Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Martyrs of the Age of Reason

Martyr (noun): A person who is put to death or endures great suffering on behalf of any belief, principle, or cause. (verb) To make a martyr of, especially by putting to death.


When we read and hear news coverage about the Charlie Hebdo shootings, we often see the gunmen had claimed to want to die as martyrs for their cause. Their claim is that they have avenged their long-dead prophet Mohammed in these killings. Had they laid down their firearms and surrendered to the French authorities after fulfilling their task of avenging their dead prophet and, as a result, had been executed for murder, one might see them as martyrs for their religion. They did not do this. In addition to killing the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, they also executed Muslim police officer Ahmed Merabet, and then took a hostage and engaged in a firefight with the authorities.

The Charlie Hebdo murderers did not die as martyrs. The French authorities did not kill them because of their religious beliefs. They were killed because they were randomly killing people for no apparent reason after executing the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo. They were killed because they gave the French authorities no other option; failure to kill the shooters would have resulted in more innocent people getting murdered. I'm personally against the death penalty and police brutality, but this was a situation where the Charlie Hebdo murders left the French authorities no other choice. This is not martyrdom in any sense of the word; this was France protecting itself.

Being raised and indoctrinated as a Christian, there was one martyr that I was taught about, and that martyr was Jesus Christ. Yes, we are taught that he died for our sins, and he is the son of God, and through him all is forgiven, but consider the actual biblical account of how he was executed. For the sakes of argument, I'm going to skip over the contradictions in the Bible, and focus on what most Christians generally accept as fact.

It is generally accepted that Jesus never killed anyone during his short time as a mortal son of God. During his trial, Jesus was accused by Caiaphas for blasphemy, after which he was taken to Pilate's court, where he offended the Roman governor for claiming to be the "King of Jews." He was subsequently subjected to ridicule, torture, and then crucifixion by Roman soldiers.

Nobody would consider the Roman soldiers to be martyrs whenever they died for Rome; Jesus Christ was the martyr in this story. Fast forward to today. Islam is both a state and a religion. The state of Islam was offended by the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, just as the Roman governor was offended. The Charlie Hebdo murderers are clearly modern day soldiers of the state of Islam; they were well trained and had access to military grade weapons. The cartoonists, who, like Jesus Christ, had never killed anyone and simply wanted to show humanity that we could be free from organized religion, were executed by those soldiers. To better understand, let's look into the work they did and why it's significant.

Historical milestones are generally measured as "Ages." Very old religions have survived, and perhaps even caused, multiple "Ages," but Christianity is considered to have its roots in the Apostolic age, between 30 and 100A.D. Then there are periods like the Islamic golden age, which occurred at around 750 to 1258C.E. However, the age that is relevant here is the Age of Reason, which started in 1794. At its heart, this calls for the challenging of institutional religious beliefs and the bible. While not a religion, it is based on principles and represents a cause that focuses on liberating people from the tyranny of organized religion. This was precisely what the people working at Charlie Hebdo were doing; their work was meant to challenge religious beliefs, to help liberate people from the tyranny of organized religion. They did this through the peaceful act of putting out a publication filled with relevant articles and satirical cartoons.

The cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo who were killed never killed anyone in their lives. They strove to make humanity better, by freeing us from the tyranny of organized religion by way of peaceful satire. They understood their lives were at risk by committing blasphemy and challenging established institutions. Each and every one of them are to us today as Christians portray Jesus Christ, but they were executed by Islamic soldiers instead of Roman soldiers, and I think it's possible that, if these cartoonists were alive today, they would tell us to forgive Islamic terrorists, for they really know not what they do, as their minds are held hostage by the organized religion of Islam. And so, I present to you the most recent martyrs of the age of reason, in no particular order:

Jean Cabut (Cabu)
"Cabu 20080318 Salon du livre 3" by Georges Seguin (Okki) - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

This man spent time in the military, and based on his first hand experience, became anti-militarist. This is a clear sign of someone who will question authority and put himself at risk for what he believes is morally right. His main focus in his life has been the selfless act of educating through is art, in spite of criticism from the "Status Quo."

Stéphane Charbonnier (Charb)
"2011-11-02 Incendie à Charlie Hebdo - Charb - 06" by Coyau / Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

This man was the editor of Charlie Hebdo. He was 47 years old. He had received death threats and was under police protection. He once told France's Le Monde newspaper that he had no kids, no wife, no car and no debt, and would rather die standing than on his knees. He knew the risk he was taking, and he did it for us, so that we could be free from religion. I will stay free, Charb.

Georges Wolinski 
"G. Wolinski dédicaçant à la fête de l'Huma 2007-02" by Alvaro - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Another martyr of the Charlie Hebdo slaughter who oppressed organized religion to the bitter end, this great man had received the Legion of Honour for his work.

Bernard Verlhac (Tignous)
"Tignous 20080318 Salon du livre 1" by Georges Seguin (Okki) - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

This man was a member of "Cartoonists for peace." His work was well-known for its attacks on hypocrisy. It's sad that he was also the father of four children, who have had their father ripped from their lives at the hands of Islamic soldiers. 

Philippe Honoré
"Philippe Honoré, dessinateur de Charlie Hebdo (crop)" by User:Mpayot - →This file has been extracted from another image: File:Philippe Honoré, dessinateur de Charlie Hebdo.jpg.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons -,_dessinateur_de_Charlie_Hebdo_(crop).jpg#mediaviewer/File:Philippe_Honor%C3%A9,_dessinateur_de_Charlie_Hebdo_(crop).jpg

This martyr regularly campaigned against injustice and cynicism, he was a "Kind and gentle bearded giant." 

Bernard Maris

Bernard Maris was an economist, writer, journalist, and a shareholder in Charlie Hebdo. In 1995, Le Nouvel Économiste awarded him the "Best economist of the year." In December of 2011, he was appointed as a member of general council of the Banque de France, and had numerous publications. This wasn't just someone wanting to poke fun at religion, this was a well educated and knowledgeable man who drew from a significant depth of knowledge and understanding.

Elsa Cayat
"Elsa Cayat" by Via Wikipedia -

The only woman who was murdered for her participation in fighting for our freedom from religion, Elsa Cayat wrote a bi-weekly article in Charlie Hebdo called Charlie Divan," which translates to "Charlie's Couch." As a psychoanalyst, she would write about topics such as parental authority and couple sexuality. She had been threatened before for being Jewish.

Mustapha Ourrad

Mustopha was the copy editor of Charlie Hebdo; he made sure each issue was free from errors to ensure the message they sent out would be as clear as possible.

There were other victims, but these eight are the ones who were targeted specifically because of their cause of freeing minds from the tyranny of organized religion. They knew there could have been consequences like this, but these were principled people, driven to do what they felt was right thing to do for the benefit of us all. They died for our freedom from religion. Their deaths instantly galvanized freethinkers everywhere. Within hours, Facebook profile pictures everywhere changed to "Je Suis Charlie," or "I am Charlie." Vigils were held all over the country and the world in honour of these martyrs. World leaders came together in a march in Paris because of their deaths.

Look at their faces and know who they were, so they can live on forever in our collective memories as martyrs for the age of reason.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Religion is not a race

Listening to the CBC radio this morning, I heard some ignorant comments from fellow Canadians regarding the Charlie Hebdo shootings. Essentially, many of them equated the satirical cartoons that criticized Islam and the prophet Mohamed to racism and anti-Semitism. In this article, I will explore how they might have come to such an illogical conclusion, and demonstrate why this is a fallacy.

The Canadian Human Rights Act lists 11 prohibited grounds of discrimination. This list includes: Race, national or ethic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability, and a conviction for which a pardon has been granted or a record suspended. Since religion and race appear on this list, some assume that they are one in the same, which they are not, just as race and sexual orientation are mutually exclusive. That's why they're listed separately. All this act does is prevent discriminating against a person based on something like their religious beliefs or a disability. Being critical of religion does not go against this list any more than would being critical of marriage, as long as the criticism isn't used to discriminate against a person.

The comparison to anti-Semitism suggests that, since Judaism is a religion of the Jewish people, race and religion are intertwined. Besides the fact that this ignores the fact that a person of any race can become a Jew by converting to Judaism, there exists many prominent Jews who proclaim to be atheists and agnostics. Clearly, there exists a distinction between Judaism and Jews. Anti-Semitism is defined as hostility towards or discriminating against a Jewish person or Jewish group of people based on their religion, ethnic, or racial group. Judaism is not a person or group of people; rather, it is simply a set of beliefs and practices observed by people. Therefore, it is possible to be critical of Judaism without being hostile or discriminatory towards the people who follow that faith.

Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and all other religions are ideas that came from the minds of men. These ideas are not people, and the progress of humanity is based on the concept of being critical to ideas. It's how we move forward and how things like vaccines are created. Old ideas about diet and nutrition are constantly replaced with new ones, as well as ideas about exercise and sleep as we endeavour to live longer, healthier lives. We ridicule the idea that smoking cigarettes can be healthy, even though this was once a commonly held belief.

Some people have a difficult time recognizing that criticism of their particular brand of religion is not an attack on them; in fact, it's not uncommon for a person to take offence whenever they hear or see criticism of anything they like. People become attached to cars, trucks, fashion, political parties, and even computer technology in much the same way. The guy who loves Chevy trucks and always buys nothing but Chevy trucks might want to punch you out if you say anything bad about Chevy trucks. That doesn't mean people shouldn't be critical of Chevy trucks just in case they might offend someone. What it means is that, if a person has made Chevy trucks so much a part of their identity that they might be prone to violence, they should probably avoid people and publications that might be more honest about their truck of choice than they are until they can sort out their anger issues. Along the same vein, someone who doesn't like Chevy trucks probably shouldn't discriminate against or be hostile towards people who drive Chevy trucks; it's a choice that really doesn't affect the other person.

Love the person, hate the religion. I don't believe Islam has a single redeeming value, but I believe some people who observe this religion are good people. On the grounds of discrimination, I consider religion to be more like a disability, along the same lines of alcohol and drug addiction. I believe the religion continues to do more harm than good like drug and alcohol addiction, but that good does comes from the people in spite of their religion. That's why atheists shouldn't take up arms against the people of Islam, but absolutely must continue, through satire and otherwise, be critical of Islam itself, because some truly wonderful people will recognize the truth and get better as they convert to no belief at all.

If you'd like to read more on this subject, I recommend the following:

Charlie Hebdo: The truths that ought to be self-evident but still aren't by Spectator Blogs
Confusing race and religion is dangerous by Psychology Today
What is Judaism? by Judaism 101