did not say that religion’s effect on our society, and on the black community especially, has been destructive–and where it has seemed constructive it has generally taken the place of better things. Religion unites, motivates, and consoles beleaguered people not with knowledge, but with superstition and false promises. Surely there is a better way to bring people together in the 21st century. The truth is, despite the toothsomeness of his campaign slogan, we are not yet the people we have been waiting for. And if we don’t start talking sense to our children, they won’t be the ones we are waiting for either.

Obama was surely wise not to mention that Christianity was, without question, the great enabler of slavery in this country. The Confederate soldiers who eagerly laid down their lives at three times the rate of Union men, for the pleasure of keeping blacks in bondage and using them as farm equipment, did so with the conscious understanding that they were doing the Lord’s work. After Reconstruction, religion united Southern whites in their racist hatred and the black community in its squalor–inuring men and women on both sides to injustice far more efficiently than it inspired them to overcome it.

The problem of religious fatalism, ignorance, and false hope, while plain to see in most religious contexts, is now especially obvious in the black community. The popularity of “prosperity gospel” is perhaps the most galling example: where unctuous crooks like T.D. Jakes and Creflo Dollar persuade undereducated and underprivileged men and women to pray for wealth, while tithing what little wealth they have to their corrupt and swollen ministries. Men like Jakes and Dollar, whatever occasional good they may do, are unconscionable predators and curators of human ignorance. Is it too soon to say this in American politics? Yes it is.

Despite all that he does not and cannot say, Obama’s candidacy is genuinely thrilling: his heart is clearly in the right place; he is an order of magnitude more intelligent than the current occupant of the Oval Office; and he still stands a decent chance of becoming the next President of the United States. His election in November really would be a triumph of hope.

But Obama’s candidacy is also depressing, for it demonstrates that even a person of the greatest candor and eloquence must still claim to believe the unbelievable in order to have a political career in this country. We may be ready for the audacity of hope. Will we ever be ready for the audacity of reason?

God Hates Women

Posted in atheism by allisonkilkenny on July 21, 2007

Allison Kilkenny at Huffington Post

Most religions have a creepy fixation with the eradication of women’s vaginas. Some African cultures mutilate the clitoris and sew the vagina shut for the sake of maintaining virginal “purity.” Other zealots don’t like their saviors free-falling from the womb. In fact, ideological fanatics have done everything in their power to explain away the vagina. God impregnated Mary from his great big bachelor pad in the sky, fat little Buddha burst from his mother’s side, and we know little of Amna, Mohammad’s mother, let alone his actual birth, but we can assume the good profit didn’t sully himself in vaginal juices. Like the rest of the profits, Mohammad probably materialized from the heavens. After all, a woman’s body is a dirty, sinful thing, which is why women are taught form an early age to be ashamed of their bodies and to keep them covered, always.

The belief in a divine creator aside, no rational person can seriously argue that feminism and religiosity can coexist. If you claim to be a religious person, you are not a feminist, nor if you believe men and women are inherently equals can you claim to believe in the fundamental beliefs of any religion. As far as I know, there is no religion on Earth that presents men and women as exact equals.

The most popular version of Christianity claims women are inherently subservient to men, since Eve came from Adam’s rib. Meanwhile, Mohammad married at least 11 times during his life, and his favorite wife, Ayesha Bibi, was six-years-old when he married her. Sexy.

Here are some jewels from the Quran, the sacred text of Islam:

II/223: Your women are a tilth for you (to cultivate). So go to your tilth as ye will…

I don’t know about you, but if some dude walked up to me at a bar and said, “Hey, baby. Mind if I plow your field?” that man will receive my fist in his eye socket.

IV/34: Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other … As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them.

Short and simple: Men are superior to women. Women are to be controlled, whether through violence or fear.

IV/15: (to women) If any one of your women is guilty of lewdness … confine them until death claims them.

IV/16: (for men) If two men among you commit indecency (sodomy) punish them both. If they repent and mend their ways, let them be. Allah is forgiving and merciful.

Homophobia aside, we see Allah, much like God, is all sunshine and puppy kisses, forgiving and loving, until you’re a woman and you sin. Then, you’re a whore in need of punishment.

In fairness to Mohammad, the God of the Christian bible is no better than the typical baby’s daddy you see on an episode of COPS. Picture the big, white dude in the sky who orated this stirring tale:

Exodus 21:7-10 shows us that it is perfectly cool to sell your daughter into slavery and allow her master to rape her. Also in Exodus (22:16-17), if a man sleeps with a virgin (with or without her consent,) he must marry her. However, if her father refuses to allow her to wed, the man must then pay the father a dowry of virgins. How does the recently deflowered virgin feel about being treated like a piece of property? Well, funnily enough, we don’t know. The Bible doesn’t seem concerned about her feelings.

Leviticus chapter 12 reminds us that women are unclean. After giving birth to a boy, a woman is considered unclean for seven days. However, if she has given birth to a girl, she is unclean for 33 days. Regardless, the concept that a woman is somehow unclean after giving birth is ludicrous. Of course, all religions fear the vagina, so it makes sense that the scribes (along with all men) went into a complete tizzy after childbirth, which very much relies upon the vagina.

Leviticus 19:20-22 teaches us that a man can rape his female slaves and be forgiven, though the slave must be punished. Likewise, Deuteronomy 22:28-29 reminds us that a man can rape a virgin, though he must marry her, and also pay her father 50 shekels.

The Bible is a weird, scary place. In case you needed further proof of that, along comes 1 Samuel 18:25-27 where Saul sells his daughter to David. Instead of wanting to be paid money for his daughter, Saul asks for … are you ready … ? Saul asks for the foreskins of 100 Philistine men.

…. WHAT?! There’s a happy ending, though. David gives 200 foreskins, a profit of 100 foreskins for Saul to squirrel away for the winter. HUZZAH!

Eastern religions, such as Hinduism leave no room for interpretation when it comes to the role of women: “By a girl, by a young woman, or even by an aged one, nothing must be done independently, even in her own house. In childhood a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead to her sons; a woman must never be independent”. (Laws of Manu, V, 147-8).

Women are subservient to men and inherently inferior, period.

What about Eastern religions?

Even Buddhism has been used to repress people (especially women), such as under Hirohito’s rule and currently in Burma. The armies that began the horrible civil wars in Sri Lanka during the 50s and 60s were comprised of Buddhists.

The Theravadan Buddhists claim a woman could never become a Buddha. A popular belief in Buddhist countries is that negative karma results in a man being reborn as a woman. Again, the female gender’s state is seen as a punishment, one filled with shame. Buddhism teaches that institutions like marriage must be regulated by society though social, political, and legal processes. This does not mean Buddhism is a progressive religion. Rather, it’s sort of like passing the buck. We don’t want to say women are equal to men, so we’ll just let you figure it out. If you decide they’re equal, fine. If you decide she’s the social equivalent of a cow, and you can sell her for a dowry, that’s cool too. I’ll just be over here, under my Bodhi tree.

Jainism is frequently referenced as the one truly peaceful religion. They even cover their mouths whilst walking outside so they cannot accidentally inhale a defenseless bug. Surely they, the Jains, are enlightened in matters of gender. Think again. Jainism does not teach that women can gain ultimate spiritual liberation, though a woman could strive to become a man in her next life so she could then reach enlightenment.

What happens when so-called feminists create alliances with religion?

You get Iranian fashion shows with women dressed in different colored Hijab. Viva La Revolucion! What better way to freely express creativity, passion, and art than in the free world of fashion? Of course, throw religion into the mix and you have this:

The liberated, passionate world of art, music, and fashion cannot coexist with a regime that maintains these guidelines for women’s dress:

Conditions of Islamic Dress Code

1. Clothing must cover the entire body, only the hands and face may remain visible (According to some Fiqh Schools).
2. The material must not be so thin that one can see through it.
3. The clothing must hang loose so that the shape / form of the body is not apparent.
4. The female clothing must not resemble the man’s clothing.
5. The design of the clothing must not resemble the clothing of the non-believing women.
6. The design must not consist of bold designs which attract attention.
7. Clothing should not be worn for the sole purpose of gaining reputation or increasing one’s status in society.

Sounds chic, doesn’t it? But hey, Allah never said he wanted fashion shows. He said: “Say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty ; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear thereof. ” [Quran : 24.31]

Now get into your burka, and shut up. It’s sad and embarrassing when feminists try to rationalize their religiosity, say with Iranian fashion shows. It’s not tolerance. It’s hypocrisy, illogical, and downright silly. It’s a bit like watching a black person try to explain why they vote Republican. Essentially, there is no way to reconcile the rational hope of all genders peacefully coexisting with irrational dogmas. Modern feminists desperately attempt to reshape their religions into something that looks vaguely modern and tolerant, but at their cores, all religions are sexist and repressive.

If the only proof of a religion’s dictated guidelines to morality are their religious texts, then we must believe that the Bible, Quran, and Buddhist sutras, vinaya, and abhidharma all represent the core beliefs of their religious sources. If we are to believe they are not truly reflective of their religious roots, then why did God dictate incorrect information to his scribes? If the errors of the texts are man’s folly, why has God not corrected them or made his true beliefs known? God is, after all, the supposed creator of the cosmos. Surely, he could have given us a Bible 2.0 by now. Perhaps a Bible XP?

No, we must assume these texts are truly reflective of their religion’s ideologies. With that assumption firmly cemented, we see that there is no room in religion for feminism, the doctrine advocating the equality of rights, social and political, with those of men. For feminism to work, it must exist outside of the constraining margins of religion. It must operate outside of the assumption that women are inferior to men, which is a foundational belief of the major theologies. Or, feminists must attempt to rationalize their religious ideologies to reconcile them with their desire for social equality, which is an impossible order. You end up changing the definition of your religion by rejecting their sacred texts or you change the definition of feminism so it says: I want to be equal always, except when it comes to your religion that says I am inferior, and I accept that.

Either you are a feminist and you reject religion, or you are a worshiper and you reject the concept that the genders are equal.