Inquisitive Minds Podcast Critical Thinking on History, Religion, Politics and Culture

This week, we start a series of podcasts discussing Tim Whitmarsh's, Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World. In this episode we will discuss how the ancient Greek world differentiated between the sacred and the profane, despite the fact that people embraced polytheism. We will also note that Greeks did not consider their texts as sacred, certainly not in the sense Jews, Christians and Muslims understand their own scriptures. Homer's Iliad and Odyssey were not sacred texts even if they are comprised of divine characters; these are rather to be understood as myth. We will end our podcast with an important note on the concept of "mimesis" and how such a practice could be understood as a "battle with the gods" (theomachy), a way to contest their very existence.

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Two weeks ago, the parliamentary secretary of the Canadian Defense Minister insisted that ISIS was "criminal organization with a religious veneer on it". A week later, the Premier of Canada stated that the country would stop airstrikes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, but would still participate in the coalition's effort to combat the jihadist group. In that same week, the Defense Minister was reportedly reluctant to call the conflict with IS a war. Is there a disconnect between the reality which the coalition forces face in the Middle East and the desire of the new Canadian government to keep its electoral promises at all costs?

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In this week's episode of the Inquisitive Minds Podcast, we share our thoughts about the recent terror attacks which happened last November in France. We discuss the mechanisms of radicalization, the place of religion in violent extremism, the issue of reform in Islam, the role of the Canadian government in the fight against ISIS, the current refugee crisis, the complex geopolitical situation of the Middle East and several other topics.

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In one week (19 Oct. 2015), Canadians will be voting for a new government. A debate around the place of the niqab (a "religious" garment covering the face and worn by some Muslim women) during the oath of citizenship ceremony has caused quite a stir. Politicians take sides in this issue citing security, terrorism, Canadian values, women's oppression, individual rights and freedoms, religious liberty, etc. to state their case. The debate has revealed that people in Canada are unclear when in comes to individual rights, as defined by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In the end, it seems that the niqab debate revealed that Canadians (and especially Quebecers) experience a certain malaise with their current political system. What seemed at first to be an insignificant issue has turned out to be something which might clearly affect Canada's political future.

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The month of August has been quite violent as people have witnessed the live killing of two reporters in the US, the murder of two family members in an Ikea store in Sweden, and a terrorist attack on a train between Paris and Amsterdam. This forces us to reflect on important issues such as immigration, religious violence, radicalization, culture, politics, economics, security, public policy, education and political correctness. We discuss these various events and their implications in this week's episode of the Inquisitive Minds Podcast.

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After interviewing Dr. Hector Avalos during our last two episodes of the Inquisitive Minds Podcast, we decided to do a short recap on some of the topics covered at our recent Religion and Violence conference, held at Concordia (Montreal, Quebec, Canada) last June. In this episode, André Gagné, Calogero A. Miceli and Costa Babalis briefly discuss the content of their papers and the purpose for hosting such a conference. Please note that an edited volume of the papers is currently in the works. Listeners will be informed in the coming weeks when the publication will be available for purchase.

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June 22, 2015  

June 30th, 2015 is the set deadline for the UN Security Council Members (the famous P5 + 1 = US, Russia, China, France, Britain + Germany) to reach a deal concerning Iran's nuclear program. Should the US agree to let Iran enrich uranium, and can the Islamic Republic really be trusted? Why are the other Arab nations opposed to this deal? Egypt and Saudi Arabia already face Iran's expansionist actions as seen in their support of Houthis fighters in Yemen. Will a nuclear entente between the US and Iran open to door for the Iranians to obtain the bomb? How will this play out in the constant wars that are being fought in the region between Sunni and Shi'a, and what role does Israel play in such negotiations? These and many more questions will be discussed in this week's episode of the Inquisitive Minds Podcast.

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On this week's episode of the Inquisitive Minds Podcast, we discuss the recent Canadian Supreme Court decision which ruled against opening city council meetings with a prayer. In this particular case, the ruling was brought against the wishes of the mayor of the city of Saguenay, in the province of Quebec. Does such a decision go against the freedom of conscience and religion? What role should religion, and more specifically prayer, play in the political realm? Does Canada truly uphold the principles of secularism? What are the differences between Quebec and the rest of Canada when it comes to secularism and the place of religion in the public sphere?

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In his book Fighting Words, Hector Avalos does not say that secularism is devoid of any violence. Religious violence, however, is more tragic than secular violence since it is predicated on unverifiable premises. In this week's episode of the Inquisitive Minds Podcast, we examine the claim that Hitler's and Stalin's atheism is what led them to heinous acts of violence. As we will see, the Nazi Holocaust was not inspired by atheism and Stalin's actions were mostly political in nature. Atheism does not necessarily equal communism, nor does communism imply atheism. Some early Christian communities were depicted as communistic social groups (Acts 4:32-35) and they were certainly not atheistic.

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In this week's episode, we discuss the content of Gavin Hyman's interesting piece in the Cambridge Companion to Atheism entitled, "Atheism in Modern History." In his article, Hyman describes what he considers being an inextricable connection between atheism and modernity. He also explains how the English term "atheism" was first used in 1540 by Sir John Clarke in his translation of Plutarch's On Superstition, and was understood as "a denial of the intervention of divine providence, rather than a denial of the existence of God." It is only in the 18th and 19th centuries that the expression was used in a self-definitional way by French philosopher Denis Diderot, and by Charles Bradlaugh, a British parliamentary member who founded the National Secular Society in 1866.


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